The cup of sorrow from which
by Moshe Mussler
Tranquil and quiet were the years that my family and I spent in the rich and cultural metropolis of Belgium. I was a member of the teaching staff for the Hebrew curriculum in the elementary and Hebrew High School Tachkemoni which was supervised by the Kehillah in Antwerp. This school was certified by the government and it was under the control of two authorities: the government's and the Kehilla's. But one authority did not interfere with the other. We, the teachers of Judaic studies such as Hebrew, Bible, Talmud and Jewish history, taught our subjects and the secular teachers who were not Jewish, taught secular subjects.
Our livelihood was comfortable. Besides our monthly salary, we had some additional income from private tutoring and Bar Mitzvah preparations for boys who did not attend this school.
The Jewish parents related to the teachers with reverence, unlike the relationship between the Polish Jews and the melamdim. It was a wellknown fact that whoever was accepted to teach in that school was well qualified.
On May 10th, 1940, German military columns invaded Belgium. Even before that day, a feeling of helplessness weighed heavily upon the Jewish community in this country. We knew that under the German rule, our situation would become desperate. The rich who possessed Belgian passports or some other privileged documents had already left the country. However, the majority of the Jews stayed.
Two days later, a door to rescue opened. I was among the first to be pushed into a train which was going to take us across the French border. The adventures that we experienced during the voyage, I have already described in an article published in one of the newspapers in Israel, which also contained some autobiographical details.
We travelled across French territory for eight days until we reached a village near the Spanish border. The French government provided us with lodging in abandoned houses and allocated for our monthly support.
At the beginning, the French related to us as unfortunate refugees who were forced out of their homes, leaving everything behind and escaping. But after the conquest of France when the rule passed on to the German collaborators, our situation changed drastically. Thanks to German propaganda, the relations between the population and ourselves also changed for the worse, as if we, the Jews, were to blame for their defeat.
Interestingly enough, on one of those days, I happened to overhear an innocent conversation between two women. One told the other: The end of all these Jews who arrived enmasse into France will be that they will all be deported to Poland, their native land, and there, they will find their deaths. This was a prophesy that fully materialized.
In the meantime, we sat tranquil in that border village, inclined to believe that we would remain there until peace came. The summer was coming to an end and we began to prepare ourselves for the winter. We were about one hundred and eighty kilometres from the Spanish border. But it was unthinkable for us to endanger ourselves by crossing the Pyrenean Mountains and seeking shelter in Spain. The situation was uncertain. All kinds of rumours circulated among the refugees. Some said that the Spaniards were handing over the refugees into German hands and, indeed, there were such incidents. Some told us that there were robbers in the Pyrenean Mountains who took the clothes off our backs and left them to the ravages of the wild animals or to die from exposure in the mountain wilderness.
A few days before Rosh Hashanah 1940, we were put for the first time into a refugee camp. We spent seven months in this camp. This is not the place to describe camp life, how hard it was to live with masses of people who, although they were all Jews, were gathered from every corner of Europe. It was a life of idleness and degeneration. However, in a certain way, we were still free to come and go and were not forced to work. Many returned illegally to Belgium because of rumours that had reached us in that the German authorities did not harm the Jews and even allowed them to work. Not only that, but some were even becoming rich….Ultimately, their ashes were scattered over the fields of Treblinka and Auschwitz.
We began to feel hunger in this camp. Luckily, I still had some money in my pocket and could obtain something outside of the camp to satisfy our hunger.
In April 1941, we were transferred to the Rivesalt Camp, closer to the Spanish border. In that camp, we immediately felt a change in relations to the Jewish refugees by orders of the German conquerors. In that camp, hunger ruled forcefully. Famine left its marks on our souls. We walked around like shadows. They forced us to work but not at hard labour. Everyone according to his ability. I would like to point out that most functionaries, including the guards, did not maltreat us. Except for a few single incidents, they related to us decently in comparison to the conditions that existed in other occupied territories, especially in Eastern Europe.
Thanks to my knowledge of several languages, I worked in the post office and was required to censor the mail and cross out everything critical about the Vichy government. Understandably, I left two words intact for everyone I erased, just to do my duty as a censor. Whoever received such a letter knew exactly what our situation was. In one of the letters that passed through my hands, I found the address of a family who lived freely in a small town and whose son was a student of mine in Antwerp.
I wrote to the mother of the student. I knew that she was a woman of valour and able to intercede on my behalf. I asked her to find me a job as a farm hand which might result in my release from the camp.
The woman saved my life and the lives of my family. She did not rest until she obtained a work contract for me. In August of that year, I was
released from camp and moved to the village of Lelan in the Terva District where I became a farm hand.
I can assure you on my own behalf that I was not an outstanding farm worker. From where could I possibly have obtained any knowledge of tilling and sowing? Did my father own land? I did not study agriculture in cheder and, besides, life in the camp had devastated my health. Nevertheless, I invigorated myself and kept working.
Three months passed until I succeeded in obtaining the release of my spouse and my children. We settled in the village and, considering the place and time, it was excellent. Well, not entirely.
Due to our long wanderings and especially the camp life, my wife became ill and her life was hanging on a thread. How she managed to recover in a time when medicine and nutritious food were in short supply, in addition to the mental stress and constant fear in which we had found ourselves, is a puzzle to me to this day.
We were the only refugee family and the only Jews in that remote village. I have to admit that, in spite of the antiJewish propaganda by the Vichy government and the villager's knowledge that we were Jews, they all related to us as the unfortunate who were driven out of their home for no reason at all. By the way, let me point out that my sons and daughter spoke fluent French. The villagers found no blemish in us and supported us by selling us all the food we needed.
There were a few Jewish families in a nearby town that, like us, arrived from Belgium and some were from the French territory which was occupied by the Germans. Periodically, we visited this town and they reciprocated our visits. We spent almost a whole year in this village in relative tranquillity. Only weak echoes reached our ears as to what the Germans and the Vichy rulers were plotting against us. We did not know anything about the fate of the Jews in Germanoccupied countries. Who could have imagined that somewhere in Europe, total extinction was declared on every Jew?
In the early morning of the 15th August, 1942, the farmer, my employer, woke me up and told me that policemen were waiting for me in the yard.
There was nowhere to run and it did not enter my mind that I was in any danger. I did not have a skeleton hidden in my closet, I did not engage in black marketing and I also had not spoken against the Vichy government. I felt innocent. Why would I run?
We were novices, innocently believing like children that there was justice in this world. And for that, six million of our brothers paid with their lives.
The gendarmes did not handcuff me. They helped me pack my belongings and when I asked why and for what reason they were taking me away, they meekly responded: an order from higher up to take you someplace.
I was brought to my quarters where my family lived. There I found my wife and children waiting for me, surrounded by policemen as I was. The policemen took us to the nearby town where we found all the Jews assembled at the police station. The French people were standing in
groups and were looking at us. A few among them openly expressed their disgust at the arrest. Almost everyone shared our sorrow and blamed the German rulers who had conquered their country and had oppressed them as well.
On that day, throughout France, all the Jews who were citizens of Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia and the rest of the countries occupied by the Germans, were arrested except those Jews who were French or Belgian citizens. In other cities, those functionaries who belonged to the French underground notified the Jews about what to expect. However, only few believed them and hid. The majority did not believe that the decree would be put into action, and even if they would have believed it, where could they have possibly hidden?
We were transferred to the district town where we found about two hundred Jews who had already been arrested in the little towns and villages of the surrounding area. The majority had never tasted life in a camp and they did not realize that this might be the last station in their lives. Apathy, inactivity and mostly, not knowing what lay ahead of us, overcame us. With little courage, we could have saved ourselves but our senses became blunted and the will to live was taken away from us. The master of the people had abandoned us to be killed and Satan had gained the upper hand.
We were brought to camp De Gurs also known for its obloquy. Few survived there. In that camp the best of the best from Manheim's Jewish community in Germany, perished. They were exiled to this camp by order of the Germans in 1940 after the conquest of France.
This camp was located at the foothills of the Pyrenees and during the winter months, it became one big swamp.
The members of the Manheim Jewish community who were brought into the camp during the cold winter could not withstand the bad weather and, when the first frost came, they fell like flies. These were mainly children and the elderly. Silent witnesses to that tragedy are the heaps of earth around the camp. These wretched have not even been rewarded with a monument, unlike the millions of their brothers who died in the valley of death in the camps of Poland. Under these heaps are the graves of the unknown who took their last breath in that cursed region.
Into that camp we were brought. There are no words that can describe our feeling after the gates closed behind us. The guards treated us as if we were dust on the roads and the clerks of the Vichy government treated us as if we were a bunch of criminals who were liable to destroy the country and kill their leaders.
Even though we had some camp experience, we sensed in our subconscious that we would all die unless we succeeded in being released as soon as possible. Depression and despair, helplessness and hopelessness of escaping from the claws of the human savages, took control over us.
I have not eaten for two days. I walk around like a sleepwalker from barrack to barrack and stare into the faces of my brothers and sisters, remnants of all the Diaspora from Eastern and Western Europe. Sheep for the slaughter our children like lambs, trail their mothers. They soon would fertilize the thirsty land with their bodies. The well of tears had dried up and the skies above us were like copper.
Hope came to an end.
Among the crowd of refugees, I encountered a man who was married to the granddaughter of Pearl Gertner from Strzyzow and also the son of the rabbi from Brzozow near Strzyzow. I think that his name was Reb Yacov Itzhok Weber. He lived in Antwerp and wound up in France where he was caught with other refugees. We barely exchanged greetings and went our way, each in the opposite direction. He strongly believed in our survival and that we would leave this camp eventually and that the wicked hand would not be allowed to do with us as he wished. His wife and children, one son even wore long sidelocks, put their faith in him. They believed that the merits of their father the rabbi and the merits of their righteous ancestors would protect them. I wished that their belief would not disappoint them.
