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[Page 600]

My Tragic Experiences

by Rachel Dorfman–Kestenberg, Tel–Aviv

My family lived in Kozienice for many years. My grandparents also lived there. My father was Shmuel Kestenberg, a butcher. We lived on Pieratzki Street. When the War broke out, I was 15 years old. Before the evacuation to Treblinka, I and my sister, Tovah, went to the Christian, Gortshitzki, and remained there working.

 

In Skarzshisko

A short while later, my sister and I and other Kozienice Jews, were sent away to a labor camp in Skarzshisko. There we experienced hunger and cold, and had to work hard. The terrible conditions made both of us sick, but even sick, we had to perform our labor, because we were afraid that if we didn't, the Germans would shoot us. We would help each other so that the work was performed. But to my great sorrow, my sister was unable to carry on, and in 1943 she died. She was exactly 20 years old. Her death had a very bad affect on me. I broke down. Sick as we were, we were sent to Tshenstachov, to another labor camp, where we worked on ammunition.

 

Finally – Liberation

In this way we suffered until the end of 1944. In January, 1945, we were liberated by the Red Army. Understandably, we didn't loiow what to do or where to go. We three, Kozienice girls, I, Polia Shpigel, Leah Kohn, and her husband, Shalom Kohn, decided to go on foot to Kozienice, because there were no trains as yet, and we had no money. We didn't know to whom to turn for help. We were barefoot and half naked, but we didn't anticipate any difficulties. We wanted to get to Kozienice as quickly as possible, hoping that there we would find our families.

 

It Became Bitter and Dark For Us

For 10 days we walked on foot. We would pass through villages and beg the Goyim for food. There were Christians, who not only fed us, but also permitted us to sleep over. More than once we had to sleep out–of–doors, until God helped us and we finally arrived in Kozienice. It became bitter and dark for us, when we came into Kozienice and saw the destruction which the Germans had inflicted on our city. All of the Jews had been killed, the houses burned. We searched for Jews, but found no one. We saw that there was nothing for us to do in Kozienice, so we decided to travel to Lodz.

[Page 601]

From Lodz To Israel

In Lodz we met some Kozienice Jews, and they told us that all of Kozienice Jews had been cremated in Treblinka. Hearing this we completely broke down. But God was merciful to me, and I met my husband to be, Nasan Dorfsman, and we were fortunately married and decided not to remain in accursed Poland but to go to Israel, to our own homeland. Good friends advised us to travel to Germany, and from there to Israel. That was what we did. Today, thank God, we live in Tel–Aviv. My husband is a butcher. We have a son, Shmuel, who is an officer in the Army, and a daughter, Sarah, who is a high–school student.


[Page 602]

This Was the Way I Was Liberated

by Shalom Kohn, New York

In 1942, in my early youth, just as the Germans occupied our city of Kozienice, I was also drawn into the bloody struggle, because on my forehead I bore the mark of a Jew.

 

We Lived In Fear

The Nazis took me to a forced labor camp on the outskirts of Kozienice, a town call Vulka, together with 500 other youngsters. We remained there for a month. From that forced labor camp they took a large portion of the people to Volanov. There we labored under difficult conditions. For the least infringement, we were threatened with death. Each day I saw the deaths of innocent victims. We lived in fear. I longed for my former home, and family. I and a few friends decided to flee from the camp and return to Kozienice. My doubts and hesitation cannot be described. Finally we concluded that we must make the attempt, even though failure would mean certain death. We sneaked out of the camp, and like an arrow from a bow we were carried along by the impetus. Fate, however, had decreed otherwise. On the way we were stopped by an SS Patrol. We were put in their truck and taken into the forest. We felt that they were going to shoot us. But a miracle happened. The truck swerved off the road and got stuck. Then the SS men ordered us to go into the forest.

 

We Flee

We walked as if going to our deaths, but seeing that the SS men were preoccupied with fixing the truck, and were not following us too closely, we got further away from them and began to run quickly.

We heard them firing at us, but the trees protected us. We ran as if we were deer and not humans. After a great deal of wandering around, in great danger, we arrived back in Vulka. They began to interrogate us. Fortunately, we weren't held too long in that camp, and I was sent with a transport to Skarzshisko.

 

Without Pity

The way to the other camp was accompanied by terror: Bullets flew over our heads. The scene is still vivid today before my eyes: How Dinahle Rosen's husband was shot dead. Many other people, whose names I cannot recall, also fell victim. We were driven, like cattle, accompanied by beatings, without pity. In Skarzshisko our clothes were taken from us. We stood before a new commission. The investigation lasted a whole night. We washed at faucets, where there were lying corpses, and persons who had passed out. Finally we were assigned to coal mining, about 25 kilometers from the camp. Under heavy guard we were taken to work. At work we were terrorized. If someone got lazy or engrossed in thought – he was immediately shot, and as a result there were daily victims. When we would go to work no one could be sure that he would end the day.

[Page 603]

From time to time, a truck would come to take people to their deaths. Among those shot in the camp, were: Shmelke Rozentzveig and Nuta Lipman. Motke Honigshtok was shot for no reason at all, when he went out of his barracks, because the murderer just wanted some target practice. In such circumstances, we lived and labored!

