by Mordechai Zilberman
Translated by Jerrold Landau
A. Before Arrival in Zaslaw
At 5:00 a.m. on September 1, 1939, we were awakened by the loud sound of exploding bombs in Krasna and the region. The evacuation to the east began a few days later. I went to Bereziw with a few other Jews, leaving behind my wife and child at home. I decided to return home on account of the difficult conditions in this strange place. On Saturday, September 9, Polish soldiers took me to work and ordered me to saw down the telegraph poles. The Germans entered that same night. They shot a farmer immediately as they entered. I entered a beer tavern where I helped the owner sell beer to the Germans. A few days later, the Gestapo men arrived. They took away my radio and inquired about me. I hid. At that time, a large number of people had already returned from the evacuation. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we conducted public worship in a hidden place. On Tuesday, the day before the eve of Sukkot the Gestapo entered Sanok, gathered together several people including myself, and asked us to produce a list of all of the Jewish residents in Zarszyn. We produced a list that contained more than 200 people, including the evacuees. Already by then we had heard about pogroms that the Germans had perpetrated in Przemysl and Dynow, where they shot 600 Jews. We also head about this in Istrik.
The leader of the Gestapo was Brandt. On Wednesday, he ordered all the Jews to leave the left side of the San River, and transfer over to the Soviet side by 8:00 a.m. All the Jews except for me and four other families obeyed the order. I went by horse and wagon to Sanok where I lived with my cousin. Later, I brought my furniture as well.
An abnormal life began for us. The Germans began to beat Jews, cut beards, grab people for work, and impose financial contributions. When I arrived in Sanok, there was already a Judenrat, headed by the president Leib Werner and the members Melech Ortner, Leibush Strassberg, Berel Jarmark, and Leib Strenger. Later, Jarmark and Strenger left the Judenrat. The speaker for Jewish affairs on the Gestapo was Kruger, who was responsible for organization the expulsion of the Jews to the other side of the San River. The Judenrat later selected its personnel and created various work places for Jews. The Judenrat took over all of the abandoned Jewish businesses, sold the merchandise and created a fund to assist the needy. I worked in the Judenrat for 10 days
in the role of work distributor. In accordance with the orders of the Germans, we had to send a certain number of Jews to forced labor. When I saw that it was impossible to divide up the work in a proper fashion, I resigned. The Judenrat had the duty to sent Jews to the work of building highways in the mountains, shoveling snow, transporting coal for heating, and other such jobs. At times, Christians would approach the Germans and request Jews for work. The Judenrat used to pay from two to five zloty for a day of work. One could purchase one's way out of going to work through paying the aforementioned price.
The special ordinances regarding the Jews were expanded. New regulations were added to the old ones. Shortly after the entry of the Germans, every Jewish business had to hang up a Star of David. In October, the Jews were ordered to wear white armbands, 10 centimeters wide, with a blue Star of David. The armbands were manufactured by the Judenrat. The Germans would beat any Jew they caught with a dirty or creased armband. We used to hang them on the door so as not to forget to put them on when we went out to the street.
In 1940, the Germans began to place trustees (so called Treihendlers) in the Jewish businesses in order to supervise the Jewish owners. Some Jews took Christians as partners hoping thereby to salvage a portion of their business. The new decrees against Jews made life even more difficult. We were forbidden to purchase food in the market before 11:00 a.m. We were not permitted to walk on the sidewalk. The Germans required us to defer to them one the way. At night, we were permitted to go out until 7:00 p.m. and later until 9:00 pm..
When the Gestapo chief Brandt left and in his place came the chief Savitzki, life became a little easier. We succeeded in buying him off with standard bribes. Jews from our city looked upon Sanok as an exemplary city. However in the summer of 1940, when an announcement was spread stating that all men are to be deported, we hid in terror for an entire night. At the end of 1940, Jews were no longer permitted to have their own businesses, and everyone except for the members of the Judenrat had to work. We then created a so-called sub-Judenrat for representatives of the area. We included over 30 people on that list, and we thereby freed them from forced labor. We had to regularly bribe the Jewish representatives from Sanok.
On June 22, 1941, when the Germans attacked the Russians, they set up artillery in the Jewish streets and shot from there. As a result, the Jewish portion of the city was bombarded by the Soviets. There were many wounded. On Friday, June 27, the Germans crossed the San River and began their offensive. They began to take Jews to work at dismantling the Soviet defensive installations in the bunkers. As they traveled from city to city, the Jews took the opportunity to trade various merchandise. Illegal business flourished. However, the situation continually worsened.
The Jews who had until this time lived on the Soviet side of former Poland were declared as Communists. We heard news of the mass murder of Jews in Chyrowa, Sambor, Stanislawow, Stryj and other cities.
