by Hershl Cukerman (Hershl Motl's)/ Montreal
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
[Translator's note: the following text appears in the yizkor book in Hebrew. It is followed at column 591 by the English version of the Hebrew text. The original English text is presented here unedited, including grammatical and typographical errors.]
Herschel Zuckerman, Montreal, Canada. After the first bombardment Rabbi Elimelech Guterman immediately ordered that the Torah scrolls of the Bet Hamidrash (House of Study) should be taken out and hidden in the cellar. Everything was burned. Jews were forbidden to trade. So Zuckerman travelled around the villages disguised as a Gentile, and went on doing business. He knew he was risking his life, but for the moment feeding the children and his wife was more important than his life. Two of his children were taken in the course of one action. In a second action his wife pushed him under the bed, and herself went away with the third child. The fourth, his older son Joseph, was then in the villages, and so Herschel remained together with him. They were caught and sent away to the Sobibor camp near Chelm. A gas chamber was already functioning there. By chance Herschel and his son Joseph were selected from a large transport, and appointed cooks for the Germans.
Every day between two thousand and six thousand Jews were gassed at Sobibor. Out of each transport, consisting of two thousand Jews, the Germans selected only a few strong young men, specialists, whose job it was to remove the dead, sort their clothes, and sew clothes and make boots for the German SS and Ukrainians.
The camp was camouflaged. One section was not permitted to know what was going on in another, nor to establish contact with it. Herschel Zuckerman slipped a note into a pot of food which was to be taken to a second part of the camp for Jewish attendants, and from there he received a reply:
All of them here are gassed and buried. We three hundred Jews here are the workers who are burying them.
The supervisor of all kitchens, the Ukrainian Koshewatzky of Kiev, secretly informed Zuckerman that he was in contact with partisans outside and was preparing a plan for liberating all those in the camp. The plan was that the cooks should put drugs in the food. There were three kitchens, a Jewish one where thirteen Jews worked, a Ukrainian one where two Jewish assistants also worked and a German where there were also two assistants. The drug was supposed to act only after three hours had passed. After that time the partisans would arrive from the forest. But all of a sudden the two Jews in the German kitchen were dismissed, so the plan could not be carried out.
The camp was deep in a forest, fenced with three separate fences of barbed wire. These were also mined and between them was a very broad and deep stream, with an electrified fence all round. At every fifty metres there was a sentry post. Yet in spite of this there were some escapes. At Christmas, while the Germans were celebrating, two boys and two girls cut their way through the wires and escaped with the help of three Ukrainians who were on the watch. The next morning all the three hundred Jews of the third camp were shot.
The English text continues:
Meanwhile another gas chamber was opened. The first test was made with three hundred women. The chief murderer Himmler himself came down to this opening, and distributed medals to the local SS men.
There were some other escapes. On each occasion the Germans shot all the Jews in the sections from which the escape had taken place. In Camp 3 the three hundred shot Jews were replaced by three hundred other Jews, all intellectuals, doctors and engineers, mostly from Western Europe. They quickly reached an understanding among themselves, and decided to excavate a secret tunnel. This took two weeks. When the work was almost finished one of the German Jews, a Kapo, betrayed them, and these three hundred were also shot.
All this time new transports of Jews were arriving every day. In the pockets of the clothes of the new Jews who were led away to the gas chambers they found four revolvers, to one of which was tied a note:
Brother Jews! Do not let yourselves be fooled and misled by the bandits. We come from the Belz extermination camp. Tens of thousands of Jews have already been killed there, and then a forest was planted on the spot!
When the Russian Jews who arrived with the last transport read this note, they said: We shall not wait for death, we have to do something.
In the camp there were six hundred Jewish servants. A plan for a revolt was planned. The leader was Sasha, a Russian Jew who had been a lieutenant in the Red Army. In the camp were thirty SS men and one hundred and fifty Ukrainian assistants of theirs. The revolt took place on the first day of Succot, 1943. The camp power house was handled by a Berlin Jew named Schwartz. It was his job to cut off the electricity as soon as he got the signal that the first of the murderers had been killed. Sharp knives and axes were prepared. The signal of the leader was that he licked his lips with his tongue. At the roll call, at three o'clock in the afternoon, the sign was given. Ten Jews worked in the tailor workshop, among them four brothers from Warsaw. They sent a message for the head of the camp, Obersturmfuerer Nieman, for whom clothes were being made. He was asked to come and try them on, and arrived riding a white horse. When he took off his jacket with the pistol belt and slipped his arms into the new jacket, he was hit over the head with the axe from behind, while someone else stabbed him from the front with a knife. The carcass was quickly wrapped in a quilt and pushed under a bed. The signal was given to the power house, and the light failed at once. The telephone wires were cut. A second SS man was just being fitted with new boots. He came with his adjutant and both of them were quickly attended to. Shmuel Fleshhacker, the leader of the shoemaking workshop called in the chief of the Gas chamber section for him to try on his new shoes too, and attended to him on the spot. One SS man was shown little bags of gold coins which had just been found among the clothes, and he too was promptly laid out and hidden in the sawdust.
