Alter Grinboim (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Pamela Russ
When the war broke out, we were in Legionowo together with many Jewish families because in Serock there were no longer any opportunities for earning a living. Right away, on the first day, airplanes flew across the sky over the town. President Moscicki spoke at 7:30, saying that the Germans had invaded Poland. There was great panic. Everyone immediately stopped working and every night we went to guard the train lines and the military posts the orders for this came from the police.
One day, when I went to guard the railway that surrounded Legionowo, a policeman with a weapon in his hand came to tell me that I must leave Legionowo on the nearest train. When I asked to go and see my parents, he said to me that he had orders to shoot if I would refuse him. I was forced to get on the train that was going in the eastern direction.
Because I felt responsible that I had left my parents without any notice, I decided to run away with three other people. When the train stopped in Praga, we jumped off the train hoping to reach my sister Esther who lived on Rabina Meiselsa Street in Warsaw (street named after the Chief Rabbi of Warsaw, Rabbi Meisels, who died in 1870) in order to gain contact with my parents and wife in Legionowo.
While wandering around Praga in the dark, we happened to come into a military zone. We were detained, and we discovered that they had mistaken us for German spies and had decided to shoot us. A Polish officer approached us and asked and confirmed all the details, and finally realized that we were all Jews, that we had been born in these towns, and that we were not spies. He decided to keep us until morning and then allow us to enter Warsaw. As we arrived to
my sister's house on Rabina Meiselsa Street, we found my brother-in-law, sister, and their child in the house. I told them everything, and soon we heard city councilor Stazinski speaking on the radio saying that Warsaw would defend itself until its last drop of blood with the Pollaks and Jews. He called up all men to come forward and be part of this defense. Since I was all alone, I immediately stepped up to join the defense. My job was that after an airplane would fly overhead, I would climb onto the roof and throw down flares onto the street.
Before Rosh Hashana, the Gerer Rebbe made a public statement that everyone should pray with great earnest that on Yom Kippur everyone would be able to pray in Gur [home town of the Gerer khassidim] and that the Germans should have their downfall. At that point, the Germans took over the city of Gur. The Germans, knowing about the Rebbe's public statement, intentionally bombed the Jewish quarter at the time of Rosh Hashana. The most intense attack came on Rosh Hashana morning at 7:30. Going out of the gate, I saw one of the most terrible sights ever. The entire entrance court of Nalewki 39 lay in destruction. Hundreds of Jews were standing near the ruins and, sobbing, were searching for their family members. At that moment, I saw one Jew who was standing there only in his night shirt holding a burnt up child in his arms, screaming in confusion: G-d, look at my child!
The screams continued the entire Rosh Hashana, until nighttime. The only food that I had for me, my sister, her husband, and child, came from a jar of sour pickles that we picked up from a blown up factory that had made preserves this was on a nearby street where hundreds lay dead from German airplanes.
One early Wednesday morning, four weeks after that bombing, it became silent. I went out on Zamenhof Street, and I saw hundreds of people running in the street, shouting that the war had ended
From time to time, a Red Cross plane flew overhead. Shortly after lunchtime, there were committee announcements that because Warsaw had no electricity, no water, and no food, they had to surrender to the German army.
After reading these announcements, hundreds of Jews began to tear the hair from their heads.
I remained like that until the beginning of Sukkos, and afterwards, the Germans informed everyone through posters that those who were from outside of Warsaw had to go get permits on Marshalska Pilsudskiewo Place, and then they would be allowed to go home. Walking through Nalewki, I saw a horrifying thing: A German truck had stopped and tens of armed Germans had blocked off the street and had dragged every Jew with a beard onto the truck, by their beards. They didn't bother me because I was clean shaven.
When I came to Pilsudskiewo Place, where there were thousands of people, announcements were made on the loud speakers in Polish and German: Attention Polish citizens! Please stay in your places. Soon the German power will come into Warsaw! I happen to be standing near the twelve gates. Not far from me a truck drove by and I saw as they opened all four sides of the truck that were covered with canvas. They brought out an old German general for whom they performed all the German military marches. The parade went from 10 until three in the afternoon. After that, the announcement was made on the loud speaker that special permits were necessary only for those with cars, not those on foot.
Coming back to my sister on Rabina Meiselsa Street, I said good-bye to her, to my brother-in-law, and to the child, and started out to Legionowo on foot. My first encounter with the Germans came in Pelzowicszne. Near the old synagogue that stood by the highway (a wooden building), there was a military fenced in area. Hundreds of people were gathered there waiting to go through.
As we were waiting, a short German approached and called out: Are you Jews? Everyone was afraid to answer. A Pollak who was waiting with us, answered: Yes! The German announced that all the Jews would be beaten to death. I understood the bitter destiny that awaited us. At that moment, a German officer appeared and asked
about everyone's personal documents. Everyone was processed and permitted to pass through the fence.
I wandered along the highway until Legionowo. Hundreds of families were waiting there for their dear ones. Amongst them were my parents and my wife. They couldn't imagine that I was still alive. I remained in Legionowo for a few days. We couldn't go to work because we couldn't maneuver the streets. Every person was taken to work.
One day, I went to my father who lived on Szenkiewicza Street in a storefront. At that moment, two armed Germans entered. Seeing my father with a beard, one of them screamed; Jew! and right away, with a force, spit directly onto his face, and left. My father and mother cried bitterly. I was terribly moved, sensing what was waiting for us. A few days later, about one week after Sukkos, my brother Nekhemia arrived. He was mobilized in the Polish army for entire duration of the war. Because the future looked bad, we took the road east.
My parents, who were terribly broken, decided to stay where they were and let fate do with them as it would. Not being able to watch the pain of my parents, my sister Malka decided to stay with them.
I, my wife, my brother Nekhemia, and my sister Miriam, made small packages, and our elderly mother and our sister escorted us for several kilometers. The heart rending screams of my mother, sister, and father are impossible to forget for my entire life. And that's how we wandered: We traveled only at night, during the daytime we lay in the woods. On the way, we met hundreds of Jews, but all of them were in small groups, terrified of being shot by the Germans. We met Pollaks and German townspeople, from whom we had great problems. We went through Radzymin, then through the old Jewish town of Wyszkow that was completely in ruin. The only thing standing was the Catholic church. We also
went through Jadowo and straggled until the tragic train station in Maklyn, a place that as gruelingly familiar with acts of hatred.
As we approached the station in Maklyn, a Pollak met us and immediately informed us that we Jews should save ourselves and not go to the station because they were all being shot there. Soon we noticed as tens of Germans were approaching us with their dogs, and they were shouting: Stay where you are! Put your hands in the air! In this situation, the Pollak told us not to try to run away because they would catch us anyway. One person managed to sneak off into the woods. In a minute, we were surrounded by Germans who were screaming: Jews! Move forward! And we were marched to the station. There were Germans standing there who laughed at us. Fresh Jews! There were many Jews in a fenced off area with tall wooden fences. They announced that anyone who had any money or weapons should immediately hand them over or he would be beaten to death. Soon after that, men and women were separated, and all the men were told to get completely naked. All our clothing was filthy from the roads, anything else that had a reasonable appearance, they took away. As my brother Nekhemia took off his good coat, a German came to measure him, then disappeared with him.
After that, we were told to get back into the remaining things and we were led to work in the bombed out station, divided into all kinds of groups. I fell into a group that carried rails. While doing that, they told us to sing and be cheerful. Suddenly, they told us to drop the rails from our shoulders. Many were hurt that way. That's how we worked until three in the afternoon without any food, not knowing our destiny nor the fate of our wives.
A German officer lined us up in a row and said: Know that you are wandering away from the dirty Russians, and any of you that will wish to go back will be killed. And then they started to beat us. The officer told us to start running ahead, and we began running in the indicated direction. Over our heads, bullets began to fly, and we fell to the ground.
We heard screams of Shema Yisroel, and Where are our brothers
and our sisters? and so on. But not looking at all that, we crawled slowly on all fours. When we came close to the border crossing, the shooting stopped. Some of us stood up, many remained lying on the ground, and I don't know what happened to them.
Behind us, we noticed that a group of women was running and screaming: Where is my husband? and so on. I recognized my wife and my sister Miriam among the women. Soon, a German patrol officer approached us and told us that we could not remain there and that we had to move on. I went to look for my brother Nekhemia, but couldn't find him. We had to go with a group, and when we came to the border crossing they received us politely and told us to give them our money and weapons. After a brief search, the crossing bar was opened and we were told to move forward. We immediately saw a Russian military person. He said to us in Polish: Don't cry, here we don't shoot. They immediately sat us down at a table where they registered the newcomers. They told us to go to the nearest train station and go to Bialystok, because we couldn't stay where we were. Not obeying what the Russian military person had told us, I, my wife, and my sister decided to go to the nearest house and spend the night there, hoping to find out what had happened to my brother Nekhemia. As it happened, we found a house with a Jewish family that allowed us to spend the night. To our great excitement, there was a knocking in the middle of the night, and there stood a group of young men, among them my brother Nekhemia. Everybody cried. The following morning we went to the train station and left for Bialystok.
We arrived in Bialystok at the beginning of November, 1939. There, a committee assigned us places to sleep and we were given ration cards. We wandered around like that for two weeks, and then registered at one of the registration locations to go to Russia to work. We left Bialystok by train in one car, and my brother and sister in another car. On the way .
they detached the cars so that I lost contact with my brother and sister. My wife and I were left off in White Russia [Belorussia] in a city called Orsa. Here, I and my wife started working together in a tailoring shop. At that time, we started writing to Legionowo and my parents through the Red Cross.
After writing several letters, we received a reply from my father. He wrote that they took all the Jews out of their homes, and also from the surrounding towns, and set up a ghetto in the Ludvishiner fields. My father told me that they cut off his beard and that he was together with my mother and sister, and that a speedy outcome is waiting for them.
As I was reading the letter, I saw that through the Red Cross we were able to send packages to Germany. I left immediately, and after great effort, I was able to get papers and arranged to send every month up to 20 kilograms. I immediately made a package of provisions: rice, coffee, tea, etc., and sent it off to my parents.
To my great joy, in a few days I received a reply from my parents, that they had received everything, and that I had simply saved them from hunger and great need.
My wife's parents, who were also in the Legionowo ghetto, decided to go and live together with my parents, because they [my in-laws] had nothing to live on. And so, each month I sent them 20 kilograms from which two families were able to live until the German-Russian war broke out on June 21, 1941.
A month before the outbreak of the German- Russian war, I received a letter with a photograph of my family. They had risked their lives to do this (taking photographs in the ghetto was forbidden). This is the only memento I have of them.
As the German-Russian war broke out, the city of Orsa was bombed heavily, and we were forced to leave on the first flight. We had to leave everything behind, and went through Smolensk, Penza, and beyond. We continued like that until Kakant, near Tashkent. There, they took us out of the transport, and directed my wife and me into .
the village of Nursuk where we started to work in a wine factory. In a short time, I was mobilized into a working troop and sent to Omsk in Siberia to work in a factory of rubber tires. Knowing that I had left my wife in a difficult situation, I begged the administration of the factory and they allowed my wife to come to me. She came with malaria. That's how we lived in Omsk until the end of the war.
Soon, when the war ended, we asked the NKVD [Russian acronym: the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the public and secret police in Russia] to be able to return to Poland with the hope that maybe we would find some remaining close ones because we knew that the Germans had killed Jews. With the first train that left Omsk in 1945, we came to Wroclaw, and from Wroclaw to Reikhenbakh. We started to search for contacts, and decided to go to Warsaw to look for our relatives. In Reikhenbakh we received notice that my brother Nekhemia and sister Miriam had arrived from Russia, and we met up with them right away. We received notices that all our dear and close ones had gone into the gas chambers of Treblinka and Majdanek, and we were advised not to go in the direction of Warsaw because the AK groups were tormenting the Jews. [AK: Armia Krajowa; trans: Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. AK members' attitudes towards Jews varied widely from unit to unit.]
