The Community of Rohatyn Destroyed
Rachel and Moshe Nashofer, Haifa
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
The war broke out in September of 1939, and the Red Army took control of eastern Galicia. The normal, quiet life ceased for the Jews, though as of yet no one had been beaten or killed
In June of 1941, Hitler's soldiers fell upon the Soviet Union, and on July 2nd they entered Rohatyn. It is impossible to describe the fear and panic that took hold of the Jewish populace.
The next day, July 3rd, the Ukrainian militia was formed, which afflicted the Jews even more cruelly than the Germans did. On July 6th, 1941, they played out their first blood sport. They arranged themselves in to rows on the city field, and forced the Jews to lie prostrate before them, for some time, as they struck them brutally with iron poles.
Right away, in the first few days of the occupation, a great hunger began, because the Gentiles stopped selling necessary food to the Jews.
On July 12th, a burning summer day, the murderous Gestapo assembled all of the Jews in the synagogue, and locked them in for several hours, forcing them to lie on the floor and pray for Hitler's victory.
The real trouble began on August 1st, 1941, when eastern Galicia came under control of the general government. Rohatyn became the regional city. The regional commander, Ausbach, was among the worst of the murderers. Orders were immediately issued which later led to the complete annihilation of the Jewish community.
The decrees took effect immediately. Jews had to wear stars-of-David on their arms. A Jewish labor-board was also formed, which had had to provide Jews for hard labor, especially the hewing of stones.
In November, Rohatyn went from regional city to sub-district, attached to the district of Stanislowow. The murderer Ausbach moved to Brzezany.
We believed that things would improve slightly, but it soon became clear that we should hope for no changes. In December of 1941, a new state advisor appeared and instituted a fur operation. Every Jew possessing furs or pieces of fur had to hand them over on penalty of death.
That winter was among the harshest and coldest, and the Jews, exhausted by hunger, had to work outside hewing stones nearly naked.
Till then the Jews had only suffered persecution, and had not yet been the victims of mass murders.
On March 8th, in the morning, shots were heard in the city, and it was immediately known that the murderers of the Gestapo had come, a special battalion assigned specifically to the destruction of the Jews. With the help of the Ukrainian militia, they shot some 3600 Jews (1000 of them refugees) from among those who remained in the city.
Jewish blood flowed in streams two kilometers long. On the second day, the earth still shook, because some victims had been buried alive, and shouts were even heard from the graves. Two Jewish girls managed to get out of the graves alive, but they died two days later. That day others went to their death, but heroically, of their own free will: Dr. Zlatkis, Dr. Goldshalg, and Flank, Strayer's son-in-law. On the 21st, hundreds of Jewish corpses still lay in the street, among them mothers with little children in their arms.
On May 1st, 1942, a new Judenrat was formed, the dead members replaced with new ones. The perimeter of the ghetto was reduced, despite the arrival of all the Jews of Knyhinice. It is impossible to describe the want that arose there. Hunger was rampant and a typhus epidemic broke out. Day to day, ten to fifteen Jews died of hunger and sickness.
A new page was turned in the catalogue of Jewish martyrdom. They began transporting men to the camps, and the men never returned. To our great sorrow, the Jewish council, and specifically the Jewish police, shamefully played the largest role in this transportation.
On September 21st, Shabbat fell on Yom Kippur. This was the second of the tragic days for the community of Rohatyn. Savage Gestapo murderers from Tarnopol came early in the morning, and carried out an action with the help of the Jewish police. 800 Jews were assembled in the field beside the Talmud-Torah and transported to Belzits, where they died by gas and were incinerated in the crematorium. Among the 800 were 300 from Rohatyn, the rest being from Knyhinice. In the course of this action 25 men were shot on the spot.
In October of 1942, all of the Jews of Burstyn, Bulshovice, and Bukacovce were driven into the Rohatyn ghetto. The overcrowding was intensified, and many days hunger and typhus claimed 40 to 50 victims. As in other cities, a diabolical game now began: Jews with the right documents had a better chance of living than those with other documents. The persecuted and afflicted Jews now began to think about how they could ransom their lives.
On December 8th, 1942, another action was carried out in Rohatyn. Local murderers, men of the Jewish police, also participated in this. The results were as follows: all the sick from the Jewish hospital in the ghetto, numbering some 200 according to their doctors and attendants, and an additional 1250 were transported to Belzits, where they perished in the gas chamber. The people were transported naked, through the punishing cold.
There now ensued a daily hunting of Jews, whose numbers kept dwindling, and if they were not shot on the spot, they were cruelly tortured by the Ukrainian beasts.
In January of 1943 the size of the ghetto was further reduced, though it still contained 1000 people (a few hundred from Rohatyn and the rest strangers.) The ghetto was locked and there was no getting out. Even for work, transportation was only in groups. Most were no longer suited for labor, and so the Germans and Ukrainians were used. The Jews suffered through the tortures of the winter, and the spring of 1943 came. Most sought hiding-places underground, and prepared fortified bunkers for themselves. But often enough, the bunker was discovered and its occupants destroyed.
[Photo #1, p. 215: Aliza Bloch]
The last act in the tragedy of Rohatyn Jewry opened on June 1st, 1943, when village after village was cleansed of Jews. Rohatyn's turn came on June 6th, 1943. It was a Sunday, the first day of Shavuot. At 2:30 in the afternoon, armed groups of Gestapo soldiers and Ukrainians surrounded the ghetto and began setting fire to the houses. When the fire did not catch, they would throw grenades.
People were driven naked to the pits that had between prepared the day before by Ukrainians, by the new cemetery ([bad-rach] to Parnuvke, beside the monastery.) On the way there, they were beaten cruelly, and beside the pits they had to wait their turn to be shot.