Meanwhile, I befriended Rabbi Ansbacher whom I knew from the Rivesalt camp. He was also brought here and for the time being, he served as rabbi for the camp. Rabbi Ansbacher was also convinced that we would be expelled to some camp in Poland but that there was no danger to our life.
Since the rabbi knew that I was a Hebrew teacher, he came up with the idea of organizing a study group. Because of it, perhaps a door to safety might open for me too as a clergyman. There was a group in that camp to whom the expulsion order did not apply such as South American citizens, Jewish veterans who found in the French army, etc. He promised me that he would do everything he could to save me from expulsion.
We walked alongside the fence and during our walk, he asked me to clarify some grammatical terms in Hebrew. I doubt if I was able then to explain properly those grammatical terms, but at least I found an interest to take my mind off the situation.
One morning, we were asked to appear before the French officials whose numbers had suddenly doubled on that occasion. We had to appear before them onebyone and they would decide our fate. My eyes visualized the official's face as the Angel of Death who, by lifting his sword, decrees a person's life or death.
One Jew, a native of Germany who was called in to appear and while standing in front of the official who had not yet lifted his hand in deciding whether he would live or die, collapsed and died. A doctor was rushed to his side but his efforts were in vain. Another heap of dirt was added to the French soil where the body of a nameless Jew was buried. At least his ashes were not scattered. But the heap will remain there forever.
I too with my family passed the same official and the verdict was that we would remain in camp for the time being because of the doubts on my citizenship. These doubts were the reason why we were among the living of today.
Meanwhile, many transports left the camp to an unknown destination; among them was the son of the rabbi from Brzozow with his family and some acquaintances from Belgium. The truth is that the French did not know the destination of these transports. These actions were wrapped in a veil of secrecy and obscurity. The truth will remain a secret that only
a few later came to investigate. These few are either dead or they are ashamed to admit that indeed, the French officials did know the purpose of these transports. Therefore, they remained silent. This is a blemish which cannot be removed. It clings to the body of the nation and, preferably, should never be known.
We remained two more weeks in camp De Gurs. One blue morning, they told us, a group of fifty or maybe sixty people, that we would be sent back to the Rivesalt camp and there a decision would be made as to our fate.
This group consisted of a rabbi, one of the great personalities of Germany, converted women who wore their crosses so that they would be visible to everyone and the remainder were people with doubtful citizenship. My family and I belonged to the last group.
That evening before our journey, we were treated to a lavish meal. Such meals are usually reserved for people sentenced to die. We could not believe our eyes. Even cigarettes were distributed to us an article that was difficult to obtain at any price. On the other hand, we were thoroughly searched by the police and everything that could be used to commit suicide was taken away from us.
Armed guards with loaded weapons guarded us and prevented any contact with the rest of the refugees. Only Rabbi Ansbacher and a Catholic priest were allowed to get near us. We sat through the night, the Rabbi and I, and spoke about everything related to Judaism except about my fate and what was in store for us. At daybreak we were ordered on board trucks which took us to the railroad station.
After travelling for about an hour we became convinced that, indeed, the train was going in the direction of Rivesalt and we breathed a sigh of relief. This camp, where we had spent almost a year, was wellknown to me and I was hoping that since we did get out from the De Gurs camp, we would find some opening, even one as small as the eye of a needle, to escape from this camp too. I had a hopeful feeling. Who can predict the turn of fate?
On my arrival in the camp I encountered an acquaintance from Antwerp, one of those who deeply believed in Providence and that there was a Leader of the world. When he saw me he embraced me with such enthusiasm that, to a certain extent, I began to share his belief. He had just arrived from Belgium and had not settled in yet. This man, who knew no foreign language but Yiddish, when he heard about what I had gone through in the camp De Gurs, advised me what to say when I would appear before the officials that would decide my case.
This man did not survive but he saved me and my family with his advice and, as long as I live, I will never forget his name.
And now I would like to clarify my citizenship problem. I had in my possession a marriage certificate which I had received on the day of our civilian marriage in OdeMora, Transylvania. In this document, there is no mention about the country of my origin, which was Poland, thanks to the bribe which my fatherinlaw gave to the Romanian clerk in order not to delay the wedding. In addition, my wife had an expired Romanian passport but I made it kosher after a minor correction at the last minute. I also had my children's birth certificate that they were born in Belgium.
When my turn came to appear before the official who was empowered to decided everyone's fate, whether to deport or not, I claimed that I was a Romanian citizen, that my children were Belgian citizens and, according to instructions of the Vichy government, we should not be deported.
The clerk claimed, relaying on information he found in the camp files from the previous time when I was in Rivesalt, that I was a Polish citizen and decided to deport me. But my wife and children were free to go. I insisted that I was never in Poland and it was probably a mistake.
I fought for my life. It was not enough that I had suffered in the country where I was born but and after I had left and disowned her, she still kept pursuing me.
Ultimately, the clerk decided, without my knowledge, to hand over my case to an inquiry committee for a decision. When I left the office, I met Abraham Kanner from Strzyzow. He had decided to escape from the camp and not wait until he would be called to appear before the official. I have enough money to bribe the guards, he said and most importantly, I am alone without my family. Indeed, he disappeared on that same day from the camp.
Meanwhile, Rosh Hashana 1943 arrived. In the evening, we congregated in one of the barracks. Words could not describe the prayers and the tears that were shed during the chanting of the prayer. Now Lord, our Gd, put thy awe upon all whom thou hast made. We prayed for our lives that hung on a thread. Our souls twitched and implored. Angels and the distressed participated in our supplication which split open the gates of heaven. I mused: Who among us will merit acceptance of his prayers?
At daybreak on the second day of Rosh Hashanah 1943, a voice came through the loudspeaker: Pick up your belongings and report to the square near the office of the camp commandant. Hurry.
About six hundred men, women, elderly people, youngsters and children; people who suffered poverty and hunger; a wretched community, trampled by the imbecilic, heartless, merciless police and camp guards, reported to the front office and waited for their verdict.
The southern sun spread her rays upon this oppressed mass and the cliffs of the Pyrenean Mountains were illuminated with a glowing light. For the second time in history, these mountains looked upon Jewish masses at their feet.
About four hundred years ago, these Pyrenean Mountains witnessed Jewish masses leaving Spain on the other side when they were dispersed into the Diaspora to France. Now France was also going to exile them. Thousands expired then and now, so many casualties on the same track.
We sat on our bundles and waited. Everyone was immersed in his own thoughts and tried to figure out this world. Finally, they arrived those in whose hands our lives were pending. We lined up in alphabetical order. The official, with a list in his hand, called out names and the ones that were called went over to the other side which was fencedoff and guarded by armed guards. I did not even notice when the official approached the group in which I was standing with my family. My senses were confused. I became numb and my eyes gazed into a vacuum.
I suddenly woke up and noticed that the official had passed us by and had gone to the group behind us. Neither I nor my family were called out to go over to the other side. Were we saved? I dropped to the ground and my lips muttered a prayer which could not be found in a prayer book. A thanksgiving consisting of a few words that breaks out from the heart only at a time when you feel that your life is in danger.
From the six hundred people who were standing in the square, only twentysix were spared the expulsion on that day. Why? And by whose merits? Would we merit leaving this camp and be freed from the horrible nightmares which weighed heavily and cut deeply into our soles and wounds that would never heal? Who knows the mysteries of destiny?
At sunset, we bid farewell with our eyes to our brothers and sisters who were taken by trucks to the railroad station and from there to a place from which only a few merited to return.
Two days later, my family and I were released from the camp and returned to our village, but our sufferings had not ended yet.
In November of the same year, all of France was occupied by the Germans and the hand of the occupant rested heavily upon us. Fear of deportation became more realistic. All escape roads were blocked. We were apprehensive and could not rest day or night. Our lives hung on a thread and we were aware of it. Luckily, our neighbours stood by us and many times we found shelter in their houses. Periodically, I stealthily went to a farmer's house and listened to the broadcasts from London. I listened to the description of the annihilation of the Jewish community Bialystok by an eye witness. This broadcast was so shocking that I was barely able to return home.
We spent a year and a half in constant fear. Until this day, I am still puzzled. How did we survive the malicious hand? I intentionally avoided telling in detail what we went through after our second release from Riversalt camp. Even though we were forced to move from one farmhouse to another, to hide in barns and were almost caught once by the French police, all the above is like a drop in the ocean in comparison to what the deportees to the east had suffered before find their death in the gas chambers.
Fortunately, the relations with the French people toward us changed for the better, especially in the provincial towns and villages and they helped us hide from the eyes of the German occupiers.
In August 1944, the wicked rulers were defeated and the hour of our liberation arrived. We walked upright again like the other citizens. In May 1945, we returned to Antwerp where we had lived before but to my sorrow, my two sisters Sarah and Leah with their families and also my brother Joel were not alive anymore. They found their deaths somewhere in the valley of death Poland with the rest of the martyrs of our people. Also, my brother Abraham and his family perished.
In the month of Adar 1946, I made Aliyah to Eretz Israel to join my son and daughter who had preceded us. Blessed be He that we lived to fulfil the mitzvah of Aliyah and to live in our land. For a few years, I taught high school and the Ulpan on Mount Cansan. Because of my illness, I was forced to retire. Blessed be Gd that we were worthy to see
the flourishing of our land. My son is a member in a religious kibbutz in the valley of Beit Shean and my daughter works for the government and is married to a bank clerk. All my grandchildren, except one, were born in Israel and they are the consolation in our lives.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
I stood at the edge of the Sheol.
