[Pages 425-438]

My Road of Torments from Demblin to Dachau

by Chana Goldberg, Paris

– 1 –

When the War broke out, I and my children were in Garbatka. Every May we used to go there. With us were my sister-in-law Elkala and her children and Sarala with her children. We heard that the War was breaking out and we quickly went home.

In the morning, the 1 st of September, when we went out into the courtyard of the sawmill, we saw the German armors flying overhead and immediately the bombs started to fall. From the city people began to run into the fields. I remember how my children, who only spoke Polish, heard Jews crying “Shmah Yisrael”, and they asked what people meant by that, and who they were calling out to.

The next morning many Jews ran away to Ryki because we thought that where we lived there were a lot of military objectives for the bombing: the fortress, the airfield and barracks and then there was also the rail terminal. For all these reasons the town would be very heavily bombed. And so we thought that it was a good idea because we'd be more secure if we made our way to Ryki.

We made our way there at night on foot with packs and different things which we were able to carry with us. There was great turmoil in Ryki too. The Jews of Ryki with those of Demblin were running to the cemetery to hide there. German airplanes flew very low and began to shoot people down. People fell like flies.

We saw that it was also dangerous in Ryki and on wagons we made our way to Zjelechov. We were there a little while until things got more quiet and we returned to Demblin. Everybody went back to their own house. We thought that things would be quiet now. The bandits had yet to how their real brutality. The ghetto was established in early 1940, although I don't remember the exact date of that.

Although the ghetto wasn't formally fenced off, we didn't dare to leave it. In the beginning one could make life a little easier with money, by buying food. We had to wear armbands with a Star of David. I left the ghetto very, very rarely, Christians were able to travel back and forth freely and they would bring food to sell. If we needed something, we were able to get it through the sawmill where we worked.

It didn't take very long before the sawmill was turned over to the Germans. We had forewarning that the sawmill should be signed over 90% in the name of Vadetskin, a Christian who was our partner. In this way the Germans paid Vadetskin for everything that they took from the sawmill, they even installed a German to be the manager of the sawmill, but in fact the person who really ran the operation was my husband, Samson. I became just a simple worker, the children were also working there and we gave a lot to the Germans. In the sawmill the lame Hershel and Amrametsha came in to work. That was before the deportation.

Once I went out without my armband and a German who recognized me as being Jewish, came over to me and said, “Where is your band of shame?” I was terrified and got a slap in the face. That was the first blow from a German.

Once a German went wild and came into the ghetto with a revolver and started to shoot into the houses. He made his way to the house of Chackes. From there a granddaughter of Yisraelish made her way out and the German shot her on the spot. Then he came into the sawmill with his revolver in hand. Chava's sister was polishing the windows and he went over to her and shot her through the legs. I was very afraid. He began to chase our Moshe who was still working there at the time. Moshe ran. After that he started to run after me with his revolver in his hand. I was able to escape through an open storage space into a neighbor's on Warshavsky street. I was able to hide myself there.

The German, who worked there with us at the sawmill, saw everything that had happened and saw to it that the girl was taken to the hospital. They put her leg in a plaster cast and she limped after that. The German was tried at Zalman Feldsher's (Vanapol) house. I was a witness and I told about everything that had happened. He was punished by being sent to the front.

When the War with Russia began they created the camps. In Demblin there were 4 camps. And meanwhile we still ourselves had not entered a camp.

– 2 –

During the second deportation they communicated that everybody who did not come out of their house and assemble at the market place would be shot. After that they made their way through the houses, sometimes they didn't even bother to go in and just shot inside. Near the synagogue they shot a lot of Jews and children in the side streets.

Even earlier something had happened near Hinye, the baker's house. He was a shoemaker, I don't remember what the man's name was. He had a wife and they were standing out with the cradle, and the child was lying there in the cradle and chewing on a little piece of bread and a German walked by and shot the child dead, in the cradle. The mother beat herself over the head, in great horror.

Once Ulrich, the German manager of the sawmill, came in and said, “Rozeman, somebody stole a strap (component from one of the cross saws) and the police said that if it isn't given back they're going to shoot Samson.”

It was a miracle that the worker who had stolen this implement hadn't hidden it well and they found it.

Once they realized that he sawmill wasn't really Polish but in fact a Jewish (maybe somebody had squealed), they called in Samson and they told him that they know that the sawmill doesn't belong to a Pole but that it really belongs to him and that all of the money that he might have gotten has to be given back and “if you don't pay it back in a couple of days, we're going to take you away to Lublin and shoot you there.”

But, where were we supposed to get the money from? We'd sold everything, even a pair of my own shoes. We got loans from our acquaintances and we were able to pay.

– 3 –

During the first deportation people said that we didn't have to go out to the round-up because we worked at the sawmill. During the second round-up, Sara was outside and we were able to send word to her through a Christian. We were afraid to go out by ourselves. When she came back the watchman of the sawmill who was standing there by the gate wouldn't let her in. I asked him why he wouldn't let her in with her children and he answered that those were his orders, that nobody was supposed to be allowed in, that's what Ulrich had decided. I told him that wasn't his choice to make, to mind his own business, with force we were able to push him aside and take them in, and thanks to that she was saved with her children.

As it later came out the whole thing was a mistake in a way, we all had to leave the sawmill and go to the assembly point where the deportation was in progress. Meanwhile, Ulrich showed up, who noticed what was happening and he told the police that if they took away all of his workers he'd have to close the sawmill, “Without Rozeman the whole thing is going to fall apart, and he can't do it by himself certainly. He's the one who really knows how everything runs.” They told him that he should choose those people who he needs and they would be able to go. He chose all of us except for Sara's 2 children and my 3 children and they were left behind. He insisted on keeping them apart and not letting them go back to the sawmill. “What, these kids are supposed to be actually working? They've got their certificates and everything? They're actually licensed to be workers in this sawmill? These are your workers? Nah, these kids are going to stay here and everybody else get out of here.”

I wanted to leave with the complaint that if they send my children away I'm going to go with them. But Samson said to me, “I have a lot of Christian acquaintances at the sawmill and I swear to you that I'll do everything that I can to get the children back. If you go away then everything is finished. You along with the children. So let's try to get them back.”

