by Chaim Babitz (Tel Aviv)
In memory of Rivka
Translated by Pamela Russ
February 8, 1945, an ordinary day, remained in my memory as a fearful day; it brought years of intolerable pain and danger of death for my two children. On this day, the lives of nine families were overturned, as fate led them, in the days of destruction, through all kinds of roads and side roads to the Soviet territory, to the unfamiliar village of Baranowka, not far from the Volga, in the Ulyanowsker region.
In that village, these nine families went through the war years, and then later, the devastation of the families when the nine men were ripped away from their wives and children for long years in prison camps and for perpetual exile… The close group of women had lost their only protectors in this farflung village, far from their homes and families, and the hearts of the children were in pain over the crime of having stolen away their young fathers whom they hardly yet knew…
Who can describe the hellish interrogations of these nine men and the pain of the broken children and wives? One of the children was five years old, and the other three, and after my arrest, and after their mother was murdered by Nazi hands, they remained completely orphaned.
As one of the nine that remained alive, I hold it as my duty to reveal openly what happened to me and around me. That which happened to the known social activists mainly evokes repercussion and reaction, but one also needs to know what happened with the simple worker and ordinary people.
My arrest on that day, February 8, 1945, was not my first arrest, and this is how it happened. In the quiet village of Baranowka, we waited for the spring in nature and also for the spring in humanity, which we hoped would bring the end of the war. My mind was filled with these thoughts when I heard about the events in the big world, and at the same time I could not free myself from the heavy feeling that we, the nine lost families from Poland, would not live to meet the spring…
There was a heaviness to our mood, and fear moved through the air. In the town, good friends appeared with chance visitors, and they told fantastic stories about their efforts to escape to a foreign country. They went from one Jewish home to the next, searching for friendship, and in that way, just through talking, created contacts, and tried to listen to what the Jews in the village had to say … offering all kinds of suggestions.
And then we found out that one of us nine had disappeared. We began to understand who the good friends were, and what the goal was of them coming to us. That was the Ulyanowsker MGB [Ministry of State Security, or secret police] sending its first military intelligence person, Roibfeigel, the trouble maker for the Jews. Meanwhile, it became like Tisha b'Av [the ninth day of the month of Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple] for us, because of our first arrest. His wife knew that from his workplace, they simply sent him on a mission to Ulyanowsk, but he never came back. She ran to all the police stations, but no one, it seemed, knew where her husband was. Also, in Ulyanowsk, where she went with great difficulty, they gave the same answer, that they did not know. The shrewd, cynical group of the MGB …
… explained to her that her husband had run away from her and for sure by now he had another woman…
Afterwards, another commander arrived; he [another of the nine] was also a bookkeeper, who, because of his work, would be sent on assignments from time to time. But this time, he already did not come back. The group of nine became very distraught. It seemed like the old Yiddish folksong:
We were nine brothers
And we traded with clothing,
One of us died,
And then we were eight.
And the song goes on:
We were eight…
And each time we were less.
On one of those days, I awoke and prepared to go to work as a carpenter for a group of geologists who were looking for petroleum wells [sources]. Before I went to work, I would always seat my two children on a sled and take them to the kindergarten, and after work I would pick them up and take them back home. But on that day, my children were somehow less calm than usual… I had to stop a few times and settle them down on the sled. Before leaving them, I spoke to my son sternly, saying that if he would act like that again in the sled on the way, he would have to walk. But to this he replied miserably: It doesn't matter, I won't be going with you again. … And that's exactly how it was, according to his prophecy.
After work, I went on the footpath that led to the kindergarten to pick up my children. Suddenly I heard someone calling out my family name. I turned my head and saw that in the area of the open field someone was coming in my direction on a parallel path. The person looked like a stranger to me and I didn't have any interest in stopping. I pretended not to hear and continued on my way. But he called my name again and quickened his steps. I saw that I had nowhere to go in the open field, and I remained still. Other than me and this stranger, there was no one else. It seemed that all the people had agreed that it would be better to remain indoors on this wintry evening rather than to watch what would be going on in the field. The stranger in civilian clothing approached me, and now I no longer had any doubt about who I was dealing with.
He asked if he had called me by my right name. I said yes, that's right. He told me to go with him, but I said that right now I could not because I had to pick up my children from kindergarten. The staff had already ended their work there and the children were without supervision on the streets in this terrible cold, and whatever would be here, I still had to go and take the children home. And there was no mother waiting for them. I suggested that he come with me or that I go to him later. He said that they needed me in the militia only for five minutes, I only had to clear up something there. But as he saw that I was going to resist, first of all in order to get the children home he took out from his left …
… boot a long, pointy Finnish knife and from the right side of his coat a loaded revolver. He ordered me to go straight forward, with a threat that if I took one step to the right or left, he would shoot me like a dog, and then he showed me with one motion how skillfully he could work his knife. It really was a sight, that he was such a master with the knife. He probably learned this and practiced this art as a young child. So I walked in his accompaniment and I tried to convince myself that this whole thing wasn't so serious and that there was nothing to fear. But soon the exact opposite revealed itself.
