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[Page 299]

Women Leave for the Jagielnica Camp

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

I have already mentioned our women. The burden of the housework was placed on their shoulders. In addition, they participated in all sorts of physical works. Some of the young women worked in cleaning houses and government offices. Others served as cooks in German kitchens or worked in temporary jobs. They were assigned by the Judenrat based on the demands of German or Ukrainian authorities. The women were notified through the Jewish militia when and where they had to appear for work, and they came with the tools needed for the specific job as long as there were no life-threatening consequences. The women worked for free. There were no wages associated with the work.

On one of the days of July, the Judenrat notified single women under the age of 35 to appear at a specific place at an early morning hour. About sixty young women came with their tools as usual. Without suspecting anything, they sat down on the ruins of the adjacent houses and waited in good faith for instructions. About an hour later, the people of the Jewish militia came, ordered them to leave the rugs and the tools, and took them to one of the apartments. They entered the apartment without fear or suspicion, but to their surprise, when everyone was inside, the militia surrounded the house, closed the windows and locked the doors, and notified them that they would be taken for agricultural work outside of the city. Panic ensued, accompanied by shouts and cries, but nothing helped. One or two women managed to escape by jumping from a window on the second floor (one of these women reached Israel). All others were loaded on trucks and brought over to [a forced labor camp near] Jagielnitsa, in the district of Chortkiv. They worked in collecting sugar beets. They remained in the camp until the fall and were freed. However, they had to wait for transportation to go back home. The transportation was late arriving. They were caught in an Aktsia and sent along with the rest of the people to the extermination camp.

Aktsia for Converted Jews

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

At the end of July, Hermann suddenly appeared, accompanied by several Gestapo people. We sensed that they came for an important mission, to prepare or execute an Aktsia. Indeed, we were not mistaken. They stayed in the city for several days. Our people looked for ways to get out of the city or wait in their hideouts to see what would happen. At that time, the Aktsia was directed at converted Jews and Christians whose parents, up to the third generation, were Jews. There were about 20 such people in our area. The Germans caught them and brought them to Ternopil, where they were exterminated along with other “semi-Jews” like them. These people lived a calm life until then and considered the extermination of the Jews as a natural phenomenon that did not concern them. However, their time came, and they, too, fell victim to Nazism.

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Alternatives to Hideouts

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

By that time, we had already received reliable news about what was happening to Western European Jews in the Lublin area. An extermination camp [Majdanek] existed there. Jews from all corners of Western Europe were brought to the camp where they were stripped naked, everything was taken from them, including clothes, and they were led directly to the gas chambers! The corpses were taken over to crematoriums to be burned. However, the Germans made soap from the fattish parts of the bodies and the ashes – organic chemical fertilizer. We knew the whole truth then!

We knew that the Germans decided to exterminate the Jews in all ways possible and as fast as possible. Everybody knew from that point on a death sentence was waiting for them. It was only a question of time. Only a miracle could save us from their hands.

There was only one goal then – gaining time!

After all, it was unbelievable and incomprehensible that the wide world would find out about these atrocities and remain silent! We believed there would be a response and that we should not lose hope. We needed to try all means, and salvation would come – hide, escape, and do anything to gain time! That was the need of the hour!

There were several methods of hiding from the Germans. I have already written about some of them and will mention some additional ones here. For us, it was a question of life and death.

It was possible to cross the border to Hungary. Compared to other European countries, the situation of the Hungarian Jews was good. In the beginning, some Jews who lived close to the Hungarian border managed to cross the border with the help of non-Jewish guides. However, over time, that crossing became dangerous. Gentiles in the area provided the Gestapo with information about the smuggling of Jews, and the border became more closed because of the stricter guarding. A short while later, the area's Gentiles organized themselves and conducted attacks on the smugglers, and they smuggled and robbed their belongings and clothing. In many cases, the guide himself was the snitch, and he and some of his friends were the murderers. Over time, that way ceased to be practical.

For us there was another difficulty – we were far from the Hungarian border. We had discussed considerably about that way of saving ourselves. Five young men went out to do so and were killed by the murderers. Among these young men were the two sons of the Fenster family.

Another way was to acquire a fake Aryan identification certificate and move to a new location using these papers in a place where nobody would recognize them. It was not an easy way since it was not sufficient to hold Aryan papers as one had to look as such and it also required a substantial knowledge of the Gentiles' customs. One had to follow the Christian religious rules, and even a single misstep could endanger the carrier of such papers and bring about a disaster. The Gentiles considered every person who came to live in a new area as Jewish people looking to save themselves, and many snitched on these people for money. People also snitched without any compensation and handed these people to the Gestapo. For men, that way was more dangerous because of the identification mark etched on their bodies. Many tried their luck this way, particularly women and children, and some succeeded.

Another way was finding a permanent shelter with Gentiles. Many tried that way, but only a few survived. Most fell victim to snitches by a neighbor or acquaintance of the homeowner. These snitches provided information to the Gestapo,

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An identification certificate of M. Duhl, a Jew who lived in Brzezany under the disguise of a Karai


Which “handled” the homeowner and the Jews who hid in his home. In many cases, the Gentile person expelled the Jews from his home after he took all their money or handed them over to the Gestapo to receive the prize money for his act. In some other cases, the gentile murdered the Jews who hid in his house with his own hands and buried them outside the village.

In summary, only a tiny portion of those who hid in the Gentiles for money survived. Some Gentiles saved Jews and helped them with devotion, not to receive any compensation. These Gentiles were the “Righteous Among the Nations.”

The simplest method, but not necessarily the best one because it was just a temporary solution, was to build a good hideout and receive food from a non-Jew acquaintance. Even if that possibility existed, it cost a tremendous amount of money because it was not easy to find a person who was willing to provide food. There was also the danger of snitching by the neighbors during the construction of the hideout. That danger grew after the “Judenfrei” [designation of an area as “cleansed” of Jews] when the Germans [and other] people in the area or gangs of hooligans watched and placed ambushes to catch the Jew on his way to receive the food from the supplier.

