by Chana Weinheber-Hacker
Translated by Claire Hisler Shefftz
Edited by Benjamin Shefftz
The Annihilation of the Jews of Kolomey June, 1941 - February 1943
The Beginning of the Holocaust in Kolomey
(This account includes testimony from Sally and Sigmund Tager and Andi Lederfeind, Kolomeyers who survived the Holocaust and now live in Israel)
After the Soviet army left Kolomey, the Ukrainians took control the city. They immediately began to persecute the Jews and carried out a small pogrom.
The Ukrainians savagely hunted for Jews in the streets; they bound them with rope and chains; they bloodied them; and with laughter and mockery, they drove them to the statues of Lenin, Stalin and other Soviet leaders in the city park, on the Ringplatz, and on Vollnastzy [Wolnosci] Avenue.
They tied the Jews to the statues and they forced them to use all their strength to remove the stone and cement monuments along with their foundations and drag them all over the city.
That day, the Ukrainians also robbed and plundered the Jewish houses. Luckily, no Jews were killed. Many, however, were badly hurt and had to spend weeks in bed with broken ribs. Others went around with beaten heads, swollen and wounded.
Soon afterward, the Hungarian army took over the city. The Jews relaxed and breathed more freely. The Hungarians merely forced Jews over 12 years of age to wear a white armband with a blue Jewish star.
In July, 1941, automobiles with Gestapo appeared in the city. The German murderers caught 110 Jews in the streets, in the shuls, and took them away to the nearby village of Koroloavke. There they forced the Jews to dig a grave for themselves. When the Jews finished the graves, the murderers ordered them to undress and crawl naked into the graves.
Just as the murderers raised their rifles to shoot the Jews, the Hungarian commandant of the city appeared and with a stern voice demanded that the Jews be turned over to him since he was in charge of everything in the city. In this way the commandant managed to save the Jews from a certain death. And after they were held in prison for several days, they were all freed.
This attack by the Gestapo murderers resulted in the death of two Jews.
Germans Take Over the City and Begin to Torment the Jews
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, 1941, the Germans took over the city and immediately began to persecute the Jews. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, entire streets were emptied of Jews. The Germans drove the Jews out of their houses into the street just as they were. They didn't let the unfortunates take a single thing with them. The mood of the Jews was heavy and strained, and the suffering great.
They began to round up Jews for "work." They caught Jews in the streets, and with blows, mockery and insults, they drove them to the railroad station to unload freight trains and to switch rails.
Before starting work, they beat them with fists and sticks, and later they forced the Jews to unload heavy barrels and other things from the wagons with wild urgency. They hounded and wore out the unfortunates so much that they were left without strength and could work no more. Then the murderers began to scream that the Jews were lazy and did not want to work, and they took the exhausted ones and threw them into ditches filled with water and lime.
In the evening, when they finally let the tormented ones go, not one of them could stand up without help, and friends and acquaintances brought them home fainting, more dead than alive.
At the same time the Germans began to take Jewish women to clean their quarters. So the women fared a little better than the men. They were given no pay and no food, but they weren't beaten and they came home in the evening with unbroken bones.
This "work" was done under the supervision and orders of a special group, which was called "Zonderdienst." The civil administration and the Gestapo came later.
Jews Are Forced to Give Up their Gold, Silver, Jewelry and Foreign Money
At the beginning of August, the Jews were somewhat relieved when the 26 year old Volkmann took over the city administration. He said he would do the Jews no harm if they were loyal and obedient to all the German orders.
His first order was that they were to give him all their gold, silver, foreign money, jewels, and other valuables.
The Jews obeyed and gave up everything. They believed that by giving everything away, they were buying their lives. For the next two or three days in a row, the Jews often stood in line from four in the morning until late afternoon so that their gold and other things could be taken from them and came home hungry and dead tired in the evening and collapsed. And the next day if they had anything left, they still went off to line up with their remaining worldly goods as ordered.
You must understand, that not everything which one owned was given away. And what was left had to be entrusted to Polish or Ukrainian "friends" to hide. For whoever had not given away everything was in danger of his life. If a Jew was found with a piece of jewelry or gold, he was punished with death. This was in the first half of the month of August, 1941.
The German "Wehrmacht" Appears in the City
In the second half of the month of August, one morning at about five o'clock, I looked out my window of my house on Legyonove Street, and saw it filled with German troops with helmets on their heads as though they were preparing for a battle.
I immediately woke up my family. At the same time I heard the creaking of the gates and the soldiers knocking and banging with the butts of their rifles and shouting, "Jews, Open!"
Soon after that we heard cries for help from the beaten Jews.
On another day, the German soldiers drove several thousand Jews to one spot and beat and tormented them. They threatened that they would soon kill them. But they didn't do it, since at the time there was no established government in the city to give them the right to do it. And the German murderers claimed they had killed and murdered only when they were ordered to do so. This time they rounded up the Jews to torment them and to shed their blood.
Several hours later, they allowed the Jews to go home. They said that they had carried out this persecution of the Jews because the Jews had spit on a German officer. You must understand that this was a false accusation.
An Order to Organize a "Judenrat"
The head of the city, Volkmann, ordered that a Judenrat was to be established in the city. Motye Horowitz was appointed head of the Judenrat. From then on, all German orders for the Jews were given through this Judenrat. (The murderers did this in order to carry out many of the robberies and bloody deeds with the help of the Jewish organization.)
To begin with, the Judenrat had to provide good homes for the German officials and Gestapo. Because of this, Jewish families were forced to move out of their houses. "Officials" of the Judenrat went from house to house, much to our shame and sorrow, to carry out searches, and if they found valuable things they took them away without pity. One must point out here, that these "officials" turned over only a portion of the stolen objects to the Gestapo. They later sold many of the valuables to the Poles and the Ukrainians, or they hid them for themselves.
