Avraham Haler From My Diary
Translated by Martin Jacobs
On September 1, 1939 a black cloud of fear and anxiety descended on our town. Before our eyes the Polish armies were crushed and the cruel fist of Hitler's gangs began to hang over our heads. The German military entered Likev on the second day of Rosh Hashanah on Friday afternoon. They fired off a few rounds from their machine guns, blindly, but no one was hurt. Immediately the next morning, the Sabbath of Repentance, several German soldiers came into my haberdashery shop and began throwing the merchandise onto the street, where the Christian townspeople immediately gathered and looted it. Whatever it didn't pay for them to take they trampled on and destroyed.
There was a cellar under my shop where I had hidden various goods as well as cigarettes and tobacco. One of my Christian neighbors informed on me about this to the Germans, who broke into my shop and began to beat me furiously. I had to open the cellar and the Germans threw me in and ordered me to hand out the hidden goods. All the time I was handing out the goods, accumulated with years of exhausting labor, the Germans did not stop cursing and threatening me.
by Avraham Haler From My Diary
Continued translation by Miriam Leberstein
Having assured themselves that they had robbed everything, they left, and I left the cellar, scared to death and beaten down. It was clear to me that I could expect nothing good and I wanted to go to a Christian I knew and ask him to hide me. When I came out onto the street I saw a group of Jews and Christians surrounded by German soldiers. Someone yelled to me, Come here, Jew, and soon I was standing in the group, all of us stricken with fear, not knowing where they were taking us. Someone murmured that they were going to shoot us. Another tried to assure himself that they would just torment us a bit and then let us go. All around you could hear crying and sighing. We stood there an hour before they took us to the church. When we arrived, there were already 500 men there, Jews and Christians.
We spent the entire Saturday sitting in the church, some weeping aloud, others silently. Everyone was immersed in dark thoughts, looking into each other's eyes to try to discern what the outcome would be.
At nightfall, the women brought us food, but few people touched it. They began to talk about what had occurred. On Friday night a high level German officer was shot outside the town as he drove by. The Germans suspected the civilian population and for that reason, they had seized us as hostages. If they didn't find the murderer, they would shoot all of us.
The arrestees became increasingly panicky; the air was filled with weeping. People banged their heads against the wall. The guards came and ejected the women and children who had come with the food. After the gates were locked, a funereal silence fell. Tired, broken men lay down on the ground. But no one could sleep. From every corner came moans and sighs.
The night seemed impossibly long. At 8 A.M. they unlocked the gates of the church and people began to go outside. The first to go out quickly returned with fearsome news; the entire church was surrounded by machine guns and it looked like the Germans were ready for a bloody slaughter.
Again, we were brought food, as well as pieces of news. Someone said they were going to send us to a concentration camp. Another had heard from a high German official that they would shoot us all in the courtyard of the church. Another knew for sure that they would line us up in rows and shoot every tenth person. The fear and despair continued to grow. In the afternoon came an order that we should all say Vidui [confession before death] because they were going to shoot us.
There were Christian priests in the church to whom the Christian arrestees made their confession. For the first time in my life I saw how Christians prayed. They repeatedly fell to the ground, lay still several minutes, got up and said their confession, cried and lamented. The Jewish arrestees said Vidui, made their farewells, and waited for death. This lasted the entire day.
When night fell and darkness enveloped us, they locked us up again and it became quiet. Again people lay down on the hard stone floor. After two days of terror and not eating, the exhausted men gradually dozed off. But the loud moans of others awakened them. The night seemed even longer and more terrifying than before.
In the morning when they unlocked the gates, many people were so scared their teeth were chattering; they thought the executions would soon begin. In the meantime, they brought in food, which nobody touched. People were asking questions but no one had any answers.
At about 10 A.M. a Polish priest came in and said that he had spoken with a German officer, who said that they had investigated the murder of the German officer and it turned out that he had been shot by remnants of the Polish army who were staying in nearby villages. It was therefore possible that we would be freed that day. Everyone was indescribably happy. We were released at 2 P.M.
It is impossible to describe the joy of my wife and child when I returned to our home. Our home had been looted and destroyed, but nobody thought about the looted possessions. All our hearts were filled with thanks and praise for the Almighty for giving us life.
Fire and Death
In Tarnogrod, which was 15 kilometers from Lukow, a Polish officer hid behind the town offices and shot at the Germans. That was sufficient for the Germans to take revenge on the Jews who lived near the town offices. They took away 18 Jews and shot them, set fire to the houses and threw the corpses into the fire.
That was just the beginning. The soldiers said that it wasn't their job to deal with the Jews, but that the S.S. would soon come to attend to their job of tormenting them.
Soon rumors were heard that the Germans were retreating and our area would belong to the Russians. That did in fact happen. The Russians arrived on the first day of Sukkot. The Jews were very happy but their joy did not last long. Within a week we heard that the Russians would leave and give our area back to the Germans.
Thousands of Jews from Western Galicia streamed through our little towns. They were fleeing to towns that were occupied by Soviet Russia. This was a sad sight: women with small children, men laden with heavy packs, dragged themselves along not knowing where. The weather was already wintry and people were already feeling the hunger of wartime. Neighbors came to me in despair asking me what I was going to do; would I leave with the Soviets? I told them I had no place to go with three little children and my elderly in-laws. Later I was tortured by the thought that because of my answer, other people refrained from leaving and remained under the Germans. But who could have then imagined, that innocent people would be slaughtered in such a manner.
The Russians began to retreat on Simchat Torah. They arranged for autos to transport civilians who wanted to leave town with them, but we stayed.
The Germans returned and the Jews were again afraid and bitter. In Lukow, it remained quiet for a while, but in Tarnogrod the S.S. had already arrived and were carrying out their sadistic methods. They assembled the most prominent men of the town and made them drag a wagon of stones along the street. The Poles stood by and laughed. Then they ordered the Jews to wash themselves in mud and smear their faces and clothes, then led them for several hours around town.
At the end of December 1939 the Germans ordered that a Judenrat be established and a chairman selected. On January 1, 1940, they decreed that Jewish men and women, aged 12 and up, had to wear a white patch with a Star of David on their arms. A Jew couldn't walk on the sidewalk. Any German who encountered a Jew could order him to report for work and no one in his home would know where he was. At the various work sites Jews were beaten and tormented.
Despite the difficult winter, Jews began to sneak across the border to Russia. My brother Meyer Haler went over to the Russian side and stayed there for four months. He was able to settle in and even started to learn a trade, but he was homesick for his mother and sisters and in the middle of winter he returned. He was 24.
