by Yitzhak Katsenelson
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
|Cry out from every stone, each grain of sand
from the dust, flames and smoke
formed from your flesh and blood, the marrow of your bones,
your hearts and souls cry out loudly.
Cry out from the woods, from the fish, the rivers
that swallowed you up; cry out from the ovens, cry out, all of you.
I want to hear your weeping, your pleas for help, your voices.
Cry out, you murdered Jewish souls, cry out.
Show yourselves to me; stretch out your hands
from the graves, miles long and deeply dug,
layers upon layers, steeped in lime and burnt.
Arise, arise! Rise up from the deepest depths.
Come out from Treblinka, from Sobibor, from Auschwitz,
from Belzec, from Paneriai, and more, more, more!
With eyes wide-open, staring a cry, a plea for help, a voice.
Rise up from swamps, from mire, from rotted moss.
Come out, desiccated and ground to dust
and form a circle, a big circle, around me, one giant hoop --
grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers with babies in their laps.
Come, Jewish bones turned to powder, to pieces of soap.
Show yourselves, appear before me, come, all of you.
I want to see you, I want to look upon my murdered folk,
look at you, silently, struck dumb.
And then I will sing yes, give me my harp,
I will play!
by Nuchim Krymerkopf
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
If only one person survives the conflagration he will describe the catastrophe for future generations
The Nazi troops poured into the big and little shtetls of Poland.
Within a few days, the Polish government had mobilized the population. In Tarnogrod boys were called to the battlefront. In Jewish homes, there was worry and fear. This lasted only a few days; the Polish army soon disintegrated. From the first days of the invasion, Jewish refugees passed through Tarnogrod, packs on their backs, barefoot, their feet wrapped in rags. Some stayed in Tarnogrod for a day or two or more.
The Jews of Tarnogrod received the refugees with true Jewish warmth, gave them food and clothing and put them up for the night.
In many houses the women had warm water constantly ready so the fleeing Jews could wash, and soak their tired feet.
Just as had occurred during the First World War, civilians with white armbands a civil defense force appeared in the streets, the first sign that the enemy, the new occupiers, were about to arrive. Soon the ruthless fist of the enemy reached the town. The Germans marched through the streets and the sound of their booted footfalls resounded in the houses, where the Jews hid with their doors and shutters nailed shut -- residents and refugees, young and old, children who had lost their parents, parents searching for their children.
The town was instantly transformed, unrecognizable. It was the first night of Rosh Hashanah. People went to pray in synagogue using the back streets, slinking along the walls. The praying was different than in other years, sadder, more fearful, reflecting terror and worry about the days to come. Leibush Chaim Tshipes (Wertman), the cantor who led the night prayer, sped up his praying.
People returned home from praying with pounding hearts. Each one took home several refugees to share in the holiday feast. In some families, no one left the house at all, even to pray. The neighbors got together to pray at one of their homes. Not even the slightest ray of light could be seen from the pitch dark streets; all of the windows were covered and shut tight.
There were houses where no one slept that night. People went to bed in their clothes and stayed on the alert, listening for every sound on the street.
The next morning, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the town seemed to be completely dead. Cautiously taking back streets, afraid of their own shadows, Jews went to pray in synagogue with their prayer books under their arms. The entire service was one long lament pervaded by fear for the future.
Again, each Tarnogrod resident took home several refugees, among whom were wealthy people. Everyone felt equal, brothers in sorrow.
At 2:00 p.m. a German patrol drove their motorcycles through the blonie [commons] on Lakhower Street, making a horrible noise.
The First Victims
Two Jewish boys, Avrahamle Shohet's son and Pinye Itzekel's son Yechiel, were at the time sitting on the porch of Leizer Silberzweig's house. When the German patrol approached they were terrified and confused and didn't know what to do. Yechiel began to run away. He had only managed to take a few steps when he was struck in the shoulder by a bullet shot by the patrol. He continued to run until he came to the wall where the poorhouse had once stood. There he collapsed and died on the spot.
Avrahamle Shohet's son, also confused, made a movement to run away but at that moment, he heard one of the murderers yell at him to halt. He stood there, frozen in fear, unable to move. When the patrol approached him, he was still in shock, unable to answer their questions. The Germans searched him and found nothing, so they delivered a few blows, told him to go home and warned him not to go outside anymore.
Yechiel, Pinye Itzekel's son, was the first Jewish victim in Tarnogrod.
Right after the motorcycle patrol, the Nazi's regular divisions, infantry and artillery, marched in. Their first stop was at the Polish town government. Several German officers went inside and immediately took over the offices.
The news of Yechiel's death spread quickly. No one, not even the most daring tough guys, would go out onto the street or even stick their heads out. Pinyele, Yechiel's father, came alone to recover his son's body from behind the poorhouse.
On the second night of Rosh Hashanah no one went to pray in synagogue. They prayed at home, with broken hearts. The night passed peacefully. Not a sound was heard on the street. In the morning German soldiers were seen passing by but they took no special action. German officials and military were installed in the town hall. Jews began gradually to slip out to go to synagogue. They felt as if they were risking death, but they didn't want to stay home. After all, it was the second day of Rosh Hashanah and they wanted to hear the blowing of the shofar [ram's horn].
No one went to the besmedresh [house of study and prayer] to pray because it was in a highly visible location in front of the market and the danger was a lot greater. As a result, the shtiblekh [sing. shtibl, small usually Hasidic prayer houses], which were in the back streets, were packed. The synagogue, located behind the besmedresh and less visible to the German soldiers, was also full.
They recited the morning prayers quickly so as not to be interrupted. They waited a bit to blow the shofar, until there was no one in the market place; they didn't want it to be heard on the street, where a German patrol could happen to pass by. The Germans were already strolling around town.
The Jews remembered their experience during World War I, when the German occupiers interpreted the blowing of the shofar to be a secret signal to the Poles. They didn't want the Germans to think they were sending a signal to the disbanded Polish army. They waited to blow the shofar at noon when they knew the Germans would be busy having lunch. They stationed two men at the gate to the synagogue anteroom to watch to see if anyone was coming. The shofar blowing took place without a problem.
During the time the Jews had been at prayer, a Gestapo division had arrived in town. They took over the house of Yosl Sprung, where the post office was located, on Lakhower Street across from Berish Ringer.
The second day of Rosh Hashanah was a Friday. Despite their tears, people prepared for the Sabbath. But they didn't go to synagogue on Saturday; they prayed at home.
On Friday night the houses were poorly illuminated and doors and shutters were tightly shut. People didn't go to sleep but sat up in their clothes; even children slept in their clothes. Everyone had a fearful premonition about approaching danger.
The Fire and the First Mass Murder
The worst thing imaginable unexpectedly occurred.
In the middle of the night a gunshot was heard, and quickly followed by another. The shooting was right near the commons; they said that a bomb had exploded. But this was before the Nazis had entered the town. No one was hurt in the explosion. The bomb fell on the ground and tore out a huge hole.
The shooting from rifles and machine guns intensified. Soon there was the sound of cannons. Hearts pounding, people peered through cracks and keyholes through which they could see the fiery flashing of exploding shrapnel. The shooting grew stronger from minute to minute. People extinguished the lights in their houses. They didn't know what to do with themselves, with the children, where to run in the darkness of night, where to hide from the shooting.
The sounds of shooting and cannon fire ended shortly before dawn. But the streets resounded with the noise made by the Germans. Some daring souls stuck out their heads and saw thick black smoke rising to the sky. All the Jewish houses in the market place near the Bilgoraj Gate were in flames. Instantly, despite the danger, the entire Jewish population took flight, leaving behind their meager possessions, taking their little children by the hand, mothers holding their nursing babies to their breasts, young and old ran to get as far away as possible from the burning town.
