Perhaps those who remained alive were left to remember those who perished so cruelly and to be able to tell the world how and why they died. Whether we are alone or amongst, friends, no matter about what we talk, the first or last subject will always be: Where did you save your life? Whom did you lose? The events we passed through follow us wherever we go. We are living with a past that can never be forgotten, with memories of family and relatives; we remember the dates of their births and the dates of their deaths. We often think that at least somebody has remained to mention their names. to cry, to light a candle on their memory-day, to think about them always. But how many families perished entirely, without traces, without anyone remaining to recall their. names, which are now forgotten for eternity. Families which lived in Rohatyn for so many years; children and grandchildren were born in this little town; the people used to help each other, they used to help the poor and the sick and suddenly they disappeared without a trace.
One of these many families was the Wiener family, who mere my relatives. Hersh Wiener's wife, Rivka, was my mother's elder sister. I would like to describe the life and death of a Jewish family in Rohatyn. There were two little houses near the old synagogue. In one of them lived Yidel Blotner with his wife and daughters, in the neighboring one -- Hersh Wiener with his wife, his daughter Glikl and his son Chaim.
Yidel Blotner was my grandfather's brother. Both of Blotner's elder daughters, Esther and Gittel, belonged to the "Hechalutz" (the Pioneer). Thanks to that, they emigrated to Palestine prior to the outbreak of the war. The younger daughters, Tauba and Chawa, remained at home. All the sisters dreamed of meeting in Palestine. Unfortunately the war broke out and Tauba and Chawa were moved into the ghetto. The Blotners were related to the Wieners and they used to live like one family. The houses were always full of girls and joy, and noisy like a beehive. On the way home from school I used to call and play with Chaimke and to ask what the girls planned for the evening. That was how we lived until the war.
In the ghetto the Blotners were attached to another family and the Wieners were given one room near the electric station, where they lived with their daughter, Glikl, her husband, and two children, their son Chaimke and Mr. Wiener's sister. Eight persons in one room were compelled to be satisfied without any right to complain. To whom ? The food which they obtained with difficulty was divided among all and they lived from day to day: perhaps the next day would be better. My sister Roza and – I often visited aunt Wiener and tried to help them, sometimes bringing a hot dish for the children. Chaimke visited us often; we loved him like a brother.
Winter approached, with the troubles of lack of wood, lack of clothing, hunger. Uncle Wiener did everything he could to bring something home. His son-in-law helped him since he came from Burshtyn and had some good friends among the farmers. It was dangerous for a Jew with a red beard to leave the ghetto for the village or market to buy some food, and he was often beaten or stoned.
I succeeded in "organizing'" some flour and potatos and mother decided to prepare pancakes to make a holiday for Chaimke, who liked them. Chaimke came to visit us. We resided at Yoina Nemeths', which was quite far, but he came by side streets. Hot pancakes were spread on a plate. "Aunt Gittiel" Chaimke asked, "pancakes in the ghetto? Where did you get them?"
The child had tears in his eyes. He did not eat but gulped the food. You will be sick," mother said, "eat slowly." But he couldn't, it was so long since he eaten something tasteful.
"What a pity that Nuchem and Yidel haven't come," he said, remembering Glikl's children. "You can bring them some," mother said.
Chaimke was happy. He sat for some time and described how his father tried several times to call on farmers he knew for some food, but had returned with empty hands because they were afraid to let him in.
"How long will it continue like this?" he wanted to know. "Will this war end soon? I would like to return to school. Why are we so mistreated, only because we are Jews?" Chaimke was about twelve years old and could not understand. He asked questions to which we had no answers. He wanted so much to help his parents, his sister Glikl and her children. Nuhim was five years old and Yidel perhaps one year.
Evening approached. It was freezing cold outside. Chaim did not want to go home, but we had to take him because his parents would be worried. I gave him my sweater and warm gloves, a shawl and also woolen stockings, because his were torn. Chaimke thanked mother for the pancakes and promised to come again the next day. He took the dish for Glikl's children. "When I grow up," he said, "I will take revenge." He did not know that this was his last visit and that there would be no tomorrow for him. He left happily and we escorted him to his house.
Glikl was thankful that she had something to give the children for supper and sighed: "How long are we supposed to suffer like this ?" On our way home we also called at the Teichmans, because Libcia was my best friend. Again we talked a little and I promised Libcia that we would meet tomorrow and perhaps go together to exchange something for food. That was my last meeting with Libcia.
With speedy steps we went home. Mother waited for us uneasily. We told her how thankful Glikl had been for the pancakes and that Chaimke would come the next day. We had decided to keep him with us if he agreed. We talked a little and called at the Nemeths to hear some news, as Yoine Nemeth often went to the Jewish Council to enquire about the ditches which had been prepared a few weeks before. These ditches were dug by the Rohatyn Jews and they worried us extremely. Some said they were for a brick factory, others said they were for shelters, and jokingly, we used to say what perhaps they were for ourselves, although nobody believed that this could be serious in the 20th century.
It became late, everybody went to bed. Nemeth and another neighbor had guard duty that night so we took off our clothing. We usually went to sleep dressed so as to be ready for escape if something happened. Very early in the morning I heard firing. and jumped from bed towards the window. The Gestapo was dragging somebody by his beard, children were crying, and I shouted, "Mother, sister, let us escape, they are shooting and murdering." It was cold outside, with high snow and frost -- the 20th of March 1942. I ran to the toilet, my sister after me. We heard shooting, the steps of the Gestapo men, with their heavy military boots. My sister, who was always frightened, was crying and feverish.
"Stay here," I said, "and I will escape to " I did not succeed in finishing the sentence. I removed the yellow stripe from my sleeve and put it into my pocket. Dressed in my pyjamas and wearing my woolen slippers, I ran in the direction of Kryska. I could not stay there to my regret and escaped from there towards Babince. I heard shouting, shooting, but I did not care. I was running as fast as I could. Near a forest at Kudcy I saw a little house far away. When I came near it, I fainted.
