by Yosef Schechter
Translated by Sara Mages
The war between Germany and Russia started on 22 June 1941. Eight days later, with the Russians' retreat from Eastern Galicia, the skies of our lives started to grow darker and we felt the winds of the approaching holocaust storm. Our Ukrainian neighbors walked with jubilant faces and waited impatiently for the arrival of their liberators. They waited anxiously and hoped for their arrival for many months. On the last days, before the Russian retreat was completed, it was possible to hear the speeches of Ukrainian nationalists' leaders on Radio Kraków. They announced the establishment of an independent Ukrainian country in Eastern Galicia. Together with that, they called on the masses to get ready for a total destruction of the Jewish population. Even before the Soviets evacuated their armed forces during their hasty retreat, young Ukrainian villagers attacked their Jewish neighbors and murdered them with great cruelty, with axes, sickles and other tools that they had in their hands.
On 7 July 1941, the Magyar army, the army of the country of Hungary which was allied to Nazi Germany, arrived to our place. They went over the Carpathian Mountains, passed by the cities of Kołomyja and Horodenka, crossed the Dniester River and reached Tłuste on their way to the former Polish-Russian border. They did not behave righteously, and there were many incidents of robbery and beatings. They were the first to stable their horses in the synagogues, and the first to rip the Torah scrolls. Nevertheless, it was possible to continue to live under the shadow of their regime. In contrast to other towns in our area that lived under German rule from the beginning, we lived in Paradise. These words apply only to the town itself, because the Ukrainians ruled limitlessly in the nearby villages, and murdered all the Jews who lived there to the last of them. Killed among others in the village of Swydova [Swidowa] were: Eliezer Waltser and his family, and Fishel Rubinstein and his family. Perished, among others, in the village of Szypowce were: Shlomo Schwartz and his family, and Michael Metzger and his family. Also, many Jewish soldiers who did not have time to join the Russian army and walked back to their homes were beaten with great cruelty and murdered by the Ukrainians. Almost all of the Jews were murdered in the town of Lashkewitz [Ułaszkowce], among them many Jewish soldiers who were murdered on their way home.
In the beginning, the Ukrainian population did not treat us with hostility, but under the influence of propaganda and provocation bad winds started to blow in our direction. The Ukrainians also reorganized the military organization Sich. Jews were taken to different manual jobs and were forced to supply workers to clean the streets and rebuild the train station that was badly damaged during one of the bombings. It was hard labor that was accompanied with torture and humiliation.
In the meantime, a difficult and responsible assignment was enforced on the town's Jews. The Hungarians expelled from their country around fifty thousand foreign Jews who were not able to prove their Hungarian citizenship. On their way these Jews passed through our town, and the town's Jews, who were also in great trouble, were given the task to care for their exiled brothers who arrived bare and penniless. Immediately, a temporary committee was established and took on itself the duty of caring for the exiled who passed through our town, and for those who were able to stay there. The members of the committee were: the director Pel [Fel], Dr. Krasutski, Berel Glick, Yisrael Yorist, Yeshaya Rosenthal and others.
On 1 September 1941, control of the town was transferred to the hands of the Germans, and immediately they started to lay down special laws against the Jews. These laws were published on posters that were printed in large letters and pasted in key locations in town. The gentiles gathered in large groups to read the posters in which the Jews were disgraced and humiliated. First of all, Jews from the age of twelve and up were forced to wear the mark of disgrace, the symbol of their Judaism. The symbol was a white ribbon, 20 centimeters wide, and a large blue Star of David was printed on it. The ribbon had to be worn on the right arm over the elbow, so it was possible to see a Jew from a distance. Any Jew who did not wear the ribbon was shot to death. The Jews were not allowed to walk in the main streets or leave their neighborhood. The laws became more serious from day to day. At the beginning, Jews were allowed to buy food in the market an hour a day, and a short time later they were not allowed to go to the market square.
At that period of time the first Judenrat was assembled in town. The Gestapo men started to come to town every day, and when they arrived they walked from house to house and robbed them. At the time when the Gestapo men were in town, the whole town was in a state of fear and terror. We abandoned everything and escaped to the fields. On one of their visits, many Jews escaped to the cemetery. The Nazis noticed them and chased them with their vehicles. They caught Akiva Langholz and Shimshon Ofenheim from Berezdów (Yisrael Fiderer's father-in-law), beat them up with great cruelty and transferred them to Chortkov [Czortków]. Only after a lot of pleading and payment of a large ransom the two men were released from the hands of the Gestapo.
Based on a Gestapo command, the Judenrat conducted a census of all the Jewish population. At the end of the census, 170 Jews were chosen for transfer, on 15 November 1941, to one of the labor camps specially built for Jewish laborers. The camps were built in the villages of Kamionka and Borki-Wielkie near the cities of Skalat, and Podwołoczyska, and in the villages of Stupki and Hluboczek near Tarnopol. The camp in Kamionka was a death camp. In four weeks, half of the people who were sent there from our town died or were shot to death. The Ukrainian police guarded the workers on their way to work, and many of the workers were shot on the way to work.
The camp's managers were S.S. men. Each morning they inspected those who left for work, and those who looked sick had to stand on the side. Twenty to forty people were taken out in each selection. They were taken out of the camp and forced to go into one of the pits that was always ready to receive its victims. When they reached the bottom of the pit they were shot to death and buried there.
The camp's workers were marked with a yellow patch, and each worker carried it on his chest and on his back. On the way to work they were forced to sing Jewish songs like Vetaher Libeinu or other Hassidic melodies. The work was very difficult. They repaired roads and quarried rocks. They left camp before sunrise, and walked eight kilometers to their place of work without food. Under these conditions people fell and died like flies. At night they slept on a bed of hard wooden boards, and they were not even given a little bit of straw to lie on. As long as the Jews lived in the cities, each of the workers had a relative or a friend who sent him a package to keep him alive. But after life went wrong in the cities, because of the frequent aktzyot, the shipment of these packages stopped and the food portion that they received in the camp was not enough to live on.
The first group of workers sent to the labor camp in November 1941 was a group of volunteers. They were told that they were leaving for only three weeks, and later on another group of workers would be sent to replace them. In addition to that, they were threatened that if they did not come on their own free will, their families would be harmed and they might be killed. When the town's residents realized that the promise was not kept that those who left for the labor camp were not replaced by other workers, that half of them found their death in the camp and the remaining workers were facing the same fate there was no one who wanted to go to the labor camp. When one hundred and fifty people were called to work in the camp in February 1942 no one reported. The Gestapo men showed up immediately and, with the help of the Ukrainian police, they started to search for people in their homes and in the cellars. With difficulty they were able to abduct sixty or seventy men. Among them were four members of the Judenrat: Krasutski, Shrentsel, Moshe Pfeffer and Yisrael Krampf. The Judenrat men were held captive in Chortkov until May. The first two were released in exchange for fifty other Jews who were sent to labor camps, the last two did not want to be released under those conditions, and were sent to labor camps together with many other Jews who were abducted from the whole area. The abductions to labor camps were held every two weeks, but the preparations were done in secret so the residents would not have the time to hide and to escape.
