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[Page 317]

The Ghetto

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

To definitively determine a small place, surrounded by a fence, the location of the ghetto for the remnants of the city's Jews, Miller, the head of the Gestapo, gathered the Kreishauptmann and his people and others from the local authorities. The group went around the city's length and widthwise, discussed every detail, and negotiated. In the end, they could not find a better place than the half-ruined houses in the city center, with several adjacent streets. That was once the Jewish quarter before the war. It was now mostly ruined, and the housing possibilities were few. It was impossible to put into that small and ruined quarter all of the Jews that were still alive. Miller joked that the Jews would be able to enjoy a sweating bathhouse [sauna] 24 hours a day. He issued an order that all Jews must relocate into that quarter within 24 hours and that the area would be marked and fenced around. That would be the Jewish ghetto, and from it, only those who had work permits outside of the ghetto would be allowed to get out. Non-Jews were forbidden from getting into the ghetto.

Since the place we got was too small to house all the Jews in the city, our contact people began to lobby vigorously with the authorities, with the help of gifts and bribes, to enlarge the ghetto by adding some houses from the outside of the allocated place. It was not easy, but we achieved a few changes that worked in our favor: we secured a few more houses and received a three-day extension. There was another decree, according to which it was only allowed to bring belongings weighing less than 25 kilograms. According to the new rule, there were no limitations as long as the transfer would last less than three days. The authority also gave up on the part of the order to wall the ghetto and surround it with a barbwire fence. It was agreed that the closing of the ghetto would be implemented in stages. That was a crucial achievement for us. The ghetto was not only a cramped, narrow, and dark place to reside in but also a jail-like place. We were all placed in “jail” at once, closed up and under the strict supervision of the Germans. The eyes of the Germans were on us during the days. They could capture us at any time without any effort and without the need to search, as we were all concentrated in a single area without the ability to escape when there was an Aktsia. We were all dependent on the Gestapo for good or for evil.

The housing conditions were inhumane; up to twenty people crowded in the same room. There was no room for furniture, not even beds. People slept on the floor. When they managed to put a bed in the room, several people slept on it. A table was placed in the house very rarely. In those conditions, it was hard to think about minimal cleanliness. As a result, pandemics erupted in the ghetto, which infected many people in the winter. At least one hundred sick people were in the ghetto on any given day, and sometimes two hundred. There was no way to prevent the spread of a disease from one person to another because of the crowdedness. The sick slept in the hideouts, in dark and wet corners, on the ground, without substantive human treatment. There were no medicines nor food except drinking water given to the sick without any limitation. Many people, particularly those older than sixty, died from these diseases. Young ones also died, and those who recuperated did not completely recover. They remained frail and thin. There was no wonder since they did not receive the required food portions for these diseases to help them recuperate. There was also no fresh air since they hid from the Gestapo in hideouts. And if there were still many patients who survived, it was thanks to the will to overcome the disease, which also helped them overcome any other difficulties associated with the disease.

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Brzezany – the plan for the ghetto and camp

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There was no possibility to buy food at the ghetto. The authorities agreed to allow the Jews to leave the ghetto and go to the “Nowy Rynek” [the new market square] for half an hour, from 12:00 pm to 2:30 pm, to buy food. However, the market was mostly empty, and there was almost nothing to buy. The little food that reached the ghetto was brought over by the people who left to work outside or by those who risked their lives to leave the ghetto secretly to shop and return through all kinds of breaches in the fence. The latter sold the food in the ghetto for a retail price.

The other problem was that in the ghetto, we were left without hideouts, without the possibility to hide in a bunker when needed. Building a bunker big enough to house forty to sixty people was a project that required time, workers, construction materials, and know-how in building bunkers. However, the time was short, and the area was too small to build a bunker for so many people.

There were also tiny but repeated problems in daily life. People accustomed to a comfortable life had to give up that life at once. It was not achieved easily. As much as possible, the Judenrat tried to distribute apartments and rooms based on the needs of the families. They did not always overcome the difficulties in doing so. Obviously, the Judenrat did not forget to provide the best apartments and rooms to “respectable people” (nepotism) of those days.

The move into the ghetto was slated to take three days and two nights. Until then, it was allowed to take out anything transportable from the previous apartment. It is exceedingly difficult for me to paint for the readers that horrible and degrading picture. People ran in all directions, to their former residences and back to the ghetto, carrying sacks, furniture, wooden boards, etc. Everybody was working, children too. People moved wardrobes, tables, chairs, and clothing on small loaded hand-carts. Everything was done in disorder. People did not put their belongings into their new apartments or rooms. There was no time for that. They threw everything in the middle of the street. A small child was positioned at the pile to guard that nothing would be taken or lost. A side observer would have thought that a fire had broken out in the city, and people were making the utmost effort to save their belongings from the fire. It seemed like the people took valuables out of the burning homes. Indeed, that is what it was. Everything was valuable in those days, even a small board, a broken tool, or a torn rag.

The three days of the move passed without any disturbances. The Germans did that on purpose to imbue the feeling among the Jews that they moved into a sanctuary, which would be their home for the future, and would not think about their previous residences or about escaping from the ghetto. The Germans knew that the move would cause the Jews to suffer and oppress them. Fights among the Jews broke out due to trespassing between neighbors who shared an apartment or room. The Germans and the other Gentile citizens enjoyed and laughed at seeing those scenes. They observed scenes the like of which happened in the Middle Ages when Jews lived in ghettos.

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Some Gentile families moved from the areas around the ghetto, following the phrase: “It is beneath our honor to be with you.” Those Gentiles received hefty compensations: nice new apartments and a move paid by the Judenrat.

The move ended at the conclusion of the three days. However, the work around the move and the results it caused lasted for days and weeks. There was a need to put the belongings in the rooms and arrange them. Due to lack of space, people needed to put some belongings in the corridor, the yard, and every possible corner, and after all that – leave some of the belongings in the street. A few families were allowed (for a hefty sum) to reside outside of the ghetto, on the condition that they move to smaller apartments close to the ghetto. That permission was revoked a month later. The families who took advantage of that had to move twice, causing double work and suffering. In addition, most of the rooms and apartments had been distributed, and the housing situation of those families became extremely difficult.


Exit certificate from the ghetto for the Jew, Osias Ritter

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In those days, the Gestapo completed the first round of Aktsias to Belzec. The Gestapo caught as many Jews as it could find in the small towns. They then took the Jews from those towns and announced them to be “Judenrein.” The captured Jews were sent to bigger cities. Our Judenrat also received an order to make two large apartment buildings available for the Jews expelled from the small towns. There was no room for the Jews who resided in these buildings, so they were divided among the other ghetto residents. With that, the crowdedness in the ghetto increased and became unbearable. Probably, the Gestapo planned that ahead of time! That time, even the optimists among us, who believed that the Aktsia on Yom Kippur was a one-time operation and that our situation would improve, realized they were mistaken. They finally understood that the Germans plan their operations ahead of time, as was the view held by the pessimists among us for quite some time.

Not even a month since the Yom Kippur Aktsia passed when news arrived about the second round of Aktsias that began in Ternopil. We received bad news daily about what was happening in farther away areas, other locations, and other cities in our district. [This round] had the same operations, disappointments, and number of victims, if not more.

[The Germans used] the same methods and means: searches, Jews were being caught, they were led to a collection square, train, Belzec, murders in gas chambers, burning of the bodies in crematoria, and the circle turned, and the whole story kept repeating. The Machines work continuously. The trains transport and bring “Raw Material,” and the [murder] factory processes it!

Now, people are trying to arrange, as quickly as possible, hideouts for as many people as possible in a short time. People worked days and nights digging, carrying out dirt, and preparing construction materials. However, all that effort was insufficient to complete proper hideouts, where people could hide during an Aktsia. People set guard duty during the day, and especially at night, to receive an early warning of an approaching calamity. Perhaps that warning would enable hiding or timely escape outside of the ghetto.

The Second Aktsia to Belzec

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

This time, the Germans did not give us a long break. On the 31st of October, the Germans arrived in total quiet in unlit cars and approached the ghetto carefully. The number of the murderers and collaborators was the same as in the last operation. The first thing the Germans did was to position guards in key positions around the ghetto. By the time we found out what was going on, the ghetto was already encircled.

