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by Pinkhas Boymel (Toronto)
In the early days of World War II Zwolin was heavily bombed many times, leaving a large number of dead and wounded. Nehemiah Kuperman was gravely injured by a bomb fragment, which tore off his hand. I found him lying in the marketplace and immediately took him in my automobile to the hospital in Pilew.
Our house was struck by a bomb. If we remained in town our lives would be in danger, so my parents and my entire family went to Soletz. A short time later the Nazis drove the Soletz Jews, together with the Jews from the surrounding towns, to Tarle. Several thousand Jews from Tarle were immediately deported to Treblinka, among them my beloved parents, my sister and my brother.
Now I was alone. Because I looked like a gentile, spoke fluent Polish, and was a chauffeurmechanic, I was able to make my way to Ostrowce. There I met Gutek Goldwasser, a good friend of mine. His partner, Janiszewski, was the mayor. A kindhearted gentile, he gave me a job, and made Polish identification papers for me under the name Piotr Boyarski. My work consisted of transporting porcelain to Warsaw, and bringing back other merchandise.
I worked at this job for a year and a half, until Ostrowce was liquidated. All the Jews, except the young people and those strong enough to work were deported. My wife, Gute Rosenstein whom I had married in the interim, also remained.
Since there were some gentiles who knew that I was a Jew, and I was in constant danger of being betrayed, I went to Bozdechow, where there was still a camp with some Jewish
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inmates. My wife joined me there at great risk, and after much hardship.
Several months later the Jewish camp leader informed us that the camp would soon be liquidated, and that we could make our escape that very night. A friend told me about a peasant who had a hiding place not far from Bozdechow, which could shelter 30 people. The peasant wanted money, and he would supply us with water and a little food.
We assembled 30 Jews who agreed to join us, and in the middle of the night we set out for the appointed spot. The peasant was already waiting for us. He took us to the hiding place, which turned out to be a deep pit on top of a hill, lined with rocks. It was an excellent place to hide. One by one we lowered ourselves into the pit. Two days passed, without food or drink, and the peasant did not come. We grew uneasy and filled with despair.
On the third day the peasant appeared, but instead of bringing us food, he obstructed the opening of the hole with branches, on which he piled sand and soil. It became as dark as the grave. The peasant's calculation was that we would all die and then he would take our money and our belongings.
But he made a mistake. I happened to have a big screwdriver, and after five hours of hard work we crawled out of the pit. We returned to Bozdechow camp in small groups. The German foreman asked where we had disappeared to the last few days. We told him the truth, because we knew he had a kind heart. Not only was he sympathetic, but he cried out:
We will destroy that Polish pig!
The foreman told us to go with him to the peasant. When we got to his house, the foreman called him outside, ordered him to walk ahead of us, and I shot him with the foreman's revolver.
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Three days later Camp Bezdachow was liquidated and we were sent to Camp Starochovice by truck. On the way, one of the trucks broke down, and since I was a mechanic I volunteered to repair it. When darkness fell, I ran away and made my way to the Ostrovce ghetto. But I could not remain there long, because the Germans were looking for me.
With my gentile face and Polish documents I fled to Warsaw. A Polish friend, a janitor, took me in for a few days, but I was uneasy and afraid. I felt as though the ground was opening up beneath my feet, and I would fall in at any moment. Then I happened to see an advertisement in a German newspaper: a certain company was looking for Polish mechanics to work in Russia. I immediately applied, and was hired, but we had to wait several days before we could leave.
In the meantime I stayed with the janitor. One day, a police officer happened to drop in to drink beer with my Polish friend, and recognized that I was a Jew. He took my Polish papers and told me to report to police headquarters the next day.
I went into the street, frightened to death. Suddenly I was stopped by a Pole for whom I had once done a favor. I told him what had happened, and he reassured me:
Don't worry. Wait here for me. In an hour you'll have your papers again.
My Polish friend was apparently on good terms with the police officer, because an hour later he came back with my Polish documents.
The next day the company sent us to Minsk. In our group were many Poles, White Russians, Ukrainians and myself the disguised Jew. Several weeks later we were transferred to Smolensk, where I worked at repairing airplanes and machinery.
