By Liba Goldberg-Warobel, Melbourne
|Luba (Liba) Wrobel Goldberg|
It was June 22, 1941. At five o'clock in the morning, we heard the sound of shooting. All of us who were in the house quickly got dressed. My brother and I went outside to see what happened. All the neighbors were already standing outside, but they also didn't know what was going on. And suddenly we knew: war!!!
Germany was attacking Russia! Immediately, we got the idea that we should hide the expensive household items underground, as we had done in 1939. By chance, our mother was not in the house at that time. She had traveled a few days before to Bialystok to the dentist. My brother a lad of 15, my stepfather, my little brother (from my stepfather), and I aged 16, began to pack our possessions.
Suddenly, we heard an enormous explosion. We left the possessions in the middle of the room, grabbed our little brother, and ran outside. There, we saw a horrible sight. A few of the neighbors, who had stood and talked with us only an hour ago, were wounded, and others were lying dead, as a result of the bomb that the Germans had dropped from the air. Among those who were killed, I recognized Rosa, 15 years old, Rosachatzky's only granddaughter. Chana Beila, the daughter of Zeev, the shoemaker, who had gotten married only three months ago, was thrown on the ground and her leg was cut off. Her husband, Arye, the son of Yossel Yarmus, was trying to carry her on his back so he could bring her to the hospital. She cried out in pain, in a heartbreaking voice.
We did not go back into our house, but ran through the fields to the villages, Jews and Poles together. Towards evening, the Germans arrived in our area. We returned to the town. The Poles who had fled with us in the morning quickly distanced themselves from us when they heard that the Germans had arrived.
When we arrived back home, we saw that our house was on fire. We remained naked and barefoot, lacking everything. We no longer had clothing, bedding, or household utensils. The houses of our grandmother and uncle were also burnt down, but they succeeded in rescuing part of the clothing and other household items, while other people were killed and bullets whistled around them. My Uncle, Avraham Krasnovorsky, brought his possessions to the cellar of the brown house that belonged to Staczek [a Pole].
Meanwhile, our mother had returned from Bialystok. She already had thought we were dead and cried from an excess of happiness and joy when she saw all of us alive, whole, and healthy. She was not at all sorry that the house and our possessions had been burnt. She immediately began to run among the farmers with whom she was acquainted in the villages, so as to buy a bit of food for us. My mother decided to send me to her sister in Wysokie-Mazowieckie. She and my brother accompanied me to the road leading to Mazowieckie, and there we parted with sighs and kisses. I walked, with a few other Jews, from Ciechanowiec to Mazowieckie.
After a few weeks, my two uncles, Pesach and Manes, my mother's brothers, came to visit me. They suggested that I come with them to Sokoly, since I was familiar with sewing. In 1939, I completed my learning of the sewing profession at the ORT School in Bialystok, and my uncles had a lot of things to sew.
I walked with my uncles to Sokoly. For the first few weeks, I stayed with Uncle Pesach and after that I moved to [the home of] Uncle Manes and his wife, who had two children, a boy aged six, and a girl aged five.
At the beginning of 1942, my uncle's wife gave birth to twins, a boy, and a girl. I would run at three o'clock in the morning to the Polish farms, so as to bring fresh milk for the babies and the bigger children. I also would go with my Aunt Leah to the forests around Sokoly, to bring twigs and branches to stock the stove for winter heating, and for cooking. It was impossible at that time to acquire meat and oil in Sokoly. These provisions could be bought in Wysokie-Mazowieckie, for cash. Thus, my aunt would send me there to shop. A friend and I frequently went on foot to Wysokie-Mazowieckie, a distance of sixteen kilometers. There we would buy 25 kilos of meat, a bottle of oil, and some fat. We packed everything into two bundles, tied together in such a way that it was possible to carry the double package on our shoulders, one in front and one behind. We went on our way early in the evening, and walked all night.
At dawn, we went stealthily through deserted alleys, so that the Germans would not see us. We returned home, exhausted.
It happened on November 1, 1942. Chaim Yehoshua Olsha came to us and told us that the Amstkommissar had ordered 500 farmers' wagons, intended for [transporting] Jews, for tomorrow morning.
Panic set in immediately. Should we really flee and leave our homes and possessions ownerless? Two of my friends came to me and suggested that I join them and flee to the village of Budziska. My aunt also agreed to flee to the forest. I took one infant in my arms and my aunt took the second one, and she led her two small children by the hand. My aunt locked the house, took the keys with her, and all of us went to the other aunt's house.
There, they also were prepared to flee to the woods. My Grandmother, Kineka Tabak, remained in the house with Uncle Pesach. She said, Go, my children, go to the forest, and I will watch over the house!
We reached the Bialystok Forest, trembling with cold. Our Aunt Toiba, her husband, Alter Digholtz, the son of Zalmanke, and their two-year-old daughter Shifrale, sat there with us. Toiba cried out, If we have to die, I want to die in my house, in my bed! I am going back home! They got up and went back in the direction of Sokoly.
Every moment, new Jews arrived from the town to hide here. My Uncle Manes decided to go to his permanent job in Lapy. Otherwise, he said, the Germans can, G-d forbid, destroy all of the Jews in the town. Toward dawn, he and a number of other young men went in the direction of the train station.