On Saturday, December 27, 1941 (it was a cold, snowy day), the Germans publicized the decree that all Jews must turn in their fur coats, skis, ski shoes, etc. under the threat of the death penalty. I then burnt all of the furs. We had to bring everything to the Jundnrat where a German took it. On Monday, the Gestapo conducted a search and arrested several people on who were found gloves, food products and other things which Jews considered valueless. The people who were arrested were sent to the Majdanek or Auschwitz camps. Later, the Germans forbade public worship. The new deputy for Jewish affairs, the Gestapo agent Krotzman, once caught 17 Jews worshipping in a minyan on the Sabbath in Springer's house. All of them were deported to Tarnow and from there to Auschwitz. (At that time, we did not know where they were taking them.)
In the winter of 1942, the Gestapo agents Fogt, Krotzman, Mueller and others went through the Jewish houses and shot all the handicapped people, among them children. Then an order went out that every Jew who wants to leave his place of residence must have a special permit (called a passirshein). Those who were caught without such were shot on the spot. Jews were shot for every small thing. From my window I saw how Jews from Lesko were shot in the cemetery for hiding merchandise (Celler among others). Some were shot for giving too much money to the Polish protection fund before the war.
There was not yet a famine. The Judenrat took care of giving lunches to the poor at a public kitchen. However, the shootings became more frequent. Mueller once shot someone who was suspected of Communism (this was Englard), and dragged him in shame to the Judenrat where he gave him a mercy shot from which the victim immediately died. The Gestapo men used to shoot their confidantes in order to rid themselves of anyone who might be a witness to their bestial deeds. The Judenrat organized a special excavation group whom the Gestapo summoned at any event of murder, so that they could come to dig.
After the first period following their arrival, the Germans gave us a so called ken-kartn (identity cards). On Saturday, June 22, they issued an order that all Jews from the region must report to the Gestapo in Sanok in order to obtain a special stamp on their identity cards for the purposes of work. Of course everyone tried to obtain some sort of work, even if it was fictitious. That same event had taken place earlier in Sanok itself. A few people had not obtained those stamps. When they later presented themselves at the Gestapo in order to attempt to obtain the aforementioned stamp, they were beaten in a terrible fashion and many of them were murdered. At the order of Grosssvitza, the Gestapo chief of Jaslo, they detained all of those who did not have the stamped identity cards
and were about to shoot them. However, on that same day a new Gestapo chief arrived from Hamburg, Wangeman, and he repealed that edict. A day later, however, they detained 14 Jews who were employed at work who did indeed have the stamped identity cards, and murdered them all, apparently for the reason that they had been a bit late for work. By then, we had also heard about similar murders in Jaslo, Lutowiska, Olszanica and other towns.
On July 22, 1942, the Germans issued an order that the Jews from the villages and small towns must leave their living places and move to the collection points in the cities and larger towns of Sanok, Bukowsko, Rymanow, Baligrod, Lesko and Ostryk. The village Jews took all of their belongings except for their cattle. At the end of July and the beginning of August 1942, we heard that they were building some sort of a factory in Zaslaw. People began to pay large sums of money in order to be accepted for work there. At that time, refugees from Przemysl, Rymanow, and Berezow arrived. From there, they were immediately sent to Belzec, and many were liquidated on the spot. We had opportunities to hear about the murderous German plans. A week prior to our own misfortune, S.S., S.A., and S.D. men were seen, and we already understood that our own misfortune was coming, and we would meet the same fate as the other Jews. However the Gestapo attempted to calm us through the means of the Judenrat, by stating that the plans to liquidate Sanok were revoked. Many owners of fine houses were called up to the Judenrat, where the Gestapo men ordered them to sign a document giving over their property to the benefit of the German regime.
On Friday, September 4, 1942 at 10:00 a.m. signs were posted declaring that all Jews must be prepared to move to Zaslaw by September 7, 1942. The local population was not even permitted to look out of their windows, so that the Germans could utilize the time to pillage the Jewish houses. We were permitted to take everything with us and load them on the wagons, which were put at our disposal. On the days between the 4th and 7th of September, orders were indeed given to deport the Jews from Sanok, Bukowsko, Ostryk, Lesko, Lutowiska, and the region to Zaslaw. Nobody must remain in the city on September 7. (This was before Rosh Hashanah. The eve of Rosh Hashanah was September 11.)
