by S. Shiloh
Translated by Sara Mages
On one of the spring days of 1944, when the Red Army advanced towards the Vistula River, I went to see Lutsk - its houses, streets and gardens, which had turned into a cemetery for me. Among others, I also visited within of the walls of my school which stands on the bank of the Styr River.
It was at the late hours of the morning. I stood in front of the building and the sound of my friends' laughter, and their joyful screams, rang in my ears. Here I hear Musik, Leon, Avraham, Mushka, Itzel, Sheindele, Esterka, Yanda, Bracha, Pnina and more and more... I listen to them and see them one by one - not clearly, but blurry like through a window pane that got wet in the rain, like through a thin layer of tears... It was a spring day - that bitter day that I will remember forever - when I wanted to walk among ruins and graves. I entered the classroom. The tables and benches were still standing rows by rows. On the legs of the tables were the names that we engraved together with a nail. Here is written: Shlomo Sofer, Chaim Musik, Avraham Tesler, and more and more. I moved from bench to bench, I touched them, and brought up in my memory the images and names of all the children. I sat on one of the benches that used to be my place. I lowered my head and cried to relieve my heart. I cried... and I did not know if I was crying for my friends who were, and are no longer, or for my terrible loneliness.
* * *
I did not meet all of them in the ghetto. We were scattered and distant from each other. One - lost his father and mother, and he is an orphan at the mercy of the cruel sky. The second - after his father's death, he took upon himself the livelihood of the family. The third - was shot while trying to cross the ghetto line. And so, each and every one and his terrible fate, and we were only 12-13 years old at the time.
* * *
Liovka - I don't remember his surname. At school we called him Liovka and on the street - Velvele. They were two brothers in the family: Liovka and Yosele. Yosele - a fat boy, retarded with a speech impediment. Liovka - a smart, hardworking and amazingly talented boy. It was said that the adults liked to talk with him, and we, his friends, envied him.
And suddenly, on a cloudy autumn day, without any prior warning, the gendarmes knocked on the doors of the city's Jews, ordered everyone to vacate the houses within half an hour and go to the quarter that was designated especially for Jews. Anyone found outside the ghetto after this hour will be killed. Thirteen year-old Liovka, the living spirit in his family and their beloved, grabs everything necessary for existence, loads the heaviest on his back and transports to the ghetto. And before his shocked parents could move from the place, he is home for the second time and, once again, grabs everything he can lay his hands on. Yes, to take as much as possible - because our existence will depend on it. Liovka ran to his home also for the third time, loaded a large package and walked to the ghetto without knowing that he was already late. Near the ghetto, right across the street and in front of Jews and gentiles standing on both sides of the street, he was ordered to stand and put the package down. A Ukrainian policeman aims his rifle at him. Liovka stands quietly and looks into the muzzle of the rifle. And suddenly: bang!! Liovka did not take a single step, did not make a sound, shook his head and collapsed. We, his friends on the street, gathered the next day - we sat and were silent. Yes, in one day, we became adults. They kill us too, the 12-13 year olds! Secretly in our hearts we were proud of it.
* * *
Chaim Musik - the best math student in the whole school. His father was our Hebrew teacher. We lived in the same street in the ghetto. We met almost every day. His mother was the only breadwinner and hunger prevailed at home. Yes, more than once I ate in his presence and saw the hunger reflected in his eyes. But he was too proud. No, he used to say, I just ate. One day music broke. He grabbed a slice of bread from me, and began to bite down on it with frenzy bites as tears rolling down his cheeks. At that time we sat in the attic and composed the newspaper of the Jewish Legion that we, the children, published. And then, with tears choking his throat, and in an outburst of rage, he brought out what was bothering his heart: you will see... one day I will get up and kill my father! ...kind of good-for-nothing! Even before the war he barely earned a living... he always owed money... and the house was never ours! All the troubles in the family are because of him! He is not even able to bring home one slice of bread. I hate my father! This filth! He shoud go to hell! Why did he bring me into the world?! He should go... go... go... and leave us alone. I wish he would die!!! I sat stunned and speechless.
