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Escape from the Abyss

by Ben-Tsion Rosenberg

By August 1939 it was difficult to maintain the illusion that there would not be a war. On Friday, September 1st, there was no longer any doubt; the war and its horrors were already raging before our very eyes. The Jews called that day “Black Friday.” Saturday I was looking for a way to get home to Szydlowiec from Lodz, where I had been working. But all the roads were blocked. Tuesday we heard the call on the radio: All young men must try to get to Warsaw. Wednesday I met three other Szydlowiecers – Yosel Hoch's two sons and Taybe Farber's son-in-Law, who also were working in Lodz. We decided to try to get home together.

It was a perilous journey. German planes were bombing the roads. On the way I met Yosl Ackerman (now in Israel) and Lieberbaum, both from Szydlowiec. They took me to their

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army unit, gave me a loaf of bread and told me to keep running, because even the Polish army was in full retreat. So we kept on running. And then, one awful night, both Hoch brothers were killed.

During our flight we developed blisters on our feet, and having no way to heal them, they became more and more painful. As if to spite us, the heat during the golden Polish autumn was merciless. Evenings turned cool and we slept in the fields.

The highway to Warsaw has been cut. The main roads were being used by the military. The first German tanks rolled into view: they were frightful. Farber's son-in-law and I decided to head to Biala-Rowske. We arrived there on a Friday night. The Jews there made us welcome, but the general mood was low. We rested only a few hours; we wanted to get to Szydlowiec as soon as possible.

On the road we were stopped by German soldiers who asked us if we had seen any Polish tanks. I said no. My companion said yes. The soldiers started to beat me, but luckily the tanks appeared at that moment and they let me go.

Sunday, we got to Radom, where I looked up an uncle of mine. They found clothing for us; by that time, whatever we were wearing was dirty and torn. The Jews there were in a panic; the Germans were settling in there as if they were planning to stay a long time. They advised us to keep on going. By the time we go to Szydlowiec we were utterly exhausted.

Everyone was happy to see me, of course; it was a miracle that I was still alive, but they were still worried about my father, whom the Poles had taken away somewhere. It was a day of miracles, however. My father also came home – precisely at midnight. His trip home had also been a dangerous one, but there he was, despite everything. There was still a great concern for my sister Noche in Warsaw.

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The brown destroyer was tightening his tentacles around my native shtetl. The new rules were few in number, but they immediately started issuing decrees that embittered the lives of the Jews. The first order established a 6 p.m. curfew for Jews, violation of which was punishable by death. The first victim of this order was Krupter's son, who was shot not far from his home. This murder had a shattering effect on us, but death soon became a very frequent visitor to our doomed community.

The Nazis quickly stopped up the sources of our livelihood. We now had to go to great lengths to earn enough only for basic necessities. My mother started baking bread to sell. It was now a dangerous occupation, but what else could we do? The entire burden soon fell on me. This artist became a smuggler. I began making trips to Radom, Warsaw, Skarzysko and other cities, buying and selling things at great risk to my life. Necessity does not permit the luxury of being afraid.

Late in November came the decree ordering all Jews from 18 to 45 to register with the authorities. Since I wasn't recorded in the population lists of Szydlowiec, I didn't go to register. The whole registration business threw everyone into a panic, because they knew it was a list for forced labor.

A Judenrat was organized, with Morgenbesser as chairman. I don't want to say too much about him, good or bad, especially since he is no longer alive. Working with him in the Judenrat was Abraham Finkler, Moshe Berger, Moshe Milstein, Hirsh Vester and others. They were hardly in an enviable position – between the hammer and the rock – but they did do some laudable things. Not all of them. But to paint a totally black picture makes no sense either.

I recall an incident when the Germans were holding captured soldiers of the former Polish army in the brewery. Among them were many Jews, including a few Szydlowiecers. At the risk of life they were provided with food and clothing. Some of them were released, to prevent them from being sent

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to Germany for slave labor. It was done just in time. A week later would have been too late.

Early in the winter of 1940 we heard that a ghetto was being established in Lodz. Our family decided to bring Uncle Benjamin Rosenberg to Szydlowiec, thinking that life would be easier for him here. I engaged a Polish driver to take me to Lodz. The Jews there were frightened and dejected by the news about the ghetto. Walking through the streets of Lodz and trying to avoid Gentile eyes, I bumped into Yitzhok Moro. (He lived on the “Aryan side” and was not wearing the yellow badge.) He was afraid to be seen talking to me, so we had a very brief conversation. All my efforts to get my family out of Lodz ended in failure.

At home we continued our daily struggle with privation. Transports of Jews from Lodz and Starchowicz kept arriving. Among the Lodzers was a close relative of ours whom we took in. The Nazi destroyer was insatiable. Suddenly he decided to open various work places outside Szydlowiec, for which he needed hands. I tried to avoid the dragnet, but in order to get a food card I had to register with the Jewish community. So in August 1940, I reported for a physical examination in the nail factory on Sodec Street. Many young fellows in Szydlowiec “got married” at that time, hoping to be excused from the labor quotas, but that was just another one of our illusions. Most of these young people were rounded up.

I did get a letter from the Judenrat stating that I was the sole breadwinner in the family, which got me a temporary reprieve. Several others were excused for the same reason, plus a few for illness. All the others were taken to Juzefow and Apole to dry out the swamps – about 900 people in all. The Freedman brothers later escaped from Apole.

Conditions in the ghetto soon resulted in various diseases, most widespread of which were dysentery and typhus. There wasn't a family in which someone wasn't sick. In Notte

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Eisenberg's school and in the Haknoses Orkhim they set up a hospital of sorts. This eased the situation a little, but there were hardly any medicines. People died every day of these diseases. My sister Reyzl fell ill, but we were able to pull her through.

From the young people who had been sent away came very sad letters. Their families ran to the Judenrat for help, but they were really powerless in this situation. At the end of the year many returned, sick, dirty, starving. Their families made superhuman efforts to save them.

The work kept getting harder. The head of the Judenrat labor office was Notte Rosenbaum's son. His job was a very difficult one. We kept hearing that the situation in other towns was even worse. The bet evidence of that was that Jews from other places kept coming to Szydlowiec to live.

In June 1941, when the Nazi-Soviet war erupted, we fed ourselves on false illusions. The Russians would deal the Germans such a heavy blow that they would forget all about the Jews. But of course we were wrong. First the Nazis battered the Russians, then they began terrorizing the Jews even worse than before. But in those June days many Szydlowiec Jews who had run to the Soviet side came back. They told us that life there hadn't been a bed of roses for them. Some were emotionally shattered because they had believed that in the land of the Bolsheviks, justice reigned supreme. They learned otherwise.

The Germans were very methodical in their extermination policy. Autumn 1941 they set up a ghetto in Szydlowiec. It was not separated by walls but by signs which threatened Jews with dire punishment if they took one step outside the designated areas. This threw a pall over everyone because it cut off our last source of income. Jews were forbidden to go into the countryside. Poles, however, were allowed into the ghetto.

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They used the opportunity to exchange minimal food products for a maximum of cash and valuables.

Some Jews risked their lives – and lost them – in this deadly struggle for survival. It tied my hands too. Since I couldn't go into the villages and small towns, our only source of income left was the “bakery.” In the attic we ground the little bit of grain that we obtained at the risk of life, and at night we baked it. We trembled at every sound. Death lurked in every corner.

In Szydlowiec there was a gang of young Poles, headed by Plaskato's son, who often attacked us and stole our bread. One night, as my father stood working at the oven, they knocked at our door. He went outside, all perspired, to see what they wanted. It was a cold night and he caught pneumonia. A few days later he was dead a natural death. My mother never recovered from the shock.

The Germans kept trying to increase the number of slave laborers in their arms factory at Skarzysko. From Szydlowiec alone they sent truckloads of workers, among them my sister Reyzl. She became ill there and after several weeks came home so weak she couldn't stand up. The letters that came from there were bitter and tear-soaked. We knew that the situation was intolerable, but could do nothing about it.

In Szydlowiec itself things continued to worsen. Many began envying those who had been sent to Skarzysko. They even tried to bribe certain officials to send them there or to Starchovicz. But it didn't help. The Nazi noose was tightening around our necks; sooner or later it would strangle us.

In mid-summer 1942 we started getting news from the Warsaw ghetto which made it clear that all these “resettlements” led only to horrible deaths. Motl Fishman's son-in-law, who had an “Aryan” look, stole out of the Warsaw ghetto, came to Szydlowiec and told us stories that left everyone in a state of shock. His dreadful news went from

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mouth to mouth and convinced everyone that the same fate awaited them.

My sister Noche and her husband were in the Warsaw ghetto. I later learned that they both perished in the uprising, at Mila 53.

On Rosh Hashona we held services in private homes, but it was more a spasmodic weeping than “davnen.” The Unesaneh Toykef was no longer a prayer but an accurate description of the thousand deaths that threatened every Jew, old and young. From Radom and Zwolin we heard that the deportation had already taken place there. The biggest optimists among us still had sparks of hope that we would be spared this fate, but people looked at them as though they were out of their minds.

The Ten Days of Penitence became Ten Days of Mourning for what was past and what lay ahead. During the Kol Nidre prayer you could hear the sound of weeping all the way out in the streets. Jews mechanically wished each other “good year” but no one believed that we would still be alive next year. Everyone was certain that for us it was our last holy day on earth.

The day after Yom Kippur – it was Tuesday, September 22nd – we were still baking bread in our bakery, we still lived with the illusion that Succos we would still be in Szydlowiec, but the fates were mocking us. Three o'clock in the morning the church bells started. Jewish and Polish police burst into Jewish homes with the news: by 8 o'clock that morning everyone must be at the haymarket. We were permitted to take along our personal belongings.

The entire ghetto was surrounded by Ukrainian and Lithuanian guards. The air was split by the heartrending weeping of old and young. People dressed their crying children in the dark. Our neighbors came and took the unbaked bread from the oven. Our shtetl had become a gehennum beyond the power of human description.