Our people tried their luck in many ways to gain time. Perhaps a miracle would happen. A miracle came to other nations, just not to the Jews. When salvation arrived, it was too late for us!

The News About Belzec

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

At the end of Av or the beginning of Elul (August 1942), Poles brought sensational news from Lviv on what was happening there. The Gestapo surrounded the ghetto a few days earlier and, with the assistance of the Ukrainian militia and the “Volksdeutsches,” went from one apartment to another and conducted searches. Those who were caught were brought to the train station. Those who resisted the elderly, sick, and the weak who could not board the train were killed on the spot by shooting. There was no home where they did not search, and nobody managed to escape. They filled up the train cars during the entire day. They closed the train cars in the evening, sealed them, and transported them directly to Belzec.

During a period of two weeks, thirty-five thousand people were caught and transported from Lviv to Belzec. Nobody from these people survived.

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Belzec! It was no longer just another small town in Eastern Poland. Belzec became a new concept, symbolizing mass killing – an extermination camp – a place etched in Jewish history in large letters of pure Jewish blood. That name passed from mouth to mouth as the symbol of death, killing, and extermination!

So, we, the Jews of Eastern Poland, had our own extermination camp - a killing factory where work was performed according to a detailed plan: an Aktsia that meant gathering the Jews in a collection place, with a train waiting at the train station – transporting the Jews, filling up the train cars, closing and sealing the cars – the train was leaving, and it would speed up and arrive at the camp, where the people would be unloaded, they beaten, stripped naked – and led directly to the gas chambers. Their bodies would be burnt, and before this would be finished their work, a new transport would arrive! People and machines didn't rest even for a moment. They gathered the raw human material and led it to the allocated location. G-d forbid to be late. Everything progressed according to the plan prepared ahead of time. Every city has an exact date. On that date, the number of people was set. The team worked accurately under the supervision of the Gestapo.

When we learned about what happened in Lviv, our contact people, Mitelman and Safir, traveled to the district city to search for true and credible information. They returned and validated the news with some additional information. There was only one consolation – the event that happened in Lviv happened, until then, only in big cities. They claimed that for that moment, we did not need to fear. The Germans always try to numb our alertness; however, in the meantime, we heard about similar Aktsias in our district. From that, we understood and were sure that our turn would come. We did not know when it would happen but knew well that it was only a matter of time, perhaps only days! Every one of us knew what to expect. Deep in everyone's heart remained that spark of hope - the same hope that sustained us in our diaspora for two thousand years and gave us the strength to hold on during those days in all situations.

We continued to build bunkers and hideouts more vigorously, contacted Gentile acquaintances, searched for ways to escape when needed, and our contact people collected money to bribe the Gestapo people to postpone the death sentence as much as possible. The days passed quickly, and there was no day without an Aktsia in the neighboring cities or towns.


A postcard, sent by Dr. Shaklai to relatives in Switzerland with the news that the father and brother-in-law lived
with the mother and that the rest of the family members were thinking about moving to live with the mother.
The postcard was sent at a time when the family in Switzerland knew that the mother was dead.

[Page 303]

The Days of Awe

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

The Rosh HaShana [Jewish New Year] approached, and we knew well that a Jewish holiday is a date the Germans marked for an exceptional operation against the Jews. Yom Kippur came after the New Year, and we did not forget what happened on that holiday last year. And who knew what this year's Yom Kippur bring?

The Aktsias against the Jews during the Days of Awe were particularly cruel, and our turn was approaching. After Rosh HaShana passed without an Aktsia, our contact people decided to try their luck, once again, with the Gestapo, who were seemingly somewhat candid. Our people brought some appropriate gifts for that visit, whose purpose was to find out what was expected in that approaching holy day of Yom Kippur, and try to postpone the Aktsia until after the high holidays to gain time and give us the possibility to prepare for a passive struggle, find an efficient hideout, finalize the preparations in the bunkers, and simply live one additional day - maybe several days and maybe…

Yom Kippur of 5703 [1942]

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

Our contact people returned with good news. I waited for them and talked to them. They were both satisfied and were sure they succeeded in their mission. The Gestapo people promised them, with their word of honor, that Yom Kippur would be a quiet day. That news calmed us down, and we allowed the solemn atmosphere of the holy holiday evening to envelop us. We decided to gather and pray in public, like in the previous year; however, we made arrangements not to be surprised, despite the promises of the Gestapo, since for them, promises are one thing, and an operation is another.

The pious people prayed the Yom Kippur's Minkha [afternoon] prayer, each one in their own home. (We met in public only for the “Kol Nidrei” [“All Vows”] prayer, which took place in one of the homes). We also arranged for it in our apartment. Many changes occurred during last year. Many people who participated with us in praying a year ago were no longer alive, among them my father Z” L. Those who came were also people who did not belong in this world. Everyone was holding a death sentence. Everyone had a single request from the “Master of the World” – “tear down our death sentence.” About eighty people gathered in our apartment. We took a shower and changed clothes – and the holiday atmosphere enveloped us from the beginning of the gathering through the entire prayer.

That atmosphere fell upon us suddenly, as a “Neshamah Yeterah” [“Additional Soul”][1] penetrated us despite all the troubles, which did not ease. I felt the change in everyone's faces, in the way they looked and talked, in their wishes for the holidays, and in the quiet we met each other. We lighted the memorial candles, closed the windows and doors, opened the holy ark that held the Torah scroll, and opened with the words: “According to the opinion of G-d and the opinion of the public, …”[2] and proceeded with the “Kol Nidrei” prayer.

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How different was the prayer that time from all the previous prayers on the eve of Yom Kippur, even those from last year. Last year, we prayed with fear about what the following day would bring. Filled with hope for survival and life, we cried to the Master of the Universe: “Forgive us, reprieve us!”

That time, the prayer was different. It was a prayer that the soul required and the hour demanded. It was not just a regular prayer but a conversation with the Creator – perhaps he would be willing to entertain it. A bitter denunciation of the big and cruel free world was in that conversation. In that prayer of Job, we asserted our rightful claims against G-d and man, like an accusation of the last moment before extermination, before the execution of the death penalty – a confession aimed at removing everything that weighs on the heart, like the confession of a person in his last moments of his life, about to break free from the shackles of this world.

