The Hungarian Army was now in control of Horodenka and for the moment all appeared quiet. However, one Sabbath morning, three weeks later, the first ominous signs appeared. Trains carrying large numbers of Hungarian Jews, all densely packed together, passed through the city on their way to the Concentration Camp in Transnistria.
The Jews of Horodenka hurriedly organized a makeshift kitchen to sustain them and also to provide for the small number who had managed to escape the clutches of this round-up.
On Tisha B'Av, a few weeks later, the first German division entered Horodenka and immediately showed their colors. They invaded the synagogues and threw the Torahs and holy books out into the streets to be trampled to bits. Then they caught several Jews and tortured them. At the same time their Ukrainian collaborators, notorious anti-semites who were the Nazis' civil administrators, began robbing the Jews of their possessions. As the Hungarians were still nominally in charge, the Ukrainians bided their time until the German Army took over completely. Shortly thereafter, the Hungarian army left, leaving the Germans in control. The evil oppression against the Jews which preceded the “final solution” was now felt.
First, the Nazis uprooted the Jews of Horodenka from their homes and crowded them together in the worst part of the city 1/3 of the area that had previously accommodated them. The Nazis then appointed a “Yudenrat,” a Jewish Council, which was supposed to represent the Jews. In addition to the other things which made life very difficult for the Jews, they forced the Yudenrat to furnish luxurious apartments for their officials, stripping the Jewish homes for this purpose. When these officials left town, they robbed the homes of their possessions and sent the “booty” to their residences in Germany. The Yudenrat then had to refurnish the houses anew.
The Jewish communities in the area were deliberately and completely isolated from one another by the Germans so that they had no way of knowing the scope of the German destruction. Therefore the Horodenka Jews still hoped that somehow they might survive the war, not knowing that the plan to totally destroy them was already in progress.
For six months, the Jewish community of Horodenka struggled to live under these conditions. On December 5, 1941 the Germans initiated their “First Action” which led to the eventual total annihilation of the Jews of Horodenka.
The Nazis organized a special Murder Squad for this purpose. These squads operated from city to city in the occupied countries. In Horodenka the Jewish people were ordered to assemble, under the pretext that they were to be inoculated against typhus. The Nazis marched the Jews out to Semakovtse, a nearby town, and in the adjacent forest lined up and slaughtered half the Horodenka Jewish population 2500 souls.
Dr. Shneyder, a well-known local physician, was among those who believed the Germans were sincere about administering the injections and convinced the Jews of this. The Nazis wanted to free him but he refused, preferring to die with his people.
By mere coincidence, a small group of about 1150 Jews were saved from death in the First Action. I, the author of this article, was among them. At the last minute the Nazis received an order from the military to exempt the Jewish craftsmen, bakers and carpenters. Out of sheer desperation I claimed to be a baker and got Aron Glaser, a well-known Horodenka baker, to vouch for me. They locked us up in the foyer of the Shul and the following afternoon freed us to work for them. That is how I managed to survive at that time.
A number of wealthy Jews bribed their Ukrainian neighbors huge sums of money to hide them and their families. They were delivered into the hands of the German when the Germans threatened to kill anyone found harboring Jews. Of course the Ukrainians kept the bribes.
All the members of the Yudenrat were slaughtered in the forests. A tiny minority managed to escape and save themselves for the time being at least. However this was the beginning of the end.
To flush out the remaining Jews, the Nazis now proclaimed that they would no longer bother the Jews. Somehow they convinced the approximately 1500 Jews who had hidden themselves to come out into the open. They were now confined to a tiny Ghetto area three to four blocks long and a new Yudenrat was appointed. All the entrances and exits to the Ghetto were sealed off. Only the bare necessities were provided and even those were cut. Those who worked for the Germans outside the Ghetto were closely regulated their arrival and departure times strictly watched by the Jewish guards who were severely punished for the least infraction of the rules.
Four months passed. On April 13, 1942, the Second Action took place. The Germans rounded up 450 Jews whom they intended to murder. However they implied that one could remain alive for an enormous bribe. Somehow the Jews scraped together whatever they still retained and turned it over to the Germans. In this way 375 Jews were able to ransom themselves as “productive elements” for a little while longer.
