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[Column 285]

Section E

Holocaust and Destruction

 

Translated by Meir Bulman

Edited by James Borchert, Jeff Mitchell and Corliss Whitaker

 

oze285
Monument for the Martyrs of Jezierzany at The Forest of Martyrs near Jerusalem
(Former Residents of Jezierzany at the Monument's Unveiling)

[Columns 285-287, Blank]

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“And He shall avenge His honor, His nation, His Torah,
and the blood of His servants that was spilled like water.”
(From Selichot)
 
In a corner, among mourners, a trickle pales
A tallit without a Jew scatters in the ashes
A chimney without a roof – toys without a child…
The bird hastily passes
Escapes, afraid lest it be trapped in jail…
(From Aron Zeitlin's Between Fire and Redemption)
 
A moment of silence in memory of the martyrs
From the silence, a hushed voice will shiver and rage
A cold wind mourns as they step forward
Listen closely! The footsteps of the martyrs approach us.
(written by Y. Ashendorf; Hebrew by S. Meltzer)

 

The Holocaust Chronicle July 1941 – April 1944[1]

by Tzvi Fenster

Translated by Meir Bulman

The Germans invaded the Jezierzany region on July 8th or 9th, 1941. The Soviets continued their retreat until that day. The Soviet retreat continued for over two weeks and, in the retreat's final days, a government–less void was nearly created. The Soviets did not prevent the Jews from evacuating. Most residents erred when they stayed and placed their faith in miracles. It was a strange occurrence and its main justifications were:

  1. The communist regime was disliked by most Jews who were middle–class people whose social standing collapsed under Soviet rule.
  2. The mass–deportations of Jews from German–occupied Poland to Siberia and other remote locations in Russia in the winter of 1940 – 1941 and the spring of 1941, done forcefully and roughly, dissuaded many from joining those who escaped Hitler. Many people were exiled after they received calming news
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    from the German–occupied territories and volunteered to return to their former living places which the Russians saw as hostile to their regime.
  1. Even the most avid pessimist did not imagine the looming destruction by Hitler. Many thought that only those who collaborated with the Soviets, not all Jews, had to fear Hitler.
Additional reasoning included the fear and apprehension from the newcomer of being a refugee of undetermined fate who becomes a pauper the moment he leaves his doorstep without knowing what is to come. All the fears combined together and caused most Jews, including those in Jezierzany, to stay put.

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The first army units seen in our town after the Soviet retreat were Hungarians who, at the time, fought in designated Hungarian units alongside Nazi Germany. The Hungarians received a temporary occupied territory that included territories up to the Dniester and Zbruch rivers until the borders of Germany and its allies were stabilized.

The Jews were somewhat relieved that the Hungarians had arrived in place of the German S.S. soldiers with Totenkopf (skull) insignia on their hats. Although the Hungarians were also anti–Semitic fascists, there were still differences in the extent of cruelty.

Ukrainians had significant influence over Eastern Galicia / Western Ukraine as they were a majority of the population. Even under Polish rule, Ukrainians repeatedly declared they have no obligation towards Jews. Galician Jews had more widely used the Polish language which the Ukrainians saw as helping the Poles in implementing Polish culture. The Ukrainians also accused the Jews of collaborating with the Soviets to repress the Ukrainian people. Additionally, Ukrainians had a long history of rioting against Jews, beginning with the Khmelnitsky uprising in the 17th century. Every Ukrainian attempt at independence, be it from Russia or Poland, was accompanied by destroying Jewish communities. Moreover, the Ukrainians had hedged their hopes of independence

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on Nazi Germany. The nightmarish union of those two forces of hatred towards Jews paints the picture of the horrors that Jews everywhere experienced.

Indeed, immediately as the hostile forces invaded, the saga of Ukrainians torture and torment began. A local government immediately organized, made up of reactionary factions, which gave special credence to those who had worked against the Soviet regime. In the first days of occupation, Ukrainians happily declared an independent Ukraine and a celebrating crowd marched in the street. A Ukraine flag with the three–pronged garden fork (Trizov) next to the Nazi flag with the black swastika. Later, the Ukrainians were bitterly disappointed by the Nazi approach to Ukrainian independence. It was said that, in response to the Ukrainians demand for independence, Hitler replied that Ukrainian national development was delayed and that fifty years had to pass before Ukraine could be independent. However, the disappointment did nothing to change the Ukrainians' scheme to exterminate the Jews.

Not long passed before the murders began. On the second or third night of the German invasion, the entire Jewish population of Ulashkivtsi (a town famous for its fairs), 68 people, was murdered. Those murdered included the Goldstein, Sommerman, Kimmelman, and Schechter families. Only a few of Ulashkivtsi's Jewish residents escaped and found temporary asylum in Jezierzany and Tovste. The local Ukrainians carried out all of those murders. Shortly thereafter, Ukrainian rioters murdered most of the Jews in the villages of Pilatkowce and Zhilinitz, 16 people. The massacre in Zhilinitz was especially cruel: After the murders, Ukrainians tossed the Leinweber children into the Nichlawa [?] river. Mrs. Leinweber drew the bodies of the children–except for one infant–from the river, near the flourmill dam. The victims from the two villages were buried in the Jezierzany cemetery. The victims were Sender Leinweber, Hershel Schechter, Moshe–Velvel Blank, Moshe's wife and two sons, Avraham Blank, Avraham's wife and three children, Motek

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Nusbaum (son of Hersh), Yehuda Bilgoray and others.

In Jezierzany itself, Ukrainians prevented the murder of Jews, thanks to several reasons:

  1. oth Jews and Ukrainians remembered the attacks and burglaries of Jewish homes perpetrated by local Ukrainians on the night of March 5, 1919 during the time of the West Ukrainian People's Republic. Although, when compared to the Holocaust, the violence in Petrushevych's Ukraine seems like child's play, years after the events during Polish rule, the burglaries were mentioned as a shameful event which Ukrainians supposedly regretted. At the beginning of the violence discussed in this chapter, when the Ukrainians sensed Jewish fears, Ukrainians stressed, at least for appearance sakes, that March 5th would not happen again.
  2. Even the Ukrainians and other Gentiles did not imagine that Jews' fate was to be total destruction.
  3. The local government was significantly influenced by moderates who immediately curbed extremist desires of repression. Moderates included Mayor Sorokiwski, Mr. Tatarnyok, and others.
As evidence, I can point at an event which occurred in those days and ended well. As I mentioned above, regional Ukrainians initiated riots of various scales in most places. Ukrainians claimed their anger was over the supposed collaboration of Jews with the Soviets which caused the imprisonment and death of Ukrainian nationalists in the country's prisons. The nationalists' bodies were buried in the prison yards. After invading forces captured those jails, those graves were discovered and Jews were forced to dig up the graves and remove the bodies. During the excavation, the Jews were tortured and many died. After the excavation, Ukrainians and Gestapo troops perpetrated a massacre of Jews in town squares and the prison yards, cheered on by a Ukrainian crowd. On one Monday, if I recall

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correctly, it was the 19th of Tamuz, 1941 when 400 Jewish men were murdered after they were brought to the Chortkov prison under the guise of cleaning work. They were forced to dig their own graves and then tortured and murdered in a Spanish–Inquisition–style public display which made one's stomach churn simply hearing the news. All was done in broad daylight as members of Ukrainian intelligentsia and a Ukrainian mob cheered loudly.

Among the victims that day was my brother–in–law, Hillel Auberlander–Sternberg of the large Chortkov Sternberg clan. Hillel's large library had been visited by many educated people from Chortkov and its vicinity. Hillel was an Esperanto expert who published essays in Esperanto periodicals and translated Yiddish and Polish books to Esperanto. Dr. Immanuel Olsvanger remembered Hillel's work and mentioned it to me. An eyewitness, one of 26 who buried the final victims of that day, told me of the horrific torture Hillel endured, as many there did, until death released him.

Ukrainians perpetrated similar spontaneous acts of vengeance in those days (July – August, 1941) in other towns as well. A similar massacre likely was planned for the Jews of Jezierzany as well. On a Wednesday evening, the Jewish men of Jezierzany were ordered to report to city hall. Many Jews who did not imagine the murderous scheme reported. The Jewish men, numbered in the dozens, were quickly surrounded by Ukrainian policemen who prevented family members from approaching their loved ones despite the wives expressing distress. However, an hour later the men were released and allowed to return home. According to rumors later leaked from city hall circles, a murder was indeed planned and the gathered Jews were to be led to the train station or the forest where they would have been murdered. The murder was not implemented because of differing opinions among members of the town council. The Tatarnyok family secretly reported that their brother strongly objected to the murder and convinced the others to prevent the murders. Other reports

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told of a teacher who strongly objected to the murders and helped sway opinions against it. Others reported that the objectors were joined by Hungarian officers who coincidently were at city hall that evening and demanded the prevention of the scheme.

 

First Horrific Sight: The Expulsion of the Jews of Maramureș[2]

During the time that the occupation government was administered by the Hungarians, Jezierzany was the site of a horrific trail of thousands of Jews exiled from Carpatho–Russia. The exiled had resided in towns and villages on the other side of the Carpathian mountains including Yasinia, Khust, Mukachevo, Košice and more. Claiming that the Jews were not Hungarian citizens, Hungarian authorities gathered the Jews, only a bundle of their belongings in hand, and drove the Jews eastward. In the Tovste area, the Jews were handed over to the Ukrainian police, who marched them on foot on a trail which led through Jezierzany as well. The residents were heartbroken at the sight of those poor people marching and being dragged to Borszczów under Ukrainian police guard. The police constantly shot in the air to frighten and prevent bystanders from approaching and helping. Hirszenberg's famous painting, Exile, pales in comparison to the living picture of the trail of Maramureș Jews we witnessed with our own eyes. We heard weeping, desperate calls for bread and water. I saw a grey–bearded rabbi of majestic appearance, wearing a black silk robe, carrying a Torah scroll as his wife, an elderly woman, held a bundle of belongings she carried with her remaining strength. Usually, the trail [of people] would pause at the edge of town, which the Jews of Jezierzany seized as an opportunity; they ran with bread loaves and hot food to feed the exiled and cheer them. After a short hour, the refugees were again placed in rows and marched towards Borszczów. Five or six such convoys passed through our town,

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each numbering in the hundreds of Jews. In all likelihood, many such convoys were led eastward on other roads beyond the Zbruch river. According to reports that reached us, 16,000 Jews from those convoys were concentrated in a camp near Kamianets–Podilskyi. After several weeks in the camp, the German authorities said the refugees would be returned to Hungary. Those poor folks were happy when they heard the news but it was just a rumor spread by the diabolical German murderers and their collaborators as a method of keeping the refugees in one place. On the refugees' journey “home,” they were led to a valley near Orynyn where they were slaughtered by murderers stationed with machine guns on the surrounding hills. According to rumors, some children survived the shooting. The children managed to hide or escape until the massacre had concluded and later reached Skala–Podolska (a town on the west bank of the Zbruch river) where they endured the fate of the other Jews of Skala–Podolska.

The sight of the expulsion of the Jews of Maramureș was a predicter and omen of the evils to come. Daily reality was rife with troubles that increased daily and included repression, humiliation, searches and seizures, torment and robberies. Imprisonment and torture in the city hall basement jail were daily occurrences. Imprisoned in the same prison were Jews who were kidnapped in the area and accused by Ukrainians as Communist agents who could not escape with the Red Army. In actuality, the suspected Soviet collaborators were families of Jews, many from Bukovina who had escaped tragedy in their hometowns, or those who were lost when attempting to return from their workplaces to their towns. Ukrainians often murdered such Jews after torturing them to confess their fictional crimes as supposed Communists.

The situation demanded constant intervention by local Ukrainian authorities which at first was done through tight bonds of acquaintance and trade among Jews and non–Jews formed over generations. More urgency existed in aiding those harmed

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by increasingly diminishing income sources. There was a special need to ease the forced labor problem facing the Jews. Every morning, dozens of Jews were forced to work on the roads or fields. The Ukrainian appetite [for labor] grew every day and the quotas increased to 200 workers a day or more.

All of those problems demanded an organization that would handle intervention properly, especially for a just distribution of the forced labor. If the activities were related to providing assistance, such as feeding the Maramureș refugees, there were still those who quickly volunteered. Later, a committee of volunteers and advocates formed. However, as the situation worsened, many public volunteers began avoiding their commitments. One day, a group of people was summoned to city hall and, threatened at gunpoint, signed a note which compelled them to continue representing the Jews and supply services requested. The committee was yet to be named the “Judenrat.”

 

The Establishment of the Judenrat

The term “Judenrat” surfaced several weeks after the first committee was formed, approximately between the end of September and the beginning of October, during the Jewish holy day period. Local control had changed hands and the Hungarians disappeared. All of Galicia became the “District of Galicia” and part of the General Government. The change of government signaled a worsening state; the representatives of the German authorities had arrived in Borszczów and the surrounding area. A local and regional Judenrat was immediately established in Borszczów, headed by lawyer Dr. Hess. The regional Judenrat

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of Borszczów approached the local town committees, including that in Jezierzany. The first contact was established on Yom Kippur eve when an urgent order arrived and demanded the granting of quality merchandise to furnish the apartment of the German officer representing the authorities in Borszczów. After that demand, requests arrived with increasing frequency, almost daily. The demands were made not only by German authorities but also by Ukrainian authorities. The power of the Ukrainian authorities had been significantly reduced but they still helped the Germans to instill the spirit of repression and terror in the residents, especially the Jews.

The local committee was restructured as the local Judenrat. Mendel Majberger, previously Jewish community chairman and Mayor, served as Judenrat chair for one year, the entire time that the Jezierzany Judenrat existed. The Jezierzany Judenrat was disbanded on September 26, 1942 and Mr. Majberger was led, with 700 other Jews, on the death train to the Bełżec extermination camp.

 

Massacre of the Jewish Intelligentsia

Chortkov was added as a regional Judenrat authority after the arrival in Chortkov of German police authorities like Gestapo, and Sonderdienst Ordnungspolizei. The German police also commanded the Ukrainian Police and Kriminalpolizei (criminal police, composed mostly of Poles). Ties were established between the regional Judenrat and the Jezierzany Judenrat by attorney Izio Bok [?] of Chortkov. However, Dr. Bok perished weeks later along with his brother Tonio Buck, also an attorney. The Bok brothers were murdered along with many members of the Chortkov Jewish intelligentsia, mostly attorneys and teachers. According to reports, the separate massacre of the intelligentsia was initiated by Ukrainian lawyers who had not yet predicted the annihilation of the Jews and wanted to immediately rid

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themselves of the competition and the Jewish intelligentsia in general. German authorities happily fulfilled requests to murder Jews, even if that specific murder was not a part of the German plan. Jewish intelligentsia members were led to a grove at the side of the Chortkov–Kopychyntsi road where they were then murdered and buried. Among those who perished was attorney Dr. Musler, previously mayor of Chortkov, and members of the Judenrat who were among the professional intelligentsia. Only one of the intelligentsia was released, Dr. Avner, who was immediately appointed Judenrat chairman. Abner was probably released for that purpose alone.

Because of the link with Chortkov, Jezierzany was subjected to pressure from two directions – Borszczów in the east and Chortkov in the west – and relentless troubles rained on our heads. Although the regional Judenrat in Borszczów was exterminated, the troubles from Borszczów remained as the German labor office remained and was a ceaseless demander of a labor force for local labor and in the big labor camps in the Ternopil area. Since the fall Holy Days of 1941 throughout 1941 and 1942 until the big Aktion on Sukkot 1942, the chain of persecution continued daily without end and almost every moment brought pain with it.