I came home and I cried and I wept. All of the children had been taken away. If only they'd just left me one child.

The firemen and the Ukrainians were involved in conducting the details of the deportation. Terri, the chief of the firefighters, was there and we sent to him an office worker, a young woman, the wife of an officer. Through her we communicated that he should help get the children out. She said, “No, you've got to take Izio too.” And he took Izio too and he hid him behind his cloak and he walked with him to a soda water booth because he was afraid that the Poles would notice him leading around a Jewish child and he asked for some sweets. The office worker was already there for Izio and took him home. Sara said, “I wish I'd just had one child.”

Terri went back to Ida and told her to run. When she did that the Ukrainian aimed at her with his rifle but she was already gone and how she was able to get out of there is really a miracle.

We had a Christian person with us at the sawmill, a certain Beltshekovsky. He was a cousin of Vadetsky and this guy was the proprietor of a bakery and he was a very good friend. He would frequently buy wood from us and he used to say, “For Samson, I would do anything.” And he used to come over and we used to eat and drink together.

When Ida found an appropriate moment when the Ukrainian wasn't looking, she grabbed Bultshen and began to run. She saw that she couldn't run to us because all of the streets were being watched by Germans and Ukrainians, so she went into Beltshekovsky's courtyard and asked him to let her hide there. She was 10 years old at the time and he chased her out. There in the courtyard, Sara's husband, Gropach, was already hiding out, lying down hidden, and saw everything.

The children had just left when the Ukrainians came into the courtyard. Finally the children, Hadassa and Gutken, came home.

– 4 –

During the third deportation we were able to hide the children once again. There was a carpenter who worked for us, Oshaka, and the children hid in his attic.

During the deportation we left the sawmill and went into one of the camps. Then at that point the city was emptied of Jews. There weren't any Jewish police anymore, all of them had entered the camps. The manager of the sawmill said to the assistant commander of the camp that Samson had worked very well and that they should give him an apartment of his own in the camp. There were little separate places in the camp for families. With money one was able to buy a little mercy from the camp commander. There were two camp commanders. One a German who lived outside the camp in a little house. And there was also an Austrian Jew by the name of Venkart. He didn't want to give us a separate place to live and we lived with everybody else. We were without any money in the camp. We thought that Vadetsky would send something into us. The children were with us.

We worked in the carpentry shop of the courtyard at the train station, assorting and laying lumber. Ulrich, the director of the sawmill, was conducting business here at the carpentry place as well. He took Jews to work in the workshop here and also to tend geese. Izio and Hadassa remained in the camp.

Once, somebody came into the carpentry shop and said that after we'd left for work they came into the camp and they grabbed the children, told them to lie down on the ground and not to move and they thought at the time that they were going to be shot. They took us out of the place where we were working and took us to a room in the train station courtyard and they searched us, told us to take off all of our clothes, so we remained there, exactly how our mothers had brought us into the world. The S. S. men said to us that we shouldn't be ashamed, that they had wives. They looked in concealed places on our bodies and took everything, but that wasn't important. We just wanted to go home and see what had happened to our children and it was a miracle that the children were still there.

The worse hadn't yet come until we were taken to Czenstechov. Then they liquidated all of the camps. The camps at the fortress as well as at the station. They let all the Jews out and took them to Auschwitz or to Treblinka. The first groups had been taken to Sobibor. There they gassed them right away but in Auschwitz there remained still a few living human beings.

– 5 –

Once, a 6 year old little girl came who had run away from a deportation. She had been hiding in a hallowed out tree where she stayed as long as she could until she just couldn't stand the hunger anymore. She came to us in the camp, skin and bones, a skeleton. All the kids in the camp, about 50 of them, tried to take care of her. We gave her a bath. We got some clothes for her. We gave her something to eat. Meanwhile though, somebody apparently squealed. The gendarmes came, took the child out of the camp and shot her. They said that Venkart didn't want to leave the child with us. I don't know that for sure because I wasn't actually there, so I won't lay this particular accusation against Venkart with any certainty.

A second time, Benyomin's daughter, Roma, came and wanted to get into the camp. But Venkart wouldn't let her in. He threatened to shoot her if she hung around outside the camp. It was just dusk before night, the police were standing around the gate. Venkart wouldn't let her in. (At that time Jews would arrive from various cities because our camp was the last place that remained in the whole area where there actually were Jews.)

And seeing that they wouldn't let her in, she noticed that near the camp there were some geese who were feeding. She took a stick and pretended that she was a little shepherdess. Two of the field police came up to her and asked her what she was doing. She answered them in Polish that she was taking care of the geese. They asked her again and she played the role very well that she didn't understand what they were talking about. They thought that she was a little Polish girl and they went away. She saved herself and she lives today in America. Later on they did indeed let her into the camp.

Before being sent away from the camp when they said that the Russians were already close to Demblin, we decided not to move. We knew what awaited us in the other camps. But Venkart had a camp full of enemies, his personal enemies, who'd been the victims of his chicanery, and he was afraid that they would take their revenge, and so he wanted that everybody should be taken away. He also of course had some good friends. For those who had provided him with money, and other nice things, he'd done favors. People who he'd been asked, “Why do we have to go with the Germans? Why don't you try to arrange things so that we don't have to go? We can stay here.”

The camp was very badly guarded. A lot of people were really able to make their way out through the wires. They ran away into the forests and the A. K. (the Polish underground fighters) shot them there. Ali Feigenboim at that point escaped and stayed alive.

People said that Venkart went to the Germans and said to them that the Jews didn't want to stay and be there when the Russians arrived, but they wanted to go away with the Germans. There weren't any rail cars, he said. He said he was going to raise the money and that we had to give everything that we had so that we could get a hold of some rail cars. He already had quite a bit of money, which he had robbed in one way or another from the Jews. And he continually threatened that anybody who was found with any money whatsoever was going to get shot. He gathered up all the money and pretended to give it to the Germans. Sure he gave a little bit of it to them, but he probably kept quite a bit of it himself. He paid so that we could be taken away.

