Edited by Ellen Biderman
Translated by her father In the first half of July 1941, the Hungarian army entered Horodenka. The day after they entered they put up a hanging post in the center of town in front of Chaim Mendel Kop's house. On it a sign declared a state of war, listed the rules of the emergency, and threatened to hang anyone who broke those rules. The Ukrainian citizens, who were mostly anti-Semites, became emboldened after the entry of the Hungarians and started persecuting the Jews. In the first few days, one of the Jews who lived in the suburb of Kotikovka was murdered. In the village of Nezviska, in the Horodenka district, local people herded together a group of Jews, put them on a raft and drowned them in the river Dniester. At this time, the rule requiring Jews to wear a yellow star on their clothes took effect. People who worked in medical services also had to wear a band of the Red Cross.
In general, one must say that the Hungarians didn't like the Ukrainians and did not share their determination to destroy the Jews. The Hungarians, like the Poles, wanted this whole district to be part of Hungary, while the Ukrainians thought otherwise. The Hungarians thought it was enough that Jews wore yellow stars and were made to work in forced labor jobs. The Hungarians killed only one Jew, Mendel Politzi, because he refused to work. Dr. Ivar Sitz related this.
Under the Hungarian rule, a city council was put together in which only Ukrainians served. Sivi Maier was a teacher in the high school and his deputy was a teacher named Dorshinski. They also organized the Ukrainian militia headed by a notorious anti-Semite by the name of Tchaikovsky. After the Russians liberated Horodenka, Tchaikovsky was tried and hung by the Russians.
The Hungarian military headquarters were placed in the Polish High School. The chief of the headquarters lived in the house of Dr. Schneyder and his adjutant lived with my family. At this time the Romanians started persecuting the Jewish citizens, forcing them to leave their homes.
Many of the Bukovina Jews who lived on the border between Romania and Galicia joined the Russians in their retreat and arrived with them in Horodenka. When the local Hungarian authorities found out that the Romanian Jews had entered Horodenka, they ordered those Jews arrested and returned across the border. The Ukrainian militia who had originally transported the Jews across the Romanian border into Galicia carried out these orders. At the border the Romanian guards did not want to let the Jews cross back in and shot at them. From the other side the Ukrainian militia started shooting as well. In this manner hundreds of Jews were killed and buried on the spot right at the border. When representatives of the Jews in town tried to intervene and stop this massacre, the Ukrainians blamed the Hungarians for giving the order. The Hungarians denied this, blaming the Ukrainian militia.
One of the local Ukrainian clergymen, Bebed, was a friend of mine. When he found out about the deeds of the Ukrainian militia, he started preaching against them in church. He reminded his parish that in 1919 the Poles had started by persecuting Jews and ended up killing Ukrainians. At this time another 120 Romanian Jewish refugees were arrested and were about to be sent across the border. When the Jews of the city found out about this, a delegation headed by Dr. Sitz, Dr. Lichtman, and me presented itself to the chief of the military headquarters and asked that the order be rescinded. The Hungarian general claimed that the order for the arrest and exile had not come from the Hungarian headquarters and that the Ukrainians were lying when they said it did. He also promised to work things out with the Ukrainians. The Jewish delegation was sent from one place to another and finally met with the head of the Ukrainian militia, Tchaikovsky. After many hours of begging and promises of bribes, he agreed to issue a letter that would release those Jews. But as fate would have it, the minute he was going to sign the letter, Hungarian soldiers burst into the militia offices, slapped Tchaikovsky and ordered that all arms belonging to the militia be turned over to the Hungarian military authorities. The Jewish delegation was released from the office after explaining why they were there. But it was too late to save the 120 Jews that were sent to their death on the Romanian border. Later we found out that the Ukrainian militia was disbanded in this manner as Hungarian revenge for the Ukrainians' killing of two of their soldiers in a fight.
This was also the time when the Hungarian government started deporting Jewish citizens who had no proof of citizenship. They were deported with nothing and were made to walk from their homes to labor camps in the Kamenets-Podolski area. On their way they passed through Horodenka. The Jews of our town shared their food and tried to help them any way they could. We organized a soup kitchen in which these refugees got free meals and free clothing, even though it was a very hard time for the Horodenka Jews themselves. I arranged with three Hungarian soldiers to get the leftovers from the slaughterhouses to cook for these refugee Jews.
