by Zvi Pearlstein
The Germans occupied Sarny in July 1941. The first thing they did was to commandeer 50 Jews to work in the warehouses, issuing an order that, if anything happens to a German, these 50 Jews will be put to death.
In the first days, the Germans permitted the Ukrainians to plunder Jewish assets. In the following 3 days and three nights, the Ukrainians in Sarny and its vicinity plundered Jewish assets. Nobody stood in their way. After those three days, the Germans drove the Ukrainians away, and stopped the plunder.
At the end of July 1941, the German military demanded the creation of a Judenrat. They demanded of the former President of the Sarny community that he place himself at the head of the Judenrat. Not taking note of the fact that he was already 70 yearsold, he assumed this obligation, against his own will, to manage the Judenrat, and to fulfill all of the demands of the Hitlerauthorities. The Judenrat was composed of the following five Jews: The President was the 70 yearold Gerszunok, VicePresident Kantorowicz, Secretary Neiman, Treasurer Grossman and Pickman jointly. The first demand was that all Jews must wear white bands on their right arms, with a Star of David sewn on it, and all Jewish houses must have a Star of David drawn on them. If this order was not carried out, the authorities imposed a fine of 30 rubles and murderously beat the offender. It was the Ukrainian police who were mostly involved with this.
On August 15, a month after the capture of Sarny, the German authorities levied a demand on the Jewish community for a contribution of 13 kilograms of gold. This had to be accomplished in the course of 8 days. Every day, the authorities took 400 Jews to do labor. They had to saw wood, build bridges over the Sluch River to replace the ones the Russians had destroyed, dig peat, etc. The women carried bricks from one end of the city to the other. Workers received 100 grams of bread a day. Part of the Jews lived off stores that they had from before the war. Others bartered with the peasants, giving away their best possessions for a bit of bread, and the largest part went hungry. Through the Judenrat, the German authorities began to confiscate Jewish assets: cattle, horses, radios, furniture, bedding, etc. The President, Gerszunok would shout: Jews, give everything that is demanded of you and they will let you live. ‘A cow that is milked will not be slaughtered.'
On the eve of Yom Kippur 1941, a new demand arrived: in place of the armbands, all Jews will have to wear yellow emblems on their back, and over their hearts. These emblems were to be 8 centimeters in length. The authorities issued an order that all the Jews, on Yom Kippur, should assemble at a place near the city. At that time, a frightful panic erupted among the Jews. We understood what they wanted to do with us. But whether they wanted to or not, all the Jews, wearing the yellow insignia, came to the designated location on Yom Kippur.
All the Jews turned over their gold watches to the GebietsKommissar, golden feathers, etc. Then all the Jews were registered, men and women. The younger ones were sent off to do work in the city, and the older ones, for the time being, were released to return home.
For the time being the day ended only with fright.
Then the harsh winter of 1941 set in. During the month of October, an order came from the authorities, that the Jews had to turn over fur coats and boots for the army, and so the Jews gave away their fur coats and boots. Apart from this, it was demanded that we sew new coats and boots for the army.
A number of quiet months passed, and we all thought we would be able to live peacefully. Suddenly a fresh tragedy: In January 1942, an order arrived that every Jew had to pay a contribution of 7 grams of gold per capita. As there were 5 thousand Jews in our city, it was necessary to pay 35 kilograms of gold. This was a massive tragedy, because among us were many Jews who had fled from other cities, after 1939, and it wasn't possible to demand anything from them.
Accordingly, it was very difficult. But seeing that we had a good relationship with the GebietsKommissar he would say that the Sarny Jews were good ones, they will not be ‘made kaput,‘ he deferred the contribution for several months. A little at a time, with a great deal of trouble and suffering, the contribution was paid off. And so, with troubles, with hunger, and with cold, with great need and pain, whoever sustained themselves, and whoever didn't, managed to survive the severe winter.
In the month of April a fresh decree arrived: A ghetto to be created for the Jews in the course of 15 days. The Jews themselves must divide off several back streets of the city, and cordon them off with boards. Then the terror began. The Jews left their homes, and everyone ran, as if fleeing a fire, into the ghetto. At the same time, a Jewish Police force was set up, with the commandant Margolis at its head. Their mission was to maintain order in the ghetto, stand at the gates, and not permit Jews to leave the ghetto, and not permit Ukrainians and Poles within. Jews were permitted to leave the ghetto only through the gate, in accordance with a special permit from the police commandant. If a Jew was caught outside the ghetto without such a permit, he was punished with a monetary fine and a murderous beating. There was an instance that a woman went out of the ghetto without a permit; she was caught, and she and her entire family, consisting of 7 people, were shot the same day.
In addition to this, the Germans began to bring people into the ghetto from the surrounding villages. The Germans took everything away from them. News arrived that Jews were being killed in Rivne, Kovel and other cities around Sarny. The situation grew more critical and worse every day. Hunger began, accompanied by death from hunger. We saw that the catastrophe was unavoidable for us as well.
It was at that time that I had concluded with my comrades and neighbors to stage an assault, burn down the city, and flee to the forests. Many were of the same mind as I was, and a portion were opposed. They said that … one should not summon the wolf out of the forest, if he does not come of his own volition. And in many places, the ghettoes had already been liquidated: it will not come to that with us, because we go to work, and we pay all of the contributions, but we must be ready for any circumstance. Should the day arrive God forbid we should be organized, be able to mount a resistance, and not allow ourselves to be led off like sheep to the slaughter, as it had occurred in other cities.
Indeed, we had begun to organize ourselves. This became known to the Jewish Police Commandant, Margolis, and he was not opposed to it. He said: Keep yourselves strong, friends! We will not allow ourselves to be stabbed like calves. One time, while sitting with the President of the Judenrat, Gerszunok, who was a neighbor of mine, we conversed about the sorrowful end of all the cities around Sarny. When I secretly approached him about the organization of a resistance, Gerszunok replied: You don't have to tell me anything, but do as you find it necessary to do. From his answer, I understood that he agreed with us. This bolstered our work to make ourselves ready, and the entire city of Jews was taken with the thought of declaring war on the murderers.
We were in the ghetto from April until August 1942. On the 26th of August the terrifying days of the liquidation of the ghetto began: the Ukrainian police encircled the ghetto, the Jewish police were no longer given access to the guard posts, and no one was taken out of the ghetto to go to work. We understood that this was the last of our days, and we no longer had anything to lose, and the time for vengeance had come.
On Wednesday, the 26th of August, almost all of the Jews in our ghetto gathered together in the Judenrat. We divided the men up into groups of 50 men, with a group leader at their head. Each group had a mission to carry out. We had provisioned grenades, caustic soda to burn out the eyes, and benzine gas to set the city on fire. We waited for an order. The chief commander of the day was the Police Commandant Margolis.
We received an order from the Germans, that on Thursday August 27th, all the Jews must present themselves at the ghetto gate, and each family will be called out of the ghetto in alphabetical order. We received this order on Wednesday. We had until early Thursday morning to get everything ready. However, here, the secretary of the Judenrat, Neiman stood up against us, and explained to the gathering that we were not being called to be killed, but only to select out healthy men for work. The people permitted themselves to be misled by him, and did nothing. We also received an order from the Commandant Margolis, that we should not take matters into our own hands, but wait for Thursday, August 27th.
On the night of Wednesday into Thursday we did not sleep at all. We got iron bars ready, and sat ready at the door, to await the murderers. In this way, the night passed in fear, thinking about our end. On Thursday, August 27th, at 6AM, people began to arrive at the ghetto gate. When 300 people had gathered, they were taken away. Within the ghetto, Ukrainian police circulated, and looked into the houses. Jews, who had not left the houses, were shot by the police. Many Jews committed suicide, out of anxiety, using poison.
In this manner, my family too was taken out: my mother, sister Sarah, with two children, my second sister Toiva with two children, myself, my wife and child, uncles, aunts, brothersinlaw, sistersinlaw, male and female cousins. We were all taken over to the second side, to a place ringed with two rows of barbed wire. There was a distance of one meter between the two barbed wire fences. In between the two fences, German and Ukrainian police circulated. When someone got close to the fence, they shot them to death. Two machine guns were set up near the gate of the ghetto. When we were brought to the camp, there already were inside, Jews from the surrounding villages and towns: Dąbrowica, Bereznica, Rokitno, Klesów in total, 14,000 Jews.
I complained to Margolis, about the fact that he had promised that we would not let ourselves be stabbed like calves, and in the end, he did not let us carry out our preplanned attack, to which he answered: It is lost, and this is our fate. What were we to do? Flee, save ourselves and leave our wives and children in the hands of the murderers who would cut them to pieces? It is better that all of us go into the pit together! These were his last words.
