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[Column 197]

The Experiences of Levi Grossman[1]

Translated by Yael Chaver

Levi Grossman, born in 1916, was the son of Yoysef Leyb and Khayele and a grandson of Avrom Meir, who was famous in Kurow for his piety and stubbornness. He was a grain merchant in the villages, and had five sons and four daughters. Yoysef-Leyb, the third of the five sons, was also active in the community, first in the “Mizrachi” organization and later in the “Agudas Yisroel” in which he served as council member, and community treasurer in 1934-1938. He was a hasid of Rabbi Shloymele Eiger of Lublin, and often went to stay with him.[2] Levi's parents lived in their own house in the hoyvilitse and made a living by milling and flour commerce.[3] In his youth, Levi Grossman studied in the bes medresh like all his peers. He was a member of “Tze'irei Agudas Yisroel.”[4]

 

Lecho Dodi” Chanted No More[5]

It was a few days before the historic date of September 1, 1939. The Jews were already aware that the menace of war was closing in.[6] The only two radios in the town, one in the house of Meir Tsodek and the other belonging to Yitzchok in the tavern, were the source of all news.[7] Jews on their way to synagogue in the morning, carrying their tallis and tefillin under their arms would bring the news. Obviously, religious studies on those days were not normal. This was hardly surprising: most Jews remembered the horrors of the earlier war.

On Thursday, the day before September 1, 1939, the radio announced that Germany had declared war. Early Friday morning the news from the radio was that several locations in the country had already

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been bombed. What to do? People gather in circles in the market and the bes medresh. The womens' preparations for Shabbat are already frenzied. Shloyme Tevl, may God avenge his blood, dons his shtreiml and heads to the Friday evening service, his head downcast.[8] Lecho Dodi is not sung in the usual way; people just say the words tunelessly. No Shabbat dinner songs are heard from the windows of Jewish homes. Everyone is gloomy and dispirited. On Saturday morning, word comes that the Demblin bridge has been bombed and destroyed. This is actually very near our town. Prayers on Shabbat morning are hasty, as people want to return to their homes and families as quickly as possible. It is hard to swallow the second Shabbat meal.[9] We go to visit our old grandfather, Nosn Dovid, to see how he's doing. But on the way we hear

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that the Puławy train station also been bombed by now. In other words, disaster draws nearer. Afternoon studies in the bes-medresh were dropped; gathered in groups and circles. There were some attempts at jokes, which fell flat. The menace was creeping closer. That night, no one sleeps. Each bit of news is discussed endlessly and passed on, and there is also much exaggeration.

The Polish government declares a general mobilization. Everyone is ready to go the front to fight the Germans. The first evacuation of Jews from the neighboring town of Puławy, 16 kilometers away on the Vistula River, makes a somber impression. The evacuated Jews find temporary quarters with the Jews of Kurow; people huddle up to make room for the refugees.

 

The End of the Markuszow Market. The Army Flees

The army marches, with its weapons, on the road to Lublin. This supports the notion that a counter-offensive will be mounted at the Vistula. All the surrounded towns are in danger. The necessities of life become expensive. Jews would like to fight this on moral grounds, but when the Polish Commissar hears that Levi Yitzchok Khadak is raising the price of kerosene, his shop and warehouse are closed and sealed up. Jews have different opinions; some pity him while others say that it serves him right. But fear of what's coming drowns out everything else.

Although no one is able to sleep Sunday night either, people gather up their courage to go to the Markuszow market on Monday. After all, the market is the main basis of the Kurow Jews' livelihood. But the market is dispersed by the police. Everyone is afraid of a bombing raid that can lead to loss of life. People with carts barely manage to push their way through to go back home. There are enormous waves of travelers together with soldiers; it is hard to judge which group is larger, the army or the civilians. The police try to steer the army towards Lublin and the civilians – towards Lubartüw. But the civilians run haphazardly, not knowing where they're going.

When the Jews of Kurow see this, they, too, start to pack, sling their bundles over their shoulders, and start to travel. By Tuesday, German airplanes were already flying over Kurow. The largest Polish army contingent, headed by General Rydz-Śmigły, was concentrated in the environs of Kurow.

 

Wandering Through Villages. The First Injuries

On Wednesday night, there a group of 50 airplanes flies over Kurow. The Jews, each in their own corner, start to ponder what to do. We have a family consultation at Yankev-Layzer's, and decide not to leave Kurow but rather to hide until the danger is past. Other families reach

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the same conclusion (indeed, what else? We have been here for hundreds of years, where would we run?) People started roaming the surrounding villages. We hear terrible bomb explosions from Kuzmir as well as near Kurow. This increases the general panic. Early Friday morning, Yankev-Leyzer's family as well as ours leave for Boguszow. The same day, September 8, the Jews of Kurow experience their first real disaster: there is a terrible bombardment of Kurow and its vicinity. The bombs cause fires, and all four corners of the town start to burn. Fire engulfs the whole town, spreading from house to house, consuming all the possessions that people have worked for over years, over generations! Among the wounded are Moyshe Lerman's daughter, and Shmuel Hanishman's son Itche, whose arm was broken. The wailing and shrieking was terrible. We stayed in Boguszin for the entire Shabbat. Right after Shabbat was over, my father rushed to see what had happened to our old grandfather Nosn Dovid; he finds him sitting in the meadow, together with other Jews.

This is how the long-settled town was scattered to the winds, though still clinging to the vicinity. When the fires die down for a while, the catastrophe is clear: the town had turned into a pile of ashes. Not one house was untouched. The bes-medresh, the synagogue – all was an ash heap.

 

Identifying My Dead Brother by His Hasidic Sash[10]

On Sunday, my brother Moyshe, of all people, feels that he wants to go to Kurow and see what has happened to the town. By dusk, evening he still hasn't returned. We start to be uneasy. I rush to Kurow – he isn't there. I dash to Markuszow and don't find him there either. I can't relax. I run out again at 2 a.m. Many dead bodies lie on the road, mostly of soldiers. I can't imagine that he's there, among the dead. I return home, empty-handed. But when news comes from Reb Yankl, the son of Mates, the rabbi of the town, that a killed child has been found on the road with a Hasidic sash in his pocket, my father goes to Yankl to find out. He immediately recognizes the sash. The disaster has happened. My father returns home, and the nightmare began to weigh on our souls. That was our first sacrifice. We prayed together on Rosh HaShone, weeping more than praying, begging for a new year that would bring us consolation and rescue.

The Polish forces are fleeing, deserting. The German power is incredibly superior. They have taken Lublin. Clearly, the notion

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that the German army would stop at the Vistula was wrong. They continue to march on victoriously and have already reached the Bug River. There are no soldiers in our town. The Polish army has left and the German forces have not yet come. The family begins to disperse. Yankev-Leyzer leaves Boguszyn and goes to his daughter and son-in-law in Belzec. My father and mother, and the rest of us, go to Markuszow, to our in-law Khayim-Yoyneh Kintkorn. Yehoshua, my father's brother, stayed in Boguszyn for a while longer, but later also left for Końskowola.[11] This is how our family became scattered to the winds, and each had to bear the burden and trouble separately, according to individual fate.

 

Cutting off Beards, Wearing the Yellow Star

The German troops slowly start to appear, and take Markuszow. They force their way into a small synagogue, where prayers are under way. They don't harm us, but we are overcome with terror. Gradually, they start to demand that we clean the roadways and spruce up the streets. Following the first snows, after Sukkes, they start to cut off beards, and terrible incidents take place. They beat us brutally with sticks. The German military headquarters is in the courtyard. German SS forces come, and issue the command that beards must be shorn. Any Jew they encounter is beaten savagely. Jews are forbidden to go to the villages. The winter is fiercely cold. Despair starts to torment us.
Eight families gathered at the new marketplace, at the home of Yankl Faynshmid (Belzecer). Among them are Mekhl Tenenboym, Shmuel Yitzkhok Naymark and his son-in-law Oyzer Grossman (Yankev-Leyzer's son). The SS knock on the door after midnight, and, without giving a reason, pull out Oyzer--a very delicate young man—and fling him into the snow with such blows that he almost died in their hands. There were similar such victims daily. We start to wonder what to do to prevent this torture by the SS. The Jews of Kurow decide to bribe the SS soldiers. The money is to be handed over by a Polish volksdeutsche named Ulrich, who was a spy.[12] He had settled in Kurow long before the war and opened a power station, serving the Germans in secret. Avromtche Goldberg gave him the money. It became somewhat calmer. From time to time they had to feed their sadism, but Jews could breathe a bit better.