The Judenrat also had the responsibility of providing Jewish workers for the Germans. These workers were beaten and tormented at work so much that they were all but crippled. Because of this, the Judenrat then had to replace Jewish workers.
On Shabbat, during the day of the eve of Hoshana Rabbah, 1941, the Gestapo began to search houses for Jewish teachers. The Ukrainians had prepared a list of names and addresses for them, and then led them to the houses and helped them find the teachers. They caught a few teachers then; the others hid in time. A deathly fear descended upon the Jewish intelligentsia but no one knew yet that death loomed over everyone.
Hoshana Rabbah 1941
On Sunday morning the Gestapo were seen on the streets of the city along with groups of Polish and Ukrainian "helpers," mostly 14-16 year old ruffians. A wild attack began on all who wore white armbands with blue Jewish stars. The caught women and men. The murderers went into the synagogues and with blows and curses they drove out the Jews, still wearing their prayer shawls, and chased them all to one place. Soon afterward, they set the synagogues and houses of study on fire.
No one could understand what the murderers wanted, since it was Sunday, and usually on Sunday they weren't taken out to work.
The murderers also broke into Jewish homes and dragged out the people just as they were. Some were dragged out of their beds and driven out naked and barefoot. Woe to those who decided to hide. They were killed without mercy.
In a few houses on Vollova Street and on Mitzkevitch Street, they did not disturb women who had infant children. The also didn't bother several families on Mokra Street when they saw that they were healthy and clean.
That evening, they drove together the men in the streets near the Prut [River]. These Jews, 4500-5000, were taken to the jail overnight.
The next day they asked those who were arrested if any of them wanted to volunteer for work. Many healthy young people who wanted to save themselves from prison volunteered for work. They did not know that this was just a trap that the murderers had planned in advance to do away with them. They took these young people to the Szeparowice forest, six kilometers from the city, and there they forced them to dig mass graves for themselves and for those who remained in the prison.
Digging the graves took a whole day. And as soon as they were done, they lined them up near the pit and shot them all.
In the city no one knew where they had taken the young people. The Jews thought that they had taken them away to Germany to work in the factories there.
The murderers did this day after day, nine days altogether. Every day they took hundreds of Jews away to the forest and killed them.
The Jews who remained in prison lived in the most frightful conditions. They stuffed them into rooms like herrings. There was no place to sit or stand. They were given nothing to eat or drink. They became so hungry and dirty that they wished themselves dead. On the ninth day they were released from such a life forever. They were taken to the forest in trucks and there they were all killed. The slaughter lasted a whole day.
In the city, they did not know what had happened to these people. They spoke of letters that were supposed to come from Germany, Krakow, Viyelichke. But no one had seen or read such letters. Some even spoke of the names of workplaces where the people from the transports were employed.
It wasn't until weeks later that they found out what the murderers had done with the Jews and that all the stories about the letters had been false.
Great anguish was felt in the city after the terrible massacre. Everyone felt the nearness of death and everyone looked for a way to save himself and his near ones. The houses of the gentile inhabitants seemed as though they were holy buildings and it was everyone's dream to find himself under the roof of sucha house. Whoever could still afford it paid any price to a Pole or Ukrainian who was willing to rent a room or even a corner. An exodus from the Jewish streets had begun
"Mokra" Action At number 9 Shkarpove [Szkarpowa] Street, there lived a Jew who was in the militia during the Russian occupation. The Gestapo searched for him. They did not find him in his house since he had hidden himself elsewhere. Because of this, the Judenrat was given an ultimatum: If the suspect did not give himself up in one hour, all the Jews in that street and in the neighboring streets would be killed. The family, who knew exactly where he was, let him know about the ultimatum. The Jew soon left his hiding place, appeared before the Gestapo, and was immediately shot on the spot. But the search for the former militiaman, was no more than an pretext for a greater undertaking. Ignoring that the Jew had been immediately killed, the murderers soon went into the Jewish houses and without pity they dragged out Jewish men, women, and children and herded together 500 souls and imprisoned them. The next morning they took them away to the Szeparowice forest and shot them there.
The Collection of Furs
Having seen what had happened, the people lived in constant expectation of new extraordinary tricks and deceptions. Days passed with no end to beatings, and confiscation of dwellings, furniture, clothing and so on.
In the month of December, shortly before Christmas, it was revealed that arrests were to take place. According to an official command, the most prominent and the richest Jewish householders in the city were taken to jail. A day later, it was learned that they were not in danger, they were only being held as prisoners for 14 days, until the Jews would hand over all their furs, their fur hats, fur trimmed clothing, and so on. If they were deceptive and didn't honestly hand over everything, the Jews who were being held as hostages would all be punished.
The Judenrat took care of all this "work." The "officials" knew very well those who owned a fur coat and if someone chose not to give up the furs or tried to hide something, he was arrested by the Judenrat and put in the Jewish jail. The jail was in an unheated room in the Judenrat building. The prisoner was kept there without food or water, until he gave up everything that the Judenrat demanded and they turned it all over to the Gestapo. For hiding furs, the sentence was death.
The Jews gave away almost everything. Seldom did anyone hide anything with a Christian. They did not want to live in fear. And the fear of death was great. The German rulers, giving the appearance of "honest people," kept their word and freed the hostages after they had all the furs. They freed the prisoners, although a few days later, they arrested them again to condemn them.
Early in the morning on January 24, 1942, small groups of Jewish intellectuals escorted by Gestapos could be seen on the streets. It became known at 10 a.m. that they had used a list to collect doctors, teachers, and lawyers. The names and addresses, all precisely given, gave them no chance to hide themselves. If they didn't find the ones they wanted, they took the best substitute member of the family in his house.