This lasted three days. On the second and third days, the Jews were forced to dig their own graves, and whoever did not strip off their clothes fast enough before death was tortured cruelly, shot in the legs or even thrown living into the graves. Children were generally not shot at all, but thrown living into the pits.
On the third day, silence prevailed. There was no one left to shout. The flames still rose in the ghetto. The fanning of a light wind kept them from going out.
Thus, in such a tragic manner, ended a large Jewish community that was 700 years old. 8000 were the martyrs of Rohatyn and its environs, cast into three mass graves, or dusting the earth of Belzits with their ashes.
Some tens of Jews found refuge in the forest. Others fled or were exiled to the Soviet Union, where they lived until liberation.
God of vengeance! Do not hold your peace for yourself or our blood!
The Report of General Katzman
(according to the article of A. Eisenbach in The New Life 28-309)
A prime source of information for learning the history of Jewish self-defense in the ghetto and the form that it took is the published report of Meyer Straap on the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and the report of S.S. Grupenfuhrer Katzman, who was officer-in-charge of Galicia. This report was made to his superior, Krieger, and it contains important details concerning actions taken against ghetto rebellions and partisans.
Among other things, the report depicts in detail three bunkers in Rohatyn, called by their builders Stalingrad-Bunker, Svestopol, and Leningrad. The Stalingrad bunker, for example, was thirty meters long, and was covered by a two-meter deep layer of earth. It was built very artfully, with electricity, three level bunk beds, and a sufficient stockpile of rations to feed sixty people for a long time. Katzman discovered the bunker thanks to an informer, but when his soldiers began to break in the fighters opened fire. The fighters gave no answer to the soldiers' warning, and the bunker was blown up.
Ana Schweller-Kornbluh, Tel-Aviv
The Story of one Night
What time is it? I asked.
My husband looked at the watch that was still in his pocket, and whispered, Three.
I was shocked. So late! Soon the sun would rise, and we would find ourselves in the middle of a field, without a hiding-place. Around us were wide-open spaces, forests, and hills. Where should we go? All night we had walked on and on, without finding the right road to the village where lived the merchant who had once promised to help us.
Yesterday we waited impatiently for nightfall, thinking we would soon find the village. We lay down in a grove and waited, my family and I. Then there were still five of us. We shivered from the cold. My father Moshe lay in the middle. We wanted to warm him, to prevent the cold wind from blowing on him. My husband Yosef lay on one side, and looked out over the expanse with sorrowful eyes. On the other side lay my sister Melvina, her son Dovid, thin and pale, beside her. I closed up the circle.
This was our third day without food, but we were not hungry. We did not even have any water, but this too was unimportant. All that mattered was that night come, the darkness of night, and the still of night--night, our dearest friend.
We were frightened time after time. Who was that up on the hill? Perhaps Gentile children had come to the grove to gather nuts? No, it was only birds flying by, oblivious to the fear they had stirred in us.
Finally, night fell. The stars came out, and the moon showed its face. But this too was dangerous. The light of the moon was liable to disclose us. But no, nature was on our side: clouds covered the moon.
Slowly, slowly we rose from our place and moved on in our desired direction. We walked on, hour after hour. We were already so tired, and still we had not reached our destination. We crossed fields and forests, great wide-open areas, and more fields, and more forest. Where were we?
[Lipeta havinuni]: we went the wrong way! And what now? We stood a whole hour deliberating.
Suddenly our little boy lay down on the grass, and lay his walking stick beside him. I won't walk any further. I can't. My strength is gone. Go if you still can. I will stay here. His mother lay down beside him and pleaded, Go, go on without us. I will stay with the boy.
I could not raise my voice, but I begged angrily, Get up! Come on! I won't go on without you. You must walk. Dawn is coming. They will find us and kill us!
And what if I want to die? said the boy. Leave me. I'm staying here! I did not cease to tug at him. We will take you by force!
We will rest five minutes, this in the quiet voice of my father. Yes, father. We will rest and afterwards go on, I said, and likewise lay down on the grass. How nice it was to lie down! I thought of the people laying in their homes, on their beds, in restful quiet. Would we ever again live like human beings? We had no hope that we would.
Silently, I contemplated my responsibility. I was the one burdened with moving this group onwards. I initiated our flight from the ghetto, in the face of an action, and our wandering along this road. It was up to me to find the village. What should I do now? How could I find the right path?
I rose, and pleaded, Get up. Time is pressing. Everyone arose, even the boy and his mother. We went on together. How happy I was! Even under those circumstances there were moments of happiness.
I ran some paces ahead, looking for some kind of path, some kind of way, and then returned to my family, dragging on behind me. I drew away from them frequently, and then came near again. And here before us was a wood, with a little narrow path leading through the middle of it. This must certainly be the path that leads to our merchant. We walked as quickly as our strength would allow. I was the first to arrive at the edge of the woods, but, to my great dismay, the path stopped. I went out into the clearing, but no sign of a village could be seen.
I stood in the middle of the clearing and wondered where to turn. Who would help us? I looked to the moon. The clouds were parting, and the moon poured out its light on the world.
Suddenly I though of dogs. Dogs bark at the moon, and if one dog starts to bark, other dogs will follow. If we were near a village there would certainly be dogs around and in the same instant I began to bark, at first in a small dog's thin voice, and then mightily, like a big dog.
I did not stop barking for some time, though my family surrounded me and began hugging and kissing me, caressing me and whispering loving words. Panicked, they held me fast, without knowing what to do with me. I understood: they thought my mind had given out.
