Translated by Moshe Kutten and Sara Mages
In the fall of 1942, it was clear to all of us that the fate of the Jews was decreed to annihilation. In fact, the best of the city's youth was already annihilated in previous Aktziot [German round-up of Jews. MK]. Those who remained decided to take up arms and, at least, die with dignity. A fighting organization was established. The organization had no contact with the outside world, didn't have funds or financial means.
Shmuel Weiler, who brings this testimony, turned to the Pole, Tadeusz Z'ak, and asked him to find out whether the Polish Fighting Organization or theHome Army (Armia Krayova) in Lvov would agree to accept the Jewish fighters into its ranks, or, at least, maintain a contact with the Jewish organization in Brody. Z'ak returned and brought an absolute negative answer. The members of the Polish organization said that they do not want any contact with the Jews.
The Jewish youth didn't give up. It was decided to establish an organization called The Jewish Fighting Organization [or ZOB - Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa]. In Polish, the name of the organization begins with the word Jewish, and thus, it was felt that it was a separate organization that didn't receive help from any cause. Based on a suggestion by the teacher, Keller, it was decided to postpone combat operations to the following spring and use the period of fall and winter of 1942 for organization and preparation. A leadership was elected: Shlomo Halbershtadt, Yaakov Linder and Shmuel Weiler. A contact was established with the Ukrainian, Yashek Borchak, a known communist activist. The Organization was based on trios (troika). Meetings took place every evening. Funds were collected, weapons were acquired and bunkers were prepared. A bulletin, which publicized the news from Radio London, was published. Underground leaflets Gwardzistah [Militiamen] Neipodelgloshets [Freedom] and Volnoshets [Independence] were brought from Warsaw, and leaflets of the Polish Workers Party (PPR) were brought from Lvov.
In December of 1942, Weiler established a contact with a soldier from the German army, a Pole from Pomeran near Poznan (The 452nd German battalion was made up of Polish residents from Poznan and Pomeran). The soldier told Wailer that twenty-two German divisions, under the command of General Paulus, encircled by the Red Army in Stalingrad. The information flowed two-ways. The Jewish organization also provided information, which was carried back t by the German soldier, to the Polish soldiers in the German battalion as well as leaflets.
A branch of the organization was also established in the labor camp where the Germans concentrated the majority of the men from the ghetto who were of working age. Meir Foyershtein, Marian Altura and Mans Klugshlager headed the group in the camp.
in February of 1943, it was decided to open operations in Brody. Two of most devoted members of the organization Shteiner (aka Yoshko) and Baumvald (aka Bunyo), were sent to the forest to select an appropriate location for digging a shelter for a large company. They were given
two handguns, shovels and provisions for the road. Six days later, the two returned and announced that they established in the forest, about 21 kilometers from the narrow-gauge railway, a bunker for twelve men,
On their return, the young men met two Jews in the forest who were sent by the Jewish Fighting Organization of Krakow to explore potential locations for partisan operations. The Krakow fighters had weapons, Aryan papers, underground literature and also a small military pharmacy. They told that they had another member with them who disappeared without a trace. They walked to Lvov on foot. In the town of Oleshko they were stopped by a Ukrainian police commander who demanded to see their identity cards. The young men shot the policeman and fled.
After a few days, two young men: Steiner and Baumvald, were sent again to the same location with two others. They were ordered to dig two shelters in the forest, attack the forest guard and take his weapon. Baumvald returned immediately to the ghetto and reported that the order was carried out. Two shelters were dug and camouflaged, the assault on the forest guard was successful, and the group took a rifle as booty.
In March of 1942, members of the organization came in contact with a combat group in Lvov and established a joint headquarter. It was decided to bring underground newspapers from Lvov and distribute them in Brody.
Meanwhile, the Germans ordered all the young men to report for a medical examination and took them to the camp. ZOB members, who had to report, escaped to the forest. Food was brought to them by foot from the city to the narrow-gauge railway, and from there by small wagons to the bunkers. The food shipments were transferred at night. The road passed through meadows and swamps near the villages of Smolana and Zakhodov. One night, the young men who carried the food, encountered a military guard near Smolana. A battle erupted and two Ukrainian guardsmen were killed. The shipment reached its destination intact.
Life got organized in the forest. From time to time reading evenings, in which Moshe Shapira read from his works, took place. At that time they began to purchase weapons. Small groups of fighters conducted attacks on the forest guards. They also purchased weapons with money. The price of a handgun, without bullets, was 10001500 Zloty. A special bunker was set up in the forest for hospitalization of patients.
In the ghetto, they trained young women as fighters and medical orderlies. In addition, they collected undergarments and medical supplies. Several members of the Judenrat [Ghetto's Jewish Council established by the German MK] supplied food to a military organization. The groups were placed at several locations in the forest: a distance of 17, 18 and 21 kilometers from the narrow-gauge railway in the Leshniov and Ponikovitsa forests. Liaisons maintained the contact between the groups. They also provided daily reports to the forest headquarters, and reports were sent from there to the headquarters in the city
On April 28 1943, an hour past midnight, the group's sentries, who stood on guard a distance of 18 kilometers from the railroad, were suddenly attacked by a group of Bandera's men (Ukrainian fascist groups named after the Ukrainian nationalist leader - Bandera). The two sides opened fire. The sentries were wounded and three of Bendrovtzim [members of Bandera's gangs] were killed. Leaflets of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, and also three handguns and bullets were found in the pockets of the slain. The wounded fighters were taken to the ghetto. Dr. Korlandsky,
a member of ZOB, bandaged their wounds.
Since then, the Bendrovtzim never stopped chasing the groups of Jewish fighters who had to guard themselves against two enemies the Germans on one side and the Bendrovtzim on the other.
The forest detachment grew from day to day. People arrived from Lvov Ghetto. A Jew, who had Aryan papers and good facial features, led them to Podvortza Station near Lvov inside a group of workers who left for their work. There, they boarded the train and travelled to Ponikovitsa station. A guide waited for them and led them to their destination.
From time to time they changed their route. For a certain period of time, they traveled to Kamionka-Strumilova, and from there they continued by foot. Their excellent guide was a young man who was nicknamed The little farmer, because he was dressed in farmer's clothing and was amazing in his duty, his manners and movements. The chief liaison, between the headquarters in the forest and the headquarters in the city, was a young woman named Zusya (Her real name is unknown. She arrived to Brody with a group of fighters from Lvov). This young woman had Aryan papers and good facial features.
