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[Page 199]

The Holocaust

 

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A German Captive
(Based on the Testimony of Meir Lustgarten at Yad Vashem, Record No. 03/1361)

By Khonan Valodovsky

Donated by Rebecca Entwisle

When I fell into German hands in Ilowo near Plotzk, I immediately noticed the attitude of the Germans towards the Jewish prisoners. As we walked from Ilowo in the direction of Pabianice, the Germans abused the Jewish prisoners. In addition to beatings, the Germans confiscated their clothes and shoes and handed them over to the Polish captives who, when asked, pointed the Jews out.

On arrival in Pabianice, we were herded into the Kindler Company textile factory. There, we were divided into groups by race, Jews in one segregated group; Christians in another. I decided to conceal my Judaism and had thoughts of escaping captivity. I tried to escape from the camp in Pabianice, but when I reached Lodz I was caught and taken back to the previous camp. At the end of October 1939, they transported us in freight wagons to a prison camp in Luckenwalde. The place was still empty and we had to build our own huts. On the way to the camp I became friendly with Boris Schwartz, a Brisk–DaLita Jew, and we decided to present ourselves as Christians. As soon as we arrived at the camp, since we both knew German, the German commander appointed us as translators. Our job was to record the personal details of the prisoners in the various groups. We introduced ourselves not as Poles but as Belarusians. Soon, the Germans began to send people out in “commando” groups to work in various places. Schwartz and I were sent to different places, so we were separated. I was employed as interpreter for a commando on an agricultural estate near Magdeburg, where I was placed in charge of a group of working prisoners. Since there were 90 German–speakers in this group, who introduced themselves as “Volksdeutsche”, I realised this was not the place for me. I presented myself as sick, and after the doctor examined me, I was sent back to the previous camp. There, I was received by a German, who was in charge of my hut. When he heard I spoke German, he took me on as his private secretary and I managed all the affairs of the Christian prisoners in that hut. I stayed in that position there for about 10 months. There were about 20,000 prisoners in the camp, which included two huts enclosed with a wire fence, where only Jews lived. Because I was free to wander around all over the camp, even in the evenings, I used to illegally slip to the Jewish prisoners food and cigarettes, for which I set aside a special portion of the budget I received for the Christian prisoners.

 

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178. People from Janów in the Janów grove of the Forest of the Martyrs

 

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179. Among the Janów survivors in Germany immediately after the Holocaust:
(1) Rachel Reznik–Garbuz; (2) – (3) Ben–Zion Feinstein (4) – (5) Rachel Feldman

 

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180. Ben–Zion Feinstein during his IDF service during the War of Independence, Channa Weiss, Penina Katzikovitz. Miriam Gorodetsky

 

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181. A group of Holocaust survivors from Janów at their first convention in Israel

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I would get permission from the German guards to enter the Jewish camp on the pretext that I wanted to abuse the Jews a little. So, I managed to get inside there almost every night. The conditions in the Jewish camp were very sever, in terms both of nutrition and of clothing. Every morning, they were paroled wearing wooden shoes. They were ordered to run and do all kinds of acrobatic exercises. They were put to work in all sorts of degrading jobs like cleaning toilets and so on. Every day, 10 or 15 people were removed from the camp, either dead or half–dead. A few months later, the Germans transferred the remaining Jews from this camp to a Jewish camp somewhere else.

Once, when I was accompanying my supervisor to the commissary to buy groceries for the prisoners, I suddenly heard my name, “Wlodowski”, being called in the distance, but I continued on my way. That Pole, who had been brought to this camp from somewhere else, started to seek me out. He asked after Wlodowski, but no one knew me by the name, Wlodowski, because we each had a number and we knew one another by our numbers. I was secretary to the German supervisor, and he nicknamed me “Schreiber” in German, so everyone thought Schreiber was my surname. The soldier did not tire of searching for me, and once came to my hut asking where the Jewish secretary was.

