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[Page 275]

Arbeitsamt - Employment Bureau

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

The German Employment Bureau notified the Judenrat that every Jew must register with the bureau. Every Jew between the ages 18 and 55 had to fulfill a form through the Judenrat, with all the information: name, age, profession, occupation, and most importantly – the home address. A Jew could accept to work only through the Employment Bureau and with its approval. A work certificate was only valid for thirty days. Upon expiration, the worker had to extend it for another thirty days, and so on!

Our people, who learned a lesson from the past and remembered the previous registrations and their results, were not in a hurry to register. However, it was impossible to exist without work. Not having a choice, people with regular jobs began to find ways to obtain a work permit through an intermediary. And here, an affair and a new possibility to extort money from the Jews began again. The monthly permit cost money and before the month was over, payment was due again. The resulting expenses didn't help when the day came, and they caught you! If they captured you with or without a permit, you would be at the hands of the German murderers, slated to be sent to a labor camp or an extermination camp. We learned about all of that over time but in the beginning, we did not know what was the intention behind the request, where it led, and whether that permit would be helpful or not.



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The officials at the Employment Bureau knew well how to exploit our naiveness and distressful situation, invented new permits every now and then, seemingly safer for the permit holder, and obviously demanded more and more money for the “better” permits. They learned from the phrase: “A person would pay anything to save his soul.” There were permits made of white tin, and people who received such a permit and paid the full price for it sewed it onto their clothes - a sign that the permit holder was employed in essential work for the state and should not be touched. As I said, that was another plot to extort more money from the Jews. They cheated us until the last moment and extracted money from us to the last cent. During an Aktsia, none of the permits were helpful, whether made of tin or not. Many people who owned and relied on their tin permits - ended up falling into the trap!

Labor Camps

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

At the same time, the German Employment Bureau requested from the Judenrat sixty people slated to be sent to [forced] labor camps. That was the first time the Germans demanded from people for labor camps located far from our city. We had heard about these labor camps in Germany and Galitsia before. The labor camps where our people were last to go were around Ternopil. The people in these camps worked in quarries and on the roads leading to the front. They were responsible for the roads being in good condition.

The Judenrat prepared the list and notified these people to be ready on a specific date with winter clothing and personal effects. To calm down the people slated for the camp, the Judenrat notified them about the decision by the German Employment Bureau to exchange them with sixty other people in three months. No Jews would be able to evade this work. Sooner or later, everyone would be taken to the camp, and only then one could secure a working permit in another place. Our people did not believe in any promises, despite not exactly knowing what was waiting for them there, despite their identification with the people on the list, and the fact that they would be handled by the Gestapo if they did not come, only a few showed up.

More people who were not on the list were caught with the help of the Jewish militia. They were loaded on wagons and under a heavy guard, and without giving the mothers and the wives time to bring winter clothing and food for those people who were caught, the Germans transferred them to the labor camp.

That was the first transport. From that point until the liquidation of the ghetto, these transports did not cease. A transport left once or twice a month. That trouble, curse, and blow, not written in any book, was harsh for those sent and their families. They never returned from there. They died there under indescribable severe torture. Hundreds and thousands of our people died in those labor camps, which were work, torture, and death camps, as compared to the labor camps in Germany.

I will elaborate on these labor camps and everything connected to them. In this painful affair, the Judenrat, the Jewish militia, and everybody else who participated in organizing it failed. We heard much about the labor camps in Germany and the hard work and poor conditions there, but these were paradise compared

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to the labor camps in Eastern Galitsia. In Germany, people were employed in hard work in the factories or on farms. The employers were interested in receiving the maximum out of these laborers, supplying minimum conditions to survive. They needed the manpower since their people were on the fronts, and therefore, they took care of the workers. In Eastern Galitsia, on the other hand, the main employment for thousands of people was working on the roads. If they had provided these poor people with minimum living conditions, most would have survived the war and returned peacefully to their homes. However, for the Gestapo, Employment Bureau, and other German authorities, these camps were a profitable business, a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to accumulate a fortune. They were interested in passing tens of thousands, not just a few thousand, people through these camps. For that purpose, they liquidated the people in the camps quickly and put in new ones to replace them. They earned a lot of money and gifts from every transport, and in addition, they robbed the things the people brought to the camp.

There were several labor camps. The first one in Zboriv [Zborov], the second in Kamionka, the third in Holoboki Vialki [?], and others. In each of such camps were from six to eight hundred people. Every camp contacted separately to the Judenrat with requests to prepare people on a predetermined date. Usually, they requested more than was required, and by paying ransom money, the Judenrat often succeeded in reducing the number to 1/3 of the original request. The Germans turned, in parallel, to several cities with the same request, which led to competition among the cities, who would contribute more money and send fewer people. On the agreed-upon date, the camp's representative (the deputy manager) would arrive accompanied by a Ukrainian militia to receive the people from the Judenrat. Very often, the Judenrat did not succeed in gathering enough people, and the Ukrainian militia, aided by the Jewish militia, would begin a “hunt” in the city after people. They did not rest until they fulfilled the quota. That process turned into a slave trade with the participation of the Judenrat. Whoever was caught and had enough ransom money paid the amount requested, and another Jew was captured instead. In the end, when the Jew lost all his money and was caught, he ended his life in the labor camp, as those who went before or after him.

There are no words to describe the “hunt” after people, the shouts, cries, beating, and curses, and the fights between one Jew and another and between the catcher and the caught. I will never forget how the Germans succeeded in transforming humans into animals. The “hunt”,” slave trade, and ransom money payments continued daily until the liquidation of the ghetto. As I said, the German Employment Bureau knew to exploit the situation through its intermediaries, who sold all sorts of permits as a defense against deportation to labor camps. They have done everything to extort the money from the Jew's pocket.

The person responsible for the manpower in the health department was Dr. Levrovski, a district physician at that time. He arranged permits for all the physicians and their families as state employees. These people were sent to the neighboring villages to take care of the health of the non-Jewish population and to try to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. They too, had to renew and pay for their permits every month. Even that did not always help. There were physicians in every labor camp. Dr. Meiblum, the father-in-law of Leib Preis, and others came from our city. Their conditions at the camps were better, but their end was the same as the bitter end of all others.

The labor camps affair was one of the saddest, most painful, and most depressing affairs that left a black mark – a “Mark of Cain” on the forehead of all those who handled that problem. I am obligated to elaborate and give a full description of this issue.

People did not go to the camps of their own goodwill. The Judenrat, with the help of the [Jewish] militia, hunted people.

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The hunt began suddenly, usually in the middle of the night. The militia spread throughout the city and broke into apartments. Whoever they caught, they kept under a heavy guard until the transport to the camp. Mothers and wives, sisters, and children stood outside, cried, shouted, and begged for mercy. However, without ransom money, nothing helped, even the best nepotism - “only money talked.” In the meantime, people were taken in and out, exchanged one with the other, and until they finished the bargaining, the wagons or the trucks arrived. The people who were caught would have been loaded quickly. Everyone received some food for the road and also beatings, kicks, and curses - when the person climbed onto the wagon or truck. The Germans ensured that the wagon or truck would be crowded with people pushing each other. The women too received a great deal of beatings from the Germans and the Ukrainians at the time of the departure. It was a farewell from afar because [the Germans and Ukrainians] did not allow the women to come closer. It was a farewell to have one more minute to see the beloved one and hear his voice, even from afar, for the last time.