After Passover, people began to talk about labor camps and several weeks later Jews were already being seized and sent to these camps. In our town (Lukowa), however, it was still peaceful. Then at dawn on the day after Tisha b'Av, while we were still asleep, there was loud banging on our doors. When I opened the door, several S.S. men rushed in and ordered me to get dressed quickly. At first, I thought that some Pole had made up an accusation against me. The S.S. men goaded me and wouldn't let me dress properly. There was no thought of getting something to eat to take with me. My wife and children began to cry. Terrified and in despair, they accompanied me as I was brought to the town government offices.
There were already about 30 Jews assembled there. I was somewhat relieved. I thought that if the accusation wasn't directed solely at me, the danger was not so great. Our wives and children wanted to say goodbye to us, but the S.S. men wouldn't let them approach. The air was filled with crying and shouting.
We stood there until 10 A.M. when we were ordered to line up and march in rows of three. We looked back and saw our families waving to us, but the S.S. guards angrily yelled at us that it was not permitted to look around. Our Christian neighbors stood on both sides of the street, watching us being marched away, some with laughter in their eyes, some silently indifferent, some loudly proclaiming that it was good that the end was coming for the Jews.
After marching about five kilometers we arrived in the village Khmelki, where the S.S. guards ordered us to stop and rest near a small river. Another S.S. man approached and ordered us to sing a song and told us that if he didn't like our singing, we would have to go into the river in our clothes. He gave us five minutes to begin singing.
We looked at each other in fear, asking ourselves what we should do. Among us was a Jew who had been driven out of Lodz three months earlier, and he was already familiar with Nazi methods. He announced that he would sing first and immediately began singing, My Little Town Belz. He sang really well and luckily his singing pleased the murderous S.S. man. He let us rest a half hour. Then we marched another five kilometers, when an order came to stop. Again, we sat down on the ground for 15 minutes, and then continued marching until we reached Tarnogrod.
At the Tarnogrod market place, 600 Jews were already assembled under guard by armed Ukrainians. We joined them and the S.S. guard that had brought us there left.
Soon after our arrival in Tarnogrod, women and children from Lukowa came running, among them my wife. I tried to get away from the group, but I immediately saw that we were closely guarded, and I resumed my place, resigned and in despair.
In the meantime, my wife went around town to see if something could be done to gain my release and to find out if anyone knew what the Germans intended to do with us. But everywhere she went she encountered the same despair and no one knew what to tell her.
In the evening all the Jews assembled at the market place were driven into dark barracks, where, exhausted and broken, they fell onto the bare floor and instantly fell asleep. In the middle of the night people started to awaken and from all sides there came stifled sounds, with people moving around, sighing, groaning and awaiting the arrival of day.
In the morning, the gate opened and an S.S. man ordered everyone to go outside to the market place, where they began to register us, writing down our names and addresses and other personal details. This lasted until 10 A.M., when there suddenly appeared about 100 wagons driven by peasants. About 20 S.S. guards ordered us to get into the wagons.
I was able to say goodbye to my wife, both of us unable to hold back our tears as stifled sobs came from our throats.
An S.S. man sat in every second wagon. We rode on the highway to Bilgoraj. The horses walked slowly and it took three hours until we arrived at the small-gauge train station. We were met by members of the Bilgoraj Judenrat, who brought us bread. Among us who had been seized were many Bilgoraj Jews. We were ordered to take seats in the open cars of the train.
In Cattle Cars
At 6:00 P.M. on the 11th day of Av [August], 1940, we arrived in Zwierzyniec. As we got off the train, the S.S. men held up a wire at the height of a meter, and we had to jump over it. Anyone who could not do so was hit in the head with a stick. We waited two hours on the square in front of the train station for the train to Lviv. We were crammed like sardines inside train cars used to transport cattle. There was no air. No one knew where we were going.
After travelling for four hours, our wagons were unhitched and left standing. The heat was stifling and there was no water. The wagons were locked and no one responded to our pleas. We remained there all night, pressed together, half-fainting. Not until dawn did the S.S. unlock the doors and tell us to get out.
As I got off, I noticed that the station sign said Belzec. I knew that this was near Tomaszow Lubelski, not far from Rava-Ruska. We were led into a large garden surrounded by barbed wire. Inside it was a large building that served as barracks. At the gate stood an armed S.S. man. Inside I saw hundreds of Jews milling around, holding their shoes in their hands. They formed lines that stretched to a kitchen, where they received a bowl of coffee. At that point, I was looking forward to being allowed to go inside where we would get some warm water.
The gate opened and we were admitted into the garden where the (civilian) commandant of the camp took over. He was a Jewish doctor-dentist from Lublin, who showed us where to get a bowl for coffee and we lined up for a bit of blackish water. It took a half hour before it was my turn.
After two days of thirst the coffee smelled good and we were permitted to sit and rest. Not far from us, lined up military style in rows of three or four, were people who had been in the camp several months and who were being taken to work. The commandant told us that we would rest that day and that not until the next day would be taken to work.
We sat there until noon. Through the barbed wire we could see that armed S.S. men were stationed in all corners of the camps. It was clear that we were under strict guard and that there was no possibility of escape.
At lunchtime, we were lined up and walked a half kilometer through town to the kitchen, which was located in the courtyard of a former Jewish-owned mill. S.S. guards now lived in the apartment of the former mill owners, who had managed to flee to Russia. As we passed by, they yelled to us to take off our hats. Anyone who delayed in doing so was hit on the head with a stick.
Jews and Gypsies
At the courtyard of the mill we again saw thousands of Jews and Gypsies with their wives and children. There was loud screaming and the noise was deafening. We were brought to the kitchen, where a Gypsy doled out the food. When it was my turn, he poured into my bowl a half ladle of strange-smelling soup and two pieces of raw potato.
After eating, we were taken back to the garden. Around 3:00 P.M. the people who had long been at work arrived and only now were they given lunch. They didn't return until evening. We were instructed to go sleep in the barracks. Inside the air was heavy and it there was a very bad smell. About two thousand people were sleeping on three-tiered bunks. There were people there from Warsaw and Lublin, from Tarnogrod and Piotrkow and several other towns. They had already been there three months and had not had a change of clothes in all that time.
I found the dirt and stuffiness intolerable and along with several other Jews decided to sleep outside on the street. It was not yet cold and it was much more pleasant to sleep outside than in the barracks.
At dawn came a shout: Get up! We washed up a bit and again lined up for coffee served from a kettle. At that time, I was still a greenhorn and waited patiently for my turn. But when I reached the kettle, there was no more coffee left. It seemed that some people had taken two turns. If an S.S. man wasn't supervising the coffee, people took the opportunity to fill their bowls more than once, and I got nothing and had to make do with water.
At 7:30 we were again lined up and a supervisor was assigned to each group of a hundred Jews. At 8:00 we went to work for the first time. When we went out of the gate, the S.S. men and Ukrainians took over and led us to a place where each person took a shovel or a pickaxe and we were marched off at a military pace.
