Five years of war and destruction
by Berl Glick
Translated by Sara Mages
1. Before the Second World War
The town of Tłuste resides (maybe it is correct to say resided) in Eastern Galicia near the main road leading from Lvov [Lwów] to Chernovitz [Czernowitz]. Also, the Lvov-Chernovitz railway, passed by our town. The town belonged to the Zaleszczyki region and the Chortkov [Czortków] district. The number of residents in the period before the Second World War was around seven thousand, among them around two thousand Jews, two thousand Poles and three thousand Ukrainians. In the elections to the city council, which took place once every six years, the Jews received a greater representation than they should have. Usually, the relationship between the Jewish and the non-Jewish population was quite good. A small portion of the town's Jews, around 20%, were engaged in different businesses, and the remaining 80% were engaged in commerce and peddling. The grain trade was extremely developed in our town. Tłuste was the most important grain trading center in all of Podolia, and the rates that were set on market days were published in the commercial press. In general, the financial state of the town's Jews was satisfactory. There was a credit union in town (Zvenyanzek Creditavi), that gave loans to merchants and tradesmen. There was also a charitable fund Gemilut Hasadim that gave interest-free loans in easy payments. Every year, before the holiday of Pesach, Tłuste's Landsmannschaft organization in New York sent a few hundred dollars to our town's poor. That money was divided, together with the amounts that were collected in town for Meot Hittim [Pesach foods for the needy], to satisfy the holiday needs of the local poor.
Politically, the town's residents belonged to different movements. There were Zionist organizations of all streams, Bund [federation] and Agudath Yisrael [Union of Israel]. Jewish children studied in a general school and also in a Heder. The girls didn't study in the Heder, but in Beit Yakov a well-organized girl's school. There was a public library with a reading room in town. There were also a number of people with higher education: four doctors, six lawyers and one Jewish judge.
During the last years, the community was headed by R' Meir Kleiner who was a wealthy estate owner, a pious Jew and a follower of the Chortkov Rabbi. Tłuste's last rabbi was R' Shmuel Aba Chodorov, the son of the famous Genius Rabbi, R' Pinchas Chodorov, an offspring of the Admorim [Hassidic rabbis] from Kosov.
There was a Great Synagogue in Tłuste of historical value, a number of small synagogues (Kloizen) and Beit Midsrash. Beit Ha'Midrash was a new building named after Dvora Braksmier who built it with her own money and without public participation. The important synagogues were: the Chortkov Hassidim Kloiz, the Vizhnitz Hassidim Kloiz, and the Kopyczynitz Hassidim Kloiz. The synagogues and Beit Ha'Midrash were always full of worshipers, and the sound of prayer and the words of the Torah always ascended from them.
One of the most important periods in the history of Tłuste is the revelation of Ba'al Shem Tov which took place when he lived in Tłuste and vicinity. A few legends were left in our hands from that period, and here is one of them:
In the period of his revelation, Ba'al Shem Tov was an infant teacher in the village of Koszyłowce, a distance of around twelve kilometers from town. Every day, in the summer and in the winter, he left at dawn to swim in the river. During the great freeze, when the river was covered with a layer of ice, Ba'al Shem Tov dug himself an opening in the ice and lowered himself into the river. A gentile who saw the behavior of the rabbi, preceded him and laid a small amount of straw on the ice. Ba'al Shem Tov was immersed in the superior world and did not feel that his feet were not touching the ice. One day, Ba'al Shem Tov came earlier to the river and caught the gentile performing the deed of scattering a bundle of straw on the ice. The rabbi asked the gentile to choose one of the three blessings that he was offering him: wealth, long life, or decent sons. The gentile answered innocently: Rabbi I am choosing all three together. Ba'al Shem Tov responded and blessed him. Ba'al Shem Tov's blessing came true. The farmer's family was known in the whole area as a wealthy honest family, and all the members of the family lived a long life on the face of the earth.2. The beginning of the Second World War
After he left Koszyłowce, Ba'al Shem Tov was an infant teacher in Tłuste. His mother also lived in Tłuste, died there and was buried in the Jewish cemetery. The following story about her gravestone was told in our town. The gravestone was erected by one of Ba'al Shem Tov's grandsons. When the grandson arrived in Tłuste to erect the stone over his grandmother's grave, nobody knew the location of her burial. What did they do? They placed the gravestone in the hands of a number of Jews and told them to carry it to the cemetery. The Jews carried the tombstone to the cemetery, and when they got tired the stone fell off their hands. The matter turned into a miracle because the place was the correct location of her burial. The gravestone was erected in that place, and it is standing there even today.
Besides the gravestone of the mother of Ba'al Shem Tov, another substantial reminder was left from the time that Ba'al Shem Tov lived in our town. Until the days of the Holocaust there was a special Mikveh [bath house] where Ba'al Shem Tov immersed himself, and it was called by all: the Mikveh of Ba'al Shem Tov.
On 1 September 1939, immediately after Poland was attacked by Germany, panic broke out in town. Masses of refugees, Poles and Jews alike, started to stream towards the Romanian border. Everyone passed by our town which was located only 24 kilometers from the border town of Zaleszczyki. The Germans' advance was swift. A number of days later, people started to flee from Tłuste, mostly young adults and the town's intelligentsia. There were also many refugees in town from Stanisławów, and everyone wanted to leave town as fast as possible and reach Romania. Many succeeded to reach their target by different routes.
On Sunday, 17 September 1939, a message arrived from Berezdów that the Red Army crossed the border at two o'clock at night. No one trusted this report but it was confirmed on the same day. At 11 o'clock in the morning the town was occupied by the Soviet army. Immediately, the army closed the border and blew up the bridge crossing over the Dniester. Refugees who did not have sufficient time to cross the border were left on this side of the border under the Soviet regime.
During the Soviet regime a great change occurred in the life of the Jewish population, mostly in the life of the merchants who were forced to liquidate their businesses. The big merchants left town and settled in larger cities such as Chortkov and Kołomyja. Some of the small merchants received permits and were allowed to keep their business. The transition was not easy, but slowly matters settled down, life returned to its usual course and in some areas the situation even got better. The Soviets improved the sanitary conditions, established a big hospital with a special maternity ward, and the Jewish bathhouse was renovated and given for the use of the whole town. And so matters continued for close to two years, until 22 June 1941.
3. The Germans attack the Soviet Union
On Sunday, 23 June 1941, at six o'clock in the evening, at the time when the streets were full of people, a German airplane suddenly appeared and opened fire on the people who were walking in the street. There were not many victims but the matter caused great panic in town. The radio announced that the Germans were advancing and getting closer to our area. On 29 June, Romanian refugees, who had escaped towards the Soviet border, arrived in our town. Again, the refugees' arrival caused panic in town and many young people were getting ready to escape to the Soviet Union. The refugees' movement increased and lasted three days. On Tuesday, late in the afternoon of 1 July 1941, the Soviet's institutions also left town.
On the same day, Tuesday, 6 Tamuz 5701, my father-in-law, R' Shmuel Meltzer z"l, passed away in Tłuste. He died at the age of seventy-two and left an extensive family four sons (the youngest son Shimshon Meltzer was already in Israel), three daughters and many grandchildren. Before the funeral many people gathered next to his home family members, neighbors, friends and acquaintances. As it was customary and known, the deceased's daughters and daughters-in-law mourned and cried for him. The matter became known at the office of the NKVD [Narodny Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del the Soviet secret police], and the commander himself came in his car to see the reason for the gathering. He did not trust the words of the mourners, that their only intention was to accompany the deceased to his resting place, pushed his way through the crowd to the coffin, and asked to expose the deceased's face . After that, he turned to the crowd and said: I think that if a man lived, completed his life and died in his bed, there is no need to mourn and cry for him. You must be comforted with the fact that it is possible to accompany him to his eternal rest with so much respect. For us, military men, a funeral like that is not proper Later on he said farewell to the crowd and, a few hours later, all of them left town.
4. The bombing
The Red Army retreat lasted until Friday, 4 July 1941. On Friday, the military movement stopped and the town remained without a regime. The residents hid, each person in his own home, and the streets emptied. A young man around the age of twenty, who dared to appear in the street, aroused panic and almost caused a disaster: one of the last Soviet soldiers suspected that he was a spy and started to chase him. The young man hid in one of the homes and disappeared from his sight. The soldier thought that he was hiding in the home of Marcus (Manie) Schwartz. He got closer to the house, looked through the window and threw a hand grenade. Fortunately, the Schwartz family had enough time to hide in the bunker, also taking their old mother who was lying on her sick-bed. And so the incident passed without casualties.
On Friday evening, the last train from Chernovitz passed towards the Soviet border. It was a very long train. In order to allow it to move faster the Russians disconnected eight railcars and left them in Tłuste. Early morning Saturday, a number of residents, Jews, Poles and Ukrainians, approached the train to see what was left inside the cars. They opened one of them and saw that it was full of expensive fabrics, gold and jewelry. Immediately they started to empty the car and the other three that were also full of valuables. The remaining four cars were full of bombs.
In the afternoon there were rumors that the Soviets were planning to blow up the bombs in the cars. All the townspeople were frightened but no one knew where to run to, so they all stayed at home. And indeed, the cars were set on fire at about four. There was a tremendous explosion that shocked all the buildings, and all the windows within a ten-kilometer radius were shattered by the blast. A Ukrainian was killed, but otherwise there were no other casualties in this explosion.
Sunday passed in peace and the soldiers were not seen in town. Only a few refugees returned, Jews from Kołomyja, Horodenka and Śniatyn, who had tried to escape towards the Soviet border but were forced to return.
Early morning, 7 July, on the holiday of Saint Ivan, Ukrainians who lived in the twenty-two villages around Tłuste attacked the Jews who resided there and killed almost all of them. Over two hundred people were killed in these attacks. The attackers used axes and other deadly weapons for those killings. Only in one village, in Worwolince, the Jews were not harmed. Forty Jews were also killed in the town of Ułaszkowce (Lashkewitz). A number of Jewish residents from that town were able to escape and arrived in our town.
In Tłuste, the Ukrainian murderers were not able to carry out their plot thanks to the intervention of the Ukrainian priest Izbulskie [Anton Navolskyy ed.]. He posted loyal and honest Ukrainians on all the roads leading to town, and prevented the murderers from entering. Early Monday morning, 7 July, a group of thugs armed with axes and sacks tried to enter the town in order to perform a massacre and loot it. But the local Ukrainians fought them and did not let them enter the town. The priest walked all day in the town's streets and calmed the frightened Jews. Also, during the German occupation, he comforted and supported Jews who were in trouble. He did not wish to be a partner to the enthusiasm that the members of his nation expressed towards the Germans. In the nearby towns and villages the Ukrainians raised monuments Mogila in their language in honor of the Germans' arrival. The Germans promised the Ukrainians that they would establish an independent Ukrainian nation after they won the war. In each location a priest went out with the residents to sanctify the monument. Only Izbulskie [Navolskyy ed.] refused to do so, and the monument in Tłuste was the only one that was not blessed by a priest.
The Polish priest warned his congregation and influenced them not to contaminate their hands with Jewish blood. In one of his sermons he mentioned a passage from Parashat Vayelech: And I will surely hide my face on that day . and said: At the present time, G-d is hiding his face from the Jews and giving them to the hands of their killers. But we should not hurt them, so G-d will not be angry with us and will not do to us what he has done to the Jews. The priest's words were not for nothing. The fact is that Tłuste's Jews suffered very little at the hands of their Polish and Ukrainian neighbors.
5. Under the shadow of the Magyar's rule
A few days after the withdrawal of the Russian army, a Magyar [Hungarian] advanced guard unit appeared in the early morning hours. They did not stop in town, and only passed through it. As they left, they split and went in different directions. Towards evening, a reinforced Magyar squadron arrived with a military command unit and settled in town. All this went very peacefully but the Jews were afraid to go out to the streets and lived in fear. A few days later, a cavalry company arrived and immediately put their horses in Beit Ha'Midrash and in the corridors of the Great Synagogue. They started to dismantle the fences around Jewish homes and used the wood for heating. Later on, they started to dismantle the vacant Jewish homes and also the reader's desk in the synagogue. The Ukrainian priest pleaded before the military commander to stop these acts of destruction, but he was unsuccessful.
Shortly afterwards came an order requiring Jews to deliver their radios to the headquarters within three days. But the Jews were wiser and hid their radios with their non-Jewish friends. Immediately after this, the Magyars started to recruit Jews for different jobs such as cleaning and community service. All that happened in the period before the Germans were seen in our town.
On Sabbath eve, 9 Av 5701 1 August 1941, about two thousand Hungarian Jews from the Carpathian region were brought to our town in trucks. Most of them were pious Jews and there were many rabbis among them. They brought all their possessions with them, their clothes and even their bedding. Immediately a committee of twelve members, with Yakov Pel [Fel] as a leader, was established to help the exiled and ease their difficult situation. Thanks to the pleading of the Hungarian Jews, the horses were removed from Beit Ha'Midrash and from the synagogue and the Hungarian Jews were housed there. During the week, four thousand additional Hungarian exiles arrived; the Hungarian headquarters refused to accept more than that. The transports that arrived later were directed to Borszczów or to Skałat. In the town of Jazłowiec, Ukrainians attacked a group of Hungarian Jews and chased them to the Yeshiva. Many of them were shot and killed and their bodies were thrown into the Stripa River. There were also cases in which people were thrown into the river alive. In most cases the bodies of the victims were tied to each other with barbed wire. Jews from the town of Uścieczko and the city of Zaleszczyki pulled many of the bodies out of the water and brought them to a Jewish grave.
