by Sionio Fenster
Translated by Moshe Kutten
A forcedlabor camp was established at the beginning of Brodezka Street, where the wood warehouse of the Zilber family used to be. Its official name of the camp was Viklitski Plant for Construction and Demolition. The commander, Viklitski, was German Austrian. He was always accompanied by a big dog. Viklitzki was known to be a harsh and cruel person who excelled in performing the act 25 lashes on one's butt . My aunt, Dvorka Merder, was an accountant in that plant. She also worked on other various tasks in the female workers' kitchen. Fate determined that I would be recruited to work in the same plant a short while later. We were sent to houses destructed by bombing and took out unbroken bricks, which were later transferred to the train station to be sent to Germany. When any kind of wood, such as roof support beams or foundations beams, were found, we transferred them, on our shoulders, to the plant's yard. After work, I returned home to my mother and my two sisters, Regina and Minah. I always tried to bring home some wood refuse and boards for heating. They waited for me impatiently at home with tearing eyes since that work was hard for me. It affected me greatly since I was unaccustomed to it. There was almost nothing to eat, but my mother always managed to get and keep something for me.
The situation was arduous as rumors about aktsias in various neighboring towns were always floating around. Since we lived in a bustling location, we decided to move to my grandmother's home, which was located at the edge of the city. The entire family concentrated there: my grandmother, aunt Zeltka, her husband, Yaakov Freed, my mother, and my two sisters. Our father, Izik, was taken away from us early on 7 March 1941, on the third day following the entrance of the Nazi invader to Zloczow. The food shortage forced us to collect potatoes peels, cook soup from them, and then fry them.
When the ghetto was established, we got a room with another family. However, I was later on transferred to the central concentration camp at the end of Jablonovska Street, which was used to be an army barrack. We went to work in Viklitski camp in the morning and came back to sleep at night. In the beginning, I visited my family in the ghetto daily. However, when the ghetto was closed, I could not do that any longer. My aunt Dovrka obtained, once in a while, a special permit for a single visit. I managed to sneak into the ghetto through the barbwire fences, under the nose of the Ukrainian police that guarded the ghetto.
A big carpentry workshop, in which several carpentry artisans worked, was located in Viklitski camp. During one of the musters, artisans were asked to step forward. It was a difficult decision since anything out of the ordinary was suspicious. However, I instinctively stepped forward. I experienced panic when they asked me about my profession, but I answered that I was a carpenter. That was how I was sent to work in the carpentry shop. I had to carry large boards and clean the shop. Once in a while, I assisted in operating the lathe when the electricity was not working. Since my transfer to the carpentry shop, I went to work in the early hours of the morning and came back at ten at night. When was passing near the gates of the ghetto, my mother used to stand there, and wave her hand. She used to hold a package for me and tried to pass it over to me.
We heard about the extermination of the Jews in various places in the area from Jewish workers who had been transferred to the Zloczow's camp. We began to think about running away to the forests, in case the camp was to be liquidated or a selection occurred. We met with a group, which transferred weapons and ammunition [to the forest]. However, a short while later the Germans killed a part of the group located already in the forest. We established an actiongroup and decided to dig a bunker. We began the work shortly thereafter. The digging took place at the backside of the kitchen since it was close to the Zlotsovska River. Three youths worked there during the day, and six during the night. We took out the dirt in pails to the river bank. We reached a depth of about three meters and began to dig under the house towards the camp's yard. Later we decided to dig towards the river, a distance of about 10 meters. We transferred boards at night from the carpentry shop to support against a tunnel collapse. The work progressed in a complete secret. The rest of the inmates did not know about the existence of the bunker group. Every digger had to be replaced every few minutes, to replenish the air in his lungs. We enlarged the area under the kitchen into a small room. After considerable efforts, we managed to reach the
|The plan for the Viklitski Bunker|
the lower opening of the house's chimney.
The fact that we had to return, every night, to the concentration camp, for sleeping caused a delay in our progress. However, there were always some youths who worked during the night.
A rumor reached us on 2nd April 1943 that the Germans were liquidating the ghetto in Zloczow. Several shots and movement of cars and German soldiers served as a verification for the rumor. They instructed us to continue with our work and not to pay attention to it. There was no way for us to get in touch with our families in the ghetto.
Close to noontime, we saw trucks loaded with people moving towards Brody. The convoy reached Yelykhovychi forest and there, everybody was murdered. I stood by the camps' fence and watched. I was hoping to see somebody from my family for the last time, among the people on the trucks. My wait was in vain. My entire family was exterminated then, except for my aunt Dvorka and myself. We were the only ones left. Our lives continued. We tried to accelerate the rate of our work at the bunker. In addition to the digging effort, we also began to accumulate food products. We managed to secure, from several sources, tin tubs. After a thorough cleaning, we put flour and groats in them and soldered them shut. According to our plan, the bunker was supposed to contain twenty to thirty people. Only a few of them knew about its construction and location. Fortunately, the digging progressed without any interruption but under constant fear.
