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[Column 567]

A Kurow Woman in the Kovel Ghetto
A chapter from my experiences from April 15 to the end of May 1942

by Feyge Brik-Rekhtman, Bney Brak

Translated by Tina Lunson

 

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Feige Brick-Rechtman, Bnei Brak. At the beginning of the war in 1939, she left Kurov for Kovel where the Soviet forces entered. She describes her experiences from 1942 in the Kovel Ghetto where she was caught several times in the course of actions. An 18-year old Jewish policeman in the ghetto, whose father had already been killed by the Germans, ran away from his post. The German commandant Kastner issued an order that unless this policeman gave himself up by seven o'clock in the evening, he would shoot everybody in the quarter. The policeman gave himself up to the Judenrat. The execution was carried out in the market place. Naked and bound, the Ukrainian beat him with nagaikas till nothing more than a piece of bleeding flesh was left of him.

The closest friends of Feige Brick found a Polish train conductor who took her away with the child to another town, where she hid on the Aryan side. Her friends who helped her to find this conductor, could not save themselves but were killed together with their little children.

Feige Brick briefly describes her sufferings, how her child became ill with diphtheria and was on the verge of death; how, by threats, she obtained an injection from the doctor for the child; the devotion of near ones and friends; the difficulty of finding a place in a bunker since they were afraid that the little one would cray, for which reason she was not admitted. She cannot even complain about it. The president of the Judenrat began addressing the assembled Jews on the market place and with his first words, he died of a heart attack. They previous president of the Judenrat, Dr. Wydra, had received an order from the Germans to supply a first party of two hundred Jews. He collected 199 and then joined them as the 200th, being killed together with them.

She tells about Dr. Davidson, who took food as payment for his visits and shared the food out among the poorest children.

It is a pity that she does not give a description of the two years she spent on the Aryan side.

This was about the 11th or 12th of April, a day before Peysakh. The new gruesome report had just arrived in all the Jewish households like thunder. Avrom the butcher was hanging on a gallows in the middle of town. The Jews in Kovel ran around from house to house like people poisoned, with clenched hearts and worried faces, and asked the reason why Avrom the butcher had been hanged. I stayed in the house with my little child Basye.

I knew: today Avrom the butcher, tomorrow – me? That was the reality. Nevertheless that incident with Avrom the butcher made a horrible impression on me, it bothered me more than all the victims so far. I knew Avrom well. I had always bought meat from him. I was a stranger in Kovel, a “biezshenke”, as they called me. I came to Kovel on the 16th of October 1939. I recall that it was a rainy day. I was soaked through my shirt. We were just wandering around the streets of Kovel. Where to go?

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Who to ask anything of? Then a Jew stopped us and asked. “Are you looking for a room?”

That was a Jew by the name of Zomer. A weight was lifted from our hearts. We would have warm water, a bed – after so many sleepless nights. My husband and I went along with Mr. Zomer. I quickly acclimated. I made friends and acquaintances. And among all those friends was Avrom the butcher. A decent man. Indeed I bought from him the entire time, and he served me the meat with a broad good morning:

“Be well, little lady, when you God willing go back home to your family, tell them a good word about Kovel.”

I give my child breakfast and I cry. My sister-in-law “calms me”, “consoles” me: “The gallows is for all of us!”

Now I can hear Avrom the butcher's voice ringing in my ears: “Little lady, when you God willing go back home to your family, tell them a good word about Kovel.”

I go out of the house, supposedly to go to the Judenrat office to find out any further news. I can always get into the Judenrat thanks to the Doctor Vidra, with whom I am very friendly. I come in, I ask something, but am answered with a frightful “Oy, now go home quickly woman, you will bring misfortune on us!”

I do not understand what he wants from me.

“What kind of misfortune?”

“What do you say? Where is your yellow patch?”

I am really frightened, and turn right around. I put my yellow patch on my left arm, and go back outdoors. I go to my good friend Yafa's house. Her husband Sholem is an artistic painter, and they have a daughter Rut, 7 years old. She is a white-blonde girl like a gentile; she, her mother, and a few close relatives have faces full of freckles and are good-tempered, even merry. They are from Lodz. Their daughter is named Rut [“Ruth”] because she was born on Shavues. She is a nurse by calling. He worked on the railroad for the Germans, painting the numbers on the train cars. He was one of those lucky people who had the best work-passes. These very sympathetic people were as concerned for me as for themselves. I go in to visit. Today her smiling face is clouded over. He husband is also at home. I am frightened. Has he been fired?

“What's the matter, Sholem? Why are you home?”

“Nothing so terrible. There is no work, the Germans let me go home. They both told me, as if they had agreed: ‘Our fate is also your fate.’”

I am a little shaken, thank them with my look, and go home to my little Basye.

