« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 33]

Testimony against the head of the SD Nitshke

by Jews of Wlodowa who survived

We, the undersigned, attest herewith:

In December 1939, Nitschke arrived in our town Wlodowa with his assistants of about 15 SD men. We remember the names of the following helpers: Hammer, Schwab and Mueller. They expelled the Polish officials from their official agency “Dom Osnadnizce” in the Rosanke-Pilsudski street and occupied it. Two days later, Nitsche sent 50 Jews as hostages to Chelm where they were beaten up cruelly and the next day they returned exhausted – all had been ill and some even died.

The following were among the 50 who returned:

Hershel Feigenbaum, Gershon Seidmann, Jechiel Grinhols, Elieser Grinhols, Shalom Lemberger, Jecheskel Lichtenstein, Nachum Jablonck, Elieser Josl Rolzmann, Moshe Sachover, Jossl Goldmann, Israel Zimmer, Moshe Mandelbaum, Jechiel Eisenberg, Jeshajahu Zerwangure, David Holsmann, David Alamotzki, Motel Reichmann & Mendel Lipshitz.
On the same day, Nitschke ordered the formation of the “Judenrat” demanding 50,000 Zloty contribution as ransom for these hostages. The money was collected and immediately delivered. From 1939 to 1942 when we left, Nitshke was the active leader of the town.

He issued the following directives: that Jewish men and women had to wear a white ribbon with a blue Magen David. He called it the “Judenschande”, that is – the shame of the Jews. If he met someone not wearing the ribbon, he himself shot that person. His assistants did the same.

It was forbidden to go on the pavement.

It was forbidden to buy or to sell something to a farmer for such a sin, he was hot.

[Page 34]

He also ordered to hand over all kind of furs belonging to the Jews and if one did not obey, his fate was to die.

He himself killed the baker Moshe Schwarz and his wife because of an old fur coat they did not deliver.

The following sins were punished by death: If you were not registered or you had returned from the Russian side not wearing the ribbon, leaving the town, walking on a road which was “Judenverbot”, ritual slaughtering, etc. For such sins, the following were put to death: Motel Barnholz, Neta Rotenberg, Motel Provesnik, Zilel Kreis, Yankel Aklois, Chaim Kunfmacher, Chaim Machles, Mendel Barnholz, Joshua Silbermann, Mendel the tailor, Joshua Goldbarb, David Leidmann, Moshe Rabiner, Jidl Leon, Jidl Hibschmann, Alter Spirstein, his wife and his 2 daughters Feige and Chana and others whose names we cannot remember because there were Jews in our town who came from other towns such as: Kalish, Miliz, Lublin and even other countries such as Germany and Austria.

He imprisoned the Admor of Radianai, the Rabbi Schmuel Shlomo Leiner. The town paid a high ransom to Nitshke to spare the life of the rabbi.

He sent him across the Bug to Tomaszowka where he worked on paving roads and building bridges. After a few days, he was returned according to the order of Nitschke and shot at the Jewish cemetery and afterwards, his cousin was killed.

According to the order of Nitschke, the Polish intellectuals were sent to Auschwitz. Among these, we remember: Slasnivitz (a steel trader) with his 2 sons, the son of the lawyer Kashinski, the son of

[Page 35]

Dr. Rosniak, Slipiwitz – the head of the police, Dirk – the school principal, the industrial lecturer and lawyer of the former District Governor, Philip – teacher in Wlodowa and approximately another 3 persons. From Auschwitz they did not return. Some families received only little urns with ashes. On Passover eve of 1941, Nitshke ordered 125 Jews to be brought to him from Wlodowa and to transfer them to work in Sobibor. Approximately 2 months later, 3 Jews came running back. Shamai Treibermann, Schmuel Machles and Mathes. All three were completely naked and related that in Sobibor they had been forced to build gas chambers and they were immediately tested by some hundreds of Jews who had constructed them. Only these three succeeded to escape.


The First Action

On Friday, Shavuoth Eve 1942, Nitshke ordered the “Judenrat” to provide him with 1500 weak, crippled and underdeveloped Jews who were rushed up to the cinema “Sachante” at 10:00 o'clock in the evening. The “SS” men threw grenades into the hall killing many of the Jews inside. After having pulled them out from the cinema, they were driven away to the railway station at Orchowka.

Many fell down and were shot on the way. Polish carts riding after them gathered the corpses immediately. From Orchowka, all the Jews were transported to the death camp at Sobibor.

One Jew named Gross, the owner of the pharmacy of Wlodowa, hid in the cinema and the next day he told about the terrible events. On the first day of the holidays, security police and Volksdeutsche (Germans born in Poland) invaded Jewish houses taking about 1000 Jews out and forcing them to run all the way to Sobibor on foot.

After this action, the town quietened down and it was again possible to walk around.

[Page 36]

The Children's Action

On Saturday morning July 24th, 1942 Nitshke gave out the new order to the “Judenrat” that all the Jews should bring their children to the commander at the sport yard. Trucks stood waiting.

Some 700 children were brought by the Jews and Nitshke gave a sign to his people to fall on the Jews and tear the children out of their hands, throwing them into the cars like wood blocks. The parents were sent away from the yard and the shouting and screaming was heart-bursting.

This work was carried out by Nitshke's assistants and the Ukrainian police.

Many parents, among them the Rabbi of Wlodowa, Rabbi Mendel Morgenstern refused to leave their children alone with the murderers and joined them in Sobibor.


The Third Action

8 days before this action, Nitschke ordered the Jews of the villages of Hansk, Dwiscna, Lita, Zeizik, Zilzik, Sochowi and the camps where the Jews were living, to present themselves in town. On Thursday October 22,1942 it was raining heavily, the Germans pursued the Jews of the environments of Wlodowa, many stayed outside in the rain because there was not enough room for all.

October 24th marked the bloody Shabbat. On this black Shabbat of the Jews of Wlodowa, Nitschke commanded all the Jews who had assembled in the town to appear at the sports field. The town was crowded with security police

[Page 37]

Military police and the Ukrainian police. The supervisor of the construction works, the German Falkenberg, was ordered by telephone not to send the 2000 Jews at his disposition to work but to bring them in orderly queues to the sport field. Nitschke brutally selected 18 men and sent them to his courtyard. All the rest were transported to Sobibor. In this action, more than 10,000 people found their death. Afterwards, the 18 men were once more transferred to Falkenberg. Of these people, the following remained alive: Avigdor Ledermann, Leibl Rosanka, Elieser Metzer, Moshe Knopfmacher, Motel Rabinowitz, Motel Silberstein, Shalom Mirmelstein, Shimon Ledermann, Ephraim Kreis, Eisik Rothenberg, Selig Roitblat, Jechaskel Hubermann, Ephraim Fishmann, Shmuel Stoll, Abraham Schechtmann and other living now in other countries and whose names I do not remember.

After this action, several hundred Jews were left. Part of them were hiding and others lived in the ghetto. Nitschke demanded the construction of a labour camp applying to the Jews to come to the labour camp and promising that nothing bad would happen to them. The Jews crept out of their holes and returned to the labour camp.


The Fourth Action

The appeasement lasted a fortnight and the Jews of Wlodowa were slightly released from their fear of death. Suddenly on November 7th, 1942 the ghetto was again besieged and again an action took place. This time Nitschke was accompanied by his assistant Schwab and his dog. He examined the labour cards (permits) and those who did not please him were picked and sent to the sport field and from there to Sobibor.

Three days after the transport, SD men and

[Page 38]

The Ukrainian killers wandered about shouting to everyone they found.

The town, like after every action, resembled a battlefield. The rest of the Jews who had remained in the camp at Falkenberg were made to bury the corpses.

After this massacre, placards were posted announcing that the Jews were again allowed to move about unmolested. Wlodowa was declared a “Judenstadt” town for Jews. Thus, he allured the Jews that were hiding in the villages, bunkers and forests to come to the ghetto.

After this action, Nitschke took the tailor Mauklish and his daughter who worked for him to the forest killing them together with Eli Gesundheit and the mason artist who also worked for him.

By his order, the trees of the Jewish cemetery were cut down, the gravestones pulled out and the streets paved with these stones. Nearly 20,000 Jews of Wlodowa lie on Nitschke's conscience. He himself shot hundreds.

