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In Camps with Szydlowiecers

by Isaac Milstein

Early on the morning of Wednesday, November 11, 1942 the trucks came to take us to the labor camp at Skarzysko. We arrived at the Hasag camp toward evening. They led us into a big building where the new “Karabinowka” was supposed to have been. The German guards stayed outside, but the two or three Ukrainians came inside and demanded that we give them all our valuables.

The next morning they took us to the bathhouse, then to the office, where they assigned us to various work places. Those who had a friend or acquaintance in the camp who could intercede with the German foremen got easier jobs. But about ten of us, who had no such “influence,” were left to chance.

That blind chance sent us to a small creature with a moustache, a Folksdeutsch who spoke Polish, and he took us to the worst place in the camp – the shell foundry. It was frightening just to look at that inferno.

With me were Moyshe Kupersberg, Saul Zlatowitz, Yosl Broitman, David Steinhorn, Yankl Rosenfeld and a policeman from Pshytyk named David. These were the unlucky ones who fell into the worst job in the camp. Not only was the work extremely hard, but the heat was unbearable. There were four big ovens into which we put chunks of steel. When the metal was white hot, a big Polish worker pulled it out of the oven and then we had to put it into a matrix shaped like a bottle. Out of this they made shells for the German light and heavy artillery.

In peacetime, the Polish workers here received special bonuses and they worked only two hours at a time. And here we were, a few exhausted youngsters, and they made us work all day without a break. The Poles who worked with us beat us even worse than did the Germans. There were also German foremen, headed by Dumin, and special overseers called “brigadiers.” All these men were sadists; first they stole

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Everything from their victims and then they made their lives hell.

In that gehennum we found Szydlowiecers who had been there since mid-summer: Israel Feldman, Moyshe Schartzberg, Yosl Broitman, Nathan Freytag, Nachman Shadman, and Aaron Grosscup. We also had a Jewish foreman named Nathan who fit right in with the gang of murderers – a Jewish sadist.

The first meal we got was a watery cabbage soup – and this was supposed to give us the strength to lift and lug those heavy pieces of molten metal.

Six o'clock in the evening we quit work, drenched in perspiration. I was lucky at that, because they put me into a barrack, not in the larger building. The barracks were cleaner and roomier. Veteran camp inmates warned me, however; “When you go to sleep, don't take off your shoes, because if you lose your shoes, you lose your life.” They meant this literally. Those who had o shoes were shot at every Sunday selection. We also had to be careful to keep our clothing clean and neat.

The German foreman Haas, who spoke Polish, not German, did not take advantage of the newcomers. He hated injustice, he said; in his eyes everyone was equal. He did, however, hate Poles. We trusted him more than we did the Jewish foreman. If you had something you wanted to keep safe – an article of clothing, a chunk of bread – you could put it in Haas' locker, which he always kept locked.

Whoever had any money left could buy a quarter of a loaf of bread. There were even some Jews who had wurst to sell. If you had no money you were in trouble because you needed something to add to your regular “diet”.

Working with us was our landsman Abraham Schwartzman. I could see him deteriorate day by day. The portions of bread that he got every day he traded for cigarettes. I warned him that he could live without cigarettes but not

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without bread, but it was to no avail. Soon he was unable to work, and one Sunday, at the selection, they shot him.

A terrible thing happened to Nachman Shadman. He was working in the shell foundry too, but he had an easier job; he and another man carried the hot forms out of the building with a pair of tongs. On this day the tongs suddenly opened and the hot metal, about 80 kilos in weight, fell on Nachman, burning him badly. Dumin, the boss, ran over and shot him on the spot, saying that he did it out of mercy, to put an end to Nachman's suffering. (This murderer later died in a similar accident.)

On the eve of the Christian holidays something happened that resulted in a lot of trouble for Szydlowiecers. The Germans had set up four new ghettos. One of them was Szydlowiec.

A group of Szydlowiecers in the camp organized themselves that first night and escaped. Some of them reached Szydlowiec. A few did not. With the mass escape, however, they didn't do us any good. When the S.S. discovered that the “fugitives” were all Szydlowiecers, they beat us up and took away our shoes to prevent us from running away. One night the murderer Romanko and the Jewish policeman Gnott came into our barracks. I happened to be sitting and repairing my shirt. Romanko hit me such a blow on the head that the room stared spinning.

They ordered all of us to dress and marched us over to the guardhouse, where there was a high-ranking S.S. officer. We thought this was the end. But the only order he issued was that we be taken back to the barracks.

The “shoe situation” became easier with the arrival of a shipment of wooden clogs that we called “Hollanders.” They kept our feet warm, but the snow stuck to the soles and made it harder to walk.

Transports of Jews kept coming in from various cities. In one of them was the Radoshitzer Rebbe, his two daughters and

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a son-in-law. It was the rebbe's fate to fall into the shell foundry. (I don't know how it happened, but the rebbe Yitzhok Finkler, who came to the camp with the Pyotrikower, was given an easier job – sweeping the rooms where the saws were located.) Foreman Haas saw to it that the Radoshitzer rebbe got enough soup, which he never ate, but traded it for food that he could eat. His son-in-law died not long after they came to the camp. One day, when Haas did not come in to work, a few of the Poles took advantage of the opportunity to beat the rebbe and give him the most dangerous jobs. We helped him do the work. The next day Haas roundly cursed out the Poles for what they had done to “my rabbi.”

The food situation continued to worsen. A bowl of soup became a most precious commodity.

Working with us in the shell foundry was a non-Jew who kept trying to persuade Jews to run away. He even helped in the preparations to escape. But just when the Jew was “safely” on the other side of the barbed wire fence, he would inform the police. His reward was a bottle of schnapps or some sugar.

Once, as I stood at the hot oven, one of the Polish workers suddenly attacked me. Moyshe Blatman saw this and rushed to my defense. He hit the Pole so hard that he couldn't get up. Nothing was said about it, however, because Moyshe was an unusually good worker and his foreman interceded for him. I don't know whether Moyshe survived the war.

I had one acquaintance among the Poles whom I sent several times to the Christian woman with whom I had hidden my things. She told him: let him come himself and I'll give him everything he left here. She knew perfectly well that I would never come for them.

We began hearing rumors that our camp was going to be evacuated, that one transport would go to Czenstochow, and that the shell workers would have a choice: to go or to stay. When the rumors came true I chose the latter. The women were not given a choice; they were all evacuated.