Everyone chanted their prayer by whispering quietly. One person cried, another just murmured by moving his lips, and others were immersed in their thoughts, far from the world's reality. In my life, I saw these moments of faith and sanctity in human life only once - on that eve of Yom Kippur during the prayer! The memorial candles were lit in the corner. We lighted them for ourselves and not for those who lost their lives because that day was no longer the day when the fate of a person was being decided since we stood there after the death sentence had already been given. In our prayer, we prepared ourselves for the big moment when the murderers would execute our sentence. However, everyone had that spark of hope in their heart, like a feeling that there was still hope as long you still have a soul.

We continued our prayer slowly. Each one had so much to say that we could have continued to pray until the light came in the morning. We would have continued if not for the warnings by the guards that we had to finish and disperse immediately, everyone to their own home, close to their hideout. We set the Shakharit [morning prayer] to begin at the crack of dawn so that we could finish it in the early hour of the morning and begin the Musaf[3] at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

Most people left the apartment, and only some family members stayed behind (my wife and son stayed in a village at that time). We sat, each person in their own corner, immersed in our thoughts. We did not talk to each other. At one point, we all fell asleep from exhaustion. I also fell asleep and dreamt – or perhaps it was a daydream. In my dream, I saw my parents, although I knew in my dream that they were not alive. That scene remained etched in my heart, and I can see it as a live picture until today. I hear my mother saying: “My son, don't despair, and don't stand in the middle of the road. Try everything, do everything, otherwise, you are lost!” In my father's eyes, I see the agreement with my mother's words as if to strengthen her words. His eyes are hinting: “I will be with you!”

These words were etched deep in my heart, and I have not disclosed them until today because I was afraid that I would lose them or that they would lose their power. During the most difficult moments throughout the Holocaust, at times of hardship, I thought about them and repeated them in my mind. They indeed helped me to overcome the obstacles I faced. They gave me the strength, courage, and faith to survive the perils I encountered on the way!

The morning had not lit yet, and the people gathered again for the Shakharit prayer. Some read Psalms poems all night long. Others sat down lonely and fearful that something unexpected would happen, and they wanted to be ready if… Usually, the German operations began on the third shift of the night. We had already passed that time, and there was no sign of the Germans. We began with the Shakahrit prayer. For most people, that was the last prayer in their life. I did not know why, but that prayer was different from the “Kol Nidrei” prayer of last night. We felt tension in people, they seemed restless,

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as if they were waiting for every moment, something crucial in their life. It was quiet outside, the pleasant coolness of a beautiful summer morning. It was one of the beautiful days of a Polish fall. People walked in the streets. The Jews were in a hurry. Those who completed the morning prayer ran home. Others had to go to their regular jobs since the holiday did not allow the Jews to take a break from their regular jobs. Others went outside to seek information.

It was calm in the streets. People did not feel the approaching storm. The time was already seven thirty in the morning, and we were about to finish the morning prayer when my brother-in-law z”l opened the door and quietly said, but with fearful and emotional words: “The Gestapo! The Gestapo is in the city!” They surrounded the city from all sides. Quiet descended, for a few seconds, and suddenly somebody shouted: “Belzec!”

That word affected all the people in the room like a bomb. They burst out and disappeared within one moment, leaving the Prayer books and Talitot behind them.

Suddenly the house emptied out and left deserted and sad. There was no prayer, no movement, and no people, only an emptiness and depressing quiet. You can hear your own heavy and restrained breath.

Five people remained in the room – two of my brothers-in-law, my sister-in-law, my sister z”l, and I.

Translator's Notes:

  1. Neshamah Yeterah (“additional soul”), is a popular belief that every Jew is given an additional soul from the entrance of each Sabbath until its termination. Return
  2. “According to the opinion of G-d and the opinion of the public… we are allowed to pray with criminals,” the words chanted by the prayer leader before the Kol Nidrei prayer on Yom Kippur. During the days of the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were forced to convert. Despite the danger, they gathered together in hidden cellars in Yom Kippur to accept the sanctity of the day and ask for mercy for being seen as criminals all year. Return
  3. Musaf (Literally – additional) service is recited on Shabbat, major Jewish holidays, and at the beginning of each month. Return

The First Aktsia to Belzec

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

As if by instinct, I turn my eyes toward the corner where the memorial candles stand and see that almost all went out because of a gust of wind as the escapees left the door open. I feel a squeeze in my heart, and cold sweat covers me. I consider that a hint. I run to the door and lock it to save whatever is possible to save. I move the cabinet located in the corner of the kitchen, hiding the entrance to the hideout. I lead my brothers-in-law, sister-in-law, and sister into the hideout. I move the cabinet back to its place, arrange the Talitot and prayer books, and sit by the window, through which I can see without being seen.

The sudden change and the new situation paralyze my movements. I act like a robot following my own commands. I look outside. I put one leg above the other and one hand into the other, like a closed circle inside my body. I try to freeze all body movements except for shallow breathing and my heartbeats. I do not how I managed to put myself into that situation.

I sit like that for many hours. I hear the voices but do not respond – I sit like a fossil. Shouts of the Germans could be heard all around, and also children's cries and mothers begging for mercy. I see through the window how the Germans are leading people, beating them, shooting at them, and people falling down to the ground. Other people manage to escape. Disorder and confusion, crying, panic, shouts – all that I see but do not respond to.

All that passes before my eyes like a movie, a thriller. The pictures change fast, but the time stands frozen like me. My room is quiet. Nobody approaches the door. Nobody tries to open the door. The shouts and the shots are around my apartment. They take away everyone from my neighbor's rooms forever. After they leave, the quiet like the cemetery prevails in their apartments.

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I stayed in my place [at the window] frozen for many hours, without a movement, a thought, and without the feeling that I exist. I woke up from my frozen position only around midnight when my people in the hideout began to move the cabinet to get out. They thought I was caught early in the morning, and they stayed in the hideout by themselves. They saw shadows and flickering lights coming from the memorial candles and thought the house was on fire.