On April 30th, 1943 the camp at Falkenberg was closed down and Wlodowa became “Judenrein” (exempt of Jews).

We, the undersigned who miraculously survived, apply to the public German prosecutor to arrest the murderer Nitschke and his assistants and to bring them to trial. Each one of us is ready to testify to the massacres of Nitschke.

1. Leibl Rosanka. 2. Jechaskel Hubermann. 3. Motel Rabinowitz. 4. Shimon Ledermann. 5. Jechiel Gronhois. 6. David Zinn. 7. Moshe Knopfmacher. 8. Eliezer Melzer. 9. Avigdor Ledermann. 10. Sara Amalinski. 11. Eisik Rotenberg. 12. Tamar Torknitz. 13. Motel Silberstein (dead?). 14. Pnina Knopfmacher. 15. Simcha Cohen. 16. Shlomo Lemberger. 17. Abraham Chavina. 18. Lion Lubowski. 19. Greta Rotstein (from Militz). 20. Jehoshua Glanzmann. 21. Jossl Cohen.

[Page 39]

“In Sobibor There Is Nothing To See”…..

by Mordechai Zanin

Mr. Zanin, the editor of the newspaper “Die Letzte Neies”, Tell Aviv, visited 100 destroyed communities after World War II. Then a Jew, he had to have courage to endanger his life on a journey in the land of murder. At the time, hundreds of those being rescued in bunkers, woods and returning from Russia, were being killed on roads, villages and towns. But, to the assistance of Mr. Zanin, stood a British passport which enabled him to look like an English reporter. He said this about the trip:

“The disguise of an English reporter in the conditions of post war Poland when the government was communist and the people drunk with hatred of Jews, robbing Jewish property – opened before me the hearts of all ranks of the population: farmers, citizens, intellectuals and artists, wishing to relieve their conscience of a sin. I saw the Jewish tragedy from the perspective of their conscience”. Mr. Zanin described everything he saw, heard and experienced but not like a foreign reporter who contemplated at the Jewish tragedy merely as reporting material. He was the first writer to report on the 100 destroyed and slaughtered communities. His descriptions in the newspaper “Forwards” in New York evidently shook American Judaism.

“In Sobibor there is nothing to be seen…” in the chapter from his book “Über stein und Stock” which appeared in 1952 describing the destruction of Jewish Wlodowa.

About 10km from Wlodowa on the railway leading to the town of Chelm is a railway station called “Sobibor”.

In the forest of Sobibor, Jews of the district of Lublin and its surroundings experienced the greatest disaster of all.

[Page 40]

Now silent reigns on the little station, the forest is shaking. Behind the forest, the Bug flows. Here is the Polish-Russian border. But there is no fear that you are in a border area. The few farmers disappear in the depth of the forest. They return to their peaceful life.

I stop a farmer and propose that he bring me to the extermination camp. The farmer looks at me and does not understand my intention. I tell him: “Not for nothing! I'll pay you well». The farmer lives quite poorly and for payment he understands.

But he does not understand why I will pay him as there is nothing to see there. Really nothing to see…

“I mean the place where Jews were killed” I tell him. “Oh, Jews? Deep in the forest many Jews were burnt for years, but nothing remains to be seen…”
We agreed that I would pay him for showing me the place where there is nothing to be seen. We cross the railway lines and enter into the depth of the forest by a side road.

The farmer tells me that the Germans broke through the forest where they brought the transports with Jews directly to the gas chambers.

There remained signs of this way of suffering.

After a walk of some 20 minutes, we reached a bare patch in the forest. At first it seemed as though here there had been a village which was burnt down and the people had escaped.

On the entire ground you could see among the sporadic weeds, broken pieces of bricks and red ash – earth. Under the weeds the ground is dug-up into narrow and deep ditches.

The whole area of this forsaken land seemed to be smaller than the area of Treblinka. On this

[Page 41]

There were 5 barracks for the SS murderers and the Ukrainians. Two barracks for the Jews who were taken from the transports for work (one for men and one for women), the crematorium and the gas chamber for 500 Jews.

There were 4 barracks where the victims stripped off their clothes, the carpentry, and the tailor workshop – a modern hell founded on a scientific basis: All the buildings in the camp, the houses and the crematorium were made of stones taken from Jewish houses in Wlodowa. In this camp Jews from Samosz, Rebishow, Chelm, Wlodowa, Lublin and Isbiza, Chrasnopol and Libartow – tens of Jewish communities where Jews were murdered. Here, war prisoners from Polish and the Russian armies, Jews from France and Czechoslovakia were also brought as from nearly all European countries. People evaporated with the smoke of the ovens.

Like all extermination camps, in Sobibor there passed a wild wave of gold fever. Every piece of earth in the area from the station was dug up by the population of the environments. The farmer tells about it in simple words. He still believes that if one thoroughly searched the place one would find treasures.

And around these treasures, all his thinking was concentrated. All the questions he asked pointed at this. There was a moment when I thought he suspected that I came to undertake excavation works in order to unearth the “treasures”.

“Have there been committees here to investigate the ground?” I asked. –“As far as I know, no” – he answered carefully: –“besides ordinary people, nobody has come to search”.
The spectacle of Sobibor offers the most awful spectacle of all the destroyed cemeteries in Poland. Everyone dug, exhumed and took what they found and the rest was forsaken.

The water of the river washed down the ashes of 800,000 Jews. Part of the ashes was used

[Page 42]

as fertilizer for the forest to make its trees greener and its bushes softer.

Until now, nobody thought of erecting a tombstone in memory of the dead because it is Sobibor – because here only Jews were exterminated – only 800,000 Jews.

The river flows peacefully. The trains pass and don't stop at Sobibor. This is an isolated and forgotten place.

In Sobibor there was the stormiest uprising in the history of the extermination of the Jewish people.

The revolt in Treblinka (August 1943) was written up in the modern literature which appears only now. When the Chelma camp was destroyed (January 17th, 1945) the little remnants of the Jews rose up and killed 2 German policemen. Only 29 of these Jews survived. But the revolt of Sobibor seemed to be the greatest one. In Lublin, I found a Jew named Moshe Bornstein, one of those who survived the Sobibor revolt. He told me: “In the Jewish working division, there were 425 men and 175 women from different countries. Among them many were Russian Jews – war prisoners of the Soviet army. A Jew from Sitonor with a rank of a major together with Leibl Fladhendler, son of the Rabbi from Solkow, were the initiators of the revolt. They organized 92 men, each one with a different task. They intended to revolt at the end of June but because of a denunciation, the matter could not be executed.

A Jew from Berlin betrayed the preparations to the leaders of the camp and even handed over 3 who were shot.

Moshe Matiszewitz, son of the smith maker Seinwel from Krasonokow and a Jew from Turbini. For all that, they did not renounce their plant of a revolt even after the denunciation and though the Germans managed the camp in such a way that it was impossible to talk. On the same July day, the labourers in the forest who were digging there intended to kill their Ukrainian guards and to escape.

Every Jew was watched by two men. One

[Page 43]

SS man and one Ukrainian. In spite of the double guards, the forest labourers decided to execute their plans. The opportunity arrived when 3 Jews; Shlomo Podchalnik, Jossel Knopp from Matrobin and Sundel Honigmann from Koskowow went to fetch water for the forest labourers. The three were led by one armed Ukrainian. They attacked him and killed him. According to a prearranged plan, they were to give a sign for all the labourers to attack guards with their axes and spades and then disperse into the forest. But the signal did not come and instead a man on horseback arrived announcing the murder of the Ukrainian. 13 Jews out of 40 were killed on the spot. The rest were forced to crawl on their bellies for a distance of 4km back to camp. There, two by two, they were shot in front of all the camp inhabitants.

The atmosphere in the camp became unbearable.

All the time new transports arrived with Jews from Poland and abroad. On the day of the greatest summer heat, the Jews of the transport arrived half-dead and were moved directly to the crematorium: “Give us a drop of water and kill us!” they prayed. “Kill us!” Moshe Bornstein continues his story:

“Though we, those that were unloading the wagons, were already used to awful spectacles and death did not make an impression on us, the tortures of half suffocated Jews broke us down.

The “work” in the camp began at 10hr at night when the trains with the transports arrived at the station. The work had to be finished by 2hr in the morning. This was the time restricted for poisoning the Jews – transferring the luggage to the store-houses and cleaning the wagons.