They ran to the villages, Bukowina, Yastrubichi, Luchow, Rozaniec, Korchow. They hid in the woods, in valleys, fields and meadows. They ran to the commons, to Christians whom they knew, where they thought the Germans would not yet know to look for them.
There were Christians who didn't allow their Jewish friends and acquaintances to enter their houses, who didn't remember the favors the Jews had done them only a few days before. There were also those who gladly received the fleeing Jews and made a place for them in their homes or barns.
The Jews could see from the distance how the smoke and flames of the burning houses grew and engulfed the entire town. There were no firefighters; no one would have dared to extinguish the fire that the Germans had set.
The fire did not burn out until late afternoon. The houses were already destroyed by then. After the fire the Germans drove around on motorcycles outside the town and ordered the Jews to go home. The Jews who had been allowed to stay with Christians were in no hurry to return. Those who with their families, some with children, were sleeping outdoors in meadows where the autumn cold seeped into their bones, returned to the town.
A terrible picture unfolded before them. Fourteen Jews had been dragged from their homes and shot by the Germans on that Saturday before dawn, and had been thrown into the fire half-alive. Twelve of them were Tarnogrod Jews; the other two were from Lodz.
Among the twelve form Tarnogrod were: Yisrael Zuker and his daughter; Mendele Silberzweig; Aron Kleiner; Shmuel Ritzer's wife and all of his children. Shmuel Ritzer himself survived and after the fire went around carrying a child in his arms; the child's arm had been shot off.
The houses on both sides of the street the side where Yankl Magram lived and the side where Zalman Lustrin lived -- from the Bilgoraj Gate up to the Korchow Gate, were totally destroyed. Not even the ashes of the victims who had been thrown into the fire could be retrieved from the houses.
People tried in various ways to figure out the reason for this catastrophe. There were rumors that Polish soldiers had hidden that night between Jewish houses and from their hiding places had shot at the Germans.
For the Germans, that was a pretext; the Jews were shooting at them and so they had to burn their houses and shoot the Jews. The entire time no airplanes flew overhead and no bombs fell.
Edicts and Persecution
The Gestapo visited Jewish homes seeking men to work at cleaning out the sites of the burnt houses. They forced the Jews to sweep the street with their bare hands, without brooms, on the street where the Gestapo had its headquarters. The Jews who were captured were forced to polish and clean the German motorcycles, using their prayer shawls instead of rags.
The Kreshever rabbi, who had gotten stuck in Tarnogrod after fleeing his home, was captured by the Gestapo. They cut off his beard and forced him to clean the toilet with his bare hands and to carry the night soil in his hat to the wall where the poorhouse was located. After a full day's work they forced him to put on his soiled hat. With guns in their hands, they pulled the hat down over his eyes and mockingly danced around him. The game went on for a long time, until they finally ordered him to go home.
The Gestapo issued an order that Jews could not walk on the sidewalks, but had to walk in the middle of the road. Decrees followed one after the other. The situation grew worse from day to day and became intolerable.
The Jewish refugees hiding out in Tarnogrod began to return to their homes. There were others who calculated that it wasn't worth trying to go back because death threatened on the roads, and they stayed in Tarnogrod.
The German military units, which had marched from Tarnogrod toward Jozefow, encountered resistance from the Polish army in the Jozefow forest. The battle lasted an entire night, the following day and continued into a second day. The Germans were forced to retreat to the village Dosakhes on the river Tanif.
The battle in the Jozefow forest was fierce and many German soldiers died. They brought the wounded to the Zayentsifker Hospital in Tarnogrod, which was close to the battlefield. The Gestapo ordered the Jews to bring to the hospital white blankets, underwear, handkerchiefs, sheets and various other items. Yankl Walfish, Godl Wetsher and Saul Teicher were selected to call on Jewish homes and gather all the items demanded by the Germans. Not one Jew refused; each gave what he could.
On Sunday, the day after the fire, when the Christian residents of the area came to pray at the church, which stood near the burnt houses, the S.S. squads tore off the doors of the Jewish shops, took the best goods for themselves, and threw the rest out onto the street for the assembled Christians. An indescribable commotion ensured. Christians came running from all directions and pushed and shoved each other in a wild effort to grab the Jewish merchandise. The S.S. officers looked on laughing, then formed a line and began distributing the looted goods to the Christians. From their hiding places the Jews looked on with heavy hearts at the despoilment of their property, the fruits of years of toil. No one dared to protest, to appeal to those in power to stop the looting.
Jews were not allowed outside after 6 P.M. Poles were permitted two more hours.
Every day the Germans requisitioned Jews for various jobs. Often these jobs were pointless, with no real objective. They did it just to entertain themselves with Jewish suffering. Behind the booths in the market place stood a derelict Polish army tank, already half-sunken into the ground. The Germans nabbed two homeless Jews and ordered them to drag out the tank, an impossible task. A German officer happened to be passing by and observed the German soldiers beating the two unfortunates who were futilely trying to drag out the tank. With a gesture, the officer instructed the soldiers to release them.
Fear and Terror
|Yoel Hochman who was a prayer-leader in the Belzer shtibl, owner of a hardware store and a prominent person in town, who was forced by the Germans to shave the beard of another Jew whom they had apprehended in the Tarnogrod ghetto. This happened in the first days of terror and lasted until the final liquidation of the Jews in Tarnogrod.|
Jews avoided going into the street. Houses of worship stood empty. When the Germans saw a bearded Jew on the street they would taunt and bully him. So the women took the place of men in carrying out all tasks that required going outside.
Yom Kippur arrived. No one went to synagogue. Neighbors gathered at home and behind closed shutters and locked doors, like the Marranos in cellars [during Spanish Inquisition], they sang Kol Nidre quietly, by the light of a small candle, with stifled weeping.
The next morning several Jews crept through back streets to the Belzer shtibl, which was near the wall and not very obvious. They prayed there the whole day, quietly pouring out their hearts. Sukkot was approaching, but no one put up a sukkah or opened the roof. They feared that any little thing could be misinterpreted by the Germans and evoke false accusations of wrongdoing.
There was a feeling that something new was drawing near. The Germans began to remove the wounded soldiers from the hospital. Army transports began to move in the direction of Sieniawa. There were rumors that the Germans were retreating and that the Russians were arriving. On the eve of Sukkot it was clear that the Germans were retreating. By evening, there wasn't a single German soldier left in Tarnogrod.
Arrival of the Soviet Army
Thursday, the first day of Sukkot, at 1 P.M., the Russian army marched in through the Korchow Gate. There was great rejoicing among the Jews. The young people were especially enthusiastic. Everyone hoped that under Soviet occupation Jews would be freed of all their troubles and they welcomed the soviets warmly.
The day they arrived was rainy but all the young people stood waiting in the street for hours, chatting with the Red Army soldiers marching in. Among the Red Army were Jews, who elicited great interest among the young people.
The Red Army received an entirely different welcome from the Polish population, who hated them. The Poles looked askance at the Jews who welcomed the Soviets so heartily. The Jews were happy to be rid of the German beasts. Everyone had been deeply affected by the persecution and suffering they had inflicted. They remembered well the fire on the Sabbath of Rosh Hashanah and the shooting of 14 Jews. With the entry of the Red Army they breathed more freely.
Jews began to go into the street without fear. People walked more confidently and freely. They greeted the soldiers openly and shook their hands.
The rain stopped as evening arrived and it became known that the army would show a Russian film at the market place. All the Jews stood and watched the film and engaged in a lively discussion afterwards. Then they returned home and slept without fear. For the first time after two nightmarish weeks they undressed before going to sleep.
The next day, the second day of Sukkot, the Jews went to pray in the houses of worship just as they had always done. Red flags flew over some houses at the Jews regarded them gratefully.
