by Khana Srebro Lod, Israel
Translated by Pamela Russ
My current memories are but a small portion of the sufferings and pain that I experienced in the days of Hitler. Their beginnings in the days of September of the year 1939, when the German airplanes on the Pultusk highway were shooting at the fleeing Jews of Pultusk and other towns. They were running to Wyszkow with the hope that here they would be more secure. A young Polish boy shot at the airplanes through a window.
It seems that it was not enough for the Germans to bomb Wyszkow from the air. As they entered the city, they set fire to it from all sides. We did not know where to run. Tongues of fire spread all around. Everything was burning. How could we save ourselves?
I, my mother, and two sisters, ran out of our house and went to the brick house of YankelDuvid Pszeticki, and hid in the cellar there. From the street, you could hear the screams of the wild Germans:
Cursed Jews! Who fired those shots?
The Polaks told the Germans that it was the Jews who had shot. The brownclad bandits grabbed hold of the fleeing Jews, herded them together on the marketplace and there shot all the men, women, and children. This was the first mass slaughter of the Wyszkow Jews. At that time, they died either from the flames of fire or from the German bullets. And those who were not killed instantly by bullets were buried alive. Innocent Jewish blood flowed in the town.
The group of residents that was then in Pszeticki's cellar heard in deathly fear, or sometimes even saw what was going on in the streets. The men had donned their tallis [prayer shawls] and tefilin [phylacteries] and were praying to God. Outside, children were searching for their parents, and parents called for their missing children by name. But even that lasted only until a murderous bullet reached them.
The shooting and fires lasted until late in the night. When it got dark and things calmed down
Shloime Szlyzaner, Khana Wengel, KhayaSoroh Szczanko
in town, those many who were hiding in the cellar began to crawl out and run. I, my mother, and my sisters, went out into the streets where many dead bodies lay. We did not recognize anyone. The darkness was lit only with the flames of the burning town. They followed us with shots, yet we were successfully able to reach the bridge and from there, the open highway. The overcrowding there was extraordinary. Fugitives with horses and wagons, entire families on foot, some with parcels, some without any baggage, were wandering in the dark night. From many, you could hear shema yisroel [prayer recited when pleading for help from God or when facing death], and that's how it went the entire night.
Also, at dawn we saw these masses of people roaming around without a goal, without a direction. I could hardly walk. I was exhausted and when I fell down depleted, my sisters would pick me up and beg me not to show any weakness at this time, but said I should muster all my energies and keep going. Beaten, starved, and thirsty, we dragged ourselves to Wengrow. In one Jewish house, they gave us some food and also a place to spend the night. In general, the Wengrower Jews received us warmly. Here, we found many Wyszkower families in the same situation that we found ourselves. One person asked the other if he had seen his father, mother, sister or brother, because many families were lost or separated. And when the answer was negative, people cried terribly and poured out their bitter hearts.
Our situation was a terrible one without money, without belongings, because everything was burned along with the house. In Wengrow, we found our brother Avrohom Wengel. He did not know where his wife and children were. They disappeared and he did not know anything about them. We begged him to come with us, but in his determination to find his lost family, he refused our request. He must find his wife and children. He left us forever. He too, died as a victim of the bestial murder that the Germans threw over our nation.
My mother had a sister in Komorow, near OstrowMazowieck. We decided to get ourselves there. Maybe it would be calmer there. So, we took to the road. We moved at night, and during the day we stayed in the forests. When we came to Komorow, we found our family who took us into their home and helped us with whatever was needed. But the Germans were already here, even in this small town. They gave an order that all those who had come from another place should leave immediately. So once again, we had to take our walking staff in hand and leave. Now we went to Zambrow which, according to the GermanSoviet entente, belonged to the Soviets. After a strict interrogation, we crossed the border point and safely came to Zambrow, and from there to Bialystok.
In these large cities, the refugees were set up in the Batei Medrashim and in the synagogues. Each family had its corner. Once, a Jewish Bialystok woman came into the Beis Medrash where we were, and she took a liking to me as a tutor for her child. She hired me, and then also sent me two more families, who also hired my sisters, but none of them permitted us to bring along our mother, even though they did provide food for her.
Later on, the Russians began to register people for work deep in Russia, and also for receiving passports. After standing in line for many hours, I was able to register to go to Russia. In a huge train, I arrived in Chelyabinsk in the Urals. We were given lodging and work. I in an office, my two sisters carrying bricks. Later, they took me to a school to study. It would all have been fine if not for the fact that at night we had to stand in line for bread and food, and then during the day work.
My friend Leybel Januszewycz remained in Bialystok. He later came to Dereczin, because they did not permit refugees to remain in Bialystok. In his letters to me, he always asked that I come back, and he even sent me money for traveling expenses. He assured me that later I would even be able to bring over my mother and sisters. Then, we, along with another Wyszkower, Mordechai Jagoda, decided to leave Chelyabinsk at the time of school vacation. And that's exactly how it was.
When we arrived in Kiev, they detained us for three weeks and then finally sent us to Dereczin. I set myself up with the family Januszewycz. I had not yet rested from the far and difficult trip, when the NKVD [Communist Secret Police] arrested me and sent me to Slonim. It appears that there was an informer. I
sat in the Slonim prison for several weeks, and when my case came up, I defended myself [so emotionally], that my speech could have moved even a rock. In fact, it worked. Almost all of the accused were sentenced to exile, and I was lucky to be let free. When I returned to Dereczin, it was already 1941.