When we came to the military office, I saw that all the armed powers of the village were in full readiness. They opened a side door widely for me and they told me the news: You see, a wide door to come in, but a narrow door to go out… As I crossed the threshold of the military office, a loud commotion began around me. It was about five in the evening, but they were already closing up the shutters and dropping the curtains. Because of all these safety precautions, one might think that this was because here was a leader of a fortified army that was preparing for an onslaught, and that his arrest might create trouble…
As soon as they completed [putting in place] the safety precautions, the hero of the revolver and the Finnish knife took out a piece of paper from his pocket in order to read it. I did not know what was going on, but I did understand that this was not good. What was written on the paper was that the public prosecutor of the Ulyanowsker district was accusing me of counterrevolutionary activities, according to the 58th paragraph of the penal code's 10th and 11th points, and that the public prosecutor sanctioned my arrest, whose enactment was given to investigating judge, Majer Gavrielov. The knife hero, my escort, stated that he actually was this Majer Gavrielov. What this paragraph and its points in the penal code actually stated I did not know, but within five minutes everything became clear.
There was whispering around me. Someone had pity on me and was talking about getting a coat for me so that I wouldn't freeze. Soon they told me to get up, and they wrapped me completely in the coat in such a clever way that my eyes were hidden and my mouth shut. Along with that came a strict warning from Majer Gavrielov that any attempt to scream would immediately be stifled. I had to know that I was in the hands of the MGB [Ministry of State Security, or secret police], and not in the hands of the militia…
They threw me into a harnessed sled with three escorts who sat on top of me… A dark night, with a stormy wind blowing wildly and I could not call to anyone for help. But one thought tormented and agonized me: Were my children still waiting at the kindergarten for me to pick them up and take them home? Did they now know that from now on they did not have a father either? The sled took me to unknown places, and who knew where this road went. The question of where to began to torment me. The closest train station was a total of eleven kilometers from our town (by train 400 kilometers to the city of Ulyanowsk), but it seemed to be taking too long. We were already far from the train station, so where were they taking me?
The intense darkness began to displace my clear thinking. My fantasies played out: the sudden secret arrest, the threats with a knife and a revolver, and all the security fuss around me so this meant that they would kill me in secrecy. I once read about this, where they captured and murdered people from other political factions… But yes, I thought to myself, who am I? Am I on that level of a Matteotti* [Giacomo Matteotti was head of the Italian Socialist Party. On May 30, 1924, he openly spoke in the Italian Parliament against Mussolini alleging that he and the Fascists had committed fraud in the recently held elections, and denounced the violence they used to gain votes. Eleven days later Matteotti was kidnapped and killed by Fascists.] and his likes? Would I, the regular carpenter, merit such an honorable death? … But the Ulyanowsker MGB knew that I was endangering the existence of …
… the Soviet government and they were going to shoot me like a dog… The writings of my friend Beinish Mikhalewicz came to mind how he became gray in one night, and I promised myself that if I would still be alive tomorrow then I would look to see if I had turned gray or even white. But all of a sudden, the sled stopped, and the order was given for me to get down. It was still pitch dark and a shadow ordered me to move forward.
They took me inside a cabin. From the talk of those around me, I understood that here in this cabin was the management of a kolkhoz [collective farm owned by the Soviet Union]. Majer Gavrielov of the Ulyanowsker MGB ordered the director of the kolkhoz to wake up the manager of the horses' stalls and he asked that they immediately harness the best horse that the kolkhoz had. All this should be completed in fifteen minutes. Deathly afraid simply of the term MGB, the sleepy kolkhoz member rushed to carry out the orders. Meanwhile, for me this was a relief: This meant that they were taking me farther. If they would want to murder me, then why would they take me farther? … With a gallop, they took me farther through snowy, unfamiliar fields and forests. To my great surprise, a light shone in through a small opening in my coat. Seemed like an electric light. Looked like it was from a train station, and we would, it seemed, go farther and meanwhile I had not been murdered…
It actually was a train station and they were supposed to take me to Ulyanowsk, but in order that our town not suspect anything, they took me to another train station. Here, Majer Gavrielov was the guest of his work colleagues. They soon gave him a separate room and he immediately began his interrogation. The first question: What was the purpose of Wanda Wasilewska sending my friend Fishke Najman to the Polish Liberation Army? To my answer that I did not know that Fishke Najman had received an assignment from anyone, I felt the heavy hand of Majer Gavrielov across my face, with a comment: You don't know, you Jewish prostitute.
I can't describe everything I felt at that moment. I grew up and was raised in the Jewish workers' movement, in the Bund. I believed that every person should always, in all circumstances, defend his human value, that without this, a person has no worth. And here? I was helpless. I made no response to this insult… What sort of value did I have in my own eyes? Only later did I understand that this was only the first physical assault on my mental independence. This was the first push to eliminate everything out of me that was me and that was mine…
After two whole days of travelling, a door opened before me. I was the twelfth one in a room of the Ulyanowsker prison, which was on a street that bore the name of a great humanist and fighter for justice and humanitarianism Lev Nikolayevitch Tolstoy…
by Hershel Weiss, Los Angeles
Translated by Pamela Russ
It was Shabbath eve [Friday night], September 1, 1939. It was raining very strongly outside. As usual, in the early morning hours, I was standing in my store having a friendly conversation with my friend Yosel Snjeg (large Mendel's son), when suddenly the house shook from a huge explosion and we all remained frozen. My wife ran over immediately with the bitter news that a bomb had fallen near our house. From the quaking, the children had fallen out of their beds. She also said that a soldier who was fishing in the Narew River had been killed and that there were many wounded in the city.
