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Upon Your Ruins Did I Sit and Weep[1]

by Yehuda Chiwicho

Translated by Jerrold Landau

        It was June 1941. On Sunday morning, the Germans arrived in Stawiski, and toward evening the entire population of Jewish youth retreated toward Bialystok. We were bombarded by German bombers throughout the entire journey. We reached Bialystok on the second afternoon, as the Red Army was beginning its retreat. The Jewish youth followed after the Red Army; however the Russians did not behave particularly sympathetically toward us.

        The group of Jewish youth from Stawiski separated in Bialystok, and whoever could set out toward the Russian border. Fires were breaking out everywhere from the bombardment. Food could not be found. All of these towns were in a state of confusion. We continued our journey for an entire week until we reached the village of Amszecziwow, not far from Volkovysk. When the Germans arrived there as well and continued toward the Russian border, we decided to return to Stawiski.

        A Jewish council was set up in Stawiski. Its members included my brother, Meir Hershel Rubinsztejn Wladalski among others. On occasion, the Germans would arrest its members and request a ransom for their release – large quantities of jewelry and gold.

        The Zhimni bakery baked bread for the Jews only, and it was distributed by ration.

The Bloody Wednesday

        On Wednesday morning, Roszczik, the town administrator, rang his bell and decreed that all of the Jews must gather in the Market Square by noon. Any Jew who would be found in his house at that time would be shot on the spot.

        My entire family went out to the Market Place. Only I remained at home alone. At 12:30, non-Jews from all of the surrounding villages streamed into town and forcefully chased out all of the Jews who remained in their homes. One non-Jew found me and chased me out to the Market Square.

        In the market, all of the Jews were sitting stooped over, plucking weeds from between the stones. The Poles walked among the Jews with sticks in their hands. If any Jew lifted up his head for a moment he would be savagely beaten. A few youths and middle aged Jews were tied to wagons laden with rocks and forced to drag the wagons from the post office to the train, that is to say from one end of the town to the other.

        Hershel Mark of blessed memory was murdered on that day. When he saw from afar that the hooligans were pillaging his store – Hershel, as is known, owned the largest store in town – he hurried toward his home, and he was shot by a German as he was on his way.

        That day, the Germans set the Great Synagogue on fire. When Aharon the shamash ran to rescue the Torah scrolls, a non-Jew hit him over the head with an axe and killed him. The murderers grabbed Rabbi Wasserman, the rabbi of Stawiski, and threw him into the burning synagogue, which was miraculously not burned completely.

        Toward the evening, Wiaczork, the chief of the anti-Semites and the head of the ruffians of Stawiski, gathered together all of the Jews who were in the market place at the freedom statue (commemorating the freedom of Poland), and delivered a venomous speech against the Jews. He accused all of the Jews of Communism and hinted that the war broke out because of them. As is customary for a murderer of his ilk, he concluded his words of incitement with the well-known anti-Semitic motto: “Attack the Jews!”.

        Then a frightening scene took place in front of my eyes – all of the Jews started to flee and the gentiles chased after them and struck them over their heads with sticks. The entire Market Square was full of pools of blood. The beaten and injured Jews returned to their homes, finding them empty and pillaged of every item of value.

        I wish to point out that there were some decent people from among the Jews who advised the Jews to seek refuge and informed them that the ruffians would be conducting a frightful massacre of the Jews that evening. Adding to the calamity, the town was surrounded on all sides, and nobody could flee from the murderers. In order to calm the Jews so that they could lead them out to be pillaged, they promised them that mercy would be shown to all of those that had suffered at the hands of the Russians.

        Many families gathered in our house. At 5:00 a.m., the builder Nowicki arrived, accompanied by a woman. When the woman took off her outer clothes, we were astonished to see our rabbi, Rabbi Wassermann, without his beard. The gentile Nowicki, one of the righteous gentiles, saved the rabbi by removing him from the burning synagogue. All of the Jews recited Psalms. The next day, the rabbi, dressed as a gentile, was taken to Lomza.

        That same night, non-Jews from the nearby villages again streamed into Stawiski, wearing festive garments with white shirts. Some of them were carrying sickles, and others were carrying sticks. Close to midnight, frightful screams reached our ears, and the cries of men and women pleading before the murderers – “Take everything, but leave us alive”. That entire night, the bodies of those murdered and those injured badly were taken out of the city by wagons.

        The next morning, when those who remained alive ventured outside, a frightful scene was appeared before their eyes – crushed body parts were rolling around in the pools of blood that covered the streets. If my memory serves me correctly, 360 Jews were murdered that night.

The Frightful Friday

        When the storm abated slightly, word spread that youths between the ages of fourteen and eighteen would be sent to hard labor camps in Germany. My parents sent me to a gentile in the village of Grabowo. I found there a few Jews from Stawiski – Avrahamcha the son of Riva the butcher, and Alter Brau with two other children. Jews hid in other villages as well.

        That year, Tisha Beov was pushed off [2] and fell out on a Sunday. I came to Stawiski that day, and again on Thursday. This was a more or less calm week. When my brother took me back to the gentile, we met the head of the village who told him that the situation was very dangerous, and it was not appropriate to be wandering around outside. When I left the house, my parents requested that I return for the Sabbath. The next day on Friday at 10:00 a.m. I was struck with a deep longing for my home, and I decided to return to Stawiski. I grabbed some fruit from the fields and ran home. When I was near the village of Budne, the gentile Ridzwoski, who had returned from Stawiski, met me.

        “Where are you going?”, he asked me. “Return to where you came from quickly, for they are killing Jews in Stawiski.”

        I stood dumbfounded, but I did not feel any fear at all. I wanted to be with all the Jews of Stawiski during their frightful moments on their final journey. I did not listen to the gentile, and I continued on my route to Stawiski. A shegetz[3], a friend of mine from school, suddenly stopped me along the way and said:

        “Stand still, do not go further!”

        Closed trucks passed along the way. The shegetz told me that the Jews who were able to stand on their feet were being made to run along the Kolno road, and the closed trucks were transporting the children and the elderly.