 

Shooting a Jew is not a pleasure but torturing to death – yes

The chief commandant over the Jews was Kastner. As helpers he had a standing guard of Ukrainians. Kastner was a small, thin man. His beady, cruel eyes were always thirsty for Jewish blood. There was always some foam on his chin, like some wild, wounded animal. His hands were always apart, holding a cat-o'nine-tails, ready to beat and shred some Jew to pieces. He used to say that shooting a Jew is not any great pleasure but beating Jews and torturing them to death – that was his greatest pleasure.

The call to work which took place daily for a whole year was under the supervision of the Ukrainians, who led the march from the Jewish quarter to the workplaces; this day – during Peysakh – they accompanied the Jews with heavy blows from rubber truncheons. The armed, infuriated Kastner with the Browning in hand, joined the complement as well. Kastner gave an order that during the eight days of the holiday the Jews must go to work barefoot. They had to walk in the roadway since walking on the sidewalks was forbidden to Jews. Jews were searched every time they went out or came back in. If they were found with a little bread, or any other type of foodstuff they were shot on the spot. The number of workers must be correct, no one could be missing. So for each worker missing, he shot 10 children. That was the second day of Peysakh, no one showed up for work. The murderer came into the Jewish quarter and shot 10 children between the ages of 10 and 12. The horrible day did not end with that. At 5 in the afternoon Yafe came to me again with terrible news. One of the Jewish “policemen” was missing. Kastner was searching for him and issued a decree that if he was not brought in by 7 that evening he would take everyone for hard labor night-work. He would destroy the entire Jewish quarter. There was turmoil in the Judenrat. They looked everywhere for the policeman. Everyone was terribly afraid. What would happen if they did not find the policeman? Were all the Jews really lost? People had already forgotten the troubles that had come first just a few hours ago with the 10 children. Hitler-Kastner had provided us with a new one. Mothers forgot about the children who had not yet cooled in the earth. The animal instinct for life whispered that we must suffocate ourselves in bunkers. I go with Yafe to her house. She is across from the Judenrat. It is 5 o'clock. Only 2 hours left to live. About 100 people have already gathered in her house, prepared to hide out in a bunker. I notice that people are whispering among themselves, I

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understand that they are talking about my being here with the child. One of them said, “Ma'am, we will not allow you in with a child. Because of the child we will not be admitted.”

 

The child disrupts…I live because of the child

I, of course, calm them. I understand and I do not go to the bunker, but to Yafe. Because of the child I outlived all the actions in my own home. In my own home the story was the same. I had never been in a bunker. I was not such a big hero. I was afraid of death along with those going into the bunker, but did I have an alternative?

A few minutes after 5 Kastner's victim calmed all pounding Jewish hearts. He turned himself in to the Judenrat. I must dedicate just a few words to our great hero. He was 18 years old. There were three other children at home with his mother. His father was away with the first contingents sent to the work-camps. The son remained the sole provider for the whole family. He became a militiaman. So –he thought – it would be easier for him to bring in a little bread for his mother and the small children. But when he saw that his work was so bloody it became difficult and torturous to carry out the murderous orders from Kastner on his own Jewish brethren, he decided to go to the Partisans who were located around the region of Kovel. He knew that his disappearance could bring misfortune on all the Jews here. Right after he left, he went into hiding in order to see what would happen. But as soon as he heard about the terrible decree from Kastner he quickly presented himself to the Judenrat in order to turn himself in to Kastner as a sacrifice.

 

I am your living witness

I am your living witness. At the time I did not believe that I could relate this to anyone else. I looked through the slats of the shutters, I looked and saw his horrible death. My heart did not leap out, the blood in my veins did not freeze. I just stood there as cold as ice. If someone had cut my flesh no blood would have run out. I looked, I saw everything, I am your living witness.

Ukrainians led him out with his hands in the air, the agitated Kastner behind them. An order was given for him to stand against the wall (the wall was opposite the fence through which I was looking through the closed shutters). There is no living person around, and none in the house. Everyone is hiding. But I and my little Basye stand and look. A pity, my child.

 

A policeman, a kadish

At Kastner's order they tied his hands with rope, undressed him to his birth condition, then rained a hailstorm of blows from rubber whips on his naked body. Orders came from Kastner one after another without stop: more and more blows. The rubber whips were going like an automaton, up and down on that young man's body. Blood began to run from his eyes, from his nose, from his ears, from his head, from his hands, from his feet, from his whole body. Little by little one could no longer recognize that this was once a person. A red piece of butchered flesh remained lying in a pool of blood. The walls were splattered with blood. The earth quickly soaked up the blood, as though it were thirsty. The sun dipped its last rays in that innocent blood too. The wall, as yesterday and the day before, stood and did not fall down, did not crumble into little pieces. It stood with its red flecks of blood. The earth drank in the blood and did not split in two and swallow up the whole world. The sun's rays did not turn into red-hot spears that could destroy the whole world in a conflagration, but only dipped themselves unashamedly in the innocent blood, and were extinguished there far under the heavens. Like yesterday and the day before. Normal. Not one thing moved from its place, just as if nothing had happened. Not a peep, not a rustle, no sigh, no cry. No friend at all, no buddy, no relatives, no mother, sisters, brothers, no kadish. The loneliness of you in your last moments, when your spirit went out in terrible torture. I felt as if I would go mad, go out of my mind. Running, running, banging with my fists on the masonry and the bloodied wall. May they speak witness and demand justice from the world for the tortured Jews, for the tiny children murdered in a bestial manner. For the suffocated, for elders shot, whose bodies were tossed into the fields for the dogs and wild animals. For the suffering, for the pain, shame, hunger, itchy louse bites, all the many ills.