Then the truck [or wagon] began to move, tearing apart the rope that tied sixty Jewish families. These people would not die together. The truck [or wagon] began to move, leaving emptiness and pain in the women's hearts. The women followed the truck and the dust cloud behind it with their eyes until they disappeared. The women dispersed and returned home, every woman with her own pain. There was no choice then. They had to continue living – becoming both mother and father for the children. They also had to send a package, through the Judenrat, to the son, father, husband, or brother, adding a few words of calm and encouragement. It was forbidden for Jews to use the postal service and there was no address. Relatives were not able to approach or access the labor camp. Nobody was allowed to do so except the Judenrat's contact person, with a special permit from the camp commander, and even that only on certain days. The contact person did not travel to the camp every week, and there were potentially a few factors affecting such a trip. First, the camp commander was the decider and the person who provided the permit. Even if you had such a permit, it was hard to find transportation. One could only travel on a wagon and, in the winter, on a sled. The villagers from the surrounding areas were not enthusiastic about traveling there despite the large sums of money paid for that trip. The distance to the camp was also a factor. With some camps, it would have been possible to leave in the morning and return on the same day. For other camps, the trip required lodging in the middle of the road in a village or a city. And last, the trip depended on the contact person, his character, and his goodwill.

Preparing a package requires time as well. People sent torn clothing and mainly food, such as bread, some honey, etc. But it was not easy to get food! And when everything was ready, one had to go to the Judenrat, meet the contact person, talk to him face to face, hand him some important information, and for G-d's sake, lest he forget to tell the husband, father, or brother…; one had to find out if he needed anything special? What did he look like? Where was he working? Maybe he would write a few words.

The women are standing by the Judenrat for long hours and waiting to catch a conversation with the contact person. He has not come yet; he is busy now; he is tired and not ready, or not able to even answer; he does not know himself when he will go. And so a day, two, or three days pass, until finally, good going, the contact person is going to the labor camp – on a wagon loaded with packages with tear-soaked letters.

So many thoughts, guesses, requests, and sighs accompany him on this trip. When would he arrive? Will he meet the people? What would he say to them? Will he not forget to say…? “Absit omen.” And the thoughts are changing by the hour.

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They run together with the clock hours or even faster; they compete with the time. Now the thoughts are disturbing – when will the loved one be back? What will he say? What will be the news? They wait for hours by the Judenrat's building in the cold, rain, and snow, and the hours last so long. They wait anxiously for the return of the contact person.

…And the package - there were cases when it did not arrive at its destination, as the person had already met his creator. He was “lucky” and did not suffer much. In such a case, the contact person would not respond to the question by the deceased person's wife about how was her husband doing. The contact person would lower his eyes, and she would too, and then she would cover her face with her hands and burst into tears. She would move aside to allow the next in line to ask her question. For one woman, everything has already been said. Sometimes, the contact person would be so exhausted that he would settle for a general greeting and withdraw to his home until the following morning.

We return now to the people who were taken to the camp. When the truck just moved with the people who were caught, the German escorts and the Ukrainian militia began with their “treatment.” Every address to the people was accompanied by murderous blows with a rifle or a whip. They warn the people not to try to escape since the group is responsible for every person. Tens would die if one escaped. Therefore, they all must watch each other. Money and valuables must be handed to the transport manager immediately. Seating is not allowed (there is no room). Talking is forbidden, and so is making signs to each other. That was how they traveled for hours until they arrived at the camp.


In the camp – as told by the contact person in the camps

They recognized the camp from afar! A large yard surrounded by a multi-layer barbwire fence with tall towers. In the yard – a long structure and several other smaller structures. The big gate opened when the truck or the wagon approached and immediately closed behind them, swallowing them alive. With that, their connection with the outside world ended. Inside the camp, they had been already waiting for them and prepared a “warm” reception. From then on, the fate of all of them was, for better or worse, in the hands of a few people. The first order was – come down! They were facing two rows of Germans and beyond them, the Ukrainian militia. The camp commander and his deputy were at the head. The “welcome” everyone separately holding a whip. They greet everyone with a few heavy blows – on the face, head, and the rest of the body. Following each other oppressors with wooden or metal sticks. By the time they reach the end of the long row, they are bleeding.

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Making any sound was forbidden. Doing so would have resulted in additional blows. There were cases when the weak stayed in their place and never rose again.

The second order was to stand in a row and hand over all valuables. If somebody had reasonable clothes, they were forced to give them up. After the assembly, they had to run and enter the large wooden structure where the Jewish commander waited. He, with his entourage, was in charge of the inside of the building. Over time, these people learned cruelty from the Germans who supervised them. The symbol of that commander was a special stick he held in his hand. He often made use of that stick to over-validate his orders.

The inside of the wooden structure was long and dark, without a floor or ceiling. It might have been a stable once or was specially built for that purpose. The boards for the bunks were long – and the bunks were built in three or four tiers. Even in the center of the structure, bunks were constructed in tiers and made of boards. The building housed six hundred and often up to eight hundred people. Every person was allocated a limited, small, and narrow space, selected by the Jewish commander. The quality of that place depended on lack and sometimes on nepotism. The bunks deep inside were different from those near the entrance. The top bunks differed from the bottom ones. The top bunks required climbing, which was not easy to do after hard work at the end of a long day. The body was tired, and climbing involved a waste of energy. The air on the upper tier was also compressed and hard to breathe. Those on the bottom suffered from other disadvantages - all the dirt from the top bunks fell on them. The new recruits had to run towards the bunks, and each had to grab the allocated bunk. There was no time to waste. People were ordered to strip, and they had to pass a thorough examination to check that they did not hide any valuables in their clothes or shoes. The barber was already waiting to cut the hair from the entire body. That work had to be paid for by the people. Money brought to the camp had to be handed over to the Jewish commander. The commander and his helpers used force to ensure their orders were followed.

The camp commander was German, a Gestapo person, a wild animal, a cruel man who lacked human feelings, even not of a primitive person, a sadist who always tried to get himself into a drunk mode, thirsty for human blood, vengeful who knew his duty and objective: exterminate Jews and receive other Jews instead. He used all of the means available to him to achieve that goal. He himself lived outside of the camp. He used a deputy inside the camp who was similar in character and deeds. They had other Germans available to them who guarded the camp from their positions on top of the towers. The latter were equipped with machine guns. They were helped by a larger number of Ukrainians who helped guard the camps from the outside and inside. They brought the people to work, guarded them during the workday, and brought them back. They also traveled with the commander to catch new people and brought them to the camp.

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The interior of the building and all the arrangements, such as division of work, taking care of cleanliness, food distribution, and allocation of personal space, were in the hands of the Jews. It seemed as if the Jews had autonomy - a benefit. However, in reality, the Germans took advantage of the situation, as with the Judenrat in the ghetto. They caused conflicts between people by giving perks to some [and withholding them from others] and thus used those perks to make the people into snitches and have them watch over their friends. The Jewish commander and his helpers, the Jewish militia of the camp, had an easier life in the camp, and were more comfortable, with more food, less work, and even fewer beatings. They expected that by helping the Germans, they would be able to continue in that way until a miracle came – a day would come when they would be redeemed and saved from annihilation. Obviously, that was an illusion. Everyone went on the same road, some early and others later. The Germans took care to remove those among the Jews who collaborated with them, to cover up their actions. The Germans always found people for that work, spineless people who, under the pressure of fear and feelings of superiority, became a good “medium” in the hands of the Germans, predators similar to those who gave the orders to them. Nevertheless, one word would be enough to sometimes undermine their conscience and make them face the truth. An appropriate strong person could bring their original image, at least in some cases.