I should point out that in every hut there was someone from the Gestapo planted among the prisoners, and the prisoners were unaware and ignorant of who he was. It was his job to pass information to the Gestapo office about everything going on in the prison camp. It seems that the Gestapo representative immediately told headquarters that I was Jewish, because the following day an emissary of the Commandant came to me (although he did not know the informant meant me) and he told me he was looking for a Jew with my number. He told me the Commandant knew that man was a wretched Jew, who had been posing all the time as a Christian.

I realised my situation had become extremely dangerous and I could not see a way out of this predicament. Finally, I decided to confide in my supervisor, Sergeant Brause, and told him everything. I told him I was the child of a mixed marriage, that my mother was Jewish and my father, Christian. He was stunned by this confession. He was scared, because he could also be held to account for having employed a Jew for so long and failing to inform the Gestapo about him. In the end, he reported the matter to his commanding officer, Strasshoff, who was in charge of the battalion, which included three huts full of prisoners. Those two Germans continued, all the while, to relate to me with affection and respect. Officer Strasshoff came to my hut together with Sergeant Brause, and after I told them both everything I had already told the sergeant, Officer Strasshoff advised me to deny all connection with Jews during the Gestapo investigation. Told me to stand strong and not to break down during the interrogation, because only that could save me from ending up with a bullet in the head. The officer, for his part, promised to help me in this investigation as much as he could.

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I did as he suggested. The sergeant took me to the Gestapo and handed me over to the officer. Prolonged interrogations commenced at the Gestapo regarding my belonging to the Jewish people. The interrogations carried on for 21 days. I was scrutinised by the officer–in–chief at the Gestapo HQ. He threatened me with a gun, demanding I tell the truth. He asked all manner of questions, but I only gave one answer: I am not a Jew, I am a Belarusian, who also knows German. Other Gestapo people present during the interrogation began shooting questions at me. Each one would address me in a different language, one in Polish, another in Yiddish, the others in Hebrew, German and Russian. I would only answer those who approached me in German, Polish, or Belarussian. They searched me, and luckily, they I found I had letters (that I had purposely held on to), that were written by my older brother, Zvi (Kotel), the doctor, who was living then in Brisk–DaLita. In my earlier letters to my brother, I had hinted at my situation in the camp, and he must have understood, as all the letters he wrote back to me were in Russian or German. The content of the letters also helped me a lot during the interrogation. My brother asked in those letters, why they did not release me, when all the other Belarusian prisoners had long since returned to their homes and so on.

During the period of my interrogation, I was held in the Strafkompanie (the Penal Unit), from where next to nobody returned intact. I was lucky in that, when the harshest exercises and torture sessions were taking place at the Strafkompanie, in the mornings, I was always being interrogated by the Gestapo. They interrogate me there daily, on the same subject, whether or not I was Jewish. They wrote an entire, thick file on my marital status and the state of my family. In the end, after they tired of trying to extract from me something positive for them, one of them addressed me in Yiddish, saying “Ir Bist Gemalt”. I played dumb, like someone who does not understand what is being said to him. Another interrogator translated the question into Polish, asking me if I was circumcised. Then, I realised what they meant, and I made quick motions, feigning spontaneity, as if to take off my pants. At that, the interrogators started to laugh and passed on my “corpus delicti”. With that, the investigation was over and deemed complete, and I was returned to my previous hut, after my interrogators reached the conclusion that I was a pure Aryan... One month later, I succeeded in escaping from this camp together with two other Polish prisoners. I came to the city of Siedlice (In Yiddish, Shedlits) in the ‘Protectorate’. I found employment there, where I also presented myself as a Christian, and with the German incursion in 1941, I returned to my Polish hometown of Janów.


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Memories of a Nurse's Life Inside
and Outside the Ghetto, and in the Forests

By Ruchel Reznik

Donated by Rebecca Entwisle

 

A Hospital in the Ghetto

Passover, the festival celebrating that “the Lord brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm”, was the opposite of that in 1942. Exactly at that time, during Passover, we were taken from our homes and put in a ghetto.

