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[Page 235]

Destruction and Might

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

kry235.jpg
Earth, do not cover my blood. (Job 16:17)

[Page 237]

The Destruction and end
of the Jewish Community of Krynki

by the editor

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

Killing and the Ghetto

At the Beginning of the Nazi Invasion

On Sunday, June 22, 1941, at 10:00 a.m. several airplanes were seen in the skies of Krynki. An air raid siren was heard, and shots were fired. A mood of perplexity immediately overtook the city. Many thought that this was a military exercise, however some immediately figured out what was happening. The speech of the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, broadcast in the afternoon, clearly outlined the situation. He stated that Germany had opened a war against the Soviet Union. The Red Army command declared a sudden draft of a certain number of the population.

The next day, Monday morning, airplanes appeared over the skies of Krynki once again, and bombarded the center of the city. The confusion of the hasty retreat of the Soviet army pervaded all around.

At dawn on Tuesday, June 24, Krynki itself was bombarded heavily, especially the Jewish quarters, and including the synagogue, which was known for its beauty and esthetic architectural structure. The Kavkaz neighborhood and several streets were completely destroyed. Other areas were partially destroyed. The first Jewish victims fell. The Soviet leadership and police arranged themselves for immediate departure. Soldiers ran about barefoot, with their shoes on their shoulders, in their haste to flee eastward, to Minsk, even though nobody knew where the front was.

Flyers were dropped from the German airplanes calling on the residents to go out to the fields. The Jews were commanded to cover their heads with white cloths. Masses of people therefore left the town without taking anything along. Their destination was the valleys and pasture areas several kilometers from the settlement – relying on the assumption that the civilian population was moving about freely and honorably in the fields, and would not harm them. Immediately upon arrival, the Jews sensed that a polar change had taken place with respect to their relationship with their Polish neighbors, with whom previously, during the time of Soviet rule, they literally had an idyllic relationships. Now, it had become the epitome of hostility. Our fellow members of our people realized for themselves that they must separate immediately from these neighbors and band together in the public pasture (the Wygon).

 

Flames and the First Murder

The Nazis entered Krynki in the afternoon, as it was engulfed in flames on all four sides. It took several days of effort to put out the fire. Some form of calm pervaded during those days, and the panicked people continued to remain in the valleys outside the town. Then on the morning of the Sabbath, June 28, several low-flying airplanes were seen. When they figured out the place where the Jewish masses were congregated, they signaled the German gunners who were stationed around. They immediately started firing, and about 50 people, including the elderly, women, and children, were killed. The innards of some of them were crushed and scattered about. Many others were injured.

Now, the murderers did not hesitate any longer. They began to pillage the town itself. Ch. Weiner, a Holocaust survivor, relates that the S.S. men broke into the Beis Midrash, gathered the Torah scrolls and other holy books, and set them on fire. They only permitted the Jews to extinguish the fire once the smoke began to burst through the roof. By risking their lives, the Jews succeeded in saving the Torah scrolls.

On the morning of Monday, June 30 (according to Ch. Weiner, this took place on July 3), a group of S.S. men surrounded several streets, arrested about 15 Jews, brought them to a grove (Szolker Wald) about two kilometers from the town, and shot 14 of them. Another two, Hershel Leib Shachne's and the dentist Tajchman, were brought to Lesser-Brestowice where they were shot to death. One youth, Berl Tewel, who had been shot in the grove, was badly injured and fainted. After he woke up. from his unconsciousness

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and the murderers were no longer seen in the place, he succeeded in raising himself out of the pile of corpses and reaching the town in the darkness of the night with his last strength. He said that the prisoners were prepared to attack and kill their four murderous guards, but their friend Aharon Wolf (Munchik) urged them to not do so, for it is better to give up one's life for the entire Jewish community than to place it in danger of destruction - heaven forbid, if even one of the four German Nazis was killed.

 

Polish Jew Hatred, Decrees, and Degradation

At first, the Germans announced in town that they had come to rescue the Poles from their Russian Bolshevik tormentors, and that the authorities therefore demanded that they turn over to them the Jews who had collaborated with the Soviets. Indeed, a town leadership council was immediately set up, composed of Polish Jew-haters. The local government was in fact given over to them during the first month of the Nazi occupation. They now added poison to the German murderousness. As well, a committee of Poles who had just been released from the Soviet prisons in the area was set up. They began to storm after the Jews without discrimination, and slander them – especially regarding anyone who had formerly been employed in any Soviet business – stating that they were Bolsheviks. Thus, tens of Jews, not only Communists, were taken outside the town and killed. Their place of burial is not known.

Now, the period of various anti-Jewish decrees began. First, the obligation of forced labor was imposed on all Jews from the age of 14 and above, to 60 for men and 55 for women. They were ordered to appear in the market early in the morning every day for “labor brigades.” Polish bullies along with a number of Germans would direct them to pave roads, plant grass, collect the dead from around and bury them, and perform various other tasks.

After a few days, additional decrees were announced: wearing the Magen David patch, the ban on coming into contact with and doing business with gentiles, the ban on owning a horse or cow, and other such tribulations. Among other things, Jews were obligated to remove their hats in front of any German they encountered on their route, and to be the first to greet them. Anyone who was not careful about this or did not do this properly, women included, were taken to the police and were administered 25 lashes with a whip. There were cases where Jews even paid with their lives for a “transgression.”

