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The Holocaust



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Translated by Ruth Yoseffa Erez

With awe and reverence, with a feeling of responsibility and with the knowledge of the task that I took upon myself, I approach the writing of this chapter. The most difficult chapter of my life, the last and final chapter in the life of the Jews in our town.

This is the story of twelve thousand Jews, the story of their suffering, their battle and their death in our town Brzezany, during the three years of the Nazi occupation.

Before I approach the Holocaust chapter I would like to answer in short words, to the extent that I can, the hurtful question: How did it happen?

It is a difficult question, it will take years and generations until the researchers and historians in the universities will answer the question upon checking and reading the documents: who is to blame?

Neither you nor I are entitled to set a verdict on everything that happened at that period.

As for me, I am standing here today as a witness representing the Jews who found their death in our town whether they were actually from our town or happened to arrive here as refugees and this is where they died. God forbid that I judge or blame anyone in my testimony, I am only a witness, not a judge and in this position as a witness I must tell the truth, all the truth and nothing but the truth.

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Time of Nazi rule

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Ruth Yoseffa Erez

Edited by Moshe Kutten and Jane S. Gabin

The Germans entered our town with lots of splendor and with great force.

First came the motorcyclists and then soldiers on buses and trucks, followed by artillery.

There was a short battle by Zlota Lypa Lake in which a few Germans were killed, and the Soviet army withdrew to the east. Throughout that day, the German troops passed by and surrounded a Soviet cavalry unit, preventing them from withdrawing.

On Wednesday, the battle started, and the German artillery corps was shooting all day long. They were shooting towards the Soviet army to weaken them till shortly before the evening.

Towards the night, the Germans prepared an ambush inside the town. They knew that the Soviets would try to break through and run away eastward. During the night, a harsh face-to-face battle took place in town, in which many Soviet cavalry soldiers were killed.

On Thursday morning, we woke up, and before our eyes was a terrible sight: the Jewish part of the city was destroyed. Many burnt houses and hundreds of dead were scattered around town, and next to them were the corpses of horses. And over all of it, blood stains, stains that were not erased for a long time, until the rain washed them away.

People, most of whom were women and children, were running among the dead, and each had essential matters to take care of - to look for food, get water, and find a relative or child that went missing. Some were trying to leave town, to flee before it was too late, before the sun rose and woke everyone.

The German town officer assigned a temporary Ukrainian body to govern the town. They received an order from the German officer to remove the dead and horses' corpses in one day. Of course, they took the Jews for this job. On top of this hard work, there were curses and whipping. The day claimed three more victims: just before evening, a German officer caught three Jews among the workers, whom he did not like for some reason. He made them enter the “Ritchula” by the public garden, and then he took out his gun and shot them. One of them was Chaim David Liblin, son of Idly (Idaly) “Kozovar,” the second was Booksbaum, and the third a Jew from western Galicia. This event shocked all of us but also made everyone work faster, and by evening, they finished the job.

The news about the three dead Jews spread throughout the city, but our troubles were huge.

Even though the people received this news with bitter disappointment at that time, they did think that it was a sign of what was to come, of what would be done later on a much larger scale.

To the Ukrainians who helped the Germans watch over the Jews, this incident of killing Jews gave confidence and encouragement with the passion to make the lives of the Jews miserable. They saw that Jewish lives were meaningless, and they could be treated with no inhibitions and no mercy.

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Blood Libel

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

A rumor was spread, as early as Friday, that twelve prisoners died in a closed cell in one of the jail's sections. A credible eyewitness, Dr. Bilinski, the head of the hospital, was called to the prison to determine the cause of death. He stated that the prisoners choked to death due to lack of air. We did not know, at the time, that the Ukrainians spread a rumor that the Jews were the ones who killed the prisoners and that the Jews were responsible for this scoundrel act.

The Sabbath passed in a relative quiet, but we felt disquiet in the air. We felt that something was approaching. On Sunday, the Ukrainian militia captured people – men and women, led them to the Christian cemetery, and told them to dig graves for the dead. Those people did not know that they were digging graves for themselves. When the digging ended, the Ukrainians pounced on the Jews. Some managed to escape, but the others were cruelly murdered with axes and hoes.

In the meantime, the neighboring villagers came in masses (it was Sunday) to pray at the city's churches. We did not know, and it did not occur to us, that they brought axes and knives with them, aiming to rob and murder. At the church, they received encouragement from their leaders during the prayer. The leaders repeated the libel rumor that the Jews had killed about thirty-nine Christians in the jail before the Soviets left the city.

The villagers dispersed through the entire city, and before we could comprehend what was going on, they cruelly murdered and injured hundreds of Jews. The Germans helped them in the slaughter or just stood by and looked. It was a pogrom like the ones during the days of Khmelnitsky and Petliura – the mob killed and robbed without any intervention. Hundreds of Jews lost their lives and thousands their property. Among those whom I remember - Wandermere Dzionek and the old Podoshen and his son. Many of the murders occurred in the city's suburbs while robbing and looting increased in the city center. Perhaps the fact that the [German military] city officer and many Germans were in the center affected the villagers, who were satisfied with only robbing there.

Most of the villagers left in the evening, taking with them the loot, while some of them remained in to complete the “job.” They also buried the victims' bodies in the city park to cover their crimes.

Several weeks later, our people from the “Khevera Kadishe” [burial society], headed by Ginsberg, transferred two mass graves of about 250 bodies in the city park to our cemetery, except those who were buried at the Christian cemetery.

On Monday morning, the Jews were again reeling after the pogrom. The difference was that this time, the number of victims was more numerous than in the years past. In the morning, Dr. Klarer, the head of the community council elected before the war, with six other people, turned to the city's interim Ukrainian council and the German military officer to ask for help. In those days, there were still some people among the Ukrainian intelligentsia who were ashamed of what happened and objected to those barbaric views. The council promised to sway the masses not to repeat that barbarian action. The city officer also promised to impose order in the city.

