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In Fire and in Blood

Translated by Ala Gamulka

“And ye shall perish among the heathen and the land of your enemies shall eat you up” (Leviticus 26:38)

“In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were evening! And in the evening, thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! For the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.” (Deuteronomy 28:67)

“And gleanings shall be left of him, as in the shaking of the olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough” (Isaiah 17:6)

“But I will leave a few men of them from the sword, from the famine, and from the pestilence” (Ezekiel 12:16)

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On the Ruins of Our Town

by Yeshayahu Meltzman

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The following details I know from eye witnesses, as I lived in Ludomir during the Holocaust. We had moved there from Ustiluh when our house was burned down at the outbreak of the war. It was on the even of Rosh Hashana 1940. A large part of our town burned down at that time. There were many deaths.

On June 22, 1941, when the Germans attacked the borders of the Soviet Union– in our town the border was the Bug River–about 80% of the houses were burned. The only thing left was Danche Street and a few single homes on other streets.

On the first day of the German conquest, people were taken to rebuild the bridge over the Bug. Later, a few hundred more men were also taken. During working hours, these poor souls were beaten and some were killed. These are the names of the martyrs:

Avraham Erlich, son–in–law of Aharon Moshe Pofelis
Zev Mel, son of Alter Moshkis
Moshe Shinerman, son of Eliyahu
Zusia Katsav
Meir, son of Moshe Aharon Zelgs
Yosef Mamet, principal of the school, son of Shmuel Mamet
Rabbi Yehoshua Shintop, son–in–law of Reuvale Dayan, z” l, was crushed by a collapse due to a bomb.
Binyamin Fenik, son of Mendele, was taken to load ammunition in the Ludomir train station. He worked until noon. As he was unaccustomed to such hard work, one of the Germans put a sign on his back with white chalk. During lunch recess, the German pulled out his pistol and killed him in front of everyone.

As a result of these atrocious deeds, the Jews were afraid to go outside. They hid in cellars and anywhere else they could.

The German authorities, the police and the town commander proclaimed: the Jews were to organize a committee– Judenrat– to bring the citizens back to a normal life.

The committee was chosen with Michel Shafran as its chairman. There were negotiations with the Germans and they came to an agreement. Everything the Germans demanded from the Jews would be the responsibility of the committee. This is how the Germans, may their names be erased, began to rob the town in an organized and methodical manner. It was done through the committee.

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They demanded a monetary contribution and it was done. They wanted workers for various tasks in town– it was done. They requested winter clothing for men and women (furs)– all good items owned by Jews were handed over. The Jews remained with nothing. The murderers did not stop. They ordered the villagers not to sell us any food items or wood for heating. There was a ration on bread, but the Jews did not receive anything.

They also began to grab Jews and send them elsewhere, to work out of town, supposedly. However, these Jews disappeared and never returned to their families.

In March 1942, all the Jews in town were organized into a ghetto on Danche Street. There were twenty people in one room. As a result of these conditions, Typhus was rampant. The Germans used to send their helpers, the Ukrainian militia, to remove anyone with high fever and to kill him/her.

This was the life in the ghetto until the Jews finished preparing their own graves in the Piatidan fields. In these graves were buried the Jews of Ludomir and Ustiluh– 8 000 souls. The Germans told the Judenrat that since the front with the Russians was coming closer there was a need to dig these pits to prepare underground fuel depots.

I remember that I was working with Haim Yitzhak Myerson in the digging of these pits. He said to me, plainly:” It is not true that there will be fuel depots here. These pits are for us…”

Several weeks passed before the digging was completed. During the time we were working, many laborers slept in place. They were tired and worn out from the hard work. On the last day before the pogrom, the Germans arrived with more police and made all the workers sleep in the ghetto. We then knew that the great catastrophe was approaching. On the next day, 19 Elul, at 5:00 am, a unit of police and Germans came to the ghetto. They removed men, women and children, put them on trucks and brought them to the pits. The poor souls had to hand over to the killers anything they had on them. There were large milk containers standing and they were filled with money and gold, watches and jewellery. The second order was to get undressed completely. Rows of police and Gestapo stood like walls on all sides. They pushed these poor people into the pits. Machine guns sprayed them. This is how the lives of the Jews of Ustiluh ended on the Piatidan.

Michel Shafran, who was the first to climb on the truck, announced: “You see we have no choice. We cannot save ourselves. We must go on the path these sadists are demanding from us.”

A small part of the Jews of Ustiluh who were hiding in the homes of the “good” gentiles, may their names be erased, were all killed. At first, they were taken in for their belongings, but soon they were killed or denounced to the Germans who came to remove them.

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I know the story of the family of Leahtche Topoler. She escaped with her three daughters to a gentile acquaintance of hers. She gave him all her belongings. He hid them for a few days. Once, he came to them in the middle of the night and said the place was too dangerous and he wanted to transfer them to another location, 2 kilometers away. He and some of his cronies, his partners in crime, put them in a cart near the Bug. There, the killers chased them into the river. Only the youngest daughter, who knew how to swim, was saved. That night she escaped, naked, to her home in Ustiluh. After that she stayed with Lipinski, the mayor of Ustiluh during Nazi times.

Dr. Muzikansky, with his wife and three–year–old child spent a few months with their friend in Stiziritch. When all the Jews in town were murdered and the killers had a list of names, from the census bureau, it was known that Dr. Muzikansky was still alive. The killers did not rest until, with the help of a denouncer, they found his hiding place. Through the window, the doctor saw the Ukrainian police and Germans coming close to the house. He did not wait for them and he gave poison to his wife and child as well to himself. When the killers entered, they were all dead.