When I opened my eyes, a woman was standing by me and praying. She had dreamt that night that some trouble would come and that somebody would ask for help, and here I was. She had taken me into the house. I was completely frozen. She began to cook something. I looked through the frozen window and saw a Gestapo-man and two Ukrainian policeman coming towards the house. I did not think too long and without saying anything to the woman jumped onto the stove and hid behind some bag's which were lying there. After some time somebody knocked at the door. The woman had not even noticed that I had disappeared and called out, frightened, "Who is knocking?"
"Police!" I hear. She opened the door. The policemen entered and asked her about a Jewess in a green coat. She did not know what to say. "Look here," she showed them, there is nobody here." I was lying on stove, burning now after having frozen a little while before. My head hurt terribly. The policemen searched in the bed, under it, in the closet. They sat awhile and then left. The woman remained alone with her grandchild in her arms, hardly knowing what to think. After some time, half alive, I freed myself from the rags. She cried out in astonishment: "It is a miracle, a miracle of God!"
I passed the night in the stable, with the cattle, because she was afraid to keep me at home. Next day I was given her daughter's dress and I returned to town. According to her husband it appeared that all the Jews had been killed and I decided to return. How could I help it? I had left everyone in the ghetto.
I was walking slowly, with my head bent. Far away, near the Red School, I saw somebody coming closer. Tyla Nemeth, pale, with a parcel under her arm, called quietly: "Sheva, Sheva, "Tyla, are you alive ?" I asked her. "Yes, she replied. "Father was taken and thrown into the pit with an injured leg. He made himself appear dead but at night he freed himself of all the dead bodies over him and went naked to a farmer-acquaintance. In the morning the farmer came to the ghetto in order to fetch some clothing for him." "Mother and sister, what happened to them ?:' "They think you were killed." "Are they alive ?" "Yes, your mother was standing in the cellar, behind the door. There was shooting but the bullet passed near the door. At the last moment your sister jumped into the toilet, where she sank up to her elbows. She cried for help during the whole night and at dawn she was pulled out."
I did not ask anymore. I did not know whether to be happy or to cry. What difference did it make ? The end was sure, sooner or later. As I came near the ghetto I recognized a frozen body. It was Margulies' son, with his hat frozen near his body. Then I noticed a big body in a fur. Mendel Hutter's father was lying in his son's winter coat, covered with blood. I had reached the vicinity of our house. From far I saw my cousin Anka bent over the earth. I did not see the body, but when I came near I heard her calling: ''Sheva, look, this is my mother." There was only a part of the head, with the hair frozen to the earth. Anka was crying and nearly mad, and we cried together.
When I entered the house I found Felker's mother lying on the floor. I stepped over the body and was inside the flat. My sister looked at mother, my mother at my sister.
"She is alive," she said. Mother did not even move, but said "Happy are the ones who have already met their fate. Nothing good awaits us."
"Mama,, we must save cur lives," I cried. "The Gestapo has already left, let us save ourselves, let us escape from the ghetto."
"God wants us to perish, we must perish!" mother exclaimed. Sister did not speak. She only made some signs and showed me the wounds on her body and face. She was still terribly dirty from the toilet.
"Mama, Chaimke was to come yesterday to Finish the pancakes" I said. "That was before yesterday, do not go," she replied, "Perhaps they are not alive."
I did not wait too long and escaped from the house. It was quiet outside, like after a battle. Nobody was to be seen on the ghetto streets, which were splattered with blood. Passing by, I noticed a few dead bodies, but unfortunately I could not recognize them. I came near the Wieners' house, my heart beating strongly. Who knew what was waiting for me there ! The door was open. I went into the house, the closet was open, everything was overturned, the furniture, old utensils, nothing was in its place. I began to cry, to call out, but nobody answered. I ran through the court, calling names, but in vain.
I remembered that uncle always used to say that if something happened he would hide himself in a stable belonging to a Polish woman living near the ghetto. I went in the direction of the railway station. It was not far and after some minutes I was there When I knocked a frightened woman's voice answered. She was afraid to let me in. I told her quietly that I was a relative of Wiener's and she opened the door. I could tell from her face that something had happened. When I asked her if she knew something about Wiener she sighed and I began to cry and to beg her to tell me the truth. Without speaking she took me by my hand and brought me to the stable. There were two bodies. Uncle Hersh was lying stretched out on the ground and Chaimke lay near him with his head on his father's chest, as if his father wanted to continue pressing his son to himself. I was crying terribly.
"Chaim!" I repeated several times, but there was no reply. He was wearing the sweater and stockings I had given him two days ago. I could still hear his voice asking: "Why are we so mistreated, only because we are Jews ?" He was still young and could not understand. When he was born he was given the name "Chaim" which means life. The Polish woman was crying: "Such nice people and so cruelly murdered "
"What happened to my aunt, her daughter and the children ?" They were apparently taken together with the others, as somebody saw them on the market assembled for shooting."
I looked again at the two innocent bodies and we left. I returned home. Here I found Anshel, Wiener's son-in-law. with his elder son. He had apparently run off in another direction and saved himself. The boy was very pale and frightened He told us that his grandmother and mother were killed in a big grave and that grandfather and Chaimke were killed not far from the ghetto. He was only five years old, but he knew about everything. We sat together, silent and miserable. Nobody said a word. Only Nuchim, the little boy, continued to ask questions and to tell how his father had kept his hands on his mouth and asked him not to cry, so that nobody would find them.
After a few hours we learned how many families had been taken away. Nemeth returned and told us more details. The Teichman family,Mrs. Mintz with her daughters, Dr. Lewenter's whole family, Rabbi Elieserl and family, Kowle, Margulies and his wife, Brailer and his family, the Hutter family, Messing's younger son, who was killed near the Judenrat, several members of the Weller family, Dr. Goldshlag, Dr. Zlatkes, Reis, Kenigsberg, Ania Engelberg and her mother, Rega and Nusia Weintraub and their parents, Mandel Lipa and his family, Tulcio Loey and wife and daughter, Beder Landau, Bohnen, Reis and families. The majority of the ghetto population was dead.
The little group that remained no longer believed in miracles. We expected death every day. We no longer believed in a better tomorrow and only one problem remained: how to escape and to save our lives? This, of course, was not easy. So we suffered until the second pogrom which took place on the Day of Atonement, when all were taken to the Blejitz Crematorium to be burnt.