I escaped on Friday night September 4, and crossed the border into Hungary with my wife, my child and eight other people. On September 11, we were arrested by the Hungarian police in Stokchen. The Jews were still free people there, and they were only arrested if they hid Polish Jews. Two days after our arrest, we were sent to a camp in Hidasnémeti. My father-in-law and my wife's family (who originated in Hungary), made
every effort to free us from the camp, where the conditions were not all that bad. However they did not succeed. After 16 days in the Hungarian camp, we were given over to the police authorities in Uzhgorod (Ungvar). There, we found 50 Jews from Muncacz who were arrested for assisting Polish Jews. The Hungarian Jews were sent from there to Budapest, and the Polish Jews were sent back to the border. At the border I presented myself as a Hungarian citizen. Since I knew the Hungarian language, the Germans believed me and did not want to take me in, but rather sent me back to arrest. After sitting for ten or twelve days as a criminal, they sent me back to the border on a Wednesday, six weeks after September 4. This time they sent me to Roztoka on the Czisna. There, there was a German from the Sonderdienst in Sanok who recognized me. I was sent to Lesko together with other Jews who had been captured in the forests. There, we were all placed in jail (it was Thursday). Our watches, rings, and money were taken from all of us.
On Sunday an aktion took place in Zaslaw, in which 600 people were murdered. We, approximately 15-16 men, were brought there on Monday. (This was at the end of October, six weeks after September 4.) When we came to the gate of the camp in Zaslaw, an aktion was taking place against the older men. 58 people were taken, including 11 from our group, and shot by Fogt. I was told that if I would pay him 50,000 zloty, he would let me live. He also allowed two other people from our group to live. He gave me a permit to leave the camp. I hid from him for three weeks, and then he captured me again. He threatened to shoot me, but he gave me time from Thursday to Sunday to bring him the money. However, on Friday night he was killed by the commandant of the Bahn Schutz, Flei from Zagorz, who himself was later killed.
In Zaslaw I found out that the older people were taken to the town of Dolina between Zagorz and Sanok, where they had been seen being buried alive. My father was among them. Before going, he donned himself in his tallis and tefillin. Others put on their burial shrouds.
In Zaslaw, I was told that between September 7 and 10, 1942, two transports of Jews, numbering more than 10,000 people, had left the town. The camp in Zaslaw numbered between 17,000 and 18,000 Jews in total. Regular aktions took place until December 17, 1942. On that day, 600 Jews were shot, who were brought back from Trefcza here they had worked for the Kirchhof in Stuttgart, primarily in building highways. They appeared in a terrible state, all tired out from their difficult slave labor in that German firm. The Germans cynically referred to them as Scheisse-drek.
Six weeks after the expulsion, when I returned with my wife and daughter after our unsuccessful escape to Hungary (see the previous testimony), the Zaslaw Camp consisted of eight large, three-story houses in which 3,000 Jews lived. According to what we were told, earlier there were 20,000 Jews in the following cities and towns: Sanok, Bukowsko, Zagorz, Mrzyglod, Lesko, Ostryk, Lutowiski, Baligrod, and others, along with the villages around these towns.
The liquidation took place in stages. First, they concentrated the Jews in the towns to the collection points in the cities, and then, between September 4 to 7 1942, they took them to Zaslaw. They were told that they were being taken to work, and that they could take everything with them, even furniture. The deportation of approximately 17,000 from Zaslaw to Belzec, where they were immediately murdered, took place between September 7 and 10.
After that time, the commandant of the camp was Fogt. He would conduct aktions two or three times a week, in which he would shoot between several dozen to several hundred Jews. I wanted to flee from the camp, but my wife told me that she did not have the strength. After that, when Fogt was shot by his colleague, apparently on orders from above, we were able to breathe easier in the camp. The following fact can serve as an example of his murderous deeds: Once he led an entire family, who had been brought in from the region of Lemberg, to be shot in an open pit. The mother and her son were killed immediately, but the daughter was still alive. Fogt shot her until she was riddled with bullets. As the pit was being covered, it was discovered that the father was still alive. He ordered that he be taken out and taken to the hospital. A few days later, he was shot at the next aktion. His name was Zipper.
After Fogt's death in November 1942, the chief of the camp was Mueller, a short blond man of about 30 years old, a tailor by trade. He was a disgusting character, with a haughty nose. He was a fool as well, and a greater sadist than Fogt. He now had a stiff hand, for he had once been wounded by a Jew from Sanok, Samek Meller, who was born in Zagorz and had worked in the Gestapo for two years, where he had obtained weapons. When Mueller along with two Bahn-Shotz police took him along with a group of Jews to be shot (among them were also his bride Toshka Kramer, Diamant, Rauch and others) he shot the two policemen as well as Mueller, who was only wounded. He then fled. Today he is in America.
A similar act of hopeless resistance took place when a young shoemaker from Ostryk (David the son of Yisrael Schuster) attacked Scheringer, the chief of Gestapo in Sanok, at the time when he was taking a group of 50 young Jews to be shot. He attempted to kill him by attacking him with a shoemaker's knife in the face and neck. Scheringer was bandaged up
by Dr. Lerner. In general, Scheringer was the terror of the camp. He would seek us out when he was thirsty for human blood. Once, he took a small child by the hair, shot him with the other hand, and then tossed him into the pit.
