[Page 108]

Alone in the Forests

by Moshe Hoffer (the man of Jaczysk)

In 1942 many Jews found refuge in the thick forest in the environs, and hid there in groups. The forests around Lizhensk covered vast areas and were very deep. Nevertheless, often a murdered Jew was found there, and it was obvious that the residents of the area had their hands in the matter.

There were also occasions where the gentiles would run and put themselves out to inform the Germans about hidden Jews. Until this day, I do not believe that they received any form of reward for this. They did this solely for the enjoyment of witnessing the death of Jews.

There was there a Christian dwarf woman who ran several kilometers in order to inform the authorities that three Jewish girls were hiding in the forest. They came to kill them that very day.

I hid with my wife and brother in a far off corner of the forest, and for some reason, they did not find me. There were occasions when I ran into a farmer or two, however since I was a healthy and powerful young man, they were apparently afraid of me and were careful.

We three discussed and decided that if it would happen that they would follow upon our heels, each of us would flee in a different direction, and a few days later, when the ways become clear, we would all meet together in the home of Lurisz the forester, an acquaintance who was compassionate to us.

That is what we did. When we felt that someone was stalking us, we separated and went in different directions. We hid in tunnels or upon trees in the forest. Once I ended up far away from my brother. Two days later I returned, and I approached the house of Lurisz with extreme caution. I felt that something was not proper there. I looked about and realized that my brother's clothes were fluttering on the clothesline. I understood and suspected. It was immediately obvious to me that they had murdered my brother, and that I must move away from there.

The problem was with weapons. It was not prudent to be alone without weapons. From where could I obtain these holy weapons? I lived for a number of days as a pursued animal, however I did not want to go far away from that area. I knew that in that area I would somehow find hidden weapons.

Once, one of the young men of the area, a friend of Julek Lurisz, the son of forester, met me. He told me that Julek murdered my brother with live ammunition. I searched for Julek, for I desired to find him, meet him and get even with him. I was enchanted with the idea of finding the weapons with which he had murdered my brother as well as taking revenge for the blood of my brother.

I ambushed him near the house day and night. On one occasion, all the men went out. Only the forester's daughters remained. I took the opportunity and ascended onto the upper chamber of the roof. I searched in the scattered hay. I found a revolver in one corner, and three bullets in another corner. I went back out to the forest with my great find. When the two of them returned, the father and son, they suspected something, and realized what had happened to them. They began to search for me between the thickets of the trees. They did not find me, however they did find the revolver that I had hid in the thickets.

In my heart, I decided to free myself of these friends. I suddenly realized that if I would not take care of them first, my life would be in constant danger. However, again – from where would I obtain weapons?

I went out some distance from my hiding place and arrived at the edge of the settlement in the forest. I knew that in the last house there could always be found arms. I would take them, and what will be will be.

I found a lone gentile in the far off hut. I requested that he sell me arms. I would give him the last fifteen dollars that I possessed. He did not agree. I threatened to beat him. He apparently made a calculation that he would obtain the money, and the weapons would eventually return to him if he would inform on me to the people of his village, who would then “take care of me”, since I only had a revolver without ammunition. I had thirty bullets. I showed him them and told him that if left the hut before I would disappear, he would forfeit his life. Only at that point did the gentile realize that, with me, there were no games in my situation. I left. I left with one thought, to liquidate Julek the son of the forester, lest he liquidate me.

We stalked each other for two days. Once my wife went out to the street to search for me, and Julek captured her. This time, the young man was intelligent. Rather than liquidating her immediately, he could turn her over to the Gestapo and receive money for her. I met them on the route. I saw Julek and my blood rushed to my head, the blood of my slain brother. I forgot that my wife was next to him. I shot and killed him.

We fled. We traveled day and night until we reached Krajowice, twenty kilometers away from Lurisz's house. I knew that they would conduct a search for me, and I would have to get far away.

Now, the main problem was food. When my brother was alive we managed. Now that I was alone, how could I leave my wife alone, forlorn. This was so difficult in my eyes that I was disgusted with my life.

I decided to search out some means. There were farmers who sold me food, and there were some who would give me without requesting payment. Michel Romanski of Jadszywka fed us for free. There were nights when we hid with him, and he endangered himself on our behalf. For the most part, I had to obtain my food through my own powers. I broke into locked areas and stole chickens from chicken coops. We subsisted. The situation became more serious, and we were forced to leave the area. There were too many dangers. There was reason to think that they would talk among themselves and chase after me. The ground burned below me.

We again fled.

One night, I arrived with my wife in Brozie. Dogs barked. Farmers left their houses, and suspected that strangers had arrived. I saw myself surrounded on all sides, so I jumped onto the rooftop of Wolek Dzdzycz. They did not find me. The captured my wife, and she stood alone. I peaked through the cracks in the roof and saw in the darkness of the night several farmers taking her toward town. I jumped from the rooftop, caught up with them, and shouted to them in Polish to stop. They apparently thought that this was a matter involving the A. K. and they fled.

We also fled.

Once we arrived to one of the fields of a gentile that we knew as a close friend, tired and crushed from fear and travail. His son requested that we immediately leave if we wish to remain alive. We were unable to leave the place due to our great weariness, so we remained. At night, it became clear to us why the gentile was afraid. We slept on the rooftop and suddenly the area below us was lit up with flashlights. Shouts were heard: “Jews, we have found you, come down to us.”

These were members of the A. K. He knew that they were waiting to come to him. He was forced to expose us. I saw that there was no other means, and I said to them: “Okay, we will come down. However why are you only concerned about us, for on the third road there are other Jews.” They believed us. The desire for murder, the bloodthirstiness for Jewish blood had blurred their reasoning. They went with joy and shouts to the third street. There was only one of them left to guard us. I seized the opportunity, came down from the roof, put on my shoes and began to flee. The shegetz began to run after me, and my wife also fled at that time.

In the interim, winter arrived again. The cold ate our bodies, which were stripped down to rags. We were weary of the constant fear, from the suspicion and persecution. The snow made our escapes very difficult. We always left behind footprints, which made our tracks obvious. My life became wearisome to me. Various thoughts came to my mind. If it were not for my responsibility to my wife, I would have come to a terrible decision.