Soon we were ordered to sing and we began singing various Yiddish songs and pieces of cantorial music. The S.S. men would place sticks under our feet as we marched and anyone who tripped and fell was hit with sticks over their heads, backs and legs. They would get up and continue to march and sing.
We approached the Russian border, where we dug ditches seven meters wide and three meters deep. The excavated dirt formed a high wall. The S.S. man in charge of us, called Shafirer, continuously goaded and rushed us. Those who didn't adapt quickly to the work methods were badly beaten. I myself saw how an S.S. man ordered a Jew called Leyzer to lay down on the ground and proceeded to stomp on his back, throat and head. The Jew lay there, completely blackened, not showing any signs of life. No one thought he would be able to get up or even survive, but he did stand up, although barely able to move, and was able to pretend that he was still able to work.
Almost no one among the new people was used to working with a shovel, and we quickly developed blisters on our hands. When Shafirer stepped away for a few minutes, people hoped to be able to rest a bit, but at that moment a rider rode up on a white horse. The people who had already been at work several months told us that this was the real Angel of Death, the head of the S.S. named Dolf. He rode through the entire length of the worksite. Apparently, he found everything to be in order and there was no trouble.
The entire day went the same way. After ending work, we were lined up in military formation with shovels and picks over our shoulders and returned to camp singing. As we passed a well, one of the men went over to get some water. The S.S. man saw and shot him on the spot. The S.S. man ordered four people to carry the body of the shooting victim back to camp. When we got there, they laid the body down. Silently and with grim faces everyone opened their packs and took out something to eat. But every bite stuck in their throats. The shooting victim lay in plain sight and everyone thought that tomorrow the same thing could happen to him.
The second night was a lot colder and a lot of people went inside to sleep. I was shivering but I still couldn't resolve to sleep in the dirty and stifling barracks.
The next morning, I heard that several people had escaped from the camp and some of them had been caught. They were shot on the spot and their corpses were brought to camp and laid next to the body of the man killed the day before, to make clear what would happen to anyone who dared to try to escape.
The second day of work was similar to the day before. We met people who looked like skeletons, no longer able to work or even stand up. We learned that every day three or four people were found dead in the barracks. This terrified us and some people decided to escape no matter the risk. They thought they could apply what they had learned from working as smugglers to cross the border to the Russian side. The same day several people did cross the border. I decided to follow their example but then I remembered that my wife and small children would not know where I was and I gave up the idea.
There were days when I felt that I no longer had the strength to withstand the pain and suffering, and was on the brink of suicide. But again, I thought of my wife and children and told myself that I must be stronger than iron and withstand the suffering in order to survive to be a father to my children. Somewhere within me there still glowed a spark of hope that I would emerge from the camp and live to see my home and family. This gave me courage and I worked with all my strength so as not to fall victim to the S.S.
When we returned from work the second day we were ordered to bury the dead.
The First Sabbath in Camp
The first Sabbath in camp arrived. Everyone still felt the holiness of the day within themselves; tears fell from their eyes, but no one said a word. They didn't talk about how the Sabbath was observed in their old homes. I took two small pieces of dry bread and made the Kiddush [blessing] over them. Choking on tears, I could barely get out the words.
I was still sleeping on the street and couldn't resolve to enter the barracks. On Saturday morning we got up and like every other morning went to work, sighed and sang, because if we didn't we would be beaten. When we returned from work, everyone had his skinny piece of bread and some water and in this way, we greeted the second week of our stay in camp.
Once an S.S. man came to our group, called out someone's name, and ordered him to run. As he ran, the officer drew his gun and shot and killed him. The S.S. man instructed us to carry his body, screaming that he had shot him because he was trying to escape. We all remained silent. I thought that if I had a weapon I wouldn't have hesitated to shoot the murderer.
We all decided that if the S.S. man should ever again call out someone and order him to run, we would remain standing still and refuse to obey the order. With embittered hearts, we returned from work carrying the body to the barracks, where we set it down. It remained there all night and the next day.
The nights grew cold. Although I wanted to continue sleeping outdoors, my younger brother had been brought to the same camp and was now with me, and I was afraid he would not be able to withstand the cold and would fall sick. So we got together with several people we knew and found a place in the barracks where we could sleep together, so as to somewhat alleviate the suffering there.
That night several of our group had to go outside (to relieve themselves). When a long time passed and they hadn't returned, I went out and woke up the Jew from Lublin who was in charge and together we began searching. It turned out that an S.S. man had seen them leave the barracks and had forced them to lift up the dead body and dance with it for 20 minutes. When he tired of this, he forced them to perform various gymnastic exercises. He then ordered them to go over to the barbed wire fence and dig there with their hands. The hole was fairly deep by the time the Jewish commandant arrived and pleaded with the S.S. man to let them go. The officer's intention was clear: after the hole was dug he would have ordered them to crawl through to the other side, as if they were trying to escape, and he would have shot them.
After this we were even more terrified. We were afraid to leave the barracks at night and the stuffiness was even greater than before.
Once, after returning to camp after work, I received a package which came from the Judenrat. I opened it with trembling hands and found a letter from my wife and children. I was overjoyed and could not restrain my tears. Outside, the people who had brought the package waited on the other side of the barbed wire fence. I quickly wrote a response and gave it to them. In it, I tried to hide my suffering from my wife.
My wife, however, sensed that I hadn't written the truth and the third week of my stay in the camp she herself came to the camp, getting a lift with the people who were bringing packages for the workers. When she saw me, she began weeping, which did not help me to feel calm. She couldn't stop crying and the commandant allowed me to speak with her for 15 minutes at the gate. When we said our farewells, I wondered when I would ever see her again. I already doubted that I would be able to withstand the suffering in the camp.
That night I did not open the package my wife had brought me. I fell onto the hard bunk and buried my head in an old coat and cried for a long time.
The fourth week in camp they took away the Gypsies, who had mostly worked in the kitchen. Everyone knew that they had been liquidated. But there were still people who didn't want to believe that they would take entire families with small children and murder them.
Jews took the place of Gypsies in the kitchen, and saw to it that the conditions were a bit cleaner and that the drinking water tasted better. But every day things worsened and illness afflicted the camp. When we went to sleep we never knew if we would awaken. Every day, one of us was found dead in their bunk.
Trenches Along the Border
One evening we were suddenly ordered to leave the barracks as quickly as possible. There was only one door and the S.S. men thought the exit was taking too long, so they began shooting into the barracks. People panicked and lay down on the floor, afraid to go out.
The S.S. entered and began hitting people with whips. Some people hid under the bunks and the S.S. dragged them out and beat them severely.
Outside on the square, they began counting people. The S.S. commander warned that if anyone was missing, every tenth person in his group would be taken and shot.