On June 22nd, 1941, the Hitlerists invaded Russia. Immediately, we felt the war in Dereczin. Here too, as in Wyszkow two years earlier, the airplanes continually circled over the town and threw their devastating bombs. Again, dead, again wounded, terrified, and helpless people with children. Once again, days and hours of fear, confusion, hunger and pain. Until the Germans entered.
The created Judenrat [Jewish Council] had to collect the number of Jews that had registered earlier for all kinds of hard labor and demeaning work. The young men were sent to dig deep ditches. (Among them the Wyszkower were: Leybel Januszewycz, Duvid and Leybel Flude, the Aldok brothers.) But then no one knew that these would be our graves. The young girls cleaned the streets. For this, you received a few grams of bread.
There were a few Wyszkower families in Dereczin: Chava Elboim and her elderly mother, Yankel Grinberg's children, the Aldok family. I lived with the family Januszewycz. At that time, I became acquainted with a family Rozenzweig. He was a doctor in the Derecziner hospital. He was able to get me in to work in the hospital and I no longer had to clean the streets.
It was only in the hospital that I was finally able to see the full horror of the war. Not far from Dereczin, there was a terrible slaughter between the retreating Soviet military and the German army. In the slaughter field, there lay hundreds of dead, wounded, without hands, without legs, with wounded limbs or ripped open bellies. Doctor Rozenzweig received an order to collect the wounded German soldiers and to take care of them in the hospital. We, a group of Jewish girls, assisted him in this difficult work.
In the same hospital, there were wounded Soviet officers and soldiers. You have to remember that this was just at the beginning of the war when the Germans still permitted you to collect the wounded enemy soldiers after a battle. Doctor Rozenzweig worked day and night, operating on and taking care of all the sick, without exception. Once he operated on the two Soviet officers, Boris Bulak and Fiedja Komarov. For the first, a piece of shrapnel had torn off a finger until the bone. I assisted in the operation by handing the instruments to Doctor Rozenzweig. Everything turned out well.
I was busy in the hospital almost twentyfour hours, each day. My earnings allowed me to assist the Wyszkower families.
In the German prison there was also a Ukrainian nurse with the name Tonya [later in this chapter referred to as Sonya]. She behaved very poorly toward the sick, and was even very stingy with the little bits of food. It seems that because of that, the Germans had placed her as the head nurse. When I asked her for some food for the sick people, she answered me in Russian: They can all die! Obviously, she meant the Russian sick, because she would not have dared to speak like that about the German sick ones. When there were peasants and their families from the surrounding areas in the hospital, from time to time they would also give me some food products. With those, I helped the wounded Soviets, and for that they were very grateful to me. But as soon as they became well, the Germans sent them off to the concentration camps for hard labor and their death.
At the beginning of 1942, the ghetto in Dereczin was created. All the Jews were closed in there with strict orders not to leave that designated region. From the rumors that circulated in the town, and also from the German indications, we understood that this ghetto was the beginning of the liquidation of the Jewish population. We began to think of fleeing. Without mercy, the Germans shot every Jew who was found outside the ghetto. But you had to leave the ghetto. We suffered from hunger because of the amount of food the Germans gave each Jew. Because of that, we risked our lives and snuck out to the farmers in order to exchange the last shirt or the last dress for a piece of bread. But many of those who risked their lives died from a bullet shot by a German.
The Hitlerist cruelties increased. In the town, we felt as if the rope around the throats of the Jewish population kept getting tighter. Also, the Soviets wounded from the war were becoming restless. I helped them as much as I could. But now it became a reality to try to help them escape, because the Germans would always control the conditions of the sick with Dr. Rozenzweig. As soon as someone became better, he was sent away in an unknown direction. We were worried about the fate of Boris Bulak and Fiedja Komarov. So it was decided that they should run away at night. The hospital was guarded by Germans. They shot those who tried to escape but these two were successfully able to reach the forest that was not far from the hospital. When they were still in the hospital, the escaped officers promised me and Dr. Rozenzweig help if we would ever need it. But for now, we did not know where they had disappeared.
The dug out ditches not far from Dereczin waited for their Jewish victims. The Germans would always take groups of Jews and no one ever saw [these groups] again. When a few weeks passed, and those people did not come back, their fate was clear. People began to escape from the ghetto. When the Germans found out about this, a strict order was given that those who had run away should return. Many actually did come back to the Derecziner ghetto. Among them was Duvid Fluda from Wyszkow. They were taken to the ditches and shot.
Esther Dvoira Fluda, wife of Duvid, all the years, did not have any children. On that day when they took away her husband, she gave birth to a little girl. The happy grandparents, HershelMechel and Lieba Fluda, with great joy and excitement, went to the German administration and begged to be taken to their son to tell him the news. The murderers led the elderly couple to a separate room, stripped them naked, and shot them. The new mother was left with the newborn child, without her husband and without her inlaws.
A rumor spread in the ghetto, that the two Soviet officers who had escaped Boris Adamovitch and Fiedja Komarov, had created a partisan unit in the region that operated in the area of Ruda Jaworska and Ruda Lipichinska. The farmers in the area helped the partisans and told them what was happening in the Derecziner ghetto. The officers decided to save me from the ghetto. That night, a farmer came to the house with his wagon, and after inquiring about the whereabouts of Anetchka Wengel, he gave me a letter written in Russian:
Anetchka, soon they will slaughter everyone in Dereczin. Not one Jew will remain. We want to save you. Run away with Vanya Pilidovitch, the one who is delivering this letter. He is one of us, I promise you. Do not be afraid. Boris.