At the end of the summer of 1941, the Hungarian army left Horodenka and was replaced by the German army. Eastern Galicia was redivided into new districts and towns. And so it happened that towns like Tlumecz that previously belonged to the district of Stanislav became part of the Horodenka district. The first governor of the county was a German of Austrian ancestry by the name of Winkler. The local Gestapo chief was named Doppler, a Nazi and an anti-Semite who was one of the first to help establish Hitler's regime. Doppler brought his mistress Mrs. Neiderman with him. Under Winkler's order a committee of local Jews was established with three members: Dr. Hessel, Dr. Ivar Sitz, and me. The governor approached the committee members and told us that from this day on the Jews would be second-class citizens, but if they were honest and obeyed orders, their lives would be guaranteed. And so it was.
Except for forced labor and the taking away of certain civil liberties, nothing was disturbed and life went on as usual. After a few months, however, a new governor from the SS by the name of Hans Hack replaced Governor Winkler. He was cunning and greedy. He dismissed the local committee and established a local Jewish council whose members included, among others, Dr. Hessel, chairman, Dr. Sitz, Israel Kugler, and Izye Geller. This committee was in charge of all matters pertaining to the Jews of Horodenka and the area. Dr. Schneyder and I were put in charge of cemetery matters and medicine.
During the first days of his regime the new governor put out an order requiring the Jews to hand over within 48 hours all their gold (except for wedding bands), diamonds, foreign currency, furs, and even coffee. Everyone who ignored that order would be sentenced to death. The Jews obeyed and transferred all their belongings to the local authorities without receiving any receipts. After a short time another decree was issued requiring all Jewish men from the age of 14 through 60 to register in the local ministry of labor. Jews that registered were forced to do all kinds of hard labor. For example, Jews were forced to attempt to build a bridge over the Dniester River. In that attempt many Jews drowned.
Together with the office of the governor of the district and the Ministry of Labor there was also the military headquarters headed by Major Feidler. Feidler was a Berliner, but he was anti-Nazi. He once told me that if the Nazis won, he would commit suicide. One of his jobs was to supervise the work that was done for the army. Every day he would select a certain number of workers from those who were registered for forced labor. His attitude toward his workers was very humane and therefore most of the Jews tried to work for him. In one decree he placed my dentistry office under the auspices of the army thus directly protecting all the workers from Nazi persecution. It is said that when the first actions started, he refused the SS order to give them cars that would transport Jews to the valley of death.
A special story was the matter of the orphans the Jewish orphans from Hungary who were deported to Horodenka after the Hungarians entered the town. During the Hungarian regime, these children, 18 in number, were put in a Polish-Ukrainian school that was established in the time of the Russian regime. Christian nuns who took care of all the orphans approached the authorities and the Jewish community committee to have the Jewish orphans removed from their shelter and placed under the care of the Jewish community. They said there wasn't enough food to take care of the orphans. The Jewish council, who knew how bad off the Jews were, tried to avoid the issue and refused to take on the Jewish children. But after Governor Hack came to power, he responded to the nuns' request and ordered the Jewish Council to take the Jewish orphans out of the general shelter. The children were removed to the house of my father and put under the supervision of Israel Kugler. Their daily care was given to a group of adolescents headed by Tuvia Cohen. Because my father had good connections with the local miller, he managed to get five sacks of flours (moved in the dark) to the new orphans' home.
In October 1941, the establishment of the Jewish ghetto in Horodenka was announced and all the Jews were removed from their homes and put in the small alleys and crowded places on the western part of town. My office and that of Dr. Schneider were moved to the house of Schmuel Becker.
In November 1941 a delegation of Jews from Ottynia arrived in Horodenka and asked the chairman of the local council to try to arrange the release of a few hundred Ottynia Jews who were arrested and transported to an unknown place. Dr. Hessel as the chairman of the group went to see the governor. The governor told them that if the Jews of Ottynia gave him two kilograms of gold (about four and a half pounds), 10,000 gold pieces, and a few diamonds, he would try and release the imprisoned Jews in a week. As a token of his good intentions, Governor Hack gave the delegation legal passes to return to Ottynia. A few days later the delegation came back accompanied by Dr. Hessel to give the Governor all that he had demanded. Eight days later they came back from Ottynia and told Dr. Hessel that the imprisoned Jews had not been released. When Dr. Hessel approached the governor with this information he looked very surprised and promised to get in touch with whoever was in charge of those prisoners and try to win the release of the Jews. He asked the delegation to return to Ottynia.
