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[Page 248]

With Murder, Strangling, and Torture
– Fire and Destruction



by Aleksander-Shlomo Danciger

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Ash, ash…. Like a cloud in the sky
I see ash. Like a particle of a limb
I see ash – this ash of all of those closest to me collected,
Ash from my parents, sister, brother, friend and comrade.

Nazi fire devouringly burned them
With small children in their arms.

Voices howl. The air vibrates in lamentation
Of their last desperate supplicating outcry.
Suddenly – quiet and silence. An owl calls.
In the oncoming dawn they have become ash and smoke.

Nazi fire devouringly burned them
With small children in their arms.

Ash, ash – ash from their corporal remnants
Were carried around and around by the wind
Whenever a wind and a storm raps on my window pane
I hear their lament, although they are dead and are quiet.

Nazi fire devouringly burned them
With small children in their arms.

Our life is meager now. It lies fallow. What use is it without them?
I do not find any rest. I do not find any revenge,
But in my throat a voice is suffocated, an outcry:
Revenge. Revenge!

[Page 252 – Hebrew] [Page 253 – Yiddish]

Walking in the Face of Destruction

by Sh. Spivak

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

As a wanderer over the ground, without a house, without a roof, without a room,
Who looks sadly back, sunk in longing –
I mourn my city. A robber came, murdered,
Threw them into a pit.
A fire flies into a rage, overwhelming everything. Only several sparks
In ashes remain.

Sparks of memory of everything that was flesh and blood,
Bone and limb,
Between joy and sad voices, in days and years –
Love, callousness.

There were many Jews in the city – poor and rich,
A friend and a pious Jew.
My dear shtetl [town], cradle of my youth - my Zawiercie
On the Warta [River].

Of what matter are the machines that move there now?
The smoke – for what?
For what purpose does the steam gather from our city's factories?
That everything is past. Only an echo remains. No pond.
No Podzamcze castle.
Park and boulevards also no more – if Jewish young people
Do not throw their charming gaze on them.

A shadow from the distance appears unexpectedly. Soot-smoke pierces
The nose now.
As the Arch of Titus the villain: God in heaven, the synagogue
You have left frozen –
Without Jews. Where are they? Where are your Jews – sacred –
Women and children?
Where are they, the Jews of Zawiercie, the city
On the clear River Warta?

[Page 254]

City of My Birth

by Aleksander-Shlomo Danciger

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Zawiercie, my city – city of my birth,
Grave of Jewish martyrs, of intimates – sacrificial altar of mother, father, sisters, brothers.
With them I have lost my entire life, my roots
And I cannot plant further roots.

My mother – dragged to Auschwitz. My father and
Sister – imprisoned in the ghetto.
My grandfather in Ogonek, to receive bread
For his grandson,
Was shot to death by a German soldier,
Because he had – with supplication to God
Waited for a miracle.

My child asks me: Aba [father],
Where are my grandmother and my grandfather?
What should I tell him? How shall I explain
That a people once of great spirit – the German people – had murdered?

They devised how to “scientifically” annihilate
Millions of Jews and millions of human corpses.
Without headstones, without a vestige, a trace – human lives to squander.
And the world? It heard, was silent, digested it –
Without protest and uproar.

[Page 255]


by David Landau of blessed memory

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

From the depths of the earth
soaked in the blood of holy Jews,
voices erupt and call for -

The blaze of the red sky
from the fire of towns
that were burned on their inhabitants,
answers them -

The stars know only one song,
those eternal witnesses
to the acts that took place
and their name is

And the sea, in its fury and anger,
slaps its waves
against the rocks
and screams –

And the entire universe
with its insult and sorrow
roars from its pain –

[Page 256]

In the Shadow of Horror

by Chaim

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Chaim's book (in the Shadow of Horror, published by the Young Generation of Mapai), presents the story of a young Jew from Poland about the extermination of 3000 Jews of Zawiercie, who were brought to Auschwitz from one Aktion.

Although it is not possible to verify the reliability of this short story, that was heard by a second party, we will bring some excerpts.

Three thousand Jews. The head of the Kahal, a pure and honest Jew, a respected Jew in his community, was also among them. And the others were mostly working people, who were brought to work in the new factories that were built here…

They arrived at the place - and were ordered first and foremost to go bathe and change clothes. Already at the station, the head of the camp greeted them and spoke to them decisively about the need for cleanliness and hygiene, befitting workers in the new regime…

Jews came to the vestibule of the bathhouse and peeked into the large and wide hall. They saw shower heads installed in its ceiling and a system of pipes crossing it lengthwise and widthwise. They were still afraid. The head of the Kahal tried to calm them down: “It is impossible that they will kill an entire community of three thousand people at once. They won't go that far…”

Since the Jews were persistent in their refusal, the SS soldiers were standing over them and threatening them with their weapons. The head of the Kahal stood up and said: “Brothers, all of you know me. In all the hard days in the ghetto, I would serve you with faith and you trusted me. I did everything to prevent you from disaster … and even now, please control yourselves, it is because the hand of the oppressor is ready. I will go to the manager of the camp and convey your concerns to him.”

Here, the story tells how the head of the Kahal conveyed to the manager of the camp about the concerns of his community members. The manager, who received the head of the community with kindness, swore to him that no harm would happen to them, because they are under his protection and had only come to work. The head of the Kahal conveyed the words of the manager of the camp to the members of his community. To dispel their fear, the head of the Kahal announced that he will be the first to enter.

“And so, it was” - the book continues: - the head of the Kahal entered first, followed by the rest of the community members. The gas chamber, which was intended for three thousand people, was completely filled, and immediately the hermetic door closed behind them. One minute later, a terrible wail erupted from the “bathhouse” …

Ten minutes later, - there was a great silence.

[Page 257]

In the Whirlwind of Days and Blood

by Y. Greizer

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

On the day the war broke out, I wasn't in Zawiercie by chance, but I was in Lodz to take care of some matter. In this city, as it was well-known, there was a minority of Germans, and thus, on the day the war broke, the decay of Poland and the decay of the Polish army were revealed in the most prominent way. Instead of building and fortifying the country and the army, the Polish government encouraged brutal anti-Semitism like its neighbor, Germany. Therefore, the betrayal spread everywhere. It was possible to see in the streets of Lodz all kinds of traitors signaling to the German airplanes, who were flying over the city to attack it. And indeed, because of this betrayal, many people in Lodz already were injured on the day the war broke out.

On September 5, 1939, the radio in Lodz announced a general departure of all men to Barzini, to recruit themselves with the Polish army. In accordance with this order, thousands of people left the city the next morning. The Hitlerian fifth corps, who were preparing to welcome the Nazi army with cheers, stayed, of course, in the city. When we reached Barzini, there was no longer a trace of the Polish army. Guilt and destruction were all around. It was a difficult and painful road for me and my friends until we arrived in Warsaw.

At every step, we saw with our own eyes the betrayal of the Polish leaders at the time - a betrayal that led to the disintegration of the army and the military formation. We saw many weapons that were abandoned as useless tools on the roadside.

We arrived in Warsaw when the siege ring was tightened around it. The bombings and the destruction began.