Shortly after, we left Poland through Czechoslovakia and Austria, and we came to the Kassel camp (in the British zone). We were there until August 1948, then afterwards left for Israel.
Written by Feiga KanarekMagid
Translated by Ruth Kilner
I remember well the little town in which I was born. To this day, I remember the noise and vitality of Serock: the din of the streets; the joyful laughter of the youth filling the courtyards.
How can I not remember our bustling home: my parents, my two brothers and us six girls? I close my eyes and I see my big brother, Shmulik, who taught dance in our house. I vividly recall the sounds of the dance music, and the feet that hesitated and tried to dance. Pairs of dancers failed and then succeeded. Many of my sisters' friends and boyfriends passed through our home. Festivals and holidays in our home were happy occasions, particularly the winter festivals Hannukah and Purim. The games. The joy. The laughter. We would prepare our fancy dress costumes for Purim. I remember that Chana, Tova and I were unrecognizable when we dressed up as gypsies. They went into town to visit the houses of the rich folk to tell their fortunes, and in return they were given money to help the needy families. Their prophecies flowed like a cornucopia of blessings. On Hannukah, we had donuts and potato latkes. Even today, their smell in my nose arouses a wave of nostalgia, and their unique taste stimulates my palate. When one of the guests was caught in the act of biting into a doughnut filled with hot pepper and a generous helping of salt Oh! How we roared with laughter…
And I remember how we fished for little fish in the river and the pond. How pleased we were when we managed to catch the tiny fish from the river beside the house! Our parents were fishermen, and we had several boats. We all knew how to row the paddle boats and how to sail.
I also recall the Christian festival that fell during June, St. John's Day. The Polish youth would celebrate and sing, gathering together on the river bank, decorate the big boats with torches lit up in a range of colors, and set sail with song and dance.
My childhood years in my hometown, Serock how wonderful they were! In August 1939, I turned fifteen years old. At the end of my fifteenth year, September came. It was a bitter September that put a bitter end to my happy childhood years.
With the bombing of Serock, many victims fell, and our young, carefree life was destroyed. My eldest brother was killed in the bombing.
Five days after war had broken out, the Germans occupied the town. My brother's funeral was held at night, and I couldn't even accompany him to his final resting place. I quickly learned things I did not already know. I knew what an air raid was,
I was introduced to the cruelty of the death that killed my brother, I had tasted the sudden departure of my brother, four years older than me, who left without any parting words, wrenched away from us suddenly, and deported to Germany.
Even in the early days of the occupation, our German occupiers displayed the hate they felt towards the Jewish population. Decree after decree was issued. One of the first orders imposed the contributions a type of monetary penalty, allegedly for protection, which in reality was just the start of the ills and hate of the Jewish people. They demanded sums of twenty five thousand zloty. The money was collected from all the Jews, barring none, until they managed to scrape together and collect the sum of twenty five thousand zloty.
A few days went by, and a quieter atmosphere prevailed. The decrees and edicts seemed to be lessening. Stores and bakeries reopened. We would stand in long lines through the nights to receive our bread rations and in the morning there was always joy upon receiving the warm and steaming bread.
But the reduction of the Germans' cruelty didn't seem to last, it was just intended to mislead us and to lull us into a false sense of security as was their way of the mass slaughter in their kingdom of murder.
It happened suddenly, and was as terrifying as thunder from the heavens. We lived a fair distance from the center of the terrible events that happened in our town. With the rising of the sun on that black and bitter day, our Polish neighbors scared us out of our beds with the shocking news that all the Jews were being deported out of town.
Only after we had jumped out of our beds, terrified and panicking, did the crying and wailing voices reach our ears from the town center which was where the murderers had been gathering the unfortunate deportees since four o'clock that morning. My mother, father, and older sister Chava were not at home. They had gone away for a few days to our family in the village Zatory to try and bring back a little food for us over the winter. Consequently, we were only five sisters left in the house.
To this day, I remember the strangled whispers of my sister, Tova, when I was still drowsy and half asleep: Get dressed, children. Get dressed quickly! We need to get away!
And when we made the effort to put on our clothes with frenzied motions of fear and terror, questions about our fate came out our mouths in strangled tearful voices, eyes welling with tears, Where to?
We wanted our mother and father and in the blink of an eye, we all had an idea: Let's go to them! To Zatory! Our neighbor, the aristocratic Pole, Vilkovski, agreed without hesitation to take us on the boat down the river. But we hadn't managed to cross the Narew and evil screams terrified us, Zurück Schnell! Come back now! Germans, accompanied by a mob of
Polish youngsters threatened us with their weapons. Left with no choice, we returned the boat to the river bank. When we landed on the bank, we received a barrage of beatings and blows from rifle butts, which hit our heads and the rest of our bodies.
Little Tova was stood next to the wall, and the Germans screamed, You wanted to escape? You like to take risks? and they beat her without mercy. Our hearts were in our mouths with fear lest they tell them to kill the girls. Beaten and battered to a pulp, blood poured out of us, and they accompanied us with cursing and more beatings, to the area in the marketplace where they were gathering the Jews for deportation.
Every Jew in the city was gathered in the marketplace. From there, they marched us all to the train station at Nasielsk, accompanied by an armed escort. That was on the fifth of December, 1939.
We arrived at the train station in Nasielsk in the evening. We were all beaten, harried, exhausted, and hungry. There was no train; it hadn't arrived. An hour later, they rushed us with a torrent of beatings towards the Nasielsk synagogue. At the entrance to the synagogue, not a single one of us managed to escape the brutal beatings that rained down on our heads, faces and anywhere their hands could reach.
The following day, early in the morning, they rushed us back to the train station. There, they started searching us. They were looking for money, gold, and jewelry. They looked everywhere: in our clothes; in our belongings; and on our bodies. We were searched roughly and without boundaries. In the process, they cut beards, and sheared them with rusty knives. Then, they ordered us to bathe in the swampy water and to roll around in the mud. Dirty and dripping with water, they finally herded us into the train carriages that awaited us. In the train carriages, which were sealed, we travelled for two days in different directions without food, and without as much as a drop of water. Thirsty, and hungry, exhausted and short of air to breathe, crowded and choked, we were five sisters together with each of us in the sealed carriages. At the end of the journey, we arrived at Biala Podlaska. One family took us the five of us for a few weeks, and in January 1940, we were taken by our uncle to Wolomin, near Warsaw, where we were reunited with our parents and our sister, Chava. In Wolomin there was a heavy famine; we had to wander onwards, and we stayed with our aunt in Wieliszew (near Zegrze), where we lived in a small room. The mother sold old clothes; my sister, Chana, sewed a little and we lived in great hardship. This is how we lived as free people for a year, until one bright day , I found myself together with the Jews of the surrounding villages to the closed ghetto in Ludwiszyn, next to Legionowo, in October 1940.
The ghetto was closed and sealed. Food was rationed. We started to starve, and this caused weakness and disease. We knew that if we were to do nothing to help ourselves, it would mean the end of us. Mother and I made a decision and snuck to the edge of the ghetto. We walked to the closest village to sell the few belongings that we had left. Our fear was great to cross the borders
of the ghetto, but our hunger was greater than our fear. But our bravery only helped in the tiniest of ways. Our hunger increased and increased, amplifying and becoming intolerable. Under those dreadful conditions, my father fell ill and died on March 19th, 1941. October 1942 brought our ghetto's turn for extermination, and the residents were taken to Auschwitz and Treblinka to a certain end.
The silence of the night was broken suddenly by a sudden frightful commotion with whistles, sirens, the clatter of cars, and screams. The dense dark of the ghetto was lit up by a terrible fire. All the prisoners in the ghetto were taken from their homes and gathered together, next to the gmina (municipality).
But we didn't go. When the sun came up and we saw well what had happened outside, Mother made a decision, We're going to be taken to the unknown? No!
Mother then watched and saw by our house that Jews were sneaking over the ghetto wall, and she said, Jews from the ghetto are escaping to the Aryan side, to the nearby forest. We should go too.
And so we did. We slipped away and escaped into the forest. We hid there all that day. In the evening, the Poles told us that the Germans had surrounded and besieged the forest.
It was clear to us that we had to go, to escape, but how and where could we go? Where could we turn? Danger lurked at every turn, despite which we had to tempt our fate and look for a way out. With bitter regret, we realized that we could not endanger all of us together, and it would be best to split up in case Gd forbid fortune didn't smile on us. At least it would not then mean the end of all of us. My little sister Leah and my sister Chava went to some Polish people we knew that lived not far from the ghetto. My two eldest sisters headed towards Lublin, where they were caught as Polish women and taken to work in Germany, where they remained until the end of the war. Marisha and I headed towards Zegrze, and from there we went to Biala Podlaska for the second time.
I will never forget that tragic farewell, with the ghetto burning from afar in the background. It was dreadful!! Our mother's wails shook us to our very souls. Poor Mother feared for all our fates. She worried they would take us. Her final words ring in my ears until this very day. Write to me, my darling girls…
These were the last words I heard from my mother's lips, and I never saw her again. In Biala Podlaska, it was cold, and it snowed. We had intended to go to friends, Yechiel Wiernek and his family from Serock, whom we knew should be in the ghetto. We asked about Grabarska Street, and we were told that it was a street watched well by the German gendarmes, since September 26th, 1942, when the ghetto was destroyed and all the Jews were removed.
Don't go there, they'll shoot you, they warned us. Where will we go and what will we do?
we asked ourselves. Left without any other option, we took the only possibility: to go to the Poles.
The day was already approaching evening, and we couldn't find anyone willing to accommodate us without identity papers. On the way, a miracle happened to us, and a good man provided us with lodging for the night. All that day, no food had come near our mouths. Hungry and cold, we couldn't close our eyes, and we worried what would we do come morning?
We decided to search for work as Polish housekeepers, obviously for families that wouldn't demand to see identity papers. After a lot of searching and inconvenience, we found what we wanted.
I found a job working for a family with three children. There was a lot of work, and it was hard, but I was happy because I had a roof over my head and something to eat. One time, it occurred to my employers to ask for my identity documents. I made up some lie, one that I had ready if it was ever necessary, and I somehow managed to assuage their minds. After a while, they began to suspect me; that I was a Jewess. Their fear grew and I was worried that my fervent denials were not lessening their suspicions. After working for eight months, they fired me and asked me to leave them, but they didn't make things worse, and gave me the address of another employer.
My new address was of a prosperous farmer and flour mill owner in Janów Podlaski. Again, I wasn't asked for identity papers, which was lucky as I didn't have any. This farmer had a large family: the husband, his wife and five children, his brother, and soon afterwards, a sixth child was born. There was even more work, and it was difficult, between the large farm, home, and mill, but I was compensated well with plenty to eat, and after years of hunger, I had also now tasted satiety.
Working here, I also scored identity documents. The family I worked for had a friend who worked in the municipality offices. She tried for me and managed to get me my longawaited papers with photo, all according to law. According to my papers, I was Helena Barbara Dombrowska, a Catholic Christian, born in Serock on the banks of the River Narew.
My work in the house was, as I said, extensive, particularly on the farm, where they had 22 pigs, 65 rabbits, many chickens, and more. In addition to all this, there were five small children that needed looking after. The eldest was only seven years old. Consequently I worked incredibly hard.
Once, my sister Marisha visited me and saw how hard I worked. Her place of work was not as hard. She persuaded me to leave Janów and to return to Biala Podlaska. I was tempted.
I returned to Biala Podlaska for the third time, at the start of 1944. And once again
I looked for work as a servant. This time I chanced upon a family of fewer means. They supported themselves with difficulty, and even so they wanted a servant. I couldn't hold onto this job, with this poor family for long, and I soon moved to work for a different family.
My new employers were not bad to me, because they did not suspect my true ancestry. Were they to have suspected me Gd forbid my fate would have been cruel and bitter, because they were antiSemites.
Each day, they would come home from their work with good news on their lips. Do you know, Helenka, what happened today in Lublin?
