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[Columns 645-646]

Of Those Days and Nights

by Henia Zilbermintz-Huberman, Jaffa, Israel

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Bulwar David–Hay

 

Henia Zilbermintz

 

It seems as if a thousand years have already passed since then.

Shabbat in the town. A good, warm home. The market, the little river, the green meadows. The young people stream into the premises. Discussions. Fiery, literary sentences. Lectures about productivization, pioneering, and kibbutzes[1].

Lag Ba'Omer[2]. The young people march across the streets and fields. Shketzim[3] throw stones at us. The joy is soon a bit disrupted.

The weekdays come. A kibbutz, Tel Chai[4], is already organized with us, boys and girls go with axes and saws on their backs, and chop and saw wood.

With our parents, in the houses – a pious way of life. Before Shavuot[5] they come from the small towns for the anniversary of the death of the Trisker rebbe[6]. The batei midrash[7] – packed. The streets – full. They sing and dance.

And here comes the evil September 1939. The Germans are already in the town. Immediately, at the start, one does not yet feel the terrible stench of death that they are sowing, but it does not take long before the dreadful “gang from Belz” arrives[8].

In the beginning, the Jews hold themselves in solidarity, the young people come together and carry out discussions. Synagogues – out. Schools – out. In the big towns ghettos have already been established, and people come to us from the big towns. Hunger soon makes itself felt. The intelligent youthful arrivals learn with the children, Polish, Hebrew, Yiddish, because Jewish children are prohibited from going to school and Jewish parents still want to teach their children. Fraida Yanover's son reads Bialik's works[9] in his own translation. Yosef Kaplan comes from Warsaw with a package of illegal literature. He receives the death penalty not only for the illegal literature, but also just for traveling by train, as a Jew.

The Germans begin their systematic, planned aktzia[10]. First they bundle people out of their homes, which are robbed and impoverished. Then they begin to degrade you – they put patches and armbands on you. Then they create the labor camps, the Judenrat, the police. They want to create the impression that productive people will be able to live. Immediately afterwards begin the aktzias, which they give to the Judenrat and to the police to carry out.

Two camps of Jews are created, the apparently privileged, who will be allowed to live, and the others, who will be liquidated. This creates, unwillingly, hatred between Jew and Jew. Dignity falls, the seat of honor is taken by the drive to live and to survive!

The Germans use all the psychological tricks. They allow a portion, the wealthy, to buy their lives for money. The drive becomes for: money, money, money! Thus do they fool a portion of the Jews, until comes the big one, the third and last aktzia, on the 26th of October, and it becomes: out with the privileged Jews and with the unprivileged Jews, out with the Jewish police, out with the Judenrat – out! Judenrein[11]!

In that aktzia many poisoned themselves, some tormented themselves to fight through on the Aryan side, but the majority were resigned, and saw that there was no rescue. All the Jewish men with wives and children stood on the square, and accompanied by hundreds of Gestapo men and their dogs were led along their last road, to the train to Bełżec[12].

Still, many hid themselves in prepared cellars and bunkers.

On that evening when they brought the Jews from the surrounding towns, I went out with my cousin to the Aryan side and sought to prepare a place [to hide] for us and for my mother. My sister and brother went away towards Volyn and perished there.

When I left the Aryan side at 4 in the morning, and wanted to get back into the ghetto to take my mother out, the Jewish quarter was already surrounded by thousands of Gestapo men, and Ukrainian and Polish police. I crawled back into the attic and hid myself. Did this mean that I would not be able to save my mother and she would be taken away with all the others to the gas ovens?

The house in which we were lying hidden was occupied by the German firm “Geiser.” I was there with my aunt Roizeleh and her daughter, Sara. The caretaker of the house, a Pole, knew about us. He received money and jewelry from us, and afterwards he tried to force us to leave the attic; if not, he would give us over to the Gestapo. We ran away at night under the shouts of the shketzim:

Łapać Żydów[13]!
At that time the Germans were already paying 10 zlotys for a Jewish head. We heard shots and shouting from the shketzim. They caught Jews and dragged them to the Gestapo. We now found a place of refuge with a professor from the high school, Lucjan Świdziński. He kept us for seven weeks. He truly dedicated his soul to us. He kept us in the cellar. Afterwards in a pile of hay, and he cooked food for us. Even in his own home no one knew about us. He did this because of my cousin, Sara, his student. She was the best student of physics and mathematics.
– Such a student – he said – unquestionably must live and survive. She will one day bring great uses to humanity. (She, however, did not live long after this.) But also from there we had to leave, because he, as a Polish intellectual, was soon constrained under repressions.
From him we are made aware that on Jatkowa Street a small camp has been created, of about a hundred people. Those in hiding, who are being caught every day, are led out to the range, or to the cemetery, and are being shot. The Gestapo goes around from house to house and finds out the hidden ones. Separately staining themselves with Jewish blood are the sadistic Gestapo men: Wagner, Oleks, and Diamant.