Don't worry about me, I snapped angrily, I am quite sane. And I told them what I was doing, and began barking again, beautifully, in a mighty voice full of force and power.
The dogs answered. It was as if they understood me. How good the dogs were! In those times dogs were better than men
We went in the direction of the barking dogs. The village we had been searching for all night was not far away.
We passed through another grove, and there before us on a hill stood the solitary house of the merchant, a good man, as far as we knew. The stars paled in the sky, and the sun rose.
A Loaf of Bread
Does anyone really know the value of a loaf of bread?
Whenever I see bread thrown awayslices, quarters, half-loaves of bread lying in the garbage canI am obliged to think back to a single loaf that caused me great trouble. Sometimes I want to plead with the people throwing out bread not to do it, not to throw it away!
In those days, when I was hungry, a single loaf of bread restored me to life.
I suffered from hunger and insomnia. One night, at long last, I dozed off.
My mother's voice shook me out of my sleep. She was crying. Years have passed since my mother cried in her sleep in the Polish ghetto. Years have passed, and I have not forgotten that night.
Mother, why are you crying? I asked her, stroking her hand, Don't cry, mother.
Mother awoke. She sighed deeply and answered, It's nothing. It was a dream. Was I crying?
I saw her face in the moonlight that pierced through the window. She tried to smile, but the tears still flowed from her eyes.
What did you dream of, mother? I asked. Tell me.
I dreamed, she told me, that winter had come, that the ground had frozen and it was impossible to dig out the money that we hid. And we don't even have a slice of bread.
I laughed softly. Mother, that's not a problem. Don't worry, everything will work itself out. Sleep soundly.
I returned to my corner, but did not shut an eye. I resolved then to go to the house where my parents lived before coming to the ghetto, to steal into the flower garden where we hid the money, to get it out from beneath the bushes and bring it into the ghetto. And then we would buy bread. Before dawn, I had already planned out how I would recover the silver and gold that could, I thought, save our lives.
In the morning, when the members of my family gathered togethereveryone slept in a different cornerI began putting my plan into action. First of all I had to lie to them, because I knew that if I told the truth they would not let me go. They would not agree to my going to dig in the garden at night; would not let me go on such a dangerous mission.
Lightly, I told them that I would go to the village, to our former maid, who had kept all of our clothes, and bring back bread. They were against the idea. A storm broke out. It is better to die of hunger, they said, than at the hands of murderers.
That very day we ate nothing. We drank our breakfast, our meal for the whole day: a broth of boiled water and sugarbeet, with a little honey.
Die of hunger? No! No! I want to live, to live along with you. And in order to live I will go! They did not agree. I was forced to plead, to struggle, to pretend that I was not afraid, that for me it was just a little stroll. And in the end, against their will, I disguised myself in the clothes of a village woman, and went.
With great effort, I left the ghetto. There, in the city, among free people, I felt so wretched, so solitary, that I yearned for the ghetto, for those wretched like me, for the Jews.
I walked slowly. I tried to follow the pace of the villagers, and was very happy to arrive finally outside the city. When I came to the main road, I widened my gait and began to contemplate the work that lay ahead of me: I had to wait for night to fall, in a field beside my parents' house, to steal into the garden, to dig beneath the bushes I did not dare think any further. I would buy bread. This was my dream, the dream that gave me strength and courage.
And now I felt that someone was watching me. I looked to the left, and my sight went dark. A Ukrainian policeman was approaching me. How I panicked! My heart beat like a hammer? Can he also hear the beating of my heart?
Why are you smiling? he asked me, and where are you going? You're probably hurrying because tomorrow is a holiday.
I did not know there was a smile on my lips. This smile saved me. Jews had by then forgotten how to smile.
Yes, I stammered, I'm hurrying because I have housework to do. Tomorrow is a holiday. I like holidays. He walked beside me. I tricked him into thinking I was one of them. People looked at me, and not a single one of them suspected that the policeman himself was walking beside a Jewish woman.
When we came to the crossroads I was supposed to go right, but at that very minute I changed my plan and kept on walking beside him. I looked at his ruddy face and spoke of village matters. As long as I was walking beside him I was sure that no one would recognize me. When we parted ways and he was gone I was near the village where our former maid lived.
I walked the path to the village and soon saw her house. People were working in the fields. How I envied them. Not only them, but also every bird that flew through the air. If only I were a bird!
I arrived and went in. The first thing I saw in the room was the bread. The table was covered with bread, loaves and loaves, one beside the other, fresh and moist and glowing. And what an aroma! It was the aroma of luxury.
The maid was not at home. Her mother was shocked to see me, as if she were seeing a ghost. What are you doing here? she asked me. I asked her to give me some of our clothes. It's cold. The winter is coming, I told her. She left the room.
Beside the table sat a relative of theirs, staring at me through evil eyes. When I looked into his eyes it was as if an electric current passed through my body. I understood that I had to get out of there.
The mistress of the house returned. In her hand was a pair of sky-blue shoes of mine, which were not to her taste. How can you wear these? she said, They're just toys.
Without a word I took the shoes and made to leave the house. See you, I said, and against my will took another look at the bread. And now the woman went to the table, chose the smallest loaf and put it in my basket.
I left the house and hurried away. I ran through the field and could not calm down until I reached the main road and saw that the bad man was not running after me.
Now I thought of the bread. I glanced into the basket several times, as if thinking, God forbid, the bread had disappeared. Hunger, to which I had grown accustomed and even lived with in peace, now began to argue with me.
Why, said the hunger angrily, do you only look at the bread? You have a whole loaf. Tear of at least a little peace.