By chance, the police chief of the city was just going by and I showed him the shrapnel that my wife had brought with her from near our house. But he appeased me by saying that this was a bomb that one of our soldiers had accidently lost … but at around nine o'clock that same morning, we already heard on the radio the upset voice of Starzynski, the mayor of Warsaw, telling the population that the German armies had attacked Poland and were already across the Polish border.
From that minute on, our hell began. Out of fear that the proximity of the Modlin fortress would cause terrible problems for us, we ran to Warsaw, and there the situation was a lot worse. The bombings did not stop, day and night. And in the first four weeks of the war, I was sure that not one of us would survive.
After four weeks, I returned to Nowy Dwor from Warsaw, but the town was no longer recognizable. I found hell there: evil laws, persecutions, and arrests for forced labor. Together with Melech Zajdenberg's son, I was captured and taken to the field at the side of the highway that goes to the Modlin fortress. A huge mass of war materials were strewn all over the field, and among all that were also all kinds of locksmith tools. When the young Zajdenberg, a locksmith by trade, asked the German guard if he could take some of the tools, the German permitted him to do so. But just as Zajdenberg began collecting some of the things, another German came running over and beat him murderously, in spite of all the explanations that he had done this with permission. The German guard looked at the second German, the murderer who had come running, with rage and caution. It seemed that our guard belonged to the rare Germans who still had a human heart.
After work, they took us back to the city, and on the way the Nazi beasts ordered us to sing Yiddish songs. With bitter hearts, we sang the special Shabbath song peace and joy, light to the Jews [Menucha vesimcha ohr la'yehudim].
I did not want to go work anymore. I hid in a cellar and stayed there for the entire four weeks. After much thought, I saw that for us Jews this was no longer a place to be.
Many of the youth left to Russia at that time, and my children were also part of the flood leaving to Bialystok where tens of thousands of young people ran. My son Sholom, fourteen years old at that time, came back from Bialystok, with the intention of convincing us also to leave Nowy Dwor and go to Bialystok. With his descriptions of the good conditions that awaited us there, he strengthened our desire to go across to the Russian side.
At that same time, before we left Nowy Dwor, the local mayor …
… the Volksdeutch [German native] Wendt, held a meeting in the home of Yechiel Mendel Rozenboim, where he told those present that they should organize a kitchen for poor Jews. My wife's theory was that this spiteful Volksdeutch, Wendt, did not really want to get those present to do good and help poor Jews, but that he wanted to disturb the rich Jews and place compulsory donations on them this later turned out to be true, as they later demanded money from Aba Sikore's wife, and then beat her murderously.
My wife convinced me to leave for Bialystok, and my son promised to take me on a safe route, without any disturbances from the Germans. Nonetheless, we encountered Germans on the way, and saw thousands of Jews with their children, starved, naked, and covered with snow. Not one of us Nowy Dworer left our dear ones on the road. After lengthy wanderings, we finally arrived in Bialystok.
Bialystok was overcrowded with fugitive Jews. All the synagogues and Houses of Study were filled. Soon after we arrived, registration of the homeless began, and after we were registered we were sent off to Siberia.
There we were sent to work in the forest, under very harsh work conditions. For my age, the work was very difficult; so much so, that more than once did I think of ending my life. But still, I clung to life, because of my children, and the hope that at some time I would go back home to my wife and children.
Later, when we learned about the news of what the cannibal Nazis had done to the Jews of Poland, I simply didn't want to believe it. I thought this was war propaganda of the press. But in the year 1944, the tragic truth about the fate of the Jews in Poland was already known, and when I was liberated and was able to go back to Poland, I already knew that no one of my family in Poland had survived. I wrote to the magistrate in Nowy Dwor, inquired about my family, but I never received any answer.
With time, I set myself up well in the Soviet Union and even thought of remaining there. My two children, who were with me in the Soviet Union, married and had children. Nonetheless, we all decided to go back to Poland.
On the entire way during the fourteen days on the Soviet train, they treated us humanely. But just as we crossed over the Polish border at Zhmerinka, the Poles threw stones at our wagons in a rage that we were still alive. There was no way back for us, the deportees, so we continued onwards without choice, until finally we arrived in Warsaw.
First, I took care of my children and settled them in a barrack in Praga, and then I left for Nowy Dwor. When I entered the town, I didn't recognize it and remained stone still. If not for the magistrate's building that remained intact, I would not know where I was and if this was Nowy Dwor.
The entire Piasek [the poorest part of Nowy Dwor known as Sandtown or Piaski] was transformed into a potato field. The road to the cemetery was paved with rubble from tombstones. In the cemetery I only saw the tombstone of Shia Boim, and after that, all the soil was flattened, without any sign of [this having once been]a burial place. Here is the place where the bones of my parents and grandparents rested… I cried terribly, and then continued on. Like that, I met a familiar Christian. He wondered what I was doing in this place, and then he said that there were thousands of Jews buried here. This crushed my heart. Meanwhile, the sun had set, and with heavy thoughts, I left the cemetery to go to the city where I was born and where I grew up. That's where, in the year 1934 …
… I built my own house with five apartments, and now, in the dark of the night, I had nowhere to lay my head. I decided to stay the night in the city garden. By chance, Majewski, a familiar Christian, went by. He used to work in Winogradow's crockery factory. I told him about my bitter lot, and I spent the night at his house.
