by Nachum Kalafer
Translated by Sheldon Clare
I am a Jeziernian, but before the war I lived in Bodzanov. My wife came from Kopyczynce. Our little daughter was barely five years old when the war broke out.
When the Germans entered Bodzanov, I experienced for the first time the launching of persecution and aktions (assembly and deportation of Jews). And when they expelled the Jews from Bodzanov and made it Judenrein (empty of Jews), my family and I were forced to run away to Kopyczynce where my wife's family lived.
The situation became worse day by day. When I realized that it would be difficult to endure and survive here, for a kilo of gold I received permission from the Gestapo leader to go to Probużna . This town was already Judenrein and only two Jews remained living there: I, a dentist and Dr. Brandwein - a general physician. And by the end of the last liquidation of the ghetto, I had to run away again.
My wife Sala, her sister Gusta, and my little daughter Rita, settled in a place near a ‘reliable farmer’ where she kept them in a bunker; I alone went into a forest, about 20 kilometers from the place.
Every night, I would visit them, going by foot. But this did not last. The peasant neighbors informed on them to the Ukrainian police, who identified them. They were taken to a field and were shot. My daughter was shielded by her mother and was only wounded. At night, when she recovered her wits, she dug herself out from under the dead bodies and began to wander, all bloody.
A good-hearted old peasant of Ukrainian descent took her in and kept her as her own. From time to time I came out of the forest to see the child. After being freed, I rewarded the peasant.
On March 23, 1944, the Soviet army freed us. I began to work as a dentist in a military hospital. When the 'front' withdrew, I was nominated to become a regional examiner; my duty was also to investigate the evidence about the arrested prisoners and to certify that they were able to be transported. Among the arrested people, I found a well-known former Ukrainian policeman. The murderer of my family, the Ukrainian superior police officer, I did not find.
The vicious Nazis murdered my mother Sheyndl, my sister Maltsheh, my brother Yidl, along with my grandfather Sanyeh Rozenfeld, my uncle Natan Rozenfeld with his wife and two of their sons - Natziyeh and Matik.
When the war ended, I went to Poland. As a result of the difficult experience, I am now a sick and broken person.
From my large family, almost no one survived; they were all murdered.
by Jaques Katz, Paris
Translated by Simon Godfrey
Taken from a letter to Professor Menahem Duhl
My Dear Friends,
… On January 5th 1943 I was arrested by the Gestapo as a Jew who was not obeying the Nuremberg laws and was not wearing the shameful symbol. They held me in the central prison in the city of Marne. After 15 days I was transferred to Compiegne [internment and deportation] camp and in midFebruary, as part of a full transport, I arrived in AuschwitzBirkenau.
As a student in the University of Cannes, I had studied advanced mathematics, analytical mechanics and electronics; I declared myself to be an electrical engineer and thus I was saved.
In September, after a ‘selection’, I was transferred to a concentration camp in Warsaw, which was established in the area of the Ghetto. We were in the hands of thugs from the Majdanek concentration camp which, because of the advance of the Russian army, was relocated there. The conditions were seven times worse than in Auschwitz.
In August 1944 the Poles of Warsaw rebelled. The fighters surrounded the camp in which there were about 300 people and we were released. They all dispersed, but I joined the rebelarmy under the command of General Bor Komorowski as a volunteer engineer. In the meanwhile the Russians arrived on the other bank of the Vistula but refrained from taking part in the fighting; the Germans, as was their nature, increased their attacks and began blowing up building after building. It was real hell and almost like the inferno of Stalingrad.
In my view, as there was no hope of help or escape, I obtained for myself some civilian clothes and approached the first German officer I encountered. I succeeded in convincing him, in his own language, that I was not a Polish fighter but a French worker who had left his country and volunteered to come here in order to help in the effort towards the coming victory of the Third Reich.
Nevertheless, the officer was suspicious and to be on the safe side he sent me to the GrossRosen concentration camp in Silesia and from there I was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp.
Using an assumed Aryan name I was sent, together with a group of prisoners, to work as forced laborers in Vienna. In April 1945, with the Russians approaching, we were ordered back to Mauthhausen. For a month we wandered without rest and were fed from the corpses of horses left behind by the Hungarians.
On the 5th of May 1945 the Mauthhausen concentration camp was liberated by the American army and on May 22nd 1945 I returned to my wife, to my children and to freedom.
Unfortunately I never had the opportunity during the whole time to meet even one Jew from Jezierna, Tarnopol or Lvov.
Before us, in brief, is the powerful history of someone born in Jezierna who, after completing high school, moved to France to continue his studies. When the Nazis entered the town where he lived he was arrested by the Gestapo and went through seven hellfires in internment and extermination camps. He took part in the battles when the Poles of Warsaw rebelled and finally was freed and able to return to his family who remained in France.
Until the end of his life he worked as the principal of a vocational school and passed away a short time ago.
by Lipa Fischer
Translated by Tina Lunson
Twice I left Jezierna and twice succeeded in returning; the second time I came back to a shtetl without Jews…
With the outbreak of the GermanPolish War in 1939 Jezierna organized a fire brigade of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews; all had served in the military, and I among them; we were all assigned to that brigade. Besides putting out fires, we also served at night, because various elements roamed around among the villages of Poland at that time. We had to protect the rear zone while the army fought far away at the front. But soon there was a panic. The army had been beaten and its remnants were being withdrawn to the east. People started to evacuate, and Moshe Byk and I also decided to leave Jezierna to get closer to the border between Poland and Russia. I tried to convince some others for example Dr. Litvak and Avraham Chaim Paket (Tsirel Menye, as we called him) but they would not be talked into it. During that time, when I was packing my things, my sister burned the newspapers and books with antifascist and antiHitler content, and cried while doing it.
It was erev RoshHashana [eve of the NewYear]. But few people thought about the holy day. We thought about the great danger that lay in wait for Jews. Suddenly Mechil Fuchs came in shouting Let's save the children!. His horse and wagon were prepared and he proposed that we drive with him to Podvolochisk [Podwoloczyska]. We climbed up, sat in the wagon and drove off. We were six people altogether. We drove through Zborow and Hluboczek; we traveled through the fields because it would have been impossible to use the main road (kaiserstrasse). We arrived in Podvolochisk right after the prayer services. There were a lot of refugees there already. The locals invited us to lunch and we later also spent the night with them. Just a few days ago we also had refugees in our town, and now we were refugees here.
In Jezierna, a woman spent the night with us; she and her husband had fled from western Poland. Along their way an airplane shot at them; the husband was killed; she buried him in a field outside of Zloczow and she went on alone. She arrived in Jezierna at night, exhausted and broken. I gave her my bed. And now we were the refugees. We spent two nights with an old woman, whose attitude toward us was very motherly. On the second day it rained and it seemed that there was thunder and lightning during the night, but in the morning we realized that it was an exchange of fire between the Polish and Soviet soldiers. Injured soldiers were walking around, and lying on stretchers were severely wounded Polish soldiers. A Polish airplane was circling in the air, which was the only airplane that we saw during the war. A few days later we learned that Stalin had made a pact with Hitler and divided the former Poland: the Soviets took up to the San and Germany took the rest. We were happy that we could return home to Jezierna.
The Red Army began its invasion. Jews went out freely and without apprehension into the streets; we were also happy. The soldiers passing through smiled at us and we started to think of the fastest way to get back to Jezierna. A huge military force marched in, everything motorized, big tanks, heavy artillery. Moshe Byk and I went to the Podvolochisk train station. There were train cars that had been shot up and bombed. Women and children had been evacuated in those cars; the German airpirates had shot them during their journey. The scene made a horrible impression on us.
Meanwhile they had opened the shops in town; the merchants started selling their goods and there was no lack of customers… they were mostly people from the other side of the border. On the way to our guest house we saw arrestees being led away. Moshe and I tried to analyze the political situation while we were walking. I had the seal of the Jezierna HistadrutPoaleiZion in my pocket. I threw the seal away.
On the second day Fuchs harnessed his horses and we were on our way back. Along the way about 25 kilometers from Tarnopol I got off the wagon and continued on foot. It seemed to us that it would be more comfortable that way; it was certainly more fun. Military people were marching, cars were driving, we saw a lot of people. Here and there we did hear shooting and it seemed that they were shooting right over my head; it was a few remaining Polish artillery men shooting and the Soviet soldiers were answering. Further along the way there were murdered Polish policemen lying on the road; Polish prisoners and also arrested civilians were being led away.
I walked along that way for a few kilometers until I finally got tired. When I spied a Red Cross horse and wagon approaching, I went to them and asked if I could ride with them to Jezierna. They questioned me in detail; I showed them my documents, I proved my identity but in the end they did not allow me to travel with them. I did not have any alternative and so continued on by foot. Later a small wagon came along. I asked the soldier and he let me climb aboard; he was a Jew and we spoke Yiddish along the way. He told me to take off my watch and hide it; a watch is a danger, he said. I traveled with him as far as Tarnopol. There I already felt like I was home. Tarnopol was already Soviet. Armed militia were walking around in the streets, dressed in civilian clothes with red bands on their sleeves; most of them were Jews. The Polish church on Dominikan Place was damaged; people said that it was from there that they shot at the Soviet soldiers. Some houses had been destroyed too, destroyed together with the residents. A lot of policemen had been dragged out of their apartments and shot without a trial.
I set out toward Jezierna on foot. It was already afternoon. But then I rode a soldier took me to Jezierna. When I arrived home it was already dark. At home they already knew that I was on my way because the military hospital that I had met along the way and not allowed me to come with them, had already arrived in Jezierna, taken up quarters in our house and told [the family] that I was on the way. We greeted one another like old friends.