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Several days earlier Yankl Stolasz and I had decided to prepare a hiding-place in our cellar. We had stored bread, water and other food there. In this new “apartment” were my mother, my sisters Dvora and Reyzl, Noche's little girl and Yankl's family.

Around seven o'clock in the morning we heard a barrage of gunshots in the street. Ukrainian and Lithuanian fascists were running wildly through the streets looking for Jews. Later we learned that they shot Ita Shterbatsky, who had returned to Szydlowiec for her jewelry. The streets were strewn with Jewish dead.

Our hiding-place became a real veil of tears. We suffered the pain of all the others. We could see what was happening outside; it was like a nightmarish film. I could hear Saul Wolkasz's sick wife – who was unable to get to the haymarket – pleading with a Lithuanian guard for mercy. H promptly put a bullet in her head.

At eight o'clock a great silence descended on Szydlowiec, the silence of a cemetery. In the cellar, we thought we were the only Jews who were hiding. Later we learned that some 300 Jews were doing the same thing.

Around five in the afternoon we saw Jews being beaten outside Plaskota's orchard; their cries must have reached heaven.

There had not been enough room in the trains for all the Jews, so the Germans had taken half to the station and half to the castle.

That night my mother asked me to go up into the house for some water and a few other things. But there was nothing left except a coating of feathers. The Poles had come in and taken everything.

Our “courier” was Yankl Stolasz's young son, who had an “Aryan look.” He went out and brought us back bits of news – the Jews are surrounded by an S.S. cordon; for a drink of water

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People are paying thousands of zlotys. On the third day the Jews were deported, but hundreds were shot or simply died of pain and exhaustion.

In the cellar we were enveloped by a feeling of horror. Mother wept, complained that we should have gone with all the others. Her fear mounted when she realized that Poles were ransacking the house, sometimes directly outside the cellar door. The Jewish police were running through the buildings shouting: “Jews, come out of your hiding-places, no one will be hurt!” This tactic worked; many did come out. We had decided not to do so, but some Poles discovered our cellar. If we gave them all our valuables, they promised not to inform on us, but they went straight to the S.S. The S.S. came but did not shoot us or even beat us. They took us to Pinkert's “block” in the old sawmill. Several hundred other Jews were there, mostly from Szydlowiec. They could barely stand on their feet.

An auto full of Germans arrived. The rumor was that in exchange for a thousand zlotys they would take us all to Starachowce, but no one really believed it. We were sure it was just another Nazi trick. We stayed at Pinkert's until the death march began.

Twenty Polish farm-wagons arrived, guarded by S.S. armed to the teeth. We had to be out of there in half an hour. The old and the sick were put in the wagons. The rest of us walked toward Skarzysko. I took a last look at my birthplace as I choked down the tears. I was ashamed to raise my eyes and look at my mother or my sisters. I felt everything sinking beneath my feet, especially the human species. Only the Jewish police, about fifty of them, stayed behind; among them I recall Yitzhok Milstein, Abraham Shadman, and Notte Broitman.

The Jews of Skarzysko already knew their fate – and ours. The newly arrived victims were quartered in the synagogue and in private homes. That night no one slept. The process was repeated. Five in the morning the ghetto was

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surrounded. By seven o'clock everyone had to lay his neck on that alter the Nazis called “umschlagplatz.” The Anger of Death began his work. The “selection managers” chose 150 healthy-looking men and women for “special work.” No one in our family had the privilege of being chosen for that group . . .

From a distance I could see them herding Szydlowiecers into the cattle-cars, among them I recognized Hannah Moro, Yitzhok's sister.

A few minutes before they put us into the trains my mother begged me tearfully to join the “special group.” Here words had a ghostly sound: “Let at least one of us remain alive. Don't stand here, my son. Go with them!” Then I heard the cries of Noche's child. They paralyzed my mind. They engraved themselves so deeply in my memory that I never forgot them. I ran to the “special group.” My sister Reyzl followed me. No one stopped us, no one said a word.

As I stood among the “lucky” ones, I managed to get a look at my mother, my sister Dvora and Noche's child. At eleven o'clock the death train moved. It was Simchas Torah. “Simcha!”

* * *

In the camp at Skarzysko they put us to work on various jobs. Reyzl was sent to “Project C.” I was chosen by Wachfuchrer Hass and his Jewish assistant, Jacob, to work in “Project B.” There I met Chayele Freedman, Feyga and Leah Schwartzfinger (grandchildren of Shmuel Yankl.). I immediately made efforts to have Reyzl brought to my workplace, but to no avail. I learned that she was working with a dangerous gas called Picryn, but she never lived to die a natural death. When I discovered, a month later, that the Nazis had shot her, I broke down completely. I knew instinctively that I was now the only one in our family still in the hands of the murderer.

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My job was loading and unloading trucks, under the supervision of a Polish foreman who had worked here before the war. In this hell he was an angel. Thanks to him I survived.

Most of the Jews worked in munitions factories where the foremen were animals in human form. I still remember some of their names: Leidik, Stein, Kroner, Meshner, Hering, Pawlowski and his son. The worst of them were Leidik and Stein. Their victims were living corpses with dead eyes. Every worker had a norm to fill. Failure to do so resulted in beatings. Hass, who ran the camp, came in every day with his dog and issued his orders. Commandants were Jacob, Sigmund and a young woman from Suchedenyew (near Kielce). Her name was Renna. The commander of the Jewish police was a man named Yermelev (from Radom). He and Sigmund were a pair of merciless brutes who enjoyed tormenting their victims.

During the winter I worked at unloading potatoes. My foreman, Laskowski, pretended not to notice how I was “organizing” the potatoes (putting a couple of them into my pockets.) this was a highly dangerous thing to do, but the will to live is stronger than the fear of death. It happened once that a Ukrainian guard saw me take a potato. He started dragging me over toward the barbed wire. I resisted, because that meant certain death – the guards had orders to shoot anyone seen in that area. Finally he took me to the guardhouse, where they gave me a beating. It was not enough, however, to stop me from doing it again.

The situation grew even worse when the camp chiefs thought up a “simpler” way to kill us – they took small groups of inmates into the woods and shot them. It fell to my lot to be chosen for the group in Laskowski's unit that became the gravediggers. We were given only a few hours to dig the graves. Our guards were Ukrainians who speeded us up with their rifle butts. Then they drove the victims to the ditches and

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Shot them. In one such “action” I recognized Miriam Freedman and a son of Beyla Barkess.

This work unnerved me completely. I dreamt continuously about the wretched figures of the murdered Jews. I stopped “organizing” the potatoes. I moved about like a shadow, waiting for the end.

Around that same time, Commander Yermelov of the Jewish police was in a constant rage. We called him “the tiny prize-fighter.” My tortured spirit burned with hatred for him. I could not understand how a Jew, of his own free will, could torment his own brothers this way. However, this too passed. One day he was “demoted” and sent to work in munitions factory. A few weeks later he was barely recognizable.

We lived to have the same revenge on Weizhandler, a sadistic foreman. If he had a grudge against you, that was the end. We lived in mortal fear of him. Laskowski and I used to discuss ways of rendering him harmless. We succeeded in having him sent to Leidik's unit, where he quickly broke down. One day he sidled over to our section and sobbed: “What did I ever do to anyone?” I blew up and told him to thank G-d we even let him live, because for what he had done he deserved hanging.

With us also was Aaron Shichter, a Bund activist in Szydlowiec. At the end of 1943 the Nazis put him in the unit that was working with the gas. He was in touch with the underground socialist movement, which sent money to him in the camp. We noticed that he started looking a little better. In 1944 he escaped to the forest, where he fell victim to a Nazi bullet, as did many of his comrades.

In 1944 we started hearing about the victories of the Russians and the Allied armies. This news raised our spirits a little, but in July of that year the Germans began liquidating the camp. They sent transports of workers to Germany and to Czestochowa. My transport stopped at Radomsk, where I met

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Shmuel Freedman and Moshe Kupersberg. We were sent to one place where we worked three days digging trenches to block the advance of the Russian tanks.

The cooler Elul days arrived. Despite all our troubles we knew it was Rosh Hashona. In a barn, where we slept after work, we crowded together and quietly repeated the prayers which a rabbi recited from memory. The same thing happened on Yom Kippur. Actually we wept silently rather than “davened.” We didn't know whom to memorialize – the dead or those who were still living in this hell.

In November we finished the work on the trenches. They sent about 500 men to Szenstochowa, the rest to Leipzig. I was again put in Laskowski's group and we immediately set up a mill to grind potatoes. We didn't stay there long, however. The Russians were already breathing down the necks of the Germans. Another evacuation to Germany, every day another group. Meanwhile they locked us in a barracks. In the “infirmary” I met my townsmen Yehiel Stark, more dead than alive. I did everything I could to save him, but it was too late. He expired like a slaughtered pigeon.

Our camp was liquidated in two days. January 18, 1945 half the inmates were sent to Germany. On the way I met Bendet Katz's brother and son, former Jewish police. The Nazis packed a hundred men into a car. It was a long ride to Gliwice, and from there to Buchenwald, where I met Reuben Shadman, Moshe Cooperschmidt and others. Bendet Katz's brother was also there. After a trial, the Jewish underground sentenced him to death for his crimes. His nephew tried to defend him, but he too fell victim to the Nazis, who were hardly interested in saving the lives of their former helpers. In Buchenwald the Jewish underground was more visible, but it still encompassed only a limited number of the Jews there.

After ten days in Buchenwald I was sent to the camp at Dora, where I worked in the munitions factory. Previously they

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had produced the secret weapons, “V I and 2,” but now there was nothing to do there, so the brown beasts found other “work” for us – moving rocks from one side of the camp to the other. Finally, when the Allied bombings became more and more frequent, they sent us to Bergen-Belsen.

That was on April 2nd. The weather was chilly, especially at night. The cattle cars were open. We had very little strength left; how we survived is hard to understand. Many did not. With staring eyes they continued to stand among the living, because there was no room for them to fall down. We had no fear of the dead, however; it was too familiar a sight for us by this time. Their faces were contorted into bizarre expressions. Often their hands were still resting on the living.