And faced the abyss, extinction and obliteration;
Perplexed, filled with anguish.
I will perish here in these wastelands.
About apace was the distance between me and death …
How dreadful is this weeping valley!
Behold, Gd listened to my prayer.
These verses were written in the spring of 1942 in the Soviet Russia on a collective farm; Trudovik somewhere in Kazakhstan. It was after my recovery from typhus in spite of the doctor's prediction to the contrary.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
Three years I have not seen my house.
Three years I wander and browse.
Three years spread with bitterness is my bread.
Three years sleepless are my nights in bed.
Three years since my life is dark, not bright.
For three years my misfortunes have doubled
With prison, slavery, sickness and trouble.
Why, Gd was this brought upon me?
And how many years of pain are still in store for me?
Three years my blood like water was spread
by Shlomo Yahalomi
With Awe and fear
Rosh Hashanah 1939, in Brzostek, Western Galicia
These were real and fearful days. Only four days had passed since Hitler's soldiers came to town and they had already established their new order with German precision. For instance, they demonstrated their defiled strength by organizing an efficient police force and imposed fear and anguish upon the whole vicinity. Most Jewish people already learned from their personal experience what this new order consisted of. One of the first steps of the Nazi was to turn the shul into a storage room and a part of it into a stable. In addition to the personal worries of the Jewish families, another worry was added the High Holidays were approaching. Good Christians whispered into their Jewish friend's ears that the Nazi were getting ready to maltreat the Jews and run wild, just because it was the High Holidays. In spite of great danger, nobody was planning to acquiesce, not to pray and blow the shofar in a quorum. Not on the life of the Nazi will such a thing happen! Reb Moshe Walter said. This faultless man, a Hassid of Rabbi Itzhok from Szczucin and a descendant of the Ropczyce Dynasty, did not believe that the war had really begun …. When I saw him on the first day of the war after we had already seen the German bombers in the skies, I said to him: Nu, Reb Moshe? He opened the palm of his hand and pointed to the centre and said: There will be no war! Reb Moshe and many like him was sure that we would soon see the defeat of the Nazi and, therefore, we should not flinch by not praying in a quorum because we would feel ashamed all of our lives and would never forgive ourselves. Therefore, it was decided to organize a few minyanim.
Not to arouse the anger of the oppressor, we arranged prayer houses in the alleys and remote corners of the town, of which we had plenty in Brzostek. We took as many precautions as possible. We put guards to watch all four corners of each house where prayers were conducted. On each side, a girl stood and looked out for approaching Nazi. Every thirty
metres, a girl stood guard within a radius of one hundred metres. The girls would notify each other if they saw a dog coming and warn the worshippers. In such a moment, we would interrupt the prayers and were ready for whatever would happen. When a sign was received that the coast was clear, we continued to pray, filled with extraordinary fear until we finished the prayers.
It was hard to conduct such prayers and even harder was the mental exertion the gnawing doubts which depressed body and soul together. How far we were from reality when we recited: He subdueth the people under us and all the nations under our feet. How great was the distance between the reality and our reciting the verse: And therefore extend they fear O Lord, our Gd over all thy works. With guards having to stand watch outside…? Still, when we finished our prayers without a serious disturbance, we thanked Gd and sang with the melody of the rabbi from Ropczyce the song: Strengthen Us Today, as though nothing had happened. Only one among us did not sing Reb Fishel Goldman an intellectual of the older generation who was a natural pessimist. He said: If I would be sure that at least half of us that are congregated here will remain alive, I would sing like you. But I doubt it very much. That is why my heart aches. This time, this pessimist was right. And how right was he? From approximately forty people, men and women who participated in the prayers that day, only I who conducted the services survived to write these memoirs.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
On the first day of the Hebrew month of Vei Adar 1940 (the second month of Adar which falls in a leap year is called Vei Adar), I said to my comrades in misfortune that Purim was approaching and regardless of our situation, we ought to celebrate as it is written: And those days should be remembered and observed in every generation. The reaction to my announcement was scepticism and astonishment and even a light smile appeared on some of the faces. Not only did the partially religious oppose my suggestion but even Nathan Ginsberg, the pious and Gd fearing (may Gd avenge his blood) also gave me a cold shoulder and said: What kind of a Purim can this be? How can we celebrate Haman's defeat which happened thousands of years ago, when his decree about our annihilation is materializing right before our eyes? But, little by little, I convinced everyone that we, the ones who are sitting in the darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in the chains of pain were supposed to celebrate Purim which reminds us that every Haman ends up on the gallows.
Another colleague and I were delegated to work out some special programme for Purim in jail. On that evening, we sat forlorn and debated with what and how we could celebrate Purim. We realized the tangible of the question. Therefore, we could only fulfil the commandment spiritually. How and with what would we create a Purim atmosphere in our cell which was as big as a chicken cup? There were all
kinds of propositions especially one proposed by Mr. Gendelman from Katowice who stood out for his wonderful fantasies and odd visions. We finally agreed to a programme which we did not fully realize because we had forgotten that we were inmates in Soviet Russia and that they suspected us of being spies.
In a depressed mood, entirely inPurimlike, we, a minyan of Jews, sat on Purim eve in our cell. Some sat on beds, or at least something resembling beds, some on the floor or under the socalled beds. There was no room for us to sit in a circle. We were solemn as though it were Yom Kippur Eve before Kol Nidrei. I began to read the Megillah with a low voice, like the recital of the Amidah. I was afraid that the warden, our comrade Sergei, might hear us. I read: once upon a time in Shushan and at that point, I was interrupted by the blacksmith from Gorlice who asked: When did this wonderful Mordechai live? Of course we did not have a Megillah. I read from my memory. And I responded to the man that Mordechai lived a few thousand years ago. Hamans we have in each generation but a Mordechai? … And just when I wanted to continue, the door opened and comrade Sergei angrily yelled: What is going on here? What kind of propaganda is this? I tried in vain to explain and to calm him down and said that no propaganda was going on, but he insisted: it is very bad! Two hours later, a higher official came, opened the door and called out: Whose name begins with the letter D? (The majority of the prison officials could not pronounce our last names). When I said that my name was Diamand, he said: Let's go and we left the cell.
I was not sure whether this call had anything to do with the reading of the Megillah or, by coincidence but I was being called for interrogation. My heart was pounding and I was worried as to what was going to happen. Most of all, I feared that our planned Purim programme would be disturbed. While I was immersed in my thoughts, two guards took me into a windowless taxi and we travelled about half an hour until we stopped in front of a huge and splendid building which was occupied by the N.K.V.D. The guard led me into a small room where an interrogator with a face and eyes of a Jew sat. After a moment of silence, the interrogator began. First I was asked to state my name, my parents' names and then the main questions such as: why did I cross the border without permission? Did I know that I was breaking the law? I told him that I ran from a sure death. I ran from the Nazi and in such a moment I could not ponder the legality of my deed. I also expressed my amazement about the possibility of punishing people who were forced to leave everything behind and escape over the border. Of course, he ignored my amazement and passed on to the more serious questions. Why did you come to spy in favour of the Nazi? When I expressed my great surprise that they could suspect a Jew of espionage for the Nazi, he responded: On the contrary, because of the fact that the Nazi sent Jews to spy as they would not be suspected. Understandably, I could not deny such logic. Therefore, the only thing left for me was to deny that I was a spy. He again asked me if I desired to remain in the Soviet Union after the war. I did not respond for two reasons: a) He would not believe me; it would have only aroused more suspicion.
b) I had made up my mind to tell the truth and only the truth. Therefore, I said: As the situation is at present, I could not answer that question because I have not been free even one day in Russia and I do not know if life is good or bad. He understood the sting in my response and reacted with a Yes as though his conclusion that I was a spy was correct. He asked me what my occupation in Poland was. I knew that everyone who was asked such a question claimed to be from the working class. I decided not to lie for the following reasons: 1) He would not believe me (all the guards I encountered had said that I did not look like a proletarian and that my soft hands testified to it). 2) By telling the truth I might win his confidence and he would believe my words. He asked many more questions but I want to concentrate only on the last dialogue between him and me.
Are you religious? Yes, Comrade Interrogator! He continued: My mother was also religious she always attended prayers in the synagogue. Tell me is it true what a Jewish man from Lesko told me that it is forbidden to put out a fire on the Sabbath? No I replied: When it is dangerous you are supposed to put it out. He asked: Do you believe that there is a Gd? I answered: Yes! and he followed with: Can you see him? I replied: What kind of Gd would He be if I could show Him to you? He asked: Can you prove that there is a Gd?. I thought about this question and replied: Can you prove that there is not? He furrowed his brow, thought for a while and said: Yes. The pros and cons are even.
After this dialogue he told me to go. I left him escorted by two guards and thanked Gd that everything went smoothly.
Next morning somebody suggested that we get revenge on the only Haman among us. A filthy Ukrainian who hated us stood out for his wickedness and could not suffer the Jews. He mainly always quarrelled with Rothman from Brzozow who was his neighbour. Rothman angered him with his recital of Psalms. The revenge was that Rothman yelled in the ears of the Ukrainian the quotation from the Psalms: Gd shall avenge the gentiles. The Ukrainian became angry and began cursing all the Jews. Rothman reacted loudly too until the warden opened the door and took the Ukrainian into solitary confinement. (A dark cellar with all kinds of conveniences). We, the Jews, rejoiced even though the joy was not complete. The guard warned us that if we did not quiet down he would take us all into solitary confinement. Having no choice, we sat all day without saying a word until evening came and the guards changed.
