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[Page 76]

Life in Radziechów
and the End of its Jewish Community

by Sara Kitzes

Translated by Barbara Beaton

Edited by Jerrold Landau

I was born in Lutotów, a small town near Łódź. For economic reasons we moved to Kalisz and there I finished elementary school. In order to continue my studies in Kalisz, I would not have been able to keep the Sabbath and my late father, who was an observant Jew and a Gur Chassid, objected to this. So my sister and I continued at a seminary in Krakow and at the end of my studies, I was sent to teach in Stanisławów. From there I was transferred to Radekhov. The mission of the Beit Yaakov school was: diligent Jewish studies, the Tanach (Bible) and more, as well as strengthening ties with the students.

There were four classes for 7 to 14 year olds. The girls attended the elementary school in the morning, while studies at the “Beit Yaakov” school took place in the afternoon. According to these girls who had already finished elementary school, the last grade always stayed and socialized together till a late hour. Shabbat was reserved for the upper grades and on the Sabbath eve we met for prayer. Each girl wore white Sabbath clothes and an innocent angelic expression on her face. We sang in the choir and then left only to meet again the next morning, And if it was “Shabbat Mevarchim” we got in a line and went to the synagogue to participate in prayer together with the congregation of worshipers. In the afternoon, in the summer, we would take a hike to the field and there we talked about current events. In the winter, the gathering took place in the classroom. The bonds between us were very close. The Hanukah and Purim parties and the performances we held were other valuable factors that strengthened our connections.

First, I assigned the roles. After each girl learned her part at home, we held rehearsals. On the eve of Hanukah, there was no end to the joy. Almost the entire town streamed into “Sokolnia” Hall. I especially remember the performance of the story of Hannah and her seven sons. The “actresses” performed the roles with emotion, as if it were a recitation of what was about to happen in reality. The impression of the show in the town was immense. I remember that the physician, Dr. Milgrom once invited me to organize a play in collaboration with the “Tarbut” school since we were friendly with the people in charge of it. But unfortunately, I refused to carry out the plan as I was instructed by the center.

[Page 77]

In the summer we went on trips on Lag B'Omer. We rented a horse-drawn cart, that was the transportation[1] then, and we visited Toporów where my sister Adela ran the Beit Yaakov school. How great was the girls' excitement when they saw the white tablecloths spread out on benches with food fit for a king. This was a pleasant sight for many, for there were many households in Radekhov where the livelihood was not very good. Schools in Poland did not go on trips with children, so that day left a strong impression in the girls' memories and they returned home happy.

Two years later I was replaced by another teacher and I was sent to Kielce. I kept in touch with the students and they told me exactly everything that happened at school and in the town. You could say I got love letters. The relationship did not end until I returned to Radekhov, this time not as a teacher. I liked that small town and decided to settle in it. I wanted to build my home there. I was even drawn to a good circle of friends, Fela Schonenfeld, D. Rosen, Lalo Wurm, Shmuel Katz and others. It is unlikely that a remnant of their families remain.

I returned to Radekhov in 1939. The idyll in the peaceful town of my loyal students and beloved and innocent neighbors did not last long. At the outbreak of war on September 1, 1939, things changed and hell began. I was cut off from my family who were already under Nazi rule. In our house we were afraid of deportation to faraway Russia, since my father-in-law was a wealthy merchant. He did not know rest until the day he died. May his memory be blessed. In the summer of 1941, with the entry of the Nazi soldiers into Radekhov, our fate was determined and the tribulations began, one following another.

We were expelled from our homes so that the murderers could more easily both kill the Jews and rob them of their property. Certainly the cruel behavior of the Germans will be described in more detail. I just want to mark the holy and cruel day when the town was widowed of her best sons, my beloved family included. On the eve of Yom Kippur, a minyan was organized in our house for “Kol Nidre.” The city's rabbi was also among the worshipers. My brother-in-law Avigdor was the cantor due to his pleasant voice that night. To this day, the sounds of the worshipers in the last prayer of their lives resonates in my ears.

The next day everyone lined up for a death march to the nearby town of Kamionka. It is worth mentioning here the devotion of a devoted mother. Her name was Tila Zeiger, the wife of Ephraim Asher Zeiger. Her son was among those who had supposedly reported to work. The mother brought her son a coat and when she saw that her son was walking in the line, she joined him. The son wanted to save his mother and stepped out of the line. At that moment, he was shot to death. His body remained in place and his mother continued on her way to death with the rest of her family.