At the same time, we started to set up bunkers, hiding places where we later hid during the aktzyot. For many weeks I lay hidden in the bunker freezing, when it was extremely cold outside. In December 1941, the Germans issued an order to deliver to their hands all furs that were owned by Jews. Anyone who violated the order was likely to be shot. And indeed, there were a number of incidents when Jews were punished by death for this violation.
This situation lasted until the middle of the summer of 1942.
The Wehrmacht camps
During the first days of the Soviet regime in our area, the lands of the large estate owners were divided up among the farmers. Later on, in the years 1940-1941, Kolkhozes and Sovkhozes were established on sections of this land. When the reign passed to the hands of the Germans, the authorities received the management of these farms through a special administration unit that was called Liegenschaft in their language. Even with their negative attitude towards each Jew, there were a number of capable Jews who remained in their former positions and continued to fulfill an important duty in the management of the estates. There were a number Jews like that around Tłuste: Yozek [Jozek] Steckel, the Kenigsberg brothers, Klinger, Katz and others.
In the spring of 1942, a change took place in the way the estates in Tłuste, Jagielnica and Jezierzany (Uziran) were managed. The management of these districts was taken out of the hands of the Liegenschaft, and transferred to the hands of the Wehrmacht. The reason for the administrative change was the Caoutchouc plant.
The first experiments of growing this plant and producing artificial rubber from it were done by the Russians. Apparently the Russians meant to grow it in the area around Tłuste and in Eastern Galicia, whose soil was similar to the Ukrainian soil. The Germans found the Caoutchouc seeds and decided to continue with the experiments. Since the topic was the production of rubber, a material with military value, the whole matter was given to the hands of the Wehrmacht. The official name of the factory was G.G. Caoutchouc and the administrative office was located in Jagielnica.
In April 1942, the Wehrmacht ordered the Judenrat to supply a few hundred female workers for the Caoutchouc plantations. Most of the working age men were already in the labor camps, so they decided to employ women on the new plantations. The registration took place on Passover, and was accompanied with fear and apprehension that stirred panic in the city. All the candidates had to report to a certain location in order to be examined by the labor office commissioner from Chortkov. However, at that time we already knew about the aktzyot that took place under the guise of such gatherings. Therefore, a special representative from the Judenrat was sent to Jagielnica to see how the survey would pass in that city. He returned and confirmed that everything passed peacefully. Nevertheless, not all the young women reported, from fear that the Germans would change their tactics. When the Germans came to arrange the survey, delegates of the Judenrat had to walk from home to home and hurry the young women to the survey's location. In the end they were not able to complete the quota, and again it was necessary to pay a lot of money to appease the Germans' anger.
The work on the Caoutchouc plantations lasted all summer, and the young women left for work every day. Since there was a lot of work, the Germans were force to bring young women from the Tarnopol area, Brzeżany and other cities. The young women were housed in special camps that were built in the villages near the farms.
The preparations for the big Aktzyot
In the summer of 1942, after the liquidation of the Jews in most of the cities in Eastern Galicia was completed, the Gestapo headquarters started to liquidate the survivors in Tłuste and the surrounding area. As the first step, Jews were taken out of the work manager's control, and given to the exclusive control of the Gestapo. Already in March 1942, Jews, who survived the attacks of Ukrainian rioters in the villages, were transferred to our city. In July, all Jews who were unfit to work old people, women and children - were exiled from Zaleszczyki and Chortkov. Most of them found refuge in our town and because of this the congestion grew. Tłuste's Jews did everything possible to care for the exiled. A community kitchen was established, and I also took part in its operation. Berel Glick and A. Shapira z"l also worked there. A very difficult kitchen duty fell into my hands, and I worked with great dedication from first light to a late hour of the evening. Not once I had to escape in the middle of my work, and find myself a place to hide, because of the abductions that took place in the middle of the day. The abductees were sent to labor camps, and only a few of them returned and survived.
One of those days remained carved in my memory forever. A few days earlier a group of German experts arrived in our town. They were engaged in welding railway tracks and defective rail cars. The Judenrat was forced to supply a large number of Jewish workers, including those who received their food in the community kitchen. The leader of the group was a German Nazi, who terrorized the Jewish workers and hit them with murderous blows. In addition, he demanded bribes from the Judenrat, in money and valuables, and increased his demands from day to day. On the same day, 11 Elul [24 August 1942], the Judenrat was not able to fulfill his demands. The oppressor became very angry and informed the Gestapo in Chortkov by phone that the Jews did not supply the demanded number workers. The Gestapo people left immediately to to impose order, and what is the nature of their imposing order we already knew that from experience.
The oppressor demanded one hundred workers, something that was impossible to do since most of the young people were located in labor camps, and others worked in Judenrat jobs in the town. As usual, the few Jews who were in town and were able to work hid during the panic. And now, the Judenrat was forced to recruit the one hundred required workers and prove to the Gestapo that the Jews were already waiting and ready to go to work, and prevent severe punishment. In order to save the situation, all the Judenrat clerks, whose number was high, were drafted for work, and they also came to call on the kitchen workers. At that time, only B. Glick and I were in the kitchen. Every afternoon we gave a slice of bread and coffee to the town's children. At that time we were busy weighing the bread, 100 grams a slice. Suddenly a Judenrat man came, told me what was happening and demanded that I go with him to work. When I got closer to the train station I saw that the situation was very serious, but it was impossible to escape since we were surrounded from each side. The German sadist welcomed us with a whistle, and started with military foot drills. After that he gave us a speech and informed us that this matter would cost us dearly. Again, a military parade was performed, and afterwards we were forced to empty the rail car in five minutes and put the iron bars in a designated place. When we finished this work we were forced to return the iron bars to the rail cars, again and again a number of times. We worked very hard, and all that time the German oppressor stood with his whip in his hand hurrying us to finish the work. When he saw that we were doing as he asked, he gathered us for a second military parade and led us to a second location for a new test. Long and heavy railway tracks were stacked there. I can't estimate the length and the weight of each one of them. I remember well that around sixty men carried each one of them on their shoulders, and were overpowered by its weight. We were ordered to run and not to stop, and when one of us caved under the weight, he was severely beaten. And so we were forced to carry a large number of rails on our back for a long distance. After we were done with this work, we were given a new assignment that we definitely were not able to do. We were told to lift rail cars that were lying on their sides. We tried hard, our bodies were covered with sweat, we were badly beaten but we were not able to lift the rail cars. Later on we were led back to the first location, and again we were ordered to load and unload the iron bars a number of times, one after the other. In the end, all of us were ordered to enter to the empty rail car, and the German ran us in under atrocious blows. Then, one of the Judenrat members was allowed to approach us. He informed us that the Judenrat tried to bribe the German and calm him down, but it looked like the matter was lost since the Gestapo men were already on their way, and they were going to arrive at any moment.
