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[Page 556]

The Story of Eliezer Olsztejn
a Holocaust Survivor

Translated by Selwyn Rose

If you have a mind to know about the quality of the Jewish community of Tykocin, its joys and suffering, its worries and daily struggles; its dreams and charms – go to its Beit Hamidrash, observe, I beg you, its companion group of Talmudists and its Torah group and stay a while – even if only just for a moment – next to the windows of the Hassidim: within them is buried the secret of its existence, they coo over the cradle of its dreams and the nursery of its soul. Then you will hear the murmur of its joyous life, then you will feel the pulse of its effervescence – then you will know and understand…

The Jewish way of life has vanished from Tykocin – vanished! No more dreams of a good future but a bitter cruel reality. No more a joyous, exhilarating life but death and destruction and desolation; and above everything – fear. Since the Germans entered Tykocin we leave our homes and go out only when it was absolutely necessary. Our synagogues and Batei–Midrash are empty. The voice of song and prayer is stilled, study of the Torah ceases. Only in the “Shtiebel” of the Hassidim one will still find a prayer quorum. The rest of the Jewish population manage only small quora in private houses; the large Beit–Hamidrash that at one time swarmed with Tykocin's Jews is empty. Polish hooligans lay in ambush and Jews who dare to appear there are caught and sent for all manner of degrading labor wrapped in their prayer–shawls and phylacteries.

The Polish hooligans did in town whatever they wished. Sponsored by the Germans and the Polish gendarmerie, they took the Jews for forced labor, beat them and stole their property. “We take taxes for the damage ‘your’ Russians did” – they would say. During the first month of the German government fear and confusion ruled over all and we organized ourselves and our actions with great care and suspicion and sustained ourselves by rationing our the food that we had stored in good time, so as to prevent going out into the street and

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coming into contact with the Poles. The future was hidden in fog, no one knew what anxieties the day would bring forth or what awaited us.

On the last Shabbat of the month of Av (August 5th 1939), we gathered together in the home of Yisroel Buber, prayed silently, read the portion of the Torah for that week and blessed the New Moon “…for the coming month with goodness, happiness and joy.” But no “joy” and no “happiness” was spread before us, ahead of us that Shabbat nothing but fear and confusion. The atmosphere was loaded with dynamite and we sensed a certain atmosphere among the Polish population, and the polish farmers evoked from me only a feeling of threat when we met in the street. Rumor upon different rumor came to our ears and among them it was told that in the Łopuchówko forest three significantly large trenches were being dug and our fears grew. It was clear that the Germans were up to something but no one knew what and no one thought that it was so near.

The following morning, Sunday, the evening of the month of Elul (August approx.), a town edict was promulgated according to which fateful announcement all the Jews of Tykocin must bring out from their homes all the sick and weak people and meet in the market square the following morning. “Not a soul must leave his home after eight o'clock this evening. Anyone caught outside after that hour – will be shot.”

I decided to take my wife and children to one of the farms nearby and see how events developed. I planned to do it in the evening under cover of darkness but what got “darker” was that I was unable to carry out my plan. As soon as evening came and the mistiness of twilight fell upon the houses and the streets, the quiet, petrified Jewish quarter became like an ants' hill running hither and thither on all the streets in all directions. Everyone was very frightened and because no one had any idea what was about to happen and what he should do, people rushed to the homes of family and friends to discuss the situation, share their worries and gain information and ask advice. Tens of terrified frightened people ran around almost noiselessly from house to house but the community leaders, businessmen and even Rabbi Av'eleh had no word of advice to give.

At that hour – twilight – neither day nor night, my brother Zisskind and my brother–in–law, Zacharewicz arrived at my home. Both of them were confused and at a loss. They told me that just before Shier Leiv Trachamofsky(?), who was a community representative at the Gendarmerie, had been at their home and said there was no basis for concern. In his opinion it was all just a formality and no harm was foreseen for the Jews;

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just that very day – thus spoke Shier Lev – The Germans had ordered a large number of boots and from that one could infer that no change in the status of the town was envisaged, at least not for now.

My brother and brother–in–law were convinced that indeed no harm was expected tomorrow at the market square and even I tried to convince myself not to give way to panic. But no more than an hour later we changed our minds from one extreme to the other. We met the Polish town secretary in the street – a good friend – and he told us in complete secrecy that great danger existed tomorrow for all the Jews. “You can leave your families here” – he whispered in my brother's ears, “You – the men–folk, get out of town immediately.”

The secretary went his way and left us standing there in the street dumb and rooted to the spot with shock. Suddenly we heard a dull sound of heavy vehicles and without too much thought turned to run. For all that, I thought to run home to say goodbye to my wife and children. We agreed on a meeting place in a meadow outside of town and I hurried home. My wife wasn't at home. She had gone to her parents' home to bring me a prayer–shawl because the rumor spread around town that they were going to search for communists tomorrow and wearing the small prayer–shawl would help strengthen the idea that the wearer wasn't a communist. I kissed my two daughters and my little son, told them that I was going out just for tonight and would be back the following morning, and hurried to the meadow. As I left the house, I met my wife and told her what the secretary had said. She put the shawl on me and we parted with her blessing in my ears: “Go in peace and live.”

In the field I met up with other Jewish men who were also escaping and we hurried after my brother and brother–in–law to one of the distant farms. Suddenly we saw on the horizon a group of horsemen and lay flat in the furrows of a potato field and held our breath. The men were German soldiers on their way to Tykocin from the direction of the Łopuchówko forest.

Walking quickly and without making a sound we continued on our way. I made my way to the house of a Polish acquaintance who told me he had just returned from the forest where he had helped to dig three large trenches for the Germans. The trenches – he said – were intended, apparently, for the Jews of Tykocin. I asked him to harness his horse to a wagon, drive into Tykocin and bring my wife and children to the farm close to where I intended to hide. After I had promised him ten packets of tobacco – a rare commodity in those days, he harnessed his horse and rode towards town.

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In the meantime, we hid in the farm. We were quite a few Jews, among them my brother Zisskind, my brother–in–law, Bendt Zacharewicz and Ya'acov Wolf and that night we were joined by Leibel Fritz. In the morning we heard the sounds of rapid fire from the direction of the forest. Every shot was like a sword thrust into my heart that told of a horror taking place but there was nothing I could do. In the meantime, my Polish friend returned and said he was deterred from entering town because the Germans were threatening to kill anyone giving shelter to the Jews.

