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[Pages 213-225]

A Chapter on Jezierna's Destruction

by Dora Mantel–Lempert, Nes Ziona

Translated by Ida Selavan Schwarcz

The First Terror

It happened on June 30, 1941. War had broken out between the Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany. The Russian army was in retreat. A bomb fell and caused a fire to break out – the houses of Hirsch Katz and Mosche Bien were burned down. The peasants of the surrounding villages and a few of the local gentiles roamed around carrying sacks and had already begun robbing shops and here and there some of the vacated homes.

On the second day, July 1, 1941, the streets were deserted, the houses shut– no one was visible; they waited to see what would happen. The Poles and Ukrainians put holy saints' pictures in their windows so it was possible to determine which houses belonged to Jews… News passed from one to another – the Germans have reached Lemberg… they are already in Zloczow … Jews are being murdered, etc.

Soon there were loud noises. Germans came roaring by on motorcycles. These were the S.S. with the swastikas and the skull and crossbones. Jews were petrified. Then orders were proclaimed in three languages, German, Polish, and Ukrainian. They threatened anyone who helped Jews in any way with punishment by death.

Yanke Vasilkovski told me about this and I was soon convinced that this was indeed true. I read the placards. On July 2, 1941, between five and six o'clock in the evening, masses of gentiles assembled on Dluga and Zarodzia Streets and along the highway. The Gestapo and the SS were there and were screaming that the Jews were killing Ukrainians in Kozlow. Obviously this was a provocation against Jews.

On July 3, 1941, at six a.m., a rainy day, the SS began their work. They went two by two from house to house and dragged out Jews, beating them and driving them along to the towlyka near Kozowyk's, where a pit had already been dug. The Jews who had dug the pit were the first to be shot and thrown into it. Afterward they arranged the captive Jews in a row, shot them, and threw them into the pit. This went on all day long. My brother Yaakov was one of the murdered pit diggers.

On that day several hundred Jews were shot. They were not only Jezierna Jews but also refugees who fled here from western Poland. On that day they also burned down the Houses of Study. The people were thrown into the pits, without verifying that they were dead. Among those murdered were: pharmacist Mintz, teacher Henzel Steiger, Schimon Kurzrok and his two sons. When the pharmacist's wife saw that her husband had been shot, she took poison. When Kurzrok and his sons were shot, his wife had to dig their grave.

The SS left the shtetl on Sunday July 5. The soldiers left behind wrote a placard in Ukrainian that the Aktzia had ended. The Jews who were left alive could go back to work and nothing would happen. Then they gathered the corpses and gave them a Jewish burial in a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery. The rabbi and the remaining Jews said kaddish. There was almost no family which had not suffered a loss that time. Among those who stood in the row to be shot was my cousin Zysie Fuchs, the son of Sonia; a young man who looked like a gentile. The SS man looked at him and said, “Wait, you are not a Jew!” That day he survived. Also my brother–in–law, Schmuel Offenberger ran away and remained among the living that day. However, he was murdered in 1943.

Here I must mention something I cannot and must not overlook: the Germans treated the Russian prisoners–of–war horribly. They led them, half naked, to be shot one by one. Before shooting them, they beat them up murderously. I cannot forget it even though we had our own troubles at that time. Jewish blood ran like water. Dead bodies lay around in the streets. Women and children wept and mourned. Nevertheless the horrible attitude towards the prisoners affected me very strongly.

I have already mention this but I shall add details. On July 6, 1943, [1941] the Jews who remained alive requested permission to bury their dead in the Jewish cemetery. We were only ten persons, men and women, and we began to dig up the dead bodies. We dug with our hands; we removed everyone separately from the hole. The ground was soaked in blood; the work took a few days. Among us was the future Chairman of the Judenrat Lander, also Schlomo Glass and Chaim Steiger. Women, men and children stood by and tried to identify their relatives, but it was very painful. Every corpse that was uncovered evoked cries and tears, especially when a member of one's family was recognized. That is how we disinterred the bodies and reburied them in the Jewish cemetery.

While this work was going on, two cars full of Germans drove by and they asked us what we were doing. Meanwhile they photographed us. Lander did not tell them the truth, but Batya Olexyncer, whose husband was among the victims, told them the whole truth. “These are Jews, innocent Jews whom the SS shot a few days ago.” She screamed and cursed the murderers. The officers calmed her and said that they were soldiers and had nothing to do with this.

 

Judenrat, Forced Labor and Mass Murders

A few days later the Germans organized the Jezierna Judenrat [Jewish Council]. They appointed Lander as Chairman and Nunya Paket, son of Avrum'che Paket, as Liaison. Naski Paket, son of Yitzchak, Abraham Hochberg and others were appointed to the appropriations department. They organized the Ordnungsdienst [security police] from among the younger men. These two organizations carried out the orders of the Gestapo. They helped with the Aktzias and with catching Jews to be sent to Belzec.

The Germans began to repair the main highway. Since they needed laborers for this, they put the Jews to work. They worked very hard, from dawn to dusk, breaking rocks to pave the highway. Jews were also taken to work for the train. Labor supply was one of the functions of the Judenrat. They sent Jews every time there was a demand for workers.

Richard Dyga, an SS man, came to Jezierna in November, 1941. He organized two labor camps, one for men and one for women. The men's camp was in the “Polish House” (Kulako Rolnicze). The women's camp was in Abba Katz's house. Around the men's camp there was a tall barbed wire fence that stretched up to the Polish church. There was a narrow entrance. The women's camp was similar to this. The Judenrat was responsible for the setting up and coordination of the camps. The first Jews in the camps came from the camps of Lemberg, Strij, etc. They were force–marched on foot, in the rain and mud. They were hungry, barefoot, with rags tied around their swollen feet, dressed in torn clothing.

On the day after their arrival they were forced to work. Whoever could not work was immediately shot to death. Every day after work, dead bodies were brought back, of people who had expired while working. Dyga himself shot those who were weak or exhausted.

The Jews of Jezierna were able to avoid working by giving money to Lander which he gave to his chief. We, Jezierna residents, supposedly went out with the camp Jews but we actually stayed at home. The camp Jews used to tell us how Dyga behaved towards the Jews, killing some daily as a joke. Every day we noticed that many Jews were not coming back – they were already in the world to come.

At the train station a group of Jews from Jezierna worked under the supervision of the former train manager, Margolies. The work was hard with a high quota, which the Jews were unable to fulfill. Every day Margolies was threatened with punishment, even execution. He was required to beat the Jews and make them work harder. Margolies declared that he would not beat Jews – so he was beaten. Not being able to bear any more, Margolies resigned from his position. The next day he was found dead in his apartment – he had taken poison. This happened in March, 1942. The situation worsened from day to day. Jews were captured, some shot immediately, others sent to the camps.

Once when they demanded contributions, the Judenrat, according to request, collected gold, jewelry, diamonds, furs, leather, and more. Lander and another two men, clothed respectably, went to Tarnopol to deliver the goods to the Gestapo. The Gestapo took the goods, counted them and said it was not enough. They chased the men out and threw Lander down the stairs.

The Judenrat did everything possible to meet the demands of the rulers. I remember the big Aktzia of Elul 16, 1942. The SS dragged Jews out of their homes and out of the bunkers. The Judenrat and Security Police assisted them. Jews were shot in the streets. That day about 150 Jews were shot and about 200 were captured and sent to Belzec death camp. The house of Mendel Fischer was the assembly place. The captured Jews were held until the evening, then loaded onto trucks and taken to Zborow. There they were transferred into cattle–cars, which had been prepared in advance. Around 10,000 Jews were transported at that time; there were Jews from Zborow, from Jezierna, Kozow, Kozlow, also from Tarnopol and other places. Monya Czaczkes told me about this. She herself was among the captives, but because she did not look Jewish she was freed.

That day I had been at work and when I came back in the evening I could not find anyone from my family. The Judenrat took over the vacant homes and gathered the abandoned furnishings into their storehouse. They said that they gave the valuables to the Gestapo and sold the household goods or bartered them for food for the Jews in the camps. Some workers, men, were locked in the camps that day. Very few Jews remained in their homes.

 

The Expulsion

In July 1943 there was an order to expel the Jews of Jezierna to Zborow. There were only 50 men and 50 women left in the camps. The women laundered the clothes of the camp–Jews and the men worked. The Judenrat took over our bakery which baked bread for the camp–Jews. Every person received 100 grams of bread twice a day.

I was in the Zborow ghetto for only one month. Then, by Lander's request, I was return to Jezierna to supervise the bakery. Aside from the official baking, Lander used to supply me with flour, and secretly, at night, I would bake bread for the Jews of Jezierna who remained in the two camps. This went on for a few weeks, then I transferred the secret bakery to the home of my neighbor Vasilkovski. There, too, we baked at night.

The winter of 1942–1943 was very difficult. A typhus epidemic broke out in the camps. People died every day. Dyga showed his cruel character. He would put the half–naked sick people out on the street where they froze to death. If someone still breathed, he would beat him.

I also caught typhus. We halted the baking and Vasilkovski drove me out at night when I had a 40 degree fever. I started walking in the direction of Zborow. It was freezing cold. Tired and hungry I lay down and stayed there until morning. A wagon with neighborly gentiles came by and they put me in the wagon and drove me to Zborow. There I went into the ghetto. After a week my fever broke, but I was very weak. I was put into a house full of people; there was no room to lie down, so I sat up the entire night. In the morning the militia men forced me out to work. We had almost no food; no bread at all. Twice a day we received some soup. So we became weaker and weaker, especially me, since I had been sick.

There were rumors of a new Aktzia. Once in a while, as we were working, gentiles would walk by, and seeing our terrible condition, they would bring us some food, a few potatoes or barley – not for free, heaven forbid, but in exchange for clothing. We would take off our last piece of clothing in exchange for food. After work we would return to the ghetto almost naked.

This situation lasted until February 1943. The dreaded Aktzia did indeed arrive and about 12,000 Jews were killed. These were the ones who had remained from Zborow, Jezierna, Kozlow, Pomorzany, Zalosce and other places.

In a field behind Zborow, the Jews themselves dug several large pits where the captured Jews were brought and shot. A small number of Jews survived. They had good bunkers in the ghetto itself. By chance I was in the bunker with the families of the Judenrat and so I survived.

As I have already mentioned, only a few families remained in the ghetto. Every day they would go out to work and be very much aware of what was happening around them. Jews would walk around mourning their murdered wives and children. Henoch Czaczkes, Berisch Baron, and others, were broken men, emotionally and physically. We could see that the final liquidation was not far off. Even Fuchs, Head of the Judenrat in Zborow, said that whoever could escape should do so. But whoever would survive, had the holy obligation to tell about the horrifying events.