My head hurt. I had difficulty breathing. My whole body felt weak. It must be hunger, I thought, For all of this, I will eat a piece of bread. I took a piece and began to eat. What a wonderful taste!
I'll take another piece, and I took it, and another, and another.
In exchange for my sky-blue shoes, I dreamed, I'll get more bread, and besides, the day after tomorrow I'll go get our money. There was also gold there, clocks, and precious stones that my grandmother got from her parents and in-laws. I remembered the stories associated with these jewels.
In two days, I will go, I thought, the day after the holiday. Of course, on a holiday eve it would be impossible to dig at night, because everyone is out strolling. They could catch me, and then And to that end it's good that today will be rainy and everyone will stay indoors, and the night will be dark, and a heavy darkness will cover everything, and no one will go outside.
With all of these arguments I sought to justify my change in plans.
And so I thought and ate, and walked and ate, until I looked into my basket and could not believe my eyes: the bread was gone. I had eaten the entire loaf. The bread was warm and fresh and glowing. What have I done? I said out loud to myself. I called myself all kinds of nasty names. I could not believe what I had done. What will I bring home?
I saw my family before me, pale with blue lips. How miserable I was then? I cried loudly, like a little girl. Only when people approached me could I overcome my tears. I turned aside, into a cabbage field beside the road. I had a sack, in which I had wanted to carry our treasures, and now, in the field, I stole cabbages and sugarbeets, stuffed them in the sack, raised it on my back, and returned to the road.
It was late. The sun set. I had to hurry. The sack was very heavy and I dragged it on with difficulty. The beets pressed down like stones. It seemed to me as if the road would never end. And now I heard bells ringing. It was the eve of a holiday and the churchbells were ringing.
I was near the city, near the ghetto, and the bells were ringing for peace.
After a full hour I finally saw the city. The sight was blurred in my moist eyes. I did not know if they were wet from sweat or tears.
When I entered the ghettowhich was not an easy thing to doI had already begun to think with a heavy heart of the road awaiting me the day after tomorrow.
I looked up at the sky and begged the clouds, Please, let there be rain.
And all this for bread
Who is Knocking on the Door?
Someone was knocking on the door. Even so, I did not panic. Who could be knocking on the door so late?
It was already after midnight. The first night after the awful day, a day I would never forget
It was winter in Poland, in the time of the World War and the pogroms (actions) in our city of Rohatyn. The murderers had captured me in the morning, and marched me before them with sub-machine guns in their hands. Beside me the elderly prayed and the children cried, and the murderers mocked us and laughed.
All at once I jumped away and began running. I do not know how far I ran. When I fell to the ground I was in a field far from the city. I lay down and looked around me. Snow covered the world like a white blanket. Sun rays flooded the area with their radiance. Only the howling wind told of our tragedy.
I thought of my family. Where were they? Perhaps they had been able to hide. When would night fall?
The day passed, as everything passes in this world. The sun set, and darkness enveloped the city. I left the field and sneaked like a thief into the ghetto. Those still living wandered like shadows, searching for their families. I two searched, running from alley to alley, asking, Has anyone seen my dear ones?
One man had seen my dear mother.
And so I sat that night, after midnight, alone in our room, surrounded by the stillness and quiet. Those who had hidden in cellars or other places had already returned home, but no one returned to me.
I gave up all hope. I sat alone, broken and infinitely miserable. What were my thoughts then? It is difficult to say.
Was someone knocking? No, it must have been my head that was pounding so.
I lit a candle that I found on the table, and slowly went toward the door. I opened it. My husband stood before me.
by Y. P. S.
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
It seemed to Pepka Kleinwaks that she had found life and security when she arrived in the bosom of her American family, after six years under the Nazis in Poland and Germany.
In 1939, the Germans invaded Poland. Pepka's mother, her two sisters, and her two brothers, all of them registered as Jews, were killed by the invaders. But a Polish girl gave Pepka an identity card she had found on the body of a Polish Aryan girl. Pepka put on that it was her own certificate, and was transported to Germany along with many thousands of Poles, as a migrant worker.
For four years, Pepka worked as a maid for a nazi family, all the while terrified that the Nazis would discover she was a Jew. Finally the Allied army came, and she went to Paris. There she contacted her uncles in America, who immediately arranged for her to join the family.
All her troubles are over, said her happy family as they greeted the young girl with the dark eyes. Pepka took pleasure in her new home, despite the six years she had suffered in the Nazi hell.
A short time after her arrival in America, she was struck down by a malignant disease, which claimed her as an additional victim of the Shoah. May her memory be blessed.
[Photo #1, p. 221 YB: Pepka Kleinwaks, of blessed memory.]
By Ariyeh and Cyla Blech
[NOTE: sections misnumbered in the originalskips from 4 to 6]
The outbreak of World War II, in September of 1939, was felt in our shtetl immediately with the influx of a great wave of refugees from western Poland. As Rohatyn lay near the Rumanian border, the number of refugees was estimated to be 8,000-10,000. Clearly, this tide of people may have brought revitalization and economic increase, but at the same time, it initiated the descent into a typical wartime regimen with its chaos and disorder. The balance that had previously existed was disrupted, and everyone felt as though horrible days were coming.
The German-Soviet pact had, by mutual consent, held Hitler's soldiers on the far side of the Bug River, and the Red Army marched on Rohatyn. With slow but sure steps, they began the sovietization of everyday life. Trade was nationalized, which caused great disquiet among the Jewish population. The deportation of Shaul Grad to Siberia, the first sacrifice to the new winds beginning to blow through the shtetl, made a different, stronger impression.