The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was crowded from one end to the other. The Germans drove us into attics with cement floors. Food was out of the question. We ate grass. We no longer did any work. Death was king here. We stepped over corpses. G-d was absent from Bergen-Belsen. Satan was everywhere. But on one there can be judged. The struggle for survival was too great for ordinary mortals.

Finally the long-awaited hour struck. British tanks rumbled into the camp. We were free.

Under the Nazi Boot

by Israel Friedman (Buenos Aires)

The first victim was Notte Richter, son of Zisl the butcher. They shot him near the Talmud Torah when they found him walking in the street one minutes after six. Following that, there was one victim after another.

Despite all the suffering, all the fear and pain, Jews went to the synagogue in the evening for Kol Nidre, at the risk of life. The next morning, the Germans routed all the Jews from

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their beds to sweep the streets around the city hall. Suddenly we noticed two Polish hoodlums running to the Germans and pointing to the Rabbi's house. A few minutes later the Nazis were herding a group of Jews into the street with the rabbi at the head; they were all carrying brooms. One S.S.-man went over to the rabbi and cut off half his beard with a scissors. As I watched, I felt as if he were cutting off one of my limbs.

After we had been sweeping for a while, they lined us up and led us all the way through town to the fish-market, where they kept us sweeping until they brought in another shtibl of Jews. Then they let us go. This continued all day long. Nevertheless, Jews again risked their lives and went to the synagogue for services.

At midnight, when everyone was asleep, we heard a banging on the shutters: All Jews must come out at once with buckets. We barely managed to get our clothes on. Out in the street, a blazing fire hit us in the face. The synagogue and the Talmud torah were in flames. The Germans had started the fire and then called us out to extinguish it. So we stood there, all the Jews in Szydlowiec, at the end of Yom Kippur, trying to put out the fire with buckets of water. That was our first Yom Kippur under the Nazi terror.

Not a week went by without its victims. One day, Henech Paperosnikov's son was selling cigarettes at the fair, naturally at a higher price than that set by the German authorities. A Folksdeutsch (his name was Bulner) noticed this and would have shot him, but the boy dropped his wares in the street and ran. Bulner became so enraged that he started shooting wildly in all directions. People scattered. I happened to be walking to the marketplace from the Shulgass when I heard a cry behind me: “Run! Bulner is going crazy!” I ducked into a building, ran up the steps and opened the first door I came to. I didn't even know who lived there. The windows were curtained. Through the cracks we could see the wild best running around

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with his machine-gun. Yehezkel Farber was coming out of Yosi's bakery with a loaf of bread in his hand. Bulner shot him on the spot. This was not enough for him, however. He still kept running around, looking for victims. Luckily, he found no one else and finally went over toward Radom Road. We breathed a little easier. But the next day, Henech's son had to report to the police. They shot him for his “crime.”

Episodes like these followed one after the other. I don't remember the exact dates, but he circumstances are burned into my memory. One day S.S.-man Mandel came from Radom with his aide, Swietko, to inspect Jewish homes. At Leybl Eisenberg's son-in-law's they found some leather. They arrested him and were about to shoot him when his father-in-law (Buzak) started pleading with them: “Take me instead, I'm an old man.” They obliged him and shot both Eisenberg and his son-in-law.

Another time Mandel and Swietko came to inspect the bakeries. At Dana Frankel's house (Perl Malkele's son) they found several loaves more than the “norm.” They took Dana, and his wife, and a neighbor (Zalman Fried's mother) into the courtyard and shot all three of them.

This went on until 1942, when they took hundreds of Szydlowiec Jews (I was one of them) and sent us to Skarzysko. Two years later they sent us to Czenstochowa, where we stayed until January 16, 1945, the day of our liberation. On that day the Christian population danced, rejoiced, looted – it was their liberation too. But I felt as if I had been reborn. The world looked completely different to me. I felt as if I were in a foreign country. It seemed as if every person who passed by was looked daggers at me, surprised that there was even one Jew still left alive.

After thinking about it for a few days, I decided to go home to Szydlowiec, hoping to find someone from my family. But where my parents' home had once stood, nothing remained

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but a pile of grass. The whole town looked like a cemetery. The handful of Szydlowiec Jews who were left – from the camps, from the hiding-places – wanted to settle in their home town again, but a few weeks later the poles in the Armia Krajowa decided that too many Jews survived the war. One night they started firing their weapons at us. Fortunately they didn't hit anyone. We felt that we couldn't stay there another day and fled to the larger cities, most of us to Lodz. That was the end of the beautiful kehilla once known as Szydlowiec.

I write these lines in memory of my dear parents, Moshe and Dina, and my two young brothers, Yudel and Yekutiel, whose lives were so brutally cut short by the Nazis.

Saved by a Well

by Moshe Kunovski

In order to avoid the continuing roundups in the ghetto, my brother-in-law Velvl devised a plan for a hiding-place in the well located in the courtyard of my father-in-law Abraham Charnes Wasserstein. We started working on it right away, digging a tunnel to a wall in the upper section of the wall, at a higher point than the surface of the water.

On the day of the first deportation we went down into the hiding-place early in the morning. There were 14 of us. We could not stay there very long, so half of us left this bunker one night and made our way to the camp at Wolonow. My brothers Sender, Shmuel, Avromele, and Yankele were there. After a few weeks the Germans carried out a selection and a mass execution. Most of the victims were Szydlowiecers, among them Zalman Salztreger, Rivka Kriss and her daughter, Velvl Wasserstein (my brother-in-law), Fishele Kurlander, Fishel Rabinowiecz, Shmuel Citrenbaum, Israel Schwarzfuter, Avrom Modzevietski, Shimon Blatman, Benjamin Levin, my brother

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Sender, Shiya Lederman, Yehezkel Lichtiker, Toybe Rosenbaum.

After the mass execution I escaped and went back to Szydlowiec where (according to the Germans) a “new ghetto” has been established. I soon realized that this was just another Nazi trap, so on the night of January 12, 1943 a group of us escaped – my brothers Avrom and Yankl, Aaron Sharfatz and his daughter (Toyba Rivka Nagelman) and a few others. For several days we hid in the barn of a friendly peasant in the village of Dligas. Then we had no choice but to go back to Wolonow, where we worked until the camp was liquidated in August 1943.

From there they deported us to Starchowicz, where my three brothers and I worked until 1944 in the carpenter shop. Yankele ran away from that camp, but was caught and killed. From Starchowitz we were sent to Auschwitz. In the first selection my brother Avrom perished. With me were Yitzhok Goldberg, Simcha Meir Vierzinskei and other Szydlowiecers.

In December 1944 they sent us to Buchenwald, where I met Meir Braniowski, Michael Gershonowicz, Shmuel Yankl Zucker, Moshe Lindzen and Ostrowiec. From there they sent us to Dachau, where we were liberated by the American army. After the liberation I met my brother Shmuel.

The cruelty of fate: My brother Shmuel, who had gone through all these fires of hell, later was killed in Los Angeles during a holdup in his store. The bandits finished what the Nazis started.

My Brother's Fate

by Isaac Moro

The wife of my only brother, Moshe-Ber, was deported to the Hasag concentration camp, where she died of hunger. My brother was left with his seven-year-old son. When I saw him

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for the last time in January 1943 I pleaded with him: “Come with me. You too look like a Gentile. Together maybe we can survive. But on one condition: you must leave the child with the Christian woman to whom you have given all your possessions.”

Moshe-Ber's reply was a categorical NO. “I will not leave this child with anyone!”

He then went to the hiding-place that he had constructed in Abraham Charnes' well.

As long as I was in the Szydlowiec ghetto, hiding in the home of the Strieks, a Christian family, I helped my brother as much as I could. More than once I risked my life at night to bring him food and other things that he and the child needed. This went on for about two months, until some Poles sniffed out the hiding-place in the well. The lives of my brother and his child now hung by a hair. One night I went out and told him that he must immediately find another place. He did find one in the cellar of Notta Dasa's house.

I shall never forget an incident that happened while they were still in the ghetto, hiding in Chaim Goldberg's building. He and the child were walking in a back street and Mordkhele found some discarded shaving equipment. At that same moment I happened to meet them. The child said to me: “Uncle, I just found this little machine. I want to give it to you for a present. In case Papa and I don't stay alive, remember that I gave it to you . . .”

His words still scald me whenever I think of them.

My brother was hidden in the cellar from 1943 until April 1944. According to a report that I received from some Poles in Szydlowiec after the war, he took his son and left the hiding place one day in April to look for food. A Polish fireman named Juzek Posobkevicz noticed him and started yelling: “Moshku, stop!”

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My brother picked up the boy and started running toward the cemetery. The Pole and two other firemen caught him and held him until the murderer Bauer arrived and shot him and the child on the spot.

In Our Hiding-Place

by Chaya Paris-Kornbroyt

When the round-ups in Szydlowiec became more and more frequent, we built a hiding-place in the attic of our sukkah, which had once served this purpose during World War I and the Bolshevik invasion. Climbing up to it was not easy, but when your life is threatened you can do anything.

When the Germans ordered all the Jews, on Wednesday, September 23, to gather in one place, another order came from my mother: “We are not going to that place. We are going to the hiding-place. Right now!” Well, when Mother said something, we obeyed.

With us was Jacob Shimon, an older man. We took up a bucket of water, a couple of breads, a little sugar. My brother Abraham Jacob was the last one up, and closed the door. We were not too well prepared for such an “operation.” The only thing we had managed to do was to arrange with Isaac Milstein that if he escaped the roundup, he should come up to our attic.

Through the cracks in the wall we could see the streets emptying out of people. What was happening at the umschlagplatz we didn't know. An hour passed, two, three. The silence became oppressive. Fear was everywhere. Suddenly, heavy footsteps on the stairs. Through a crevice Yankele could see an S.S.-man with a revolver in his hand. Yankele motioned to us to keep absolutely still. Finally, the S.S.-man turned back, but we heard them boarding up the door – our bunker had become a living grave.