People among us who did not construct or did not finish constructing a hideout tried to escape outside of the ghetto. After all, they did not have any other choice. Most of them were killed by German shots. This time, the Germans did not chase after the escapees and did not try to capture them. They fired indiscriminately and without warning in all directions. This time, there were more shot victims than the first Aktsia. The guarding around the ghetto was stricter and more efficient using a smaller number of people, which succeeded in closing the ghetto hermetically. Nobody came in, and nobody came out. The Aktsia itself was delayed until the morning hours. The Germans were afraid to go into the ghetto in the dark during the night.

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There is no need to describe the second Aktsia since it was a repeat of its predecessor, only more organized, faster, efficient, and crueler. Using the same forces, the Germans and their collaborators managed to execute in several hours what they could hardly achieve during the two days of the previous operation. Several reasons contributed to the faster speed and more numerous victims: Many people who survived the last Aktsia had not recovered from the calamity of Yom Kippur. These people did not resist their arrest this time; they just fell into the hands of the murderers. Another reason was that the Germans learned and specialized in the art of the search: where to search, how to find the hideout, and how to quickly open it. An additional reason was that we were not yet prepared for that Aktsia. As aforementioned, the construction of the hideouts had not been completed yet. The hideouts were also more superficial than in the last operation. The Germans captured more than twenty people in many of the discovered hideouts, and some contained about sixty people.

The change in this operation, which was much shorter, faster, and more organized, was that it started in the early hours of the morning, while the ghetto had been already surrounded at midnight. The searches began at once from all sides and at the same time in most apartments. A second and third wave of searches followed the first one. The Germans progressed fast, according to their order and plan, broke into doors and windows, shouted, destroyed walls, lifted boards from the floor, and searched the cellars and every place they found suspicious. Like last time, they did not spare the furniture and other belongings. They purposely broke everything and threw the fragments outside. They killed the elderly and the sick on the spot and did not bother at all to take them to the collection location. They only took to that location the captured people who could walk. The same show took place, but this time, the audience consisted of farmers from the neighboring villages to whom the Germans wanted to show off their power and heroism for the farmers to learn a lesson. This time, there were beatings to improve and diversify, and screaming to the point of madness to scare the Jews and hurry up themselves. They hoped and were successful in finishing the Aktsia under daylight. They completed the transport of the people to the train station in the afternoon.

The Germans completed the loading, closed and sealed the train cars, and inspected the train. The locomotive whistled, and the train moved forward toward Belzec.

After the train left the city, our people went to work, broke the doors, jumped out, escaped, and tried their luck again by returning to the ghetto. Indeed, that was what happened. The doors of one train car after another broke, and the people jumped out while the train was traveling at its maximum speed. Our people learned how to jump from a speeding train and helped each other during the jump. One of the people stood on the side and watched the outside into the darkness. He would give signs to two people who stood on the two sides of the door to notify them whether the road was safe and that there were no trees, rocks, or telephone poles ahead. Based on the second sign, the two people helped the person who waited to jump at the right moment. I do not know how many people jumped from the train and how many jumpers survived. However, throughout the night, about one hundred people returned to the ghetto, among them many wounded people who required care or orthopedic treatment.

I took care of the wounded, and they told me what happened to them from the moment they were captured until they returned to the ghetto. Each had a unique experience that can never be forgotten. Every jump was a thriller, an unforgettable adventure. Among the jumpers were five people for whom it was the second time to jump, escape, and live to wait for the third Aktsia!

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Those who jumped successfully walked along the railroad tracks and helped the wounded to return home or hide on the way home. The returnees told me a story about a waggoner from our city who helped people jump from the train. When he saw that the people in the adjacent train car could not open the door from the inside, he jumped over to that train car while the train was moving, holding a small ax, and opened the door for them. The Germans caught him in the act and shot him with a burst of bullets. That waggoner sacrificed his life to free others and save them.

Many more heroes acted quietly and with sacrifice, whose stories would never be told and would not be praised as heroes.

The people who jumped returned to the ghetto and sneaked into their apartments very cautiously to avoid being discovered by the Germans. The latter would, most certainly, execute them. They also feared the Jewish militia who could reveal their secret.

On the following day after the second destruction, whose dimensions were no less severe than the first destruction, the survivors began building new hideouts, that time at a much greater speed, to be ready for the third round we all knew would come.

The shock after the second destruction was enormous, as was its effect on the survivors. However, this effect did not last long. People recovered quickly and got themselves into the mood for the third round's eve to be ready more efficiently to escape, hide, and jump from the train if needed. People wanted to live!

Towards the Winter

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

The second Aktsia took place in the fall of 1942. The Germans were then at the top of their success on almost all fronts. They ruled most of the European areas. Rommel's corps arrived at El-Alamein in North-West Egypt. In Russia, the Germans ruled areas from Leningrad [today Saint Petersburg] in the North, Moscow in the center, and Stalingrad [today Volgograd] in the south. They reached the Volga River and even penetrated the Caucasus Mountains. Every day brought them a new victory. Despite all that, we felt that the Germans were nervous and restless. We had the feeling that we faced crucial events in the coming days. Maybe the Germans were afraid of the approaching Russian winter.

Thoughts about the harsh winter gave rise to new hopes. Our people were awakened instinctively, filled with a new will to live, and were ready to battle with spirit. Indeed, we felt that our win was not that far. We believed in the approaching salvation, and our people tried with all the means at their disposal to save their lives. Those courageous people left the city with Aryan papers despite knowing the difficulties they might be facing.

However, on the other hand, there was nothing to lose. One may only succeed. Indeed, it was possible to succeed in that mission. Those who could afford it searched for permanent hideouts outside the city ‘till the storm blew over.’ They looked to hide the entire family, part of it, one or more children with the Gentiles in the neighboring areas. Sometimes, people divide their family as follows: the father and one child with a farmer in a particular village, and the mother with another child with another farmer. Those who did not possess the financial ability to hide outside the city invested all their might, vigor, wisdom, and knowledge in building hideouts. We did everything we could to gain time. We thought that the Third Reich was facing a disintegration despite the latest win.

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The truth was that in the following days, there was a turnaround on all fronts. In November, H…er, may his name and memory be blotted out, suffered one defeat after another. On the 2nd of November, the British began their counterattack in El-Alamein and did not stop until they expelled the Germans and the Italians from North Africa. The Americans successfully landed in North Africa, and their army progressed speedily. On the 22nd of November, the Soviet army began its most forceful counterattack in Stalingrad. That attack was later spread to all fronts. Under that atmosphere, our will to live and celebrate H…er's defeat strengthened. At that time, we did not know that H…er would not collapse, even if he would be forced to retreat all the way to his capital, Berlin. We could not anticipate that he would withstand those defeats and that his people would continue to believe in him and obey his orders until the last moment. The Germans did not break and did not surrender easily. The Allies had to dislodge them one step at a time and fought with them for two additional years. We could not foresee that, and we all lived in illusions that encouraged us to overcome the superhuman difficulties.

Several Aktsias took place in our district in November. We also did not experience a total calm. There were some kidnappings in the labor camps despite the approaching winter. It was executed by the Jewish militia and the Judenrat. Besides those kidnaps, we faced daily problems, like the problem of getting food. The farmers experienced excess produce that year and would willingly barter with us. However, it was hard to meet and organize the exchange. The main problem was how to bring the food products into the ghetto. As I have already mentioned, there were several ways to do so. For money, a substantial part of our professional people received a permit from the Germans to cross into the Aryan side and work for the Gentile population. These people included gold and silversmiths, photographers, locksmiths, glaziers, and more. These Jewish professionals received agricultural products illegally instead of wages for their work. They brought the products into the ghetto, also illegally. Some people made a living by buying food products outside and bringing them illegally into the ghetto. Both Jews and non-Jews were involved in that, which resulted in price gouging. The difficulties associated with these daily issues were dwarfed by the most difficult problems: the pandemics, which spread towards the winter and intensified with the move to the ghetto, and the counter activities of Hermann, which cost us many victims.

My Fight for the Typhus Sick

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

On one of the evenings in November 1942, I found out at the Judenrat about the death of the lawyer Finkelshtein. I went to comfort the bereaved and, on that occasion, to pray and say Kaddish in memory of my Father z”l. We held two prayers a day in my room until October. On those occasions, I said Kaddish first, in memory of my mother and then my father. When we moved to the ghetto, that arrangement ceased because it was not possible. Once in a while, I tried to find out where people were praying so that I could join the Minyan and fulfill the Kaddish commandment.