That very day, a Communist committee was established, which included longtime Communists, among them two Jews -- Leibush Fester and Yankl Walfish. The town was surprised; no one had known that the quiet and self-effacing Leibush, who was self-employed and even had two apprentices in his boot-top making workshop, was quite an ardent Communist. He was elected Vice Chairman of the committee.
A civilian militia was established and young Jews joined it. They walked around town, proud of the rifles they carried on their shoulders, and kept order. There were instances when the tough guys in the militia began to bully the Polish officials who had recently openly demonstrated their ant-Semitism. Thus, the former mayor was slapped and arrested even though there were no formal accusations against him. The same occurred with other Polish officials who were known to be enemies of the Jews.
The day after the Soviet entry into town, the student Frimtche Zilberlicht, Yekele Getzl's daughter, gave a fiery speech in Polish in the market place. Instead of a podium, they set up a wide table on which she stood and addressed a large crowd of Poles. She talked about the restoration and liberation which the Red Army had brought with it. The Poles gnashed their teeth and balled their fists with hate and anger, but they didn't express these openly; they were afraid of the Jewish militiamen who were keeping the peace.
These militiamen were of a lower social status and did not enjoy the sympathy of the Jewish population. The Tarnogrod Jews did not agree with the way they behaved toward the Polish population, aware of the hatred that their behavior evoked in the Poles. There were instances when they warned the militia that they should behave more leniently and humanely. But the militia responded with arrogance and certainty that the Russians would never leave, citing the Russian slogan, Wherever Russians set foot, there they stay.
This conviction soon proved false. As early as the fourth day of the intermediate days of Sukkot there were rumors that the Soviets would leave Tarnogrod and that pursuant to a new agreement [between Germany and Russia] the town would again be occupied by the Germans. The Jews didn't want to entertain this possibility, which meant so much new suffering and death.
But it soon became a certainty that the Red Army was leaving. You could see that the army was getting ready to retreat toward Lubaczow. A panic broke out among the Jews. People were desperate; they didn't know what to do. Among the pro-Soviets, people were urging that they leave along with the Red Army. They even ordered trucks for several families with children. But the majority could not decide to abandon their homes. Many tried to assure themselves that the Germans would now be less brutal and life would normalize.
That was what the town rabbi thought. He had a big family with many branchessons, daughters, grandchildren over 100 members. To leave town, abandon their homes and wander aimlessly seemed impossible and they saw no other option but to remain. They were deceived by their faith that God is everywhere and would not abandon them in times of trouble. Many Jews still remembered World War I when they fled to Russia as rich Jews and returned after the war as poor beggars. They didn't want to think about that possibility.
The town was in turmoil. Neighbors ran back and forth consulting with each other, asking each other what they had decided to do and what they thought one should do stay in place or go with the Russians. They refreshed their memories of what the Germans had done during the two
weeks that they ruled the town. People changed their minds from hour to hour. They would decide to throw everything away and go with the Russians. Then they immediately thought about the little children, how they would have no place to put them to sleep, no place to obtain food for them. They imagined all the pain they would suffer in their wandering. They felt their attachment to the place where they were born and raised, to their own poverty, and again began to convince themselves that the German murderers would forget about the Jews of the small town of Tarnogrod.
The Soviets tried until the last day to persuade the Jews to leave town and come with them. They even arranged for two trucks to carry the small children. But only a very small percentage decided to go with the Russians. There were also some who left, intending to come back soon, leaving their wives and children behind in Tarnogrod. They left on foot, with packs on their backs, their prayer shawls and tfillin [phylacteries] under their arms. They intended to stay somewhere in a village until things calmed down and then return to town. But in every village they found that there were no longer any Jews left. The village Jews had left with the Soviets.
The Germans Return
The next day, Saturday morning, the Germans re-entered Tarnogrod.
A few days later, the Germans levied a heavy kontributsie [tax; demand for payment] of money and jewelry. They gave the Jews 24 hours to turn over the kontributsie.
On Sunday, when the Christians went to church, the Gestapo forced half of the Jews in town to the market place and made them crawl on all fours around the square. It was raining hard and the square was full of mud and puddles. The Germans forced the Jews to dance in the mud on all fours and the Poles stood around, clapping their hands and laughing heartily.
After several months of German occupation life for the Jews began to normalize. People began to go out into the street looking for a way to earn some money. It was the wives and daughters who were the breadwinners; it was still too dangerous for the men to appear in public. Jews were not allowed outside after 7 P.M. Some Jewish women travelled to Warsaw, Lublin and Zamosc to do business with Poles.
There were no German soldiers stationed in Tarnogrod at that time. There was just a commandant and several police officers. After they collected the kontributsie, the Germans appeared to become more lenient and turned a blind eye to unlawful business dealings by Jews. Not all Jews risked engaging in forbidden business dealings. They stayed home and went hungry rather than risk their lives.
There were Jews who managed to obtain special permission to buy merchandise for the German Wehrmacht, and other Jews made a living working for these Jews.
The town seemed to achieve a certain stability. The Germans established normal prices for goods which the Poles dealt in. Anyone who charged more was severely punished. As a result, people, including some daring Jews, began to engage in smuggling, sneaking goods over the border to Sieniawa and Lubaczow on the Russian side. Saccharine was very cheap on the German side, so they smuggled it to the Russian side, where there was a shortage of sugar. Although some smugglers were apprehended by the Russians, and were sent to prison and camps, that didn't deter others.
There were some Jews who had fled to work in the coal mines and other places in Russia, who were now starving and wanted to return to their homes in German-occupied Poland. They gave their last remaining bit of money to the smugglers to sneak them back across the border. It was a miracle that the winter was so severe with freezing temperatures and heavy snows and that the border was protected for hundreds of kilometers with barbed wire. Otherwise, far more Jews would have crossed the border to return to the homes they had abandoned. They were desperate, regretting that they were stranded in a foreign country where they experienced indescribable deprivation, hunger and pain.
In Lemberg there suddenly appeared a German commission which registered Poles who wanted to return to their homes on the other side of the border. There were many Jews who wanted to register but the Germans would not accept them. All of those who registered were later sent to Soviet work camps and forests in the depths of Russian.
Along with several other Jews from Tarnogrod, I was staying in the East Galician town of Lubaczow, where we refugees set up our own way of life. We met daily and poured out our hearts, talking about the past, how we lived in our former homes.
Once, as I was sitting on a bench in a garden with several other homeless Jews, an elderly Jew with a short gray beard approached. He was emaciated, with sunken cheeks, and looked to be over 60. He sat down next to me and told me how he had made his way to Lubaczow form his home in Rozwadow, a Galician town near Rudnik. All he took with him when he left was some underwear and his prayer shawl and tfillin. He walked through villages and towns including Tarnogrod, until he reached Lubaczow, which was then already under Russian occupation.
When he learned I was from Tarnogrod he was filled with enthusiasm. He said he would never forget the Jews of Tarnogrod who so warmly treated the refugees who passed through. He had been immediately taken in at a home where they gave him food and drink, attended to him, washed his tired, swollen feet with warm water and gave him a clean bed to sleep in. This elderly man was one of many in Lubaczow who related their impressions of Tarnogrod. They had passed through many places, but nowhere had they encountered such good heartedness as in Tarnogrod.
Deported to Siberia
The Jewish families from Tarnogrod who fled to the Soviet side mostly settled in towns near the new borders. They wanted to be closer to Tarnogrod so they would be able to get news of their relatives who had stayed. In those towns they would frequently encounter smugglers [who could pass on news from the German side].
