by Yaakov Lahat (Likorman) Kibbutz EinHamifratz
When the Germans smashed through the Polish border, and advanced with lightning speed, I heard that a regiment of volunteers was forming in the Polish Army. This regiment was preparing to cross to the other side of the Visla River. Together with two other members of the Hashomer Hatzair (Leftist Zionist Youth Movement) we showedup in the military camp, and received rifles and uniforms. With this army we retreated to the city of Kovel, and there the high command informed us that the war was over, and that we could return home. On the way home, at every place that we got to we heard: The Germans were here but they've retreated. This was a tactical retreat to the Visla River, in order not to meet up with the Red Army that had started advancing. After these difficulties, when I reached home, exhausted after three weeks, I had no desire to return again, meaning, to flee to Russia, as did many of the young people of our city.
The Conquest of the City by the Germans
As soon as they entered the city, the Germans rounded up all of the men (Jews and Poles) in the courtyard of the church, and there they detained them for a week. A month after the conquest they burned the two synagogues that were in the city, and shot at the Jews who wanted to save the Scrolls of the Torah. The seizures for forced labor also began immediately. The head of the community, a Zionist, fled to the Soviet Union. The new head, who volunteered for this job was: Moshe Bronshtein, a bachelor, who was also an active Zionist. It is possible that he volunteered to be the JewishElder, in order to make amends for the fleeing of the former chairman, and it is also possible that his motive from the start was a pure one. He reached an agreement with the local commander, and with the commander of the local gendarmerie, that the community provide 200 workers on a daily basis.
The JewishElder informed the populace (5000 Jews), that each adult would work two days a week (the arrangement was according to streets). The Jews accepted this arrangement, and the seizures of workers ceased. And what did the labor consist of? Mostly it was degrading work for army units. Each unit received 1020 Jews for labor. There were units that used the Jews to clean up their area, to help in the kitchen or in the stables. But there were also units that abused the Jews: Had them carry piles of stones while running, or digging pits, etc. Understandably, sweeping of the streets in the summer, and snow removal in the winter were Jewish labors, and the payment nothing! This was forced labor without pay, but there were military units that distributed workclothes. It did happen that some workers made good connections, remained for an extended period, at his job, and succeeded in providing for his family. In the meantime the Judenraat issued workcards on which were listed the complete labor obligations. As time passed, arrangements became such that the rich didn't go to work, and the poor labored in exchange (for them) for 2 kilo of bread.
The Jewish Police
The Jewish police was organized at the instructions of the Germans. They were organized by the Judenraat, partly from the youngsters from good homes, a few burly fellows, and one an informer, who was recommended by the German gendarmerie. A total of 12 men.
At the outset the Judenraat was comprised of three men: The Elder of the Jews Moshe Bronshtein, the secretary, who worked in the office and the Shamas (the Beadle). At the start the Judenraat did not interfere when, in place of a rich Jew, there appeared for labor a hired worker who had been paid. But, in time, they came to the conclusion that here was a source of income for the Judenraat, and they prohibited the substitutions. In other words: Either you appear for labor twice a week, by yourself, or else you pay the Judenraat, and they will send someone in your stead, because they know who needs the support. As time passed, this money was not enough, and the Judenraat began to levy taxes. At the beginning only a small amount from those who could afford, but they found a patent how to soak money. They sent the Shamas with a note which read as follows: You are to appear on the following date (usually about a week later) with a shoulder pack and eating utensils, and the Shamas would add secretly: Looks like you're being sent to camp.
Understandably, each one who could afford it, ran quickly to the Judenraat to request not to be sent, and this, in exchange for a large amount of money, with someone else sent to replace them. In some cases, no one else was sent and this became a clever way of extracting money. In such a case, when I would receive a notice to appear with my backpack, I appeared, but most of the time I was sent back home or sent out to the regular labor. Once I was also in prison, because my father didn't pay the tax. They didn't replace the Elder of the Jews in our city. The Jews couldn't change him, and the gendarmes were pleased with him. The Jews didn't consider those active in the Judenraat as collaborators who oppressed us, but as a link between the inhabitants and the German rulers, who did their best to lighten the burden of the evil decree. Once a new type appeared at the Judenraat. This was a German Jew who had arrived in our city. At first he supported himself by forced labor, but speedily, he became acquainted with the gendarmes, and became active in the Judenraat. The relations between him and the other members of the Judenraat were strained.
At the beginning of 1940 the Ghetto was enclosed, partly with a wall and partly with boards and wire. Understandably, the Jews who lived on streets not included in the Ghetto, were ordered to leave their dwellings and move to the Ghetto. My family moved to my aunt's house. Twice a week, I worked at forced labor, and four days I would go out of the Ghetto. I learned dental technology. There was no strict guarding of the Ghetto as yet, and it wasn't sealed hermetically. People would cross the boundary, but there was always an aspect of danger, that passing gendarmes would catch you. If a Jew was caught outside the Ghetto, he was ransomed with money. (The price always increased.) This matter would be dealt with by the Elder, since he was the only one who had contact with the German commandant.
All cultural and educational activities ceased. It was forbidden, and there was no auditorium in the Ghetto for such activities. As want increased the Judenraat set up a kitchen for the needy. The money for this was raised by increasing the tax on the rations permitted to Jews by the Germans. An incident occurred whereby a German soldier fell in love with a Jewish girl, and helped her and her family. Also a gendarme who was courting a Jewish girl, did not interfere with the slaughterhouse that had been set up in her home. A few Jews also became wealthy. Jews who succeeded in hiding merchandise, lived well. The peasants of the area needed clothing, shoes and even furniture, and the Jews needed food. For all sorts of merchandise, the peasants paid with food. Most of the inhabitants of the city became impoverished, but until the summer of 1942, when the Germans began to settle the Jews of the surrounding towns and villages in the Ghetto, there wasn't a case of death by starvation.
A Meeting with Mordecai Anelewitz
Before the war, there was in the city, a branch of the Hashomer Hatzair, consisting of about 70 members. In 1939 there was a summer camp of Sons of the Desert, together with a branch from the south. I was one of the counselors in the camp, and when it ended I went to the Central Camp for Counselors in the Carpathians. Tusia Altman was a counselor, and Yosef Shamir lectured there. With the outbreak of the war, a portion of the adults fled to Russia, and a portion supported their families by smuggling skins from Radom. We would hold meetings from time to time and decided to continue to meet. We were about 10 seniors in the movement. Difficulties increased. One day (about a month before the convention in Warsaw), I was informed that a guest from the movement had arrived. This was Mordecai Anilewitz. I met him at the wagon driver who brought travelers from Kozienice to Radom and back (travel was illegal). He spoke to me as if he were my uncle and asked about my family. He told me to be careful.
On the morrow we arranged a meeting of the senior group. Ten members appeared. Mordecai gave us news of what was happening in Palestine. He spoke lovingly of the Soviet Union, and gave us news of the progress of the war. At that time we still thought that the laborers would remain alive. He spoke about the establishment of two training farms, and suggested that we hoard arms. The purpose of his visit was to establish a bond with our branch of the movement, and to choose representatives to the governing body of the movement. We concluded that he would inform us when the council would meet. A few days later I received the following postcard from him in Polish: My dear nephew! Aunt Council is interested in you, and wants you to come visit her at her place in two days time. I kept the post card, but it was lost in the concentration camp.
Relations Between Jews and Poles
It is to be understood that there were Poles who jumped into the homes left by Jews, but I don't recall too many instances of Poles informing on Jews, except one time when a Jewess wanted to sell her fur coat to a Polish woman, who was involved with a Polish Gendarme. It is difficult to say whether the woman actually informed or the gendarme obtained the information by chance. The Jewish woman was arrested and shot to death. (It was forbidden to keep fur coats). In spite of this, a Jewish woman, who had converted to Christianity before the war, continued to live among the Poles, did not come into the Ghetto, and no one informed on her!
On March 28, 1942, I was sent to Camp Yedlana. We were 30 young men from Kozienice who were there. It was not an enclosed camp. Altogether a few huts, unfenced. A German firm employed us. They were responsible for paving roads. First of all, we cleared roots that grew at the roadsides. The name of the firm was Paul Gatz. The food that we received was insufficient: about 350 grams of bread, margarine and a liter of soup, which one of us would cook. At the end of two weeks, when we saw that there was no freedom on the horizon, and there were no facilities at the place, such as: showers, and a change of clothing, I turned to the one in charge, and requested that he send us home for a day. We'll both go, he said. I'll bring food and clothing for all. (It was to be understood that he would get special pay for this.) The German agreed and even suggested that I conceal my yellow Star of David. We made the trip several times, about every two or three weeks. When I arrived home I would distribute letters that I had brought from the youngsters to their relatives, and at the end of a couple of hours, the relatives would bring packages of clothes and food. The packages were wrapped in two sacks, and each of us took a sack on his bicycle, and brought the packages to the camp.
Once I was caught by the gendarmes at the exit of the Ghetto, but through the intervention of the German who was responsible for us, I was freed. I was in this camp for about two months. From there we were taken to a place further away, Krushina. There we worked for about eight months, until December of 1942. There were supply camps there of German firms who provided food for the German Army. The work was hard and the food insufficient, but we had the feeling that we were needed, and perhaps the war will come to an end?
The Expulsion from the Ghetto of Kozienice
Before Yom Kippur of 1942, rumors reached us that some thing was going to take place in the Ghetto. The number of shootings of Jews increased among those who had been going out to the villages to buy food. The number of those starving, and Typhus sickness increased, especially among the Jews who had been brought into the Ghetto from the surrounding towns and villages.
