by Shlomo Trembowelski
Translated by Sara Mages
I begin my story with the aktzya known as The Thursday aktzya. Unlike the previous aktzyot and pogroms, this time the murderers gathered the town's Jews, men, women and children, and led them in groups to the local cemetery. There, they forced them to undress and put their clothes in neat piles. They stood them near the open pit which was designed to be a grave for a great number of people, and shot them to death. As it turned out later, more than three thousand Jews were murdered in this aktzya.
The day after the aktzya, a command was given to reduce the size of the ghetto, and the few survivors had to concentrate within a few hours in two streets near the Russian [ed. Ukrainian] Church. This command caused panic among the survivors who, among them, were only a few whole families. Everyone rushed to grab a place in one of the houses, to find a place to sleep. People carried with them all that was left in their hands from the aktzyot and previous lootings, especially their few remaining clothes. They hoped that they would be able to exchange them for a slice of bread as they had done in the past under mortal danger. This time, the farmers who came in masses with their wagons from the nearby villages weren't interested in barter. They simply grabbed all that they could carry from the women and the frightened children. I remember that the Ukrainian town clerk tried to drive the farmers away with his stick, and didn't allow them to plunder and rob. But his efforts were fruitless. They loaded their wagons with all they could and transported the lootings to their villages.
I moved with my family to a half-ruined room from where everything had been taken and looted. In one of the corners, in the floor, was the entrance to the bunker that had been discovered. Its occupants were taken out and led, together with everyone, to the mass grave in the cemetery. We knew that also around us, around those who remained, the ring of extinction was tightening and the purpose of concentrating us in a narrow area was to make it easier for them to exterminate us. After all, the concentration in Tłuste included the remaining Jews from the whole area. Apart from the workers in the labor camp, the whole area was Judenrein, as it was named by the Germans.
We passed a night full of anxiety as we stood close to the window panes and listened to every whisper, to every knock on the door or window of one of the adjacent houses. Various thoughts run around in my head. Here I see before my eyes my sister-in law, Rivke Dachner, with her daughter whom her father, my brother, Meir, never saw because he was drafted to the Red Army and fell captive in the hands of the Germans. They killed him immediately, together with other Jewish prisoners. I see my sister-in law, my wife's sister Bashe, my brother, Avraham, who was captured in 1939 on the Polish front and later, after he escaped from Majdanek, he fell in the Warsaw uprising. I see my relatives, on my father's and my mother's sides, who were exiled from Uziran [Jezierzany] to Tłuste, and neighbors and friends who are no longer alive. I try to count them on my fingers, but the list is long, twice and three times larger than the number of my fingers. Each time I remember additional names, and again, I start to calculate the balance of the terrible bloodshed
The sound of a person's footsteps, a cautious and silent step, reached my ears and distracted me. I can't see anything in the darkness and I go outside to smell what is going on. Morning twilight is approaching, and once again, the disturbing thought returns and is constantly pecking in the brain: Where to run? Where to hide? It became clear that the best way is to escape to the forest. But with whom can I flee? With my sick and feeble wife and my infant? And this, without any means, without acquaintances and without a weapon! The feeling of a haunted animal that escapes from its pursuers and from the hunters who seek its soul, overcomes me. And, with that, the desire to live is getting stronger, not to die a despicable death After all, we are confident that the enemy's defeat will eventually come!
I pass in my memory all my gentile acquaintance, those I had worked with, and I come to the conclusion that they might kill me for various reasons. First and foremost, out of greed. From the lust for Jewish property that is inherent in them and the desire to get rid of a Jew at the appropriate time. To my sorrow, these suspicions materialized at a large scale.
And now I remember Makowiecki's farm where I worked paving the stable after we were deported from Torskie (this is a story in itself). On this farm, which the Germans transferred to their disposal, I found several Jews who worked in all kinds of jobs, and I decided that I had no other choice but to reach it. First of all, to escape from here and to try to extend our life on earth, even a little. To do that, I needed to reach that farm by secret routes and meet the supervisor who oversaw the management of several farms around Tłuste. Later, labor camps for Jews were established on these farms, and that also in order to concentrate them and facilitate the work of extermination of the rioters.
So I reached the farm by indirect roads and by chance I met the supervisor as he was riding his horse. I approached him, took my hat off, and asked him if he could hire me to work on the farm. He didn't answer me immediately, measured me from head to toe, and in the end directed me to H. Kenigsberg who lived on the farm for some time with a number of Jews. Maybe he would be able find me a job on the farm. With that, he mentioned that I would have to live in the labor camp at Kozia Gora. Every day we had to come from there to work and return in the evening. It turns out that I didn't tell him a thing and a half about our child because I knew in advance about the fate of children in the camps And now, I have to say that the camp in Tłuste was sort of a refuge for Jews who survived the aktzyot in Tłuste and other locations, and also for Jews from labor camps around Tłuste such as Lisovitz [Lisowce], Holovtshintza [Hołowczyńce], Swidowa, Roshanovka [Różanówka] and others which were liquidated by the Germans with the cooperation of the Ukrainian police.
I returned to Tłuste to bring my wife and my son to the farm. Again, the three of us reached it by indirect routes and in secret so the non-Jewish workers wouldn't notice the boy. Kenigsberg placed us in an abandoned and dilapidated house that once served as an apartment for one of the supervisors. We decided immediately that in the evening my wife would go to sleep at the camp in Kozia Gora and I would stay with the boy in the dilapidated house on the farm. We arranged a hiding place for our boy under the sleeping bench among old tools. The boy knew to enter his hiding place each time he heard a stranger's footsteps getting closer to the house. Kenigsberg helped me with this matter and every couple of hours we kept guard by the window to prevent a sudden attack. The only chance, in a case like that, was to have enough time to escape through a hole that we prepared in the fence. It was better for us to be shot during an escape than fall in the hands of the murderers.
At the same time, before the last aktzya in the ghetto, surviving family members were seen walking around, a father who lost his wife and his children, a couple without their children, and children without their parents. It's difficult to describe the magnitude of the distress of these children. Not once it was possible to see them crawling on all four in places where a little vegetation grew as they chewed grass like ducks. They envied those who died a natural death, from typhus and dysentery.
However, they weren't given a lot of time to die a natural death. One day, on a Sunday, I left for work early in the morning with another Jew, a refugee from Germany. We worked next to one of the barracks and had to build a stone foundation under the corners (the bricks that we used were brought to us from the ruins of Beit Ha'Midrash ). Suddenly, we heard the sound of gunfire from the direction of the ghetto. The shooting continued and we understood what was happening in the ghetto
Without waiting long, I took my family and slipped out the farm yard. We mixed with the masses of gentiles who came out frightened from their churches and hurried to their homes. When we arrived at the sand hill of Yakend [Hikand] we were able to see a large movement in the cemetery's grounds, where a grave was prepared for the masses. On the way, we had the time to get a slice of bread and a bottle of water for our child from one of the gentiles. Our destination was the forest, and we were hoping to reach it at night, in the darkness. For the time being, we hid between the corn stalks which were quite low for that season. We hid there until the next day and kept the boy pressed against our bodies to protect him from the cold. The boy understood that we were hiding because it wasn't the first time that we hid with him.