In Jezierna too a militia had been organized and the commander was an Ukrainian nationalist by the name of Terentshuk. Their headquarters was in Dudye Blaustein's house, where the Polish police station had been. The next day I met with Moshe Byk, Dr. Litwak, and Avraham Chaim Paket and we decided to turn to the military commandant to discuss with him various problems regarding the Jewish population. Among other things we wanted to insert a few Jewish lads into the militia. The commandant agreed and I was among those lads, with Schmuel Bien; Munye Steiger, Yekil's son, Naftali Charap, Nuchim Yekil's son. We served in the shtetl day and night. There were attacks on Jews. In the village of Połowce, a local peasant killed a Jew and his wife in the presence of their children and buried them at the entrance of their home. The murderer was sentenced by the Soviet courts.
I only belonged to the militia for a few days. I soon got work in the post office.
That was a hard time for my father and for other Jews in his position. He was considered to be in the category of rich peasants (kulaks) and they squeezed the life out of this particular group. My heart was sore. For example, my father, who was an ordinary laboring Jew, who had spent his whole life working hard in the field as a land laborer, connected to agriculture had now become an exploiter, a parasite!?
One Friday night when he had arranged to go to prayer services, he was called to the community offices. Two partymembers were sitting there and he could smell the odor of whiskey from both of them. They took a lot of money from my father, shouting and demanding. My Dad was not shocked, but the fear was that he would be shipped off to Siberia, as that was something that they could do. They had already sent a lot of Jezierna men to Siberia. I had seen what they had done to the Polish colonists; it was a terrible scene. They woke them in the middle of the night, dragged them out of bed, told them to pack a few things, and led them away. Along with them they took an old smith and his family. Their entire possessions consisted of two hectares of soil, a cow and a few hens. He left behind all of this and in his old age, with his children and grandchildren went to Siberia.
I was the only one of my whole family making a livelihood. Our cousin Faivel Ohrbach was living with us at the time. He came from Sasow, and was a teacher in the Jezierna school; he helped us out a little too and so our family maintained itself. When the Germans arrived, Faivel went back to Sasow, where he fell into German hands in a camp; at the liquidation of the camp he and some friends mounted a rebellion and a few of them fled into the forest and survived there. I located him again in 1958, in America.
In Jezierna things got worse and worse. I left my post and began work in Hluboczek and later in Tarnopol. During the last period before the outbreak of the SovietGerman war, I was wandering around without work.
The war broke out; the Germans bombarded the large cities, but the small towns did not get any rest either. The Soviets mobilized the youth. The retreat began. For two days before the arrival of the Germans in Jezierna I was with my papa, mama and sister, but I decided to leave Jezierna and evacuate. I was not successful in influencing my friends; they did not want to leave. The Germans had already bombed Jezierna and I was still in the town. It was not easy to abandon my home and to travel, as panic ruled along the roads; the German airplanes bombed the roads, the streets and the rail lines. I was fortunate to leave with a Jew from Zborow who was living on our farm I cannot recall his name he was a a manager in the bazaar. He packed his bags and I set off with him. We traveled according to my plan. It was already September. We went through Zborow, Hluboczek, avoiding the main streets, and came into Tarnopol through a back alley. From Tarnopol we traveled to Podvolochisk. The second day in the morning we were already at the old border. Our documents were checked there and we were allowed to travel on. During the journey I went by foot some of the time because it was hard on the horses. In Volochysk [Woloczyska ] the owner of the wagon told me to take my pack and go ahead on foot, and he himself took off at a gallop.
The road to Proskurov was not an easy one, but along the way some soldiers took me along in their car, and after that a peasant gave me a ride. These transports were shot at by German airplanes. The terror was great. This is how I slept that whole night. Wearily, I lay under a hut in a kolkhoz [collective farm] and fell asleep. I got up when it was still dark but all around there was loud noise, explosions and fires. I quickly got to my feet and went with everyone else military and civilians were mixed together, militia men, NKVD agents everyone on foot. The military people did not want to take anyone with them; there was no trust; we were suspicious of one another because there were spies everywhere and diverse characters. Everyone was greatly afraid.
I trudged on until Proskurov, where I succeeded in getting on a truck to Kiev. From there to Dniepropietrovsk I traveled on a ship over the Dnieper [River]. Our little ship was camouflaged and when German airplanes approached, we stayed by the shoreline. We suffered from lack of food. It is certainly pleasant to take a boat on the Dnieper, but not as we were traveling then. And so I arrived in Dniepropietrovsk, a large industrial city with big, beautiful buildings, huge business centers; but all that was not for me; I had to flee further. I spent the night in the train station; there were dead and wounded; thousands of refugees were waiting, each wanting to move on as quickly as possible. It was pouring rain; people were stuffed into open cars, waiting to travel on. I managed to get into a car that was already closed, and traveling like that, arrived in Kuban, in the North Caucasus, Krasnodorskiy area. From there we were transferred to the Krylovskaya station. Here, along with other refugees, I got off and stayed.
For the first time after such a long haul, since leaving my home, I took off my clothes and washed myself. There were kolkhozn here and they divided us among them. I was assigned to kolkhoz Ukraina. All the refugees were assembled in an enclosed area, and the kolkhoznikes [collective farmers] came and chose workers. I was given to a Cossack who was a brigadier. There were a small number of Cossacks in that kolkhoz, most of whom were inaradnie, which was a low caste in the Tsar's time. They worked for the Cossacks who were privileged. I was a field worker, and for my labor received food, a little grain and a little money. I worked there for one month.
The Germans were coming a little closer. Rostov was already in their hands, and I debated moving further along. Things were getting darker; the trains arrived overloaded with the wounded and refugees.
In the kolkhoz people prepared for partisan warfare. I got permission to travel further on; I forfeited my earnings and set out. The train was full of refugees, mostly Jews. We traveled deep into the Caucasus Region. The first large train station that we stopped at was Armavir, about 75 kilometers from Krilovskaia. All the walls were plastered with posters with slogans: The enemy will be destroyed, the victory is ours; The Hitlerbeast will be crushed in his lair(nare geleger).
The train took us further through the Caucasus settlements, and although I was in a difficult situation, I forgot about it all and looked at the Caucasus landscape, simply letting my mind wander; I was so moved by its beauty. We traveled for a couple of days. It was hard to get food and especially bread. We traveled without paying.
I arrived in Derbent, a town in Dagestan, South Caucasus. The food industry was welldeveloped there, and there were a lot of canning factories. Jews were living there too. There was a synagogue and on the Sabbath I went to pray. From there I went to the fortress town Makhatshkala on the Caspian Sea. The town was full of refugees. I succeeded in catching a ship and traveled to Krasnovodsk, middle Asia. From there the way was open to Turkestan and Uzbekistan. Trains were leaving one after another, all full of refugees going to Tashkent. The way led to Turkmenistan, whose capital Ashgabat was located not far from the Persian border, about 18 kilometers. The train stopped for about an hour. I met a large group of Polish Jews in the station, and I decided to stay there.
The place for refugees there was at Karl Marx Street number 7. The NKVD had agents there who supposedly smuggled people over the border into Persia, for which the agents took money and then turned the people over to the NKVD. So I fell for that, along with a certain Azriel Diner from Trembowla. We were arrested and stood before a militarycourt.
This is how my arrest in Ashgabat took place: This was a town where every newlyarrived person was followed by agents who proposed taking people over the border illegally into Persia. The agents were Turkmen. Such provocateurs approached me several times, proposing to take me over the border, but I refused. Then, one time, I received an order to leave Ashgabat within 24 hours. Now when such a provocateur approached me proposing to sneak me over the border for a few hundred rubles, Azriel and I went for it. They took us, and when we were already outside the city, in a field, NKVD agents were waiting for us, opened fire on us and shouted Hands up! Our guide had suddenly vanished, and we were arrested. The commandant of the NKVD group was Meir Shefer; he began his conversation with us in Yiddish. He said, Stupid Jewish bastards, you wanted to go to the Wailing Wall, now we have to shoot you.
The NKVD building was located in the center of the city, not far from the theater. When one went past the building, one would think that it was a charitable institution. Terrible tragedies took place in that house. No one went free from that place. He was either shot or sent to a forcedlabor camp in Siberia. The interrogation lasted about a month, day and night with just short intermissions. When I was sleeping they woke me up and questioned me further. After they finished the investigation they brought us before a military court. I defended myself. The trial lasted for three days and we received the verdict. Azriel Diner from Trembowla was sentenced to death and I 'only' ten years of hard labor in a camp in Siberia. They sent me to the South Urals. Before that, I sat for three months under arrest in Ashkhabod.
On the 15th of February 1942 I arrived in Turinsk, and was left there; it was a large camp and the inmates did hard labor with a 12hour work day. I arrived there sick, swollen and covered with carbuncles, so they did not send me to hard labor for a couple of months. When I felt a little better, they sent me to work. The work was beyond my strength. I got sick again and was considered an invalid. From that time on I began to work as a barber it was much easier for me. I was employed in that line of work until 1957.
In 1943 I was transferred to Verkhnaya Tavda; there I finished my ten years of prison (labor camp). When I was freed, I settled there for another six years, working until March 1957, when I traveled back to Poland.
by Lipa Fischer
Translated from Hebrew by Avril Hilewicz
A Letter from Home
In 1951, when the camp gates and the Soviet prisons in Siberia, where I had spent ten years of my life suffering from physical and mental torment, were thrown open, I was already aware of the fate of the Jezierna Jews. Long before, in 1944 I had written to my family back home in the hope that someone was still alive, but to my sorrow, received an answer only from Dozia Blaustein, Ben-Zion Blaustein's daughter; from her I had learned the whole terrible truth of the extermination of our town's Jews. Upon my release, I again tried to make contact with people I knew in Jezierna and sent a number of letters to farmers with whom I was acquainted. When none of them replied, I almost gave in to despair. However, after a while and to my great surprise, I received a letter from Azriel Pollak, the town's only remaining Jew.