[Page 258]

The besieged Warsaw, which remained a lonely and deserted island, could not do a lot for its protection.

Until the occupation of Warsaw, I sat, together with Poles, in a bunker on Kramlicka Street. The bombings were terrible. The food was meager, and we had to run a lot to get some food. The rumors that were widespread in Warsaw were that the Soviet army, under the leadership of General Sosnkowski, was approaching the city. The Poles eagerly awaited the arrival of the Russians to breach the siege ring around Warsaw. The situation was getting worse day by day. The electricity and water supply were cut off. Hunger began to bother. Due to the great hunger, people would eat horse meat (of the horses that were killed by shells). Diseases broke out from hunger and poor sanitation.

In all this spectacle of helplessness, betrayal, and recklessness, even in these chaotic times, there were some displays of heroism on the part of the Polish army: here and there airplanes were shot down and German prisoners were taken. I was present when a Polish soldier shot down a German airplane with a simple rifle. From the plane that was forced to land, two German pilots were taken out - both blond, tall, bare-headed. The crowd stormed at them furiously. Polish women spat on them. Finally, the police rescued them from the angry mob with great difficulty and took them to the famous Pawiak prison.

The headquarters of the city of Warsaw decided at the time not to surrender, even if this would result in the destruction of the city. Crowds were recruited to work on fortifications and clean the streets. I was also among those recruited for work.

A great impression was left by the passionate speeches of Staszynski, one of the Polish top personalities these days. This man, who was a democrat and a man of integrity, later entered the history books of Warsaw for the period of the German occupation, a supreme chapter of bravery and fearless stand.

The decision to hold on to Warsaw was firm, no matter what. But suddenly there was an upheaval: the headquarters decided to surrender to the Germans. The city was cut off from mines. The soldiers threw down their weapons. The barricades disappeared from the streets. The Polish military and police forces voluntarily went into captivity and all the refugees were ordered to return to their homes and places of residence. I will never forget the proud and arrogant entry of the Nazi army into Warsaw, which began immediately its antics against the Jews.

Tens of thousands of refugees were gathered in the suburbs of Warsaw and taken to Pruszków From there they were deported with agony and violence to different places. If I remember correctly, they were concentrated later in Yablonka.

After this deportation, they left us to live our lives. Thus, I returned to Lodz. In Lodz I got a permit to leave the city. I decided to go home. I managed to get a seat on a freight train which was on the way to Zaglambia and that's how I returned to Zawiercie.

[Page 259]

Fear and depression prevailed in our city. It was hard to get anything. By word of mouth at the time it was said that the German Landrat (German Starosta) called the Rabbi of the city, Rabbi Elimelech Rabinowitz, to him and advised him to inform all the Jews of the city to leave for Russia since it seemed to him that the situation of the Jews would be worse under the German regime. He assured the Rabbi that as long as he will have power over the city, he would strive for their benefit. This German probably figured out what was the meaning of the matter.

After hearing these words, many young people left Zawiercie, and I was among them. After many difficulties and tribulations, it became clear that the border section, that my brother Yitzchak and I tried to cross, could not be crossed.

Therefore, my brother and I returned to Zawiercie. My brother was the first to return, while I returned only a few months later (before the year 1940).

There was already a Judenrat in Zawiercie (in the building of the Spoldzielczy bank). It is very difficult to bring up memories from this time because our good people turned away from their humane and Zionist ways and surrendered themselves to the devil. They were caught in this trap and served the devil with devotion and loyalty. They constantly handed people over to the Gestapo for not paying their taxes or showing up to fulfill the delivery quotas to the labor camps.

That summer I worked in the city as a laborer in forced labor, for which the local Jewish community paid some salary. However, in 1940 (around Sukkot) a traitor and collaborator with the oppressor came to our city from Sosnowitz. He ordered to gather the Jews of Zawiercie in the synagogue and announced there that one person from each family would have to showed up to go to Germany to a labor camp. I remember when this man threatened that if someone did not show up of his own goodwill, he would end up taking by force. He also did not hide the fact that life in these camps will not be easy…

Out of a desire to save my family, I of course also agreed to leave. The Judenrat promised full payment to parents or the leavers, and this was for a work period of only three months. None of this did not take place.

Friends begged me, as well as Neta Klein and others, that we should not go abroad and that we will not allow the other young people from Zawiercie to go if we are not accompanied by responsible people, that know the conditions in Germany. On the eve of their departure, several people, who were about to leave for the camp, went to show up in front of the “pros” (chairman) of the Judenrat. The Jewish Council told us that we had no need to be afraid and that our departure to the concentration camp was in fact a departure for training that served as a gateway to immigrate to the Land of Israel. They promised us literally the whole earth.

* * *

The following day, on November 14, 1940, they showed up at the school on Szklarska Street. The place was already full of lobbyists of all kinds and “stewards” from the underworld from Bedzin and Sosnowitz.

[Page 260]

Among them was Albreich, a known reckless, sadist gang member, who served the Germans with devotion.

When we left the schoolyard in the direction of the train, we were surrounded by some sort of Hitlerian gangs who screamed obscenities and fired shots in the air to scare us. And so, we made our way to the train station.

In the evening we arrived at a certain place in the district of Opole, where we were transferred to a camp. There was our first “initial baptism” by an order its purpose was humiliating training and teaching the camp's rules.

Not many days passed and Albreich was appointed head of the Jews Elder of the camp. He gathered assistants around him from among the meanest types in the camp. Because of these assistants, prostitution and drunkenness spread in the camp. They would bring liquor into the camp and sell it because in this camp it was still allowed to have money.

From the camp in the Opule district, many people, and I among them, were sent fraudulently (so to speak, to work as professionals) to the notorious punishment camp Gross-Rosen in the Czech Republic. In this camp I again met with Albreich, who in the meantime was promoted in his career. The work in the camp Gross-Rosen was very arduous, and the living conditions were unbearable. Every Sunday they organized, using various pretexts, special orders that often ended with the injuring and running over the camp laborers.

Therefore, to fight the manifestations of moral decline that have begun to show their signs among the detained youth, number of guys organized an educational cultural circle, in which the problem of morality and education was discussed, as well as various cultural issues. Sometimes we would also spend time together.

Albreich did not view it with favor. He would burst into our circle and would abuse us rudely in acts that human dignity does not allow to be put on paper.

My condition became unbearable because the work was very arduous and the food very poor: I became very, very weak and felt that I was reaching the point of exhaustion.

I considered the organization of a shipment of people from Gross-Rosen to another camp as a miracle and I decided to join this shipment.

And indeed, I was relieved when I left Gross-Rosen and moved in the spring of 1941 to the Hermansdorf camp near Gorlitz.

There was a different atmosphere in this camp and there was also something special about it:

The director of the camp, Elgar Fichner, treated us humanely, and so did the guards. It was possible to rest after work, or on Sundays. The food was much better than in the previous camp. It was a special pleasure - when we went to work

[Page 261]

and when we returned - to sing Hebrew songs. The person in charge of the camp also listened to them. In this camp we were hardly beaten or punished.