One evening, on 22nd July 1943, I worked at the carpentry shop. Close to 10 pm, we planned to go back to the concentration camp. However, the electricity did not stop, as it usually did. We continued to work for at least an additional hour. Suddenly, a Ukrainian policeman came and instructed us to leave. We invited him to the dining hall and gave him vodka, but he insisted that we should go. We left on our way back to the camp at around 11:30 at night. The entire city was lighted but we did not suspect anything. After walking for about half an hour, we arrived at the end of Jeblonovska Street, about a hundred meters from the camps' gate. A sudden burst of gunfire interrupted the night's silence. We stopped. A single shot was heard and then again, bursts of shots from submachineguns. The Ukrainian policeman said that this was probably an attack on the camp by the Partisans. We sent him to find out what was going on.
As he approached the gate of the camp he began to shout: This is me, a Ukrainian policeman. But we did not hear anything after that, except a few occasional shots. We panicked for a short while but overcame quickly and began to retrace our steps. We walked through the lighted city's streets and saw movements of cars. We arrived back at Viklitski's camp and discussed our way forward. Some people lowered themselves down into the bunker, although it was not ready yet to host residents. We, the young ones, stayed above at the camp and hid in the carpentry shop's attic. In the morning, Christian workers arrived and told up about the liquidation of the concentration camp. At that point, we had no choice. We all gathered at the bunker entrance located in the horse stable. We proceeded to descend to the depths of the earth, into our bunker. We closed the entrance with dirt and manure and tried not to leave any traces. To our surprise, we discovered that the total number of our people was forty rather than twenty. We kept our cool and waited the whole day in the bunker. We tried to make a few initial arrangements. We did not have means and tools to cook, except two sacks of woodcoal. We made a samovar from two tin tubs, and instead of soldering them together, we used dough. That was how we began to cook. The samovar was placed under the chimney, in the small room, so most of the smoke rose through the chimney.
We formed a connection with a Polish engineer while still in the concentration camp. He was loyal and knew about the existence of the bunker. A few days later, he lowered a loaf of bread through the chimney, containing a letter to us. In the letter, he told us that people who wanted to work in Lviv's [forcedlabor] camp could come out and get in touch with Viklitski. After some discussion, several artisans went out, and they were transferred to Lviv's camp. The others decided to stay. Since we did not have any water, we began to dig at the rear side of the bunker. We did reach water; however, they contained chemicals that caused damage to the digestive system. To combat that, we would hold the water in a pail for several hours and used only the upper layer for drinking and cooking. The quantities of food were meager. We received four to six loaves of bread through the chimney every few days. That was hardly sufficient compared to the number of people. The sanitary situation was also very difficult. We used a pail, which we emptied at the river bank through a small opening near the river. That opening also provided us with fresh air. We also took turns to guard against anybody approaching. During one of the mornings, the guard at the rear opening noticed a wolfdog walking around; however, the dog did not come closer because of the foul smell. We began to suspect that something was wrong. Added to that suspicion was the fact that the engineer did not get in touch with us for several days.
One day, we heard a loud noise above us. We began to block the bunker, at the point just below the noise, trying to persuade the people who would be looking for us to think that the bunker had been abandoned. We immediately understood that the people above us are digging down to try to find the entrance. We worked quickly and managed to block the entire entry from the floor to the ceiling for a width of about 3 meters. When we were done, some men began to dig at the rear end of the bunker trying to reach the surface and escape. Unfortunately, we encountered heavy rocks. We tried to dig up in another location had no luck either. In the meantime, we heard that people had already entered the bunker. We did not have any doubt that the end was near.
All of a sudden, a small opening broke through in our barrier. We heard a burst of shots followed by moans and shouts. Between one burst of shots to another, Mrs. Gross yelled: Stop shooting! We are coming out. We are not armed. Ukrainians began to hurry us up, shouting and pushing. All of a sudden, I recognized a Ukrainian, in the dark, who used to work with my father before the war. He directed a pocket flashlight towards me and said: The son of Izik Fenster! What are you doing here?. I could not answer him. I just held his hand and the hand of my aunt Dvorka and followed him. We progressed toward the entrance, where I saw three Germans laying down at a machinegun. I instinctively jumped backward and told him: I will give you anything if you leave us alone! He looked at my aunt and saw a necklace with a pendant. He just tore it out and went away. I backed away several more steps and found myself in the bunker's small room. I pulled my aunt Dvorka with me. We heard the German asking the Ukrainians whether everybody got out. They received a positive answer. The German proceeded to shoot at the wounded, then they finally left and silence descended on the bunker. A short while later, the Ukrainians returned. They looted everything they found, including the food tubs as well as the clothing and valuables of the murdered. That lasted for several hours. I began to discuss with aunt Dvorka how to escape.
All of a sudden just as we were ready to leave, I heard voices. I froze and could not move. A person asked in Yiddish: Is there anybody there? We are Avraham and Sender.
These were two youths who worked with us on the construction
of the bunker. During that faithful night, they stayed in the concentration camp, but they managed to escape. During the time we stayed at the bunker, about five weeks, they hid in various places. They came to hid in the bunker on the day, which the Germans discover and liquidated it. We moved the wooden boards and left the bunker the same way we entered it. Together, we crossed the river and began our search for our future.