At night, in the darkness, shapes slip through to Jatkowa Street and ask Yulek Brand, the Jewish commandant of the camp, to take them in and save their lives. But how can Yulek do this? There is an order to keep a hundred Jews, and he already has 120!

We ask him to take us in, he thinks about a possibility, how to present us in front of the Gestapo at the time of the control.[14] He cannot refuse us and tells us to come back tomorrow, he will see, he will torment himself [trying to find a way]. That means, once again to fight one's way in there, and again you can in one minute lose your life. But there is nothing here to hold on to.

And when the next day we had already struggled our way there, and went to Yulek's room, out came his sister, weeping:

– The Germans already took Yulek and 50 more Jews away, they led them away, they told them to take shovels with them, on appearances they were going to work, and they shot everyone!
[Columns 647-648]

Now there is already room for 50 more Jews. The Germans appoint a second commandant in Yulek's place. And this is how it will go routinely. It is a matter of one more day of life, at the most one more week. Good is a week, good is a day, to breathe a little longer, to see the world, the sky, the sun.

And see how nothing changes. The sun shines normally, like every day, and the gentiles live so normally, like every day. They stroll, they laugh, and we are sentenced to death.[15]

We fight our way back out of there and are received inside somewhere in a hiding place.

On one occasion Lucjan brings us the information that Sokal[16] is not yet Judenrein, it belongs to [the region of] Galicia, and there is still a ghetto there, where Jews move around and live. Maybe it will take a bit more time until they kill those Jews. There is no other choice and we decide to go to Sokal. Before that, however, we must once again sneak into the camp in Jatkowa Street. There I meet a cousin of mine, he is among the “free Jews,” and he informs me that my mother is alive and is in hiding together with his wife and children and relatives, in his house, in the attic.

It is already eight weeks after the aktzia. My joy is impossible to measure. My mother lives! I decide to go see her. It is Chanukah[17] time, the ground is covered with snow, every footprint can be seen, and still I struggled through to my mother. As soon as she saw me, she immediately said to me:

– I felt that you were alive! And you will live through this soon!
I bury my head in my mother and lie like that for the whole night. I cannot tear myself away:
– Mother, why are we sitting here and waiting for death? Let us go away from here!

– Nu, but where to?

The small children already know that they must not cry. They look out and see how the little shketzim play with the snow, but they themselves dare not play with any snow. The mother comforts the child:
– There will come a time when you too will be able to play with snow.
To this the child answers:
– Mama, we will in any event not survive.
Oy, how that black “prophecy” was fulfilled!

I speak to my mother, [telling her] that she should go with me and with Sara to Sokal. My mother does not answer. It is hard [for her] to abandon her sister with the children. Evening comes, and I push my mother out:

– Go and prepare yourself for the trip to Sokal.
My cousin, through her teacher Lucjan Świdziński, was acquainted with the Polish intelligentsia.

On Sunday, the fourth light of Chanukah, I left the hiding place, and already the next day, Monday, they shot my mother and seven others who were in that hiding place.

At night, when Sara and her mother leave for the train, I no longer have anyone to take with me. I am already, entirely, indifferent to my life. What for?

I no longer want to go to Sokal and save myself. But I also do not want, and also cannot, give myself over to the hands of the Gestapo. And so I went along.

Alone I bought tickets, risking myself the full one hundred percent, let whatever should happen, happen. And as if out of spite, the journey passed in peace.

So we came to Sokal, there we met many Hrubieszów Jews. This is a separate chapter from that ghetto life.

Aktzias begin here, and once again we must save ourselves. We run away back to Hrubieszów, into the camp.

The Jewish commandant is already then Dr. Orenshtein (he, by the way, remained alive). They take us into the camp, because exactly one day earlier a group had been sent away to Majdanek[18] (they all perished), so there is again room. Already by then they had shot almost all the hidden Jews. All the houses have been cleaned out. The Jews in Jatkowa Street live under the constant supervision of the Gestapo, but for now they go to work there and for now they live.

Nothing is known to us. Here they bring us a small boy from Tyszowce[19]. The Gestapo caught him, did not shoot him, only brought him into the camp. He comes crying to us in our room, with my aunt and cousin. He tells us that he was hiding in the forests next to Tyszowce with his three brothers. There were also, he says, many more Jews and gentiles there, all of them with weapons. The brothers still remain in the forest.