I received permission from the German in charge of the work, to bring my parents and sisters to the camp. On the eve of Yom Kippur, I arrived with that German, on our bicycles, at our home, to bring back clothes food and letters, to my comrades. I tried to convince the parents to come to the camp, but they didn't want to. What will happen to all Jews will also be our fate! The Jews of the city did not understand what fate awaited them. They thought that they would be exiled to distant places. There was no communication between the Ghetto and the outside world, and no news reached the Ghetto. I suggested to my parents that I remain with them, but they convinced me to return to the camp, where it would be best for me. Perhaps there the chances would be better. On this occasion, they told me that in case the Ghetto was eliminated, they will hide for me in the cellar, merchandise and a portion of the family jewels. On Succos, rumors reached us that the Ghetto had been eliminated. The mood in the camp was difficult. We were depressed!
I Traveled to Our City
A week later, I traveled with that German to our city to find out what had happened. Every trip of this nature was frought with danger. I didn't enter the Ghetto. Instead, I went to the dentist for whom I had worked before I had been sent away to the work in camp. When he saw me, accompanied by a stranger, he was frightened. He told me that the Jews had been sent out of the Ghetto by train, and he almost cried. I felt that something serious had occurred. He told me that 50 Jews had remained in the Ghetto, and that only Polish firemen were guarding Jewish property. It was forbidden to enter the Ghetto, but there was no permanent German garrison there.
I didn't hesitate for a moment, and my German and I went to the Ghetto. When I went through the gate, I saw a number of people on the street, but when they recognized me, they came towards me.
They were surprised to see me since they thought that they were the only ones left alive. They didn't know to where the Jews had been sent, but the Germans had left them to gather up the possessions and straighten out the place. Most of them were skilled laborers, who had worked for the Germans, and some were the Jewish Police and their commander. The Germans had promised the police that they and their families would remain alive. But they too, were finally sent away with all Jews. The Jewish Police in that place, helped the Germans carry out the expulsion!
I went with the German to our house in the ghetto. Like all houses it was open and all possessions and furniture were in it. It had been searched and everything was disturbed and upset. At the moment that I came out of the cellar, a Jewish girl, Chaya Zucker, one of those who had remained in the Ghetto came running and urges us to flee immediately, because the Germans had been informed about us. We fled immediately, and as I found out later, a gendarme had actually come looking for me. At the exit of the Ghetto, a Polish fireman tried to stop us, but the German with me drew his gun and threatened.
I returned to the camp. There they were all waiting to hear from me. Later on, a young man who had been expelled from the Ghetto, returned and told how the people of the Ghetto had been sent to Treblinka, where they perished. He had escaped in a freight car loaded with clothing. The sorrow in camp was great. At that time the Germans who employed us, assured us that we were necessary and useful, and therefore we were alive. In the meantime, there arrived in our camp, a group of girls from Radom. In all of the surrounding camps there were concentrated about 1000 Jews. At that time, we had already decided that if they should come to destroy us, we would resist forceably. But we had no arms!
The Elimination of the Camps
On December 18, 1942, the camps in Krushina and Bertudzia were eliminated. During work hours the gendarmes came and ordered us to put down our work tools, and return to camp. There we were told to sit on the ground with our arms folded. They led us, on foot to one of the camps in the area. We were strictly guarded. The supervisor of the action was an SS officer. The others were 3 or Gendarmes, Germans, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians. The supervisor chose about 30 to 40 strong young men. We were assembled in a large hut, while the 30 to 40 remained outside, under guard. The first 10 were ordered to proceed to a large pit at the edge of the city. Four Germans accompanied them. At the pit they were ordered to kneel! The young men felt it was the end and they attacked the Germans. The SS man and a young man fell into the pit. During the struggle the young men began to flee. Six of them were killed and four succeeded in fleeing to the forest. In that forest we were assembled by the Germans in a hut. All night we were crowded into it without food and water. The guards would not consent to bring us water.
The next morning, everything was conducted with running, shouts, and beatings. Shots were also heard. Afterwards, it became clear to us what had occurred. The Germans took 10 men out of the hut to the trucks, and 10 others were run into the field where they were gunned down by machine guns as they were running. The wounded fell among the dead. I met some of the wounded a few days later. One of them told me: The Germans screamed that we should run. We ran and we heard shots. I fell, and others fell on top of me. I lost consciousness. Only in the evening did I revive, and I saw the Poles pushing the bodies into pits. The Poles told me that Jews were still alive in Shidlovtza. Only after we saw a few of the wounded with bullet holes in their clothing did we believe their story.
Only after the action did the trucks with those who were saved, move. They were guarded by a few Ukrainians in each truck, who were armed with rifles. They began to threaten and demanded gold, jewels and watches. They removed our clothes and succeeded in robbing a great deal of loot. It was obvious that they had experience in this. In this way we arrived in Shidlovitz at the end of December, 1942. There had been a Ghetto there which had been evacuated. Now the Germans decided to set up a concentration camp for gathering the Jews who were still in the area. They called it Judenstadt. We were about 500 Jews, the first in the place. There was no where to live. It was really a brick factory. Jews, whom we met, told us that everyone had to fend for himself. We received a daily ration of 100 grams of bread, 1 slice, and a liter of poor quality soup. Even this was hard to come by. Every day they brought in additional Jews. There were also Jews who had turned themselves in, because they were unable to continue hiding out. Others thought that they would be safer in Judenstadt than among the Poles. When I arrived there, I was broken and exhausted. Until then I thought that my labor was essential to the Germans, and that they would leave productive Jews alive. I was taken directly from my place of work, dressed in work clothes, and I had no other clothing to exchange for food. I was hungry and depressed.
While still in the previous camp, I had attached myself to a family that had a daughter my age. After losing my own family, I attached myself lovingly to that girl. We were saved in the same way on the trucks and not in the field where Jews were shot. When we came to Shidlovitz, they sold some gold objects for food. The girl refused to eat unless they would feed me also, and in that way I became part of the family, even though it made it difficult for her. I didn't know how long we would live there, before I became aware of the fact that this was but a way station on the road to the death camp.
I thought about what to do: To attach myself to those Jews who remained after the elimination of the Ghetto in the city of my birth? Or to go to the camp to remove the bottle with the jewels that I had buried in a secret place, and return to Shidlovitz in order to exchange them for food? Here we didn't work, and the days passed slowly, and the cold was unbearable. When I told my thoughts to my girlfriend, she didn't agree that I should go. She suggested that she go by train, since she didn't, look Jewish. She went in the morning, returned and brought half of the treasure that I had buried. On the way she also found out that her brother who had been among the first ten to rebel, and had fled from the pit, was still alive. This family had relatives in another camp. When they heard about the elimination of our camp and that we had been sent to Shidlovitz, they persuaded the Germans to send a truck, in order to bring additional Jews to their camp. When the truck appeared in Shidlovitz it was with difficulty, filled with Jews; among them, this family and myself. On the morrow another truck was sent to bring Jews from Shidlovitz, but it became obvious that the Judenstadt was surrounded by SS, and all of the Jews were sent to Treblinka. It turned out that ours was the last truck that left Shidlovitz for the camp. In this way I was saved, at the last minute. A few days later, I fell ill with Typhus, and was saved with difficulty.
On the 6th of January, 1943, we arrived at Pionki, at a gunpowder factory, that had existed there from the time of the Poles. They worked there in shifts. In the camp there were 4000 Jews. In addition to the Jews, 8000 Poles worked in the factory. The Poles were given the choice: To be sent for forced labor in Germany, or to remain there. The Poles went home every day, and received a small salary. We, the Jews, didn't receive any salary, only a bit of food. 250 grams of bread, 30 grams of jelly, and 2 liters of soup daily. The Germans, who supervised the work, were interested in having the work flow smoothly, and therefore it was comparatively quiet. The SS and Gestapo were hardly ever seen. As much as we were able to we slowed down production, we did (together with the Poles). But serious sabotage was not effected. It was clear to us that if the factory would be eliminated, so would we. In the camp, there were a Jewish doctor and nurse, a police official, and a few policemen. Afterwards there arrived the head of the community from my city, and he was appointed elder of the camp. (Obviously he had been recommended by the gendarmerie of Kozienice.) Because the production caused our clothing to wear out, due to the pollution, we received work clothes as we needed them.
The Attitude of the Poles
The attitude of the Poles towards the Jews, was, in general, good. We worked together and felt that we were in a similar situation with a common enemy.
Besides which the Poles needed the Jewish skilledworkers, because after the elimination of the ghettos, there was a tremendous shortage of skilledworkers. The work in the factory lasted eight hours, and there was time for other work, which could be done for the Polish workers, who needed a coat or a pair of shoes. A Jewish skilledworker would receive the work, and suggest that another Jew take his shift in his place for a fee. (The cost of a days work was 2 kilograms of bread.) Both would earn in this way and the Pole would get a coat or a new pair of shoes for money or food.
The supervisor of the factory, Captain Brandt, was quite liberal in his attitude towards Jews, and wasn't interested in oppressing them. At times, additional groups of Jews arrived at the camp. Once a group of girls from a bunker in the Warsaw Ghetto arrived. They told us about the revolt. But we did not believe them. How come the Germans let them live? Before we arrived at the camp, ten young men who had fallen ill with Typhus, were shot to death. When we, who were ill with Typhus (I among them) arrived at the camp, we didn't tell the Germans, otherwise they would have killed us also. After a week passed I had to be well in order to go to work. Understandably it was difficult for me to lift my legs. In order to produce gunpowder, we had to use spirits (alcohol). Because there was a lack of vodka, and the Poles couldn't live without it, there was a busy trade in alcohol. It was very dangerous. Anyone who was caught with alcohol in his possession, risked his life. The Germans were clever. From time to time they would poison the alcohol. The poison had no taste. Some of the group were seriously poisoned and lost their eyesight. After the Germans were informed they would take them out and shoot them, with everyone in camp looking on. Once two young men fled, and were caught by the Gestapo. They were brought back to the camp and hanged with everyone looking on. Once the camp guards caught me and 4 or 5 other men, and led us out to the forest. There they commanded us to dig a pit. I was witness to the shooting of 5 or 6 men who had attempted to flee the camp. I had difficulty controlling myself, and not to strike, with the shovel in my hand, one of the camp guards, named Hurkshutz, who was responsible for the killing. At age 21 it was difficult to exert selfcontrol, and very often the action preceded the thought!