While there, I encountered one of my brothers, with a wife and four children, brought from Klesów. They and us, the entire family, lay and waited for a terrifying death. It was intensely hot, and people fainted from thirst. For a small bottle of water, gold watches and gold rings were given away to the Ukrainian police. Paper money was torn up and thrown into the toilets out of a fear of having money in one's possession.
On August 27th at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, all of the residents of Rokitno were called out of the camp. Five hundred came out. Immediately at the gate, their bundles were taken away, and everything they had, which was loaded onto wagons, which had been readied for this purpose at the gate. A kilometer from the camp, there was a small forest, in which three large pits had been dug. The Germans led away the victims, the first 500, and ordered them to undress, and lie down in the pit, and the murderers shot them there.
I stood there, like that, and tried to manage our hopeless situation with friends. Suddenly, I see people running, and the barbed wire fence is breached. This jolted me like an electric shock: Run! I did not understand what or where, but only that it was necessary to run! I left my friend Vartszun standing, and began to run, forgetting even that I had a wife and child. When I ran over the barbed wire, there had already accumulated a mound a meter high of dead people, wounded people, and people who had fainted. They fell from the shooting of the German and Ukrainian gendarmerie. I also saw that the barracks, full of people, were burning. It was the Germans who had fired on them.
I ran, coursing over the piles of the dead bodies. Bullets whistled by my ears. Grenades fell, it was a fire and a Hell on all sides. I ran at that time, but I did not know what I was doing. When I found myself about 400 meters from the camp, I heard the voice of my sister Toiva. She was running after me, and shouted: Stop, wait, let us not get separated, let us run together! When we came to the first street of the city, the bandits blocked our way. We lost one another. She ran into the house of a Pole, and I, along with two other Jews, leapt into a Pole's attic. There was a bit of straw there, in which we hid, lying down. In ten minutes, we heard that the Germans were going through the houses searching. A Polish woman had said: Here in the stall, three Jews have hidden themselves. The Germans came into the stall, and began to shout. We did not reply, and they went away. Many Jews were found in the pens, orchards and gardens, and shot on the spot. An hour later, the Ukrainians came to search in the stall, and up in the attic. However, thanks to the fact that we had hidden ourselves in the straw, they didn't find us. At about 12 midnight, when we heard the shooting and the explosions lessen, all three of us tore off the side of the roof, and crawled out of the attic.
The night was bright, and it was the 14th day of Elul. We crossed over many dead bodies, that lay in the gardens. Through back alleys, over fences and gates, we fled the city, reached the Sluch River, and walked the entire night along the edge of the river, until we reached the village of Lyukhcha, 7 km from Sarny.
Here, our situation, again became serious. We did not know what to do, where to put ourselves. We feared the sunshine, even our shadow. We trembled, fearing that at any instant, the bandits would seize us again. Our anxiety was great. Mr. Olshansky said to me: Let us throw ourselves into the river and drown! I answered him: No! If I have saved myself from the murderers, am I to drown myself now? I've got time to wait for that!
A difference of opinion arose among us: I wanted to go into the village, and the other two of my friends wanted to go into the forest. And so, indeed, they did go off to the forest, thinking that they will be able to conceal themselves better there. I went to the village of Strzelsk, because I knew some people there.
In the village, I hid out among the peasants for a longer period of time, suffering mightily from want and cold, contracting all manner of diseases. In the end, I saw that I will not be able to hold out there, and so I went off into the forests, where I joined up with a partisan group, and survived to the liberation.
by Jonah Borko-Sherman
Edited by Karen Leon
As I look around me, I see myself in Sarny, and I am 14 years old, a young girl, full of energy and the joy of life. My heart yearns for the wide open spaces, but we were shut up behind the walls of a ghetto. The Ukrainian police, under orders from the S.S., guarded us, lest any of us attempted to flee.
Those were terrifying days. We were oppressed in spirit and exhausted in body. Mature people were resigned to their fate, waiting for miracles, but the young people did not want to accept the decree. They frequently met to take stock of the circumstances, and looked for ways to break the burdensome yoke. My brother, Sholom zl told me this. He participated in these assessments and joined the underground that worked in the forests surrounding Sarny. He was murdered in a military action. These initiatives still had a moderate character because no one dreamed that the catastrophe would be so monumental. However, only a short time went by, and everyone began to sense the oncoming Holocaust.
And here, that terrible day arrived. The murderers sealed off the ghetto on all sides. It was only at that time that the adults understood what it was that awaited us, and the young people concluded by saying they would use force to resist the German scourge. My brother, Sholom, revealed many secrets to my father, and we, the children, whispered among ourselves. As you might expect, we did not understand everything. In my heart, I thought that the Germans were intending to take issue only with the communists, and that the rest of the Jewish settlement would not suffer any harm. Accordingly, we did not transgress, nor did we violate any ordinance. After all, why would they assault us?
In those days, our entire family, Father, Mother and six children, was alive. My parents, as all the Jewish parents, were God-fearing people and committed to their families, which was always their main concern. On the day we were ordered to present ourselves at the designated place, my parents decided not to obey the order and to hide in the bunkers. My father divided us into two groups, and said to us, My children, we are now going to go out against the enemy, and we are dividing ourselves into two groups, following the example of our Patriarch Jacob, in his confrontation with Esau.
My father's words were not clear to me, but my instinct told me to obey my parents, and so we sat hidden in two different locations.
The tragedy did not tarry in its arrival. The Jews of Sarny were taken out like sheep to the slaughter. Those of us in the bunkers didn't realize what had taken place, and it was only towards evening that the terrifying screams reached us. These were the voices of the thousands of slaughtered Jews, 'Hear O Israel, The Lord is Our God
by Joseph Wolf
Edited by Karen Leon
In April 1942, the Germans issued an order that all of the Jews, men, women and children, had to clean the detritus of a destroyed large building in the city center, in eight days. If this was not accomplished in the designated time they would be exterminated. The work had to be carried out with their own energies, not using horses or any kind of machines. Everything had to be done with their own hands, carried outside of the city, a walk of 2 kilometers. Even children aged 10 years were forced to help clean the place. The entire Judenrat worked along with them, with the President at their head.
On April 15, 1942, the Germans organized a ghetto in the eastern part of the city. Several streets were cordoned off with a wooden fence and guarded by Jewish and Ukrainian police. All the Jews of Sarny and the surrounding villages, 6,000 of them, were locked into this ghetto. The living conditions were terrible, with fifteen people to a room. This brought about the outbreak of a variety of diseases.
At the end of the year 1941, the Germans levied a required contribution on the Jews for 13 kilograms of gold. In the month of May 1942, a second contribution was levied in the amount of a quarter million rubles. In July 1942, a third contribution was levied, for 7 grams of gold per capita. The Jews made every effort to pay these demands for contributions in order to save their lives. However, this did not help. Living conditions in the ghetto were very difficult. It was necessary to work very hard and bitterly for the entire week, and for nourishment, one received only 100 grams of bread daily. If one didn't want to die of hunger, one had to stealthily sneak out of the ghetto, and either barter or sell something for a bit of food. People became swollen from hunger. The family of Yitzhak Czarnota, which numbered nine people, and the Lucky family, with four people, were shot by the Gestapo, because the fathers of the families went out of the ghetto to forage for a bit of food. One person, Shlomo Borko, made himself a primitive little mill from two stones in order to grind up a couple of kilos of whole grain. He used it for himself, and neighbors helped him with it, and for this, he was shot by the Gestapo with his entire family of four people.
by Abraham Freilich
Edited by Karen Leon
It began in the first days with an initiative that the Christian clergy had arranged. At that time, more than 100 people were murdered. This was the way the Ukrainians welcomed the Germans who were marching in.
Everyone was enveloped in a fear of death when, with the pealing church bells, masses of peasants from all of the surrounding villages, began to stream towards Sarny with knives and axes. Young priests delivered fiery speeches of incitement, in which they accused the Jews of guilt for everything. But even before they were ready to end their incitement against the Jews, placards began to appear in all of the streets signed by General Koch, that the peasants should not mix into political matters, and each should go off to their work, and not touch anyone. This initiative ended peacefully.
A Ukrainian police force was immediately formed with the Ukrainian artist, Dutkewicz, as the Regional Commissar, and the lawyer, Mariniuk, as the Burgomaster. Their first objective was to reorganize the local press to serve as an inciting force against the Jews. Every day, new pamphlets were issued that besmirched the Jewish populace. They went further, and imported a film, which showed the crucifixion of Jesus.
The Jews defended themselves with the one means at their disposal, which was to do diligent work for the German robbers through the Judenrat, with the Oberjude, the lawyer Neuman, from Kalisz, Poland at its head. The lawyer was transformed into the best and most diligent employee of the Germans.
