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[Page 249]

Testimony of Betzalel Papial[1]

Translated by Yael Chaver

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Akt 436/1920/134. Central historical commission of the Central Committee of liberated Jews in the American zone.

Nothing unusual happened during the period September 1 – September 6, 1939. But about 30% of the Jews left Gorlice for fear of the Germans.

On September 7, 1939, the Germans marched into the town.

At the beginning of January, 1940, a regulation was published that expropriated all Jewish businesses.

On January 15, 1940, the Judenrat was created, which, incidentally, helped to ease the difficulties devised by the Germans. At the same time, an edict was published compelling all Jews, big and small, to wear a sign on their arms (a large Star of David). Jews were driven into forced labor and tortured with various decrees, until January 3, 1942. That day, a Sabbath, 27 Jews were shot on the street, for no reason.

In May 1942 a ghetto was created, for local Jews as well as for Jews who were expelled from surrounding villages. People lived in terribly crowded conditions, suffering hunger and deprivation, until August 1942.

One day, at 4.15 in the morning, the ghetto was suddenly surrounded by SS, Gestapo, Ukrainians, and Polish police. The murderers then cruelly herded all the Jews into a large hall, and sent them in rail cars to Belzec.

Only very few healthy Jews remained in the town.

The attitude of the non–Jewish population, almost all Poles, was hateful. They rejoiced at our misfortune, and enriched themselves with Jewish property.

The Jews did not carry out any resistance.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The text has few vowelization marks, so transliteration may be inaccurate. return


Testimony of Meir Shvimer

Translated by Yael Chaver

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Akt 461, 518. Central historical commission of the Central Committee of liberated Jews in the American zone.

Born in Gorlice, November 12, 1895. A cobbler by trade.

Thursday, November 7, 1939, when the Germans entered the town, the familiar tortures began, as well as robbery of Jewish property and goods. The local population was quick to help them in their robberies. When the Russo–German war broke out, they shot Jews daily, for no reason.

At the beginning of 1942, the ghetto was created in Dszelnice Dworszeska.[1] People were given one hour's time to move in.

It was a ‘closed’ ghetto.[2] Ten to fifteen persons lived in one room.

A Jew found outside the ghetto would be shot, as well as for any little thing.

There was a children's school in the ghetto.

People worked at carrying stones, on regulating the water supply, etc. Two transports of about 200 young men were sent to the Plaszow camp.[3]

Once, four Jewish informers came from Tarnow, and sniffed out those who traded in currency. They caused fifty Jews to be shot, among them, Felder, Buksbaum, Zilber, and others. Two aktzias[4] occurred: the first in July 1942, and the second in September of that year.

 

Into the forest

My wife and I and our three children decided to flee into the forest on the day of the aktzia.

Running along the route we had chosen, we heard shots. When we saw that the roads were being watched, we returned home, but without our two sons who had gotten lost.

We hid in the attic and stayed there the entire day of the aktzia.

In the evening I heard a shout: “Dad!” I recognized the voice of my son (he now lives in England). When I came down, I found him bloody and wounded. On his way to us he climbed a roof and fell asleep, then tumbled down and hurt himself. I took him into our hiding place.

We ran out of there, and my wife and daughter were caught. My son and I were able to run into the forest behind the town.

We stayed in the forest for sixteen days. Before dawn I would go to the peasants and bring food. One of them informed on us, and the SS captured us in the forest. They stripped us naked, took away our money, and sent us into the town, to prison. This meant that they would shoot us.

[Page 250]

Trouble in Plaszow

Five hundred Jews remained in the town after the first aktzia. The “Jewish Elder,”[5] Blekh, did me a favor and sent me, in a transport of 200 Jews, to Plaszow, in Cracow.

In Plaszow I worked in construction at a glass works. My twelve–year–old son carried chips into the kitchen.

I worked at this hard labor for eighteen months. It was two kilometers away, towards Biezanow. They shot people on the slightest pretext.

On Yom Kippur of 1943, they took out fifty–three Jews for shooting. I was one of them. When they led us out, I realized that it would not end well, and wanted to flee. But a Jewish policeman wouldn't let me. When they brought us to the Jewish Ghetto Police, I managed to turn away and went back to my work. From a distance, I saw them take the men away for shooting.

Soon an SS man came, to take us too for shooting. Jewish policemen helped the Germans in their violent deeds. There was one terrible SS person, named Goeth, the leader of the Plaszow camps and the executor of the aktzias throughout the entire Cracow area.[6]

The camp was ruled by terrible hunger. One could be trampled while crowding up for food.

 

Hounded from camp to camp

500 Jews, myself and my son among them, were sent away to Częstochowa.[7] We stayed there for fourteen months. My son peeled potatoes at first; afterwards, he worked for the police, until the Jewish commander of the camp, Yalles,[8] sent him to be shot in the hall. There, he was assigned to be on a transport to Germany.

