by Gittel SlapakShechter
When the war broke out, I lived in the town of Svisloch in the Grodno region. My parents Kalman and Liba Slapak, their unmarried daughters Reizel and Rachel, my brother Leibel Slapak and his wife Beilka (nee Zaltzman), the parents of two year old Rivka, all lived there. Three of my father's brothers and their families also lived there.
I, my husband Boris Ceitlin and our four month old baby lived next to my parents. We all worked together with Father in his sawmill, and earned a comfortable living.
The Second World War broke out on September 12, 1939, and Poland fell within a few weeks. The Germans and Russians partitioned Poland. In this partition, our town fell in the Russian section. The Russians immediately began to execute their plans. Obviously, we were not pleased by them. They destroyed our typewriters and telephones. Early one morning, armed soldiers came to us as father was standing, reciting his prayers. They told him to stop his prayers, for he had prayed enough. They imprisoned him, but they sent him home the same day. However, there was no end to the tribulations. They came each night to requisition flour specifically at night as if to vex us.
After a short time, the keys to the enterprise were taken to us. It was confiscated, and we were not even allowed to walk over our threshold. The situation worsened from day to day. We were afraid of exile to Siberia. Therefore, we decided to move to Vilna, my husband's hometown and the place where many of our family lived, in order to disperse ourselves among them and free ourselves from the tribulations that fell upon business owners.
We packed up a few of our household belongings and moved to Vilna to live with my fatherinlaw. My husband found work in a government enterprise, and we were not lacking in anything.
The Nazis attacked Russia in June 1941. They conquered eastern Poland, including the city of Vilna. Then the tribulations began. A dizzying set of edicts were issued each day: the yellow badge, the ban on walking on the sidewalk, the ban on purchasing in stores. On Sunday, they would get drunk, beat Jews and pillages their houses. On the other days of the week they would snatch up men for work, as it were. In truth, they imprisoned them in the Likishki Prison. When the jail became full, they would bring them to the Fanar forests surrounding Vilna and murder them. In this manner, they murdered thousands of men who were snatched up in the yards and the houses. After a short period, they decided to concentrate the Jew in a ghetto. How did they make the ghetto? They falsely accused the Jews of shooting at the Germans. As a punishment, they killed many of the Jews who lived in the Jewish center of Vilna, and then they brought into the ghetto all of the Jews who lived in the rest of Vilna. We, who did no live in the center of Vilna, were brought to the ghetto with the rest of the Jews on the Sabbath Day. The Lithuanian police carried out the expulsion. They went into the houses. People were permitted to take only as many clothes as they could carry. Then they were expelled into the direction of the ghetto. Obviously, they attempted to take large packages, but in the tiring journey, walking without rest, they abandoned most of their belongings, which became booty for the gentiles. They were prodded along the way, and my 2 ¼ year old child walked on foot in fear from Vilkomirska to Starashona a journey of several kilometers.
At first, two ghettos were set up. These were not sufficient for all of the Jews. The first people went into the houses, were they slept adjacent to each other at night. The rest remained in the yards also crowded. From the window, I could see people standing crowded together as salted fish in a jar. This situation also did not go on for long. That night, the homeless people were removed and brought the place where they were brought. In this manner, space was made in the Vilna Ghetto.
The rest were registered by the Jewish council that was appointed in order to maintain contact with the German authorities and to execute their edicts. Aside from this, there was also a Jewish police force.
Life in the ghetto was particularly difficult, with crowding, lack of food, and fear of death. A portion of the ghetto residents worked in the ghetto institutions (hospital, children's homes, council, police, etc). Another portion was called out to work in organized groups, in accordance with the needs of the Germans. Each group was led by several leaders, who led them to an unknown place. It was forbidden to walk alone. I left my child in the children's home, and went out to work in the gardens. My husband worked in brick manufacturing. I was happy with my work, with the thought that I would be able to bring a bit of food to the ghetto, where there were no stores, no distribution of food, and which was cut off from the outside world. There was extra protection over the men, and my husband was not able to bring anything. However, the women brought some food to the houses, despite the ban. They would gather some vegetables, hide them in discrete places, and bring them into the ghetto. Or they would sell haberdashery to the gentiles, and obtain some food in return. The gentiles did not obey the ban on selling to the Jews, for they wished to make a profit. Toward evening, they would hide it in their sleeves or dresses, with their hearts trembling with fear. Black haired women such as I would plod along slowly to the ghetto. We would be frisked at the entrance to the ghetto, and if they found something, the guards would steal it and administer beatings.