They didn't only take the intellectuals. They also took those who had been held as hostages during the fur confiscation. Other rich and prominent Jews from the city were also taken,
But the rich were not badly treated. This time the Gestapo behaved "properly." They allowed them to take their coats and a meal with them. The families of those who were arrested had the right to bring warm clothes and food to them.
This action took a whole week. Everyone trembled lest he should happen to qualify as an intellectual or a wealthy man, and lived all week in fear of death. They couldn't believe that this category of people would be killed. These people were certainly in learned positions. And it was believed that they would be very differently treated than the other Jews who had been killed.
A week later they took them all away. They did not take them to be killed in the forest by the usual route; therefore people began to believe that they had been sent to a concentration camp in Germany. It was later revealed that they took them to Szeparowice by a different route and there they killed them all. A small part of the intelligentsia that the Germans still needed remained in the city.
In February, 1942, it was announced in the city that a ghetto was being prepared. News came from Stanislav that there was already a ghetto there, and that Jews in the ghetto actually fared better than they had previously. In truth, they were suffering but they weren't destroyed, and for the time being they were not in fear of being killed. So people wished that the ghetto would soon be established.
The arrangements between the Gestapo and the Judenrat took a few weeks. No one realized that it was all a farce and the ghetto was not meant to be a dwelling place in which to live, but only a collection center from which to be taken to die.
The Gestapo had chosen only certain streets and houses and the Judenrat wanted more. In the end it was settled. Three Jewish quarters were planned and closed off from the outside world with wooden gates. The last day for moving into the ghetto was March 24, 1942. Anyone who was found outside the three Jewish quarters after that date would be shot to death. Only workers whose workplace was outside the ghetto could leave the ghetto. Groups of workers who were employed in a factory had to go out together under the supervision of an "arishn kolege," which escorted them from the ghetto gate each day. For single workers, their work pass was enough to get them to their workplace.
The gates were guarded by Jewish or Ukrainian auxiliary police, who were organized at the same time that the ghetto was established.
Jewish Police [Ordnungs Dienst] (A.D.)
Several weeks before the move into the ghetto, the Judenrat began to recruit the A.D., and in order to be a member of the A.D., money or influence was needed. People believed that membership in the A.D. would give them a better chance of going out from the ghetto more easily and thus enable them to provide their families with all they needed in order to survive. And by then each Jew had already suffered great need and hunger. People had also heard from other cities where ghettos had been established earlier that the Jewish police had earned a lot of money. The members of the A.D., however, had abused their power. They were supposed to watch the ghetto gates. But they used to help the Ukrainian police search the Jews when the Jews came back from work in the evening. They searched to see if the Jews had hidden a little bit of food in their clothes for their families in the ghetto. And since each worker, out of great need, was forced to "smuggle," the A.D. extorted from him a portion of the food or all of the food, or a cash payment. The A.D., also took away or, better said, robbed the Jews who were taken away of their remaining possessions; they could step out of the ghetto without being stopped and trade or sell the items. They also helped the Gestapo in the time of the "actions".
Their task was originally to maintain order in the ghetto and to accompany the Jewish workers.
The Passover Action and the Days from April 3-6, 1942
On Friday morning, April 2, all the workers who left the ghetto to go to their workplaces were brought to the gathering place at Kopernika Street and brought before a commission. The older and weaker people were taken to prison right away; all the others were murderously beaten and sent to work. Chaos and panic on the streets went on all day.
In the morning the Jewish quarter was cut off from the world. The gates were locked and Ukrainian auxiliary police and some S.S. stood by the first Jewish quarter. Gestapo and Schutzpolizei from Tarnopol entered the ghetto. They tore down the gates and wildly dragged out whoever they found in the houses, both grownups and children from their cradles and drove all of them to the gathering place in the High Synagogue and there sorted them out again: in one area the old people and in another the young people and those able to work. The sick people were shot in their beds during this action. The Jewish A.D. was soon active in the action. And again they were told that they still did not intend to send the people directly to their death.
They crowded hundreds of people into one room in the Handlers Synagogue; those who did not suffocate in the first few hours were loaded into cattle wagons three days later, 100 to 140 in a wagon, without water or food (the dead were also taken along), and were taken away to an unknown destination. This was the first transport to Belzec.
The same thing happened on Shabbos, April 4, in the second Jewish quarter. In ice cold weather and snow, they took half naked people to a small place on Mokra Street. They forced them to do various "exercises" and afterwards they took them away.
Monday, the second day of the Christian Pesach, was the day for the third quarter. This time people tried to hide themselves. But it was hell for anyone whom they found hidden.
So as not to waste time on the hidden Jews, the Gestapo threw fire bombs into every house and in a few minutes almost the whole Jewish quarter was engulfed in flames. The S.S. kept watch all day to make sure that no one put the fire out. And the A.D. took part in all the actions.
On the second day, the dead bodies of those who fled the flames and were shot by the Gestapo could be seen lying on the streets. Hundreds of burnt bodies were found in cellars, in closets, and in other hiding places.
After these gruesome events, everything "quieted down" a bit. The emptied-out houses filled up again with Jews driven out of the provinces. Not many of them could find a safe haven in these houses. Many of them settled for the meantime in the synagogues, in the ruins of the houses which the Germans burned and in the attics. The had no linens or clothing. They were infested with vermin. Their money and valuable things had been taken away by the Germans. They had no way to earn any money. They were forced to beg. But the original residents also suffered from lack of food. Even if someone were given a few kilos of flour to hide in his clothes and smuggle through the ghetto gates, he did it at the risk of his life, and the bit of food had to be kept frugally. The same guards was not always at the gate. There were several weeks when it was absolutely impossible to bring anything into the ghetto.