Unfortunately, in the Second Action 75 elderly Jewish men and women were taken to the Town Square and the Nazis executed them without pity.
Five months later, on September 2, 1942, the Nazis forcibly assembled the remaining Jews and all others they could locate and transported them to the Concentration Camp in Majdanek to an almost certain death. Nevertheless, 400-500 Jews still managed to conceal themselves from these German sweeps. The Germans were evidently aware of this and now instituted their Third Action six months later in order to be able to declare Horodenka and the suburbs completely “Yudenrien,” free of Jews. A few remaining Jews fled to the outlying towns and villages, but the Nazis, with the help of the Ukrainians, made a successful sweep of the area, capturing and killing them
Those few that did manage to escape joined and fought with the Partisans. One such person was Asher Shtreyt, son of Shlomo Shtreyt, who was later killed in the fighting between the Germans and the Partisans.
Through sheer miracles a small number of Horodenka Jews managed to live through the war. Most of them now reside in Israel and America five live in Europe and are hoping to emigrate.
As far as I know, there are no longer any Jews in Horodenka.
[Page 275 and 365]
translated by Harvey Buchalter
(1) Until the war broke out between Germany and Russia, the Jews of Horodenka, like all the Jews in the area, got used to the conditions that had become common in the town. Many were reconciled to the idea of living under Communism; others wanted to wait the war out and then see if they could resume their normal lives. People heard a lot of rumors about the German occupation of the western part of Poland, about the life of the Jews there, and about the persecutions, but nobody really thought it would reach the Jews of Horodenka. We believed this first because of the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement, and second, because many believed that Germany wouldn't start a war with the Russian bear. We in Horodenka thought that the Russians had a lot of power in this area and that this would frighten the Germans.
On the first day after the war broke out, we were all bitterly disappointed as we watched the Russian power fell apart. Tanks, cannons, airplanes, and soldiers could not hold their position. By the first day of the war, the Russian retreat had already started.
I remember that on the morning the war broke out a few friends and I decided to hike around the few villages in the area. We left the house around 6 o'clock going toward the village of Yasenov. This village had just finished building a very modern airport. When we reached the place, a few airplanes flew above us and started bombing the airport. They also started shooting on the village with machine guns. We were shocked and hid in the caverns alongside the road. By the time they were done, the whole new airport was destroyed.
Right after the Hungarians entered Horodenka, a few Ukrainian elements in the police force started organizing. They were nationalistic and anti-Semitic. They added their own rules against the Jews to those of the existing regime. The Jews also started organizing and the first Jewish Judenrat started contacting the Hungarians. In that way they tried to counter the Ukrainian powers and their wish to take over control of the town and the Jews.
Tuvia Korn, the oldest son of the Hebrew teacher Korn, proposed that a group of the Zionist youth movement establish a soup kitchen to feed the refugees. When they brought this up before the Judenrat, they were very supportive, promising to help with the food, while the Zionist youth organized the work. This was a time when the Judenrat was still in communication with the Jews from the surrounding villages. They could not collect money, but they could bring in supplies for the kitchen. Kvetsher's house, next to the Polish gymnasium, was dedicated to this purpose. The people from the youth movement started collecting tools, utensils and furniture to turn it into a soup kitchen. There were a lot of problems but the enthusiasm of the people overcame the difficulties.
When the number of Hungarian refugees increased and we needed to feed more people, the Zionist youth approached the Judenrat and demanded a bigger house to expand their work. The Judenrat approached the German authorities who had replaced the Hungarians, thus putting Horodenka under the auspices of the district of Krackow. According to the new rules, the Zionist youth got a new two-story home, the house of Michael Kamil. It was very big and comfortable and could accommodate feeding up to 400 people three meals every day.
Among the Judenrat members who were in daily contact with the people who organized the soup kitchen was Mr. Israel Kugler. He was the first and strongest supporter of the project. He could always find more food when everybody else was short. He collected donations from the rich people of Horodenka and the villages. This demanded a great physical effort because people who went to the villages had to return before nighttime. And although they had passes from the Germans, it was still a very dangerous operation. But he persisted because he liked the Zionist movement and the Zionist youth. As a Judenrat member, he was very supportive of the idea of educating the orphans in the Hebrew language; thus the orphanage and the soup kitchen were managed in Hebrew.