That is the story about the survival of two people out of the original forty that hid in Viklitski's Bunker. May the memory of all of those who perished be blessed.
by Nushka Altman
Translated by Moshe Kutten
The words life beyond the wall sounded so innocuous they could lead to the belief that the lives of those who managed to escape [from the ghetto], were heaven on earth.
Let me provide a short description of my hardships to prove that life beyond the wall was hell on earth.
After going through the horrors of the ghetto and three aktsias, in which my father, mother, and younger brother were taken away from me, people tried to convince me to take advantage of my Arian appearance and move to one of Poland big cities. At first, I resisted the idea of separating from my family; I did not dare to do so.
However, my husband insisted by claiming that splitting the family may provide better chances for survival.
The idea that if not all of us would survive, at least one of us would be, sounded cruel and horrific. The thought that I would have to leave my only son, husband, and brother and go to an unknown and dangerous place drove me insane.
I finally gave up because of my health condition. I suffered from coughing attacks, which at times of excitement, intensified. It could have led to the discovery of our bunker.
After many trials and efforts, my husband managed to obtain an original birth and Baptism certificates for me, carrying the name Maria Rubchinska.
After consulting with our savior-angel, Mr. Joseph Mayer, it was decided to find me a job with a high-ranked German official in Lviv. That official was anti-Nazi in his views.
I took comfort from the fact that I would not be far from my family, and perhaps I would be able to stay in touch with them through Mr. Mayer.
Unfortunately, fate decided otherwise. That official had already employed another young Jewish as a seamstress. However, thanks to an informant, not only the official refused to take me, but he also had the get rid of that seamstress. Mr. Mayer had to move her back to Zloczow.
We had to change our plans and look for another opportunity. Due to a strange coincidence, my father met a young Polish professional, at the office of Mr. Mayer, by the name of Kazhik. My husband left a good impression on him, so he was willing to take to the other side and employ a Jewish person (particularly a woman). That was before the satanic plan of Hitler to exterminate all the Jews became known. So my husband did not consider the offer by the young Pole seriously.
In 1943, when the plan to bring me to Lviv failed, my father met again with Mr. Kazhik, and he agreed to take someone who had a proper appearance and arrange for a safe location. Kazhik knew me and agreed to take me without hesitation. It was irresponsible to rely on a stranger but I took that desperate step, as I was in such a poor emotional state that I would not be able to describe it now. Following a dramatic separation scene, Mr. Mayer collected me at night, along with the other young women, and we went to his house. Depressed and fearful, I later traveled to Warsaw.
As it turned out later, Kazhik was a member of the fighting underground. He placed me in a village, near Warsaw, with a working family. I only stayed there for a month as the neighbors started to suspect me.
I was desperate and suicidal. My guardian, Kazhik, did not show up. I felt like a wounded and haunted animal, subject to the grace of destiny. In the end, Kazhik arrived and found another hideout for me in Warsaw with a widow. Her daughter-in-law, Batya, was also a member of the underground.
I was supposed to impersonate as the wife of a former Polish officer who had been arrested by the Gestapo. It did not last long there either. A former resident, also Jewish, warned me about the widow's son who stayed temporarily in Lviv. She told me that he was a dangerous thug who used to devour Jews. He had a unique sense of uncovering them. His former wife, Batya, who separated from him, also warned me about him.
Indeed, trouble occurred shortly thereafter. Batya received the news that her [former] husband returned. At about the same time, another disaster occurred. During a ride on the tram, a thief stole my wallet with my money. Worse than that, he also took my certificates. During those days, thieves used to take the valuables and handover the certificates to the police. I feared that the police would find out that the certificates were forged
and uncover my identity. Miserable and helpless, I did not know what to do. The only salvation was the run away as soon as possible. The question was: where?
My only choice was my friend Lina Baar, who lived with her little son in Milnowek [west of Warsaw]. Her brother moved her there from Zloczow at the beginning of 1942. They lived as Poles using Arian certificates.
Sick from fear and nervous I went to my friend, and she opened her arms and accepted me. We so lived with her until the liberation.
These were days of hardships and deprivation. Once and a while we received limited financial assistance from the Joint [JDC - The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee]. The risk of getting that money was considerable because the imposters disguised themselves as contact agents ambushed the Jews, and handed them over to the police.
Fear followed us day and night. We became pale as a dying person just by seeing a German. A knock on the door would cause a contraction of the heart or fainting. Some days we thought about leaving Milnowek and returning to Zloczow, to the bunker. Horrible and risky was the fear of meeting Ukrainian acquaintances from Zloczow, many of whom stayed in Warsaw. I did meet acquaintances from Zloczow. Fortunately, these were Poles who were honest and were happy to see me alive.
Mundek, one of the friends of my late brother, was happy to meet me. However, he warned me about his sister. She was known to be a Volksdeutsche.
I can't describe my state of mind when I went to the police to receive a new identity card, without which one could not travel in the streets. Sitting the whole day at home was not advisable since it would have raised the suspicion of the neighbors.
Street kidnappings were daily events. There was not a day without informing about Jews. Extortionists extorted the last pennies from their victims and then handed them over to the Gestapo.