Deciding to escape from the ghetto, I parted from my mother and sister and left the ghetto on my birthday night, the 20th of November, in the hope that the war would soon be over and that some day I would return and perhaps find somebody.
But "Operation Judenfrei" was finally completed and in June 1943 my mother, my sister Roza and the few others who remained all perished. This is how the Jews of Rohatyn were systematically destroyed and buried in one huge grave. We do not know where their bones are resting. A holy duty is imposed upon us, the so very few who have miraculously remained alive, to remember the victims and the dates of their cruel death, and to tell of their suffering during the last short period of their lives.
[Page 40 English section]
The county-seat of Rohatyn lay on the 70th kilometer of the Lemberg-Stanislavov highway. It was divided into two by a river and it was surrounded on all sides by forests, fertile fields and pastures. South-east of the town rose the majestic heights of the Tsortava-Gura mountain, lonely and unconnected with any mountain chain and looking as if someone had lost it on the way.
The town had become famous for its fine fairs, which took place every Wednesday. Peasants from the more than one hundred neighboring villages would come to the fair on that day, to sell their produce and with the returns to buy what they needed in the town's stores, mainly manufactures, leather and ironware. The buyers and sellers were of course Jews.
In addition to the government and county offices, the tax offices, postoffice, and police department, Rohatyn had two gymnasiums (a government Polish school and an autonomous Ukrainian school). There was also a handsome public school.
The town had 9,000 inhabitants, of whom 3,000 were Jews. Most of the Jews were well-off, with their own houses, shops, fields, forests and sawmills. Their grown-up children were sent to study in Lemberg, Cracow, Warsaw, and even abroad.
The Jewish community had two large synagogues and a number of smaller ones. Their religious life was led by the Rabbi and the Dayan. It also had a community president a popular local citizen, and councillors. The Jews belonged to Zionist parties, religious and cultural organizations. There was also a young people's dramatic circle which presented performances in Yiddish. The income went for Zionist causes. There was also a private Hebrew school. A large part of the youth spoke Hebrew fluently.
Until the outbreak of the Second World War Rohatyn didn't stop building, since during the first war it had been almost completely burnt down by the Russian army. In 1937--38 the Jewish population suffered a great deal because of attempts to drive them out of commerce. A Polish trade organization was formed, as well as a Polish commercial firm, and an association of Ukrainian cooperatives. The Jews had no choice but to yield and to look for other branches trade.
The inhabitants of Rohatyn didn't remember a summer as fine as the one of 1939. The days were bright, with only a few rains: the markets were filled with fruit. During the summer months there were more guests than usual, friends and relatives from Lemberg, Stanislavov, Tarnopol and even from Cracow and Warsaw, coming to spend their vacations in Rohatyn. It seemed as if they all had decided together to leave the big cities and to look for rest in our provincial town. Perhaps they were fleeing from the big cities where everybody was occupied with politics because of Hitler's demands on the Corridor and the Free City of Danzig. Our peace had also been disturbed by current events. The newspapers carried bad news every day. From time to time the radio transmitted Hitler's war threats if Danzig were not joined to the "Reich" and if the evils of the Versailles Treaty towards the German people were not corrected. These same speeches had special threats against "international Jewry," claiming that "the Jews were responsible for everything bad that, had happened to the German people."
We all understood very well the meaning of these threats and told ourselves that they weren't only words. The annexations of Austria and Czechoslovakia proved that, Hitler's threats had to be taken seriously.
It is therefore not surprising that the population was uneasy and nervous despite the pacifying government communiqués.
Jews were continuously asking themselves: "What are we waiting for ?" There were, however, optimists of the older generation who hail known tile Germans in Kaiser Wilhelm's time. They remembered their culture and tact and didn't believe that the same Germans were capable of murdering or driving out Jews.
In any case, the roads out were already closed, even then. There was nowhere to flee. Only some rich people with foreign passports were able to leave. No country wanted to take in foreigners and especially Jews.
On the Polish-German borders the first camps were already in existence for Jews who had been driven out of Germany as aliens. Though they had once been Polish citizens the Poles didn't want to recognize them since they had been out of the country a long while, and didn't allow them to enter. The Polish Jews, of course, had to take on the burden of supporting these unfortunates.
Unrest grew from day to day. The non-Jewish population, however, were of a different opinion. The Poles were very hopeful. They blindly believed in the military potentiality of the Polish army and claimed that Hitler would have a hard nut to crack if he risked war. They believed that in the worst case the war would end with the loss of Danzig and the Corridor. In their naiveté they continued to believe that the polish cavalry had a real role in the era of tanks and planes. The Polish government had also concluded a pact with England and they believed that England would come to their aid even before the German machine could begin to move.
The Ukrainians were still of another opinion. They believed that the war would come and that Germany would triumph. They were confident that the Germans would discriminate against the Jews and Poles and that, they, the Ukrainians, would take over the property of both other groups. The Ukrainians knew that Germany would declare war not only against Poland but, eventually, also against the Soviet Union, and they hoped that after a German victory over the Soviet Union the Germans would set up a Ukrainian government. The Ukrainians didn't hide these beliefs and spoke about them out loud.
On the morning of September 1, 1939 the German army crossed Poland's western border and penetrated deep into Poland in three columns. The resistance of the Polish armed forces was a minimum one and was broken in the first battle. The enemy's military forces marched deeper into the country without any resistance. The government and the general staff had apparently not estimated the forces of the enemy and had not counted on such a powerful attack. All the defense lines were broken like threads.
The Ukrainians were the ones to rejoice in this in our neighborhood. They welcomed the downfall of the Polish regime with joy and prepared to take over when the Germans drew near. On the roads the Ukrainians shot at, the retreating Polish forces. After three days of fighting Poland had de facto ceased to exist and anarchy reigned. It was only thanks to the energetic activities of the Jewish community, which had organized a self-defense organization, that the Jews were able to live through these terrible days of panic.
During the 15th, 16th and 17th of September the situation in the town became critical. The neighboring peasants, seeing that there was no longer any government or army, began to flow in masses into the town. Fortunately the local police had not left their posts, though the government itself had fled. The police realized the terrible situation that would be created if there were no government in the place. They organized a defense unit and distributed arms to those who knew how to use them, and in that way saved the population from certain destruction.
