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F: Holocaust and Destruction

 

“ Wagons, tell me, empty wagons: to where is this journey?”

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From the book “Last Letters”
published by Hakibutz Hameuchad, 1956

by Yitzchak Katznelson

 

Sections from “The song of the Jewish nation that was killed”

A section from the poem:

“Here they are again, the wagons of the train!”
“Empty wagons! They had just filled you, and you are again standing empty,
Where did you put them, the Jews? And what will be with them, and happen to them?
A myriad were counted, and then it was sealed – and how did you come back here again?
Wagons, tell me, empty wagons: To where was this transport?”


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The World that was Destroyed

by the editors

– – The section on the Holocaust and destruction in this additional volume is joined as a continuation of that section in the Book of Zgierz. We know that the things written in the book and in this additional volume are only a small amount of what took place, a drop in the sea, the sea of tribulations and torment that the Jews of Zgierz suffered.

However, one who leafs through all the chapters of the book and this additional volume, and considers them together, with the realities, personages, material and spiritual communal life, their struggles and agonies during the years of the Holocaust, will get an essence of a fundamental Jewish reality, infused with love of one's fellow Jew and national honor, which was created and existed under the most difficult of conditions. The Holocaust era, the years of gradual liquidation of the community of Zgierz, the persecutions and murderers perpetrated in cold blood and cold calculation in all its details will rise before the eyes of the reader.

The hand writes to give over knowledge and memory, so that we can collect the boiling tears over the loss of our community into the vast flask of tears of our nation.

May G–d avenge their blood!


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Jews of Zgierz
on the Sixth Day of the Second World War

by Dr. B. Gelbfish

The sixth day of the Second World War was a critical day for the residents of Zgierz. On the night of the 5th going on the 6th of September, the announcement was made that men of military age must leave the city, without their families. To this day, it is hard to figure out from where the announcement came, because the authorities had left the city on the first day of the war.

On Friday, September 1, the population of Zgierz, as in the rest of Poland, understood that something terrible was about to happen. Everyone sensed the misfortune. However, in the state of deep fear, nobody did anything to deal with the impending misfortune. People were in a panic and a state of discomfort. The enthusiasm for the military leaders suddenly disappeared, and people stopped talking about mounting a resistance against the enemy.

Hitler's promise that, irrespective of the result of the war for Germany, Poland would lose its independence, evoked an oppressive feeling. However, Jews believed Hitler's threats of liquidation and annihilation.

Starting from Sunday, September 3, the Germans began, with their German punctuality, to incessantly bombard the city, the railway station, the chemical factories, and the like, from the air daily at 3:00 p.m. On the fifth day of the war, they bombarded the center of the city, intending to find Pastor Falcman, esteemed by everyone, in his home, for the sole sin that he conducted himself

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as a loyal Polish citizen. It was clear that nobody could avoid the misfortune. The weather helped the Germans. There was a fine blue sky, without rain or wind, the entire time. The clear, blue sky over Zgierz was as if to vex us, for it allowed the Germans to freely bomb the defenseless residents.

The mood became more oppressive from day to day. Even the news that England and France had declared war on Germany the third day had no effect on us. The greatest optimists lost their strength. The chatter regarding the retreating Polish army leading the Germans deep into the country in the areas of the Pinsker marshes so that the enemy could be defeated there – was believed by nobody.

In this situation, almost everyone followed the order to leave the city. Many men did not want to leave their families, so they took their wives and children with them, leaving their belongings open for the taking.

The way was very difficult, for almost nobody had any communication means for leaving the city. Many people went a few kilometers, and then returned. Some barely reached Stryków or Głowno. A small number, however, traveled day and night to reach Warsaw, and from there traveled further east to the Zaleszczyki region, at the Romanian border. Unfortunately, they arrived too late, as the district had been taken by the Soviets on the 17th day of the war.

More so than the Poles, the Jews obeyed the order to leave the city with full strictness. Not only did men of military age go, but also those younger and older. They fled, driven by fear of Hitler's army, which promised destruction and death.

The Jews of Zgierz left everything behind, and set out on their journey, full of pain and suffering, accompanied by the hatred of the Poles toward them, overstuffed with the anti–Semitism that had become so prominent during the last years of the Polish regime. They remembered very well Składkowski's “Owszem Politik” [Politics of certainty], the law against ritual slaughter by Madame Prystor, the beating of Jewish students at the universities to the point of blood, the boycotts of Jewish businesses, the pogroms in Przytyk and Minsk–Maziowiecki – deeds that they were not able to forget.

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As in the rest of Poland, the Jews of Zgierz endured the tragic reality – the Polish Sanacja regime prepared the ground for the shedding of Jewish blood, for enthusiastically receiving the Hitlerist venom, and they themselves fell under the hatchet of Nazism. The Jews felt already at the beginning that many Poles helped the Nazis in that terrible aktion, for they had been fed with anti–Semitic propaganda, and played a significant role in the persecution of the Jews.

As I have already mentioned, the refugees did not succeed in reaching the Romanian border. The vast majority returned back along the way. A smaller proportion remained in the occupied areas of western Ukraine. Very few returned home at the end of the war. There were only Poles there. Jews remained in the Soviet Union, endured hunger and pain, and survived the war there. When they returned to Poland, they found almost none of their kin.

The Jews of Zgierz were murdered in the ghetto and in camps. Zgierz refugees in Slonim were killed in that manner – among others, the Horowicz family, the Konows, Dr. Wolkowicz's family, may G–d avenge their blood.

One shudders when studying the balance. Barely 300–400 people survived out of the 5,000 Jews of Zgierz. The majority settled in Israel, and the remainder in various countries of Europe and America.

The Jews of Zgierz did not return to their homes, where every stone would remind them of the suffering of their dearest; where one could barely find the cemetery; where they tortured and murdered their nearest and dearest.

The heart weeps over those who were tortured and lost. However, their bright memory demands us to have a strong and brave heart, so that their terrible deaths will be the cause of a rectification in our further, bright upbuilding. We, who merited being saved from the great conflagration, will always have the old adage etched before our eyes, engraved with letters of fire and blood: Never forget!