Along with the command prohibiting Jews from leaving the town and traveling to villages, came the order forcing Jews to wear yellow stars. Any Jew on the street without a yellow star would be shot. Beatings and robbery became ordinary, daily occurrences. Yet into this full cup of troubles a few drops of joy came as well, in my own family, long may they live. I'm referring to my father's decision to have myself and my fiancee,

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long may she live, be married. Guests from Kurow gathered, and Grandfather Nosn Dovid also came. We raised a toast to life, hoping that we would live to see salvation. In Markuszow, where my wife and I were living with my in-laws, things were relatively quieter. No unusual incidents had occurred up to that point.

 

We Celebrate the Passover Seder. The Germans Demand Girls

Passover was nearing. Several Jews gathered on Seder night at the home of Khayim the ritual slaughterer, to recite the Haggadah and perform the ritual. A few Germans knock on the door in the middle of the night. They say that it is a meeting. We explain that it is a festival. Their nasty eyes notice girls; they demand that the girls go with them. We are able to fool them by saying that the girls in the house next door are even prettier. When they go there and see a few elderly women, they become enraged and shoot Shloyme, Khayim's son, on the spot.

An order is issued for Jews to turn in fur garments. Kurow and its environs are required to supply 100 young people to drain the Janiszow swamps (near Josefow). Among those who answered this call were Avrom Honigsblum and a grandson of Nosn Dovid Migdalek (my grandfather), as well as Levi Yebitz (old Yebitz's grandson). They endured the three months of forced labor under difficult conditions and blows

 

The War Against the Russians Gives Us Hope

A better mood began as the war against the Russians broke out. The Jews were certain that defeat awaited the Germans in Russia, and that

 

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Levi Grossman, his wife Esther, and his sister Rivke

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would bring the end. But will we endure long enough to see this with our own eyes? It's hard to answer in the affirmative. Imaginations worked overtime. Someone says that if you go to the meadow and place your ear to the ground, you hear shots. That must be the Russians, returning fire. Many Jews ran to place their ears on the ground in order to hear the shots. The war with Russia drags on and on. The German army grows more and more brutal and sadistic. In the fall, a German soldier shoots Moshe Dovid Ritser's son for no reason. The Jewish population grows even sparser. At Purim of 1942, we hear the terrible news that there had been a selektion in Lublin.[13] Many groups of Jews were selected and sent away. No one knows where they were sent to. We started hearing similar bad news from other places. It seems that the Germans have decided to murder the Jews.

 

“What Will Happen to All the Jews Will Happen to Me As Well”

There was no longer any thought of Purim. Everyone was thinking about how to save himself and survive the murderous hands. On the last day of Passover, the disaster hit our town as well. An order was issued for all the Jews of Kurow to gather at the marketplace. The elderly, the sick, and pregnant women were shot on the spot. Those remaining, except for a few who succeeded in escaping and hiding, were taken to Końskowola labor camp. They were held there for two days, and then sent to Belzec, where they were murdered. All the Jews of Markuszow were also assembled on the last day of Passover. Five hundred able-bodied young people are selected, and the rest are taken to Nałęczów.[14] I begged my parents: “Flee, hide, why should you go to certain death?” But my father replies, “What will happen to all Jews will happen to me as well. I want to be with all the rest of the Jews.” So it was that I was left without father and mother. It was only I, my sisters Khane-Taube, Rivke, Elke, Rokhl, and my brother Yankele. We fled to Garbów, where we went to a peasant acquaintance (Jan Wartac). For a sum of money, he rents us a place in his house where we can hide. We stay with him in this way for four weeks, until about Shavu'ot.[15] At that time, people started to want to return to Markuszow, believing that the murders had stopped. We send Markuszow a gift of 60,000 zloty and return to the town. But we're not at peace there for long. Forced labor and murderous beatings begin again. Just before Shavu'ot of 1942 there is word that another selektion will take place. We rush to Garbów again, but by then

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it was also impossible to stay in Garbów. The Poles are afraid to hide Jews. As soon as we got to Garbów, several Gentiles attacked us with blows. My sisters ran away, each to a different corner. We gathered again and thought about what to do. They say that Ulrich has set up a workshop and said that he would be responsible for anyone who worked with him; and would sustain him until the war was over. Many believed him, but we decided that it was better to go to Belzec (near Lublin), to our sister Khane-Toybe. On the way to Belzec we were attacked by a group of young Gentiles and beaten badly. I start to beg them to let us go on our way. We bought our way out for money, and one of them helped us get to Belzec. He led us and we followed him, all the way to Belzec.

Among Jews Proper: Your Jews, Our Jews…

Khane-Toybe was murdered in 1942, along with her husband Yekhiel Honiksblum, on their way to Markuszow to search for us. Poles caught them and handed them over to the Germans, who shot them along with 43 Jews of Markuszow. Khane-Toybe was 25 years old, her husband was 26, and their little boy Shmuelele, was one year old. May God avenge them! In 1942, Grandfather Nosn-Dovid died. It was hard to weep for these catastrophes. Not having any news of our parents, we began to get used to the idea that they must have met the same end as all Jews. In the course of one day, all the sisters arrived in Belzec. Yankev-Leyser, Oyzer, and Yekhezkel also came. We ask each other the news, but hear only about torture and horror. Leyzer sobs, hearing about the fate of our parents. We weep together with them. Even our newborn daughter is no consolation.

 

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Levi Grossman's sister Khane Taube

 

Now there is a German demand to supply 1500 Jews for Majdanek. They say that the Jews will only be working there. But we know by now that only death awaits them. Now, the spirits of the Belzec Jews sink. They, the regular residents, turn against the Jewish refugees in their town. They insist that the 1500 Jews be taken only from among the refugees. Leyzer starts to show signs of a nervous breakdown. We are powerless to help him. They start searching for all the newcomers. I hide in an attic. They didn't find us. We hear that the landowner Poluszanski, in the village of Tomaszowice, needs people for his workshop for the Germans. He brings

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permission from Lublin for 17 people. For 500 zlotys, we create work certificates, and thanks to the intercession of Avremel Tomaszowicer we are taken to work, where we live together: I, my wife, my sisters and little brother, 17 families in all, as well as Avreml Oberklayd and his sister Feyge with her husband, Ber Latershteyn, and their little brother Dovidl, aged 12. My wife Esther and I start to work. At first, the work wasn't hard, but later we worked in the field, harder than any of the forobkes.[16] But we were happy with the bit of work that we were given, although our cup of trouble was not yet full.

 

Our Two-month-old Child. Yankev-Leyzer Goes Mad

On Genesis Shabbat, after Sukkot of 1942, I had to go to the Sadurka railroad station to load a wagonful of cabbage.[17] When I reach home in the early evening, our 17 families are weeping in despair. Everyone has been ordered to go to Belzec with the transport. We already knew that they were liquidating the remaining Jews. News had come that Jews had been burned or shot in Belzec. I consulted with my wife. What do we do? She says that we must not rush towards our death, and decide to flee. We wrap our two-month-old in a warm comforter, and run to Boguczyn at midnight, to a peasant acquaintance named Gnieczak. We knock on his door. He opens and stands there astonished. He listens to my request to stay under his protection for a few days. He hesitates, he can't, he's afraid, but I beg him, weeping. He's uncomfortable refusing, and agrees: only for a few days. In the meantime, we gradually link up with our sisters and little brother Yankele. We hear that after the Jews of Kurow were liquidated about 30 Jews settled in the labor camp supervised by Ulrich, the Volksdeutsche. The leader was Avromtche Goldberg. I send my sister Rivke to him, asking him to get me into the labor camp. He responds that he can't do that, but if I'll be near him in Kurow, he'll be able to do something eventually.

Germans keep coming to Boguczyn to requisition pigs and grain. They terrorize the village. Gnieczak reminds us constantly that we can't stay with him for long. We pick up at night and go, in pairs, to Kurow. First, we go to Avromtche Goldberg. Motl Zaltzberg helps us to find accommodations with a peasant who settled in Kurow and rebuilt a ruined house that had belonged to Jews. At about that time, our uncle Yankev-Leyzer arrived, with Yekhezkel Nechemya. However, to my great sorrow,

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by then Yankev-Leyzer had lost his mind completely. My heart weeps for this dear, decent Jew, who could not overcome the liquidation of his wife.