I stayed in Smolensk 8 weeks. As a reward for doing a good
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Job, some of the mechanics were given 2 weeks leave, and received a packet of various goodies. I was one of the lucky ones. It was New Year, 1943.
In a German uniform, with a revolver in my belt, and two weeks spending money in my pocket, I went to Warsaw for the first part of my leave. I went to see my old friend, the janitor, who was amazed to see me in a German military uniform. Unexpectedly, the same police officer who had taken my Polish papers ten months before dropped in. He recognized me and was bewildered at my German uniform and revolver. Then he got a little drunk, and told us he had found a Jew who was hiding out, and had given him into the hands of the gendarmerie. When I rose to leave, he went out with me. As we walked to the gate, I had the feeling that he wanted to kill me. In a flash I whipped out my revolver, and shot him on the spot. Then I went out into the street and blew my whistle for the gendarmes. They came, and took me to their headquarters. Under interrogation, I told them I had shot the police officer because he had been shouting:
Hitler is a swine and all the Germans will die!
The gendarmes told me:
You're a good fellow and let me go. I Piotr Boyarski was free once more.
I left Warsaw and went to Ostrowce, which still had a Jewish ghetto. I found out that my wife was there, too. The Jewish sentries at the ghetto gate knew me, and let me in under cover of darkness. The reconciliation with my wife and my Jewish friends is not to be described. We kissed, embraced, and wept. My wife and I decided that she should remain where she was, and I should return to Smolensk.
The Germans brought hundreds of Soviet prisoners to Smo
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lensk. Every morning we were escorted to work. One day I saw a familiar face in the group of captives. It was my friend Elie Farbman, exhausted and emaciated. I knew that every day a group of prisoners were taken away never to return…
How could I save my friend?
One of the Polish guards a Volksdeutsche was an acquaintance of mine. I told him that one of the prisoners was my Polish neighbor and was a close friend, and I wanted to save his life. He promised to help. We met at 11 o'clock that night and went into the prisoners' barracks. I had a flashlight, and found my friend. The Polish guard told him to get up, and instructed me to take him out of the barracks. I had to walk behind ChaimElie with a revolver, and he must have been positive that he was about to be shot. We went into the forest, and the Pole left us. Then I told ChaimElie who I was. It was a heartrending moment. We were both speechless.
We couldn't stay there too long. I told Elie that here he was out of danger, and that deeper in the woods he would find a group of partisans who would take him in.
Several weeks later the Soviets started a massive offensive and we were evacuated to Minsk and from there to Warsaw. There I met a Polish friend, who told me that within two days there would be a Polish uprising in Warsaw and that he was an officer of a division of the Armiya Krayova. He asked me to participate in the uprising. When the day came, we both put on Polish uniforms, and armed only with revolvers we joined the rebels. After bloody battles, the German forces were triumphant.
I exchanged my Polish uniform for a German one and left for Germany. During the intensive BritishAmerican bombardment of Hessen, where I worked, I fled to Poland again, and was liberated in Czehstochow.
I was reunited with my wife Gute and my sister Dvoyre the only survivors of our big family.
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by Motl Malach (Haifa)
When the first German bombs dropped pm Zwolin, I happened to be in the street. I quickly ran to the nearest drugstore that was owned by my sisterinlaw Loty Brown. On the way I met Chonon Treiman's little daughter Rivkele and when thing calmed down a bit, I took her home. There I found the family in mourning, lamenting the loss of Rachel Treiman, who was one of the first victims of the attack.
I ran to our house. It was dreadful to see: one entire wall had been shattered. I seized my wife with our four children and went down to Rachel the baker, who lived on the lowest floor, where it was safer.
Where could we run? It was impossible to go on foot; my four trucks had been appropriate by the army. We were in despair, and had no idea what to do next. Suddenly Mordecai the baker (Wegman) came and proposed that we escape with his nonrequisitioned old truck, if we had benzene. I just happened to have a can, so we accepted his plan and began to get into his truck as quickly as possible: my family and myself; my motherinlaw Miriam Rivke Brown, my sisterinlaw Loty and Mordecai the baker's family.
We crossed the Vistula toward Pilew. Pilew was crowded with refugees. There was great chaos and commotion. We decided to continue on to the Wladower woods. This time we were in the company of other people, because our old truck had broken down. In Wladow we rented a room from a forest patrol and stayed there several weeks.
