by Bernard Ginsburg
Translated by Ala Gamulka
It was September 9, 1939, after Germany attacked Poland and after daily air bombardments on our new home- Zamshtat. There were many victims, physical destruction and economic chaos. We decided to return to Ustiluh. However, Ustiluh, only 70 kilometers out of Zamshtat, was not easy to reach. Our voyage took 5 days. We could only travel at night since the German airplanes were the absolute rulers. All the roads were controlled from the air and bombs were dumped everywhere.
The mood in Hrobishov was strained. It was full of activity. The military authorities had held back long rows of horses and wagons. There was difficulty, or even impossibility to reach Kovel through the Bug River. It was a hot day. The tongue was dry with thirst. The crying of the women and children was mixed with the neighing of the horses. The air was filled with a wild tumult, charged and empirical.
It was not easy for us to convince the military forces that we were returning home.
Not far from Ustiluh, on the dusty Khotiatchov road, we met a man from the Vinehauser family. He was happy to see us because he could talk to someone on his way home. He said to my father:
Oy. Mister Akiva. How are you? You are back from Zamshtat. Eh? How are things there? Here it is terrible. People are being caught and taken to work- to dig trenches. Yesterday, one of us was killed. A German airplane dropped a bomb not far from the men who were working near the railroad God help us! You do not see any Polish airplanes to help us. What will be?
What will it really be?- was the burning question asked by the simple Vinehauser man -to be answered by the worldThe streets of Ustiluh were empty. The population is worried. There is unrest and insecurity.
Truthfully, the Jews should have been on the side of Poland- naturally united against Hitler. However, years of anti-Semitic tradition, cultivated by Polish authorities almost until the last day, did not allow the Poles to see the facts. Is it a wonder, then, that the Jews felt the real danger from Hitler's Germany with acute sensitivity?
The naïve ones wondered: Is Germany really so brutal towards the Jews? Will they dare to apply their racist program? However, there is no danger in hiding your head in the sand. It is clear- this is not a happy situation.
The German army is advancing. The higher Polish officers run away to Romania and leave the people without leadership.
No matter what will happen the situation for Jews is dire for another reason- the Ukrainians. Petliura and other Pogrom leaders, may their names be erased, are still fresh in the memories of older people. They know that the Ukrainians only wait for the opportunity of the German arrival. They are the truest collaborators of the Nazis.
For all these reasons, the Jews of Ustiluh tried not to be seen outside of their neighborhoods.
Our relatives in Ustiluh were happy with our arrival. My mother felt better, more cheerful. Her sisters, Beila, Tcharna and Ethel greeted her:
Oy Haike, sister of ours. We already thought that we would not see you again. Thank God. Tears were flowing from their eyes.I believe that it is important to defend against attacks from the air. We need to be prepared in advance. I have an ax and I immediately want to attend to it by contacting the city administration. This, in spite of the protests of my parents.
In the Bieliankin yard, where the city administration is located, I go to Trizianovsky, the secretary. I meet him outside and he looks at me wondering:
-What are you doing here? You returned to Ustiluh with an ax? --he smiles- When did you come back?He praises my patriotism, but he declares- since he does not have any specific orders, he does not know what to do.
- I came back two hours ago. I could not find a shovel, only an ax. You do not have to be afraid. I have a good idea about how to use the ax to help with building trenches.
Two days, more or less, pass without anything special happening. I even feel like seeing my friends and acquaintances.
Suddenly, on the third day, shooting is heard. It soon becomes a battle. The intensity of the shooting increases constantly- machine guns, bullet shooters; grenades, lit by artillery brilliance, fly in the air with hellish cacophony. The walls shake, the window panes are smashed by stray bullets. It is dangerous to stand up and, therefore, everyone sits on the floor. In a short while, a horde of Jews come to our house. They tell us that the houses parallel to the Bug River are on fire. Our house looks like a narrow, besieged nest. Even this ends suddenly. A loud thud outside shocks everyone. Someone yells: They have hit our House of Learning. Look at the smoke. This was like a panic signal and everyone runs away- some to the outside cellars, some to the loft protection groove in the garden. I do not lose my equilibrium. From the stable can be heard a loud sound. My mother has tied a dog and a cow there. I decide that it is better to release them in case a fire breaks out. I accomplish my mission. Bullets penetrate the door; but some of the bullets from outside enter the house itself. Three cousins are with me, Ben Zion and Velvel Veinshel and Shaul Gold. I tell them to stay under the table. It would not be helpful if we are found immediately. But the heavy table would protect us if the ceiling collapses.
Suddenly, knocking is heard on the front door. I open it and in front of me stands a young neighbor, Feiga Katz. She is covered in blood and her hair is full of wooden splinters. We bandage her light wounds, but it is impossible to calm her and to find out what had happened when the roof of her house collapsed and she ran away in a panic.
In the evening, the battle subsides. Everyone creeps out of their hiding places. One could still hear sporadic shooting from patrol activity. Near our house we meet a Jewish officer from the Polish army. His morale- excellent, his mood-fighting for security. He was expecting new activities in the morning and he anticipated that it would be better to abandon the town, towards the right, to Pozov. My parents did not want to roam again. They were extremely tired. However, they suggested that, we, the young ones, should go. Hopefully, the situation will improve and, if not, they will follow in the early morning.
My brother, cousins, some acquaintances and I, come to Mindel from Pozov, during the night. There were already some people there from Ustiluh and surroundings. We are well received there. The big barn, covered in fresh smelling hay, becomes the guest house for the refugees.
We quickly felt remorse because we had left our parents and family. What would happen?
The heavy mood battled with physical weariness during the late-night hours in the darkened barn
We had just fallen asleep when we were awakened by a movement and light from a flashlight. We were so happy to see our parents, my sisters Shifra and Rachel and my little brother Hershele. After we had left, they soon decided to follow us.
When the first rays of the sun illuminated the trees, we finally fell asleep. However, not for long. We heard about German tanks in the area, Ukrainians sharpening their knives and other disturbing news.
Mindel and her household (the only Jewish family in the village) advised us not to be seen outside in groups. As proof of the situation, very soon a few stones were thrown our way and hit people as they were washing up.
My father had come back from seeing the school director, where he had gone to hear the news. He heard on Moscow radio about the German-Soviet Pact. Poland was to be divided. The Bug River was to be the border between Germany and Soviet Russia. Ustiluh was to be in the hands of the Soviets. The news sounded incredible. A sigh of relief could be heard: the Germans would not be coming here. The Ukrainian hooligans would have to put away their sharpened knives.
Back in Ustiluh, the mood is mixed. There was relief at the avoidance of a German danger, but fear of the Polish and Ukrainian antagonists. They have a common sentiment of hatred towards the Jews,
The air is filled with tension. Fighting between the Poles and the Ukrainians leaves many dead, with cut off hands and feet. They lie near the Bug River in a bloodbath. In town there is terror. The authorities have broken down. A Polish functionary declares a state of emergency. People feel they are cut off from the world, surrounded by hatred and danger. Any minute, a surprise can occur. There is knocking on the door. A Polish officer with a group of soldiers, wearing helmets, with bayonets on their rifles, grenades on their shoulder straps, enter and search. Who is here in the house? Together with us, is actually a Polish family from Czhentstechov with small children. We met them in Pozov and we felt sorry for the children. They came to stay with us, using up our provisions. It seemed that one of the women had whispered to the soldier
-to whom do the bicycles belong?My father wants to ward off danger and he gives the bicycles to them.
-My brother and I- I reply
-Requisition the bicycles- the officer tells the soldiers.
-You cannot take the bicycles. You have no right- I reply. My father and others near him are horrified and worried. The soldier pushes me away with his bayonet. His eyes are full of anger. It is clear to me that they will keep them for themselves and I say it to their faces.
He gives them to the soldiers who are armed to their teeth. I take mine back and declare, categorically: - you cannot take mine. I have other ideas for fighting in a war, and so on.
Oddly, they are satisfied with one bicycle. It is possible that the existence of the Polish family had them doubt my Jewishness (the whispers by the Polish woman were unclear). My aunt, Tcharna Eichenboim, overheard them as they were leaving the house: He is not a Jew.
The Red Army is moving slowly. The waiting time is full of tension. It is felt that it is necessary to fill the existing lack of authority with a legalized order. If the situation will continue longer the current Polish-Ukrainian antagonism will explode. The result will be blood shedding and robberies.
The Polish police no longer exist. The latest military divisions have also disappeared. A citizens' militia is organized in order to maintain order and to protect the population.