I wrote to Mikhail Leskof and his wife Yekatarina, the only Ukrainians in our small town who had helped the Jews during the Nazi occupation; they had hidden Rosa Blaustein and her daughter, Dozia (Devorah). Otherwise, they would not still have been alive. It was his wife who had given Azriel my address, immediately after which he wrote to me. My joy knew no bounds in far-off Siberia a letter from Jezierna! And written by a Jew, one of the last Jews, at a time when I had lost any hope of getting any sort of news from there.
It was a wintry day in 1951. It was freezing cold, and because of my fatigue at the end of the long work-days, I forgot about everything and everybody, even my past life had been erased from my memory. Following the difficult years in the camps, behind three barricades, I thanked God for letting me move about freely again. So, I finished my work and returned to the obsizitia (the workers' living quarters), where I lived in one room with two other Russians. The elder of the two, Nikolai Radionowitch Baranov, was a Muscovite; his friend, Sascha the hunchback, was a local man. The younger one was more easy-going. We became friendly and there was an atmosphere of understanding and tolerance in our room. Every day we would have a little something to drink, sometimes tree-sap alcohol, sometimes eau de cologne. Due to our friendly relationship, I couldn't refuse them and even shared a little of my hard liquor with them. Since it was so freezing cold, I walked quickly and when I arrived home it was dark outside. My room-mates were waiting for me and when I opened the door, Saschka told me that I had received a letter from my 'homeland'. The letter had been placed on my little cupboard. I scrutinized it. Polkov was written instead of Pollak as the sender, instead of Azriel Adolf and instead of Schmuel Sigmont. But I immediately understood that it was Azriel Pollak who had sent me the letter. I was so grateful to him. I read and reread the letter, tears running down my face after being cut off for ten years, I was once again in touch with my town!
After a number of months of corresponding with him I decided to visit Jezierna. I made the necessary travel arrangements. It was not an easy journey. Six days one way. I was living in the Urals in Verkhnyaya Tura, in the Sverdlovsk District, so-called after the name of the river Verkhnyaya Tura, which divided the city into two. The river is about 150 meters wide, and small boats were used to traverse it from one bank to the other. The river is hundreds of kilometers long. Despite being able to accommodate only relatively small ships, it is a very important waterway, serving both the state commerce and citizens, who want to reach the Tundra settlements in the far north. Trees used to be transported on rafts along this waterway. The river was rich in fish, in addition to providing the residents with water. There was also a local train station, the last stop in the north, the only line, connecting the city to the main city of Sverdlovsk. There was one train a day to Sverdlovsk which then returned to Verkhnyaya Tura.
I learned what had happened in Jezierna during Hitler's regime from Azriel Pollak's letter. His son, Pavel, a Polish soldier, was killed in the battle with the Germans for control of Warsaw. His daughter, Regina, served in the Red Army. His wife and three other daughters died in the Zborow Ghetto.
On My Way to Jezierna!
His letters increased my sense of longing and pain at one and the same time. My decision to reach Jezierna was unswerving. I went to my manager Ivan Adriavitch Botorin, a Russian, who had always been very sympathetic towards me, and asked for time off. This Russian had fought the Nazis and after the war had worked in a plywood plant Funir Kombinat - as the supply department manager. Upon my release in 1951, I contacted him. He gave me work till I left for Poland in 1957. Now he authorized my vacation and even added an extra ten days since the journey itself required 12 days. After years of not having traveled on a train, I would be traveling this time from the Urals as far as my home town, Jezierna.
The train sped through the Ural forests, fields and mountains. A weird sensation took hold of me: here I was, traveling to my home town, where I had left my mother, father, sister, relatives and most of my friends and acquaintances. Now, the town was no more, even its graves no longer existed. I would only be able to see the place where they had all taken their last steps driven forward by the Nazi murderers and their Ukrainian collaborators.
Although I set off with a heavy heart I felt that I was once again in touch with the real world. I am able to travel freely! The route to Swerdelowsk, which ran through various villages, towns and settlements, was interesting except for the kolkhoz collective farms which appeared very backward from the outside.
I had to change trains for Moscow in Swerdelowsk. Even changing trains wasn't that easy. I had to re-confirm my ticket and there were not many seats available. As soon as all this had been organized I had to get in line. Half an hour before the train was due to leave the station there was a long, winding line. Everyone wanted to get on the train as quickly as possible; myself included. I was about to begin a three-day journey as far as Moscow where I would once again have to go through the same process as before, in order to get a seat on the train for Tarnopol. At long last I managed to get my seat on the train. I paid for bedding, which the conductress brought me. Tired out from all the aggravation, I fell asleep. The train took me westwards. I sensed that my dream of seeing my town of Jezierna was about to come true. New hope began pulsating through my veins.
However, I felt as though my liberty was still restricted aspects of camp life were deeply etched in my mind, even though I was able to move around freely. When I woke up from my first sleep, it was already dark outside and so was unable to observe the scenery. I lay down again and thoughts which replayed like a movie reminded me that, 11 years previously, I had been transported under heavy guard to the place I was now leaving. I remembered my friends who were with me at the time, some of whom were no longer alive. They did not have the strength to endure the harsh conditions or the humiliations meted out at the NKVD 'Labor-Education Camps'. I, myself, could hardly believe that I had been through all that and now was traveling via Moscow to Jezierna as a free man. I could not even imagine that it was possible to live through ten such years, as I had done. Some sort of super-power kept me going and strengthened me, encouraged me and gave me the ability to endure and overcome everything. I had hoped that, when the war ended, I would be released, but I was wrong. The war had ended but I still remained in the camp. It took six years for those gates to open up before me!
All these harrowing thoughts went through my mind during the night. The sun broke through and my thoughts disappeared. Leaning against the window pane I could see the scenery changing. The train only stopped at the larger stations or industrial depots. On the third day of the journey we returned the bedding to the conductress, as there had been an announcement that we were approaching Moscow. On arrival, we stopped at a station called White Russia. There I was informed that the train for Tarnopol would be leaving from the Kiev station which was quite a long way off. I went there on the subway reaching the station fairly quickly. I confirmed my ticket once again and received a seat on the train. All these arrangements were also not easy. I had waited for a day and a half, so when I saw my seat in the cabin my joy knew no bounds. Once again, a conductress brought me bedding and again I made up my bed and fell asleep feeling good, as the train sped along, taking me to Jezierna.
Traces of war could still be seen west of Moscow; pockmarked fields full of shells, ruined houses, signs of intense and persistent battles; barbed-wire fencing was still discernible and large train stations were left in ruins. At times we got close to the Ukrainian border where there were a great many signs of the war. During the day I looked at the passing landscape, at night I rested. My anticipation of seeing Podolia, on the Polish-Russian border, was especially great since, after 11 years of wandering, I would soon be close to my home town
I recalled fleeing Jezierna 11 years previously and reaching Podwoloczyska with other refugees. The Nazis were, by then, shelling Jezierna and causing casualties. I remembered parting from my mother, father and sister as well as my father's blessing for my journey. Could it be that, thanks to them, I was lucky to have remained alive? But, they are no longer with us Now I am on my way to where? To whom?...
As we neared that area, my sorrow surfaced. I am traveling over a land drenched with so much blood of innocent Jews and all of a sudden, the train reached Proskorow. I was here during the transport in July 1941. At that time, the roads were full of soldiers and civilians. There were many recruits from the towns and villages all over Galicia. It was here that I came across people from Jezierna. It was safer at that time to walk since the train stations and their lines were the enemy's bombing targets; those on foot were able to hide in the undergrowth of the fields.
I shall always remember how the Nazi Messerschmitts bombed the Russian airport near Tarnopol. The bullets whistled over our heads; what danger we were in! On the way to Proskorow, while sitting and longing for a short respite, I suddenly heard my name being called out. It was the voice of the doctor who had worked at the hospital in Jezierna; he was now traveling in a Red Cross convoy as a military doctor. We shook hands warmly and talked about how miserable we were. I placed my bundle on his cart and continued walking next to it. I followed the convoy like this for a few kilometers, then we each went our own way.
This is how I met Josef Blasser, who was a soldier. I managed to get on a truck which took me quite a long way. Then I continued on foot again. The closer we got to Proskorow the harder it was to make our way along the road which was blocked with cars, horses, carts and people on foot. I found Munya Zamojre, David Feiering and others in amongst the soldiers. My meeting with Simcha Katz was especially friendly. He had a few black rusks in his side-pack. This was all a soldier was given for his journey. There was no time to cook for themselves, they were continually retreating. Simcha gave me some of his meager rusks, parted warmly from me and we each went our own way.
All this had taken place when I fled Jezierna. Suddenly, I woke up from my daydreaming and could make out the suburbs of Podwoloczyska, where the train was now approaching. Here, I saw quite a different picture. Where once there had been houses there were now empty plots, and those huts which were still standing had fallen into disrepair. I heaved a deep sigh and was overcome with tears
The train started off again - this time for Tarnopol. Through the window I could see the desolated villages; those murderers had even cut down the trees! I arrived in Tarnopol over an hour later. I looked around and could not believe my eyes. Was this reality? The train station had been completely destroyed. Farmers' wives were wandering around wearing kopeks (padded jackets), leg-warmers and overshoes. Everyone stared at me as if to say: Who are you? Where have you come from?