Some Tarnogroders took advantage of the opportunity to cross the border and return to their former homes. They let themselves believe that the Germans had calmed down and had stopped committing atrocities. Those who returned home were: Arish Fischbaindegen and his family; Leizer Sore Feigelis (Silberzweig); Sore Magram; Azriel Bas; Patil Akst; Wolwish Han; Zisman Fink; Chaim Futer; Avraham David Lakher; a daughter of Matyas Herbstman; and Zelda Opfer.
In summer, 1940, the Soviet government exiled all the refugees to the taiga in Siberia. The deportees remained in the labor camps and so-called free settlements under strict supervision by the NKVD (the Interior Ministry of the Soviet Union) until 1941, when the German-Soviet war broke out.
Thanks to the intervention of the Polish government in exile in London a general amnesty was issued for Polish exiles in the Soviet camps and the Tarnogrod refuges were freed. They settled in Central Asia, where they remained until the end of the war.
At this time, in Russia, there was formed the new Polish army of volunteers who wanted to fight the Nazis. This army was dominated by anti-Semitism, and had a tendency not to accept Jews. Nevertheless, young Jews did get in, including some from Tarnogrod.
This Polish army left the Soviet Union after a while and travelled through Persia to Eretz Yisroel, where it was stationed as a military unit serving the Middle East. In Eretz Yisroel the army held to its anti-Semitic ways, engaging in harassment of its Jewish soldiers. Many Jewish soldiers left the Polish army and settled in the land, where they live to this day. Among them were these Jews from Tarnogrod: Yechiel Hering; Moyshe Sprung; Moyshe Dag; Moyshe Rosenfeld and the two Wetsher brothers, Moyshe and Yeshaye.
During the difficult war years in Russia many Jewish refugees died, succumbing to hunger and diseases such as malaria and typhus. Among the Jews from Tarnogrod who died in epidemics were: Chaim Volf Silberzweig and his wife Sheyntshe and two children, Eliyohu and Yoyne; Chaim Goldman and his son and two daughters; his wife Reli went blind in Russia and died after the war in Szczecin; Yeheskl Silberzweig; Moyshe Kenigstein; Eliyohu Adler; Rabbi Tsvi Teicher; Avrom Shveder; Lipe Fefer; Zalmen Weintraub; Brayntse Herbstman; Sheyndl Weintraub; Motl Struzer; Mikhl Model; Volf Leyb Kesler; Aron Shilim; Elboym; Yeheskl Weintraub; Frimtche Weinman; Rekhame Mantl; Elimelekh Tryb; Chaim Blutman; Yoysef-Hersh Wachnachter; Sheyndl Riger.
The refugees from Tarnogrod who survived the times of hunger and illness, lived the entire time with the hope that the war would end and they would return to their homes. When they did return, they found ruins and devastation, a town without Jews.
The Bloody Monday
(according to two Tarnogrod Christian witnesses. Melekh and Share)
Until the end of 1941, when Germany attacked Soviet Russia, the Jews in Tarnogrod lived somewhat more freely and better than in other Polish towns. It seemed as if the Germans weren't paying any special attention to the town. It was not near the main roads that the German army used. There were only a few German police, and they were susceptible to bribery and willing to cast a blind eye on the smuggling carried out by the Jews. The Polish neighbors were not especially hostile and did business with the Jews. There was not yet a ghetto in Tarnogrod and it was possible to visit a nearby village and return with goods.
The situation changed after the German-Soviet war broke out. Things got worse from day to day. The Germans forced Jews to perform the worst work. They ordered the Jews to establish a Judenrat, which was charged with sending Jews to forced labor and carrying out all the decrees issued by the Germans.
More and more decrees were issued against the Jews. The Judenrat was forced to provide lists of names of Jews to be sent to work. The Judenrat was also in charge of collecting money for the kontributsie levied by the Germans. Jews were forbidden to have contact with the Christian population, to engage in commerce with them, or to obtain any aid from them.
Hunger grew worse from day to day. It happened that a Jew would secretly meet up with a Christian he knew, who would give or sell him something to eat, and be caught by a German policeman. This was considered a serious crime, punishable by shooting.
Golda Ringer went out of the ghetto to find something to eat, encountered a policeman on Lakhower Street and was shot dead; she was buried not far away. Her child, who was several weeks old, remained with her parents; later all of them died together.
The Jews looked to the Judenrat for protection from German savagery.
Of course, that was an illusion which quickly disappeared. The first chairman of the Judenrat was Hersh Blutman, who was killed by the Germans even before they began their extermination action. The second and last chairman was Sini Graer. He survived the war in hiding with a Christian in Kamionka, the local dog beater. He now lives in America. His work in the Judenrat is spoken of with great bitterness.
[Pages 319 - 329]
by Nuchim Krymerkopf
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
In the summer of 1942 conditions worsened for the Jews of Tarnogrod. As they did everywhere, the Germans confined the Jews to a ghetto. They ordered the Jews to move, taking with them the belongings they still retained, into the specially designated Razhenitser Street. The Jewish population of Lakhower Street, the market place and all the surrounding streets, all had to move there. All the Jews who still remained in the villages around Tarnogrod were also crammed into Razhenitser Street.
The crowding was unfathomable. Several families lived in one room or in a vestibule. Every attic, every cranny, was occupied. Illnesses broke out and it was forbidden to bury the dead in the Tarnogrod cemetery; they had to be taken to Bilgoraj or behind Badiak's hill.
|Just like the men, dozens of Jewish girls in the Tarnogrod ghetto were sent to work for the Germans every day. Hungry, worried, with burning hatred in their hearts, they would put on a smile, throw their shovels over their shoulders and with youthful strides go off to their exhausting labor, so that neither the Germans nor the hostile Poles would see their despair and bitterness.|
For the entire time the Tarnogrod Jews were cut off from Jews in other places. It was rare for anyone to sneak out of the ghetto and make contact with other towns and villages. The psychological conditions were terrible and when someone was able to bring news of the murders that were happening elsewhere, no one wanted to believe it. They didn't want to accept the concept that what was happening was a well-planned annihilation of the entire Jewish people. The Germans operated their death machine shrewdly and methodically. In Tarnogrod as in other towns they prepared for the extermination with a detailed plan.
A few days before the liquidation the Germans informed the Judenrat that they required young men for a work assignment. The Judenrat produced the required transport of Jewish youth precisely on time. None of them ever returned. No one ever found out where they were shot, where their young blood sank into the earth.
This was also the fate of the town's Polish intelligentsia. It appears that the Germans feared that the Jewish youth and the Polish intellectuals would share common understanding and join in a common effort. Conditions in Tarnogrod favored such a common effort. The young Jews were exceptionally bold and had an amicable relationship with the Polish intelligentsia. With the necessary leadership, they could have formed a unified organization able to mount a resistance to the German occupation. The Germans understood this and even before they began the liquidation action they eliminated both the Jewish youth and the Polish intellectuals.
The hellish conditions in the ghetto worsened with each day. People were shot for the most trivial reason. Yankev Akerman, Zalke's brother, pulled up an onion growing in a small garden in the market place. They caught him in the act and shot him. Wolf Stockman went to the Korchow gate with a small sack of potatoes, which he had begged from a Christian acquaintance. He encountered a German police officer that shot him on the spot.
On the road from the Lakhover forest, the Germans caught Meyer Share's two grown sons, Azriel and Antsh, who were transporting a small wagonload of wood. Both were shot on the spot.
After the Judenrat had carried out a collection of money and valuables ordered by the Germans, the Germans found a skunk fur in the home of Yoysef Moyshe Teicher, the rabbi's grandson. He himself was in hiding, but the Gestapo officer who found the fur announced that if he didn't turn himself in, ten other Jews would be shot.
The town was in turmoil. After much deliberation it was decided that to save ten lives, Yoysef Moyshe would have to be turned in. He presented himself to the Gestapo and was shot.