In the morning, I went to see the town. The first thing I noticed was the promenade where our youth used to go strolling and conduct life's hopeful political discussions now this promenade was dead, just like all those who used to walk there. Also, on the shores of the Narew, where it was always bubbling with our youth, there was no sign of any of this. It looked like the Narew was also crying for our destruction. After that, when I saw the open shops on the streets, I imagined that the old, honest merchants of the Jewish community in Nowy Dwor were still standing there. But soon, I saw all the inheritors, all the Christians, who used to do business with the Jews and now they had taken their place.
Still, I was sorry to leave this place, …
… my town. The Nowy Dwor mayor and other familiar Christians suggested that I stay: Mr. Weiss, you're not so young any more, and where will you go in your old age drag yourself across the world? Listen to us. Stay, and we will help you. But my heart shut down in this very big cemetery, and I saw my own fate on the faces of many of these Christians' cynical smile… After thirteen days, with a pained heart, I left the town.
I did not want to give the nonJews the pleasure of seeing me cry. With all my strength, I tried to control myself. Only when I was on the road did I turn my head and with clenched teeth, I cried out: May you all be cursed!
by Yankev Evenson, Montevideo
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
I am standing in the square in front of the white building that housed the Judenrat. I have come here from the Czech Sudeten territory, where I had been dragged by the already mortally wounded German beasts. There they released me, almost dead, from their clutches.
In broken down trains, over destroyed roads, blownup bridges, with many detours and roundabouts, I made my way here. But who was I expecting to meet here? I knew all along that no one would be here, that I had come only because of my own gnawing need to be here for one last time before I began my new life.
It is a July evening. Everything is so quiet and fragrant it is hard to believe that this place was a center of suffering. I stand there; I do not cry, but I ask myself, why there exists a law of nature that erases the past and wipes out the evidence of crime. The grass grows over those who are rotting in the ground here without the slightest sign that here and there lies someone who once lived, that on one day or another hundreds of people young and old lived through terrible horrors.
For almost three years an insatiable criminal tormented a community, defiled and starved it, committed executions, hangings, all kinds of terror. And after all that, three trains took them all away on the tragic road to Auschwitz where the greater majority was gassed and cremated on the day they arrived, and of the fortunate few who survived only to be tortured, only a handful lived to see the demise of the Nazis.
I am one of the fortunate. I have come back to the place of suffering. I thought everything would bear witness to terror and appalling injustice. Unfortunately, that isn't so. I must call on my memory to recreate the horrifying scenes and in the quiet on this green carpet of grass, to restore that which occurred here.
In front of the Judenrat seven gallows were erected. On the square where I am now standing, the entire ghetto was assembled. Yosl the Drummer had summoned everyone, informing them that anyone who hid would also be hanged. The seven condemned were brought out, their hands bound behind them with barbed wire. Khome Antashke's soninlaw (from Plonsk) remembered that he was wearing shoes; slipping them off his feet and kicking, he flung them to his wife Pese, who was standing in the first row with her baby in her arms. Why should the shoes rot in the earth, when Pese could trade them for a piece of bread?
The dead hung in the wind for 24 hours. On the last gallows on the right was Levin, a 16 yearold from Wishegrad, wearing childish short pants, his legs bare.
To the left was the ghetto prison, from which the seven had been led to be hanged. The prison was never empty. A Jewish policeman kept guard in front. You could talk to the inmates through the window but they were not in the mood to talk. They considered the hanged to be fortunate. The most terrible thing for them was the Gestapo with its interrogations. The policeman didn't prevent them from escaping, but if they did, they would be swiftly recaptured and he would be held responsible and would be killed.
Sime Zamyaton was imprisoned because she was a known to be a Communist before the war. When Sime was led to the Gestapo for interrogation everyone kept asking if she had been seen coming back yet. Then they sought out a byway so as not have to see her, walking with her arms outstretched, shreds of skin hanging from them, blood dripping. Her face was bloody, her hair disheveled, her eyes no longer normal. Poor Sime lucked out and was sentenced to death, but she was not shot. At the time, they were already sending transports of Jews to the death factories and when one such transport, headed to Plonsk, stopped at the Nowy Dwor station, they added one more passenger that was Sime Zamyaton.
Next to the ghetto prison was the soup kitchen. When lunch was distributed, it was enveloped in steam. A line of Jews stood against the wall, holding bowls for the soup. A Jewish policeman kept order. Often Shloyme the Mug was in charge and took the opportunity to demonstrate his policing skills for his fellow officers, administering a lesson in how to exercise authority over the frightened hungry masses. His riding crop whistled through the air and fell on some unfortunate's head. There was a panic; the line was pushed together. People said, Mister Shoshinski, have pity. But no one left the line, no one wanted to forgo their bit of greyish water.