I will never forget that evening. We sat and talked about all the miracles and wonders that Gd had bestowed upon us in every generation. We also held a Torah discourse on the theme of the day which was Purim. The Galician blacksmith suggested that we forget about the situation in which we found ourselves and to tell Purim jokes and anecdotes to cheer each other up. We unanimously agreed to his proposition and began to be
merry, telling jokes until we forgot that we were in prison. After the merrymaking was over, the sighs came back again.
To finish off the celebration, I told a story which I had heard in my childhood. Reb Israel from Ryzin, of blessed memory, (the founder of the Sadigora Dynasty), spent one Purim in jail and longed very much to fulfil the mitzvah of giving presents to friends, as is customary on Purim. Since he was the only Jew in the cell, he hoped all day long for a visitor to realize the fulfilment of the mitzvah. When the day passed and he still had not fulfilled the custom, he became very sad and tears came to his eyes. The Rabbi lifted his eyes to heaven and said: Master of the Universe! I am sending you my untainted tears as a gift as it is customary. With this story we ended this unforgettable evening and ten Jewish prisoners in an Odessa jail sent tears as a gift to our Father in heaven.
These tears were the ones which strengthened and encouraged us and gave us hope that we would overcome all our tribulations and sorrows. We began to prepare ourselves for the upcoming Passover.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
Actually, I began to think about the upcoming Passover holiday two months before. There was nothing much to prepare because I did not have the slightest hope of obtaining matzos. My only worry was how to subsist without eating chometz. The only thing that I could do was to refrain from consuming the daily fifteen grams of my sugar ration, which by law, was supposed to have been twenty grams and save it for Passover. I saved about nine hundred grams of sugar. With this sugar and with hot water which was also part of our food, I was preparing to live through Passover. The night before Passover Eve, I fulfilled the mitzvah of searching for chometz. However, I did not use a candle because there were no candles in the cell. I recited the customary Kol Chamira, clearing the bread which we did not have. My thoughts were directed towards clearing the misery from the face of the earth and turning it to dust. On Passover night we prayed the Maariv prayer and recited the Hallel with the festive melody of the rabbi from Ropczyce, but in a subdued voice. When I reached the verse: Open Thy gates of justice, I thought to myself, Md! Please! Open the gates of the prison.. After prayers, I made Kiddush over a few grams of sugar and recited: You have chosen us from among other people and given us the season of freedom. Later, I began to conduct the Seder and ten imprisoned Jews celebrated the holiday of freedom under locked doors, iron grills on the windows and guards that guarded these wretched escapees from the darkness and shadow of death. Tear drops fell from my eyes and the big oppressive and painful question hovered in the air: Mah Nish Tanah, what has changed?
How was this Seder different from the others? The Ukrainian who had had a very good day because he had eaten all of our rations also wondered and asked: Mah Nish Tanah? Why are the Jews, in spite of their tears, in a festive mood and I, who have the whole world on my side, am sad? And
the guard who watched our door and peeked in every few minutes through the little peephole, also wondered why in the cells that were occupied by gentiles there reined gloom whereas from the cells of the Jews a subdued song could be heard. He stood astonished and grumbled: What kind of people are they? I do not understand. Nathan Ginsberg, the pious and fiery Hassid of the famous rabbi from Tchortkow and Itche Rothman from Brzozow, addressing their questions toward Heaven, also asked over and over: Mah Nishtana? The writer of these lines has authored a prison version of the Haggadah and began: We were slaves in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania and refused to leave. The matzo that we are not eating on this Passover symbolizes our missed opportunity to make Aliyah, despite all the warning signals. Why do we eat Maror and plenty of it? Because we refused to leave our sweet life in the Diaspora, afraid that we might be forced to taste a little bitterness while settling in Eretz Israel. And so I kept reading the Haggadah, adjusting it to our situation until I reached the end of the song Chad GadYaw where Gd executed the Angel of Death who pretended to be our redeemer.
Luckily we were not disturbed in our extraordinary adventure, celebrating our freedom while actually being enslaved, neither by the guard nor by the Ukrainian who was with us in the cell. For a while we managed to forget ourselves and despite everything, we felt a little spiritual freedom. However, I was not worthy of observing the entire Passover. On the third day after living on sugar and water, I became sick and was taken to the infirmary where I finished my disrupted; kosher Passover in Soviet Russia.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
Between Rosh Hashana 1939 and Rosh Hashana 1940, I came a long way and changed my residence several times. A certain period I spent under the courteous protection of the Nazi. Two weeks I rested in one of the courtrooms of Lesko Lukawice, Galicia when the N.K.V.D. (Soviet Secret Police) guards watched over me so that I would not be harmed… I spent three months in Lwow in the infamous prison: Brigidki. From there I was transferred to a new apartment in the Odessa prison in Russia. In this place I celebrated the High Holidays and the Sukkoth holiday of 1940. Two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the Ukrainian chief warden, Vasily Ivanovitch, was fired and replaced by a Jew, Gregory Isaacovitch. Soon after the new warden took over, we felt that some activity was going on within the prison walls. Not a cell was left untouched. People were taken out and replaced by others. Our Jewish brothers who tend to see the shadow of a mountain as a real mountain, like to see the shadow of salvation as real. And since the changes that were made in most of the cells consisted of Jews being left in each of them, at least ten or more, the Jews thought that this was not just incidental but a clear intention of the new warden, who was one of us. People said that his intention was that the gentiles should not disturb us and thus enable us to concentrate on our Rosh Hashanah prayers to our heart's desire.
I did not know what was going on in the other cells but I was certain
that there were faithful Jews in every cell who prayed. In our cell, I was the benefactor of the prisoners, the inmates who sat in that darkness and shadow of death. There were no prayer books. I was assisted by my memory with which Gd had graced me. I knew several versions. The versions of Ropczyce, Dynow, Sandz, Munkatch and Sadigora. But I used none of them. I conducted the prayers in an entirely new version; a special prison production. Each word was drained with blood, tears and pain. This time we did not sing at the end of the prayers: Strengthen Us Today. Instead of a song, a heavy sigh emanated from everyone's mouth.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
I was in a labour camp, Mostovice Yaravtze, in the northern district of Archangelsk. Even though I was forced to work on the Sabbath many times, I could not resign myself to the idea that on Shavuot, the Festival of Receiving the Torah, I would have to work. Therefore, I tried to negotiate with the head of the work brigade to release me from work the following day, after I succeeded to convince him that I could keep a secret and he could rely on me. I arranged with him that I would not go to work and would remain in the barracks sick. This was my Emendation of Shavuot night.
That night I could not sleep. No matter how hard I tried to forget the present, I did not succeed. Sad thoughts sprang forth in my mind and, from time to time, a heavy sigh escaped from the depth of me. This angered my ignorant Georgian neighbour who could not understand what I was missing in this camp which, according to him and his experience, was one of the best camps. I told him, with a pretended seriousness, that I was worrying that perhaps I might be transferred and be forced to leave this camp. And who knows where they might take me?
You are right the Georgian said. Indeed, it is something to worry about.
Broken and crushed, I got up in the morning from my ‘bed’. After I washed my face with cold water and dipped my soul in my tears, I returned to my place. I covered my head with a blanket and prayed, oppressed and brokenhearted. In general, daily life and the hard labour in particular had not been inspiring and cheerful. More so on the Sabbaths and holidays, my sadness increased manyfold. I reminisce about the exalted joy and the festivity of a holiday in my little town and the sadness of this holiday made me numb. Therefore, I poured out my emotions in humming my prayers. When I had finished my prayers, I took off the blanket from my head. I searched with probing eyes in every corner of the barrack as if I wanted to see where I was.
I washed my hands and began reciting the Kiddush over a slice of bread as follows: These are Gd's holidays. At this moment a bitter thought came to my mind. Are these Gd's holidays? I approached a corner where two Poles were playing chess. Like every neutral onlooker, I became involved in the game which relaxed my mind a little. But this relaxation was very costly to me. When I returned to my place, I
discovered that my only winter coat had been stolen. And again, I came to think: Are these Gd's holidays? I began to investigate and I found the thief: a young Russian but not the coat which was already in the quarters of the head of the brigade who had delegated the thief to do such a fine job. This fact did not surprise me at all. It was not the first time such things happened in camp. Actually, I would have gladly agreed to part with the coat in exchange for being released from working on Sabbath and holidays. Interestingly enough, the young thief was brutally beaten by the head of the brigade for have confessed to the crime.
There is always a silver lining as the saying goes. After the theft, I felt completely free and decided not to work on the second day of the holiday either. I was sure that the head of the brigade would not dare say a word. After all, I had hinted to him that the deed that his messenger had done was the same as if he himself would have done it. The thought that I would also rest on the following day aroused in me a feeling of alleviation and particular satisfaction. I slowly regained my composure.
In the evening, we, a group of Jews, sat around an overturned empty barrel of herring which served as a table and we spoke about the events of the day. There was also a Torah discourse and a song which was composed by the famous Avish Meir from Sandz was sung with the words from a liturgical poem. A wonderful melody, passion pouring out of the soul to the Creator and expressing our confidence in the Protector of Israel and his Redeemer. I also recited the Archangelsk version of the poem Akdamuth a poem which is customarily recited on the Shavuot holiday. I recited the original words interwoven with Russian words in rhyme, making fun of our miserable camp life. I sang it with its traditional melody and there was happiness in our corner. And, when I was asked by a friend who now lives in Israel, how does such happiness come to such a place? I responded: These are Gd's holidays.
