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by Binka Fufer-Friedman
If I can still envision Podwolocyska as if I left
it only yesterday, although forty five years have already passed, it is because
its sights and sounds have been etched indelibly in my memory. As I write
these lines, the personalities, the homes the smells and the entire landscape
envelop me. This is where I grew up, and from where I was cruelly snatched
away, while leaving my entire family buried there. Even the macabre phrase,
which always gave me Goosebumps "One from a town and two from a
family" is too generous. I am all that is left from my family.
When I lived in the town, I never considered it
to be special. It was a town like any other in eastern Poland, the same public
institutions, the same lifestyle, the same type of Jewish population.
But looking back upon it now, I find that
Podwolocyska did have "something" that made it different from the
other towns like it nearby.
Podwolocyska was in southeastern Poland, on the
Russian border. A small river, the Zbroch, was the border. There were about
three thousand residents, about sixty-five per cent of whom were Jewish.
Almost all of the Jews lived in the center of town.
Now the town seems to me to look like a lord who
has come upon hard times. His clothes are still well tailored, and one can see
that its fabric was once well-made and vibrant. That was how Podwolocyska was,
according to the stories I grew up on. This town had known better days, and
fell from grace after World War I, after the Russian border was sealed and all
trade with Russia ceased. Until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, there was
substantial trading between eastern Europe and Russia, and our border town
benefited from this trading.
All of the merchandise headed for Czarist Russia
was unloaded in Podwolocyska. For this purpose, a large railroad station was
built with many different tracks, warehouses, and other buildings. All of
these buildings were built on a grand scale, and after the trading with
Communist Russia ceased, they all seemed too large for our town. There was
also a reformed temple built, a beautiful building built by Jews from Germany,
Holland and other places in Europe, who used to come to Podwolocyska for
business purposes and needed a house of worship during their stay.
So, as I said, when the days of trading with
Russia passed, our town was no longer connected into the world of international
trade and shrunk down to its natural dimensions. However, that period had left
its indelible impression on the town. It had a certain openness and
light-heartedness, and even a touch of grandeur. It had that indefinable
"something", that was lacking in the other nearby towns.
For example, in the other towns, people were not
usually known by their surnames, but rather by their nicknames. The nicknames
were attached to a man according to his occupation.
For example: Moshe the Shoemaker, Haim the Baker, or by a personal attribute
such as Aaron the Lame. I had a friend, a beautiful redheaded girl, in the
nearby town of Gzhimalov. I would visit her during summer vacation. They
called her Dontzia Haim Shulis. Why did they call her this? Because her name
was Dontzia and her father's name was Haim and his father's name was Shuli. And
this little girl carried on her back such a long trail of names. There was no
such thing in our town. Every person was known by his first and last names.
There were other remnants of bygone glory that
now seem to be overdone and unnatural. For example, if someone would walk into
a place he would say "Gatten Tag" (Good day) in German. When he
would leave, he would say "Adieu" in French. That was what remained
of the cosmopolitanism left over from the former days of contacts with people
from all over the world.
The people of the town, especially the youth were
outstanding for their level of education, particularly those who were
self-taught without much of a formal education. This was due to the fact that
they could either not afford to get a formal education or because there was
little purpose in obtaining a formal education. They would never get any type
of job in a public or government institution because they were Jewish.
Our parents were not interested in
"philosophical questions. Each head of household usually had to provide
for a large family and this is what concerned him. His spiritual and social
pursuits were limited to the synagogue. The Hassidim called their house of
worship a "Kloiz" which I believe comes from the English
"close" because it was closed to all but the disciples of a certain
rabbi. There was also a yeshiva where anyone could worship, regardless of
affiliation with any certain rabbi. People usually congregated in the
synagogue on Sabbaths and holidays, when they prayed and sang together. The
Hassisdim were particularly high-spirited, doing what they could to make the
best of their dreary existence.
The young men were in the worst position.
Most of them were highly
intelligent, their feet on the shaky ground and their heads in the clouds.
Everyone dreamed of escaping the stifling atmosphere that was the lot of the
Jews of Poland. The Polish government continuously narrowed the opportunities
open to Jews. Through a series of open or disguised decrees, it pushed them
out of the last field open to them- trade. They would promote businesses owned
by Poles and would dissuade people from buying from Jews. The youth would
search for refuge from its troubles by joining youth groups. Every
organization had a branch in our town. There were very active Zionist groups,
alongside the Bund and Communists. There was even someone who went over to
Spain to fight against Franco, where he died. Everyone identified with
something. The majority belonged to Zionist groups. They would go to training
camps with the intention of eventually moving to Israel. There was some
antagonism among the various Zionist groups, mainly the Revisionists and the
General Zionists and Leftists.
All of this wonderful youth, which longed to
build its future in Israel, was eliminated. We no longer have the majority of
the Jews of Poland, who were poor in means but so rich in spirit.
They deserve to be mourned again, both my family
who is no more, and all of the Jews of my town, who were wiped off of its
After a few days of quiet before the storm, the
Germans entered our town. A few hours after they came, they gathered a group
of Jews, stood them in a line, and shot some of them. Amon this group was my
friend and neighbor, Milik Schneiderman, a handsome boy, who was very well
educated. The person who shot him said that he looked vain and arrogant. This
was our first encounter with the Nazi occupation. From then on the shooting
and sporadic executions continued. Each day a rumor would spread: "So and
so was killed." And these were still random incidents, but too bad for
those it happened to.
At first, when the fact of an execution became
known, all of the Jews would be shocked and feel sorry for the stricken
family. However, after a while, these became a daily occurrence, and no one
could take the time to console others as intensely as they did in the
beginning. In his heart, everyone would thank God that neither he nor any of
his loved ones had fallen victim. That was the beginning of the moral decline,
of the rise of jungle law. Everyone just wanted to stay alive, and the
suffering was so great, that no one could let it sink in. Therefore, he built
a wall around himself that kept himself safe from assaults which did not
involve him directly. As time went on, we became completely impervious. Anytime
we heard of some sort of decree or of somebody's death, there was momentary
regret, but if no one of one's immediate family was involved, then thoughts
would turn to making provisions for one's own survival, or to helplessness and
despair, and to the knowledge that death was making giant strides toward us and
there was nothing we could do. We became apathetic and helplessly, we waited.
For what? For death.
Meanwhile, Hitler's henchmen did not rest, and in
accordance with their plan to destroy all the Jews they could get their hands
on, an new edict was issued each day. In each place they set up a sort of
Jewish committee, the "Judenraat", which was to carry out each edict.
They were to provide "contingencies", meaning quotas of money,
valuable goods, furniture, people. They demanded that the Judenraat provide
anything they might or might not require. And they kept on demanding. For its
part, the Judenraat set up an internal police squad and used it to meet the
Germans' requirements, including filling the quotas for people to be executed.