Not one week went by when there was no aktion. In particular, when they captured Jews in the forests or the Kryovkas (hiding places) and brought them to the camp, they would take out a group of 20 to 30 people from the camp and shoot them. When they began to flee into the forest, commissioners came with the Oberscharfuehrer Shofko and assured the people that they would not be shot, and that they would set up an ammunition factory out of the camp.
At the beginning of December, they began to liquidate the forced labor platzovkes in the region, and the workers were brought into the camp. Three workplaces remained: 1) In the Sanok Ghetto, 300 people worked at the Gemeinshaft-Wesfulgato and premises of the Yad Charutzim; 2) in the Jielieniewski wagon factory; and 3) in the Kirchhof firm where approximately 600 people worked in the village of Trepcza. The Kirchhof firm had a so-called children's barracks. Among others, they employed young children in stonecutting, removing rocks from the San River, and building highways. The head of the camp in Trepcza was Lipold, who, together with Tomaszek, a tall, young, blond Folksdeutche, used to administer terrible beatings. They did not kill, but merely beat until one lost consciousness.
On Monday, December 15, 1942, the entire Trepcza camp was brought to Zaslaw. Only a few of the 600 people were able to escape. The next day, Tuesday, they were registered in the chancellery, given clothing and food cards, and set up in the blocks. The next day, Wednesday morning at 4:00 a.m., an order came from Mueller that all of the people who came from Trepcza must present themselves at the camp square. Then, when all had come, Mueller arrived and conducted a selection with the help of the Ordnungsdienst. He removed 20 people and told them to stand on the right side, and then another 20 people on the left side. Nobody knew which group would remain alive and which would go to their deaths. I saw this all through a window in the barrack in which I was working as a carpenter. After the segregation, Mueller and Fajgenbaum the commandant of the Jewish Ordnungsdienst came to our workshop and tested the doors, windows and locks, but they did not succeed. Not far away was a storehouse with twelve wagonloads of potatoes. He bean to drive the youths who were sentenced to death into that dark cellar. Those who resisted were beaten, and one of them, Leib Frenkel from Sanok, was shot by Mueller. Later, when all of them were inside, Mueller stood by the window of the storehouse and shot the imprisoned people. Among the many wounded were the two sons of my cousin Yisrael: Nissan Zilberman may G-d avenge his blood,
and David Zilberman may G-d avenge his blood from Ostryk. In the morning, they, along with others, were placed in groups of 50 people, led into the forests behind the camp, where two large graves had been dug, and murdered. The execution of the 600 people lasted from 5:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.
When a few of those who were being taken to their deaths succeeded in escaping, they captured anyone from the camp who came into their hands in order to fill the contingent of 600 people. Mueller broke into the kitchen where 50 women worked and captured 20 of them. Knowing what was going on, they fled back into the kitchen. As revenge, he took all 50 women to the place of execution at the small hill behind the camp and shot them.
Other Gestapo men participated in the aktion along with Mueller. Scheringer was wounded as he was taking out a group to be shot. Through the window, I saw Mueller shoot the wife of Frizer Weinstein from Lesko as she attempted to flee. Penner from Tyrawa Woloska requested that he spare his wife, so he asked another Gestapo man to shoot him. Later the Gestapo men entered the tailoring workshop of Wiesz, captured 15 of the prettiest girls, and led them to the hospital block. There, the Gestapo man Kwambusch, a blond, evil man who was a bricklayer by trade, ordered them to lie on the ground with their faces in the mud. After lying thus for a half an hour, he shot them one after the other in the neck. I saw this all through the window. Later the Gestapo man Krotzman, a tall, handsome, broad-shouldered German, led out a few more girls. Seeing the dead bodies of their friends, they ran away. Krotzman and the other Gestapo men ran after them and shot them with their automatics. A few of them succeeded in saving themselves. The dead bodies of the murdered girls were taken to the hill by a Jewish worker of the warehouse. There, the naked bodies were laid one on top of another in a pile in the open grave. On the other side, there was a pile of their clothing and undergarments. After the execution the other Gestapo men drove away, leaving Mueller alone in the camp.
After this aktion, I prepared a bunker in the cellar under the stable where we had been ordered to build a bridge. I made a hole large enough for a person to crouch down, covered it with a board, and placed a cover on top. It was very stuffy in there, without a window. With the help of two men from the Ordnungsdienst, I brought my wife and daughter there. They remained there for the entire day until after the aktion.