Towards evening we were forced to leave our hiding–place because too many people knew we were there and we were terrified they would give us away. We went out into the fields and hid for the night sleeping among the bushes and sheaves of straw piled up there. Suddenly we heard a child crying. “That's my son, Mottel,” said my brother and leaped towards the sound. Among the bushes he found his wife Rosa and their three children.

When the Jews of Tykocin went to the market square Rosa took the children and climbed up to the attic of her house. The house was close to the Market Square and through a crack in the wall she could scan the square and sees all that was happening below. She saw the hundreds of Jews were lined up in columns of four and at the head of each column were placed musical instruments and after them the town's precious religious artefacts that the Hassidim, all wrapped in prayer shawls, had brought out from their “Shtiebel”.

My brother took his family and made his way to Bialystok, while I and my brother–in–law went to Knyszyn where, so far, the Germans had not yet begun their “purification” activities. For about a month we hid in the fields of this Polish acquaintance near Knyszyn. Together with us were Berl Brenner, Bezalel Wiloger(?), Moshe Koblynski and his wife, Eli Moshe Neches(?), Young Kafka and Shlomo Zacharewicz and his wife who managed a small dairy.

In fact our very lives were dependent on the silence of the Poles among whom we hid ourselves while – recognizable among them, were those who would see us dead so that they could steal our possessions We lived in perpetual fear of an informer until indeed it happened. One fine Saturday morning Koblynski and Kafka were on the way to their acquaintance when they were confronted by a German platoon. They were beaten up, put in prison and later shot to death on the edge of the trench in the Łopuchówko forest.

I noticed the platoon when it was already quite close to our location. I dived for a side door and broke into a run. I heard a shout “Halt!” behind me and bullets whistling around me

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but I continued to run like mad. Completely exhausted I reached the cover of a nearby forest and there I continued to trample through mud and melting snow until I met some Poles who took me to their homes. It is worth mentioning that at that time the Germans had not begun to act badly against the Jews of Knyszyn, only those of Tykocin, who in the eyes of the Germans were all in collaboration with the Russians and were hunted all over the area. It seemed that was only reason why the community of Tykocin was targeted in the entire region.

During the next two years I was on the move the whole time from here to there, from village to village and from farm to farm for short periods among some Poles that I knew, but remaining the whole time more or less in the vicinity of Tykocin. Once I met the Pole with whom Aharon Feller was hiding and I told him about myself. At that time he was staying in the ghetto of Bialystok but as his job was disposing of all the trash, he managed to wander around the area outside the ghetto quite a bit. He told my brother Zisskind who was then in the ghetto with his family and he got in touch with the Pole I was staying with telling him to convince me to come to the ghetto. At that time the ghetto appeared to be a haven of security compared to other places of hiding where the danger of death always hovered over the fugitives. In the winter of 1942, I entered the ghetto, with the help of Aharon Feller.

Not for long did the ghetto seem such a safe haven. Three months after my arrival within its gates, they locked us in and it became a trap for thousands of imprisoned Jews. It was the first “Aktzia”. At the very last moment I managed to escape – again with the help of Aharon Feller, on the condition that I took with me his son Yitzhak. We left towards evening making our way towards a Pole who lived near a village of Zawady where I had a number of acquaintances. They hid us for five months and afterwards one of them said to me:”As long as I live, no harm will come to you!” and indeed the man extended much life–saving help to us.

After five months some feedback suggested that some relative security had returned to the Bialystok ghetto and we retuned there. I managed to hide when the Germans conducted the second “Aktzia* but when the last “Aktzia” took place I was loaded, together with thousands of other Jews, on a “Death Train” that was destined for the extermination camps. We were crammed into cattle trucks in terribly over–crowded conditions while in the next carriage were Ukrainian guards.

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With me in the wagon were my brother Zisskind and others from Tykocin among whom were Feller, Hellerstein and Yablonowicz. Hellerstein and Yablonowicz succeeded in boring a hole in the door of the wagon and we were able to reach the bolt locking the wagon on the outside. The Ukrainians in the next wagon detected what we had done and shot at the hand moving the bolt, but the door opened. The first to jump was a young girl of about eighteen who smashed into a tree growing at the edge of the tracks. Next Yitzhak Feller, then I jumped and after me my brother.

We found ourselves in Shaptura(?) forest where we met a group of eight Jews who had jumped from other wagons, one of them badly hurt. The train was travelling quite quickly and many were killed jumping. Others were mown down by machine–gun fire from the German and Ukrainian guards. We continued to hear the echo of the shooting for quite a long time after we jumped; but many were saved and hid in the forest.

When everything became quiet in the forest we began to look for a hiding place and eventually found a gravel–pit of sorts that seemed suitable and after we had hidden it by covering it with bushes, we all climbed in and spent the rest of the day there. During the day we heard shooting as the Germans continued searching the forest for the escapees and shooting the Jews who had jumped from the “Death Train”. In the evening we separated from our eight comrades and we, the three from Tykocin, began walking towards our town.

After two nights of walking – we hid in the forest during the day – we arrived tired and hungry at a farm about five kilometres from Tykocin. Later I found out that the brothers Moshe and Menahem Turk had hidden on the same farm or nearby. The Polish farmer threw us out. His neighbour agreed to let me stay in his home but when he saw my brother and Feller accompanying me, he, too, told us to leave. Nevertheless he did give us a hot meal. In the end he agreed to let us hide in his barn and he promised to bring us a meal every night. During the day we sat in his barn which was infernally hot and only at night could we go out and breath some cool fresh air. On the second or third night, when we were expecting our meal, the Pole didn't come, I went out with Yitzhak Feller to look for some potatoes in the garden but on the way we again met a Pole and again we were without a safe hiding place.

During the next six weeks we lived a nomadic life moving from place–to–place. No one would allow us into his home and only a few would give us food. With no other option we

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had to sleep in the fields and forests and different barns not knowing who the owners were. When we were again discovered by a Pole we crossed a river with a small boat and continued with our nomadic life.

About a year before the liberation we collected a Polish farmer at his home near Knyszyn. A little later he took us to his farm on a small island on the Narew River, there we would lie low all day and most of the night between piles of straw and produce. Towards morning the farmer would bring us a meal in exchange for what little money I had left.

With winter coming on we decided to dig a bunker on the island and then Bezalel, Wiloger and Shmuel Feller were hidden by the same Pole without any of us knowing about the others

At that time the war was virtually over and we could feel it getting closer. We kept hearing rumors about defeat after defeat of the Germans. Again we began to dream about living free until the great day arrived and we left our hiding place for the open air. Our first destination was Bialystok and after a short stay with a number of other Tykocin survivors we returned to the town of our birth.