 

The Judenrat and its Tasks

At that time, the Jews were commanded to set up a Judenrat as a form of “representation” that would be responsible for carrying out the commands of the German authorities. First and foremost, they had to provide various workers for the needs of the Nazis and their offices. Of course the work would be without pay, and to work at various backbreaking tasks, as will be described. Second, the Judenrat had to collect all kinds of contributions and fees from the Jews, the vast majority of whom were impoverished – in accordance with the wishes of the Nazi thieves. Every one of their edicts was accompanied by the threat of a personal or collective punishment for the members of the Judenrat, including death, if it was not fulfilled, or was not fulfilled properly. This was the situation with respect to other demands of the murderers, such as: immediately providing gold, jewelry, expensive items, fine furniture, furs, expensive clothing and drink, etc. – to satisfy the appetites of the extortionists, who knew no satisfaction. Demands and edicts of this nature grew and became stronger from day to day.

In the autumn of 1941, rumors spread through the town that they were about to lock the Jews into a ghetto. At once, and frequently, frightful news, each piece worse than the previous, began to arrive about the bitter fate of our Jewish brethren in various cities and towns in which ghettos already existed.

The Jews believed that if they could be productive and worthwhile for the German war economy, they would be able to endure the era of tribulations in Krynki in peace. One tanner, Yankel Szinder, even operated a tannery in the town that employed Jews, and operated until the final liquidation of the community of Krynki.

 

Imprisonment in the Ghetto

The Judenrat was quickly commanded to lock the Jews into the bounds of the ghetto that the Germans had designated, with an area of 1-1.5 square meters as a “living space” for one Jewish person. Hundreds of Jews were enlisted to erect the high fence to lock them in. It had two gates: one in the marketplace, entering Garbarska Street, and the second next to the river on the same street.

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On a December day in 1941, the Jewish residents were given the order to move to the ghetto within a single day on the designated day. A commotion overtook the community, for everyone hastened to move quickly to the narrow confinement, and to find a corner for their family. They only managed to bring with them the most vital necessities. Not everything was allowed to be brought there. Polish police were the first to go out to the Jewish houses and choose for themselves the choicest objects. Anyone who attempted to take such a thing to the ghetto would be fined, beaten with death blows, or even shot. This is the bad luck that came to Sheimel Szajman (from the Bubickies) when he was caught carrying his shoemaking equipment to the confinement. He was shot to death.

The market square of Krynki was bustling with a crowd on that terrible day when the thousands of its Jews went into the confinement of the ghetto. Many Christians wandered about: a few who expressed their agony at the scene that was unfolding before them, and so many who were filled with joy and gladness, and even mocked the crisis of their Zyd neighbors. Not only would they be finally freed of them, but they would also inherit the best of their property. Now, S.S. men were standing together with Polish police at the entrance gate of the ghetto. They were searching the belongings of the Jews, checking and examining each package, packet, and article of clothing. They took for themselves the best of what they found. German photographers and journalists were also standing there, perpetuating the great victory of the murderous “master race” with photos of the perplexed Jews, as they were beaten and forced to enter the gate of hell.

 

During the Time of Confinement

Slavery, Crowding, and Hunger

When the gates of the ghetto were locked, a guard was placed over them, and nobody was allowed to leave without a work certificate or a permit from the secret police. A Jewish militia (ordnugnsdienst) was set up in the confinement, and the number of members of the Judenrat was reduced to seven, namely: Yosel Golc as head, Yisrael Kalinowicz, Talia Goldschmid, Yankel Grosman, Yankel Lewi (“The Clearer”), Natan Mostowlianski, and Meir Kaplan. From that time, the Judenrat, with the help of the Jewish police, was a form of government within the realm of the ghetto. It even had its own jail, in which those who transgressed the stringent work orders were imprisoned. Yankel Kozolczyk (nicknamed The Pig) was appointed as head of the Jewish police militia, and his deputy was Yosel Mostowlianski. The witness Eliahu Kuszner said the following about Kozolczyk, who was now the ruling force of the Judenrat:

“He was a tall person, broad shouldered with unusual physical strength. He had immigrated to Cuba during his youth, where he gave himself over to suspicious businesses, and was involved in acts of murder. He returned to Poland, and became a boxer.

“He appeared in Krynki during the time of the Soviet occupation. When the Germans invaded, he volunteered, solely on his own accord, to move with his own hands a 100-kilogram shell that had not exploded, to which the Germans were afraid to approach. It is said that he helped people. On the contrary, however, by nature he had no conscience, and he caused ill to many people. He emerged alive from the tragedy of the Holocaust, including Auschwitz, and reached Israel, where he was known by the nickname “Shimshon-Eizen” (Shimshon of Iron). He died in 1950.”

Ruling over everyone, however, was the cruel, bloodthirsty Nazi, Amts Komisar (Town Ruler), who instilled fear and terror upon everyone. When he entered the ghetto several times a day to make their rounds, the narrow alleyways immediately became empty of people – to the point where no living being was found there.