Montreal, Canada, September 1949


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In a Struggle with the Angel of Death…
(from my experiences during the war years)

by Wolf Kleinman

In 1939, after the outbreak of the war and the entry of the Germans into Poland, Jews, including those from Zgierz, began to flee to Russia, the only country in which one could hope to find a temporary refuge. I was also among those who escaped, and that is how I reached Białystok.

In Białystok, I met many Zgierzers in the well–known “cellar” and I realized that the expulsion of the last remaining Jews of Zgierz was not far off. I had left a wife and a four–and–a–half–month old child there. Then I decided to return to Poland, where my eventual meeting point with my family had been designated as Warsaw. We immediately met up there.

I also met many Zgierz Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. My sister and her child were also there. I lived on Zamenhof. My former manufacturer, Brafman (the son–in–law of Yisrael Jakubowicz) lived not far from me, on Meizels Street. The Zgierzer Rabbi also lived with Brafman. He comforted us, encouraged us to not lose hope for better times, and to live with the faith that G–d will send a salvation for the Jews.

Life in Warsaw became more constricted from day to day, and my sister decided to go to Głowno, for in Głowno, life was still easier than in the Warsaw Ghetto. At her request, I went to Głowno along with my wife and child. I still found many Jews there who had remained from the deportation from Zgierz. Among them were the Szajnholtz and Ofenbach families, along with many others whose names I no longer remember.

After a month in Głowno, they also deported us from there together with the rest of the Jews. Thus did I, along with my wife, my sister, and my child

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return to the Warsaw Ghetto. My sister, who resided with her husband's family, went from there to Luków, and I never heard from her again after that.

When the Germans began their war with Russia, life in the ghetto became more unbearable. The hunger was great, and the death rate was even greater. They I decided to escape from the Warsaw Ghetto. Earlier, I had sent my wife and child to Częstochowa. Shortly after that, in July 1941, I was transported by a gentile, and also traveled to Częstochowa.

The Jews of Częstochowa, as everywhere else, were going through unbearable times. As in all other cities, they were living there outside the law. Every German satrap would shoot and torture. The old synagogue was vandalized and destroyed already at the outset. Each day brought new tribulations.

We worked for the Germans until the large deportation from the Częstochowa Ghetto in September 1942. Over 60,000 Jews were deported during that expulsion. Only about 3,000 remained. My wife, my child, my mother–in–law, her four sisters, and the rest of her family were among those deported.

The deportation took place in accordance with their well–known murderous formula “Rechts” “Links” [Right, Left). Naturally, we did not know that those sent off to the right were being sent to annihilation. My way was with those sent to the left, and we were sent to various workplaces. A small ghetto was created at that time for the few remaining Jews.

 

Zgierz Jews in Resistance

After we lost our special unique people, life here, in our small ghetto, also lost all its worth. When the news of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising reached us, we, a number of dedicated

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members of our workplace, decided to organize a resistance group, to conduct self–defense against the frequent snatchings and shootings. We succeeded in purchasing a bit of light weapons from Poles, paying with valuables that we had taken along at the time of the cleaning the Jewish dwellings after the large deportation.

Once, during a secret conference of our group, the Gestapo followed our tracks, certainly due to an informant. They then closed off the small ghetto and went to the house where we were gathered. Our watchperson then informed us that we were surrounded. A panic ensued as we started running in different directions. Most of us were captured as we were escaping. I succeeded in sneaking into a gate. At that same moment, I noticed a fleeing youth from our group who was being chased by an S.S. man. That youth still had the energy to grab his Sten, aim it at the German, and shoot him. I saw how the S.S. man fell. The youth ran further, and went over a fence. At that moment, he was hit by a volley of bullets and fell on the ground. Immediately after the Germans led out all the captured people and left the Ghetto, I went to clear out the dead and wounded. I went over to the fallen youth, but he was already dead. The next morning, I found out that the youth was the son of Menashe Szwarcbard of Zgierz.

A short time later, in 1943, the “Small Ghetto” was also liquidated and the remaining Jews were sent to three work camps: Hasak Warta, Hasak Peltzeri, and Hasak Rakow.

In January 1945, the Russians entered Częstochowa, but the Germans still appeared that same day to transport those remaining in the work camps to Buchenwald. I was in Buchenwald for about one month, and I worked at various cleaning operations in Weimar. Later, they sent us to a work camp in Colditz. Shortly before the end of the war, the Germans sent us out of the work camp. We marched 40 kilometers a day. That death march ended in Theresienstadt. The Germans still ruled there, but the International Red Cross already had full supervision of us.

At 5:00 a.m. on May 8, 1945, the Russians entered and liberated us. Our situation changed radically, but a new catastrophe threatened the survivors and starving masses. The spontaneous voracious eating led to dysentery, typhus and other illness that spread like an epidemic.

At that time, I became involved, with some others, in getting help for the sick. Once I entered a house where a youth was lying half dead with typhus. He was familiar to me. To my question about who he was and from where he came, he responded that he is Szternfeld from Zgierz. He was a grandson from the old Zajonc and a brother of Moniek Szternfeld.

If that youth, who is today certainly a father and perhaps even a grandfather, reads these last lines, he will certainly remember who it was that brought him the first aid and encouragement, so he could strengthen himself and overcome his illness, and be able to tell over what he endured.


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Through the Small Bridge Between Life and Death
(Experiences of a Jewish woman during the years of annihilation)

by Mania Jakubowicz–Gothelf

 

Uncaptioned. Mania Jakubowicz–Gothelf

 

Mania Jakubowicz–Gothelf (nee Mondraj), the wife of Mendel Jakubowicz (killed in the Soviet hard labor camps in far–off “Sever”[1]) tells us, in brief, about her experiences since the outbreak of the Second World War until her liberation from the German death camps.

On September 7, 1939, the German army captured our city and immediately began to pour various decrees daily over the heads of the Jews of Zgierz, and held us in

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constant fear of death. The sophisticated decree to wear the yellow patch immediately segregated us and put us in a wanton state in the eyes of the inimical Poles and the local Germans. Almost all of the latter group immediately began to wear swastika bands on their arms, and placed themselves at the service of the new authorities, primarily engaged in the persecutions against the Jews.