Compared to other towns, the situation in our town was quiet and orderly. With the arrival of the Hungarian Jews the whole town turned into a big market. Those Jews sold most of the belongings that they brought with them. Some were forced to, in order to survive, and some sold them willingly since they did not know where they were going and what was waiting for them. Farmers from the surrounding areas bought most of the items. The aid committee for Hungarian refugees worked diligently and with great dedication. Different committees were established: a financial committee, a housing committee, a supply committee that I was active in, together with Yisrael Yorist, May he rest in peace. The work was difficult and responsible, therefore we added three more people: the two sons of Reuven Albin and a refugee by the name Motale' Viner. Our duty was to collect flour from homeowners, two to three kilograms from each family. The baker, Marim Funk, baked the bread for us for free, and we distributed it among the refugees - 500 gram per person every day. On Sabbath eve we also baked Hallot, and each refugee received one Halla.
All that lasted for about three weeks. Later on, the headquarters forced the refugees to continue their way to Russia. Many were transported by trucks and others were led on foot. The refugees took their bundles and moved to Kamieniec-Podolski. Twenty-two thousand Jewish refugees from Buczacz and other towns were exiled there. In Kamieniec, the refugees were taken out of town and shot to death.
When the news of the murder in Kamieniec became known, many refugees tried to stay in Tłuste. Some hid and some paid money for their freedom. The Ukrainians were not satisfied and wanted to get rid of the Jews. And so, they started to complain before the authorities that the refugees caused diseases, hunger and shortage and that they needed to send all of them away. On the other hand, the Jews did all that was possible to prevent the deportation because they knew very well that it was a life-saving issue. And indeed, they succeeded to cancel the deportation order.
The Ukrainian priest, Izbulskie [Navolskyy ed.], helped them a lot in this matter. He calmed the Ukrainians and also supported the refugees with his own money, as much as he was able to afford. And so, around two thousand Hungarian refugees remained in town. The aid committee made an accurate list of the refugees, moved them to vacant Jewish homes, or housed them in the apartments of the town's Jews.
After the deportation of the four thousand Jews to Kamieniec-Podolski, both Beit Ha'Midrash and the Great Synagogue were emptied. The Hungarian army refused to return those buildings to the town's Jews and removed the doors, the windows and all the wooden parts for firewood. And so the army started the destruction of the holy places; later on the Christian population continued the work until it was completed.
6. Horrible days under the swastika regime
On Rosh Hashanah eve [Monday, 22 September 1941], four Gestapo men arrived in Tłuste from Chortkov. Fear and terror fell on the town's Jews because we already knew the meaning of the matter. All the Jews hid, myself included. The Gestapo men came with a demand, they wanted us to select the highest quality furniture and transfer it to Chortkov in order to furnish 15 rooms for the Gestapo. Without delay they went with the Jewish lawyer, Dr. Krasutski, entered Jewish homes, and made a list of the best furniture. They confiscated all the furniture in Dr. Bernard Meltzer's apartment. The confiscation continued also on the next day. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah the Jews were panic-stricken. They prayed in public but not in the synagogues. They held short prayer services in private homes. Later they tried to stay at home and stayed away from the streets.
After Rosh Hashanah, during the Ten Days of Repentance, the city council started to recruit Jewish workers for all kind of jobs. The refugees' aid committee also helped the municipality to collect the required workers. Each worker received one kilogram of bread per day, and for that reason many people registered to work on their own accord.
The Gestapo men arrived from Chortkov on Yom Kippur [Wednesday,1 October 1941]. They took Jews out of the synagogues, and under a shower of blows forced them to remove the confiscated furniture from the homes and load it on vehicles in order to transfer it to Chortkov. Since they were not able to take all the registered furniture with them, the council was forced to deliver the rest of the furniture by wagons to Chortkov on the conclusion of Yom Kippur.
7. The establishment of the Judenrat
A few days after Yom Kippur, a number of Gestapo men arrived from Chortkov. They approached the leader of the refugees' committee, Yakov Pel, nominated him as the Jews elder and ordered him to assemble a Judenrat [Jewish council]. The duty of the Judenrat was to supply Jewish workers, to fulfill the Germans' demands, and be responsible for all that was happening between the town's Jews. They demanded that a council representative come to Chortkov in order to receive additional instructions. Dr. Krasutski and two other council members traveled to Chortkov.
The Gestapo men in Chortkov did not talk to the council representatives face to face, but through a closed hatch. Again, they emphasized the need to establish a Judenrat that would fulfill all of the Gestapo's demands, and the orders of the local commander and the city council. Jews would do all the work in the town. They were instructed to organize a kitchen for Jewish laborers and promised to supply the necessary food for that kitchen. Together with that, they informed them that only the workers would get food. They emphasized that whoever disobeyed any of these orders and instructions would be sentenced to death. The representatives returned to Tłuste shocked and confused from all that they had heard.
On the next day, a Gestapo representative arrived from Chortkov and ordered the council to collect gold, silver, jewelry, fine fabrics and other valuables from the town's Jews and deliver them to the Gestapo. On the intermediate days of Sukkot, representatives of the refugees' aid committee scattered throughout the town. They walked from home to home and encouraged the residents to give their share towards the ransom that was cast on the town. On Hoshana Rabba [The seventh day of Sukkot Sunday, 12 October 1941], the collection of valuables started in the council office. Three council members received the items: Yakov Pel, Yisrael Yorist and myself. The items were registered with the help of an experienced jeweler and the donors received a detailed receipt.
Midpoint through this activity a Jew from Stanisławów, by the name of Flesher, who was the mediator between the Jews and the Gestapo in Chortkov district, arrived to town. We asked him to release us from our duty as members of the Judenrat. He agreed to release me and Yorist, but refused to release Pel since he had a lot of influence in town. On the same day a meeting was arranged with Flesher, and a new Judenrat was chosen with Yakov Pel as the leader.
Immediately after the holidays the Hungarian headquarters left town and power was transferred to the hands of the Germans. The district's government was located in Zaleszczyki, and the regional authorities and the Gestapo were located in Chortkov. The mayor was a Ukrainian, and a Ukrainian police force was established with a German commander. The conditions of the Jews worsened. Every once in a while, the Judenrat received instructions and new orders that they had to fulfill with great precision. A Jewish police was established next to the Judenrat and included 15-20 policemen who terrorized the Jews. A prison was organized, and Jews who dared to disobey the Judenrat orders were locked up there. The offices of the Judenrat and the Jewish police were located in the credit union building. The policemen were mostly young men from Tłuste, but there were also a number of young men from Zaleszczyki and the surrounding area.
8. The kitchen
The kitchen for Jewish workers was the continuation of the Hungarian refugees' kitchen that was established in our town at that time. The German authorities gave us enough supplies for only 150 workers, but the kitchen continued to care for the refugees and the needy, roughly one thousand people. In order to obtain all the supplies, a tax of between one to five Zlotys a week was enforced on the town's rich and we, the kitchen organizers, also took care of collecting this tax. We added Yosel Shechter and David Bronstein as workers. Also a number of women worked in the kitchen. The kitchen was well organized and was strictly kosher. It operated during the winter of 1941-1942. It was closed during the days of Passover and reopened after the holiday. We distributed potatoes and cash among the families who ate in the kitchen. The children of those families were housed in the homes of families with means and ate at their table during the eight days of Passover.
The budget for the kitchen was not only based on the taxes that we collected from people with means. We also received an allowance from the Judenrat. It was not an easy duty to take money out of their hands. The person in charge of social aid was Yehoshua Shechner, and we always had to argue and bargain with him until we got what we wanted.
9. During the German rule
Close to their arrival, the Germans received ownership of the farms in the area, and merged them under one administrative unit that was called Liegenschaft [real estate or immovable property] in German. The administrator of the farms in Zaleszczyki and Berezdów was a Gestapo man by the name of Zocher. In September 1941, this Zocher settled in Tłuste and started to acquire ownership of these fields. He employed a large number of Jewish workers and tradesmen from Tłuste. Those who worked on the farms that were far from town were forced to settle there. Zocher was evil-hearted and cruel. He hit his Jewish workers with cruelty, and at times he even hit Jews who did not work for him. He robbed Jewish property and was extremely dangerous when he was drunk, a condition that he was in most of the time.
In November 1941, another German joined the Liegenschaft management, an S.S. man by the name of Stoll. After a short period of time, the Liegenschaft was divided. Stoll remained in Tłuste while Zocher received the management of Liegenschaft in Zaleszczyki. They also divided the Jewish managers between them. The two who remained on the farm in Tłuste were: Hillel Kenigsberg and his nephew Martzeli Kenigsberg. Stoll was a decent man and treated his Jewish workers with kindness. Approximately at the same period of time, at the end of 1941, an order arrived from the Gestapo in Chortkov that all Jews, including children from the age of ten, must wear a special mark on their left shoulder that would indicate their Judaism a white ribbon with a blue Star of David. All those orders were passed to us through the regional Judenrat in Chortkov.
At the end of January 1942, rumors spread in town that in the near future the management of the farms would be transferred to the hands of the Wehrmacht [German armed forces]. These rumors became true. In February 1942, the Wehrmacht received ownership of 23 farms on the road between Chortkov and Tłuste. The farms were given to a company by the name of G.G. Caoutchouc that was engaged in growing a special kind of plant that they tried to produce rubber from. The seeds for growing the plant were brought from Russia. The main office of that factory was in Jagielnica and the managers were two agronomists: Major Dr. Hanf from Berlin and his helper Lauterbach.
Dr. Hanf demanded that he be supplied with 6000 Jewish laborers to work in the rubber farms. He promised the Judenrat that he would employ the Jewish workers in fair conditions, and their situation would improve. But Tłuste's Jews were under the rule of the Gestapo in Chortkov, and it was impossible to receive a permit from them to employ the Jews on the farms. Hanf made many efforts in this subject, and Tłuste's Jews sent lobbyists to Lvov and spent a great amount of money to obtain the necessary permit. Hanf received 300 to 400 workers from the Judenrat every day, but he wanted to employ all of the Jews in town. The Jews who worked for him received enough food during their work in the fields, no one was tormenting them, and they were even allowed to walk around without an arm band.
The management of the G.G. Caoutchouc company brought Jewish workers from the Tarnopol area, including about one hundred young Jewish women. These workers were housed in huts on the Kozia-Gora farm, and so a labor camp was created. The laborers worked there temporarily and they were to be released at the end of the season. The rubber plantation did not develop properly and the few Jewish workers were released and sent home.
On 12 August 1942, Dr. Hanf informed the regional labor office in Chortkov that he was going to release the last workers from the Kozia-Gora camp, and demanded train tickets for them. Only around seventy women and teenage girls remained in the farm. The labor office informed him that those workers were to be handed to the Gestapo. Three days later, Gestapo men arrived in Tłuste from Chortkov and demanded that the Judenrat hand them 10% of the Jewish population, mostly those who were not able to work, in order to take them out of town. They threatened that if the Judenrat did not deliver the people they would take care of removing them from their homes. The Judenrat gathered for a long meeting but it was very difficult to come to a decision. In the end it was decided, without any other choice, to deliver to their hands old men and women and sick children a total of one hundred and seventy people. Since the Gestapo's demand of 10% of the Jewish population was not met, the Germans added the seventy young women from the Kozia-Gora farm to the quota. The Jewish police, with the help of the Ukrainian police, brought them to Tłuste. On the way, the girls were ordered to sing Hatikvah. In Tłuste, the 240 Jews were put in rail cars and transported to Belz concentration camp. Three young women were able to jump from the moving train and returned to Tłuste the following day. With that, the first aktzya ended in our town.
The Caoutchouc plants, from which the Germans were hoping to produce synthetic rubber, were not as successful as they hoped for. Therefore they decreased the size of the plantations and the land was mostly used for wheat.
As a result of this change, the German administrators who managed the farms also were changed. A new work manager arrived to our town. He was a German from the city of Dargun in Mecklenburg, and his name was Patti [Vathje]. Thanks to him, all of Tłuste's surviving Jews were saved from liquidation. He was a real friend to the Jews and he risked his life for them a number of times. He always tried to get information in advance about the aktzyot that were going to take place in Tłuste, and always alerted the Jews before the arrival of the Gestapo.
In October 1941, the Judenrat received a demand from the regional Judenrat in Chortkov. They wanted dozens of healthy Jews in order to send them to the labor camps in Kamionka and Glembotzk [Hluboczek]. Thirty people, most of them refugees who lived in town, were sent. We were promised that the workers would receive plenty of food in their place of work, and they would be replaced with another group of workers in three weeks. A short time later, bitter and bad news started to arrive from the people who were sent to the camps: the work was very difficult, most of it was in road repairs and in the paving of new roads and railroad tracks. In addition to that, they were severely beaten and they were not given any food. After the arrival of this news, no one wanted to work in those camps in place of the first group of thirty. When the Judenrat demanded that they come to register, no one came and everyone hid wherever they could.
10. The aktzyot in Tłuste and in nearby towns
At the beginning of December 1941, on a Thursday [4 December], we received a message from Horodenka across the Dniester River about the aktzya that took place there on that day. At first, we found out that a large number of Jews, around two thousand five hundred, were taken out of their homes and locked in the building of the Great Synagogue. On the next day we received a report that those Jews were transferred by trucks and by foot to a forest near the Dniester, almost across from the town of Uścieczko. There, they were shot to death and buried in a big mass grave that was prepared in advance. Farmers, who arrived from the area, told us that the Jews were ordered to remove their clothes before the killing. The sound of the victims' shouts was carried and heard several kilometers away in the town of Uścieczko on this side of the Dniester.
I heard a detailed description of the aktzya from the daughter of Horodenka's slaughterer, who miraculously survived and pulled herself out of the killing pit. The Jews were ordered to take their clothes off and put them in a designated location. After that they were forced to climb on a plank of wood that was put across the burial pit, then, they were shot and fell into the pit. Most of those who fell into the pit were dead or seriously wounded. She also stood on the wood plank with her son in her arms. Her son was hit and she fell together with him into the pit. She remained in the pit until late at night, and then she pulled herself out of it without a cover on her skin. One of the farmers from the village of Siemakowce, which was near the killing location, gave her a dress to wear and a sweater to cover herself, and so she arrived to our town.