When Mr. Kugler realized that the Germans were planning the destruction of part of the town (although nobody could conceive that they were really planning the destruction and murder of all of the Jews), he got members of the Zionist youth together and gave them his signed will, authorizing them to inherit and sell all his property and to transfer the money to the land of Israel. A few members of the Zionist youth were named as his heirs. After the will was written and signed, a few copies were made and buried inside bottles in safe places where they could be found after the war was over.
Among the people who helped with the orphanage and the soup kitchen, eventually giving their lives while doing so, were: Tuvia Korn, Josef Kokh, Munio Schecter, Josef Reys, Shlomo Korn, Berl Hoffman, Zvi Reys, Reuven Frifer, Lusia Vacher, Nina Auerbach, Clara Hartenshteyn, Savka Shoyderer, Mania Kugler, Sarah Frankel and Malka Friedman. The work was very difficult and although these people were young, they still had to work in shifts. Nevertheless they continued to work.
Dr. Charasch, the son-in-law of Simcha Schnitzer, took in the children for a short time until we succeeded in collecting beds, linens and even toys. We then moved the children to the second floor of Mr. Kamil's house where the soup kitchen for refugees was operating. In addition to our regular duties in the soup kitchen, we thus undertook the additional work of caring for these children. A few refugee women also helped us. In a few days we overcame all the difficulties connected with the care of the children, as well as running the kitchen. It all simply became a daily routine. It is fitting to note that the operation of the kitchen, as well as the education of the children, was all conducted in Hebrew. All members of our working group were well versed in the Hebrew language. We all had completed the Hebrew school of the Talmud Torah.
Needless to say this work was voluntary and the only reward was seeing the children grow and develop. Unfortunately, this lasted only a very short time. In the first action on December 4, 1941, the Gestapo captured 2,500 Jews in our city, among them the thirteen orphans, together with those of our staff who were on duty at that time. They all met their death in the village of Michalcze-Siemakowcza and lie there in the mass grave of our people.
After this first action, the town was quiet for a while. People were stunned and could not plan anything. Most of them thought they couldn't survive and that they would lose their minds or commit suicide. But their determination to live took hold and soon enough people started organizing again, putting together new labor groups and sending workers to replace those who had been murdered. Soon after that there was a new decree. A ghetto had to be organized. And the Judenrat was contacted to decide which streets and which houses should be included. A few streets were allocated for the ghetto. They allocated for houses the new part of town, from the Jewish school to the area where the old huts had been torn down. The borders included Schtelshetska Street to the house of Fleshner to the other side of the bridge leading to Kotokivka to the Polish church and the gymnasium.
At the beginning they gave them very convincing names like the group of doctors, the group of bakers, the group of general professionals. They made the Jews think that groups of important people would be spared. This made a lot of people try to bribe their way into one of the better groups. A lot of scheming and cheating occurred in this process. But as people soon found out, nobody was spared; not even the people from the good groups.
It happened that included among the first group were four members of our family and a few other young Jews from the villages nearby, who wanted to live outside the ghetto. We worked in an open camp. We got enough food and the work itself was decent. The Germans who ran the camp were neither Gestapo nor officers, but rather professionals, engineers and technicians. They were only interested in building the bridge. The relationship between some of the workers and the Germans was very easy and comfortable. For instance, one day a supervisor got a message that important people, accompanied by the Gestapo, were coming to see how the work was proceeding. They decided it would not be good for them see Jews working and decided to send us on a boat down the river on that day. One of our supervisors joined us, we thought, to keep an eye on us. But when asked, he said. I'm going with you because I can't stand these swine. However when as part of the third action by the Germans, an order came to assemble us at 7 a.m. for the Gestapo to pick us up, all this friendship was gone. And even though some of them had tears in their eyes, they still helped the Gestapo put us on heavily guarded carts to prevent our escape and drive us back to Horodenka.
After everybody was in, one German told us, You're lucky. You're not going with everybody else. You are going to work. And although there we were only 80 of us, we could hardly breathe and some died on the way to the labor camp. A lot of people broke the small window while the train was going and jumped out. Bullets from the Germans killed most of them.