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After the evacuation, about 900 Jews were left in the camp. The next day, the head of the kitchen, during a roll call, told Leybke Zakan to pick out ten hungry Jews. He chose me first and then asked me to choose the other nine. Only one of our landsleit was left: Moyshe Kuperberg. I chose another eight foundry workers and we were all given jobs in the big kitchen. I had never even dreamed about such good luck! The German head of the kitchen was a very fine man. It was hard to remember that he was a German. He saw to it that we didn't work too hard. One day he gave us tins of preserves and told us that if we were searched by the guards we should say that he had given them to us.

Those were my “seven good years.” But they lasted only ten days. On the tenth day after the last Szydlowiecers left they sent us away too, but we didn't know where we were going…

They kept moving us from camp to camp until, on the 30th of April 1945, we were liberated by the American army.


Ghetto, Hiding-Place and Camp

by Abraham Weisbrot

In the summer of 1940 the Germans deported 1200 Jews from Szydlowiec to Juzefow and Janiczew. In Juzefow the camp was located in a school; others were put into a stable where they had knocked together some bunks out of boards. Without straw or blankets we slept on these boards after a hard day's work. A piece of black bread and a bit of watery soup was our meal. We worked ten hours a day “regulating” the Vistula. The work norm was: moving 80 wheelbarrows of earth from the river bank. People collapsed, fell unconscious. There was no medical aid of any kind.

For a little while the Szydlowiec Judenrat received permission to send us food, underwear, clothing. This helped us a great deal under those terrible conditions.

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In late autumn, with the soil started to freeze, they still made us work every day in the canal, w here we stood knee-deep in water, shoveling out the mud.

They promised to release us after four weeks in the camp, but after three months we were still there. Then we began “liberating” ourselves. Every day a few people tried to escape. This was not easy; people risked their lives to do it. And some didn't make it. Osher Kornbroit and I ran away together. When we reached the bank of the Vistula at Torle, a peasant rowed us across to the other side. We then wandered through villages, sleeping in farmhouses, until we reached Drilcz. There the Jews provided us with a wagon that took us to Szydlowiec.

In April 1942 the Germans again uprooted several hundred Jews. I say “uprooted” because this time no one reported voluntarily. Armed Germans ran from house to house, beat people savagely with clubs and blackjacks. They rounded up people in the street and forced them into trucks. On one of these trucks stood Rabbi Chaim Rabinowicz, his head bloody, as we looked on in helpless rage. Later they released the rabbi, but his 14-15 year old son was taken away along with the grownups.

When we arrived at the Jedlne camp, rear Radom, we found newly erected barracks in a field. As far as the eye could see, there was no sign of any living creature. There were no guards and no barbed wire fences. The work-place was about 3-4 kilometers away. The road led through a thick pine woods. In the summer time, after a hard day's work, the clean air was refreshing. On cold days we chopped down trees, cut them up and carried the logs to the camp to heat the stoves.

They put us to work laying railroad tracks. We carried iron rails that were too heavy for our famished bodies. When we returned to the barracks we felt free, because there were no guards. In the evenings we sat and talked, even sang and tried to forget our troubles.

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We had no medical supplies of any kind. If a person felt sick he didn't go out to work. One day a military inspection team came to the barracks and found fourteen Jews who had not gone to work. They took them into the woods and shot them.

As soon as we heard the news that the Szydlowiec ghetto would soon be liquidated, I immediately made plans to go back to my hometown. The thought that I might never see my family again almost drove me out of my mind. This time luck was with me. I made the acquaintance of a German driver who took me to Szydlowiec, for which I paid him well.

On September 22, 1942, the day after Yom Kippur, the fire bells suddenly started clanging. Szydlowiec was surrounded by Germans, Ukrainians and Lithuanians. That day the deportation started. Yankl Binstok and I decided not to go. With Abraham Zeigfinger and his brother Yankl we went to the hiding-place at the home of Melech Broniewski. The entrance was camouflaged with a chopping-board and buckets of water on a bench.

Fear and terror everywhere. Outside, the Germans were driving a whole community of Jews to their death; inside we lay crowded together in a space no bigger than a closet, suck in gloomy thoughts. Our ears picked up every sound. No one uttered a word. We were afraid to do so, but what was there to talk about, and of what use were words as we watched our nearest and dearest being led to the slaughter?

Despite the deadly risk, we left our “bunker” in the middle of the day and somehow got through the haymarket to Radom Road and over to Swiercz, where I knew a farmer named Woicek. Back in 1939 he had promised to help me if I ever found myself in danger. He was a little disconcerted because there were four of us, but he put us all into his barn and covered ourselves up with the hay.

After a week, our host came and told us unhappily that he could no longer let us stay there; the Germans had found one of

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his neighbors hiding a Jew and burned his house down. Although I was running a high fever, I fled with the others, but after going a short distance, I was unable to continue. I went into a Polish house to ask for help. Ten minutes later, when I came out again, I no longer found any of my group. Seeing that I was alone and sick, the friendly Christian woman (whose name I don't know) told me I could stay, though she herself was trembling in fear of what might happen.

For five days I lay sick in a half-finished house. She fed me and brought me medicine until I recovered. Then I went to Pawlew, where an older Polish woman, a friend of my mother's, received me cordially and hid me even from her own husband, who was a dull-witted man. If he had known about this he would have killed us both. For seven days I hid in a small dark room. When everyone was asleep I would go outdoors for a breath of air and stretch my legs.

Again, the same thing happened. Fear of the Germans, of her husband, of her neighbors – it would not let her rest. I knew she was in great peril, so I told her that I had decided to get back to the ghetto, where there were still some Jews.

With the help of this Christian woman I managed to reach Szydlowiec. After some narrow escapes I got inside Fishl Eisenberg's tannery, where the so-called “Cleanup Commando” was quartered. They advised me to get away as quickly as possible; the longer I stayed, the closer I was to death. They told me that eight Jews who had smuggled their way into that place had been shot the day before.

Once again I took a chance. Anyway, I didn't have too much to lose. The next morning, when Commander Ostrowiec was leading the commando out to work I slipped into line. He made his report to the German camp commandant in the usual military fashion; list the number of men in the various groups. When he finished, he pointed to me and said I was a newcomer. After sending all the others off to their work, the

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Germans began their interrogation: Where had I been hiding? In whose house? What was their name? Each question was accompanied by blows, but I gave them no information. Then they took me to the police-station, where I saw that I wasn't the only one. Moyshe Briks and Motek Gershonowicz had also not been in the camp for roll call the previous night.

That afternoon a Polish policeman came into our cell and informed us that a grave was waiting for us, and if we had money or other valuables, we might as well give them to him as to the Germans. Moyshe Briks was a close friend of mine for many years. When we heard this we fell into each other's arms to say farewell. We had lived together and we wanted to die together.