I start to walk away slowly. My mood is embittered. Perhaps it would be easier if I was accompanied by a fellow townsman who wasn't here in those days, so I could point out every object, every deserted place and tell what had happened there. I could tell and describe. Night is very near. If only the darkness would protect me against the horrible indifference here. The night would bring back everything as it was, and the feelings that are choking me would pour forth in the form of fiery words. I would take my companion by the hand, and bring him here, behind Yudl Gurestski's house, where children used to play.
One day, some of the children Vodye, Shimele, Khatskele, Dudl and Itsikl were playing the roles of the German bad guys Haynem, the Dead Slugger, Matas, Zolman and the Creator. Moyshe was the head of the administration (Srul Skrobak), Avramel was the commander of the Jewish police (Tall Baranek) and Berl was Shloyme the Mug. The remaining boys and girls played the persecuted Jewish masses. The game was in full swing. The German rulers and their Jewish henchmen chased, beat and kicked. The Jews ran; some lay stretched out on the ground; many tried to get up. The ones playing the persecutors screwed up their faces in horrifying expressions and spoke in brutal tones: You dirty Jews; I'm going to beat you to death; You garbage; it's a scandal to charge 8 pennies for a kugl; Stand up. The children knew all the Gestapo dogs by name, so the curses mentioned above were often mixed in with those of the Gestapo dogs.
More than a few of you, children, took the side of the Aryans during the game and may or may not have brought some of that home with you. Who of you would admit that? But on this day you were playing, it was a good day in the ghetto, maybe tomorrow salvation would come. Just before the game, little Khatskele (Roze the baker woman's grandson) was upset by his mother's worrying about him and said to her, Mama, just pretend that I'm already 60 years old.
The hospital was located in Yosef Faygenboym's carpentry workshop. Why have such a humanitarian institution in a Jewish ghetto? It was more for isolation than for treatment, because there was almost nothing available to use for treatment. Typhus struck without pity. Frequently, most of an entire family died of typhus. One day a woman would be mourning her husband's death and the next day she too would be dead. Still, the hospital did save many people.
Yosl Gershon was the person who at great personal sacrifice established the hospital, organized it, treated the sick, and did the work of ten people. If that had been all he did, he would have been the object of praise and wonder. But to his misfortune and ours the Germans appointed him the head of the Jews to replace the refined Itsik Rotshteyn, who did everything he could to get released from the post.
Just before he was appointed head [of the Jews], Yosl Gershon had had a horrible experience. Returning home from the socalled Pomiechovner raid, he found his mother and sister shot to death and his mother's finger, on which she had worn a ring, had been cut off. (Perhaps it was that that caused the change in Yosl?)
One death occurred in the hospital that was unrelated to typhus that of Khatskele Korn (Kuke's grandson). One night he left the ghetto with several smugglers and in trying to cross the railroad tracks, they were shot by a German policeman. Everyone died except Khatskele, who was badly wounded. They brought him to the hospital and laid him out on a sofa in the office, but except for washing the wound, there was nothing they could do for him. He needed surgery, but where to find a doctor and the necessary equipment? At about 10 P.M. I was able to get to the hospital, but apart from kissing his dead forehead, there was nothing I could do. His father, his sick mother, and his sister were waiting for him in the Warsaw Ghetto, but their breadwinner never returned.
Avraham Magid was certain that Hitler would meet with a terrible death, but what good will that do if I get the news when I'm already in my grave? No one, no matter how smart, can foresee the future. Where, Avramele, is your grave?
One day, I observed a strange scene from the window of Moyshe Yenkl Simonovitsh's house, in the building where Khatskele Shames used to live. The windows looked out on the Aryan side, outside the ghetto. Zolman, a German policeman, was coolly and calmly riding a bike down Warsaw Street. Behind him, Lipovitsh (Yisroel Leyb Shnayder's 15 year old son) was running with a limp, trying desperately to catch up with him. I called the people in the house to watch and we followed the scene until the two disappeared from view. Then, someone came and told us that Zolman had shot Lipovitsh in the foot, and was riding toward the cemetery. Lipovitsh was begging him, I can't take it anymore. (He had escaped from the horrendous camp at Pomiechov.) And Zolman was assuring him, after each plea, Don't worry, you won't live much longer.
A halfhour later, someone came to the ghetto gates asking for two Jews with spades, which we translated as, There's one less Jew. Lipovitsh
was no longer running after the bicycle. He was no longer alive.
I did not participate in the last act of the tragedy. The morning of my last day in the ghetto, when I escaped, the Germans, for the first and only time, sent in sausages. I never saw the ghetto again but I heard what happened, because I was hiding in a stable on the other side that shared a wall with the ghetto. I heard everything and I still hear it, I will probably hear it until my last hour the last, frantic running, screaming, crying, the prayers the heartrending melody of the prayers who has the strength to relate it all?
It was a frosty morning, sunny, still, windless a splendid winter day, when you can breathe fresh, healthy air. (For the Jews of Nowy Dwor the tubes of Zyklon gas were waiting faraway.) The sky was cloudless, the sun shone, as if it was just an ordinary day and not the beginning of the end. But it wasn't yet the last day; the train didn't come until the next day.