 

Finally Liberated

From Skarzshisko I was taken to Tshenstochov, where I remained until my liberation. This occurred on January 17, 1945. From this camp, the Nazis were taking people for extermination until the very last day. We were swollen from hunger. We felt that the bloody murderer, Hitler, was facing a bitter end. This gave us the hope and courage to endure, and to hold out in order to see peace restored to the world. Shortly before the liberation, we were taken to a new kind of labor. I already had no more strength to drag my swollen feet. A warm thanks to the camp's Jewish policeman, who, in Polish, would shout to get up and go out to work, and in Yiddish would whisper to us not to go but to lie where we were! I regret that I don't remember his name, because he actually saved tens of lives. The approaching sound of cannons was getting closer. This was the announcement that our liberation was at hand. The Russian military came closer with a heavy bombardment. The camp guards fled like scared rabbits. In this way we were liberated. There, in Tshenstochov, I met the Kozieniceite, Lola Meltzer. We decided to marry, begin a new life, and build a home and family!


[Page 604]

Comfort and Sadness

by Avigdor Zilberknopf

Finally the time has come,
To take us out of slavery,
A life full of joy Brings for us the new age.
We greet nature
So helpful and fine,
Also the rays which can't be counted
Of the sunshine.
At night in the quiet,
We greet with feeling,
Also the bright moon.
What we think and dream,
All is declared to her.
Without the heavenly gift,
When the heart is filled with longing,
It pains, and lacks the friendship,
It reminds us of once upon a time,
How we lived satisfied,
Like everyone, also we Jews.
Today, much suffering, without measure.
O', her comfort no longer helps,
She can no longer shine for us,
Because we are heavily ruined,
And have lost everything.
Today, only now are we born again,
To life we are further led,
There isn't much that has remained for us,
But to reminisce, and be driven.
Like swimming away in the ocean,
Like shadows we crawl.,
But we question ourselves and we seek: Maybe, maybe…We'll find.


[Page 605]

Ach, the Tragic Joy

by Leibele Fishtein, Ramat–Gan, Israel

The day of liberation in the German concentration camps, was the most joyous and tragic day of our lives. One who didn't experience it by himself cannot have any concept of the taste of joy mixed with sadness.

 

You Are Free!

”Out of the barracks! You are free! The Allied Armies are already here!” The healthy ones yell “Hoorah!” and run like wild animals. The sick crawl off their beds on all fours, stand, run and fall; fall and run. Some remain lying, and never rise again. They had survived only long enough to hear: “Hoorah we are free!” Some were lying crouched in their places and no longer understood the meaning of the word “Free”. They were already battling the Angel of Death and no longer heard what was going on outside.

Arnold Vaksman, my neighbor from the Pritshe (boards that served as beds), a Doctor from Budapest, danced with a long loaf of bread, which he was holding on his shoulder, just like a soldier shouldering his rifle. He had seized the bread from a German storehouse, which was now abandoned, and he shouted wildly in a sing–song tone. His eyes were shut, and his head he shook wildly in all directions. By his dancing – he appears to be drunk. A few days later, I saw him running around, wrapped in a torn blanket, and his head tied around in rags. His eyes were downcast, as if he were seeking something on the ground. He sees no one. He doesn't speak, acting as if he were struck dumb. It seems that he's gone out of his mind. What kind of a day that was – I don't remember. Cold or warm, sunny or cloudy, a day, a day, which quickly passed.

 

Where Does One Go?

When it got dark, the question was: Where does one go? Again back to the same holes, on the same Pritshes (boards that served as beds)? Or to remain under the free sky until tomorrow morning, and breathe in the free air once and for all. And tomorrow? Some, as tired as they were, fell asleep out–of–doors. Some turned back to their Pritshes, burying their faces in their hands, and spasmotically crying aloud: “What do we do? Where do we go? Out to the wide world? Where is the world? Does it still exist? Oh, no!”

Could I possibly hope that someone of my nearest and dearest is still alive? Why did I live to experience such a tragic joy? A few days later the German restaurants were filled with Jews. They drink as much as they can. One stands on a bench and declaims in a sobbing tone: “Drink, brothers, drink! Get drunk and drown what's inside of you!” A second person delivers a speech about revenge, and a third figures out the names of his relatives (who perished) and chokes from his tears!

[Page 606]

A Few Years Passed

A few years went by. Again I married, and children were born. A new plague struck, which doesn't let up for a moment. Day and night, a psychological plague. Perhaps my husband is alive? Perhaps my wife? Maybe he'll come soon? With whom shall I remain? From whom shall I separate? In the street I encounter my wife – my husband. My heart pounds. The knees bend. The eyes swoom. So many years have passed. It is difficult to recognize; both have grown so old!

But maybe… We pass. We stop and look back for a long while. Why didn't I ask her name? I'm afraid a tragedy! Two wives! What will I do? Soon two opinions begin to clash within me: Did I do right or wrong? I didn't feel as if I were walking in the street, but that I sit before a screen and see my whole life pass before me.

 

Sarahle – I Impetuously Cry Out

The doorbell rings. I open the door and remain standing in a frozen position. Opposite me she stands immobile, with very tragic, expressionless eyes, that look me over. “Sarahle!” I impetuously cry out and spread my arms to embrace her and hold her tight, and ask: “Where have you been for so long? I've searched for you everywhere!” At that moment she drew back and my arms remained stretched out in the air. For a long while I stood like that, like a mummy, and didn't know what to do. I just looked at her with pleading eyes. I noticed, that suddenly there grew in her hands a 3 month old child, glued to her breast. Near her stands a 6 year old boy. And another one smaller, and yet another one even smaller. Three children in a row. They stood silently with uplifted eyes, looking at me, as if they don't know me.

I strained myself, and wanted to run to them. They all together at once withdrew from me, further and further. I begin to chase them and cry out: “Sarahle! Yitzhakl! Eliezerl! Itele! Goldele!” In the midst of this I feel that a hand is shaking me and awakens me from my sleep.

 

What Were You Shouting About?