Three days before Yom Kippur we heard that the Germans had occupied Zwolin. We made preparations to return home.
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We hired a horse and wagon and journeyed to Pilew. When we arrived, we were warned that all men were being seized at the bridge and sent away somewhere. Simche the driver (Wasserman) happened to be standing in the street with his two white horses. Several women and children were waiting in his wagon to go to Zwolin, as well as Berele Zilber, who was called: Berele Hokl. We decided to send our wives and children to Zwolin, and Berele Zilber and I went on to Kuzmir.
The next morning when I went outside to find out if there was any news, I saw Simche and his horses, with all the women and children he had taken along. I ran over, and was terrified to see that my motherinlaw Miriam Rivke and my 8month old child Yentele were missing. Simche told me, that the SS stopped them on the way and refused to let them go on. My motherinlaw took Yentele in her arms and ran to Zwolin, disguised as a Polish woman.
This was several days before Yom Kippur 1939, so we remained in Kuzmir. Then we were informed that Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia had made a pact whereby Russia would occupy Poland all the way to the Vistula. We decided to cross to the other side of the Vistula in rowboats, and from there go to my father in Gniwishew. At great risk, in constant terror, along back roads, we finally arrived in Gniwishew.
Several days later we returned to Zwolin, because we had no more funds, and we had to get the money that I had hidden outside the house. I also hoped I would find some leather and raw material.
In Zwolin I found that fire had destroyed my house, that of my brotherinlaw Note Brown, and my sisterinlaw Loty's apartment.
One of my old customers, the teachermerchant Israel SakSchneider, soninlaw of Abraham Joseph, told me that he was
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able to get a leather permit for a small bribe. He advised me to go to the mayor Jan Galewski, who introduced me to the German commandant. After brief questioning I was given a permit to engage in the leather business. Naturally, both men had to be paid off.
Now that I had the permit, I went to Radom, where I brought leather, sold it and my money worries were over. Since it was difficult to find a dwelling in Zwolin, I settled in Radom and brought down my wife and children. This was at the end of 1939.
Although we had no financial problems, we had many other troubles. Somebody betrayed us, and the police came to the place where I kept my supply of leather, took it all away, and, in addition, arrested my wife. I was told my wife would be set free only on condition that I report to the police. My wife was set free, buy I was given such a beating that I fainted dead away. Shloyme Kaplan, a prosperous merchant, got me out on bail for a huge sum.
That was how we lived in Radom. On April 12, 1941, a ghetto was established there, followed by one cruel edict after another. The deportations began, and there was a rumor that in a short time the entire ghetto would be liquidated.
One day I received a visit from a certain Yekl Berkovitch, former president of the Judenrat in Wolonow, which was 10 kilometers from Radom. He told me that he had positive information that a total liquidation of the Radom ghetto would take place in August, and he could help me save myself.
Who could refuse such an offer at such a time of danger? I gave him a substantial amount of money, and true to his promise, a tall SS man drove up to our house in an automobile and took us to Wolonow.
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Hardly had we grown accustomed to our new surroundings, then 20 days later an edict ordered all Jews to move into the ghettos of Shidlowce or Bialobzeg. I didn't want to go there, and once more with the aid of Yekl Berkovitch and a large sum of money we obtained a permit stating that we 8 people we employed by the Luftwaffe and were on our way to Pszische. We also got a truck. This was all a trumpedup story, because there was no Luftwaffe in Pszische but we had to take the risk, for either way we were lost. The travelers were the brothers Hershl and Yoske Goldberg and their family with two children. At the last moment we were able to squeeze in the town slaughterer and his wife.
In Pszische things did not go smoothly. The moment the SS man left in his auto, the mayor arrived, accompanied by the president of the Judenrat and the Jewish police. When they asked us why and how we came here, I showed them the permit of the Luftwaffe, as well as the old leather permit from Radom. They mayor believed me, and with a little money added, our problem was solved.
However, all was not well: they ordered the Goldbergs and the slaughterer with his wife to leave Pszische. We solved this problem, also, thanks to SS man Helsher, who occupied a highranking position in Wolonow, but who had a kind heart. He came to Pszische himself and made the necessary arrangements with the mayor.