In the meantime, the news came that the war would be ending soon. People were beginning to return to Lizhensk. The desire to live was reawakened. I decided to return to my town.

I could not bear the destruction of Lizhensk, the terrifying scene. On the one hand, there was sadness and loneliness, and on the other hand, joy over the calamity of our enemies, the Christian residents of the town. All of this did not permit us to remain in Lizhensk. I went with my wife to Krakow, and at the first opportunity, I left Poland, which was saturated with Jewish blood.

[Page 111]

My Visit to Lizhensk in 1950

by M. Spergel

{photos, meetings, and lists}

When I arrived in the middle of the day to the market plaza of Lizhensk, my former town, my beloved town, I froze like a stone. I was petrified.

Where was I? What business do I have here? What is my connection to this place?

When I regained my composure and began to think clearly again, I looked around and saw nothing of what I had been used to seeing. The marketplace was empty and desolate. This was the same marketplace that had always been familiar to me. The same houses stood around the marketplace, everything remained as before. The clock of the marketplace chimed, as it had done for years, but nevertheless, it was not the same. Was I having a summer dream? What was going on here? The desolate reality reminded me of a beloved past, which once was and had turned into a dream.

I stood in the corner of the marketplace. I got off the truck, which served as a bus. It had brought me here from Rzeszow. My eyes gazed on the second corner of the marketplace. There I saw a beautiful decorative garden that was surrounded by a lovely painted fence. I drew closer and saw stone monuments inside the fence, marked by a five-pointed star. They were graves. Later I found out that this was the burial place of the first Russian invaders, who fought with the last Germans as they were retreating.

I looked ahead, and saw ghostly figures before my eyes. These human forms were not known to me. They were strangers, not from here, they were superimposed, apparently, onto Lizhensk… these people did not pay attention to me, as if I was also one of them, a stranger among strangers.

I began to stroll slowly through the streets of the marketplace, between the rows of empty houses. A few of them were occupied by people who moved to here from Lemberg and its environs[3]. The rest of the houses had their windows boarded up by protruding planks, and a few were destroyed.

As I walked near the houses I felt that these desolate houses were staring at me like skeletons, staring out of their eye sockets and mourning to me: “Matityahu Spergel, look what has become of us. Do you remember the days when we were bustling with people, and with Jewish life? With pining Jewish youth, and singing and playing Jewish children?”

Yes, I remembered with certainty who lived in each house, how everyone conducting his life. Every house whispered to me about its history. A mournful dirge was emerging from each window, over the generations of Jews that lied their lives here and now are no more, about their joys and agonies, until the terrible storm arrived that swept them far away from here. Some were persecuted and exiled from their nest, and others were swept away with the broom of murder, to be slaughtered next to communal graves that they had dug with their own hands.

I reached my father's house. It was a ruin, a heap of old bricks. All the rows of houses next to it were empty, and the stores were closed. From the other side of the house of Reb Dovidel Rothman until the house of Yosef Kanner, there were only two government stores open. One was in the inn of Reb Yosele Sobel, which was now a cloth store. The daughter of Wladek Doganga occupied the office of Reb Alter Anfang of blessed memory, and Leje the daughter of the shoemaker was the cashier. The second store was in the workshop of Reb Shmelke Horowitz. It was now a vegetable store. Of all the rows of houses, only the house of Reb Bunim Zonenbilik was inhabited.

In the side of my uncle Kalman Kirshenblatt, the homes of Reb Zalman Naritzienfeld, Ber Strauch, Wolf Wachs, and Meir Strauch had stood. Now there is no memory of these houses. All of them had been destroyed. The ruins had been cleared, and in its place there was a well-tended decorative garden. It was now possible to easily see the Prosbita (church hall) and the house of the priest from there.

A store had been opened in the house of Mendel Spergel. This was the only leather store in town, and it was also government owned. The director was the youngest of the Krawociks, the youngest of three brothers who lived in a house next to the house of Reb Chaim Miller. I entered the store. Krawocik recognized me immediately and asked me to sit down. He had enough time on his hands to engage in a lengthy conversation. Purchasers did not pester him, for there were none at all. When I asked him about why there are no purchasers in the store, he answered me that the farmers do not come to town. Every village has its own cooperatives that supplied all their needs. During the conversation he informed me that the town library is now found in the upper level, which was the former living quarters of Mendel Spergel. I decided to go to the library, as perhaps I would still be able to find there some of the books from our “Tarbut” library, or books from the Workers' Library, which was founded many years ago by Leibush Reichenthal.

I found there a very well stocked library. The librarian politely answered all my questions, however to my dismay I did not find any of the books that I was seeking. When I asked her if she knew anything about the “Tarbut” books, it became evident that she had no idea at all to what I was referring.

I came down from the library. I strolled through the marketplace. Suddenly, someone called out my name. I saw someone whose head was looking down to the ground like a captive. He was shouting “Spergel! Spergel!”. It was Dzidek Heiwer, the shoemaker from old Ulszan. He had a wide smile on his face, and his only eye twinkled. He pointed downward and asked me:

“What do you see here? Who is this?”

I looked downward. It was a gravestone with the engraved name of Shimon Mosler. Next to it were other gravestones. The entire marketplace was paved with gravestones, with their engraving facing downward and their backsides facing up. On a few of them, the names that were engraved on the front were also engraved on the back, so it was possible to read the names of the Jews. They abused the Jews even after their deaths.

I attempted to walk toward the side, so that I would not trample on the holy remnants of generations of Jews whose graves had been desecrated by the Nazis. Next to the monument of Shimon Mosler was the monument of Chaim Shank. Both of them were resting on the side of the road of the train. I went to the house of Yosef Kanner, and I saw other stones whose engraving was exposed: Henia Kanner of blessed memory and Rachel Berger of blessed memory. Next to the house of Bunim Zonenbilik was a monument with the name Sheindel Zonenbilik of blessed memory. I surmised that the beloved Jews of Lizhensk, the last of those to be murdered in Lizhensk during the Nazi liquidation efforts were commanded to uproot the gravestones from the cemetery and use them to pave the marketplace. They attempted to place the stones near the homes of the deceased, so that they would be near their former dwelling places.

This was very blatant, and emphasized the greatness of the tragedy. What was transpiring with the uprooters of our holy monuments in the final moments of their lives, what game were those on their way to their deaths playing with the props of death and memory? Was this faith in the everlastingness of the soul, or a trick to anger the murderers?