The next few hours dragged interminably. Whenever we heard footsteps outside the locked door we jumped. The cemetery was so close we could see it through the barred window.

That evening we heard a voice outside the window telling us not to worry. Later we learned that our friends had bribed the Germans by revealing the location of a hidden cache of goods worth several thousand zloty. This was the price of our “reprieve.”

In this way I became a “legal” member of the Cleanup Commando. We witnessed such brutally murderous acts that sometimes we envied the condemned prisoners who had the privilege of a quick death.

One day we were ordered to pick up a Jew who had just been shot. Not far from the cemetery Notte Sheidman lay on the grass. He had always been quick and courageous, and that is how he died, resisting the murderer Bauer, who had caught him as he tried to climb a fence. A salvo of bullets cut short his young life.

They brought in Yehiel Neshe's daughter and her two little girls, six and eight years old. She told me that she had been hiding with the children in a tomb in the cemetery. When she

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left the hiding place to look for food for the children, the Germans caught her. She hoped they would let her and the children live. Two days later she and her two daughters were shot.

One day we noticed a small child of about four wandering around the streets. We recognized him – Lozer Sherr's son. We took him in and soon he began to feel at home with us. He wanted each one of us to be “his father.” He began to overcome his fear. His eyes brightened. For us it was a moving experience. Seventy lonely, broken human remnants found in this child a ray of hope, of a new life, a kind of living monument to the dead. We all saw to it that he ate and that his clothes were clean.

A week passed this way, until Notte Broitman came in with an order: bring out the child. Instinctively the boy must have sensed that something terrible was about to happen. He refused to go out. His eyes pleaded with us: protect me. But no one could help him. At the cemetery, Camp Commander Karpinski was waiting for him. He put the child between his knees and with sadistical pleasure fired a bullet into his little head.

On November 11, 1942, as they were taking us to the munitions factory at Skarzysko, several of our group escaped into the villages and woods. Some even had Aryan documents.

That was the end of the Jewish community of Szydlowiec. The last of generations of Jews who, over the centuries, had established a beautiful community, until the Teutonic barbarians came and put an end to it forever.


How We Saved Ourselves From Death

by Elka Silverman-Goldberg

Saturday, September 9, 1939 the German army entered Szydlowiec and almost immediately we felt the heavy hand of

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the occupying power: taxes, curfews, anti-Semitism, Sturmer posters.

And the first victim, Notte Reichter. German soldiers invaded the bet-midrash, the synagogue, the shtiblech, where Jews were praying. They drove everyone out, gave them brooms, and forced them to clean the streets. With the arrival of winter, the situation grew even worse: stores, factories, workshops, all closed. Hunger stalked the town.

At about the time we first heard rumors of gas chambers, the Germans decreed that all women from 15 to 60 must assemble at the city hall square. Most women obeyed the order. Police ran among the crowd; selecting the youngest and the prettiest, put them on trucks going to labor camps. Among these women were my two sisters-in-law, Malka and Miriam. Miriam, my brother Leybl's wife, went in place of her younger sister Gitele.

Jews started coming to Szydlowiec from other areas of the country. Some people took this as a sign that the catastrophe was moving closer to us. The tension reached a climax when we learned that the trains were waiting at the railroad station.

Tuesday after Yom Kippur 1942, a new sensation: people say that the Judenrat no longer exists, that Chairman Morgenbesser has been arrested. People ask each other what to do. In the middle of the night we hear knocking on our windows. A new decree: Eight o'clock the next morning all Jews must gather in the marketplace. Taking the advice of my husband's partner, Yankl Blachasz, we go to a hiding place in his home. They had a large oven for baking bread and drying grain-kernels. In the house proper the oven is all bricked in, but in the attic there is an opening covered with boards. Yankl's mother, Esther, my mother-in-law, told us that this had served as a safe hiding-place during the First World War.

During Hitler's war it served the same purpose. The space measured about four square feet; the ceiling was five feet high.

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In this kind of hole, four of us hid: Yankl and I, his brother Leybl and his brother-in-law Getzl Rosenbaum.

My mother-in-law covered the entrance with the boards and went to the city hall together with my sister Beyla, my sister-in-law Hannah and her two little girls. As we said goodbyes, everyone was sobbing and wondering if we would ever see each other again…

For hours we were pressed together as the air in the hiding-place grew harder and harder to breathe. We simply had to get out of there, even though we knew they might catch us as soon as we stepped out. We went up to the attic and looked out the window. We could hear loud shooting and horrifying screams. When it grew dark, we left the house, went along back streets to Dlugosa and then to a village where Yankl had a customer – people called him “Niewadzis with the crooked back.” At first he refused to help us, but then he relented and let us into his barn. Miriam's sister and her young daughter were already hiding there. She went back to Szydlowiec disguised as a Christian woman, because her husband was still there.

After a few hours Niewadzis told us we had to leave – people in the neighborhood already knew that he was hiding Jews. We had no choice. Not far from this place another rich farmer let us stay for two nights. On the third day he hid us in a big hay-wagon and took us to a woods near Skarzysko. This cost us 500 zloty. With a lot of luck and after some narrow escapes we reached Skarzysko.

On Simchas Torah the order came for all Jews to report to a certain place; otherwise they would be shot. All the sick people in the hospital, since they could not report, were shot. Police, German foremen, Ukrainian guards – they all went through our ranks selecting the healthiest-looking people. Yankl, Leybl and I were in that group. No one knew which was preferable – the trains or the Hasag. Among those taken away were my brother-in-law Leybl Goldner and his wife Hendl. Both later perished in Treblinka.

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The healthy people were sent to the Hasag munitions plant. Along the road we saw pools of blood and dead bodies. Yankl and Leybl and I went to the Hasag. Gerzl, our brother-in-law, his brother Isaac Rosenbaum and his bride, Feygl Alpert, my sister-in-law Hendl, my Aunt Esther Goldwasser and other relatives and friends went to their martyrdom in Treblinka.

In the Skarzysko camp we met Yankl's younger sister Malka and Leybl's wife Miriam. We were “lucky” in our work assignments, thanks to Miriam. I was assigned to the “mirror-machines.” This work was not difficult. Two other girls and I sat at a large table on which stood a mirror. Along the surface of the table ran a tape with casings for bullets. Our job was to make sure that every casing had two holes, which were necessary to ignite the powder that exploded the bullet.

