by SarahMindel Kestenberg, Haifa
I was born in my beloved city of Kozienice, which I will never till the end of my life forget. In 1926, as a 16 yearold girl, I went to Warsaw, where I got married, and lived with my husband and 3 children.
On September 1, 1939, Hitler attacked Poland. Two days before this, on Friday, early in the morning, German planes flew over our heads but no one imagined, that war would break out. Warsaw held out for a month, before succumbing to Hitler. There was nothing to eat, no water or electricity. I then lived in an apartment at 3 Tvarde Street. The bombing was terrible, and all of Warsaw was aflame. Ten minutes before my building was bombed, I decided to remove the panes from my windows so that in case of emergency, I would be able to save myself and my family by escaping through the window. After removing the panes, a bomb actually fell on the house in which we lived. Through the window, we crawled into the street, where many corpses were laying. We went to Panske Street, to the synagogue. My husband went to the Vistula River to bring some water. Together with my husband I went to find out who was still alive in the family. We searched for a corner for ourselves and the children. At my relatives, and at my husband's relatives it was crowded, and there was no room for us. I had nothing with what to feed the children, and no clothing to change them into, because everything had been burned in our apartment. In Warsaw there wasn't any bread. An aunt of mine took my oldest child, an 11 yearold boy. He sold cigarettes in the street, in order to earn enough to buy a piece of bread.
Hunger and Want
The hunger didn't lessen. For bread we stood in line day and night, and often didn't get any. There were occasions when I got up from my bed in the middle of the night, in order to get a piece of moldy bread for the children. When I would stand for many hours, and finally my turn would come, a Christian would recognize me as a Jewess, and the Nazi, who preserved order, threw me out of line. I remained without bread. We could go out on the street only until 7:00 p.m. For appearing on the street after that hour you received a bullet in the head. The last, remaining Jewish businesses were ransacked by the Germans and their contents removed on German trucks. I saw this with my own eyes on Genshe Street, where there were Jewish establishments of piece goods. The Germans also seized Jews for forced labor.
An aunt of mine, who came from Kotzk, told us that it was better there than in Warsaw, and she took my two daughters, Tzipporahle and Chavale, to her. I escorted them part of the way, because Jews were no longer permitted to ride the trains. I never saw my little girls again. I didn't have the opportunity to visit them. We decided to go to the Russians, just like many of the Jews at the time were doing. We left our son with my aunt, and my husband and I went to Bialostok, where a brother of my mother lived. In Prage (a suburb of Warsaw), we managed to get ourselves on a train. We came to Radzin, where we had to change for a different train. There was a commotion. Jews were being seized for labor, and they were being beaten. Everyone ran to hide. We hid in an attic, belonging to Jews. We were there overnight. In the morning, we continued on foot to Bialostok. It was already bitter cold in November of 1939. We came to Malkin, and went to a Christian. This was the point at which we wanted to cross the border. Two SS came in and took my husband, and 3 other men. An hour later they came back. They told us that they had already dug the graves for themselves, when a young Christian called the SS men away, and in that way they escaped and prevented their deaths.
We Got Lost
We went back to Warsaw. It was night and cold. We were hungry, sleepy and tired. We came upon a peasant's dwelling. There we spend the night. At 4:00 in the morning, we had to leave the house, because the peasant was afraid that he and his family would be killed. We went a short way and we heard Halt! Halt! We began to run in the direction of the forest, in order to save ourselves. We wandered around and got lost. My husband returned to Warsaw, and I ended up in Bialostok.
I was without money. I went to my uncle. He allowed me to remain with him, but it was very crowded. There were many refugees. On the morrow my son came from Warsaw. A Christian had had pity on him, and helped him cross the border. For the two of us there was definitely no room at my uncle's. I found a place in a synagogue. The crowded conditions there were indescribable. We slept on hard benches. We had nothing with what to cover ourselves. From my husband I heard nothing!
We Go To Russia
People were registered for work in Russia. I also registered. This was in 1940. In a few days we were sent in cold cars on a twoweek trip. We arrived at Tshelyabinsk in the Urals. I was assigned as a helper in construction work. I rolled wheelbarrels filled with sand and cement. Two women had to pull a wheelbarrel. Even for men this was difficult labor! How much more so for women! Not once did I fall down at work. The Russian women laughed at me, saying that the Jewesses can't and won't work. They have white hands, and want an easy life. My wages weren't enough to buy the 400 grams of bread that I was entitled to daily. For some frozen potatoes you would have to stand a whole night in line.
During the war with Finland, the situation became worse and more difficult. We got no food. My buyer and supporter was my 12 yearold son. I saw that we would die from hunger there, but we were barefoot and naked, without any money for expenses. I had already sold the last coat that I had from Poland for 400 rubles. With a mighty effort I obtained two railroad tickets. But it was impossible to get to the station. We dressed ourselves like Tarters, with great difficulty and finally managed to get to the station. We arrived in Moscow and from there went to Kiev.
We Go Back
The streets of Kiev were filled with Polish Jews. After many protestations we were allowed to travel freely. I received a ticket to Kovel. We arrived in Kovel at 8:00 in the evening. I had no one there, not any relatives and not any acquaintances. Jews were returning from the House of Study. I went over to a Jew and told him about my situation. When I told him that my birthplace was Kozienice he took me to Yonah Roisman, who was a Mohel from Kozienice, and who was living in Kovel. He told me that also YisroelItshe Briks was in Kovel. On the 2nd day I traveled to Bialostok, to my uncle, in the hope that I would hear something about my husband.
My uncle told me that on the day after I had left for Tshelabinsk, my husband had come to Bialostok. He went to the employment bureau and requested that he be sent to the same place that I had been sent to. So they sent him where they wanted to. I knew the place but to reach each other we were unable, because my husband had signed a contract for two years. I fled to Kovel. I didn't get any work. Like previously in Bialostok, also here in Kovel they were seizing the Polish refugees, and were sending them in closed coaches to Siberia for forced labor. People were concealing themselves, and also I was hidden in a cellar for two weeks. My 12 yearold son used to get from a baker, rolls and bagels and sell them in the market place. With what he earned we managed to live.