Suddenly, we heard the sound of shooting. The workers who had gone to [wait for] the train saw SS officers from a distance, shooting their weapons. They immediately turned back the way they had come, and returned to the forest. Toward morning, we went deeper into the forest, to get farther and farther away from the town. On the way, we found some pillows and blankets, and in one of them there was a little boy, well wrapped up. The parents of the boy, or anyone else taking care of him, were nowhere around. We didn't know to whom the boy belonged. On our way, we met up with many Jews who had come from Sokoly.
We my two uncles, Pesach and Manes, their wives and children, and I turned in a different direction. Our purpose was to reach the area around Piekuty, to the village of Sokolda, where my uncles had lived until 1934.
My Tabak grandparents had lived for a long time in America. There, two children were born to them. After a long time, they returned to Poland and bought a farm in the village of Sokolda. They had a house, a barn, fields, and a forest. As mentioned above, they lived in Sokolda until 1934, when their neighbors, the [Polish] farmers, burned down their house. Grandmother Kineka moved to live in Sokoly with her sons and grandchildren, where she had lived since then.
Now, we were going to the village of Sokolda to seek shelter and a roof over our heads. Uncle Pesach promised that in that village he had Polish friends, his friends since boyhood, who were faithful and devoted. Certainly, he said, there we will get shelter and help, and they will even employ our daughters with housework. Without a doubt, there we will be organized until the danger will pass and the hard times will end. We wandered only during the night, and during the days we hid among the bushes.
Snow began to fall, and outside it was very cold. The babies cried and wailed, and were dying in their mother's arms. They tried to give them a sip of cold milk, but they didn't want to drink. For five days, they had been existing on a bit of powdered sugar that was put into their mouths from time to time. We all saw that they were dying in our hands and decided that there was no other choice but to leave them to the kindness of passers-by.
The parents of the twins lay them down on the road and we hid among the trees and looked to see what would happen. The babies were sobbing and crying in a way that was heartbreaking.
A farmer stopped his wagon, took the babies, put them in the straw inside the wagon, and went away in the distance of the village. The mother of the babies leaned her head on the trunk of the tree that was next to her, and burst out in bitter weeping.
We continued to wander through fields and forests, and finally we arrived in the village of Sokolda.
We remained for a short while at the edge of the village, and my two uncles went to knock on the doors of their friends, the farmers. We impatiently waited for their return. Finally, they came back and told us that a Christian friend had told them that there were informers in the village, who worked for the Germans, and the Jews should be careful and not walk around in the village; they absolutely should not visit his house. If they find a Jew in a Christian house, they will kill [both] the Jew and the one who gave him shelter, [including] his family. The farmer advised them to come to him at midnight when everyone would be asleep and no one would see them. He promised to give them a meal and to let them sleep in his barn. Meanwhile, he gave them some food for the road, a bit of bread. We tasted the bread, and continued to walk. Outside it was terribly cold. It was impossible to [remain] in the forest, and [so] we entered a village.
The Poles told us that there is no chance for the Jews to remain alive in the forests, unless they join the ranks of the partisans, if they would agree to accept them as members. Thus, the only hope that remained to us was to meet up with the partisans.
One Christian gave us food and allowed us to sleep one night in his barn. He asked if one of us knew how to sew. He agreed that I, a professional seamstress, would remain to work at his place. All the others continued to wander and search for shelter and a roof over their heads.
I worked at sewing in the farmer's house for three days, and I felt like I was in paradise. I slept in the kitchen on a straw mattress and was given good food. On the fourth day, at three o'clock in the morning, the owner of the house woke me up and requested that I leave his house immediately.
He excused his decision, saying that there were Germans going around in the area who had come to collect the crop taxes. Outside, it was very dark; I wasn't familiar with the roads, how and where to go? In my heart, I felt sad and depressed. I went wherever my feet took me until morning, when I saw a wood and next to it, a small house.
I entered the house. I saw a farm woman, who was sitting and spinning wool with a hand machine. On a simple farmer's seat sat a young girl, plucking feathers. I immediately recognized [my cousin] Penina, my Uncle Pesach's daughter. Penina told me that her father had met a farmer acquaintance named Czinowski who was cutting trees in the forest. The farmer promised to take his daughter Penina in as a housemaid. She looked like a Christian, but spoke a stammering Polish. Because of that they devised the strategy of presenting her as being deaf. Thus, she sat and plucked feathers. To the question of the neighbors, who is the girl? the farmer answered that she is a relative, a deaf girl, and he is employing her as a housemaid.
I asked Penina if the owner of the house would agree to also employ me for a few days. She answered that today, the owner of the house traveled to the market, and he would be back that evening. According to Penina, the housewife was kind and good-hearted, compared to her husband, who was crazy and sometimes unstable, changing according to his mood. Sometimes he was good and generous, and sometimes he was cruel to his wife and two sons.
I turned to the housewife and told her about myself and that I am a professional seamstress. I asked her if she had any work for me to do.
Yes, she answered, I even have a lot of work for you.