We worked in two shifts: one week the night-shift, the next week day-shift. At first we worked eight hours, later it was increased to twelve. The day-shift was tolerable, the night-shift much more difficult. Our eyes, suffering from the strain, kept closing. Hunger gnawed. It would have been a miracle if we hadn't missed a casing with clogged holes once in a while. A few times I made such a mistake out of weariness, but was saved from a charge of sabotage, which would have meant certain death.

In the second half of 1943 we began to sense that the Hitler offensive had not only been stopped on the most important fronts, but that the Germans were suffering defeats. They needed more and more workers; they kept bringing in fresh transports of Jewish slave laborers. All the Jewish towns and cities in Poland were “cleaned out.” In the eyes of the German foremen the value of the Jewish concentration camp work rose.

Quietly they tried to improve our conditions a little. Camp inmates were given trousers, boots, and coats. Even more significant: there were no more selections. New barracks were built, with plumbing and cold running water. They even

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permitted us to have small stoves where we could cook our food. A spark of hope ignited in our hearts – perhaps we would still live long enough to be freed.

Because of the close contact with Poles in the factories, Jews began bartering and making things. With these earnings they could buy extra food. Tailors refurbished old clothing for the Poles, hat makers made hats out of old rags, shoemakers repaired tattered shoes; some people made bags or baskets out of paper sacks. The Poles were glad to buy these things in exchange for food, bread, etc.

Jews made these things after their day's work. They were very inventive. Out of metal or aluminum they made combs, rings, pins. They cut the strings off the bullet-catchers and made colored thread, which was in great demand among the Poles. Jews sold cigarettes, saccharine, garlic, bread. Some even set up little stands in their bunks where they sold corn, kasha, butter, flour, even wurst.

All this was known to the camp commandant, but he “overlooked” it, as did the lower rank supervisors. The camp in “Works A” started to look like a Jewish shtetl. Religious Jews had their own rebbe and sometimes even davened in a minyan. Suddenly all this was permitted, because the Jews were needed for German production.

But even during this relatively better time in the camp, terrible things still happened. Our two friends, David Shchenshliva and Kornbloom, from Szydlowiec, who were members of the Bund youth organization, had come to the camp from Ostrowiec. They were accused of spying for the partisans. When they were being led out to be shot, they attacked the guard and tried to disarm him. But they failed. One of them ran away; the other was shot.

Another friend, Yehiel Kinel, who was accused of helping to smuggle out bullets for the partisans, was hung.

One day in July 1944 the camp authorities suddenly

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carried out a selection at the gate. Several hundred Jews were chosen to die. One of them was Pinik Krull, a very strong young man who had been a porter in Szydlowiec. Even in the camp he made use of his great strength. But he had hurt his hand at work and was therefore caught in the selection. As he was being led away he cried out: “Jews, I know where they are taking us! May we be the last victims! If you survive, don't forget us!”

I mention this now to fulfill his last wish.

Not long after this last selection the Skarzysko camp was liquidated. Some people were sent to Czenstochow. Later, men and women were evacuated to separate trains – women to Leipzig, men to Buchenwald and then to Shlebin. From Leipzig they marched us for 14 days with hardly any food. Many died on the way. In one German village where we stopped, Malka, Miriam and I and a couple of girls from Hungary ran into a barn, collapsed on the hay and fell fast asleep. When we awoke, we learned that we had been liberated by the Americans. It was April 1945.


In Hasag

by Menachem Rosenzweig

When I was still quite young I was rounded up with a group of other Jews and sent to Hasag. My family did not know where I was until three weeks later, when I sent a note to my parents through a Polish worker. Through that same man, my father sent me back a bundle of underwear and tefillin, along with a note reminding me to “davn” every day, so that God would help me. This remained with me as his last will and testament.

One day going out to work, I noticed that a new transport of Jews, including many Szydlowiecers, had arrived at the camp. Imagine my surprise when I saw my father among them.

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I could not approach him without endangering both our lives. Only our eyes met – and that was the last time I ever saw him. I never saw my dear mother Esther again, either.

Sometime later the Ukrainians took us out to a place where a horrible sight met our eyes. The bodies of seven young women and five young men, all from Szydlowiec, lay on the ground.

Working on the night shift, they had tried to run away and return to Szydlowiec when it was declared a ghetto in December 1942. After we buried these martyrs the Ukrainian sadists ordered us to dance on the graves while they took our pictures.

For the observant Jew, life in the camp was even worse. They did the best they could. On Pesach, the cantor Yosl Mendelbaum gave me a cup of yellow cornmeal. (He had come from the camp at Plashew with many other Jews from Krakow.) On Sabbath and holidays he saw to it that there was a minyan in his barracks.

In the summer of 1944 I was liberated.


Luck – Good and Bad

by Fishl Kornbroyt

Because of the frequent German raids, our parents had constructed a special hiding-place for us, but in that terrible month of July 1942 it didn't work. And just as my brother and my three sisters and I stepped into the courtyard, the guards caught us and put us into the back of a truck. There were already two Jewish boys and a bound calf in the truck, so we were certain they were taking us somewhere to shoot us, because any Jew caught with meat in his possession could be put to death.

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But this time a miracle happened. On the way, the Germans dropped the calf off somewhere and brought us to the Skarzysko munitions plant called “Hasag.”

The work in the camp was very hard. Wearing rubber boots, I stood up to my knees in water containing various chemicals which burned holes in my hands and feet. By a galvanizing process, I made copper out of iron. My sisters and my mother were given easier jobs to do, but fear, hunger and tension made us all feel very depressed.

We stayed in Hasag for two years, until the summer of 1944, when they put us on trains and sent us to Czenstochowa.

Again we were lucky – we were together and shared our bit of bread and soup, until we were liberated by the Russians on January 16, 1945.


My First Days in Hasag

by Hannah Bovnik-Broniewski

I was among the first to be sent to the Hasag camp, but I was too young then to comprehend what such a camp signified.

For a long time I worked in “Works B.” Early in 1944 they moved me to “Works A,” where the work was much harder. In Works B it had at least been possible to get a potato once in a while.

Fortunately I didn't stay there long. During the last selection I was sent to the camp at Warta, Czenstochowa, where the living conditions were much better. The Germans did not shoot any prisoners there, the food was better and the work was easier. I stayed there until January 17, 1945, when the Russians came and liberated us. Then a few of us managed to get to Szydlowiec, but we couldn't stay there, because the Poles threatened to kill us if we didn't leave.


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A Seder Night in the Skarzysko Camp

by Eliezer Levin

My old daughter and I were put into “Works C,” where we were given easier work to do, thanks to two Polish foremen, former customers of mine. They helped us out with extra portions of bread and other things.