How small and pathetic are my written words in comparison with the reality. I am your living witness. And the world keeps silent about all this?! No, no! The innocent blood must demand revenge!!

Excuse me my dear reader, for not providing the name of the tortured policeman. The afflictions have weakened my memory.

First of May 1942. Five o'clock before dawn. The whole quarter is encircled by Ukrainians and S.S. officers. The rioters were in every Jewish house in a flash, raping,

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weeping, shrieking. Now is the end of everyone. A hot Spring day. The May breeze carried its fragrance into every corner. I lifted my eyes up, to the blue skies, the sun shone, but not on us. Death is our partner. I thought to myself:

“God has gifted us with a twin. With a Spring and with a slaughter. The slaughterer slaughters and the Spring blooms…” (“Slaughter-town” by Bialek)

I am very calm. The riot around became ever stronger. For months I have been prepared with the thought that I must die. Sooner or later. I have tried to get out of the ghetto with Basye. Taken off the yellow patch and gone to Ukrainians I know, begging them to save me and my child. They laughed at me. I go back, and like all the Jews in the ghetto, wait for death.

 

By my child's bed

Now I am standing by Basye's little bed. The child is sleeping peacefully. A face like an angel. A sweet sleep. You do not know, my poor child, that death will soon take that sweet sleep away from you. You just turned one and a half years old three days ago. What have you ever done wrong? Why is your fate so terrible?

 

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Basyele, the daughter, some time later

 

My heart is clenched. A stream of tears pours from my eyes. But I quickly wipe them away, my panic will affect my sister-in-law Khaye and friend Tsipe whom we are with all the time. I have wakened the child and dressed her quickly in several little shirts, pants and jackets. The child should have what she needs on her. I have presented myself for Hitler's itinerary, each small thing will be hard to carry with the child in my arms. Except for a small bag which I will take with me. Inside the bag is another smaller bag, with a small piece of soap, and hand towel, a little bottle of water, four pieces of hard candy and a piece of bread. I am prepared for the death march. I have said goodbye to Khaye and my friends, they said that they would not look for me. We must part now, because when we come to the place they will certainly take the child away from me, they have done that in all the actions, and I will not give Basye to them. I will go together with her. Only death will separate us. No one else.

Soon we hear Ukrainian militiamen calling out that everyone should leave their residences and assemble on the area near the Judenrat. We all three leave our residence quietly. I hold Basye pressed close to me. We are soon at the place by the Judenrat. All the assembled Jews are surrounded by Ukrainian militiamen and S.S. staff. Everyone wears stricken faces, tears running from smarting eyes. Eyes full of the fear of death. They look, search, for what – I do not know. Because there is no hope for us. The women appear the most frightful – with the disheveled hair, loose clothing, and the crying children that they have bound to themselves.

 

The President of the Judenrat reacts with a heart attack

The president of the Judenrat asks that we all keep calm, he would explain our situation to us. Kastner stands. The president's face is shockingly white. When he began to tell us that we will not be deported, but that the ghetto will be reduced in size, he had a heart attack and fell over. After a few minutes he was dead.

“Good for him!” came a shout. “He escaped the torture!”

The president was a dentist. He was originally from Warsaw, I have forgotten his name. The president's unfinished words were finished by a Ukrainian. We should all go back home. A few streets would e removed from the ghetto area. The people whose houses were on those streets should move into the ghetto proper within half an hour. After half an hour Ukrainians would check the removed streets. Anyone who was still there, that is outside the ghetto, would be shot.

There was an order to leave the gathering place.

We went home under heavy blows from rubber truncheons. Some did not make it back. One lost her child in the chase. Another, her husband did not come back. A third had lost her parents. Upon returning our houses

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looked like the aftermath of an earthquake. Everything was broken, the utensils, the chairs, the tables, and the valuable things had been stolen.

Once again all four of us were in the house. Why had we come back? Who had the strength to endure more torture? We were going to die anyway. Why weary ourselves with it all? Sooner or later. Our house was excluded from the ghetto. We lived on May the Third Street, which led to the train station. The other side of the highway of the street belonged to the ghetto, so we did not have far to go. My good friend Guz lived over there. We went over to her. Without strength, dragged down, we trudged over with our packs. Everyone had to be in their places by 8 o'clock. We had not yet managed to settle in – a fresh snatch-up! The Ukrainians were looking for young men, were dragging them out of the houses. They took out hundreds of men, stood them in rows and marched them out. What did that turn out to be? That the barbed-wire fence that held us in was not sufficient. The men had to build a brick wall around the ghetto, two and a half meters high, and then put broken glass across the top of it. And barbed-wire around the top of that. After building the wall all the men came back.