She let me sew on a machine and peel potatoes, and she gave me some food. I was afraid that her crazy husband would drive me out when he came home in the evening from a day in the market.
In the evening, the farmer arrived and entered his house, happy and satisfied. He said that it was good to live with the Germans. He had bought an excellent horse at a low price. He was so happy that he didn't even ask me who I was or what I was doing there. He only told stories and jokes about Jews, that they are stupid and cowards, and there is nobody like them. Even a little, unarmed shepherd could bring them to the Germans with the crack of a whip, without any protest from them. And thus he revealed his scorn and hatred for the Jews and justified the judgment and evil decrees [against us]. Even so, he did not drive me outside; he even showed Penina and me a place to sleep, and took care to provide us with blankets.
In the morning, he saw my torn shoes, and cried, How can I send you outside on a cold and freezing day in such torn shoes? You can remain in my house during these cold days. They gave me sewing to do and I helped the housewife with various housework chores. I received enough food and I was satisfied. Thus, my life continued for a week.
One morning, the farmer returned from the village and told us that the Amstkommissar was supposed to arrive to register the pigs, and that the farmers were hiding pigs so that they wouldn't fall into the hands of the authorities. One local farmer brought a pig into Czinowski's wood and tied him to a tree outside the window. Czinowski himself ordered his son to bring their pig to a secret place in the forest. Penina and I must go out of the house and stay away all day. We left the house and sat in the forest. We were hungry and very cold. We waited for evening to come so that we could go back to the warm house. When we returned with the shadows of evening, we found the housewife crying. She told us that on his way, her son had met up with the Amstkommissar. They stopped him and marked the pig's ear. He was ordered to bring the pig to the train station in Szepietowo and hand him over to the authorities.
As a result of the confiscation of the pig by the Germans, her husband went mad. He beat his son severely, and he didn't keep his fist off his wife, either. By the way, he poured out his wrath on the Jews and cursed them soundly. The fact that his neighbor's pig, tied up outside his window, remained whole, and his [pig] had been confiscated, was a sign that he was being punished for sheltering Jews in his house. Czinowski's wife advised us to get out of there before her husband came back, but my opinion was that we should not be afraid, and on the other hand, there was nowhere to run to. I asked her to let me stay in her house until morning.
Her husband came back. He only screamed, but he did not drive us out and he also did not suggest a place for us [to sleep], like he had on the previous nights. We lay down and waited for the night to pass.
Towards morning, we went to the village of Sokolda and knocked on the door of the first house. They asked who we are. We told them that we are Jews from Pesach's family, because all of the farmers in the village knew him. The housewife advised us to appear as Christians and to find work as housemaids. She immediately suggested that we would definitely find work with the wife of the Soltis (the village elder). There were four children in the house, and the woman was pregnant with the fifth child. She was searching for household help with candles.
The farmer's wife introduced me to the wife of the Soltis and told her that I am a Christian girl and that I want to work at her house as a housemaid. The Soltis' wife asked me what salary I would request. I answered that she could try me out and after that, she could set my salary as she wished.
I peeled potatoes, sewed clothes for the children, and busied myself with cleaning the house. The neighbors kept watching me. Once in a while, a neighbor would enter to talk with the housewife, and sometimes they whispered.
Did they see that I am a Jew? The housewife tried to question me, what parish did I belong to, and what church did I pray in? It was clear to me that they suspected me and I well understood that I had to flee from there.
In the evening, I went to put the children to bed. Suddenly, I heard the sound of shooting.
The Soltis hid himself out of fear, and his wife came running into the house, shouting that a battle was being waged outside between Germans and Russians. I went outside and saw a fire in the village. The entire village was going up in flames. The pigs were grunting and the horses were neighing. Some farmers rode on horses and others ran around to the location of the fire. Suddenly, they began to shoot at them from there and they withdrew to their homes.
I went to the house of the farm woman to whom I had come previously, when I [first] arrived in Sokolda, and there I again met Penina.
She now knew what had happened to her family, from the moment I parted from them. They all went into an empty barn that stood in the Lopiany Forest, to sleep. During the night, they awoke to the presence of two men, who were armed with rifles and had pocket flashlights in their hands that they shone into their eyes. Their souls took flight. All of them thought that these were Polish informers and that their end had come.
After they calmed down, they found out that these were partisans. They asked the mother of the girls if she would agree that her two daughters would join them, and under this condition, they would have every chance of staying alive after the War. We knew that there was actually no chance of staying alive, because danger was lurking on every side. The mother agreed and Penina's two sisters Feigel [also called Feigele], aged 15, and Toiva, aged 14 joined the Russian partisans.
Now, our hope was to find our sisters with the partisans and also to join them.
After our conversation, we entered the farmer's house and asked if someone from our family had asked after us. The housewife told us that that morning, Feigel, Penina's oldest sister, had been there. She was nicely dressed and wore new boots, with a red wool shawl on her head. Feigel asked the housewife to tell the members of her family to look for her in the village Joski.
We were very happy at the news, and decided to look for her there. It still was dark outside. We knocked at the doors of a few houses in the village and asked if they had seen a girl wrapped in a red wool shawl. They answered that they did see such a girl passing through the villages, but they didn't know where she was now.