Top Photograph: Nechemiah Zweiback and his wife Ana, of blessed memory.
Middle Photograph: Golda Zweiback, of blessed memory.
Bottom Photograph: Freidel Blankensztejn and her daughters Tzippa and Feigel of blessed memory. (Side caption: murdered in the holocaust – applies to all on page 336a).


Top Photograph (right): Niedzwiadowicz Family, from right: Zelig, Bluma, Yaakov, Gabriel and the mother Beila, of blessed memory (standing around the grave of Zeev the son of Yaakov Nizwadowicz[4] – translator's note, not in caption.)        
Top Photograph (left): Zeev Niedzwiadowicz (died). Bottom Photograph (right): Pinchas Piekarewicz, of blessed memory.        
Bottom Photograph (left): Chaim Piekarewicz and his wife Sheyna, of blessed memory.        

        I returned to Grabowo and told the Jews that were there about everything that I had seen and heard. When they all heard the frightening news, we all broke out in bitter weeping. That day, we left the village and sought refuge in the forests of Lomza. We found the Chonkowicz brothers in the forest and they told us about the slaughter in Stawiski.

        After the terrible Friday, a number of families and youths managed to flee from Stawiski and take refuge in the villages and forests. The Germans left a number of artisans in the town, such as tailors, shoemakers, stitchers, smiths, wagon drivers, etc. They concentrated them in one area near the synagogue. Later, they brought them all to the ghetto that they had set up in the vicinity of the houses of the Wolinewicz and Marchawki families.

        Jews from the nearby villages were also brought to the ghetto. The artisans did various tasks for the Germans and also for the non-Jews of the town. Their situation was relatively not too bad. The Jews received our visits to the ghetto with bitterness from fear lest they be swallowed up on our account. There was a large ghetto in Lomza, and there were also ghettos in Grajewo and Szczuczyn.

        As the winter neared its end, the wanderings from village to village began. I was in Grabowo with some local Jews, and an owner of a flourmill from Kosakowow was also there. In the Lomza ghetto there were, along with other Stawiskites, Rabbi Wasserman, Liba Kadysz, and Zhimni. Rabbi Wasserman told me to leave the village and to come to the ghetto so that I could be among Jews.

        At the beginning of 1942, news spread that the Jews that had fled to the villages were about to be transferred to ghettos. I moved to the Szczuczyn ghetto. I wore gentile clothing and traveled to Lomza. I stayed in the Lomza ghetto for a few months, and I was close to Rabbi Wasserman the entire time.

        When I found out that some members of my family were in the Bialystok ghetto, I went there. My Aryan appearance eased my dangerous travels along the roads. I found some members of the Niedzwiadowicz family in the Bialystok ghetto.

        I remained in Bialystok for three months and then returned to the Lomza ghetto. From there I returned to Grabowo and found some work with a gentile. Several Jews were taking refuge in Grabowo. I, Avrahamchi Kadysz and the brothers Moshe and Yitzchak Kolinski lived together dressed up as gentiles, and we assisted a gentile in bringing potatoes and flour to the Lomza ghetto. We gave out potatoes to the residents of the ghetto, and we sold the flour to the bakers who baked black bread. We remitted the payment to the gentile.

        We would visit the Lomza ghetto every Sunday. The Stawiskites maintained contact with the Jews of Grabowo, and they intended to flee to that village if the situation in the Lomza ghetto were to worsen. On one Sunday at the end of 1942, the liquidation of the Lomza ghetto began. As my luck would have it, I found myself there that Sunday. In the evening, Michael Kadysz and his father-in-law came to us and told us: “flee for your lives for they are about to liquidate the Lomza ghetto.” We fled to the forests. News of the liquidation of the Lomza ghetto spread very quickly. The gentiles in the village no longer wished to employ Jews, and they sent us to the city to be registered there.

        We hid in pits that we dug in fields during the winter of 1942 [5] . During the nights, we went out to scavenge for food from wherever we could find it. Zhimni and Liba Kadysz were with me. Zhimni took ill as he was residing in the pit and he died. Liba Kadysz was murdered. Those of us who remained alive were jealous of those who already died.

        By the end of 1943, almost all the Jews who had fled were killed. According to what I later heard from the gentiles, all the Jews of Stawiski who were killed were buried in the vicinity of Maly Plock. They also told me that in a school in the village of Wysokie, on the route to Lomza, ten Jews of Stawiski were hidden. The Germans found them late at night and murdered them all by candlelight. The Chonkowicz brothers hid in a bunker in the field of the farmer Ridzwaski. At the beginning of 1944, a number of Germans went out to hunt in the fields and chanced upon the hiding place of the Chonkowicz brothers. They ordered them to vacate their shelter, and when they received no answer they tossed grenades into the shelter and the brothers were killed.

        I hid in villages until the beginning of 1945. I returned to my town one week after the entry of the Russians into Stawiski. I worked in the police force for three months.

        I remained as a sole Jewish lad, persecuted and wandering. Filled with endless pain and grief, I sat on the ruins of Stawiski and wept – – – .

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. A paraphrase of the opening verse of Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion. Return

  2. Tisha Beov is the somber fast day on the 9th of Av (in late July or early August) that marks the day of the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, as well as other tragedies that befell the Jewish people through the ages. If it occurs on a Saturday, it is pushed off (“nidche”) to the next day, Sunday the 10th of Av, so as not to conflict with the Sabbath. Return

  3. A derogatory term for a non-Jew. Return

  4. The caption on the grave reads: Here is buried a distinguished man, who excelled in fine character and good deeds, and set aside times to study Torah. All of his deeds were in faith. Reb Zeev the son of Reb Yaakov Niedzwiadowicz. Died with a good name on the 3rd of Tishrei 5684 (Oct 23, 1933), in the fifty sixth year of his life. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life. Return

  5. Based on the chronology of the narrative, I suspect this means the winter of 1942 going into 1943. Return


A Visit to my Birthplace

by Rabbi Baruch Zilbersztejn

Rabbi of Heichal Emanuel Synagogue, Brooklyn, New York.

        There were two large houses of prayer in my town of Stawiski: the synagogue and the Beis Midrash. This was aside from a number of smaller houses of prayer, including: Chevras Kass and Chevras Talmud Torah in the anteroom of the synagogue, and Chevras Tehillim in the anteroom of the Beis Midrash.