After a while, his older brother told me that one night Musik attacked his father and began to strangle him, and only thanks to his mother's crying and begging, he let go of him. Musik, like hundreds of other children, was hungry in the ghetto to the point of delirium, to the point of insanity, and only death, which he did not want so much, redeemed him from his sufferings.
* * *
Reuven - his father was a poor carpenter and they did not have property. One day I was walking down the street in the ghetto and saw the cart of Chevra Kadisha, loaded with the dead, stopping in front of their apartment. Two Jews took out the body of Reuven's father from the house and turned it into the high sided cart. The cart moved and Reuven, his two younger brothers and his sobbing mother, remained standing in the street. The children did not cry. With swollen and stiff faces they stood and looked after the moving cart. And he, 13-year-old Reuven - from now the head of the family and fulfills
the duty assigned to him. I did not approach him. I stood on the sidelines and saw how he took his mother's hand and led her to their apartment, as his two younger brothers, barefoot and bloated from hunger, trailed behind them.
* * *
Sheindele Schwarzenberg - the best student in the class. We, all the boys, loved her and more than once we stopped talking to each other because of her. I was once bullied by my friends for many weeks because I was blessed to sit next to her and hold her hand.
One day - it was in the last months of the ghetto - I suddenly noticed two small figures walking towards me with large baskets of bread in their hands. A shiver passed through my body. It was Ester Goldberg and Sheindele, whom I had not seen since the outbreak of the war. We looked into each other's eyes. The eyes glistened with tears and... we kept walking, each on his way. Not a word! Nothing! The heart was beating strongly and the eyes were covered with moisture. Yes, this is my beloved Sheindele, small, wrinkled, dressed in worn clothes and carrying a basket of bread. Since then I have seen her every day passing through the street, once or twice, carrying bread.
I did not dare to approach her. Yes, on the shoulders of this gentle girl fell the burden of providing for her family, for every 15-20 loaves of bread she transported from Hnidava to the center of the ghetto, she earned one loaf of bread.
In time, when we left the cellar to look for food in the empty and broken-in houses, I happened to come to her house. Pictures were thrown on the floor and from one of the pictures looked at me, a beautiful face with blue eyes - the face of Sheindele who was no longer alive.
* * *
Avraham Tesler - he, and his younger brother, managed to slip past the chain of guards and escape to the forest. In the ghetto we met often for the purpose of processing the revenge plans on the Germans. We once came up with a plan and prepared for it in all seriousness: if an Aktion will come on our ghetto, we, all the children, will gather the entire commando (Jewish Legion) and walk from house to house to inform - as if by the order of the Judenrat, about the burning of the houses. We also planned an escape to the forest and the establishment of a partisan detachment. Of course, these were dreams that, because of the young age of the dreamers, could not come true at all.
The two brothers managed to hide in the forests and in the villages until close to the liberation of the area by the Red Army. For the most part they survived by stealing from the gentiles' yards. Two weeks before the liberation they were caught by the farmers and murdered.
* * *
Unknown girl 4-5 years old - after the liquidation of the second ghetto, and my escape from the Lubart fortress, I hid in a stable that belonged to my father's gentile acquaintance - inside the hay in the attic. Of course, he didn't know about it. The day after I snuck there I heard a whisper from the street. I was sure that these were searches for Jews. I dashed to the wall, and through the crack I saw about ten women walking quickly in one direction as they were holding food in their hands. Suddenly, a Ukrainian policeman appeared from the other side of the road riding a bicycle. The women stopped and the policeman got off his bicycle. Only then I noticed the image of a girl about four years old with curly hair. She was holding an object wrapped in a kerchief in her hand - as she stepped back and mumbled something. Her eyes darted around as if asking for help. The policeman picked her up, put her on his bike and rode with her toward the main street. The next day, after I revealed myself to my acquaintance, his wife told me that when the girl saw the policeman she began to justify herself: nie jestem ¿ydowski - I am not Jewish... I am not Jewish... but the policeman laughed and took her with him
* * *
Sarale - my cousin. A one-year-old baby girl. But, the irony was: all the babies in the ghetto were incredibly beautiful and smart. Sarale was also beautiful, very beautiful. How I loved to play with her! We lived together in one room. She only had a mother. Zlata was her name, and she was my father's sister. Sarale no longer knew her father. He was conscripted into the Red Army and no one knew about his fate. Currently he lives in one of the cities of Argentina or Brazil.