The demobilization became such that if a family was told to hand over a member
for execution, the children of the family would face a dilemma. Perhaps it
would be worthwhile to hand over an old father because a young son would still
have somewhat of a chance to survive in a labor camp.
It is difficult to describe the tragedies which
occurred in the families. People became like hunted animals. The Judenraat
had long lost its ability to protect the pathetic Jewish population and had
become an instrument of the Nazi regime. There were some members of the
Judenraat who upon realizing their predicament, the fact that they were faced
with a no-win situation, chose to commit suicide. Others remained in order to
save themselves and their families or so they hoped. However, after killing
everyone else, the Nazis killed them too. This all suited their plan, which
was based on scientific research of the human spirit, or rather the Jewish
"inhuman" spirit: to humiliate them until they had lost all likeness
to G-d, and then execute them when they were broken and lacked any strength or
motivation to live.
One clear day, or rather one dark day, an order
was issued which declared that all Jews must leave the town. Our town would be
clean of Jews- Judenrein. Only one closed labor camp was to remain, from which
the Jews would go out to perform forced labor accompanied by S.S. officers.
Only people in good physical condition would remain in the camp.
My parents decided that we would not go to the
camp because not all of the members of our family were in such good shape. We
would leave the town and go to another town which was about 30 kilometers away
from Podwolocyska, where my father had some relatives. Our relatives received
us warmly. We all cried together about the circumstances of our meeting. We
were hunted, penniless and uncertain about what might happen at any time, or
rather we were certain that something awful would soon occur.
There was not much time left to think. The men
immediately got to work digging a hidden underground bunker where we could
hide. We all understood that the Germans had concentrated the Jews in one area
so that it would be easier to execute them.
The following day, I could no longer bear the
anguish and I decided to return to our town to see what the labor camp looked
like. Maybe it was a bit better than here. I went. The camp was being
assembled, but it was not yet closed. It was still possible to enter or leave
the camp freely. I decided to inform my parents and sisters and brother that
it would be better to return here. The following morning I found out that
during the night, in the town where I had been the day the before, where I had
left my family, there had been an "Action". This means that all the
Jews in the town had been rounded up and brought either to the synagogue or the
cemetery and had either been executed on the spot or sent to death camps. I
However, I still harbored a spark of hope.
Perhaps my family had managed to survive in the bunker? And indeed this is
what happened. They had all survived until the following "Action".
However, a substantial part of my family, all of my fathers brothers and
sisters and their families, with five or six children in each family, all as
beautiful as blooming flowers, happy and talented, they were all put to death.
They numbered about two hundred people. I traveled to my parents. At least my
family was still alive. Who wanted to think about tomorrow?
We all returned to our town, to the labor camp.
My mother and my three younger sisters remained
in the camp which was being built, and my father was taken to work on the
bridge which the Russians had blasted during their retreat.
He was held with other Jews in another camp.
Their "camp" was housed in a two story building from which my father
could see the house where we had lived for so many years. I think that the
proximity to his home encouraged my father.
Knowing that my father was sensitive to certain
foods, and also just to be near him, I took the job of cooking for the
laborers. I wanted to be near my father while our world was being destroyed.
All this happened within a number of days, I
believe, for time was no longer broken down into days, weeks or hours. Time no
longer had any meaning. We lived in a type of eternity, while hovering over
the edge. The question was how long we could hold on to nothing to keep from
falling over to the bitter end.
Nevertheless, I will try to make some order out
of it. I believe that it was just a few days. I was with my father for about
four or five days in the labor camp until the announcement came that the camp
would be razed and that we were all to be transferred to one main camp which
was a typical Nazi labor-death camp.
The thought had been festering in my mind that we
should not move into the main camp because with no help from the outside, we
would all surely die. Being the eldest, I felt that it was my duty to do
something unusual in order to save my family, or at least help them. It was a
very vague thought and now in retrospect I understand that that it was a
childish fantasy and I cannot understand how I came up with such an idea. And
here I must believe in Fate. I don't have any other explanation for it. For
who am I to do battle for my life, and run away! She did indeed give me her
birth certificate. I think that she might not have remembered it, or maybe
yes. In any case, a few months or maybe weeks had passed since then, who
knows? Suddenly, on the day that they decided to close the camp, I decided to
It's east to say: escape. It is much more
difficult to do the impossible, the truly impossible.
At that time I was engaged to Shlomo. He was in
a German Prisoner of War camp after having been captured by the Germans as a
Polish soldier. However, he was being held only with Jews. The Poles had been
freed by the Germans. I received letters from him every day. On that day I
received his answer to my indecision, addresses of Polish gentiles I could
contact in case I decided to flee. They lived near his camp and prisoners
would go to them in order to perform tasks and missions which could not be
performed in the camp. Upon my arrival there, he wrote, I was to ask for
Stashik. They were willing to let me stay there temporarily and to notify him
of my arrival in Lublin, which was where his camp was located. I later found
out that he had sent me an additional letter with more instructions to assist
me, but I never received it because I had already left.
One of the people in the group in which my father
worked was Shmulik Katz, someone I knew well because he was a good friend of my
brother's. When he found out that they were planning to close down the camp,
he told me of his intentions to run away. A notable of a nearby village,
Vlashkov was willing to sign a letter, if he could get one typed, stating that
he was a Ukrainian gentile and he would stamp it with an official seal. But he
did not know how to obtain an official letter. I asked him if he thought that
his notable would be willing to sign such a document for me as well. He said
that he was not sure but that he would ask him. So I told him that I would
take the risk of going to my father's lawyer, whose clerk was a Jew who was
still working there and who I had known for years, and I would obtain the
required forms. So I found some pink cardboard, tore it in two, wrote a rough
draft in German, and ran to the lawyer's office, with the gold Star of David on
my sleeve. Luckily, the man didn't ask any questions. I just handed him the
two pieces of cardboard and he quickly typed it out for me. I ran quickly back
to the camp, glued two pictures onto the papers, and Shmulik snuck out to find
his notable. Soon afterward he returned with two stamped documents stating
that we were gentile Ukrainian residents of his village near our town and that
we had left the town. This detail was important because in order to register
in a new place I had to inform them of where I had left.
So far I had a personal document and a birth
certificate for the same name, the name of my friend Joanna Koloshivska. It is
important to mention that at that time in our area, no formal documents were
issued to the residents. Therefore, any piece of paper with an official seal
on it was valid, if they chose to respect it, of course. It was a good
beginning. But what next?
The movement of both Jews and gentiles was
restricted. The gentiles had to present a travel license to the clerk at the
train station because there were only a limited number of cars available.
Everything had been seized for the war effort. For the Germans the residents
of the captured territories were irrelevant. They hadn't come this far to be
nice to them. They were enemies, and the Germans wanted to feel their
superiority. This pertained to their treatment of the Poles. Forget their
treatment of the Jews. The end of their physical existence was just a matter
of time. But I concentrated on their treatment of the other populations
because I was going to escape as a non-Jew, and I was subject to their other
restrictions, with the small addition of me being who I was. So what should I
do? How would I overcome all of these obstacles?