Once partisans invaded the factory. Shots were exchanged between them and the Ukrainian police. It seems the action did not succeed and one of the partisans was killed. I noted that one of the Poles who worked with me, made contact with the partisans. Not once did a substitute come to replace him at work, and he was absent. I decided to negotiate with him about my participation, but the partisans weren't interested in Jews.
In the summer of 1944, the partisans took a couple, doctors, out of our camp. Dr. Feldman was an M.D., and she a dentist. Today they live in Haifa. It seems that the partisans were interested in them.
Once a few Jews arrived to sleep over. They told that they are obliterating graves, together with Germans, who have maps, on which the locations are marked. They dig, remove the corpses, and burn them to remove all traces. I heard the words but didn't understand. With the approach of summer, 1944 there was felt depression among the Germans, combined with optimism among the Poles. About this period i wrote after the war. A copy is to be found in Moreshet. Near the Pionki Camp there was a small separate camp, for a few families, shoemakers and tailors, who worked at their trades for the Germans, and had satisfactory conditions.
On the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av), in 1944, we were sent to Auschwitz. In order to send the people, they dismantled a train of sugar. 30 men stayed behind to dismantle the factory and send the machines to Germany. For two days we traveled to Auschwitz. There they separated the men from the women. They led us to the washing facilities. Then they dressed us in prisoner uniforms. Two days later SS officers came and made a selection. Most of those from our camp were sent to camps in the area. About 200 men, and I, among them, were sent to a camp in Vienna.
At the Camp in Vienna
There were 12,000 people in this camp, from all of the conquered European countries, most of them Jews. All of them worked in the factory of I.G. Farben. Each morning we went out to work accompanied by an orchestra. At the gate of the camp we were counted by the campelder (a German prisoner, a sailor on a battleship, who had murdered his wife, and was sentenced to a laborcamp). Besides this head count, there was also a head count by the SS, who guarded the camp, that was surrounded by a double, electrified barbedwire fence. In the camp were to be found Jews from different countries. Relations between Hungarian Jews and Polish Jews were bad. When the Hungarians came to Auschwitz, the Polish Jews were the Kapos, and they mistreated the Jews from Hungary. On the other hand, in the Vienna camp, the Kapos were mostly Hungarian Jews, who mistreated us, and so there was a vicious cycle of hatred.
Escape from the camp was almost impossible, due to the electrified fence and the guard towers of the SS and watch dogs. In spite of this two nonJews escaped to the outside from their work places.
When we returned from work, and the head count indicated that 2 out of 200 were missing, the SS declared an alert. The two were found and hanged publicly. The campelder announced the short list of charges and verdict. After the hanging we all passed by the gallows. As I passed, I didn't think any enlightening thoughts, but only about when it would all finally end, and we would be allowed to go to our blockhouse to receive our soup ration. All thoughts and feelings were dulled by our experiences.
A Good Capo
There was no lack of evil Kapos. In this camp the Gypsies distinguished themselves by their cruelty, even though their families were exterminated in Auschwitz; but they didn't know of this, or so it seems. When I arrived in the camp, I joined a work battalion. Then we no longer engaged in laying the cables, but in repairing them, after they were blown up in bombings. This was actually easier work. The battalion consisted of 300 workers, and in command of every 100 men a Kapo. Our Kapo was called Kazik. A Greek said that he was an electrical engineer, a member of HashomerHatzair from Poland. When I had the opportunity, I dared and asked him myself. He didn't answer me, but tried to help me at every opportunity. Everyone said about him, that he was a good Kapo. About the camp in Vienna, and the difficulties there, I wrote immediately after the war. I sent the manuscript to Morasha.
The Hospital at the Camp in Vienna
After three months in the camp, my situation worsened. As opposed to the labor camps in Poland, where there was the possibility to be in contact with Poles, outside the camp, and to obtain additional food (either for doing work or out of pity). Here we had to live on the camp's menu, and actually starved. I tried to steal potatoes from the kitchen, but I didn't succeed and my situation worsened. I was stricken with swelling of the feet, but I avoided going to the hospital, because I knew that once a week patients were chosen to be sent to the gaschambers. Finally, there was no alternative. I wasn't able to go to work, and went to the hospital. The hospital consisted of a number of huts. The personnel consisted of prisoners; most of whom working there after their outside work, for an additional ration of food. Most of the nurses were doctors. The food there was somewhat better. For those who were not bedridden, there was the possibility to earn a bit more food for cleaning up the hut, or some other work. A tailor earned extra food for sewing up hats. A prisoner's cap with a hard lining served as the sign of a dandy.
A Meeting with a Member of the Underground
When I felt better, I volunteered to clean the hut, in order to obtain an additional portion of soup. Once I was sweeping and humming a Hebrew song, when one of the patients called me. I approached him, and immediately saw that he is one of the camp leaders for he had a kew tied to his hanky.
In the camp everything personal was forbidden. Even a fork or a napkin. But in the framework of their duties or their position, some of the special prisoners had a key of a hut or of a cabinet, which they kept tied to their handkerchief. He asked me in German: What song is that? A Hebrew song. Where are you from? From Poland. He began to speak Polish. Where did you learn the song? In the branch of the Zionist Organization. And then he asked me in Hebrew: How are you getting along in the camp? And then proclaimed that he was ready to help me. On the morrow he told me that there was mutual help here. A secret underground organization, whose aim it was to help with food, clothing, and work, for the young people, who hadn't yet lost their identity. The members of the underground consisted of youths from various youth organizations. He asked me if I know other youths from the movement. I knew only one, whom I had met, by accident, in the hut. He was a member of the movement from Yugoslavia. He asked me how I wanted him to help me: To change my block or my place of work? I told him that my major problem was that of alleviating my hunger, and maybe getting into a block without any problems, but at my place of work, I was prepared to remain.
He answered me: First of all, remain for another week in the hospital, in order to gird your strength. It became clear to me that he wasn't at all ill. He had come here to rest up a bit, and to change his place of work (this was the only opportunity to switch from a worse work situation). The underground group obviously had someone on the inside who arranged work places. They actually let me remain in the hospital, and I received from him additional bread, and finally he told me that arrangements had been made to transfer me to a different block.
I'm Set Up In a Different Block
The block in which I had previously lived, was considered a bad one. The elder of the block, who also had the duty of distributing soup, would leave the thick soup at the bottom of the barrel, and sell it for cigarettes. As opposed to this, the block into which I was transferred, was supervised by an elderly Jew from Germany, a Communist. He didn't make any trouble, and the distribution of food by him, was fair. He would also receive from the kitchen more food and thicker soup. In other blocks the ladle would hold 3/4 of a liter, but his ladle held a full liter. Only someone who has been in a camp, can appreciate the significance of such a minor detail. The young man who helped me in the hospital (I don't know his name) instructed me to get in touch with a young man who worked in the clothes storeroom, and from him I would receive an additional portion of food. Several times I went after work to meet this young man, and he promised to arrange something. Once I came to him and he said to me: Return to your block, and the elder of the block will call upon you to receive an additional portion of soup.
And so it was! The elder called me, not by name, but by the number on my arm. He looked me over from head to toe, and said that I needed the additional portion. It was the custom in the block, that after the distribution of the food, about 20 of the young men would receive an additional 1/2 liter of soup. A while later the elder called me and proposed that I become the pot washer. This job enabled me to receive several liter of soup. When I got this job, I proposed that my Jugoslavian friend come to me every evening to receive a liter of soup. In that way I widened the circle of mutual help. By the way, to this day I've maintained mail correspondence with that friend. He's in Canada, and works as a Professor of Chemistry. He signs every letter with his name, and the number of his arm. As I continued to wander, I was able to meet him on several occasions, and more than once we helped each other out.
The Kept Boy
There were very few youths in the camp between the ages of 1517. Mostly they were treated well by the Kapos. There were several Kapos who would keep one of the boys for his personal messenger and servant, in exchange for additional food, but occasionally this relationship had a criminally romantic character. It once happened that one of the 1200 prisoners was missing. They immediately stopped the work detail, to which the missing prisoner belonged, at the gate. It became clear that the missing one was the Mkept boy of this Kapo. No one knew to where he had disappeared. The SS went out with dogs to look for the escapee. A few hours later they found him unconscious, crushed by stones. They brought him to the camp, and after reviving him, he told that the Kapo wanted to have sexual relations with him, and when he refused, the Kapo had stoned him. They arrested the Kapo, and he was beaten viciously. I don't know what finally happened to him. As the cold became more severe, there were cases of men electrocuting themselves on the electric fences, in order to put a final end to their suffering. More than once the SS fired upon them before he managed to commit suicide.
I Imagined the End
With the War Front approaching, the Germans decided to evacuate the camp, and on January 18, 1945, at dusk, we were ordered to assemble. The evacuation began. We left the camp, on foot, under the strict watchfulness of the SS. We were dressed in camp clothing and wooden shoes. 12,000 men, we marched, on foot, all night in the frost. As it got dark, people began to flee. We heard many shots. Shots from the front, shots fired at those fleeing, and also at those who lagged behind. I lagged behind, and two prisoners dragged me. I don't know who they were. I imagined the end. I was freezing from the frost. Colors jumped before my eyes. When we stopped, I fell asleep on the road.
Towards morning, we came to a brick factory. Many feet were frozen, and dead were not lacking. All day we rested, and in the evening they again took us out on the road. Towards morning we reached Glayvitz. There were several camps there, and we were encamped in the camp of the prostitutes. (We knew this from the beautiful and colorful huts that they had.) I couldn't walk anymore, I found some grains of barley there, and sat myself in a corner, and ate them. I had no desire to continue on the road, but I was afraid to remain alone. When I heard that we were going to continue by train, and that we would be given half of a bread I got up. For two days we starved. We had just left the camp, and they immediately began to push us into the railroad cars. We were packed in without pity, about 120 men in every car.