In the building of the previous police force (owned by Moshe Kleiner) there is much activity. Not only the Communists (Jewish and Ukrainian), but also ordinary citizens and Jewish youths from the Zionist groups. There is not enough ammunition (a fact not widely known). The psychological effect of seeing young Jews patrolling the streets is to calm the Jewish population. People heave a sigh of relief
The character of Ustiluh changed under Soviet occupation. The offices and institutions were filled with new elements. The veteran Communists, the old political prisoners (like Shmuel Boim, Motya the user) seemed to be ignored. There was no democratic, representative authority. All the positions of control remained in the hands of the Soviet party leaders. Private institutions were pushed aside without a satisfactory replacement. This caused a chronic lack of consumer products and reduced the level of daily life to a minimum.
In general, all the changes in the social and economic structure remained primitive and provincial. There was no reason to remain in Ustiluh. I, therefore, took a job in Lutsk as a photo correspondent with the editor of the central Voliner newspaper Rodzianska Volyn. I was thus in contact with people from various social strata everywhere in Volyn, and in Ustiluh.
Universal education was accessible under Soviet rule. Indeed, more youths, also in Ustiluh, seized on the opportunity. The curriculum, though, suffered from official Soviet guidelines- conforming in a dogmatic way.
Actually, this education was foreign, without traditional components.
Many young men were called to the military- to serve in the Red Army. Among those was my brother Avraham who was sent to Dnipropetrovsk.
My sister Shifra had attended a teachers' seminary in Ludomir and became a teacher. She was beloved by her students. My younger sister Rachel and my little brother Hershele (Yaakov Zvi) went to school. My father ran a photography studio.
Since Ustiluh was on the border, the regime was more strict and more limited. Many houses near the Bug River and in Zalush were evacuated. People who were always free to cross the river to the other side (the other's side), were suddenly unable to do it. Some people were even exiled from Ustiluh.
During my last visit in May 1941, I went to the school-located in Beliankin's building. From there one could see a broad panorama. One could see the Lug River as it flowed into the Bug on the other side. It was now in German hands. I took some pictures of the teachers and, ironically, saw the Germans in the background. Yossel Mamet was the school principal and we stood together chatting on the steps outside. My little brother, Hershele, 12 years old at the time, stood a bit further- being respectful. There was a good, quiet bond between the brothers. I looked sideways at my brother
and I noticed how he had changed, how he had grown. Yossel Mamet seemed to read my mind and said:
-He is a good student. Very bright.I did not know then that this last picture of my young brother, Hershele, on the slope of the school, would remain a memento of our last meeting
On June 22, 1941, a heavy, long nightmarish night began. Nazi darkness reigned in the world
My later travels in Cuba, Caucasus, central Asia are accompanied everywhere with the anxiety about the fate of my dear ones in Ustiluh and reminds me of the town:
Here is the small town of Ustiluh, surrounded by three rivers- Bug, Lug and Studianka. It is decorated with mountains and valleys. Nearby are green fields, moody forests and gorgeous countryside. Ustiluh, with its simple people, colorful appearance, sounds, echoes and unique charm.
I even remember Aisik the water carrier with his popular, refined sharpness Pinchas Shtadlan in the silken coat and belt around his thick waist, visiting the Houses of Learning on Shabbat morning, announcing, from his reading table, the traditional tunes as decided by the Jewish community I can hear the thunderous baritone of the old Nikolayev soldier, Buntche Shuster, calling his sons to free the cattle from the stable or to lock up the horses. His strong, hardened face with his yellowish beard reminds us of a patrician character. Even the bullying he uses to call his sons does not mask the warmth in his eyes
I remember events, happenings and episodes:
It is Lag Baomer. Several hundred Jewish children are marching carrying blue and white flags; Hebrew songs are heard on the way to the forest.
Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, Beitar conduct their own exits as part of a contest among the youths for their ideologies.
The forest is full of the sounds of dance, singing, games and shooting by the children.
The evening ends with fiery sounds, but the memories remain for many years
There was a literary evening enacting Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. The audience meets in the hall of the Jewish Public Library named for I.L. Peretz (I was the librarian). Some people come early to play chess or to read the Literary Newspapers before the event began.
The tribunal includes Fishel Eisenberg, Shaul Stolar, Yitzhak Farber, Avraham Tsuker and others. The fiery speeches of the prosecutor and the defense attorney fill the hall with emotional pathos. It is as if Shylock were there in person. The jury is caught up and I, the court clerk, am sorry that I do not know shorthand.
Another evening, in the Hechalutz premises, is intended to say good-bye to some members who are leaving for the Training Kibbutz. Our member Tevye from the central office takes part. The spirit is heightened; there is purpose. There is growing anti-Semitism in Poland and there is hope for a new life in Eretz Israel.
Here steps up a writer and dramatist, Leib Melech. He paints pictures of Jewish life in South America. He speaks of the life there and of Jewish types in various parts of the world. He also talks about the beauty of the Yiddish language of the Jewish women of the market (the gossipers). They have a colorful lexicon of swear words. For example: A fire in his tongue will roast his liver. May all his teeth be pulled out, leaving only one for a toothache.
In a conversation with the writer, he tells me about my uncle Haim Veinshel (from Ustiluh) whom he had seen a few months earlier in Milwaukee (America). Haim is active in a Jewish dramatic circle. We are both pleased with the meeting and we both write to Haim about his old home in Ustiluh.
Here is another episode which happened in 1936:
I stopped at the cinema theater to look at pictures advertising films. I noticed that the corner of a picture was cut off. It turned out that it was the Polish owner who had done this on purpose. He did it to remove the stamp of UFA, a German film studio run by a Nazi minister.
I immediately went inside to the see the owner to protest his deceptive effort to erase the German control and his support for German films at a time of Hitler's persecution of Jews and Poles. It was an insult to the intelligence and feelings of movie goers.
His answer was not satisfactory. I warned him that I would make it public.
It was afternoon, not much time remained before the premiere of the film. I decided to act quickly. Together with my brother Avraham and other young people I immediately prepared a poster. I went to the soda water business of Mordechai Fleisher (it was a well visited location). We had just hung the poster when the cinema operator came and angrily tore it down from the wall.
-It is really a pity- I declare- that you do not use your energy against the support of your employer of the German economy. Hitler is not only an enemy of the Jews, but also of the Poles. You joined voluntarily without a trace of reluctance. It is a pity my words were lost on you as you did not understand anything. I retain the right to later discuss your behavior. Now I am upset that I have to make new posters.We immediately went home. Yonatan Veverik also applied himself. He took paper and paints and went to the Jewish library to make new posters.
On the way we meet a policeman. Who is the older Ginsburg?- he asks and states that I must immediately go with him to the station and bring all the materials with me.
-Mr. Ginsburg is at the disposal of the officer- he reports to the receptionist at the station.[Page 225]
-You will have to wait in the other room until the commander will arrive- the policeman orders me.He scratches his head, shakes it, but agrees.
-When do you expect the commander? I don't have time as I have to prepare the posters.
-I don't know. Maybe in an hour
-If I have to wait so long, I would like to prepare the posters here. If you allow me to use a table.
-There is no empty table.
-In the other room- I don't let up.
I finished the first poster in Yiddish and Polish. I began to work on the second one. Suddenly, he comes in, looks at it and reads aloud the Polish text:
How long will Germany persecute our fellow Jews? Boycott all German goods.I don't waste time and I continue to paint. Suddenly we hear heavy steps. The commander is finally here. He is not in a good mood. He is breathing hard and is sweaty having climbed the steps (the police headquarters was in another building, on the second floor of the wagon garage). He heard the story of the event.
This is brought to general attention- the film The porter of the Atlantic Hotel, now screening in the city cinema, is a German production by the studio UFA. The studio is under the direction of Hugenberg, a minister in Hitler's cabinet. Emil Jennings, who plays the leading role, is also a member of the Nazi party. Polish citizens, and especially Jews, are being called to be in solidarity with the boycott, as a protest against the barbaric exclusions campaign of the Nazis. Do not see the film!
-Hhm, boycott! - comments the policeman.
He immediately began to shout at me.
-You will conduct a boycott and disturb the public calm. I will not allow it! Look what is happening! The cinema hall is worth money![Page 226]
This is serious business! I will use the strictest measures against such agitation!
When he saw the posters, his eyes became bloody. He screamed with froth on his lips. His fat, heavy body became convulsed.
I address him:
-But, Mr. Commander, I see, on your desk, the newspaper I.K.Z. A few days ago, this newspaper had an article about the Jewish boycott of Germany. It said it was an action that deserves a follow-up.When I came out of the police station, many people already knew what had happened. This helped, to a great extent, to popularize the boycott of the film.