{Photo page 113 – The storehouse that the Germans erected near the gravesite of Rebbe Elimelech.}

I arrived at the street of the synagogue. More than half of the street was completely destroyed. There was no remnant of the Great Synagogue, the Beis Midrash, and the kloiz of Reb Chanan Elimelechs. The new synagogue, which was built by Reb Berechel, stood intact. The Germans turned it into a flourmill. The houses from between the Hebrew School until behind the Beis Midrash were destroyed, and the empty field on that site, as well as the empty field that extended to the house of Elia Metzger served as a parking lot for the wagons of the farmers during the fairs.

The homes of Leibche Beril, Yankel Zales, and Falek Goldbrenner were completely destroyed. The guesthouse was in top condition, and was inhabited by Poles who had left Lemberg (Lvov) and the surrounding area, who were transplanted to Lizhensk. The bathhouse was intact, however its windows were sealed and boarded up, and its doors were locked.

As I returned along this road, I recognized that the on the wall of the house of Moshe Neuman where the road sign used to say The Street of the Synagogue (Ul. Boznica), it now says The Street of the Ruins (Ul. Ruina). I do not know if this was meant to be a sign of the change that took place, or a testimony to the abuse of our martyrs, which also exists in the progressive environment of nationalist Poland.

On Reisha Street, death abounds as it does in the entire city. One does not see a living being. Unexpectedly, Wladek Karaszinski and his wife appeared in front of me. As soon as they spotted me, his wife broke out in weeping and choking sobs.

“Where is poor Akiva. He was such an observant, believing Jew. He lived next door to me in neighborliness. If he had – he paid, and if he did not have – he did not pay, and I never said anything to him. What were we missing when there were Jews here?”

Sincere tears flowed from her eyes. Her husband stood next to her without uttering a word. He only shook his head in sorrow. There were the only Christians of all those that I had met who participated in the mourning over our calamity.

When I went down to Walawa Street, where Pinia Galler lived, I saw the valley. It was there no more, for it had been sealed up with ruins and leveled with earth. It was now level with the large field of the cemetery.

I the second home of Pinia Galler, the Christian Marguszka the large now lives. She lives there with her son Manek and daughter Zuszka, who was a former friend of Shrpintza Galler, the daughter of Pinia. I saw several children playing near the house. I asked them who lives there, and they told me:

“Our grandmother and mother.”

I immediately knew who they were. I asked the children to call them. Marguszka came out with her daughter. They immediately recognized me and began to tell of frightful incidents, one similar to the other. I had already heard many of these, and my head was full of them. My senses were becoming dulled to these, and I was becoming indifferent. The tales were horrific, one more frightful than the next, however for some reason I was becoming indifferent.

In the midst of their repetitive stories, they also related to me the following incident:

They were both standing at the threshold of thee house and they saw nearby in the cemetery a German arguing with two girls. One of them was Shrpintza, the daughter of Galler, who brought out a bundle of gold and other valuables from her bosom, in an attempt to redeem herself and her friend with this soul ransom. The German returned the objects to her, as he did not want them. The second girl was the granddaughter of Reb Shia Shiller, the daughter of the Wacholdars who was making the sign of the cross continuously and did not admit to her Jewishness. To their sorrow, this was to no avail for both of them. The German murdered them both… murdered both of them. The lust for murder was greater than the desire for a bribe and the fear of the cross.

I continued on to the Street of the Train. I saw that a saloon had been opened in Potasher's house. I entered. Urbanski, from the pig market, was standing near the food and drink area. He was pouring drinks for the farmers. He recognized me and came to me, greeted me, invited me to sit down, and immediately brought a bottle of drink and glasses. He requested that I drink with him. I suspected that he wished to apologize for something, that he thought that I suspected that he himself took the belongings of Potasher. He immediately began to relate that Yechezkel Potasher leased the saloon to him, and he pays monthly rent to the lawyer Jaszowci, who was appointed by Yechezkel as a guardian of his property.

We continued to sit. He literally forced additional glasses of drink upon me, and he continued to talk. He related that one time, late at night, someone knocked on his door. He opened out, and two people who he barely knew entered. They were Yusha Zeiwel and Dudenu, the son of Yoel Shaar. He was surprised, for it would be very dangerous if this became known to the Germans. He gave them enough food to fill them up, as well as provisions for the journey. When they left, he requested that they not come back to him, for he was afraid. However he promised them that he would place bread on his porch every evening, so that they could come in the middle of the night to take it. Thus continued every night – he concluded – until … until they were no longer in need of bread.

{Photo page 115 – One of the Potashers, Leibel Potasher of blessed memory, who died of hunger in the expanses of Russia.}

I met with a school friend of mine. He told me that near the end of the war, he saw a German bringing Yusha Zeiwel and Dudenu the son of Yoel Shaar to the marketplace. Yusha had a long beard, and the son of Yoel Shaar was clasping a loaf of bread in his hands.

On their final journey, Yusha said, so to speak, to his murderer: “Today you are taking us to be killed, tomorrow they will take you.”

It became clear that they hid the entire time in the attic of Dzik Zawilski on Reisha Street. They were able to withstand the Germans, however a small lack of discretion caused them to be turned in. It was explained to me that they hung out several rags to dry. A German noticed this and discovered them, captured them, brought them to the rear of Berger's garden and murdered them by the gate.

Their grave can be found there until this day.

The Szadlanska
Two Christian women whom I knew met me in the marketplace. I have forgotten their names. They informed me that they live on the Szadlanska in the house of Yisrael Kastan (who was known as the sausage maker). A family grave was found in the garden of this house, behind the window. They wished to participate in our grief, the grief of the Jewish people, and they told me that they tend to the grave and have planted flowers on it, and “the flowers are growing very nicely”.

In the grave below the “lovely flowers” rests Reb Yisrael Kastan, his wife, his eldest daughter and granddaughter. All of them were murdered by the Nazis and buried on the spot.

Their second daughter, the wife of Feivel Wagner, and her two children, were also murdered by the Germans and buried on that spot.