A month later I received a letter from my husband from Berditshev with a permit to come to him. We were together for a month, until the war broke out between Russia and Germany. We again began to wander, and in this way we came to Siberia. In 1946 we returned to Poland, where my husband died in 1955. I and the children, two sons, went to Israel in 1957. My oldest son was married, and the youngest one is in the Israeli Army.
by Reizel Greenberg (Ankerman), Netanya, Israel
My father, Getzl and my mother, HenyeTzirl knew many of the Kozienice people who remained alive. We lived on Lubliner street, number 28, in the house of my grandmother, Tshame Devorah Mandel.
I Was an Embroiderer (Needle Worker)
I was one of the fulltime needle workers, known not only in Kozienice, but also far from our town. The years of my working among the needle workers, were years of energetic life for hundreds of Kozienice young men and women. Our employers were Chaim Samochod, his brother, Alter, and his sister, the black, Ethel. A larger undertaking in the branch was for many years run by Miriam Feigenbaum and her two sisters, Altele and SaraReizel, the daughters of Mordecai Nuta, the Shochet. Besides these there were tens of enterprises, in which there were employed, at needle work, young girls. Our work, ignoring the fact that it was difficult and monotonous in unsanitary conditions, was accompanied by singing, as was the custom among young people.
In 1913, I was married and left Kozienice. I settled in Shetshechov, the birthplace of my husband Moshe Greenberg. After the outbreak of the War, I was forced to leave, and attempted to settle in Gniewaszow. I had to leave because of our Polish neighbors, who informed the Germans that we had a great deal of merchandise, and that we had given the Polish authorities money to prepare the war resistance.
Back to Kozienice
Also in our new dwelling place, my husband, daughter and myself, were not able to remain for a long while, because the German murderers began to drive the Jews of the small towns into the bigger towns. On German orders, the Jews of Gnievashov had to move to Zvolin, but I was drawn back to my birthplace, where my parents and relatives lived. The Kozienice Jews were already enclosed in the Ghetto. This was at the end of 1941. The situation of the Jews was atrocious. This was the beginning, when the Germans had thrown the Jews of the surrounding towns into Kozienice, and from there, together with Kozienice Jews were transported to the death camp at Treblinka. The area of the Kozienice Ghetto was strictly limited. In every Jewish house there were added Jews from the surrounding towns. The Germans, together with the Judenraat and the Jewish police, jammed into each house so many people, that the crowded conditions were unbearable. Many had to sleep on the floors. Dirt and the crowded conditions caused many illnesses, which decimated the Jewish population.
The coming of the Jews terrified the Kozienice Jews. We weren't aware of the reason why Jews were driven out of the towns and villages, but the confusion, disorganization, and fear were great, because it was clear that no good could come of it.
We Flee Kozienice
Due to those conditions, my husband and I decided to move to Brezshnitze. For the price of gifts and money, which we gave to Polish engineers, they took us for forced labor on the canals. At that work there were employed hundreds of Kozienice Jews. The work involved digging the canals with shovels. This was done to dam the water from the fields, and the earth that was dug up, was brought with wheelbarrels to the surrounding fields. With us we had our SarahMalkale, who was then 6 years old. Every time we knew that the Gestapo was coming, we would quickly turn our child over to the paid people of the village, who would hide the child in the surrounding woods. I emphasize that at the time there were no longer any Jews in my birthplace, Kozienice. Our situation at the time was difficult to describe. We knew what was awaiting us. And on top of it, the work conditions were inhuman. November, 1942. Cold, frequent rains and frost. We slept in the fields. We nourished ourselves on beets which we stole from the fields.
Bullets Showered Us
On the 11th of November, 1942, when we were at work, a hail of bullets showered us. We began to run, wherever our eyes carried us. We understood that this was our end. A few fell dead on the spot. Among those shot were: Yosele Beirechs, and Lipshe, the daughter of the woman who sold fish. I no longer remember the others who fell. All night we wandered in the surrounding woods, and were afraid to approach the place of our work. We were not sure of what to do. In the morning we decided to find out what had taken place in the camp. When I say We, I mean: myself, my husband and our child. Carefully we approached the place, where we became aware of the fact that all of the Jews with whom we had worked, had, after the shooting, been taken away in Gestapo trucks. Mentally and physically broken, we stood by the pit, in which there lay 13 Jews from Shetshechov, who had been shot, and among them, my brother, Yitzhak, of blessed memory. Unable to see any other way out, we decided that we must save our only child. It was clear to us that we must turn the child over to Christians.
We Hide Our Child
The earth under our feet burned. Each minute was too long. We decided to turn the child over to a Polish family, that didn't have any children of their own. Understandably, this also involved a payment. We understood that our fate was sealed. Maybe, by a miracle, the child will remain alive. We turned our child over, and I and my husband went away, wherever our eyes led us. We wandered for days and nights in woods and fields, avoiding people. From time to time, at night, we attempted to knock on the door of a peasant. Among others, we decided to go to a poor peasant in the village of Zdinkev, to the not far from Gnievashov, about whom we had heard that he was hiding Jews.
At hat time we still had some money with us. The peasant's name was Bochenek. He took us and told us to go into the grain silo. In the silo there were two bundles of straw. My husband and I were exhausted from many sleepless nights.
Where Are the Jews?
In the silo there was a pit. We went down into the pit and covered ourselves with the two bundles of straw. We fell asleep. We were awakened by the barking of the village dogs. Afterwards, we heard a knocking on the peasant's door. The A.K. were demanding that the hidden Jews be turned over to them. The peasant denied that he had any hidden Jews there. We heard all of this with our own ears. The A.K. then took Bochenek out in the snow, and beat him with thick sticks, demanding that he bring out the Jews. Afterwards, when the bandits did not stop beating him, Bochenek said that the Jews had been there hut that they had already left. Then they asked: Where have the Jews gone? Bochenek answered: Would a Jew say where he's going? We heard these words, and to this day they ring in our ears. Before leaving, the A.K. came into the silo with a dog, and lit it up with a flashlight. Seeing the silo empty, they left.
In the morning, Bochenek told us that three days earlier, the bandits had taken three Jews from his house, and shot them on the spot. After that conversation, we left Bochenek's home. We came to a place about 20 kilometers from our previous place, and hid ourselves in an outoftheway hut, which belonged to a woman named Gavelek. We hid ourselves there, without her knowing it. By day we were in the hut, and at night my husband went to acquaintances and brought sufficient food. In this way we lived from the beginning of 1942 until the end of 1943, not only in that hut, but also in a few other places.