As happened everywhere, the Germans found people from among the Christian population who were ready to serve them. Christian youth tormented the Jews as sadistically as the German rulers. The following is an example: On the commons there stood a stack of hay for the German horses. The Germans stationed Jews there day and night to guard the hay. One night some Polish boys snuck in and set fire to the haystack. The Jews were blamed for this and in retaliation the Germans took 30 Jews to the Christian cemetery and shot them.
The Suffering of Jewish Children
The experience of Jewish children forms an entirely separate chapter of the German occupation. Jewish children became shepherds for the Christians, took their cows, pigs, and geese to pasture, and did all kinds of work, for which they were paid with a piece of bread.
|A group of Jewish women and girls from Tarnogrod being taken in a convoy under guard by a German soldier to heavy forced labor, for which they weren't paid. In the photo are Blime Rozenfeld and Fishele Beynushke's daughter (third and fourth from the left). The other faces, changed by their atrocious conditions under which they lived, are familiar. There will certainly be people who will recognize them and will denote them by name, each in his book of remembrances. To their eternal memory!|
Jewish mothers went to work for peasants digging potatoes, and would receive a few potatoes for a full day's work, which they didn't eat themselves but brought home for their hungry children.
The Jewish women went to work for their former Christian washerwomen, fed their pigs and stole a bit of the pigs' food to bring home. A bit of cooked potato peels was considered a luxury. Children were swollen with hunger and covered with sores and rashes caused by living in such dirty and crowded conditions.
On Sunday night the Jews saw several autos coming from the Bilgoraj gate, carrying S.S. personnel in black uniforms. Everyone got very depressed. They knew what the black uniforms had done in Jozefow and other towns that had already been cleared of Jews.
The news of the arrival of the evil host quickly spread to all Jewish homes and the Jews, in fear and despair, didn't know what to do or where to go. Death loomed in every direction. There were some people who had prepared hiding places but no one held the illusion that this would help them. They knew that the S.S. searched with bloodhounds and uncovered all the hiding places.
No one slept that night in Jewish homes. Mothers sat cuddling their children, stifling their tears so as not to sadden them. Young mothers tried to sing a lullaby, hoping to dispel their children's hunger.
The next day, Monday morning, the 22nd day of Kheshven, 1942, the watchman at the Polish town hall beat on his drum and announced that all Jews, old and young, men, women and children, must assemble at market place. Anyone who remained at home would be shot immediately. In the Christian streets the watchman announced to the residents that anyone who hid a Jew would be shot along with his entire family and their house be burned. Placards were posted all over town with the same announcement.
At the same time the market was surrounded by S.S. troops who were armed from head to toe. S.S. men armed with machine guns were also stationed along the roads and in the fields. As soon as the Jews arrived at the market place they were attacked by the black-uniformed S.S. men, who began driving them toward a large pit that had been dug near the wall beyond Dovid-Yoel's garden. At the edge of the pit the S.S. ordered the Jews to strip naked and began shooting them with machine guns. Row by row the naked Jews fell into the pit.
|Shmuel-Elye, son of Alter Melamed, at the time he was being led to his death, as the German murderers laughed and mocked him. We will never forget his hoarse cry, the cry of a deaf-mute, that continues to resonate in our hearts. It is the cry that rises from the mass graves, a harsh sound that welled up and soaked the earth, along with the innocent blood of children and the old. And forever, all over the world, may there be heard the cry of the tortured victims buried in the mass graves, may it call out in lamentation and with threat, with that holy vow never forget!|
The huge pit remained open for a long time, until the Poles in the course of the day, collected the bodies that lay in the streets, houses, and hiding places where the German police had shot them. The Poles put them in wagons like heaps of garbage and took them to the pit. Not until midnight did the Poles finally fill in the enormous mass grave.
Melekh, the Pole who lived on the commons, who later told me about these events, was one of the men who collected the bodies and took them to the grave, and transported sand to cover bloodstains in the street. He said that as he was leaving after filling in the grave, he saw the earth heaving and blood seeping out.
In the course of that Monday, horrifying scenes played out in Tarnogrod. It is impossible to describe all the heart-rending events. It is, however, also impossible to forget them.
There could be heard the cries and laments of children clinging to their dead mothers, of mothers searching for the children that had been torn from them. The murderers ran wildly from house to house shooting anyone they found children in their cradles, the sick in their beds. Entire families lay in heaps.
The Pole Melekh told me in a strangled voice of the horrific sights he witnessed: how two S.S. men tore apart the two month-old child of Dine Akerman and then shot the mother; how a two year-old child embraced his dying mother, pleading with her not to leave him alone. The German police shot the child in the head.
After it was announced that anyone who turned a Jew over to the Gestapo would receive one kilo of sugar and a piece of soap, young Christian boys ran to all the hiding places to search out Jews. They brought in Jews from the remote villages and forests. Little Shrizhele found Moyshe Krietner hiding in a chimney on Razhenister Street and dragged him to the Gestapo. Fanetshke's boys, from the commons, caught Zalmen Wetsher in the forest, put a rope around his neck and pulled him by the rope to the Gestapo. The many Jews who were captured in this way were locked up and held in Khaim Goldman's dark warehouse behind an iron door until they were shot. There were also instances of organized resistance. It is known that several young Jews from Tarnogrod mounted a vigorous resistance to German police, defending themselves until the last one fell.
Yosl Weiss, Mordkhe Beile-Rechls, went up into the attic with his sharp axe. Two S.S. men came looking for Jews and began climbing the ladder to the attic. They stood at the entrance and shouted, Jew, get out! Weiss hit one of them over the head with the axe with all his strength and the German fell off the ladder covered in blood. The second German ran to get help. The S.S. surrounded the housed and managed to drag Weiss out of the attic and beat him to death with iron bars.
Several years after the war, a Polish doctor from Szczebrzeszyn wrote in the American [Yiddish] newspaper, the Forverts [Forward], about what he witnessed in Tarnogord during the liquidation. He described the battle between two young men and the S.S. in the middle of the Tarnogrod market place. He said that there were no words to describe the bravery of the young men at a time when the entire town was surrounded and besieged by the black uniformed Germans and their helpers.
The forest was the only place to escape but the enemy was a threat there as well. There were instances where the Jews, after several weeks of wandering in the forest lost the will to live and turned themselves in to the Germans. That's what happened to Shmuel (Kits), Yoel Hochman and Godl Wetsher and his wife. They had to pay 20 marks each, to boot that was the high price that the Germans put on the bullet with which they shot a Jew. Those who couldn't afford the 20 marks for a bullet were beaten to death with sticks and bars.
Several young people from Tarnogrod and the surrounding towns were able to tolerate the suffering and hunger in the forest and survived until liberation. When partisan divisions began to form things got easier in the forest and the conditions for Jews in hiding improved somewhat. The Poles who hunted down Jews began to fear going to the forest. The German soldiers who often tried to surround and penetrate the forest encountered a vigorous resistance and had to retreat.
But the entire time until liberation, the Tarnogrod Poles and villagers who aided the S.S., who before the war had been friends with Jews and obtained favors from them, did not cease to search and spy, robbing and killing any Jews they found.
|With Caption: Rabbi Reb Moyshele Teicher and his family. Reb Moyshele, the last rabbi of Tarnogrod, and his family, were all killed as holy martyrWith Caption: Rabbi Reb Moyshele Teicher and his family. Reb Moyshele, the last rabbi of Tarnogrod, and his family, were all killed as holy martyrs.|
In a Sea of Suffering and Pain
|David Elbaum's son, left. The Jews in the Tarnogrod ghetto went hungry and worked with unsparing effort in the sole hope of surviving the worst enemy of the Jewish people, the Nazis.|
Reb Moyshele, the last rabbi, hid with his family in a bunker not far from the synagogue. It was airless, and a little boy left the bunker for a few minutes to catch his breath. A Polish acquaintance observed this and reported it to the Gestapo, which surrounded the bunker and forced out over 100 people. They were taken at gunpoint to a site behind the Christian cemetery, where they were forced to strip naked and were shot.