- We also read newspapers- he screams- don't tell me stories!
-It seems you only read certain news.
-Enough. I will not tolerate an upset of the public calm and order. Write a report- he tells the sergeant- and put the posters into it. Everything should be in evidence.
However, in order for the action to be complete, we stood on the sidewalk near Yokhenzon's. We warned every passer by about the film. All the Jews, and even some Poles, turned back. The hall was almost empty. I don't remember if the cinema later showed other German films.
In my wanderings in the hot Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kirghiz, the memories of Ustiluh filled me with special nostalgia.
In September 1942, I received a telegram from my brother Avraham. This was the first sign of life. I had searched for him for 15 long months. He was in Askar-Ala (between Gorky and Kazan). I was in Leninabad (Tajikistan). What a happy moment this was! It was the happiest event since the war had broken out. I also found out that several young men from Ustiluh who had been with me in the Red Army,
were not far away from him. These are the names: Haim Stolar, Avraham Stelnik, Moshe Shpeizer and L. Shinerman.
In 1944, the successful offensive of the Red Army on the long front lines had evoked hope and impatience to hear news from home. The news about the liberated areas did not live up to those hopes. Suddenly, the horrible, bloody catastrophe was discovered. Hundreds of Jewish settlements, despite the long history of lawlessness, persecutions and pogroms, had managed to build a many-sided history, much manufacturing activity, had demonstrated remarkable cultural and economic vitality. There was an effervescent reservoir of Yiddish and Hebrew writers, thinkers, leaders; A rich source of Jews who were enthusiastic about Judaism in many lands; It was an eastern European Jewery with an extended network of schools, political parties, Yiddish and Hebrew press and social institutions, an idealistic Zionist youth with creative energy and a rich tradition. A people- parents, sisters, brothers- so brutally were we cut down.
Finally, the first letter from Ludomir, from my brother Avraham- January 11, 1945: with me are Haim Stolar and Shinerman. We stopped here, where Hitler and the Ukrainian collaborators murdered our dear ones- our parents, sisters, little brother and relatives.
It is impossible for me to describe what I see and hear. Ludomir is ruined, burned- entire streets are eliminated. However, more tragic is that out of several thousand Jews, only 35 have survived.
The Ludomir and Ustiluh Jews were transported to Piatidan. There they were shot and fell into previously prepared graves. From Ustiluh, there are only about twenty people left: Rachel Miller, Motel Topoler, Eliezer Garbatch, Yehoshua Kleiner, Esther Teitel and her sister, Vopaniarsky with his wife and children, Yeshaya Maltzman, Velvel and Yankel Halperin, Lishtchinker (from Vinehauser), Breindel Danziger, Ita and Breindel Eichenboim, Mendel Gobel, Kh. Freizinger, Hava Krigsher and young brother,
Sh. Dimant, Sosya Teig and sister. Miraculously, these people of Ustiluh defied death. No one survived in our family. Not in Trisk, not in Ludomir, not in Ustiluh. I write these words and I cannot believe that what I see here is the truth.
I visited the graves of our dear parents, sisters, little brother and all those dear to us. The martyrs lie in a mass grave- 12,000 Jews. All victims from Ustiluh are together. Since the trench was not completely filled up, Jewish bodies from Ludomir were added to it.
To describe to you what we see is not for anyone to read. I cannot cry anymore.
Even in Jewish history there is no such tragedy. The descriptions in the press and on the radio represent only a fragment.
In a second letter from Ludomir, dated 25 January 1945:
yesterday I went to Ustiluh with my friends. What I saw there, my eyes could not believe. The town is completely destroyed. There are no houses, no street leading to our house, where I lived and where I left my parents and my dear ones in 1940. That is when I joined the army.[Page 229]
I found a path to a single remaining house. I looked around on all sides and my eyes were filled with tears. A deep wound opened in my heart. I felt my throat close and I was unable to make a sound. My memories returned to the past. It was not so long ago, but it seemed to me that hundreds of years had gone by. Our house is gone, but most of all, gone are our beloved parents, sister, brother and relatives.
I retraced my steps, searching for our house. I only found the skinny, drooping bushes in our garden. I felt like asking them about our beloved family, but they stayed silent about everything that had happened.
We had a big tree in our garden, which, as children, we always climbed. It, too, stood. It is impossible to recognize that, once, a garden existed there. The entire town looks like a sobbing cemetery.
I entered the house of the Kaminsky family. They are gone.
An old woman recognized me. I wanted to ask her something, to speak, but I could not do it. I sat down. She began to tell me about various events. I did not even ask her about our parents. I already knew all too well.January 1945. Munich. In the town where lunatics, dark rogues, degenerates and murderers wove their cruel plans about world domination. Munich, which gave birth to the monstrous Nazi beast- which later plunged the world into a cataclysm. Munich, in the broken nest of the world's undertakers- a monumental symbol of the eternity of the Jewish people. Here, the remnants of European jewery assemble. The Congress of the freed Jews gives an expression to the deepest and holiest feelings. Courage was not broken by the cruel catastrophe- the eternal light was not extinguished. The historic light emanates from every delegate. The bloody experience underscores the necessity for a Jewish state in Eretz Israel.
I looked again everywhere. I cried a great deal and blessed the place for eternity.
Ben Gurion greets the assembled delegates. His words- No power in the world will break the Jewish spirit- are healing and are applauded.
The old Jewish community in Eastern Europe has vanished. Ustiluh has become a mass grave.
In a special newspaper interview, which I conducted with Ben Gurion, he sends a message to the surviving Jews. In retrospect, his words take on a deeper meaning, like those of a prophet:
In spite of everything, of all the pitfalls- the country will be ours and you will be the builders.
Chicago, August 1960
by Bella Eichenboim-Terner, Cuba
Translated by Ala Gamulka
In memory of my dear ones
Man is like a tree in the fields. My family was a large, well-defined clan- many- branched. I was still young then, when I was torn away by the storm of those days. I was swept away on ocean waves to distant places.
I went to foreign places far away from home. Places we dreamed about in childhood, in those crazy young and tender days. The sun would shine in the blue and white sky. We looked at the eastern horizon. There it was, far, far away beyond the green meadows, fields and gardens spread on both sides of the river. Distant green spaces stretched with blue skies. We always dreamed of the east, but our destiny sent us west.
I received this note from Israel: Only your house, of all buildings, remains standing. It stands erect over the town. From my parents' home, from my dear family, from our friendly neighbors, from our townsfolk, from the dearly beloved town of Ustiluh, only one building remained after the catastrophe. This one building was once my home. Alone, it stands desolate and silent. Who knows if its silence is not a sign from above? It could be that it hovers over its burned walls, doors and windows. The red bricks remind us of the fire. It was not always a plain building. It remembers, perhaps, the happy life in it.
It was one of the most beautiful homes in town. Perhaps the building misses its former glory. It is possible that its empty rooms echo the sounds of its previous occupants. I remember that it was a nice summer day and all four windows
|Fishel Eichenboim, the martyr|
in the hall, on the top floor, were open. Tcharna Meir Feniks and Toivtze Heinischs were leading the graduation of the first Kindergarten in town. The hall was filled with guests and all the windows were densely occupied. It was a happy celebratory atmosphere. Small children, boys and girls danced in a long row and young sweet voices, like young birds, sang: Beautiful bird, beautiful bird, a black cat came to the house. A black cat saw the bird. The blond, sunny girl who portrayed the bird in the graduation of the kindergarten, flew away like a swallow before a storm. The chubby, sweet boy who was the black cat who killed the bird, was Hershele Pomerantz, may he live a long life. He now lives on a kibbutz in Israel. The good child who fractured his hands and who almost burst out crying in sorrow- was my beautiful, dear, only brother, Efraim Fishel. He is no longer with us. The same is true for many of the beautiful children from the first kindergarten- they were young when they were murdered by the Nazi killers, may their names be erased.
I remember the happiness when you, my only brother, were born. My three sisters and I were in school when we were given the happy news that we now had a little brother. I remember the beautiful celebration of your bris and the wonderful party for your Bar Mitzvah. Often, when I think of the terrible tragedy, I see you from the day you were born. My memories accompany your sunny being, my only brother. I remember when you studied with Liptche Eisenberg. I see in front of me a childhood figure when you crossed the street, on Shabbat, to visit Haim Eidelshteyn so he would listen to you recite Gmara. I see the lovely faces of our father and mother and their pleasure when they were complimented on your scholarship. I hear your sweet voice when you chanted from the Torah. I see you bent at the table when you recited from the Scroll of Esther. I actually hear the sound of your voice. Some neighbors are in the house. We, the girls, are prepared to make noise at the sound of the word Haman. Mother stands nearby with her arms folded
across the chest. Her eyes are glistening and she swallows every word coming out of your mouth. Never, never, as long as I live, will I forget those minutes when you embraced me before my journey.
