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[Page 187]

The Destruction of the Stryj Community

by Isaac Nussenblatt

Translated by Susan Rosin

Dedicated to my dear family that perished in Stryj

 

1

On June 22nd 1941 Nazi Germany launched a surprise attack on Russia. The red army was surprised by the attacks and the bombings and retreated hastily along the German–Russian border. In the first few days, the Germans captured large areas and started moving into the Russian interior.

Stryj was occupied on July 2nd, 1941. A period of horror, fear and persecution started immediately for the Jewish population. Even before the start of the German–Russian war, rumors started circulating about the horrendous atrocities and killings by the Germans of Jews in western Poland which was occupied in September 1939.

Soon after occupying Stryj, the Germans implemented their reign of terror against the Jewish population. In the initial days, the town was managed by the army. The malicious intent to discriminate against the Jews was already evident in the first orders published by the district commander. The Jews were ordered to elect a “Jewish Council” (Judenrat). The council was tasked with registering the Jewish population, opening an employment office to provide workers for forced labor. The council was required to serve the German occupation forces and support its administration. The chairperson of the Judenrat was Oskar Hoterrer and his deputy, the lawyer Mishel.

In addition, a Jewish police – Jüdischer Ordungsdienst which was actually a means by the Germans for Jewish extermination. The Jewish police was required to cooperate with the Nazis, especially during the aktions and to confiscate Jewish property and valuables. Some in this police force treated the population harshly. Because of that it is of note to mention those that were able to use their positions to protect and rescue their brethren. Among them were Heiber, the husband of Mania Stern, the teacher Goldberg and others. The lawyer, Shalom Goldberg who was in Lvov during the Stryj occupation was drafted to the Jewish police there, and acted with other few to help and protect Jews. As time went on, he could no longer bear his role in the police, escaped and hid in the Lvov ghetto. During the liquidation of the Lvov ghetto, the Germans were going to blow–up the bunkers. They were attacked by gun fire from one of the bunkers, where Shalom Goldberg was hiding too. Several Germans were hit and killed. All the fighters in the bunkers were killed and among them Shalom Goldberg.

But the end of the Jewish police was bitter. For their loyalty to the Nazis, they were rewarded with execution on the last day of the Stryj ghetto liquidation on July 3rd, 1943.

 

2

The military rule in Stryj did not last long. As the Germans progressed in Russia, the military rule was replaced with a “civil” one. New decrees were implemented. All males ages 12 – 60 were required to register in the labor offices for forced labor. In addition, all Jews from age 10 and up were required to wear an arm band with the Star of David. Incompliance carried severe punishment and even death.

Many Jews crowded the labor offices in order to obtain a work certificate, turning them to slaves, that might (that was the belief) save them from death. In the morning hours, large groups of gloomy eyed Jews wearing rags were seen on their way to the forced labor sites.

Some refused to be degraded in body and soul by the forced labor. They did not get the work certificate and instead hid in bunkers and cellars

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and others escaped and joined partisan groups that started to organize and fight the Nazis. Desperation, depression and fear prevailed among the Jews. The streets were empty. Only some children, women rushing to buy groceries and the elderly on their way to the Jewish council clinic were seen.

The Jewish council opened a few stores providing measly rations such as 100 grams (about 3 and ¬Ĺ ounces) of bread per day. This of course was not enough and diseases became rampant. The Jewish hospital was full to capacity and there was lack of medications and personnel. After the establishment of the ghetto, when three families had to share one room, the mortality increased dramatically. The dead were buried at night and their family members were not allowed to follow them on their final journey.

The Jews lost all their civil rights. Anyone who abused, robbed or even murdered a Jew was not prosecuted. The Jews were humiliated in any possible way. Their businesses were taken away, their stores were closed and the merchandise looted, schools were closed and the students dispersed, factories were confiscated and the workers dismissed, and the activities of the public institutions were discontinued.

The Ukrainians received the Nazi occupiers enthusiastically. They saw them as their redeemers from the Soviet occupier and they were promised an independent state in east Ukraine (“Zapadnaya Ukraina”). The Ukrainian nationalists that were persecuted during the Soviet occupation of eastern Galicia turned against the Jews since they viewed them as Soviet sympathizers.

The Ukrainians started a massacre of Jews in villages and Jewish farm owners around Stryj. All these atrocities were done with the agreement and encouragement of the German authorities. Few of those who managed to escape arrived in town and brought the news about the massacre by the Ukrainian peasants.

Since the surprise attack by the Germans and the hasty retreat of the red army, many who were out of town were not able to return home. Some walked home, many were caught, brutally tortured and murdered by the Ukrainian hooligans.

