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The Destruction

The German Murderers

by Lewkowicz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

On a January night in 1941, the German “Zunderdienste”, or as we called them in Sochaczew “Szwarcze”, conducted searches in all of the Jewish houses. They took whatever they wanted from the Jews and beat them soundly.

Two Jews, Aharon Zelig Marienfeld and Aryeh Szmelc, were taken from Grosman's house. They were murdered in a terrible manner that night. Their cries and shouts traveled through the entire town, and a terrifying pall fell upon the Jews. Unfortunately, nobody was able to help the unfortunate victims. At dawn, the Germans issued an order to the Judenrat to come to bury the two victims. At the burial, it became evident that the two victims were tortured terribly prior to their deaths. They had numerous holes in their heads and wounds on their necks. One of Marienfeld's hands had been dismembered.

The funeral of the two torture victims took place at night. The Germans did not permit a large gathering to take part.

The expulsion of half of the Jews took place on February 1. A ghetto was established for the other half. The living conditions in the ghetto were very bad. Ten to fifteen people lived in one room. My family and I remained in the Sochaczew Ghetto.

The ghetto did not exist for long – only for two weeks. The Germans posted signs indicating that the Jews must leave Sochaczew by February 15, 1941. The only direction was to Warsaw – to the Warsaw Ghetto.

A new hell began here. Things were tumultuous in the ghetto. One person runs to another to consult as to what to do. One makes various calculations – perhaps this is a lie. Perhaps they once again only refer to half of the Jews. However, very soon, Jews were traveling on their own to the Warsaw Ghetto. One looked at the other, and the few Jews bid farewell to their native town.

I also did the same as the others. I sent my wife and child, for I was not able to travel in the same car. Two other wives with two young children also traveled. There was no more room in the car.

I left Sochaczew about two weeks later, on February 12. Uniformed Germans found me along the way – the so-called “Szwarces”. They beat me, and I arrived in the Warsaw Ghetto in such a condition.

The Judenrat had been the first to leave the Ghetto, and we were all left in a state of wantonness.

Izak Gelbsztejn was the chairman of the Judenrat. He left with his assistants a few days before the expulsion. He left Menashe Knot, the chairman of the Jewish Working Office, in charge.

The “Szwarczes” were terribly wild. They beat every Jew and asked: “Where are your representatives, why did they suddenly disappear?” They did not forgive the fact that the Judenrat did not fall into their hands, and they beat every Jew who crossed their path.

The Germans were not satisfied with those beatings. They captured Menashe Knot and took him to the home of Pinchas Graubard's son-in-law on Staszic Street and declared: “The chairman of the Judenrat hid a few pairs of boots for us in this house. When we came to take our boots, we found an empty dwelling.” The Germans demanded that Knot present them with the boots. The chairman of the Jewish police was not able to fulfil this request, and he was murdered in that yard.

When I arrived in Warsaw, I ran into his father Leibish Knot by chance. I did not want to tell him the terrible news. A few days later, he found out about the death of his son.

I witnessed new Jewish tribulations in the Warsaw Ghetto. The people were starving, and they died on the streets. I saw the former respectable householders of Sochaczew extending their hands to beg for a piece of bread. There was nobody to help them. I saw that I was next in line. The little bit of money that I had saved was running out, and hunger would soon overtake my wife my child and me. I decided to leave the ghetto. On April 28, 1941, I left Warsaw along with my wife and child. We set out for Miêdzyrzec Podlaski.

We traveled on the train as Aryans. Polish anti-Semites recognized us as Jews and tormented us. However, our journey passed peacefully, and we arrived at our destination.

Life in Miêdzyrzec was significantly easier than in Warsaw. First of all, there was no ghetto there yet. Second of all, the cost of living was not that expensive, so one was spared from hunger.

Two weeks later, the following Sochaczew natives arrived in Miêdzyrzec with their families: Shlomo Lewin, Pinia Rozenkopf, Mottel Rojtman (“Kacew”), his brother Ben-Zion Retman, their nephew Yudka Berkowicz, Leib Helmer, his father-in-law Chaim Jochel, my sister-in-law Malka with her children, Pesach Rozenburg, Wolf-Itche Galek, and my parents with my entire family. The Sochaczewers suffered from hunger, and terrible tragedies ensued. Mottel Retman's daughter went crazy, for she could not bear the site of her father going around begging for a morsel of food. Their nephew Yudka Berkowicz died a bit later, in January 1942.

I had often met him in the village of ¯akowola Poprzeczna in the region of Radzyn, 13 kilometers from Miêdzyrzec. He worked there on the land for farmers. I was also employed there as a tailor, which was my trade.

In December 1941, the Germans issued a decree, under the threat of death, that Jews can no longer appear in the villages. I stopped going to the village. Yudka Berkowicz remained. He became ill with typhus. As the farmers told me, they wanted to bring him to Miêdzyrzec but they were afraid of the death penalty for holding a Jew.