In the meantime, the Germans began to execute their plan for annihilation. One night, they decreed that everyone had to gather next to the ghetto gate and to register their work certificates. Everyone ran to the gate. The murderers opened the gates and brought out a group a quota to be murdered. These did not return. All were murdered. They would exchange certificates every two weeks, and at every exchange, they would carry out an aktion of murder. The number of residents of the ghetto continued to shrink. There were not enough certificates for everyone. Those who did not receive certificates were sentenced to death at the next aktion. When the yellow certificates were being issued, my family did not get one. I do not recall the dates, but I remember that this was in the first few months of our living in the ghetto. After the yellow certificates were issued, they summoned the certificate holders to the ghetto police. This took the entire night. The game began early the next morning. Those who would conduct the murder aktion were standing near the gate. Those who held the yellow certificates stood in a line and went out the gate. They were very exacting, and examined each certificate. I took my child on my shoulders and stood in the line of the holders of yellow certificates, for I had nothing to lose, and even a German could make a mistake. At first I did not succeed, and the German thrust me back into the ghetto. I was desperate. I said to myself: death is better than a life of torture and fear of death. I wished to enter to the group of those designated for death, but my husband insisted that I try again, for perhaps I would succeed in saving the child. The second time, I succeeded and left the ghetto. All of those who went out were sent to places of work, but I had nowhere to go since I did not have a certificate. Out of fear, nobody wanted to join me to their work group. I began to walk randomly through the streets. The first street was Zvolne. I walked outside all day with my child in my arms, alternating between napping and crying, apparently from hunger and thirst. I asked a Christian girl who was standing on the sidewalk to buy a few apples for me. She refused. She only fulfilled my request after great urging. In pain and agony, I somehow went through the day. I had nowhere to turn when it got dark, and I became desperate. I attempted to return to the ghetto. I saw hundreds of guards next to the gate waiting for the command to enter the ghetto and gather up all of those who did not have the yellow certificate. When I saw this, I returned and went to my Christian neighbor. Nobody saw me. My neighbors received me in a friendly manner, even though there was a death threat upon them if I would be found in their home. They served me food and gave me a clean bed. I did not eat or drink all night. The next morning, the Christian neighbor went to ascertain the situation, and to find out if I could return to the ghetto. He told me that all night, Jews were dragged from the ghetto. Those who had yellow certificates remained in their places of work, and their families returned to the ghetto. At the gate the guard asked me where my husband was. When I answered that he was at work, he let me in. My husband told me how he was saved from being killed. A large group hid in the cellar. The guards found them, but they accepted a bribe and left them. When those left, other guards came, and took what whatever those poor people had left. When there was nothing left to take, they too, sent them all to be killed, including my husband. At that moment, a merciful nurse passed by, who knew my husband, and had a yellow certificate. She said that this was her husband. There were not personal certificates in the ghetto. Thus my husband was saved that time.
We were in a very bad situation. We could not go out to work. We had no food, and there were rumors of a new aktion in the near future. We were not the only ones in this situation. The only alternatives were suicide or flight from the ghetto. In 1941, there were still places of relative quiet. We planned our flight from this ghetto. We got in touch with a yekke an army man who would take us to Oshmyana (White Russia), a city near Vilna. The mass murders did not begin in White Russian until 1942. He told us that he would be waiting for us at 6:00 a.m. on Sadova Street next to the ghetto. But how would we succeed in getting out of the ghetto that was surrounded by guards. We got up at 2:00 a.m., and looked for some opening, but could not find one. Every gate was filled with people who were in our situation, who were also searching for a means of salvation. Between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m., when the gate was opened for the first group of workers, many broke out of the ghetto, including us. The guard of the gate could not control all of them. We did not take out any bags in order not to arouse suspicion.
After we left the Vilna Ghetto, the small ghetto had already been liquidated, and there were only about 3,000 families left in the large ghetto. These were families that possessed the yellow certificates. The German told us to enter a large truck covered with a tarpaulin. He received his money, and took us. We reached Oshmyana, first to the German guard and then to the ghetto. We arrived in Oshmyana in September 1941 and remained there until March 1943. The Jewish community of Oshmyana received the first refugees pleasantly. They provide them with housing and other material aid. That week, the guard changed, and refugees were no longer allowed into the ghetto. They shot them all. Despite this, during the first weeks, refugees streamed toward Oshmyana every day, but none of them succeeded in entering the ghetto. There were heavy guards on the roads. The refugees were caught and murdered. People were taken from the ghetto to dig pits and bury the dead.
