The Tragedy and Destruction of Kamenetz
by Dora Galperin
(The Letter of Dora to Lea and Dov Aloni)
At the Beginning of the Second World War
Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War, at the end of 1939, the Soviets occupied Kamenetz-Litvosk. The situation of the Jewish population changed for the worse. The local Communists, like Leybke Katz, Leyzer Dolinsky, Joseph Wolfson, Joseph Kupchik, the two Jacobson brothers from Zastavye, Malca Radisch and other such prominent party-members hastily assumed posts of authority under the new rulers. They were familiar with everyone and they knew well how and whom to oppress and persecute.
Three quarters of Kamenetz Jews had lived from commerce until then. They eked out their livelihood from their stores and stands. The stores were soon liquidated, commercial activity was severely punished and most houses were nationalized. The situation was very grave, almost hopeless. The synagogues were closed down. The Great Yeshiva was converted into a club which a cinema hall. Everybody was obliged to work on Saturday which also affected people badly. However, things were not so bad yet. Whoever knew some Russian obtained employment.
In 1940, the Russians simply threw us out of our house into the street. My sister Reyzel lived at Shidlovsky's home and I moved into the house of a Christian, Fyodor Fanasevich.
When the Germans arrived in our town he told me straight away that he would not hang out a Star of David on his house because of me. I understood from that, that I must look for another place to live.
With the German Murderers
On June 22, 1941, the wild German murderers marched in to our little town soon afterwards the SS arrived in Kamenetz and caught Jews in the streets.
I myself saw through the window how they caught David Rosenberg's son-in-law, who was going from the direction of Zastavye. The murderers beat him up cruelly, pushed him forward and kicked him with their boots. This affected me so badly that I was unable to calm myself. We learned afterwards that the murderers had caught a large number of Jews in the town and beat them up heavily. Then everyone was seized by strong fear.
I was afraid that Fedosevich might deliver me to the Germans, so I moved out of his house and lived together with Reyzel Gevirtzman and her family.
Once, 2 gendarmes came and took away from us whatever they fancied, even furniture, quilts, curtains and other things. Then they put on Reyzel's head and old black hat they had found in the cupboard; they also put a big pot on my head and forced us to dance and sing and on top of all this swung their whips and lashed us. That was a terrible experience. Insult was added to injury.
Before the war a woman physician lived in Kamenetz. Everyone knew she was a Christian. She used to go to church and always wore a cross on her breast. After the arrival of the Germans she worked for a long period at the Municipality office and also exercised medical practice. Her name was Halina Weidenberg. All of a sudden she disappeared. We found out that the Germans had taken everything away from her and killed her, because a postman, a Christian, had told them that she had been receiving letters and postcards written in Yiddish.
Miriam Pachter-Wapniarsky used to live next to Gevirtzman. The Germans occupied her house. She had previously concealed something in the garden. Once, when she came there and tried to dig it out, a gendarme ran after her. She began to run away and entered our house. The gendarme began beating her savagely, while we had to hold her by the hands and head. She was so faint that she had no strength to cry. This made us feel very broken-hearted. It was very difficult to bear all this.
When the Ghetto was set up in 1942, we thought that perhaps there would be a change for the better. In the Ghetto there lived 10 persons in a room. Everyday the murderers raised new demands through the Judenrat (the Ghetto Council appointed by the Germans) but at first they themselves did not enter the Ghetto.
Once, while on my way to buy some food for my sister's children, a gendarme seized me and beat me heavily.
I fell to the around. Then he kicked me in my belly with his boots several times and roared at me to get up, but I did not have sufficient strength to do it. My face remained swollen for two weeks. This happened near the house of Yosel Glezer, outside the Ghetto. The savage Nazi's name was Werbel. I can remember this scene even today. When I returned home, my sisters cried bitterly, but unfortunately they were unable to help me. Of course, I dared not go out of the Ghetto anymore. Our Reyzel's sister-in-law, a young and very pretty girl was staying with her. She dreaded the Nazi murderers so much that she lost her senses. One early morning she left the house and never returned. The Germans caught and shot her. In such a manner the situation got worse from day to day.
On January 1, 1942, the Ghetto area comprising Brzeska Street was encircled by guards. We were all transferred to another Ghetto area comprising the street Kobrynska and Litewska. The first victims fell in the early morning hours.
Simha Dubiner's mother was running in the fields adjoining Litevska street a German halted her. She implored him to let her go back. Crying she said she only wanted to bring some food for her son who was working nearby; but the murderer was not moved by her tears and shot her. She fall near Kozlovski's barn. She was still alive and tried to get up again. She muttered her last words: Woe to me, then the assassin shot at her once more and killed her.
Motke, one of the Kozlovski brothers, carried her body to the Jewish cemetery and buried her.
Several minutes later, more people were shot on the same spot. They were: Issachar Velvel Freizer from Kobrynska street, his daughter Beyla, Zina Porolska's son-in-law, and a man from Warsaw, Dr. Gelberg's guest. Dr. Gelberg himself, his daughter Yanechka and her husband Ludwig escaped from the Ghetto and avoided being caught. Some time later, a Christian betrayed them and they were shot together in Demitrowiche Village, in the vicinity of Kamenetz. The doctor's wife, who remained in the Ghetto, lost her reason.
Quite a large number of Jews escaped from the Ghetto, but they had no place to hide; later on they requested from the members of the Judenrat to bring them back into the Ghetto.
Suffering, Courage and Escape from the Hands of Murderers
For three days I stayed in the heavily guarded Ghetto. On the third day at noon, a Christian, Joseph Golyak, with whom we were acquainted, approached the barbed wire fence and told me to escape. He said there were no German around only local militiamen who would let me pass. I replied that it was impossible as there was an obstacle in the shape of a wooden fence above the ground. How could I possibly get out? He left but returned after a few minutes with another Christian friend. They brought an axe, smashed the wooden boards and simply pulled me out of the Ghetto.