In the first days, immediately after our confinement in the ghetto, they approached us to set up a hospital. Isaiah Rozhansky's home was the designated building to house this hospital. Its founder was Mrs. Zaretska, Dr. Greenwald's sister. Both were refugees who had remained in Janów. Mrs. Zaretska was a beautiful woman, young and healthy, full of energy and courage: She did not waste a moment, working day and night. With the help of Miriam Minska, who joined this effort, within just a few days a real hospital was set up, and wonderfully well–organised.

We were all well aware of the importance of the hospital and people helped us, each as much as he was able. It was enough to go to a house and say we were collecting donations to set up the hospital: Large quantities of sheets, blankets, mattresses, beds, warming pans, bandages and towels poured in over two days. We could have opened a hospital of one hundred beds, because we were not short of patients, but there was only space for thirty beds.

Organising the medical staff was more challenging, but after investing tremendous efforts we succeeded in doing so, and the team applied great dedication to its work. The team including the following: Doctors Greenwald Z”L and Salzberg Z”L; the midwife, Miriam Minska Z”L, the nursing sisters, Mrs. Zaretzka Z”L, sister of Dr. Greenwald Z”L; Rega Salzberg Z”L, sister of Dr. Salzberg Z”L, Sarah Chiz Z”L, and Sonia Hellman Z”L. Rachel Reznik, writes these lines: The accountant, Lipa Z”L, from the village of Sukhoi, and the cook, Reina Kaplan Z”L, from Ropshitz. Some of the female refugees also worked in the hospital as cleaners.

Right from the very start, all the beds were occupied by patients. We worked very hard, without a break. Patients received medical support to the extent that medicines were available. The situation with regard to food was also very difficult. We served just two meals a day. For breakfast the patients were given potato soup with carrots and a little goat's milk. Inside the ghetto, there was no milk at all, and only the hospital had a special permit to keep two goats, so milk was in very short supply.

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For lunch, we served pearl barley soup with potatoes; we picked the vegetables from the hospital garden adjacent to the building. We had no tea at all and instead the patients were given a little hot water. For dinner, the patients ate from the food rations they received from home, each as much as he was able. The kitchen closed at two o'clock in the afternoon, because there was nothing left to cook. Each patient received a hundred grams of bread a day, which was also the amount of daily ration for the ghetto's healthy residents.

The hospital was silent as a graveyard. The patients lay quietly, and we had no means to brighten their stay there. Each patient was alone with his pain and his reflections on the general situation. They were all troubled by the thought of what a new day would bring.

Occasionally, a German committee would come to inspect the hospital and it always found everything absolutely fine. They had nothing specific to focus on: they were mainly interested in infectious diseases, as they were very afraid of epidemics. There were many patients with us suffering from internal and surgical diseases. Some were in a serious or even critical condition. There were also mothers giving birth.

Of course, we were all afraid of infectious diseases, because we lived in extremely overcrowded circumstances, but an exceptional standard of cleanliness was maintained in the ghetto, and despite everything, there were a few instances of typhoid fever and dysentery. We immediately implemented strict sanitary measures to prevent the spread of disease. We were all very well aware of the price we would pay, if diseases were to spread.

The spread of epidemics would have given the Germans a convenience pretext to destroy us quickly. When an inspection committee appeared at the hospital, we did not reveal to them the patient's true illness and did not record the correct diagnosis, so they continued to leave satisfied. However, our anxiety was growing. The situation was becoming much worse, and the number of serious patients began to grow.

 

Transfer to a Hospital Outside the Ghetto

At that time, we heard rumours of the outbreak of a dysentery epidemic in the city, and of an increase in health inspections among the civilian population in and around the city. In the city, outside the ghetto, there were two hospitals: One, a hospital for treatment of internal diseases, was located at the house of Nimzowitsch. Mrs. Janowska, a Jewish nursing sister from the ghetto worked there; she arrived in Janów with the refugees and was killed with all the rest when the ghetto was destroyed. Dr. Kadlubowski was the chief physician of that hospital. The second

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hospital was on the road to Liskowicz (Laski?), in a large building originally built as a bakery by the Soviets but converted in wartime into a hospital with an epidemiology ward. The hospital had sixty beds, and when the epidemic broke out, the establishment was filled to capacity. Dr. Kotel Wlodowsky Z”L was the chief physician there and his assistant was Nurse Bialik, whose lived near the hospital.