Among the Poles who pointed out Jews in hiding places and who themselves murdered Jews were Serkis, Gush, and the Valashins, who lived near the Jewish cemetery, and Deker's young sons and Panetshik's sons who lived at the commons. Some of them suffered revenge at the hands of young Jews who fought with the partisans and entered Tarnogrod at night with weapons and attacked Gush's house, killing the entire family. Other partisans did the same thing to Valashin's sons, who had turned over two Jewish girls to the Gestapo: Dvoyre Lipiner, who was in hiding with Karpik and Brayndl Honik who was in hiding with Maslovski. The same thing would have happened to others, but feeling threatened by the Jewish avengers, they left Tarnogrod.
|Groups of Tarnogrod Jews at forced labor. A common sight wherever the Germans set foot, wherever their brown axe fell. Under that axe, in a desperate sea of suffering and blood, the Jews stood, hoping until the last minute for a miracle.|
|Among those in the photos: Shmuelke Stockman, Isser Aks, Zalman Brandwein (seated)|
by Nuchim Krymerkopf
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
|There was a forest
Then a wild storm
destroyed the blooms.
Beautiful trees grew there,
Oh, forest, our forest,
They showed no mercy
Everyone heard the groans,
Our hearts are gripped
For no reason at all
The fire burned
Old and young
Through fire and flame
We stand here
We will always remember
God, almighty God
[Pages 331 - 332]
by Tsvi ben Efraim (Yehiel Hering)
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
The first day of Rosh Hashanah the Germans entered Tarnogrod, and the first victim, Yoel Kamer, a 16 year-old boy fell. Terrified at his first glimpse of the Germans, he began to run and didn't hear their order to halt and was immediately shot. The next day the town was eerily quiet. We went to pray in the Belzer shtibl, but the prayers went more quickly than usual. The fear was great; people walked home by back streets so to avoid an encounter with a German soldier.
There were already a lot of refugees in town. There were also several Jewish soldiers from the Polish army, which had been driven out. A Jewish soldier, a boy from Krakow, stayed in our house.
At night, all the doors and shutters were nailed shut. It was already 8 o'clock when we heard a commotion. We were sure that it was Germans, but when we fearfully went to the door, I heard people speaking Polish. We soon heard the sound of bayonets clashing in the street. The voices got closer to our door and demanded we open up. Not receiving an answer, they began storming the door. Our teeth were chattering but we didn't open.
Minutes of terror elapsed. Soon we heard them placing a machine gun in our courtyard, and they began to shoot in the direction of town, where German soldiers were stationed. The fight lasted more than two hours. There were dead and wounded on both sides. Several Polish soldiers were brought into the house of our Christian neighbor.
It was late at night when the Polish soldiers retreated from our courtyard and dug in closer to the market place, in Yisroel Khaim Yoyne's attic, from which they shot ceaselessly into the market place.
Not until it began to grow light did it quiet down. The Polish soldiers went somewhere and the Germans began to look for the places from which the shooting had come. They looked in our courtyard, but didn't find anything suspicious so they kept looking until they found the machine gun in Yisroel Khaim Yoyne's house where the Poles had left it. They made everybody leave the house and they shot and then set fire to them. They threw Yisroel Khaim's daughter Tobe, who was still breathing, into the fire alive.
Among those who were shot were Mendele Silberzweig and Shmuel Ritzer and his entire family, three sons and two daughters. They also shot nearby neighbors, Aron Kleiner (Arish) and his son Shloymen and two daughters. Then they began to set fire to the entire neighborhood, including our house.
The terror spread to other parts of the town where they arrested the residents and brought the to the small church on Lakhover Street.
Seeing what was happening, we fled outside the town, where not far from the church was a deep ravine where many Jewish families hid.
On Saturday at noon some Poles came to us and told us that the Germans were approaching and we had to flee. Chaos erupted. Families got separated, including ours; everyone ran in a different direction. I and my father and mother stayed together.
We arrived at Potek and went to Yisroel Sprung's house, where we were warmly received and we stayed there until the next morning, when we found out that things had quieted down and we returned to Tarnogrod.
by Tzvi Hering
Translated by Zvika Welgreen
If not for you, great forefathers,
where would we be standing?
Nothing will diminish your glory.
|The second from the right, in the first row, is my father EfraimYakov Hering.
Next to him: BenZion Weinrib, Mordechai Kroin, Moshe Feingold, Yakov Adler and Joel Hochman.
Dedication to Their Memory
In the memory of the holy persons who were murdered by the Nazis, may their names be forgotten, and died while saying Shema Israel. They had this combination of heroism and glory, and I allow myself to say what the bat kol [the echo or heavenly voice] said for Rabbi Akiva while he was executed by the evil kingdom: Blessed are you, whose soul departed with echad. [One, referring to the Shema].
My Holy Father!
In memory of my father, EfraimYakov son of ChaiaLea, who is in this photo of Tarnogrod holy persons. I want to commemorate him, in few words.
Seeing you here in your last moments, you are in my mind as a noble and great God believer as I remember you. Proving in your existence during your life and death that the moral basis of the righteous Jewish home is a stable and unshaken virtue which shapes one's character even in the most difficult moments in front of cruel and terrible death.
You had, my dear father, the moral strength, which gives me the belief in life and ideals.
I remember you, my good father, sitting every day after Shacharit [morning prayers], wrapped in tallit studying Mishnayot, parts of Ein Yaakov's clauses in Mans' Life.
I remember you, my good father, praying in front of the ark on Saturdays and holidays. Shabbat had long conversation with the hidden Holy Spirit, Holy conversation which cannot be interpreted, you sang Bless him who created us in his honor and other songs.
My holy father, I shall not forget you till my last day and my heart bleeds whenever I remember you.
There may be no one who can write anything about the other forefathers, but I shall remember them today, shall bow by head and whisper:
Honor to their memory!
by Shlomo-Yitzhak Sprung
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
Everyone in Tarnogrod was familiar with the village of Potok Gorny, where I was born. Twelve Jewish families lived comfortably there, making a living and sending their children to school. When the young people reached marriageable age, they moved to the town. Our family was preparing to move to Tarnogrod, but the outbreak of World War II put an end to their plans. People began to run around in a panic, things became wildly chaotic.
I and my brother Moshe fled to Tarnogrod, where our sister Rivkale was living with her husband, Shlomo Zaltsman, from Maden. We arrived on the day that the Germans had shot several Jews and burnt down their houses.
The next day, we fled back to Potok Gorny, taking with us our sister and brother-in-law and Yeheskl Zilberzweig's son. Later, we were joined by Yeheskl Zilberzweig and many more Tarnogrod Jews. They all stayed with us for several days. When things calmed down a bit, they returned to town.
After several days, the Russian army marched in, but they soon withdrew, and the aimless running around and wandering resumed. We bought a wagon and two horses and prepared to leave but we started to receive news that many Jews had remained in Tarnogrod and my parents decided to stay where we were.
I and Moshe rode our bicycles to Tarnogrod, to which my sister and her husband had already returned. We found them with their belongings packed, ready to leave. We decided to join them in going to Sieniawa because the Russian army was there.
Every week Moshe would sneak across the border and go home to check on our parents. He did this several times without mishap, until one day he was caught by Russian soldiers and arrested. My brother in law, Shlomo Zilberzweig, went to the military post to intercede. A military man even promised that Moshe would be released but he was soon shipped to Przemysl, where he was jailed. I immediately went to Przemysl, where I found ways to smuggle him packets of food, and began to look for ways to free him. But soon they sent him to a military prison in Lviv. Again I tried to get him released. But my efforts were in vain and I returned to Sieniawa alone.