We were in the last compartment and were taken to Kolomyja. Some of us wanted to jump, but we decided to wait and see what would be done to us. And the further we went, the more compartments were added to the train. Most of the cars were left at the train station in Lvov while the rest went on.
Life in the camp inside Lvov was not very easy. Thousands of young Jewish men from all over Galicia met their death there. The first days in camp the young men from Horodenka kept in touch, but soon we each had to find our own sleeping place and our own bunk. Also the Gestapo organized us into groups of workers so that what little connection we had with each other was lost. Most of us were put, however, in a group that worked desecrating the tombstones from the Jewish cemetery in Lvov, turning them into pavement for the road. This group was doing very humiliating, physically hard labor and had very few survivors. People who were sick were shot and those who were not shot died while they were working.
On the first day, we young men from Horodenka kept to ourselves. But as nightfall came, we had to separate and seek out a place to rest our heads. As noted, the camp was not totally completed and the only structure was inhabited. The order was given that we had to find a spot indoors. So we began to poke around and luckily found spots under the stacked beds, five or six, one above the next. We had to crawl beneath them, and so we spent the first night of many nights in dust and dirt.
The next day, at four in the morning, we had to appear at assembly, grouped according to work tasks, to do calisthenics at the order of the Gestapo. That was the routine, both summer and winter. Each morning we assigned the new arrivals into work details. Many were assigned to existing groups. Those who didn't make the cut were then moved into new groups. Thus, our Horodenka group was split up. We could see one another only at night, and even that was difficult because we were always occupied with some work. A few work details were taken outside the camp, which was much better, even is the work was usually harder. There really wasn't any specialized work in any of the camps. Even those who had easier work to do were under the thumb of the Gestapo night and day, and so they lasted only two or three weeks.
Many of the Horodenkan youth were assigned to a group that worked at removing the tombstones from the Lemberg cemetery and using them to pave the roads. The work was incredibly hard and depressing. Almost everyone who was assigned to this work collapsed under the pressure. My brother, Baruch Prifer (of blessed memory) was also in this group. Even though they knew they could claim an injury or illness, they also knew what the Germans did with them: they were simply sent back to work. My brother Baruch worked for a week with a broken leg. On the week before Yom Kippur I could not convince him to get up and report to work. That night, when I returned from the work detail, he was no longer there. They made known what had happened to him.
The increasing number of raids in the city meant that more young people were brought to the camp, but the actual number of prisoners in the camp scarcely varied. It averaged about 5,000 people. In the camp there were also Poles in a separate fenced-in area. We had contact with them. Their tasks were easier; fewer of them were killed. Once a week they received packages from the Red Cross. Our food ration paled in comparison: 90 grams of bread each day; black coffee in the morning and soup at mid-day; at night, sometimes soup, sometimes coffee.
The work details that slaved within the camp and were forced to live off the rations barely survived for two or three weeks. Here and there, outside the camp, more was available, and sometimes we were given something to eat at the worksite.
In the horrendous surroundings, people held out survived longer than you can possibly imagine. Even when a typhus epidemic broke out following the first snowfall, many showed their will to live. They even attempted to escape. And the more that died, the more were brought in from the outlying regions, those who had remained after the ghettos in the cities and towns had been liquidated. Former members of the Judenrat and the Jewish Police were in this category. But no matter what, the actual number of inmates in the camp never varied.
During his first night in the Lemberg ghetto, Tiker went to see his brother and I went first to see to Izzy Veykh, who was from Horodenka. He lived in Lemberg. I had his address. But I had a bitter disappointment: I located where he was supposed to be, but that very same night he was attempting to smuggle himself out by using Aryan papers, so he was unable to help me. He could only give me a bit of money and an overcoat to conceal my camp-prisoner outfit. Aver Tiker and I wished one another the best and separated. But he was not blessed with any luck. Despite his good intentions and planning, he was in for a big letdown. He too had searched for his brother, but when he found him, he was afraid to take him into his household. His brother lived in a room with another family. He felt that if a runaway were discovered, the assisting family would be murdered. So he gave Aver Tiker a bit of money and some clothing. The two of us remained in the ghetto, but without the opportunity of going into a home to warm up and have a glass of tea. No one would sell us anything for money out of fear that we were escapees from the camps. And so, the Jewish Police, which was very well organized in Lemberg, arrested us that very same night and kept us in the prison in the headquarters of the Judenrat. This was far better than falling into the clutches of the Gestapo.