But in the meantime something unexpected happened: instead of the German soldiers, the town was occupied by the Red Army.
The Jews felt as if they had been saved from destruction. The Poles, however, looked upon the Red Army as invaders since they would have preferred the Germans. The Ukrainians were split: the nationalists were disappointed because they had expected the Germans, who were supposed to drive out the Poles and to give them an independent Ukraine. The poor peasant population, including the Ukrainians, however, were happy because with the arrival of the Soviet Army the peasants were told to divide the properties of the Polish landlords. They took the horses, the cattle, the pigs, grain and other property. In the course of three hours the landlords' courtyards were empty and bare. The property owners had fled to Lemberg during the first days of the war since they were afraid to remain in the villages. Most of the Polish Jews, except for a small group of Communist sympathizers, were afraid of the Soviet Union and Communism. Before their eyes were still the fresh memories of the Polish-soviet Russian War of 1920. In addition, most Polish Jews were occupied in trade. Jewish workers, in general, were very few.
But when on September 17, 1939 the Soviet Army entered the eastern regions instead of the Germans, the Jews without exception welcomed them as liberators and protectors against the Germans and the local population. The Jews welcomed the Soviet soldiers openly and the new power began to deal with the Jews with the same trust with which it dealt with its own brothers -- the Ukrainians.
Jews were employed by the Soviet officials in the administration and even in the local militia. Jews went gladly to these tasks since there were very many unemployed craftsmen and intellectuals.
Meanwhile the reorganization of trade, industry and economy on a Soviet basis had begun. Cooperatives of shoemakers, tailors, tinsmiths, and bakers were organized. Each of these artels -or cooperatives was headed by a leader with previous craft experience -- in most cases a Jew. Raw materials mere brought from Stanislavov, Lemberg and Tarnopol. In these cities, too, Jews played an important role as the most experienced craftsmen. The Jewish and non-Jewish workers in the artels worked under the guidance of Jewish directors. Control over the factories was in the hands of the Party, which again had greater trust in the Jews than in the non-Jews. The Party knew that we Jews didn't have any political aspirations and only wanted to work and live in peace. The Party also knew that behind the non-Jews there was an underground nationalistic organization which was carrying on sabotage against collectivization.
Under Soviet rule the number of Jews in Rohatyn almost doubled because of the large numbers of refugees from Germany. They included a large number of highly-educated intellectuals, who had once enjoyed good living conditions. Now, however, they were poverty-stricken and had to sell the last remnants of their belongings. The government didn't have much trust in this category of citizens. First of all the refugees didn't know the Ukrainian language. The Russians also knew that at the first opportunity these elements would gladly return to Germany. When passports were distributed, theirs were marked with a notice that they didn't have the right to move about freely throughout the country. Some of our local Jews, former traders, also received the same kind of passports, forbidding them to move outside the limits of Rohatyn.
The war broke out without noise or incidents. The Russians were not panic-stricken and didn't lose their heads. From the first days of the war they moved in an organized fashion to draw deep into Russia. We thought they were only drawing back to the old border, but later it became clear that under the pressure of the German war machine the Russians were compelled to retreat as far as Stalingrad.
The Jews were gripped by panic and despair. Though they were very far from the Communist ideology they still would very much have preferred to remain under Soviet rule instead of falling into the hands of the Germans.
Many Jews wanted to flee with the Soviet Army. They did not, however, have their own means of transport. The Russians dissuaded us from fleeing, promising us that it wouldn't be long before they returned.
There was no choice but to remain. Flight with the Soviet Army was also very dangerous since German planes flew freely in the skies and undisturbedly shot at and bombed the retreating soldiers and civilians.
The Soviet Army came back, but three years later, to find only six Jewish families. Six thousand Jews of Rohatyn and the neighborhood had been destroyed in the suburbs and fields of the town.
On Wednesday, the sixth of July, 1941, at six o'clock in the evening, the Soviet, Army left Rohatyn without firing a shot. The German army marched in their place. The non-Jewish population went out on the streets to welcome the long-awaited German army. No Jews, of course, were to be seen. They were hiding, frightened, in their homes.
The first night with the Germans passed quietly though tensely. In the morning the military town command arrived. The Jewish representatives were assembled and told to form a Judenrat. The local authorities hurried to issue an order commanding all Jews to wear armbands with the Shield of David
Thursday and Friday passed relatively quietly though local hooligans ran wild. The Germans still did not intervene in Jewish affairs. They were front-soldiers and had their own military affairs to occupy them. They only looked with equanimity at the independent actions of the non-Jews.
Early Saturday morning, the ninth of July, 1941, a large number of young people from the neighboring villages and from Rohatyn itself were seen in the town, with nationalist emblems or armbands, and with sticks in their hands. This didn't presage anything good. Jews hadn't left their homes since Wednesday, not knowing what the Germans would do, whether they would allow us to breathe freely or whether hell would soon break out. The news from Lemberg and other cities were far from optimistic. Jews passing by accident had been caught, taken outside the city and shot.
About nine o'clock in the morning the Christian youths began to gather in the marketplace. From there they broke into the new part of town where most of the Jews lived. Some of the invaders also took positions by the houses in the marketplace. Terrible shouts and cries began to be heard. The attackers pulled the Jews out of their homes by force, beating them all the while. Everybody was panic-stricken. There was nowhere to flee since all the roads were blocked. Almost ail the Jews were herded together by the synagogue. The plan was to drive them all in after taking away their
Their plan, however, did not materialize this time. One of the doctors at the hospital, a refugee from Cracow, had accidentally met a German university colleague who was now a military doctor. The Jewish doctor knew that the plot was unofficial and asked his former colleague to intervene. The German actually did go to the higher authorities, who forbade further anti-Jewish actions. The Jews were allowed to go home, though of course without their rings and other valuables. When the civilian authorities established themselves in the town they called together the representatives of the Jewish community: Shlomo Amarant, Dr. Goldstein, Kreizler, Dr. Freiwald, Dr. Gotwort, Feivel Hochberg, Dr. Rosenstein, Michael Katz and some of the refugees. The Judenrat that was formed was supposed to represent the Jews towards the local authorities and the Gestapo in Stanislavov, and later in Tarnopol. It also had the task of moving the Jews into the ghetto. The Judenrat was also responsible for quiet in the ghetto, the carrying out of fines and contributions and other orders. This was understandably not an easy task, and a great responsibility.