 

Massacre of Jews in the Neighboring Towns

Horrible news constantly arrived from all over the country. We heard of many massacres in the Stanisławów area. We heard of an Aktion in Zalishchyky in which Jews were told they were being recruited for sanitation work at the army barracks and then massacred. At the end of November 1941, many Jews from Horodenka were massacred after they were led from their homes to a grove near Osziazko (beyond the Dniester) where they were shot into shallow graves over a period of two days. As Bialik wrote in “The City of Slaughter,”

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“Actions penetrate your mind, enough to slaughter
Your spirit and soul forever thereafter”

 

Calamities in the Closed Ghetto: Theft and Communal Prayer Ban

Like residents of many other towns, for some time before the Jews of Jezierzany joined the fate of general extermination, they were subjected to a constant struggle with the Angel of Death. Some maintained illusions; maybe God will have mercy and the fate of others would not be their fate. The community slowly grew accustomed to the “mild” decrees which hammered its head daily. Such decrees included the obligation to wear a white band with a blue star of David on the left arm, the decree forbidding public prayer and gathering in prayer houses (In Jezierzany the decree was implemented on the last day of Sukkot, 1941) and the decree demanding all radio receivers be forfeited. Many other strange and varied decrees were issued; a notable example was the ban on leaving the Jewish quarters and leaving town, a violation of which carried a death sentence. Many Jews did not heed the decree and, while using caution and camouflage, escaped every German uniform–wearer or dark–blue uniformed Ukrainian policemen to trade with Gentiles from neighboring villages, despite the fear.

The decrees regarding taxes and confiscations were very difficult. Every day, the demands intensified. Various governmental entities demanded the supply of many items: food and drink, clothing, shoes, decorative items, valuables, furniture and work tools. The demands arrived from all directions: Borszczów, Chortkov and sometimes from random Germans who passed through the neighboring villages. The orders from Chortkov came from the Judenrat or directly from various Germans who suddenly arrived and made demands, frightening the Judenrat and, under threats of violence, demanded they be supplied within a specified timeframe. It was frequently proven that some Germans made demands despite not having the authority to do so. However, the fear of German uniforms, especially ones which carried the Totenkopf (skull) insignia, was such that almost every demander's wishes were fulfilled. Additionally,

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the wicked Germans fed the delusion by saying “You will live as long as you give.”

Then the money problems worsened. At first, when the demands were few, the item was taken from whoever had the item. Mendel Majberger, the then–wealthy Judenrat chairman, was among the first to volunteer contributions [in response to the demands] even if the item was very valuable. However, as the demands increased, a taxation system was implemented based on residents' social and financial states. The money was used to fund the various demands. If a valuable item was taken from a resident, he was paid by estimate [of its worth?] or he received a tax deduction. Of course, when collecting taxes and confiscating items, claims were raised of unfairness and the Jewish Police Service (Ordnungsdienst) had to use force to collect while the taxed family shouted and acted disorderly.

Two large “contribution” operations were conducted during the winter of 1941 – 1942. The first was an operation to confiscate silver and copper owned by Jews. The collection was not done forcefully because the power of the threat in the German order, stating that every Jew possessing silver or copper would be punished severely, was sufficient.

The second operation was the confiscation of furs in Jewish possession. The confiscation was carried out hastily and with more tangible force. In approximately January 1942, the Jews were ordered to hand over all furs, to be transferred to the Chortkov Gestapo, and they were told that any noncompliance was punishable by death. The Germans needed the furs to supply their soldiers at the Russian front who suffered from the unusual cold. The fur operation was carried out in all regions under the General Government control but the Germans only confiscated fur from the Jews.

Before the fur operation, several civilians were jailed as hostages in the Chortkov prison. The arrestees included Yaakov Eisenberg, Zelig

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Gruser, Hersh Scheer and Otziye Holenberg (Chantziye Holenberg's son). It is unclear why only they were taken as hostages; any explanations provided were assumptions. Not everyone complied with the fur confiscation demands and some destroyed a fur, hid it or sold it to Gentiles. Many complied with the order and others partially complied by handing over collars or lining, and hid more valuable fur. The hostages were not released immediately after the furs were handed in; they were released only after extensive intervention by the Chortkov Judenrat and ransom payments [were made] for each hostage.

 

Mass Recruitment and Forceful Kidnapping to Labor Camps

The worst of all the initial orders was manpower recruitment. The demands to supply labor, for local work at first and later for labor camps, were usually directed to the Judenrat. The role of the Judenrat person tasked with labor recruitment was the most difficult and entailed the most responsibility. The Judenrat human resources manager was the most despised.

The situation worsened in December 1941 when the German labor office in Borszczów demanded 60 to 70 workers for the work camp in Stavky, a village near Ternopil. A member of the Judenrat who had resided in Vienna knew German well and, after he and Dr. Hess bribed the German supervisor, the quota for Jezierzany was reduced to 35. It is difficult to describe the tragic preparation and the darkness which accompanied the recruitment of the first laborers. The laborers were transferred to Chortkov and from there to labor camps in Borki Velikiye and Stavky, two villages in the Ternopil region. The Ternopil regional camps supplied forced labor to repair roads and rail tracks along routes important for transferring German and Italian reinforcements and resources to the Russian front.

The first issue to arise because of the demanded manpower shipment to the labor camp was

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supplying aid to the young men, including additional food, clothing, shoes and written correspondence. The families' pressure resulted in a constant correspondence between our town and the Stavky[3] labor camp. The Judenrat in Chortkov purchased from the German labor supervisors travel permits to and from the camp for Judenrat officials and for parents who were given a cover title. Thanks to the arrangement and the fact that, along the way from our town to Ternopil, there were Jewish towns in a situation similar to ours; contact was maintained between our town and those held in the labor camp. The community planned fundraising to release the laborers. Many parents parted with what money they had left and borrowed funds to redeem their sons. Release was still possible and some managed to obtain a release. However, the release efforts were limited and only some families could afford the needed funds which highlighted and worsened the class divide issue. The poor families warned of special treatment. It also happened that the Judenrat middleman failed in his release efforts despite the funds given to him for that purpose, causing anger and rumors that he had betrayed the community's confidence. A bitter reality of controlled anger at a life of abominable filth beyond a shred of hope caused a search for relief and a scapegoat.

The first labor shipment was but the prelude. After a while we realized how humble the first shipment had been compared to the increasingly larger shipments demanded. In the beginning of February, the Germans kidnapped over 20 Jews, including some elderly and weak individuals, to refill the labor camps.

The third shipment was even worse because of its demanded numbers. The labor office in Borszczów demanded that Jezierzany supply 150 young people. After lengthy negotiations with the German labor manager in Borszczów and intervention by Dr. Hess,

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the number was reduced to 100 individuals. The laborers were transported to Borszczów and, after further sorting along the way and in Borszczów, 70 individuals joined hundreds from Borszczów and the region in the labor camps of Borki Velikiye and Stavky.

The final such shipment to the labor camps was done shortly before Passover but used different methods. The Germans likely believed that they could not trust the Judenrat to recruit enough workers so the Germans resorted to trickery. The German authorities in Chortkov, through the Judenrat, demanded a list of manpower from the Borszczów region. Local Judenrat offices were assured that no harm would befall those registered and that the list was not being composed with ill will and was done only for data collection. The Judenrat officers were ordered to explain that to Jews up to a certain age and to encourage the workers to report on registration day. Of course, persuading the would–be workers was difficult because the Jews had learned through bitter experience that one could not trust in the least the German authorities. Many hesitant folks suspected that the Judenrat was a part of the German trickery scheme. Masses of Jews presented themselves to be listed due to a constant fear of harsher consequences. Only few could afford to not report for registration but there were exceptions to the rule because news of much worse consequences had arrived from several places. Those of little faith were correct; the “registration” was a trap designed to kidnap many people at once [and send them] to the forced labor camps

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that were constructed with increasing frequency within the territory of the General Government. Sonderdienst and other such demons immediately surrounded the candidates for registration. The Germans sorted the candidates for labor or a return home. A return home, but not for long. 80 people from Jezierzany were then trapped, including folks older than 50 and weak men. The same happened in many other towns, including most of the intelligentsia in Borszczów, Rabbi Herzog, lawyers and teachers. Most were transported to the Borki Velikiye and Stavky camps and many were transported to the camp in the village of Helovoczak–Vialki [?] near Ternopil. If I recall correctly, the number of detainees from the Jews of Jezierzany in the Stavky and Borki camps was approximately 150 and the Helovoczak–Vialki about 30. Approximately 35 people were redeemed over the summer of 1942 and the rest remained there until their extermination in the summer of 1943.

 

Social Aid to Camp Residents

The recruitment and shipments of laborers ended with the “registration” shipment. The problem of providing aid and helping the detainees survive became more pressing. In February 1942, when the number of detainees from Jezierzany stood at about 100, the problem became apparent in light of the large number of poor families who could not afford to constantly send packages to their sons. A committee for social aid was established near or by the Judenrat. The committee was founded after a memorandum regarding the founding of Jewish self–help in other towns. The memorandum sparked a mild hope in a slight easing of German treatment of the Jews. Many wanted to hold onto a delusion that things would improve, that our hope was not yet lost. The will was so strong that even news of a possibility that a Jewish organization would help those detained in the camps

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and poor Jews in the ghettos sparked hope of better days. However, typical of the times, people were quickly disappointed. The Judenrat, which always needed funds, exploited an opportunity and sold “immunity” documents, supposedly with consent from the German authorities, which people purchased thinking they would be shielded from forced labor and deportations. I will expand below on the various documents, the holders who purchased expensive papers and held on to hope they would be saved or their sentence would be delayed.

The aid given to impoverished folks was truly important. Wealthy families were tasked with donating food packages for camp prisoners. The number of packages needed grew as the number of forced laborers increased and, in the summer months of 1942, the number of packages donated by the Jezierzany population reached 80. The donated packages were transported every two weeks by wagon. The regular coachman, Nechemia Holenberg, was usually accompanied by Judenrat officials or parents of the prisoners carrying appropriate paperwork. The packages were distributed in the evening after the prisoners had returned from work. At the time, which was relatively liberal, there was still the possibility of replacements; brothers replaced one another so the other brother could rest. The replacements cost the families money, negotiated by Judenrat envoys near the camp who negotiated with the SS camp officers. Redeeming a prisoner was more costly. As I mentioned, dozens of detainees were released during the summer of 1942.

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The releases of summer 1942 caused harsh accusations against the Judenrat, especially the man who served as middleman. The middleman was accused of nepotism because his relatives were among the prisoners and he was accused of having abused his (very limited) authority to purchase the release of his relatives. Others accused the middleman of misusing the funds given to him. The accusations were never confirmed because confirmation was impossible under the circumstances. The bitterness expressed is understandable as is the mental drive to place blame on someone.

The aid provided to the camp laborers was concurrent with aid to local needy people, although aid was very limited. Rabbi Mordechai Epstein and his son–in–law, Rabbi Pener, received a monthly allowance from the Judenrat as a continuation of their salary from the community. Occasionally, miscellaneous needy people received donations.

 

Initial Preparation for the Death Camps

In the middle of summer 1942, more trouble increased, although supposedly not as severe as the forced labor camps. During those days, the Germans disseminated the slogan among Jews in the ghettos and towns, “All Jews to camps.” The slogan was given a final tragic meaning as the Germans had meant death camps and were not satisfied by labor camps. The Germans implemented a double scheme of constant extermination while using manpower for their own economic and military needs. The Germans began planting rubber–producing plants in Jezierzany and the region. The labor force producing the plant was composed of girls ages 17 – 19. Massive recruitment of girls occurred at the time. In the summer of 1942, girls were recruited and sent to Glubochek (Libitshok). That recruitment was involuntary and the fear of concentration [in one location?] was immense.

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About 70 girls and some young boys were recruited from Jezierzany to work the fields. The farm workers were housed in the attics of barns on the Libitshok estate. The work detail was under guard. Thanks to the proximity of Libitshok and Jezierzany, parents and daughters maintained close ties. When the season was over, most of the girls returned to Jezierzany. Some girls stayed behind to work the rubber fields and thus were saved on the day of the Aktion.

Additional registration was done during that summer. Registration accounted for details such as work ability and physical strength. Some were immune to labor camp enlistment due to essential local roles. The Germans granted certificates to local laborers. Laborers had the letter “A” etched on their blue–and–white armbands. The certificates deluded their purchasers into feeling safe. Certificates served as an opportunity for the Germans to extort Jews and were used by the Judenrat to fund its daily expenses. During the first weeks of granting certificates, it was made clear that the document bore no significance to the German angel of death. However, as the Jews struggled for their lives, varied “immunity documents” surfaced, including some that the Germans recognized and which temporarily saved document holders. Such a recognized certificate was the document of scrap collectors who were supposedly collecting reusable materials for the German war industry. Of course, the entire scrap collection task was a fiction and the Germans never used any materials supplied by Jews. My wife and I also purchased scrap collector documents but did not supply even a single scrap item to the Germans. However, the documents helped us and others avoid death for a limited time. I will expand below on the documents and our struggle for life using the documents.

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Beginning of Total Extermination

As the summer ended, we reached the Aktion on Sukkot of 1942, the start of the total extermination of the Jews of Jezierzany and the region. The Aktion was expected; since the middle of summer 1942, tragic news arrived concerning constant Aktions in Lviv and other Galician towns all over the General Government jurisdiction. Our world was plagued with the horrifying words bearing the names of the extermination camps: Majdanek, Treblinka, Bełżec. For us, the Jews of Galicia, the pits of hell had opened, bearing the known verse, “All who go do not return,”[4] applied to the hell that is Bełżec. Bad omens were plentiful before then; at the end of July, the “Jewish Newspaper” (a meager weekly publication in Polish, published in Krakow) had stopped arriving. The final issue of the newspaper told of the suicide of the Judenrat chairman of Warsaw, engineer Adam Czerniaków. In response to letters inquiring as to the fate of relatives and acquaintances, the typical German answer was received, “unbekannt verzogen” (“new address unknown”). Then the correspondence link with the world was severed and we felt that the noose was tightening around our necks. The Jewish community and organizations continued to struggle for an as–long–as–possible postponement of inevitable doom. The German authorities engaged in obfuscation operations to distract Jewish attention from looming danger so that the day of the Aktion would come as a surprise and enable the maximum amount of victims. One obfuscation operation was the expulsion of elderly folks from Chortkov with their being scattered in small towns, with an explanation that, as elderly folks, they were unfit for labor and faced more danger in large Jewish communities. As a result, many elderly folks arrived in Jezierzany, including Moshe Getter who had resided in Chortkov but his fate led him back to Jezierzany. One bright day, the horrible news arrived that the Aktion had commenced in Chortkov. We learned of the horrific results of the Aktion a day or two later.

[Column 310]

On the day of the Aktion, more than 2300 men, women, and children were led to the train station. At the train station, they were loaded on closed animal freight cars and transported to the Bełżec extermination camp. The transport included innocent Jews who were jailed at the Chortkov jail, including Dr. Hess whom we mentioned above several times. Dr. Hess was seen marching barefoot wearing only underwear; his being taken from the jail was likely done so hastily that he did not have time to dress. He was jailed for his refusal to pay the penalties the Germans had demanded from the Jews of Chortkov, saying “We have no more to give.”

Other Aktions had taken place in other nearby towns such as Zalishchyky, Jagielnica and others. Thus, we were sure that the Angel of Death would not pass over Jezierzany and the coming Aktion was only a matter of time. Those days, the authorities commanded that all Jewish homes be marked with a Star of David visible from a distance and which also signaled tragedy.