A strange thing happened once in the same camp: on a certain morning, on Sunday, a rumor spread in the neighboring village near our camp, that Jews were brought to the camp. And suddenly old women appeared near the barbed wire fence. They called towards us to approach them. We were afraid to approach them, because in every camp it was strictly forbidden to approach the fence. The camp guards noticed the women and did not drive them away. The women asked the guards to allow us, the people of the camp, to talk with them. This was allowed and therefore several people approached the fence. Their first questionnaire was: Who are we? We responded: Jews.

Upon hearing this answer, the old women burst into a cry: “Great God, are these Jews? These are people like us. All this chatter that the Jews have a crooked nose, and a big head is a lie”. Apparently, there were no Jews living in this area and thus the Jews were described as monsters.

Finally, one of the old women blurted out: “damn Nazis, scoundrels,” and they left.

This camp was the only one where detainees were allowed to listen to the radio (there were battles in Tobruk, North Africa, at the time). We would enjoy a pinch of freedom in it. The food was checked for quality. Even the work was somewhat easier. In comparison to other camps, it was a good camp. For example: In July 1941, I was in the Rogau camp next to the river Oder. From there, I was sent to another camp (Kochanewicz camp near Lublin), which was not yet ready to receive the detainees sent to it. We were therefore transferred to the transit camp (Dulag) near Sosnowitz. I notified my family about my new location. A few days after my announcement, my mother came to see me, for our last meeting. I was allowed to approach my mother but only through the barbed wire. The sight of her face

[Page 262]

was terrifying. She was excited, frightened and tormented by the distance and disconnection from me, which lasted almost a year. She grabbed me in her hands. We kissed and she started crying from her heart. The meeting was brief, because after only a few minutes several police officers appeared. They separated us forcefully. This is how my mother's precious figure disappeared forever.

Again, I was transferred to many camps. Once again, I went through hardships, troubles, and suffering every day. Every day was comprised of twenty-four hours of existential war, literally. Every day was a new struggle for life.

In one of the camps (in Hubertushutte near Koenigshutte), in which I was in detention during 1942, I lost so much weight that I weighed thirty-eight kg. The work there was grueling. I struggled with my fate until the year 1944. In this year, there was a sharp turn in favor of the Allies. I was in a camp near Gilowitz when the bombings started. We then worked for a large company that controlled and owned factories for the production of war materials. Prisoners and forced laborers from all the occupied countries in Europe worked there. In this camp, there were five thousand detainees (Jewish detainees, members of other nations, and even Germans). The camp was transferred to the SS similar to the other camps controlled by the SS during this time. Tattoo numbers were stamped on our left arms. We were also dressed in Katzet clothes (clothes of prisoners in the camps). I felt that we were entering a crucial period - one way or another. This was also clear from the fact that the Nazis began to build walls around the camps. Watch towers were installed for the SS guards, which were equipped with machine guns.

With all this, inside the camp there was “Lageralteste” (the prisoner head of barracks) a Jew named, Demerer. It can be said that usually he was not a bad person. He would restrain the Kapo gangs (Jews or other detainees who served as block supervisors in the camps).

A serious fault, which almost cost me my life, happened to me with a Jewish guy from Holland, who used to receive money from abroad in hundred-mark bills. He turned to me to help him change these large bills into smaller bills. I was able to help him as I worked together with Christian detainees from Poland, who helped me as much as possible.

Responding to the request of the Jewish guy from Holland involved a lot of risk on my part. I had to get the big bills out of the camp, change them at the workplace and then return their value in small bills to the guy from Holland. This act was absolutely forbidden. After a few successful actions I got unlucky and a German in civilian clothes noticed that I gave the Dutch guy money. He wrote down my tattoo numbers and handed the matter over to the SS.

A short time later, an SS man appeared in our camp and things started to unfold badly. The Nazi demanded that we reveal to him the nature of this money and where we hid it. I didn't say anything. Some more time passed, and a political investigator joined the investigation. He hit us during his investigation until blood flowed. They beat us severely when we were investigated by a team

[Page 263]

of investigators. The guy from Holland broke down, while I insistently continued refusing to reveal anything. But when I had no other choice, I explained to the investigator (who was really sadistic) that I needed money to get some bread or some food and that there was no basis for the accusation that I have connections abroad (which at the time was a very serious crime). This answer further aggravated the investigator, who continued to beat me until I bled. Finally, he stopped.

“This time” - said the investigator (next to him sat a Jewish secretary of the investigation department) – “since this was the first time, the punishment will be light”. I was presented with an investigation report that had to be sent to Berlin. At the beginning of the investigation, I refused to sign it, but after hearing that the punishment this time would be light, and because I was afraid that I would not survive more beatings, I surrendered and signed.

I returned to the hut broken and battered. I could barely drag my feet. But the next day I got up and went to work as it was a risk to stay sick in the camp.

The next few days were unbearable until I recovered somewhat. Luckily, I had a good job in those days.

Again, days passed with nerve-wracking expectations to the arrival of the order from Berlin. It finally arrived. I and other detainees of the camp, who were accused of having, so to speak, committed crimes, were required to show up in front of the camp headquarters. The verdicts from Berlin were read. My punishment was: fifteen lashes with a thick beech tree. The verdict from Berlin even included the details of the execution of the punishment.

At that time, I and two other Jews worked for a German from Westphalia, named Karl. He was one of the few who kept a human image. He, his wife and his son were communists. He was intelligent and had a good heart. He was once caught for being active in the underground for many years and spent time in prison. He was later released and sent to work. Despite his hardships, he continued to conduct anti-Nazi propaganda among soldiers and workers. He liked to chat a few words in Russian. He was a good professional (he was a specialist in insulation of heat and cold). He liked to work and also to be idle. Sometimes, he would sleep in the middle of the workday, and I would watch from the observation tower to see if anyone was coming, so that he wouldn't be caught sleeping.

He would talk to us as an equal with an equal. He openly expressed his opinions to us. He would also help us in getting food.

It was at the beginning of December 1944. The place was bombed very hard. The Russians and their allies were advancing, and there was a sharp turn to the detriment of Germany. Karl felt that this was a crucial moment, a crucial moment for his fate.

One morning he came to work sad, which was unusual because he came every day fresh and happy. We asked him what the reason for his sadness was. To our surprise, he replied: First of all, I am German. It is true that I am in favor of a new socialist Germany

[Page 264]

and even under the influence of Russia. However, I do not know Russian. And if the Russians catch me here and until I can tell them who I am - I might fall victim. So, I will go home to my family in Germany, and my fate will be like the fate of all the Germans there.

We understood his position. We thought he was right.

Karl said goodbye to each of us with a handshake and rode off on his bicycle in a somewhat dangerous way. Later, the Nazis looked for him but did not find him. In the meantime, Christmas arrived along with a decisive turning point in my life and fate. The Germans felt that their end was approaching. Therefore, they became generous ahead of the approaching holy Christian holiday. We were given pork fat (which was spoiled and therefore, I became ill with typhus and pneumonia). With a heavy heart, I entered the camp's hospital after I had a fever of 41 degrees. Every day I was in danger. I was lucky.