Each camp had a chef and two people for manual work. There was also a stockkeeper, an accountant, and one or two physicians. The work of these people was lighter. They also ate better than the others, on the people's account. The food was less than the minimum required for survival. The German commander received fixed food portions according to the number of people. He took the majority for himself and sent it to Germany. The rest was divided among those who could do it. Only crumbs remained for the workers. If the workers continued to live, it was due to the packages they received from home. If these packages arrived late, the mortality among the people rose above average.

The food the workers received in the camps: Early in the morning, a slice of bread and black water (“coffee”), and in the evening, a watery soup and sometimes some potato crumbs.

The day in the camp began when the people were awakened at four o'clock, summer and winter. They had to be ready for the “call” in just a few minutes. It was quick because people slept in their clothing. Following the order by the Jewish commander, everybody had to go outside to the yard where each received his breakfast: bread and “coffee.” One would drink the coffee or not, take the bread with him, and stand for the “call.” The camp commander would pass through the rows, always holding his whip, and distributed blows according to his mood. Only then did the workers go out to work. They were divided into groups of thirty to forty people. The head of the group was a Jew responsible for his men, their number, and their work. Sometimes, as needed, they exchanged the groups for different types of work. They went out accompanied by the Ukrainian militia and some Germans. They walked in rows, four to a row, tired even before the start of the workday, broken, injured, with or without shoes, leaning on each other for support lest they fall or fall behind.

People who fell on the way received murderous beatings until they rose up. If the person did not recover quickly and catch up with the group, he was shot. It is hard to describe the torturous way to work and back. The situation was more difficult on rainy days, in the deep “Podolian” mud that stuck to the shoes and slowed the progress. People preferred to walk barefoot on those days. When they arrived at the workplace, tools were distributed among those who worked in the quarries or on the roads. They worked from sunrise to sunset under the watching eyes of the Germans and under the threat of their flapping whip.

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The workers used every opportunity to rest for a second, but if they were caught, it was very costly to them. The Jewish guard did everything in his power to ease the work for the people. He sometimes even helped by doing the work. He was responsible that the work would end on time. After sunset, they walked back to the camp – one big black shadow of people, almost lifeless, moving out of habit, pulling their legs. When they arrived at the camp, some gave up on the soup. They did not have the strength anymore to take the extra additional steps. They laid down on the hard boards, but even on the bunks, they could not rest. The lice, bugs, and insects began to suck their blood. They waited for the people the entire day and did not want to give up their blood portion. Others ate or drank the soup and did not even go to wash their hands. The lights were shut off at nine o'clock.

However, not always the day ended with going to sleep! It happened when the camp commander was in high spirits or, G-d forbid, the opposite, and he came to visit the camp. At his order, everyone had to appear in the yard, and the game would begin – a game of a man's life. The commander would choose a victim and order him to strip and lie down on a bench. Another prisoner, selected by the commander, received a stick in his hand, and he had to beat the victim twenty-five to forty times. If the blows were considered by the commander as too weak, a Ukrainian would take the stick and hit the victim. The game usually ended with the death of one, two, or even more people!

Worse than that was when the game turned into a punishment when somebody succeeded in escaping from the camp. That punishment was not the same everywhere and not in every case. They immediately organized the entire Ukrainian and Jewish militias to search after the escapee. Farmers from the neighboring villages in the search received a prize for any information about the escapee if he was caught. It wasn't difficult to recognize such a man according to his face, hands, or clothes marked with colors that stand out from a distance.

They would bring the caught escapee to the yard where the entire camp was waiting for him, for them to “watch and fear” [Deuteronomy 19:20]. He would kneel and ask for forgiveness from the commander. After a murderous beating, they hanged him in the yard for several days – as a warning to others.

A more severe punishment was when they gouged out his eyes and hanged him by his legs until he died from agony and hunger. If they did not catch the escapee, the punishment was as the commander saw fit. Sometimes, they demanded several people, often relatives of the escapee, from the Judenrat of the escapee's city. In other cases, they hung the mother instead of the escaped son. Some other times, they sentenced to death several people from the escapee's city. In more severe cases, they positioned the camp people in rows and took out every tenth person, up to sixty people. They placed them by a pit and shot them all. It all depended on the importance of the escapee and the commander's mood.

In those days, the camp commander forbade the Judenrat of that city to visit the camp. Neither packages nor letters from home could reach the prisoners, and the mortality among the people rose.

The first news about the harsh situation of our brothers reached us only days after they were taken to the forced labor camp. Some were killed on the way and during the reception held for them by the Germans when they arrived at the campyard. Others were severely injured. We received news about new victims daily. We had that whole inhuman tragedy played in front of our eyes. We heard about these camps and the life in them, for a long time. However, as long as it did not concern us, we pushed the stories out of our minds.

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We did not want to listen or believe until we began to feel everything on our skin.

A “labor camp” – two words which meant hunger, fear, torture, backbreaking hard work, beatings, and humiliation until salvation came at the hands of the angel of death. The forced labor camp was hell and suffering for the camp people and the ghetto people alike until the complete destruction of the ghetto in our city. The labor camp swallowed thousands of people without a trace. It was hell on earth, the record of slavery and humiliation, when a person loses his senses, stops thinking, and becomes a blind medium in the hand of Satan, who makes him into an animal and does whatever Satan wants him to do.

Methods of “Catching” People to Labor Camps

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

In January 1942, the Germans held three more hunts of our people who were sent to labor camps. They used a different ploy every time, and if they did not manage to cheat our people, they caught them by force. After the first Aktsia to the labor camp, it was clear to us that any person who did not work in a regular and approved job by the German Employment Bureau was a candidate for the labor camp.

The Jews, being the People of the Book and quick learners, showed that they could also be good workers. At times of need, no work was too hard or impossible. Everyone was ready to do any job to continue living.

Most of the people succeeded, within a week, to find work, which was supposed to protect them. At least, that was what their employers and the Employment Bureau told them.

A second demand for sixty more people was received from the Gestapo in the middle of January. The Judenrat prepared the list and sent notices to the people via the Jewish militia to appear at a specific date, time, and location. These notices contained a threat that if they would not appear, the list would be handed over to the Gestapo. Only eight people from that list came. More than fifty people ran away from their homes, hid outside of the city, despite the intense cold, or at non-Jewish neighbors for money. The Germans came after notifying the Judenrat to retrieve the people promised to them. When they did not find the people, they became enraged. Without saying a word about their intention, they scattered throughout the city and, based on the information at the Employment Bureau, went to the formal locations that employed Jews. The Germans took every Jew they found, more than sixty people, loaded them on wagons, and left with the loot before the “hunt” was known to the Judenrat” or the wives of these people. That was how the Germans caught people who were not on the Judenrat's list [and had a regular job], and the people on the list were saved temporarily.

After that Aktsia, we understood that even a place of work does not protect its workers. People thought once or twice, if at all, to go to work. They saw no use to do so. The opposite was true; during an Aktsia, it was more difficult, if not impossible, to run away from the place of work. The Germans also took advantage of that. The manager of the German Employment Bureau notified the Judenrat that he received complaints from many employers about the avoidance of coming to work by their Jewish workers. He stated that he would investigate the situation and punish the evaders by erasing their names from the formal worker list. Two days after that notice, he appeared along with his secretary in some

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places of work. He wrote down the names and addresses of each person who came to work. The employers quickly notified the rest of the workers. They came running and asked the manager to add them to the list of permanent workers. The manager of the Employment Bureau initially refused. However, the workers begged him and to appease him, gave him a double dose [of cash], and then he agreed to add all of them, about a hundred, to the list. How big was their surprise when they arrived home and found an invitation to appear in the morning of the following day in the Bureau, ready to be transported to the labor camp? The invitation was accompanied by a threat to hand over the evaders to the Gestapo!