Around Purim time, the Germans had transported local villagers to Jezierzany from Lanovitsy, Bil'che Zolote and Glubochek, fitting with the policy of maximizing concentration of the Jews. In addition, many “refugees” arrived from other places who survived the Aktions in Horodenka, Stanisławów and Zalishchyky. That migration was also a result of German obfuscation techniques; the people arriving knew from “a reliable source” that an Aktion would not take place soon in Jezierzany and that Jezierzany was absent from the Gestapo operations schedule. Yet the general atmosphere was readiness and preparation for the inevitable; people constructed bunkers and hiding places in their homes. Others arranged hiding with gentile neighbors. Some rose early every morning and left the town for the fields and forest, having heard that the Aktions start at dawn. Possibly people also prepared for death, still praying silently for a miraculous rescue.

[Column 311]

Mendel Majberger often traveled to Chortkov to inquire at the regional Judenrat about Jezierzany's fate, intending to hold on to any hint of a promise. Majberger proposed large sums of money for canceling or postponing the Aktion. He returned from Chortkov empty–handed with only vague, meaningless promises. In response to inquiries, Majberger lowered his eyes, sighed and responded, “What can I say?” On Friday, the eve of Sukkot and the Aktion, he travelled to Chortkov and returned in the evening. When folks approached him, he replied that he was very pessimistic and the Aktion likely was inevitable. In Chortkov, Majberger was promised that the Aktion in Jezierzany was not scheduled for upcoming days and he remarked, “Who knows?”

The Jews of Jezierzany found a “reliable source” for the promise on the afternoon of that day; the source for Jewish matters at the Chortkov Gestapo, Kelner, had placed an order for various items to be filled the next Tuesday. The Jews of Jezierzany inferred that if the order was for Tuesday, the Aktion would not take place the next day. That evening, some Jews still dined in the sukkah they had prepared and [did so] with relative peace of mind [thinking] that they were immune for the next days. A few hours later, it was proven that the order was cruel obfuscation, made in other regional towns as well, for the Aktion was scheduled for the next day.

 

The Aktion[5]

The Aktion was carried out on Saturday, the first day of Sukkot, September 26, 1942. The Aktion was carried out in four other neighboring towns: Borszczów, Skała–Podolska near the Zbruch river), Korolowka and Mielnica (near the Dniester River). The Jewish residents of those towns' satellite villages were transported to the towns before the Aktion,

[Column 312]

as were the residents of Krzywcze, a small town between Borszczów and Mielnica.

That night, our town was surrounded by the gestapo and their contemporaries: Schutzpolizei from Ternopil; Kriminalpolizei and Sonderdienst from Chortkov; and the Ukrainian Police. At 4:00 a.m., the Jews of Jezierzany found themselves surrounded. [Then began] a frightened run and dash began to hiding places at home or with neighbors, hidden corners, from one street to the next or towards the fields and groves. The murderers began murder operations immediately. Some murderers were stationed in the entryways and commanded anyone who attempted to escape towards the fields to kneel. Anyone who did not obey and continued running was shot on the spot. Some operated within the town, shooting anyone who did not obey their command, “Halt!” Gunfire, horrifying shouts, children's cries and injured groans pierced the air. An hour later, the police led towards the town square (the same place where Wednesday market days had taken place before and after WWI) the first groups of those captured while running. Presumably, dozens of victims fell in the first hours of the Aktion, which were likely the murders' prelude to the atmosphere of fear and murder. The rest were not murdered in Jezierzany but transported to Bełżec. At approximately 8 a.m., Ukrainian police led my wife Luta, her sister Luna, and me from our hiding spot in Alter Bolchover's attic. During that short journey from Bolchover's house to the market place, I heard a policeman rebuking my weeping wife, “Look at her! She kissed Soviet tanks and now has the audacity to cry.” At the time, there were 150 people at the square. Among those brought to the square were my father–in–law, Ya'akov Eisenberg, and my mother–in–law Genya. Genya was captured holding my one and a half daughter, Ditka, who survived the war and changed her name to Esther). My in–laws and daughter were captured with a group of people on the side road to Lanovitsy.

[Column 313]

Hours later, my wife and my daughter managed to escape because of the toddler who cried a lot and asked for milk. My wife begged the German to allow her to go home, mere steps from the square, and feed the girl. After constant pleading, the German relented and accompanied her and a Jewish Police Service member to the house. Near the entrance to the house, my wife continued to persuade the German to allow her to stay in the house with the girl. The German refused at first but then relented and allowed the Jewish policeman to place a note on the door that said “The house has been searched and all of its Jewish residents extracted.” Thus, my wife and daughter were saved that day. My wife's sister, her parents and most members of the Holenberg family were transported to Bełżec.

All those brought to the square were commanded to immediately sit on the ground. Germans kept the order. A German sat by a table and calculated statistics. At about 9 a.m., Judenrat chairman Mendel Majberger came to the square and pointed at me, recommending to a German that I bring bread and water to the crowd. Since that time until the afternoon hours, I worked. Most of the houses were open after their residents had been removed. I entered the homes and found in the cupboards bread and challah loaves which were mostly still fresh, prepared for Sukkot. When I arrived with the bread basket at the square I was commanded to slice the bread and toss it to the crowd. Once, the German shouted at me and rebuked me for distributing more bread to the elderly and adults and less to the children. (Such a “merciful compassionate” man.)

Speaking of their “compassion,” that day I heard a conversation between a German guard and a Jewish policeman; the German said, “Such swine! I see from the faces and clothes of the crowd that only poor Jews were brought here. Why aren't some rich Jews brought here too?” I then understood the diabolical meaning of the Hitlerite inter–operation of the “socialist” component of “National–Socialism.”

Mendel Majberger recommended that more Jewish men gather

[Column 314]

the bodies of the fallen and bury them in the Jewish cemetery. The buriers were saved that day thanks to Majberger's recommendation.

The Germans did not trust members of the Judenrat and Jewish Police Service to search the homes, and the Germans searched, relying in large part on local Ukrainian collaborators. In the morning hours, some Jewish policemen accompanied the Germans who ordered them to use an axe to open a door or window if the entrance was locked. Some Jewish men avoided sitting in the square by carrying axes and wearing Jewish Police hats they had obtained somehow. The Jewish Police Service also had the role of sticking notes on the homes saying that the homes were searched and their residents removed. Judenrat chairman Majberger and his vice–chairman sat in the Judenrat office (in Yentel Dov's house) and gave alcoholic drinks to the Germans all day. The purpose of the drinks was to somewhat “contain” the murderers and to influence them to somewhat ease the implementation of the Aktion and [secure] release of a few people from the transport.

At noon, when the square's population reached 500, SS officers appeared led by SS official Katzman, head executioner of Eastern–Galician Jews, probably for a survey. I had arrived with a bread basket and, when I saw the SS officers, I was unable to retreat before Katzman signaled to me to join those sitting in the square. I then saw that he gave some orders to Germans and removed some from the crowd who waved documents at Katzman, and he led them towards the synagogue alley. From news which [was] later reported, I learned that the document waivers were released because they held scrap–collector licenses, which were still operational in the eyes of the expellers. After Katzman and his gang left and drove towards Borszczów, I pled with the German who had accompanied me during the bread distribution to allow me to leave the square and continue my job. The German replied that it was difficult for him to do so because Katzman himself had ordered me to sit (that is how I learned that it was Katzman). I told him that Katzman had released people based on documents and I, too, had a similar certificate

[Column 315]

in my house. The German asked, “You give me your word you have it? I'm taking the risk and you can continue bringing bread.” Of course, I listened and continued bread duty until the Aktion ended at 6 p.m.

At 6 p.m., a trumpet announced the end of the gathering. Estimated by sight, about 750 Jews were gathered, including 150 non–Jezierzany residents. Then the people were transferred gradually to Yeshayahu Tenenblatt's former house near city hall. The house was unfinished and partly fenced, too small to contain the people, but everyone was forced into the building and surrounded by German guards. The guard who allowed me to collect bread was no longer there and, when I approached the site another guard commanded me to enter the building. Majberger once more released me, this time to bring water to those gathered. Several were rescued in a similar manner, disappeared and hid mid–work. I went to the Judenrat office to ask Mr. Majberger to somehow release my father–in–law or place members of my wife's family on the list he was rumored to be giving the Germans. That evening the Judenrat office was busy like a crowded pub. I heard a Gestapo officer take a special interest in doctors. The officer claimed that he knew that there were two Jewish doctors in the town; Dr. Gerstenblit and Dr. Rosenstock. The German was “perplexed” that the doctors had not appeared to provide medical attention to the poor people, among whom there were injured and heat–stricken people. The officer “promised” to release 40 people that evening or next morning. When a list of 70 people was handed to the German, he shouted that the list was too long but lowered his voice and said he “would do his best” to release all 70 but demanded that the doctors be found in exchange.[6]

[Column 316]

I naively requested that Majberger add the name of my former melamed [teacher], Sender Rubinstein (Der Kashferavitser Melamed[7]). Mr. Majberger likely believed the murderers were honest; he said that if he could not extract the listed people that evening he hoped to do so the next morning. If not for that delusionary belief it would have been possible to hide on that night until the aktion[8] was completed and the Germans were no longer searching for victims. Only in cases where local Ukrainians voluntarily initiated aktions were some Jews discovered in various hiding places. The Jews were then brought to the gathering place and the German guards happily added the new arrivals for the shipment to the death camps.

I do not remember how and where I spent the late hours of the night. At midnight I still was patrolling in the alleyways facing the gathering place. The full moon and millions of stars shined in the dark–blue skies; there was not a cloud in the sky; there was an indescribable cosmic peace. Below, in the valley of death, my people faced an indescribable abyss of pain and suffering.

The next morning, I approached the long line of people. The line formed in the space between Yeshayahu Tenenblatt's former home and city hall and between the row of houses towards the main road. The Germans violently struck the Jews as they shouted, wept or fainted. When I attempted to find a way to rescue my relatives, I was added to the lineup without the opportunity to object. Later I learned that I was not the only victim of the delusion that Mr. Majberger and others naively believed because they trusted the promises of the cunning murderers.

From a distance I saw Majberger, with about thirteen

[Column 317]

Judenrat[9] and Jewish Police Service officials, and three more young men who had avoided capture the day before thanks to their police hats, being led by three policemen followed by the victims on their last walk to the train station.

One mishap, a single act of denial, occurred on the way to the train station when Etti Gruser (wife of Zelig) left the convoy and turned right onto an alley. A German chased after her, and when she did not respond to his command to return, he shot her dead on the spot. Her body remained there as the convoy continued walking slowly by. On Sunday at about 10 am on the second day of Sukkot[10], we reached the train station, the second to last stop on the way to Belzec[11].

 

Boarding the Death Train: Horrific Sights and Terrifying Crimes

When the people reached the train station, about 300 were placed in awaiting train cars. After the train had swallowed them silently, or at least without great noise, the engine whistled and the train, which likely contained hundreds of victims from other sites, made its way west towards Ternopil.[12] While waiting for a second train to arrive from the east, the Germans divided the remaining Jews into groups of fifty locating each between the station building and the train tracks.

During the wait, Mr. Majberger continued to demand, request, and plead with those who had promised the evening before to release those on the list who were not to be deported. Before he was led to the train station, Mr. Majberger did not forget to bring some liquor bottles to “smooth” his efforts to negotiate for their release. Most of the time, Majberger patrolled the station, tense, holding a liquor bottle while a second bottle stuck out of his coat pocket. Occasionally he waved the list of the “release candidates” in front of the Gestapo official

[Column 318]

who had promised the release. The Gestapo man accepted a liquor bottle adding with a smile that he was doing his best and hoped that everything will be alright.

Increasingly Majberger, other Judenrat and Jewish police officials grew concerned about the outcome which destroyed any remaining delusions they had. It became clear that not only was there no likelihood anyone being released from the transport but they themselves were also trapped; they were fated to join the transport or be executed immediately. As we waited, ten more Jews were brought by wagon to the station. Those Jews were dying; they were so weak they could not walk in the town's march, but for statistical accuracy in line with German punctuality, they were driven to the train station. The only one among them that I recall is Mr. Rost, the teacher[13]. The small group was not joined with the rest of the Jews but were unloaded by the entrance on the other side of the station. Undoubtedly they were properly registered and then Bystander, the Gestapo driver from Chortkiv, shot them and returned their bodies to the town.[14] I heard the gunshots, and eyewitnesses, after I boarded the train and after I returned home, told me what had happened. While Germans granted euthanizing gunshots to their first victims, those on their way to Belzec experienced severe suffering and the terrible torture from the moment they were captured until they died in the extermination camp. Meanwhile, as we waited I witnessed a horrific harassment of another victim. Two Polish Kriminalpolizei[15] officers who collaborated with the Germans in the aktion were likely bored; they extracted the long–bearded Avraham Horowitz (who was known as “Avraham the Russian”) from a group at the station. The beard seemed to them as an object of fun for them

[Column 319]

and they began cutting it. They laughed as they slowly and calmly used a pocket knife or thin scissors to cut thin strips out of the beard until only a few patches of black, silvering, or white hairs remained. Avraham did not shout or weep, and instead raised his fearful, teary eyes and looked around as he gestured with his hands, as if asking for help.

The sharp shriek of the approaching train's whistle and the smoke bellowing out of the smoke stack broke the station's relative silence. Only then did the victims express their terrified cries, followed by those of the children and babies. Despite their weakness from the previous ordeals the infants bore their fate silently; now they began weeping, as if they just recalled their reason to do so. Their terrified cries were disguised and combined with the noise of the train entering the station.

Most of the train cars were filled to capacity with victims from Skala–Podolska,[16] Mielnica,[17] Korolówka,[18] and Borszczów.[19] The eyes and facial features, including some familiar faces, peeked out of the hatches in the cars. The doors of the empty cars were opened and the Germans started loading the Jews of Jezierzany.[20] The murderers commanded small groups to get up from the ground; they were led into the freight cars as the Germans speeded up the loading by scolding, whipping, and striking “passengers” with their rifle butts. Designed to transport livestock the cars lacked a ramp so only the victims who quickly jumped in managed to avoid the battering. When the Jews of Jezierzany exceeded capacity in their designated cars, Germans opened the cars filled in other towns and pushed in many more victims, with much cruelty and brutality.

While the people were being loaded onto the train, the Judenrat men were directed to quickly draw water from the pump in the station's yard and place a bucket or two into each car,

[Column 320]

probably to avoid widespread deaths from thirst, enabling the delivery of the victims alive to the extermination camps.

Fate had destined me to be in the final group for transport. I witnessed the loading of almost all of the residents of my town including my wife's family (her father, her mother, her sister, and her two aunts).

One of the residents of Jezierzany who was loaded last was Moshe Steinig, also known as “Kasos” [spelling?]. Moshe was developmentally disabled and was raised by his grandparents, David and Baila Steinig. Moshe's custom was to patrol the streets of the town all day while carrying a prayer book. Moshe was alert to the daily occurrences of Jezierzany between the wars. And there he was, in a group destined to die. Moshe sat on the ground at the edge of his group, motionless and speechless. When he was commanded to stand and walk towards the train, he stood but was not in any rush to begin his final journey, perhaps the first in his life beyond the borders of Jezierzany. He stayed at some distance from the rest of the group. The Germans were busy loading the car and did not notice him at first. He turned around to the Jews who remained in the station and mumbled, “Vas viln zey fun mir? ikh bin epes shuldik?”[21] He made his way towards the exit gate where he encountered a German officer who whipped him and led him to the almost–closed car.