It is impossible for me to describe our condition and our feelings. I bit my flesh with my teeth, and inside my heart I started to say farewell to my loved ones, to my wife and my only daughter, and also to my beloved mother who was sent a few days later, on 14 Elul, to the Belzec death camp together with a few thousands of Jews from our area. We were sure that we would be sent to one of the labor camps, where those who arrive never return. In the end we heard the rattle of approaching cars. We understood that our guests had arrived. Then the rail car was unlocked and we were taken out. Again, we had to stand in a military formation and again they counted us. For a large sum of ransom money they let us go, but not without a punishment. We were imprisoned under lock and key for three consecutive nights in the police station cellar after a day of work in the train station. The next day the cruel German received a good payment from the Judenrat and his attitude towards us improved.
As soon as we got out of this trouble, a new one arrived. On the same week, on Thursday 14 Elul, I was in the kitchen in the morning distributing breakfast to those who were leaving for work. B. Glick who worked with me did not come to work on that day due to an illness. As I finished serving the meals, my wife came frightened and full of fear, and told me that Gestapo people were in the Judenrat office. I left the cooks in the kitchen, and hurried to Glick, maybe I would be able to hear from him what was happening in town. He also knew about the arrival of the Gestapo people, but since he was a sworn optimist he did not pay too much attention the matter in order not to cause unnecessary panic. On the way home I realized that the matter was not simple. Indeed, the Judenrat people informed us that the Gestapo was demanding only two hundred additional female workers to work in the Wehrmacht camps, but we knew from experience that we could not trust the words of the Judenrat, since at times they were only the Gestapo's tools and eased their work. So we left everything and hurried to hide.
It is a shame to tell what the Judenrat people have done on that day. The searches already started in Chortkov at 11 o'clock at night. They searched and dug all over the ghetto, took out the Jews whom they found and led them to a centralized location. The same thing was done in Jagielnica during the morning hours. Only a few Gestapo men came to our town it is possible they were busy in other towns and did not have enough murderers so they wanted help with their work. They demanded a certain quota of people to transfer to the death camps, and the Judenrat responded to them and agreed to supply 300 people. Among them was also my mother h"yd , who lost her eyesight during the war. And so she was led to the train station and pushed into a car together with 120 people who stood tightly to each other, packed like herrings. Among the three hundred people were seventy young women from the Kozia-Gora camp. They were beautiful young women, the best of the Jewish youth in the cities of Tarnopol and Jezierzany. While the Judenrat people were busy collecting Jews to complete the quota, the Gestapo men were free to travel to Kozia-Gora, stopped the work in the fields and led the young women to the train station. Even today my heart is aching when I remember the lovely young women who were led to the death camp. When the young women were led through the town's streets they were ordered to sing, and made their way towards their terrible fate singing Hatikvah. Another victim, who was killed in town on the same day, was Shlomo Teiber, the son of Pini [Pinchas] Teiber.
But this was only an introduction to the great aktzyot. This aktzya took place in only three cities. In other places people only shook in fear and nothing bad happened to them. But we knew very well that it was only the beginning, and the great evil deed was before us and would come shortly.
The Aktzya in the autumn of 1942
During the days between the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement [mid-September], Gestapo men appeared in the Judenrat office and gave big orders: a large number of suits, material for coats and a lot of leather items. After they gave their order, they rushed to Zaleszczyki where they ordered the surviving Jews to vacate the city so it would become Judenrein free of Jews. It was the first sign of the approaching aktzya.
On Yom Kippur eve and on Yom Kippur day, a new kind of fear, panic and depression, prevailed in town. At first, the Jews from Zaleszczyki started to arrive in our town, the last place of refuge. This matter disturbed the life in the town and caused panic. In addition to that, the Judenrat put pressure on the town's residents in order to complete the Gestapo's order. Each person was invited to the Judenrat office, and there he was told the amount of money that he had to pay as part of his donation, an amount that he was not able to raise. Those who were not able to fulfill the Judenrat demand were put in a jail that was located in the cellar. At the same time the Judenrat people, together with the Jewish police, went to that person's home to conduct a rigorous search in order to discover a cache of hidden money or valuables. In this search, they even dug in the ground or under the floor. On Yom Kippur [21 September 1942] the guests arrived and demanded money, watches, rings and other valuable items, and again the people of the Jewish police invaded the town in order to conduct searches and uncover treasures.
In addition to the Jews from Zaleszczyki, surviving Jews also arrived from the towns across the Dniester, such as Horodenka, where an aktzya took place the week before Rosh Hashanah. The few hundred surviving Jews arrived in our town via secret routes.
On the first day of Sukkot [25 September], we found out that terrible aktzyot were taking place in all the towns around us. This news came from towns in Borszczów district: Borszczów, Mielnica, Skala, Korolówka and Jezierzany, and also in the towns of Kopyczyńce, Probużna and Chorostków in Kopyczyńce district. On Simchat Torah [4 October 1942], an aktzya took place in Chortkov, and then we knew that on the next day, on Isru Hag of Sukkot, our turn would come.
During the week of Rosh Hashanah, I was busy preparing a hideout in the home of my next-door neighbor, together with other tenants of the same building. Immediately after we learnt about the aktzya in Chortkov, I transferred my family in secret to the hideout in my neighbor's home, and we did not leave it until the end of the aktzya. On the termination of the holiday we stood on our guard all night. At midnight we sent all the people to the hideout, and only I and the home owner, Oizer Schweitzer, were left out of the bunker. We had an excellent look-out position, and we were able to see any movement and hear any noise on the road leading to Chortkov. When daylight came, we saw a caravan of cars arriving from the direction of Chortkov. We understood and we knew that the Gestapo murderers were coming to us.
Immediately we went down to the bunker, but we left the doors to the house unlocked in order to leave the impression that we had run away from the house. When we sat inside the pit we heard the sound of gunfire around us, and the sound of shattered doors and windows. We also heard the sound of those who were walking above us, and I was afraid that the murderers could hear the sound of our heartbeat, which struck in our chests from fear and tension.