We Traveled For Six Days
An endless journey began. We traveled for six days, by way of Sudetenland, to Buchenwald. They did indeed distribute soup, once a day, but it never reached us. We didn't have any food utensils, and only a few strongarmed men got it. We were thrown several loaves of bread, but even they were seized by the strong. Once the train stopped under a bridge in Czechoslovakia, where passing workers were going to a factory. The workers threw us their meals. There were those among them who threw us their meals, returned to the city to get more and then threw it to us again. The Germans shot at them, but they continued to throw us bread. Already the first night there were dead in the car. The strong ones piled three dead on top of each other, covered them with a blanket, and used them as a bench. There wasn't any Kapo in the car. The strong were always able to leave for themselves a bench. They would also remove the clothing from the dead, and wear them so they would be warm. During these six days, no soup reached my mouth, and no water or bread. When I had entered the car, I had with me some grains of barley in my pocket, and in Czechoslovakia, I had caught a few pieces of bread, and I shared them with an old man who supported me in the car.
In Buchenwald We Were Disinfected
We arrived at Buchenwald. From the train station to the camp, approximately one kilometer, we were able to drag our feet only by supporting each other. 12,000 of us had left Vienna and only 6,000 of us reached Buchenwald. In Buchenwald we were disinfected, and we received new identity numbers. (My number was 122,898.) These numbers we sewed onto our clothing (there had to be order in the camp).
In Buchenwald we didn't work. Every day additional transports arrived, and the crowded conditions in the blocks increased. Several times we were inoculated against contagious diseases. Once they took us out to a quarry in the hills. It took a halfday walk to get there. Each one took a stone and we returned to the camp. It seems that on that day the Norwegians were freed from the camp, because the Red Cross was coming and the Germans did not want them to see the overcrowding in the blocks. When we returned we saw the empty blocks of the Norwegians. All of the time that I was in Buchenwald, I didn't shower (until the 5th of March), because the showers and the courtyards around the showers were filled with corpses, which they hadn't yet cremated. I succeeded in attaching myself to a group that went out to clear away the ruins in Weimar. I was happy because it made time pass quickly. Among the ruins I found a towel and pants, and also a bit of food. But it was finished quickly. The Goyim dogged the Jews and didn't permit us to go out to this work. My friend, the Jugoslavian, (who didn't resemble a Jew) continued to go out to this work, and used to bring me also a bit of food.
The Work Camp Bisingen
From time to time the Germans sought experts. Once my friend and I were registered as carpenters and on March 5, 1945, a few hundred prisoners were sent away from Buchenwald. We traveled. On the way we received 330 grams of bread, 50 grams of margarine, and 50 grams of sausage. Camp Bisingen was a small camp in a valley. All of the paths in the camp were raised about 1/2 a meter above ground, and were made of wood. It seems that in the winter there is no lack of mud here. There were few prisoners in the camp, but in the shower there was a pile of prisoners' clothing. What had happened to these prisoners? To where had they disappeared? We worked there at the production of oil and gasoline from bituminous coal. All together we were about 1000 men, Jews, Poles and Russians. On April 17, 1945, we were taken out of there.
In The Transports
We went out on foot. We wrapped our feet in rags. Our objective was: Dachau, but because of lack of space, we ended up in Allach. This was also a former camp. The food the worse. We received 160 grams of bread a day. We didn't work and there was no routine there. There were a few incidents of cannibalism. The men were very hungry. In the camp there were a few cats and we set traps for them. The Germans found bodies with missing limbs. Then they set guards at the morgue. On April 24, 1945 they packed us into sealed cattle cars. We were in a hopeless state. Remnants of starved humans. In the cars we received 320 grams of bread and sausage. In every car there was an aged SS man. Since the train stopped at times in the fields, we descended to gather grass and eat it.
We had no idea of what was going on in the world but we sensed that the end was near. On April 29, 1945 we received half of a package from the Red Cross. On the 30th we heard shots and the SS disappeared. We went out of the cars and there before our eyes: American tanks! Some of the prisoners seized Germans and beat them but the Americans prevented it. I'm incapable of describing the joy. Men went crazy. They searched for food. There was one car filled with food, and it was seized. My friends and I found cereal. The prisoners began to leave the train, and went off in the direction of the German village, Staltch. We came upon a coffee house, where the German proprietors fed the prisoners. We searched for a place to sleep. It wasn't easy since there were many freed prisoners like us, and the Germans had locked themselves in their homes. Finally we were successful. A door opened for us. A German doctor lived there. His entire family hid in the cellar, and we, the two of us took their bedroom. We couldn't sleep because of the excitement, or because of the soft mattresses as compared to the floor of the cattle cars.
When I awoke, we washed and put on the German's clothes. We went out for a walk. The Americans had opened a kitchen and were distributing food. During the first days when we walked, we enjoyed the freedom. We passed through towns and villages. Once we arrived at a village and the German family invited us. We were told that they had also been refugees and their father was a Communist (who had been a prisoner in the camps). We decided to move in with them, in their attic. In the meantime it became known to us that in Feldafing the camp inmates are being gathered. We went there. Understandably, we wanted to make Aliyah to Palestine. Once we met a group of Jewish youth and thought about setting up an agricultural training camp. We went to Feldafing, registered and each of us received clothing and a place to live.
There had been at the place a resort for the Hitler Youth, and now the Americans had converted it into a DP Camp. The commandant of the camp was an American major, a Jew. The food was sufficient but there was nothing to occupy people. My friend began to work for UNRAA because he was fluent in several languages, and I worked in a dental laboratory. We were there three months. Propagandists arrived at Feldafing at that time and I heard how one Russian explained the victory of Comrade Stalin over Hitler's army, and he convinced the man to return to his homeland.
How Is It Possible to Make Aliyah
One time soldiers of the Jewish Brigade appeared. This made a deep impression on us. A meeting was called and the Israeli soldier spoke Yiddish. He stood on the platform with his rifle in hand, and spoke with tears. He warned against traveling across the ocean and requested that we wait patiently for Aliyah.
After the lecture, I approached him and I asked: How is it possible to make Aliyah? It became clear that it was impossible. It became known to us that in Italy there exists the possibility to make Aliyah, and so we decided to travel there at the earliest opportunity. My friend knew Italian. We went to a camp of Italians, who were returning to their homeland, and we joined them. We reached Italy; a village where my friend had been a prisoner before the Germans took him to Auschwitz. They welcomed him nicely, and even returned to him some of his personal belongings that had remained in the village. From there we traveled to Venice, because we had heard that soldiers of the Jewish Brigade were active there. When there was nothing moving in regards to Aliyah, my friend enrolled in the University. At the recommendation of Prof. Luzzato, they accepted him without any credentials, because he had none. I began to work for a dentist in Venice, and when we were informed about an agricultural training camp, I left for Milan, where I met, for the first time, the representative of the movement, Shlomo Vidoklah, who now lives in Kfar Masaryk. He suggested that I join the training camp in order to strengthen the group of Shomrim who were there. In June of 1946, I went up to Palestine on the illegal boat Vog'vod. We reached the nucleus at Gan Shmuel. during the time of the disturbances and the War of Independence, I served in an aid battalion in GalOn, and when the war ended we completed EinHamifratz.
by Avraham Caspi
To the Honorable Rabbi Judah Avidah,
I received your letter, and I am conveying to you what I know about the heroic death of your holy brother, Rabbi Meir Zlotnick of Glovatshov, may the Lord avenge his blood. Unfortunately, I am not gifted with literary ability, because I'm a farmer, and in general, I am not drawn to the pen, therefore I'll convey to you the details in simple, but tragic language.
And so, that bitter day, when our parents and relatives were taken to slaughter and strangulation in the gaschambers, was during the intermediate days of the holiday of Succos. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the day exactly. I only remember that it was the eve of the last days of Succos, but if it was on HoshanahRabbah or the day before, has escaped my memory. It seems to me that it was a Sunday. On that day we all stood together with all of the Jews of Kozienice, in the city square, in the midst of the Ghetto, where we had assembled at the order of the German murderers, and awaited our fate! Suddenly I heard the voice of the wife of our Rabbi, R' Meir Zlotnick addressing me: Avremele, Avremele! I turned my head to her and she told me that the Germans had killed the Rabbi, because he hadn't come out of his house on time!
After the Germans led all of the Jews to the death railroad cars about 80 of us Jews remained in order to clear out the Ghetto, and bury the dead, who had been killed during the action. I avoided going to bury the dead, because I couldn't stand the sight of the atrocity, but the comrades, who participated in the burial of the martyrs, told me that the Rabbi had been buried in a common grave, together with all of th Jews (women, men and children), after the murderers did not permit his individual burial. I remembered the exact date, in spite of the fact that many misfortunes dogged me since then. To my great sorrow, I cannot convey to you additional details in regard to his life, because in the last few years before the war, I lived in Lodz, and only once a year did I visit my parents in Glovatchov. I want to point out that the Rabbi, Meir Zlotnick, was a dear Jew, a man of principle, and beloved by the entire congregation. I will point out, to his credit, that he was very close to the affairs of the Holy Land. He conducted in his home a Minyan (prayer quorum of 10 men) of Lovers of Zion, who used to pray there on Sabbaths and Festivals, and they would pledge contributions to the Jewish National Fund and the Keren Hayesod. His room was also decorated with portraits of the leaders of the Lovers of Zion, and maps and pictures from the Land of Israel. We must remember that at that period, the 30's, not all Rabbis agreed with him, and I mention this to his credit.
This is the story of the tragic death of one of the great Rabbis of Israel, our dear Rabbi, may the Lord avenge his death. May his soul be entwined with the souls of the living, and may he rest in peace on his resting place, Amen.
As regards myself: I made Aliyah to Israel in 1948, after being imprisoned on Cyprus for about 20 months. I settled in the Moshav, Nordia, near Natanya. It is a cooperative Moshav, that is ideologically affiliated with the Herut Party. In 1951 I got married, and a daughter was born. I work in the orchards. Of all of my abundant family, only I and my two sisters remained alive. One went to the United States, and the other to Canada. My father, mother and two younger brothers, holy and pure, perished in the Holocaust. I was never privileged to know their final resting place and they weren't buried in a Jewish grave. Their bones are scattered with the bones of the hundreds of thousands of martyrs in the gigantic cemetery whose name is: The Diaspora!