The Jewish community had the hard task of caring for the homeless families that the fates of war had brought to Rohatyn. Almost every shtetl family gave up a room for the refugees. Workplaces were created for them. The general opinion was that they would help as they could, and together we would push through the bitterness of wartime.
All of a suddena sensation. Everyone who wanted to could register to return to where he had come from. The refugees, who wanted to be reunited with their severed families, their lost wives and children or their far-away grandparents, flooded the registration office and expressed their desire to return. It turned out, however, according to witnesses, that the matter of registration was nothing more than a trap for the unfortunate refugees who were marked as enemies of the Soviet regime and followers of Germany. The proofthey wanted to return to the Germans
On a certain night, all of the undesirable elements were dragged from their beds. They were allowed to take with them only their absolute necessities and were driven away to the train station. There, they were loaded into freight wagons, fifty people to a wagon. The transports went away to Siberia and other regions deep inside Russia.
On a hot June day in 1941, we heard the powerful detonation of bombs exploding in the surrounding area. It soon became clear that Germany had declared war on the Soviet Union and that the retreat lines in our area were being bombed. Panic in the shtetl was without measure, and the Jewish population became distraught. Whoever was able fled east to Russia. Unfortunately, their number was not very large. The German Wehrmacht occupied Rohatyn.
Then hell began for the Jews of Rohatyn. The first to demonstrate their animal instincts and anti-Semitic sentiments were the Ukrainians. Their dirty work consisted of denigrating Jews, extorting money, jewels and food from them, and further, beating them, delivering blows without mercy and without any reason apart from sadistic pleasure. When the SS later undertook their anti-Jewish work, they found willing and devoted helpers in the Ukrainians.
Once, all of the finest householders of the shtetl, along with its spiritual leaders, including Rabbi Avrum-Dovid Spiegel, Rabbi M. L. Taumim, Eliezer Langner, Izi Dolar, Lipa Mendel and others, were forcibly assembled in the large synagogue. Two SS bandits, together with local Ukrainians, tied the Jews with their hands above their heads and dealt them murderous blows with rubber truncheons. At the same time, other Jews were driven together. They were forced to pass through the fire, between two armed rows of Ukrainians who dealt out cruel blows to the unfortunate Jews. Many Jews were severely injured and were left invalids.
This did not satisfy the murderers. They also demanded tribute money. The sum had to be assembled in a short time; otherwise, they threatened to burn all of the Jews of Rohatyn. The chairman of the community, Amerant, began to gather together the ransom, and his action was crowned with success.
In 1941, a ghetto was created in Rohatyn. The area stretching from the Russian church to the Gnila Lipa River, on one side, and to the house of Alter Faust, of blessed memory, on the other side, was declared the dwelling quarter of the Jews. Thirteen thousand Jews were crowded together in this narrow space. This meant ten people to a room. The ghetto was entirely isolated from the outside world, and this resulted in a scarcity of food. Hunger, sickness and, above all else, typhus left their mark in the ghetto. Every day there were deaths from malnutrition and from a lack of medical aid. Thirty to forty Jews died daily in the ghetto or fell at the murderous hands of the Germans and Ukrainians.
The nightmare intensified up to the point of the first devastating action. Meanwhile, following the pattern of other cities in occupied Poland, the Germans had created a Judenrat (Jewish Council), consisting of Dr. Goldschlag, Shlomo Kreisler, Chaim Shkolnik, Lipa Mandel, Pinchas Spiegel and Yonah Horn. The Judenrat appointed a Jewish Ordnungdienst (police), and together, they undertook fulfilling the German demands to establish labor groups, pay tributes, collect furs for the Nazi Army on the front and the like.
Once, the Judenrat received an order to assemble 150 laborers who, under the guidance of two engineers, had to dig out two large graves on Putiatynce mountain by the brick factory, each twenty meters long, fifteen meters wide and three meters deep. The Jews in Rohatyn had a reasonable basis for suspecting that they were actually being forced to dig their own graves. A few weeks earlier, there had been a rumor that 20,000 Jews had been killed in this manner in Stanislawow. What could they do? Who would tell them the truth?
As Mr. Amerant was on friendly terms with the land commissioner, he was given the task of determining the real intention behind the digging of these graves. At the price of five kilos of gold, the commissioner pretended to reveal the secretthe graves were to be used as oil reservoirs by the German Army.
On the twentieth of March 1942, at six in the morning, the ghetto was aroused by bands of armed Germans and Ukrainians, especially assembled to kill Jews. They stormed into the apartments and ordered the inhabitants to evacuate immediately. Elderly and sick people, pregnant women and children were shot on the spot. Also, those who did not carry out orders quick enough received a bullet from the inhuman murderers. The assassins ran through the ghetto like wild animals, bringing death and devastation. Those not killed immediately were assembled in the town square, a mass of 3,000. They were commanded to stand in precise rows, head to head and back to back, to the exact millimeter. If a head nodded or a back shivered, a shot was heard, and the row of Jews grew thinner and thinner. In this way, the unfortunates were kept out in the freezing weather. The flowing blood coagulated. Though the people were frozen stiff, they were forbidden to move at all. The murderers stood around with pointed rifles, looking for a chance to shorten a human life. They also allowed themselves a number of sadistic acts and, meanwhile, photographed many of their atrocities.
At around eleven in the afternoon, SS General Miller [Obersturmfuhrer Miller, see p.57 in Rohatyn book] came to the town square, and at his order, the unfortunate Jews were loaded onto the waiting freight trucks. The beaten and frozen people could not stand on their own strength to go to the wagons, and so began the throwing of the tormented Jews into the vehicles.