Within forty-five minutes seventeen SS men were attended to without a shot or a sound. Only about five o'clock, at the roll-call when the six hundred Jews came out into the courtyard, did the leaders of the revolt announce that there was no roll-call that day but a revolt. Meanwhile they had obtained seventeen revolvers and two rifles. The Ukrainian sentries lost their heads. Meanwhile another SS man arrived. A youngster flung salt in his eyes, choked him and took his revolver.
All of them charged the Ukrainian watchmen, to try to force their way through, although the Ukrainians were equipped with machine guns. The Jews charged with axes to cut through the wires. Close on three hundred of the six hundred fell, but the others escaped from the camp in which nine hundred thousand Jews had been gassed.
More than three hundred Jews ran into the forest, but the Poles caught them on the paths; and of the three hundred Jews and more who had escaped only thirty-five Jews got away.
Herschel Zuckerman and his son Joseph ran away towards Markushov-Kurov. They hid in the fields for months. On several occasions they were caught by Poles and preparations were made to shoot them. Once they were saved by the fact that there was a German patrol nearby. If these were to hear shooting, they would come to make investigations, and that would be the finish of the peasants who had hidden them for a time for payment. The son ran away to join the partisans, and Herschel himself continued to hide in this fashion until the Russians arrived.
After that he met his son in the liberated Lublin. From there they went to Lodz, from thence to Germany, and from there to America.
The Torah Scrolls in the Cellar. The First Victims
Several days before Kurow was burned, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, when so many [members of the] military and civilian population were marching through on the Lubliner and Miechow Road, all of the Jews gathered everything they considered important. They hid it in the cellars or took it away to the nearest villages to friendly peasants. My cousin, Yosef Melhender the son of Zaynvl and grandson of Yosef along with several others from the family and neighbors all packed into and hid in the cellar of Zaynvl [son of] Yosef.
A great horror against the Jews occurred on Thursday night; hearing the first sad news from the people traveling through that the Amalek-Nazis were approaching and that wherever they entered they were grabbing men to work in the camps. No one went out on Thursday night and the doors were kept locked. From time to time, people knocked on the doors, asking for bread or water. These were the escapees from the west.
Very early on Friday, following the instructions of Rabbi Elimelekh Guterman, may the Lord avenge his blood, we removed the Torah scrolls from the house of prayer and hid them in a cellar. At the same time, I and my cousin Yosef left for Bobowiska, near Kłoda, to bring a horse and wagon to take our families to a village. At noon we arrived at Yosef's to take his family. At that moment we heard a wild noise of airplanes and the first bombs immediately fell on our shtetl. At the same time, my young son, Borukh, went missing. Confused, I began to run around searching for him until I found him in the hoyvilitse near the house of my father, Leib. The bombs fell near Posterunek at the corner of Pulawer and Warszawer roads. The first victims were Yoal' son Pesakh (Mogerman), Berl's youngest son, Motl and several Polish soldiers. We traveled on our wagon on the Miechow road, to which almost all of the Kurow Jews went. Passing the last houses of Noworinek, we saw that the shtetl was enveloped in heavy smoke. After the explosive bombs, the Germans began dropping fire bombs and ignited the entire shtetl.
Early Shabbos, after I somehow settled the family in Bobowiska, I left for the city to see how it looked and what remained. It was impossible for me to walk because the stones and the sidewalks were literally heated to a glow. Yet I succeeded in dragging myself to my Uncle Zaynvl's house and I found the cellar with the goods damaged. I poured in 30 pails of water; while the ceiling of the cellar cooled down, I went back to take look at the cellar of Ayzik Kowal [blacksmith] (Bruten), my father-in-law. Near the house of prayer, I saw that the synagogue and the house of prayer were burned. Only the skeletons remained. In addition to ruins, there was no trace of many other houses. Standing near the house of prayer,
I saw the German war planes nearing the pasture ground where part of the population huddled on the ground with their children and belongings. The Germans dropped bombs on them. I could no longer stay there and left for Bobowiska.