After the aktion, we decided to defend ourselves. We collected money, and sent a few people to Czaszyn to purchase weapons and ammunition. When the people were prepared to set out, an apostate Ordnungsdienst man, the lawyer Szterger (the younger), a puny character, informed on them. A few days later, Dr. Klahr of the Landrat arrived and assured us that
no more aktions would be conducted, and that we would all be employed in the ammunition factory that was to be created in the town of Zaslaw.
Indeed, no aktion took place until January 15, 1943. Even those who were captured in the forest were held in arrest in the camp and not murdered. It was difficult to decide whether to escape into the forest. There were many cases where people attempted to flee, but on account of the shortage of food, the cold, and primarily the fear of the population of the surrounding villages who would turn people into the Germans, they returned to the camp. We all knew about the end of Shmuel Rand from the village of Tarnowa, who was hidden by a local farmer along with his wife, her parents and their three or four children. One night, the farmer took Rand and his 16 year old son out of the hiding place and murdered them. He beat the rest of the family so badly that we could not recognize them when they brought them into the camp. There were cases where people returned to the camp after remaining in the forest for five months. They believed that perhaps they could save themselves here.
On Sunday, January 10, 1943, when Pesach Feivel Jarmark was sitting on duty in the camp office, he received a telephone call from Uberscharfuerher Shofko from Sanok who ordered him to tell the camp president Dampoff to gather all the Jews into the large hill the next day. Jarmark only told this to his friends, but soon the entire camp was talking about it. Nobody knew what was going to take place, but by midnight, more than 1,000 people had fled into the forest. Shofko arrived on Monday morning, asked about the Jews, and left calmly. Then all of those who had fled returned and went to their jobs as before. In the morning of Thursday, January 14, I suddenly saw that the camp was surrounded by German, Ukrainian and Polish police. People began to hide in the cellars and the attics. The police began to drive everyone out of the camp to the hill. My wife was able to hide in my kryuwka under the floor of the stable, but my daughter and I were together with approximately 2,000 Jews at the hill. Around 10:00 a.m. they began to bring Jews from various places under the escort of the S.S., Gestapo, S.D. and the Polish police (Grantotowa). They were brought from the Wesfulgato in the Sanok Ghetto, from Jielieniewski's wagon factory. Also approximately 150 people were brought from Ostryk where they still worked in the sawmill. Together we were now about 3,000 people. At noon the Gestapo brought in beaten and bloodied Jews who had attempted to hide. Among others, Oberscharfuehrer Shofko, Scheringer, Krotzman, Hasse with a good natured smile, as well as Amon Goethe, whom we called the Angel of Death, wandered around the camp, among others.
At 12:00 Goethe arrived at the hill and read out a list of 70 names, including mine. These were mainly names of cabinet makers, carpenters, wheelwrights and also a few physicians such as Dr. David Cooper, Dr. Ortner, Dr. Fink and the dentist Rappaport. Goethe ordered us
to move out of the way, and then told us to follow all orders. First, he ordered us to remove from the blocks in which we lived the furniture, linens, bedding, clothing, sewing machines, typewriters, pictures and also the equipment from the cabinets of the doctors and dentists. We loaded everything onto wagons which immediately set out to the train station of Stary-Zagorz. In the afternoon, we were all shoved into the carpentry workshop. I attempted to remove my daughter from the hill, but a Gestapo man did not permit me to do so. At night my wife came out of the hiding place and went to be together with the child.
On the morning of Friday, January 15, they did not let us leave the carpentry workshop. From there, we saw as they took groups of 125 people from the hill under police escort, with a German with a machine gun behind them. They were taken to the railway line, where a transport train of 16 to 20 cars was waiting. On the way to the train, approximately a half a kilometer, they took everything away from the people. They even pulled off their coats. I stood with Dr. Lerner and saw how they led our wives and children to the train. We attempted to go out to them, but the Gestapo did not permit us.
The Germans ordered 10 of our 70 men, the so called Aufraumungs-Kolonie, and ordered them to seal the windows in the trains with boards and barbed wire. We later found out from a railway employee acquaintance, to whom we paid 2,000 zloty, that the transport was taken to Belzec, and half of them were killed along the way. In one wagon, the men attempted to break a wall, and in another a window, and many of them jumped out as the train was moving. The Germans shot at them and certainly killed them all. This was between Krocienko and Strazow. One of them, Eliahu Langsam, returned to the camp on the third day.
After the transport left, the Germans searched through all corners of the camp. They found a young girl from Lesko, Szwarc, and Hasse shot her, ignoring her pleading and crying to be allowed to live. Scheringer shot Dr. Meir from Krakow with his lovely wife, who attempted to poison herself. At night, Mueller shot Shaul Strenger from Sanok when he came out from his hiding place in which he had hidden for two days. I buried all of them, as well as Berel Taubenfeld-Piotnicer from Lesko and another person whose name I do not know, under the red block.