In this particular section there were several rabbis from Otwock-Polenice, the Radioshitzer Rebbe, and the shochet from Nieswicz, the Wolbromer Rov, and the Rosh Yeshiva from Otwock. I helped them in whatever way I could – an extra portion of soup, a slice of bread, some Polish corn.

I was supervisor of a few young women from Skarzysko and Szydlowiec. Occasionally we went to work accompanied by a Polish foreman outside the camp in the village of Musawia. We took with us a few things to “sell” to the peasants there in exchange for butter, bread, corn. Some of it we ate and the rest we smuggled into the camp.

Shortly before Pesach the rabbis sent someone to me to ask for help, so that they wouldn't have to eat chometz. This gave me the idea of arranging a “seder” for the rabbis. I knew I had to tell the camp manager about this (her name was Markowitz) because without her consent nothing could be done.

I bought some fresh strawberries for her young daughter, sometimes fresh cucumbers or mushrooms. In this way I became a frequent visitor at her home. When I got to know her better I told her what we wanted to do, with her permission. I also asked if she would talk to the Jewish camp policeman (Feffer) so that the rabbis could bake matzo at night in the big ovens that heated the barracks.

Under camp conditions the baking of the matzo was a difficult and dangerous undertaking, but we overcame all the obstacles. We obtained all the ingredients by paying a lot of money for them.

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Erev Pesach, as I was coming back from work, a camp policeman stopped me and ordered me to report immediately to Mrs. Markowitz. After she asked me a lot of questions, which I answered, she said:

“I wanted to be sure that you weren't making a private business out of this. I see that you handled the whole matter in an honest way. I've taken care of everything and I'm ready to help you – I'm going to give you 60 eggs for the rabbis.” Anyone who was in Works C will understand what that gift of 60 eggs represented.

Precisely at ten o'clock, when everyone was asleep, the rabbis began the seder. They had each written down whatever they could remember from the Hagada. A holy silence spread over the room when we came to the Four Questions. At that moment it seemed that God Himself had no answers to all the questions that were pressing on our minds. A muted weeping accompanied every blessing and the entire reading of the Hagada.


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In the Ghetto

by Choneh Piasek

When Yosl Katshala was sent to the munitions plant at Hasag he was only 16 years old, but his experiences there were those of an adult. His three sisters – Hannah, Kreindl and Devora were also in the camp. His chief concern was to keep them from going hungry. At the risk of life, he would often disappear from his work-place, in order to hunt up a piece of bread or a potato for his sisters and himself.

At first he worked in the section where they finished rifle bullets. Then, by sheer accident, he became an electrician. This made it possible for him to move around the camp more freely. It also gave him a pretext to stop in at the kitchen, and he never left there empty-handed.

[Page 297]

But one day the guards at the factory gate caught him with a piece of meat in his possession. They beat him unmercifully, but Yosl did not reveal the name of his “partners.”

When the Hasag camp was liquidated he was sent to Buchenwald, where he perished.


One of Many

by Miriam Silberman-Broman

When the Nazis occupied our town, my mother Sheindle was helping my father eke out a living. My father, who was then in his sixties, immediately felt their murderous paws.

One day, on his way home from the synagogue, they tore out his beard and left him lying bloody in the street. For weeks after that he was sick.

Miraculously, I was the only one left alive in my family. When the Germans caught my sister Gitele and wanted to send her to a labor camp, I volunteered to go in her place because I was older and stronger. I thought I would be better able to endure the hard times in the Skarzysko camp. The first few days there, however, convinced me that one could not get out of there alive. Then I had some “good luck.” Basch, my German foreman, liked my work and appointed me to spoon out the soup.

This helped me a great deal to survive until the liberation.


In the Camps

by Feyge Schwartzfing-Tabris

When the war broke out I wasn't even 14 years old. I remember the burning synagogue and how the Jews tried to put out the fire. They were unsuccessful but they did manage to save the neighboring houses.

As long as the Germans let us live in our own homes we

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somehow were able to endure all their cruelties. No matter how bad it was, there was still some feeling of safety. But that didn't last long. Soon they started driving us out and we sensed the beginning of the end.

Summer 1942 the Germans sent my father to the camp at Jelne, near Radom. He stayed there six weeks and then came home shortly before the liquidation of Szydlowiec. During the raid, when the whole city was surrounded by the S.S. and they were rounding up Jews for Skarzysko, my sister Leah and I were among those caught. We had never been separated from our parents before. Now we were crowded into a barracks with hundreds of other people. At first we thought we would never get used to this hell, but apparently human beings can endure terrible things.

Our two brothers, Yonah-Yehiel and Leybl, were also sent to Hasag, Works C. Leybl escaped with Notte Tepper and went to a peasant they knew in Smilew. As we later learned, this man kept them hidden for two days and then sent them away. Shortly afterward they were caught by the S.S. and shot.

In the summer of 1944 they sent many of us to Czenstochowa and from there to Bergen-Belsen. How we survived Bergen-Belsen I'll never understand. From there they sent us to Burgow, Tirkheim and Alach, where we were liberated.


From Juzefow to Hasag

by Osher Kornbroyt

On August 20, 1940 I was among many Szydlowiecers that the Germans sent to the camp at Juzefow. The old inmates there were Jews from Warsaw. The work was very hard, with Polish foremen and German and Ukrainian guards. But I worked at that “job” only one day.

At the roll call the next morning I heard that they were

[Page 299]

looking for tailors. I reported immediately for that work and they took me, mainly because I had a slip of paper from the German Wehrmacht saying that I had worked for them as a tailor in Szydlowiec. My foreman was a Jew from Juzefow named Hanina Birnbaum. He treated me very well and even saw to it that I wouldn't have to go to the camp to sleep. Even though his house was crowded, he arranged for me to sleep there.

Birnbaum told me once that a tailor from our town, who had been in the camp, had offered him a large sum of money to take him into the tailor shop instead of me.

At the end of October the Szydlowiecers in the camp started running back to the shtetl. And even though our situation was comparatively good here, I wanted to be with my family, so I ran too. But here the hard work began for me again – cleaning the streets, shoveling snow off the roads, etc.

In August 1942 my brother Fishel and my youngest sister Roma were caught in a roundup and sent to Skarzysko. Shortly afterward, on “Bloody Thursday,” when many Jews were shot, I and my sisters Miriam and Tola were also caught and sent to Hasag. Thus we were separated from our parents Leybush and Leah, our sister Toybe-Rochel and her husband Shlomo Steinovich and their three children, and also our youngest brother Hershele. I never saw them again.