I jumped from my place at the window, approached the cabinet, and warned them not to come out as the Aktsia was still going on. I returned the cabinet to its place and again approached the windows. It was quiet in the street, only a heavy guard marched around, holding flashlights and weapons. I sat down at the window and slowly returned to my former state.

After midnight, I heard knocks at the door, quite gentle in the beginning but when I did not answer, the knocks became stronger and stronger each time. I heard yelling to open the door. I recognized the voice of our house's caretaker. I did not open the door and did not respond to his knocks.

These knocks knocked me off balance. Cold, trembling, and restlessness took hold of me. The night was very long. The hours lasted forever, and I determined that a single hour at night lasted as long as a whole day. The hours passed slowly until the sunrise light penetrated through the window and lit the cold room, which seemed so foreign to me at those moments! My breathing accelerated, and fear sneaked into my heart. The street came alive - shouts, knocks, and shots were heard again like the prior day.

I hear knocking on the door. The caretaker says: There are Jews here! And after that, robust knocks and German shouting: “Open Jew!” The knockings got more robust, and when I did not respond, they broke the lock with an axe and busted the door. The Germans entered while the caretaker stayed outside. There were five Germans, and they were accompanied by a Jewish militiaman, the son of Sender Klarer.

The Germans turned to me and asked in amazement: “How did you get in a closed apartment sealed with a Gestapo stamp? Is it not that this apartment went through a thorough search, and all the Jews were taken out of it?” It was then that it occurred to me the reason why the Germans passed over on the door to my apartment at the same time when they searched all the apartments in my area. One of my patients, a Gestapo person, closed the door purposely and sealed it to save me.

In the meantime, they took me out of the apartment to the corridor, under the supervision of the [Jewish] militiaman. and the Gestapo people themselves searched the apartment and looted everything valuable. Klarer described to me the calamity caused by the Germans in the city. They caught his parents and his sister with her son, among the many others, and there is no way he can release them. There is also no way to escape since the city is hermetically surrounded. They led the people they caught to the city square, where several Judenrat people were already sitting. Many old and sick people were murdered by shooting.

A few minutes later, the Germans finished the search in my apartment. They did not find the hiding people. They took me down to the yard, the first stop on the way to the collection location in the square. At the same moment, two of the Gestapo men, who were treated by me (they put the stamp on my door) approached. They turned to the other Germans and requested to release me because I was a physician who worked in the German hospital and was treating Germans. Their request did not help me. The Germans did not agree to release me and ordered me to move.

My patient, the Gestapo man, sent me a hint, and I understood what he meant. I quickly jumped and ran behind the wall that led to the staircase. I heard a shout behind me: “Stop!” and the shots, but by then I had already

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reached the staircase where I hid in a primitive hideout. A German passed, running near me, holding a drawn handgun. He shot several times in all directions, looked here and there, did not discover me, and left. I could not stay in that hideout because the caretaker knew the entire house and all the hideouts. Running outside of the house meant a danger of certain death. I also could not leave my relatives alone because the caretaker ambushed them, and they were lost without me. Therefore, I returned to my apartment and sat down in my place [near the window] with my apartment's door that was broken into.

Two hours passed, and the caretaker brought another German squad, among them a Jewish militiaman. When they asked me what I was doing there after the searches, I explained that I was a physician in the German hospital. They caught me when I returned from work and brought me to the collection square. However, Miller himself released me based on the request by the health department. The Jewish militiamen stood out for me and only demanded that I pay ransom money to the Germans. They were satisfied with what I gave them and left.

At noon, the caretaker brought yet another German squad. That time without a Jewish militiaman. They asked me again the same question: “What are you doing here in an apartment that was broken into after the apartment had been searched.” I answered the same answer, “I am a physician, etc… and that Miller released me when I was already in the collection square.” One of the Germans, the squad commander, said: “You are telling the truth, I was present when Miller released you. Sit down here quietly, and nothing will happen to you.” In actuality, the German saw a physician being released in the collection square, but he was mistaken. It was Dr. Feld and not me.

I remained sitting in my place, as I was advised by the German, but the quiet was beyond my reach. The sun rose high, and its rays warmed up the room. It was stifling, but I was cold. I was trembling all over; cold sweat covered my entire body. I did not feel hungry despite the forty-hour fast. I felt like floating in a rubber boat in a stormy sea after my ship had sunk. Black clouds covered the sky, and my eyes were looking for a rescue point. Where would help arrive from?

That situation lasted until 2:30 pm. The caretaker did not give up. That time, he brought a person from the secret police, a Pole from our city. He explained to the policeman exactly where the hideout was and told him that many Jews hid there. The policeman entered, totally ignored me, and began to search. He moved from one room to another and returned to the kitchen (we had two kitchens). He opened the cabinets to find the entrance to the hideout (he knew that the entrance to the bunker was from the kitchen). In his searches that lasted two hours, he passed through the apartment several times and could not find the cabinet and the entrance. I saw tension and nervousness on his face when his friend came running suddenly and called him to go outside. They talked to each other and then disappeared. Through my window, I saw that the rest of the Germans disappeared and understood that the Aktsia ended. The truth of the matter was that it did not. The Germans just finished the searches and were mobilizing everybody to transport those who were caught from the collection square to the train station. I used those precious moments to release my people from the hideout, and they escaped from the house to outside the city.

I was left alone and felt relief. The tension that enveloped me for thirty-six hours slowly dissipated, but weakness overtook me. I felt like I did after a long illness when my fever finally dropped. My blood pressure dropped under the minimum. I have not eaten or drank a single drop of water for two days. I sat down and could not rise.

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I was close to a nervous breakdown. The door remained open and I did not have the strength to stand up and close it. The night was cool, and the fresh air refreshed me a bit. I do not remember how I passed that night. I only recall that my neighbor, the photographer Ya'akov Korn, saw the broken open door, went in, and found me in a state of despair. He took me by force outside of the apartment, closed the door, fixed the lock, and brought me to the city, where he took me to the tavern. I received two large liquor glasses and a bagel. I drank and ate. My strength and alertness slowly returned, and I recuperated.