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The day dragged like an eternity. The roof was getting hotter and hotter under the sun. In the evening it cooled down, but what would happen the next day? Thirst was beginning to torment us. We had to be very sparing of what little water we had. According to our reckoning, we could hold out this way until Sunday.

Friday, erev Succos. My brother screwed up his courage, climbed down into the house and brought up some water. Through the cracks we could see the Germans leading groups of Jews somewhere. We could hear the weeping and the wailing.

Sunday my brother and I were supposed to take a chance and go to “reconnoitre,” when we suddenly heard the door of our building being opened. Then we heard the boards being ripped off the attic door. We could hear people speaking in Yiddish. My brother opened the door – there was Isaac Milstein, with two Jewish policemen, Alter and Israel Katz, a Jewish coachman and the bandit Flaskata the fireman.

Who can describe that happy moment? Our rescuers looked to us like angels from heaven. They took us to Pinkert's block, which had become a new location for those who had come out of their hiding-places. The Germans ordered that Jews coming out of hiding should not be shot.

The state of affairs didn't last long, however. On the morning of Hoshana Raba, when the workers and the Jewish police, including Isaac Milstein, went out to work, they were met b y German police and Ukrainians and taken to the camp at Skarzysko. The next day there was a selection. My brother and I were sent to a work group, but my parents . . . Mother could have saved herself, but she refused to be separated from my father. She had managed to say to us:

“You are still young. Stay together and don't forget us.” The weeping of my parents at that terrible moment still rings in my ears.

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We suffered in Skarzysko until 1944. From there we were sent to Czenstochowa. In the one selection at that camp my brother was sent to Bunchenwald, where he perished.

I was liberated on January 17, 1945 in the Pelzern concentration camp at Czenstochowa.

Hassidic Underground in Szydlowiec
(Matis and the Matisovtses)

by Joseph Friedenson

In 1941-42, in the ghettos of Poland, in Warsaw, in Krakow, and in many other cities across the length and breadth of the “General Gouvernment,” a certain religious youth movement known as “Matisovtses” became popular. Groups of young Hassidim, they defied the Nazi authorities and remained just an observant of their Judaism as they had before the German occupation.

The Germans had prohibited Jews from assembling; they closed all the hedorim, yeshivas and Hassidic shtiblech. Despite this, the Matisovtses organized their own shtiblech and study houses and continued their study of Torah day and night.

Whenever they caught a young Jew with beard and payess, the Germans tormented him, cut off his beard, tore the side-curls out of his head. But the Matisovtses refused to give up. They let their beards and payess grow again, which was itself a courageous act of resistance.

The Germans began mobilizing young Jews to work in their war industry. The Jews would have preferred, of course, not to work for the Germans at all, but hunger and the risk of being caught by the Nazi murderers compelled them to register for these jobs. The Matisovtses did not do so, however. Their orders were never to report for this work voluntarily; the

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Matisovtse organization would provide for the basic needs of its members.

The Germans kept close watch on all Jewish organizations, but the Matisovtses continued to conduct their activities in secret – their couriers traveled from one center to another; orders and commands were issued; new members were recruited, new cells created; funds were collected for self-help, for the old, the sick and the abandoned.

Although they were a continuation of the young Hassidim who, prior to the war, were concentrated around the Gerer shtiblech, they were really a new movement in Hassidic life. The name “Matisovtse” was certainly a brand new one, but it quickly became popular. Some people admired their courage, their self sacrifice, their piety and their stubbornness in maintaining their Judaism in face of such extreme peril. Others silently ridiculed them: “What insanity! At such a time, to let their beards and payess grow, to sit and study at the risk of life.” Still others felt sorry for these “batlonim,” these impractical people. No one, however, could remain indifferent to them. For friends and scoffers alike they were indubitably original and mysterious, and “the Matisovtses” became a household word.

Nevertheless, there were only a few people who knew how the Matisovtses got their name. There were active Matisovtse groups in Warsaw and Krakow, in Miechow and in Pinczew and in dozens of other towns and cities, but almost no one there knew the origin of the name. For Szydlowiec Jews, however, it was no riddle. They knew that these young Hassidim were named for their mysterious “commander,” Matis Gelman, or Matis Viener, as he was more commonly known. Matis had married a Szydlowiec girl and had been living in our town for a few years prior to the war.

Who was he? How did he suddenly become the commander of an army that bore his name? Where did he get

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the strength to become the leader of a revolutionary army of hundreds of young men whom he inspired, although many of them had never even heard of him before and later never even met him. Many of these questions are difficult to answer. Much of Matis remained a mystery and he took many of these secrets with him to his unknown grave.

All we know is that he began his young life with a revolt against his parents, a rebellion that was quite unlike the one then common among young Jews of that period. Most young Jews in those years rebelled against the piety and restrictiveness of their parents' ways, as they strove for freedom. Matis, however, went the opposite way.

He was born in Vienna to modern Europeanized parents. His father did not send him to a heder but to a modern gymnazie, where Matis was a distinguished student in German, French, music and sports. But he was searching for another path. The bright lights of Europe did not beckon to him. Freedom became too confining for him. As soon as he grew up he turned away from his modern parents and became a pious, God fearing Jew. There are various versions of how this took place.

One version has it that in the gymnazie a fellow student called him “dirty Jew.” This was after Hitler had come to power – Matis was then only sixteen – and many Viennese gentiles had already begun to cast longing glances in the direction of Hitler, who promised to unite Austria with a “greater Germany.” Anti-Semitism had grown more open and Jewish children in gentile schools were the first to feel it.

Mati – as they called him in Vienna – was so shaken by this insult that he was ashamed to go home. As he roamed the streets of Vienna, he happened to notice a crowd of Jews at the railroad station. He stopped to see what was going on and it turned out that they were waiting for the world renowned Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, who had been blessed with such

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a majestic appearance that young Matis found himself trying to get through the crowd to greet the “Polnisher Rabbiner.” According to this version, Matis approached the Lubliner rabbi and asked him:

“Herr Rabbiner, I have a question: Why do the gentiles call us 'dirty Jew'?”
The rabbi invited him to his hotel room. The substance of the conversation between the two is not known to us, but what we do know is that Matis joined the youth group of Agudat Israel in Vienna, where they taught him the Hebrew alphabet, the prayers, Bible and Talmud, and it wasn't long before Mati was a student at the Lublin yeshiva, where they gave him the name Matis Viener.

He studied there for a few years. For the holidays he no longer went home to his parents but to the Gerer rebbe. In Ger, a friendship developed between him and the Gerer rebbe, which spent more time with him than with the other students. This in itself became a sign to the Gerer Hassidim that Mati would be a leader. The small group of Hassidim who knew him most closely said that Matis' grasp of Hasidim was unparalleled.

This distinction was expressed in Matis' singular piety and in his tremendous zeal. A taciturn young man, Matis “counted is words” and rarely left his quarters. But the more withdrawn he became the more the young Hassidim began to seek him out, to catch a word from his lips, a Hassidic thought from his head. Thus he gradually became a “rebbe”, a Hassidic guide, for a certain group of young men to whom he explained and interpreted the ideas of the Gerer rebbe. He showed them the way to grow into real Hassidim.

The Gerer movement in Poland had thousands of young Hassidim in its ranks that were concentrated in the shtiblech throughout Congress Poland. As Matis' popularity grew, he became a sort of national leader of the Gerer youth throughout the whole country. Their local leaders (called “commandants')

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used to visit Matis to discuss their problems. Whenever a dispute broke out anywhere among the young Gerer Hassidim Matis was the “arbitrator.” They also came to him with their own personal problems, such as marriage, or conflicts with parents or siblings.

This was not only because they knew that Matis had entrée tot eh Gerer rebbe but also because he was an astute man with a keen mind that could analyze complex situations. Despite all this prominence and recognition, however, Matis did not put on airs. He refused to accept honors. Everyone spoke to him in an informal way. He was a combination of rebbe and friend, and this was probably his great attraction.

Several months before the war broke out, Matis married Dina Blumenthal, daughter of Yehezkel Blumenthal, a Gerer Hassid in Szydlowiec. With his arrival in Szydlowiec, Gerer Hassidism there was immediately strengthened. The mere fact that Matis lived there transformed Szydlowiec into a central point on the map of Gerer Hassidism Poland. Actually, Matis did not “settle” in Szydlowiec. Soon after his wedding he began traveling back and forth between Szydlowiec and Ger, and he quickly became a national figure in the Gerer movement far beyond the borders of Szydlowiec.

I have not been able to discover where Matis was when the war erupted. One version has him in Ger, preparing to stay with the rebbe over the high holidays. But two weeks before Rosh Hashonah, when the war broke out, the Gerer rebbe went off to Warsaw and Matis went home to Szydlowiec. As soon as the battles ended he went back to Warsaw. He was one of the few individuals with access to the Gerer rebbe, who had been hidden away from the Germans.

Exactly when and how Matis began organizing the Hassidim in the ghettos into a kind of spiritual resistance movement is also not known. Jews in the ghettos, however, began to notice a central plan and leadership in the way the

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young Gerer Hassidim were organized. First of all, they did not run away from their shtiblech. The older Hassidim, when the Germans closed their shtiblech, met in private homes, but they went to whichever house was closest. The young Gerer, however, stayed together and met wherever they could, but they didn't allow themselves to be dispersed. They maintained their organized groups for worship and study; they continued to wear the Hassidic garb, despite the objections of their parents that it exposed them to persecution by the Germans.

The new situation confronted the young Hassidim with new problems and they went to great lengths to overcome them. Refugees came to Jewish communities with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The Gerer youth made it their business to seek out among these refugee people of their movement, to learn what their specific needs were, to get them settled, to bring them into their own spiritual world. Gerer families who came into a city where there was a youth group knew they had someone to help them.