We waited for our salvation with our last drops of energy. The liberation seemed to be so close! The offensive by Red Army began, and at the same time, the Uprising in Ghetto Warsaw took place. But that was in vain. The Russians took over Praga but stopped at the Vistula River.
The Germans suppressed the revolt with blood and fire. Warsaw's residents escaped from their city in masses. Milnowek filled with Warsaw's refugees, among them a few Jewish survivors. Fear and hunger strengthened. Kidnappings of men and women for forced labor in Germany began.
I also fell victim to one of the kidnapping operations and was incarcerated in the transit camp in Pruszkow [Proshkov]. Due to the kindness of a Polish physician, I was not transferred to Germany.
Our situation worsened from one day to another. However, our salvation finally arrived. The Red Army conquered Warsaw. We were free! However, we were not fully happy and joyful. The worry about the fate of my family consumed my whole being. I left Warsaw in March 1945, hungry and depleted, in search of my family.
Following three weeks of wandering, the Soviets captured me along with Ukrainian gangs. They refused to believe me that I was Jewish who was returning home. They suspected and accused me of spying. It took a miracle to escape the transfer to Siberia. I had finally arrived in Zloczow, or more correctly the cemetery of the former Zloczow.
After two years of separation, I found my family among the Holocaust survivors. We all looked like walking skeletons.
by Nakhum Ben-Meir (Pasternak)
Translated by Moshe Kutten
On 22nd June 1941, when Hitler attacked Soviet Russia, the Germans bombed all the cities and towns in Eastern Poland, which were under the Soviet regime. Our city, Zloczow, was also heavily bombed. Tens of Jews were killed in that bombardment.
It was an Introduction to the great massacre of the Jews that occurred later on.
On 1st July, at dawn, brutal German troops broke into the city. The large-scale pogrom, which lasted until Saturday, 5th July, began on the following day. About 5000 Jews perished in that horrible pogrom. Many of the victims were refugees, which arrived at the city from other places.
I was among a group of fifty people taken to be shot. The S. S. troops led us on the road leading to the Jewish hospital. The murderers stood opposite the hospital in two columns, waiting for their victims. We were ordered to pass in between the two columns. When we passed through, they hit us with sticks and stabbed us with their daggers. Later, they sprayed us with bursts of deadly bullets. A small group, me included, managed to escape. Hirsch Tzvardling (the son-in-law of Leibchi Peres), and two others whose names I do not remember, escaped with me. Herman Shprukh, Feivel Katz, and the son of Hirsch Tzvardling (son-in-law of Bluma, the baker) fell literally at my feet, wallowing in their blood.
The miller, Bocharski, saw me escaping and collected me to his home for the night. He returned me to my house at dawn. My wife hurried to our neighbors and begged them to hide me. A few minutes later, I heard loud knocks on the locked door. Wild yelling came out from the throats of the Ukrainians and the Germans. Fear and horror took hold of me, but I did not lose my senses. I kneeled and rolled myself under the bed. The door was busted open noisily, and the thugs came in. They went up to the kitchen and then the bedroom. They managed to turn over and demolish everything in the house in one minute.
They destroyed the cloth closet and scattered the bedding but miraculously did not discover me. The Germans left as quickly as they came.
I escaped death for the second time.
When the murderous frenzy subsided, the Germans ordered all Zloczow's surviving Jews to gather in the old market square. The Germans announced at that gathering that all the Jews, men, and women 12 years and older, must wear on their right arm a white band with a blue Star of David on it. Anybody found not wearing it would be shot on the spot. The Germans also announced that Jews were forbidden from being outside of their homes from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. A Judenrat was established at that gathering. Dr. Meiblum was nominated to head it. Other members of the Judenrat were: Dr. Matyetyahu Gruber, Dr. Garber, Dr. Shaf, the Shmirer brothers (the wood merchants), Nunki Weinshtok, Leon Tzvardling, and several other people.
Several days later, I witnessed a courageous and proudful act, which I would never forget. R' Moshe Marder was walking innocently in the street when the manager of the Ukrainian chamber of commerce, Antoniak, was walking toward him. Antoniak stopped, stretched his arm toward R' Moshe, and said: Are you still alive? R' Moshe Marder answered: I cannot touch a hand sullied with Jewish blood. He said that and then just passed by the gentile without turning his head.
Those who think that the Jewish Militia only performed tasks dictated by the Judenrat are mistaken.
One militiaman, who was assigned to guard over women and girls that were taken to the public bath, had a habit of breaking into the bath, while the bathers were still naked. Holding a stick in his hand, he would force them to hurry up, get dressed quickly, and get out. Outside, he would hit them with his stick and force them to sing.
There was also a story about a militiaman who saw Jews running away and hiding in bunkers and ditches. That happened on 2nd April, the day the ghetto in Zloczow was liquidated. He decided to act courageously. He jumped into a sewer ditch and ordered the Jewish escapees to get out. When the Jews did not obey, he called some Germans and Ukrainians to help him. The Germans obliged enthusiastically, but instead of jumping into the ditch, they threw several hand grenades into the ditch.
And now, I would like to tell you some details about my own accounts.