A group of about 15 men from Jezierna, including me, decided to run away. Some went into the forest. I decided to go back to Jezierna, to my neighbor, Vasilkovski. Snow was falling, some of it freezing, so it was easier for me to walk. I walked with my last bit of strength and with great fear. I wanted to get to Jezierna as quickly as possible. There were rumors that there was a big Aktzia in Tarnopol and thousands of Jews were sent to Belzec. Some of the Jews jumped out of the wagons and ran away. Therefore I was afraid that when they searched for them I would be discovered.

About halfway there, near the road sign for Yarchovtse, I heard a rider approaching. I thought that was probably the Gestapo Commander Muller. He used to ride a horse. I soon saw him. I knew that he was a horrible murderer, and that he would immediately kill me. Not far from me there was a wayside cross and an icon of the 'Divine Mother'. I went up to the icon, knelt, and put my face on the ground. Muller came along, saw a woman kneeling at the cross, looked and continued on his way. After a while I continued on my way to Jezierna.

Dead tired, almost completely exhausted, I came to our town. I sneaked through fields and gardens until I came to Vasilkovski's property. Willingly or unwillingly she used to take me in. This time she would not allow me to come in, so I hid in her pig sty without her knowledge. Every morning I would come and ask her for something to eat, without telling her where I was hiding. I managed to last a few months. She used to tell me what was happening in the camps and in town and Dyga's dreadful deeds.

The women in the camps were forbidden to take their children with them. Adela Katz hid her three–year–old child there. Dyga found out, took the child, and killed her in front of her mother. Then he gave the mother the dead body and said, “Now take her!”

My brother Marcus, who was also in the camp, used to visit me every week. This lasted for about three weeks. He told me that conditions there grew worse every day. Any day now there would be an Aktzia and everyone in the camp would be killed.

 

The End

And that is what really happened. Friday, May 23, 1943, the murderers surrounded the camp. Dyga gave the order for everyone to leave, but Lander countermanded the order and said that no one should move. The Jews set up a barricade. Dyga and the militia threw hand grenades into the camp and they started a fire. The policemen started dragging the Jews out. There were Ukrainian policemen on both sides forming a narrow corridor, and they beat the Jews with the butts of their rifles as they were hauled through. Half dead and bleeding, the Jews were taken to the cemetery, beaten, and thrown into a pit. This is how the men's camp of Jezierna was liquidated. The women's camp was liquidated on the same day. The women were taken to the cemetery, shot, and their bodies were burned. Thus Jezierna became Judenrein [free of Jews]. Dyga completed his work and left Jezierna.

Reuvele, the son of Berisch Heliczer, and Lander's son, hid, and then ran away to a gentile named Valashin. But they were informed on and shot. Rozie Paket, Pinchas' daughter, hid at the home of Honya Berestetsky. But someone informed on her and the Ukrainian police shot her. I saw this with my own eyes, because I was hiding in the park, only a few meters away. First I heard her cry out and then I heard a shot. Since I was hiding not far from there, scared to death, I did not believe that I would survive, but luckily they left. Also Hejnoch Feuerstein's wife hid in the home of a Ukrainian; she was also informed on, taken to the Gestapo in Zborow, and shot there. This was around August 1943.

I continued hiding in the pig sty without the knowledge of Vasilkovski. I begged for food from the neighbors and so managed to keep on living. Mrs. Kalanovski was very helpful. She brought me food to the sty, some boiled potatoes, crackers ,etc. ‘Good news bearers’ told me that Hitler was on all the fronts, killing Jews, and if this continued I would also not survive. But my will was stubborn – I suffered and held out. At night I would sneak into the park, pull up some greens, and pick some fruit from the trees. It was easier during the summer, but fall and winter were bad. When the rains and snow and cold would plague me and I could not remain in the pig sty, I went over to the cowshed and spent the winter there.

In December 1943, the peasant who had been hiding Baschie Ajken and her children betrayed them. They were taken to Zborow, tortured and shot. When questioned, the peasant said that the woman had paid him to hide them. The peasant could have received a death sentence but he was only required to pay a fine. When Mrs. Vasilkovski heard that the peasant was only fined, she calmed down and decided to help me. She allowed me to stay with her, but not to go out, so no one would see me. No one came to search. In this way a few more Jews were hidden, but our lives were bitter and we led dogs' lives.

***

Meanwhile changes were taking place. The war situation had changed. The Germans were withdrawing and the Russians kept getting closer. This situation affected the population. They started regretting that they had not helped the Jews. Those who had helped, were pleased. One of these was the old lady Kalanovski. As I have mentioned, she used to bring me food, with no charge. She used to say, “I do this for you and for God.” The Kalanovski family also hid a Jewish refugee. Later he married their daughter.

The war came nearer to us. The Germans were packing and getting ready to leave town. We started feeling more secure, occasionally going out of our hiding places. I met Rosa Blaustein (Lechowitz) and her daughter Dozia, with Pepi Scharer and her daughter Frieda. We stayed together. We were all in the Vasilkovski cellar when Jezierna was bombed. A few days later the Germans evacuated the civilian population. Everyone took a bundle and under guard, were taken to Zborow. I, with Rosa Blaustein and her daughter remained in Popielow. From there we returned to Jezierna, back to our hiding place in the Valikovski cellar. We hid there for almost two weeks. There were fierce battles around us. We were saved by a miracle. The Wehrmacht, which was approaching, had us taken to Zborow. It was springtime 1944. There we were quartered with the local population. They were supposed to feed us. I, Blaustein and her daughter, and a few more Jews from Jezierna, eight people in all, stayed with a peasant who did not give us up. Schmuel Scharer, who stayed in Jezierna with his former maid, was found in Zborow and shot, just a few weeks before the Germans left Zborow. When the peasant who was hiding us heard about Scharer, he became frightened. He gave each of us a big piece of bread and a flask of milk and told us to leave. I parted from the Blausteins with a heavy heart. I tore my shawl into two pieces and gave them half so they could keep warm at night because they had no warm clothing.

I went to Ponevezh. The way was very difficult; I walked through the fields fearfully. Night came. Since I was very tired, I went to a gentile home and asked to spend the night. The owner of the house immediately realized whom he was dealing with and told me to wait; he told his wife to guard me so that I would not run away. He soon came back with two German soldiers holding revolvers. He told them I was a partisan so they searched me and took me to their captain. He saw that I was not a partisan, so he gave me some food and a place to spend the night. In the morning, after breakfast, he sent me to the field hospital, two kilometers away. The doctor and director there was his friend. I was a given a job as an aide. The hospital was full of wounded German soldiers and there was much groaning and moaning. I was disguised as a Polish woman.

Once, when the attendants were not available, I gave the wounded soldiers water to drink. The doctor saw this and it pleased him and he praised me in front of all the workers in the hospital. He said that the Poles had better characters than the Ukrainians. One of my acquaintances from Jezierna, a Ukrainian woman named Suretska, heard him. Until then she had helped me and confirmed that I was Polish. But this incident angered her and she shouted at the doctor that I was not a pure Pole, but a 'Mischling' [mixed breed] – that my father was a Pole and my mother was Jewish. The doctor reproached her but sent me to Pomorzany, to another hospital, at Count Potocki's former castle.

Two weeks later the Germans evacuated the hospital. Not having a place to stay in Pomorzany, I moved on with the hospital, believing that I would be safer there than with the Ukrainians. And that is how I reached Vienna. There I was freed, given documents, and could move freely.

Vienna was full of fugitive Ukrainian fascists, so I moved to Vienna Neustadt. There I got a job in a munitions factory. All the workers were divided according to nationality, wore nationality badges, and were housed in separate barracks. I wore a Polish badge and stayed in the Polish barracks under the name of Maria Kriskov.

I was in Austria from August 1944 until May 1945, until the entrance of the Red Army. I did not feel safe with my Polish housemates. They were friendly but suspected that I might be Jewish. Sometimes in my sleep I would call out Yiddish words, maybe mentioning “Aktzias” or pursuits, but they did not reveal this to anyone.

***

The Soviet Union freed us and allowed us to go wherever we wished. I went to Italy with a group of Jews. There we were in the charge of the Joint. [Joint Distribution Committee]. I was in Italy for about three years and when Israel became an independent Jewish state I came here, to the Land.

***
During the hardest time of the liquidations, Lander, the [Judenrat] Head of Jezierna, and Fuchs, the [Judenrat] Head of Zborow, instructed a group of Jews, that if any of them survived, they should tell the later generations the terrible tale of the time, the merciless dealings of the Nazi murderers, so that the world would know! And now, twenty five years after these gruesome events, I am telling the story, and thus fulfilling in part the testament of our Martyrs.


[Page 226]

From Krakow to Jezierna
(Two Years in Jezierna: October 1939 until July 1941)

by Sh. Ch., Hadera

Translated by Pamela Russ

The German–Polish war had broken out. Many Jews left the Polish western provinces and went east. The eastern cities and towns were rife with refugees. When the Red Army annexed eastern Galicia up to the San River, the refugees stayed in this area. However, soon the issuing of passports began. Every refugee received a passport with a special section, according to which they were sent out of the larger cities; they were only permitted to live in the smaller towns.

Several hundred refugee families also settled in Jezierna. I myself first settled in Tarnopol, but when I was forced out of there, I moved to Jezierna, where a relative of mine, Yisroel Hoch, lived. It was difficult to get a place to live here in town. It was even harder to find work. A large number of refugees moved into the abandoned stores that stood empty, because private businesses were shut down. Dudye Paket gave me his store and it became a “home” for me and my wife.

Before the war I lived in Krakow, owned a beautifully furnished home and a dentist's office. I left it all behind and went to live in Jezierna, in a small, narrow store, in order to save my life. After the outbreak of the German–Russian war, the population of Jewish refugees in Jezierna increased. Their living conditions became worse and worse. There was organized help given, but how much could the Jezierna Jews help, as their own lives were not much better after their livelihoods were also terminated. The living conditions of the local Jews helped a little in this, since almost every Jew owned his own cow –– so he had a little milk for himself and sometimes even a few litres to sell.