Your faithful servant,
Moshav Nordia, Natanya, Israel.
by A. Rotkovsky
Already a very long time ago, Jews lived in Kozienice and enjoyed the right to sojourn there.
A Bit of Statistics
The first Polish document in which Jews are mentioned is an illustrated Protocol of the year 1611. It is indicated there that in Kozienice there are 2 houses owned by Jews and 2 rented ones. In them are to be found 5 proprietors, 10 rent collectors, 6 butchers and 6 distillers of whiskey. At the start of the 1700's the Jews of Kozienice were occupied with the slaughter of cattle, the selling of meat and also with distilling whiskey. In 1765 there were already 1365 Jews in Kozienice and the surrounding villages who paid the head tax. In 1856, there were 2885 inhabitants, of whom 1961 were Jews. In 1860 there were 1950 Jews out of a total population of 3000. According to the census of 1897 there were already 3700 Jews of a total population of 6882. Right before the outbreak of WWII there were about 5000 Jews, who were mainly handworkers. The majority of Jews made a living from the shoe industry, which sold it's products to the east.
Small business men and merchants were but a small percent of the Jewish population. They were also mostly connected to the shoe industry. Besides tjris there were in the city a brewery, a mill and 2 sawmills, whose proprietors were Jews. During the fighting in 1939, Kozienice was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe.
Many Jewish Houses Were Destroyed
Better situated Jews left the city, and went to relatives in other cities. The census of Jews which was carried out at the orders of the Germans, by the local Judenraat in January, 1940, indicated that there were only 4,208 Jews living in the city. The material situation of the Jewish population, right from the beginning of the occupation, was very bad. They didn't have the means to live. Because of the shortage in raw material (leather), the shoemakers had to cease working, trade died out, and occupation forces requisitioned the larger Jewish enterprises. In addition the Hitlerites levied on the Jewish community a number of contributions (in money and goods). Until January, 1940, the Jews contributed 26,000 Zlotys of a total of 126,000 Zlotys. Besides this they had to provide, on a daily basis 300 unpaid workers to do forced labor.
The Ghetto was set up earlier than in other cities, in the winter of 193940. This was a socalled Mopen Ghetto. Because of the bombing and the shortage of apartments, the Nazis removed a few hundred Jewish families from the central streets and squeezed them into the already densely crowded Jewish quarters. In these unsanitary conditions (a few families to a room), there spread disease and epidemics. The greatest number of Jews died of hunger. Many would willingly go to the various German points, because there they distributed a bit of hot soup and a piece of bread. During the heavy winter frosts, tattered, barefoot Jews, worked at various labor. Those who collapsed from frostbitten hands and feet were common.
The Camp in Yedlin
Besides this, the German authorities sent out of Kozienice about 150 young Jews to forced labor in Yedlin (about 20 kilometers from Kozienice). There they worked 12 hours a day building roads and railroad lines. From the work camp in Yedlin, two Jews once escaped at night. They came back to the Kozienice Ghetto and hid in one of the attics. At the orders of the Nazis, the Judenraat and the Jewish Police turned them over to the occupying forces. They were returned to Yedlin, and there in front of all, they were shot to death. They were buried in the field near Yedlin. This was to be a warning to the remaining Jews.
Twenty Jews Shot
One of the Jewish survivors of Kozienice, Yitzhak Eliyahu Pearlstein, recalls that on Yom Kippur, 1942, 20 religious Jews refused to go to work. The commandant of the camp brought the Gestapo from Kozienice and they shot the 20 contrary Jews.
13,000 Jews in the Ghetto of Kozienice
In the Kozienice Ghetto there lived about 4,000 Jews. A short while before the great deportation, they settled in the Ghetto a few thousand Jews from Magnushev, Glovatshev, Ritshival, Shetshechov, Volya Klashtorna and other communities. By August of 1942 there already lived in the Ghetto about 13,000 Jews. The Ghetto was hermetically sealed with barbed wire and guarded.
On the 27th of September, 1942 (it was Succos) all the Jews were driven out of their homes to an assembly point. A selection was made, and they were driven to the railroad cars which stood at the train station ramp. During the action the Nazis killed on the spot more than 100 Jews, in the hospital, in their homes or on the street. On that day two transports of Jews from Kozienice were carried off to the extermination camp at Treblinka (altogether about 12,000 people).
What Did The CleanUp Commandos Tell?
The cleanup commando, which consisted of 70 young Jews, afterwards gathered the corpses from the streets and the hospital, loaded them on wagons and brought them to the Jewish cemetery, where they were buried in a common grave. For two weeks the commando gathered up and arranged the things in the abandoned Jewish homes. In one such home Yitzhak Eliyahu Pearlstein tells we found a decomposing body of a woman. She was lying on a bed. She was probably shot by the Gestapo on Succos during the great selection.
Furniture, bedding, laundry, clothing, shoes and so forth were carried on trucks to a German warehouse on Koshtshelne and Radomer Streets. After checking, the better things were sent away, and the worse ones sold to the FolkGermans and the populace of the surrounding villages. The Jews who were occupied with this work, were later sent to Dombruvke (5 kilometers from Kozienice), where they dug a canal. A short while later they were taken in a military vehicle to the camp Hasag in Skarzshisko.
Kozienice in Judenrein
The old Jewish city of Kozienice became Judenrein. The few still left alive, vegetated or died in the German laborcamps in Pionki, Blizshin, Starachovitz, Skarzshisko and Ostrovtze. A few of them went through the hell of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Only a counted few lived to see liberation in 1945. All the remainder suffered a horrible death at the end of September, 1942 (Succos) in the gas chamber and crematoria of Treblinka!
by David Goldman, Brussels
Dedicated to my little sister, Rivkele, who was gassed at Treblinka at the age of 11).
Our community, which counted about 5000 souls, consisted mainly of poor laborers: shoemakers, tailors and shopkeepers. In general, our town was indistinguishable from the surrounding Jewish communities. Market day was every Thursday on Targova Street. The trading was lively. They would bargain over prices, and shake hands when they consummated a deal. All Jewish children learned in Heders and Talmud Torahs, and attended the Polish elementary school, where Polish and Jewish children learned together. A goodly percentage of Jewish children also attended the MiddleSchool. During my school years, I didn't encounter any discrimination on the part of Polish teachers. With a few antisemitic exceptions, they were all tolerant. The Jewish students had their own religious teacher, Gendzel, a tall assimilated Jew, who was well educated. His wife taught religion to the Jewish girls. As a small boy, I was always impressed by the ceremony in school on the 3rd of May, in honor of the Polish Constitution. The Polish official and his assistants would come to the House of Study. The Rabbi, R' BenZion, would recite a special blessing, and the Jewish musicians would play the Polish national anthem. The entire population, out of respect, would hold their breath.
Different Winds Began to Blow
Different winds began to blow, when the criminal, Hitler, came to power in Germany. The economic situation in Poland was never bright. Polish reactionaries were taken by Hitler's methods, and they began to boycott Jewish shopkeepers, picket Jewish establishments, and in general, persecute the Jewish populace economically and materially. At that time there grew in our town a wonderful group of young people. It is amazing that from the ranks of such a poor population, there could develop such an exceptional, lively and outstanding group of Jewish youth.
On our street there existed all of the Jewish Political Parties. Not one was lacking. Zionists from the extreme right and the extreme left and religious parties of all nuances. The Bund and it's youth organization Tzukunft and children's organization Skif, with Yonah Weinberg at its head. Folkists of various types with Chaim Berman and Yisroei Shpiegel at the head. The illegal Communist Party with its large number of devoted and dedicated fighters, who suffered and rotted in prisons and in KartuzBereze. A number of them had gone to Spain to fight against Franco's Facism, with a deeprooted faith that they would bring redemption to mankind they gave up their young bright lives. We even had an Independent Party with Pinchas Birnboim, the lame, at its head.
Kozienice youth was ready to fight for its accomplishments, and not once did there break out fist fights between the parties. We had intellectuals, poets, writers, teachers, an intelligentsia and sports enthusiasts. There was even a group of pigeon catchers and other antisocial elements, who gave the town its color. I remember the natural beauty around the town. The romantic fields, woods and lakes. I don't believe that a sensitive person can forget the place, where he was born and raised, where he breathed the air of the pine forests, where we used to spend every Shabbat with father, mother, brother, sister and acquaintances.
The material and political situation caused many of my fellow townspeople to emigrate, and therefore we find Kozieniceites all over the world. I believe that in our special circumstances this is a positive development.
I Come Home
When the German bandits attacked Poland on the first of September, 1939, 1 worked in Warsaw. I immediately took the last bus to Kozienice, in order to be with my nearest and dearest during the tragedy, which was to be enacted. On the 7th and 8th of September Kozienice was bombed and 10 Jews were killed. On the 10th the Germans entered Kozienice. We could not imagine that this was the beginning of the greatest tragedy in our history. Within 3 to 4 days the Germans burned the Synagogue and the House of Study, desecrated the scrolls of the Torah, and began to seize Jews for the dirtiest and most difficult labors, while cutting Jewish beards mercilessly.
I Cannot Manage To Flee
A significant number of Kozieniceites (among them the writer of these lines) decided to take walking sticks in hand and go to Russia. A few, with luck, crossed the border. I didn't manage it. The Polish guide, who led me and 3 other Jews, among them the Veterinarian Doctor, Gonshor, were caught by a German patrol on the Pulaver Bridge. We decided to sleep overnight in Gnievashov at Leizer Vasserman and smuggle ourselves across the border on the morrow. When we arose the next morning, ready to go, the guide, with the money and the horse and wagon, disappeared. Dr. Gonshor, due to anxiety, committed suicide. It is characteristic that upper class Jews took the humiliations imposed by the Nazi beast very hard. I went back home. Together with my parents, brothers and sisters, I remained in Kozienice until the final deportation to Treblinka, on the 27th of September, 1942.
