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{Hebrew text pp 168-169.}

A Bitter Lamentation

Yehuda Gruenspan

Translated by Jerrold Landau

From speeches at the yearly memorial gathering

If we come to fulfill the edict of the great author of Lamentations [1] : “Make a private mourning for yourselves, a bitter Lament!”, it would be fitting for each of us to be alone with our pain and sorrow, and to weep from our soul for our martyred relatives. However if it is incumbent upon us to mourn for the community in particular, it would perhaps be more appropriate for us to sit together in silence and devastation, the most fitting manner to express our mourning. Nevertheless, apparently we are not able to be silent; it has been decreed upon to speak, to fulfil the adage: “I will speak, so I will find relief …” [2] .

… Certainly this overview will not cover all the aspects of life in the town. No! It will be deliberately a one sided description, concentrating on the light alone and covering up the shadows, remembering the high points and forgetting the low points, exposing good deeds and hiding bad ones. For otherwise, it would be fitting that the ravens of the river should pluck out our eyes – in accordance with the words of the wise man [3] … Therefore, we will relate about those people who were lacking in their interpersonal relationships, who were overbearing in their business dealings, parochial in their politics, who spread controversy in the synagogues, Beis Midrashes and shtiebels on account of the challenges of the conditions of the bitter exile. Heaven forbid that we should be objective at this time. Let the accuser be silent!

This overview covers a short time of approximately fourteen years [4] , more or less the time between the two world wars. At that time, approximately 500 Jewish families lived in our city – the city that was situated between the pine and spruce forests on the west and the large meadows of pastureland (Lunka) on the east, between the Wislok River on the north and the Lisa Gora mountain range on the south. That is equivalent to approximately 2,500 people, and it is possible to say that we knew of them all. Therefore, it is possible for us to say, even at this point, that nothing made them stand out and they had no unique characteristics. As the poet says, “Man is nothing but a product of his birthplace”, and the corner of the land where we were born and lived was not distinguished by anything. There were no tall mountains and no deep forests, no outstanding landscape and no physical characteristics that stand out in the heart. It was a simple and pure section of nature, green and pleasant in the summer, clear and frozen in the winter, rainy and muddy in the autumn, and bright and blossoming in the spring. Its people were similar – not great Torah scholars, but not without the aroma of Torah. Among them were a small number of scholars. The people were not full of outstanding ideas, but there was also not a dearth of ideas; they were not the wise men of the country, but also not without the wisdom of life; they were not zealots, but also not evildoers. For the most part, they were simple people, pure and of even temperament. They were average people – in accordance with the positive meaning of that term.

There was also the social component. We will describe for ourselves a body consisting of two pyramids whose bases touched each other, as a sort of octahedron. At the two extreme edges, the farthest apart, numbering only a small number each – were the group of wealthy people and extremely poor people, the well-connected on one side, and the unfortunates on the other side. The remainder were all middle class, not rich and not poor; proper, simple and modest people; good people who feared G-d and loved their fellow Jew.

The situation was similar with respect to their professions: On one side there was a small group of people involved in religious service (rabbis, rebbes, the city judge, shochtim 'ritual slaughterers', chazzanim 'cantors', teachers and shamashim 'sextons'). Adjacent to them was a group involved in the free professions (doctors, dentists, lawyers, officials, the pharmacist, and engineers). One the other side there was a small group of artisans: tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, smiths, scribes, musicians, porters, bath attendants, bakers, innkeepers, milkmen, etc.; people involved in various trades who earned their living from the work of their hands.

It is fitting to point out the small number of people in the city – in addition to the local villagers who would come to worship with us on the High Holy Days and the days that they observed yahrzeit – who did not sever their connection to the land. These included people who owned fields, who ploughed, harvested and filled up their silos, who planted trees and harvested fruit; as well as the few people who loved and tended to animals and provided us in our youth with the warm milk of cows and goats, and who transported us on horses and foals in their wagons, in particular in their winter wagons.