        The synagogue was a large, tall building. It exuded splendor with its solid framework and its internal decoration. It was only used for prayer on Sabbaths and festivals, and for gatherings on special occasions. During the hot summer months, they also worshipped there on weekdays. Its worshippers were not known for their exceptional piety, and they were not numbered among the “face” of the city[1].

        In contrast, the Beis Midrash was a more modest structure, as were its worshippers. It was always filled with people and bustling with life. After the first quorums (minyanim) for the morning service finished, the scholars remained in the Beis Midrash to study their page or chapter. After the prayers, some Jews stayed behind to recite Psalms. Others stuck around simply to pass the time, as they enjoyed discussing affairs of the wide world, exchanging news with each other, etc. When it was not the time of services, it was also permitted to smoke cigarettes in the Beis Midrash, and many took advantage of this privilege. Some people would say that there were those who tarried in the Beis Midrash on Sabbath eves until the early risers, that is to say those who recited the morning service at the earliest possible time, began to arrive for the first minyan. It can be seen that the candle of the house of the L-rd never went out, and the voice of Torah was never silent in the Beis Midrash of Stawiski.

        The synagogue courtyard, which separated the two houses of prayer, was paved with smooth stones. Next to the wall of the Beis Midrash, a spring arose from the ground. Cold, fresh water flowed from it day and night without stop. (This well was a gift from the German soldiers during the First World War, who remained in the city for four years, and called it “the well of Moses”.)

        During the times of prayer, this courtyard served as a noisy and vibrant meeting place for the townsfolk. Children played there, youths met there, and Jews who were expert in the affairs of the world discussed and debated various topics. Even the elderly people went out to the courtyard to enjoy the fresh air, to smoke a cigarette on a festival[2], or to quench their thirst from the clear, cold waters of the well. The non-Orthodox people would often stroll around the courtyard, especially during the times of the reading of the Torah on Sabbaths. It was a frequent occurrence to see an angry father pulling his son back into the house of prayer, or the shamash calling out the crowd to come back in for the Mussaf[3] service. There were times when the important men of the city would surround those gathered there, and not allow them to escape entering the house of prayer.

        My father and I left Stawiski in 1929. For all my days, I pined to see my birthplace again. My dream only came true in 1969, after forty years elapsed. I went to visit Poland. The Polish government severely restricted my itinerary, and forbade me from visiting my birthplace. I arranged my visit to Stawiski clandestinely. I hired a special taxi, and we reached the town in two hours. The town itself had not changed much over the years, and even the wartime years did not affect it for the worse. I recognized every road, alley, house, corner, and tree.

        However, my visit to the courtyard of the synagogue and Beis Midrash was very tragic.

        I stood again on the synagogue courtyard “shulhof”. The memories and impressions of my youth were deeply engraved upon my heart, so that the elapsed period of forty years was almost erased. I again felt myself as a child who escaped from the eyes of my father, and went out the courtyard to play with his friends and to drink from the flowing well. I was again a child who walked from the Beis Midrash to the synagogue, the place where grandfather worshipped, in order to get a candy from my uncle, or a present from grandfather himself. At times, I ascended to the women's gallery to get a kiss from grandmother, who would be surprised by my visit.

        I recognized the Beis Midrash immediately, but it seemed to me that it was much smaller than it was in my imagination. However the building appeared cleaner and neater, due to the new color on the outside. I recognized a few changes in its structure, but not so much so as to change my childhood memories of it. When I attempted to enter through the main door, I caught sight of a large sign in Polish informing of the government offices that were located therein. I immediately went out.

        But where was the synagogue? Where was the solid, beautiful building? Was the synagogue not a short distance away from the Beis Midrash, a distance of 30 cubits, not more[4]? I lifted up my eyes and saw a large area of broken stones and scattered bricks. These were the remnants that remained from the large synagogue that was the glory and splendor of our town.

        Indeed, I had already known what had happened to the synagogue before I saw the Beis Midrash that was opposite it, and therefore I first turned my gaze to the Beis Midrash. One of the few Holocaust survivors from Stawiski told me about this in a hotel in Tel Aviv several years before my visit to Poland. The story was very tragic.

        One night in 1942, many Jews were expelled from their homes by the Germans and Poles together. They were concentrated in the synagogue, and the Germans and Poles surrounded them from all sides, in order to prevent any Jew from escaping. The Germans and Poles ate and drank gluttonously all night, and then set the synagogue on fire with all of the Jews inside. The large area covered with stones speaks with a thunderous silence about the atrocities that took place in this holy place.

        I could not find the cemetery of my town. It was ploughed over and planted with wheat. The Stawiski forest on the route to Lomza also no longer existed.

        I did not speak to anyone. Indeed, people came out of their homes to stare at me and the taxi, but I was afraid to speak to them. I was even afraid to leave the taxi. We drove through the streets that I recognized, through the market square, and then we returned to Lomza, and from there to Warsaw.


Stawiski after the War

(Yiddish: The Modern Stawiski)

Top Photograph: Monument on the communal grave in Stawiski forest.         
Middle Photograph: The market place and a lawn. (Yiddish: The market place after the war.         
Bottom photograph: These photographs were taken by Eliahu Nissel of blessed memory during his visit to Stawiski in 1966. Here he is standing at a monument next to the route to Szczuczyn.         

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. I am not sure about the meaning of this expression. It seems to indicate that the worshippers of this synagogue were not the defining element of the Jewish community. Return

  2. Smoking is forbidden on the Sabbath, as it is forbidden to make use of fire, but is permitted on weekday festivals, when the use of fire is allowed, but the kindling of a flame is forbidden. On festivals, a cigarette would have to be lit from a pre-existing flame or pilot light. Return

  3. The additional service on Sabbaths and festivals, which takes place after the reading of the Torah. Return

  4. A cubit is a biblical measure, equaling approximately 18 inches. Return


Lest I Forget You, Oh My Hometown…

by Chana Wiener of blessed memory

        Our town was small in area, but rich and deep were the wellsprings of its life. Its population was not large, and its people were not blessed with wealth, but who can enumerate their character that was dearer than gold! The dearest characteristic of the Jews of Stawiski was their satisfaction with their meager lot in life. They were always happy with their lot, and faith, trust and joy dwelt in their midst.