I stood up and walked out. My first steps took me in the direction of the Judenrat.

Testimonies of Eyewitnesses

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

In the previous chapter, I described what I experienced during those forty-eight hours. In this chapter, I will try to detail the Aktsia from what I heard from eyewitnesses, from the people who boarded the train cars, jumped, and returned to the city.

Since an hour had passed beyond the time that the Germans used to begin their operations, our people did not suspect anything when they observed military trucks loaded with soldiers traveling to the city square and stopping there. Following these soldiers, the Gestapo came in private cars, and they, too, stopped at the city square. Some curious people approached the scene. The Gestapo got out of the vehicles and gave the soldiers signs, and they dispersed. At that moment, the Jews began to suspect the worst, and they left in a hurry. Some tried to escape outside of the city, others to their own homes, but the escapees did not run far when the Gestapo, who were calm until then, changed their skin and became predators and attacked the people to catch them. Only a few succeeded in escaping, but most of the people were captured by the murderers.

In the meantime, the German soldiers in the trucks managed to surround the city from all sides. Panic ensued within one minute. It was too late to escape by then. Those who had hideouts tried to sneak away and reach them. Others ran around to try to find an opening between the guards. The latter were the first to fall into the hands of the murderers.

The Germans collected everyone in the city square. The Gestapo divided its troops into several squads. Some encircled the city and stood with their weapons drawn, ready for action. The others dispersed and broke into houses to search for people. Many who were in the middle of praying were still covered with their Talitot at the time, as they had not heard about the Aktsia. They were caught and brought to the collection location at the city square. In the meantime, an enforcement for the Germans arrived. It was the Ukrainian militia, along with the Volksdeutsches, who played a considerable role in the searches. The Germans also demanded that the Judenrat and the Jewish militia make themselves available to them.

During the Aktsia's first hours, they effortlessly caught the Jews. Many were caught when they were praying, and they were led to the city square. The Jews walked calmly and proudly, with their heads held high, while they muttered

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their prayers and accepted the verdict from the heavens. After all, one can not escape the will of the Creator.

When they reached the city square, they were ordered to sit down. They were forbidden to stand up or to talk. The punishment for every offense was a murderous beating or a shot. Following the men, the Germans led the mothers with their children to the city square. The children cried, and the mothers asked for mercy, but to no avail. The Germans pulled, pushed, and beat them without mercy until the mothers and children were brought to the collection location. They, too, sat down, murmuring the day's prayer with choking voices, tears, and groans. The mothers complained to the Master of the Universe: “Why?!” They pled: “Help the little children, for you if not for us.”

The city square was filling up slowly. People were still being brought in, but less and less every time. At that stage, there were pauses in dragging people to the city square. The operation commander, Miller himself, the Gestapo commander of the entire district, was getting irritated. He ordered the Judenrat and the Jewish militia to participate in the operation against the Jews accompanying the Germans, to hurry up and discover all the hideouts, and to complete the mission quickly. He threatened they would join the people in the collection square if they did not cooperate. A Jewish militiaman now joined every five-person German squad in addition to the Ukrainians and the Volksdeutsches. Those people were going around in the streets accompanied by bandits, robbers, looters, scoundrels, and mere Jewish haters. They followed the Germans as if to find Jews, but their main goal was looting and theft. The Germans conducted the first search, looking for Jews and valuables. The horde followed to complete the work – breaking, destroying, breaking the windows, and taking whatever fell into their hands.

For the Germans, that is not the first Aktsia. They already learned where and how to search. They knocked on the wall to see whether there was an echo of an inner room. Sometimes, the Germans broke the wall with axes, checking the ceiling, floor, and built-in closets. They also moved all the furniture. They were executing their mission expertly, faithfully, and meticulously.

What did the people hidden in their hideouts do during those terrifying moments? Are there words to describe the situation and suffering of these people and what they were experiencing? Can we depict the long moments from the time they heard how the Germans break in the door, then the shout: “Get out Jew,” and the knocks during the searches when they heard the approaching knocks holding their breath, a cold sweat covered the body, and they trembled from fear and the cold. Their nerves were stretched to the maximum. The three and four-year-olds understood the danger, so they kept silent. Little children received sleeping drugs. It happened that the dose was too small, and the child woke up. The mother had to hold the child and press the mouth forcibly onto the breast or shut the child's mouth with a hand until the child stopped breathing. There were cases when the dose of sleeping drugs was too high. Combined with the poor ventilation conditions, the child fell asleep and would not wake up. The mother had to hold the dead child in her arms.

It is easy to understand that one cry of a child could attract the Germans to the hideout, and all the people in it would be lost. There were cases when the mother chose to stay outside with the child so as not to endanger the others.

If the hiding people got lucky, and the Germans did not find them in the first search, it did not mean that they were safe. Sometimes, a single German remained quietly in an ambush at the apartment to see if he could hear an echo of a cry, talk, or movement, which would allow him to discover the hideout. Usually, the searches did not end in a single search. As aforementioned, following the Germans came the bandits and the Volksdeutsches. Following them, another German squad.

[Page 310]

That continued until the end of the Aktsia. There were cases when the people in the bunker were sure that the Aktsia had ended, left the bunker to go outside, and were immediately caught.

All of that happened when the Germans did find the hideout. However, if G-d forbid, the Germans found the entrance, they would open it, stand on the side, and send the Jewish militiaman to pull out the Jews from the hideout because the German heroes were afraid to go into the bunker. The outcome then depended on the character and the Jewish militiaman's goodwill. If he had the courage, he would divide the people into two groups, young and old. He would then leave the young ones in the hideout and pull out only the old ones. He knew well what would be his fate if the Germans would find out about what he did. The Germans asked him if that was all, shot a few shots inside the bunker, waited to see if there was any response, took the people whom the militiaman pulled out, and brought them to the collection location.