 

Abandoning the Child. The Christians Test Whether She is Jewish

We deliberate how to hide. We hear that even here, in Kurow, the few remaining Jews will be liquidated any day, including the 30 Jews who work under Ulrich. One fine day, the German murderers gathered everyone in Khayim Rozen's cellar and shot them all. We had no choice but to flee through the fields. We meet a peasant woman from Plinik.[18] She tells us that she is escaping from Kurow; she heard intense shooting, and ran away. My wife begins to implore her:
#147;You see that it's freezing and snowing. Have pity. Show me where you live, and give the two-month-old some warm water.” She is afraid, but we don't leave, and walk along with her. She turns out to be the wife of Mikhail Shikora. She consults with him, and he allows us to stay for a few days. We warm the child with some water; she opens her eyes and is in good spirits. By this time my sisters and Yankele have also arrived. They have found places with various peasants. I pay Shikora some money, and so we stayed a few weeks. Besides fearing the Germans if they hide Jews, the peasants are also incited by their own anti-Semites. Where can we go now? We are being chased like dogs from one place to the next, carrying a tiny bird with us. I propose to the peasant Shikora to at least take the child and we will pay him a nice sum. He refuses. We weep and beseech him. Eventually, he is ready to agree, but he is housing a Christian refugee woman from Danzig, who refuses adamantly. She says that she will turn us over. He talks to us in no uncertain terms, and we are forced to leave his

 

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Khanale Grossman, 4 months old, abandoned near a stable

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home. We decide to try to return to Boguczyn, to Gnieczak's. I send my sisters and Yankele to Boguczyn, and we try once again to negotiate with the peasant. But he refuses totally. We want to leave the child here and flee, but the peasant watches us, keeping a close eye. I have no choice but to take child and go outdoors. We get to a nearby neighbor, named Wladek Zahniarz. I notice no one watching. Behind the stable (it is November 11), my wife parted from the child tearfully, and left her right there, behind the stable. We ran along a side road. Later, we heard that there had been a great uproar in the town. People ran everywhere, searching for us. As those who hid Jews was very fearful of the Germans, they told everyone that they had found a Christian child. They sent a query to the priest of Kurow about the best thing to do. One person says that the child should be left with the town janitor, but he refuses.[19] They consult the Germans. The cursed German murderers have the idea of testing the child by placing a pile of money in front of it. If the child grabs the money, it is Jewish, and must be killed. If not, it will be allowed to live. The child passed the test--it did not grab the money.

As the peasant on whose property the child had been left was childless, it was decided that he should keep the child.The town authorities would supply him with food, and he would be released from forced labor so that he could raise a Christian child. By that time, we had reached Boguczyn through side roads. Once again we approach a peasant acquaintance, Karl Druzd. We beg him for compassion and are willing to pay him a large sum of money. He says that he cannot keep us in his house, even in the attic, but he has a shed in a field where he stores potatoes, and can hide us under the potatoes. Besides, he doesn't want all of us to be in the same place. My wife and Yankele can hide in the potatoes, and my sisters must find other places. We later heard that Elke and Rokhl hid in a bunker in the forest, where they were incinerated. Rivke fled back to Plinik, and hid with the peasant Wladek Zahniarz, the neighbor of the person who kept our child.

 

My Brother's Tragedy

My brother's legs started swelling up for lack of movement. He can't walk, he can't move. There is no doctor. What can I do in this situation? The new year of 1943 starts. Karl Druzd's wife comes in and says, “The whole village doesn't want me to keep you.” I must leave; no entreaties help.

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I must go and tempt my fate again. But when I try to take Yankele, I realize that it is impossible. If I knew where I was going, I would have placed him on my shoulders. But I myself don't know where to go. When I tell Yankele that he needs to stay there, my heart is torn. I must promise him that the moment I'll find a place I'll come for him. But the minute I leave the village I hear someone running after me. The peasant went into the potato pit. When he sees Yankele, who is incapable of walking, he chased me. We fled towards Markuszow. I later heard that when the peasants saw that Yankele could not walk, they took him to Garbüw. He lay there a day without food. When there was nothing left of him but skin and bone, he was shot, and buried in Markuszow.

 

The Gentiles Hunt Us to Kill

Who will let us in? It was cold. We were chased and tormented, night and day. What to do? We try knocking at the door of a peasant acquaintance, Stach Burek. We beg him to let us in. He hesitates, but when we give him money he agrees to take us in for a few days. He won't let us stay for more than a few days, but at least he gives us some food, bread and milk to take along. We go on wandering. Where? Near a farm on the road between Garbüw and Boguczyn there is a flock of sheep with a heap of straw. We decide to sneak under the straw and spend the night there. How astonished and terrified we were when we heard a voice from under the straw, speaking Yiddish: “Don't make a light, they'll notice!” “Who are you?” I ask, fearfully. “We're two of Khayim Itchke's sons.” When my wife and I pushed under the straw, they said that if there was room for two, there'd be enough for four. We talked quietly.

In the meantime, dawn comes. In the morning, the peasant comes to grind grain. He nears the haystack with some other peasants. We hear their conversation. He says, cheerfully, “We're killing all the Jews!” We hear him telling how Khayim-Itchke and his wife were killed. This is the first his children hear of it. “They say that Leybush Grossman is roaming the area.[20] If he's caught he'll be killed immediately.” I hear it all, but they suddenly leave. We barely make it through to night. Morel's sons have no money.[21] They give me two gold watches. I go to Markuszow, sell the watches, and bring money for them and as compensation for my own efforts. When they see that they have money, they say that they

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are going to join the partisans. They say it's time to leave this place, but keeping it in mind as a hideout of last resort. If we are here when the grain is ground, we'll be denounced. I get the idea of hiding in the attic. We make our preparations and spend eight days in the attic. But our food gives out, and I become despondent. I also notice that one of Esther's hands is becoming frozen; it becomes very swollen due to the cold. We begin to feel hunger pangs. I decide to crawl down and go in to the peasant woman. I pretend to be coming from far away and ask her to give me some food. She boils some millet. I pretend to go away and take a roundabout route to return to the attic. My wife revives with the bit of food. But what can we do about the cold? It's not a bad hiding place, but the freezing temperatures! Meanwhile, the peasant comes in and takes the ladder away. The attic is high up. We stay seated in the attic, hungry and cold. We decide that we must jump down. Esther sprained a finger when she jumped. Once again, we need to find a hole somewhere to hide in. Back to Markuszow, to the same peasant who bought the watches. Maybe he'll have pity on us and let us in. At nightfall, we set out to return to Markuszow. We knock at the peasant's door. He soon gives us food, bread and milk, but refuses to let us stay. We ask him to keep us until midnight but he refuses. We need to leave. We see that the situation is dire, and go back to Garbüw. We go to a peasant named Jaszek Wartac, who was keeping our bedding. We thought that if we could make it back to the attic with bedding, we'd be warm. But where would we get a ladder? When we came to Garbüw and Jaszek Wartac, it was daylight. We could not stay outdoors. We decided to go into the straw until nightfall, so as to approach to Jaszek at night. During the day, I was in danger of being stabbed by his pitchfork. Once, when he came for hay, he stabbed me unintentionally, but not seriously. When it became dark I went to Wartac's wife and asked for my bedding. Before I left, I pulled away the ladder and left it behind the stable, to take later. We dragged along the bedding and the ladder with all our strength. A blizzard had begun, with snow and wind. We circled the house of Tkocek, the peasant whose attic we needed to reach, but could not find it. I was very weak from the long night of work and roaming, and started to feel my strength giving out. My face was bleeding. I felt that I was freezing up.

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I beg my wife to let me take a five-minute nap, but she started to cry loudly. She knew that if I fell asleep I could not be woken; she saw that I was becoming frozen. I dozed off, while she stood beside me, shaking me and not allowing me to sleep. She wailed, “Where are you leaving me by myself?”

When day began to break, I sensed the danger. I realized that we mustn't stay here. I pulled myself together, overcame my drowsiness, and dragged the ladder to Tkocek's attic with my remaining strength. But I couldn't pull the ladder up to the attic. Well, let happen what may. We slept through till full daylight. Mrs. Tkocek goes into the yard in the morning and sees an unexpected ladder. Jaszek Wartac is running around searching and telling everyone that a ladder had been stolen from him that night. They immediately grasped that someone was in the attic. During that period, the peasants were also afraid of the partisans. The peasant woman went to tell her father. A Polish police officer was billeted with her father. If he comes over, we'll be shot on the spot. Luckily, the officer was away. Her father told her to leave, and that he would come over with the officer the next day.