Every day he reported to the Regional Commissar, bringing new orders and carrying them out precisely with the help of the Ukrainian Labor Command the ghetto. Anyone who wanted to smuggle in life sustenance returning from work, was taken away by the ghetto police for their own use.
Along with this began the misfortune of the contributions. The first contribution in the amount of 35 kg of gold, was delivered by the Jewish populace in the designated time. The second, however, of 75 kg of gold, supposed to have been delivered within eight days, was collected only after everyone had taken off their wedding bands, and removed their gold teeth.
The decree came on the 14th day of Elul 5702, August 27, 1942.
The Ukrainian police were assembled in the barracks with the message that they were going to receive the Ukrainian flag, but actually, they were given instructions on that day to surround the ghetto.
I had a premonition on that day, several hours earlier, so my wife and I fled into a church that was being built at the time. It was where I was working in the Christian section of the city of Poleska. It did not take long before I heard the sound of shooting from the ghetto.
I hid myself in the cupola of the church, from which I had the opportunity to observe everything. The ghetto was surrounded by a strong watch, and the city was surrounded by larger details. Secret agents accompanied by dogs and men on horseback went through every corner of the city. Solitary Jews who attempted to flee were immediately seized, bloodied, and led back. It was impossible that even a single soul would get out of there. And here, the church elder approached me, Yakovenko, and said to us, As God loves you, if you do not want me to be killed along with you, please leave here immediately.
Nevertheless, I remained there for a second day. From there, I went off, not too far away, to the Christian cemetery, where I hid among the graves.
The train cars were packed full of Jews from the surrounding towns of Klesow, Rokitno, Dabrowica, Rafalovka, and others, who were transported to Sarny. From there, they were led in long rows, under a heavy guard, to a camp at Poleska behind barbed wire. Gypsies were also led into the same camp.
Herr Neuman, from the Jewish Council, still tried to calm the masses, but then he was beaten by the Gypsies. A tumult ensued. Herr Neuman attempted to get the attention of the Regional Commissar from behind the barbed wire, and show his folder with gold, but the Regional Commissar waved it off with his hand, meaning that he no longer needed it. At that point, he had to go along with the rest of the Jews.
Neuman then approached the people and said, We have misplayed the process! With that, he placed himself first, with the members of his family, to go to the pits. The sounds of the shooting coming from the pits could be heard all over the city and the tumult increased. One individual, Joseph Gendelman, had a pair of scissors with him in his pocket, and a Gypsy used the scissors to cut the barbed wire. The masses made a rush to escape. At that point, the Germans opened up with machine gun fire and grenades, and the small door was piled up with a mountain of people. The one fortunate person was Faygl'eh Schwartz, who was defended by a German, who extracted her from behind the barbed wire.
From Yiddishe Zeitung, Tel-Aviv, 8.9.1955
by Israel Kruk
Edited by Karen Leon
On the night of August 26, 1942, the ghetto was surrounded with police carrying heavy weapons. All of the Jews were driven out of the ghetto, made to line up five to a row, and then driven towards Poleska. The Jews of Bereznica, Klesow, and Dabrowica had already been transported there, several thousand people. Together with us there were 14,000 people. We were there for the entire day.
In the evening, the first 500 people from Rokitno were ordered to come out and stand in a row. Peasants with wagons were already waiting there. Again, an order was issued that everyone was to strip naked. The clothing was piled onto the wagons, and the people were driven into the neighboring forest, and there they were exterminated.
After an hour's time, when they had finally disposed of the first party, the murderers came for the next 500 people, and exterminated them as well.
They took out 4 parties of people this way.
Having nothing to lose anymore, the people then organized themselves. Knowing that the same end awaited for all, they gathered together. At the head stood the hero Migdal, from the town of Siedlce, near Chelm. He sent two girls to distract the guards through conversation. While the girls were talking to the guards, Migdal, along with his sons, chopped through the barbed wire in four places and everyone took off to flee into the forest. The police opened fire and shot everyone.
Five hundred people managed to flee into the forest. The rest of the people were exterminated on that same day. All were driven to the pits, and were shot.
In this manner, approximately 14,000 Jews were exterminated. Of them all, only 40 people survived.
by Joseph Wolf
Edited by Karen Leon
I lived in the camp of the craftsmen. We had no connection with the large ghetto. There was only one man, his name was Lombowsky, who came to notify us with regard to matters pertaining to work. Two-hundred-three families lived in each dwelling room in this camp. One day, the Jewish policeman, Zvi Pearlstein, told us that we had to be prepared to make an attempt to escape by breaking through the wire fence. To this end, we were to arm ourselves with knives, and anything else suitable for this purpose. We waited for a signal, but nothing took place.
In the surroundings where we lived, we did not know what was to happen. This was on a Wednesday. We worked as usual. On Thursday, as we rose to go out to work, we saw that our small camp was surrounded by Ukrainian and German policemen. It was an early hour. At about 6-7 in the morning, they began to take us out of the houses, and we were not given the opportunity to take along belongings.
We were taken to Barmacko, not far from the municipal baths, exactly across from the exit to the Wide Boulevard. In that same hour, almost all of the Jews of the ghetto assembled there. Afterwards, all the men were called according to alphabetized lists. Those whose names were called had to come out in groups, one group at a time, each consisting of 500 Jews, who had to pass through the Wide Boulevard and were taken to the Poleska side. We crossed the road from the Wide Boulevard, turned to the left, and went along the side of the railroad tracks.
When we reached Poleska, the Jews of Rokitno, Klesow and Dabrowica were already there. They had been there already for a full day. It is not possible to describe what went on. There were already a few dead among them, and the living had neither food nor water. It is interesting that a few had managed to bring along bundles and suitcases, even to this place.
There were three pens inside the camp that were filled with people since the day before last. Rumors spread that the Germans were selecting the younger ones and sending them to do work, with the expectation that the older ones would be sent back to their houses.
It was an excessively hot summer day.
It was in this way that the time passed until 3-4 in the afternoon, at which time the wire fences were cut. It is correct that the German who stood beside the area of the break, stood aside, because he was paid off to do so. After we were told to prepare ourselves for this, each of us had something in his pocket, scissors, etc., but it was the refugees who cut through the fence. Why did the refugees become the schlegers, the tough guys to carry this out? It was because when the Judenrat levied a monetary assessment against an individual, and that individual refused to pay, it was not considered suitable to send a familiar person from Sarny, but rather they would send one of the refugees. One cannot fault them for carrying out this role. They believed that if we were to present these sums of money, it would be a way to save our lives.
There was a double fence, and between them, German soldiers and Ukrainian police circulated, with their arms either worn, or in their hands. The inner fence was cut first, but not all of its wires. With the pandemonium that broke out they did not get to cut the wires of the second fence, but rather it fell over from the pressure of the mob who had burst through to escape from the camp.
What moved us to attempt this breakout? First, it was said that they were taking the young to work, but the older ones would return to their homes. However, after an hour between 3 and 4, the people of Rokitno and Klesow were called, and they were taken out of the camp and led in the direction of the forest. After this, the report of gunfire reached us from this same direction. We came to understand that this was the last minute in which it would still be possible to act. It was at that point that the fence was cut, and the breakout began.
Initially, I didn't think to flee, because I looked for the members of my family in order to be together with them. I attempted to get inside one of the pens, but the enormous overcrowding eliminated any possibility of getting close to them. Suddenly, I saw many people fleeing up a hillock in the direction of the sand piles. They ran with all their might, and climbed up on their knees. I too reached that spot, but by that time, those who were killed had been piled one on top of another, and I could not pass. With one hand, I grabbed a hold of the fence, and with the second, the wires, and I climbed up till I reached the top, and then rolled down to the bottom, rolling further, because I was no longer able to run. Bullets flew from all directions, and grenades were thrown into the pens. The daylight was diminished because of the clouds of dust that were tossed up from under the feet of those fleeing and the impact of bullets. I was among those whose luck held out. I crossed over the road to Bereznica along with other people and we entered the forest. There, I encountered Yoss'l Hasid, and we stayed together until evening.
In the evening, I made it to the e village of Stril's'k, to a peasant, and I remained with him.
by Baruch Krimsky
Edited by Karen Leon
Refugees from other locales took up residence in the ghetto. Schlegers of the ghetto were recruited from among them, and were sent to everyone who refused to turn over gold, or other possessions, in accordance with the levy that was allocated to him. I remember one of these, Hoenig, a boxer from Lodz.
These refugees came to the Judenrat with a proposal for Margolis, who was the head of the police. Be aware, they said to Margolis, that Jews are being killed everywhere, and it would be better if we leave the ghetto and flee into the forest! Margolis paid attention to these words, and confirmed them with the Elder, Volodya Goldman, who was a member of the Judenrat. I lived across from the ghetto houses, and opposite the community house, and because of this, they entered my residence to take counsel. Murik and Cirulnik were also called.