The column of vehicles carrying the people drove to the graves where other SS men and Ukrainians were waiting. First, the pockets of the unfortunates were emptied and everything of value taken away. Then they were ordered to get into the graves that they themselves had dug several days earlier. There they had to wait on their knees for death, which came very quickly from machineguns and rifle volleys. Then the mass graves were covered up, even though, by this time, the souls of some had not yet risen.
In this way, 3,000 Jews were killed, in the town square, in the ghetto and on Putiatynce mountain.
On the morning after the first action, the ghetto presented a shocking picture; on the streets, in the houses, on the stairways and in the rooms lay frozen and bloody corpses. A dark nightmare hovered over the Jewish quarter. The still living were trembling over what their eyes had seen during and after the destruction. In order to prevent epidemics, they were forced to form work gangs and go through the ghetto collecting the remains of the bloody harvest. For a whole day, the bodies were driven through the streets. It was said that 1200 corpses had been collected in the ghetto.
At night, there was another nightmare that froze the blood in living veins. Nearly fifty Jews, whom the bullets had not killed, and who had lain in the piled layers of the murdered on the mountain, had, with their own strength, though wounded and butchered, climbed out of the two mass graves. Covered in the blood of their open wounds, they barely managed to drag themselves back to the ghetto, accomplishing the four kilometers on foot while racked with horrible suffering. One girl, her feet shot through, crawled home on her knees, to her still living father. But this same father later had to take her in a wagon back to the common grave of the Jews of Rohatyn.
A state of chaos and disorder reigned in the shtetl for three weeks following the action. The Germans, however, had their plans, and, therefore, they found it necessary to hold onto their power in the ghetto, with the help of Jews. They issued an ultimatum to Amerant to assemble a new Judenrat as quickly as possible to represent the remaining Jews.
With the liquidation of the Jewish population in the surrounding shtetls, Bursztyn, Knihynicze and Buczaczow, the remnants of these places came to Rohatyn, which complicated the situation greatly and created many problems. A new Judenrat with new responsibilities was established. It consisted of Dr. Amerant, Dr. Rosenstein, Prof. Gutvarg, Baygel and others whose names I no longer recall. A Jewish police force was also created, led by Meirke Vaysbrum, that played a tragic role in the ghetto. Their task was to insure that the isolation from the outside world was severe, to prevent the ghetto dwellers from coming into contact with the Christian population while escorting bands of laborers to their work and returning them to the ghetto. These functions and assignments had the objective of assisting the Germans in their vile undertaking.
Certainly, normalized life in the ghetto did not pass without smaller actions, forced assemblies and that harsh regime that men sentenced to death live out behind sealed walls. The Jewish police carried out the orders of the German authorities diligently. Once, in this way, seventy children were delivered up for liquidation. The Jews were forced to obey an order to provide a young work force to a series of camps. The desperate Judenrat held that it would be better if their authority and their militia carried out the matter, instead of the brutal and bloodthirsty Ukrainians who would tear children away from still-living parents. Having no way out, the Judenrat delivered up orphans
Hunger raged in the ghetto in full force. Even the cook appointed for the Judenrat did not have enough to allay the need. In the ghetto, one would see many people, swollen with hunger, falling down in the street. The situation of the refugees was even worse.
The second mass decimation was carried out on Yom Kippur, in 1942. In his refinement and perfidy, Hitler chose to kill Jews on Jewish holidays. This time, the sacrificial victims were taken to the train station where 200-300 people were shut into each freight car that had earlier been emptied of pulverized lime. They were taken to the death camp of Belzec. Around forty Jews were able to jump from the wagon, and those that returned to Rohatyn told how, before the train even arrived at Belzec, many died of suffocation, a few lost their minds and others lost their lives jumping from the moving train.
In December of 1942, there was another decimation, this time to Auschwitz. New sacrifices to the German death machine were dragged from the depressed, tormented, demoralized and blood-splattered ghetto. Over a thousand Jews, Jews of Rohatyn and refugees, were transported in horrible conditions to the annihilation camps.
The nearly empty ghetto and the persecutions, hunger and sickness spread demoralization and despair. Those who remained felt their situation to be hopeless. Their motto was therefore, Survive another day! In the ghetto, there were no prospects and no future apart from the concrete and substantial danger called death.
Meanwhile, rumors came to Rohatyn of vicious liquidations in the surrounding shtetls and settlements. The regional cities of Chodorow and PrzemyÊlany were already considered Judenrein (free of Jews). The actions in those places were still being carried out in the form of raids against surviving Jews who were hiding out in bunkers, fields, and forests. They were picked out tracked down one at a time and in groups. Ukrainians and Poles took the primary place in this hunt for living people.
If any sort of stronghold was discussed in those dark times, it was the woods. The rumors of armed partisans in the woods also met with a thankful response in Rohatyn. There were, at that time, between 400 and 500 Jews of Rohatyn and another 1500 refugees in the ghetto.
The premonition of an ever-nearing end so dominated everyone that even the Judenrat and the Jewish police understood the only way out of this situation to be armed struggle. At a secret meeting, on May 15, 1943, it was decided to buy arms and to make it possible for certain armed groups to go out to the forest. If there had then been outspoken men in the shtetl with the necessary moral qualifications, then the plan would not have been doomed to failure. Unfortunately, not everyone in the first group that went out to the forest was able to hold out through the daily trials of rugged survival and severe disappointment, and they returned to the ghetto to a relatively normal life. Instead of leading others away with them from the accursed ghetto, they themselves returned, thinking that when the moment of present danger arrived, they would be able to flee.