To this very day I Cannot understand the Jews who were members of the Judenrat and were active in it. They put themselves at the disposal of the Germans. I have the impression that they didn't grasp the Hitlerite aims. Perhaps they hoped that the Judenrat members and their families would escape danger and would not have to pay fines or go to the concentration camps.
These hopes proved illusory. In some towns the first to be hung were the Judenrat members, as in Lemberg, where on some charge the whole of the Judenrat was hung heads down in the street.
But I also marvelled at the iron nerves of the Judenrat members. To sit and wait for the arrival of the Gestapo, or to be called to Gestapo headquarters, without knowing for what purpose or aim, was not a small display of courage.
The entrances to the ghetto were closed by gates, guarded by Jewish policeman. These carried a leather armband on their left sleeve, with the words "Jewish Auxiliary Service." These armbands, meanwhile, protected the police from being taken away to labor camps. Jewish young men therefore were glad to join the ghetto police. There were times, however, when the armbands didn't protect the young people from death. In some of the actions and in the final liquidation the first to be shot were the Jewish police.
The ghetto wasn't able to absorb all the Jews of Rohatyn. Two families had to squeeze into each room. No one even spoke of a kitchen or other amenities. There was no place to put furniture, so they were left in the former homes, outside the ghetto. Jews were happy to find a corner for themselves and their children. This crowdedness led to extremely unsanitary conditions: the use of D.D.T. against lice and worms was not yet known. The ghetto became even more crowded when the Jews from the nearby villages were also forced in.
There was hunger in the ghetto from the very first months. Not all the Jews had something to sell. The Germans also forbade the peasants to have any contacts at all with the ghetto. Most Jews didn't have any Polish or German money since we had been under Soviet rule from the 17th of September to July 1941. The Russian money we had had lost all value. Whatever little the Jews had had been taken by the Germans as obligatory contributions. Finally, the peasants didn't want to sell their goods for money, preferring to exchange them for men's and women's clothing.
The Jews were ready to do anything to save themselves from starvations and to give their children a bit of food. On the streets of the ghetto you could already see people swollen by hunger, and sick people, their faces dark as the earth. Despite this, we had to go to our work outside the ghetto -- in the offices, stores, roads and the railroad. Even the sick and hungry didn't receive either food or money for their work. People dreamed of a piece of bread or of a potato. And because of this the black market with the peasants flourished on the borders of the ghetto.
The lack of food and the unsanitary living conditions and crowdedness made the ghetto prey to terrible sicknesses, especially dysentery and typhus. Lice flourished and filed the beds, the tables, and even the sidewalks. There wasn't any soap, nor any possibility to wash clothes or oneself. The inhabitants of the ghetto fell like flies. And there wasn't any help. The pharmacists on the Aryan side refused to sell the Jews any medicines.
The cemetery soon began to fill up. Jews died without count and without statistics. Weak by nature, they weren't sick for a long time. After two or three days of illness they just died. Wagon-fulls were carried to the cemetery every day. People died without being wept over and mourned. It was hard to know what was preferable -- to continue to live and suffer or the sooner the better to make an end of all the troubles.
The typhus epidemic reached its climax in the winter of 1942-43. At the demands of the authorities the Judenrat opened a hospital with a limited number of beds, where the homeless and poor sick were brought. At one time, when the hospital was full, a Viennese Gestapo-man, Hermann, entered the hospital, assembled the doctors, other workers, and the nurses, shot the patients in their beds and then the personnel. Then he ordered the Judenrat to clear away the dead bodies and to open the hospital again.
When sorrow covered the inhabitants of the ghetto like a black cloud, when sicknesses had visited every house and family, when people walked about the ghetto with feet swollen by hunger, and when the Germans were celebrating victories on the Eastern front and Jews had lost their last hopes of salvation, all kinds of optimists, dreamers, bible-students, military strategists, historians and kabbalists began to appear.
Some of them held that the side winning at the beginning of the war soon consumed all his forces, coming to the conclusion weakened, and without military cadres, and thus loses the war. Others argued that because of her geographical and climatical position Russia was undefeatable. Her winters, autumns and springs were Russia's best defenses, they claimed. As an example they pointed to the history of Napoleon's defeat. Still others claimed that the Germans didn't have enough raw materials to carry on such a long and extended war.
The religious optimists and bible-students believed in a miracle of God. Days and nights they pored over the holy books looking for quotations prophecying terrible catastrophes for mankind, and especially for the Jews, in order to prove that some of the Jews would be saved.
These hopes for a miracle passed through the ghettoes and gave the Jews something with which to comfort themselves. For many it was the only ray of hope.
People began to follow the news from the front. Though the ghetto was closed and isolated from the outside world, news managed to penetrate. The news of the German defeats on the Eastern front were like medicine and hopes for a miracle blossomed. The Hitlerite defeat in Stalingrad brought new life to the ghettoes, and aroused the hopes of liberation. People hoped that because of the defeat the Germans might stop murdering Jews; that they wouldn't have time or mind for it and would leave us in peace. What transpired, however, was completely different. "BLACK FRIDAY" (March 20, 1942)
On this day 70 per cent of the ghetto's inhabitants were murdered by the Germans and their helpers. The entire action took one day, from early morning to five o'clock in the evening. All the dead were buried in a mass grave behind the railroad station.
Without giving any reason the Germans had ordered the Rohatyn Jews to dig a big pit, fifty meters long and five meters in width and depth. We thought that the pit was needed for a tile factory. When the pit was finished work stopped and those who had worked on it forgot about it.