[Page 78]

A heavy mourning fell upon those who remained. These were the elderly and a very few young people who miraculously survived. In December, all my family members, five in number, were deported to Sokal. The Gestapo in Sokal were notorious. Every day the ghetto residents felt this. We, the strangers, were especially the scapegoats. On the way, the Ukrainians robbed us of the little we had left from our house. We were dragged to hard work every day. In addition, we were also beaten. We walked around the ghetto and when we saw the human skeletons, we often thought: could the world abandon us? And that's what really happened.

In May 1943, the ghetto was liquidated with the murder of all the Jews. Only a few managed to escape, among them were both my husband and I. We stayed in the attic and through the window one morning we saw two Nazis armed with rifles leading two children, a boy and a girl, barefoot and dressed in rags. Once they led a Jew wrapped in a tallit. We escaped from the ghetto at night and crossed the fence. We did not know for ourselves what to do. We did not know the way. We wandered for two weeks on the road from Sokal to Radekhov and we nourished ourselves with what we picked in the field.

All day we hid and at night we got up and walked. Once I went out to ask for food and here was a young man galloping towards me on a horse and he said to me: “You are looking for a way out of the village, here it is in front of you,” and he showed us exactly which way to go. He was a Jewish boy who worked in the village and wanted to help us. He immediately disappeared so that God forbid they would not see him or find out that he was also a Jew.

Once another young Ukrainian saw me in the village. He grabbed me by the hand and said to me: “You are certainly not alone, you are a whole gang, now you will tell me and come with me to the police.” I stood frightened and trembling and along came a young woman with a baby in her arms and told the lad to choose: “In the name of my children and in the name of God do not harm her.” As she spoke, she held the young man's hand and she turned to me: “Run away, as long as you have the wherewithal.” How great was our despair when we arrived after life-threatening dangers on the way home to finally find – no way home. The Ukrainians did not allow us to cross the threshold of our house. Only one woman named [Marija] Bihun[2], took us in for three days. On the third morning we set out for the field with a loaf of bread, hoping to reach the nearby forest. It was a forest where I would hike with my students. Here we found shelter for a period of time. In this gloom, a light came on. The old woman promised to share her bread every Saturday night and to place a loaf of bread in a certain place. To our surprise, we met once more on Saturday night, with two more souls shaking from cold and hunger, Peshi Kardasz (today Hochman) and a 13-year-old boy named Chaim Finger. The “family” grew but the source of sustenance remained as it was, and thus did we divide our bread among four individuals.

[Page 79]

Our suffering was great in the winter with frost, rain and snow. The danger to life grew with the fortification of Germans in the forest. This was also the reason for the capture of the rest of the people, of whom, a few remained: Dr. Lenchner and Issachar Kurtz, the boy who was swollen from hunger who went out to ask for bread one day. The Ukrainians handed the boy over to the Germans for a monetary reward. After the liberation, we were told that the Germans took the boy to the forest so that he could show them the place where Jews were hiding, but the boy misled them. The Germans ordered him to dig his own grave. And so there were only three of us left.

That summer we were liberated, but our joy was not complete. How were we to rejoice in a cemetery, for such was the appearance of Radekhov. We therefore collected abandoned and lonely children and handed them over to institutions. One of our ambitions was to build a home in our homeland. We took tortuous paths (it was not yet legal to make aliyah) and arrived in Israel in 1949. Time covers the wounds but it does not cure them.

 

rad079.jpg
Hebrew School in Radziechów

 

Footnotes
  1. The original text reads communication rather than transportation. Return

  2. rad079a.jpg
    Photo of Marija Bihun
    courtesy of her grandson
    Return

[Pages 80-81]

In Remembrance of Our Town Radekhov

by Ettel Gertwagen

Translated by Shuki Ecker

I remember our town as a peaceful little shtetl, clean and civilized, surrounded by woods, in which we, the local youths, took hikes, picnicked, and in the winter took trips from there in winter wagons. In the summer, the school children along with their teachers would also take trips from there, and this was a real celebration. The children were joined by soft drink and sweets peddlers. We used to buy their goods, spend the entire day playing, rest beneath the trees and return full of new experiences.

In the town there were beautiful gardens, and in the center of town, the count's park with its sitting areas was very pleasing. There were rows of large linden trees all around, acacia trees with white and fragrant blossoms, and white and purple lilac bushes. Most of the public buildings were surrounded by gardens of seasonal, sweet-smelling bushes and flowers.

In my time, the cordiality between the Ukrainian Christian youths and the Jewish youths was fairly decent. The Jewish youths sought education and were very interested in Zionism and going to lectures for self-enrichment. Additionally, they sought to better themselves financially. The boys played chess a lot and we organized plays and dances. When we felt the need for a library, I, together with two other girls, decided to establish one. For lack of funds, we went from door to door asking for books. I remember that in every house we visited we were kindly given books and we felt that this bestowed good luck upon us in our goal. Only later were we able to purchase additional books, thanks to subscription fees and monetary donations. [This went on] until a more substantial committee was established to care for our library. This committee moved the library to a more spacious place and expanded the collection.