And the following is what the German order meant: Decrees against the Jews!

  1. Night curfew only on the Jews. They should close all homes where Jews reside and should not leave the house after that hour.
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  1. Every Jew had to wear a blue Star of David on a piece of fabric, twelve centimeters wide, on the right sleeve. It was seemingly a harmless decree. After all, the blue Star of David was not a derogatory symbol for a Jew. However, it was much more than a symbol. It was like an identification symbol, for people to recognize a Jew from afar that the Jew was outside of the law and therefore condemned to die. It was allowed to shoot a Jew on the spot without standing trial for that. From that day on, the identification symbol would accompany the Jew everywhere, on the street or at home.
  2. A Jew could not leave the city without a special permit.
  3. It was forbidden for a Jew to communicate freely with the wide world.

Some other decrees hurt less but limited personal freedom.

After the pogrom, emotions calmed down, and life returned slowly to “normal.” We faced two crucial and urgent problems that required an immediate solution: easing the hunger in the city and finding work. During the first few weeks, the authorities were at the hands of the German city officer and his Ukrainian assistants - an interim council and a militia. They did not have knowledge or experience about management. They blocked all the roads into the city, and every villager had to undergo a thorough examination to prevent getting food and agricultural products into the city. Initially, the villagers themselves did not want to sell their produce to Jews. First because of their tremendous hatred toward the Jews, but also because the Soviet currency lost its value when the regime changed from the Soviets to Germans. However, over time, they began to experience a shortage of products that they could not get in the village, and they began to barter with the Jews.

The members of the Ukrainian council objected to that arrangement for their own reasons. Before the breakout of the war between Germany and Poland, the Germans promised the Ukrainians that they would recognize eastern Galitsia as an independent Ukrainian state. That would allow them to confiscate the Jewish property. They would become the owners of the produce of the villages, and by that, they would solve all these problems. They experienced great disappointment when six weeks after the breakout of the war, Berlin announced the annexation of Eastern Galitsia as a province of the [Poland's General] Government. A substantial part of the Ukrainian nationalists turned their back on the Germans but some remained loyal to the Germans for their own personal reasons – hoping to gain by doing that.

The relations between the villages and the city changed then. The farmers decided to take advantage of the food shortage in the city and demand valuables they had not dreamt about before for their produce, which was meager. The Jews did not have any other choice but to give anything for a piece of bread to sustain the body and soul. At the same time, the farmers also suffered from a shortage of food since the Soviets, before leaving the area, confiscated most of the crops, and the Germans that replaced them confiscated what remained of the crops. The hunger in the city grew day by day.

The second problem was work. The Germans demanded to provide people daily for various jobs, some hard jobs and others light, some in the town and others outside the city. However, besides fear and flogging, the workers have not received any material compensation for their efforts. The Jewish community council provided work that “paid” a single loaf of bread for a day's work. It was temporary work like fixing the railroad, working at the train station, fixing bridges, sanitation work for the Germans, transporting, unloading, and so forth. The community was obligated to provide

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suitable people to work according to their demands, even in the middle of the day. People sat by the community council office during the day and waited. All of that for a single loaf of bread.

There was another reason. We learned from the Soviets to stick to a permanent job for many reasons. Wages, even meager, allowed one to make a living, a job granted a work certificate (very important), and the main reason that there was an employer who could defend you. He would ensure that you would not be taken for another job in another location. All of these were good reasons during peacetime and all the more so at war with the German rule. However, most jobs were temporary for no [or little] wages.

The community office on Tranopolska, at the home of Dr. Vilner, was the address used by the Germans and the Ukrainians, whether it was a demand for people to do work, professional artisans, valuables, furniture, or just a dispatch. The community had to fulfill all requests on the same day and as fast as possible, otherwise, the Germans would have handled it themselves, aided by the Ukrainian militia, and would add flogging and cause enormous damages. Obviously, the Jews, for lack of any other choice, fulfilled every demand so that German intervention was not required. In the beginning, the requests were modest but they grew in quantity and “quality” from one day to another as the appetite grew with time.

The community received a certain amount of bread daily, and Dr. Klarer himself distributed the bread among the people who worked that day. As aforementioned, there were all sorts of jobs within the community itself and outside of it. Many people asked to work to earn the loaf of bread.

The health situation of the Jews in the city was dire. There were hundreds of wounded people from as long as since the [German] bombing. The pogrom resulted in additional injured people. The municipal hospital did not admit them, as it was full of non-Jewish patients. Dr. Felk and I [Dr. E. Shaklai] turned to the head of the community and asked him to allow the opening of a Jewish hospital and clinic near the [municipal] hospital. We took it upon ourselves to supply the tools. We only requested assistance in providing us with the place, manpower, and, as much as possible, food for the patients. We opened a hospital and clinic in the Community House (National House). Hundreds of people received treatment free of charge. One of Dr. Klarer's daughters served as the head nurse.

With the approval of the German city officer, the hospital was approved as such for the Jewish population. In those days, only a few cases of contagious diseases were discovered. We anticipated that there would be harsh epidemics due to the severe hunger and overcrowding. We fought every case but did not succeed in stopping the spread. Epidemics occurred and spread among the Gentiles too, but more intensely among the Jews. The epidemics and hunger assisted the Germans, in a major way, in annihilating the Jews in the ghetto and later in the forests.

The situation described above, lasted about six weeks, with a few small surprises. We did not have a ruler. There was nobody to turn to, neither about the issue of regular places of work nor about matters related to daily life. Everything was temporary. People hoped that a civil German rule would bring relief and normalization to our lives. The change indeed came, but not in our favor. The temporary administration of the city officer and Ukrainian council transferred into the hands of civil Germans under the supervision of the Gestapo.

Galitsia became a province, part of the [Poland's General] Government, headed by [Hans] Frank[1]. Galitsia's governor resided in Krakow. The province was divided into districts.