I never answered, and waited in fear for what was to come, which never took long, Listen to what's written in the newspaper: seven Jew boys were riding on the train, the Germans checked their papers, and eventually identified them as Jews.
My heart beat fiercely and I twisted my face into a smile. Meanwhile, he continued, They didn't kill them then and there. They put them onto a transport which will take them and many more to their end.
A shiver suddenly shook my entire body, my contorted face continued smiling and I heard my lips saying, Good for them. They shouldn't have been there.
As I said these words, my heart twisted with pain, my head burned, and I was filled with impotent rage. I was exhausted and flagging in this house too, I didn't have quite enough to eat, but I didn't leave them, because of how things worked out.
It was spring, 1944. With the end of the snow, the frozen Polish rivers trembled and thawed with a raging din, removed the sprinkling of ice that covered them through the days of the winter in their mighty flow. Spring winds brought the news that the front was coming and that the Russian army had freed the Eastern frontiers of Poland.
We could hear the noise of battle and echoes of explosions clearly in the silence of the night. The lady and the master of the house were afraid of what might happen. They considered running away, but were too afraid to leave their house, and their shop where they sold writing goods was far from their home. They feared that they would be blockaded by the Communist Russians, who were about to enter the town. Consequently they decided to stay put and to send their four children to relatives. The master moved into the shop and it was my job to take him his food. On my way to the shop, I had to cross the bridge over the river. I knew this way and this bridge well. On one of these trips, with food for the master, my toes froze during a gale and ice storm.
I had to take the children in a cart, harnessed to a horse to their grandmother and their aunts, who lived in a small town close to Biala. We travelled for many hours.
The sounds of shooting and explosions got louder and louder. After several close and short battles, the Russian army liberated the village from the Germans; then the area; and then the whole of Poland.
The coveted liberation had arrived. The big dream had become reality. Our bold fantasy had been realized. This was now reality, and it was hard to believe that we were indeed free…
The entire last night before the liberation, we couldn't sleep. Sleep was impossible because of the shooting and the explosions. The retreating Germans plundered, pillaged, and robbed. Before escaping, they torched villages, towns and cities. The entire horizon was red with flames. It seemed that the whole country was alight.
The following morning, the streets were filled with large bearded soldiers. Tattered and ragged, but singing and dancing around the bonfires, roasting butchered pigs and calves on them, filling their mouths with hunks of meat.
Helenka, what a pity, look at those poor soldiers! and I explained to the children that these are the soldiers from the frontier, who defeated the Germans and drove them away. This is the victorious Russian army. They liberated us and brought us freedom and safety. Let's celebrate with them, because we are so happy!
That was in July 1944. Our area was freed from the German's cruel regime, but the war continued. All around us was the home front, close to the frontier. Many casualties were brought every day and every night how much suffering, misery and misfortune? Volunteer nurses and doctors rushed to help, and their hands were full, administering first aid to the casualties.
It was then that I was told that I had also been orphaned from my dearest mother. She was murdered on 22nd May, 1943. I remembered that emotional farewell at the crossroads. My heart had known what would happen…
After the liberation, I continued to work for the same family. Life started to return to something resembling normal.
Once, my sister Marisha came to me with the most surprising news, I just heard them speaking Yiddish on Brzeska Street! There are Jews!
And indeed, there were still Jews alive. And the Jews that remained were no longer hiding away.
And Marisha continued and spoke to my heart,
Do we still need to conceal ourselves? Do we need to wear a mask over our faces and work as Polish women? We have also been liberated, this freedom is also ours, and it has given us back our rights to us to not only live as Poles. We shouldn't hide our ancestry and to what people we belong.
I had no doubt that my sister was correct.
The mistress was religious and I had to go with her to Church and imitate her: to murmur prayers, to cross myself no end, and to kneel. And I was a Jew! How my soul longed to be liberated from this forced conscience, from this depressing nightmare!
After I left my work as a servant to the Christian family, I found a job in a Jewish café.
At that time, they were urging us to go to Russia, but we refused all these suggestions, because we wanted to gather together and regroup all the shreds left of our family. Since our family had been split up, and the war spread us all over, we had not heard anything about anyone else.
First, we discovered our sister, Chava, who lived in Lodz. She came to Biala Podlaska and took Marisha and me with her to Lodz. We then found our brother, Moshe, who had been serving in the Polish national army since its establishment by Wanda Wasilewska.
Chava went to Israel, and Marisha and I remained, to wait for the remainder of our family, hoping to find them.
In Lodz, the State Office for Repatriation, PUR, actively called to the younger generation to rise up and rebuild the land of Poland. The youth were in particular demand to volunteer and sign up to repatriate and rebuild the western regions of the state.
Marisha and I travelled to Gdańsk on the Baltic coast, where we received money, clothing, blankets, a tidy furnished room, beds and bedding. For the first time in years, we lived like human beings. As poor orphans, we were also entitled to healthy food and special treatment, and we returned to life. I worked in the municipal hospital.
About a year later, Marisha married and got a large and beautiful apartment. I moved with her, and lived together with her and my new brotherinlaw: a deputy in the Polish army.
Once, this brotherinlaw came with me to work, and told me that a relative had come, and he wanted to introduce her to me. Carefully, and not all at once, in order not to stun me, he revealed to me the happy news, that my sister TovaTussia had come from the land of the forever damned, from Germany. I was deliriously happy. I almost lost my mind when Tussia revealed to me
the knowledge that our sister Chana was also still alive, and was married and living in Lodz. We also heard, in a roundabout way, that our little sister Zussiya was also alive.
In summary: We were six sisters and one brother all still alive. Other than Zussiya, we all knew about each other. We didn't know where the little one was or how to find her.
All of us called Zussiya ‘the little one.’ And we had to find her.
We knew that the little one should be by the old woman in Praga, on the outskirts of Warsaw, who tool her in from our late mother in those ravaged days. We also remembered the name of the street where the old Christian woman lived Targowa Street.
However, where to start looking for her now, after everything that had happened? I went, to the Jewish committee in Praga. I was incredibly tired. Wearing boots up to my calves, with no socks, I rushed from place to place on foot, because I had no money to travel. My feet ached terribly. When the committee gave me the address, I didn't walk: I ran with a sense of urgency, as long as there was breath in me.
With ragged breath, I arrived at the school in Wileńska Street where my little sister studied. I knocked on the classroom door, and I asked about Zushka Kumaya. The teacher asked the girl with that name to please leave the classroom with me. I saw my sister, ten years old, stand up astounded, and it seemed that she didn't recognize me.
I didn't know my own soul after all the tragedy. My heart pounded hard, hammers beat my head from the inside, and I didn't have the strength to stop the stream of tears that flowed from my eyes. I covered my little sister's eyes and face with kisses. She looked more and more bewildered, and did not open her mouth. I asked her quietly and without emotion, Do you not recognize me?
Yes. Of course I recognize you; you're my sister. But… go away. I can't talk to you here. Go away and come later to my aunt's house. Here is the address.
She gave me the address. I gave her a final kiss, and left as I was told. I did not return to Gdańsk that day with the wonderful news that I'd found our little sister. I chose to only go home with Zussiya herself.
I stayed, and met the aunt herself. I spoke with her at length. I also spoke to my sister who asked me to take her with me. This was not an easy thing. But despite the difficulties, she sat with me, my little sister, that same evening, on the train that took us together to Gdańsk .
That was when I left my work at the hospital. Tova took me and our sister Zussiya to The Ichud's kibbutz.
Aunt Kumaya did not agree to return the girl to us, and could not accept the fact that we had taken the girl from her and were not bringing her back. She claimed that the girl belonged to her, as she had brought her up, paid for her and looked after her through the four hardest years of the war, which would be equivalent to forty normal years.
I am Zushka's mother! The old woman claimed with emotion, Because the woman who brings up and educates a child is considered her mother. I brought this child up and educated her.
In this situation, a trial had to take place. Zussiya had to declare in our presence and in that of her ‘aunt that she wished to stay with us.
And our little sister, who had spent several weeks with us, could not declare in front of the woman that she didn't want to be with her. So the ruling could not be set in law.
The Jewish committee was prepared to grant the old woman, who was lacking in means, a quantity of money and clothing in return for her giving up the child. But she was not interested.
Every weekend, the old woman would come from Praga to the kibbutz, to take Zussiya for an outing. I worried a lot about these outings, and I considered them dangerous, but we couldn't refuse the woman, who bitterly claimed, Why are you so worried? I shan't eat her. I looked after her for many years, and now you want to prevent me from talking to her, once a week?
And indeed, every weekend, when we weren't working, the Aunt would come and take Zussiya out.
I would chaperone these outings, since they worried me. I would walk a reasonable distance behind them, and follow their footsteps carefully. On these walks, the old woman would impart many things onto the little one's heart. And my ears caught snippets of the following.
You are already too big, my Zushenka. You should know to answer fully, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Don't agree to stay with your sisters, they'll get married, and then you'll be a servant, to look after their children… things like this have happened before. Stay with me and be my daughter. Things will be good for you with me, you will be educated, and everything you want will be yours. How can you leave me, an old woman, alone? You are my closest soul, come with me and be with me together and you won't lack anything, and if you come with me, you won't need to live around all these Jews…
One weekend, I was on duty in the kibbutz, and I couldn't chaperone the walkers. I sent Tova in my place, and I warned her to watch every step and that the old woman takes with the girl. And what I feared happened.
Aunt Kumiya was saved for one moment, and in the Sopot train station, not far
from Gdańsk , she jumped with Zussiya onto a train passenger carriage, and the two of them disappeared from Tova's sight. When Tova realized what had happened, she ran, with all her strength, to Marisha and Leon, her husband, in Oliwa, a small town near Gdańsk , and burst out in painful wails to them,
We lost the little one, save the child!
Leon hurried immediately to the police station, and police officers and soldiers were sent to search for Zussiya on the train.
The search stopped passenger trains. People's papers were checked to find our sister, who should have been there with Mrs. Kumaya. I was almost driven crazy with pain and anger. I rushed to Marisha and the two of us sat and worried for our little sister who had either been tempted or kidnapped by her aunt…
We didn't have long to wait. That day, Zussiya herself burst into the house, nervous and short of breath. She answered our questions and told us: The Aunt dragged me with force into the train carriage. She asked me to accompany her, and then again carried on pleading with me. ‘Zushenka, you need to decide now. Escape from the life that awaits you; run away from the Jews and come with me!’
When the train set off towards Warsaw, the little one had jumped out the carriage. The old woman tried to stop her flight, and caught her coat pocket, which ripped and remained in her hand.
Zussiya came back to us without her coat pocket, but also without the nightmare of the old woman. She returned to us so we could stay together.
That was in spring, 1946. In November 1946, we left Poland.
My path to Israel took me through Vienna, Austria, and Italy, where I stayed until early 1949.
My travels ended on March 13th, 1949 the day I arrived at the coast of my homeland Israel, with my husband and children.
Yehuda Mendzelewski (Bat-Yam)
Translated by Pamela Russ
At the end of summer 1939, the bright sky of Serock became dark and suffocated with smoke. Like wild vultures, the Nazi murderous airplanes rushed in and sowed death, not sparing Serock. The first innocent victims, a group of fifty Jews, died in Yankel Rosenberg's cellar. The murderers revealed themselves very quickly. They lurk like thirsty animals, staring everyone in the eyes: Jude?
Serocker Jews felt the huge tragedy, people were beginning to hide in their houses. The next day brings the first order that each Jew aged fourteen and over must gather in the marketplace. From the marketplace, they push everyone into the shul. After a few days of torture, they release the very old, and the rest are chased wildly into the neighboring town of Pultusk. After several days of torture, they chase us again to Chekhanow. On the way to Chekhanow, the ones who couldn't keep up were shot on the spot. Among them were: Avrohom Ostrowski, Pinkhas Sokol, Faivel Rubenshtayn, Ginsberg, and others. The rest of the half-dead Jews are taken through Mlawa to the concentration camps. After a few weeks of agony, a few of these Jews come back to Serock. But they didn't allow the Jews to rest for long.