We decided to postpone our departure to the forest and wait until morning in order to hear details of what had happened in the ghetto. That is why we approached the fields around Kozia-Gora. Indeed, we met Jews there who escaped, as we escaped, and also Jews who fled after the aktzya. We learned from them that this time the killers were able to concentrate and eliminate about three thousand souls. Gavriel Braun, who also escaped after the aktzya, told me how Yosef Schisler, a childhood friend from Uziran, perished together with his family. This Yosef Schisler invented a special kind of bunker and built similar bunkers for a number of Jews. He built a bunker like that also for himself and invited Gavriel Braun and his son to hide there. At the last moment, the bunker didn't look right to Yosef Schisler and he moved with his family to another bunker in the next building. The rioters found that bunker and killed everyone who hid there. The first bunker wasn't discovered and its inhabitants were saved from death I learned from him that it was quiet on the farm and the murderers didn't arrive there at all.
Now, there were two options before us: to carry out our decision and hide in the forest, or to return to the farm which was saved this time from the rioters. It was safer to stay in the forest, but the difficulties that were waiting for us, especially since we took care of a small child, prevented us from following this road. Therefore, we decided, without a choice, to return to the farm even though we knew well the dangers that lay ahead for us there.
We returned in secret ways to the farm. The Jewish farm workers were convinced that the hand of the murderers had also reached us and were very puzzled when they saw us return safe and sound. They told us that a group of armed Germans came a short time after we left, ambushed the Jews who fled the way we fled, and also shot and killed several of them. They hid wherever they could, but in fact, it was relatively quiet on the farm.
The mentioned aktzya, was the last aktzya to be held in the ghetto. After the aktzya the murderers realized that there were still a number of Jews who managed to survive in various ways. Therefore, they stood and declared that these Jews were allowed to move to a number of farms and live there as farm workers, but the town itself had to remain free of Jews." The permission to move to the farm was given only to healthy young men who were able to work. The elderly were ordered to report to the town of Chortkov [Czortków]. But, they didn't arrive there. The farmers who transported them to Chortkov told us that the Gestapo's murderers stopped them on the way, removed the Jews from the wagons, and led them somewhere
Panic began when the order about the concentration of the surviving Jews in the farms was given. Each of them wanted to secure himself a place in a village where he had friends among the Christian population. Thus, the last Jews left the town tired and hungry, infested with lice and ill with typhus, weary and feeble, and gathered in the same trap, in the labor camps that the Gestapo prepared for them. The farms that were chosen for this purpose were: Roshanovka, Holovtshintza, Swidowa, Lisovitz, Kozia-Gora, Milovtza and others. The farm in Tłuste wasn't included in the list of places that Jews were permitted to live in. The Jewish laborers were allowed to be and work there only during the hours of the day. Swidowa was considered a permanent place, meaning, that it was a legal labor camp. Since it existed before the last order was given, Jews from Tłuste and refugees from other towns concentrated there. I remember how Moshe Ampel parted from me before he left the farm in Tłuste and went to Swidowa. Shlomo, he said, I am afraid that we won't ever see each other again it's a pity that you decide to stay here and not move to a more secure location. He nodded to me with his head and left the farm with tears in his eyes. And, indeed, we never saw each other again. The camp in Swidowa was the first to be surrounded early one morning by the Germans, and all the Jews who were there were shot and buried in a mass grave. Only one person survived, Yeshaya Ampel, who wasn't hit and pulled himself out of the pit
Things ran on the farm in Tłuste as before. Kenigsberg and I continued to stand on guard by the window and concealed a break in the fence with extreme caution. One night, when I sat by the window, I saw unusual movement in the Ukrainian police headquarters which was located in Zelig Roth's house. I heard the rattle of motorcycles from that direction. A short time later, we heard the sound of gunfire coming from the direction of Roshanovka, Holovtshintza, and Kozia-Gora. At the first light, we saw Jews who were hiding in the yard. They, like me, endangered themselves and didn't go to sleep in Kozia-Gora.
We saw that there was no possibility to escape from the farm because aktzyot were held in all the villages around us. Therefore we made an effort to hide, each to the best of his ability Luckily, this time the murderers didn't arrive to this farm. Later, refugees who were able to escape from Holowczynce, passed by the farm, but they were afraid to enter and continued with their flight. It was a mistake and they paid for it with their lives.
The murders in the villages continued until the afternoon. Tzvi Kimmelman zl, from Lashkivitz [Ułaszkowce], survived by a miracle in Roshanovka camp. He hid in the bushes near the administration building. From his hiding place, through the leaves, he was able to see to a certain extent what was happening in the camp. According to him, a number of supervisors participated in the aktzya in Roshanovka camp. They were headed by the Polish farm manager who made efforts to find where Kimmelman was hiding without knowing that he was hiding very close to his house
At the end of the aktzya, the German oppressor, Brauner, who conducted the murder, passed next his hiding place and said to the camp's supervisors who had helped him: Jews will no longer be here on the farm, for every Jew that you'll be able to find and bring to the police, you'll get a thousand Zlotys and one kilogram of sugar or salt
A large number of Jews found their death in the aktzyot which took place in the labor camps, and many more died in the fields during their escape. The murderers loaded the victims' clothes and belongings on wagons and transported them to the central warehouse that was located in Berish Hessing's house in Tłuste. The farm managers received an order from the Gestapo not to allow any Jews to remain in the camp and the whole area was declared free of Jews. The farm in Tłuste wasn't included in the list of labor camps and the Jews who were staying there were saved by miracle from a certain death. However, in the morning of the day after the killing we were informed that we must leave the farm because the whole area had to remain free of Jews.
We sit in the same hut and none of us can get a word out of his mouth. An oppressive silence reigns in the room. I glance at our son who sleeps peacefully and ponder in my heart: how good for you, my child, that you don't know what awaits us! My wife and others are crying slowly Where will we go? To whom? Could we leave this place in time? And here, the door opens and Mr. Reicher, the refugee from Germany, enters. He suggests that a number of us should approach the work manager and ask him to let us stay on the farm until evening We went with him even though we knew in advance what the answer would be. And indeed, we received the predicted answer: he can't help us and we must do what we think
So, we sat in the same hut until noon and were careful not to go outside, so that the supervisors who walked outside wouldn't notice us. We decided to sit there until evening, and if in the meantime they'll not come to take us, we would disappear into the darkness even though we didn't know where
At noon, a Pole who was one of the farm's clerks entered and announced that the Gestapo allowed all the Jews
who had survived yesterday's aktzya to return to their previous places We received the news with apathy because we knew the meaning of it very well. Again, they plotted to assemble all the escaping Jews in one location to ease their work of murder.
Nevertheless, the Jews returned without a choice, even those who had managed to live in the forests for quite a long period of time. The Banderovtzim wandered in the forests, and each Jew that fell into their hands was murdered with great cruelty and severe torture. At times, they dressed like partisans to find the hiding places of the Jews in the forests, and the camps in the villages and on the farms filled again. Jewish craftsmen started to arrive to our farm in Tłuste. The work manager transferred them from other camps because he needed their work. With them came Mendel Zumerman from Ułaszkowce, who was a baker by profession. Thanks to this Zumerman we received, secretly, a little bread because there was no control on the amount of flour that he received and the amount of bread that he returned. Sometimes, also the Polish storekeeper helped us a lot and allowed us to visit the potatoes in the warehouse.