 

3

After they were allowed to brutalize the Jews, the Nazis decided to tame down the Ukrainians, and they were ordered to act only as ordered by the authorities.

After the murder of the Jews in the villages and Jewish and passers–by, the Nazis started their bloody rule. It was not difficult to causes for mass murder. After the retreat of the Soviet army, bodies of prisoners were found in a ditch near the prison. Among them were Ukrainians, Poles and Jewish activists. It was rumored that the atrocities were committed by the NKVD (the Russian secret police). As a result of finding the bodies, the Ukrainians organized a mass demonstration, protesting the atrocities of the Soviet authorities. Thousands from the town as well as multitudes of peasants from the surrounding areas participated.

A mass funeral was held for the murdered. That day turned out to be a disaster for the Jews of Stryj.

Since early morning, Ukrainian thugs started rioting in the streets. They broke into Jewish homes, beat brutally the people, then led them to the Christian cemetery and ordered them to dig graves for the mass funeral victims. The Jews were beaten savagely and there was fear that they will be buried alive, as such things did occur in those days.

I too was in the group that was led to the Christian cemetery that was located about three kilometers (about two miles) from town. When we got to the cemetery, we were placed

 

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The central committee of Stryj immigrants in Israel 1960 – 1961
Seated from right to left: M. Kaz, S. Weis, Dr. N. Kudish, A. Rotfeld, S. Rosenberg, Dr. Ada Bar–Lev, L. Pickholtz
Standing from right to left: J. Lustig, Mgr. J. Nussenblatt, M. Weis, M. Wagner, S. Preiss, Mgr. J. Waldman, J. gartenberg, J. Pickholtz, Dr. M. Bar–Lev, Kugel, J. Boymel

 

The committee for publishing the book of Stryj

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Dr. Nathan Kudish   Avigdor Rotfeld   Shimon Rosenberg
 
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Moshe Kaz   Dr. Ada Bar–Lev (Klein)

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along the fence. Most of us were certain we will be shot. Scared to death we waited for that final moment. When the nightmare lasted forever, it became clear to me that we were brought to the cemetery to dig graves. We relaxed a little and were ordered to grab tools and dig a grave that measured five meters long, three meters wide and one meter deep (approximately 16.5 feet long, 10 feet wide and 3 feet deep).

It was a hot July day. We were sweating profusely, and were ordered to dig for hours without any breaks. Anybody who stopped or slowed down was beaten with rifle butts and nailed whips. We were released in the evening, exhausted and broken, but feeling we were saved from a certain death. We were ordered to return the next day, but no one from the group obeyed.

We were happy to return home and find our families alive as well. However, quickly we sank into fear and depression with the thoughts of: what would tomorrow bring?

 

4

After several incidents of murder and abuse more tragic events were not far behind. Rumors spread in July 1941 that the gestapo was preparing a list of communist party members to be executed. Twelve Jews were captured and executed in the Grabowiec village outside of town. These murders were supposed to be a warning for Jews not to support the communist party. In addition, the gestapo picked a group of Jews, led them to Grabowiec in order to dig graves for those to be executed.

My brother David may his memory be blessed was among the grave diggers and told us about the horrors. The grave diggers were beaten savagely with whips and rifle butts. Once the digging was complete, they were ordered to lay flat on the ground and not look back. A few minutes later, machine gun shots were heard and then silence. The diggers then were ordered to get–up and bury the dead. The burying Jews were trying to bury their brethren according to tradition as much as possible. Among the murdered were Freiman from Lvovska street; Dunkel, a renowned merchant in our town; Szatzker (the husband of Kronstein); the engineer Szteirmark; Ringel, a senior official from city hall; Szaczerski (a convert to Christianity) also a city hall official. Only Freiman was actually suspected in belonging to the communist party. The others were never involved with the communists. I was a laborer paving roads and happened by Rilov. I talked to the peasants who confirmed the brutal murders by the Ukrainian police. I wanted to see the burial place of my poor brethren, but was warned that anyone approaching the grave will be executed.

 

Mass massacre of a thousand Stryj Jews

After barbaric violence and murders of singles and groups came another stage in the extermination of Stryj's Jewry – a mass murder of a thousand Jews. It was on a night of horrors of September 1st, 1941. No one could have imagined that the Germans and their helpers could carry out such a barbaric murder of innocent men, women and children.