How Shime Zuckerman Perished
During the last days of the year, 1943, we experienced a frightening event. Not far from the hut, in which my husband and I found ourselves, in the same village of Opastvo, a neighbor of ours, Shime Zuckerman was hiding out with his bride, Chaya Levita. Once, Shime went in to his peasant, where he was hiding his precious possessions. The peasant, knowing exactly when Shime was supposed to come, informed the Gestapo in Kozienice. When Shime entered the house, there were already two Gestapo agents waiting for him. His bride, Chaya Levita, was waiting outside. Shime fought with the Gestapo agents. It seems that the Gestapo did not want to shoot him on the spot. They tied him with rope and took him away to Kozienice, where, after administering frightful torture on him, they shot him.
Chaya Was Already Dead
Chaya fled and hid herself in the surrounding fields and woods. The murderers knew that Shime had not been alone, so they spread the alarm to all the units of the firefighters in the nearby village. There began a wild chase after Chaya Levita. After two days of searching, one of the local inhabitants found Chaya in a potato pit. They informed the Gestapo in Kozienice, who came, threw Chaya into the trunk of their taxi, and took her away to Brezshnitze. When they opened the trunk, Chaya was already dead. Her grave is behind the cemetery, in the village of Slavikov. Learning about this incident our own uncertainty increased to its highest point. We were envious of those who could no longer feel any pain. I didn't want to fall into the hands of the murderers alive.
I Wanted To Commit Suicide
Not far from our hiding place passed the train to Kozienice. I had decided to put an end to my life. I begged my husband and tried to convince him that we must end our suffering by committing suicide on the tracks of the train. But my husband informed me that he would fight for his life with his remaining strength. We lived frozen from the frost and snow. I became ill with a high temperature. My lips were burning.. I wanted a drop of water to wet my dry lips. At night my husband went out of the hut. He found a container and brought some water, but it quickly froze. In order to obtain a bit of water for drinking, I had to put the frozen container against my burning body. Under such conditions, my husband, Moshe Greenberg and I managed to survive the year, 1944. Many years, after being liberated from the German bandits, we found out that our child, Malkele, had been murdered by the Christian, where she had been in hiding!
by Aaron Kestenberg, Tel Aviv
Before I describe how I was saved from the Nazis, and how I got to Israel, I want to point out that my parents, Moshe and Luba, of blessed memory, were Kozieniceites from many generations back. My father was a son of the prolific Kestenberg family and mother was a daughter of the Rechthand family. My mother's grandfather, R'Aaron, served as the Kozienice Rabbi for 40 years. He named himself Rechthand (Right Hand) because he had been the right hand (assistant) of the Maggid of Kozienice. My parents got to Warsaw a few years before WWII. With the outbreak of war, the family numbered five children, Fishel, Yaakov, Shlomo and 2 sisters, Rivka and Nechama. I and my brother Yerachmiel, were the lone survivors of the entire family.
I Remember Kozienice From My Childhood
Kozienice I remember from the days of my childhood. I was then 6 years old. It was one year after the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917. This created an impetus for Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. I remember how all of the Jews of Kozienice accompanied Chaim Aaron to the railroad station with a band and with the bluewhite flag. Chaim Aaron was among the first to make Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. This event penetrated deeply into my memory. At age 18 I joined a Kibbutz near Warsaw. After a year, I left the Kibbutz, in the hope that I would at sometime get to Eretz Yisrael. This dream was realized only after I had been through the seven levels of Hell.
It began with the conquest of Warsaw by the Germans. After the heavy bombardment, that lasted for 4 weeks, and at the heels of the army, came the SS and the Gestapo, who began to seize Jews, to clean up the wreckage of Warsaw. A terrible period began, which never had its equal in all of Jewish History. Daily we were faced with the dilemma: What would the day bring? And what would the morrow bring? Decrees and death were our lot. Hunger ruled in every Jewish home. The Nazis would pick especially on those Jews who had been seized to repair the damage they had done to Warsaw. Once they seized my father, and when he returned at night, it was impossible to recognize him. His beard had been shorn, and he had been beaten and was wounded. I was seized many times for labor, until I decided that I would disappear at the first opportunity. '
The Nazi Didn't Find Me
It happened on one black day. All days were then black. A group of 100 Jews accompanied by 2 Nazis passed in front of our store. One of the Nazis dragged me out of the store and ordered me to join the group. I joined. So many Jews and only 2 Nazis! I began to think about fleeing. I said to myself: I'll leave the line, that was walking on the road, go up on the sidewalk, and get lost among the passersby. I went up on the sidewalk, and joined the passersby. I began to run. In the yard of the first house I found a hiding place an open storage shack. I closed the door and in this way I was saved. From within, I heard the Nazi curse. When I exited, towards evening, my father told me how the Nazi, with his gun in his hand, had searched for me, but couldn't find me.
In the morning, early, I went to the train station of the line to Shedlitz, and from there I crossed the border. After many difficulties I got to Bialostok. I had the feeling that I had left Hell and entered Paradise. A few months later, my brother, Yerachmiel, arrived with tragic news from Warsaw. At the beginning of June, 1940, the situation changed, also in Bialostok. Jewish refugees were sent en masse to Siberia. As fate would have it, my brother and I were separated, and I didn't know where he was until I made Aliyah in 1942.
My brother made Aliyah to Israel in 1959. In 1943, the most terrible of all news reached me: About Treblinka, and Auschwitz, where my family perished. Up to the last moments of my life I shall never forget!
Where are they all, O Lord of the Universe?
The dear parents, the sisters and the brothers The holy, and the pure one.
The souls where are they?
Of the infants and the children,
Of millions of Jews?
Your mercy, where is it, O Lord of the Universe?
It is written in your Torah: Do not take the mother together with
the children! We shall therefore cry over the destruction The great, terrible and awesome one!
Pesye Had Regrets
In the summer of 1939, Pesye SherevskyYazin was a teacher and administrator of the BeisYaakov School in Brisk. After a semester of work in the field of education of Jewish girls, she went, during vacation, to her parents home in the Hassidic town of Kozienice. Her father was the Rabbi in the town of Ostrolenko, near Lodz. She had been born there. In 1939, her father and his family already lived in the city of the Kozienicer Maggid, where he was the head of the Yeshiva. And there is where Pesye went at the end of the term, for the High Holidays. It was here that she was caught by the war. Days flew by and the War of Amalek (a nickname for Nazi Germany) showed its Hellish face. Once Pesye went out of the house and she was seized for forced labor. She was dragged to the Nazi headquarters where she was set to work washing windows. They made her take off her blouse, dip it into the pail of water and with it, wash the windows.