The Gerer youth also concerned themselves with ransoming captives. Here and there a Gerer Hassid would be rounded up by the Germans and sent to a labor camp; the youth groups would collect money for ransom or for food packages. Nor did they limit their charitable work to their own people. In seeking to do “chesed” (deeds of mercy) – which is one of the important Jewish mitzvot – they would do various good deeds, as for example, providing for an old or sick refugee who had no one else to look after him. I recall one such case in Szydlowiec. An old Hassid from Lodz lay sick in a broken-down room. People around him were so beset by their own troubles that there was o one to take care of him. I reported this to the Matisovtses and for a number of weeks they brought him food, a clean shirt, etc.

All this, of course, grew out of their religious and Hassidic beliefs, but they were directed and inspired by a central figure,

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Matis Viener, who was a kind of “invisible” man and who, even during the war years, kept shuttling between Szydlowiec and Warsaw. Though Matis tried to keep this a secret, he did not succeed, so after a while people began to call this Gerer Hassidim (or “Gerer Cossacks”, as they were previously known) – Matisovtses.

Matis himself was either in Szydlowiec or in Warsaw, but he knew exactly what was going on everywhere else. He had his own couriers, through whom he sent instructions to his “troops.” They collected money in one city and distributed it in another – to poor young Hassidim, to a sick scholar, to needy people. Matis knew how all his Hassidim everywhere were behaving, how their studies were going. From time to time he would steal into a town to strengthen the group there, to help them plan their religious and charitable activities, the education of their young children.

It goes without saying that one of the strongest groups in the Matisovitz movement was in Szydlowiec itself. First of all, Matis himself organized the group, appointed its leaders and recruited many young men, even non-Gerer Hassidim. Second, his presence in Szydlowiec attracted many young Gerer from other places. The Szydlowiec Matisovtses welcomed these “refugees” with open arms and helped them organize their lives. Some of them even found wives there. The Matisovtses were well known in Szydlowiec; you could recognize them by their dress. They had many friends and many opponents, but almost everyone treated them with respect – these “stubborn fanatics” who refused to recognize the “new regime.”

(The Matisovtses in Szydlowiec are described in detail in the memoirs of Ozer Grundman, former Szydlowiec who now lives in Israel. Editor)

I myself saw Matis Viener in Ger only once before the war – he was pointed out to me as one of the “commandants.” The second time I saw him it was in Szydlowiec in the very

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midst of his secret and courageous activities. It was in March 1942, three months after I came to Szydlowiec from the Warsaw Ghetto. I had heard something about Matis' work even before Warsaw. But Matis was not in Szydlowiec and o one knew where he was.

One day, however, my brother-in-law Motele Silberman, himself a Matisovtse, whispered a secret into my ear: “Matis came from Warsaw yesterday and wants to see you. He has regard for you from your parents.” This was astounding. Matis came from Warsaw? How was that possible? Since January 1942 any Jew caught traveling from one city to another faced the death penalty, unless he had a special pass. I couldn't believe that Matis would have such a pass; they were issued only to those who worked directly for German industry. But Matis was a young Hassid with beard and payess – how could he have such a pass?

I met him in his father-in-law's dark shtibl. He looked just like I remembered him from Ger – a jet-black beard up to his eyes, long side-curls never touched by a scissors. Even wearing a long kapote. How had he traveled from Warsaw to Szydlowiec? By train? By bus? I got no answers to my questions, except authentic indications that only a week before he had seen my father in the Warsaw ghetto, and not only my father, but a whole lot of other friends. In addition to the greetings Matis had only a few words for me:

“I'm leaving in a few days and I want to ask you to help our boys. They are wonderful young people, but sometimes they may be in need of help. Your father-in-law is a rich man – see that he helps them.”
There was a tone of command in his voice, even though he spoke informally (as the Hassidim do), and although we had never met before.

When Matis went from Szydlowiec, I don't know. But from eyewitness accounts gathered by Moshe Prager in his

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book, “Those That Didn't Submit,” it is evident that during the months before the Germans began liquidating the Jewish communities in Poland, Matis had traveled to a number of towns and cities. Wherever he went he appeared as if from nowhere, brought regard to various people, called “the boys” and their leaders together, spoke to them, and then disappeared. Wherever he could, he collected money. Wherever it was needed, he brought it. In this conspiratorial way he led a whole army of young Jews whose spirit “the scourge of the Jews” was unable to break, even at the last moment before their final liquidation.

* * *

According to Moshe Prager's book, Matis Viener perished in a bunker in Krakow together with a large group of Matisovtses who were hiding there up to the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto. But he left behind him a bit of a legacy even in the camps. Many of the Matisovtses who were imprisoned in the camps continued stubbornly to maintain their Jewish way of life, to the best of their ability, even under the most difficult conditions. Whenever a few of them found themselves together in the same place they helped each other and supported each other so that the anguish of their oppression would not make them lose “the image of G-d.”

The activities of the Matisovtses and the spirit which they planted in the hearts of hundreds of young Jews also had a great influence on the revival of Judaism among the survivors after the war. Former Matisovtses or their friends were the first to organize kashrut in the DP camps, to open houses of worship, hedorim, yeshivas and to establish religious kibbutzim for those who wanted to emigrate to Eretz Israel.

If the Ger movement has today become one of the largest Hassidic movements, much of that success is due to the

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Matisovtses. In the very abyss of the Destruction, in the ghettos, Matis Viener sowed the seeds of a Jewish religious revival, of which we today are the witnesses wherever Jews live.

Episodes in our Torment

by Isaiah Henig

In Benjamin Fried's house there was a bakery. The baker used to buy flour from my father. Summer 1942 several Germans came into the bakery looking for flour or baked bread. When they discovered that the oven was a little warm they accused the baker of having baked bread that day. They took him and Fried's wife to the old Jewish cemetery, taunted these two innocent victims, made them sing love songs, hold hands and dance. Then they shot them both.

My friends Pinchas Rosenblum and Israel Milstein, together with five other young Jews, were caught by the Germans outside the borders of the ghetto. They had escaped from a labor camp twenty kilometers from Szydlowiec and were on their way home. The Nazis brought them into town and shot them.

Erev Pesach 1942 the labor authority ordered a hundred young Jews to appear the next morning outside the city hall. When the young men came and saw the trucks there, they ran. The Germans, assisted by armed Ukrainians, caught many of them and put them into the trucks. Among them was our rabbi, Chaim Rabinowicz, whom they dragged out of the house in the middle of his prayers. They beat him across the head and face with their billy jacks. The rabbi's blood spurted out on his tallis and his clothing, but he took the blows without flinching. He did not cover his face with his hands. He made no attempt to ward off the blows. He did not utter a sound, not a word, not even a groan. He hoped to be a sacrifice for the

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Jewish community. The rabbi's behavior affected even his tormentors; they stopped beating him and told him to go home.

In the ghetto and camps I often thought about the Germans: what they once were and what they had become. I also thought about our Christian neighbors and their attitude toward Jews during that terrible time. I recalled an incident of my childhood years in the heder , when the rebbe was studying with us the bible story about the Amalekites and the awful things they did to the Jews of those ancient days. Once we asked the rebbe who the descendants of those Amalekites were. Without hesitation he replied: “The Germans.” He told us how the Germans wiped out old communities, that other nations had also pogromized Jews, but that the Germans were the worst.

When I repeated this to my parents, they explained to me that the rebbe was living in the past, that what he had said about Germany is true, but it happened many centuries ago, when the Church was the greatest power in Europe. The Church taught the people that the Jews had killed their Lord, that the Jews are damned because they refuse to see the light and do penance for their sins by accepting Christianity. The priests falsely accused the Jews of murdering Christian children for their blood, which they used in baking matzo.

But today – my parents said – we are living in the 20th century and the world is different. There are universities and libraries: people are no longer blind. The power of the Church and her influence over the population has been broken, the masses of people in every country, including Germany, have become liberal. We must forget the past and look to the future.

And now the “future” is here – and we see what the Germans really look like and what the Christians around us look like and what they do to Jews.

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The Jews in Szydlowiec, as in other communities in Poland, had close relationships with their Christian neighbors. Jews sold their products to Christians and bought from them what they had produced. Jews gave employment to Christian workers in their factories. My parents had business relationships with Christian families, especially with two families in Smilew, a village 2-3 kilometers away. The men were my father's friends; their wives were my mother's friends; their children were my friends.

When the situation in our home became so bad that we began to go hungry, my mother sent me to our Christian friends with an urgent pleas that they pay us some of what they owed us with a little food. Our friends told me, first, that they didn't owe us any money, and second, they warned me not to come there anymore, because if other Christians denounce me to the Germans, they would shoot me.

A few months after my visit to Smilew a Christian woman from that village came and asked us to make something for her. She said she would pay us in food. My mother asked her: “Why have you Christians forgotten your Jewish neighbors, friends and fellow citizens? Why are you so indifferent to our suffering? Why don't you help us? Jews and Christians have lived together in Poland for hundreds of years. Jews fought for Poland, were killed for Poland. Jews helped to build this country. Now you don't know us. You and I have been friends for so many years. Now my family is hungry. You have so much. Why don't you help me? I'm not even asking you to give it to me for nothing. Your husband owes us money. Pay me some of it in food . . .

And this is how our Christian friend of long standing answered my mother:

“I don't know whether my husband owes you any money or not. I never mix into my husband's business. And you Jews have no right to make demands on us. The truth is, you don't
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Even have any right to condemn those criminal Germans. Sarah, my friend, believe me, I am heartsick over this, but the truth is that G-d is punishing you for killing Christ. The accursed Germans are only heaven's instruments, and we Polish Christians are suffering because of you Jews.”
That woman was not an anti-Semite. She was a devout Catholic. The Church had taught her that the Jews killed Christ. The masses of Poles were under the influence of the Church. It is a tragic fact that centuries of preaching hatred against Jews the Church prepared the soil for the German slaughter of the Jewish people.

In our house things continued to worsen. There was nothing to eat. My father had died. My mother was weak and sickly. My sister Beyla was 17, my brother was a young boy. It was up to me to be the breadwinner. Not that my brother complained, no matter how bad he felt. He understood our bitter situation and handled it like a grownup. One morning, when he was changing his underwear, I noticed what the ghetto had done to him. His little body was like a stick; you could count the ribs. At that moment I made up my mind that my family would no longer suffer hunger.