This was a number of days before the aktion.
It was decided at this meeting to appoint a specific person for each street, and he was to gather four additional people. These people were to collect benzine or oil and prepare for a signal. When the signal was given, they were to set fire to the ghetto on all sides. This proposal was put forth by the schleger refugees in the ghetto. To the extent of what I knew, these were the same people who cut through the barbed wire of the fence that ringed the extermination plaza on all sides.
Simcha Murik took command of his own street, Ulica Wisiula. I was to take my own street, Kupeicka. Suddenly, Margolis said, We cannot carry this out by ourselves. We need to pass this by the lawyer, Neuman. They went to see him, and came back relaying the following directions given to them by Neuman, Hold off for an hour from doing this, because Neuman is going to enter into negotiations with the Regional Commissar.
Neuman went to the Regional Commissar, and in the meantime, a day or two went by. We knew that he took the container with all of the gold with him and turned it over to the Regional Commissar. When he returned, he said to the members of the Judenrat, I promise you that they will not touch even a single one of us in a harmful way. After all, we are also workers!
This was the way that the Jews planned arson, but the plan was not implemented.
On the day that the ghetto was liquidated, when we were driven out into the Wide Boulevard, I saw, at a distance of 2-3 strides from me, a tall, elderly Jewish man fall down. He was left in the middle of the street. Notkin, a Ukrainian policeman from Sarny came upon him, kicked him, and wounded him in the throat, but the elderly man did not get up. He remained lying on the steps. After this, we heard a shot, and we were told that they had killed this Jewish man as he lay on the stairs.
This elderly man apparently was Ephraim Ratfan.
When we arrived in Poleska it was already cordoned off with barbed wire. A machine gun was set up on a nearby hillock, with a contingent of Germans beside it. We were located in a vale, because even from the second passage of the field, the hillock was raised higher. Among the mass of those assembled there, were the refugees that I had mentioned. One of them had an axe, and another had a pair of pliers. They approached me and said, We need to create a diversion!' At that time, I was standing beside my wife and son, and without a shirt on. I had two watches and three gold rings with me and I wanted to procure some water for the boy, who was thirsty. The Ukrainian police arranged for a special barter. They brought a bottle of water in exchange for a gold coin, or something that had worth in gold. However, in order to approach them, it was necessary to get close to the barbed wire. Only then could one engage them in conversation about the price for the water. When I turned to the fence, someone said to me that the refugees had already begun their work. We were still glancing about, here and there, and they had already quickly cut the barbed wire. One sergeant who was standing close to that place, turned to the side, as if he purposely was trying not to observe what was being done. Those close to the break began to flee in that direction, and the Ukrainian police opened fire at the commotion. The bottom-most strand in the fence was not cut, and this made the escape more difficult. We had to run up to the top of the hillock, and the machine gun could have easily cut us down. Many fell either killed or wounded.
As I fled, the daughter of Beigel stuck close to me. She was about fourteen years old. Together, with her, I fled into the forest.
by Aryeh Turkentiz
Edited by Karen Leon
Life Within the Ghetto
I was 15 years old when Sarny was captured by the Germans.
A short time after the conquest, all the Jews were ordered to gather on the older side of the city. All of the residents of the Poleska side were ordered to move to the second side. Around the same time we were ordered to attach the Star of David symbol to our cuff.
Until the concentration inside the ghetto, the movement of the Sarny Jews was free inside the entire city.
The Jews of the city were obligated to work at various tasks, beginning with the cleaning of the streets by the women, and ending with the building of bridges.
There were Germans who stood over the backs of the laborers with staves in their hands. But here and there was a glimmer of humanity on the part of one German or another. When Moshe Goldman, of Klesow, was injured while working at the sawmill in Sarny, an elderly German carried him in his arms to his home. The German saw to it that he got medical treatment, and afterward brought him food and visited him a number of times in his home.
During this time, several small-scale industries were established in the city, in which a variety of people settled in for steady work.
The economic circumstances of the ghetto residents were dependent upon the extent of the goods they had in their possession to trade for food, as well as the connections that Jews had with Christians on the outside. There were also Christians who would steal into the ghetto to bring foodstuffs to be sold or bartered for clothing or other things of value. Worse still was the condition of the many refugees who lived in the Sarny ghetto, and who were short of means. These were the ones who tasted the pangs of hunger. People swollen from hunger who came to beg for a handout of a few potatoes, were a sight that sprang up in the Sarny ghetto. The ration of bread that was distributed according to a ration card was not sufficient for even one meal.
After the time when movement inside the ghetto became forbidden after dark, community life became almost entirely extinguished. Everyone closeted themselves within the confines of their own family. The exceptions were those disturbances that marked the life of the ghetto and characterized ghetto existence. The first such incident was on Yom Kippur, and was followed by other similar incidents. There was a great expectation that just about any day now, this evil regime would be brought down, and that movement on the front would change its direction, and bring us salvation. Here and there, news fragments were gathered, that were passed along from mouth to ear, which served as important encouragements to comfort the Jews in the Sarny ghetto,
It was unclear what was happening in other ghettos. This was the reason for doubt concerning the future of the Jews in the ghetto that was engendered in their gut and heart. With the distance of time, I learned of this from the fact the Jews began to build places of refuge and hideaways. Similarly, I can remember that among people of my age, there was talk of resistance, escape, etc., despite the fact that it was unclear to us how to resist, and to where we would flee. One time, we received news of a German train that was attacked by partisans, between Olevs'k and Laustki. This item of news served afterwards, as a source of direction to accelerate the intent of my own group, after we had escaped the killing valley.
The Last Two Days of the Ghetto: 26-27 August 1942
The ghetto is surrounded! No one goes in or out!
This was the first news at the dawn of Wednesday, August 26. Armed Ukrainian police were placed at the gates and exits from the ghetto, which were normally manned by guards of the ghetto police. There were people between the ghetto houses in the vicinity of the gates, who already observed ongoing preparations overnight, that were out of the ordinary. A number of young men who had the nerve to attempt to break through this surrounding ring and escape, were wounded or killed. It was understood that no one would go to work that day. The entire ghetto was like a beehive that had suddenly had its tranquility upset.
It is possible that the organization of resistance to the Germans and their supporters had already existed. I found out about this literally on that day. There was talk about setting the ghetto ablaze. According to the plan, each person was supposed to set fire to his own house, and with the escalation of the ensuing confusion, to fall on the guards, and perhaps in this way, enable the escape of as large a number of people as possible.
As far as I could see with my own eyes, the organizers of this resistance were Portnoy, Simcha Murik, Moshe Pickman and Yitzhak Geller.
I saw that from the house of Yehoshua Goldman, which was beside Goldman's hotel where the Judenrat had its headquarters, small bottles of benzine and other flammable materials were being distributed. For whatever reason, the resistance plan was aborted under the aegis of the Judenrat.
The night between that day and the Day of Calamity, on Thursday, was a night of waiting. Few slept that night. A few tried their luck to break through, or to conceal themselves in hiding places.
After we went over from Poleska to the ghetto, we lived opposite the bath house beside the house of Dr. Koshokhov. From our location we were able to see all the Jews being brought to the main gate of the ghetto that went out from Ulica Barmacko to the Wide Boulevard. I can still remember that in the final minutes of our leaving the ghetto I saw Portnoy returning with a few youths into the ghetto. It was said that they were going to set it on fire, but this never happened.
From this time on, everything was conducted swiftly and with the typical German efficiency. We were arrayed in accordance to a list of families, in one-hundred rows of five. We were taken along the length of the Wide Boulevard, over to Poleska, where the Christian residents watched us as they stood at the sides of the street. Elderly Jews, or those few who were sick, were transported on wagons. We crossed the railroad tracks and were taken into a camp that had been previously prepared, and which was already full of Jews from the surrounding towns of Rokitno, Klesow, Dabrowica and other locations.
There were three pens in the camp.
On the left side of the camp at the top of a hillock, stood the Polish Catholic Church. The street continued further along and led to the cemetery. The building that housed the Regional Commissar was also on the hillock. To the right of the camp stood a house, that in the time of the Russians, served as the headquarters of the N.K.V.D. A machine gun was set up there.
It was still not clear as to what our situation was. At this point, the heart was not yet ready to believe that here we were facing our end. A variety of theories were posed. Perhaps the Germans were getting ready to transfer all of us to a work camp in barracks beside Strachow to work in the adjacent forests and quarries. It was not conceivable that the Germans would simply exterminate people who worked for them, and were useful to them.