So, they took us away to Czenstechov in cattle cars.

– 6 –

When we arrived at Czenstechov we still had a few things with us, pillows and blankets, different kinds of clothes, a few garments. They took everything from us and put us into barracks. The women separately, the men separately. At the beginning we didn't know that they had shot the children. When we found that out there was a great uproar. The children clung to their parents, they wanted to remain with their mothers. But, I said to Samson that he should take Izio. I stayed with Hadassa. She didn't want to go away from me. A Jewish policeman came to me and said, “Madam, send your children over to your husband.” They didn't want to go, but Izio did go. Ida stuck something into her boots so that she seemed taller and they let her go through with me. She was already pretty big, about 14 years old. But Hadassa, they took away to shoot.

They took them in an unfinished house where there were neither doors nor windows. I ran in after them. I grabbed Hadassa and I carried her out. A policeman noticed this and he took her out of my arms and took her back, “Madam, I don't want to get shot. They already counted the children, and if there are any children missing, they are going to shoot me.”

Also they sent people from our camp [Demblin], a thousand Jews, from Ryki, Gniewoszow, Lublin. They counted us into 2 groups, 500 each, and they transported us to Czenstechov. That was in 1944. At night we heard shooting. The people said the Russians were already at Lublin. Everywhere that the Russians approached, the Germans sent the people away from the camps. They did the same thing in Germany, they moved people deeper into the country. Among the 500 people were 15 children who they immediately shot upon their arrival at Czenstechov.

The Jewish police told us that the S. S. men ordered graves to be dug and they put the kids in the graves and Botsheon, the shoemaker's son, who was about 8 or 10 years old, picked up stones and threw them at the S. S. Also Leb Burshtein's child was shot and the 4 children of Yosel Chaim-Ahron's daughter.

We turned the world over to try and save the children. There was a camp commander there from Skarzshetz, a scoundrel. It was said that during the roll calls at Skarzshetz, everyday he would select from the rows of people the most beautiful young woman and then he would carouse, inviting all of the S. S. men in, all of whom would rape her, after that they'd shoot her, then they would send her clothes back to her mother. That's how he conducted himself in Skarzshetz. In Czenstechov he wasn't doing that kind of stuff anymore.

Finally we got the children back and they didn't shoot them.

I worked with bullets. Once at night I kind of drifted off during work and right away the overseer came up and slapped me around. In the morning he made me stand and wait even though my legs were about to bend beneath me and I had to stay there the whole day and look at the water. I didn't dare move my head. Somebody was standing right next to me watching me with a rifle.

Meanwhile Samson tried very hard to come to us so that we could all be together.

– 7 –

Once, early in the morning, they said to us that we should get dressed and leave the little children behind because we were going to go out and dig giant trenches. To us it didn't really matter what kind of work we were doing. We were taken to another camp where there was an assembly point. I was with Hadassa and Ida. From there they wanted to send us to Radomsk to dig these big trenches against tanks, 6 meters deep. Ida went with me, but they wouldn't let Hadassa go. I'll never forget that scene. I prayed they would let me take Hadassa with me. I begged them, I said she could do the work. But the S. S. man pulled out his revolver and said, “Say another word and you're dead. I'm going to shoot you.” Mothers had to leave their children, we didn't know if we'd ever see them again. Hadassa threw herself down on the ground and said, “Mommy, where are you going to leave me?” When I remember that scene I always have to cry. We had to travel away and I had a very, very hard time.

We had a quota at work and it was extremely hot, unbearably so. During the whole time when I was working there, I didn't know anything about what had happened to Hadassa. Only after finishing the work, when we came back to Czenstechov to the camp, I found her there again. Samson also came back. The Jewish camp commander, Tabasa, told us that we were going to go back to the same bitter camp.

Once a boy sneaked out of the camp and ran away, he was 18 years old. The Germans lined everybody up and said that instead of the one who had run away they were going to shoot two Jews. They took a Jew off to shoot him but the revolver malfunctioned and it wouldn't shoot. The Jew begged, “You see, it's already fated that I'm supposed to live, so let me go.” The end is that they didn't shoot him. But they did what they wanted to do. They didn't need any outside orders from anybody. They did whatever they wanted to do by their own hand. They also could have saved thousands of people.

We were there for a little while and they sent us to Germany, to Bergen-Belsen. There a typhus epidemic broke out and people died like flies. That was in January of 1945. It was a very cold bitter frost. I didn't see Hadassa anymore after that. Samson, with Izio, was sent away to Buchenwald. Hadassa was liberated in Czenstechov. They had an order to clear out he camp of people, but they didn't have a chance to carry it out.

– 8 –

When we arrived at Bergen-Belsen they took us immediately to a bath and took all of our things. We saw through the open door htat men were actually bathing. We had the idea that when you are taken to a bath you're going to a gas chamber, but in fact these people were actually washing themselves. From the ceiling there was a very slow dripping water. So you could say, if you wanted to stretch it, the people were taking a bath of some kind. When they let us out in the corridor, there were S. S. people standing there with rubber hoses and they poured cold water over us. And then they gave us clothes to put on. For a big person they made sure to give that person clothes that were very small and tight, and for a small person the opposite, clothes that would hang all the way down to your feet. We didn't get any socks, we didn't get any shirts. The shoes didn't fit anybody and then they led us through the streets, our hair froze and there were icicles hanging down from our hair.

After that they took us into a big structure with a stone floor and that was covered with a little bit of straw (there was a dead person lying under the straw). We were pressed together like herring, I don't remember how many people there really were there. I met a doctor from Rakov who was with Samson and Izio, she knew them and I was very happy with his news, to know that they were still alive. I learned from her that all the people from the former camp had been taken to Buchenwald. There were many political prisoners of various nationalities, including Germans, and they had done everything they could to help the children in their midst. In Buchenwald there were 800 children and they were all liberated.

In Bergen-Belsen it was particularly horrible during the roll calls. They took us out in the worse of the cold and we were almost naked, they had us stand there for hours and hours. Everybody was trembling from the cold, Ida stood next to me and cried. I was able to sew together something from rags, something to put around her feet, but she wasn't able to put on her shoes. Two women had to, as punishment stay outside on their knees the whole day. People were falling like flies in this environment.