The next morning we again went to work. We could see Russian patrols moving around across the border. The Russians waved at us, motioning us to come across the border, but the Germans kept us under close guard. We ourselves watched to make sure no one crossed the border, each of us fearing that he would be the tenth man in each group to be shot in retaliation.
During the fifth week in camp, while we were at work, about 20 S.S. men suddenly appeared and ordered us to stop work and line up. They selected 500 of us and took them away, leaving the rest of us terrified, imagining their fate.
The next day at work we heard a sudden burst of shooting that lasted several minutes. When it grew quiet, we saw that the Germans were leading several people with them. These were Ukrainians who had fled the Russian side, and it had been the Russians who were shooting at them. Two had been shot dead, but five had managed to cross the border to the German side.
A few days later, we learned that the 500 Jews who had been taken away were now in Cieszanow, 20 kilometers from Belzec, where a new labor camp had been established to dig trenches along the border.
Each day in camp brought more assaults, beatings and shootings. The High Holy Days were approaching and I wrote a letter to my wife and children. As I wrote, I could not hold back my tears, which fell on the paper. The day of Rosh Hashanah eve we went to work as usual. Suddenly the S.S. commandant Adolf rode up on his horse. He stopped near me, shouted:
Damn Jew at me, dismounted, grabbed the pickaxe I was holding and demonstrated how it should be used. The people who were standing nearby thought that I would soon be killed, but he got back on his horse and rode off. This was the first time he had approached anyone and cursed them, but had not shot them. When I calmed down I remembered my dream from the night before, in which my father was walking with me through the streets of Tarnogrod speaking to me with consoling words.
When I returned to camp I heard that they were freeing the Jews who came from Tarnogrod. I ran to the gate and saw that they were lining up the Tarnogrod Jews on the square. A German sergeant had driven up with two trucks with a permit to remove 62 people from the Belzec camp. I noticed that there were no more than 45 Jews from Tarnogrod because two weeks earlier they had taken many Tarnogrod Jews to Cieszanow. When I approached the S.S. guard, he asked if I had documents proving I was from Tarnogrod and when I couldn't produce them, he hit me with his leather whip, yelling at me to get away.
Moving off to the side, I noticed that people who were not from Tarnogrod were coming forward and people in the lineup were shouting that they were from Tarnogrod and should be allowed in the group. Suddenly I heard the sergeant count out 61 people, saying he needed one more. I ran up, told him I was from Tarnogrod, but that my papers had been taken from me. The civilian commandant, the Jewish dentist from Lublin, took me by the arm and led me from the gate to join the group of people who were going home.
My brother saw all this from a distance. He ran back into the barracks, brought out my pack and we parted. He was happy for me, but he was sad because now he was alone.
Riding in the trucks we remembered it was Rosh Hashanah eve and we started to recite the evening prayers. It grew dark and Rosh Hashanah night fell.
We drove through Tomaszow Lubelski and Zamosc. We began to worry about where we were being taken. Someone announced that it was time to say the night prayer. After the prayer, someone said that in his pack he had two challahs that had been sent by his family. He took them out and we made the Rosh Hashanah kiddush [blessing], parceled out the challahs and travelling in unfamiliar parts we observed the Rosh Hashanah meal with broken hearts.
When we rode through Szczebrzeszyn our worry eased a bit. Soon we saw Bilgoraj and then we were in Tarnogrod. But the trucks didn't stop until we were at the barracks outside the town. We sat in the trucks with trembling hearts for another quarter of an hour, when a lieutenant arrived. He gave a speech in which he said he had taken us out of Belzec and we belonged to his military division. If we behaved in a disciplined manner and worked diligently, no harm would come to us. We would work all day building the highway and in the evening would be able to return home. Anyone who failed to report to work in the morning would be arrested and sent back to Belzec.
Joyfully, we returned to our homes. I would have had to walk 14 kilometers to my house in Lukowa, and the road was dangerous at night, so I went to the house of my uncle, Arye Yoysef Tintnfish, who lived in Tarnogrod. There I again recalled my dream in which my father walked with me through the streets of Tarnogrod. Maybe it wasn't just a dream. There I was, actually sitting near my uncle in Tarnogrod and not behind barbed wire in Belzec.
I couldn't wait for night to end. The alarm clock sounded 4:00 A.M. and I got dressed, left the house and flew like a bird to Lukowa. I didn't notice a Christian who drove by and recognized me. He arrived in Lukowa before me and told the first Jew he met the news that I was free and on my way home. My wife got dressed and along with several other people came to meet me. We met on the road and fell into each other's arms.
When I entered my house I saw on the table the letter I had written from camp, hoping for things I didn't even believe I could have.
Later we learned that the Tarnogrod Judenrat had bribed the German commandant to get us out of the camp in Belzec.
Right after Rosh Hashanah came the Sabbath of Repentence. I woke up at 4:00 A.M. so as to comply with the order to be in Tarnogrod at 7:30. I had to walk 14 kilometers. At 7:00 I was already at the market place in Tarnogrod, where the Jews from the Belzec camp along with other Jews assigned to work had started to assemble. German soldiers soon arrived and divided the Jews into groups and took them out of town.
Destruction of the Gravestones
At the cemetery, I saw gravestones lying on the road. Soon, we were ordered to tear up more gravestones from the cemetery. It turned out that I had to tear out the very gravestone that I had placed on my father's grave two years earlier. We felt as if blood ran from the shattered stones. Every piece of stone was wet with Jewish tears.
In the evening I returned home to Lukowa. The next day was Sunday and we didn't have to work. When I told people at home what we had to do at work, they burst into tears.
Monday at dawn I got up, packed food for the entire week and left for Tarnogrod. During the week I stayed overnight with my mother's sister.
We worked on the highway the whole winter. A lot of Jewish families who had been expelled from Poznan and Krakow worked with us. They were not provided with separate housing but were crammed 8 to 10 to a room in the homes of local Jewish families. Things got worse by the day. Jews were allotted only 100 grams of bread per person. The work paid very little. Hunger and need reigned in every Jewish home.
Around Passover, 1941 many German army divisions began to arrive in the towns in our area. Our town was filled with soldiers who engaged in military maneuvers day and night. The ordinary soldiers didn't bother the Jews. Once, in conversation with a German soldier, I mentioned that we were 15 kilometers from the Russian border. I noticed that he became frightened and said that now he understood why they were engaging in so many maneuvers. He didn't want to say more.
New soldiers arrived daily. On June 21, 1941 we noticed that the military had begun to advance. At night all the German soldiers went to the Russian border. The next day, you could hear the noise of airplanes and the news came that the German army had crossed the border. Soon you could see masses of captured Russians being marched along the roads.
At the same time, the German soldiers began oppressing the Polish peasants, imposing heavy taxes on them and confiscating their grain. The soldiers went house to house, searching the rooms. I had stored some grain in my house because there was no bread to be had. The Germans took it all. When my wife pleaded with them, saying that she would have nothing to give her children to eat and to sustain life, the German answered that Jews should not remain alive.