One of the doctors treated me humanely. As there were no medicines in the camp, he took food supplies and ordered to get pills in the nearby town, which were difficult to obtain. Thanks to these drugs there was a change for the better.

After lying down for two weeks I got up. However, I was very weak and did not have the strength to stand on my feet. Unfortunately, my body was completely paralyzed. As soon as I recovered, I was unable to get out of bed. On January 12, 1945, when the camp was evacuated to the west, sick patients with fevers up to thirty-eight degrees were ordered to join the evacuees. About two hundred fifty sick patients remained in the camp, and I was among them. On the morning of the evacuation day, the doctor who treated me appeared at the entrance of the building, where we were lying. He wished everyone a good and fast recovery. He left and joined the evacuation transport. After the evacuation, the crisis reached its peak. The bombings were terrible. The frost was enormous. There was no water, electricity, and of course no food was left, not a single medic stayed with us. The entire guard left. Only at noon on the evacuation day did an explosive company entered the camp, which destroyed and bombed all the buildings of the SS as well as other buildings to obscure the traces of the camp. Shots were also fired at our hut, which caused a commotion in our camp. They finished their assignment and left the camp.

We were left alone - promiscuous, without means of subsistence. First of all, we made sure that the flag of the Red Cross was flown, so that it would be seen by the planes and thus we would be saved from the bombs. We had a very difficult time then. In the meantime, until our liberation on January 28, 1945, many of the ill patients died. On January 28, 1945, we were liberated by the Red Army. How great was our joy when they brought us plenty of food. The Russians who entered the camp were very excited. The ill patients underwent an ambulatory examination. Nearby, a hospital was arranged, for the hospitalization of seriously ill patients. The Russians advised the rest of the patients to leave the camp and recuperate in nearby homes. We used to go to the houses of Germans in the area, who greeted us well. Once I entered with two other Jews a house where three old women lived. They fell at our feet and begged us not to slaughter them. We were very surprised by their words and answered them

[Page 265]

that we will not harm them because we are human, and we are not murderers. They whined and swore that they had no part in what the Nazis did and even cursed Hitler.

I will never forget the moment we left the camp gate – free people without being accompanied by any guard, as I used to be for five years. I breathed a sigh of relief, but many months after my release, I would look back to see if there were any companions behind me.

I really longed for Zawiercie. Of course, I did not find a living soul from my family there. I remained lonely - without parents, brothers and sisters, uncles, or aunts in town. Jews began to return - some from camps, some from Russia or other places. A local committee started to organize, and we received help, both from the municipality and from Jewish institutions. It was difficult to find apartments. Even though we were registered with the labor bureau, the Jews were released from all work. We received first-class food tickets. The holders of certificates proving that they were in a concentration camp, were allowed to travel the train for free. On the part of the Polish authorities, at first, around April 1945, there was a special approach regarding the Jews, and one could expect that it would be possible to get along well. But this situation did not last long. In the city, anguish, despair, and emptiness were felt. The youth had only one way - to leave Poland. I decided to immigrate to Israel because I was not charmed by easy life after everything we've been through. On June 17, 1945, I left Zawiercie via Sosnowitz, Krakow, Hungary, and from there to Austria. In Austria we crossed the Russian border into the British area. We were placed there in a refugee camp and with the help of the Hebrew Brigade from Eretz Israel we were brought to Italy. There we were transferred between several camps and different places until we finally arrived in Rome. In the vicinity of Rome, we founded a training group of Hashomer Hatzair “BaHazit” (at the front). In this way, we entered the normal path of life, we worked a little and were supported by UNRA and the Joint. These two institutions did great things and they are commendable.

In the kibbutz I married my girlfriend, HeChalutz member. She was from Lithuania, and like me, suffered hard in camps. On December 27, 1945, we immigrated to the Land of Israel on Aliyah Beit through Genoa on the ship “Netzer Sereni”. The discipline in this operation was severe, at dawn we boarded the ship and set out on the miraculous and dangerous journey. We didn't know if and how we would arrive. We arrived after twelve days. After making about forty-fifty miles, we were discovered by British aircraft and captured. We were brought under the guard of British ships to Haifa.

It was revealed to the British that there were nine hundred and sixteen illegal immigrants (Ma'apilim) on our ship and they were stunned that such a small ship could carry such a large number of people. On January 18, we arrived at the shores of the country. The ship docked in Haifa. The song Hatikvah burst forth from us. As we approached the shore from the port, we were transferred to the Atlit immigrant camp. The various agencies took good care of us (the Jewish Agency, the organization of working mothers in Haifa). We rested for sixteen days in Atlit. Then we dispersed to all corners of the country - some to the city, some to the farm, some to a Kibutz or to relatives, with the goal of building a new life, a better life in the new and renewed homeland of the nation that most of it was exterminated in Europe.

[Page 266]

From the Depths I Call Out to You

by David Ziriker

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Here we bring a letter from Reb David Zeriker to Yosef Landau. Both the personality of the writer of the letter and the shocking content of the letter led me to publish it in this book.
The editorial staff

Shalom and blessings to my honorable friend, our rabbi, and teacher, Yosef Landau, may you live a long life, etc.

I received your letter dated 3.9, and glory to God that I was privileged to be able to write letters to our friends and let them know that I and a few of my dear children are still alive and we are all privileged to live in our holy land. Now we understand the meaning of living in exile, as the holy “Or ha-Hayim” of blessed memory said in Parashat “Bahar”. And now I will write to you: I wandered for seven years in the land of Russia in Siberia with my son Itzhak, his wife, and his son. Also, my sons Matil-Mordechai and Ya'akov, who is called Yankel, escaped on 2.9.1939, at the beginning of the war, and we found them only now. There we worked in hard physical work and thank God that we returned to our native land to a temporary apartment and the blessed Lord will have mercy on us to resettle us in our home, etc…

In general, there is no community life here. Only young people remained here, whom I didn't know before. For now, there are about twenty people left. Many left the country. From Yoel Czweigel, only two sons and a daughter remained, and they all went to Germany. Of the elders, I am the only one left. I live in an apartment with my son Eliyahu Alush and his daughter, the seven-year-old girl that his maid saved from Hitler murderers.

The one who said enough to the world, he will say enough to our troubles, because our suffering is unbearable. Our friends and family and all the holy people of Israel went to the upper heaven and we remained in the lower hell. God will help us and the surviving remnants, our brothers, the people of Israel - - May the blessed Lord appear and all the lost people will come together to our holy land.

Your friend who sends his greetings to you and to everyone

Zawiercie, 1946

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On the Road of Destruction and Death

by Yisroel Dresner

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

27th August 1939


Yisroel Dresner as a
concentration camp inmate


[Along with other Polish cities,] Zawiercie lived through the feverish war of nerves. Day and night, a German Panzer procession flowed into the area. We saw cannons and tanks of various sizes on the trains. Military songs echoed from the trains.

Present among the Polish military were many Jews. Zawiercie parents who had children in the army – particularly Jews – stood at their passing; perhaps they would be able to say goodbye when their son passed with the military.