To our crowded Ghetto in Kozienice, there came 5000 more Jews from the surrounding area. It is difficult to describe the situation of this unfortunate mass of humanity. Other comrades will certainly write about Ghetto life and the dark epoch, and the fate of our 10,000 martyrs. On the 28th of September they were no longer alive.
The soninlaw of the barbersurgeon, Bendler, was also in the transport with his wife and infant child. Two days later, with the aid of a miracle, he managed to flee to Vulka, where hundreds of Jewish workers remained as slaves of the Polish director, Gortshitzki. He told about how our flesh and blood perished. Kozienice townspeople, with pity and love, hold high for many generations, their shining memory!
Of all who died of the torture of hunger, typhus and shootings there is engraved on my memory three murders, which I will never forget. A small, 10 year old girl went out to take care of the needs of her family, by obtaining a few potatoes. The gendarme, Zomer, (an Austrian) hid himself in the grass, and when the child approached, with the sack on her skinny shoulders, the German knight of civilization sprang out of his hiding place, stopped the child and said to her: Let go of your sack, and I'll help you carry it. When the child bent down, this depraved Nazi shot her in the head.
A Jewish tailor had finished up a suit for a Pole, who lived on the sands. A Polish drunk saw this Jew outside of the Ghetto. He quickly ran to find an SS man, and asked him to give him the suit after he will shoot the tailor. The SS man, on his horse, chased the Jew and shot him. When the Pole asked for his reward, he received a kick in the rear and the German bearer of culture took the suit for himself.
One of the most horrendous murders, was the murder of four important Kozienice women, among them Mrs. Danziger, Mrs. Freilich and two others. At the homes of three of them the Germans found old, worthless fur coats. The fourth, a young, elegant woman, had crossed to the other side of the sidewalk, which was forbidden to Jews. For this the Germans dragged her screaming into the forest, raped and then murdered her.
I, personally, am very grateful to the dear friends: Abraham Tenenbaum, Moshe Rochman and Abraham Gutmacher for their noble initiative in seeking all the bodies of our tortured brothers, and bringing them to Jewish burial. They really deserve very high praise!
In Camp Vulka
As I indicated above, after the destruction of our city about 400 Jews remained alive in Camp Vulka. I was one of them. Since I was a tailor, I didn't go out to road work. I did tailoring for a peasant who was connected with the Polish administration of the camp. After three Actions no one remained in the camp. My group was sent to Volanov, another group to Pionki, in the munitions factory, and the last group suffered the fate of the city, and was sent in a transport to Treblinka.
Through the window of my peasant's house, I saw the transport of the remaining comrades of Camp Vulka. My fatherinlaw's son attempted to flee. I saw how the German bandits pursued him and shot him in a neighboring courtyard. I won't tell of my personal situation from that moment, when I remained alone surrounded by a hostile environment: on one side the Poles, and on the other Germans.
With a few short strokes, I would like to relate several episodes from my life until that beautiful day, the 16th of January, 1945, when the Red Army liberated our town.
Thanks To Two Polish Peasants
On a night of October, 1942, I went to Camp Vulka. I remembered a righteous and sympathetic family of poor peasants, named Psherva, in the village of Loye, about 6 kilometers from Kozienice. I will never in my life forget the name. He, a poor carpenter, with a small parcel of land, had a wife, three daughters and an old mother. My surprise at the time, cannot be described. The family received me in a very friendly manner, considering that every Pole, who helped our unfortunate brothers, was murdered and had his possessions burned. This was a colossal gesture! In a second village, Kenfetshki, about 8 kilometers from Kozienice, I became acquainted with a peasant, Kraskevitsh. This peasant was even more povertystricken than the first. He had a wife and two children, and a bit of land. This mentsh had the soul of one of the hidden 36 righteous men thanks to whom the world continues to exist. (They are called Lamed Vovniks the two Hebrew letters, whose numerical value is 36). These two peasant families did everything which was possible and even impossible, for me, in order to help me. Many times they risked their lives for me.
There were dramatic moments, when I and my peasants were in great danger sometimes during searches by the gendarmerie, and sometimes during visits from the Fascist, Polish A.K., but we were always lucky. I must mention the fact that not all of the Polish nation was poisoned with hatred towards us. Brotherly hands were extended to me during this terrifying epoch, and this was a positive sign that the world had not yet been so poisoned, as some elements would have us believe, and that there is still enough room for understanding among races and religions. I must also point out that I was poor, and couldn't repay my peasants for their gesture. After each danger, which we escaped, the old peasant woman went to church and beseeched God to spare my life. The most difficult time in my life was at the beginning of 1944, when the German beast under the assault of the Red Army, was forced to retreat. The general atmosphere became less strained. We began to feel the end of the enslavement.
On the 16 of June, 1944, the Soviets reached the other side of the Vistula River. It is difficult to describe my situation, when we already felt liberation and the defeat of our murderers. My peasant, krashkevitsh, lived on the left side of the Vistula. The Soviets reached the right side of the river. Many peasants crossed over in boats. My peasant dissuaded me from doing so, arguing that the Russians are coming anyway, in a day or two. Unfortunately, I listened to him, and the Russians didn't cross the Vistula. The Nazis, seeing that the Russians were remaining there, returned and occupied the entire area.
The situation became critical. The Germans dug in, and we remained actually right at the front. On a nice morning in July 1944, the military authorities ordered us to evacuate the area in 3 hours time. Anyone who remained would be shot. The confusion cannot be described. The peasants fled with their possessions.
As a Jew, it wasn't easy for me to leave my hiding place. Not all Poles were sympathetic to us. I leapt down from the barn and took my walking stick, together with an old peasant woman. To my great surprise, she recognized me immediately as a Jew, but she didn't react, and we went on together. We noticed that the young peasants are being checked. I cannot permit myself this luxury, so I, Bami of Keltz, Henyek from Lublin and Velvel of Bialobzsheg, run. The fieldgendarme chased me. I run faster than he does. I threw everything away, in order to be able to run faster. He shoots at me, and I clamor up a thick branched tree. The German runs past, seizes a young Pole, and thinks that he had captured me. The Pole defends himself, and the Nazi drags him to the checkpoint. I remained on my tree till late at night. It rained and my despair is indescribable.
I descended from the tree. I decided to rest up in an abandoned ruin, and maybe I would find something to wear. The next evening, I was stopped by an armed Polish patrol of the folksArmy. And again luck! He takes me into a courtyard, where tens of Poles were gathered in a group. Among them, many were armed, and I got acquainted with them. They suggested that I go with them. They conveyed some good news to me that I'm not the only Jew there. Yisroelke Burshtein and his sister are there. For me this was an exciting episode. For two years I hadn't seen a single Jew, and hadn't spoken a single Yiddish word. When we were finally able to break out of this terrible zone, I was together with the peasants for three or four days. One of my peasant acquaintances advised me to leave the group, because the commandant is cin antisemite, I took his advice. Yisroelke Burshtein and Chavale also left the group later.
A Sympathetic Meeting With the Russians
Wandering in the forest, I came upon a group of Russians, decent people who had escaped prison. We established friendly relations, and we lived together in bunkers, which they had prepared. The Russian soldiers treated me decently, and we lived together as a family. Once, one of them asked me, if I was curious to see Jews? The question seemed to me like asking someone hungry: Would you like to eat something?
We went together about three or four kilometers deeper into the forest. We came to a place, where among the trees there looked out frightened Jewish eyes. Among them was Godl Zaltzberg, the red haired. We kissed each other for joy. Godl was there with a few young men from Radom, who had fled from the Pionki Camp. My Russian looked upon this scene with sympathy and tears in his eyes. He agreed to take Godl along with us. We bade farewell to the Jews and went away to the Russians. During an action in the village of Augustove we met Yisroelke Burshtein and his sister and we brought them to our group. Yisroelke became sick. The Russians only wanted to deal with healthy ones, so they left us. In September of 1944 there came to our bunker a guest: one of my Russians with a 17 year old, unknown Jewish young man. His name was Velvl from Bialobzsheg. The Russian left the pleasant young man with us, and shaking my hand, he vanished forever. Velvl, a short young man, with clever Jewish eyes, was intelligent and dynamic. He wanted me to arrange a visit to his palace, meaning his bunker. I went with him to Kotziolki, where he and three of his buddies had their residence. It was a crowded grave, where a fifth person couldn't enter. We sealed a pact of friendship. My new friends wouldn't let me leave. We were four young men and one older man, about 50: Zshuk of Keltz; Henyek from Lublin Velvl from Bialobzsheg; Yitzhak from Shidlovtze and myself.
The Nightmare Comes To An End
We five experienced indescribable adventures during the autumn of 1944, until that wonderful day, the 16th of January, 1945, when the Russian Army entered our town of Kozienice. We were so deep in the forest and in the snows, that it was eight days later before we became aware of the fact that we were already free, drunk with joy, mixed with sadness, we went back to our town. The nightmare had come to an end. A Polish peasant took us, free of charge, from the forest to Kozienice.
With the Soviet Commander
We decided to turn to the Russian military headquarters. The Soviet Army made a very strong impression upon us. I can still see the placards on the walls of my town with the familiar quote from Ilya Ehrenberg: Death to the German Invaders! We tread our first steps as free men. I trembled when I saw the place, where there had been such an intensive Jewish life. Now everything was destroyed, and leveled to the ground. I stood before my home and recited the Kaddish. The tall, young, Russian Commander, who received us, recognized us as bedraggled Jews, who couldn't speak Russian, and said to us in his language: Wait, I'll put you in touch with the top Captain of the region. Nu, I see that you don't know any Russian. You can speak mamelashon (mothertongueYiddish) to me. I'm a Jew, named Lerman, Captain Lerman! Seeing before us a proud, fighting Jew, you can well imagine our feelings, after the hell which we had been through. We saw, that in spite of all tragedies our Nation lives, and will live forever!