Mrs. Kozlovsky who had been waiting nearby put a bed-cover on me and led me up to the attic in her house. Where I was lying quietly till seven o'clock. Later on they made me change my clothes and put on a long bright dress and a handkerchief. In such attire I was taken to Litevska street to an acquaintance, a Christian by the name of Joseph (Yuzhek) Grigorevsky.
I remained only one day in his house, because his wife's family, who were staying with him, were very frightened; they took the children and fled. This made me think that perhaps my escape was useless. I wanted to go back to the Ghetto. In the evening, another Christian, Nicolay Zhuk, arrived. He took me to a tiny settlement where there were only two houses his and his brother's. It's difficult to describe what I felt during the journey. Miraculously, we arrived safely in the hamlet. The first few days were not bad, but in the course of time the situation grew worse and worse. They used to lock me up in the barn for the whole day.
Nobody would come to me and ask if I needed or wanted anything. Late in the evening I entered the house for a short while and soon went back to the barn. And yet such conditions could be considered as good.
One day, Nicolay went to Kamenetz and, upon his return told me that there was nobody left in the Ghetto. Everybody had been deported to Wysokie. This news depressed me greatly. I realised that the bitter end of the Ghetto had come. Sadness and despondency overcame me.
I cried and cried but unfortunately the flowing tears were of no help. The Christians began to fear more and more to keep me. I would not even leave the barn. It was dark and very cold inside and I felt indescribably disheartened. Under these circumstances I spent almost six weeks. Once, early in the morning, when I accidentally entered the house for a minute, some German arrived in a car. I do not know how I managed to rush out of the room and to climb up to the garret. The murderers stayed in the house all day long. I remained motionless in the attic in my dress only, though it was a very cold winter-day.
All the time I was thinking that the end of my life was near. I saw in my imagination how the savage German murderers seize, torture and torment me and I thought how much suffering they would inflict upon me before shooting me. This went on for a couple of hours, till I was unable even to think clearly. In the evening, after the Germans had left, Zhuk came up to take me down from the attic. He had to carry me on his hands for I was so frightened and frozen that I could not walk by myself. Nicolay's family looked scared when they saw me.
Several days later, Zhuk took me at night in a sledge back into Kamenetz. I was swathed in rags, my head bandaged. He intended to say he was taking a sick woman to hospital. We met no German on our way and arrived safely. Christian friends, who wanted to save me, requested that a Kamenetz policeman, who had had seen me leave the Ghetto, hide me at his house. He lived on Litevska Street together with his mother. After the policeman and his mother had agreed, I was taken to them at night. There I was better off. I remained there for 6-7 months, though they did not want to keep me so long; they simply had to; no other hiding place could be found. During the entire day, I used to lie on the stove which was partly screened by a curtain. No one knew that a living human being was hidden there, a being having no right to live. Friends used to visit my landlady. Sometimes they would sit for hours on end and chat; I could hear everything. Some of them even claimed to have seen me with their own eyes on a horse-drawn wagon together with my sisters, during the deportation of the Jews. Others said they had not seen me. Some had seen me crying together with the other deported.
None of them knew I was alive. In such a manner I used to lie for hours on the stove, completely motionless. I dared not move for fear lest someone might hear. Sometimes it was unbearably hot on the stove. But the worst was when a visitor arrived early in the morning, when I was still lying in bed. Then the landlady would cover me with an eiderdown, make the bed hastily, and though I was suffocating I refrained from coughing, waiting impatiently for the guests' departure.
This was not all. On one occasion, late at night, when we were already asleep, someone began knocking on the window and asked to open the door, for a gendarme had been inquiring about the landlady's address.
God in Heavens! What am I going to do with myself?
I thought feverishly. The woman wanted me to remain in bed and to cover me, like she usually did, but I leapt out quickly and hid myself on the top of the stove. To escape somewhere else was out of the question.
When she opened the door, a friend of hers, Mania Lacinska and a gendarme entered. The gendarme's name was Goetzke. The couple simply wanted to "have a good time... Goetzke turned off the electric light and directed the light of his electric torch into every corner in the room, asking at the same time: Are there any partisans here? A few minutes later he was lying on the same bed in which I had been sleeping earlier.
There was another bed next to the stove. After Mania had gone, he lay down close to the stove. I was afraid I would not overcome the terror that struck me. But a miracle happened. The German was a bit drunk and he fell asleep immediately. When I heard him snore I felt somewhat relieved. This lasted till he got up in the morning and left the house. The landlady and I got high fever, and we were very sick as a result of the fright. I was unable to speak for several days. The woman did not want to keep me in her house any longer, though she could not easily throw me out. I told her I cared no more about my life, but that she might also lose her head, if it became known that she had been hiding a Jewess.
Thereupon, Mrs. Kozlovsky took me to her home. This surprised me for there was no place to hide in her house. Later on, it became known to me that the policeman, the son of the woman at whose house I had been hiding, confided to Mrs. Kozlovsky that he would kill me in my sleep and throw me into the river.
I could not stay at Mrs. Kozlovsky's house. The same night I was taken to a Christian who lived on Litevska Street.
One could say that the conditions there were relatively good. I was well aware of my plight. Till now, I do not understand how I survived. Food and comforts were of no importance under those circumstances, but whenever I heard the murderous Nazis marching in the street I began to shiver from terror and fear.
Several months passed by in this manner and it seemed there would be no end to the troubles. I had no alternative. I had to live in a cupboard full of various things. There I felt best. The cupboard was locked all the time.