In order to avoid a break for a breather, the Germans organized dances with music every Sunday.

As for every 425 men, there came some 175 women in to the camp. The women were forced to

[Page 44]

Dance the whole day. Every man also had to dance if he wanted to remain alive. For the dancing, we had to come dressed up. In the storehouses there were the most beautiful clothes especially from the transports that came from abroad. Therefore, the women appeared in elegant evening dresses and the men in underwear of silk and elegant suits with silk ties. Sunday was the day of rest for the SS men and the Ukrainians – it was a day of suffering and torture for the Jews. A terrible hell.

The dancing was the dance with death. A dance between thousands of dead people. And we the dances knew that our fate would be the same as theirs: - gas chambers and crematorium.

The supervisor of the camp, Obersturmführer Neumann, whom the Jews did kill later, was 18 years old! But his cruelty did not know any limits. He always invented the most awful tortures for his victims. One of his inventions was the dancing on a Sunday.

On the night of September 15th/16th we were woken up. A transport of Jews had arrived which had to be unloaded quickly and poisoned. By sunrise, the whole transport had to be in the crematorium. This was the most awful train we have ever seen. The nightmare train – the hell.

It consisted of 39 wagons. It came from Dambiza near Krakow. It had already been two weeks on its way! Through the lattices of the windows a terrible stench of corpses penetrated. When we opened, we found piles of naked corpses. In every wagon there were 300 men, women and children. Most were already dead. And those who were still alive and could still stand on their feet asked immediately: “where are the gas chamber?” They ran there with the last of their strength – quickly – quickly – they rain in order to die quickly. Not one of them had asked for water! They only asked for the direction to the gas chambers. We unloaded five wagons at a time. Because of the stench, we were afraid to open more than 5 at a time. Out of thousands of Jews, only some groups were sent to the gas chambers 4 or

[Page 45]

5 times – 500 persons each time. The rest were thrown on carriages and brought straight to the ovens.

The last transport was the cause for the revolt. Execution of the uprising could no longer wait. Now the plan had to be worked out in its detail and find the appropriate moment for action. Besides the involvement of both the Russian major and Leibl Fladhendler.

Jossl Dominan, who was brought in a transport from France, Motel Mendelboim from Samosz, Jossl Licht and Majorek from Grabowitz, belonged to the organizing group.

The SS men would take the best things for themselves from the store houses: jewellery, clothing, lingerie and shoes. The Jews working in the store houses had to report to their supervisors each time new items appeared. The organizers of the revolt took advantage of this fact. The 14th October was the suitable day. On the same morning, a group of SS men left for Wlodowa. The signal was given to be ready at 16hr p.m. The supervisor of the store house had prepared exclusive women's underwear. He went to his SS man and told him that there was a precious cloth for a suit for him.

The head of the tailor's workshop told his SS men to come and try on the new suit. At the same time, the SS men were invited to the store houses or to the workshops. There, a little group of labourers waited for them armed with axes, hammers and other tools. When the SS man passed the entrance, he received a blow on his head and was killed and covered with rags.

In this way, 33 SS men were killed and their weapons captured.

At precisely 16hr the Russian major announced the slogan: “To the gate”. The group which had killed the Russian guards at the weapon shop left with the guns. The labourers of the storehouses and workshops also left with arms in their hands.

The Ukrainian guards guessed what had happened and opened fire. The Jews answered

[Page 46]

with firing and ran to the gate. They killed the guard but did not find the key of the gate on him.

The wicket was open but only one man could pass there. The Ukrainians opened fire on the masses that had concentrated at the wicket and the dead blocked even further the way. At the same moment the SS men from Wlodowa returned and they began to shoot from the outside.

The fire from the Ukrainians from the inside and that of the SS men from the outside caused death among the Jews. The Jewish Soviet soldiers attacked with their arms the Ukrainians trying to approach the masses. The Jews who had passed the wicket fell over the SS men, withdrew and escaped to save their skins. But it was too late.

There were many dead persons at the gate. The fire from the Ukrainians diminished as tells of them fell.

From all of the Jews in the camp only 150 escaped into the forest. The Germans and the Ukrainians pursued them and the battle continued.

The 150 escapees kept on offering sacrifices. Jossl Karp was killed after the liberation of Poland. This fate was share by Leibl Fladleder. He fell in Lublin. The place where the epic of Dante had been enacted is now empty and forsaken.

Only the forest witnessed the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Jews. The forest witnessed the heroism of the last Jews and the forest remained around the forsaken cemetery of a people.

Perhaps when mankind will become better, the term “Jew” will be recognized and appreciated by non-Jews – perhaps then someone will raise and erect a tombstone for the slaughter at Sobibor – place some flower and light a candle on “Sadoshke” as it is done according to the Polish ritual on graves of saints and heroes – non-Jewish…..

[Page 47]

On June 29th, 1965 the Polish government together with the remnants of Jewish refugees in Poland unveiled a memorial stone at the place where the gas chamber had stood in Sobibor.

A group of people from Wlodowa with Chaim Lieger at its head, placed flower on the memorial stone.

To our regret there was not a word on the monument that would remind the world that at this place hundreds of thousands of Jews from Poland and abroad as well as those from Wlodowa had been murdered. As they were prosecuted alive so one does not want to remind them but only forget their tragic death. Blessed be for their memory. – God will revenge this blood. “HI”D”.

The Uprising of the Jews of Wlodowa in Sobibor

by Ada Lichtman

It was in the days of the great terror when they were persecuted like dogs. Homeless. After I was uprooted from my native town of Krakow to several labour camps, I arrived in Sobibor and here, after a merciless selection, I remained working in the laundry.

In this extermination camp, some 600 people were busy with all kinds of work. There were also workshops for tailors and shoemakers. Many of them were occupied classifying and amending those garments that the victims had stripped off before going into the gas chambers. In a special room there were drawers in which there was an assortment of jewels and gold teeth which were pulled off from the Jewish corpses. In this room a selected group of labourers worked under strict supervision.

Not far from the laundry there was a knitting factory managed by a sixteen year old Jewish student. Micha Spira from Mebidgosh. She came to Sobibor directly from school with her uniform and her schoolbooks after a denunciation. In this knitting factory, 20 women worked unravelling the yarn off woollen sweaters that had

[Page 48]

Been taken from the corpses and were also knitting socks for Hitler's murderers.

Once, a train arrived with Jews and their belongings from Holland. A special car containing all kinds of food was attached to this train: cheeses, coffee, sugar preserves and other goods were to be found here. This was a present from the Queen of the Netherlands for her citizens who left for “labour camps”.

These Jews enjoyed an extraordinary reception. On descending the train they found tables full of bread, marmalade and coffee. They were moved to the working houses where they were told to write letters home saying that they had arrived safe and sound and that all was well. After having signed their letters they were then sent to the Sanitary Centre – the gas chamber. On one of these days a rebellion broke out. 70 French Jews seeing that they had been brought to an extermination camp revolted and tried to fight their way to freedom. The resistance failed and all were shot in front of other camp inhabitants.

The laundry was next to the area of the rail-

[Page 49]

way station where the Jews arrived. In my work, bringing and delivering the laundry, I saw, in the year 1943, a train with Jews from the Wlodowa ghetto. From the sides of the wagons, planks were missing in several places – a sign that they had been plucked out by Jews who had jumped from the running train.

The Jews of Wlodowa refused to descend from the cars. They had taken with them such things as pots and bottles as they had been told that they were going to labour camps. These they now threw at the SS men. The SS men fired but the Jews did not get off until the camp leader, Gustav Wagner, came and appeased them. He told them that nothing bad would happen to them and that people were needed for different kinds of work. The Jews finally believed that they were being led to work and abandoned the cars. On that very day, they died in the gas chambers.

In 1943, the Jews of Wlodowa who had worked in the workshops rebelled. Micha Shapira who had supervised the knitting factory also participated in the mutiny. She was shot at by the SS man Karol Frenzel while trying to escape.

The Tombstone Street

by Ben-Zwia Holzmann

World War I, when the town was developing beyond the orchard of Plasczynski towards the Okoniki road, the City Council was intending to purchase part of the orchard in order to lengthen Solna Street, often called “die Schul gass” and thus connect the two parts of the city. But as the municipality's budget was quite limited, this plan was temporarily laid aside.