We who remained loaded up the wagons under the orders of Shofko and the S.S. man Lippa. The Germans drove them away, filled with Jewish belongings. On Tuesday, January 19, Shofko gathered up 5 men me, Jarmark, Dr. Lerner, Sender Charas and Spieser and sent us to work in Sanok.
With the help of two pairs of horses, we loaded up the remaining Jewish belongings in the Sanok Ghetto and in various warehouses in the city. They gave me the key to the warehouse and made me the foreman. After two weeks of work, I received help. Together we were 17 men. We
lived in two rooms in the ghetto and had permission to use all of the goods that remained in the empty ghetto. Shofko, who had the responsibility for the transport of the Jewish belongings for the S.S., sent more than 150 wagons filled with Jewish property from Sanok, Zaslaw and other towns from the entire region between January 15 and February 25.
Once Shofko arrived as usual in the morning and called together Dr. Lerner and I to tell us that Dr. Fink, who supervised 10 men in his work, had fled. Therefore, they had shot all of his workers. He warned us that if any of us escaped, all of the remaining people would be shot as a punishment. We were in contact with those who remained in Zaslaw. All of them knew about the escape, and also had thought about doing so themselves, but we were afraid to talk about it, since we did not trust one another.
Immediately after coming to work in Sanok, I began to search for a way to get in contact with my former neighbors in my hometown of Jacmierz. One day I noticed an acquaintance from the Sanok tax office, Potaszek, next to the wire fence that surrounded the ghetto. I first asked him if he could hide me, but seeing that he was afraid, I gave him two letters to my close acquaintances in Jacmierz, Henryk Statszek and Stanislawa Wolonska, in which I asked them to come to the wire fence at the ghetto in order to discuss how they could get me out of there. As a reward, Potaszek received from me a leather valise in which I placed many items including clothing from one of the empty houses in the ghetto. That same evening he brought me an answer from Mrs. Wolonska that her daughter Danusza will come to discuss the matter with me. When Danusza arrived, she told me that the five children of my older brother Avraham Zilberman were hiding in her house, and they can make a hiding place for me as well. I gave her two nice satchels full of the best items that I could still find in the ghetto. She came each day with her brother or her father and each time, I gave them two or three valises or sacks with bedding, tableware, food, and other such items for their role in hiding my brother's children and also for me when I would leave. At the same time, I also sold items from the ghetto to Poles, and I thereby amassed approximately 30,000 zloty. I estimated that we would still have work for 5-6 weeks. I already had no trust of the Germans who told us that they would take us to work in Plaszow.
I called together my 17 employees and advised them that everyone should prepare a place to escape. I did not tell them the truth about my hiding place, for among other reasons, I knew from experience that it was possible that someone might betray me. They all cautioned me that I should not escape, for they feared the consequences that would await them. The five men who lived in my room with me declared that they would not let me escape alone, and
|On the way from the ghetto to the camp in Zaslaw|
|Arriving in Zaslaw|
|Waiting for the train to Belzec|
|Ownerless utensils and belongings that remained in the yard of
the Zaslaw camp after the transport left for the extermination camp
that they would all go together with me. I then asked Danusza to prepare a hiding place for five men. After a few days she returned and told us that she has only place for four men.
On Monday, February 21, 1943, two Jews came from Zaslaw and told us that the work was ending and that we should think about escaping. We had no trust in them, and we did not tell them about our plans. On Wednesday the 23rd, two others came, brought bread, and mentioned that three more men had escaped from Zaslaw (Ephraim Hirsch, Martz Mozes and Szard, all from Lesko). Two of our 17, Leib Goldinger and Propper, were drunk from liquor that was found in the ghetto, and told them that we also all had plans to escape. They told their supervisor Ajzen, a carpenter from Baligrod, who told the S.S. man Lippa, who immediately telephoned Sanok. Shofko arrived at night with Polish police and German S.D., surrounded the house, and ordered us all to sleep in one room. That same night two of us, Speiser and Lehrer, attempted to escape, and we expected that we would pay with our heads. After a sleepless night, we succeeded in hiding the secret about escaping, and we were again sent to work with an escort. We returned to the ghetto, ordered those who remained to escape, gave two of them (Naftali Mantel from Lesko and Warszawer from Ostryk) money when they wished to go with us to crowd into a hiding place. The four of us me, Lerner, Jarmark and Charas, left them along the way to Jacmierz. The Polish policeman Lapinski knew about all of this and did not disturb us.