A little while later, when spirits in the ghetto had quieted down and there hadn't been any news of attacks from the neighborhood for some time, the Gestapo men came from Stanislavov, headed by Gestapo-General Krueger. They blockaded the entire ghetto and quietly entered. The Jews were peacefully sleeping. All of a sudden rifle butts began to bang on doors and windows and shouts were heard: "Jews, outside !" With blows and curses the sleepy inhabitants were dragged to the market place. Nobody was spared -- old people, women, children and the sick. All of them were driven into the cold and compelled to stand half-naked. This continued until 10 in the morning. Then they were all ordered to stretch out on the ground, with faces to the earth. Anybody who looked up was immediately shot.
The captured Jews were then loaded on trucks, driven to the pits, and ordered to stand at the edge of the hole. Eight armed Germans shot at them and the dead bodies fell into the pit, together with the wounded and the unharmed. These were covered by another layer of bodies.
Before the shooting all the Jews were ordered to undress and to hand over any valuables they had. This continued until evening. When the church bells struck five the shooting stopped and the naked Jews who were still alive were told to go home. 3,000 adults and 600 children were murdered and buried in the mass grave on that Friday.
A pretty eighteen year old girl, a refugee from Germany, was shot in both feet and had fallen into the grave. However, she had remained alive and didn't lost much blood. At night she managed with great effort to free herself and came back to the ghetto. By some chance the German police learned of this; they came to the ghetto and demanded of the Judenrat that she be handed over. She was shot on the spot.
Only 30 per cent of Rohatyn's Jews had managed to hide in the cellars and
attics. They thus succeeded in living a little while longer, until the second
"action," six months later.
The ghetto now was almost empty. People moved about confusedly for the first few days after the action, unable to grasp what had happened. Those who were left had lost their families, wives, husbands, children, mothers and fathers, and wandered about like a frightened flock of sheep. Everybody looked for relatives, friends or even acquaintances with whom he could live, for someone with whom he could mourn, though there were no longer any tears.
People wanted to be close to each other and new family relationships were established. It was very rare that a family had returned whole from the catastrophe.
The Germans began to fill up the empty ghetto again. They issued an order requiring all the Jews from the neighboring towns to leave their homes and to move to Rohatyn.
The Jews began to understand that if they wanted to hold out and not allow to themselves to be caught again, they had to leave the ghetto and find hiding places on the aryan side or to build good hiding places in the ghetto itself, where they would be able to flee in the event of an "action." They had to be prepared to hide this way for forty-eight hours or more.
Every house began to build one or two such "bunkers" which could hold all the tenants. In time of need it was important that all the people in the house hid, because anyone found might be forced to reveal the hiding places.
The work on these bunkers took a long time, since a lot or precautions had to be taken. There was the problem of carrying out the excavated earth in a way that wouldn't attract attention. The bunker had to have ventilation, so that a cough or the crying of a child not be heard outside. (Later there were cases when elderly or sick people were suffocated in the bunkers for lack of air). For security the entrance of the bunker had to be as small and unnoticeable as possible.
The Germans knew about all this activity and they therefore planned their "actions" in such a way that the inhabitants would be surrounded and caught in a net. In order to warn themselves against sudden attack every house began to arrange night watches. Whenever a suspicious sound was heard outside the ghetto the alarm was silently given, and everybody began to run to the bunkers. What with the children, the elderly people, the sick and the pregnant women, it was hard to disappear swiftly into the bunkers. More than once the bunker was discovered because of slowness. The danger remained once they were in the bunker. The elderly people began to cough, the sick to groan and the children to cry.
In order to prevent this the elderly and the sick were quieted in some way and the children given injections of opiates. Sometimes these methods only led to an earlier death. When these methods didn't help and the child wasn't quiet there was sometimes no other way out but to suffocate it. It was impossible to endanger the lives of a bunker full of people because of the crying of a child!
Once the bunkers were dug there wasn't much desire to leave the ghetto wails
and to try to save oneself on the aryan side. It was easier to accept the
bitter fate of dying in the ghetto or in the bunker than on the aryan side
where one faced the possibility of being handed over to the Germans. In their
apathy Jews ceased to believe that they would live out the war.
They felt that they were all sentenced to death.
It is interesting to point out that despite the difficult conditions in the
ghetto, no one died of heart disease or of nervous breakdown. There were very
few cases of suicide. It seams that unconsciously the hope of living until
Hitler's defeat continued to flicker.
In the Germans' general plan to murder all the Jews, the aged, the sick and the small children were the first victims. These were incapable of working and therefore "useless mouths."
When the Germans entered Lemberg they immediately murdered all the mentally-ill in the hospital. In every "action" the murderers demanded of the Judenrat that the sick and the little children be handed over. There were also special "actions" against the sick and the children. It is true that in Rohatyn there were no such special "actions," since the Judenrat attempted to buy off the Germans whenever such an action was planned. But in any case, under ghetto conditions, the sick, the aged and the little children didn't have any privileged position. They were looked upon as hindrances by the younger people who wanted to plan rescue activities, to attempt to escape or to organize partisan groups, though no family, of course agreed to abandon them. These unfortunate souls couldn't meet the tempo required by conditions; they had to be helped along and this interfered with movement and decisions. The old people and the sick knew the situation and were resigned to their fate.
There were cases where some sick or elderly people, or a crying child led to the discovery of a bunker with 40 or 50 people, who thus lost their lives. Everybody loves his child, his old father or mother, but conditions were such that because of them whole families sometimes refused to go down to the hiding places, to run away to the woods or to hide with a friendly Christian, who in turn was afraid to take the risk of accepting whole families with children, or old and sick members.
The aged, the sick and the children in the ghetto had a special look of their own. Their eyes were sad, their cheeks deeply fallen, their lips without a smile. They dragged themselves about the ghetto, ragged, swollen by hunger and scarred by diseases. Children didn't play, only wandered about the ghetto, looking for something to eat. Most of the children seemed to be without age or face of their own.
Children of school age did understand their danger and conducted themselves like grownups in the hiding places. They knew how to hide in time of danger. It was much more difficult with the nursing children and sometimes drastic measures had to be used.
As for the youth, they had become hardened to their lives and despite the
nightmare didn't forget how to love. There were marriages and new families were
established. Even though everybody knew that it might be for only a short time
nature demanded its own. Despite the terrible conditions some of the youths
continued to meet, to dance, to sing and to play cards, though they knew that
all this might be ended the next minute.