I thought that no one would ever find me there. But even this good fortune came to an end pretty soon.
A priest's daughter, who was living in close neighbourhood, began to get interested in the family in whose house I was hiding. On one occasion she entered the house and went directly to the cupboard intending to open it, as one of the landlady's dresses aroused her admiration. Fortunately, the cupboard was locked. Since then I did not stay in the cupboard anymore but tried my luck in a cellar which was cold, dark and damp. But I never caught a cold and, fortunately, never had a cough, though I was ill many times. I recuperated without a doctor and without medicines. I washed myself seldom and this made me feel even worse. From time to time, I used to crawl out of the cellar, late at night, and warm myself up for a short while in the room.
Once, late in the evening while we were talking quietly in the room, the window-shutter went up suddenly. The proprietor of the house ran outside but found nobody.
We thought that the wind had opened the shutter. A couple of days later, the shutter went up again. The landlord, who had darted outside, found the priest's daughter next to the window. She told him she had heard my voice, though I had never spoken to her. I hid in the cellar at once. The landlord led the priest's daughter into the house asking her where I was and how could she make up such things. Her reply was that she had pity on him, as her neighbour; otherwise she would have called the gendarmes and they would surely find me. Thereupon they both left. I too left the place in a hurry.
Mrs. Kozlovsky took me to a good friend of hers, an elderly Christian, who lived in a side-street, not far from the Litevska Street. This was the only hide-out we could think of at the time. I was fairly well off there, but it did not last long. A German family had moved into one of the rooms and I had to run away once more. It is difficult to describe all I went through. I do not know till now what made me willing to accept so much suffering. I could have hanged myself or put an end to my life in another way, but the thought never entered my mind. Apparently, it was my fate to survive, so as to be able to tell a little about our pitiable life under the murderous Nazis.
In the meantime, I had no other way out but to return to the cold and damp cellar. I remained there till the frontline came nearer to us; it drew closer from day to day. Then a spark of hope made its appearance. One night I caught the sight of a burning airplane. The sky seemed to be on fire. The scene was frightening and the people began running away to find refuge out in the fields. I did not run away, in order to avoid being seen by the people and waited f or the end to come.
A few days passed by and it became common talk that the Germans would burn the town to the ground before giving it up. I could not help asking myself: What is going to happen to me? Shall I be burned alive, when the house goes up in flames, after I have gone through so much suffering during the last two years?
Nicolay Zhuk had a sister who lived in Oglyan Village near Kamenetz. She had hidden me in the past and was willing to take me to her. I rode in a horse-cart, covered by hay and other bundles. The heat was oppressive. My nerves were taut and I felt half-dead under the heavy burden of so many things. But at the same time I thought that within a few days I should be liberated from the Nazi murderers. Unluckily, it took several weeks. Zhuk's sister hid me in a cave which was used for dumping potatoes. The place was very dark and infested by mice that harassed me all the time. The place was insecure, because the front-line ran in its vicinity. There was a lot of shooting. People sought protection in the cellars. Only I lay crouched in the potato dump. The Germans made searches for horses, partisans etc. and my life was hanging by a thread. This situation, however, was of short duration.
In July 1944, the Germans withdrew and the first Russian partisans appeared. I did not even believe that the deliverance had come.
Soon I saw the first Jew. He was Feygi Meretzky's nephew. They used to live in Selz. At the time I saw him he was in a Russian Army unit.
Then the Russians left and my life was again in danger. While I was in the kitchen, the Germans showed, up unexpectedly. They were looking for the Russians. Nailed to the spot, I continued to stir the food in the pot with a spoon. The Germans did not search long and left because they were in a hurry. The murderers did not come to us anymore but I remained in the village for several days, fearing that they might return.
On July 22, 1944, I came back to Kamenetz. I could not walk. The feet hurt me terribly and I was swollen. For two years I had been living without fresh air, suffering from hunger, cold and filth. I lived in constant fear of death. It is difficult for me to describe the feeling of sadness and bitterness accompanying me where I saw Kamenetz again. The town was silent and desolate. Every stone seemed to be weeping after its inhabitants that were gone forever. So much blood of innocent people had been shed and no one worried about it. There were even some Gentiles in Kamenetz who were pleased by the fact. And if anyone, of them felt badly it was only because he regretted having acquired too little of Jewish property. I know only what it looked like when it became known that I had survived. It looked as if lightning had struck them. The ground started to burn under my feet. I could not breathe freely and felt I was in danger. I had to escape to Brest-Litovsk in a hurry.
Upon my arrival there I thought I was a human being leaving a right to live, just like everyone else, but I was mistaken. My troubles began afresh. One night two Russians knocked on my window and asked who was living in the flat. They asked me to open the door. I was still very naive, so I complied with their request. They immediately drew out a pistol and pointed its muzzle at me. At the same time they opened the cupboard and took away everything. When I asked them to leave me my coat they fired the pistol. I was so terrified that I fell. I was told not to leave the house during 20 minutes, otherwise they would shoot.
Soon, many arrests took place in Kamenetz. People were denouncing one another to the authorities. Fanasevich, in whose house I was living when the Germans marched in, was afraid I might venge myself upon him for having thrown me out. He got in touch with his cousin and the cousin's wife, whose sister, Aniuta, was a prominent Communist in Brest. The began intriguing against me.
Russians came to me and made an inquiry about G. W. a Christian, who hid me during the German occupation. I replied I did not know his whereabouts. In October, 1944 I was arrested.
Russian major asked me why the Germans had left me alive. Twice he gave me a real beating and claimed that I had not told him the truth. Therefore, he said, I must be imprisoned. I suffered very much. Every night they would drag me for an interrogation and beat me up badly. For several days they kept me in darkness, almost without food. All I received was a little piece of bread. Then I was told that I was not under arrest anymore but imprisoned.