When the ghetto was liquidated, I managed to hide my little girl, Rani-Rachel, in the camp's workshops (at the house of Sunny Ettinger). One day, the militiamen, Yankile Rutiner and Yaakov, and Itzik Halperin took me aside and told me that they know that I hid my daughter in the workshop.
Opening of Mass Graves on Hill of the Fort - Zamek,
where Jews were Executed by the Nazis
The militiamen told me that they are not comfortable with that idea. However, they causally added that they would be willing to negotiate before they report about it. That was a definitive hint about a ransom. My anger boiled over, and I rejected their offer disgustedly. They did not wait long and reported about my secret immediately. The supervisor of the workshops came to me and demanded that I take my daughter immediately. I pleaded with him to wait until dark when I could find her a new hiding place with one of my Christian friends. He agreed. In the evening, when the militiamen saw me leaving the camp with my little daughter, they were satisfied. Two days later, at 2 a.m., my Christian acquaintance brought my daughter back. I quickly found another, more secure, location with one of my friends in Dzvynyach.
On Friday 20 Tamuz, 23 July 1943, the Germans, with the help of the Ukrainians and Valsov's soldiers, liquidated all of the forced-labor camps in our area from Viniki to Ternopil. Along with the forced-labor camps, they also liquidated all the workshops. About 100 Jews, including myself, were transferred to Janower camp in Lviv. The rest, about six hundred Jews who resided in the camp at Zloczow, were brought to Vokhtarov forests and were shot there.
There were about a thousand Jews in Lackie, about six hundred in Pluhow, and three hundred at Sasiv. In the Lackie there Jews from Zloczow, Lviv, Stanislawow (now Ivano-Frankivsk), Zholiv [?], and even Hungary.
Hidden away within a container, I kept a dose of poison. All those who survived the liquidation of the ghetto knew well that the Germans would not keep them alive for long. That became particularly evident in light of rumors that started to spread. They were about the defeat suffered by the invaders on all the fronts and their panic retreat. I have decided, ahead of time, not to let the murderers kill me. When I would feel that my end is near, I would preempt and commit suicide. I was not alone with that decision. Many even acted upon that decision. That happened to a group of women, my wife among them, who committed suicide with the poison doses they had kept, during the nights of the camps' liquidation.
I do not know why and from where my will to live came. It was immensely strong and it would not let go. I began to plan an escape from the Janower camp. My only goal was to reach Dzvynyach and see my little daughter, who just celebrated her ninth birthday.
When I went to work, I met an acquaintance who was a train conductor. At noon, the S.S. people would travel to the camp to eat lunch. Vlasov soldiers who guarded us during work-hours also stepped out to eat somewhere. The conductor agreed to execute my plan for 4000 Guldens. As we had agreed, he came to pick me up on 27 October 1943, between 1 - 2 pm, (when the policemen and the oppressors were out), and hid me in his house overnight. The following day early morning, he dressed me up in a conductor uniform, and we both traveled on the train from Podazamcho [?] station to Keniazshi [?]. From there, we continued our way on foot to the forests in Dzvynyach area. I returned the conductor uniform to the man and gave him the rest of the agreed-upon money. We said goodbye to each other, and we went on our separate ways.
I turned towards the house of Marchin Kozshak in Dzvynyach, where my daughter was staying. I was following signs etched in my memory.
Suddenly, as I was walking self-assuredly in the depth of the forest, three Germans appeared in front of me. They leveled a sub-machinegun towards me and yelled: Juda, halt! Hands up!. Immediately, a thought flashed in my head -
I should not show them that I was confused or panicked. With an apathetic motion, I responded in a typical Polish accent: I am Polish. I was then ordered to go with the soldiers, but I pretended not to understand their order. They called a non-commissioned officer and told him: that they caught a Jew. The officer approached me and asked in a voice calmer than that of the soldiers: You are a Jew, admit it. I explained to him that I am Polish who is going to work. To support my claim, I pulled out my work-tools - a hummer, plane, measuring tape A soldier commented: In my opinion, we need to bring him to the Hauptmann [Captain]. The non-commissioned officer responded by saying: Why? There is no need. Don't you see that he is not Jewish? Jews would know German. This one does not understand or know anything. He is just a stupid Pole. He turned to me and called: "Go! We say go! Go to hell! Stupid Pole, marsh!... You go now! Next time bring documents! Did you understand?". I remained standing pretending not to understand. The officer caught me on my shoulder and shook me up. Then, they all disappeared and I resumed my journey.
Suddenly, I noticed a shadow approaching. It was the forester. I found myself in danger again, perhaps in greater than encountering the Germans. If he were one of my acquaintances (not all the friends and acquaintances were sincere), he probably would not hesitate and quickly deliver me to the murderers. Perhaps he would kill me himself to get the prize offered by the Germans.
When the forester saw me he recognized me. Indeed, he was an old acquaintance. However, he invited me to sleep at his house. The following evening, he accompanied me and showed me the way to Marchin's house. I arrived there safely and found my daughter safe and sound.