After squeezing out whatever monies they could, they put forth the gruesome order on the night before the eve of Khanuka, that the city of Serock must become judenfrei (cleansed of Jews). The massive destruction had begun. With fiery eyes, ready to strike for the most trivial disobedience, they drag together all the Jews, until the last one, to the marketplace. They don't keep them long and soon chase them off again. Some of them get the butt of the guns over their heads, and some get it with the boots, or others are simply shot. Also, there was a pit prepared, into which these people were thrown alive: Feigy Wenger, Mendel Markowicz, and Goodes, with the confused outcry: Murderers! May your names be erased! and Shema Yisroel, their lips pained with these words. That is .
the first hell until Nazielsk. In the Nazielsk shul, no one is kept for more than one day. Yosef Doron is shot there. (After he is shot, they order that he be taken to the doctor.) The herding from Nazielsk to the train is horribly gruesome a six-kilometer route. Barefoot and bloodied, Jews are dragging themselves to the wagon cars, leaving thirty Jews in Nazielsk the strongest, specially selected by the bandits in order to clean the shul. They are ordered to scratch the walls with the tips of their fingers. When the flesh of the fingers gets ripped until the bone, the murderers order them to scratch harder and order them to sing Hatikva and other Hebrew songs.
In this scene with these bandits, if this entertainment would take too long, the order came forth: Within six minutes, everyone has to be at the train. They are wild with those Jews who are barely alive, mercilessly beating as they are climbing into the wagons. Confused, the women are crying, horrific is the crying and the wailing of the children. One person doesn't know of the other. There are two echelons, with the Serockers in the dark wagons, day and night, moving over the cursed German ground, without food and without water. Children are pleading with cries for water and they lick the steam off the barred windows. After four days of dragging themselves this way, our Serock Jews found themselves in the Lukow station in Biala-Podlaska. There they were freed.
The exhausted Jews from the difficult, agonizing, journey begin to revive themselves slowly thanks to the compassion of the Jews from Lukow and Biala-Podlaska, who welcomed the Serock Jews warmly. Our Serock Jews tried to get themselves settled in. A small group was forced to run further across the border into Russia, again experiencing the seven levels of hell.
Evacuations begin in all the towns and cities. Jews are locked up in the ghettos where hunger reigns, cold, epidemics and after that, death. Thousands, tens of thousands are taken daily to the gas chambers.
Nekhemiah Grinboim (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Pamela Russ
In 1939, eight days before the outbreak of the war, I was drafted as a serviceman to the Polish army, and was sent to the Modlin fortress. There I and other Jewish soldiers fought a strong enemy that was armed with the newest war technology. What the Polish army looked like at that time was well known to everyone.
I was at the front for about six weeks and in the front lines. I was one of the luckiest ones and was not wounded.
At that time, at the beginning of the war, there were about 50,000 soldiers mobilized in the Modlin fortress, and when the Germans invaded there and took us as prisoners, about 2,000 remained from the 50,000. The rest were either killed or wounded, or taken prisoner. The prisoners were chased on foot by the Germans from Modlin to Mlawa. This march lasted five days because the Hitlerists [Nazis] did murderous experiments on us. They moved for three days and three nights without food and without drink. On the fourth day, they took us out on the field, brought over a bread machine, and threw small pieces of bread into the mass of people. Each one fought with the other over these, and they photographed these scenes. After that, they took us behind Mlawa, where a temporary camp was prepared.
We had to stay a few days in that camp, waiting to be sent to East Prussia to work in the mines. The Germans positioned themselves in two rows, about a hundred in a row, and we had to walk between them. As we were walking between them, they honored us with the butts of their munitions and smashed us on our hands and heads, and whoever tried to bend down [to avoid being hit] had to go back and walk through these rows three times, being beaten until death. There were many deaths as we went into the camp.
In the camp, everyone was soon divided into separate barrack: Jews, Polaks, and volskdeutchen. The Germans informed the Jews that no one would ever go out of this camp alive.
As I watched each of these scenes that went on with the Jews, I promised myself that I would escape at any cost, even if I would have to pay with my life. I befriended several Jews from Warsaw. Together we decided to run away from the camp at 2am, knowing 99% that we would be killed, because there was an order that whoever approaches the wires at night would be shot on the spot.
We had decided to escape at 2am, so we found the moment when two German soldiers with machine guns fell asleep. We crawled over the fence and ran into the forest. We stayed there until morning. We had an acquaintance in Mlawa. This acquaintance went into the nearest village and brought us peasant clothes and we dressed as peasants and that's how we made it to Warsaw successfully. I left for Legionnowa where my parents lived at that time. When I arrived home, I couldn't show myself in the streets because the Germans would snatch me up for work. That's when the son of Khaim Rosenberg, Moishe, was killed. He didn't allow himself to be caught, and a German shot him on the spot.
Since I already knew the murderous ways of the Germans, I decided to escape to Bialystok to the Russians, taking with me my brother Alter, and my sister Miriam, and my friends Yakov and Shmuel Burkhanski (the khazan's son). In Bialystok we registered for work and that's how we spent the rest of the war.
Avrohom Khaim Pshikarski (Atlit)
Translated by Pamela Russ
It's Tuesday, the fifth day of the Second World War. Several German planes flew over the town and have begun to bomb. The first bomb fell by Gershon Meir at the oil factory. Fortunately, no one was hurt there. There was a terrible uproar in the town, the cries were heard far away. As people held crying and frightened children by their hands, they went into the cellars of their houses.
The owner of my house, Yakov Rosenberg, had a large cellar, or as it was called a skhron (bunker) where the shomer hatzair organization used to meet. As soon as Yakov heard the planes flying overhead, he shouted to his daughters, and they all quickly went into the cellar. Just minutes later, the cellar was filled with people, and among them were also refugees from Nazielsk.
When they started to bomb the town, I was at the butcher shop with my son. My brother Moishe came running over to figure out where we should run and hide. I told him that we should run to Yakov Rosenberg's cellar, and that we should do this right away. My brother wanted my son and me to go with him. But as we stood close to his house to run into the bunker, my son tore himself away and wanted to run home saying that if his mother wouldn't find us in the butcher shop she won't know where we would be and she would become terrified.
So my brother Moishe and his wife and children went into the cellar. As my son and I were going back to the butcher's, we saw airplanes stormily flying overhead and two bombs fell one in Avrohom Shenker's house and the other in Yakov Rosenberg's bunker. We stood still, very shaken. Later
we found out that all the people in that bunker, including my brother, his wife and his children, were killed. The total was 50.
That same evening, all the people came out of the cellars and went out onto the streets, preparing to leave Serock. The following morning, some on foot and some by horse and wagon, left for Warsaw or other places. My family and I, and all my other relatives, had the idea of going to Kowal, especially because I had done business there for many years and knew the whole area well. I soon harnessed some horses and a wagon, put everything that we could onto the wagon, and went with my family to Kowal.
When we arrived in Zegrzhe, from where a highway leads to Struhe the road to Kowal the military was standing there and they didn't allow us to go onto the highway. We had no choice but to go to Warsaw.
When we entered Praga, it was already dawn. Suddenly we heard the terrible noise of airplanes flying overhead, and soon heard the horrific explosions. Miraculously, we were unhurt. In the middle of the day, we entered Warsaw. We stayed in Warsaw until the Germans came there. After that, my wife, children, and all the relatives, went back home to Serock by horse and wagon, leaving my mother and me. When they safely arrived at the Zegrzhe bridge, they were detained by German soldiers. The Germans ordered them all to get down from the wagon. Then they were searched. They took away a pocket-watch from my father-in-law, then amid wild screams, they cut off his beard along with a piece of flesh. A terrible outcry came forth from the women and children. The Germans became even wilder and began beating anyone they felt like beating. Later, after stealing whatever they wanted, they ordered the people to get back up into the wagon and they let them cross the bridge.
The following morning, I left Warsaw with my mother. We went on foot to Pelcowizna and wanted to keep going beyond that, but
the Germans stopped us and didn't let us go, so we had to turn back and were separated from the family. We never made it into Warsaw. We sat down in a field near the highway and waited until the Germans would disappear from the road. That's how we waited for forty-eight hours sitting there without food or drink, until other Germans permitted us to move on.
Completely exhausted, when we came to the Zegrzhe bridge (eight kilometers from Serock), the Germans did not allow us Jews to cross the bridge. We entered Zegrzhe and went to the house of our acquaintance Dvoire Kohn, who had a food store. At night, as we were sleeping on her floor, a familiar Polak by the name of Khips came in, and told us how he himself saw how the Germans shot Moishe Pjenik and another Jew (I can't remember his name now) not far from here. This night was now a very painful one for me, and I couldn't sleep.
In the morning, when I went out into the street, I saw a non-Jewish woman riding in her carriage. I stopped her, and when I heard that she was going to the market in Serock, I begged her to take me along.
At that very moment, a wagon filled with Jews came by, so the German told my driver to go ahead and cross the bridge, and that's how I was home again.
A few days later, the Serock resident Khaim Futerman, who was among the Jews in the wagon on the Zegrzhe bridge, described to me how the Germans cut off the beards from the Jews and along with that took some flesh, ordered them to dance, ordered them to use their fingernails to rub off the blood from the wagon until it would be clean, and then these Jews were ordered to go back where they came from. Khaim Futerman himself came to Serock not using the bridge but came from another direction. In order to bring my mother home, I paid a non-Jew a fine price and he did bring her not via the bridge but from a side and distant route.
Before I even had a chance to look around and see what was going on in Serock, I already heard about the order that the butchers had to leave their butcher shops so that they could sell the meat for free. I immediately left
to go to the non-Jews that I knew in the villages. When I arrived in the village of Avrem to the peasant Sawicki, whom I knew for many years, he did not even let me onto his doorstep didn't even put out his hand in greeting as he had always done, saying he was not obligated to put his life in danger after he himself had heard the Germans in the Pultusk marketplace that any non-Jew that would hide a Jew, would be burned along with his secret.
Nonetheless, I didn't lose all hope, and I went to the rich man Ortokhowski. As it turned out, this rich man did let me in, saying: Take whatever you want, Jew, because the German bandits will take everything from me in any case. I told him that I wanted two cows from him. On my way back home, I met another peasant that I had known from the Czepow area. This peasant told me the same things. When I arrived in my house, I immediately summoned my non-Jewish worker Stanislaw Bzhezhewski, and when he came, we went together to get the cows. We chased the cows into Noakh Ogrodower's barn that was in my mother's courtyard.
Just after I slaughtered the cows, someone outside gave a yell that a German was going by. I quickly locked the barn, leaving the shokhet there. My Polish worker and I went out into the street. When we reached the gate of my mother's courtyard, a German with a rubber club in his hand detained us and asked if we are Jews. The non-Jew shook his head saying no, he was not Jewish, and the German told us to move on. After leaving the German for some way, I looked back and saw how he went into the courtyard and whoever he saw he beat murderously with his rubber club.
There, about ten people were beaten. Among them were my brothers-in-law Yosef Hersh and Alter. As I was standing that same day, a preoccupied person in my butcher shop, I suddenly saw that same German near me with his club in hand. I became frightened and the German let out a wild scream that I should go out into the street. I immediately ran out and saw that all the Serock butchers were standing in a row. The German put me near Yosel Hilel's brother and
then took all of us to the police. When we were already all there, I saw through an open window how many Polaks had gathered there, smiling as if they were taking great pleasure in our tragic situation.
In a large room at the police department, there was an old German with a cross face. Our German proudly informed him that he had brought all seventeen Jewish pig butchers. The old German replied to him: Why did you bring these swines here? You should have shot them all on the road.
At that moment, the two Polish policemen entered, Postek and Dudowicz, who had put themselves at the service of the German government, and said that they needed workers. The old German said to them: Take them away, these shits! So, all of us seventeen butchers followed these two policemen. On the way, I pleaded with the policeman Dudowicz, with whom I was always friendly, that he should let me go, but he wouldn't hear of it, exactly as if he didn't know me.