Yanka again. I went to her and I told her,
"Yanka, I have decided to escape. How should I go about it? Perhaps you
will buy me a ticket to Lublin and I will go straight to the train at night?
This was also extremely difficult because every non-Jew in town knew me. The
population around us was ruthless and bloodthirsty. Their only comfort in
their own suffering was the bitter fate of the Jews around them. The bitter
hatred which they had been fed for generations by the Church was now coming to
a climax. They were already willing to forgive the Germans because of what they
were doing to the despicable Jews.
Yanka said tome, "Don't worry, I'll take
care of it." At that time she had a friend, I think a boyfriend, who was
an officer in the Ukrainian police. He knew a bit about me as well, that I was
in touch with her, but he turned a blind eye because he loved her. That
evening, she sent him to buy a ticket to Lvov. That was the farthest place to
which you could purchase a ticket from our town. I would have to buy an
additional ticket from Lvov to Lublin. And besides, it was wise to cover my
tracks, for no one bought a ticket from our town to a place as far away as
Lublin. A ticket from our town to Lublin is like buying a ticket to the moon.
In those days people were born, lived and died within a hundred mile radius.
How can I describe the fear of this adventure
which was sure to fail because there were so many obstacles to be overcome?
Each obstacle was a jump to my death! And what about the heartbreak of leaving
behind my mother, father, sisters and brother? They were my whole world!
Just for them, to save them, I came up with this whole plan. Just the
dedication and love for them which was so deep, could get me take these insane
actions. Why should I see myself as different from the others? If we must
die, I will be with them! But there was something which did not let me rest.
What did I care? To die here or to die there, at least I tried!
Now I believe that there was a lot of naivete and
stupidity involved, and perhaps a lack of understanding of what I was about to
do. The fact is that of all the residents of our town, just one other woman
and I were saved in this way. Of course we did not know about each other. We
met up after the war.
I told my father of my plans. He said "Try.
Maybe you'll be lucky. You see what is about to happen here." I went to
my mother in the other camp. I said good-bye to my mother and my sisters and
brother. It is needless to express our feelings. We knew that this was the
last time we would see each other. My mother said "Where will you go, my
child? To a hostile and strange world? Stay with us for maybe we will be
spared as laborers."
I did not stay. Trembling with pain, fear and
uncertainty about the near future, I went to Yanka's mother's house. She lived
in the same building as Yanka but in a separate apartment. We had hidden all
our valuables there, except for silver and gold, which Father had saved for a
"dark hour". Perhaps he could use it to buy back our lives. I went
without money because it was buried in the camp in the ground and Father
couldn't get to it at that moment. I only took a small amount of money with
me. I put on a fur coat, even though this was risky because the Germans had
confiscated all of the fur coats which belonged to the Jews for their soldiers
who were freezing in the Russian snow on the eastern front. If they caught a
Jew with fur, he was sentenced to death. I went on my way. Since I had
decided to disguised myself, I decided to go all the way. What difference
would it make if they shot me for wearing a fur coat or for being Jewish? At
least I'd be warm. I did not return to the camp.
Shmulik Katz wanted us to travel together. I
told him the time the train would be leaving, but I never met up with him.
Under the cover of night and darkness, Yanka and
I, with her police officer following behind us, set out for the train station.
He bought a ticket to Lvov. This was the farthest destination to which any of
the residents of our town ever traveled in order to buy wholesale merchandise,
and to take care of most important matters. The first stop in Lvov was
Podzamche which was close to the town center, and it was my first destination.
I boarded the train together with all the other
passengers and I turned up my fur collar and pulled my hat over my eyes. It
was dark because there were no lights on the train. I sat in the corner
surrounded mostly by Polish women who had been making fast money by snuggling
goods into the big cities. They would hide the goods on the most intimate
parts of their bodies so that when the Germans searched they would not find
them. The Germans would conduct searches at the train station and if they
caught a smuggler, the goods would be seized and the smuggler would be arrested
and badly beaten. So practically everyone on the train was anxious.
During the journey, a conductor came in and asked
to see tickets and identity cards. I showed him both and there was no problem.
I cannot express what I felt then. It was still dark and the conductor used a
flashlight to check the documents. A few hours later, the sun began rising and
a few rays of light penetrated through the cracks in the window bars. My heart
began to pound because I knew all of the people sitting around me, and not all
of them were fond of me. One had studied with me at school and she was a true
anti-Semite. By now everyone was looking at everyone one else because after
having lively conversations with those around them, they wanted to know with
whom they had had the pleasure. Suddenly, despite the fact that my collar was
up and my hat was pulled low and just my nose was showing, I felt all of their
eyes upon me. They were so stricken with amazement that they looked as though
they had turned to stone. What was a Jew doing there? I felt a chill run down
my spine and heard their whispers and then I understood that this was my last
stop. It is interesting that I was not at all afraid. I had anyway been
condemned to death. I just felt sorrow for my parents and siblings who would
hear that I had been shot just a few hours after I had left them. I felt my
heart constricting and I felt as though I was already dead. I thought to
myself, "Did I really expect to be able to escape from such a small
place?" I had just left and I was already dead. I sat there stone-like,
with my life passing before my eyes like a kaleidoscope, and I could feel only
the sorrow of my family after finding out that I had been killed.
Maybe this will ring false to the reader, How
could it be that before I am to be executed I could only feel sorry for my
family and not for myself? Man is but true to himself! I must admit that I
loved my family more than my life and the thoughts of them were more
overwhelming than the thoughts for myself.
Even now, thirty six years later, I distinctly
remember that pain which cut through me, my thoughts and emotions, like a
razor. Time erased nothing, nor did it dull the pain. It is all as if it had
just happened a moment ago.
As I was sitting there, the conductor approached
me and whispered to me that the women around me have recognized me as a Jew and
that they intend to hand me over to the Gestapo in Podzhame. However, being
that they will be occupied with their own business of not getting caught with
smuggled goods, I should stay close to him and walk behind him and get away.
Then he walked away. I thought to myself that they left it all up to him.
When I get off the train he will lead me straight to the Gestapo. The picture
was becoming clearer, but there was nothing to be done.
We arrived at the station. The passengers didn't
even glance towards me because they were busy with their own matters. They had
already handed me over to the person who had the time to deal with me properly.
We walked together silently. In a flash I thought that maybe he really did
not intend to hand me over. I decided to attempt an innocent ruse. I said to
him, "excuse me but I must use the rest room." If he would prevent
me from doing so, I was lost because he didn't want to lose sight me so he
could hand me over. But he said, "It is here. I will wait for you."