My group's turn came minutes later. Learning from the experience I had just witnessed, I quickly jumped into the car and endured only a slight whipping. We saw the Germans loading the Judenrat and Jewish Police members into the car, as the Germans cursed them, struck them, and whipped them. Mendel Majberger's head was bleeding because, as an elderly man, he was unable to quickly jump onto the car and was battered all over and his head was roughly beaten.

The car door was slammed quickly with a horrifying knock. The engine whistled and the train with its human freight

[Column 321]

made its way to Belzec. It was 1 pm on Sunday, the second day of Sukkot, September 27, 1942. I remained on the freight train for fifteen hours until I jumped from it on 4 am the next day.

I cannot describe my memories for the generations to come as well as a talented writer can. I do not know whether the coming generations will be interested in, or see the necessity of, knowing the feelings of those people who, like millions of other people, were crammed into a freight train, 100–120 people per car, a train which led them to their bitter end.

My car was relatively comfortable, nearly luxurious, because it contained only about fifty people. The car had two hatches; one hatch was completely sealed and fenced with barbed wire. The second was on the other side of the car diagonally lined up with the first; it was partially open with vertical plywood on part of it. The only contact with the outside world was through that hatch. I saw the shining sun, the bright blue skies, the fragrant fresh air, the villages along the route with their calm residents and their playing children, the forests, groves, green fields, and golden grain fields. As the train sped through the train stations and intersections, I saw from the hatch stations so familiar and close to my heart; there was Vignaka [spelling unknown], Kopyczyńce, Trembowla, Mikulińce, Ternopil and more.

We stood or sat on the floor. Mr. Majberger was shocked when he boarded the train, perhaps more because of his disappointment than the assault he had just suffered. His hair and face remained covered in blood stains and he had received no medical attention. Like other passengers, he began to recover, relax, and grow accustomed to the new reality. Occasionally he said, “this is our fate, like all of the Jews and that's it.” He managed to smuggle one liquor bottle (the one in his coat pocket), and drank some to refresh and shared with others. The car was silent except for a baby girl who awoke periodically and

[Column 322]

cried a bit into her mother's bosom before quickly growing silent again. The next day I learned that a baby died in the car, but I was not told where the body was disposed of. It mattered little under the circumstances. It is possible that in her death, the baby allowed her mother to be “free” and jump off of the train? I later heard that a mother of a baby girl did jump from the train.

Off and on the passengers debated their destination. Some refused to make their peace with the fact that we were being transported to extermination. They estimated we were being transported to labor camp, because the saw the letter “L” on our train car from which they inferred that the car's passengers were designated for labor. Truthfully there was such a selection – to Janowska[22] a concentration camp on the outskirts of Lviv. The Germans selected some young people from the transports to Belzec for forced labor in that camp but nobody from Jezierzany reached that camp. Living and work conditions were similar to Belzec because the prisoners were exploited and overworked so that they grew weak. At that point they were sent to Belzec anyway.

 

A Dangerous Jump from the Train

The train reached Ternopil in the evening. The cars were switched from track to track until the late hours of the night. At the same time there was a changing of the guards as the policemen from Chortkiv, who helped the Chortkiv Gestapo in conducting the aktion in our town, returned to their base and other officials replaced them. At night in my train car we discussed matters and proposed trying to survive by jumping from the train. I raised that as the only method of survival in the days leading up to the aktion, during the aktion, on the way to the train and once more as I sat in the train. Some of my fellow passengers objected. Zayda Kirschner of Pilatkivitz Street staunchly opposed jumping and argued, “Fenster ('that jumper') will bring tragedy to us all and because of him

[Column 323]

the Germans will slaughter everyone in the train car.” At any rate, he was unable to pass through the hatch as an elderly, overweight man.

As I debated jumping, the train departed the Ternopil station at about 4 am. As the train sped towards Lviv with Belzes only a short distance further to Belzec, we had little time for debate and deliberations. We needed a decision. Soon the sun would rise and every second would count in the final moments of darkness. Suddenly and spontaneously the jump began; one jumper followed another. We had already bent down the wood that covered the hatch. Aided by friends each jumper stood on the water bucket, raised his feet out of the hatch, pulled himself out of the car, climbed down while holding the hatch, and then let go dropping himself to the ground in the direction of the moving train.

Commotion ensued when the jumping began. I was the tenth jumper, but as I was weak I was pushed aside by people with stronger elbows than mine. After I jumped to the ground near the train track, rolling as a result of the fall, I heard gunfire from the train. I do not know whether the jump was observed and I was being fired at or whether those were shots meant to frighten potential jumpers. When I raised my head and saw the engine pass I realized that in the new arrangement of the train my car was third or fourth after the engine; dozens of cars (about forty) were added to the death train with an engine attached at the other end of the train. When I tried to rise I felt pain in my left knee and face. I still rose and walked, and after a few steps encountered a stream under the bridge that the train had crossed minutes before.

After rinsing my face in the stream I looked around to acquaint myself with the area which I partly recognized from different occasions before and during the war. I saw that I was between the village Helovoczic–Vialki [spelling unknown]

[Column 324]

and the town of Jezierna near Zborów. I knew that there was a labor camp in that village, which weeks before received Jewish prisoners from Jezierzany.[23] I decided to go there. I heard the sound of a passing wagon and inferred there was a road nearby. I soon reached the road and began walking towards the houses on the horizon. I walked on side paths so nobody would see me. I entered the still sleeping village and reached the labor camp. I hid near the camp and waited for a Jew to exit the camp and come towards me. A short while later a Jewish camp guard appeared near me. I whispered to him to get his attention. The guard saw my facial injuries and realized my situation. He gestured to me to follow him. We walked down winding paths in the village's alleyways to the camp doctor's apartment. The doctor was a young Jew from Prague who was also detained in the camp, but his work as a doctor afforded him more humane treatment and free movement. The doctor treated my wounds and gave me food. It was only an hour since I jumped from the train; there I was sitting like a human at a table and eating breakfast. I had not eaten in the two and a half days since that Friday night and Sukkot at home in Jezierzany.

In the evening I was transferred to Borki–Vialki. That village and the nearby Stopki hosted two camps where many residents of our town were imprisoned. Life in those camps went on “as usual” with the camp prisoners performing forced labor. Near the camps, beyond the barbed wire fences, Judenrat middlemen from various places in the Ternopil district, including from Jezierzany, patrolled in an attempt to release prisoners. As they waited near the camp, parents who had come to gain release of their children learned of their family's losses from the aktion.

The next evening, a Tuesday, I boarded a freight truck to Jezierzany. I joined other escaping survivors of the train and Jews who were released from the Borki and Stopki camps in exchange for money or other laborers. Another miracle happened on our journey home when the truck

[Column 325]

passed Kopyczyńce[24] at about 2 am; as we learned later, Kopyczyńce was surrounded at 2:30 am in preparation for an aktion to take place in it and in other towns that morning, Wednesday, September 30, 1942.

I learned later that I was not the last one to jump from my train car; a baby's mother (see above) jumped from the train, as did Feiga Bloital, daughter of Asher Bloital the shochet. After jumping, Feiga reached the Ternopil ghetto and miraculously survived a miniature aktion conducted there, and then returned to Jezierzany. A young boy, son of Leah Frankel and grandson of Binyamin Sperling, jumped from the train at Rava–Ruska near Belzec and managed to return to Jezierzany. All survived temporarily and perished later under various circumstances.

 

General Expulsion Before the Final Extermination
(New Decrees and Horrifying Calamites)

As expected, our pain did not end after the first aktion. It was obvious to everyone that the survivors of the aktion, about half of the town residents, were facing a bitter struggle for life with unpredictable consequences. By then most Jews knew the cunning German plan which used tricks of obfuscation and deception as part of their plan to exterminate them. Our fears were confirmed. A few days after the aktion we received the news of the expulsion of all Jews in the area to ghettos in Borszczów[25] and Tovste. The survivors of the aktion, who were yet to recover and mourn for those lost a few days before, now faced new dangers leading to certain death and torture. The two remaining Judenrat officials were still attempting, in conjunction with the regional Judenrat in Chortkiv, to interfere with the German plan of expulsion to ghettos.

[Column 326]

While Jews raised money for ransom payments their attempts were in vain. It was a foolish to believe that the high–ranking German authorities could be changed. They planned to concentrate the Jewish population so that extermination ultimately would be easier and more efficient.

In mid–October 1942 the decree was issued for the concentration of the regional Jews in the ghettos of Borszczów, Tovste and on a smaller scale in Chortkiv. The regional Jews were given the choice of the three ghettos.

 

oze326
Cousins Who Perished in the Holocaust
(Schissler, Sternberg and Snyderman)

 

I do not know of any Jews from Jezierzany who chose Chortkiv.

When the expulsion was decreed the Jews began selling their possessions at near–free prices; they then packed the rest of their possessions. Each family took enough to fit a single coach and then relocated to the ghettos.

[Column 327]

On the way to the ghetto I saw Jews who walked carrying their property on their backs on their way to a “new life” in the ghetto.

The remaining Jews of Jezierzany divided into four locations: (1) the Borszczów Ghetto, (2) the Tovste Ghetto, (3) the aforementioned labor camps, and (4) Jezierzany. The “lucky few” had purchased licenses for trash and paper collection. A small number found temporary residence in labor camps of regional villages.

An estimated 500 Jews from Jezierzany went to the Borszczów and Tovste ghettos but it is difficult to estimate how many were transferred to each camp. After the disbandment of the local Judenrat, no statistical recording took place. Moreover, there was constant relocation between the two camps, circumstances permitting. A similar movement occurred between the ghettos and Jezierzany.

The Jews of Jezierzany were absorbed into the ghettos with locals and arrivals from other towns. They slowly became more accustomed to the conditions and guarded against the various assaulters and policemen including the Jewish ones. The greatest pressures were placed on refugees from elsewhere as they were not closely acquainted with the local conditions and did not have ties to powerful locals. As a result, locals demanded more sacrifices of life and property from refugees. Gradually the Jews of Jezerzany became acclimated to their small apartments, and prepared hiding places and underground structures to protect against the horrors of aktions and other disasters. The fear of these did not leave the Jews even for a moment. The treatment by the Jewish authorities (Judenrat and Ordnungsdienst[26]) was much more liberal before the akions. It was explained that pressure from German authorities

[Column 328]

on Jewish authorities intensified as the time for the general extermination of Jews approached.

 

Expulsion, Slaughter, and Grave Digging: Murders Across Galician Podolia

While the Jews were being transferred to the ghettos, news constantly arrived of relentless aktions in the region. During that time, a “small” aktion took place in Chortkiv with “only” 500 victims. Most frequent was the news arriving from Buchach, where a large number of Jews, about 6,000, was concentrated. In order to decrease the amount of Jewish residents there, the Germans conducted many consecutive aktions. A nightmarish detail of such an aktion remained etched in my mind: in November of 1942 a friend from Jezierzany, who was residing in the Tovste ghetto, told me with satisfaction that the Germans' “big failure” the day before when they managed to capture “only 650 people” in the aktion. Most survivors of those aktions in Buchach were expelled to the Tovste ghetto but the Germans and Ukrainians massacred the aktion victims at night before the victims could reach Tovste.

Life in the aforementioned ghettos “stabilized” and the Germans did not conduct aktions during that winter. One reason reported was that the shipments to Belzec stopped and instead the Germans enacted a method, known from other places, of massacring the Jews by shooting them into pre–dug graves. They wanted speedier extermination but the frozen ground in the winter likely posed a serious obstacle, although this was likely not the only reason for the delay in massacres.

The massacre of the Jewish prisoners in the Chortkiv jail, including Chantziye Holenberg from Jezierzany, was delayed because of the frozen ground. Jews usually were arbitrarily jailed. C. Holenberg was jailed a year prior during “the fur decree” when she arrived in Chortkiv to arrange the release of her son Otziye Holenberg; he had been jailed there as a hostage (see above). Chantziye's son was released but “coincidently” she was jailed. Very few people

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were fortunate enough to survive the jails. Most detainees were executed after torture or shipments to death camps. A group of detainees, including Chantziye, was led on a winter day to dig their own graves. Due to the frozen ground they could not dig the grave so they were returned to the jail. Weeks later after the snow melted and the ground became softer, the Germans executed the prisoners. Fate was cruel to those Jews as they faced death twice.

Although large–scale aktions were not conducted that winter, the Germans and their Ukrainian servants did not consider a free pass as an option. Thus, the Ukrainian police in the two aforementioned ghettos abducted every Jew that they saw on the street. The abductions lasted several days and dozens of abducted people were jailed in the Chortkiv jail. After much advocacy by various parties, the Germans agreed “in their great kindness and mercy” to release the prisoners, for a ransom. After the prisoners returned to their ghettos, typhus spread rapidly. It was already present in the ghetto because of the subpar living standards including crowding. It was then inferred beyond a doubt that the Germans intentionally infected the prisoners with typhus to spread the disease in the ghettos. The German devil likely was unable to release Jews from jail without malice to further his murderous scheme.

Close contact with the prisoners in the Borki and Stopki labor camps was nearly ended following the aktion. Visits by Judenrat middlemen and the prisoners' parents and regular shipment of food ceased. Many parents and relatives of the labor camp prisoners were captured in the aktions and nobody remained to take interest in them. Very limited and infrequent food shipments continued to those whose family members survived the aktions and resided in the Borszczów or Tovste ghettos. It is difficult to estimate how long the forced laborers survived under conditions of backbreaking labor and inadequate nutrition.

[Column 330]

An estimated 140 Jews from Jezierzany worked in the Stopki and Borki labor camps. Until the aktion, no prisoners from Jezierzany died in those camps but many died following the aktion and the resulting end to aid from home. Despite everything, however, many lived under camp conditions until the bitter disbandment in July 1943.

 

They Murdered and Also Inherited[27]

I mentioned above that the Jewish community of Jezierzany was maintained by the few who were permitted to stay and gather trash and paper. The German authorities viewed the trash collector also as a tool for Jewish property in empty homes. Nothing truly remained in those houses other than old books and loose papers. If any valuables remained, those among the local Gentiles who were professional scavengers who always lurk in days of turmoil and murder plundered them all. Scavengers immediately entered the empty homes and dug through every nook and cranny searching for “golden treasures.”

The Jews of Jezierzany did not forfeit their town and attempted every possible means to return to it. At first only those with certificates remained in the town, but they were later joined by relatives who returned from the ghettos and snuck back into the town and those who preferred the risk of forbidden residence in Jezierzany to residing in the ghettos. The Gentiles on the street did not differentiate between those with certificates and those without certificates; every Jew who walked the streets with a folded sack hanging around his arm was assumed to be a licensed trash or paper collector. In praise of the Jews of Jezierzany, those who held licenses risked their lives and allowed others to join them. In contrast, license holders in other places maintained exclusivity, fearing they would be harmed because of others.

The Jews usually avoided any meeting with Germans, especially the S.S. and Gestapo members, who often shot even those who were supposedly immune. Who would hold the Germans accountable? Those certificates were to expire

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on January 1, 1943 when the regional judenrein[28] operation officially began, but they were postponed to the spring of 1943 for technical reasons. The Germans extended the licenses for three months as a source of profit knowing that the final days of the license holders would arrive soon.