In Tarnogrod, Bilgoraj and Jozefow the Germans imposed a kontributsie [demand for money and property] to be paid within a deadline of several hours. In 1941 it was decreed that a Jew was forbidden to go from one town to another. A Jew who was found away from home would be shot. If someone fell ill during that time of hunger, it was forbidden to call a doctor without obtaining special permission.
People risked their lives to go to another town or to the countryside in search of food. A girl who had been forced to leave Poznan and go to Tarnogrod came to Lukowa where she thought she would get something to eat. As she walked in the street, a Christian recognized her as a non-resident of Lukowa and turned her over to the police. The S.S. took her to a trench and shot her there so that her body fell into the trench.
My mother and siblings lived near the town offices. The police commander wanted to take away their house and demanded that they move in with me. Our appeals were in vain and the 15 people who had been living in two rooms had to move out and live with me.
I had a neighbor, a Polish professor, with whom I was friendly. His wife came from Krakow. Once, after she returned from a visit to Krakow, she told me that in the train compartment she had overheard two German high officers conversing, saying that by the end of 1942, not a single Jew would be left in Poland. When I relayed this to other Jews, few took it seriously. But I knew she was telling the truth. Every day it became clearer that the Germans were capable of achieving this horrifying annihilation. The Christian neighbors said that on the Lublin-Lemberg (Lviv) train line large transports of Tarnogrod Jews were travelling in closed wagons, but no one knew where they were being taken.
We decided to send a trustworthy Christian to find out where the transports of Jews were going. He travelled to Belzec and observed them unhitching the train cars. Two hours later, the S.S. arrived, unlocked the doors and ordered the Jews to get out. Hitting them over the head, they forced them into the camp where they were led into a building from which they never came out. Several hours, the dead bodies were removed, taken to the crematorium and burned.
The Christian had found all this out by investigating and questioning the local peasants who told him that cremation of Jews had been going on for about four months.
There were still Jews who didn't believe this but I and several others Jews who were convinced that the Christian was telling the truth, began to think about fleeing to save our lives. At the beginning, we wanted to go to the forest, but knowing that other Jews would be punished for what we did, we changed our minds.
Soon there came reports from Bilgoraj and Tarnogrod about mass shootings. During one such shooting a boy, Yoel Hochman, managed to escape. He had been slightly injured, but the murderers thought he was dead. When they left, he crawled out of the ditch and slowly made his way to Tarnogrod where he told everyone about the shooting of the 48 Jews.
On May 5, 1942, which fell on [the Jewish holiday] Lag B'omer, Polish police surrounded my house, burst inside and led away my 24-year old brother Meyer. Despite our pleas, they took him to the police station. An hour later I went there and saw six additional Jews, among them my brother-in-law, Meyer Wartman and his 23 year-old son Moyshe. Also, Yehoshua Fliesswasser and Elimelekh Weissman from Babice I spoke again to the police chief but it didn't help. The next day the men, their hands bound, were taken to Bilgoraj in peasant wagons. They were then led along Zamosc Street to the Rafis forest, where they were all shot.
We were assigned to work in the forest. Once, two armed men approached us and said in Russian, What's the point of working for the Germans? Come with us deeper into the forest. They were Russian soldiers who had escaped from German captivity, fashioned weapons, and began to organize a partisan army.
We discussed this among ourselves. Should we accept the Russians' proposal or should we stay where we were and wait. We were afraid that the Jews who remained behind would suffer for our actions. So we continued to go to work in the forest.
On May 11, 1942, a Monday, when Jozefow held its market day, several S.S. arrived at the market, rounded up 150 elderly people and took them to the forest to shoot them. Among them were Avrom-Iser Shukhfeld and Yakov Feinbaum
Several weeks later a Christian from Jozefow told the S.S. that the Jews working in the forest were bringing food to the partisans. He gave them the name of a girl, Rivke Honigsfeld. The S.S. took her away and shot her.
On a market day, the 20th of [the Hebrew month] Tammuz, 5702  the Germans surrounded Jozefow and assembled all the Jews, children and adults. They loaded a truck with women and children, took them to the forest, where they were ordered to undress and to lay down on the ground, and shot them. The same truck went back to town, loaded up with another group of women and children, and repeated the action. This continued all day. Only a few people managed to escape and hide. The men were taken to Majdanek. The Jozefow rabbi, a young man, was taken to Lublin. His wife was killed in the forest.
Two Jews from Lukowa who were working in the forest had gone to Jozefow that day to collect their wages. As soon as they entered the town the S.S.put them on the truck which was taking elderly people to the forest to be shot. When he got off the truck, one of them, Yisroel Honigsfeld, a boy of 20, began to run through the trees. The Germans shot at him, and he was hit by 11 bullets, but he kept running until, covered in blood, he reached my house. He looked a fright. He was riddled with bullet wounds, two of them in his cheek.
With the help of a neighbor, I led him through a side street to his house and we went to summon a doctor, who was afraid to come because he didn't have permission to treat Jews, not to mention one who had escaped from a German aktsie [Nazi operation or raid aimed at deportation or extermination of Jews].
We returned home and took off his clothes, which were sticking to his wounds, a terribly painful process. We found bandages somewhere and bound his wounds. Not until the next day did we find a doctor, whom we paid well and he determined that the wounds were superficial and that the boy would recover. It took six weeks for him to heal. Not until then did he tell us what he had seen that murderous day in Jozefow, in the forest.
Many of those who managed to hide on the day of the aktsie returned home only to find that they were the only survivors, and committed suicide.
Several families that still worked in the sawmills of Gorajec and had documents granting them the right to remain survived the aktsie. They too walked around half-dead, deeply depressed. The town felt like a cemetery, the houses empty, with doors and windows left open.
At the same time the S.S. drove around the villages where Jewish families lived, took them from their houses and shot them. In some villages the Jews were ordered to go to Jozefow and the local Volksdeutsche [ethnic Germans living outside Germany] looted their homes. Several Jewish families from Babice hid illegally in Lukowa. In Aleksandrow, a large village seven kilometers from Jozefow, the 40 Jewish families who lived there were shot on the spot.
In Tarnogrod, the Judenrat was forced to turn over 800 people, ostensibly to be sent to work in Wolyn. When the transport arrived in Zwierzyniec, they took everyone's baggage, beat them harshly, and sent them to Belzec, where they were gassed and cremated.