“How come you were shouting like that?” “Nothing, I was having a dream!” “What sort of a dream was it that you were shouting like that; Sarahle? Tell me, I also want to know.” Tell her that the same dream repeats itself to me very often, and that I'm a broken man for a long time afterwards. At home, I must play the role of a laughing clown. From the children, I must for the meanwhile, withhold a secret that I had already once before been the father of four children. They are still too young. It is still too early. Another secret, I must keep from my wife: The day of the deportation of my beloved first wife and children is for me, for the rest of my life, a fast day. My wife prepares for me to take to work, but I eat it only at night. All day my thoughts are busy with thousands of pictures of events that took place before our tragic parting forever. Tears roll onto my work table. My eyes are overflowing with wetness. When I return home from my work, my wife asks me: “What's wrong with your eyes? They're swollen.” The opportunity has come. What shall I tell her? My eternal crying. An inner absess. That bothers me without a stop!


[Page 607]

Can Nature Tolerate Such a Thing?

by Avigdor Zilberknopf

The time has come, O, the time, the moment
With shining eyes, how crazy, how strange.
You're fortune so superfluous, so late, already too old,
Remove your rays – they are already too cold.
Time, O, the time of loneliness and fear,
From suffering wounds – a feeling arose
From a dying elder, from the world resigned,
Far away from life, death already governs.
Time, O, the time of Terrifying storm,
Which destroyed everything, which scattered everything,
Which put an end to everything, which will no longer return,
A shiver seizes, and the limbs break.
Time, O, the time, when blood flowed,
Like an overflowing river – it poured.
Also the tears of children were of no avail,
Like lambs in the slaughter house, they were slaughtered.
Time, O, time, which on the altar burned and broiled, he, the murderer.
Like steers in a barn, they packed the victims,
Where is he, the helper, with his great pity?
Time, at that time, where were you?
God of vengeance – You saw everything.
Can such a thing happen in the world,
Can nature tolerate such a thing?


[Page 608]

What Fellow–Townsmen of Kozienice Tell

by Tzvi Madanes, Tel–Aviv

Shimon Rozental, the active participant in the uprising in Treblinka, tells of his experiences under the Nazis, until his liberation. At the end of 1942, all of the Kozienice population was taken to the train, guarded by SS murderers. By their brutal treatment, everyone understood what was awaiting them. Many Jews perished, even before they entered the boxcars, among them: Dr. Abramovitsh, his wife and children, who poisoned themselves before the Nazis had a chance to kill them. The train was filled. Like cattle, the Jews were taken to Treblinka, in sealed boxcars, without water or air we were pressed against each other.

 

We Were Taken to Wash Ourselves

Through the small window which was closed with bars, we could see the way to Treblinka. In this large Concentration Camp, we were “greeted” by SS murderers, dressed in white cloaks. They told us to quickly line up and remove our clothes, because we were soon to be given work clothes, in order to go to Bialistok or Volkovisk. A crisis ensued. In the center there grew a mountain of clothing, until we all stood naked. Immediately the womens' hair was cut off. The camp administration chose a few healthy Jews for various jobs in the camp, and the remaining mass of thousands of Jews, was taken to the gas–chambers. They were told that they were being taken to the showers to wash themselves. The naked people were chased along a path, which was surrounded on both sides by a thicket of trees, so that the remaining people in the camp couldn't see that this was the last road.

The unfortunate people were accompanied by an SS guard and specially trained dogs, who fell upon the people like angry wolves. With yummering cries of “Shema Yisroel” (Hear O' Israel), the victims went to the gas–chambers. Into the chambers they drove as many as they could, and when they were packed, the floor opened and the victims fell into the cellar, where they were gassed. This took no more then about 15 minutes. Then the door of the cellar opened, and the victims were carried out on stretchers, so that they could be burned in a large pit, which burned day and night. In this way thousands of Jews perished daily in a shameful and brutal way.

 

Kurt Frantz Seeks People For Labor

I, Shimon Rozental, am one of 50 people who were chosen for labor. Kurt Frantz, with two revolvers on his hips, goes among the people and looks over the naked bodies. With all of his strength he beat us, and whoever did not please him, he shot immediately. As my luck would have it, I was able to tolerate the beatings, and as a result I was chosen for labor. Our work consisted of sorting the clothes of he victims. I was engaged in this work for about 5 months. I would labor from before dawn until dark and every small infringement carried with it the threat of death. Since shooting was such a mild penalty, they used to hang people.

[Page 609]

Why I Was Beaten

Kurt Frantz would hang people by the feet, and in this way the victims would suffer for at least 12 hours. My comrade, who slept near me, a Jew from Demblin, a wild person, confessed to me that he was planning to escape. I helped him as much as I could. My friend left. What happened to him, I don't know. But, the next morning, at the lineup, it was revealed that there was someone missing, who had obviously fled. Since he slept next to me, I and two other Jews, were taken to Kurt Frantz, in order to punish us. He told us to get undressed and lie down on a bench. He had a long whip, with a metal tip. We were sentenced to 50 lashes. The sadist would beat us and we had to count. The first were unable to count to 50. He smashed their kidneys and they fell into a faint. The lashes that my comrades failed to get, I received. During the whipping, he yelled at me: “You accursed Jew, you haven't counted accurately.” Having fainted away, I was carried to the barracks. Fortunately, there were two Jewish doctors in the barracks, and they managed to save me. Thanks to them, I survived. On the third day I was forced to go to work, even though I didn't feel as if any limb of mine was whole. To this very day, I have scars of those lashes on my body.