All of these groups were very small. Near the bases of the pyramids were the large groups of businessmen – the absolute majority of the population of our city. Of them there were a few who excelled in their efforts in their various endeavors as manufacturers, exporters, middlemen, builders and contractors; they established factories, flourmills, built dwellings and other buildings, and participated in the paving of roads and the taming of rivers. This was all without formal training in business, without political savvy, and without a diploma. Others, also a small group, opened branches and represented firms, cementing the connections that connected the local market with merchandise from the large cities; the forest merchants would cut down trees and market their products inside the state and outside; or they would be owners of lumberyards, filled with various boards and beams and sticks that would be used for fuel or building materials, while at the same time they would often be engaged in the production of wooden tiles. After them was the main group of large scale, intermediate and small scale merchants – the merchants of grain and fruits; the sellers of coal, pitch and fuel; the owners of stores selling textiles, fancy goods, metal implements, building materials; small scale general store owners; haberdasheries and stores selling sewing materials; merchants of fowl, feathers, duck fat, and all types of produce of the coop and the barn; owners of inns, guest houses, delicatessens, confectioneries, restaurants, and taverns; providers of provisions for the cafeterias at the train stations and other terminals for connection between the town and the larger cities, which provided for the busy and hurried passengers who possessed monthly train passes; and all the others who carried burdens upon their necks (in many cases, they were aided by their wives, diligent and valiant women), people bore a constant burden from the early hours of the morning until late at night, in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter, whether in stores housed in stone buildings or wooden huts, whether at a booth in the civic market or in the fairs of the nearby towns. The people would perform charitable deeds at all times as they sustained their families. Some did so in a scanty fashion and others in an abundant fashion… All of them would be dependent on the mercies of Heaven and the goodwill of the nations… And with all this they lived with their faith, happy in their lot and filled with trust regarding what would come in the near or distant future, a faith that that was accompanied by some doubts ingrained at least in the subconscious of our ancestors… as testimony to this we only need to look at their weeping and tears during their prayers. One could notice their constant sighs or heartrending cries during the festival prayers or during the times of joy. What other explanation can we give other than the feeling of the unrest and holocaust that was approaching? From where was the sorrowful overtones mixed in with the recitation of the Hallel on the night of the festival of our freedom and the other festivals [5] ? From where were the cries of “Oy, Master of the World!” during the recitation of the Hakkafot on Simchat Torah, during the prayers for rain and dew directed to the land, during the wavings on Sukkot, and especially on Hoshanah Rabba [6] ? What other explanation would there be for all this groaning, other than a premonition of destruction and downfall?…

That was all subconscious. However consciously, on all other days of the years, the world would run in its normal fashion… life would be conducted in a righteous and upright fashion, with “trust”. The communal affairs were also conducted in this spirit. The administrative positions in the community were occupied by those upright and pious in their ways, who were concerned in a trustworthy fashion for the benefit of the entire community. The opposition was often fierce, setting out in crooked paths, particularly in nationalistic matters and in matters regarding relations between us and the government; however in general there was a united opinion in finding solutions to the problems that arose during that time. For our community was like this: there were very few strong parnassim (communal administrators) who would step over the heads of the holy people, taking revenge or bearing grudges, whose behavior would cause strife and bitterness. There were a few parnassim whose entire lives were literally dedicated to the needs of the community; who abandoned their private endeavors and family matters and were always available to bring forth redemption and minimize evil (on occasion by intervening with the mayor or the local commander, the “bormistasz” and the “kommandat”; on occasion with the district and regional governors, the “starosta” and the “woyewoda”; as well as to the tax representatives, the police chief, and all sorts of major or minor officials…). These communal activists were ready at all times to help anyone in need. Here is a story regarding the dedication of the head of our community, who was also one of the head trustees of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society), and one of the chief speakers on any topic, one of the doers: It was a Sabbath eve, and a rumor circulated in the Beis Midrash that a certain person was desperately ill and was in need of great mercy… and on the morning of the Sabbath, when the fathers came back from the mikveh (ritual bath) and the mothers returned from the bakery with their flasks of coffee [7] and from the houses, the voices of those who were reviewing “twice the text and once the translation” [8] rose out from the houses, suddenly to the surprise of all, the sounds of a wagon hitched to a horse could be heard from one of the alleys, upon which there was a person covered in blankets. A Jewish horse driver was holding the reins, and beside him walked the head of the community, dressed in his weekday clothing, with a fur hat upon his head. To the surprised questions, he answered briefly: “We are taking him to Krakow”… [9] It was clear that this removal of the Sabbath clothing, the forgoing of public prayer, the Sabbath meals and Sabbath rest with the family, the arduous travel for many hours in a train, and the difficulties involved in caring for the sick person, etc… etc… the head of the community and the city notables accepted this upon themselves with love. These were your parnassim, oh Dembitz!