The headquarters prepared a plan to rob the Judenrat's safe and storage warehouses. A safe was installed in the Judenrat building for storing valuables that were intended for bribing the Germans. The location of the safe was known to ZOB. Ten men carried out the order to confiscate the valuables, that their value was 80,000 Zloty. This act was also intended to strengthen the image of the organization in the ghetto. From here on, all the prisoners in the ghetto knew that there was an active organization of Jewish fighters. The organization also distributed propaganda leaflets in which they encourage the ghetto inhabitants to join the fight. This information shook the entire ghetto because it clarified to the Jews, and to the Judenrat, the fate of the deportees.
ZOB detachments were organized in Toporov, Zhelechov, and in Lansk, Kozki and Sasov camps. The desertion of youth from these camps to the ghetto, and from the ghetto to the forest, was organized. When the escapes from the camps became frequent, the SS commander, Hauptsturmfuhrer Werzok, arrested the members of the Judenrat, kept them as hostages and sent pursuers after the escapees. Two of the escapees were captured and shot. From now on, a morning search was instituted in all the camps. Weapons weren't found.
In April of 1943, a joint council of the forest headquarters and the city headquarters convened in a hiding place in an attic in the ghetto. The following suggestions were discussed:
Kilogram of dynamite was taken. The engineer, Foeirshtein, who worked at the welding workshop, prepared a mine for the explosion of trains. The mine was buried between Krasna Station and Kolkoz, a distance of 40 kilometers from Brody. A locomotive and two cars derailed and several Germans were killed.
The organization's financial resources ran out. Therefore, it was decided to organize an attack on the Government Bank in Brody. On May 13 1943, a group left to execute the task. At noon, it became known that the group encountered a German battalion that was training near the location of our fighters. The group began a battle with the German battalion. Baumwald was slightly wounded in his leg. Izzyo Reinhold was wounded in his hand. The fighters retreated to the forest. Reinhold reached the swamps and hid between the reeds. When one of the Germans, who chased after him, approached his position, he shot and killed him. He lost his handgun in the swamps but he only got out of the reeds after he found his weapon. His got lucky, he arrived to the city and there he was given to a doctor for treatment. Two of the fighters were captured by the Germans, brought to the city and handed to the gendarmes. The gendarmes led them to the prison near City Hall. During the search the fighters managed to pull their sawed-off guns (Otraz in the partisans' language) from the folds of their clothing, killed the gendarmes in two shots, ran to the ghetto and there they were hidden.
The gendarmes chased after them in a car and the local residents showed them the direction of their flight. The population resented the Jews for daring to kill a Catholic. The gendarmes surrounded the house in which the fighters hid. They beat the occupants with murderous blows so that they will reveal the hiding place of the young men. Since no one was willing to turn the young men, all of them were placed against the wall. They gave them twenty minutes to reconsider and warn them that they will shot them to death if they don't hand over the young fighters. No one betrayed them. Meanwhile, the gendarmes continued to search for the hideout. One of the gendarmes discovered the entrance, warned the fighters that he would throw a hand grenade inside it and ordered them to get out. In a response, one of the fighters shot at the gendarme but the bullet only hit the gendarme's hat. When he repeated his warning, the young men took their own lives.
All the occupants of the house were shot. With the help of the local firefighters, the gendarmes took the elderly, woman and babies out of the houses and drove them out of town, close to Schnel's estate, and there they shot them to death. The firefighters brutally tortured the unarmed Jews.
Everyone realized that the days of Brody Ghetto are numbered.
The fighting organization published a leaflet calling for self-defense such as the heroic uprising of Warsaw Ghetto (we drew our information from the April issue of Gwardzista). In addition, we also encouraged people to leave for the forest. The liaison, Zusya, led a company of young people to the forest. Raids were carried out to obtain food for a large group of people in the forest. At night, we attacked rich Volksdeutsche. We confiscated meat, cattle, flour, etc. We left a confiscation document stamped with of ZOB's seal.
On May 17 1943, after the denunciation of the forest guard, the forest where the first group was camped was surrounded by two companies of the German army, gendarmes and Ukrainian policemen. The struggle continued all day. Linder, who was bleeding, continued to shot and killed two German soldiers who go closer to him before he ran out of bullets. Another fighter shot all his bullets and then proceeded to hang himself on a tree with his leather belt. Another fighter swallowed his cyanic portion that he kept with him.
Under the cover of the night, the fighters, who remained alive, broke the ring. They arrived to the city torn and tattered, hungry and exhausted, and some of them wounded. They hid outside the ghetto, in the attic of the ruined synagogue. The same day, a storm uprooted the remaining tin sheets over the dilapidated roof. Wet and cold the fighters waited for nightfall. Gusta (Stein) informed the headquarters on their arrival. However, before the headquarters had the chance to contact them, one of the firefighters noticed them and notified the gendarmes. Those capture six fighters and led them through the city street to boast about the capture of Jewish partisans.
On 21 May 1943, at dawn, the ghetto was surrounded by SS companies who were sent from Lvov. They were headed by SS Major-General, Katzman, and also by Ukrainian policemen who were summoned from the entire province. The annihilation of the ghetto began. People were taken out of their houses and hiding places and rounded up in the market place. Here stood a big box and everyone had to throw their valuables in it. After all the captured were all robbed, they were forced to sit crouched with their hands clasped behind their backs. When the street filled up, they began to load people into trucks and took them to the train station, a place where they were loaded on freight cars, one to two hundred people in a car. The cars were sealed with lead seals and their locks were wrapped with barbwire. To mislead the members of ZOB, SS commander Wartzog ordered all the camp inhabitants to leave for their day work as usual. Only during work hours he sent armed detachments of Gestapo and they led the camp's youth, who did not suspect anything, to the station.