The family Januszewycz, however, did not let me leave alone. So I remained, and the farmer left with nothing. Our situation later became worse and worse. The Germans, along with the Ukrainians, locked up the entire city and did not allow anyone to come in or leave. The ghetto inhabitants now looked for hiding places. A group of us, about thirty people went into a house where there was a large cellar. In this group, there were the following Wyczkower Jews: Borukh and Civia Januszewycz, Zlate Winzber, Leybel and Roza Januszewycz, Soroh and Volf Kaufman, and Khantche Wengel. The family Kaufman had an eightmonthold child with them.
From outside we heard suffocating echoes of the Aktzia [roundup for murder] being carried out. The Germans' wild calls of Heraus! Heraus! [Get out!] were mixed with the confused Jews' Shema Yisroel. The many shootings made it clear to us how many Jews were being murdered in the actual ghetto. The Germans went from house to house, and with brutality and terror, grabbed out the tragic Jews and sent them to the assembly point. Through a small opening in the cellar we even saw how they ordered some of the Jews, dressed in their prayer shawls, to dance.
Suddenly, we heard how the bandits entered the house that was above our cellar. Jews, get out! Jews, get out! the Germans bellowed with their Ukrainian helpers. The young child in the cellar began to sob. I froze with terror. The murderers over our heads would surely hear the cries. One of those hidden with us continued to try and calm the little bird. We stayed in the cellar for three days and three nights, without food, without water, and heard the shootings and murders of our tragic sisters and brothers. After that, they were loaded onto trucks and taken away to the prepared graves.
On the fourth day, everything quietened down. Even the ground of the darkened mass grave, into which they had thrown halfdead people stopped its tremors…
As we were lying in the cellar, after three days we heard the Germans calling through loudspeakers that the remaining Jews should leave their hiding places. Those who were still alive will remain alive. We did not believe the Germans. As we were in the cellar, we knew exactly what happened in the town and in the ditches. How?
On the second day of the Aktzia, we heard someone was knocking on the cellar and a weak voice called: Jews, open up! We did not respond immediately to such a call, even if it was in Yiddish. But the knocking and the pleading did not stop. And when we opened the entrance to the cellar there was a small girl, wounded and bleeding profusely, completely black from gunpowder. She said that she had been shot in the foot, and lay in a corner like that in the yard for more than a day because the Germans thought that she was dead. Only when things became quieter, did she drag herself with her final strength, to the cellar because she knew that there were Jews hiding there. The young girl told us what she had seen and heard during this Aktzia.
Unfortunately, we could not take care of her as needed. All we did was tie up her wound with a torn shirt. There was no food or water to give her. Feeling faint, like the rest of us, she remained in the cellar.
We all realised that to remain like this in
the cellar was pointless we would die of hunger and thirst. So, slowly we began to go out of there, when the darkness of night would wrap itself around the town. We also knew from this young girl, that there was no danger of being shot. The Germans were short on bullets since they used so many while liquidating the ghetto.
As we left the cellar, we breathed some fresh air. Spending these three days cramped and suffocating, without bread or water, had completely depleted us. Now we ran outside of the town as far as possible from the very place where our dear ones had just these past days been murdered in such a cruel manner. Individuals began crawling out of other hiding places and when we met them everyone began sharing the news that each one knew. I found out that in the last Aktzia these Wyszkower Jews died: Izak Wonsewer, his wife and children; Soroh Wonsewer; Chava Elboim, her mother; the Aldok brothers and their families; Duvid, HershelMechel, and Lieba Fluda; EstherDvoire Fluda and her mother (the youngest son, Leybel Fluda, saved himself at that time, but later died in the forest).
Now, I ran with Roza Januszewycz. I was carrying a small bag with a few things, among which was a watch and a pair of earrings that my mother gave me at the last minute. Suddenly, I bumped into a German guard post. They didn't ask anything, but one soldier gave me a smack on the head with his gun. He did not shoot. Did they really not have any bullets? I dropped to the floor, bloodied and shocked. The German grabbed my bag away from me. Roza Januszewycz pleaded with the German: Shoot me, but leave her alone! She is still a young child… She lifted me off the ground, and with the greatest efforts, we went on running. We passed by some sort of body of water, and then came into the forest. There we met many of those who had come out of the cellar with us.
I and another person ran across the forest, without a goal but hungry, bloodied, thirsty, filled with terror and shock. I hardly heard what is going on around me. Finally I saw a hut and heard the barking of a dog. I didn't even consider that there may have been Germans there. I fell against the fence and begged for a piece of bread. A woman peasant appeared and she gave me something to eat and a little water to drink. She then warned me that I should run away as quickly as possible because the Germans were close by. Once again, the wandering began, the running and getting lost in the forest.
Suddenly, I heard shooting. It must have been heavy shooting because even with my deafness I was able to hear strong echoes of the shooting. At the same time, the Germans and their helpers discovered the few Jews who had rescued themselves and now killed them in the forest. This was surely the end of the Derecziner Jewish community and of those refugees who found shelter during the first years of the war.