Let Us Eternalize
I want to memorialize for eternity in our Yizkor Book all of the Kozienice martyrs, who fell in the war against the bloody enemy. Our fellow townsmen participated in the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto: The Shabasons and others. There were those who fought the enemy in the battalions of the red Army: Krishpel and others. There were those who were prepared to fight the enemy in the battalions of the Palestine Jewish Legion. Our fellow townsmen, doctors, offered their lives in Soviet hospitals, in order to save soldiers: Aaron Shpiegel and others. Our comrades carried out sabotage acts in the French Maquis, and under the most terrible of conditions in the death camps. My brother, ShmilLeib, who was deported from Drancy to Auschwitz, was one of those who bombed the gas chambers in the extermination camp, and paid for it with his young life.
Armed with Jewish humanitarian traditions and strengthened with Jewish faith, surrounded by a populace, which for centuries had been raised on hate for our people, and without outside help, Kozienice Jews did everything (with small exceptions of those Judenraat members) to save the honor of our people. And if 90% of us were destroyed, the fault is that of a poisoned humanity, which fed with hate and enmity towards their neighbors. Among those most guilty were the German murderers and the deep superstition of the backward Polish population, who helped us so little. We, the Kozienice survivors, will learn a good lesson from the past. We are active and live all over the world. We have not perished. Our children will proudly carry our flag of Yiddishkeit and humanitarianism: forever and ever! I hope that in the Yizkor Book will be written the names of the martyrs, who perished and didn't leave a friend or a redeemer.
by Gershon Bornshtein, B'nai B'rak, Israel
Who of our Kozieniceites did not know Rachele Pesach's Twins? When the dark, devilish war broke out, fate separated us. The heart of my Godly mother shrivelled and turned to stone, when she became aware of the fact that one son of the twins had been selected, and she didn't know wherejto. At that time over 60 Jews were shot in the Ghetto of Garbatke a small town near Kozienice, where my wife came from I will never forget that day. The SS gathered all of the men near Tartak, not far from the railroad station, and told them to lie down on the ground. They walked on our backs and we couldn't raise our heads. Finally they told us to stand up. With rope they tied our hands and ordered us to load ourselves into box cars headed for Auschwitz. Before we left Garbatke, they told the women to bring food for the men. Each woman brought the last piece of bread. The SS gathered the food in one place, poured benzine on it and bumed it. We rode for a day and a night, without food or water. On the way the SS took aboard people who had been waiting. At the beginning no one knew where we were going. Only when the train stopped did we find out that we were in the great hell!
Life in Auschwitz is indescribable. I'll never forget the picture of children kissing the corpses of their shot parents, saturated with blood. A short while later the second of the twins was torn from my mother. From Radom he had been selected for a transport to Treblinka. My brother had tried while still on Dembliner Station to write a few words and requested that the Bornshtein family of Demblin receive it, since he is on his way to his death. He also requested that his brother, Abraham, tell about his fate to his parents, and his wife in Kozienice. When our devout, mother became aware of it, she collapsed, cried days and nights and shed streams full of tears. Together with all the others, our devout mother was tortured. Her hot tears dripped until her pained heart ceased to beat, and the tears ascended to heaven.
by Yerachmiel Perlstein, Melbourne
On the 2nd day of Succos, it will be 20 years since the Hitlerite murderers destroyed 5000 Jewish souls from our city of Kozienice. Our parents, brothers and sisters tragically perished from chlorine gas and lime, which the sadists released in the sealed boxcars. Right on the spot, small children and older people were asphyxiated. Whoever didn't perish in the boxcars, was gassed in the gaschambers of Treblinka. On the second day of Succos, all of Jews of our city of Kozienice already knew that on the morrow their lives would end. Parents bade farewell to their children, and children parted from parents. Sisters and brothers shook hands, crying tragically: Tomorrow, we go to our deaths!
How frightening and tearful those tragic moments seemed to be. People tried to save their lives in Camp Vulka, in Pionki, in the munitions factory, but not everyone was successful in this. On the second day of Succos a battalion of Ukrainians, Polish Police, and SS surrounded the Ghetto and the City with machine guns. At 5:00 a.m. all of the sirens sounded. All of the Jews were assembled in the marketplace, at the intersection of Koscielna and Lublin Streets. The old and the sick, who were unable to walk, were immediately shot. Mrs. Kleinboim, who owned a manufacturing shop was immediately shot. Benjamin Frish, Moshe Feingold, Lazar Walberg and many others were shot in their homes by the mad, wild animals. How tragic was the procession to the train on the 2nd day of Succos. All day, the Ukrainians and SS shot Jews. At the train station, they began throwing our brothers and sisters into the boxcars.
The wellknown, Dr. Abramovitsh distributed tablets to his wife and two children and they all dropped dead by suicide. Immediately the boxcars left for Treblinka. For tens of kilometers, the cries and screams of our tortured brothers could be heard! The memorial day of the 5000 Kozienice families, the tortured, gassed and cremated, should not be forgotten by Kozieniceites. Those who saved themselves from the death camps and prisons, and those, who saved their lives in the Soviet Union, need to remember what happened to our city of Kozienice. All Kozieniceites, all over the world, from France, the U.S.A., who organize memorial evenings receive my hearty wishes and brotherly regards. Unfortunately, we in Australia, are so few that we can't even organize a society of townsmen and arrange a memorial evening, in order to eternalize the day of the 2nd of Succos the memorial day of the Kozienice martyrs.
Dr. Neuman of Berlin May He Be Remembered for Good!
The remnant of Kozienice Jews all over the world bow their heads and respectfully mention one of the righteous of the nations, Dr. Neuman of Berlin, commandant of the military hospital in Kozienice, who helped and cheered Jews in the blackest days of the Nazi occupation. We respect his memory!
by Abraham Goldfarb Recorded by Yehezkel Harpenes, BeerSheva, Israel
In BeerSheva, I'm the lone survivor of Kozienice. I was young, when those terrible days, the days of the Holocaust, destroyed the Jewish people.
Like a Leaf in the Depths of the Sea
I remained an orphan, alone and abandoned, like a leaf in the heart of seas. Suddenly I jumped from childhood to adolescence, without a transition period. I was robbed of the supervision of a father and the love of a mother. I had to stand on my own two feet, to protect myself from the wild beasts who stalked us. Against this trap, I fought in various ways, in order to obtain a piece of bread which my instinct for life demanded. Therefore, I don't remember the good days that had existed when I was pampered by my parents. The Holocaust erased from my heart the glorious days of my town, which I wanted to write about for future generations, in memory of the town of Kozienice.
Abishel Where Are We Going?
Two Rabbis: R' Elimelech and R' Aaron, lived on Magitova Street, not far from the Maggid's House of Study, for whom the street was named. I remember, when my father, Moshe Goldfarb, of blessed memory, went to pray. He took me by the hand and the two of us turned to go to the House of Study of R' Elimelech, of blessed memory. Abishel, where are we going, do you know? Yes, father, we are going to the Rebbe. And what will you do there? Pray! Do you know how to pray? Yes! I answered definitely. We'll hear! I thank you, O'Lord … And that's all? No, I know more. So let's hear! Sh'ma Yisroel … Very nice! Listen, Abishel, after the prayers approach the Rebbe and kiss his hand and say Gut Shabbas! Good, father. How will you say it Gut Shabaas. Fine!
I was Privileged to Receive a Pinch from the Rebbe
My father, of blessed memory, participated in the Rebbe's service. Only occasionally did he glance at me to see if I was standing at my place. Mostly, it wasn't necessary, since I didn't move from my spot, and my eyes did not leave the Rebbe. I watched his every movement. I saw him bow before his Maker, and I had no doubt that his voice was heard in Heaven, and his prayers accepted. After the service, among the congregation that went to greet the Rebbe, and receive his blessing, were I and my father. When we got near, my father pushed me closer, and I succeeded in approaching, and how fortunate I was, when I was privileged to receive from him a pinch on my cheek, and afterwards a gentle pat, as if it were a velvet glove, which electrified me.
The visit to the Rebbe occurred mainly on Sabbaths and holidays, and not on weekdays. On weekdays, it was difficult to synchronize our hours with those of the Rebbe, since we couldn't prolong our prayers as he would, because we had to prepare our merchandise in the store early, especially on the market day and the day before. We had to open very early in order to catch the farmers with their produce that they brought for sale. In our store we sold kitchen utensils, stoneware and other things which farmers needed. You had to be equipped with speed, efficiency and sharp eyes, even in the back of your head. Therefore, on weekdays, father went to pray very early, in the large House of Study, so that he could be at market early. When I grew up, I realized that I had to help out in the store, because the net on market day provided a livelihood for all the days of the week.
The Conqueror Began to Tighten the Noose
The cruel Nazi conqueror captured our city in September, 1939, and immediately began to tighten the noose around our necks. My father, of blessed memory, was a Jew with earlocks, a long beard and a quiet character. He always prayed with the congregation, morning and evening, as I indicated above. In face of the persecution that came upon us, he was even more diligent about going to the House of Study, quoting the famous parable of Rabbi Akivah: When we engage in the study of Torah we are in great danger and afraid how much more so, when we refrain from study! This did not please the unclean minions of the Devil, and they seized my father and beat him mercilessly, in the German fashion. This repeated itself several times. My mother pleaded with him to cease going to the House of Study, and to pray at home, to avoid going out in the street where the Devil reigned. At first he refused to listen to her, but the beatings he received convinced him. In the meantime the situation had worsened. The Germans began to visit Jewish homes, in order to seize Jews for forced labor, and they did not skip my father's house.
When he saw the situation worsening, he decided to disappear. He hid in the basement and the attic. But it was already too late! His strength weakened, and he suffered a heart attack, and didn't have the strength to withstand the torture and degradation. He was confined to bed and didn't leave it. He was privileged to die in his bed, and be buried in a Jewish grave, with the honors that were due him. This took place before that terrible day when we were all led like sheep to the slaughter. He died during Passover of the year 5702 (i.e. 1942), may the Lord avenge his blood!