With the cleansing of the refugees in the villages, the history of the Jews of Ustiluh ended.

*

My body felt it and my eyes saw it…

As mentioned above, a large part of Ustiluh was burned when war broke out. Many of those who lost their homes moved to Ludomir, as did our family.

Fate punished them, too. Many were taken to the common grave of Ludomir and Ustiluh in Piatidan. The rest were tortured and killed in various ways. Among the first victims of the Nazis in Ludomir were Haim Leitsis, son–in–law of David Bliander, and family. The day the Nazis conquered Ludomir, they organized a blood bath on Kowalski Street. They went from house to house, took out the men and slaughtered them. When they came to Haim's home, his wife Rivka began to shout and to beg them to leave him alone. In reply, they shot her first, then they killed Haim and their oldest son, 15–year old Shlomiele. Only the 4–year old remained alive. He saw them lying on the floor and he begged them to get up… Finally, he went to Haim's sister, Feiga Leitsis and told her his father and mother are sleeping on the floor and not getting up. The bright child soon knew that even his aunt cannot wake up his parents and his brother and he began to cry.

The Yokhenzon family was also killed that day in the yard of their flour mill. Who can describe the fear and trepidation of the Jews? For several days no one ventured out.

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There was no contact between families. My sister, for example, lived on the next street and we did not know the fate of the family. Finally, children 7–8 years old were sent to reconnoitre the area and find out what was the situation. The news they brought back was terrible and frightening. It was exactly as is written in “Nesane Tokef” (Yom Kippur prayer).

Five days later, posters were hung telling all residents to register in the labor department. Anyone not doing so would be punished. People began to stream to the labor department and they received assignments. I, too, was sent to work in a vegetable garden five kilometers out of town. We walked to work every day and we returned home in the evening. I was pleased with this work because the supervisor was a gardener from the town hall, not a German. In the places supervised by Germans, there were victims on a daily basis. We worked like this for a month. During that time the Gestapo caught 800 Jews and put them in prison. They said they were taking them to work out of town, but these people never returned. They were killed in prison with rifle handles. They were buried there.

We were 40 Jews working in the vegetable garden. We left town before daybreak in order not to run into Germans. We returned in the darkness of night for the same reason. One morning, when we arrived at the garden, we saw some Germans circling the house. They came close to us and asked us who was the supervisor. One of us, a well–known member of the Judenrat, informed them he was the supervisor. One of the killers lifted a heavy picket and hit the Jew, in the head, several times.

At that moment all the workers fled. My brother–in–law, David Vopaniarsky, and I escaped in the direction of the main road Ludomir–Lutsk. The road was being repaired by Polish gentiles. When they saw Jews running away, they began to chase us. They caught us and gave us over to the Germans. The latter were occupied with flirting with young women and did not wish to stop. We told our chasers to bring us back to work in the garden. A half hour later, the Germans came and began to beat us. My brother–in–law David was badly hurt. I did not believe he would live after such a cruel beating. He was bleeding everywhere and they still continued to kick him in the groin. He fell down and was writhing in pain. He could not breathe. A few minutes later he caught his breath and asked for water. I was afraid and I continued to work. Who can understand the mind of a killer? The killer must have been upset by this. He ordered me to lie down on the ground and began to hit me with the picket. I will never forget this beating. My back was black with injuries. When they were finished with us, they realized that all the other laborers were missing. According to the young women, some Jews escaped into the nearby forest. The killers took their rifles and ran into the forest. This is when my brother–in–law and I ran away. We walked though wheat fields and we reached the edge of town. We met a woman we knew. “Where are you going?” and she added “The Gestapo is back in town and they are rounding up Jews!”. We went to a friend's house and hid in his cellar. We waited until evening and we went back home. The next day we went to the doctor of the Judenrat.

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He gave us permission to be off work for a week. We never returned to the same job. We were sent to work in an ammunition warehouse in the barracks on Kowalski Street. We worked there for a few days– we were not beaten. One early evening, after work, we were told by the German supervisor to come, on the next day, straight to the train station. We were to travel to Vinnitsa (about 20 kilometers away). We did not pay attention to what he said and came back to the warehouse, as usual. We were afraid to go to the station in case we would not be brought back…

We arrived at the warehouse and found it locked. Not one of the Germans was there. After waiting for an hour, with no one coming, we decided to go to the train station and travel to Vinnitsa. The German was waiting for us at the station, very angry. He ran towards us armed with a thick stick and he began to beat us non–stop. He promised to punish us because we did not come on time. We went to Vinnitsa. In the station we found several crates filled with heavy ammunition. Each one of us carried, on his shoulders, a piece of artillery and in the other hand– an iron crate. The Germans were on horseback and made us go two kilometers into the forest. Anyone who tried to shift the heavy load from one hand to the other was beaten. We walked through a marsh. They dismounted and walked behind us prodding us with their sticks. We thought our end was near. I do not know how we were saved and managed to return home.