We must especially make note of the representatives of the community on the city council, in particular those who represented the Hatechiya movement (members of Poale Zion, the General Zionists, Mizrachi, etc.) They conducted a difficult and constant struggle against the Jew haters, with unforgettable resolve, uncovering plots that were seething with hateful venom. They would refute decrees and protect Jewish honor in that mixed forum. With pain and sorrow we must remember these members who supported our public life – and those of the intelligentsia circles who assisted them – with their lectures at gatherings and meetings, or with their articles in pamphlets and newspapers. They often sanctified the name of Israel in public.

All of the other communal activists in our town should also be remembered positively – the gabaiim (trustees) of the two synagogues (in the new city and the old city), of the two Beis Midrashes (the Proste and Hassidic), of the two prayer houses (of the rabbi of the city and the rabbi of Jadlowa), and of the three shtibels; the trustees of the Chevra Kadisha, Talmud Torah, the Mishna study group and the organization for purchase of books; and the trustees of the charitable funds and benevolent societies. The female workers of the Chevra Kadisha should be remembered for a blessing, those righteous women, our good mothers, who occupied themselves in doing good deeds toward the deceased and the living, who cooked soup for the sick people and the post-partum women, and who hurried to the Beis Midrashes to arouse mercy and to the cemeteries to measure out graves [10] … Once again, I will relate an incident that took place: One market day, a the time of one of the large fairs prior to the days of the non-Jewish festivals, when the profits were great, the wholesale general store was filled with gentiles. Thirteen sets of hands served the customers, but they could not keep up. The owner of the store, one of the head female workers of the Chevra Kadisha, had her hands full with work. Then suddenly a few women covered in black came to the door and called out inside: “We have to go out! There is someone seriously ill!” The owner of the store flailed her hands and began to lament with a voice filled with agony: “Oh woe! What a dark world!…” She immediately left everything, and covered herself up and went out… Pandemonium broke out in the store… The uncircumcised ones [11] were left open mouthed and in wonderment… Only the worshippers of the synagogues and the Beis Midrashes knew the explanation for the situation, when the doors of the holy ark were suddenly opened, and the cries of “Oh such a dear soul!… Such a pure soul!… Please oh holy Torah scrolls, intercede!… Beg for mercy and pray!…” were heard.

Who would have spoke, and who would have imagined that such dear, pure souls as these would have nobody to pray or wail over them?

Finally, we should remember for blessing all of the activists and the hundreds of members of the various movements in our town, covering all ends of the spectrum and all fields of endeavor: the founders, leaders, and members of the General Zionist Organization, and of each group – Dvora, Akiva, Hanoar Hatzioni, Mizrachi, Young Mizrachi, Hashomer Hadati, Poale Zion, Jugent, Freiheit, Gordonia, Boslia, the Revisionist, Betar, Trumpelder, Hashomer Hatzair, the left leaning Poale Zion, and others. the heads of the committees and activists of the Hebrew school and kindergarten (Prablowka) should be remembered for blessing, along with the teachers – those who instilled the Hebrew language to our lips, the parents' committees of the youth groups, the committees of the two Jewish libraries and the sports clubs, along with many many more… Hundreds of dear members, male and female, young and old, who dedicated a great deal of their energy and time for Zionist activities and national revival activities….

It would be fitting to tell of all of this holy work in minute detail, telling about the effort expended, for example, in the distribution of the Zionist Shekel, and in the diverse branch activity for the benefit of the various funds; the great effort that was expended with love in the preparation of various plays and performances, and the income of these presentations that was collected for the benefit of the funds and cultural organizations. I will again relate a characteristic story, which is not known by very many of the natives of our city. After one of the residents of the suburbs died, quite a distance from the center of town, word spread that it was possible to receive a significant sum for the benefit of the nationalistic activities in return for the transporting of the deceased to the bounds of the city, where he would be received by the members of the Chevra Kadisha. A group of organized young people volunteered for this. Anyone who happened to be located in the suburbs of the city at that time could witness this strange funeral procession, where the coffin was born on the shoulders of four young people, followed by a group of young people accompanied by only one member of the Chevra Kadisha… On behalf of Zion, there was no shortage of people to carry the coffin…

The lot of these enthusiastic people, those who were enthused with the Zionistic ideal, for the most part did not merit them to see the fruits of their labor, the realization of their dreams and desires, to be with us here in Zion… If only they would have merited – along with all the residents of the town – to a normal human death… What happened to them cannot even be called by the term “death” [12] . We remember what death in Dembitz meant from our youth – as we heard the workers of the Chevra Kadisha say: “My good, friend, we ask your forgiveness! The entire city begs your forgiveness!” [13] … An omen, so to speak, from the heavens.