The older generation remembered the conduct of the German army during the First World War and thought that the Hitlerite occupation would act towards women in the same more or less humane and tolerant fashion. The women paid dearly for this illusion during the March "action." As soon as it became known that the Germans were dragging the Jews out of their houses, the men ran to hide and left the women and the little children at home, and most of these were killed. Among the three thousand adults who were slaughtered on that day there was a large proportion of women.
The woman in the ghetto had to worry about food for her family and to go, to work on the aryan side together with the men. She had to work hard at home, to carry water from the well or pump, to wash clothes, to cook and to watch the children. At forced labor she had to exert herself in order not fall behind the men. During an "action" the woman had to think of herself, her husband and her children, to see that she had food in the bunker for the whole family, diapers for the infants, water, and even a rubber sucker for the baby so that it would be quiet and not betray the hiding place.
At times of epidemic she often lay in bed with her children, sometimes without anybody even to give her a drink of water. Her husband was often either already dead or at work on the aryan side.
Long observations showed that women conducted themselves better than the men
during "actions," and didn't become hysterical. They were more prepared to make
sacrifices for the family. In many cases their behavior, their mental
stability, straight thinking, and healthy common sense helped save their
families from danger.
In general we can say that the Rohatyn ghetto appeared clean. The Jews themselves tried to keep it clean in order not to give the Germans any excuse for repressive actions. The Judenrat also did whatever it could and even assigned special people to keep the ghetto clean and orderly.
The wealthier Jews were dressed decently and cleanly. The opposite, however, was true of the poorer population, whose appearance was a very sad one; they were ragged. barefoot, dirty, unshaven, hungry and swollen. Their eyes were sunk deep in their sockets. Nothing bothered them anymore. They didn't even care about the news from the front and their main interest was how to come into possession of a piece of bread, not only in order to still their hunger but also to ease the unending pain in the stomach and intestines. They were resigned to the fact that there was no salvation for them. The religious Jews among them stopped praying to God. If they could they would rather have complained of his having deserted them.
The Jew seemed like a strange animal when he was on the aryan side, and that is the way the Christian populace acted towards him when he marched through the Christian streets on his way to work every day. The Jew was afraid of the open street and felt himself helpless there and insecure. He felt surer and more secure in the ghetto, among his people.
The Christians looked upon the Jews marching to work as upon a gray mass, or dark shadows, still alive but long since sentenced to death.
The Jews had a friend in Rohatyn -- a Dr. Runge, who shared their suffering and
wanted to help them. He very often came to the ghetto, to treat the sick, to
comfort them with the hope that the Germans wouldn't win the war. But on the
other hand there was Dr. Melnick, whose house was in the ghetto and who had
remained there with the special permission of the authorities. He was the only
Christian among the thousands of Jews and from his windows he had a good
opportunity to observe the sufferings and unhappiness of the ghetto inhabitants
he hated so much. 1912.
Rosh Hashana 1942, before dawn. All the inhabitants of the ghetto were sunk in sleep. The Gestapo, together with the local gendarmerie and the Ukrainian auxiliary police blocked all the exits from the ghetto. The armed band was led by Obersturmfuhrers Miller and Hermann (both from Vienna). They entered the ghetto, called out the Judenrat and ordered all the Jews to present themselves and to be ready for the transport that would leave from the railway station. Freight cars were already waiting. With the help of the Jewish police the Judenrat had to conduct the Gestapo from house to house, and to help them assemble all the Jews of the ghetto. Even more, the Jewish police ha? to help the Gestapo uncover all the hiding places, to drive all the Jews to the ghetto square and to bring them to the station.
Thanks to the attention of the Jewish police and the people on watch during the night, it had become known to the ghetto that a large group of Gestapo men had come from Tarnopol. The ghetto was aroused and warned to remain close to the bunkers. This time the Jews were better prepared. Every house already; had its buried bunker under the floor, in a closet or cellar.
In the course of the action it became clear that not all the bunkers were properly prepared with all the necessary conditions to maintain the people for a whole day.
The Germans and their helpers went from house to house and searched carefully in all the corners and under the floors, since they found hardly anyone in the rooms. Despite all the precautions about 500 people were dragged out of the bunkers. Those who tried to escape were shot on the spot. The same fate was accorded the aged, the sick and others not fit for the transport.
When a bunker was discovered the Germans sent in a Jewish policeman to collect all the valuables and then to drive out all the people inside. The Germans, themselves, were afraid of being killed if they went into the bunkers.
Sometimes gendarmes uncovered bunkers but were bribed and closed them up again and went away. This, however, could only be done when they were alone, and not accompanied by a Gestapo-man.
At five in the evening the "action" was complete. The captured Jews were
escorted to the railway station and from there carried to Beljitz. Some of them
managed to jump out of the train during the night and to make their way back to
the ghetto. Many of those who escaped in this way were later killed by the
After the second "action" the ghetto looked like a dead city. Only a few lonely and mournful individuals made their way through the empty streets.
Some days of mourning passed and life slowly went back to normal. The daily cares again began to absorb those who were still alive. Once again they began to go to work outside the ghetto, to look for food and to think of improving the bunkers which had not been discovered. The autumn was passing and winter was close. These were the last days of the year in the ghetto and also the hardest. Men were hungry and sick to the bone and stiff with cold. They didn't have shoes for their feet or a piece of wood to heat the rooms.
Meanwhile the Germans began to bring together Jews from various places where they had been permitted to remain for various reasons. Jews from the neighboring villages and towns were driven into the ghetto, which again became full. The empty streets were lively again and the houses were occupied once more. This concentration of Jews in the Rohatyn ghetto again didn't presage anything good. Everybody understood that another "action" was being prepared. Since there was nowhere else to look for help ail hopes were placed in the bunkers and people began to work feverishly to make them stronger. A few began to look for escape on the aryan side, but without hopes. They knew that the Christian only had one aim: to take from the Jew his last belongings and then to drive him out (if he didn't kill him himself). There were others who sneaked out of the ghetto and went to friendly peasants. People were afraid to go to the woods since they didn't have any arms. Only large groups, capable of protecting themselves against attacks and of obtaining food, dared go to the forest.