In one house, the farmer told us a secret, that near the village there was a wood, and in the wood there was the house of a Christian named Paszok. In his house there were Russians and Jewish girls.
We came to Paszok's house. A large dog came running to meet us, and after him, the owners of the house. We entered the house with them, and there we found Feigel and Toiva and another girl named Stella, the daughter of a dentist from Bransk. They told us that the two Russians brought them to a village near Bransk, where there were five additional Russians and three Jewish girls.
The Russians obligated the farmers to maintain the girls and take care of all of their needs, on their responsibility. They threatened to kill them if they would not find the girls when the Russians return. The farmers panicked, they were afraid and carefully observed all of the Russians' commands.
Penina related [the following]: One day, the Germans began to shoot in the direction of the village where the girls were. They escaped through a back window and fled to the forest. They went into Paszok's house and told him that the Russians ordered them to go to his house for three days. Since then, they [remained] there, but [now] they have to leave the house because the three days are over. There are difficulties with Stella. When she escaped from the German shooting, her feet got frozen and broke out in sores. She fled barefoot, because she didn't have time to put on her shoes. Meanwhile, they had bandaged her feet with rags and took care to find her a place to rest until she could get well.
Here, the girls remembered that in a certain village, the Russians deposited an expensive fur, part of the partisans' booty. So they thought they would ask the farmer for the fur in the name of the partisans. That is what they did. They received the fur and brought it to the house of a poor and honest farmer in another village, who agreed to take care of Stella in exchange for the fur, until she got well.
The good farmer promised a recovery home for Stella and to take care of her. Now, we began to worry about ourselves. Uncle Pesach's three daughters and I wanted to find where our Uncle and the partisans were staying. Everywhere we asked, they said that they had seen Russians, but they didn't know where they were. We wandered for days and nights. We couldn't stay for hours in the same place, lest we freeze from the cold.
In the village of Zajki [Miedzyrzecz], we asked about Pesach's family, who had lived there for a few years. The farmers advised us to go the length of the village, and to the sound of the loud barking of a dog, to approach the house, which was where the partisans were to be found. We did so, and under the widespread branches of a pine tree, we found our family. They were very happy to see us and we stayed with them for a week. I could not sit quietly. I felt that any moment, we could expect the danger of death. My cousin Toiva and I decided to go and seek our own way, and to depend on our own fate. We parted from the family and went to find work. We went from house to house and from village to village. Everywhere, they gave us food and advised us to go on further. No one wanted to deal with us, or allow us to sleep at night [in his house].
[This was a] deed of Sodom and Gemorrah. Outside it is so cold, and a storm is raging. Again, we knocked on the doors of the people of the village, from house to house, in two villages, one after the other, and nowhere did they allow us to enter and warm ourselves a bit. We went to the place where Stella was, and we stayed there to sleep. The farmer was a widower, and a bit strange. He did not work his field. One of his daughters, aged 17, was retarded. The second one, aged 12, named Jenka, took care of the housework, and the third one was a little girl of six. The farmer's family suffered from hunger. He would wander in the villages and blab that there were Jewish girls in his house. Lately, Jenka refused to let us sleep in the house, and she only opened the door when we showed her bread through the window. The next day we continued to wander.
Once, we entered a house and said, Good morning! A man sat there and talked without stopping, without looking at us. Finally, he looked at his pocket watch and blurted out, I have a lot of work today. I have to turn over two young Jewish girls to the Germans in Piekuty. Our hearts began to beat fast. What should we do? Even so, he invited us to eat and drink, and he said that he enjoyed playing jokes.
In another village, a farmer passed by us on skis and warned us, without looking at us:
Jewish girls, leave this place! Germans are behind me on their way to the village and I am hurrying to take away my supply of liquor that I have in my house. We turned aside, and almost met up with a sled of Germans, with two dogs at their side.
It was Sunday. In the evening, we arrived in the village of Nadoszewa [near Wysokie], and went into one of the houses. A young man, nicely dressed, was sitting there in the company of a young girl. We said Good evening, and saw that the owner of the house and his wife were looking at each other in panic. The young man got up, and said to us, in German, Zeigen sie personlichs auswiesa [Show me your identity cards].
I answered, in Polish, that I didn't understand what he said, and then he said: Passport.
I turned to my cousin with a false Polish name: Yadzhe, the man wants my passport. Let us please go home quickly to bring it.
We turned toward the door, but the man came behind us and shouted, Run straight into the street, straight, straight!
We disappeared into the freezing cold.
We again tried our luck; maybe someone would let us enter his house. We went into another house, and after saying good evening, we requested permission to sleep [there]. The housewife, an old woman, turned to a young man whom she called my lord, the Soltis and asked him if she could give us permission to sleep [in their house]. The young man said, As a matter of fact, why not?
The woman served us hot food, showed us a place to lie on the straw, and we lay down to sleep. We felt happy and satisfied, as if there were no more worries in our world. That night was good for us, and we slept a sweet sleep.