I started tanning leather with the help of my friend Yisroelke Milstein. We risked our lives every time we did the work, until finally the Gestapo caught us, confiscated the leather and arrested us. Then a miracle happened. They let us go – in exchange for a large sum of money. My friends and neighbors begged me not to do it again. Yisroelke agreed with them, so I continued alone, with my sister's help. I bribed the Polish informers. But I produced the leather until the day the Nazis dragged me to the camp at Starchowicz. That was the last time I saw my family.

* * *

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From Starchowicz they sent me to Auschwitz. There were more than 5000 Gypsies there, living in two barracks. Generally, men and women inmates were segregated, but the Gypsies were allowed to live together in families. They could move about more freely than others in the camp. My third day there I watched as Dr. Mengele, along with several other German doctors, ordered the Gypsies to line up outside their barracks. That same night all 5000 of them were taken to the gas chambers.

Out of the Trap

by Berl Krajevski

It is difficult to describe what Szydlowiec looked like after the first deportation. It was impossible to find a house or a building without smashed doors and windows. Everything was in ruins. As soon as the Jews were put in the trains, the Christian neighbors began their looting. And that was the sight that met us in the “Zaulkes” when the Germans “resettled” us – about 1500 people from Radom – and it was here that we had to live. With no other alternative, we went right to work, patching up the holes with whatever we could find. We pasted together the broken bricks and stones with some clay and made a kitchen to cook our food in. Thus our new “life” began – a life of fear and of death.

Every day brought new arrivals, until soon there were 5000. And since there wasn't enough room in the “Zaulkes” for so many people, the Germans moved us into the tanneries, where the houses were still in one piece and still occupied by Poles. Only one tannery was operating – Notte Eisenberg's. The Poles moved out and we moved in. I lived in Isaac Garber's house with another 26 people. With me was Abraham

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Gritchman and his wife. Because of the crowded and unnatural living conditions, a typhus epidemic resulted. We had no idea why they had brought us here from Radom.

In December 1942 they brought in people who had been working in the nearby factories. They looked wretched and were too weak to work anymore. Now everyone understood why the Germans had brought us here.

On the evening of January 7, 1943 the city's uniformed firemen appeared in the street. It was an alarming sight, because in all the roundups the firemen took an active part. That day we had heard rumors that the freight cars were already waiting. Optimists among us interpreted this to mean that the trains were for the wheat the Germans were confiscating from the farmers. That night I could have gotten out, because we were not yet under guard, but where could a Jew go in those days? The next morning we were surrounded by Ukrainians, Polish police and German gendarmes. They herded us into the area with those Jews who still remained in the Zaulkes.

Thanks to the fact that the trains were late in arriving, I got out of the trap on Saturday night, January 10, 1943. Tuesday the 13th, Szydlowiec was no longer a Jewish town.

A Radom “Aktsie” in Shidlovtse

by Leah Shchenshlive-Eisenberg

When World War II broke out I was in Radom. I suffered in the ghetto along with all the other Jews there. On March 20, 1943, Untersturmfuehrer Schippers, the commandant of the Radom ghetto, came to the Chairman of the Judenrat, Dr. Nahum Shenderovicz, and demanded a list of the Jewish “intelligentsia” and their families. As a result, a rumor spread

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quickly that these people would be exchanged for Germans in Palestine.

Schippers had demanded “only” 40 names, but the number of registrants was 150. They were told to prepare for a long journey, but were permitted to take with them only small bundles and valuables. Many Jews came to the gathering place that were not among those chosen, waiting for an opportunity to slip into the ranks of this “lucky” group.

The next day, at two in the afternoon, Untersturmfuehrer Kafka, commander of the Ukrainians, arrived with two large busses. Some Jews who were not on the registration list, along with their families, actually got into the busses. But the busses did not go to the railroad station. T hey went to Szydlowiec, followed by a truck carrying armed Ukrainian guards. Now the Jews understood why Schippers at the last moment, had crossed certain familiar names off the list – Dr. Shenderovicz, Dr. Kleinberger, and the Jewish police commander Sitner. It was another Nazi trick.

The busses stopped at the Szydlowiec Jewish cemetery. The victims were driven out of the vehicles, ordered to take their clothes off, and were lined up in three rows. After the first row was marched into the cemetery, we heard the shots. I was with a group in another truck. When the Ukrainians shot the first group, they dragged us out of the truck and lined us up at the fence. They took our valuables and made us take off our clothes.

At this point, Untersturmfuehrer Kafka recognized Bella Freedman, whom he knew, and ordered her to step out of line. After a few minutes, I did the same, along with a few others. In this manner, 17 of us were “reprieved” at the last moment. All the rest are buried in the Szydlowiec cemetery in graves which they themselves had dug before they were shot.

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A Kitchen for Refugees

by Elka Schreibergberg

At the beginning of the war, many refugees came to Szydlowiec, not only from nearby towns buy from places like Lodz, Warsaw, Krakow, because they thought it was a “safer” place than the large cities where they were living. In our building there were about a hundred refugees who needed food and shelter. Several of us – Freydl, Chavele Shteirman, Chanele Zimmerman, myself and a few others whose names I don't remember – collected loaves of bread and other food, as well as clothing, for these refugees.

We also helped Isaac Steinman set up a soup kitchen for them. We asked Opatowski the baker to give us a couple of rooms in his building for the kitchen. He agreed. His daughter Elka and others helped to prepare the meals. The food was contributed by individuals. At first, about ten young women ran the kitchen, then Opatowski volunteered to run it and we continued to help him.

Our Friendly Neighbors

by Neche Katz

When it became clear that the Germans were preparing to liquidate the Szydlowiec ghetto, my finance, Berl Burchinsky, his sister, my sister and Yitzhak Sharfhartz's family went down into a bunker to hide. There were about twenty of us there, including six young children.

It is impossible to describe the days we spent in that hiding-place, with the murderers sniffing around outside with guard-dogs and parents holding their hands over the mouths of their children to prevent them from uttering a sound.

[Page 224]

When we left the bunker, hungry and exhausted, we were stunned to find not Germans but Polish firemen and police. They stole everything from us and led us to the block where we found all the Szydlowiec Jews who had been in hiding.

Mrs. Sharfhartz later took the money and jewelry she had managed to hide and went to the home of a pious Christian who used to work for her, believing that he would provide her with a hiding-place in exchange for the valuables. An hour later she was back, half-naked and bruised. The Pole had gladly let her in and taken the valuables from her. Then he beat her and threw her out into the street . . .

Catholic “Love”

by Jeremiah Meyerfeld

Next to my father, my brother Mendl was the best builder in the area. When the Nazis came and our troubles started, he immediately began thinking of ways to save his children, who were in the greatest danger. He took his two young, blond children in his arms and went to the Polish construction workers whom he had employed for many years. He begged them to take the children into their homes, maybe they would survive.

The reply of these hospitable Catholics was that they would soon be living in his house anyway.

And that's what actually happened. Not only did they kill their victims but they inherited their property . . .

A Jewish Policeman Named Glatt

by Wolfe Eisenberg

One of the ghetto policemen was man named Glatt. He himself was far from “glatt.” He was a riddle to everyone. No

[Page 225]

one knew where he came from. Some said Posen. Not only did he speak an excellent German but he even looked like a “real Aryan” – blond, tall, strong. No one would ever have suspected him of being a Jew.

The Judenrat was afraid of him. He used to “pal around” with the Germans and didn't hesitate to speak to the Judenrat members as if he really were a German.

After the liquidation of Szydlowiec, Glatt was sent to the ghetto in Wolonow, where my brother and I had gone “illegally.” The very first day that Glatt was put in charge of our group of workers, he spotted us. He began beating us and yelling: “Get out! Get away from here! This place is not for you!” Later we found out he was right; it was a very bad place.

Another time, five Szydlowiecers in Wolonow were stricken with typhus. The doctor, a Jew from Pshytik who gave Jews a lot of trouble, placed them in isolation. When Glatt found out about this, he went over to the little window of the isolation ward and told the five men to climb up to the attic and hide. The doctor happened to overhear him. He called over an S.S.-man, who promptly put a bullet in Glatt's heart.

The riddle of Glatt was solved for me. . .

Boy in the Ghetto

by Moshe Cooperberg (Rio)

I was 15 years old when the Germans entered Szydlowiec. My brother Shmuel Yankl was caught during a roundup for forced labor and sent to Skarzysko. He was killed there by a bullet from an Ukrainian's gun.

During the first deportation I was among 500 Jews taken to the railroad station but I managed to escape. Hiding day and night, I was one of about 80 Jews left behind by the Nazis to “clean-up” the ghetto. The work was hard and nerve-wracking.

[Page 226]

On the first day we buried a hundred murdered Jews. After that, a few every day.

We worked for six weeks, then they sent us to Skarzysko and finally to Buchenwald. In April 1945 the Germans packed about 1200 Jewish camp inmates into sealed cattle cars and rode us around for fourteen days, with almost nothing to eat or drink. We stopped at Mauthausen, less than 200 of the 1200 were alive.

The Americans liberated us on May 5, 1945. At that time I weighed about 90 pounds. If they had come only a few days later it would have been too late for me.

(written by Baruch Majavka)

From Szydlowiec to Auschwitz

by Toba Semyaticki-Sharfhartz

During the German air-raids everyone in Szydlowiec ran to hide in cellars or other places. In our house there was a large, well constructed cellar where many of our neighbors came seeking safety with my parents Aaron and Devorah, my Grandmother Feygl-Libe and Grandfather Yitzhok. My great-grandmother Hannah-Sarah was paralyzed, so my father had to carry her into the cellar. People were crying, many were reciting psalms. Others said: “Let the German come in, at least it will be quiet.” My father, however, said: “I'd be willing to suffer here in the cellar for six months if it meant that the Germans would be defeated and not come here at all.”