The Jews from the outside villages were brought first. They were in very straitened circumstances, having no water, and no food. This day was a hot day in the month of Elul. A Jew here or there bought a bottle of water from a policeman in exchange for a gold watch, or a gold ring. There were Jews who got close to the fence in order to obtain water, and they were shot and wounded.
We sat at the center of the camp which was stifling and crowded, with no room at all. We made an ablution over our hands, with a bit of sand, in order to make a blessing on this small portion of water.
With the entry of the Jews from Sarny into the camp, the Germans began to read the names of the Jews of the villages, and led them out in large batches in the direction of the forest that is beside the road to the Jewish cemetery. After this, the reports of gunfire and explosions began to reach us. The matter became immediately clear. There were those who threw their gold possessions and other valuables into the camp latrines, others who cut their new clothing, in order that they not be of any use to the Germans.
The Breakout and Escape
In the meantime, I heard that people were standing ready to break through the fence to the outside. I decided to approach the fence to see what the situation was. I told my parents that I was going for a minute, and would return immediately. As I drew near to the fence, someone said to me, and I cannot recall who it was, that the young and healthy people should congregate beside the fence. I ran back somehow, and called out, young people, to the fence! I had not been able to get back to the members of my household when the shooting broke out. It appears that the shooting was from rifles and some mortars, and came from the building that stood at the side of the field that faced the city. A wave of people who had fled before the shots into the center of the camp streamed in the direction of the pens that stood on the left side. The killed and wounded rolled around on all sides and paths, and the mob ran with each person stepping on the backs of his fellow.
I did not hear the report of two exploding grenades. It appears that the policemen retreated at first to the sides because of the pressure of the huge mob that ran to the break in the fence.
As an aside, Gypsies were brought into the camp along with us. These people came along carrying their sacred images, The Holy Mother, etc, believing that because of these relics, they would be treated better. But this did not help them. They were taken to the forest along with the groups from Rokitno. Some of the Gypsies remained behind in the pens, and I was told that they set those pens on fire. They said, under cover of the smoke from the burning pens, and in the ensuing confusion, we will succeed in escaping.
Somebody fell on top of me. With great difficulty, I managed to free myself from under the pile of people who fell on top of the individual who fell on me. There was a clear stretch In front of the pen that looked like it had been swept by a broom. This appears to have been the consequence of a mortar that stood on a hillock at the outskirts of the camp. With difficulty, I reached the penetrated fence. Though I did not find the breach itself, I managed somehow to clamber up the first fence, and from it, I rolled down to the bottom. I traversed the second fence which was three meters away, by crawling on my belly underneath.
I was outside the camp.
I began to run in the direction of the houses in the vicinity. With every burst of gunfire I fell to the ground, got up, and resumed running until I got between the houses. I saw Jews running and I ran after them. I saw a Pole who stood and shouted, Get out of my yard! I saw a youngster who had remained behind in a garden to pick a tomato. I saw a Jew from Klesow, by the name of Burstein, all red from his own blood, or that of someone who was running in front of him. His son ran and he guided him in which direction to run. I threw off my boots and continued to run barefoot. In front of me, young men were running dressed only in their underpants. We exited into the fields. Here and there, we heard reports of sporadic gunfire on all sides. We went into the tall grass. I kept an eye on the steps taken by the one running in front of me.
We stopped running when it began to grow dark. We were a group of twenty six men and women, and children. One man, a refugee from Poland, had a two-week old baby in his arms. Ber'l Bick was in this group, and he was familiar with the vicinity. He led us across the Sluch River. We entered the home of a gentile who gave us directions on how to reach the river. We crossed the river and headed towards the forests. Over the course of two days, the group broke up into a series of smaller groups.
There were seven people in my group: Portnoy's three sons - his 17 year-old son, Aharon 13, and the youngest brother age 5 (currently in The Land); a Sarny shoemaker, Turok, about 50; a youth age 16 from Nemovychi; the son of the Zadarmonik, aged 12-13, and me.
No one knew where we should go. We were in a place in the forest where there was a train station for the narrow gauge train that led to Puhach beside Klesow. I offered, Come, let us walk in the direction of Klesow. There I will find gentiles who I know.
It was in this manner that we proceeded following the train tracks. Along the way, we found pictures of girls from Klesow, the daughters of Szeintukh, who were previously with us and seemingly caught by the Ukrainian police.
by Pinchas Neuman
Edited by Karen Leon
The order to corral the people was made public on Monday, August 24. The Deputy Commissioner was called at 5 o'clock in the morning, and he was told that everyone was required to come together within the next three days in order to register.
After several hours, the lawyer Neuman, from Kalisz, arrived. He was the secretary of our Judenrat, and held this position because he spoke German well. In my opinion, he was committed to our Jewish issues. Neuman told the Judenrat in a meeting with them that the matter of the registration had been turned over to him. People began to think that the intent here was not registration, but something far more serious. It was decided to approach the Regional Commissar. Accordingly, the Judenrat offered him a specific sum of gold. To accomplish this, it was necessary to levy an order of confiscation on every Jew who possessed gold, in exchange for merchandise such as textiles, and the like, which could be found with other Jews.
Out of this undertaking, some gold remained, because not all of the gold amassed was turned over to the Regional Commissar. The officials came to an agreement with him, that in light of the fact that they could not assemble the amount of gold that he demanded, he would accept Ukrainian currency in its place, to be paid out to him in monthly installments over the course of a number of months.
We were happy with this arrangement. We felt that if we trusted his word, it would extend our lives. We reasoned that if the Regional Commissar was prepared to divide up the obligation into installments of several months, that this was a good sign. He also said to those who came to him, So long as I am the Regional Commissar of Sarny, nothing bad will befall you. This seemed to make sense to us, because the Jews of the locality always provided the number of people demanded of them for performing labor, and also gave presents to the Regional Commissar in excess of requirements. As it happens, this very Regional Commissar, in his attempt to persuade the Jews that there was no danger to them, would say, If we thought to do anything, we would immediately seal off the ghetto.
At the end of the matter, on the day the exit from the ghetto was closed, and this was already Thursday of the week, all the gold that was in the Judenrat treasury had been turned over to the Regional Commissar as a gift. He reiterated his promise that the people had merely gone out for registration purposes, and that afterwards, they would return to their homes and nothing would be done to them. He took the gold, but despite all of his promises, the ghetto was sealed off, and we would see what would happen.
At the gathering field, surrounded by barbed wire, the people of Dabrowica were brought in as early as Wednesday, along with those of Klesow and Rokitno.
The Germans took out a large number of people from this concentration point to the woods, divided them up into small groups, brought each of these groups close to the edge of the pit, telling them to take off their outer clothing, and to remain dressed only in their underwear.
There was a special box near this spot into which the contents of the pockets of those people in these groups were emptied, consisting of all their possessions, jewelry and money. The undressed people were ordered to go down into the pit and lie down on their bellies with their faces down. It was in this condition that the murderers opened fire and shot them with automatic weaponry. The Germans elected this procedure in order not to create noise. Accordingly, it was difficult to hear the weapon fire all the way back at the concentration field because of the background noise emanating from there, a consequence of the intense overcrowding of thousands of men, women, and children.
Beside this box, a German guard stood watch over the spoils.
At the time that the fence surrounding the concentration field was broken through, my brother fled, and I ran in his footsteps. The Germans, and their accomplices, noisily fired into the fleeing mob, and a mound of dead and wounded piled up beside the break in the fence. Also, those who managed to negotiate this pile of people, and get to the other side of the fence, were either wounded or killed there. My brother succeeded to pass under the hail of bullets, and ran to his house. However, he was grabbed in the street by a Ukrainian policeman who killed him on the spot. The daughter of my brother successfully reached her house, and hid herself for three days with a Polish neighbor. After this, that same Polish neighbor told me that in the year 1944, the Ukrainian Oszyko came to her and said, You are concealing the daughter of Neuman. Release her and turn her over to me! I do not know if this same neighbor turned her over into his hands, or if he and his accomplices extracted her from the stable in which she was hiding and then killed her. When I came to Sarny in 1944, I no longer found that Ukrainian there. The name of my brother's daughter was Leah.
During the time of flight, I was shot in the neck with a bullet, but the wound was light enough that I could continue to run in the direction of the forest. When I got there, I fled towards the forests of Bereznica. There, I ran into young lads from Dabrowica, who were among the partisans.
by Feiga Schwartz-Sherman zl
(Told by Feiga Schwartz-Sherman zl. Transcribed by Nehemiah Sherman)
Edited by Karen Leon
In the House of the Regional Commissar (Gebiets-Kommissar)
When the Judenrat in Sarny began to function, it also recruited the Jews to be pressed into forced labor. On one occasion, the Germans demanded two women servants for the house of the Regional Commissar. My cousin and I were sent to perform this work. It appears that our diligent work found favor, and the Germans ordered that we were to come and work every day.