In December of the same year (my husband was not at home, as he had left Zgierz with many others), several Volksdeutschen entered my home, removed the furniture, and loaded it upon wagons. However, while inside my house, they consulted together and demanded the key to the dwelling from me. In the end, I was simply expelled from my house. I then took my three–year–old Eliush and went to my parents in Łódź.

At the beginning of 1942, I was sent into the ghetto, along with all the other Jews of Łódź. For almost five years, I endured the hell, about which a great deal has been written. In the ghetto, I met many Jews of Zgierz who joined in our suffering. I often met the following Zgierzers: Kuba Czernikowski, Leibush Waldman, Shimon Fiszer's daughter Bina, as well as Ruta, the wife of Wolf Fiszer, and others whose names I no longer remember. Among them was the daughter of the upholsterer from Zgierz Moshe Wajnbaum, who helped save my child during a life–threatening moment.

I went through an especially sorrowful chapter in the Łódź Ghetto with my six–seven–year–old child Eliush. I endured with him all the hardships, hunger, and various illnesses. I cannot bypass and neglect to mention here at least one of his many questions that he asked me, which echo to this day in my ears and which let us understand what our small children went through at that time, as their child souls were deeply affected with the fear and suffering of their helpless parents, and how this came to expression during the dark days of destruction and annihilation.

Once when we were looking out the window at the street toward the other side of the barbed wire, and saw a civilian carriage passing by, he asked, “Why can those people, over there, travel, and we cannot?” I answered, “Because they are Germans, but we are Jews, and are not allowed.” He thought a bit and asked further, “Could it even happen that they would be Jews and we would be German?”

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We would receive a morsel of bread for working at night in the resort. I hid it for my child. Once when I came home at dawn, I showed him the morsel of bread while I was still on the doorstep to cheer him up. However, the child turned away from me with his shoulder. I stood there and asked, “What happened? Why are you angry with me?” And Eliush answered me, insulted, “You work an entire night and are starving, and you bring me the morsel of bread that you should be eating?!”

He loved it when I would sing him to sleep with a lullaby, often when he was hungry. He especially loved the popular song in the ghetto, “Mein Shtetle Beltz”[2]. One day, he asked me, “Mommy, can you also sing to me 'Mein Shtetle Zgierz'?” I was without words…

Let these few lines be for him a good memory, and for me, the sole comfort…

*

On August 12, 1944, during the day of the liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto, I was deported to Auschwitz together with my sister Sonia and her two children. I have no energy or words to describe what we endured in Auschwitz. There, they took away our children, and they also took away my sister during a selektion.

The picture of that day at the end of August remains etched in my mind, when Chaim Romkowski came into the camp accompanied by the entire entourage, including the Jewish police in their uniforms. They went around with certainly, seemingly unaware what was awaiting them. Naturally, their appearance aroused various commentaries among us.

In October 1944, I was transported to KZ Stutthof. There, we were placed into groups of five, from which the Germans selected those that they desired and sent them off. Only later did we find out that they sent them to the sea and drowned them[3].

From Stutthof, we were sent to Zall–Batten, near Thorn (Toruń). We arrived at night. They ordered us to jump off the wagon, and we – jumped into the water. We had to raise our heads over the water, so as not to drown. Then they chased us into stables, meant for animals. The crowding was literally suffocating.

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At dawn, after the selektions, they took us 16 kilometers away, and gave us spades and pickaxes (the ground was already frozen) to dig pits. Some of us believed that we were digging trenches, and others believed that we were digging graves. They brought us back from work when it was already dark. Hellish scenes took place as we were dividing up the bit of soup. In Zall–Batten, we saw high heaps of dead bodies through an opening in the fence. We spent two full months in such conditions.

From there, they prodded us on foot to Zall Melch in January 1945. There, we worked in the forests, carrying cut down trees to the river. Finally, they made it clear that they will forcibly send us on a death march, which they planned for us. We were placed under the control of a military officers group. They chased us over hills and valleys, through deep snow, over rivers and bodies of water. It is impossible to understand how the layer of ice did not break under our running feet. Anyone who could not persevere this was not among those who returned. On the other hand, we did later see their clothing , which we were able to wear for the difficult march “to Germany.”

At dawn on January 19, we set out on the march, which was called “To Germany” so that we would not fall into the hands of the enemy (the Russians). That is what an officer, and S.S. man, told us in a speech before we set out. He turned to us with these unbelievable and amazing words, “Dear children, we will also be saved!” He said that we are going on foot due to the fact that the trains are all occupied with the military… “And I call on you to obey and cooperate” etc. We were all surprised and frightened: are they not preparing for us a new death trap? However, at that time, we were so isolated and hidden from other people that we had no inkling that the Russians had already taken Warsaw and were marching onward.

Hungry, frozen, barefoot and in rags, we – a camp of 2,000 women – dragged onward with our last strength over snowy back roads in unknown area. Every day, people died of hunger and exhaustion. On the seventh day of the march, I felt that I could not go on any further, and I lay down in the snow in resignation. The “blokowa” (barracks leader) ran by and

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tried to encourage me to immediately stand up, for I could be shot on the spot. However, I was indifferent to everything, and I answered her in that fashion. Nevertheless, she stuck with me, and told me that if I get up, she would help me. She said I should grab her shoulder and hang on to her. Thus did I succeed in dragging myself along until nightfall, until we reached the next resting place in a stable. Thus did she, Ella, a Czech girl, save me from certain death.

There, in the darkness of the stable, I met a girl from Łódź named Rozhka, who was quite exhausted and resigned. I called to her, and lay near her to warm her up. After that, when the S.S. men dragged out those who were half dead and weakened, I heard shots from the outside. Later, I found out that all of those who were dragged out of the stable had been shot.

The march set out again at dawn. Rozhka two or three other women and I felt that we could not continue on with the march, so we snuck into a corner of the hazardous stable. With fear of death, we heard how an S.S. man searched for those who remained behind. We lay there as corpses.