Several days later, Amalek [Biblical enemy of the Israelites, the Germans] already ruled all of the Lublin województwa [province] and people began to seek a way to the nearby shtetlekh. Some decided to leave for the Russian area. I decided to remain in Bobowiska because my wife was very weak and I could not travel with her.
The Peasants Loot
The Jews did not have any right to trade or work for themselves, only work on the roads for the Nazis in terrible conditions and under blows. The attitude of the surrounding population also was unbearable because immediately after the Nazis arrived and occupied the city, the peasants entered the city on all sides and began to open wide the cellars and to loot them. Cloth goods, leather and all the possessions of Jewish Kurow. They also showed the Nazis places where things were hidden. They removed an entire cellar of boots from Yosl Jat (the son-in-law of Dovid from the slaughter house) and a cellar of eggs from Yosl Kanier.
Disguised as Gentiles
Shlomo Gisenbaum (Shlomo Odeke) and I obtained a horse and wagon and began to trade with Lublin and Warsaw (under such conditions that today I do not understand how we emerged alive). Our goods were taken from us several times. Our lives always hung by a hair. In June 1940, it was impossible to continue traveling because a Jew was not permitted to have his own horse, or a cow.
I again assembled several hundred Jews in Kurow, several of whom had hidden a small amount of goods, some gold or jewelry and had built up something [in which to hide] or had made a pit and lived there. At the same time the Judenrat [Jewish council] and Jewish police were created. Here I want to add that all rumors about the baseness or brutality on the part of the Kurow Judenrat or the police are not correct. In the Judenrat were found those such as Reb Meir shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], may his blood be avenged, Avrahamtshe Goldberg, Blumel's son Moshe, Ahron Akerman, Yosl Jat. I do not know anything bad about the above-mentioned. On the contrary, of Ahron Akerman it is known that he did much good and even endangered his life to save whomever he could.
I lived in Bobowiska the entire time until the Nazis issued an order that no Jews could leave his place of residence without special permission. This was the end of 1942. Despite the deadly danger, I
|Ahron Akerman, son of Yoske Khazan [cantor] and his wife, Khama Walersztajn, daughter of Leib and Yokheved, perished|
traded at night. Disguised as a gentile and smuggled twice a week. A few geese, chickens, eggs from the village to the city, to Kurow, Markuszow in order to be able to keep the family alive. The Jews warned me:
Hershl, have pity, do not take a chance!
But what could I do? My children and wife were even more dear to me that my head. On Wednesday, the 7th day of Passover, 1942, I brought a little bit of goods to Kurow, coming with my oldest son, Yosef, I was with Naftali Moshe Brik's son-in-law until nine o'clock. Walking through the market, I noticed S.S. members with gendarmes around the city. I immediately went to my brother, Borukh-Zishe, who lived in the hoyvilitse near Mazorkiewicz and gave him the news. It appeared very secretive.
Kurow, Końskowola, Nałęczów, Sobibor
My son and I immediately left through the hojvilice, cutting through the fields and the Lubliner road to Bobowiska. In the evening, my boss came from Pulow, to which he had taken his wheat for the government and he told me that he had met the Jews from Kurow on the road to Końskowola. They were held there for several days and sent to Nałęczów, without food and without water. From Nałęczów they were taken by train to Sobibor. There were cases of death and perishing even before they arrived in Sobibor. Avigdor, Jakob's son, did not want to climb into the wagon; he was shot on the spot. There were various opinions about the place to which they were being taken, Sobibor or Bełżyce. I, however, being in the Sobibor annihilation camp, which was exclusively for Jews, found and read with my own eyes, documents from Kurow Jews. The documents belonged to
Zlate's son, Mekhl (Tenenbaum), photographs of Yisroel Itshe Fajerstajn's children, along with Moshe Sznajder's son-in-law, and a document for Shimkha Ricer (Yisroel Krupnik's son Shimkhale), who had written that he was working in the Charszinca [Chodówki] forest. Signed, A resident of Kurow. I also knew that the daughter of Mendl Rozenbaum (Mendl Kugel, Zaynwele Blachacz's son-in-law) had sent a gentile boy after the transport and he had said that the train had taken them to a forest in Chelm. The annihilation camp, Sobibor, was exactly at that spot; it was several tens of kilometers from Chelm, near the Bug [River] and in a forest.