So truly the strangers, meaning the Jews from the surrounding areas, who brought nothing with them, were the first victims of hunger. With them also perished longtime residents. First they became famished and gaunt. Then they became swollen. Their facial features became prominent. The swelling spread to their eyes, nose, and mouth, the cheeks grown large, and the feet covered with open sores. And so in such a way, they went about and begged, as long as they could still move their feet. Afterwards they remained lying in one place, and begged further unit they gave up their souls to hunger. There were 50 - 60 such deaths each day. For days they lay until the truck picked them up and buried them in the Jewish cemetery in one mass grave. Almost every day someone from the Gestapo came to find out how the "hunger death" action was coming along. They must have had enough deaths to be happy with the results.
How They Dealt with the Jews from April 7 to September 7, 1942
As was said, after the actions that were carried out on Pesach, no more mass murders took place. They made it clear to the Jews that whoever worked would have no hair of his head disturbed. But anyone who did not work would be killed. So the Jews were eager for any work. And for every position, they were ready to pay with their last bit of money, with clothes and with other worthy things. The workers gathered in certain places: some were brought to their existing jobs by their escorts; others were taken as day laborers by the Germans to clean the streets, hospitals, and public institutions, to load and unload freight at the railroad station, and to make munitions. In the fall when there weren't enough horses, they hitched the Jews to heavily loaded wagons, and with blows they forced them to drag the wagons for miles at a time. The workers often went home badly hurt and with broken bones. Everyone had to take food from home with him. Whoever didn't have any, worked without eating. In the factories where they had steady work, they were "paid." The pay was between eight and 250 zlotys a month. A bread that weighed two kilograms cost 60 zlotys in the ghetto.
Not everyone could get work. Not everyone had enough money to but a job somewhere. In such a case, the person without a job had to sit in the ghetto and wait for his death. Anyone that had anything left to sell or trade for bread, did so. For a new unused men's suit, one could get 12 kilos ungrounded grain. For a pillow case, two kilos of potatoes; for a decent woolen dress, four kilos grain, and so on.
Those who had sold everything became swollen and starved to death.
In order to get "premiums" for their "wares," others even risked taking off their armbands and sneaking out of the ghetto to go to gentile houses. It often happened that they were caught and shot. Most often the deals took place near the ghetto gate. If the guard did not notice or turned aside for awhile, the Jews came out on one side of the gate, the Christians on the other side, and the trading began. If they were caught by the Ukrainians stationed there as guards or by the Jewish A.D., they bought their way out with half of their "earnings," or sometimes with all of their "earnings," and thus were overjoyed to have escaped with their lives. A Gestapo would ask no questions and, right on the spot, do away with the person, or set his dog upon the "Jewish swindler" to tear him to pieces (Knackendoerfer). Not a single day passed without a bloody sacrifice. Thus, for example, on a nice summer day in 1942, the Gestapo brought 120 Jews, men and women, into the Jewish slaughter house and killed them there. Afterwards, they dragged other Jews there to take the slaughtered ones some of whom were still breathing outside and lay out the bodies for the Judenrat.
Thus the "rest period" lasted until the beginning of September. At that time news came from Lemberg and other cities that fearful actions which had never been heard of before were taking place there. And that work is no longer any protection, and that every Jew must prepare a good hiding place, since that would be the only way to save his life.
In Kolomey they began to talk of a new "registration." A fear of death engulfed the ghetto, and paying no attention to the frightful news from other cities, everyone scrambled to find work. In great haste, and using their last remaining resources, every Jew made an effort to get himself a work card. Jewish delegations went to the German work officials. The officials again assured them, that Kolomey, due to all the previous actions, had lost enough Jews, and that the remaining ones who wanted to work could count on their protection for themselves and their families. In the middle of July, 1942, all the men were ordered to a "registration." Anyone found at home or in the street that day at one minute past six in the morning would be immediately shot.
That day there were many corpses. But all those who assembled in the gathering place to register before a Gestapo committee were only praised and they sent the lucky ones home. The sick and the weak ones were shot. This was supposedly a sign that the Germans needed the Jewish workers and had no grudge against them. And the Judenrat persuaded the Jews to believe this.
The President of the Judenrat Takes His Own Life
But suddenly, the leader of the Judenrat, Motye Horowitz, attempted suicide. He took poison. The poison, however, was too weak and the doctors saved him. At the beginning of November, he again attempted suicide by taking poison. This time he died in the hospital after much suffering.
On about the third of September several factories were told to bring all the Jewish workers' work cards to be stamped. Those with such a stamp and their families would then be protected from death. The factories collected the cards and brought them to the head of the Gestapo (Leideritz). There they stamped the cards of only one or two factories. The others were supposed to be taken care of a day or two later.
In the meantime it was ordered that on September 7 all Jewish workers and their families had to come to a second "registration." Every factory had an assigned place. The workers went first, their families came after them, according to the factory or the shop. Meanwhile they were considering: To go or not to go? In view of the outcome of the previous registration, yes, they should go, since those who had not gone paid a heavy price. Besides that, they had told the Jews frequently that those who did not work would be considered "scum" and would be eliminated along with their families. That meant that remaining in the ghetto was one hundred percent death. Going to register gave them a weak chance of remaining alive. The work officials and the Judenrat had assured the workers that no bad end awaited them.