The day passed in silence, but we could not move from the place.

The next day, Germans entered again. However, this time, they found us with the light of their lanterns. To our good fortune, they were not S.S. men, but rather soldiers from a Wehrmacht division who were retreating from the front. To their questions about who we were and who were the corpses behind the table, we answered that we know nothing about the dead, and that we had just come from a far–away village to seek food. The soldiers then quickly brought us food.

After they marched on, we looked around and saw an abandoned house not far from us, without windows or doors. With the hope that we could perhaps find something there with which to warm ourselves up, we dragged ourselves over there on our hands and feet.

After having unbelievable and miraculous encounters with retreating German soldiers in that hovel, one early morning we heard the detonation of bombardments, and we understood that the front was approaching.

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A new time of fear fell upon us. Now, as the liberation approached, we might be killed by Russian bullets. We found a small cellar in the house, and went down as we heard the bombs and grenades fall closer and closer.

Suddenly, everyone shuddered – a bomb fell into the house. We felt that we were at the end of our lives.

I do not know for how long we remained in shock. It seemed like the hours stretched for an entire night. Then, a group of Russian soldiers found us while searching for hiding Germans. They took us out of the cellar, barely alive.

Then, a curious event took place with us. Together with us there was a Polish Christian, who, like we did, found temporary refuge in the abandoned house. The oldest of the soldiers, a Tatar, who continuously looked at us with suspicion, thought that we were disguised German spies. We began to explain, but it did not help. He led us to a room, and put us in front of the major. The Christian declared in broken Russian that he was a Pole, but that the others are Jews whom he found in an abandoned house.

“What?!” says the major, to our great amazement in Yiddish, “You are Jewish children? From where do you come?”

“We come from all the death camps,” we responded, “Where are we?”

“You do not need to be afraid anymore,” he calmed us, “you are now free people. Nu, nu, I will look after you – – –.”

They took us aboard one of the loaded ammunition trucks and immediately drove us away from the front. Then, we arrived at a second military division, which also received us in a friendly fashion and once again sent us to another division, where the officer, also a Jew, permitted us to travel to Łódź, which had already been liberated a few days earlier.

*

Neither Rozhka or I found any surviving members of our family. Our homes had been taken over by Poles. There was no place for us there. I told Rozhka, “Come, stay with me. We have gone through so many experiences together. We also can live together. I am traveling

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back to Zgierz. There I left my home and dwelling, and there I will wait for Mendele. He will certainly come home soon together with those being repatriated from Russia. They will receive me better in Zgierz.”

Rozhka remained with me for many years, and we also made aliya together in Israel. I no longer expected Mendel. Fate destroyed my hopes and plans.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Siberia back
  2. See https://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/communities/balti/mein_shtetle_belz.asp and listen to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YU4oNZVqcaE . There is a debate as to which town this song refers, Belz Poland, or Bălŧi (Belts) Moldova. back
  3. Stutthof is now the city of Sztutowo, Poland, on the Gulf of Danzig. There is indeed documentation of prisoners being drowned in the sea. back


During the Events of the Holocaust

by Fela Gotlieb–Rosenblatt

As we hear the voices of the neo–Nazis reaching us lately from time to time from “new” Germany, words that arouse in us both disgust and fear, and this is while some of the Holocaust survivors are still alive – I thought in my heart: Have I, as a brand plucked from the fire[1], have I fulfilled my duty to my conscience and to my nation without giving eyewitness testimony to what I endured in the death camps, and on the atrocities that I witnessed with my own eyes.

They say: better late than never. Therefore, I have decided to perpetuate, at least in this small chapter, that which took place to me during the terrible years of the war, to remember and remind about the events that should never be forgotten. This will also be a token of remembrance for my entire family who perished in the Holocaust. I, the sole survivor, regard it as a command from On High, to tell and perpetuate, so that the future generations will know.

*

From the beginning of 1940 until August 1944, we lived (if it is at all possible to include these years in the number of years that we have lived upon the earth), my mother, my brother Raphael Mendel and me, in in the Łódź Ghetto. My father, brothers and sister had been deported to Piotrków.

Toward morning on August 24, 1944, a date that will be etched in my memory forever, we were forcibly removed from our home by the Germans. We were taken to the Łódź railway station along with a large group of Jews. There, we were loaded onto the transport wagons that were meant for cattle, by force and accompanied by beatings. The Germans told us that we were traveling to Germany for work, that we will work, and that there will be no danger.

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Approximately one hundred people were crowded into a single wagon of the train. Already at this stage, men were separated from women, brothers from sisters, children from mothers. The wagons were locked from the outside, and we were left standing in terrible, cramped conditions, without air to breathe, and without water or food. A single bucket was placed in the wagon to serve as facilities for us all.

After hours of a suffocating journey, in hunger and thirst, having no choice, we pressed ourselves against the windows of the wagon with our last strength, and snatched a bit of the cold mist that accumulated on the windows in order to wet our lips and assuage our terrible thirst.

The train suddenly stopped after a journey of approximately 20 hours. The doors were opened, and the Nazis boarded the wagons and removed the people who had fainted or who had appeared weak. Then the doors were closed, and the train continued on its journey.

Toward morning of the next day, we arrived to what we later found out was the Auschwitz death camp. When we got off the trains, we saw a gigantic sign on the entry gate, greeting us with the motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” [Works Makes Free]. As we passed through the gate, we saw pillars of smoke ascending skyward.

A group of people with shaven heads and wearing stiped clothing greeted us. From mouth to ear, we heard the rumor that we had not been brought there to work, but rather to be killed. At this point, they also told us that there is no reason to take the small suitcase that we brought with us, for we would not need it.

We did not believe that our fate was sealed and that we were being taken to annihilation. We still had hope that they were talking about only hard labor and a prison camp. However, this hope disappeared immediately after that, when the Germans already separated the men from the women, and the youths from the adults, via the well–known selektion.

At that point, I was separated from my mother, who was taken to a different direction with hundreds of others. I neve saw her again after that. My brother was separated from me, and was taken with a group of men and children in a different direction. I never saw him again either.