Dispersing to Different Locations
On the 14th day of Elul, 5702, Lukowa was attacked by 30 S.S. men who stationed themselves at the municipal offices. I tried to find out from the police what their purpose was, but no one could give me an answer. Around 6:00 P.M. the village magistrate came to see me and told me that the next day, at 4:00 A.M., all the magistrates of the surrounding villages were required to report to the municipal office. We grew suspicious and decided to sleep over at the home of a Christian acquaintance. At 10 P.M. when the streets had grown quiet, we gradually began to disperse in different directions. I and my older son Yehuda went to a barn without the owner's knowledge. My wife and two children and a girl cousin from Warsaw went to stay in the attic owned by another peasant, who also had no knowledge of their arrival.
I and my son burrowed into the hay but we couldn't sleep. When day came my 9 year-old son left the barn and from a hiding place saw that the Germans had surrounded our house. He quickly ran back to tell me. Apparently a Christian saw him running back to the barnyard and began yelling loudly that I was hiding in the barn. When the peasant owner heard that he got very scared and began to look for us. He threw all the straw into the courtyard, entered the barn and began calling me by my name, Avrom. I didn't answer, but lay pressed against the wall and remained quiet. He took the iron pitchforks from the manure pile and began tossing the hay about. At that point, I whispered to him to have pity on me, but he begged me to leave the barn because the neighbor had seen my son running inside and had shouted the news to the entire street.
I had no choice. I had to take my son and leave. But when I got to the gate, I saw an armed S.S. standing in the field behind the houses. I went back to the courtyard and looked through the fence into the neighboring yard, where at the moment there was not a living soul. I didn't stop to think, I jumped over the fence, my Yehuda followed me, and we crept into their barn, which was very small; we barely had room to move.
After an hour, we heard the proprietor and his wife moving about in the courtyard, discussing how the Jews were being wiped out. They said that Ziser tried to run away and was shot; one of Leyzer's sons was shot jumping over a fence and he was left hanging there.
Soon we heard a grenade exploding. The Christians said among themselves that Khane Shmuels was being led away and her leg was hurting so they took her to a Jewish home where Leyzer Mendels was lying in bed gravely ill. They threw a grenade into the house, killing the woman and the sick man.
I heard people saying that they had gone to my house and found no one there.
The captured Jews were taken to the Lukowa courtyard. Avrom Weltz hid out somewhere, but having learned that his wife and two small children had been taken to the assembly point, he gave himself up to the Germans.
Around 2:00 P.M. they ordered the assembled Jews to dig ditches and then shot them all.
This all happened 300 meters from where I was hiding. On that day, the 15th day of Elul, 62 Jews died. The rest were able to hide.
When it grew dark, I left the barn. Outside, I found out that the Germans had spared the life of Shmuel the tailor, but when I went to his house, he told me he had been ordered not to let anyone in. Quietly, I slipped into the cellar of a Christian intending to spend the night, but the Christian heard me, came down to the cellar and begged me to leave, because any minute the Germans could conduct a search for Jews and they would shoot him too.
Along with my son Yehuda, I went to another barn and slept until dawn. It had rained heavily all night and a damp cold rose from the ground but I was afraid to go outside. When I saw a Christian acquaintance walk by I came out and asked whether the Germans had left yet but he didn't know. I walked through the field. I remembered a Christian I knew who had done some work for me and asked him if the Germans had left Lukowa. He went to the town offices to find out what they intended to do with Jews who remained.
The Role of Poles in the Aktsie
I waited for him to return. My head was afire with all these sad thoughts and I was about to go for a walk in the field when I saw my wife and two children and the cousin from Warsaw approaching. Our joy knew no bounds.
The Christian returned from the town offices and said that the Jews who remained after the aktsie could return to their homes.
On the way my wife told me what had happened to her. A Christian woman who lived near the attic where they were hiding knew that they were there. She went upstairs and told them they should come down because the Germans were searching. My wife took the children into the fields. She soon saw an armed S.S. man in the distance, so she flung herself into the grain growing near the houses. After she had hidden there with the children for two hours, a Christian woman passing by noticed her, called her by her name and expressed regret over her situation. But she left quickly and my wife realized that she could report her to the Germans, who would come looking for them. She left the grain field and went further into the fields with the children. They walked about an hour and entered a potato field, where they lay until it got dark.
It began to rain, there was thunder and lightning and they were soaked to the skin, trembling with cold and fear. She snuggled the children, praying to God that they would emerge unharmed. In the morning they began walking back toward the houses. In the field they met a peasant, a neighbor of ours, who was at work plowing. My wife approached him and asked what was happening. The peasant expressed his pity for her and told her what had occurred the previous day.
Frightened, she continued on her way and approached the houses. She went to a neighbor to find out what had happened to me and Yehuda. The neighbors told her that they had heard that I had hidden out. They didn't know exactly what had happened to Yehuda. As she left them, we encountered each other. We returned to our house to find that it had been looted. We were told that the people from the municipal offices had taken the best things, thinking we were no longer alive. We went there and immediately got back our bedding and some other household items. Some of our windowpanes had been knocked out and a feeling of fear pervaded the place. We were afraid to sleep there and went to sleep somewhere else.
There were Poles who took part in the aktsie by attacking Jews. In one incident a Pole beat Avraham Yakov, the 18-year-old son of Itsik Leyb Weltz, so badly that the boy could not get up and was blinded. He struggled with death and the Christian doctor took pity on him and gave him medicine that hastened his death.
It was quiet for about two weeks until Thursday, the day before Rosh Hashanah, when an order came that within three days we had to leave Lukowa and go to Jozefow. At the end of Rosh Hashanah Jewish police came from Bilgoraj and supervised our packing and departure from Lukowa.
In Jozefow we moved into the homes of Jews who had just recently been taken to be killed. Our hearts were frozen and we could no longer weep. We had known many of the residents who preceded us and we knew that they were no longer alive.
On Yom Kippur we prayed in a private home. As we were reciting the musaf prayer, we saw through the window how some Poles were chasing a Jew, a refugee from Babice. When they caught him they gave him a terrible beating. He defended himself with his last bit of strength but, his head battered, he fell dead.
Fear of New Developments
My heart told me that new developments were about to occur. I took off my prayer shawl and kitl [white robe worn on Yom Kippur] and went home. My wife was very frightened and pleaded with me to hide in the attic, the approach to which was concealed by a tin plate. I hid there among broken crates and soon I heard people downstairs open the door and ask my wife where I was. My wife and children were crying as they answered that I had already been captured.
From my hiding place I heard what was going on in the street. A 12 year-old girl was running, probably to warn her father to hide. An S.S. officer stopped her and asked where she was running. Less than a minute later I heard a shot; the girl screamed and fell dead.
Shmuel Elbaum, the tailor, a neighbor of mine, was the only Jew to have received permission to remain in Lukowa but his wife and two children had to go to Jozefow. On Yom Kippur he joined them there. He was sure that since he had the permit issued by the Bilgoraj town council, no one would bother him. But the Polish police did not take it into account and seized him. He was among 40 Jews who were seized and taken to the firehouse. From the firehouse they were taken to the forest and shot. One managed to escape. They pursued him and shot him in the leg, but he kept running.