One morning in January 1942, the mistress of the house in which Berkowicz lived went out to the stable in which Yudka lay ill, and found him dead.

The farmers immediately buried him, for they were afraid that the Germans would find out about the situation. Two days later, when the villagers came to me to take my wares, they informed me of Berkowicz' burial. They lay two bundles of straw in the grave, put more straw on top of him, and then filled the grave with earth.

Having been informed of the sad news, I set out to the Miêdzyrzec Judenrat with the Pole who informed me to inform them of Berkowicz' death. I requested that they bury him like a Jew, and they responded that they were unable to do so. The Sochaczew natives were also unable to bring their fellow native to a Jewish burial.

Leibel Helmer died in 1942. He was working at baking matzos during the week of Passover. He caught a chill at work, and died that week.

The first liquidation of the ghetto (known as an “aktion”) took place on August 25, 1942 in Miêdzyrzec. Our natives were taken away in that liquidation. They were sent to the Treblinka extermination camp. I saw the Rozenkopf family at the gathering place (Umshlag platz), for they were seated beside my family and me. I did not see the other people of our town, for there was a crowd of more than 20,000 people gathered.

I worked in the Staug firm. The work consisted of building highways. When we were all gathered at the gathering place, the engineer Mosek of that firm arrived along with the work group, accompanied by the S.S., and removed all of their employees. Mosek said that the families would also be removed two hours later. The Germans played a trick. The families were sent to Treblinka.

We were immediately whisked away by car to work, where we waited for our families. To our great dismay, we did not see them.

Two days later, I returned to our dwelling, where I had the opportunity to have a good cry. I did not yet know that there was an extermination camp by the name of Treblinka. We only found out two weeks later, when my neighbor who had lived near me in Miêdzyrzec returned from Treblinka and told me how he had torn out of there, did I first realize that my relatives are no longer alive.

We continued to work. Each of us had a tear in his heart. We were not able to help ourselves and take comfort in the fact that this was G-d's will, and we must lovingly accept this.

Six weeks later, S.S. men along with Ukrainians surrounded us in the place where we worked for the Staug firm. They loaded us into vehicles and transported us to the Miêdzyrzec synagogue. They held us in the synagogue for three days without food or water. On the fourth day, they took us to the train to send us off to Treblinka. We were placed in covered transport wagons. They stuffed 80 of us into one wagon. People choked to death. In my wagon, five people choked to death in two hours. I decided that since they were transporting us to our deaths, I would jump from the wagon. Jumping was not so simple. The doors with small windows were tightly sealed. However, this occupied several men. We tore the bars off a small window, broke off the boards that sealed it off from the outside, and prepared to jump from the wagon.

We Jump from the Wagon

It was a difficult moment. The train was travelling very fast, like a speed train, and it was speeding before our eyes. I then decided that I would be the first to jump. I went out from the window, but did not jump immediately. I stood on the bumpers and waited until my two brothers also came out from the wagon and were standing on the same place as I was. Jumping was indeed terrifying. Death surrounded us from all sides. The Ukrainians who were driving the transport were shooting from both sides. However, without looking at what was going on around, my two brothers and I jumped from the speeding train. We were unharmed. We only remained there unconscious and a bit beaten. When we came to, we immediately went into the forest. We remained there for three days. We could not remain longer, as we had nothing to eat. The farmers from those villages did not want to sell us anything to eat. We had to suffice ourselves with various grasses, turnips, etc. Finally, we found it necessary to return to the city (Miêdzyrzec).

Three weeks later, the Germans made another aktion. My younger brother and I were again captured. We lay in a stable for two days, without food or drink. On the third day, the Ukrainians threw in a bit of bread for the large crowd through a window. As we struggled to get the bread, the Ukrainians shot us with machine guns. Five Jews fell dead. After the murder, they again led us to the train to send us to our deaths in Treblinka.

Now, I was once again with my brother in the sealed train. We had to jump once again. We tore open the window in accordance with our prior experience. However, we did not go out immediately. We waited for the children and youths who wanted to save themselves. They went out first. We held them by their hands, and let them down to the ground. Later my brother went out, and I followed.

The jumping did not go all that well for me. I was badly banged up, and I lay for quite a while until I regained consciousness. I started to look for my brother but could not find him. I again returned to Miêdzyrzec.

The journey was very difficult. The Germans had placed militia on all the routes. The militiamen were civilian Poles who had orders to capture Jews who jumped from the trains and take them to the Polish police, where they would be shot. They received 5 kilo of sugar for every Jew that they brought.

I did not fall into their hands, but my brother Binyamin did. He succeeded in escaping, because the militiamen were unarmed. Unfortunately, other militiamen captured him near the city. He tried to bribe them with money, to no avail. He tried once again to escape, but did not succeed. He was taken to the police.