Thus, in one moment, I lost my mother and brother, and I also lost my hope.

From the train station, we were taken by foot for a one hour walk to the area of the barracks. There, we were placed in rooms, with a group of five people to a room. As soon as we entered the rooms, we were ordered to strip naked, and the S.S. soldiers shaved all the hair from our bodies. When we went outside, we no longer recognized each other, for we all appeared as images from a different world.

It was now evening. After being without food or drink for two days, we were ordered to lie down on the ground naked. Thus did we lie all night.

In the morning, we were taken to the showers, from which ice–cold water flowed. Then, we received our torn rags as clothing.

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In the morning, we were divided into groups of about 50 people. We stood in a circle, with a pot of food in the center. Everyone was given a taste from the pot. The first ones burnt their mouths because the foul soup was scalding, and the latter ones, for whom there was nothing left, “dried” the pot with their fingers to obtain a few morsels.

After the “meal,” we were taken to the edge of the camp, where the crematoria stood. Two S.S. captains suddenly appeared and told us in German – today the ovens are not working, for a mishap had occurred. Then we were all returned to our barracks, where the S.S. commander, Frau Müller, waited for us. She stood on a chair in the middle of the room with a whip in her hands, and anyone approaching the chair got a whipping on all parts of the body, especially on the head. This is how things continued daily, for three weeks.

An additional torment that the Nazis enjoyed was to awaken the entire group at 3:00 a.m. to go to the washroom, which was actually an open field, and then to stand us in a silent formation. They then command us to shout, “The Jews wanted the war.” This repeated itself nightly.

After three weeks, without knowing why we “merited” to not be sent to extermination, they took us out of Auschwitz on trains and brought us to various labor camps in the vicinity of Hamburg: Altona, Sternschanze, Poppenbüttel, and others. We worked there for half a year in the railway station, in building houses, in the cement factory, and other such hard physical work. We remained in this camp until the liberation by the allies.

Life in the camp was unbearable. We were placed into groups of about 500 individuals, with men, women, children, sick people, and pregnant woman all in one room. There was no place to stand, and we could only sit if we put our legs on the shoulders of those sitting in front of us.

This is how we lived for three weeks. We received a portion of soup once a day, which had to be sufficient for the entire day.[2]

Thousands of people, who lost their human form (Muselmen[3]) slept in the camp yard. There were also many bodies. This is how we lived the entire time.

In the final week before the end of the war, the Germans shut off the water intake to the camp, and we were forced to drink sewage and effluent to prevent dehydration and remain alive.

During that time, we already felt that the end was approaching. The incessant bombing day and night was our sign of impending salvation. Indeed, after about a week of non–stop bombardment, the liberating soldiers burst into the camp and liberated us from the hell. Virtually all of us had lost our human form.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This phrase is from Zecharia 3:2 back
  2. I suspect this paragraph is in the wrong place, and belongs a few paragraphs above, just before the author left Auschwitz. back
  3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muselmann back


[Page 171]

People who Became “Muselmen”

by Zeev Fisher

During the first postwar years, we often heard from people who survived the death camps a strange expression to describe a certain state of the prisoners of those camps – including acquaintances and natives of our city – who were together with them for a period of time. For example, as a response to the question, “Did you not meet so–and–so when you were there?” one might get the response, “Indeed, I saw him toward the end. He was already a ‘Muselman.’” Muselman? What is this? However, from the expression on his face and the gesture of his hand, we knew that we should not ask more. During those days, we heard in this expression something strange, something mysterious, as if from another world, something frightening to the depths of the soul. No, we no longer know such evil, degrading, and disgraceful deathly torments, which are so ignominious and oppressive that they bring a human being to the threshold of loss of sense of self. This sometimes happened a long time before the person was taken to the gas chambers.

When I visited the Museum of the Ghetto Fighters[1] and chatted with the director of the museum Mr. Tzvi Shiner of blessed memory (incidentally, a descendant of Zgierz residents) on the topic of the “Muselman,” he pointed to a miniature statue and said, “Perhaps this small statue, the handiwork of the well–known sculptor Marek Szwarc (the son of Isucher Szwarc of blessed memory of Zgierz) will best explain to you the concept of “Muselman,” which you are interested in. I gazed at this small statue and was shaken by the expressive, frightening appearance of the image. Indeed, it no longer had any sign of the Divine image in which man was crated. Woe, how talented were those murderers in changing the human creation into a monstrous form from some sort of netherworld!

We found an extensive description, but moving to the point of pain, in the book “Stories of Hassidic Revelations” by Professor Fishel Schneerson, the well–known, famous psychologist of those days. Since the description is relevant to us, the generation of the Holocaust, and touches the depths of our hearts, I will bring here several paragraphs from the chapter, “Miracles with a ‘Muselman,’” to learn, teach, remember, and remind:

– – – “There is no doubt that people did not yet understand the essence, full of secrets, of those people who were called ‘Muselmen,’ who numbered in the thousands and myriads among the prisoners of the Nazi camps. Certainly, none like them were ever seen in all of human history. These are the people in the camps whose force of resistance had been broken due to the multitude of various torments. They turned into people not of this world. Anyone who never saw a Muselman, has never seen the all–encompassing suffering that crosses the final boundary and is beyond the ability of a human being to feel, and certainly to contend with, due to its great depth. At first glance, a Muselman looks like a person who has died before his soul has left him, or, on the contrary, whose soul has left him before he died. However, when one looks at him from up close, one notices that the suffering left a small drop of life in the person's precarious existence. Nevertheless, the hylic essence that takes hold of the body, so to speak, forges the Muselman into an image of

[Page 172]

suffering that an eye has never beholden – suffering that gathers and renews itself every moment. The Muselman is shockingly thin, without a grain of flesh on his body. His weight is the weight of his bones. He cannot eat and does not sense hunger, as if he is already beyond the tribulations of hunger. Nevertheless, this living skeleton walks and moves, holding in his hand one of the “portions” of bread that he does not want to eat, but also is unwilling to toss away. It is not to eat and not to toss! Life and death act here in a secret blend, with the stubbornness of the will to live blending in a wondrous manner with the stony indifference to death. When the Muselman swallows and ingests something, he immediately gets thinner – – and nevertheless, he goes about without groaning and without crying out, as he holds “his” “morsel” of bread in one hand, and wipes up the moisture and dirt with the other hand, without groaning and without crying out! The Muselman was already sanctified with his torments. He was completely simplistic in body, beyond suffering and hunger. – One needed to speak a few times to a Muselman, until the words would penetrate his mind that had become plastered. Even so, he looks around his surrounding with the eyes of a baby, full of otherworldly, covert simplicity. – – – Only the “portions” of bread that he holds spasmodically in his hands are the last, late, remnants of life on earth.” – – Then the day come when the camp doctor comes for an examination, as usual.