Thus, the Jews who remained in Jezierzany experienced a period of relative calmness in the winter of 1942–43. Remarkably, Eliezer Waldman volunteered during that time to be a middleman between the Jews of Jezierzany and local Ukrainian police and German police in Chortkiv. Without profit and at risk to his own life, Eliezer did his best to protect the Jews of Jezierzany; he often rescued people from near death. Eliezer was a wealthy man from Shersheniovtse[29], a village neighboring Jezierzany. Most of his family was slaughtered in Shersheniovtse when the local labor camp was disbanded. Eliezer Waldman survived the Holocaust and now resides in New York. His brother, Dr. Schneor Waldman, a well–known lawyer from Borszczów, resides with us in Tel Aviv. Thanks to Eliezer Waldman's efforts, dozens of Jews from the local ghettos found temporary refuge in Jezierzany. By Passover of 1943, when a new wave of aktions began, over 100 people resided in Jezierzany.

 

Demolition of Homes of Jews and Synagogues

In the fall of 1942 most Jewish–owned houses were demolished by a company that purchased them for pennies. The study house was destroyed then as were “The American Synagogue” and “The Sasover Synagogue. Molly's Kloyz[30] was not demolished because it had been converted to a governmental barn.

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Most of the houses that were not demolished were those that Christian families had moved into; Gentiles also took over Jewish–owned stores and offices. As their homes were demolished the Jews mentioned in this chapter mostly moved to the homes of Leibish Waldman, Yossi–Mendel Sternberg, and Simcha Sperling. On the left side of those homes there were paths that led to the Jewish cemetery, the town fields, the village of Konstantsiya [spelling unknown] and to the grove east of that village. During the next weeks, especially from April–May 1943, until the Judenrein operation, those lanes were used as an escape and means to hide.

 

Destruction Throughout Galician Podolia

The spring of 1942 arrived and the end was near. The approaching end was clearly visible to the Jews living a life of squalor in uncertainty, fears, danger, and degradation. Still something remained of life; perhaps it was a slight grip on life, a speck of hope. Maybe He will have mercy, maybe some miracle would happen. But spring flourished and flowered while the slaughterer continued to slaughter and to sharpen his knives so he could complete the extermination, until “Judenrein”.

Tragedies soon arrived in dizzying speed, one after the other, aktion after aktion. There were numerous rumors and news about aktions near and far. Here I must narrow the scope. I focus here on a small area of the territory held by the regime of slaughter and gallows, the area where the Jews of Jezierzany and its satellite villages were led to the gallows.

The Germans had declared their intention to turn the District of Galicia “Judenrein.” The time came to destroy the Borszczów and Tovste ghettos where hundreds of Jews from Jezierzany still resided. The season's first aktion took place in Borszczów. As a sort of prelude, (on Purim), the Germans conducted a “small scale” aktion which took “only” sixty victims. Then more intensive and larger scale bloodshed took place.

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It began at noon on Passover eve and continued all day and night until the next day. On the first day of the Passover holiday, red clouds rose to the sky, flames and smoke were seen over Jezierzany. We learned later that the flames rose from a bunker that the murderers burned to chase out and capture those hiding in it. The Jews who were trapped in that aktion were not taken to distant extermination camps but were executed on the spot. The same was true for all of the aktions that occurred during that period. Those captured in that aktion were led to an enclosure and from there they were led in rows to the Jewish cemetery. There they found long and deep trenches as wide as a man's height. The trenches were usually dug by the first group of male victims. The victims were then disrobed and ordered to form a line and stand on a wooden plank that extended atop the grave. Then they were shot and fell into the trench. The despicable shooters were misers about bullets and often used a single bullet to shoot a mother and the baby she held. When “showing off,” they used a single bullet for two or more adults. Who cared whether a victim was still alive and suffering in the trench? At first they sorted the bodies; those of men and women were separated with children's bodies placed between them. But in the next aktions the fallen remained in the grave as they fell.

Things calmed somewhat after the 1943 Passover aktion in Borszczów. Some were deluded into believing that what happened might reoccur but total extermination would be avoided. Nobody wanted to or could mentally imagine it. Life in both ghettos continued on the verge of destruction. The Tovste ghetto was more populated and the Passover aktion had passed over it. The Tovste Judenrat created the delusion that positive ties with the German authorities and German promises for no actions in exchange for relentless, excessive taxes and manpower. The Germans promised that even if actions couldn't be avoided, at least they would be postponed. But promises and delusions did not align with German cunning.

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The Cruelest Murders
(The Ground Was Moved by Those Buried Alive)

On one Thursday, (Iyar 22, 5703, end of May 1943) five weeks after the Passover Aktion in Borszczów, an aktion was conducted in Tovste. The Tovste aktion produced more victims than any known to the area at the time: 2,830 victims. They included men and women, young and old, infants and toddlers all in one day. All were led to the Jewish cemetery where they were shot into the trenches using the method described above; they shot to injure only leaving them alive. The victims were left a dirt mound that shifted for many days, almost moving, rising and bubbling with blood that the earth had not absorbed yet. “Blood touched blood [Hosea 4:2];” the blood of those buried alive and the blood of the murdered and was still seething. The blood seethed for a long while and did not calm, like the blood of Zechariah the prophet, occasionally springing out. All of that happened in the same cemetery where the Ba'al Shem–Tov's mother was buried over 200 years before. The Ba'al Shem Tov resided for several years in the village of Kashilivitz [spelling unknown] near Tovste and in Tovste proper. The Jews of Tovste attributed to the BST's mother's grave a miraculous power that protected them from harm. In support of their faith, Tovste Jews cited tales of miracles that befell them in the distant and near past. Who knows, maybe miracles did occur and blessed is he of faith. But here I wrote of the cruelest reality when all of the miracles that befell our forefathers vanished and miracles did not occur at the time when the nation was drowning in blood.

Ten days later, before noon on Sunday, (Sivan 3, 5703, early June 1943), the Germans conducted the last in a series of aktions in terms of the extent and the number of victims in that town. As reported then, more than 1,000 people perished in that aktion and another mass grave was added to that cemetery.

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The blood of one mass grave touched the blood of the other. At about the same time, smaller aktions took place in Tovste's satellite villages including: Kosigora, Rozhanovka, Shipowitz, Holovechichna [exact spelling of these four towns is unknown], and others.

Many Jews from Jezierzany perished in those final aktions. This included rabbi Mordechai Epstein and his family which was one of the largest families in Jezierzany. Rabbi Epstein, known in his title “the Magirover [exact spelling unknown] Rabbi” or just, “Reb Mordechai'le” was shot on that Sunday at the entrance to his apartment. His whole life was long chain of poverty and tragedy. He encountered much adversity and always struggled for a modest living and recognition as the town rabbi. Among Rabbi Epstein's family members who perished that day were:

  1. His son Rabbi Shimon Epstein, was among the brightest pupils of the famed Rabbi of Probizhna[31]. He was ordained as a Rabbi and graduated from the Jewish Studies Institute at the University of Warsaw. Shimon's wife and daughter perished in the Warsaw Ghetto.
  2. His son–in–law, Rabbi Moshe Pener was a gentle and noble figure. In addition to being a great scholar and well–versed in Talmud and Poskim, he was also a gifted speaker.
A few days after the final aktion in Tovste the extermination Borszczow aktion began on Shavuot. The aktion lasted three consecutive days: June 7 – 9, 1943. Many Jews from Jezierzany fell in that aktion as well; it signaled the end of the Jewish community of Jezierzany along with that of the Tovste and Borszczów ghettos. By then only the residents of Jezierzany who were detained in the Stopki and Borki labor camps or those with documents who remained in Jezierzany survived. I witnessed the dying moment of the document–holders in Jezierzany before they gradually dispersed and were mostly exterminated.

After the Borszczów aktion on Passover 5703 and other ceaseless operations in the area, matters worsened for the trash–collecting, document–holders and all those who had escaped the ghettos and accompanied the Jews of Jezierzany. Since Passover the number of the ghetto escapees in Jezierzany increased and they did not return to the ghetto. The local Gentiles knew of

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that and understood that no Jews were immune. Perhaps it seemed that there were favored Jews for a short while after that. “Protected” Jews existed in Glubochek and in Jezierzany itself, in the home of Yona and Neche Wagner (Schwartzapple) and were under the direct supervision of the SS. But it soon became clear to all that the Jews were abandoned.

 

Abandonment: Finders Killers

Lacking any options, the Jews of Jezierzany held on to their town while they were allowed to do so. Between Passover and Judenrein, the Jews defended themselves by the typical diaspora by escaping. Every notice, real or imagined, was reacted to by escaping to the cemetery and the fields near Konstantsiya. When they learned of a lull, i.e. that the demon in a German or Ukrainian uniform had left the town or was not determined to be a designated murderer, they returned home. The local Gentiles saw that as a demonstration that Jewish life was abandoned. As a result, predatory and greedy elements among the local Gentiles outdid the Germans in murder. Among those elements was a teacher who came to Jezierzany from elsewhere in Ukraine during the Soviet period[32] and remained as a Komsomol[33] counselor, and under German rule was discovered as a nationalist and a cruel assaulter of Jews. On one evening when the Jews of Jezierzany escaped for some reason to the alleyways near the Jewish cemetery, the teacher captured Frayda Kubert (wife of Chanina “Chicory”), dragged her into a barn, and hit her over the head until she died. She shouted at first but nobody could come to her aid. She was found dead the next morning. That teacher had a large role in organizing local Gentiles to harm Jews. Many local initiators were experts in reconnaissance techniques. From Passover 5703 until “Judenrein” the local Gentiles had not actively harmed Jews, rather some among the gentiles like the mayor of Jezierzany protected Jews

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and hid the Jewish presence from the Germans. But the spirit of the time and the authorities supported the nationalists. Many among the Ukrainian intelligentsia were nationalists. The center of the Nationalist–Ukrainian movement in Stanislwow encouraged [violence against Jews]. After the last aktions in Tovste, Borszczów, and Chortkiv, in June 1943, the extermination began in the former ghetto–towns where small surviving islands remained. Such extermination also took place in temporary W [work camps] camps or large fields where rubber plants grew. At that time, an outsider murdered Otziye Holenberg (son of Chantziye, see above). When Otziye crossed the market road (the main road) the murderer approached him, drew his pistol and killed him immediately. Those murders, both the planned ones and the sporadic ones, were in effect the final extermination, known as “Judenrein.” The Jews began franticly searching for hiding places with Christian acquaintance, Ukrainians and Poles; they transferred the remainder of their belongings and prepared to hide with them or go elsewhere. Their property would serve as a source of support until harm passed, if they managed to survive. Others constructed bunkers or attempted other hiding methods.

On one day of June 1943, panic ensued and the remaining Jews of Jezierzany began escaping towards the alleyways to Konstantsiya and the woods beyond.

 

Jezierzany Empty of Jews
(The Survivors Escape to Fields and Forests)

That exit from the town put an end to the Jewish community in Jezierzany which continued to exist in tragic squalor until then. The remnants went to the fields and forests each with a bundle of rags; perhaps they held out hope of remaining alive and returning one day

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to their home town from which now they were now escaping like a demon. The escapees used various methods; some prepared a “safe” spot where they would go at night, a corner in a straw–padded barn. Others slept outdoors in the grain fields or at the forest edge. A few days later, however, the people gathered, this time in nature. A social sense and the natural attraction to live with company brought these Jews together who constantly fought to live despite it all. The refugees from all over Jezierzany, an estimated 300 people, ran to the new gathering place in the Dambina [?] forest,. Dambina was large, and stretched from the woods in Ulashkivtsi on one side to the Pianki (uprooted trunks) forest, separated only by the road to Tovste.

Their new life began to “bustle” in Dambina. On the edge of side roads and fields, contact between the forest and the Jezierzany “metropolitan” and villages continued because supplying food to the forest was still necessary. As usual, some in the woods were gifted with a business sense or developed it in the forest. Either through their own efforts or those of acquaintances, people brought hot food, etc. to the forest entrance. Throughout the woods people cooked on fires which bellowed smoke that was visible from a distance. They constructed makeshift tents above ground and lived in groups in or around the tent. It was the middle of summer; the air was clear, the trees gave their scent, the birds sang, and at night the stars shined directly above. That way of life, which continued for a very short time, tempted people to believe that they might be able to continue like that until the longed–for redemption day. But reality outside of the woods dictated otherwise; occasional rumors arrived of the bitter fate of various families who only two

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oze339
The Sternberg (Fenster) Family

(He perished in Chortkiv and the mother and children perished in a bunker in the woods near Jezierzany.)

 

or three weeks ago had “succeeded” in finding a “good” bunker but were already murdered. I remember the following events from the first days in the forest:
  1. Gedalia Gruser and his wife Dora (Filsteiner) were captured in Lanovtsy. They were brought to the Jewish cemetery in Jezierzany and shot.
  2. A cruel and despicable murder was perpetrated upon the family of Chaim Neiman (son of Meike) in Lanovtsy. It was reported that the Gentile with whom they hid murdered Chaim, his wife Malka (Lintshitz) and their two daughters. He put their corpses in sacks and tossed them in the river. Their bodies floated until a Gentile discovered them and buried them. It was reported that Chaim's mother, Meike Neiman, lost her senses after hearing the news; she wandered the streets until a policeman took pity on her and murdered her.
  3. The village of Baruchivka was on the road to Chortkiv; it was named for a Jew, “Baruch,” who was among the first to settle in that rural area. His family resided in the village until the holocaust. In that village a Gentile provided shelter in a bunker to the following families: Meir Wagner (son of Shalom), his wife Peppi (Filsteiner), their son Yosef “Yuziye” Bolchover and his wife Esther (Henig); Max Yegendorf of Skala and his wife Esther (Gruser) and their daughter, and another family. The bunker was discovered and Ukrainian policemen from Jezierzany murdered them. Fate was especially cruel to the delicate and beautiful Esther (Gruser).
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because she saw death twice. When her bunker–mates were shot, Esther was only wounded in her arm but was shocked and fell in among the corpses. The murderers thought she was dead. The next day a Ukrainian doctor from Jezierzany bandaged her wound. The doctor had just left when a Ukrainian policeman came from Jezierzany; this time he did not miss the target and killed Esther in a second.

 

Attacking and Exterminating Remnants

In addition to the events mentioned above, sporadic murders occurred during that time in the field paths and intersections where secret police or robbers ambushed Jews. The verse said of Cain was applicable to every Jew: “and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.” The Jew was abandoned and every gentile had the right to harm him without consequence. Following their central operation for “Judenrein” the Germans rarely hunted lone Jews in an orderly fashion (other than some instances, see below) and delegated that task to the Ukrainians. Yet it is incorrect to generalize as many Ukrainians and Poles helped the Jews with food and drink often giving them refuge and hiding although in a limited way. Either way the power did not lie with the few decent ones or the many indifferent ones, but with the active wicked people who labored to complete the extermination.

 

Massacres and Sudden Extermination in Labor Camps

Let us turn now towards the last center of Jezierzany Jews, the Borki–Stopki labor camps. Presumably the labor camps continued as the last remaining Jewish gathering points for several months while the ghettos were disbanded and the remnants were hunted in the forests. Although it seems strange, many Jews paid large sums to join labor camps under the assumption that the camps

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would ensure their physical survival more than any other method. A historical–political event, however, hastened the end of those camp prisoners and caused their premature extermination.

The disbandment of the Borki–Vailki labor camp in July 1943 and the murder of its Jewish residents was the result of an event during the war between the Soviet Union and Germany. As is well known the Soviet partisans penetrated enemy territory by airplane or other methods. Such partisan units did great things, especially on the war fronts in White Russia and Polasia. The region's many thick forests provided cover for the troops and a fitting base for their operations of damaging enemy troops and enemy military constructions. Many partisans fell honorably holding weapons and many survived thanks to their partisan status. The partisan movement was less prevalent in Ukraine and barely present in occupied Galicia.