One morning, when I came to work at the ghetto hospital, Dr. Greenwald Z”L called me to give me some very sad news. The German authorities had demanded the immediate transfer outside the ghetto of four of our hospital nurses to the hospital for infectious diseases in the city. We were very sorry that our team would thus be reduced, and because none of us wanted to work outside the ghetto serving people who hated us. The call of this fate fell Sister Rega Salzberg Z”L and myself.

After work, when I got home, I told my family the news about my transfer to work outside the ghetto at the infectious diseases hospital. This generated a lot of distress and tears at my home. They argued with me: How can you possibly go to work for those patients? You'll bring back home all kinds of trouble and harm to the desperately cramped space where we live. They urged me to go and please with them, perhaps something could still be done to enable me to keep working at the ghetto hospital.

With tears in my eyes, I went to Dr. Greenwald, told him everything, and begged his help to see if there was any possibility of my continuing to work in my old place. He replied saying, “my child, remember my words always – this is your best chance ever of staying alive, outside the boundaries of the ghetto. I'm jealous of you. I wish I could work there, too. From that hospital, which is situated outside the ghetto, you have the possibility of escaping to the forest or a field. Once they have destroyed the ghetto, I will no longer have the power to help you. I cannot change the order.”

I wiped the tears from eyes and walked home, without saying a word. I felt that Dr. Greenwald was right, and indeed his prediction later proved accurate. My family had to get used to the idea that nothing could be changed, and the next morning I received my permit to leave the ghetto and start work in the new place.

This hospital had a very small team. Only Soviet nurses who were unable to return home when war broke out were left to work there. Now, Sister Rega Salzberg and I also joined forces with them. Rega was a beautiful young woman and she did not look Jewish. The work there was very hard, because of the shortage of nurses. We worked twenty–four hours straight and then rested for a few hours.

The Germans did not come to this hospital at all. The work was optimally organised. The patients received very good food and overall, the conditions were good. Between the four walls of this hospital we were not overly aware of the war. We worked very hard because new patients were constantly arriving in a serious state. Family members were allowed to stay near the patients, and they brought food, such as bread, fruit, preserves and all sorts of other things.

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Of course we benefited from this situation. The Gentiles were well–acquainted with the conditions in which we lived and, from time to time, they would bring something for us, too. To us, it was a real bonus. First of all, we were not hungry at work anymore, and beyond that, we could something home to our families in the ghetto. However, smuggling food into the ghetto was not at all easy, because there was always the danger of a spot check by the Germans, or else by the police, which was no better. Bitter was the fate of anyone found carrying food into the ghetto.

I often risked my life too, when I discovered that our meagre food supplies at home were running low, and no additional food supplies were available. Every day, the people in our house waited impatiently for my return. Mostly, it was the children who ran to meet me, when I came back from work, because I always brought them dried forest fruits from the hospital, which were in plentiful supply there as they were used for medicinal purposes.

There were some instances when Christians, who were grateful to us for our work and for the help we have them or their families rewarded us with gifts of food that they passed to us inside the ghetto through the side of the fence facing towards Ropczyce (Ropshitz) direction. This was very dangerous indeed.

I was very pleased with my new job, even though it was very difficult. I knew I could bring something home to my family every day and they would not have to suffer the degradation of hunger. I also was able to leave my daily ration of a hundred grams of bread at home, because I would return home from work with a full stomach. Many people envied me my good job and said how lucky I was. Indeed, I was lucky, because thanks to my job, I survived, just as Dr. Greenwald Z”L predicted.

I always had the gut feeling that I would survive. I was almost certain that they would not manage to destroy me. This conviction never left me, and I really do not know where such confidence came from. At my most difficult moments, the words “they will not be able to kill me” accompanied me.