Before his arrival, they had already shot 80 Jews. To his good fortune, an order was issued by the Uber-Sturm-Fuehrer that those who were newly captured by the militia should be sent to the Miêdzyrzec Ghetto. Thus was he saved, and we were in Miêdzyrzec until May 1, 1943.

On that day, a Saturday night going into Sunday, the Germans and Ukrainians surrounded the entire Miêdzyrzec Ghetto. They started the usual program: shots from all sides, and nobody knew where to flee. I wanted to go to my two brothers who lived not far from me, but it was not possible, since the Ukrainians were shooting from all sides. I found myself in a hail of bullets. I remained in my new hiding place “schran” and hid for two days.

I ended up in the hands of the Germans and Ukrainians for the third time. This time, I was separated from my two brothers forever. This was the last aktion in Miêdzyrzec.

During all of the aktions, the chairman of the Miêdzyrzec Judenrat, Klarberg, was in the good graces of the Germans. He even was permitted to live outside the ghetto. He was an optician, and lived on the Aryan side. During that aktion, the chairman and his wife were taken into the ghetto, where they were immediately shot. Thus, that aktion was to render Miêdzyrzec Judenrein.

In Majdanek and Auschwitz

I was now alone without my two brothers, once gain on a death train. I began to think, “What next? Should I jump again or not?” I was now loathing of my entire life. Jumping from the train and returning to Miêdzyrzec was pointless, as Miêdzyrzec no longer had any Jews. I thought that I should perish like my family. I and a few people broke a board from the wagon in order to breathe. We figured out that we were traveling in the direction of Lublin. It was impossible to remain in the train. People who had choked to death lay in the train, and we were dying of thirst. Things were so severe that I drank my own urine. Our only wish was to drink water and then die. Thus did we suffer until we arrived at Majdanek.

I arrived in Majdanek on May 4, 1943. A selection took place that day. I was fortunate, and was not selected for the gas chamber. The following Sochaczew natives were together with me in Majdanek: Shlomo Lewin and his son Moniek, and Avraham Kona, Jochel's son. I was with them in Majdanek until July 6, 1943, when they sent us from Majdanek to Auschwitz. There, we once again went through a selection. They drilled us four times, and lined us up at the fifth time.

I was standing in the same row as Shlomo Lewin and his son. At the final inspection, they took away Shlomo Lewin because he had swollen feet. His son remained together with me. That same day, they sent us to the Buna Camp near Auschwitz. There, I again met some Sochaczewers. Aside from the aforementioned Moniek Lewin and Avraham Kon, the following also were there: Yisrael Lichtensztejn and his brother Heniek, and Berish Lewkowicz and his son. At the end of 1944, Ch. Holcman came to us in the camp.

On May 15, 1944, a general selection took place. Hundreds of Jewish prisoners were sent to their deaths. Avraham Kon was among them. He even bade farewell to me. At our parting, he told me: “I know that I am going to my death, but unfortunately, you cannot help me.” He did not want to take the package of food that I gave him. He wished me that the same fate would escape me.

We remained there until January 19, 1945. On that day, we were evacuated to Gliwice (Lower Silesia). We walked an entire day by foot. We remained an entire day in Gliwice. Later, we were loaded onto a transport train with open platforms and sent through Czechoslovakia to Buchenwald. The journey lasted for nine days, without food. We survived because the Czechs that we passed threw us bread. Along the way we took out our canteens, tied them with a string, and scooped up a bit of snow, so that we could sustain ourselves.

We were 124 prisoners in one wagon. Each one sat between the feet of his neighbor. It was to our good fortune that the wagons were not closed. Nevertheless, two people went crazy. When we arrived in Buchenwald, 30 corpses were removed from our platform. I did not see the Sochaczew natives again.

I remained in Buchenwald until February 9, 1945. Then, I was sent to another camp. There, we were treated well. They transported us in closed wagons, with 50 people in each wagon and 4 S.S. men, so that we had enough air. We also received food.

As we approached Erfurt, American flyers arrived and shot at the train, believing that the train carried German soldiers or ammunition. With the first volley of machine gun fire, I received five bullets in my right foot. I attempted to jump out, but the S.S. man aimed his gun at me. At that moment, he fell dead from an American bullet, which also hit me in my right hand. I remained lying down, and could no longer move. An order came from the transport leader, “Everyone off”, so that the Americans could see that we were not militiamen, but rather innocent concentration camp survivors.

Everyone descended from the train. However, I was wounded and remained lying there with the dead. The American flyers stopped shooting. They looked around very well, and then looked away. The “half living” took that moment to flee. The S.S. had what to occupy themselves with, for there were many wounded and dead among them.

A sanitary unit was immediately formed. They took the ill and wounded to the hospital. The healthy ones continued on. I was brought to a provisional sick station, where they immediately removed the bullets.

The next day, I was taken to the Dora camp hospital. I remained in that hospital for a long time. I was liberated by the American army in the Dora camp near Nordhausen.

The liberation took place on April 11, 1945.

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