When they arrived to the station, Wertzog informed them that, at first, he did not intend to harm the camp. However, when he found out that the youth was helping the partisans, he decided to send them from Brody Now, the camp's inhabitants realized that the commander had lied to them and horror seized them. Despite the volley of shots fired by the Gestapo men, they started to run in all directions. Many fell and only a handful survived (many of our friends were killed in this Aktzia, among them the engineer Foyershtein and also Halbershtadt. Izyu Reinhold was seriously injured earlier). About two o'clock, when all those caught, about two thousand five hundred people, were loaded into the cars, a siren announced to the Germans and the Ukrainian policemen about the cessation of work. Later, a lunch was held to all those who participated in the Aktzia. After the meal, the Gestapo boarded the train to accompany the convoy of Jews that was probably sent to Majdanek (one of the escapees testified that the train passed by Belzec) All the way, in which the train passed, was strewn with dead Jews. In several cars people managed to open the doors and jumped outside even though the train was speeding at a speed of 60 kilometer per hour. The men of the Gestapo, who sat on the cars' roof, expected that. They opened fire with machine guns on those who jumped. Only three people managed to survive this train.
by Amalia Friedman nee Olasker
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
only one word Brody, and in Yiddish Brod, only one syllable, but how deep is the meaning of this syllable; dreams of childhood and youth, home, family, friends and our Jewish street. This is one of the saddest memories of our city that was and it is no more. However, the despair is much deeper when the memory of our city is of the most tragic period the period of the destruction and annihilation of its Jews.
I will try to recount things chronologically, the way they have been imprinted in my memory, things that one can never forget. I will tell you about a period during which a human being remained lonely in the sea of hatred and blood that flooded the city. Neither a human language nor an author's pen are able to fully express or describe what the eyes saw and ears heard; the awe and fear of one's own heartbeats, and the choking feeling which found a permanent habitation in one's throat. What I had experienced is more than sufficient for one man's life. I will keep my own personal pain to myself. However, for you, my dear townsmen, I will try to tell in concise words, how our city perished, and with it, how all of our dear ones - our grandmothers, grandfathers, fathers, mothers, friends, beloved and acquaintances expired.
The city itself was completely ruined. Only the Prague Bank and the barracks near Roikovka remained standing out of the entire length of Ullanov Krekhowieckich (Zlota) street and its environs. There is a lone charred house standing here and there, everything else is in ruin. Since the war front was near the city and its environs for three months, the entire Polish population was evacuated. This is the main reason for the fact that only a very few survived. Many died in Polish homes, from hunger or by the German oppressors' gunshots that reached them while they sneaked out to forage for food.
Many years passed since then, but to me, it seems like everything happened just yesterday.
Just the fact that the Germans entered Brody City a few days after June 22nd meant an unwritten death verdict for the Jewish community. This was the first sign for the approaching tragic extermination, which was executed in Teutonic punctuality and ended in total annihilation of the Brody Jewry. We did not comprehend the death verdict written on the wall when the sound of the Prussian boots marching on the city soil echoed in the air. At the end of the month, The Gestapo arrived in our city, headed by Commander Kruger. They confiscated a house in the corner of Szkolna and Sloneczna streets (near Kallira street), in which Rabbi Steinberg once lived. The following day, Commander Kruger declared that the Jewish intelligentsia must appear in his office in order to cooperate in establishing organized labor in the city. On the first day, only a small group of people showed up. When Kruger noticed that, he tried to appear in front of the group as a good commander. He served them
cigarettes, joked around and complimented the beautiful women in the group. He stonewalled the meeting with his charms until sundown. In the evening, he looked at his watch and stated that it was too late to start the discussion, and asked the group to come back again on the following day. He also asked that nobody from the Jewish Intelligentsia should be absent, so that appropriate arrangements can be started without any loss of time. Everybody left the Gestapo headquarters in an elevated mood, fascinated by the Commander. The news about his open behavior circulated very quickly around the entire city.
In the following morning, Kruger's satanic plan was fully realized. Nobody from the Jewish Intelligentsia was absent that day. The German showed his true monstrous colors. He ordered everyone to stand up facing the wall and keep their arms up in the air. That lasted the entire day. He spoke to them, using poisonous words. They all got beaten-up. The sighs, moans and cries of these miserable people could be heard in the neighboring streets. I visited my grandfather, who lived on the same street as the Gestapo headquarters, in the evening. The family told me that dreadful screams could be heard since that morning. In the evening, the tortured and beaten up people were loaded onto trucks, and transported to a place near the lime factory. Open pits waited for them. They were all murdered there, and their corpses were covered with lime and then dirt. The Poles who witnessed the massacre said that they saw the earth moving after the bodies were covered. That means that some of the victims were buried alive.
The communists that stayed in town as well as the families of communists who managed to escape before the Nazis came, were among the first victims.
Terror and fear draped our city. Our hearts began to foresee our impending destruction. One evil decree followed another. All Jews had to wear a white band with a blue Star of David on their right hand's sleeve. Disobeying this rule meant one verdict death; Jews were only allowed to walk the streets until five o'clock in the afternoon. Anybody found outside after five o'clock faced death. More evil decrees followed.
During that time, a Judenrat [German appointed Jewish Council. MK] was established and Bloch was nominated as its head. A Jewish militia was also established and the young Buchbinder was nominated as its commander. All German decrees, such as a payment of ransom money or arranging for a supply of Jewish men and women for forced labor were executed by the Judenrat. This did not mean the end to the daily kidnapping of Jews in the street and transferring of the kidnapped to labor camps in Jactorow, Latski and others. Nobody ever came back from these camps.
During the first few weeks, the Germans imposed ransom money penalties twice. The amounts of money associated with these ransoms were enormous. Those who were able to raise money brought it to the Judenrat, with the false belief that this money would buy one's life. Valuables such as silverware, carpets and furniture were confiscated by the Germans. When a decree to hand over all jewelry was issued, a long line trailed near the Judenrat. Everybody brought everything they owned, including wedding rings.
All Jewish men and women were forced to report every morning to the area in front of the Judenrat. From there they were taken by Germans or Ukrainians. The work was hard and exhausting. Women worked in a brick factory beyond old Brody. We did not get any wages for our work. We did however earn hits by rubber clubs in the face and other parts of the body. We returned in the evening weary, exhausted and hungry to the point of unconsciousness. Especially cruel to us was Wachtmeister (Sargent Major in the Calvary) Vogel. His hobby was to hit people
in the face with a rubber club. Especially harsh was the fate of whoever could not choke up the cry of pain and let it get out of his or her mouth, as this was when one's torture has just begun.