Everybody asked to be sent to work in order to have something to eat. We received only 100 grams of bread and a little bit of potato soup, that was about as much as a half a spoonful. Ida went into the kitchen to work a few times. They cooked rape there but they told people that if any of that rape got stolen, the person who did the stealing would get shot.

Women used to carry buckets of excrement from the outhouses into the fields and the rape used to grow in the fields and the women used to steal it on these little excursions, because if you had some you could actually live on it for a few days. Meanwhile the S. S. man saw this going on, saw the rape being stolen from the distance and the women threw the rape into the bucket of shit. The S. S. man made them kneel down and beat them on the neck with a stick. How they were able to endure it, I can't understand.

– 9 –

There's a lot to say about Bergen-Belsen and it's not possible to tell all of it. There were two young girls from Czechoslovakia there and they were real bandits. They used to say really vicious things about us, the Polish Jews, and they would steal stuff to eat and then sell it, sell it that is to anybody who still had a little ring on their finger or some other valuable. And in fact they were actually in cahoots with the S. S. overseers.

After that they sent out of Bergen-Belsen 500 women. Ida and myself were among them. We thanked God that we were getting out of there. They kept us traveling for 10 days. They gave us a loaf of bread for the journey, but we were so hungry that we ate it the first day and so we were hungry for the next 9 and we didn't have anything to eat.

One of our guards, an S. S. man, used to get off at every station and make his little meal. He brought potatoes with him and pig fat. We watched this and it was absolutely unbearable. When he went away for a few minutes we ate up his potato. When he came back he saw what had happened, his potatoes weren't there anymore. He used to cook stuff over this portable oven that he had. We used to peel his potatoes for him and then bake the potatoes for him on the grill of the little stove. It burned our mouths to eat these potato peels. The stolen potatoes were eaten by all 50 women in the car, that is to say everybody got a little bit of the potatoes.

The S. S. man got a whip and beat every woman until she was blue with welts. After that two women at a station not far away, as soon as he disappeared for a moment, fled, and they were able to save themselves and to survive the War.

There was a girl from Lodz traveling with us. She was the daughter of a Rabbi. She was extremely intelligent and knowledgeable. She said that he would go and tell them about what had happened. He after all had to provide his human cargo, he used to call each of us a “shtick”. However, he was missing two “schticks”.

When we arrived at our destination, they counted us and there were two missing. They asked the S. S. men where they were. At this point the young women from Lodz went to the commander and said to him, “Herr Obersturmführer, I want to tell you just exactly how these two ran away. When he went looking for something to eat and we weren't given anything to eat, he left us alone and they took off.”

On the spot, the S. S. man got two slaps across the face and had his epaulets ripped off. So we got at least a little bit of satisfaction.

– 10 –

The place that we arrived at was called Burghaus. There was a typhus epidemic going on there and Ida got it.

I asked the female camp director if she could send me to work in town, in the nearby village, because after all you could always get something off a farmer, a potato, an onion, something to bring back. She gave me a hard slap across the face for the chutzpah of even suggesting that I have the privilege of work.

The camp in Burghaus was horrible. Nothing to eat, dirty, full of lice. One girl got canker ulcers that were spreading all over her body. I saw what was happening to her and I knew that if they discovered that somebody had something that was contagious they'd shoot them immediately. I had some little scissors with me, I don't know where I got it. I took her to a place where there wasn't anybody around and I cut her hair and that helped her a little bit, it helped heal up the sores a little bit. After the War I met her again.

Ida had typhus in her insides, in her belly, everyday I received her portion of bread and I cooked it and made soup out of it and brought it to her. She lay in a barrack which had little tiny windows up towards the ceiling, like it was a pig stall. They said to me that she might last for another night.

Afterwards they took all of the sick people and took them away to Tyrkhaym. Ida told me that she didn't want to go. We, the healthy ones, were taken to Dachau and Ida went with us. Those who in fact did go to Tyrkhaym, did burn.

We were at this point walking in special striped clothes and when the American airplanes flew low they saw us and they did not shoot. The S. S. people hid themselves among us so that they wouldn't be recognized. We didn't have anything to eat, nor at that point did the S. S. because everything at this point was already chaotic. This though was before the liberation. The next morning we were liberated.

Ida fell, she just didn't have anymore strength to keep going. We picked her up and put her on a wagon. We said just as long as we could get her into the town, that was the important thing, because there she would be able to get something to eat.

We went on foot. Shmuel Konen's daughter snuck away from the group and went to a German house but she heard in the background, that somebody else said that they should go and call the police on the telephone so that they could come and take her away. She got out of there fast and hid in the forest. She told me all this after the War.

Those among us in this group who fell along the way, they took to Dachau to burn. We came to Nalach, 5 kilometers from Dachau, which was actually part of the camp itself. They had wanted to send us away to Teyrol to shoot us there, they'd already sent one transport of 500 women there, but they just didn't have time to get it together with us.

The S. S. people led us into the camp and then scattered to hide themselves. German boys or whoever had the weapons, started to bombard the camp. A doctor was shot on the spot. There was pandemonium and everybody began running. We had just come into the camp and we just didn't know which was the right way to run. But there were Poles there who apparently were political prisoners and they seemed to look in relatively good shape to us, and they grabbed us by the hand and took us to the bunkers.

– 11 –

In the morning they liberated us. They wouldn't let us go out of the camp because the Americans said the woods were still full of the S. S. and they'd shoot us if they got the chance. The same day the S. S. people came to us and asked that we hide them. We gave them to the Americans. But the Americans did not shoot them.

Ida told me about what went on in Dachau proper. When she arrived there the ovens were burning ceaselessly. They burned people. But they didn't have a chance to burn everybody. The Heftlingen saw the liberation was near and when they could they would grab the S. S. guys, lay them out, grab their weapons and shoot them when they got he chance.

Ida was sick and wasn't able to walk, and a Pole came to her and said, “Come on, we're going to give you a little towel and you can take a bath.” She knew that when you said bath, it meant you were going to get sent right into the ovens. She said she wouldn't go. They said to her, “Panyenka, don't be afraid, we are Poles after all, and we're not Germans and we're not going to do anything to you.”