They became used to us a little at a time, and we often had the opportunity to observe and to listen to that which transpired there. Afterwards, we relayed this to the Judenrat. Later on as well, we worked in the home of the Regional Commissar when all of the Jews were locked into the ghetto. The Regional Commissar was a notorious murderer, and he had a surly dog to help him which he would sic onto his Jewish victims. When the dog let go of its victim, that victim lay nearly dead. It was only at that point, that the Regional Commissioner called him off.
It was in this manner, that we lived in terror and sorrow.
Later on, the contributions began.
I frequently had the opportunity to overhear discussions among the Germans who came to the Commissar to get their orders. This is how I found out about the Second Contribution that the Germans decided to levy upon the Jews. I immediately conveyed this knowledge to the Judenrat, which decided to pay the Second Contribution, and later on, also the Third, which at the time was the most difficult. At this point, the Judenrat was compelled to implement forced measures, even through physical force. It also demanded that each Jew swear, by the light of black candles, that he no longer possessed anything of value. Nevertheless, the Judenrat continued to believe that the bloodthirsty beast would be slaked with monetary contributions.
After the contributions, new demands began to come. They demanded good clothing, boots, underwear, culinary serving dishes, etc. When they saw that they had taken in everything, they began to get ready for an extermination aktion.
Circumstances in the ghetto became more difficult with each passing day. The guard stationed became more strict. It was necessary to have special permission to go out to work. I had such permission as I was still working at the home of the Regional Commissar.
On one occasion, we received an order to prepare a meal for people who were supposed to arrive the following day. The arriving guests were S.S. troops who had to carry out the extermination aktion. One German permitted me to hear that the world is so beautiful, and therefore life also had to be beautiful. I did not understand what he meant, but when I observed how the Germans were feasting, I then understood that something frightening was about to happen. One German pointed to packs of weaponry, and said that it could be used for better purposes.
It was late, and I ran back to the ghetto to describe what I saw at the Regional Commissar. The Jews still refused to believe that this would actually transpire.
The watch around the ghetto was changed. Instead of the Jewish police, the Ukrainians took over. When I wanted to go back to my work, they were not permitting anyone to leave. That day, towards evening, an order was issued that the following morning there will be a general census, and everyone, from old to young, would have to come out of the houses. Now, everyone understood that this time, it was no ordinary census.
In the morning, the census was carried out with great precision. The Judenrat made sure that no single individual was missing. It was threatened that if a single member of a family were not to present themselves, the entire family would be shot. After the census, the murderers still tried to talk everyone into believing that they were going to be transferred to work in a different location. To this end, they told everyone to prepare themselves. Despite the fact that everyone felt that the destruction was nigh, they wanted to believe that they were to travel for purposes of work. Everyone made themselves ready for this, and took along whatever it was that they had. Each one thought, maybe I will be able to sell something from these things, or barter for necessities for sustenance.
During the night, the number of guards increased. The ghetto began to pulse. Benzine and oil were prepared in order to set the ghetto on fire once it became dark. However, this never happened. The Judenrat persisted in believing that nothing was going to happen, and took care to assure that everything was kept in the best of order.
In the morning, the Germans, together with the Ukrainian murderers, resumed taking the census. This time it was done in alphabetical order. Those who were in the first letters of the alphabet were grouped together and sent under guard to a place outside of the city cordoned off with barbed wire. The murderers shot many peple on the way to this place. I was in the later letters of the alphabet, and it happened that I was taken out of the ghetto on the second day. On the way to the designated place, I saw many bodies of the killed, whom the Ukrainians had piled on wagons and taken off to already-prepared pits. On arrival at our destination, we encountered many Jews from our vicinity.
Immediately afterwards, the Germans locked up the barbed wire. We were approximately eleven thousand people. A frightening pandemonium set in. Many people took their leave of one another, others recited their confessions, and cried out Shema Yisrael. I lost my nearest, and did not know what was happening to me.
Suddenly, I noticed that the fence had been broken through and people were pressing to escape. I immediately set off to find my family and friends in order to summon them to flee. But when we ran to the place, we found it already full of those killed by the shooting that the Germans and the Ukrainians had initiated.
Hundreds of people fell dead from the shooting and the thrown grenades, and even more wounded. When the shooting ceased, a frightening picture was revealed. People lay torn to pieces, limbs were spread all over the field. Among the wounded, I found my father, who was in the process of dying. My mother was already dead.
Immediately after this, the murderers began driving groups of people to the pits. Here, they ordered people to undress, and go down into the pit, and there, the murderers shot them, one row at a time. When it came time for my row, the second pit was almost full. I lay with my face down in accordance with the order. All that remained was to shoot a row, and they stopped bringing additional people, because the pits had become overflowing.
It appears that I had fainted and did not know what was happening to me. When I came to, I saw that I was entirely covered in blood. I began to feel around my body to see if I was wounded. In the meantime, it grew dark, and the murderers left, leaving behind two soldiers to stand guard. I went over to the mound of clothing, took a rag to cover myself, and headed back to the barbed wire. One of the soldiers said to the other, Look at what she is doing. The second replied, Let her go wherever she wants to. I came back to the place. Here, I found my aunt, my Uncle Yoss'l's wife. Both of us lay down by the fence.
A German Rescues Me
Lying this way, close to the wire, I suddenly sensed that I was being dragged by my hair. I looked around, and saw a German on the other side of the barbed wire. He asked me whether I was the Little Frieda who had worked for the Regional Commissar. When I answered that this was me, he proposed to rescue me. I did not want to believe him, but he did not cease to persuade me of how serious he was about this. My Aunt shouted to me, Go. What have you got to lose! I agreed to do this, and the German proceeded to carry out his plan.
The German's name was Paul Redinger, from Cologne. Three times, the German investigated the path through the corridor from the house in which the S.S. murderers were billeted along with their Ukrainian accomplices. On the fourth time he was able to lead me out, and run up to the second German, from whom he had agreed to receive some help. The latter was lying beside a tree with a machine gun and was guarding the area. We ran into a patrol while leaving the place. When the German saw that the situation was bad, he threw me down beside the second German, and covered me with his coat. The patrol did not notice anything, and after inspecting the area, they went away.
A few minutes later, the German took me off to the side and left me, sitting alone under a tree. I had to decide what to do when it started to get light. Not far from there was the house of a Polish woman who I knew. I went up to the house and quietly began to call out a request for them to open the door. The woman became terribly frightened when she noticed me, and demanded that I immediately leave. She promised me that she would not inform on me. I told her that I had no place to go and I had no alternative. Not far from this place were large houses, or barracks. The woman knew of a cellar that was full of water. She led me into that place and pushed me into the water. I remained standing in water, up to my chest.
In the morning, the German began to search for me. The Polish woman noticed this, and using her eyes, she indicated to him where I was. When he saw my circumstances, he cursed the murderers. I did not want to come out of the water. And so, I remained there for 24 hours. The German brought me his bread ration, which he extended to me on a board.
After several more days of pain, I could no longer hold out. I told my rescuer that I wanted to come out regardless of the danger. The German, once again, persuaded me to wait until he could think of something. He promised that he would bring me clothing, and see what could be done in order for me to get out.
Two days later, the German came with another soldier. He brought me a bit of a dress, and told me to put it on. After this, he took me under one arm, and the second one under the other arm, and we went out into the street. En route, we encountered my cousin. The Germans then shared the burden. One escorted me, and the second, my cousin. We permitted ourselves to go to the Polish woman whom I knew. Not knowing exactly where this Polish woman lived, I began to call out her name. To our fortune, she responded, and opened the door. The Germans left us alone, because they thought that the Polish woman would be afraid of them, and would not want to let us into the house.
By a good fortune, something happened to that Polish woman on that day, which caused her to make a decision to do something humane.
She had two small children, and was herself sick, requiring medication. In addition, she needed to feed 5 people. It was under these circumstances that the German found us, when he returned the following morning to find out what had happened to us. He used the need of the Polish woman, and proposed to help her, provided that she would take good care of these two Jewish girls. The Polish woman agreed to this, and the German brought us foodstuffs.
We made a hiding place for ourselves in the cellar, and for a period of time, no one knew of our existence. Regrettably, the Polish woman expressed her sorrows in front of a neighbor, and that one told a second one. The last of these began an incitement against us, demanding that the Polish woman turn us in. The Polish woman went to the priest, and told him everything. The priest came to visit us, and helped us, and most importantly, he worked out a way to make the incitement of the neighbors stop.