During the fall of 1941, the German declared that the Jews must hand over all the furs they own until a certain date. Subsequently, a search at one family home yielded a fur collar. The entire family was executed by shooting. I do not recall the name of the family.
According to the phrase: troubles occur in bundles, not one at the time, winter of 1941/42 emerged as a perfect companion to the troubles perpetrated by the Prussian predators. We had to report every morning to clean the snow off the roads and throughways. We cleaned the road all the way to Podgorza and the one toward Leshnow. There were times when the workers did not return from their day's work, because they were shot by a German soldier or a Ukrainian policeman when their frozen arms would not allow them to keep on working.
Upon returning home in the evening, hungry, frozen and exhausted, we had to march in foursome formation carrying the wooden shovels on our shoulders (so that, G-d forbid, we would not be able to lean on them). Upon entering the city, we were forced to sing the songs favored by the murderers. Anybody who did not have the energy to raise his or her voice in singing would be beaten or shot. The Poles and the Ukrainians would gather at on the side of the streets at the entrance to the city, to joke and laugh at our misfortune.
We passed the winter, the spring and the summer doing oppressive work and in fear. Every day seemed to have lasted a hundred days. Awakening every morning, we thought that the day would be the last time we would get to see the sunlight. Lying down to sleep, we asked ourselves whether it would be our last night. Nevertheless, we wanted to live! Despite the horrible cruelty of our daily life, we fought for our life with all of our emotional and mental strength just to gain one more day, one night, one hour or one minute, only to postpone the inevitable death. There was not even a glimmer of hope for us to be able to stay alive, during those dark days. Nevertheless, we preferred the nightmarish life with all of its horrors, over a torturous death by the Nazi thugs and their collaborators.
The total annihilation of our city Jews started on September 9th 1942. This was the day of the first Aktsia in Brody, which lasted the whole day from dawn to dark. For us, the whole period seemed to be like one continued long nightmarish darkness. The Aktsia was executed by the Gestapo and the Militia by going from one Jewish house to another and murdering their inhabitants.
Most of the Jewish population survived this Aktisia by hiding in the forests and the fields. It was made possible by the fact that we have heard, ahead of time, that something unusual was about to happen in the ghetto. When the Sonderkomando with its black uniform arrived in the evening before the Aktsia, we thought that they were coming to kidnap Jews and transfer them to forced labor camps. We did not imagine that they would simply murder the Jews on the spot. However, a more horrific shock hit us on November 2nd, during the second Aktsia, which lasted three days and three nights without any interruption. The Germans scoured the fields, parks and forests. It was therefore difficult to find a refuge. Gunshots echoed continuously. Every shot meant an end to a human life. Elderly, sick and children were murdered on the spot. All the rest were captured and assembled in the market place near the Kalir pharmacy. The first people to be captured sat on the ground which was wet during the day, and frozen during the night, for more than 70
hours without any food or drink until the end of the Aktsia. Then they were all marched to the train station, where they were packed into boxcars and transported to Belzec. During the same Aktsia, the Judenrat and the Jewish Militia were transported to the death camp.
In order to highlight the meaning of the second Aktsia, I would bring up one episode from my own experience during that period. I and my cousin were the only ones who survived out of my entire big family. After three days of murders, bizarre deaths and evacuation to Belzec, the Aktsia ended. A few lone survivors out of big families, who miraculously survived, started to come out of their hideouts. One needs to harness an inhuman strength just to be able to somewhat provide any description of the Juden-Rein [Nazi's term for an area which was cleaned of Jews. MK] city and the lone survivors who were left to live in the Hitler-ish hell, compared to which Dante's Hell is meaningless and insignificant.
I met our neighbor, Sonia Halpern, following the Aktsia. She was also the sole survivor out of her entire family. She said that she has already visited the cemetery, in her search for the bodies of her relatives. She told me that she found her mother's corpse among the infinite piles of corpses that were accumulated there during the Aktsia. She buried her mother in a mass grave. I asked her and she agreed to accompany me to try to find bodies of my own family. Hundreds of corpses were piled on top of each other, one pile after the other, at the edge of the cemetery. It was a shocking sight. The corpses were unrecognizable since the heads were shattered by the a gunshot into the head. I could only guess who the person was by the clothing. In order to find a particular corpse, it was necessary for me to step on corpses and to move them in order to reach the corpses on the bottom of the pile. I was terrified to the point that I could not comprehend what is happening to me. I was shaking from fear, I cried but I could not identify any of the corpses. One cannot appreciate one's fortune for not experiencing such a horrific spectacle. It would continue to haunt me until the end of my life. The corpses of these miserable people would be buried in mass grave later on. Sonia Halpern would be killed later on in the ghetto. I am the only one that survived from the entire area of old Brody.
It was too dangerous to sleep in the ruins within the city limits. This is why I wandered around the parks and the fields at the outskirts. The winter came early that year and was harsher than usual. During one of these cold nights, the snow began to fall after I fell asleep, and it covered me up with a thick layer. When I woke up, I imagined myself hovering among white clouds. When I finally shook myself out from my sleep, I realized that I am buried alive under a thick layer of snow and had to exert a big effort in order to pull myself out of it.
On December 2nd 1942, 3000 Jews from the city environs were transported to the ghetto. Now the ghetto spread from Kolejowa street starting from the home of Kristianpoler toward the train station, as well as along the Rynek [market in Polish MK] on the side of the Pharmacy of Kalir, through Szpitalna Street to its end. The ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire. It was announced that all Jews must move to the ghetto before the 17th of December 1942. Anybody found outside the ghetto after that date would be shot on the spot. A handful of Jews hid in the villages and with Poles in Brody itself. The farmers usually robbed the hiding Jews and handed them over to the Ukrainian Militia. Hunger, crowding and lack of minimal hygienic conditions caused an accelerated spread of Typhus and Rubella. Shooting directed at Jews at the gate of the ghetto and near its fences became routine. We were taken to work
under a heavy guard of the Gestapo and the Ukrainian Militia. The Jewish hospital was full to capacity. There were almost no physicians and no medicines. The ghetto was shrinking by the hour. Jews became sick hour by hour and minute by minute. The total annihilation was proceeding in a lightning speed.