Your bright eyes were misted over and they looked deep into mine. You did not say a single word to me. Your voice was not heard. The corners of your mouth twitched nervously, trying to control your sobbing. Your lips trembled when you bent down to kiss me. Who would have predicted then the storm that caused death and annihilation? Who would have thought there would be such a terrible end for everyone?
I remember: a Shabbat afternoon in the winter. Our parents slept soundly after eating Cholent. Many of my friends attended a Zeirei Zion meeting at the Hebrew Children's Library- there was also a library for the older ones among us. We needed to elect a new administration so that elections could take place, but it was Shabbat and we could not write. Out friends came up with an idea: white and black beans. A white bean for this candidate and a black bean for the other. When the administration was finally elected, a few jokers stood in front of the losing candidate and sang: How lonely sits the city. A black bean belongs to you.
I remember: the beautiful Shabbat and holidays. The lovely holiday of Pesach with the wonderful Seders. The days in between when the town was filled with visitors. There was a custom to visit in those days. The beauty of Shavuot, the happiness of receiving the Torah and the fresh, green decorations. The High Holy Days with all the special preparations. Rosh Hashana with the festive jewelry and footwear, when, we, the youth, accompanied our dressed-up family on our way to synagogue and back. Our town was small, tiny, but, in addition to the big town synagogue, there were many small Shtiblach. In the last few years, the young people prayed separately they were called the Goshen Shtiebel because there were many unshaven heretics.
In the Land of Goshen there was no hail (play on words as Berd means beard in Yiddish.} However, especially there was the true happy atmosphere of dance and song.
I remember the special time before Kol Nidrei- many lights were lit. One could see the candles in every window. Men, women and children were streaming to the synagogues and Shtiblach. Their hearts were filled with reverence and prayer, planning to place themselves in front of the celestial council for judgement. After the High Holy Days came the happy days- building Succoth, followed by celebration of Simchat Torah. The Hassidim of Stepan used to come to us. They ate and drank and sang Hassidic happy tunes. They also danced. One bearded, belted man goes to the oven in search of kugels. The doors and windows were open and the street enjoys the happy Hassidic singing, accompanied by children's voices.
I also remember tragi-comic episodes which later had serious consequences: one Friday night there was a self-invited guest. He was a young, tall Polish inspector from Ludomir sent by the authorities. When he met my father, he told him he wanted to eat in the house of the Jewish Rabbi. He licked his fingers with my mother's gefilte fish and could not have enough of the chalot. Jewish noodles in soup were an amazing food. It must have been difficult for my father to chant kiddush, sing Zmirot and recite grace after the meal that Friday night. Afterwards, we had to listen to the young man describe his knowledge of sports. He was quite drunk. He did not only drink the kiddush wine, because my father asked him if he wanted to partake in a bottle of whiskey. What a question! It was so easy for him.
A liter bottle of whiskey was placed on the floor and the gentile threw himself down with all his might. He spent a considerable time on the floor, not stopping for long. He lost his temper and left our house late at night. In the morning he returned and argued with father: this was a Jewish trick, that he should clean out the Jewish fish.
The sitting on the floor attached to the bottle made him ache all over his body.
Some time later, I was told that this same inspector had written about the tax debts of my parents. In town, magistrates' posters were hung announcing the day of the auction. I was told that the inspector spoke to my father and he said that he would even sell his socks to repay the debts. Father attacked the gentile with a stick and the latter took out his pistol. Other people intervened.
This is the end of my memories of Polish taxes.
I remember; a small Shtiebel with one window and one door. One Friday night, I am sitting on the bank, under the window with Batya (Machel's) Shafran. She was telling me, with great nostalgia, about Jewish life in Eretz Israel. She paints for me, with beautiful colors, summer nights in the Holy Land, the beauty of the sky. The Shafran family soon left for Eretz Israel, but they returned to Poland. They perished with all the other Jews.
Next to the large entrance gate to the bronze courtyard and above the gate are the densely grown lilac trees with magnificent blooms. The big house with its porch. In the second house lived the family of Yossel Yaikes. I see Ber Moshe (Shmayes) coming in from prayers. From the porch he calls the children playing somewhere on the street: Sareniu! My love! Moshele, my love! Shmayanu, grampa! Sheva-Reyzele, grandma! Come inside, Come inside for dinner.
There are various memories of school life. Also, the plays presented by the senior classes in school. From childhood I often belonged to the choir and was part of the presentations. I even had a real part.
I remember: Moshele Glaz directed with us the three-act play- The Abductors. Tcharna (Meir's) Feniks- then still Kornfeld- had translated it into Yiddish- so it was said. When all the roles had been cast, we were invited, on a Shabbat afternoon
to Tcharna's house. She was already sick then and could not leave her bed. We put on The Abductors for her and she was very interested in the presentation. She sat in bed, her smile warm and her gorgeous eyes gleaming. She was quite taken by our play. She made several comments and recommendations. The presentation of the play was a great success.
In general, in those years, there was always some theater. There were many theater lovers among the older generation. Tcharna once played the main role in Mirele Efros. Other plays were The Jewish King Lear, The massacre, Khassia the orphan. Zeirei Zion of that time also participated. They had great performances of The Idler', Dvorale the Aristocrat, The simple tavern. Later, the young people, I among them, presented, for the second time, The Simple Tavern, Shayna Sheindel from Yehupetz, The Black Wedding Canopy, Broken Heart, Money, Love and Shame, The Needy Young Man, Where Are My Children?. There were some talented people. I can still see Shmuel Burlyant playing the roles of the old, needy Shachne and the old peasant. I have attended theater in the wide world with big artists and even film stars. I can say, with confidence, that even the most famous actor would not have portrayed the role better. It would not have been a better Shachne.
A theater presentation in town was a happy event. The hall was filled with young and old. Even Jews from surrounding villages would come to the theater. The young people from nearby Haradle never missed our presentations.
I will always remember the morning of March 5, 1930. It was my last morning in town. It was a Sunday. It was very cold. We ignored the cold and kept the door to our house open from early in the morning. Neighbors came to say good-bye. People came and went. I remember that I continuously went up and down the steps. I tried very hard not to cry. I did not want my parents to see my tears.
Finally, we went into the two wagons standing in front of the door. People congregated around them. Jews came from synagogue carrying their tallit bags under their arms and stood on the sidewalk. The horses began to move and my heart moved, too.
|The Needy Young Man- 1931|
When the horses turned the corner, I waved my hand to say good-bye. We were already near the hut of Binyamin Meir Feniks. I had a second to turn my head back once more. One more look at my home that I was leaving and going somewhere far away. I would never see it again. But, no, I did not turn my head one more time. My mother was sitting across from me, her eyes swollen and red. We passed
by Meir Feniks' long house and I am already scared. No! I can no longer see our house. It has disappeared. I feel a heaviness that hurts me. We drive on Ludomir street. There is the holy place- the cemetery. My mother speaks to her dead parents who are lying there peacefully, under snow-covered monuments. She asks them to look after me and to provide me with good luck.
Who knew at that time that in only a few years would come the terrible catastrophe? That there would be a tragic end for so many people. That death and destruction would be the lot of all my dear ones, my extended family. Only a few survived. It was a tragic and appalling end for my friends, our neighbors with their families and for all the Jews in town.
It hurts, it really hurts that I said good-bye that morning to my home. The unshed tears are still in me and weigh on my heart with blood and stone.
It cannot be that it is enough to write a memorial book to remember all that existed, the world that we had. We are no longer there. Tears are not enough for the substance of a human being to mourn the tragic results- the murders of the families in our town.
The tiny town of Ustiluh was a small, sparkling fountain of Jewish life. If, for some reason, you went far away, you still carried in your heart the memory of the Jewish way of life. It was a small treasure that was sacred.
In our heart of hearts, until the last moments of life, we will not abandon the flame that is always like a memorial candle to always remember and never forget our martyrs.
by Nachman Burlyant, New York
Translated by Zvi Kaniel
The following translations were commissioned by Avigail Frij,
whose maternal grandparents were from Ustilug (Kopp and Kultin Families)
Our old home town Ustiluh had about 4,000 Jews, 15 Houses of Learning, a secular Hebrew school Tarbut, a Talmud Torah, a Bikur Cholim [organization for caring of the sick], and a Yiddish library.