In Skarzysko I was in “Works A,” together with my brother Fishl and my sisters. My work was not as hard as Fishl's. The general conditions in the camp were inhuman and I would not have lasted there very long. But fortunately the camp was liquidated. From there they sent me to Czenstochowa. My brother and sisters were sent to Pelzern. Six months later we were liberated and met in Poland. We went to Szydlowiec but found such a poisonous Jew-hatred among the Poles that we left our native city.


[Page 300]

From Camp to Camp

by Feitshe Eisenberg

In the ghetto I always tried to avoid all the roundups for labor camps.

On the day after Yom Kippur (Tuesday, September 22, 1942) we were expecting the Germans to deport all the Jews from Szydlowiec. I went to my friend Shmuel Zagdanski and with eight other Jews we hid in a well constructed bunker. I can still hear the cries and screams of the women and children and the crackling of the guns. Then it grew deathly silent. We didn't know what to do next. We were afraid to leave the hiding-place.

For several days we lay there until one day a Folksdeutsch stumbled upon us, apparently while he was looking for hidden Jewish treasure.

For a moment we were all struck dumb – including the Folksdeutsch. Finally we asked him whether there were any Jews left in the city. He told us there were some Jews at Pinkert's. We gave him a sum of money to take us there. Among the Jews hidden there were my parents.

Soon afterward all the Jews in Szydlowiec were sent to Skarzysko. During the deportation from Skarzysko, I was selected to work in the Hasag camp. That same day, many of the Jews, including my parents, were sent to Treblinka.

The Hasag was a dreadful place. I worked there at a machine on which I often cut my hands. I was beaten by Poles and Germans. There was a German named Batenschlager who used to pick out the prettiest Jewish girls there, use them and then shoot them.

During the ten months I was in Hasag I kept looking for a way to escape to Radom, as my sister Rivkele had done. Finally I arranged with a Pole to take me there for 1000 zloty.

Living with my sister and my Uncle Yisroel Goldberg, I

[Page 301]

was able to breathe a little easier, but this didn't last long. The Germans soon sent me to Maidanek, then to Auschwitz, and then to the death camp at Ravensbruck. From there we went to a town called Malhauf, where we were liberated. My sister Sonya perished during her first days at Skarzysko. The rest of my family was murdered by the Germans at various places.


I Cannot Forget

by Hannah Frelich-Perl

It was a day before the first deportation. Many people believed that it was safer to go to Starchowicz. My Uncle Hershl Silberman, a Kuzmirer Hassid, practically forced me to go there. Our barracks were in a place that had formerly been a firing-range for Polish soldiers. Now it was a vale of tears for young Jewish slave-laborers, where the Nazis carried out their executions. There, for the slightest “sin,” they “tithed” us: they lined up all the inmates, counted off every tenth person and shot him or her, while the others watched. On more than one occasion, as the murders counted 6, 7, 8 my heart pounded so hard I thought I would burst.

I worked very hard loading heavy guns and shells onto trains and in the worst weather – snow, frost and rain – twelve hours a day. The foreman was a demon in human form named Wirtz.

Because I was a quick worker, they chose me to distribute the food. I stood at a soup-kettle and ladled out the portions. The hungry Jews looked into my eyes, begging for a bit of soup. Opposite me stood the camp Commandant, watching every move I made. This job was considered a rare prize, but after a few days I asked to be relieved of it. I couldn't shake off the feeling that I was doing someone harm, that I wasn't properly stirring the soup before I put it into the bowl.

There was another sadistic foreman there named Altoph.

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Unbelievable as it may sound the only person who could restrain him was an exceptionally beautiful Jewish girl named Hannah Lachs. (We called her Lachsuvne.) But she wasn't always there when the monster started on one of his rampages.

Miracle of miracles. One morning I came down with typhus and couldn't get out of bed. Suddenly a voice yelled:

Shtern-schoss, raus!”
It was our Shumeule Shchensliva, a landsman of the Jewish camp police. I begged him, “Shmuel, don't you see that I can't move?” But he paid no attention, just kept yelling and helping me put on my shoes and coat. Then he shoved me out and kicked me in the behind for good measure. With my last bit of strength I dragged myself to the line that was already marching out to work.

Not until the end of the day, when I limped back to the barracks with the help of a friend, did we learn of the terrible slaughter of 85 young women in our barracks. Then I understood what Shmuel had done for me with his yelling and shoving. Unfortunately he himself perished during the liquidation of the camp at Starchowicz.

How can one forget that?

From Starchowicz they sent us to the real death-camp – Auschwitz. When we finished t he whole ceremony of “delousing” – soap, shower – we were all certain it was the end. We didn't believe our overseer's assurances that we had nothing to fear because we had come here with a recommendation as good workers.

This time, however, it turned out that they were telling the truth.

I worked at Auschwitz for several months, then we were evacuated to Lower Silesia, where we worked in a weaving mill. This was the best camp I had ever been in. When the battlefronts came closer, we were again evacuated. At the Czech-German border we were liberated.


[Page 303]

Among Good Christians

by Bronek Tsingisser

Bronek and Janek – two non-Jewish names which my brother and I bore during the terrible Hitler times. My brother was ten; I was six.

Under the name of Bronek my parents (Boruch and Naomi) put me into the hands of Jagelo, a Pole in the village of Kszenczyn. My tears and my pleas were to no avail when this Christian came to take me to his house, which was six-seven kilometers from Szydlowiec. It was the last time I ever saw my dear mother and sisters Hannah-Sarah and Rosa.

For the first couple of days my father stayed with me. He knew it wouldn't be easy for me to become accustomed to such a different life.

Jagelo introduced me to peasant children my own age. He taught me to pasture his geese on the nearby meadows. His wife taught me how to cross myself and how to say the Christian prayers. From time to time my father would come and visit. After he left I missed my home even more.

During the first deportation my mother and sisters were sent to Treblinka. My father and my brother Janek (Yakov-Yitzhak) came to Kszenczyn one dark night and stayed with Jagelo. My brother and I used to hand around with the peasant children in the village, but my father stayed hidden in a special little room.

Soon our presence became a source of suspicion among the neighbors, and my father started thinking about another hiding-place. When he learned that there was still a ghetto in Pshyskhe the three of us went there in the middle of the night, but a few days later that ghetto was suddenly surrounded by S.S. and police and we were caught in the trap. With us at the time were also my father's cousins, Hershl and Moshe

[Page 304]

Tsingesser. For a large sum of money and jewelry the German guards let us get away.