I went in. When I came out he was still waiting. I thought that maybe the
Gestapo headquarters was a ways off, and that is why he waited. I had no
choice but to go on with him. We did not speak. Our documents were checked as
we left the station and then we got onto a street car. He paid for the
tickets. He was even going to pay for the trip to Gestapo headquarters! We
traveled. I began reviewing all his actions to myself and I thought that maybe
he did not wish to harm me. Why would he have to drag me far away? How could
I have thought that there would be no Gestapo at the train station! I looked at
the man sitting next to me on the trolley car. His features were dark and he
appeared to be around forty, wearing his conductor's uniform.
At some point he said, "We're here".
He took me to an apartment in a building with several stories. There was a
woman there about his age and they kiss. She must have been his wife. He
introduced me as a passenger on the train who was attacked. He asked me if I
have documents and I realized that he was my guardian angel. I did not hide my
intentions from him and I showed him my documents. He said, "Okay, stay
here and eat lunch with us, rest up and calm down. I will buy a train ticket
for you to your final destination." I thanked him and I told him about
my doubts about him all along and he smiled a bit and said, "I saw and I
understood everything. But I didn't say anything because I knew that this all
seemed too suspicious for you to believe."
I felt that there was something mysterious about
this home, some kind of camouflage. Either he was Jewish and his wife wasn't,
or vice versa. I did not ask, and we discussed nothing but details pertaining
to my journey. I remained there until the evening. In the evening he brought
me a ticket to Lublin and a Zhatun.
A Zhatun was a badge which Ukrainians wore on
their coats in order to identify each other. The Ukrainians were considered
allies of the Nazis because the Nazis had promised them independence. Now they
were serving in the Nazi forces and performed any tasks required of them and
participated extensively in executing Jews in the labor camps.
I set out equipped with my Ukrainian symbol,
train ticket, birth certificate in the name of Joanna Koloshivska and a sort of
identity card. I was accompanied by my savior who must have been sent by G-d
himself for it defied the imagination. I call him "My Savior" for I
cannot recall his name, if it really was his name. He certainly was with the
Resistance, although I don't know which one.
My savior wished me a successful journey. He was
nervous. He implored me not to speak with the other passengers for although I
spoke excellent Polish, my Ukrainian accent gave me away, so why bring
attention to myself? It was night now and I could pretend that I was sleeping.
And when I arrived safely, would I please drop a note to an address he quickly
I did as he instructed. In the morning I arrived
in Lublin. I reached the address which my fianc? had sent me. A couple of
elderly Poles were working in the entrance. He was a cobbler. I told them
that I had been sent by Stashik. That was the code. They asked me in and
told me to wait around as if I had come to have shoes repaired, and in the
meantime someone would certainly come in who would deliver the message to
Shlomo my fianc? that I had arrived.
I waited. Some time later, two guys from our
town, who had been in the youth movement with me, came in, Isio Zlochover ( may
his memory be blessed) and Dishel (may his memory be blessed). They told me to
move to a small hospital which apparently was run by he POWs, although Germans
sometimes came in for surprise inspections. At the hospital I found some other
guys from our town, one was my sister's friend, another was Laufer (may his
memory be blessed), my brother's friend, another friend, and even a relative,
Herman Rotter. We were very happy to see each other. There was no cause for
rejoicing, for their lives were already being overshadowed by death.
Shlomo came in the evening. Needless to say, we
were ecstatic to see each other again after four years in which we hadn't dared
hope to see each other again. Our joy was brief. He told me that the Lublin
ghetto had already been razed and reduced to ashes. The only Jews remaining
in the city were those in the POW camp and something could happen to them at
any time. My luck had not improved. If I had arived a few days earlier, he
could have stayed with me and also provided me with everything I needed because
at that time they had means. They had been put to work in the ruins of the
ghetto after the Jews had been shipped off to the crematoriums, and among the
ruins they had found legendary treasures.
Shlomo was the deputy commander of that camp.
They decided to use the treasures to buy weapons and join the partisans in the
forests because they knew that their own camp would be eliminated in a short
time. Although they were prisoners of war, the Geneva convention did not apply
to them, of course, because they were Jews.
Later on I found out that they had somehow made
contact with an arm of the AK underground movement. One of their groups were
partisans in the forests. Our guys from the POW camp, who were in charge of
guarding the weapons among other things, suggested that they join the
partisans, bringing along their own weapons. Of course only some of the guys
were in on the secret, among them the guys from our town. Their plan was to
escape from the camp in small groups so that their escape would go undetected.
And indeed the first group escaped with its weapons into the forest of Lublin,
to a spot designated in advance. The Poles lined them up and mowed them down
with a machine gun that they had just been given by them. Only one guy managed
to escape and get back to the camp somehow and warn the others. The Poles
wanted the weapons but not the Jews.
The plan was scratched. Time was getting short.
Everyone tried to save himself.
8I had recently heard from people who participated in recent missions to Poland
that the Poles claim that they fought alongside Jewish freedom fighters. That
is why I am relating what I knew about the AK.
Out of all of our POW's only Herman Rotter
survived. Shlomo Wallach, my fianc?, escaped to Warsaw later on, to me. There
he met his death a year later along with a group of Poles who were executed by
chance during the Polish armed rebellion in Warsaw.
I will tell more about that later....
One day I returned form work and my landlady,
Mrs. Nyko told me that I had a visitor. He had been waiting for a while. I
froze. What kind of visitor could I have? A visitor meant catastrophe. A
visitor meant SS. I walked in feeble-legged and dizzy. It was Shlomo. I
froze again. Look, before me stood a Jew, an item which was disappearing from
the world. Poor little persecuted me had to find a solution for him as well.
I was happy- he was with me! I was upset- what would I do with him? I was
helpless. Time was closing in. We couldn't just sit there because the walls
had ears. What should I do? First of all I had to pretend in front of Shlomo
that all was well. After all, he had come out of hell, and even if he had come
into my hell, I did not want to fill him with despair. I couldn't let him be
stricken by the horrible reality of things when he just arrived. I introduced
him to my landlady as my brother-in-law, my sister's husband, and I whispered
that he is in touch with the Polish AK and that things were hot for him now and
he had to hide from the Germans for a while. I don't know if she believed me ,
but since she really liked me and treated me as one of the family, she agreed
to hide him for a few days.
One day my landlady, Mrs. Nyko told me that they
had a warehouse for selling coal on the other side of town and that ther was an
office, a single room next to it. Somehow we would get Shlomo there. And she
believed that no one would think of looking there. He could stay there for a
while until things cooled down a bit.
This was the time that the "Little
Ghetto" was being razed. The house on Trauda Street, where I lived was
across the street from the gate of the Little Ghetto. The smoke from the
burning houses filled our house. I felt as though I was being burned as well,
but I had to pretend I knew nothing about it. For everything must go on as
During these years I always had a tangible
feeling that death was sitting on my left shoulder. It seemed like a large
bird which would sometimes peek into my eyes with its big bulging eyes. I
became so used to the feeling, that I actually felt the presence of the bird of
death on my left shoulder. I lived with death and I became so used to its
presence that it became part of me. It sat on my shoulder and I was not afraid.