In our new residence with Guz we were six families, in two large rooms. There were no beds set up because there was no space. The tables were set up instead. We made a night-time sleeping place. In one part of the room they had made a hiding place at the time of an action. They had bricked over a wall and behind it there was a small room that was not visible. I so much wanted to go to Yafe and Sholem, to see if they were all together in one place. But I could not. My strength had abandoned me. I had to stay in this house until early morning.

 

Friendship, humanity

After a short time Sholem came to me.

“Feygele, are you here, are you alive? Are you all here?”

He pressed my hands and patted my head. We did not speak to each other for long minutes. God had taken our language. After a while:

“Feygele, Yafe told me not to come back without you. Pack up and come, we will share one fate until the last action! I ran around for over an hour and I barely found you. I am not going without you.”

I explain to him that this is impossible because of the neighbors, and in any case we are all inside a brick wall. “I am very touched by your and Yafe's friendship. I feel that we are closer than sister and brother.”

The hunger got worse every day. The rations distributed by the Judenrat were smaller each time. Even what the Germans gave out were larger. Gold, money, furs, and on and on ¬– the actions never stopped. Every day brought a new trouble. Various diseases began to spread at a quick tempo: typhoid fever, typhus, diphtheria. There were no medications to be had except for those who had a lot of money and “protection”. My material situation was hopeless. Khaye could not go out to work any more because she had not received a work-pass from the Judenrat, and could not go out. A work-pass cost a lost of money and I had already sold almost everything we had. Just one men's suit and a pair of boots were my sole possessions. But Yafe had not forgotten us. She shared almost every bite with me. The Ayzenberg family also helped us a lot. They were from deep in Russia. He was a construction engineer, and she, the wife, a professor. She was Russian (provoslavne). They had a daughter together. She also remained in the ghetto because of her daughter and husband. She helped not only me, but many other Jewish families. She carried out things to sell and brought in bread. A sincere, good person. A person with a lot of experience in Russia.

I took to thinking about how to get out of the ghetto and live like a gentile. This was not easy, one had to have a lot of money to do it. Besides that my typical Jewish appearance ruined that. Yafe and Sholem and I talked about it all day. They did not consider it for themselves but for me. They used to say to me,

“You have a little child, and without a work-pass you will be in the first line of fire. We do not have the means to save you. You know what, Feygele? I work in the train station, I will try to talk with a conductor who comes from the other side of the Bug [River], maybe he will simply take you across. You have to figure it out. You must live, Feygele, that is our wish for you!”

I smiled. That was just impossible. The conductor would have to be paid very well.

“I will pay him,” said Yafe, “I have ten rubles in gold, I will give it to him. Ten rubles has no significance for us and you can save yourself and the child.”

I looked at them, looked and could not say one word.

“Why don't you say something Feygele, are you not happy with Yafe's proposal?” Sholem asked.

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“Or are you ashamed to say a few nice words?”

“I cannot find any words for you,” I answered. “I am proud of the great humanity! I am proud of your companionship, your friendship is an honor for me!”

The actions did not stop. People were lying in their bunkers all day and night. May 10, at one o'clock in the afternoon, Sholem is here with me with a certain Oksman. I knew him too. During Soviet times he was in a cooperative and distributed food supplies.

“What do you hear, Sholem? Who has been brought in?”

“It's not good. I found out that tonight there is going to be an action on the children. I have prepared a plan. You take your child in her carriage and my Rut by the hand, and walk out of the ghetto. We have nothing to lose, but to gain – the lives of our children.”

“Where will I go?”

 

On the other side of the ghetto wall

“Oksman has a place for you. It's at Budtshanski 32. This is outside the town. Mrs. Vishnievska lives there. A solitary woman. She lost her entire family, her children and her husband, in the Russian revolution. The revolutionaries killed them all. She knows everything. Plus Mrs. Ayzenberg will follow you, so she can tell us if the path is open.”

Said and done. I had received the note from Mrs. Vishnievska telling me how to present myself. I dressed myself and the children in our most elegant clothes, took the patches off and set out on the road. I said goodbye to Yafe and Sholem, but to no one else. No one was to know about this. Soon I was at the gate. Ukrainian militiamen sat at the gate. They approved me. My bold bearing did not arouse their suspicion. I continued along the streets of Kovel. Unafraid. Because what did I really have to lose? I look ahead. Mrs. Ayzeberg is walking in the next part of the sidewalk. I greet her with a smile. The day is a beautiful Spring day and I am freely strolling the streets of Kovel. Can this be? I am free? I walk from one street to another. I walk for about twenty minutes, until I come to Budutshanski Street. It is a side street, with deep sand. It is very difficult to drag the carriage with the child in it. Mrs. Ayzenberg arrives and happily says, “You are now closer than further.”