Finally she did what she was asked, and she was filthy, covered with lice, she was as skinny as a bone. She went in there and she washed herself. After that they took her and brought her to a place where there were women who had been prostitutes for the S. S. By this time there weren't any S. S. around. This was a day before the liberation. That's the spot where she was liberated.

Now we were all in different places. One didn't know the fate of the other.

Where I was, there was a young girl from Czechoslovakia, very beautiful, she was sick with typhus. I took care of her. I gave her a little bit of bread when I could. Her mother wasn't there. About 6 weeks later Ida started to look for me and I got a little letter from her. At that point I simply couldn't wait any longer. The Americans wouldn't let us go and they would shoot in the air if they thought we were trying to escape. But I left. Ida was just 6 kilometers away and I found her outside. By that time she was already well dressed. And she prepared a little dress for me. There was kind of a room where they had the clothes of the people that had been murdered. It was very, very, very big and you couldn't even see the end of it. And there people went and picked out something to get dressed in.

When I was taking care of this young girl from Czechoslovakia, I thought to myself, as my Ida was motherless at that point and she was alone and she was sick, maybe somebody would take care of her. And that's exactly what happened. As a matter of fact, the person who took care of Ida was the mother of the girl from Czechoslovakia. She took care of Ida. She couldn't wait and she went back to Czechoslovakia.

We were there a little bit longer and they sent us to Freiman. There we met people who had been in many different camps. As usual we heard about things that went on in all these different camps. One thing I simply can never forget, in one camp, I don't remember exactly which one, the S. S. ordered that little stakes be made with sharp points at their ends, the kinds that you use in gardens. Not thick ones, but very sharply pointed. Then they forced people to take these stakes into their mouths and with a hammer they'd smash them in and they'd murder people that way.

Izio and Samson were together. They were in Buchenwald. I didn't know anything about them, but just a little bit later I heard that all of the men had been taken to Buchenwald. There Izio did everything he could to help his father. A woman wrote to me how Izio told her about what happened in the camp and what he had to do in order to get some food. He used to find a way to get out through the wire and make his way into the kitchen and somehow get a little bit of food there or he would shine the shoes of the S. S. men and get a little bit of bread from them.

To tell about Buchenwald is redundant. Everybody knows what kind of camp it was: hunger, brutal work, death camps. Moshe died there too. The story about him was that block chief, a Pole, threw a big sack at him and beat him to death.

They took the last transport out and they knew that they were going to be taken to their death. Samson said that he would rather hide himself among the bunks, under some straw. If they found him, he hadn't lost anything, it was all the same, because he was waiting to die.

[See PHOTO-C52 at the end of Section C]

Samson became very sick, he was taken t the hospital. At that point he simply didn't have any more will to live. He said that since he'd already lost his whole family he had nothing to live for. And that's where he died. Izio remained alone. Hadassa remained in Czenstechov alone. The Jews of Demblin wanted him to come back to Demblin, but Izio didn't want to go.

Hadassa said to her father that if she remained alive she would go back to the sawmill. She came to Demblin and went to the sawmill. Teres came to her and said, “Halushia, get out of here, they know that nobody remained and they're going to kill you if you stick around here.” At that time in Demblin, they had murdered the Luxemburgs, Shmuel Nachman's wife. They wanted to go back to their house and the Poles came at night and murdered them.

Teres apparently was himself a member of the A. K. and he knew they were getting ready to kill her, so Hadassa and company went away to Lublin. Poles with knives jumped them, wanted to kill them, but the Russians intervened and protected them. Afterwards they were sent to Reichenbach (Dzsherzshanuv). I learned that they were in Reichenbach and I traveled there and brought them home.

Izio was urged to go to Demblin and he said that he had an Aunt in Paris and he was going to go there. With the help of “Oza”, he was able to come to Paris and I was in Landzberg. There was a free kitchen there. The Americans gave people a whole bunch of stuff to eat, all different kinds of conserves and fats, but it was not appropriate for people who were half starved and a lot of people gorged themselves and died. There wasn't really sufficient medical help either at that point. It was only a little bit later that they organized everything through “UNRA” [United Nations Relief Agency].

After that Izio came to us and he wanted to remain and he did not want to stay in Germany and he went back to Paris and thus, we all went to Paris.

[Pages 439-443]

From Warsaw Ghetto to the Demblin Camp

by Esther Apelboim (Mekler)


During the outbreak of the War I lived in Warsaw. There in the ghetto, for a long time, I saw that if I wanted to remain alive I had to get out, because remaining there would be certain death. Hundreds of people died of hunger by the day. I felt I simply couldn't bear to endure that hunger and I decided to escape the ghetto and rejoin my family in Demblin.

In the Spring of 1940, I succeeded with my son of 2 ½ years to slip out to the Aryans side. On the way to the harbor where the boats were, a Polish policeman stopped me and he said to me that if I would not give him all the money that I had on me I could say good-bye to the world. Having no choice I gave him the last 20 zlotys that I had.

I walked to the ship's station on the Vistula, there were a lot of people waiting, among them, a small number of Jews. After waiting for 2 days with my child in my arms, with nothing to drink and nothing to eat, not to mention extreme cold, finally the ferry that was going to make the trip down river showed up. But they wouldn't let any Jews on. And so we, the group of Jews there, decided we were going to have to make the journey on foot. We walked the whole day. When the night fell, we looked for a place to spend the night. Just at the outskirts of a village we noticed an open barn and we went inside and we spent the night there.

Early the next morning we set out on our way and after 10 days of walking we finally arrived at the Demblin bridge, over the Vistula. Near the bridge, Germans stood and permitted no Jews to go through. Until today, I simply can't understand what miracle allowed me to cross over that bridge.

Arriving in town, I went to my father's brother, Mendel Mekler. My uncle lived in a little house with a little kitchen in which 15 people were packed in. Half of the people were Jews from Pulaw. Having no other way to live I had to make my way into the kitchen for some help and get just a little bit of watery soup.