Across the Border
One dark night I snuck across the border to Tarnogrod, where I slept at the home of my aunt Breintche Shprung. In the morning I went home to Potok Gorny.
I found my parents in a very bad state. The Germans had looted everything in their house, loading furnishings, clothing, and furs into wagons, and had distributed much of it among the peasants who watched with joy as the Jews were robbed.
I pleaded with my parents to leave the village and go with me to Sieniawa. My uncle Shmuel Peretz, who lived with his family not far from us, came over and they all decided not to leave. Their decision was influenced by their memories of World War I, when everyone who abandoned their homes endured terrible suffering; many died away from home. Those who had chosen to stay in their homes fared much better.
In addition, the winter weather was already quite harsh. The very idea of having to travel in freezing weather to other cities, without the means to make a living, horrified them and kept them from taking to the road.
I began to do business. Working with Christian smugglers, I obtained cloth from Tarnogrod and exchanged it with the peasants for various kinds of food flour, kasha, millet -- which we then smuggled into Tarnogrod. This lasted until war broke out between Russia and Germany, and persecution grew greater from day to day.
The horrifying aktsies began, shootings and deportations to Belzec. One night the Gestapo came to our house in Potok Gorny. Luckily, I was sleeping in a dark corner and the Germans didn't notice me. They seized 10 people from Potok Gorny, but after several weeks they were freed and returned to the village. They looked like skeletons, tortured and exhausted. Shortly after that, it was decreed that any Jew who left his home without special permission would be shot.
In Fearful Anticipation
The decree ruined the Jews who lived in the town and in the villages around Tarnogrod. Defying it, I risked sneaking into Tarnogrod, where the suffering grew greater daily. People died from hunger. There were terrible shortages and Jews could not buy anything to eat. Children would go out into the street to beg for a couple of potatoes. They would also come to us in Potok Gorny and my mother would first cook up a big pot of soup for them, and later fill sacks with potatoes, which the mailman would leave with my uncle Yosl Shprung, for the children to pick up and carry home.
With every day there were new decrees. They began to deport many families from Tarnogrod, ostensibly to work on the estates, among them our uncle Yosl and his entire family. His loss also affected the children, who now were left to carry the heavy load of potatoes by themselves. These six- and eight-year-old boys were the support of their parents and bore the burden of responsibility for their entire households.
Before the High Holy days in 1942 an order was issued that all Jews had to leave the villages and move to the town. This badly affected the Jews in Potok Gorny, Kilne, Lipin, and Shishkov. One day we were transported to Krzeszow, where we were packed in, two families in one room. We didn't know what the Germans had planned for us. And we lived in fearful waiting for the day of judgment, which came on the 23rd day of Cheshvan 1942.
On that date they surrounded the town and sent all the Jews to the market place. Anyone who tried to flee was shot. I and my parents sat in our house for an hour and waited for the murderers to enter and drive us out. My mother's last words were: My dear child, try to escape. Maybe God will help. Try to save yourself. I jumped over a two meter high fence into an orchard near the town hall of Krzeszow. I began to look for a place to hide and saw a barn where a cow was stabled. There I found a boy from Kilne, Yankl Basvitz, Itshe's son. There was a little straw in the barn which had been prepared for the cow to lie on. We lay down on it to rest. But soon the maid came in to milk the cow. When she saw us, she wanted to leave at once, to inform her employer.
Addressing her by name, I appealed to her not to do that. She recognized me and promised not to tell anyone. She brought us more straw, concealing the corner where we were hiding. We lay in the barn for two days until things grew quiet. We found out that all the Jews who had been driven out had been shot on the road.
A Huge Mass Grave
At night, I and Yankl silently left the barn and crept along the empty streets to get out of town. In the dark of night we arrived at the place where the horrific aktsie had been carried out, where our families had been killed. We stood there as if frozen, both of us weeping. I don't know how long we stood there sobbing. We remembered where we were, we knew our crying would not help us, that we had to find a place to hide and stay alive.
Finally, we arrived in Potok Gorny. It was already past midnight and we considered whose door to knock on. Suddenly a Christian approached us; I recognized our former neighbor. He also recognized me and told us about the decree to capture the Jews. That day, he said, many Jews had been captured. Among them were my brother Shimon; Aaron Bruk; Feyge Knokhen and her daughter; Chaim-Zalman Brandwein's wife, Perele, and her two children; and many other Jews from Tarnogrod who had fled the town and had been caught in Potok-Gorny and shot.
The Poles stripped them of their clothes and buried their naked bodies in a huge mass grave. We later learned that the grave held 54 Jews. Having heard what the Pole said, my friend Yankl was terrified and began running in the direction of Kilne, paying no attention to me. He appeared crazed with fear.
Brokenhearted I silently slipped into a nearby stable belonging to Larva Yaziye. It was full of grain and I stayed there until morning.
It turned out that the owner had heard someone entering in the middle of the night and as soon as morning came, he entered and jumping on the bales shouted, Who's there? I crept out from behind the bales and he appeared astonished, telling me that the day before they had been looking for me at his place. The police had gone around with pitchforks, sticking them in the straw, looking for anyone hiding there. Because of that he was afraid to let me stay.
I sat there unmoving for a time and he again recounted how the day before they had captured many Jews, bound them with rope and brought them to the town hall, where two Germans shot them all. Finally, I gathered my courage and said to him, It's already light out. As soon as I leave here, they'll catch me and shoot me. You had better just tie me with a rope and take me to the Germans.
These words made an impression on him. Perhaps at that moment he recalled the favors that I had once done for him. He replied, No, I won't do that. I got the impression that he wouldn't do anything to hurt me. I asked him to cover me up with several bundles of straw, and told him I would stay hidden until nightfall, when I would go into the forest.
He did as I asked, without saying anything and I lay there all day, which felt like a year. I listened to the rain which fell unceasingly outside.
As soon as darkness fell, the peasant entered and asked, Are you still alive? He started to remove the bundles of straw and handed me some bread with a bit of butter.
As I left the barn, I was enveloped in a thick wet darkness. I walked for six kilometers. The road was muddy from the constant rain. Finally I could see the forest in the dark. With my last bit of strength I dragged myself to the first line of trees and lay there all night and the next morning. Not until it began to grow dark did I start to walk in the direction of Leshnitshvuke, where a Christian woman I knew lived; I expected to be able to hide out there.
When I got there it was fully dark. When I knocked on the Christian woman's' door, she recognized me immediately. She told me that only minutes earlier she had been visited by Shemaia and his son Yosl from Gust and Lipinski. They had been in Tarnogrod and fled together with Eliash's son and daughter. They begged her for something to eat but she was afraid that if they were later caught, they would say where they had gotten food. She was sure that they were still near her house.
She led me to their hiding place and I saw a horrifying scene before me. People were sitting, prostrated by hunger and fear. It had been several days since they had eaten anything. I immediately gave them my bread and butter, and asked the Christian woman to make potato soup for them. She hesitated for a while, but then agreed to do so for my sake.
I gave her some money and she immediately brought out bread and butter and we went deeper into the woods. There we immediately set about digging out a bunker in the ground, in which we all hid. On the fourth day we were discovered by Polish bandits who shot at us. We all ran away. On the way I encountered the Christian Mikhl Koziel from Potok Gorny, who had gone into the forest to get wood. I told him the misfortunes that had befallen us. He consoled me and, in the evening, I returned to Potok Gorny, but he didn't allow me to enter his house.
I decided to knock on the doors of Christian acquaintances and ask them for a bit of bread. But as soon as they opened the door, they told me to run away and threatened to turn me over to the Germans.