This plan was only realized with the outbreak of World War II in 1939 when the Germans occupied the town. It, however, was not accomplished with the help of a budget but rather by the toil, sweat and blood of Jews. The “Judenrat” was compelled daily to send a great number of Jews to perform the work on this new street.

In order to save costs of material, the Gestapo engineer presented a devilish plan: paving the street with the tombstones of the Jewish cemetery.

Hundreds of Jews were led to tear out the tombstones with their bare hands. The work was done under the threat of getting shot and was

[Page 50]

accompanied by ruthless beatings. This was one of the most horrible kinds of work the Jews of Wlodowa were forced to do. They cried silently and beat their heads against the tombstones, whispered psalms and asked for forgiveness of the dead whose tombs they profaned.

David Holzmann had to join the group who “worked” at the tomb of the Rabbi R. Leibele Sezel and next to it stood the tomb of his own father Matetjahu, blessed be his memory. David made up his mind not to let anyone else tear out his father's tombstone – he himself would do it, slowly, carefully, delicately. When he started digging the great marble stone on which glittered in golden letters: “Here lies a Chassid who will see the heaven Matetjahu Ben Israel”, it seemed to him as if the letters were jumping from the stone and dispersing in the air hovering over the heads threating and imploringly. David could not hold himself and broke out in a bitter cry and shouted deep from his heart: “Father, father, look who is beating you”

[Page 51]

and as if mad, he started to beat his head against the tombstone and could not calm down.

The Jews who were occupied tearing out the other stones came running in order to silence him because his shouts were likely to cause them new troubles but their words did not reach his ears. He fell over the tom and cried like a little child: “Look father where we have arrived, father forgive me!”

He suddenly became quiet. He spread his arms out as if he wanted to hug the tomb in order to save it from desecration of the dead and started in a stifled voice: “Yitgadel wyitkadesh Shma raba…”

The cemetery of Wlodowa in whose earth passed generations are buried and which knows to tell about great sorrows, has never heard in its entire existence such a heart-breaking cry as it did at the time of the uprooting of the tombstones.

The tombstones that had been standing for hundreds of years could not easily be torn out. There was a peculiar feeling that those buried beneath were grasping the stones with all their strength, imploring not to disturb their rest and not to destroy the last memory for the following generations.

Accompanied by the SS murderers, Wlodowa's Jews dragged the tombstones from the cemetery back to the city for the first time of their existence profaning their sanctity.

This was the most ruthless funeral Wlodowa ever saw.

The Destruction Of Wlodowa

by Ephraim Tilip

Already on the first day of the war, i.e. September 1st, 1939 German airplanes bombed our town. The railroad station was totally demolished as well as the bridge over the Bug leading to the Nisuk station. The bridge was reconstructed by Polish soldiers but the station remained destroyed. On this day, we already felt that Poland had lost its leader. In Wlodowa the local authority was still governing.

The weeks before Rosh Hashanah, Jewish refugees from Congress Poland started flocking into Wlodowa. The town was crowded with refugees and the flow became stronger and stronger. Most of the refugees, mainly the young ones, went on over the Bug to the east. There were fewer women because it was said that the Germans would not bother women so they stayed at home. Some stopped in Wlodowa assuming that the Germans would be pushed back and they could

[Page 52]

Return home. The mayor ordered all the grocery shops to open on the holiday in order to enable the refugees to buy food and thus prevent panic among the public.

On Saturday morning, the Germans again bombed Wlodowa. The third house from mine- the house of the wife of Shmuel Bezalel on Wirka Street was destroyed and her daughter with a child was seriously wounded. Also in the house of the harvest merchant, Nachum Haf, some people were injured.

At the end of Rosh Hashanah, we saw great flames rising on the Bug. The Polish army burned down the bridge and we realised the situation was not good.


The First Martyr

On the first day, the Germans invaded in the town without any resistance from the Polish

[Page 53]

army who had remained in their army barracks. The elderly Jossl Geldermann was then visiting his son-in-law Moshe Weiss and had just stepped out into the street when a German riding a motorcycle took him away. For some days we did not know where he had disappeared until we found him cut into pieces in Tomashowka.

Jossl Gelermann was the first martyr of Wlodowa. The next day the Germans drove out the Jews from their houses with truncheons and guns, screaming: “Laufen, laufen (run)”. They rushed the Jews into the great Synagogue and those who lived in a Christian area, into the Polish church. Though the great Synagogue was a big and high building, there were so many people crammed in there that it was impossible to breathe. People were fainting and we were running out of water. The Germans kept on adding more and more Jews and then closed the doors. People were crawling over each other groaning: “water!”

To this the Germans replied by firing bullets from a machine gun into the Synagogue. The next day at 10hr they opened the Synagogue and demanded hostages from the representatives of the community. I only remember the names of the two rabbis: Stashorek and Jeshajahu Zerwanagre. The Germans explained that they were taking the hostages because one of the Jews had fired on a German soldier. In future, 100 Jews would be killed for one German soldier. It was also forbidden for Jew to be on the street after nightfall.

Silence prevailed on Jom Kippur. We did not even see a single German in town. People started to peep outside and to leave their houses and were convinced that the Germans were really not there. Polish soldiers were also not seen. The town was without government. The Jews began organizing guards on the streets to resist plunder and assaults. “Kol Nidre” was said at home and no one attended the Synagogue or the Beth Midrash. We prayed this “Kol Nidre” together with Rabbi Eli Shochat and nobody could imagine

[Page 54]

that the “Kol Nidre” would be recited under more tragic circumstances in the following years. On Yom Kippur a Polish officer appeared calling the young ones to the military barracks where a Polish army was to be formed. Many young people reported voluntarily and stayed in the barracks for 8 days. Suddenly, this army disappeared without leaving any trace. On the third day, the Russians invaded the town. The suppressed inhabitants could breathe again freely.

Jewish officers of the Soviet Union army told us secretly that the Russians were retreating beyond the Bug and that the Germans would return. Anyone who so desired could cross the Bug before the German arrival. Many Jews followed them. After a few days the Germans once again entered the town.

They immediately confiscated all the goods in the shops. They commanded a “Judenrat” to be formed and every Jew to wear a “Schand Band” (a band of shame) with a blue Star of David. The Judenrat together with the labour office were urged to set up a list of Jews for forced labour. I belonged to one of these groups that were sent by train to Chelm and from there driven on foot to the village of Zernija. Leaving the train in Chelm, we were compelled to pass “Brand”, that is: we had to pass between two rows of SS people who beat everyone with sticks and those who did not succeed in running to the right tempo was shot outside the camp. In Zarnijew we worked draining swamps and mire. In the winter of 1941 our town was crowded with German soldiers. It was forbidden for Jews to leave the town; nevertheless, they were led to the forest to pave streets and to construct barracks. Around the Bug, fences and other obstacles were erected. On the morning of June 21st, we heard the noise of cannon fire and some hours later, the Germans were already walking on the other side of the Bug. In the afternoon, wounded Russian and Jewish prisoners were brought from Tomashka. It was forbidden to talk with the wounded and

[Page 55]

With the driver who had brought them as we were not supposed to know what had happened.

The injured had been tortured so cruelly that every day many of them died. In the winter of 1941, a new directive was ordered by the German government. All kinds of furs had to be handed over by the Jews. Disobedience was punished by death. Everyone gave in their furs and fur coats. Nevertheless, some Jews were murdered as one Christian denounced a Jewish family concealing a fur coat. Without investigating the case, the Germans shot Moshe Schwarz and his wife Hania thus orphaning their three children. The same happened to Peretz the shoemaker. On Passover Eve, 1942 the Judenrat had to provide several hundred Jews for the deportation to Sobibor. Among them were my two brothers-in-law. They met there hundreds of Jews from other towns and even from abroad. They worked on fencing in the camp in the valley of the forest and building all kinds of strange structures without suspecting that they were constructing gas chambers and crematoriums where they themselves would be the first to suffocate and burn. At the same time, a transport from Vienna arrived with people dressed elegantly as though they were out for a walk. They related that the Germans had behaved nicely towards them on the way and that they were promised to be brought to a labour camp in the east. In the meantime, they were to stay in the Wlodowa ghetto.