In my diary from those days which is in my possession now, I wrote this episode under the title Shavuot, 1941, these are Gd's holidays.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
One year passed that was filled with events. During the year, I managed to receive a sentence of which my comrades were envious. Only three years of hard labour in a Siberian labour camp. The Russians called such a sentence child's play; only children were punished so lightly. After the Sukkoth holiday of the previous year, my voyages began. I spent a short time in the prison in Charkow. Next was a tour of the entire Archangelsk District (a total of nine months hard labour). The amnesty was proclaimed pursuant to the agreement between the Soviets and General Sikorski, the head of the Polish government in exile. I wandered from one place to another, from one station to another. Vologda, Gorky and Yaroslawl until a few comrades and I reached the collective farm Mocry Maidan. Despite the fact that we were free and liberated, it was harder to find a minyan to pray than it was in prison. The leader of our brigade, Shachanov, had
threatened us with all kinds of persecutions for being absent from work on the High Holidays. Therefore, all of us were afraid to disobey him. Both nights of Rosh Hashanah we prayed with a minyan. However, the daytime prayers I prayed alone in a house of a Russian religious woman who put her room at my disposal for two hours. During the ten days of penitence, we were suddenly summoned to report to the town of Sergach for mobilization into General Ander's Polish army. At least, that is what we were told. I became apprehensive that with our, luck we would be forced to travel on Yom Kippur. For a train to travel half a day and then stand still for two days, was a common occurrence in those days. There was also a chance that we might become stranded in the middle of nowhere or, with our luck, the train might just keep on traveling without stopping. But, thank Gd, nothing extraordinary happened. We arrived in the city of Arzames on Yom Kippur Eve and the train stood idle all during Yom Kippur. We continued our journey after Yom Kippur was over. Meanwhile, I had a happy Yom Kippur, pardon the expression. The railroad station in Arzames was swarming with people; men, women, children and soldiers. In a corner, a group of tortured, broken and depressed Jews stood and prayed. They thanked Gd for His graciousness, for making it possible for them to pray and to recite their confession with great humility, beating their chests while saying Al Cheth.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
After spending a few months in General Ander's Army and wandering all over Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan, I finally arrived, together with many other exiles, in KishMish near Takmak. There, an epidemic of typhus broke out among Jews and nonJews of which fifty people died. Soon after Passover, I began working in the collective farm of Trudovik and later in one of its branches. When the High Holidays approached, there was not a shadow of doubt about letting us pray. We intended to organize public services in KishMish anyway. In this city, there were many Russian Jews who had escaped from places which the Nazi had conquered and had found shelter here in KishMish. And they too were hungry for a little Yiddishkeit. One week before the High Holidays, I was surprised by a sudden visit from the brigade leader, Bogomolov, with the unhappy news that I was being transferred together with other people to another branch of the farm TchikPar. This news was very depressing. I was apprehensive that after I left no one would organize public services in KishMish. Having no choice, I packed my belongings and reported to KishMish the centre of the collective farm, thinking that there I would decide what to do next. After my arrival in town I went to the home of one of the local Jews and there I found a treasure the book of Kings. I was very happy because since my arrest, I had not held a holy book in my hands. I remembered reading somewhere that some saintly personalities, when they were in doubt about something and could not decide what to do, they opened a book and what was written on that page they did
accordingly. So I decided to do the same thing. I opened the book and found a prayer of King Solomon. I thought to myself: my name is also Solomon. This must be an omen that I should remain in KishMish to conduct the prayers on Rosh Hashanah so that the people could hear the prayers of Solomon. I dodged being sent to TchikPar where the rest of my group had been sent and remained in town.
The first night of Rosh Hashanah we conducted the services without a hitch. However, the next morning, a man from the N.K.V.D. suddenly appeared and angrily came over to me the leader removed my tallit from my head and yelled in anger: What is going on here?
I responded with pretended audacity: What is the matter with you? Are you a Trotskyist? As far as I am concerned, Communists have nothing against religion. Stalin has said so. Only Trotsky said that Communists ought to fight religion until it is wiped out. When the man from the N.K.V.D. heard such a respond he thought for a while and went outside to seek advice from his comrade with a higher rank. After a few minutes, he returned and softly said: Alright. Keep praying.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
Another year passed by and it was not strewn with roses. During that year I actually stayed in one place but in reality, I travelled a great deal on business connected with my job. I was the traveling representative of the Peat Enterprise which took me throughout Great Russia and reached the famous Tien Shau Mountains. The management even tried to send me to a remote and forsaken corner, surrounded by mountains and cliffs, to build a new highway for my Russian fatherland. But at the last moment, I managed to get out of it. (In Russian, one must know how to take care of things. Without knowing how, you cannot survive even one hour). During this year, I was almost sentenced to prison or to forced labour again for refusing to accept a Russian passport but, with Gd's help, I was saved. A great many Jews from several European countries worked in this enterprise and planned to pray publicly on the High Holidays. We were sure that this time everything would be in order, because almost all of the leadership were in our pockets. From Director Zeeman to Chief Engineer Seltzer who is now working as an engineer in the city of TelAviv. Although he was a refugee he had a lot of influence. Also, engineer Karp, a brigade leader and a few foremen. But, apparently, Providence wanted to put me to the test again a very serious test. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, I was summoned to Director Zeeman's office where a man from the N.K.V.D. was present. They told me: You want to pray? Please! Take a week or two week vacation go wherever you want and pray there. But do not organize public services here! Your Jews will neglect their work on the High Holidays. They will pray with you and we will have to try you for sabotage. Clear and direct no more and no less! I kept quiet for a moment and said: I prayed under the Nazi and was not harmed. Here in the land of freedom and justice, I
would be punished? The man from the N.K.V.D. looked at me with an angry face. It seemed that I hit the target. It was obvious that he was restraining himself from showing any emotional signs. After a deep silence which lasted half a second, he said as though speaking to himself: Cunning. You can go now. The director said: remember what you were told here. You have your orders. That is all.
Despite the fact that a few friends of mine did try to dissuade me from my decision to organize public services on the High Holidays and to conduct them, I did not give in and again for the sole reason that I knew if I would not do it, there would have been no prayers. I, therefore, announced that services would take place. Most local Jews came to the evening and morning services which took place in our barracks and the services passed without any hindrance or obstruction. We were not disturbed.
However, the director, sticking to Soviet principle: No work, no bread did punish us. We did not receive our bread rations for those two days of Rosh Hashanah. After Rosh Hashanah, when the director saw me, he asked me what I had prayed for. I told him: we prayed for a good year for us and also for you, Comrade Director, in spite of the fact that you deprived us of our bread rations…
Well alright, you will get it. The same day we received three bread rations.
The director and the management resigned themselves to the situation and did not even try to influence us not to conduct public services on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur eve, a few brigade leaders asked me to begin the Kol Nidrei services a little later because they too wanted to attend. This was a real sanctification of the Divine Name. Not only Jewish leaders came but nonJewish as well and communist youth leaders were among them. The closing prayer: Neilah was most exalting. All the emotions of our aching hearts were poured out in our prayers. Until this day, I still hear the resounding shriek that came out from the depths of the exiled and the forsaken Jews who declared in the land of atheism, in spite of everything: The Lord is Gd.
Whenever I meet with people who worshipped with me at that time, I am asked: Do you remember our declaration that ‘The Lord is Gd’?
by Shlomo Yahalomi
The year which had just passed brought with it a happy and exciting occasion for me. I met my brother Heschel. I had already heard that my brother was alive as of July 1943. I found that out from Yechezkiel Diamand from Rudnik. While I was in Bystrowka on official business, he came over and greeted me happily and called out my brother's name. When I responded with astonishment that I didn't know him, he said: Why are you pretending? Were we not together in the labour camp? I immediately understood that he mistook me for my brother Heschel because we resembled each other very much. But I did not know the whereabouts of my brother, nor his address. In March 1944, I received a letter from Itzhok
Berglass in which he informed me of my brother's address. During that year, I was mobilized again into a labour army from which I managed to escape. I wanted to reach my brother in Dzambul. I therefore tried to get into the Red Army and, while traveling to the assigned place, to disappear in Dzhambul. After a few unsuccessful tries I finally reached Dzhambul actually a collective farm near Dzhambul, where my brother was living. I have much more to tell about our meeting after having been apart for so long, but I would like to concentrate only on the theme: Rosh Hashanah.
This time I was not the only one who was getting ready for the High Holidays. Thousands of Jews who lived in that area, refugees from Poland, Lithuania and other countries as well as Jews from every corner of Russia joined us. There I found people who knew me from the camps and also from before the outbreak of the war. In Dzhambul I also merited to become the Public messenger (cantor) and chanted all the prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur before a big crowd of people from various Diasporas. It is impossible to describe and to imagine how we prayed.
Although we did not know everything that had happened to our brothers who had remained under the Nazi, we already knew that something terrible had happened beyond human imagination. The crying had ascended to the heart of Heaven because of the sound of the cries and sighs. The rooms that had been put at our disposal by Reb Ever Englender from Kosno, one of the richest men there before the outbreak of the war could not absorb such a big crowd of worshippers. Many remained standing outside. There were many curious onlookers who were deeply shocked and had tears in their eyes.