She helps me. We walk together and do not speak a word. She gets nervous and wants to get there faster. The street is very lightly settled. Number 32 is located at the very end of the street. We spy the longed-for number 32. A splendid villa surrounded by a fence of green boards. The yard is beautifully planted. Several plots planted and sowed. A coop with chickens. Not a living soul around the house. But she lives with a brother-in-law. She greets us like old acquaintances, and says, “I've been waiting for you all week.”

We go inside the house. Mrs. Vishnievska very much wants to talk with Mrs. Ayzenberg, because she knows that she is from Russia. But she puts it off for another time since she knows that Yafe and Sholem are waiting impatiently. She says goodbye and leaves. Mrs. Vishnievska is very friendly to me, and asks me to call her “Mama”. She prepares food. It is so long since I have eaten such things: red radishes, cheese, sour cream and a whole loaf of bread on the table! After that we had kasha with milk with blackberry pudding poured over it. But I was afraid to eat it all at once, and left it for later. I was with Mrs. Vishnievska for four days. Sholem and Oksman sent the German conductors out to buy hens and eggs. And Mrs. Vishnievska knew who had sent them and introduced me as her sister's daughter who wanted to travel to her brother on the other side of the Bug, and asked if they could take me over. They promised that they could, but it would be eight days later. In the meantime Mrs. Ayzenberg called to see how we were doing. I told her that I had to go back to the ghetto because of little Rut, because she missed her mother, and was crying hard. Mrs. Vishnievska got very nervous, she was afraid of a mishap. The little one could betray everything. The next morning Mrs. Ayzenberg took both children and went back to the ghetto. I went along behind her. We got into the ghetto. No one asked a word. Mrs. Ayzenberg called out to me, “We have more luck than brains”.

 

The second ghetto; work-passes; diphtheria

We arrived at Yafe's. She was very happy to see her child and us. She could not believe my bravery and said, “You could go out to the whole world! Nothing would happen to you!”

I went home. No one asked where I had been. Khaye asked me why I came back with the child. There is not one peaceful minute here over the course of any day.

I came into the ghetto at an inauspicious moment. On the morning of May 15th there was a new blizzard in the ghetto. From early morning the ghetto was encircled by

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S.S. men. I was in anguish that I had fallen exactly into the inferno. Now there was no alternative, but into the fire.

They gave us until six in the afternoon to move all our things into the second ghetto, which had been created on Bzsheska Street, at the other end of the town, where the train went through toward Rovne. Those who had no work-passes had to go there. After six o'clock Ukrainian militiamen would control the whole ghetto. Anyone who remained in the ghetto without a work-pass would be shot along with their family. No one was allowed out. People guessed that all the people would be loaded onto train cars and driven to a certain death. Dealing began in the Judenrat. The prices for work-passes rose from minute to minute. There waer a limited number of work-passes to be issued, and for no amount of money could any more be gotten. Willingly or unwillingly the surplus people who did not get the passes were going to their death. People carried packs, dragged them over the streets, in the ghetto it was black from dust. The dust mixed with the fear and screams of the people. A storm in the ghetto. The ill, the old and the children, and the left-over dragged themselves with their last strength. The hours drew on, it was already three in the afternoon, I do not know what to do, to go with the child into the ghetto on Bzsheska or stay here? My proprietor Guz arrives home, doubtful. He is a tradesman and works for the Germans outside the ghetto, at the electric station. It was said that no one could replace him in his work. In fact he had a night-pass, so not only was he allowed to walk out of the ghetto but could do so twenty-four hours a day. He approaches me and asks me what I do, do I have someone to leave the child with, he could take me to the electric station. There is an attic above the electric station, he could hide me there. He tells me further that he has the right to take three people out of the ghetto without being checked. I tell him that I was going to place the child. I must be back at exactly five o'clock, because at five-thirty he must be at work for the night shift. I went straight to Yafe. On the way I meet Sholem. He was coming to me.

“Feygele, you go into hiding and we will take your child.”

“I don't need to hide, but take the child, I have a place for myself,” and I told him where. He was happy and took the child. I went off with Guz and another four men whom he brought with him. We went up into the attic, and no one came up there. Only the decree-making voices of the Germans reached us. In the morning, early, Guz went into the ghetto to see what had happened to the Jews during the night. He came back a told us: Of all the Jews who went over into the second ghetto, there is no one left.

It was highly likely that all the rest of us in the ghetto would die as well. There was no one on the streets. The Ukrainians were constantly searching for people without work-passes. I was there from morning and the whole day and night too. On the second day in the morning, when Guz came back to the ghetto, he told me that I needed to go home, because my child was very ill. She had gotten diphtheria and was in the hospital. In secret. The whole way there I thought that she was certainly no longer alive but no one wanted to tell me. Guz escorted me back into the ghetto.

I entered the hospital, the nurse told me that the child was very seriously ill. But she had already given her an injection, if she lived through the night she would survive. But every quarter-hour I needed to inhalate her.