 

The Pit Which Burned Constantly

In our work camp, the camp supervisor was the Jew, Galesky, from Lodz. He was a lawyer. Another was a Dr. Oranzshitzky, an officer in the Polish Army. There was also a barracks' commandant, a Jew, fine and devoted, from Warsaw, and another person, by the name of Kurland. He was also a doctor. His office was 200 meters from the camp, near a large pit. When the transports arrived, the weak were taken to the doctor. The pit was surrounded by barbed wire, and camouflaged, so it couldn't be seen. This was where the Doctor was. When a person was brought to the doctor, and the doctor approached him, the adjutant, a Ukrainian, shot him with his revolver, which was equipped with a silencer. The victim fell into the pit, where there was a steady fire, which couldn't be seen.

There was also a German, Sepp. When children arrived, this Sepp took them to himself. In the dark pit, on the other side, he had a large boulder. He would grab each child by the legs and beat his head against the boulder, until he died. He then threw the dead children, like slaughtered chickens, into the pit, in the vicinity of the burning Hell. There was also a Jew from the city of Ochote. His job was to inform the German murderers about his fellow Jews. He would also listen to the complaints of the Jews. The Jews, who worked in the camp were divided into groups, each according to his profession. For example: shoemakers, locksmiths, cabinet makers, and so on.

[Page 610]

How Shlamek Perished

Among the shoemakers there was Shimon Rozental, who was in charge of the shoe department. The department was located in a large barrack, which contained a very large table, at which there worked about 25 Jews. In the same barracks there worked a Jew from Tshenstochov, Galster. His job was to make ammunition containers from the scraps. His eyes would spy out the people in the department, and when he observed something suspicious, he would immediately convey it to the camp commandant. The culprit would immediately be taken to another camp for extermination. In the same camp there also worked Gedalyahu, a neighbor's son. Shimon Rozental kept him close to him, by force. People worked there with their bit of remaining energy, because the 200 grams of bread (2 thin slices) were insufficient for survival.

Galster had a box of bread, which he kept tightly closed with a lock. Since we could smell the bread, our hunger would increase. My neighbor's grandson, Shlamek, went mad, used the moment when Galster wasn't around, and fell upon the box, and with his hands and teeth tore and bit at the lock, until he broke it. His eyes flashed fire, when he saw the bread. He took the bread and then closed the box. When Galster came in, he immediately noticed what had happened. He turned to Shimon Rozental and demanded that he tell him who was responsible. “If not”, he said, “you and another ten will be exterminated! You don't realize who I am!” Shimon begged mercy from him, and promised him that they will provide 10 loaves of bread for the one that was taken, if he would only ignore what had taken place. Nothing helped! He stood someone up against the wall, and forced him to reveal who had taken the bread. On the morrow, at 8:00 a.m., at lineup, Shlamek was taken to a death–camp. There he perished!

 

Kozieniceites in Treblinka

Moshe Sherman, Alter Kohn and his son Issachar, worked at sorting things, until the uprising, which took place in the Camp. It is also worthwhile mentioning, that in that great Hell, where people died over a crust of bread, there was an SS man, who is worthwhile mentioning. He made himself invisible, when Jews were able in some way, to obtain a piece of bread. Thanks to him, many Jews were still able to carry on with their work. There was a group of Jews who were transported daily from the camp. The SS man, would accompany them as a guard. The work consisted of cutting young branches from trees, and making them into brooms for the Camp. Outside where they were, they were able to arrange for the purchase of food items. The SS man would act dumb and not notice what was going on. In fact, he himself would carry the sack of bread into the camp. He also knew that the money, with which the bread was bought, belonged to Shimon Rozental. Understandably, he was well rewarded for this, but he was worth it because, with his help he saved people from hunger.

[Page 611]

Shimon Rozental Saves Salke Bendler's Husband

Coming to Treblinka, Salke Bendler's husband met Shimon Rozental and poured out his heart to him. He begged to be saved, because, if not, he'll cut his wrists, in order to escape further troubles. Shimon contacted another person from Tshentochov, nicknamed “Shneltzug”, and requested that he help smuggle Bendler out of the Camp. The other agreed and organized the escape. We loaded packs of work clothes for the camps, so we prepared a truck with a window, and hid Bendler under the packs. Shimon warned him: “Remember, when the train approaches the mountain, it slows down. There you will jump out. In your valise we put money, to help you save yourself. And when you arrive in Kozienice, tell them about the death–camp here in Treblinka.”

The train left, accompanied by our best wishes. Everything went as planned. Bendler leapt off, not far from the mountain, and he managed to return to Kozienice. He was able to convey the bitter regards from the huge death–camp, Treblinka. But nobody wanted to believe him. They all said that he must be crazy. But, unfortunately, everything that he told them, was the tragic truth. When the remaining Jews, who buried the dead, and cleaned the houses, came to Treblinka, they saw with their own eyes, that everything he had told them was the absolute truth.

 

The Uprising in Treblinka, July 28, 1943

Seeing that thousands of people were being burned daily, there occurred the thought to rise up in revolt and free ourselves, or at least, blow up the Camp. The group which organized the uprising in Treblinka, consisted of 12 people: Shimon Rozental, Dr. Choronzshitzky of Warsaw, Engineer Galevsky of Lodz, Kurland of Warsaw, Reizman of Vengrov (He survived and lives in Paris), Engineer Boimeister, and six others, whose names I cannot recall. This was the Central Committee of the Uprising. The uprising was announced and a date was set. But since Obersturmfuerher Kurt Frantz caught Dr. Choronzshitzky at some preparatory work, which could have been a disaster for many Jews, he jumped through a window and fled. Kurt Frantz's dogs chased him. When the Doctor saw that he was in danger of being caught he swallowed poison tablets. Kurt Frantz did everything to save him, and to obtain from him the secret information, but Dr. Choronzshitzky died a hero. Because of this, the Uprising was postponed until the 28th of July, 1943.