On that night of horrors, hundreds of armed German and Ukrainian police and gestapo operatives burst into homes dragging men, women and children out of their beds. All this was planned ahead and done with great brutality. The Jews still did not understand that they have to prepare bunkers and hiding places. Before their incarceration in the prison on Tribunalska street, the prisoners were held in the Ukrainian police yard on Batorego street, undergoing torture. The prisoners were guarded mainly by Ukrainian policemen. Some of the prisoners were able to bribe the guards and upon their return, they told us about terrible torture in the prison cells. During the night, the Ukrainian police burst into the cells and beat the prisoners mercilessly. Many died from their injuries, as no medical help was given and were buried in the prison area. After seven days of brutal abuse, the Jews were led to an undisclosed location. Later it was revealed by the Ukrainian policemen that the Jews were led to a forest near the village Rilov (Holobotov) about 5 kilometers out of town. They talked about horrendous and shocking scenes during the murders. Among the victims of this massacre were: the lawyers Rosenberg and Milek Spiegel, Isaac Hubel, the brothers Zeisler (Josef and Heshiu), Donek Zandenberg, Irka Elner, Shmuel Brauner, Sonia Reichman, David Nussenblatt,

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Moshe Karon, Yaakov Bar, Mania Welker, Herman Zoldan, Oskar Reiner.

I was a laborer paving roads and happened by Rilov. I talked to the peasants who confirmed the brutal murders by the Ukrainian police. I wanted to see the burial place of my poor brethren, but was warned that anyone approaching the grave will be executed.

 

Setting Boundaries of the Jewish Quarter

The times were very hard for the Jews after the night of horrors on September 1st,, 1941 and until September 1st,, 1942. Ostensibly there was relative calm in the city. The Jews were still allowed to live in all parts of town and were able to move around with limited freedom. In October–November 1941, the Jews were ordered to leave the main streets and to crowd into the Jewish quarter. Two or three families were crowded in one room in inhumane conditions. That was a sign of the impending disaster. All the Jewish stores and businesses were closed and confiscated. The Jews were ordered to hand over their furs or risk execution. Most people were afraid and complied. Some, though, decided to defy the “Berlin order” and hid their furs. I recall one case where a woman by the name of Kerner was executed because she did not hand over her fur. I too faced execution due to this “crime”, but was saved at the last moment.

After the furs' decree came the furniture decree. Any Jew who had usable furniture was ordered to hand them over to the Nazi authorities, who sent the nicest furniture to their families in Germany. Those who refused to comply were beaten savagely.

 

The Aktions

All the theft and plunder, persecution and oppression by the Nazis still did not bring the Jews to despair and did not dim the hope of salvation. They handed over all their possessions and their money to save themselves. However their hopes did not materialize and what happened, brought disaster, and most of them died as martyrs.

In September 1942, the Nazis started a systematic and planned extermination of the Jewish population of Stryj. This was done with rigor, precision and brutality that brought the destruction of Stryj's Jewry. At the beginning the Jews knew about every upcoming aktion. Before every aktion, the gestapo showed up and gave orders to the Jewish council and others who were supposed to participate. The rumors about an upcoming aktion spread very quickly and people hid in bunkers and cellars. There were rare instances where the Jewish council was able to postpone the next aktion for large sums of bribes.

 

The First Aktion

On the evening of August 31st,, 1942 rumors spread that the Germans and their helpers were planning an aktion in town the next day. The Jewish quarter emptied. Many fled to their Christian acquaintances who agreed to hide them for the duration of the “operation”. Others hid in bunkers, cellars and attics. At midnight, the Jewish quarter (the ghetto was established later) was surrounded by all kinds of official murderers: the gestapo, the Schupo (Schutzpolizei), Ukrainian police, and Ukrainian youth organizations. The Jewish police was tasked with guarding the area during the aktion. Armed with bayoneted rifles and grenades and wearing helmets, and with bloodhounds they were about to attack the defenseless Jews. In the morning some shots were fired to signal the beginning of the aktion. The wild, blood thirsty murderers emerged from their positions, broke the gates of the quarter and started demolishing the apartments and furniture. The old and the sick were shot in their beds. The murderers searched under the floors and then descended to the bunkers and cellars. Shouting “Juden raus”, they took out those hiding, who were scared to death. Those who were found were brought to the market street. Some were executed in a forest near town some in the Jewish cemetery, and the rest were taken by train to the gas chambers in the Belzec death camp.

This aktion, called the first by the Stryj Jews lasted three days from September 1st, to September 3rd,. Five thousand Jews were murdered. Eye witnesses said that many died from thirst and heat on the trains. The Poles and Ukrainians

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watched from their windows as the Jews were being led to the death cars clearly rejoicing in the Jews misfortune although many of them were their neighbors. They even took advantage of the Jews' tragedy by robbing and stealing whatever was left in the empty apartments. I saw this shameful behavior with my own eyes.