On the morning of September 6, they went to their usual work with a heavy heart. They went with the feeling that they were leaving the ghetto gates for the last time, and that they were with their fellow workers for the last time in their lives. What will tomorrow bring? Which one of us will go to work again tomorrow? A quiet deep resignation reigned. And in the evening, they still packed a few scraps in their rucksacks to prepare the last, and certainly meager, evening meal. I also did this. When I came home, my sister's little one-and-a-half-year-old boy was already waiting for me. He could not speak yet and he could not stand on his little feet made crooked by hunger. But one thing he understood: When I come home in the evening, the fire is lit, something is cooked, and he also gets something to eat. He pulls me by my skirt to the stove, opens the little door, and with his little finger on his little mouth, he shows me that he wants to eat. Around the stove were also my remaining living family members: my husband and my two younger sisters. We drew out our last small dregs of weak coffee and left nothing for morning. Each one of us knows that this is the last evening that we will be together, and no one wants to remain alive knowing that the other died hungry. So, shall we for once eat until we are full, for once free ourselves from that gnawing feeling of hunger in the face of death? None of us dared to look at the other, for each glance might be saying farewell. And never before was there such a strong feeling of togetherness and never before was it so clear to everyone how dear we were to each other. With eyes full of tears, we sat by the light of candles (there was no electricity in the ghetto) at our last evening meal.
We were weary and heartbroken and tried to go to sleep. But fear and sorrow drove us from our beds. These were then the last hours we could be together and probably the last night of our lives. Heavy sighs rose among us from time to time. A despairing search for some kind of resolution. Should we go to the gathering place or stay at home?. We decided: My husband and my younger sister would go to the gathering place; the second sister, the mother of the little boy, would hide herself and the child in the bunker. Several days ago, she had tried to get some poison for the child so that he could have an easier death without suffering. Since she could find no poison, she decided to die along with her child. But soon after we arrived at the gathering place, she appeared there with the child. She couldn't stand the fear of death all by herself and she came to die together with all of us.
On September 7, 1942, at five o'clock in the morning, thousands of men, women, and children were assembled at various sites. All of them wore the best clothes they had in order to look good and appear to be healthy workers. They were mostly young people since the older ones did not want to leave the ghetto.
On the Kopernika gathering place, across from the city park where the registration was supposed to take place, there were eight thousand people at six o'clock in the morning. At eight o'clock, Leideritz, the head of the Gestapo appeared, with all the Gestapo, S.S. men, and the Ukrainian auxiliary police. The gate of the gathering place was locked, and we all knew we were doomed.
The registration began. A Gestapo came to each factory group and read out the names of certain workers from a list and those chosen were taken out of the lineup in order to go to the "good side." The chosen ones would remain alive. There were 1600 of them. All others remained on the "bad side," and their great suffering had begun. It was very hot and no water was allowed. Every few minutes an order was given: "Get up!" "Run!" Pregnant women, women with children in their arms, did not run fast enough. Bloody blows from whips and clubs fell upon their heads and nearly the whole area was soon red with blood. Many tried to escape. But it was not possible. The deadly coil reached everyone and soon there were dead bodies underfoot.
The "get up," "run," and "sit down" lasted several hours. After that they began collecting the clothes and belongings the people had. The searched all the people. The coats and clothes were thrown into a pile. The men were left only with a shirt, a pair of pants, and also shoes, which were by then worthless. The women were left with only the clothes they wore. All over the area could be seen scattered and torn money: Polish zlotys, dollars, and other foreign currency. They threw their jewelry and watches over the gate in order to keep them out of the hands of the Gestapo.
The cries of the children for water were impossible to bear. The adults also thirsted for a drink. But all that was surpassed by the suffering of the children and the despair of their mothers.
The 1600 who were selected to live were taken to a building on Volnastzy Avenue. The others, those destined for death, were tormented until five o'clock in the evening. Afterwards, they were brought to the railroad station, guarded by hundreds of armed guards, and were loaded into freight car to be sent to Belzec.
The streets were strewn with the dead. Every effort to run away was of no use. From 100 to 140 people in one freight car. No space to stand of lie down. Since the little slits of windows were nailed shut, it was soon stifling, and almost all the children and older people fell down fainting. A hard struggle with death began. Almost everyone concentrated their thoughts on longing for a drop of water. Some had spells of madness. The older people become suffocated; the children, who come to after having fainted, called out the words "water" or "tea." Their little bodies begin to shake, and soon again lied weak and motionless. Mothers put their hands around the little throats of their children in order to choke them. This is the only help they can give to their little ones. In one wall there is a split board. A little bit of air comes through the opening. People almost kill each other to get to the opening. The dead remain lying with the living. One can't tell which one has fainted or which one is dead. At night it's dark and no one has a match. In some freight cars people have matches but the air is thick that as soon as a match is lit, it goes out.
This is how it was until Lemberg. There the stronger men were taken to the work camp at Janowska Street. All the others were sent stark naked, men and women together, directly to the gas chambers at Belzec.
The Liquidation of the Second and Third Jewish Quarters
After the number of Jews was reduced in this way, the authorities decided that the first Jewish quarter would be enough for those who were left. And this is how it happened. Some carried only as much as they could with their hands to their new "dwellings." Whole families were already rare: parents had lost their children and children had lost their parents. Nevertheless it was impossible to drive everyone into one corner. There were still too many Jews to crowd into the few small streets. And those who still owned something paid large sums to get housing. The destitute ones were thrown out into the streets. Despite the harsh cold, people had to live in destroyed synagogues, in cellars and in attics. Typical of those times were the homeless children. Without parents, without a home, they lived on the streets. With a little dish and a little spoon in their hands, they went from house to house and constantly one heard their little cries: "Lady, lady, only one little spoon of food," "Housewife, only a little bit of bread," "Lady, only some hot cooked soup." Only seldom was there found a warmhearted person for almost every woman was just as hungry as the begging child.
They wandered about forlornly until they perished, swollen from hunger.
After September 7, it was understood that only the legal ones that is, the 1600 people who obtained stamps at the last registration would be allowed to live. There were still Jewish functionaries who received such stamps through the recommendation of the Gestapo head of Jewish affairs, Frost, for large sums of money (1500 zlotys). There were people who truly believed that such a stamp could protect them from death. The majority, however, soon stopped believing the Germans.