In spite of the great sadness and the sorrowful mood, the services were conducted as in the earlier years. We sang when we were supposed to sing all the traditional melodies and added a few new ones which had been composed during our wanderings. And, at the end, we sang even louder the finale: Today you have strengthened us.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
Our hopes that we would be able to live in Dzhambul until the end of our exile were only an illusion. We thought that we would not have to continue to wander until we, the Polish citizens, would be permitted to return to our land, Poland. It was not to be. The authorities again began to pester the pursued and tortured Jews. They forcibly mobilized them into all kinds of labour camps which were called: Labour Army. After I was mobilized several times and managed to get out, and after my brother was forced to flee from Dzhambul and move to Alma Ata, I too escaped and joined him in Alma Ata. There we found a new world. It was evident that we did not find a free world but we found dear brethren from all corners of Russia a larger number than anywhere else. There were Hassidim of Lubavitch, Bratzlav, Chernobyl, Trisk and many others. There were only a few scholars among them but they were virtuous and had warm hearts Jewish hearts. They went out of their way to help the Jewish refugees from Poland and other countries. Their emotions were mixed both with love and envy toward us because we were less afraid of the Soviet
regime and organized public services wherever we could, from which they also benefitted. Despite the fact that we were told at our arrival in Russia that nobody ever leaves, we kept our faith and believed that we would get out. Of course, the Polish refugees had organized a big quorum for the High Holidays as they did in the previous years. About a thousand people participated in the services. The location was small so the majority of the worshippers were forced to remain outside. There was something new in this years' services. Part of the chanting was done by a Russian Jew from the Ukraine a fiery Hassid of the rabbi from Lubavich. Even though he was not blessed with a good voice, his chanting was warm, clear and untainted. Many Soviet citizens participated in the worship. I chanted the Mussaf prayers which deeply impressed the Russian Jews. We have not heard such chanting for many years, they said. The fire which was latent inside of the Russian Jew had awakened and began to burn again. The founder of the communist party in Eretz Israel who had returned to Russia and there repented, was also present among us. His name was Yacov Meirson. Many of those who participated in these services and merited to make Aliyah recall these services with tremble and holy anxiety. These services turned into a great demonstration in the land of atheism. It was declared at this grand forum that the Gd of Israel lives and exists even in Russia.
by Itzhok Berglass
It was summer of 1940. The excitement among the refugees from Western Poland, the majority of who were Jews who found themselves in the Eastern part of Poland under the rule of the Soviets, was very great. Although during the registration which had taken place a few months earlier, the refugees had declared their willingness to return to their home towns from which they fled or were expelled, this declaration had not been given wholeheartedly. They would have preferred to have been left alone and not asked again. However, they had to answer this question on the registration form. Most of the refugees were persons who had left their families, parents, brothers, sisters and especially wives and children, on the German side. These refugees knew that Soviet Russia was hermetically sealed. Therefore, they were apprehensive that, by expressing the desire to obtain a Soviet passport, they would be cut off from their families forever. Even those refugees who had been expelled by the Nazi before the arrival of the Russians were attached to their birthplaces where they still had relatives. They overcame the fears and having no alternative, they expressed their agreement to return to Nazi occupied territory.
The German Resettlement Commission had arrived in Lwow and the refugees had organized themselves in town and district committees but the Germans did not give any sign of activity. All they did was to issue passage permits to Poles who had applied for them. A few permits were issued to Jews whose relatives, on the German side, provided recommendations from
the German authorities that they were needed for the German war economy.
In the last few weeks before the Soviet exile, the Soviet authorities ordered those refugees who had declared their willingness to accept a Soviet passport, to settle in certain towns, at least one hundred kilometres from the German border. From this order, we concluded that something was going to happen.
One day, all refugees without families who had refused to accept Soviet passports, were arrested and a few days later, on a Friday night at the end of June, all of the families in the same category were also arrested. The individuals were sent to forced labour camps and we, the families, were loaded onto cattle trains under heavy N.K.V.D. convoy and shipped out to far distances throughout Russia. The wagons were filled to capacity. Each wagon had a few benches which were supposed to serve as beds. The toilet was located in the centre of the wagon. As soon as we got into the wagons we caught lice. Apparently these wagons had already been used for human shipments without having been disinfected.
From Zolkiew were we lived, the train travelled through Lwow eastward. As soon as the journey began we were exposed to the integrity of the Ukrainian farmers when they brought food products to the stations and demanded from us, people behind bars, exorbitant prices, several times their market value. We also felt the warmth of our Jewish brethren who were not allowed near us because we were the ostracized. In spite of this, they overcame their fear and handed us food and cookies for the children through the barred train windows.
We travelled northeast to Chelyabinsk. During our voyage we also learned a lesson on the Soviet way of life. When our train passed close to a passenger train, a Jewish passenger told me: I want you to know that in this country there is no return from exile. And he rushed off. From Chelyabinsk, they took us with the TransSiberian train eastward and despite the hard conditions, we were happy to keep on travelling endlessly for fear of the future when we arrived at our destination. After eighteen days of travel, our wagons were detached from the TransSiberian train and the next morning of the nineteenth day, we reached our destination and were unloaded at the Kamaratzga station.
by Itzhok Berglass
The station and the final place of exile at which we arrived two days later was in the district of Krasnoyarsk which stretches from the North Sea to the Mongolian border. In Kamaratzga we were divided into several groups; received food and remain overnight sleeping in a public building. The following morning we were sent to our final destination some sixty kilometres south of the railroad. Women and children were sent by trucks and the men by wagons which were pulled by tractors used to transporting steel rails for the railroad. At midnight, we reached the village of Narva and were put into the culture hall. Most of the inhabitants of the village were Estonians who had assimilated and become Russians. They were exiles from the time of the Russian Czar and had named the village after the Estonian port from where they came.
In the village we were joined by an official nurse whose main function was to watch over the children and the frail. She encouraged us by saying that all those under her charge would not last long because the winter temperatures reached 50° and the summer heat reached to +40°. Mosquitoes and all types of insects sucked human blood and poisonous snakes teemed everywhere even in the houses. We later found out that everything she said was true. However, miraculously, we held out until our liberation, with a few exceptions.
From the village of Narva we were sent deeper into the forest, some twenty kilometres, in groups which were hurriedly assembled from the people with whom we had lodged in Kamaratzga. Our group consisted of eighty people men, women and children. These barracks were built years earlier by Ukrainians who had lived near the Polish border and had been exiled to prevent fraternization with their brothers on the Polish side. After they settled permanently in collective farms, the barracks were then occupied by Austrian Socialists who had fought against Dolphus and, after their defeat, had escaped to Russia the land of socialism where they were then exiled to Siberia. Then came the members of the International Brigade from Spain where they had fought and were defeated by Generalissimo Franco. They too were exiled to Siberia. Just before our arrival, Polish aristocrats rich land owners from Eastern Poland and Polish government functionaries that had been exiled before us, divided the big barracks into small rooms for each family. We inherited these rooms.
The quarters into which my family and I moved into consisted of one large room and two small chambers. In one of these small rooms, a Pole was still living with his family. He was the only one who remained after all the Poles had left. It was terribly crowded. Along the walls there were two tiered plank beds which served as our bedroom and between these plank beds was a narrow passage. Our boarders were huge rats that ran around fearlessly among us, nibbled from our meagre food and all kinds of insects that nourished themselves with our blood. On rainy days, water leaked through the room and the main beneficiaries were those who slept on the upper banks. My eightyear old daughter and I were among them.
After three days of rest, we were recruited for work.
The place was called Pimia. In the near future it was supposed to have been turned into a city, a central place for the whole area and especially for logging. Our first job was to build a narrow railroad track to enable the government to transport the timber out of the woods and onto the Mona River which flows into the Yenisei. From there, the timber could be shipped throughout Russia and the world.
Until then, the transportation of timber was only possible in the spring when the snow had thawed and water levels rose in all the tributaries flowing into the Mona River. All the labour done by the exiles and under the supervision of local people was aimed at this central purpose.
We worked hard digging, stone quarrying, timber cutting and cutting up the timber. Women who did not volunteer for work were pursued by a militiaman and forced to work. He used to hunt for them, always appearing on a horse with a whip in his hand and the women, seeing him approaching, would sometimes escape into the thickness of the forest.
These were the conditions we lived in. In the wintertime, when the swamps were frozen and with considerable risk, a part of our group was sent further into the woods. They came out in the fall, after the liberation, which was the result of an agreement between Stalin and Sikorski after the Nazi attacked the Soviet Union.
by Itzhok Berglass
The exiles did not accept their suffering lying down. We lived under the Soviet rule for a short time and we spiritually could not agree to the injustice that was being done to us. We were naïve and thought that if we were exiled in Siberia we had nothing to fear. We did not consider: that there was another Siberia from where you can never get out. With these words, we were threatened once by the local lumbermill manager who complained that we were slovenly in our work. We also did not realize that this exile had saved our lives. Like Joseph in the Biblical times, we would have to be thankful because Gd did us a favour. He saved many people.
We wrote three identical memos and sent them to the three famous people in Lwow whom we knew had been activists and had cooperated with the Soviet rulers. We sent letters to the Polish writer, Vanda Vasilevska, professor Panczeszin who had defended Jews that had been pursued during the Polish regime especially Jewish students that had been attacked by their Polish colleagues the Jew haters, and to Professor Studnicki who we also knew before our exile.
The memos were written in a sharp tone against the authorities. We complained that instead of treating us like refugees that had escaped the sword and as it is customary all over the civilized world, they took us out in the middle of the night like criminals and sent us into exile. Therefore, we asked their intercession to bring us back from exile.
I was the initiator and author of the memos. I signed it first and after me, all the heads of families in our barracks also signed the memo.
Fortunately, these letters were not released by the people to whom they were addressed. But we did receive a heartwarming letter from Vanda Vasilevska. She told us that what had happened to us was wellknown and that there were efforts being made to correct the injustice. The response from Professor Panczeszin was more formal but with a promise to help. The third one did not respond at all.
As time went by, we became accustomed to our situation. As the saying goes in Yiddish: When you get used to troubles you live with them happily. But, we never gave up hope that someday we would get out of Siberia. That was what kept us going and we held out until our release.
by Itzhok Berglass
When in other places it was still summer, in Siberia it was already fall. It rained frequently with cold winds blowing and the living conditions became worse worse than in the hot summer months. Our upper bank, my daughter's and mine, was located near the door which was frequently opened and closed, day and night. Eightyeight people kept coming in and out. The
leak through the roof worsened and it became almost unavoidable for my daughter not to catch a cold. She became ill with severe angina.