My friend and I made the greatest efforts to remain standing. The most important thing was to keep moving, not to remain in one place. Maybe we would be able to get ourselves out of our surroundings. Would anyone have pity on us and would we be able to save ourselves? Now we went out into the open field. It was dark. I took off my shoes that were torturing my feet. The cut wheat bore hard into the soles, and they became bloodied. But we could not stay in one place. But maybe, over there, in the unknown and thick darkness, we would be saved.
Suddenly, shooting and screaming: Jews! Stop! Cursed Jews! The dogs' barking got louder. We started to run, fell, and continued to run. Who knows maybe we would fall directly into the murderers' hands? But thoughts now were to save ourselves. My friend encouraged me: Khanale, come, don't fall.
… You cannot be weak now! The bullets were flying over our head. Jews! Stop! we heard them again very close by. I kept running. But where were my sisters? My mother? … Right in the middle of this danger, I thought
of them. I didn't know about them, and surely they didn't know about me, if they were still alive. But still the danger pushed me to go into the foreign, cold fields and forests.
From a distance, we saw small fires burning. Probably there were people living there. But what kind of people? Would they welcome you or would they chase you away? Would they hand you over to the Germans or would they murder you themselves? With these thoughts, I dragged myself forward with my last energies even though I felt that the road was far, the dangers were real, and my feet could barely carry me.
That's how, from the year 1939, I wandered and ran to maintain a little bit of life. The surrounding world was hateful, wanting to swallow you like angry animals. I remembered the old Yiddish folksong:
With the wandering staff in hand
Without a home, without a land,
Without a redeemer, without a friend,
Without a tomorrow, without a today.
Not with patience, only harassed,
Wherever you spent the night you did not spend the day.
Always walking, moving and moving,
Always pained, pain and pain;
Always stepping, steps and steps
As long as the strength remains.
That's how it is, year after year,
That's how it is, generation after generation
Without any hope, without a friend,
Without a tomorrow, without a today…
With these thoughts I approached the fires. Now I knew: These were the villages of Ruda Lipiczanska and Ruda Jaworska. The residents here sympathized with the partisans, helped them. From here stretched the forests in which we saved ourselves. A miracle happened. We were among good people. The peasants received us warmly. Among them was Vanya Filidovitch, the same one who was sent by the Soviet officer to take me into the forest.
Meanwhile, more Jews that had fled arrived here. In the village, they were all given food and then led away into the forest where we remained all night.
Early in the morning, the peasant went to the partisan headquarters where he was connected. Going with the partisans, Boris Adamovitch Bulak and Fiedja Komarov found out that some Derecziner Jews had saved themselves and were nearby. So they sent out two messengers on horseback to find out about the group. Their first question was if Anetchka Wengel had also been saved. They said yes, and now she was sleeping on the ground very sick, swollen, and deaf. The messengers left food for those Jews who had been saved and went immediately to the commander to deliver the news.
I remained in the forest sick with fever, sick and broken from all these experiences. Angry dreams and hallucinations did not let go of me. I imagined that the Germans were here on their horses. I got up and started to run. But suddenly there was shouting in Russian:
Sisters and brothers! Do not run. We are not Germans, we are partisans! We want to help you.
I felt how someone lifted me off the ground, kissed me, and there was extraordinary joy. The people got off their horses and began to take care of the Jews who were saved. As if through a fog, I recognized my two saviors: Boris Adamovitch Bulak and Fiedja Komarov. They asked me: Anetchka, are you alive? But I was not able to respond. They offered to drive me to the headquarters but my friend resisted. They assured him that nothing bad would happen to me and that he would yet see me as healthy and happy. I trusted the Soviet commanders and agreed to be driven to the headquarters.
We approached a small river that flowed through the forest. At the commander's whistle, some partisans appeared dressed as Red Army men. They threw some boards onto the water and we crossed over to the other side. Here we encountered a partisan camp. Dugouts, well disguised with trees and greenery, kept hidden in them people, food, animals, and even a hospital. There lay badly and mildly wounded partisans, parachutists, and also peasants who were shot by the Germans. Coming into this underground hospital, I felt how someone grabbed me with great joy, kissed me, and screamed without stopping: Anetchka! Anetchka! Now my joy and excitement were also great. None other than Dr. Rozenzweig was standing before me, dressed in a white coat, and he told me how he once saw how Germans and the chief Ukrainian nurse Tonya went up to the third floor of the Derecziner hospital where he was. He sensed that they had come to take him away. This was after the slaughter in the Derecziner ghetto, where Dr. Rozenzweig's wife and child were killed. He now had nothing to lose and left the third floor. He was able to successfully escape into the forest, find the partisans, and now he was managing the partisan hospital. So now, I wanted to stay and help with his work.
At that moment, my personal fate did not interest me. I knew that on the other side of the river there were some Jews that were rescued, who if the partisans would not protect and give them the opportunity to set themselves up in the forest they
would be lost. I tell the doctor of my last experiences and also tell him about the rescued Jews who were waiting in the forest for the partisans' help. The two Soviet officers did not want to assume the responsibility of taking care of part of the civilian population on top of the conditions of the forest and partisans. But they told me sincerely, that they remembered what I had done for them when they were lying wounded in the Derecziner hospital, and that they understood my present action of risking myself for the rescued Jews. Thankfully, they were ready to take on the burden and responsibility. The following day, those few Jewish families, remnants of broken families, were brought over to the partisan camp.