We lived with great crowding there. There were two families in one small room. The physical situation was particularly difficult. We were called out to work every day, and food was not distributed. We would take clothes off from our bodies and exchange them with the gentiles for coarse flour and potatoes. Even the child did not taste any sugar. Jews were taken out and murdered on several occasions during our time in the ghetto. The murder aktions were carried out primarily against old people. All the people of the ghetto were commanded to gather in one place, young and old. They were taken to a place outside the city and killed with shots. At first, the plan was to murder the women and children whose husbands and fathers had previously been murdered. However, as a result of negotiations, the Germans agreed to murder the aged rather than the women and children. A death pall fell upon the Jews in the ghetto on account of the rumors that arrived from White Russia, that Jewish communities were being liquidated one by one.
Suddenly, the Germans changed the boundaries in such a way that Oshmyana was severed from White Russia and annexed to Lithuania, which was already judenrein since 1941, except for a few people in the ghettoes of Vilna and Kovno. In March 1943, the Germans informed us that they were liquidating the ghetto in Oshmyana and transferring all of the Jews to Vilna or Kovno, in accordance with the desire of each person. Confusion arose. The people had already lost their faith some time ago, but there was choice, one had to decide. Some registered for Kovno. We, natives of Vilna, registered for Vilna. The authorities ordered wagons from the Christians to transport us. Later we found out that all of those who registered for Vilna arrived in peace, but those who registered for Kovno were shot in Fanar.
In March 1943, we arrived back at our first ghetto, and the hell began anew. Once again there were registrations and work permits, and 8 people were put up in a small room. I went back to my former work in the gardens. The living conditions in the Vilna Ghetto were as described previously. In July 1943, rumors arrived about new murder aktions, and in August, we awaited the impending disaster. According to the rumors, this time, people were not taken out be murdered from the ghettos, but rather from the places of work. Signs of this were that the smaller work places where only tens of people worked were cancelled, and everyone was concentrated into two large work camps: the train station and the Provnak the airfield that was 7 kilometers from the city. Approximately 2,000 people worked in the two work places. I was designated for Provnak. I went on the first days. Pits were dug all day. I did not go on the second day. When I went to sleep at night, the Jewish police arrived, took me out of bed, and brought me to the police station of the ghetto, where I sat all night. (This is what the police did if someone did not show up for work, the next day, they were forced to go.) I was not the only one. The next day, a representative of the Jewish council appeared and told us that we do not have to be afraid of the aktions. The rumors were false, and should not be afraid of going to work. That day, they did not force us to go to work. They told us to go home and eat, and whomever wishes should go to work. I believed the representative of the council. The proof was that he did not use force. I ran home, had a bite, and took my child to the children's house. This time he hugged me strongly, cried, and did not want to stay in the children's house. I went with the hope of finding some food for the family. Women wept on the way to work. Armed Lithuanian and Latvian gentiles walked on the streets. The women did not stop wailing. They said through their weeping that we are guests in the world.
When we arrived at Provnak, they closed the gate. Armed Germans dug around the fence. Wailing broke out at this sight. Some people began to jump over the fence. The guards started shootings, and some were injured. The shots stopped when people stopped fleeing. Then the commander of the Jewish council arrived (his name was Gennis). He calmed us and promised us that we were being brought to work. Having no choice, we believed him. Transport wagons were ready there. We were loaded like animals, and the doors were closed. The windows were covered with wire. We traveled for three days and three nights. Food and water were not distributed. We finally arrived in to the Vaivara camp in Estonia. We had left Vilna on August 6. The camp was surrounded by a wire fence, and there was a guard day and night.
There were bunks in the camp for sleeping, with three levels, bottom, middle and third. 7080 women were in one room. There were two camps, one for men and one for women, with a wire fence between them. The director of the camp was an S. S. man called Shenbel. He arranged role call, selected staff (heads, secretaries, kitchen, laundry, bath). Most of my neighbors in this camp were divided into various work groups. I worked in paving roads, the railway or the forest. About a month later, a second transport was sent from Vilna to Estonia these were the families of the first transport, including my husband and child. The children had their own block. It was possible to see them after work.
We were woken up for work between the hours of 3 and 4. We were given a bit of black coffee and lined up for role call. We would stand for hours until the camp commander appeared. We would stand in the heavy rain, and the rain would penetrate to the flesh. Then they would drill the men with useless exercises (during the role call, the men and women stood in the same place, and the children were supervised in the bunks): taking of the hat, putting it back on, and the action had to be done at one time. If someone did not succeed, he would be beaten until he bled. After these tortures, we went to work under the supervision of the guards.
We would work under the command of taskmasters all days, and suffer harsh blows. In the evening, we would return under guard to the camp. There would be another role call. Supper was coarse bread and thin soup. Then we would go the bunks and the beds.