At dusk, on the same Thursday [sic], we were informed that a similar action also took place in the city of Zaleszczyki. There, an order was given to the Judenrat that all Jews must report on Friday morning to a number of locations in the city: The craftsmen were told to report to the police station, and the other residents were ordered to come to the military base out of the city equipped with cleaning tools: shovels, brooms and pails. On Friday, we found out that the craftsmen, who gathered at the police station, were let go, but the rest of the residents, around 700 people, were taken from the base to an unknown location and disappeared [This aktzya actually occurred on 14 November 1941 ed.]. No one knows what happed to these Jews.
On the same Friday [5 December 1941], in the morning, a number of Gestapo men arrived from Chortkov. With the help of the Jewish police they went out to the streets to catch Jews, as if they were planning to replace the Jews who had been sent to the labor camps. By chance, I stood at the same time across from the Judenrat office together with the slaughterer, R' Shalom Lam. Suddenly, two Germans and two Jewish policemen appeared. One of them was Zushe Shporn [Zishe Sparen] who started to shout: Stop! Also the Germans ordered us to stop. An aqueduct separated us and a small crossing bridge was not far from us. The policemen and the Germans turned to the bridge in order to catch us, but I was able to escape and hid in Berel Eringer's home. The slaughterer was not able to escape and was caught. On the same day, around seventy or eighty Jews were caught and led on foot to the Judenrat in Chortkov. A few of them were able to pay ransom and free themselves, and the others were sent to labor camps, together with one thousand Jews who were caught in the area on the same day. The first group of thirty Jews, who were sent to camps earlier, was not released and continued to suffer there. Their relatives sent them food parcels every two weeks in order to ease their suffering. The Judenrat also sent food parcels every once in a while.
On 20 December 1941, another roundup took place. This time about one hundred and twenty Jews were sent to camps. Among them there were three Judenrat members: Dr. Krasutski, Moshe Pfeffer and Yisrael Krampf. Some time later, a few of them were able to release themselves from the camp after paying a lot of money and with the intervention of the Judenrat in Skalat. The members of the Meiman family were also released. After this big round-up similar smaller actions took place. In these actions the Gestapo was helped by the Ukrainian police and also by the people of the Jewish police. The abductees were usually sent to the regional Judenrat in Chortkov, and from there the Germans transferred them to labor camps.
11. The "fur aktzya"
In December 1941, an order arrived that within a period of 14 days all of the town's Jews must give their furs to the Judenrat who would transfer the furs to the Gestapo. Those who refused to obey the order would be sentenced to death. As the Gestapo had done in each town, they also arrested a number of Jews in our town and held them as hostages until the order was fulfilled. Among others they arrested R' Ahron Meiman, z"l, and R' Gavriel Hessing, May he rest in peace. Most of the residents obeyed the order and brought their furs to the Judenrat. Only a few endangered themselves and gave their furs to their non-Jewish friends or sold them for a cheap price. A number of people hid their furs in the ground, and there were others who burnt them. Among those who hid their furs was Berel Oringer, who hid them in the ground together with other valuables. Someone informed on him, Ukrainian and Jewish policemen searched his home and found the pit where the articles were buried. He was arrested, sent to Chortkov and received a death sentence. For a large sum of money, the Judenrat was able to exchange the death sentence for a hard labor sentence in the Kamionka labor camp. So, they sent a seventy-year old man to a labor camp, and a few months later they liberated him with a lot of money. When the fur aktzya ended, it was necessary to care for the release of the hostages. Also this matter was not easy. They were released together with other hostages who were arrested in nearby towns, only after their families paid ransom for them.
Besides the robbery of the furs which was organized like an aktzya, the Gestapo men came to town every once in a while, and made orders in the value of thousands of Zlotys. The orders included goods and valuables such as: leather coats, boots, fabrics, jewelry and such. In order to supply those orders, the Judenrat was forced to enforce a tax on Jews, and the Jews became poorer from day to day. The Jewish police was ordered to collect and extort the tax by any means, by conducting searches, torture and imprisonment. At times the police found a few hundred dollars and expensive jewelry, mostly among the refugees, and confiscated it. It is no wonder that the town's Jews were afraid of the Jewish police and showed very little sympathy towards it, if I want to express myself in a soft language.
The Judenrat members carried out the Germans' demands. One of the duties that was forced on them was to supply Jewish workers. The workers were sent to work according to their place in the queue. There were Jews who were able to release themselves from work duty by paying 20 Zlotys for each day of work.
At the end of the winter of 1941-1942, Yakov Pel resigned from his duty as the Jews elder and Dr. Averman took his place. He came from Mykulińce near Tarnopol. He was a very decent man and his only wish was to protect the town and its Jews.
12. The events of the summer of 1942
The spring months and the beginning of the summer of 1942 passed without any special events. In June there was a shortage of food supplies because the Germans confiscated all the grain and transferred it to their country. Everything became more expensive, and people ate only potatoes and potato skins. The kitchen had to increase the number of meals that were given to the needy at midday, and was not able to satisfy the hunger of the many Jews who came and asked for help. Many gathered by the kitchen's doors at all times, and not once the police had to intervene and introduce order. Due to the difficult situation, the kitchen gave tea to everyone between five in the afternoon until eight. Those with means paid 10 Grushin, but most of the people who came received it for free.
There were a number of Jews in town whose situation was not that difficult since they had something to sell to the farmers and get food in exchange. I was one of those lucky ones: I still had a few haberdashery items and bottles of perfume that I was able to hide. There were also those who endangered their lives, snuck out of town and went to work for the farmers in exchange for food.
The condition of the Jews in Kolomyja, Stanisławów and Lvov was worse. There, they were actually dying from hunger in city streets. I, and other Jews, sent small packages of grain to our families in those cities. Every once in a while, it was possible to mail a one-kilogram package and the grain was ground in coffee grinders. The matter of grinding grain in coffee grinders was very common in those days, because the Jews were not allowed to use the flour mills. Each Jewish home had a grinder like that. They turned it all day long, and they were able to grind around four kilograms of wheat during the day. This work was done in secret, and the same was done with the baking of the bread and eating it.
In the summer of 1942, a number of decrees and limitations were enforced on our Jewish brothers: (1) They were forbidden to walk in the town's main street. Only two passageways, which connected the two sections of town, were allocated to them. A notice board was located next to each passage and the inscription Jewish passageway was written on it. (2) Jews were forbidden to draw water from the central well that always supplied water to the residents. (3) They were forbidden to communicate with the non-Jewish population, such as having a conversation with them, saying hello and such. (4) An order was given that all Jews who still lived in the villages, and also Jews who lived in the suburbs, must move to the town center and live among the Jewish population. The homeowners whose homes stood on the main street were forced to lock their front door and only use the back door. Jewish shops were liquidated and everything was transferred to the hands of the Ukrainians. (5) Jews were allowed to send or receive packages in the mail as long as they didn't exceed the weight of one kilogram. There were not any limitations in this matter to the non-Jewish population.
In the summer of 1942, there was an event that agitated the whole town. During the occupation, nearly one hundred Jews worked in Tłuste train station. They filled and leveled the pits that had been created by the bombs, and other jobs. The Judenrat came to an agreement with the station manager and he agreed, for a certain monthly payment, not to be strict with the number of people who worked there, or with the quality of their work. At one time, the Judenrat was late with its bonus and did not give it on time. The station manager called the Gestapo in Chortkov, and informed them that the Jews were on strike and did not show up for work. At four o'clock in the afternoon, two cars full of Gestapo men arrived to the Judenrat office, and demanded to bring all of the train station workers to their place of work. The Judenrat scattered all over town and recruited each person who crossed their path, and even took the kitchen workers with them (they did not take me because of my beard). After all of them were brought to the train station, the Gestapo men ordered to bring two freight cars, loaded the Jews on them and locked them in. The common opinion was that the Gestapo was waiting for a train to arrive in order to send those Jews to an unknown destination. A great panic broke in town and the Judenrat went into action. They bribed the station manager with a large sum of money, and also gave ransom money to the Gestapo. And so, the Judenrat succeeded to cancel the decree of transporting the Jews. They were released and given to Dr. Averman, who was ordered to detain the workers until morning and send them from there to their work place. This event left a difficult impression in town; the whole town was confused and the train station workers did not allow themselves to skip work again.
During the last summer months, an order arrived from the regional Judenrat to assemble a group of six strong men to purchase old metal from the whole area and collect it at the train station. It was clear and understood that it would be difficult work, but many Jews wanted it since it would provide them with the possibility to move freely in town and outside it. Immediately there were Jews who agreed to pay a large sum of money for the right to be a member of this working group. The lucky ones who were chosen for this duty received a special identity card from the Gestapo, and they had to carry the letter A on their chest meaning: Jewish laborer. It became clear that they used their freedom to buy food out of town and bring it to the ghetto.
In July 1942, the Germans issued an order that all Jews from the cities of Zaleszczyki, Chortkov and
Kopyczyńce who did not belong to the Jewish laborers class would be transferred to Tłuste. Immediately Jewish families started to arrive in our town from those cities, and the housing situation became extremely grave. The wealthy exiled families rented apartments with their own money and the Judenrat was forced to pay for the housing of poor families.
13. The second aktzya in Tłuste
During the High Holidays rumors spread in town about the massacres that took place in other cities, and depression took over immediately. During the holiday of Sukkot [end of September / beginning October] we found out that two thousand Jews were captured in the nearby town of Borszczów, and sent to Belzec concentration camp. The report caused panic and fear in town, and anyone, who had the opportunity started to install a bunker in his home for times of trouble. I also installed a hiding place in the attic of my home.
On Simchat Torah [3 October 1942], we received a warning from the regional Judenrat in Chortkov that the Gestapo was planning an aktzya in Tłuste. On the next day, around five in the morning, Gestapo men, escorted by Ukrainian policemen, scattered around town and started to abduct Jews. My family, myself and a number of other Jews, all together eleven people, sat in the hiding place in the attic. Through a small window I saw how they were leading a group of around one hundred Jews to a central location. Besides the Ukrainian police, groups of rioters armed with axes and sticks also participated in the search. They walked from house to house, and when they found Jews hiding in a bunker they led them to the central location. Many of the abducted Jews were killed in that place. The murderers also arrived at our bunker and started to break the wall with axes. Fortunately, one of them mentioned that the wall was very old, and he did not think that there was a bunker behind it. Then, they all left and went on their way.
The aktzya lasted until three o'clock in the afternoon. At three, a siren indicated that the aktzya was over. I looked through the small window and saw a number of Jews walking freely in the streets, so I also went down from the attic. The aktzya was directed by a Gestapo man from Chortkov by the name of Palre [Pal ed.]. A number of Jews, who were hiding in the post office, heard Palre informing Chortkov by phone the operation was successful, the result 128 dead and 900 prisoners
The prisoners were loaded on rail cars and transferred to Belzec. Among them was also Tłuste's rabbi,
R' Shmuel-Aba Chodorov, with his wife, son and daughter. The rabbi's mother, who was around seventy years old, informed the Gestapo men that she refused to walk to the gathering place, and if they wanted to kill her they had better shoot her right there. The murderers fulfilled her wish and killed her where she was standing. A few Jews who jumped from the moving train were saved. R' Chodorov also had the opportunity to jump from the car, but he did not wish to do so. His sixteen-year-old daughter jumped from the death-car near Lvov, but she perished later on.
The victims of this aktzya were mostly refugees who did not live in town and did not have suitable bunkers to hide in. On the same day, the Judenrat cared for the burial of the victims in the local cemetery. According to the Gestapo order, the Judenrat collected the belongings of the transferred with the assistance of the Ukrainian police, and put them in a special warehouse. The Gestapo men left after the aktzya was over, and the Jews came out of their hiding places to observe and see the evil act that was done to them.
14. Tłuste becoming a central location for Jewish survivors from fifteen towns
On the day after the aktzya we found out that the same massacres and transfers also took place in most of the towns around Tłuste. We learnt from different circles in the regional Judenrat in Chortkov that the Germans were planning to liquidate the Jewish population in most of the towns except in the cities of Chortkov, Borszczów and Kopyczyńce, where they were planning to leave a small Jewish settlement. They were also thinking of saving one more city: Jezierzany (Uziran) or Tłuste. The councils of the two towns started to lobby vigorously before the regional Judenrat, each one in favor of its own town, and each one of them was willing to pay large sums of money for the right to be a city of refuge. Meanwhile, the Jews in the two towns sat on their belongings, ready to leave for the road in case they would be forced to move to another town.
In the end, Tłuste's Judenrat won. The day after the victory on a rainy Sabbath Jews from the nearby towns started to arrive to Tłuste. Most of them came in wagons and brought their belongings with them. The matter lasted all week, and at the end of the week the number of Jews in town reached about eight thousand. In the message that was sent to the Gestapo, the number of Jews was reduced by one-third from the correct number, since they were afraid to admit that so many Jews settled here This scheme seriously hurt the nutritional system since the Germans provided food rations according to the number of residents. The overcrowding condition in town grew above all measures. Also before that there was a shortage of apartments and the transfer of thousands of Jews to an unknown destination did not lower the overcrowding conditions. The Germans sold the transferees' apartments to the municipality, who gave them to the farmers for a very cheap price so they could take them apart and reuse the building materials. The kitchen continued to operate, but it was not able to provide enough food to the hungry. Out of the Hungarian refugees almost no one was left in town. During the summer of 1942 each one of them tried to reach his home in Hungary.
At the beginning of December 1942, the Gestapo established a camp in Swidowa [Świdowa], a distance of nine kilometers from Tłuste. The camp belonged to the Wehrmacht and the camp workers were marked by the letter W. Only healthy people without children were accepted to work in that camp. The Jews believed that the workers of this camp would be protected from future aktzyot. Some paid ten thousand and even fifteen thousand Zlotys for the privilege to be included among the camp's workers. Most of the people, who were accepted there, were Jews from Chortkov who had connections with the Gestapo. They were allowed to bring their valuables with them and a number of them even brought their carpets.