The following day a German patrol appeared. They
took all the people out of the houses and concentrated them all in a field,
separating the men from the women. I stood in a row with the women. Shlomo
stood with the men a bit beyond us. Nyko stood next to him. I told Nyko
"Take care of Shlomo." It was a stupid thing to say. Did anyone
have the power to take care of himself, let alone anyone else, when faced with
certain death? I put on my glasses because I am near-sighted, in order to get
a better look at him. It was clear to me that I was looking at him for the
last time. I turned to stone. I did not feel fear, just deep sorrow for
Shlomo who would be taken away, and who had fought in vain to survive for all
He went along with the group of men and I never
saw him again. I know that they shot the whole group, including Nyko. The
only thing that I don't know is if he died with all the others or if he had
been identified as a Jew and subjected to additional torture.
They let the women go. My first impulse was to
run to the Gestapo to see if they had taken him there, just to be with him and
see him one last time. I knew where the Gestapo headquarters was. It was next
to the hospital where I worked. Many Gestapo officers even knew me because
they would see me when they needed medical attention. Deep in my heart I felt
that I could save him from there. I took out a white handkerchief and stuck it
on a stick to show that I did not belong to the rebels, and I started to run
towards the Gestapo. I passed through a hell of bombs and shooting, and bodies
all the way. Their belongings were strewn about. It was a horrible sight.
I ran for about an hour a near eternity, until I
reached the Gestapo headquarters. There was no sign of the group of men. I
started to ask around in the hospital if anyone had seen a group of men but
either their response seemed untruthful or I did not want to believe them so as
not to lose hope of finding Shlomo again.
Yes, yes, this too happened. I never saw Shlomo
again. Years later, when I was already living in Israel, I was told by Nyko's
daughter with whom I had corresponded, that all the men were killed and buried
in a mass grave. On Memorial Days she visits the grave of her father and
Shlomo, bringing flowers and saying prayers.
I remained alone.
And finally the day has arrived- I am liberated!
Liberated from my entire family, my beloved
fianc? and any connection with my past.
All these years I wanted to witness the German
defeat, and I did, the moment I had longed for had arrived. The Red Army had
progressed quickly, faster than expected, and had surprised the Germans and
massacred them in battle.
After the liberation I felt divided in two. Half
of me felt all the emotions and the realistic half went into action.
First of all, I felt a need to be with Jews. I
knew that the city of Lublin had already been under Polish rule for a while and
that life there had become more or less normal, so I decided to go to Lublin.
There were thousands of people at the train
station. I stood in the line which was kilometers long. After waiting for
about an hour, one of the station employees from my town recognized me and
stuffed me into a train car through the window.
I got to Lublin in the afternoon. I saw Jews. I
approached them and asked them if any institution exists in the city for making
initial arrangements. They referred me to the Joint Distribution Committee. I
registered myself and received a card in the name of Bina Popper. For the
first time in years I went back to being myself. Afterward, I went to the
Ministry of the Interior to register in the population registry so that I could
eventually begin the procedures for leaving Poland.
At the Ministry of the Interior there was a long
list intended to help those who were seeking friends and relatives. I
approached the clerk and asked her to look up my name. She looked through the
list and surprisingly found my name. Herman Rotter was looking for me and left
his address in the city of Lodz. Herman Rotter, who was my friend from the
youth movement, had been hiding out in a bunker in Warsaw with his wife and
another couple. For much of the time I had been in touch with his wife who had
obtained false documents like mine, but the men were in hiding all the time.
Toward the end we stopped seeing each other for security reasons so that I had
lost contact with them. And here they were living in Lodz.
When I found out that someone was looking for me
it warmed my heart a bit for there was someone left in the world who took an
interest in me. So I packed my meager belongings and went to Lodz. I found
Herman sharing a large apartment with the Polish family which had hidden him in
Warsaw. They had moved into a large apartment which was fully outfitted after
its German inhabitants had run off with dinner still on the table. Of his two
rooms, he gave me one. He had already managed to purchase a machine for making
A few weeks passed and many Jews were coming to
Lodz. A Jewish community was already formed. But everyone intended to move to
the West. Training stations were set up to get people ready to go to Israel.
The first buds of culture began to bloom. One day I saw notices hung for a
show by the great actress Diana Blumenfeld, the wife of Yunis Torkov- in Lodz.
It was a free performance intended to give all the surviving Jews a chance to
get together and feel a sense of togetherness. Everyone talked of Blumenfeld's
impending arrival. Everyone wanted to here some Yiddish and taste the taste of
the old life.
I walked into the auditorium. Diana Blumenfeld
was singing Yiddish folk songs. And something happened to me here. She sang a
song that my grandmother used to sing to me. It was a sort of long ballad
which my grandmother had sung for years. And here suddenly this song... I
really couldn't understand why it had been included in the repertoire, and the
first song yet. I sat like a stone. Perhaps it sounds melodramatic, but I
felt that this song was like a greeting from my childhood and that it was meant
for no one but me. It was a song which my grandmother sent me through Diana
Blumenfeld so that I would not feel so alone and miserable. A feeling of calm
enveloped me as if I had come back into physical contact with my past and with
my entire family which had been snatched away...
During the intermission I heard a loud cry:
"Binka! Binka!". Who in this far-off city, among all of these
people, could be calling me? Perhaps I was hallucinating? No, it was really
happening. My cousin Gusta from Skalat, who had hidden in the forests with the
partisans, had survived and married a guy in the forests, Munku Jorisch from
Podwolocyska...It was a moment of such joy, as if she had fallen from the sky.
Now my life had some meaning...
The Story Of
by Emil Kon
about 1927-28, I had been a member of the "Bnei Akiva" movement .
There were about 40 or 50 of us boys and girls and we were one of the nicest
groups in town. I remember that time, despite the poverty, I remember my
friends Mechele and Berele and Nahumke and Mendele and others. Until the war
began, we were together with the Russians.
the Russians came into our town, I became somewhat of a "Nachalnik"
(a person with influence) among them. For two years, life went on in our town
without any major shocks.
the Germans came in, the situation changed dramatically. At first, everyone
began to disperse in all directions, to find shelter. Some wandered to the
USSR (Russia. I stayed behind because I could not leave my father (may his
memory be blessed). He argued that we would have a hard time but it would be
worse to wander through Russia.)
the first days of the construction of the camp on Ehrengasse, the main street,
the fourteen most distinguished Jews were brought out. They were badly beaten
and then thrown into puddles. It was then that we realized the magnitude of
the catastrophe which had befallen us.
we went off to work on the bridges in town we found out that there would soon
be a pogrom. My brother Mendele ran out to warn me and while he was running,
he was shot to death. Alone, I took his body on a wheelbarrow to the cemetery
and together with Vasily the undertaker, I buried him. I erected a tombstone
After a while the expulsions began. Some of the
people were shipped off to Zbaraj and some to Skalat. In Podwolocyska itself,
they began putting together a camp on Ehrengasse. They fenced off the street.