My Mother Was Named Rachel
She stood and washed. Suddenly she saw a strange sight: Dr. Yosef Gonshor is being brought in. Dr. Gonshor, a convert to Christianity, was the ViceMayor of Kozienice, and much beloved by the Poles. They didn't know that he was a convert and thought that he was a born Samorodner Pole. He was being brought in screaming, and being beaten. Admit that you're a Jew! the Germans shouted at him and beat him. His blood flowed, but he didn't utter a word. They brought out a Torah Scroll and ordered: Stomp it with you feet! But he didn't move, so they beat him again and again, but didn't get anywhere. Non Jews gathered and began to argue: What do you mean he's a Jew? He is one of us! But the Germans answered: We know better … And they continued beating him, until he fell unconscious. Then they let him alone.
The non Jews carried him away in their arms. Pesye helped them, supporting his head. Suddenly she hears him utter something. She bends her head down to him and he says to her, in Yiddish, groaning: I also once learned. My mother was named Rachel…Now my mother will be pleased with me. Afterwards he died! Pesye thought to herself: Go, try to evaluate a Jewish soul! Only the slightest trace of Jewishness could be found in him, asleep within him, almost extinguished, but when necessary, it martyred itself!
R' Eli, the Hunchback
A while later Kozienice saw an entirely different kind of martyrdom. There was in Kozienice a Jew, R'Eli, the Hunchback, he was called. He was a very secretive person. No one knew where he came from and who he was. He was to be found in the city garbage dump, but only at night. By day he would be found on the cemetery. Entire days he would spend lying on the grave of the Holy Maggid. Besides this he was also seen at funerals. He would trail behind every funeral. This is the way R'Eli would conduct himself all the days of the year. It would be entirely different when R'Arele would come to the city. Then R'Eli would come alive. The Rebbe, R'Arele, would seat him next to him, and in general befriend him.
As is well known, the Rebbe, R' Arele, was a great musician, who played the fiddle. When he would come to Kozienice, his custom was, on Saturday nights, to go to the Holy Maggid's small House of Prayer, put on the Maggid's Kittel (white robe), take the fiddle and play. Even there he would seat the Hunchback, R'Eli near him. No one knew the secret and the reason for it. But supposedly that was the way it had to be. When the Hunchback sensed, no one knew how, that the Nazis were planning to harm the Maggid's Shul, he would beat them to it. On a dark night, he removed from there the Torah Scrolls but he was caught at it…
And this is the way the Germans punished him: In the Maggid's Shul, in front of the Holy Ark, they scattered and tore the Torah Scrolls, until there was a large pile. They then tied the Hunchback and lay him upon the large pile of parchment. With ridicule and laughter at his defect they did it. The Germans were especially cruel to those who were crippled. They were the first to be exterminated. Probably because the cripples served no practical purpose, and on top of it had to be fed. It is also likely that they hated the feelings which cripples aroused in others: pity, charity and kindness.
The Germans had regressed to the ancient Greek barbarism whereby they would put to death a deformed child, for socalled aesthetic reasons, so that nothing deformed or ugly would exist in the world. With derision and sport they threw the Hunchback, R'Eli to and from, among the pieces of parchment, and with especial pleasure they would bang him on his hump.
Outside, all around, stood the entire city, Jews as well as Goyim, whom the Germans had assembled to see this wonder. Then they set fire to the parchment! Jews, outside, saw the smoke through the windows, and they understood, that it had begun, but not a voice was raised. The Hunchback did not groan or cry out. He accepted the torture with love, as if the body wasn't his. This is what people later told, who were actually inside. His was only a soul and the soul the Germans were unable to touch. His face was pale yellow, just like the parchment, and he himself looked exactly like a Torah Scroll. Parchment doesn't burn quickly, and death did not come to R' Eli quickly. It was a long dying! A long Martyrdom! The Holy Ark caught fire from the Torah Scrolls, and soon afterwards, the entire Maggid's Shul was in flames. It had even been held sacred by the Goyim. The street, on which it had stood, was called Magitova. The walls had been inscribed with the writing of great people, who used to come to the Maggid. There was even an inscription in the handwriting of the Polish Nobleman, Poniatovski. He was much esteemed by the Poles. The entire city stood and cried over the burning Shul. But the tears that were shed couldn't quench the flames. Pesye also stood here. She cried and thought about Eli's martyrdom, and she regretted that she had once in her heart questioned whether or not it was a worthy generation!
(From the Jewish Daily Forward, 1949)
On Simchas Torah in 1939 the Hitlerite barbarians forced Kozienice scholars, and prominent citizen to pour kerosene and burn Torah Scrolls, and Holy books of all kinds on the spot of the Maggid's Shul in Kozienice.
by Leibele Fishtein, RamatGan
Chaim Zaltzberg, who today lives in Canada, tells of an atrocity, whereby and why the Hitlerites had shot to death a minyan of Jews. This occurred in 1942, in a work camp, in the village of Shitshki, near Radom. On Yom Kippur morning, a minyan of young people put on their prayer shawls, and conducted their services. They were so engrossed in their prayers that they forgot to appear for their line up. When they reminded themselves, it was already too late. Everyone had already long before gone out to their labor. They remained this way in their bunker all day, and prayed. In the midst of Neilah the closing service, the Gendarmerie came from Radom, and ordered that they all come out to the square, wearing their prayer shawls. A few minutes later, when we returned from work, we found nobody left in the barracks.
At that moment we heard shots. We asked each other: Who knows, maybe they've shot them? a few minutes later, there returned from the woods our Germans, together with the Gendarmerie, joyful, as if they had just then returned from a good meal. They ordered us to line up. One of the Germans removed several men from the lineup. I was among them. They ordered us to take shovels and led us into the woods. The Germans commanded us to dig a pit. How long the digging took, I don't know! I only remember the shouting of the Germans: Make the pit larger! Even larger! So that there will be enough room for all of you. The word larger threw us into a panic. Who knows? Maybe we are actually digging the pit for ourselves? In burying those that had been shot, I recognized four from Kozienice: Moshe Greenshpan, Moshe Greenberg, Moshe Feigenboim and Menashe, the son of Chaim Samochod.
by Rivke Perlstein
I sit in the forest, lonesome, alone,
In my heart suppress a quiet sobbing,
Without occupation and without a home,
My wandering has no destination.