At that time, everybody left their homes ahead of time and scattered outside of the city. Most of our city people, even those who were not invited, hid in safe hideouts until the storm passed over. The Germans did not give up. Early in the morning, when they did not find any people waiting for them, they began to hunt for people in their places of work. To their surprise, they did not discover people there either. They then turned to the Judenrat and with the Jewish militia, searched the Jewish homes. They worked for the whole day and only managed to catch twenty people. The Germans added four people from the Jewish militia and sent them to the labor camp.

After that Aktsia, the German manager of the Labor Bureau, visited the Judenrat and informed them unequivocally that they needed to bring sixty people within four days, not even a single person less, otherwise the Germans would dismantle the Judenrat and Jewish militia, and send their people to the labor camp! That was a stark warning. The Judenrat understood that it did not have a choice. The militia received an order to do everything to bring sixty people on the requested date.

The militia knew better than the Germans where the Jews were hiding, the hiding place of everybody, and how to search, especially when it concerned themselves. They made all the efforts, stood the test, and provided the quota on time. From that day on, the Judenrat and the militia activities associated with the labor camps continued day and night. It did not cease until the liquidation of the ghetto.

A correction to my story: Not all the people of the Judenrat and Jewish militia participated in these activities.

Jewish Militiamen as a [German] “Tool”
and as a Human Being

By Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

The work at the Judenrat and the militia was divided. Only three or four people in the Judenrat dealt with the labor camps. The same was true in the militia. Most of the militia members were given less critical jobs, such as collecting money and objects for the Germans, bringing people to work for the Germans, watching over the people during the work and returning them, and other similar jobs. But even these militia members did not always sign on the negative page in the history of the Nazi conquest of our city. With these words, I am not defending them! I had the opportunity to watch them in their actions and talk and know them! They were all men of a weak character, exposed to the influence of the Gestapo. They might as well have been good partisans, freedom fighters, or even heroes if they had been influenced by a strong man who would have directed them in the opposite direction and saved them from deterioration and humiliation. Unfortunately, that strong hand never materialized. We lacked, among us, a strong man who fitted those days and situations and who could have influenced them.

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I will bring up some cases where I participated myself! I will describe them as they happened.

One day, Betinger, the Jewish militiamen, and I, the one responsible to the authorities for the health of the Jewish population, received an order from the Gestapo to visit several addresses they gave us to check people who, according to the information they received, were sick with typhus. In every place. I described our role, the reason for our mission, and what was waiting for them! I warned them about the approaching disaster. These people managed to escape within just a few moments. They jumped through the windows, escaped, and disappeared. Betinger heard everything and knew well what was waiting for him if the Gestapo would find out what happened. Despite that, he kept his silence.

Another case happened one evening. I sat down with the militia member Klarer, the son of Sender Klarer, at the buffet, situated in the first room of the militia, and drank tea. We heard shouts coming from the adjacent room. We did not pay attention to these shouts, as they were a regular occurrence in those days. Suddenly, the door to the adjacent room broke out, and a running man appeared, followed by two militia members who guarded him, running after him but did not manage to catch him. At the same moment, Klarer jumped in the direction of the escapee, tripped him, and began beating him. I approached Klarer and slapped him on his cheek (That was the first time in my life that I lifted my hand on another person). I slapped him so hard, that he got confused, and so did the other two militia members. The young man took advantage of the confusion and ran away. A short while later Klarer came to me and, with tears in his eyes came to ask for forgiveness and said: “How far I've come that I've done what I've done? I can see that it is already in my blood. “Believe me” – he said – “I did not even think about what I was doing. I jumped instinctively. I am not at fault. That would never happen again in my life.” And that is how it was. – one firm slap in the face woke him up from his insensibility and he repented!

Another case happened in the fall of 1942. The Gestapo caught sixteen people sick with typhus in a hideout (it was a case of snitching). Following beatings and tortures, the Gestapo managed to extract a confession from them that I was the physician who took care of them. They killed them all and arrested me. They interrogated me for several hours and demanded that I provide them with a list of at least two hundred sick people. They stated that the list would be the only thing that would save me from torture and perhaps death. I did not cave in. The Gestapo commander then gave an order to four militia members, who were responsible for the militia (including Betinger), to pass through every room of every home in the ghetto, and produce a detailed list of all the people sick with typhus. He was sure that they would fulfill his order with precision. I was ordered to accompany the militia members.

The Gestapo people went out and left me alone with the militiamen. Nobody in the room had any doubt about my fate. They only feared that several hundred people would go with me. When we were left alone, I turned to the four militiamen and explained unambiguously: “I am the person responsible for the health of the Ghetto Jews. As I have already told the Gestapo, there are no people sick with typhus in the ghetto! There is no need to search, and there is no value to any searches! Most of the people left the city anyway. You will not find any sick person!”

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“But we got an order from the Gestapo,” said one of them. “And that was my order,” he answered and looked directly into his eyes. “Whatever will happen to me will happen to you! You are Jews like me and not better than me. We all will have the same fate.” They were silent. I also remained silent. Long minutes passed. We all sat down in the militia's room by the tables. Everyone sat in his own corner, each one with his own thoughts, each one knew what was waiting for him, each one did his own soul searching and calculated the sum total of his life to date.

The night lasted forever. We sat down in silence. Nobody rose or left us! We remained a unified group, bound by a common fate – waiting for tomorrow without hope. When the morning light reached us, I rose, and they rose too – we straightened up, I looked at my fate mates, separately at each one, and my eyes said to them – “Be strong!” We walked in the direction of the Gestapo, and each one knew that it was the final way in our lives. I marched up front and behind me the four militiamen. We entered.

I will talk about the end somewhere else. A miracle saved us from sure death. Even today, it is not clear to me how it happened.

I just wanted to tell you about the position taken by the four militiamen at a critical moment!

I will bring one more case:

On Friday, before the ghetto liquidation, people observed Hermann, the Gestapo man, conversing with Betinger. Based on Betinger's facial appearance, during the conversation, they understood that he received a crucial order. They notified me, so I immediately entered Betinger's room. I did not find him; I only saw his wife. I asked her what she knew about the latest order her husband received a short while ago from the Gestapo. In the beginning, she refused to answer; she hesitated. But when I explained to her that this was about the life and death of thousands of people – she relented and told me that her husband received an order to prepare twenty axes that day and to be prepared for that night.

I heard many other stories from eyewitnesses, but I will not bring them here. I only laid out those where I was an eyewitness. I brought them up for those who research the period and for the judges before they issue their sentences [about the militamen].

* * *

The Judenrat handed the Gestapo the sixty people slated for the labor camp and thus saved itself and the militiamen. As mentioned, it was the beginning of an action that continued until the liquidation of the ghetto.

In the meantime, the Gestapo surrounded the private labor camp of the Kreishauptmann, one day, loaded its people on trucks and brought them over to the general labor camp.

After that event, the Kreishauptmann demanded that the Judenrat provide, at his disposal, sixty other people for his private work. He did not give up on his plans to destroy the Jewish quarter and build instead an exemplary new city. He employed a young and skillful Jewish architect by the name of Lentz. He worked for the Kreishauptmann and prepared, under his command, prepared all the plans for the new city.