Here is the list of names of the victims that were murdered in the first aktion based on what I remember and was told by others: Zeyde Schuster, Dr. Nathan Schechter and his family, the Osterjung family, Abraham (Buczi) Apfelgreen and his family, the lawyer Mark Hurwitz, the lawyer Zelinger, prof. Seinfeld, Benjamin Nussenblatt, Pesja Josefberg and her daughter Yetta, Genia Reichman with her daughter Chaja and her two children, Apfelgreen (a shoe merchant) and his family, Israel Nussenblatt with his son Mordechai, the widow Apfelgreen and her daughter Tilda, the wife of lawyer Fichman and their eldest son Lolek, Moshe Bar and his family of four, Lawyer Sheinfeld with his wife, the brothers Robinson, Kremer with his engineer son, Chajka Klinger and her mother, dr. Dora Herstein with her parents, the lawyer Weis, Feivel Rosenberg and his family of five, Handel Fruchter with her son Aharon, Buchwalter with his family of three, Isaac Fruchter with his family, the layer Piltz with his wife and his parents, Max Hurwitz (teacher), Lerner (teacher) and his family of three, his brother in law, Rosenzweig (teacher), dr. Herman Unger and his wife (teachers), Kuba Hirshenhorn (teacher), Babko Unger (teacher), Chawa Wisaltier (teacher).

 

The Second Aktion

The second aktion followed six weeks later, on October 17th, and 18th, 1942. In between the two aktions the Jews were wondering who will be transported to Belzec and when. All the aktions followed the same pattern. In the evening of October 16th, 1942, the regional gestapo people from Lvov arrived and visited the offices of the Jewish council. There were rumors that something was going to happen. The streets emptied, and the terrified people went into hiding.

At 4 AM, shots were fired, and bands of Jews' “hunters” burst into homes. We were hiding in the attic. We were very quiet and even the children and babies felt that something was happening and did not cry. After sunrise, I could see through the cracks, bands of German police, Ukrainians, Ukrainian youth and a few Jewish policemen who were assisting in finding the Jews. From time to time our hiding place was approached by a group of policemen who were searching every corner. They climbed the roof, and hit it with various demolition tools. When they did not find anything they left. These nerve wrecking searches lasted for two days. We hoped that we were saved. My mother, who was hiding with us prayed constantly and read psalms and encouraged us to hope and not give–up.

For two days and nights we held–up under awful conditions, and we were certain that we were saved. At 5 PM almost at the end of the aktion another group of German and Ukrainian policemen entered the yard and resumed their search. Suddenly we heard loud banging and the boards under which we were hiding from the murderers fell on top of us. The murderers shouted “Juden raus”, and they started dragging us and kicking us. My mother of blessed memory, who was sick and her legs were swollen could not walk on her own. My brother Abraham of blessed memory and I picked her up and tried to bring her down the stairs. But, one of the policemen pushed me and my 75 years old mother fell. In spite of the pain, she did not utter a word. We picked her up and brought her to the yard. Before they led us to the gathering place, my nephew Pinchas (the son of my brother Abraham), managed to sneak away and hide. The policemen noticed his disappearance and tried to search for him, but could not find him. He survived and later served in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces).

Broken and decrepit we arrived at the gathering location of the wretched victims. The gestapo praised the Ukrainians for their success. Two thousand Jews were brought to the square. After two hours, we were ordered to line–up in rows of five and march to the train station. When we passed on the streets we could see that the Ukrainians and Poles were rejoicing in our misfortune. I carried my mother, because I was afraid that she would be shot in front of me. The policemen guarding the prisoners used to shoot the sick and the frail

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who were unable to move at the required pace. With great difficulty I brought my mother to the train station and laid her on the ground. We sat for two hours, while additional groups of Jews were being brought. Then we were put in the train cars. I saw how four Jews helped my mom into the car, and I never saw her again…

Rudely they squeezed us into the train cars that were intended for cattle transport. The doors and windows were boarded up and barbed wire was placed on top. They placed 100 – 120 people into each car. The crowding was unbearable, forming a lump of human bodies. The younger among us hoped to be assigned for work details and to be saved for the time being. We were not given any food or drink. The train moved after midnight. Immediately, people took out all kinds of tools and started prying the window and the door to jump off the death transport. We all knew that the train was taking us to the gas chambers in Belzec, so there was nothing to lose. I decided to jump. I threw my belongings and then jumped. I fell into the ditch alongside the rails and luckily was just scratched. Many of those who jumped were killed either from the fall or by shots from the gestapo. Others were seriously wounded. A heavy and cold rain started falling and the night was very dark. I had no idea where I was and I did not look for my belongings. I decided to walk in the opposite direction. I walked along the rail in the Stryj direction. In front of me and behind me, people who jumped from the trains were running, and nobody was paying any attention to anyone else. After about ten minutes I heard moaning and I noticed a person who was lying on the wet ground. When I approached I noticed this was a woman. Her face was covered in blood and she could barely talk. When she noticed me she asked who I was and where we were. I told her that I jumped from the death train and I was from Stryj. Then I realized that this woman was the wife of my friend Rosenberg who was a teacher in Lvov. I cleaned her face, and stood her up. Suddenly we heard voices and whistles coming from the nearby forest. We ran into the forest, and there we found another group of people that jumped from the train. There we met Wolowski, a lawyer from Stryj who had a serious leg injury. We did not leave him, and together we moved deeper into the forest. We sat there in the dark on a pile of haystack and decided to wait until morning. Additional escapees joined us. The rain was heavy and cold. We were hungry and scared and did not know what morning will bring. We huddled together for warmth.