Economically, the Jews did not live badly, but the antiSemitic politics of the Polish government had begun to push many Jews out of their secure economic positions, making their future precarious.
On September 1, 1939, when the Nazis suddenly invaded Poland, the Jews of Ustiluh were unaware of the goings on, and did not realize that their years were numbered.
And two weeks later, September 5, when the Russians slaughtered the Poles in Ustiluh, there was a tremendous fire where a quarter of the city was burned down. Namely, Meyer Vogenfeld's large fence in the middle of the market; three rows of houses of Bath Street, from Shaikel Goldhaber's house until Mechel Krakower's house. The fire cost 12 Jewish people their lives. On September 17, the Russians occupied Ustiluh, and life became somewhat more normal again. Even the economic situation was bearable.
For reasons unknown, the Russians deported about thirty families deep into the country. Many Jews moved to the nearby city of Ludomir due to the shortage of housing resulting from the fire. About 3,000 Jews remained in Ustiluh itself and continued to live with hope for their future.
All that continued until June 21, 1941. One beautiful early summer morning, at five AM, all the Ustiluh Jews were awoken by cannon fire, aerial bombardment, and the bark of machine gun fire.
Tongues of fire shot up in the sky. All this mixed with people crying and screaming amidst the fire and blood, the agonies of death as the victims shrieked Shema Yisrael! The fires destroyed the entire town, from Yekhezkel Sheinerman's house down in the distilleries district, all the shops, the Ludomir road, Dan'kes Street, and so on. About 500 Jews lost their lives. Mothers lost their children, and families were torn apart. All this, and more, the ferocious Nazis achieved when they marched into Ustiluh. Mothers searched for the bones of their children in the mountains of ash in the midst of the destruction, men sought the remains of their wives, sisters their brothers, to bring them to the Jewish cemetery. And now the real inferno began for the Ustiluh Jews. Very soon, Jews were seized and sent to work. The frail, elderly or sick were shot on the spot. Jews went into hiding. But the murderous Germans soon created a Judenrat, (Jewish Council) that had to make available to the Germans, every day, hundreds of workers who were taken away for work of which ten percent less returned home every day. How did this ten percent die? The frail and sick, who could not work, were liquidated.
It should be mentioned that the Judenrat in Ustiluh, with the chairman Mechel Shafran at its head, risked their lives to save Jews from death.
Jews were now living under terrible circumstances hunger, death, freezing cold, and typhus were spreading. There were no doctors and no medicines. Hundreds of our beloved brothers and sisters died then, and in Ustiluh, no more than about 2,000 Jews remained.
This tragic situation dragged on until August 31, 1942, when the Gestapo arrived in Ustiluh. That same day, the SS troops issued an order that the following day, September 1, at six in the morning, all the Jews, their wives and children were to assemble in the market place near the pump, and those who go into hiding would be captured and shot. The Jews felt a great looming tragedy. There were no cries, no pleas that could help.
When children asked their mothers why they were going to be shot, their mothers answered: Don't cry, my child, it's nothing. We are going to a more beautiful and better world.
September 24, 1942, 28 Elul 5702, six o'clock in the morning, on a beautiful summer day, when the sun shone brightly, its warm rays enveloping Mother Earth, military trucks arrived. The Germans began loading the Jews onto it. The first to get on the truck was the chairman of the Judenrat, Mechel Shafran along with his family. The second, Benyomtze Meyer Fenix and his family, and so it went. They drove the trucks away behind the village Piatidan, across the bridge, and left to the Piwnik forest, on the road to Ludomir, where the Jews were sent to dig huge ditches. The Germans told them they were preparing hiding places for their airplanes. They stripped the Jews naked and sorted their clothing, shirt to shirt, shoes with shoes. They ordered the naked Jews to stand at the edge of the ditch, and groups of savage German Nazi and Ukrainian soldiers and policemen aimed their guns right at the hearts. After each volley of fire, dozens of Jews fell into the large ditches. The rich, black Ukrainian soil became red from all the blood that flowed. The sun shone that day as if nothing unusual had happened. How could the sun shine on such a dark day? Why did the sun not become dark like it was in the mass grave? The trucks drove quickly back into town with the clothing of the victims, and to bring back a fresh load of victims. This is how the actzion continued for ten straight days, until Ustiluh was Judenrein (free of Jews).
It is important to mention that many Jews fell into the ditches out of terror, still alive, but were subsequently buried alive. A very small number were able to crawl out of the mass grave and escape into the forest to the partisans. The others went to their slaughter with the last words, Shema Yisroel! and screamed out, Whoever survives this should take revenge! At the same time and place, they murdered 15,000 Ludomir Jews, including 1,000 Ustiluh Jews who had moved there. This was a total of about 17,000 Jews in one mass grave. The approximately 300 Jews who did not present themselves in the market place on that dark day, ran away into the forests, fought with the partisans, hiding in the ditches until the Russian Army liberated them.
It is also important to mention that a few good Christian Poles risked their lives by hiding Jews until the liberation.
Until today, we have registered in our relief committee over two hundred Jews who lived in the camps in Europe, and with your help, we can support them with food and clothing every month. We help them get to America; we send them money so that they should be able to reach the Land of Israel. This is the tragic summary of our old home Ustiluh.
On a tall mountain surrounded on all four sides by flowing water on the Western Ukrainian side, on the Polish border, at the River Bug, there was once a calm beautiful Jewish town Ustiluh. About 4,300 Jews lived together there and hoped to have a long happy life.
Ustiluh is no longer; it is wiped off the earth.
And our beloved dear Ustiluh Jews?
A mass grave of 4,000 martyrs, without tombstones, without even a low fence marking the cemetery…
We cry for you with tears mixed with blood!
We will never ever forget you!
by Kehat Kliger
Translated by Zvi Kaniel
The autumn trees were watching and were silent,
The Elul skies did not cry out to God
Autumn trees, why are you silent?
My Jewish town, my twenty thousand Jews,
Woe to you, trees, from the town of Piatidan,
From infants to children, from women till the aged,
The blade sliced through, the knife cut
From the main street to the shul court, from the poor to the wealthy,
My twenty thousand Jews how many remained?
The autumn trees watched and were silent,
At least tell me, skies, tell me, trees,
From the Piatidan slaughter days, woe is to me, woe is to me.
I know it, this town, the cottages, just one,
I know this town, this Volyn, Piatidan,
I know each motion, each sound of the scythe.
Oh, tell me, heavens, tell me, trees,
The Rav Yaakov David, the grayhaired, refined person,
Hinda, wife of the gabbai, was she in her Shabbat headscarf?
Oh, tell me, heavens, tell me, trees,
Did the chazzan's wife, Pessia Gitel my mother
Did Yitzchak Shlomo the shochet utter the blessing
Did the pious water carrier the quiet Srul,
Was the cry of Nechemtze's child one year and seven months
like a parched Shema Yisrael, remaining hollow?
Woe to you, trees, you bloodied witness,
I will inscribe it in my journal, upon my heart
That while my town the 20,000 Jews,
The trees on the ground did not cry, did not shout,
by Yossel Burlyant, zl, New York
Translated by Zvi Kaniel
On a tall mountain, sprinkled with fruit gardens, surrounded by green meadows and ponds, stood our town Ustiluh.
Strolling north from the middle of the marketplace: two lines of shops, a large, broad place known as Warsaw Street, with that name because of the beautiful houses belonging to the wealthy businessmen in Ustiluh.
Next, the strolls through the mountains, the Lug River and the good fish, with the large river ripples in the reed covering, the two mills with the locks [in the canal] which block the water from the Lug that flows into the Bug and provides energy to the mills so that they can run. The highway to Zeluzhe, the roads to Warczin, Widernitz, Stizhericz, and Krinitz, and the famous Sosnow forests.
Left: Back onto the mountain, and a look to the west, there's the Rabbi's house with the orchard. Way at the bottom, at the foot of the mountain, the Bug River flows calmly. From where? Somewhere from Galicia. Where to? Across Poliesa to Pinsk and into the Vistula. On the other side of the Bug, the large hay stacks.
Then to the right: The teachers' street. The Rizhiner and other small synagogues. Behind the mountain, near the river, the bath house, Bluma Ziske's small house with the straw roof. The frame slides back and forth. The houses on the other side, the city gate, the large chimney can be seen at a distance from the Striszow sugar warehouse.