We quickly sneak a contact with them. They send us messengers with notes; they also come alone on one occasion and plan how to take us out from the camp. Possibly not just us alone, but the entire camp. The plans are bold.

They go away and we fidget as we wait and hope, but suddenly everything is interrupted. Afterwards first we were told that the gentile members in the forest had relieved the Jews of their weapons, and then that they had shot them all. This was in September 1943.

They take our camp over to Budzyń[20]. In Hrubieszów they leave behind only three girls and two boys. Among the girls is my cousin, Sara Zilbermintz. We part from them. In eight or nine months' time, they lead them all out to the cemetery in Hrubieszów and shoot them.

My aunt remains alone. We travel along a distant camp road. From Budzyń they transport some of the Jews to Mielec[21] and some to Majdanek. They send us in May 1944 to Majdanek.

On the 22nd of July, they send us from there to Auschwitz[22]. They drove us along on foot, accompanied by blows from rifle butts.

Auschwitz. Smoking chimneys of crematoria, the sky red, as if blood had been poured over it. Selections and death. By then already not the slightest doubt remained to anyone, that any one of us would come out of there alive.

From there transports are being sent to Germany. We make it through hunger and typhus. It is already the beginning of 1945. A thought occurs to you – is it yet possible? We, the Hrubieszów Jews, hold ourselves together and on occasion we dare to sneak a conversation between us:

– And if, actually, we live through to freedom? What will we do, when we live to see that?
Tema Sher says:
– I will want nothing more then, than to eat from a whole loaf of bread as much as I want.
And it happened, the extraordinary. Our transport from Majdanek lived to freedom. The second transport, from Mielec, was, in the last days before liberation, almost exterminated. They were chased into the sea, an entire transport of women, among them many from Hrubieszów, like Bluma Sima Brandt, Hanka Orenshtein, Yuta Blander, and many others.

We, those who remained alive, the only ones of families, lonely, broken, and orphaned, must start anew and further draw the chain of the Jewish people. Sunday, May 09, 2021


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. In this context, kibbutzes were agricultural training camps in Eastern Europe that prepared young people for farming life in Israel. Return
  2. Jewish religious holiday. Return
  3. A derogatory term for (male) gentiles, suggesting loutishness. Return
  4. Named after the site of a famous battle between Jews and Arabs in northern Israel in 1920. Return
  5. Jewish religious holiday. Return
  6. The head of the rabbinical dynasty originally from Trisk (now Turiysk, Ukraine). Return
  7. Religious study halls. Return
  8. Referring to the first German occupiers to arrive. Return
  9. Chaim Nachman Bialik, one of the pioneers of Hebrew poetry. Return
  10. A Polonization/Hebraization of the German word “aktion,” a military operation to clear an area permanently of Jews. Return
  11. “Clean of Jews.” Return
  12. Death camp some 40 kilometers southwest of Hrubieszów. Return
  13. Polish for “Catch Jews!”. Return
  14. This may refer to a periodic roll-call or “head count”. Return
  15. Similar to a line in the Bialik poem “In the City of Slaughter”. “The earth is as it was, the sun still shines: it is a day like any other day...” Return
  16. About 40 kilometers southeast of Hrubieszów, in the historic region of Galicia, now in Ukraine. Return
  17. Jewish holiday that falls in December. Return
  18. Labor camp and death camp some 40 kilometers southwest of Hrubieszów. Return
  19. A small town some 20 kilometers southwest of Hrubieszów. Return
  20. Site of a concentration camp just northwest of the town of Kranik (now a suburb of the town), some 118 kilometers west of Hrubieszów. Return
  21. Some 90 kilometers southwest of Budzyń. Return
  22. Some 305 kilometers southwest of Majdanek. Return


[Columns 649-650]

Something from those Days of Destruction

Avraham and Sheindel Goldfarb / Hadar Yosef, Tel Aviv, Israel

Translated by Miriam Bulwar David-Hay

 

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It was the end of 1939. In the days of Cheshvan[1] the catching for labor and the beating with rubber batons began. Those caught were led away to tend to German horses in the yard of Yankel Shtrom and Avraham Beker. There they were worked for an entire day, without being fed and being beaten. The gendarmerie was then still in command. Later in the town there was a Landrat[2], with a Kommandantur[3].

Then came that terrible Friday evening in the month of Kislev[4]. Yossele the yellow[5] and Dudl Shmerl[6] ran around the town and announced that on Shabbat [Saturday] morning all the men must present themselves at the Vigon[7]. Various rumors began to spread, one of them that everyone would be led to the Bug River, handed over to the Russians, and exchanged for Volksdeutsche[8] from Volyn.