Slowly, the men were integrated into military units, and as the first large military action, it was decided that: a large attack would be conducted in Dereczin, to clean out the German powers, and in that way, avenge the innocent spilled blood of an entire Jewish community. We did not have a lot of ammunition. Armed with guns, revolvers, knives, axes, and even sticks, we snuck out to Dereczin at night. The first attack was on the police offices. After killing the guards we took the ammunition and set fire to the building. After that, we left for the central office, threw in some hand grenades, killed the oldest and a few soldiers. After taking their arms, we set fire to the supply rooms, but emptied them out first. Laden with cases, we returned to the forest. We took a few prisoners with us. Among them: the nurse Tonya. On our side, there were only a few wounded.
Proud, happy, and empowered, we returned to our partisan camp. There was great joy, especially for the Derecziner Jews who had somewhat calmed their thirst for revenge and also strengthened their commitment to the partisans. The following morning, after the onslaught, the chief of the headquarters set everyone out in rows, and held a speech in Russian, in which he greatly praised the Jews the new fighters. He shook everyone's hand [congratulating them] for their heroism.
Our partisans were in touch with Moscow, and thanks to that, the dissidents provided us with everything necessary, including medicine and medical instruments. I worked in the hospital and each of the rescued Derecziner Jews had work or tasks to do with the partisans. We started a new life, even though it was filed with tension, but still, we were like free people who would resist and die with arms in hand if necessary.
A radical change took place on the front. The governing German army began to receive one smack after the other, and their stronghold began to crumble. The German retreat had started. On Radio Moscow, we always heard about liberated cities and entire regions. The Hitlerist army had begun to retreat. But in order for them to ensure a secure withdrawal, it was necessary to liquidate the partisan units that had strongly harassed the Germans in the back lands. Special divisions were thrown into the struggle with the partisans. They used to capture peasants from the surrounding villages and force them, through torture and threats, to show them the partisan hideouts. There were some peasants who were willing instead to give their lives rather than tell on the partisans. But there were also some who assumed the role of informer rather than give themselves up.
Once we heard a dog's loud barking and soon we heard shooting and explosions. This was it the Germans had discovered our camp and were now attacking it with their full power. The screaming and echoes of the shooting were getting closer. The hospital was in the socalled family camp where the rescued Jews were kept, along with the elderly, women, and children. I saw how the sick are beginning to run around in confusion. The Germans were screaming: Cursed Jews, surrender! We will slaughter you like dogs, regardless! I was also grabbed by fear and began running, not knowing in which direction. I saw how Roza Januszewycz was hit by a bullet. Other residents of the camp also fell dead. The murderers cut off the lives of women, the elderly, and children. They set fire to the camp after that.
Running away from that hell, I suddenly see three figures approaching me. For sure they were Germans. It was already night in the forest and it was particularly frightening in the dark. I felt these were the final minutes of my life. Nonetheless, without thinking, I cried out:
Who is that?
It was Dr. Rozenzweig, the nurse Sonya [Tonya in other places], and her elderly mother. They were very happy to see me and embraced me, caressed, and comforted me. They felt that I was very distraught and overwhelmed with this last experience.
The four of us took to the road. We crawled into another forest.
Where are we going? I asked Dr. Rozenzweig.
Come, and be quiet, he replied.
Suddenly, in front of us, there was a large river.
This is the Njeman, explained the doctor.
We removed our shoes and outer clothing and went into the river. The stroll in the water went on and on, without end. More than once, I felt that I was drowning. Suddenly
I began to shout: Mama! Mama! Save me! I am drowning! Dr. Rozenzweig calmed me down and warned me at the same time, saying that this sort of behavior would bring tragedy to everyone.
Only when it began to dawn did we reach the other side of the shore. We went to rest and dry our wet clothes. From a distance, we heard a dog's barking. Surely there was a village close by. But who knows?
Maybe there were also Germans here. Again we took to the road, not in the direction of the village, but toward the forest the deeper, the safer.
Suddenly, we saw two youths. These were our partisans. They were happy to see us, but because of their sad faces we saw that something was not right. We asked what happened, and they told us that the headquarters, that was not far from here, had put out a death sentence on us four because we abandoned the hospital. True, the hospital with those who were rescued was saved, but we did not maintain our care and we left our positions.
In spite of this gloomy news, we asked to be taken to the headquarters and there we found many of our friends and acquaintances. My friend Leybel was also there. And they were all looking at us with great pain and regret because of the sentence on our heads.
They took us to the headquarters. The sole fact that they gave us food to eat and told us to remove our wet clothes and put on dry ones awoke hope. The commander Boris Adamovitch did pronounce this judgment, but he added that they would ask the sick and the wounded in the hospital for their opinion. Special messengers were sent to them, and they returned with the verdict:
Dr. Rozenzweig, the nurse Sonya and her mother, should be shot. Khantche Wengel not…
We are all put into isolation. No one was permitted to come to us. We were traitors. A few days later, a military court was set up in accordance with all the details and procedures. I defended myself strongly, sensing that with my defense I might make the judgment lighter for the other three. My excuse was that because of the attack I lost myself. I had experienced and lived through too much to maintain my spiritual equilibrium when the German murderers so heavily armed, and with their dogs, attacked. And if I was saved it was only thanks to Dr. Rozenzweig. He found me in the forest and brought me here.