This was all run not by the Germans, but rather, unfortunately, by the Jews
themselves. Since being in the camp meant appearing on the list of its
inmates, I decided, after consulting with others, to remain on the Arian side,
that is, to hide.
During the first months I hid in the attic of our
house. I put a bathtub in
there and filled it with water for drinking and cooking. I took 5 or 6 bags of
wood coal from Yanchu Becker. I stayed there for about six months. In the
meantime it had become clear that the war would go on for a long time, since
the Germans were progressing deep into Soviet territory.
Russian citizen, who had come to town with the Russians and remained there, was
still living in the house at the time. No one had been willing to host this
man in their home, but my father had done so and he remained in our home. He
helped us a lot during this time.
a while I moved to hide with Pinye Rosenblum who owned the bathhouse and his
son Yankele. I remained with him there for a while. A while later someone
told on us. They came in and searched and luckily we were not found. I was
forced to find a new hiding place. I went to the Fally forest where there was
a quarry. I brought along my father and Pinye with me and we lived there in
inhuman conditions. After a while, I realized that the unsanitary conditions
made it impossible to remain there, so I went to the camp, but I did not
register. I received some food in exchange for various items.
day, when I was walking along the street near Targobiza, Lodek Lorber, of the
Jewish police approached me, along with someone else whose name I do not care
to remember. He grabbed me by the collar and said "You bum! This is how
you want to stay alive?" I turned around and took out a small knife
fashioned from scissors and I wanted to hurt him. The other guy stopped me
"Dear G-d! Don't do it!" Then I said to Lodek "Be on your way.
Stay out of my face or else I'll kill you like a dog!"
those days even the gentiles called me a Jewish hero. Then the Greenhauts
asked me to take their daughter Paula with me and save her. I couldn't accept
the responsibility because I myself had no shelter and no home. I also knew
that after my encounter with Lorber that he would tell the camp authorities
about me and that I could no longer show my face in the ghetto.
decided to buy a pistol and fourteen bullets for ten dollars so as not to be
taken alive by the Germans. One day I was walking in the field behind the
houses in the direction of the village of Zadnishovke. A gentile woman from
Zharbolivke passed by and she noticed me. She ran to the village quickly and
suddenly a Ukrainian policeman appeared. At that moment I thought to myself,
"This is my end." But I did not want to die and I just thought of
staying alive at any cost. I decided to shoot the policeman when he got a bit
closer. Suddenly he yelled out, "Shmilek, is that you. You're lucky you
met me. A woman came to tell that there was a Jew in the fields." It was
a Ukrainian of my age who had studied in school with me. His name was Bogdan.
Then he added, "Why don't you try to save yourself, you see what is going
on around you! There have already been two executions, one in Zbaraj and one
in Skalat. Many Jews have already been murdered and Rabbi Babad and his entire
family were slaughtered in his home."
policeman, Bogdan, had given me an idea. There was one gentile called Vladek
who was back on vacation from Austria (he had been sent there to work) and he
did not wish to return. Perhaps I could use his name and his work card. I
could go in his place. And if the Gestapo should look for him, for he had
promised to work for five years, then he would hide in his village of
Zadnishovska. And I would go in his place.
The policeman promised to discuss it with him and
so he did. Imagine! A Ukrainian policeman of the Bandaras wanted to help me!
Apparently he considered me "his Jew".
the evening I met up with Vladek in order to do the deal in exchange for a
bicycle and some other things he wanted. His mother came in and messed up the
whole deal. She claimed that if the Germans found out about it, they would
hang them all. She took her son's papers and put them in a box in the room.
At that moment I opened the window and left it open, without their noticing. I
was going to get those documents no matter what.
left the house with nothing. I hid in a farmer's attic until midnight. Then I
got down and went to Vladek's house, entered through the open window and took
out the documents. I left a note saying that he could get the bicycle from the
Vyckovski family. That night I made it to Skotzen the photographer. He glued
my picture to the document, polished it and filled in the missing stamp.
afterward, my wanderings began. On the train I met gentiles who knew me. They
fled from the train car when the documents were checked. In Krakow they took
me off the train to check my religious affiliation. I made a successful
attempt at avoiding the inspection because it could have been fateful for me.
I fled and hid in one of the basements in the area. They searched for me for a
long time but they did not find me. Afterward, I left the basement and walked
to the train station after the Krakow stop. I got on a train and headed for
Vienna, I used Vladek's papers of course. Vladek had worked in one of the
mines. Again I was faced with a problem. How could I go back to the mine
where he had worked? They were sure to know that I was not Vladek. There I
met up with a Yugoslavian prisoner of war and together we planned to cross the
border into Switzerland.
we reached the border we realized that we must cross great mountains and that
any rock could trip us up. And that was what indeed happened. Shots were
fired and the Yugoslavian was apparently killed and I was arrested. They
transferred me to detention camp in Lanzdorf. The detainees were of various
nationalities, including Poles, but there were no Jews. I might have stayed
there until the end of the war, except that one guard had suspected that I was
Jewish. My mistake was answering all the questions in German. I had served as
an interpreter for about a month, when my file was submitted for
clarifications. The suspicion that I was Jewish was repeated. They asked me,
"Are you Jewish?" I answered, "No." They told me to
pull down my pants. I said, "There's no need I admit that I am a Jew and
that my only crime is that I am Jewish. Shoot me now and save a lot of
suffering! "No," they answered. "You're going to the
Internierung camp. We Austrians do not kill people." The camp they were
referring to was Auschwitz and only Auschwitz so that they would do the work
properly. "Just don't tell the others and sign this statement saying that
you're a Jew. You will be transferred to the camp and you will be held there
until the war is over." (The camp was guarded by Germans). This was
Zuchthauslager where people who had been judged would not run away again. There
were many Poles and other nationals there who did not want to work and who and
tried to run away from the work and had then been arrested and detained in the
camp. My problem was that there were Polish nationalists there. When they
became aware of who I was, they started to blame me as if I had shot and killed
German prisoners of war. There was one Pole who pleaded with them saying,
"They're going to hang you too! What do you want from him? " Their
answer was that they wanted to avenge the death of their brothers in Katin.
There was one German there named Katchka, who
always used to call me "Hallelujah, come here." When I came up to
him I got some soup and 70 grams of bread. He used to practice boxing on me.