It was not easy to find people, in those days, who were ready to work in just a job. First, because it was hard physical work without appropriate tools. But the main reason was due to the danger of being caught working at the general work camp. For the people who worked under the watch of Zonderdinst, there was no opportunity to get away or escape when the Gestapo appeared. The Judenrat searched for ways to convince the Kreishauptmann [to abandon his plan]. They gave him gifts, and that helped temporarily to postpone the order.

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At the beginning of February, the Kreishauptmann warned the Judenrat that if they did not complete the work – the destruction of the houses [in the Jewish quarter] – by the end of the month, he would hand the matter to the Gestapo and the Judenrat would bear the responsibility for that. Under the threat of a pogrom, the women of our city, with some older men, organized and completed the work! They worked every day, from morning until the evening. The children also helped them in that work. I do not know where the women got so much strength to withstand all the troubles and these works.

They finished the work on time, but the demands of the Kreishauptmann and the troubles caused by the Gestapo did not cease. Before they had the time to breathe a sigh of relief upon completing the destruction work, a new notice came from the Employment Bureau about a new registration of all the men at the Bureau. Our experienced people guessed ahead of time the intention of the Germans, and nobody appeared at the Bureau. The result, like in previous occurrences - a hunt of our people, threats toward the Judenrat, searches by the Jewish militia, and transporting the required number of people by the Gestapo to the labor camps.

Preparations for the “Final Solution” - Spring 1942

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

It was the days of the end of February and the beginning of March. The weather was appropriate for that period of the year – rainy and sometimes snowing. Outside, mud combined with the snow, and inside the homes was cold and musty. Our situation has gone from bad to worse. Changes came with the coming of Spring, which, in the beginning, we did not know what they meant. They were severe and very dangerous. Only later on, we became aware that the purpose of every change was to accelerate the extermination of the Jews as fast as possible. It was the period when Hitler, damn him, and his entourage decided on the “Final Solution” – meaning the total extermination of all the Jews in the area under the Nazis' rule, without any exception.

People were nominated to realize that goal with complete authority to create the conditions and the means for total and complete extermination at a maximum speed. These people performed their work vigorously in complete secrecy and according to detailed plans. Among them were scientists, professors, engineers, physicians, and a large staff of workers. According to these plans, extermination camps were created, which, from the outside, looked like labor camps. Inside the camps were gas chambers for mass killing and crematoria to burn the many bodies.

The Nazis divided the areas under their rule into regions and established a dedicated extermination camp for each region. They brought the victims to these camps according to an accurate plan on predetermined dates based on detailed lists. The lists were prepared in advance and contained the number of Jews slated for extermination, which was performed daily. They brought them to the camps in trains, where the Jews underwent a selection and sorting (death or work). That operation was called “Auszidlung” – meaning “uprooting” - uprooting people from their place of residence and exterminating them. Every place where the Jews were liquidated was called “Judenrein,” meaning “cleansed of Jews,” and Jews would never step in that area.

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The Germans began those extermination operations in the west and expanded them quickly to areas in the east. Every region had its own plan, and the Gestapo people were responsible for realizing them. In this way, the lengthy fight between the German civil authorities and the Gestapo about the rule over the Jews was decided. The Gestapo had the upper hand. From that point on, any decision or execution was in the hands of the Gestapo. On the other hand, the civil authorities did not want to give up easily, on the treatment of the Jews, so also, we received orders from them, and we paid ransoms to both sides.

The load was too heavy. All the hopes for a quick ending of the war and changes in our favor did not materialize. The Germans prepared for the renewal of the battles on all fronts. For that purpose, they took care to fix the roads and railroads and maintain them in good condition for transports of army, supply, and heavy equipment going east – to the fronts. The people at the labor camps, responsible for maintaining the roads and the railroads during the year, were then assigned double the work. During the spring, the demands to recruit Jews grew enormously, and the Germans enacted new quotas and additional people. From his side, the Kreishauptmann increased his demands, and he published new orders daily and sent them to the Judenrat. He used to give the Jews all sorts of worthless permits, as they did not have the signature of the Gestapo. However, the Jews did not have a choice – follow the impossible orders and shut up – or pay the Gestapo for their signature by the signature of the Kreishauptmann. That created a situation where any certificate or permit became valid only when both sides signed.

Every one of these authorities had its own liaison. The liaison for the Kreishauptmann was the Judenrat, with Dr. Klarer and his deputy, Ross. They were the ones to receive the orders and the ones responsible for the execution. Although they did not always fulfill his requests, he never forgot and never gave up. He warned them again and again that he would take revenge on them. And he did!

Reorganization of the Judenrat

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

During the same period, the tailor Bertzio Feld, the son of Meir, who produced clothes and uniforms for Krieger, the Kreishauptmann deputy, came to see me. He told me that the Kreishauptmann was not satisfied with the Judenrat, and it could turn against us. He claimed that the Germans intended to reorganize the Judenrat and nominate new people - “more disciplined” and “more responsible”! In other words, instill new life with more powerful and vigorous people. On that occasion, he asked me whether I would be willing to join the new Judenrat when established.

I understood from him that he took it upon himself the role of reorganization of the Judenrat. My answer was unequivocally negative. I explained to him that I was very busy with my work and that, as a physician, I bore a lot of responsibility. I also told that he could not count on me because I did not fit the role. People like myself would not be useful for the Judenrat. On that occasion, I tried to explain to him the importance and responsibility of the role. I tried to convince him not to accept it and leave it for another person. I suggested that, despite the honor associated with it, to remain a simple tailor. I described to him the many difficulties

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he would face on his way, the challenging problems that did not have solutions, the huge responsibility well above his ability, and the dangers associated with that role – for him and the public!

My talk did not help, and eight days after our conversation, the changes came.

The Germans reduced the size of the Judenrat from twenty-four people to twelve. Dr. Klarer remained the Obmann. His deputy was Feld, and Ross was his associate. They added nine more people, most of whom came from the old Judenrat. From that time on, Feld became the driving force at the new Judenrat – until his demise.

Feld was a talented person who knew the German language sufficiently. He was a proud man, an honor seeker with great ambitions who did not know his place and behaved like the leader and dictator within the Judenrat. When Feld accepted the role, he had good intentions. He undoubtedly wished to help our people – as much as possible in those days, without breaking down while facing challenging problems. However, Feld was not the right person for the role! Indeed, he did not last long and failed! He was pushed aside slowly by the contact people with the Gestapo, who wanted to demonstrate their power and the importance of the Gestapo against the rule of the civil authorities.

Feld reorganized the Jewish militia. He nominated Betinger as the commander with three deputies (I need to comment here that it was Betinger who arrested Feld one day, long before the liquidation of the ghetto, and handed him to the Gestapo by their order). Except for Betinger, Feld nominated a few new loyal people to enforce his role and his power. People at the Judenrat feared and flattered him.

During those difficult days, I once entered the Judenrat (when the entrance was totally forbidden) since I had permission to enter that institution at any time and under any circumstances. I saw a big party there in honor of Mr. Feld! They celebrated his birthday. When I saw that, I could not stop myself and said to the people there while my eyes directed at Feld, “Are these your gods, Israel [Exodus 32:4]? Woe to you Jews who dance around the golden calf! Jewish blood is spilled in the streets, a fiery flame destroys the whole community, and at the same time, you are sitting down, eating and drinking, and celebrating without thinking that the flame will reach you soon!”

He never forgot these words I said and had a grudge against me until the end of his term as the deputy commander in the Judenrat.