As mentioned before, most of the Jews who had escaped to the forest returned without a choice and settled in the camps with the Gestapo's permission. Occasionally, the Ukrainian police visited each camp to exterminate the sick, usually those who were ill with typhus. The sick were taken to the yard, to the garbage pile next to the stable or next to the cowshed, and were shot and killed there. Jews who were found walking outside the camp were taken to the cemetery in Tłuste and shot and killed there. Later, they didn't bother to lead a few Jews to the cemetery and killed them in the shed next to Zelig Roth's house. In this manner the eldest daughter of Berel Holenberg was also murdered. Each time we heard the sound of gunfire coming from that direction, we knew that we had to get ready because they would call us to come, take the body and bring it to the cemetery for burial. In this way, I had the opportunity to bury Moshe Feder who was murdered while trying to escape from the Ukrainian police. A detective who knew him chased him to the camp. He hid under the wood shed, but the detective shot two bullets in his head and killed him. The Ukrainian policeman, Starovski, who was known to take part in each Jewish mass murder, grabbed me and ordered me to bury the dead man on the lakeshore across from the camp. I buried him there with the help of his younger brother.
In the summer of 1943, the hope that we would be librated started to spark in us. Russian partisans were seen in the area. The work manager and the rest of the Germans from the farms near Tłuste quickly left the area in great panic. However, several days later they returned to their places. This time, the rioters eliminated the camp in Kamionka near Skalat. My brother-in-law, Fishel Scharf, and other young men managed to escape and reach Kopyczyńce, and there they were murdered by the Ukrainian police. Moshe, the son of the miller, and his son came to our camp and from them we learned what had happened there.
In those days I received an order to leave for Roshanovka to repair the feeders in the cowsheds. Yona Schechter was given to me as a helper. It was clear that the journey there and back was dangerous. We weren't allowed to be outside the camp and the piece of paper that was signed by the farm office didn't have any value in this case. For that reason, we walked on side roads to hide from those who could see us. In Roshanovka we found a number of exhausted Jews who were infested with lice and many of them were sick. Winter was getting closer and it was cold outside and frigid in the early morning hours.
Once, when we were busy with our work, we saw a young man, one of the camp's inmates, beating a young woman who was barefoot and dressed in rags. She cried and shouted and he continued to beat her. I approached him and asked him: Why, and for what, are you beating her instead of helping her? And to that he answered: She doesn't want to work! And secondly - who are you and what is your name? I begged before the young man to let her go, after all, she is barefoot and must be hungry. But he continued to beat her. For a moment, I forgot my position and who I was talking to. I stood and treated the young man with the gift of the hand, as hard as I could. He was stunned the matter came to him as a surprise. He didn't say a word and left the area. When he left, he turned to me and grumbled: Oh well.
A second young man, probably his friend, saw the whole scene from a distance. He came to me and said: Shlomo, you have done wrong! Starovski might show up at any moment and the young man wouldn't hesitate to inform on you and then, you already know . I want to do you a favor the matter will cost you 1000 Zlotys and I will take care of it I was tempted and told him that I'm ready to bring all that I could get tomorrow because I have nothing for myself. And if he doesn't agree he can do whatever he pleases. And indeed, this is the way it was. When I came back to camp I told my friends what happened and they collected 500 Zlotys for me and also a pair of wooden shoes for the barefooted girl. In addition to that, we brought with us a little bread, cut it into slices and divided it among the sick in the barracks.
Among the sick was also the wife of Meir Wachstein. She lay among the other patients and her son was next to her. I also gave them two slices of bread. The boy swallowed his slice very quickly, before his sick mother was able to eat her share. Then he turned to his mother, took a large size of her portion and put in his mouth I turned my eyes from this sight and tears choked my throat. I never saw them again, and I don't know what happened to them in the end.
In general, the camp's inmates were in a terrible state: hunger, sickness and, last but not least - lice. It was another blow in addition to all the blows. They swarmed by the millions and there wasn't a vacant place from them. As hard as people worked to clean themselves from them, they couldn't get rid of them. Each time they returned and reappeared as if they were under the skin, and woe to the person who surrendered and gave up the constant struggle! The cowsheds were also full of lice, but people still hid there from the cold. Every once in a while, Starovski and his men conducted searches and took the sick and the lice-infested Jews to the garbage pile, to their last road I know of only one case when one of his victims was able to foil his plot, Beni Peffer, who recovered from typhus and was about to be shot. He managed to take the gun from the murderer's hand and escaped. He lived for some time, until he was murdered by a Ukrainian on the day of liberation.
We finished our work at Roshanovka camp and returned to the camp in Tłuste. At the same time the Ukrainian police conducted a campaign to eliminate those who were with ill with typhus in the camp. Thus, those who couldn't or didn't have the time to hide were shot. In this way Bertsi Stupp was murdered during his escape, and in this way they murdered young Krasutski and his mother who was trying to protect him with her body. Sheintshe [Scheindel] Margulies was murdered as she lay in bed. Her daughter, who was lying next to her, hid under her mother's body and wasn't hurt. Later, she was removed from under her mother's body as she was completely covered with her blood. Binyamin Henger's young son and several other Jews were also murdered at the same time.
From time to time, Jews who hid in the forests or those who could no longer hide at the homes of Christians came to our camp. Maybe they began to fear their hosts or maybe they no longer had the means to pay them. At the same time a father and his daughter came to our camp from the village of Slowodka [Slobódka] near Tłuste. Patti [Vathje] met them as they were wandering, hungry, tired and very neglected, in the fields near Roshanovka. He called them to come to the camp and handed them to the Ukrainian police. With an aching heart we watched as the police took them. When we saw that they were being led in the direction of Roshanovka we felt better but on the next day we found out that Starovski had ordered them to run and then he shot and killed them. These cases of murder in the fields weren't uncommon and they took place every day.
In that period there was an increase in the number of Jews who were murdered by gangs of Banderovtzim who searched for Jews who hid in the forests or in bunkers. At the same time, I received word that my mother was murdered in a gentile's yard, a place where she hid together with several other Jews. Sometime later, the gentile farm workers returned and told that us they saw a pit next to the forest and a number of bodies were seen under the cover of snow. They pointed out the exact location of the pit. The thought that maybe my mother's body was also there immediately bothered me. I didn't think for long and approached my friends with a request that they agree to accompany me to the pit to bury the bodies. Of all of them, only young Stupp agreed to go with me. We somehow reached the camp in Holowczynce, and there two additional friends, Spiegel and Hirsh Schporen, volunteered to go with us. I remember that, while I wandered around the barracks in search of volunteers, I came across people who were lying in a state of dying.
We set off in the direction of the forest as we sank in the snow and in the mud, and we couldn't find the place. We walked around for several hours until we saw a large group of birds circling in the air near the forest. And, indeed, it was the place Several corpses were lying in one of the trenches that remained from the days of the First World War. They were found beneath snow where they were torn and half-eaten. I couldn't identify my mother zl by her face because it was half-eaten. I identified her by one of her fingers which became bent during a surgery and remained bent all the days of her life.
The second body was that of a woman by the name of Kenigsberg from Zaleszczyki. Also, this body was mostly eaten and her dentures lay in her abdominal cavity. The third body was that of a young woman. I think she was a member of the Kleiner family from the village of Miskov [Myszków]. One of the arms was eaten from this body. We recognized two other bodies: Rishe Shapira and her father-in-law. In the last body we saw a sign that a bullet hit his neck. We found no signs of gunshot in the rest of the bodies, and who knows in what kind of torture they found their death.