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In the east Galitsia, there were three districts: The districts of Lvov [Lviv], Stanisławów [today Ivano- Frankivsk], and Tarnopol [Ternopil], every one of them with its own Landeshauptmann [district governor]. Every city was an administrative unit called Kreis headed by its own Kreishauptmann [city manager]. Kreis Brzezany was in the Ternopil district, and our Kreishauptmann was Asbach, and his deputy was Krieger. They were aided by the Zonderdinst [selected service militia] headed by Hazeh. That was a civil administration, but they were, like all other civil administrations in occupied Poland, under the supervision of the Gestapo. Our Gestapo unit was stationed in Ternopil, but they visited us frequently. The Gestapo supervisor of our city was Hermann. He was assisted by others. One of the assistants was Huber!

The “Zonderdinst” was responsible for the security of the city and its surroundings. The offices of the “Kreishaumptmannshaft” were located in the high school building. Departments for work, economy, health, water, electricity, and others operated in these offices. The Jews did not have any access to these offices. They were outside of the law. Initially, the Kreishauptmann chose to reside in Rohatyn since our city was in ruins. However, two weeks later, he decided to move to our city.

He dreamt of building a city for himself and according to his style in Brzezany – with Jewish work and money. Immediately upon his arrival, he ordered Dr. Klarer to appear before him and bring with him twenty-three additional people at five o'clock in the afternoon in the “Starostvo” [county administration] opposite the savings bank. I was among those twenty-three people. They notified me about half an hour before the meeting. When I refused to go, they sent me Dr. Pomerantz with an urgent order from the Gestapo, and we both arrived at the last moment. However, only twenty-two people showed up because Ya'akov Mitelman and Fas did not come. The Kreishauptmann demanded to apprehend and bring them over. All the excuses raised by Dr. Klarer to justify their absence were in vain.

I will never forget that meeting. Twenty-two distinguished Jews stood in a row . A fat and tall German in uniform sat before us, holding a “Ritpitche [?].” Kreishauptmann Asbach sat aside, with several Germans. Dr. Klarer introduced everyone with their name and profession. The Germans were not satisfied with the composition of the group targeted to become the “Judenrat.” They thought that there were too many intelligent people in the group. Following a short speech filled with animosity and contempt, the Germans notified us that we were appointed to be the “Judenrat” who would be responsible collectively for the Jewish population toward the German authorities. Dr. Klarer was nominated to be the “Obmann” [chairman], with Ross as his deputy. They meant to say that for the action of a single Jew, the whole Jewish population, or a large portion of it, would be punished. A death sentence would be imposed for every deviation from the rules or resistance to fulfill orders from above. Upon finishing his speech, we were ordered to disperse. Only the “Obmann” and his deputy remained.

Everyone came from the meeting depressed. We went there free men and came out the prisoners of the Gestapo. The following people were nominated to the “Judenrat”: Dr. Shmuel Klarer, Israel Ross, Isar Shomer, Leizer Bernstein, Shimshon Fogelman, David-Meir Ginsberg, Freier, Dr. Bernard Felk, Dr. Philip Pomerantz, Dr. Shtark, Dr. Eliezer Vagshall, Dr. Grossman, Dr. Finkelstein, Magister Trauner, Magister Laber, teacher D. Horowitz, Ya'akov Mitelman, Feier, Benajmin Mitelman, Ludmerer, photographer Koren, lawyer David Somer, Israel Fas, and Simkha Shekhter.

We came out of there like we were sentenced to death. We did not talk to each other. I could not fall asleep that night, and I am sure that none of the others could either.

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Our people did neither elect us nor agreed to the “Judenrat.” It was ordered from above, and the selection was done based on Dr. Klarer and Ross. In those days, we did not know what was the “Judenrat,” nor its power or ability.

Translator's Note:

  1. “Hans Michael Frank was a German politician, war criminal and lawyer who served as head of the General Government in Nazi-occupied Poland during the Second World War… After the war, Frank was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials. He was sentenced to death and executed by hanging in October 1946. From Wikipedia. Return

The “Judenrat

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

The people on the street received the nomination with mixed feelings. Some people said that finally, there is somebody to turn to – dignified people, serious and clever, and therefore one can rely on them. “In these conditions”, thought these people, “we can not afford lawlessness”. In these conditions, we need strong people who would know to divide the burden among the entire population, everyone according to their abilities - one person would be dealing with finances, the other working, etc. The main thing is to pass the war period, and a solution would present itself. On the other side, there were people on the Judenrat who were not suited to the role assigned to them, and the people did not elect them! We did not know then that the “Final Solution” was prepared for us and that everything the Germans did was to confuse us and use our energy to help them execute their plot until the bitter end.

We, the Judenrat people, divided among ourselves the handling of the Jewish population in the city; we had to take care of housing, economy, labor, health, law, security, and representation toward the outside. We did not know then that the relationship between the Judenrat and the Germans is one directional – orders from the top and nothing else. The people of the Judenrat had good thoughts and plans if only they had let us live. The Jews looked at the Judenrat as a scapegoat. They hoped that it would save them from being hit and tortured and that any request [by the Germans] could be divided among the entire Jewish population and fulfilled without the need for evasion. After all, the people in the Judenrat were Jews! In that way, it would be easier for the population as a whole to withstand the German requests. But that was not what happened. As we got into the messy mud, we all drowned in it – the Judenrat up front and the rest of the Jewish population followed it, and we could not get out of it. We only had one choice – fulfill the German requests or sacrifice ourselves to save others! Some sacrificed themselves! May their memory be blessed!

I once asked the Obmann:” Who gave you the permission to decide upon people's lives – some to live and others to die?”.

He answered me:” You are a physician. If you have the following dilemma: cut off a healthy part of the body, a whole healthy organ, to save a person's life knowing well that the organ is healthy! Would you do it or not? There is still hope that in this way, we would be able to save some of our people, and therefore, we need to decide. What is the preferred way to proceed?”