        The joy on Sabbaths and festivals was particularly great. How can I forget the atmosphere of holiness that enveloped every house and family in Stawiski on Sabbaths and festivals? Before the eyes of my spirit, I see the splendorous image of my father, with my modest mother beside him, and the children surrounding the table “as olive shoots”[1], all washed up and wearing their Sabbath clothes, with the candles lit. The Sabbath meals were festive family gatherings. The hymns sung by my father and the children still ring in my ears as a family choir.

        In my memory, images float by of the final era of our brothers and sisters in my town – images saturated with joy and images saturated with suffering that I will never forget forever.

        The memory of the youth is dear to me, for the Zionist nationalist spirit enlivened their spirits and served as their guiding light. I remember how on Sabbath afternoons, as the parents were still enjoying their Sabbath in accordance with the adage “sleep on the Sabbath is a pleasure”, the youth would leave their homes and go out, some on the road to Lomza, others on the road to Kolno and Szczuczyn, and others to various youth groups including Hechalutz and Hashomer Hadati. However, these images turn over very quickly, and are replaced with a different horrifying image, the image of holy martyrs – young and old going along the route from where there was no return.

        How awesome is it to think about parents, brothers, sisters, friends and acquaintances, among them babies who still suckle from their mothers' milk, with the elusive question in their eyes: Why? Why did fate choose this end for us? Where are the Avrahemeles, the Sarahles, the Rivkeles, and the Shlomoles, who are dearer than gold? Where are all of the people of our town? Where is Polish Jewry in general, this splendid Jewry?

        The memories of my townsfolk are dear to me. You are all etched in my heart. To all of you I am bound with bonds of love that cannot be severed.

        It is fitting for our pure and upright forbears, as well as the young people of our town who did not merit to live with us in our Land, to perpetuate them with this Yizkor book, which will serve as a monument to their holy memory, for us and our children forever.

        We are orphaned and bereft of our children. Our brothers, sisters and relatives died in unnatural deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their assistants, may their names be blotted out, and they did not even merit to be buried in a Jewish grave. Therefore, we are duty bound to inscribe in a book the stories of bravery and sanctification of the Divine name of men and women, young and old, students at the school with the Rebbi, infants and toddlers, so that their memory should be bound up in this memorial book, so that our children and grandchildren should know about the rock from which they were hewn, about their grandparents and relatives who were murdered and destroyed at the hands of the enemy. Our children should take this book into their hands and unite themselves with their family members. This book should serve as a link in the chain of generations that is never to be severed, and should remind us and our children about the ancient command – “Remember that which Amalek did unto you…” [2].

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. A quote from the book of Psalms, describing the blessings of having one's children around the table. Return

  2. A quote from the book of Deuteronomy, and one of the 613 commandments of the Torah. It is incumbent upon the Jewish people to remember how the tribe of Amalek (considered to be the archetypal anti-Semites) was the first to attack the Jewish people after they left Egypt. This command is formally fulfilled once a year on the Sabbath of Zachor (The Sabbath of Remembrance), on the week prior to the Purim festival. A special public reading of the Torah on that day makes the proclamation of remembrance, as a fulfillment of this commandment. Return


The Two

by Tzvi Lieberman

The boy was ten years old and the girl eleven.
He witnessed the murder with his own eyes,
She wandered from village to village,
She saw a world filled with frights as if in the netherworld.
On what merit where they saved? – From the designed of humans –
On their own merit? Certainly not. There was not found in them
Any deeds that were not found in others.
In the merit of their fathers? Much fault can be found in them
They did not live according to the rules, and their ways were not pleasant.
Perhaps in the merit of the generations, in the merit of Abraham
Isaac and Jacob, and Sarah and Rachel the mothers.
They uttered their names with voices of pleading
In the silence of the Sabbath, at Havdalah over a cup of raisin wine
Or a cup of sweet tea.

Surely in their merit; our fathers heard voices
So awesome, so frightening, wondrous, stubborn.
Someone with great splendor whispered without end.
Someone with wonderful strength whispered and promised,
That in the Land of Canaan their children would multiply as the stars in the heaven,
And as the sand on the seashore.

The voices were clear,
Promising, and not ceasing. They knew the Land of Canaan,
Left forlorn at the time of its siege, and they returned and returned again.
Inside themselves, they bore a desire made impure by blood.
The children who will inherit, will inherit with the blood of the protectors.

And these two, the wind carried them like
Red Currant seeds. Far, far away from the land of Poland
To the Land of Canaan, they were saved, for the sake of the generations
And for their own sake, so that they will relate
How the gardens blossomed, and the people were treasonous,
How the fields were emptied, and the young girls rejoiced
At the sight of blood. At the sight of young girls who were slaughtered.


The Battle for Life

by Chava Fuks (nee Rozenstejn)

Memories from the time of the Holocaust

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 352a -Upper right: Mitshak Chonkowicz and family, of blessed memory Upper left: Avraham Yitzchok Barbanielski of blessed memory Lower right: Yechezkel Goldsztejn, of blessed memory (standing); parents Hertzke and Miriam, of blessed memory. Lower left: Chaim-Leibl Barbanielski, of blessed memory. (Side caption to the photographs: murdered in the holocaust).}

       These memoirs were written in a notebook in France in 1947, when she was 15 years old. They were written in Hebrew after she had studied the language for six months. The memoirs are published with small amendments to the language by the editors.

       It was a warm summer day in 1941. Our town was conquered immediately at the outbreak of the war between Russia and Germany. The period of tribulation for the Jews of Poland began, our town included. At first, they began to kill individual Jews, and later they ordered a "march". The majority of the Jewish residents of the town were gathered on that day, and were brought, accompanied by the cruel Germans, to the anti-tank ditches that were dug by the Russians, and there they all met their deaths. My sister Antsha was among those murdered. For several days, the earth trembled from the blood of the pure people of my town. Even though the town was small, the anti-Semitism was great. The gentiles made enthusiastic requests to kill "a few" Jews, and the Germans permitted them to conduct a pogrom, which broke out suddenly in a bloody night. Hundreds of Jews were killed in that pogrom.