After the completion of the refugee exchange between the Russians and the Germans, Jewish refugees were also able to return to their homes on the German side. There were men who had abandoned their wives and children and ran away from there. And when their situation was no longer tenable and their wives wrote that the situation at home had normalized, that Jews were living and were even doing business, it attracted them back. Here, men were struggling without work, suffering from hunger and deprivation, the families were far away, no friends and no rescuers; and over there were their wives and children, and life continued, so they wrote. How can one not go and register to return home to the German side? So, some of them actually did just that.

And now their real tragedy began. The government suspected them of being spies, enemies of the regime who wanted to leave their “Garden of Eden” and return to the Fascists, into Hitler's hell. These refugees now found themselves in a bitter situation – being neither here nor there; who could have understood this? And still, the refugees hoped that the Soviets would send them home to their families.

One Friday night, the Soviet military visited them in their “homes,” accompanied by Ukrainians, as if searching for weapons. They told them to pack their most important belongings, and then these men were taken away. Under guard, they were loaded into wagons, and taken to the Zborow train station. Here they were forced into cargo trains and sent to Siberia. Those who had not registered to leave were very happy.

But fate turned out very differently. Almost all of those who had been sent to Siberia actually survived, and of those who remained, almost all were killed by the Fascist murderers.

And when the war between Hitler's Germany and Soviet Russia broke out, we were the innocent victims. The time that I spent in Jezierna, the experiences there, have been strongly etched in my memory.

* * *

End of June 1941. The Soviet units retreated, the Germans were advancing, when the first German military units marched in and behind them the SS troops appeared. There was terror in the town. There was shooting heard late into the night. There was a real slaughter in the town. I will never forget this. Many Jews were shot that day. Among them were Dr. Litvak, the pharmacist Mintz, the manager of the estate Klinger. The SS went from house to house and snatched out Jews wherever they found them. It was said that they had a list. Also, the Ukrainians revealed where the Jews lived and how many there were, and even where the Jews were hiding.

A rumor circulated that in each city and town the Ukrainian priest and a few respected Ukrainians had signed an act that they demanded revenge be taken on the Jews. They would find a reason.

Seeing the terror in the city, my wife and I left our “home,” and ran away to Yechezkel Hoch on Zabramska Street. We thought that the murderers would not come there because there were only a few Jews living there. But we made a mistake. On the second day, early in the morning, the shooting began again. The murderers ran from house to house snatching out Jews. They were shown where to go and where to search. The shooting came closer and closer to us. There were already murderers on Zabramska Street. I went out of the house and into the stable to hide. Soon the murderers went into Yechezkel Hoch's house, dragged him out, and shot him in the doorway. The murderers were already intending to retreat, when their Ukrainian companions told them that there was still a son of Yechezkel's living here and they thought it was Yisroel Hoch, so the murderers went back and demanded that the women give up Yisroel. Even though they demanded this with some shooting, they did not succeed. So they ransacked the house, but in fact they did not find him.

I hid in the stable for a few days and was afraid to leave because the neighbors would inform on me. For one whole day, Yechezkel lay dead outside in front of his house and they were terrified to bring him inside. When the murderers left Jezierna, all the dead were taken to the cemetery. It was only then that I left the stable.

A great sadness enveloped the town. Women cried over their murdered husbands and children, fathers and grandfathers. There were hardly any people seen in the streets. Whoever did venture into the streets, went furtively with great fear.

* * *

One day, an acquaintance came to us and informed us that the Ukrainians were looking for my wife, probably because they wanted to hand her over to the Germans because she had been a teacher in a Ukrainian school during the Soviet occupation. We did not know that there was the death sentence for this; so then we decided to leave Jezierna. But it wasn't that simple. Jews were forbidden to go from town to town, and forbidden to have contact with non–Jews. All of these things were punishable by death.

We found a Polish peasant, paid him well, and he undertook to take us to Tarnopol. We left disguised as peasants and we reached Tarnopol successfully. Here we tried to find ways to escape and get back to Krakow. In this we were also successful.

In the Krakow area we merited to survive the horrific times and then to be saved.


[Pages 230-253]

A Year in Jezierna and Four Months
in Zborow with the Germans

by Menachem Duhl

Translated by Tina Lunson

Until September 1939 I lived with my family in Tarnobrzeg, where I was a professor of mathematics in the state high school. The war drove us from there; we fled with a great stream of others also forced to flee, and arrived in Jezierna, where my parents-in-law lived. Two or three weeks after the arrival of the Red Army in the town we were transferred to Złoczów, where I continued working as a mathematician in the middle-schools until the outbreak of the German-Soviet war. This is where we encountered Hitler's murderers.

 

In Złoczów

With the outbreak of the war there was chaos in Złoczów. The Soviets arrested the Ukrainian nationalists and a number of Jews were included in that group. The Germans bombed Złoczów; the houses in the center of town burned, people left their apartments and hid in the cellars. I was not at home during the bombing, and started running toward my wife and child. Coals were falling all around, buildings were burning, and the fires kept spreading – and I kept running. While running near the home of Dr. Hrastnik, their maid told me that they were fleeing and that their house was burning. When I did not find my wife and child in our home, I ran on to search for them and finally found them in the cellar of a two-story building that belonged to a Ukrainian, Dr. Vania. About 30 people were hiding there, among them about 20 Jews. The Ukrainians were going around with happy expressions and we had a deep sadness in our hearts.

On the first of July 1941, at eight o'clock in the morning, two SS-men with automatic weapons and hand-grenades in their hands, entered our cellar. I was the first one who fell into their hands,

but soon other Jews were standing with me. We had to be the first victims, the 'blood-offering' for the fuhrer. Suddenly there was a noise; the Germans thought that there were also Russians in the cellar, and they shouted “Get out Jews!” and ran off in the direction of the noise. That was my first encounter with the murderers and I had won. My wife and child, seeing me with my hands in the air, had begun to cry and wail and other children burst out crying. With wailing and tears our children received the Germans – that was a sign of the times that had begun for us.

The Germans had bombed with incendiary bombs and on the street lay the burnt bodies of soldiers and, as though they were normal folk, scorched people were also walking around.

When I had heard the shout “Out I quickly escaped and along with my neighbor, the dentist Messing, went into a toilet, waited a little while and from there went into a hiding place that I had prepared ahead of time.

The situation got worse; the SS-men started snatching Jews off the street, dragging them out of houses – the pogrom had begun. The Ukrainians spread rumors that the Jews were guilty of everything. In the courtyard of the prison, at the castle, the bodies of several hundred murdered Ukrainians were exhumed. These were the people arrested in the last few days, who had been killed. Among the exhumed were also a few murdered Jews who had also been arrested, but that did not make any difference – only the Jews were guilty.

The SS-men with their horrible faces, those murderers, those wild animals, armed with automatics and hand-grenades, went from house to house and took every Jew that fell into their hands to the collection point at the castle; there a pit was already prepared for them. Their captors shot them and threw them into the pit.

Some of the Ukrainian population helped them. Peasants came from the villages, and also town folks with sacks, even with a horse and wagon, to plunder the shops and the Jewish homes, taking anything they could. There were even some who beat Jews with shovels and crowbars, while shouting “This is for our murdered husbands and children!” They killed quite a few that way, with the shovels and crowbars. Dead bodies lay in the street, blood ran, the screams reached up to the heavens. There were new reports all the time, as from a battlefield… The two Rattner brothers, high school teachers, were killed with shovels; the teacher Lifschitz was beaten to death. Streams of blood ran in the streets. As I described before, those captured were taken to the castle and shot; without looking to see whether they were alive or dead they were thrown into the pit. People who lived not far from the castle heard groaning and wailing in the night. Those were the voices of those not shot to death, who were dying in the pit. It was also said that two of the supposedly dead crawled out of the pit at night, rolled themselves away, and finally…fled. After that rumor, two Ukrainian policemen were posted at the pit day and night, so that no more corpses could run away…

My family and I were still in hiding. Our neighbor, Fraulein Gelber, a convert with a big cross around her neck, stood the entire time at the front of the house and told every German who inquired that no Jews lived there. My faculty colleague, the aged Professor Servanski, sent in bread for us every day so that we would not starve. Our child got sick in the hiding place. It was there also that the sad news reached us that my father-in-law Wilhelm Klinger was killed during the first pogrom in Jezierna.

 

The First Week in Jezierna

In Jezierna, as in all the cities and towns, soon after the troops marched in the SS-murderers arrived and began their craft. Wild animals, horribly murderous faces, ran from house to house and each captured Jew was taken to the common grave near the Kozowyk's, shot and thrown into the pit. That day in Jezierna some 200 Jews were shot, locals and refugees. Among those shot were Klinger and the pharmacist Mintz. Two of those captured that day were saved: Marcus Marder and Lander. Marder appealed to the young murderer and said, “If you have a father and a mother, brothers or sisters, call them to mind and do not kill a father of children.” The murderer looked at him and said, “Get out of here you damned Jew”, and indeed Marder slowly walked away. Lander also showed the murderer a document and a photograph to prove that during the First World War he was an Austrian officer, and he was allowed to go free. But Hitler's decree was not recalled, they were both killed later.

The murderers determined a horrible death for the community activist Dr. Litvak. They cut open his belly, pulled out his intestines, cut pieces off while his was alive until he breathed his last; then they shouted, “You damned Jew, you communist, you are to blame for the war!”

I have already mentioned the pharmacist Mintz. He, that tall old man with an aristocratic appearance, was in his pharmacy standing at the table in his white coat with a red cross on the arm and preparing prescriptions for sick people. Two murderers came in and took him out of the pharmacy, took him to the pit, shot him in the back, gave him a kick in the rear and threw him into the pit where the dead bodies of Klinger, Falk and others already lay. His wife followed him. When she saw that they had already shot him and that even the red cross had not helped him, she quickly ran home, swallowed a dose of poison and with the words “There is no God”, died. Soon neighbors came into the house where she lay dead on the sofa and dragged the sofa out from under her, pulled the jewelry from her fingers and ears, took a watch from her arm and left. The poet Schmuel Yaakov Imber, Mintz' son-in-law, and his wife hid and were saved this time.

When mother-in-law let us know that father-in-law had been killed, she sent us a wagon and we left Złoczów. Among the huge military transports that were traveling in the direction of Złoczów-Jezierna we were the only civilians. We heard how the Germans spoke among themselves, that these must be Jews traveling, but no one bothered us. In Jezierna we lived on the estate. I have already written about the Judenrat. It was the only agency that represented the Jews to the authorities. Through it's organs it controlled the whole life of the Jews in town, even checking correspondence. The group that enabled this control was the Ordnungsdienst, their armed hands without weapons. Before each aktzia, the murderers who were to carry out the roundup and deportation of the Jews under the command of Gestapo Chief Miller, who was accompanied by a member of the provincial Judenrat in Zborow, announced their demands to the Judenrat; that is to say, how many victims they needed. That would take a few minutes, and with the help of the two Jewish institutions (Judenrat and Ordnungsdienst) the work would begin – snatching Jews and shooting them. After the aktzia, when they had obtained their quota, the Judenrat paid them for their trouble, gave them gifts, paid for the bullets fired and they left the town, satisfied. The number of Jews in the shtetl shrank. They would conduct those 'actions' from time to time and the number of Jews in Jezierna became smaller and smaller.