On that evening in November, I served as the cantor, and I prayed the Shmona Esrei prayer with devotion. Two militia leaders broke in at that moment, approached me directly, and handed me a notice from the Gestapo to appear before them in the militia room, under a threat that if they did not bring me there within five minutes, they would be killed. They told me the reason for the notice! Somebody snitched about Jews hiding in a bunker. Based on that snitch, Hermann found the bunker with sixteen people sick with typhus in it.

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He squeezed a confession from them before they were tortured to death that I was the physician who took care of them. They shot them in the bunker, and they were waiting for me then!

I felt at that moment as if I saw my father z”l in his full stature, standing before me, looking at me and saying: “My son, they call you, and you need to go! Don't be afraid, and don't break. I will be with you!”

The interrogation in the militia room lasted two and a half hours or longer. They used all the means they usually use in such cases (except beating) to bring me to a nervous breakdown and admission of guilt. I found out during the interrogation that they knew many things, even cases that I was sure remained a total secret. One of their complaints against me was that I accepted Jewish patients at the hospital under false names and treated them there on account of the German government. The truth is that I treated such patients in the hospital. However, they were admitted to the hospital by the head nurse after she had received a sum of money as a gift for her monastery. I treated them at the hospital as Aryan patients. We (myself and the patient) knew the truth, but we never discussed that. It turned out that the caretaker of the hospital followed these patients and notified the Gestapo. The Gestapo tried to capture these patients, and for that purpose, they often conducted sudden searches but never succeeded. They needed substantive evidence to accuse me but also the entire hospital management. That was why they wanted me to admit my fault and to serve as the state witness against the management!

How did it happen that the Gestapo never caught a Jewish patient at the hospital? The story goes as follows. A German engineer who worked on the war front left his wife in our city. She was a beautiful woman, full of vigor. She had many lovers, among them Hermann, the Gestapo man. He notified her on the phone every time he planned to visit our city. She resided in the apartment of Dr. Bilnksi [is it Bilinski?], the manager of the municipal hospital, and they shared the phone with the engineer's wife. Bilinki [Bilinski?] family members tracked every telephone call (they spied on behalf of the Poles). They notified me every time about the planned visit of Hermann, so I always knew ahead of time about what was about to happen. When I received the warning, I took all the Jewish patients out of the hospital and got out of there myself until Hermann left the hospital. It was only a coincidence, but that saved the lives of the patients and mine and continued as long as I worked at the hospital. However, after that incident, we acted more cautiously and kept clear of the caretaker.

I am returning to the main topic of this article.

I have already written about the order by the Gestapo to our militia concerning the searches for Jewish sick in the ghetto during the night, and the sleepless night I spent with the militiamen in the militia room. I will now return to my visit at Hermann's office, accompanied by the four militiamen, following an order by the Gestapo. We went to the Gestapo headquarters in the early hours of the morning, where two Gestapo people (who were treated by me) tried to convince me, at the last moment, to change my testimony, to admit my guilt, and to snitch about one hundred Jewish sick people as a “human ransom” to save my life. I did not respond to them and directly approached the office door. After a soft knock and without waiting for an answer I opened the door, and we all entered Hermann's room. He lay on the bed in his full uniform. His eyes were closed; he was probably asleep. A loaded handgun was placed on the nightstand to his right. I set my eyes on the gun, and a thought came to me to kill the murderer. That episode lasted only a few seconds since Hermann opened his eyes and suddenly saw us standing before him. Perhaps he noticed my gaze in the direction of the gun. He was totally baffled and began to shout at us: “What?! What are you doing… here?!” I answered him that he had invited us

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to address the issue of the sick people in the ghetto. Long seconds passed when he made an effort to concentrate. He suddenly turned to the militiamen and asked them how many sick people did they find in the ghetto. When they answered that they had found none, he finally woke up, jumped from the bed, turned to me, and said:” You get out from here.” With the whip he was holding, he began to lash the militiamen. We escaped the room in a hurry. Our people, who followed the event from afar, told me that after we escaped his room, Hermann got out, almost running, jumped on his jeep, and left the city. The rest of the Gestapo people, who waited outside, stood on the side, surprised at the strange and incomprehensible behavior of their boss, like a person who got bitten by a snake. They looked after him until he disappeared.

These last ten hours etched a deep groove in my soul. After I survived the calamities of Yom Kippur, I was strong and did not break, but I was tired of the tension that suddenly stopped in the way it did. We, myself and the four militiamen, returned to the militia room and felt as if we had been resurrected. There [the other militiamen] prepared for us, those the survivors of certain death, black coffee. I drank, rested, gathered my strength, and returned to my work at the hospital and to my patients at the ghetto from which sixteen people who were killed by the Gestapo were missing.

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Our Situation in the Ghetto
and our Struggle leading up to the Ghetto Liquidation

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

That was how 1942 ended. It was an atrocious year for us, a year with many victims. We were left with just a small number of Jews waiting for their extermination. Many locations around us had been declared Judenrein [“Clean of Jews”]. Despite the many troubles, a change for the better was felt; the Germans were in retreat on all fronts. It gave us hope.

Most people who survived in the ghetto were young or a bit older. The elderly and the sick had been either caught, killed, or died in the pandemics and were no longer a burden to the ghetto. Most of the people who survived were professionals. They were allowed to work outside. Many other people officially continued to reside outside the ghetto, such as physicians and other professionals, whose work was essential even at night. These people had connections with the external non-Jewish world. They tried to find hideouts in the villages because people were willing to give everything they had to save themselves. The rest of the people relied on their bunkers and a miracle. Although one was not supposed to rely on miracles, it was a different matter without any other alternative!

After the last Aktsia, there was a break until Passover. However, there was never total calm. Small local Aktsias took place, and our oppressors killed people once in a while. All of that bore a local character. These activities were carried out by the Gestapo and the local gendarmerie. Every so often, the oppressors conducted searches in a single house or a few houses. They searched for certain people for whom we did not know what their “crime” was. When they found them, they brought them over to the cemetery and killed them there on the spot. Alternatively, they were brought to the prison, where they joined other captured people. The oppressors then took the whole group and shot them into a pit prepared in advance.

[The article continues on page 326 in the original Hebrew book]

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The Gestapo and the local gendarmerie put an emphasis on searches for people who left the ghetto illegally, hid with the Gentiles, or mixed with the general population using Aryan papers. They found some of them every day with the help of snitches. The Germans were unable to capture these people on their own without the assistance of the snitches. They could not distinguish between a Jew and a Gentile. Furthermore, they could not search in the villages because they did not have the time, ability, and sufficient workforce.

It is worthwhile to note that, in our area, none of the Gentiles were punished when Jews were found hiding with them. We, therefore, suspected that the hosting Gentiles themselves provided the information about the Jews they were hosting and received money for that information. They received money and jewelry from two sides: from the Jews for shelter and from the Gestapo for information.

In some cases, they bragged to other villagers about their wisdom and heroism, about how they took advantage of both the Jewish victims and the Gestapo.

The month of January passed as I have described. We had already got used to that life. The closest family cried over the individual, and the rest of the people breathed a sigh of relief every day that passed without an Aktsia. At the beginning of February 1943, the Judenrat got an order to bring in all Jews who resided outside of the ghetto, particularly from the surrounding villages. The licenses of all kinds expired on the 15th of February without any exception. I was the only person allowed to be anywhere in the district 24 hours a day. However, my official residence was inside the ghetto. Those who returned to the ghetto, or more correctly, those who entered the ghetto for the first time, found it difficult to adjust to the conditions. They suffered much more than the people who resided in the ghetto for some time. The housing situation was much more complicated than before. There were no hideouts ready for those people. Fortunately for them, there were no more Aktsias to Belzec, and the closest Aktsia would be local and take place after several months.

The latest order was a clear hint to us that we were facing the liquidation of the ghetto. It was expected to happen shortly, perhaps before the end of February. The Gestapo talked about it in the open. They knew that we were all in their hands because there was no place to escape. The Germans kept a close eye on us inside the ghetto and around it during the day and particularly at night. The Volksdeutsches took it upon themselves to do the guarding role. They acted as assistants to the Gestapo and the gendarmerie. They were ready for another Aktsia but had to wait for an order from above. It was not dependent on the local or the district Gestapo since it was a state-wide operation. It was not clear how it happened, but the liquidation of the ghetto was postponed for another three months.