The gunfire ceased before evening and one of us dared to leave the bunker. He came back with the news: the matter is over and then we all came out of the pit. The house was in a state of disarray, like after a pogrom. The doors and the windows were broken, many items were looted and what was left was thrown all over the place.
I went to the street for a few minutes in order to take a quick look and see what happened there. In the street I saw the bodies of those who were shot to death. I walked to my home, locked the door and hurried back to my hideout. We found out that during the day around one thousand people were abducted and sent to the death camp in Belzec. Among them were a number of Judenrat people and the Jewish police (Krasutski, Krampf, M.Y. Lehrer, and others).
We spent the whole night in our hiding place, and only in the morning I went out to see what had happened to my brother and to the rest of my family members.
I ran across town to the home of Aharon Meiman, where my brother Zalman was hiding together with his family members. When I entered the house I realized that something had happened there. From one of the rooms I heard the sound of a baby crying. I recognized the voice of my brother's baby daughter. A few moments later my brother came out of his hideout, hugged me and with a voice full of tears told me that his wife had been taken together with those who were led to their death. For a full day everyone lay hiding in the bunker, but they did not take the baby with them for fear that she would reveal the location of their hiding place. The baby cried all the time, and the mother, whose heart was aching to the sound of her daughter crying, came out of hiding in order to feed her and quiet her. Before morning, at the same moment, the murderers came and took her. The people who were in the bunker heard the murderers ordering the mother to take the baby girl with her, but she refused to do so. Maybe she hoped that the girl would be rescued by the people who remained in the bunker.
Now I had a new worry: I also had to take care of my brother and his family. Besides the baby he also had a boy, Shlomele', a smart five-year-old boy who understood the tragic situation. Not once he turned my attention to the danger and the need to run and hide.
All through that day I ran around like a crazy man. It became clear that more than one hundred bodies were left lying in the town and in the fields around it, and it was necessary to take care of their burial. I went out to collect the bodies together with other people. The bodies that were located in the fields were completely naked because the gentiles removed their clothes and took off their shoes. In one of the pits we found a dead man that the dogs started to gather around. In one of the homes we found dead bodies in a bunker. I remember that one woman, the daughter of Pesach Melzer, was left sitting frozen on a chair with her hands raised over her head. We collected the dead and together with many other Jews we hurried to the cemetery.
The sight in the cemetery was terrifying and heart-rending. There were those whose faces were mutilated, others were lying and their abdomens were hacked to pieces. Among them also there were babies who had been strangled by their parents or their relatives so they wouldn't give up the location of their hideout. We buried all of them in a mass grave, men and women separately. There were also those who were buried in a special grave by their family members. Among them was also the Rebbitzin Sheindel, the Rabbi's mother. When the family's hiding place was discovered, the old Rebbitzin [the rabbi's wife] refused to go with everyone to the assembly area, and the murderers shot her and killed her on the spot.
After the Aktzya the centralization of the survivors
On the same week that the aktzya took place in Tłuste, similar aktzyot also took place in Buczacz and in Monasterzyska. All together, around twelve thousand Jews were taken out of the Chortkov district. Immediately after the aktzyot an order was given that all the district's Jews must move to one of three locations: the towns of Buczacz, Borszczów and Kopyczyńce; Chortkov was no longer a Jewish city. The few Jews who remained there after the two aktzyot, and after the removal of the Jews who were unfit to work, gathered in a few buildings in a German labor camp where the Jews worked. In exchange for a large bribe, the Gestapo agreed to add a fourth location to the three locations listed above, the town of Tłuste. Naturally, the money needed for the bribe was collected from the townspeople.
Shortly, groups of Jews who had been evicted from the nearby towns started to arrive in our town. They came by cars and on foot and filled all the houses, twenty people or more in each house. People were forced to sleep in the cellars and in attics, trembling from the cold and suffocating from lack of air. The typhus epidemic spread in town and killed many day after day.
In the middle of November 1942, another aktzya took place in Buczacz. At first they started to whisper, and in the end they started to talk openly and with certainty that, by the beginning of January, the whole district would be cleansed of ews Judenrein in the murderers' language. The Judenrat received an order to put an end to all the mutual aid organizations. The first to close was the community kitchen, and we were ordered to give all the equipment to the Gestapo. It was a sad and comical sight, when the equipment of few broken pots and a number of rusted knives and spoons was packed.
The members of the Judenrat and its leaders, headed by the members of the district Judenrat, started to scatter and leave the cities so they wouldn't be there during the final liquidation. They received work in the Wehrmacht camps, and in the end received permission from the Gestapo to allow three hundred and fifty Jews to live and work there. The workers in those camps carried a special mark, the letter 'A' on their lapels. In the village of Swidowa, special huts were built for the lucky ones who received work there.
At the end of December, in the last week of 1942, the murderers invented a new form of extermination: abductions or lapanki in a foreign language. It was an independent action of the Ukrainian police, without the assistance of the Gestapo. All of a sudden they grabbed any person they met in the street. They imprisoned the abductees in the police station cellar, and later on transferred them to the prison in Chortkov. The abductions lasted until the end of December 1942 and during first days of January 1943.
My family and I hid during the days of the abductions, and none of us was abducted. But during one of the abductions I was informed that my brother Zalman and his son Shlomele' were among the abductees. Despite the danger, I got out of hiding and ran to the Judenrat office and asked them to try to release them. The Judenrat did try to release the detainees, but the intervention was not successful and they were sent immediately to Chortkov where they waited for their execution. But suddenly, for unknown reasons, they were released from prison. During my long stay in different cold hideouts I caught a cold, ran a high fever, and became ill with typhus.
The year 1943
On 13 February, before I was able to stand on my feet because of my illness, we received the news that an aktzya was taking place in Buczacz. I was in a state of great panic. First, I was not able to stand on my feet in order to get up and escape. Second, I was afraid that the healthy people wouldn't let me enter the hideout from fear that I would infect them with my illness, since proper disinfection was also not available. Without a choice, I was forced to stay at home and see what would happen to me. In the end we found out that the aktzya took place only in Buczacz, the location of the larger concentration of Jews in the district, around fifteen thousand people. So at first, the Nazis wanted to lower the number of Jews in this town, and arranged an aktzya, even during the winter season when the conditions were not easy for an action of that sort. The matter was not easy for them since most of the Jews had well-concealed bunkers where they hid from their pursuers.