We dug a grave in great haste and buried the bodies. My friends hurried to go back, but I wasn't able to move from the place. My friends dragged me away as my lips whispered: Yitgadal veyitkadash I wanted to cry, but the tears didn't respond to me. We left the horrible mass grave that we just dug with our heads lowered. We returned to the camp as darkness fell. My friends welcomed me without saying a word but with a spark of happiness in their eyes that we returned unharmed
To our great joy, the withdrawal of the Germans from the Russian front began. Transports of wagons harnessed to horses flowed continuously in the direction of Uścieczko and Zaleszczyki. Transports of Russians and Ukrainians who cooperated with the Germans were accompanied a number of elderly German gendarmes. A platoon of Vlasov's men passed by the village of Lisovitz [Lisowce] and slaughtered the Jews in the camp. They hung the son of Mender Mahler on a tree. A number of seriously wounded arrived to our camp, including Berel Hernes. The Banderovtzim also used the opportunity, not only to murder Jews, but also to steal German property. One day, a number of young workers, men and women, were taken out of our camp to work in a field near the village of Holowczynce. A number of Banderovtzim attacked them, removed the leather strap from the threshing machine and, as they left, they shot into the group of young people who stood together in one place full of fear and panic. A number of young people were hit, and my sister-in-law, Breintshi, was hit and fell dead on the spot. Also the local farmers didn't sit idle. In Holowczynce, the local farmers used the opportunity and massacred the Jews who were there. Several wounded arrived to us the day after the slaughter and also a number of people who escaped safe and sound.
Among those who returned from the Russian front was also a detachment of Hungarian Jews. When they learned that there were several Jewish survivors in our camp, they came and brought all they could: food, medicine, candles and clothes. One of them took off his shirt and gave it to one of the camp residents. They also brought a doctor who took care of the wounded. They were also worried about their future and looked for ways to escape. We told them in which forest they could hide and stay until the arrival of the Russian army. Most of them have done so. They fell captive by the Russians and were later released.
The men in our camp began to prepare hiding places for times of trouble. I also tried to prepare a bunker for myself. When I worked in the cellar at the home of the farm manager, I used the opportunity and broke a hole in the cellar's wall. But I wasn't successful. After I dug for a meter-wide, I came across a second wall and was forced to stop. There were those who believed that during the German retreat the farmers would change their ways and give shelter to their Jewish friends for a short period of time, until liberation. Beni Pfeffer came to me and suggested that I should go with him to a good-hearted gentile who would agree to hide us. I agreed and went to inform my wife. Fortunately, my wife opposed the idea and we didn't go with him. Beni Pfeffer went and took his brother-in-law, Motel Goldschmidt, with him and they didn't return. As it was told later, the good-hearted gentile told a Ukrainian policeman about their arrival. He came and shot them to death. In this manner the gentile assured himself that he wouldn't have to return the assets that Pfeffer entrusted in his hands.
This event actually happened on the day of liberation. At noon, several Ukrainian policemen arrived to the camp. They arrived in a wagon, on their escape from the approaching Russians. When they saw the Jews they demanded vodka from them, and even mentioned the amount that each of the barracks had to give them. I entered the hut and, without thinking much, we slipped away through the window and escaped in the direction of the sand hill of Yakend [Hikand]. There, we sat on the ground and burrowed into the sand. Light snow started to fall at night and we were happy with the natural cover given to us.
Suddenly we heard cannon shots, I got up and saw a tank standing on the road leading to Chortkov and shooting into town I stood up and started to run to town as if I wasn't using my own strength My wife wanted to stop me and called me with the last of her strength, but I didn't listen to her I went down to the town and there I found a tank, a Russian tank with Russian soldiers, and the camp residents standing around the tank kissing it, kissing the cold steel and the Russians were standing and laughing out of kindness. I approached one of the Russian soldiers, hugged him with all my strength and kissed him as tears flowed from my eyes and the soldier wiped his face as he comforted me It's nothing, please calm down
I turned my head towards the camp and here was Yosef Frades running with his daughter to the Polish Church (his only son was killed by a Gestapo officer next to the bridge leading to the camp, when a gentile woman pointed out that he was a Jew). At that moment, German bombers appeared and everything turned dark around I started to run towards the camp, through Meir Sterling's house which stood open without doors and windows, and jumped into a bunker that I found in one of the rooms. But I immediately got out of there. I was afraid that if the house would collapse no one would know the place of my burial I left for the yard and found shelter in a wooden outhouse. But not long after, the structure collapsed and I felt kind of a burn on my left shoulder. I don't remember how long I lay under the collapsed building, but when I left the sky was brighter and the noise fell slightly silent. I started to run towards the camp, through the camp's yard to find my family. The camp was burning, all the barracks were burning, and also our shed was burning. Dead and wounded lay around and screams and moans were heard from all directions I continue to run through the water, I don't want to run on the road because one of the birds of prey is still circling in the air I reach the hut, which was once the residence of one of the farm workers, and to my surprise I find my family, Shmuel Fiderer, and a few others as they lie flat on the floor.
I look out the window and see that the planes are bombing the village of Tłuste and I feel in my soul a sense of relief: please let them taste the flavor a little, please let them suffer a little
The bombing ended and it was quiet all around. I tore my dirty shirt and with my wife's help I bandaged my wounded arm. Meanwhile, dusk fell and we had to find a place to sleep as free people We left for the road and met other survivors, some of them were whole and some were wounded who could still walk. We started to look for a more or less safe place to sleep, and here we were again near the cemetery the gentile wanted to take us to his place, but he advised us that all of us should not sleep in one location because it is not healthy to appear in a large group I took with me a group of people and together we went, in total darkness, in the direction of town. There, we entered the cellar in the home of Hersh Wolf Shechner and settled there for the night. There was a woman with us who had lost one of her arms in the bombing. She moaned all night, but she tried to suppress her moans so that her voice wouldn't be heard out of the cellar.
In the morning we went back to the camp and found a number of people who were looking for their missing relatives. They also didn't find them among the dead because they were burnt inside the barracks and not a trace was left of them. We found part of a body, and the sons of Shaul Drohobitzer [Drohobyczer] determined that it was the body of their father Shaul zl. We helped them to lift their sister Rachel, who was critically wounded, but she passed away during the treatment. With the help of the Russians, and with the help of Dr. Karol Roth, we started to move the seriously injured to the hospital in Chortkov. After that we started to bury the dead.
Each and every one of the survivors looked for a place to settle in, some in a half-destroyed Jewish house and some in one of the farm buildings which remained standing. I settled at the home of Mendel Hoisfeld together with the homeowner who survived with his family. When the front was breached again by the Germans, Mendel Hoisfeld wanted to take me and my family to his gentile who had hid them all the time in the village, I didn't accept his offer and joined the retreating Russians. Mendel and his family, and several of his relatives (Leib Stein's young daughter, her daughter and a cousin named Kupperman) left to hide with the gentile. They went and never returned because this time his gentile didn't let them get away, or maybe it was the work of his helpers from among the people in the village. Who is wise and informed?
The matter of my escape with the Russians is a story in itself and has no connection to my memories about the life in the labor camp.
by Leah Drohobitzer
Translated by Sara Mages
In 1939, the Second World War already started to show its signs in our town. Poland was divided between Russia and Germany: its northern section, with half of the city of Warsaw, was captured by the Germans, but its southern section, and in it Eastern Galicia, was under the rule of Soviet Russia. Many refugees from the German-occupied territory came to our area and brought with them stories of horror and atrocities. These stories sounded horrible and unreal to such an extent, that we thought that they were the product of peoples' imagination, and no one believed in them.