 

The “Court” Jews Prepare Arms

The preparation of arms and ammunition was given over to the “court–Jews”, as they were called. Those, who worked in the camp as smiths, shoemakers, tailors, hatters, furriers and mechanics. These people knew all the secrets of the Camp, and especially where the ammunition was stored.

[Page 612]

Each was assigned a task, to which he was most suited. There was a tailor with two sons. One would clean the bath rooms of the camp commandant, and always had with him a broom. He obtained access to the stores of hand–grenades, made a duplicate key, and every chance he got, managed to remove a couple of hand–grenades, which he turned over to Shimon Rozental, who would bury them in the sand near his work place. In this way 83 hand–grenades were assembled. Another Jew managed machine guns from the huge munitions warehouse in the Treblinka Forest. This was a very complicated procedure, and with great devotion, over a period of time 45 machine–guns were removed. It was also decided, that the mechanics, who worked with tanks, should, before the uprising, sever the chains. Those, who worked at other technical work, were to sever the telephone lines. It was decided that the administrators of the Camp, should be killed, even before the uprising itself.

 

The Death Sentence In The Shoemakers Department

Straws were drawn to decide who was to carry out the death–sentence in the shoemaker's department. It was decided that when the camp commandant will come to the department, Shimon Rozental should measure him for a pair of boots, and that he should be finished off from behind. And so it actually happened. Mishe, with the crooked head went and invited the commandant to come and be measured for nice boots, and while this was taking place someone came up behind him and clubbed him to death. His body was wrapped in a sack, and hidden among the piles of leather. The same thing happened in all departments, on the eve of the uprising, in which about 1000 people took part. A day before the uprising the barracks were disinfected, but this time there was a much large percentage of benzine in it, so that it would burn better.

We also dealt with the problem of how to deal with the Ukrainians, who stood guard at the 12 towers which circled the Camp. We also appointed 25 commanders, among them our fellow townsman, Shimon Rozental. It was decided that when Kurland will come into the courtyard at 3:30, where all the Jews were working, and he lifts his shovel, it will be a sign that the uprising has begun!

 

Kurland Lifts His Shovel

Kurland came into the courtyard at the designated time, and gave the signal. All of us, as if we were one man went out to do battle. Each one had his weapons ready and took up his position. At that moment, the SS man, Kive, appeared. He was the first victim. Everything went according to plan. All of the barracks started burning. Our fighters fell upon the Germans and the Ukrainians with their hand–grenades. Those who were responsible for the attack upon the watch–towers, managed to convince the Ukrainians to come down, and if not they were warned that they would be burned alive.

[Page 613

When one hesitated, his tower was set afire with the cry: “Revenge!”, and the tower burned. We fought about 150 Ukrainians. Many of them fell and others fled. The Camp was burned. The communication lines were cut and our fighters reached the main gate of the Camp. Beside the weapons, which each fighter had with him, he also had a poison pill, so that he could kill himself if he saw he was in any danger of being taken alive by the Germans!

 

The Gate is Open!

The gate was broken open. Everyone was free to leave for any place he desired, in order to save himself. In this struggle many heroic fighters fell, among them our fellow townsmen: Moshe Sherman, Alter Kohn, his son Issacher, and quite a few other Kozieniceites.

 

And What Next?

When the camps were liberated by Russian and Allied military personnel, and the stream of luck, eased the deathly white pallor, of the emaciated faces, we began to hope that maybe someone had still survived. But now, instead, there came to light the great tragedy of the Jewish People. Jews, once again, took the wanderer's cane in their hands and set out into the wide, wide world. Our fellow townsman, Shimon Rozental decided to wander no longer. He set out for Israel, to the warm sun, which would heal his deep wounds. His pride is Israel, his Jewish home, his wife and children, who live in Israel, faithful to their Jewish tradition.

May these few words eternalize the slogan: “Remember what the Amalekites did to you!” They exterminated Six Million Jews!


[Page 614]

For The Merit of My Father,
May God Avenge His Blood

Yerachmiel Fleisher, as a child, together with all Kozienice Jews, lived through the bloody threat of extinction. The Germans undressed him completely and made sport with him. They ordered him to run around the church garden, among the rows of soldiers, and every soldier beat him a few times. Why? How come? For four days the young Yerachmiel was tortured in this way. When the order came to free the Jews up to age 16, from the church garden, there was among them the bloody youth, Yerachmiel, who had many wounds on his body.

 

We Go Home

Where does a Jew have a home? Our city was a ruin. The Jews who had been held in the church, were freed, after six days of torture. The Judenraat sent Jews to forced labor in Yelna–Koshtshelna, at the railroad. This, of course, was forced labor, without pay, but with beatings. Before the transportation to Treblinka, Yerachmiel Fleisher came home to his family. At home there was destruction and wailing! Everyone feels that death is approaching. With bitter tears, the Jewish mother bewails the tragic fate of her offspring.

The Ghetto is guarded. It is impossible to save oneself. My father, of blessed memory, takes me by my hand and gives me to understand, that it is not a good idea for us to remain together. Every one must go in a different direction, perhaps in this way some will survive. My father tells me that when Jacob (in the Bible) went forth to meet his brother, Esau, he divided his family into three camps, and that we must do the same. My father holds my hand tightly, and we walk in the Kozienice Ghetto. It is dark in the street and also in our hearts. We were not far from the barbed wire, so they opened fire on us. My father commanded me: “Run Yerachmiel!”: I no longer saw my father. I climbed over the wire, and ran, wherever my eyes led me.