One day, a short time after Succoth 1942, the members of the Judenrat were called together ostensibly to a meeting, and every one of them was shot. The situation worsened; not a day passed without Jews being shot, and there were rumors that liquidation was imminent.
Just at this time, Berkovitch visited us again, and told us that the Pszische ghetto would be liquidated within 89 days,
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and that although he was the camp leader in Wolonow, he could only take two people back with him, since the auto in which he had come with a German couldn't hold more. He promised that two days later he would come with a larger auto and take the rest of us.
This, of course, involved payment of a large sum of money, but it was our only solution. I sent my wife and oldest daughter Bayo'tchele back with him.
Several days passed, and Berkovitch did not appear. I set out for Wolonow, traveling on back roads where I could be caught at any moment. When I arrived, I sneaked into the lines of Jewish workers who were returning after a day's labor. When we reached the camp, I went to see Berkovitch. When he saw me he burst into tears, and told me that a whole gang, led by police, had threatened him because he had brought my wife and daughter into the camp, for this endangered everyone. He was demoted from his position as leader. I tried to calm him down, and asked where the new leader was. When I found him we were both astounded: It was Baran, a good friend of mine from Radom. When I told him the woman and child were mine, he leaped up out of his chair:
Alas, if you hadn't come, they would have been dead by tomorrow! I have only one solution: I will invite the German Police commandant for a feast and some whiskey, and tell him that the woman and little girl are yours, and that you are my uncle.
No sooner said than done. At first the Commandant disapproved, but after a while he grew softer and agreed to let them stay. Of course, not without a bribe. He told us we must arrange for a separate place where my wife and child could stay, and there we would make a small attic in which to hide the child in case of inspection.
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I told Baran that I had 3 more children in Pszische, and asked for a wagon with a German driver to go and get them. I promised him I would get a peasant to hide them out not far from the camp. Baran complied with my request, but didn't know that I took the Goldbergs with me, and later they returned to Radom. Later on I persuaded Baran, with the aid of a large sum of money; to let my three other children stay with their sister and mother in the separate shack. The whole family was overjoyed because they were together again. This was in February, 1943.
Here, too, we had our ups and downs. The situation in the camp grew more dangerous, and as if that weren't enough, I got very sick.
One day everyone was ordered out of the barracks, and we were told to form lines of 3 in a row. 112 Jews doctors, lawyers, and merchants, were brought from the Radom CC and shot before our eyes. Several days later, our camp leader, Shie Baron, was taken off the camp grounds and shot.
We were stunned. We walked about sunk in gloom, visualizing our own end. This continued until the middle of 1943, when the camp was liquidated, and 3 days later we were all in Starachowice. There I met Zalmen Grinspan with his son Avrumele and daughter Bashe.
We stayed in Starachowice all summer and fall, and there we were struck by our greatest disaster.
On November 11, 1943, we lost our first child, 3-year old Yentele, who was seized in a sudden action of old people and children. My two boys Chaiml and Avreml were also on the trucks, but by some miracle they saved themselves by telling the SS-man that they were employed by the Jewish police, and he let them go.
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From time to time we heard that Starachowice camp would soon be liquidated. Since the Soviet Front was cutting ever deeper into Poland, a group of Jews one night blasted the barbed wires around the camp and fled.
However, they were all shot while escaping. Some said there were 250; others claimed there were 290. In any event, Zalmen Grinspan and his Avreml were among them.
Two days later this was the middle of August, 1944 the camp was liquidated. In sealed wagons, where we were so closely packed together that we couldn't breathe, we journeyed for several days until we reached Auschwitz- Birkenau. There they separated the men from the women and the children. I was with Chaiml, and my wife was with Baltchele and Avreml. When we registered for the labor force, Chaiml was not accepted. He and I agreed that every morning during roll call he should meet me by the barbed wire fence.
Several weeks passed, and then came the terrible eve of Rosh Hashonah, 1944, when my Chaiml and another boy met me as usual at the fence, and told me, sobbing loudly, that the Germans had rounded up several thousand boys under age 16. He and 3 more boys had dropped down from the small windows under cover of darkness, and now he and his friend don't know what to do.
With all my strength I tried not to cry, and gave them what advice I could. Nothing helped: On the second day of Rosh Hashonah 2,800 Jewish children were taken to the crematoriums, my precious Chaiml among them.