After that, we stopped working in the ammunition warehouse and we looked for work that would not put us under the supervision of the Germans, may their names be erased. We found work in digging peat for heating–about 4 kilometers from town. We spent three months there. During this time there were many problems in town. The Gestapo came three times to catch Jews, supposedly for work. My father and my father–in–law, Raphael Budenstein, were caught. We did not know their fate for several months. Finally, we discovered they had been slaughtered together with all the others who had been caught, in prison, on 6 Elul, 1941. A month later the Gestapo came for the third time. It was the eve of Yom Kippur– nicknamed Bloody Monday. That day, 1,500 Jews were captured. They were collected from various work places around town, from military camps and agricultural farms. They were put in prison and they never returned home. That day, we did not come home because my sister, Malka, came to tell us the news. We continued working on the sacred day, but we prayed in the fields and we cried over the great catastrophe.

That day, many people were buried alive. Among them was David Boxer from Ludomir. He begged the killers to shoot him, but they laughed at him. There was no shooting that day, only various methods of torture. After the bloodbath there was no family in Ludomir that was not affected by the “Public sacrifices”.

Those who remained alive were in dire economic straits. They were afraid to leave town as the yellow star announced that they were Jews. When a Jew was caught without this sign, he would be immediately eliminated. In addition, the Gestapo people would come, from time to time,

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to visit the town to see if there were still Jews roaming the streets, how they were subsisting and what else could be taken from them. They came to the Judenrat and demanded money and valuables. All was given to them. Then they came and said that Jews should not be scattered throughout the town. A ghetto must be designated. They put barbed wire around a few streets. The moving day into the ghetto was designated as the last day of Pesach. The Jews moved into the ghetto, including my family. It was terribly overcrowded– 15 people to a room. News reaching us from other towns was even worse. It was said that in many towns the Jews were taken out of the ghetto and transferred to concentration camps.

In July 1942 we found out that the district commander was on leave for two months and left a replacement. It turned out that he went on a special course in one of the concentration camps– to learn methods of eliminating Jews.

Indeed, he came back with a satanic plan. He informed the Judenrat that, since the Russians had reconquered Kiev and the front was coming closer to us, there was a need to prepare underground fuel depots. They would be protected when attacked from the air. The Judenrat was to provide 1,000 workers for digging the pits. The work was done under the direction of Jewish engineers. There were three pits dug. Each one was 100 meters in length, 50 meters in width and 4 meters in depth. During the time the work was being done, the workers received, daily, meat meals. These poor souls were happy that the Germans were feeding them meat while, in town, bread was being rationed– only to gentiles.

At that time, a new order was given: to assemble all craftsmen on a specific street, so the Germans would find them easily. Those who did not have a trade understood quickly that they would be slaughtered. That is why the craftsmen' ghetto was called the “live” ghetto, while the other was the “dead” one. In essence, anyone who had money paid it to the Judenrat and received a craftsman card. In the end, the Judenrat gave a list of 400 craftsmen to the district commander and they moved to the “live” ghetto. I and my brother–in–law David were not craftsmen at all. We also did not have any money. We remained in the ghetto with our families and awaited our fate. My other brother–in–law, husband of my younger sister, obtained a craftsman card and moved to the “live” ghetto with his wife and three–year–old child. Their fate was worse than ours.

As soon as we moved into the ghetto, we began to build a hiding space. We had two, one safer than the other (so we believed). The second was less safe. On the final evening, when we felt the angel of death coming closer, we moved the women and children to the “safe” hiding place. David and I hid in the second place. The next day, 18 Elul 1942, at 5 am, the killers removed the fence around the ghetto and began to capture people. They put them on trucks and brought them to the “fuel depots” in Piatidan. The next day the killers came to the hiding place of our mother and other neighbors.

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The Germans began to shoot and the children were scared and began to cry and shout. The sounds reached the killers and they immediately demolished a wall in the building. At that moment, my sister Malka escaped with her children to the second hiding place where David and I were situated. My wife, Tova, the children, my mother and the rest of the women and children were taken to Piatidan. I was in mourning and lay for 11 days in the hiding place together with my sister and her family. During all that time death was raging wildly on the outside.

From our hiding place we could observe what was happening on the street. We saw people being taken out of their hiding places, placed on trucks and taken to their death. On the twelfth day we heard Jews roaming our house, for a long time. I slowly opened the entrance to the cellar and I saw Jews collecting items from our house. I asked them if the bloodbath was over. “No”– they said– “people are still being taken out of their hiding places”. They told us that there were about 50 workers who were given a temporary permit to collect belongings of the Jews and to bring them to the warehouses. They told me I could join them and so I did. I helped to pack the items and I went out with them, for a few hours, into the ghetto. I returned the next day to rescue my brother–in–law, David.

We left our sister and her children to God's mercy as we could not take them with us. It was a difficult decision. However, after giving it some thought we decided that we had to rescue whoever could be rescued.

The next day, the 14th day of the pogrom, the hunt was over and they came out of the hiding place.

During the killing days, about 14 000 Jews were buried in Piatidan.

After the slaughter, the district commander informed the Judenrat that Jews could come out of their hiding places because the Germans had fulfilled their quota. There would be no more killing.

We assembled about 3,000 people. A new ghetto was established in the stores of the Halles. Here, too, there was great crowding. We immediately began to dig a hiding place because we did not trust the killers' promises. We worked for several weeks. During the night we took out the earth and we straightened the area so as to obscure the construction. For an entire month we went to the previous ghetto every day to clear it. We lived on food products we found there.

When the district commander saw there were still about 3,000 people left, he gave new orders to the Judenrat. They were to, again, assemble the craftsmen and transfer them to a specific street. The Judenrat prepared a list of 800 craftsmen and gave it to the district commander so as to obtain cards with his signature. We knew, for certain, that a new bloodbath was being planned.