All is lost, I thought. The cup of my troubles is not yet filled.
One night I was taken for an interrogation. Fanasevich's cousin and his sister-in-law, Aniuta, the Communist, were present. They accused me of the worst crimes imaginable. They said that I had not been hiding from the Germans, that I was a liar, that I was a mistress of the German Commissar, that I had been living quite well under the Germans, that I used to change my hair-do everyday etc. Then she charged me that she had been my maid-servant and I had been treating her badly.
When I asked her where I had lived during the German occupation, she took off her shoe and hit me on my head with it. She seized the ink-pot, poured the ink on me and did not let me talk.
I spent six weeks in jail, very sick, lying on a hard, damp floor and suffering from hunger and thirst. At the end of the six weeks, the trial took place. Five militiamen led me into the court-room to prevent my escape. Three military judges judged me. I saw twelve witnesses for the prosecution.
This did not surprise me. I did not care anymore.
When the first witness was called to submit evidence, he said that everything he knew about me had already been set down in writing. That which was written down is none of your business, one of the judges told him. His duty was to tell everything, the judge added, The witness remained silent. This encouraged me. The judge asked me if I had anything to say. I asked the witness if he saw me after the Jews had been deported and whether he knew that I was alive.
His answer was No. The same happened with the remaining witnesses. Aniuta tried to say something but did not succeed. The prosecutor interrupted her by saying: She is probably dissatisfied because she (Dora) survived.
I was fortunate that the judge's attitude to the case was correct. They decided to arrest Aniuta and the remaining witnesses for false charges and ordered to free me.
But the militiamen led me back to the prison and it took a long time till I was set free. For almost a year I was kept in prison though I was entirely innocent. We were 45 persons in a small cell, suffering from hunger, thirst and cold and lying on a cement floor.
On September 13, 1945, I was set free and officially acquitted. I went into the street, not knowing where to go. I was pretty desperate. All my belongings consisted of the old rags which I had on me during my stay in prison which lasted over a year.
Once more, the terrible scenes and experiences, the Kamenetz Ghetto and later events appeared in front of my eyes. I felt I must leave, as soon as possible, the places where so much Jewish blood had been shed. I was so desperate and lonely that I could not decide in which direction I should go. Together with a friend of mine I arrived in Poland.
Upon my arrival there I was very sick and run-down from hunger and misery.
After so much suffering I had to undergo two serious operations. Two toes of my left foot had to be amputated because gangrene had set in, as a result of my plight my life in hideouts during the rule of the Nazi's and my stay in the terrible prison of Brest.
More than 20 years have elapsed since and I still cannot forget all this. The memory of our dearest, of our martyrs with whom I shared the life in the Ghetto is deeply engraved in my heart. I cannot forget the frosty winter morning when the murderers deported the entire Ghetto population.
Little innocent children cried from fear and shivered from cold. They clung to the parents, who were being driven on foot, beaten and shot at.
I can still see the terrible scene; I see them being tortured before being killed. Till now I can not be happy like other people.
This is the result of the bloody German occupation and the life in the Russian paradise.
by Dvora Rudnitsky-Singer, New-York
The worker's wages were insufficient to earn a living a government store was opened; a remained closed most of the time for it had no merchandise; whenever there were wares available, first of all the government officials took their share and the long queue of waiting people received very little. The only way of survival was to carry out illegal trade with Christian acquaintances who smuggled in potatoes, butter, flour and onions in exchange for hidden goods.
The NKVD took over Aharon Moshe Galperin's house. They forced all party members and state officials to attend school on Saturdays. The Great Yeshiva was converted by the Russians into a cinema and a hall for Communist meetings and dances. It was the newly erected building of the Yeshiva. When its construction was finished the Yeshiva students formed a dancing ring round the Academy Head, the learned Rabbi Barukh Baer of blessed memory, and led the whole rabbinical procession across the town to the new Yeshiva.
We, too, had to vacate our flat in the house of Sara and Yoseph Spector, because the Police-Commander with his family who had come from Russia moved into it. We moved into the house of Meir Zabinker-Rimland.
But in spite of all this, we could still live; we did not realize how comparatively well off we were and what the fate had in store for us.
Real hell began when the German-Russian war broke out in 1941. Within a short time the Nazi murderers entered Kamenetz. The frontier near Brest was attacked before dawn at 2.30 a.m. and on the same day around 6 o'clock in the evening, a few armoured vehicles and tanks halted in the town-center, facing the shops at the end of Brest Street. There was no resistance; no Russian soldiers were on the spot; already in the morning the few remaining Russian party and government officials had sent away their families.
The streets were empty and an air of desolation hung over the entire townlet. The Germans demanded from the Jews to send a number of men who could serve as intermediaries. Shlomo Mandelblatt, a respected, intelligent man was chosen as representative. The Germans demanded toilet soap, chocolate, coffee and other items which were collected. They also demanded 100 men for work; nobody knew for what kind of work they were required.
Looking out from behind the curtain, we saw an army car with civilians in dark clothes. As it turned out later they belonged to the Gestapo. Also SS men with dog's arrived on the spot and soon sounds of blows and cries and screams of women and children could be heard. The Germans went from door to door, dragged out the Jewish men and assembled them all in the town-center near the water-pump. There was no place to hide.
The only man not taken away from our house was Meir Zabinker-Rimland. His son-in-law and my father had been taken away to work in the morning. Not knowing where to hide, he crawled under the kitchen-table which was covered with a large cloth. But neither the table nor the tablecloth would have saved him. What saved him from being taken at that time was the fact that the Germans simply forgot to enter our house. Later on I went from one courtyard to another, crossed the fences dividing between them and ran fast across the streets. Only in such manner was it possible to reach the house where one wanted to get. When the shouting and knocking stopped, I made my way, with difficulty, in this manner, to the extreme house on Brest Street from where there was a lookout on the water-pump.