Towards morning, I said to Toiva, Get up and we will leave here as soon as possible, before the neighbors will see us and we shouldn't, Heaven forbid, cause any discomfort to our hostess. But the good woman understood our thoughts, and she didn't let us leave the house before eating the breakfast that she prepared for us. We saw that our benefactress was not at all afraid to keep us. We left her house with heartfelt thanks and went to another house.
There, with a young widow [Prakacz], who had a two-year-old daughter and her old father, I found a bit of sewing work. I made a pretty dress for the little girl and the widow was so pleased by my work that she went to show the dress to the other residents of the village. She boasted, saying, Look and see, what a good seamstress with golden hands.
One of the widow's relatives, meanwhile, ordered some work from me, and requested that I come to her only at night, so that nobody would see me. This village, Landowa, had a good name among the Jews who were hiding in the area around Sokoly, and they regarded it as a paradise. Many Jews began to stream there. After two weeks, there wasn't a house in Landowa where there weren't three or four Jews.
Among others, Toiva's mother Sarahle and Hershel and Leahke with the children, arrived in the village. The women made house slippers for the villagers. There were also three tailors from the city of Bransk, who sewed and made new clothes out of old ones, from suits and winter coats and furs. The dentist from Bransk also was there with his wife and their daughter Stella. The parents found Stella and brought her to the village. One girl from Warsaw knit sweaters for the farmers. There also was a mother and her two daughters from Lapy, and not a few other Jews, who paid the owners of their shelters with foreign currency in dollars.
After I had been a few days with the widow Skalodovszczika, an owner of a house offered me work as a housemaid, because his wife had just given birth to their fourth child and she was still weak, and he had to work outside the house, not having his own farm. I answered that he should first get permission from the Soltis to employ a Jew, because I would have to go around among the people, I would go to the well to get water and to other public places. The farmer got permission from the Soltis and I immediately went, as instructed by the housewife, to milk the cow. I had gotten accustomed to these jobs, which I had not done before.
There was a young Christian there, over 20 years old, the son of the farmer's brother, and he was a hooligan. When I served food to him, he would curse the Jews, saying, I hate all of the Jews! I would destroy and kill them, one, and two. I don't care that you are still alive, even though you are a different kind of human being from us, and it isn't worth it for me to kill you, because you don't have anything I can take from you.
I worked very hard in that house, but I never complained. At midnight, I went to sleep on the stove, and I thought in my heart, I wish I could live this way for a long time. My mistress began to regain her strength and was already able to walk around; she immediately ordered me to leave her house.
I took my cousin Toiva with me and we went to the house of the farmer Leopold, who had invited us to come to his house to sew house slippers, but only during the hours of the night, so that nobody would see us. When we reached Leopold's house, his wolf dogs fell upon us. The owner of the dogs came out and brought us into his house. We were given food and drink, and a bench was prepared for us to sleep. The farmer and his family sat all night and made whiskey from grain. In the middle of the night, the housewife woke us up, saying that Germans had come to the village and the Soltis, accompanied by youths, was searching the houses.
After a few days, we met Toiva's mother Sarahle, her sister Leahke, and the wife of the dentist from Bransk. They cried and told us about the terrible tragedy that had happened to the families during the night of the searches. They had just gone out of the houses where they were hiding, trying to flee to the forest, and the young farmers chased after them, grabbed them and beat the Jews with murderous blows. My uncle and his family reached the woods next to the village of Zajki. By chance, at that time a rabbit hunt was being conducted there. The men of the area participated in the hunt, along with German forest guards. The rabbit hunters, seeing the Jews, left their work and began to chase after them. In this way, the Jews who had escaped from the murderers in the village of Landowa fell into the hands of the murderers in the village of Zajki.
|Children of Sarah and Pesach Tabak|
My Uncle Pesach was shot in his flight. The hooligans grabbed Uncle Manes, Feigele, and Penina. Feigele succeeded in evading their hands and she hid in a shock of grain that was under an awning, and they didn't see her. When they chased thirteen-year-old Penina, she screamed loudly. At that moment, Feigele jumped out and the evil ones grabbed the three of them, tied them up, and brought them to the Germans in Piekucz. We found out about their capture later, from villagers we talked to. They also told us that they saw how the Germans brought the three victims to the woods and stripped them of their clothing. Manes began to fight them and they tied him up. Sixteen-year-old Feigel was very pretty. The German aimed his weapon to shoot her, but he hesitated and gave his rifle to another German. Feigel begged for her life and asked them, Why? What is my crime and what is my sin? The German answered that he has an order, and fired. Her blood flowed and she tried to run with all her strength. The German aimed [another] shot at her and killed her on the spot.
That is how my two uncles, Pesach and Manes, and Pesach's two daughters, Feigele and Penina, fell.
Now we went in a group: I, Toiva, the dentist from Bransk and his wife and daughter. He, the wise, and learned man in his town, here became unsuccessful and unfortunate. Mr. Lerman, the doctor, begged us not to leave him, his wife, and his daughter, and cast his burden on us. I tried to explain to him that it would be easier for two people to find a farmer who would take pity on us, rather than five. In any case, no villager could be found who was willing to endanger his life and the lives of his family for Jews, and so we parted from them.