In need, pain and terrible cold I lived until the first deportation. In May of 1942, very early in the morning, all the Jews had to gather in the market place. The screaming and weeping of the women, old people and little children is impossible to convey in words. Now, when I write about these things that I lived through that day – a shudder goes through me.

All the Jews were lined up in rows and they trembled. The Germans, on the spot, made a selection. A number of young people were chosen to remain and work, the Jewish police had a right to take out of the line members of their own families. All people who were chosen for work were sent over to one side, but they were watched by armed Ukrainians. The other Jews were moved towards the trains, accompanied by S. S. and Ukrainian thugs.

I was among the group that was making its way to the train, but, as a result of an accident, or perhaps a miracle, or simply with the strength of the will to live, I succeeded with my child in my arms, to run from that group of people who were on their last journey and I made my way running to the group which had been chosen for work. I looked around me, very carefully, to see if any Germans had noticed me because those people who had wanted to change where they were, from one place to anther, were routinely shot down on the spot. I knew that by running from one place to another, to the section where people were being lined up to work, a bullet could hit me any second. But, I had to risk it. And, I succeeded after all, in getting myself into that group.

We stood there, a group of about 150, until late at night, when the whole market place had been finally emptied. An order came that we could for the moment go home. At the house it was barren and empty. Of the 15 people, only 4 remained. Those who remained, wept bitterly. They lamented those who had been taken away, one person wept for their mother, another for their father, another for their children. Whole families were separated, one from another.

A little bit of time passed. Life in the ghetto was bitter and sad. There was hardly a way to make a living. Nobody was sure they'd wake up alive the next morning. There was new talk of another deportation. It wasn't very long before that day arrived.


Early in the morning the last people who were still in the ghetto shuddered at the news that the new deportation was about to happen. They surrounded the ghetto and ordered that everybody needed to gather behind the synagogue. When I heard that this was going to happen, I already knew that the people who had been sent away to Sobibor had been gassed and I decided that I wasn't going to go into any of those rail cars. It was better to die from a bullet before dying in those rail cars which had been covered with lye inside. If I had known at that point that there was some kind of organized fighting resistance to the Germans, I would have been the first one to join up.

I decided that I was not going to be dragged into that deportation. I left the house. I locked the door with a very secure lock. After that, I went back into the house through a window and I asked a Jew, who was just about to run through, to lock the shutters with a rod. Inside I locked the door with an iron door. There was a cellar in our house, and I with my husband and child, went down into the cellar and we lay there the whole night.

Laying there in the cellar, I heard how the Germans smashed in the doors with the butts of their rifles and screamed in savage voices, “Jews, get out!”

I heard shooting and the ground in the cellar trembled. In the morning when the shooting died down, I went out of the cellar and I heard horrible weeping. I went up to the attic and looked out through the slats and I saw many dead people lying on the cobble stones. I went out through a window in the courtyard, and before my eyes, I saw a horrific picture, our courtyard was full of dead people, Jews who had been shot. The earth was red with blood. When I went out from the courtyard to the square by the baths, from which place I'd heard the yowling and weeping, a shudder went right down to my bones. The whole square was full of Jews who had been shot, women, children, old people, heads and feet and hands were just lying around. Many of those who had been shot had their shoes and clothes removed. I also saw little children who had been shot in their little strollers and wagons.

Burying these unfortunate people was the task of the Demblin Jews who remained. They loaded Jews who had been shot onto peasant's wagons. Hands or legs and arms would bump along, and they were taken to the Bobrownik cemetery and buried there. And with this ended the sorrowful chapter of the second deportation.


After the second deportation, we few Jews who remained walked around like living ghosts, knowing that our turn was going to come. I decided that whatever happened to the other Jews would happen to me as well. That meant, I would go to the deportation. Yet, a very powerful will to live, and the desire to be able to tell the world what these German murderers had done to our people, held me back from that kind of surrender. I decided to look for a way to get myself into the work camp in Demblin, which was already in existence for 2 years.

Since the rumors about liquidation had begun to grow stronger and that today or the next day the whole town was going to be completely purged of Jews, one evening, with my son and husband, we made our way to the gate of the camp. There, there were other people standing around, who like us, waited in front of the gate, in order to somehow get into the camp. My Uncle, Shlome Mekler, helped us. He had worked there for a long time.

In the camp I was employed in agricultural work which was managed by a Pole by the name of Veyetshorkevitch. He used to beat up on the Jews in a savage way. It didn't matter to him if they were old people or women. Afterwards I worked at the coal center where they unloaded coal. Four women had to unload a railroad car with 30 tons of coal. The work was unbelievably hard, but we did it and we suffered. We had one desire and that was to survive the War and to survive Hitler. Whole days we used to pull little wagons with coal in order to make sure that the Germans should be nice and warm. And we worked hungry and half naked and sick and broken. We worked hard and it was bitter, and we always lived in terror that a new selection would occur.

We slept in the worse of conditions. It was a very, very small space and almost unbearable. We lay on wooden bunks, one next to another, in the worse frosts, and in the barrack there was absolutely no heat. And that's how we lived, in brutal conditions and in great sorrow, waiting for the moment of liberation.

Meanwhile the Russian offensive was coming closer and the Germans decided to evacuate the camp. I was evacuated with the first group to Czenstechov. In this group, there were children from the ages of 3 to 12 including my child of 6 years.

Arriving in Czenstechov they ordered us to go into the baths. Here, something horrible happened. Men and women came back from the baths, but, the 15 children were nowhere to be seen. They tortured them the first day of their arrival. What became of me upon hearing this is very difficult to relate. For four weeks I lay sick in the barracks. Nobody believed that I could live. Without my child, my life was useless in the world, dark. The sun shown no more. It didn't move me that in Czenstechov camp, they'd taken everything from me. That I walked around uprooted, in tatters. I only thought about my only child, who'd been taken away from me. That continually broke me and gnawed at me, and I will always carry the wound in my heart.