My grandfather, Aharon Katz, opened his house to all, and there everyone found something to his liking: from perusing a newspaper, to playing chess or finding a partner for a game, to arguing about politics or other current affairs. I remember the fair days, colorful and noisy, full of activity and clamor. During these days Jews used to come, call my grandfather aside (“seit moichel Reb Ahron[1]) and ask him for some money to be returned on market day or at the end of day for provisions for the coming Sabbath, or for a loan for the week, or for settling a bill. Then Grandfather took them to a corner so as not to shame them, took a handful of coins or notes from his pocket, and gave them out as need be without a word and always with a smile of kindness. I never saw him annoyed. I remember the nice custom we had of honoring guests (“tzum tisch[2]), especially on the Sabbath and holidays. In the morning, my grandmother as well as my mother filled a basket with Sabbath goods, covered it with a white cloth and sent it over to poor relatives or other poor people, especially those who had lost their fortunes. I recall many times when I was the emissary of these mitzvot (good deeds). Charity without publicity was the foundation of my grandfather's house.

I remember the people of our town as people of high morals, humble people, hard working, each attending to the needs of his house. One could find a newspaper in most progressive homes. The young people worked to increase the membership of the local Zionist organization and no public function ever lacked volunteers.

[42 KB]
Hebrew school in Radziechow

First row, from the right: Michael Schrage, Feige Barach, Zwia Barasch, Henia Wittlin, [Beila] Ecker, Malka Samet, Gila Friedman, Nissan Axler.
Second row: Faki Floh, Shmuel Gertwagen, Weissman Lea, Tolci Kurzer and others


Footnotes

  1. “begging your pardon Reb Ahron” [Yiddish] Return
  2. “to the table” [Yiddish] Return


[Page 82]

The Holocaust Period in Radziechów

by Jacob Leider

Translated by Jerrold Landau

On Sunday, June 22, 1941, we were awakened in the morning after the Germans threw the first bombs on our city. Then we knew that war between the Germans and Russians had broken out. That day, we all ran about like crazy people, for we knew what was awaiting us from the Germans. However, at 2:00 p.m., Soviet tanks began to arrive on the road from Brody. We counted them, and there were 26. We all thought that they would save us and that the Germans would not enter the city. The Russian tanks stood at the western side of the city around their church, in the direction of the railway station. That day, the Germans reached the railway station.

 

rad082.jpg
My parents Yitzhak and Scheindel who died in Brazil,
my brother – David and his wife Zosia, in whose house the entire family hid

 

The following day, a clear summer's day, at 3:00 p.m. the Germans began to shell the tanks and the city. Two hours later, all the tanks remained in place with no possibility of moving. Many people left their houses and ran to the fields around the city. There were dead bodies even in the fields. Only a few people remained in town and I was among them. I thought: death will overtake me in any case, so why should I flee. I lived next to Moshe Konis, whereas my wife and our daughter ran to the field. Later, I saw the Soviet tank drivers firing inside the city. Our “dear” Ukrainians, rather than showing them the way out of the city, led them into the pasture, and the tanks sank in the mud. The Germans killed almost all of them, and the rest were taken prisoner.

The Germans began their activity immediately. They went from house to house and chased out all of the Jews, shouting “Get outside!” They beat them mercilessly. I saw a caravan of Jews, with three Jews in each row. They began to arrange everyone in an orderly fashion, until we reached the post office. They put us in the yard. They chose about 20 people to go and collect sheets, rice, sugar, and all sorts of other things. I was included among the 20. We were given an order to bring everything including the money within two hours or everyone would be killed. One must believe the Germans especially if they threaten to kill, for “they have no problems” with that. I went with another group, and as we were standing next to the house of Kalman Goldscheider, a group of policemen arrived, captured us along with 200 other people, and sent us directly to the Podgaye. They ordered us to pour all the gravel onto the road. We were about 300 people, and anyone who could not work was beaten with murderous blows. They beat Abish Silberman over his glasses with a stick. His glasses broke, and blood flowed over his cheeks. Yossi Menaker also received blows.

Toward evening, I miraculously returned home. Soviet bombers arrived and began bombing. I was as black as a Negro, and for two weeks, I could only sleep standing up. This is how things went week after week. We were chased out to work every day.