       It was night. The town was in a deep slumber. Only the sound of the frogs and various night birds could be heard, as well as the voices of weeping and pleas for mercy of those who were condemned to death.

       The cruel gentiles came armed with knives and sticks with sharp nails. Many Jews received deathblows from them. Small children were torn to pieces and tossed onto the electricity posts or the asphalt. Pregnant women had their bellies ripped open, and children's heads were chopped off and given to their mothers to hold. Not one gentile slept that night, some were there by their own free will and others were forced by other people. Everyone participated.

       The bloodshed ceased only with the break of dawn. The blood that was spilled was cleaned up by their wives, so that the Germans would not know the difference between the number of Jews that they had permitted to be killed and the number that were actually killed.

       My family and myself were in a village with various farmers who knew us. We worked and hid from the death that came that night. One day it became known to us that the Germans wished to lock up all the Jews in a ghetto. At that time, we stopped working, and we began our period of hiding with one farmer in the village of Skruda. The conditions were very difficult, almost unbearable. Twelve people were hidden in a small cave in a barn, without sufficient food, without air, and most importantly, without hope. Nobody knew what tomorrow would bring.

{Photo page 353 – Yitzchak Rozenstejn of blessed memory, the grandfather of Chava Fuks.}

       When the persecution and searches ended, all of the Jews lived in the ghetto. The Germans permitted the farmers to use the Jews for backbreaking work.

       After several months of hiding, we went out free – if we could indeed use that term. We again spread out among the farmers. I was with a farmer that knew me. I worked very hard despite my young age. I was ten years old at the time. He related to me as a Jewess, and he completely ignored the fact that I was young. (In fact, I was never really young.)  As a result of the hard work I got a fracture[1]and I was forced to continue with the work despite great pain. Nobody carted if I was in pain or not, or if I was close to death.

       On a day in the summer during the afternoon, I was tending to the cows, and I was rolling in the field due to the pain. I turned my head and saw my grandfather. He took me to the farmer who hid us before we went to the ghetto. His wife gave me a pill, and the pain was alleviated. I got better after a long time. In return for her good deed, I tended to her 200 goats.

{Photos page 353 – Upper left:  Gutsha Mark (nee Morus) and her son Simcha of blessed memory.
Upper middle:  Simcha Mark, Elka Mark, and Simcha (the son of their brother Avrahamel of blessed memory.
Upper right:  Rivka and Hershel Mark and their grandson Simcha of blessed memory.
Lower left:  Avraham Yitzchak Brikman of blessed memory.
Lower middle:  Malka Kreplak of blessed memory.
Lower right:  Moshe Brikman of blessed memory.}

       In the meantime, my father, mother and younger brother lived in a town call Waski. My father built a flourmill for the mayor, and my mother sewed. Their situation was reasonably good. The family decided to bring me to them. I was quite ill and thin at that time. My mother began to take care of me as was appropriate for a young girl, and I began to live a domestic life. I became friendly with the daughter of the farmer. We worked together in all tasks, and I was thought of as their daughter. However our relatively peaceful life did not last long. In the fall of 1942, the ground was covered with a golden blanket. The trees were sad with the onset of the winter, and the entire areas took on the image of winter.

       We gathered together on a fall evening – my parents, my brother and my uncle – with a certain farmer, and we deliberated on our fate in the future. My parents decided to send me to the farmer with whom my uncle had stayed during the time of the ghetto. This was the first tragic moment in my life.

       The time for separation from my parents had come, without knowing if we would ever see each other again, or what indeed would be our fate. My mother, who was extremely religious, took a crucifix from the gentile woman and tied it to my neck with eyes filled with tears. I wept all evening, for I had a premonition of what was awaiting them and myself.

       It was night. It was dark all around. My uncle and myself walked through abandoned fields we that we would not meet any Germans along the way. On occasion we stumbled and fell on clods of ploughed earth. Finally, we had completed the journey. We reached the stable of the farmer successfully. We had a roof over our heads, and we were waiting for somebody. The farmer finally came and brought us food. I suffered greatly, since I realized that my uncle would leave shortly. My uncle returned already that night, and I took the role as cousin of the farmer, and I called the master of the house 'uncle'. It was difficult for me to get used to this!!  Aside from this, I was afraid lest the neighbors realize that I was a Jewess. With hard work, and internal pain that I had to hide my Jewishness, I stayed there for half a year until the maid, who was illegal herself, a Pole, informed about me to the residents of the village, and I was forced to leave the place. By a miracle, I was saved from the hands of a German who came to the mistress of the house, for her husband was in jail, and when it became known to him that I was Jewish, he wanted to kill me. However, he had mercy on the mistress of the house, since she loved me and did not want to cause me any pain, but he ordered her to expel me. This was all discussed in my presence. She sent me to her relatives in a certain village, which was nearby. This village was called Penza. I could not live openly in Penza. I hid in a closet for three months, without light, without proper food, forlorn and in constant danger. Every day, I heard the voice of August, who saw himself as the master of the house. Once, he wished to open the closet, but he was prevented from doing so at the last minute.

       On Easter, they hid me in a sack so nobody would see me, and put me in a wagon in order to return me to the farmer in Waski with whom I had stayed until the liquidation of the ghetto.

       The journey was very difficult in the sack. It was a beautiful day, the beginning of spring, and the sun shone on the surroundings. The fields were covered with green grass. The world had a happy appearance. We passed through towns, and I saw that children and old people were sitting on porches, and were happy. However, for me there was not one ray of light to brighten up my life. We reached the mountain that was known as Wilcza-Gora. They brought me down, as a parachutist, near the village. I turned my head, bid goodbye to the people who brought me, and disappeared into the stream that leads to the barn. There I dug a hole in the hay and fell asleep. The farmer came to the barn. He rejoiced when he saw me, however his face immediately froze with worry. He did not know what to do with me.

       They brought me to a small side room, known as the "palace of the mice", and I lived there in the company of the mice for half a year. The village began to suspect them, for the door of the room in which I lived was never opened. They were forced to send me to relatives who were very poor. This was at the time of the harvest. They again put me into a sack, and I again played the part of a cousin by the name Erica. When the time of harvest and its difficult work concluded, they sent me back to the farmer from which they took me.