    * Aktzia (action), – the roundup of Jews for degradation, expulsion, work, or execution. Return


[Page 563]

In the Underground

The Story of Attorney Menachem Tamir (Turek)
– A Tykocin Holocaust Survivor

Translated by Selwyn Rose

A

The 22nd of June 1941 found me in Bialystok where I had been living for two years. Life there went on as normal as far as the Jews were concerned – life was safe under the Russian authority which reined in anti–Semitic disturbances originating from the extreme right, the underground nationalist “Nara” movement.

The German surprise attack of the 22nd of June put an end to that situation. In the early morning the town was awakened by a squadron of German bombers. Incendiary bombs ignited fires in all sections of the city and amid the rubble and destruction vehicles full of police wandered around indecisively not knowing where to go or what to do. People, shocked and frightened ran hither and thither in the streets and rumors spoke of tens of dead and injured. The Russian government collapsed without attempting to organize itself for defense. The Red Army made a hurried and panic–stricken retreat.

 

B

The Russians escaped and the Germans had not yet arrived. Lawlessness and terror prevailed and ruled our lives. The Poles – their hatred of the Jews, hidden in their hearts, found release; and the Jews, wise to the ways of disturbances, hid in their homes behind locked and bolted doors. Jews who were caught on the streets were victims of attacks and abuse and the feeling grew in our hearts that Jewish blood was cheap. “Your good life has terminated,” the Poles said – “this is the end for you.” And indeed it was the beginning of the end.

On Friday 27th June a rumor spread: “The Germans are coming!” A short while later it was confirmed when flames consumed the Great Synagogue.

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A woeful Shabbat descended upon Bialystok. It was for us a night of intense spiritual observation[1] that Shabbat Eve, as every few minutes there was the thunderous sound of bombs and hand–grenades that had been thrown into Jewish homes. The Germans went berserk especially in the houses surrounding the synagogue and threw about two thousand Jews living there into the burning synagogue. Stunned and confused we sat in our apartments, fearful of every sound wafted to our ears, waiting with a heavy heart for what will come next.

On Sunday a horse–drawn cart appeared outside my house driven by a Tykocin farmer with my brother Moshe's Polish female assistant. My brother was a doctor in Tykocin and treated with respect by the citizens, Jews and Poles alike. He had convinced one of the Poles to try to convey us to Tykocin. The roads were sown with German patrols and the route was hazardous but the situation in Bialystok promised death while Tykocin was still peaceful and quiet. I climbed aboard the cart, with my young wife Tzeril carrying our baby daughter Mireleh and we managed to evade the guards and arrived at my brother's home in Tykocin.

At that time there were no Jews to be seen on the streets in Tykocin; the atmosphere was explosively tense. Young Poles were going uncontrollably wild, organized a “police force” and were dragging Jew for forced labor. These “police” also ordered the farmers not to supply Jews with produce and people began to feel the pangs of hunger. We were also ordered to wear a white arm–band with a yellow Star of David on it. Backed by the authority of this same “police force” the shops and property of the Jews were freely looted.

We generally avoided going out of our houses but on one occasion I did so and my heart was torn by the sight of Tykocin, always humming with activity, now – that face had gone. The silence of death spread over all, vague shadowy and ghostly apparitions sneaked around the corners of the streets. The bright arm–bands on the sleeves took on the symbolism of white shrouds in my eyes.

On the 16th August a platoon comprising five German gendarmes arrived in town. Their first action was to forbid the Jews to leave the town. The few Polish citizens still in contact with the Jews – broke their contact. Then we heard about the three massive trenches being excavated in the nearby Łopuchowo forest. We were unable to fathom their purpose. A great fear took hold of us but no one imagined that the Germans were planning a wholesale murder, so no one thought to flee the town.

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A meeting was held at the home of the Rav – Rabbi Ab'eleh attended by the leaders of the community and they sent a delegation to my brother who was, among other things the local Priest's doctor, asking that he to get him to tell us what the Germans were intending. When he returned from the Priest's house he told us that the man burst into tears and expressed his sorrow at what was befalling the Jews and he identified with the suffering of the Jewish people but stated that he knew nothing concerning what was happening and that if he knew he would tell us.

On the evening of the 24th August the town crier, Yablonsky, came round announcing that the German authorities order all the Tykocin Jews to report the following morning at 06:00 in the market square. We had not the slightest idea what to do; to report in the morning, or not? Many doubts ran around in my head and my heart sensed evil but in the end we accepted the decision of the Rabbi's meeting calling for all the Jews to report to the market square as ordered by the Germans. In the morning after a sleepless night, we dressed in warm clothes and left the house. As we stood outside the house I noticed the arm–band was missing from my sleeve. I called to the rest of the family to wait a few minutes while I go to look for it. I searched for it all over the house but couldn't find it anywhere. To this day I don't know how or where I lost it but those few minutes that I delayed saved my life. When I left the house a second time I heard the shouts and bullying complaints of the Germans coming from the direction of the market square. If I had ignored the ramifications of those shouts and curses, and full of doubts, had with a heavy heart decided to go to the market square, those shouts and abuse coming to my ears tipped the scales. In an instant I decided that at no costs should I go there but to flee. Calling to the others to follow me I turned in the opposite direction.

 

C

It was an impetuous flight, taken without thought or planning and I had no idea where to go. When we passed the house of one of my brother's neighbors, I went in to ask his advice. Understandably he had no advice to give but during our discussion his son came and told us that he had seen with his own eyes that the Germans told all the women and children to leave the market square and go back to their homes and he advised us to send our womenfolk home and for us to leave town immediately. Because of our complete faith in this family, with whom my brother had excellent relations, we took his advice. My wife and our six–month old daughter, our

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sister–in–law Raye with her four–year old daughter, returned home, while my brother and I made our way out of town towards the fields. We circled round the Christian cemetery and went on our way. The roads were deserted and silent without a soul in sight and we simply stood there not knowing what to do with ourselves and in which direction to turn. Without any reason and with no other, or better alternative to choose, we simply kept walking along the road.

After an hour we came to the house of a farmer, a little distant from the nearby village. We knocked on the door and asked his permission to hide in his house until the present mood of anger calmed down, he was afraid but allowed us to hide in his barn. We sat on piles of hay and debated our position to the sound of machine–gun fire that reached us in the barn. But the farmer solved the problem by coming to us after about an hour and told us to leave because he was afraid, he said, that the Germans would punish him.