Aver Tiker, who slept on the ground near me began to spike a fever and we realized he was coming down with typhus. That morning, after a long debate we took him to the hospital in the ghetto. I remained alone behind bars because I didn't have an address or even an acquaintance in the ghetto. I met up with some Jewish police who wanted to take away my overcoat, in order to determine, they said, whether or not I was an escapee from the camp. We almost came to blows, but fortunately the commander of the Jewish Police ordered me to be released.
But following the bitter experience in the German labor camps, no Jews could be found who would join this labor detail of their own free will. And so the Judenrat depended upon me. (I had become healthy in the meantime; also, there were no raids at this time)They put me in charge of recruiting for the damned labor camp. They proposed that if I went there, thirty or so more lads would follow my example. They thought it would be a shame to let the opportunity slip by, because Poti's intentions were good, and you had to show him respect and loyalty. They depended on me, because I was the first to escape from the Yanovska camp, which had the reputation as one of the worst in Poland. They regarded me as a miracle worker who breaks out of camps; they looked upon me as one who had been to Hell and made his way out of it.
I mulled over the offer, went out to Lisovtzeh to look over the camps, and decided to go there with my brother, Abba. Actually, a group of twenty lads left with us from the Tluste ghetto. In contrast with the other camps, life in the Lisovtzeh ghetto was normal and good. The general supervisor of work was a Jew named Katz who had remained in his position from the time when the farm was still in control of the Jewish landlord. But when we showed up for work in the morning along with all the Gentiles, Katz had not considered that we had no experience in farming, and so he issued an order that we should work exactly like the Gentiles worked. The Gentiles were treated humanely. Most of them were Poles, and we soon became acquainted with them.
After this incident, more people started coming to the ghetto. Sometimes a few dozen came, sometimes a few hundred, making it very crowded. Poti was given permission to establish more camps such as this one on other farms in the area, and they soon filled up. Whether in ours or in the new camps, entire families would show up, including children and the elderly. Soon the members of the Judenrat also came to the camp and pleaded with the Germans to allow everyone to enter the camp. They showered Poti with gifts and he promised to do it, assured that the Gestapo would not find out. But intention didn't match outcome. The Gestapo began to search the entire camp, and each search cost a few victims.
The person in charge of the farm was a German named Franke. I must say that he treated us well, perhaps because he was so deeply involved in performing his tasks that would not get done without our labor. Once, at harvest time, he depended upon us to remain at work to complete the grain threshing. Night work was very risky, because you could not see if anyone was approaching. He realized this and assured us that no one (the Gestapo) would ever find out. We believed him, but at daybreak we realized that we were surrounded by Ukrainian police. It was still dark and a few of us took advantage of this and started to run to the forest. The soldiers chased after us. Seventeen of us were murdered and the remainder taken by the Gestapo to a site in front of everyone in the camp; they were ordered to dig graves.
Meanwhile, one of those who had escaped came to the foreman Franke and told him what had happened. He immediately he was not fully dressed mounted a horse and rode to the site with a revolver in hand, and with a gallop and a shout convinced the Gestapo commander to abandon the plan. And so all of us remained alive. This was unheard of! But this was how he was able to accomplish this: he was a cousin of the Governor General Franke of the Krakow District, and so the Gestapo commander certainly took this into account (when he reversed his own decision).
At dawn the next day those who had fled to the forest returned, including my brother and me. After this incident we gained some confidence. In truth, we had dug seven graves. We had become convinced that Franke stood for us like steel and iron.
Two days later his wife arrived in the village, they packed up his clothing and they returned to Germany. Later on we found out that he never got better from his bout with typhus. He soon died. He had also begun to speculate who would take his place; many of us were on pins and needles wondering what kind of person he would turn out to be.
Meanwhile all of the remnants of the ghettos in the nearby towns were liquidated, leaving our camp as the only one reserved for Jews in the entire area. Truthfully, there were a few Jews hidden by Gentiles. There were also Jews who survived in the woods in bunkers they had dug from earth, but they more or less lived in worse conditions than I did.