I looked at my suffocating child, who was showing the last signs of life with her difficult breathing. I held her to me, I did not lay her in the bed. I wanted little Basye, who had gone through so much with me, to die in my arms. And after that I …

I reproached myself that the child was dying because I had abandoned her, left in such turmoil with Yafe. It was entirely possible that I could not have done any more myself because Yafe's heart beat for Basye as much as mine did. But the angel of death must have made an error along his way. I did not let the child die, treating her with inhalators and tearing at her little mouth without stop and letting steam into her throat so she would not suffocate. The night that I feared so much came. To me it seemed darker than any other night. For me it was the night that brought death. The rooms in the hospital – enveloped in the dim glow of small lamps – were even more frightening. The nurses went around in their white aprons like the dead. Everything around me and the choking child was full of fear. I felt as though my throat were closing. Everything around me was suffocating. Even the air. I longed to grab the perishing child and run away from this confinement. Knock through the brick wall of the hospital and run away. Run over rivers, seas, mountains, valleys and land someplace far off in another domain and leave all this behind. I fell asleep with the tube in my hand. I woke up. I was pouring with sweat from dread. I was afraid to turn around, to meet my child with a stiffened face. Then I heard the nurse say, “The little one is better. She is breathing much easier and she's sleeping now. The danger has passed.”

I thanked her for her good news.

[Column 581]

Then I turned on the primus burner, put on a kettle of water so that the air around the child would be moist. Every hour Basye felt better.

Yafe and Sholem spent their free time in the hospital yard. I sent them away. I was afraid for their child. But Yafe, very tense, believed that she was the guilty one, because it happened at her house. Tsipe, my friend, saved Basye. She told me: After that terrifying night when the Hitlerists tortured the people they had driven out of the ghetto to Bzsheska, she stayed in her hiding place, unable to fall asleep among so many people. She tried to sleep, to free herself of the thoughts that tormented her. Finally she fell asleep. And she had a dream that was even worse that the reality. Basye was sitting in the mud. Then came a wind and blew the mud up onto her face and the child started to choke; she wanted to grab the child and grabbed herself in terror. She managed somehow to get back into the ghetto to see what was going on with the child. The child was playing outdoors in the mud and coughing with a very bad cough. She called Yafe, Yafe listened to Basye's cough and realized immediately that the child had diphtheria. Without hesitating she took the child and ran to the pharmacy. There they called a doctor because the child had diphtheria, but first she wanted to keep the child from suffocating. The woman led her with the child to a hiding place where there were doctors. But the doctors did not want to hear about it. Who had any injections? Tsipe appealed to them energetically: “If you will not give the child an injection, I will go and bring the Ukrainians in here and we can all die with the child!”

They quickly gave the child an injection and took her off to the hospital. That is how Tsipe saved my child.

Basye is well. We are back home. More of the same days and nights. The situation in the ghetto grows steadily worse. We see that it will not last for long, that they will take us to Bzsheske. We also learn that in Rovne, Vlodzshimiezsh and other towns they have already murdered all the Jews, Now we are next in line.

 

A Polish train conductor helps us

The 20th of May. Sholem comes to me, saying I must drop everything and go with him. He says, “Put on some nicer clothes.”

I ask him with a smile, “Do I have to please someone?”

“Yes. I have brought a conductor, he is from the other side of the Bug and will take you with him.”

Sholem is beaming with joy ¬– his plan was effective. I do not know what to do, be happy, be indifferent? Because one hears of many cases in which conductors take the money, rape you along the way and throw you off the train. I did not tell him about any of the things I was thinking. We were walking at a fast pace. I arrived at Sholem's, Yafe smiles at me and says: “This is Mr. Antoni Saletski, he will take you with him to Khelm. We have discussed everything with him.”

Antoni Saletski did not stay with us for long. He had to leave for Rovne in one hour. Tomorrow morning at six he would be here again and would tell us when we were to leave. He also had to see his son who was in Kovel. He would help him carry out the thing. The son was thirteen, was named Zbishek. As he left he stretched out his hand to me and said, “Pray to God that he will not abandon you, and will help you!”

Antoni Salatski quickly disappeared, and Sholem interrupted the stillness: “He is just like a Jew. What do you say Yafe, should he take her? Or is Feyge lucky?”

Yafe answered: “We don't have anything to discuss, when he comes in the morning to take her with him we will think about it. He makes a very good impression. And that is also very important. He is already an old man, he's over 50.”

Yafe will not let me go home. We will be together until six in the afternoon. We are together. The night is quiet. We sit and talk. Yafe proposes that we stay up all night. She has the feeling that I will leave her. And that we will meet again later in life ¬– this is a big question.

My heart started to beat faster. I felt that I would be separated from my closest ones forever.