Shabbat in the morning, at the slaughterhouse. Already standing on the assembly square are Polish and Ukrainian police, as well as German gendarmes. They take away from everyone: their documents, small knives, and money. The Landrat comes down with the Ukrainian mayor Mierovsky (he was an engineer in the Obrovitzer yard) and several members of the Judenrat[9]. They seek out the craftsmen and take them out of the rows. Ninety craftsmen: tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths and watchmakers they take out.

Soon we saw the Jews who had been driven out from Chelm, beaten, bloodied, without hats, in torn clothing. Then we already understood that here this is not about any exchange for Volksdeutsche.

From the Jews of Chelm we learned that they had been 2,000 people, and 1,200 had already been shot on the way.

– Jews, run, save yourselves!

But where to run? Now they have united the Jews from Chelm with the Hrubieszów Jews and they are leading us on an unknown road.

Efraim Deitch's daughter ran after us and shouted:

– Father, throw away your coat! (Into the coat had been sewn money and valuables.) A gendarme ran up and shot both of them.

On the road that leads to Tomaszów[10] we saw gendarmes digging a grave. There they shot 10 Chelm Jews who could not walk any further. Among those shot – the brothers Levenshtein.

On the way we hear that they are hurrying Jews into the swamps, they are drowning, and we hear terrible shouts:

– Shema Yisrael![11] Jews, save yourselves! We are drowning!

The healthy girded themselves up with the last of their strength, fought their way out of the swamps, and walked further. More than 40 Jews drowned in the passage through the swamps, among them: Berish Finkelshtein and his son-in-law, and Shlomo Berger.

After walking several kilometers, they told us to sit down in the mud. It is night, a drizzle of rain is dripping, we cling one to the other. Cold gnaws our bones. We rub each other's backs. If someone tried to sit up, he immediately received a stick over the head.

In the thick darkness some of the people crawled to a large shed, from there they squeezed into a large pit and looked for a way to run away.

Once in a while we heard a noise. They call for the advice of the dentist, Avremel Zeltser's son-in-law. Pinyeh Toker's little boy went to the head gendarme and to him cried and begged that he wanted to go home, to his parents. Instead of home he received blows with the stick.

– You are still a Jew!

The gendarmes increased their guard and began throwing on projectors[12]. They noticed how people were crawling away and took to shooting into the air. They all crawled back.

As soon as daybreak came, they ordered us to stand four in a row and we were again off on the road.

After several hours, a peasant drove by and one of the gendarmes threw pieces of bread. Whoever could not catch one had to ask for a piece of bread from another, and in the meantime we heard shooting from the back rows. Later we learned that they had shot those who by the river had tried to drink a little water. Among those shot were Dudl Shmerl's, Feivitch Katsav, and a son of Itche Tataleh's. Noach Vertman threw himself on a gendarme and beat him, but a second gendarme ran up and shot Noach with three bullets. He then demanded of the soltys[13] that he bury those shot in one grave.

It is Sunday during the day. The gentiles with their wives and children go to church and look at how they hurry us along. Some of them feel sorry for us.

Suddenly the gendarmes lined themselves up on both sides, and a lieutenant came up on a white horse, and told everyone [the Jews] to lie down in the meadow. They divided us into two groups, one – to Belz, the other – to Sokal.

After walking for about 10 kilometers, they told us to stand in place. The gendarmes ask: Who knows German? A few volunteered themselves. He told them to collect from the others as much money as they had. They collected several hundred zlotys and took it to the commander. He announced that we would spend the night in Verentch[14].

There they led us into the synagogue, where the Germans kept their horses. They pushed us inside there by force and we had to lie on our sides. They did not allow us to stand up.

Ukrainians, who were guarding us, were holding conversations like this:

– We have already been waiting for you, Zhydkes[15], for long years and soon we will have an end to the waiting. You will be slaughtered, shot, by them and we will with pleasure help in that. It is a shame that Hitler came along so late. If you had been in our hands, already long ago you would all have been cleared out, to the last one!

That was how that night stretched out. In the middle of the night there was a change of guard and other Ukrainian policemen came. And again there were “lectures” with similar refrains:

– You're still alive? Chmielnicki[16] wanted to destroy you and could not! Not finished! Petliura[17] wanted to destroy you and could not! Not finished! Nu, but Hitler will soon destroy all of you! He already can, yes, and he will finish you off!

[Columns 651-652]

A new day began. German gendarmes arrived. They told us to stand four in a row. From a distance we saw several people carrying sacks of bread. They handed out bread and cigarettes to us.

We go towards Belz. A couple of kilometers before Belz I see how they [Jews] are running from the back rows and pushing into the front rows. They [Germans] are shooting. Many fall in the middle of running. I see how Abish Goldman moves out from the row, goes to the door of a brickyard, and falls away. Next to him they fall, from Chelm and from Hrubieszów. From the back gendarmes follow them. They kick them with their feet and shoot a bullet into the head of each one of them.