Jews who were able to register and be accepted to the Swidowa camp were considered to be blessed. Meanwhile, a number of Jews also started to look for a way to return to their towns. Some of them were able to arrange jobs for themselves, like collecting metal or similar jobs. It became evident that each success of that kind was involved with a large payment to the Gestapo or to the local commander.
15. The bitter end of Dr. Bernard Meltzer and his family
Fifty, or sixty years ago, an important learned Chortkov Hassid, R' Kalman-Matye Meltzer, lived in Tłuste. One of his grandsons, Dr. Bernard Meltzer, married the daughter of R' Berel Kotner, May he rest in peace, and settled in Tłuste. He was a good doctor and excelled in diagnostic medicine. During the Soviet regime, he was appointed director of the regional hospital where he worked with five doctors and a large medical team. After the Germans occupied the town, he left his position and saw patients at his home. Very quickly he earned a good reputation, even among the Germans who also came from Chortkov to seek medical treatment from him.
In November 1942, a Ukrainian doctor entered his apartment accompanied by two Gestapo men, and ordered him to evacuate his apartment without taking anything out of it. He left his apartment and moved to his brother's apartment which was located nearby. Since then he was afraid to spend the night in town and, every day after dark, a farmer who was one of his friends came and took his whole family to sleep on his farm.
On 20 December 1942, the farmer did not come to take him as he did day after day, and he spent the night together with his wife and two daughters in his brother's apartment. At six o'clock the Ukrainian police commander came and took the whole family to the police station. The Judenrat started to appeal for their release, but it came to nothing. An hour later all of them were transferred to Chortkov. Early the next morning, Dr. Averman and two other Judenrat members left for Chortkov as they always did when it was necessary to cancel one of the decrees. But this time they were too late. Before they arrived in Chortkov, Dr. Meltzer, his wife and two daughters were taken to Rożyszcze forest and were executed there.
16. The Roundup in Tłuste
At twilight, on Monday, 21 December, a sudden panic took over the town. The Ukrainian police invaded the streets and started to catch Jews - men and women, old people and young people. And so, thirty people were caught and locked in the police station cellar. During the night, the Judenrat managed to release a number of them, but on the next evening the hunt continued. After a lot of pleading we learnt from the police commander that the roundup was executed according to a command given by the Gestapo in Chortkov. They ordered them to catch and arrest the wanderers (who do not work). On the evening of the fourth day Jews were not seen in the streets, everyone was hiding in his home or in his hiding place. Again, the police invaded the town, broke doors and demolished bunker walls, and arrested around thirty Jews. And so, around eighty Jews were captured over a period of three days. On Thursday, 24 December 1942, in a snow storm and frigid weather, they were loaded on sleds and transferred to Chortkov. On the last night, Yosel Grill's wife was arrested for the second time after she was released the night before, against payment of one thousand Zlotys.
Under the pressure of the detainees' relatives, the members of the Judenrat traveled to Chortkov and tried to release them or pay ransom for them, but all their efforts came to nothing. They remained in prison together with many other Jews from different towns. They were released only on January 1st, and a few days later they returned to their homes. They told us that they had been beaten with great cruelty when they arrived at the prison in Chortkov, their shoes were taken from them and they were not allowed to receive packages from their families or from their friends. A few days later, forty strong men were taken out, given digging shovels and transferred by trucks to a forest in Rożyszcze. It was clear to them that they were going to dig their own grave and the graves for the rest of the prisoners. But the snow was very deep, the truck turned over on the way and they were not able to reach the forest. All of them returned to Chortkov and later on all the detainees were released. During their release they were beaten and tortured and their shoes were given back to them. No one received his own pair of shoes and the shoes did not match. There were some who were given two right shoes or two left shoes. Chortkov's Jews took the liberated prisoners to their homes, gave them food and a place to sleep until they were able to return to their towns.
Shortly after the Jews returned from prison they became ill with typhus. It was clear that it was a German plot
to release the Jewish prisoners so they would infect the town's Jews and spread this dangerous illness among them.
During the entire time, the Gestapo men never stopped coming to our town to give an order, and the Judenrat was forced to give them what they wanted so they wouldn't have an excuse to take advantage of the town's Jews. The kitchen operation stopped on 15 January 1943, and the last remnant of Jewish mutual aid was put to an end. Only the Jewish police continued to exist and continued to extort the last possessions from the Jews. Epidemics and illness spread and caused casualties among the Jewish population, and the number of dead was 25 to 30 people every day.
We also received bad and bitter news from the Jews who worked in the camps. After the Germans suffered from great defeats on the battlefront, the conditions in the camps worsened and many Jews were shot to death.
The Judenrat in Skalat managed to release a number of men from the neighboring camps, but most of the camp's workers remained there, and were tortured to death by the difficult work and the unbearable living conditions.
On Friday, 12 February 1943, a number of Gestapo men arrived from Chortkov to give an order to the Judenrat. Before evening we suddenly heard the sound of gunfire. Jews escaped for the lives and hid in their bunkers all night. Only in the morning we learnt the reason for the shooting and the result: On the way from the Judenrat building, the Gestapo men turned to the Jewish homes in Targowica, and shot the Jews whom they met by chance. Forty Jews died on the same Friday. On Saturday morning the martyrs were led to the cemetery and were buried according to Jewish tradition.
17. Passover 5703 1943
Tłuste's Jews lived under horrible conditions throughout the winter. But on the eve of the holiday of Passover [20 April 1943] they baked matzha and got ready to celebrate Passover properly. About three days before Passover, a message arrived that an aktzya had taken place in a nearby town. Eight thousand Jews were taken out of town in addition to the many Jews who were killed on the spot. On Passover eve, we found out that an aktzya was raging in the nearby town of Borszczów. When the Jews heard the news, they left all that they prepared for the holiday and hurried to their hiding places. Around half of them escaped to the fields and to the forests. There were incidents when local Ukrainians, who served in the Kripa [criminal police], tried to stop the escaping Jews. So it happened to two families - Trembovelski and Hendel, who tried to reach Olchowa forest through a side road. The Ukrainians blocked their way, they resisted and a scuffle started between them. The Jews were beaten and injured, but they also beat their opponents and escaped to the forest. An eight-year-old boy, Shlomo Hendel, lost contact with his family and returned to the town on his own.
On the first day of Passover [Tuesday, 21 April 1943], in the morning hours, everyone remained in his hiding place. It was quiet in town and the tension calmed down a little. Panic broke again in the afternoon hours. The Borszczów Judenrat called to inform us that the aktzya was finished in their town, the Angels of Destruction had left town and they were traveling in the direction of Tłuste. Immediately, the Judenrat sent the Jewish police to urge the residents to go to their hiding places. My wife and I hid in a bunker that was located in the attic of Fishel Pfeffer's home. Three hours later, the Judenrat called Borszczów for the second time and we found out that the murderers had returned to Chortkov. They calmed Tłuste's Jews, and said that they didn't think that the Germans would arrange additional aktzyot in the next few days because of the holiday of Easter. After hearing this news everyone came out of hiding. Only the Jews who escaped out of town did not hurry to return and remained in their hiding places in the fields and in the forests. And so, a relative calm prevailed in town and lasted during the days of Passover.
18. The great massacre in Tłuste
In spite of the peace that prevailed during Passover, all of us were full of fear. We knew and we felt that our town would not be different from its close neighbors. Even before Passover the Germans ordered us to mark the Jewish homes with a blue Star of David, and the homes where Jews and Christians lived together with a red Star of David. It was clear to everyone that it was ordered in preparation for aktzya day so the murderers would be able to tell the different between the Jewish and the Christian homes. With fear and terror we waited for the terrible Day of Judgment. And the dreadful day, the day of trouble and destruction of Tłuste's Jews arrived.
At midnight on Tuesday, 25 May 1943, 32 days to the counting of the Omer, I heard the voice of the Jews elder Dr. Averman passing by my window. He was walking to his brother [in-law], Ahron Gertner, who lived in the next building. I waited for him and when he returned I asked him the reason for his late visit. He told me that delegates of the Judenrat were in Chortkov. There, they found out that the situation had reached a very dangerous stage and we needed to hide. Immediately after, Ahron Gertner came to me and we decided to escape from the town in the early morning hours.
At three o'clock in the morning we all left town, my wife and myself, Gertner with his wife and their baby. We arrived in the village of Holovtshinza [Hołowczyńce] which was located around two or three kilometers from Tłuste. There, I entered the yard of a Polish friend by the name of Wlodya Ostropolski. The whole family was asleep so we entered his stable and stayed there until morning. In the morning Ostropolski let us into his home. His daughter vacated her room for us, and he calmed us all down and promised to hide us if we were in danger. Later on he locked us in his home and went to see what was happening in town.
The same day of the week, Wednesday, passed peacefully. In the evening I wanted to return to town, sleep in my home and return to the farm early the next morning. Ostropolski did not allow us to return. He advised us to ask our family members who remained in town for their opinion. I gave him letters addressed to my sister Rachel Meiman, my brother-in-law Chaim Bronshtayn, and to my aunt Malcha Sternklar. My sister and my aunt said that it was possible to return to town since it was quiet there. On the other hand, my brother-in-law advised me to wait and see. We took his advice and spent the night in Holovtshinza.
Early in the morning of Thursday, 27 May 1943, Ostropolski's son-in-law came to tell us that the aktzya had started. Ostropolski and his son-in-law went out to the streets and there they saw Jewish people running full of fear and panic with their bundles and their children. They ran on side roads towards the fields. Among the escapees they also saw my wife's sister, Feiga Hendel, with her husband and three children. The sound of gunfire and other weapons of destruction were heard from all directions.
Around ten o'clock an armed Ukrainian policeman arrived in the village. Ostropolski's daughter got very scared, entered our room and asked us to leave the house. Immediately her father entered and sent her away from the room. He arranged a secret corner for us and left us in his home. In order to remove any suspicion from his home he opened the windows, locked his door and went to town. A short time later he came back and told us that the aktzya was in full strength. Many Germans, and many more Ukrainians, were abducting Jews, taking them out of their homes and leading them to the market square where they were strictly guarded by armed Ukrainians. The matter lasted until three o'clock in the afternoon. Then, the abductions stopped and the murderers selected forty strong Jews and led them to the cemetery to dig pits. The Germans promised them that if they would work well they would let them go. A few farmers, who lived in town and in the nearby villages, helped to discover Jews who were hiding. In return for their help they received all the Jewish property as gifts. Before evening, an armed Gestapo brigade arrived from Chortkov. The Ukrainian policemen led the Jews from the market square to the cemetery, and there the Nazis shot and killed them.
During the day Ostropolski visited town a number of times, and from him I found out what was happening there. Late in the afternoon, at the end of the aktzya, we did not know what tomorrow would bring. There were those who assumed that the murders would continue on the next day, and there were those who assumed that for now the aktzya was over.
On Friday morning, Ostropolski went to town. We agreed that if he did not return in an hour, it meant that the aktzya was over and it was possible for us to leave our hiding place. To be safe we decided to wait more than an hour; and when he did not return three hours later my wife and I left Ostropolski's house and started to walk to town. On the way farmers loaded with Jewish property were walking towards us, and we also met a few miserable and frightened Jews who returned to town from their hiding places.
When we were close to town, we turned to a side road and approached the home of my sister Rachel Meiman who lived at the entrance to the town. A wagon harnessed to horses stood in the yard and a number of Jews, Reuven Albin's two sons included, were loading the victims' bodies on the cart. I was sure that my sister and my brother-in-law were among the murdered, and because of it I became dizzy and fainted. My brother-in-law, who was standing nearby, ran to me and calmed me down. I found out that all of my family members remained alive, and the murdered were a rabbi from Pinsk who lived with my brother-in-law, Reuven Albin's third son, and a number of other Jews.
I found out that most of the members of the Jewish police and the Jewish workers who carried the letter A or W, were able to escape and hide. If one of them was caught the murderers treated him differently from the way they treated the rest of the Jews: they did not shoot him but forced him to help with the aktzya. The same happened to Berish Hessing. He was in the W work section and was forced to escort the captured Jews from the town square to the cemetery. I heard following story from him: Walking in one of the groups to the cemetery was the well-known town resident, R' Moshe Vilner, who shouted in a great voice: Shema' Yisrael Adonai ekiheinu Adoni ehad [Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one]. One of the Germans asked Hessing: What is this Jew shouting? Hessing explained to him that he was calling God. To that the German answered: but this is the God who rejected you and cursed you
As it is told above, the Germans promised the forty Jews, who were selected to dig the pits that their lives would be spared in exchange for their work and they would not be killed. And indeed, the Germans kept what they promised They were not murdered together with everyone else. After the graves of the thousands of Jews were sealed, these Jews were ordered to dig a small pit, they were shot to death next to it and buried in it.
At the home of Yoshe Grill there was a bunker where his family and the Trembovelski family hid. All together 15 people hid there. Trembovelski's four-year-old son started to cry, and all the efforts to calm him down were in vain. The murderers were running around the house searching for Jews, and the boy's cry could have given them away and endanger the lives of the people who were sitting there. Out of desperation, one of them took a pillow, covered the boy's body with it, and sat on the pillow in order to silence the boy's cries. Indeed the boy became silent for eternity. The people who were hiding in the bunker survived, and they live and exist to this day.
The streets were full with the bodies of those who were shot trying to escape from their murderers. The body of Dr. Langholz, son of Akiva Langholz, was lying next to my house. The bodies were collected by the members of the Jewish police and other Jews who were selected for this duty by the Judenrat. They were taken to the cemetery and buried there in a common grave.
The slaughter in Tłuste was executed under the command of the Gestapo commander in Chortkov. Around two hundred Germans, four hundred Ukrainian policemen and the people of the special Shupo [security police] and Kripo [criminal police] police units took part in this action. On Friday, the Judenrat received a bill in the amount of 2,500 Zlotys for the bullets that were used in the aktzya. The Judenrat paid the amount and received a valid receipt ..