 

A Partisan–Soviet Operation and its Tragic Results

[Sydir] Kovpak was a legendary figure in the Red Army and in the Soviet–partisan movement in Russia. Kovapk received many medals and honorary titles, including “Hero of the Soviet Union.” Around June 1943, Kovpak tasked partisans with infiltrating enemy territory in the forested Carpathian Mountains of Galicia. On their way there, the troops passed by a labor camp in Kamionka near Ternopil. The labor camp was one of the first established by the Germans in that area and was reputed to be one of the “easiest” camps in terms of backbreaking labor and inhumane torment of the prisoners. Hundreds of Jews from Chortkiv, Skalat, Ternopil, and elsewhere were imprisoned in that camp. As the partisans passed through the camp, they liberated its Jewish prisoners. Some prisoners (eighty people according to rumor) joined the partisans, while most prisoners who were weak as a result of

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their prolonged stay in the camp, dispersed. As the partisans moved towards their target, they conquered full towns. This news with its promise for possible redemption quickly spread among the hiding survivors of the aktions. But the bitter disappointment followed soon after as the Jews of Jezierzany (among others) received a decisive blow. In response to the news of the disbandment of the Kamionka camp, SS officials led by Katzman, the mass–murderer of Galician Jews, descended upon the Borki and Vialki Camps. Fearing that the partisans would soon arrive in Borki and to do there as they did in Kamionka, the SS liquidated the camp, murdered its Jewish residents by gunfire and burned down the camp. Only few among the camp prisoners were able to escape the massacre. Of the Jews of Jezierzany the only one to survive was Mondison [spelling unknown] Herman who worked at the camp commander's stable during the massacre. (The name of the camp commander was SS officer Wyzik and his predecessor's name was Monkus. Both were Polish Volksdeutsche from Silesia.) M. Herman reached Jezierzany and we met him in the nearby forest; he was the first to tell us of the tragedy.

According to rumors, the partisans failed in their mission in the Carpathian Mountains and suffered losses. Their return to base beyond the front lines on Ukrainian or White–Russian soil continued for weeks. They made their way back at night, in small units through the woods and on side roads. Some people from our forest met and conversed with partisans. The partisan treatment of Jews who joined their units was not always fair. We heard from a Jew in one unit (the only Jew in it) that other partisans refused to give him a weapon despite his many pleas.

Thus, the third concentration of Jezierzany Jews was exterminated including many young people, educated folks, and scholars. At this opportunity I memorialize three of my friends who perished then:

  1. Nonio [exact spelling unknown] Goldstein (son of Shimon). Nonio was from a large, poor family. He desired knowledge and education so he travelled to Vienna. He lived there in poverty and studied until he passed the secondary education examination. He then studied mathematics at Vilna College where he completed his studies. During
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    the Soviet rule from 1939–1941, he served as a mathematics teacher in a public–Yiddish school in Skala–Podolska. He was 36 years old when he died.
  1. Avraham Seidmann (son of Meir “der Zheliazhnik”). Avraham received a traditional Torah education, and was a smart individual who studied the written Torah and Oral Torah from early childhood to adulthood. He was self–taught in secular studies, but his family's unstable economic state forced him to contribute by working, thereby stopping his studies. In the final years he dedicated himself to public service and Zionist activism, in which he found a use for his knowledge–and–experience–thirsty soul. He was thirty–six years old when he died.
  2. Yeshaya Wagner (son of David “Bilak”). He was from a family of crafts people. He was orphaned of his father at a young age. He was autodidact in the full sense of the word, an expert in all fields of traditional and new Judaism. He maintained his scholarliness in spite of poverty. He was an original thinker and a bottomless well of wide–reaching knowledge. He was humble, endured his fate silently, a “Lamed–vavnik”[34] type. He was thirty–seven when he died.
The Hunt for Lone Survivors

The remnants of Jezierzany hiding in the forests and elsewhere were not given the time or possibility to celebrate the delusion created by the partisan infiltration or correctly mourn for the grave losses with the liquidation of the Borki–Stopkilabor camps. We lived in the shadow of the Angel of Death; our struggle with him did not cease even for one day. It was easy to predict that the forces of darkness beyond the forests would not allow the Jews to rest for long. Indeed few weeks passed before German squads, led by Ukrainian civilians from Konstantsiya, infiltrated the forest at dawn. Germans attacked the tent–dwellers murdering about sixty people over the course of an hour or two. Those who survived that day dug the graves of the murdered in spots across the forest. Some corpses that remained tossed between brush and trees fell prey to vultures and forest animals. I recall from that aktion a mass–grave in the woods which included the bodies of Monik Weintraub,

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Monik's son David (Dovtziye), and one daughter (his second daughter and her mother Minye Phorilis were deported to Belzec), the family of Michael Rapeh [Rofeh?], and, if I am not mistaken, the family of Otziye Majberger, Avraham Majberger, Mordechai “Motel Baziye's” Schulbaum and their families. David Weintraub, Motel Schulbaun and Otziye Majberger (son of Mendel) devoted their lives to public activism and Zionist advocacy in our town. The memory of those whose names are not mentioned here but in the general Jezierzany martyr necrology will not leave the hearts of those whose luck dictated survival.

Sometime after that, a rumor circulated about the liquidation of the camp in Dovranyovka [spelling unknown]. It was not really a camp but more a concentration of people on a farm. More than 130 prisoners lived in that camp. Most of the prisoners were Jews from Borszczów including lawyers and teachers. Rabbi Shlomo Herzog, his wife and their son Meir were also on the farm. Before the prisoners could settle in on the farm and begin work, on the night before Monday July 19, 1943, German and Ukrainian murderers from Borszczów surrounded the building housing the prisoners and murdered them all. Four Jews from Jezierzany were murdered that night; Hans Pohuriles, his wife Hania, their son, and Noniye Hechtenthal (son of Yosef). The Pohuriles family had arrived in that camp a day earlier to see whether they could survive there but they died. Since the aktion in the forest, the “idyll” of its residents (see description above) disappeared. The “market” near the ramp vanished. The people walked like frightened shadows scurrying from one corner of the forest to another. They preferred to sleep in the fields along the forest because they had stopped believing in the forest and its protective power. Meanwhile, the once clear June skies clouded hard and rain fell. Once fearing cold and pneumonia I stood for two whole days under a thick tree without sitting or lying on the wet ground even for a moment. Indeed, our fears of attack were soon proven correct when on one Monday about noon another aktion took place in the woods. A large German force accompanied by Ukrainian policemen descended upon the forest, claiming that

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it was full of partisans. A large, systematic search began and people began running and escaping. Many ran towards the fields. It was harvest season and many fields were exposed. The experienced German warriors were there too and shot at the escapees from various directions. Those who managed to run to Jezierzany were fired on from a tank stationed in Schultz Manor; it was directed towards the forest and the escaping people. Sarah “Sorchi” Schindler was one of many who ran from the woods and fell at the entrance to Jezierzany. Yitzchak “Itziali” Blutstein also fell that day. Shortly before his death, Yitzchak was energetic and active in organizing self–defense and weapons purchases in the woods (see more below). About seventy more whose names I cannot recall also fell that day.

 

The Germans Ceased While the Ukrainians Continued to Murder
(Aktion against the Last Remaining Children)

The last mentioned aktion was the last in which the Germans took an active role during the period of “Judenrein”. The remaining murders from August–September 1943 until the liberation day at the end of March 1944 were perpetrated almost solely by Ukrainian policemen and civilian collaborators. Working consistently, persistently, spying and following the footsteps of every Jew every hour of every day, the Ukrainians exterminated the remnants of the remnants.

The Dambina woods ceased being the gathering place of the remaining Jews of Jezierzany. Many remnants relocated to the nearby Pianki forest or dispersed in various directions.

One day the Ukrainian police initiated an aktion targeting remaining children. Usually, the children “disrupted” their parents' efforts of hiding and surviving. The reason for that is clear considering the situation and conditions. Some parents abandoned their children to save themselves. Other parents of Ukrainian–speaking or Polish–speaking children paid to place their children in the care of

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Christian families. My wife and I were among the latter type, but within the span of a few months we had to change caretakers. They simply grew tired of our daughter and returned her to us. The woman who housed our baby near the Lipnik forest, came to us in the Pianki forest to tell us that the Ukrainian police knew of our baby and other children. She demanded a ransom or else they would murder her. The woman demanded a down–payment for caring for the child. Left with no other choice we raised the necessary funds. The next day after she received the her payment the woman and her husband took our baby to the fields. When she fell asleep they hid her in the wagon of a farmer they knew was acquainted with us and then disappeared. In the evening, after finishing his work in the field, the farmer found our baby and took her to his home with the intent of retuning her to us. The next day, the aktion took place that targeted all children in the area. After they murdered 2–year–old Yantziye Gruser (daughter of Aharon and Yetti), they came to the woman who had previously sheltered my daughter but did not find the child. They assaulted the woman who then told them what she had done; she swore she did not intend to hide the baby but rather wanted to “rid herself of the Jew.” Meanwhile, we took our daughter from the farmer to our hiding place in the woods, and since then did not let her go. A few days later, we learned that the Ukrainian police came to the home of the Polish farmer; when they did not find the child there they assaulted his wife for the crime of harboring a “despicable Jewess.”

In September of 1943, I came to Konstantsiya to visit my mother who was hiding in a Pole's attic. Following a tip Ukrainian police and “important” civilians, including the mayor, surrounded the house and led my mother and me to the yard. When I saw a policeman raising his gun to shoot me, I turned my back and began running through the yard to the lot

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beyond it. Another policeman in my path caught my hand but I quickly overpowered him, withdrew my hand and continued running. I immediately heard a barrage of gunfire following me. I felt a sort of burning sensation in my right earlobe, but was unharmed and continued running barefoot and wearing underwear only. The paths of the village were familiar to me so I quickly reached an alleyway. I ran through a yard in which barking dogs attacked me; I then ran to a path that led to a nearby grove. I passed through the woods near the village to my hiding place in the Pianki forest where my other family members hid. On the way I heard many shots from the village and asked myself, “could it be that they need so many gunshots to kill my mother?”

Eyewitnesses told me later that when I began running, my mother also attempted to run after me but was shot immediately. The murderers then went to another home in the same village, where nine members including two orphans of the Reinstein family of Bil'che–Zolote hid. They too were captured because of an informant. They were murdered that morning and their bodies along with my mother's body were tossed into a shallow grave on the village outskirts. For a long while dogs dragged their body parts around until some residents of the village volunteered to dig a deeper grave.

 

Extermination at Conveyor Belt Speed

With the end of the summer and beginning of fall, extermination proceeded at the speed of a conveyor belt. The murderers found Bunkers in various forests, fields, and private homes.

The following is a short chronology of extermination as I recall it:

On a single Thursday, four bunkers were found in the Dambina forest, and twenty–eight victims were murdered.

Before the holy days, one of the strongest bunkers in the Pianki forest was destroyed. Fifteen people were murdered there including Avraham Leib Kubert, his wife Golda (Goldenberg), the Kubert children, Rachel Goldenberg (wife of Valiye), Rachel's daughter Charnusia, Gershon Wolf Roth, and one or two Holenberg (Krolik [spelling unknown]) brothers. When the murderers arrived,

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the victims refused to leave the bunker and they died as it was demolished.

At the end of summer, as the grain harvesting season was ending some people hid in the corn fields. On Yom Kippur, approximately twenty people were captured and murdered there between the Pianki forest and Glubochek. Among the victims I recall Genya Bolochover (wife of Moshe) and her son Bunya.

Later, in the fall, the three or four remaining bunkers in the Dambina forest were demolished. They were strong, hidden bunkers but were eventually discovered becoming a mass grave for their residents. I recall that Aharon Gruser was killed in one of them. Aharon's wife, Yetti (Filsteiner) suffered minor injuries. Chaya Filsteiner (Goldenberg) suffered severe injuries. Chaya and Yetti were transferred to a bunker in the Pianki forest. We also learned that a bunker in the Ulashkivtsi forest whose residents were Shmuel Schwartzapple and Moshe Schissler and their families was discovered and demolished.

Thus the saga of extermination in the Dambina forest came to an end. Its end substantially minimized the area where the Angel of Death and the remnants the remnants fought. The struggle over territory was limited to the Pianki forest, those who miraculously survived in the village of Lisovitz [spelling unknown] and those who remained hidden with Christian acquaintances.

Some corners in the Pianki forest could have saved dozens of people if only one could sit in the bunkers for prolonged times without moving. The bunkers were constructed in swaths encompassing large parts of the forest and covered with pine trees. The low trees and their tops which touched on another formed a consistent green dome under which darkness dwelled and the sun's rays rarely penetrated. Because of the bunker's construction and the necessary back–and–forth movement of their residents, breaks formed in the wall of trees and occasional paths formed. The silly law of nature that dictated that people need food to survive motivated the bunker residents to occasionally leave their hiding places to bring bread and milk for them and their loved ones.

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The snow arrived late in the winter of 1943–44. Only rain fell, and thanks to that no clear marks and footprints formed on the path. Toward the end of December 1943, however, much snow fell and a thick white layer covered the ground. The footprints of the people who went in the evenings to the homes of the farmers at the edge of the forest and in Konstantsiya appeared in the snow despite much caution. The footsteps paved the path for the Ukrainian criminals.

On a Monday afternoon the bunker dwellers were alarmed by the sound of gunfire that emanated from the edge of the forest and a nervous run to the forest ensued. We later learned that criminals came to the bunker area, encountered a group of Jews digging a new bunker and fired on them. The criminal gang was composed of Ukrainian policemen, the mayor of Konstantsiya and his predecessor. When the Jews saw the Ukrainians approaching they ran, but the criminals shot at them as they ran. The bullets missed their targets, but during the chase the Ukrainians captured Yitzhak Schechter (grandson of Yisrael the shochet and son of Eliezer). They murdered him by stabbing him with their bayonets. Then they penetrated the bunker area where they captured Tovah Heller (daughter of Chaim, who died last year in Israel at an old age); they forced her to reveal our bunker. At the entrance to it they shot her and her body fell into the bunker. The bunker was empty aside for Chaya Filsteiner (Goldenberg) who was previously injured (see above); she was covered in rags in a corner of the bunker and went undiscovered.

When my wife and I ran from the bunker we took with us our toddler wrapped only in a worn–out blanket. We took turns holding her in our arms. As we ran, the snow covered branches hit our faces and heads, causing the baby to cry loudly. Her cries attracted the criminals' attention to us and they began chasing us. When we saw the criminals come close, our knees probably buckled to such an extent that we dropped our daughter. She remained seated on the snow–covered ground (end of December in Eastern Europe!) and my wife and I ran in different directions. I saw that I was being chased. From a distance I heard the toddler

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calling out, “Mama!” I suddenly encountered A.L. Kubert's ruined bunker and slid into it and vanished. I sat in the bunker for a long time atop the layer of dirt covering the bodies of the fallen. I returned “home” after dark. An even bigger miracle happened to my wife and our daughter. When we separated my wife ran in the opposite direction and arrived at the forest path. She was captured by one of the civilian collaborators, a longtime acquaintance who had hid us in his home many times. Much to my wife's surprise he was the one who attacked her and demanded gold and dollars. My wife shouted in response, attracting the attention of a second civilian and two policemen. After they robbed her of a small amount of money she carried they gave her to a guard who was to shoot her behind a row of trees. The task then went to a policeman who did not shoot Jews. His name was Jaworski; he was from a village near Borszczów. Although he was a Ukrainian nationalist, he probably had a human heart and avoided murder. That fact was confirmed by other Jews after liberation. If he withstood the challenge and the blood of Jews is not on his hands, he is worthy of positive mention. On the way to the designated place the policeman told my wife, “Jew, do not run. I will not shoot you and soon you will see that I am not lying.” Indeed, he led her some steps deeper into the woods, shot in the air and vanished. Then my wife followed the voice of our daughter who was still calling out “Mama!” She found our daughter more than an hour after we dropped her. The little one was exposed and shaking from the cold. My wife took her in her arms and at nightfall also returned “home” to the bunker.