       We arrived in the village toward evening. I remained in the field. I hid between the sheathes, so that nobody would see me, for here everyone knew me. Night fell. It was dark all around and all of a sudden, I heard steps. My heart melted with fear, however I immediately realized that this was the farmer who came to take me. On the way to his house, he stopped suddenly and asked:  "Do you know who is with us?"  It was difficult for me to guess, since I did not know if anyone in my family was still alive. I came to the barn, and I saw my father and my uncle standing as shadows. After all the tribulations overtook them, my father was already almost blind from the darkness of the cave where he lived in the forest.

{Photo – Grandmother Chava Rozenstejn of blessed memory and her children – most of them were killed in the Holocaust.}

       It is hard to describe our joy in words … however not long lasting. In the evening, my father spoke to the mayor of the village, asking him to take me in and look after me. He agreed, on condition that I would remain with him as a daughter after the war. My father did not disagree. He did not know what my fate would be. He desired that at least someone of our large family should remain alive. After the discussion with the mayor, they arose and continued along their way under the cover of the cloudy skies. I will never forget that night for the rest of my life, for that is the night that I parted from my father permanently.

       In the morning, I sat under a roof that was burning with heat, at the home of the mayor, forlorn, abandoned, under inhuman conditions, and my heart was filled with fear. After a number of months, the Germans suspected that he acted in collaboration with the partisans.

       The mayor and his family left the place, and I was left without any means. His wife brought me to another village, to the family of her maid, where I hid together with that family from the Germans, for they also suspected them. However, they suspected them for a different reason. After one week of despair, I decided to go out on my own, for life or for death. All of my bridges had been burnt behind me. I had only one means before me:  to turn to a farmer who does not know me, as an Aryan.

       This was in the summer of 1943. I boarded a fishing boat and crossed the river. I went across planted fields, and I reached a large forest. I passed through it and I saw a small white house, surrounded by chickens. A farmer stood by the well and was giving water to the horses. After I made a plan, I approached him and said that I had heard that he needed help. He looked me over from head to toe and smiled. Finally he said:  "Do you know how to eat bread?  It is okay."  I played the part of Krystyna Riviczka from Bialaszewo  (the village of Bialaszewo was indeed not far from my native town).

       "My father was captured killing a pig, and was imprisoned in a jail in Grodzisk. The Germans persecuted us, and we were forced to leave the village. My mother and brother are in Szczuczyn, and I came here to find work."  He believed my story. The farmer brought me into his home, and I carried my weight in all farm activities, even though he was had the largest farm in the town. The master of the house purchased shoes for me, and his wife sewed me clothes, for I did not even have a cloak for my body, and the lice were affecting me greatly. Each Sunday, I went to the church in Lomza to pray, however I never forgot that I was Jewish. The "Shema Yisrael" prayer was always on my lips. On occasion I had to confess before the priest, as was the Christian regulations. I realized this, and I was afraid. On the day of confession, I went to forest for a day, and I told the master of the house that I went to my own district to confess before the monk whom I was accustomed to confessing before.

       I got up each morning at 3:00 AM to milk five cows. For a certain period, when the cowherd left us, I also served as cowherd. Aside from this, I ran the entire farm, for the mistress of the house complained that if she had a maid, she did not have to work at all. I worked from early in the morning until late at night. Aside from the work on the farm, I also wove. This work was done in the dark, and I almost damaged my eyes. However, who would care?!

       On hot days during the harvest, I worked in gathering wheat stocks from behind the sickle;  in the fall I gathered potatoes and spread fertilizer. My life was full of backbreaking work and fear lest the people of Penza, who would come on occasion to our village, would recognize me. Indeed, one boy from Penza recognized me, and he told the matter to his friend from the village of Jednaczewo. I became very confused when they greeted me by name, with the name that I was known in Penza – Barbara. I did not answer him, and I went to the porch, and watched how he told his friends. I immediately went to that boy from our village, and with a few heartrending words, I succeeded in getting a positive answer from him. It was difficult for me to believe that he would keep his promise, however he did not break it.

{Photo page 357 –   Liba, the mother of Chana Fuks  (in black) and her family – most of them were killed in the Holocaust.}

       Days and months past with deep suffering and longing. It was fortunate that I did not have too much time to ponder and think. In the meantime, the battlefronts were approaching our village. We were in the first line of the western front. They bombed the village nightly, for there were many Germans with heavy arms there. The Germans oppressed us. The situation was bad for the girls. In general, they all stayed at home; however, I was not able to permit myself such a luxury. The Germans conscripted the farmer to dig trenches, and the mistress of the house was pregnant. I herded the flock and the cattle far from the village. I had to travel several kilometers three times a day to milk them, with the danger that the cows would fall into German hands. The entire farm stood up through my own weak efforts. The mistress of the house was not able to work; she only cared for her children. I ran from one task to another. One morning, I took the cows to pasture, and I left them in the hands of a friend of mine to look after them. As I returned home through the forest, a 38-year-old German approached me. He began to speak German to me. I pretended that I did not understand, however I understood that he warned me not to go to the village, for there I would be conscripted to dig trenches. I answered him that I was not afraid, for I was only twelve years old, however he did know how to say in Polish 'wszystko jedno', that is:  "it doesn't matter", and he began to caress me and say amorous words to me. I tried to flee, however he stopped me, and stepped on my wounded foot. The blood that came from the wound spurted all the way to his face. I asked that he let me go since I am ill, however he continued saying the phrase 'wszystko jedno'. He finally pushed me to the ground, and even though I did not understand very much at that time, I acted in his own manner and began to scream;  however nobody heard me even though the place was close to the path. To my ill fortune, nobody passed by and heard my screams. He became angry and tried to kill me with the axe that was in his hands. When I stopped screaming, he thought that I agreed. My strength had dissipated. I got up from the ground, turned my head and said:  "behold, girls are passing by". He turned his head in the direction that I pointed, and in the meantime, I slipped away and began to run toward the bushes. I fell several times since it is very difficult to run in the forest. I was saved miraculously, since he did not have any weapons. I was  slapped on the face several times, however nothing more. I returned home in tears, and the mistress of the house thought that I had gone mad. She requested that I tell her what happened, but I was embarrassed. In the end I told her as a secret. When her husband returned, she told him as a secret, and he told his friends, and the matter became known in the entire village. From that time on, they looked at me as a brave person, and revered me.

