By Y. L. Kampes
(Outline by Yehuda Leib Kampes
Written by Chaim Batlan)
Translated by Libby Raichman
Our village belonged (to a region, a pubyat, in Polish), to the regional town of Briegl, that was surrounded by a number of small villages, beginning with Dumbraba, Czchow, Zakliczyn, and our Sczorova. When comparing the size of the Jewish populations, our village was the third largest after Briegl. Briegl had about 550 Jewish families, Dumbraba about 150 Jewish families and Sczorova 50 60 Jewish families. What characterizes our village was, that most of the residents were made up of the Itzkovitz and Bergman families. These families, and two leaders of these families, ruled the village, both positively and negatively, in all matters relating to this small community.
As was customary in the Jewish communities, and in our community too, two camps were created the Itzkovitzes and the Bergmans. Life centered around these two camps, but the Itzkovitzes, headed by my grandfather, of blessed memory, Reb Ya'akov Yechiel, or as he was called in Yiddish, Reb Ya'akov Ichl, had the upper hand. The reason for this was, that the house of my grandfather, his fortress, was the largest house in the village, and most of his offspring lived in his house, so his house became a household name in the village, by virtue of its size and authority.
The Market in the Town
One cannot imagine a town in Poland with Jewish residents where a ‘market day’ did not exist, or yerid, or as it was called the market. In our town the market day took place twice a month, and Jewish merchants came from many villages with their wares, that they had loaded on wagons during the night, and travelled tens of kilometers at night so that they would arrive in the town in the morning. Here, in the market they had to set up a type of table, with walls and a roof of cloth, on which they displayed their merchandise for sale. On a market day like this, my grandfather's house was crowded with many visitors. My grandfather's house was open to all. Here one would always find a minyan for communal prayer, followed by a drink and a ‘toast to life’, and in general, those who came here, were reinvigorated, in the house of a Jew who received them warmly. Indeed, my grandfather's house was called the house of Ya'akov Ichl because his house was like the house of Avraham avinu, always open to everyone in need. Even on ordinary days, when there was no market, every needy person passing through, knew that they would find lodgings in my grandfather's house. So blessed is the man and blessed are his offspring.
Hitler's War and the Germans, may their names be erased
In 1939, a few weeks after the outbreak of war, the Germans entered most of the cities, towns, and villages of western Galicia, unhindered. At that time, I was living with my family in the village of Czarna. As soon as the Germans gained control of our region, they announced the labor laws. The Jews had to present themselves for various types of work. Initially they were paid for their work but after a short while,
the amount they were paid, was reduced every month, until it reached zero; yet, they were forced to continue working, and the cursing, the humiliation, and the cruel beatings increased. In those days, everyone returned home to their families, and despite the hardship and distress, that no one could understand, we accepted the burden of suffering, because hope beat in our hearts, that perhaps we would get through this and have better days. However, as the war became protracted, our suffering increased, and we were overwhelmed with grief when we saw what the Germans were capable of doing. The isolated beatings and murders at that time, speaking of 1941, became more and more common and the reserves of our mental and physical strength dwindled.
Thanks to Respect for one's Parents
These were the conditions in 1941 restrictions imposed upon the Jewish population became worse and worse. A Jew was forbidden to travel more than one kilometer from his place of residence. Despite the anticipated danger, I did not flinch, and I travelled 70 kilometers by bicycle from Czarna to Sczorova to visit my parents. All the roads in the vicinity were being guarded by the Gestapo and the granatim this is what the Polish police were called who collaborated with the Germans, may their names be erased. In a sense, a journey like this, was like putting one's head into the open jaws of a lion. And here in this daring act, I passed many guard stations, and it did not occur to the guards to suspect that some Jew dared to endanger his life. Nevertheless, and despite everything, I had the right to fulfill the command to respect father and mother, and I returned to my family in Czarna unharmed.
The Year 1942
What we went through in the years 1939 1941, was child's play compared to 1942. In this year, the Jews from the villages and the small towns were gathered in regional towns and were confined in detention camps, that were surrounded by barbed wire fences, where no one came, and no one left, without the permission of the gestapo in the town. This camp was called a ghetto, and the first punishment that was inflicted on the Jewish population in the ghetto, was the plague of terrible overcrowding. I will mention that four or five families with children were accommodated in one room. In this room they cooked and toileted. Then the ‘aktziyes’ began. Women, men, the elderly, and children were taken out of the camp, some were killed on the way, and the majority were transported to the ovens, to the furnaces in Belzyetz. At the end of 1942, the inhabitants of the ghettos in the small towns were wiped out - some were sent to the furnaces, and some were transported to ghettos in the larger towns. I was transferred from Dombitza to a labor camp in Plashuv, near Krakow. Here I saw how tens of thousands of people died week after week. In 1943, I was transferred to the camp of Ostrovitz Keletzk. That year, the acts of extermination were accelerated to such an extent, that even my friends and I, who were eye-witnesses to this, were petrified and we could not understand what was taking place before our eyes. In 1944, I was transferred to Auschwitz this was the largest death factory in the world. Here, the Satanic German mind excelled; their acts will be an eternal disgrace.
The End of 1944, on the Threshold of Liberation
At the end of 1944, we were gathered for our last journey. People who did not have the strength to die, were led on foot to Germany. Skeletons, exhausted and worn out, walked day and night, in intense cold. Our only sustenance was the pure white snow. During this procession of death many thousands died
happily, because their death would free them from the hell of the inferno. One night, at the beginning of January, a spirit of rebellion overcame me, and without thinking, I lifted my hands towards the heavens and repeated the prayer of Samson remember me and strengthen me, only this once and I took leave of the rows of those who were walking, and turned to the side, into the forest. This is how I escaped from my transport camp. I found refuge in the village of Shmilovitz, not far from the border town of Glavitz. I remained in this village until the Russians arrived. At the beginning of February 1945, I was liberated and returned to the town of Tarnow. Here, in the first days, there was already a Jewish committee, made up of Jews who managed to hide in the forests with the partisan fighters, fighters who survived, like me. The committee was the first to assist us. My eldest daughter also returned to Tarnow in May 1945, and we decided to leave Poland altogether. We moved to many places before we arrived in Israel in 1949. Here we settled in Kiryat Shmuel, in Haifa.
With God's help, we will have complete redemption, speedily, and in our time. Amen.
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