In those days, it was difficult to say who was right. Only later on we saw that everything was lost beforehand. We could not have saved anybody from the Gestapo's claws. We could only try the unknown to satisfy our conscience. We tried! In any case, there was nothing to lose. Faith solved the irritating problem and judged the “senders” and those who were sent. Everybody went on the same road.

We needed money, a lot of it, to satisfy the appetite of every German, whether it was the Kreishauptmann, his deputy, Zonderdinst, or the Gestapo's gendarme. We even have to pay hush money to the Ukrainian militia, hoping to avoid the malice of decrees. That continued to the end. We should not forget that a substantial part of the Judenrat people were executed by the Germans for not fulfilling their demands.

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We held a meeting a day after the meeting with the Kreishauptmann. Dr. Klarer notified us about the demand for a “contribution” of eight hundred thousand Zlotys that needed to be paid in two installments. We heard about such “contributions” from other cities. It was, therefore, not new but was very difficult to collect. We divided our work amongst ourselves. Part of the Judenrat divided the amount among individuals as they saw fit. Others went around to collect the money. Even though the amount seemed fantastic to us, we managed to collect the required amount. Some Jews fainted when they heard the sum each one of them would have to pay, but they paid because there was no other choice. We deposited the required amount in the Kreishauptmann account on time. However, that was just the beginning. There were additional equally crucial requirements. For example, there was a requirement to furnish the apartments and offices of the Germans who came to reside in our city. The Germans did not just want whatever came by chance. They wanted to select, and if they did not find what they were looking for, they ordered it, and we had to pay for it. It was not possible to refuse to fulfill their requests.

The Judenrat became the “great supplier”. We supplied people to work, professionals, furniture, and various objects, including bedpans, and everything was provided according to the specified measures and the specific instructions. That was how we spent a few more weeks. Rosh Hashana arrived. People gathered in private apartments to pray, to “cry their hearts out” before the creator, and to ask for mercy and salvation. During the same time, our [bitter] fate had been already inscribed, and it was even sealed: “Who is in the water and who by fire, and who in the plague and who in suffocation[1].” Eight additional days passed.

An order from the Kreishauptmann arrived at the Judenrat on the evening before Yom Kippur, 9 Tishrei, 5702 [30 September 1941]. The order stated that every Jew between the ages of 20 – and 55, led by the Judenrat, must appear, on the following day (Yom Kippur 10.1.1941), at the yard by the barrack at 10 am. The declared purpose of the gathering - registration. The notice was hung at the entrance and the window of the Judenrat's office.

The bad news spread among the Jews in a flash. Questions sprouted immediately: “Why on Yom Kippur? Why on that particular hour? Why the yard by the barrack? What was behind this order”? We felt that something awful was prepared for us; otherwise, why tomorrow? What was the rash?… Who was the wise person to know and could answer whether we should go or not? Who should we ask, and who will answer?…

The Judenrat representative tried to inquire about the order. He went to the Kreishauptmann to ask him a few questions - what should people who had registered to work tomorrow at 7 am do? What should the physicians who work at the hospital tomorrow do? There was a of work at the hospital as there were many sick and injured people. The Kreishauptmann freed the physician from duty and ordered the Jews who had to go to work to appear at the “People House” where they would be registered. Except for that response, the representative was not told any information - not even a hint.

Restlessness gripped us. People turned around aimlessly. The faces of everyone were gloomy. Everyone was pondering whether to go or not to go. What would tomorrow bring? Time crawled slowly, and the minutes were long. But life was running away, and you did not know how to hold on to them!

I did not know how many people prayed Minkha [afternoon prayer or tasted from the meal before the fast. We gathered slowly, with broken hearts, in our apartment for the “Kol Nidrei” [literally “All Vows – the prayer before Minkha on the evening before Yom Kippur]. We closed all the windows and sealed them to avoid the escape of any light or sound. We lit Neshama [memory] candles and put them in the corner, covered ourselves with Talits, opened the ark where the Torah scroll hid, and my father opened with the “Al Da'at HaMkom” [”With the consent of the Almighty”], and “Kol Nidrei” prayer

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That was not the first time I heard that prayer, but the prayer sounded different that time. It was an appeal and plea to the King of the Universe, a prayer coming out from the depths of our hearts. We were sure the petition would go straight to the throne, shake worlds, and argue with the Creator, the Lord: “Please do not leave us, send salvation to your persecuted people, and stand by us in our time of need! … etc…, etc…

We completed the prayer but did not finish to pray. Most of the people in the room remained covered with their Talits. Silence prevailed. Everyone continued to murmur a prayer - asking to be saved from the enemy. Suddenly, a horrifying voice- a cry, fragmented words, broke the silence: “Oy… Oy…” and the cry hushed, continued for a few more seconds, and stopped. I lifted my head – silence, not even a quiver in the room. I felt that I was among the dead. I saw the whiteness of the Talits standing motionless, in rows after rows, in a semi-dark room… the candles burn in a dark and monochromatic light. Suddenly, the flame of the candles rose, the light increased, the wax melted again, and then the flame decreased and faded. There was another effort to grow the flame, but the candles couldn't do it anymore, and they were dying.

“They are dying!” – I wanted to scream, but the words remained hanging in the air. They were left hanging and etched within me. I still remember that day. I still carry that picture, with the dying candles, in my heart. I only do not remember how long we remained in that state - minutes or hours.

The night ended. People gathered for the Shakahrit [morning] prayer at 5 o'clock in the morning. The prayers progressed slowly. After last night, we no longer had the strength to cry. We waited for the sentence with mixed feelings of hopelessness and hope.