We were like lost sheep. We didn't recognize the roads or the names of the villages. We trusted only in our fate. Here, we were standing at a junction of three roads, and we didn't know which of them to choose. Which road will lead to death, and which to kind and good people? We went on the road where our feet took us, with our eyes closed. It was late at night. The ground was frozen. We wanted to come close to a settlement. From a distance, we saw a faint light blinking from a kerosene lantern in the window of one of the houses.
We slowly drew near to the house, and a barking dog jumped out to meet us. We waited near a tree, some distance from the road, without showing ourselves. At that moment, we heard a shot right below our ears. Afterwards, we found out that this was a German forest guard.
In the village of Zalesie [Bajki], we entered the first house. The door was not locked and the house was dark. We talked to each other in a loud voice, we asked who was in the house and nobody answered. We felt around in the dark and touched a wooden bench. Without much thought, we lay down to sleep. When we woke up, there was light in the house.
A young Christian and his wife stood over us and asked: Who are you?
Jews, we answered, and we are asking to work at sewing or housework, at least for a number of days. We looked at them as if to hint that nobody would know about it.
The housewife, a very good woman, gave us some food and showed us a bed. The next day, she gave us the job of sewing a dress. Toiva had caught a cold and was beginning to cough. A neighbor was in the kitchen, and upon hearing the coughing, she wanted to come into the room to see who was coughing. But the housewife prevented her from doing this. In the evening, the woman asked us to leave the house, fearing that the neighbor would gossip in the village and say that Jews are there.
We entered another house. The housewife, who also was a good woman, gave us some food. At four o'clock in the afternoon, the housewife's son came in, shouting in panic, Germans are traveling here! We immediately went out and hid between the farm buildings. It was already dark outside. Even though her feet were frozen, Toiva went out to find out if the Germans had already passed by. We returned to the yard, and suddenly a man jumped over the fence, with a white ribbon tied around his arm. He grabbed my hands. I saw how Toiva fled, and the man wouldn't let go of me. I started to shout at him in Polish, Chalera, pasza kraw, why are you clinging to me? Let go of my hand and you will see that the Jew is running away and you are holding on to a Christian! He let go of my hands and I started to run between the farm buildings. I bent down, rubbed my hands, and [suddenly] here [beside me], was Toiva. Young men began to whistle, scream, and run, with electric flashlights in their hands. We saw them in the dark and they didn't see us, until one of them blurted out, Chalera ai totai aich niama! (They aren't here either!) During those moments, our hearts stopped beating.
The noise in the village continued for some time. We sat where we were until late into the night. When everything became quiet, we again went out in the direction of the forest, from which we had come.
We returned to the village of Landowa. This time, we knocked at Prakacz's door. She let us sleep in her house. We sewed a winter coat for her little girl. We sewed during the day, and at night we went to sleep in the potato cellar.
On Wednesday evening, the residents of the village had a party in the Soltis' house. The Jews who had returned to the village were ordered to leave their hiding places immediately, at least for a week, until all the excitement had passed. We also intended to leave the village, but the housewife, Mrs. Prakacz, wanted us to finish sewing the coat, and she suggested that we come back to her early in the morning when it was still dark outside. That is what we did, and we continued to sew. At ten o'clock in the morning, we heard shots a short distance away. Outside the window, we saw Germans going from house to house.
Mrs. Prakacz ran in and called to us, Quickly, run away! I started to beg, How can we run away in broad daylight? The Germans will certainly see us and kill us without hesitation. Please, let us hide in the barn, we will go deep into the straw. But we begged in vain and she didn't agree to endanger herself at such a fateful hour. With no choice, we had to leave her house, and we went straight into the forest.
The Germans and the Soltis saw us, and they shouted at us, Halloo, halt!! Toiva began to run, but I stopped her. I took her by the hand; I clasped her and whispered in her ear not to run, but to walk with large steps straight ahead and not to look to the sides. That is how we walked, until we reached the forest, and then we began running. We found a hole in the ground, where we lay until it became dark.
In the evening, we came to the house of Piakotoszcza, where Feigele had once stayed. She told us that only that day, they had killed Leahle, Feigele's mother, her brother Leibele, the dentist Lerman, his wife, and his daughter Stella, and another girl from Warsaw. She added that the Germans asked the Soltis about us, and he told them that we were from Warsaw. Two Germans had followed us to the forest and came back from there. She gave us a slice of bread and we left her house. The dog at the Skalodoszczika house already knew us and he didn't bark. We went into the yard, opened the barn wicket, and lay there quietly for three whole days.
The slice of bread we had received was long forgotten, and our hunger bothered us a great deal. We thought we would go down and ask Skalodoszczika for something to eat. Even if she would give us a slice of bread, it would slightly quiet our hunger, and we would return to our hiding place.
We came down from the barn and entered the house. We heard villagers entering Skalodoszczika's house and whispering among themselves. There, they told about two young people from Warsaw who had brought Toiva's father, Pesach, and her brother Moshe, a boy of 12, to the Soltis' house in Landowa. They were tied up with ropes, and the villagers brought them to the Germans in Piekuty.