There were groups that worked among civilians. If, out of hunger, someone asked for a piece of bread in a house or from a passerby, the supervisor would write down the number. (In the camp, we were not designated by patches, but rather by numbers on the arms or chest.) At night, this information was given over to the camp director. Then, the role call would last for hours. This person would be beaten. For this purpose there was a special table in which the head and legs of the person would be placed. He would then be beaten on the back with thick sticks until they were broken. The screams of these beaten people would ascend to the heavens.
There was no water in the Vaivara Camp. They would bring water in cars for cooking, however there was no water for washing. We had no change of clothing, for we were snatched up for work when we only had our work clothes. Therefore, we became infected with lice within a short period of time, and a typhus epidemic broke out as a result. Then the camp was declared closed. We did not go out for work. I was among the sick. No special care was given to the sick, no medicine or any special food. As time went on, the weak ones died, and only the strong remained alive. I do not know for how long I was ill. When I regained consciousness, I examined my body, and it was putrefied. Lice swarmed on my body, and I could not sleep at night. Once, they brought me water and let me wash myself. Clothing was also distributed. The women looked like animals, emaciated, without hair. Pills were distributed in the food that shut down the menses, so tat the women did not have any period from August 6 1943 until the liberation on March 10, 1945.
We remained in Vaivara until January 1944. Then, the camp was liquidated. Those ill with typhus and the children were sent on a train to an unknown location. My husband and child were among them. They were then lost to me forever. Those who had become healthy went on foot. The stronger held up the weaker so that they would not stumble along the way, for those that stumbled were shot in front of everyone.
I walked in the deep cold for the entire day. Toward evening, 150 men and 150 women remained in the Jevi camp. The rest continued on.
I was in Jevi for two months. I worked in the station in the cleaning of snowy railway tracks. Later, the Jevi camp was closed, and they brought us to Ereda. There, I worked at backbreaking labor. All day long I worked in Thon in the building of bunkers. The living conditions were equivalent in all of those camps. In all of them, the supervisors were members of the S. S., who were appointed for that with one objective. Except for Vaivara, there was warm water, baths, and separate camps for women. The Ereda camp was closed around August 1944. Then, the Germans were already suffering great losses. The Russians were advancing. They wished to transfer us to Germany. The camp commander counted us. I did not stand up straight during the role call. The commander lashed out at me and beat me on the head with a wooden stick, to the point where I was dripping with blood all over. After the role call, we were loaded up onto transport wagons and brought to Reval to be loaded upon ships. To our dismay, there was no ship for us, so they marched us on foot for a few hours to a field, where we camped out for several weeks. On the first night, we slept out in the open. Later, they brought boards, stuck them together into shelters as if for dogs. 10 12 people slept in such a shelter. We were brought back to Reval a few weeks later. That day, Jews from the various camps in Estonia arrived in Reval. We were all loaded onto transport ships. We arrived in Danzig, after three consecutive of days of travel without a piece of bread or a sip of water. There, we were loaded onto small boats. It was so crowded that it was impossible to sit, so we crowded together standing. We were certain that they would take us to the depths of the sea to drown us. However, we reached land in the morning. After walking some distance on foot, we arrived at a large concentration camp called Stutthof. This was true hell. We were not taken to work, but rather tortured randomly. First, they sent us to bathe. Before entering the bath, the doctor examined us to see if we had any gold or precious stone. (The gold and furs were already taken from us in 1941.) After that, the SS. woman shouted at us to open our mouths, so she could check if we had anything under our tongues. She also checked under our arms. We washed up. Simple, torn clothes were distributed. We were cold in those clothes, so we did not hurry to go out early in the morning for role call. Then the S. S. women attached hoses to the taps and poured cold water upon us so that we would run to role call. We stood at role call for several hours despite the cold. Then everyone was distributed a slice of bread the food for the day. We were not allowed to enter the bunk, so we sat outside all day. There was another role call at noon. After that, we were given some foul water upon which was floating some vegetable or a piece of beet. We ate the solid part with our hands, and we drank the liquid from the bowl. There was sand beneath the bowl. Sometimes, there were some leftovers after the distribution. This would be distributed. Sometimes, women struggled for the leftovers, but the distributors hit them over the head with the mixing spoons until blood came from their heads. One woman was left with a wound in the shape of a spoon on her forehead, which was dripping blood. There was another role call in the evening that lasted for hours (3 role calls a day). Once, as I was trembling from cold at the time of the role call, I placed my hands under my arms to warm them. Immediately, the S. S. rained blows upon me.
A selection took place in Stutthof every day. A large number of army men appeared, and all of the women had to pass by them as naked as on the day of their birth.