Until the week of Passover [week of 20 April 1943] we were forced to flee and hide in the shelter a number of times, and each time we stayed there for a week or so. The pursuits and the oppression by the Germans and by the local population increased so much that it was impossible to leave the front door. The Gestapo people suddenly arrived in town, entered homes and shot the people or took them outside and shot them there. Once, they entered the home of Dr. Bernard Meltzer, took him and his family to Chortkov where they shot and killed them. Another time they walked directly to the home of the veterinarian Spiegelglass, entered his home and killed all of his family. After they left, the executioners came to the Judenrat with the following demand: bury these dogs immediately. One day, they shot and killed forty Jews. Among them was Mendel' Hesing, an educated and talented young man and the leader of "Betar" in our town. The next day they came to the Judenrat and said laughing: That was a stupid game Surely, they were used to killing thousands at a time, not just forty souls.
An interesting fact: a Pole with a Jewish face lived in one of the buildings where the Jews lived. They also shot and killed him. The next day they came and wrote a report about this sad event.
These were the small aktzyot of the beginning of 1943. As we learnt later, the final liquidation of our district's Jews was postponed by five months, from the beginning of 1943 to the beginning of the summer of the same year.
The great spring Aktzya 1943
Exactly a week before Passover we found out that a terrible aktzya was raging in Buczacz. Exactly on the eve of Passover we found out that a terrible slaughter started in Borszczów and continued on the next day. On the first day of Passover, when the matter was known in our town, people left their homes and fled to the fields and to the forests, and the town almost emptied of its residents. Many of the escapees were beaten and robbed in the fields by Ukrainian hooligans.
The matter of the Jews' flight to the fields and to the forests was not a secret. The Nazis decided to wait and postponed the aktzya in order to give the escapees time to return to their homes, so they could attack them unexpectedly later. And indeed, many of the Jews returned by 27 May, and only then the great aktzya, in which almost all the surviving Jews were exterminated, took place in Tłuste.
Meanwhile, the management of the Wehrmacht factories received a permit from the Gestapo to employ one thousand five hundred Jews on the farms under their ownership in the villages: Swidowa, Roshanovka [Różanówka], Kozia-Gora, Ułaszkowce, Lisovtza [Lisowce], Mochovka [Muchawka], Talanivka, Milovtza [Milowce], Shipovtza [Szypowce] and Shershenovza [Szerszeniowce]. Labor camps were established on those farms and huts were built to house the workers. The Jews were afraid of these camps and did not agree to go them on their own free will. And then the abductions continued. The abductions usually took place at night, and we were forced to stay in our shelters day and night without leaving them at all.
We misled ourselves thinking that because of the need for workers, the Gestapo would postpone the liquidation until the end of the working season in the fields. The Gestapo men also misled us. They told the Judenrat that according to the instructions that they received from Kraków and from Berlin, they would not continue to plan any more aktzyot, And so, the situation continued until the week of Lag Ba'omer. In the same week we felt that a large wedding would take place soon. Again, many escaped to the fields and to the forests, and after they spent a few days in the outdoors they got tired and started to return to their homes. On Wednesday evening, 21 Iyar, we found out from the Judenrat that an aktzya would not take place on that night. They knew that an aktzya would take place, but they were positively sure that it would not take place on that night After many inquiries and demands, the people calmed down and went to sleep, and even allowed themselves to undress. Also, the members of my family lay down to sleep, and I also joined them and went to bed.
At three o'clock in the morning my wife roused me from my sleep. She stood twisting her hands and said to me: Take a look what is happening in the street. I looked and saw the murderers running around with guns in their hands. My wife grabbed our daughter in her arms and together with her sister ran from the house. I heard the last shouts of despair escaping from their mouth, and I knew that we were lost. In an instant, I got dressed and crossed through the attic to my neighbor's home. Many people were already there, twisting their hands and running around in despair like trapped mice. It was impossible to hide in that house. There were too many people there, and it was impossible for everyone to enter the concealed shelter. Also, during the last week surviving Jews were exiled from Buczacz to Tłuste.
Suddenly I saw a Jew removing the Jewish badge from his lapel and running outside. In an instant I did the same and ran after him. I heard the sound of gunfire outside. I saw an open house and entered it. I met a group of frightened people there, and found out that the homeowner had left the house and took the key to the cellar where the bunker was located. Meanwhile the sound of gun fire was getting closer and closer. I stood as though I was paralyzed. I lost my wife and my daughter, and I was in great danger. Any moment the murderers might come and take us.
In the end we found an axe, used it to take the padlock off the door, and managed to reach the well-concealed bunker. There were nine of us there. Immediately we heard how the murderers were searching the house and the cellar. The searches continued all day long. Each time, another group of murderers, who spoke German or Ukrainian among themselves, came. They pulled up the floors and demolished the walls in their search for a hideout. We sat in the shelter without making a sound. My cough was suffocating me, but I was afraid to cough. And so we sat in the airless bunker all of that day until evening.
Only in the morning we became aware how great the destruction was, and the magnitude of the terrible slaughter that took place in our town. Nearly three thousand Jews were shot to death and buried in three graves in the cemetery. I found out that also my wife, my daughter, my brother and his son were among the victims of the massacre. It is humanly impossible to describe the look of the town after this destruction. I doubt that we will ever see another horrible sight like that anywhere in the world. A few hundred dead bodies were still lying in the streets and it was necessary to bury them. The homes were open and all that was in them was taken out and robbed. For a few days we were busy burying the dead in the cemetery. Later on we started to work and made efforts to stop the blood that was flowing from the mass graves. We kept on raising the earth dam around them, but the blood kept on flowing over it and flooded the area. I remembered what I studied in my youth about the blood of the prophet Zechariah. His blood kept on flowing from his grave and it was impossible to stop it. At that time we assumed that it was only a legend, and here, we saw this horrible sight with both eyes. I stood with the shovel in my hand and scraped the earth in order to stop the blood flow, and in my heart I knew that this was the blood of my loved ones and my relatives, the blood of my wife and my only daughter. The blood of my brother and his son, the blood of my friends and my peers and I was alive!... and, to add to all of that, our gentile neighbors near and far stood around us and saw how Jewish blood was flowing without a stoppage.
In the same week, seven days after the great aktzya, an order arrived from the Gestapo that in a matter of hours all the surviving Jews must concentrate in a narrow section of town where the Jewish ghetto would be located. My home stood on that street. Fifteen buildings, maybe twenty, were allocated for the ghetto, but there were around three thousand Jews in town.
I will never forget this sight, the sight of three thousand Jews holding their belongings in their hands, running to secure a place in the narrow ghetto. My home also filled with their belongings and there was not an empty space. I remember that I cried at the sight of this horrible crowdedness, more than the time when I cried for the loss of my family. It was a bitter cry for the fate of my unfortunate nation. Again, I did not want to stay in town, and begged to be taken to work in one of the camps. The next day I moved to the labor camp in Lisovtza [Lisowce].
I arrived to the labor camp in Lisovtza on Friday, the first day of the month of Sivan, 4 June 1943. I arrived there at dusk, a short hour after the people returned from their work in the field. On the next day, Saturday morning, I left for work with them.