I worked with ammunition in the HASAG–Warthe factory. The camp commander, the wicked German Jew Yalles, caused us problems. Gutstein, the commandant of the Jewish police, was also a murderer; he beat to death a Jew named Goldman from Tarnów.

The food situation was still bearable, because it was still possible to do business with the Poles.

When the Russians drew near, they took my son to send him away. I begged to be sent with him, and they sent us together to Buchenwald in December 1944. In Buchenwald, they separated us after ten weeks of being together. They sent me to Güssingen, near the French border.

In Güssingen there was a construction site where people worked with stones, in camps, heaping stones on the train tracks. It was a camp with people of many nations, among them 2000 Jews.

Conditions were very bad there. The barracks were open to the sky and cold. People suffered terrible hunger.

At 6 a.m., after a roll call accompanied by SS men and dogs, we would be taken out to work. The SS kept watch to see who wasn't working properly, and that person was punished by not being fed at midday that day.

At night – another roll call. The Jewish Kapos[9] did nothing bad. Before we arrived, 1500 Jews had died there of cold and starvation.

Four weeks later we, 3000 Jews, were packed in, 120 to a rail car, and sent to Allach,[10] Dachau. We travelled for four days. 500 of those who arrived were dead, having died on the way. They were sent directly to the crematorium at Dachau.

In Allach we were sent to barracks, where we lay down on bare cement.

The next day, after a bath, we were given a coat to wear over our naked bodies, with no underwear.

Hunger was constant and inescapable. In the morning we got a bit of black coffee. At midday – some watery soup. In the evening – 12 dekagrams[11] of bread.

People died like flies. It was an extermination camp, where people didn't work.

Before we arrived, Hungarian Jews were already there. The Hungarian Kapos distinguished themselves by their cruelty to us.

At the end of March 1945, we were packed into rail cars, 120 persons to a car, stacked upon each other. We travelled for seven days, for evacuation to Tyrol.

We were in open cars, rained and snowed upon. They didn't let us off the cars. We were fed once a day.

The train stopped at the Stallach[12] station. When we caught sight of the American tanks, we kissed the tanks as well as their drivers. They thought we were savages, because we looked so terrible.

After we spent three days in the village, the Americans took us to Landberg,[13] on April 30, 1945.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. One of the town squares. return
  2. The term for a ghetto surrounded by walls or barbed wire. return
  3. The Plaszow camp, adjoining Cracow, was initially a forced–labor camp.
    Oskar Schindler employed many Jews from Plaszow in an attempt to help them. return
  4. The German term for local German operations in which Jews were assembled and deported to concentration or death camps. return
  5. In ghettos, the head of the German–appointed Jewish Council. return
  6. This refers to the notorious Amon Goeth, commandant of the Plaszow camp. return
  7. Presumably, to the ghetto that was established in that city in 1941. return
  8. Name transliterated; I could find no trace of it. return
  9. Jewish trustee inmates who supervised the prisoners. return
  10. A subcamp of Dachau, opened in 1943. return
  11. 1 dekagram = 10 grams. return
  12. Name transliterated; I could not locate this station. return
  13. This is obviously a typo for Landsberg, the location of one of the major DP camps. return


[Page 251]

Testimony of David Buksboym

Translated by Yael Chaver

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Central Historical Commission of the Control Committee of Liberated Jews in the American Zone.

Akt 1219/66

The Germans marched in on September 7, 1939. The Volksdeutsche[1] immediately grabbed us for work, which consisted of cleaning streets, hauling wagons, etc. They confiscated all the larger Jewish businesses. That same day, the Germans shot four Jewish men: Leybish Kolber, Yosek Kurts, Friedrich, Tulek Tsigler. They immediately took twelve Jewish men as hostages and changed them over every two weeks. They cut beards and burned Torah scrolls.

We had to wear armbands with a blue Star of David. The remaining Jewish businesses had to hang Stars of David in their display windows.

At the end of 1939, we had to gather in the following streets: Krume, Kleyner Mark Platz, Grabarnye and Mieckiewicz.[2] Although times were somewhat normal, there were many casualties. On January 1, 1942, the Germans commanded all furs to be handed over. Almost all businessmen in this trade obeyed. Anyone discovered concealing goods was immediately shot. On January 10 the Gestapo shot seven unrelated elderly men and one woman. They were buried the next day in the Jewish cemetery.

Two weeks later, they shot the shoykhet[3] Perets Koyfman along with his wife and four children, for no reason.

The Polish police were very helpful to the Gestapo.

One day, they shot a considerable number of Jews whom they thought were Communists.

On June 24, 1942, they sent 200 men to the Plaszow camp. Many died as they were being shipped out. The general liquidation of Gorlice[4] took place on August 14, 1942. All those who were arrested were sent to be exterminated in Bełżec. Five hundred men were left to clean up. Later they were sent to various camps in Germany.