We were completely desperate and we almost accepted our lot. However, my sister Malka began to cry and said that we should learn a trade in the next few days in order to receive a craftsman's card.

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We thought about it, but we were unable to find a craft that can be learned in a few days. A few more days passed and there was great panic in the ghetto. The holders of craftsman's cards were leaving the ghetto and moving to the other street. Even the Judenrat moved there. My sister would not accept the situation. She thought we should go to the Judenrat and declare that we were craftsmen. We could manufacture shoe polish. We did as she suggested because we believed we had nothing to lose. The head of the Judenrat promised to give the district commander the list of two shoe polish manufacturers. Soon the head of the Judenrat called us and told us the commander wanted to see our product. We had begun this dangerous game, so we continued. We obtained two boxes of shoe polish, one black and the other white, from outside the ghetto. We put the shoe polish in ordinary boxes and gave them to the head of the Judenrat. We also added a list of ingredients used to prepare the shoe polish. With this subterfuge we managed to obtain two craftsman's cards. Malka and the children were registered as members of the family of the producers. We were given permission to move to the street of those “written for life”, but we did not rush to move. The experience of the first group of craftsmen taught us not to trust –even with a member's card. At least, here in the ghetto, we had a safe hiding place. We stayed there for a month and a half until the second pogrom began. On the eve of the Sabbath, Vayerah portion, 1942, at 4:00 am, the killers surrounded the ghetto. They removed anyone they found and took them to Piatidan. When we heard screams, we immediately went to our hiding place. The next day, at 11:00 am, we heard Jews talking in the room above us. I went to the entrance and I saw an acquaintance collecting household goods. I asked him: “What is the situation?”. He told me to immediately leave because if we were to be found, the craftsman's card would not help. We would be taken to Piatidan. David and I came out and mingled among the workers. David went to the Judenrat and informed them that his family was in hiding and he asked for permission to take them out of there. The head of the Judenrat said that he had to ask the head killer, the commander. He did so and brought back the authorization. The head killer, himself, stood on the road when Malka and the children came out so he could identify them. They showed him the craftsman's card and the transfer permit and he agreed. This is how we went to live in the third ghetto.

The next day, Sunday, we, the craftsmen, were taken to clear the ghetto of dead bodies. On the fourth floor of the Limonik restaurant there were several dead bodies. The Germans told us to break open the tin roof and to throw the bodies down to the street. We did not rush to obey. The Gestapo man took out his gun and threatened to kill us. I, and Abba, husband of Yocheved Halperin, picked up the tin slats and threw the bodies down. We were then told to take a stretcher and transfer the bodies to the prison. We walked under escort of a Ukrainian policeman.

In the prison we saw a horrific scene. I will never forget it– for the rest of my life

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There were about 500 dead bodies in piles. In the courtyard there were laborers digging large burial places. We placed the body on one of the piles. The Ukrainian policeman said: “What do you want to do? Do you want to return to the ghetto to bring another body?”. We replied “Yes” and we left the prison. We never returned to this kind of work.

On the way, we met several families that were taken out of hiding places and brought to the prison. All their pleading for mercy was in vain. They were brought to the prison and executed there.

The pogrom continued for two weeks. Daily, hiding places were discovered and the people were killed. When there were no more living people in the ghetto, the killers began to check among the craftsmen. This was to make sure there were no “illegals” among them. Thus, around 80 people were found. Among them was Abba Veverik, his wife and children and the wagon driver David Orils. They were with us for a month. Once, David Orils said to me: “Yeshayahu, you must remember the prophecy of the prophet Yekhezkel about the dry bones. What period of time did God mean when he asked “will these bones live? – now I know that it meant the destruction of Jewry in our time”.

This is what this honest and innocent man said a day before he was massacred by the killers.

We were in the third ghetto, among the craftsmen, for an entire year. There were many difficulties during that time. We knew that in other towns not one Jew remained alive and we were certain one day our turn will come. One thought occupied us: where could we find a safe place outside the ghetto? I could not find such a place among any of my gentile acquaintances as I could not trust any of them not to denounce us to the Germans. Help came in a magical way. A woman we knew came to tell us that her family of three found a place with a good gentile. He was ready to accept another family. She was prepared to offer us this place if we would take care of her family until redemption comes. We agreed to the terms and we immediately went to that gentile. He did not ask for money, but he said: “If you will be lucky enough to save yourselves, you will repay me when you are free– whatever you can afford.” We saw this as a sign from God, that an angel has been sent to redeem us. We immediately began to prepare our hiding place there. We completed the task in a few days and we began to prepare as much food as possible. This happened during the ten days of penance in 1943. Suddenly, there was a great fear in the third ghetto. We slept that night in our hiding place in the ghetto. We decided that if we survived that night, we would move to the place out of town (about 6 kilometers away). Actually, nothing happened that night. In the morning, the eve of Yom Kippur, we went to work, but we informed the new savior to come and get Malka and the children. He came that day and took them and the second family. David and I remained in the ghetto because we wanted to attend services on Yom Kippur. The following day I left the ghetto and went to join my sister. Only David remained in the ghetto because he could not abandon the “shoe polish factory”. I stayed with my sister for a month and a half. We hid during the day

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and at night we went out for fresh air. In the meantime, I prepared a hiding place in reserve– a safer one. It was located 8 meters underground and air was conducted through an opening in well built with of cement. The savior brought us food in a pail, lowered into the well. David came to visit every Sunday and he would report on events outside. At the beginning of our seventh week there, David came to tell us there was a new order: all craftsmen were to undergo a new census by the S.S. Their office was outside the ghetto. I told him that it was probably a sign of a new liquidation. I did not want to sign up. David took my sister and they returned to the ghetto. They stayed there for two days until they were signed in. Malka returned and told me to do the same because she saw people, in the Judenrat, who were prepared to pay money to be added to the list of craftsmen. I vehemently objected and said I would not return to the ghetto. She began to cry and said that the head of the Judenrat sent her specially to come. He threatened that if I did not do so he would reveal my hiding place to the Gestapo.