At the beginning of November 1944 I was separated from my wife and children and sent to Stutthof, later to Teilflunger near Wirtemberg, Weihingen, and Wirtemberg. There I met Yechiel Friedman, Garber's son-in-law, who was eventually slain for
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mistreating concentration camp inmates when he was a leader in Weihingen.
At the beginning of March, 1945, Dachau was liquidated. On April 25, 1945, we were liberated there by the American army. My wife and both children, Baltchele and Avremele, were liberated in Auschwitz.
by Leon Weisband (New York)
The very first German air raid over Zwolin left our house completely destroyed. Our family our mother Sarah and father Mordche, brother Reuben, sisters Miriam and Yachele, fled to Radom to my married sister Fayge. But there, too, the plight of the Jews was horrendous, so we had to return to Zwolin.
Zwolin did not offer a change for the better. The atmosphere was filled with terror and panic. And it was certainly not easy to scrape together a few pennies for subsistence. My father managed to buy a sewing machine where I don't know and began to sew hats, using the cloth he could salvage from old, worn-out trousers, turned on the left side. The peasants bought these hats eagerly.
In order to help out in the house, I brought a bicycle, with which I transported flour to the Radom ghetto and brought back leather. But this enterprise was cut short, when the Germans seized ad shot Chaim Mandelbaum, Jonah's son. He was my partner, and had gone to Radom with me every
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day. I was able to escape into the neighboring forest. But my parents forbade me to carry on with this dangerous smuggling.
The situation in the ghetto worsened from day to day. Jews were shot down; many were brought in for forced labor. I was in a group assigned to an irrigation project. With me in the crew were: Laibke Friedman; Meyer Friedman; Pesach Flumenbaum; Pinye Zwigenberg; and my brother Reuben. Except for Meyer Friedman, we all survived.
One morning in 1942 the Germans caught a large group of Jews and executed them. The leader of this mass murder was the gendarme Chait. Once, in the middle of the night, this monster broke into our house, and killed Velvl Zaltsman, whose father was a tailor, and whose family lived with us. The murderer commanded all of us to lie down on the floor. He told me to remain standing, and pointed his revolver at me. My sister Miriam quickly seized his arm and I fled.
After this I could no longer remain in our house. With the aid of my Polish friend, the engineer Pasek, I became the leader of a group that dug irrigation ditches in Janowice. I conscripted six more men for my crew: Chaim Shlafman; Pesach Flumenbaum; Pinye Zweigenberg; Abraham Boymlgrin; Yosl Weintraub; my brother Reuben. We all survived, except Boymlgrin.
The situation in Janowice grew more aggravated every day. When we heard that all the Jews had been evacuated from Zwolin, our entire group decided to go to Zwolin on foot at that time there was no other way.
We stopped in a small clearing in the forest. The Poles informed the Germans that a Partisan group was hiding there, and they surrounded us, ready to shoot us down. Luckily, one member of our group was a brother of one of the Jewish policemen in the Zwolin ghetto. They took us back to Zwolin, and
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two weeks later transported us to the Skarzisk concentration camp
Later, I learned that when my parents were deported to Treblinka, my sister Miriam, w ho had a Polish passport, did not go with them. I don't know where and how she perished.
We arrived in Skarzisk in 1942. We were divided into groups assigned to various ammunition factories. Here, too, several inmates were shot down every day.
In 1943 there was a typhus epidemic in the camp. People dropped like flies. They died either from the disease itself, or because the Germans massacred all those who were sick. I also caught typhoid fever, but knowing what would happen to me if the Germans found out, I hid in a barn for 13 days, under the straw, and my brother Reuben used to bring me a little water on the sly.
Every day the Germans transported dozens of people to Work Tse where they were executed. Some of the victims of this slaughter were: Meyer Friedman; Meyer Mandelbaum; Yosl Flaumen; Israel Boymlgrin; Misha Sherman; Rakhmiel Koenigsberg. I don't remember the names of the others.
In June, 1944, when the Soviet Army was coming closer, the Skarzisk camp was liquidated. Some of the prisoners were sent to the camp in Czestochow, and some to Buchenwald. My brother Reuben and I were among the last.
