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[Page 527]

My Experiences During the Occupation[a][1]

by Dr. Leon Frim[i] of Boston

Translated by Jerrold Landau


One a June morning in 1941, we heard artillery shooting throughout the city. Then, throughout a week, we hid in various cellars, depending on the direction of the shooting of the German artillery. With the general nervousness and panic, Rabbi Mieses, with whom we were often together in the same hiding place, demonstrated a unique calmness and level–headedness. Then, the Soviet soldiers and their officers began to retreat eastward. One morning, we learned that the Germans were in town.

Knowing that the men were in great danger, my wife placed me in the Jewish Hospital, with the agreement of the director Dr. Diamant. There, my wife and son visited me twice daily as a “patient.” Other such “patients” included Dr. Oberhard and Dr. Mark. Dr. Eisner and Dr. Steinhardt acted as physicians. According to various rumors, remaining there was insecure. Therefore, I returned to my dwelling. In the meantime, the Judenrat was organized, headed by Ignacy Duldig.



Then, various edicts were issued, regarding wearing the Magen David insignia, and turning in radio apparatuses, fur coats, etc. Since the Jews spoke German, they were almost exclusively active in registering the Przemyśl population. When I finished my job in the Podzamcze quarter, I was summoned to the county office (starostwo). I was ordered by an officer, whose name I do not recall, to set up an office for the administration of confiscated houses, according to the Soviet model. I explained to him that I was willing to do this, but under the leadership of a Ukrainian (because of my Magen David insignia). However, the German officer curtly replied that he gave the management of the office specifically to me. By order, with the aim of conserving bookkeepers and officers, I created a plan in which the house managers would fill in forms and would also be responsible for the bookkeeping.

There were 853 houses. I recruited 63 house managers, 15 of whom were Jewish. I determined the rent for the houses and the necessary repairs and made sure the rent was paid in a timely manner to the starostwo.



Then, rumors circulated that they would be creating a ghetto. My sister, Mrs. Strudler, rented an apartment on Garbarze, to which she moved with her husband

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and daughter, as well as with my father and youngest sister Józefa, so as not to be uprooted when the ghetto would be created. My father continued to maintain his workshop on Mickiewicza St.

In January 1942, my niece (today – Nurit Kamieniecka in Givatayim) ran into my office, saying “Uncle, grandfather has died!” He was 76 years old, and died in his sleep. His coffin was carried on a low farmer's cart, led by horses. He was accompanied by my brother Adolf, my sister Mrs. Strudler, my younger sister, my wife, my son, and me. Together, we were six, even though only five were permitted. Others reached the cemetery through various alleyways. An era of the Frim family had drawn to a close.



My home office was liquidated when the ghetto was established. My 15 Jewish officers were dismissed. I managed to find work in a building on Dworskiego St., and my son was employed as a sign painter in the army offices, not far from me.

I was summoned to the Judenrat (then on Czarnieckiego Street) in July, 1942, and informed there would be an aktion the next day. However, official stamps had been obtained for my wife and myself from the so–called Jewish Welfare Office.” For my son, a stamp was obtained from artisans guild, which was managed by my brother–in–law, Strudler. It is interesting to note that he neglected to provide a stamp for himself, his wife and his daughter, who were therefore forced to live in hiding from then onwards.

My brother Adolf, who did not know that he also had a stamp, hid in town with his son. My younger sister (who married to Prof. Riemer[2] in the ghetto) was saved from the aktion because she worked in the ghetto kitchen.



On the day of the aktion, at the place which had once been a brick kiln, the unfortunate ones were gathered and informed that they were being sent to Biała Podlaska, where they would work under the supervision of the German police.

Gestapo officers roamed the ghetto streets. At that time, my brother's mother–in–law Mrs. Szwarc, and many others committed suicide. We were afraid to return to our dwellings, so we wandered around in the Judenrat chambers. After nightfall, someone whispered that the ghetto was empty and that the Gestapo had left. (As well, those who had been gathered in the deportation place were also not there.) We returned fearfully to our houses.

A few days later, the Gestapo summoned the Judenrat head Duldig, young Rechter, Dr. Dawid Landau and the engineer Kreisler, and shot them all. Every day we were lead in groups to our places of work and returned to the ghetto at night.