 

Contact with my Brother in the Pluhow Camp

In the spring of 1942 I received a letter through the Judenrat from my brother who was in the camp in Pluhow. Then the rumor spread that the Karaite's brother was in a work-camp in Pluhow; in Jezierna I was known as the Karaite.

My brother was an attorney in Czortkow, a community activist, chairman of the Revisionist Organization, taking part in the local and national conferences. In 1942 he had lived with his family in Stanislaw, in the Jewish quarter. There the Gestapo killed his wife and two children at the Rudolf Mill. He alone escaped and was caught along the road to Podhoretz, was brutally beaten and taken to the Jews' camp on Janowska Street in Lemberg. Here he was beaten again and when he fainted, they revived him and beat him more. They kept him there for two weeks then sent him to the work camp in Pluhow in terrible condition – with wounds oozing pus, unrecognizable as a human being.

In the Pluhow camp there was a secret organization under the leadership of the Revisionists; they knew him and protected him. But soon he came down with typhus, with a high fever, and in the heat of it cried out “Rozie, Rysiek, Neutka (the names of his wife and children), where are you?” It seemed to him that they were calling for help. He could not reconcile to their fate. After that crisis with the illness he was very weak and could not go out to work. The friends protected him, and finally he obtained a task in the camp – he became a night-watchman.

He sent a message to Dr. Ritterman in Stanislaw, asking about the fate of his family and did not receive any reply. Now he was turning to me, so that I could ask Dr. Ritterman. I did so and received the sad news that the Gestapo had killed them. We corresponded for a while from Jezierna and also from Zborow. I wanted to draw him into my plans, but he did not come. The situation worsened; we could not wait; we left Zborow and disconnected all contacts; our illegal life on false papers did not allow for maintaining contact. In one of his letters he wrote that Petra Vandzura, a former school friend from Borszczow who lived in Stanislaw, had denounced them. He even asked that I remember it.

(After the war the number of saved Jews was small and the number of criminals large. The judges in the courts demanded witnesses and from where could I have known names? Those who could have given testimony were no longer alive. So a former friend, a fellow townsman, a denouncer, who delivered three Jewish souls into the hands of the Gestapo, he was able to walk around free.)

 

Aktzias in Jezierna

As I have already indicated, a great army with artillery, tanks and trucks marched through Jezierna. The roadway was destroyed, full of holes and it had to be repaired quickly; for that they needed a large number of workers. Also, the railway needed workers to build a second line – Jews had to do all of this work. They were a great unpaid labor force. The Germans established labor-camps for Jews along the whole length of the Zloczow-Skalat road, in the towns of Pluhow, Zborow, Jezierna, Borki Wielke. Each camp had a camp chief – a Gestapo officer – and his helpers were Ukrainian policemen.

The camp in Jezierna was in “Dom Polski”. They fenced it around with barbed wire two meters high. This was intentional, because the Polish and Ukrainian churches were nearby. When the non-Jewish population went to church on Sunday, they could look upon the tattered, miserable, filthy Jews, now hardly comparable to living human beings, and take joy from it.

The first chief was Muller, the second Minkos, and the third, until liquidation of the Jews, was Richard Dyga. He was from Bytom, in Upper Silesia; he had been an overseer in a coal mine, and was a Wasserpolak [pre-war German resident of Polish descent], who spoke good Polish. His family lived at number 2 Palatgasse. His wife visited him often and took home gifts that the Jews had given to their 'good Chief Dyga' as an expression of their gratitude. They were expensive gifts: the finest fabrics, leather, gold watches of the best brands, rings set with cut stones and diamonds, expensive ladies' coats, and the like.

The camp was opened in November 1941 and the first Jews in the camp were in fact from Jezierna, but almost all refugees. Next they brought in other Jews from camps and later finalized the area of the whole enclosure. There were Jews from Kozlow, Kozova, Borszczów, Chertkov, Monasterzyska, Podhoretz, Zaleszczyki, Tłuste, Jagielnica, Kopycznce. Thanks to the camp, Jezierna became famous… The living conditions in the camp, the hard work with hardly any food, quickly liquidated the camp Jews; the forced roundups and shipment to the extermination camps quickly liquidated any Jews who lived outside the camp. Dyga went around with his whip and struck Jews left and right, for no reason, more than once beating them to death.

Dr. Liebling writes in his book that in the Jezierna camp about 20,000 Jews were killed. Dyga was a typical murderer; he would beat and shoot Jews with a grimness, with a special satisfaction. I present a few facts:

In the center of town, in a lovely little house, lived the family of Mosche Heliczer, a respected family, wealthy people. The house fell to Dyga and he had it decorated for himself. He allowed the Heliczer family to live in the kitchen on the condition that his cook could cook there. His Gestapo fellows always came over, and wild parties often took place there, drunkenness, shouting, and more than once – wanting to give his guests an attraction to make them happy – he paraded out a Jew who had been held for hours, terrified by shooting, and his guests had a good laugh. Several times he called Mrs. Heliczer in the middle of the night, stood her against the wall and shot 10 or 20 centimeters over her head, threatening her with death. This spectacle went on for 2 or 3 hours. Then he released her, saying, “Go, you lousy Jew.” Shocked almost to death, drained, trembling after such a scenario, she turned back to the kitchen.

When Dyga left his house with his whip all the Jews trembled, each letting others know and warning them. Whoever fell into his hands got a beating and more than once he confined them in the camp for a few days. When Dyga encountered a group of camp Jews who had been sent to the delousing shed – Jews who were weak, worn out, sick, shadows rather than people, who were dragging their feet, he would shout “Quickly, lousy-Jews!” and began hitting them until someone fell dead. The dead one was left lying where he fell and the group shuffled on.

In the winter, when there was a big freeze, Dyga would stand some naked camp Jews outside until they froze.

A book could be written with an endless range of Dyga's prosecutable murderous acts, but I will share just a few characteristic facts:

About 200 Jews went out of the camp under guard every day to work on the highway; about the same number went out to do rail-line work. The sick and those incapable of work, Dyga shot. Only he had been given the right from the fuhrer to shoot Jews – it was really a great honor!

Once, when my wife was passing near the camp at night during that time, when the workers were returning from their labor, she heard a voice: “Mrs. Hania, don't you recognize me? I am Magistrate Teiber from Tarnopol. See what the murderer Dyga has made of me. He has starved me, beaten me, sent me to work without food.”

It was he, Magistrate Teiber from Tarnopol, but unrecognizable: hunched over, swollen, his feet wrapped in rags, barely able to stand on them. Dyga had him confined to the attic without food or water; he shouted, banged on the door of the attic and it did not help. The murderer kept him like that until he expired. Dyga ordered that his body be dragged out of the attic and given to the Judenrat to bury in the Jewish cemetery. Thus was murdered a good jurist, a father of children. Dyga drank a toast to the occasion and struck another name from the list of camp Jews. Order must be maintained!

From a shtetl near Czortkow they brought a group of Jews, among them a 'hekht' [slang for 'big fish']. Dyga was happy, and the Chairman and liaison personnel from the Judenrat were also full of joy: they would get a large sum of ransom money for him, it was said as much as 20,000 zlotys. Dyga maintained that was not enough, that 'the fish' was worth more. They did not send him to work, they handled him like a fragile egg. But suddenly – oy vey! – the bird had flown the coop! They had believed him; he only slept in the camp, and spent all day sitting in the Judenrat chancellery; he ate in private, and this is how he pulled off the stunt, he just left! Incensed with anger, Dyga came into the camp and called together everyone who had any function in the camp and the Judenrat complex. He chose twelve youths 18 to 20 years old from the camp and ordered them strung up with their heads down and their feet in the air. One of the Judenrat members, who related this, wept. “It was a horrible execution,” he said. Twelve young souls perished under horrible conditions, and Dyga stood there enjoying it and shouting, “So there, Jews!”

The Jewish doctor, Tenenbaum, an outstanding person in the town, was Dyga's house doctor. More than once he called him up in the middle of the night, and he sat with him all night. But when the liquidation of the camp began, Dyga before all else, shot Tenenbaum's daughter, and when Tenenbaum reacted to it Dyga shot him too. In fact Dyga was greatly in his debt, since he had saved him many times.

This very same murderer Dyga, who with such satisfaction shot and beat Jews, was a good and loyal father to his own family. In order to keep them secure, he had assembled a lot of possessions. He had to be concerned that he would have what to live on if Hitler lost the war. He received a weekly delivery from the Judenrat; wealthy Jews, who found themselves in the camp, gave him large sums of money to redeem themselves. Every two weeks he requested from the Judenrat, according to a list, gold-jewelry, diamonds, expensive textiles and other valuable things. He shipped all this to his family in Bytom. From time to time, when his wife Magda and their daughter Jaga came to Jezierna to visit, everything went off on wheels. Dyga. the good man and father, used to organize a nice week-end vacation for them. The Judenrat bought him a pair of handsome horses and a small open carriage on rubber wheels, and every day they drove out of town for an outing, and their coachman was none other than the honorable and respected commander of the Jewish police, the university student Weksler. He had merited being the driver for Mrs. Magda Dyga! Magda would come with empty cases and travel home packed full of gifts from the grateful Jezierna Jews.

Dyga made friends with the former mayor, the dentist Kowalski. He used to tell his friend what he did with the “zydkes in the camp”, how he tortured them. Once he arrived at Kowalski's and reported with glee, “The zydkes will have a good lunch today, I found them a dead horse.”

The director of the firm that was building the rail line was a Pole, a certain engineer Yankowski. Once I went to him, presenting myself as the former professor at the vocational school, and asked for work. His response was brief: for Jews I have only physical labor laying the railway. Yankowski and his family lived near the train station in Kastner's house. His wife went in to town to buy goods, accompanied by two Jews who carried her baskets; one of them was Kastner himself.