The army men would check them appropriately. If a wound or blemish were found on someone, they would be separated to be brought to be burnt. I passed through several selections. From there, transports were sent to hard labor. They chose the young ones and those with strong muscles. I also was sent with a group of 300 women. We were sent to the Roshin camp near Danzig. Before we went, we were taken to the bath, and clothing was distributed. Each person received a shirt, a pair of underwear, a dress, a coat, a kerchief for the head, a pair of socks and a pair of clogs. They told us that they had dressed us for two years. The appearance of this camp was like that of the rest of the camps, fenced with wire, and carefully guarded. There were blocks of bunks with hard beds, and a warm bath. The 300 women were divided into groups for hard physical labor. Some of them changed railway posts, a very difficult task. Two women were required to prepare six posts a day. They had to loosen the screws, remove the stones from around the posts so that we could remove them, replace them with new posts, screw them in, and strengthen them with filler stones. A train passed by in the evening to check if the work was done properly that there were no vibrations as the train moved.
Another group worked in building, in the loading and unloading of bricks and cement. They had to prepare the building materials. I worked in building. This work was easier than the railway work. Another benefit was that British prisoners worked at this task, and they would receive packages from the Red Cross. The prisoners would send us a little bit of food and letters of support every day, encouraging us that our suffering would not last much longer. This eased our suffering. Ten women worked at this place. An S. S. woman guarded us. The work director was an elderly German from the simple folk. He would serve as a gobetween between us and the British. He distributed the packages in such a manner that the S. S. woman would not notice. The women who worked in changing the posts fell like flies. Already having been previously tortured, and with inadequate food, they could not carry out the work. The supervisor would list the weak ones, and every two weeks they would be sent to Stutthof. Some strong ones were also sent.
In the meantime, the months of December 1944 and January 1945 approached the months of cold. Since we were wearing light clothes, we tried to wrap ourselves with think blankets beneath the dresses, which was forbidden. When the S. S. women detected this, she imposed a collective punishment onto the entire camp. That day, no food was distributed in the camp. There were many such days. Later, they sent us coats. My coat was a Hassidic kapote. Then, a typhus epidemic broke out in Stutthof, and it was impossible to send out the women to work on the posts. Then the building women were sent to work on the posts. I worked in the Danzig station (Langfrau). I felt my energy dwindling day by day. One day, two of us had to collect the iron grates. My partner had no strength, so we only carried a small amount of iron. The S. S. woman noticed this, and slapped us both over the face, without paying attention to the civilians in the station. After a short time, I stopped working, for I had no more energy to screw crews, and my feet would no longer carry me.
In the meantime, the Russian front approached, and they transferred us from this place. We walked on foot the entire day. We slept in a barn at night. Thus did we walk from village to village. In the morning, they would distribute a dish made out of potato peels at the place we encamped. That was all for the day.
Thus did we travel for two weeks. We finally camped at a small camp near a village. We did not work. However, we almost had nothing to eat except for a small piece of bread for two days. If we stood near the fence, sometimes a piece of bread would be tossed at us. However, the camp director and the S. S. women did not permit us to stand near the fences. Once, a piece of bread was thrown to me over the fence. People realized this, and the starving women gathered around me, fell upon me, tore off my kapote, pushed me to the ground, and wanted to take the piece of bread by force. I struggled with them, and during the wrestling, the piece of bread broke apart, so neither they nor I had it. We nevertheless remained friendly, because this was only due to hunger.
We went to sleep as usual on March 9, 1945. They woke us up at night and commanded us to continue walking. A heavy guard watched over us, made up more of policemen than women. The road was full of army people and weapons. We thought that they would shortly shoot us. They brought us into a barn. We slept. In the morning we saw women not from among us sleeping. Some of them were ill with typhus. They told us that they had been resting in this manner for six weeks, and some of them had died. A terrifying scene was standing before us. Later, the head of our camp came to comfort us, telling us that we would not remain there on account of the filth and illness. Since we were clean and healthy, he promised that we would continue along our way in the morning after breakfast. Two hours passed. Suddenly we realized that our guards had disappeared. We looked around. The roads were full of tanks, including Russian ones. This was on March 10, and it was near the city of Lenburg. We were confounded at this sight. We did not rejoice, for we were certain that after what we had seen over the past few months, with the streets covered with corpses (these were people who died along the way), what would be the chances of finding our families? Very slim. Nevertheless, we did not remain in the barn. We went to the village. The Russians gave us food and drink.