On the same Friday, the day after the aktzya, all the furniture and valuable items were taken out of the homes of the murdered Jews. All the furniture was stored in the credit union building, and the rest of the items in Berish Hessing's home. The Jewish laborers helped in this operation.
3,500 Jews perished in this blood massacre. By chance none of the members of my family, which was one of the largest and extended families in town, was among them. Besides a twelve-year-old girl, the daughter of a family member by the name Hernes, the rest of my relatives were not hurt in this aktzya.
After the Jews came out of their hiding places, in the town or outside it, the total number of Jews in Tłuste was around three thousand people.
19. The strange case of a Jew from Horodenka
In 1938 I entered a partnership with a Jew from Horodenka by the name of Herman Shteynkol [Steinkohl]. Together we became the representatives of the Bata company. In the course of working together we got close to each other. In July 1931, the Bata company canceled the agreement because of our Judaism and Shteynkol returned to his town of Horodenka. In 1940, when I was on my way to Kolomja, I visited Shteynkol's home in Horodenka and had the opportunity to meet his family.
At the end of 1942, I received a letter from Shteynkol from the town of Stary or Sambor. He informed me that his wife and his little daughter disappeared from his sight when they tried to sneak across the border to Romania. He and his small son wandered to Kolomja, and from there they were sent by train to Belzec. On the way he managed to jump from the car, and so he was left alone in the world without any financial means. He asked me to try and send him some money to live on. I sent him 100 Zlotys and asked the Judenrat to send him a larger amount.
On the same day, in the evening, a woman came to my home with her girl and asked me if I still remembered her. She was Herman Shteynkol's wife. She managed to reach Chernovitz but was returned from there and was given to the Ukrainian police. In Kosov she met a Jewish relative who paid the police 100 Dollars as ransom for her and her daughter. She returned to Horodenka but when she did not find any Jews there she tried to reach Tłuste. She came to me since I was her friend. I carefully told her that her husband was alive and that I had a letter from him. The next morning she wrote a letter to her husband and some time later she received an answer from him. Now a problem arose on how to reunite the family. Meanwhile Shteynkol became ill with typhus. Also it was very difficult to send letters because Jews were not allowed to use the postal service. The only way to exchange letters was with the help of non-Jewish friends. In time, Shteynkol recovered from his illness, started to work, and was even able to send money to his wife through the Judenrat. His main wish was to reach his family, but he was afraid to endanger himself in such a long journey due to the conditions of those days.
On the last days of the month of May, a letter arrived from Shteynkol saying that he had decided to travel to Tłuste dressed as a gentile. And indeed, he kept his word and arrived in Tłuste but did not find his wife and daughter among the living. Both had been killed in the great massacre together with 3,500 Jews. Again, Shteynkol remained lonely and depressed. He stayed in Tłuste and was tormented in different camps until the town was liberated by the Red Army in March of 1944.
20. After the massacre
The handful of Jewish survivors in Tłuste were not even given time to cry for their relatives and friends who perished in the great massacre. Three days after the massacre, on 30 May 1943, rumors spread that the Germans were planning to declare the whole area Judenfrei, meaning, to kill all the surviving Jews in the whole area. The rumor cast great confusion among the Jewish survivors in town, and no one knew how to face the upcoming trouble.
On Monday, 31 May, we became aware of a new decree. The Judenrat and the municipality received an order to transfer all the Jews who remained in town to one street by 5 June 1943. The Judenrat did not see the possibility of crowding the survivors in one street. Therefore they traveled to Chortkov to appeal in the matter and to get permission to add another narrow alleyway to the ghetto. Early Wednesday evening it was clear to everyone that all the efforts failed, and there was no escape from being locked in a ghetto. In order to secure a place for myself in the ghetto, I approached my friend Moshe Shulman and he agreed to provide me a corner in his apartment. But I was not the only one who came to him, and very quickly his apartment was completely full and there was no place for us and our belongings. The confusion grew from moment to moment. Jews were willing to sell their belongings for a few coins, but they were not able to find a buyer. There were those who gave their belongings to their Christian friends in order to get them back if they survived. I and my brother-in-law Bronshtayn also did the same.
On Thursday 5 (sic) June [Thursday would have been 3 June ed.], Dr. Averman returned to Tłuste with the news that there was a spark of hope to survive the liquidation. There were six farms around Tłuste under the management of a German by the name Paul Friedrich Patti [Vathje]. He had a good heart and actually liked the Jews. He became friendly with many Jews in Tłuste, had good connections with the Judenrat, and every so often helped the Jews to the best of his power. After the great aktzya, Patti approached the agricultural administration in Jagielnitza [Jagielnica] and received permission from the Gestapo to take out one thousand Jewish workers from Tłuste, and settle them on the six farms that were under his management. The Judenrat used the opportunity and received permission from Patti to select the workers and to provide the work cards that were signed by him. More than that, Patti agreed to provide cards to two thousand people despite the fact that he received permission to provide cards to only one thousand people. According to the instruction the cards were only destined for healthy workers, but Patti gave an order not to be strict and also to give cards to the elderly and children. He also gave permission to bring children without any cards. The Jews treated those cards as a permit to stay alive, and they were ready to give everything they had in exchange for a work card.
On Friday, 4 June, Tłuste's surviving Jews had to leave their apartments and move to the ghetto. Those who were able to get a work card left for the farms. There were Jews who escaped to the forests, and a number of Jews were able to find shelter with their Christian friends. Every person plotted and searched for a way to avoid being locked in the ghetto. Early on Friday morning, the Judenrat also moved to the ghetto and settled in the home of Antshel Pfeffer. On Saturday, 5 June, at 12 noon, the ghetto was locked. The members of the Jewish police were posted to guard its entrance, and no one was allowed to enter or exit it.
Patti was not satisfied in saving only the lives of the Jews whom he managed to take to the farms under his control. On Saturday evening he invited Hilel Kenigsberg, who worked for him as an agronomist, and told him to order 120 able Jews from the Judenrat for Sunday morning (usually no one worked in the farms on Sundays). He was planning to engage these workers in a very strange work: pulling weeds from a plot of land that was far away from town. The work had to be done by hand since he was not able to provide them with the tools needed for this work. He also instructed that all Jews must work on that Sunday on the farms, and no one would be exempt from work. At the end, the Judenrat sent him only 85 Jewish workers because nobody wanted to do it.
At dawn on Sunday, Patti traveled from farm to farm, and repeated the order to keep the Jews busy in their work and under no circumstances to let them leave. He also convinced the Jews whom he met in town to return to the farms and join the workers. There were those who did not listen to him and later paid with their lives. Among them was the wife of David Wasser. Despite Patti's warning, she hurried to town but she was not able to return and lost her life together with the rest of the Jews who were locked in the ghetto.
On the same Sunday, approximately at eleven, a number of cars full of Gestapo men suddenly arrived. Among them was Major Simon, the commander of Sipo [Sicherheitspolizei - security police], and the S.S. Nazi oppressor Thomanek. They stopped by the ghetto and blocked the entrance. A church stood next to the ghetto and it was full of Ukrainians. The murderers told them not to be alarmed from the sound of the gunfire in the ghetto, because it was only intended to exterminate the Jews and they were not going to hurt them. Immediately after this message was given, they entered the ghetto and started to shoot in all directions. They searched and found the bunkers where some of the Jews were hiding and did not let anyone escape. And so in a matter of 2-3 hours they liquidated over one thousand Jews.
Late in the afternoon, after the massacre was over, the few Jews who had been able to hide came out of their hiding places. Some of them found work on the farms and the rest, around 120 Jews, remained in town and settled in a few buildings in the ghetto. On Wednesday, 9 June 1943, (the first day of Shavuot 5703) the town received an order from Chortkov to transfer the surviving Jews over there. It was explained that the whole area had become Judenrein and therefore Jews were not allowed to remain in town. The municipality fulfilled the order and sent the Jews to Chortkov in wagons, but they were not allowed to enter Chortkov. They were taken to the air force base in the Rosochots [Rożyszcze] forest, and shot to death. Among the last Jews was R' Mordechai the slaughterer and his family, and Shmuel Gertner, an elderly Jew around the age of seventy, and his wife. And so the history of the community of Tłuste had come to its end.
Thanks to the actions of the "Oberleiter," Patti, all Jews who were accepted to work on the agricultural farms were saved from the slaughter and, in addition to that, over eighty Jews who worked pulling weeds. Several Jews, who were on their way to town and brought back by Patti, were also saved. About the course of the last "aktzya," on Sunday, 6 June 1943, and about the transfer of the last Jews to Chortkov and their elimination on the way, we learned later from Hillel Konigsberg who remained in Tłuste until its libration by the Red Army. After the war, Konigsberg moved to Łódź where he was appointed director of Zundelovitch-Shtekel's pharmacy.
21. How I survived the last aktzya
Immediately after I learnt about the plan to transfer one thousand Jews to work on the farms around Tłuste, I approached Dr. Averman and received his agreement to give me six work cards for me, my wife and four family members: my brother-in-law Chaim Bronshtayn and his son, and Zalman Sternklar and his wife. We paid the Judenrat 20 dollars for each card. At first, Dr. Averman did not want to give so many work cards to one family, but he took into consideration the fact that Broyshtayn's wife, who was under his medical care, died from typhus only a few days earlier. Therefore, his heart did not allow him to send Broyshtayn away empty handed. According to the work cards, we had to work in the Shershenyovtza [Szerszeniowce] farm, and we were given permission to bring all of our belongings. I invited my Polish friend, Ostropolski, and two of his neighbors to come with their wagons. On Friday, early in the morning, we loaded the belongings of the three families on the three wagons and traveled to Szerszeniowce. When we arrived, the camp was full to capacity and we did not have a choice but to return. On the way we turned to the farm in Kozia-Gora. The farm manager, a Pole by the name Hrabczuk, was one of my acquaintances. In addition, Reuven Albin's two sons were there and they had a certain influence on the manager. The manager was promised many gifts until he agreed to accept six more people in addition to the one hundred and fifty who were already there, but he demanded a referral to work in Kozia-Gora instead of the referral to Shershenyovtza that we had in our hands. There was no room for our belongings on the farm, so we returned them in the wagons to Ostropolski's farm and to two other farms. We spent the night in Kozia-Gora. A farmer by the name of Ramarshtok, who was one of our acquaintances, let us to spend the night in his barn that was located in his yard.
The next day, Saturday morning, a few hours before the ghetto was locked, the town's Jews were running around not knowing what to do. Whoever had the possibility to leave town, and was not locked in the ghetto, hurried to escape from it.
At eleven o'clock, before noon, I walked to town with my wife in order to exchange our work cards. The Jewish policeman (his name was Letz), who stood at the entrance to the ghetto, warned us that the gates to the ghetto would be locked exactly at noon and then we would not be able to leave it. The home of my friend, Yisrael Yorist, stood near the entrance. He saw me when I entered and tried to convince me to stay at his home. He had a well-concealed hiding place, and he hoped that this hiding place would not be discovered. Also my sister, her husband and their children were staying at his home. His offer confused me because I did not know what was better. In the end I decided to take my chance changing our work cards, and only if the matter failed would we take his offer.
I arrived at the Judenrat building with my wife, but we were not able to enter it because of the large crowd that gathered outside. From an open window I saw Dr. Averman (he was taller than everyone). He also saw me and started to shout towards me: Glick, what happened? I managed to push my way in and reached him. I told him what I needed. Immediately he corrected my work cards and ordered two policemen to take me out of the ghetto. On our way to the farm we saw Jews running in all directions without any clear purpose, some were loaded with bundles and some carried their children in their arms.
We arrived at Kozia-Gora farm with the correct work cards and the manager accepted us without objection. We were among the lucky ones. Jews stood around the farm begging to be let in, but they were not allowed to enter. The farm buildings were overcrowded and there was not even a space for six additional people. The farm manager promised to build another hut, but for the time being we had to sleep in Ramarshtok's home.
On Sunday morning we went to the farm to join the rest of the workers. Everyone sat idly on the farm and did not go to work, so we returned to Ramarshtok's house in order to eat our meal. Suddenly we heard the sound of gunfire coming from town. The local farmers who were in the church for their Sunday prayers, started to run to their homes in a great panic. No one knew the reason for the confusion or for the shooting. Some assumed that they were abducting Christians in order to send them to work in Germany, others said that there were killing Jews. To our sorrow the second version came true. It was the total and final liquidation of Tłuste's Jews.
The one hundred and fifty Jews who found refuge in Kozia-Gora were afraid to stay on the farm. They escaped to the nearby fields and hid in the standing corn that was already very tall. Also our small group of six people did the same. We escaped from Ramarshtok's home and hid in the field next to his house. An hour later, Ramarshtok was told by one of his workers that the Germans were planning to arrive at his farm and we must leave his field. Immediately we ran to the forest near Shershenyovza [Szerszeniowce] where a number of Jews, who escaped from the town, were already hiding.
At five o'clock in the evening, residents of the village of Oleksińce attacked the Jews who were hiding in the forest, beat them and robbed their possessions. From a distance we heard the cries of the beaten Jews and started to run to the fields. But the hooligans saw us and started to chase us. They caught Zalman Sternklar and his wife, beat and wounded them and stole their suitcase that contained expensive valuables. They hit my brother-in-law, Chaim Bronshtayn, on the head with an iron post and seriously injured him. Only my wife and I were able to escape unharmed. After the hooligans left, we bandaged Bronshtayn's head and returned to Ramarshtok. There, we found out that all the Jews in Tłuste had been shot and killed to the last of them. We remained in Ramarshtok's home and waited until the situation would be clear.
A few days passed and the work on Kozia-Gora farm, and also on the rest of the farms, returned to its regular course. Besides the 170 Jews who lived there, 50-70 Jews worked for local farmers. A Jew by the name Vaks was nominated as the commander of the labor camp. He was the son of the pharmacist from Zaleszczyki and lived on the farm together with his wife.