 

The wooden statue of Marek Szwarc – “The Muselman”

 

“The blocks close. The head of the block and house servants take their places with murderous wrath. The prisoners all stand naked. Every prisoner passes in front of the doctor, walking back

[Page 173]

and forth. The doctor immediately recognizes the Muselman, whose flesh cannot be found and is not seen on his body. – – The doctor simply gestures with his hand, and his scribes already know his intention. They would write down the numbers that were on the hands of the Muselmen, and gigantic transport vehicles would come after some time, call out the numbers, and the Muselmen from all the blocks would be hauled to the crematoria…”

I approached Aryeh ben–Menachem, a researcher of ghetto life (especially of the Łódź Ghetto) for information about the origin of the term “Muselman.” I asked him to explain the source and meaning of this strange expression. The response that I received is based on large–scale correspondence with famous agents in Israel and the Diaspora, who are involved with all aspects of the Holocaust that require special research. We include here a few paragraphs that relate directly to our topic:


Translator's Footnote

  1. https://museums.gov.il/en/museums/Pages/lohamei–hagetaot.aspx#:~:text=%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8BThe,the%20world's%20oldest%20Holocaust%20museum. back


About the Term “Muselman”
in the Nazi Concentration Camps

by Aryeh ben–Menachem

We will write about the origins origin of the term “Muselman.” It is a known fact that any new phenomenon, whether actual or abstract, requires a name or a nickname so that it can be told over to others. Therefore, the prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps had to invent an appropriate term for a phenomenon that was unknown to them before their arrival in the camp. They had to invent some sort of name for those prisoners passing before their eyes in a state of utter despair and lack of energy, who were still moving about, but without any purpose in their motions, suffering but not capable of reacting to their pain or suffering, indifferent to everything going on in their environment. This nickname had to be granted not by academics and experts of languages, but rather by the prisoners themselves who were witnesses to this, or by the S.S. men who were the cause of this situation.

Many theories were given after the war regarding the topic of the origin of the term “Muselman,” the actual meaning of which is nothing other than “Muslim” – i.e. a believer in the Islamic faith. According to the majority, this term was created as a reminiscence of the photographs that used to be published in the newspapers before the war of residents of India lying in the streets in a very lowly physical state, with definitive indifference. The simple folk thought that all residents of India were followers of the Islamic faith (in German, Muselmann). This was the source of the term in the concentration camps (but not in the ghettoes, where different terms were used, such as “klepsydra” in the Łódź Ghetto). The term “Muselman” apparently originated in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, though this has not been established with certainty.

[Page 174]

We must note that the expression “Muselman,” like all the other terms that we mentioned, was used against its bearers as a derogatory and mocking nickname. The S.S. men, as well as the various “service people” in the camp, used to arrange cruel “games” with the “Muselmen,” to denigrate them, to beat them, and even to kill those who could not get accustomed to the conditions in the camp, or who became abhorrent in their looks, behavior, or the odor that the exuded.

The “Przegląd Lekarski” monthly of the organization of Polish physicians conducted a broad inquiry on the topic of the phenomenon called “Muselman.” Summaries were published in booklet 23 / 1983. We will skip over the medical, social, psychological and other expressions here that the inquiry dealt with at length, and suffice ourselves with an excerpt from the description of the image of a “Muselman” as portrayed by combining the responses of the participants of the inquiry:

“The ‘Muselman’ is nothing other than a creature who was indifferent to what is going on in his surroundings, who functioned in a mechanical manner and attended to his needs in that fashion. His steps were weak. He did not lift up his feet as he walked, and tended to raise his elbows to balance his weight. He would sleep in a curled–up fashion, placing his blanket over his head. His voice was unnatural, trembling, and grating, and at times aggressive or wailing. His speech was slow and incomprehensible. His skin was covered with wounds, sores, and signs of lice bites and scratches, exuding pus and a foul odor. His head was covered with a cap falling over his wide–open eyes, peering as if looking backward. His skull was large and swollen, and his bones protruded. He would wear rags, and would sometimes enwrap himself with torn paper bandages, soaked with blood and pus. Hid would not react to what was transpiring around him, neither to the shouts of the S.S. men nor to the beatings and kicks that he endured. He was more reminiscent of a sick beast than a human being.”

A separate chapter is dedicated to the relationship of “Muselmen” with each other, between them and other prisoners in the camp, and between them and the guards from the ranks of the S.S. All this is in addition to the view of many others regarding the topic. Here is not the place to give over the details.

Indeed, we can regard the phenomenon of a “Muselman” as the destruction of all humanity within the human being, but also as an instance of sublime heights, unique in its kind despite it being the most outrageous in the annals of interpersonal relationships. In his deterioration, the “Muselman” reached a state of complete equanimity of the soul, and therefore also – at the end of the matter – of superiority toward his murderers, as he became independent of their criminal will and everything going on around him. Thus, he reached a state of freedom and decisive calm, in contrast to his fellow prisoners, and certainly in contrast to his German murderers.

Nissan 5744. April 1944.


[Page 175]

From the Vale of Weeping
Impressions of a tour of destroyed Poland after the Holocaust

Published by the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society] of Tel Aviv – Jaffa

by Rabbi Binyamin Sczaranski

Rabbi Binyamin Sczaranski, may he live long, the son of Rabbi Meir Sczaranski of blessed memory (see Book of Zgierz, pp. 500–501) was one of the members of the official delegation of Israel who went to visit the memorial places in Poland on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The impressions of this tour were published in a special anthology entitled “From the Vale of Weeping” published by the Chevra Kadisha of Tel Aviv – Jaffa.