In the morning, after a short discussion we decided to proceed to Stryj. The road back was not easy and we entered the nearest village to ask for shelter for a few hours, hoping that someone will feel sorry for us and would give us something to drink and eat. When we approached the first house in the village, we saw a peasant standing at the doorway. I asked him if we can stay in his house for a little while and told him that the axle broke on wagon we traveled in and we could not continue on our way. He looked at us with suspicion. The group that stood in front of him, wounded, scraped, dirty and wearing rags, but we were very pleasantly surprised when he invited us into his house. I am sure he knew we were Jews. Harboring a Jew even for a few hours carried the death penalty. Pleasant warmth enveloped us in the house. We asked him for some milk. The peasant's wife and daughter were still asleep, but he woke them up, and the wife put a large pot of milk on the stove. In the meanwhile, we took off our wet clothing, our socks and shoes and let them dry. Once we got dressed again, we asked the peasant to take us back to Stryj, but he refused telling us that the horses were in the forest and he could not get them. We thanked him and his family and left hoping to find shelter for a few hours in another house, as walking in the day during an aktion was very dangerous. We tried several houses, but no one agreed to help us. They told us to leave the village at once, because a police station was close by. We returned to the forest, and tried to proceed towards town. After walking for about an hour, we left the forest and started walking on the road which was full of German vehicles. Luckily, they did not pay attention to us. We separated into small groups. Mrs. Rosenberg walked some distance in front of the groups and she was supposed to warn us in case of danger. I was in the last group helping Wolowski. Suddenly, Mrs. Rosenberg signaled for us to hide because a Ukrainian unit was checking the papers of passers–by.

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We started running towards the forest, and suddenly hear a shout: “Stop or I'll shoot”. Behind us were two Ukrainian policemen, their bayoneted rifles directed at us. We were caught! They hit us savagely with the rifle butts, robbed us of our meager possessions and led us to the nearest police station. In the station we met others from our transport who told us that many of those who jumped from the train were killed in the forest. There was no doubt in our minds that this time we were condemned. I thought to myself that we need to accept our fate. Were we any better than those who were sent to the gas chambers in Belzec?

We were kept in a grain storehouse and got some watery and sour soup. The police searched us and confiscated our papers and letters. I asked the chief to return my university diploma and my personal letters. He looked at me and said that they were useless for me as I would not be able to use them anyway…

In spite of being dead tired we could not sleep. I thought to myself that soon I would be digging a grave for myself and be tortured to death. Suddenly I felt a push, and I was told that I was part of a group that was organized to bring the bodies of those who were shot in the forest. We collected a large number of victims, some of them were still alive, but we could not help them. We were told to load both the dead and those that were still alive on carts. The carts were placed in a locked warehouse. In the morning, they were all dead. They were all buried in a mass grave, and we whispered “Yitgadal Ve Yitkadash”…

Later that day we were transferred to the jailhouse in Stryj on Tribunalska street. Some from the group were released probably by bribing the gestapo and also due to the intervention of Hoterrer, the head of the Jewish council. After a few tense days, we were told to line–up. We were certain we would be executed. Suddenly, some of the Jewish policemen came in (among them some that I knew) and we were told we would be put on the second transport to Belzec. I noticed that some of the prisoners were directed to the other side of the corridor and let go. I assumed that the gestapo received bribe for them and they were being set free. I did not envy them. I felt I had nothing to live for. My parents, brothers and my entire family were murdered. Suddenly, one of the Jewish policemen said to the Kripo (Kriminalpolizei): “Please release Nussenblatt. He is a high school teacher” and I joined the group that was about to be set free. We were led to the offices of the Jewish council. The Kripo demanded bribe for each released person. I had no money, and asked a young man from Przemyśl for a loan. He was able to give me 500 zloty. The policeman said it was too little money, but agreed to release me after I promised I'll try to get him 500 more.