I could not stand this pressure and I returned to the ghetto. By then, the registration was completed, but I went into the Judenrat office and informed the director that I had come to register as he had demanded. He immediately ordered his police officers to lock me up in their jail. They held me there for two days and then I was called in for an inquiry. “Why did you run away from the ghetto?”– they asked. I replied that my sister cannot be alone with the children in that place. We also did not have the raw materials to produce the shoe polish for the Germans. I knew that once the materials arrived, my brother–in–law would inform me and I would return to work. I won!

On the next day, the Sabbath, I was sent to work in an army camp. When I returned in the evening, I met the daughter of Zalman Teitel. She told me that she had worked that day in digging ditches as the frontline was coming closer to us. The German supervisor told her that the following day the Jews will not be digging ditches.

We went together to the head of the Judenrat to tell him the story. He said: “Don't cause panic in the ghetto. Just as your lives are dear to you, so are mine and those of my family. I have a contact with the killers. If they want to annihilate us, I will know 48 hours earlier. I will then let the Jews know to leave the ghetto.” We were calmed down with this news and we went home. David said to me: “Let us go visit Malka. We will return tomorrow”. I told him I was ready to go as long as we did not have to return to the ghetto. He did not agree and he went by himself. I stayed in the ghetto.

The next day, Sunday, there was great consternation. The commander ordered the Judenrat to provide him with 30 Jews for work and they complied. In the evening, the people did not return and a delegation of the Judenrat went to the commander. He told them the people were sent, by train, to another place and he did not know when they would return. Panic ensued. That evening, my brother–in–law David returned.

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That was a night of fear and watchfulness. The women who had just lost their husbands were screaming and crying. There was a deathly fear in the ghetto. At 4:00 am, police officers from the Judenrat, knocked on doors to take people out to work. Suddenly, we heard shots from automatic rifles, coming from all sides. We immediately went into hiding. David and I sat there for a week. Now, he, too was ready to go to Malka and to not return to the ghetto. On the seventh night, we tried to leave the ghetto. However, the killers discovered us. They chased us and shot in the air. We managed to evade them and we returned to our hiding place. We stayed there for another week. We were 14 people without any food or water. Our bread had spoiled due to moisture. After four days, when our thirst was unbearable, we dug two meters down and we found, luckily, some water. It was not so clean, but we were happy not to spend another night without water. During those days we had no contact with the outside world. We did not know if hiding places were being searched. On day 14, in the afternoon, the killers came with search dogs. They rolled iron balls on the floor and discovered that there was a hiding place underneath. However, they did not find the entrance. They began to destroy the stove and sink. We were whispering our last prayers. We thought we would be discovered any minute. It was our luck that they did not manage to complete the destruction before nighttime. They stopped and left. They were probably certain that when they returned in the morning we would still be in the hiding place. We decided to leave the ghetto at midnight, even if they would chase us and shoot at us. At 11, groups of four began to leave. We crossed the fence in peace. We went through Bialoviez and crossed the road near the barracks on Ustiluh road. We walked through the fields. From far away we saw a lonely house and we came closer to it. I peeked in the window and I saw a woman– Polish–looking. She was sitting at a table reading a book. I knocked on the door and she asked: “Who is it?”. I replied: “A Jew who escaped the ghetto”. She opened the door and invited us in.

I entered with David and we told her all that had happened to us. We asked her to sell us a slice of bread. She brought a whole loaf. It was Christmas eve– 25th of December– and she refused our money. She added: “Perhaps we will meet again some day.” We asked her for permission to stay there until 3 am when we would leave. She said it was not a good idea. The book she was reading was given to her by a German. She expected him to return that evening to take his book. She showed us a distant Polish settlement and suggested we go there to sleep. We walked in that direction. Suddenly, we heard: “Halt! Who is there?”. They were right near us. It was a civil defense group of Poles – against Ukrainian killers. When they heard our story, they showed us a place to hide. It was too dangerous for us to roam at night as there were Germans and Ukrainians around. They could catch us. We stayed there until 3 am. We then left and began walking in the direction of Malka's hiding place. We had to go by a Ukrainian village. It was our luck that it was before daylight and they did not see us.

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We crossed the Ludomir–Kovel road and we saw, in the distance, some armed killers. We hid in a trench and waited for them to leave. We continued on our way and came to our hiding place. When our sister saw us, she fainted from excitement. She was certain we were no longer alive as we had not visited in a long time.

In those days, armed Ukrainians would attack, from time to time, Polish settlements. Our host was Polish and he was afraid. He left and went to live in town. My sister stayed alone with the children. Still, he came every two days to bring her food. When we reached her we found his 15–year–old son in the house. He immediately went to town to tell his father that we had escaped from the ghetto. Two hours later, our host and his wife came. They were ecstatic. He said: “I thought I would now have to look after a bereaved family. I thank God that he kept you alive. Now I do not have to worry about that.”