The situation went back and forth like this for a month. Finally, the delegation from Ottynia went back and finally found out that the prisoners had been led out into the forest right after their arrest and shot and buried on the spot.
At the end of November 1941 Governor Hack invited Dr. Hessel to see him and told him that he knew from very reliable sources that a new action against the Jews in Horodenka was about to start. He added that for three additional kilograms of gold, diamonds, and other valuables he would attempt to stop that order. Dr. Hessel relayed the message to the council and they decided to collect all the gold and valuables needed to try to stop this action of destruction. The governor took the bribe and let them know that all the ghetto residents were going to get inoculations against typhoid.
All the Jews were ordered to gather on December 4th by the Yiddish school to get the shots. To make this whole operation easy, he gave the Jewish council members special documents that allowed them to go back and forth between town and the ghetto walls. He also determined that Dr. Schneyder, Dr. Veytsberg and his wife, also a doctor, would administer the shots. When the German Major Fiedler found out about the plan, he and the mistress Mrs. Neiderman warned me not to believe Hack. They told me that they had found out from a reliable source that the action would take place on December 4th and the story of typhoid shots was just a cover-up to get all the Jews together in order to transport them. I relayed the message to Dr. Hessel and the other council members, but most of them tended to believe Hack's promises to save the Jews from destruction. Yet despite the desire to believe Hack's promises, a few doubts started rising in the minds of the council members. Dr. Hessel suggested that Dr. Schneyder try to find an excuse not to administer shots on that day. Dr. Schneyder rejected the idea and said he didn't want anybody else to take his place if indeed somebody was going to suffer and be killed.
On December 3, 1941, Fiedler told Schneyder and me that the expected action would indeed take place the next day and that he would like to protect us from being arrested and murdered. Therefore he planned to send military police to our houses at night and have us arrested and jailed until the action was completed. He fulfilled this promise, and that night military police arrested Schneyder, me, and our families and imprisoned us in the cellar of the house of Shimon Pilfl that was serving as the headquarters of the military police. Dr. Schneyder himself was on duty in the hospital that night. I warned him not to leave the hospital before confirming that the danger had passed. Dr. Schneyder indeed promised to do that, but the next morning he left with Dr. Veytsberg to go and take his place in the area where the people were supposed to get their shots. There they were all transported by the Gestapo to the big synagogue and from there, the site of their murder by the Dniester River.
That morning, December 4th 1941, the Jews went to the Yiddish school to get the shots. After about 2,500 people were gathered the Gestapo and Ukrainian militia surrounded the place, arrested everybody and led them to the big synagogue. At the same time they raided the ghetto and all the Jewish homes outside the ghetto. They arrested, beat, and cursed the Jews before bringing them over to the big synagogue. The place was already crowded. People were kept there all day long without food or water until the next day, a Friday. Tens of children and women fainted and nobody could help them. The cruelty reached its peak in this case.
Among the people who were held in the synagogue was Leib Leibman, son of Jonah Leibman, the teacher, together with his wife and their little daughter. The daughter fainted in her mother's arms and the mother pushed her way to the entrance to let the girl breathe some fresh air. A Gestapo man saw this, grabbed the child and burst her head on the wall of the Ark and killed the mother on the spot. All this happened while Leib Leibman was watching. Through shock and sorrow, he was paralyzed on the spot.
On Friday, December 5th, representatives of the local German authorities came to the synagogue with a list of some of the "helpful" Jews including Dr. Schneyder and asked that they be released. These Jews, except for Dr. Schneyder, were taken out of the big synagogue, put in the corridor and later released between the villages of Semakovtse and Mikolayuvka, about 13 kilometers from Horodenka. The last person to be caught was Motya Mordechai Sucher. He hid through the action in the attic of the synagogue Vizhnitsa Chassidim. He left this hiding place when he thought the danger was over. However, he was caught, put in a truck, and driven to the place with the other Jews.