Boris Adamovitch presented that the tribunal carry out the death penalty but for me, in gratitude that I helped him in the Derecziner hospital, he was ready to grant amnesty. I fell to his feet, kissed his hands, and began to plead for Dr. Rozenzweig. I reminded him that the doctor did much for him in the hospital in Dereczin, and he needed to show the same degree of gratitude. At that same time, I thought the officer carried a grudge against the doctor because he felt the doctor had too lightly and quickly amputated a piece of his hand in the Derecziner hospital when, according to his own estimate, there was no need to cut, and they could have left the wounded hand intact. But I didn't want to leave it that because of a feeling of personal revenge, the hardworking doctor and compassionate person should be shot as an informer and coward. It seemed that Boris Adamovitch did not really have the courage to carry out such a verdict, and the end was that all four of us were sent back to the sick in the hospital. Our joy was great since a few Jewish lives were saved.
Now a difficult period began. The retreating Germans were pursuing the partisan detachments, and we always had to run with our camps from place to place. We were hunted and chased. More than once we thought: Who knew if more of these experiences would tear us apart from the living, even at the end of the war when victory was so close?
The peasant Vanya Filidovitch helped the partisans again. Dressed as a woodchopper, with a saw and axe, he came into the forest and informed the partisans about the Germans and also brought food. Thanks to him and to other good peasants, we were saved from a sure death.
Sadly, not all merited the same. Leybel Fluda, with another five partisans once went out to scout around. They belonged to the razviedka [reconnaissance group]. In a few hours, we heard shooting. After much time the scouts did not return. I, along with a group of partisans, went to search for them. The following day, we found them, shot dead in the forest. The Germans had been hiding in the trees and shot them from up high. Leybel Fluda was still in a reasonable state, but he died in my hands.
We dug out a grave in the forest for all of them and then cried for the fate of the cut off lives of these young people.
Victory could already be felt in the air. But the road to that was still filled with incidents, victims, and terrible events.
Once, Boris Adamovitch announced that the front was already far away in Poland and that they were abandoning the head office of the partisan units. The headquarters would go to Moscow and the partisans, as well as the family camps were free to go where they wished. The headquarters did leave, and we were left to God's care. The people ran off in different directions and everyone tried to find some salvation for themselves. I, along with the doctors Rozenzweig and Miasnik,
went to the village that night, to Vanya Filidovitch. He set us up in his stable where we hid for several months, until the end of 1944, when the Russian army entered the village.
Now I was free. I was very grateful to Vanya Filidovitch. He also received distinction from the Soviet army for his service. I, and others who were rescued, were sent to the town of Szczecin, near Grodno. There we were placed in the city's plaza. The mayor gave a speech, told about our war experiences, and asked the people to welcome us warmly and give us whatever we needed. Then I got sick in my head because I fell down some stairs. It was difficult with food and medication. It seemed that we had not yet completely emptied the goblet of problems. But even these difficulties soon ended.
Later, I went to Dereczin, and from there to Lodz. The uncertain situation of the Jews in liberated Poland caused us to continue wandering: to Walbrzych, and after that to Israel.
by Leah Direktor (Lerman), Tel Aviv
Translated by Pamela Russ
When the war broke out, I was in Warsaw. Since part of my family lived in Wyszkow at that time, I decided to go there with the thought that a small town would be safer and quieter than a main city. Together with Yakov Pienik and a few other Wyszkower we went on the road. But it took a lot of time and energy until we arrived there. The roads were filled with refugees, there was no communication, and the German airplanes were continuously bombing the civilian population.
When we arrived in the town, the civilian guard mobilized us to bury the dead. Wyszkow already had its first war victims. On the Ostrower main road, not far from the toker [turner i.e., one skilled in turning wood on a lathe] Przestrzeleniec, where all the neighbors from all around were hiding a bomb had fallen. The number of victims was very high. With shovels and steel bars people were searching for their dear ones among the victims. Maybe someone had saved himself. This image, how living people we knew well, were searching in confusion for their dead relatives, made a frightful impression on us when we first arrived to the town. A certain Zelig Litera found his dead children there; another person, without a hand, discovered his wife and parts of his children's bodies.
When I calmed down after witnessing this terrible scene and after helping to clean up the dead bodies, I began asking around for my family. I found them hiding in the Wyszkower cemetery, together with Yakov Wajntraub (a comfit maker), his daughter, soninlaw, and children. We decided to leave Wyszkow and go back to Warsaw. But it was not easy to follow through on this decision. My father, may he rest in peace, my sister, and the children, were sick. How to get to the main city there was also no means.
Having no choice, in the evening we ran to the benzene station and there waited for a cargo truck that took everyone to Warsaw. We arrived there several days before Rosh Hashana.
On Rosh Hashana, the terrible bombings of Warsaw began especially of the Jewish quarters. In the court of Francziszkansker 31, where my sister lived, a murderous bomb fell and wounded all of us. Fortunately, we all managed to save ourselves. You could see the real destruction on the streets. A fire bomb fell close by and killed and wounded scores of people. Charred, burned people, gushing blood, roamed in the streets and in the courtyard.
Afterwards, when Poland was losing the war, and it became calmer in the occupied country, again we decided to return to Wyszkow. I came to Radzymin and found familiar Wyszkower Jews there, who were able to tell about the destruction of Wyszkow. Hundreds of Jews were assembled into the brewery and there they were shot by the Germans. My brother Mordekhai was burned to death by a bomb. Those who survived, escaped to Jadowa and to other cities. With this tragic news, I returned to Warsaw where the brutal fist of the Germans already ruled.