We stayed “peacefully” for about a month in our hiding place. The good man would visit from time to time. He encouraged us by telling us the frontline was coming closer. Lutsk was already in the hands of the Russians and soon the Germans would leave. We truly believed we would be free in a few days. It was not so. The Germans received reinforcements and the frontline remained, for five months, near Kovel–Lutsk. All that time, Ukrainians would attack the Polish settlements in the area. Once, on a Sunday, the host came to bring us food for the week. He came down to our hiding place and discussed the situation with us. Suddenly, we heard submachine guns shooting. He left quickly and escaped on his cart. The shooting continued for two hours. We immediately blocked the entrance to the hiding place. We heard Ukrainians talking in the courtyard. They were mentioning our host, as they had seen him escape. We were lucky that day. The barn door was open and our entrance was inside. They had chased some Poles from the area, found them in the courtyard and killed them. We only found this out when our host returned the next day and told us to look at the dead bodies in the courtyard. There were seven. He said to us: “You must leave here. All the locals have left and are in town. I cannot come and endanger your lives. I have a proposition for you: in the village of Bielin, 8 kilometers away, there are Polish partisans. One of you can come with me to see if there are also Jews there. Perhaps you could move there”. We agreed and David went with him. He was to return that evening, but he did not. Suddenly, we heard shots and Germans speaking. We did not know what happened to David. Maybe he returned and the killers noticed him? We decided that if David did not return by the next day, we would leave. Early the next day our host came. He was surprised that David had not returned, but he calmed us down by saying that perhaps David was afraid to use that road. He proposed that we move to Bielin. We agreed without any hesitation and we went with him. The road was dangerous, as we passed the village of Verba where there were many Ukrainian killers.

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Thank God, the Ukrainians did not see us and passed in peace. We reached Bielin and we found David. It was true that he did not come back because he was afraid of the Ukrainian and German killers on the road. We discovered there were some Jews in Bielin, but they were not joining the Polish partisans. There, we met Avraham Tsuker, son–in–law of Leib Sheinborn. A few days later, a Pole who had worked for him before the war came and took him out of the village. He killed him there.

We were not too certain of the safety of our location. There was much crowding because many Poles from different parts of the area streamed to the partisans. There was no place for us. With great difficulty, I found a place in another settlement– about one and a half kilometers away from Bielin. We felt more secure, so to speak. The Germans would not come there and we did not have to hide. Soon, there was a change in the situation. The Germans suddenly attacked the partisans with tanks and canons. The partisans retaliated with anti–tank grenades. A few Germans were injured. The Germans retreated and left behind one of their injured. The partisans looked after him and returned him, the next day, to the Germans. They even sent a letter of apology for their retaliation. They thought– so they said– that Ukrainians were attacking them. They would not have attacked the Germans. They received a reply telling them they will be informed whether they have been forgiven or not. In the next two weeks there were reconnaissance airplanes that were photographing the area. At Easter, four military craft dropped bombs and shot from machine guns until they destroyed the village by fire. There were around 200 houses. Not one building survived. All the Poles residing in the area escaped, the next day, to the other bank of the Bug. We also decided to go to the Russians for refuge. We began to walk towards the frontline. One time, the airplanes noticed us and began to fire. It was in a burned–out village. We scattered among the ruins and, once again, we were saved. The danger from airplanes made us deliberate whether to continue or to return. We decided to go forward and not to return to the killers, may their names be erased.

Towards evening, we reached a stream that had a destroyed bridge. Near the bridge we found an upended wagon with hay and a soldier's foot. The horses were cut into pieces. We had to travel about 6 kilometers from this bridge to the forest. We were told there were camps of Russian soldiers there. We walked in an open area and our hearts were beating fast with fear. Suddenly, we met two soldiers driving towards us. We were scared, but when they came closer, they calmed us down. They told us that their command post was at the entrance to the forest. We should ask for a soldier to take us through the forest since there were still some Ukrainian killers around. We went to the command post, but they refused to give us an escort. They said that the area was cleansed of gangs and Germans. We should not be afraid to go through the forest. After walking for about 4 kilometers, we met Russian guards every 200 meters. We passed through the forest and we reached a Ukrainian village.

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We were afraid again of running into the killers. We approached an officer and he assigned a soldier to escort us through the village, for about 3 kilometers. We continued on our way, feeling safe, because there were Russian soldiers everywhere. We walked about 25 kilometers that day and before night fell, we reached a village with many military groups. We stopped at one of the houses and asked to be put up for the night. A Soviet officer came out and invited us inside. He stayed with us until midnight and was interested in all that had happened to us and how we had managed to cross the frontline. Finally, he said to us: “After you managed to escape from the Germans and to remain alive, I advise you to not stay the night here. This is where we have our artillery and the enemy's artillery is only 6 kilometers from here. It is possible that at daybreak we will receive an order to attack. Therefore, I think you should leave now. I see you are very tired, but make the effort and reach 10 kilometers from this place”.

We listened to him and we walked for three more hours until daybreak. We found military transport and we were brought to a place called Holova. We found other Jews there. They had been liberated three months earlier. The local Jews immediately gave us a room to live in. We received food from the military kitchen. The next day, I went outside to speak to people who were already free. A police officer approached me for identification. I showed him my identity card from 1939. He took me to a mobilization office. A half an hour later, the office manager came to tell me that I was to come at 5:00 pm to be drafted. We would be leaving immediately. I told him: “Yesterday I was still under the Germans and I have just arrived. I need a delay of a few days.” He replied that he could not do it because the war has to be ended quickly.