The men assembled here had to kneel down. When a Jew with a long red beard who had been Head of the Little Yeshiva and the Rabbinical Judge's son-in-law raised his hands to heaven, probably after saying the Last Confession Prayer (Vidui), an SS man kicked him with his boot. Reuven Mandelblatt, the son of Shlomo, Samek Rosenshein, the Jewish pharmacist's son, Shalom Galperin, David Zisel's son, Simha Layzer Gevirtzman, Shimon Buchhalter, Alter Chazanovich and tens of others were all crowded into the truck and driven away from the town. In the evening, when the men who had been taken to work in the morning, returned, unaware of what happened during the day, they were greeted with joy.
A spark of hope flashed for a while. It seemed that perhaps the men seized during the day were also taken to work and would come back. Unfortunately they were never heard of again. The only news about them was brought by the peasants from the neighboring villages; they told that all the caught Jews had been taken to a place near a woods outside the town and shot. In the meantime, Shlomo Mandelblatt and Rosenshein, the pharmacist, requested the Polish priest to intervene on behalf of the seized men. His reply was that he could not help them at all, because they had been picked out by the Germans as Communists.
The days passed by full of uncertainty. Nobody knew what the next morning would bring. We were ordered to on yellow badges, so that a Christian could be distinguished from a Jew and so that pain and humiliation would be put inflicted upon us.
Christian peasants with whom we were on friendly terms used to smuggle in food for which we have them whatever we could. Then one day, the Jews from Kamenetz were deported. Only the families of those who were needed by the Germans for work were exempted from the deportation. Every Jew was permitted to take only 15 Kilogrammes baggage. Peasants from the adjoining villages swooped upon the abandoned Jewish houses and took away everything they could grab. Not all of the peasants were bad. I remember a forester's wife who brought us marmalade and butter in a pail and put a layer of salt on the top of the pail's contents in order to conceal them. We, too, gave her many things and all the remnants of the shop's stock. The same Christian woman endangered her life during the deportation of the Jews; she was standing on the road near the woods, and when the wagons with the deported were passing by she approached them and handed us a food parcel. The wagons were rolling along one after the another. The children were sitting on the bundles close to their mothers. Once in a while the men would get off and run, holding on to the wagons, in order not to tire the horses too much.
At that time no one knew what would happen to us. We had already heard about transports when men were forced to run and all those unable to keep running were shot.
The Rabbi of Kamenetz, Ruven Burstein of blessed memory, with his family, was in one of the wagons behind us. Each one of us dreaded for his fate. He sat hunched down, the collar of his coat raised up to hide his beard. Whenever the first wagon made a stop to allow those in retard to catch up, with them, we were seized by fear that the Germans were about to execute us. And so, filled with terror, we were brought to the Ghetto of Pruzhany and each one of us breathed relieved.
There, the Judenrat took charge of us. It was Friday night and at first we were put up in the synagogues. On the following day they began to place us in various houses. Whoever could work, went to work. Some were sent by the Judenrat to work for the Germans outside the Ghetto, and traded in food smuggled into the Ghetto. The Judenrat, as well as the Jewish police, were intent on helping every Jew in the Ghetto. But many of our fellow-townsmen left Pruzhany clandestinely and returned to Kamenetz stealthily and joined the few Jews who had remained there. My mother, too, left the Ghetto secretly in a horse-drawn wagon and accompanied by a Christian succeeded to return to Kamenetz. She also succeeded in bringing back with her a little food and a few things which she received from several Christian acquaintances. But the main purpose of her trip was to see whether we should return; what she witnessed made us resolve not to move from Pruzhany.
All the Jews in Kamenetz lived concentrated in several streets set apart for them. At that time there was no fence around them but the people were scared to move. My mother only saw a few Jews sweeping the streets. Upon her return she spoke very little, but she said one sentence emphatically: We're not going. In Pruzhany we were fenced in but we could move freely among the Jews. We were not allowed to leave the houses at night but the streets of the Ghetto were guarded by Jewish police.
The Rabbi of Kamenetz with his family remained in Pruzhany; my grandfather Aharon Rudnitsky (Lysker) with my father's stepmother Leah and my aunt Bela Hasya, her husband and two sons remained there too.
Several weeks before we were deported from the Ghetto my grandfather had become ill and was unable to come to us. I used to run to him everyday bringing with me some hot food. Once, on a Saturday, when I was on my way to my grandfather and carrying for him some Sabbath food kept warm from Friday, I tripped in the deep snow and fell down; at that moment all my thoughts were concentrated solely on the basket with the warm food.
Several weeks before our deportation from the Ghetto of Pruzhany we heard that all the Jews had been removed from Kamenetz and murdered. That was the last news that reached us from Kamenetz. Then the liquidation of the Ghetto of Pruzhany began. Altogether four transports of deported left the Ghetto. We were in the third transport.
The night before our deportation my father assembled all of us in our room. With tears in his eyes he showed us four vials with a poisonous solution. He told us that he succeeded to obtain them from a pharmacist with whom he was acquainted. According to what my father heard we were going to be sent to a camp where we would work very hard; if we got sufficient food we might survive with God's help. We did not know about the gas-chambers and crematoria but we knew about the large pits where people were shot and buried-some of them still alive. Father told us to drink the poison only in case we would be wounded, so as not to be buried alive.
Being myself a mother of two children, I am even more amazed now at the strength and courage shown by my father in acting so. Each one of us packed into a bundle the things one was allowed to take; we put on additional clothes and got ready to move. This time we were not transported in horse-drawn wagons but in railway-cars used for transporting cattle, with a small grated window. From 50 to 75 persons were in each car. The doors were locked from the outside; that is how the dismal journey began.