The south-eastern portion of the city, with Garbarska Street at the center, was within the bounds of the ghetto, that had been surrounded by a barbed wire fence. It continued from the market square until the river on one side. On the other side was the street of the bathhouse and Gmina Street. Within this area, the Nazis took the synagogue courtyard for themselves as a field for the repair of tanks.

Three or four families were crowded into each dwelling in the cramped confinement – due to the intention of the Nazis to destroy the Jews in a variety of ways, including “natural causes” such as suffocation and epidemics. Eyewitnesses relate that three or four housewives would stand beside the chimney fanning the flames, with their eyes tearing from the abundance of smoke and suffering.

Already at 6:00 a.m., in all weather, the residents of the Ghetto – men, women, and even young children – were commanded to appear next to the gate and arrange themselves into their work groups with their leaders. They would go out to work accompanied by a Polish guard. Anyone who disobeyed this command would be imprisoned. The only ones exempt were those with special permits such as the militia commander and his deputy, several policemen, as well as the Judenrat members and their families.

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kry240.jpg
At the time of labor

 

A sketch of the camp in Kelbasin
The Kelbasin Sketch

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Kelbasin (Kielbasin) sketch appears on two unnumbered pages following 240, with the right to left orientation reversed. The key is as follows:

  1. Only a portion of the place names from which Jews were deported to Kielbasin are noted next to their blocks in the camp. The chart was prepared by memory by Feivel Wolf. It was edited by the editor.
  2. Barbed wire fence
  3. Electrified barbed wire fence
  4. Barbed wire barricade
  5. Barbed wire gutter
  6. Excavation
  7. Reinfeller's villa
  8. Potato pits
  9. Entrance. Gate guard.
  10. Gestapo guard barracks
  11. Road to the camp
  12. Road to the forest
  13. Location in the forest where the martyrs were hanged.
  14. Kozińce, Sapockin
  15. Block 1. Drozgenik
  16. Dungeon
  17. Washing area
  18. Block 2. Krynki
  19. Kielbasin Transit Camp
  20. Forest
  21. Moroch
  22. Block 3. Amdur
  23. Kitchen
  24. Internal road
  25. Sokółka
  26. Block 4. D¹browa
  27. Sidra. Suchowola
  28. Block 5. Skidel
  29. Ostryna
  30. Block 6. Ożary. Nowy Dwór
  31. Gate guard
  32. Exit
  33. The last way to the death camps and gas chambers.

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The arrangement concluded with people in groups of four. The crowd of forced laborers, wearing torn, worn-out clothes, and freezing from the cold (their “proper” clothes had been stolen from them by the Nazis) marched to the workplace, to various German operatives in the town itself or to the roads outside of the town. Anyone who did not march properly or who stepped out of line would not only earn a shower of “compliments”, i.e. loud mockery, but also lashes from a whip or angry beatings with batons.

A. Sofer writes that the food ration for the people of the ghetto was 100 grams of bread per day and a similar quantity of potatoes. The Judenrat would attempt to provide, to the extent possible, a food supplement to the workplaces of the workers with the most backbreaking labor – a bit of fat or some other additional food items. They could provide this only for those who worked outside the ghetto. Some were able to obtain a portion of butter or some other food from gentiles through purchase or barter in exchange for clothing or some other piece of merchandise. However, they would have to smuggle the product through the ghetto gate, hidden in a broom, the hair of a woman, or some other hidden place. Therefore, everyone who returned from work in the evening would be checked carefully by the Polish and German guards, and if someone caught with “his transgression” – the smuggled food would be “confiscated” and he himself would be “treated” to curses and kicks. If he succeeded in getting through without being caught, he would have to give a “tithe” to the Jewish policeman who was stationed inside the gate.

The Judenrat was also obligated to provide a workforce to the farms of the area, which were now directed by Germans. Approximately 40 Jews worked in this manner in Jaszmonta, Stajnow, Szolka, and other villages. They would return to their homes in the ghetto once every week or two – tired, dusty, hungry, and weakened from the backbreaking work, the beatings, the thrashings, and the suffering. They were also broken and crushed from everything that their eyes saw, including the torment and murder of their fellows.

 

Torment and Evil

Those who worked in Jaszmonta related that one evening, when they returned tired out to their tents, a command from their director to arrange themselves in a row was suddenly heard. A group of S.S. men immediately appeared. They were passing through, and they desired to torture Jews. They commanded the tired Jews to start running while singing Hatikvah without stop – and with falling down to the ground and rising again and again. Anyone who could not stand up to the test and failed was shot on the spot.

A second incident took place in Stajnow, approximately 10 kilometers from Krynki, where 24 Jewesses were working. During a party at the home of the German director of the area, the drunk gendarmes wished to “enjoy themselves” with the Jewish women. At 4:00 a.m., they ordered them to strip naked. Anyone who did not obey was beaten with death blows. Then they made them run naked for hundreds of meters into a stream of filthy water, and they were forced to fling handfuls of mud and stones at each other, as the tormenters mocked and beat them.

The murderers knew no bounds with respect to forcing the Jews to work at backbreaking work. At times, they burst into the ghetto in the darkness of the night, and took the Jews, broken from hard work, out of their beds, and forced them to run in the cold for 12 kilometers outside the town and to clear the snow from the roads.