In November 1942, we heard that all the laborers would be concentrated in the barracks, and everyone else would be deported. Without confirming the rumors,

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my son and I smuggled my wife into a group that was being led into town. We hid there until evening. After work, when the sun had set, we were led into the barracks in Przekopana[3]. My sister, Mrs. Strudler, and her daughter managed to leave Przemyśl with Aryan papers. A Polish woman, the friend of an apprentice of my father, had to come to the ghetto to take my younger sister out. We later learned that she returned to the ghetto gate. She said that she did not want to abandon the two orphans that her husband was taking care of. Everyone, apart from Riemer, was killed at Bełżec.



One day, a few days after we were placed in the barracks, when we returned from work, I was told that my wife and other women had been returned to the ghetto. The next day, my son managed to leave his work group at the risk of his life and transfer his mother to the place where I was working. After 48 hours of suffering, hiding in cellars of strangers, she arrived in Lemberg (Lwów), where my son and I were later supposed to meet her. However, three weeks later she was denounced and killed. After that, I was moved from the barracks to the workers' ghetto. I lived in the kitchen of Mrs. Eisler and her son. At that time, Eng. Gottlieb and Dr. Herszdorfer died of typhus. In the meantime, I was sent to work at the library, under the management of Dr. Matityahu Mieses. I got to know him well, and admired him. We became friends. He became the central figure, thanks to his personality, knowledge and charm. The entire Jewish intelligentsia from that part of the ghetto gathered around him. Even Dr. Morgenstern the skeptic became one of his disciples. I was soon transferred to work in the laundry, where I operated one of the washing machines. However, I became ill with typhus, and my friend, Dr. Eisner, took me to the hospital in the non–workers' ghetto. When I regained consciousness (I was treated by Dr. Schattner and Dr. Mayer) after about three weeks, Dr. Eisner released me from the hospital. He said that the next day, a committee would be visiting the hospital, and all the workers at the laundry would have to demonstrate their work capabilities. I dragged myself to the laundry the next day – and G–d granted me strength at the critical moment… When I was called in front of the committee, I ran courageously to them, and passed the examination.

I must mention that when I was ill, my son snuck in to the hospital from the Przekopana Camp several times, and brought me sugar, fruit and other good things. As he later told me, he was given everything by Dr. Schattner's wife.



After the dismantling of the camp at Przekopana, my son and I lived in the kitchen together with others. I had to hide him, so that he would not be transferred to the non–workers' ghetto, like many others. He ate breakfast with me in the ghetto kitchen,

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which was managed by Eng. Zak. I brought him lunch from the kitchen. One morning while eating breakfast, we heard a shot. This was Mrs. Eisler, who lived with us in the kitchen, apparently because she tried to sell something by the ghetto fence.

One day, when I returned home, my son was gone. I learned from a Jewish policeman that he had been taken together with the Przekopana group and lead to the ghetto of non–workers. I immediately ran there in desperation, and met up with the group into which my frightened and resigned son had been taken. I declared to the commandant of the group, an S.S. soldier, that there had been a mistake, because my son had been accepted to work at the locksmith's. I was relying on Dr. Kronberg, who immediately came out of the workshop and confirmed my words, managing to take him out of the group.

In October 1943, my brother Adolf suddenly appeared with his son, after having hidden for six months in the town. I urged them to shave his heads, so they would look like everyone else in that section of the ghetto, and they would not look different than the workers, to which I had succeeded in including them. However, he refused.



On the night of the 1st to the 2nd of September, Mr. Strudler's nephew, young Orenstein, who was a policeman in the ghetto, told us in a very agitated state that something was about to transpire in the ghetto. My brother and his son ran to the ghetto gates, but the ghetto was already surrounded. Groups of people who did not know what to do were wandering on the streets. Eisner advised me to go to work as usual. At one point, I noticed that Astel, who had previously been sick, had died. I advised my brother that he and his son should go to the laundry with me, but he refused. They both went into the cellar of the house in which we lived. We heard in the laundry that the residents of the non–workers' ghetto had been deported to Auschwitz. After a sleepless night, we were also ordered to board the train carriages. Only a few remained, including Strudler, Eisner, Kronberg, and R. Schattner and his family. We were prodded into the wagons and they were sealed. We were accompanied by a guard of Estonians in S.S. uniforms. We were taken off the train at the Szebnie station in the middle of the night, and given over to Ukrainians in black uniforms. Our path lit by torches. We ran through the woods chased by these murderers, who were screaming “Los! Los! ” – the only German word they knew. On the way, we heard a shot. One of the murderers had shot Mrs. Astel, who had just recovered from an illness and did not have the strength to run with the group. We were taken into a camp, where we were all thoroughly searched. They took my ring as well as our coats. It was already morning when we were led to crowded, filthy barracks, where we fought for a bit of space. We could now see

