Translated by Leead Livneh
I still remember the German entry on September 5th, 1939. Our Jewish townsmen, remembering the 1920 war with the Bolsheviks, thought the enemy would once again come to a halt at the Visla river (as was the case with the Miracle upon Visla), and embarked on a massive march elderly and young, men, women and children in the direction of Wlocelwak. This war, however, was different. The Germans were not the Bolsheviks, and in any case, it seems Heavens have decided there will be no miracles this time.
The Germans, immediately upon entry, wasted no time and commenced the mission of exterminating the Jewish community. First, they took on the temple, which they demolished only after using large quantities of dynamite. Elka Di Kashe Makhrin, who lived right next to the temple, had seen the flames and ran out crying The temple is burning!. She was shot on the spot by German guards, and died a few days later, suffering terrible pains.
Then came times of musters and tallies. The Germans had a special taste for these charades: At 3:00 o'clock at the afternoon they would call out all the men in town, age 15 to 70, to the Pigs Market, where they would make a public address, in which we were told we were the sons of a cursed nation. Then they announced the town's councils void, and appointed Yitzhak Dubjinsky as Jews' Elder and Moshe Byerdke as secretary. Then they would seal the town, place a club-armed Volksdeutsch next to every Jew, and command a running. While the Jews ran, the Volksdeutsch would violently beat them. The young, naturally, were fast to flee, but the old were beaten and ran over, many of them suffering severe wounds. The runners had nowhere to run to, since the town was sieged by blockading troops which were busy looting at the very same time. The runners, therefore, went through all that suffering, only to come back to their empty homes. This show had repeated itself three times.
Every day, the Germans would hunt Jewish men for labor, mainly cleaning works, which went along with crule abuse. The most severe beatings went to the heavier, beefy Jews: their abdomen would be kicked over and over again by the German's heavy boots. After such a labor day, Avraham Dinur and Efrayim Berger were broken down for weeks. Every such event was accompanied by heavy payments, but bribe and ransom did not help much.
The temple's demolition was managed by the Volksdeutsch Bertz, who had previously earned his living engraving Jewish tombs. The demolition and dismantling produced a lot of work, which the Jews were forced to do. We were ordered to climb to the still-blistering roof and dismantle and clean the bricks, taking care no to break them, so they could be shipped to Germany. Those were big, heavy bricks, of the kind used in building fortresses. It was told that the Germans had tried 3 times to light the temple, but to no avail. Nachum Florman came beaming to our home, to tell that to my late father. They explained that the fire was stopped because Rabbi Nachum Yisrael, a Lipno rabbi of earlier times, had blessed the temple to never be governed by fire. Apparently, the good rabbi hadn't thought of modern-day dynamite.
The decrees came harder with each day: Wearing the yellow patch with the word 'Jude', front and back; No walking on the sidewalk; Kneeling in front of every German soldier son of the Nation of Masters.
Even in these tight conditions, Jewish activity did not cease, mainly in helping other Jews. We have done whatever we could to save any and everyone, by rallying for donations and paying bribes and ransom. Of a particular interest, for that matter, is the story of the demolishing of Goldene Gus Street: Jews used to hide what little merchandise they still had, and a wealthy Jew named Piepshinsky built a large ceiling to hide his merchandise. One morning a decree was published, ordering the demolition of the Goldene Gus. It was clear that demolition would expose the hidden merchandise, and bring catastrophe to all the Jews. We had to collect a serious amount of money to bribe the guards, so they would let us dismantle the ceiling, away from the eyes of Germans.
On and on it went, until one day we were ordered to evacuate the town so it would be Judenrein, or Jews-Free. After several appeals and ransoms were made, executing the decree had been postponed by a week, so the evacuation would commence orderly. Thus our Jew townsmen had left their town, leaving behind the wealth they had accumulated in centuries' labor, only to be taken by our Pole neighbors.