The year 1943 arrived, and with it the last murderous stage of the annihilation of the ghetto. This stage was known as Juden-Frei [Nazi term for designating and area cleansed of Jews. MK]. Prior to the final eradication of the ghetto, the Nazis selected young men and women from those who were left, whom they needed for doing forced labor work, and gathered them in the barracks near Roikova. The Germans called the place a Labor Camp (ArbeitsLager). The ghetto was subsequently ruined and burnt by the Germans and the Ukrainians. The big synagogue which was located within the ghetto survived. However, even the group of the young Jewish workers claimed daily victims. A Gestapo thug by the name of Fuchs was taking the Jews daily for a roll call. He would choose a random victim, at his will, and ordered him or her to step forward out of the formation. He would then proceed to shoot his victim in the head from behind. Every appearance of this Fuchs meant death. Jews, who used to tell on other people during the early days, shed any residues of human character and became wild animals. They started to steal slices of bread, underwear and even shoelaces from other people. Everybody considered only oneself. Despite the fact that the chances for survival were tiny, or maybe because of that, the will to live was magnified and reached indescribable levels. There were several youths who ran away to the forest when they were taken out of the camp to work.
Munyo Zacks and Wandz'ia Kharash live in America today. Another couple lives in Jerusalem. Achtentuch, Kuperman and others died not long after the war. The refugees of the Nazi hell, who survived, were all broken to their core. The sights of the past are haunting us. Even the nights do not bring us any peace or quiet. Horrific dreams torment us and would not let our wounds heal. I often ask myself in what sense are we better than those who died a martyred death? Words are too pale versus the horrors that we have experienced.
As the time passes, forgetfulness starts being active among the handful that survived and who remained alive out of the six million souls slaughtered, strangled, burnt, tortured, and buried alive. Can an author's pen tell and describe how we felt and experienced, and what we saw?
Immediately after my liberation by the Red Army, I came back to Brody from the forest. This happened in June 1944. The city was no more. All of its inhabitants were dead, only the ruins remained, inanimate and terrifying, causing chills and horror.
May a talented artist rise and succeed in immortalizing the magnificent Jewry of Brody which is no more, the spirit of heroism and holiness that throbbed through its veins while it was breathing its last breath and thus prevent its memory from descending into the abyss of oblivion.
by Hersh Pollack
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
I spent the period of World War II in the ranks of the Red Army. I was discharged in the spring of 1946 and went back to Poland. I arrived in Krakow during the holiday of Pesach. The first person I met in the street was our townsman, Yosef Leiner. We were very glad to meet. We recalled that we had met shortly on Ukrainian soil, at the beginning of the war, in 1941, during the days of the great withdrawal… A few days following our meeting, Yosef left for Eretz Israel, while I decided to stay in Poland. I went to Silesia and settled in Wroclaw. I met Brody townsmen there as well: Peretz Khudak, Leib Paket and Leib Knetchuker.
At about the same time, I also met Stanislav Chvartinski, a known athlete from the Polish soccer team of our city. I was very happy to see him. We went to a restaurant and had a meal together. After he had a few drinks, he began to tell me stories from the time of the conquest of our city. Among other things, he disclosed to me that my two sisters, Frida and Regina, were taken out of their hideout in a bunker by one Ukrainian named Jozef Kasianchuk, aka Valenti. I knew Valenti from before the war. We called him Valenti the Lumpenproletariar [a term originally coined by Karl Marx to describe the lower layer of the working class that is unlikely to be productive or useful to society. MK]. Chvartinski told me that during the attack by the Red Army on the Germans in Brody, Valenti ran away westward with the Germans. I have decided to find this killer of my sisters and avenge their blood.
I started by collecting addresses of our townsmen. During a period of ten months I traveled to various cities, towns and villages visiting with Polish and Jewish families. In every place I visited, I became aware of additional details about the horrors of the conquest. I visited with the attorney Volnik and Yatzek Miklashevski who saved the daughter of the teacher Kalman Harnik, may his memory be blessed. I also met with Mr. Harnik and Mr. Kahana in Bielsk as well as Blaustein, Yan Strakhora, Menashe Motkhes, Flinter, Hafner, Mamutski, Garstski, Shanitski (Sporza), Vladislav, Mundek Bochek and many others of our townsmen.
I learned gradually that my two sisters, together with Mrs. Halbmilion and Motkhes family altogether about 30 people hid in a bunker on Goldhaber Street in the house where a former paper product store of old Mrs. Kanner was located.
The owner of the bunker was Timchishin. Valenty knew about this bunker and about the people hiding in it. He contacted Timchishsin and demanded that he pay him one thousand zloty a month as hash money, otherwise he would inform the authorities.
During the first month, Valenty kept his word; however, in the second month he demanded to double his fee. Since they did not have a choice, they yielded to his demand. However, on 11 of May 1943 after he got paid, Valenty reached
an agreement with the German gendarme, according to which he would receive half of the artifacts found in the bunker if he finds one that houses Jews. On May 20th the Gestapo arrived at the bunker and the people hiding in it were taken out. The poor people were transported to the Schnell forest. There, a big grave was prepared ahead of time. The victims were thrown into the grave and were shot by a machine gun. The grave diggers covered the people who were shot with earth. Whoever was not killed already was buried alive.
As far as I could find out, Kasianchuk lived in Lower Silesia near Marchishov. I reported as such to the defense ministry office in Wroclaw. However, the searches for Valenti did not bear any fruit. I believed therefore that he must be hiding under a false name.
I suggested going and searching after him myself, as I knew him before the war. I was convinced that I would be able to identify him. Equipped with a document issued by the defense ministry and a handgun, I traveled to Wroclaw and its environs. The document stated that the militia, army and all other institutions should help me to arrest the person I identify, with no regard to his name and status. I searched house to house in eight different villages without any result.
I went back to Wroclaw where I asked, in the municipality, to see the list of the residents. At a certain moment I encountered the name Yozef Petski from Podkamen who was born in 1909. I copied the address and went to see him at his home.