There was no place to take care of the physiological needs. The urine oozed through a narrow opening in the wall, the excrements were packed in paper or in rags and pushed out through the grated window.
As soon as the doors opened, after the train had come to a halt, we could hear the murderers bellow: Raus (out). Everybody trudged out of the car, cramped after sitting on the bundles for several days and dressed heavily in as many clothes as one could put on. This was done purposely, so that if the bundles were taken away from us in the camp at least the things we had on should remain.
Immediately the men were separated from the women. We were ordered to form a line. The children remained with their mothers. SS men selected some of the people and told them to step aside. Others were told to go in a different direction. The little stick in the hand of the SS man, that pointed the direction in which everyone was to go, decided wether the fate of the people was life or death. The mothers of the children, no matter how young they were, hod to join the group of the old people and children. I remember how a mother of a 2 year old boy left him and hid herself. Elderly women wanted to take the child but the boy resisted. Until now I can hear the child cry: Mame, Mame!
The mother was in fact selected, for work in the camp, but in short time she, herself, was taken to Block 25. Everyone could enter the block but not leave it, for the only way out of there led into the gas-chambers. My little brother Zavele was quite tall for his age and we decided he should stand next to my father. But our plan failed and my little brother was sent to the group of old people and children and my father to another group separated from them. We were looking at the scene shocked but we could not do anything. We, a group of women, were sent to the women's camp at Birkenau and the men went to the men's camp.
We were led to a bath-house; there our hair was cut, a number tattooed. Later on we were driven into a steam bath and from there to a shower-room; the flow of water could not be regulated and hot and cold water showered down alternately. Whoever uttered a cry was beaten with a stick by the Kapos. The Kapos were Germans, Poles, Ukrainian criminals etc. In the steam-bath delousing took place and we received rags as clothing. In darkness we were driven into a brick-building with narrow passage-ways. Bunks made of bricks and covered with wooden boards served as beds. They were built in tiers. Those who got the upper bunks were considered lucky because up above the air was a bit fresher, in particular in the centre of the building where the roof-slopes were joined and formed a sharp edge. On the beds there were two sacks filled with straw and a couple of threadbare quilts. Each one received a large tin bowl and a little pot; this was all our property. Four, five and sometimes six women lay on one bed stretched in all directions. One of the girls from our transport received a shirt full with lice. She wanted to throw it away but someone told her: Don't do it, child. You won't get another one and you'll freeze. There are plenty of lice here, on every step even in the clean things. We turned our heads toward the girl who had spoken and saw a half-naked woman delousing her things. She looked old and bony. From her we learned about the tall, protruding chimneys giving off smoke day and night. The smoke rose from the burning of the bodies of the Jews, the bodies of our nearest. Whenever, on our way to or back from work, we saw an arriving transport we knew that the fires would blaze again in the furnaces of the crematories and the chimneys would again give off smoke. At that time the transports came so often that the smoke rose unceasingly day and night.
Everyday before dawn we were wakened by whistles, lined up in front of the block (the building in which we lived) and waited in the dampness of the early morning for the German SS women who came through the gate and counted the people. They knew perfectly well that it was impossible to cross the electric wire fence surrounding the camp. Those who died during the night were also dragged outside and laid next to the lines of the prisoners. After making sure that the numbers were correct we were taken to work.
My first job was to pull down houses partly destroyed during the war. Ten girls were holding a wooden pole with iron edges, and, following an order, thrust it against the wall. This was a job for men, but it would not have been difficult even for us, had we not been surrounded by Kapos and the bellowing SS with dogs, who beat us. Once, while returning from work, one of our girls felt so sick and weak that she was unable to walk; however she had to be brought back to the camp, alive or dead. She was laid on a wooden stretcher and four girls had to volunteer to carry her. I was one of the four. The distance to the camp was several kilometers and after some time I felt tired; I asked the Kapo if she would be willing to exchange me for a while with someone else; thereupon the Kapo told the SS man to let his dog jump on me; he immediately did it but unloosened the dog so that the dog could tear only my clothes; then I forgot my fatigue and the fright carried me on my way.
Later on I was in a labour-gang (Kommando) employed in drying swamps. We took sand from one place and carried it on wooden wheelbarrows to the swamp to cover it. At that time I was quite ill with dysentery and fever; besides, my hands, nose and lips which were parched by the sun froze as a result of the frost and formed a hard crust.
It was enough to touch my hands or lips to see the raw flesh. I myself was unaware how terrible and inhuman my appearance was. One saw enough skeletons around and I was one of them. In the camp such people were called the Musulmans. The only thing which kept me from going to Block 25, as many others had done, was the thought that my father was alive in the men's camp in Auschwitz. A man from Pruzhany who knew me told me that on the way to work.
At night I was unable to rest because of the high fever or the overexertion. Even in sleep I used to dream about the day of work and toe blows. Sunday, our day of rest, used to fill us with fear. When the well known shout Juden heraus (Jews out) was heard we knew what it meant. We were led out of our compound, under the escort of the SS men with dogs who used to guard us at work. This was called The control of the numbers. In fact, a table with books in which all our numbers were registered was standing near the gate. The murderers, too, were standing there; one of them did the counting with a stick in his hand, and whenever he thought fit he selected several people to be gassed. In such a manner he created space for newcomers.
When the selection was over, we breathed with relief, not knowing how long it would last.
For the first time I met my father after three months in the camp. It is unbelievable how a human being can change during such a short period. My father was in a labour-gang that came to work in the women's camp. They had to carry out repairs in the barrack of the Kapos. My father who knew, that I was in the women's camp was searching for me and looking at every woman. Two girls working in the camp carried a bed into the barrack in which he was working and he had an opportunity to ask them to find me.