{Photo page 116 – A storehouse for building materials, which the Germans erected on the location of the synagogue and Beis Midrash.}

The Old Town
I heard the following from a farmer who is a resident of the old town. One day, they gathered together all the Jews of the old town, men, women, and children, and imprisoned them all in the garden of Melech Spiegel. They dug a large grave near the stable, shot them all, and threw them into the communal grave.

After I had finished seeing our town that was now a monument, all that was left for me to do was to go to see the cemetery.

As I neared it, I saw through the field the path and the outside of the cemetery. The farmers travel to their place via the holy place. The place had changed beyond recognition. There is not even a trace of graves, markers, and monuments.

The gate had been destroyed and no longer exists. They thick trees, which used to shade the monuments, had been uprooted. The entire area is desolate, without shade from trees and without green grass.

Since I am a Cohen[4], and I never before entered into the area of a cemetery, this time I also stood a distance away. I was silent. In the eyes of my spirit I suddenly saw a Jewish funeral in Lizhensk. The store shutters were closed. The shutters were lowered with a rolling sound. The doors were slowly shut, one after another. People dressed in black, with their heads looking downward, were all standing in small circles in the middle of the street, extolling the virtues of the deceased who was being brought to his rest.

Suddenly a heartrending scream broke forth, and people whispered: “they are already going out, they are walking”. Immediately thereafter the coffin covered in black was brought out, carried on the shoulders of four Jews. Those attending the funeral also walked with the procession. In the meantime, the old undertaker appeared with two black earthenware bowls, and his voice hummed out in subdued agony: “Charity saves from death .. charity saves …” Those attending the funeral would stick their hands in their pockets, take out coins and throw them into the bowls, convinced that they had found the antidote to death.

Before the gate of the cemetery, Reb Gershon threw the bowls to the ground, smashed them, and from the black shards took pieces to cover the eyes of the deceased.

I was silent. All this was in the past. Here, Jews lived. Here they conducted their lives, and whomever died had people to accompany him to his final resting place…

Now all the Jew of Lizhensk had disappeared without a funeral service, without a burial, without a monument, without having been helped. The charity did not save from death, and it did not even succeed in choosing a comfortable death for those who donated.

{Photo page 117 – Lizhensk in the memory of its children.}

I went to see the hilltop where the tent over the gravesite of Rebbe Elimelech from Lizhensk was situated. This place was called the “Holy Place”. I simply wanted to view the cave of the holy Rebbe, the famous holy tent, one more time, one final time. I did not find any trace of it. The place looked like the rest of the cemetery. There was no remnant or marker over the tent. In its place I only saw the remnants of the foundation of the tent that had been removed from their place.

Lizhensk my town, may your soul be bound in the bonds of everlasting life.

[Page 118]

A Visit to Lizhensk in 1959

by David Steinbach

To Reb Mendel Rothman of blessed memory, whom I visited

When I returned to Poland in 1959 from the Siberian tundra, I decided to visit the town of Lizhensk, where I spent most of my youth, and from where I had fled at the outbreak of the war in 1939.

I did not imagine that I would find an active Jewish community, as there was prior to the war. I had already heard about what had happened to the town of my youth. Nevertheless, hearing is not similar to seeing, and I wished to see my town with my own eyes one more time in my life.

When I descended from the train, I looked around to find a Jewish wagon driver who would bring me to the town. The technological era did not pass Lizhensk by. Now a fine, spacious bus makes its way from Podklasztor to the Rynek. It stops by the train station to transport those who arrived. I, nevertheless, decided to forgo the comfort, and I preferred to make the journey by foot. I walked around the town, including the suburbs, lengthwise and widthwise several times. An internal impulse spurred me on to go, to walk, and to search for anybody. I walked around aimlessly, without a specific plan or purpose. In a moment of clarity I realized that all that I was searching for and wished to find had passed from the world, never to return. In such moments, these facts seem more cruel and tragic than the human mind can understand, and one cannot expect clarity of mind.

Lizhensk appeared to me as a town of ghosts. I recognized the streets, houses, and empty fields, not by name and number, but rather by memory. I tried to imagine in my mind the Jewish people, families and children who lived there until the great destruction, generation after generation, as if they still lived and continued the Jewish traditions. Thus, step by step, I stopped in front of a house, yard, ruin or a simple alley. I had personal connections to many homes, such as my childhood home, the homes of my friends and relatives, etc.

I quickly arrived at the Rynek, to the house of Reb Moshe Neuman of blessed memory. On the way, I passed Boznica Street, the center of cultural, communal and religious life of Lizhensk of the past. Most of the homes were destroyed, the Jewish institutions had disappeared, and the synagogues, Beis Midrash, Talmud Torah, and Yavneh Hebrew School were all no longer in existence. The cemetery had also been ruined and destroyed. The Nazi monster and its helpers had no mercy even upon the honor of the dead and the resting place of our dear ones was abandoned and destroyed. Every empty house, or more accurately, every empty lot, brought back memories. Here was the room of Reb Yossel the teacher of blessed memory, where every child began his education by learning the alef beis. Next to it was the room of Reb Moshe Chaim the teacher, who taught Bible to the Jewish children. In its midst was the building of the Talmud Torah, where the students reached the level of study of Talmud and Jewish law.

In my imagination, I recreated the images of those who would come to the synagogues and study halls each morning and evening, some for study, some for prayers, and others just to catch some conversation about some matter or another.

{Photo page 119 – The tent over the gravesite that the Jewish of Vienna erected over the old location that had been destroyed.}

All this was and is no longer. All that is left is a silent and neglected valley, the valley of the cemetery with the renovated tent of Rebbe Elimelech of holy blessed memory, which stands lonely and desolate and reminds humanity of the terrible holocaust which was perpetrated, and of the Jewish life which was cut off with such great cruelty. Once in a while, a guest from among the holocaust survivors comes to lament, to accuse, to plead, and to shed tears.

As I returned to the town, I stopped by the home that was known as the kloiz of Reb Chana Reb Melechs of holy blessed memory. It was noontime, and I remembered the noble and honorable personality who used to sit there in prayer and supplication until late in the afternoon, with his voice being heard from outside the kloiz. Mendel Rothman of blessed memory was the name of that personality. For some reason, of all people, he appeared as if alive before my eyes.