The farmer Dombrowski told us in a whisper that the young men of the village had asked the Soltis to turn us, the only Jewish girls remaining in the village, over to the Germans as well. The Soltis was already in bed, and he was too lazy to get up.
As a faithful friend of Pesach, Dombrowski advised us to leave the village tonight, and meanwhile, he hinted that we should follow him. He took half of a large loaf of [home-made] bread [to give] to us, and accompanied us until we were outside the village. He advised us to go as far away as we could from the place, which was so dangerous for us. We expressed our feelings of thanks to Dombrowski for his kindness, parted from him, and went on our way.
It was dark and cold, and a stormy wind blew in our faces. We knew that death waited everywhere for us. Nobody would give us shelter. When we became tired from walking continuously, we sat down on a rock to rest; we had no more strength to continue on our way, without a destination.
In spite of Dombrowski's warning, we decided to return and try again to enter the same barn, because even the dogs knew us and didn't bark at us. That is what we did, and we returned to Landowa. In the straw, we found an egg. We were happy, and tried to fall asleep. In the morning, the Russian worker, Andrei, came into the barn to look for the egg, and he was surprised to find us. He started to yell that the Jews were there on the farm.
The housewife understood that he was talking about us. She came up in the barn, accompanied by a neighbor, and asked us to leave immediately. I asked her to let us stay there at least until evening, because in broad daylight they would catch us, but the woman ignored our pleas. Immediately, a group of adults and young men gathered and all of them started to shout that we had to get out of there and go away. We came down, thinking our end had come.
We went past the men, who mocked us and chased after us. I took off my wooden sandals and ran, with the rest of my strength, into the forest, where I lay down in a tangle of bushes, while Toiva continued to run. My youthful pursuers caught me and chased after Toiva.
I asked one of them, who had two rods in his hands: Are you interested in having them kill me?
Yes, answered the evil one.
I said to him, that I would help him find my friend and then he could bring us both to the Germans. Without waiting for his reaction, I quickly evaded him and ran like an arrow shot from a bow. I saw a pit, and I jumped into it. I lay there until evening.
Without considering what was going on around me, I set out in the direction of the farmer's house where Stella, the daughter of the dentist from Bransk, had once stayed. I asked him to tell me if a Jewish girl had been brought to the gendarmia? I was certain that Toiva was no longer alive and that I remained solitary; deserted and discouraged. The farmer gave me permission to sleep in the haystack in the barn. During the night, someone awakened me. I opened my eyes, and saw Toiva. My soul was renewed.
Toiva told me that the Christian youths had caught her and taken her to the Soltis in Landowa. She heard that the Soltis' sister-in-law had cried at the time they were chasing after us, and had begging him to free us. When they brought Toiva to the Soltis, he and the old man Dombrowski kicked them and attacked them with convincing yells that the girl isn't Jewish and that she has papers proving that she is a Christian. Disappointed, the evil youngsters left the Soltis' house. At the Soltis' house, they fed her and forbade her to be seen again in the village.
Both of us were happy that we had been saved from the Angel of Death and remained alive. Our hope was that perhaps we would merit liberation from all those who were persecuting us, along with all of the Nation of Israel. When I think of all of the hardships and troubles that I suffered, and still suffer, I am not certain of tomorrow, or even the next hour, and more than once I fluttered between life and death. It is no wonder that discouragement reached my very bones and I waited for my turn to be destroyed. But I felt that something important was happening inside me. A change came over me, and I want to live. To live! And however much they plotted against my young life, the desire to live and see the downfall of our enemies grew stronger within me!
One morning, both of us woke up and walked to one good farmer, who had once repaired a wooden sandal for me. I was confident that he was good-hearted and honest, and even so, I did not want to test him and request shelter, because I knew that he was weak in character and was afraid. Therefore, we entered the potato cellar, without his knowledge.
This created a relatively good situation, because nobody knew of our existence and we could lie down and stretch ourselves out. I am sure that even if the owner of the house will find out that we are lying in his cellar, he will not do anything bad to us; in the worst case, he will ask us to leave his farm.
We sat and whispered. It was four o'clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, we saw armed Germans at the entrance to the cellar. The farmer stood not far away and we heard how the Germans were asking him if he isn't hiding any Jews or members of the robber gangs.
The innocent farmer answered them with confidence, As a matter of fact, go ahead and search every corner.
We sat like stones and trembled with fear. The angels of terror went away from the cellar and we lay down and covered ourselves with a bit of the straw that was nearby, in case they would come back and peep through a hole into the cellar.
We saw that it was very quiet on the farm, and we went out to the fresh air. We knocked on the farmer's door. How surprised he was to see us alive, after he knew that all the Jews of the area had been killed. He only asked, How is this? Only you are alive?
I answered, that the Holy One, Blessed be He, was helping us.
The man scratched his head, and blurted, G-d is truly helping you, and how much more so and I obligated to help you.
With unusual agility, he prepared hot food for us, and we were able to warm ourselves in his house. We thanked him for his goodness and kindness, parted from him cordially, and continued to wander.