The next day the Germans were already in Szydlowiec.

The last few months of 1939, things were still tolerable. But then came their murderous tricks – the roundups, the “contributions,” etc.

[Page 227]

One day we received an urgent message from the Szydlowiecers who had been sent to the camp: they were starving to death. The Relief Committee collected various food products to send to them; but no one offered to bring it to them, it was too dangerous. My father volunteered to do it.

In 1942 the Germans were advancing from one victory to another in Russia. The hope that they would meet their ultimate defeat there receded further and further. More and more often we heard rumors that entire Jewish communities in the Lublin area were being deported, some people said to labor camps, others said to death. At that time my mother took sick and died. We did not know yet how great a “privilege” it was to die a natural death.

In mid-1942 the Germans broke into my grandfather's house while a group of Jews were worshipping there. The Nazis beat everyone, pushed them into a truck and drove to Skarzysko, where people were being poisoned by chemicals used at their work. My uncle died there after a short time. His young wife Rachel and their two beautiful children were sent to Treblinka in September 1942 along with my Grandfather and Grandmother.

My father and I were lucky enough to be sent to hard labor at Starchowicz. We were glad to be together, at least. When we sensed that the noose was tightening here too, we went to Wolonow, where we worked under terrible conditions. Then they sent us to Blizin and from there to Auschwitz. Before Auschwitz I still had the indescribable good fortune of seeing my dear father from time to time, even though we were in different barracks. But in Auschwitz I lost even that last consolation. The last time I saw him it was through the barbed wire fence. He saw me too. The Nazis bet him savagely. I had to watch it and not even cry. In 1945 he was sent to Germany. On the way, he collapsed and died.

[Page 228]

Caught in the Trap

by Mindja Rotberg-Citrinbaum

On a late Elul day in 1942 we heard that the Germans were rounding up people for forced labor. In our house everyone ran down to the hiding-place. I stayed behind because I was certain that they wouldn't bother a girl as young as me.


[Page 229]

was my present wife, Sonia Lederman and her two sisters Rochtsin and Sabina. My friend Tselnicker went to Wolonow.

Wednesday before dawn we were awakened by sounds of the “fire-brigade.” It was too late to flee the city – it was now surrounded by Ukrainian guards and others. I rushed down to the tannery, where we had built a bunker in the well.

Very carefully I lowered myself down through a pipe that began at the pump and had a cover outside only big enough for a bucket. The hiding-place was built a little higher than the water line and was dug out like a tunnel and lined with boards.

No one would ever have thought to look in such a place for human beings, but 14 of us were hiding there, including my father-in-law, Shaya Lederman, Moshe Kunovsky, the Nagelman family, Velvl Wasserstein and a few others.

This was the only hiding-place where water was no problem. But we had very little to eat. At night we risked our lives to go out to relieve ourselves.

When we ran out of food we had to leave the hiding-place. Besides the hunger pangs, we were suffering from the dampness.

It was a Saturday night when we all left the bunker to try to get to the Wolonow camp, where there were many other Szydlowiecers. With us were the children of Shlomo Nagelman.

After walking all night we arrived at Wolonow. The barracks there were separate for men and women. The work consisted of building military barracks. I was assigned to work at Baran's of Radom, which was later taken over by the Mephra company.

One day Camp Fuehrer Ruber came to our barracks with the infamous Barkman and several of his helpers from the Sonderkommando who carried out the mass executions. They ordered everyone to line up for roll call. They walked up and down between the rows, selecting whoever they wished and ordered them to stand to one side.

[Page 230]

As we all stood there in mortal fear we heard an order over the loudspeaker: all workers in the Mephro firm must report to work immediately because a water-pipe had burst there. It turned out to be only a pretext by our good Master Bruner. He had known what was about to happen in the camp and with this ruse he had saved our lives.

From there we were sent to Radom, then to Gross-Saxonhem, then to Dachau. Near the town of Seifeld our guards fled.

We were free.

My Last Look at our Shtetl

by Yankl Silberman

When we were liberated on May 9, 1945 we were in Theresienstadt. Although I was sick and very weak, my brother and I decided not to stay there and rest, but to go look for our wives and sisters. We had no idea where they were. Before we were separated at Skarzysko we agreed that if we survived we would meet in Szydlowiec. So we started walking toward our hometown. As we got closer to it and saw its first contours, our hearts beat faster.

We stopped at the city hall with our bundles and were immediately surrounded by crowds of Poles who stared at us as if we were some sort of freaks. One older woman recognized us. She had worked among Jews – putting wood on the fire on Shabbos, whitewashing the walls at Pesach-time – and she was always well paid for her work. She felt sorry for us and cursed the murderous Nazis. She took us to a Jewish home, where we found Hinda and Saul Zlatowicz and a few other survivors of his family. When they saw us they screamed as if we had come back from the next world.

[Page 231]

We went to the cemetery and tearfully said kaddish at the graves of our parents.

In the section of Szydlowiec that had not been destroyed, the Jewish stores and homes had been taken over by Polish neighbors. We could see the hostility in their eyes. I knew that I couldn't stay here very much longer.

One day my wife Elka, my sister Malka, and my brother[s wife Miriam appeared in Szydlowiec. Our reunion was indescribable. We fell into each other's arms and couldn't utter a word for a long time. Our sobs and tears spoke for us.

When the Poles saw the few survivors returning they started harassing us. We had thought we were liberated, but our former neighbors and the “Security Militia” were eager to finish what the Germans had not managed to do.

On the night before we left, a few of us were at the home of Israel Chustetski. (My family had already gone to Lodz.) Suddenly we heard loud shooting. The salvos sounded closer and closer. They were coming to murder us! We had no way of escaping. We stared at each other helplessly. At daybreak he shooting stopped.

Later we learned that it had been Poles giving us a warning to get out of the town we had lived in for many generations.

On the “Aryan” Side

by Isaac Moro

In August 1939, when German-Polish relationships became very strained and the danger of war hung in the air, I was mobilized into the Polish army. From Lodz, where I lived at that time, our military unit was sent to Czenstochow. The polish army quickly capitulated and my unit was captured. When they started marching us to Germany, I began thinking

[Page 232]

of ways to escape. One dark night, between Demblin and Radom, I slipped out of line. The German guards fired at me, but I rolled down a hill and escaped.

Around eleven o'clock that night I knocked at the door of a peasant's cottage. Still in uniform, I asked the Polish farmer to let me spend the night in his house. Terribly frightened, he let me I, but only on condition that I leave at dawn. He not only gave me something to eat but also a suit of peasant clothing. Before I left I asked him if he had a document of some kind t hat he could give me. He searched and found something in the name of Czenkowicz.

That was in September 1939. By a series of back roads I finally got to Szydlowiec, where I stayed with my brother Moshe Ber and his family.

Disguised as a Christian, I was able to move around and do business, especially in Lodz. The most dangerous place was the railroad station at Kolucki near Lodz, which was always guarded very closely and where people were searched and interrogated. Even with my “Aryan” pass I wanted to avoid this, so I lay down between the rails in the bitter cold and waited for a moment when the guards turned their backs, then I dashed into the station and bought a ticket. It was much safer, however, not to travel by train at all. I waited for a German army truck to come along. Showing the driver my ticket, I asked for a life, with the excuse that I had missed my train. He let me in and dropped me off at Lodz.

In Lodz lived my oldest sister Alta-Feyge Hodes and her husband Leybush Modovietski, who had moved there in 1937. When the war broke out, Rochel Leah and her son Nachman came back to Szydlowiec. She lived in my home, because my parents had died – my father Abraham Mordecai in 1931 and my mother Sara Dena in 1937. Before the first deportation Rochel Leah started out on the Jashtchemba Road and her last

[Page 233]

words to me were: “I'm taking my child and I'm going, but I don't know where to.”

I never heard from her again. My youngest sister Hannah-Sheva, who worked in the Hasag camp, was taken away in the first deportation from Skarzysko.

When the Germans occupied Szydlowiec I lived in the Shul-Gass with my wife Feyge-Toybe and our young daughter Dena. On September 23, 1942, when the order came for all the Jews to report to the Haymarket, I went out into the street with my wife and child. My wife said to me:

“Yitzhok, you don't have to go with us. For the Polish police you're not a Jew. Maybe you'll be of more help to us that way.”

But I couldn't help them at all. They were among the many Jews later taken to the railroad station. I never heard from them again. On the first day of the deportation I went to a peasant whom I knew and stayed there two days, then I went back to Szydlowiec. The Germans had left a group of 80 Jews behind to “clean up” – picking up the murdered Jews from the streets and collecting the property that had been left in Jewish homes. This group was housed in Fishl Eisenberg's tannery and I managed to become part of it.

One day Bauer showed up while we are at work. Rapping me on the head with his stick, he presented me with an ultimatum: “You have until midnight tonight to show us where the hiding-places are. If you don't, you'll be shot.”

Ten o'clock that evening the Polish commander came to my cell and asked me what I had decided to do. My answer was: “I don't know anything about such hiding-places, so I have nothing to tell you.”

At midnight no one came for me, but six o'clock that morning, Ostrowiec, the head of the Jewish police, came and asked me the same question. He told me that at his request

[Page 234]

Bauer had granted a delay of execution. He advised me to talk otherwise my life would be in great danger.

That morning, when they took me to city hall, nobody asked me any questions; they started right in beating me.

Wheat should I do? I did know of one place where Jews had hidden property – in Kiveh's house. Since there were no people there any longer, I thought that if I told them about this place, no one would suffer and maybe I would save my life. I led them to the house and after digging around they found some bottles containing dollars and diamonds, also some silver candlesticks, copperware and such things – a considerable treasure. The Germans took the more valuable things for themselves; the rest they loaded onto a cart and took to city hall.

After several weeks the group of 80 Jews was sent to the camp at Skarzysko. I was able to avoid their fate because during this time I had become acquainted with a Polish family named Styeks, where I had previously found refuge almost every evening. There was another Jew there, from Tomashov-Mazowieck, named Mietyk, together with a woman friend, Vladka. With me was another Polish girl.