There was proof that the Germans knew about the secret preparations and plans of the Jewish militia. On Sunday, the sixth of June 1943, the entire Jewish militia was gathered together and shot. Their bodies were mutilated and afterwards hung openly by the electric power plant, as a warning and deterrent. Soon after that, a move was made to annihilate the last remaining Jews of the ghetto. Again, the remnants of Rohatyn Jewry were put through horrible sufferings, shot on the spot or transported to the death camps.
During the last liquidation action of the Rohatyn Ghetto, around 500 Jews were able to flee and reach either the villages or the forest. But without weapons and without money, harried and pursued, they could not hold out very long, especially as hatred, with a thousand eyes, lurked all around, helping to murder the saved. Those fleeing Hitler's fire fell in the Ukrainian water and perished in the stormy waves of hate and anti-Jewish enmity. Between fifty and sixty Jews from Rohatyn and its surrounding areas were able to procure arms and hold out for a longer time in the forest.
The pen cannot pass further over the paper. It is difficult to refresh in the memory those days of terror and horror when Jewish life was worthless, and beasts, in the images of men, ordained and executed an absolute death sentence on an entire people. Rohatyn Jewry offered up her portion on the altar of the murder of the Jewish people, a sacrifice to racial hatred and the enmity of nations.
** Rohatyn Ghetto Journal by Rosa Halperin (Faust), New York, pages 229-233, appears in the English Section.
By Tzvi Wohl
The author of this work, a man from Rohatyn, a teacher by profession, was in the ghetto from 1941 to 1943.
Afterwardsin the forests until liberation (24 July, 1944.)
It Began With the Ukrainians
Ten days after the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, the first Germans appeared in our city. The local Ukrainians took power and soon outdid themselves in the persecution of Jews. The priest, Teleshtshuk, stood at the head of the new civil authority.
On the first Sabbath, the Ukrainians organized a large action against the Jews. Ukrainian militiamen dragged everyone into the house of study Beit Midrash, all the while delivering murderous blows. The elite of the Jewish community were led with ropes around their throats. In this way, about 500 Jews were brought together and shut inside. The intention was to burn them alive. Only men were in the study house. Women and children were not touched. The women went to plead with Police Commandant Baczynski for mercy. He answered that if they were to fill the little study house with goods, everyone would go free.
Hundreds of women and children actually filled the study house with foodstuffs, manufactured goods and leather, and the Jews were freed.
On the next morning, 1000 farmers came rushing in from the surrounding villages in order to beat and plunder the local Jews. Thanks to German intervention, this did not escalate into a pogrom. The situation came to an end with some scores of Jews badly beaten.
The farmers proceeded to vent their anger on the village Jews. As if on order, all of the Jews were chased out of the villages. They came into the city, beaten, telling of the horrible things that the local farmers, their long-time neighbors, had done to them. The majority of village Jews did not come to Rohatyn, as they had been murdered on the spot.
In the village of Dziezki, the local farmers murdered the Mantel family in a horrible manner. They were killed with a scythe and buried in a stall. It seems that the murderers were not satisfied with their plunder. They later dug up their victims and searched their clothing for gold and money. They found nothing, but they left the dead bodies unburied, on a pile of manure.
A month later, the German authorities received notice regarding money stolen from Mordecai Mantel. The murderers were arrested, the money was confiscated, and they were set free. No investigation into the murder was made.
Armbands and Tributes
By order of the priest, Teleshtshuk, the Jews had to wear armbands, bearing a Star of David with the inscription Jude. Afterwards, the order came to establish a ghetto. The worst section of the city, with its run-down shacks and narrow rooms, was selected. The entire Jewish population (more than 5,000 souls) was forcibly crammed into this area. The entire action was carried out in the span of a day. Attention was given that the Jews take with them only small packages. After a year, the ghetto was completely closed off. Entering and leaving were not permitted.
From the first days, we felt the bitter yoke of forced labor. In the beginning, it took place in a chaotic manner. Every Ukrainian grabbed whatever Jews his heart desired and forced them to work for him. Later, this activity was organized. Every day, several hundred Jews went out to labor.
The whole yoke of labor, from the very beginning of the ghetto, to its liquidation, fell on the shoulders of the poorer Jews. Those Jews who were able to do so sent hired workers to take their places in the work gangs. Even though many fell down dead from the hard labor, there were always plenty of volunteers to be hired and to serve in order to live through the bitter times, so great was their need. Every day, enough Jews remained who were unable to serve, even in this manner.
The actual German authority in Rohatyn was established a month later. Regional Commander Asbach had his seat in Brzezany. A certain Kachel was established as land commissioner. This was a little-known man, of ugly appearance and even uglier expression. It was his habit to appear in the ghetto, during the plundering of the Jews, drunk and decked out in stolen Jewish clothing. He also used to appear in an SS officer's uniform. We fulfilled all of his orders straight away. His first decree was a tribute of a million zlotys, to be delivered within the span of fourteen days.
This decree filled us with fear. Fortunately, we were permitted to pay this tribute in old Polish money and in Russian rubles. The Judenrat assembled the demanded sum assiduously from the surrounding shtetls as well as from ours. The imposed tribute was paid on time.
Resistance to the Hooligans
We were completely isolated from the outside world. After the holidays, we received news that a tremendous pogrom had been carried out in Stanislawow on Hoshanah Rabah. Ten thousand Jews had been murdered. Although the news was true, no one wanted to believe it. The Jews sought out various explanations to justify such a massacre.
On the first day of Hanukah, a group of armed gendarmes entered the ghetto and arrested ten prominent Jews. The next morning, an order was issued Jews had to give over all furs in their possession.
Later on, during a new action, some furs were found in the homes of a few Jews. These Jews, Wolf Seider and Chanah Steiler, were killed.