Trucks taken from the sugar plant in Horodenka were used to transport the Jews to the river. Some of the drivers were Poles who drove slowly in order to let some Jews jump from the trucks and get away. Among the ones that got their chance and jumped were Dr. Hessel, Israel Kugler and others. Dr. Hessel managed to get Aryan papers. However on his way to Stanislav one of the Ukrainians recognized him and handed him over to the Gestapo. The Gestapo soldier took him off the train and made him undress. When he realized that he was a Jew, he shot him on the spot.
In the killing place there were two big pits that were prepared in advance. Next to the pits was a big tent for shade. When these pits were dug a week before the action there was a rumor that this was the grave for dead Jews. When the Jewish council members approached Governor Hack and asked him about the rumor, he said that this was a lie and the pits were dug to keep some calcium and paint for the work on the bridge. The Jews believed this and never asked again.
When the trucks arrived at the pits, the Jews saw the officers and Gestapo armed with machine guns and submachine guns. They were sitting in the shade by a table laid out with food and drink. There was an orchestra playing. The Gestapo then ordered the Jews out of the trucks and into the shade. They then had to get undressed, except for their underwear, and go into the pits. As soon as they stepped into the pits they were shot by the Gestapo. And so the bodies of thousands of dead and dying Jews were piled up in the pits. A few people were not hurt, stayed alive and managed to get out of the pit in the darkness of the night and return somehow to the ghetto. Among the living dead was Drazairlle, Mrs. Rupp, the daughter of Yechil Roseberg, Nettie Reicher, Dvorah Glatzer, and Zippora Eyzman. Most of those who survived were killed in the next action. Very few stayed alive.
From those who lived, two reported incidents should be mentioned. When the Jews left the shaded area after they took their clothes off, Dr. Schneyder was among them, but he was still wearing his shirt. One of the Gestapo saw this and started screaming, ordering him to take the shirt off. Dr. Schneyder took off his shirt and hit the Nazi on his face telling him, "If you think a shirt is worth more than a person's life, take the shirt." He was shot on the spot, before he even managed to go down into the pit.
In another incident, Dr. Ivar Sitz and his wife were holding a little girl in their arms while walking to the pit. They overheard one of the Gestapo telling his friend, "Look, what a cute child. It's a shame that such a beauty should be killed." When he heard this, Sitz approached the Nazi and begged him to take the child and give her to my family for some money. The Gestapo agreed but his partner refused to make the deal and they killed the child with her parents.
All through the massacre, officers and Gestapo were sitting by the tables, eating, drinking, laughing, and amusing themselves. The sounds of the orchestra mixed with the sounds of the machine guns and screams of the victims. The following day, ten of peasants from the area were recruited to cover the pits with dirt. They reported that even a day after covering the pits with dirt, one could still see some motion.
Governor Hack's greed knew no limits. He used lies and tricks over and over to get all the valuables and gold from the Jews into his own pockets. He continually made false promises of release and help to delegations who came to beg for the lives of Jews.
After that first action and murder, the Governor assembled the representatives of the Jews, expressed his sorrow about what had happed and blamed the Ukrainians for putting pressure on the Germans to reduce the number of Jews in the area. He promised that from then on there would be peace and quiet and that there would be no danger to Jewish lives. Under his command a new Jewish council was appointed headed by Morris Pilfl. The Jews were order to re-register and the Jewish council was assigned the duty of giving those with registered documents permission to return to their homes.
Major Feidler told Mrs. Schneyder and me, who were still hiding, that the military police would register us and get our documents. But when the police came to the council to get the documents for our two families, the council chair told them that Doppler, the Gestapo chief, forbade them to give out the documents unless they personally saw us first. After a few days without documents, my wife decided to go to the council personally to get the documents. She was arrested and the rest of our family was also arrested when we came to inquire about her whereabouts. While we were being arrested one of the officers approached us and said that if we gave him the gold that, according to rumors, we had buried, he would arrange our release. We negotiated and finally I agreed to give the officer his gold. Indeed, after they dug out the gold from our backyard, we were released and sent to another house to hide. Major Feidler found out about this and tried to gain our release from the hiding place. He approached Gestapo Chief Doppler and demanded I be allowed to resume my work as a dentist. Doppler agreed and ordered me to reopen my office and clinic in 24 hours. I did and thus managed to keep my family and Mrs. Schneyder alive.