When I arrived to the place at dusk, I opened the yard entrance wicket. My eyes saw the wanted Kasianchik coming out of his house, carrying two pails full of silage for the cattle. He recognized me too, placed the pails on the ground and called: Pollak, thanks Gd you have survived. While saying that, he proceeded to hug and kiss me, but I responded by drawing my handgun and said to him: I survived in order for you to die, right now!
The despicable murderer started to beg me not to kill him; I took him to the police station and waited there the whole night until an order was received from Wroclaw to arrest him. He was transferred handcuffed to the BilniaGora jail accompanied by two armed policemen. It happened on 24th of April 1947.
On the 28th of July of the same year I learned that his wife hired a Jewish lawyer, who agreed to defend him on the condition that his wife collect signatures of Jews and Poles testifying that her husband is Polish and not Ukrainian and that he behaved impeccably during the conquest period. Kasianchik's wife went to see Menashe Motkhes to ask him to sign such a testimony. Menashe came to me and told me about it. I contacted the prosecutor who handled warcrimes and notified him about it. The prosecutor told me that the signed testimony would be useless if two witnesses would testify about Kasianchuk's crimes. He told me that Kasianchuk would not be tried under the criminal law, but under the July Manifest [A political manifesto of the Polish Committee of National Liberation, a communist government administration, officially proclaimed in Chelm 22th July 1944. MK], according to the WarCrime statute, which stated: A person who collaborated with the conquering Germans, and acted against persecuted people, because of their race or nationality, and directly or indirectly caused their death is punishable by death (the author quoted the law as he recalled it).
When the investigation ended, I hosted two PPR (the Polish Communist Party) experts who followed the case and tried to move the trial to Worclaw. In the meantime, I went to visit with the same people I met during the period of the search for the killer, and thus managed to present eight additional witnesses to the court.
The trial took place in the court at Worclaw on 18th January 1948. The court hall was packed. The prosecution brought 17 witnesses, 12 of whom were Polish and the other five were Jews, all of them were our townsmen. These were the Jewish witnesses: Kalman Harnik (may his memory be blessed), Hafner, Munyo Shapira (Peretz Shapira's son), Blaustein (may his memory be blessed) and Menashe Motkhes.
All of the horrors and atrocities that our city's Jews experienced during Hitler's conquest were disclosed at the trial. I will mention just a few of the details.
The witness František Kožul who volunteered to testify on his own will, told the court that he saw with his own eyes that during the infamous Aktzia called the Ukrainian entertainment (Ukrainska Poholinka), Kasianchuk and another man threw a three years old child from the balcony of Kuperman's house (across from Kalmus pharmacy). The poor child was killed instantly.
Another witness testified that he and two of his friends went to see Kasianchuk, who served as the jail commissioner at that time, and asked him to release a Jewish young woman who was previously arrested. They offered a ransom for her. Kasianchuk took out gold coins and a fistful of jewelry and said: I already have enough to last a lifetime. I could eat, drink and enjoy myself as much as I want.
The verdict was given late at night. Jozef Kasianchuk was convicted on five charges. The court also provided the sentence: On four of the charges, Kasianchuk was sentenced to life in prison. On the fifth charge, Kasianchuk was sentenced to death. The final verdict was therefore death.
Kasianchuk appealed for clemency to the Polish president. His appeal was in vain. The president waived his privilege to issue a clemency. The verdict was executed by hanging on the 5th of March, 1948.
During my searches after the killer Valenti, I met many of our townsmen. I learned from them an great amount of details about the period of conquest in Brody. I thought that it would be my duty to put them down in writing, so that they can be published in our city's Yizkorbook.
I found out that not everybody was led to the slaughter without resistance. A partisan group was located in the Klektov forest. Another strong partisan group named Stalingrad was headed by Yaakov Linder, a communist during the underground days. He was mentioned in the book: Lokhamei HaGetaot [The Ghetto Fighters'. MK] as well as in Professor Bernard Mark's book: Bleter Far Geshikhte [Pages for the History. MK].
Among the fighters against the enemy was Khanokh Tishker from HaShomer HaTzair [Literally The Young Guard a SocialistZionist, secular Jewish youth movement founded in 1913 in Galicia. It was also the name of the group's political party in pre1948 IsraelPalestine known later as MAPAM. MK], who shot the snitch Ludwig Jantzin and hit him in the shoulder. Yosef Berger, apprentice in the LAMM metal workshop, was captured along with another partisan (whose name I was not able to find), and they were both taken to the Gestapo. At a certain moment when their escort stepped away to report on the capture of the two dangerous Jews, Berger drew his weapon from under his coat, shot the escort and both prisoners ran away. Shlomo Shraga and David Katz (brotherinlaw of Yosef LeinerParvari) encountered a Ukrainian ambush on their way out of a village, as they were carrying food for the people who were hiding in the bunker, located in Yoel Kristiampoller's house. They were demanded to disclose the location of the bunker they came from. The Ukrainians pulled their nails out and tortured them to death, but they did not talk. They died a martyr's death. Shalom Halbershtadt was also a fighter among the
partisans. Dr. Meles committed suicide because he did not want to be a member of the Judenrat. Dr. Horn also died honorably.
Brave fighters were among Brody townsmen in the ranks of the Red Army as well. Leib Herzberg, Jozef Rogovski and I fought together on the same front. Leib Herzberg was killed during an intense bombardment of the German guns near Dnieperpetrovsk. Yosef Leiner was an officer who fought on all the fronts. The same is true for Natan and Shmuel Reinart. The latter was injured (I think twice) and had the privilege to march with the winners into Berlin.
It is worthwhile to mention that a few of our city's Poles and Ukrainians hid Jews, who survived thanks to these people. Among them was the Ukrainian Timchishin. When he was notified that the Germans discovered the bunker that he kept, he committed suicide by drinking poison.
Yan Borchak hid the Isenbruch family, however, he could not protect them until the liberation day. All the respect and appreciation belongs to the Mamutski family; they hid two Jewish families, the family of the dentist Dr. Berk and another family. Somebody informed the Gestapo and they were executed the Jews and the Mamutski family including their three small children. All of them were shot and killed in the Schnell forest. Only one son, who was not home at the time, survived. Today, he is an officer in the Polish army.
Michael Schust saved Dr. Berger. Blaustein, Hefner and the teacher Harnik and his daughter were also hidden by Christians and survived. Some of them, like Hefner, Sander, Prachtman and Yitskhak Goldenberg married the women that saved their lives. The first two now live in the USA, the last lives in Herzlia with his wife and adopted son.