There were cases when an old grandmother or grandfather, or both, sacrificed themselves and became martyrs to save the rest of their family. They stayed at the apartment outside of the hideout. We heard from several cases where the Germans found one or two people in the apartment and were satisfied with them and did not conduct additional searches. These people had to possess a strong character not to reveal the hideout location under beatings and threats. Indeed, when the Germans encountered these grandmothers and grandfathers, they could not get a word out of them, only their souls, which they gave up willingly. What was the feeling of people who sit and wait for the angel of death? What did they experience in those long minutes before they are caught? Who could understand what their heart was saying? These people were heroes.

When the Germans found bedridden people, they tried their best to bring them to the collection square. Each of the Germans was obligated to deliver a certain number of live Jews to the city square; therefore, they tried to drag people who were half-dead to the collection square. Those who could not be brought to the collection point were killed on the spot with horrific cruelty and the sadism of predatory animals (I was told that by Jewish militiamen eyewitnesses, who were present and saw it with their own eyes). For the murderers, killing by a gunshot was not sufficient. They stood across from their victims and looked into their eyes with satisfaction until the victims' souls left them. They accompanied the torments of the dying victims with the laughter of people who were enjoying themselves and sometimes added some kicks in the leg of the dying people after they expired.

For the people in the hideouts, on one side, time seemed like it was standing still; on the other side, it seemed to be passing fast as it looked like days, weeks, and even years had passed. Every minute in the bunker seemed longer than a year in freedom. However, the Aktsia had just begun, and everything that happened occurred in the morning hours. It is impossible to know the limit of human strength and the ability to endure suffering before they were caught.

The Germans fought a war of extermination and nerves against us. When they were unsuccessful in discovering us, they tried to break our resistance and strength to withstand the war of nerves. We prevailed, and they did not win that war.

The time moved slowly, in no comparison with the regular time in the collection square. However, the Germans increased their effort and worked vigorously with all their might. They would have willingly delayed

[Page 311]

the sunset so that they could complete the work in the daylight, but the sun was setting.

[In the meantime] the Aktsia was quickly expanding, taking the form of fighting, destruction, and cruelty. The Germans and their collaborators continue to search, destroy, beak, burst in, and bring people to the city square, the collection location. Here, the people were sitting, cramped and crowded, unable to move, stand up, or even turn. From afar, the people looked like a single block, one big black stain, with hundreds of heads close to each other. The black stain was expanding, becoming bigger and bigger. They kept adding heads, albeit slowly, not as fast as in the morning when the flow was unceasing. Black stain, mute and motionless. No voices were heard, and the people were silent due to fear, exhaustion, or indifference. The square became an arena. Those who were sentenced to death were sitting in the middle, and not too far around them, curious Gentiles stood and watched the miserable people for long hours.

Miller, the Gestapo commander in our district – supervised the whole operation. Based on his shouts and the look on his face, it was clear that he was not satisfied with the operation's progress. He had hoped to complete it by noon. Several hours later, the Germans were far from reaching the required quota.

In the meantime, the sun was about to set. For the Germans, the sun was setting too quickly, but for the Jews, the sunset was too slow. For those who sat in the square, that day was the most arduous and the longest in their lives. Nobody complained about discomfort or pain. They did not even feel the fasting; as if they were no longer a part of this world. Only one thing that bothered them now - how long would it take until the end of their suffering, until they arrived at their final destination, to Belzec?

They no longer prayed; neither the Minkha [afternoon prayer] nor the Ne'ilah [Yom Kippur's closing prayer]. After all, the gates to the heavens were closed. They also completed their Viduy [confession] prayer several times. Only the troubles were endless.

The night brought with it the dew and the cold. At first, the people felt relief after the hot and long day. Now, they began to tremble from the cold. They moved now, taking advantage of the darkness. They straightened their backs, breathed deep, and turned their heads. Miller felt it, so he ordered his people to transfer the prisoners to the train station. Trucks arrived. An order to stand up was given. It was not easy to stand up after the prolonged sitting, in the conditions they sat, after a day of fasting, without a drop of water for twenty-six hours. People helped each other, stood up, straightened their backs, leaned on each other, and moved forward.

The Germans loaded the young ones onto tracks and led the elderly, weak, and women with their children on foot under heavy guard. The young ones had the privilege of traveling on track to prevent any attempts to escape on the way. The elderly, weak, and women with children would not have the strength and the will to escape. The block of several hundred heads moved slowly under the moonlight and the lights of the flickering flashlights. A shot could be heard from time to time when somebody tried to escape.

Following them, the Volksdeutsches and bandits marched slowly. It was not enough for them to delight their hearts and eyes by watching the troubles and suffering of the Jews. They wanted to continue to witness the “show” until the end. They were worse than the jackals.

They finally arrived at the train station, but the train was late, or perhaps they were too early. Several people tried to escape. Some were hit by German bullets and dropped dead, and others were caught by the Volksdeutsches and the bandits, and it was pointless to tell what they did to them until they expired.


No caption: A picture of the artist Michel Kara?

[Page 312]

The hour was late when the train arrived. The doors to the train cars opened quickly. The Germans gathered the people and pushed them forcibly into the train cars. They did not care if anybody was wounded, bruised, had a broken hand or ribs, or even killed. On the contrary, that was done purposely to make the trip more bothersome. When they finished their work, they closed the doors from the outside. They covered all the windows with barbwires and boards fastened with nails. They secured the train cars hermetically from all sides to prevent any attempt at an escape, and by doing that, they blocked the flow of fresh air for the poor people inside.

The commander was angry, seethed, and shouted out of shame because they had only achieved half the quota that day. What would he tell his supervisors? The train left, but the Germans stayed in the city since they had to reach the predetermined quota assigned to them. At 2 am, they received an order to get ready for another Aktsia at 5 am.

That time, the operation was more nerve-wracking, crueler, and faster. The Gestapo who were reprimanded tried their best to achieve their goals. They warned the Judenrat and the Jewish militia that they would join the transport if they would not help in reaching the required number of Jews. The Gestapo told the people in the collection square that they would release the person and his family that would disclose to them the location of the hideouts of their acquaintances and neighbors. They tried to convince or force people with terror and false promises. I heard many stories about that subject. Were there people who broke and complied with the Gestapo's demands? How many people believed that they could save themselves in that way? I cannot say for sure. There were a few who found that snitching did not help them. Nobody was released from being caught by the Germans except those who freed themselves from the train on the way to Belzec.