I arranged my ticket for Jezierna and went off to see the town. It was hard to recognize the streets of Tarnopol: some of them had completely disappeared and you had no way of knowing which way to turn. I no longer saw familiar faces. The Jewish Quarter which was once the center of the hustle and bustle of Jewish life, the roads which used to be full of people, had all turned into heaps of rubble! I sat on one heap and cried my heart out: the city, in which about twenty thousand Jews had lived, was now Judenrein (cleansed of Jews). And I, Lipa Fischer, the Jezierner, had come from freezing Siberia after ten years of arduous camp-life, in order to sit on the ruins of Tarnopol and cry over its monstrous destruction
As I slowly made my way through the rubble I met a Jew who told me that about thirty families were now left in Tarnopol. He said that there had been more immediately after the war. A monument in memory of those murdered had been erected in the cemetery, but the following day it was found overturned and destroyed It was repaired and put up again only to find it destroyed the following day. And this is why there is no memorial monument for the victims of Tarnopol. The Soviet authorities stood by and did nothing, allowing the criminals to move around freely. Miskovici Street had been partially restored and taking pride of place in front of the church was a statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the great Cossack 'revolutionary', toward whom we, the Jews, hold 'hypersensitive' emotions, for his name is etched in blood in the annals of our history.
When I got back to the station, the train was about to leave for Jezierna. As I went to get on the train and find my seat, I heard a number of anti-Semitic cries shouted in my direction by Ukrainian Komsomol (Soviet youth organization) members. I got on the train and couldn't forgive myself for not having reacted on the spot. Everything seemed different as I made my way towards the town after getting off the train. I felt like a stranger. The familiar farm and its yard seemed to be closer to the train station. It's large garden filled with fruit trees had disappeared, totally decimated.
It was now ten in the morning. Trampling through the mud I reached Zabramska Street looking for Azriel Pollack's address. He was living in Hirsch Laufer's house. He was more than happy to see me. His apartment was in a bad state. No words can describe the poverty and paucity I saw there. He lived in one room with his Christian wife and seven children. He kept a goat in the other room. The walls were covered with icons. There was no bread to be had. Since Jezierna was considered a kolkhoz (collective village) it had to produce its own bread. There were no commercial bakeries there. That single goat kept the family alive. They used to make milk soup with rolls made from unrefined flour.
About Sights of the Destruction and Insights on Them
The most important thing was meeting the non-Jews whom I had known, in order to learn about what had happened to the town during the Nazi occupation. I decided to walk through the town's lanes and alleys in case I found old neighbors to speak to. First of all, I went in the direction of my father's house. The village committee had seized his house and in its place had erected a monument to Taras Shevchenko. I stood still and imagined that I could see my mother and father in their house. I felt dizzy and everything nearly went black at the same time a farmer I knew passed by and could clearly see how distressed I was. He looked at me and said:
Aren't you pleased that there is a monument here in honor of Shevchenko? Would you have preferred a monument to some rabbi or other?I didn't answer him. This was the first Shalom Aleichem (greeting) I had had in my town, from a gentile acquaintance. The first Ukrainian to give me a friendly welcome was Fedko Yawrovski from Hazarodka. After bringing up all that had happened here during that period, we all sat and wept. We talked about it for hours and hours. He took out a bottle of home-made liquor and we drank a toast. The atmosphere was depressing. They made a point of saying that the Germans had also killed non-Jews. When it got dark, I had to go back to Pollack. If I had had to make my way back alone, through the forsaken and desolated huts belonging to Jews, I would not have been able to leave; luckily, one of the men accompanied me back. On the way, he continued to tell me how the Germans had mercilessly and mindlessly killed (he meant not only Jews). The remaining Jewish huts appeared abandoned and desolate. The whole area shrieked sadness, and I imagined I could hear crying
The next day, I went out with Pollack to wander around the town. Instead of the large synagogue there were mounds of rubble. Instead of the houses empty plots. Everyone I met said how sorry they were. Each one recounted how the local Jews had been annihilated. Walking, we found ourselves at the cemetery. Not a single headstone was left standing. Here and there we could see slabs of the destroyed headstones. I felt better standing amongst these slabs than I had felt with the town's non-Jews the last Jews to be slaughtered had been burned alive here. We stood and said Kaddish [prayer for the dead]
This was in September 1952. I am unable to relate everything that the local people told me. I tried to find out the fate of my father Leib, my mother Rachel, and my sister Reisel. I asked my gentile neighbors, who had felt 'at home' in our house. I went to one of them, who was always coming and going, at our house. She invited us to a meal, served wine and told us that, on one occasion, my father had come running to ask her to hide him in her house. She had not allowed him in, not even into her barn. That whole night he stayed out in the cold. By the time morning came, she took pity on him, let him into the barn to warm up a little and even gave him a slice of bread. This is how she described the great 'kindness' she had extended to my father, may he rest in peace. We were so disturbed by what she told us that we did not partake of the meal and drink which she had gone to such pains to serve us, and left her 'friendly' house.
At this point, I will try to present some details that I heard from local non-Jews:
In 1957, when I was already in Poland (Wroclaw), I met Stefa Czerda, a Polish lady from Jezierna who had been a teacher. She told me about the anti-Jewish committee that the Germans had established after entering the town. The committee, composed of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, was headed by Antoniakova (the wife of Antoniak, former principal of the school) and her daughter, who all excelled in their blood-thirsty anti-semitism. They demanded of the Germans, so she told me, to let them to make Jezierna Judenrein. The priest was also a member of the committee. Only Pryhoda, the Ukrainian teacher, refrained from joining.According to what Stefka told me, this is what happened: after the Germans had entered Jezierna, they issued a decree ordering every Jew of the town to gather together at the synagogue. The plan was to ignite the synagogue together with all the Jews who were inside. The Jews assembled there but the plan was never carried out because of the commotion started by the gentiles, who came from the nearby streets shouting: The Jews are butchering people, and demanded to take their revenge. Apparently, she said, this ploy was a Russian army offensive. The Germans left the town in confusion and the Jews returned to their homes. A short time later, the Germans returned and whoever fell into their hands became a victim. The first was Dr. Chune Litwak, a forward-looking man and a sharp businessman; the Ukrainians had informed on him. The murderers stabbed him with knives and smashed his head in with axes. When he said that he was a doctor, they replied that they didn't need doctors and continued to torture him until he drew his last breath. On that very same day, about 200 Jews were killed and buried in a mass grave in the center of the town.
The head of the Jews' camp was Richard Dyga. The most vicious murders were attributed to him. Many people told me about the commander of the Ordnungsdienst (Jewish police), called Schenkelbach. The Russians had expelled his parents from Tarnopol and they had moved to Jezierna. His daughter-in-law lived in the town. He and his daughter-in-law had the 'privilege' of being killed by Dyga himself. From what I heard, he was an honest, refined and educated person. Practically everybody, without exception, talked about the cruelty of this murderer, Dyga. While I was in Poland (1957), the town's mayor, Kubelski the dentist, told me that Dyga had been like one of the family [in Schenkelbach's home], in spite of his atrocities. He didn't forget to point out that Dyga was not a welcome guest in his house. It was clear that coercion had been used. He received him cordially under duress, had a friendly drink with him under duress, played cards with him under duress. He had hidden Azriel Pollack's Jewish wife and three daughters in his house but, being scared of Dyga, he made them leave while under duress, after which they were all slaughtered.
While roaming the town I met the young Sovitch. The Jews of jezierna knew him well. His father was the town's Shabbas Goy [a gentile who performs work forbidden to a Jew on the Sabbath]. After the Sabbath Eve prayers he would extinguish the candles in the synagogue; it was to him that they used to sell the hametz (leavened food) before Passover; on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), he would make sure that the memorial candles did not drip from the heat. His son used these words to tell me: The Nimkim (which is what he called the Germans) damn them, forced my father to transport the Jews they had killed to the cemetery. Three days and three nights my father, the Shabbas Goy, poured boiling tar over them to burn them to ashes. Those Nimkim should be burned themselves! My father returned home utterly exhausted, with the terrible odor of burnt bodies!
This had taken place during the final extermination of the Jews of Jezierna, who were interned in two different camps, one for men and one for women. On the day of extermination, the local non-Jews led by the Ukrainian priest, Dudik, came to watch the extermination of the town's Jews. This time, Stefka Czerda (Wroclaw 1957) told me, those poor people knew what was in store for them and tried to resist. They decided not to leave the camp in Dom Polski, which they turned into a stronghold. Dyga ordered hand grenades to be thrown into the camp. A fire broke out. The Nazis put the fire out and forcibly dragged out the Jews who were wearing only their underwear. Two Ukrainian policemen stood at the entrance and each Jew who passed between them sustained hammer blows to their heads. With their dying breaths they were thrown onto the trucks and taken to the cemetery to be burned. Both Sovitch and others confirmed this.
The extermination of the women's camp was different. The women were put on carts as if they were to be taken to Zborow. Dr. Wilhelm Tenenbaum was with them. He had worked as a doctor in Jezierna for many years. The town's gentiles gathered to gleefully watch how the last remaining Jews were to be removed from the town. The carts purposely moved slowly along the alleyways so that the non-Jews could fully satiate themselves with the sight. Dr. Tenenbaum sat on one of the carts. He doffed his hat and said goodbye to his patients. He had continued treating his patients right up to the very last day. He was also Dyga's doctor, for which Dyga had promised to let him live. The carts started off in the direction of the cemetery. Now everyone knew where they were being taken, knew that this would be their last journey. The carts came to a halt at the cemetery. The women were arranged in a line, naked. Flammable material was poured over them and they were burned. When Tenenbaum came to say goodbye to those left, Dyga suddenly shouted: Damned Jew, run! Tenenbaum started running and the sadistic murderer shot him in the back. This is how Dyga kept his promise to his doctor.