Wrapped in terror and fear,
Long forgotten what it means: to be sated
On the way of wandering.
To myself I think and talk,
Darkness all around, cold and late,
The eyes crying, broken, tired,
I ask God to put an end to the war.
How to save oneself from Hitler's hands,
Not to be burned alive,
Give advice, somebody tell me,
From my eyes drip a prayertear.
My God, my God, I murmur quietly,
Merciful and pitiful God with great feeling,
Tired, exhausted I fall asleep,
But a few numbered minutes run by.
The entire forest and everything around
Was quiet and mute.
An echo is heard there …
I remember to this day every word.
Don't worry, my child, don't cry and bemoan,
You will yet sing songs in your own land,
by Mira Sobol, Melbourne, Australia
My name is Mira Sobol, born Lipman, from the small town of Kozienice. Before WWI the town was under Russian occupation. The Czar did nothing to lift the cultural or economic level of the population. Because of it the Jewish populace lived in poverty, and only a few achieved either high school or higher education. The predominate portion of the Kozienice population was engaged in shoe production. More than 50% produced, handled and sold shoes. We lived in very bad conditions. Very often, six and seven people to a room. Earnings were minimal. The vast majority worked and earned only a few months of the year, and in the remaining months, didn't have enough for daily expenses With the impoverished masses, the Polish government conducted a constant struggle. On the one hand they would subsidize with significant amounts, and on the other hand they would propagandize, so that buyers would not come to Jewish enterprises. This was what the former Polish Minister of the Interior called: The Economic War Against the Jews. Besides which they engaged in physical warfare against the Jews with their fists. They would beat them on dark streets, tore at their beards, threw rocks, demolished Jewish homes, and even killed Jews. But all of this was Paradise compared to what happened when the Hitler hordes occupied Poland.
Beatings and Shootings
Immediately, in the first weeks of their coming, the Germans drove the Jews into the Ghetto. During this activity, they beat, shot and robbed Jews. The majority of the Jewish populace had to depend on support, and when the support wasn't enough to maintain life, people died of hunger. It was a daily occurrence, to see swollen, hungry children and adults, begging. Those, who were able to help these living dead, became fewer day by day. Finally the time came when the small number, who only had enough to eat, became deaf and dumb to the beggars.
My family did not suffer hunger during the German occupation. My father had, before the war a leather business, and there remained enough merchandise on what to live, and support his family. When the Germans took the Jews out of the town to Treblinka, my entire family saved itself from the transports, by volunteering for the labor camps. At the end of 1942, the Germans liquidated the laborcamp, and took the people into the concentration camps in Skarzshisko and Pionki. My father and mother, and also my first husband, tragically gave their young lives to the bullets of the German murderers. I succeeded in turning over my fouryear old son to a Polish family. I and my younger sister were able, as Christians, to go to Germany, to work, and in this way, by a miracle we saved our selves from annihilation.
Today, when I think of it, how the weak, helpless women and small children were able to overcome the great cataclysm and escape alive from the murderous hands, I see in it a great miracle and preordained thing. And in spite of the fact that I am not a strong believer, I do indeed believe that a supernatural hand supported us and led us out alive from the greatest danger, in which Jews had ever found themselves, in all the long period of their history.
by Gershon Bornshtein, B'naiB'rak, Israel
Our grandfather, Pesach Mandl, or Pesach Schneider, as he was called, was one of the oldest householders in Kozienice. He had been born in Kozienice, and there he raised five sons and five daughters, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren.
I remember, when we the grandchildren, used to come to our grandfather, of blessed memory, our greatest joy was to pat his shining, silky, white beard. It was also a pleasure for him, and he was overjoyed by it. He would groom his beard as if it were a precious diamond. Before every joyous event, he would groom his beard with a fine comb.
I want to point out that Pesach Schneider was the only tailor in the Rabbi's courtyard. He worked and sewed by the light of kerosene lamps, until late at night, and still did not miss a single afternoon or evening prayer in the House of Study. All of his ten children he raised and married off through his hard work, and waited patiently for his heavenly reward in Paradise. Unfortunately, he waited until the German Hell arrived. Our grandfather's courage and joy lasted until the German murderers occupied our city, our dearly beloved city of Kozienice, which was famous throughout Poland for it's Hassidism and it's Maggid.
When the first motorized armored vehicles lined up on Koshtshelna and Targova Streets, my grandfather had the urge to see the Germans. When he came to YisroelAbraham Schneider on the corner of Targova and Lubliner Streets, an SS officer approached and began to tear my grandfather's gray beard. Then he knocked on the tailor's door to bring him a scissors. My grandfather stood with trembling hands and feet, like an imprisoned lamb, waiting for the end. With his dirty bloody hands the SS man cut off the left side of grandfather's beard and in doing so also tore out flesh from his face. Blood flowed on my grandfather's Kapote (long black coat) and the blood pounded in his heart, when the wild SS man lit a match and burned grandfather's cut beard. Covered with blood, my grandfather suffered from his damaged beard, and from the burning of the old Maggid's Shul and House of Study.
Every one of us remembers, when we small children used to go with father to pray in Shul and repeat word for word, the chanting of the Cantor. Our unforgettable mothers would give us food, wrapped in hankerchiefs, to take along, in order, from time to time, to satiate our hunger. When the food supply would run out, we would run outside of the Shul to play. To this day, there rings in my ears, the sweet, gentle voice of AaronBerish, who used to cover his face with his Tallis, holding his hand at his ear, so that his gentle voice would ring out more clearly. Or the praying of Melech Chaim Pinchasl. The blowing of the Shofar still echoes from the old Maggid's Shul, which the Germans, may their names be blotted out, had burned.