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that Matityahu Mieses was with us. With great effort, I managed to obtain work at a painting factory run by Mr. Steinlauf from Kraków. There we found the painter Finkel from Przemyśl. In the evenings, we gathered around M. Mieses whenever possible, who always had some news from the newspapers



After a few weeks, a new transport of Jews from Przemyśl arrived, including Dr. Kries. He told us that he had jumped off the train in which my brother Adolf and his son Ryś [Henryk – ed.] were also being transported. He told me that Ryś had jumped before him. He knew that he had returned to Przemyśl and hid there. He told me that my brother had probably also jumped, but did not return. Dr. Kries had also returned to Przemyśl after jumping, but he was then deported to Szebnie with others.

The tailor, Salzberg, who was brought in this transport together with his wife, was shot to death after he had told them that he had no money, but they indeed discovered some money on him.

The guard who brought this transport took Mieses from us and returned him to Przemyśl.

According to the story told by Kries, after our transport out of Przemyśl, the Gestapo gathered all the people who had been hiding out in bunkers on September 3, placed them in a house, and set it on fire. They were all killed, including Pehmstein and his family.

One day at dawn some 3,500 of us men and women were taken out of the factories to the Błonie, and made to stand in rows. One of the Gestapo men walked through the rows looking at each person, asked some questions and decided whether they would remain or leave the row. Some 450 people were taken away, put on trucks, transferred to the nearby forest, and shot. Among those were Dr. Oberhard, the painter Meister and Dr. Mark's wife (one of the Aschkenazim)[4].

Very early in the morning one late autumn day, we were prodded out of the barracks to the Błonie. We saw that we were surrounded by Gestapo men and Ukrainians in black uniforms. Every few steps, there was a machinegun pointed at us. Our first thought was that our time had come. Many nerve wracking hours passed. Suddenly, word spread among the 3,000 people that 120 tradesmen must be chosen. They set up a table was set up around which sat a committee. I heard my name and nickname, I stepped forward and went with those whose names were called out. When I then heard another strange name, I meant to return to my son, who was holding out his hand. At that moment, his name was called too. We hugged strongly. We were among the group that was saved.

It was a terrible night when we were all taken away. Only we, the 120 who remained, wandered around the empty barracks like shadows. On

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the second day, my son and I were taken to the workshop of the painters, where we began work. Someone said that trains with the clothes of the deportees had arrived back from Auschwitz.



There were 14 of us working as painters in the workshop. One day a German Jew from the camp administration came into the factory and announced that a certain camp had asked for several workers, among them four painters, and that my son and I had been chosen. We were led along with some other people, including Lieber, to Pustków near Dębica. There we were kept far away from the “locals” because we had not yet been “disinfected.” The locals looked like shadows.

At night, we were locked into the barracks where we could wash up. We remained there until the morning. Then we were prodded to the disinfection station, eight kilometers away. The next day, we had to run some eight kilometers to the disinfection station. We were severely beaten along the way. One the way back, a young lad died from the beatings before the eyes of his father

The camp consisted of two large, wooden barracks, plus another one which contained various workshops. There were 400 people living there, only Jews, and they all worked for the army. They locked us in the barracks at night. My son and I slept on straw on the floor. There were two more layers of beds above us. The Kapo was a young man from Vienna, Poldi Waldhorn, and his deputy was a certain Strauber, who claimed that shortly before the war broke out he had learned how to paint in my late father's workshop, because he planned to immigrate to Israel. He tried to introduce some social life into the camp, and even managed twice during our eight–month stay in the camp to secretly organize a Jewish theater performance in the locked barracks.