The fiend was not satisfied with devil dances in the camps of the human race haters during this horrific period. To our shame and disgrace, he found for himself collaborators in the Jewish community itself: Katz, a former clerk in the Brody municipality, Wechsler, a restaurant owner on Train Street (Kolejowa Street), Benyu Ponikvar the chairman of the Judenrat, and Reuven (Rubin) Myzels a fool who sent his own wife to the Umschlagplatz [German term to describe the collection point of Jews being sent to a concentration camp. MK]. During the second Aktzia, he accompanied the Gestapo and the Ukrainian militia men during the house to house search for the poor remaining survivors. After the hangmen searched Shkolnick's house and did not find anything, they were ready to leave. However Myzels said: I smell the scent of Jewish meat here. Fortunately for the people who hid in the bunker under the floor and heard it, the Getsapo men did not pay attention to what he said and they left. I was told this story by Khina Schnor, who was hiding among the other people in the bunker.
Following the Judenrein [clean of Jews was a Nazi term to designate an area cleansed of Jewish presence. MK] Aktzia, several remaining Jews were taken out of the city and transferred to a camp in Olesko. These people were frail, sick and broken in their soul and body. Rubin Myzels was also on the same truck. He was beaten to death by the other passengers. A woman and her child were handed over to the Gestapo by the woman's Christian husband by the name of Spero.
With great sorrow and burning pain I have to state that only two Jewish families remained in our city, which once had such a vigorous Jewish life: those of Shmuel Stoyanover and Yekhiel (Machek) Gruber. The heart is aching for this Jewish city with a glorious past, which was wiped out from the diaspora's map, and for the times that were and are no more.
I wrote down these things for the benefit of the future generations of our nation so that they would know and remember, and would never forgive the Nazis and the neoHitlerists for their crimes. I wrote these things when the civilized world demanded that WestGermany would not enforce the Statute of Limitation on warcrimes. The arm of justice must capture the last of Hitler's criminals. This would entail the execution of the last will and testament of the six million of our brothers and sisters who were annihilated during World War II.
by Vladislava Larissa Choms (Righteous Among the Nations)
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
This article is dedicated to my dear Brody townswomen
My sympathy to the people of Brody started in 1935, when the Jewish residents of Brody invited me to give a lecture about Palestine. This was an official summary of my five weeks' stay in the ancient land of Israel. My host for the twodays visit was a physician (probably Dr. Cecilie Jawrower), who hosted me at her house which was situated near the market. The big crowd welcomed me enthusiastically. We could not imagine at the time, that our relations and the connections between us would be tightened under complete different circumstances, when the terror would rage, and the injustice and discrimination would take hold over life in Western Europe during the years of 1939 1945. In countries with a highlevel culture, the animalistic abuse became legal! When the horrific German warmachine crushed the resistance of Poland, which was considered as their most hated enemy, the door has opened for them to achieve their main goal the destruction and annihilation of the Jewish nation to its foundations. The Jewish population in Poland was the largest in the European countries about four million people. From the Germans' point of view, this was almost a total fulfillment of their destructive plans. They started with that cultural operation a few years earlier, in their own country. This is when Jews started to escape eastward to Poland. Refugee camps were established at the border near Działdowo to absorb the refugees, and the Jewish community organized the aid for them. This racial cleansing of the German society, and the superior feeling of being pure Arians, were steps with dual purpose: On one hand the Germans wiped out the competition from the advanced intellect of the German Jews, and on other hand, they provided a legal authorization for the robbery of the immense property of the exterminated Jews.
According to the 1939 RibbentropMolotov agreement, the two friends divided the lands of Poland between them. The Germans got hold of the western part, and the Russians the eastern part, which included Eastern LittlePoland [Western Galicia. MK] and the city of Lvov. Without being at war with Russia, we found ourselves, unexpectedly, under a Communist rule, as residents of Lvov. My husband, who served in the 11th Division [of the Polish army. MK], was stationed in Zolkiew. As a mother and wife of military men, I was candidate for imprisonment or deportation to Asia. To us, at least, the Germans did it without any racial, national or class classification. Even an advanced age did not have any weight, since all of these people were condemned to die anyway. This is how things lasted for two years. Two and a half million Poles were uprooted from their homes and transported to the Northern or Eastern parts of Russia. The border that was decided upon at the time of the division of Poland between
the Soviets and the Germans was rigorously guarded, like all other borders of occupied lands. In spite of that, people managed to escape from Western Poland to us, and vice versa in order to avoid imprisonment. Refugees from the west told us horror stories about the cruel actions of the Germans. They told us about mass murders, violent torturing and extermination of Jews; but, the ordinary brain of a 20th century's person was not able to comprehend and accept murders of women, children and elderly, openly under the sun…. No, it cannot be true!
This is how the city of Lvov, at the end of 1941, greeted relatively peacefully the change of conquerors, , and especially so in light of the bloody traces left by the Russians in the form of inhumane crimes in Brigdki and in the streets of Lontski, Kazimierzowska and Zmarstinovska.
However, only one day following the entry of the Germans in Lvov, fear descended over the city. According to directive no. 1 of the German city commander, all city employees were to report in the following morning to their places of work. I was employed as a clerk in the petroleum firm Earth Gasses, so I appeared in my office as directed, in the following morning, in order to hide my real identity. I noticed that two attendance lists were presented for a signature: general and Jewish. I noticed that the Jewish workers were detained. I was shocked by that. I took the hand of the Jewish clerk Mrs. Klara Lustig (now in Melbourne Australia), who was standing pale and frightened, and pulled her over behind me. As it turned out later, the Jewish workers were arrested, among them, Mrs. BeglaiterBogdanovich (today in Haifa). We had to transport Klara Lustig through the entire city (from Meritski square to Gronvaldeska Street), during which time we saw, with a great sense of fear, the Germans with the help of Ukrainians, capturing people suspected of being Jewish, examining documents of passersby, and guards of Gestapo men already transporting large groups of men and women. Despite the fact that Klara was terrified, we managed to control our nerves and miraculously arrived at her apartment, where her eight year old son was waiting for her. This was for me my firetest on the front of the rescuing actions. It was just a coincidence that Klara Lustig, a widow, came from Brody, where she had a large family and many acquaintances.