I found a dreadful scene when I got home. The windows and doors and all furniture were broken, the pillows and quilts all torn. All was deserted, and I could not find anyone from my family.

 

Establishment of the ghetto in Stryj

After the second aktion, the Germans reduced the area of the Jewish quarter and it became an enclosed area. The ghetto included the streets Batorego, Zielona, Targowica, Krzymirza, Cerkiwna, the eastern part of the Rynek and Potockiego. The Jews were forced to leave certain streets and to crowd in only a number of streets. The gates to the Aryan quarter were locked and leaving the ghetto area was prohibited.

All Jews, young, old and even women became slave laborers working for the German war machinery. Only a few were assigned to offices, as there was no one else that could do that work. A small portion of the craftsmen were employed by German factories. They earned so little that they could not even feed their families.

The hunger was great. Only a few smuggled food from the Aryan area into the ghetto.

 

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Stryj community memorial tablet in the Chamber of the Holocaust[1]

 

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Nazis abuse rabbi Meir'l, the son in law of the rabbi of Głogów

 

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The organizing committee of the memorial convention for Stryj Jewry in Haifa 1956

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Most survived by selling their clothing, their valuables, furniture etc. The peasants sold food to the Jews at staggering prices. The Jewish council had a soup kitchen that provided meager portions for the hungry. Due to the hunger and diseases many died every day. The doctors tried their best to help the sick. I want to mention the doctors of our town who were devoted to treating their brethren until the last moment and they too were murdered by the Nazis: Dr. Ingber, Dr. Koenig, Dr. Gwirtz, Dr. Brauner and his wife, Dr. B. Milabauer, Dr. Sznir, Dr. Nobbes, Dr. Roth, Dr. Kitczels (committed suicide on November 17th, 1942), Dr. M. Leibowitz (committed suicide) and others.

The Nazis used also to carry–out “special” aktions such as: against the sick (they were shot in bed), against prisoners, against children and against outsiders (those who came to Stryj from neighboring towns and villages). The orphanage and the old folks–home were liquidated by the Nazis. Under these conditions all cultural life disappeared. The schools were shut–down. The parents had no ability or patience to take care of the children. As young as twelve years olds were working hard with the adults. Some of the children traded secretly in cigarettes and candy.

The Jewish council imposed heavy dues on the Jewish population in order to meet the demands of the Nazis who extorted huge amounts of money. The Jews saw in these “contributions” a possible way to save themselves.

 

The Third Aktion

The ghetto in Stryj was established in November – December 1942. It is hard to estimate the number of Jews that were crowded into the ghetto confines. Before the war the Jewish population in Stryj was 14,000. With the murders and the first two aktions 8,000 Jews perished in the forests around Stryj and the gas chambers of Belzec. Five to six thousand Jews were still alive, and they were joined by another 2,000 – 3,000 of Jews from the neighboring villages, then the number of Jews before the third aktion can be estimated to be around 7,000 – 8,000.

All of them were crowded into the small area of the ghetto. The over–crowding was unbearable and there was no way of maintaining any minimal sanitary conditions. Filth and dirt were all around.

Even before the establishment of the ghetto, many Jews prepared bunkers in their homes which saved them during the first two aktions. Once they were squeezed into the ghetto, many bunkers remained outside of the confined area. Building new bunkers in unfamiliar homes was not easy. A feeling of despair was felt by all. It was hard to tell what could save them. Some started creating bunkers in the homes others escaped into the forest and built bunkers there or joined the partisans. Unfortunately there was no communication between the partisans and the Jews in the ghetto otherwise many would have joined the partisans. Some tried to cross the border into Hungary. Many were captured by German or Ukrainian police and were shot on the spot. Among those killed on the border were S. Ladier (the son of rabbi Ladier) and his fiancé and Dr. Gwirtz. Some hid with Polish or Ukrainian families paying a heavy price. Many were saved that way, but others were betrayed, robbed and then killed by the very people that were supposed to save them. But, the majority just stayed in the ghetto and waited for the inevitable.

In February – March of 1943 another aktion took place and about 2,000 Jews were murdered. Prior to the previous aktions, the Jews knew what was going to happen and were able to hide in the various bunkers and hiding places.

However, after the Jews were enclosed in the ghetto, no rumors from the outside reached them. This made the “work” of the murderers easier and the aktions came as a surprise and there were many victims.

The aktion started on February 28th, at 3 AM and lasted until March 1st, 1943. The guardsmen in the ghetto noticed suspicious movements, but before they were able to warn the people, the gates of the ghetto were broken open, and the armed murderers started their hunt. This aktion

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came as a surprise, and people did not have time to get dressed and hide in the bunkers. As was their usual practice, the murderers took out about two thousand men, women and children and led them to the death cars at the train station. I can recall a few names of the murdered in this aktion: Henia Sztoltz (Heller) and her daughter Hadassah, Shlomo Rossler with his wife and daughter, Leib Schatz, the policeman Sasha Heller (who was shot by an Ukrainian policeman), the teacher Hella Preis, the Hitachdut activist Aharon Meller.