Also during this time, Mrs. Kaufman made friends with Doppler's mistress Mrs. Neiderman. Through her she found out when the next German actions would take place in the ghetto. She also got work permits for a few of her friends including my family, the son of Yaakov Weiner and his son, and the son of Dr. Grenzeyd. These permits protected people from the Gestapo. Through these connections with the mistress of Doppler, Mrs. Neiderman, the remaining Jews were able survive for a while as best they could under German occupation.
In May 1942 Major Feidler left Horodenka and was transferred to Crimea. He took Mrs. Schneyder and her daughter with him. They disappeared in Crimea and have never been heard of since.
In the months of May and June 1942, there were separate actions every now and then. Ten and tens of Jews were caught and transported to labor camps where they died of hunger or torture.
In July 1942 Doppler left Horodenka and was replaced by a new and even crueler Gestapo chief call Feddich. Feddich came to me for treatment for a bridge for his teeth. I prolonged the end of the treatment because I knew that once he was done, Feddich would kill me.
In September 1942 there was a rumor that in a week there would be another action. In order to get the victims to concentrate in one place, there would be a new order to re-register for labor permits. I tried to tell the Jews not to go and re-register. At the same time I tried to get hiding places for my family and me. I finally managed to convince one of the German officers to hide me because me owed me a favor. The next morning the Jews of Horodenka and the area came to the registration office to get the labor permits. After a few hundred of them were gathered, Gestapo cars came and surrounded them, put them on trucks, and assembled them in the courtyard of Count Lovamisky. From there, they were all sent to the concentration camp at Belzec. Most of them died in the trains on the way from hunger and heat. Among them was Itzchak Schecter.
A short time later they announced another registration. This time the Jews understood the implication and did not go near the office. When the Gestapo started searching the houses many escaped the town and hid in the forest on the other side of the Dniester. Even there Germans and local people caught them.
I postponed the end of the dental work on Officer Feddich as long as I could while I arranged a safe hiding place for my family and me. At the end of November 1942, I escaped together with my family to a village and we hid in a bunker in the backyard of one of the peasants. After we escaped from Horodenka, only seven Jews remained in town; of them only one survived, Dr. Tafft, previously a doctor in the town of Chernilitsa.
We hid in that bunker from November 27, 1942 to March 27, 1944, the day that the Red Army entered Horodenka. All in all one must say that the behavior and attitude of many Jews of Horodenka throughout the Holocaust was remarkable. Except for one sole case, they did not lose their human dignity; they stood with honor through all the suffering and the dire tests to which they were subjected by the Germans and their helpers.
[Pages 293 & 381]
A few days previous to the action many in the town received postcards from people in other towns in the area warning that if they were called for a celebration not to go. When I saw all the activity and preparations, I contacted my husband who was visiting his cousin in the suburb of Kotokivka and told him to try to stay there and not return to town. For myself and for my other two cousins I prepared a hiding place with one of the peasants who was our friend. But when we reached the peasant's house he told us that he could not hide us and we would have to go back home. I had no choice but to take my two children and go back home. When I reached the cooperative dairy, Asher Shtreyt, who lived nearby with his wife Bronye, called to me and asked me to hide in their apartment. I wanted to reach my home that was around the corner, but Asher warned me not to go out on the street because it was very dangerous. So we stayed all night with the Shtreyts sitting on their beds, waiting.
Early in the morning we found out that Ukrainian police had surrounded the town. They wouldn't let the peasant women who brought milk and vegetables from their villages to town enter Horodenka. The Shtreyts' apartment was on the top floor. We hid in a very small room that was nearby. The SS people went from one house to the next and asked the people to come out. When they reached the Shtreyt house and screamed Open up, Shtreyt's wife got scared and answered, I'm coming, and went out with the two children, Hershel and David. We stayed in the darkened room and the SS thought there was nobody else in the house. Then Asher Shtreyt left the room and went to the tower on top of the dairy building.
When evening came after the dairy workers went home, he called us and told us that from the top of the tower he saw everything that had happened in town. Besides the people who were taken away in cars and trucks, he saw about 400 people being marched to their tragic end.
Following his advice, we all went up to the tower and hid there all day and night. The following day, Friday morning, the town looked like a big cemetery. There was nobody alive except for the Ukrainian police who went around putting yellow stickers on the houses of all the Jews who were taken in the action.