On Sunday, October 3 or 10, 1942, at five o'clock in the morning, the whole ghetto was surrounded by Gestapo, S.S. men, Ukrainians, and others. An armed murderer stood at almost every Jewish house. It was too late to try to escape from the ghetto. People could barely get to their prepared hiding places. Most people were still sleeping when the Gestapo, the S.S., the auxiliaries and others burst into their houses.
And again one could hear in the hiding places since one could hardly see the beatings with the clubs and the pitiful screams of the tortured men, women, and children.
The lucky ones who had the stamps remained in their houses; they supposedly had nothing to fear. They were, however, almost the first victims. The mocking laughter of the Gestapo was their reward for their dutiful and simple trust.
Afterwards the ordeal was the same as it was on September 7. The usual torment at the gathering place, and again the registration, where 240 factory workers (umschlagshtele), with new stamps and with new passes, were allowed to return home. From 4500 to 5000 Jews were loaded off to Belzec.
The Factories Become "Juden-Rein" [Free of Jews]
Several days later, an order came down that all Jewish workers were to be dismissed from the factories. It was the responsibility of the factory manager to make sure that not a single Jew remained in his establishment.
All those who were sent away from their jobs were assigned to jobs in the Hallerbach group and had to report for work each day.
All knew that this meant that they were sentenced to death.
When the Jews went to the September registration, they left the few things they still owned in their houses, very few of them returned, and those who did return could not carry a single thing with them when they left the two liquidated Jewish quarters. The gates of those Jewish quarters were locked. Inside the Jewish quarter they kept the Jewish auxiliary police [A.D.] and later also the Volks-Deutsch militia in order to guard the possessions left behind. Neither Jews nor Christians were allowed to enter without special permission. The overseer Hallerbach was appointed administrator of this treasure.
The big houses were cleaned out and converted into storehouses. From 180 to 200 Jews left the ghetto each day in order to work at cleaning up the liquidated quarter. Furniture, dishes, and clothes were brought to various storehouses.
The Jewish workers were under the supervision of the Volksdeutsch, and they spared them no blows, clubs, nor insults. Hallerbach himself delivered quite a few blows upon the "dirty Jews" when he came to oversee the work. And he came very often.
The Hallerbach Action
Wednesday, November 4, 1942, all Jewish workers were notified that on November 5, at 7 a.m. they must appear at the ghetto gate and go to work under Hallerbach's personal supervision. An order had come from Lemberg, in regard to the to the Hallerbach group, and a commission had decided that the work in the Jewish quarter must be completed by January 1, 1943.
What happy news for us! That meant that they will and they must let us live a whole two months. Some thought that it was a good thing if it were true. And the news reached us from Stanislav that the work group there had indeed been liquidated.
And again a depressing realization, for it could be foreseen that on that day there would be a bloody action against all those who remained in the ghetto. Of the two evils, the smaller one was chosen. The members of the Judenrat advised that it was best to go out, since the danger lay only in the ghetto. Not only the workers, but also those who hadn't worked previously, went to the assembly place. Hallerbach came to the place alone that day. Along with him came an unknown Gestapo from Lemberg. Behind the Gestapo gate stood an automobile with machine guns. Everything looked different than usual. The guard was weak and there were still opportunities to escape, but no one tried to run away. Death was everywhere. It was hard to predict where one would meet death sooner: whether outside the ghetto, or inside the ghetto. So following Hallerbach's signal, the column of workers left the ghetto.
As soon as they took their first steps, the workers' group was surrounded by Gestapo, S.S., Ukrainian militia, and others. They were all brought to the famous gathering place on Kopernika Street. The workers knew what that meant. But this time all of them were resigned. No one even tried to run away. Everyone knew that he was lost. And even if one undertook to run away now, in a few days or in a few weeks he would be caught again. So the understanding was that everyone must die, sooner or later.
This time the people weren't held at the gathering place very long. At about ten in the morning they were brought to the prison. They took their clothes. They robbed them of all their valuables. The searches lasted until evening. They had to remain lying on the ground in a windy rainstorm and watch while the Gestapo hanged a "dangerous" Jew for everyone to see. The Jew had hit a Gestapo while trying to run away. The body remained hanging at the gate until the next day a warning for all who might think of saving themselves.
The soldiers also indulged in such "exercises" as cutting out an unborn child, piece by piece, from the living body of a woman in her eighth month.
Meanwhile, murderous scenes were played out in the ghetto. They searched through houses and dragged out people. Around noon, they set fire to the ghetto, and everyone who dared to come out of a burning house was shot. All the patients in the Jewish hospital were killed right there.
The night in the courtyard of the prison was frightful. The bitter cold, the heavy rain and wind, did their worst. The children screamed and their mothers were unable to help them.
First thing in the morning, November 6, the execution was carried out.
Halfway to Szeparowice, they undressed everyone half-naked, and led them thus to the place of their execution. At night everyone waited for his turn. The execution took a whole day.
The Action Against Old People
In the ghetto there still remained several hundred people. (When the ghetto was established, there were over eighty thousand, including those from the surrounding areas.) Some held that there were still 700 people in the ghetto and others said there were 1200 people. No more searches were carried out. Whoever could do so lived in hiding. Mostly, these were old people and children.
Four days after the Hallerbach action, the Judenrat received the order to shoot 500 old people. This time the Gestapo did not come to the action. It was given over to the Jewish A.D. to carry out and the A.D. copied their masters very well. Without pity, every hiding place was torn down. And if they couldn't find the hidden ones, they forced the sons and the daughters to give up their parents. And if the daughters refused to reveal the hiding place, took the mothers and their children to the slaughter. Shameful bargaining began. Sons bought back their mothers or fathers for several hundred dollars. They took the money and in place of an old one, they sent a young life, a child. For the required number of corpses had to be correct. There were also situations where someone took the ransom money, freed the old person, and soon told another A.D. about the hidden one, and the second one took the victim since there was no money left to buy back the person one more time. Every day they needed new victims. The childrens' action came right after the action against the old people which had lasted several days. It was claimed that the homeless and orphaned children were not productive and were a burden upon the city. So they all have to be put to death.