More than few groups of Jews, from places such as Zloczow, Sasiv, Pidkamin, Brody, and Lviv found a shelter in the forests that surrounded Dzvynyach. These Jews used to come out of their hideouts at nightfall, go to the village, and beg for food. With Marchin's advice and help, I was able to join one of these groups. I would come to him once or twice a week to receive some food. I boiled water and roasted the few potatoes in the small bunker I dug for myself in the forest. At noon, I would eat a dish with a piece of bread, gifted to me by Marchin.
At the village, my daughter was considered a Christian girl, a member of Marchin's family. She was named Orka Kozshak. She went to the church every Sunday with the Kozshak family. She would say her prayer every morning and evening and crossed herself. Once, when I came to the village, I was told that the kettles-maker, Yenkili Ritvomatsov told about us in the house of the Valtis (village elder). He said that the father of the girl arrived at the village. He also said that I usually stayed with the refugees in the forest. One woman, who was in attendance at the Valtis's home, wondered: The father of Orka? He is a Christian and can live with us freely!. The kettles-maker responded that Orka's father is Jewish and that her real name is not Orka but Rani Rachel. He added that Rani's father escaped from Janower's camp. In short, that Yenkili told everything about us.
That woman neighbor did not remain idle. She sent a note to the German company who patrolled the forests, probably the same Germans I had encountered earlier. She told them that a Jewish girl is being hosted at Kozshak's house. They visited Marchin, on the same day to catch and kill the girl. Miraculously, Rani was not home at the time. By chance, she was at Mrs. Bronia - Kozshak's mother, who resided in a house on the other side of the village. Obviously, I could not leave the girl in the village any longer. I hurried up and took my daughter to the forest.
A Ukrainian militia appeared in the area on the 23rd of December 1943. They conducted a manhunt of the Jews in the forests. During our escape in the depth of the forest, a bullet hit me in my right hand. However, thanks to the medical treatment I received from the partisans of Armia Ludowa (which were friendly to the Jews, unlike the partisans of the Home Army - Armia Krajowa), I got out of danger. These partisans came out of their hidings and quickly opened a heavy fire upon the militiamen. The Ukrainians, finding themselves under fire and surrounded, retreated and left the forest.
Haunted and injured, in tatters and barefoot, I wandered around, day and night, trying to save my only daughter. A few times, I lost the will to live, seeing my daughter suffering from hunger and fear. Our only food was the snow. We could not go back to the village. When the Germans found out that some of the farmers hid Jewish refugees, they angrily attacked all the area villages and burnt them. There wasn't any more a single location for long, as predators in the form of Germans and Ukrainians haunted us.
Nobody had any delusion about surviving that hell.
That situation lasted until April 1944.
On the 23rd of April, partisans from the battalion of General Kovpak appeared in the forest. When they found us, tens of men, women, and children, gripped with fear and hopelessness and famished from hunger. They gathered and transferred us to beyond the front-line, to the town of Pidkamin. The Russians had already occupied that town. From there, we were transferred to Pochaiv and later on Kremenets.
A new chapter of our wandering began. However, we were free of the fear of death.
I traveled with my daughter from Kremenets to Zloczow, Lviv, and Lublin. From there, we went to lower Silesia, where we stayed until 1948. Later on, we went to Paris and from there to Israel. We settled in Acre. In that town, I was able to raise my daughter, Rani Rachel until she got married. She awarded me with two granddaughters.
by Jozef Mayer
Translated by Moshe Kutten
I was nominated by the General Government administration of [occupied] Poland as the person in charge of supply and agriculture. I arrived in Zloczow, Galitsia, which was the seat of the provincial government, in November 1941.
* * *
My role was to concentrate the agricultural produce and its distribution. The role also included supervision of various plants associated with the supply chain.
In initially, I rented a room in the house of a Ukrainian clergy. It took many weeks for the regime to provide me with a small apartment, which enabled me to bring my family from the Reich. Before several weeks had passed, representatives of Jewish and Polish circles sought relations with me. Most of them were from the intelligentsia, who were still alive at that point. They realized, very quickly, that I was a different kind of German with different political views. The person who had especially sought to approach me was Dr. Altman. He came to me often with all sorts of requests and wishes. Obviously, I tried to help him, as much as was possible under the conditions during that time. In most cases, I had to take extreme precautions because of the Gestapo people who ruled Zloczow. They had criticized me even before the war.
It was Dr. Altman who recommended Yosef Batish as an efficient, diligent, and loyal assistant.
Since I brought my family to Zloczow in January 1942, I was very thankful for his help. I found Batish, who was 28 years old at the time, to be honest, and pleasant, and I could trust him with my daughters, who were 9 and 11 years old. We developed a relationship that could only be developed within the framework of a nourishing family. Batish, an accountant, felt safe and secured among us, as he knew that our German family understood his feelings.
My daughters became attached to him. They are keeping in touch with their Yosef, who now resides in Denver, Colorado, USA, until today. The separation from him was very hard for the family. As a Jew, he was not able to stay with us and had, in the summer of 1943, to leave us and go undercover.
I still remember how we had conferred about all sorts of subversive plans I especially remember how we managed to keep in touch. We promised each other that we would reconnect if we survive the war. Therefore, Batish kept my address [in Germany] with him.
|A Group of Holocaust Survivors with their Savior - Jozef Mayer, a Righteous among Nations|
|Josef Mayer a Righteous among Nations|
He connected and showed the first sign of life from Austria in 1946, using that address.