After removing the Jews from the firehouse, they came back to my house and took my sister and other women to wash the firehouse floor, which was covered in blood.
It grew dark and I still lay in the attic, stuck there by the fear that any minute they would return. My wife was also afraid to summon me downstairs. I lay there without food or water. In the morning my wife went outside and learned that the Germans had left and things had quieted down. Only then did I come down from the attic.
But we still lived in fear. I went to the train station in Gorajec, where there was a sawmill where Jews from Jozefow, former wood merchants, worked. They lived there with their families in barracks. No one bothered them. With great effort I managed to get myself hired. I received a permit and after working several days in the sawmill asked the director to allow me to bring my wife and children. The director wanted to help but there was no room. I spent the holiday of Sukkot in sorrow, suppressing my tears.
Several weeks later, my wife, coming back from Jozefow, told me that she had been in a Christian-owned shop, where they did not recognize her as Jewish, and that she had heard a Polish police officer telling the proprietor that soon they would be rid of the last few Jews. The aktsie would not occur at night because the Jews were sleeping in the forest.
I went to see Efrem Lamerman, a Lukowa resident who was in Jozefow with his wife and children, and discussed with him what we should do. We decided that we should go to the forest with our families. I returned to the sawmill and agreed with people there that if they heard any news they would let me know immediately and we would go together to the forest.
Several days later, they conducted an aktsie in Szczebrzeszyn and sent the Jews to Belzec. On the way, at Dlugi-Kat, some Jews jumped from the moving train. Many of them were killed; some, wounded, made their way to Jozefow and told about the aktsie. My wife immediately sent my 10 year-old Yehuda to Gorajec, to tell me to come home.
I told the sawmill director that my mother had fallen ill, and he released me from working. But I told my co-workers the truth, that the Germans had conducted the final aktsie in Szczebrzeszyn and I had decided to go to the forest. A Jew from Jozefow, Yeshaye Kalekhman, said that the chief director had assured him the Jews working in the sawmill would not be harmed. I didn't allow him to convince me of that, and returned to Jozefow. There were a lot of new people the wounded who had jumped from the train --roaming around there. Everyone was filled with fear.
We had decided that the next day, in the evening, we would go to the forest, but at twilight it began to rain heavily. We couldn't bring ourselves to set off with the small children and we decide to wait until the Sabbath.
On Friday evening we suddenly heard the firehouse sirens go off. We were sure the aktsie had begun. We grabbed our packs and the children and ran to the forest. When we got to the hill outside town we stopped and saw that there was a fire in the town. One of us returned to town and came back with the news that there was no aktsie, but an actual fire.
Parshat [Torah Portion] Lech Lecha
Once again, we returned home. On Saturday morning we went to pray. The Torah portion for the week was Lech Lecha. [Genesis 12.1-17.27: God said to Abraham, Go forth from your homeland to the land that I shall show you .] I took that as a sign from heaven that we should abandon our possessions and leave.
On Saturday night several of us came together and decided once again that the next night we would go to the forest. I was overcome with worry over my mother, who couldn't walk because her legs were swollen. My heart ached at the thought of leaving her at home. But my mother pleaded with me not to take her into account but to save myself. The entire household was in tears, but she comforted us, saying that she did not have long to live and she didn't want to have our young lives on her conscience.
My sisters Blume, Ratse and Rachel went to stay with our oldest sister, Feige, who lived with her husband Yehoshua in Tarnogrod, where it was still peaceful.
When night fell we took leave of our mother with heavy hearts and slipped out of the house. Outside town we met up with other families with small children and we set off slowly for the forest.
The moon shone brightly; it was 15 days after the new moon of the month of Cheshvan, 5703 [October 26, 1942]. When we entered the forest we rested a bit and then continued walking. We had decided to hide in a location that was 9 kilometers away. Because of the children we had to walk slowly and it took us three hours to get there. We laid the children down to sleep and we sat down and pondered our situation. The air was already a bit frosty and we were shivering.
In the morning, when the sun began to shine, we warmed up a bit and began to explore our surroundings. There was a river nearby called the Sopot. The thought that we were near water cheered us. One of us went off to obtain food. On his way back, two Russian partisans spotted him and silently followed him back to where we were. Seeing so many people, they summoned two more partisans and they all attacked us and took everything we had. They even took my prayer shawl.
We sat there, dejected. Hunger began to torment us and we decided that my wife, who knew Polish well and who did not look Jewish, should go to get food, along with another person who had a permit to travel from town to town. Barefoot, like peasants, they went to town, entered the house where my mother was still living, got food, and returned to the forest in the evening.
Our fourth day in the forest, the same partisans came and told us that we weren't in a good location because it was close to the road. They demanded whiskey in return for taking us to a safer location in a young forest. The next day my wife and a few others went into town and went to the house to get food, but as they were there, a woman who had come with her rapped on the window and shouted, Perl, run back to the forest.
Terrified, my wife barely managed to grab the food and began to run toward the forest. Bullets flew over her head, but she kept running. She lost her way and wandered in the forest for a long while, until she finally encountered a Jewish girl from another group, who accompanied her.
It was Friday evening and I was sitting with our three small children, trembling with cold and with troubled thoughts about why they weren't back yet. It got dark. Two women who had left with my wife were already back but she was still missing. They told us that back in town a deaf woman passing through had been ordered by the Germans to stop, but she ran and they shot at her and killed her. Hearing the shooting, everyone began to run, including my wife, and she must have reached the forest, but gotten lost. I didn't believe them, thinking they just wanted to console me. I didn't close my eyes all night. Not until dawn did my wife arrive with a person from another Jewish group hiding in the same forest.
As soon as morning came my wife set off again to town, along with other people, taking our older son. They encountered no problems and returned at dusk with food.
Several days later they again set off to get food. They had walked several kilometers and were not far from town when they suddenly saw a little girl who told them that the Germans had surrounded the town and had captured the few remaining Jews. They could actually hear shooting in the distance and turned back to the forest with the news.
This was 23 Cheshvan 5703 [November 3, 1942].
Yosef Likhtfeld, from Jozefow, was among those in the transport to Belzec and he managed to jump from the moving train. He made his way to us in the forest and told us that those who had been unable to walk had been shot on the spot. That is what happened to my mother, who had been walking with him, leaning on him for support, when the murderers shot her, their bullets passing near his arm.
At night, the partisans who had robbed us came back. We gave them the whiskey we had promised and they led us to another place in the forest that bore the number 176. The forest was divided into separate tracts, each measuring 800 square meters, each designated by a different number.