After the deportation, 30 Jews remained in Kurow who had worked at Burczicki's Furs for the Nazis. The names I now remember: Berl's son Motl (Openhajm), Shmuel Chanesman and his son, Yosl, Hersh Kotlacz and his wife, Chaya Toba and two children (Golda and Bashe), Blumel's son, Moshe, Nota Wajnberg and his wife Brukha and a child, Shmuel's son, Shimkhale, Yehosha Cukerman
|Yehosha Cukerman, son of Leibl Soltis [mayor], grandson of Moshe Shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] (Lodz, Poland)|
(a son of the soltis [mayor], Leibl), Yankl (Caban), Alter Yebic's son-in-law and his young daughter, Avrahamtshe Goldberg and two sons (the leader of the Judenrat). Twenty-some more Jews, who had remained in an illegal manner, were among the 30. Among them, I remember the following:
My brother Borukh-Zishe, Chaya Goldberg and a young daughter, Yakov's son Levi (Wajnbuch) and two sons, Malka Sztern (Hersh Borszcz's daughter), a Warsaw woman named Chasha. The first Friday after Passover, the Jews from Markuszow were deported. Two days after that, all of the Jews in the villages in the surrounding area were taken out. My family and I were among them.
We were taken to Opole in wagons. In Opole, we were taken to the synagogue and we heard the local Jewish police say:
They again burned the garbage.
Traveling through Kurow, Chaim-Pesakh and his wife and two children jumped out of the wagon and hid. Opole was a kind of Judenrat [Jewish council]. The anti-Semites concentrated the Jews from around the entire country there. Gede, the leader of the Pulower S.S., came to Opole and under the pretext that the city of Opole was very dirty, took many Jews, mainly women and children. Three days later there was another aktsie [deportation] and among those taken my wife and the three children (Yosef had left the village earlier). I told my wife to quickly go under the bed and she curtained off the bed. Thus I remained. On a Shabbos, they were all taken away to Nałęczów, men on foot, women and children on small wagons. The next morning, on Sunday, my son Yosef returned to me from the village and we both decided to go to Nałęczów, to go with my wife and children.
Poles Sell Out Jews for their Clothing
Monday, at dawn, the city was surrounded by the bandits and all of us Polish Jews were taken to the barracks. In our place, they brought Czech Jews. They held us in the barracks for three days. Exhausted, we were taken in the same manner to Nałęczów. On the road, near the village of Kowale, between Opole and Wąwolnica, stood the Poles, with shovels in their hands and when they saw a Jew better dressed than they were, they winked at him, at the [guard], placed a bottle of whiskey in the paw of the German or Ukrainian, and he knew what this meant. He immediately told a Jew to leave the row, aimed a bullet at his head, and done. Every Polish lout who sold the Jew for a bottle of whiskey placed the corpse at the side, took off his boots, his suit and everything that was of value. With us were the following Kurow Jews: Monday, at dawn, the city was surrounded by the bandits and all of us Polish Jews were taken to the barracks. In our place, they brought Czech Jews. They held us in the barracks for three days. Exhausted, we were taken in the same manner to Nałęczów. On the road, near the village of Kowale, between Opole and Wąwolnica, stood the Poles, with shovels in their hands and when they saw a Jew better dressed than they were, they winked at him, at the [guard], placed a bottle of whiskey in the paw of the German or Ukrainian, and he knew what this meant. He immediately told a Jew to leave the row, aimed a bullet at his head, and done. Every Polish lout who sold the Jew for a bottle of whiskey placed the corpse at the side, took off his boots, his suit and everything that was of value. With us were the following Kurow Jews:
Alter Sznajder and his wife; Mendele Kopitko; Mordekhaile (Genadi) Tenenbaum and his wife and a child; Ayzikl Sznajder (lived near Yakov the butcher) (Popilenik); Kenig and his wife; Moshe Borukh (a son of Leib Barliger) (his son is in Israel); Motl (kile hernia) Hopenhaim and his family.
In Nałęczów we were placed on a train, 130 to a railroad car and taken to Sobibor. None of us knew that Sobibor was an annihilation camp. There, 100 men were taken from the transport (each transport consisted of 2,000 Jews). And they sorted the rest, women with children separately, men separately, and led them
to camp number 3. Later, number 3 became known to me as the gas chamber. The 100 who remained, it was just by chance, because it already was late. The next day, early in the morning, an oberwachtmeister [senior officer responsible for guard duty] came and asked, Which of you is a cook? I raised my hand. As I was being taking out, I pointed to my Yosef. When we both
|Josef Cukerman, son of Hershl|
were in the kitchen, through the window we saw that the 100 men there were being taken to where the entire transport had been led. This all happened in May 1942.