The A.D. also took care of this work. They did not only search for homeless and orphaned children. That would be too much trouble for them. Wherever they saw a child, they put an end to him. In some cases, if the parents had money, they were able to buy back the child. They brought the children to the prison, just as they had done with the old people.
Shortly after the execution that the Hallerbach group carried out, a Gestapo delegation from the ghetto appeared in the prison courtyard in order to bring back to the ghetto a few "life-worthy" Jews. They had probably received a lot of money from the families of the people whose names were called out. And so those few were chosen, even though their days or weeks were numbered, to have their lives prolonged. Among the names was that of a woman who had just been killed a few minutes ago. I sized up the situation, grabbed my child and got up from the ground calling: "That's me!" In a hail of blows and beatings with rifle butts (those who were sorted out for death were not allowed to get up from the ground). I fought my way through to the prison exit gate. I hid my child under a piece of furniture that was there and soon I was in the group of 15 who were let out. They brought us to another part of the prison (I also managed to smuggle my child in). A feeling of relief swept over me for having escaped death and for having kept my child alive. (My husband and my last living sister remained in the courtyard and I could hear the preparations for their executions and their last steps to death.) It was the same for the other 14. Their loved ones were also being tormented and they could foresee with anguish their soon-to-be executions. But those who were inside the prison cell were happy with their poor little bit of life, painting pretty pictures for themselves of how good it would be if they only let them sit there for a year. There in that place they were reborn, there they were protected under lock and key and from prison guards.
But this "idyll" did not last very long. Only one night. As soon as they had taken the group in the prison yard to Szeparowice to be executed, Hallerbach showed up in order to identify the saved ones. He knew me well because I had worked for him for a long time. It was then his choice whether this Jewish woman or another one should remain alive. The money was already in his pocket. He counted the people- and discovered my child. Woe, woe, we are again lost. But my prediction was wrong. They didn't take the few unknown Jews to be killed. (Only the unseen were given that "honor." After they finished their work, they were killed.) They were sure that the sacrifices would not escape from the ghetto prison. Hallerbach counts..."Fifteen and a half" (half was my child). "So, dirty Jews, this is the right place for your heads, get up." Overjoyed, we left the prison gate; but where could we go? Death was everywhere in the ghetto. We went into the former Horowitz factory. That was the warehouse where we had sorted the clothes of those who had been killed. We felt safer there. The building belonged to the Gestapo and formerly there was always certain to be work there. The clothes of those who were now in Szeparowice were always brought there.
The A.D., which guarded us, had the right to come into the ghetto any time. Soon they brought us the news that the great slaughter was soon to end; and now they were looking for a few Jews, "personalities" who were Gestapo helpers, and they would be shot, one by one. Two Jews who had spent the previous night with us in the prison were forced to turn back and were taken away and killed. The A.D. also told us that the Gestapo were not interested in finding every one who remained. Some Jews were still left, and death and despair looked out from their eyes. The streets looked lifeless and were covered with unburied dead.
In the meantime they brought the "transport" from Szeparowice (that is, all the clothes and shoes of those who were killed), and we were off to "work."
I found there my winter coat, which had been taken from me before the execution, and my husband's suit; my husband had been killed in that execution.
The same day, in the evening, we went back to the ghetto. I quickly heated a little bit of coffee, and I put the child into a warm bed.
Typhoid Fever in the Ghetto
The old anguish began again. In frost and night, every day at five in the morning, I pulled my child out of bed, and quietly left the ghetto to find a hiding place for my child for the day. In the Hallerbach warehouse I used to hide my child under a pile of garbage, in feathers, under pieces of broken furniture, and in other places. I worked at "sorting." In the evening we went back to the ghetto. This is how it was for five days.
On the fifth day after the Hallerbach action, the child couldn't get out of bed. It had a high temperature and remained lying in bed. I, however, had to go out of the ghetto. I had to find a way to save the child. I had to bring a little bit of food. Would I still find the child there when I came home? And what would happen if they would find me out and the child remained in the ghetto, small, helpless, and sick? But what use is heartbreak and despair? I kiss my child (perhaps for the last time?) and leave the ghetto. After a day of maternal anxiety, I went back to the ghetto with a shaky heart. Was my child still alive? Will I see her again? My child met me in the room, dressed, with frightened eyes. "Mama," she said, "today the Judenrat ordered that all mothers must give away any children who are still alive. Will you give me away?" I answer her: "No, my child, either we will both save ourselves or I will go to die with you. Rest assured, my child, we will go on our final journey together." Her eyes lit up with happiness and gratitude. But soon the light went out. "Mama, why should you die because of me? You are still young and a lot of mothers save themselves without their children." In the evening, her fever went up from 40 to 40.5 degrees [104 to 104.9 degrees Fahrenheit]. On the second day, the Jewish A.D. men rampaged through the ghetto; they knocked on the gates of every area and each step of theirs meant death for my child. What should I do? I found a Jewish doctor. He examined the child and it was obvious: typhoid fever. There was no time to be lost.
The ghetto is small. Not many people a few hundred, perhaps a thousand, and they know more or less which house still has a child in it. The truth is I had almost no chance of keeping my child alive. It was only six days after the Hallerbach action and I wanted to ease the child's death. On the second night, I dressed the child, took her in my arms, carried her out of the ghetto and brought her to our former dwelling. The snow was deep. It was hard not to leave tracks in the uninhabited former Jewish quarter. When I arrived, I laid the child down on the stone floor in the kitchen since that was the only place that still had walls even though there was no door or windows. The whole house had been plundered and ruined.