Early Sunday morning, the work manager came from Tłuste. Patti [Vathje], a German who raked a great fortune from our Judenrat, but in exchange did all that he could to save Jews from the aktzyot. At any rate, this is how we saw him. Also on that day, since he knew about the preparations for the aktzya, he ordered to send the largest number of Jewish laborers to work in the fields so they wouldn't be in the ghetto during the aktzya. He also appeared in our camp very early in the morning, around five before morning, gathered all the camp's laborers and lectured before them. He warned us that we must work with trust, and none of us should leave his place of work because we might get punished for doing so. A number of us asked for his permission to go to town and bring their belongings, and to that Patti answered that he might allow them to go at another time, but not today. He did not mention a word and a half about the possibility of an aktzya, because it was the Gestapo's secret and he was not allowed to reveal it. He strictly forbade us to go to town on that day, but a number of people from the camp did not listen to him, went to town and were killed on the way.
After that we left for work. Around eleven o'clock we saw from a distance a number of vehicles full of Ukrainian policemen and Gestapo men heading towards town. Later on we found out that they were the same murderers who performed the aktzya in Borszczów. After they finished their work there they came to do their work of killing and murder in Tłuste.
In the afternoon hours, when it became known to us what was happening in town, we spread throughout the fields so they would not be able to see us. We started to consult each other about what to do, since we were afraid that they might also attack us. Some of us had families in town and worried about their fate. In the midst of things, a refugee arrived from the town a young man from Horodenka by the name of Meir Eber, who had escaped during the aktzya and left his mother, and his mother-in-law, in town (he and his wife survived). From him we found out the full details of the aktzya and how the murderous attack had started on the same Sunday. Meanwhile it became darker and it was hard for us to decide what to do. In the end we decided to return to the camp. A short hour later we heard the sound of cars approaching the camp. Immediately all of us got up and escaped. I jumped over two barbed wire fences and hid under a pile of hay in a farmer's yard. I met Berel Hernes there and we agreed to go to town first thing in the morning to see what had happened there.
We arrived in town by secret routes and stole our way into the ghetto. Again we saw the same horrible sight. The streets were full of bleeding dead bodies. After this destruction no one wanted to stay in town. Those who had the opportunity hurried back to the labor camps. Only around two hundred people, the elderly or those with small children who were not accepted in a labor camp, remained in town. They were housed in two buildings, and two days later they were ordered to move to Chortkov. They were murdered on the way before they were able to reach the city. On the same day also the last Jewish survivors were murdered in Chortkov. It was also the day that the last surviving Jews were murdered in Borszczów and Kopyczyńce.
We continued to work in the camp for two weeks and lived in fear all the time, but nothing happened to us. Once, while we were working in a field near Buczacz we heard the sound of gunfire. Gentiles who passed by told us that the Jews in the camp in Swidowa were being liquidated. It was the largest camp, and around six hundred Jews lived there. Again, panic broke out in our camp and we did not know how to act and what to do. Those, who still had a little money, left the camp and went to the forests around Uziran [Jezierzany]. On the same day that the Swidowa labor camp was liquidated, all the Jews were liquidated in the camps around the town of Chortkov.
Three days later, a great panic broke out among the Germans and the Ukrainian police, and they started to pack their belongings for the road. As we found out later, a large Russian partisan squadron tried to open a path towards the Soviet front. Germans in the small towns were afraid of a partisan attack, and hurried to escape to the larger cities where they were under the protection of the German army. Our joy was premature. A few days later the partisans were driven away, and the Germans and the Ukrainian police returned to their first place.
Eight days after the murder of the Jews in Swidowa, the Ukrainian police held a massacre in all the labor camps and killed around 80% of their residents, or maybe even more.
On Saturday night, 17 July 1943, I worked in the field, threshing. Suddenly I heard the sound of gunfire coming from the nearby forest. A mortal fear fell on me. I knew that they were hunting for Jews who were hiding in the forest. The Tłuste Jews who were killed at that time were the three sons and daughters of Ratzie Dubester Munie, Rachel and Rivka and also the granddaughter of Ester Yorist. It is possible that Tsilya, daughter of Teme Pfeffer, was also killed there.
Early Monday morning, I was on guard duty together with Berel Hernes. In the morning, after people left for work, we went to bed. As we fell asleep we suddenly heard a noise. We got up and found out that on the same night the camps in Roshanovka [Różanówka] and Shershbovitz [Szerszeniowce] were attacked. I went outside and came across a Jew who had escaped from Shershbovitz. It was Mendel from Chortkov, son of Mrs. Hikand from her first husband. He said to me: Don't ask questions, get up and run. I ran to the field where I found other people who had also left their work and escaped. I was together with a group of fifteen people. We hid in a wide wheat field that was surrounded with trees on both sides. We lay there all day, and when we did not hear the sound of gunfire, we sent a man to the camp to see what was happening there. The messenger came back and told us that most of the people had come back to camp, and the work manager gave an order to leave for the field at night and continue with the threshing. A few of us said that we should also return to the camp because we escaped from there without a slice of bread, and also all of our belongings were left there. I opposed it. If nothing happened our belongings would remain there, and if something happened it was better that we be far from the location of the incident.
Before morning, while it was still dark, we suddenly heard the sound of gunfire coming from all directions. It seemed like the gunfire was directed at us, and indeed the shooting was nearby. At that moment a murderous attack started in all the camps which were only one or two, or maybe three kilometers apart from each other. The shooting lasted all day long, and stopped only before evening. Only on the third day we dared to get out of the field. We lay under the hot sun during the day, and got wet from the dew during the night. One night a very heavy rain fell on us. We did not eat all that time, and we also did not have any water.
On the fourth day we stole our way into the village. There we learned who had been killed from Tłuste: Pinchas Epstein and his wife Hinda Epstein, Kozia Gabe (Gabai, daughter of Mordechai Gabe), and a person by the name of Herman with his wife (her maiden name was Chana Warberg, granddaughter of Yosi Epstein). In the fields we met a number of Jews who had escaped from the farms, and they told us that the same terrible murderous attack also took place in all the camps, and in a number of them almost all the Jews were exterminated.
A great miracle happened in our place, in Lisovtza [Lisowce]. The work manager came in the middle of the aktzya and intervened in favor of his Jewish workers. He claimed that during the burning work season he could not give up his Jewish workers and he did not have any other workers to replace them, and so he was able to stop the aktzya. It was the one and only incident of this kind in all of Poland. Thanks to him a large Jewish community, the largest in the whole area, was left in Lisovtza. It happened on 17 Tamuz 5703, 20 July 1943.