The assistant director at the firm was Kazimierz Argasinski. When the firm furnished its offices in November 1941, Argasinski went around the Jewish residences and requisitioned furniture. He came to us, too. With his whip in his hand he looked like a Gestapo man. He requisitioned a few things from us, tables, benches and armchairs. When my wife asked what right he had to do this, he answered, “Sit still, Jews, we will throw you out of this house too.”

The furniture requisitioned from us was designated for engineer Yankowski's own office. A month later Argasinski stopped me, not far from the estate and asked me where my Jewish armband was. Argasinski used to beat and kill Jews. I saw such an incident myself: it was on the plaza near the train station, where he beat and killed an old Jew, a refugee from Tomaszow Lubelski. The reason – a day earlier he had missed work. Another time he had ordered an old Jew to climb up in a willow tree and tear off some branches; and when the Jew told him that he was old and could not do it, he beat him bloody.

 

The Last Weeks in Jezierna and the Expulsion

Conditions went from bad to worse and I saw that there were certain documents necessary for me to show at any time without fear and terror; no longer would I be able to move around so freely. That feeling in me was bolstered by my above-mentioned encounter with Argasinski. I soon found an opportunity. The Germans had a grain storehouse near the train station. The construction work had been carried out by the firm Suka-Silo-Construction. I did forced-labor for them. My boss was a German master craftsman who was not very intelligent. Once a week an engineer came to inspect the work. My chief had a seal and had a permit to travel every week to Tarnopol to collect provisions for the workers – but no one ever received any. He ate some of them, and sold the rest. The Judenrat had assigned Chana Katz as his cook and he would say, “That Chana is a good cook”.

One fine day he shouted an order at me, “You, Jew-pig deceiver! Thief... You stole my seal!” It was no help that he threatened to turn me over to the Gestapo. Without the seal he could not receive the provisions.

In sadness I walked around, and could not even tell my wife what had happened. I could not get a new seal in Jezierna. I could not travel to Tarnopol – and the chief was threatening. While standing so worried, I hardly heard someone calling me: “Herr Professor!” It was the ticket seller calling me. He was a Pole who often gave me the news from the English radio and from the secret Polish radio station. He saw that I was depressed, asked what the reason was, and I told him the whole story and the danger I was in. He told me that just three kilometers from Jezierna, in a village, there was a peasant who could make seals and he sent me to him. The peasant made the seal for me. Two days later I gave the chief the new seal along with a gift to beg forgiveness. He accepted the reconciliation and I was out of danger.

That incident suggested the idea that the peasant could make me a round seal from a Karaite birth registry, and with that I could make a Karaite birth certificate. Among the gentiles in Jezierna it had been rumored for a long time that I was a Karaite. They did not even know what it meant, they said “Ukra-aimer”. The communal secretary Petrischen even said that he thought exactly as they said, that Klinger's son-in-law was not a Jew, although our wedding was performed in Jezierna and the canopy ceremony and blessing was performed by the Jezierna Rabbi. I gave the peasant the form and the text for the seal; he brought the seal to me in three days; I paid him 25 zlotys. It was hard for me to check the text of the certificate, but I took my own advice. The only person to whom I could show the certificate was Markus Marder. He was an expert in certificates, and I wanted to hear his opinion. He held the opinion that it was in order, and that encouraged me. It was July1942. A decree arrived, stating that the Jews of Jezierna would be 'transported' to Zborow. The last date for evacuation was the 15th of July, 1942. Until that date people were allowed to travel alone or in groups.

In Jezierna Dyga laid out two camps – a men's camp and a women's camp, with 50 people in each. He himself selected the people, of course, and each one paid a large sum of money. It was said that he received 5,000 zlotys from each one. It was said, as everywhere, a tale, that the fuhrer himself did not want to kill all the Jews; a certain number, the best of them, he would keep alive. They, these 100 people, would be among the lucky ones, who must go on living (perhaps as the nucleus, so that the Jewish people would not vanish).

Our family was cursed. The Judenrat tried another trick: a rumor was spread that for 100,000 zlotys the chief Dyga would repeal the decree. The Judenrat certainly did collect money – unfortunate, naive Jews gave; we also gave 5,000 zlotys – how could one not give when everyone was giving, for calling off such a terrible decree? The money was taken, and the Jews were driven out.

Before we left Jezierna I prepared my documents. I needed original and current papers. The communal secretary Petrischin – who himself thought that at my wedding it was acknowledged that I was an “Ukra-aimer” – gave me a paper, written in German, in which he established that I was a Karaite. The statement carried the date of April 8, 1942, sealed with a big seal with Ukrainian text: “Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee Jezierna”. In the center was a 'trizov', the emblem of the Ukrainian 'Republic' from the year 1918, when eastern Galicia was a 'Samasteyne Ukrainia' [province]. The Ukrainians used the seal from 1941 to 1944 for internal relations as a vestige of those times and as a symbol of their ambitions for the future. He also gave me two blank forms with a round seal and a swastika with the German text 'Collective Community Jezierna, Galicia District'. On one of the forms I attached my photograph and using a typewriter, I wrote an identification permit for myself and on the second form made one for my wife. It looked like an authentic document, although one given out by the town office. Eventually I had three new documents. After living under the Nazis for a year in Jezierna, we left the town.

 

Facts about Surviving in Jezierna

It is difficult to describe everything that we experienced. I will simply provide a few fragments:

It was August 1941. I was chopping wood in the yard when I suddenly heard the steps of soldiers and voices speaking in German; they were Germans. The terror was great then, a few weeks after the slaughter. I went into the house and they followed me. Seeing that it was narrow, I went out through a window. They went into the building. At first they did not realize that they were in a Jewish home, but once they were oriented to where they were, they asked about the Jew who had been chopping wood outside. They continued through the whole building, searching for shnapps and creating havoc. One of them, a sergeant, put his revolver to my wife's head, threatening that he would shoot if she would not give up the Jew who had been in the yard. My father-in-law had also fled and only my wife and our child remained. The child was crying and they were shouting and threatening. They searched every corner. They found a bottle of 'batishe-visky' [home-brewed] liquor and they drank it and continued to shout and threaten. It was simply hell. That went on for about two hours. In the meantime I ran to the regional commander and came back with a junior officer by the name of Heinz Lege. The junior officer requested that they leave the dwelling, and soon they did actually leave.

My wife remained standing, half dead, with the child in her arms. Lege directed the two sergeants out and came back alone to calm us down. He commiserated with us and regretted our fate. He sat with us for almost three hours, to protect us in case they tried to return. He visited us almost every day, ate with us sometimes and protected us.

When the troublemakers showed the sergeant the Omega watch which was left to me by my blessed father-in-law, he took it, laid out two marks and said, “Here is money for the watch. We Germans don't take things without paying.” (I will write separately about the history of the watch.)

A week later I told Lege that they had taken the watch. He was very upset but could not help because the sergeant was on leave. A few days later Lege came to us as usual. During dinner he took out the watch, placed it on the table and related that by chance the sergeant had come back, he had forgotten something, and Lege used the chance to take the watch back.

Years have flown by; terrible events have altered the world map; we changed our residence several times, and more than once I have thought about Lege – whether he was alive, or had he been dragged down by the war. In December 1959, when we were already in Israel, I wrote to him even without an exact address. I remembered just one thing, that he was from Hamel, on the Vezer, and I wrote to him there. He received my letter and we began a correspondence. He wrote a lot, mentioning those terrible times, and he sent me his photograph. I have included the story of those two Germans as well as fragments of our correspondence in an article, “The Fate of Watches and a Photograph”.[Yizkor Book P. 293]

In the first stage of the Soviet-German war, many Soviet prisoners fell into the hands of the Germans. At the end of November 1941 they brought about 500 Russian prisoners to Jezierna, as workers for the rail line. They were quartered in the estate, not far from our residence. Every day, when I went out to the well to get water, I encountered them – tattered, withdrawn, half naked, exhausted, their feet wrapped in rags. They also came to the well for water. They asked for a little salt. They worked very hard. Their keepers, the SS, beat them to the death for no reason, and shot them without mercy. More than once I heard them pleading, “Mr. German, have mercy, I have a wife and children, I want to live!” The SS-man would scream, “Swine!” and shoot him. One could also see that among the prisoners themselves, who came from various lands within the 'Red Union' – Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Tatars, Mongolians and so on – there was no harmony or brotherhood. Every day they brought 10 or 15 bodies of shooting victims, lay them out in the yard, telephoned the chief of the camp to send a couple of Jews. He would send two or three Jews to dig a hole for the shooting victims. Afterward they would shoot the Jews too and throw them into the same hole. And so every day you could find in a common grave Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Georgians, soldiers of the 'Red Union', and two or three Jews – a real fraternity! They covered their common grave with fresh earth. The same thing was repeated every day. After a month only about 30 remained of the 500, and they were transferred to another camp.

Our neighbor was the Falk family, a mother and daughter; Falk himself had been among the first victims. From time to time I would visit them, and almost always I would encounter SS-men there, who were guards for the prisoners; I heard the names “Franz”, “Willi”, and I memorized the physiognomy of the Germans and their names. This came to be useful for me.

It was December 1941, the snow continued to fall, piled more than a meter high. Our home was almost completely covered, and contact with the neighbors was almost cut off. In the middle of the night we heard a loud banging on the window: we heard “Open up!” in a German voice. Torn from sleep, we opened the door, full of fear. Two SS-men from the guard, wrapped in fur coats, came in. “Jews live here!”, they began to declaim; “Jewish criminals! You are responsible for the war!” I recognized one of them – it was Franz, one of the regular visitors of the Falk family. I called to him, “Mr. Franz! What do you need?” Franz said to his partner, “These people know me,” and they both quickly introduced themselves. Franz said, “I am Franz and this is my colleague Krulikowski. We are SS officers, the furher's elite!” and then they began the well-known song again: “Jews!” they shouted and threatened. But suddenly Krulikowski saw the photograph of my God-fearing father-in-law, in the uniform of an Austrian officer with many medals on his chest. He studied the photograph for a while and then asked who it was. We explained that it was Hania's father, just after the First World War, 1914 – 1918. He had fought against Russia and Italy along with the Germans, was commended and then was murdered by the SS upon their invasion. Krulikowski became sad, stood in salute before the photograph, apologized to the photograph in the name of the furher for the fact that he had been murdered, lowered his hand, and continued to shout, “But you are Jews…!” and the rest of the repertoire. Franz wanted to calm him, and took a flask of whiskey from his pocket. They both began to drink. After each glass Krulikowski saluted, turned to the photograph and offered his respect, then ranted on at us again. He repeated the scene after each glass, until four o'clock in the morning.