My wife is suffering terribly with her swollen, frozen hand. I'll try to approach the peasant woman, and maybe get some food for my wife. I come in, tell her I'm leaving for a faraway village and will come back tomorrow. I ask her to boil a rooster for me and give her money. Meanwhile I get some food from her – bread and milk –but notice that she is terrified when I leave. I pretend to circle several houses, but she melts the frost on her window with her breath, makes a small opening, and follows me with her eyes. She sees me climbing up to the attic, and runs to tell her father that she saw Leybush creeping up to her attic. Her father tells her to leave, and says that the next day, when Leybush comes for the rooster, she should scold him and tell him it's not nice to crawl up to a stranger's attic without the owner's knowledge. When I come the next night and she scolds me, I tell her the whole story and beg her to let me stay in the attic with my wife. It's useless; when I tell her that my wife's hand is frost-bitten and needs to heal, she says that her sister's vacant shed is a hundred meters away, and I could stay there. We take the bedding and go there, lay our bedding down near the henhouse, and sleep. At daybreak, two Gentile boys come holding axes. I was sure that was our end, but I see them avoiding us and going directly to the Tkocek's

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house. She was their sister. She must have told them, or else they already knew, that Leybush was hiding here – the very person who was being hunted down. They approach with the axes. One of them calls me outside. I know that he will kill me. I start sobbing, begging him to let me live and to tell his father; his father knows me well. I take off two gold rings and give him. He calms down. At that point I start saying that I am hungry and have no food. He says that now, in daylight, he can do nothing; he's afraid of other peasants. But on Sunday, when all the peasants have gone to church, he comes with a cart to bring us bread and milk, and we eat our fill. We stayed there like that for eight days. Later, he comes running again, saying that he's afraid to let us stay any longer and I need to find a different place. I go back to Markuszow, to the person who had bought my watch and owed me some money. Luckily, my sister Rivke, in Plinik, not far from Zahniarz (where my child was hidden), had the idea of coming to Markuszow to find out what had happened to us. She comes to the peasant and asks him, and he says that I sometimes come, and that he can give her money as part of what he owes me. She doesn't want to take money; he tells her that I might be in Garbüw. She goes to Garbüw to look for me. I leave Garbüw for Markuszow, and she is on the way from Markuszow to Garbüw. It's midnight and very dark. We see a shadow, and are frightened. As the shadow comes near and I recognize my sister, we fall into each other's arms, and a flood of tears bursts out of us. The cursed Polish soil soaked up our tears.

 

The Disaster of my Sisters Elke and Rokhele

Rivke tells me that the Germans stuffed straw into the bunker where our sisters Elke and Rokhele were hiding, and set it on fire. She also tells me about the death of Yankele, our beloved little brother. We look for a place where we can weep more freely and talk about everything. We go to the Markuszow cemetery and sit there all night. Rivke advises us to come to her in Plinik; she believes she'll be able to find a place for us there. We decide that she should go first and let us know when she finds a place. We part. She goes to Plinik and we go to Garbüw. Although it was a fine day, I went to the shed where I had been staying, retrieved my bundles and the bedding, and went back to Boguszyn, to Karl Druzd. I tell him that it is only a matter of a few more days. I give him money, and he agrees. But that night Rivke comes and says that I can only go to Plinik the next evening. The next day, Germans

[Column 212]

come to Boguszyn, searching for Jews. Karl Druzd comes in, frightened, saying that we must immediately leave this place. We start crying. Leaving now, in daytime, is certain death. But he doesn't care. If they find us at his place, he'll be shot. Terrified, he pulls out the money that we gave him and returns one thousand zlotys. “I don't want your money. Go away!”

 

A Hideout in the Manure Heaps. An Unpleasant Mate

We must risk our lives and leave. We stay in the fields, We notice piles of manure that the peasants heap before spreading in the fields. We burrow into the manure heaps, and no one notices us. That night, we continue on our way, very fearful, because we might be seen by Polish partisans and be shot. We had to walk fifteen kilometers like this. Hovering between life and death, we arrive at our new host's. Half-insane, but what can we do? I give him one thousand zlotys at once, so that he'll supply us with potatoes and two pieces of bread each day.

Stanislaw Wieiak is also hiding Velvl Hershman (Shloyme Kanyer's son). His father had a mill and left it to his son. The latter handed it over to a Christian, who hid him for nine months (he was one of the survivors of the thirty men who worked for Ulrich), but could no longer hide him. Then he started paying him for the hideout. The Christian performed his duty very honorably. But when I came, I didn't want to disturb his setup. We dug out a small bunker and settled in there. I start to think that I can stay there for a longer time. I see that Rivke has run out of money and give her some. We got along with Velvl Hershman very well. He was very tattered, filthy, and depressed. We got him clean and cheered him up. However, in any case we must get used to the very bad and filthy food. This goes on for about eight weeks. I am starting to run out of money and decide to go to Garbüw, where I am owed some more. I want to take Rivke with me, but as it is a fine night I take Esther along as well, and we start running, to get the trip over as soon as possible. Halfway there, we notice a shadow approaching: tall, smoking a cigarette. We stand still, terrified. No Jew would smoke a cigarette, as the glow would be noticed. He certainly noticed us as well; but as he came nearer we recognized a local Jew of Markuszow, A. R. (we have our reasons for using only his initials). We ask him where he's going.

[Column 213]

kur213.jpg
Velvl Hershman

 

He says that he's been hiding for three days in a shed full of straw, but now Germans have come and are searching intensively. He must leave. He's heard that the Gentile landowner Ljaniewski, in Broniec, is hiding Jews. He goes there, thinking that he might be able to hide. But I had already heard that all the Jews there had just been killed. He stands still, astonished. What to do now? Where to go? He also tells me that only a day earlier there had been a battle between Jewish partisans and Poles. So it is dangerous even to look for Jews there. I decide to go back. But, I tell him, I have no money. He says he will lend me money if I take him with me to where I'm staying. My wife was strongly opposed to the idea, because she knew him well. But what can you do at a time like this, when a person needs to be rescued? So we went back. When the peasant sees that we're back so soon, and with a scary-looking stranger along, he was very unhappy. I tell him that the man is honest, but he is very hesitant. Velvl Hershman also opposes the idea that the stranger should stay here. With great efforts I convince them that we will manage somehow, as long as we can save him. I convinced the peasant that he is rich, and that after the war he will give him a plot of land and a few thousand zlotys a month. The stranger stays with us. He takes out a flask of brandy and makes a toast. It turns out that they were right. The moment he understood that he was staying with us, he started bossing us around. Because he is paying more, he wants to sit in the attic. The peasant refuses. We enlarged our pit, and he fit in somehow. When the half-crazy peasant noticed that the newcomer was

[Column 214]

a rich zhidek, he wanted to get rid of us.[22] In any case, he stopped giving us the two daily pieces of bread. At this time, Sobjarski stopped paying Wiejak, the peasant, his usual amount for hiding Velvl Hershman. When I urged A. R. to loan Velvl some money so that he wouldn't starve to death, he wouldn't hear of it. We realized that he was a very bad person. Whenever Rivke came to visit me at night, she would blame me for bringing him. But it was hopeless; we couldn't drive him out now. On the contrary, we hoped he wouldn't drive us out. More and more, he schemed against us. By now we were suffering from hunger. We asked Rivke to collect all the bread crusts from Zahniarz, where she was staying, and bring them to us. I soaked them in water, and ate. In any case, we shared with Velvl so that he wouldn't be hungry. It was interesting that, even though I shook the milk bottles to make butter for A.R., he wouldn't let me have the buttermilk but gave it to Wiejak, the Gentile, although we were starving.

My mother-in-law had given a Pole a lot of merchandise to hide. If I had any of it, we could at least sell it, but going to the Pole in Garbüw meant risking one's life. We decided to send my wife and my sister. They walked all night, hiding each time they heard a rustle in the shadows. They reached the peasant at dawn and knocked on his door. He opened up; they sold a bit of merchandise. It was a bit easier when they came back the next night, but it was difficult in a different way. Partisans increasingly attacked peasants and took their food; Polish peasants encountered Jews and shot them. A movement started in Plinik to shoot the Jews who were in hiding. One time I heard, through a crack in my bunker, Moyshe Ritser and his wife coming in and begging for his compassion and help, because they are in danger of being killed in their current hideout. He is not willing to listen, and they leave with their problems and their terror.
Dina, Moyshe Ritser's daughter, masquerades as a peasant woman. She thinks she won't be recognized. She has a very pleasant conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Wiejak, hoping to convince him to take her in. At that moment a neighbor comes in to get water and recognizes her. The neighbor also notices other signs that Jews are hiding here with the Wiejaks. She spreads the news to the whole village. The day it's Wiejak's turn to stand guard over the village, the other peasants tell him, “They're saying in Plinik that you're hiding Jews. They'll inspect your property, and things will go badly if they find Jews.”