Back to the city, a stroll to the south. The large House of Learning, the Trisker Shtiebel, the tailors' Shtiebel, which is about to fall into the ground as the sinkhole gets bigger and bigger, almost reaching the town council hall, and that might even cut the town in half.
And noteworthy! As the ditch reaches a holy place, it moves off in another direction. Also, there was the mail that used to bring us the world's news four times a week, and of course, a letter from America.
Farther down, past the fence between two tall mountains, is the road to the distilleries. In fact, between the distillery buildings there are a few female deer, and [there's a place] where they produce oil in a primitive fashion. Then, another river flows there, the Rydzek River, which flows into the Bug. On the other side of the bridge, you can see the brickyard, the roads to Rossov, Izov, and so on. A little higher up to the left on the little mountain is Sokolov's large house, which was the school for over half a century. Around the river there are more green meadows with the fragrant hay of summer.
On the way back to the marketplace, there are another two rows of shops, no stores. In one shop, there is a barrel of herring; in another, a barrel of kerosene; in a third, two or three sacks of flour; and so on. A winding right to the east, and there are another two rows of shops, but these were already more profitable. Here you are able to find material for a suit, a container of sardines, tobacco, sugar, iron, and so on. Continue right, and there is the large Russian church with the large fruit orchard. There's the Christian street with the straw roofs, and farther down is the road to Ludomir, the blacksmiths, the Polish church, the hospital where no Jewish foot has ever stepped, the empty park, but the pears and apples were the best, and right after World War One, a train station was built there and set up.
On the left, there are two long rows of chestnut trees, where, on Friday nights, both young and old would stroll to the Jewish cemetery because on the other side of the cemetery there is a small, narrow, hardly noticeable river that flows, with the erroneous name of Bielebi, that flows north into the Rydzek near the priest's mill, with the wide meadows all around, where the youth would spend a happy and lively afternoon after their Shabbat meal. Towards the south, the Bielebi (real name is BieliBug) flows into the Lug River. Further down, across the small river, between two rows of trees, is the wide highway to Ludomir, the city district where I received 75% of my education.
But, I shudder when I look there at the larger city.
Over there, where we say from where the sun rises and falls, and we use the words I have set Gd
before me always, there on the main road, just a few kilometers from Ustiluh is the village of Piwnik; now the holy village. In that village is the mass grave of our martyrs. That is where the Nazi murderers killed our dear and loved ones: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, our relatives and friends, all who perished in sanctification of the name of Gd, with these words on their lips: Do not forget us! There were exactly 4,000 people, and only 200 managed to save themselves, spread right across Poland, Italy, Austria, and a few in Russia.
No! I cannot continue. I run back to my town, but…! It's a disaster! Where am I? There is no town left here, no Ustiluh, only ruins, the houses destroyed, here and there only a remnant of a house, a chimney, no marketplace, no shops, no churches, but there is the 100yearold large Beit Midrash [Study Hall], left standing tall and proud, as a symbol for the victims to show that we are a nation with a strong backbone. No one can destroy us! We survived the Pharaohs, the Amalekites, Torquemada, all kinds of pogroms, and Hitler, may his name and memory be erased, erased forever. No! We who survived will not be defeated!
The enemies will receive their punishment, and all of us together, without any political differences, will build a Jewish city in the Land of Israel, that will serve as an example for the entire world to learn tolerance and democracy.
Translated by Ala Gamulka
|Ustiluh in the old days,|
With its muddy streets and lanes,
With its small, low houses,
From Vinehauser to the novice garden,
From Ludomir street to the big bath house.
It is all etched in my memories.
Ustiluh in the old days,
Ustiluh in the old days,
Ustiluh in the old days,
|Ustiluh in the old days,
With its several hundred families,
Merchants, clerks and craftsmen
Teachers, Tutors and simple learners,
Dealers, brokers and matchmakers-
It is all etched in my memory.
Ustiluh in the old days-
Memories can no longer give us more
Told by Shmuel Diamant
Translated by Ala Gamulka
If I speak about what I endured and saw during the Nazi invasion of Poland, a whole day and night would not be enough time. This is why a special book is being written. I must also limit myself to the confines of the Yizkor Book.
It is not a secret for the people of Ustiluh who lived in the town at the beginning of WWII, that I was a follower of the Soviet regime. I truly believed in the possibility of international brotherhood. As an expression of this brotherhood, I saw the friendship of the Ukrainian Party members. Especially so with a certain young man called Gritchuk. He worked together with me as an official in city council. Avraham Hovel was the vice-chairman.
In May 1941, we were drafted into the Red Army to guard the border near Izov. We were told that it was only for 45 days- until regular soldiers would arrive.
We were not relieved by the expected time. In the meantime, the Nazi offensive caught us on June 22nd. The entire frontline fell like a decomposed flea. I, together with a young man called Yossel (I do not remember his family name), managed to cross the Bug River. We ran to Mikulicz where we were overtaken by the Nazis. There, about 6,000 people were brought to a field. There, I found Avraham Hovel and Gritchuk. When he saw us, Gritchuk went over to a German soldier and said- Comrade commissars. Luckily, the German did not pay attention. It was clear to me that my life was in danger.
A comment: I would like these words to reach the Jewish Communist leaders. They should understand how one cannot trust gentile friends. I am certain that if there had been an Arab conquest (may they not live that long!), they would have been the first victims-at the hands of their so-called friends.
Therefore, when I saw how a Soviet officer behaves, I crawled on all fours. I was able to go some distance and I remembered to take Yossel with me. This is how we managed to escape.
I came to Ludomir where I ditched the military uniform. I returned to my people in the colony of Seliske. My family was in town and there were no other Jews in the colony. I sent a farmer to town to bring my family. I paid him by giving him a horse. He actually brought my family as well as some news: 1. All men were brought to the Polish synagogue, 2. They make them work hard and be tired out, 3. Communists are being sought.
After these items of news, I resolved to flee to the forest. I had hoped to meet some Soviet soldiers and to go with them wherever they went. However, I did not find them.
Near the colony there was a fort that had been confiscated by the Germans. The village magistrate had announced that all Jews in the area had to work in the fort. I worked with everyone else through the rest of the summer and the winter. In the meantime, there were rumors that Jews from the small towns were to be systematically annihilated.
I then searched for a well-known Soviet person who lived hidden somewhere in the village. Together, we organized a partisan unit. However, the Jews to whom I made the proposal, laughed at me. I got in touch with the famous family Spasov, but even they were not ready to join. In the meantime, the Gestapo found the Soviet person and shot him.
At that time, my father-in-law, Yossel Hallel's (Karsh) and mother-in-law came to me.
I continued to work at the fort, but I did not give up the idea of finding a way to rescue myself and my family.
I had an acquaintance- a famous Polish officer called Zachartchuk.
He once came from town with the news that the Germans are preparing for a slaughter. Graves are being prepared in Piatidan. This message hit me like a thunderclap. What should I do?- I asked him. My advice is- he replied- that you should pretend to be sick, wrap up your face and go to alert your fellow Jews. The money they had prepared for the Germans would be better used to find arms and to create a resistance. When you begin to do it, we will come to help you. This is the only way you can save yourselves.
I immediately put a bag of wheat on the wagon and I went towards the water mill. I also tied a cloth around my teeth.
When I entered town, I went to Doctor Muzikansky and relayed the message from Zachartchuk. The Doctor immediately went to the Jewish Committee. He returned quickly, frightened, and told me to hide. The Jewish Committee people were upset that I was creating panic for no good reason. They would probably denounce me to the Gestapo.
I hid myself and only in the evening did I return to the village. In the morning, while I was working in the field, a gentile woman came and told me that the Jewish police came to my house and took everything out of it. I, together with my brother-in-law Elie Karsh, immediately ran home. There, the Jewish policemen Moshe Linder and Shimshon Garbatch, were waiting. They said I had to pay a contribution of 8,000 kabavanitzes. My blood was boiling. I picked up a broom and tried to hit Linder, but my brother-in-law restrained me.
Shimshon Garbatch came up with a compromise: I should give a few hundred kilos apples for a Gestapo banquet.
My reply was as follows:
I understand that I will not eat the apples, but you also will not live to bite them.
The policemen left with nothing and my brother-in-law Elie and I left for the forest. We had prepared a bunker for the family there.
I again encountered Zachartchuk and we went together to Ludomir. I used the opportunity to bring a loaf of bread for my sister-in-law in the ghetto. For this sin they were called into the Jewish Committee for a hearing.
Having forgotten the happenings with the Jewish committee in Ustiluh, I went to the Ludomir committee at the suggestion of Zachartchuk.