After the aktzya, the managers of the Wehrmacht farms did not know if they were allowed to employ the surviving Jews or not. We wandered in the fields, days and nights, and we did not know what would happen to us. Every once in a while, a number of us went to the farm to learn what they thought about our future. Once, I entered the farm and found a number of our people standing looking worried and desperate. They told me that the farm manager had just told them that we had two hours to vacate the place. He did not want to employ us since we walked around worried and frightened, and fearing the next attack. Since he also did not want bloodshed in the area of his farm, it was better that we leave the place. Only two choices were left to us after his message: to give ourselves to the hands of the police, or to hide in the forests. We already started to consult with each other where to turn and where to go for many hours. Then, the farm manager came together with Patti, the farm manager from Tłuste, and informed us with great joy that they had received a promise from the Gestapo that an aktzya would not take place until the end of 1943, and we could return peacefully to work.
I don't know if a promise of that kind did come from the Gestapo, or if the work managers wanted to calm us down since they needed our work. At any rate, we accepted the news with great satisfaction since the labor camp was the only place where we were able to live legally. At that time Jews were not allowed to live in any residential areas, so we returned to work. We regarded the promise with great skepticism since we had heard many soothing promises in the past two years, and after each one of them there was a greater and crueler massacre than the one that preceded it. Therefore, we were afraid to sleep on the farm, and after a day of hard difficult work we went to sleep in the fields even without eating dinner. Early in the morning we had to return to the farm before the manager arrived to give the work orders, so he wouldn't find out that we had spent the night outside the camp. We were in great trouble since not everyone was able to return on time, and the manager threatened that he would not tolerate the matter and would inform the Gestapo or the police, and the results were known. We also suffered a lot from the Ukrainian population in the village. Groups of thugs walked around at night searching for hiding Jews, and each person that they found was badly beaten by them. A number of Ukrainian nationalists, under the leadership of the village clerk, Kutiz Mostovi, excelled in it. Each Jew who fell into their hands outside of the camp grounds was beaten until he bled. The summer passed in hard labor and torture. As long as the wheat was standing in the fields I slept between the pathways. After the harvest I hid between the sheaves or spent the night in the yard of one of the farmers.
Already in May of 1943, at the time when the city residents were liquidated in Chortkov district, a number of young people from Buczacz left for the forests armed with weapons. I found out about this group of young people during my last visit to Tłuste. I talked to one of them in my home, a young man from Horodenka, but I do not know his fate. When we stayed on the Ułaszkowce farm, a large group of armed Jews was organized in the forests around Jezierzany and also in the area of Tsigan/Kala (northeast of Borszczów ed.). From time to time messengers from these groups arrived to us and kept in regular contact with us. We helped them to acquire weapons and food, and served as a supply base. At times, when their existence in the forest was in danger, they came to hide with us. These groups did not survive long because they were attacked and killed.
It should be noted that Ukrainian nationalist gangs took a greater part in the extermination of the Jews who hid in the forests, if they were armed or not, than the Germans. Generally, the extermination of Jewish survivors in the camps, in the fields and in the forests, was mostly done by the Ukrainian police. Their attitude towards Jews was worse than the attitude of the German S.S. men, who killed and murdered only after they were ordered to do so. The Ukrainians murdered under their own initiative and out of vengefulness, and they killed at every opportunity and every step of the way. They suddenly appeared in the middle of work, beat us, undressed us, and robbed any amount of money or valuables that they found. They shot and killed each Jew they met outside the camp area. So it was in all the camps, mostly in Holovtshintza [Hołowczyńce] where a day did not pass without victims.
I always tried to stay away from them, and I was successful most of the time. But once, I fell into their hands. It was a day before Tisha BeAv [Ninth of Av 22 July 1943]. We were in camp eating lunch, and all of a sudden we found out that the people of the Ukrainian police were in the village. As usual, I grabbed all my possessions in my hands my winter coat, a bundle of bread and my water cup and left the hut in order to hide and disappear from sight. As I put my foot out of the hut, a number of murderers together with the police commander stopped me. They aimed their guns at me and ordered me to undress. I did as I was ordered, and stripped to my skin while the farmers stood and watched the show. One of the murderers stayed by my side, and the others scattered and entered the rest of the huts. At first, the policeman ordered me to take my clothes and toss them on the ground a number of times, one after the other. Later on he ordered me to take the clothes and put them in the hut. When we were in the hut, he ordered me to put the clothes on the floor and to stand against the wall with my back facing him. I thought that my last hour had arrived, but my luck played and I was unscathed meaning that I only received a few good blows from the policeman, and he stole the rest of my money that I kept sewn inside my clothes. His friends acted the same way in the other huts. This was their daily routine.
We were worried about the approaching winter, when the working season would end and we would not be needed. The difficult winter conditions also frightened us, since we could not exist in the fields or in the forest in the mud and in the snow. In addition, our clothes were completely torn and we walked almost barefoot. A typhus epidemic broke out, and the gentiles, even the honest ones who sold us food for the full price, did not let us step on their threshold or wander around their village from fear that we would infect them. Now all of them tried to get rid of us. They sent a delegation to the farm manager and promised to supply him with enough workers if he agreed to exterminate the Jewish workers. Meanwhile, the death rate increased in the camp and we were forced to bury our dead in secret, so they wouldn't discover the extent of the epidemic. We took them to the field under the cover of night, dug a grave for them and concealed it. In a way, this situation was worse than the aktzyot.
On 30 November 1943, the surviving Jewish laborers were liquidated in aktzyot that took place in a number of camps in the Chortkov district, a distance of 23 kilometers from our camp. We also found out that the camp in Kopitshinza [Kopyczyńce], where one hundred Jews worked, was liquidated. Again the fear of the aktzya fell on us. After midnight, at two o'clock in the morning, we left the camp in secret and wandered in the fields, in the extreme cold and in the blizzards. It is difficult to comprehend in our simple brain where we found the energy to endure all these sufferings. To work all day with very little food, to walk with rags wrapped around our feet, and to spend the whole night without a roof over our heads. We kept our clothes on and, because of the difficult winter conditions we were unable to wash properly. As a result, we were infested with lice that increased the spread of the typhus epidemic. With difficulties, we managed to reach the end of the month of December, the period of Christmas. We hoped that during the days of the holiday, the gentiles would be in a state of holiday spirit and forget us. But also in this matter our hopes proved false.