With the permission of the rabbi, we bring here a few sections of his impressions of his tour of post–Holocaust Poland.

 

The Great Outcry from the Vale of Weeping

“Throughout the years, I felt in my heart a strong pull to see Poland. I longed to visit the country which I left when I was one year old… Even so, it was part of my essence. I was bound to it with the latent bonds through which every person is bound to his ancestors whom he never knew personally.”

He gave over and related his difficult experiences when he visited the death camps and also several cities in which large communities, important to Polish Jewry, were once concentrated; as well as small towns that are etched in the hearts of myriads of Jews with holy memories. These places stand desolate and empty of Jews. He then turns with a heartrending call to the entire Jewish world to remember, to remember forever!

 

Remember, Remember Forever!

Today, after my visit to Poland, I live with a strange sensation that many generations separate us from the generation of the destruction. The Jews of the eve of the destruction and the Jews of our day are so different from each other that fear takes hold in the heart and thoughts lest we soon cease believing in our past… The memory of Polish Jewry weakens and becomes cloudy. This Jewry, from which we live to this day – no longer has an influence on our mindset. The sole things that bind us to it are the stories and legends, as if all this was from the distant past that has disappeared, a golden dream that once was and is no more. The new generation indeed has frightful words: destruction, six million, death camps, ovens, crematoria, gas chambers. I am wary of asking aloud whether there are not other words from Jewish history that serve as descriptions for the crusades, pogroms, inquisition cellars, and blood libels? I am not able to quiet within me the question that torments me: From the brutal bosom of this world, is there not in our memory

[Page 176]

some element of cynicism and perniciousness, through which this Jewish world was erased from the face of the earth? Through our forgetting, have we not fulfilled in some strange way the goals of the wild murderers?

There is nobody who can contradict the fact that the decline in the traditional spiritual level of our generation is a direct result of the Nazi destruction, which threw Jewry into a state of definitive chaos. This destruction left its wake a terrible vacuum, from which arose perverse concepts and distorted ideas regarding life, a shallow secular life with all that we lost being covered over by a dangerous and perverse chase after the vicissitudes of times. Suddenly we all found ourselves hanging over the frightful waves of the stormy ocean of internecine hatred. We were like orphans, and it does not seem that our outlook today is a part of the terrible destruction. The eyes does not tear up and the heart does not burst when hearing the random number – 6,000,000. And who knows, may G–d protect and save us – whether the Holocaust will not rest on the recesses of history, feeding chairpersons and committees, serving as material for texts and mourning ceremonies, marked by the lowering of the flag and wreaths of black flowers…

The thousand–year–old Polish Jewry has been wiped off the face of the earth, and with it has disappeared a thousand years of the spirit. Only isolated survivors remain from the golden age of Torah, wisdom, Hassidism, and morality. Even the characteristic Jew, the modest, upright Jew, one of the “People of Israel” can barely be found anymore. The myriads who gave up their souls while reciting Shema Yisrael have left only one command to future generations, sealed in blood: to cleave to the faith of Israel and its holy Torah, the eternal heritage of the Jew.

Approximately 3.5 million Jews were murdered in Poland alone. After such a terrible destruction, the march of life of humanity did not stop. We all continue to live our lives through their daily course, immersed in personal forgetfulness, given over to the illusions that the excesses of the latter half of the 20th century has imparted to us. Even those who survived of Polish Jewry, and were miraculously saved from the destruction, have joined the march of life in a natural manner, with the stormy and exciting realities, which cause the past to be forgotten, and cover the memory of our dear martyrs, may G–d avenge their deaths, with a mantle of materialism. All of us “move to the daily grind” and the blurry shadow of the destruction recedes to the recesses of our lives.

Jewish brethren! Rise up and do everything that we did not know how to do so that forgetfulness does not place dust over this most terrible chapter of the annals of our nation, so that the memory of the Nazi Amalek will not depart from our midst! Rise up and let us gather all the material in writing and through word of mouth that relates to Jewish life in Poland before the destruction and during the destruction. Let us rummage through the sources, search for documents, expose forgotten letters and abandoned pages, and inscribe in the hearts of all the coming generations that which the Nazi beast perpetrated upon us, so that our children will remember until the end of all generations. Our daughters will tell their children, and it will never be forgotten. A holy duty rests upon all of us to multiply the descriptions and stories of the Jews of pre–war Poland, so that their shining images will stand before our eyes, illuminating our paths of life before us, and strengthening our hearts in all the trials, so that we will cleave to the Torah forever.


[Page 177]

Elegy for Jewish Towns

by Antoni Słonimski[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

There are no more Jewish shtetls in Poland. The
Hrubieszóws, Kurczowas, and Połaniecs have disappeared:
One no longer sees the candles burning in the windows.
One no longer hears the singing from the wooden synagogue.

Gone – the last ones with Jewish garb. Covered
With sand is the blood, the vestiges, and the blackness of the conflagration;
The walls and the floors have been whitened and cleaned with lime,
As if it was for a holiday, or – because of an epidemic.

A strange, cold, pale moon lights up –
When everything from the night attacks from behind the shtetls.
And they, the poetic Jewish children – they will
Never see the two moons of Chagall[2].

They are already going, golden, over new planets –
Fugitives, dismal, disheveled, silent–heavy.
The shoemakers who were poets are no longer here,
The troubadours among the barbers are no longer here.

The shtetls where the Biblical songs once were are no longer here
They have united with Polish songs and with Slavic sadness,
Where Jews, in the shadows of the orchards – already old and worn out –
Used to weep for Jerusalem's sanctified walls.

 
Translated from Yiddish: Y. Papiernikow


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoni_S%C5%82onimski back
  2. The moon was a common theme in the paintings of Marc Chagall. back


[Page 178]

Our Way to the Land of Israel

by Fela Gotlieb (nee Rosenblatt)

In 1945, at the end of the war, I was brought to Sweden along with a group of survivors of the camps. I participated in meetings of the Jewish community while I was in Sweden. There, I first found out about the existence of an organization dealing with illegal immigration to the Land of Israel.