The Gestapo had their own contact people. They wanted no deal with the Judenrat and selected individuals from the Judenrat or from the outside to serve as contact people between them and the Jews. Only these people had access to the Gestapo. All big, small, community-wide, or private matters were arranged through them. Our contact person was Benyamin Mitelman. Over time, the Gestapo added a second contact person, and his name was Safir. He came to reside in our city from Ternopil during Soviet rule because he had a note on his ID that prevented him from residing in a district city. He remained in Brzezany even after the Soviets retreated.

[The following sentence was assumed as the test in the original text is lacking] He worked at the hospital as a disinfector (nepotism of Dr. Levrovski).

In one of the evenings, we sat down over a cup of tea in my room at the hospital. In that discussion, Safir confessed to me that he had a good friend in Ternopil who served as the contact person there between the Gestapo and the Jews. That friend suggested to him to become the contact person in our city. He proposed that it would help him, strengthen his position, and allow him to help others.

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As known, it was possible to accomplish a great deal with the Gestapo for money. We conversed into the night, and I presented the problem from all its sides and told him openly my opinion about that connection, which was directed only one way. In my opinion, we should not have any relation with Satan! It would not be beneficial for him or for the public. It was not good to approach them and be forced to appear before any demand from them and be obligated ahead of time to fulfill all the missions imposed on him and serve them with his eyes closed.

All my explanations did not convince him. The opportunity to earn money and to become a ruler overcame common sense, and he was nominated, a few days later, by the Gestapo to be the second contact person working parallel to Mitelman.

He was an easy-going person with good intentions and a working man who never forgot the financial side of handling the matters before him. He was a good and loyal friend, pleasant, with the will to help others. He was subjected to the influence of Mitelman, a man with a strong character, sharper, and more knowledgeable about things. They worked hand in hand, arranged all the matters, including financial issues, and connected between the Jews and the Gestapo until the end, upon the liquidation of the ghetto. However, when the Gestapo liquidated the ghetto, they also murdered these two people who served them loyally and faithfully for all this time.

Transferring the Jews
from the Villages to the City

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

One of the most significant events of that period was the transfer of the Jewish families from the villages to the city. All the Jews who lived in the villages, except those who were there under the auspices of the Gestapo, received an order from the Gestapo to move to the city. Every permit from the Gestapo was valid only for a single month. At that time, the permit holder's family was allowed to be outside of the city, but only at his workplace and during work.

That law hurt the Jews, who always lived in the village, even before the conquest and the decrees. Some tried to secure work permits through lobbyists and remain connected with the villages. All the rest had no choice but to move to the city.

In the city, they faced the problem of housing and the Judenrat was responsible for finding a place for them. The housing conditions were below the lowest minimum. The village's Jewish situation changed overnight from one extreme to another. Until then, they resided among the Jews-haters, Gentiles. They suffered from them, but they lived in their own place, and the hand of the Gestapo did not always reach them. Even when the Gestapo people came to the village, the Jews used to hide outside of the village in the fields, gardens, and forests until the Germans left. In the village, they were free of the troubles associated with the labor camps - one of the critical issues at that time. Also, the livelihood and food situation was better compared to the conditions of the city's Jews. All of that changed for the worse. The Germans decided to concentrate all the Jews in one area so that they could use the time when they needed it without much of an effort.

There was another problem, and it was the major one, which was on the agenda at the time – the ghetto problem. In our district, the Gestapo arranged ghettos in many locations. Our city's turn had arrived.

The Gestapo and the Kreishauptmann pressured us

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and wanted to put us in a closed area. The Germans wished to achieve that by the end of March. They searched for a place appropriate according to their goals – a small area that was narrow, stuffy, and without air, which could easily be surrounded and liquidated.

With unified forces, money, and presents, the Judenrat and the contact people with the Gestapo managed to delay the execution of that decree for six additional months. It was a big achievement for us, despite costing a significant amount of money, it did bring us a big relief. First, we resided in our own apartments. Secondly, we were freer in our movement. We could escape outside the city when needed, meet with the Gentiles in the surroundings, and buy or barter for food.

Another reason for the delay in the establishment of the ghetto was the fact that the Jews were dispersed among the Gentiles. To establish the ghetto somewhere in the suburbs, they would have to move the non-Jewish population to the center to houses that were half ruined. The Gentiles objected to that, and we remained in our own apartments until Yom Kippur.

Two significant events happened to us in March. The first was an attack and kidnapping of people to labor camps. It was an unusual case since the kidnappers were not from our district and did not come during the regular time. They went in trucks to a city in their own district to capture people, and when they could not find any, they continued on their way until they arrived in our town. We found out about those circumstances later on. When they arrived at our city, they spread around without asking the Kreishauptmann or at least the Judenrat. They attacked every passerby, captured people, and loaded them up onto the trucks. That occurred during the afternoon hours, at a time when we usually did not have any kidnappings. When the people found out, a big panic ensued, and our people ran away to wherever their feet carried them.

The Germans succeeded in kidnapping about forty people, loaded them up on cars, and ran away. Only later on we found out the name of the camp the Germans took our people to. The connection with them totally stopped.

During that operation, I was on the way to a patient near “Novy Reinek.” A Ukrainian who approached me hinted to me that I was being followed. Without looking backward, I entered a ruined house and jumped into the cellar with standing water. I hid behind a barrel that floated over the water at the end of the cellar. The Germans chased after me and lit the place with lanterns and spotlights. They shouted: “Get out damn Jew,” and shot a few bullets, but I did not respond. When they could not find me, they did not want to waste more time and took off. After a pause that lasted quite a long time, I again heard shouts and shots fired. I saw somebody falling into the water in the cellar. He was a boy, about fourteen years old, injured in his leg. I jumped toward him and dragged him quickly to my hideout. When the Germans arrived at the cellar opening, we were both already hiding behind the barrel. They shouted, shot, and waited for a response. When they did not hear any, they took off.

When it became dark outside, I got out and climbed onto the street. The neighborhood was quiet and peaceful. When I realized that the aktsia was over, I got the wounded boy outside, brought him to the clinic, and dressed his wound. Only then did I return home. They were worried about me at home. They knew that I was not kidnapped but did not understand what happened to me and where I had disappeared.

I told about myself to present a live picture for the reader about what happened in such cases. There were thousands of cases of that kind when the distance between death and life was only a few seconds and a bit of luck.

[The author mentioned two events in March, but only one was described].

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The Period of Passover 1942

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

During the first days of April, our situation was so miserable that we forgot to celebrate the Jewish holidays and Shabbat. In the beginning, the Soviet authorities were the reason, and then – the Germans. Some religious Jews, mainly older adults, were devout in their religion. They avoided working on Shabbat and holidays and gathered to pray in private residences since all the synagogues were closed or occupied by refugees. However, most Jews were forced to work on Shabbat and holidays. Those who came to pray were just a few. We could not gather many people into a private apartment. It was dangerous. Those who did gather to pray were in a hurry to finish, just enough to fulfill one's obligation. They were sure that their good intention and the walk to the praying place were sufficient to grant them the fulfillment of the commandment of “praying in public.” G-d would be satisfied with just a hint. They dispersed quickly after the prayer, not to raise suspicions. In all of these prayers, the traditional religious atmosphere was lacking.

Despite all of that, two days during the year were etched deep in our hearts. They were Yom Kippur and Passover. Mainly the Passover Eve - the first “Seder” of Passover! We did not celebrate these holidays the way we did in the days before the war but the holiday feelings pulsated within us like during peace times. These two days signified the two most important milestones in the life of every Polish Jew, the transitions from the summer to the winter and from the winter to the summer. Through the generations in the diaspora, Yom Kippur was not just the holiest day for every Jew but also the day of soul searching, a day of thoughts and worries about the future - the approaching winter days. During that period, the days become shorter and colder, and the nights longer and darker. Winter clothes were taken out and started to be worn, windows and doors were closed, and the children did not go out to the street to play but came home directly from school. For many people, that period presented problems in making a living, and it also introduced a fear of diseases, rampant in that season. People lived with expectations for the following spring.