The Nazi views were foreign for my daughters, who grew up in a Christian-Catholic environment. Even the influence they received in school could not convince them otherwise. None of the teachers in school could change their minds.
On the other hand, they were intelligent enough not to raise any suspicion. My daughters did not see the Jew in Batish but the person -Yosef. From his side, Yosef protected them against external threats, while they were his loyal friends and advocators.
In the Zloczow area, the Jewish Aktsia's began in July 1942. One such aktsia was conducted in our area of the city in April 1943. During precarious days, Batish would not return home, as was his daily custom, but would stay with us and sleep in the kitchen.
During unexpected and sudden aktsia's numerous Jewish families found shelter in my apartment. To avoid discovery by friends or other Germans, who used to visit us, we hid our proteges in the cellar or adjacent rooms. My daughters took care of them and their Yosef.
In July 1943, things got to the point that city of Zloczow was announced as being Judenfrei [free of Jews]. It meant that anybody was allowed to shoot a Jew on the spot if he or she happened to see one. Indeed, there were some incidents in the city when Jews were shot. We were obligated to protect our proteges. However, I realized that my family would have to return back to the Reich when the front would approach.
The civil authorities would also have to leave.
It was necessary to find a secure location for our proteges. It had to be a safe location during the transition period and when the front would approach. We decided to look for a safe place in the village. Yosef Batish and his wife found a shelter with one of the farmers near Remidovitza [Remezivtsi ?], about 10 kilometers south of Zloczow. They were housed in a potato storage shack about 30 meters from the farmer's house. During the period between July 1943 until the liberation by the Soviet army in July 1944, they experienced horrific conditions.
Obviously, we continued to maintain a close connection, using strict precautions. Our communication was verbal through the farmer. That farmer provided me with a report about Batish's situation and I gave him food and medicines from me for Batish family. In mid-March 1944, I evacuated from Zloczow with the rest of the civil regime. The women and children were evacuated to the Reich, even earlier, in January 1944. From that point and on, Batish and his wife remained without our assistance. That was the most arduous period for them. Before the evacuation, I sent Batish all sorts of necessities and food. I then returned to Krakow, and our connection was interrupted.
Only in 1946, Batish let me know from Bad Gastein [Austria] that he survived.
I would have hosted Batish and his wife, who experienced long-sufferings and deteriorating health, in our home. It would have been a better and healthier environment than in Bad Gastein in Austria.
However, the rules of the occupation authorities were quite ridiculous. They did not allow, despite my great efforts, anybody coming from Austria. We managed to see each other twice, both times - illegally, near Berchtesgaden, before Batish and his wife immigrated to the USA.
I succeeded in saving another family from the hands of the oppressor the Altman family. Dr. Altman was a lawyer. He lived with his wife, a ten years old son, and brother-in-law in Zloczow. Dr. Altman was coming and going to my house without attracting any attention. He told me about what was happening in the city. In turn, I told him about any planned aktsia (as best as I could guess in advance). As time progressed, the state of the Jewish population deteriorated. Complete extermination was all but a certainty. We began to search for ways to rescue his family. We sat down for hours and discussed
feasible (and unfeasible) solutions. First, we had to place Dr. Altman's wife in a safe place since being a woman would have made it difficult to in some situations. In some aspects, the arrangement for Mrs. Altman was not very difficult since she was blond and had an Arian appearance. People would not have recognized her as Jewish in another location. On May 29, 1943, my Polish driver transported Mrs. Altman and another Jewish woman in my official car to Lviv, about 80 kilometers away.
Jews were forbidden to ride the train. Besides, Mrs. Altman was a known figure. People would have recognized her immediately at the Zloczow's train station. Therefore, we did not have any way other than risking travel in my official car.
From Lviv, Mrs. Altman traveled to Warsaw as an Arian woman equipped with a counterfeited passport. She then settled in Warsaw as an Arian, thereby situated in a reasonably safe location.
After a thorough review and consideration, Dr. Altman decided to initiate negotiations with a reliable Polish farmer. The latter resided in Yelkhovichy, about 2-3 kilometers from Zloczow. We decided to provide the farmer with a permit, issued by my office, to operate a roadside kiosk. We based that on the fact that his farm was suitable and located strategically on a busy crossroads junction.
The owner of the kiosk received food products monthly, based on a predetermined norm. Dr. Altman and his family benefited from these products. The farmer himself also benefited from these products and thereby was rewarded for his help and scarify. I have awarded the license. The idea behind that arrangement was to guarantee that Dr. Altman and his family would be provided with food products even if they would transfer me from Zloczow to another location.
Dr. Altman visited my apartment for the last time on July 14, 1943. Since he stayed by me beyond the curfew deadline, I accompanied him to his house. The farewell did not come easy for either of us.
We later received a confirmation to the fact that the timing for hiding Dr. Altman was appropriate. Sweeping aktsia's, executed with extreme cruelty, took place after June 26. Finally, on July 22, the remnants of the Jews girded themselves and responded with a rain of bullets. Some of them barricaded themselves under the roof of the city-hall the adjacent houses.