During the last week of December many Jews were killed in Holovshintza. The target was the extermination of those who were ill with typhus, but many healthy Jews were also murdered. Among them was Yosel Schilder the slaughterer from Tłuste. He was one of the healthy workers who were forced to dig the burial pit. After the work was done they were also murdered. The murderous Ukrainian police suddenly arrived at our camp on Saturday, 1 January 1944, at 12 noon. At that time we did not work. Luckily a few moments earlier I had left for one of the remote corners of the yard. The murderers shot and killed a number of Jews, among them: Yosel Zandberg [Sandberg] (who was healthy), Meltzer's wife Pesia, Sosia Weinstock the sister-in-law of the baker Leib Stein, Roize Tauber the mother of Shlomo Niame. After they finished their work, the murderers continued on their way to a second farm. The village council ordered us to bury the dead immediately. It was very cold outside, so we collected the dead, put them on a sled and took them to a location behind the forest. There, the gentiles gave us a corner to bury them in a place where they buried the corpses of their horses. Sandberg continued to have spasms along the way. After we dug the pit in the frozen ground, and the work lasted a very long hour, he still showed signs of life. We were desperate. The day got darker and the gentiles from the nearby villages started to gather around us, and we started to worry that they would attack us. In the end we lowered the bodies to the grave and returned grieving and hunched to our gloomy home. At the same time there was light and happiness in the farmers' homes that we passed on our way they were celebrating their holiday, the first day of the year 1944.
In the same week, there was a second attack on our camp. Also this time I was not in the camp during the attack. Half an hour earlier, I had left for work in a field that was far from the camp. This time the number murdered was higher than the number of those who were murdered in first attack. The murderers chased their victims and shot at them. Shot in this manner: Alter Grill, the two daughters of S.L. Schechter, and Elyakom Scheinholz, the son-in-law of Hirsh Blikstein, who escaped together with his ten-year-old son. The boy was able to escape and survived. The father was shot and killed.
It became known to us that the Ukrainian police commander did not want to leave one Jew alive. He did not want any witness to the actions of the Ukrainian population and the police, and a single Jew who would aspire to avenge the blood of his brothers. At that time it was clear and known that the Germans would be forced to retreat from the areas that they had captured. And indeed, a few weeks later the great German military retreat started. Russians who cooperated with the Germans and Ukrainian policemen, also escaped to Russia. Then, a new chapter of trouble and persecution by the escaping hooligans started. They were helped by local gentiles who pointed at us and informed them of our location. Not far from me, one of them cut down a Jew with his sword and killed him. I escaped as fast as I could and slipped into the forest. A second Jew who was caught by them while he was escaping was hung on a tree in the middle of the village. Fearing the rioters, we left the camp despite the bad weather and wandered in the fields like a lost flock.
Local Ukrainians also attacked Jews in the other camps and killed many of them. In Holovshintza, rioting gangs attacked on Purim eve [8 March 1944], and killed over fifty Jews with their axes. At the end of the matter, about six hundred Jews who were lost in the fields settled on the farm in Tłuste. There, under the protection of the Wehrmacht they felt secure from the Ukrainian rioters. Indeed, the Germans protected and guarded them. But, I was afraid to go to the camp. I found shelter with one of my gentile friends, and stayed there until the arrival of the Russians.
However, fate was cruel to us also after the Russians' arrival. Out of all the town's residents, only the Jews went out to welcome the Russian tanks who were the first to arrive. Every gentile sat in his own home. At that happy moment, when the few survivors stood around their liberators, neglected, hungry and covered with rags, with hearts full of happiness for their salvation, a group of thirty German airplanes suddenly appeared and started to bomb the camp. And again, one hundred Jews perished in this bombing.
During the first days after the Russians' arrival, Jews who hid in the homes of honest gentiles tried to settle in some of the ruined buildings. But eight days after the Russians' entry, the Soviet army was forced to retreat because of the pressure of a number of German regiments. They surrounded the area around Kamieniec-Podolski, and broke through the blockade. Again, the town was abandoned and given to the hands of the Germans for eleven days. This event happened during the holiday of Passover.
After Passover, when we found out that the Russians were back in Tłuste, a number of us tried to return home. I also returned to town for a few days, but the loneliness bothered me. I did not have a place to lay my head and food to support myself. Therefore I left town on 4 May, and planned to reach Chernowitz where my oldest brother and other family members once lived. When I arrived in Chernowitz, I arrived to a different world. Jews with beards and side-locks lived there. On the Sabbath they prayed in the synagogues and ate Halla and Sabbath pie as in the old days. I did not think that I would find a decent concentration of Jews just a short distance from the killing fields of Galicia. Also Romania did not pamper its Jews. Only fifteen thousand Jews from Bukovina remained in Chernowitz. But for us, the few survivors of Eastern Galicia who saw the total liquidation of their towns, it was a sensational and joyful experience, and we did not know how to thank our creator that we were rewarded to see that.
I spent around three weeks in Chernowitz. I found that none of my relatives had survived they were all murdered in Transdnistria. Two days before the holiday of Shavuot, I joined a group of Jews from Bukovina, and we left on foot for the Bukovina Romanian border. When we arrived in the town of Mialni, in the district of Dorhoi, we heard that the Russians had liberated all of Romania from the Germans. We continued on our way in order to reach Bucharest. We traveled mostly on foot, without a penny in our pockets and dressed in rags like poor beggars. On Yom Kippur we arrived in Bucharest.
The Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] was already active in Bucharest, and there was also a committee for Polish Jewish survivors. There I received 40,000 Pounds for clothes and additional 18,000 Pounds for food each month. When I heard that a boat was sailing to Israel, I tried to be included among its passengers. On 25 October 1944, I left Europe for Israel.
During my journey, I had sufficient time to think about all that we had experienced during the three years of Nazi regime. My heart was full of curses for the country that was saturated with our brothers' blood, for its residents who helped to the best of their ability with the work of slaughter and murder. Even the best of them were happy when they saw us being led to the slaughter, and they filled their homes with the property that they stole from our homes. I thought in my heart that we had to boycott these countries, they way we boycotted Spain after the expulsion. None of our brothers and sons would step on this cursed land, since most of its citizens took part in our destruction and did not allow the few survivors, who wandered for weeks and months in the fields and in the forests, rest. And with an evil eye they looked and searched for them in order to slaughter them. They chased us with raging revenge that human history never saw before. I knew that I did not have the power and the talent to express the atrocities that our town and all of the Polish Jewry experienced. I had only one request in my heart and in my mouth that I would live to see when God would avenge our revenge on all those who shed the blood of our brothers and the members of our nation like water.
The sailing was very difficult. We were taken to a ship which looked as though it was going to break up at any moment, and it was a miracle that all of us did not drown in the sea. After three days of difficult sailing we arrived at Istanbul. We were kept in the port for three days, and we were not allowed to go ashore. In the end, we climbed to the shore exactly by the train station and appropriate and organized rail cars were given to us for our journey to Israel. On the Sabbath, 4 November, we arrived in Israel.
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