There are other people among us who certainly remember Mendel Rothman before the First World War, when he was a rich man, a well-to-do merchant and building owner. I knew him when he was already old, in the twilight of his years. He was old, bent and broken, but he nevertheless maintained his image, and what great Jewish nobility exuded from his wretched appearance. He lived a life of deprivation, he fasted often, and he satisfied himself with little when his means became constricted and impoverished. He was always prepared to do charitable works, to lend money for supporting charity and helping the poor. Not only was his hand always extended, but one had the feeling that this Jew was always thankful for the opportunity to merit to do such a good deed, and thankful to the person who presented him with such an opportunity.

During my youth in the Beis Midrash, we organized a charitable group. We would collect money for the poor of our town and others who were in need of a loan. I do not remember even one occasion when Reb Mendel Rothman refused to lend the required amount for a set time. My father of blessed memory was one of his closest friends, and daily when father returned from the synagogue he would go for a short time to the kloiz to inquire about his well being. Reb Mendel would always ask him “Nu Meirish, perhaps today you need a bit of money for some Jew.”

He was a Belzer Hassid and never once neglected to send a set sum to his Rebbe at the appointed time. I remember one occasion where my father of blessed memory raised a significant sum for a Jew, a discrete poor person who had lost his livelihood. Mendel Rothman took out of his pocket 50 zloty, which was such a sum that even a very rich person in our town would not have been willing to donate.

I stood as the image of Reb Mendel Rothman stood before the eyes of my imagination, as an example of the high stature of the Jews of Lizhensk, and I thought: “The town is destroyed and cannot be saved, we cannot save any of the dear people who have passed on and who are here no longer. How can I preserve the value of such people, who lived and conducted their activities in this town and brought it fruits of glory, in order to transmit this value to us and our children.”

We must relate the praises of such people of stature, and whoever relates more shall be praised.

[Page 121]

Myself, Death, and Meirish Steinbach

by M. Spergel

My feelings upon taking leave of Lizhensk were the same as the feelings of us all: pain, collapse, and the end of the world. I will relate what happened after that. All of this is in honor of the spiritual greatness of Reb Meirish, whom I will never forget – whom we will never forget.

At first, I was exiled to the plains of Siberia. After fifteen months I was freed, and permitted to travel to wherever I wished. I wished to travel to a warm climate to warm up my spirit. I went to Samarkand.

In Samarkand, I found shelter near the train station for several days. I was not able to find a place to live. The city was overflowing with Jewish refugees from Ukraine and Poland. I found out that a group was going out to the kolkhoz farms[5].
I did not know in which direction they were traveling, however I decided to travel with them rather than roaming about day and night in the street.

We traveled for several days until the train tracks ended, and then we descended from the train. At the station, I met with several people whom I knew, who like me were traveling without a clear objective. Avraham Horn and his wife were there. We lodged in the train for several days until we found shelter. After several days Avraham returned without his wife. She died on the train. Death began to visit us.

Khazakhs with camels arrived and began to “load” the people, alive and dead, onto the simple saddles of the “desert boats”. They tied everything with ropes, including the people, so that they would not fall off the camels as they moved. The caravan set out for the far off kolkhozes.

I was lucky. They loaded me on a wagon together with my brother and sister. We traveled through wide plains, until we arrived at a school where thousands of people lodged in cramped conditions. We were also put in with them. This was a mixture of all types of people: professors, doctors, lawyers, and simple folk. There were many families with several members, and there were also a large number of wanderers who had been freed from the famous Russian camps. They saw themselves as “privileged”, and they placed themselves down anywhere. They wore torn and tattered clothing, and spent their days in removing lice. If they remained in our vicinity for even one night, they would infect all the people with lice, without any recourse.

When I awoke the next morning I saw next to me people who had died in the meantime, naked as on the day of their birth. The “privileged ones” stripped their clothes and took them to the Kazakh town in order to use them to purchase food.

The dead lied among the living, and the living moved away from them. Like embezzlers, blind and lame, they had to always be on the move. In the afternoon the Kazakh funeral workers arrived, loaded the dead onto wagons and brought them to dog graves, away from human habitation, on the wide plain.

The first to die from hunger were the intellectuals. They died like flies. The simple folk displayed greater strength and were able to withstand the difficulties.

There, I met Avraham Horn again. I met him the public kitchen where they distributed a plate of thin soup to us. Two days after we met I saw him again, having become larger, bloated from hunger. By the morning he had also died.

That day we went to the kolkhoz and received “proper” accommodations in a donkey trench next to the kolkhozes, which was known as “Zamlianka”.

We immediately went out to the plain and plucked dried grass that was called “Dziosan” in order to make bedding. We slept on the floor.

In the kolkhoz, we found about ten people from the camps. A few died of hunger before our eyes, and the rest, with their legs covered with rags, left.

Reb Yisrael Feldstein, and elderly man from Przeworsk, was with us along with his single daughter. His wife had died in the plains of Siberia. He was a healthy Jew, full of life. He always roamed around the huts looking for some job, but there was nothing to grasp on to. In a short time he fell into a state of deep apathy. He lied on his “dziosan” and did not want to move from his place, even to eat or drink. His daughter begged him to eat, to arise and strengthen himself, and to walk a bit in the clear air. He did not complain about pain, for he suffered from no ailments. To every question about what is wrong he said: “I have no problem, however I have nothing to get up for”. The man was stripped of all desire for life. He did not request anything, he made no demands, he only continued to life down without movement. He accepted the food that his daughter brought him after pleas and tears. The food was bread roles that we baked in a pot with out own hands.

Thus did Reb Yisrael lie for a few weeks until he passed away.

After his funeral we removed his dziosan mattress in order to air it out, and we discovered an additional detail that hastened his death. All of the roles that his daughter brought him dropped out of the mattress. Apparently, he placed them under his mattress and did not eat them.

There were two other families from Rozwadow there. One was Reb Leibel Halbital, with his wife and six year old son. The two parents died of hunger shortly after they arrived, and the child was placed in the children's house. I don't know what became of him.

The second family was that of the son of the rabbi of Rozwadow, with his wife and three children. They remained in the kolkhoz for a period of time and decided to move to Turkestan. However, death caught up to t hem even there. The parents and the eldest daughter died of hunger, and I do not know what became of the other children.

This was a period of waiting for certain death. A miracle occurred to us, and myself, my brother and my sister all remained alive.