Their reply was that the plan must be followed, but they would only speak to the one who made the suggestion. Zachartchuk came to them and repeated the plan. Several units of the Polish A.K.A were required to wait not far from the ghetto during the time when the Germans would come to gather the people in the market square. The ghetto had to be completely prepared with gasoline and other protection devices to greet the Germans. Then, the Polish units would attack the murderers from the outside.
Zachartchuk came back satisfied. It meant that the suggestion was well received.
On the evening of September 1, when the first pogrom began in Ludomir and Ustiluh, the A.K.A were waiting for a signal from the Ludomir ghetto. However, it did not happen. The Nazi beasts transported thousands of victims to Piatidan without any resistance. Eight days earlier there was an order to gather all the village Jews who were not working the land. This is when my brother-in-law Elie Karsh was caught together with Issachar Teig and they were taken into town.
A day before the pogrom I saw through my window two police officers on bicycles. I immediately sent the family to the forest to hide and I watched to see what the two were doing. One of them was the provocateur Gritchuk who had been freed by the Germans together with other gentiles.
The two policemen took some chickens from the coop and left.
When I arrived in the forest, I found the following: 17-year-old David Rothstein from Zabelity, two daughters of Elie Teig, Peshke Bitterman from Fizov, her husband and their two daughters. We spent 15 days together.
We were then joined by the brothers Moshe and Yeshayahu Spasov and their cousin Moshe with two small children, a son of Yitzhak Tovel. Also, my brother-in-law Elie returned.
At the same time the Soviets were building, around Ustiluh, fortified tombs which I believed to be a weapon. I proposed to the Spasovs that we should take advantage of this, but they refused.
On September 15 (Fast of Gedaliah), I went home to the Colony in order to bring food products. Other people did the same. In the forest, I found only my family, my wife's parents and the husband of Peshke Bitterman.
On the road, we were suddenly shot at by Ukrainian hooligans. Everyone scattered in different directions. I, Elie Karsh and Moshe Tovel fled to the swamps.
About half an hour later- it was already dark- we heard shooting in the forest. During the middle of the night, we came back to the bunker in the forest- it had been burned down. There was no sign of any people there. Elie went to Colony to find out about the fate of those who had been in the bunker. In the meantime, we had decided to meet in a specific place. At dawn, we met with dishonesty.
All our dearly beloved had been murdered and our neighbors, Gostetsky and Markevitch had buried them 50 meters away from the burned- out bunker. (We had not noticed the freshly dug grave in the darkness).
We sat on the marshes. I was drawn to the grave and when I came to it. I ignored the danger and said Kaddish. I cried loudly and I swore to avenge their deaths. We could not tear ourselves away from there, until we had covered the bodies with earth. Elie banged his head in the earth.
In my great despair, I wanted to give myself up to the Germans. However, Elie said that we must fight to stop the Angel of Death.
That night, we returned to the Colony. We sat a day and a night on the floor on a straw mat. We then went to a Polish acquaintance, a miller called Branek. He received us nicely and brought us food and drink.
We stayed in Branek's barn for seven weeks.
One day he came to us with the news that Jews are being sought. He suggested we dig up a bunker. We did so. We dug at night and we spread the earth in such a way that no one would notice.
Again, we sat there for seven weeks. One night we came out and went to someone called Tsingalovsky.
He lived near the forest. There awaited us good news: Elie Teig's daughter and Peshke Bitterman were alive and the Spasovs had escaped into town. Every night- so Tsingalovsky told us- they came to him for food.
To our delight, they did not have full confidence in Tsingalovsky and stopped coming. We went out to look for them.
Passing a pile of straw, we saw a basket full of potatoes and bread. I had a revolver at that time, which Branek had given me.
Since I had already allowed myself to stop near the basket, we quickly found the frightened women hidden in the straw. Surprised by this happening, they fell on us, crying, and begged us to take them with us in our flight. But how can guests in our situation take along other guests? We obtained a bottle of whiskey and honey from Tsingalovsky. We came to Branek, drank up with him and told him, sobbing, about the women. Go bring them-he said- It is the same risk for me.
I embraced and kissed this good man.
So, we brought them. They were torn, swollen and full of wounds. We found clothes for them. The wounds healed. Then they were sick with a stomach illness. In time, they became healthy again.
The winter passed.
In the meantime, with Branek's help. I obtained a rifle. I felt freer to move in the area.
One March, 1943 Day, I saw, in the field, two men running. I stopped them. They were Jews from Ludomir who had been expelled, with their families, by their do-gooder.
They were ready to pay well for a hiding place, for some space. I informed Branek and he agreed to take them in. It was a family of five people: an old woman and two daughters, a son-in-law and the bridegroom of the other daughter. They also brought a couple from Zmushets. The man's name was David. The latter had a child living with a gentile. He went to get the child, but he never returned. (All the others live now in America). Branek went to where they told him to go and he brought back a wagon full of goods.
We lived in the bunker for several months. The entrance to it was through a trough.
At that time, there was a Ukrainian band of hooligans in the area- Benderovtsky's people. They searched for Jews and Poles- even more than fight the Germans.
Branek was afraid of a night raid, had left his house and only came to check from time to time.
This is how our situation was even more unsafe.
We had a radio appliance. We once heard an unclear bit of news. We went to Tsingalovsky, who also had a radio, to clarify the news. On this occasion, Tsingalovsky told us that David Rotenstein is with him, but he is afraid to keep him. We found him in a pile of straw, naked, shoeless and swollen with hunger. We immediately took him with us.
Another time, Branek came with the news that our hiding place has been discovered. Here we were: myself, Elie Karsh, Peshke, the two Teig sisters and David Rotenstein. We went to the Ukrainian magistrate. The others remained in place until Branek moved them to a different location.
In time, though, we returned to Branek. We had also begun to show ourselves in the Colony. The only people remaining there were not prepared to denounce us.
Once, sitting with Elie in the house, a neighboring young gentile yelled: Vensky is coming!. Vensky was a German gendarme from the nearby police station.
We began to run away, but too late. Vensky stopped us. With him was David Rotenstein, who had pointed us out. The story went like this: the policeman had found David and the two girls at Branek's mill. They found my rifle there. When asked whose it was, the petrified young man had immediately given us up. We were surrounded by 40 Polish policemen, among them many acquaintances. Even the commander, Sondei was a good friend.
The acquaintances calmed us down and said they would not allow us to be killed. We maintained we did not know whose rifle it was and that we did not even know how to shoot. To our poor luck, they found, on Elie, a photograph of him standing wearing a military uniform. (Truthfully, he had been photographed in a uniform as a fantasy)
The German became angry and slapped Elie in the face so hard that he was dripping blood. They then ordered him to show how he shoots -unsuccessfully.
We became hostile to David Rotenstein- as if we did not even know him.
We were taken to dig a pit. I turned my head and looked into commander Sondei's eyes.
The searing look had succeeded. Sondei ordered that we should be taken to the police station. He asked us if we knew where the partisans were situated. We replied yes. We were therefore taken straight to the station.
I had a gold watch, a pair of new shoes and a coupon for merchandise. I immediately went to the German commandant Vensky and gave him everything.
The next morning, Vensky asked me to take him to the village where there were Ukrainian partisans.
That day, the police had caught and arrested many of them. They found arms and ammunition. They also burned down the village. It was my first revenge on the Ukrainian murderers.
We spent two weeks in the lock up in the station. Elie and I went with the police to search for Ukrainian bandits. The women and David Rotenstein worked in the kitchen.
One fine day, commandant Sondei came to tell us that we were to be transferred over to the Gestapo. What was his advice? Run away!
We did not stop to think and at night we waited, in the garden, for Sondei and some of his trusted people to say good-bye.
Go in peace-said Sondei- We will follow you. Be careful and let us see each other again.
In the morning, when Vensky discovered that we had escaped, he went to the Colony and shot at a few places. Vensky then reported that he had caught the Jews and had shot them.
He told me about it some time later.
We again sat in the hiding place, but we were not idle. I acquired arms and I went again to the few remaining houses. My only aspiration and hope were to find out the murderers of my family. I had an idea who they were. I found one family of theirs and I burned their house down. I even burned the nearby houses. The Poles were very happy.
We slept a few nights in an empty house. We then returned to Branek, thinking no one would figure out we were there. We also found other families who had been hiding there the whole time.
We were sitting with Branek with the radio on quietly. Suddenly, Germans (we recognized the uniforms) came running in our direction. Everyone went to hide in the stable. The Germans were actually Poles, led by Sondei, who were looking for a way to join the Polish partisans.
When they noticed our escape, they beat Branek to find out where we were hiding. They began to destroy everything in the house.