A Thousand Jews Every Day from 2 to 6
The annihilation camp, Sobibor, was well masked. Not only for those outside, but even for those who were inside. It was called a work camp. The kitchens and workshops, carpentry, tailoring, shoemaking and others were in camps 1 and 2. Actually, this was an annihilation camp for Jews, to which two to four transports, sometimes 6,000 Jews from Poland and all of Europe, were brought daily 10 to 20 strong [Jews] were kept from each transport to exchange with the workers who worked with the dead, with the clothing, and everyone else was taken to camp number 3 where they were told that everything was being prepared there and they were being sent to Ukraine to work. We first learned this after being in the kitchen for 10 weeks.
When I learned the facts, I talked it over with my good friend, Leibl Felhendler, the son of the Żółkiewka rabbi, and with Shlomo Goldsztajn from Warsaw. We decided to keep the secret to ourselves because telling [them this] would not help anyone. If
the bandits learned that we knew where we were, they would have shot all 600 Jewish workers in an hour. So that we could convince ourselves of the sad truth, we decided that I, as cook, should place a note in a kliske [small, square pasta] and inquire of the Jewish workers there:
Brothers, let us know what is being done to the masses of Jews who are being taken to the third camp. (The Ukrainians would take the food for them into the third camp.)
I received an answer from them:
Do not ask, everyone here is being gassed and buried here. We, the 300 Jews here, are the workers who bury them.
A short time later the chief supervisor of all the kitchens, a Ukrainian from Kiev named Kaszewacki, turned to me and said:
You should know that I am working together with the Russian partisans and I am thinking of a plan to free all of you from here.
I quickly consulted with my two friends and we decided to be very careful with the Ukrainian. Until once he came to me again and told me:
Tomorrow he was going to Chelm where he had a sweetheart; if the Germans came and asked if he was here, I should say, yes.
No one asked; when he came back, he told me that his sweetheart was in a partisan division under the name Wanda Waszilewska. He knew a doctor in Chelm who worked with the partisans.
Plan to Poison the Germans
He had a plan to neutralize the Germans and the Ukrainians at the camp in an easy manner. And we could liberate ourselves, even to take their weapons. The plan consisted of putting poison in their food. There were three kitchens, a Jewish one, where 13 Jews worked, a Ukrainian one where only two Jews worked as helpers and a German one where there were two Jews. The Ukrainian Kaszewacki had prepared the Ukrainians and the two Jews in the German kitchen were supposed to bring the poison. The poison was supposed to be prepared by a doctor so that it would not have an immediate effect, but only after two to three hours. Then a partisan division was supposed to arrive from the forest to help free us. However, in the meantime, a leader from Majdanek arrived and suddenly removed the two Jews from the German kitchen. Thus the entire plan was terminated because only poisoning the Ukrainians would not have helped.
Sobibor, the death camp, was in a deep forest, on a large area, fenced in with three kinds of fencing of barbed wire. Between the fencing were mines and after them was a wide, deep water and
around and around an electrified wire. There was a guard post with automatic weapons every 50 meters.
Escaped from the Camp
Early in the morning one day, I was given a directive not to cook any food for the 300 Jews in the 3rd camp where the gas chambers were located. This caused suspicion among us. At the storehouse I learned that they had not been asked to send any bread. Then I learned the reason. On the night of the 24th of December 1942, on Christmas eve when the S.S. were carousing, two Jewish girls and two Jewish boys and three Ukrainians who were standing guard cut through the wire of the 3rd camp and left. Then the Germans shot all 300 Jews in the 3rd camp.
Sometime later, a rumor spread that Sobibor would be liquidated.
The Gas Chamber is Enlarged
However, the S.S. members knew that if they liquidated the camp, they would have to go to the front. They traveled to Lublin, Majdanek, and persuaded [their superiors] there to enlarge the gas chambers. They would work harder. They worked with 10 Jewish masons from the Warsaw ghetto and rebuilt the gas chambers on a very large scale. The great hangman, Hitler, may his name be erased, himself came to see the enlarged slaughter house and, the day of his visit, they tested the gas chambers bringing 300 Jewish women from Lublin (this was in approximately January 1943). I had gone to take coal for the kitchen; the automobiles were standing not far from the pile of coal. I heard shouting:
|Perele Strassberg (David Hirsch's daughter and Pesah Lipkind's wife) shouted to Herschl Zuckerman at the Sobibor Camp, but he did not dare answer her. She was gassed there.)|
This was about 50 meters [about 164 feet] from the spot where I stood. I slowly raised my head; I saw that in one of the autos was Dovid Hersh's [daughter] Perele (Pesakh Lifskind's wife). I could not help her with anything. If I had answered her or if I went to her, I immediately would also have been taken to the gas chamber. I lowered my head, gnashed my teeth and pretended I did not hear anything.