The Poles' part of the Polish-Jews holocaust should never be forgotten (and frequently is). Poles excelled in hating Jews from infancy. I remember the first Yom Kippur under German occupation: Several Jews had prayed in our attic, when a young Polish Shaygets the son of Israel Klamke's janitor appeared, escorting a German soldier, and pointed at the praying Jews. The German had immediately taken my father and his cousin Yosef Jichilinsky, still wearing their Tallits, and ordered them to swipe clean the Uzond Skarbavi a good two hundred meters length from our home.
Many of the Jews, upon leaving our town, headed to Plonsk or Warschau. The first victims of Treblinka were lesser-towns' Jews, who had no home.
Thus our city, with its' rich history, with its' dear Jews and bright men
had been wiped of the face of the earth.
Translated from Hebrew by Meir Livneh
1. Before the war
Our family was a Zionist family. The children were members of the Young Zionist youth movement. The education at home was a traditional and Zionist education. Most of life revolved around the movement. I remember the exciting Lag Ba'Omer celebrations. There was also a very active Maccabi club. I was one of the gymnasts and we use to travel to the competitions held by the neighboring townships, accompanied by the Maccabi orchestra.
But still, life centered around the Young Zionist movement. Every summer we used to go to summer camps. At night we slept in the barn, and in the days we practiced field training and camping.
The youth movement occupied a special place in our hearts. Every Sabbath evening, we met in the nest, sang Hebrew songs and listened to a lecture on the history of the Land Of Israel and Zionism, given by Abraham Klodovsky, the head of the chapter whom I'll never forget.
In retrospective, life around the youth movement as well as the movement itself helped shape my life and my Jewish and Zionist perspectives.
The atmosphere at home was of peaceful tranquility. My father was a watchmaker and my mother was a housekeeper. Though, generally speaking, tranquility can typify my childhood, this was not always the case.
Usually I did not experience anti-Semitism. We did not fear it, until that day when we graduated school (it was a mixed school, boys and girls, gentiles and Jews). We had a party, and as usual, danced and had fun, until the moment we heard the sounds of a quarrel. It became evident that one of the Jewish boys asked a gentile girl to dance with him, and was contemptuously rejected. The riot started immediately. Without say, all of us left the party.
Another anti-Semitic event, similar to the previous one, occurred at school, on
the day the Polish leader Philsotzki (who liberated Poland from the Russian
occupation) passed away. When I arrived to school, one of my classmates
welcomed me, trumpeting you Jews, your good time has ended! we will prove
it to you, this happened within school walls but yet, restraint and good
manner were kept on the streets.
2. The War
And then war broke out. Because of Lipno's proximity to the German border, we were the first to hear the gunfire and air raids. That day marked our decent to the abyss, the end of which I'll never know for as long as I live. The madness began rapidly. Coercion labor was swiftly organiz. One day, all Jewish men (I was 15 a that time, and considered a man) were gathered in the football arena, while the German soldiers looted our homes, and anything ethey pby. Then they started to shoot at us without any warning. We fled as fast as we could. Dozens, their strength exhausted, were killed. A few days after, a huge fire erupted from the walls of the synagogue, which was about twenty meters from my home.
One of my neighbors, the owner of a grocery store whose name I do not remember, came out screaming from her house, and was killed on the spot. The list is already long, and the true troubles did not even start yet. We decided to leave (flee would be a better word) Lipno. My two elder brothers, Bulek and Joseph, had already fled to Russia. We packed what little of our possessions remained, and took the route to Piotrkow Trybunalski, where my father's family resided.
My daughter asks me: father, why there, of all places? I know she had hoped to hear that there we will find safety, but this was not true, we already knew that the local Jews were put in the Ghetto. So what should I tell my daughter? that there is no other place to flee to? I choose to keep silent. It's more then 40 years now that I keep my silence!
Piotrkow was besieged, no way to get in or out, we all squeezed into a small chamber, and began the life of the ghetto.