We remained in Germany for a month without doing anything. After that we, a group of women from Poland, set out toward Poland. We arrived in Warsaw on May 1. We registered with the central committee. They gave us addresses of ruined houses where we would be able to sleep on the floor. Thus it was. We slept on the floor. We ate the leftovers of what we had brought from Germany and searched for family. I traveled to Bialystok a few times hoping that I would meet someone. To my dismay, Svisloch was within the borders of Russia and Bialystok was within the borders of Poland, so it was difficult to get to Svisloch. I returned to Warsaw. They advised me to work at a Jewish children's shelter in Otwock. I received work. At first, they did not receive satisfactory effort from me. I was lacking in strength. They had a proper director, Bilicka Blum, whose husband had fallen in the Warsaw Ghetto. She and her two children were saved, as they disguised themselves as Aryans. She realized my situation, and ordered me to eat and drink in order to first regain my strength. That is what I did. I regained my health, and worked there until August 1946. I could not longer live in Poland, since I saw the Jewish destruction at every footstep. I decided to travel to Israel and to live among Jews. I put a bag on my back, stole over the PolishCzech border, and later over the Austrian border. I arrived at Bad Reichnhall in Germany. Incidentally, when I was in Otwock, I wrote to the magistrate in Svisloch to ask about my family. I received and answer that my parents had been killed in the Vishvinik Factory, and my sisters were sent to Volkovisk, and from there to Treblinka or Auschwitz with the rest of them. In Germany, I traveled to Berchtesgaden, Hitler's residence. I enjoyed looking at the ruins, with a feeling of revenge. There was no remnant of the evil den.
Photo page 129 right: Yafa Drancinska of blessed memory.
Photo page 129 Right: Bami Serlin.
by Moshe Rubin
… I lived in Svisloch before the war, and I owned a tannery in partnership with Mendel Wiganski (MendelPesile's). I was married and a father of children. My parents, three brothers and three sisters also lived in this town. They were all married, and all of them had families. Einstein, the husband of my youngest sister, was sent to Siberia by the Bolsheviks. He survived and lives in Tel Aviv. All of the rest perished.
I was in Svisloch during the Nazi invasion of Poland. Svisloch fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks. They nationalized my factory and appointed me as technical supervisor. I remained in this position for a few months. I was then fired, despite the fact that I was needed by them as a professional. They did this in order to demonstrate to the workers that they were distancing the owner from his factory. After that, I obtained a position as an accounting director in Volkovisk. From there, I was transferred to Pisk, and from there finally to the estate of Borisovchizna near Luna, in the division of military aviation.
The Nazis bombarded us at dawn on June 22, 1941. The son of Shlomka Michaelkers of Svisloch worked as a barber in this division. The civilians fled to the fields when they bombarded the airport. During this, I met the aforementioned. As I was talking to him, I expressed my opinion that if the Bolsheviks would be defeated, it would be appropriate to accompany them on their retreat to Russia. His answer was, You do not know the Bolsheviks, I am afraid of them.
The army announced to us that every citizen is permitted to retreat with the Russians. I agreed to this, and the son of Shlomka remained there.
Thus, I traveled with the Russians. We suffered difficulties along the way, for the Germans pursued us. Nevertheless, we succeeded in breaking through the way. I worked in the division that served the frontal aviation as a citizen. I was a storekeeper in the army kitchen. This situation continued until August, 1941.
After that, they drafted me and sent me to the brigade that was camped in the field near Moscow. After the brigade completed its formation, it was sent to the front. Our brigade acted as a veterinary clinic about 50 kilometers behind the front. We would administer first aid to the horses, and afterward send them to be decapitated.
The Germans advanced quickly, and the front came within a few kilometers of us within several days. To my good fortune, I did not fall into the hands of the Germans with my brigade, for before that, I was sent (on October 3, 1941) along with five other soldiers to accompany several wagonloads of injured horses to the hospital in Tula. I was not able to return to the brigade, for it had been captured by the enemy.
They then began to arrange new formations from the remnants of the captured brigades. During the months of October and November, 1941, I was in a brigade that stood behind Moscow. Finally, I was enlisted in a brigade of several hundred soldiers who came from regions that had formerly been part of Poland and of Germans that were Soviet citizens. All of these were considered as inappropriate to serve on the front. All of us were sent to a work group in Siberia. The trip took about a month. We reached Shadrinsk in the region of Sversdlovsk. The cold was particularly harsh. We were transferred a distance of 100 kilometers into the forest on winter wagons. Bunks were prepared for us there. After two days, our division was sent to cut down trees in the forest. I and a few others were assigned as accountants in the office.