On January 14, 1942, the Polish policemen arrested 20 Jewish butchers in the ghetto due to the rumor that reached the German gendarmerie that they had smuggled a cow into the ghetto to slaughter for meat. For three days, they were interrogated, beaten, and tortured to the point that their blood flowed. They were then taken to the prison in Bia³ystok. All efforts of their family to save them, including with the help of bribes, did not help. They were shot to death in pits which they were forced to dig themselves, six kilometers from Białystok.

One day, the gendarmes suddenly ordered that Garbarska Street be excluded from the bounds of the ghetto, thereby dividing the confinement area into two separate, unequal areas. One was now called “The Small Ghetto.” Through great effort, they succeeded in getting the Germans to agree to allow a connection between the two parts of the ghetto on the Street of the Bridge, through a water conduit.

 

The Terrifying “Feldwebel”

“That stormy winter, the Feldwebel (Sargent), a tall, fat German with piercing eyes, responsible for ensuring that the road to Białystok was cleared of stone, was particularly infamous in Krynki for his cruelty. He was a sadist for his own enjoyment, evil, and a wild beast” – Lola Wolf-Reznik of Krynki relates. “At 5:00 a.m. he would burst into the ghetto with his murderous friends, break doors and windows, take out men, women, and children

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who were half naked, make them go outside, make them run fast on 'his' road, as he drove behind them and prodded them on with his thick whip. Now, in the strongest cold, he would work them hard at clearing the snow, without a break, and while fasting, until a late hour of the night, and until they were drained of their energy. The fingers and toes of many of them were frozen. Others contracted pneumonia or tuberculosis.”

Feivel Wolf relates: “At the end of February, we were drafted by the Judenrat to daily clean the street leading from Krynki to Sokolka. Our taskmaster was a fat German sergeant in his 50s, with a long mustache. His deputy was Tall Max.

“On Sunday, March 1, he forced us to run almost to Sokolka, a distance of approximately 22 kilometers, and held us there until 9:00 p.m. It was already an hour after midnight when we returned to Krynki. I found a note on my table at home demanding that I be prepared to present myself again at work at 5:00 a.m. I and many others like me did not go out. Therefore, the aforementioned fat pig entered the ghetto with about ten Germans to hunt for people. When they entered the house of Mosheke Schmid Traszcan, they took his pretty daughter from her bed naked, took her outside in the 30-degree cold, and whipped her. Then they snatched the daughter of the midwife, took her out, whipped her, and held her in the cold. They snatched Rabbi Kwiat for work.

“When word of the rampage of the murderer reached me, in the small ghetto, I and 17 others presented ourselves for work. Then the evil one cut and burnt before our eyes half of the beard and mustache of the tall rabbi. The German assistant next to him grabbed me by my head, shook me up and down, and gave me seven lashes with a rubber whip, after they tortured and beat the other Jews. They made us run ten kilometers on foot to clean the road next to the village of Szudziałowo.”

A. Sofer writes about the same “event” that the Feldwebel also raped several girls, and sent them back to the ghetto with barely their lives.

 

The Bloody Day of Passover Eve

The Hymn of the Murderers, and “Business”

Even in Krynki, as in many other places, the murderers made sure, in accordance with the plans and directive of those “knowledgeable” in Jewish matters from among their upper command, that the Jews not be allowed to remove their attention, even one bit, from their bitter fate on the days of their holy festivals. Furthermore, they must suppress their special times and their souls completely. The day of Passover eve was a day of of murder of Jews for the workers of the Nazi devil.

The eve of Passover 5702 [1942] approached. Those imprisoned in the Krynki Ghetto baked matzos, koshered their vessels, and attempted to prepare as much as possible for a kosher Passover in secret, hidden from the Germans.

On Friday morning, the eve of Passover, the commander of the ghetto ordered the Jewish police to send out all the youth for work. He and the ruler of the town did not permit anyone older to leave the ghetto. After several hours, the gate of the confinement opened, and approximately 200 Gestapo men entered with their uniforms and black hats, bearing their symbol of the skull and two crossbones below, singing their hymn “Horst Wessel.”[1] with the words “When the knife is sharpened, Jewish blood flows.” They invaded and burst into the alleyways to pillage the homes, beat and tortured. Volleys of shots burst out, accompanied by screams and calls for help.

Abraham Sofer writes, “At that time, Yaakov Kozolczyk ran outside, with his cloak ripped and his eyes full of tears, calling out incessantly, 'Jews, hide – they will shoot you!'

“The shooting did not stop. At that time, the Judenrat conducted negotiations with the murderous captain of the Gestapo brigade, who ordered specifically that 300 people be shot. In exchange for a bribe of a great deal of gold, hides, and other valuables, the robbers were 'placated to lower the price' – that is to only kill those with beards.”

 

The Slaughter

The terrible slaughter of the “tens” lasted for two hours. Among those murdered was the local rabbinical judge Leibel Segal, and the rabbinical judge and rabbi of the Hassidim Reb Shmuel Leib (“The Yellow”). The murderers ignited his beard on fire while he was still alive, and then then nailed him to the wall of the Hassidic house of worship. Moshe Leib the baker (“Mosheke Mazik's, Chana the Baker woman's) displayed strong opposition to the murderers and fought with them. Women also perished in the slaughter, some of whom were pierced to death by swords. They were all hauled one by one through the ruins of the ghetto and murdered near the garbage bins of the destroyed tanneries. The wild beasts left the ghetto in the afternoon with the “Horst Wessel” song emanating from their throats.