There were a few cases in Stryj of active resistance, some with weapons, some of attacking policemen during aktions, and also instances of sabotage in the work camps. However, all these instances of resistance were crushed mercilessly.

 

The Fourth Aktion

More than a thousand people were captured in the fourth aktion that took place on May 22nd, 1943. Before they were killed, they were held for a few days inside the great synagogue without any food or water. Dreadful things that cannot be written happened in the synagogue. With their bare hands, the condemned, scratched messages into the walls demanding revenge.

On the night before the aktion, my brother–in–law of blessed memory noticed suspicious movement in the ghetto streets. He immediately alerted those in our house and the nearby homes. The bunker in our home could hold no more than fifteen people, but because of the sudden panic about fifty of those from our house escaped and crowded there. We could not breathe or move a limb because people were lying on top of each other. A woman with a baby was one of those who ran into the bunker. Shots and wild voices were heard signaling the beginning of the “hunt”. All of a sudden the baby started to cry and the mother who forgot take a bottle with her could not quiet her down. We thought we were condemned and begged the woman to leave otherwise we will all be killed including she and her baby, but she would not budge. The despair was so great among the people that I thought someone was going to choke the mother and her baby in order to save themselves and their families. A miracle happened and the baby stopped crying as the murderers shouting “Juden raus” neared our hiding place. They tried to climb on the walls and the piles of boards that were used as camouflage. But, because the climbing was difficult they gave up and we heard them saying in German: “There are no Jews in here. Let's go”. They moved away from our bunker and started looking for others. Across from our bunker was another one which was not camouflaged sufficiently and it was discovered. Suddenly we heard the shouts of “Juden raus” again and we knew they were discovered. I could even hear the voice of the policeman who counted the victims: “one, two, three, …fifteen”. The murderers and their victims left the cellar and we all thought that we were saved. However it was too dangerous to come out at this time. We heard the rumors that the victims were held at the synagogue. So, while they were still in town, it was too dangerous to venture out, as the murderers could always add more victims to those they already had. But, we knew our end was close. Even those in the work camps told us that the Nazis guarding them were hinting that the end of all the Jews was coming.

 

The Fifth and Final Aktion

The final aktion was more brutal than all those preceding it. This time, the Nazis threw grenades and fire bombs into the bunkers. The people had no chance to leave the bunkers and they were buried and burned alive under the rubble. The sadists also used bloodhounds and set them against those that were found. This aktion, unlike the others lasted a whole month. It was obvious that the Germans decided to destroy the last Jews that still remained in the ghetto.

Instinctively, on the night of June 2nd, groups of Jews escaped from the ghetto – some to the Aryan side to Christian acquaintances, some into the forests and others into the work camps. They hid in attics and cellars, until they too were uncovered by the Nazis.

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The Nazis started this final aktion by first liquidating the Jewish police. In the previous aktions, the Nazis were assisted by the Jewish police, and now it was their turn as well. On June 3rd, the Jewish policemen came to “work” as usual. However, on their arrival, they were captured and led to where the other victims were gathered. Their caps and belts were taken away from them and they were executed on the same day. The head of the Jewish council, Hoterrer was killed on the first day of the aktion near his office.

The victims of the final aktion were shot and buried in mass graves in the Jewish cemetery and in the Rilow – Holobotow forest.

The bravery of the high school teacher Liza Schauder should be noted here. She was captured and was among the prisoners. Suddenly, she started shouting approximately this: “Murderers of my poor people! Robbers! Who gave you the permission to kill and rob the Jewish people? Who gave you the permission to murder millions of innocent Jews, just because they are Jews?! You are laughing and mock us because you have the power! But you will see who will laugh last! I despise you and your crazy leader Hitler. You can kill me right now. I don't care. Revenge! Revenge! The spilled blood of the millions will find its revenge not only in you, but in all your next generations, and you will never find peace. I despise forever the Nazi murderers!”.

Upon hearing these brave words, other prisoners started to yell as well. The gestapo officers and the Nazi policemen were stunned at first to hear these brave words. But soon they started using their whips and their rifle butts. Liza Schauder was removed from the line, her clothes were torn and her fate was like the fate of all the others.

*

The Jewish doctors were murdered together with the remnants of the ghetto. The doctors lived in the house of rabbi Ladier on Potocki street outside of the ghetto and they were allowed a free movement around the house.