The city was filled with Jews, primarily Polish Jews. All of them roamed about the market place, looking for a bit of livelihood, however only a very few were able to find such. Most of them roamed about the city with worn out clothes, neglected, awaiting certain death. Every morning brought with it new names who were erased from the book of life. Once it became known to me that Suzi the daughter of Yaakov (Yankel) Horn and her husband Chaim Metzger of Rzeszow were among the dead.

I also wandered around aimlessly, consumed by hunger and despair. I tired of life. Every day was like a year. During the nights I asked for death. When I awoke in the middle of a long winter night and it was still dark, I prayed that the darkness would continue forever, for the days were particular despised by me.

I was hungry, starving, dirty and forlorn. To my good fortune, I still had my Polish army tunic that served me as clothing for the day and a blanket at night. With it, I was able to sleep in any place that was available, at time on a sidewalk on a side road, at times on the ground of an open corridor, and at times resting against the wall of a house that was not known to me.

My future held only one possibility – death from hunger. I decided to continue along the way, it did not matter to where, but what could I do in that I held no certificate which would have granted me the right to travel in the breadth of Russia, and no money to purchase a train ticket. Whatever I would do, I would be liable for imprisonment and exile.

It is interesting that the possibility of imprisonment appealed to me. I knew that at least I would have a roof over my head, shelter from the cold, and food – which would enable me to protect my body from perishing.

It was February, 1944. I went covered with my trusty Polish captain's tunic. I wandered through the snowy streets and arrived at the railway tracks via a back route. A short time later, I heard the whistle. As the train was about to leave I jumped on. I remained there hanging on the stairs of the wagon, grabbing on to the door handle with my remaining strength in order not to fly off as the train sped away.

This effort not to fly off instilled in me a desire to live. For some reason I began to believe that there, far away, perhaps on the other side of the dark mountains, good would begin. “It will be good. It will be good.” Thus did the train tracks hum their tune into my ears and heart.

Day broke. I peered into the wagon and saw that it was full. It was full of people who were traveling properly. Only I was outside, cast off from human company. The doubt returned again to my heart. The door opened and a N.K.V.D. man invited me in.

“Please inform me: Why are you not in the train? Why are you traveling like this outside?”

I told him the entire truth.

He frisked my clothes, and inspected my body to see if anything would contradict my story. When he or his companions did not find anything, they sat me on a bench and guarded me.

In the meantime, I warmed up after a freezing night in the wake of the wind of the speeding train. It was good for me.

We arrived at the station in the city of the Ariz region. I was taken off the train and brought to the office of the director of the N.K.V.D.

From his glance I realized that he was not particularly happy to see me. My skeletal face and poor man's clothing did not impress him. After an extremely short interrogation he told me to go wherever I wanted, but that I was not to travel on a train, because…

“If you are captured for a second time, you will not receive a reprieve from punishment and imprisonment.”

I left. The train was still on the tracks. I went to the other side of the tracks, and as the whistle blew on the first train, I stood again on the steps of the wagon ready to fly as I had done previously.

However fine minutes later I was brought in again, and that same man was beside me:

“You are returning” – he asked – “in the same direction. Hey?”

I promised him one hundred rubles and raveled as one of the honored passengers in first class.

In that cabin traveled only profiteers and money smugglers. Jews were in “the same class” as members of he famous Soviet intelligence agency. They accepted me into their company with honor. One stop before Tashkent they informed me that we must hurry and get off because “in Tashkent there is a full fledged inspection.”

We got off and walked to Tashkent. There, members of my new group scattered, and walked toward the center of the city, as if it was familiar ground to them. I stood wondering what to do. I did not think about food. Even though I was very hungry, my only thought was to find shelter for the night.

I reached the corner of a street, and I rested against a wall of a house and stood there in a daze. Food did not interest me.

{Photo page 124 – Meir Steinbach in Siberia.}

I was beyond the need for food. I thought only about a corner for myself. Night began to fall. The cold penetrated to my bones and instilled in me a blinding fear. I thought that it would not be the hunger, but rather the cold, that would do me in. I knew that my end was near.

I apparently spent long moment in this daze. My strength drained, my sight dimmed and my hearing dwindled. I stood as a stone, and these agents of death approached me with a certain apathy. I was familiar with them from before. I knew that this time there was no escape from them.

Suddenly, I heard someone call my name with a Lizhensk accent – “M. why are you standing here?!” I moved, and I thought that this was nothing other than an additional deceitful image of being close to death. I opened my eyes, looked around, and saw a man dressed in a fine suit. I did not recognize him.

He did not abandon me. It became clear that this was Y. N. At his request, I accompanied him home. Along the way I explained him that I am in a very bad situation. He told me that his uncle Meirish Steinbach was here, and it would be good for me to go to him.

The name Meirish Steinbach reminded me about something in Lizhensk. I knew that if he was there I would be saved. It was known that Meirish does not make one step if not for the purpose of saving lives, helping and supporting people.

Nevertheless, I still held me doubt, lest he no longer conduct the same activities, and lest his position and outlook here was different than it was in Lizhensk.

He greeted me on his porch with a hearty greeting, in accordance with Belzer custom. He immediately said:

“Sit down at my table, my dear one”.

Immediately, bread and bread and butter were set on the table. Oh G-d, my eyes were darkened, I did not believe that I would ever see these two foods again in my life? How could I have ever thought that someone would have invited me to eat in these days?

Reb Meirish noticed my perplexity. He cut me a large slice, buttered it, and literally placed it into my hands, and he said:

“Eat, eat”.

I could not just eat. I gorged myself, and swallowed piece after piece until my hunger had been sated.

After I was full, he approached me and asked me from where I had arrived, and what had happened to my brother and sister. He spoke comforting words to me.

“Don't worry. Stay here with me until you become well rested and return to your strength, to your former self. Then you will travel to Yangiyul, an hour from Tashkent. There, there are two factories. Jews from our area work there. You will also become settled there and be like the other Jews.”

My hope returned to me. All of my dreams came back: this house, the cleanliness, the rest, and the camaraderie. I again believed in “those days”.

To my poor fortune, I took ill the next day. The doctor that was called diagnosed me with “an intestinal inversion”, and ordered me to come immediately to the hospital for surgery. The changes of surviving such an operation were very small, even though this was the only course of action. I begged Meirish to let me die in his house, and to bring me to a Jewish burial.