They did not permit the victims to be buried in the

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Jewish cemetery. They were buried in their clothes, in the presence of the ghetto commander, in a mass grave on the Street of the Bathhouse, in an empty lot of Shmuel Hadwad next to the Linat Hatzedek building.

 

The Absorption of Deportees: Epidemics

Following the ruined Passover holiday, the Jews of Greater Brestowice, approximately 1,200 souls, were transferred to Krynki on wagons. They arrived half naked, covered in rags, without food, bedding, or even a coin – for everything was stolen from them. Now it was necessary to arrange living quarters for them in the frightfully crowded ghetto, and to provide them with firewood, food, and clothing. They were housed in the schools, houses of worship, and in many houses.

Lola Wolf-Reznik relates: “The hunger in the ghetto increased from day to day. Epidemics, especially typhus, spread quickly taking many victims.

“An exemplary hospital and an infirmary in the premises of the General Cheder was set up in the ghetto. They provided medical aid gratis. Some medical supplies were available. This was perhaps the most important activity of the Judenrat in Krynki. It was better set up with its cleanliness, its medical staff, and its general principles than the local city hospital.”

 

And They Tortured Them with a Pool

In June 1942, the commander of the ghetto desired to construct a pool outside the city for himself and his staff. Every day, they would force thousands of Jewish men, women, and children to run there, to drag pallets laden with heavy soil, under the whiplashes of the taskmasters, especially of the wild Polish policemen. They would also force those who were working in the factories to run there after a difficult workday. Rather than returning them home to their ghetto, the murderous commander and his gangs would be waiting for them at the gate. With the butts of their guns, they would force them to turn back – this time to the pool. There, they would be forced to work, accompanied by curses, until their energy was exhausted. They would return in the darkness of the night, weak and beaten, to the empty pot and table in their homes – relates A. Sofer.

One day, when the number of forced laborers did not reach the quota that was satisfactory to the Germans – they forced all the Judenrat members to run to work. They also beat them harshly, and ordered them to supply a number of Jewish workers. When there was nobody else to draft, the Jewish police, having no choice, chased out all those who were in the Beis Midrash immersed in their fasting, and gave them over to the Germans to send to work.

Time passed, and the work on the pool in the lot of Wyryon was completed. Then they worked on clearing ruins. A German in charge of the economy opened a workshop for tailoring and hat making. This work was solely for the benefit of the Germans who were traveling to their homeland, taking their pillaged merchandise along with them.

 

In the Final Months of the Ghetto: Inclinations to Revolt

Life in the Ghetto became worse from day to day. Food supplies were completely exhausted. A public kitchen was set up, but it did not have the foodstuffs to feed the hungry community. At times, it would only distribute hot water. People went about pale and weak from exhaustion. The death toll rose. The field next to Linat Hatzedek, where the victims of the bloody Passover eve had been buried, filled up with graves. Hunger got sharper, and increased. Smuggling into the ghetto died down. The majority of the community lived with the hope that the day of redemption was not far off. There were those who preached about finding a way to free themselves through their own powers, to go out to the forests with weapons in their hand to fight the enemy. On the other hand, there were those who were against this idea, saying that they must continue to remain in the ghetto, and wait until the end of Amalek would be like the end of Haman – relates Sofer.

He further relates that Simcha, the son of Nachum Bliacher, set up a radio device in an empty barrel. Every day, he and Buma Frydman would listen to the news from London, Moscow, and Berlin. This was a deed that could bring the death penalty to many, so it was kept an absolute secret.

And again: They would send most of the youth to work on digging peat in Podbianika or to cut trees in the forest. It happened that the partisans of the “group” confiscated the axes and saws, but refused to take the youths with them to the Partizanka. In general, the partisans would take everything from Jews whom they encountered in the forest, and send the person away. They claimed that this was because the Germans sent spies to the forests wearing yellow patches, disguised as Jews, and these people could later disclose the partisan hiding places to those who sent them. It even happened that they threatened the Jewish youth who were digging peat, and who wanted to accompany them to the forest, that they would shoot them if they came with them.

 

Translator's Footnote
  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horst-Wessel-Lied Return

[Pages 245-249]

Translator's note: These Hebrew sections on the Scroll of Kelbasin by Dov Rabin and Feivel Wolf are equivalent with 277-287. The Yiddish section by Wolf has more detail than the Hebrew. The Hebrew is not being translated.
[Pages 249-250]

Translator's note: The material from the Hebrew sections by Avraham Sofer is included in the Yiddish sections by Sofer that are already translated. Therefore, the Hebrew is not being translated.

 

[Page 250]

Our Krynki Holocaust Tribulations

by Eliyahu Kushnir

Translated by Hadas Eyal

 

The Border Pharmacy

When the Krynki Jewish ghetto was set up on December 13, 1941 it's barricade ran through the yard of my pharmacy. Jews who worked outside the ghetto and were able to somehow find food, would throw it towards the pharmacy and we would throw it over the fence into the ghetto.