There we were divided into groups of 50. My brother and I were separated, each assigned to a different group. By a lucky maneuver we were able to get into the same group, and were shortly sent to Schlieben, a part of Buchenwald. I worked in a munitions-factory, and my brother Reuben was sent to a place called Kiks, where his job was to mix yellow powder for ammunition.
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One day, one of my brother's co-workers, unable to stand this difficult and extremely dangerous work, threw a match into a box of the yellow powder, which exploded and burst into flames, killing about 150 people, among them Henech Zeidenbaum. Many former inhabitants of Zwolin were wounded, among them: Hershl Shlafman; Alchanan Treiman; my brother Reuben; Yankl Flumenbaum (son of Israel Hak).
I realized that my brother must be gotten away from this hazardous job as soon as possible. Isaiah Finkelstein, a friend of mine from Cracow, interceded, and the German chief in Kiks agreed to take my brother out of there to safety if we could get him a diamond.
Where can one lay hands on a diamond in the concentration camp? Well, even that was possible. One of the inmates had a diamond lodged in the crown of a tooth, and he demanded 6 loaves of bread in exchange. There were French women in Kiks who would supply the bread for 10 cigarettes, and the German leader himself gave the 10 cigarettes. It was a real tragic-comical Khad-Gadye (Song of the Kid sung at the Passover Seder). The name of the German chief should be noted: Gustav Decker.
On the way from Schlieben to Flassenburg the following Zwolin inhabitants were slain: Shloyme Goldfarb; Hershl Flumenbaum; Alter Kirshenblatt; Avreml: Shmak Baun, and my two cousins from Warsaw: Yudl and Laybl Weisband.
Later we spent time in the Gros-Rosen concentration camps, during a march of three weeks in the direction of Czechoslovakia. On May 5th, 1945, more dead than alive, we arrived in Niksdorf, having left behind hundreds of unfortunates who had fallen by the wayside on our long journey.
In Niksdorf our guards locked us in a barn, with the intention of setting fire to it and burning us to death. But the mayor
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of this small town refused to give permission to carry out this vicious deed. Our lives were saved at the last moment, in the last hours of the war, because of May 8th the American army arrived, and liberated us.
by Jacob Koltun (New Jersey)
In Hebrew the name Abraham is pronounced Avraham. In the part of Poland from which I came, its Yiddish pronunciation was Avrum. Avrumele then, was the affectionate and tender name given to a child until he grew into Avrum.
Avrumele belonged to the same Shtibl where my father worshipped. My father would often tell us stories about Avrumele. One in particular stands out in my mind. Early one morning, Avrumele was observed walking back and forth in front of a house. Someone approached and asked what he was doing there at such an hour. Avrumele replied that the owner of the house owed him a small sum of money. Since it would not be proper to go inside and ask for it, he was hoping that when the man came out, he would see Avrumele's face and be reminded of his obligation. This was Avrumele: humble, yet extraordinary. In Zwolin his presence was everywhere felt.
Avrumele believed it was his mission in life to walk the earth with great humility. Not an easy task for a man, but in service to G-d, nothing stood in his way. He was always on the move, busy with his thoughts.
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Every Friday, no matter what the weather, Avrumele could be seen walking in all the streets of Zwolin, house to store, asking for donations for the needy. On bitter cold, winter days, he would walk crouched over with his hands tucked into his sleeves for warmth.
The war intensified our life struggle, brought great hardship. Our religious and other freedoms were taken away; terrible atrocities struck our community. But one man did not give in Avrumele. He, more than any of us, remained unshaken in his faith.
Fearless, he carried on, continued his life. Rituals had to be observed, for they were the essence and soul of our people.. And in wartime, Avrumele knew, the need for spiritual sustenance was even greater. Every Friday he continued to walk from house to house (those which had withstood the German bombs), and intoned a blessing pertaining to the Eruv. The Eruv was a rabbinical provision which lessened certain Sabbath restrictions, including the carrying of weight on the day of rest. Despite his own cold and hunger, Avrumele stood on every street corner to bless the people, knowing that soon the Germans would make special, harsh demands of us on our holy Sabbath day.