The bunker was emptied of its residents that same night as it was considered exposed, infiltrated and thus dangerous. Everyone dispersed to different hiding places. Tova Heller's corpse remained in the abandoned bunker.

Our wandering saga was not concluded. The new bunker that we relocated to was also deemed exposed. We were scared out of it multiple times within the course of a day. Therefore we and my sister and her two children often moved from one bunker to the next. Then we learned that the Gentile from Konstantsiya who attacked my wife regretted his actions,

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took interest in us and wanted to hide us in his house. It was difficult to believe that Gentile, who we knew was greedy and a prominent collaborator of the Ukrainian police. We also knew that his Polish wife would not allow any harm to come to us. Moreover, what did we have to lose? We were lost in the forest and were sentenced to die within the next days or hours. Nobody was willing to accept us into a supposedly safe bunker because of our daughter who still could not understand that she must be quiet always. So one night I put the baby on my back, said goodbye to my sister and her children–this time forever–and left the Pianki Forest while my sister wept loudly. From there we walked through snowy fields and reached the Gentile's house in Konstantsiya at dawn. He and his wife sheltered us; they dug a bunker for us in the cowshed the entrance to which was below the cow. We hid in that bunker for three months, until liberation day at the end of March 1944.

As we sat in the bunker, we heard the buzz of Soviet jets which signaled the war front was getting closer. Meanwhile, we heard rumors about the internal front of the last remaining survivors in the Pianki woods and elsewhere. Ten days after we arrived in the Konstantsiya bunker, we heard about the demolition of two small bunkers in the Pianki forest. On a Saturday morning January 1944, the Ukrainian police discovered one of the bunkers and tossed gunpowder in it to force its residents out. The people in the second bunker heard the gunfire, jumped out and were shot to death. Among those who fell were my sister Brantziye Sternberg and her two children, Ben–Zion, age fourteen, and Rozia, age twelve. In the summer of 1945, as I extracted the bodies of my family members from that bunker, I found my nephew's body without a head. Additional victims included Avraham Goldenberg (son of Valiye), brothers Michael and Chaim Gottesman (sons of Leibish), Kalman Schechter (son of Velvel the shochet). Two weeks later on January 21, 1944, two of the last remaining bunkers in the Pianki forest were destroyed. The fallen in one bunker were Rachel Fireberg (Seinvels [spelling unknown]) and her two children, Chaya Filsteiner (Goldenberg), Yetti Gruser (Filsteiner), and Reuven and his sister Sheva Bloital (children of Asher Bloital the shochet). Their brother Yitzchak Bloital was in the same bunker but survived and resides in Lod, Israel. The victims of the second bunker were [Ya'akov] Yankel Wagner (Saliye), his wife and his two children, and another young man.

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The Last Bunker's Story
(Clarice Holenberg's Horrifying Death)

Not even Satan could have invented such cruelty against a small child. (Bialik: “Heavens, plead for mercy upon me.”) Greek mythology tells of a figure that is crystalized despair, Niobe, queen of Thebes in Ancient Greece, who in her grief and sorrow turned into stone after her fourteen children died. The legend adds that the stone wept and formed a spring. These pages are proof that real life is not lacking in realistic material of unparalleled tragedies and nightmares. Yet it seems to me that even the darkest imagination could not weave a nightmarish picture of the tragedy that was the destruction of the last bunker in the forests of Jezierzany.

It was a small bunker in the Pianki Forest that housed a family of three: Shmuel Schechner, his wife Nona (Holenberg, daughter of Avraham) and their six–year–old daughter Clarice. Yosef Koenigsberg and his sister Devorah (see more about their father, Baruch, in the “Torah Holiday” section of this book, the 1942 portion) were also in that bunker. I remember that shortly before its destruction, Zusia Schwartz and his wife and his daughter were in the same bunker, but I think they were murdered elsewhere. The dwellers of that bunker were usually ill and exhausted of starvation, cold, and other trauma.

At the end of January or the beginning of October 1944, Ukrainian policemen entered the bunker (or operated from its entrance), shot its people and killed them all, aside for Clarice who hid behind a pile of bodies and straw. Her father Shmuel was absent from the bunker at the time. Shmuel returned to the bunker where he witnessed the results, and his daughter told him what had happened. After dark, Shmuel went to ask for food and shelter for Clarice. But on the way there or back, he too was captured and shot. Clarice

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remained alone in the bunker with the bodies of her mother and the other fallen.

Two eyewitnesses saw Clarice in the destroyed bunker each on a different occasion; they were Yitzchak Bloital (see above), the only survivor from his family and his bunker, and Salio [spelling unknown] Feldshuh (son of Shabsil). According to Yitzchak, he brought food and drink to the victims in their final days. One day when he arrived in the bunker, he found its dwellers dead and the child raised her head and told him what had happened. Yitzchak continued to bring food to the child but found her dead two or three days later. Salio (now in Tel Aviv) told of his frequent visits to that bunker and reports nearly identical details. Salio added that after the child remained alone, he asked her whether she wanted to leave the bunker and she replied, “No! I want to be with my mother.”

And so, Clarice stayed trapped in her spot without the ability to move as the worms swarmed. The stench of the decaying bodies passed and entered her body, gnawing and eating her, until the Angel of Death ended all of the suffering that she endured throughout her six years of life. That “guardian angel” afforded her a last kindness, fulfilled her wish and left her in the forest bunker in the arms of her mother near her final neighbors.

The rock of the mythological Niobe still weeps. Many people shed tears because of the tragic story of Anne Frank's short life. But where is the audience to weep one honest tear for the life and death of six–year–old Clarice Holenberg from Jezierzany? Only 40 years had passed since the Kishinev pogrom before Satan created a worse fate.

 

The Curtain Falls Upon the Slain in High Places
(Liberation Dawns After All)

After the destruction of the final bunkers in the Pianki forest at the end of February 1944, a relative silence descended upon the killing fields. The reason was simple: barely a soul remained to kill. The remnants of the remnants

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were the two aforementioned “Forest Jews:” Salio Feldshuh and Yitzchak Bloital. Other survivors were the tailors who hid in Konstantsiya and a small number of hidden people. Even then, plenty of victims fell and occasional rumors from bunker discoveries and destruction reached us. In February we heard, inter–alia[35], of a cruel murder in the Pilatkowce forest, in which Gentiles from Pilatkowce murdered Mendel Schissler and his daughter Rozia (his wife Henye and his younger daughter Lola were deported to Belzec), Lotti Reinstein (Wasserman, wife of Eliezer) and her two girls, Lonek Bolochover and his wife Rozia (Weintraub) and their two children, and maybe others who have slipped my mind.

 

oze354
Mendel Schissler and his Family

The mother and the younger daughter perished in Belzec. Mendel and the older child perished in the Pilatkowce forest.

 

The war front approached. The hum of Soviet jets became frequent and during the first days of March the German retreat continued almost endlessly, day and night. Candidates for leaving the area with the retreating Germans were the Ukrainian policemen, spies and collaborators. That angered them even more, to the extent that they lost their wits and murdered their own people whose only crime was sheltering a Jew, even temporarily. A tragic example follows:

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A Christian family, Asaft and Milka Ramanda, lived at the edge of Konstantsiya and aided two Jewish girls; Chana Weisbrod (Reizel Devorah's) and Golda Hechtenthal (daughter of Fishel Bernstein). After Golda and Chana each lost their families under differing circumstances, they managed to survive those days by discreetly entering the Ramandas' barn where Milka took pity and them and would give them some food. In exchange, the girls helped her with tasks like cutting straw, feeding the animals, and more.

One day around mid–March, when the two girls entered the barn, someone informed the policemen from Jezierzany who were in the village at the time. The policemen arrived quickly and when they found the young women, the policemen murdered them and the Christian homeowner for sheltering Jews. The murder of the two girls and their Christian host was the final public horrific act in the saga of the extermination of the Jews of Jezierzany.

 

The Final Survivors
(In Total: Dozens from Nearby Hiding and Dozens from Afar)

The German retreat continued with the military and many civilians, mostly those who collaborated with the Nazi regime and now were escaping the Soviets. A Soviet partisan force maneuvered bravely and stormed the retreating German camp and placed a wedge in it, which continued along the roads from the Ternopil area to the Zbruch and the Dniester rivers. Troops from that partisan force reached Jezierzany in the afternoon of [Thursday], March 23, 1944. The force was progressing from all directions towards the east and south towards Borszczów, Skala–Podolska, Mielnica and Zalishchyky. In Jezierzany, the force met only minimal resistance, near the Red Polish Church, which ended within an hour after a gun battle. That day was the day that Jezierzany and all towns in the region were released from the bonds of Hitlerism. The handful of Jews who survived in our town were free to leave their hiding places and bunkers into the light of day and to life.

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Unfortunately, only few survived until that day, mere dozens from every town in the area. Tovste and the neighboring village of Lisovitz were unique in terms of the number of survivors. Seven hundred people survived until liberation in the labor camps both on and off farms.

Many Jews, relative to other places in the area, survived thanks to the farm manger in Tovste. He was a German named Patti and, according to testimony, Volksdeutsche from Alsace–Lorraine. In the opinion of all the Jewish survivors, Patti is worthy of much praise as one of only few who possessed the humane heart and the courage to guard the Jews under his authority against the German and Ukrainian forces of destruction until liberation day. Ironically, Patti did not survive and as he escaped with the retreating Germans he was captured and murdered by AK Polish resistance fighters.[36]

The camp in Lisovitz concentrated many Jews from the area who escaped the aktions and the ghettos since its start. After the declaration of Judenrein, hundreds of Jews, some with their families, found refuge in that camp. That camp also occasionally endured tragedy and its dwellers fell victim to various harms. Dozens fell during the various visits of the Gestapo and Ukrainian police. Forty people died of a typhus outbreak. In one of the final days before the liberation, Vlasov's men[37], while retreating, murdered about thirty people. Yet many Jews were able to survive throughout their stay there in nearby hiding places; on liberation day they were saved and made their way to Tovste.

Unfortunately, not all of those liberated from Tovste and Lisovitz were given the opportunity to celebrate the liberation. That same day, the Germans bombed the camp structures, which housed Jews; many lost their lives while some remained paralyzed for life.

Only fifty people – from a Jewish population of about 2,000 – survived until liberation day. Among the survivors were three girls and one boy, ages three to six.

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My wife, our 3–year–old daughter, and I survived. About fifty more people survived elsewhere or returned from the Soviet Union. The refugee Jews of Jezierzany began appearing in the town a few days later on the Sunday and Monday after the above–mentioned Thursday [March 23, 1944]. They emerged like shadows and came to the town wearing rags, dragging their legs because of weakness or prolonged hunching in a confined hiding place.

The Gentiles bowed their heads when they saw the lone Jews returning to their town. The survivors displeased them because the locals feared that survivors would serve as witnesses of their “good deeds” and collaboration with the forces of destruction. Many locals feared that they would have to return all the property that the Jews had deposited with them before leaving on their final journey hoping they might be fortunate, survive and have their property returned. Usually, the Gentiles smiled at every Jew they discovered, greeted him with an artificially warm expression from their doorway. Every one of them told of the wonders of the aid he gave to the poor Jews, how he fed him and her. They shed ample crocodile tears about Hersh and Srulki, this Regincia and that gentle and beautiful Rochele, whom bad and sinful people informed on to the authorities and caused their death. Despite the “warm welcome” we received from the Gentiles of our town we felt that the air around us was still rife with hatred and contempt and our lives were still in danger. I will mention only one event which strengthened that feeling in us:

On one morning after the liberation, our family of refugees was joined by a Jewish man named Schwartz (if I recall correctly, he was a member of the “Borszczów Band.”) After he ate breakfast with us, he rose to go “home” to Mielnica. We warned him to not be hasty, because the roads were still dangerous. He likely was in a hurry and left towards Borszczów, but he did not arrive at “home.” We inferred from conversation with local Gentiles that he was shot from an ambush at the outskirts of Jezierzany near the Christian cemetery and his body was buried nearby.

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The atmosphere was not only hostile to us but also a war–like one. After we returned to the world, we learned that we were yet to be fully liberated from the Germans. We learned that a large German force, ten or more divisions strong, was trapped by the Partisan soviet wedge between Kamianets–Podilskyi and Skala–Podilskyi (a famous pocket in WWII history). The German forces were fiercely attempting to press westward in order to escape the Soviet trap and join the other German forces at the front. Indeed, barely a week had passed since the Soviet storming and we found ourselves having to escape the Germans again. Of course, our current situation was better because we were able to escape to the Soviet army. When they heard that the Germans were approaching most of our survivors who were usually alone, made their way to Tovste and from there through Chortkiv to Pidvolochysk. A small group stayed and hid in its previous hiding places. Our family (my wife, child and I) intended to join those escaping the town. We lacked a vehicle, however, and had to carry the child on our backs which exhausted us. By nightfall, we only managed to reach the Pianki forest, where we went to lodge with a Polish famer, an acquaintance we knew from our stay in the forest. Only an hour passed before the front arrived at the forest nearby and a fierce battle broke out. Heavy bombings ensued as pillars of smoke and fire reached the sky. Things calmed in the morning as the Germans managed to break through the Soviet roadblocks on the roads. Across the street, we could see the Germans escaping on foot, by car, horse or armored vehicles.

Soviet units also sought shelter in the forest we were in. They were surrounded by Germans (a small wedge within a large wedge) and were concerned about their fate. After all we had been through we were floating between life and death again. The page is too short to contain the events of those days. But the Germans did not intend to fight then and only wanted to quickly pass through to avoid the Soviet roadblocks.

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After a fearful week of German retreat, the regular soviet Army arrived and we were liberated again. After a few days, the survivors of Jezierzany banded together. We were fewer then because many who escaped to the old Soviet border did not return and only those who stayed in the area joined us.

 

The Survivors of Jezierzany Escape to Borszczów

The war front stabilized for a while along the river Seret including the town of Ulashkivtsi nearby. Because it was dangerous to stay in Jezierzany the survivors relocated to Borszczów eleven kilometers from our town. More than 100 people survived In Borszczów proper; they were joined by survivors from Korolowka, Tovste, and nearby villages. Adding those who eventually returned from the Soviet Union, a Jewish community of 400 individuals gathered in Borszczów. Eighty people gathered in Skala and thirty more in Mielnica.

The survivors began rebuilding their life in Mielnica recovering slowly and partially. Some young folks enlisted in the Soviet police, with the aim of using their position to take revenge against Gentiles who were well–known for their collaboration with the various murderers, including many who murdered Jews and inherited fortunes. While the war front was still close and the blow was fresh, Jewish soviet police officers took vengeance. Eventually, the Soviets prevented them from doing so. To convict a collaborator or a known murderer, the Soviets required clear factual evidence and eyewitness testimony. Most eyewitnesses could not testify for the simple reason that they were no longer alive. The new policy was that the Soviet police hardly investigated any reports on a well–known murderer unless the report said that the murderer persecuted Soviet soldiers and betrayed them to the enemy. As opposed to 1939–1941, when Jews of Western Ukraine had notable influence on social and economic life, their value after liberation declined in the eyes of the Soviets. First, the decline in the number of Jews to near zero significantly diminished their influence. Second,

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the Nazi virus penetrated many Soviet ranks, including the clerks, soldiers, and officers. There were clerks who we knew well from before the Nazi occupation who returned as veiled anti–Semites. They treated the surviving Jews suspiciously. We often heard the question, “how did you survive? Hitler killed all of the Jews.” The emphasis was on “all” and one could infer that if a Jew survived it was because he served the Nazis and survived only to fill a suspicious, anti–Soviet role.