Six in the evening. In the morning Mr. Saletski comes with a big plan: On the 23rd he will again make the tour to Khelm, Kovel, Rovne. The 25th of May at four in the afternoon he will pass through Khelm. At five o'clock on the 25th I must be at the train station with my child. I should sit on the third bench that stands after the station, on the other side of the train, I should take nothing with me. When I complete the journey in peace they will bring everything to me. I should take sweet things for the child so that she will not cry on the trip. His son will come to me and ask me if I know Antoni Saletski, and he will take me with him. If the situation changes, and I cannot be taken that day, he will come to tell me. I asked him how much such a trip would cost. Mr. Antoni Saletski answered, “When I get to the other side of the Bug

[Column 583]

I will talk about money. Meanwhile I have no reason to take it.”

“What if we are not successful and the Ukrainian militia catches us, aren't you afraid?”

He hopes that I will not turn him in. If they catch me, I will say that I alone got caught. He had one hundred percent trust in the friends of Sholem. Antoni Saletski takes out a large piece of sausage and a loaf of bread and a bottle of whisky and says that he wants to drink with us. He knows that we cannot get these things in the ghetto. We will drink to a successful trip. We all drank. Mr. Saletski stayed with us for two hours. He said that he would stay here overnight with one of his sisters, and at six in the morning would leave on his transport to Khelm. Saletski made a very good impression. We had the understanding that he was an honest person. We could not think of him as bad. He did not want any money in advance, that said everything about him. The 22nd, 23rd, 24th of May went by in a big nervous tension. I did not know what I faced. Whether I would have to start the struggle for life anew or whether my young child and I would be murdered somewhere the same night that we crossed the Aryan line. I also never stopped thinking about my friends Yafe, Sholem, Rut, Khaye, Tsipe. We would part forever. Each one of us will die in fear and none of the others will know. Die and nothing. Just as if we had never existed. All these thoughts torment me, and do not give me any rest, do not allow me to sleep and keep me from eating. And the actions that continue to take place do not give anyone any rest. The last action was the 24th of May 1942. That was the action against people who were older than sixty years.

The 25th of May arrived. No changes had taken place. That means I must pack and take the child and go out of the ghetto a few minutes before three. I did not think about the day any more, what did I have to lose? But I wanted to live… I was with Yafe and Sholem and Khaye the whole day. Just before three we took our leave of one another. We did not cry.

Oy, Yafe and Sholem, their heart-felt clasping of hands I can still feel today. I can still feel their friendly kissing of my lips. We parted as usual. As Fate wanted it. You chose death and I – chose life. I also said goodbye to Khaye and I left. Leaving the ghetto behind, living corpses. As I later learned, they were all murdered on the 28th of June 1942.

 

kur584.jpg
Khaye Gotlib, Feyge Brik's sister-in-law, the daughter of Leybish and Khane-Royze Gotlib, Khayim Kashemakher's grandchild, also in Kovel and murdered

 

I went out of the ghetto through the gate that led to the train. The Ukrainian who was sitting at the gate let me pass. I walked to the train. The train was encircled, length and breadth, by S.S. men. Each one legitimated. They did not stop any women. What was going on? At exactly four o'clock the ultimate savage Hitler may his name be blotted out raced through on a special express train to Stalingrad, to observe his great victories. What terror befell me looking at the S.S. men! I felt as though my child would fall out of my hands, I pressed her close to me and with all my strength pressed ahead to the designated place on the third bench. I sat down to rest a little. I sat for more than half an hour, which was like more than half a year. I believed that I had been fooled and that they would leave me sitting there. But in a moment Zbishek approached me. He asked me if I knew Mr. Antoni Saletski. Yes. He said, “Walk boldly after me, now nothing will happen to you.”

The boy gave me courage. I arrive at a side track on which a loaded train stood, and near the train stood Antoni Salatski. His son went up to him. I held back a little. I did not dare to approach. I heard the father say to Zbishek that I should go to the last car. There is less checking there. The car was small, but a person could get in and there was even a bench to sit on. No one had a right to be there, but the conductor said that I should not enter just now because a woman was standing there and if she noticed me going in there could be trouble. I should put the child down as if I wanted to take care of her and when the woman went away I should look on all sides and if no one noticed me I should quick as lightning get into the car. I went quickly into the control-car, I felt that it was impossible that I

[Column 585]

could have broken out. I had no strength. I set the child down on the little bench and stood resting my head on the wall. I stood like a mummy. I didn't think, didn't want to know what going on around me. Feeling nothing. Waiting – for what, I do not know myself, because everything seemed impossible. The whistle of the train woke me up. The last cars of the train banged together loudly and moved from their places. The wheels rolled faster and faster each moment over the rails and carried my child and me into the unknown. To life or to death?

* * *

To you, Doctor Vidra

When the Judenrat came into being, our first president was Dr. Vidra. Kastner ordered the first two hundred people for work. Dr. Vidra assembled one hundred and ninety-nine and went with them. Before they left he said, “I am going to see where I am sending my brethren!”