We had very difficult times in Siberia. We half starved in the first year. Afterward, our condition improved slightly until the salvation arrived at the end of the war. We were then permitted to return to Poland. On March 13, 1946, I left the village where I had lived for 4 ¼ years. There was no means of transportation. I set out on foot to the station at Shadrinsk in the harsh cold (a distance of 100 kilometers). From there, on March 18, I joined a group that was gong to Poland. On April 15, the eve of Passover, the group arrived to Chozhov (in the region of Kharkov). At the station, I heard that there was a possibility of joining up with a kibbutz, which would enable me to make aliya to the Land. I submitted a request, and was accepted t the kibbutz of Hanoar Hatzioni.
That night, we conducted a lovely Seder. For the previous several years, I was unable to do so. I did not even know when the holiday of Passover was.
I tarried a few months in Poland. I set out with the group on July 1946. We crossed the border to Germany in an illegal manner. We were delayed in the British Zone, and we only arrived at the American Zone at the beginning of October, 1946.
I worked as the secretary of Hanoar Hatzioni in Munich, Germany. I lived in Rotshveiga near Munich. This was an estate where Jewish youths trained in agricultural work. There I met my wife, who had spent the war in a camp in Czechoslovakia, and was liberated by the Russians.
In Germany I received help from America, sent by the generous activist Avraham Ayin, who searched for the survivors of our town and provided them with the necessary aid. I will never forget the material help and spiritual encouragement that we received in those days.
We arrived in Israel on October 10. My wife and I obtained work in an educational institution.
We are satisfied as Israeli citizens. Our desire is that we will not be disturbed in the development of our small country.
Photo page 134: Sara Ayin (in Canada), Moshe Rubin (in Israel), Yehuda Serlin and Anshel Anchins who perished.
by Yacov Panter
February 6, 1958
Dear friend, Ein,
I was enjoying very much reading your answer. It was also a big joy to read such a good Yiddish. I am ready to answer you herewith, on your questions.
You asked me what was my job as an announcer. In the DP camps, there were two committees. One was from the survivors and the other one was from the UNRA, that means the American authorities. Because we did not have any Jewish print available right after the war, a department was created to be able to read the news to the camp's people aloud through a microphone. With the permission of the UNRA we told the people news from the world and also news from the camp. We had an editor whose responsibility was to the UNRA.
You must understand the kind of situation we were in right after the war. Some of our people were just not like normal people yet after the Holocaust. On some people the camps left psychological marks more than on others. I have to admit that right after liberation none of us was normal 100% at liberation time if you let a man out of a cage where he was starving, was dirty like an animal and let him free from slavery.
We wound up being free and not so free. We found ourselves living in camps originally built for the German army and where German soldiers lived until the last minute. The camp was fenced around with one gate for coming and leaving, guarded by an American patrol. This was not yet full freedom. I can remember once I decided to leave the camp and go downtown. I asked for permission. They wouldn't give it to me and not explaining to me why not. Once I decided to climb over the fence where the fence is low. While climbing, I heard some shots. The guards were shooting. I could have been easily killed by a bullet after liberation, just for wanting to be on the other side of the fence. There is quite a bit to tell of how the liberators behaved to us after liberation. The liberators worried that we should not encounter German people. They complained that the Jews take their milk and butter away.
Herewith I am writing you answers on your questions; I lived in Warsaw with my family, my wife, of blessed memory and my dear two little girls, one girl age 6, and the other 2 years old. The picture of my family when the Germans separated us is always before my eyes. I was together with my family just until 1941. The first day of the Hebrew month of Av when Germany attacked Poland, Warsaw would not surrender and the fighting lasted a few more weeks. We could feel already the smell of the barbarians but also hoped impatiently for an end to the fighting. On top of the bombraids, there was also a big shortage of food supplies. For a drink of water we had to reach the Vistula River. Hell for us Jews began as soon as the Germans occupied Warsaw. We also had to take care of the Jews from the surrounding small towns. We also had many refugees from the big city of Lodz to take care of. From all directions, people were eager to come to Warsaw. All the sufferings we went through is hard to write down on a piece of paper. We have the German atrocities and bad treatment by our own Polish gentiles.
A short time after the occupation we could move around freely but not for long. The murderers organized and started a Ghetto. The Ghetto had been surrounded with a brick wall in a small part of the old Jewish neighborhood. Any Jew found outside the Ghetto walls was shot on the spot. The problem of starvation, epidemics and death was spreading fast. This went on until the day of Lamentation in the year 1941. One morning on a Wednesday, Poles showed up on the streets telling us that all Jews from Warsaw would be transported to the East. Nobody did understand the meaning of it, but next day train loads packed with Jews left Warsaw for Treblinka and other Gaschambers. One thing we knew: that the transport did not go too far since next day the same cars with their numbers came back to Warsaw for another load.