Himmler Gives Medals
When they showed the experiment with the 300 women in the new gas chamber to the hangman [Heinrich] Himmler, he gave them awards.
It was firmly decided in our group to search for something to do at any cost to free ourselves and, even if not, at least not to go like sheep to the slaughter. There was a quiet but difficult struggle among our group. The tailors and the shoemakers did not want to hear of any uprising. It was dangerous in general to speak because there was a case when one, a certain Yosl Khohen, had turned to a Ukrainian and asked him:
You once said that we would do something, what are you waiting for?
Immediately at the next roll call we called out to him and asked:
Who wants to be saved from the camp?
He answered: A Hollander (meanwhile, 70 Dutch Jews had come among the workers); all 70 Dutch Jews had been taken to the third camp. There also was the chance of escaping, when they were taking 40 Jews to work outside the camp and one Ukrainian had led two Jews to the nearest village to bring water for them. The two Jews had gotten the Ukrainian drunk in the village and returning they killed the Ukrainian and escaped. When the Germans saw that the return of the two Jews and the Ukrainian was taking too long, they wanted to take the remaining 38 Jews and return to the camp. The 38 Jews knew what awaited them at the camp. They began to escape. Eleven escaped; the rest returned to the camp. We were all alerted [to the danger] and another 10 Jews were shot as a punishment.
There also was a case where on a dark night, during a heavy downpour, two Jews dug under the [barbed] wire and left. Ten Jews again were shot as a punishment. The guard was strengthened.
An Underground Tunnel
I have already mentioned that they once shot all 300 Jews in camp 3. The bandits chose 300 other Jews for their spots, only the intelligentsia doctors, engineers and so on. As it turned out, the intelligentsia
could more easily come to an understanding among themselves than the previous physical laborers. And they created an underground tunnel. It required much knowledge, work, caution and mainly, patience. As it turned out, they had all of this. When they were almost finished, a kapo [prisoner assigned to various camp duties], a German Jew, revealed everything and they all were annihilated.
One day a train of well-dressed Jews was brought. Not everyone was taken off the train at once. Only 30-40 at a time. Later, when the clothing arrived at camp 2, the Jewish workers found four revolvers and a note in the pockets on which was written:
Brother Jews! Remember and do not let yourselves be misled by the bandits! We are coming from the Belzec extermination camp. Ten of thousands of Jews were annihilated there. The beasts liquidated everything there and then even planted a young forest on the spot.
Jews from Russia
This had an effect on all those who thought they would avoid [this fate]. At the same time Amalek [anti-Semites] brought a transport of Jews from Russia and they chose 80 men and women from the transport (there always were 125 women in the camp). These were powerful men. When they learned this, they said:
We will not wait for death. We must do something.
There were several very capable people among them who coolly and calmly began to contemplate and consider all plans that it could possibly be carried out.
As I have already mentioned above, there were various attempts to free ourselves, some successful, but mainly failures because the organizing of such a thing in the extermination camp, Sobibor, demanded the maximum secrecy. The smallest defect could destroy everything. We learned much from the earlier tests. Firstly, many people could not know of it, as few as possible. Secondly, we had to take into consideration that if, God forbid, we failed, we would be liquidating all 600 Jews who were in the camp. Thirdly, that all of those who did not know until literally the last minute, would be able to take part because they would not have a second chance. One of the above-mentioned Russian Jews, his name was Sasha, a former lieutenant in the Russian Army, a very capable man, worked out the plan with us. The organizing group consisted of 10 men, one-hundred percent trustworthy men. The meeting place was with us in the kitchen, in camp number 1. I had contact with the kapos. They sent the man whom I asked them to send to me in the kitchen to peel potatoes. First of all, we considered if
an attack on the weapons storehouse was possible. When it was realized that this would not succeed, it was decided it must begin not with any armed weapons; there should not be any shooting so that an alarm would not immediately be raised because more than 30 S.S. bandits as well as 150 Ukrainian assassins were located in the camp. An open struggle with them would begin immediately, not having the least chance of emerging alive from the fight. Understand, we wanted to save ourselves, to escape; if this was not successful, at least not being burned as a sheep in the gas chamber, but to fall with the feeling that we had tried to do something against the beasts. We decided on one thing:
We no longer wanted to live like this! Either kill the bandits and free ourselves or fall in the struggle as proud Jews.