There weren't only young people in our camp, but also children and the elderly. I myself brought my parents into the camp. By that time my father was very sick and could scarcely walk around. If not for our connections with the Gentiles in the village, we would not have made it. When my brother came down with typhus and was unable to remain in the camp, I would take him to the woods for three or four days or plead for him to spend the night indoors for a night or two. The fact that he survived these conditions without either a doctor or medicine was truly a blessing from Heaven.
Towards the end of January Badenburg was issued an order to pack to pack up all the materiel, load it onto wagons and have trustworthy helpers haul it to the large farm in Tluste and there await further orders. Badenburg realized he had no trustworthy helpers other than the Jewish lads. He asked me to choose ten brave lads to go with him to Germany under his protection and there remain until the end of the war. I offered up his proposal to my comrades, and because our day-to-day life in the camp was so uncertain, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and provide him with the required company. I myself couldn't go because I did not want to leave my parents.
A short time later the group went on to Tluste. Badenburg had put in his word for them, but he could not understand why I had not taken advantage of his generosity, and this saddened him, but he continued to conduct himself well with me, nevertheless.
We were very happy with the chain of events, but not for long. We didn't know how long the retreat would last. But this was the main point: what would follow the retreat? Meanwhile, we remained in the village, in fear of the Polish natives and the thieves under the command of Bendera. He was a Ukrainian Nationalist, a sworn enemy of the Jews, but also an enemy of the Russians and Germans. He fought against all of us equally for an independent Ukraine.
We knew we couldn't defend ourselves against the Bendera forces because of their great numbers and armaments; they were supreme in the villages and forests. Thus the camp workers resolved to go to the Tluste farm at the head of the road to seek the protection of the German soldiers against an assault by Bendera's forces. We would re-position ourselves to protect against a cross-fire, but it soon became apparent this would not be the case because the Bendera crew had no intention of going to a place where German forces would be waiting for them! In a Jewish labor camp in the village of Golovchyn'tse (which would not reconnoiter in Tluste) there was an assault and many Jews were killed and wounded. We found out about it the next day and so a group of us went to the town, but we could do nothing but bury the dead and assist the thirty wounded people to Tluste. The Ukrainian bands surprisingly allowed us to do this and didn't stand in our way. We put the wounded in a large barracks within our camp and encouraged them to do the best they could. Among those wounded was Yurman, whose uncle was a fur dealer in Horodenka. Among the dead were people from Horodenka, but I cannot recall who they were.
This lasted for almost a month until things quieted down. From time to time a car went by, or a motorcycle or a tank; they never stopped. We were very hopeful that a truce would be enacted because the Germans were fighting hopelessly on every front. We placed sentries on the hilltops to prevent a surprise attack by the Bendera gangs. I stood sentry on the spire of a church a short distance from the camp, with two comrades: Muni Wenkert and Max Hellman from Zaleszczyki.
On March 24, 1944, in the morning, we spotted a tank that stopped at the outskirts of the town. It began to shoot volleys in the air above the town. The tank then turned around and quiet resumed for a few minutes. Soon more tanks arrived and they all began to fire volleys. We felt that the spire of the church would collapse, but in truth they weren't firing on the buildings, but rather above them. Then a row of tanks entered the town. From the spire we could make out the Red Star on the tanks. Soldiers lounged atop each tank.
As the tanks entered the town, the Russian soldiers alighted and positioned themselves in the streets. You should know that we didn't run, but flew to spread the news in the camp. And as the soldiers approached, we embraced them. They were amazed because the townspeople were not as happy as we were to see them. When they rode through the towns and villages no one went out of his way to welcome them. And when they found out we were Jews, and that we had somehow remained alive, many of them had tears in their eyes because they had never seen anything quite like this before. The regiment's commander was Jew, and so the others were aware of the Jewish Matter.
As soon as the bombardment had begun I ran into the camp. My father had been in the barracks, but he had gone out to see the tanks, and so he saved himself. The two comrades who stood watch with me were also wounded. Muni Wenkert was wounded in the leg. We thought he was only slightly wounded but on the way to the military hospital he died. The second one, Max Hellman, had a serious stomach wound, but he recovered and today lives in America.
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