I turned to the Jewish officer working there and told him everything I had gone through. They want to send me to the front? The officer replied: “I can tell you to get rid of the passport that was taken from you. Take the train to a location 50 kilometers from here. There you can change your name and find work”.

I took his advice and left that day together with David and his family. We went to Kivortza, near Lutsk. We found work the next day. We stayed there for 4 months until Ludomir was liberated and we returned there. We met a few people who had survived. The first thing we did was to go together to the common grave in Piatidan. We built a barbed wire fence around it and put up a gravestone.

May God avenge their blood and may their souls be gathered among the living.


[Page 139]

The Tale of Two Sisters

by Arie Avinadav

Translated by Ala Gamulka

We are sitting in the modest and serene home of the sisters Esther Kopit and Leah Tenerman, nee Vortzel (Yossel the Emperor). It is 16–19 years after the events. We are in the resort town of Tivon and we are trying to encourage them to share more details, in addition to what we already know. How can we skip known facts in order to obtain a complete picture?

The older sister, Esther, begins to speak. She becomes excited and her tears are flowing. It is difficult for her to speak. In addition, she is not quite certain about numbers and dates.

Leah continues the story. She, too, needs assistance to refresh her memory about continuity and details. They help each other out. Yaakov Lichtman, also a Holocaust survivor, adds some more and the story begins to take shape.

We are giving here a summary of the story, only omitting a few details that we feel are not to be mentioned, without trying to do a psychological analysis. We are not qualified to do it and it is better not to try.

 

a. The big fire and the Russians

When the war broke out at the beginning of September 1939, the Germans attacked the Poles near Ustiluh. A big fire burned and it consumed almost half of the town on the side of the Bug.

The urban Poles, always full of hate of the Jews, saw it as a good time to wage a pogrom on them. However, they did not succeed because the police chief was an honest man. He dispersed the gangs. Then came the Soviets. It cannot be said that the Jews were happy under their regime, but it was possible to exist. As far as the authorities were concerned, life was steady. Of course, the few wealthy people in town could not continue their comfortable life. The authorities often bothered them. In the end, they, too, got used to the situation. Obviously, under the Germans, life would be far worse.

The Soviets did not allow the refugees from the Nazis to stay in town. They were obliged to go further east. In addition, those whose houses had been burned down did not stay. They moved to Ludomir and surrounding settlements. There, they found a home and means to earn a living.

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b. Coming of the Nazis

On June 21, 1941 the Germans suddenly attacked the town with all their destructive might. Nearly all the houses in town were engulfed by fire. There were hundreds of people dead from shooting and debris.

The day the Nazis entered town, they assembled all the Jews near the bridge. They stayed there all day and all night and did not know what would come next. The next day they were brought to the square in front of the Polish school with the excuse that a German had been killed. Four Jews and a gentile friend of the Jews were killed. At the same time, the Jews were disrobed and a search was done. The women were freed, but the men were sent to work digging and other tasks. A month later, the Jewish committee, headed by Michel Shafran was established. There was also a Jewish–Ukrainian militia that was to execute any orders by the Nazis, under the supervision of the committee. With the help of the committee, every day, hundreds of people were taken to work. Each worker received 140 grams of bread daily, but non–workers only had 70 grams.

The workers and non–workers were placed under the arbitrariness of the Gestapo. Their lives were completely ruled by lawlessness. This is how were killed, during working hours the following: Zisha Melamed, Shlomo Melamed and others. However, Shmuel Shinerman was killed when he was driving his cart around town.

Efraim Vorik, a seventeen–year–old youth, was taken to load bombs on the train. He was weak and his work did not satisfy the task masters. They tortured him, cut off his ear and threw him into a toilet. He managed to hold on to the seat cover and his feet were in the dump. This is how he was hanging until he was released with the intervention of the Jewish committee. He lived with great pain until the first Aktion when he was freed from his suffering.

Here is another story that will break your heart:

The Gestapo people in Ludomir invented a game. They assembled hundreds of Jews into the courtyard of the prison. There were piles of sharp stones, broken dishes, glass, etc. They began to make the people run by sniping and shouting. The Jews fell on the piles and were bleeding. They were then all made to stand near the wall and about two thirds of them were shot to death. (Another source says that of 500 only 70 remained alive). Berl Krakower was killed then. Feivel Vortzel, the brother of Esther and Leah, survived and arrived in Ustiluh barely alive and bleeding.

 

c. The “Aktions”

The first pogrom began on September 1, 1942. Even before that, large groups were transported elsewhere. Their fate was unknown. Two months after the Jewish committee was established, the Gestapo demanded a list of the Jewish intelligentsia. About 80 people presented themselves, by order, and they were taken away.

[Page 141]

Later, the militia conducted a hunt on the town youth. Although they did not show up, many were caught and their fate was that of the others.

Esther Vortziner came and yelled in front of the Jewish committee. She told them she was hiding in the cemetery and saw how people were brought into a valley and shot. The members of the Jewish committee did not believe her. They said she was crazy and that they knew, for sure, that the people were transported to distant work places. Even when the digging of huge pits in Piatidan became suspicious, they still tried to calm everyone by saying the pits were meant for defense against aircraft.