It was on a bitterly cold, snowy day that Avrumele was caught by a German military unit while he was absorbed in the Holy Book. The Jews were supposed to be shoveling snow, and seeing a Jew studying infuriated the soldiers. How dare a Jew sit over his Holy Books in the middle of a snow emergency? Quickly the news spread throughout the tiny Jewish community: Avrumele was being beaten.
The soldiers drove Avrumele through the snow. They kicked him with their heavy boots; mercilessly clubbed his already battered body with their rifle-butts. Blood flowed freely from
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his face. And each time he fell, they forced him back on his feet and beat him down again. They taunted him with obscene curses:Off the ground, you stupid dog: Damned Jew! Finally, they made him gather up his Holy Books and run with them through the snowy fields. Then Avrumele was forced, at gunpoint, to buy the books with his bare hands deep beneath a mound of snow.
Knowing Avrumele as I did, there can be no doubt that when he arrived home that night, his tormented soul had already decided to go out into the night again and dig up the Holy Books. His spirit could not rest; there could be no peace in his heart if he could not manifest his devotion to G-d in full measure. It was unthinkable to leave Holy Books buried in the snow. He must retrieve them.
But it was dreadfully risky to break the German curfew. Night time only intensified the bestial German terror. Anyone caught in the street after dark would be instantly sot down. In these perilous times our ears became attuned to the clomping of German boots. Under the cover of darkness they struck freely at the Jewish community, casting over us a pall of terror that increased with the years.
Your spirit, Avrumele, did not break!
Avrumele crept out of his house into the dark. The Holy Books must be saved. And thus, into the deep night, against all odds, walked this giant of a man. This giant of faith and devotion. This giant who defied the brutal, overpowering enemy. With a shovel concealed in his hand, Avrumele stumbled through the wintry fields, his feet sinking into the snowdrifts with every step.
I, too, have known the obstacles Avrumele had to face: the howling winter winds, pummeling at his huge frame as though
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it was no more than a fragile snowflake. I, too, have known the numbing, icy cold that pierced to his very marrow, and the unseen perils lurking in the darkness filling the air with the stench of death! You, Avrumele, remained unbroken! By next morning, we all knew that you had recovered the Holy Books!
When the final curtain of Nazi terror descended upon our community and the hour of total annihilation arrived, Avrumele was one of the mass that was packed into the cattle cars on his last journey to the gas chambers.
by Fishl Sherman (New York)
A few days after January 13, 1943, Moshe Kaplan, his friend Helen and his brother made a getaway from the Radom Ghetto. Through roundabout ways they came to camp Pionek, where Moshe's brother Pinne and his wife, and his sister Esther were in the Labor Force. Pinne maintained close contact with the Polish partisans, and also helped them stead ammunition from the camp.
In the summer of 1944 Pinne was informed by the Polish Underground that Pionek would shortly be liquidated. He asked his Polish friends to take him and 70 more Jews out of the camp and bring them to the partisan base. He offered them a large sum of money, and they agreed. One night Moshe and Pinne cut through the barbed-wire fence and fled to the woods, where the Partisans were waiting for them at the appointed spot.
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At the beginning all went well. The Jews participated in the various partisan actions. One night Moshe was awakened by a strange noise. He looked out of his shack and saw that his brother Pinne, who was on sentry duty, was being attacked by someone. Machine-gun bullets riddled the tents where the Jews were staying. Moshe and Helen were able to escape into the surrounding bushes. From there they saw the Poles drag Jews out of their hiding-places and shoot them. A bullet also struck Helen, who was standing a few steps away from Moshe.
Moshe ran away as fast as he could, and wandered about for 2 weeks, exhausted and starving. He came upon a group of Russian partisans who took him in and he joined in their various actions. During an attack on a German patrol, a grenade shell tore off one of his arms, and he lay in a partisan field hospital for more than 2 months. When he recovered, Poland had already been liberated and he returned to Zwolin to look for his immediate family and other relatives. But he found no one.
In the Spring of 1945, Moshe and 3 other Jewish survivors went to the market in Kazaniv, where people came to exchange goods for other goods. Moshe and his companions brought some shirts, hoping to barter them for food. As soon as they laid the shirts on a table, there appeared several Poles from the Armia Krajova (right wing partisans), who started to shout that Communists and Jews were trying to take over Poland. The agitated, angry rabble attacked the 4 Jews. They tried to defend themselves, but in vain.