During the early days of the occupation, on a Friday night, the Germans poured gasoline on the inside and outside walls and drove the Jews out of their homes onto Magitova Street. Accompanied by wild Gestapo shouting and beatings, the Jews had to dance around the burning fire, which was devouring the Shul and House of Study. Those two scenes, mentioned above, accompanied my grandfather wherever he went: 1) The burning of the Maggid's Shul and House of Study, where he would daily praise the beloved name of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and 2) the great tragic aggravation of his shorn beard.
The two great desolations, which he experienced in his great old age, had a powerful negative influence on him. He would isolate himself as much as he could, in order not to have to look upon the Nazi murderers. His gentle, beautiful beard he tied with our grandmother's head kerchief, and shortly, after these tragic experiences, his gentle heart stopped beating, and his soul was martyred in the Ghetto. In his funeral not even a single child or grandchild was able to participate. Only a few Jews from the Burial Society and his brother's son, BenZion Mandl, accompanied him to his eternal resting place.
by Rivke Pearlstein, Haifa, Israel
For many years, the Chmielnitzky family lived in Yedlnia. We had an haberdashery manufacturing plant there. We would buy in Radom and sell to the Christians of the town. We lived quite peaceably, and the Goyim trusted my father. Our family consisted of sisters, brothers, daughtersinlaw, sonsinlaw and grandchildren. Our home was open to the poor Jews, who used to pass through our town. We were always openhanded about helping those in need. This is how we lived until 1939.
My father and my mother came from Kozienice. My father was the son of R' Avigdor Yosef Chmielnitzsky, a fine Jew and an upright person. My mother, Nechama Leah, was the daughter of R' Itshe Feigenboim.
We Move To Kozienice
At the beginning of 1939 we decided to move to Kozienice. We moved into the house of my uncle, Aaron Berish, on Lubliner Street. There we decided to open a yard goods business. We had barely opened the business, when the merchants began to complain that the situation is very difficult. It didn't take long and the War broke out. It ruined our fortune and our family.
We Flee and Return
Once, on a Friday, when we were preparing for the Sabbath, we suddenly heard the sound of bombing not far from us. But nobody could imagine that the murderers would soon arrive. The first bombs fell and everyone ran into his corner. The first bombs brought with them some victims, the Lippman family. I and my two sisters fled to the forest, where we suffered hunger. At 5:00 p.m. we returned home, where we found the entire family. On Shabbat, before dawn, Jews from Kozienice fled the city. Some fled to the villages, and others to the forest. Panic ensued. We survived that Shabbat in great fear.
On Monday, the German murderers entered Kozienice. Several Jews arrived with the news that the Germans are very polite, so we returned to the city, great destruction greeted us. All of the business establishments were damaged. All of the merchandise was scattered on the streets, and entire Jewish properties destroyed. Since we had no alternative, we adapted ourselves to the fear and terror. Suddenly an order was issued: That all Jews must abandon Radomer and Varshaver Streets. We were shoved into the Ghetto. It became overcrowded, and the noise great. We also adapted to this, and we hoped that God will not abandon us; that better times are in the offing. In this way we lived until the tragic destruction of our large family.
During the intermediate days of Succot, all of the Jews of Kozienice were sent out to Treblinka. Only a small number managed to save themselves. I was in Camp Vulka. This was a village not far from Kozienice. I was together with my husband, Yenkel Vildenberg, my sister, Tovah, my mother, Raizel Zucker, her son Leibl, and many other Kozienice Jews., We worked hard. This took a number of days. Later, all remaining Kozienice Jews were sent to Skarzshisko, but we worked at digging canals. Two days after we arrived, we were all called into the square where a selection took place. A number of women were chosen, among them my sister, Tovah. They were taken in wagons to Vohlin. Many Jews decided to flee. When the Germans saw that they didn't have enough Jews to send out they arranged another selection. 1 was chosen during the second selection. On the way we suddenly understood that the Germans had deceived us: They weren't taking us to Vohlin for labor, but to Treblinka.
I decided to flee. I sprang from the wagon. I saw a Christian walking with a Jewish girl. The Christian told her to go into the forest, and he promised her that he would help her. I approached the girl and asked her to take me with her into the forest. The Christian wouldn't hear of it. I begged and offered money, but he won't listen. I warned him that if he won't permit me to go with the girl she won't go either. The Christian went away, and the two of us went into the forest. The girl told me that the Christian had promised her to come at night and take her to Vulka, to the labor place, but he did not come.
We remained in the forest for three days and three nights. We huddled together against the cold and the hunger. We had no food. We were dressed for summer. We were envious of those who had traveled on. We couldn't remain in the forest, but we didn't know where to go. Each step we took was terrible for us. Finally we assembled enough courage to go further into the forest. In either case we had nothing to lose. In this way we traveled for an entire day. Finally we crawled into a small village. Where shall we turn to, first? We begged of God to lead us in the right direction, so we would encounter people who might help us. The first house was a mill. We decided to enter the mill. Suddenly it occurs to me the thought that in the mill we might find FolkGermans. We continue on our way, until we came to a small house. We decided to enter.
We Hide Out With Two Female Peasants
In the house we encountered two female peasants: An older one and a younger one. They were eating breakfast. We introduced ourselves as Christians, but they recognized that we are Jewish women. They calm us, and bid us not to be afraid, since they know everything and they tell us that during the night they had four Jews with them. According to their description, these were Jews from Kozienice. We stayed with them. They were alone and had no one else. They were impoverished, but they shared their food with us. We were tired and hungry. We ate with a hearty appetite. The women went to the fields to work, left us alone in the house, and locked the door from the outside. They allowed us to sleep in their beds. For us this was the greatest fortune. When we awakened from our sleep, we began to think about what to do next. We couldn't remain there. All of our proposals seemed unrealistic. In the evening the two women returned. They fed us. We sat together and thought about our situation and the great danger to these two women. They promised us that they will take us to Vulka. Understandably, this was for us a stroke of luck. Unfortunately, our joy did not last long. The women had second thoughts. They figured out that they couldn't go with us to Vulka, but they will introduce us to a Christian acquaintance, an upright person, who knows the way. They'll ask him to take us to Vulka. We were naturally afraid to go with a strange Christian at night, but we had no choice, so we agreed to the proposal. They got in touch with him, and he came to us.
We saw that he was an elderly peasant from the same village. He made an excellent impression upon us. We told him what we wanted of him, and promised him 60 Zlotys, if he would get us safely to Vulka. The peasant calmly listened to us, and then told us that he had a better plan. Since he has a large farm with chickens and cows, and doesn't have a wife, he would be amenable to taking us in, and we would be responsible for running the enterprise. We would lack nothing.