Many of the inhabitants of Kozia-Gora camp were afraid to spend the night there, and were able to find places to sleep in the homes of the local farmers. The farm manager, Hrabczuk, did not like this idea. He approached the farmers and strictly forbade them to house his Jews. He walked from house to house and raised his whip on the Jews he found there. After that, he plotted with a number of former Judenrat members, and they tried to extort money from the Jewish survivors in the camp. They collected all the Jews in the camp and separated the healthy young people from the elderly and the children. The first group was sent to work, and the rest were sent to a special hut. At the same time a message was given, that a German committee was coming to perform a selection in the camp in order to take out a portion of the Jews who found refuge there. After that, the two former Judenrat members came and announced the creation of a ransom fund for the Jews who would be selected for eviction. Vaks, the camp commander, smelled that the whole matter was an act of extortion and refused to take part in the proposed fund. He started an argument with the former Judenrat members and beat one of them. In the end the two of them disappeared without achieving anything. Later on it was discovered that the rumors about an upcoming selection were also spread in the other camps, but nothing of that kind ever happened.
I was not in the camp during that incident; at that time I was working in the field. A few days later, in the morning hours, the manager assembled all of the people who lived in the camp, stood them in two rows and flogged each Jew who was not standing straight. After that, he gave us a lecture in which he informed and emphasized that he was anti-Semitic from birth, and in the past he broke many windows in Jewish homes. Now he found a good opportunity to take revenge against Jews, and he would do so to the best of his power. Jews would be forced to work sixteen hours a day for him, from sunrise to the late evening hours, but on the other hand lawlessness was not permitted. Ukrainian policemen would not be allowed to come and shoot Jews the way they were allowed to do in other camps. In summary anyone who could hold on, and cope with the hard work and the beating that he would receive from his hands, was guaranteed to remain alive until the end of the war. After this speech we were sent to work.
Also the quality of the food in the camp was very bad. The Germans provided food for the workers, but the farm manager took it for himself and gave us only dry bread. Vaks collected money to buy food supplies, but the buyer was the farm manager who took the money for himself and did not buy anything. We also did not get wood for cooking and we had to go and steal logs or bundles of straw for cooking.
On 21, or 22 June, we were working in a field that was far from the camp. It was impossible to work since it was raining very hard, but we were not allowed to return to the camp. At noon a wagon passed by and in it was a farmer from Swidowa who was one of my acquaintances. He called me to the side and told me that on the same morning Gestapo men attacked the camp in Swidowa and killed five hundred Jews who were healthy and able to work. He told me that he came to warn me because rumors were circulating that the Germans were planning to do the same in other camps. Sternklar's wife was not with us at that time; she went to the camp to bring our lunch. She came back a short time later, and told us that the news about the massacre in Swidowa had already reached the camp and caused great confusion and panic. Therefore, we decided not to return to the camp but to escape to the forest, all of us together, the six people in our group.
Olchowa forest was located around six kilometers from Kozia-Gora. At one time it belonged to me and to my partner, Gertner. The forest watchman was a man by the name Kibzoy, who stood on his guard also during the German occupation and after they confiscated the forest. A short time before the event that I mentioned earlier, I came to him to purchase wood for the camp's kitchen (of course out of favoritism since he was not allowed to give wood without the Germans' permission). He received me nicely and told me a secret that a number of Jews were hiding in the forest, and he was taking care of them and their needs. He encouraged me to turn to him for help in time of trouble, but first I would have to talk to his friend Maxim (it was his assumed name, not his real name) whose house was located near the edge of the forest. Therefore, our first thought was to approach Kibzoy and ask for his help.
My wife and I traveled to the forest with the farmer from Swidowa, and our relatives were planning to get there by foot. We waited for them until evening and, in the meantime, we dried our clothes that had become wet in the rain, but they did not arrive. Without a choice we went alone to Kibzoy's house. On the way we met a gentile dressed in a strange outfit. We got scared, but he was not interested in us and continued on his way. We arrived at Kibzoy's home around ten o'clock at night. His dogs greeted us and did not let us to get closer to the house. And so we waited for half an hour. In the end, the same gentile that we met on our way came out and asked for our wish. I replied to him that I could only talk to Kibzoy about it and not to anyone else. Ten minutes later, Kibzoy came out armed from his foot to his head, and put us temporally in the stable that was located next to his home. An hour later he took us out of there and walked us to a hiding place deep in the forest. On the way we found out that our relatives had also reached him, and he hid them in one of the buildings next to his home. My wife pleaded with him to take us to them so we could be together. He agreed to her request and again we returned to his home. There, Kibzoy took us to the same place where our family was hiding. Before he left he warned us that it was only a temporary hiding place, and we needed to leave it early in the morning and walk to another hiding place deep in the heart of the forest. He promised to come for us at seven o'clock in the morning. We agreed that when he would get closer to our hiding place, he would start singing so we would know that he was the one approaching us and we would not be frightened from the sound of his steps.
We did as we were told and left before morning for the forest. We waited impatiently for his arrival at seven o'clock in the morning, but he only arrived at eleven. He apologized for his late arrival and told us the reason: he had just come from a meeting with the Germans that lasted all night. The Germans knew that a number of Jews were hiding in the forests and they were planning to discover their hiding places and kill them. In addition, he told us that he was taking care of a number of Jews who were hiding in the forest, and he did not know what their future would be. Seven members of the Kleiner family from the Teklówka farm, and fifteen members of the Manheim family from the Myszków farm were hiding in the forest. He was very worried and concerned about the fate of the persecuted Jews, and suggested to divide us between his friends: my wife and I on the Hinkovza [Hińkowce] farm and our relatives in a different location.
I did not like his plan because I was afraid to be in a village among people. I told him that we were not ready to trust anyone but him, and asked him to find us a secure hiding place in the center of the forest. He hesitated a bit, and later on led us to a dense grove of young trees. The trees were tangled among each other, and we were only able to crawl through them in order to reach the center of the forest. There, we found an opening with a large thick tree. Kibzoy asked us with a smile if this apartment was to our liking. We were satisfied since we felt secure in this place that was separated from the world around us. Kibzoy went on his way, but before he left he promised to send us enough food for our needs. I gave him ten Dollars. At first he refused to take it saying that he did not need money since he had more than he needed, but in the end he agreed to take it from me.
An hour later, the same farmer whom we met the evening before on our way to Kibzoy, arrived with a basket full of food. Later on he came again and brought us a big piece of waterproof fabric to use as a tent. He brought bedding for all of us and clothes for my wife and myself. A downpour started after he left and we all got wet under the shelter of our so-called tent. And so we sat in our hiding place for a few days, and Kibzoy's messenger brought us food twice a day. On Sunday morning he brought us less food than usual and I was able to see that his facial expression was different than the previous days. I asked him to send Kibzoy to us. He did not answer me and left.
At five before evening, we suddenly heard light whispers nearby and, in an instant, a number of Ukrainian urchins appeared. The two who stood on the side recognized me and were a bit embarrassed. The other two approached us, told us that Ukrainian policemen had come to take us and they were waiting for us in Kibzoy's house. According to them they were sent by the policemen to bring us there. I understood that the whole matter was fabricated. If the policemen knew about our existence in this place, they would have come to take us out of there. In addition, there was no reason to stay in a hiding place that was already discovered. Therefore, we agreed to go with them in the direction of the village of Olchowa. On the way I loudly scolded the urchins that they were bothering us, they got scared and took off. I understood that their only intention was to bring us to a remote corner and rob us.
We returned to the forest, sat down and started to consider our options. Not far from there stood Maxim's house so we decided to approach him. He knew about our existence in the forest, but he did not know about the event that just happened. According to his advice our relatives remained at his home, but my wife and I went together with him to the home of the forest watchman. He was not at home and the house was locked. Maxim waited with us until two in the morning, but at the end he was forced to return to his home. He hid us in the forest among the bushes and promised to send Kibzoy at the crack of dawn. At eleven before noon we heard the sound of Kibzoy's singing. He approached us with a basket full of good food and revived our souls with it. At ten at night he came to us for the second time, dressed in his official head forester uniform, armed from head to toe. He told us that our relatives were staying in his attic, and he was going to take us to the home of one of his friends until he would find a better and more secure place for us. We walked together for an hour along secret routes until we arrived at the farmer's home and spent the night in his barn. In the morning the farmer's son and daughter came to us and I gave ten Zlotys to each one of them. They looked satisfied with that, gave us a tall ladder and helped us to climb on top of the hayloft where we were able to look around. We also felt a lot safer up there than down in the barn.
On the next day, the farmer came and asked that I give him a few articles of clothing for his son and his daughter. I gave him a letter to my sister-in-law who was staying on the Holovtshinza [Hołowczyńce] farm. I told her about our location and asked her to use her judgment and give the farmer a few articles of clothing. My sister-in-law gave him clothes and shoes and also sent clothes for my wife and me, but the farmer took everything for himself. From a letter that he brought back from my sister-in-law, we found out that our relatives had left Kibzoy's home and returned to Kozia-Gora camp. They worked there as before, but they lived in fear and were not able to rest during the day or sleep at night. It was Tuesday, 6 July 1943.
Two days later, the farmer climbed up to us at two o'clock in the morning. He told us that the police would arrive in the village around noon in order to confiscate furs from the farmers, and because of that he was afraid to let us stay at his home. He advised us to return to the forest for a short period of time and wait there until the danger had passed. We did not take his advice because we were afraid that the shepherds would find us in the forest. The farmer took us into his field and hid us in the standing wheat. The smell of the wheat intoxicated our senses, my wife fell asleep and I was also close to doing the same. Suddenly we heard the order Halt! (Stop!) followed by two shots. We got very frightened but no one came to us. A few hours later the farmer's daughter came and brought us food. We found out from her that the police had stopped two Jews, a man and a woman from Zaleszczyki and led them to the police station in Verbolinza [Worwolińce]. Later on we found out who they were. One of them was Vaks, the Kozia-Gora commander, who had walked together with his fiancée to find a hiding place for their parents. The police stole their watches, money and all of their valuables, and in the end shot and killed them in Verbolinza.
We continued to sit in the field and the farmer brought us food every day. Sunday 11 July was a rainy day, we got wet and froze. In the late evening we left our hiding place in order to reach Kibzoy's home. The rain continued to fall and we lost our way. I tripped and fell and I was not able to get up. My wife stood next to me crying. Suddenly we heard footsteps; it was the farmer's son. He took us to his father's house where we warmed up and ate the meal that was given to us. Without waiting long, the farmer informed me that he wanted me to give him one thousand Zlotys, and that he needed the money by the next day. Without a choice I gave him a letter to Ostropolski and asked him to give him the demanded money. In exchange, the farmer built us a hiding place in his yard above the pigpen. Our hiding place was next to the road and we were able to see what was happening in the area, and all the vehicles that passed in the road.
Two days later, the farmer came to us and told us that for unknown reasons the Germans were frightened and packing their equipment. The Jews' work on the farms stopped, and there was hope that the Germans would leave in two days. But the panic did not last long. We found out that the panic started after a sudden attack by Soviet partisans. A few days later, the Germans calmed down and the Gestapo men continued to liquidate the remaining Jews on the agricultural farms with a lot more energy and a lot more cruelty.
On Monday, 19 July 1943, Gestapo men arrived at Shershenovtz [Szerszeniowce] camp, surrounded it on all sides, and killed all the Jews who were there. Out of 150 people who were in the camp only three were able to escape. The news about the killings quickly spread to the nearby camps. My brother-in-law, who was in Kozia-Gora at that time, told me later that all day Monday, and on the following night, the people in the camps stood on their guard fully dressed. Early Tuesday morning, 17 Tamuz [20 July], at three o'clock in the morning, Gestapo men and Ukrainian policemen were seen traveling towards the camp. Immediately a warning was sounded and all the camp residents started to run to the fields. The murderers noticed them and opened machine gunfire at the escapees. My brother-in-law managed to escape to the field and hid behind the bushes, from there he saw how the murderers were running around in the fields on their horses, searching for the escaped Jews. Out of the 170 Jews who escaped, 67 were brought back. They were forced to sit and wait until the pits were dug. Later a special Gestapo unit arrived from Chortkov and shot all of them to death. Among the members of my family who perished there were: Moshe, the second son of Chaim Bronshtayn, my relative Malcha Sternklar and her husband. At the same time and in the same way the remaining Jews were liquidated on all the farms, except for those who were able to slip away and escape. There was only one extraordinary farm the Lisowce farm. The Lisowce farm manager was an elderly German by the name of Frank, a family member of the famous General Frank who was the governor of the district of Krakow during the days of the German occupation. On the same Tuesday, 17 Tamuz, Gestapo men and policemen arrived early in the morning to execute an Aktzya. At first, they turned to the field where the Jews were working. The Jews escaped from them but the murderers chased them and killed 17 Jews. Later on, they approached the farm manager and asked him to deliver all the Jews to their hands. Frank refused their request and declared that he was not giving even one of his Jewish workers, because without them the farm work could not be done. If they exterminated the Jews against his judgment he would leave the farm and abandon it, and the responsibility would fall on them. After a long negotiation, the Gestapo men were forced to leave the farm without executing their plot. Fortunately, most of the Lisowce Jews lived in the village in the farmers' homes, and were not concentrated in huts on the farm's grounds. If all of them were concentrated in one location I doubt if Frank's interference could have saved them from the hands of the Gestapo. In any case, around two hundred and fifty Jewish men and women were saved thanks to Frank's intense interference.
After this event the massacre survivors started to gather in Lisowce. A few days later there were around five hundred Jews there. At that time around twenty Jews worked on the farm in Tłuste, but they were not hurt during the massacre since it was not an official Jewish labor camp. The details told above about the 17 Tamuz 5703 [20 July 1943] massacre, were given to me by my brother-in-law Chaim Bronshtayn and by other Jews who were there during the event.