On June 3rd, they prepared to go to their work as always and did not realize the lurking danger. Dr. Nobbes and Dr. Sznir were on the balcony of the house and noticed the approaching gestapo, but they thought nothing will happen to them just like in the previous aktions. All those in the house, the doctors and pharmacists were transferred to the prison on Tribunalska street and then to the Holobotow forest where they were killed and buried. Drs. Nobbes, Sznir and Leibowitz, poisoned their family members and then themselves on the way from the prison to the forest. Only a few of the doctors and pharmacists and their families were saved because they hid in the cellar when the others were taken away.

Here are some of the names I remember of those who were murdered (in addition to the doctors) in the final aktion: The religious judge Yeshaya Asher Julles, David Zeidmann, A. Eisenstein, lawyer Shlomo Tauber with his wife and their daughter, Hoterrer's wife, Fela Ladier and her mother (the rabbi's wife), Kuba Nagler, the family of Josef Bar, Karon with his wife and their three daughters and their granddaughters, Rozia Karon and her husband, Yetta Karon and her two sons, Shimon Schtolz, teacher Mania Heiber (Stern) and her mother, Rachel Brauner with her three children, Malcia Schteif, Shmuel Fruchter , his wife, their daughter and his parents and sisters, Munia Pomerantz, Henia Schtolz, Regina Schmorak, the clinic manager Anden with his wife, Zaurbrun, Mrs. Zobel with her daughter in law (wife of her son Nathan), dr. Josef Roht, dr. Ingbar and his wife, dr. Mantel, his wife and sister in law, pharmacist Lonek Stenrberg and his mother, and pharmacist Dicker.

Many Jews tried to save themselves in any way possible. Among them were a number of Jews from Stryj that moved to places far away from the town using Aryan papers. Most of them moved to Warsaw and worked there as Poles, as Volksdeutsche and even as Germans.

Some of the people who chose this route were: Dr. Kindler and his wife, Mrs. Wiesaltier (Meir's wife), Steirmark (later was murdered in Warsaw), Lea Huser (wife of Dr. Gwirtz), Henia Nagler (Levin) and her daughter (they were captured by the schupo and murdered in the Przemyśl prison), Mrs. Finkler (whose husband was a post office clerk) and her daughter, Henia Apfelgreen (Kudish) (was later murdered in Lvov),

 

str196a.jpg
A gathering of Stryj members of “Hitachut–Poalei Zion” in Israel, 1935

 

str196b.jpg
Committee of Stryj organization in Haifa
Standing from right to left: M. Akert, M. Klieger, M. Honig, J. Glicher, Hobbel
Seated right to left: M. Walter, Goldring, Dr. Lindenbaum, J. Engelman, J. Pruchter

 

str196c.jpg
Gathering of immigrants from Stryj in Tel Aviv, Purim 1935

[Page 197]

Kronstein and his wife, Alex Findling and his wife, Theo Findling and his wife. The Aryan papers and the Aryan appearance that many acquired did not always help save their lives and many were captured and murdered.

Some children who were given by their parents to Poles and Ukrainian were saved. At the end of the war many Christian families refused to give back the children to their surviving parents or relatives. Some parents had to abduct their own children and others had to work through the courts.

A group of Stryj's Jews were saved either in the ghetto or by hiding in the Aryan section, by hiding in bunkers or with Christian families. Here is the partial list: the Wolfinger family (Herman, Clara, Henrik, Josef, Shulamit, Regina), Isaac Nussenblatt and his wife Hela, Belka Schtoltz and her daughter Heda, Mrs. Mina Fried (Wolf), her husband and daughter, M. Selinger, his wife, son and his sister, Yona Friedler and his wife Sara, the lawyer Eisenszar, Roth and his daughter Belka, Rozia Lentz, Schuster, Glantz, Rozia Sak, Mrs. Meller and her two daughters, Robinson, his wife and niece, Freilich and his wife, lawyer Nathan Teller and his wife, Yekel and his wife, Dr. Begleiter , his wife and son, Yanka Wundel, Moshe Kaz, Dora Mantel, her husband and her sister in law (Goldreich), Mrs. Weis and her son, Mrs. Walker and her granddaughter, lawyer Weidenfeld and his wife, Halfgut (teacher's daughter), Eda Adelheid, Bella Zeisler.

Only a few survived out of the 14,000 Jews of Stryj. Some immigrated to Israel and some to other places in the world.

May these things be a memorial forever to our holy community of Stryj which was destroyed by the Nazis and their helpers together with the rest of the holy communities of six million Jews.


Translator's footnote

  1. The Chamber of Holocaust was established in 1949 as the State of Israel's original Holocaust† museum and memorial Return

 

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