At nine o'clock the prayer ended. We removed the Talits, and one after the other left the apartment without saying anything. For many, that was the last confession – and the last way – their candles extinguished. I headed toward the Judenrat office. I found out that the Germans visited the people that went to work. The Germans asked everyone for their profession and sent them to work. The Judenrat people and all its officials were ready. The Obmann asked teacher Horowitz and me to stay at the office. The Obmann promised to remain connected and notify us as soon as possible about the happenings. They all went out and we two stayed behind. We kept quiet, but my heart was beating hard, and I tried to control myself and my nerves. I stood by the open window and waited for the news! The long minutes continued…

At 10:15 am, the first people arrived from the barrack carrying the news. The Germans came at 10 am holding machine guns. They surrounded the yard, and one of them began the registration. He positioned the Judenrat and its officials separately from the crowd. They also separated people from various professions, teachers, merchants, and Hasidim. After the separation, they ordered the professionals to return to their work and the Judenrat to leave the yard. They taxed the Judenrat by calming the people and ensuring order and peace. The Germans organized the people who remained in the yard in rows, four people to a row, and moved them toward the jail under strict guard.

Panics befell the city. Women and children began to scream and cry, and then the Gendarme appeared in the streets and dispersed the crowd by shooting in the air. The people retreated and dispersed. When I saw the Gendarme members approaching, I escaped through the back door. I ran around the city and arrived at our house. When I opened the gate, I saw a German holding a gun aimed at me, standing about 10 meters away.

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I managed to throw myself on the ground before a burst of bullets passed above my head. I ran to a cellar in another street and hid there until the storm blew over. At the same time, my father and my wife stood by the window and waited for me. They saw me opening the gate and thought that I entered the yard. At the same moment, they heard a burst of gunshots. After a few minutes passed, and I did not enter the house, they were sure that I was killed. My wife began to cry and scream. My father turned to her and said: “My daughter, you should overcome your sorrow. That would be the fate of all the Jews. Please accept that sentence honorably. Be Strong! You are not the only one! When the noise outside subsided, I returned home. I was dazed and shocked by what happened. My father scolded me – “my son, be strong, don't be discouraged! You have to be resolute and calm in all conditions and situations.” He took the Makhzor [Jewish prayer book] and continued his praying, secluding himself with the Creator. We did not hear a single additional word from him until the evening.

I returned to the Judenrat. We gathered, debated, and finally decided to ask for a meeting with the Kreishauptmann. The latter agreed to see Dr. Klarer and [his deputy] Ross. After the meeting, which lasted an hour, they returned and said that the Kreishauptmann demanded 5 kg. gold in exchange for the release of the people. In the morning, women, not necessarily from the Judenrat, went from house to house, collected gold pieces of jewelry, and brought them to Dr. Klarer. Our two messengers, Dr. Klarer and Ross, gave the entire collection to the Kreishauptmann. The day was Thursday. On the same morning, before the Kreishauptmann received the gold, Hazeh from the Zonderdinst released five people, among them the two sons of Fenster. Altogether, the number of people who were taken to jail reached 600-650 people.

On Friday morning, at 9 am, the Germans blocked the street leading to the jail. They took out the people and led them in trucks in the direction of the adjacent village, Ulkhovitz. Any trace of them was lost. We were told that they were sent to labor camps in Germany. A few weeks later, rumors spread that they were alive and that they wrote letters. However, farmers from surrounding villages told us that they saw from afar that they were brought [to a certain location], ordered to strip naked, and run toward the mountain. When they began to run, the Germans shot them all and buried them in a mass grave. We did not believe and did not want to believe that they were murdered.

That was the first “Aktsia” [Aktion in German - rounding Jews to be murdered]. We waited for news from them for many weeks. The Germans, headed by the Kreishauptmann, promised us that they were alive in a labor camp. That continued until the second Aktsia, which put an end to any illusions. The bitter truth was revealed!

The German machine for annihilating the Jews worked fast and continuously without giving us time to think and act. Several days after the Yom Kippur Aktsia, the Kreishauptmann invited the Obmann and his deputy to appear before him. He treated them as if nothing happened, spoke to them arrogantly and angrily, and very clearly explained to them that he would not tolerate so many Jews in the city. He demanded to transfer a substantial part of them to neighboring cities. Initially, he ordered that all the non-productive Jews must be transferred – meaning the weak, old, and sick. Only people who can work could stay in the city. He tasked the Judenrat with executing that mission and would consider Judenrat the responsible body. He stated that the transfer of two hundred people per week should be organized, and he should get the list and the note about the transfer every week. He was also assigned to the Judenrat the task of forming a Jewish militia - the Ordnungsdinst, to include twelve militiamen who would execute the orders from the Kreishauptmann to the Judenrat. He requested to have the list of the militiamen in one week. He had another order. He decided to change the appearance of the city, that is to rebuild it. For that purpose, the ruins that remained from the bombing and fire must be removed. It would also be necessary to destroy some of the standing houses that remained in the Jewish quarter. In that location, he would build a German-style modern city using Jewish money and labor. He warned the Judenrat that if they would not obey and execute his order, he would hand the problems to the hands of the Gestapo, and they would know how to handle them. That certainly would not be beneficial to the Jews.

Translator's Note:

  1. Based on the piyyut (poem with melody) U'Netanneh Tokef (“Let us speak of the awesomeness”), sung as part of the Mosaf (additional service) prayer on Rosh HaShanah, and in many places and traditions on Yom Kippur. Return

[Page 269]

The Transfers Affair

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

It was not easy for the Judenrat to fulfill all the requests of the Kreishauptmann. It was difficult to organize the transfers, taking out people from their homes during cold and rainy days and sending them to new locations when they were not physically and mentally ready to do so. It meant uprooting and throwing them onto a remote place, and there, without assistance, they would die of hunger, cold, and epidemics. But that was actually the Germans' intent. That was not just a local order [similar orders were issued in other cities]. The decision about the “Final Solution” (killing all the Jews without exception using all means and as soon as possible) was not yet made in those days. At that time, the local German authorities were tasked with the extermination of all those Jews who could not play a productive role for the Germans. They had to do it on their own and as fast as possible.