We went on different paths and knocked on the doors of the residents of the villages. Either they didn't open the door to us at all, or they wanted to grab us, and we evaded them miraculously. In a roundabout way, we again arrived in the village of Landowa. We entered Piakotoszcza's house, where Feigele had once stayed. By chance, her cousin was there, from the village of Pulazie, and he suggested that Toiva come with him to his village. She could sew house slippers there for the villagers, and nobody would recognize that she is a Jew. Toiva agreed and went with him, and I again remained alone and solitary in my discouragement. Who knows if I will ever see her again.
More difficult times began for me, more bitter and gloomier. I wandered alone, straying at night on the paths, in the fields, and in the forest.
I came to one village where I had been several months ago with my Uncle Pesach. The dogs attacked me, barking loudly. The farmer came out and quieted his dogs and took me into his house. He had three daughters and one son, and a cousin [Staczek] who worked for him. This young man had recently become a detective agent for the Germans.
I knew the above-mentioned family well, and they were very happy to see me. The farmer's cousin also appeared happy to see me. We went into the guest room and all of them talked to me in a friendly way. I waited for them to invite me to eat. Suddenly, I saw that the cousin, Staczek, had disappeared from the house.
I asked the girls, Where is Staczek?
They answered, He certainly has gone to sleep.
I sat there in confusion, and my heart beat strongly inside me. I wanted to leave the house, but it wasn't so comfortable just to go out, and also I was very hungry and waited to be given something to eat.
At that moment, the smallest daughter of the villager turned to me and said, Get up, and come outside with me, I am afraid to go out in the yard alone. I went with her into the yard and we talked as we went.
As soon as we left the house, a shadow fell through the gate, of a bicycle rider. The little girl called to me, Liyoba, this is Staczek with the Germans! They are looking for you! Run fast, fast, into the field! I succeeded in escaping, and I found myself on the main road leading to Landowa.
It occurred to me that I should knock on the door of the intelligent and good-hearted woman, Leopolda, for whom I had sewn dresses a few months ago.
In her yard there were eight dogs, as large as wolves, but this did not prevent me from entering. It was already past midnight, and I hesitated to knock on the door. I just stood there and waited.
Suddenly, I heard a nervous voice ask, Who is there?
It is I, Liyoba, I answered in a loud voice.
The door opened and in the opening I saw Leopolda's son, with an axe in his hand. They brought me inside their house and told me that they had heard my footsteps without hearing the dogs barking, and they thought that robbers had poisoned the dogs and stole their possessions from the cowshed and the storerooms.
The Leopolds were the wealthiest family in the village and they owned many heads of cattle and pigs. They came to the conclusion that their dogs were chasing a bitch and had gone away from the farm, and that was why they didn't hear them barking. In any case, the son was ready to attack any stranger who would appear on the farm in the middle of the night, with the axe in his hand. All of them calmed down; everything was all right, and their fear was for nothing.
Leopolda suggested that I remain in her house for two days and sew a dress for her daughter. She took me into the straw barn and gave me a warm robe to cover myself. I felt like I was in heaven. Towards morning, they woke me up and I was given a hot and filling meal.
While I was up in the barn, in quiet and contentment, I was wrapped in warmth after such a long time of wandering in the cold, in hunger and constant fear. I felt so very happy, and I swore an oath to G-d that when I have the merit to remain alive after the War, I would try to do only good for others and for those who needed help.
During the day, I sewed in the sunshine, whose light came through the holes and cracks [in the walls of the barn]. The housewife would call, Czia, czia to the chickens, a camouflage for strange eyes, in order to bring me a bowl of good, hot food. She did this three times a day.
Suddenly, my happiness ended. It happened that same day, at eleven o'clock in the morning. Leopolda came to me and said that a contingent of Germans had come and they were going from house to house and farm to farm, and I had to leave immediately, so as not to cause a tragedy to the family.
I asked her to let me hide in the piles of straw, and if the Germans would find me, I would tell them that I came there without the knowledge of the farmer. She went away from me, and immediately came back in panic, saying that the Germans were already next to the house. I lay between the piles of straw, my teeth chattering. I trembled all over. In the evening, the woman came and told me that she had served whiskey, eggs and lard to the Germans in huge portions. She thus bought their hearts and they no longer continued their search. However, she still advised me to leave her house that same day, because she was afraid of what would follow.
I thanked the good woman and went to Piakotoszcza's house. There, to my great surprise, I found Toiva, who had returned meanwhile from Pulazie. She told me that at the beginning it was good for her there, and that nobody suspected that she was a Jew, until some young men from Landowa came there and told the residents of her Jewishness. She was forced to leave the place quickly.
From outside the window, we heard shouts of joy and happiness, and we saw that the farmer Palikowski was going in his wagon toward the forest, shouting, Who is buying meat?
We later found out that these were the bodies of the last two Jews who were murdered by the Germans and their Polish accomplices, the tailors Chaim and Shabtil from Bransk. They had sewn clothes for the village residents. Now, Palikowski was taking them in his wagon to be buried in the forest, accompanied by the villagers for whom they had sewn clothes. The villagers were wild with joy.
They warned us that our turn would come soon. We decided to leave the village permanently, and go to the forests to look for the partisans. The path lay before us.
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