Rumors began to circulate in July that the front was approaching. One early morning, they made us run to the railroad station, stuffed us into four cattle cars, and locked us in. It was literally hell. There were 100 people in one wagon, and the doors were opened only once per day. There was a terrible smell, no air, and it was hot. We took off all our clothes. This is how we were transported for two days.



The train stopped on the second night. When we screamed, the Gestapo man who accompanied us answered calmly:

“In a few moments, you will see what will happen to you.”

We realized that we were in Auschwitz, and with our last strength we yelled, “Murderer!” My son fainted…

The S.S. commander of the Pustków workshop, who had accompanied the transport, succeeded in persuading the Auschwitz commander that this was a transport of especially qualified tradesmen. An S.S. officer appeared and interrogated each one of us about our qualifications. I announced that I was a skilled painter and that my son was an exceptional assistant. We were taken

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aside. It was night. A bit of hope glimmered in us. In the dark, we could see that there were another few men among the chosen ones. Later, our group was sent to the bath.

In the morning, we were dressed and divided among the barracks, in which hundreds of unfortunate people resided. There were groups of Jews from France, Greece, and Corfu who requested a morsel of bread from us, the new arrivals. After two days of hunger, we were waiting for “lunch.” The nearby smoking chimneys made us forget our hunger and thirst.

We arrived in Auschwitz at the time that they were bringing in Hungarian Jews. We were there for two days. On the third day, they tattooed numbers on our left arms and led us in groups to different camps. My son and I, among others, were transferred to Gliwice. We were calmed. As head painter, I was ordered to decorate the four walls of the camp's large dining hall. My project to paint the four seasons was accepted. My son and Dembicer from Ropczyce were appointed as my assistants. We worked for three weeks.

Once a Gestapo man looked at our work. Seeing my son, he asked if he is my brother. I hastily responded that he was my son. He started to shout that this is a camp, not at a sanatorium. He ordered my son to be taken away. I ran to the commandant who appreciated my work. He calmed me and assured me that he would send my son to do painting work in the town, where they would be sent in groups every morning.

When the painting of the four walls ended, I had to work in a cellar, beneath the barracks. My task was to draw various orientation signs for the camp, and signs and numbers on the chests of each of the newcomers. The unofficial main job was to paint pictures (including portraits) of the commandment and several other people from the camp. I worked at that until 11:00 p.m. My son spent time with me in the workshop after returning at night from work with the group. We went to sleep close to midnight, so that my son would be ready to march with his group at 5:00 a.m. and I would go to my workshop.



We now began to hear American airplanes flying overhead, day and night. Each time this occurred, we were prodded to the cellars and locked in.

At dawn on January 19, 1945, we were awakened, each given a loaf of bread and informed that we should prepare for a long journey on foot. We marched through Gliwice. At night, we were in the snow outside the city. At our first stop, when my son and I searched for a place to rest for a while, somebody took the opportunity to steal

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our two loaves of bread – the only thing we had to eat. The next day, we reached a camp where we were given some “soup.”

The next day we were taken in an unknown direction. We walked day and half a night. Exhausted, we reached a camp in Blechhammer. Here too, we were given soup, A tall, brick wall surrounded the camp. In the corners, we saw turrets with guards. Unfortunate people, driven out of other places, as we were, were streaming into the camp. One of the camp residents told us that our commandant was seeking 50 strong men, capable of carrying heavy loads. I ran to the commandant. Even though he doubted if my son and I were fit for the hard work, he allowed us to join the group of porters. We had to unload the packs, crates and transported goods of the Germans who had driven us here. We had to carry or drag these things to far places. The rest of our Gliwice Camp, approximately 300 Jews, remained in Blechhammer. Many of them survived.

Frozen and hungry, we walked for three weeks, pushing or dragging the carts. Suffering from exhaustion, hunger, cold, and shootings, we marched through the Sudeten, avoiding cities such as Nysa, Frankenstein [Ząbkowice Śląskie – ed.], Świdnica, and Legnica and arrived in Saxony. We spent the nights in stables or huts that we found along the way, surrounded by guards. On occasion, we were given some cooked potatoes, or a bit of “soup” or “coffee.” Only once, when we passed by a castle (I have forgotten its name), did we find a place to lie on the floor, albeit with great crowding. In the morning, we were given a bit of real soup.