The Poles and Ukrainians helped with all the deportations. In addition, they pillaged Jewish belongings.

There was no resistance, for technical reasons. People were not prepared.

The Jews of Gorlice were murdered in Plaszow, Muszyna, Przemyśl, Rzeszów, Skarżysko,[5] Częstochowa. Only a few hid in the forests and with the partisans.

Among the murdered were Dr. Advocate Arnold, Dr. Elyakim Weiss, Reb Aryeh Halbershtam, Dr. Hollander, Dr. Eisen, Shtatfeld, Dr. Goebel, Dr. Hoffman, Lehrer, Tzeiler, Rabbi Halbershtam, the dayan[6] Reb Leyb Jugent. Almost all of these were dismissed from their positions, except for Dr. Arnold.

The Jewish police consisted of shady characters. One was a shammes[7] in a synagogue, and had hundreds of Jews on his conscience. They were very diligent at their filthy tasks. One person who especially “distinguished” himself at this work was a person who got drunk with the Nazis, and betrayed the entire Jewish council of Gorlice and the vicinity. His end was terrible, regardless. Before all the Jews were driven out of the ghetto, all those mentioned above were shot. But the woman Bertha, who especially “distinguished” herself and handed over Jewish people and property, is now living in America.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Members of ethnic German communities living outside Germany. return
  2. The first two names in this list are descriptive: “crooked; small market square.” return
  3. Ritual slaughterer. return
  4. This apparently refers to the Gorlice ghetto. return
  5. Apparently Skarżysko–Kamienna. return
  6. Member of a rabbinical court of law. return
  7. A sexton. return


Testimony of Moshe Spanner

Translated by Yael Chaver

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Central Historical Commission of the Control Committee of Liberated Jews in the American Zone.

132/2358/656

Much private and community property was buried in the Gorlice cemetery in 1940.

The Germans occupied Gorlice on September 15, 1939. Two days later, notices went up around town, that all Jewish men and women over 15 had to report to Dworzseska Square, for registration.

At the same time, the German authorities confiscated many Jewish businesses. Simultaneously, the non–Jewish residents of the town, Poles and Volksdeutsche, fell upon the Jews, beating them and robbing Jewish property in homes.

On the first Sabbath after the occupation, SS men took out several Jews from their homes and shot them in the middle of the market. This was repeated regularly every Sabbath, until Gorlice became Judenrein.[1] Many Jews were also shot while the Hitlerites carried out searches in homes, looking for furs.

[Page 252]

Entire families were murdered if even the smallest bit of worthless, old fur was found in the home. This happened many times.

… In January 1940, two ghettos were instituted in Gorlice. The Jews who lived in the separate ghettos were not allowed to see each other or have even the slightest connection.

A Judenrat[2] was set up, consisting of a few people. The chief officers caused the Jews even more misery; in any case, they lived in constant terror of the German demands. These officers carried out all the levies, confiscations, and deportations of Jews for forced labor and extermination. They did so with great diligence, according to the instructions of the SS officers, and used blackmail and other terrible means with the help of the so–called “ghetto police.”

In September 1942, the SS troops, aided by the Judenrat and the ghetto police, succeeded in fooling the elderly and sick, who were told they would be transferred to a special camp with better food than in the ghetto. All those who were old and sick assembled voluntarily for deportation; they were sent out of the town that day, and all were shot.

A few days later, the first deportation transport left Gorlice for Belżec. 6000 Jews were shamefully driven from their homes and taken away from the town.

Many Jews were shot during the deportation aktzia. The second deportation took place two months later, that is, in December of 1942.

All the Jews, about 600 people, were collected in the town square. They were sorted into two groups: the healthy and the weak. The first group was sent to camps near Cracow.

The second group was driven to Plaszow, where they were shot.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A Nazi term designating an area “cleansed” of Jewish presence. return
  2. Jewish council. return


Woe unto the eyes that witnessed this[1]

by Rivka Seltenreich–Halbershtam (Brooklyn)

Translated by Yael Chaver

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

The horrific things that I saw with my own eyes have never passed into oblivion, and often rise in my consciousness; time cannot wipe them away.

The killing of Jews began the moment the war broke out. The war found us in the village of Moszczenica, where we had fled. After the Germans marched in, we returned to the town. We immediately heard that the German troops (they were called “blackheads”[2]), among other things, murdered young boys who were fleeing from our town, on the road near Sanok. According to my recollection, among them were Natan Ginzberg, or Alter Shloyme Degen, the son of Meir Rubin – there were more, but I cannot remember their names now – these were the first victims.

In the town, they plundered the richer homes, until people grew a bit calmer, and grew accustomed to it. People still lived in their own homes and ran their businesseswhoever was still in town. This went on for a while. Afterwards the Jews moved from certain streets. We left our house on Lukasziewicz Street for the home of Eliezer Weinfeld. We moved the business from the market to Shvenkl's, in Schuster Street. They gave us a small room to live in there, because the Ukrainians appropriated the higher–quality homes.