One day, Abraham Ben Shamai and another young man from Matashin came rushing in. They belonged to the group that had been sent for work in Sobibor and had escaped. They were completely naked.

They told us that the group of Wlodowa and other Jews had built the gas chambers and that the Germans had chosen them to be the first to test the efficiency of the gas.

Only they both understood the matter in time and by miracle had succeeded in escaping as they were naked before being pushed into the gas chamber.

[Page 56]

This news sounded so strange to the ears of the listener, like sweating of insane brains. Nobody could believe that people could be killed just for nothing.


The First Action

On the Shavuot holidays it was decreed to provide 500 or 600 ailing and old Jews. Those who found out about this in advance succeeded in hiding. My father Moshe and my mother Freide Malka also hid in an attic and were saved on that day. Refugees from other towns and villages were also delivered. Jews from Vienna were picked up as well and as the required number had not yet been attained, people were seized on the street by the SS men.

After severe tortures and shooting, tens of them were deported to Sobibor.


The Children's Action

In July it was decreed that the parents had to deliver their children up to the age of 12. My wife, children and I remained undiscovered in an attic. Rabbi Mendeli, son of the Rabbi of Lakow, presented himself together with his children.

It was told that he and his wife drew lots and it was he who drew the lot to accompany the children. The Germans told him to go back but he refused and went along with his children to Sobibor. As the number of children was not sufficient, adults too were grabbed off the streets.

With whips and sticks the children were pushed on to the train and into the wagons. Little children were thrown like wooden blocks. It was impossible to move even a limb and many suffocated on the way.

This was later described by one who managed to survive by jumping from the moving train.


The Third Action

Some weeks after Succoth 1942, when all Jews living in the villages were ordered to move

[Page 57]

To the town, the market place became crammed with people, children and luggage.

Those that were there were mostly Jews who had hidden in the villages without the knowledge of the farmers. Jews from the caps of Osobi and Krichow were also brought there. Many fearless Jews who had “guts” dared to flee to the forest.

On Shabbat, all the labourers of Falkenberg, about 2000, went to work as usual. There Falkenberg directed them to go to the lot next to the ground school promising that they would soon return to work. At the same time, hundreds of German soldiers blockaded the streets driving the Jews towards this lot. Most of the members of the “Judenrat” were captured and brought there as well. Falkenberg requested on 400 of his labourers back and these then later reported the events. I hid my wife and children together with the wife and children of the butcher Zernik (he was killed in Maidanek) in the corridor behind the kitchen which contained a staircase leading to the cellar. I closed the door behind them and sealed it with wooden beams. I myself hid in the neighbourhood in the attic of Mendel Orchover's house. In a small part of the roof concealed by a wall, ten people were hiding.

On Saturday, at dusk, I went down to see how my wife and children were. When I found the cellar empty, I nearly went out of my mind from despair. It was only two hours later that I saw them again safe and sound. They had nearly suffocated in the cellar and had thus been compelled to go out. It took them two hours to pass 4 houses until they reached Mendel's house.

All during that time they were forced to conceal themselves from the eyes of strangers. This situation lasted several days until things calmed down again. From the roof I could observe the whole proceedings. I heard the screaming of the children being snatched from the arms of their parents, the heart-breaking howling of fathers and mothers fighting against the kidnappers and being beaten mercilessly or shot. In this action, more than 10,000 Jews were massacred.

[Page 58]

The Fourth Action

After the great action, the labour camp and the ghetto were enclosed by high fences made of barbed wire. Those who worked were compelled to live in the camp and others in the ghetto. Housing problems were now over as many houses stood empty.

The shortage of a large number of people marked the atmosphere. Even those who remained knew that their time was short. Sooner or later they too would be slaughtered.

At that time, a group of partisans was formed and they even succeeded in buying some weapons and escaping into the forest.

Moshe Lichtenberg was the leader of this group. Peace had not returned to the ghetto. Again, kidnapping of people in the street and again an action lasted 5 days. Hiding places were discovered and there was shooting in the streets and houses.

On the contrary, in the camp, nobody was touched. After the 5-day “action” they announced that there would no longer be kidnappings in the ghetto and that nobody had to fear anything.

A new “Judenrat” was formed for the remaining Jews and Nitschke promised there would be no further harm to the Jews.


The Labour Camp at Adampol

Some days after this action, my sister-in-law came from Adampol – the estate of the Earl of Samoiska, to find out how we were. She proposed us to move to Adampol where she and her fiancée were working. She told us that some 1000 Jews were living there with their families. The distance between Adampol estate and Wlodowa was 8km. One dark night we set off. In return for a gold clock, the administrator of the estate included us in the list of names. It was very crowded and extremely dirty. Swarms of lice crept over everyone. The administrator of the estate constantly received “little presents” and allowed all those seeking shelter to enter. We dug pits and chopped down trees, our livelihood

[Page 59]

was earned by selling our belongings. In this camp many were starving and looked like skeletons. But, as German strangers did not come here, the place seemed to us like paradise.

We had already spent some winter months in the camp. During this time, many arrived of those who had escaped to the forest as they did not possess weapons and were unable to stand the frost and cold. Gradually the winter came to an end, the snow melted and spring arrived. Pesach was approaching.

The Jewish partisans used to come here during the night to visit their relatives and returned to the woods. The Germans found out about this and enclosed the camp, checking up on who was registered or not. The latter were shot on the spot. Among them was the son-in-law of Slikel Harb.

In those days I lost my wife. She had gone with some other women to the town in order to sell and to buy things. When they returned to the camp, a German caught them and all were killed. This happened on Adar A 16th and this is the memorial day of my wife (May she rest in peace), daughter of Anshel Melamed who was the Gabbai of the Rabbi of Minsk. She was the first victim in our family.

I remained sad and depressed with four little children.


The Fifth Action

After this event, I went back to the ghetto which I found in ruins. I collected broken windows and doors to prepare a hiding place where I could bring my children. Because of the late hour, I was forced to sleep in the ruins. In the early morning hours, I heard familiar noises and shots. I understood their meaning and climbed up on to the destroyed roof stairs. I remained lying there throughout the day, terrified, shocked on seeing what was going on in the streets and remembering my poor little children.

It became silent at night. Only the “Blacks” as we called the Ukrainians patrolled the streets. One of them was walking around the ruined hut where I was hiding. As this hut was located on the border between the ghetto and the camp, I took off my shoes and stood barefooted at the hidden passage way and when the Ukrainian had moved some steps away, I escaped into the night. I reached the station and from there continued through the fields to Adampol. But, here I did not find anyone. Here too an action had taken place and those who had been able to, had fled into the forest. At sunrise I set off to the forest to find out about my children. To my big joy and happiness they had hidden together with my sister-in-law and her fiancée under the stock of pine tree needles. We thought about our children and came to the conclusion to return to the Polot camp S.A. back to the Samoiski estate.

Many did the same and the camp filled again. Wlodowa was “Judenrein” (free of Jews).

We were afraid to go there because of the danger of new actions. There existed a possibility to join the partisans in the forest but only those without children and with much money as you had to provide yourself with a gun. Without one, it was impossible to live in the forest.

Therefore most remained in the camp.

[Page 61]

Sarah Omolinski

One winter day at the end of 1939, some months after the outbreak of World War II, some farmers from the village of Sobibor told us that they had found some corpses and it was very likely that they were Jews. They had also found some people who, although still alive, were unable to walk.

The town was terrified by this news and the leaders of the community immediately started the rescue operation. Sheets were collected for the shrouds, wagons were hired to bring the corpses and the farmers were paid to help find these corpses in the forest.

All day long the wagons came back loaded with the dead. Some were in the uniforms of the Polish army and some were in civilian clothes. Among the dead were some who were still breathing but their bodies were frozen.

It was an extremely cold winter and it was no wonder that people were freezing and dying. These were prisoners whom the Germans had taken while conquering the environments of Tuzin near Bialystok. They had been transported for days in unheated waggons to the valley of the Sobibor forest and then shot there. Even those who were lucky and escaped from the Germans in the forest could not defy the severity of the frost and they froze. We succeeded in saving only a small part of those that had been brought to the town.

Two small houses on Blotna Street were turned into temporary hospitals where the frozen

[Page 62]

were operated on amputated fingers, hands and legs. Many girls without the slightest knowledge in medicine volunteered to serve as nurses. They devotedly sat up with the sick, working day and night. The convalescents were lodged in private houses and there were provided with money and food.