Suddenly, an order: Go more slowly. A lieutenant comes with an escort of six more Germans on horses. They order us that through the town of Belz we must not walk, only run quickly.

In Belz they assembled us in the yard of the Landrat. There was a pump there and they allowed us to drink water. Next to me stood Meir Vaksman, he said to me:

– Goldfarb, for 25 years already I have not drunk any water, because I suffer from asthma, but now this little bit of water has saved me. And already I am not coughing any more.

It was then the time of Chanukah,[18] soon snow will fall, already rain is falling. An old osadnik[19] came down, looked at us, [and when he] saw small children standing barefoot, he searched out several small boards and placed them under their feet. Afterwards he photographed us, looked at us, and wept.

A lieutenant comes and again asks: who of us knows German. Stepping out from the row: Nioniek Shtorum, and a grandson of David Meizels'. The lieutenant tells them that now they are going to exchange us, and we all will have to cross through a body of water, not deep, only up to the knee.

After this they lead us out of the yard and again they beat us with sticks and rifles.

And here we run into the water, some run so fast that I cannot grasp how quickly they reached the other side, where the Soviets are. And from there we hear joyful shouts:

– Hurrah! Hurrah!

But very soon the Russians take to shooting, and we throw ourselves down under the water, to protect ourselves from the bullets. We raise our heads up out of the water for a moment, and we see that the Germans too are shooting at us. We dunk ourselves back down under the water and scurry on all fours. With our last breath we finally fight our way to the riverbank and run out on the Russian side.

The whole riverbank is already full with our people. We wring the water out of our clothes. Again we rub each other's backs and feel a drop of warmth in our bodies. Some lie down, say nothing, do not rub backs. Those people simply died. We lie like that, the fatigued among the dead, it is already becoming dark, we hear groans:

– Save me, a drop of water – [and it is] presented!

We must lift ourselves up with our last strength, go to help, save those who are fading and whom we can still save. Some are lying there with shots in the legs and arms from the German bullets. Among the shot martyrs: Meir Vaksman, and Kivele Einbinder's son-in-law.

As soon as we had somewhat returned to ourselves, we chose a delegation:

Yaakov Neimark, Aharon Brenner, Shmuel-Eli Aizen, Hersh Zilber, Danziger, and several others.

We went to the kommissar[20] to ask what would happen with us, among us are dead and wounded.

– We are not being given any help, what will happen?

The kommissar replied that he had already reached an understanding by telephone, we must wait. And we wait.

We have already been on the road for four days, without food, and with such torment. The kommissar explains to us that he has already spoken by telephone with Lemberg[21], but if he does not get any proper answer, he will try to call Moscow. And so we waited and a dark reply arrives:

– Send them back to the Germans!

Jews throw themselves onto the ground, with weeping and beseeching, to which the Russians answer with nothing more than:

– Davai nazad![22]

They beat us with rifle butts. We shout and beg them, that it would be better that they shoot us before the Germans do. And they push us back like that, until [we reach] the bridge.

They are already placing the boards on the bridge and we must go back, nothing helps and we achieve nothing. The wounded too they sent back.

And here we are already back in Belz. The same German gendarmes. The town is empty. From the houses the windows have been torn out. They led us to a large fire next to a large house, it was the Belzer rabbi's house. We lay down to warm and dry our bodies and clothing. Some quickly set off to run away from the town, they wanted to struggle their way back to Hrubieszów, but on the way they encountered gendarmes and they drove them back to Belz.

We talked about how they are going to establish a labor camp here. In the town, of the previous inhabitants, there remain 10 to 15 families: the attorney Landoy, a family that has an oil mill, and the rest were cripples.

They drove us into the ruins. In the morning we saw Polish women with pitchers of milk. They went around the ruins and to each one of us presented milk. We were informed that this was a committee of wives of the mobilized men, [Polish] soldiers who were in [German] captivity. The committee had been established by the priest of Belz. In the 10 days that we were in Belz they helped us so that we could return to ourselves and would be able to go home.

We were also helped by the local doctors and the apothecary. They went around the ruins and helped the wounded. The apothecary brought a large cauldron with raspberry juice, and the wives from behind the town brought soup and milk. Those who could no longer feed themselves, they nursed. At the local blacksmith the doctors ordered iron bands and ladders for those who had been shot in the legs and arms.[23] In those 10 days many from Chelm and from Hrubieszów also died.