On July 27 and 28, 1948, the shots heightened to the point that the German police suffered some casualties. The shooting finally ceased on July 29. In the meantime, I received several letters from Dr. Altman, without a signature, through the Polish farmer. Among other things, Dr. Altmen asked me to send him alcohol. I sent him several bottles. He did not use the alcohol for drinking but for hygienic and medical needs. As described below, he and his family benefitted from them tremendously.
Unfortunately, I could not keep his letters since I was not safe from the Gestapo. I destroyed the letters upon reading them.
Dr. Altman asked me several times to visit him at his hideout. Since that mission carried substantial risk, I had initially hesitated to do so. Only after many appeals, I relented and promised to visit him on Sunday, August 8.
I related to him that I would come in the morning when the Polish farmer family would be in church. I traveled without any escort nor a driver n my official car.
Upon arrival, I stopped the car in front of the farmer's house, raised the hood, and began to fiddle with the car cooling system as if I needed water for the car engine.
I entered the house where the farmer expected me. Whispering, he welcomed me, and without any delay, brought me to a separate room and asked me to sit down. He immediately disappeared and left me by myself. Tensed, I wrapped my hand around my ear as a funnel but did not hear even a faint sound.
With full expectations for what was about to happen, the door opened. Dr. Altman appeared, wearing a pajama and sleepers. I was shocked at his appearance. He held his hand out and we shook hands. After a short talk, Dr. Altman asked me to follow him. He wanted me to see the hideout with my own eyes and to witness the conditions under which he, his brother-in-law, and ten years old son endure. Dr. Altman went in front and we descended narrow wooden stairs. He opened the door and entered a cowshed where three cows lay down.
The cowshed measured 6 by 4 meters. Dr. Altman showed me a hole in the ground, located under the stall and measuring no more than 30 by 40 centimeters. That hole led to a bunker of 3 by 4 meters and a height of 1.5 meters. An adult could not stand erect in that bunker. The air in was dense and it was completely dark. They had to survive in that cowshed until the liberation. Dr, Altman also showed me a rock,
which the farmer used to seal the hole in case of danger. They used blankets in the bunker for seating and laying down only. There was also a pail served as a toilet. We covered it with a piece of wood when the farmer handed over the food through the hole. Only at midnight, the family could get out of the bunker and breath the air in the cowshed. In the best case, they went out to breathe some fresh air in the yard, but only at midnight. Even then, maximal caution had to be exercised. Only then, the need for alcohol became clear to me. They needed it for washing to maintain minimal hygiene. The farmer was reliable. He did allow access for his family to the cowshed to prevent and the possibility of discovery. The farmer exercised strict care of returning the rock every time Dr. Altman went through it.
Parting from Dr. Altman, who I saw for the last time, was very emotional. It was hard for me to grasp how people could survive under these conditions. It was only probably possible when people felt assured and immensely hopeful that they would survive.
The experience caused me a profound mental shock, particularly since I was forbidden to demonstrate any dissatisfaction with the circumstances.
* * *
I heard from Mr. Batish, whom I met in 1946, and for a second time in 1946, on the German-Austria border, that Dr. Altman survived and that he lives in the east. I hadn't been able to connect with him as yet. Perhaps this article would lead to a sign of life from him.
The description of the events was based on my memory. Despite the time that has passed, these memories have not fainted and remained clear in my mind. Experiences such as these are etched in one's memory for eternity.
Besides my memory, I used my journal, particularly for the dates, for key events. While I did keep a journal, it was not possible, for obvious reasons, to indicate the nature of the events except as outlines. Despite that, these outlines saved me as fairly accurate chronicles.
Finally, the question remains as to what were the reasons which motivated me to risk myself and my family to help these ill-fated people.
Even during the period before the war, when I was still in my homeland, I was shocked about the injustice in many areas and the cruel oppression force of the National-Socialistic ideology.
The more I witnessed the cruelness of the S. S. and the civil administration, the more my desire to help the oppressed and the sufferers grew.
Despite Hitler's great victories, I was convinced that the day would come soon when justice would win over the injustice. With my dedication to the oppressed, I was convinced that I provided the best service for my country. The world should know that another Germany existed. I also acted according to my religious belief. I would receive great satisfaction if the lines written here, contribute to the healing of the wounds that we caused to the Jewish people. I would be elated if I have sowed a seed for the sprouting of a mutual understanding.
|A Women Organization Named After Leah Opel|
by Yekhiel Imber (April 8th 1959)
Translated by Moshe Kutten
|I cry over the deceit and ancient sin,
I cry over the brothers who sold their sibling to be a slave.
How could I not weep over thousands of brothers,
given away to die by evil people?
I cry over the thousand, and over the one,
I cry over tortured mother and father,
I cry over the baby taken away from his mother's bosom,
I cry over the city, a glorious community,
I cry over her wealthy people and the poor,
I cry about the youths aspiring for salvation,
I curse that nation, the criminal nation,
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
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.
Zolochiv, Ukraine Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 31 Mar 2021 by MGH