We kept walking along the way until we arrived at the approaches to the village of Sierki. One of my brother's patients lived there, a farmer named Kowalski. He was very welcoming in his manner and invited us into the house to rest; but “rest” was far from us. We roamed around the room with a nervous frenzy, like caged animals. We still believed we would soon return to Tykocin and we asked Kowalski if he would go into town and find out what was going on there. He hitched his horse to his cart and rode towards town but when he returned after more than an hour it was in a stunned silence and didn't hide from us that he preferred not to have us in his house. He told us that he was unable to enter the town because the Germans and Poles had completely surrounded the town and no one was allowed in or out. He had heard that all the Jews had been marched to the village of Zawady and confined in the school–house there. Later they were loaded onto trucks and conveyed to the trenches that had been excavated in the Łopuchowo forest. Obviously we longer thought about going back there and decided to make efforts to rescue our families from there.

There was a close acquaintance of my brother in Sierki, Guschawski by name. When it was dark we went into the village, to his house. We asked him if he would send a horse and cart to Tykocin and bring our womenfolk and children. He sent his wife and we gave her a letter to give to them telling them to come back with her. After about two hours she returned bringing with her a letter from them. They were with a group of Polish neighbors who advised them not to leave since they believed that the German operation had finished and those remaining would stay in town. Our womenfolk accepted the explanation. The town certainly needed a doctor like him and as no evil intent was expected, advised him to return to Tykocin.

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We slept in Kowalski's house and when dawn broke, we two brothers fell on each other's neck and parted. My brother made his way to Tykocin and I, as one who could be suspect as a communist, turned my steps in the direction of Bialystok. We agreed between us that I would be at the home of Mrs. Dziakowska, who had been the landlady of his house in Tykocin, who now lived in one of the suburbs of Bialystok. Broken and tired to the point of exhaustion, I arrived at her house and lay down to rest but had barely slept two hours when my brother arrived. “I made my way towards Tykocin,” he related, “and I met Czarnitzki, an estate owner from Lipnicka who asked me where I was going.”

“Home,” I replied.

He looked me straight in the eye and said: “Man, you are walking towards certain death. Turn around and go back where you came from immediately.”

“I explained to him,” my brother continued, “that I had received this calming letter from my wife advising me to return to Tykocin,” but Czarnitzki said, “Today the Germans continued their process of liquidation and your wife is no longer at home. Start fleeing for your life.”

Mrs. Dziakowska was unwilling to believe the stories of liquidation and tried to console and calm us but we were deeply anxious about the fate of our families and that according to other reports we had heard there was little chance of them being saved. The truth was that our own chances were not all that good either. The Jews of Bialystok were confined in a ghetto and whoever was found outside the ghetto could expect to be shot. In addition the Jews of Tykocin were rumored as being Bolshevik collaborators. Therefore we looked for ways of entering the ghetto.

One day, at the time that groups of Jewish workers who worked outside the ghetto were returning, we hid at the corner of Lipowa and Kupiecka streets, where one of the gates to the ghetto was situated. When we saw one of the groups of Jewish workers marching towards the gate, we stuck a yellow Star of David on our clothes front and back, as had all the Jews in the ghetto and with no one spotting us we joined the group. The controller at the gate was Jewish and there was no real inspection and thus we found ourselves in the Bialystok ghetto.

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D

As we passed through the gates into the ghetto we passed from half–empty streets to a place thronged with people, bustling with Jews. Among them I recognized Charzynska, the brother–in–law of Yisrael Meir Sorevitz (Surawicz) of Tykocin. We told him of our adventures and of the fate of the Tykocin Jews and that according to rumor not one survived. During our conversation tens of Jews gathered round us. In the beginning they just complained, but afterwards began to shout in angry voices that our stories did nothing but lower even more the morale and in any case the stories would arouse panic. Even Charzynska told us: “Get it out of your head.I don't believe that a soldier is capable of shooting women and babies.”

We went to the office of the Judenrat headed by the engineer, Ephraim Barasz. Barasz had previously been the head of the Bialystok Jewish community and I knew him from the time we worked together on public activities. From there we walked to the friend of our youth, Yisrael Meir Sorevitz's (Surawicz's) house. At his home, all the sorrow that had been eating at my heart burst out and I fell, collapsing onto his settee and didn't get up for two whole days. My brother Moshe also showed the signs of the last few days and was being treated in the hospital managed by Dr. Kaplan, where he stayed for more than a month. When he recovered he worked as a gynecologist at the women's hospital on Fabryczna Street.

Given the circumstances, the internal life of the ghetto was well–organized, thanks mainly to the leadership of Barasz. All the Jews were placed in work both inside and outside the ghetto, under the control, and to the benefit of the Germans' war–effort.

I was engaged in the sewing of harnesses for horses together with about 500 other Bialystok Jews, among them many of the town's foremost citizens. Our wages were half a kilogram of bread each day. The food, although minimal, was not a problem and didn't present a danger to life. Spirits were generally relaxed although we expected and hoped for better days. But we, my brother and I, were unable to sleep at night. We knew the fate of the Tykocin Jews and we knew also that our women–folk and our daughters were not murdered on the first day's liquidation and the lingering hope that they yet lived gave us no rest. We explained our situation to Barasz and he managed to secure passes to leave the ghetto “to search for lost children”. For

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two days we wandered around the local villages without finding any trace but we were informed that the day following the first day's shootings the Germans continued with the operation. All the Jews remaining in the town were marched to the Łopuchowo forest, killed and thrown into the second of the trenches. There was a third, smaller trench still open that was to be used after rounding up all the Jews who had hidden in the forests and bunkers and would be caught as time goes by and would be interred there. We returned to the ghetto when it was clear to us that all hope was gone that we would never see our dear ones again.

On the 1st of November 1942 the ghetto was suddenly closed for three days. A heavy guard was stationed at all approaches and armed platoons patrolled the streets of the ghetto, no one entered and no one left. During those three days all the Jewish communities in the surrounding villages were slaughtered. We heard rumors of the mass liquidations in Auschwitz and Treblinka, while Bialystok remained an isolated island in a wide area that had been completely wiped clean of Jews. It seemed to me that I sensed more than other residents that there was here was a greater danger than flight. For before my eyes stood the liquidation in Tykocin and I suspected that the same thing was going to happen in Bialystok. I know that at the same time refugees were wandering around the area in the villages and forests looking for ways and means of getting into the ghetto, while I and my brother Moshe were seeking ways of escaping from there.