 

I Came to Dombrove

There was a Labor Camp there, which contained many Kozienice Jews. I wasn't able to stay there too long, because I wasn't registered in that Camp. But I decided to stay and see what fate would bring. A day after the transportation of Kozienice, the SS came to choose fresh victims, who supposedly were to be taken to Shidlovtze. A day later, we already knew, that all of them had been shot. Among them, Motl Tzeitfinger and his wife. On a particular day 100 people were chosen to go to Volanov. Shmerl Soffer's son attempted to flee, and was immediately shot. From Volanov, we were sent to various labor camps. Daily people fell at their work. Every month there was a selection, for a grave that had been dug, right on the spot!

[Page 615]

I Was Covered With Warm Blood

There was a new selection of 120 people, among them Abraham Sapirstein and many other Kozieniceites. We were supposedly being sent to new labor. Meanwhile we were being driven to the fences. We already felt that we were being led to our deaths. At that moment there arrived a group of Ukrainians and SS with machine–guns. They opened fire on us. At the sound of the first shot, I instinctively threw myself to the ground. I became covered with fallen victims and warm blood. The Ukrainian and SS murderers did their bit of work. All of the 120 were lying like slaughtered hens, and they, the murderers, went off, on their way.

Night fell. A group of Jews came to bury the corpses. I felt them inspecting my clothes. They realized that I was alive, so they ordered me to flee immediately! I hid myself under a barrack. There I lay for three days and listened carefully to what was taking place. Together with me there were in hiding the two children of Yosef Lichtenstein. When things calmed down a bit, I went to Radom, to a new work place. There the terror was exactly the same there as it had been in Volanov!

 

The Days Drag Along Slowly

Jews wanted to save themselves. They planned to flee, but it ended up with new victims. The remaining Jews were taken to another place. They sent us to Tomashov. The Camp commandant assured us that here, in this place, nothing will happen to us. From here we will go to Auschwitz. The days dragged endlessly, each one like a year. Our strength faded. We wanted to hold out and get stronger in order to survive until the day of liberation. They took us to Auschwitz. In Auschwitz a selection was made immediately. The women and older people were taken to the gas–chambers.

They sent me to Stuttgart. I saw that the gates of Hell were being closed to me. This gave me the strength to continue on my way to other German labor camps, until I was liberated and born anew. In the decisive moments of life or death, right or left, Yerachmiel Fleisher saw his father and felt as if he were still holding him by the hand, and leading him onward towards life!


[Page 616]

Yehudah Hoffman Survived the Camp

This was an autumn eve. I and a few other Kozienice families were invited to the family of Chayele and Yaakov Adler. Among the guests there was also Yehudah Hoffman, of blessed memory. Our conversation revolved around our city of Kozienice, and our former lives there, before the Great War.

 

Are You the Brickmaker, Rozenboim?

This was the word that Yehudah Hoffman received and he told: In Auschwitz he saved from death our fellow townsman, Rosenboim, who had a brick factory in Kozienice. His story made an impression on all who were present. It became quiet. “I had met Rozenboim in Auschwitz, where he and another were dragging a large pot of soup. His hat was falling over his eyes. I had the impression that the pot of soup was dragging him, and I asked him: ‘Aren't you the brickmaker, Rozenboim?’ ‘Yes, that's me.’ ‘Perhaps you can give me a note to the cook to provide me with an extra portion of soup, because I no longer have the strength to drag my feet?’ I was also concerned about someone noticing him giving the note to the cook.” “I,” Yehudah Hoffman told, “was a carpenter in the camp.” Being curious about whether my note had gotten to the right address, approached the window of the barracks in which he slept. 'Yehudah! You have been sent to me like an angel from heaven. They've stolen my number with my pyjama, and if I don't have it by morning, I'll be shot. Yehudah recorded the number and went to enlist aid for Rozenboim. When the exhausted bodies were lying in their cots, Yehudah approached the window and gave Rozenboim the pyjama with the correct number. This way Rozenboim was saved from a certain death.

 

Yehudah Survived the Camp

Yehudah survived the camp thanks to his capable hands. When the war ended and the gates of the camp were opened for the tortured, there appeared new roads to the great world. Yehudah Hoffman, of blessed memory was always a member of a Socialist organization. But after the war, he made an evaluation of all the Jewish workers' parties and their platforms, and decided that a Jew can be free only in Israel. Coming to Israel, he accepted everything with love and satisfaction. Only one thing bothered him: His children, who were still alive and were not with him. He did everything like a dear, devoted father, and lived to see his children, and had joy and satisfaction from them. But, unfortunately, dark fate decided otherwise. On an early morning, when Yehudah, of blessed memory, was going to work, he was killed by a devilish automobile, and his life and joy were snuffed out. May His Memory Be Blessed!


[Page 617]

God, Is Your Judgement Just?

by Mordecai Donershtein, Ramat–Gan

When I remind myself of you Kozienice,
In which everything was contained,
Then my eyes are filled with tears
And my heart dies within me.
You contained in yourself,
Religious Jews and Rabbis,
Proletarians and Chalutzim (Pioneers),
And just plain folk.
Libraries and Yeshivas,
Many Hebrew Schools, and also a Talmud Torah,
There flourished a Jewish life,
Without fear and dread
And they worked there
With vigor and bitterness and labored:
As cutters and sewers,
Of shoes, day and night.
One would sell the boards,
Another thread and leather.
With shoes were occupied:
The Rabbi, the judge, and others.
When Friday came,
And the Sabbath candles lit,
The town enwrapped in Holiness,
And the people in enthusiasm
As soon as the Sabbath came,
The troubles and cares left.
Each one hoped
With faith in a better tomorrow.
Some to the Rebbe's table, for the leavings
With enthusiasm ran,
And some to the forest and the field
Where they wanted to meet their joy.
Also in all of the institutions,
Among the different parties,
The debates were heated,
And even louder the arguments.
In this way they lived there,
Days, nights and months,
Everyone believed in something:
Some in the Messiah, in Revolution, or in certificates.