The policemen took us to Moishe Rosenberg's mill, where we found several hundred Serock Jews working. Their job was to put heavy cases of munitions on the cargo trucks. Seeing what was happening to these few Jews, I dreaded what was coming. You could not recognize Dovid Rosenberg, he did not resemble a living human being. Yisroel Isser Hiler, Mendel Hiler's son, had his small beard torn off along with some flesh. Others were very depleted and broken.
We, the newcomers, were mixed in with the other Jews, and also began to work. At twelve o'clock noon, a woman brought food for the yellowed Moishe, Aron Leyb the butcher's son. The yellowed Moishe asked me to come eat with him. When we finished eating, a German with a gun in hand, said to us: After fressen (eating like a pig), you have to rest. Just as the yellowed Moishe sat down on a rock, the same German came to him and with the butt of his gun gave him such terrible beatings that Moishe turned over
several times. When I saw that, I went to mingle with the working people. I slid down my hat until my nose and went diligently to work. Suddenly I saw how the wild German was looking for me among the workers.
I felt the danger and tried to find ways to prevent him from recognizing me. Who knows if he wouldn't have found me if Khaim Gimpel's horse and wagon hadn't passed by me just then. The wagon had two moving cows tied to the back. I quickly ran over to the cows and with a twig in hand, urged them on. The German didn't see my face, and that's how I was successfully able to go back to town.
In my house, when I recovered from this event, I said to my wife and children that we couldn't wait any longer and that we all have to go to Kowal that now belonged to Soviet Russia. Even though we couldn't all leave at the same time, it was decided that for now I should be the one to go, leaving food and money for my family. So I, along with another group of young men and women, was on my way with a wagon. We went in the direction of Malkin near the Bug River.
When we approached the Wierzbicz bridge, the armed Germans there told us to turn back warning us that if someone would try to get off the wagon, he would be shot. Since all of us had decided that we wouldn't go back home, we turned onto the road to Pultusk in order to get to the Russian side from a different route.
After going for a while near Kleczew, again we were detained by two Germans who by chance happened to be going by in their car. They got out of their car and ordered us to stop. Our wagon stopped, and we answered their question by saying that we were going from Warsaw to Makow. Then they told us to get down from the wagon and then they began to search for whatever they could find. When they find some kitchen dishes, one of them said: Yes, these are probably those wanted thieves who robbed the store in Pultusk. We have to take them there and have them arrested.
Having said that, they took our kitchen things and put them into their car, got back in, and left immediately. We were left confused and not knowing what to do stay here or leave. We remained there like that for about two hours and then seeing that no one came for us, we left. That evening we arrived in Makow. We went to the shul from where heartrending cries were heard. The shul was filled with refugees. We found out that recently many men had been captured for work and no one ever saw them come back. Because of that, we decided not to stay and before daylight we left for Krasnosielc. That evening we arrived in a village near Ostrolenka. One Jew lived in that village. It was not far from the Soviet border. We spent the night at the place of that village Jew. In the middle of the night, we awoke suddenly, terrified by the loud knocking at the door. We heard someone speaking loudly in German saying that we should open the door. When the door opened, two Germans came in and began shooting with their guns until the bullets ran out, and then ordered that no one move from their spot. They tore up the whole house, and taking only a pair of boots, they left with many coarse, perverse words. To my good fortune, they did not notice my boots.
When it was daylight, I went out into the street, and soon I met a non-Jewish acquaintance and begged him to take me across the border. He agreed, but wanted fifty zlotys. Since my cousin Moishe Winegrad, the son of Itche Meir, Roiza's, was with me, I had to pay another fifty zlotys for him, and the smuggler successfully got us across the border.
Brokhe Hadas Pzykorski (Atlit)
Translated by Pamela Russ
For several months, I and my three children were in very difficult circumstances because of the Germans. Since we knew that they were chasing the Jews out of the cities, I was prepared for that. Once, at night, my neighbor Zalke Kuligowsky, touched me on my shoulder and said that we had better get up because they were chasing the Jews out of our city.
Because of the terrible chaos, I didn't know what to do, and leaving the children alone in the house, I ran to my father Berl Zukor. There I found my sister Etke and brother-in-law Avrohom. I begged them to come with me and help harness up the horses. On the way, we saw a great commotion in the town. The wild Germans were chasing Jews out of their houses and were beating them with rubber clubs. My father and my brother Noakh, very upset, ran back to their home, leaving me standing alone. I did not run after my father and brother, and with a pounding heart, barely dragged myself to my home. My three children were sobbing with fear. I composed myself and took the necessities from the house and went with the children to the marketplace.
The dark marketplace was filled with Jews and packages. The Germans were shouting wildly, didn't let anyone sit down, and ordered everyone to line up in a row. I saw how the Germans took some Jews to the market well and shot them. We were overtaken by a shudder, but we were terrified to scream or cry.
A bit further away, the city non-Jews were standing quite pleased, and watched our situation calmly.
Before daylight, the Jews were chased on foot to Nazielsk. On the way, 30 kilometers, many of us had to stop; whoever couldn't go on was shot.
In Nazielsk, we were all herded into the city shul. At the entrance, there were two armed German guards, standing there
with rubber clubs in their hands. Everyone who passed by them was beaten over the head. The small Itchele Pshikorski was beaten so terribly over the head, that later, when someone dragged him into the shul, he was already dead.
That same night, the Germans took men out of the shul and took them somewhere. When they came back, they told us that they had to dig a deep ditch in order to bury five Jews who were shot not far from the shul.
The following morning, we were all chased out of the shul and taken to the train. When we arrived to that place, we saw empty baskets set out. The Germans ordered everyone to strip naked so that they could search all the clothing. They took everything that anyone was hiding. My sister-in-law, Rokhele Pshikorski, did not allow herself to be stripped naked, so a German beat her wildly and murderously, and then tore her clothing off her. My good fortune was that they didn't find the money that was sewn into my son's clothing.
With my own eyes, I saw how the Germans stripped naked the son of the Serock Rav and ordered him to bathe in the mud that had collected after a heavy rain. When the Rav's son was already lying naked in the mud, the smiling Germans called over Shiele Gerbel's wife and ordered her to scrape his body with a brick.
Then they ordered the Rav's son to get up and put on his tefilin that he had with him. When he tied the straps of the tefilin around his left hand, the Germans broke into laughter. After that, one of them went over to him and tied a ringing alarm clock tightly to the straps and ordered him to run and dance with it. He had to dance like that for a long time, and the Germans did not stop to goad each other on with laughter.
Later, we were chased into wagons that had been prepared. During this time, we were escorted with wild curses and terrible beatings. In
the wagons, we sat very cramped and felt faint so much so that it was very difficult to recognize a human face.
My sister-in-law, Surtche, Meyer Blekher's daughter, was clutching a nursing baby. A German tore the baby away from her and threw it into another wagon. For three days, around the clock, this nursing baby was fed by depleted, exhausted women, who themselves had nothing in their mouths.
After moving for a few days, our echelon (train) stopped in the Biala-Podlask station. The locked wagons were opened and they told us to go where we wanted. We went into the city, and the local Jews came to greet us. They welcomed us warmly and took us into the city's shul that was already prepared with all kinds of food. Later they put us up in Jewish homes.
After a certain time, we heard rumors that the Germans were going to set up a ghetto in the city. Since my husband and grown daughter were already on the other side of the border, in Koval, I didn't want to stay here any longer and looked for means to run away. I didn't think for too long, so I and my children and brother and sister ran into the forest that leads to the border. Before we reached the forest, once again we fell into German hands. A German searched us all, but did not find what he was looking for. We survived with just beatings. We figured it was a miracle that the German, who searched everyone thoroughly, did not notice how my son Yosele, who had all the money sewn into his clothing, was hiding from him, and, in fact, this money enabled us, with the help of a non-Jew that we paid, to smuggle ourselves across the already well-armed Soviet border.
Arieh Mendzelewski (Ramat Gan)
Translated by Pamela Russ
In the year 1939, when the war between Poland and Germany broke out, I was seven years old and lived with my parents in Serock.
When the Germans entered Poland and took over Serock, they took all the Jews and Polaks and set them out in the marketplace that was filled with munitions. The Germans threatened that if we would not confess who had killed one of their soldiers, everyone would be shot. People were sobbing and screaming. I cuddled up to my mother and she would comfort me. In the last hours, an officer came in and announced that the person who had killed the German soldier was found. They released all the Polaks and kept all the Jews. They also released the elderly and the children, those between the ages 17 and 35 are the ones they took. Among them was also my older brother. After that, the Germans demanded payments, and said forcefully that if we would not pay the sums demanded, then all the Jews in the city would be chased out. The detained Jews were later chased for 70 kilometers on foot, and whoever fell down was immediately shot.
After two months, only half of these people came back my brother among them. It became festive in the house, but not for long. A short while later, there was a commotion in the streets. Soon all the neighbors from the court gathered together and started to cry. All the Jews were then chased into the marketplace, and whoever tried to run away, was shot immediately. They chased us on foot to the Nazielsk train and at the same time there were beatings and threats that anyone who was found with more than one zloty would be shot. At that point, I was hardly able to walk. They herded us into the Nazielsk shul. At the shul, the Germans were standing set out in two rows with guns and chunks of rubber in their hands. They told us to run in a
row and then they beat us wherever we were. They locked us in the shul all night, without food and without drink. Many people passed out.
The next morning, they chased us to the train, and pushed us all in through lots of mud. If they found anything in anyone's possession, they killed and beat the person. We rode in a closed wagon for three days, without food or drink (I licked the dew off the shutters), until we reached Biala-Podlask and there we were freed.
We lived in the shul. The situation was terrible. My oldest brother left immediately for Russia, and I and my parents went to Warsaw to my mother's sister. My father and brother worked together in a coal mine. Things were still going for us in 1940, but when the ghetto was set up in Warsaw, things became even more difficult. I would smuggle myself out of the ghetto on the Polish side to buy bread and other products for us. Once, when I was trying to sneak back into the ghetto, a Polish policeman saw me and began to chase me. When I saw that he was close by, I dropped to the ground. He kicked me, beat me, took away all the products, then let me go home.
From that time on, my father didn't let me go smuggling, even though there was a terrible hunger in the house. My brother managed to get out of the Warsaw ghetto and into the Legionowa ghetto, where the situation was better. My cousin, who smuggled all kinds of things from Warsaw to Legionowa, took me along with him. I jumped on the tramway that went through the Warsaw ghetto, along with him. A Polish policeman was standing at the door. My cousin immediately put money into his hand, and the policeman moved away from us. We arrived to the main station of Warsaw. Right away, there was a search by the SS. My cousin disappeared and I remained alone with the packages. When I saw that they were close to me, I grabbed the packages, and ran out from another side and found my cousin again. He and I went to another station, from which we went to Legionowa. That's how, slowly, my entire family ended up there. Because of great need
I had to find a job and worked for a Polak. Every day, right in the morning, I stole my way out of the ghetto and went to him, then late at night I had to return to the ghetto. He was afraid to keep me overnight. I had to work very hard there to earn the food. After that, the Germans announced that any Polak that would be keeping a Jew, would be shot along with his entire family. Then the Polak fired me and I left to look for new work, but no one wanted to have me. For several non-Jewish families I would gather their goats and stay with them all day in the fields.