Despite the fact that I had a permit for entry to America, my entire will was to arrive in the Land of Israel after all the tribulations and suffering that I endured along the way.

We were about 500 girls in the aliya group, and it is superfluous to note that all the proceedings of the organization were conducted in secret, out of a concern lest the activities of the organization be revealed.

 

A group of Zgierzers in Cyprus, 1947–48

They came from various gathering places, including: Poland, Germany, Sweden, and Italy. They met in Cyprus, and remained there for 1 – 1 years.

Standing: P. Rozman, Y. Adler, R. Himel, P. Chaimowicz, Y. Wojonski, Y. Konski, A. Praszker, Ch. Wajonska. Sitting: Z. Kleinman, F. Rosenblatt, Kuza, Kuza, unknown.

 

In the month of January, a group set out from the shores of Sweden to the direction of the Land of Israel aboard the Chaim Arlozoroff ship[1]. When we arrived in Italy, a group of about 1,000 lads boarded the ship. Thus, we were a group of 1,500 people aboard a ship that was shaky in any case, and that had a capacity of about 700 people. The crowding

[Page 179]

was great, there were no sanitary conditions, but there was joy in the hearts of all of us because our journey was reaching its end.

The journey lasted for about six weeks. The name of the ship changed several times during the journey in order to escape the tracking of the British Army, which was searching for ships of immigrants.

When we arrived opposite Atlit[2], the ship was suddenly attacked by two destroyers of the British Army. The ship was forced to stop, and British soldiers boarded the ship to take us off. The soldiers met fierce resistance from our side, and in essence, a war of life or death took place. Our weapons were boxes of canned food, bottles, and any other object that we had with us. Against us were soldiers armed with weapons and tear gas. After a battle that lasted for hours, during which a number of soldiers were injured, the British overcame the resistance and removed us by force, placing us onto a British ship waiting alongside.

When we were placed on the ship, we mounted a hunger strike. Nothing helped, however, and after a short journey, we were brought to an unknown place. Later, we figured out that we were on the island of Cyprus.

From the coast, we were taken by trucks to a camp in an open area, surrounded by a barbed wire fence and guard towers manned by guards.

The scene that unfolded before us was like a continuation of the frightful scenes from the death camps. These were scenes that we thought we would never see again.

We were placed in a prison camp, with only the clothes on our back. The accommodations were in tents. The heat was unbearable during the day, and the cold was searing at night.

The relations of the British toward us were difficult, taking the form of oppression. Despite this and perhaps because of this, we all united without discrimination between country, origin, and sex in our opposition to this foreign, oppressive regime. In essence, an underground was formed in the camp.

One of the daring actions of this underground was digging a tunnel in broad daylight under the nose of the British. It led to the sea. Several people escaped through this tunnel. Their mission was to inform the Jewish institutions in the Land and throughout the world about our fate.

Slowly, we organized a community in the camp, and created the basic infrastructure of “normal” life. Everyone gave their part based on their profession and trade. Similarly, in order to preserve the high morale, and with the intention of irritating our oppressors, we would dance the Hora and sing Hebrew and Yiddish songs even at night. This aroused the ire of the British, but it continued on nevertheless.

After several months of imprisonment, a number of emissaries arrived from the Land. We also merited the investigation of Mrs. Golda Meir, which was a deep, emotional experience for all the residents of the camp.

[Page 180]

My uncle Yosef Gotshel from the Land of Israel was among the visitors who arrived in the camp after he found out that I had survived. He stayed in a hotel in Nicosia, and came to the camp daily with his hands full of packages of food. We divided them amongst ourselves. In addition to his donation, my uncle collected information, greetings, and hundreds of letters from the camp residents to give over to relatives in the Land.

Having no recourse, we had no choice other than to get accustomed to this “manner” of life, even though we never stopped awaiting the day of our liberation.

I was in the prison camp for 13 months, but it seemed to me like 13 years. After 13 months, the turn came for my group to be freed from the camp. When I was informed of this, I did not believe that the end of my journey that had begun ten years earlier was at hand. Even when I was already on the ship, I did not believe that the Land of Israel was in front of us.

Only when I disembarked from the ship with my friends on the coast of Atlit, and when I set foot on the soil of Israel and heard the Hebrew language around me, only then did I understand that my terrible journey had concluded.

 

Candle lighting during a memorial gathering of Zgierz natives in 1982

Standing (right to left): Pinchas Sirkis, Yosef Katz, Refael Katz, Zeev Fisher, Chaya Halperin, and Yisrael Malkieli

 

Translator's Footnotes

  1. See http://www.palyam.org/English/Hahapala/hf/hf_Arlozorov.pdf back
  2. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlit back


[Page 181]

Memorial

by Esther Krol–Jakubowicz

Another memorial for our native town of Zgierz
Another sad meeting in memory of our dear ones
The hall is almost half empty,
For many of us are no longer alive,
They have joined their martyred relatives,
And we are here with our memories
For those who once were and are no longer.

Darkness. All the lights have been turned off.
Only six candles are burning
As a sign for the six million
The melody of “Kel Malei Rachamim” weeps.

Images hover in the darkness –
Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters,
Children, relatives, neighbors, acquaintances,
Passing by in large numbers with closed eyes –

And blurry pictures of the city –
A Garden of Eden[1], with lilac and jasmine flowers
The pond, the forests around the city – –

The Kaddish prayer has concluded
Silence…
The lights are turned on again –
The images disappear

The images disappear – but not from our hearts
They will continue to accompany us until the end of our days –
Perplexed, wiping tears, clasping hands,
Exchanging a word and another word, or two – –
People bid goodbye – this one weeps and that one weeps,
Each one with the grief and pain in their hearts.

 
Tel Aviv, Tevet 5745 (1984 or 1985)


Translator's Footnote

  1. There is a footnote in the text here: “Garden of Eden” (lustgarten in Yiddish): That is how they used to call the garden, which was later called Park Sienkiewicza. back

 

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