I stood there and took the beating without complaining. I was young and quite
strong. As long as I lasted, he would keep punching . I couldn't punch back,
so I fell to the ground and he was happy and poured water on me. This happened
every day for a while. One day a Gestapo man came to the camp to get political
prisoners from the camp. He came precisely at the time that Katchke was
hitting me. He asked him, "What's this for?" So Katchke told him,
"This is Hallelujah." He asked again, "Who is he?" and
Katchke answered, "He is a Jew and he is Hallelujah." "Where
did he come from?" And Katchke told him how I had been arrested. The
Gestapo man said, "I am taking him with me." I thought to myself,
"This is my end," but he was really my savior because Katchke would
have killed me within a week with his punches. There were days that I would
not come out to get the beating, and then they would bring me out by force. I
also stopped going out for food (they handed out food in the street while we
were standing on line), because he would pull me out of the line and start
punching me, claiming that he was practicing his boxing.
was transferred from the camp along with some others in a "lietuczke"
standing up, six on each side. There was a German prisoner, apparently an
intellectual, and he asked me why I had been arrested. I told him that it was
because I am Jewish. So he asked how they knew that I was Jewish. I told him
that by us it was easy recognize a Jewish man. He said, "You are stupid.
30% of all Germans have been circumcised and this is true for other
nationalities as well. If you want to stay alive you must claim that it was
done against your will." His words surprised me greatly. Hearing such
talk from a German! I asked him what I should do. He said, "Tell them
that you were born from a mixed marriage, that your mother was Jewish and your
I was interrogated, in Vienna, they asked me if I was Jewish. I answered in
Polish, "What? What?", pretending that I didn't understand German.
So the interrogator approached me and hit me so hard that I fell over into a
nearby bowl of water. When he understood that I could not be interrogated in
German, he called in a woman who spoke Czech. He told her to ask me why I
signed a statement saying that I was Jewish and now I claim that I'm not. I
told her that I did not want to tell the interrogator the truth but I would
tell her everything. My father was Polish and my mother was Jewish and
everyone used to call me Jew. I was in the church and was brought here from
there. I am a Christian, tell him, who is sick of living and would rather be
killed. I can't take any more interrogations. My words seemed to soften her.
She understood my situation and explained it all to the interrogator
good-heartedly. He believed it and said that my chances had just improved on
condition that I was not a criminal. From that moment he treated me
differently. The interpreter took pity on me and gave me a handkerchief to
wipe away the blood on my face. Then they took me to the prison at 79
Elizabeth Street in Vienna.
were Poles in this jail as well. But they themselves were pathetic. They
removed corpses daily because they received only 70 grams of bread and a bit of
liquid, and those who had been incarcerated for months, weakened and died.
about a week or two, I felt that I was slowly dying. It was worse than taking
a bullet. One day I noticed people wearing yellow Jewish stars in the hallway.
I found out that these were Jews from Vienna. Their faces looked better than
mine, their conditions were okay and they even had a radio. These were Jews
with Austrian wives who had left them after they were arrested. One of the
guards said that their conditions were good because their families in Vienna
helped them a lot. I felt that this might be my life preserver.
I asked the guard to put me in the cell with the
Jews. "Yes," he said, "this could be done." The next day
I was really transferred. I got clean sheets, normal clothes, they cut my hair
and deloused me. I was in a cell with 17 Jews. Each one got a tray with soup,
bread and potatoes. They told the community in Vienna about me and asked for
extra food to be sent in. And in a few days I had gotten back to normal. That
was when I began planning my escape.
knew that I was still in danger. Even on the outside, everything was strange
to me. But who could tell? When they would take us out twice a day to be
bathed I noticed that on the other side of the semi wall on the seventh floor
there was a lightening rod. At first I though- just a rope and I don't know
where it ends. After I had reached the conclusion that the rope could help me
get down, the idea gave me no rest. The rope was 30 centimeters from the wall
and it would be difficult for me to jump and grab it, and the prison bars were
made of iron. My plan was to remain in the hallway until the night and then
get into the guards' lavatory which was on the side of the lightening rod. The
lavatory was blocked off for two meters so that the prisoners could not get in
there. I had to jump over the barrier and stay in the lavatory and just pray
that none of the guards decided to go to the bathroom that night. In the
bathroom there were wooden benches which were attached to the floor with iron
bolts. My plan was to take out this part of the bolt, which was quite easily
done, and use it to take out one or two of the bars in the bathroom. I would
use them to get hold of the lightening rod.
started working on the plan on Tuesday and intended to execute on Friday, which
is considered a good day. On Wednesday, they brought in another Jewish guy
into our cell, a young man from Koskov, from the Zionist Youth. This had been
his third mission leading groups of young people through Austria to Hungary in
an attempt to save them. This time he had been caught and detained with us.
He could tell immediately that I was Jewish and approached me and told me what
was happening in the world outside. This was the end of 1943. It had been
snowing and raining on and off. I told him about my plan, adding that the
chances of pulling it off were minute, about 20-25%. "And if you ask me
how- I won't tell you." I answered him, "I will only let you know at
the last minute."
is another story about and Austrian German who had been sentenced to death (for
looting homes and stores after a bombing), and who was acting like a lunatic
so that he would not be executed. This man felt that I was planning something
and followed me around all the time. He would cover himself with a blanket and
follow me through a hole in it. He would dirty himself under the blanet and
smear it all over his head so that I was convinced that he was a lunatic as
well. I didn't know how to get rid of him. He was always around. I told my
friend from Koskov about him and he told me to just ignore him.
came the long awaited Friday. I said to my friend Hezkel, "It's time.
Take of your shoes and jump over the barrier at the guard's lavatory and remain
there until midnight. And that was what we did. We jumped and went into the
lavatory. Everyone had already dispersed and it became quieter. Suddenly we
heard someone else jumping over the barrier. It was the lunatic. I ran over
to him immediately because I was afraid of what might happen to us because of
him. I grabbed him by the neck, intending to choke him if he made a sound
revealing our whereabouts. My friend Haskel said, "Let him go, he's not a
lunatic." And then I understood that he, too, was trying to escape. He
began pleading with us saying that he was not a lunatic but also condemned to
die as we were and that he could help us in our escape. After I explained the
plan to him he looked outside and saw the lightening rod and then said, amazed,
"We're saved." He also changed my plan and asked that we do as he
instructed. He had ropes. He tied them together and used them to take out one
of the small windows. On this, the seventh and highest floor, there were
fewer security precautions than on the lower floors and this made it easier for
us. We had to jump about 20 centimeters in order to grab hold of the lightening
rod and climb down it. It was quite dangerous. The German jumped down like a
limber cat and was down in a flash. I jumped after him, and I succeeded as
well. I hurt my hands a bit on the wire of the lightening rod. Then I
signaled the guy from Koskov. He jumped but did not manage to grab the
lightening rod. Unfortunately he fell to his death.