Sarale really liked to go for a walk. The stifling air in the house was suffocating her and I, as stated, really liked to play with her. I grabbed her legs, stood her on her head, covered her with a blanket - and revealed her. I shook her in all directions as if she were a game ball, and each time she exposed her two little teeth, and a captivating bells laugh erupted from her mouth, how I loved her laugh! How I loved her, Sarale the little baby! She was the happiness of all the inhabitants of the house. She was always laughing! And her laughter infected us all!
I saw her for the last time on Aktion day. All of us marched together to the center of the ghetto, Sarale in her mother's arms. We all had sad faces, and Sarale's face was also sad she looked at us with her beautiful eyes and she was full of pity, as if she knew where we were marching. The soft baby heart felt everything... she just did not cry, she was quite. My uncle, Aaron, cried as he planted goodbye kisses on her hands and soft face. We separated... each to a different hiding place, and she, Sarale, in her mother's arms, looked after us sadly, with an innocent faces, as if she was asking, why are you leaving me?
Yes, we walked away from her without turning our heads. And the Germans murdered her, murdered her in her mother's arms! O God of vengeance, Where are you?
Kibbutz Tze'elim, 1960
by Y. Nimtzowitz, Israel
Translated by Sara Mages
In decades, when a historian will come and rummage through the archives of Yad Vashem in search of material about the Holocaust that befell the Jewish people in the first half of the twentieth century, he will surely stand, lingering and amazed, in front of the wall of silence that surrounded the entire enlightened world during the years of mass murder.
While flipping through the blood-soaked book of this history, the reader will discover a handful of glowing pages that illuminate the darkness of those days. He will read heart-warming stories about outstanding people, the Righteous Among the Nations, who sacrificed their lives to save Jews. These gentiles are entitled to the title of saints in the Jewish history - and in those days I met one of them.
Witold Fomienko is not one of the well-known names, but the survivors of Lutsk Ghetto are excited to hear this name. Ah, they say, you mean the father of the Jews of Lutsk?
It was difficult to predict from Witold's beginnings how his personality would develop. He was a handsome shaigetz who happened to be in the Jewish street in his city, Warsaw, and befriended the Jewish children there. When his father, the conductor of the military orchestra, moved to the city of Lutsk, Witold moved with him and transferred to his new place of residence the same disregard for the division between a Jew and a gentile.
In Lutsk, Witold, like his father, was an orchestra conductor (of the firefighters), and also gave music lessons, mostly to Jewish students. The Jewish youth in Lutsk saw Witold as one of them, and invited him to all their parties. He spoke Yiddish fluently and was only different from the Jews in his appearance.
He felt at home in their company, and in a short time also knew how to compose music in a Jewish-folk style. Once, he was introduced before the Stolin Rebbe, R' Yisrael Perlow, and on this occasion Witold presented the Rebbe his own Hasidic work. This piece quickly became a very popular song in the Hassidic rebbes courts in Poland.
Since his musical occupation did not take up all the hours of his day, he opened a barbershop in collaboration with the Jewish barber, Sofer. In this way Witold integrated into the life of the city's Jews.
And suddenly the war broke out. As long as the Russians ruled Lutsk everything was fine, but, as soon as the nailed boots of the German soldier set foot in the city, the foundations of the daily life were shaken. The Jews were concentrated in the ghetto and the extermination process began.
|W. Fomienko with one of his Jewish friends|
Witold Fomienko saw all this and began to nurture an intense hatred for the Germans. He came to the decision to save as many Jews as he could. As for those he will not be able to save, he will at least try to ease their suffering.