My father, who knew the area well, brought us back to the Jagelo's. Here our group of five was increased by three more Szydlowiecers – Pinchas Meir Greenberg, Menahem Lefcowich and his wife Shifra. The good-hearted Jagelo, who couldn't say no to anyone, put us all in a hiding-place in his barn.

We stayed there until the end of February. One night the Gestapo came and surrounded the entire village. My father was killed. The rest of us managed to escape. Jagelo was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. My brother and I continued to hide with Jagelo's widow. Our childish intelligence did not grasp how dangerous this situation was.

The others in our group found a hiding-place in the nearby village of Kozitsa. One night the peasants in the village attacked them and tried to rob them. The group put up a fight. Pinchas Meir Greenberg and one of the attackers were killed.

Menahem Lefcowitch (Japek) and his wife Shifra then hid in the village of Zimoki, several kilometers from Kszenczyn. Moshe and Hershl decided to return to Szydlowiec; they had no money and no hope of finding a place to hide. The one thing they owned was a hand-grenade. They reached Szydlowiec safely, went into the city hall and exploded the grenade. Both brothers were killed instantly, but they took down with them a number of Germans and Poles who were in the building. It was a modern version of Samson's “I will die with the Philistines.”

In the village of Wisocki, near Kszenczyn, the Zucker brothers had a hiding-place. They too were betrayed by their neighbors and were killed by the Gestapo. Menahem and Shifra had a good hiding-place but were betrayed by peasants shortly before the liberation.

My brother and I survived only thanks to the benevolence of Jagelo and his wife. Jagelo perished in Auschwitz. His wife,

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even while her husband was in Auschwitz, continued to shelter us. They both are truly among the “Righteous of the Nations.” One of them paid with his life; the other risked her life every moment of every day during the long five years that we were with her.


The Camp at Wolonow

by Motl Eisenberg

The labor camp at Wolonow had more than a thousand Jewish slave laborers. The camp had two sections – one for men and one for women – about 200 meters apart. Each section was surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence. The entrance was through a small, narrow door, guarded day and night by the Jewish police.

Inside the barracks were three tiers of bunks, in each bunk sleeping two-three people. Each worker received 250 grams of bread a day, plus several hundred grams of sugar or marmalade a week. Every evening after work t hey gave us soup. Five o'clock in the morning the police woke us up. At six o'clock we lined up and were marched by Jewish policemen three or four kilometers to the work-place.

The labor camp consisted of a large field, about ten square kilometers, on which stood various buildings, brick and wooden. The entire area was surrounded by a high barbed wire fence closely guarded by German soldiers. The various work projects were run by German companies. Some of the smaller projects were run by Polish companies. The attitude toward the Jewish workers varied, depending on which company you worked for and also, who the supervisor was.

I myself landed in a Polish firm called “Fertino” which was constructing a building for an electrical transformer. At the beginning the Jews there had nothing to complain about, but gradually it grew worse, almost intolerable. The foreman, a

[Page 306]

Pole from Radom, began to speed up the work, and whenever he became angry, he beat people with whatever piece of lumber was handy. Later we were assigned a young Pole – one of the “Janakes” -- people who volunteered their services to the Germans and were given special uniforms. His job was to “inspect” our work. He terrorized us and frequently beat us with a rubber truncheon.

One Sunday morning they selected a hundred men and women to do a certain job for the “Arktropic” Company. They marched us out beyond the camp to lay heavy cables into deep ditches. The workers, lined up about two meters apart, put their shoulders under a heavy cable. The effect was a long line of men carrying the cable all along the ditch and then lowering it slowly and carefully to the ground. Then we shoveled the earth back into the ditch, covering the cable. The job was “managed” by a tall young German named Razzi, who ran around like a wild man, hitting whoever he felt like over the head with his truncheon.

As we carried the cable, we had to cross a stream over a “bridge” that consisted of two long pipes. Razzi and another supervisor stood on the bank, and whenever one of the men stepped out onto the pipes, they yanked the cable, so that many lost their footing and fell into the water. For these murderers the whole thing was an entertaining spectacle.

At the beginning of November there was an outbreak of typhus in the camp. It was a matter of great concern. Many Jews with symptoms of the disease continued to work. They could barely stand on their feet. They couldn't keep their eyes open. But they were afraid to report in sick. The camp council considered measures to prevent the epidemic from spreading, but what could they do? The barracks were crowded; there was no place to wash your body or your underwear. Most of the people there were malnourished. Their shoes were tattered and their light clothing was no protection against the elements.

[Page 307]

One afternoon an automobile drove into the camp with armed Ukrainians in black uniforms. They rounded up those Jews who had remained in their barracks that day and shot every one of them. The next morning we lined up as usual and were marched off to work as though nothing had happened.

One day toward the end of November the Jewish police ordered everyone to report to the yard. There was a lot of commotion and excitement in the camp that day. The police tried to keep things calm by telling us we were going to be given a medical examination because of the sickness in the camp. We shaved; we changed our underwear, put on our other shirt, filled a sack with daily necessities, and waited. I took the money I had with me and divided it up among the members of my family. I said farewell to my wife at the fence around the women's camp. She looked at me with tear-filled eyes that had one question in them: Would we ever see each other again?

We lined up in the yard. The German commandant passed up and down between the rows, looking into every face. Whenever he saw one that looked too old or too young or that hadn't been properly shaved, he ordered that person to step out of line. Later he ordered us to march in step. Those who limped or who didn't keep time were also ordered to fall out of line.

Gradually the group grew to about 150 Jews.

My work group was then ordered to march to the other end of the camp, behind the barracks. When we got there they ordered us to clean up the area of all the rocks and construction materials that lay strewn all over the ground. Our nerves were stretched to the breaking point. Our arms couldn't lift anything. Questions gnawed at our mind: What would happen to the Jews who remained? What was going on in the women's camp? What would happen to the sick people in the barracks?

Suddenly, a shot. Then another and another. There is only one explanation they are shooting the remaining Jews.

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The sound of shooting moves closer and closer. The bullets are flying not far from us. One man says: “They've finished with the others, now it's our turn.” We can see the murderers dragging the sick out of the barracks and shooting them even before they are out the door.

We grow more and more tense. We pick up things and move them one place to another. There is no place to run. The entire area is surrounded by a double barbed wire fence. Every move we make is being watched. Any suspicious activity can mean instant death.

Near me is my older son Moshe. The shooting finally stops, but no one moves. In the distance I see my youngest daughter running. (She worked in the warehouse of the men's camp.) She is running quickly, looking from side to side. When she comes closer and sees us we start crying, without saying a word.