At the end of 1942 the Germans created another gateway at the end of Fabryczna Street. At that same time, the Judenrat was ordered to erect a barracks on an empty lot behind the hospital. No one knew what it was for nor did any of my acquaintances in the Judenrat know the Germans' plan. In January the Germans demanded a list of names of all Jews employed in various factories and workshops. I was suspicious and doubtful of everything. My heart told me that the fate of the Jews of Grodno and Vilna will be visited upon us and I had made up my mind to escape at the very first opportunity.

I chatted with my colleagues at work and faced them with the dangerous prospect before us, trying to motivate them into escaping but the following morning the manager of the factory, Eisenberg, called me into his office and said: “We have received information from the police that you are spreading rumors about the dangers confronting us and attempting to organize an uprising. Only because I have a personal regard for you I am prepared to allow you to continue working here but you have got to keep your mouth shut!” The following morning I didn't report for work.

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We began planning our escape. We debated over many plans, but none of them seemed particularly secure. The ghetto was surrounded by strong guards and the streets full of signs warning: “Escapers will be shot,” and our hearts failed us sometimes. But eventually we came up with a plan that seemed to have a good chance.

Every day a truck left the ghetto with the entrails of animals slaughtered in the town's slaughter–house. We decided to stowaway on this truck. We spoke about it to the provisions manager on the Judenrat and he gave us permission to go as porters. On 28th January 1943 we left the ghetto. When we reached the gate we had a pleasant surprise. Usually the truck is searched rather casually but this time the sentry was so lazy he didn't even bother and we heard him call to his colleague to open the gate. We were out! When the truck had gone on for about 500 meters from the ghetto the driver stopped the truck and he and the porter separated from us. They also, like most of the residents of the ghetto were of the opinion that we were on our way to an adventure both perilous and unnecessary. We hastened to scurry into a nearby courtyard in order to remove the yellow patch from our clothes but the landlord saw us and made us leave. We found an empty courtyard and we hid there and removed the patches.

 

E

One of the reasons that we chose to escape using that truck was because it passed through the suburb of Białostoczek and one of our close acquaintances, Mr. L., who was a village elder in one of the villages near Stelmachowo, occasionally visited there on business. We hoped to find him there and indeed we were lucky; we recognized his horse and cart standing in the courtyard of one of the houses. We entered exactly as he was about to leave. He was surprised to see us but kept control of himself and immediately understood our situation. He put us on his cart and my brother sat on a little dickey–seat beside him and I crouched down behind amid a pile of straw. Not wanting to give the appearance of fugitives trying to escape, Mr. L. kept a cool head and allowed the horses to make a leisurely pace. At the end of three long hours we arrived at his homestead but instead of taking us into his house he hid us not far away in a cellar that he used as a potato store.

[Page 571]

We left a warm house in Bialystok and now found ourselves in a dank, dark, mildew–laden cellar, under the ground without a ray of light. We found it very depressing and not knowing what the day would bring forth made it even worse. Around midnight we heard the door creaking. Mr. L. entered carrying a lighted candle and a basket full of food. Only now did we notice that we were starving hungry. For a whole hour we ate, satisfying our need while he chatted with us and even though he, too was scared knowing what would happen if he were caught, he was very consoling and encouraging.

We stayed in the potato store for five days. Every night after his family had gone to sleep he came down to us and brought us food. On the fifth day he transferred us to the barn close to his house because all the potatoes in his house had been used up and the following day they were going to start using the potatoes stored in the cellar. We suffered much in the barn where the freezing cold penetrated our very bones. Mr. L. was indeed good–hearted and even though we said not a word about our discomfort, he let his family and their housemaid in on the secret and while they brought us food twice a day, when it was dark at night they took us into the house. Obviously at dawn we had to return to the barn but just a few hours of sleep in a bed between sheets in a warm house were welcome indeed.

We appreciated enormously the succor that we received from Mr. L. whose good–heartedness and personal courage were there for all to see. And until this day I am grateful to this Polish farmer who in effect saved our lives. It is for that reason that I will not disclose his name because where humanitarian values and behavior were in a state of disintegration they could yet bring harm to him, even today. But with all his good will and generous spirit without thought of reward we knew he could not long maintain the heavy burden we had placed upon him because as village elder, many people were coming and going in his house all day long and it would require only one of them to have the slightest suspicion to send him to hell. And indeed, at the end of two weeks he told us that he can no longer support the danger. But he didn't abandon us, even then – he arranged with one of his farmer acquaintances to give us sanctuary in his house.

One cold dark night half–way through February, Mr. L. led us through the frozen fields towards the village of Broniszewo, to the farmer who had prepared a hiding place for us among the sheaves of wheat in his barn and there he brought our meals twice a day. I am not sure that his motives were purely humanitarian but that he hoped to be able to exploit us in some way. We were known in the area as being somewhat affluent and perhaps he thought as a farmer he might benefit from our resources. But in effect, we had not a single cent in our pockets. Part of our pro–

[Page 572]

perty had certainly been stolen after we left the house and the lion's share, essentially the money – gold and jewelry was buried in the cellar of my mother–in–law's house, Feygl Choroshuka. I had thought to sneak into Tykocin and retrieve the money which would be very helpful to us in our present situation but rejected the idea almost immediately because of the great danger it entailed. In the meantime I fell ill with the flu and had a fever of more than 400 C. They were hard winter days, my “sick bed” was made of bales of straw in the barn and was exposed to the wind while my blanket was itself covered in snow. My condition worsened from day to day. The farmer, our host, to all appearances, didn't believe in miracles, was already thinking of where and how to bury me modestly and without arousing suspicions But the miracle happened through the dedicated ministrations of my brother, who, to my good fortune brought some medication with him when we left the ghetto. After about ten days of hovering between life and death, my temperature began to fall and I slowly recovered. But when I arose from my sick bed, the farmer told us that he was unable to hide us any longer.

During the years of my wanderings hither and thither, from hiding place to hiding place, always with death hovering about my head, I knew much physical suffering, I faced danger and fear and more than once looked death in the eye. Against all these trials and tribulations I could stand firm only because of my determination and the survival instinct that flowed through me and, it seems to me today, fed itself on hope which, even to me, was unrealistic and based on belief that some supernatural Providence would never abandon me. But there were still periods of crisis, when hope collapsed, resourcefulness seemed far from me with no glimmer of hope or salvation, and despair the great enemy of resourcefulness, began to possess me. One such hour came to me that same cold February night when, because of my weakness I was held by my brother and we wondered, staring at the clear blue starlit sky, split here and there by the smoke rising from the roofs of the village that had just expelled us, that in the entire world there was no place for us. Everything seemed to me so empty and my heart felt empty and drained.