When they didn't bring the children back, I turned to the female commandant of the women's camp and I asked her, “Where are the children?” Instead of answering me, she whacked me in the face and I saw sparks before my eyes. When I asked her again where my child was, she began to beat me with her fists. Afterwards she threw me in a dungeon in the cellar were I could neither stand up nor sit down. Mice and vermin ran over me and wanted to chew on me. When they finally took me out of that dungeon, I was half dead.

After this I received the punishment of having to clean the quarters of the camp commander Bartenshlager. I washed all the floors there. I received absolutely nothing to eat all day. On the camp commander's bed I saw my soft blanket lying which I had received from my Uncle in the Demblin camp from Shlome Mekler, when he died there.

Afterwards, I worked in the ammunition factory, 12 hours without cease. I worked the night shift. The worse work was filling up the bullets. You had to have very good eyes and we were very sleepy and hungry and while we worked they smacked us around.

That's the way we existed until the 15 th of January when the camp was liberated. The night before they took my husband and a lot of other Jews and sent them to Buchenwald where they tortured hem. They had intended to put me and a lot of other women in the camp onto rail cars and ship us out to Germany, but at the same time they heard heavy artillery explosions and it was coming closer so they had to give up on that plan. All of the Germans in the camp fled. That's the way we were liberated.

Today I find myself in Israel.

(Recorder: Moshe Wasserman)

[Pages 444- 449]

My Father’s Vow

by Pesa Kanner (Golderet)

The first of September 1939, when the town was deep in sleep, all those who dwelled there suddenly shuddered awake from the terrible explosions of bombs and from the huge commotion. The sky was black, German airplanes were dropping bombs on the Demblin airfield as well as on the fortress where they dropped tens of bombs. The smoke and the flames tore through the skies, the fire tongues swallowed up almost all the hangers and airplanes together. Also from the fortress we heard loud explosions. Some artillery had shot at the airplanes of the enemy and they had returned the fire and quickly silenced the ant-aircraft weapons. The bombs also destroyed the school which was near the little park called “Radzes” where there were some artillery and cannons set up. The bombers who had hit the airfield also dropped bombs on the post office street.

It's difficult to convey the stampede and confusion in town. People grabbed whatever they could and began running. Fathers and mothers carried their little children while the older ones held on to their parents' clothing. The whole town began moving on the road to Ryki. The highway was black with people. I and my father and mother and 5 other children, we held each others hands in order not to lose each other, and we ran together.

[See PHOTO-C53 at the end off Section C]

While running we heard heavy explosions on the left side of the highway. That was when the German airplanes had bombed the ammunition warehouses. With great terror we continued, afraid that the German airplanes would see us, huge mass of people that we were, and shoot us down. The airplanes, though, left. The people breathed a little lighter and continued to flee towards Ryki.

After a few hours we arrived there. Part of the people were put up in the synagogue, and a part in the houses of individual families. But many of the Demblin Jews continued walking to Zjelechov, Baranov and Miyechiv. My father decided that we should not remain in Ryki but continue further to Miyechiv because it was not as dangerous as it was in Ryki which was close to Demblin and the Germans would certainly bomb it. We continued further and arrived at Miyechiv.

We spent three days there. The frightening news arrived that a German airplane had flown over Ryki and destroyed it, and hundreds of Demblin and Ryki Jews had died.

* * *

It didn't take long before the Germans entered Miyechiv. They let it be known that all of the men, both those who were from that town as well as those who had arrived from elsewhere, had to register at the town hall for work. When my father heard this, he decided that we should go back to Demblin. What were we supposed to do about getting there? There weren't and Jewish wagon drivers who could transport us there, because they weren't allowed to drive outside of the town. So we ended up hiring a peasant for a lot of money. He took us back to Demblin.

When we arrived home, we found our house had been plundered. The whole town looked like it was dead. Little by little Jews began to return from their wandering from the places they'd been driven off to. The German authorities began to torment the Jewish population, to grab them for work, to rape Jewish girls. Jews were not permitted to walk on the sidewalk, only in the street. Jews were not able to freely buy bread, potatoes or other kinds of food. There was a terrible hunger among them. There wasn't any way to make a living because Jews were forbidden to leave town and go to any of the surrounding countryside. The rations of food which the Germans distributed among the Jews never once was sufficient to quiet our hunger. In order to receive this pitiful ration, one had to stand outside in the most severe cold, all night long, in lines. There were instance when the Jews risked it and baked their own bread, but when a German found out about this, they took the culprit out immediately and shot them.

Afterwards the German authorities gave an order that there should be a Jewish Council created as well as a Jewish police. Everyday the Jewish Council had the responsibility of providing a specific number of Jews for various work projects. The Jewish Council decided that each man of property should twice a week work for the Germans. Going to these jobs, though, was quite awful. They would beat people and torture them. Walking to such a job in the morning, one was never sure that one would return from it alive. I always replaced my father when his turn came up and I always would return home covered with blood. It was terrifying at night. As soon as it became dark, drunken Gestapo would come out of their barracks. They'd break into Jewish homes and shoot people, lots of people. Not one night went by when the Gestapo wouldn't shoot some Jews.

After a little while the Germans gave out another order for the creation of the ghetto. All Jews from the main streets had to leave their houses. They were driven to two small narrow streets, Ordinatzky and Okulna. Afterwards the overcrowding was awful, 5 or 6 families in one little room. Soon the ghetto became an incubator for sicknesses and epidemics. The mortality rate became catastrophic. There wasn't one day when several people didn't die. Hundreds in the ghetto lay sick. The little hospital was overflowing, the doctors helpless.

A large number of Jews from bigger cities came to Demblin thinking that they'd be able to survive there. The horrible picture was when the Gestapo would take Jews from the train station and shoot them on the spot. The dead bodies of Jews were brought into the ghetto and buried in a mass grave behind the synagogue. That happened almost every day. But that's not all. The cup of suffering was not yet full. People walked around as if they were insane. One felt as if something terrible was going to happen. Everybody in the ghetto had a premonition, and something worse really did happen.