As early as the following morning, the first blow was landed. While confiscating the apartment of a young lawyer, Dr. Grossman, the Germans killed him and his mother. In the same evening, they arrested and murdered tens of professors from Yan Kazimir University and Lvov Politechion [Polytechnic School. MK]. On Luntski Street, the Jews, men, women and children, were ordered to dig, with their bare hands, and pull out the corpses of about one hundred Poles, who were murdered by the Bolsheviks and buried in the ground in the square. The panic and fear of the city residents were immense and people talked among themselves by whispering. When I was notified that the Gestapo is looking for a famous Lvov lawyer, after not finding him at home, I organized my first rescue undertaking. The lawyer and his wife were placed in a hideout, and we succeeded in getting most of their important items out of the apartment and transfer them, using a farmer's wagon, to the outskirts and from there, using good papers, to Krakow. This man died just a short time ago.
Academic youths, whom I supervised before the war, gathered around me. Additional people with good will came as well. People, like me, who could not bear the shame and the trampling of human decency.
The extortion of contributions from the Jewish population started. Following that came the degrading marking of people by an arm band and the forced labor camps for men in Janowski Street [a labor, transit and extermination camp established by the Nazis in the outskirts of Lvov. MK]. During all of that time, it was impossible to move the Jewish residents from their places. They hoped and believed that somehow they will endure. In fact, particularly then, during the first three months, we could still transfer people, send them away, or hide them, as everybody still had some kind of an inventory or valuables [which could be used as payment. MK]. This strange passiveness, which was very difficult to overcome, took over the Jews, who usually showed resourcefulness and initiative. They became like a bird which froze under the snake's gaze. Many times I had to use all of my will power in order to convince people or simply force them to save themselves!
We need to remember that the state of the Polish society, which was oppressed to the bitter end by two enemies, was very difficult. Middle aged men in good physical shape were few; most of them were captured by the Germans, crossed the border with the army or were exiled to the USSR. Only women, children, elderly, and some youths remained. The latter were exiled, in groups, to forced labor camps in Germany. Some Polish families, dispossessed of their apartments, lacking the means to sustain themselves, humiliated and persecuted, knew to rise above all of that, and provide help to people in need. This is why the passiveness of the Jews, and in some cases, their loyally toward the Germans, simply paralyzed our operation. Only after the announcement about the transfer of all Jews into the ghetto and on the same occasion, the Jews were totally robbed during the last inspection only then, the Jews finally understood their situation, regained their composure, opened their eyes and started to cry for help. However, at that time it was almost impossible to help them, the more so since many people from other cities and towns fled to Lvov and crowded the town. Klara Lustig had a senseless idea to run away to Brody, where everybody knew her. Following a few attempts to hide, she came back to me and was one of those people whom Gd gave me the possibility to save. She lived for two years with a family of an officer who was a prisoner of war. So through my Klara, a whole line of Brody people came to us for help. At the same time, following a call from Warsaw, a committee whose aim was to help the Jews, was established near the delegation of the Polish government. I was nominated to head this committee. Various political and underground factions helped with people and resources and we received aid grants, which were vital and necessary in light of the shortages and general lack of economical means.
From that moment on, our activity has turned the corner. It was now possible to send envoys to provincial towns. From there, people equipped with appropriate papers were transferred to other places, usually to big cities. Most of the time it was accomplished by women couriers, who were brave and willing to make a sacrifice. Since all the papers were destroyed, the real names of these women were never disclosed. Only the names in the new documents were available. It is therefore very difficult for me to mention any of them or provide any details, though I did provide names and details to Yad Vashem for those from Lvov whom I knew.
As I mentioned above, our rescue actions started to evolve and expand, but at the same time, we had to continue our relentless fight with the Germans, who were very well aware of our efforts. This was, for us, like a dance over the edge of the abyss, a term that was well known by the people active in the Polish underground. Every one of us who was involved in the operation of rescuing and aiding
Jews, was first of all an active member in Armia Krajowa [Home Army the largest Polish underground resistance organization. MK], and would not have been allowed to put in jeopardy our main vision, namely preparing the country for an armed fight with the conqueror. Every one of us was liable to be abused, tortured, or killed by the Germans. Just curiosity, or needless chatter of people, without any bad intentions, was very dangerous to us. We were afraid of the Volksdeutsche [a term used by the Nazis to describe people of German decent who lived in other countries. MK], who were able to point at Jewish houses with their eyes closed. Besides, they knew very well who, in Poland of the days before the war, was an active adversary of racial discrimination.
In the meantime, the German insanity and rampage intensified with no restraints (year 1943). Transports of naked people were continuously taken out from the ghetto toward PiaskowaGora [literally SandyHill, name of a district and a forest near Lvov where executions of Jews took place. MK]. The underground command issued a declaration condemning the mass slaughtering of fellow citizens just for being Jewish: Murder and slaughter that are unprecedented in the world's history! Infants, children, women, elderly and handicapped people are being murdered mercilessly. They are poisoned or dying slowly while being buried alive. They live in a hell of humiliation, indescribable misery and cruelty. We call all citizens to help in rescuing the victims. The responsibility for the spilled blood of the Polish and Jewish victims falls on the German hangmen and their collaborators.
Now when I am looking back at all of that, I cannot understand how these few people could stand against the German might with bare hands, exposed and forsaken? It appears that saving a human being gave them an ultimate fulfillment.
We rescued people, who were destined to annihilation, from the ghetto and Janow camps. A few individual even managed to escape from the pits near PiaskowaGora and to arrive in the darkness of the night to our houses in the outskirts of the town. Our liaisons furnished them with documents, clothes and money and directed them toward border crossings in the mountains and even toward the inner circles of the German organization Todt(1) that was advancing into the Ukraine. Women were directed toward Austria or Germany as work volunteers. This rescue operation was directed at anybody whom it was possible the rescue; regretfully, it was very difficult, or even impossible to save the elderly.
Also regretfully, in many cases we failed, despite all the efforts. Memories of cases where we had to abandon the rescue attempt are haunting and depressing me to this day!
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 8 Apr 2018 by LA