Every morning a wagon with people in it drove home. Little by little we struggled our way back to Hrubieszów. I arrived home together with my wounded brother-in-law. After several days I announced myself to the Judenrat and asked that a place be made in the hospital for my brother-in-law. The Judenrat prevailed upon the head doctor, Dabishevsky, and they took several injured into the hospital: Mottel Grinberg, and Zilpovitch. They plastered their broken limbs.

Already then there existed a Judenrat, a Jewish police force, a sanitary commission, and a labor bureau.

The Judenrat is made up of:

[Columns 653-654]

Shmuel Brand – president; Yoel Rabinovitch – vice president; Yakl Brand, Hersh Zilber, Shmuel Zeid, Aizik Finger, Moshe Shtecher, Getzel Valdman, Israel Shpiller, Ezriel Finkelshtein.

The police: Antshel Kleiner, Itche Hipsh, Yehuda Bitterman, Tuvia Latterman, Mietshe Bodenshtein, Sender Licht, Chaim Frid, Yechezkiel Druker, Shayke Fishkel, Mottel Langer.

Sanitary commission: Avraham Buchtreger, Berke Kohn, Aharon Nirenberg, Yaakov Nirenberg, Hersh David Goldshtein, Leizer Frimmer, Mendel Rozenshtein.

Labor bureau: Shmuel Zeid, Aizik Finger, and Israel Shpiller.

After returning from the march, I was at home together with Mottel Rab, Aharon Brenner, Ber Appel, the Nirenberg brothers, and Israelke Hecht. Mottel Langer used to come every second day bringing news from the Judenrat and from the war.

When we looked out at the market area, we saw almost no one, a deadness was all around. Only women hidden under shawls wandered around and waited in case someone from the men came back, from Belz, from Sokal. They searched for their husbands and their sons. We no longer saw any returning men.

I received work at the train, loading wagons. The overseer was the painter Zshin. In the evening he led me away to the captain of the local command and announced to him that I am a goldsmith. The captain gave me a Passierschein[24] to go in the morning to Third of May Street.

I was sent to Lieutenant Zeidel. He led me into a warehouse, and took out glasses to repair and revolvers to smear with lubricant. In the evening after the work [was done], a soldier took me home and I received bread, a bit of sugar and a small box of marmalade. While returning, I saw how Hershel Peretz and Dushita's house, where the large apothecary had been, had been built over for the Landrat. All the Jewish businesses had already been settled with Volksdeutsche, Poles and Ukrainians.

There appeared new ordinances about white [arm] bands with Stars of David. The synagogue was vandalized, turned into a horse stable. From the Belzer and Radzyner shtiebels[25] they made warehouses. Shortly afterwards came an order that we must move out of the streets: Lubelska, Rivne, Długa, Podzamcze, Third of May, and Plac Wolności[26] in the Jewish ghetto, [and move] to the streets: Rynek, Prosta, Szewska, Jatkowa, and Wójtostwo, and to take along only two suitcases.

In June 1940 they took the mill and bakery businesses away from the Jews. The businesses were divided up among Poles who had become Volksdeutsche and Ukrainians who had come from Galicia. All the businesses decorated their displays. The Poles – with pictures of Hitler. The Ukrainians – with pictures of Chmielnicki and Hitler.

Within a short time a law was passed that all Jews who do not live far from the German bureaus must leave their homes and immediately announce themselves to the Jewish housing bureau at the Judenrat. Occupied with the housing bureau were Shmuel Zeid, Aizik Finger, and the Jewish police. The sanitary committee also shared in organizing those people who had to leave their homes. The first victims who were thrown out of their homes were the inhabitants of the streets: Długa, Third of May, Plac Wolności, Szpitalna, Podzamcze, and Rivne.

Every day there had to present themselves to the labor bureau 200 to 300 workers and they were sent to work in the barracks, to the train, to the gardening unit, and at the Gestapo.[27]

In a short time an order comes out that those who had businesses in textiles or leather must immediately present themselves to the Judenrat. Then the term came, they prepared a bit of leather and a bit of textile, and the Judenrat gave them to the Landrat. A day later officials came out from the Landrat with a list of the textile merchants: Ber Appel, Zisha Roitman, Aharon Lerner, Orenshtein, Glazberg, Peretz Yantche; and of the leather merchants: Aharon Ader, Shuchmanova, and other store owners. They went around like that for a few days, chopped into cellars, knocked on walls, kicked over graves, and found assorted merchants.

After a little while we are informed that the general governor, Frank[28], will be coming for a visit with an escort of Ukrainian guests. He indeed came to Hrubieszów for a few hours, and left behind a decree. I observed his arrival from Rabinovitch's [house] from the garret.

A few days pass and a new decree has arrived. From Lublin the Gestapo and a police force came down and they began catching [Jews] for Belzec[29]. They collected up a few hundred men, our townspeople and also strangers, and led them with the [horse] mounted gendarmerie to the train. Wives ran after their husbands, but the foot-gendarmes chased them off with rubber batons.