Witold continued to run his barber shop, which was frequented by German soldiers. The customers trusted him and he used his connections with them for the benefit of the Jews he adopted. He received a special permit to enter and leave the ghetto, and smuggled in medicine and food.
Gradually, and at mortal danger, he managed to smuggle eight Jews out of the ghetto and hid them in his house. Among others he saved the lives of two young women, Eugenia and Miriam Fridbaum, and their brother Yisrael. After the war Eugenia married Witold while her sister started a family and settled in Jerusalem. The brother also immigrated to Israel and lives in Migdal Ashkelon. Those who also survived with Witold's help: the young woman, Reizele Greenshpon, who lives in Canada and sends Witold packages and letters. Mieczys³aw Rednick also a resident of Canada, Witold Goldenberg (currently a policeman in Haifa), Bilek Kroyn and Rachel Zafran.
On 22 August 1942, Lutsk Ghetto was liquidated with its 22,500 Jews, and the city of Lutsk became Judenrein. Since Witold was unable to save more souls, he devoted himself to the existence of people in his home. He worked day and night so that he could provide for them.
He told his mother, a devout Christian, that he was doing this because the survivors had promised him to convert to Christianity. His promise motivated his mother to assist him in disguising the Jewish young women who walked with her to the church bearing large crosses around their necks.
More than once the Germans suspected his hectic lifestyle, and his life was put in danger. Several times he was taken for questioning by the Gestapo, but he passed these tests and moved his survivors from address to address, recruiting friends and acquaintances to his operations. In order to raise the spirits of the survivors, he sat with them at night, singing
Jewish songs that he composed and whose content told of the happiness expected for everyone after the war.
The war ended. Life in Europe returned to a normal way of life, but not the life of .Witold and his survivors. The whole group decided to leave Lutsk, the city of slaughter, and moved to Wroclaw, where the survivors of the Polish Jewry were gathered.
Witold married Eugenia and opened a barbershop in Wroclaw where their only son, Merik, was born. Two years ago, with the opening of Poland's gates to its Jews,
Witold and his wife also decided to immigrate to Israel - and settled in Migdal Ashkelon.
However, the story about Witold Fomienko is not over. Fate was very cruel to him from the day he arrived in Israel. He received a small two-room apartment - in Shikun HaRakevet - without electricity and without a bathroom (the bathrooms were in the yard).
A few months after his arrival in Israel, Witold became ill with paralysis and his speech was impaired. For over a year and a half Witold was confined to his bed and despite all the efforts of the doctors - he has not recovered yet.
I sat by his bed and felt how he wanted to talk to me, to pour out his heart to me, and tell me about his experiences - but only his eyes spoke and his wife spoke for him. Eugenia was the anchor connecting between him and life, and it is difficult to describe in words her dedication and sacrifice.
Merik, their only son, was placed with the help of Aliyat Hano'ar in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai. He excels in his studies and satisfies his parents. We are proud of the education he receives in the kibbutz, says Eugenia, but Witold and I miss him so much.
During his stay in Lutsk Witold wrote a secret diary, which was given after the war to the committee of the former residents of the city. It was an enterprise no less important than rescuing Jews. It is worth noting that the committee of the former residents of Lutsk, led by Alexander Kotliar, recognizes and cherishes the great human work of Witold Fomienko. Mr. Kotliar did not rest in his struggle to improve the living conditions of Witold in Israel, and now he makes sure that Witold would receive from the organization of former residents of Lutsk a pension of 75 Israeli pounds per month.
The mayor of Migdal Ashkelon, Mr. Tagger, granted him a license for a store in a central location in Afridar, and the Jewish Agency for Israel, together with Malben, the Association of Polish Expatriates, and The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, cooperate in the building the store and the purchasing of the merchandise.
The problem is that matters are not moving fast enough. It is desirable to speed up the relief operation since the Fomienko family is now living in unbearably difficult conditions. They hope that tomorrow will be better.
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