We lived there, forced to work hard labor, until mid of 1942 when the ghetto was liquidated. Liquidation meant the hermetic sealing of the ghetto, and sending everybody to annihilation in the crematorium. My sister Rachel that did not want to leave our parents, refused to join the work force and so was murdered. I was swiftly sent to work.
After liquidation of the ghetto, I was sent to Auschwitz, to work in a car factory. We lived in barracks. The Germans' treatment of us was horrible: we got food only once a day (in the evening when we returned from our hard and long working day). Our food consisted of ¼ of a bread and a glass of muddy water called soup.
I remained in Auschwitz until January, 1945. The fear, the fear was stronger than us. We feared everything and everybody, the Germans as well of the Jews.
And the selection, the scene that in my mind had only one meaning, life or death! That simple. The last selection came by the end 1944. A German doctor escorted by an S.S. man walked into each of the barracks. We were standing naked. We were no longer human beings; we were reduced to numbers, the same numbers that were scorched onto our hands, not human beings.
The S.S. man examines the line of naked men, and suddenly approaches me, pulling me out of the line. What am I supposed to feel now, I thought. Happy, for soon I will find rest? Sad to be severed from the life that was bestowed upon me? to fear? to lose human face? to scream? I was terrified, but all of a sudden the S.S. called somebody else, somebody that had an identical number to mine. I am saved! Why do they need a boy of 20 weighing 32 kilograms?
A long time has past and the Russians were approaching. We are transferred to Buchenwald, Germany. Transferred? It was a harsh January, and we were walking. Thousands collapsed.
In one of the breaks, after hours of walking, my blood circulation stopped, refusing to restart, it had enough, no more. What should I prefer, dieing of the cold or be shot by a German soldier? The convoy is starting to move, and I'm staying, I desperately try to convince my toes to move, praying, if only I could crawl on my hands , Hey you, I hear the shout of a German soldier, apparently he was addressing two Jews, requesting them to help me stand up and walk. I am fortunate again.
Throughout this long awful journey, and even prior to that, I realize that one man to another is a wolf. The lesson, this time, is long and tough, with many illustrations.
In Gleiwitz, on the way to Buchenwald, in a freezing January, we are loaded on roofless train wagons. The way passed though Czechoslovakia. Some people were walking on a bridge on their way to work. When they saw the skeletons in stripes, laying in the wagons, they threw their bread to us. I managed to catch a bread and hide it under my shirt (a coat was not in my possession), but the unfortunates that failed to catch anything, soon discovered the bulge under my shirt, and ripped of my skin to reach the desired bread.
Buchenwald, February 1945. We worked in the mines outside the camp, and again we are on the train. The Americans mistakenly thinking that this was a German train, started to bombard us. I was wounded in my left elbow and was rushed to a hospital together with my good friend, Michael Bar, who now lives in Canada. I spoke polish, and the Polack nurse, convinced that I am a Polack, did not bother treating me, but at least I was not beaten. My rest did not last for long, for I was soon taken to the bathroom, where the fact that I'm Jewish was quickly revealed. The beating of course was not late to come.
After about a month, the Germans decided that the useless sick could be thrown into the crematorium. Luckily, the railroad was bombarded, so the transport could not leave. I am lucky again.
April 1945 the Americans released me. The Americans, when saw how we, the starving remains of the camps, looked like, made a terrible mistake. Their first instinct was to feed us. But the people, which for years did know what food is, fell upon the food, and died after several hours. How terrible it is to arrive at the moment of liberation and die.
My parents, my sisters and younger brother have all perished in the liquidation of the ghetto. My brother Bulek was killed in an attempt to help a friend climb the train in Russia. My brother Josef, who was driven mad by longings for our parents, returned to Poland and was immediately murdered.
I, for one, thank god, am alive and breathing. For me the word alive has a very personal interpretation, which I can describe in a separate book. I am married; I have two daughters and six grandchildren.
Throughout the years, and until putting these words into writing, I repressed
my memories and allowed them to haunt me. This is the first time I have put it
all in writing.
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