The Judenrat went to Tarnopol very often to the Gestapo headquarters and took along various presents in the hopes of learning their future plans for the remaining Jews. They were sure than an "action" was coming, but they didn't know when and what form it would take. Would it last for one day only or for several days? These trips were very expensive but the members of the Judenrat were personally interested in them, since their own fates were at stake. If the third "action" would take only some of the Jews, the Judenrat would continue to exist and they would be able to save themselves and their families. But if the whole ghetto was liquidated then the Judenrat itself would no longer be needed. THE THIRD "ACTION"
On Tuesday morning, the eighth of December 1942, the Gestapo from Tarnopol together with the gendarmerie (as in former "actions") surrounded the ghetto and closed all the exits. Suddenly the Jews learned from the Jewish police of the new "action''. There was hardly time to get out of bed and run to the bunkers since the Germans had come into the ghetto very swiftly. As usual the Jewish auxiliary police had to go along with the Germans and to help them uncover the hiding Jews. Many sick people didn't succeed in hiding and they were also immediately shot or taken to the Ghetto square.
By five in the evening the Germans had succeeded in gathering more than 2000 Jews who were led by armed escort to the railway station and from there in freight cars to Beljit,z.
This time many small children died in the bunkers because of the too-large
doses of opiates they had been given. Most of the bunkers also didn't have
enough air and some children simply suffocated. But even in this there was a
terrible comfort: it was better for the children to have died in their sleep,
instead of being shot by the Germans.
We had already known of the German defeats at Stalingrad in December 1942. At the beginning of February 1943 the German army at Stalingrad. surrendered officially. The ghetto was stirred by the news. There was great joy. The hungry and sick almost, forgot their own troubles; it seemed as if the Germans were already defeated and that the world was coming back to itself once more.
In truth the defeat behind Stalingrad was only the beginning of the end of the Hitlerites. But it was not yet the end nor the end of our tragedy. On the contrary, our condition became even more tragic. The Gestapo's demands became harsher. The trips to Tarnopol with money, gold and jewelry became more frequent. The local gendarmerie also became harsher in their demands. The Christian population was waiting for the moment when the last of us would no longer remain alive, so that there would be no live witnesses of their sins against the Jews.
Resignation soon reigned again. Thoughts of flight from the ghetto in order to
find some place where one could live out the short time that probably remained
before the German defeat increased. Others again began to strengthen their
bunkers so that they could wait there until the end of the war.
The warm, sunny and pleasant spring of 1943 brought, good news Of the continued German defeats on the Eastern front. This wasn't really very much of a comfort for us since the slow and systematic retreat of the Wehrmacht couldn't help us. We needed a sudden breakdown of the whole Hitlerite regime or a breakthrough on all fronts. But these good news lifted our morale and gave us the hope and strength to support the nightmare-like days. With greater energy we took ourselves to reinforcing the bunkers or to think of escaping to the aryan side if an occasion came. The ghetto inhabitants came out of the gray and grimy houses into the sun. It was a pleasure to warm oneself in the sun, to catch a little nap. Hunger and weakness didn't leave thought for dreams but in sleep one could still hope. They dreamed of the good days that had passed, of human freedom, or of the future which was slowly, so slowly coming.
But there were also bad news from the nearby and more distant Jewish
communities which were being steadily destroyed and evacuated. Lemberg was
almost completely empty of Jews.
In a nearby woods, the peasants discovered a bunker where Jews were hiding. They informed the gendarmerie who immediately came and shot all the hiding Jews. Only one man managed to escape. But on the way to Rohatyn he was attacked by peasants who wanted to hand him over to the Germans. He had no alternative but to fire at them and one of the peasants was shot in the foot. The others fled and he dragged himself to Rohatyn and lost himself in the ghetto
The wounded peasant reported the incident to the Rohatyn gendarmerie who
demanded of the Judenrat that they turn the Jew over. However, they couldn't
find him since they didn't know who he was. The gendarmerie ordered that if he
were not handed over within two hours the Judenrat would have to hand over 20
other Jews as hostages. Negotiations didn't help: the gendarmes remained
adamant. The Judenrat were afraid that the gendarmes would inform the Tarnopol
Gestapo who might decide to liquidate the entire ghetto. Since the gendarmes
hadn't specified which 20 it had to be, the Judenrat ordered the Jewish police
to pick out some sick and aged people who were close to death. 20 such Jews
were selected and given to the gendarmes, who led them all down into a cellar.
Seven gendarmes placed them along the wall and shot at them till they were
dead. When they were convinced that all were dead they ordered the bodies
cleared and carried to the cemetery. (I was present when the dead bodies were
carried out of the cellar.) Under the hill of dead bodies there was one Jew who
had been saved by a miracle. He got up, left the cellar and went home. We felt
that we had got off cheaply; the Gestapo would have demanded more.
In the months of May and June we began to hear that all the surrounding places had been completely emptied of Jews. Now it was sure that the fate of the Rohatyn Jews was sealed and that our days were numbered. We began to become accustomed to the thought of the coming end. We often talked of approaching death as of a natural and inevitable event. We began to sell everything which still remained of former times and began to buy food to still our hunger. In some houses there were parties, with food and drink and song. There wasn't any music since the Faust family musicians were no longer with us. Only David Faust, with his wife and daughter, Rosa, were still alive.
On Shvu'ot, June 5, 1943, the Gestapo came to Rohatyn from Lemberg. They surrounded the ghetto and took away the remaining Jewish population. About two o'clock past midnight, 18 kilometers away from the town, I heard the bang of the machine guns. The Germans were killing the last inhabitants of the Rohatyn ghetto.
An hour before the Gestapo's entry into the ghetto I, together with my family, had left my home and stolen away to a Ukrainian acquaintance. The next morning I sent the peasant to find out what had happened to the ghetto. When he came back he told us that the ghetto no longer existed. The streets were empty. Someone might still be in the bunkers but nobody knew. Before the last action there were about 3000 Jews in the Rohatyn ghetto.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Rogatin (Rohatyn), Ukraine Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 16 Dec 2005 by LA