He has a large house, and we have nothing to fear, since there are no Germans in the village. We were afraid to live with a Christian in the village, so we thanked him for his kindness, and told him that since our parents were in Vulka and must be worried about us, we request that he have pity on us and take us to Vulka. We will never forget his attitude towards us.
Back To Vulka
All night we didn't sleep. We could barely wait for the fortunate moment. In actuality, at about 4:00 a.m. he knocked at the door. We were already waiting for him. We bade a fond farewell to our hostesses and repeatedly thanked them for their nice attitude towards us. Then we left. We went, in the dark night, with great fear and pounding hearts through fields and woods. Who knows where the Goy is taking us? But, thank God, we reached our goal. We parted from him fondly and he wished us well. He didn't want to take any money. We repeatedly thanked him, and from great joy, we burst out crying. He returned to his village. This was at 10:00 o'clock. All of the Jews were at their labor, so we went into Christians and waited until 12:00, when all returned for lunch. When they all came, and saw us, they fell upon us with questions. We told them about our adventures. We remained in Vulka and went to work together with all of the others, but our good fortune didn't last long.
A week later Germans came with large trucks, upon which they loaded us like sheep. A few fled, and they were shot. They told us that they were taking us to Skarzshisko for labor. When we arrived there, they took us into a large barrack, which was called Ogulnik. There we found many Jews from various cities. In the morning we were taken out for a lineup. Decrees were read to us. Whoever opposed them would be shot immediately. After the lineup we were assigned to different work places. The leading place of work was a munitions factory. I was assigned to a machine. The supervisor was a Polish Christian. I strained with all my might to please my master, in order to be able to remain at the work. In this way the days flew by as well as the weeks and months. Each day brought with it new troubles. People arrived and people were taken away. They beat, they killed and they hanged. We went through a living Hell, but with hope that we will live to see better times.
Besides the fact that my husband, Yaakov Vildenberg, of blessed memory, was also in Skarzshisko, we were only able to meet at the gate, where the shifts would change. We lived like that until a Typhus epidemic broke out. My husband became sick. There were no medications and everyone died. With this, my troubles did not come to an end. The Typhus spread, and I also became ill. I was taken to the hospital, where I lay with fever. We didn't receive any food, because our female supervisor, Lola, a Jewish woman, took all of the food for herself.
Ignoring my illness, I wanted to get out of the hospital as soon as possible in order to return to my work. The longer one remained in the hospital, the less were his chances to remain alive. Each day selections were made and patients were sent to the gas chambers. One night I dreamed that my parents were warning me to get out of the hospital as quickly as possible. I got up in the morning. My head was swinging. My feet can't carry me, but in spite of this I request of the supervisor that she sign me out of the hospital, because I want to return to work. As luck would have it, I was rescued from certain death, because two days later a selection was made, and the majority of the patients who remained in the hospital were sent to the ovens. And so we remained, quite a few Kozieniceites, until 1944. In August of 1944 a number of workers from Skarzshiska were taken to Tshenstochov. Here everything began anew. They began to distribute the workers among various machines. I was assigned to difficult labor. My supervisor was a Jew from Kozienice, A. Viltshik.
Once, at night, the best workers were selected. Then it appeared that I was a saboteur who does not work well. They took me to the guardhouse, whipped me thirty times on my naked body. While this was taking place, the German threatened to shoot me. I begged and pleaded that I wasn't guilty of any thing. To this day I can't forget how lucky I was that I remained alive.
You Are Free!
The Liberation came unexpectedly on a bright winter day, in 1945. We didn't believe our eyes. All at once we see Russian soldiers. They are coming. You are free! We ran to the gate. We found it open. Each one shouts to the other: We are free! Then our real troubles began. We don't know where to go. We run to the city, to Tshenstochov. I am quite alone and abandoned. I don't have to whom to turn. I try to stay with my own sort of people, who are acquaintances from Kozienice and from the camp. They are Devora and Eliezer Weinberg, and Feige and Gitl Friedman. Together with them I went to Gnievashov, and from there, on foot, to Kozienice. A Christian showed us the way.
It's Thursday. In Kozienice the Fair is taking place. I look around and everything is empty. Where are all the stalls? Where are all the Jews, the merchants and dealers from Radomer Street? Of our family no one remained, I'm all alone! Fear envelops me. I don't know where to go. Everything looks like a cemetery to me. I wandered around like that for an hour, until I succeeded in finding Abraham Shabason. He told me that there are a few more Jews there, among them: Paula Luksenburg. He goes with me to Lubliner Street. We go to the house of my uncle, Aaron Berishes. With fear and a pounding heart, we went into our house. Overcome with emotion, I fainted. In the kitchen I found our closet. We found a Christian family in our house. I also found our possessions there. In the third room they had books. My heart dripped blood at the sight of what had been done to our home.
I girded my strength, and strongly desired to take in everything for all eternity. I went up to the attic, where we had hidden a scroll of the Torah. I believed, that maybe the unclean hands of the murderers hadn't damaged the holy books. All I found there were old, torn books, prayer books, highholiday prayer books. I froze in my tracks and couldn't move. I cried bitterly over my family, that had so tragically been martyred for the sake of the Sanctification of the Name of God. I can no longer remain in this cemetery, so I traveled to Yedlnye, to my former home, where we had lived and enjoyed a nice life. There, I didn't meet anyone from my family. Four Jews had remained alive, who had lived together in the same house for twenty years. We were overjoyed to see them alive and we cried bitterly. I remained there for five days and then went on my way. I found no resting place. I seeked. Maybe I'll still find someone from my family.
Life Flows On
From there I traveled to Lodz. There I met with Yaakov Korman from Kozienice. Lodz is a very big city and there you can meet people. I had seen that life continues. A living human being must eat and clothe himself. Having no alternative, I took myself in my hands. I remained in Lodz for a longer time, until the time arrived for Jews to leave Poland. I arrived in Stuttgart. There I found many Jews from Kozienice and Radom, who were my acquaintances from before the war. There, in Stuttgart, I became acquainted with my husband, who also had come from Kozienice. We decided to get married and then we remained in Germany for four years. We had a manufacturing plant, and lived very well. Life flowed on!