The opposite was during the holiday of Passover. The holiday spirit began as early as several weeks before. It was still cold then and rainy. But people did not pay attention to these obstacles. Everybody was busy preparing for the holiday, in an atmosphere of nature renewal and awakening.

That was a family-oriented holiday, customary to celebrate together, and an opportunity for a family gathering. Relatives and acquaintances came for a visit and brought gifts for the children. On Passover Eve 5702 [1942], the holiday spirit was missing. Instead, it was an atmosphere of the evening before an Aktsia. We were sure, based on the information we had received, that the Gestapo was preparing a surprise and would arrange its own “Seder” for us.

We sat down, each in their own house, with the close family, with those still alive – under locks, bolts, and bars, guarding to avoid surprises. We sat down, reclining, at the table. We supported our heads with two hands, ready, not for a Passover filled with fables, but the reality! There was no wine or Matzas in that Passover, only plenty of troubles and blows. Every home suffered the loss of a family member. Everybody was broken and crushed like we were beaten by the ten plagues of Egypt. There was no blow written in the Torah that did not hit us. Every Jew was depressed. Some pious Jews celebrated the Seder, but I doubt they could concentrate.

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We were slaves, and we are slaves. We have not experienced such slavery since we became a nation. We recited - “Pour out his wrath on the other nations” [Passover Haggadah and Jeremiah 10:25] with a feeling of fear, lest new calamities approach. We recited “Next year in Jerusalem,” but those words came out with no echo and without the feeling of hope since we were hopeless.

We ended with “Khasal Sidur Pesakh” [“The commemoration service of Passover has now been accomplished according to its order” ], with the feeling that the evil people were going to liquidate us, and our nation, and the cry burst out of our mouths: “King of the universe! Put an end to the slaughtering.”

That was our situation, and that was how we celebrated our holiday - Passover Eve 5702, 1st of April 1942. The eight days of Passover passed without any traumas or other unusual events, despite serious concerns, since Mitelman notified me before Passover that the Gestapo was preparing an Aktsia. It was supposed to include people above the age of sixty. I received a notice from the Judenrat circles in Ternopil that the Aktsia would take place in the coming days. Similar Aktsias occurred in several locations throughout the district of Ternopil. I had to ensure my father would not be home during the Aktsia. The Gestapo planned that Aktsia for Passover, so time was short. I told our acquaintances and other people in the neighborhood. I rented a farmer and his wagon for the early morning hours. We woke up at midnight, left the city quietly, and brought my father to the neighboring town – Narajow. About twenty people rode with us. Others went to another city or looked for a hideout within our city. Days passed, and we waited for the Aktsia, day after day, and it did not come. Several weeks passed in fear until the Shavuot holiday. I knew that my father was away far from the grandchildren and suffering mentally and even more physically. Therefore, I decided to return my father home. The trip was dangerous since we did not have travel permits. The rest of the city Jews returned with us. Luckily, we did not meet any Germans on the road. My certificate protected me against the Ukrainian militia. To them, I explained that I came to take people sick with typhus. That was how we arrived home.

There were several new decrees in April. The order to transfer the Jews from villages to the city was renewed all the more forcefully, and new people came to live in the city daily after they were expelled from their villages.

During those days, we received the first worrisome news about the state of Western European Jews. The Poles brought them to us. They received them from their acquaintances who came from the West, letters they received from there, and eyewitnesses who tended to these people. According to the news, the Germans uprooted the Jews from their places of residence and transported them on trains to the Lublin district [where the Majdanek concentration camp was located]. [At that point,] it was not clear to us what was the purpose of those transfers. What would these people do in their new places, and how would they make a living? How would tens or hundreds of thousands of Jews survive in such a small place?! We did not get any answers to these questions. Everyone explained the meaning of those facts to themselves according to their character and spirit. Some who wanted to delude themselves believed that the Germans concentrated the Jews in dedicated districts, where they would supposedly enjoy a kind of autonomy or self-rule under the supervision of the Germans. Most of the people did not believe in those assumptions. We waited anxiously for additional information that would clarify the state of our brothers from the West.

The only consolation was that it was still far from us. Besides, we were already in the East and that matter should not concern us. Nevertheless, talks about that news did not stop, and people continued to collect bits of information about that matter. The news we have received was limited. Eyewitnesses said that the Western Jews were not allowed to take any belongings with them,

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except for some personal items in small packages. They were prevented from carrying even the most needed items. They disappeared after they unloaded from the train, and nobody knew what happened to them. Every connection to these people was lost. There were many guesses and assumptions. That situation bothered us, and we could not let go of the thought that something very serious was happening there.

Hideouts – Bunkers

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

The various guesses were worrisome, but in the meantime, our lives continued as usual. Every day brought new problems with it. However, our main problem in those days was the kidnapping of people to labor camps.

People looked for various ways to escape and hide from the searches. They learned from experience that there was no sure means against the kidnapping: no permits, no promises, no permanent job, and even money did not always help. The ransom was sometimes used to release a person who was caught; however, the money was not always helpful because the amount was too high for people to afford it. Therefore, people looked for other ways to escape during the kidnapping. Some ran away outside the city to the fields and forests.

Escapees were in danger of being caught during their escape, or somebody could snitch to win reward money or just due to malice or simply antisemitism. Sometimes, the searches for these people lasted days and nights. Then food became a problem - how and where to bring the food to the escapees without endangering them and how to find where they were hiding. In addition, the escapees did not know whether the Aktsia ended already and whether it was safe to return home. In fact, there were many cases when our people fell into a trap when they returned home, thinking that the Aktsia had already ended. Another way to escape was to hide at the home of a non-Jewish neighbor. That was an expensive way, as a lot of money was needed for the neighbor to hide a Jew. Not every neighbor agreed to have a Jew hiding in his home, and there was always the danger of snitching.

One cheaper and more convenient way remained, although not always safe - building a hideout in the house for one or two people who could hide there during an Aktsia.

In the beginning, that way was effective. The Germans entered the apartment and searched it superficially. If they did not find anybody, they moved to the next apartment. However, with time, the Germans learned to search thoroughly and find the people. It was needed to build a new and better hideout once in a while so that the Germans would not find it easily. It was more dangerous when the Jewish “Ordnungsdinst” joined the searches, who over time, learned all the tricks and knew where to find the hideouts. That situation created competition among the hideout builders. People dug out bunkers and improved them from time to time. They often invented better, more efficient, and larger bunkers to accommodate more people for longer periods. Over time, when the number of residents in the house grew, people had to build hideouts for five or even eight people.

The situation changed when we were enclosed within the ghetto and the hideout had to serve all residents and not just men at the age eligible to work. The number of people hiding in these hideouts reached sixty or even a hundred. The bunkers were built as whole structures, mostly underground. These structures were constructed from better materials – stone, bricks, cement, and steel.