Our strength was waning from day to day. Those who could no longer walk were shot, and their bodies were thrown into nearby ditches. Many times, my son carried me with his last energy, telling me that I must keep up with the others, as they are watching me…



At the end of January, we reached the Gross–Rosen Camp in Saxony. We spent a night in roofless barracks, the floor covered with cold mud. The next day, we were placed in open platform wagons, where most of us had to remain standing. We traveled for four days, with no food or sleep. We quenched our thirst by eating snow off each other's clothes. That is how we reached Buchenwald. From among the Przemyślers, aside from my son and me, there was the shoemaker Zimmerman from Słowackiego Street. When we were unloaded for the night, we saw many frozen corpses remained on the platforms. We were kept at the gates of the camp for almost a whole night. Even after the gates were opened the next day and we entered the camp, we spent five whole days and nights out in the open. We were told that we had to be disinfected, then they would put us in the barracks. However, there was a lack of water at that time. When we were finally disinfected,

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our group was placed into a wooden barracks filled with skeletal people. We barely found any room on the third level of planks. There two, we had to fight our neighbors for a bit of space for my son and me.

On the second day, after standing for three hours in the frost (in threadbare, ripped shirts and pants), we were placed before a medical committee. My son and I were declared unfit for labor. From then on, we lay in the barracks with the others who shared the same fate. Every day at 3:00 p.m. there was a roll call. Frozen and exhausted, we were forced to stand in rows until 6:00 p.m. By the light of a lantern, an S.S. man would count us and distribute ration coupons for the next day's “lunch.” Apart from that, we lay motionless on the planks of wood, unable to move. My son began to complain of pains in the right side of his chest, and at my request he was given a physician's exemption from the roll call. Fever overtook him, and he became unrecognizable. This lasted for a day or two. We were taken to the barracks for invalids, not far from the crematorium. After a night of high fever, my son, on doctor's orders (I recall, a Greek Jew), was transferred to the Revier. Before he left, we said that if we cannot find each other again after the “confusion” each of us must write to our cousin Dr. Dora Zipper–Rappaport or to the friend of my wife's family, the judge Dr. Korngreen in Tel Aviv or Haifa.

I barely dragged myself to the door. He turned to me – and this was the last time that we saw each other…



In the mornings, I dragged myself to the door where the block leader stood (a Polish prisoner) and asked about the fate of my son. He would always tell me curtly, “As far as I know, everything is in order.” I lived for such an answer. This was the end of February or beginning of March1945. On Sunday, the fifth day since my son was taken, I did not have the gall to knock on the door of the block guard during the day, since it was his holy day.

The next day, I again knocked on the door of his hut with a pounding heart. Looking him straight in the eyes, I asked him… and my ears heard: “I am sorry,” and then “Hold on, hold on!” I dragged myself back to the barracks. I lay down on the floor, deaf to all the curses of my neighbors for disturbing their rest…

Seven days later, I crawled out from the barracks on all fours, where I silently recited kaddish in the stillness of the night…

Original footnote:

  1. He was a lawyer in Przemyśl, the son of the well–known Przemyśler painter and sign artist Back

Translator's footnote:
  1. This section is more or less eqivalent with the Hebrew article on page 394, although the first part, up to page 397, and the final part are missing from the Yiddish. I based this translation on the original translation from the Hebrew, correcting some minor mistranslations, but preserving any differing facts and dates that appeared in the original. Back

Coordinator's footnotes:
  1. This version of the memoires by Leon Frim is a summary of much longer Reminiscences edited in Hebrew section of the Sefer Przemysl; both are based on typescript deposited in Yad Vashem and Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, which was published in 2011 by Yad Vashem – Leon Frim “Seasons in the Dark.” Back
  2. This name is spelled differently in the sources: Rimer, Rimmer, Rymer; in the printed edition of the memoires – Riemer. Back
  3. In the manuscript and the book mentioned above the camp at Przekopana St. is called “Bakończyce Camp”, in a suburb at the end of Przekopana St. The name Bakończyce Camp is more often used in other sources as well. Back
  4. Aschkenazi is a family name here – Laura Aschkenazi married Hersch Mark in 1925, according to Jewish Records Indexing – Poland. Back


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