Jezierna was officially pronounced Judenrein. Dyga had fulfilled his duty.
One of the last families to be murdered in the town was that of Mosche Bergstein. As a tailor, he had sewn whatever Dyga needed and so was permitted to live covertly in a house belonging to a Ukrainian in Deluga Street. After the final extermination the local Ukrainian police commander had met him and asked who had given him permission to be there. Bergstein reminded him that it was Dyga. The commander went and informed on him and Dyga, himself, shot him, his wife and child inside the house. That was his reward for all those years of working for Dyga.
I knew that the Leskof family had hidden Rosa Blaustein and her daughter, Dozia. I went to visit them. His wife, Yekatarina and daughter worked in the kolkhoz. She complained that she didn't have the strength to work and so didn't have anything to live on. She also told me how she had hidden the two women. What she had done seemed heroic and self-sacrificial. It is only fitting that Mikhail and Yekatarina Leskof's loyalty to the Jews of Jezierna should be recorded in our Memorial Book, thereby adding them to the list of Righteous Among Nations.
Schmuel Scharer also pleaded to be saved. His maid, Aniella Kutna, hid him. When the residents of Jezierna were moved to Zborow, because of the battles taking place in the vicinity, Aniella had planned to move him in a trunk in order to save him. However, a few days before they planned to flee, a gentile from Jezierna informed on him to the Gestapo and he was shot.
How My Family Was Killed
My father, Leib, survived the first pogroms and lived with his family utill 1942. During the large round-up of the Jews, when hundreds of Jews were grabbed, including my father, in order to ship them to the Belzec extermination camp, my mother Rachel and my sister Reisel dashed out of the house and confronted the murderer, to get him to leave them alone, during which time my father escaped. The murderer shot at him and when he was about 200 meters from our house, he collapsed. My mother and sister were sent to Belzec. The blood of my good and upstanding father was absorbed into the soil of a park in Deluga Street. I was shown the spot where my father had fallen and I had the privilege of saying Kaddish for him there.
The Germans paid money for each Jew handed over to them. Dyga would give a bottle of liquor. Solovka Lobachevski who was to 'inherit' Yukel Czaczkes' tavern, was outstanding at finding and kidnapping Jews and was rewarded with the bottles of liquor promised to him by Dyga. Lobachevski was a Banderowicz (member of the Ukrainian Fascist Organization).
Two boys, Bertchi Heliczer's youngest son and Lander's son ran away and managed to stay in hiding for some time. A Ukrainian called Wolozin, the son of the mechanic at Fischer's flour mill, informed on them. Wolozin also belonged to the Banderowiczes, who would terrorize people, especially the Poles, for a while after the entry of the Russians. Michel Fibover and others were hung dangling on the barbed wire. The Soviets killed this gang including Wolozin.
One of the Nazis' loyal helpers was the carpenter Trenczuk, the son-in-law of Nicsz the cobbler. He was sentenced to 25 years in a Siberian camp. Many were Ukrainian fascists, who had actively participated in the liquidation round-ups of the Jews of Jezierna. Even today, they move around freely in various countries, including Russia. It is our greatest hope that the long arm of justice will reach them wherever they are, so that their punishment can be meted out.
Among other incidents of 'good' non-Jews informing on and handing over Jews to the Gestapo, is the story I was told about the Moschzisker family. Moschzisker was David Blaustein's son-in-law. He was a rich Jew who lived in Lwow. At the time, they had moved to Jezierna, where they remained even after the entry of the Germans. Dr. Moschzisker worked at the Polyclinic in Jezierna and his family was hidden by a 'safe' gentile. This cost him a great deal of money. Every day he received messages from his family via a non-Jewish acquaintance. One day his contact brought him the news that the 'safe' gentile had betrayed his family (his father and mother, his wife and child) to the Gestapo and they had been murdered. Shocked and broken by this tragedy, the young Dr. Moschzisker committed suicide by cutting his wrists.
In one of Azriel Pollack's letters he wrote that when I came to Jezierna, we would go to Zborow to meet Motel Hornstein, so that we could, perhaps, encircle the fence in Poznakowski's garden where 12,000 Jews murdered by the Nazis were buried. After I had been in Jezierna for a couple of days, we decided to go to Zborow and meet Hornstein. He was the manager of the kolkhoz and was working when we arrived. His Russian wife, Madia Ivanovna, welcomed us. In the meantime, we walked around Zborow. Seven years had passed since the terrible events of the war, but the whole city looked as if it was just taking place; the scene was the same as in other places in the area; the large synagogue still stood in one piece and the Hebrew lettering on it had not been erased. It was being used by the Administration. Hornstein came home in the late evening; he was tired and did not have time. Therefore, Azriel and I decided to go off on our own the next morning. Poznakowski's garden was about one kilometer from Zborow going towards Zloczow.
After every round-up the Nazi murderers were in the habit of bringing the Jews naked to a pit and gunning them down with machine guns. Many would fall injured but not yet dead into the pit. Without checking to see if anyone was still alive, soil was shoveled over them. As we neared the grave, we noticed a green strip of grass. This was the grave. Animals grazed here. The smell of both animal and human droppings (the shepherds relieved themselves there) was noticeable from afar. We stood on the large grave, ashamed and in awe of the sanctity of the place. Here lay 12,000 Jews murdered by the Nazis! All around there were headstones of various 'heroes', but the grave of thousands of victims was neglected and desecrated, not even fenced in. It didn't make any difference that they had been persecuted and murdered by the Nazi murderers, haters of Socialism and progress Was this not a crime perpetrated by the authorities? I wanted to appeal to the town hall of Zborow but I was afraid that they would exile me again for another ten years in the place I had come from. Mordechai Marder was also buried in this grave. It is said that he could have saved himself, but he would not leave his wife and so was killed together with her.
We both stood there and said Kaddish. Our hearts were like stone and we couldn't even shed a single tear. Heart-broken and mute we returned to Zborow.
We returned to Jezierna. The whole time Azriel would sigh and mumble: My wife and three glowing daughters! And my son, my son, you fell in the battle for Warsaw!
The next day we traveled to Lwow, where Josef Blasser, the step-son of Schwartz the barber lived. He told us that his step-father, Jehoshua Schwartz, had resisted the S.S. when they came to take him, and they had shot him on the spot. He also said that the Ukrainians had requested that Dr. Tenenbaum be saved, since he had been an officer in the Ukrainian army in 1919, when Ukraine was an independent state, but he did not want to [accept]. He had believed in Dyga's promise
While in Lwow, we also learned that a synagogue was still standing and we decided to go there. It was Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). After 12 years I was once again standing in a synagogue full of worshipers. The mood of the holy day prevailed here. I stood and looked in wonder, was this reality or was I dreaming? Jews with beards and peyote (side-curls), a prayer-leader, and the prayers as in the good, old days in the remaining Jewish synagogue which stood in Krakow Square. There were three dates written on the walls, the dates of the last three round-ups in which the Nazis exterminated the Jews of Lwow. There were a few hundred Torah scrolls which had been returned by the local farmers.
I spent the religious holidays in Lwow with Blasser, immediately after which I returned to the Urals. I continued to return to Jezierna every year between 1952-1957 to visit my parents' graves at the ruined cemetery and say Kaddish. And to meet up again with local people and to hear once again the stories of the horrors which had taken place during the war. I went to my town Jezierna six times, and during all those years nothing changed, only the shadows of those murdered and the echoes of the horrors kept me company and would not leave me wherever I went there. Indeed, nothing should be forgotten, everything should be remembered and retold forever.
by Duzia (Dora) Blaustein, New York
Translated by Pamela Russ
|Dora Blaustein, daughter of Czina Blaustein, lives in America today. She lived through the persecutions and the hells of Hitler in Jezierna thanks to a Ukrainian man, Michael Leskof, and his wife who hid her during that time. Here she tells of one of the episodes of those terrible times: the life and murder of the poet Shmuel Yakov Imber at the hands of the Nazis, and tells of the influence that he had on the Jezierna youth at that time.|
|The Editorial Committee|
Shmuel Yakov Imber is considered to be a Jezierner even though he was born in Zloczow. He spent his youth in the town and was married in Jezierna to the eldest daughter of the pharmacist Mintz. She was also a pharmacist. From time to time, they would come to visit their parents in the town.
When he was in Jezierna, one could see him strolling through the streets. He would meet with friendly people, with activists in the Ichud Gordonia organization, and have discussions about their work and the evolvement of their youth organizations. He would go to the local organizations and inform himself about what the youth was reading and what sort of literature interested them. He was pleased that in such a small town the youth was interested in the most recent literature.
The librarian Etke Pulwer would show him books. He would have discussions with Lipa Fisher and Moishe Bik and then they would accompany him to his lodgings. As they walked, they would ask him about his own position in the areas of literature and journalism, about his articles in the Jewish newspapers, and his struggle with Hitlerism and anti-Semitism in Poland. He invited them in, gave each of them a copy of his book Asy Czystej Rasy (Aces of Pure Race), and a copy for the library. He made a tremendous impression. They cherished the book, but along with everything else, the book was destroyed.
The Germans invaded Jezierna. Difficult times began, persecutions, roundups. Imber would hide during these roundups, as did the other Jews. Aside from that, he and his wife were affected by the murder of his father-in-law, the pharmacist Mintz, and his mother-in-law's suicide. The pharmacy continued to be run by Imber's wife.
Even while hiding in his bunker, Imber wrote about these events, and even though he knew that the Germans were looking for him, in his secretly written articles he gave us courage. Reading his writings, we believed that our suffering was not in vain and that the victims had not died in vain either.
Imber also fell into murderous hands. They prepared a horrific death for him.
They were able to kill the man, but the poet Imber they could not destroy.