I wanted to find out what happened to my family and I dared to go down from the tower. I told the people who were staying there that I would give them a sign if I saw that the danger was over. Then they could leave the tower.
I found my house locked up as I had left it. I went to the Judenrat office but it was empty. I couldn't find any survivors. In that same house there had been the orphans of the refugees from Hungary that my son Reuben helped care for. One could see there the leftovers of the German plot to make the Jews think that nothing was going to happen. One day before the action, the local governor brought a sack of apples for the children of the orphanage. When I entered the place, I found the tables laid out for breakfast with pieces of bread and butter and pieces of apples. The children never had a chance to taste the fruit. They were taken out early in the morning and led to their death.
I ran over to the house where the tailor Mendel Noach lived. I tried to reach the house of one of the janitors who once had worked with my husband and who we considered to be a friend. I was hoping to hear from him details about what happened. As I was walking, I met Malka Speer who told me that the action was over and that members of my family perished together with most of the people of Horodenka. I went back to the dairy house and I signaled to the people who were hiding there to come down because this action was over.
In a few days the other Jews who were hiding came out and started walking in the streets. The German authorities put out a decree that everything would be normal again and people should go back to work. Men had to go to work unshaven with no sign of mourning. They also started counting the people who remained alive.
Their murderers bought the clothes of the people who were murdered to the city bathhouse. They made the survivors wash and iron them so they could be packaged and sent to Germany, clean and ironed. The wives of the German officers employed some of the Jewish women as seamstresses to sew clothes and underwear. These workers were promised that if anything else happened, they would be protected. But, in fact, these were the first women taken away by the German hangmen.
After the first action the remainder of my family moved to the village of Zimakovich where some of my father's relatives lived. One could do this only with a special permit from the authorities. I remember that the Germans employed one of our friends as a driver. He came to our home to congratulate himself for getting a license for us.
A short time after we left town, very close to Passover, the second action occurred. Rumor reached the village and we left our house for a few days to hide in the fields because we were afraid the Germans would search the houses in the villages also. And we were not wrong. When we came home, a Ukrainian policeman was waiting by each Jewish house giving orders to return to Horodenka and gather there. But the people who were running the estates and who had the authority to keep workers to do the fieldwork agreed, for payment, to accept new workers and demand that these workers stay in the village. And indeed that is how a lot of Jews were saved. More than once a place that needed only 100 workers accepted 500.
Work in the fields was very difficult and the Ukrainian workmen made it even more difficult for us. They gave the Jews the worst jobs and enjoyed humiliating them. Food was a problem too. We were very hungry; even the peasants were hungry. At night we tried to beg for food from some of our peasant acquaintances, but they locked their doors in our faces. During the harvest we would gather some sheaves in the fields and use them to make some flour and broth.
At that time we heard a rumor that a Jew who was a very efficient worker could get a certificate that would allow him to survive longer than others. We were promised that Merboym from the Judenrat could get that certificate for us.
My husband and my daughter dared to go into town in a roundabout way and try to get the certificate. The Polish officers that were serving in the SS took my husband away. They also almost beat him to death. He came home sick and injured. For two weeks we hid him in the fields and tried to get him better. In the meantime my young son, 14, went out to work in his place so he wouldn't be missed. That is how we passed the summer of 1942.
When work in the fields was over, we should have gone back into town. But instead, some of the people in my family got jobs as workers building the bridge over the Dniester. Others hid in the nearby forest.
In the days of the third action, some of the builders of the bridge were arrested and taken into Horodenka. From there they were transferred by train to death camps. Among those who were arrested were two of my sons. They were sent to the labor camp in Lvov. We were finally made to go back to Horodenka. We arrived there on the day that another action was taking place. Those who were arrested were taken to the ghetto in Kolomea. I was arrested also but I jumped from the cart and stayed in Horodenka. Then we decided to leave town, one by one, and to meet in the forest by Tsimakovich. Our wish was to reach one of the towns across the Dniester that was relatively peaceful and not harmed by the Germans. With the help of my brother who was still working on the Dniester Bridge, we managed to cross the river. We hid during the day and at night we would march. We finally came to Tluste. My married sister lived there and she gave us a room in her apartment.
The people of Tluste had the illusion that the Germans had decided to discriminate in favor of those towns on their side of the Dniester and that their fate would be different from the fate of the others. We who were experienced in the German tactics did not trust that perception and we prepared a bunker under the house of my brother-in-law.