He did not answer me. I remained with him. My pain grew, and I screamed out in pain. I knew that I was stealing rest from my benefactor, and I requested that he take me to the hospital.

His daughter Arna took me to the hospital. They did not find a place for me. They then took me to a large hospital, which was directed by a Jewish doctor, a well-respected professor. He was a typical Jew, small in stature, thin and bearded.

H accepted me immediately. On account of my Jewishness he found me a place. He was also of the opinion that I must be operated on as soon as possible.

I parted from Arna, took of my coat and asked her to give it to my sister so that she would be able to protect herself with it, and also find out about my death.

They put me in a clean and polished room. The professor arrived immediately with another doctor. They conducted a lengthy examination, and gave the nurse a syringe to inject me. They left.

The next day, the orderly came and brought me a loaf of fresh white bread with a note from Arna. She informed me that she would come every day with a loaf of bread, and that I should write my message and transmit it to this orderly.

I immediately answered her: “I ate the bread with an appetite. I feel well. After the injection, my pain subsided completely, and I await her visit.”

The next day, I heard nothing from Arna. Neither did I the day after. Two more days passed without any message and without the loaf of bread that I eagerly awaited. I eagerly awaited her visit.

In the meantime, the professor tended to me several times a day. He came to me as if I was his only patient here. It was as if he was an angel sent from heaven.

It was March, 1944. Myriads of people were burned daily in the furnaces of the gas chambers. Thousands perished from hunger in the streets and died as flies. The entire world was a battlefront. The darkness of despair fell upon the human race, and man acted as a wild beast toward his fellow.

For me in the room, the sun shone as it did every day. Every day the door opened, and the “angel” with the goatee entered accompanied by his students, conducted a thorough examination on my body, and left.

On one occasion, a nurse came in when as they left the room, gave me a large injection. After a sleep of several hours, I awoke healthy and completely cured.

At that time when I awoke free from all pain, and with a clear head, the door opened half way, and the professor peeped in. When he saw that I was already awake, he entered, sat down beside me and asked about how I feel. He added – “Now you are back with us.”

The hint was clear.

He stroked me for a moment and asked me suddenly: “Do you speak Hebrew?”

After I answered him, he parted from me, and I never saw him again. Does anyone know what became of him? I do not know! I do not know who he was!

I was promptly discharged from the hospital.

As I left, the cold air blew against me. The cold was still in its full strength. I remembered the coat that I had given to Arna, and I remembered Arna. I went to a barbershop to shave and get a haircut. From the mirror, a long drawn face stared at me. I barely recognized myself. My appearance was quite strange that day, as I was wearing a summery white shirt and sandals on my feet.

I then decided to go to find out what was with Meirish and Arna. The minutes were very long, and I was quite worried about them. I recalled her expected visits that did not take place, and I could not imagine the reason.

When I opened the door of their house, they were all startled, and there was a look of perplexity on their faces.

It now became clear.

The orderly did not give my letter to Arna, and they were sure that the operation did not succeed. The recital of the Shema prayer almost came from their lips as they saw me as an image of a corpse who had been resurrected.

I went to Yangiyul in accordance with Meirish's plan. I worked, and I eventually made aliya. The details are not relevant here. However the important thing is that I am recalling Reb Meirish of Lizhensk, who retained his humanity during all the tribulations. I recall him here so that his memory should live forever in the book of Lizhensk.

He lived as a tzadik and died as a tzadik. He merited to make aliya to Israel, and to spend the last years of his life in Jerusalem the city of his dreams. One morning, during the course of his customary studies, he put his head down on his book and Reb Meirish went to sleep forever.

{Photo page 127 – The Steinbach family.}

[Page 128]

One of the Righteous Gentiles

by Berta Perdover-Zaltz

Here it is appropriate to mention one of the righteous gentiles. This was the teacher who hid and saved my sister's daughter. His roots were from a noble family, and his wife was also a teacher. He was only 25 years old. His family became poor. His mother and sister continued to live on their small estate near Krakow, and the son studied education. He was a liberal and held a very broadminded outlook. He was disgusted with his stale pedigree, he loved people, and had no toleration for perversity. In particular, he did not pay attention to differences of origin. He was a faithful patriot of his Polish people, however he did not hide from its bad side, and knew that the Polish nation was not tending toward good and kindness for reasons of religion, origin, or pedigree. He was not like that. As a poor person, he contributed some of his meager money toward our publications, to publish “pamphlets” etc. in order to try to save us.

We knew him when we were in Grodzisk. He had an aunt there, the widow of a doctor who was from Lizhensk. We would come to the aunt to request books for the children.

In general, we had various Polish saviors. There were those who made promises to us, took the property, and then… There were others who themselves killed and buried us, or turned us over to the Gestapo.

A few were deeply religious. They feared their god and were full of pride if they would help out once in a while. The third group was made up of those Poles who had little faith, and lacked any sense of responsibility. Those did not think deeply. They took the property and thought yes, yes, no, no. If they would be successful, how good, and if not, they would find a way to free themselves from he murder and bloodshed.

In my experience, there were saviors from all the types I mentioned. The woman who saved my children was concerned only with money, and she had no interest in winning over souls to her religion. I understood her intentions and fears. I told her that one of her neighbors was following her actions on my command. She was forced to act properly. However this teacher Zygmunt Sziliga displayed simple proper actions. Even after we had been locked into the ghetto, he found pretexts to enter there. He brought us the keys to his house near Krakow and told us that if we feel danger approaching, we should flee from the ghetto, make way to Krakow, enter his house and inform him.

During one "Aktion", his house actually saved my children and my niece. He did an additional good deed for my niece. He took the food ration card of his sister, who was the same age as her, and gave it to her without the knowledge of his sister, so that she would be able to obtain food during the time of siege.

Later, he made a plan to bring us to his nephew who owned estates and forests in the area of Tarnopol. He told his relatives there that we were his relatives from the other side who had been caught doing underground activities, and now must flee and hide far away from home.

Since he knew that his nephew was a Polish patriot, he knew that this story would convince him, and the plan would be successful. He had to prepare papers for us and transport us to a secure location. He was so sure of his plan that he himself covered all expenses. He even set out toward Tarnopol himself.