… As we returned from the cheder on clear winter nights, with the crisp snow under our feet and the sky filled with twinkling stars above our heads, we would often wonder about the twinkling heavenly hosts, and what deep secrets they were hinting to us… We thought at that time that they were the souls of the good and the righteous… If a star were to “fall”, we would see this as a sign that someone had just given up his life… This celestial host that looked down onto the city – these were the souls of the good and the righteous who left their earthly lives and took up residence in the heavens above the city…

Years later, this legend was refined again: There is a story of the Besht [14] who worshiped his Creator in the darkness of night. Suddenly, the sound of a cry reached his ears, seemingly the sound of a child wandering in the darkness and sobbing. The Besht felt sorry for the wandering child, and ran out side to take him into his house. However, outside, he did not see any living soul… This was a star in the heavens that burst out crying because a small cloud covered it. The star wept and begged that its light would be able to be revealed in the world… The Besht immediately recited a brief prayer, the cloud scattered, and the light of that star again shone forth. The weeping ceased…

The smoke clouds of the crematoria covered the light of millions of stars – among them thousand of stars from the skies of Dembitz…The stars weep at night in those skies… We have no “prayer” in our power to return them to the light of the living… Let us remember them always. And when they remember us – these star-souls wink to us – we are alive”…

Translator's Footnotes :

  1. A reference to the prophet Jeremiah, who is considered, according to Jewish tradition, to be the author of the book of Lamentations. The quoted verse is from Jeremiah 6, 26. Return
  2. This verse segment is from Job 32, 20. Return
  3. The adage is based on Proverbs 30, 17, indicating that the ravens should pluck out the eyes of he who mocks his father and mother. The 'wise man' referred to here is King Solomon, who was the author of the book of Proverbs. Return
  4. The term used here for fourteen is 'two sabbatical year cycles', the biblical sabbatical year falling once every seven years. Return
  5. Hallel is the term given to the Psalms of praise (Psalms 113-118) recited on the various festivals. Return
  6. Simchat Torah is the last day of the Sukkot festival, when joyous processions (Hakkafot) are made around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls, accompanied by singing and dancing. The prayer for dew is recited on the first day of Passover, and the prayer for rain on Shemini Atzeret (the eighth day of Sukkot, prior to Simchat Torah), marking the times of the change of seasons in the Holy Land. The 'wavings' refer to the waving of the lulav and etrog (palm frond and citron) that take place during the first seven days of the Sukkot festival. Hoshanah Rabba is the seventh day of Sukkot, when there are seven processions made with the lulav and etrog, and when prayers are recited to mark the end of the season of judgement that started prior to Rosh Hashanah. Return
  7. On Sabbaths, cooking is forbidden. People would often store their coffee thermoses or other hot victuals in the oven in the bakery from before the Sabbath, and then go to bring them home during the Sabbath. This was because not everyone was able to leave an appropriate oven burning for the duration of the Sabbath. Return
  8. A reference to the custom of reviewing the weekly Torah portion twice, and the Aramaic translation (known as Targum Onkelus”) once each week. Return
  9. Violation of the sanctity of the Sabbath is permitted, even mandated, when it comes to saving a life. Return
  10. The Chevra Kadisha (burial society) was not only involved in the burial of the dead, but also in the tending to the ill. This was common in Europe, but has not carried over in North America. Return
  11. Here a term for gentiles. Return
  12. Death here referring to a natural death in the course of human life. Return
  13. After preparation of the body for burial, it is customary for the members of the Chevra Kadisha to ask forgiveness of the deceased for any embarrassment caused during the preparations. Return
  14. The acronym of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism. Return

{Hebrew text pp 170-172; Yiddish text 156-159.}

Jumping off the Train

Bronia Oling Burg

Translated by Jerrold Landau

On the eve of the Sabbath, November 13, the evil tidings spread in the ghetto that in two more days, on Sunday December 15, the expulsion would take place. My two brothers had good places of work, and they were certain that they would be able to remain in the ghetto. I myself worked in the hospital, and we hid father in the bunker.

Such a pleasant Sabbath did we have!