I was then hiding near the train station, having gone there the night before. From there I listened to the final sounds of the people who had been crowded onto the trains. Their voices resounded in the winter air, sounding like mourners at a gravesite, as when you were on the meadow near the Vistula, and could hear the sounds of heartrending weeping coming from the cemetery. That was the last sound of Jewish life in Nowy Dwor, but it didn't come from the cemetery but from the train station. [Then] gone were the passengers men, women and children from Nowy Dwor, along with the Jews of Zakrotshin, Leontshik, Pshibroviets, Wishegrod, Tshervinsk and some from Plonsk who had been brought to Nowy Dwor a year earlier.
About 15 residents of the town returned after the war, each with his own experiences. Almost all of us lived together in Blate's building. We had almost no contact with our Polish neighbors. They avoided us, upset that some Jews were coming back. The chairman of the Polish Socialist Party, Kazhik Nadzitski, found consolation in his belief that we would be brought to trial because, as far as he knew, the only Jews who survived were kapos in the camps.
Everyone signed the lists that were being sent abroad, hoping that a relative would see our names and respond. Those who had no one went to the American Sector, in Western Germany. Jewish soldiers from Modlin, from the Polish and Soviet armies, came to visit us. They were a very fine group, also lonely, so they clung to us and we clung to them. We frequently indulged in drinking; it made us merry and sometimes also sad. Gradually, the soldiers were demobilized and those who weren't demobilized themselves. Our numbers grew smaller. People left and didn't say goodbye.
Don't be upset, Kazhik Nadzitski, that we weren't brought to trial. You can see that we are leaving on our own. Rest assured, you too will not be brought to trial for trading a Jew's life for a kilo of sugar from Hitler, or for what happened in Kielce [where 42 Jewish refugees were killed in antiJewish violence on July 4, 1946].
I left, but if I was already physically 1000 miles away; my dream and my reality remained poisoned by the nearness and freshness of that nightmare.
by Anshel Fried, Chicago
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
As soon as the war broke out in September 1939 I went to Warsaw where I lived through a nightmare of death and destruction, and when I returned to Nowy Dwor at the end of September, I was immediately confronted with the deeds of the German savages there. My uncle Mendl Kokhalski (Mendl the Kashamaker) and his wife were among more than 40 people buried in a mass grave; my uncle was missing half his face and I recognized him only by his beard.
From these horrifying deeds one could see that our life in little Nowy Dwor had ended, along with the hope that we would be governed by the Soviet Union. Despite all the rumors to the contrary, it was declared in October 1939 that the Bug River had been designated as the border between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
Many young people in Nowy Dwor began to make plans to escape to the east, to the Soviet side. That was then the only possible way to escape to the wider world. When I informed my parents that I intended to flee, it set off a storm of anger. What are you talking about? asked my mother. I still remember how my brother Hilke ran away from home in 1920 and never returned. He was killed. My sisters, too, tried to dissuade me. Only my father, fearful of what the Germans had in store for us, showed any understanding of my plan, even though it meant that we would be separated. Yes, said my father, we have lost him.
My father and mother constantly whispered about my plan with great anxiety. It was hard for them to reconcile themselves to my departure. It had cost them much suffering to raise me, and it wasn't yet clear that the Jews would be annihilated. People still hoped for a miracle. But I had decided to go.
I was also attracted to the East, to a world of new ideals and efforts at renewal. I had once believed in it [the Soviet Union] and took pride in its accomplishments. And soon there came the day, Saturday, October 2, my last Sabbath with my parents. A twenty yearold boy, I bade my last farewell to my dearest ones. My sisters cried, my mother sobbed, my little brothers remained silent, curious and possibly also envious. My father wept the most he, who I had never before seen shed a tear, let out a loud lamentation.
Only later, on foreign soil, did I understand my father's weeping. He was crying not only over the parting with his son, but also because he felt a strong premonition of the great tragedy that was approaching.
I remembered and understood my father's tears again in April 1945, in a small besmedresh [house of study, also used for worship] in Lodz, when the military rabbi, Rabbi Kahane (then the head rabbi of the Polish army) spoke to us, the assembled Jewish junior officers of the Lodz garrison. I, a battlehardened soldier who had fought on the front and travelled over hundreds of miles of death and destruction; I, who had not been able to cry when I entered Maidenek and saw the piles of hair and bones still burning in
the two ovens still standing; I, who had not cried at the liberation of Bidgoshtsh, in the women's concentration camp of 900 Jewish women who had been morally destroyed, gasping, inhumanlooking skeletons I suddenly felt tears in my eyes when Rabbi Kahane cried out, Remember the tears of your fathers.
For the first time in five years, I unexpectedly burst into tears, and my fellow soldiers wept with me. They had suffered the same fate as I; they too had said goodbye to their weeping fathers.
I will always remember my father's tears on that Saturday when I left. Those tears said goodbye not just to me, but to our entire past. They were tears for the terrible time that was approaching, the great tragedy of our people.
by A. Kiwejko, Warsaw
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
For 16 days and nights the heroic Polish soldiers of the Lodz army and of the Eighth Warsaw division fought to defend Modlin, Nowy Dwor, and the surrounding villages; the adjacent Vistula and Narew rivers and their bridges; and the WarsawMlaveGdinie train line. They arrived here on September 11 and 12, 1939, after fighting in Lodz and Bloyne, and at the former East Prussian border beyond Mlave and Tshekhanow, where they lost many people and weapons.