Life in the fall all of 1942 was a nightmare of terror and constant fear of death. There were frequent rumors from neighboring towns of slaughter and “transports” of children and elderly to unknown destinations.

On November 1st, 1942 rumors spread that something “special” was about to happen and my family urged me to move into the pharmacy beyond the barbed wire. My wife and I crossed the barricade that night. We went up to the attic and laid there. At 6:00 a.m. we heard an earsplitting uproar of wild yelling, wailing and gun fire from the ghetto, followed by a commotion of moving carriages, an entire camp. We didn't know what was going on.

The pharmacy did not open that day. It was managed by a Polish professor brought in by the Nazi commissar but when I heard movement from there at approximately 10 a.m. I snuck down from the attic and peaked into the pharmacy through the back door. I asked the Christian intern to call the pharmacist professor and from him I learned that all the Jews were taken out of town. Among them, my entire family.

Jolted and shocked, we decided to end our lives. We were even able to obtain a box of poison but the pharmacist let us stay in the attic for one more night so I decided to wait for the next day.

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Early the next morning we woke to desperate cries in Yiddish: “Oy, where are my children?” We ran down and there was Yosel Goltz the Judenrat, running, crazed, wringing his hands, looking for his family that disappeared. He told us that some Judenrat and professional workers, mainly tanners, were left to work in Krynki. Yankel Shinder and others assumed that the Jews who could be of service to the Germans may be able to successfully escape hell.

Goltz also told us that the Germans, with whom he came into contact as a Judenrat and whom he regularly bribed, warned him in advance that the ghetto was going to be liquidated. He rushed to prepare his family a hiding place where he left them while he went to pay a ransom for their lives. When he was late to return, his family left the hiding place and asked a young acquaintance to lead them to the place where all the Jews were rounded up. By the time Goltz returned – he couldn't find them. We also found out that my mother-in-law, aunt and the children willingly left their hiding place because they heard the Germans “promised” that the town people would be moved to ghetto Grodno.

The Empty Ghetto

In order to maximize our chances of saving our relatives and the children we had to first become “legal” in the ghetto. We left the pharmacy attic and snuck into the ghetto to our apartment. The apartment was already taken over by other Jews who barely vacated a corner for us. The Germans we met told us we will soon see our relatives.

House gates and doors in the ghetto were flung open, lamps were on. You would go into an apartment and see before you a dish ready to be cooked; here a sewing machine with a shirt half-sewn; there bread dough with finger marks sunk into it; next to a grater – a whole potato; on the table – a crumpled tallit, an undone tefillin, and a Siddur open to “Shmoneh Esrei” in the middle the Amidah prayer. The beds are ruffled. Clearly the Jews were torn and snatched at dawn.

 

In the Tannery with the Remaining

We were lucky. The wife of the German tannery manager happened to our apartment to see the seamstress who lived with us. In return for silverware and Czech cutlery we were accepted to the tannery - I as a medic and my wife as a nurse. With time I befriended the manager. From time to time we would bring him gifts that were easy to find: anyone could walk into an apartment and take what they wanted. If a Christian would take a plate out of the ghetto he would be shot, but the Jews were uninterrupted because the murderers knew that sooner or later everything will remain in their hands.

The tannery manager, an SS man, agreed to at least return our son. This is when we found out that everyone taken from town was gathered in the transport camp in Kielbasin . A car was eventually sent to bring the child but returned empty – they were all sent to Treblinka the day before.

We stayed at the tannery camp 12 weeks. I bandaged and treated the Jews with a great deal of luck. Despite not being able to sanitize needles and lacking any alcohol, there were no inflections.

Polish people from town who were once communists and now dangerous hooligans also worked in the tannery. One day in January 1943, a Polish woman spotted my wife's felt boots. She suggested that my wife give them to her as a gift because “she will soon not be needing them anymore”. We understood the hour of Jewish extermination is approaching.

Shortly after that day, the guard told me someone is waiting for me outside. It was Piotr Biganski, our former landlord. He came under the pretense of urgently needing a certain medication, asking me to concoct it. He then whispered that he was willing to hide my wife and I at his place.

There was tension in the camp those days. People would sneak out at night to look for a hiding place in the area, retuning disappointed. I therefore asked to send a message to Biganski that the medication I prepared for him is ready. He appeared and repeated his offer. Although I did not take him too seriously because I knew he was an unusual man, I got hold of a coat, two window drapes and several lady stockings that he asked of me and passed them to him when I had a chance.

[Page 252]

On Shabbat, January 23, the tools were taken from the craftsmen – a bad sign. When I asked the manager about it he said that “if anyone will be left here, you will be the first of them”. The situation was clear. Not only did our Polish co-workers not express emotion or any kind of worry for us, they were outwardly happy they would be able to enjoy the things we leave them. We were so angry, we began to throw into the oven and burn everything we were meant to leave behind. The Polish raised a commotion about us burning “things that already belong to them”.

Most of the Jews in the camp were young and sought life. However, we knew nothing about whether there were Partisans among us.