Already at the time of the conclusion of the Sabbath, the Polish and German police surrounded the ghetto. At daybreak, when I went out to work to the hospital, my two brothers comforted me that they would also remain in the ghetto.

Suddenly, the sound of a loud noise was heard. People scampered about, as if they went mad: the head of the Gestapo was standing outside and reading a list of 540 people who worked in the railway industry – only they would remain. Only they would merit to remain alive. The rest of the Jews would be exterminated.

Shortly thereafter, the thieves came to the hospital with an order: everyone, healthy or ill, must leave the hospital. How bitter were these words in my ears, for I must also go to death. I will never see my father and my brothers.

Those ill with typhus, with temperatures above forty degrees, were evacuated from the hospital. The cold outside was very severe, and the sick people, wearing only their tunics, were prepared to be sent off. We, the healthy young people, were chased with threats, whips and guard dogs to the field from where the shipment were to be sent off. Thousands of people from various cities and towns were being prepared to be sent off!

I stood and watched to see lest they bring here, Heaven forbid, my father and my two brothers. We walked to the train station in rows of five. The order was repeated over and over: “To the left, to the left”. Thus did we go out as sheep, to die in the furnace of Belzec.

One hundred people entered each train car. My turn came to enter the death train. There would certainly be no way to flee from this train. It is clear that we were travelling to our deaths.

There were sixty cars, sixty train cars to Belzec. Old and young, men, women and children. Our lot was the lot of all the Jews – to travel to our deaths.

The Jews would arrive at the machine of poisonous gases [1] , they would get out, and become contorted until they would choke to death through the torture.

The train only started to move at 8:00 p.m. There were many who thought that they would be able to save their lives, that they would not arrive to where the train was taking them. The night was dark, however a small amount of light shone into the cars from the flashlights of the S. S. men who were standing on guard.

The people in the cars were crowded together like sacks. This was a long journey of torture, a cramped journey where everyone was standing. Death awaited.

Who would die here? Who would die due to the tribulations of the journey? What difference would it make if they survived the journey?

Where were we going? We were like sheep to the slaughter, sacrifices to the crematoria.

Nevertheless, any moment that one is still alive is a found moment. Who knows what would take place? Perhaps some people would be saved.

There was no bench upon which to sit down. People sat where they stood.

The wild beasts were prepared to administer beatings whenever they heard a sound breaking forth, even for the crime of a loud sigh. People moaned inside, as they bit their lips and swallowed their tears. One could only wave their hands, beat their head, or pull out their hair. A silent cry to the Master of the World, a call to mother and father in the world of truth [2] .

As soon as we heard that we were moving, the weeping broke out with greater strength. We wept until there were no more tears: heavy sighs broke forth from weary hearts. Many were silent, for they had no strength. However, nobody could see those that fainted in the darkness of the night; the glazed eyes when the lips became silent and a heart ceased beating.

There were many children in the car, who were not separated from their mothers.

Suddenly, the voice of an old Jew was heard. It was Feivel Wilner. “Jews, let us recite Psalms! Let us recite the confession, we must be prepared…”.

The weeping of the women grew greater, and the men started to move. Yosef Taub called out that he would remove a piece of the wooden floor in order to be able to escape outside, and others would be able to be saved. Whoever had the desire and the strength would be able to jump out of the moving train… However, what could he do with his small pocketknife? He did not give himself any respite: “Jews”, he said, “we can yet merit to see the end of the war, in a few weeks. We must save ourselves. We must find some way to jump out.”.

Not far from me sat his wife with his two beautiful children. The girl burst out crying, for something hurt her.

The mother comforted her daughter, stroked her beautiful hair and said to her: “This will not last much longer. We will arrive at your aunt's house, and there you will receive nice toys.” A groan passed over everybody.

However, to us, the distraught mother was saying something entirely different, quietly, very silently: “When I arrive at the dreadful place, I will give the children a bit of the poison that I took with me. I know that it is forbidden for a mother to do that. However, where are we going? We are going to Belzec.” Suddenly she cried out from her broken heart: “Why have You given me children, that I may kill them? Therefore I am giving them poison, so that they will have an easier death.”

The husband again groaned quietly: “My dear, we are all required to say to ourselves that we are eighty year old people. We have all finished living in this beautiful world, and there is nothing left for us but death.”

The men cried out: “If only we could die, but not have to wait for such a terrible death as this.”