Circumstances, however, took a turn for the worse. Our German went off to the front. He told his friend, another German, that he should continue to help us with food, but this one did not do so. The Polish woman indicated her willingness to bring over some goods from a hiding place in our home in the ghetto. She bartered these items for food, but this lasted only for a short time.
We were acquainted with a Polish family, Wojciechowski, in a village near Sarny. My father left many things with this family to keep for us. Therefore, we decided to visit this family to pick up some of our possessions. We set out for this village on a Sunday. We encountered two peasants on the way. One noted that I was Yankl's sister. The second said, let them go with God.
That evening, we reached the peasant whom we knew, but he was very tired. The following morning I told the peasant's wife the reason we had come to them. She listened to me, and said that she would not give me the items I wanted, but she would pay for them with food. Naturally, I agreed. She gave us a variety of products to take along, and escorted us to the road. The road back was fraught with risk because any peasant could recognize us, and reveal who we were.
We spent almost an entire year with the Polish lady in the city, up to the point when the Germans carried out frequent inspections. It became impossible to remain in this place. We decided to go to another peasant whom we knew, with the objective of asking him to take us in. A few days later, the peasant arrived with a wagon load of hay, hid us under the hay, and brought us to his place in the village. I remained to work for the Wojciechowski family, and my cousin stayed with a neighbor.
In the end, the situation in the village also became unrestful. The Ukrainians carried out assaults against the Poles, and also, there was no rest from partisan attacks. Whole villages were massacred and plundered. Every day we sat in anticipation of an assault from the Ukrainians. For this reason, we did not stay in the house to sleep overnight, but rather, went and hid ourselves in the forest. We returned to work each morning.
Before the Ukrainians fell upon the village of Malushka, where we were, they murdered the son of the master of our house. They murdered him in a field, and nailed him to a tree. The peasants grasped what this portended for them, and they decided to abandon the village and evacuate to Poland. They proposed that we accompany them, but we didn't want to do so.
We were left with only one alternative when the Poles left, which was to present ourselves to the Jewish partisans in the forest. But how was this to be done? There was a danger of falling into the hands of the Ukrainian bands. On our way to the forest we passed by a hamlet of Polish peasants. One of them asked whether we were the ones who worked for the Wojciechowski family. He proposed that we stay with him. We agreed to this. Even here, we were able to stay for only two months. Even here, the Ukrainians fell upon the village, set the houses and stalls on fire, stole the cattle, and anything that could be carried away. The peasant for whom we worked remained alive, but he was no longer able to remain in that place, and made the decision to leave for Poland. We begged him to help us reach the Jewish partisans. He hid us in a small haystack, and went off alone to meet with the Jews in the forest. He returned in the evening of the second day with a bit of food for us. Afterwards, he took us out on the road and showed us the way for us to proceed. We went, not knowing where we were going. A couple of hours later, we heard voices. We called out to them, and to our good fortune, it was a Jew who responded. This was Abraham the Tinsmith, our neighbor in Sarny. He recognized us immediately, and pulled us out of the muck into which we had sunken.
In the Forest
In the first hours we were fortunate, but then the troubles came. It was hard to acquire the things needed to sustain life, and assaults from Ukrainian bands began, and victims fell.
On one occasion, several young girls, among them my cousin, went to the nearby village in order to procure something to eat, and a bit of salt. They had just made themselves visible to enter the house of a peasant, when Ukrainians armed with machine guns appeared and ordered everyone to lie down on the floor. First they shot the peasant, cursing him with the words, you accursed vessel. After that, they began to shoot in all directions. My cousin was wounded twice, and died.
And once again, we were surrounded by the Ukrainians. This time, they planned to murder us all. However, because of a fortuitous error among these murderers, we were able to rescue ourselves from a certain death.
The murderers began by treating t us diplomatically. They proposed that we relocate to their village, to work for them, and that everything would be in order. They agreed to wait two days for our answer. In order to gain time, we agreed to think about their proposal. We sent two people to establish a connection with our new friends. Along the way, our emissaries encountered an elderly peasant. When he heard where they were going he warned them not to dare to go any further, because their end would be death. He told them that the Russian Army was already quite close. The two Jewish men turned back to us with this news.
In the meantime, our need grew more intense, and we were compelled to find a new hiding place. We selected a new place and moved to it. The cold weather began and the snow covered us. We did not stir from our place for eight days. However, when there was a danger that we would die from hunger, we decided to find out what news there was. Two Jewish men set out for the nearby village. When they entered the home of a peasant they saw two members of the Red Army. They fell before the Russians out of great joy, and kissed their feet.
It was at this time that new sorrow and weeping ensued. Everyone of us made an accounting of who was left with them, and to whom they could turn.
Back to Sarny
I did not encounter any Jews when I returned to Sarny. My first visit to the house of a Polish family was not a friendly one. They did not permit me to lodge in their house for the night. That first night was spent outside. On the following morning, I found a Polish woman, who permitted me to lodge in her quarters.
Later, I met up with a Jewish woman from Warsaw, who had hidden herself in Sarny. We arranged a place for ourselves together. Later on, I met up with the two Borko sisters who hid with hourly workers, and it became a little more homey. A little at a time, single Jews, here and there, returned from the forests and from Russia. Those men who were able to serve in the military were immediately mobilized into the Russian army.
The city was bombed daily. We believed that our situation would change for the better, but the N.K.V.D. made sure that we did not lack trouble. They began to investigate how it was that I had remained alive. It was hard for them to believe the story of how I was rescued by a German. It took a great deal of energy on my part to cause this to be glossed over.
I began to search for my brother. When we met again, along with the other Jews, we prepared to set out for Poland. After a short time we were able to leave Sarny, and in the summer of 1945, we arrived in Lodz. We remained in Lodz for 4 months and afterwards, we went to Germany. We remained in Berlin for 5 weeks because the Americans had sealed the borders. In December 1945, we arrived in the American Zone. My brother went off to a camp in Zeilsheim, and remained there until 1946, when he made aliyah to The Land of Israel with the Aliyat HaNoar. My uncle and I remained in the Lampertheim camp. There, I made the acquaintance of a young man whom I married in 1948. Several months later, we emigrated to Canada.
I gave birth to a son in Winnipeg, Canada. After 2 ½ years, we moved to Montreal, where I gave birth to my daughter.
Finally, I wish to note that when I was in Germany I looked for the German who was my rescuer. I met with him, and we both visited the Historical Commission and conveyed the details of my rescue. During the time I was in Germany, I found it necessary to express my gratitude to the German in many ways, including giving him packages with provisions and monetary support.
I am certain that if my wife were alive today, she could have told much more about this sordid chapter which the Sarny Jews endured in the ghetto and during the time of the tragic extermination. Regrettably, she was not able to do so. She fell ill on June 5, 1959, and on June 19, she passed away.
May these lines that I have put down in writing about her tales, be dedicated to her memory.
by Yitzhak Schwartz
Edited by Karen Leon
After the capture of Sarny by the Germans, my sister Feiga together with my parents and the remaining members of the family were in the ghetto, in our house at Ksziwo 4. During the entire period of the existence of the ghetto, my sister, together with Sarah, the wife of my cousin, Sioma Schwartz, were sent to work at the restaurant that served the Germans who worked at the railroad station, and in the factory that repaired locomotives.
With the liquidation of the ghetto, my sister, along with Sarah, and my Aunt Baylah, were taken to the pits in one group. As the pits were already filled with the bodies of those who were killed, and since it was already late, the murderers decided to stop their work, and, during the night, to prepare a third pit for those who remained and had not yet been killed. Among those who were returned, or who were brought back to the pens on the field, were Feiga, Sarah and my aunt.
That same evening and night, the field was under the guard of Ukrainian and German police, the latter recruited from the Todt ranks who worked on maintenance of the rolling stock. Among these Germans were some who recognized my sister from her days of working at the restaurant. One of these Germans turned to Feiga and in a whisper, he proposed to save her along with Sarah.
Feiga thought that the German, Paul Redinger of Cologne, was making a joke, but she agreed when he held on to her. He extracted her from behind the fence. His friend, a partner in this rescue, came to relieve him.
The hour was close to midnight. In the city, an air of lockdown reigned, and only a guard flitted about the streets. Feiga moved ahead, her arm entwined with that of the German, across from the railroad station, in order to cross over to the second side of the city. Two Ukrainian policemen noticed them, and ordered, Hands up! The German replied to them pejoratively, and cursed at them in German as he called out the password of the evening, Leipzig, while blinding their eyes with a strong military lantern. The Ukrainians realized that it was a German before them and marched off and continued on their way.
Feiga was brought to a trench that was at the sides of the Ulica Koliowa, and was told to remain there. The German hurried off to rescue Sarah'leh as well, and brought her to the trench. The German made an attempt to rescue the aunt, however when he returned to the field, he found her dead. A policeman had shot and killed her about a half hour before the German reached the field to get her out.