Things grew ever worse and more cruel. One often heard about tragedies when people were killed in the middle of the street, and the community grew nervous.

Officially, the killings in the streets started with America's entry into the war, on December 8, 1941.

At that time the ghetto was already concentrated on Dworzseska Street. The Judenrat was also located there. Jews were still living outside the city, but I don't know precisely who they were.

 

Shootings in the streets

One Shabbat morning we looked out the window (then we were still living at Weinfeld's) and saw dead people, with dangling arms and legs, being carried on a wagon. We hid in the attic. When it grew quiet, we found out that young non–Jews, aged 18–20, who spoke Polish – they were Germans from Upper Silesia – were walking on Podkozscielna Street and shooting people. After that, we regularly heard shots in the streets. A tragedy unfolded in the winter of 1941, one that froze the blood in the veins of every Jew in town. One Friday they shot a young shoykhet named Perets Kaufman on the street, together with other Jews who were accidental passers–by.

The Gestapo ordered the Judenrat to clear away the dead.

[Page 253]

[3] They then went to his wife, who was living at Avrom Tomik's. A Gestapo officer, along with a member of the Jewish police, demanded that she hand over a tallis[4] but did not tell her that it was for her husband. The woman wouldn't hand over her husband's tallis immediately, and started screaming. The Gestapo officer therefore took the woman with her five children, one an infant in arms, to the Gestapo headquarters. The policeman went to summon the Judenrat. In the short time it took for the Judenrat members to arrive for an intervention with the Gestapo, they were all shot in a gruesome manner: the criminals were inside their office, the woman and small children were lined up under the window and used as target practice. The Judenrat members found them all lying in the snow, including the mother holding the infant.

That same winter they ordered all fur clothing and coats to be handed over to the Germans, on pain of death. Naturally, no one resisted, and wagons full of fur clothing were given to the Germans.

 

The tragic end

This is how things were in the town, yet people went on living. Until the tragic end came, in August 1942.

One morning, my father (may he rest in peace) came in from the street in a very bad mood. The Judenrat was in a panic, and had ordered all valuables and gold to be handed over.

As my husband was not in Gorlice, only my child and I, my father ordered me to travel to my husband (at that time he was in Bochnia; he could not stay in Gorlice for various reasons – fear of the Gestapo – and Bochnia was then considered a kind of paradise).

Immediately, carrying nothing so as not to attract any notice, I took the back streets and arrived at the train station, and left at 12 noon.

When I got to Bochnia, I heard that Gorlice had already been encircled by the Gestapo.

They brought all the Jews from the surrounding towns in to Gorlice, and evacuated them all on the next Friday.

Unfortunately, my father (may he rest in peace) had no illusions about Jewish existence. He and my brother, and other Jews, hid in a bunker during the transport evacuation. Alas, a Jewish policeman whom they had trusted, enticed them out of the cellar and sent them to the transport on Shabbat.

The rail cars stood there with the people for several days; no food was distributed. On Monday, they removed fifty young people for street work – among them my brother David. My mother (may she rest in peace) stayed, alone and sick, in the ghetto hospital. My brother was soon sent to a camp in Przemysl, from which he escaped.

This was the end of the Gorlice tragedy. The rail cars were sent off. Rumor was that all the Judenrat members and those who worked with the Gestapo were taken out in front of the cars before they left, and shot.

The fact is that very few of the young people of Gorlice survived the war.

We and my brother went through much more, and looked death in the face more than once, until we finally witnessed the Germans' defeat.

We wandered in various places, but never went to Poland again.

Writing down a small part of the terrible travails has cost me much strength. But let it be an eternal memorial to the martyrs!


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A traditional term of lament. return
  2. I have not been able to find this term. return
  3. The first three lines on this page appear transposed, and a line may be missing. I have tried to give a coherent account. return
  4. A man's prayer shawl. return


The Sufferings of Job

by Yeshayahu Binder (Munich)

Translated by Yael Chaver

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

I want to describe, as best I can remember, the martyrdom of the Jews in my home town of Gorlice.

When the Germans entered Gorlice, almost two–thirds of the Jews had already fled, myself among them. Some of them got as far as Dynów. The Germans caught them there and, bestially, branded swastikas on their foreheads. They placed some of the Jews in barrels and rolled them down a mountain, shattering their bodies and killing them. Among them was Meir Rubin's son; Degen's sons; Firer, who sold fish in the market; another Firer (his cousin); the ladies' tailor Birkenfeld; and others whose names I don't remember. About thirty people from Jaslo and Krosno – who were still alive – gave the murdered people a Jewish burial, but they, too, were shot later. I survived. I ran away and got back to Gorlice.