Afterwards, a band of SS men fell upon the ghetto and carried out a food action. All of the food to be found was taken from every Jewish dwelling.
In the winter months of 1941-1942, the ghetto survived several Ukrainian ambushes. Late at night, well-harnessed sleighs would ride through the ghetto with three or four young hooligans on each one. They grabbed whatever Jews happened to be going by and rode away with them. The kidnapped Jews were stripped naked on the outskirts of town, their clothes were taken away and then they were set free back in the ghetto.
It is worthwhile telling of these attacks carried out by the local Ukrainians. Once, a band of intelligentsia, led by the local Ukrainian anti-Semite Stryjski, fell upon the Jewish lawyer Katz, beat him and robbed him. Fortunately, a group of young Jews were in the area, and they came and broke the bones of the attackers. This sickened the Ukrainian elite, that Jews should dare to oppose their evil actions. The Ukrainian committee sent a petition to Governor General Frank in Krakow, asking for permission to murder the Jewish community of Rohatyn. This petition was signed by Dr. Melnick, the priest Kudrich and Vice Commissioner Chritzyshyn, among others.
This petition, of course, prevailed and led to the great destruction of Rohatyn Jewry in March of 1942.
In the middle of February 1942, the digging of anti-tank ditches began not far from the city. Every day, around 200 men were driven out to work in the lime hills on these ditches. The work was hard, but it was undertaken with joy, as we saw in it the nearing of Hitler's defeat.
The work consisted in preparing two gigantic ditchesforty meters long, twenty meters wide and very, very deep. We wished onto the Germans that these tank defenses would serve them as graves. We never even considered that we were digging our own mass graves, graves for all of the Jews in the city. This work went on until the twentieth of March, 1942.
This was a lovely day, though very cold. Friday, at five in the morning, 100 men went out to dig the tank defenses. Others waited by the building of the Judenrat. Suddenly, cars full of Gestapo men entered the ghetto along with a mass of civilians. They dispersed in every direction within the ghetto. At the same time, the local Ukrainian militia appeared and surrounded the entire ghetto, along with the criminal police and other armed Ukrainians. The ghetto was still sleeping. The entire armed band divided into smaller groups and began dragging the ghetto dwellers toward the center of town.
The Gestapo had already paraded the assembled members of the Judenrat and arranged them in rows together with those who needed to go to work. If a Jew offered any resistance, he was shot on the spot.
Hearing the first shot, the Jews ran in all directions. Thereupon, the Gestapo opened heavy fire on the fleeing people. With this, the intention of the Germans became clear. The slaughter had begun.
The first shot fired roused me from my bed. I ran to the window and saw Germans leading two Jewish girls. The girls were shot, and they fell dead. I quickly slipped out of my room and went into a shack, a kind of sukkah. The Germans soon approached our house and began shouting, Alle Juden heraus! Aufstellen sich familiensweise! RichtungRingplatz! Los! Los! (All Jews out! Line up by families! DirectionRingplatz! Forward! Forward!) The action was in full swing.
Jews, running to the Judenrat, tried to flee the ghetto on the bridge over the Gnila Lipa. Only a few were successful. Armed men stood at all points of exit. Hundreds fell dead or wounded. Some Jews hid in outhouses and in wooden churches that stood nearby the ghetto, and many ran back into the ghetto.
Ukrainians from the surrounding villages gathered together in order to have a look at our destruction and also to help the Germans with their extermination work. From the sukkah, where I lay hidden, I saw how the Ukrainians grabbed the dead and wounded by the arms and legs and threw them into the water, accompanying their actions with wild laughter. These scoundrels chased after all the hidden Jews and brought them back to the assembly point.
Suddenly, in the midst of this bloody commotion, a woman came running in from outside the ghetto. It was Edeleh Brik. It seemed as if she had no idea what had been going on. She had not stayed in the ghetto the night before. The Ukrainian militiaman Dzera shot her right in the face. She became severely distraught. In this state, she ran through the streets for a long time, flapping her arms as a bird does his wings and crying lamentfully, Mama, mama! until she fell as a corpse to the pavement.
The Ukrainian woman Zelenenka, who lived by the river, did not concern her conscience with a single Jew. When the woman Brik fell, Zelenenka sent her young daughter to strip the corpse of its boots. After she removed the first boot, the girl became frightened. Her mother encouraged her, Besisia, Lyuba, vondeh vuze zdochleh. (Don't be afraid, darling, this one is already dead.)
All of the Jews were assembled in the center of town and ordered to lie with their faces to the ground. The Gestapo officers walked across their backs with whips in hand. At the tip of these whips were leaden bullets, and one blow on the head from one of these was enough to kill a man. Many remained, lying dead on the town square. The freight cars began transporting Jews to the graves.
The road from the center of town to the graves was littered with hundreds of corpses of people who had been shot, crushed, or frozen by the cold weather. Many had been snatched from their beds and so had not had time to dress.
Arriving at the graves, Jews were placed in groups of five on a little bridge above the graves and shot. Many lightly and heavily wounded people fell into the graves. The subsequent sacrifices were thrown on top of them. A few, still alive after the shooting, crawled out from under the mountain of dead bodies and out of the graves. Sadly, few of them were able to run away.
The slaughter went on until evening. Around 4,000 Jews were killed.
The Gestapo selected twenty Jews to clean the streets. In the morning, Jews were forced to cover the graves. This work went on for several weeks, because the soil covering the slain kept sinking. It seemed as though the earth was seething and boiling in flowing blood.
** Not in this text: The Way to Hell for a Jewish Girl from Rohatyn by S-L pages 239-249, including four photos.
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