This had been the first action the Germans had executed in our environment but then the Germans did not yet dare to display their ruthlessness in public and so this one was carried out in secret.

In the year 1940, the Germans ordered the “Judenrat” to open a Jewish co-operative where the Jews could buy their food as it was forbidden for Polish shops to sell or to deal with Jews. Generally it contained a very small quantity of food. It happened very often that you could get nothing. The ration of 100gr of bread for each person was provided by the two Jewish bakeries.

Hunger and poverty increased from day to day. Those possessing goods for sale sold them and bought some flour, potatoes and wood on the black market. You could only obtain these goods in return for clothes that were in excellent condition, linen and gold. But not everyone possessed these items. Even those who were well-off could not bear up to this kind of exchange for long as the Germans had forbidden the Jews to go to the villages and buy food from the farmers. Later on, it was forbidden to bake in private houses at the risk of being shot.

[Page 63]

The Cooperative

In the beginning of 1940 the German confiscated Jewish shops, mills and workshops and handed them over to the Ukrainians who were rushed to our town. The Germans expelled the Jews from their houses and settled themselves in or distributed them to the Ukrainians.

The situation of the Jews became worsened. The confiscation of the shops and workshops deprived other Jews as well from their livelihood. These Jews had been agents and traders and now there was no longer the possibility to earn money especially when the trade with farmers of the environments was stopped. The Jews were starving especially families of the labourers who had always lived from hand to mouth.

The rich Jews had something to sell and so were able to buy food. But, hundreds of working families and just the poor people did not possess anything to sell. The situation grew worse from day to day. True, one somehow tried to help but no help could alleviate the poverty. The Germans captured Jews for forced labour and compelled the “Judenrat” to place at their disposition labourers for different kinds of work. In the year 1941 the Germans once again confiscated the houses where few Jews were still living and handed them over to the Ukrainians just arriving in town. The Jews gathered together in a special area – the ghetto – where they lived crowded together. A law was passed forbidding Jews to buy food from the farmers and from the shops which the Ukrainians held and that had once belonged to the Jews. This law also saddened those who had something to sell. They too had to live from 100grs of bread a day according to a ration card the Germans distributed and the bread was only available in two Jewish bakeries.

The situation became terrible. Now all were starving. The Judenrat succeeded in its efforts to receive permission from the Germans to open a shop in the ghetto in order to appease the terrible

[Page 64]

hunger. We called this shop the cooperative. Here you could get, salt, matches, candles, shoelaces and all kinds of other articles without a card and all kinds of other articles that could not appease the hunger even one percent.

From time to time, actually every few months, the Germans rationed to the cooperative some black sugar or some rotten potatoes which the Christian inhabitants did not want to take, not even those with cards.

This was more or less the financial situation of the Jews of Wlodowa until the blood shedding actions which brought the Jews to Sobibor. And as much as we would not like to describe this terrible situation which lasted 4 years, we would not think that it would come out pale and untrue. The cooperative where my sisters Nechama Lustigmann and Elka Reichmann were working existed until the third action on October 29th, 1942, the day when 8000 to 10,000 Jews were transported to Sobibor.


The Attack on Russia

The year 1941. Two weeks before attacking Russia, our surroundings were filled with swarms of German soldiers. They were located in barracks and they crowded the whole town. A certain restlessness was felt all over. My grandfather Jeshajahu Zerwenagora, who had been the former owner of the power station and was now working as a woodcutter in the camp of Falkenberg Bernard, the supervisor of the plumping who employed 2000 labourers came home once and told us that Falkenberg had secretly revealed to him the important information that that night, the Germans would march upon the Russians. This was the evening before June 21. This concealed secret spread immediately to all houses of the town. Throughout this historic night, the Jews did not sleep. Everyone was afraid of new and terrible events. Some thought that if the Germans were distracted by war with the Russians they would not have time to care for the

[Page 65]

Jews and we would be able to breath freely again.

In the morning we saw German squads approaching and lowering boats into the Bug to cross the river. It seemed as if the Russians neither opposed them nor defended themselves at all.


The Great Action

On Saturday, October 24th, 1942 we got up as usual at 06hr in the morning in order to go to work. I, together with 29 girls, worked in the gardens. We planted germ buds and little trees at the Pole's Antonowitz who was the inspector of the forests. It was pouring outside, our clothes were soaked and the cold penetrated to our bones but abstaining from work was out of the question since it was too dangerous. Gradually the heavy rain let up and it continued to drizzle for the rest of the day. The whole time we were oppressed by restlessness and fear. We instinctively felt that something was going on. Some days before, Jews from the villages were brought to us and this was not a good sign. There were obstinate rumours than an action would take place that day.

People were running like mad not knowing what to do – attend work or not or hide instead. We had already experienced earlier actions in which thousands of adults and children had been massacre. Everyone knew what “Action” meant and made efforts to look for ways to avoid being captured by the bloodthirsty murderers.

My younger sister Nechama and I were already outside. We were as confused as the others. According to the directive, all the Jews were to report on the grounds next to the grammar school. There, numbers would be distributed among those capable of working and those would be sent back to work; on the other hand, those not appearing would be deported to Sobibor. This name filled young and old with horror. When we heard this, we quickly ran home and after a short consultation

[Page 66]

we decided, as we were young we could allow ourselves to report and that they would choose us again for work.

Our oldest sister Jehudit, who just now was recovering from a second attack of Typhus and who still was very pale, was to stay at home together with the parents and the grandmother (father's mother who lived with us). We prepared a hiding place for them in the cellar and hoped that we would succeed in rescuing our family that was still whole. We believed that our fortunate luck would not leave us also in the future. On a regular working day, we brought with us a parcel of food. By the way, we were among those lucky ones who did not exist only on 100gr of bread a day because our grandfather could still sell some objects from time to time and bring a little bit of flour which, although forbidden to bake bread at home, was nevertheless used to prepare other sorts of meals and thus diminish the hunger.

Special rows were already standing in the grounds. At one place we saw those who had been brought from the camps of Ossobi and Kricha. They were barefooted and were nearly naked with torn clothes. Wet from the rain and trembling with cold, they stood unsteadily on their weakened legs. They look like skeletons having lost the least resemblance to humans, appearing to be shaking shadows before death.

Those assembled from the villages were standing close together. Here and there we saw children clinging to their mothers. The Ukrainian and Latvian murderers wandered about looking for an excuse to attack the defenceless people. Adults as well as children were trembling from cold and fear. The murderer Lotar and his dog had not arrived yet and the SS men ran to and fro like angry killers waiting for the order.

A huge queue of 2000 people of Falkenberg's labourers was standing apart. They were the select of the camp, envied by everyone thinking that their lives were safe. Even now, Falkenberg

[Page 67]

promised them that he would take them back to work.

At the same moment, everyone was thinking of the same thing. My sister and I too were sure that the lines would be surveyed soon and would be among those lucky enough to be sent back to work and to life. Therefore, everyone tried to life their heads in order not to appear weak or ill but to look capable of work.

Freezing and frightened, we waited until two or three o'clock until the head of the SD Nitschke arrived with two of his assistants. The rain had not yet stopped but we were more afraid of the “Akzia” than of the rain and the cold.

Each time a new group of Jews was brought to the lot, everyone was afraid to find a relative among them – father, mother, brother or sister – that had remained in a hiding place. They passed indifferently the lines with blood-shot eyes and from the thin lips of their murderous faces; you did not hear a sound. At the end, Nitschke chose some craftsmen to whom the watchmaker Abraham Lerer with his wife and daughter Batsheva belonged – Lerer fixed watches and ornamental jewellery from the plundered gold which we then sent to wives and mistresses; Motel Ben Sische Silberstein, who was known as a skilful locksmith as well as Nechama Adler, an embroiderer of linen.

Falkenberg also chose some tens of craftsmen so that together they were 50 men. They were removed across the fence to the courtyard of the SD. All the time we were enclosed by SD men and the “Blacks' – Ukrainians and Latvians. Most striking was Lotar with his dog and some of his assistants walking around like beasts. Woe the one who did not seem to stand straight or whom they believed had moved. At the end, the men were separated from the women. The murderers snatched children from the arms of their mothers and a bitter fight developed between armed killers and weak mothers. I do not find the words to describe the horrible performance going on here on the grounds. With truncheons, guns and daggers

[Page 68]

They thrashed the women and mothers who refused to give up their children from their arms. Many assaulted the Germans like wounded tigers and tried to push them away while they pressed their children close to their hearts.