Somehow I managed to drag myself after my brother until I found myself at the house of our acquaintance L. I can't say that he was overjoyed to see us but he took us into his house but he told us immediately that the arrangement could only be temporary because as village elder, there were people coming and going all day long to him – including Germans on official business. Nevertheless I could regain some of my health and it gave us a place to stay for a few days and recover and reorganize in preparation for leaving him in the coming days. After a week we left him and made our way to the “grandfather” in whose house we remained for most of the war and to whom we undoubtedly owe our lives.

[Page 573]

F

About three kilometers from the home of Mr. L. at the edge of a copse of trees there were the remains of an old brick–making factory. Next to the factory was an old ruined building where lived the “grandfather” with his elderly wife and his grandson Ganyk, a grown man of 25. Apart from these three souls there was one horse, one cow, a number of chickens and a dog. We were acquainted with the “grandfather” and his somewhat isolated home and we knew the paths leading there and thence we now made our way.

We approached under cover of darkness. Spring was in the air and its scent was felt everywhere and we, far from any inhabited settlement, permitted ourselves to take pleasure in the fresh air and the intoxicating perfumes of the season. Suddenly the barking of a dog split the silence and we became rooted to the spot but immediately saw the house of the “grandfather” and close by the man himself, brought out of his house by the barking dog. He recognized us immediately and expressed readiness to hide us. I even saw a tear glistening in the corner of his eye when we related the story of the fate of Tykocin's Jewish community and our adventures; the “grandfather”, even though crude to his very soul, was filled with the fear of heaven, superstitious beliefs and in utter simplicity, the love of his fellow–man.

That same night he built us a covering of bales of hay supported by planks and there we lived. But we weren't close to his house. The isolated area was full pools of water and tall weeds and among them we could wander at will and enjoy the daylight and the sunshine.

One day, a few weeks after we arrived there, “grandfather” appeared very agitated and with a trembling voice told us that the Germans had discovered 12 Jews from nearby Sokolka hiding in a bunker not far away. They shot them all and the farmer who had hidden them; they burnt to the ground his house. It was clear that he would be happy to be rid of us and his wife, who was a very agitated person and the whole time we were with them she was perpetually tense

[Page 574]

and frightened for her life. I immediately understood that we couldn't stay there unless we could

succeed in imposing on them a fear greater that of their simple deep fear of the Germans, a fear beyond the pale of the natural world and I told them this story that I made up on the spur of the moment:

“When we left Bialystok we visited a famous sorceress who examined the palms of our hands. She looked at her magic crystal–ball and without either of us saying a word told us who we are or even what we were asking – she said: ‘You must leave Bialystok immediately and go towards your home town of Tykocin. Five kilometers from the town you will meet a good–hearted, God–fearing old couple who will receive you with much affection and share their small morsel of food with you. You will spend the war years in their home. No harm will come upon your heads or upon the heads of your generous hosts.’ I told the story with much emotion and described in detail the actions and expressions of the sorceress and indeed it created the necessary impression. The old lady in particular was affected and we immediately sensed a change of heart for the better in their feelings towards us and again the danger of being sent away faded.

From time to time rumors came to our ears of Jews being found in the vicinity. All the Jews who were discovered were murdered either by the Germans or by the Poles, who were held in thrall by the psychotic belief that the whole area was swarming with Jews in hiding. The “grandfather” used to say: “Keep away from the Poles; among 100 Poles you will find perhaps one you can trust.” And indeed we were most careful. We no longer allowed ourselves to go for a stroll in the area and spent most of the time in our hide–out. When we were forced to out for personal needs or to smoke a cigarette, we were always most careful to clear our tracks and cover everything including cigarette butts as if our lives depended upon it – which they did. We had virtually no connection with the outside world except the news brought to us occasionally by Ganyk or a newspaper that the “grandfather” managed to acquire. We did have a connection with the Bialystok ghetto however through Mr. L. because he supplied the ghetto with produce. At night we would visit him and he delivered our letters to the Jewish haulers who were permitted to leave the ghetto to bring out the trash. Among others we held correspondence with Zelig Shapira who told us what was going on in the ghetto. He asked us to look for a hiding place for him and we found one for him and his family. I wrote him a letter and sent it with Mr. L. and arranged to return the following night with a reply. When we arrived at midnight we met Mr. L. standing in his doorway and it was the first time he ever spoke to us in an unfriendly voice. He forbade us to enter his house and told us to clear off immediately. When he had calmed down a bit he told us that on his way to Bialystok with our letter hidden in one of his pockets, the German patrol on the bridge over the Narew had stopped him and searched thoroughly. Purely by a miracle our letter went undetected and if it would have been found they would have arrested him on the spot

[Page 575]

and inflicted horrors on him and his family. Both he and his wife wanted an immediate break in our relationship with no further contact between us. The demand fell upon us like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky and we realized the terrible danger we had put our benefactors in. We apologized and begged his forgiveness and depressed, returned to the “grandfather”.

The old man had a daughter married to a farmer named Kozlowsky and lived with him in the nearby village of Zawady. Kozlowsky would occasionally visit his father–in–law and bring us information on events. As his father–in–law knew our family was prosperous I wondered to myself if he ever thought of reporting us. He once intimated that he once almost stopped working his fields or obtaining information for us and was certain that he would have some kind of reward; the veiled threat and hint were not lost on us and it was very worrying.

About the same time a Partisan group carried out an attack on a German patrol in Zawady and cut the telephone wires. A few days later the village was attacked by German soldiers and 100 men were taken from there by truck and shot. Kozlowsky was among them. Even though we had no wish for his death, here again the terrible danger hovering above our heads was clear and once again we saw the finger of God protecting us.

Harvest–time arrived and the fields around us hummed with the activity of the farmers busy with their work. Not far from us on the Stelmachowo estate were the German headquarters. None of them ever chanced upon the “grandfather's” house hidden among the sheaves. One day, sitting in our new hide–out, in a hollow among the trees, eating lunch, we suddenly heard a voice exclaiming in German: “What a lovely place this is.” We stopped breathing, frozen into silence and stillness, with our knives and forks in our hands. Apparently the group had gone out just to watch the farmers busy with the harvest and while just strolling around happened to see the old man's house and decided to visit him. Through the breaks in the trees where we were we saw how the “grandfather” tried to distract them and direct their attention elsewhere. They all followed him except one who propped himself against one of the trees and seemed to be a bit tense and lost in thought. Apparently the sound of cutlery had reached his ears and aroused his suspicions. He stood there for about five minutes and the distance between us was no more than a few centimeters and eventually he turned round and went to catch up with his colleagues.