Every day, when I went to work, I would look at my family as I sadly left the house, and I would carry in my heart a prayer to God that I would find them safe and sound when I returned. The days seemed very long and any moment could bring bad news. We were prepared for the worst. Our fate loomed heavy in the air above us, and we sensed what awaited us. In the evening we said, ‘if only it were morning', and in the morning we said, ‘if only it were evening'.

Very bad news came to us from other cities and towns. The Germans promised that nothing would happen to the people of our ghetto, because most of them were engaged in work. We all tried to work, and even the elderly and the sick were forced to appear “healthy” and to work, in the knowledge that a worker is considered a “useful Jew” (nützliche Juda) and has a chance to stay alive.

Shortly afterwards, two more girls from the ghetto arrived at the hospital: Ida Jablonska and Sonia Lerman. They were employed as cleaners. After a while, a barber also joined us, a Jewish guy from Motol (Yiddish: Motele), and so together we were now six workers from the ghetto.

Although life was hard and bitter, everyone wanted to live and survive those hard times. No one wanted to believe that everything that had been established and created over generations could go up in flames and be wiped out in a flash. We did not want to believe the rumour that they were already digging graves for us in the Rudsk Forest.

There was still enough time to escape. Five hundred girls and boys got organised to leave the ghetto. Their representatives met with the partisans, but they were misled like sheep led to slaughter, they were tragically massacred.

A black cloud hung over our heads. We all had the same dire premonition of what was in store. In each of our eyes, you could read what was evolving in our hearts. Our thoughts were like the black clouds in the sky. As the clouds dissipated a bit, there was also a momentary brightening of dark thoughts, and then it seemed to us that something was bound to happen, or that none of it was real, perhaps it was just a horrible nightmare. Why do they want to destroy us? After all, we are not guilty of any crime? Then, just another moment later our thoughts returned to gloom and the black clouds re–appeared in front of our eyes. As time went by, everything became clearer and the end drew near.

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On the Night of the Extermination of the Ghetto–Dwellers

I remember well the final dusk, as if it happened just yesterday. It is all set before my eyes and engraved in my memory, and I will never forget it. It is simply impossible to convey the thoughts that pursued me here, there and everywhere on that last evening. I do not know what happened, but at a given moment everything felt as though it was coming to an end. That evil moment hung heavy in the air. There was profound sadness on everyone's face. It was terrifying to look at people's desperate faces. People looked from to the other, and the same question was on everyone's lips: What do we do? No one was equipped to offer advice. In that bitter and pressured moment, all the gates were locked. Like frightened sheep without a shepherd they huddled and pressed on top of one another. It was the fear of a wolf liable to pounce at any moment.

And it was precisely in those moments that I went out of the ghetto with my permit to leave for work in hand. As I passed through the gates of the ghetto, I felt it was for the last time. I looked back again at the frightened faces of the people and I left. How difficult that moment was! I am running away from the ghetto to save my life, and I am leaving my nearest and dearest behind me in the ghetto. I was seriously debating with myself whether I should stay and die together with everyone, or leave them and save myself? It was at this very moment that the desire for life, my drive to save myself and to live to see revenge prevailed. With a heavy and tormented conscience, I left them, and indeed it was forever.

An hour after I exited those gates, the murderers broke into the ghetto and began to destroy everything we loved and held dear. It all went up in flames and I remained a living witness to everything that occurred. I saw the ghetto rise in flames, and I heard the cries and screams. Doomsday had come! Since that day, the terrible image of the liquidation of the ghetto remains constantly before my eyes.

On that tragic night, we were in the hospital – Rega Salzberg, Ida Jablonska, Sonia Lerman, the barber, Chanan Wlodowsky and me. None of the doctors were there. We stood paralysed, not knowing what to do. Where to escape to? The shouts from the ghetto reached our ears, loud and clear. We were at a loss and helpless. We stood frozen, our eyes not wanting to believe what they saw.