One day, when I went to pasture the goats, I saw a German man. As I was running away, I fell on a fence and tore a vein in my leg. The blood began to spurt out. The non-Jews did not know what to do, so they began to pour on iodine, but that didn't stop the bleeding. They were afraid to take me to a Polish doctor. They put me in a pig sty and I stayed there for a day and a night. The wound kept bleeding, and I had no more energy to breathe. I felt that I would die any minute. After that, the non-Jews put me into a wheelbarrow and pushed back to the ghetto, and then they left. Some Jews recognized me and ran to inform my parents. My mother came and took me back into the ghetto. I lay there sick in the ghetto for more than half a year. The whole time I had the feeling that soon they would chase us out of the ghetto, and I would often grab my stick, which helped me walk, and would run out of the ghetto. I could also not take care of my wound because every minute I was sure that they would be taking us to Treblinka. And any time that a car would drive through the ghetto, I became so terrified that I was paralyzed on the spot, and even if I would have known that this would mean my death, I would not have been able to run away. Once, when I was on the Aryan side, I heard that they were going to chase the Jews out of the ghetto. I immediately ran into the ghetto to inform my parents of this news. They said, It doesn't matter, we weren't going to live anyway. They don't want to go around among the Polaks. They're going to shoot us all anyway. And I so wanted to live. I begged my sister that she should go with me, so she
replied that wherever her parents would go, she would go as well. It was very difficult for me to separate from her, but I wanted to live, and I felt that this was the end.
It was very early, still dark outside, when I wanted to smuggle myself out of the ghetto. But by that time, the ghetto was already surrounded by gendarmes and policemen who shot any person that tried to run away. Not looking at that, I ran to the wires, crossed the border, and ran into the forest. (I was ten years old then.) In the forest, I met a woman that I knew, with a child half a year old, along with many other familiar Jews. The Jews gathered together in a group, because each one thought he could help the other. I went into another direction with this woman, although the Germans began to shoot at all of us regardless. We slept under a tree. From time to time, I would bring the woman some bread from non-Jewish acquaintances, as well as some milk and other things. This was already at the end of October, 1942, such that it was already impossible to sleep outside because of the cold. The woman went away to live with a non-Jew, and I was left alone. One night I slept in a bathroom, another night in a barn. That's how I tortured myself for three weeks. My Polish acquaintances used to smuggle from Legionowa to Malkin until the border. Wherever there were Russians, that's where things were cheap. I begged them to take me with them, but they were afraid to do that. Once I waited until they were about to leave, and I followed them. Wherever they went, I went, and it was that way until Malkin. Before leaving the station, there was a massive search, where they checked packages and documents. I waited and trembled, and got closer to the gendarmes. When they had finished checking a woman, I went with her and ran to catch up with the Polaks, but they told me to go away because they were now going to the border and were afraid to take me along. I roamed around for a long time and didn't know where to go. It was already late at night, so I just went into a house and begged them to let me stay the night. The first thing they asked was if I was a Jew. I showed them a medallion that I was wearing, and
swore to them that I was Polak. The following morning, I asked the direction of the border, and I left. There were many shepherds there, and I asked them what to do. They said that during the day, because of all the guards, it was impossible to cross over. Later, I intentionally chased the cows across the border and ran to help look for them. I crossed over the wires and ran far into the village. After running quite a bit of distance, I saw a guard, and started to work the earth with a shovel that was lying near a tree. When the German approached me, I had already filled an entire sack with leaves. He asked me where I was from, and I pretended not to understand, and I left in the direction of a hut. When he saw that I was going in the direction of a house, he left. On the way, I met a farmer going with a wagon and I asked him the way to the village because I wanted to work as a farmhand. He started to laugh and said: You're still too small and no one will hire you. I began pleading with him, so he started to ask me all kinds of questions, from where I was, and if I was Jew. In the end, he said that he would take me to his son, to play with a young child. I was overjoyed and waited impatiently to get to a warm house.
I rode with this peasant for 30 kilometers, from the border to his son, and I was there the entire winter. By summertime, they started to suspect that I was Jewish. When they wanted to send me to the farm, I ran away from them and went to the village-magistrate in the same village to tend to the cows. Every morning and every night I said the Christian prayers (the Rosary) that I learned from the last farmer, and I behaved like any other Christian and went to church. I would guard myself against the Germans that would always come to visit him. For one year, it was very good there with him, but when he found out that I was a Jew, he told his neighbors. I pretended to know nothing, and continued to stay with him. There was a Russian man who lived with and worked for the village magistrate. The magistrate shot him along with two of his friends, but on the second night, some partisans came in and looked for the magistrate. He was not in the house. Later, he thought that I
had turned him in. While I was lying in bed in my clothes, just before going to sleep, I hear talking and see the magistrate and a friend of his who is holding a gun and is saying to the magistrate that he must be searched. The magistrate shows him that I might wake up. At that point I well knew for whom they were preparing themselves. When I got up from the bed, he asked me where I was going so late at night. I told him that I had to go out for a minute and I would be back right away.
I went out of the house and ran to a village, looking back each minute to see if they were chasing me. I came to a non-Jewish acquaintance and asked her if I could stay there over night. She asked what had happened, that I came running so late at night. I told her that the magistrate wanted to beat me, and so she let me stay the night. The following morning, she tried to convince me to go back to him, assuring me that he wouldn't do anything. So, I went home that morning. When he asked me where I had been, I told him that I had slept in a barn. Two weeks passed like that, and he was good to me, but nonetheless, I guarded myself each night.
Once, when I came back from the field, I saw two strange people in the house. As I entered the house, one of them signaled the magistrate, asking if this (pointing at me) is him. I understood what he meant by that, and at night I left to another farmer and slept in the barn. The next morning, I returned, but they had already left. I stayed a little longer with him. And when it was lunchtime, I looked for a place to run to. Once, when I was lying on the bed dozing, I saw on the other side of the window a whole group of people, and the magistrate was among them. Before that, I had heard many different languages that they were speaking between themselves. They thought I didn't understand. One of them said to the magistrate that if the stanyazhchuk (the first one, who came a few days ago to shoot me) did not betray you, so it was definitely your little farmhand (meaning me) who did it. I was very frightened and pale my death was coming closer and closer.
The magistrate told him that yesterday, he [meaning me] didn't come back
for the night, the devil only knows where he is, and the thought strengthened in his mind that he (meaning me) had told the partisans about the murdered Russians.
A few times, the door to my room opened and a few farmers looked in to make sure that I was there. Instinctively, I got off the bed, jumped into another room, and wanted to jump through a window and run away. The last minute, I held myself back from doing this because I was afraid that I would be seen, and the game would be over. I went back into the corridor where I heard a voice saying: Let's go, he's sleeping. I went into a neighbor's house. Everyone was lying in bed, but no one was sleeping. They probably also knew of the plan to shoot me. Quiet as a cat, I crawled under the stove, blocked myself up with rags, and shivered with fear.
A few minutes later, I heard the magistrate calling me and asking the neighbors if they had seen me. The neighbors and the magistrate lit up the house with batteries [small lights, like flashlights], and looked for me a long time under the beds. I remained under the stove this whole time, frozen in place, until dawn.
When I was sure that everyone was sound asleep and that everything around was still, I snuck out of the neighbor's house, went back into my room at the magistrate's, took my clothes out of cupboard, and like a flash I left for another village. There I worked for a farmer tending his cows. This new boss was actually a friend of the magistrate. The entire time that I was with this new boss, I was always terrified and always thinking that any minute they would shoot me.
The Russian front came closer; the bullets from the artillery were already very close to us. I left the house because I was terrified that they would kill me and say that I was killed on the front. Now I was in the field all the time, among all kinds of crates. Russian planes had begun bombing very heavily. Many German soldiers would go through these fields. That's how I spent the time until the liberation.
After the war, when I went back to Serock, I did not find my parents. I left for Legionowa, where I was in the ghetto, with the hope that I would find someone there, but found no one from my family. I was afraid to tell even the Jews that I was Jewish. When I met a Jewish doctor that had once cured me, he told me about everyone. He also gave me the address of a cousin of mine in Warsaw. I went there and stayed only a short time. Very soon, I went to join a group preparing to leave for Israel. The anti-Semitic attacks in Poland at that time did not allow us to stay there any longer. With that group, I left on the Exodus ship, and with the help of the English military, I was taken back to Germany to the rest of the surviving refugees.
Pinkhas Kaluski (Kfar Monash)
Translated by Pamela Russ
The second Shabbos after the outbreak of the war, German tanks and armed cars appeared in the streets of the town. On Friday night, German motorized military units filled the streets and alleys of Serock. I, my father, brother, sister, and grandfather Yidel Pjenik, may he rest in peace, left our home and Friday night we went to our relative Reb Gedaliah Leviner, and there, together with other neighbors, we hid in his cellar. Late at night, German soldiers wanted to invade our place, but thanks to the screams of the children and women who were with us, the Germans went away from the cellar. The following morning, we men went out of the cellar and I saw how the Jewish houses and stores were destroyed and robbed.
Right in the morning, the SS began to gather up all the men from the town and locked them up in the large Jewish shul. Once a day, they allowed children to bring us some food. The shul was very cramped. After that, they released all the elderly people. We were locked up in there until the second day of Rosh Hashona, 5700 (1939). After that, they sent us over to Pultusk to a prison. The next morning, they ordered us to get into rows and begin our march to Chekhanow. The Germans chased us all day, without food and without water. There were among us those who could not run any farther, and they dropped to the ground; the Germans shot them. That's how the first victims fell, on the way to Pultusk-Chekhanow Avrohom Ostrowski was one of these victims on this road.
Everyone's energies were drained, and they were without strength. Once, when we stopped, we fell onto the puddles of water that had gathered on the ground after the strong rains and hail that fell then, and quenched our thirst a little
with the dirty water. When we arrived in Chekhanow in the evening, they took us into the horses' stalls from the former Polish cavalry regiment. German soldiers with guns were standing at the gates and beating the people. Many of us were beaten very badly. After coming in there, we fell onto the bare ground, and lay there all night. In the morning, we received old, mouldy bread that was left over by the Polish military and again we were told to stand in rows and to march in the direction of the train station.
As we were marching through the streets, we were approached by women and children with food, but the Germans didn't allow them to give any to us and they shot them. One woman who risked giving bread to one of us was wounded in the shooting. When we arrived at the train station, they put 100 men into a wagon. The wagons were small, and the tightness was terrible, no food and no water, and no sanitation facilities. We were locked in the wagons from outside and were there for about two 24-hour days until we came near the German town of Reisenberg in East Prussia. There, once again, we were put into horses' stalls, and hungry, we stayed there for a few weeks.
Suddenly, there came some news that they were sending us back to Poland. We were back in the cargo trains, and taken back to Ostrolenka. The Germans allowed us to go back one time to our home Serock, but after a few kilometers they warned us not to go in the direction of Warsaw but to go in the direction of Lomze, which the Russians had taken. At night, they took us near to Lomze and ordered us to run, as they were shooting over our heads. That's how we ran for about two kilometers, and then as we saw that the Germans are not running after us, we roamed around all night until we came to a village. The residents told us that the Russians were in Lomze and that they got along well with the civilian population.
When we arrived in Lomze, we found some Jews there. They gave us some food and a place to sleep. We were without clothing
and very worried about our relatives that were left at home. I and a few others decided to risk it and go back to Serock and then come back to Lomze. Our journey took a few days. We had plenty of scares from the Germans that were on the road. We would spend the night with the village farmers.
When we arrived in Serock at night, it was with great difficulty that we managed to make our way across the Narew because the bridges were destroyed. In Serock, they were overjoyed to see us. Many came to ask us about their relatives. We told them everything we knew and suggested to them that they come back with us to the Russian side, but they didn't listen. Then it was still possible to save oneself from the German murderers' hands.
The three days that we were in Serock, we had to hide in the cellars because the Germans captured young men for all kinds of work and did terrible things to them.
After we prepared ourselves for the return trip, we left Serock at dawn, taking some clothing for us and some for the relatives. We went to the Narew River and asked for help from an acquaintance Fisher Wilkowski. He took us by boat to the other side of the river Narew. We started to go on the road to Wyskow.
When we arrived back in Lomze, our friends and relatives were overjoyed. We brought them real greetings from their relatives who had remained in Serock. Some of the Jews of Serock had come with us. Among them was my sister Khaya (she came to our father in Lomze after I had already left there). After that, I went to Bialystok, whereas my father and a few others remained in Lomze waiting for news from the family.