There were several assumptions as to the reason. People talked about an exchange deal between the Germans and the Americans. The Germans requested vehicles and other accessories of war for the remaining Jews. The Americans did not agree to that kind of a deal. As told, the negotiations lasted a long time. In the end, the Germans received a negative answer.

Another assumption was that some of the German government officials requested to leave some Jewish professionals until the end of the war. Yet another assumption was that the Germans feared an American-Russian reprisal and waited to see their response [to the mass murdering of Jews]. When the response never came, the Germans completed their mission without interruption.

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We did not know the reason for the postponement and how long it would be until the final Aktsia. We waited day by day, evening by evening, and night by night for that operation.

Everything written here is a true and accurate description of the situation.

We did not have even one minute of rest, neither during the day nor at night, from the day the people gathered in the ghetto until the “JudenreinAktsia. It ruined our nerves. People who went to work did not know if they would live to return home. In the evening, when they returned, they went directly to the bunker or the hideout. That's where everybody gathered, ready for any sign that they had to get into the hideout [and close the opening]. We entered the hideout and got out of it countless times for anything suspicious. The elderly and slow-moving people sat in the shelter, most of the time, not to impede others. We did not take off our outdoor clothes and remained dressed for days and weeks. Everyone carried hacking tools in case there was a need for them. Everyone had a bit of food with them, and some food was hidden in the bunker for an emergency.

Every house had a commander, and all obeyed his orders. Strict twenty-four hours a day guard duty was organized, particularly at night. Every house selected an observation point, where one person or two sat, guarding without a break, and watched to see whether there was any movement on the roads. The guards performed their duty faithfully. They observed well and carefully listened to pick up every sound. They maintained contact with the house commander and reported on anything that aroused their suspicion. Such news passed quickly from one house to another. We were always on constant alert and unrelenting tension, even on Sundays, despite knowing that the Germans would not give up their weekend's rest.

It is difficult to describe the electrified atmosphere of those days and more difficult to comprehend by people who were not there. Every slight movement, every passing car, aroused tension in us. We spent most of our time in the underground hideouts rather than in our apartment. The apartment only served as a corridor to the bunker.

We got used to thinking that we were facing total annihilation; we seemed to have come to terms with the situation. However, we could not get used to the unbearably long period of tension.

The Germans knew to take advantage of our situation. They purposely spread rumors and all sorts of fake news to confuse us. They told stories about apparent reliefs that were about to be given to us and, at the same time, spread opposite stories about an Aktsia and ghetto liquidation. They raided individual houses and conducted long searches that lasted a day or two.

They murdered the people they found outside of the ghetto on the spot, in front of the area's Gentiles. Sometimes the Germans brought the captured person to the cemetery to present him in front of the Jews so they could see what was waiting for them if they tried to escape.

Among those who were killed on the spot were the two daughters of Mr. Altman, caught by the gendarme and shot in a farmer's yard. The parents paid the farmer to bring the bodies to the city [for burial]. The two children of the watchmaker Pomerantz were caught at the house of a Gentile outside of the ghetto. The oppressors brought the entire family to the cemetery, where the children and their mother were killed. Pomerantz himself was permitted to return to the ghetto, as he was a professional the Germans needed. He refused to receive that permission and the order from the Germans, and he was [killed and] buried together with the rest of his family.


No caption: A picture by the artist, Michel Kara?


I recall that on one of the afternoons, we heard the sound of several shots. I went down to the street to investigate the reason for the shots and ran in the direction where the shot echoes were heard. On the way, I met a Jewish person

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and I asked him for the reason for the shooting. He answered: “It was nothing. They just shot three Jews.” I said to him: “What do you mean? They killed three Jews, and you consider that nothing?” He responded: “They found them outside of the ghetto, brought them here, and shot them on the pile of trash.” So! I thought to myself. How far have we come? The killing of three of our brothers does not make any impression on us any longer, as if that was a natural event. On my way home, I met two of the gendarme's people. They asked me mockingly whether I was going to conduct an examination on the bodies to determine the cause of death. Yes! Our lives became worthless in the eyes of G-d and man, and not only that – our lives became worthless in our own eyes!

The “Milk” Aktsia and Others

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

Twelve women got out of the ghetto in March 1943 and passed to the other side by the market, “Noye Rynek.” They went out at twelve noon to do food shopping, mainly milk, according to the Gestapo's permission and license. At noon a few people passed through the market because no merchandise was left. On the same day, the Gendarmerie waited for them on the other side and took the women with them. The Judenrat people turned to the Gendarmerie to clarify the reason for the arrest but the Gendarmerie refused to accept them for discussion, claiming it was their noon rest hour. They told the Judenrat people to return at four o'clock in the afternoon. The Judenrat people were not particularly alarmed since their relationship with the police was usually good. The people of the Judenrat were sure that they would manage to get the women out of there by the evening. However, at two o'clock in the afternoon, the relatives of the women who waited by the Gendarme's office said they saw the women being transported outside the city.



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The Gendarmerie brought them to the Jewish cemetery, ordered them to strip naked, and shot them.

Lawyer Fridman's wife and the daughter of Lufter, the glazer, were among these women.

Some additional local operations and searches took place in March. They surrounded the house on the corner from the market to Adamovka (Block Rosenberg). During the three-day siege, they did not allow anybody to enter or get out of the house. They conducted searches and destroyed whatever they could but could not find the bunkers, which our people constructed and named “Stalingrad.” They caught a resident of the house, but he did not reveal the secret of the bunker, and they shot and killed him. A similar operation but on a larger scale, a real Aktsia, happened at the beginning of April.

The Last Aktsia Before the Ghetto Liquidation

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

This Aktsia was conducted quietly by the Gestapo together with the Gendarmerie, with increased forces. The oppressors did not surround the ghetto. It was not necessary since we were surrounded all the time anyway, and it was impossible to escape from the ghetto during the operation. The Gestapo walked around in the ghetto and conducted searches, every time in a different location. They entered a house, got out, and entered again. Whoever was found in a bed was shot on the spot. The Germans found several hideouts, got the people out, and took them to the jailhouse. This time, they conducted the searches without the Jewish militia. However, some militiamen did walk around with them.

Our people entered the hideouts immediately at the start of the Aktsia. They remained there (those who were not caught) for three days without eating. Even though they had some food, they could eat only even a little bit due to tension. The tension grew by the hour. The Germans entered the houses, checked, knocked, shouted, got out, and

returned to the same house. We heard shots once and a while. We saw people being led to the jail. I saw all of that from my observation point, where I sat, maintaining a connection to the people in the bunker. I passed them news about the movements of the Germans in our area. It was the atmosphere of the end of the struggle, with the feeling of the “Approaching End” along with the growing tension and the endless Aktsia. We did not know when the Aktsia would end or whether it would continue until they exterminated us all and declared the city “Judenrein.”

On the evening of the third day, I saw from my observation point that the Germans led the people from the jail, in the direction of the cemetery. A short while later, we heard shots. When the shooting ended, people breathed a sigh of relief, and some took out food and dined after a fast that lasted three days. I looked at these people, saw their facial expressions, and thought: “Humans are only flesh and blood, a weak creature, egoistic and egocentric, forgetting easily things that don't concern them directly.” The Germans killed several hundred Jews, but we survived, and it was possible to breathe a sigh of relief. Indeed, that was still not the end. They did not finish us; we were still alive and would fight for our survival!

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About three hundred people were captured in that Aktsia. Hermann and his helpers came to the jail toward the end of the Aktsia, took out the people, and gathered them in the jail's yard. In the yard, Hermann conducted a “selection.” He divided the people into two parts, some to the right and the others to the left, those who were slated for forced hard labor and the others condemned to die. The Germans loaded the eighty-nine men whom Hermann liked onto trucks, and they were transported to the labor camp in Kamionka. Among these people was Miorka Taler, who was the only one who survived out of all the people captured in the Aktsia. He later wrote about that Aktsia and his life at the Kamionka labor camp; he died in Canada. The rest of the people, men, women, and children, were taken to the cemetery, where they were ordered to strip naked and were shot at the open pit one by one. The Germans annihilated them all. The bodies fell into the pit on top of each other. In many cases, the victims were still alive and, in some cases, fully conscious.