The Judenrat established a dedicated department with officials to prepare for and execute the transfers' mission. However, they have never succeeded in reaching the quota presented by the Kreishauptmann. People ran away from their homes, and there was a need to use force to bring them to the concentration location. Many times, fistfights ensued. That too, was an objective of the Germans - sowing discord within the Jewish population, inciting Jews against Jews, and sowing jealousy and hatred. They also succeeded in that objective. The Germans purposely did not intervene and left the despicable work at the hands of the Jews. That way, the Germans could claim that it was the fault of the Judenrat and its officials, and that's how it went. Every week or two, a transport of fifty to eighty people left the city on carts with their belongings, poverty, troubles, and tears. Accompanying them were sighs, cries, shouts, and curses!

The Jewish Militia – Ordnungsdinst

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

The Judenrat also fulfilled the second request of the Kreishauptmann and handed him a list of twelve Jewish militiamen to help the Judenrat with the orders of German rule. The birth of the militia was difficult. I witnessed the debate where they discussed who should join and who should not. They were very careful in electing people to the Militia. The Judenrat decided to approve only those people who could stand the test, people you could count on their honesty and sense of justice -young men who came from dignified and respected families in the city. However, over time, something happened to these people or at least to some of them. I do not want to blame them I am only stating the fact that they did not stand the test! The opposite is true. The Germans succeeded in turning them into animals, some of them even predators. I will discuss the militia affair in another chapter. They had to withstand severe and unusual physical and mental pressure, not tailored to the strength of ordinary people, all the more so in difficult inhumane conditions under the whip and pressure. They cracked, and since they were not ready for that, they obviously failed!

[Page 270]

The Working Group for the Kreishauptmann

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

The Judenrat also had to fulfill the third request, to provide people to work for the Kreishauptmann, people who would be available to him under the guard of his people, the “Zonderdinst” and its commander. These people would reside in a barrack, receive food from the Judenrat, and work from morning till evening. The Jewish “People House” was destined to become the barrack for these individuals. We moved the hospital and clinic that Dr. Felk and I had previously established at the “People House” to the house where the orphanage was located before the war. The barrack at the “People House” did not last long. The Gestapo visited that barrack and decided that the conditions where the workers were housed were “too good.” The Gestapo claimed that the workers were housed in a clean and comfortable stone building located in the center of town. They gave the order to transfer the workers to a large stable located not far from the flour mill on the main road leading to Ternopil. They led the workers to work in the morning, under guard and returned them [to the stable] in the evening. There were about forty people. Their situation was atrocious. Except for the beatings and hard work they received from the Germans, they did not have anybody to care for them. The Judenrat had many other problems and troubles, so they abandoned the workers and left them to their own devices!

I have already described the severe hunger. It grew even more severe from one day to another. Initially, the Ukrainian militia prevented the farmers from bringing food to the city. Later, the Germans followed them and demanded a regular quota of meat, grain, and vegetables from each village. The villagers had to divide their quota amongst themselves. Every farmer had to provide his share. The farmers were not in a hurry to fulfill those requests. The Kreishauptmann then sent the Zonderdinsts to take the requested quota by force. The Zonderdinsts fulfilled the mission enthusiastically. They [went into the first village and] wreaked havoc on the Gentiles. They destroyed anything that fell into their hands, ate and drank at the expense of the village until they got what they were looking for. They were then transferred to another village.

For the Jews, that was bad for two reasons. [The Zonderdinsts] used to visit the city during their free time and attack the passersby. They beat murderous blows and looted everything that fell into their hands. Their main victims were the people who worked in demolishing houses. These people did not have anywhere to escape.

The villagers, for their part, were afraid to sell their produce to the Jews because they were afraid that somebody would snitch on them. Because of that, prices of agricultural products, which were high to begin with, rose substantially even further. Along with hunger, epidemics such as typhoid fever, dysentery, and typhus broke out. Obviously, the hungry and the weak people fell sick and died first, if not from the disease itself, then from the inability to overcome and recover. That was how the hunger and the epidemics cut the lives short of many Jews in the city daily.

Several decrees were issued by the Germans as a result of the epidemics:


Decree A:

At the beginning of November, on a cold and rainy day, the Kreishauptmann gathered the entire Judenrat in his yard and let us wait for two hours. Then he came out and announced that every Jewish man and woman must, within twenty-four hours, shave the hair from the entire body and not just from the head and beard. He claimed that the Jews were to blame for the deceases and epidemics. He stated that if somebody would be caught not obeying the order, the entire Judenrat would be punished. That is in addition to the death penalty imposed on the offender. The men received that decree favorably and fully obeyed. The problem was what to do with

[Page 271]

our women. The Judenrat representative turned to the Kreishauptmann with a hefty gift to rescind that paragraph of the decree. After raising the value of the gift the Kreishauptmann agreed not to enforce it for women but did not agree to annul the decree altogether.


Decree B:

I was called to appear before the Judenrat as the physician responsible for the health of our city's Jews. There, the Gestapo man Hermann and one more person waited for me. They notified me that from that day forward, I would have to notify them about any case of infectious disease (the Ghetto has not been established yet). Dr. Felk did not work with me anymore. The following is a description of what happened to him at the beginning of December.

I was walking toward the hospital one morning, on Nowy Rynek [The New Market] Street, and suddenly I heard gunshots and saw a man falling on the ground. I approached and saw Dr. Felk lying on the ground, wounded in his neck, with blood pouring out of his wound. It turned out that Dr. Felk refused to bring the goose he bought from a villager in the market to Hazeh's home. Hazeh pulled out his pistol and shot Dr. Felk in the neck. I administered first aid and brought Dr. Felk to the Polish hospital, where he was treated by Dr. Bilinski. The wound was not critical, and Dr. Felk returned home after two weeks. He returned home but not to work, and I was left alone to serve at the Jewish hospital, as well as being responsible for the health of the Jewish population in our city toward the regime and the Gestapo.