On August 31, 1942, the Jewish committee announced, in the name of the Gestapo, that anyone who was out of town had to return by 6: 00 pm in the evening. They were to be moved to the Ludomir ghetto. Anyone who disobeyed would be shot to death.

At that time, the two sisters were in a village. Esther worked as a shepherd with a Ukrainian farmer in Khotiatchov. His name was Yarmul Liashuk. We must mention him as one of the Righteous of the Worlds. Leah worked for a Pole in Papdiokha.

When the order was brought to Esther's attention, she went to her sister for consultation. They decided to go back to town. On the way they met a farmer driving his cart. He told them he was on his way from Lutsk where there had been an Aktion. Suddenly, a flushed young man jumped out of the cart. They had not noticed him before. They were frightened at first, but what he said truly surprised them.

“Young ladies” – he said in Ukrainian– “I tell you not to go to town! I know, from a reliable source, that there will be an Aktion in three days”.

They returned to Yarmul and asked him to go to town to their sister Pessel to tell her to come. The farmer went, but he did not enter town because he saw the Germans catching Jews and putting them on trucks. He understood that he could not save anyone and he was scared.

Yarmul advised them to hide in the nearby forest until the situation would calm down. They lay in the thicket of the forest, their hearts pounding. They heard sounds of movement coming closer to them. Their hearts almost stopped, but they saw two Jews from Ustiluh. They had been on a truck transporting them to the killing fields in Piatidan, but two fellows from the Saposov family cut the ropes. Everyone escaped. According to them they saw how the sisters' father was thrown into a truck. He had only one leg.

A brave deed, performed by someone from Ustiluh, only became known later:

Natan Vorik, 24, (brother of Efraim who had his ear cut off), was caught in Ludomir and was brought to an assembly point to be killed. Suddenly, he grabbed a gun from a German and hit the commander. Of course, he was immediately taken from there.

At the end of the great hunt that lasted ten days, only about 20% of the Jews of Ustiluh survived.

[Page 142]

Some had been in the ghetto where they worked in a clothing warehouse in the officers' school. The clothes were those of their dear friends and acquaintances who had been killed.

Very few people remained in Ustiluh and surrounding area. They lived in small groups or by themselves. Some worked in the military camp– considered a privilege. Those who did not, were dying of starvation.

Esther and Leah were fortunate in finding refuge in the hay loft or attic of Yarmul, the good man. He provided them with food and water for free. He even brought them a pail to serve as a toilet. He would empty it at night. Most people who were hiding in villages had different outcomes. One by one, they were discovered in their hiding places. Sometimes it was their hosts who denounced them and they were taken away and never seen again. Even Dr. Muzikansky, his wife and children, were captured at the home of their gentile acquaintance. They managed to swallow poison pills before they were taken and they died. They knew what awaited them in the hands of the killers and took care of their final moments.

 

d. the Ukrainian murderers

After the second pogrom in December that year, their brother Feivel came. He had been in the Ludomir ghetto. He hid with them for four months. Yarmul then told them that he suspected that their hiding place was known and they would need to find another one. Feivel went to Ustiluh and the sisters tried to find refuge with Leah's former Polish boss. He refused to take them in. That day, Yarmul went to Ustiluh and the sisters returned to his house, in the evening, to find out what happened to their brother. Yarmul did not know and, perhaps, he did not want to tell them. The next day, they, too, went to town because they could no longer stay with the farmer. This is how they learned the bitter truth, from an acquaintance, a farmer. The treacherous Ukrainians captured their brother who was carrying bread and a bottle of milk. They suspected he was a partisan and ordered him to disclose from whence he came and where he obtained the food. Since he did not want to denounce the good Yarmul, they killed him.

They spent a week in town. They wanted to enter the military camp, but the guards demanded a bribe– a parcel of food. Leah went to Yarmul to ask him for such a parcel. The good man advised her not to return to town. Even better, he went to town and came back with Esther. They returned to their hiding place in Yarmul's house. He had a struggle between his conscience and his fear. His wife was also a good person, but she could not stand the tension. She demanded that the two young women leave. He overcame everything and continued to endanger his life and that of his wife and daughter. In those days, the danger was multiplied because, in addition to the Gestapo, the Ukrainian partisans, Bandura's people, also wanted to get rid of the Jews.

Before the final pogrom, a terrible, shocking event happened: there were 5–6 young men from the Saposov family among the workers in the military camp. They managed to amass arms and ammunition and hid them in the village. They were waiting for an opportunity to join a unit of partisans.

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A Ukrainian go between helped the Saposov fellows and their cache to reach the partisans. However, these were Bandura's people. They took the cache and killed the young men.

 

e. The last pogrom

The Germans used the Roman strategy of “Divide and Conquer” to make trouble between the Poles and the Ukrainians. They incited the two opposing groups against the Jews. Therefore, the last pogrom in winter 1943 was easier. Its slogan was “Judenrein”.

That day, Esther and Leah came to the military camp in order to get money from the military camp. They could not stand the cold in Yarmul's attic. When the hunt began, they fled and returned to the village. However, Yarmul's wife refused to take them in. They hid in a hay stack in the fields. Again, the good man overruled his wife and took them to the barn and to the attic.

The Benderovtzis came to the village. They even came to Yarmul's house. The sisters heard their voices and were petrified. The end of suffering was nearing.

In June 1944 the Russians came. This time, they really came as liberators and saviors.

 

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