Who knows what would have happened if I had not kept appealing to our acquaintance with Franz and he had not tried to quiet Krulikowski. The night was horrible, with snow all around, cut off from our neighbors and from people in general, trapped in the house with two drunken SS-men who threatened to shoot us every few minutes.

It was about that same time that thieves (it was probably neighbors) stole our whole supply of flour, plus the grain, and we had to begin buying bread from the Judenrat. The apparatchik-aide N.P. said that we were not on his list, and so he could not sell us any bread (200 grams a day for the whole family – 5 people). My wife went every day, literally in tears, to beg him for the 200 grams of bread.

From time to time the Germans organized aktzias. In the beginning, the local Judenrat concerned itself with the small villages around the town, first reducing the number of Jews there. They determined who would be in a contingent. Ranked first were the ill, the old, those unfit for work and the children. During the forced roundups they also killed people in the street. The streets ran with blood. Younger people were loaded onto trucks to be 'resettled' – what they called the shipping of Jews to the extermination camps. There was no limit to their cynicism. When one of the murderers saw how a daughter, whose mother was being transported, gave her a package for the journey and wept, he told her “Give her gold things and diamonds, they will be useful there”, knowing well that the captured Jews were going to an extermination camp. He spitefully mocked the daughter. Naive people did believe this, and gave them valuables, all of which the murderers stole from them along the way.

These constant roundups of Jews, transporting them to extermination camps, opened the Jews' eyes. They began to understand clearly that the 'solution to the Jewish problem' meant complete liquidation. Indeed a few looked for ways to save themselves and their families. Some forged Aryan papers and set off along the roads, but almost none of them survived. Others joined up with 'trustworthy' gentiles who were supposed to provide them with safe hiding places. But many of them fell victim to denouncements, or perished from hunger in hiding because the 'reliable' gentile had not given them any food in the hiding place. The apparatchik-representative of the Judenrat, N.P., who doled out 200 grams of bread per family to the unfortunates, himself died of hunger along with his family. The 'reliable' gentile took his money but did not give them any food in the bunker.

The situation this created, the conditions, the striving to save oneself even at the expense of other unfortunates, demoralized and broke down the characters of people who had previously been known as upstanding, solid citizens, good Jews, community workers. They believed that possessions would save them; that drove them to immoral deeds. A rich Jew, a respected man, often called upon to read Torah, formerly a Gemeide-Ratnik [city-council member] and Kultus-Ratnik [cultural committee member], and now a 'JudenRatnik' [Judenrat member] – saw a woman lying dead in the street during an aktzia, and took her jewelry from her and hid it. Later the dead woman's brother learned about this and demanded his sister's jewelry from him. The respectable Jew first denied it and then gave up the jewelry at the Rabbi's; and 'it was said' that he had only turned in a part of it.

As I already wrote, we were 'resettled' in Zborow. This was a difficult experience for us and especially for my mother-in-law, may she rest in peace. She had lived in Jezierna for more than 20 years, every corner of it held its history for her, every thing was dear to her, she remembered the effort it had taken to absorb it all, and now she had to leave it all.

The last days were unbearable. Women with their families, as if in a procession, would walk from house to house, look around the home, view the furniture, evaluating their inheritances. Each of them had already decided where they would live and what they could take. We were standing there and our hearts were breaking; we almost wept. Our sorrow was great and our pain unbearable. There were moments when we paradoxically said that the living were envious of the dead, who had not lived to see this.

 

Life in Zborow

We were in Zborow until November 20, 1942, until the Jews were confined in the ghetto. We left Zborow before dawn. A deep snow had fallen and we traveled in a sleigh. We traveled without knowing to where – to martyrdom in God's name. Our wish was only to run away from there as fast as possible, not to let ourselves be enclosed in the ghetto. It was a dangerous undertaking. Traveling in those times, not knowing where to or to whom, was a suicidal plan. But we were convinced at the time that we were saving ourselves from death.

They had driven the rest of the Jews from the villages together in Zborow, organized them in a ghetto and planned ways to liquidate them quickly. No aktzias took place during that time. I had used that time to procure my own papers and also to get some documents for my wife and child. I knew that we had to have 'good' papers now, for if not, we would very quickly fall into the hands of denouncers and 'shmaltzniks'. We knew that many had been caught with false Aryan papers but no one knew where they had been taken and killed.

The surviving widow of Dr. Litvak and her son Lesia had settled in Lemberg [Lvov]. She was caught and shot and the son was beaten to death on the street by his Ukrainian schoolmates. The Master of Science and pharmacist Spindel and his wife and daughter, who had been living in the Lublin area on Aryan papers, fell into the hands of the Gestapo in April 1944 and were all shot. Polish collaborators had denounced them.

In Zborow I met with my colleague Waraszinski, a former high-school teacher in Złoczów. He introduced me to the Roman Catholic priest, Jan Pawlitzki, from whom I received documents for my wife and child. From now on my wife would be called Maria Konisz and our daughter, Janina Konisz. They both had Catholic birth certificates. Maria Konisz was a little older than Anna Duhl, but that is how it had to be. On the blank forms that I had from Jezierna, I attached an identification permit with a photograph of my wife with the name Maria Konisz. That, along with the birth certificate, were her new documents. I had to translate my birth certificate into German and have it authorized by a notary. I could not get that done in Zborow because the notary there was a Ukrainian; one could only get it done in Tarnopol with a Polish notary. The priest Pawlitzki sent one of his people to Tarnopol and he delivered it to me. I burned the original.

My wife had a lot of friends in Zborow as she had worked there for two years in a pharmacy. Besides that everyone there knew my father-in-law of blessed memory. Zborow and Jezierna were like a house and a side room. Also, the head of the Judenrat, Janek Fuchs, former community activist, was an acquaintance and his wife was even a friend of my wife's. We certainly had 'protektzia'! [special connections] So of course we were given a location near the Fuchs family, in a room in which four other families were quartered, and we were the fifth. For our five souls, we had about six square meters of space. That is what the 'protektzia' looked like. Fuchs and his wife and one child lived in a nice little house with several rooms and lovely furnishings; we five people, in an area of six square meters. We slept on the floor (at least, not in hell). Our good friend Sanie Auerbach, the contact person [for the Gestapo], lived in his previous apartment, that had fine furniture and everything up to 'hummingbird's milk'. We looked at the contrasts with sadness: Jews walking on the street were deathly pale, starving, tattered and torn, in fear that a murderer could shoot them at any minute, shuddering with every passing German. Once they were wealthy, honorable people – and now? Mrs. Fuchs stands in her apartment ironing the laundry, and probably her husband's shirts, puts them into the chest, prepares a good meal for her husband and daughter with meat, a compote, better than in the pre-war times when everything in the town was normal. Sanie Auerbach's wife stands in her kitchen decorating a big chocolate cake with a swastika in the middle and the initials of the SS-man who heads the Jews' camp in Zborow. He would receive the cake on his birthday from the grateful Zborow Jews. In the town, among all the Jews – sadness, poverty, fear, tragedies, and here a life of luxury: ironing shirts, making a cake for the murderer of the Jews in the camp.

For repairing of the sidewalks, the Germans used the tombstones from the Jewish cemetery. Once they grabbed some Jews, among them the Rabbi, and led them to the cemetery and ordered them to knock down the stones and load them onto wagons. The gentiles were standing and waiting by their wagons. The Ukrainian police gave the order, “Work! Pull out the stones and load them!” Not one Jew moved a muscle. Eventually the Rabbi, may his strength continue, stepped out of the line and went to stand by a tombstone, the stone of the old Rabbi, his grandfather, may he rest in peace. He recited Kaddish and El molle rakhamim [“God full of mercy” prayer]. The fields and forests echoed with that “Yisgadal v'yiskadash…” and when he concluded with the words “and may they rest in peace in their resting-places, and let us say Amen!” he wept and the Jews answered, “Amen”. He begged forgiveness from the dead for interrupting their rest, turned around to the Jews and told them to begin the work. While the rabbi was praying, the gentiles knelt and crossed themselves, and the guards stood at attention. They started screaming soon enough and dealing out blows, but the work had already begun. The work went on all day. The tombstones were carted away and the sidewalks of Zborow were repaved with them. The Jews were forbidden to use the sidewalks and the religious of the non-Jews avoided the sidewalks in order not to tread on the tombstones. Rumors went around among the non-Jews that at night, voices and wailing came from the graves where the stones were taken, and passersby felt afraid.

The pharmacists Lucia and Marek Reiss had worked in the apothecary in Zborow for twenty years. Young and old, men and women, Jews and non-Jews, everyone knew them and appreciated them. More than one pauper had his prescription filled for free, sometimes with the addition of a few groschen to buy bread for the children. They were treasured by Jews and non-Jews alike. The Germans drove them out of their shop and out of their home, but they did not lose their courage. Lucia kept her spirits up, consoling those victimized. After each aktzia she would seek out the affected families, bringing them bread, a little sugar, sharing her last bites of food with them. She would bring reports that redemption was near. The persecuted families believed her, looked to her as one looks to an angel who brings good news. Her words of comfort were repeated from person to person until…until she herself fell into the hands of the murderers.

It was with difficulty that they stuffed her into the heavy truck that was already full of captured Jews. They were all destined for the extermination camp at Belzec. Lucia knew that this would be her last journey. She was seeing for the last time the pharmacy where she had worked for so many years, the little house where she had lived and the people among whom she had lived, sharing in their joys and sorrows. Instinctively, she stood up and shouted at the Gestapo guards in a strong voice, “Murderers! The shame of the twentieth century! For our pain, for our suffering, for our innocent blood spilled, you will receive your due… from our blood, from our bones, will rise an avenger!” Then she turned to her brothers and sisters in the truck and said, “Lift up your heads! Do not be afraid of these murderers, we are dying for the sanctity of God's name!” And when she cried out, “Long live the Jewish people!”, a Gestapo-man dealt her such a blow that she fell down dead. She had remained in Zborow, in the town that she loved and where she had spent the best years of her life. Her husband Marek heard that Lucia was already on a truck that would take her to an extermination camp and begged the Judenrat to save her, and when he learned that it was already too late he committed suicide. After that aktzia, the couple Lucia and Marek Reiss were kept together in a joint-grave in the Jewish cemetery.