In 1941, the Germans captured Galicia and the persecution of Jews began in this part of Poland. Some of the town's residents tried to escape with the retreating Russians, but many were forced to return because the roads were blocked by the Russian army and its vehicles. Our family, the Drohobitzer [Drohobyczer] family, was a big extended family with many sons and daughters, brides and bridegrooms, who were firmly established in the town, and it was difficult for them to leave the family and run. In addition, none of us estimated the enormity of the horror and the danger that was facing us. Only the eldest son and the second son, Yisrael and Avraham, tried to escape for their lives, but they weren't able to break through and were forced to return to the town.
My brother, Yisrael, who was married and father to a boy, lived with his family in the Post Office Street, in the building where the courthouse was located in before the war. That building was our property and a place of residence was allocated to my brother after his marriage. After the failed escape plan, my brother left his apartment and came to live in our house on Market Street. My second brother, Leib, who lived with his family at the home of his father-in-law in the small town of Mielnica, also came to Tłuste at the outbreak of the war and lived in a rented apartment at the house of one of our relatives. The third brother, Moshe, lived in Chortkov [Czortków] with his father-in-law. Four more children remained at home: Yitschak, Chana, Avraham and me. Our brother, Yisrael, joined us with his family. My father's sister and her three children lived in our home, and also two refugee families from Hungary and Romania. All of us lived in a three-bedroom apartment. In addition, we weren't allowed to leave our front door, and those who disobeyed the order were likely to be shot.
With the arrival of the Germans, a Ukrainian militia was organized and, ever since, our lives were in their hands. The members of the militia were greedy and hungry for robbery and murder. Every once in a while, they generated riots in the town and in nearby villages. Every day they brought to town for burial the victims of their acts. Jews with broken heads, amputated hands or legs, or amputated tongues. The Ukrainian dignitaries tried to restrain the fury of the mob a little, but their impact was minimal. The Jews in town tried to defend themselves. At night, a number of families gathered together in one apartment, armed with any kind of weapons: axes, shovels, sticks and such. At night, we sometimes heard the sound of gunfire from different corners of the town, and they increased the fear in the heart and prevented any possibility of rest.
Meanwhile, a Judenrat (Jewish council) was organized in the town, and became the mediator between the German authorities, the Ukrainian militia and the Jewish residents. It was a life or death mediation because, quite often, the Judenrat was ordered to hand over ransom money or valuables to the Germans or to the militia. In such cases, members of the Judenrat walked from door to door and quite often took, with blows and curses, the last item that the homeowner was able to exchange for a loaf of bread or a glass of milk for their babies, who were crying from hunger. The hunger in town increased from day to day because the farmers weren't allowed to sell or give any food items to the Jewish residents. In exchange for a loaf of bread or a cup of grits, I secretly knitted articles of clothing for Ukrainians who used the cotton thread that they robbed from the stock that the Russians left during their retreat.
From time to time, members of the Ukrainian militia conducted inspection at the Jewish homes and at the same time murdered them with the butt of their guns. During one of these visits they stood my little brother against the wall and, as a joke and a game, aimed their guns at him, and his face turned white as chalk. I dropped to their feet and pleaded before them to save his life. I asked them to take my life instead of his and that softened their hearts. Usually, the Ukrainians didn't miss an opportunity to quench their thirst for Jewish blood, and did their work under the slogan: to liberate Ukraine from the Jews. The song we will shoot and slaughter until we expel them never left their lips. Even the good non-Jewish neighbors followed every movement that the rioters made, and their eyes expressed happiness to our demise.
The campaign of pogroms and torture in our area started with a unique incident. In the nearby town of Chortkov, the Ukrainians opened the prison after the withdrawal of the Russians and found the bodies of many political prisoners. Most of them were Ukrainian nationalists who were arrested by the Russians for their sin of criticizing the Communist regime. It was noticeable that many of the prisoners had died after a difficult torture, and parts of their bodies were scattered in the prison cells. Since the Jews were known as supporters of the Communist regime, the torture campaign against the Jews began. A curfew was declared in the town and any person who left his front door bore responsibility. They enlisted men to bury the dead, and later, each one of them was beaten to death and buried together with the murdered. In this manner the first phase of the Jewish annihilation began in our area, and it was fully executed by the Ukrainian mobs.
The second phase was executed by the Germans, in a typical German order and according to a pre-arranged system. The declared direction was to purify the town from the sick and the old, and those who were unable to work. Each person who was captured was shot immediately on the spot.
One day, a notice was published that all men who were fit to work would be sent to labor camps, where their lives would be protected. Actually, these labor camps were sort of concentration camps before the death march. However, since there wasn't any contact between those who were sent to the camps and their family members, nobody knew the nature of these camps. There were a number of sons in our family and it was difficult to decide which of them would be the victim, who would report for transport to a labor camp. After a lot of consideration, the fate fell on my brother, Yitzchak, who wasn't married. There was a great cry in the town and many sons separated from their families without knowing their destiny. But, there were those who went willingly, with the hope that their lives would be protected and secured.
We didn't get any reports from the sons, and we only found out about their bitter fate from rumors that filtered in. Meanwhile, those who remained started to build an emergency shelter in case of an aktzya. Under the cover of darkness, the men dug a pit under the house where it was possible to hide in time of need. They removed the earth and scattered it so the non-Jewish neighbors wouldn't notice it. At the same time, the women and children guarded the area against the possibility that a stranger would approach the house. A pit was also dug in our house and my father invested a lot of work, a lot of thought and great ingenuity. The pit opening was camouflaged with great skill, and even the sharpest eye wasn't able to notice it. In one of the aktzyot, the Germans searched and searched, but they weren't able to find it. He has done this work after he recovered from typhus fever.
By the way, we were almost caught in that aktzya. The lack of air caused my father to cough. The Germans intensified their search and started to pull the floor boards. But, a miracle happened. After they pulled a floor board in the corner, they found a treasure. They stopped their search and left. Fresh air entered through the crack in the floor and we could all breathe.
My mother, Rachel, was no longer alive in those days. She died a year after the outbreak of the war. She was a righteous woman and wasn't able to see the sufferings of others. Once, she gave her bed to others and slept on the cold floor during a difficult winter. Later, she fell ill with pneumonia and didn't recover from her illness. During her illness she kept on saying: If I could only see my son Yitzchak who was sent to a labor camp one more time it would be easier for me to die. Her wish was granted. After many pleadings, great risks and bribes, we were able to bring her son back to her. Our food ration consisted of bread that we baked on our own. The flour, which I received as payment for the clothes that I knitted for gentile neighbors, was ground in a meat grinder. The hunger was so strong at home that, at times, father took one his sons' bread ration. Ultimately, he became swollen and was infected with a difficult intestinal disease. It was impossible to take care of him and he almost died. One day, he didn't show any signs of life so my brother Yitzchak and I tried to give him vinegar to drink. My brother opened his mouth, I poured the liquid into his mouth, and we brought him back to life. In this manner we continued with our miserable life. During the day, we searched for food to eat and at night we sought refuge in holes and cracks so the enemy's cruel hand wouldn't reach us.