As we escaped through the streets of Sanok, we had to hide several times from Germans and Poles that we encountered. We arrived in the forest, five kilometers from Jacmierz, after going through the fields in deep snow. There we had to wait until night, for in that area, every farmer would recognize me. We entered Wolonska's stable at approximately 10:00 p.m. When she came home a little later, she rejoiced with us, brought bread and milk, and informed us that we must immediately escape again, for there is already talk in town that she is hiding Jews. My brother's children were in a different hiding place that same night. She called her brother, and he took us three kilometers away to the village of Wzdow in the Reziwer region, where a hiding place was already prepared for us with her cousin Feliks Zambokiewicz. I spent long months in that hiding place, until the liberation.
When Shofko returned to the ghetto, the men who worked with him had also fled. He mobilized the police and pursued us in the opposite direction. When he did not catch anyone, he entered Zaslaw and murdered the remaining 39 Jews, as well as the others who were hiding there. He pillaged all of their property that they had collected from what had remained from all the other deported and murdered Jews.
by Henoch Katz
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The beginning of the destruction of the community of Sanok, just like all communities in Poland, should not be reckoned from September 1, 1939, the date of the outbreak of the German-Polish war. One could already see and feel the beginning of the downfall a year before the outbreak of the war, when the Polish regime began to impose new decrees upon the Jews. This began with the raising of the issue of shechita (ritual slaughter) in the Sejm by Madame Fryster and her demand that shechita be forbidden outright. Anti-Semites utilized that issue very well, and an entire row of decrees were dragged along with it. The situation became more serious when masses of Christian students began to picket Jewish businesses and not allow Christians to purchase anything from Jews.
The sky over Sanok Jewry became covered over with dark clouds and with hopelessness for a better future. Everyone felt that the earth was burning under their feet. On one side, there were the decrees against Jews and the anti-Semitic propaganda, which strengthened with each day and enveloped all strata of the Polish people. On the other side, there was the inimical relationship between Germany and Poland, and Hitler's threat against Poland as well as against Polish Jewry. No possibility remained for the Jews to take steps toward help and salvation. All that was left was prayer and hoping to G-d that a war would not break out. Unfortunately, such hopes were futile. More and more tribulations overtook the Jewish population, and they became greater with each passing day.
The greatest amount of pain was caused by the demeanor of the Polish people. Instead of seeking advice on how to avoid carrying out Hitler's plans, which were poised to overtake Poland, the Poles did not desist from their anti-Jewish designs. They looked for any means to liquidate their Jewish citizens, both physically and economically. The hatred of the Polish population toward the Jews reached its pinnacle at the time of the outbreak of the war, and continued to expresses itself even after Poland's defeat, when the Nazis had destroyed their army in a matter of days, took their best sons into captivity, and put their leaders in prisons and concentration camps where they killed them. Entire cities were destroyed, and a half of the land was occupied by the Germans. Clear thinking would have had it that the Poles would be brethren in tribulation when the Jews, participants in their fate, and that they would have forged a united front against the Nazi occupants. The blind hatred of the Jews
seduced them, however. Instead of helping the Jews, they collaborated with the Germans and helped in the annihilation of the Jews. The Ukrainians and the Poles pointed out the wealthy Jews and disclosed the hiding places of groups of Jews. Dark instincts overcame all logic.
Thus did we endure the first bits of horrifying news about the murder of 600 Jews, including Yankele Kassner and David Salik, may G-d avenge their blood, in a forest near Ustrzyki, after they had been ordered to dig their own graves. This news was brought to us by someone who escaped from there. We could not believe him; but a few days later when we saw the tribulations approaching us, we realized that that terrible, cruel, devilish crime was indeed the bitter truth. It is difficult to imagine how we survived those days under the Nazi regime in Sanok.
On the Sabbath prior to the first Selichot night we found out that the Germans were already behind Sanok and would be taking over the city shortly. People hid in cellars. We also went into the cellar of Naftali Guttwirt and waited. As soon as it got dark, a caravan of motorcycles from Zamkowa Street drove through, heading toward the center of town. Following them was a long row of transport trucks with armed soldiers, tanks, and military equipment of all types. The parade lasted for about a half an hour.
It was night, and all the lights were extinguished. Trembling and afraid, people whispered quietly, as they consulted and took advice about what to do. Old people, women and children set themselves up, each in his own place in a cellar. The young people stood guard. People continued to remain on their guard and to prepare for any tribulation that might come. A deathly silence enveloped everyone, to the extent that it was not hard to hear the German announcements about taking over the city without one shot, and that the authority was being given over to the German military committee. Finally we heard the voice of one of the Ukrainians who swore to assist the new regime in all of its endeavors.
Nobody slept that night, even though everybody was tired. The cellars were furnished with furniture from the rooms which were being hidden from the eyes of the Germans. The entire night was spent reciting dirges and psalms, weeping about one's fate, at a time when tears were already in the eyes on account of the first Selichot. Every year, this was a night of holiness, and this year it was a night of agony, pain and shame.