My answer to the Gestapo was that I was doing everything at my disposal to prevent diseases and epidemics within the Jewish population. At the time, there was not even one case of infectious disease. I did not know, at the time, the purpose of that decree, but I felt that the request was not in our favor.

Before I left, the Gestapo people warned me to not take the request lightly and emphasized my personal responsibility.

That was how another month passed.

The Aktion[1] in Litatyn Forests – December 1941

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

Eight days before Hanukkah, on 18 December, the Kreishauptmann invited the Judenrat to come see him. With anger and shouting, he notified them that he would not tolerate disrespect for his orders. The Judenrat did not transfer a sufficient number of Jews from the city to neighboring towns, and therefore, he had another request. In exactly seven days, during the night between the 15th and 16th of December (on the first candle of Hanukkah), the Judenrat must prepare a “transport” of a thousand Jews (not even a single person less) under the guard of the Zonderdinst and the Ukrainian militia, to the neighboring town of Pidhaitsi [Podhajce, Podhaitza], located about 32 kilometers away. The people will march on foot, in rows, four in a row! They would be allowed to take with them personal items but not more than five kilograms each.

After what happened till then, we felt that the order was a hoax, another new contemptible plot. We suspected that a calamity was waiting for these people. Again, we had all sorts of questions! If he is sincere, why at night? Why in rows of four? Why on foot? Why on a specific and precise date? Why and why again? The whole order looked suspicious!

[Page 272]

The bad news spread very quickly throughout the city. People began to leave their homes, sleep outside the city, or with non-Jewish acquaintances for money or valuables. The Judenrat, for its part, proceeded in two directions. First, it quickly prepared the list of the people for the transport so that they could prepare for it. On the other side, it tried to find out, from the people close to the Kreishauptmann, what was the real purpose behind the decree. The Judenrat did not trust the Kreishauptmann after the affair in Yom Kippur and looked for ways to get to the truth in some other ways. We reached the deputy Kreishauptmann, Krieger, through his secretary who received a gold ring with a big diamond for her mediacy.

Kieger promised to find out, for a large sum of money, to find out about the order.

After his inquiry, he came back from the Kreishauptmann and promised to take the whole transport affair into his hands. He promised the Judenrat, with a word of honor, that the operation would only be a transport. He stated that he would personally make sure that nobody would be hurt. He could not change the date and the number (one thousand). He allowed the Judenrat to allocate twenty-five wagons for the sick, elderly, and children. Every person would be allowed to carry up to ten kilograms of personal items, and he would make sure to send the rest later with the help of the Judenrat. Krieger himself traveled to Pidhaitsi to instruct the Judenrat there to prepare space for a thousand Jews. He also requested the Judenrat to prepare food for these people for several days.

After all these promises, the Judenrat calmed down and vigorously turned to prepare the people for the transport. However, the people slated for the transport were not affected by all the explanations of the Judenrat. They scattered to the edges and outside of the city. Left with no other choice, the Judenrat, its officials, and the Jewish militia began to lay siege to these people. When they were unsuccessful, the Zonderdinst and the Ukrainian militia joined them at midnight. They caught people as they encountered them, including those not on the list. Despite all the efforts, they managed to collect only about six hundred people, and the convoy left town at three o'clock in the morning. The convoy went out slowly toward Pidhaitsi on a wet and cold night. Accompanied the convoy were some Judenrat officials who helped in gathering the people. Altogether, the convoy consisted of about six hundred Jews.

At the head of the convoy was the Angel of Death, who was bringing his booty, accompanied by the angels of destruction, the Zonderdinst, and Ukrainians. They were holding flashlights “in honor of the first candle of Hanukkah.”

At eight-thirty am, I met the Zonderdinst commander, Hazeh, at the Judenrat office, holding a list. He looked at the list and asked me: “Are you Dr. Felk?” “No,” I answered. I managed to take a quick look at the list, and I saw the name of Dr. Felk among about twenty other names. Hazeh left the office in a hurry, and I understood that it had to do with the transport. In the meantime, Hazeh collected the people according to his list. Among them were: Dr. Felk's entire family, Lazar Segal, a woman called Berger, and others. They transported these people in a truck in the direction of the convoy. We sat depressed at the Judenrat office. We did not talk to each other. We felt this time that we were all guilty because we assisted in organizing the transport. We waited anxiously and impatiently for the news from Pidhaitsi that the convoy would arrive there safely. We knew that it would not happen before noon.

However, the news came early, long before the slated time. We did not have to wait until noon. The wagoneers came back with their wagons at ten thirty. We saw them from afar. And knew that they do not bring good news. Unfortunately, we were not mistaken. We fell into the trap again. We were rudely and shamelessly cheated.

[Page 273]

We heard the following story from the wagoneers: In the middle of the road, Near Litiatyn, in a place called Kribola (the “curve”), about 14 kilometers from Brzezany, the Zonderdinst stopped the convoy and ordered the people to get off the wagons. They then ordered the wagoneers to turn around and return to the city. They took the people toward the forest. After traveling back about five hundred meters, the wagoneers stopped. They waited a while, and then they heard shouts and crying voices from the direction of the forest. A short time later, they heard shots fired from a machine gun and some single shots. They then returned home. On their way back, they met a truck full of Jews traveling in the direction of the forest.

The whole situation then became clear to us. We began to believe the story about our people who were murdered in the forest, as was told to us by the villagers on Yom Kippur. We finally understood how the Germans deceived us with lies and how we were deceived. We understood there was nobody to talk to, request, or ask. There was no such thing as a promise, no word of truth, no honesty, no justice, and no judge. We needed to carry the load and hope for help from the heavens. We would not be able to stand against them on our own.