[Page 576]

G

Winter arrived and the “grandfather” dug a bunker for us about 300 meters from his house. It was about 3 meters deep, like those used for storing potatoes, divided in the middle into two layers. The top layer was covered with heaps of potatoes and the lower layer was our shelter. Every day he came and took potatoes from the upper level and when we heard him up above us, it was an agreed signal between us and we opened up and he passed our meals down to us. Only at night we went out into the open to breathe some fresh air, to bathe in one of the pools and to stretch our bones. But we never dared to go far for fear of leaving tracks in the snow. During the day we would go out to get a little sunshine on our faces because they were so very pale and ashen that if for any reason we were forced to go out into the open unexpectedly, we would instantly give ourselves away. Sometimes, “grandfather” would bring us a German newspaper. He was also thirsty for news, and asked us to translate what was written and we turned every German victory into a crushing defeat and every Allied defeat into a resounding victory, so that – Heaven forbid – his wouldn't lose his patience at having to keep us. “You see!” we used to say to him, “You mustn't lose hope. There are good days coming and the Germans will go.” “Go! Going!” he answered, “but for the time being I haven't seen one German leave here!”

Our main contact with the outside world was with Ganyk, his grandson. He was a pleasant, polite individual, tall and robust, who had inherited his grandfather's good–heartedness and constant good spirits. He would sit with us for long hours always relating to us respectfully for not every day did a simple farmer's grandson have the opportunity to sit and converse with a doctor and a lawyer. Nevertheless, boredom was manifest. My brother was an excellent conversationalist with a bedside manner for a sick person needing to pour out his soul while I busied myself with composing poetry. But many hours were filled with crises, the result was long periods of idleness forced upon us. I recall when we went out one night and were bathing in one of the pools my brother suddenly pointed to one of the trees and said: “Maybe it would be better if we just hanged ourselves on that tree, there and put an end to all our suffering.”

And indeed, one day the end very nearly came. I was lying down on the upper level of the bunker tanning myself in the sun when suddenly a young shepherd boy passed by and when he spotted me called out in a loud voice: “Yid! Yid!” I said to myself – this is the end; it has finally come. But fortunately I didn't lose my nerve, I held in my hand a basket full of potatoes and I straightened up and stepped out of the bunker and began walking very slowly towards the house. He was convinced I was a member of the house–hold and continued to care for his flock in peace.

[Page 577]

At noon 28th December we heard furious barking from the “grandfather's” dog when he heard a stranger roaming around the area. The barking continued for more than an hour. We sat tense expecting a visit from the “grandfather” to tell us who it was that had come. We had a clue: if the peak of his cap was turned up it was a sign of his good spirits and if lowered he was in a bad mood. As evening fell he came and the peak was turned down and indeed the news he had to tell was bad: the German manager of the Stelmachowo estate accompanied by three German soldiers visited him at home and claimed that they had heard that Jews were hiding on his property. The Germans made a thorough search all over the house and in the barn and when they found nothing they said: “We do not doubt the information that we have received and we will be coming back with tracker dogs. If we find Jews here, your fate will be the same as theirs.” Clearly he was more concerned with his own and his family's safety than he was of ours and asked us to leave immediately.

It came upon us like thunderclap from a clear blue sky. It seemed as if I had heard the sentence of death passed on me. I suddenly remembered my brother's shocking suggestion that night when we were bathing in one of the pools amid the trees. I gathered together the remains of my shredded nerves, shaved, put on our best clothes and with sad steps, completely stunned left the bunker. We thought of escaping into the nearby forest and building for ourselves another bunker but as we approached the forest we heard the sound of shooting and immediately changed our direction. We came to a small copse near the village of Broniszewo but from there, also, we heard the sounds of shooting. We lay down flat on the earth where we were. The lack of activity over many months had left their mark and we couldn't continue any more.

At the end of about half an hour, when the rifle–fire had ceased, we crossed the road, circled round the village and having absolutely no other option took our fate in our hands and knocked on one of the doors a little distant from the village. It was nine in the evening when we entered the kitchen, the farmer's young wife and four cheerful young children were sitting round the table eating and the tantalizing aroma of a stew hit our nostrils. We learned just how little a man needed from life to be happy and how much we wanted that moment just a small part of that “little”!

[Page 578]

The woman was a bit shaken but knew my brother and invited us to sit down. We told her that we were hiding not far away but because of a lack of cash we left our shelter and were on our way to our cache in Tykocin where we had hidden it under the ground. We wanted to sound out her opinion as to giving us a place to hide and asked her just a temporary shelter and to imply that helping us could earn her a significant reward. The woman was very confused and didn't know what to do about us. Half an hour later, her husband arrived home. He also knew my brother but didn't react to his presence with the same warmth and courtesy as his wife but asked us to leave the house immediately. Only after we had pleaded with him and showered an abundance of promises on him did he allow us to sleep that night in his barn. We lay down on piles of hay but sleep didn't come.

The following morning the previous evening's scene changed. A first he again demanded that we left the house immediately and we again pleaded with him to consider our lives and he agreed to keep us for another two days and when those two days were ended he agreed yet again to a further three additional days. It was then clear to him that our story had not a grain of truth in it but he nevertheless allowed us to remain another week without sending us away. When we had been with him for two weeks he told us unequivocally that we would have to go because the Germans were coming to the area to make searches.

We decided to make our way to a farmer we knew living in a nearby village. It was the 2nd January, there was a snow storm blowing hard outside and pellets of snow stung our faces and swirled round us everywhere. After we had gone only a short distance my brother's legs gave out and he fell to the ground. I saw it as a bad omen and without thinking much I turned in the direction of the “grandfather” while my brother dragged himself along behind me. After two hours we arrived at his house. The dog recognized us and didn't bark and we went into the barn. I arranged a place for my brother to lie down between the bales of hay while I milked the cow and we ate the bread given to us by the man we had just left. We decided to hide there without telling the “grandfather” and we remained three days and when he entered the barn to do some work we held our breath. We knew that eventually our hunger would force us to tell him and on the morning of the fourth day when he entered the barn, my brother raised his head so that he could be seen. The “grandfather” paled and ran out of the barn. We knew that the greatest danger was with his wife who was exceedingly nervous and tense, looking out of the window all day long, afraid that someone was coming to kill her. Her condition always worsened on Sundays when her widowed daughter came to visit with her children and she would talk urgently to them to send us away because of the danger of death we brought to all of them, that in the end we were not worth all the money we could give them.

[Page 579]

After a few minutes he returned and led us to a ruined stable that was outside the limits of his property and there we remained for two days but on Sunday, when her daughter made her regular visit we were again told to leave.