In the meantime, police raids had been carried out in Gorlice. The Polish intellectuals had been arrested and deported. The Germans mounted a show with the clergy: these were told to crawl on their bellies and hit each other. As long as this went on, the Poles realized that they, too, were targeted, but they soon forgot.

[Page 254]

Devising false accusations in order to shoot people

The Germans then started harassing us, in the winter of 1940. Jews had to do road work, and shovel snow in winter, so the roads would be clear. In 1942, we worked at building the road from Biece to Sanok. They were preparing for another war. Anyone who didn't go to work was shot. The Gestapo commander, Otto Friedrich, used to say that he could not eat his breakfast if several Jews had not already been shot.

The first time they started shooting Jews on the street was in 1942. It was on a Sabbath. Seventeen of the Jews returning from prayers were shot. One of them was Hershele Rat from Zagorzany, with his family.

It started when the Gestapo came from Jaslo. They published a proclamation[1] that all Jews were sick with typhus, and they shot every Jew they met on the street. This was how Buksbaum, from Wysowa, was murdered.

An order was given to wear an armband. The band of shame had to be clean and nice–looking, the way they liked it – and go figure what they liked! If not – they shot and killed the person. The band had to be exactly ten centimeters wide, and worn on the left arm, where the tefillin[2] are placed. If not – they shot and killed you.

In mid–winter of 1942, they ordered furs to be handed over. The Judenrat put up notices: anyone who disobeyed and didn't hand over furs would have his entire family shot. This was how Meinhart the barber and his family were murdered. He was the Hungarian cobbler's son–in–law. They took him out to be shot at the Langsam lamp factory. He tried to escape by water. So they shot him in the water, and his family afterwards.

The Judenrat had to take care of burials after each shooting. Israel Feldmesser and other elderly members of Khevre–Kadishe[3] lived at the cemetery. Every day brought new persecutions and innovations for killing and shooting. If anyone at work let it be known that he was sick, he would be shot the next morning. Older people didn't dare go out into the street – they would immediately be shot, because the elderly were sick with typhus… Every day brought something new, had a new name. They were constantly seeking names for their vileness.

Every person who worked was happy, because people thought that nothing could happen at work. People paid money to be hired. But there were many evil persons who wanted to please the Gestapo, believing they would survive thanks to this, and they would inform on each other. But the Gestapo did not respect the informers, either, and shot them in the end. However, there were also many decent people who wanted to help as much as they could.

Once, there was an akizia against Communists and anyone who had ever had any dealings with them. And they would shoot. If a family member was in Russia, they would shoot the others. Avrom Rab was in Russia, so they shot his wife and children. Hersh Kramer's mother was shot, because it was rumored that he was in Lemberg.[4] Berl Lichtman and many others were murdered in the same akizia.

 

Extorting money in vain

There were new persecutions and outrages every day. People thought that money would ease matters and help to preserve their town from harm. Each town believed this, and they extorted money from each town. People gave whatever they had, but it was all in vain.

Mendel Parnes pestered me to go into the forest with him. He said that the rascals would take everything anyway and kill everyone. “I,” he said, “have money for many people. Let's flee, let's take the risk. No one need worry. We only need to be daring.” There were several of us, including them Meir Shubin, whom they shot the next day in the bucharniya.[5] It was too late; we had missed the opportunity. I will never forget Mendel's prophetic words. When times were hardest, his figure was always before me, and I see him constantly. May his memory be holy!

We heard from other cities that they had murdered women, children, and the elderly.

[Page 255]

They had prepared graves, and buried them alive. They sent the young people to work in camps. I don't know why, and to this day can't understand why, the Jews of Gorlice thought that they would be respected, because they had handed over money. Above all, the Germans extorted and plundered money.

 

A camp in the cemetery

In August 1942, the Judenrat published a notice saying that everyone under 60 should assemble the next day on Dworzeska. The Gestapo arrived, selected 300 young people, and arrested them. They held them for a day and a night. It rained very hard the whole time. Afterwards, they put us into three rail cars, 100 people to a car, with no food or air, and deported us to Plaszow, where there was a camp in the cemetery. Barracks were set up among the gravestones. There were already hundreds of Jews there when we arrived.

When we got to Plaszow we inquired what the news was from Gorlice. They told us that all those who remained on Dworzeska, old and young, had been shot. They shot them next to open graves and killed them. Many were buried alive in a mass grave at the garbets.[6]

The 300 Jews of Gorlice were sent to work in different factories, and my brother Binyomin was sent to the Siemens factory project. People were beaten, in addition to the hard labor. Only a small number of the 300 Gorlice Jews were lucky enough to die a decent death. Many of them returned to the ghetto and were murdered in the course of the aktzias, or else died from exhaustion and suffering.