November 1942. Now 17 months have passed since the Germans carried out their murderous work: forced roundups, re-settlements, labor-and-extermination-camps have brought about their results. The number of Jews continued to shrink and the remaining Jews were packed into small, crowded living quarters; so many families in one house, they literally suffocated. That is how they enclosed them in the ghetto. They were forbidden to walk out of the ghetto. It was all a preparation for the final solution, the complete liquidation. In Zborow, as I have already mentioned, the Jews from the surrounding villages had been driven together and in July 1942 the fate of the few surviving Jezierna Jews was bound up with the fate of the Zborow Jews and those of the villages.

* * *

We – myself, my wife and child – left Zborow on November 20, 1942, and began to ramble with our Aryan papers. Our life was not easy then either. Everywhere outside the ghetto, they were searching for Jews; we were always endangered, without one restful moment, by day or by night. We lived in constant fear, frightened of every known and unknown person; anyone could turn us in to the Gestapo. Danger hovered over our every step.

In Jezierna, before the deportation, I used to meet with the poet Sh.Y. Imber. We had made plans, but he did not live till the redemption. Before the war there had been a judge, a Jew named Ziemer, in Buczacz. His secretary was a young Polish woman. He had fled Buczacz in 1940 and settled in Jezierna, where the Germans caught him. His secretary became his wife and fled with him. The Judenrat gave him a function, as an assistant and night watchman. His non-Jewish wife kept watch with him in the Judenrat office at night, and protected him from every aktzia. Dyga called her many times and told her, “Traitor! Leave that lousy Zyd, bitch, or you will be killed along with him…” All the threats made no difference; she never left him. She went to the Russian-Catholic priest Bialowons for help, but he chased her away from him. I met them several times in Zborow, and then they disappeared. I learned later that they both survived and were living in Poland.

I survived the Hitler hell as a Karaite, along with my wife Hania Klinger – Maria Konisz – and my daughter Julia – Janina Konisz. We were pursued for more than three years, living in terror, without any rest by day or by night. Every minute was a risk, every minute tense. It was a miracle that we came out of that slaughter alive. During those horrible times that we lived through, we encountered good people (few, unfortunately), for whom the highest goal was to help or rescue a person; they reached out their hands to us in times of trouble and helped. But there were also informers, animals in human clothing, who for a few coins or a bottle of whiskey delivered innocent people to the murderers. Their hands are stained with the blood of the innocent victims.

* * *

That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of Shoah [wasteness] and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick fog.
Prophet Zephaniah, Chapter1.


[Pages 254-264]

Our Prison Journey
(A Fragment of My Memoirs)

by Menahem Duhl

Translated by Ida Selavan–Schwarcz

 

Summary of a Family

I survived the Hitler years of hell with Aryan papers, together with my wife and daughter, who was three years old at the time of the outbreak of the Second World War. When I remember the horrible times, I ask myself the question: How did it happen that I and my family survived the massacre, which swallowed up millions of our brother and sisters along with my mother Batya, my in–laws, Augustina and Wilhelm Klinger, my sister Etie Neuberger and her husband, children and grandchildren, my sister Sarah Mann and her husband and children, my brother Feibish with his wife and children and many close and distant relatives?

My brother–in–law Yisrael Mann died in the Jezierna camp: I was there at the time, and walking past the Jewish camp I saw him. He was standing near the wall and leaning on it. Swollen from hunger, he could not stand on his feet, and suffering, he slowly expired. His eyes were half closed, and he murmured, quietly saying something (perhaps it was his Vidui ? [confession]) Suddenly he opened his eyes, eyes full of sadness and tears, cast a glance at me … and it seemed to me that he recognized me and said: “Mendele, save me … write to Sali how I died” … Those were his last words. Diga, the chief of the camp, gave him a few lashes with his whip and he fell dead.

I could not fulfill his final wish to write my sister how the last words on his lips were her name and the names of their children, because she was also no longer among the living. She and her daughter were killed in the crematorium in Belzec. Also my sister Eti was killed in Belzec.

Her husband Avraham and their children and grandchildren were murdered in the Aktzias [anti– Jewish campaigns] and their two sons fell in the struggle against the Nazis. My brother was murdered in the work camp in Barki near Tarnopol and his wife and his two children in the Rudolfmuele [Rudolf Mill –a three story grain mill] in Stanislaw.

As I write these memories, I tremble; pain grips my heart and tears flood the paper.

 

We Are Arrested

My memories of those horrible times! … a fragment of them:

This happened in Berezhany in 1943. We were living at the time with ‘Aryan papers’. The time – between Pesah and Shavuot, on a Friday, about eight in the evening, the landlord's dog started barking. We knew then that there were strangers in the yard. We lived in constant fear, afraid of our own shadows. We used to listen very carefully to who came and to whom. We heard a knock on our door and someone asked: “Does Duhl live here?” Three men came in, two were Poles, former Granat Polizei [Polish police of the general government] and the third one seemed to be a German. As soon as they came in they said, “We have been informed that you are Jews. You are under arrest and you must come with us.” I tried to say something, to explain, but they did not want to listen. “You will say everything there, at the Gestapo,” they said, and they led us out of the house, locked the door, and took the key with them.

When we were arrested and taken out of the house, our neighbors, the Vaitzik family, made merry. They drank liquor, sang, and laughed. The record–player played dance music and they actually danced. Voices of the drunkards escorted us as we left the yard. That is how the world looked then, the world that Hitler built upon the destruction of our people, of our existence. They led three Jewish souls: a father, a mother, and a small child to jail and perhaps to death, because they were Jews, and there, the informers rejoiced. Yes, we had reached the point where, for the 600 zlotys which they would get from the Germans for denouncing us, they used us as a source for merry–making.

The way to the prison was about one kilometer. The policemen led us ‘discretely’. They walked with us in this manner, so that no one would suspect that they were leading prisoners. We walked and kept quiet, but our child held on to her mother's hand tightly. I was sure that this would be our next to the last journey. The last one would be from the jail to the gathering place at the cemetery. That would be the end of our life upon this earth.

But it was fated that we would yet live and survive this hell. As I walked along silently, without hope of surviving prison and moreover, being privileged to live a free life, I sank deep in thought and before my eyes I saw pictures of my life, as if through a kaleidoscope. People were walking along the street, but I saw no one … Here I see my mother, she is carrying little Mendele to Dr. Kitner … Mendele is studying in Leib Yosef's Cheyder. He walks home at night with his lantern in his hand. It is snowing and freezing outside and the children sing: “Good night to you, we have begun walking at night.” It is merry and gay … Mendele goes with his father to the Kopitchintzer [Kopychyntsi] Rebbe; Father wants to ask the holy man if he can send Mendel to study in the gymnasium. The holy man lifts up his head, looks into Mendele's little black eyes with his own clever eyes, and says “Yes.” He gives Mendele an amulet… Mendele strolls along proudly on the Borshtshev [Borshchiv] sidewalk, with his student cap on his head and a silver stripe on his collar … His brother Fishl, the wage earner of the family, is sick. Before his death he leaves a will: “Mendele should continue his studies.” Those were his last words. His friend Dr. Feldshuh, the first Borszczower doctor, stands next to his bed and cries … Father takes his son's death very hard, the pain is great, he studies Mishna and weeps at the loss of the young soul … December 1914. Father is lying on his sick–bed … he dies … Mendele is an orphan … the Russian invasion … they capture men for forced labor … the terrible night of 1917 – the withdrawal of the Cossacks. They beat Jews, plunder their homes … rape Jewish women … the Austrians are back– the redemption, the salvation; the saviour mobilizes and sends into war … Mendele is again studying in the gymnasium … Austria falls apart, Ukraine … Petlyura … Poland …

The pictures come and go quickly: Mendele graduates and enters the university … studies … hard times. It is hard to study without money … the academic house on Therese Street in Lemberg … anti–Semitic excesses … Mendele become a teacher in the gymnasium in Zalishtchik [Zalishchyky] … they look at him, he hears one boy telling another “The professor is a boy from Borshtshev. His name is Duhl”… Horodenka … government gymnasium in Pshemishl [Przemyśl] … Mendele's rank is reduced and he loses his job … again hard times to make a living … antisemitism grows stronger … Mendele stands at the Lemberg Kuratorium [Board of Trustees] before the vice–supervisor Shedewe, who had reduced his rank and who says to him with a smile: “Your name is Mendel, I remember you”… and he really remembered! … After a year without income he goes back to work … back to Pshemishl … Lizhensk [Leżajsk] … Tarnobrzeg …

The pictures disappear and return: the wedding in Jezierna, many people, it is merry … Hanya stands pale under the canopy and shines like the sun, people are pushing, wanting to see the bride in her veil, the congregation wants to see Hanya's bridegroom. I hear someone say “How beautiful Hanya is in her veil”… the rabbi says and I repeat after him “Behold you are consecrated"… Lemberg, in the Salos sanitarium Hanya gave birth to a little daughter … again rejoicing … the grandma and the grandpa are overjoyed … and the father … another time of rejoicing. I receive tenure in the government gymnasium … 1939, the war … we flee from Tarnobrzeg, driven out … we are wanderers … and again in Jezierna … Zolochiv [Zloczow] … troubles and worries … the German–Russian War, the pogrom in Zolochiv … again Jezierna … the father–in–law … my father–in–law is murdered … we run away … wander … Jezierna … Zborow … Kozova … Berezshan [Berezhany] …

Again the pictures end. A cry goes out from my heart: “I have lived an honest and upright life”! Hanya embraces me and says: “Calm yourself Manek, we shall yet be saved!”