In the evening the girls came into the block and after calling my name told me where my father was working. I rushed there but the girls stopped me and said that the men had already left, for they had to leave before the return of the women labour-gangs into the camp. My father had said, however, that if I could remain in the camp on the following day he would be on the same spot. I decided to pose as sick on the following day and to remain in the camp, without taking into consideration the possible results of such a step. From time to time, Germans used to come to the block for inspection and those who were not working were sent to the gas-chambers. We were also forbidden to enter the area where my father was working but my only thought was to see him. The first time I went out in the morning but did not see him. The second time I went at noon-time hoping that the men would be outside but nobody was there. I went in the afternoon once more; on the side I saw my father Pushing a wheelbarrow with lime and escorted by an SS man with a rifle. Since the women were forbidden to talk to the men I did not take the risk of calling him. My father looked at me and kept on walking. Not knowing whether I would see him again after he entered the barrack. I called him: Tate. The German asked my father what was going on. He told the German from the SS that three months passed since we separated in the camp and that I called him Father but he did not recognize me.
For a moment a humane emotion swept the young murderous SS man. He told me to wait until my father would empty the wheelbarrow and then return. My father and I entered one of the buildings while the German was on guard so that another German should not come in, because it was forbidden to let a father talk to his daughter. The German told my father that his father, too, had once upon a time not recognized his daughter and this incident reminded him of it. I stood face to face with my father, who recognized me only after having spoken with me about the family. Afterward I met my father many times on the way to work till his group finished their work in the women's camp. But even later on we used to send greetings to each other from time to time. Our meeting renewed our will to live. I lost touch with him when, as a result of the front drawing near, Auschwitz was evacuated. We were sent from one camp to another until we were liberated by a miracle. Then everyone began to search for relatives who survived. I wandered for some time and inquired in various Jewish Community Centres which were formed after the war but did not find my father or anyone else from our family. I knew that I had an uncle in Israel, so I got in touch with him through the help of the Jewish Brigade. In Italy I married a survivor of the holocaust and together we went to Israel. There I learned from a person who was together with my father in the last camp that my father, who had survived the hell of Auschwitz and other camps, died of hunger a month before the liberation when the rescue was so near.
[English page 117]
Spectres of War haunt the Angel of Belsen
Prison Camp Heroine Tries to Forget
Shielded Children from Nazi Terrors
One day in 1942 the Germans moved 10,000 Jews from a ghetto near Kamenetz-Litovsk Poland, to their Oswiecim (Auschwitz) Concentration camp. Oswiecim (Auschwitz) later became known around the world as the Nazi's most efficient death factory. At that time, however, it was just another place where helpless people suffered and died quickly or slowly, it didn't much matter which.
SS guards sorted out this group of new arrivals, piling the old and sick into trucks bound for the gas chambers, marching the rest to barracks, where they would live in squalor as long as they were capable of working. One of them grabbed the arm of a young woman holding her 3-year-old son by the hand.
How old are you?
She told him.
Flames Seared Her Heart
He said, That's a lie. As he said the last word his fist smashed into her mouth. A few seconds later, when she came to her senses, she was lying on the ground, her mouth full of blood and broken bits of teeth. Her eyes focused just in time to see the guard throw her baby on the back of a gas chamber truck, already piled high with the wasted forms of other useless human beings. The truck drove away.
That was the last Luba Tryszynska saw of Isaac, only child of Hersch, the husband the Nazis had taken away the year before to work as a slave labourer. By the time she made her way to the crematorium, fire had done its work.
In the summer of 1944, they moved her to Belsen. She had survived typhus and two trips to the gas chambers door where, stripped naked, she won last-second reprieves from death. Briefly, pitifully, her path had crossed that of her husband. When they put her to work as a nurse in the camp's so-called hospital, he was caught trying to throw her a piece of bread over the wire fence surrounding the hospital compound. They punished him by making him work at the crematorium and shot him dead when he tried to escape.
Her life of torture seemed somehow to have caused the spirit to freeze inside her. She no longer reacted to anything. S lie could not cry or care.
But now, as a nurse, there were certain advantages for Luba Tryszynska. Wearing a long-sleeved jacket, she was able to conceal the small triangle beneath the identification number tattooed on her left arm the mark of the Jew. She told the Belsen authorities she was Russian and, because she spoke the language perfectly, they believed her. They put her into one of a number of little shacks in which nurses from the hospital were housed.
Always the Same
While Luba Tryszynska was trying mainly to sleep, on her first night in Belsen, she suddenly became obsessed with the idea that she heard children crying. She woke up the nurse sleeping next to her, another transfer from Oswiecim.
Do you hear? she said. Children. They are crying.
Go to sleep, said the woman. It is always the same.
You imagine you hear your baby. Go to sleep.
But Luba Tryszynska could not sleep. Defying the regulations, she got up and went outside the shack.
In a dark corner of the road near-by, a large truck like a coal truck was parked. The motor was running, the headlights cut a sharp swath in the darkness and she could see the driver in the cab. Suddenly there was the sound of whirring machinery. The carrying part of the truck tipped up steeply, and the back panel fell away. Thus, casually, the driver dumped his load, which piled up in the mud behind the truck.
Luba Tryszynska could not see what the load was, but she could hear. She ran as fast as she could toward that dark pile in the mud, from which the crying came. There struggling, screaming, helplessly intertwined were dozens of children.
She snatched a boy about 6 months old from the top of the heap and, with the baby in her arm, ran to the front of the truck.
What are you doing with these children? she asked the driver.
What do I care what they do with them? They will die, of course. The driver put the truck in gear. They are Jews, he added. Then he drove away.