Our people told me that they planned to sneak into the cemetery to investigate whether they could help those who were still alive in the mass grave. They pulled out one woman, wounded in the chest by a bullet, which penetrated her chest on the left side above the heart, causing an internal hemorrhage. They also pulled out a twelve-year-old child, seriously wounded in his face. The bullet passed through his two cheeks and wounded his tongue. I contacted Dr. Bilinski, and he admitted the wounded, performed the required surgeries and brought them over for my treatment at the ghetto.

Passover came in April. At that time, the holiday was not used for timing an Aktsia – in that case, the liquidation of Aktsia as part of our district “Judenrein” plan. For us also, there was no importance as to whether the Aktsia would be before, during, or after the holiday. At that time, the future and also the past did not belong to us any longer (seemingly). Was it hopelessness? I don't know, but that was the reality. Only the time, day, and hour were the factors that determined how long we would live. We would spend the days of the holiday, if we would still live, like the regular days and nights – in the bunkers. Only a few people brought up memories from days gone by, but in their hearts, everyone hoped for a miracle. We were still not in the collection square, where everything was forbidden except breathing and thinking – thoughts in the shadow of the gallows. We were still allowed to think and believe in a miracle. However, there was no time to think. We were tense, all the time, living in the shadow of the gallows.

We also forgot to do another thing in those days – sleep. During the time slated for sleeping, we worked on improving and fixing the bunker! We worked fast, in a state of a dream. It would be difficult for me to go back in my thoughts to those days and their atmosphere. It was not similar to the state of a person sitting in jail and waiting for the execution of his death sentence, even if the waiting period was long.

Our situation was also not similar to the state of a critically ill person, clearly feeling that his end is near.no! We were full of life and vigor, the will to live - today and tomorrow. Although we lost our past, the future was hidden, it was not shown on the horizon, it was far. To live! Live even the miserable life in the shadow of death, but still hoping that the rope would cut off, even if it was already tied around our necks.

A handful of people met at the Judenrat in the twilight evening. We talked, told the others about our experiences, and even told jokes - “self-mocking humor,” joking about ourselves in the shadow of the gallows. We parted ways with the words: “Same time tomorrow if we live.”

Those were our lives in those days.

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The Orphan Girls and the Locked Gate

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

I would bring up another picture – a short story that characterized those days:

One evening, I returned from the municipal hospital after a meeting and discussion with Dr. Bilinski. I asked him and received from him a dose of poison (cyanide) for myself and my family to use at a time of distress (it was a highly sought-after commodity, which could not be obtained in the ghetto). I left with a calm heart with my secret weapon in my pocket (poison for an emergency use). I first thought to stop by the Judenrat, as I did every day, to hear the daily news, and only then to return to my wife and son. I walked and thought about our tomorrow. It was easier to foresee the future or more correctly, the days of the future, when you have a choice as to what way to choose if we would ever face the final decision. I continued to walk home, and thousands of thoughts passed through my mind about how to avoid using the poison and survive.

When I crossed the ghetto, I saw a militiaman from afar running and approaching me and yelling: “Stop! Stand!” I also heard a shivered scream of a boy or a girl, a high-pitched, heart-piercing voice accompanied by a knock on the gate: “Open! Open!” I turned around and saw a small girl, holding her little sister in her arms, falling over the closed gate, knocking on it, and begging: “Please open the gate for me.” Her facial expression and speech were like that of a frightened person upon seeing a predator animal approaching with its opened jaw, preparing to devour its victim. Jumping once, I was ahead of the militiaman just as he stretched his arm to catch the girl. “Keep your hand away,” I yelled. With a quick movement, I held his stretched arm and stopped him: “I was the first,” he said, “the girls are mine. First come, first served.” I said: “Think about what you are doing. What do you want from the little girls? What did they do to you?” He looked at me angrily, dropped his arm, and lowered his head. He stood in silence, trying to catch his breath. A minute later, he said: “Hermann was the one who ordered the militiamen to bring him a victim within ten minutes – as a ransom for their lives.” “Take me,” I told him. “You caught me, so let us go to the Judenrat together but leave the girls here.” “No,” he said, “I did not catch you. You win this time.” With tearing eyes from anger or fear, he turned around and left. I remained at the gate with the two orphan girls. They had been going around the ghetto for several weeks already. One of the girls was eight, and the other a year and a half old. Their parents came from a village with the girls by the Gestapo's order. Their father was captured and sent to a forced labor camp a short while later. The mother, a hero, was left to take care of the girls. She worked for the Germans on behalf of the Judenrat, three days a week, for a loaf of bread. Once a week, she used to sneak outside of the ghetto to go to her former village to barter valuables for food for her children. The eight-year-old child was left to watch over her little sister until the mother returned.

On one of those trips, the mother did not return. I met the orphan girls often on the street, where the older girl held the little one in her arms. Merciful Jews helped them and made sure they would not die from hunger. When I met them, they stood in front of the closed gate of their bunker. I took out two candies I received at the hospital for my son. I handed one to the little one and the other to the older one. The little one put the candy in her mouth and calmed down, and the older one put hers in her pocket and said as if she was talking to herself: “I do not need it, I will hold on to the candy for the little one so that she would not cry in the bunker.”


No caption: A picture by the artist, Michel Kara?

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In the meantime, things calmed down. The darkness enveloped the ghetto, replacing the setting sun's rays of fire. It was time for me to leave but I could not leave the orphan girls in the street. I knocked on the gate, but [the people inside the bunker] did not answer, although, I knew that they heard the entire conversation and knew that the orphan girls, who resided in their bunker, were the ones waiting at the gate. I knocked gently for the second time. After that, I called the name of the house leader and threatened: “If you do not take the orphan girls inside, I will open the gate by force, with the help of the militia.” By the force of the threat, the gate was opened a pinky width, and through the narrow gap, the people put out an arm and got the two sisters inside. The gate was closed behind them.

I skipped my visit to the Judenrat due to the delay. On my way home, I stopped by the militia room, where the light was seen and joyful voices could be heard. I wanted to find out the reason for that festive atmosphere. I found out that the order issued by Hermann was only a joke. After he had given the order, he left town, and the captured people were allowed to return home. Forty militia men celebrated and toasted a drink in honor of one of them, the hero of the evening who decided to sacrifice himself and did not bring a ransom. That was the man I fought with for the orphan girls. When he saw me, he lowered his head and remained silent. I was silent too but thought in my mind that he was really a hero. He conquered his anger in one moment, which was probably the most difficult in his life!

The Gestapo's Divide and Conquer Method

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

Passover has arrived. We did not celebrate the “Seder” this time. We spent that evening, like all other evenings, in the hideout. We conducted entering and exiting practices into and out of the bunker. I had only a short period to think from one practice to another.

The eight days of Passover passed like the rest days and nights of that period. Several victims, news about liquidations of communities and the “Judenrein” operation in the area, news from the fronts, kidnaps to forced labor camps, deaths from a pandemic, and more.

During the same period, the Gestapo invited the Jewish militia, selected a group of twelve militiamen from them, and put them in jail. The Germans selected those militiamen who were the closest and most loyal to the Gestapo. They told the arrested militiamen that they were accused of storing weapons and organizing sabotage and attack operations against the Germans. According to the Gestapo, they received information about it from the ghetto's Jews. It was a lie. No Jew informed or got in touch with the Gestapo people. The actual reason for putting the militiamen in jail was to perform “brainwashing” on the militiamen, make them into loyal dogs who would participate in the liquidation of the ghetto, and sow division and hatred between the militiamen and the people of the ghetto, which the Germans needed to occur in the last few days before the final annihilation. They succeeded. The militiamen who went through the brainwashing in the jail believed that they fell victim to snitching by the people in the ghetto to take revenge on them.

From their side, the Judenrat made all of the effort to take them out of prison unhurt. Indeed, [it seemed that] they succeeded since the militiamen were freed after two weeks in jail. I doubt that the release was a result of the Judenrat's effort. In my opinion, when the Gestapo were convinced that their plot to generate hate in the militiamen's hearts toward the people in the ghetto succeeded, they freed them.

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The snitching story penetrated deep into the hearts of the militiamen, and they took revenge the first opportunity they had – they greatly assisted in the liquidation of the ghetto!