I also want to tell a miraculous surviving story of a Jewish boy that happened on the same 17 Tamuz day. During the pogrom in Tłuste, before the arrival of the Germans, the baker Kimelman, his wife and three children hid in the attic of his home. When the rioters broke the house door, they all jumped into the garden and escaped for their lives. Kimelman and his wife managed to escape but the three children were caught and killed. Later on, the couple came back to Tłuste and a son was born to them during the occupation. They were very happy with him, and found consolation in him for the loss of their three other children. When the ghetto was established in Tłuste, Kimelman and his family moved to Roshanovka [Różanówka] and received work on the farm. On aktzya day, 17 Tamuz, the family escaped from the farm and hid with ten other Jews in the field. While they were in the field the boy started to cry and it was impossible to silence him. Ukrainian policemen from the village were running around searching for hiding Jews and the boy's cry could have endangered the lives of the ten Jews. Without a choice, the mother threw a pillow on his face and suffocated his cry. When the murderers left, the mother uncovered the boy's face; it was blue without a breath of life. The mother started to pull her hair out from pain and despair. At the same moment, a strong wind blew and revived the half- suffocated boy. The boy opened his eyes and started to cry. The parents were very happy. The whole family remained alive at the end of the war.
22. The day of the aktzya and the day after
On the same day, 17 Tamuz, my wife and I sat in our hiding place above the farmer's pigpen. During the day I heard the farmers, who were standing next to the well, talking to each other about the killing of Jews and about the one hundred dollars that were found in a pocket of a murdered Jew. Only in the evening we heard from one of our friends about the liquidation of all the Jews in the area's farms. In addition, the farmer informed us that he could no longer keep us in his home and we must leave. With great difficulties he agreed to let us find shelter in one of his distant fields, but he emphasized that he would not bring us food. We left for the field before sunrise and sat in the blazing sun until eleven o'clock in the afternoon. Then, the farmer came and brought us bread and a bottle of water. He also told us that my brother-in-law Bronshtayn had survived the massacre and he was staying at his home. He invited us to come to his home in the evening in order to find us a hiding place together with my brother-in-law. I asked him to invite my friend Kibzoy to the meeting; maybe he would be able to find a sensible solution.
In the evening, I met my brother-in-law at the farmer's house and also a Jew from Zaleszczyki who was holding a bundle of belongings in his hand. Kibzoy was also there, but he did not have any advice for us. At the end, the farmer suggested that we should hide in the forest until Thursday evening. On Thursday, he would go to Tłuste to find out how much he should charge for hiding a Jew, and then he would tell us the price. If we could pay the price according to the going rate he would make the effort and try to hide us. We did as he said and went to the forest. There, we divided ourselves into two camps: my wife and I separately, and my brother-in-law and the Jew from Zaleszczyki separately. We came to an agreement that if the farmer did not come to us on Thursday evening, we would all meet in a certain location and make a decision together.
The farmer did not come to us on Thursday. We met in the designated location and decided to go to him in order to hear his decision. His son stood at the entrance to the farmer's house and blocked our way. Meanwhile, we heard a shout from my wife and my brother-in-law who were walking far behind us. The farmer's son ran to see the reason for the shout and we used the opportunity and entered the house. The farmer woke from his sleep and when he saw us he ordered us to leave his house at once. He did not want us for any price. You left your millions somewhere else, he said, and you came to me with empty hands. At the end he agreed to leave the Jew from Zaleszczyki in his home in exchange for the bundle of belongings in his hand, and ordered us to leave immediately. With great difficulties we got permission from his wife to stay in their home until dawn.
We left the house before sunrise and turned to our friend Maxim, but he was unable to help us. I was ready to pay him 50 Zlotys to deliver a letter from me to the manager of the Kozia-Gora farm, and bring me his reply if we could come to the farm. At first Maxim agreed to do so, but changed his mind and returned the letter together with the payment. We did not have another choice but to walk to Kozia-Gora, a distance of six kilometers. When we got closer to the farm, my wife tied a scarf to her head in the manner of a peasant woman and planned to enter the farm that way. At the same time my brother-in-law and I hid in the field. A short time later, my wife returned and called us to get out of our hiding place. She met Yoshe Grill next to the well and he told her that an order had arrived earlier allowing the Jews to return to the farms. The Jews were also promised that nothing bad would happen to them.
We returned to the farm and approached the hut were we once lived. There, we met the pharmacist Vaks and his wife whose son was shot together with his fiancée. Also the Meler family from Zaleszczyki was there. Our belongings were no longer there and our places in the hut had been taken. We turned to the work manager and he ordered Shechter, the camp commander, to clear our former places in the hut. And so I returned to my former place, and at that moment I was the happiest man in the world.
The news that the surviving Jews were allowed to return to Kozia-Gora spread as fast as a lightning. A heavy rain fell on Saturday morning and the surviving Jews, who came out of their hiding places in the fields and in the forests, started to arrive. Among the arrivals was my sister Rachel Meiman, her husband and two children. They were on the Holovtshinza farm during the massacre but were able to jump out of a window and escape. They escaped to Tłuste and hid in the home of a Christian neighbor. Also my sister-in-law Feige Hendel arrived without shoes on her feet and was covered only with a blanket that one of the farmers gave her. She also escaped from Holovtshinza and saved her life. She gave her two children to our Polish friend Ostropolski who hid them in his attic. The day after the massacre it was clear to him that the children's parents perished in Holovtshinza, so he kicked them out of his home. The oldest boy met one of the farmer's sons who told him to follow him. He joined him and the farmer's son gave him to a German who shot the boy and killed him. The younger boy, Shlomo Hendel, was hidden by a farmer in a corn field. The farmer fed him and in the evening brought him to his parents in Kozia-Gora.
The survivors arrived in Kozia-Gora in a horrible condition: neglected, lonely and desperate. At first the work manager did not agree to take all of them, and claimed that he could only take those who lived on the farm before the massacre. He also wanted to use this opportunity to get money for the right to stay on the farm. On Monday morning, a messenger arrived from Patti [Vathje] with an order that all Jews could stay on the farm and work there. To us, the survivors, this was very important news and aroused the hope in us that we would survive.
The order to allow the surviving Jews stay in the labor camps did not arrive by chance. In 1942 the management of the Caoutchouc plantations approached the Gestapo in Chortkov and asked to allow six thousand Jewish workers in the Tłuste district to work in the plantations. The Gestapo in Chortkov and later on in Lvov rejected this demand. The decision in this matter was transferred to General Frank in Krakow and he opposed it. In the end, the management approached Himmler directly, but his answer never arrived. Meanwhile, the murderers continued with their work. At first they purified the town and later also the farms. Only after the massacre of 17 Tamuz [20 July 1943] and only after a few hundred Jews remained in the whole area, a permit arrived from Himmler to keep six thousand Jews alive in the area. Patti, who brought the news from Chortkov, said with joy mixed in pain: Yes, the order arrived, but to our sorrow too late.
Also after the permission to live on the agricultural farms was given, there were Jews who were afraid to leave their hiding places in the forests and return to the farms. The family of Manheim, who was the former owner of the Mishkov [Myszków] farm, also acted that way. The 15 family members hid in the forests for almost a year, from June 1943 until February 1944. In February they were attacked by a Ukrainian mob who killed all of them. Only one son, Moshe, was left. Later on he was transferred to the Soviet Union.
After it was ordered not to kill the surviving Jews, everyone calmed down and the work entered its regular course. Sixty Jews were registered in the Kozia-Gora camp with a number of children among them. The camp commander was Shechter from Zaleszczyki, but the work manager did not trust him. At five o'clock in the morning everyone had to be counted and, if someone did not show up, the manager came to the hut and hurried him with his whip. The hardest work was during harvest season. Twelve Jews studied and became harvest experts and the rest walked after them and stacked the sheaves. The work manager showed up also during working hours and urged the workers with his whip. He was a sadist and enjoyed our sufferings. Because of the hard work a number of Jews left Kozia-Gora and moved to the farm in Lisowce. There, the manager was Frank and the work was easier. Only 38 Jews remained in Kozia-Gora.
And so, we passed the end of the summer in hard labor. Before Yom Kippur I was planning to ask the manager to release us from work during our holy day. A few days before the holiday I told him that I wanted to talk to him. He probably understood what I wanted to talk to him about, and postponed the conversation to the next day. The next day he left the farm for three days so we would have no one to talk to and on Yom Kippur we worked in the field as though it was a regular day, but we fasted. The manager returned on the same day. When he found out that we had fasted all day, he punished us and ordered us to work until half past ten at night. Only at eleven o'clock at night we were able to eat something.
During the fall we pulled sugar beets from the fields and this work was harder than the harvest work. We worked until eleven or twelve at night, many times in the rain and in the cold. In the meantime, rumors spread that the Kozia-Gora Jews would be forced to move to Chortkov. We knew very well the meaning of this matter. Again, panic erupted in the camp. The young people escaped to the forests or found work with the local farmers, but they were not always safe at the farmers' homes. There were a number of farmers who employed the Jews all summer long without pay, and at the end of the season they handed them to the police who executed them.
And this was the case with a Jew from Tłuste by the name of Gavriel Braun. He worked for a farmer in the village of Korolyovka [Karolówka]. The police was informed about him and came to pick him up from his working place. He begged them to let him go. They promised to release him if he would tell them where other Jews were hiding. Braun was not able to stand the test and he informed on other Jews. One of them was Ester Reizenberg, daughter of Shmuel Zandberg from Zaleszczyki. She was also hiding in the home of one of the farmers with her four-year-old son. The police came and killed the mother, but by miracle the boy was saved. The farmer's wife, who hid the mother and child, carried the child in a sack on her shoulders to Kozia-Gora farm, and gave him to Mrs. Vaks who was Ester Reizenberg's sister. From her we also found out how their hiding place had been discovered. Both the boy and his aunt survived.
On November 1943, when the working season ended in Kozia-Gora and in the other farms, we were sent to work in Roshanovka. Because of the extreme cold weather we were housed in better structures that were called Teshvorki. There, we were engaged in indoor work removing kernels from the corncobs. Our food ration was very small and we were forced to steal potatoes in order to satisfy our hunger. In December, our situation worsened and typhus joined the hunger and the filth. The illness spread and turned into an epidemic. During the first period of the epidemic the police came and killed people who were sick with typhus. Dr. Krasutski's wife wanted to protect her sick son from the policemen. Before they arrived she laid next to her son and when they arrived she begged them to kill her in place of her son. The policemen killed both of them. A short time later, Patti gave an order that the policemen were not allowed to kill those who were sick with typhus without the permission of the farm managers. Only then the killing of the sick stopped for a short period of time.
The order that was given by Patti came after the mass slaughter by the Ukrainian police on Holovtshinza farm. On Wednesday, 9 Tevet (5 January 1944), three Ukrainian policemen came to Kozia-Gora and entered the farm manager's apartment. He welcomed them with food and drinks and they got very drunk. He also gave them hay for the horses. Before they left they told him that they wanted to practice their shooting a little, but he did not let them do so. They left the farm and returned to Holovtshinza. There they attacked the Jews and shot and killed 28 of them. Among the dead was my sister's son Nisan Meiman, R' Yosel the slaughterer from Tłuste, my brother-in-law David Hendel, Shpigel and others. Patti's order came after this massacre.
But also after the order was given, there was an event in Kozia-Gora when seven Jews were killed. In one of the last days of January, the farm manager traveled to Tłuste drunk and returned an hour later with a number of policemen. Immediately they opened fire towards the Jews. After they killed a number of them, they called two Jews to search the victims' pockets. At that time I was working in the field spreading manure, together with a group of eight people, and none of us wanted to do this work. The messenger the farm's blacksmith advised us to go with him so we wouldn't anger the policemen who would come and shoot us. So, I went together with Berish Hessing's son. The policeman, Mroz, who excelled all the time with his cruelty, ordered us to search the pockets of the murdered, and give him all the valuables that we found there. Later he also ordered us to remove their clothes. The first victim was lying on top of a tall hay stack under the barn's roof. Hessing climbed to bring the body down and saw that the victim was his father, Berish Hessing. He started to cry bitterly, but Mroz aimed his gun at him, forced him to calm down and search his father's pockets. He found 3000 Zlotys and gave them to the murderers. Later, Mroz aimed the gun at me and asked: What are you doing here old man? I answered that I worked in the field. He shook his head and I realized that he wanted to stick a bullet into me. At the same moment the police commander came out of the manager's house. The commander called me and asked me who I was and from where did I come. I told him that I was Berel Glick from Tłuste. He knew my name and heard good things about me. He turned to Mroz and told him to leave me alone since he was the most honest Jew in Tłuste. Later on, the work manager came to me and said with a satanic smile: If not for the police commander you would have already been in the next world .
As aforesaid, the murderers visit ended with seven fatalities. Among the dead were Berish Hessing, Yakov Neiman's wife, Mendel Metsger (the son of Shelom Metsger), Miller with his wife and his young daughter (from Zaleszczyki) and another casualty. The murderers left after they finished their work and the work manager left immediately after.
23. The attacks of local gangs
A few days after the mentioned event, rumors spread that Ukrainian gangs started to attack Jews on the nearby farms. The gang members attacked the Jews at night, robbed their money and their belongings and killed them. One night at eleven o'clock, the farm watchman knocked on the door of our hut and demanded that we open it. From the window I saw a number of gang members dressed in military uniform, and I had the feeling that this time we would not escape the death that was waiting for us. The thugs broke the door, ordered us to turn the light on in our room and stand around the table. Even a five-year-old boy, who was sleeping on the stove, was taken down and forced to stand next to the table. After that, the thugs informed us that they came to make a collection for the Polish army and that we needed to donate 4000 Zlotys. We thought that the gang leader looked familiar to us since he demanded that we put the money on the table without us looking at his face. Only two out of the fourteen people in the room had money to contribute I gave 229 Zlotys and the pharmacist Vaks 200 Zlotys. The thugs left us with 10 Zlotys so we could buy bread, took the rest of the money and left. The thug who stood by the door shot at us, but miraculously no one was hurt. Before they left they warned us not to move from our places. We stood close to the table for half an hour until I had the courage to walk to the door and lock it.