But G–d was still watching over us for at that moment, while he was still telling us that the situation was affecting his wife's health and he could no longer keep us there, the sound of aircraft was heard and a squadron of German aircraft on a training flight went past but we immediately explained it in another way: “You see! The Germans are retreating and the liberation is coming closer. After you have performed all your humanitarian work so well at the last moment you want to send us to our death?” We pleaded with him urgently and the German aircraft also had their influence and he relented. But he wouldn't let us go back to our previous hide–out and led us towards the ruins that in the past had been the brick factory. Next to the ruin was a small pit and he and Ganyk his grandson, quickly enlarged it and we went into it. They laid planks across it and straw on top a layer of mud and we found ourselves virtually in a grave. We couldn't even stretch our legs and there was barely enough room to sit and like that we spent two consecutive months. Every night between 10 and 11, “grandfather” came and let us out for half an hour to breathe some fresh air and attend to our personal needs and stretch our bones. Every night we had to exercise all our will power to climb back in and be “buried” in the pit. We barely moved until the following night when he released us again for half an hour and again enclosed us for the 24 hours in the narrow hole and thus we spent the two months. We could feel how our bodies weakened; our thigh muscles and blood almost froze. We knew that if “grandfather” didn't come for some reason for two or three nights we would die there with no way of getting out.

All sorts of weird and horrible associations awoke in my frenzied brain. I knew that just a kilometer and a half from me were buried Tykocin's martyrs, my relatives and friends and sensed how my physical strength together with my spiritual and mental strength was leaving me. I stubbornly fortified myself by reciting Descartes' classical comment: “Cogito, ergo sum”.[2]

The days slowly passed and I asked myself until when can we hold out under these conditions. Then salvation came from an unexpected place. “Grandfather's” daughter agreed to

[Page 580]

hide us in her home mainly because of her concern for her mother's health whose nerves were near breaking–point and had truly become ill through her fear. On a dark night in March 1944, her son Zigmund conducted us to the barn of her home in the center of Zawady; right “in the lion's mouth” We hid there for more than a month and she, too, became consumed with fear because of an event that occurred at the end of April forcing us to leave her home.

The event was like this: One night I woke up to the sound of something rustling. Suddenly something shook the whole barn and I saw a man leap onto the bales and start crawling towards us. I thought perhaps one of the neighbors had detected us and had come to track us down. I plucked up my courage stood up to my full height and shouted in my loudest voice: “Clear off from here, you thief, before I break all your bones!” – as if I was the owner of the house who happened for some reason to be sleeping in the barn. The man panicked and fled in the wink of an eye. We thought of hiding the incident from the woman but the following morning she entered the barn and noticed an empty bottle rolling on the floor and we had to tell her what had happened during the night. We saw the blood drain from her face and with difficulty we succeeded in convincing her not to send us away in the daylight. That same evening we returned to the “grandfather”.

In the meantime the Germans were being beaten back time after time and their last defeat was no secret. Everyone was talking about the coming fall of Germany in the near future, information on the increased activity of Russian and Polish Partisans passed from one to the other and spread, encouraging and raising everyone's spirits. Even “grandfather” cheered up and agreed to continue hiding us in a grove of trees near to his house, like the one we hid in last summer. There we sat for about four months hoping for redemption and liberty that still seemed like a dream in our eyes but as something that could become a reality in the near future.

One night, towards the end of August we woke up to the clatter and engine noise of tanks. Two hours later the noise was still going on and we understood that the Germans were retreating and the noise and the clattering were music to our ears. Impatiently we waited for “grandfather” to come but on this day he didn't arrive. At 9 o'clock Ganyk arrived and told us that during the night he had gone to the road junction and seen hundreds of vehicles full of German women and children together with their belongings moving westwards. The smell of salvation, almost entirely forgotten by our people was again rising in our nostrils.

[Page 581]

Announcement followed announcement one after the other. We heard that Bialystok was now in the hands of the Red Army and the following day came the information that the Germans were waging a war of attrition along the whole length of the Narew. We couldn't close our eyes all night. We left our shelter and climbed a tall tree. From there we could see how the front was being bombed by hundreds of Russian aircraft and illuminated by them with “Stalin's Candles” dropped by parachute turning the area into daylight. Emotional and overjoyed we took no notice of the danger we were in being, after all, in the battle–field.

A few days passed, the German Front collapsed and the soldiers began a panic–stricken retreat. During their retreat they over–ran the villages and farms pillaging and robbing everything that came to hand especially the livestock. One day a platoon of them approached “Grandfather's” house. His wife, as was her custom, sat by the window saw them coming came running to us shouting: “Run, run! The Germans are coming!” My brother panicked and ran for the forest. I had barely managed to understand what was happening and my brother disappeared before my eyes. I sped after him but couldn't see which way he went until I found him exhausted at the opening to our old hiding–place in the potato cellar. He was unable to cope with the strain of running and had suffered a heart attack. I hurried to bring some water, chaffing his hands and legs until he recovered himself. Here we were right on the point of being liberated and yet again we were in danger of losing our life.

The following day Russian soldiers came and then, for the first time we entered the house of the “grandfather” and “grandmother”. After a few days, we parted from them and returned to our home town, Tykocin. We were the first Jews to return there. The Polish residents couldn't believe their eyes thinking that all the Jews of Tykocin had perished in the Holocaust. But about 15 survivors of Tykocin gradually assembled there.

The signs of war had deeply scarred the town. Rows of houses in Market Street, most of them Jewish homes, were completely destroyed. Only my parent's house stood standing thanks to the fact that when they flew to Russia in 1940 a Polish family broke in and took it over. Within two days we gathered together the remains of our property and took everything to “Grandfather” and “grandmother”. We told them that this was just the first payment of what we “owed” them and that more was to come and we stood by our promise. But no payment can possibly be sufficient to compensate them for the dedication shown by the old farmer and his wife who placed their lives at risk for us and share with us their “crust of bread”. His image remains etched on my heart

[Page 582]

as one of the Righteous Gentiles who endangered themselves in order to help two persecuted Jews, motivated solely by their love of fellow human beings.

I stayed in Tykocin about 5 months then moved to Bialystok and engaged myself in public activities as chairman of the Jewish Council and chairman of The Historical Company for the Commemoration of the Holocaust. In April 1947 I travelled to Paris and in December of that year, I immigrated to Palestine with the Aliyah ‘Bet’ organization.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. A reference to the night of the Exodus from Egypt. See Exodus Chap. 12: v. 42. Return
  2. “I think, therefore I am” Return

 

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