The month of May arrived. The Soviets began their attacks on all fronts, and they progressed fast. On the other hand, the British and the Americans conquered North Africa and landed in Sicily. People raised the possibility of a second front in Western Europe, France, or Italy. We began to see with our own eyes the defeat of H…r (May his name and memory be blotted out). However, the progress was too slow, and we searched for ways to gain time. Time was the most valuable commodity for us then.

The Barrack

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

At that time, we received a new offer. Our contact people notified us of the agreement by the Gestapo to establish in our city a barrack to house two hundred professional men. Those people would remain there even after the city was announced as “Judenrein.” The proposal was that these men would reside in one structure under the guard of the Germans. They would work for the Reich under the supervision of a German manager. I do not know who was the originator of that proposal, whether it came from our contact people who turned it to the Gestapo and proposed it or the Gestapo itself contacted our contact people and agreed to maintain such a barrack after the ghetto liquidation, similar to other cities.

An entrance fee to the barrack was quite high. Despite that, the number of interested people grew and passed over the nominal number of two hundred within a few days. The quota was increased to three hundred under the lobbying by our contact people, and a short while later, it reached up to four hundred. The Gestapo and the contact people nominated me to the barrack physician, but I elected to remain in my place of work at the municipal hospital (luckily). The Germans selected the former house of Dr. Felk Z” L as the barrack. They surrounded the house with barbwire and made it into a real prison with an iron gate and a heavy guard from all sides, as with the forced labor camp. Based on all calculations, there would be no safer place than in the barrack after the ghetto liquidation.

The Germans constructed the barrack in May, and some people moved right in to reside there. Most of those who registered and paid the entrance fee moved in until the end of May. From that point on the people in the barrack were under tight supervision. It became a confined place slated for only four hundred professional men. The Germans did not allow even a single woman to enter.

The house was recognizable from afar as a prison surrounded by barbwire and constant guards at the gate. I was never inside the rooms of that barrack, but I received a description from Menakhem Katz, the only man who was there and survived.

During May, the Germans liquidated one ghetto after the other in our district and declared those places as “Judenrein.” Our city remained almost the last one. There are only a few places left in our district. According to the pace of these operations, we could tell for sure what day the liquidation Aktsia would take place in our city. The Germans no longer hid their plans since they knew that we could not escape anywhere,

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and that we were supervised tightly. We were surrounded from all sides, and we were followed day and night to observe what we were doing in the ghetto. There was special supervision on the roads. The Germans caught everybody who exited the ghetto without a permit. That was how we spent the last days as “legal” Jews and “legal” Judaism in our city!

The Last Dance

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

I was asked to visit a patient a few days before the ghetto liquidation. I promised to come in the late evening. The ghetto was enveloped by darkness and complete silence. The ghetto people listened, trying to penetrate the darkness with their glances. I was familiar with all the Ghetto paths. I knew every house, walkway, apartment, and every resident. I approached the door carefully to not frighten the people. Without knocking, I opened the door and got in.

It was dark in the room. There was nobody in the room. I heard echoes of music. Was it music from a record in the adjacent room? Music - in the ghetto? Maybe I was mistaken? I approached the door to the room. I stood there and listened. Yes! A melody of an old song. I found courage and opened the door. I saw a long and dark room in front of me. The hanging flashlight illuminated the room with a dark light. It was hard to see anything. There was no furniture in the room. A gramophone with a record turning on it was placed on a small crate in a corner. A ‘shadow’ of a person was standing beside it.

Hugging young couples sang and danced with closed eyes, turning around in a circle they passed by me with clasped hands and arms, attached like a single body. They did not see me and did not hear me coming, they only danced to the rhythm of an old dance melody.

Standing and looking at them, I opened my eyes wide. The people in front of me were like from another world. They did not know that this was their last dance! They invested in it their remaining life aspirations, will, strength, and vigor – the essence of their lives!

With my eyes closed in pain, I walked away and disappeared into the darkness. I took in my heart the picture of the dancing youths. That youth, full of grace and a vibrant life, the youth of beauty, desire, and the right to live!

That precious picture of the dancing youth was etched in my heart forever. The darkness engulfed me but only the melody stuck with me and accompanied me wherever I went. With that tune, I heard the words of the angel of death: “You are mine! You will not be able to avoid me!”

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The Last Aktsia - the Ghetto Liquidation. “Judenrein

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

At the beginning of June 1943, several Aktsias were conducted daily in our district. The objective of the Aktsias was to cleanse areas of Jews and make them “Judenrein.” Only a few cities remained, waiting for their fateful day and competing with each other as to who would be the last. We were waiting for the last Aktsia, and when it was not coming, new calculations were made to predict how much time was left to live. Another day, two days, or a few hours.

From a mental point of view, we were ready for that end. However, the more we approached that day, the stronger the will and desire to live became. We tried to “earn” another hour. That hour may sometimes be critical to saving lives. We took advantage of all the possibilities!

One such possibility came when Ukrainian acquaintances notified me they were looking for a Jewish physician to join them with his family in the forest. These were the Ukrainian nationalists (The Banderovites – [Bandera's people]) who were fighting for an independent Ukraine. These nationalists settled in forests and conducted attacks on the Germans and, during the Soviet rule, on the Soviets. They killed Poles and Jews at every opportunity. Ukrainian physicians did not want to give up on their free life in the city. Therefore, they turned to Jewish physicians and promised them and their families salvation. I contacted the [Ukrainian] headquarters, and luckily, the opening was already filled.

After the war, it turned out that the Ukrainians killed the family members of the Jewish physicians and kept them in atrocious conditions until they killed them. Only a few of these physicians managed to escape during the battles between Ukrainians and the Soviets and return to the city. Their situation was worse since the Soviets considered them fighters on the side of their enemies, and because the Banderovites looked after them, they regarded them as defectors from active duty who could hand their enemies their secrets.

Two physicians, Dr. Laber and his wife (nee Rozen), managed to escape our city. They hid by us for eight days, and we barely got them across the border to Poland.

Every one of us tried his luck by staying with acquaintances for a short while or a long period by paying or for free, but we pinned our hopes on the barrack. If a strong nucleus of four hundred people would survive, their relatives could hide with the Gentiles for a short time or long. The main objective was to gain the required time!

The Shavuot holiday fell on the eighth and ninth of June. We stopped thinking about the holiday itself a long time ago. What was important were the dates and days devoted by the Germans to Aktsias and other calamities. When those days passed, we breathed a sigh of relief. We gained two days and perhaps a few days. According to our calculations, the Germans had to start an Aktsia on June 10. When calm prevailed on the morning of June 11, we had to recalculate: June 12 fell on Saturday, and the 13th fell on Sunday. The 14th and 15th fell on the Gentiles' Shavuot holiday, and it was not conceivable that the Germans would start an Aktsia on Saturday and then break for three days to continue it after the holiday. Therefore, the people who claimed that the operation would begin on Wednesday next week, meaning June 16, had to be right. However, calculations were one thing, and reality was another. As always, the Germans acted in contrast to our calculation.

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On Friday afternoon, the pharmacist notified me that he saw Hermann, the Gestapo man, from afar, talking to Betinger. Based on Betinger's response, he concluded that it was a crucial order handed to Betinger by Hermann. I turned my walk toward the barrack to Betinger's apartment. It is important to note that all four hundred Jews who registered to reside there were already in the barrack starting on June 1st, except me. I was the only one who could be outside of the barrack, even during the night. Although I did not find Betinger at home, I met his wife there. After some negotiations, she told me about Hermann's order: to prepare axes and to be ready for Saturday morning, June 12.

I notified the Judenrat and the people in the ghetto immediately. The Judenrat people tried to verify my version. They had their own intelligence sources. According to those sources, no operation was expected before the 16th. Despite that, we decided to be cautious and not to believe the Germans. Unfortunately, only part of us did that!

Everyone utilized the time to fix, prepare, and research. I decided to leave the ghetto and transfer my wife and son to the hospital where I worked. It was not a problem for me, but I had a problem with my son, who was not quite five years old. The head nurse promised me many times to help me when needed. [At the time] I did not believe her. I thought about constructing a bunker near the hospital for my family. I turned with that matter to the caretaker. I promised him a large sum, but after consulting with his wife, he refused to help. He redoubled his vigilance toward me from that point on. Therefore, I gave up on building a bunker. In the meantime, I just wanted to gain some time until after the Aktsia. The head nurse helped me to move my wife into the hospital and hide her there. She also helped me to take out my son from the ghetto, transfer him to the hospital, and hide him with my wife. We obviously kept the whole thing secret from the caretaker.