       The situation was very tense on the day of the German retreat. They gathered all of the residents of the village into one place and pillaged all the flocks. I ran with our flock to the forest under cannon fire, and I saved it from the Germans. The farmer returned in the evening with all the property, for he also did not present himself at the gathering place. We sat at the bank of the Narew River. We heard the noise of tanks. We saw the Germans fleeing for their lives. At dawn, I woke up to bring in the cows, for I stayed with them all night, so that nobody should notice us, and then suddenly the Russian army appeared before my eyes. We gathered all the property. I took the flock, and we turned toward the house, which was at the edge of the forest. I, with the animals, went first. My heart was filled with longing for my parents, for my home… the time of liberation had come… even though I realized that nothing was left. I raised my voice in weeping. I asked myself:  how was I able to save all the animals, yet I was not able to save my parents?  I reached the forest. It was a hot day, the air was clear and calm, the sun shone on the leaves, and a cool breeze blew in my hair. I walked with sure steps, with the though that we would meet our liberators face to face. I continued, and suddenly I heard a scream. A cow had trampled on a tired Russian soldier, who was sleeping under the tree. He cursed it in Russian, however he greeted me in a friendly manner:  with a heartfelt "zdrastvoitia" and a smile. We reached our home. We met many soldiers, who cooked a variety of foods, and sang happy songs of their birthplace. Songs of Russia…

       We did not have much time to rejoice in our home. The war heated up. We were again forced to leave the village. We stayed in the forest far from the village due to the bombardment. I again looked after everyone, from the animals to the children. Winter arrived in full force. Three families lived in one room. I slept in the barn all winter. One night, as I was in a deep sleep, I opened my eyes and I saw the farmer standing over me, saying:  "Krystyna, wake up, for my wife is about to give birth". There was a new baby in the family. My situation became worse. From that time, I was not able to rest day or night. I had to concern myself with the farm, as well as with the battle that was nearing our village. At the end of the fall, literally under bombardment, I dug up potatoes. There was not much food, and in the spring we would have to plant.

       It was a crisp winter night. The village was covered in white, and in the silence of night, we heard the tanks and artillery passing near our house.

       After a few weeks, Berlin was captured. We returned home, however the home was destroyed. We lived with the farmer's uncle. We built a house in the meantime. The work was unbearably difficult. There was no food, and there was constant fear, now from the partisans. A difficult winter passed, and spring arrived. I tended to the cows, and I also spread out the fertilizer that had been left for almost a year. Due to the spreading of the hard manure, the skin on my right hand separated from the bone. There was no doctor. The pain was unbearable. I did not sleep at night, and the situation became more serious. At sunrise, I was already at work again. Thanks to a lad with whom I tended to the flocks, I went to a certain farmer whose lone cow I also tended to, and I requested money so that I could get my hand treated. There was one farmer in the village who knew a bit of medicine. He operated on my hand in a very primitive manner, however it did heal, and I became healthy.

       In the meantime, I found out that two sisters and a brother of my father's had survived. I was the only survivor of my immediate family. My brother, my sister, and my mother were murdered by the Poles as they were hiding between the sheathes in Waski. Their flesh was eaten by the birds. The mayor's wife, who was left a widow, gave some vodka to one youth, who then brought them to burial. My eldest sister was killed in a cave, and my middle sister worked in a garden for the Germans, and the gentiles informed on her. She heard about this and started to flee. As she fled, she was shot to death. My father and my aunt's husband who survived to that point were killed by Poles who knew them in 1944, on the 27th of Sivan, close to the time of liberation. My father's brother was killed by Poles after liberation, and the rest of the members of my family died in the concentration camps or the forests of Poland.

       Before I found out that my aunts and uncle had survived, I thought that I was the only survivor of all Polish Jewry. This thought did not give me any rest. I could not make peace with such a reality at all. I asked my friends in an indirect manner if any Jews were left in Lomza. They answered me:  "to our great sorrow, there are still Jews there". From that time on I had only one thought in my mind:  to meet Jews.

       Several months passed. My aunt was at that time in Bialystock. She knew that I was in Jednaczewo, however she did not know the farmer with whom I lived. She spoke with a Jewish youth whom she knew from before the war, when he worked in the U.B., which was the organization for saving Jewish children from Poles. They punished non-Jews who were known to have killed Jews prior to the liberation and after the liberation. By chance, this youth was a friend of the farmer with whom I lived. He had already seen me when he came to visit him. He asked him who I was, however the farmer was afraid of him, for I knew many secrets. Therefore the farmer said that I was the daughter of his neighbor.

       That evening, I had an internal battle inside of me:  to approach him or not. He was Jewish… I would be among Jews… however I was afraid to do this. Several more months passed.

       One day, during the time of the afternoon rest period, I was in a room, the cows were resting in the cowshed, and a car stopped in front of our house. I instinctively fled to the basement. The youths who arrived in the car asked about me, that is to say about the girl who was with the mayor. The mistress of the house was alone in the house. She became very confused, and said that I was in the field. They ordered her to bring me to the police in Lomza the next day. The farmer came back from the city, and when he heard this, he wanted to abandon the farm, and flee with me. He asked me if I knew any secrets about the mayor, and therefore they wanted to interrogate me. I did not know anything, and I had no idea at all that they had come to redeem me. If I would have even thought this, it was hard to believe that it would be true. In the meantime, the cousin of the farmer sent a notice to the wife of the mayor asking if she knew anything, for my aunt had been at his house a while ago.

       This was in May. I went to pray. It is a Christian custom that all of the residents of the village go to pray in one house in May. That day we went to pray at the house where the farmer's cousin lived. I entered the room, and he smiled at me, and said:  "Krystyna, how can you pretend so well?  I can still not believe that you are Jewish, for you will always be Krystyna to me."  I now had a dilemma on my hands:  how should I confess everything to the farmer. The farmer's cousin took it upon himself to begin the conversation. We went into a room. He began to tell the story. I had endangered the farmer for two years, however he accepted the situation very well. He looked at me as he would a mighty person and said:  "Krystyna, will you remember us?"  He was always good to me, although his wife was not.