Some survivors were employed in the reconstructed governmental offices, some in crafts, and others within the closed market. During the transformative period, the Soviets were not so strict regarding trade and did not severely punish unless one was caught speculating.

The grand synagogue in Borszczów reopened after repairs and renovations. Services were held every Shabbat and holy day for as long as the Jewish community existed in that town before its repatriation to Poland. The prayers in the synagogue and other religious ceremonies served as the only expression and replacement of other Jewish national life in the area.

Many Jewish victims fell even after the liberation. The background for that was the political environment of war. The Ukrainians, especially their mostly fascist intelligentsia, did not make their peace with the Soviets' return to the region. Ukrainians banded in gangs in the forests and with other nationalist Ukrainian gangs, especially Bandera's gangs,[38] waged guerilla warfare against the Soviets. Their gangs sometimes took control of entire towns, sabotaged military installations, ambushed and murdered high–ranking Soviets. The Soviets had to fight them using security police troops. The war was prolonged and both sides suffered losses. Jews were caught between that rock and hard place. Tragedy befell any Jew who came across the

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gangs, and he usually did not survive thus adding dozens more Jewish victims. There were no Jewish victims from Jezierzany who fell under those circumstances, but two victims were added under different circumstances. Young Jews from Jezierzany of military service age, of whom no more than 10 survived the Nazis enlisted in the Red Army or its Polish army subsidiary. Aharon Weisinger and Leib Weisbrod fell in the war and did not return home. The Angel of Death eyed the few survivors and his sword slayed two more victims. Aharon Weisinger left behind a wife and a child (currently in New York) and Leib Weisbrod was survived by his two sisters (both in Israel).

 

The Survivors Wander

As the Red Army made its way west and liberated more territory, local Jews contacted Jews from other cities. Jezierzany Jews made special renewed contact with Chortkiv to which they had traveled for administration or negotiation purposes. Few Jews survived in Chortkiv. From a famed Jewish community of 7,000 people fewer remained relative to Jezierzany. The Jews of Jezierzany also reached Zbarazh, near Ternopil which temporally became the central city instead of Ternopol. Ternopol suffered much from ongoing battles and was mostly destroyed. Several–hundred survivors from Ternopol and its environs gathered in Zbarazh. As the movement was renewed from point to point, especially from Borszczów to Chortkiv and back, contact was renewed with Jezierzany as an intermediate station. Some Jewish families and individuals settled in Jezierzany temporarily for employment purposes or to retrieve their property from local Gentiles. Some worked on removing the bodies of the fallen from the bunkers and forest hiding spots to a Jewish burial in Jezierzany.

Thus, the Jewish community in Jezierzany was preserved for a while. Meanwhile, as Polish territories were liberated from Germany and a Polish government was established, first in Lublin and then in Warsaw, repatriation began. Soviet institutions announced that all Polish people could enlist

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for repatriation. Almost all the Jews registered for repatriation followed by the masses of Polish residents. The repatriation allowed Jews and Poles to relocate to Poland in its newly established borders beyond the Seine river (along the Curzon Line) up to the territories Poland received from former Germany (the Oder–Neisse line). It is simple to understand why the Jews registered for repatriation; nothing remained other than graves: demolished homes and demolished lives, with grief and loss everywhere. Therefore, it was natural for the Jews to be attracted to Jewish centers or places from which they could later join a Jewish center, either in Poland or through emigration and Aliyah.[39]

The reasons for the Poles' repatriation was completely different. During Nazi occupation, the Germans exacerbated the everlasting hostility between Ukrainians and Poles on Eastern Galician soil, on the principle of “divide and conquer.” The Germans did everything to kindle conflict and deepen the wedge between those two nations. Because the Ukrainians were considered Hitler's darlings (of course more than the Poles), they exploited their position. If allowed, they retaliated against the Poles, especially after the Jews had dwindled as objects to satisfy the Ukrainians' desire for vengeance and murder. An example of this was the massacre Ukrainians carried out in the Szlachta neighborhood of Lanovtsy where they murdered seventy people in cold blood; they did not spare infants and toddlers. The hostilities continued even after the Soviets liberated the territories. Murderous Ukrainian attacks on Poles became more frequent. They frequently burned the homes of Poles in villages throughout Galicia from the Zbruch river in the east to the Seine river in the west. The Poles had no option but to abandon their lands and escape to the cities where the authorities temporarily protected them. In the fall of 1944, we witnessed in Borszczów a fearful escape of all Poles from Glubochek where they were half of the population. With their lives at risk they loaded their passions on wagons and fled the town. That sight was somewhat reminiscent of the Jews' journey to the ghettos. Therefore, everyone registered for repatriation, even if they did so with a heavy heart.

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Several months passed before the repatriation was implemented. Repatriation was done in stages in organized transports conducted once a month, and, at times, in even longer time periods. Some Jews still hesitated preferring to first learn of the fate of the first transports' subjects. Varying rumors arrived from Poland, some contradictory and others consistent. We heard of the occasional murder of Jews in the cities or on the roads of Poland and that an anti–Semitic spirit from the days of Hitler still seethed. On the other hand, rumors arrived about a rejuvenation of Jewish life in Poland and great economic opportunities for arrivals. Eventually even the hesitators feared missing their opportunity to join their brethren in Poland and elsewhere.

 

The Last Jew Leaves Jezierzany
(Galician Podolia is Judenrein Again)

As the preparation for repatriation intensified, the final, lone Jews who were present in Jezierzany left the town and joined the stream of travelers. The last Jew in Jezierzany, as he testified, was Itzy Stop (Glickles [spelling unknown]) who had lost his entire family but had always had contacts with the local Gentiles. Itzy told me later that the local Gentiles were excited when they learned that he, the last Jew in Jezierzany, was also leaving them. Many requested to have their photograph taken with him so they would have a souvenir from “ostanniy Zyd Ozeryanak” (Ukrainian: the last Jew in Ozeryany).

The last transport which included all of the survivors from Jezierzany left Borszczów in the fall of 1945 and rendered Borszczów almost Judenrein and its satellite towns, including Jezierzany, completely Judenrein. That was a year–and–a–half since the liberation from the Nazis in Spring 1944.

[Column 364]

Most of the Survivors Make Aliyah

The travel on the transport trains lasted a long while, sometimes two to three weeks. The travelers usually reached Silesia in the renewed Poland and dispersed to various towns including Katowice, Bytom, Gliwice, Wrocław, and other towns. National and public Jewish life was already flourishing. The older people, as usual, went there for trade, crafts and other work, while the youth went for the various organizations and training grounds. But most Jews, including the Jews from Jezierzany, did not consider settling in Poland. The ground in Poland also began scorching. Since their arrival, the Jews lived “on their suitcases” with the clear aim of quickly reaching refugee camps in Austria and Germany. The wave of anti–Semitism, which intensified and culminated in the Kielce Pogrom, encouraged most Jews to leave Polish soil along escape routes. The typical route led them through Czechoslovakia to the refugee camps in Austria and Germany in order to migrate to Israel or to other countries. Most of the survivors from Jezierzany stayed on Polish soil for a year. In the fall of 1946, almost all left: some to Austria and most to Germany. There they parted ways, and after many troubles and a prolonged stay in refugee camps, some emigrated to the United States or to other countries. Most made Aliyah illegally or legally after the Israel was established.

At the end, the poem of the historian and poet from Krakow, Meir Bosak, who, like us, miraculously survived and made Aliyah:

Leading that camp of paupers
The remnants of the nation
God walks
In a storm of blood and fire –
And in Zion the flags were raised
And in Zion the skies blued.

(“From the Depths” by Meir Bosak)


Notes and Footnotes

  1. The author, son of the scholar Ben–Tzion Fenster, witnessed the downfall of our town and experienced hell in the town and outside of it. The writing of the Holocaust Chronicle lasted more than a year because the author's strength diminished as he reconstructed the horrific sights. He had to stop many times as his senses were confused and his mind froze when he recalled horrific events, mentioned heart–stopping calamities, and rehashed blood–curling destruction. As he realistically described the Holocaust and the destruction of our town by the animalistic, senseless Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators, the author detailed events he witnessed in several towns in Eastern Galicia and other places which we had not heard of from any other source. –The Editorial Board Return
  2. Additional details in the Yiddish section of this book were provided by an eyewitness from Lanovitsi. Return
  3. The exact name of this labor camp is unclear. Elsewhere it was translated as Stavky. Return
  4. “All who go do not return,” Proverbs 2:19 (note added by Hebrew–to–English translator) Return
  5. The Polish word “akcja” (ak–tzi–ah) [corresponding to the German word “aktion” (ak–tzi–un), literally “action” or “operation,” was designated by Polish–speaking and Yiddish–speaking Jews as the term for the evil, cruel Nazi operation. Here, the word is [capitalized] Aktion, as in THE Aktion, the operation of extermination. Return
  6. The two doctors survived that day with their families but perished later. Ukrainian police murdered Dr. Gerstenblit, his wife (nee Shore of Chortkov), and [their] daughter in the Painki forest during the winter of 1943 – 1944 as the family was traveling from its hiding place in Glubochek. Dr. Rosenstock, at the urging of Ukrainian friends, enlisted in Bandera's Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Obviously, Dr. Rosenstock calculated and hoped that he, his wife and his son would be saved as thanks for his service. However, the Rosenstocks have not returned and presumably were murdered by members of the OUN themselves.
    Dr. Rosenstock's daughter survived and resides in Israel.
    (This additional piece of information was added by Yizkor book translation co–coordinator. Dr. Rosenstock's daughter, Shoshana Hasson, lives in Israel as of 2019. Her given name at birth was Rosa.) Return
  7. Co–founder and religious instructor (note inserted by He-brew–to–English translator) Return
  8. Aktion – defined by Wikipedia as the “name for mass murder through in-voluntary euthanasia” carried out by the Nazis and others during the Holocaust. Return
  9. Judenrat – According to the Jewish Virtual Library, under the orders of the S.S., Nazis required “the local Jewish populace to form Jewish Councils as a liaison between the Jews and the Nazis. These councils of Jewish elders (Judenrat, etc.) were responsible for organizing the orderly deportation to the death camps, for detail-ing the number of and occupations of the Jews on the ghettos…and for com-municating the orders of the ghetto Nazi masters. The Nazis enforced these orders on the Judenrat with threats of terror, which were given credence by beatings and execu-tions.” Return
  10. The Festival of Sukkot begins on the fifth day after Yom Kippur. Return
  11. Belzec – Originally a labor camp located in southeastern Poland between the cit-ies of Zamosc and Lvov, Belzec became a forced labor/killing center in 1942. The train trip between Jezierzany and Belzec was about 161 miles. The Holocaust Encyclopedia maintained by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum notes that the Belzec camp was dismantled in the spring 1943 when Jewish forced laborers either shot or deported to the Sobibor killing center to be gassed. “About 434,500 Jews and an undeter-mined number of Poles and Roma (Gypsies) were deported to Belzec where they were killed.” Others estimate the number murdered as much higher. Return
  12. Ternopil was major city in in the historical region of Galicia Podolia. Return
  13. Read more about Markus Rost Moser, his work and Zionist accomplishments in Tenenblatt's memoirs (Section A) and Snyderman's essay (Section D). Return
  14. Chortkiv is located in the northern part of the historic region of Galician Podolia. Return
  15. Kriminalpolizei – the criminal police. Return
  16. Skala–Polilska – a town in western Podolia with a significant Jewish popu-lation. Return
  17. Mielnica – a village 70 miles SSE of Tarnopol. For a description of the Holocaust in Mielnica see JewishGen KehilaLinks, “Chronology of the Holocaust in Mielnica – 1930–1945.” Return
  18. Korolowka sixty miles SSE of Tarnopol. Return
  19. Borszczow is a city fifty–six miles SSE of Tarnopol and in the historical region of Galicia Podolia. Return
  20. Jezierzany is 49 miles SSE of Tarnopol. Return
  21. Google Translation “Who wants them from me? I'm guilty of that?”
    I think this means “What do they want from me? Am I guilty?”
    װאס װילן זײ פון מיר? איך בין עפעס שולדיק (note inserted by He-brew–to–English translator) Return
  22. Janowska – The Holocaust Encyclopedia reports that Janowska was “a transit camp where Jews underwent a selection process;” those classified as fit to work remained…for forced labor,” while the rest were either deported to Belzek or shot in a ravine just outside the camp. Return
  23. For a description of that labor camp see “A Chapter in Jezierna's Destruc-tion,” in Memorial book of Jezierna (Ozerna, Ukraine). Return
  24. Kopyczynce – 35 miles SSE of Tarnopol in the historical region of Galicia Podo-lia. See “Kopyczynce” in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Po-land, Vol II (Kopychintsy, Ukraine for more information on this community. Return
  25. Borszczow – 60 miles SSE of Tarnopol Return
  26. Ordnungsdienst – the Jewish ghetto auxiliary police organized by the Judenrat within the ghettoes ordered by the Nazis. Return
  27. Kings 21:19 (note inserted by Hebrew–to–English translator) Return
  28. Judenrein – a place from which Jews are excluded, or ultimately Europe free of Jews: the “Final Solution”. Return
  29. Shersheniovtse Jews maintained a Zionist group and pioneers trained in its estate. The Jews of Shersheniovtse and ten Jews from other neighboring villages were im-prisoned in Labor Camp W in September 1942. On July 17, 1943, S.S. troops and Ukrainian policemen murdered all of the confined villagers and buried them in a mass grave at the entrance to the village. Return
  30. Kloyz – a house where adult male scholars assembled to study. Return
  31. Prabuzna – a village near Chortkiv and Husiatyn in Ternopil Oblast of western Ukraine. Return
  32. The Soviet period began after September 17, 1939 and ended after June 22, 1941 when Germany captured East Galicia. Return
  33. Komsomol – the All–Union Leninist Communist League of Youth begun in the Soviet Union as an organization for young people aged 14 to 28; the Communist Party used it to teach and prepare future party members. Return
  34. According to Loren Kantor, “The Lamed Vavnik and Popular Culture,” “In Jewish mysticism there's a concept called the Lamed Vavnik. According to Jewish Kabbalistic teaching, 36 righteous people exist in the world at all times who are responsible for the fate of humanity. For the sake of these 36 holy saints, God pre-serves the world even if the rest of society has degenerated to utter barbarism. Every time a Lamed Vavnik dies, a new one appears to take his place. If just one Lamed Vavnik were to turn to sin, God would destroy the world.” Return
  35. “Inter alia – means “among other things.” Return
  36. AK Polish resistance fighters were the Armia Krajowa Home Army, the military arm of the Polish Underground State. Return
  37. Andre Vlascov – a Russian General who was captured by the Nazis; then com-manded a German military unit, and at the end of the war turned against the and fought the Nazis. Return
  38. Stepan Bandera and his men were pro–Ukrainian nationalists and anti– any other group who killed Jews and were anti–Semitic but these were not core values as they were with the Nazis. Return
  39. Aliyah – the emigration Jews in the diaspora to Israel. Return

 

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