We had no bread and no water. The snow kept on falling. Every footprint could have given us away. During the night I brought in a little snow and ice and cooled off my child's forehead and lips with it. Four days later, my child's agonies began. Her whole body was all swollen and I decided that for her last hours I would bring her to the ghetto so that she could die in bed. Just then a Jewish work brigade went by. I told them what was going on and on their way back they took me with them. The dying child was stood on her feet (as though she were also coming from work) and two workers pulled her along. Returning to the ghetto, I quickly brought in a doctor. He cut and pulled the clothes and shoes off her body and assured me that in four or five hours the child would die. And how does one wait out these few hours? The child is known to them and the murderers can take her away any minute. Today is the last day of the children action. I begged the doctor to give me a little bit of poison. The child didn't need very much now. But the Jewish doctors didn't have any poison. I gave him the small amount of money I still had so that he could buy some on the black market from a Christian doctor outside the ghetto. But it wasn't worth his trouble. Not a single doctor wanted to talk to him and he brought the money back to me.
Under my bed was a deep hole. A nest of many rats. Quickly, with the doctor's help, I enlarged the hole and stuffed the child in there. Anything was better than death at the hands of the Gestapo. I put my living child in the ground and I waited. Three, four, and five hours passed and the very wished for death did not come. And the hiding place was very primitive. It could be found any minute.
The day went by. Night came. And the child did not die. At night I crept out of the hole, made a glass of hot tea, and luckily, the child drank it. In the morning, the fever began to drop. The child wanted to eat. In several days (the entire time in the hole) the illness went away. The child remained alive and the children's action had ended.
In the same house, 29 people lived in 3 rooms. All except me became ill with typhus. The disease spread quickly throughout the ghetto. The sick ones could have wished for nothing better than to die in their own beds. But unfortunately, even though no one succeeded in calling a doctor or taking medicine that couldn't be obtained in the ghetto, almost nobody died. They knew: By the time of the execution everyone would be well and go to his grave on his own two feet.
No Gestapo crossed the gate into the ghetto. Nevertheless, the epidemic reached the other side of the gate. Even though only one old woman died of typhus in the ghetto, in the Christian quarter, with the best sanitary conditions and medical help, there were many deaths.
Kolomey Is Declared "Juden-Rein" [Free of Jews]
On December 15, 1942, the Judenrat was notified that the Jewish A.D. had been rounded up and the Gestapo had taken them to the prison in order to kill them along with the old people and the children in Szeparowice that day. Kolomey was declared a Juden-rein [free of Jews] city. And the Jews who still lived there had officially ceased to exist. As to their future fate, few of them had any illusions. The majority awaited their death which could come any minute. But they didn't know if their epilogue would come before Christmas or soon afterward.
The Gestapo also celebrated the Christmas holiday, the holiday of giving. With full pockets of what were once Jewish goods, they hurried to bring the holiday presents to their wives and children.
From December 20, 1942 until January 1, 1943, the Gestapo were on furlough and the Jews had a whole 10 days of rest. That meant that one could properly lie down in bed and cook a "meal" as it should be, leaving the pots on the fire without fear. No one had to run to the hiding places or fall into the hands of the invading murderers. Full days of rest and stretching out. Eating until "full" and sleeping enough. One even began to hope that one might remain alive.
This rest lasted until January 1 and it was hard to believe that we were still alive. On January 20, 1943, discussions began between the Gestapo and the representative of the Jews, (Farbindungsman) Presser, about shrinking the ghetto and transferring Jews to other houses. The Gestapo chose for this purpose a part of Vallova [Walowa] street. Only a few hundred Jews were still alive and it was not possible to stuff them all into a few houses. The Jews interpreted this arrangement thus: The remaining workers and their families if such still exist, would actually go into the houses, and all others would probably find their place in a mass grave in Szeparowice.
This time we were wrong again. During the period from January 26 to January 31, all Jews had to go over to the "new" ghetto. Anyone who was found in the old ghetto after 6 p.m. on Janaury 31st would be immediately shot. So all the people went in together. From 30 to 36 persons in one room, hallway, or attic. But even in this way, all of them couldn't find a space. The cries and the wails were beyond description. They wished for an early end, and death was not long in coming.
Soon after dawn on February 1, 1943, the first shots fell in the "new ghetto." The people who went out to work were caught right at the gate. The others were taken out of the houses. This time it was very easy for the murderers. First of all, no one expected such a quick liquidation, and second, there was no time to prepare a hiding place. Very few had prepared a place to hide.
The doctors and their families, who until now had lived outside the ghetto, were also taken in this action, and all were taken to the prison and sorted out there. Thirty people eight doctors, two druggists, and 20 other skilled workers were freed from the prison. They were given two houses where they had to live (without their families). All the others were taken to Szeparowice to be killed on February 2 at 11 a.m.
A pitiless search for Jews began again in the ghetto. The Ukrainian militia searched everywhere. Afterwards, the Gestapo searched with their tracking dogs. Those who were found in hiding were not shot, but were dragged over the snow-covered streets and were beaten until they could no longer move as punishment for not going willingly to their deaths on the appointed day,. Afterwards, they let them lie there like that until they expired. Under the threat of death, no one was allowed to give them food or water.
The Last Thirty
At the beginning of March, 1943, all the skilled workers, aside from the doctors, were taken out of their dwellings. They were brought to the Jewish cemetery and shot there. The doctors were all taken that same day and locked in a room that had been prepared for them, and told that they would be killed the next day. The seven doctors (one doctor, Dr. Gross, had run away somewhere previously) had poison with them and that night they all took their own lives. In the morning when the murderers came in order to take them to the cemetery, they found seven corpses.
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