That which he created will remain forever, just as the light that he gave us during those dark days, that shone like the sun.
by Menachem Duhl
Translated by Ida SelavanSchwarcz
Dora Mantel, who survived Hitler's hell, told many stories about her experiences, but from my conversations with her I saw that she still had a lot to tell, and each time she adds new material to her stories.
In Zborow, Dora put on a white coat and became a nurse in the ghetto. The children used to call her Mrs. Dora. When we write about the Judenrat (Jewish Council), Ordnungs Dienst, (stormtroopers), LagerVerbindungsmanner,(camp intelligence agents), fighters in the ghetto and the partisans, we should also tell how Dora helped the sick, neglected, and unfortunate Jews in the ghetto and helped relieve their terrible suffering.
The Tzifris family lived in a tiny dark room husband and wife and a few children. He had been a cobbler, but now lay paralyzed. His wife lay with a high fever; the neglected children ran around dirty, naked, and hungry. Desolation and need reigned in the tiny room. Dora happened to come in; the children cried and begged for food, the mother looked at her children and wept bitterly and the father gazed openeyed at the ceiling as if help would come from above. Dora rolled up her sleeves, washed the father and the children, brought them some food and medicine for the mother. She visited them every day.
The Rebbetzin. She was a refugee from western Galicia who came to Zborow. Her husband, the Rabbi, died on the way, and their children were murdered in the ‘aktions’ [campaigns to murder Jews]. She lay alone on the floor of a little shed, her head full of lice, her whole body full of sores. Where she lay there was a fetid odor like a corpse repository. She lay there all alone. Whoever opened the door immediately ran away.
Her hair was greyishwhite, her face pale, but she had a majestic appearance. She prayed with her prayer book in hand all day long. Forgotten by God and man, she lay there. Dora came to visit her. She went in and the old woman raised her head, looked at her closely and began to cry. Who are you, my dear daughter? she asked. She had not seen a soul for a whole week.
Dora washed her, brought her medicine, changed her clothing. The old woman would bless her and tell her that for these good deeds Dora would merit life. Her ancestors, rabbis and virtuous men, would bring her case to the Master of the Universe and ask that she live and be well. She repeated this prayer every day.
A week later, during an aktion, the old Rebbetzin was murdered. I can still see her to this day, the old Rebbetzin who prayed for my welfare, and I hear her weak voice, her prophecy that I would remain alive, says Dora. Every year, on the date of the last aktion, I light a memorial candle for the old woman's soul. She blessed me, that I should live, and I was indeed saved from the murderers, Dora continues.
In the Zborow ghetto, there was a hospital for epidemic illnesses (typhus and cholera), in the synagogue. The Torah scrolls, the lecterns, tables and benches had been removed. On the floor, on a bit of straw, lay the sick men, women, and children, one next to the other, like herring in a vat, half naked, with high fever. Every day the Burial Society would drag out the dead bodies, and their places were taken by new victims. It was horrible to see. Lice bit them, fleas leaped over them, bed bugs crept all over, and the helpless sick people lay there. The only Jewish doctor would come in once a day and Nurse Dora a few times a day. She was well known. When she entered, the sick people would stretch out their hands and ask for help. She had a comforting word for everyone and tried to help everyone, but what could she do?
Hundreds of people expired in the dirt and desolation, in the fetid odor, with the smell of dead bodies. The conditions created by the epidemics liquidated a sizable number of the Jews in the ghetto.
Dora also told how the camp commander killed 19 Jews who had committed a terrible crime they had brought food into the ghetto, and she, the 20th person on the list, miraculously remained alive. She believed that the old Rebbetzin, with her rabbinical and virtuous forefathers, had been intermediaries for her survival.
by Menachem Duhl
It was a Tammuz [July] day, 1941. Almost a week had passed since the German-Russian war had broken out. The large Soviet army was awaiting withdrawal. The hospitals were full of wounded. Schools were converted into hospitals. On the streets of cities and towns lay the broken body parts of dead Russian soldiers. You could even see men still burning like torches. Wherever the Russians were retreating and the German SS groups were advancing, the whole roadway was smeared with the blood of Jews. In every city and shtetl, the Germans snatched Jews off the street, took them to a collection center and shot them. Yes, blood and tears accompanied the entry of the Germans into our cities and towns. Everywhere- pogroms and slaughter.
I, along with my wife and daughter had survived the first pogrom in Zloczow. The dreadful news of the murders and what was going on went from city to city, from town to town, from mouth to mouth. The news spread everywhere, until it reached Jezierna. Fear fell upon the Jews, and when the Germans entered Jezierna, they all began to tremble. The atmosphere became restless. On the hillside near Kozowik's property, a large, deep pit had been dug. No one knew what it was needed for The men began to hide wherever they could. The S.S. with their murderous faces and hand grenades were running around like wild beasts, kidnapping Jews on the street and leading them away. It started a panic.
In his home on the estate, Wilhelm Klinger was very concerned. The news of the Zloczow pogrom had already reached Jezierna. He was very worried about our fates, the fate of his daughter, his son-in-law and the child whether we were saved, did we have anything to eat? He was especially anxious about the fate of his granddaughter Julia. He loved her passionately. He thought he heard her cry, she wanted to eat, and we had nothing to give her... His wife Zayne, my mother-in-law, asked him to hide, but he rejected her advice, saying: I know the Germans well, we went hand in hand with them in the war against the Russians and the Italians in 1914-1917; this is the people of Goethe and Schiller. They are soldiers, and soldiers do not murder, they are not thugs. I was also a soldier. He believed in the foundations of culture and humanity.
And then two SS men entered the house, took him out of his home and told him to go with them. He went quietly. It did not even occur to him that he was being led to be killed He saw no one in front of him, not even the pit. With a shout, one of the murderers ordered him to stand still. He stopped automatically. He still did not believe that this was the minute before his death. He still believed in the culture of the people of Goethe and Schiller- a bond that binds together the fighters at the front (combatants). Then the shot came to the base of his head and a kick from behind, and he fell into the large, wide pit. Faith in culture and humanity and in the alliance of fighters went down with him to the grave.
That is how he was murdered, Wilhelm Klinger, a Jew of Jezierna, who believed wholeheartedly in humanity and culture, who committed all his life to doing good deeds for Jews and Gentiles. Indeed, both Jews and Gentiles mourned his death.
His pocket-watch fell into the pit together with him. It was an Omega watch made of silver, bought at the Jubilee Exhibition of 1900. The watch was received as a gift from his grandfather when he joined the army. It came with a blessing- To be protected from all evil and all bad trouble. Indeed, he always kept the watch as if it was an amulet from a rabbi, even taking it with him when he fought the Russians in bloody battles in the Carpathians, when thousands were killed or wounded. He was lightly wounded and taken to a hospital, and he kept the watch with him. Also on the bloody front in Italy, by the Piave River and Isonzo - the watch was with him.
Austria fell. The soldiers scattered to their homes and the watch was well hidden, because there were bandits on the roads who took everything, even peoples' clothes. He returned home safely, to his wife and children. Even when he walked among the Petlura people, who controlled the Ukraine, he hid the watch and guarded it well. And, as stated above, even then, when the murderers shot him and threw him into the mass-grave, the watch was with him. It stopped ticking in the common grave, along with the heart of its owner.
A few days later, when they exhumed and transferred the holy martyrs to the Jewish cemetery, where they were all laid together in a common grave, in a grave of brothers, my mother-in-law, A'H, received the watch - the protector/guardian - which was taken from the grave. In this round-about way, the watch returned to the family, except that the one for whom the watch was a talisman, he did not return; he remained in the grave.
I will now stray from the main topic for another event, which is connected to it.
I have already mentioned that during the first pogrom we lived in Zloczow. We lived in a hiding place and our daughter became ill with appendicitis. My wife Hanya took her to a doctor in the hospital. The doctors there were all cordial. Their opinion was that it was too late to operate on her. You can understand our pain. The doctors were interested in our fate and asked how we had survived the pogrom.
Our neighbor Dr. Ambas, who had also survived the pogrom and was still afraid to go out, stealthily entered our hiding place and treated the child. A few days later, the girl fell asleep, and so did we. We slept for a long time. The first one to wake up was Hanya, with a scream, and she shouted: My father, my father is not alive! They killed him!! In her sleep she dreamed that her father was standing before her, without saying a word. My father is not alive! My father is not alive! she cried, as tears flowed from her eyes. Then we learned that it was true. The Nazi murderers had murdered him. Our child also stirred from sleep. Her condition had improved and gradually she recovered. A few days later my mother-in-law, may she rest in peace, sent a wagon for us, We left Zloczow and moved to Jezierna.
Approximately two weeks after the pogrom we arrived in Jezierna. A few days after our arrival, as I was cutting wood in the yard, I suddenly heard footsteps of heavy boots on the stairs leading to our house and I heard talking in German. They were two German soldiers, a sergeant and a private. I immediately went into the house and they came after me. I went out through the window and they approached my wife and daughter, who had remained at home: Where is the Jew who was in the yard? They began to terrorize, shouting and shooting everywhere. The child began to cry out loud. For nearly two hours the shouting continued. Meanwhile, I ran to the army headquarters and reported what was happening. My intervention was successful. A junior officer returned with me, calmed the thugs and drove them away. I could not believe he would get them out so quickly. During the episode and terror, the German sergeant saw the watch. He liked it and he took it. He put two marks on the table and said: Here, Jews, money for the clock. We do not take without paying.