That night, when everything went up in flames, our thoughts gave us no rest: that there was no point to our lives and that soon they would come for us, too, because we were no better than our brothers and sisters who were taken to their deaths, and what lay in store for us now was all the same to us.

In that instant, the door burst opened and a man entered, as naked as on the day he was born. It was Rega's husband, Dr. Salzberg. That handsome man with the blue eyes was now completely black and unrecognisable. He had managed to escape the fire into which the Germans had thrown him alive. Only then did we hear in detail how the ghetto was surrounded and what happened there.

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That night we did not even go near the patients, and the Soviet janitor on duty that night threatened to hand us straight over to the murderers, if we did not treat the patients. We were not scared of him, because we no longer had anything left to lose.

Early in the morning, a young man appeared with a three–year–old girl in his arms. They were among the refugees who were in Janów and had escaped the fire, but both of the girl's legs were wounded. I dressed her injuries quickly, packed a portion of bread in a sheet and they hastily left. Sometime later, this man met my brother, Haim–Yodel, in the forest and told him I was in the hospital and that I had helped him when he escaped.

In the course of the morning, our team expanded. We were also joined by Dr. Kotel Wlodowsky, who was led to his death together with his family, and then rescued at the very last minute. Christians intervened in his favour and among them the Mayor. He was removed from the ranks of the dying and brought back to the hospital, to his place of work. We, the medical staff, needed him because there were no other medical personnel, but we were well aware of the temporary nature of this arrangement. We had been allowed to live, because the patients could not be left unattended, and so we were obliged to work for those who hated us, to treat and save them. It is not difficult to imagine what we must have looked like and the kind of mood we were in as we walked around and performed out duties.

In the attic of the hospital we hid Chanan Wlodowsky Z”L, the barber from Motol and Breindle Koval Z”L, who had managed to escape on that critical night, and survived several days of hunger among the graves in the Christian cemeteries for a few days. We took her in and hid her.

 

The Survival of Berl Pomerantz

Three days after the liquidation of the ghetto, in the middle of the night, I was the duty–nurse. I sat in the nurses' room by candlelight and contemplated what had happened. There was deep silence all around me and I was the only one awake. Outside, an icy wind was blowing and light but persistent rain was falling. Suddenly I heard a light tap on the window. I went over to the window. Before me stood a man, who looked like a living corpse. I shuddered and remained petrified.

”Rachel, Rachel, don't be scared, it's me, Berl Pomerantz.”

I could not believe it really was him; maybe it was a dream? When Berl saw that I was looking at him in alarm, he said:

”Calm down, it's me, Berl, your former neighbour, save me! It's been three days now that I've been wandering among the graves, cold and hungry.” A moment later, I brought him into a small side room. Berl stood in front of me small, bent, helpless, his hair overgrown, and his eyes staring vacantly.

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I immediately gave him something to eat and drink, and when he recovered, he related to me the horrors of the previous night in the ghetto. We sat there disorientated for a while. He was very glad to hear there were more Jews there. Various plans began to race through my head – what should I do? How could I hide to him, too? There was not a moment to lose. I immediately informed Dr. Kotel Wlodowsky of the situation and, together we decided to conceal him, for the time being, in the rafters of the cowshed. I gave him some warm underclothing, and a slice of bread, and escorted him to his hiding–place.

Dawn was already beginning to break. The cowshed was a few hundred yards away from the hospital. There were firewood and straw for mattresses stored there. One corner was designated for the bodies of dead patients. And there on the straw, Berl somehow managed.

All the work in the hospital now fell on us. They arranged a place for us to live in the hospital and directed us to a dormitory with six beds. Here we lived and worked. We were treated well and we did not lack food. We were also permitted to wander freely around the city. We did not like all this. The situation had suddenly become too good. It was clear that we were “useful Jews” (nützliche Juden), but only temporarily. The work we did and every minute of our time we devoted to the patients seemed unnecessary to us. Who are we offering to help? To people who hate us and who helped destroy our Jews! But how could we escape and where would we go? This question gave us no rest, even for a moment. And so the days passed, day after day. We sought ways to get Berl out of hiding, but found none. Berl lay alone, immersed in his thoughts, cut off from humankind, cold and hungry. I couldn't manage every day to throw him something up to him onto the pile of straw where he lay. Luck played in his favour when someone died! Then, it was possible to pass a food package to him. I was never able to talk to him. I attached a brief note to every food package, and he would answer me on the same paper, “Thank you for the baked potato. What's new? C–I–g–a–r–e–t–t–e”. I never sent him a cigarette because I did not have any, but also I was afraid the smoke would reveal his hiding place. Hunger, cold, fear, loneliness and nightmare thoughts were his lot. But time always has its effect.