They wanted to burn the stable. We came out and saw Sondei. The former policemen became excited when they saw us. They had beaten and destroyed the home of a good Pole. I was really upset to hear Branek try to calm them down by saying: We will fix things between us.
Sondei advised us to wait in place until an organized partisan unit came and we would join it.
We stayed in the house until nightfall. A unit of partisans came and wanted to shoot us. This time, it was David Rotenstein who saved us. We are Jews!- he shouted. The partisans put down their arms and continued on their way.
It was terrible to stay in that house. We went to the cellar of the Ukrainian magistrate. He had left his house.
We spent two days and two nights there. On Shabbat, Polish partisans came and began to repair the house.
I went to my friends Markevitch and Bushka and I asked them to intervene on our behalf, so that we would be taken in by the partisans. We went together to the house. On the way, I met a gardener-Elie was petrified (such was his luck), but, suddenly, good fortune came upon us. It was our good friend Zachartchuk (he had planned the resistance in the ghetto). For us, he was the defender and we avoided problems.
Zachartchuk recommended that I stay in the house to indicate the path and Elie would be in another place.
A new era had begun in my life. I had been a persecuted person, at best a pale imitation, eliciting pity from well-meaning people. I now again became a person. Truthfully, we had all lived in constant danger, but the present danger had a purpose. The fact that I had been a Communist, standing hand in hand with Polish reactionary elements, did not bother me. We had a common goal: to finish off the German and Ukrainian murderers.
In order to raise the morale which had fallen from time to time, I made them happy with various stories. They called me our Schweik. Maybe it was an obvious honor, but I was not seeking a new title. One aspiration and hope dominated me- to live through these critical times and to take revenge for the innocent spilled blood of my wife and children, as well as all other Jewish fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters.
In my situation I knew I could only realize my expectation with the help of the Polish A.K.A units.
I knew well all the villages and roads in western Volyn. For that reason, I was sent, many times, to make contact between various units. Every action or change of base, I went ahead. Still, I did everything with fear and voluntary self-sacrifice.
Once I was sent to a pond near Libevone.
There I met Naftali Leitzes in a partisan enclave. They did not know he was a Jew. He called himself Michael.
I did not understand, then, why he was hiding his identity. Only later, when my elders spoke to me about conversion, did I begin to understand the true situation of the few Jews among gentile partisans.
In the presence of the partisans, I gathered, in our colony around 150 Jews. They were all concentrated in one house. This did not last long. Two young men left the colony and were caught by the Germans. The village was then bombarded, as a result. The staff ordered the transfer of Jews to Vortshin. There were only a few laborers left in the colony.
Together with my commander, Farotchnik Bialy, I moved to another village, to establish a new base. We quickly organized a battalion which was called, at my suggestion, Zamsta (revenge). It consisted of people who were the sole survivors of their families. The first base was the village of Pozov. We soon were called to a bigger action.
The villages of Stiziritsh and Mikutitsh were terrible nests of the Benderovtzis and our purpose was to get rid of them.
Following my advice, the viper nests were attacked from three sides and only a few were able to save themselves. We burned down all the others without showing any mercy,
Then our unit moved to Stiziritsh.
We were lying in defense trenches, when we saw German tanks arriving. We allowed them to come close. When they noticed us, two officers jumped down and came near us:
We did not come to do war with you-they said-allow us to go through to Mosso, as the Soviet partisans shot down one of our airplanes.
That is not within our jurisdiction- we replied- come into our base where you can speak with those who can decide
It is difficult to understand the thinking of these people. Suffice it to say that they allowed themselves to be caught.
As they came into the base, they were disarmed and were forced to write to their underlings: We are prisoners. Put down your arms!. Without saying one word, 130 Germans put down their arms and like good little children allowed themselves to be arrested. They were sent to Astodole.
A priest arrived and told us that the Germans in Ludomir had taken hostage several partisan families, among them that of Farotchnik Bialy. We had no choice but to free the Germans-but without their arms.
The Germans had so quickly been disarmed. At that time there were only about 300 men in Ludomir. We were informed about it by the Soviet partisans. On the basis of that we decided to attack the barracks in Ludomir where they were located. Our decision was proven wrong. The Germans brought, by train, a large contingent of soldiers, aided by many airplanes. Under these circumstances, the partisans retreated to their previous locations in the forest. We did not rest for long.
There was a bridge close to the forests of Mikutitsh, watched by our people. We were suddenly informed that the Germans were coming closer. I was sent, on horseback, to bomb the bridge. However, the Germans were shooting so much that there was no way to reach the bridge on horseback. I climbed down and hid under some ruins. I was able to creep to the bridge. I met Zachartchuk there. He was overwhelmed when he saw me.
He did not believe that he would ever see me again alive.
The bridge had already been destroyed. The horse galloped to me. I climbed on him again and I returned to base.
The horse was foaming.
We returned to the forests.
We moved to the east, very close to the front. On the road between Kovel and Brisk we were told that a famous and important German general was coming through there. It was an opportunity to eliminate him.
Mines were placed on a certain bridge where he was to drive through. Eighteen men were hiding among nearby trees. The general came in an armored car, with guards in cars in front.
We allowed the guard cars to go through the bridge, but when the general's car went on, we blasted the mines. The bridge with the car were completely demolished.
Among our people, one was badly injured. We took him with us.
Another time we found 18 Germans and 9 locals. Two of the latter gave themselves up freely. It turns out that one of those two was a Jew. We obtained important information from these two.
I and a young Pole shot the Germans out of pity. The locals were allowed to live. Later, they fought with us against the Nazis.
We received special treatment in the Ukrainian villages. The Jewish doctor from Dubno who was in our camp told me angrily: Shmuel, how long will you continue to agitate?
The problem of supplies was complicated. We were often hungry. I undertook, early in the morning, to get food. I was given local currency and dollars to buy food. However, the farmers did not want to sell. I began to scream. Once we brought six cows and a wagon full of potatoes and tobacco. Hungarian soldiers shot at us, but we arrived safely.
Another time I went with a few people and brought back a horse and a wagon full of bread and other food items, together with the farmer.
It went so far that there was envy of me and people in the villages feared me.
In May 1944, we were bombed by the Germans. We left the place and moved to another forest.
A short time later- we were in the Pinsk swamps- we received an order to find our way to the front. In order to do so we had to go through a highway and railroad line.
The Germans received us with machine guns and cannons. We managed to get through, but many of us fell. About one hundred men were lost.
At that time, Tsuker, the dentist's brother, was wounded (he lives now in America). I carried him to the forest where I found a Soviet partisan unit. I gave them the wounded man.
In that forest I found my regiment in the previously decided place. As thanks they involved me in studying the maps for every outing (In the beginning I did not understand much).
After a few days in a forest near Ratno, we resumed our march to the front.
We prepared ourselves for the attack. At night we reached the Pripet River. With me were two Jews from Ustiluh: Leyzer Dina's (Ginzburg), his son and grandson. Not far from the river we ran into Germans who were in graves. They had run away scared leaving ringing telephones. We went into the graves. They quickly recovered and began to shoot at us. Even the Soviets shot at us in error.
Many of us tried to swim in the river, but they fell in the water. The older Ginzburg also died. I remained on the shore.
I suddenly saw a few boards on the river which I used to go across. I called others to do the same. We were shot again from both sides.
I reached the Soviets. Many of them were naked.
From 600 people, only 280 remained.
A few days later, we were transferred to Kivortza where we were absorbed by the regular Polish army- reorganized in Russia.
The front was now in Tortchin and we were getting ready to liberate Ludomir. I became sick near Kovel and I was demobilized.
On July 23, 1944 Ludomir was liberated. I stayed there and worked in a military sausage factory.
I could not live in peace as long as I did not find the murderers of my family. Once I went to a village with a Polish soldier. I caught one of the murderers. We immediately took care of him. I went back to the village two more times. On the third visit I fell into the hands of N.K.V.D. I had been denounced by one of the group of killers. A few months later, I and my old commander, Farotchnik Bialy, were sentenced to death. The sentence was changed to ten years in prison. I was sent to the distant north where I spent three and a half years in a forced labor camp.
After many appeals to the highest court, I was freed knowing it was revenge.
On 19.3.48 I was sent back to Poland.
I arrived in Poland on 24.4.48, completely broken.
The will to live pulled me to Silesia where there were many survivors from various Jewish communities. There, I found Avraham Becker and under his influence I decided to move to our newly founded state. There I would meet former friends and acquaintances and I would tell them everything.
As you can see, I told my story.
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