The entire night passed calmly, without shots. At dawn, the men
overcome with weariness, left the cellars and went to the Beis Midrash to recite the Selichot service, pouring out their bitter hearts to the Father in Heaven. In the middle of the service, Gestapo men broke in, drove the Jews, clad in tallis and tefillin, into the streets, and forced them at gunpoint to perform various gestures and dances. One of the sadists went to Reb Michel Leibush Dorlich and cut off one of his peyos and half of his beard. Many soldiers stood around, enjoying watching the scene of tortured and bloodied Jews. After that wild game, they permitted the deathly afraid Jews to go home. That was the last public prayer service of the Sanok Jews in their Beis Midrash. Jews never again crossed its threshold.
The tempo of the events was rapid. Within the course of one week, innumerable decrees were passed, each decree being more strange and bizarre than the previous. Cruel deeds were perpetrated, such as the burning o the synagogue and the Beis Midrashes, and the murder of two Jews Yosef Rabbach and Yosef Falibker who jumped into the burning Talmud Torah building in order to save the Torah scrolls from the fire. Both were shot on the spot. Jews were snatched for forced labor. They were humiliated to the point where the lost their Divine image. Fines of astronomical amounts were imposed. It was heartbreaking to see how fine Jews such as Reb Mendel Kanner and Reb Michel Leibsh Dorlich were dragged from place to place after their hard work, as they were forced to dance with and kiss the broom. The humiliation, disgrace and abuse perpetrated by those sub-humans were always accompanied by bloody beatings, until one miraculously endured all of the tribulations and arrived home physically broken, but whole in spirit.
My father Reb Yisrael Katz of blessed memory (died on the 21 of Cheshvan 5703 / 1942 in Dzhalyal'-Abad, Kyrgyzia where he was given a Jewish burial near the grave of our rabbinical judge, Rabbi Eliezer Bremer of blessed memory) told me that once he was sent out in a group with Reb Ascher Barber, Reb Yehoshua Kluger and Reb Yitzchok Isaac Scheinbach to clean a school where the cruel murderers were stationed. One of them was ordered to thoroughly clean the toilets, literally with bare hands, without any tools or cloths. Reb Ascher Barber, who did not make haste with that degrading work, was beaten with murderous blows until he fell unconscious. After regaining consciousness and seeing that the murderers were busy drinking, he used his last energies and fled. When they realized this they pursued him, conducted a thorough search of his home, but could not find him. When they returned, they took out all their anger on those who remained. In the toilet which Reb Yehoshua Kluger was forced to clean, they found a bit of dirt. Therefore, they forced him to lie on the floor and lick up the dirt with his tongue. They forced Reb Yitzchok Isaac Scheinbach to fill up two pails of water and to run with them from the ground floor to the third floor, up and down, without rest, until he exhausted
his energy. My father, who did not succeed in finishing his work by the set time, was attacked by one of them with wild shouts and curses, stating that it was because of the Jews that he had to leave his wife and children and come here. Within a moment he took out his revolver in order to shoot my father. He would have certainly done so had not an Austrian soldier mixed in and saved him from certain death. The highest act of cruelty perpetrated by the sadists was when they threw two householders into a cellar with hungry dogs that had been locked up there for several days. Of course, the two Jews were immediately torn apart alive by the dogs, and were not given a Jewish burial.
Such was life in our city until the 13th of Tishrei 5700 (1939), the bitter day of the expulsion order, which stated that by the next day at 6:00 a.m. all of the Jews must leave the city, and those who are found in the city after that time would be shot on the spot. It is hard to describe the mood, confusion and worry which overtook everyone that day. We conferred about what to do and analyzed the situation. Nobody slept that night. We prepared sacks, and packed a bit of food, bedding, clothing, and the tallis and tefillin. We fell upon each others' necks and wept over the bitter fate that had overtaken all of us. We took a final glance at the furnished rooms for which he had worked through long years with so much weariness and toil. In one moment everything became ownerless, and the timely fruit fell into the hands of the bloody evil beasts.
At sunrise on the eve of Sukkot, 5700, we all left our houses, each one with his sack over his shoulders, and joined the great stream of wandering; each one laden with his sack of sadness and despair, not knowing where to go and what was awaiting us in the future.
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Empty, desolate, with piles of garbage
Stones, bones, and bricks.
The child was burned and on the garbage heap
The cradle rolls around
Shards of glass and heaps of ashes,
Soles of shoes rot away.
If the feet were burnt
Who needs soles?
A hammer lies without a blacksmith
How could he use the hammer?
Who needs a cap without a head,
A tallis without a Jew?
(Aharon Ceitlin, Collected Poems)
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