Now all the men start running toward the women's camp to find out what is happening there – to their wives, daughters, sisters, brides. The camp is guarded by Jewish police who won't let anyone in. I move away and go off to one side. I notice my wife standing at the fence. We had barely exchanged a word when a Jewish policeman comes up behind me and hits me in the head several times with his club.

Despite the police, however, a steady stream of me is flowing toward the women's camp. They try to find out where their dear ones are, people meet, fall into each other's arms and weep uncontrollably. Those who can't cry run around, shouting and screaming like madmen, their voices inhuman.

Early the next morning the Jewish police again wake us up to go to work. Some of the men are assigned to the job of collecting the victims of yesterday's shooting.

In the evening we come together to pray and to say Kaddish for the martyrs.


[Page 309]

Kingdom of Death

by Jacob Pomerantz

Sometime after the Germans occupied Szydlowiec they set up a Judenrat consisting of: Abraham Redlich, President; Morgenbesser, Abraham Rosenbaum, Pinchas Shteinman, Hershl Vester, Moshe Berger, members; Abraham Finkler, Secretary.

For a while the Judenrat was able to make some things easier. They found ways to “moderate” the representatives of the occupation authority in the ghetto. But then the situation grew worse and worse and the Judenrat was practically helpless.

The Nazis found traitors and collaborators among other peoples: Quislings, Petains. Regrettably, they also found informers and despicable characters among Jews, people who thought they could save their own necks that way. Szydlowiec also had several informers, but generally, it can be said that no one stepped over another's body. On the contrary, people helped each other.

Szydlowiec had a Judenrat, Jewish police. Possibly there were injustices in making work assignments or buying “protection” with money, but in general the Judenrat acted within limits and stood guard to protect the Jews of Szydlowiec by bribing Germans with gifts and money. Even in the concentration camps Szydlowiecers tried to stay together. Some helped each other, even suffered for one another.

Just a few facts about myself and others. Early in 1943, in Starchowicz – it was only a couple of months after I had been hit by a bullet and a few weeks after I had had typhus – the Germans carried out one of their selections and luckily they overlooked me. One of the Jewish camp leaders, however, a certain Wolfowicz, pointed to me and they called me back.

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At the same moment, another Szydlowiecer, Shmuel Shchenslive, stepped up and said to Oberscharfuhrer Kalditz: “This man is my policeman; he takes me to work every day.” Because Shmuel stuck his neck out for me, I stayed among the living. To my great distress, Shchenslive later was killed himself while trying to escape.

Another incident: During the typhus epidemic in Starchowicz many people died. I was swollen all over and could not go out to work, but Rochel-Leah Cooperman, as soon as she found out about it sent food to me in the camp every day from the “mess-hall.” And our Zelda Weizhandler, after I was burned at the oven and my face was so full of scabs that I couldn't come into the mess-hall, brought out food to me quite a few times and often gave me her own portion of bread.

It was difficult to remain human in that deadly gehennum, but most Szydlowiecers passed the test.


Starchowicz

by Jacob Shapshewich

In the summer of 1942 it was becoming more and more difficult to live in Szydlowiec. You couldn't go out into the street without being rounded up for some kind of forced labor.

My brother Shima and I and a group of friends therefore decided to try our luck in the labor camp at Starchowicz. Yankl Cooperman and I went there first and made the acquaintance of the German Works Director Schwertner. For a couple of finished pieces of calves-leather he sent a truck to Szydlowiec to pick up 30 young Jews and bring them to Starchowicz. In exchange for a sum of money we were given a pass that showed us to be workers in the “Herman Goering Works.” We used to work there only one or two days a week, then buy a new pass and go back to Szydlowiec.

In July 1944 a friendly peasant told me that the Soviet

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army was approaching Starchowicz. Since we knew that the Gestapo was killing all prisoners before the German army retreated, I decided to run away from the camp.. My sister Sala decided to stay.

It is difficult to say whether it was organized or not, but late that night the prisoners broke down the metal fence and a large number tried to escape, despite the hail of bullets. Most were killed. I was one of the lucky ones who escaped.

I stayed hidden for six months, wandering from one place to another. There was danger at every step. Summertime I slept out in the open field, buried in a haystack. My “meals” consisted of vegetables that I dug out of the earth. Winter was much more difficult.

Hanging around Szydlowiec, I used to meet Christian acquaintances with whom I had gone to school. They would shout at me, “Jakob, you're still alive?” And then would come the excuses – they couldn't take me into their homes because of their mother, or because of an aunt, or because they were afraid of the Germans. In truth, the danger for them was very real. The courageous and noble among them often paid with their own lives and the lives of their dear ones for the “crime” of hiding Jews.

In looking for a hiding-place I discovered that Moshe Briks was in a peasant's house in a nearby wood. For three nights I waited outside the house. Not until the fourth night did I notice a shadowy figure moving toward the farmhouse. It was indeed Moshe. When he first noticed me he turned on his heels in fright. I called out “Amcho!” – he stopped and waited for me to approach. It was a silent reunion with many tears of joy and sorrow.

Together, the situation was easier for both of us. We felt less isolated. When the nights turned colder we looked for shelter. By accident we found a poor farmer who promised us, with his wife's agreement, that he would hide us in his barn.

[Page 312]

He added that since he would not be able to go out to work now, we would have to support his family – of ten. We gave him all the money we had.

For two weeks things went well. We were more or less at ease, although it was very cold in the barn, with the wind howling through the cracks. The third week, however, our Jozef started demanding more money – which we didn't have. In that case, he advised us, go out and steal it. He even offered to help us. He gave us two large sacks and told us to try our luck and skill in a nearby village. He gave us directions to a rich farmhouse where he had once worked. In the barn, he said, we would find a storehouse of wheat. We were to bring back as much of it as we could carry. But beware of the dog.

The constant pressure of living with death had left us in a state of apathy. We accepted his proposition and became thieves. One moonlit night, with the ground blanketed by snow, we started out for the farmhouse. I knew the area well. The air was motionless and not very cold. We found the place without any problem, but the barn door was locked. Moshe used his pliers to pull the nails out of the rotting boards and we opened the door quietly. Quickly filling our sacks with wheat, we got back safely to our “boss,” who was waiting for us with a pot of potatoes and cabbage.

We went out on one other such “expedition” but this time it turned out to be a failure because the “merchandise” we brought back was not worth very much.

In January 1945 the great Soviet offensive began. A few days later we were liberated.

Four decades have passed since those difficult days. When I think about it today it is hard to believe that we had so much strength and will power to endure.

 

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