After all the dreadful experiences they had endured, all the struggles and miracles, the 4 Jews lost their lives: victims of liberated Poland.
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by Deborah Hershman (Brooklyn)
I left my native town of Zwolin on July 15, 1939. When the war broke out, my entire family fled to the town of Soletz on the Vistula, where we had relatives. My brothers Yosl and Israel did everything possible to help my parents during this dreadful time.
The war trapped me in Oppole. I spent 2 years there, enduring all imaginable torments and suffering together with the rest of the Jews in the Oppole Ghetto. My situation worsened in 1942, when I gave birth to a daughter, Rayzele. It was almost impossible to be safe when one had an infant, for its crying immediately gave away one's hiding-place. When I went into hiding I placed the baby in a crib, because at the beginning the murderers did not harm small children.
From Oppole If led to Soletz to my parents, Samuel-Layb and Sarah Boyml. A day before Rosh Hashonah, 1942, we were packed into trains and transported to the ghetto in the town of Tarle. Many Jews were shot to death, among them my grandmother Chane Bichman, aged 75.
Jews from many surrounding towns were herded into Tarle, and we knew that the fiends were preparing to transport us all to Treblinka. When my brother Yosl tried to escape being caught, he was shot to death. My father told me: We can't do anything to help ourselves, but you must try to save yourself and the child. I was so confused and shaken that I don't even remember if I said good-bye to my mother and father and the rest of the family: my uncles, aunts and cousins.
My husband hired a peasant to take me to a certain place near a forest. He wanted my only sister Hindele to come along, but she refused to leave our parents. Later my husband came
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to the appointed spot bringing my sister-in-law Gute. The forest was near the village of Niedzwiala. For money several dozen Jews prevailed on the forest watchman to let them work there. Believing they would be safe for awhile, we joined them.
Several days later the Nazis came and took all the men away. My husband was able to escape their clutches. I hid out in a barn with my daughter and it was a miracle that the little one, who was 20 months old, didn't cry or scream, as though she understood the danger of death lurking all around us. A short time later my husband came back.
Now there began the most dreadful chapter of all: the struggle for the life of my child. The autumn nights were bitter cold. There was no food and no water. My husband went in search of another hiding place.
Some neighboring peasants, realizing that Jews were hiding in the vicinity, attacked us in the middle of the night, hoping to find gold among our belongings. My little daughter clasped me tight, her eyes full of fear. She was barely breathing. Apparently the peasants took pity on my child, and thus my life was also saved. One of the peasants even gave me some food for my Rayzele. The poor child was half-frozen. He little legs were swollen. We could not stay where we were. We had to risk it, and we found shelter in a stable, where it was a little warmer. A peasant woman gave us a potato.
And then came the night that was the most horrible of all, and what I had feared all this time finally happened: Rayzele could not longer endure her suffering: her young life was extinguished, like a flame I felt as though the sky had fallen on me. Her little head lay pressed against my shoulder, and I just sat there, shaking from head to foot.
We didn't know what to do next. Our senses were atrophied. We lace our most precious possession beside a running stream
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and covered her with a little sand. The next morning, a peasant found her and buried her in a remote spot, without a marker or a sign, obliterated forever. My Rayzele died on December 16, 1942. She was 22 months old.
At that time I prayed to God, and I still pray to Him: Forgive me for my baby's death. This sin is on my conscience and always will be.
In the village where our wandering came to an end, a peasant woman offered to take my child to church and baptize it. I refused. My God-fearing mother and father appeared before my eyes, and I could not do such thing to them. Perhaps it was wrong to feel this way; perhaps it was a sin to make a victim of my child, but I couldn't help myself; I didn't have the strength to behave otherwise.
I had had another opportunity to save my child. Once, long before, I had left her on the doorstep of a wealthy family who had no children. But a few minutes later I changed my mind, because I was afraid their vicious dog would harm her.
After our great tragedy, I and my husband Bentse Grossman hid out in various places. We were exhausted from our ordeal, from fear and from starvation. One day my husband went to look for food and never returned. I was told that a young peasant betrayed him to the Germans, who shot him on January 11, 1943.
After that I wandered from village to village, staying only a short time in each place, and more than once only a step away from death. I was liberated in July, 1944.
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