A few days later, on the 3rd of March 1942, a Hrubieszów Jew came running from Belzec and informed the [Judenrat] president, Shmuel Brand, that it was possible to rescue at least a few of the Jews from the Belzec camp. Hersh Zilber came to me and said to me:

– Goldfarb, you're being called to the Judenrat.

I went with him immediately. I go in to the president, he says to me:

– Goldfarb, we must rescue a few Jews, I need a gold watch.

I brought it straight to the Judenrat.[30]

The Judenrat helped us with collecting up the [bodies of the] martyrs. With the men we pulled off their suits, with the women their dresses and blouses, [we] took off their shoes and tore up the soles. We were searching for gold, money, and diamonds.[31]

I stand a few meters from the pit and see how two of the Judenrat men, Avraham Buchtreger and Shmuel Zeid, are searching through Shaul Aizen's things. They take off his clothes and his wide boots. The Gestapo deputy officer, Vagner, gives Avraham Buchtreger a message: that he must cut up the uppers and rip up the soles. Sometimes money and gold would begin pouring out.

We collected up all the money in one large tin and the Gestapo took it away. But some of the money the Judenrat concealed, taking advantage of the opportunity when the Gestapo was not paying attention. The money was afterwards divided up among the children who had been left without parents.

After we had collected up the martyrs, we took shovels and covered the grave. While we were digging I quietly said Kaddish[32] for our martyrs.

It became night and we went back to the camp, on the Vigon. Broken and benumbed we walk past the gentile houses, where it is light, and from which come the smells of food. We cannot move our tongues from thirst and we are scared to ask for a bit of water. We see the Jewish houses: broken doors, knocked out windows, they weep with us.

[Columns 655-656]

We are already in the camp on the Vigon. Each one soon sought out his place, fell down exhausted, and could not sleep, only seeing before him the large mass grave of men, women and children.

The slaughter lasted for three days. On the third day a pair of officials came down from the Landrat. They ordered us to line up and began looking into the eyes of each one. One of the officials gave those chosen the red freedom card, for three months of life.

We went out from the camp. It was already dark, and with a sob each one was away to his home.

The town is dead, as if after a catastrophe. At home it is dark. Six souls have been taken, three sisters and three of the sisters' children. With my brother-in-law I fell on the ground after a three-day fast.

In the morning already came two messengers from the Judenrat, to ask who is left and whether they can settle an additional family here.

On the second day they said that we can move around once again, no more aktzias[33] will take place. But eight days later the second aktzia began. All the Judenrat members and police force received an order to appear at the Judenrat with their wives and children. The Judenrat was then in the house of Motye Shapiro, on Jatkowa street. Jews ran around one to the other:

– What to do? Where to go? To a gentile, he will turn us in.

No one wanted to tell anyone else where they were going. I saw how people on the roofs hid themselves inside the chimneys.

The slaughter began. Whomever they met, they shot immediately. We gathered up all the martyrs with peasants' horses and carts, and brought them to the cemetery.

I was with my younger sister at the market square. From there they led us to the train, and on the way we were followed by German filmmakers and photographers. They took out a group of people and ordered them to dance in a circle and to clap their hands. They singled out Noach Zelner-Borenshtein with his wife. [Under their orders] Noach pulled down his trousers and his wife pulled them back up for him. That was one picture for them. The second picture: They singled out a Jew with a beard and a second Jew with a scissors cut off half the beard from one cheek.

In this way they led us up to the assembly point at the station. Standing among the people, we hear how one is saying to the other:

– Couldn't you hide yourself?

They keep bringing new groups from the town. One gives way to another, then gendarmerie, Gestapo, Ukrainian and Polish police, the special service, the foot military, and the officials from the Landrat: Akerman, Hartman, and others go around with hatchets and chop walls, roofs and bunkers, and bring still more new groups of Jews from the town.

Here comes Sara Knop with her daughter and children, and here they bring Yaakov-Hersh Kvosovitser with his mother-in-law and Moshe Rap. They were led straight into the [train] carriage.

From a distance it can be seen how the Oberführer[34], Streller, is leading a group of girls who work in the barracks under his supervision.

The Landrat and the labor bureau [people] come down and tell us to line up two in a row. They look into eyes and they check the work cards: Who to life and who to death?

The craftsmen who were freed, and the girls from the barracks, were led to the other side of the train station. The Oberscharführer[35], Streller, comes up with the Landrat and with a list.

– The girls are fit to work, back to their work in the barracks!

To the group of craftsmen came the Landrat with a representative from the labor bureau:

– You, the craftsmen who are fit to work, you are going into the camp for a few days.