* * *

In the early part of the month of May, in 1942, the ghetto was suddenly surrounded by Germans, Ukrainians and Polish police. An order was given that everybody had to leave their houses and gather at the market place. The news traveled though the ghetto. Many Jews who were not able to get out quickly, were shot down in their homes. There was no effort to spare sick people or old people or women who were pregnant or little tiny children. The screaming and the crying reached heaven. “Where are my children?” mothers cried. Children cried for their parents who lay shot on the cobblestones on the back streets of Demblin. The Germans did not permit families to stay together. There were dramatic scenes when children would see their parents on the other side and want to run across to their mothers, but the Germans gave the order that whoever would leave the line they were standing on, would be shot. Adults would hold back little children and not permit them to leave the line, afraid that the Germans would shoot them. They would say to them, it wouldn't take long and they'd be with their mothers again.

With blows from batons, they tormented Jews to the train station where rail cars full of lye stood. There they drove all the Jews into the cars and sent them all off to Sobibor. This still wasn't the complete, full blown liquidation because a part of the Jews had been taken out in separate groups and these were people who the Germans thought would be useful for work. And I was one of them who remained to work in Demblin.

I was still young then, 17 years old. I wanted to run across to the other side at that point, where my parents and brothers and sisters stood. Those who stood with me held me back. They grabbed me and said, “Pesela, have a little pity on yourself, they're just going to shoot you.”

My father stood across from me, deathly pale, and screamed. “You're just going to stay here for a little while. Go back and get all your things. When we write to you, you can send us the things that we need.”

He still believed what the Germans had told them, that they were just going to be sent to work for a little while in the regions that they had conquered in Russia.

The end of it all, though, was a sorrowful one. The whole transport was sent to Sobibor. The second day after they arrived, all of the Demblin Jews were gassed. This was related by the Polish train worker who had taken the whole train into the camp. This was confirmed by the chimney sweep, Kamasneshteper's son, who succeeded in escaping from Sobibor.

After they succeeded in taking the Jews to the train station, we stood for a long time in the market place. At that point an order came down that the Jews who remained should go to the camp. Whoever wanted to go back to their houses to get their things should show up very early in the morning at the camp. I want to remark here that the camp existed before the deportation. Many Dembliner Jews, as well as Jews from other towns, like Pulaw and Gniveshov, Ryki and other towns were employed and living in the camp. I will add that even before the deportation they had brought a transport of Viennese Jews to Demblin. And with them they had established the camp. One of them was Venkart, he was the camp commander.

* * *

After the first deportation, a transport of Czechoslovakian Jews was brought to the camp. They were put up in the apartments of the Demblin Jews. The Czeck Jews brought with them clothing and food and the mood in the town became a little bit calmer. The Czeck Jews accustomed themselves to their new sorrows, those which had been imposed on the Demblin Jews who had to hide themselves through the first deportation in well camouflaged holes and other kinds of hiding places. They came out of their hiding places with the expectation that they could freely enter back into town. For a little while they were able to do that, but it didn't last very long.

A certain summer morning, early, the Germans ordered that all Jews must gather near the synagogue. At the same time, the town was surrounded with a chain of Gestapo, police, and Ukrainian thugs. The German military, as well, took part in the second liquidation. The order was given that within a half hour, everybody had to show up in that place. The Demblin Jews gathered themselves by the synagogue. The Czeck Jews, though, didn't take the order quite as seriously. They thought that, as had been the case back home, they'd have time to leisurely pack their things and get their baggage together. They started to do that, but the half hour quickly passed them by.

The Gestapo set out to look for them in the houses. They were looking for Jews who had hidden themselves. The greatest number of the Czeck Jews was still occupied with packing their things. They were driven to the synagogue. Also a number of Demblin Jews were discovered in their hiding places and they too were led to the synagogue. Lying in our attic, I saw through the slats what they did with our Demblin and Czeck Jews.

When the order came to gather near the synagogue, I began to make my way to the camp where I was living. It's just on that particular day I was at home, because I wanted to take some things into the camp. At that point there were two Czeck families living at our house. On the way back from the camp Moshe Elenblum met me and said, “Don't go to the camp because they are shooting Jews at the gate. All those who want to go in are getting shot.”

And that's just he way it was. I saw Jews who had been shot, Demblin Jews who had wanted to get into the camp by means of many different little paths. I ran to our house, went up to the attic where a good hiding place had long since been prepared. I went up there and broke into weeping. I understood that I had to hold my breath in so that the Germans, who were running around from house to house in search of Jews, would not discover me. During the time that I lay up there in the attic I saw how the Germans, with the Ukrainians, walked from house to house and took out Jews who had not gone voluntarily. An old woman from one of the Czeck families walked slowly, as if she could barely stay on her feet. A Gestapo screamed at her, “You cursed Jew!” and raised up his rifle, and with all of his strength, smashed her in the head. She fell, lying in a puddle of blood. Her husband with their children began to scream, and two other Gestapo shot down the whole family.

I saw through a crack how they led Jews who'd been captured in the hundreds. The greatest number of them were Czeck Jews. They led them behind the synagogue. It must have been 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon. You heard bullets flying everywhere, without cease. Tremendous screaming went up, the kind of a scream that freezes the blood in your veins. I felt like I was fainting. How long I lay there, I don't remember. When I woke up, it was pitch black. For a long time I wasn't able to come to myself. I didn't know what had become of me.

I began to feel around in the dark. I managed to make my way to a crack to the outside and I put my ear against it. I heard steps and people talking Yiddish. I understood immediately that these were the Jewish police. I went downstairs to them, and there I spent the night.

In the morning I understood that the Germans had shot 900 Jews the previous day, both Czeck Jews and Demblin Jews. Among those who were shot was my oldest brother, Meir.

I went back into the camp where I'd worked at various hard labor. There was a selection within the camp. They sent Jews to Konske-Volye. The Germans assured people that things would be good there.

The third deportation from Demblin I didn't witness.

In this way one of the most wonderful Jewish settlements in the land of Poland was extinguished.

* * *

I include here my father's picture. My father gave me that picture. He said to me, “If I don't survive this terrible time, my children should have something to remember me by. It should be shame for the German murderers, that they've led the Jews to such a state as this. Because without a beard I will appear like a Purim-Shpiler.”

I was liberated in Czenstechov. Today I live in Israel with my husband and 4 little children.

Recorder: Moshe Wasserman


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