The Aktsia on the second day ended at about 5 pm. On that day, the Germans succeeded in gathering more Jews than on the previous day. The reasons for their success probably lay in the snitching of several people and the increased effort by the Germans, but mainly because of the exhaustion of the people in the hideouts. The operation itself was a repeat of the previous day. The Germans used the identical collection location at the city square, the same torturous way, and possibly the same train and cars. After thirty and a few more hours, the Germans completed their work but did not leave the city.

The murderers and their collaborators gathered to celebrate the successful end to the murder of the Jews, dined, gave praises, and summarized the two formidable but fruitful work days. That cost us additional victims. Some people thought that the Gestapo had already left the city. They came out of their hideouts and were caught immediately by the Volksdeutsches and the bandits, who roamed around in Jewish homes to loot and rob. They handed these captured people to the Gestapo, who, as a “dessert,” took them out of the city and shot them to death.

In the meantime, the train made its way to Belzec.

It was dark in the train cars, suffocating, stinking, crowding, and lacking fresh air for breathing. People lay on top of each other, crying, shouting, and trying to free themselves from the weight of their neighbors, trying to find their hands and legs in that crowd and catch some air to breathe.

[Page 313]

Slowly, everybody calmed down; the people were trying to help each other. Somebody lit a match, the people opened their eyes, a light ray in the dark. They saw a crack at the top. Once, there was a small window there. They needed to open it! Several youths approached and began to work. After all, there was nothing to lose. They tried their strength. One of the youths climbed on the shoulder of another and hit the wall with his fist once or twice, and indeed, the board moved. A few more firm knocks, and the board fell down. A flow of fresh air burst into the train car. New lives are awakening; now they tried to loosen the rest of the boards from the hatch. After they achieved that, they encountered a new problem – how do they open the door? It was almost impossible to reach the door latch from the hatch. One of the youths pushed himself through the hatch, and two youths held him. These are critical moments, to life or death!

The youth freed the barbwire around the hatch and removed it. He was exhausted and could not continue. He caught the hatch's side panels with his hands and tried to lift the door latch with his leg. It was not easy. He tried again and failed. His hands were falling asleep, becoming weak. Suddenly, the train car jumped up on the rail tracks, and the latch moved! Another pull with the leg, and the latch opened. The youth held the door with all his remaining strength to prevent it from locking again. In the meantime, the people inside moved the door from the inside, and it was now wide open.

An Opening to Life

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

Who dared to jump from the train to freedom? Courage was required, but also a lot of luck. The Germans were positioned on the roofs. There were one or two Germans situated on train cars, holding machine guns. However, the people inside the train cars did not have much to lose. The first one jumped, then the second, and the third. Twelve people jumped through the open door. They did not get hurt except for scratches and bruises from the fall on the ground. They returned to the city. Most people on the train were afraid to jump or incapable of doing so. They knew their end. There was no place they could return to. They would not be able to withstand another such day: the searches, bunker, and worst of all, the sitting in the city square waiting for the redeeming angel – the death angel. These people were broken. There was no hope for them. They were unwilling to receive any help or proof. They went to face death with their eyes open.

Those who jumped from the train returned to the city secretly, hiding from the militia and the Gestapo, and began everything all over again…

[Page 314]

The Destruction after the Aktsia

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

[The first sentence or paragraph seems to be missing in the source].

Several hundred to two thousand people [were taken in the Aktsia]. From the Judenrat, they took Dr. Klarer, Shomer, Freier, and the teacher, David, with their families. My brother-in-law, Ya'akov Bomze, was also among the victims. He was one of the people who could but refused to jump from the train.

At the Judenrat, I found out that Mitelman was nominated by the Gestapo as the head [Obmann] of the Judenrat, replacing Dr. Klarer. They threw out Bertzio Feld from the Judenrat. That was probably their response for not appearing on Yom Kippur with the rest of the people of the Judenrat at the collection location. The Gestapo wanted, even before that, to remove him as the representative and messenger of the Kreishauptmann. They added a few more people to the new Judenrat to replace the people who were killed.

Commotion prevailed in the Judenrat. The noise was deafening, and the work was plenty. First, it was necessary to bury all the victims who were shot at home or in the streets. The Judenrat also needed to provide men to clean the streets after the pogrom and destruction. There were also all sorts of demands coming from the Germans. The latter knew how to take advantage of situations when Jews were depressed by not letting them recuperate and take a deep breath. On the contrary. They oppressed the Jews at times when they were humiliated, not to let them raise their heads - to rise up and recover.

I ran away from the Judenrat and went down to the street. I do not have the words to describe what I saw there. The people who survived were still under the last few days' effect. They were all running. The people spoke quietly, more with hand movements than by their mouths. A husband was looking for his wife, a woman – her husband, children – their parents, and parents – their children. People stood by the ruined hideout, empty and open, black and dark. They looked inside, called, and yelled. They went inside, searched, did not find anybody, and went out. Whoever left the hideout would never come back. The bunker was silenced. There wasn't even an echo to the calls. It was deserted, humiliated. It did not succeed in fulfilling its mission. It failed the test. It could not be relied on any longer. There was destruction around the bunker and destruction in the streets. Anything breakable was broken, and the rest was thrown outside to the street. The souls of the survivors were also destroyed, like the whole area for those who survived.

On my way, I met an acquaintance I worked with him in the clinic during the Soviet regime. He was one of the people who jumped from the train and returned to the city, ready for a new struggle. He told me how they opened the train car's door and jumped out. He told me who stood near him, what they were talking about, and who refused to jump. He provided me with all the details, from the moment he was captured until he jumped. He gave me a full report because he felt he needed to “pour out his heart.” He wanted to tell me what he had experienced to ease his heart. I listened to his story until somebody else asked him a question, and he began to tell his story from the beginning.