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The plan for the bunker at the home of R. Froindlikhon Lvovska Street
where about thirty people were saved on Yom Kippur 1941

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We built the bunkers in complete secrecy and did not share this with anybody outside the house. Every house took care of itself and ensured the matter would not be publicized. It goes without saying that the construction was done at night after a hard workday. Women and children helped by taking the dirt outside the house and bringing in the building materials. We worked quickly and carefully. We hid when needed not to be discovered by the Germans or the Jewish militiamen during the construction. We feared the neighbors, even the Jews. The building of a bunker was almost like creating a masterpiece. Many obstacles had to be overcome, and it had to be done without any help from the outside. The bunker had to be strong otherwise it could collapse and bury people alive.

A difficulty we faced was the ventilation problem. We devoted many thoughts to finding a solution for exchanging the air that contained sixty to a hundred souls. We had to do it so nobody, particularly those who conducted searches, would find the openings. Sometimes, we managed to connect to the neighboring house's gutters. And other times to the street sewer.

Another challenging problem was how to hide the entrance to the bunker. The opening had to be as small as possible; however, it had to allow for quick entering and exiting when needed. It had to allow for a quick closing to evade the enemy and cover our tracks leading to the banker.

The bunkers were mainly built in the houses' cellars. They constructed the wall from stones, similar to other walls. It closed a significant portion of the cellar so that people would not notice the change and would not discern that the wall was a new construction. The entrance to that portion of the cellar was done by moving one stone. People who entered the cellar would shift the stone back with such accuracy that nobody could notice it. A dedicated mechanism was installed to allow locking from the inside. Sometimes, people constructed the entrance to the bunker from the kitchen, under the cooktop, which stood on small wheels. When everybody entered the bunker, the cooktop was returned to its position, and the entrance was locked from the inside with the help of an iron rod. Nobody noticed any changes in the range that stood solidly in its place.

The walls in some houses reached eighty centimeters (about 31.5 inches). An entrance tunnel into the bunker was constructed through such a wall. A window lintel that could be moved from the inside served as the opening. When people entered the bunker through the tunnel, the lintel was returned to its place and closed from the inside. Nobody knew how and where the people disappeared. It was as if they were swallowed by the wall.

Sometimes, people built a bunker in one of the apartment's rooms, particularly in a windowless room in the middle. They plugged the entrance door with a plastered wall and painted the entire apartment. The entrance to the room was through the ceiling. All the tracks were covered by a volunteer who specialized in that work. The ventilation was achieved through a pipe inside the wall, and connected to the chimney. Quiet inside that room was paramount, as every touch on the wall could transmit the noise, and that was enough for the Germans to find the bunker.

Some people established the bunker in a ruined house a short distance from the apartment. The entrance to the bunker was through an underground tunnel. Some people also constructed a bunker between two roofs. Another design was to build a double ceiling and leave space between the ceiling and the roof. The entry to that bunker was through the room below it. In such a room, people built a closet with a moving lintel that covered the entrance. People also built bunkers in the bathrooms. These bunkers were convenient, but the Germans found out, and that design was abandoned.

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In Polish small towns, the toilets were outhouses. It was a large hole in the ground, and above it - a wooden structure. A wooden seat – a board with a hole in it, was positioned above a hole in the ground. People dug another hole that closed from above. The entrance to that hole was from the first hole using a ladder. After the people entered the hole, the seat board was placed in its place and secured from the inside, and the ladder was removed. People sat quietly in the hole. Sometimes, one of the Germans or more came into the outhouse and did their business when people were inside. As long as they had not been discovered and survived they tolerated it.

Over time, people learned to build two bunkers. People entered one to hide, and the other was left open to deceive the Germans. When Germans found the opened bunker, they thought that the people had already been taken away, and they would move to search in another place. In the beginning, that method was effective, however, over time, the Germans learned our tricks and searched in apartments where an open bunker was found.

In many locations, one of the residents volunteered to stay outside to watch. He would camouflage the entrance and cover all the tracks leading to the bunker. He would then hide in a small bunker or escape outside the city. If he had the misfortune of falling into the hands of the Germans, he would not disclose the location of the bunker and become a martyr by saving others.

There were some other types of hideouts; I would not be able to describe them all. The reality in those days taught us that a good bunker is one of the most crucial and safe means of survival. The main goal was to gain some time with the hope that time would cure whatever wasn't achieved by the brain. We devoted most of our time and strength to constructing the bunker and hoped it would save us.

At first, we used small bunkers to escape and hide during searches for the labor camps. These bunkers were comfortable and cheap, and there was no need to run to them through streets and alleys. The men who hid in them did not depend on others and did not fear snitching. When an alarm was sounded by the watch person or movement was detected in the street, it was possible to quickly hide without being caught.

We did not have an easy time with the rest of our daily life problems either. The difficulties in finding food worsened during April-May, and hunger increased. Finding some grains or potatoes was as hard as the parting of the Red Sea. The villagers demanded a fortune for just a limited amount of grain. When somebody managed to buy some grain seeds, he would roast them on the cooktop and grind them with a manual coffee grinder. People made pita bread from the flour, and everyone in the family received a single pita. Under these conditions, people were willing

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give a tithe to the poor or donate to the needy, who died slowly from hunger. Epidemics spread because the people were weakened by hunger, and could not battle the diseases.

In June, a rumor spread that the Germans disconnected the telephone line of the Judenrat. That was our only way of communication with the neighboring areas and the district. Encoded messages were transferred from town to town in our district, through that connection. With that connection, we warned each other about approaching danger from the Germans through news collected by the various Judenrats. The disconnection brought panic over the city. People gave that news different explanations. The optimists interpreted it leniently, and the pessimists with severity, meaning new harsh decrees were about to occur.

Indeed, on one occasion we all knew that the Germans were preparing a decisive act, and everybody prepared for what was to come. Some left the city or hid in the homes of non-Jewish neighbors. Others relied on their hideout and hid, waiting to see what the next day would bring. Two or three quiet days and people calmed down. People began to slowly return home, waited until midnight, and then lay down to sleep for a few hours, and so passed another two days. On the fifth night, when people just fell asleep, at around one or two o'clock after midnight, the sleeping people suddenly were awakened by shouts and noises of breaking into apartments through broken doors and windows. That was an onslaught by the Germans, assisted by the Ukrainian militia. It turned out that the attackers came in quietly and waited until everybody calmed down and fell asleep. When they received the order, they fanned out around the entire city, broke suddenly into Jewish apartments, and caught the people in their beds before they had the chance to recover and find a hideout.

In apartments where the Germans did not find men in the first search, they returned and searched again. When they did not find men again, they poured wrath on anything that stood in their way; on the children, women, furniture, and housewares. They broke, threw outside, and destroyed anything that fell into their hands. They yelled at and beat women, children, and old people with no exception. They left in the morning, taking with them the people caught during the night.

During the operation, the Germans held the people who were caught in the prison. They loaded them up on cars in the morning and left the city. The Germans did let the women and children approach the prisoners to say goodbye or bring them some clothes and food. They hit the women and children and expelled them from there. Hermann himself commanded that operation to teach the Judenrat and the Jew a lesson about what was waiting for them when they did not obey his orders.

Associated with these operations, the Gestapo reaffirmed an old decree – Mitelman and Safir received an order from the Gestapo to prepare a new list of all the city's Jews ages 14 and up. All the certificates issued until then were canceled. Without a new certificate, nobody could secure a job, regular or temporary.

We were familiar with these decrees for a long time and were not in a hurry to get the new certificates. However, when the German [Employment] Bureau terminated all Jewish jobs, people who had regular or important jobs did not have a choice but to turn to the contact people, pay handsomely, and receive new certificates. That story is not new to the reader. It was not new to the Germans and to us, the Jews. The Germans repeated the decree often to squeeze the money from the Jewish pocket and to keep us under constant stress.


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