I gave birth to a son. We were overjoyed, but our joy mingled with sadness. We were nostalgic for relatives and friends, especially when we were celebrating a joyous event. But we had no choice. Such was life, and it cannot be changed. In 1949, we left Germany, and the good life there, and we went with our beloved son, Moshe, to Israel. Today he is already a Sargeant in the Israel Defense Forces.
In Israel, we met my uncle, Elimelech, who had gone to Israel quite a few years ago. We lived with him for two years in KiryatChaim (near Haifa), and then we moved to Haifa. I gave birth to another son, Nachum (consolation) I named him Nachum after my mother, whose name had been Nehama (consolation). With this I end my memories of our city of Kozienice, which, unfortunately, is now yuden zein.
by Abraham Tenenboim, Warsaw
From the letters of Yadviga Marks, whose name will be mentioned here frequently, we became aware that on a frosty, December night, in 1941, Haskell Weisbord sneaked out of the Kozienice Ghetto with his 11 month old daughter, Tzipporah. Afterwards, as he wandered all night through woods and fields, he came to Yadviga Marks in the resort town of Garbatke, some tens of kilometers from Kozienice. From the letters we find out that Tzipporah, who was later called by the name of Bozshenka, was badly frozen, and her body broke out in a rash. There were Jews in Kozienice, who knew that the woman, Marks, and her husband were prepared to accept payment, or for a promise of further reward, were ready to hide Jewish children. Haskell asked her to take his little daughter to his sister, Eva, who lived with his second sister, Miriam, in Warsaw. In this way, the little Tzipporah came to Warsaw at the end of December in 1941. The Warsaw Ghetto, in those days, was a Hell. Thousands of Jews were taken each day to the UmschlagPlatz (Selection Place), and from there to either Maidenek or Treblinka.
Eva Weisbord decided to use her Arian appearance, and with the help of the Marks woman, she obtained Arian papers, with which she planned to go to Germany to work. In order to carry out her plan, Eva went to Maria Lach, Mrs. Marks' sister, who lived on the banks of the Praga. Eva arranged with Mrs. Lach, that if somebody from the Weisbard family will, after the great world conflagration, remain alive, and little Tzipporah remain alive, they will not request that the child be returned to them. Eva asked the Lach woman to give the child to a childless family. It means that the husband of Mrs. Lach, a railroad man, found the child and brought her from the Province of Bialistok. Eva said that the childless family should be told that during the evacuation of Poles from the Bialistoker Region, the Germans had forbidden them from taking the child with them. Maria Lach liked this plan very much, and she went to the childless family, named Skovronski.
Tzipporah Becomes Bozshenka
The Skovronski family took the child. They had no illusions about the danger, which they faced in hiding out a strange child. But in spite of all, they decided to save the child. What they went through cannot be described. The most difficult task was registering the child in the birth registry. By a mighty effort they managed to register the child in a small village registry as Bozshenka Skovronska, who had been born on the 2 of February, 1942. It wasn't long before the Hitlerites took Mr. Skovronski away to a concentration camp. During the August Uprising, the apartment of the Skovronski family was ruined. Mrs. Skovronski was left without a provider, without an apartment and without a livelihood. On top of these troubles, Bozshenka became ill several times. Having no alternative, she kept the child in a cellar on the cold floor. Thanks to miracles, the little girl was saved.
In this way the child grew up as Bozshenka Skovronska. At age 8, a neighbor whispered in her ear, that the Skovronskis were not her real parents. But the little Bozshenka understood that this secret was not to be discussed with her parents. She buried the secret deep within her small heart.
Bozshenka Is To Be Married
Years passed. Bozshenka grew up. Troubles and need had obviously not had any influence, because she was a beautiful and well endowed young lady. At 19, she became acquainted with Yanush Tzsharnetzki and they decided to marry. Before the wedding, Bozshenka told her mother the secret, which she had buried deep within her for years. With tears in her eyes she begged her mother to tell her the truth. Mrs. Skovronska told her about Maria Lach, and how she had supposedly come from the Province of Bialistok. Bozshenka contacted Mrs. Lach and tried to persuade her to tell from where she comes, and who had brought her to the Skovronskis. Maria Lach remained silent. She didn't want to tell her anything, but she sent her to her sister, Yadviga.
Yadviga Marks Remains Silent
Yadviga, who had displayed so much heartfelt concern for Jewish children, and saved so many of them, must have shed a tear over the tragic fate of Bozshenka, but she filled her mouth with water and remained silent. She doesn't want to tell the truth. Having no other alternative, Bozshenka turned to the Red Cross. She told what she knew about herself from the Skovronskis and requested that the Red Cross demand that Yadviga Marks tell the truth. It was of no avail Yadviga remained silent!
Eva Weisbord saved herself from the great world conflagration. After much wandering, she came to America. She got in touch with Yadviga Marks and asked her to help find the little Tzipporah. Eva knew that she had been saved, and she requested that Yadviga give her the address. Yadviga answered the letters, but she managed to avoid writing about Tzipporah, and finally she conveyed some false names of the missing Tzipporah. She refused to give even her sister's address.
Eva Requests That I Help
In the autumn of 1963 I got in touch with Eva Weisbord. She had, in her letters, written to me quite a bit about how she had, at the end of 1941, turned over the child to Maria Lach. She requested that I help her. I understood that the secret could be uncovered. I contacted the Red Cross, acquaintances and good friends. Finally, when I already knew Tzipporah's address, the thought began to bother me: How was I going to tell TzipporahBozshenka the truth? I was afraid, that if I tell her, that she is Jewish, there will begin for her a new tragedy. I didn't know in what kind of an atmosphere she had been brought up. But I did know that now she already had a husband and a child.
I Told Bozshenka Her Secret
How does one begin to speak to her? I decided that during our first conversation I would tell her the truth. I telephoned her and invited her to come to me. I told her everything: About her background, about her childhood, about her parents who had perished, and finally about Eva, who had been searching for her for many years. Yadviga Marks now knew that she couldn't keep the secret any longer. Seeing that she was being attacked from all sides, she finally sent Bozshenka's address to Eva Weisbord. When Eva received the address she already had letters from Bozshenka on her table. I've here given but a few moments of the dramatic life of Bozshenka. fa order to tell all, I would have to write a book.
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