Heart-breaking was the spectacle of the men being separated from their wives and children. The shouts and howling rose to the heavens. The Germans struck right and left over the heads of those pressed together in the last moments before their separation.

Two huge lines. One with women and one with men started moving towards the railway station. More than 10,000 people – old men, women and children dragging their feet in mud and puddles on the way to Sobibor.

We passed the yard where the 50 craftsmen were standing – chosen to live. They recognized their relatives among those going to Sobibor and broke out into terrible shouts, pulling their hair and beating their heads. Among those lucky ones was our uncle, Abrehmel Zarnwanagore, and when he saw us he fell down to the earth tearing out pieces of hi skin.

We went silently, depressed and many did not even pay attention to the shouts as though they did not even reach their ears. Gradually we were all seized by depression which did not leave us until their arrival at Sobibor.

At the time, voices which had accompanied us to the train echoed in my ears. We were surrounded by SS men and their assistants, the “Blacks” who even remounted their masters, the Germans. The dogs they had brought with them waited to hear the word “Jude” in order to attack their poor victims.

Because of the narrowness of the streets, we were divided into 2 groups. One passed through Seminowastreet and the other on Market Street. My sister and I passed through the Market as we were part of the last group.

In the corner next to the pharmacy of Grinstein stood 2 Germans and one of them shouted: “Hej 2 junge – kommt her!” (you two young ones

[Page 69]

come here). We left the line and approached them. One of them was pointing to two corpses and ordered us to load them on the nearby carriage. For a moment I hesitated but immediately, I realized the folly of my doubts and bent down to the dead, lying down.

My sister too bowed down and our tear-stained eyes met. We started to drag away the corpses but it surmounted our strength. The farmer standing at the carriage pitied us and helped us load the bodies. Among the corpses was one still alive. Apparently he belonged to the Jews from abroad – from Czechoslovakia – who stayed at the Ossobi camp. When we dragged him we believed him dead but we heard him whispering in German: “oh mein Gott – meine Holzschuhe”. (Oh my God, my clogs).

The clogs had fallen from his feet while being dragged. The carriages loaded with corpses followed the poor Jews to Sobibor.

The two Germans withdrew and we remained standing helplessly. We were so filled with resignation and despair and so depressed that the possibility to flee death waiting everywhere did not enter my mind. I told my sister that.

In joining I saw our only rescue. I felt only the need to be with these pitiful damned though we knew that this way led to our death. The feeling of keeping together with our equals and not remaining alone drew us to them.

With disordered hair, we ran down the slopes rebelliously until we reached the people treading in the mire and squeezed into the mass until we found our line.

The road formed by the dry river was now a real swamp and we could hardly walk in it; the murderers drove us with whips, guns and dogs. If someone fell down, he did not get up any more as he was run down or torn by the dogs. Now we no longer walked but ran. Nobody wanted to be slow. The fear of the dogs and the fear to be run over made us hurry.

[Page 70]

The Railway Station

When we arrived at the railway station, we were told to sit down on the rails in order that we would be more easily supervised. Suddenly our eyes were drawn to the other end where something was going on. We saw an inexplicable movement there. And suddenly, a line of young men in rubber boots appeared before us. We whispered among ourselves that Falkenberg was choosing his labourers. From far you heard the shouts: “Herr Chef” (Mr. Boss).

They came from the girls who had previously worked with him and were now asking to be taken back while they were waving with their labour cards but he did not even look at them and chose other girls.

My sister said: “You see, he is taking labourers who did not work with him – let's try to rescue our lives”. She pulled me towards her and we moved forward. A German guard shouted: “get back”. A policeman, one who knew my sister from the Jewish cooperative, told her to pass and me he sent back.

I stopped confused, not here and not there. The German who told us to return asked me: “Why don't you pass?” the policeman does not allow it, I answered. Hearing this, he took me and let me pass. On our way back to Wlodowa we did not feel the rain and the mire but ran and fled from death.

When we were already in town, our elder sister came towards us and then our mother. It is difficult to describe our meeting.

When I arrived home, I fell down on the bed to sleep – only to sleep. I wanted to forget the fear and everything else. When I woke up I did not know where I was.

My younger sister Nechama had a terrible nervous breakdown and was forced to stay at home. Mother took care of her. One day, our father David Lustigmann divided all his belongings to the poor saying that he no longer needed anything. Soon he would go to SOBIBOR. As much as we tried to console him and to persuade

[Page 71]

Him that he was wrong, it was all in vain. These two cases badly influenced my mother and the cup of our family sorrows filled.

At this time, it was impossible to be inactive even a moment as otherwise you fell into an abyss of despair and to leave it was very difficult. My sister Jehudith and I (who was still weak after having typhus) went to the camp. After the “action” Falkenberg fenced in the camp as he wanted to be sure that his Jewish labourers would not be captured and that he could rule over someone.

The camp though enclosed was still open. The labourers could go home after work. They took their working permit with them and returned the next day to work in the camp. There, the different groups stood forming a square. The supervisor took the roll call and then every labourer went to his work. The work usually consisted of drying swamps and cutting down trees in the woods. In the evening on their return to the camp they were once more counted before going home to sleep.

Once we were standing for the evening check when Falkenberg appeared with 2 SD men – something that had not happened before. When Falkenberg called the name of Paul Shakad of Kalish, a handsome young and strong lad came and placed himself in front of them. One of the SD men or the “Schwabgänse” ordered him to turn around putting a gun to his neck. One shot was heard and he fell down to earth.

After this cold-blooded murder, Falkenberg told us: “From today we are no longer free labourers but we live in a closed camp. Those who will not heed the discipline will die like this young man who has stolen something”. Naturally this was only an excuse, justifying this cruel murder which was in preparation for the next “Aktzia”. At the end of 1942, the last extermination action started on the other side of the Bug. From there, the Germans did not transport the Jews to Sobibor or to other camps but shot them in masses

[Page 72]

where they lived and then buried them in mass graves together with living people. Wlodowa was the store supplying the victims to Sobibor. Since the whole area of the “Se-Bugem” (beyond the Bug) was “Judenrein”, a small part of the remnants escaped into the forests.

On November 6th, we got up as usual for work when we presented ourselves for the roll- call; we noticed that the camp was surrounded by Germans and “Blacks”. The leader of the SD, Nitschke came with his assistants followed by the camp leader Falkenberg. Nitschke declared that the camp was closed and everyone trying to leave would be shot on the spot. Today everyone would receive a working number and anyone hiding someone without a working number would risk the life of all the inhabitants of the house because they would all be killed.

Now we felt the approach of an action. Now we were not even sure with a working number and there was no longer the possibility of meeting one's parents or our little sister.

On that same day, we were not led to work signifying that the action would take place. We wandered around like mad though we knew that our relatives had a sure hiding place in the ghetto. We were seized by a big restlessness.

The hiding place of our relatives in the house of Moshe Mendel was a cellar whose door was next to the kitchen that led to the stable and served as a storehouse for wood and used objects. It was difficult to find the cellar because its opening was covered by a heavy cupboard that my father and Moshe Mendel would mover over the entrance when my mother, sister and grandmother Chaja-Ita Seligman and Moshe Mendel's family entered the cellar. We ascended into the loft and a horrible spectacle of the action at its peak beheld our eyes. Here and there the Ukrainian policemen and the SD men were pushing men, women and children. The echoes of the shots were intermingled with the screaming and yelling of women and children. These were the

[Page 73]

Remnants of the survivors of the great action and now they were without any hope of escape.

The searching and capturing lasted 3 days and was accompanied by screams and howls. Already on the first day of the action, I heard from a guard, a Jewish policeman, that they had captured my father. I felt that I had been struck with an axe on my head and I could hardly remain standing. We lost our father and there was nobody who would move the cupboard and those in the cellar would die of starvation and thirst.

For three days we looked for a plan on how to leave the camp; to move the cupboard and to liberate those in the cellar from a certain death. I finally succeeded in persuading a Jewish guard and he helped us leave the camp. At midnight we crawled along the walls of houses until we reached the house of M. Mendel. In the hall, on the stairs, we saw a corpse and recognized the shoemaker. We entered the room where a terrible silence prevailed. I lay down on the earth speaking in a whisper in order not to frighten them explaining to them that we were here.