After they visited our room they entered the second room. There, they were offered 50 Zlotys from each person in the room. In the same room they shot and killed a Jew from Buczacz by the name of Pohoriles and a woman from Chortkov. In the third room they killed the son of Berish Hessing. One shot hit Byosha Teiber and amputated one of his fingers. The work manager came to us after the hooligans left and asked in a cynical laugh: So, you had visitors? He sat with us for a short time, drank a glass of spirit and left.
The next night the watchman knocked again on our door and asked us to open it. He calmed us down and told us that the same thugs had attacked the work manager and his clerk. The clerk was injured in his leg, but the work manager was seriously wounded. He asked him to bring the pharmacist Vaks, maybe he would be able to help him. The pharmacist came back in the morning and said that it was necessary to amputate the clerk's leg. The work manager was wounded in sixty-six places in his body. Both of them were taken to the hospital and we never saw them again.
The management of the Kozia-Gora farm was transferred to the hands of Patti who was the manager of the farm in Tłuste. We continued to work hard, first in Tłuste and later on in Holovtshinza. At the end of January 1944, four workers were chosen from each farm and sent to cut trees in a forest that was located thirty kilometers from Tłuste. The travel to work and back lasted six hours and we were only able to work two hours a day. My brother-in-law Chaim Bronshtayn and I were the experts. Our duty was to mark the trees that were worthy of cutting. This work lasted until the end of February or the beginning of March 1944.
Two weeks before our work ended we saw unusual movement of German vehicles on our way to the forest. When we passed by the town of Ułaszkowce, where twelve Jewish survivors were still working, Yitschak Drohobitser went to see them and they told him that the Russians broke the front line and took over the cities of Podvolotchisk [Podwołoczyska], Zabrosh [Zbaraż], and Tarnopol. Also in the forest the head forester told us that something had happened on the battlefront. He urged us to finish our work and leave since the partisans were wandering around the forest.
For the next two weeks we continued to travel to work every day. When we came to work on Purim [9 March 1944], the head forester ordered us to return immediately because the situation on the battlefront was very bad. We ate (according to Patti's order we received bread and jam every day) and returned to Tłuste. Hilel Kenigsberg came towards us and informed us that we would no longer travel to work in the forest. Each one of us would return to his own place, and there we would have to prepare metal containers for the Germans' wagons so they would be ready for the road.
When I came to Kozia-Gora I met a farmer who knew me well. During our conversation he told me that the Ukrainian nationalists had consulted each other and decided to liquidate the last of the Jews before the arrival of the Soviet army. By doing so, they would kill all the witnesses to their loyal cooperation with the Germans. He advised me to find a hiding place as soon as possible.
To our sorrow, the message that the farmer gave me came true on the same day. On the next day, 10 March 1944, we were told by a farmer who came to the farm that the farmers in Holovtshinza had killed all the Jews, 48 of them, on the same night. Most of the Jews who lived in Kozia-Gora, including Vaks and his wife, escaped to Tłuste. Only ten Jews were left on Kozia-Gora farm. In a letter that was sent to me from Tłuste, Mrs. Vaks wrote me that my wife's sister Feiga Hendel and her two children survived the massacre in Holovtshinza. On the eve before the murderous attack, one of her Christian friends came to her and warned her not to sleep in the camp. She took her two children and her brother's son and went to the Christian cemetery, where they spent the whole night. The five members of Natan Shechter's family joined them. From all the Jews who were staying in Holovtshinza, only five remained alive, all of them were seriously wounded.
Immediately, delegates from all the farms started to come to Patti with one request: that he try to protect the farm workers from the Ukrainian rioters. Patti advised all of them to move to Tłuste where he would be able to protect them to the best of his ability, and ordered to clear three huts to house the arrivals. All survivors from the farms, from the forests and even Jews who were hidden by their Christian friends, started to gather in Tłuste. My wife, my brother-in-law and I remained in Kozia-Gora until Tuesday, 14 March 1944. On Tuesday a Christian friend came to us and advised us to leave the farm. We listened to his advice. On the same night the rioters attacked the farm and beat a number of Jews.
The German retreat was hasty and hurried. Also Patti received an order: pack everything and be ready to leave Tłuste. Patti ordered us to pack horses, wagons, sheep, cattle, grain, machines and equipment. We, the few survivors, felt like we were placed between the hammer and the anvil, between the Ukrainians and the Germans who wanted our souls. Only the presence of Patti stopped them from executing their plot.
Salvation came from a place that we did not expect. A local German commanding unit arrived from the battlefront and took over the farm. Patti handed us to the supervision of the commander. He explained to the commander that the five hundred Jewish workers had served the Germans with loyalty during the three years of occupation, and now the Ukrainian pigs wanted to destroy them. He expressed his wish that the commander agree to take care of us and protect us.
Despite the rain and the mud that made it harder to approach the huts, the commander came to our huts at dusk with another German. They were shocked when they saw our condition. The commander gestured to us with his hand but no one wanted to endanger himself and walk towards him. In the end I came out with another Jew from the camp. His first question was: what do you eat after you are done with your work in the farm? I answered him that one thousand tons of potatoes were buried in pits on the farm, and if he would allow us to take only one kilogram of potatoes per person each day he would find a way to revive our souls. The German answered and said: yes, but you can not survive only from that! Later on they left us and went on their way. The next morning the commander sent to our camp a butchered cow, a few sacks of corn flour and one ton of potatoes that we divided equally among us.
A few days passed, the Soviets arrived to Chortkov, and it was time for the local command unit to leave. A military unit of around eighty people arrived in its place. The commander probably informed them about the Ukrainians' intentions towards us since, close to his arrival, he posted a guard in our camp.
The crowdedness in the huts was unbearable and we lived in horrible conditions. In this desperate situation the pharmacist Vaks decided to commit suicide and swallowed poison pills. By chance a few Jews from Hungary, who had been released from a labor camp, happened to be in Tłuste. There were a number of doctors among them. They tried to save Vaks' life but were unable to do so. He suffered all night from horrible pain until his death in the morning. He tried to convince me and my wife to do the same, but my wife did not want to listen to him, mostly because of her nephew who lived with us.
Early Thursday morning, 23 March 1944, a squadron of Ukrainian policemen passed by and entered our camp. Two of them came to us and demanded that in five minutes we should give them five liters of alcohol if not, they would kill all of us. A great panic broke out in the camp and people tried to escape through the windows in order to save their lives. When the matter became known to the German commander, he came to the camp and ordered the Ukrainians to leave at once. They obeyed him and left. A short hour later a special messenger arrived to the German squadron with an order in his hand. They were ordered to leave the area immediately without taking their cargo. After the Germans departed only one German soldier was left with a machine-gun to guard the cargo. He did not let us walk outside and ordered us to stay in our huts.
Around three o'clock in the afternoon, a farmer came to the camp and told us that the town was completely empty. No one was walking in the streets, and it was possible to hear the sound of the approaching Russian tanks. About an hour later, the sound of the Russian tanks reached our ears. We looked outside and saw that the last German soldier had left and he was no longer there. We all left the camp and started to run towards town. The roads were full of Russian tanks and Russian soldiers. There was no end to our excitement and our happiness. We actually kissed and hugged every soldier who passed us. One of the Russian soldiers advised us not to walk in the streets because of the possibility of a German attack. I wanted to move to my home together with my family members, but the house was partly destroyed. My wife did not want to stay in a ruined house and wanted to return to the camp and sleep there. So we all returned to the camp and found fifty Jews there.
As we arrived at the camp a group of airplanes appeared in the sky, I was sure that they were Soviet airplanes. I stood quietly and counted them. There were 27 of them. Suddenly, I saw two large bombs falling from one of the planes. At the same moment the twenty-seven planes dove and bombed the camp. I threw myself on the ground and hid next to a garbage pile. A terrible fire burnt around me and I did not know where to go and what to do. A few minutes later it was quiet around me. I got up and saw a horrible sight. My brother-in-law Chaim Bronshtayn was laying not far from me, his body was split open and torn in half. My wife was killed next to the hut door and remained sitting there dead. The flames ran wild all over the camp and I was able to hear people crying for help from every direction. They were lying under the burning ruins without the ability to get themselves out of there. I stood shocked and lost and I did not know what to do. Eventually I recovered. At first I moved the bodies of my wife and my brother-in-law from the burning huts so they would not burn further. Suddenly, I heard a boy shouting from the other side of the hut. It was Motele' the three-year-old son of my sister-in-law Feiga Hendel. A pit had been created under the hut by one of the bombs and the boy crawled out of it. An eleven-year-old boy, Motel Melzer, the son of my brother-in-law Meir also survived. Both of them were wounded.
In the meantime Jews arrived from the town and started a rescue operation. I took the two wounded children on my shoulders and moved them fifty meters from the burning camp. Other wounded were also brought there and a hospital was created without doctors or medicines. We found a little alcohol and a few dry pieces of bread and tried to calm the wounded and ease their pain. One of the wounded, Motya Shevats, who became drunk from the alcohol, sang and cried all night.
A number of wounded died during the night, among them was the daughter of Shaul Drohobitser. More than forty Jews died in this last disaster, eighteen were burnt to death in the huts and the rest were killed.
I stayed with the wounded in the hospital until after the Sabbath. On Sunday morning I transferred the two children to my house and put them in the kitchen. My nephew Motel Meltzer was seriously wounded, but there was no reason to leave him in the hospital since there was no medical care there. Three days later two doctors who were residents of Tłuste arrived: Dr. Milch and Dr. Weinloes. They started to take care of the wounded and through their persistence the Soviet authorities agreed to transfer the seriously wounded to the hospital in Chortkov. The boy Motel Melzer was also transferred.
The surviving Jews, around five hundred of them, recovered a little and settled in Tłuste. The local population, Christians and Jews, emptied the grain warehouses and also took other items that the Germans left behind. The Soviet army did not interfere. Day after day, Jews who had hidden in different locations around town, started to arrive. Among them were the two daughters of my neighbor Leib Stein of blessed memory, one of the oldest and well-known families in Tłuste. Also his son-in-law, Baruch Lublin arrived with his three children.
Early Friday morning, 31 March, Baruch Lublin walked by my window looking worried and confused. He told me that there was a chance that the Germans were coming back to visit us. A large platoon of sixty thousand men was trying to break the Soviet ring in the Kamieniec-Podolski area. If they succeed they might come back to Tłuste, so we must escape towards Chortkov.
On Great Sabbath, 1 April 1944, there was a strong snow storm and it was extremely cold. At five in the morning I walked out of my home and saw how everyone was escaping on the road leading to Chortkov with their bundles on their shoulders and their babies in their arms. In this manner all the surviving Jews escaped from town. Only a handful stayed: me, the two orphans of my brother-in-law Hendel, my neighbor Fishel Pfeffer an old man around the age of seventy who was seriously wounded, and a woman from the area whose name was Genzler. Bluma Freindlich, the daughter of Leib Stern, asked the farmer who hid them before to hide them again. Mendel Hoisfeld, his wife and their child had also done the same. The farmer took them to his home, but later on murdered them.
And so a few were left in town, a handful of Jews that a boy can count. With great bravery we started the preparation for the holiday of Passover. We collected a few cooking pots from the vacant homes, brought potatoes and beets, prepared a barrel full of water and also brought firewood to the house. And so, we were ready to spend all the days of the holiday in our apartment without stepping out of the front door.
The bad weather continued during the Sabbath and Sunday. As a result, the Germans' advance toward Tłuste was delayed. On Monday evening the weather improved and a number of Soviet tanks were posted near my home. They started to shoot at the Germans and the whole house shook from the power of the fire. We left the house and stood by the front door since we were afraid that the ceiling would fall on us.
The bombardment lasted for two hours, later on the shooting stopped and silence took over. We went to bed but we were not able to sleep. An hour later I heard a conversation in German: The Russians were here and I knew that the Germans had arrived for the second time.
Friday, 7 April 1944, was Passover eve. I started a fire in the oven and made it kosher. We were ready to eat potatoes during the days of the holiday. Generally our situation was very bad. Every moment a German could kill us; we were not able to walk in the streets because the Ukrainians would murder us there. If the Germans were to stay for a long time, it was possible that we would run out of water. The commander assistant heard the children speaking Yiddish among themselves, and so he asked me of our origin. Even today I still owe him an answer
And so we sat together with the Germans for a few days. Later on, the officer left and only the S.S. men remained. We waited anxiously for the moment that the Germans would be forced to leave town. I felt like needles were piercing my flesh when one of the officers told his friend: Hans, it looks like we are going to stay here for a long time An hour later the same Hans came and informed his friend that they were leaving the next day because the Russians had crossed the river.
On Monday, 10 April, early in the morning, the S.S. men departed from my home and left town. Before they left they warned me to be careful since a special platoon might arrive and burn and destroy everything. The next day I dressed the boy Shlomele' like a peasant boy and sent him to bring a bucket of water. That way I was planning to receive information of what was happening in the streets. He returned and told me that the Germans were posting heavy cannons in town and three of them were pointed in the direction of the village of Lisowce. And, indeed, heavy shelling started.
At night I heard a strange noise. I looked through the window and saw that my neighbors' homes were on fire.
Those were the homes of Wachstein and Yankel Schorr that stood only ten meters from my home. The Germans from the destruction platoon poured gasoline on the piles of wheat in the farmers' yards and torched them. The farmers twisted their hands shouting and crying. We did not know what to do. We were afraid to leave the house for fear that the murderers would hurt us and we were afraid to stay at home because the fire was spreading. In the end we stood by the front door and waited to see what would happen. To our luck the fire died around three o'clock in the morning. The German destruction platoon fulfilled its duty and left town.
On Wednesday and Thursday we saw a number of Germans walking around town. On Thursday another powerful gun battle took place and our house looked like it was going to crumble. Around four o'clock, the shelling stopped but the machine guns kept on firing until around eight in the evening. Another hour passed until the silence was broken and I heard the voices of Russian soldiers near my home.
And this is how we were liberated for the second time by the Soviet army on Thursday, 13 April 1944, at nine
o'clock at night.
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