There were many Jews then in Bialystok, having come from Warsaw and other cities. There were organized kitchens for the needy. I immediately registered to go to Russia to work. After, when a train for people to go to work was organized, they sent us by train to Russia. When we arrived in the city of Polotsk, all of us were taken to the baths to wash.
Our clothes were disinfected and we were taken to the designated places, until everyone had set himself up with work.
I began working and earning money, saving some to buy some clothing and also to send my father and sister in Lomze some money for Passover 1940. Later, I received a letter from them saying that they had been sent far north in the district of Arkhangelsk at the White Sea. (The Russians at the time sent out the Jews who had wandered in those who didn't want to get any Russian passes and who had registered to go back to the Germans.) I got the address of my grandfather Zishe K. from Wyskow and his son Yekhiel and his daughters. I immediately tried to get them to release me from my work in Polotsk and went to Orsha to my relatives. While in Orsha, I had the opportunity to send packages with food products to my relatives in Arkhangelsk.
June 22, 1941, the Germans attacked Russia and began to bomb the cities. The city of Orsha was heavily bombed, and people began to run away among them were also my relatives. I left Orsha and later, with an echelon (train) went to the Urals. I was there for about three years, got sick with malaria, and suffered terribly.
All the while in Russia, I missed my town of Serock very much. And in the year 1944, when the Russians began to march forward and liberate Ukraine and White Russia, I volunteered to go into the Polish army that had been organized in Tchokolow, using the name Wanda Washilewska, so that I would be able to get to Poland more quickly. Once we had set ourselves up in a unit, we were sent past Kharkow, to Sumi, in Ukraine. There we received military training. After a few weeks, they sent us into Polish territory. For a short time, we were in Lublin. There we met Jewish partisans and others hiding in the forests. They told us the horrifying descriptions of the crematoria in Majdanek, Auschwitz, Treblinka, and other murdering camps where in this way
the majority of Polish Jewry was tragically killed. In Lublin we also found remaining mountains of shoes and clothing from these martyrs. Then we were sent into the direction of Warsaw, Palenicz, Praga, and other places on the eastern side of the Vistula. In Praga, we were able to see the burning houses of Warsaw. That's when there was the uprising of the Polish people, and the Germans burned entire streets and houses, and threw hand grenades many times on the Targowa Street in Praga where our unit was stationed. There were victims from our side as well.
In the year 1945, the great offensive began by the Russian and Polish military. We forced our way across the Vistula and chased the German military until German territory. There, the Germans put up an opposition, but after some struggle, we broke their opposition and continued with our march. That's how we moved forward, and in March 1945, we came to the Elba River, where the American military arrived on the other side of the river.
In a few weeks' time, they sent our unit back to Warsaw. The city was completely destroyed. A few streets remained complete, which the Germans seemed not to have destroyed as they were leaving the city. Many times I roamed around the burned down streets of the Warsaw ghetto.
Then I asked permission from the military and I went to see our town of Serock. I took along a Polish soldier and fully armed, we went on the road. The roads then were unsafe, with gangs of Polish thieves wandering around, from the A.K. (Polish Home Army), along with others who did terrible things to the Jews. When we came to Serock, we found the city dead as a cemetery. The majority of Jewish homes were ruined, or in fact, were completely wiped out. One could only see the cellars of the houses. This picture made a horrific impression, as I remembered the former Jewish population with the romantic youth, with all the parties, libraries, Jewish stores and craftsmen the shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, porters, wagon-drivers, teachers
slaughterers [shokhtim], burial society, Jewish schools, religious schools, the big shul, and the smaller shuls. The Germans also destroyed the Jewish cemetery, the tombstones and the graves. Anything that was connected to Jewry was destroyed.
I wanted to get a way from there as quickly as possible so that I wouldn't see the destruction. When I came back to Warsaw, I found out that a few surviving Jews were gathering in Praga. Also, some Polish Jews were coming back from Russia. On Targowa Street in Praga, I met Arke Gerwer (who was also in the Polish army), Rivkele Rosenberg, and also with two sisters Rivka and Rokhel (our neighbor Shaike Meyer's daughters). They were in the camps. A few times we searched through the Warsaw ghetto and walked through the destruction and looked through the cemetery on Ganshe Street, on whatever remained whole, even the tombstones.
When I found out about those who had returned from Russia, that my father and sister had also come back, and that they were sent to Sosnowiec, I went there right away to find them. Our meeting was very emotional. We cried for joy.
After I came back to Warsaw, I asked my head commander to be discharged from the army, and after a few months I was released and I went to my relatives in Sosnowiec.
Then communes were formed for all kinds of groups. The goal was to organize the survivors and send them over to Austria, Germany, Italy, and France, and from there to go on to Israel. Along with them were those members of the Bricha and soldiers from the Jewish brigade. One of them was our close neighbor and friend Khanoch Warshawski (Werdi). We were very happy and went with him to Lodz, to meet more Jews from Serock.
After that, they sent us through Czechoslovakia, Austria, and then Germany, to the UNRA camps (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration), and from there in September 1948, we went on aliyah to Israel.
by Tzvi Kleinman
Translated by Pamela Russ
After the Serock refugees were released from the Nazielsk shul, an event that took place on December 6, 1939, all the Jews were moved into the street that goes to the train station, a distance of about eight kilometers. They were set in a row, according to German orderliness. As the Jews were being chased out of the shul, they were beaten terribly, and the crowd ran in all directions. Parents lost their children and children lost their parents. All those who were lost tried to find their dear ones, and for that they received new beatings.
Polish merchants brought bread and milk to the starved people, but only for a price. However, the German guards did not permit them to get close. In the end, the row was completed and everyone made ready to leave. The day was dismal, the roads wet and muddy. The Serock Jews had a very difficult journey. They were starved, exhausted, and broken from the horrific night in the Nazielsk shul. They were hardly able to drag their feet and carry the tired, fainting children in their arms. The guards pushed the people intentionally into the muddiest pools, taking great pleasure in doing this. The Germans did not permit the Jews to move slowly, so they used rubber hoses to chase these Jewish tired bodies forward. From a distance, the building at the train station was now visible, and soon also the cargo train that was standing nearby. A first glance at the cargo train gave the people a fright, as they were hoping they would not be crammed into these open wagons. The cargo train actually left, and a passenger train arrived to take its place.
As they got closer to the train, the guards began to try to make order in the crowd. The chaos was terrible because there was no way they could figure out what the Germans wanted. One minute they were chased to the right and another minute to the left. The line slithered like a snake, but they did not want to break it so that they would not give the guards the opportunity to beat them. But it didn't help. The line
tore and crumbled. They simply could not withstand the murderous beatings in the deep muds that seemed to have been especially prepared for the Serock and Nazielsk Jews.
Eventually, following the guards' orders, the Jews positioned themselves opposite the passenger train that was ready to take in the harassed Jews. The escorts were, as it seems, not yet ready for this task. They had set out baskets and suitcases in various places along the length of the train and prepared to do a search among the Jews to see if they had any money with them. The search was very severe. They stripped people naked, tore off their clothes, cut off buttons, and opened the trunks.
The search among the women was conducted sadistically and murderously. Women were not searched outside, but were searched in the wagons. The screams that were heard through the windows of the wagons were horrific -- not screams of pain, which one was already used to, but screams of humiliation because of the search that was going on.
During the search, there were terrible beatings for those where they had found money or jewelry, and also for those who they noticed were throwing money or other valuables into the mud. Many people were forced to lie in the mud and smear themselves on all sides, while others were tortured in other sadistic ways.
After this torture, only then were the Jews allowed to enter the wagons under a barrage of more beatings. The Jews took off their shoes in the wagons, emptied them of mud, dressed themselves as best as they could, and then seated themselves on the benches. Those who had not yet suffered through the search procedure that began with beatings as you were getting undressed and as each part of your clothing was being searched, and ended with you rolling in the mud, envied those who had gone through this and were already in the wagons.
Finally, the searches ended. The wagons were locked and sealed shut.
There were all kinds of rumors circulating among the Jews about where they were being transported. Everyone hoped that the best place would be to go to the other side of the border, to Russia. Everyone waited very impatiently for the minute that the train would move from its spot. Soon, a long and shrill whistle was heard and that meant the Serock Jews were saying goodbye to their homes and to their possessions. You cannot take more than your memories along with you on this journey in exile, which could last for an unknown length of time. A second whistle. A third whistle. The train began to move, heading west.
Where are we going? What will they do with us? Everyone asked these questions with great fear - Where to?
At first, we thought that we would change trains, but when we saw that we were travelling for too long, we figured that the station in Nazielsk was too small and we would change trains in Chekhanow. When the train passed through Chekhanow and kept going in the direction of the German-Polish border, the Jews decided that
Caption: Harassing the Serock Jews
the Chekhanow station was also too small and the real place would be Mlawa. But when the train did not stop in Mlawa either and continued going west, the Jews dropped their heads in confusion and put all their musings aside. Everyone became like paralyzed. What are the Germans thinking of doing with such a crowd of people among whom there are so many elderly, sick, and tiny children? All kinds of conjectures, one more horrific than the next, were expressed: They would take this crowd of people to a faraway place and shoot them all or blow them up with mines; or they would all be abandoned in a faraway place in a forest and let die from cold and hunger; the Jews would be taken to the French front and be sent out in the greatest hail of gunfire.
The train continued to go very quickly and did not stop in any station until Willenberg (East Prussia). The voices of the Jews became more confused by the minute. One minute, you jumped out of your seat and paced for a few steps in the sealed wagon, then in another instant you jumped wildly to the window and searched blindly into the darkness that was wrapped around everything.
Many people openly stated that if they would have any poison they would immediately put an end to their lives and not wait for more pain and anguish. Everyone was certain that nothing good was waiting for them.
The train stopped in Willenberg and remained there for a long time, then turned around to go back in an eastern direction.
Ha! What happened? Everyone was asking. That elderly man who had continuously said that they would not take Jews to Germany now looked victoriously at his stubborn opponent. The Jews revived a little, became comforted, and remembered that this was the first night of Khannuka, remembered the bravery of the Hasmoneans and the great miracles that had taken place at that time, and they sought comfort for their frightful situation. The train began to rush at top speed. Jewish hearts raced at each station. During the middle of the night, the train began to go in another direction. They stopped trying to figure it out.
A great desperation overtook them.
In the morning, the Jews sensed that they were on Polish soil. Sure enough, soon they saw the Rembartow station and an hour later the train reversed and went back to Warsaw, stopping in the eastern station.
The train was standing there, and there was no sign of letting the Jews out of the wagons. The commotion at the eastern depot was huge. Suddenly, terrible screams were heard from the Jews being beaten as they were standing near the depot and were waiting for the train that was to go east: some to Siedlice, some to Miedzyrzecz, some to Biale, and so on. All the Jewish passengers who had purchased tickets to go to these places were herded by a whole unit of civilian Germans who were murderously beating the Jews and grabbing the bundles and valises that the Jews had with them. The chaos was terrible. They were chasing the harassed Jews from one place to another until they dropped without any strength left. Through the windows of the sealed wagons they could see how some Volksdeutsche (literally, Folk-Germans, people whose language and culture had German origins but who did not hold German citizenship) chased the Jews and then used their feet to kick down some of the Jews who by that point hardly resembled anything human. Their faces were bloodied and they were hardly able to remain standing. The scene was horrible. When the Jews on the train witnessed what was going on with the Jews outside, they began to cry loudly. In the end, the captured Jews in the depot were shoved into the wagons of the Jew train and experienced the journey of exile along with the Serock Jews.
The hunger began to be more and more torturous. Because of the cramped space, it became very hot and damp, and the thirst was so terrible that people licked the moisture off the window panes. This, however, helped very little to quench anyone's thirst, and particularly the thirst of the little children who could not be comforted by anyone and who cried with all their might: Water! Water! The mothers, hearing their children's cries, became like wild and ran to the windows, banged on them, and screamed: Water! Water! But the guards did not allow anyone to come close to the train to give the children some water.