On Rosh Hashanah, a year after the death of my mother zl, rumors arrived about an upcoming aktzya. On that day, I went with my sister Chana to visit our brother Leib. His apartment was in the town center and one of the windows overlooked the cemetery. I remember his last words in which he tried to prepare us mentally for the future: Our mother isn't away from us, I look at her every day and I'm sure that we'll reunite soon. He was peaceful and accepted his verdict without anger. He used to say: I imagine in my mind that I'm seventy - and after all - at seventy you die When there were frequent reports on the upcoming aktzya, everyone began to flee for their lives, like birds fleeing before the arrival of a storm. Everyone searched for a place to hide, some in the fields out of town, and some with one of their gentile acquaintances in exchange for a gift of money or valuables. Our brother Leib suddenly came and asked to take Avraham, who was the joy of his parents, to his well-fortified and secure hideout. However, before he had the time to convince us to let Avraham go with him, we found out that the aktzya already started and entire families had left their homes and were hiding in holes and cracks. Leib returned immediately to his house to hide in his hiding place together with his family. We also started with the preparations: we brought Yisrael's wife, Chaya, and her baby to a gentile who lived out of town in exchange for a payment, and the rest of the family and the families who lived in our house entered the bunker which was prepared in advance in our house. Yitzchak locked the house from the outside to give the impression that we had left it, and hid in the neighbor's dog house.
A short time later, the son of one of the gentile neighbors discovered Yitzchak and handed him over to the Germans. On his way to the concentration area, he saw how they were leading Chaya, Yisrael's wife, together with her son Yosele. She begged before the policemen and her baby was crying as if he felt that his end was near. At the concentration area, he found out that our brother Leib and his family were led to their last road. At that moment he decided to try to stay alive at all costs. He got up and walked to one of the German guards and pretended that he was a member of the Judenrat, who was helping the militia to bring Jews to the concentration area, and he had to go to fulfill his duty. Thus, he was able to leave the concentration area and reach our hiding place. He came in a state of fainting and we weren't able to get anything out of him. Only in the evening, after the aktzya, we learned that Leib and his family and Yisrael's wife and her baby were sent to the death camp in Auschwitz. The boy, Yosele, was bright and beautiful, and even though he was only a few months old, he became silent when he was told: the Germans are coming. Yisrael and his five-year-old daughter, Yehudit, stayed with us and ever since I was like a sister and mother to her. The girl became attached to me and we didn't separate from each other, even in the most difficult situations. I was already twenty-five years old, but the feeling of orphanhood was shared by both of us.
After the aktzya our life returned to its usual course. Hunger continued to bother us and, from the lack of food, my brother, Avraham, the youngest child in the family, became ill with tuberculosis. We had some medicine left from the time that my mother was sick and I tried to cure him with it. When the militia came to search for a piece of meat, or a drop of milk which the Jews were forbidden to use, he gathered his energy and walked as if he was healthy, because the sick were sent to their death. Obtaining food was done under the threat of death. A woman went out to search for a drop of milk for her children and was shot on the doorstep. Another woman was caught a short distance from her house and she also found her death. In this way the extermination campaign was conducted in various methods.
Before the perfect and fastest way of delivery to the death camps was found, the Germans gathered their victims at the cemeteries and ordered them to dig their own graves. Those who volunteered to dig the graves were promised a grace, to be first in line. In this way their sufferings would be shortened because they would not see the death of their family members. Those sentenced to death were forced to undress and stand in line. A plank was placed over the grave and five people were placed on it. After they were shot and fell into the pit, five others went up to the killing place. There were those who stood bravely before death, others cried or prayed. They were those who miraculously obtained a few drops of poison and took their lives before the hand of the Germans got them.
In most cases the Germans abused their victims and enjoyed the sight of the execution. They threw children into the pit alive to save bullets. There were many cases when adults have fallen into the pit when they were still alive. Not once I mentioned my mother whose ancestral merit stood for her and she didn't see any of this. She was awarded to die a natural death and was brought to a Jewish grave. Indeed, she also suffered a lot. I remember that evening when the Germans attacked us, threatened us with their drawn guns and demanded our money. Mother stood before them with her arms spread, as if she was trying to protect us and hide us. She always put herself in danger to protect others, and it seemed that she also tried to help us after her death. Once, a local peasant woman saw her in a dream. She asked her to bring food to her family who were hungry for bread. The peasant woman, who believed in the dream, fulfilled her wish and brought us food every once in a while.
Winter arrived. It was a very difficult winter and we remained without clothes and shoes. That winter, the Judenrat failed to supply what was imposed on it by the Germans, and our brother, Yisrael, paid for it with his life. He was sent from the Judenrat to the police station on the excuse that he had to bring with him a notebook, and there they stood him against the wall and shot him. The policemen wanted to replace him with another brother, but Yisrael insisted that they should kill him not his brother. A messenger was sent from the police station to bring Yitzchak, but when he arrived, they already carried Yisrael, as blood was dripping from his head. Such were things. And what was left to do in such a situation? Also the crying was meager in comparison to the horrors!
The calamities occurred in a particular order. An order had been issued that all the Jews who remained in town had to move to one quarter, to the street where the movie theater Gwiazda (The Star) was located. The aim was to concentrate all the survivors in order to facilitate the work of extermination. The surviving members of our family moved to the home of our cousin, Leitsi Teiber, together with a number of other families. Our brother, Moshe, joined us there. He had escaped on foot from the labor camp in Tarnopol and arrived to Tłuste. In the first days of the war he lived with his wife's parents in Chortkov. His wife and children were sent to Auschwitz and he was taken to the labor camp in Tarnopol. Moshe was a talented man and exceled in the game of chess, so he befriended the German camp commander. Once, out of friendship," the commander offered to shoot him to death to shorten his sufferings. Moshe rejected his kind offer and decided to escape from the camp. He was fair-haired and did not look like a Jew. Thus, he was able to reach us.
Even before we could nourish our eyes with him, the ghetto was surrounded and a shower of gunfire rained down on us. Each of us escaped to a place where his legs carried him. Moshe escaped to the field, my younger sister Chana, my niece Yehudit and I entered an open pit. My father, together with my brother Yitzchak, hid in our neighbor's shelter. Inside the pit we found another family who was hiding there. We were all in fear, because the pit was known to the Germans as a refuge for Jews. We went down there with no choice, just to delude ourselves that we are somewhat protected. And indeed, a short time later a German arrived accompanied by members of the militia, our former neighbors. They ordered us to get out as their guns were pointed at us. For a moment a thought crossed my mind. Maybe it's better to be killed in the pit and be buried in there than getting out of it. I pulled my head out of the pit so the bullet would hit me in the temple and save me from unnecessary torture. My sister and my niece hid behind me. And here, our cousin, Perl, jumped out of the pit (she was there together with her daughters), knelt before our neighbor, the militia man, and offered him a ransom for our lives: a gold watch, a piece of fabric and fifteen dollars. The Ukrainian accepted her offer, took the ransom, allowed us to climb on the roof and even promised to protect us.
All that night we heard the sound of gunfire and the shouts of the victims. Suddenly, we heard a light noise from the edge of the roof. Those who were hiding inside the shelter heard us talking and called us to come down to them. The lack of air the bunker was unbearable, but we stayed there until dawn. The Germans left the town in the morning, and the militia, together with the Judenrat, collected the bodies of the victims for burial. My father went to look among the bodies for Moshe, who had disappeared, but he was only able to find his clothes and several pictures of his family. He wasn't able to find his body. Moshe wanted so much to live! Before the aktzya he pleaded before Yitzchak to go to the village with him and hide with one of the farmers because he had a few items of value in his pocket to pay him. Maybe, he had the feeling that he might be one of the first victims if he continued to stay in town.