[Column 215]

Various Minor Incidents. Esther Sees the Child. Jewish Partisans

He grows very frightened. At mealtime, he doesn't eat but creeps away to us to give us the bad news. On the way, he stops in at Sobjarski's and tells him. Sobjarski hurries and tells Velvl not to be afraid. He will take him away that night. During the day, he digs a good bunker at his house, and brings Velvl in that night. I am terrified. What will happen now, where will we go? Wiejak tells us that he isn't responsible for us. If we notice anything we can break open the lower door and escape to the fields, to save ourselves as best we can. We hear this, and decide that it would be better to leave Plinik for a while, and get rid of A.R. on the way because of the trouble he was causing by his bad behavior towards the peasant. We decide to go to Boguczyn. As we start walking, A.R. prepares to come with us. “Where are you going?” he starts to beg us. He doesn't know anyone; he won't leave us; he will follow us everywhere. We realize that there's nothing to be done, and his entreaties had an effect on us. That night we go to Boguczyn, after three months here. We go directly to Karl Druzd. By now, I know how to calm his dogs so that they don't bark. We see that his shed is broken down; he'll certainly need money, and will agree to keep us. A.R. and Esther go up to the granary attic and I follow them. We figure that we'll stay in that attic at first, saying nothing to Karl Druzd. It so happens that a hen decided to lay her egg in the attic, of all places. When Druzd's wife comes in to get turf to heat the house (he was an invalid and got around on crutches), she notices the hen running down from the attic. She climbs the ladder immediately to get the eggs, and sees three people sitting there. She starts screaming in fear. We calm her down, and beg her to let us talk to Druzd himself. He'll certainly let us stay there a few days. The daughter also comes out and starts screaming at me for bringing in an unknown stranger. I ask to speak with Karl Druzd.He finally comes out to us. We start weeping, saying that we only need to stay there eight days, until Plinik calms down. He gets money from us so that he can fix his shed. We create a bunker there, in any case, and stay for three weeks rather than eight days. But when Rivke comes and reports that all is quiet in Plinik, we decide that it would be better to stay with Rivke in the village and near the child, whom we long to see. We make plans: we give Wiejak's girl 100 zloty, to coax the little girl near the crack in our

[Column 216]

bunker. We watch her, but when she starts calling out to Shikora's wife “Mama,” Esther starts to weep, and the girl takes her away. I also give Rivke money constantly for Zahniarz to give Shikora, for dresses and blouses for the baby. Let her know that I have not forgotten my child. But one night Zahniarz comes in and starts to persuade us that it would be better to go to the partisans. We know that the Poles and the Jewish partisans are bitter enemies. We explain that we have a bunker ready in Boguszyn, and arrange with Esther that A.R. and I will go to Boguszyn. If everything there is quiet and in good shape, she can come Saturday night. If not, we'll return Friday evening. When we go to Karl Druzd that day, he remembers that we gave him money to repair the shed. He's happy to see us and gives us bread and milk. He's lying sprawled on the bed, his crutches alongside. We reach an agreement: I'll give him 1000 zlotys a month and A.R. will also give him 1000 zlotys a month. We seal the “deal.”
Meanwhile, we see people in the distance coming, approaching the house. We're terrified. There's a knock on the door. I hide under the bed. A.R. climbs up to the attic. Karl Druzd has to go and open the door. They start yelling: “You didn't want to open up for us! You're hiding someone! We're Jewish partisans!” I recognize Moyshe Pilts. More and more people come. They're all armed. They start to search. They drag me out from under the bed, and A.R. down from the attic. We recognize each other. They come from different towns, including Markuszow. They want us to go with them, but we decide not to. They give us some money but I don't want to take it. They leave a watch for Rivke, and a watch-chain for me, to sell so that we can have some money. They stay here for 24 hours, then leave. We immediately start repairing the bunker and the shed. Saturday night, in the pouring rain and darkness, Rivke and Esther arrive. They help to set up the bunker. It takes three days, but it's well made, covered over and topped with straw, unrecognizable. Rivke stays with us a few days. She wants to return to Plinik. I give her a bit of money, and now have none left. I decide to go to the peasant who is holding my father-in-law's merchandise, to get some money. When we get some money, winter is ending. Conditions improve a bit.
The Germans are losing battles. We read the newspapers and hope that Poland will soon be liberated. But once we've had some peace for a while, A.R. starts his disgusting games again. He undermines us, and complains to Karl Druzd: why is he, a single person, paying 1000 zlotys a month, while we're paying

[Column 217]

the same amount for two? He also starts flattering the peasant's 16-year-old daughter and gives her money to go to the village and buy butter and eggs. We start to shout that this will give us away. The village knows very well that Karl Druzd is poor and can't afford such merchandise. But he wants to make the girl a gift of the change she brings back. We shout: “You're bringing disaster on us! Let the girl go shopping in a different village, not the one we're in!” The girl goes to her father's sister in another village and brings good food. We, however, swallow our poor pieces of bread with the bit of sour water that Karl Druzd gives us. Of course, the sister finds out that Jews are staying with her brother, as does her son, a member of the “Patriotic Youth Movement.” That almost cost us our lives. One day Karl Druzd calls me over. He wants to introduce me to his nephew. I make his acquaintance. We talk some politics, and part on friendly terms. But a few days later, the nephew comes to me and asks to borrow money. I give him 1000 zlotys. He repays it, and takes some more. I can't quarrel with him and must make the loan, though I am short of money. A.R. starts saying that his money is running out. He starts demanding that we all pay equally. I don't want to argue with him and agree. The young Gentile boy, Karl Druzd's nephew, keeps coming for money as well. We have to lend it to him. But a greater disaster occurs, the result of A.R's showing off with food. Late one night we notice a Gentile boy lowering himself into the bunker, holding a revolver, and demanding money from us. He says he's a partisan who's risking his life while we just lie there in peace!... (I immediately realize that this is Janek's doing.[23] In fact, we heard from Druzd himself that Janek had been right outside.) He takes A.R.'s money as well (though A.R. had the rest of his money hidden in the straw, and the boy didn't find it). He announces that we have to stay put for a long time, until he comes back. I take the risk, and the moment he leaves I run out of the bunker and escape in the dark through the fields. My Esther was supposed to follow me later. But A.R. starts screaming that my wife had stolen all his money. He doesn't let her leave. She has to stay with him until she gives him the money. She is alone with him. She swears oaths and wrings her hands, until he starts once again rummaging through the straw heap he sleeps in. He finds the money eventually. Esther arrives after running through the fields.

[Column 218]

We slept out in the field for eight days and didn't enter the bunker. A.R. stayed in the bunker. When we finally saw that the Gentile youth didn't come again, we returned to the bunker. But I still had no money. What do I do? A.R. had also convinced the girl to tell Karl Druzd to drive us out. By this time, we had already decided to leave, and that night returned to Wiejak in Plinik. We also longed to be near our daughter, our Khanele. Just then, fights and shots broke out between Jewish and Polish partisans. The previous night, Yosl Kaufman and his wife had been shot near Boguszyn, along with other Jewish partisans. But we didn't want to stay here any longer. Along with A.R., we take the risk of leaving. Two kilometers on, we hear the command “Stop!” I start running, but Esther didn't have the strength to run. She remains standing, giving her soul into God's hands. A Gentile boy runs up. She recognizes him. He grabs her by the head. “Where is Leyvish? Why did he run away? Call him over, I won't harm him.” Esther doesn't believe him, and she doesn't know where I've run to. He lets her go to Plinik.

 

Russians, Americans

Conditions improve. We figured that the Russians would enter any week now. We heard that Berlin had already been taken by the Americans. We decide to go directly to Szikora and ask him to hide us together with our child. When we knock at his door, he is happy to see us and offers us food. His house was close to the road; we had to hide very well.

 

kur218.jpg
Levi, Esther, and Khanale Grossman

[Column 219]

The joyous day came. The Russian advance forces arrived, and we left the hideout. It was almost the ninth of Av and we fasted.[24] Then we went to visit our ancestors' graves, that of my dear father-in-law Khayim Yoyne Kitnkorn, of blessed memory, who died in Markuszow in 1942. We wept bitterly, and thanked him—because we believed that he interceded with God many times, to save us from death. Later we went to visit our friend Jaszek Wartac of Garbüw. He was very happy to see us, and gave us food. When he asked what we were planning to do, I said that I'd like to see Jews. Would there be some in Lublin? He hitched up his horses immediately and took us to Lublin. We didn't see a single Jew on the way, only death and destruction. Lublin was also empty of Jews. Suddenly, we heard a person telling another in Yiddish, “Look, that must be a Jew on that cart.”