Soon the gendarmerie came and led us away to the camp, at the Polish cemetery.

We wait for one o'clock. Gendarmes with officials from the Landrat, dressed in festive outfits, in brown shirts with scarves on their hands, led the Jews out to the train. The Jews from the camp beseeched us:

– Jews, perhaps you have something to eat?

Whoever had bread gave them some, and in addition they said to us:

– Jews, you are being taken into our camp, make sure that as quickly as possible you bring to a Jewish burial those few martyrs who died [in the camp] of hunger, among them several children.

Standing like that at the cemetery, I saw how police were leading people from the town, on foot and on peasants' carts, and all to the train. We see how the Judenrat brings to the train small carts of bread with little bottles of tea, and each of those who had been freed [i.e. not sent to the train] calls to them:

– Shmuel Zeid, Aizik Finger, see if you can save a few more people!

But it is already too late. The carriages have already been locked. And at one o'clock the train drove off with our dear Jews from Hrubieszów.

We, the chosen craftsmen, were led into the camp, on the Vigon. All of us, as one, broke out into spasmodic weeping. During this great mourning, along came the Gestapo men, Ovner and Vagner, with the order:

– Immediately, line up!

They selected 20 men and led them away to the cemetery, where we found our martyrs. With boards and ladders we began collecting up their corpses.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Second month of the Jewish year, falling in October-November. Return
  2. German for “district administrator,” used for both the office and the person in charge of the office. Return
  3. Headquarters or command. Return
  4. Third month of the Jewish year, falling in November-December. Return
  5. A nickname for a person with fair or ginger hair. Return
  6. This appears to be an abbreviation for Dudl, Shmerl's son. Return
  7. Pasture or paddock in Russian, the name of an area on the edge of the town. Return
  8. Ethnic Germans. Return
  9. A council of Jews appointed in towns and ghettos to ensure German orders were carried out. Return
  10. Tomaszów Lubelski, some 50 kilometers southwest of Hrubieszów. Return
  11. “Hear O Israel,” the first words of the central Jewish prayer normally recited twice daily and before death. Return
  12. Lights to illuminate the area to tighten security. Return
  13. Village elder or magistrate in Polish/Yiddish. Return
  14. Phonetic from the Yiddish. Now Variazh in Ukraine, then Waręż in prewar Poland, a village some 34 kilometers southeast of Hrubieszów and 13 kilometers west of Sokal. Return
  15. A term roughly meaning “little Jews.” (”Zhyd” is “Jew” in a number of Slavic languages, and in Russian is specifically derogatory.) Return
  16. Bogdan Chmielnicki (Polish spelling) or Khmelnytsky, Ukrainian Cossack leader whose forces carried out numerous pogroms and massacred thousands of Jews in 1648-1649. Return
  17. Symon Petliura, head of the Ukrainian armed forces and president of a briefly independent Ukraine, whose forces carried out numerous pogroms and massacred thousands of Jews in 1918-1921. Return
  18. Jewish holiday that falls annually in December. Return
  19. A First World War/Polish-Soviet War army veteran who under a special government program for such veterans had been granted land to settle in eastern Poland. Return
  20. Russian title that can apply to various political, administrative or military officials. In this context, it most likely refers to a regional military commander. Return
  21. The authors use the pre-First World War name for Lviv (Lwów in the interwar period). Return
  22. Russian for “Come on back!” Return
  23. The ‘bands’ and ‘ladders’ were probably iron pieces used to form a splint to set the broken limbs. Return
  24. German, a travel pass issued by an empowered authority to enable individuals to enter or move around a restricted area. Return
  25. Small prayer and religious study houses. Return
  26. Freedom Square. Return
  27. The Judenrat was required to deliver Jewish workers to meet quotas set by the Germans. Return
  28. Hans Frank, head of the General Government in Nazi-occupied Poland. Return
  29. Extermination camp some 57 kilometers southwest of Hrubieszów. Construction was completed in February 1942 and several trial gassings were conducted there in early March. Full gassing operations began on March 17, 1942, and continued until June 1943. Approximately half a million Jews were murdered in Belzec. Return
  30. The text does not indicate how many (if any) were saved by this effort. Return
  31. The Judenrat was ordered to have this done by the Germans. Return
  32. The Jewish mourner's prayer. Return
  33. A Yiddish/Polish word based on the German aktionen, actions or operations to clear an area of Jews, which involved killings, rounding them up violently, deporting them to death camps or labor camps, and plundering their property. Return
  34. A Nazi military rank roughly equivalent to senior colonel. Return
  35. The authors here give him a slightly different rank, roughly equivalent to staff sergeant. Return

 

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