Shortly after we arrived, 300 new Jews from Gorlice came. They told of new hardships, one crueler than the next. My uncle, Hersh Meylekh, saw his entire family being killed, their heads and feet chopped up, and the walls and floor smeared with blood. Before the ocupation, they had had commercial ties with Ukrainians; now these Ukrainian had a chance to kill them. Witnessing this, one person had a heart attack and died on the spot. One man named Yidl Neuman happened to be near the ghetto barbed wire one evening, and was shot. The Germans killed by day and the Ukrainians – by night.

 

I still get shivers

Beginning in May 1942, typhus reigned in the Plaszow camp. People died like flies. Very shortly after we came, my brother Binyomin died. This was soon followed by the deaths of Pinkhes Bruder, Meir Vild, Berl Krebs, and others whose names I have forgotten. Six days after I fell ill with typhus, I escaped from the camps, because I heard that the Germans were planning to set fire to the barracks. I see the images to this day, and still get shivers and hot flashes.

In the Cracow camp, you could buy bread at work. Many people who had money did this. My youngest brother, Simkhe, was in the camp at Mielec. He sent me money and clothing by way of a Pole, so that I had some means to stay alive. One day the German commander, a murderer, came up and demanded that we give him money and he would see to it that we got bread. He took money from 300 people, but claimed that the Gestapo had confiscated the bread. He was very nice for one week. The following week, he demanded more money. When we wouldn't give him any, he beat us murderously, more than once.

We worked hard, had no food, and were beaten besides; obviously, we didn't look as radiant as the sun. In November 1943, we had a medical examination, and anyone who looked ill was sent to bathe. On the way to the baths they were shot. Jews from Gorlice were among them.

As early as August 1942, when we were already in the camp, two Jews who had escaped from Treblinka arrived. They told us how murders were carried out there. People were told to undress completely, each person received a towel and a piece of soap, and they were told to go into a hall that was a “bathing facility.” No one returned. That is where people were suffocated by gas. The deeds were so cruel that many people were unwilling to believe the stories.

[Page 256]

The escapees repeated the story over again many times. One of them and I were together for a long time, after liberation as well; he died last year.

 

The wild murderers before their defeat

We were sent from Cracow to Skarżysko–Kamienna. It was a munitions factory, with “A,” “B” and “C” works.[7] The work in C was hardest. Many people from Gorlice were killed there: Yekhezkel Simkhe Yohanes, Yekhezkel Krisher Lichtman, the youngest son of Zishe Lichtman, and many others. I worked as a qualified laborer, not hard, at a revolver–manufacturing machine. Sometimes I worked at a lathe, making molds for bullets. Anyone who didn't work well would get fifty lashes on his backside. You had to be very precise, because the murderers were going crazy before the end, before their defeat. One day, which I will never forget, a Pole told a German: “The Russians are not far away, we'll square accounts” – so they took away six people to be shot. However, they needed the workers, so they decided to let us live, and each of us got 100 lashes on his backside. As I was the strongest, I was first. The whipping caused me to swell up completely, and I'm still suffering from the results. This happened when the Russians stood before Warsaw.

“A” works was a transition camp, from life to death. People who could no longer work were sent to “A.” Anyone who lasted too long there got an injection – end of story. Many people from Gorlice were murdered there, but I remember only one name: Yekhezkel Balzam. I've forgotten the other names.

Later they moved us to Częstochowa. The work there was not hard. At that site we met Idel Raker's son, a fine, decent boy, and other people from Gorlice. It was the same work as in the previous camp, though not hard. But we had no clothes, and walked around half–naked.

On January 6, 1945, they hastily assembled us and transported us to Buchenwald. The Germans had left fortunes there, but we weren't allowed to take even a coat or shoes. When we got to Buchenwald, the Russians were already in Częstochowa. In Buchenwald, we met these people from Gorlice: Arn Degen, Moyshe Korn, Leybush Tseshniver, Matisyahu Goldfinger, and others whose names I no longer remember. Each day, I traveled from Buchenwald to Weimar, to clear away the bombed houses. In this way, we could get potatoes and food, which equaled a fortune that was impossible to obtain. Even the SS guards had none, and they begged it from us. I remember that Moyshe Korn would come to me every night, and I would give him some. Liptcher's grandson had a hand that had been frozen (he had come from Auschwitz), and I made sure that he had food every day.

In Buchenwald there were Polish, French, Russian, German, and Belgian camps. They took revenge for everyone. They murdered, one by one, the Germans who had been in the camps with us and given beatings. They would ask who the beater was, and that person immediately got his due.

 

Last troubles

At the end of March I was sent to Spaichingen.[8] There was an extermination camp there. Things were bitter and bad. I met no one from Gorlice there. It is impossible to imagine what went on there. Cruelty beyond description. We lay in a clay pit. They beat us, never stopping until they drew blood, and gave us no food.