In the afternoon, the train began to move and at around six in the evening it arrived in a station in Biala-Podlask. A half an hour before arriving in the station a conductor went into the wagons and informed the Jews that there was going to be a search and that anyone that had money or jewelry should give it to him to hide and that after the search he would return the belongings for some compensation. Many people who still had something with them, and especially the newly captured passengers, allowed themselves to be taken in, and gave away their last pennies. There was no other search after that.
After midday, they opened the wagons and herded out all the people onto the road that led to Biala - two or three kilometers. There were more beatings, but a little less than before. In the town, the escorts freed the group of harassed Jews and delivered them into the hands of the Biala Jews who did much for them.
by Yehoshua Bobek/Babek Tel Aviv
Translated by Pamela Russ
When the war broke out in Poland and the Germans came to Serock, they chased all the young people into the shul. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, they moved us all on foot to Pultusk, and from there to Chekhanow to the train for Germany and the camp at Riesenberg. We were there for more than four weeks, and then we were sent to the Russian border to Lomzhe. From Lomzhe I went to Bialystok and worked with my own skills and had a good income. Since I was worried about the fate of my wife and children, I decided to stay in Bialystok for five weeks. I went until the train station Ostralenka. There was no one in the train and I went until Wolomyn and spent the night at Khava Calkes' home. The next morning I went to Radzimyn and then back to Serock. When I arrived in Serock, the people had already made their fourth contribution (had gone through the fourth search). I saw right away that this was a death contribution, and that's how it was.
At one in the morning, everyone was chased out of their houses and into the streets. The Germans took everything away from us, put the children into the wagons, and moved us to Nazielsk. Those who couldn't walk were shot. The entire road was lined with murdered Jews.
When I arrived in Nazielsk and came into the shul, I saw the walls of the shul splashed with Jewish blood. People lay down on the ground to rest from the bloody journey, and everyone fell asleep. Four SS officers came in and said that all the young people should voluntarily go to work, and those who wouldn't cooperate would be made kaput (would be killed). We gathered all the young people for work. They took thirty-one people behind the shul near the bathroom, and they were ordered to dig a ditch eight meters long, four meters wide, and two meters deep. This had to be completed in about a half hour. They finished digging the ditch on time. The Germans came and ordered Tuvia, the shamash's son-in-law, to go into the ditch and come right out of it.
At the same time, the SS men in the shul said that the sick people would be sent to a hospital.
At the site of the pit, the people were stripped naked and shot immediately. The last one was Mendel Katzav. He took several bullets before he died, and we had to stand ten meters away from the pit. When the people were already lying spread out across the pit, they called us over and told us to fill in the pit that had dead eyes. After filling the pit, there remained a lot of earth. We had to dance on the top of the pit until all the earth became flat. After that we had to go bring greenery to put on top of the pit so that it would not be recognized. When we finished the task and came back into the shul, it was soon daybreak. At seven in the morning, we were all herded out of the shul and taken to the train. There, all the people who had money or gold were told to give it away. A person who was found with dollars, was stripped naked and beaten. I myself saw how they found $50 in Moishe Sosinak's sister's corset, and they beat her mercilessly for that until she fell dead under the wagon.
After that, we were moved from Nazielsk. We were without water for two days. The children licked the moisture from the window panes. We arrived in Biala-Podlask and were taken to the shul. I decided that I had to go live privately. I was working with tin and bought and sold for the people in the ghetto. When I saw that they were forcing all the people into the ghetto, I took my wife and children and left Biala-Podlask and went to Warsaw, then from Warsaw to Ostralenka, crossed over the border, then came to Bialystok. I worked there until they sent us to Arkhangelsk for hard labor - to chop trees in a forest. I worked there until the war between Germany and Russia broke out. In 1941, we were freed from this work and sent to Arkhangelsk. My wife, children, and I travelled for five weeks in forty-five degrees freezing weather. My wife became sick on the way and we had to stop in the city of Gorky and take her to a hospital where she remained for a few months and then died. I was left with three small children. I looked for a Polish orphanage for the children.
After that, I worked for two orphanages until the end of the war, and then I went with all the children to Poland.
When I came to Krakow, Polaks were standing around and shouting: The onions are stinking again! From Krakow they sent us to Latvia, Lower Silesia, two kilometers from the Czechoslovakian border. I was there for three weeks and then went to Czechoslovakia and from there to Austria to the Wegsheidt camp. After a few weeks I went to Germany to the American zone. I was in the DP camp Eshwegen for three months and then went to Israel on the ship Exodus. The British had us on the ocean for three months until they brought us back to Hamburg (Germany), and then to Ferindorf, and there the British liberated us. In 1948 I arrived in Israel legally.
Translated by Pamela Russ
The town of Serock lies on the right shore of the Narew River and before the outbreak of the war, boasted 650 Jewish families, which accounted for forty-five percent of the population. On the second day of the war, the first refugees from Makow and Chekhanow arrived in Serock. A day later, refugees arrived from Pultusk, Nazielsk, and Wyskow. On the fifth day after the outbreak of the war, September 5, 1939, the government institutions began to prepare to leave. That same day at around 11 am, German planes appeared, and they dropped thirteen bombs onto the city. One of these bombs landed on a Jewish home and buried thirty-nine bodies, all Jews, under the rubble. These Jews were hiding in a cellar. This tragedy threw a terrible fear over the town. In this cellar there were a large number of young people and from several families there was not even one survivor. That same day, about one quarter of the Jews left the town, looking for protection - some went to the neighboring town of Legionowa and some went to Warsaw. The conflict near the Narew lasted about a week, and the first German soldiers entered the city on September 29. That same evening, in a non-Jewish store, a German soldier was killed. The owner of the building and the two neighbors were shot immediately. The following morning, the Germans took three Jews, among them a father and a son, and ordered them to dig a pit. These Jews were under the impression all along that this pit was for them, because that's the message they were given. In the end, the three murdered non-Jews were put into this grave. That same day, the entire population was herded out to the marketplace, not leaving a single living soul in any house. An officer announced the death of the German soldier that, according to wartime laws, required that the most important people in the city be shot. Still, he felt bad for the people, and he let the women and children go. But the men ages eighteen to forty-five were detained and sent to concentration camps. It's understood that the
Torah scrolls were first ripped then burned. Life in the camps was very difficult and cost the lives of ten Jews, fathers and children. All the Jewish stores in the city were blown up and looted by the local Polish population that helped destroy the Jewish goods and possessions. Jewish society, for all intents and purposes, came to a halt. The city was filled with military, and Jews - both men and women - were taken away for all kinds of labor. The troubles among the Jews increased daily. There was no trade and no work. On the eve of Sukos, some Christians told about the evacuation of the Jews in Pultusk. It was impossible to verify this information, because communication between the Jews of the two towns was not possible. A short while later this information was confirmed and the Serock Jews prepared for an evacuation as well. Meanwhile, winter was approaching, it became cold, and the first frost and snow appeared. The Jews comforted themselves thinking that in the winter surely they wouldn't be chased out. That's also what the Volksdeutche (see note p. 370), Folk-Germans, thought. They had been on good terms with the Jews until the outbreak of the war.
At the beginning of November 1939, the mayor of Pultusk called together the Jewish representatives of Serock and informed them that they would have to pay 15,000 zlotys within twenty-four hours. Pleas went unheard. Six days later, they added a payment of 10,000 zlotys. Collecting this sum of money was extremely difficult. And two weeks later they again added another 5,000 zlotys. That money too was collected. Everyone gave the last bit that he had earned, hoping that this would save the Jews from evacuation. On December 3, a security committee from the German government levied a monthly tax on all the Jewish storeowners and workmen. The tax was paid the following day, almost willingly, hoping that this would prevent the evacuation from happening. Sunday, December 5, 1939, at 5 am, the entire Jewish population in the town, regardless of age, and without sparing even the very sick, was alerted by German gendarmes and policemen .
and all were chased out of their houses and herded to the marketplace where everyone huddled together like sheep. This situation did not last long, and the evacuation began. They had to stand in a row. Only very few people had some of their clothing or bedding with them. But even this was lost on the way. One autumn morning, the entire Serock Jewish community, after losing all their possessions for which generations had worked, began marching to Nazielsk, a distance of more than twenty kilometers. Only the sick and the very young children were permitted to ride. The crowd arrived in Nazielsk that evening and spent the night in the Nazielsk shul, a very beautiful building that had been emptied of every single item that had any connection to a shul. In the place of where the ark used to stand, there was a swastika. The group was moved into the shul almost like a parade. Each person walked through a cordon of gendarmes in full uniform. Only three sick people, two men and one woman, didn't live to do have this great honor, the guards shot them in the shul's courtyard. The night seemed eternal and there was not enough room for the entire crowd who for obvious reasons huddled against the walls. No one sat, no one stood, and of course, no one lay down. They sort of floated in the air.
The second day, that is December 6, 1939, the people were moved out of the Nazielsk shul, again with great ceremony. The security was tightened so that no one would be able to buy food or run away. The Germans told everyone that they were being taken to the station that was about five or six kilometers from the city. The road ran through a very muddy area and many shoes remained stuck there. Everyone was taken directly to the wagon cars, but getting into the cars was not so simple. Many Jews were forced to bathe in the mud, naked, because an intensive search took place to make sure the Jews weren't smuggling any foreign currency. Only after cleansing everyone from every bit of dirty money, gold, and other worldly things, were they permitted entry into the wagons. The goal of the trip was .
according to everyone, to be taken east - to the Lublin area. How amazed everyone was when they felt the train going back west, that is to East Prussia . In fact, they were travelling to East Prussia until Willenberg. They arrived there at six in the evening. It is not possible to describe the feelings of the people who broke their heads all this time trying to figure out where they were being taken and what was going to be done with them. One thing is for certain - if they would have had poison with them at that time, there would have been plenty of victims. At the Willenberg station, the train turned and went back. That's how the Jews went all night, and then again no one knew where they were going. Only the following morning, December 7, 1939, the Jews saw that they were on Polish soil, and the train stood in Warsaw in the eastern depot. There were many Jews on the platform waiting for trains going to many different places. All the waiting Jews were forcefully crammed into two wagon cars that contained the harassed people from Serock. Horrific scenes played out here. Finally the train moved in a western direction, and at the beginning of the evening, the train arrived in Biala-Podlask. The train remained here all night. During this ride, all this time, no one was permitted to buy any food. Some tore the hair from their heads as they heard the cries of the young children. Thirst drove everyone to the point of wildness. Finally, Polish women and youths appeared, who sold water for a good price. When such a bottle came into the wagon, there was a terrible uproar, and one person tore it out of the other's mouth. But the little water could hardly quench anyone's thirst and
the need for water was intensified, and then everyone looked for a way to get some sleep for a little time. That's how the night passed. The following day began with the worry of what will be. What will they do with this crowd of Jews?
Finally, around midday, they opened the wagons and with ordinary sticks and other similar items, the Jews were chased out of the wagons and ordered to stand in a row, then herded towards the middle of the city. The Jews were left in Biala-Podlask, and the authorities felt relieved of their responsibility over these harassed people, and left them without guards. The Biala Jews already had experienced this sort of thing, and they undertook to prepare coffee, bread, tea, and boxes of food for this new group. That's how they made these Serock Jews understand that they were among other Jews. Biala community workers and other ordinary Jews also joined in trying to provide the refugees with food and drink. For some they got places to live. The Biala Jews fulfilled the mitzva of hakhnosas orkhim (providing hospitality to guest) to the highest degree, and not only for the first few minutes. There were also landlords who took entire families into their homes and shared all their belongings with them. One has to remember that in Biala there were already about 3,000 Suwalk refugees from before that the city was caring for. Right after Shabbos a complete list of all the arrivals was compiled. Brotherhoods (landsmanschaften) of Serock and Suwalk refugees, who were also set up in the general city's committee, occupied themselves with action help for the benefit of the people. The help was such that each person received one quarter of a kilo of bread and a bowl of soup, daily. The Serock people were set up in the city committees through Hersh Kleinman and Menakhem Kronenberg, former elected members of the Serock community.
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