Again I began wandering around the barns, spending days and nights wherever I could. On November 13th I went into the loft of a stable but immediately heard that someone was already there. I heard quiet breathing and assumed it was the owner, asleep. I asked in Polish who was there and heard someone say in Yiddish:
Is that you, Shlomo?I immediately recognized the voice of Vele Shprung, who told me he had been hiding there since the first days [of the war]. We rejoiced and I stayed there with him.
The peasant brought us food, but with every day, we felt the increasing cold of the approaching winter. Neither of us had anything with which to cover ourselves, but we didn't see any way out. We were not supposed to leave the barn, and we constantly heard stories about the capture of Jews, each more frightening than the last.
On January 12, 1942, we heard terrible screams. I went to the slit in the wall through which we could see outside. It was still light and I saw Christian boys driving Moshe Knokhn's two children toward Krzeszow, where the Gestapo was stationed. I later learned that they were shot there.
Fear grew in our hearts, and we were tortured by a sense of hopelessness, seeing no way we could avoid the dangers that confronted us from all sides and survive this terrible time. We heard news of German victories on the battlefront. The German army was moving deeper into Russia.
Several days passed and the peasant told us that Zalman Brandwein had been found dead in a trench, among dead horses. It seemed that the peasant with whom he had been hiding for several months had murdered him and thrown him into the trench, along with the horses. Zalman Brandwein was Yisroel Zilberzweig's son in law and came from Tarnogrod. This news strongly affected us. We foresaw the same fate for ourselves and decided to go out into the forest and join up with the partisans.
It was Purim. We snuck out of the barn having earlier said our farewells with the Christian. I left a letter with him, to be passed on to my brother Moshe, about whom I knew only that he was somewhere in Soviet Russia. I asked the peasant to give my brother the letter when he returned from the war.
The letter reads as follows:
Dear Brother Moshe:
I am now going into the forest and it is possible we will never see each other again. But deep in my heart, I pray that God will help and we will be together again, mourning the death of our dear parents and sisters. But it is all in God's hands. If I am not able to take revenge for the death of our family, I ask you to find out who was the Christian who captured our dear brother Shimon in Lipne and handed him over to the Gestapo, and to avenge his death.
Now, dear brother, I have left a number of things with the peasants. Make sure that they hand over every bit of it; don't give away a single thread. I am leaving a list of which peasants are holding my things.
Dear Moshe, please do your best to support and take care of the peasant who will give you this letter.
Vele Shprung is with me; he is our uncle Shmuel Peretz's son in law. We are going into the forest together. May God help and end our troubles very soon, and liberate us from the danger of death.
From me, your brother, who expects to see your face and rejoice together soon in the battle for the people of Israel. Amen saleh! Your brother, Shlomo Shprung.
Potok-Gorny, March 28, 1943
the writer of the letter and of this account
The peasant gave us bread and the cooked meat of half a lamb and warmly bid us farewell.
We walked all night. We wanted to reach the Yashtshembitser forest, because we had heard there were Jewish and Polish partisans there. Arriving at the edge of the forest, we lay down and considered what to do next. Suddenly, a peasant and his wife drove up, en route to gather wood. When they drew near, I recognized them as people I knew. I approached and asked them if they knew where the partisans were. The peasant Franek told me that the people in the forest were not partisans but a band of robbers, who had already robbed and killed many Jews. They were located about a half kilometer away. He warned me not to go there, because they would surely kill us.
Our last hope was dashed. The rain did not cease pouring and we were soaked. Hidden among the small bushes we waited until evening and when it got dark returned to our barn.
The peasants were very glad to see us. They told us they had greatly feared for our lives and were truly happy when they saw us return.
Again we hid day and night in the attic, where the peasant brought us food. We didn't move for an entire week, except for Saturday night, after the Sabbath, when we tiptoed down to the peasant's house to wash.
On one such Saturday, when we were in the peasant's house, someone suddenly knocked on the door. We were scared to death. The owner went outside and returned a few minutes later. He told us that Yisroel Korngold and another young man had come seeking a place to hide. I begged the peasant to let them in.
The man who came with Yisroel was Nachman's son. They were both in terrible shape, having not changed their clothes for months. They remained with us. After several days Nachman's son left to go to Bukovina, where his brother was. But he was captured there.
After a short time, the peasants began to talk about how our peasant was hiding Jews, and we had to find another place.
Three kilometers away lived a peasant, whose barn seemed to be a suitable place to hide. I led Vele and Yisroel there, and told them to climb up to the loft in the barn. I then knocked on the door of the owner's hut, summoned him outside and said:
Stefan, listen to me. I am a member of the partisans. I and my two comrades have been given an important mission, but on the way my two companions fell ill. Give them something to eat and I'll come back in a few days and retrieve them.My words and the confident tone in which I said them had an effect and the peasant agreed without protest to hide the two partisans, but just for several days.
I myself went back to our previous place with the loft, but instead of climbing up to the loft, I fashioned a hiding place under the house, which seemed safer. I stayed there for two weeks, too frightened to leave. The entire time I kept thinking about my two partisans. I knew what they were going through, but I had no choice. Not until a dark night two weeks later did I go to visit them. When the peasant saw me, he began to weep, begging me to take them away. He was trembling in fear.
I put on a hopeful face and assured him that nothing would happen to him, because the partisans were watching out for him. I told him to call the two partisans down from the loft. They were completely frozen and trembled with cold. The peasant wrapped them in fur pelts, and gave them ample food and drink. I promised the peasant a rich reward and he didn't dare to say anything about taking them away.
At that time, the peasant's wife's brother told me that Simchale, Yankl Patiker's son, was roaming around Dombrovke without a place to hide. I asked her to let him know that I would meet up with him and set a place to do this.
At dawn, we met in the Polish cemetery and from there went to Kruk's on the Dombrovke, where we left Simchale. I told Kruk that pursuant to an order issued by the partisans, he was obliged to hide him. This had the desired effect and from then on the peasants treated him well. And so he survived the most difficult time until liberation. He lives now in America.
Believing in Liberation
With the coming of 1944, we heard news about the defeats suffered by the Germans, and of their retreat. We began to fear that while retreating the Germans would set fire to the villages and so we went into the forest.
There were now four of us: I, Shlomo and Vele Shprung and Yisroel Korngold. Quickly, with all our strength, we began to build a bunker among the trees, deep into the ground. We concealed the top and lay there for several weeks. At night we went to the nearest village and tried in various ways to find out what was happening, until one night we saw that the Germans had run away in great chaos. Right after them the Russian Red Army entered.
Several days passed and we didn't see each other because Yisroel Korngold and Vele were still afraid to leave the forest. They were afraid to come into the light of day and didn't believe in liberation. Not until several days had passed, when they heard that several Jews who had been hiding in the forest had arrived in Tarnogrod, did they decide to leave the bunker.
Among the Tarnogroders who left the forest were Efraim and Avrom Haler and their children; Lipe Adler came back from Bukovina. There was also Chaim Adler, Sini Groyer and several people from Rozaniec.
Several Jews from Bilgoraj and Jozefow also settled in Tarnogrod. People thought it would be possible to resettle there, and earn enough to live on, but we immediately felt the Nazi poison which remained among the Polish population.
One night Polish murderers shot Dovid from Rozaniec. The murderers also hunted me, wanting to shoot me, but I managed to hide. They caught my wife and tore out her hair. They tortured and beat her all night, demanding that she reveal where the Yid was hiding. My wife saved me, risking her life by remaining silent, not willing to betray my whereabouts.
The murderers left her unconscious and bleeding, having robbed and broken everything in the house, and left.
When it began to grow light, I left my hiding place and escaped to Lublin. After a short while I went to Lodz, where I lived with Sender from Krzeszow. In 1945 left for Wroclaw and soon began thinking of making aliyah to Israel.
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