After the aktzya, the Germans announced that the town was free of Jews and we were ordered to move to a labor camp in the nearby village of Roshanovka [Różanówka]. While we were debating if we should respond to the order and move to Roshanovka, a farmer from the village of Borakovka [Burakówka], who was one of our acquaintances, came and offered to hide us if we transferred what was left of our property to his hands. The farmer was also the owner of a flour mill and supplied us with flour in times of emergency. The farmer's son was a member of the Ukrainian nationalist organization and had contacts with the militia. The place looked safe enough to us, but it wasn't advisable for all of us to go there together. In many cases, Ukrainians handed over Jews who were hiding in their homes to the hands of the police after they got their valuables. For that reason, it was safer to be in the labor camp. Therefore, we decided to separate into two groups: my brother Avraham, my sister Chana and my niece Yehudit would go together with our father to the labor camp, and my brother Yitzchak and I would go to the farmer. It was decided that in case of danger the rest of the family would come to hide at the farmer's house.
The labor camp in Roshanovka was built on the grounds of an agricultural farm, and the farm manager was a Jew who lived as a Christian with forged papers. The people in the camp were engaged in agricultural work in the fields. Yitzchak and I sat in the farmer's attic wondering about the fate of our family members in the labor camp and about our own fate. At times, people from the camp came to us under the cover of darkness, dragging their legs from hunger and looking like shadows. Through the hatch in the attic I was able to see nature in all its glory and blooming trees, but there was wilderness in my heart. A nursery school was in front of the house, and from my hiding place I was able to see the joy in the children's eyes. I heard them singing and thought in my heart: G-d Almighty! are they better than us that you favored them! Sometimes, they warned us when the Germans arrived in the village, and we were forced to jump to the garden and hide among the bushes.
Meanwhile, rumors started to arrive that the Germans were defeated in Stalingrad, and Russian partisans who had been seen in our area started to organize fighter groups against the Germans. From time to time, Avraham came to sit with us in the hideout, but he wasn't able to cope with the boredom and he returned to the camp with Yitzchak. One of the reasons for that was the fact that the location of our hiding place became known and we were forced to leave, and I was the only one who remained there. Avraham prepared a hiding place for me on the roof inside a pile of straw. For a long time I didn't receive any sign of life from the camp, so I asked the farmer's wife to find out what had happened to my family in Roshanovka camp. Through her I received a note that we might be liberated soon, and that Avraham was going to join a partisan squadron. Later, it became clear that it was a plot done by Ukrainian nationalists. They spread a rumor that it was possible to join the partisans in order to discover who among the Jews wanted to join them. The Jews didn't realize that it was a bluff, and when many among them volunteered the Germans surrounded the camp and held a massacre. The matter took place at the height of the summer, the corn was ripe and stood tall, and many escaped from the camp and hid there. The Germans hunted the escapees. At first they found my little niece, Dushka (Yehudit) and then they found Avraham. Avraham tried to escape but the little one called him with a voice full of fear and he returned. Both were led to a pit, which was dug at the center of the farm, and the bodies of the dead were thrown into it. The gentiles, who witnessed the act of murderer, told me that Dushka asked to die first because she was no longer able to cope with the torture.
On the same night, I dreamt that I was descending into a dark grave and a snake was twisting tightly around my body. I woke up screaming, full of fear and horror. The following night, Yitzchak and Chana came, and it looked strange to me that they weren't talking about Yehudit and Avraham. When I asked for the reason, they lied to me and told me that both of them were hiding with a farmer. But after they broke into tears I discovered the whole truth. I wanted to take my own life, I detested my life and I was ready to give myself to the police. Yitzchak told me that our father survived, but gave himself to the police and asked them to kill him. We thought that everyone was murdered and we were the only survivors. Then, we found out that our father was taken in by a gentile woman who worked for us before the war. He fainted on the way to the police station and was lying in the mud. The peasant woman found him in this state and brought him to her house. Since then, he remained on her farm and secretly helped her with the farm work so the neighbors wouldn't notice him. The surviving Jews returned to the camp. The supervisor collected all of them with the claim that he needed laborers. Thus, the survivors found a home and a shelter for a few more days.
The camp residents lived in a long barrack, a stove stood in the center and bundles of straw lined the walls and served as beds. There was no water in the place, the straw swarmed with lice, and the filth and dirt became unbearable. The parasites killed many and the dying shouted in their last moments. When someone reached this stage, the people in the camp used to say: he's already watching the stars. The situation worsened with the arrival of winter. People were left naked and had nothing to cover themselves with. The chill penetrated the bones and froze the blood. Many became ill with typhus, and the hallucinations of those who were burning with fever became part of the nightly way of life in the barrack.
The healthy went to work on the farm every morning. Because of the emergency situation there wasn't enough time to thresh the wheat in the summer, and it was necessary to do the work in the winter. In the morning, people had to break their way through the snow which was about a meter deep. The work was done with primitive tools and everyone was exhausted. At times, people fainted during their work, and when it happened, the supervisor lashed them with his whip and brought them back to work. The threshing work was difficult and the barns were covered with thick snow. The sheaves froze and stuck to each other and it was difficult to separate them and feed them into the machine at the required speed. The supervisor used his whip and lashed those who had fallen behind.
Yitzchak also returned to the camp. My sister Chana and I stayed with the farmer in Borakovka and hid in his cellar. The cellar was dark and not a single ray of light entered it. There were a lot of mice there and they jumped on our heads as if we were dead. The air in the cellar was suffocating and smelt bad because we couldn't go outside to use the bathroom. Our existence on the farm was kept secret and we lived in fear all the time. Not once I wanted to end my life, but Chana begged me not to leave her alone. From time to time, the woman of the house came to us and told us horror stories, such as the story about a Polish farmer who hid Jews in exchange of a few kilograms of gold. After he received his payment he killed them. Maybe she also wanted to prepare us for a similar end. Since I suspected her I tried to influence her by contacting her religious feelings and reminded her that G-d rewards each person according to his deeds.
One day, the cellar door opened and a strange man came in and called us to follow him. Chana turned pale, fell to his feet and begged him to let her live.
We were sure that our last hour had arrived. The man calmed us down and told us that in the past he worked in our house. Our father and our brother, Yitzchak, were staying at his house, and he now came to take us and save us. He came from the village of Anilovka [Anielówka], and he was the son of the woman who took my father to her house. Later, Yitzchak arrived there and he was the one who sent him to get us. His cart stood outside of the village and, in order to reach it, we were forced to crawl on our knees through the fields so the neighbors wouldn't see us. From sitting for such a long time, our legs were almost paralyzed and we had difficulties standing on them.
How happy we were when we met again with our father and Yitzchak after we had lost hope that we would see them again. This farmer was willing to let us stay with him until the end of the harvest season. He was the head of the village and no one dared to open his mouth against him. Many in the village knew my father because they worked for him during the good days and remembered his good attitude towards them. Despite that, we nearly got caught by the police a number of times. Every day we heard about Jews who got caught in their hideout by the police and were shot on the spot. In the end, the police discovered that we were hiding in the village and we were forced to leave. Father and Yitzchak went directly to the camp and I stayed in the village with Chana. My sister had light hair and it was difficult to see in her face that she was Jewish. Once, the gentile woman came running and shouting at us: leave immediately, the Germans conducting a search, I don't want to die because of you. But it was too late to hide and a few meters from us a young Jewish man was discovered and shot. Chana jumped and climbed on the roof and I jumped after her. The gentile woman was nearly paralyzed from fear that they would find us in her house, but a miracle happened and the searchers didn't come to that house.