With us in the camp was a worker called Zelig Vacht whose wife I threated for open tuberculosis. She died in my arms. He became a close friend and tried to be in our company as much as possible. We told him and a few other close friends our secret of the possibility of finding a hiding place but that we do not trust the person willing to hide us and we do not have the money we will need for that. They all persuaded us to take the opportunity because there is nothing to lose, and maybe, if we stay alive, there will be someone to tell the story of the Shoah that fell on the Jews of Krynki. Vacht also took it upon himself to get us out of the camp that was now surrounded by the Gestapo with only a single section guarded by a Polish policeman. It was our last window of opportunity.

 

Hiding Underground in a Crate

We approached that fence section in the dark of night. Vacht whispered to the Polish policeman that he will show him treasures buried underground if he moves a bit from the gate to let us leave through it. The trick worked after we also shoved several money bills into the hands of the policeman. In pouring rain, we plodded through mud until we reached Biganski's yard. We knocked quietly on his window. A woman's voice answered that she is bathing and not open, so we hid in a cellar we discovered. Biganski found us there later by chance when he came down to check that the rain water didn't reach the potatoes in the cellar shed.

He was perplexed at first then greeted us. But he turned pale when he lit a match and saw another man with us. After pleading, he eventually agreed to hide Vacht as well. We took off our watches and handed them over along with all the money we had. Now he invited us into his house, fed us and led us to the cellar.

Our dwelling was in a crate that was 140 centimeters long and one meter in height and width. It was meant for two people laying with their legs bent. The third person was forced to stand in turn inside the chimney through which we were lowered to the crate. The chimney was covered on top with wood planks. On top of the planks, Biganski threw mounds of potatoes.

The first 24 hours we laid hungry and swooning until he returned home apologizing he did not bring us food earlier because he was busy slaughtering a pig at a party. He took us up, fed us dinner and gave us instructions we needed to obey without question because we were surrounded by enemies, especially his hating brothers who came into the cellar to take their food supplies.

Biganski also told us that all the Jews were taken including those from the camp and that eight of them who tried to escape were caught and shot to death in the cemetery.

Sheltered in Sodom by Two Righteous People

He would bring us food every night when he came down to the cellar to collect potatoes for his cows. He also took the bucket we used as a toilet. Once every two weeks he took us up late at night to bathe after a thorough inspection around the house and if no person was expected to visit. Only then would he command: Come up! We'd quickly sneak into the house while he covered the windows and locked the doors. Bathing night was a celebration. Mrs. Biganski, smart and infinitely generous – a true angle from heaven – would cook us food then allow us to use their beds to catch a

[Page 252]

human nap with our limbs stretched out.

One evening, there was a knock on the window while we were bathing. We all turned pale but Mrs. Biganski did not lose her resourcefulness. She answered as she always did in these situations that she will not open because she is bathing. Turns out it was one of Mr. Biganski's brothers who was looking for his horse and came to check if anyone saw him. From then on we could no longer bathe.

In the spring of that year Vacht contracted tuberculosis and his coughing got continuously worse. Biganski moved him to the attic where he got worse, probably due to a cold, and the sound of his coughing could be heard in the street. Vacht begged Biganski to take him to Bialystok ghetto where he had friends. Putting himself in great danger, Biganski hitched the horse and took Vacht there. With utmost mercy he also offered Vacht to return when his health improves. After the war we learned that Vacht and five other Jews escaped from the Bialystok ghetto just before it was liquidated but they were caught and shot on their way to Krynki. Only Shteinspir survived – the sole living witness to this escape.

We stayed in the attic after Vacht left even though it would have been easier to discover us there. After harvest, Biganski installed a new crate under the hay and began to feed us better food to make us healthier and stronger. Moreover, our friendship with this family grew to the point he would even bring us the newspaper. [Page 253]

An additional man in the den of evil

Once it happened that a goy climbed to the attic to look for something and saw me crawling from the crate to get the newspaper. The man recoiled, pale as whitewash from what he saw, but left without a word. He was smart and kind because he did not even mention it to Biganski. He would bring our landlord a large portion of freshly collected honey from his bee hive saying: “Take, take, you need it!”.

In the winter of 1943/1944 the Germans brought Ukrainian police. Two of the families were housed in our yard. They exposed their evilness straight away: they found two Jews hiding in the field, the first they buried alive and the second they gave over to the Germans. We found this out only later because our landlord did not want to worry us.

We were surprised one day by a baptism party in the attic. White sheets were hung around the walls and tables were set. Biganski's neighbor guests, brothers and the policemen ate and drank all day while we were in the crate beneath the hay, hearing the praying and partying of the Ukraine murderers. After the guests left that night Biganski served us schnapps, meat and candy as refreshments.

 

Approach of the Red Army

The Red Army was approaching us, delayed near the town of Svislach where the Germans displayed stubborn resistance for several days. Before they left Krynki the Germans set out to demolish the place. They blew up the factories and set the homes on fire. Our landlord Biganski moved around like a crazy man fearing more for his house than for our lives despite all the efforts he invested in saving us.

He came up one day and curtly commanded: “Out!” He led us across the field within the artillery range until we reached his plot. There, he commanded us to lay under the grain and he left. We laid there the whole night with the loud noises of the German command ringing in our ears.

In the morning after an additional night, Biganski came to inform us that the Soviets arrived and he left again. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at his house. The neighbors who saw us could not believe their eyes, that some Jews remained alive. Our landlord and his wife came towards us with a sly smile. We were given the same apartment the police had stayed in. We were swollen and our eyes blinded from being in the dark for so long.