[Page 618]

Until on an early morning,
Hitler declared war on us,
Robbed, killed and burned,
And spoiled the entire dream.
Separated children from their mothers,
The old and the sick from their beds,
Only fear and hunger reigned,
At the command of the Hitler Satan.
And everyone was taken,
By force and bloody beatings,
Loaded up and set to Treblinka,
And the city left smoldering.
So I live – in our own land,
And I ask myself: “Did it all happen there”
”and how were you dear God,
Able to observe it all?”
My heart cries without tears,
The eyes becloud, and the head breaks.
I ask you, My God,
Is Your judgement just?


[Page 619]

In 1939 I Separated From My Family

by Tzila Kirshenblatt

I, the daughter of Yitzhak and Leah Kirshenblatt, was born in 1925, in the city of Kozienice on Targova Street. My father was a hat maker, and my mother a housewife. We were eight brothers and sisters. My sister, Devorah, was married in Warsaw. My sister, Ita, married in Kozienice, and then moved to Warsaw. I was the youngest of the sisters. I also had 5 brothers: Fabi, the oldest, was married in Kozienice, moved to Pionek and raised 5 children. Mendl married in Kozienice and raised 3 children. Shammai married in Kozienice. Shlomo married in Kozienice and moved to Pionek where he raised 2 children. Siyuma went in 1939 to Russia. There he married and returned to Poland in 1940. We lived in peace and tranquility until 1939.

After the German conquest, I separated from my family. In 1940 the Germans took me to a labor–camp. From then on, I no longer saw my family, and remained alone to this very day. In the camp we dug water tunnels. The sanitary conditions were miserable and the food terrible. Afterwards they took me to Skarzisko. There I worked at the production of rifle ammunition. Conditions were very difficult and I got almost nothing to eat. At that time I became ill, and lay in bed, but the Germans forced me to continue working 12 hours a day. Afterwards it became clear that, I was ill with Typhus. For several days I lay with a high fever. Since I had no choice, I was forced to continue working, because if someone was out ill, for three days, the Germans would kill them.

At the time I had but one change of clothing. In the courtyard, near my workplace, water flowed, and there I found soap. One day I went out to wash my blouse, and was caught by my labor supervisor, who whipped me 25 times. I was forced to count the whipping, for as long as I was being whipped. When he finished his “work”, I was unconscious. On the morrow, the Germans forced me to complete my quota.

In 1944 I was transferred to Tzenstochov, and also there I worked at backbreaking labor. The Red Army liberated me. I traveled back to my home in Kozienice, in order to see what fate had befallen my family and relatives. To my astonishment, I didn't find even one of them. I returned to Tzenstochov, after I had despaired of finding my parents. There I found work and supported myself until I met my present husband. Together we traveled to Germany. In Germany we were married in 1945, and made Aliyah to Israel on the ship, “Yagur”, which was an illegal one. The British caught us, and after a short battle, they overcame us, and dragged us to a detention camp on the island of Cyprus, where we remained for close to half a year. After we received an Aliyah permit, we came to Israel. We settled in Israel, and established ourselves. In time, two children were born to us, and we established a new generation in Israel.


[Page 620]

Know, What Amalek (Germany) Did To You!

by Sarah Madanes, Tel Aviv

Where are all of the members of my family? Where? Why did they fall victim? Victims of the German nation, and all of it why? O' why? Because They were Jews!

It may be that my narrative will be different. I will not be able to tell about the city of Kozienice because I was born in Eretz Yisrael. But I also have something to say, perhaps not about the city, but about the terrible tragedy that befell my people. Often, in our home the topic of the Holocaust and the courageous spirit comes up in our home. Who can forget the slaughter? To this day we can't make peace with the facts: 6 million Jews were wiped out, only because they were Jews. Except for a few monuments, what memorializes their memory? The Memorial Book of the Martyrs of Kozienice, the birthplace of my father, and the Memorial Book of the martyrs of Harovishov, the birthplace of my mother, will memorialize my family, which to my great sorrow, are known to me only through the books. By way of deception that they were taking them to labor camps, the Nazis took their victims to extermination camps. It is difficult to describe how they felt in the sealed boxcars, standing pressed together, without food or water, and on top of it they knew that from the place to which they were being taken they would never return. The Jews knew what was in store for the elderly and their parents. More than once children risked their lives to save parents. My family can serve as an example. The two sisters, Franka and Sarah Braunstein hid their mother. Everywhere they went they took their mother, in secret. They stole food for her, and thanks to them, my aunt Tzipporah (their mother) is here, may she live to 120. There were more than a few such examples in this war of extermination, but in this Holocaust, Hitler did exterminate men, women, the elderly, infants and children in camps encircled by electrified barbed wire, until he put an end to them.


[Page 621]

There Was Once a Town, Garbatke

by Gershon Bornshtein, B'nai–B'rak, Israel

Until the outbreak of WWII, there lived in Garbatke close to 100 Jewish families. The town was famous for clear forest air and comfortable mansions (Hotels) to accommodate guests in the summer season. Guests would come with their wives and children from Radom, Keltz and the surrounding areas. At Passover time merchants would come and also manufacturers and hand–workers, to reserve their hotels or cottages. Realtors were engaged in this and this was one of the Jewish livelihoods. On the train stations there would await the guest drivers with horses and wagons, lined with straw, and covered with blankets. No other form of communication existed. This seasonal occupation was conducted by the inhabitants of Garbatke, and from it they would survive the winter months.