The junior officer who saved us was named Heinz Lege who came from Hamelin, on the Weiser River. For almost two weeks he dropped in to see us every evening, to protect and support us, because we lived on the outskirts of the town. A few days later I told him that the two thugs had taken the watch that was a special souvenir for us; that we had received it, salvaged from the extermination pit. He groaned and said, The sergeant has gone already; Why didn't you tell me that before? The fate of the watch was to be different. One evening, a few days later, Lege came to our house as usual, sat down, talked a little, and suddenly pulled out the watch, put it on the table and said: Here is your clock. We sat there, stunned to see it; we thanked him and returned the two marks. The watch was in our hands again.
After the war, when we were already in Israel, without his address, I wrote to Heinz Lege of Hamelin, and he received the letter and immediately answered it. Here are a few sentences from his letter:
Hamelin on Weiser. 4th January 1960. Dear Duhl Family! I am highly delighted to hear from you after almost 18 years, since I was released from the army, a long time, and unfortunately a sad time. You began your life in Haifa, Israel When I read the first lines of your letter, there arose in my memory the events of our first meeting in Jezierna near Tarnopol. You arrived one afternoon, bathed in sweat and requested our commander's protection for your family. I happened to be there and was able to take part; I rose and strapped on my weapon to go with you. I accompanied you quickly, dear Mr. Duhl, to your house, which was high on a hill, accessible via stone steps. We got there at a crucial time. As you have already written, there were two German soldiers, one of them a sergeant in the army and the other a private in the railway service, who attacked your wife and tore her clothes and were abusing her, like pigs rioting in your home. When I ordered them to leave and threatened them with my gun, the two louts became frightened and left your house. I stayed with you for a short time and we talked. I promised to visit you in the future, because I saw that your neighbors also caused you trouble because of your possessions. I felt it was my duty to protect you in your time of need. Also, I knew that if the incident came to the attention of my department staff, I would be heavily punished. Luckily, the event was not reported, as I also helped other Jews, because the murder and inhuman procedures went sharply against my conscience and my acceptance. I saw it as my duty to retrieve and return to you the watch that was robbed from you, that remained as a precious memento after the death of your father. Can you tell me about the assistant pharmacist in Jezierna (he meant Mrs. Imber, the pharmacist Mintz's daughter), who took care of my troops when we were sick. Is she still alive...? Are there other people from your town who survived the Nazi terror? As you may remember, we were six brothers, all soldiers, and my only sister who married a half-Jewish man. This brother-in-law, together with his mother, brothers and sisters were sent to a K.Tz.-Lager [labor camp] and were murdered there.
My brother-in-law Robert Kalf, who with his mother landed in the Theresienstadt camp, was released at the last minute by the Americans. But his mother died there. The rest of the brothers and sister were taken to other camps. Of we six brothers, three fell in combat, and that's all because of that damn war... I hope and wish that there will be no more wars and all our peoples will live in friendship and tranquility.
After Lege received my letter, the [Hameln newspaper] Deister-und-Weserzeitung, issue 113/4, published an article on the 6th of January 1960 headlined An Airmail Letter from Haifa, with Lege's story about how he helped us survive during the war in 1941 and what he did for us.
In his second letter of 11 March 1960, Lege wrote:
I repeat my question about whether you are settled well in Haifa. I hope so and I wish you well, and that you are in good health and managing well, .and that you forget all the troubles and worries, and that the people of Israel will reach an understanding with the Arabs. It was in the newspapers and on the radio, that here in Germany there are again problems of antisemitism, of attacks and break-ins of private houses and synagogues, but don't be concerned. Never again will there be another Hitler-style state in Germany. This you can believe - every Jew here will be respected.
Now I quote a few sample lines from Lege's letter: We hope that you have forgotten all the troubles and horrors from there, but can we completely forget all this? It left a mark on our whole lives. The memories remain and will never be forgotten. I know that 25 years later, I can still see the screaming faces of the murderers. I see them even today in my dreams. Hess's S.S. assassins and their assistants come to me often in my dreams; the Aktzias [deportations]; Jews are snatched from the street; I run away . they grab me take me to the assembly point the mass grave is full of dead bodies Standing there is a long line of naked men, women and children soon soon I join the line I become frightened. It was a dream. How is it possible to forget all this?
It was June 1942. Isidore Steinberg, an engineer from Borshchiv was brought to the Jezierna work-camp, and he said that he wanted to see me. The Judenrat approved the meeting. He told me how he happened to land in this camp. He took out a pocket-watch and asked me to hide it, because he was afraid the camp officials would take it away from him, but he could not let that happen. For him the watch was a keepsake like an amulet. He had received it in 1914 when he was an officer in the Austrian army, before being sent into the fighting. When he lay in the trenches, while the bullets whistled around him and people were being killed and wounded, he kept the watch close to his body and survived. He was captured by the Russians and taken to Siberia with many other captive Austrian soldiers. Summer and winter, through mountains and valleys, in forests and fields, past roads, villages, towns they tramped. They went on foot, clothes torn, with rags tied on their feet, always hungry, but the watch was well guarded by him. He believed that he would return alive and well to his wife and child. The revolution broke out in Russia, the prisoners were released and he began to travel again... home to his wife and child, to Borshchiv.
Again he walked through fields and forests, highways and Polish pathways, through cities and towns. Often he had to hide, until finally he reached home. He survived the invasion of the Petlura gangs, the western Ukrainians. He married off his daughter, he had a grandson, and now he fell into the labor camp, and who knows what will happen to him here? He would probably end up like all the Jews in the camp. He asked me to keep his watch, and after his death to send it to his family. I took it from him, but returned it before our deportation from Jezierna.
The Judenrat, in the hope that they would receive considerable compensation for Steinberg, gave him a respectable position- he became an employee of the Judenrat, and a personal servant of Obmann [representative] Lander.
After the war, we met at Gliwice (Upper Silesia). His wife had redeemed him from the camp, a Polish family hid them, and he and his wife remained alive. But their daughter, husband and grandson were killed by the Nazi German murderers; and the ache for their children and grandson they carried with them forever. In America, where they had finally settled, they testified against the commander of the Jezierna camp, Richard Dyga. A few years ago he died there, leaving behind him the watch and his wife, who then immigrated to Israel and lives in an old age home in Netanya . She keeps the watch with honor, A timepiece that could tell us much about the experiences of the life, suffering and death of it's owner.
And now, more about the fate of the photograph.
I studied mathematics at the University of Lemberg and beginning in September 1923 I was a high-school teacher, one year in Zaleszczyki and 5 years in Horodenka. These were the first years of working in my profession. I lived with the students and their parents, sharing their concerns and joys. The towns were close to my heart and years later, when I met a former student or acquaintance from those towns, I was as happy as someone who met an old friend after many years. When I began teaching in Horodenka, the children were ages 10, 12, and 15. During the 4 years that I taught them, they grew physically and developed emotionally. From young boys and girls, they matured into adults with world views and wide horizons. Many of them continued to study, completed high school and spread to the four corners of the earth. Many of them found themselves in Israel, holding valuable positions and becoming useful citizens. The little children of those days became fathers and mothers and perhaps even grandparents. They have worries, but also pleasure and pride from their children and perhaps even grandchildren.
In the year 1929, the first class in Horodenka graduated. In the window of Stefanowitsch's bookstore hung a composite photograph of all the eighth grade school teachers and the graduates of the first year 1929; the first such picture ever published. For a whole week there were parents, relatives and friends of the students, and even ordinary Jews and non-Jews going specially to view the poster. Look - said one boy to another, pointing to the picture -The one in the Slavic shirt is Imek, and that one with the stiff collar and tie is Sala. The second boy replied: And there in the middle is Moshke (Minna). Our picture next year will be nicer, said the seventh year student.
1943, fourteen years later, in Brzezany. The Jews those who were still alive, were taken to the ghettos or labor camps; epidemics, Aktions, hunger and torture swallowed up victims every day, and others who had Aryan papers lived in fear that they might be caught. We lived on Aryan papers during that time. No one was left alive from our family. After a hard winter came spring. The sun began to warm, nature came to life, people went out to breathe fresh air and warm themselves. Except for those few Jews who lived in bunkers, buried underground, or imprisoned in ghettos.
In Brzezany (Berezhany), in a two-storey house of the Ukrainian Cooperative (Sayoz), in the Statistics Department, worked a clerk named Maximillian Duhl, a Karaite. His supervisor, Magister Paslawski, was pleased with his work. The three managers of the cooperative knew that Duhl was working well. They were interested in him and wanted to discover his secret. They knew that he was a high school mathematics teacher and wanted to know if he was indeed a Karaite, or, God forbid, a Jew. The supervisor, Magister P., would say different things every time. Once he told Duh that his own wife was a teacher and came from Horodenka. Then he related that she remembered a teacher from there, who had the same name as me. Some time later he told me about a German a Captain in Brzezany, who was a Polak, Dr.Grobin. He was in charge of the region, supervised several departments, played a large role in administration until it was discovered that he was an imposter, just some Jew, named Dr. Rubin. He ran away.
It was clear that these were proactive attempts. While he was talking, he would look at me carefully to see what impression the stories had on me. Almost every day he would tell me about various incidents that occurred during the Aktions. During those times my skin was covered in goosebumps, while there were shot Jewish martyrs lying in the street and Jewish blood was being spilled like water. I did not even listen or comprehend what he was telling me. My heart ached. My head was with my wife and my child. Had something God forbid happened to them? Will I find them when I return home? In this atmosphere I worked.