 

Lublin, Lodz, Berlin, the Land of Israel!

I stop him. These people were also surviving leaves from an uprooted tree. He tells me that there are rumors of Jewish partisans in Zielona. We go to Zielona. I meet a group of about seventy men, and ask them about additional Jews. They tell me that there are Jews in Lubartüw. We go there immediately. There, we meet Shmuel Honisman and his son Yoysef, Hersh Kotlyarz with his wife and children, Hershl Tsukerman and his Yosl. We are overjoyed, and start to think about the future. We set up a plank table and get organized. These Jews want to go and work with the Soviet army, but I have no energy. I stay at home. When I go outside, peasants are selling wares from Garbüw; I buy something, and make some money. Esther often goes to Plinik, so that Khanele will get accustomed to her real mother. It is very difficult. Apparently, Szikora doesn't want to give the child back; he really loves her. The child doesn't want to leave them, either. Eventually, she agrees to give me the child, in return for a large sum of money. I could have taken the child through the Soviet authorities, but I didn't want to cause an ugly scandal. After all, he had taken care of our child. I negotiated the sum, and the child returned to us. But Szikora couldn't restrain himself; he missed the child very much and kept visiting Lublin. I left him everything that I had purchased during that year in Lublin.

Soon a new wave of incitement against Jews sweeps over the Poles. I realize that this abominable soil would never bring any good to Jews. I decide to emigrate. I pay a fixer a sum of money to take us to Berlin. But

[Column 220]

kur220a.jpg
Khanale Grossman in Ramat Gan, age 12

 

he brings us as far as Lodz, and disappears. I pay more money, and leave the soil of Poland with a curse: may all the Poles who helped spill our innocent blood be damned forever.

We come to Berlin, which is held by the Americans. A while later we, I and my wife Esther and a second daughter (we now have three small daughters) left for the Land of Israel on board the Theodor Herzl.[25] My sister Rivke, her husband Yankev Barg, and their son Yoysefl left for the United States.

 

kur220b.jpg
Mikhil Shikora and his wife, who concealed Khanale

 

Translator's notes:
  1. The top parts of columns 197 and 198 are, respectively, in Hebrew and in English; the English is a translation of the Hebrew text. My translation starts with the central text in the lower part of the image, which is in Yiddish. Return
  2. Rabbi Shlomo Eiger was the leader of the Hasidic dynasty of Lublin. The followers of hasidic rabbis often spent periods of time with their leaders. Return
  3. I was unable to translate hoyvilitse Return
  4. "Agudas Yisroel" was a political party representing ultra-Orthodox Jews in Poland; the prefix "Tzei'rei" indicates the youth section of the party Return
  5. Lecho Dodi is a Hebrew-language Jewish liturgical song chanted Friday at dusk, usually at sundown, in synagogue, to welcome Shabbat prior to the evening services. Return
  6. The German invasion of Poland began on September 1, 1939. Return
  7. Jews often held leases of taverns on properties owned by non-Jews. Return
  8. The shtreiml is a fur hat worn by many observant married Jewish men, particularly (although not exclusively) members of Hasidic groups, on Shabbat and Jewish holidays and other festive occasions. Return
  9. This would be the midday meal on Saturday. Return
  10. Hasidim traditionally tie a sash around their middle, as a symbolic separation of the upper and lower parts of the body. The sash style varies with the the particular Hasidic group. Return
  11. This is the closest identification I could make for the location expressed in the narrator's Yiddish as "Kontkevalye." Return
  12. Volksdeutsche was the term used by the Nazis for ethnic Germans living outside of Germany. Return
  13. Selektion was used by the Germans for selection of Jewish residents for slave labor at an extermination or concentration camp, or for execution. Return
  14. This town was a transfer point for death camps. Return
  15. The Shavuot festival is seven weeks after the beginning of Passover. Return
  16. I wasn't able to translate this word but assume it is akin to "co-workers." Return
  17. Traditional Jewish culture incorporates the annual religious rituals in its system of marking time. Sukkot is a seven-day fall holiday, two weeks after Rosh HaShana; the day immediately following its end is the holiday of Simchat Torah, which marks the end and beginning of the annual cycle of Torah reading. The first portion of Genesis is read on the first Shabbat following Simchat Torah, known as "Genesis Shabbat." I was not able to identify the railroad station. Return
  18. I was unable to identify this place name. Return
  19. The position of "town janitor" is unclear. Return
  20. Leybush is another form of Levi, the narator's name. Return
  21. "Morel" must be a reference to Khayim-Itchke, the father of the other two refugees in the haystack. Return
  22. Zhidek is a pejorative form of zhid, the Polish for "Jew." Return
  23. "Janek" may refer to Druzd's nephew. Return
  24. The ninth of the Jewish month Av (roughly early August) was designated as a fast day, to mark the anniversary of the destruction of the Jewish temple. According to tradition, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on the same day—the first in 586 BCE and the second in 70 CE. Return
  25. This was probably the ship that sailed to Palestine in April 1947, with 2,600 Jewish immigrants. Return


[Column 221]

I Was a German Soldier…

by Nechemia Wurmann, Ramat Gan

Translated by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

I will never forget the final days of my life in Kurow.

It was at the end of the month of August in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War Two. As a young boy of thirteen years old, it was difficult for me to understand that it was actually a war. My father, of blessed memory, would often talk about the First World War, and now with my own eyes I began to see and feel on my own skin what such a war is. I want to briefly relate my experiences from September 1 [1939] until January 18, 1945.

These are sufferings of 64 months and 18 days. It was a long journey.

It was a Friday, September 1 in the morning. My

[Column 222]

father, of blessed memory, woke me up from sleep and said to me: “Wake up, it's war. The Germans have attacked Poland.” I did not believe him, but my father, of blessed memory, said to me: “Come to the radio and you'll hear.” I went to the radio and I heard the Polish marshal saying:

“We will not allow this for ourselves!”

I turned the knob of the radio and I heard how Hitler, may his name be erased, was saying that he will not be stingy with the bombing. As later became evident, he kept his word. Exactly eight days later, September 8, Friday morning, people began to flee from the city, exactly as if they would know what was going to happen a few days later.

[Column 223]

Each Child Receives His Own Bag with Money

Underneath our home there was a brick cellar, and for about a full week we slowly put merchandise from our store in there, so that at least some of the materials would be saved from an eventual fire. Each of us in the household received from my mother, may she rest in peace, a little bag sewn of linen, filled with money, so that no matter what, each one of us would be left with some money. Each one of us also received, prepared from before, a shoulder bag with clothing, and necessary garments. That same day, at exactly 12:00, when we were putting the last brick around the door of the cellar, we heard a terrible explosion, and the whole house shook. Soon there was a second and a third explosion. I ran out to see what had happened and I went to the place of the ruins. I saw how Itche Hanasman was running with a wounded hand and nearby, the police guardhouse was burning. The three bombs had fallen there. There were dead and wounded. I quickly went back home and recounted what I had seen. My father, of blessed memory, locked up the store and each one of us took the prepared shoulder bag, and we went in the direction of Novy–Rynek. We stayed there for a few minutes near Viatrik. My father ran back to the city to see what he could find out, ran into the house, and took out a few cotton covers. As he was leaving the house, locking up, the key broke. He tried not to tell us the story of the key but we saw this from the top of the mountain,

[Column 224]

as our house began to burn. It was 5:00 in the evening. We remained silent and with tears in our eyes, left the mountain and went in the direction of Krupe.

 

The Modzitzer Rebbe [Chief Rabbi of the Chassidic group of Modzitz]:

“Today You Do Not Have to Light Candles!”

We reached Krupe. My father, may he rest in peace, went to the home of a non–Jew whom he knew, and asked him to allow us to spend the night in his barn. We came into the barn and put away our things, but I could not find rest. I was curious to know, to see, and to hear. I ran out onto the main road that goes to Miechow. I saw how masses of Jews were running in the direction of Miechow, and there went a wagon with a pair of horses, and inside the wagon was the Modzitzer Rebbe and his sextons. The wagon came to a stop. The wagon driver gave the horses some water; the women were crying, the children were crying, other women fainted, and some ran to the Rebbe so that the Rebbe should give them a blessing. One woman asked:

Rebbe, what should I do, I do not have any candles to light for blessing [the Shabbath].”