And indeed it didn't take a long time until destruction reached Tluste. During the days of the actions, 36 people were hiding with us. The Germans rushed their work there because they felt that the war was going to be over soon. Thus they tried to turn Tluste, in a short time, to Judenrein free of Jews. After that we could not leave our hiding place. We then had to go into the Lisovska labor camp that was run by the Germans, but not by the SS.
These were the days that the Germans started retreating. Together with them, the Ukrainian groups were also retreating. And these groups tried to kill every Jew that they met on the way. The Jews that were still alive in the labor camp went into the courtyard of the Tluste estate. The estate manager, a German, managed to station soldiers there to protect them against the Ukrainians and also helped to protect these Jews.
After the last of the Germans left Tluste, the town was transferred to the hands of the Ukrainian police. Because the Russian army was so close, they didn't dare to do anything to the Jews. A few hours before the Russians actually reached town, they escaped and left us alone. The first to reach us was a Russian patrol with three tanks. Our men went towards them, but the Russians were suspicious and asked them to raise their hands. When they realized these were Jews they were very surprised because they knew about the destruction everywhere else. They told us that all the way from Stalingrad to here they did not meet one Jew who was alive.
[Pages 296 & 373]
In Horodenka, I found the Jewish population to be under huge stress. The Germans wanted all the Jews registered. They demanded that everybody come to a certain place to have their work permits signed. People who didn't get them signed would be executed. The Judenrat got the message to bring everybody for the signing and also was promised that nothing would happen to those that showed up.
Because of the experience of the First and Second Actions, there was a lot of tension. The Judenrat decided that it needed to act in a way that, if something happened, they wouldn't be considered responsible. The two days before the chosen date, many people went to the Judenrat to hear their options: to go to the zamenplatz (the designated site for registration), which would mean certain death, or not go, which would also mean death. Everyone stood there, desperate and frozen but nobody knew what was the right action. Everybody felt that total destruction was coming.
At the last minute the Judenrat decided that everybody should go and they also decided about the specific order. Only a small number of Jews decided not to go. They prepared food for a long stay in bunkers. I was among them. The others especially the young who could work came on November 7, 1942, at 8 o'clock in the morning, believing that this time everything would be O.K.
After the people gathered, the place was surrounded by German and Ukrainian militia, all armed, and everyone was taken to the trains that then took them to the camps and the gas chambers. Only 80 people who were declared professionals were released. Only they could stay in town; any others were to be shot if found.
The people hiding found themselves in a terrible situation. They couldn't get out because they would be shot and staying in hiding was also impossible. The only solution was to run away. But where to? The non-Jews didn't want to hide us. The border to Romania was heavily guarded and every day the Germans brought back Jews who tried to cross it. That's why there were so few who decided to take this course of action.
At this time, we got information that on the other side of the Dniester, in the areas of Butshash and Tluste, there were many Jews who were not in ghettos. We couldn't believe that 50 kilometers away from us there were free people; so we set out to check the situation. It turned out to be true. It was the plan of the Germans to draw all the hiding Jews to this area in order to catch them all at once.
Every night some people came, although they knew exactly what was awaiting them. Some arrived safely and others were robbed and arrived with nothing.
After two weeks, 200 people all from Horodenka were in Tluste and 120 in Botshatsh. My friends and I went to Botshatsh. We were in constant touch with the others and also raised money for the people who had been robbed on the way.
Three months later, the Germans started to find us. We decided to organize ourselves for battle, because we knew that one way or the other we were condemned. We felt that the least we could do is get some revenge. It was very difficult to get ammunition. A gun cost 5000-7000 zloti, which was a lot of money a the time. We wanted to local Judenrat to help us. They didn't like the idea, but somehow, we managed to get money to buy some guns. At the same time, we sent some people to check out the forests in anticipation of the day we would have to leave town.
However, an unexpected Action took place and all our plans were abandoned. Some people who had the guns were able to kill two Germans and three Ukrainians. Only a small group of people survived the Action; we all went into the forest. There were three groups 40 people in all, including eight people from Horodenka.
The first days were difficult. First, we had rain for a whole week and we didn't know how to organize our supplies. Later, we put up tents and then built some bunkers. We organized a kitchen and had three meals a day. We got our supplies from the surrounding villages. Every night some of our people went out and brought back food for the day.