The Uprising in the Camp Sukkous 5703 (1943)
We knew the 30 S.S. members. The plan was that when 10 of the terrible beasts were on furlough, we would carry this out. We particularly had to wait for when the frightening S.S. man Gustav Wagner would not be here. The day came and he left with nine other S.S. members for two weeks of furlough. We had a discussion and decided:
Now or never!
It was erev [the eve of] Sukkous [Feast of Tabernacles] 5703 [the 14th of October 1943]. Each one of we 10 had to choose five or six men. And to tell them what was being prepared so that they would be ready. We calculated that the fight would begin at four o'clock in the afternoon so we would have the darkness of night. After a long effort, a Berlin Jew named Schwartz also was brought in. He was an electrical mechanic and directed the elektrownie [power plants] that illuminated the camp. He had to disconnect the camp illumination immediately after receiving a signal the we had killed the first bandit. In all the workshops and in the storerooms and at chopping wood, where there were workers (and all of them were Jews), it was first planned that when it came to an S.S. man his mouth would be covered and efforts would be made with all of our strength to kill him and keep him quiet. Efforts would be made to hide his carcass and erase the traces. Reserve posts were also created. Sharp knives and axes had previously been well prepared. The watchword for the 70-80 people was: to give the lips a wipe with the tongue.
It was the first day of Sukkous [Feast of Tabernacles], 5703, 1943. The conspiracy came at the rollcall at three in the afternoon and everyone stood at their posts. In the tailoring workshop, where only a few S.S. people worked, there worked 10 Jewish tailors, among them four brothers from Warsaw (I have forgotten their names); they sent the youngest brother to call the head of the camp, Obersturmführer [Senior storm leader] [Johann] Niemann, who was having a suit of clothes made. He was called to have the suit measured, so it would be
ready for his next furlough. He came riding on his white horse. When he dismounted his horse and entered the workshop, the same young man who had called him led the horse back to the stall so it would not stand here and draw attention from the rest of the Germans.
We Kill Germans
When the chief of the camp entered the workshop, he took off his jacket and his belt with the revolver. At that moment, when he put his hand [in the sleeve] to try on the new jacket, he received an axe in his skull from behind and another one gave him a knife in the front. We immediately wrapped the carcass in a bedspread and moved it under a bed (here I will mention that the women did not know of this, except for one woman, also from the Russian Jews. When the woman gave the news that the chief already was dead, everyone knew that there was no turning back because now the lives of all the Jews had no value and we must fight. The telephone lines were cut and the light were turned off. It was a workshop mixed with tailoring and shoemaking 10 Jews worked there; worked only for the Ukrainians. From there, they sent for the S.S. man who was the leader of the Ukrainians to come to be fitted for the pair of boots that were being made for him. He came with his aide, a Ukrainian, and they both were lain down in the same way. Shmuel Flajszheker, the leader of the shoemaking workshop, saw the leader of the gassing at the 3rd camp; he called him in on the pretext that he made a fine pair of boots for the S.S. man and they do not fit him and that they would certainly fit him if he only could try them on. He tried them on and we immediately liquidated him.
There was a general storehouse in camp number 2 where four Jews worked. And an S.S. man passed by there. Someone came out to him with a hand full of gold pieces and turned to him saying that they had found an entire pile of these pieces; he should enter and take care of them. And they immediately laid him down.
In the same camp number 2, there was a storehouse for sorting the clothes of the victims. One hundred and twenty-five Jews worked there. The piles of clothing were gigantic. An S.S. man oversaw [the work] there. They [the Jewish workers] searched for the most beautiful suit and suggested that he try it on. They fitted it for him and quickly choked him. They hid him among the victims' clothing.
Between camp number 1 and camp number 2 lay a high stack of sawdust. Jews worked with wood there. An S.S. man passed by and they immediately made him cold and hid him in the sawdust.
An S.S. man walked by near a barrack,
they deluded him with a pretext and finished him.
In such a manner, in the course of 45 minutes, from 4 to 4:45 in the afternoon, 17 Nazi murderers fell without one shot, without one shout. Although there no longer was any electricity in the camp, we all, those taking part, were truly electrified. We had arisen like the resurrection of the dead. Every one of us was 10 times stronger than they actually were. It was as if we had obtained wings.