 

Garbatke Was Tied to Kozienice

Administratively, Garbatke was tied to Kozienice, where they would pay taxes, and use the courts. Garbatke did not have it's own Rabbi. It was tied to the Jewish community of Gnievashov, and from there they would get their birth documents. Their dead were buried in Kozienice or Gnievashov. This was also true of the bath–house and Ritual Bath. Garbatke needed a Ritual Slaughterer, so they advertised that whoever would build a Ritual Bath at his own expense, would be appointed Ritual Slaughter. He was also engaged in teaching Torah and commentaries to the boys up to Bar Mitzvah age, and had to officiate as Cantor and Mohel. When they appointed the Ritual Slaughterer they finally got their own Ritual Bath. This way they solved one of their major Jewish problems.

Small business men of all kinds lived in Garbatke: notions, housewares, food/piece goods and even nails were sold there, at times under one roof. It wasn't easy to raise children there, and set them up, but in spite of it they lived satisfied. Once a week there was a fair in town. On that day, tailors, hat makers and other merchants would come from Kozienice. The village peasants would bring cheese, eggs, hens and fruit. This way Garbatke was provided with everything. On Thursdays the housewives prepared for the Sabbath. Mothers would bake Matzoh farfel, egg cakes, rolls and twisted Challos. After changing the children into their Sabbath finery, the father would go with them to pray in the House of Study. Mother would already have lit and blessed the Sabbath candles. The Holy Sabbath had begun.

Garbatke youth was satisfied, when young guests came to flirt with them. During the long winter evenings the maidens would knit, and read books. The young men would play at dominoes or chess. There was no cinema in Garbatke. From time to time an amateur theatrical group would come from Kozienice, or they would travel to the cinema in Kozienice. It was nice and they were fortunate. For some easier and for others more difficult, but all were satisfied. They would also solicit for the Jewish National Fund from the summer guests; and also for other causes.

[Page 622]

During the summer Garbatke came alive, in spite of the heavy work. After the guests left, a stillness descended on the town. In this way Jewish life continued until 1939. And from 1941 on, Garbatke Jews lived in a Ghetto.

 

The 12th of June, 1942

On a lovely morning on the 12th of June, 1942, the SS surrounded the Ghetto and shots were heard. Everyone understood that the evacuation is approaching. Tens of Jews had already been shot. Men, 16 years old and older, were gathered together in one place, and taken to the Tartak (saw mill), where the boxcars were waiting. The Hitlerites loaded on over 100 men, with their hands tied and took them to an unknown destination. Only when we were unloaded from the boxcars, did we realize that we were in an extermination camp, Auschwitz. A while later the Hitlerites eliminated the labor–camp at Pionki, where for the slightest transgression you could be hanged or shot. The labor–camp was guarded by Ukrainian robbers and SS.

From the few Garbatke Jews we found out about the dark fate of those who had remained in Garbatke, where the majority had been shot. Some of the women and children were evacuated to Zvolin and from there back to Garbatke. In boxcars, they were later taken to Treblinka, the extermination camp. The Garbatke woods remained uninhabited, without Jews. The Goyim stole the bit of goods that Jews had stored there. In a forsaken corner overgrown with pines, in the small woods, were buried all together, women, men and children. During big storms and rains, the trees rustle, as if they were humans crying over their dark fate. It is worthwhile mentioning, that around Kozienice there were other small towns with Jewish populations. All were destroyed. In Glovatshov there were 25 families, in Shetshechov, 120 families, in Yedlnie, 15 families, in Ritshevol, 60 families, in Magnushev 80 families, in Mishev, 25 families, in Yablone, 13 families, and in Pionki more than 30 families.


[Page 623]

A Small Number of Garbatkeites Remained Alive

by Yitzhak Tzimerman, Jerusalem

12 kilometers from Kozienice, surrounded by a forest, was to be found Garbatke. The inhabitants occupied themselves with real estate and fabricating. Garbatke was also known as a resort. About 70 Jewish families lived there, most of them handworkers and small merchants. When the Hitlerites marched in 1939, they levied a heavy fine against the Jews. Jews were driven to heavy labor, and were beaten till the blood ran. The Hitlerites searched for arms, and at every opportunity stole whatever they could find. Later they sent us out for labor in the woods. In 1941 they forced the Jews into a Ghetto, where they also brought the Jews from Yablonov (25 families). In the Ghetto it became crowded. People went hungry and died from Typhus. On the 12th of July, 1942 (12th of Tammuz) during the early morning hours, the Ghetto was surrounded. Close to 100 Jews fell victim to shooting. They were buried in the Ghetto. The remaining men were sent to Auschwitz. The women and children were sent to the Pionki Ghetto.

Those capable of labor were put up in the Pulaver Factory, and the remaining Jews were taken to the Zvolin Ghetto; from there back to Garbatke; and from there packed into boxcars and sent to their deaths. The Jews from Garbatke, Pionki, Zvolin, Kozienice, Keltz and Radom worked in the Pulaver Factory. The factory was encircled by barbed–wire, and guarded by Ukrainians. Jews were working under miserable conditions, and on top of it they were beaten and even killed. In 1944, with the start of the Russian offensive, the Hitlerites packed the few Jews into boxcars and took them to Auschwitz, and from there to various work–camps. In 1945 there remained only a handful of Garbatke Jews. They immediately departed, seeing that it was impossible to build a new life on the soil which was drenched with blood and death. The majority of those who remained alive settled in Israel, where they had the opportunity, in 1948, to fight for the liberation of Jerusalem. Others once again sought their good fortune in other lands of exile.

ON JULY 21, 1942, 100 JEWS WERE SHOT IN GARBATKE.
WE HONOR THEIR MEMORY!

 

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