I heard the whole story in detail from an eyewitness a day later. He managed to hide in the forest and survived. When he appeared at the Judenrat, I saw him and talked to him; that was what he told me: When they arrived at the forest, Germans with machine guns were waiting for them. The Jews were beaten and given an order to strip naked quickly and gather all their belongings and clothing in piles. After that, everyone approached a pit dug ahead of time, and they were shot right there by the grave. After the “job” was completed, the Germans covered the pits with dirt. The Germans loaded the clothing and packages on trucks and left the forest. The eyewitness managed to hide behind a bush, and there he stayed the entire night, shivering from the cold and without clothes. He ran to the nearest village early in the following morning, where a farmer gave him some worn clothes and torn shoes. From there, he arrived at the city. I heard all of that from the eyewitness. He told me what happened to him from the moment he was taken by force until he arrived back in the city. He also saw how the Germans brought the people on the truck and joined them to the convoy people. Everyone was murdered. That was the second mass Aktsia [Aktion in German] in our city!

The following day, the Kreishauptmann called our representatives, Dr. Klarer and Ross, to quickly appear before him. Again, he received them with rage and shouts and, for the first time, with a whip. He beat them with the whip on their faces and wounded them. All of that was because of the unsuccessful and unorganized operation, where only about six hundred and fifty were taken instead of a thousand. That operation carved the fate of Dr. Klarer. His sentence was sealed then, although he continued to serve as Obmann of the Judenrat.

The date – end of 1941. Our balance sheet was immensely negative. More than 15% of the Jewish population lost their lives, and there was no hope that the future would improve for us. A limited consolation was the news that the German army stopped its progress. On the contrary, it suffered heavy losses and, in many places, it was in retreat. With heavy hearts, no hope, and with warm requests to the King of the Universe, we received the new year – 1942…

Translator's Note:

  1. Aktion (n German) or Aktsia (in Yiddish). A term used for any non-military campaign to further Nazi ideals of race, but most often referred to the assembly and deportation of Jewish concentration or death camps. Return

[Page 274]

Order to Jews to Give Away Furs

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

It was an extremely cold winter but the Germans did not prepare for it. According to their plan, they were supposed to subdue the Soviets before the rains came. General “mud” and general “cold” stopped them near Leningrad and Moscow and in the south, not far from the Caucasus. The Germans suffered heavy losses on the fronts, and in many cases, the initiative passed into the hands of the Soviets. The Germans tried to make it easier for their army and send them to the fronts, with winter coats and furs. The German authorities turned to the Jewish population with an order to hand over all the furs within two weeks, with no exceptions!

Not handing over furs carried the death penalty. To ensure success, the Kreishauptmann requested from the Judenrat twelve people as hostages. The Obmann and two additional officials quickly prepared the list and handed it over to the Jewish militia with an order to capture the people and bring them directly to jail. They sent a copy of the list to the Kreishauptmann. The militia managed to capture only ten out of the twelve people. Two of the candidates escaped earlier and hid. The Germans did not want to give up and demanded to receive two other people, otherwise they threatened to hand over the matter to the Gestapo. Panic arose in the city. People were afraid of retaliation by the Germans. Nobody believed the twelve people would be alive after the fur collection operation. People hid or escaped outside of the city. All the searches for the missing people or “hunts” for two additional hostages were in vain. That game lasted about two weeks, and in the end, with the help of money and gifts, and after the Jews handed over almost 100% of the furs, the Germans freed the ten hostages.

However, additional decrees and troubles did not stop, and it did not take long for more to come.

The “Typhus” Aktions

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

There were murderous operations by the Gestapo against the Jewish population due to infectious deceases, including “preventive” operations to prevent the spread of these diseases.

I have already mentioned that hunger and epidemics went hand in hand, and each caused a double dose. Instead of having twenty and up to thirty sick people per day, I had one hundred. The epidemics themselves wreaked havoc on us and killed many victims every day. My assistance to these people was minimal, more like encouragement, good words, and advice. I did not have any medicines, and in the conditions in those days, whoever fell sick remained sick for days and weeks without the possibility of getting well and recovering. Surprisingly, the percentage of deaths, compared to the non-Jewish population, was smaller. This people's will to live and overcome was probably very strong.

I mentioned my meeting with the Gestapo, where they demanded to provide them with daily reports about people who were sick with typhus. Such a list was never provided to the Gestapo.

At the beginning of January, a Polish physician notified me that his acquaintance from a neighboring town told him about a visit by the Gestapo to the Jewish hospital there. In that visit

[Page 275]

the Gestapo exterminated all the patients along with the personnel, among them two physicians who worked there. With agreement by Judenrat, I notified all the patients and the personnel at the hospital to immediately leave so that nobody would remain there! Five people from among the hospital patients and personnel did not believe my warning and remained in the hospital secretly, against my order. Two days passed, and the Gestapo came to visit our city. Their first steps were in the direction of the hospital. They shot the five people they found there, among them the caretaker of the hospital, a lawyer in his profession working in Kertskov [?], called Bezen, who studied in the past in the city's high school.

That was the end of our hospital – the hospital of Dr. Felk z”l, who invested so much energy, will, and money. And he was no longer alive!

That was the first operation toward the exterminating of sick Jewish people. That continued until the liquidation of the ghetto. The Gestapo person responsible for the typhus operations in our city was Hermann. He visited the city often to exterminate the people who were sick with typhus. I, as a person responsible for the health of the Jewish population toward the Gestapo, notified Hermann officially that we did not have such sick people. Whenever Hermann turned to the Judenrat, he received my answer with some ransom money. After receiving whatever he received, he would go to the city accompanied by somebody from the Judenrat, most of the time Mitelman, or somebody from the Jewish militia, to fulfill the obligations toward his superiors, and killed on his way the people who were sick with typhus. His trips to the city always cost us some victims, not necessarily sick people, sometimes up to twenty people. In my opinion, he received hints from snitches among the Jewish militia people, besides his “Volksdeutsche's” assistants, who kept their eyes out and notified him about every suspicious case. When Hermann appeared in our city, people used to say that the first assistant to the Death Angel arrived. There was never a case when we got away with no victims, and the number of victims depended on his mood.


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