Reservists were mobilized; the train station in Zawiercie was overflowing with reservists and with the relatives who accompanied them. Newspapers were grabbed at the train station. It was full at Dora Krebs' coffeehouse and in the street in front of the coffeehouse; they listened to what news the radio brought.

There was great panic. Many young Jews left for the Russian border before they could be mobilized by the Polish Army. Their partings from their parents were heart-breaking.

Artisans stopped working. No one was concerned with earning a living. Women ran to the shops to buy the necessary food. They began to prepare backpacks in case they had to escape. The mood was dark in Jewish homes. Parents still received the last letters from their sons in the military. Civilian travel on the trains was stopped. Yiddish newspapers no longer came. I was in Krakow in those days. My wife had given birth to a son at that very time at the Jewish Hospital. She needed to remain in the hospital for several more days. However, because of the cancellation of civilian travel, I was forced to take her home. I traveled with my sister, Dobrish, who was at home with her child. Her husband already was in the army and

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no news arrived from him. We also did not receive any information from my brother, Moshe Shmuel.

* * *

28th of August

General mobilization: The panic became greater. Every young man who did not yet have to report, said goodbye with one breath with his despondent relatives and ran to appear in his formation; they expected that war would officially break out any minute.

The radio informed the population that it should be ready for anything. The city hall ordered the windows to be sealed.

Friday night, the 1st of September 1939, my brother Srol, who was still at home, went to his guard service at the Lazer train bridge. The next day, at five o'clock in the morning, he came running home, tired and confused. He said that the Germans had bombed the bridge. On Shabbos [Sabbath], the war was officially proclaimed.

The day of Shabbos already was disturbed for the [population].

The Jewish population of Zawiercie went out to the streets, listened to the radio news. Rumors spread that the Germans had marched through the Polish military defensive lines at the border. The panic was indescribable. Jews felt that their fate was being determined in that hour, that their lives hung by a hair. Rumors spread that the Hitlerists would murder all of the Jewish men. This was believed because it was already known what Hitler, may his name be erased, had done to the German Jews. The Jews of Zawiercie and the area thought of quickly distancing themselves from the border.

The highways were black with people. Everyone only took with him what he could carry, only what was most necessary.

Whoever had a horse and wagon, harnessed the wagon, called his family, put his “bag and baggage” and housewares in the wagon and started off on an uncertain path. Others started on foot, with a backpack on the shoulders. Everyone wanted to move away from the German border as quickly as possible. They left houses, shops, businesses in God's care. People fainted on the road. They were given encouragement and went further. Many reached Krimilev [Kromolow] or Pilica. A large number went further east – to the Russian border.

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My brother Srol and I stood near the business of the Krebs family. We heard them calling their brother Nakhum. He came running. His sister Dora asked him to harness the horse and wagon and to come with his family so that they all could leave. At that moment, Dora's sister Zisele and her husband Yehiel Yosef and their children Avraham and Lole, as well as our aunt Chanale, arrived. Dora Krebs told me to call my sister Dobrish and her children because there was a place for them. I immediately brought them and they immediately left for Pilica.

We remained, my brother and I as well as our wives. We could not think much about departing or going away. My wife, Tsirl, was weak after giving birth. My brother's wife, Manye, was then with her parents because her mother had a broken leg and lay in bed. We remained and thought, not knowing what more to do.

A little later we met our relative, Avraham Hirsh Drezner, at his house. There we saw Avraham Hirsh, his wife, Yokheved, and their children, Avraham Ziblergold, his wife, Zlate, and children, Moshe Fajfkop and his wife, Yutke, as well as Yekutiel Furman and his entire family. They were preparing to leave.

Yekutiel hitched the horses to the wagon and all of the above-mentioned immediately left for Szczekociny. We remained despondent.

I came home and I met my wife bathed in tears because of the rumors that the Germans wanted to kill the Jewish men and she begged me to leave immediately. I then went to my sister-in-law, Faygele, asking her to stay with my wife so that I could leave. I returned home and, on the steps, I met two broken people from Krakow: Chaim Gabai [synagogue sexton] (a sagenger – a blind man) and his wife. They said they were on their way to Krimilev.

This was during the evening hours.

My brother and I decided to spend the night in Z. [Zawiercie] together. We thought that the next morning we would see what we had to do.

At night we saw only the marching groups. The night continued without end.

Early on Sunday I went to my brother who was with his in-laws with his wife. My sister-in-law Manye,

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my brother's wife, who also had heard the rumor that the Germans would hang all of the Jewish men, urged us to leave.

We decided to leave together for Krimelev on my brother's bicycle. We left on Sunday morning. The streets already were completely empty: Jews had either left or were hiding.

Barely going several kilometers on a bicycle, we met many city Jews, exhausted from the long night's march – among them a couple with shoes on their shoulders. We recognized each other and we saw Hershl Landau and his wife. They already had worn-out feet. We tried to find a Polish wagon driver for them, but no one wanted to drive them.

The road was more difficult as we traveled further by bicycle. It was full of escaping civilians and military members and in this congestion our bicycle was crushed by two harnessed animals as a result of being pushed between them.

We went, too, on foot and the terror revealed itself closer to us: deaths from harness team catastrophes, wounded people that no one helped. They lay on the roads and in the ditches. No one was interested in giving help. Everyone was concerned for themselves, to go further. It was worse at night, when the children would get lost. Many Jewish families were torn apart this way, each not knowing about the other.

Children were separated from their parents who could not walk because of weakness. The young wanted to cross the Russian border as quickly as they could.

The parents did not give this any consideration and let their children go: perhaps they would survive.

As we were walking, we met many acquaintances, among them Yehiel Furman and his entire family. We stayed together. It was already near Szczekociny. We went the entire way on foot, but when a wagon went downhill, we jumped into the wagon a little.

* * *

Out of a Storm and into a Fire

We arrived in Szczekociny. We went to wash a bit and we went to look for something to eat. It was

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impossible to find something: everything had already been sold and the shops were closed. As if the hardship of hunger was not enough, during our two hours in Szczekociny the situation changed drastically: The Polish military concentrated here and created a defensive line. The population received advice to leave the city. We ran to Apt (Opatow).

And again, we camped and traveled to the Russian border with the purpose of crossing the San [River]. But having barely traveled several kilometers from Szczekociny, we saw and heard German airplanes bombing the shtetl, which began to burn. German airplanes also fired machine guns upon the civilian population that ran on the roads. We quickly got down from the wagons.

We ran to the fields and there both the adults and the children lay down. When it grew quieter, we again came together. With luck, no one in our group was missing. But we saw many dead and wounded Jews on the road. We went further along the road. We traveled carefully and kept an eye out for the arrival of German pilots. We arrived in the city, Opatówa, (Apt) full of fear.

When we entered Apt, we heard that the city had been bombed. We again went into the fields to remain overnight.

In the morning we heard that the Germans had shattered the bridge and that we could not cross the bridge. We therefore remained on the spot. After some time passed, we went to a village in which a Jewish family lived. We stayed there for a bit. Several of us went to the main highway to learn some news. We heard from the passersby that the German Army was not far from the city and that the Polish Army had already left the city.

So we returned to the village and let the others know what the situation was.