The Soviets had built several airfields in our area. The Germans brought wagons with rocks. We worked at a fast tempo. There was no work without beatings. We worked in this fashion without food, and we were also not permitted to go home. If we wanted to drink a bit of water during work in the heat of the day, they would not give us any, and when an elderly gentile wanted to give us a pail of water, the Germans poured out the water. The young gentiles treated our suffering disparagingly, and even appeared satisfied with it.

My main worry was: what would happen to the people who were taken as hostages. At 11:00 p.m., we heard that they freed these people. The next morning, the Germans began to go around in groups, taking whatever they found in houses and also administering beatings. I had prepared a bit of sugar – and they took everything. We were abandoned like dogs and cats. Any person who was considered to be a Jew was not even looked at. Thus, they went from house to house until Wednesday, beating people everywhere. On Wednesday at 10:00, 18 Soviet bombers arrived. I stood in the yard and watched the bombs falling on the Germans 20 meters away from me. Tens of them were killed. Moshe Gleicher was also killed. He was the only Jew killed during the Soviet bombardment.

On Sunday, they imprisoned four Jews, including Yossi Menaker the son of Nisan, Chaim Wasserman and his son Pesach, the grandson of Hershel Lozik, and Stumfeler from Chołojów, who was in the militia and Komsomol (youth wing of the Communist Party). At night, they murdered them all in the gymnasium building. Pesach the son of Chaim Wasserman saw how they cut off his father's foot. They poured benzene over Yossi Menaker and set him on fire. They beat the wounds with a stick in order to try to put out the fire. Lozik was already dead, as was Stumfeler from Chołojów. When they threw a chair at Pesach, they thought he was already dead and left him. Pesach woke up from his faint in the middle of the night, and saw that the rest were no longer alive. He lifted himself up, approached the open window, and saw a German sentry making rounds. The sentry was startled and turned aside. Pesach succeeded in escaping through the window and reaching his home. He survived until they transferred the Jews of Radziechów to the Busk Ghetto. Nothing is known of his fate after that.

Later, they began to organize the Judenrat. Adolf Kranz was the head, and he selected the Judenrat from among his family members including: Adolf Ecker, Prager, Yosef Wasser, Leibish Goldenberg, Bedner, and others. The Judenrat organized the Ordnungsdienst (Jewish ghetto police). The policemen included Leiber Alzufrom, Reis, Shabtai Rosenberg, Asher Dubner of Chołojów, Hersch Brunn, and others. They set up a labor office with a Jewish division and began to send Jews to do all types of work. Things continued in this manner until the winter of 1941–1942. Then they began to talk about sending workers to Płuhów [labor camp] next to Złoczów. More than 100 young men who were chosen by the Judenrat were sent there. Not one of them returned from there. The poor people were sent, and the wealthy people managed locally.

Two days after Rosh Hashana, the murderers surrounded the city and removed 1,500 Jews for extermination from amongst those who came by. They sent them by train to Bełżec. Only Moshe Windbeutel and one other person remained alive.

However, those two were also killed later on. Two days after this roundup, announcements were posted ordering the men who remained after the first deportation to present themselves at the marketplace in order to receive permits to remain in the city. They reported on Yom Kippur at 10:00 a.m. I was among them. We were more than 500 people. The head of the arbeitsdienst (labor service) of Kamionka Strumiłowa, Schindler may his name be blotted out, arrived along with Ukrainians and Germans who surrounded the entire square. We immediately realized that the intention was murder. They brought them all to Kamionka except for a few professionals who were left behind to continue working. I was among them. From that time on, I fast on Yom Kippur because that was the day that we escaped from the pits of Yom Kippur, September 21, 1942. Leib Gold was also among them.

All of those who remained already knew that the end was approaching even for the survivors. There was a rumor that they would transfer the people to Sokal. The Jews from the area were brought to Radziechów, and housed in the empty houses of the city's Jews who had been killed. People began to escape in order to save own their lives. They began to set up the ghetto after Yom Kippur. The ghetto continued in a westward direction until [the home of] Hersch Hoch to the east. They surrounded the city again on October 7 and gathered all the remaining people – about 1,500 – and transferred them to Bełżec. Not one of them survived.

Epidemics and various diseases spread in the ghetto throughout the half year. Anyone who had the opportunity to escape did so. On December 1, 1942 they loaded up almost all of those who remained on sleds hitched to horses and transferred them to the Sokal Ghetto. Left behind were 100 people to clean the ghetto. The Sokal Ghetto was liquidated on May 25, 1943. They also murdered the final Jews of Radziechów.

On March 15, 1943, they surrounded the ghetto and removed the remaining 100 people. They brought them to the Pukaczów Forest and murdered them. The tens of children were placed in a pit and suffocated alive. Yosef Barij, Sender Barach and I were among the few who survived.

 

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