With our last strength we succeeded in moving the cupboard. Until today we cannot explain how we managed. With great difficulties they crawled out of the cellar and the sight of their faces was terrible. For three days they had not eaten nor drunk.

Without regard to the fact that they could not walk but whispering, we encouraged them to walk and we finally reached the gate. Luckily for us the same guard was watching and let us enter the camp.

On the same night, another surprise took place. Grandfather Jeshaju Zerwangore came running after having escaped from his captors. The SD man had sent his dog after him and had torn off his coat. Grandpa did not lose his head. He left his coat in the dog's mouth and he himself escaped. He decided to enter the house of a Christian neighbour where he waited two

[Page 74]

days before he came to Falkenberg and here he was let in to the camp.

At the morning roll-call, half of the family stood in line. In this action, the whole “Judenrat” was killed as it was no longer needed. On the third day the action was over. Here and there Jews left their hiding places. The Germans did not bother them as they were sure of them for the next time. Now the ghetto was enclosed with barbed wire in order to collect the remaining Jews.


In The Closed Camp

In the camp there were 500 young people and two old men: my grandfather Jeshajahu Zerwangore and Benni Barnholz. We were kept like real prisoners. It was forbidden to leave the place; here we ate, slept and worked. A working day lasted from 07hr in the morning to 19hr in the evening. The labourers were divided into groups and each group had a leader. Each group had different work. Every labourer had his own working number. We were not paid and the meals were tasteless. The camp was closed for about half a year. During this time we prepared ourselves for what we had been throughout expecting. Now we knew that the Germans were keeping us as long as they needed our work and when they would no longer have use of us, they would kill us.

We started to think on how we could save ourselves when the time for extermination would arrive. At night we began building underground shelters and tunnels where we could hide when the attack would start. There were some who prepared a hiding place in their houses and some who built a double wall in the loft between which they could hide.

At the end of April 1943, the landlord of our house – the Pole Antowitz who had just returned from Warsaw, told us he had seen hair raising things. The ghetto was rebelling and the Germans were attacking the ghettos with planes, bombs and tanks – bombarding them.

[Page 75]

We knew that the whole district of Wlodowa and Mesritz that were thought to be “Judenstaaten” were empty of Jews. Day by day we saw the black smoke rising over Sobibor which did not allow us to forget what was awaiting us. Every moment we were in danger and therefore, we were always ready to hide.

At the same time, we heard that a group of 15 people led by Moshe Lichtenberg succeeded in escaping into the forest as partisans. When this was verified, we did not stop talking about it/ On May 1st, the day after Pessach, on our way to work in the morning we felt that something was going on. My uncle, Abraham Zerwangure slipped away into one of the camp alleys and immediately returned announcing that there was an action.

We did not have a hiding place of our own because our house did not have the conditions for it. I agreed with Jechaskel Hubermann that in the shelter that he was building in the house of the Ledermann sisters, we would also have our place.

I had also a promise for another shelter. I was running home along alleys and when I reached the crossing of Wirka Street, the “Blacks” were already there and one of them was shooting at me. I succeeded in entering the alley where the other shelter was situated but it was piled up with trees so I continued. On the way I met Jechaskel who told me to hurry up because they were going to close the shelter.

People were standing on the plot for the roll call. I crept along the walls in order to slip away home.

Together with my mother and my sisters (grandpa and my uncle were looking for another hiding place), we ran to Jechaskel. On the way we were shot at and by miracle we reached him and together we entered the shelter where other young people were staying as well as the sisters Lederman (one of them is living today in Venezuela) and after us the shelter was closed.

The entrance was through the floor of the kitchen under the basin – a metal plate was lying on the floor to prevent the planks from

[Page 76]

being ignited by a bullet. Under this place was the cover of the shelter.

This shelter was destined for 10 persons but when we joined there were 40 in it. There was food for several days for 10 as well as two water boilers filled with water.

Because of the big crowd, the air grew hot and we felt that we were being broiled. We were wet and had to strip off the upper garments. But even this we did not touch the food and wanted only to drink. We moistened only the lips as we had to spare the water. We knew that it would be very difficult to bring in new water. Even if we dared fetch the water at night, the noise of the water pump could bring disaster upon us. But as much as we tried to save water, the boilers became empty. We tried to set a turn for each of us to fetch water but in vain. Everyone was afraid of failure and all of us were afraid that the cellar would be closed off.

Once time Jechaskel took the risk and left to bring water and when he had already filled half of the bucket, they started to shoot – he escaped but the half-filled bucket he brought back.

To describe the feeling of fear in the packed cellar is impossible. I already emphasized several times that to tell about or to describe such a feeling is impossible. Generally, all the adventures that we the Jews of the camps and ghettos went through at this time exceeded all human agonies. Not only one of the survivor or those of the following generations will believe what I am telling. We sat packed in the cellar and heard above us the nailed steps and it seemed as if now they would find our hiding place. The cellar was very well concealed and there was a double ceiling so that one walking above could not feel that here was a hollow space beneath. The cellar was built in a zigzag form. But in spite of all the precautions, our hearts were nearly jumping out each time we heard the smallest noise above us.

After a three-day stay in the cellar when the steps above stopped, some of the young people

[Page 77]

ascended into the loft to see what was going on in the camp. The air in the cellar was so stuffy that the only opening at the base of the house could not supply enough air for 40 persons.

The youngsters returned announcing that it was quiet outside and there was no further purpose in staying any longer. We should flee into the forest. We got dressed and set off into the night and the fresh air that we had not been breathing for three days animated us. During the night, people appeared in the alleys that had previously looked for a hiding place and now they were looking for an opportunity to leave, silently creeping towards the gate. Neither a German nor a “Black” was to be seen and in this silence, only the noise of the steps that people were treading softly could be heard. The gate of the ghetto was open.

About 1000 shadows tread through the open gate. We all passed in one breath as though being pursued from behind and silence prevailed. Only after we had run for about 100 meters did we slow down our pace. We walked throughout the night on the way leading to Wirk. At sunrise, we found a thicket and as we were afraid of continuing during the day time, we lay down on our backs and waited until nightfall. Afterwards we were to learn that the day before the Germans had killed a great group of Jews in this thicket.

In the night, some of the young men advanced into the middle of the forest to scout around and returned telling us that in Adampol, in the estate of the Earl of Samoiski, Jews were living and working. We went to the Adampol camp and while we were there, SS men invaded the place capturing Jews. Some succeeded in slipping away from the camp and entered fields of corn, the stalks of which were quite high. The smell of the ripe harvest filled the air and gave the feeling of vacation. My sister and I ran deep into the corn and seated ourselves separately. The shot were terrible and the screaming and shouting which we heard coming from the camp and the

[Page 78]

first rows of the cornfield were deafening. I was lying motionlessly and here I heard the steps of heavy boots. I held my breath grinding my teeth. The boots were now approaching. I tried not to breathe even the slightest. The person illuminated the area around me with a torch and my heart nearly broke from fear but he did not see me. Suddenly he turned around and went away.

In the morning, all those captured the previous night were executed and among them was my ill mother.

At about ten o'clock, people came out of the camp to the field crying that it was impossible to leave the corn as silence had returned. When we left, we beheld a terrible sight: In the first lines, many were dead and the wounded were lying there.

Again we stayed in Adampol; working, starving and waiting for death.

Suddenly, a spark of hope flared up. We started talking about the partisans… and many of us were thinking earnestly of joining them. After several attempts, we also left.


I And The Deer

Once at twilight while returning to camp as we did not find the partisans, my friend and I suddenly saw two shadows with guns. Without saying a word, we separated and started to run in different directions. I three off my torn shoes to be able to run easier and set off without knowing where to go. Suddenly, a bare patch of the forest appeared and blinded me. I stopped without breath and the fear of being discovered made me tremble.

At the same moment there appeared across from me, on the other side of the patch, a deer who, like me, was breathing heavily looking attentively around him with anxious eyes. He looked at me and like the arrow of an arch he returned to the forest and disappeared. I returned to the forest too.


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Włodowa, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max G. Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 10 Nov 2014 by MGH