Everyone in the car was suffering from terrible thirst. The children were begging their mothers: “Mother, my throat is burning, give me water.”

Before we entered the car, the Germans spread plaster dust in it. That was what was choking the people's throats. Everyone was prepared to give everything that they had for a sip of water.

The S. S. men threw a bottle of water into the car when they heard the screams, one bottle for one hundred people. We would give them silver and gold, but who would merit to drink from the water? People grabbed the bottle from one another. These were no longer humans; they no longer had a sense of life. Quarrels broke out, if only to assuage the terrible thirst.

Then the S. S. men came to us with a suggestion. If we would give them everything that we still had, they would open the locked door for five seconds, and anyone who was able to jump out could do so, and would certainly survive.

Everyone gave to them what they had. They took everything, and they no longer looked through the small window. They cheated us. This was only mockery on their part.

The men continued to think of how they could, with all this, save themselves from death. Yosef Taub got up from his place, went to the small holes in the windowpane, and retrieved his small “weapon”, his penknife, once more. With it, he began to cut the metal wires. Suddenly, he called out: “I cut the wires. Now, people, you can save yourselves!” From the side, the old Jew issued forth his complaints: “I can no longer save myself. I am already too old. I am sick and weak. If I jump, I won't get up again, and it will have taken my life with my own hands. I will die by the death that the Master of the World chose for me. If it is to be by burning, it is to be by burning…”.

He said further: “I no longer know what is appropriate, and what is not appropriate, however whoever has enough strength to do so should do so and save himself. Whoever wishes to jump out should jump with all his might, remain complete of body, not fall into the hands of the Germans, and should merit to see the salvation.”

The old man jumped out of the window to see if any S. S. men were standing on guard. The men strengthened themselves. Mendele Siedlisker was the first to jump. He was ill with typhus, and had a temperature of forty degrees. We did not hear them shooting after him. We prayed to G-d that he would return in peace to the ghetto.

I stood next to my relative Feivel Wilner. Brachale, he said to me – why are you not together with your two brothers? They are also in this transport, in the first car.”

I could not listen to his words – I was certain that that they had remained in the ghetto. I broke out in a cold sweat. I had no energy to answer him.

I broke forth with strength to the small window in order to jump. Perhaps I would die under the wheels of the train – so long as I do not see their bitter death in Belzec. Before me, a few men jumped out. I also wanted to be among them. However, they pushed me aside. They did not permit me to jump. However, my will was greater than their opposition. Nevertheless, they did not wish to be responsible for my life.

I placed myself next to the window. Yosef Taub was looking to see if they could see a German guard or not. He suddenly told me: “You can jump now.”

My heart was beating like a hammer. I gave over my piece of bread that I had with me, and prepared to jump. I was first in line.

The train was travelling too fast. The young men helped me, and I jumped. I disappeared. I fell onto the white, beautiful snow that was on the tracks. I was injured, as would be expected, on my right side. I heard very well that they were screaming that I jumped. This was a distance of ninety kilometers from Dembitz.

I wished to remain dead under the wheels of the train, but G-d willed that I live.

The train continued along its way, not fast. It was a very dark night. It was 4:00 a.m.

I looked at the passing cars that were transporting the people, both those close to me and those more distant to me, to their deaths, and I could not help them at all. The train disappeared. I turned back to return to Dembitz, to return to the ghetto. I followed the lanterns until I arrived at the Lancut train station. I concealed myself among the Germans, and arrived to the outside of the city. Various thoughts were going through my mind: would not everyone who saw me realize that I jumped off the train.

I arrived at a Christian house at 6:00 a.m. The Tracanski family lived there. I opened the door, requested a bit of water, and asked what time it was. The woman answered that she realized that I am a Jewish girl. She told me to enter into her room, and that she had already hid a few Jews with her. Therefore, she told me that I should not Heaven forbid be afraid, but rather that I should enter. The Christian woman gave me my own room and spoke to me like a mother. She immediately gave me breakfast and prepared me for my journey. I wished to give her everything that I had, if she would only give me a kerchief for my head so that I would be able to hide my Jewish eyes somewhat. She took out a new green kerchief from her closet and told me: “Green is a symbol of hope. That is an omen that you will return home.” She wished me much success on my journey and asked me that I should write to her.