 

The Goyim Take Revenge On Our Saviors

Word quickly spread in town that we were saved. Other Jews who hid in the nearby forests also survived but there were no acquaintances of ours among them. The town goyim now began to go after our landlord, snitching on him to the Soviet authorities.

We ran to the Russian officers and high rank Soviet clerks to beg for his life and telling them about his total devotion and self-sacrifice. Our efforts were unsuccessful until a high ranking NKDV commander who happened to be Jewish passed through town. After hearing our story, he asked to meet our savior to thank him personally.

[Page 254]

Biganski returned home. The next day the commander arrived with an entire battalion. Biganski was called outside and once in view, the commander gave a command of “Attention!”, took his hat off as a sign of respect as Russian custom, kissed our savior and his wife's hand, and thanked him for saving our lives. From then on all the high officers and clerks who passed through Krynki treated him the same way.

We stayed in Krynki several more months. The other eight surviving town Jews moved in with us and it was much more pleasant for us. However, the hatred from the goyim continued to increase. They were unable to forgive us for surviving and our landlord for saving us.

We therefore moved to Bialystok. Although there were few Jews left there, mutual ahavat-yisrael (love of one's fellow Jews) was everywhere. Even Jews who did not know each other before would hug, kiss and cry when they met and realized they are not the one and only Jew left in the world.

Biganski came to visit us in Bialystok several times. As long as we were in Krynki, no harm was done to him. But when we left – the goyim constantly harassed him. We received no response to our last letters to him. We do not know the fate of this Righteous Gentile and his gentle kindhearted wife.

In November 1945 we miraculously managed at long last to get to Eretz Israel.

[Page 254]

To Auschwitz with the Krynkiers

Jumping from the Death Transport

The people of the work camp in the tannery of Yankel Szinder and I were sent from Sokolka in a train car. Among the others were my uncle Yisrael Skobronik (Afrikaners), his wife, and his two lads, as well as the director of the camp Yaakov (Yankel) Kozolczyk (“Pig”). Some Jews recited chapters of Psalms, and the women wept. The remains of the Jews of Sokolka were included in our transport, about 1,200 people. Everyone was certain that we were being taken to Treblinka. Yaakov broke the window, and a group of youths prepared to jump out through it. We set up a row among ourselves. Moshele, Shepsl Kusznir's son jumped first, and then he himself jumped. Others slipped out one after the other, as the train was traveling at full speed. One mother urged her two sons to jump, and helped one of them next to the window. Yaakov was standing next to them, helping them push themselves out. Yosel and Chaim Brawerman, Leibel Naliber, Hershel Abramowic, Sonia Funk, Avrahamel Klajnbort, Zeidl Jakobinski, Dora Kirpic, and her brother the lad Zundel all similarly jumped.

When my turn came, my aunt begged me, with tears in her eyes, to travel with them. She even hung on to me to prevent me from jumping. Yaakov stripped down to his undergarments and threw his clothes out the window. But he did not succeed in trying to push himself outside, due to his clumsy body, despite all his efforts. He then took out a vial of poison and swallowed it, but his heart overcame the poison. He lay down and growled like a slaughtered animal. A white froth covered his lips, and there was no water in the wagon. We scraped off ice from the walls and we thereby restored his soul.

When the transport approached the Malkin station, close to Treblinka, some people on the train began reciting Psalms. Filipski donned his tallis and tefillin. Everyone's arms and legs were trembling. However, the transport flew by Malkin and sped on. We became calmer. The Orthodox among us claimed that the recital of Psalms was what saved us, and that they were taking us to work, as the director of the factory had promised.

[Page 255]

Night fell. Groans and the knocking of frozen legs swelled up. Everyone was thirsty. People scratched the frost off the walls with their hands and relieved their thirst a bit. The next day, while we were still traveling, the cold subsided and the walls dried. They were tormented by thirst. The guards agreed to bring a cup of water in exchange for a ring or a watch.

On the third day of our journey, we passed by a railway station where Jews and Christians were working at clearing snow. Some of them warned us out loud that they were taking us to be slaughtered, and that we should escape to save ourselves. Inside the train, people burst out weeping, and started reciting Psalms fervently. A shout was also heard from outside that they were transporting us to Auschwitz, a name that none of us had yet heard. We wondered: is this a second Treblinka?

Night fell, and Yaakov ordered that we burn everything that we had with us. Izik Brustyn was the first to set his bit of money on fire. Tears fell from everyone's eyes.

The next morning, January 24, 1943, we arrived in Auschwitz.

 

Krynkiers Who Jumped from the Transport Arrive in Białystok

Translator's note: This section is equivalent with the Yiddish article: “Jumping From the Death Train and Arriving in Białystok” on page 297.

 

In Auschwitz by Abraham Sofer

Translator's note: This section is equivalent with the Yiddish article “In Auschwitz” on pages 298-304 by Abraham Sofer. Some of the headings are different, but the material is equivalent.

[Page 259-260]

Translator's note: The sections from 259-260 regarding partisans are equivalent with the Yiddish sections from 311-315. They are not being retranslated.

 

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