The battle for Modlin, Nowy Dwor and the surrounding area was fought under extremely difficult conditions. Nazi airplanes fired upon the banks of both rivers for an entire day.
About 18 years have passed since those days, and today there is a ceremony unveiling a memorial for those who fell in the battle with the Nazi forces in defense of Modlin. Assembled here are several hundred of the defenders of Modlin, along with several former officers of the defending General Thome, representatives of the Polish People's Army and governmental institutions, soldiers from the local garrison, and residents of Modlin, Nowy Dwor and surrounding villages.
General Orlinski, representing the Minister for National Defense, speaks about the heroic defense, which has entered the history of the Polish Army. General Thoma appears at the dais, leaning on a cane because of the injuries he suffered in the battle. He movingly recounts the sacrifices by soldiers and officers, among whom were many Jews. He notes how the civilian population helped the solders. After three salvos fired in honor of the dead, an urn containing ashes of the fallen, gathered from many graves on the site of the battles, is interred in the pedestal of the memorial.
We are in Nowy Dwor on a Sunday evening. Mothers with children and young couples are strolling along the street. On the surface, it looks like little has changed. But there are no more Jewish residents, those who during the defense of 1939 along with the rest of the population [were murdered]. They were cut down by the Nazi murderers and did not live to see the day of victory.
by Dov Berish F. [First]
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
They were a wonderful couple: Zigmund Ruminski and his wife Pani [Pol., respectful term of address] Maria, both ardent Catholics. They had no children. He was an exceptionally handsome man, a lawyer by profession. For many years he was a devoted admirer of Jozef Pisuldski. In the army he held the high rank of colonel and for some time he was the deputyprosecutor of the highest military court. When Pisuldski went off the rails and the reactionary element took over the military, Zigmund Ruminski resigned and took early retirement.
He then opened a law office in his lovely fiveroom residence in Warsaw, at #17 on quiet, aristocratic Poznanska Street. The building belonged to the wellknown, wealthy Samuel Habergrits, who was a partner in the Jewishowned chocolate factory Pluto's. I was the building manager and for many years was very friendly with the quiet, small Ruminski family. These two later demonstrated their noble character by rescuing a Jewish child from the clutches of the horrendous Nazis. This actually involved my only child, my daughter HalinkaHadassah, and here is the story of how it happened.
On August 22, 1939, a week before Hitler attacked Poland, I, a military reservist, was called up into the Polish Army and assigned to the Warsaw intendatur [military administrative offices], which was located in Praga [district of Warsaw]. After the war broke out three days later I didn't see my family anymore.
On Saturday, September 9, 1939, I left Warsaw with my military division under heavy bombardment, leaving behind my wife BrokheBronia, the daughter of the wellknown and prosperous Reb [respectful form of address] Shimen Orzhef, and my only child Halinka.
My division fought until September 21 when we reached the Hungarian border, where we were disarmed and interned in camps. We remained interned for five years, but not as prisoners of war, because Hungary and Poland were not on opposing sides in the war. For that reason, we were treated much more leniently and could correspond freely with our families in Poland.
In 1941, when I began to receive the terrible letters about suffering from my wife and began to ponder how to help, I delved into my memory to remember all my Christian friends from the past and hit upon the Ruminskis, certain that they would help if it was at all possible. I was sure about the Ruminskis because I had continued to maintain contact with them after they fled from burning Warsaw to Rumania in 1939. I continued to exchange letters with them especially with Good Maria until they wrote me that I shouldn't write anymore, because they were returning to Warsaw. Our correspondence broke off. When I began to send them my alarming letters, I did not receive an answer.
I found a way to the Ruminskis through the only son of my brother, Rabbi Avraham Simkhe First. His son, Marek (Meyer Noekh), was very active, energetic man with many connections with the nonJewish side [of the ghetto]. I wrote to him to get in touch with the Ruminskis. He located them
and set a time when he would take my daughter out of the ghetto. (My wife had already been sent to Treblinka [Concentration Camp], where she died.) A pure Aryan was waiting outside the ghetto and brought my daughter to the Ruminskis at 17 Poznanska Street.
My daughter stayed with the Ruminskis for several months, and when the pressure grew for Aryans hiding Jewish children, the Ruminskis took her to a safer place with their family. But there, too, things became uncomfortable, and Pani Maria, who was a wellknown social activist in Catholic circles, with great care and devotion found a place for her in a Catholic convent outside Warsaw, the institution Sisters of Mary in Brwinow. There they converted the little Jewish girl with her Jewish ways and she was given her new, although not terribly Aryansounding name, Janina Shteymer.
After the liberation, I retrieved my daughter from the convent with the help of Pani Maria and installed her in the children's home in Otvotsk run by the extraordinary pedagogue Frau BielitskiBlum. There my daughter was soon cured of the Catholic nonsense that had been drilled into her young head.
We didn't stay long in Poland. The brother of my dead wife, Mordkhe Orzhef, was then in the Jewish Brigade, which was headquartered in Holland. When he learned that we had survived, he came in a jeep to see us, provided us with wellprepared papers, and took us to Germany. I sent my daughter to Israel with the first children's Aliyah, Passover time 1946. There she forgot her former names Halina and Janina, and remained Hadassah, a name given her in honor of her noble, pious maternal grandmother. When I now hear Hadassah's two little boys, my grandsons Gedi and Niri, sweetly calling me Sabe, Sabele [grandfather], I hear the melody of continuity after all the difficult years of suffering and death.