It was very cold outside. I walked quickly. It seemed to me that behind me, the shadows were after my life. I saw only fields and forests. The ground was covered with snow. The wind blew me from side to side. At night, I arrived at Rzeszow. I stood before the ghetto. One gentile woman said to me: “You are a Jewess. I can tell that immediately. You want to enter the ghetto now? Do you know what is going on in the ghetto right now? They are searching for Jews who are still hiding after the deportation in order to shoot them, and you are liable to be one of them. Go to the village, rest there for the night, and come to the ghetto in the morning.” I wanted to, indeed had no choice but to, listen to her and I set out for the village.

I entered one of the houses and asked the Christian homeowner to permit me to spend the night. He requested my documents, for it was forbidden to allow strange people to stay over. I entered a second and third home, and was answered with the same answer. I was forced to sleep outside. I ran to an area between the trees. I plucked a branch of the tree from the thickness of the thicket and lay down to sleep in the snow, with the branch under my head. I tried to sleep, and a deep sleep overtook me until the morning.

Day had already broken. I was completely frozen. I wished to drink something warm, but from where? There was only plenty of snow for me to eat. I could not even buy a piece of bread with the money that I had with me. I ate up the frozen bread that I had with me with a great appetite.

I continued walking through the fields and forests. I had to still walk a great distance until I arrived home. Night fell again. I was again outside. I looked for a covered barn or coop to spend the night in, but all the doors were closed and locked.

I found a small chamber in front of me. I hid in it. I quietly hid myself under some straw and burst out weeping. The tears choked me. Were my sins so great? Was I deserving of such great tribulations? G-d, have mercy upon an orphan girl, perhaps I would still find my father alive. I swallowed my tears and fell into a fitful sleep until the morning.

I left the chamber at 6:00 a.m. The owners of the house had already woken up and had started their day's work. I went into their room and asked for some water. I had no strength to continue. The people looked at me as if I was mentally disturbed. They had pity on me and gave me some milk and a slice of bread. However they quickly realized that I was a Jewess, and ordered me to leave the room immediately.

I gave their daughter twenty guilder and asked her to lead me along a sure path, so that I would know how to continue my journey. Children were going to school, and they called out: “Here is a Jidowica (Jewish girl) walking. She certainly escaped from the ghetto.”

My blood froze in me. It seemed that I would not be able to make it to the Dembitz ghetto. However, the more that people placed stumbling blocks before me, the greater my determination grew.

On Wednesday evening, I saw a gentile woman standing in a field with her young daughter, harvesting turnips from the ground. I requested from her that she might perhaps take me with her, and let me sleep in the barn that night. The young daughter had great pity for me, and requested that her mother do so. However the mother answered that she must ask her husband. When we came to him, he realized that I was a Jewess… how difficult it was to be a Jew, I thought at that time. The farmer asked me for money, and showed me a place to rest in the attic.

Late at night, he called me to come down to the house. He gave me a bit of potato soup and a piece of bread. Immediately thereafter, I hurried back to the attic.

They woke me up from my sleep at 5:00 a.m. The husband instilled great fear in me by telling me that there were S. S. men in the village, and they were checking the papers of anyone who passed through. I asked him to help me. I would give him 50 guilder if his wife would take me along the way. He agreed for the price of 200 guilder, however his wife only took me from the house outside, remained standing in the door, and did not move. She closed the door and called out after me: “there are no Germans here at all.”

The farmer only wanted to cheat me out of my money, and he succeeded. He was lucky. But I also had my luck.

I arrived at the Dembitz ghetto on Thursday night. However, I did not want to enter until I would receive the news that father was still there. I asked several gentiles whom I knew, and it became clear that they had recently spoken to father. He was in the ghetto.

I had to wait until it became completely dark. In the dark, I cut a few wires in the gate and entered.

Young and old people shouted: “Bronia has returned from the death train”. I made my way through the people and finally came to father.

Before I arrived, people had already come to tell father that I had come. Father waited for me in front of the house. I fell on his neck with great weeping. I could not stop. Father kissed me and stroked me as one would stroke a young girl.

I did not recognize my beloved father. During the course of a few days, he had aged several years.

The neighbors were comforting father the whole time that I would certainly return from the journey. Now their words had been fulfilled.

I told him the entire story in great detail, about the train car and the difficult journey. I went to sleep only very late at night, and I thought: Oh would it be that the better times for the Jews would already come.

Translator's Footnotes :

  1. The gas for the gas chamber of Belzec was produced by a diesel engine. Return
  2. The 'world of truth' is a reference to those who have passed on. Return

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