 

Escape to the Forest

Once, in the middle of the night, Moniek Rosengarten, one of the refugees who came to the city at the beginning of the war and escaped from inside the ghetto (he is in Israel, now), told us about city residents who had survived and where they were. So we came up with the idea of escaping from the hospital as quickly as possible, because there was no point in staying put there. I was the first to declare, “I'm going to leave! I don't want to die at the hands of those murderers. Let's escape to the forest! It is better to die of hunger, cold or wild beasts”. What will be will be! We've had enough!”

I was forced to inform Berl of my sudden change of heart, and my plan to flee the place. In the note I threw to him, I wrote: “tomorrow evening, I'll leave the hospital and go out into the Zavisha Forest, to the place where our Jews who managed to escape are. We may all leave the place. You can't stay here. Tonight, at six, I'll wait for you and I'll explain everything to you.”

The weather outside echoed the mood in our hearts. It was cold and windy. At 6 pm exactly, Berl stood in front of me. We exchanged glances. He was bent over, grey–haired and both his eyes looked vacant and frightened. I immediately gave him all the information I had, where and along which paths he should go, and I gave him a bag of bread. We parted tearfully, and without uttering a sound. I followed him with my gaze until he disappeared from my line of vision.

I could not sleep all night, because I knew that the same trip awaited me the following day. The night passed by quickly, and in the morning it was extremely cold. Inside the hospital, it is warm, patients come and go, and everything is normal, but I wander around and my thoughts are intrusive. I wish the day would pass by more quickly. Every moment in this place seems superfluous to me. I carried out my duties as usual, then I chatted with colleagues. However, “our little family” were finding it difficult to decide on the step upon which I had already decided. It was more comfortable, of course, to lie under a warm blanket, but I did not want to sit idly by anymore and wait for a miracle.

I acted as my heart told me I must. Exactly twenty–four hours after Berl's departure, I put my plan into execution. At 6 pm, when the doctors had completed their patients' reviews, I wrote down all the treatment instructions but ceased to follow them. I took off my white robe, quickly put on my own clothes and turned to “my little family”.

”I'm going,” I said. They all stood still as rocks, said nothing, but tears welled up in their eyes. As I stood with my hand on the open door, I glance across at them once more without releasing my hold, and I went.

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My chosen path was not easy. The black night and the deathly silence around me, really terrified me. I could hear nothing except my heartbeat and my footsteps on the road. I increased my pace as if someone was chasing after me. My heart pounded even harder. Obviously, what I was about to do was totally “unkosher”, and whatever would I tell the Germans, if they arrested me? Although it that were to happen, I would no longer have anything to say, and thus I walk through the streets and alleyways of Janów. Every stone in this ground is familiar to me; even in the dark, I know how to avoid the holes in the pavement. From time to time, I need to stop and hide like a thief; here a dog growls and there a well creaks. How great is my pain, when I pass by the house where I once lived, now inhabited by strangers, and I have to run away like a criminal.

Here I stood before the last houses of the city. At this place, I asked myself which path I must take now and what lies ahead, this way. A trembling of anxiety took hold of me as I crossed over the railway tracks, but everything went smoothly and I breathed a sigh of relief when that dangerous passage that I had so feared was already behind me. Here in the dark, I met Avraham Gorodetsky Z”L, Baruch Krupnik Z”L, and Moshe Ya'akov Schuster (now living in Austria). Our joy was indescribable. We sat down to rest and they told me that, of the survivors who worked in the sawmill, none had returned that evening after they went to work in the small ghetto. We were all of similar mind, now – to escape. They had fled, and were now trying to reach the Zavisha Forest and join the others who had managed to escape.