My wife was taken away on the 8th day of the action, while I was sitting in a shop and working for the Germans. My working permit allowed me to say good bye to my wife and children at UmshlagPlats. That was the name of the place where from Jews were sent to their death in the Gas chambers. This is the way I continued my life in Warsaw for a year longer before the Ghetto uprising. At the time of the uprising I was hiding with another 60 people in a small room on the 6th floor. When the Germans found out about the hiding place, they set fire to the whole building. With big effort, we were able to escape with our life through the roof, but we were all caught. Half of us were shot right away and the rest of us were driven to the UmschlagPlatz and from there to the death camp in Budzen, Poland. In Budzen I stayed for one year. The war front came closer and closer. We had to take apart what we built, an airplane factory. After that, they sent us to Lublin to work in an ammunition factory. In Lublin, we wouldn't stay for long because the murderers had to retreat west. Unexpectedly, one morning they pushed us into railroad cars and transported us into Germany. We have no idea where we were going. For a time we were going from one camp to another all around Dachau. We worked hard as slave labor. Every day we had victims who died, up to the day the Americans liberated us, May 1st 1945. We were an contingent of 3000 people. The plan was to get us somewhere farther. We had no idea where to. We were sure they would finish us off. We counted the minutes before liberation. My family was no different than the rest the Jewish people.
I tried to begin to get in touch with survivors of my extended family. I remembered my sister's address in Canada. Through a Jewish serviceman in the American army I let my sister know that I'm one who survived from my whole family. There was also another way my sister found out that I survived. After the liberation, the Americans put us survivors in a camp. Landsberg, was its name close to Munich. Once came through that camp the Jewish brigade, which was organized in then Palestine. In the Brigade was a man who was my sister's son, Yacov Golner. While he was sitting on his tank and waving to us, he recognized me in the crowd. You can imagine our joy. He stayed with me only one day. This was the second way to inform my sister that I survived the war. Also you my dear friend Ein, I won't forget you as long as I live. The joy I had when I received a package from you. At that time the feeling that somebody in the world is concerned about me is not describable, this I will never forget.
In Landsberg I stayed about 2 years until my family did everything for me to be able to immigrate to Canada. I married here and settled here and made a nice living, but was never happy. The memories of my past gave me no peace of mind. I always see my family before my eyes, and there is not a minute passing by without seeing them.
This is a short story of my past adventures. I would write a lot more, but my nerves and patience are in the way.
Be well, and regards to your family. Your friend, Yacov Panter.
by The Editor
Photo page 140: The activist Avraham Ayin of blessed memory.
As we were editing the book, we received the sad news of the death of Avraham Ayin, after many years of disability.
The heart that beat throughout the years in the fullest sense has stopped. He would answer the call of any of the natives of our city, from all sides. The mind cannot imagine the full tapestry of interwoven lost threads during the era of the rescue. His heart and mind were all that were left in the years following his paralysis. These stood for him in his difficult struggle to find the farflung people and to offer them support, compassion, and assistance in living.
His arena of endeavor was among the circles of the natives of our town. He did not seek fame despite his expertise in expression.
The generosity of his heart flowed from the wellspring of the most fundamental and natural love. His feelings grew from roots that were not spread out wide, but were of utmost depth in their place of growth. His family, relatives and childhood friends, who shared their breath in the pure, aromatic atmosphere of the shady forests, together gathered the sounds of the song of depression and weeping. They together heard the stories of the mighty ones of Israel from ancient Biblical times, and joined them together in the chain of holy martyrs who were murdered in Sanctification of the Name of Gd.
Why not the breadths and far off places? In his town he found the actualization of the good and fine, the strength of spirit and fine traits, of willful effort, of Torah and Jewish wisdom, of yearnings and longing for redemption, of sacrifice and mutual assistance, and finally of the Jewish tragedy of the lamb brought to slaughter. His small town was a microcosm of the entire Diaspora. If you look into it through a magnifying glass, you see the entire Diaspora, with all of its shadows and lights the straightforward Jewish soul, in its pride and oppression.
Through poverty and want, without stamps for letters, he forged connections with Holocaust survivors. He not only brought them encouragement, but also actual assistance.
His soul was the most noble of the souls of the righteous, afflicted generation that were oppressed with persecutions, with paralyzed limbs, as if to further express the sublimity of the soul, the nobility, and the strength of spirit that overcomes the flesh.
May his memory be etched in this modest corner of the Yizkor book of our beloved town, and may his deeds serve as an example for his generation and for future generations.
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