Before I left my room where we resided, I warned again the house residents. That house was called the “Physicians Block,” where the physicians, their families, and relatives lived. I told them that I was leaving the place with my son and wife and escaping to outside the ghetto. I said goodbye to my friend, physician Dr. Feld. We shook hands. He was the last person with whom I exchanged words. We parted ways as eternal friends. He also left the ghetto that evening after our discussion.

On Saturday morning, after I finished my work, I decided to visit the ghetto and the Judenrat, as well as some of my patients, and to hear about the situation there. I was cautious not to take the main road and used a side trail. I saw from afar the members of the German gendarmerie riding their horses. I hid until they passed and returned to the hospital. From there, I called the pharmacy (located in the city outside the ghetto), where the pharmacists Goldman and Tonis worked. From them, I heard that a “wedding” had, indeed, begun early in the morning, accompanied by a powerful “orchestra.” They told me there were already “invited guests” there, and then the phone call was interrupted.

I remained at the hospital and continued my regular work. On Sunday morning, I visited the patients at the hospital, as usual. When I finished the visit, I asked the head nurse to go to the city and report to me; when she returned, about the Saturday operation. I specially asked her to pass near the barrack and find out whether the people there went to work or remained in their apartments. I could not guess whether anything happened to them. However, once again, the Germans succeeded in lying to us!

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The head nurse returned two hours later and told me about the operation and the notices in German, Polish, and Ukrainian in reference to Saturday. In those notices, it said: “Our city Brzezany from now on cleansed of Jews – Judenrein. Whoever hides a Jew, or helps a Jew will be punished.” The head nurse also passed by the barrack as I asked her. She said that nobody was there, no guarding, and the gate was broken and open.

That meant that they also exterminated the people in the barrack.

On 9 Sivan 5703, 12 June 1943, Brzezany's Judaism was exterminated.

After the ghetto liquidation

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

In my meeting with the head nurse at the hospital where I worked, the nurse told me that early in the morning of the day after I left the hospital, Hermann, the Gestapo man, came to “meet” with me (The caretaker snitched about me. He called the Gestapo that I was hiding at the hospital). However, at that time, Hermann was late. The meeting between us was postponed by twenty-three years. It was held in the court in the city of Stuttgart, Germany, in a trial of the Gestapo people about their operations in our area during the conquest. I delivered my testimony against them, and especially against him in that trial. Hermann was sentenced to ten years of jail time. He died in jail.

The “Black Shabbat” was just the beginning of the Nazi operations. The persecution and searches for Jews and Jewish properties continued until the liberation by the Soviets more than a year later. We had actually not totally liberated. I will bring here some of the things known to me about that arduous period, whatever happened to the remaining Jews in the city from the beginning of the Judenrein operation, as I heard from eyewitnesses.

At the time of the ghetto liquidation, more than two thousand Jews were alive (many fewer, according to the Germans). On Black Shabbat, which was the first liquidation operation, the Germans succeeded in capturing about six hundred and fifty people in the ghetto and about three hundred and fifty Jews in the barrack, together about a thousand people. After capturing them, they brought them to the cemetery, where a deep and long mass grave, dug previously by Polish workers, was ready.

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An eyewitness, a Polish judge, told me that he stood on the roof of his house from the morning until the evening and using his binoculars, looked at the murder of Jews in the cemetery.

Every Jew brought over to the cemetery stripped naked and put their clothes on a pile. Naked and barefoot, they approached the edge of the mass grave facing the pit, with their back to the German [executioner]. The Germans shot them. They jumped or were pushed into the pit.

That Aktsia lasted until the evening.

On Saturday evening, the Germans took a break for three days. They renewed their searches only on Wednesday of that week. The Volksdeutsches and the bandits arranged for themselves their own holiday during these break days – a holiday of plunder and looting of the properties of the murdered Jews. They also conducted searches after bunkers, where more Jews remained. They were experts in that work. They destroyed everything to the ground in searches for Jews or valuables.

On the second Saturday after the first Aktsia, Polish workers dug additional graves in the Jewish cemetery. A Polish eyewitness, who was among the diggers, told me a story that shook him and his friends: the Poles covered the mass grave of the Shabbat murder operation's victims with dirt two times: On Shabbat after the murder, and on Monday morning because the bodies were not completely covered. The diggers added additional dirt on the grave, containing about a thousand bodies, on Tuesday. While covering the grave, they noticed tremors and vibrations in the dirt level above the mass grave. They fearfully stepped away slowly from that place and observed to see what would happen. A few minutes later, a sort of explosion took place. The ground opened, and bodies were thrown up forcefully far from the mass grave.

The diggers considered it a sign that the ground was also shocked, that it objected to these atrocities and did not want to participate in covering these atrocities up. It was as if the ground opened her mouth toward the heavens and announced that it would not be a partner for these acts.

Searches for the Jews in the ghetto and around it continued in earnest, almost without a break, for another two weeks. During these searches, many more Jews were found, among them my sister and my friend, Dr. Arye Feld, and his family. May their memory be blessed.

According to a story by an eyewitness, the Germans brought the Feld family to the cemetery, where they shot his wife and two children first. They released him since they needed his expertise. He was the only roentgen specialist in the area. He went down to the city and reached as far as the Polish church on Raiska Street. Then he suddenly stopped, hesitated for a second, and began to run back toward the cemetery, and there he died near his family.

During the Aktsias and more at the extermination camps, there were cases in which the Germans captured whole families and broke them apart. They separated a man and his wife, mother and daughter, and father and son. Every one of the family members continued on their own way, some to die and others to another fate. A barrage of cruel beating forced the people to accept the punishment of separation without an appeal, say goodbye to each other, or respond in any way if they did not want to miserably die on the spot under the beating sticks.

Meir Taler told me about another case. It was in the yard of the prison in our city when the Gestapo conducted a “selection” to the right and left. They selected between people slated for a forced labor camp and those who were later brought to the cemetery to die. Hermann conducted the “selection.” When a family passed in front of him, he broke it apart at once - the father to the camp and his wife to the cemetery. The husband tried to catch his wife but failed.

[Page 341]

He was pulled by the flow of the miserable people under the barrage of beating, and he found himself in the labor camp in Kamionka. For the rest of his days, he did not forgive himself for that moment of weakness when he did not choose to go to the cemetery with his wife. He found some consolation [when he found the bodies] at a mass grave of the forced labor camp.

In their searches for Jews, during the two weeks after the ghetto liquidation, the Germans were helped in that despicable work by the Jewish militiamen who were uniquely selected for that purpose (these were the twelve militiamen whom the Germans had subjected them to brainwashing several weeks earlier). They were placed under strict supervision by the Gestapo.

The end of these militiamen was the same as the end of the rest of the Jews, and perhaps even more bitter! The Germans not only killed them but took revenge on them before their death. After the two weeks of searches, the Germans gathered the twelve militiamen, tied them under beating with barbwires, and pulled them to the cemetery. They submitted them to murderous blows until they killed them so that there would be no eyewitness testimony for their savage acts. That was the end of the people who served their German masters like loyal dogs who were ready to execute any order without an appeal.

At the end of the searches, the Germans notified the non-Jewish population about the heavy punishment (up and including the death sentence), which would be imposed on those who would provide any assistance to the remaining Jews in our area.

During the period of the thirteen months that the Germans still stayed in our area, they succeeded in discovering many more Jews, most of them due to snitching by the Gentile neighbors or by the person who hid the Jews in his home. It turned out to be the truth because, in our entire area, no Gentile was punished. Neither a financial nor physical punishment was imposed even though Jews were found in their home.

The farmer that hid us told us, all the time, about the new victims of snitching. Among those whom the farmer remembered by name were the following: Hesio Redlikh and his wife, Klara (nee Preis), the Podhortzer family (one child survived and remained with relatives), and many more that he did not remember. The state of the people who escaped to the forest was more arduous. They hid in the forest or field during the day, and in the evenings, they came out from their hideouts to find food; but the area Gentiles ambushed them, arrested them, took away anything they had, and handed them to the Gestapo for money. It was hard to find, even for money. The villagers were afraid of any contact with the Jews. Thus, a situation was developed where the Jews died from hunger, even when the Germans could not put their hands on them. Many Jews in the forest died from disease, without any help, or from malnutrition or exhaustion when they were forced to leave their hideouts and walk around in the forest in the mud and cold. The situation worsened during the winter. Our people suffered from the intense winter cold, which was especially harsh that year. The snow was particularly harmful because it allowed the discovery of their footsteps. Many were caught because of the traces in the snow.