It was a four day trip from Buchenwald to Spaichingen. We were given only a small piece of bread, and lay one against the other. On the way, two Hungarian Christians lay near me, and a Belgian near them. They saw that he had a small piece of bread. They wanted to kill the Belgian and take away the bit of bread. I caught the two Hungarians by the throat and almost strangled them in anger: two against one! We were all weak and hungry. Afterwards we lay quietly. The Belgian whispered in my ear that he was a Jew, that he would give me a diamond – he had two – so that I would guard him. I told him that I didn't know he was a Jew, I behaved only according to human feeling, which had not yet been extinguished in me.

When we got into the camp, we were immediately told that no one left it alive. We were given no food. We were beaten; people fell down dead at work; no clothing, fevers of 104 degrees, each day lasted a year. A daily selection.[9] New dead every day.

I remember today that I realized I would never leave that place alive. My only worry was that no one would know how I got there. That was the thought that sustained me. I went to work with a fever of 104. At one of the selections they called me out, too, and placed me in a closed car.[10] By then I was happy – never mind, let the end come; we knew what that meant. But things turned out differently: they brought us to a camp consisting only of sick people. They took us to be deloused, as the lice were eating us alive.

From there, they brought us to Dachau. They chose 3200 people, men and women, Jews only – in Dachau there were separate camps for Jews and Christians – loaded us into rail cars and said – to Tirol. Connections were already bad. We rode here and there, given 100 grams of bread per day. Later, there was no bread either, and they gave us barley. We travelled on the Starnberg[11] –Garmisch line, toward Tirol. Two days before liberation, we received American packages from the Red Cross, that had come through Switzerland.

[Page 257]

While we were travelling back and forth, the numbers of SS dwindled daily. They gradually vanished. Only a few were left by the time the Americans came. The SS told us that the plan was to murder us in Tirol. They couldn't go any further, because a bridge had been destroyed. Thus, we were saved five minutes before 12, on April 30, 1945.

 

Just barely survived

We were all weak and had no strength, couldn't walk and had no control over our bodies. I'm not ashamed to say that I was so weak that I urinated in bed at night, and didn't even feel it.

Soon, I slowly started coming to myself. I was liberated in Staltach. From there we were taken to Landsberg, and then directly to the hospital area.

A few months later, Gorlice people came from Wildflecken[12]: Arn Rubin, the Tsellers, the Hollanders. We already knew who had survived. You could count them on your fingers. I heard from Yitzkhok Vild, Hokhhoyser, and Arn Rubin that my brother Hersh–Meylekh was living in Russia. My brother Simkhe had been murdered in Mielec, along with Zigush Fister, Geller, Blekh (who held a Masters' degree),Yekhezkel Blekh, Freier, and many others from Gorlice. This meant that they had wanted to escape.

From Landsberg, I was sent to Galting,[13] where I spent a long time and had many surgical procedures. If not for the German doctors, the scoundrels, it wouldn't have taken such a long time. I am sick and broken.

In 1945, I spent eight months in Switzerland, in Basle, where I met a family from Gorlice. They had been living there since after World War I. They helped me a great deal.

 

A word to my ‘landslayt’[14]

Dear landslayt in Israel: When I remember and see all the images before my eyes, I tremble and grow feverish. The experiences I went through are not only mine – hundreds who survived, and thousands who were unable to endure, went through it all with me. I write these words with tears and blood – this must not be forgotten. When I remember the murderer of Gorlice, Otto Friedrich,[15] who chased me with a pistol and shot anyone he encountered, I scream “Such things must not be forgotten! Let them be written in a book.”

Unfortunately, my plan to visit Israel is, for the moment, not feasible. I am sick. I hope I will yet have that privilege, and will be overjoyed to meet people from home, my own folks. In the meantime, I will conclude writing and wish you all the best, and success in memorializing our martyrs.

Munich, August 1959


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The German word “Erlass” is used, in Yiddish transliteration. return
  2. Phylacteries. return
  3. Jewish burial society. return
  4. Lemberg, now Lviv, had recently been under Soviet rule. return
  5. I was unable to locate this reference. return
  6. I could not find a translation for this word, but it seems related to “tannery.” The mass grave might have been located at or next to the tannery, a location which would mask the odor. return
  7. I was unable to determine precisely what these initials stand for. It's likely that they were used instead of numbers 1, 2, 3. return
  8. The transliteration of the Yiddish yields “Shpaykheringen”; I have used the closest German equivalent that fits the following description. return
  9. A process by which the SS decided to exterminate those they considered unfit for work. return
  10. This was probably a truck. return
  11. A town near Munich. return
  12. The location of a displaced persons' camp. return
  13. I was not able to determine this location. return
  14. People from one's own town. return
  15. Deputy head of the Gestapo in Gorlice. return


[Page 258]

In Russian Exile

by Baruch Moyshe Parnes, Brooklyn

Translated by Yael Chaver

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

I would like to make known at least one fact about our lives in Russian exile, after we fled the Nazis. It was the very first day we arrived in Siberia, after being hauled around for three whole months over seas and deserts, over hills and mountains.[1]

We finally arrived in Siberia on the eve of Rosh Hashana.[2] The cold had reached –45 degrees.[3] We were soon divided into groups and sent to work, hard agricultural labor. But the next day, after all, was Rosh Hashana. I prayed early in the morning. When I was in the very middle of Shemone Esre,[4] two policemen came in to look for me and see why I hadn't reported for work. When they found me wrapped in my tallis[5] and praying, my offence was blatant: How is this possible? You're praying? And just as I was, wrapped in my tallis, they dragged me to the police station.