 

To you, Doctor Davidson

Dr. Davidson was a pediatrician in the health-insurance fund. He treated our children without payment. He was the chief caregiver for our children. He did not want any money even for visits outside the ghetto, just food supplies, and he distributed that among the children. On the first of December he was detailed to the prisoner camps where typhus was raging. He said to me that he was going to a certain death. On December 27 he left my house with a 40 C-degree fever. On the 26th of January he died in the hospital. He was buried on January 28 1942. Two doctors and I attended the funeral.

Dr. Davidson came from Pulav, a son-in-law of Honigsfeld.

Among those tortured Jews in Ukraine these were killed: my husband Yitskhak Gurman, my sister-in-law Khaye Gotlib, Dovid Rozenzon, Khaye Rozenzon, Shmuel Finklshteyn, Hene Finklshtein.

 

kur585.jpg
A group of friends of Feyge Brik-Rechtman:

From the right, standing: Miryam Gitl Loberboym, Khayele Tsederboym, Frandl Rozenson (lives in Toronto), Sheve Vaynrib, Tobtshe Kornshteyn
Sitting: Miryam Vaynberg (lives in Haifa), Frandl Fridmakher (Lives in Detroit), Ester Rozn (lives in Rekhovot), all the others were murdered.

 

kur586.jpg
Khayele Tsederboym, friend of Feyge Brik, died an especially gruesome death

 

[Columns 587-588]

Our Calamity

by Shimen Zilbering, Gan Khayim, Israel

Translated by Tina Lunson

 

kur587.jpg

 

At the outbreak of the war we lived in Markushov. The bombardments and the burning started. Soon we had no place to live and we wandered around homeless. I went out to a peasant I knew to ask him for mercy, to allow us to use a room for my wife and child and myself. He would not. We went back to Markushov, a school building was still standing, all the roofless Jews were inside. People were sick just because of the crowding. The Germans arrived to in town a month later. They drove us to work with beatings, brought us back from work with beatings.

We ran away and hid at a peasant's. In the first days of April 1942 there came an order that all Jews must present themselves in the town. I already knew that that meant death. Now we could not stay at the peasant's any longer, I went to a second area and hid out there until October. The announcement came from the Germans that for hiding a Jew the hider and his whole family and all his possessions would be burned.

We went into the forest and sat there for three days without food or water. Unable to listen to the crying child “Daddy, give me a piece of bread!” I went out at night after a piece of bread

The cold became frightful and it became impossible to hide in the forest. We went back to a known peasant again, begged him to have mercy on the child. He could see that we were finished, but he was shaking from fear, yet he let us stay in a stall for one night. At dawn he told us to leave. We went to another, cried and begged for mercy, and that one dug us a hole, and we were happy with that living grave. That peasant truly saved us from death. We went in there on the 15th of December 1942, and in hunger, in cold, never seeing the light of day in our eyes, we lay there until were liberated by the Russians.

Yes, it is easier to describe it than to experience it.

 

kur588.jpg
From right to left: Beyle Vakhenhazer, Zaltsberg, Miryam Lerman (lives in America), Rivkele Tenenboym (died), Shifra Fishbeyn
Seated: Tsluva Tsimerman (lives in Gvat Rambam), one of Mendl's grandchildren

 

[Columns 589-590]

Songs of an Ordinary Jew

by Khayim Rokhlsman (son of Manis Lozers), New York

Translated by Tina Lunson

The Ticket to Here

I walk the streets of New York and I ponder,
What did it cost me, the ticket to here?
Through bunkers, trenches and ovens of death,
Through years of despair and weeks without bread,
The fields all littered with blood and with bone,
The roads all wet with mothers' tears.
A field sown and grown with graves,
Am I a lucky one, a coward, a hero?
I look with my eyes and touch with my hand,
Only graves and ruins, bones that are burned.
From Koriv,[1] Varsha, Vilne, Odess –
A step – it's a gallows, another – a corpse.
I walk the streets of New York and I ponder,
What did it cost me, the ticket to here?

 

A Minute of Silence

In memory of the martyrs
We are silent for a minute,
In the quiet I hear the rush
And seething of their blood.

I feel a cold wind blowing
And hear familiar steps,
Oh look, oh look – the dead
Walking into our midst.

They arrive from every side,
How large their number is!
I die that very moment ¬–
Six million times.

And they – they live on,
Also six million times,
My parents, the brothers
From the deep valley of bones.

They place themselves in front,
From behind, right and left,
We become trapped
In the dark, dead ring.

The ring gets smaller and stronger,
We cannot get out –
Who of the Jews is really alive –
And who is just a wraith?

The dead are no more shadows,
Gassed in great torment,
They breathe with our breath
That we now hold in check.

They search, they look, especially
Into each one's face,
Found? Has a wonder happened?
A relative, or friend?

Most find no one here any more
Of all their nearest ones
Whom they could properly mourn
With a dearest tear.

At least demand revenge from the world
For their sacred blood –
So let's remember them here now,
And honor them in this minute!

 
Translator's note:
  1. Kurow Return

 

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