I left them and walked toward the “Riska” [Street]. Mrs. Ross-Mandelberg, the owner of the tavern, came toward me. She approached me, dancing with laughter and song. She sang the song of a bereaved mother, looking for her children: “Where are you, my children? Far, far away from me.” We heard that song once in a show. That woman lost her mother and two children on Yom Kippur. I saw from a distance that the tragedy hit her hard. She approached me and looked at me as if for the first time in her life. She suddenly hugged me and burst into bitter tears.

[Page 315]

That was beyond my powers. I released myself from her arms slowly. During the entire time, I did not find even one word of comfort to say to her. What can possibly comfort her? We stayed standing for a long moment. She murmured all the time: “Where are my children? Where are they?” She looked at my tearing eyes and walked away. I also went on my way, and perhaps I ran, escaping.

A short while later, I reached the hospital. I entered, and everybody looked at me. I told my nurses that I was unable to work that day. The nurse told me: “Go take a rest. You look exhausted.” I was unsure how I looked at them and what they thought about me when they saw me in that state. I left the hospital. I was not a place I could rest there. I went to the village to see my wife and son.

I was tired and sleepy; I dragged my legs slowly, and the road seemed long. I decided to stop by the side of the road for a short rest. I saw a large rock not far away, among the grain fields. I approached and sat on it. The sun rose to the top of the sky and radiated plenty of heat. I was drenched in sweat. I took off my coat and discovered I still wore holiday clothes.

It was good to sit there and rest. Silence prevailed around. The air was fresh, and the sky bright. I heard the singing and laughing voices of the farmers. What a difference, I thought, between a Jew, who was a prey all over the world, and the Gentile, the citizen, who settles his land and cultivates it? The inner calm, there is nobody around me, freedom, and no interruption. There were no Germans, bloodshed, shouts, and no destruction. A peaceful atmosphere was around. One was allowed to breathe whatever he wished. And one was allowed to live. I slowly freed myself from the pressure and stress I was under throughout the last sixty hours. The calm and refreshing environment helped me to regain my mental balance and to digest the things I heard about and repeat, word by word, the thrilling story I heard from the person who jumped from the train.

I asked myself: “Who was right? Was it the man who jumped from the train to continue his arduous struggle for survival? Or perhaps my brother-in-law and others who stayed on the train, thinking that there was no escape from death, no hope for salvation, and no use in continuing with the struggle for survival. I do not know the answers to these questions. Would I, a person who was not captured, was not present in the collection square, and did not jump from the train, have been able to undergo the same tension again?

I arrived at my family's place in the village in the early evening. I told them what I went through and what I heard and listened to what they had experienced during the last three days.

In the evening, when conversing with my wife. I told her: “You know, I thought a lot in the last two days. I do not see any use in the struggle to survive. There is no hope for salvation because we will all go in the same way: Hideout, search, transfer to the collection point, the train, and Belzec. Wouldn't it be better if we end our life quietly, in our apartment, at once?” My wife answered: “I am willing to swallow the poison, and so do you. However, who will give the poison to our son?”. I remained silent. “You are right,” I thought.” We do not have the permission to decide about his life!” I remembered my parents and what they said : “You should not lose hope. One must continue with the struggle, no matter what!”

I woke up the following early dawn and returned to reality, my work, and to my struggle to save my family. A lot of work accumulated for me at the hospital. In the evening, I went to visit my patients in the city.

[Page 316]

The Road to the Total Extermination
- and the Struggle Against it

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

After the destruction caused by the Germans on Yom Kippur and completed on the following day by the Volksdeutsches and the bandits, the latter received an order from the Gestapo to collect the Jewish property. That was the “inheritance” that fell into their lot – apartments and properties after the extermination of thousands of Jews as in the verse: “Have you not murdered a man and seized his property? [1 Kings 21:19].”

Many months before the Aktsia, the German and Ukrainian newspapers warned the non-Jewish population not to approach the Jews, contact them, and buy or barter with them. They claimed that the Jews were infected with all kinds of diseases, and any contact with them involved a health risk and even a risk of death for those who bought merchandise from them. However, after the Aktsia, the Germans were not unafraid to enter the Jewish homes, examine every object, large or small, sort the objects, arrange them, and determine what to send to Germany and what to leave in the city and distribute among the Volksdeutsches' hordes.

I passed by them and saw their work. I saw how they loaded furniture, tools, and other items on the wagons. It was a “legal robbery” under the sun, and nobody protested against that evil injustice. I did not have any affection for these objects, but each reminded me of the person who used to own the object. The Germans did not only exterminate the people but destroyed every memory of them, even their belongings. It was like a total obliteration from the face of the earth.

After they emptied an apartment, they closed it and sealed its doors with a wax seal. These apartments became Judenrein, and every non-Jew could receive it under the approval of the local authorities.

The Jews repaired the rest of the apartments as much as they could afford the repair. They closed the windows with tins, board, and any other material that allowed protection from the winter's wind, rain, and cold.

The fall had begun, and the nights became very cold. People did not rest even after they repaired the apartment and plugged the cracks. They all continued vigorously to run around, arrange, and repair here and there. A big change was apparent in them. They became more serious, and their hair grayed. The destruction could be seen on the face of every Jew. Something broke in them and could not be fixed. Even time could not heal it! Although people were ready for more calamities and knew that an additional Aktsia was coming, they feared it. The fear did not allow for any rest during the day or at night. A thought is not the same as an action in the same way that fear is not the same as an actual trauma. What I wanted to say was that the destruction we experienced in those “days of Awe,” also destroyed the people who survived it. Although they returned to their daily work, they were devastated, in body and soul, carrying the certainty that the Aktsia was the first but not the last. Additional Aktsias would come until the entire Jewish population would be exterminated.

Quite a few people did not recover and remained heartbroken, losing the will to live, melancholily walking around like shadows. Those were mainly the people who lost a part of their families and remained alone, without a helping hand, with no encouragement, and without the strength and will to continue with the struggle, like those on the train who refused to jump. These people were neglected in their appearance and stood out in their indifference. They were the first victims of the second Aktsia.

Eight days passed, and another persecution was imposed on us.


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