Our estimate was that about two hundred and fifty to three hundred Jews survived that winter when the Soviet attack was approaching our district for the first time. Many of them would be free if it wasn't for the fact that this attack was repulsed. The Soviet retreat caused the death of most of these people, and salvation came only four months later in the summer, in the second attack, when only thirty or forty Jews remained.

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The Soviets Rule Again

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

In the period after the “JudenreinAktsia, we found shelter with several farmers in a bunker we dug ourselves. We stayed in the underground bunker one additional day after the liberation. The liberation news found us at the very last minute. Our situation was dire. We were all “skin and bones.” People who saw us did not believe that we would be able to recover and live.

We left the bunker at night. After everyone left, I returned to the bunker to see it and say goodbye for the last time. All of a sudden, the bunker was empty. It really frightened me. I saw a black “grave” in front of me, dark and wet. Was it possible that we spent eight months there? We left [the village] around two o'clock at night. We intended to walk the whole distance to the city. Only some of us succeeded in walking the entire distance on our own power. My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and their son Mark remained exhausted in the middle. The Soviet army found them in the evening and brought them to the city. We reached our destination after eight hours of walking (sixteen kilometers). Torn and worn and dressed in rags, we entered the city thirteen months after leaving it during the ghetto liquidation. Thirty-five Jews returned with us. That's what remained from a Jewish population of about twelve thousand at the time of the Nazi conquest!

We formed as one big family. We all lived in one area, far from the ghetto and the place we lived in during the Nazi rule. We did not enter the ghetto. We did not even look at it from afar. It was beyond our strength. Our only wish was to be as far as possible from that place of horrors, where our lives and the lives of our dear ones were ruined. We also wanted to be far from the evil population who assisted in the murder of Jews.

I have previously described our lives under Soviet rule in the chapter “The Soviet Rule” [page 98]. This time, things changed a lot for the worse.

After all, we have endured, our situation as a small group of surviving Jews was much worse than in the early [Soviet rule] period. The official and unofficial antisemitism affected all aspects of our lives. It must be noted that there was still a state of war. That in itself gave the authorities an excuse for strict treatment toward the population, which was under the Nazi rule, and especially toward the Jews who survived. The fact that these Jews were not annihilated by the Nazis made them suspicious in the eyes of the Soviet rule.

A confidential circular was sent to the party secretariat. According to this circular, it was forbidden to nominate a Jew to any responsible or managerial role. I asked my Jewish Communist friends for the reason for it, and they did not answer. I asked the non-Jewish Communists the same question, and they explained to me that these steps were not aimed, G-d forbid, against the Jews. On the contrary, in their opinion, they were aimed at protecting the Jews from the wrath of the Gentiles. The Soviet authorities feared reprisals by the Jews against the non-Jewish population. If the Jews reached ruling positions, even local and temporary, a murderous response from the Ukrainians could be evoked, and they would eliminate the small group of surviving Jews. Another reason was to bring us closer to the non-Jewish population, which absorbed feelings of hate and distrust toward the Soviets.

In the meantime, the Jews were the victims again. The Soviets treated us with disfavor and distrust. The fact that we survived the Holocaust called for another investigation.

[Page 343]

Not once the Soviets called me to the NKVD or the KGB and asked questions. They interrogated me for hours. One of the questions that they kept asking was: “How did it happen that everyone was killed, and you and several other Jews survived? It must be because you cooperated with the Germans.” They could not forgive me for staying alive after the death sentence was issued against me.

In those days, I had difficulties understanding the approach of the Soviets toward the Jews. However, over the years, I understood and assessed correctly their attitude and approach toward us.

I encountered that negative attitude in all of the institutions in the city. They were hostile to us, which also endangered our lives, particularly coming from part of the Ukrainian population, which established ambushes to capture Jews and kill them.

Leaving the city was life-threatening for a Jew. The population in the city could not tolerate us either. They got accustomed to living without Jews, and it was hard for them to come to terms with the fact that Jews lived among them again, even though the number of Jews was small, and it was just a temporary situation. For them, our stay among them was unnecessary and unwanted. There were several reasons for that. One of the reasons was the fact that we were eyewitnesses to their horrible acts during the Nazi regime, which many of them took an active part in. Some were forced to return some of the loot they robbed from the Jewish properties. But the main reason was their hatred of Jews. [The old antisemitism] and the hatred that the Germans planted in their hearts began to spring up and grow on their own power. The dimensions of that hatred grew daily, widened, and deepened.

The two sides – the Jews and the Gentiles – waited anxiously for the moment when they would separate from each other forever. For us, the Jews, it was clear that we would not be able to find our place among the murderers. Also, every step in these places reminded us of the horrible past, and we longed for the moment when we would be able to leave our native country, the former Polish land. They, the Gentiles, waited for the day we departed and left the remaining real-estate assets in various corners of the city for them.

Life in the city was soaked with sadness. The people were depressed, the stores closed, and darkness prevailed in the streets. Most of the town was in ruins and uncleaned, evoking fear and unpleasant memories. Only about five thousand people remained in the city, compared to 1941 when the city population was thirty-six thousand. The phrase “Once the Tzadik leaves, the beauty and the glory of the city have departed” [Rashi commentary on Genesis 28;10] fits the situation. That was our city without the Jews. The Polish and even the Ukrainian intelligentsia escaped westward with the German army.

In those days, a night curfew was enforced. It was forbidden to go out after eight in the evening. After that time, it was forbidden to go out to the street. That also hurt our mood. We spent the evenings, each one at their own home. The essence of our life was an “expectation.” We waited for the end of the war. We hoped that we would be able to move out from there then. We lived transient and temporary lives, waiting for the day we could leave the city.

One day, we found out that an agreement was signed between Soviet Russia and Poland about an exchange of citizens in both directions. Even though we remembered what happened with the previous list during the first Soviet rule; it ended with the transfer of the registered people to Siberia. Nevertheless, we decided to register for a transfer to Poland, no matter what, despite the risk. The Soviet authorities did not want to forgive us for that step and looked for ways to delay us, blame us for all sorts of offenses we did not do, and punish us. That was one more additional reason for the negative attitude and oppression against us.

That was how the summer went. The days of the spring arrived. During these months, the Soviet, British, and the rest of the armies advanced on all fronts, and the cessation of hostilities was approaching.

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In the meantime, a few more people returned to the city. Young people who served in the Red Army and those who ran away to Russia at the beginning of the war. The young people - full of vigor and will to build new lives, decided to establish families, and we arranged wedding parties for them. Those were the few joyful occasions we experienced. They were double joys: the joy of the wedding and the greater joy that we lived to see the revival of our nation. The nation resurrected! We all met during the public prayer on holidays and Shabbat. We arrange for the prayers to be held at a private home. From all the houses of prayers that were in our city, only the Great Synagogue remained. The Soviets made it into a grain warehouse!

The End of the War

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

On the ninth of May 1945, 26 Iyar 5705, we were notified that all war hostilities ended. The entire free world celebrated the victory over H…r (may his name and memory be blotted out). That victory was not ours, and neither was the joy. We only hoped that we could move out of there.

I Leave Town

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

I leave my native city, where I had spent half of my life, where I had buried my parents, my dear ones, and my childhood and youth dreams in secret. I escape it like a thief, through allies and side streets to avoid undesirable encounters. The last day is filled with worries, events, and moments critical to my future. I try my best to overcome all the difficulties and complete my regular work, avoiding drawing the attention of my superiors to “my plots” and, at the same time, not being late for the train, which waits for me at a distance of 16 kilometers from the city. I make my way to the train on foot. I am hurrying. These are the late hours of the afternoon. The sun is setting westward, radiating its red rays in the abundance of light and warmth, enveloping the city. I stop. I send my thoughts and glance at the city for the last time. My eyes are photographing it, etching its image in my memory. During these seconds, I am trying to bring up my past in my native city and hug it with my glance for the last time. My parents, my dear ones, and the city people - I promise I will never forget you. I swear on that.


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