When it became too risky to stay in Szydlowiec, the four of us went to Warsaw. (Meietyk too had Aryan document.) In Warsaw we rented a room, but we had no money to live on. I had to support the others, so a few times a week I traveled through the villages around Warsaw, smuggling corn and flour by train and selling it.

One day a Polish policeman stopped me at the railroad station and asked me where I was going. I told him I was “going away.”

“I know you're a Jew,” he said, “and I know what you're doing. I'm not going to arrest you, but you and your friends had better disappear from here in the next 24 hours.”

[Page 235]

Naturally, we got out of Warsaw. We went to Briwinow, where one of the Polish girls had a sister. Things were very bad for me there at first. To support myself I became a hod-carrier and lugged cement up and down scaffolds. Later I met several young Poles who were stealing coal from the trains and I joined up with them. For a year I was night watchman at the railroad station. Here I had an easier time, but then the station manager offered to give me a regular daytime job, which would have been fine, but one of the conditions of employment was a medical examination. The doctor would have seen soon enough that I was a Jew.

By a ruse, I went to a Polish doctor for my examination, not a German one, and in return for a large sum of money he gave me the proper certificate. I worked at the station until the arrival of the Russians in January 1945. A few days after that I went to nearby Milanawek, where I met Nissen Stark and together we went to Lodz.

With An “Aryan Pass”

by Abba Rosenbaum

When the Germans entered Szydlowiec, many of the Jews there started running toward the Russian borders, but the Germans advanced so rapidly that the Jews had o choice but to return to Szydlowiec.

The Nazis immediately began their well known brutalities. Realizing that life in the shtetl as a Jew would become more and more precarious, I provided myself with a Polish pass. I could do this because of my looks and my close friendship with a circle of local Poles. My Polish name was Zygmunt. I lived as an “Aryan” until the first deportation. When the trains began arriving at the station, my father said to me: “With your looks

[Page 236]

you have a good chance of surviving. The sooner you leave the better.”

I heeded his advice. The night before the deportation I went to Skarzysko, taking with me my sister Tsippe's two children – Malkele and Leyele. In Skarzysko (not in the camp) I had another sister – Dora Greenberg. I sent the children to their mother, who was in the Hasag camp, but she sent them right back to me, saying that it was too dangerous for children there.

I stayed in Skarzysko two nights. (I met David Rosenbloom and Leybush Zucker there.) Then I took the two children and went to Blyzin, where we lived with a Polish woman. I stayed there for two weeks, moving around freely and even attending church services. From there I took the children to Warsaw. Using the trains openly, I traveled frequently to Radom and Starchowicz. On one such trip I took Yizhok Goldberg's little girl (Leah) from Starchowicz to her uncle in Radom. I lived on the Aryan side, but I also had contact with Jews in the ghetto wearing the yellow patch, to buy food and other necessities.

One day I went to Skarzysko to try and get my sister Tsippe out of there. I arrived there just as the Jews were going out to work. My sister noticed me, quickly dressed herself up as a Polish woman and started walking toward me. To my horror, a guard noticed this and arrested her. The next day they shot her.

Another trip from Warsaw to Skarzysko also ended very badly. I was arrested for not have a work-card and they took me to the Gestapo in Radom, where they started torturing me as only the Gestapo knows how. They charged me with various crimes. To check if I was a Jew they brought in Polish “specialists” who testified that no Jew would ever be able to say the Christian prayers as well as I did.

From Radom they sent me to Auschwitz as a political

[Page 237]

offender, along with 950 other Polish “political.” In Auschwitz they interrogated me again to the accompaniment of beatings, but I stuck to my story that I was neither a Jew nor a Communist.

I think the following will be of interest. My pass was made out in the name of a Pole. It happened that a man with the same name was also arrested as a political offender and brought to Auschwitz a few weeks before I was. Apparently he broke down under torture and they sent him to Buchenwald, where he died. The Gentile was killed and his “representative,” the Jew, survived…

I was at Auschwitz for about two years – 1943 and 1944. Transports came here from everywhere. Among them I once saw my friends Joseph Mendelsohn, Shammai Gritzman, Bucza Marianke and Yitzhok Goldberg from Szydlowiec. I threw them some bread over the barbed wire fence.

In Auschwitz I accidentally met an S.S.-man who turned out to be a British spy. He succeeded in getting a group of four Jews out of the camp. I was supposed to be in the next four that he was planning to get out, but by that time the Gestapo was on his trail and he was arrested.

Around September 1944 I was one of a group of political prisoners sent to Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart, to repair the bombarded railway lines. I worked there until April 1945. Two weeks before liberation I jumped off a train and escaped to Stuttgart. For ten days I lay in a bunker with eight other men before I was arrested and brought back to the camp. I was sentenced to be short on April 19, the following day. When the Ubersturmfuehrer of our construction gang asked us if we had any last requests, we told him:

If you kill us, you won't get anything out of it. But if you let us live, you'll stay alive yourself.”

He was persuaded by our argument and the next day we were freed by the French army. We kept our part of the

[Page 238]

bargain: we intervened with the authorities and they didn't bother him.

With Forged Papers

by Nathan Stark

It is not accidental that Hitler chose Poland as the place to liquidate the Jews of Europe. The Polish population, poisoned by anti-semitism for generations, reacted with indifference to the eradication of its Jewish fellow-citizens. In many cases, Poles actively assisted the murderers. Nevertheless, one cannot generalize about this, because there were exceptions – Polish Christians who helped Jews, risking their own freedom and often their own lives.

It is thanks to Poles like these that I am alive, and it is only fair that such people – most of the Szydlowiecers – should be recorded in our Yizkor Book. Their names are: Zygmunt Janicki (son of a letter-carrier); Zygmunt Jakobowski; Zygmunt Golascewski (son of an apothecary); Stanislaw Lubuc, the School Director's son; Szmuniewski and Thadeus Stolarczik.

After the deportation in 1942 I remained with a group of 70 Jews who were called the “Clean-up Commando.” We collected the Jewish possessions from the abandoned homes and we also worked in the Jewish cemetery, burying the victims of the deportation.

One day the gendarmes Karpinski and Bauer brought a young man to the cemetery and shot him. They had found forged Christian documents on him – the same kind of papers that I had. I was waiting for the “clean-up” work to be finished in Szydlowiec and then I planned to escape to the Aryan side. Yitzhak Silberstein, who knew about my plan,

[Page 239]

tried to dissuade me from it by telling me about the young man who had been shot. He wanted us to stay together. But I had made up my mind that I was not going to a concentration camp.

Our whole group was quartered in Fishl Eisenberg's tannery, where everyone had his own corner. I left my rucksack with a Christian named Polmosko, so that I wouldn't have any bundles to carry when they were transporting us to another place.

On November 11, 1942 the order came to move us to Skarzysko, to work in the munitions plant. We all gathered on Cielce Street, but I continued walking toward the slaughterhouse. Keeping to the back streets, I reached the home of the Janickis. Zygmunt Janicki, who is now a professor at Lodz University, was the leader of a group of young Christians in Szydlowiec who helped Jews. It was he who copied the swastika seal on my forged identity card.

While I was in their house, the Gestapo came to arrest him. His mother refused to let them in. She told them her son was in the post office at his job. They went there and arrested him and held him in various camps until the end of the war. While his mother was stalling the Gestapo, I slipped out of the house and hid in the home of the Polmoskos. Two days later one of the families took me to the railroad station and bought a ticket for me to Warsaw.

Waiting for that train to arrive was an eternity. When it finally pulled into the station I ran in – and almost died of fright. The first person I saw was an infamous sadist in the Szydlowiec labor office who knew me. I braced myself for the arrest, sat down directly opposite him and put my hand in my coat socket as if I were holding a revolver. In this manner I rode to the next station and walked out of the train unhindered. I took the next train going to Warsaw and went to

[Page 240]

the address that Stolarczik had given me. A new life began for me on the “Aryan side.”

It soon became evident that having an identity card was not enough. Yu also needed to speak perfect Polish, without an accent. Yu had to know Christian religious customs. I was helped in this by people whose addresses had been given to me. They also put me in touch with the resistance movement, where I worked the entire period of the German occupation. For this activity I was later given a Partisan award.

In Warsaw I worked in a warehouse of the Obucz Company located in the “small ghetto” at Number 11 Zeglana Street. The building I worked in was just outside the ghetto. I was also employed as a fireman on the night shift. Since my place of employment was close to the ghetto I had opportunities to help the Jews inside. I noticed that Jews were wearing slippers over their shoes to muffle the sound of their footsteps when they slipped out through the garage near the ghetto gate. This gate was guarded by a Polish policeman. One night I got him so drunk that he fell fast asleep. I opened the gate and let several Jews out. I did this several times and the Jews began to recognize me at a distance in my fireman's uniform.

One day I did not go to work at my job in the warehouse – and that saved my life. I had changed laces with a co-worker who was the son of police commissioner before the war. That same night the Gestapo came to question the occupants of the house. My co-worker, knowing nothing about me, came right out to greet the Germans but they kept calling him “damn Jew” and gave him a brutal beating. He kept screaming “Jesus” but the Gestapo shot him and threw his body into the ghetto.

But even disguised as Christian I faced death more than once. On a day in April 1943 a German named Schmidt came into the warehouse on business. When he saw me he said to me in a low voice, “You're a good Jew.” I denied it, but he only

[Page 241]

laughed and left. After he left I thought about it for a long time – should I stay here or should I run away again.

My common sense told me to stay, because if Schmidt was a Gestapo-man he would have arrested me as soon as he saw me.

A few days later I learned that he himself had fled from Warsaw because the Gestapo discovered that he had been hiding twelve Jews in his garden.

When the Polish uprising began in Warsaw in August 1944 I fought in the Walle section. After the suppression of the uprising, the Germans shipped many Poles to Germany, among them my wife and me. While our transport was in the station at Praszkow we escaped and got to Milanowek, where we stayed at the home of my wife's parents until the liberation in January 1945.


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