I was notified of my daughter's illness while I was at work in the field. Soon after work, I went straight to Narva to the clinic which was attended by a young doctor and a medical assistant. I told the doctor that I was afraid that the angina might develop into diphtheria. I was asked to pay for the use of a horse and the medical assistant rode out to my barracks. He diagnosed it as only a severe form of angina. He wrote out a prescription and told me to get it filled the following morning at the pharmacy.
I took the prescription early in the morning and went to see the militiaman who was in charge over us to tell him that my wife had to remain with the child and that I needed permission to travel to the village to pick up the medicine. The exiles were not permitted to leave the place without a permit. The militiaman was still asleep so I went to the foreman and asked him to release me from work. Such a release could also be used as a pretext to travel without a permit. He refused. In desperation, I jumped on to the small train which was going to Narva to pick up some workers. One of the foreman's helpers demanded that the train engineer stop the train and forcibly remove me but he refused.
When I returned home and handed the medicine to my sisterinlaw, I was immediately put on trial for my crime. The Judges were: my foreman, the militiaman and the head of the district militia who often visited our village. The district officer accused me of arbitrarily leaving work and travelling with a permit. I responded by asking him if he any children and when he responded affirmatively, I told him the whole story. I showed him the doctor's diagnosis and asked him how he would have handled the situation. He immediately released me and told me to return to work.
Two days passed and on the Friday, my sisterinlaw again appeared at my workplace and told me that I must bring the doctor again because my daughter's illness had worsened and that she was very sick. The doctor refused to come claiming that he had diagnosed her correctly the first time and that there was no other medicine available, only that which he had already prescribed. With sadness and great worry about the fate of my daughter, I went back to the train to return home. I fed her myself with a slice of turnip which a Russian travelling with me had offered after I had not eaten all day. I walked the four kilometres from the train to the barracks in the dark, on a lime path that had many holes in it. I fell several times in the mud praying in my heart that for the pain I suffered, I should merit to find my daughter alive.
When I opened the door of the barracks I became frightened by the quietness that prevailed. My wife told me to relax and that the crisis had passed. When the situation had become worse, my daughter had haemorrhaged and, because of this, the clotted breathing passages had opened up and her temperature had gone down. As to the quietness that prevailed in the barracks, she explained that it was because our brothersintrouble kept as quiet as possible so as not to disturb the sick child.
I was late for the Friday night prayers but I still began to pray
and to recite the welcome Sabbath song: Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. It was not an ordinary prayer welcoming the Sabbath which is recited every Sabbath eve, but it was a thanksgiving from the bottom of my heart for His benevolence. Tears were dripping from my eyes and they were tears of gratitude and joy.
by Itzhok Berglass
Our lives were difficult and primitive. Our thoughts concentrated only on work and on how to obtain food. We wore rags because the clothes we had brought with us were bartered away to the local people in exchange for food. Our spiritual food consisted only of a prayer book which contained the Psalms. We subscribed to the Yiddish Communist paper: Truth from Moscow but instead, they sent us the Truth that was printed in Kovno. I also had in my possession the Five Books of Moses from which I taught my little daughters the Hebrew alphabet and a few words in Hebrew to prevent them from forgetting what they had learned in the Hebrew school in Strzyzow. From our traditional Galician Jewish life, we became forcibly estranged but it was unthinkable for us not to observe the Jewish holidays, especially the High Holidays. We were still negotiating our release from work on Rosh Hashanah with our foreman, the man who had refused to let me go to pick up the prescription. (He had changed and had become another person after I befriended him). Our neighbours, who lived in the barracks a few kilometres away, preceded us by turning to the head management of the company which was under the leadership of a Jew from Krasnoyarsk. These men were all devoted Communist Party members and they opposed any religious activity. Therefore, they categorically refused our plea and watched us closely so that we should not succeed in our effort to be released from work on those days that were holy to us. Normally, they fell behind in supplying empty wagon trains on which we loaded the excavated rocks and gravel and caused us a loss in wages. This time, they sent more wagons than usual and gave order to return the empty wagons immediately after they were unloaded at their place of destination. But it happened otherwise. When we returned to the stone quarry with the empty train, the train derailed and the tracks came apart. Similar accidents often happened but on a smaller scale and people never got hurt. This time, the derailing was more serious and even though no one was hurt, a few days were needed to repair the railroad. My immediate foreman, who would have been ready to release us from work, if not for the fear of his superiors, was happy and said: Your Gd did it.
The following three days we did not work: Thursday the first day of Rosh Hashanah; Friday, the second day and also Saturday. We sat at our working place on a hill and enjoyed the warmth of the autumn sun. When we came home in the late afternoon, we prayed the Mussaf prayer at our ease.
After Rosh Hashanah, we began to worry about Yom Kippur which was coming soon. Ultimately, we agreed with the foreman to trade Yom Kippur for another working day. Yom Kippur was on a Saturday and we agreed to work on the Sunday, our usual day off. The foreman knew that according to
the ruling ideology, this was not permissible. Therefore, he left that day under some pretext and went to the regional village of Narva.
We did not leave our barracks but we began to pray. When the militiaman who often came to our working place saw that our group was missing, he came galloping on his horse to our barracks and there he saw a show that he had never seen in his life. All the men were wrapped in their taleitis and the women were with them. In response to his question, we told him about our agreement with the foreman. He did not agree and demanded forcefully that we leave immediately for our work. When we did not respond to his command, he took out a list with our names and asked everyone individually if he would obey or not. The first man he asked agreed to obey. I was the second to be asked. Before I replied, I consulted quietly with the others and we decided to go out to the job but not to work.
As soon as we agreed to leave, he rushed off to see the foreman. When he could not find him, he turned to his assistant, a young Pole who knew about our secret agreement with the foreman. The assistant told the militiaman that the foreman had agreed and that there was no work for us to do. Next, the militiaman turned to a construction foreman. He refused to accept us for one day and also did not want to act against his comrade, the other foreman. He was a Russian intellectual who had asked me once to teach him Hebrew. He was exiled because when the GermanSoviet war broke out and while in a drunken state, he said that he was going to fight the Germans for his fatherland but not for Stalin. He was sentenced to die but was later granted a reprieve and was sent to the front on the first firing line. After having been wounded, he was sent into exile.
The militiaman (who we called commanding officer) did not want to jeopardize his good relationship with the foreman, so he relented. We returned home cheerfully and continued the fasting and praying until the end of the day.
On Sukkoth holiday, we were meritorious to have a Sukkah, which was the envy of many of our brothers in Russia. Near our barracks there was a little unfinished house without a roof. Covering it was no problem in the thickness of the forest. Therefore, we made the blessing over a slice of bread to sit in the Sukkah under the cover of snow.
We did not eat Chometz on Passover. The Jews from Zolkiev, the city from where we were exiled in Siberia, had not forgotten us. They sent a small package of matzos to each family. They were paid for it by our relatives who had remained there and the people, who did not have any relatives, received the matzos for free. We, the lucky ones, that is three families in all, received an extra package of matzos from our cousin, Elimelech Eisenstadt, may Gd avenge his blood. He lived in Brody not far from the little town of Radziwlow where the major Polish matzo industry was located. We also prepared some potatoes and what was missing, we filled with a ration of hunger.
Just before Passover, we moved from the shared barracks to individual quarters two families to a room. Every room conducted its own seder, expressing hope for better days and being able to join our families who
remained in Easter Galicia under the Soviet rule and those in Western Galicia who were under Nazi rule.
The majority of the exiled merited returning to Poland but of our families who were left there, we did not find anyone alive.
by Simcha Langsam
As soon as World War II broke out, on September 1, 1939, utter chaos prevailed all over Poland. The population distanced itself from the borders of the Third Reich. The declaration by the commander of the Polish Army, Ridz Smigly, that the enemy army would not be allowed to touch even a button which belonged to the Polish people, had nurtured hope in the hearts that, in a few days after the German defeat, the Poles would return to their place as conquerors.
The first bombs that fell over the cities and villages caused great confusion and panic among the population. The wandering of the masses began. The highways and roads were replete with refugees, mostly whole families with their belongings. Some were in motorcars, some on horsedrawn carriages and some on food amidst the Polish army who retreated like sheep without a shepherd, not knowing where to go and where they were. The German airplanes flew low and shot at the refugees. Thousands of casualties fell among them women and children.
In that confusion, Jewish refugees who were Polish citizens stood out in particular. They panicked. They were confused and stupefied from the German blitzkrieg on the one hand and the hostility of the Poles toward them on the other hand.
All the wandering ended when the German overran the refugees. Some even gave bread and candies to them and told them to go home.
The Polish refugees returned immediately to their homes. However, the Jewish refugees who already knew that all their belongings at home had been stolen by their Polish neighbours and that in some places, the Germans had already begun their bloody actions, were not in any hurry to return but were searching for means to unite their families who were separated during the wandering. Among all those Jewish refugees, there were very few people from Strzyzow and its vicinity, because the town was not located on a strategic or main crossroad. Among the stream of refugees was my brother, Yechezkiel, who now lives in the United States and I, the writer of these lines. We became stranded in Dombrowa and stayed with our sister Beila, may Gd avenge her blood. (She perished with her husband and three children).
Like all refugees, we looked for a way to return and unite with our father who had remained alone in Strzyzow.
Traveling by train in those days was very dangerous for a Jew. The danger stemmed more from the Polish passengers than from the Germans. Therefore, we kept postponing our trip from daytoday.