In Horodenka during this time, there was a Jewish teacher named David Baumgarten who taught Latin. He was originally from Berezhany. He also appeared in the newspaper picture from 1929. A few days after the Great Aktion the manager came to work happy and in a good mood and told me that he had changed his residence. He had been given a new single-family house with a garden and a yard. The previous tenant of the house was a Jew, a court secretary named Baumgarten. He and his family were liquidated in the last Aktion and my manager received his house. Baumgarten had two sons, he continued to tell me, and one of them was a teacher at the high school in Horodenka. In this dwelling the manager had found a 'Directors' Report of the Polish Horodenka Gymnasium', and in there he found that one teacher was named 'Duhl'. But, he added, you are called Maximilian, and the other one was called Mendel. You are a Karaite and he is a 'Yid', you were a mathematics teacher and he taught Jewish religion. In addition, he found a copy of the composite photograph [from the first graduation year]. But the teacher of religion in the picture does not look like you, he said.
14 years after publication, the picture fell into antisemitic hands and was liable to serve as proof against me.
The war ended. I, my wife and daughter were saved, but the composite picture of the graduates of the first year, 1929, from the Polish high school in Horodenka remained with Magister Paslawski, in Brzezany, in the town where David Baumgarten lies in a mass grave.
Release from prison document issued 27 May 1943 in Berezhany, for Duhl Maximilian, Kunysz Maria, and Yanina Kunysz.
This Duhl family, Menachem, his wife Hanya and daughter Yehudit managed to survive the war using false names on their documents, which identified him as a Karaite and the women as Roman Catholic.
In Eternal Memory
of the Martyrs of the Community of
and surrounding area, may God avenge their blood,
who were annihilated by the Germans
and their collaborators, cursed be they,
during the years of the Holocaust
5701 5704, 19411944
Memorial Day 7 Tammuz
May their souls be bound in the bonds of life
Their memory is perpetuated by the Association of Jezierna Descendants in Israel and the Diaspora
May God remember the souls of our brothers and sisters of Israel, victims of the Holocaust and its heroes and heroines, six hundred tens of thousands souls of Israel, put to death, slaughtered, strangled, buried alive, and the holy communities destroyed in sanctification of the Holy Name.
May God remember their sacrificial binding, together with the sacrificial binding of the other holy ones of Israel and the heroes from days of yore and may their souls be bound in eternal life. They were beloved and pleasant in their lives and in their deaths were not parted; may they be joined together in peace in their restingplace and let us say, Amen.
We remember with reverence
The bravery of our brothers and sisters who offered up their souls for their people in holiness and purity;
The saga of the heroism of those besieged in the ghettos and the fighters who rose up and kindled the fire of rebellion saving the honor of their people;
The heroic and constant struggle of the common masses of the People of Israel for their human identity and their Jewish culture;
The righteous among the nations who endangered their lives to rescue Jews.
Compiled by Lipa Fischer
Translated by Dorothy Wolfthal, New York
Transcribed & edited by Zeneth Eidell, New York
As told by Chava FuchsFeuering
The first World War brought political, demographic and cultural changes. For Jews in the shetls of Galicia life became confining, and younger people began to emigrate to America. Also Jezierna's Jews, those who had family in America, began to make contact with them and to emigrate.
Life was hard for the immigrants. Many had to change their professions and adjust to the ways of big cities, etc. By that time the ‘Chevra Bnei Shloymeh’ (society named for Reb Shloymeleh, of blessed memory) already existed and was of great help to the new immigrants.
It is important to mention several people who were active at that time:
Itzy'alehYitzchak Fuchs was financial officer of the AmericanJewish Congress and was befriended by Stephen Wise.
Mrs. Rosa L. Lipman was President of the Jezierna Women's Society, which worked on an equal basis with the ‘Bnei Shloma Society’.
The following are the names of those who raised money and gave aid for Passover for the Jezierna Jews:
Itzy'aleh Fuchs, Esther Feuering, Simcha Feuering , Yitzchok Lechowitz.
As told by Nuchem (Nathan) Eidel
The ‘Chevra Bnei Solomon’ [legal name of the society] developed extensive activities in economic, religious and social areas. They had a sick fund, their own sanctified ground [cemetery] at ‘Mount Zion’ and ‘Mount Hebron’.
Among those active I remember: Ben Teichholtz, Yitzchok Shonhaut, son of Reb Nahum, Itzyeh Lechowitz, Mrs.Rosa Lipman.
As told by Joseph Charap
I left Jezierna in 1922, but the shetl with its streets, little houses, shops and marketplace still remain before my eyes. In America I received great help from ‘Bnei Shloymeh’. I live in New York and am employed as a salesman. My closest [relatives] in the shtetl were killed by the Nazi murderers.
As told by Moshe Fuchs
I left Jezierna in 1937. On my arrival in New York I was introduced by a friend to ‘Bnei Shloymeh’. At that time it was a flourishing organization, with many members and a nice location. They also had their own doctor. There were also Torah scrolls; one could daven [pray] there, especially during the holidays. That was where we would meet Jezierna mishpocha [kinfolk]. It was joyful; people would sing and dance.
In recent years, conditions have changed. As things are now one generation goes and the next generation comes the elders are fading away and the young people distance themselves. Some are also distant from Jewish tradition. They move to further neighborhoods and work in different professions, mostly in intellectual professions and sciences. 'Business' is no longer an ambition for the young.
The economic situation of the older Jezierna people is as follows: Some are established in government posts or private firms. Among Jezierna Jews there are hardly any ‘big business’ people; independent merchants are also few. The few large companies are being liquidated because their owners are no longer able to manage them. Thus, gradually, the young generation moves on.
The young generation seeks after knowledge and their elders encourage them. They attend universities, acquire free professions, and became doctors, engineers, teachers, economists and simply scholars.
I would like to mention some of them:
Nachum Fuchs' grandchildren are engineers, doctors and lawyers; Itzy'a Zilberberg's are intellectuals; David Blaustein's grandchild is a famous children's doctor; Motel Fischer's grandchild is a lecturer on atomicphysics in an advanced school for atomic research; Moishe Lachman's granddaughter is a student of humanities and will remain at the college to do advanced research; Berl Feiering's grandchild is a college professor. I have only listed a few.
As told by Esther Feiering about Jezierna Jews in the American Army in both World Wars:
In all armies that waged war from 1914 to 1918, Jews participated. Benjamin Feiering, an American citizen (a Jezierner) was an American soldier and fought in France. His brother, Simcha Feiering, an Austrian citizen, fought in the Austrian Army against France. Hence, Benjamin Feiering fought against Simcha Feiering brother against brother. This was not the only case.
In World War II, 19391945, Jezierna Jews fought in the American Army against Japan and against the Nazis. I will mention just a few: Yossi Fuchs, an American soldier fought against Japan became a prisoner of war. He suffered for four years, longing to return home.
In Europe, fighting against the Nazis: Chuna Fuchs, Anschel Lachman, Motel Herzog, and others. They fought facetoface against the Nazi murderers, taking revenge for the Jewish Martyrs. They had the privilege of freeing the Jewish survivors of the death camps.
In America By Joseph Fuchs
By the time I came to America almost all immigrants, especially those from Galicia, including Jezierna Jews, lived in an established neighborhood. The Jezierna Society, which provided material help to all, was also there. As time went on, black people began to move into the Jewish neighborhood. Coexistence was not always ideal many white people, including Jewish people, Jezierna Jews among them, moved away to other areas, far from the populated centers. This disrupted the ongoing work of the Society and weakened its effectiveness. Fewer and fewer people came to the meetings and work became harder for the secretary, Joseph Zilberberg, of blessed memory. The current secretary also struggles with these difficulties and is not able to bring the Society to its previous state. Only the cemetery remains and when a Jezierner dies he receives a Jewish burial.
I myself am also a member of ‘B'nai Brith’. I am also active on a higher level within the organization. As a fighter in World War II, I am also a member of the Jewish War Veterans Organization of the United States.
At the outbreak of the war against Germany and Japan I was mobilized and sent to the Japanese front from 1941 until the end of the war. I lived through very hard times. Barely three years had passed since I left Jezierna. I still breathed Jezierna air. Before my eyes I saw the house where we lived, my family, my friends with whom I was born and raised. And then the dreadful times began: Japan, allied with Nazi Germany, attacked the United States.
And I a Jezierna Jew and an American soldier in the Far East, at war with Japan. Could our ancestors have imagined such a thing could happen?
I was stationed in the Philippines. On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked our base. We were in a battle that lasted until April 8th, 1942 that is, fully four months!
Severe attacks from the east, west, north and south. We were in big trouble without food, without ammunition But we were determined to fight. Daily casualties were almost 80%. But the survivors, I among them, did not surrender. Our battles and our heroic struggles are recorded under the names Bataan and Corregidor names of the halfisland Bataan and the island of Corregidor in the [SouthWest] Pacific Ocean. In those battles I was taken prisoner of Japan.
The treatment of war prisoners in Japan was inhuman: hard physical labor, little food suffering hunger. Many prisoners soon died. Everyone needs to have a little luck. Taken prisoner along with me was a Doctor Bilsky who worked at his calling here as well. Thanks to him I remained in the camp as a tailor. I was put into the sewing workshop as a sewing assistant. The chief tailor was a Texan. He taught me how to work on the sewing machine and that's how I came to remain a tailor by trade.
When American planes began to bomb us, it was decided to move us to a camp in Japan. While we were being transferred I fell off the truck and hurt myself badly, and they moved me to a local hospital. The ships that were carrying the prisoners were bombed by the Americans Japan had not marked these ships to indicate that they were carrying prisoners and of the two thousand, only seventy survived.
When I recovered from my injuries they transferred me to a camp on a Japanese island where conditions were awful. The Japanese guards were demoralized, basically because of American air bombing.
American planes would fly freely. They would drop letters, medicine and even food for us. We never got newspapers. But we began to notice that the guards were starting to act friendly toward us, and were often talking amongst themselves.
From the parachutes that fell I sewed together an American flag, and when we were freed, we marched under that flag. The flag is now in the American War Museum.
I was rescued, stayed alive and received a commendation from the American government.
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