We had only a few revolvers, but we realized quickly that we needed automatic guns. Somehow we got five. All the other Jews who were not armed and who were hiding in other forests regrouped around us. Before that, their situation was very bad. They were frequently robbed and beaten and usually left naked in the middle of nowhere. In these cases, we got them clothes by appealing to the elders of the village where these incidents had occurred. They usually gave us what we needed.
In the first months, we didn't know about the Russian partisans. Then two girls from our group accidentally met with some of them and brought them to us. We had a festive lunch with them and they told us about the War. They stayed with us for a long time and thanks to them we managed to get more guns. We weren't lacking anything: we got clothes, usually German uniforms, and had a radio with batteries. We also managed to get timely information about current events.
It wasn't long before the rumor spread that there was a large, armed force of Jews in the forest; nobody dared to go into the forest. From time to time, however, the Germans would come to do searches. In the summer, it was not too bad because it was really difficult to find people hiding in the thick of the forest; we could easily move from one place to the other. But in the winter, our tracks showed in the snow, so we had to move from place to place outside of the forest.
Because of these events, the Russian partisans decided to move closer to the battlefield. We decided not to do that. We knew that the local population would inform on us to the Germans. Every night we walked 20 30 kilometers. This plan paid off. When the Germans got information about us, we were already far away from that plce.
When it became very cold and windy, we started staying with farmers usually Polish for a day or two at a time. They would let us stay because we paid them well. We had eight to ten hiding places within a radius of 150 kilometers. For security we would surprise them, stay overnight, and the next day be gone.
In the winter of 1943, the Ukrainians, already seeing the German defeat coming, wanted to get rid of the armed groups. They gathered the local population and told them that we were the only witnesses to the destruction, and thus it was necessary to find us and kill us before we told the Russians about the Ukrainian cooperation with the Germans.
Since they knew that we came to the villages at night, they put guards in every village to watch for us. We learned about this and tried to stay in the fields, avoiding the villages or the roads. Nevertheless, we were in a difficult situation at that time. More than once they discovered us in our hiding places the traces in the snow revealed us. But we always defended ourselves with the guns. Every time they discovered one of us, he'd be shot on the spot. But when we used the guns, they always ran away.
In January 1943, when we were next to the river, 30 kilometers away from Horodenka, we decided that four people from our town should go and check if there were any Jews still hiding with the villagers. If there were, we'd take them with us into the forest.
It is difficult to describe how we felt when we approached the place where we were born. We knew every stone and every tree. It reminded us of our former life, when we were free with families and friends like normal people. When we approached the local people that we knew, barefoot and wearing German uniforms, they didn't recognize us. When they realized it was we, they got frightened and wanted to us to leave immediately.
Unfortunately, we didn't achieve anything. We found out about some hiding Jews but couldn't make contact with them. In addition, nobody wanted us to stay with them. A local villager, thinking we were Germans, took us in a cart with two strong horses to a nearby village. From there we walked back to meet up with our friends.
The last months before the liberation, our security was very compromised. The Ukrainians organized big, armed groups known as Bendrovitches, who wanted badly to catch us. The roads were full of them. Our wanderings from place to place became almost impossible. At the same time, the Ukrainians started killing the Polish population, finishing off entire villages. One night, we got an interesting offer. We were staying with Polish friend when a Polish delegation came and asked us to help organize a Polish resistance against the Ukrainians. We accepted the offer. They appreciated our courage and gave us a beautiful welcome. In turn, they promised to protect us and help us in any way. We mentioned how many of the people helped the Germans kill our brothers and sisters. They replied that every nation has its bad element, but most of Polish people felt sorry for the Jews!
It is interesting to note that we found the Polish people to be unarmed, but the Ukrainians had a lot of ammunition.
We spent some time in the Polish villages. Many people from hiding in nearby villages joined us. They treated us very well, as they had promised, and had a big dinner for us every night. We went about our business at night and in the day stayed in hiding. Only on Sunday would we go out with our automatic guns to guard the church where everybody was praying. Before we came to the village they had been afraid to go to church for fear of raids by the Ukrainians. They priest told them: Today we can pray in peace because there is a power outside the building, guarding us from all evil. We stayed in the Polish village until the liberation.
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