First, they let me stand outside for two hours. Imagine an exhausted person standing outside in –45 degrees, in summer clothing – after all, we weren't prepared for winter. Only then did the Commandant call me in. The first welcome was insults and curses. I didn't understand all the expressions – he spoke Russian – but because Russian resembles Polish I understood a good deal, and felt his stabbing eyes and scathing lips even more. At the time, I thought that all the calamities of the world were being heaped upon us,[6] including the curse of being “in a nation whose language you do not understand.”[7] A large revolver lay upon the table, and the goy was trembling with rage. I quietly recited vidui[8] because I thought my life was worth less than a bit of kindling – who knows what an enraged goy might do, with a revolver within his reach! Well, he seats himself on his throne, takes a sheet of paper, and starts writing. He starts asking me questions (he's speaking Russian and I'm answering in Polish) – “Why didn't you go to work?”

“Because today is a holiday for us.”

“Why were you praying?”

“Because Jews pray every day.”

“Whom were you praying to?”

“To God in heaven!”

“Do you believe there is a God?”

I lost my temper and yelled angrily, “Yes!” Then I went on to tell him, “Don't you believe there is a God in the world?”

He bowed his head and said nothing. He wrote down every question and answer, and then went on writing. Finally, he ordered me to sign the official report. Naturally, I opposed this and did not sign, for the same reason: it was a holiday.[9] Then he led me into the courtyard, and once again left me standing alone for two hours under the open sky, in the terrible cold. He told me that I would soon be transferred to prison. Now I could no longer feel the cold. On the contrary, I was pouring with sweat.

A few hours into this experience, God helped me and I was able to leave the police station. But they took away all my family's ration cards for a three–month period. I had to sell everything I had, even the shirt off my back, in order to buy a bit of food on the black market (all of Russia subsisted thanks to the black market).

I don't want to deny the truth. It was divine providence that enabled us to live through six years under conditions in different places. And yet, it was something of a refuge for us. The Torah says, “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land.”[10] But we became experts in the meaning of Russian freedom. It is a fact of yesterday that exists to this day: Jewish life and the Jewish spirit are oppressed.

My family and I were in Russia for 2000 days. I have a bundle of stories and experiences for each and every day. If I wanted to write them down, I would run out of time before I ran out of stories! I raise my eyes to Heaven and thank God that we survived it all. And even more – when we came home from Russia and found out everything that had happened to all our loved ones over time – dear father, mother, brothers and sisters! When I found out about their terrible deaths, I said, “I wish I were dead.” But this is how God, the Prime Mover, blessed be he, administers the world…

Thanks to my family, I know many details about life under the Hitlerist regime, may its name be effaced. But unfortunately, I'm in no condition to put it into writing: my handshakes and my eyes pour with tears, and I'm seized by a cold sweat. There's not a day that I forget the disaster that overtook the Jewish people in general and my family in particular – a many–branched family, descended from generations of noble Jewish leaders – and my nearest, poor souls, were murdered, each by different means. We were eight brothers and sisters, with children and grandchildren, and God ordained it so that I am the sole survivor.

Now I have only one prayer: May God, blessed be He, soon take revenge for Jewish blood, and we will have the privilege of witnessing what we pray for: “Take revenge in our presence for the shed blood of your servants.”[11] May he gather the exiles scattered across the world, and may a righteous savior come soon, in our time. Amen.[12]


Translator's Footnotes

  1. These are four of the five “impressive views” (a list that also includes rivers) that require a special blessing of praise to the Creator (Mishna Berachot 54, 1). Their mention in this context is highly ironic and flouts traditional Jewish convention. return
  2. The Jewish New Year, an autumn festival that marks the beginning of the High Holy Days (Days of Awe). return
  3. This obviously refers to –45 Centigrade, which is roughly the same in Fahrenheit. return
  4. A central prayer of Jewish liturgy. return
  5. Prayer shawl. return
  6. The Hebrew word used here, toykhekhe, refers to two biblical passages (Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28) listing severe curses for transgressors. return
  7. Deut. 28, 49. return
  8. The solemn confession repeated several times during prayers on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). return
  9. Writing is considered work, which is prohibited on many of the Jewish holidays. return
  10. Deut. 23, 8. return
  11. From the “Avinu Malkeinu” prayer on the High Holidays. return
  12. These two sentences are adapted from prayers. return

 

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