Thus, we waited for our fate. We did not have to wait long. Early in the morning, on the 7th of September 1939, the Germans occupied the area. We first saw the military columns on motorcycles. At first, we thought that this was the Polish military,

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but as the columns came closer, we saw the German insignia on their iron helmets.

We did not dare look out through the windows. When the German columns went through the streets of the village, shooting started. Therefore, we lay down on the floors of the wooden buildings. The houses immediately began to burn and the entire group left the burning houses in panic.

Outside, we heard shouts resounding: Hände hoch [hands up]. The Germans immediately dismissed men with children in their arms. The others were driven to a large field area.

We met many acquaintances there. Of ours there were: I, my brother Srol and Moshe Fajfkop. Pious Jews in their talis [prayer shawls] and tefillin [phylacteries] were caught by the Germans. The Germans asked: what is this? They told them: it is for praying. The Germans forced the Jews to throw away their talis and tefillin. Jews had no choice; they were desperate; they did what the Germans ordered them to do. They searched all of the Jews and asked them to sit. They began to aim their guns at us. The pious Jews began to recite vide [confession of sins before death]. We lowered our heads, so as not to watch this.

After sitting on the ground for an hour, a feldweber [non-commissioned officer] arrived and ordered the imprisoned to give him the person who had shot from the forest. The Germans warned that if the person was not found, everyone here would be shot. Everyone was deadly afraid. But then the Germans brought to the assembly spot a young Pole, a Christian who was still holding the revolver in his hand. The Germans shot him. They also took three pious Jews with them, who did not return for a long time. Returning, they told us that, following an order, they had buried the young man who had been shot.

The barbarian Germans constantly played with weapons against us.

Jews and Christians were assembled. The camp was illuminated by reflectors. We were in this camp the entire night. In the morning, the Germans distributed a little warm coffee. At around 10 o'clock, an order came that we should all be freed and everyone should go home. The Poles were freed first, then the Jews.

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The three of us began to look for our [families], where they had been earlier. However, we did not find them. We therefore decided to go home alone.

* * *

Back Home

The first stop in the direction of Zawiercie was again Apt (Opatow). Our hope of finding our relatives there did not come true. Our search was without promise. In addition, it was connected with great danger. The Germans grabbed Jews with beards (because they immediately drew attention) for various work and particularly to clear away the dead bodies among the ruins of the houses. Therefore we went through side roads so we would not be recognized as Jews.

On the way back, in the direction of Zawiercie, we could see many thousands of people wandering back to their homes. They wandered and wandered, not looking at the dead who lay here and there. Each hoped that their family would survive and again come together.

This was happening in each shtetl that we passed, but it was very tragic when we arrived in Szczekociny. Everyone was gripped with fear; only half a synagogue and the church remained of the entire city. The German hangmen ran around there as if crazy. They grabbed Jews, they cut beards, they beat [Jews] and loosed their dogs on the Jews. The dogs bit the Jews to death.

We went further, through backroads. Outside the city we met a few surviving Jewish residents. They no longer had their homes. Many of the residents remained under the ruins. We learned from them that the Polish military had staged a strong resistance during which many Germans had fallen. Therefore they [the Germans] had annihilated the city of Szczekociny and its inhabitants.

We hurried because we were afraid to go at night and it already was dusk.

Walking, we met our family.

Among them sat the old Yehezkiel, with his beard shaved off. He

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had bandaged his face so what had been done to him could not be seen.

Our joy was great because we again found each other and we were again together. We all began to go in order to reach Krimelev more quickly.

Arriving in Krimelev, we received the news that Zawiercie was whole and that many Jews were again in their homes. Someone also told us that our sister, Dobrish, and our wives were walking around confused and they were crying. They had heard that I and my brothers had been shot on the road.

We did not know what we should do; it already was night and we were forbidden to go out at night. We actually did have to wait until the morning. Night extended without end.

We started out very early and told our Zawiercie group that they should not wait for us and that we were going home.

We went along the road quickly. When we finished our journey, the Krebs family greeted us with joy; we immediately went home. The joy at home is difficult to describe. Neighbors came running to see if we were alive. We rested a little that day and we saw the returning people through the window.

We had to go immediately in the morning, to report according to a Gestapo directive. There were new directives every day (for example, about rationing, about the ban against appearing in the street and so on).

The Gestapo members, who would run wild against the Jewish people, would appear in the streets.

* * *


The name Zawiercie existed no more. The city was called “Wartenau.” The deportations began. From the 3rd of May, all of the Jews were driven out: the community leaders (Judenrat) called a few Jews and sent them to carry out the work. When the Gestapo

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had already been housed, the sad days began. Every day, a new edict.

The Jewish businesses were open. A commissar was placed in each business; food ration cards were introduced. Every day, Jews came home with bruised heads – they had been beaten while standing in rows. At that time an order came from the Central Committee in Sosnowiec with [Moshe] Merin at its head, that the Zawiercie community had to provide tribute-money and gold and that each Jew must take part in this sacred “duty.” If not, they were threatened with being deported. Immediately after came a fresh edict that we could not walk in all of the streets. Whoever did not follow the regulation would be shot.

There actually were many victims.

The badge insignias for Jews (Jewish signs) were introduced. A fear fell on everyone when the Gestapo appeared in the streets. One consoled another that it would not, God forbid, be worse.

One day the Germans shot three Jews. They



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brought the dead Jews to the Jewish cemetery. The members of the community had to sign that the Jews had died natural deaths.

There were such cases every day.

Rumors spread at that time that the Jewish prisoners would be freed from the military. We also learned that our brother, Moshe Shmuel, was a prisoner in Czenstochow.

Negotiations began about a contribution for the purpose of ransoming the Jewish military prisoners. We heard that the transport of the prisoners would arrive in Lublin. The Jewish community in Lublin would ransom them

That actually was how it was. The first transport arrived in Lublin, but the community in Lublin did not manage to prepare the money so fast. Therefore, the Germans took the entire transport to Biala-Podalsk and shot them there. Among those who fell was one of our city residents named Elimelekh Zonensztajn. When the later transports arrived in Lublin, the community was careful and the paid the tax.

Thus, the prisoners returned to Zawiercie. We learned from them that our brother escaped from there and that he was on his way home.

Our brother appeared several days later, exhausted. He had to go immediately the next day to report to the community. Meanwhile, he was with our sister.

Little by little, even more Jews began to concentrate in the city. It became more crowded. People were taken for forced labor every day – and always the same “common” people because the shop owners paid money and therefore received a sonder [special authorization] that they were freed from work. This created panic among the population.

The first arbeitseinsatz [labor deployment] took place in 1940. The leaders of the community said that people should go voluntarily because it was only for a few months and that they would be paid. Many reported and they were sent away to Germany.

Sad letters immediately arrived from [Germany]. The people asked that they be sent food because they were starving.

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The families again turned to the community about paying for the work, but it appeared that the promise of payment to the relatives of those who were taken to Germany as well as [the promise] that they would stay there for a few months was a bluff. The few months became an eternity.

