by Dr. Baruch Milch
Translated by Sara Mages
I'm not a native of Tłuste. I spent my childhood and my adolescent years in Podhajce, but during the Holocaust I lived and worked in Tłuste, where I lost the members of my family who were brutally murdered together with the townspeople and the residents of the surrounding area. As a doctor, I had access to places that were forbidden to the rest of the Jewish residents, and had the terrible right to see the horrors up close. A number of these terrifying experiences are included in my testimony against the Gestapo men, Thomanek and Koellner, and were printed in this book (A doctor's testimony), and I would like to add a few more events that I was an eyewitness to.
As we know, Tłuste and the entire area were captured first by the Hungarian army and, only later, rule was transferred to the hands of the Germans. At the same period, thousands of Jews were deported from Hungary where they and their ancestors had lived for many years, under the claim that they were not Hungarian citizens. According to the Germans' deceit methods, these Jews were given the option to rebuild their homes in the Russianoccupied zone and take the places of Russians who died in the war or had left their homes and fled with the Russian army. Several thousand Hungarian Jews also arrived to Tłuste and the surrounding area. In Tłuste, the Judenrat took care of them and their needs, but in the villages these Jews were abandoned to the mercy of Ukrainian farmers who stole their belongings and killed them without mercy.
One day, I traveled in a cart to Rozanowka [Różanówka] to visit a patient, an important gentile among the residents of the village. When I arrived to the village, I saw a horrible sight that shocked all the fibers of my soul because we weren't accustomed yet to sights of horror that later became part of the daily routine under the Nazi rule. About two hundred Hungarian Jews, with their belongings, crowded in the square in the center of the village as they were surrounded by farmers armed with various tools. Some were also armed with rifles. All of them were ready to fight the helpless Jews, to attack them and destroy them. They were standing and waiting for the arrival of the Ukrainian police or the men of the Gestapo, who were to arrive from a nearby town. There were already a number of dead Hungarian Jews who were murdered before the arrival of the police. The farmers claimed that the Jews came to the village to capture it and take their homes. And indeed, there was a measure of truth in the claim: the Jews were brought to the village during harvest time, at the time when the farmers were busy in the fields, and when they saw their empty homes they assumed that these were the homes that were promised them. When the gentiles returned for their noon meal and discovered the invaders, they were ready to kill them.
I took advantage of my position as a wellknown doctor in the area to quiet the spirits. At first, I quickly visited the important patient and placed him in my cart to transfer him to Tłuste's hospital. When I arrived to the village center I stopped and put my cart with the patient between the two camps and explained to the farmers that the invasion was a result of a misunderstanding. I asked to temporarily bury the murdered Jews in the place and promised, in the name of the Judenrat, to transfer them in the next few days to the cemetery in Tłuste. The Jewish refugees walked behind me to Tłuste. I travelled ahead with the patient and dozens of Jews, men, women, and children walked behind me until we arrived in Tłuste.
Over time, the sights of murder and atrocities became part of our daily life. In the capacity of my work, I've seen shocking sights. I saw people die in the aktzyot, in starvation and epidemics. I visited homes in which patients, who were sick with typhus, inflammation of the brain and pneumonia, lay on the floor in every room. Some patients behaved like people who lost their mind, but all of this pales in comparison to the horrifying sight that I've seen after the second aktzya, the day after Simchat Torah 5701(1942) (ed. actually Simchat Torah 5703: 4 October 1942). I entered a patient room in the temporary hospital that we established near the Great Synagogue, and was shocked when I saw that all the beds were flooded with blood. All the patients that we, the four Jewish doctors, had treated with so much dedication lay murdered in their beds. Each was shot in his head.
I was a witness to the death of the last community in Eastern Galicia, or maybe, in all of the Jewish communities in Poland, where a few hundred Jews miraculously survived. It is hard to describe what the survivors felt when they met for the first time in the ruins of Tłuste. There was not a shred of joy in this meeting. On each of us lay a heavy load of horrible and bitter memories. None of us got used to the cruel thought that we survived and all our loved ones perished. The atmosphere was tense. Some of the Jewish homes and all the synagogues were completely destroyed, and the rest of the buildings stood without windows or doors, empty and emptied. Christians, or a number of survivors who gathered from the entire area, lived in some of them.
I also went to the cemetery. The guard, a gentile named Victor, was still protecting the headstones as if they were his private property and almost all of them remained intact. The four mass graves sunk about half a meter below ground. I remembered the horrifying sight that I saw in that place two days after the aktzya. Now, it was quiet there, it was perfectly clean and deadly silent …
I also visited my apartment and former clinic which stood empty, but I hurried to escape from them. I thought I heard the voice of my little boy shouting: Father, where have you been all this time? and the sound of my wife calling: How did you survive from the hands of the murderers?
To this day I do not know how it happened. I don't understand how I, and all the survivors, remained alive after the brutal mass slaughter. I would never understand from where we derive the energy to start a new life after all that happened to us.
And if we succeed in reaching a land of safety and reestablish a home and a family we will remember and not forget, because there would never be a penance to our brothers' spilled blood!
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