Since my sister's home in Warsaw was destroyed, we had nowhere to live. Therefore, my father decided that because of the strong antiJewish persecutions, I and my brother Shloime, may he rest in peace, should go to Kovno where my brother had lived for many years. We took to the road again, and now for a long time. On this new path, we found many familiar Wyszkower in Jadowa, Czyzewo, Bialystok, Vilna, and Kovno.
This is what happened. As we Jews were running our tragic fate followed us. In January 1940, we, four family members, arrived in Kovno and for about half a year, we lived under the
Soviet government with relative calmness and hope that with time, we would still see our dear ones who had remained with the enemy. But June 22, 1941, the brown power began to spread again.
The first day that the German murderers entered Kovno, they, along with Lithuanian civilians, carried out a pogrom in Slobodka. Innocent Jewish blood ran in rivers. In this blood bath, our dear friends from Tluszcz died: Devoira Goldvasser, her husband, young child, and brothersinlaw, along with many Slobodker Jews who were literally slaughtered in the cruelest manner… From that day, the horrors and agonies of the Jews in Kovno began. Raids and arrests were in all the houses. My family and I were taken on the seventh transport. The men and women were separated there. The Lithuanians learned how to aim at the men. It became an amusement for them. Tens of innocent Jews were murdered like that. Among them, my brother from Kovno, Yitzchok Lerman, of blessed memory. We women experienced tremendous fear, but they let us go after that in order to witness and be victims of more terrifying experiences.
August 15, 1941, we were herded into the Slobodka ghetto. This is where the real road to hell began. We were terrified of the dark of night just as of the light of day. The growth of the Slobodka ghetto was tied to the Aktzia [roundup] of 10,000 Jews. The socalled Great Aktzia. The orders stated that all ghetto inhabitants without exception must assemble at a designated place. They wanted to count us and send us to all types of work. But the murderers did not rely only on this order. They raided every house, room, cellar, and attic, and in the most brutal way, they dragged out all the elderly, sick, women, and children. The guns and pistols worked without stop.
At the assembly place, the sorting began to the right and to the left. The families where there were no husbands went to the left. My niece and I went there too. As long as I will live, I will never forget that horrifying night when they were sorting the people. Such animal brutality you do not see even in the jungle…
We were of the first to arrive in the socalled small ghetto. In a small room, fourbyfour, other than us, they crammed in mothers and small children. The crowding was so terrible that it was impossible even to stand. The cold was crackling outside, it was freezing, there was no food. The shooting did not stop, and the children's whimpers fill the small room. The mothers were moaning and sobbing bitter tears about their dark fate. Suddenly, the quiet of the night was ripped open by a malicious bang on the door. Soldiers and armed Lithuanians stormed into the room and all of us are ordered to go out and march in an unknown direction. We try to figure out what this decree meant, but one brave person dared to ask an armed guard, Where are we going? To which there was the cynical reply: To work. This was a bold lie. Sick, drained and hungry women, with little children in their arms or holding the children's hands are not working elements. Would these elderly, these unfortunate children and the broken women be ready for work?
At that moment, I remembered an oath that my father used to use for especially important issues. He used to say: May I merit to come to a Jewish burial. For our parents, having a Jewish burial was one of the most important requirements after death. Now, my feelings were that we would not have a Jewish burial. If this was a wish for Jews in normal times, under these current conditions, this was a distant, distant dream. My niece and I decide to run away. We told those nearest to us of our plan, but they were too tired, drained, and resigned, to risk such a plan. They continued on and we were able to successfully escape the Angel of Death.
… Later, for days and weeks they carried the clothes of those who were murdered. Christians later said that the mound of the accursed mass graves rose and moved for a few days. Those who were not dead, and those who were half alive, still breathed under the cursed ground. Some who died in the Name of Gd had a prolonged Gesisah [state of being a dying person, on the last throes, agony]…
The beaten remaining people in the Slobodka ghetto now asked: Where are my children? Where is my wife, my husband, my father, my mother? They knew the answer but these questions filled the narrow, tragic vacuums of Slobodka. There was not a single house where several family members were not missing.
Life in the ghetto proceeded in a normal fashion. Human skeletons wandered in the streets (Jews were not allowed to use the sidewalks), with two yellow patches (one if front and one in back). This went on until the second large Aktzia [roundup], the socalled children's Aktzia.
Even though official numbers were not public, they said in the ghetto that the large mass Aktzia killed 10,000 Jews. Another factor was added to the already tense mood in the ghetto hunger. There was nowhere to buy a little food, even those who still had the means to buy something. Since we no longer had the means to send a food package to Poland, there remained a few food products for us, and these were used in a very sparing and rationed manner.
The remaining men and women who were able to work
were herded daily to the work of building a flying [airplane] field. This type of work, the hunger, cold, and torture, that resulted in many deaths, weighed heavily on everyone and caused great depression. But on top of all this, there was always the main worry food. Where can you get a piece of bread, a potato, a little fat?
One group of Jewish workers was working in an outlying district of Kovno, where they could buy food with their money. By chance, I worked with this group and when I thought no one was looking I went to buy food. A Lithuanian secret agent in civilian clothing recognized me and arrested me. My pleas and cries that he let me go were useless. He delivered me to the German commandant and I was sure that this would be the end of my life. But they locked me up in prison, in a room where there were other Jewish women.