This evoked agitation among the population. Simultaneously, the feeling of solidarity disappeared. Everyone became egotistical. No one thought about people falling from time to time due to the shooting. They were jealous of those who had died a natural death, whose families took them to the cemetery and they are taken care of by the khevre kadishe [burial society], which still was active. Among the activists from the khevre kadishe were: Borukh Goldman, Moshe'le Rotblum and Ezl Pariser.

At the same time, we were able to feel relief; the Jewish families would receive letters from their children in Russia after the completion of the Soviet-German pact.

News began arriving about people from Zawiercie and the areas into which the Russians had entered after the Soviet-German pact. The majority of them were in Lemberg.

The mood of the parents and relatives, who immediately wrote to their children, became easier.

In time, it became a little easier in the matter of businesses. Zawiercie parents called back their children. Those returning to Zawiercie had to report to the Gestapo and then experience all of the calamities.

In between came a transport from Czech Silesia, those whom the Germans had deported from their places of residence and brought to other areas. At the same time, my brother, Srol, became seriously ill with pneumonia. We had great difficulty bringing him into the Jewish hospital that was located in the house of the Krimelever Rebbe. The chief doctor there was Lewkowicz. After great effort, they admitted him to the hospital and he got better there.

The war with Russia broke out in 1941. On the night of the outbreak of the war, the Zawiercie Jewish communists fell along with those who never had any connection to the Communist Party, as for example: Yehuda Grinkraut and others. They were immediately sent to the gas chambers.

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The terrible days and night began. We were afraid to appear on the street during the day. The members of the Gestapo ran around as if crazy. Whomever they found they immediately sent away. At night, we would sleep in the attics because the members of the Gestapo would run around going through the houses at night. This lasted for a time. When the German Army began winning, it became a little quieter. During all this, we heard about the labor deployment. Then the S.S. members carried out this action with the help of the members of community.

I was then at my residence in Łazy. This was a weekday, when the sun began to rise. Members of the gestapo were placed around the courtyard. Knocking on the shutters was heard. They ordered that they should be opened – and quickly. I woke up from my sleep in fear. At that moment, I had the thought that I should hide. I hid at my child's feet, who was sleeping in bed with my wife. I told my wife to claim that I was in Zawiercie.

The Lehman family lived with me in the residence. I asked Lehman to open the door. When he opened the door, several members of the Gestapo immediately entered and they immediately called Lehman and Drezner by their names, [saying] they should get dressed right away and go with them. My wife said: my husband is in Zawiercie. They began to shout and ask a second time. The Lehman family stood in fear. This evoked a thought from the Gestapo. They again began to search. Thanks to my child, who slept well, I was saved.

I stood up when the hangmen left. I got dressed and I asked my wife to lock me in the room. My wife was very watchful at that time. Every few minutes she told me what was happening. She told me that the Gestapo led all of the unemployed men and the community leaders to Zawiercie.

At that moment I had a thought that my wife should go to the Przechodnik family and ask them to let me in for a few days. Mrs. Przechodnik refused me. She had nothing to be afraid of; they had already taken her husband. I did not think for long and I asked my wife to keep watch. I pulled my hat down further so I would not be recognized going through the street.

Thus passed the entire day. During the evening hours

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the community leaders and men who had Sonder cards began to return, as well as the sick who had been freed.

It grew still again after several days. I again went home.

I began to look for a way out. I went to Zawiercie. I learned that a workshop was being created. My brother already had enrolled. I immediately signed up. We began to work at once (for the Luftwaffe [air force]). A managing committee for the tailoring shop was created with Moshe'le Rotblum, Ahron Drezner and Chaim'l Lewkowicz at the head. But the deportations, the grabbing for arbeitseinsatz [forced labor] did not cease. Men and women from 12 to 40 were sent to the camp to work. Older men and women and small children were sentenced to death.

People wrestled then against their bitter fate using all means. Mothers concealed their children near Christian houses – maybe the Christians there would have pity. There also were a few mothers who succeeded in arranging for Christian acquaintances to take their children. Many left the children with older people and reported to the camps voluntarily. The older men shaved off their beards to look younger. It was not successful for everyone.

The most horrible was with the infant children who wandered around. The S.S. murderers put them in sacks and slayed them murderously.

On the 15th of March 1942, there was an einsatz-aktsie [deployment action]. I was sure that they would not take me – as a shop person.

As soon as a knock on the door was heard, I opened it. I was told to get dressed. I showed the Germans the temporary pass for the shop. They told me that I would be freed on the spot in Zawiercie.

When I entered Zawiercie at the assembly place (at the house of prayer), I met many people there, as well as my brother Srol and my brother-in-law Iser. Rumors were heard that they would free the people from the tailor shop. Meanwhile, eight of the men who had first enrolled in the shop were freed.

Meanwhile, an order came that they should take us to a transit camp (dulag) in Sosnowiec despite the efforts

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of the management of the Zawierice tailor shop. The cannibal, Major Linder, also ordered Rosner, the owner of the Sosnowiec tailoring shop, to send us away to the camp.

* * *

Markstädt and Attmuth Camps

From the first camp, in which the imprisonment was a little easier, we were sent to the Markstädt camp. In this place there were Jewish executioners who would kill their own brothers in a murderous manner. During the winter days, when people went out to work, they fell and died in the cold. Transports of the clothing of the Jews who had perished would arrive in the camp, as well as soap fabricated from Jewish victims. The barracks were full and unsuitable for the new transports. The Juden Eltester [Jewish elders who supervised the camps] in the camp was a great sadist, Borukh Meister. He was corrupt and hard on the Jews. Each group received a kapo [Jew appointed as guard and overseer]. We had to get up and go to work at three o'clock in the morning. Jews fell from exhaustion. After work, we had to stand in rows so as not to miss the little bit of food, because there was not enough for everyone. Half of the camp prisoners would leave without food because there no longer was any food left for them.

The firms at which the Germans' camp internees worked demanded more food for their workers because they became weak and could not work. Instead of speaking to the camp leaders about providing more food, the kapos, with Borukh Meister at their head beat the Jewish camp internees with rubber sticks. Tens of victims probably fell from the beatings. When the “camp leader” (a German) learned of this, he began to intervene in the matter and it became a little easier.

We were several townsmen (also my brother-in-law Iser Fajgenblat). We arrived at the Attmuth camp, near Gogolin. It was difficult for us at first. Our thoughts were only of home – and so we remained in the closed camp. Slowly we became accustomed to the camp problems. We could still write home. We received packages from home.

There were rumors that fresh transports would arrive and that my brother, Moshe Shmuel, was among them.

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However, alas, the transports did not arrive.

Meanwhile, I learned that my brother, Moshe Shmuel, was killed by a Jewish kapo in the camp where he was interned, before he would let himself be transported.

This was in 1943.

We heard that they would deport all of the Jews from our city. I received a photograph of my child, who had turned three, in the last letter from my wife. Then I received a letter from my sister that they [the Germans] had deported my wife and child – from Bedzin where they had been living with my wife's parents.

I could not accept that I would never see my wife and child again. I constantly thought of the information as a lie.

A short time later, we heard that [every Jew in] Zawiercie had been deported. There was no one who would be able to help us with small packages of food.