He wrote down various numbers that stood for our ages. He also wrote down an address so we could write to our contacts. The address was Dolgasza St. 14 in Lublin. He made all the accountings. To our dismay, he did not succeed in this. They stopped him along the way. For quite some time we did not know what happened to him. His wife who did not know anything of his plan to save us did not know what to tell us. He did not take her in his confidence.

Later we found out that he was imprisoned in Lemberg. They tortured him for several days, and knocked out his teeth. They wanted him to reveal the secret behind the numbers, and what was on Dolgasza 14.

Regarding the numbers he told them that he was keeping track of his expenses. He said that the address was that of former acquaintances whom he intended to visit. They beat him terribly in order to extract from him the names of the Jews whom he intended to save, or to find out if he was working for the underground.

He held his silence. They freed him. He returned home as a broken man. His greatest suffering was not from his torture or bodily pain. More than that, he was dismayed that he did not succeed in helping us. He snuck back into our ghetto. It was difficult to recognize him. We thanked him and comforted him.

He left us weakened and broken.

I met him after the war. He never forgave himself that he was not able to help us and save us.

[Page 130]

Murder in Lizhensk and Grodzisk

by B. Zaltz

The morning was very sunny. I went to the marketplace, the place where horses and wagons arrive from the entire region. I hoped to find there farmers from Grodzisk, and that I would be able to go to that village.

It was still early. I entered an inn to buy a glass of tea and a roll. In the meantime, many Poles arrived from the town and its environs and conducted conversations between themselves. By eavesdropping upon them, I was able to glean some information about what had taken place over the past few days. During the course of their discussions, they described the murder of a number of Jews who returned to their homes in their town of Lizhensk after the holocaust.

Apparently, nine Jews returned to Lizhensk and lived together in one house. Some people came at night and threw a bomb into the house. All of them were killed. There was a debate among them. Some said that this was good, for what more do Jews want to find here? Who needs them here? On the other hand, others said that, even though there is no need for them, it was possible to have warned them to leave, and if they would not have left we could have been able to take appropriate measures. Both sides agreed that no crime or travesty was committed here, for if there were still Jews alive, they would now know not to come here again, for we will kill them like mice.

They did not suspect that I was a Jewess and that I was eavesdropping. I paid and left. My plan to go to the cemetery or to search out Jews that had remained alive was cancelled.

I passed by the new “communal grave” near the house that was bombed. In that house, nine Jews were so cruelly murdered by their former neighbors, and perhaps by their debtors. This was after they had survived the entire inferno of the holocaust for so many long years and remained alive. My lips moved with the prayer “Yitgadal Veyitkadash…”.

I boarded a wagon that was traveling to Grodzisk, and there I found myself in the midst of new events.

In that small town, I spent twenty long months with my sister and my young children. I became familiar with the lives of the few dozen families that lived there, and became a living witness to their actions.

I neared the streets and homes of the Jews with a fearful and trembling heart. Even though I knew the truth, I nevertheless expected that perhaps someone would show up and the Judaism that I knew so well would be exposed. To my sorrow, nothing happened.

The wagon driver returned me to reality. He asked where to take me, and where my family whom I am visiting lives.

I told him that I was going to the schoolteacher (this was the wonderful soul who was arrested and torture in his efforts to help us).

He brought me to the house of the teacher. I found him home, and his joy upon seeing me was exceedingly great. His wife also was happy along with him, however I was forced to present myself as a non-Jew to his older children, as a distant relative whom they did not know.

I went in with him to a separate room. He informed me that not one of the local Jews returned. He was certain that they had all perished. He did tell me that one young boy from my family was saved and came here at the conclusion of the war. However, as soon as they saw him on the street, someone shot him in the neck and killed him.

I was extremely troubled by the story, the event, the fact. I came very close to being able to find someone whom I had hoped to see, and lo, he was murdered with such cruelty. This was 19-year-old Shimon, a relative of mine. He paid with his life because his “heirs” did not want to return to him any of the booty that they had stolen.

The teacher offered me his assistance if I wished to go anywhere. He informed me that was dangerous to appear alone on the street.

I went with him to one of the rich and honorable people of the area with whom my sister had left her valuable furs. These were valuable firs: nutria, beaver, marten, etc.

I arrived at that gentile's house in the afternoon with my dear escort. My friend the teacher explained to him that me and my two children were, thank G-d, saved from the tragedy, and that the two sons of my sister also survived. He told him that we were very poor and that we request that what belongs to us should be returned to us. He added that one of my sister's children is handicapped, since one left was cut off. He further explained to him that he attests that I am the sister of the person who left the valuable goods to be hidden with him.

The farmer told us several stories. He informed us that everything had been pillaged. He kept us until the evening. My faithful redeeming angel of an escort became very nervous. He suspected that something was about to happen, that something was going on that I did not perceive.

We left his place. When were a few hundred meters away, my escort removed me from the road and pushed me into the fields. With his other hand he pulled off my bright kerchief from my head lest they detect it from afar even in the darkness of the night and figure out where we were. He ordered me to bend down and lie on the ground. He also did so.

Immediately, we heard several shots from the direction of the roadway. When the shooting stopped, we snuck around to the other direction and arrived at his home in a roundabout manner.

As we arrived at his home, he ordered me to wait for a while in the vestibule. He went in himself, and turned off the lights in the house. He took extreme precautions. He suspected that someone may have followed us and was stalking us outside, and when they would recognize me with the lights of the house, they would shoot and kill me.

I spent that night in pain and tribulation. The next morning was bright and clear. We made all the preparations to that I could escape from that hell as soon as possible.

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Translator's Footnotes :


  1. Lemberg (Lvov) was part of Poland before the war, and was annexed to the Ukrainian S.S.R. after the war. Apparently, some of the Polish population would have moved to Poland proper. Back

  2. The Jewish people are divided into three groupings, Cohanim (Cohens or Priests), Levites, and Yisraelim. The Levites are descendents of the tribe of Levi, and the Cohanim are descendents of Aaron, the brother of Moses. In the time of the temple, the Cohanim and Leviim had extensive ceremonial duties. Very few of these remain today, however Cohanim are prohibited by Jewish law from entering into a cemetery, except for the funeral of a close relative. Back

  3. Kolkhoz is a Soviet collective farm. Back

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