Among those other detainees, were: a wellknown children's doctor, who even before the war, was already serving in the Kovno prison where she was now. The doctor's entire family (she, her husband, their son, and a Christian housekeeper), were reported for using Aryan documents. In this cell were now also two sisters and two Christians who wanted to help hide the sisters; a girl who had left her possessions in a Christian home, and when she came to get her things they arrested her; a woman who worked on a farm and hid her two children elsewhere. Out of jealousy, the wife of the farm owner, informed on the Jewish worker who was thrown into prison. Every day, she would come back from the investigations beaten and bloodied because they wanted to find out from her where was the hiding place of the others. But she did not betray her children despite the intolerable pain that she had to tolerate. In my cell there was also a history teacher who, a student to whom she had given a low grade, reported her as a communist…
When I came into the cell, all the detained women there wanted to know the news of the city and of the fronts. Unfortunately, my reports were horrifying because that period was marked by Hitler's wartime victories on the Soviet front and an increased terror towards the Jewish people.
Now I am sitting in a corner of the prison cell and my thoughts are … about freedom. My dear ones were certainly worried that I am no longer among the living. They waited for my return with hope and that I would bring the piece of bread that I was supposed to bring. They had separated us, and who knew if this was not to be forever.
But sitting in prison, brings strong people closer. The women in the cell became one family. If one person was summoned to an investigation, everyone lived through it together and was sincerely interested in the fate of that person. Worse was when the cell door was opened in middle of the night and one of us was summoned. For sure someone was being led to her death. And everyone accompanied her with compassion and choked tears. That's how, from day to day, the number of detainees decreased.
The women who had already been in prison for a longer time, after hearing the story of my arrest, did not want to believe that because of that reason I would be locked up and detained without an investigation. For these types of sins they argued one is immediately released. They advised me to go to the prison warden during the evening rollcall when the prisoners were allowed to present their requests to the prison administration. So I asked to have a talk with the warden. The result was that there was no guilty verdict against me. The warden then comforted me that I should be happy that I was there because in the ghetto the situation was much worse. People were going around barefoot, with torn clothing, starving, and beaten. My answer was that even a bird locked in a cage, even though he has everything, tears himself to his freedom. Other than that I did not commit any crime.
Spring arrived. I also found out that soon it was to be Passover. Having been raised in a religious spirit, I decided that, even in these prison circumstances, I would not eat any bread, and I began to collect beets for the holiday time. There was already a large collection of this food in my coat but suddenly they summoned me to an inquiry. I was afraid of a consequence with these beets, so I grabbed the coat of another prisoner and left the cell. They took me to the Gestapo commando, pushed me into a room where other men and women were detained. All of them stood with their faces to the wall. They told me to stand that way as well. They asked me if I had gone to buy things myself or did I take one of the others who works with me. What did I buy and from whom? Then, a Gestapo office took me into the cellar, tied my hands to two steel rings that were hanging from the ceiling, and with a leather whip, they began beating me across my entire body. Bloodied and beaten, I was returned to my prison cell, and on the evening of the last day of Passover, I was released into freedom back to the ghetto…
One day, the wild Gestapo murderers and Lithuanians tore into the ghetto with large cargo trucks and from the all the hidden places, they managed to
drag out the elderly people and young children. From behind millstones, bricked walls, from cellars and attics, from bookcases and ditches, from closets and canals, these murderers dragged out their victims. The screams and cries of these little birds were able to move stones but not the stone hearts of these murderers and sadists. In order to subdue their own senses, or to outcry the wails of the tragic ones, they played festive music through the loudspeakers…
On the mothers who did not want to hand over their children and who struggled with the murderers, they [the murderers] unleashed specially trained dogs. The dogs tore pieces from these terrified mothers. And when they fell down impotently, the German or the Lithuanian threw himself upon the child that was just torn from its mother's arms and threw it on the truck. Some of the mothers allowed themselves to be shot on the spot, if only not to be torn away from their child; others jumped onto the trucks in order to share the fate of their little son or daughter…
After this child Aktzia, I found myself in the Jewish hospital. Afterward, a mother came into the hospital. She had not wanted to be separated from her two children. One of the hospital staff told me that the Germans did not allow her to go along with her children. The woman resisted and they let the incited dogs loose on her. She was so bitten up that when she lay in the hospital, as one wound closed up the other soon opened. She continually screamed to the doctor: It won't help you. I won't live without my two children. Your energies are wasted…
This organized child murder lasted for two days: the 27th and 28th day of March, 1944. But despite the fact that these murderers searched and beat with such zeal, tore open and destroyed all hiding places, a few children still remained in the ghetto. But they moved about like shadows, having lost all expression of joy and hope in their dulled eyes. They had terrible dreams at night, of being taken away from their parents.
One night, I head the cry of my nephew, a nineyearold little boy. I went over to him and saw how his mother was clutching him close to her. Both were crying, and the child related his dream, that they had taken his mother from him. I begged the murderers to leave me, but they dragged me and dragged me, without end… And the child asked:
Dear mother, promise me that if they come to take you you will not leave me here. If we will be together it will be easier.
The mother promised the child not to leave him and kept her word. Both of them died later in a concentration camp. This little boy shared the fate of the million Jewish children who were cruelly killed by the hands of the Nazi murderers…
Some time later, with a transport of Jews, I was sent to a concentration camp. Here, a new chapter of horror began. Pain and lack until the liberation. But about that, we will have to write separately.
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