A group sent back from Russia arrived. This was a special labor-commando that was kept apart in the camp. One morning, the entire group was sent to Auschwitz. Among them were several from Zawiercie, such as Ruwin Zilbersztajn and Hershl Rajzman. The sick who had come to us in the last deportation were sent with them by the Germans. Among them also was the Zawiercier, Mendl Drezner.

Many Jews fell from hunger in the camp every day. Among them were also Zawiercier such as: Tovya Dzewo, Yakov Drezner. From Łazy – Moshe Klajner, Nakhum Cymbler.

At this time an order came to send away 30 men to another camp named “Grinberg.” I was among the 30.

It was not bad in this camp. We worked in a factory in which pure German (Aryan) women worked. They helped us. From time to time, they brought a small amount of food. Given that in the camp itself they provided better food to eat than in the camps in which I had previously been, the Jewish camp internees recovered a bit. However, to our misfortune, this camp was immediately dissolved. We were sent to a camp that was a true hell.

* * *

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Kotlice Starobin Concentration Camp

We were transferred there as serious criminals and we were clothed as arrestees in numbered clothing made from a cloth with green and white stripes. Our heads were shaved. In the middle of the head, the Nazis shaved a small stripe as a mark. The block was surrounded by a double electrified barber wire and surrounded with heavily armed towers. The camp was lit at night with reflectors.

Every day we were led to work, heavily guarded; the S.S. men beat us, already exhausted from the previous camp. Slowly, many of us had our lives extinguished because we could not endure the suffering. In such a manner, our city's landsleit [person from the same city] Itshe Grajcer, poor man, died – just before the redemption, when the Germans were in panicky retreat.

This was the end of 1944, when the German Army withdrew from the Russian fronts. This we observed as the camp leaders and their people began again to torture us and because they began to play special camp games with us. We became exhausted and we lost the desire to live. It grew worse from day to day. Our portions of food were decreased. Many died of hunger.

1945, when the Russians neared Kant, where our camp was located, they [the Germans] sent us to Buchenwald. Many of the camp internees died on the road. Cigler, Chaim Almer's son-in-law, was shot by the camp leader because the Germans believed he was an escapee from the transport to Buchenwald.

* * *

The Camp for the Political at Buchenwald

Upon arriving at the camp, the rubber sticks were immediately taken away from the leaders by the political prisoners. We were led by the S.S. members to a large room. There the remnants who had endured all of the camps were gathered in the thousands.

It was terribly horrible: the moans from the sick, the smell of the dead bodies that lay one on top of the other. There was many from Zawiercie in the camp, but it was hard to recognize them – they were so broken.

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Rumors spread that the war was about to end; therefore, those political prisoners who were “old-timers” in the Buchenwald camp did everything to avoid provocations and unnecessary victims. The political prisoners let everyone know – and particularly us, the newly arrived in Buchenwald – that we should act calmly. While the S.S. members were making preparations to leave Buchenwald, the prisoners themselves took over the leadership of the camp. The Americans already were located several kilometers from the camp. Night fell. Through the windows we saw the reflections of the Americans. We heard the shooting of artillery. Everyone became impatient for the liberation. Meanwhile, hundreds of people died during the night and became unconscious. Everyone fought in this crucial moment to be able to maintain their lives a little and live for the soon-to- come liberation.

* * *

The Final Death March from Buchenwald

However, the next morning we lived to see a frightening disappointment: the S.S. dragged us out of the camp and again forced us to march – this time with them in the retreat-march. This was the last death march from Buchenwald. Over 3,000 men marched. The S.S. again shot at us. Men fell. There was a stampede. Everyone in the first row was pushed. Many tried to escape to the forests. The S.S. asked that we stand in rows of five men. This did not help either. The tumult was very strong. The first rows were shot by the S.S. The dogs bit.

Approximately 200 men were shot on the road.

We saw that, evidently, we would lose our lives on this march.

On the road I met a man from Zawiercie, Yisroel Korona. He was broken – he barely dragged himself. That is how badly the S.S. had beaten him. I took him by the arm and led him to the front rows. He walked with us for three days. But when he ran to a well to drink a little water, he was shot.

The rows of the marching became more sparce. I felt that I would collapse if I had to march in the morning, that I would fall as a victim.

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Night fell and we remained to spend the night in the village. We found a closed barn. A downpour began outside. There were four men together and we spoke about escaping. However, the group then had regrets and they said that it was better to wait until the morning.

We went to sleep. But my thoughts gravitated to escaping.

I left everything with my friends and I told them that I was going out to see if there was a way to escape. I did not return immediately – let it be a sign that I had left.

I went to the watchman and asked if he would let me go out for a necessity. He opened the door for me; he showed me the spot and went back to his place. Not far from the village, where we spent the night, there was a small forest to which I began to run. Several shots could be heard, but I ran further. The rain kept falling. I ran so long that I fell down and tired, fell asleep.

In the morning I woke up, soaked and broken. I began to look for a road.

I found a small road. From afar I saw a tent. I did not know what to do. But I decided to enter – even if I became a victim.

I arrived at the tent and there I found civilians sleeping. They woke up from sleep. I learned that these were Polish workers who had worked in Germany.

They took me into the tent. I received a few things from each of them to put on. They also brought me food from their camp – a little cooked food.

Then they went to their camp to work. I remained alone in the tent until night.

At night, one of the comrades came to me and said to me that I should go with him. A German peasant lived not far from the tent; I should go to him and ask for a place to spend the night.

I went with the Polish workers. Entering the house, I noticed three German military men there. One of them called me away and said to me that I should take off my concentration camp uniform because it could be seen from under my new clothing. They told me that members of the S.S. came

[Page 285]

here to get food. If they noticed me in a concentration camp uniform, they would shoot me.

The military man immediately brought me a civilian shirt as well as shaving tools to shave myself. I washed myself. The peasant made me something to eat as well as a bed in the stall to sleep in. I warmed myself well.

In the morning, the peasant woke me up and told me that I had to leave because the military was withdrawing and they could see me. He gave me a little to eat and I again entered the forest.

A few hours later shooting started that lasted the entire night.

Night fell. I went to the same peasant and I asked him to let me stay over night once more. I was bold with him and I asked him what was happening.

He said that the Americans were 10 kilometers from the village. I actually hoped that the Americans would be in the village in the morning.

In the morning, the German peasant again woke me up, holding a bit of food in his hand. I asked him what was happening. He told me that the Americans had begun a second front.

I asked the German to show me the way to the Americans. He showed me the road to the city of Neuberg. The Americans were there.

This was four days before the liberation.

The war ended on the 8th of January 1945. We began to look for relatives, individuals, broken, remaining remnants of our city. However, alas, we learned the horrible truth:

The Zawiercie population no longer exists; there are no longer children who would run to the Jewish schools. There are no longer mothers who would run to buy food for Shabbos. Nor the fathers who go to the synagogue with their children. The voice of the khazan [cantor] is no longer heard there. The beautiful young people of Zawiercie are no more.

Everything went out like a candle. Everything went with the smoke of the chimneys of Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka.


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