After a short period of living in fear, Chana also went to the camp and I was left alone. Once, I sneaked into the cowshed to spend the night there. Suddenly the door opened and a lamp blinded my eyes. I sat and waited for my sentence. The gentile left to consult with his friend and I followed him. It was better for me to be killed in the yard than be raped in the cowshed. I knelt down and pretended that I was an orphan girl who shepherded the farmer's cattle, but they didn't pay attention to my words because they knew who I was. They didn't have firearms with them but they beat me up until I fainted, and then left.
After recovering I also went to the camp. I was swollen, my bones were broken from the beating I received and all my limbs hurt. It was cold outside and the road was covered with snow. In this manner, I arrived to the camp in Roshanovka. It was difficult to get used to the special way of life in the camp, to the filth, hunger and all the rest. I suffered a lot until I acclimated, until I learnt to purify my body, to steal white beets to revitalize my soul and be like all the inmates. In the camp were also classes of people with special privileges who slept in the manager's home a brick house called Zonzovka. The manager, a gentile with enormous dimensions, selected the most beautiful young women to satisfy his lust, and in exchange let them sleep at his home (fortunately, I wasn't gifted with beauty and remained in the barrack). The manager's assistants, from among the survivors of the Judenrat, were also allowed to sleep in his home thanks to the money that they robbed from the unfortunate. Many of the camp's inmates slept in the cowshed, because it was warmer there and it was also possible to pull out a few grains of wheat from the animals' food ration.
Chana contracted typhus. Every day I forced her to go out to work so she wouldn't be a victim to the cruel decree of killing the sick. I had nothing to help her with. At night, I wrapped my arms around her to warm her up, and gave her white beet juice to drink. I was desperate and nothing looked right to me. And then, a rumor reached our ears that the militia was coming to visit the camp. On the same night, all the people from the hut escaped to the fields and I stayed with Chana to protect her. I was forced to calm her down and tell her that everyone went to sleep in the cowshed since it was warmer there. However, the visit wasn't held on that night but on another day. All the people in the barrack escaped for their lives, and I was the only one left. I was ready to end my life and end of all the sufferings. A woman from Horodenka, who didn't have sufficient time to escape, was shot next to me. I was forced to carry her out while her body was still warm. They didn't touch me, maybe they realized that I was ready to give up my life, therefore, they left me to continue to live in pain and agony.
The hour of fury passed and life continued as usual in the camp. Pesya Benimins was dying in a corner, I rubbed her body with snow but the dirt sucked her last drop of blood. I also gave the same service to her daughter Salya.
One night, while the camp's inmates slept, the farm's gentiles who guarded the camp set fire to our barrack. Their scheme was probably to blame us for insurrection or acts of sabotage, or maybe they just wanted to burn us with all the filth and dirt. As fate would have it, I woke up in time. I immediately alerted all the people in the barrack, who were sound asleep, and we began to extinguish the fire. The matter took place in the winter and a lot of snow was available for us to extinguish the fire. There were those who saw the burning of the barrack as the end for any hope and the loss of the last escape. I saw it as a sign from the heavens that the end of our sufferings had arrived. I had a feeling that something was going to change for the best, and the light of the fire would light up the darkness of our lives.
At the same time, the echoes of canon fire started to reach our ears and we understood that the Russians were advancing and getting closer in our direction. The Jewish inmates of Roshanovka camp scattered in every direction. A few hid in caves and others went to their gentile acquaintances. The surviving members of our family, my father, Yitschak, Chana and I, moved to the labor camp near Tłuste, around two kilometers from Roshanovka. The work manager, Patti [Vathje], was married to a Jewish woman who hid her origin. A German Wehrmacht military unit was also stationed in that camp. All the escapees from the other camps in the area arrived to that camp and lived there in horrible congestion, crowded and stressed.
One day we were told that the Russians were advancing and were a few kilometers away from the town. And indeed, we already heard the sound of cannon fire. The militia started to run wild and we got scared and panicked. We were sure that the Germans, together with the militia, would finish us before their retreat. Thus, we experienced two hours of tension and anticipation. The gunfire became stronger and closer, and the windows in the barrack shattered.
Two hours later the first sign arrived the Russian vanguard. We burst out and just extended our arms not knowing what to say. We stood, still consumed by sadness that the dead weren't able to see the downfall of the Germans. Together with that, we had no desire to continue and live in such emptiness.
We returned to the camp and our first thought was: How to get a loaf of bread? Father suggested that he go together with Chana to one of the neighbors, to Hanyoshka, to ask for a loaf of bread. Chana was pleasant and was accepted by all our gentile neighbors and we assumed that they would not refuse her request. We didn't realize that the war was not over yet and bitter surprises were still waiting for us.
Yitzchak moved away from us because he ran to search for his fiancée, and left us in the camp. As we were standing and debating which one of us would go with father, my sister or me, German planes appeared and started to bomb the camp. I felt kind of a light rubbing and fell unconscious. When I recovered, I found myself lying under my father's body. The barrack was destroyed and buried underneath it and one of its sides went up in flames. First of all, I tried to get out from under my father's body and check his condition. I shook his body, but he was lifeless. Shrapnel hit his abdomen and his intestines spilled out. He saved me from death with his body. I was only wounded in several places. The air battle between the Germans and the Russians continued. Under a shower of bullets and fire I ran to search for Chana, calling her name. Suddenly, a horrible sight appeared before my eyes: torn bleeding shreds of human flesh. Among all these I found my sister. I shouted with all my strength: Chana! Chana! Her eyes opened for a moment, and she was still able to say the word "Help!" and closed her eyes. I pulled her out of the pile of debris with the hope that she was still alive. I didn't realize that I had touched Tuntsia Fasler's injured shoulder. She only said: Don't hurt me and immediately died. No one was around me, and there was only destruction and death around. With my last strength I pulled Chana to the nearest cellar. Yosef Schechter, a family friend, appeared from his hiding place and helped me.
In the cellar I found several people, including my brother Yitzchak. I started to take care of Chana's injuries. I ripped her shirt and rubbed her and she pulled my hair from pain. I saw in it a sign of life and there was no end to my happiness. I didn't realize that the main injury was on her back. We transferred her to the house that was vacated by the Germans' advance unit. All the wounded were concentrated there. She showed signs of life all that night, but at dawn the wound opened and blood gushed out of it. I shouted: Help me! The Russian army passed through the town, and we weren't able to find a doctor. Yitzchak took a chance and brought a Ukrainian doctor. The doctor gave her an injection and, to this day, the thought that maybe the injection was a lethal injection is still torturing me.
The house was full of dead and wounded, and the shouts reached the center of the heavens. Bertsi [Berl] Glick was sitting next to me taking care of a two-year-old boy, who was a member of his family, and his wife was lying dead next to him. Many of the dead were burnt and all of them were buried in a mass grave. We saw the suffering and the death of our beloved relatives in the last moments before the arrival of the liberation that we had longed for.
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