The Rebbe responded:

“Today you do not have to light candles. Look around and you will see that your candles are already burning!”

Another woman asked: “What should I do? I cannot stay here. I have to go to Miechow to my children.”

The Rebbe answered her: “Shabbath laws can be suspended to save human life!”

And he sat back in the wagon, and they left.

We could no longer eat anything. We could no longer place anything into our mouth. Several other people we knew came into the barn with us. We made beds out of hay on the bare ground and went to lie down. There was no talk of sleep. Late at night, my cousin Moishe Shmuel Yitzchok's came to us. He told us that the whole town was burning on all four sides but on Novy–Rynek [the New Square], there were still a few houses that had not been burned down. Among the houses that remained there was one Jewish house. My cousin Yankel Feinschmidt's house, that house was filled with Jews, and among them was my uncle Shmuel Yitzchok and his entire family.

While I was lying in the hay, all kinds of thought went through my mind. I, as the youngest, was not able to say a word but I sighed often: “Father in Heaven, twenty plus years of hard work went up in smoke, and now comes Hitler, may his name be erased. What will be with us, with all the Jews?”

 

The Volksdeutch with the Secret Radio Station; Wanderings, Typhus

We lay in the barn overnight and at dawn we had to leave the barn and went into the bushes because the German bombers decided to strike over our heads. The entire day we

[Column 225]

had to remain hidden in the bushes with our heads down because the Christians used to say that the airplanes targeted only Jews. The bombing was terrible. For the entire day we did not dare move from our places, but when it started to get dark we stretched our bones a little and went back into the barn. My father went out to try and find something to eat because we had nothing to eat the entire day. The following day, Sunday morning, my father decided to go into town to see what was going on. We went back into the bushes again. That's how once again we spent the entire day. We did not see my father coming back. We thought, what could have happened? It was starting to get dark. My father was coming and he was bringing bread and some food to eat. We sat in silence and my father began to tell us what he experienced that day: As soon as he entered the city, he looked for the bailiff Szelezniak, and the chief of police, and other Christians from the city, and held a meeting with them where it was decided to go to Ulrich, the Volksdeutch, who had a mill on the Warsaw road, and do an investigation. As was eventually discovered, the Volksdeutch had a secret radio station where he would tell the Germans which places they should bomb. He and his son were then arrested and given over into the hands of the Polish military office. It was also decided to destroy important documents in order that these papers do not fall into German hands. On that same day, a bomb fell near the Jewish house on Novy–Rynek and, out of fear, my cousin Hersh Dovid died, and Shmuel Yitzchok Neimark's son died. The following day we went to the village Kloda. It was a little calmer there. The administration of the cooperative gave us a room. We were there for a little bit of time until the German army marched into our town. At that time, my oldest brother Chaim Eliezer and his wife and child lived in Uzhendov [Urzedow], near Krosznyk. When he heard that the city of Kurow had burned down, he came running because he found out that we were in the village. Then we decided, I and my brother Moishe and sister Chav'tche, would go to Uzhendov with my brother, and my father and mother and sister Chan'tche would go to Lublin. We arrived in Uzhendov, the Germans had already “set up house,” as it ought to be. They had placed taxes on the Jews. Every single day, they captured Jews for work, and so, we could already strongly sense the German murderers. I did not stay there for long. My uncle from Ostrowtze found out about the tragedy that happened to us so he sent a messenger to tell us that we should go to him. But we did not want to go without the consent of our parents. My father came to Uzhendov and we decided that I should go

[Column 226]

to my uncle in Ostrowcie. At my uncle's in Ostrowcie, I learned a trade – cap making, and a half year later my father also came here. The reason my father came was because the volksdeutch Ulrich from Kurow was looking for him in order to kill him. A little while later, my sister Chan'tche also came. From time to time, my father would go to have a look at the family but then came right back. That's how the time went, until, in 1941, a typhus epidemic broke out in Kurow. By that time, the Jews in town were already in a ghetto. It was forbidden to leave the house. Only two hours each day were you permitted to leave to get some bread which was given according to the ration cards. Whoever left his home during a forbidden time, was shot. All those who were sick with typhus were taken to the hospital in the ghetto, which was set up in the Beis Midrash [Study Hall]. It was known that whoever went into the hospital, never came out. Hundreds of people died at that time. I also contracted typhus then, and lay secretly in the house. An old medical caregiver healed me, and with all kinds of means, was able to get medicines from outside the ghetto. Thanks to the vigilance of my father and the caregiver, I became healthy again.

In the year 1942, when we received the first bitter reports of the evacuations of several cities in Poland, we knew that Ostrowcie would be no exception. Jews rushed to the labor offices to get positions for work, thinking that this would help. I found a job at that time in the large steel factory. My father and sister also found jobs in other areas.

 

Workshops, Bunkers. My Sister–in–Law and Child Were Shot. I Become a German Soldier…

When Jews sensed that a dark cloud was coming over the city, we decided that my father and sister should go hide in a bunker which my uncle in his tanning house had already prepared beforehand. This was outside of the ghetto. On September 10, 1942, at 12:00 midnight, we sneaked my father and sister outside the ghetto and hid there. I remained asleep at home.

The following morning, at 6 am, the entire ghetto was already surrounded by the Gestapo, and an order was given that all the Jews should leave their homes within ten minutes. Whoever would not leave their homes and go directly to the market place, would be shot. All those who had work cards for the steel factory had to go to a different place near the labor office. On the way, as I was running, I was already stepping on Jewish bodies. The shooting did not stop.

I came to the work place, and at the entrance there was a Gestapo standing there

[Column 227]

with a club in his hand. The entrance was through a small door, and whoever came in that way, was heavily beaten with a club. This did not exclude me. We were about 500 Jews in that place, only men. On average, there were about 16,000 Jews in Ostrowcie. We stayed like that the entire day. In the evening, a unit of Ukrainians arrived and took us to the factory. When I was in the factory, a gentile took me to my father, and at the same time I sent a messenger to Uszendow to find out what was happening with my mother, sister, and brother. Uszendow had already been liquidated a month earlier. I received bitter news. My sister–in–law Tzivia and her child had been shot, where they had been hiding at the home of a Christian. A Christian had informed on them. My mother and sister were hiding at the home of [another] Christian. My brothers Moshe and Chaim Eliezer were in the forest. I did everything possible to maintain contact. On the eighth day of being in the factory, all the Jewish workers were ordered to assemble in a place with all their things, that is with their rucksacks. We did not know what was going to happen. We thought we were all going to be shot or expelled. They took us to a place behind the factory. Soon the Gestapo arrived and gave an order that everyone had to give them all their possessions, money, gold, coins, and also the rucksacks with their clothing. And the person who would not comply, and if some things would be found in his possession, that person would be shot on the spot. Three young men were shot right then and there. We gave everything over, and remained standing there naked and barefoot. After that, we were taken back to the factory. After they expelled all the Jews from the city, the Germans created a small ghetto of one–and–a–half streets, and we were taken to the small ghetto. Every morning, we were taken to work under strict guard. Since I was in the ghetto, I maintained news of my father, and heard that they could no longer remain in the bunker because there was no more food. Second, the Christian, who was the watchman of the tannery, no longer permitted them to be there. There was no other choice but to bring them to the ghetto. I told them to smuggle themselves into the ghetto. Before dawn, they arrived safely. With the help of my cousin, they received work cards, and went to work each day with the others. That's how people continually came to the ghetto. January 10, 1943, the Gestapo expelled those in the ghetto again, but also this time, my father and sister managed to stay. The ghetto always became smaller. Again, I remained working in the steel factory. Three months later, in April 1943, they liquidated the ghetto entirely, and all the Jews were taken to