 

The Prison

Now we are standing in front of the gates of the prison. The heavy iron bars of the gate open, we are led in and the gate closes behind us. We are cut off from the outside world, I, my wife, and our seven–year–old child became residents of the Berezhany prison. My first night in the Berezhany prison. I was led into a cell which was partitioned into three compartments, each meant for two prisoners. My wife and daughter were taken to a women's cell. The cells were designated for non–Jews. I met a familiar person in my cell. He had been an official of the sick fund in Berezhany; his name was Batza. He was imprisoned for taking money from the fund. He was a Pole and his wife was Ukrainian, a chauvinist and an anti–Semite. We knew each other from the ‘Bata’ firm where his wife was a saleslady. He knew that I was a Karaite and he behaved nicely to me. Of the other four prisoners, one was the owner of a Ukrainian accountancy firm in Rohatyn; he had been imprisoned for six weeks, not knowing why. He was a religious man and he went to communion every Sunday. The second man was a Pole, a train mechanic. His wife was German. He was condemned to two years imprisonment for causing a collision between two trains. Thanks to his German wife his punishment was relatively mild. The third was a cobbler, a Ukrainian, charged with robbery and smuggling. The fourth was a fourteen–year–old gentile boy, a Roman Catholic, who used to sneak into the ghetto and steal items from the poor oppressed Jews. He was caught and put in prison. I was the sixth. We were complete, an honorable society. I introduced myself to my ‘comrades’. The room–commander assigned me a place on the bunk together with the fourteen–year–old burglar. But he protested that he did not want to sleep with me; it did not suit him. In addition, he behaved rudely. The cobbler, who was in charge of our cell, resented this. He rebuked the boy for his attitude, took his own belongings and moved next to me. So the incident was resolved and I remained in this cell until we were freed. The prison was difficult to get used to. The bedbugs bit, the fleas leaped about, the straw mattress was full of lice, but we had to 'endure'. There was a strict regime: At six o'clock in the evening we had to put our shoes out, in a row and the guard made sure that all the shoes were put outside. We wished him “Good night”, and he locked the door. At six o'clock in the morning he opened the door of the cell. We greeted him with “Good morning.” Then the room–commander took in the shoes, and the day began. The regime was concerned about the religious life of the prisoners and every Sunday there was a service in the chapel, which was in the courtyard. Many of the prisoners received communion on Sunday. They became religious in prison. My family and I also used to participate in the service, listening intently to the sermon of the priest and his appeal to the prisoners to repent, to believe in God, in Jesus, and his mother Mary. I stood in a corner and looked at my wife and child and they looked at me. This was the only opportunity to see each other at least once a week, even from afar. Tears ran down from my eyes as I looked at them and my neighbors thought that the priest's sermon had touched me.

 

The ‘Karaite’

When I was “quartered” in the cell, the room–commander informed the guard through the window, that there was a new tenant, a Karaite. The guard asked “What is a Karaite? He will go with the others,” and he pointed to the cell where the ‘others’ were imprisoned, meaning Jews. They had been dragged out of bunkers, captured in the forests or in the fields, and brought here to wait for their death.

My cell mates, who had been there for a while, had the privilege of working at various occupations. They would leave in the morning and I would remain there by myself.

In the morning and in the evening the prisoners would pray. No one organized it. It started by itself and became a custom. It was initiated by the train engineer. One could assume that the form of prayer belonged to the daily routine of the prison. All the prisoners participated. The train engineer's experience of the train wreck, the interviews by the Gestapo, his suffering in the hospital, (he had jumped out of the train at the time of the catastrophe and had been wounded)– all of this left an impression on him and he became a religious fanatic. In the morning and evening he would kneel by the window. He would chant the prayers from his prayer book, including the interpretations of the text which were in brackets, from beginning to end. Looking at him, all the prisoners in the cells also knelt and prayed as if ordered to do so. It made a strong impression. The prayers united Poles and Ukrainians, men and women, freethinkers and just plain thieves, bandits, smugglers, and some who did not even know why they were in prison.

The Jews were in a separate cell. They had been caught, and they knew that they were awaiting their deaths. Mournfully, they sat in the cell weeping and waiting for the Gestapo murderer Hermann. Perhaps influenced by the prayers they said their confessions and prayed with fervor to the Master of the Universe, who would decide their fate. They had been handed over into the hands of murderers, and designated for ‘martyr's deaths’.

Every day the voices of the chanting and prayers resounded over the courtyard, echoed in the gates of the prison and reached far far… Perhaps the tears which the Jews shed in their cells, the bloody tears of people awaiting death, arrived through the Gates of Tears there … far far away …

Imagine my situation, the situation of a Karaite, who had never seen a Karaite temple, never heard Karaite prayers, did not know their language and customs. Berezhany was not far from Halicz where there was a group of Karaites. But I never visited them. At such a time, when everyone prayed, I also had to pray to ‘my God’, the ‘Karaite God’, so that I would not seem to be an ‘atheist#8217;. My imagination did not leave me and being sure that no one knew what a Karaite was and how their ‘pagan’ prayers sounded, I improvised. I raised my hands, and then fell with my face to the ground, to the dirty floor of the prison chamber and ‘prayed’. No one heard my words, they did not know in what language I was praying (and perhaps they feared my pagan prayers?) I would frequently call out “Allah, Allah”. This they understood. That was how my original improvised prayers, Karaite prayers sounded. My companions observed me. They knew how Jews prayed. And this form of prayer was new to them, unknown. They looked at me with different expressions, even with some respect–they had an ‘exotic’ cellmate.

 

In My Wife's Cell

My wife and daughter were in the women's cell. My wife was known there as Maria Kunysz and my daughter as Yanina Kunysz. They also found themselves in respectable society. Their cellmates were even more exalted than mine.

There was a woman who had been caught with Aryan papers and had been in prison for over a year. She was investigated and now awaiting a result. Another woman had been a cook at the home of a Jewish Professor Haas. There was a restaurant owner, a former prostitute, and two other women who were prison simply for theft. The room–commander was the restaurant owner. When she got to know my wife, she told her a story that there had been women there who had prayed and kissed the cross all day long. They had Aryan papers, and every second word they said was “Jesus” and “Holy Mother”. They were there for a long time, until finally they were told the results of the investigation: where they came from, what their real names were, where they had obtained the false papers, and in the end they were shot. Another time she told about a dream that all of those with Aryan papers were taken by the Gestapo. A third day she told another story from her repertoire, in order that my wife should know where she stood and in whose hands.

When they all left the cell, and my wife and our daughter were left alone, she would teach the child and instruct her how to behave. Then the child would curl into her mother's arms and cry, “Mamele, we will live, we must live, Mamele.” And the mother heard this with a broken heart, and did not allow even a tear to fall.

Once, the woman who had Aryan papers also stayed behind and poured out her heart to my wife. Her husband had been a water–carrier and before the war they lived in Rzeszow. When the Hitler–soldiers marched in, they left Rzeszow and moved not far from Berezhany with Aryan papers. Her husband was soon captured and she was being investigated.

She had been in prison for a year and always afraid, uncertain what the night or the day would bring. She was frequently taken to the Gestapo where she was abused physically and psychologically. "Why didn't they shoot me along with my husband?” she cried. “Then there would be an end to my suffering.”

During an Aktzia, the guard (actually a Polish woman) opened the cell door and pointed her out to the Gestapo, saying that she was a Jew. They dragged her out of the cell and took her to the cemetery. When the head of the prison (also a Pole) heard this, he quickly ran to the execution place. She was standing there, naked, waiting her turn. He covered her with his coat and brought her back. She sat in prison a few months, and then they found out where she came from, and what her name was in Rzeszow and how she had gotten her papers, and finally she was shot. She stood at the execution place twice. The greatest proof against her was that she did not know the Catholic liturgy, so she was suspected and arrested.

Another day Professor Haas's cook stayed behind. She explained that she had been a cook for the professor for many years before the war, even before he was widowed. When war broke out, and he was already a widower, he took her to a notary and transferred the property rights to his house and clothing to her in his will. When the riots and Aktzias started, she built a hiding place in the house and hid the old professor there, fed him and took care of him. They had a Polish neighbor, a tailor, who notified the Gestapo that a Jew lived in the neighborhood. Hermann, the murderer of Jews, came with two Ukrainian policemen, found the hiding place, dragged out the old man, and shot him there and then, and she was arrested. Thus she had been sitting in jail for a year. She was investigated by the Gestapo all the time. She was given a gynecological examination to check if the old man had not, Heaven forbid, broken the law against mixed racial sexual relationships. She was told that she would be freed soon, but meanwhile she was without hope. With tears, bloody tears, she told about what she had suffered.

(In 1949 I met her is Wroclaw, and she was delighted that we had remained alive).

Two dreams. After we were arrested there was a search in our dwelling. All of our documents were inspected. Everything was in order. There was not one document to show that we were Jews. My wife and daughter had Roman–Catholic identities and I had Karaite documents. Hanya remembered in prison, that she had not burned her papers from before the war, in which was written, ‘Hanya Duhl, wife of Maximilian, secondary school teacher in Tarnobrzeg.’ She had sewn it into a small pillow. Now her name was Maria Kunysz and not Hanya Duhl. She was very worried, because if these papers were found, we would be lost. She could not rest. Finally she fell asleep and dreamed that her mother came to her and said, “Do not worry, the place has not been touched.”

(When we were freed, and returned to our dwelling, we found that all of our bed linens had been cut up, everything was in chaos, but the little pillow had not been touched …)

In the morning of the 29th of May, the restaurant worker told my mother of a dream she had, where an officer of high rank called my wife and spoke to her in a very friendly way. She interpreted the dream to mean that she would be freed from prison.

 

FREED!

That same day the commander of KRIPO [kriminalpolitze], Captain Kawalski, came. First of all he called me and said that I was free; then he had my wife and child brought in and told them the same thing. With tears in our eyes, in his presence, we embraced and kissed. We were free, we had won our life back.

How did it come about that we were freed? – no one would ask. Therefore I want to respond. Not all the Christians were informers like our neighbors, who probably got drunk and sang and danced when we were arrested. Good people worked to get us out of prison. The first was Dr. Bilinski, the director of the hospital and Chairman of the Polish Aid Committee. The second one was circuit court judge Karol Bogotski, my childhood friend, who put himself in danger but went and testified that he was my friend from the local government school and he knew that I was not a Jew. There were also Poles and Ukrainians who testified in our behalf. A woman neighbor, Aniela Podohovits, the widow of an official and the daughter of our landlady, used to bring us lunch every day. The circuit court judge, Dr. Tortel–Tabinski, from Czortkow, who was then a lawyer in Berezhany, sent us bread and butter every day (which was never delivered to us). All of this made an impression on the prison guard and on our cellmates. They saw that the upper class Polish intelligentsia was interested in us.

*****

We survived the Hitler hell. We were homeless and pursued, living in constant fear of acquaintances and strangers, knew no rest, night and day for over three years. We feared everyone; we could be caught and destroyed at any moment. Anyone could hand us over and get a reward.

We survived the massacres through a miracle.

In the course of those three years of oppression and murders, we met good people who stretched out a hand, for whom “Love thy Neighbor” was not an empty phrase. We also met informers, wild animals, whose hands were smeared with the blood of innocent Jewish victims. And even though those times are long over, these experiences left a deep impression upon us. We are not the same as we were before the war. The experiences are deep in our souls and consciousness. They do not allow us to live quietly. Even now, the horrible scenes appear in dreams before my eyes.


Editor's Note:

A 'Release from Prison' document was issued 27 May 1943 in Berezhany, for Duhl Maximilian, Kunysz Maria, and Yanina Kunysz.

View it on Page 303

 

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