Neighbors in the area heard him fall and opened
their windows. The German and I, his name was Hans, jumped into the basement
of one of the houses in the area. I hesitated a bit at first to go into the
basement, lest they hear us and catch us, but Hans shouted at me to hide there
in the darkness. And then Hans started pulling out bricks from the wall of the
basement. He knew that you could pass from basement to basement. It was an
emergency precaution taken when the houses were constructed. I crawled after
him, dressed in a prisoner's uniform, with a shaven head and barefoot. This
was November. And that was how we went out into the street through one of the
gates. Just as long as we didn't meet up with a policeman, we would be all
right because the citizens would just take us for lunatics. We ran down a few
streets this way until we got to the Danube River. We went down to the river
and went along the river bank until we came to a bridge. We did not get on the
bridge because it was guarded by soldiers. From here, Hans brought me to the
basement of the home of a friend. That was where he brought all the loot he
stole from around town. He decided to leave me there by myself while he went
out to find us clothes. When I said, "This is how you leave me alone,
wide open to danger?" He answered, "A thief never betrays his
friends." Three hours later he returned with 2 liters of hot sweet tea,
two loaves of bread, razors, shoes and clothes for me. He had already gotten
the stuff for himself earlier.
he invited me to go steal things with him. I answered, "I can't do that.
But if you want to help me like I helped you, please get me some papers showing
that I am a volunteer laborer." He left on his own and returned with a
lot of money in his pocket (after having stolen a truck full of goods). He
asked, "How much money do you need?" I answered, "A bit."
He then handed me a package full of bills. He said, "Now I will go and
get you a signed form showing that you are a Polish laborer." About two
days later, he returned with the form and a birth certificate.
the meantime they were searching all of Vienna for us for a few more had tried
to escape but were caught.
bade each other farewell and he gave me the address of the employment office
(Arbeitsamt). There they asked me how I had arrived there. I answered,
"I was left stranded in one of the transports." They didn't believe
me and claimed that I had run away from the work at a farmer's house. I said,
"No." They said, "If you don't tell us the truth, we will send
you to a coal mine where you'll never come out alive." I answered that I
wasn't afraid of anything, as long as they sent me somewhere. While we were
talking, a tall Austrian wearing white gloves came in and asked if they had
someone available who knew how to work with bees. (I forgot to mention that
when I had first come in they asked what my profession was and I had said
beekeeper. What luck!) And then the clerk in the office answered that
precisely at that moment they had someone available. In any case, he hurried
to get his car to take me (I later found out that the brother-in-law of this
Austrian was the head of the Gestapo in Vienna). Since I claimed to only
understand Polish and not German, he spoke to me in Czech (he must have been
from the Sudetenland). He brought me to a great estate with a hut with two
beds. One was for me, the other for a Yugoslavian. There was plenty of food
and my life became heaven. I was a bit nervous about my lack of experience as
a beekeeper, but there was no other way.
stayed there for more than a year. Afterward, there was no need for my
services any longer so he sent me to work for a peasant woman. The work there
was very difficult. She had a lot of livestock. All of the foreign workers
had run away from there. I worked there from dawn to late at night but I was
satisfied. I had enough to eat. The farm woman liked me too. She could not
understand how a man like me, with delicate hands, could work so hard. Of
course I was trying very hard.
day I saw my picture in the newspaper under a headline that Hans and I were
wanted for escaping from prison. It was a year and a half after the escape and
we were still in the area. Anyone knowing anything about us was to contact the
police. When I read it I nearly fainted. I became very frightened. What
should I do? I had to decide fast. I knew that the Russians were making
advances and I was not afraid of my landlady because she would not turn me in.
I was more afraid of the neighbors. One of theme came in one day and told the
landlady that she had seen a picture in the newspaper and that a man who looked
very much like Stefan (me) was wanted by the police.
decided to run away. I was able to get my papers, which were in the closet. I
ran in the direction of Neusudsee about 50 kilometers outside of Vienna, where
I continued to work for another peasant woman. She wanted to know where I came
from. I was able to withhold the truth from her. I worked there until the
Russians arrived. During the final weeks I ran off to Yugoslavia with another
Yugoslavian I had met. Most of the foreign laborers were Poles, Yugoslavians
One day I saw the peasant woman I worked for take
out bags of potatoes for the Hungarian Jews who were being brought in from
Austria. She was hiding her actions from me...
Now I will make my story short. We had already
heard that the Red Army had come into Austria, so we ran to Yugoslavia. There
we met up with a unit of the Red Army. The officer called me over and asked if
I wanted to join up and fight the Germans. I said, "Yes, but I do not
know how to use weapons." "Dawaj," answered the officer,
"Come with us." Then I found out that it was a unit made up of
people who had been sentenced to twenty or thirty years of prison and this was
their chance to get free. Although Austria had already been liberated, the
Germans were fighting stubbornly in Czechoslovakia and 200 soldiers from this
unit were always being sent to that front. Only 17-20 returned. This went on
for 11 days and luckily I was wounded with a bullet in the foot. It hadn't
touched the bone, only the flesh. I was taken out of there by a Russian woman
who said "Look at what a happy guy he is!" I felt like smacking her
at that moment. I was wounded and she was calling me "Happy."
took me away from the front lines. A Jewish Russian doctor could tell that I
was Jewish and said, "I'll get you as far away from here as I can. He put
me in an ambulance with severely wounded soldiers, amputees, which took me to a
hospital in Hungary. I was hospitalized for 2 weeks and then I began walking
on crutches. While I was there, on May 9, the war ended. Everyone was so
happy that we all threw our crutches into the air.
This is just some of what happened to me. If I
were to tell everything, I would need to write a book. Each day brought a new
and trying experience, which lasted for what felt like a year, until I joined
the army. Then I felt the happiness of being a free man.
I had a friend in the army whose name was Grisha.
He told me how to get out of the way of the artillery shells which rained down
upon us- jump into the pit made by the previous shell because the shells never
fall twice in the same place. This is just one of the many episodes in my life
at that time.
started to write to everyone I knew in Podwolocyska. I received no replies.
Then I understood the magnitude of the catastrophe. Later on I found out that
my father had lived almost until the Liberation. A week before, my father had
met a villager, a former communist, and asked to trade some matzas for bread.
The villager brought two guardsmen and they killed him.
While I was still at the farm in Austria, I had
met a Polish woman from the village of Mislova who had known me. I
immediately asked her not to reveal my identity. She kept it a secret, because
her parents had also been executed. I asked that if she returned to the area
and met someone from my family that she give them my regards. And that was
what happened. My sister, may her memory be blessed, had returned to
Podwolocyska from Czelbinsk, where she had spent the war, and met this woman's
brother, to whom I had also written. That was how she had found out that I was
alive and in a military hospital somewhere in Hungary. My sister went to the
Red Cross and that was how I found out that she was alive. I then went to
Czelbinsk, for in the meantime she had returned to her family, and from there
we both traveled to Podwolocyska. I went up to Feitel Hill where the last of
the Jews who had worked and later shot lay buried. That sight, along with the
rest of my town looked to me like a great nightmare.
I left the place with a heavy heart and together
with my sisters, traveled to Poland. We came to Zhary. There were a few Jews
there and it was hard to find work. I decided to stay in Lignitz and to cary
on with my life in a normal manner.
These are some of the memories from a horrible
In the hope that there will be no more Holocausts for our people.
I dedicate this chapter to my children and grandchildren.
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