The next day, the two Germans brought food and clothing for the two girls they rescued, to the place they were hiding. The Germans warned one of the Polish neighbors who lived in a nearby house, that if anything happened to the concealed Jewish girls, they would set her house on fire.
The Germans decided to transfer Feiga, or Frieda, as they called her, and Sarah'leh, to a previous residence of ours. In exchange for favors and promises, the Polish lady Bunkowa, whose husband had been in German captivity since September 1939, agreed to hide the girls with her. They spent ten months in this place.
One day, the Germans suspected that the neighbors of the Polish woman knew that the two Jewish girls were in the Bunkowo house, and so decided to transfer them to a more secure location. In the meantime, a third German, an older man like them, about 60 years old, joined them.
The Germans transferred them to a farm village close to the village of Malinsk, a place where my Uncle, Joseph Schwartz zl continued to trade with the Polish farmers, Mazurim. The Poles responded to the overtures of the three Germans and accepted the two Jewish girls. However, two months later, the Ukrainian wings, the Borovetses, fell upon the Poles, burned down their houses, and murdered the residents. Feiga and Sarah'leh again were left without a place to hide, and fled to the forest, where there already were Jewish groups that had joined up with partisan units.
In January 1944, this area was liberated by the Red Army, and Feiga left for Sarny. She set up her residence beside the railroad station and worked for the office of the local authorities, Ispolkim, the Soviet Executive Committee. She did everything within her power to obtain work for those in need, obtaining permission to reside in the city and proper permits for those who returned in order to be able to continue their travels.
In September 1945, we left Sarny, and by illegally crossing the border, we reached West Germany, and the DP camp at Mafertheim. In 1948 Feiga got married, and at the end of that year, she emigrated to Canada.
While she was in Germany she wrote letters to the Germans who rescued her. When she received replies from them she traveled to visit them. Two of the Germans (the third was no longer alive) even returned the visit to her at Mafertheim. She supported them with packages of food, coffee and cigarettes, and corresponded with them, even when she was in Canada.
by Ber'l Bick
Edited by Karen Leon
The Plan to Set the Ghetto Afire
A few days before the slaughter, the following people gathered in Frimer's house: Frimer's son-in-law, Mendl Fish, Moshe'l Cirulnik, Simcha Murik, Krimsky, Jonah Margolis and I. We were prepared to set the ghetto on fire, and through this, create the possibility to escape.
Jonah Margolis relayed a message from the lawyer, Neuman, saying that he had met with the Regional Commissar who promised that the rumors concerning the liquidation of the ghetto were false. The sense of the German authorities was that the Sarny Jews were in order, and paid their gold-levy on a regular basis.
After this meeting the plan to torch the ghetto was canceled.
A Small Bottle of Water
When someone on the other side of the barbed wire brought a cask of water, those on our side would remove a shoe from a foot, and use it to get a little water for the children, and for those who had passed out.
Mendl Zindl paid a 5 ruble gold coin for a small bottle of water. When he began to drink, Elazar, the butcher's son, snatched the little bottle of water from his hands, and drank from it as he ran away.
When the Germans led out the second group of Jews from the concentration point to the small woods, Rabbi Kunda turned to the group of people and said, Brothers and Sisters! It has been decreed in Heaven that we are to die in Sanctification of the Name, so say your confessions!
The group then recited their confessions. At the same time, the Gypsies, in their corner, recited their prayers.
Murder and Suicide
When the Regional Commissar, Krekel, the implementer of the gruesome slaughter, visited the ghetto, together with Baba, the director of the labor office, a few months before the liquidation of the ghetto, he shot blind Shlomo Borko of Karpylivka, and Gershon, the son of Mendl the Shammes of the Berezne Synagogue.
When it became known that the liquidation was imminent, the Jewish police were set to the side, away from their posts. Dr. Sigmund Cohen, together with his wife and child, committed suicide by a cyanide injection
In a Partisan Division
After a considerable amount of blundering about the surrounding forests, I arrived at the village of Karasyn. There I had the opportunity to join up with the partisan division of the second brigade, under the command of Major Kaplun who was specially sent from Russia through the Russian Airborne Troops. I had already encountered Lejzor Asher Borko, Yudl Kratzman from the village of Karasyn, and a few other Jews from our vicinity in this group.
The senior commander of the Otryad, the detachment of soldiers which numbered 3000 men, was stationed near the village of Biala.
Our group, which consisted of 40 men, was stationed at the village of Karasyn. Our mission was to provide reports on the movements of the German military. To accomplish this we utilized relationships with local citizens who were members of our division.
One person circulated among the Germans as a vagrant. Women were successfully able to extract a variety of facts.
Yankl'eh, the Sixteen Year-Old Partisan
During one of my visits to the peasants in the village in connection with provisioning issues, a young gentile boy came out of the house of the peasant, Fedasi. He came over to me and called me by my name, and asked if I recognized him. It was Yankl'eh, the son of Pesach from Lyukhcha. He told me that he was the shepherd for the peasant's cattle, and the peasant was unaware that he was a Jewish child.
One time, the son of the previously mentioned peasant came to our division, and represented himself as a loyal partisan. Later, however, it became apparent that he was a spy, sent by the Borovetses, who cooperated with the Germans. Later on he disappeared, along with an automatic rifle.
Wanting to capture this traitor, we decided to take his father into custody. In between, it happened that the partisans carried out an aktion against individual Borovetses from the same village. The peasant suspected that he would be apprehended. He fled immediately, taking along only his family and our Yankl'eh. He went off to his son, to the Borovetses.
There, suspicion fell on Yankl'eh. The Borovetses sent someone to bring someone from the village in order to confirm their suspicion. Yankl'eh took advantage of an opportunity and fled from them. He came to us and told us what had happened. He remained with us, and took part in many actions right along with the other partisans, and always excelled in his heroism. We were together until the arrival of the Red Army.
When the Red Army liberated the Sarny vicinity, our division was attached to the army, and assigned to the Exterminating Battalion, whose mission was to exterminate the variety of bands operating in the area who collaborated with the Germans.
On one occasion, an expedition of 15 men came to the village of Lyukhcz for an aktion. Yankl'eh volunteered to participate in this aktion despite the fact that he was already wounded, and despite the warnings of the commander, who did not want to let him go this time. However, the thirst for vengeance had taken complete control of him, and he went off.
The Borovetses who were found hiding surrounded the group. In the battle, that young warrior at the age of 16, found his death.
This happened approximately in April 1944.
The Extermination of the Murderers
Returning to Sarny, and knowing very well who the murderers who had taken part in the killing off of the Jewish settlement, I took it upon myself, with the consent of the commander of our group to help in the extermination of the local murderers. This was not an easy mission because the authorities demanded evidence in each case.
The first of the murderers who was sentenced to death was Anatoly Posilowicz. He was the commandant of a division of the Ukrainian police who had been seconded to the S.S.
On one occasion, while visiting the office of the People's Commissariat for State Security, the secret police, known as N.K.G.B, I saw the two brothers, Pesavec, well-known murderers, who had already made overtures to be accepted into the Russian military.
I immediately made a presentation to the chief director of the N.K.G.B, Dubowicki, as to who these men were, and that they had murdered 5 people of a refugee family from Pinsk who had hidden in the cellar of Friszkulnik. I told Dubowicki about their other good deeds.
Dubowicki immediately ordered that their rifles be taken away, and that they be placed under arrest. Their sentence from the military court was 20 years in prison. Later on, I found out that they were killed there.
Walking along the Wide Boulevard on one occasion, I saw the murderer Kolya Notkin sitting and selling Jewish effects. Again, I presented myself to Dubowicki, and requested he take up the issue of this murderer. Dubowicki permitted me to arrest the miscreant, and bring him to his office. Notkin figured in these acts as a mobilized individual in the army, and my representation was highly defamatory. The judgment of the military court was 20 years in prison. This murderer, as well, met his death there.
The daughter of Balabuszka, the owner of the Baika Cinema, collaborated with the Germans and took part in the torture of the village Jews before they were brought to the Sarny ghetto. Due to the testimony and witness accounts which I presented, she was detained in Kiev. She was given a death sentence by hanging. Her brother was shot, while wanting to escape arrest.
My wife, Lifsza, appeared as the principal witness against the murderer Notkin, whose trial took place in Rivne. She testified to his guilt and his criminal actions.
It is worthwhile to underscore the heroic actions of the partisan Shimon Fykov, from the village of Karasyn, near Sarny, and Shmuel, Khmareh's son-in-law. Fykov now lives in America in Detroit. Shmuel can be found in Israel.
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