And what happened to the Ruminskis, my child's saviors? The Germans tracked them down. He managed to hide, but Pani Maria was taken to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp and wasn't reunited with her husband until after liberation.
Their home at 17 Poznanska Street no longer existed. When I went to Warsaw after the war, I found them in a very modest apartment in one of the houses that chanced to survive on Yerozalimsker Boulevard, across from the railroad station. They were aged and enfeebled. All that remained of their old selves was the fine kindly look in their dimmed eyes. He died a few years after the war, and she a little later.
May the names of these two noble Poles, Zigmund and Maria Ruminski, be inscribed in Jewish history they who rescued my daughter and other Jewish children and in so doing redeemed the name of mankind in a generation of demonic murderers.
by Aron Pinker
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
Upon the initiative of the Nowy Dwor Committee in Germany, a memorial for the martyrs of Nowy Dwor was held on December 4, 1947 in the Waldstadt [Displaced Persons] Camp (Bavaria). Two hundred survivors from Nowy Dwor came from all parts of Germany to honor their tragically murdered brothers and sisters on the anniversary of their deaths.
The chairman of our landsmanshaft [association of townspeople] B.Mosok opened the ceremony and called up to the dais, in additions to the committee members, Herr Dov First and Herr Y. Griner. He gave a short overview of life in Nowy Dwor before the war, emphasizing its cultural institutions and its noble social activists.
The attendees stood in silence for three minutes to honor the victims of the Nowy Dwor ghetto murdered by the Nazis in the Auschwitz death camp. When the cantor Apelovitsh sang El Male Rachamim [prayer for the dead] for the martyrs of Nowy Dwor and its surroundings (Zakrotshin, Wishagrod, Plonsk) you could hear stifled weeping. It was heart rending when the cantor began the Kaddish prayer of mourning with the audience. From every heart there came lamentation, sobbing and weeping and you could no longer make out the words.
After the prayers, Herr Roytman spoke about the high level of culture and morality that characterized Jewish life in the town before the war. He then spoke about the heroic resistance in the ghettoes, especially the Warsaw Ghetto, where Jews fought to save our honor and pride. He mentioned Mordkhe Anilevitsh, Abrashe Blum, as well as our Nowy Dwor heroes Kh. Wermus, Z. Papier, Y. Litman (who fell in battle). He spoke about Pintshe Papier who as a 17 yearold fought with Tsevie Lubetkin during the [Warsaw Ghetto] uprising and then continued to fight with the partisans. (Both live today in Israel.) He also mentioned Artur Ziegleboym, who committed suicide in London to protest the world's indifference to Jewish pain and suffering.
Herr Dov First, the General Secretary of the Frankfurt Regional Committee and council member of the Survivors Committee in Germany, gave a short speech with a historic overview of the establishment of our town, as well as its geographical situation, stressing how the Narew River put its stamp on the residents. He spoke about the personalities of Nowy Dwor Rabbi Ruvn Yehuda Neufeld, the former secretary of the council of rabbis in Poland and his sons Nokhem Neufeld (died in Warsaw) and Rabbi Elimelech Neufeld. He noted the Zionist veteran Sh. Note Srebrenik, the prototype of enlightened Jewry; H. Yerozalimski, and the Socialist leaders Leon Grabman and Mendl Lipski. He movingly evoked our great losses and called on us to remember the last wishes of our parents, Don't try to please the world because in so doing you lose your own world. Don't live the way we did. Build and create a new Jewish home. Counciler A. Goldbrokh told of the horrible scenes of the three extermination actions in the Nowy Dwor ghetto. The song, There once was a town, written by Etke Simonovitsh Pinker,was sung. H. Griner closed by speaking of the generosity of people from Nowy Dwor and he called
for the eternalization of its memory by planting trees in Israel. A collection was made by Herrs Pinker and Roznberg. And the ceremony concluded with the singing of Hatikvah.
Afterward there was a meeting of the landsmanshaft chaired by Herr Dov First. Secretary Herr Shloyme Kartsovitsh gave a report, noting the close contact with Nowy Dwor landslayt in America. It was decided to send thanks to the Nowy Dwor Relief Committee, to send greetings to all landslayt in Israel, Cyprus, America and elsewhere; to express recognition for Herr Pintshe Papier as one of the heroic defenders of Jewish honor in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and in the partisan struggle. A 5member committee was elected consisting of A. Pinker, Sh. Kartsovitsh, B. Roznberg, M. Shimonovski, Y. Griner. Elected as regional representatives were Roytman, Mosak, Goldberg, Yerozalimski, B. First, Goldshteyn and Kosover. The meeting ended with the singing of Hatikvah.
In the center, the committee: Fayvish Kronenberg, Alter Kshanshka, Aron Blank, Simkhe Yaskovitsh
Because of this I will weep and wail;
I will go about barefoot and naked.
I will howl like a jackal
And moan like an owl
Micah 1:8, New International Version of the Bible
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 20 Oct 2015 by JH