What Was the Objective of the Transport
In the meantime, all of us were concentrated in the Ghetto. Approximately 5000 inhabitants of Kozienice and about 3000 Jews from the surrounding area. We lived under inhuman conditions. The noose tightened from day to day. A group of Jews were taken for forced labor in the village of Dombrovka, four kilometers from Kozienice.
There we worked at digging a canal. Also my brothers: Chaim and Meir, worked there. During Succos of 5703 (i.e. 1942) the destroying squads entered the Ghetto. They were the Gestapo and their helpers the Gendarmerie composed of the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding area, who had volunteered for this task to make sure that it was carried out properly. They surrounded the Ghetto from the outside, so that not a single Jew should escape. With threats and blows they fell upon all the inhabitants, with whips in their hands, and removed to the outside with hysterical cries saying: All of you, out! Also the Jewish Police, approximately 40 in number, had to orchestrate the evacuation, and stood us in rows, in order to organize the transport. What was the objective of the transport? About this there was disagreement. For many of us life had already become unbearable. The terror and degradation inflicted upon us by the cruel enemy and his helpers in the Ghetto had been too much. Slavery was the rule, and there was no release, therefore many preferred to go elsewhere and perhaps live better. Their final argument was that it couldn't possibly be worse. This was the opinion of many. Others argued that it was a pity to leave. Here they were born, here they had lived and here was the place to die. Therefore they must prevent leaving the place. Who knows where they want to take us? Without doubt, it'll be worse there! But no one was given a choice, although there was the possibility to flee for some. Some tried their luck at fleeing, and also succeeded!
Abishel Remain a Jew!
After the degrading work had been completed, and the transport stood ready to depart, the Nazis removed 60 young men, between the ages of 15 and 18, and I was also among them. I stood beside my mother and she held my hand, as if she were afraid that someone wants to steal me away from her. Suddenly I was plucked out of her hand by force. She screamed, and I, being carried far away, heard her call out: Abishel, remain a Jew. For the sake of God, don't forget? A Jew! Don't forget to say Kaddish for your father. My older brothers were not on the transport. They were in Dombrovka. My unfortunate mother saw how I remained alone. I felt her sorrow and was also sorry for myself: How will I continue life on my own? But nothing helped us. We were separated. The Jews were marched to the railroad station. The Ghetto was emptied, and only about two hundred people remained; the sick and crippled, who weren't able to walk the kilometer and a half to the train were shot. At the train station they packed them into cars, like cattle, and took them to Treblinka. Sixty young men and forty policemen we remained in the Ghetto for the meantime. Also in Dombrovka there remained a camp with several hundred inmates, who worked there at digging the canal, and among them my two brothers: Chaim and Meir. In the transport headed for Treblinka, were to be found my mother Chana, my sister, Pearl and her husband, Abraham Luxenbaum, their daughter, Leah, aged 4, and their 2 year old son, Shlomo, my sister, Tzipe, and her husband, Moshe. There they died with all the martyrs, may the Lord avenge!
Our Neighbor, R' Moshe Leib
The same sentence was imposed also on our neighbor the dearest of men, R' Moshe Leib, who lived with us in the same house at 20 Lublin Street. He was modest, an exceptional man, fanatically religious a scholar diligent in his work and in giving charity. An easygoing man who was beloved by all. He was, in everyone's eyes a symbol; cleancut and generous. He managed a delicatessen, and made a fine living. He was knowledgeable about medicine, and many people believed in him more than they did in doctors, because of his righteousness, or perhaps they preferred him to a doctor, because he didn't charge a fee for his help. He would go to every sick person who called upon him, even to nonJews, on the condition that he wasn't rewarded for coming. On the contrary, if the sick needed financial help, he would gladly contribute.
We were his neighbors, and saw and knew everything he did. There was no limit to our respect for him. He was childless, and he adopted an orphan brother and sister, and raised them. The adopted son, Yosef, was killed at home, and the sister remained living. Ihis man deserves to have an entire book written about him, but to my sorrow, I lack the talent to describe his outstanding character. He also died a martyr's death. May the Lord avenge his blood!
How I Was Saved
Those who remained in the Ghetto were destined to complete the final solution for the local Jews. As I had mentioned, about 200 of us unfortunates remained alive.
On the morrow, they took us to clean up the Ghetto. Our initial work was to take the dead and dying in wagons to the cemetery. Many of the dying were buried alive. On the cemetery we found a large pit, and there we buried the victims. Afterwards, began the cleaning up of the city, meaning, assembling the loot from our homes in a central spot, and classifying it. Even here we bore witness to the terrible Holocaust. With our own hands we emptied our homes, in order to make it easy for our despoilers to divide the loot which was the fruit of our parents' sweat. When I began writing, I apologized about the fact that I've forgotten many of the events, but one episode I cannot forget.
In the village of Vilke, near Kozienice, there were only folk Germans (Polish collaborators), may their names be blotted out, because they served as volunteer gendarmes. All were bloodthirsty, but more than the others, a young man named Zomer. He was a sadist, who lorded it over us with an iron fist. It was a pleasure for him to persecute someone. He killed, and there was no one to stop him. Once I was also caught in his trap, and I was but a footstep away from death. I'll tell about the event. Once I attempted to smuggle myself out of the Ghetto, not in order to flee, God forbid. Such a thought didn't even occur to me.
To my misfortune, I fell into a trap and Zomer caught me. I knew that no one could save himself from him, and indeed, I didn't argue with him. When he took out his pistol to shoot me, who would say to him: Don't do it! But God's Providence accompanied me, and there appeared that faithful man, the man of influence and ability, Abraham Shabbazon (who now lives in Tel Aviv). He saw the tragedy that was about to be enacted, looked at the young man, whom he knew to be a dangerous killer, and ran to help me. He was quite a distance from us, and when he saw the murderer drawing his pistol and preparing to pull the trigger, he shouted at him: Stop! In this way I was saved by a savior angel. We give credit where credit is due!
My Last Station
When we finished our work in the Ghetto, we were sent to Dombrovka. There I met my two brothers Chaim and Meir. When the labor was completed in Dombrovka, my brother, Meir, and I, were sent to Skarzisko. In this incarnation we were parted from our brother, Chaim. There were approximately 5000 prisoners in this camp. We worked in munitions factory until the end of 1944 when our captors felt that the enemy was approaching, in order to save us from them, so they wouldn't, God forbid harm us, they transferred us to Tzenstochov. That was our last station as prisoners, and there we were liberated at the beginning of 1945. I don't want to expand on the troubles and suffering of that period, therefore I'll only tell of the destruction of my town of Kozienice.
I Return to Kozienice
Immediately after I was liberated, even as the danger of the war still hovered over us, I didn't hesitate at all, and set out for Kozienice. The family instinct didn't permit my not returning at once to home, as if my mother were awaiting me impatiently to see me healthy and whole, and to embrace me and see if I had indeed remained a Jew as she had instructed me before we parted! I went on foot; who knows how many hundreds of kilometers. For three weeks I made a mighty effort to reach home quickly. On the way I met armies and caravans, and grabbed some food here and there.
I continued until I reached Kozienice, my destination, the city I longed for since the day I had left her. I imagined how I would enter my home and appear before my mother. My heart pounded as I reached Lublin Street, and how great was my disappointment, when I saw all of the houses before our house destroyed. When I reached my family's dwelling, in place of meeting my mother, who would embrace me warmly, and press me to her heart, as I had imagined, I found an overturned ruin, dirty, cold and dark. A dark bitterness clamped at my heart, mourning and disappointment, so that I couldn't even cry. Only then did I feel like an abandoned plant in a desert, some kind of castoff limb. The world darkened for me.
I wandered among the ruins, visited the ruins of the large House of Study, and looked for the bench, upon which my father had sat, may his memory be blessed. I found everything broken. I went to the small House of Prayer (Shtibel). The same destruction! Is it possible? I asked myself. Hadn't the Rabbis prayed with devotion, and their prayers had been accepted? Why then had this destruction come about? I passed through a few more houses, in which I had played and spent time with my friends, who were my buddies, but I found no sign .of life. Only darkness and shadow, ruins as if goats had pranced there. I had the feeling that evil spirits were pursuing me. I didn't see or meet a Jew. I said to myself: I'm alone in the world, woe unto me, the last Jew!
On My Father's Grave
Afterwards I recalled, that I'm not completely alone. Isn't my father buried in the cemetery? I'll go to visit him! I went up, therefore, to the cemetery. After searching, I found his grave, and then my stone heart melted and the source of my tears in my eyes. At first I sat near the grave. Then I spread myself on top of it and burst into tears. My eyes poured out the tears. That was the first time that I had wet my father's grave with tears flowing for hours, until I had no strength to rise.
I remembered my mother's last words: Remember, Avramele, remain a Jew! Don't forget to say the Kaddish for your father! Indeed, if there is still a quorum (Minyan) of Jews, I thought, I'll manage some way to say the Kaddish for my father. But where are you, my mother? How can I recite the Kaddish for you? What have 1 here, and whom do I have in this cruel world? It is not worth living anymore. I decided to lie here, next to the grave, until death would come and take me to my father. But death did not come, and the instinct to live forced me to rise up and stand on my feet. I returned to the city. I saw that there was no point in wandering around aimlessly. I said: Kozienice, the faithful city, has betrayed us, and expelled her Jews, who saturated her atmosphere with Torah, good works and charity. She has abandoned her holy inhabitants, under the treads of the feet of animals of prey! It is not worthwhile that a Jew should any longer tread upon this profane ground. Pour out thy wrath upon the nations who have not known Thee, and upon the kingdoms who have not called upon Thy Name for they have devoured Jacob, and his glory they have laid waste!
It is only a pity on the holy and pure souls, that have been buried and remain here!
I parted from them, therefore, with a broken and depressed heart, and I left Kozienice, with the intention of never, ever returning there again!
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