On the first night, we walked around in the dark and the cold, and kept returning to the same spot we had set out from. We were lost. Exhausted, we collapsed on the ground and fell asleep. At daybreak, we were forced to hide in the woods, hungry and scared. Our situation was very harsh. We could only continue after nightfall. It fell to me to go and beg some bread from the peasants. Surely, we thought, they would take pity on a woman, but the ill–willed among hem did not differentiate between a man and a woman. “Żydówka, ochodz!” (”Get out of here, Jewish woman!”), I heard over and over, and they even set a dog on us, here and there. However, there were also some good Christians thanks to whom, we did not perish from hunger. Often, they gave us a little bread and some baked potatoes. There were also times, when they let us spend the night in the haystacks, when the cold was fierce. In this way, we wandered from village to village and from forest to forest, sleeping during the day and walking at night. Believe me, there were moments when we envied our brothers and sisters who were killed.

[Page 215]

So, we wandered around until we finally reached the Zavisha Forest, and then real winter came upon us, too, with the snows and fierce cold. Here, we found the small number of survivors from Janów, but where had we got to the hard road we had travelled?

People were exhausted from the hardships of the road, hungry, and with injured legs. I will never forget the image of our meeting there. Everyone sat on the frozen ground and warmed their hands by a small fire in the open air. They were worn, dirty and bedraggled, frightening to observe.

 

The Death of Berl Pomerantz

In this place, the women were superfluous. They looked at us, as if we were just creatures consuming free bread, but unable to obtain it. The position of a woman was much worse, in all respects, than that of a man, unless she had someone to protect her. Luckily, the situation was only like this at first, when everyone was feeling superfluous, too. In time, it became clear that the women could also participate, along with the men, in defending against and destroying the enemy. The women stood alongside the men, rifle in hand, providing medical assistance to the wounded, preparing food, washing clothes, and doing household tasks. So, attitudes towards women changed.

To start with, life in the forest was hard and bitter. Our situation was wretched! Hunger and fear were our lot, but then we had nothing left to lose. The glimmer of hope and the drive to live energised us and gave us enough courage to continue the struggle.

In the forest we were divided into several groups, larger and smaller, which were scattered so that, in the event of an attack, some could be saved. We began to manage life in the forest, digging pits and building bunkers in the frozen ground, so that we would have a roof over our heads and shelter from the cold and frequent snowfalls.

But even here, in the depths of the thick forest, we were not allowed to rest. One beautiful, cold winter morning in December 1942, on a Saturday, the sun was shining bright and beautiful (but not for us). Bloodthirsty Nazi soldiers (“caligae”) broke into the forest and opened fire on one small, unarmed group, killing them all.

At the time, we were a mile away, when we heard the shots, and we dispersed immediately.

[Page 216]

With us at that time was Shlomo Weiss, who was injured a with high fever. Our whole group, numbering forty, managed to survive. All day long, we sat on the snow, without food and drink. In the evening, when silence reigned around us, we decided to return to our place. That was when the great disaster met our eyes. Included among the murdered was Berl Pomerantz. Berl had not remained in the forest for very long. His efforts had provide futile; he was physically and spiritually broken. He found it hard to get used to such a life, the meaning of which was struggle. Berl remained in the Zavisha Forest:

[Yiddish]:
“Oif zeyn kevr vat keynmal keyner nisht kumen
nar der vint vet eybik brusen, brumen”
“See, no one will ever come to his grave,
Only the wind will blow, whispering upon it forever
”.

On that tragic night, we left the Zavisha forest and walked thirty kilometres further to reach the Bilin forests. It was already the beginning of 1943.

Ahead of us again was a new struggle for life; a period full of harsh experiences. Here opened for us a new page of life and of suffering.

We all joined the partisans and fought together with them to destroy the enemy.

 

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