[Column 228]

a camp that was located behind the city. The camp was called: “Jews' Labor Camp of Steel Workers Ostrowcie.” The camp was surrounded by barbed wire and we lived in horses' stalls. My father and I lived in the same stall, and my sister in a women's stall. There were guard posts of Ukrainian police around the camp. Every day, under strict guard, we were taken to work. Inside the camp, there was a Jewish administration and Jewish camp police. At the end of 1943, November 10, the great tragedy took place: I lost my father. A murderous Jewish hand was involved here. The Jewish police commandant Moshe Pizhitz, who, with his Jewish help, had 30 people removed from the ghetto, among them my father, and sent them to be shot in Radom. From that point, I decided not to remain there, and seek revenge outside of the camp. At that time, while being in the camp, I maintained contact with my family who was in camp Budzyn near Krosznyk. My entire family was still alive at that time. My older brother Chaim Eliezer, was already part of a partisan unit in the Garbowa forests. I maintained contact with him through a special messenger. In the year 1944, he succeeded to flee from the camp, and on that same day, my sister Chana fled as well. I did not know that she had fled and she did not know that I had fled. This was an unusual occurrence, as if we would have had the same thoughts without having discussed any of it. As I fled from the camp, first I had to go to the factory where I used to work. I lay hidden in the factory for four days without food or drink. It was not an easy thing to escape from the factory, but I had decided to flee at any cost, even at the cost of my life. Under no circumstances did I want to end up in the camp again, because this would have meant suicide. The only way was to use the last bit of luck that a person has. It was Friday evening. I was able to climb the 10–meter high wall, and with my last energies, I was able to flee behind the city. I went into the fields and lay down to sleep in the wheat field. The following morning I went into the city to look for some bread. Not one of the Poles was willing to give me the smallest piece of bread. I went over to a bakery, and stood in line with the rest of the Poles and I was able to buy one kilo of bread using the money that I still had with me. I revived somewhat. Then I went to the Christian with whom I had been in contact and who was also the messenger that maintained contact with my family. After a few days, he showed me

[Column 229]

the location of a partisan unit that was in the forests behind Ostrowcie. I finally, with good fortune, met up with the partisans, the majority of whom were a melange of Poles, Russians, and a few Jews. Even though this was a general people's partisan group, still, there was a strong feeling of anti–Semitism. The Jews were sent to the most dangerous places, but there was no choice. In spite of everything, this was done with love, because it was considered revenge. I did not stay there for long. Fate wanted that after four weeks of being with the partisans, we were attacked by a strong German army that encircled the forest with tanks and airplanes, and then set fire to the entire forest. After several days of slaughter we had to leave the forest. We were short of ammunition and food. The reinforcements that were supposed to come, did not come. The commandant gave an order that everyone should flee and save himself, each one on his own, as best as he could, because we could not even retreat, and the closest partisan unit was in the Logiv forest. As a partisan, I became acquainted with a Pole of the town of Opatow. We were always together. We fled the forest together. We fled to Opatow. I remained with the Pole for some time until a neighbor informed on me and handed me over into the hands of the German police. When I arrived to the police department, understandably, I was given the generous welcome. The first thing, of course, was the beatings. I held my own, saying that I was a Christian, a Pole by blood and

 

kur229.jpg
Nechemia Wurman as an “Aryan”

[Column 230]

bones. I crossed myself, saying that I did not understand a word of German. Since it was already evening, the police decided to keep me under arrest overnight in a cell that was in the yard – until morning, when a doctor would come and determine whether I was a Jew or a Pole. If the doctor would determine that I was a Jew, then I would be shot. Once again, good fortune was with me and I was able to escape from the cell before dawn. After I had escaped, I connected with the Pole from Opatow, but he told me that he was afraid to let me stay with him. I had no other choice but to go into the world and seek my chances.

That was already the time when the Russian army positioned itself at the Vistula. I went in the direction of the Vistula. Maybe I would be lucky enough to get to the other side of the river, to the Russian side. But it did not work. I was already close to the German line, but there was no way to get to the other side. As I was standing so close to the German position, I had the idea of going over to a German field kitchen, and I asked, in German, if I could work there. I was very hungry, not having eaten for a few days. I figured:

First, I would eat something, and second I would be closer to the front so maybe I would successfully get to the other side. The German cook quickly agreed to let me work for him. I received food and slept together with the German soldiers. After a few days of working in the kitchen, I became very friendly with the German cook and also with the officer and chief lieutenant, who had a voice over the approval of the staff. After a week's work the cook went over to another village. I went along with the cook and with the officer to the village Wolkowonowka, near Ozharov. The officer and I took over quarters, in the same room. My name was Marion Schmidt. All at once, the officer called me into his office and he asked me who I am and where I am from. I told him that I was a volkdeutch [person whose origins are German, but has no German residence] from a town on the other side of the Vistula, and our home had been bombed by the Russians, and my parents had been killed during this bombing. I tried to continue talking like that, so that it would appear to be the truth. Then he asked me if I wanted to voluntarily join the German army and I would remain together with him as his personal adjutant [orderly]. Seeing that I had no other way out, I consented to his request. He gave me all kinds of papers to sign, and two days later he called me into his office again and told me happily that he had received the

[Column 231]

consent from his captain to accept me into the German army. He immediately gave me a note to go to the German army store to get army clothing. Within a few minutes, I saw myself in the uniform of a German soldier. All the soldiers from the company congratulated and greeted me. All at once, our cook left on vacation and I took over management of the kitchen. Twice a week I had to go as security into the village, along with another soldier. I was given arms during this time. The worst thing to do during this time was to lift my hand and say: “Heil Hitler!” In the beginning it was very difficult for me to use this as a greeting, but after a while it went more easily. At the same time, I was also an interpreter, translator into Polish. Suddenly, one night, I was summoned out in the middle of my sleep. I became very frightened. They told me that I should prepare to assist in capturing some Poles for work as interpreters. I had no choice. I got dressed and followed along with other soldiers. If there was a question of translating into Polish, I was the translator. By chance, during a raid, I met a Jew who was in hiding at the home of a Christian. Miraculously, I managed to save him, saying that he was sick. A second incident was:

 

Once again, I join the partisans. I am a spy.

One of the commandants of my former partisan group was captured. It was a little more difficult for me to rescue him, but I promised him that I would get him out the following morning. And that's exactly how it was. The following morning, before sending them off to Germany, I managed to rescue him. I joined up with the partisans again, along with him. I saw him every second night. He cautioned me not to leave the German army. He gave me the mission of giving over to him secret codes and military information.

In December 1944, a Christian boy recognized me, a Pole from Ostrowcie, and he informed on me to a German officer, saying that I was a Jew. By chance, I found out about this right away. A report about this went to my officer, but my officer pretended not to acknowledge this. Once, on December 31, Sylvester's Eve [celebrating St. Sylvester on New Year's Eve], my officer called me in and told me that in his hands he had a report saying that I was a Jew. Now I had a surprise. The officer explained to me that in his opinion, I could be a Jew, but this did not interest him. He assured me that as long as I was in his hands nothing would hurt me, but that I should be very careful. January 12, 1945, an order came to withdraw from the front lines of the Vistula, and go in the direction of Germany. I could do nothing else but go along.

[Column 232]

I went with the retreat and experienced terrible bombings by the Russian airplanes. It became a little less severe with the Germans.

 

I flee to the Russians. They accept me as a German. I find my sister. My brother, the partisan dies.

On January 15, 1945, I happen to be present at a discussion in the general headquarters with German General Miller at the head. I heard that the Russian army was ten kilometers behind us and that the German army was surrounded. I decided not to go with them. That night, I go over to a Christian, a Pole, asking that he give me civilian clothing. He did not want to comply, but I forced him with a gun in hand and he had no choice.

At night, I went to another village where there were no Germans. The following morning I went in the direction where the Russians were. On the way, I met a Russian patrol. They held me up, and noticed that under the civilian clothes, I was wearing a German uniform. They wanted to shoot me, but I was able to show them that I was not a German. They took me to Konsk [Konskie], where the Russians had already settled. They took me over to the commander and there I was interrogated. I told them that I was a Jew, a partisan. They immediately contacted the commandant of my partisan unit, and the commandant confirmed my information. They gave me to an officer and took me over to Ostrowcie.

On January 18, 1945, I was freed. It is worth noting that as soon as I got out of the car, I met my sister Chantche. She was sobbing, and when she saw me, she screamed with joy. The joy was tremendously huge.

 

kur232.jpg
Chaim Eliezer Wurmann and his wife Tsyvia

 

I immediately decided to go to Lublin to find out what had happened to my family, and with my brother Chaim Eliezer, with whom contact had been broken only six months prior. I came to Krosznyk and there I heard the terrible news of the heroic death of the commandant of the partisans,

[Column 233]

Chaim Eliezer Wurmann, may his blood be avenged, who died with gun in hand, in a slaughter with the Germans, three hours before liberation.

I went to Lublin and found other surviving Kurow Jews. I went to Kurow to have the last look at my place of birth.

[Column 234]

I came into the town and remained still for a few minutes near the market well. It looked like an abandoned cemetery. I was taken with fear, remained only for a day, then returned to my sister in Ostrowcie.

 

kur234a.jpg

 

kur234b.jpg
A group of Kurow survivors in Germany

 

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