       Several weeks passed without news. In the meantime, I became seriously ill. I took to bed with a high fever. After two weeks of illness, I got up on Sunday. Everyone was in Church, and I went for a stroll in the forest. Suddenly the farmer came to me and said  "They have come to take you, to my great sorrow, you must go". The mistress of the house packed my bags and wept, and their daughter stood and wept and said:  "Krysynka is leaving me."  We sat on the wagon and went to the place where we had arranged to meet. The group greeted us pleasantly. They made a small party for us. They spoke to the farmer, and he told them about me. They showed me a letter from my aunt in Yiddish, and they began to speak to me in Yiddish. They wanted to remind me of my mother tongue that I had not used in five years. I understood them, but I did not know how to speak. The youth who arranged the trip turned to me in song:  "a Jewish girl, she is so pretty, dainty and refined, you have a thousand charms…"  However, I did not resemble a Jewess at all, for the environment of the past six years had taken its toll.

       The farmer sat silently and his eyes were filled with tears. The sun was going down. He got up, and parted from me like an actual father, and wept. This was a heartrending scene. I also wept. My dog stood there and waited for me to come. However, he was to be disappointed. The farmer called out:  "Come Lelek, Krystyna is not returning to us."  I was not able to calm down, I did not speak, I was very sad. However, this was the moment of intermingling of two different emotions.

       The next day I traveled with one of the youths of the group. One the way to the train, I met a young man with whom I had tended to the flocks. He turned his head, and asked me to where I was going?  However he did not get an answer from me. It was 1945.

       We were at the home of my aunt in Bialystock. My younger aunt was in the house. I cannot describe the joy I felt at that time. My other aunt also came that day. She raised her voice in weeping when she saw me, and asked:  "where are they all?". This meeting was a sort of memorial service for our family. For the next while, we sat down nightly and related to each other what had transpired to us.

       My aunt lived at that time in a small house on Zamenhof Street. The deep grief had not dissipated, and the sorrow was great over the death of my uncle who had been killed a few weeks previously.

       My aunt wanted to bring me into Jewish life. She brought me to a place called Minska, where hundreds of Jews from the concentration camp lived. The "Commitet" took care of them. I then realized that it was not only we alone who had survived. Those who knew us spoke to me in Yiddish. I did not yet know how to answer in my mother tongue, a matter that caused me much grief. They also angered me with their customs. I was not used to seeing such people. They sent me to a school, where a few children studied, however there they also oppressed me because I did not know Yiddish.

       At that time, I wanted to study, given that I realized how much I had missed during the years of the war. I returned to my mother tongue very quickly, and I also learned to speak a little Hebrew. I passed from second grade to third grade in one year. I finished four grades when I was in Bialystock, and I became proficient in Hebrew. I did not only study Hebrew in that school, I also became enthralled with the Zionist idea, and I wished to make aliya to the Land of Israel.

       My aunt got married in 1946, and after a period, she received a permit for aliya. My aunt asked her husband's brother to send me a permit to immigrate to America. She did this against my will, since my desire was for the Land of Israel. I was very young, and my aunt regarded herself as my guardian.

       After the school exams, we prepared to travel to Sweden. This was in 1946.

       We lived on Zamenhof Street in Bialystock. In that courtyard, there was a bakery, which was established by a group of young men. One of them served as treasurer. He was a young and serious boy. I would often go there to buy cakes, to get water, and to bake. The men became friendly with me, and we had good relations. Avrasha the treasurer liked me very much. I was fifteen years old at the time, and my aunt told everyone that I was twelve, since I was not that well developed physically. Externally, I looked as if I was seven years old. After much success in roles on stage (of the dramatic group of Bialystock), the men praised me, however they all looked at me as a young girl less than ten years old.

       In 1946, I traveled with my aunt to Sweden. There I studied in two boarding schools, which were set up to facilitate youth aliya for no cost. At that time I was on a transit visa – with permission to go to the United States as a student to study archeology.

       At the beginning of 1947, despite the objections of my aunt, I had discussions in Stockholm with the representative of the Jewish agency, and I traveled to France, en route to Israel.

       I spent about a year in southern France, in Pug-Liso, a boarding school that prepared people for youth aliya. From there, I traveled from Marseilles to the Land of Israel on the fourth aliya.

        I arrived in the Land of Israel on the eve of Purim, in March 1948. From the camp for new immigrants in Pardes Chana, we passed through other milestones together with our group. We fought, worked, and joined Nachal [2]. After concluding training for Nachal in 1949, we joined as reinforcements for the defense of the Chatzerim absorption center in the Negev. I worked as a dairy farmer, and I was active on several committees. I left Chatzerim in 1951, since I had a misunderstanding with the farm committee due to the fact that I was given a task that was beyond my physical capabilities. I moved to Tel Aviv. In Tel Aviv I studied, and I worked in all sorts of jobs in order to earn my livelihood in an honorable fashion. I got married in 1953, and I established a Jewish home. My husband is a professional army man, and we have a son and a daughter.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The word 'shever' could denote a fracture, collapse, or hernia. It is not clear which is meant here. Back
  2. The pre-military cadet corps of the Israel Defense Forces. Back


The Shul-Gasse (Street of the Synagogue)

by Rivka Zylbersztejn

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Foggy outside, although it is even moreso during the day,
The synagogue is full of executioners,
Torah scrolls are spread out on the ground outside,
My heart pounds rapidly inside of me.

The murderers are circled around,
Their hands are fiery;
The holy books are ignited –
Woe, the Torah Scrolls of Stawiski are being burnt.

Two eyes look
At night through the dark –
There glow the books
They do not want to burn…

On the Shul Gasse frolic about
The murderous executioners,
In fire they toss
Tallises and Tefillin.

Where are your Jews, clad in festive clothes,
Radiant faces during the Hakkafot [1] in the synagogue?
I search for them – here it is so vacant,
Only murderous faces are around here in such great numbers.

They leave us alone, burning in the Shul Gasse
Only black clouds inhabit this place today;
The executioners fly here like black birds
Our bloody enemies rejoice – – –

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Hakkafot are the festive processions with the Torah scrolls around the synagogue that take place on Simchat Torah.Back

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