That night Luba Tryszynska went from one hut to another, waking the nurses, making them take some children in each room. There were 64 children. At least 17 of them, of which she took personal charge, seemed to be under 2 years of age. The oldest was 12. They were Dutch, but she found she could talk to some of them in German and through these she pieced together their story.
With their parents, part-Jewish Hollanders caught in Germany by the war, they had been living in a nearby camp waiting to be sent back to the Netherlands. The Germans had found three loaves of bread illegally hidden in the barracks. The parents had been sent to work in an ammunition factory. The children, for whom there was no room in the factory barracks, had been sent to Belsen.
Luba Tryszynska spent the night doing what she could to make the 17 babies in her hut clean and comfortable. When a German worker, the wife of an SS trooper, passed by in the early morning, she begged this woman to give her something for the children to eat. The woman refused, but later returned with some bread scraps, a little marmalade and a big jug of drinking water. The children ate, then slept.
Luba Tryszynska went to the hospital commandant, a Dr. Klein. She begged him to let her care for the children.
He was a murderer, she said later, but he spoke soft.
He said, You are a nurse, you belong to the hospital, not to these Jewish kids.
The Simplest Way
Still she pleaded. She would keep them out of the way, she said. He would never know they were in the camp. At last he agreed to look at the children.
Dr. Klein stood for almost a minute in the doorway of Luba Tryszynska's hut, watching the sleeping infants. Then he said, I will give you a barracks. You will have charge of all the children in the camp. There are 30 others here already.
It was not, she explained late, that he was a good man. He thought it was the simplest way. No one knew better than he how absurd it was to try keep all those children alive in Belsen.
Three days later, Luba Tryszynska had her barracks and her 94 children. The new ones were from Eastern Europe: A few Poles, some Czechoslovaks 18 were Russian.
Of course, as Dr. Klein believed, it was an absurd attempt. The camp's basic diet, at the time, seemed to be one of turnips and saltpetre. She went first to some Russians who had jobs in the hospital's central kitchen. She told them she had charge of 94 children in the camp all Russian.
Luba Tryszynska was no Communist, but she could lie for her charges as easily as she could steal for them. Comrades, she told the Russian workmen, I give you my word as a Bolshevist, if you get me food for these children and if I am caught they can kill me, but I will not tell where it came from.
Fought Cold and Hunger
From the kitchen to her barracks, she smuggled food she got from these Russians in the bottom of jars, the top half of which was filled with the regulation turnips. It was not much. A bit of flour for making tiny biscuits, a little sugar, some margarine, and now and then a small piece of horse-meat.
She cooked every night, all night long inside the barracks, feeding the children in groups of 20 while the rest slept. She did this to avoid calling attention to what was going on; in the daytime, the barracks were as quiet as though they had been deserted. At all times, the children stayed indoors.
Luba Tryszynska's hopeless attempts to keep the place and the children clean did not, of course, prevent them from becoming sick. Everybody was sick in Belsen. Like the others, the children almost all of them developed typhus and dysentery. She put bottles of hot water on their stomachs to try ease their terrible cramps. In winter she braved the guards to wander around the compound at night, endlessly searching for bits of wood with which to keep going the one stove in the barracks.
The youngest baby was obviously dying. She knew he could not be kept alive on little biscuits, ground horse-meat and water. One day, she told another nurse she was going to Joseph Kramer himself, the Beast of Belsen, dread commandant of the camp. She said she would ask him for milk for the children.
The Beast Listened
You are mad! her friend said. He will kill you.
It was a logical reaction. Kramer used to walk around Belsen with a whip in his hand, and it was his habit to use the whip on prisoners who approached him. In a bad mood, he would lash at anybody not quick enough to get our of reach.
Three time Luba Tryszynska made her way into his office. The first two times, he threw her bodily out of the room, but the third time she screamed at him that she would be paid whether he liked it or not. The squat, brutish sadist had not heard that kind of talk for a long time, and he hesitated for a moment. That opening was all she needed. She began to talk, so fast and loud that he listened in spite of himself.
He listened in silence for perhaps five minutes. Then, suddenly, he leaned forward and scribbled something on a piece of paper. He tore the paper from the pad, crumpled it in his hand and threw it in Luba Tryszynska's face.
Get out! he roared. Take your G-- d-- Jew b-- and get out of here!
The paper, she found, entitled her to five liters of milk from the camp stores.
Less than six quarts of milk for almost 100 children. Dr. Klein had been right, of course. The whole thing was obviously absurd.
Exhausted and Broken
Nine months after the children arrived at Belsen, the British Army arrived there. They were amazed by many things in that vast chamber of horrors. Nothing amazed them more than the children exactly 94 of them that they found alive in one ramshackle barracks building presided over by a Polish Jewess named Luba Tryszynska, exhausted, broken and fully middle-aged in her 28th year.
They made a good deal of her. They put her and the children in a special hospital and gave them the best care. An official of the British Red Cross began collecting material for a book about her. Incredulous doctors interviewed her, and came back to hear the story again.
Later, the Dutch Government provided a special airplane and she took the 64 Dutch children who had been dumped in the mud back to their homes in Holland. Queen Wilhelmina decorated her on behalf of the nation. The Angel of Belsen, the Queen called her.
Luba Tryszynska took to Sweden those of the other children, who like herself, were in the category of displaced persons. There they were put in a fine state orphan asylum. Many were quickly adopted into families in Sweden and Finland. Some were sent to new homes in Palestine through Youth Aliyah, an organization connected with Hadassah.
In Sweden, Luba Tryszynska married a handsome young Pole named Sol Frederich, whom she met in a DP camp. He had spent five years in Oswiecim, but she did not know him there. He had relatives in the United States.
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