There was a general roll call of all 600 Jews in the camp every day at five o'clock in the afternoon. This time, when the Jews began to assemble, we all immediately announced:
Jews, you should know that this is no roll call, but this is an uprising! Save yourself in any way you can!
We all went to the side where the guards were because there were no mines placed there. As well as no water. Our weapons consisted of the 17 revolvers that we had taken from the murdered bandits and two rifles. However, this was too weak against the guards' machine guns. But there was no other choice, but to rise against them. There was great chaos, which helped us a great deal because the Ukrainian guards became confused; they could not determine what had happened here and during the turmoil a boy appeared with salt in his hand to pour into the eyes of an S.S. man and when, with his eyes closed, he [the S.S. man] became confused, he [the boy] strangled him and took his revolver.
Of 600 Jews 300 Fell
The general darkness also helped us. With axes in our hands, we cut through the wires near the guards and ran. The shooting was even heavier. Victims fell with each step. Of the 600 Jews, more than 300 emerged alive. Running the entire night, in the morning we were not far enough from the Sobibor annihilation camp.
The Sobibor gas chamber cut short the lives of more than 900,000 Jews. Not more than 35 Jews remained alive after the uprising. Although, after escaping from the camp into the forests, we were more than 300 Jews. The Poles, in the forests and villages killed the Jews who had saved themselves to have the pants and boots of these Jews. I and my son Josef left in the direction of Kurow and Markuszow. We wandered around in the forests and fields for three months, slept in the fields of torpiskes [peat bogs] during the cold nights, sometimes in the forests, in the area of Markuszow and Lewertow. During the month of November, I learned that Chaim Pesakh and his wife and two children were hidden in a pit in a grove between Klode, Zastow and Berlig. We reached them on a morning and
crawled into them in the pit in a careful way. In the pit, we also met Manes Rochelsman and a boy, Ayzik the tailor's son and a daughter (lived not far from Manes Rochelsman and Yakov the butcher). We were filled with joy and sobbed. I sat with them for a day and we left from there to find a similar pit somewhere. I found one with a Płonki peasant near Kurow (his name was Vieiak. We arrived at the Christian's in December. I shortly learned that Chaim Pesakh and his family and those who were with him in the pit had all been murdered. This was done by young gentile men from the area.
Haim Pesach Gaberman and his wife Hendele and child,
murdered in a pit by Poles
Only a Few Remained of the 300
This depressed me greatly. We both sat in the pit in Płonki until the end of May 1944, when the same bandit-like gentiles learned of us. With guns they entered the barn in which the pit we were in was located to remove us from the pit. They pointed the revolvers at me and asked who was keeping me there. They told us not to return to the pit because it was too close to the Germans who were quartered in the Kurow buildings. Therefore, they did not want to do any shooting because this also threatened something bad for the Christian with whom we were staying. The same for the neighbors. However, the bandits came again at night several hours later to remove us from the pit and to lead us into the Bronice forest to shoot us there. There they would not harm any peasant. However, during the time when they had left us,
we had quietly removed ourselves from the pit and entered the barn. From there, we saw that in the front of the cellar, in the gate closest to the front of the barn, two bandits were standing with bicycles and weapons in their hands. We both went out through the back gate of the barn and left for the Wolier Forest. My son decided to fight with against the enemy rather than wait for death in a pit. He joined a partisan group, fought near the Wolier Forest, near Lewertow, where the great struggle with the German murderers took place and also with the Polish Akowces [members of the AK Armia Krajowa] (who murdered Jews, Germans and Russians). I connected with the partisan group to learn something about my son. I
myself visited the fields, forests and sometimes the villages around Markuszow and Kurow, Lublin, dressed as a peasant, and like them, I grew a long moustache. I looked like a real Pole and thus I successfully disguised myself as a Christian to await the day when the Russians liberated Lublin and Kurow and then I left for Lewertow, searching for my son. We met in Lublin. We lived with Hersh Kotlasz and his family and with Shmuel Hanisman. Later we left for Lodz, from Lodz to Germany, Stuttgart, and from there, to America.
|Josef Zukerman, after escaping from Sobibor, went to the forests as a partisan; his father Herschel, after escaping from Sobibor, hid in the fields and forests|
and Keyle Ruchl (she lives in Tel Aviv) in the Jewish Brigade
in the Jewish Brigade
in Ander's Army in the Soviet Union)
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