Dombrowa, the neighbour of the big city of Tarnow, followed the events in that city. It was relatively quiet in Dombrowa itself, except for the
nabbing of Jews for all kinds of work. At the end of October 1939, news reached us from Tarnow that in the streets of the city, proclamations were announced as part of the Nuremberg antiJewish laws. The Nazi restricted the Jews from moving about in town, they shore the beards off of Orthodox Jews and made a thorough registration of all Jews in town. They nominated commissars into Jewish businesses and ordered the Jews to wear a Star of David, and also display the Star of David in the windows of Jewish stores. Horrible tidings came of killings of Jews without any reason.
Upon receiving such news, gloom began to reign among the Jews in Dombrowa. Panic increased when, on the first day Sukkoth, a group of Jews were kidnapped. Only a part of this group returned to their families and the rest were killed. After this incident, people avoided walking in the streets and gathered to pray at the rabbi's house and in a few other private homes. The tension reached its peak after the incident that occurred on Hoshana Raba. After the services in the rabbi's house, we received news that the Germans were nabbing Jews to work and that eight people who had been nabbed the day before, had been shot. The worshippers rapidly dispersed into their homes. My brotherinlaw, the husband of my sister Beila, and I lay down in bed and put various medicines nearby. (The Germans were very afraid of contagious diseases). Within minutes, we heard knocking of boots on our door and yelling in the street. A shudder went through our bodies and we anxiously awaited that was to come. With the butt of a rifle, the door broke open and a German with the face of a rapacious animal yelled: Juden Heraus! Get out to the market place! We dressed in confusion not knowing what was going on around us. Having no choice, we left the house in the direction of the market which was already filled with people. Seeing what was happening, a thought came to my mind to run faster but in the opposite direction. While running, a few more joined us and among them was Benjamin Mandel, the son of Reb Yeshayahu from Strzyzow who lived in Dombrowa. And that is how we reached a grove outside of town. In the grove we found a few more people mostly young men like us. The fear and panic that prevailed in that small group was indescribable. This was the first time that we were separated from the Jewish community, and did not know what our fate would be. At sunset, the wife of one of the escapees arrived with the good news that the danger was over and that the majority of those that had been nabbed had already returned home. That night, we conducted the Hakafot in the rabbi's house. The feeling was more like Tisha B'Av than Simchat Torah. After this horrible experience, a suggestion came up among the worshippers that it was time to escape from the German occupied territory to the Soviet side. The rumours were that the Russians would probably move on to the Vistula River and, with the Germans retreating, danger hovered over us, especially for the young people. The next day, a group of young people left Dombrowa in the direction of the Soviet border. I went to Tarnow and from there, I intended to reach Strzyzow to say farewell to my father and march off to the Soviet side with my brother Yechezkiel. In order not to be recognized as a Jew, I cut off my sidelocks, put on a cap worn by gentiles and, by train from
Tarnow through Rzeszow, I reached Strzyzow. My fright during the trip on the train was indescribable. Here and there I recognized a disguised Jew like myself sitting in a corner, looking out the window and pretending to enjoy the beauty of nature. My ears alertly absorbed the conversations that were carried on among the gentile passengers. The topic of the conversations was the Jews and the loss of the Polish fatherland. Thanks only to these conversations, they could not hear the beatings of our hearts and they did not notice the paleness of my face and the changing of colours according to the subjects of their conversations.
I reached Strzyzow in the evening hours and was welcomed by my father, may Gd avenge his blood, and by my brother Yechezkiel, may he live a long life, who had reached Strzyzow by foot during the Sukkoth holiday. My father told me about the relative quietness that prevailed in Strzyzow, except for two incidents. Jews were brought from Frysztak and shot by the Gestapo in the Christian cemetery and the bodies were later handed over to the Burial Society. The second incident was that the Germans had turned the shul into a dormitory for the cavalry, including their horses. After a few days, they handed it back to the leader of the Kehillah, clean and tidy.
by Simcha Langsam
In daytime, the Jews moved around freely, or almost. At sunset they locked themselves in their houses with closed shutters over the windows and closed gates. The next day was market day. I went out to the market with the purpose of meeting my colleagues and thinking that maybe they would like to join us in our escape to the Russian territory. I was astounded to see the prosperous commerce that was going on. All the Jewish stores were open and filled with customers as in peace time. I saw a different world here, different to what I saw in Tarnow and other cities. Maybe this imaginary quietness held back the Jews of Strzyzow, especially the young people, from leaving their homes and fleeing while there was still time. I did not encounter the same fright and fear of annihilation the way I had in other places. During the day I met a few of my comrades and told them what was happening in other cities. I explained to them the danger they should expect but, to my amazement, I did not find the desired attentiveness to my proposition. Israel, the son of Yechiel Friedman, replied: Do you think that the Germans will slaughter all the Jews? You can see for yourself that, thank Gd, the situation here is bearable. We are alive for the time being and Gd will help us in the future. I spoke with Naphtali, the son of Reb Chaim Mandel. He simply jeered at me: What? Go to the Russians? Are they better than Hitler? When I told him what was happening in other place and explained the dangerous situation for the young Jews and that we could come back after the Russian Army would conquer all of Poland, he replied: You have slightly convinced me that the situation is serious but I will tell you the truth. I have never lived outside of my parent's home and I am not used to taking care of myself. More so, in such dangerous times, I cannot separate from my family, even
If for one day, and who can foretell what the morrow will bring?
I was shocked to hear such words. Were their eyes blinded so much that they could not see what was coming? There was nothing to do for me but to say goodbye and I went about our own preparations for the journey to the Soviet side, which seemed to be the only rescue at that time. When father found out that none of the young people accepted our proposition, he tried to convince us to remain with the rest of the town because there was a common destiny for all. But when he saw that our decision was unchangeable, he inclined to agree but under one condition to see rabbi Nechemiah's approval, may Gd avenge his blood. Our father was an intimate friend and he knew where the rabbi was hiding. We arrived in Reb Shlomo Auerhun's house where the Rabbi hid after the Germans began to inquire of his whereabouts. After a few seconds, the rabbi entered in all his splendour but the expression of love and the smile on his face that was always there whenever he spoke with small or big people, had disappeared. Instead, a gloom covered his face. The gloom of suffering, not so much personal as the sadness of the whole community and maybe the suffering of the entire Jewish nation. After a deep sigh, he stretched out his hands and greeted us with the traditional Shalom Aleichem. Breathless, he listened to our report about the situation of the Jews in other cities and of the maltreatment of the Jews by the Nazi. We talked about the purpose of our coming and asked him for his approval and blessing. With a heavy heart but clearsightedness, the rabbi replied: Dear children! Who is wise enough to know? We have nobody to lean on but our Father in Heaven. To spill our hearts in prayer and supplications, the Almighty will help us. I too wish I could leave this place. May Gd endow you with success wherever you turn and may Gd guide all your endeavours and watch over all of Israel. He pressed our hands with the blessing: Go in peace. He escorted us with his eyes lifted toward heaven, praying and supplicating for our fate and the fate of his flock. On the way home, we stopped to say goodbye to the rabbi's son, Reb Shlomo. He expressed the same opinion as his father and said: It is hard to advise which way to go. I join in my father's blessing. May it be Gd's will that we merit a complete redemption and the end to our troubles should come soon.
Our father waited anxiously for the return from our visit to the rabbi. When he heard about the rabbi's approval, tears began to flow from his eyes. After a few minutes of silence he said: Kinderlech. This separation is very hard for me, who knows… The next few words stuck in his throat. He later continued: I know how hard it is to be a Jew in Russia. For Heaven's sake. Remain Jews and be good Jews. He could no longer speak. After a while he added: For your betterment, I give you my blessing for your journey to Russia. We tried to assure our father that Gd willing we would come home for Passover and that as soon as the Russians would move forward, we would be the first to return. The next day, we began to supply the house with all kinds of provisions such as soap, salt, matches, etc. that should have sufficed our father for a few months. Tuesday, October 25th, 1939 a day on which Gd used the word Good twice during the creation, we left behind us everything
that was dear to us, hoping that on our return we would find everything in order and our father well.
We travelled by train to Jaslo. There we lodged in a Jewish hotel near the train station. (I think the owner's name was Canin). The owner welcomed us warmly and offered cordial hospitality. Despite the fact that all his rooms were requisitioned by the German officers, he found a place for us. Early the next morning, we put on the tefilin and prayed an abbreviated prayer because we were in a rush to reach Sanok on the border. The owner of the hotel was polishing the officers' boots while he gave us directions and sent us off with the traditional: Go in peace and come in peace. At noontime, we arrived in Sanok and were welcomed by a Gestapo agent in civilian clothes who spoke Polish. He stopped us in the street with the question: Jews, where to? I began to stammer and replied that we were going to the Jewish Kehillah. He asked for identification so I showed him a membership card of a religious organization. He then asked us if we were carrying arms and, after a light search in our backpacks, he gave us the order: Turn right on that street and then left on the other street and there is the Jewish Community building. Stay inside. Do not wander in the streets otherwise you will meet your bitter end.
In the Kehillah we found about three hundred Jews sitting with their belongings. They had already been waiting for two days to cross the San River. Because of heavy rain falls, the river had swelled and had made it impossible to cross over to the Russian side. In another room, I saw a German officer playing cards with the Jewish community leaders. I found out from people that the gestapo in Sanok were being bribed to look the other way while the Jews were crossing the river and while playing cards the bribe took place. At sunset, we found out that that night we would cross the San and that it was the Gestapo's order. They could not risk such a large concentration of Jews in one place. We lined up in a column and everyone with his pack on his back began to march. There were women and old people among us. From somewhere, a score of Poles suddenly appeared and escorted us with jeering and laughter. One played a harmonica expressing joy that: the Jews were leaving for Palestine… At midnight, we crossed the river and were arrested by the Russian border patrol.
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