After the taking of the 600 Jews from Tarnogrod, it was quiet for a while, but it was a terrible kind of quiet. The wife of the German police commandant could not sit down to breakfast until she had first witnessed the murder of a Jew. A victim fell almost every day. People had gotten used to this and never thought that tomorrow the same thing could happen to them.
On 22 Cheshvan [November 2, 1942], a Monday, the Germans surrounded the town and began carrying out the final aktsie. Sick people were shot on the spot and the rest were forced into the market place, where the shouts and crying of the small children reached to the heavens. The market place was filled with corpses. All the small children were torn away from their parents and loaded onto peasant wagons. Some of them suffocated in the wagons. Their parents were driven like cattle to slaughter. They were marched to Bilogoraj and those who couldn't walk were shot on the way.
In Bilgoraj they were loaded on to the small gauge train to Zwierzyniec and from there the train took them to Belzec.
Jews in Hiding
There still remained Jews hiding out in various places in Tarnogrod. For days the police searched house to house and dragged them out from hiding. My sisters hid in a bunker, but when it grew dark they went out into the fields. On the way they got lost. Feige was left alone with her 2 year-old child. She encountered some Christians who wanted to send her back to the Germans. She gave them her gold ring and they left her alone. She made her way through the fields in the dark and arrived in Lukowa. She went to the home of a Christian she knew, and found her three sisters already there. The Christian hid them all.
A few days later the Christian heard that people were talking about him, saying that he was hiding Jews. He pleaded with my sisters to find another hiding place. One of the sisters went to the house of a poor peasant woman who lived alone with her daughter. She managed to dig out a bunker in her barn, obscuring it with manure. They all hid there. A few days later, German and Polish police surrounded the entire farmyard and searched for several hours.
After sitting in the forest for a long time Efraim Lamerman and I decided to go to Lukowa and find some food. On the way, a Christian from Lukowa saw us and let it be known in town that we were on the way. He was one of the German colonists, who were under orders from the German police to turn over any Jew found in town.
The local Christians who knew us wanted to protect us, but were afraid to come and meet us. So they staged a fake fight with loud cries and shouting, so that we would understand not to come into town. When we crossed the Tanew River and heard all the shouting, we stopped, not knowing what to do. At that moment, a Christian from Murashkow appeared and warned us not to enter Lukowa.
This man also told me that my brother-in-law Moshe Tintenfisch and another boy had come to Lukowa the day before, had gathered food and were on the way back, having already crossed the river, when they were detained near the village of Osuchy and handed over to the Germans. Today they had been shot.
We became very depressed. How would we return to our wives and children without food?
The Christian told us to wait until it was dark and then to come to his house, that he would give us food. He led us into his grain barn and shut us in, saying he was afraid to let us into his house. Every minute in the barn felt like an hour. We were overtaken by fear and cold. We began to think that the Christian had deliberately tricked us. We would have forced our way out and run away but the barn was locked from the outside.
Finally, he came in with a bowl of hot milk and a big loaf of Polish bread. We ate half the loaf right there, and took the rest with us, along with a 40 kilo sack of potatoes. We left him money and asked him to prepare flour and bread for us for the next night, and went back to the forest, the bags of potatoes on our backs.
It was dark and we couldn't see each other or where we were going, couldn't tell if we were walking in the right direction. Soon it started to rain and we sat down under a tree. We sat there in the cold and dark the entire night. When it grew light, we took up our sacks on our backs and resumed walking, along backroads, until we arrived, lay down exhausted and fell asleep.
The next day we returned to the Christian to collect the flour and bread he had promised us. We silently snuck up to his window to see if we could go in. He saw us and immediately came out with 8 big breads and a kilo of flour. When we left, he asked us not to come back, because he was afraid of his neighbors. When we entered the forest we were enveloped in darkness and couldn't walk further. We didn't arrive at our hiding place until Saturday morning.
Several days later we again began to worry about running out of food and we decided to go to Lukowa via a different route. After a lot of difficulty, we again visited the same Christian acquaintance. He brought us to the barn and returned with a pot of cooked potatoes and sour milk. He took our sacks and filled each one with 40 kilos of potatoes and gave us two breads.
The trip back was difficult and when we got to the forest we sat down to rest, made a fire, and roasted some potatoes. In the morning we reached our location.
Our location was filled with tall, sparse trees and we were exposed to the eyes of every passerby. After a while we moved to another location where the trees were thicker. This was #193. Later we learned that another group of 20 Jews from Jozefow had settled in our original location, from which the partisans had led us away. A few days later they were attacked by Poles, who shot them. Among the few survivors were a wood merchant named Frenkl and a young woman who had gone off to fetch water from the river. She had heard the shooting and sat down under a tree until it grew quiet. When she returned, she found her husband and two small children among the dead.
This woman found the strength to leave the forest and go to a village where she obtained Aryan papers. Later she went to Germany, where she survived the war. I met her in Lublin. Her name is Sarah; she was a granddaughter of Lipe Tarnevaler from the Jozefow Silbersteins. She married a man from Jozefow who had lost his wife and two children. She now lives in Canada.
An old woman from the other group also survived. She had gone to a village to get food. When she returned she found her son, his wife, and their two children dead. She went through the forest and found our group, among whom were her daughter and son-in-law and their child.
The next time we set out to get food, we heard on the road peasants shouting on the road. They were chasing a Jewish woman, an increasingly frequent occurrence. Danger was increasing daily, but we had no choice, so we sought out new routes that were rough and isolated.
Once, we arrived at the house of a peasant who had promised to provide us with weapons. He told us he had a gun and 20 bullets that he would sell for 300 zlotys. He brought us a pot of cooked potatoes, along with the gun and bullets.
We got back safely.
Several days later, the gun proved useful. We had gone into the fields where we had dug up some potatoes, but when our sacks were already full, we heard the owner of the field shouting at us. We shot into the air and the peasant went away.
On the way to Lukowa several days later, we heard shooting and grenades exploding. We quickly turned back and the next day a boy from Jozefow, Avrahamtche Feingold, told us that a group of Russian partisans, including three Jews, had come to Lukowa the night before. Their assignment was to confiscate grain from the cooperative, but first they wanted to disarm the police station. They surrounded the building my mother's former house that held the commandant and five police officers from Bilgoraj. They shot the commandant and his wife on the spot. Two police officers were wounded. The peasants were saying that this was because of me, that it was an act of vengeance against the commandant for having evicted my mother from her house.
Hanukkah arrived. It got colder by the day and we began to build a bunker. We had just barely dug to a depth of two meters when the Russians who were in the same forest as us arrived. They talked us out of building a bunker, because when you are in a bunker you can't hear what's happening outside. The enemy can approach unexpectedly and we wouldn't be able to get away. So we stopped digging.
I didn't want the children to forget the ceremony of lighting the Hanukkah candles, so I carved out pieces of kindling that I inserted into holes I made in a tree and every evening we lit the same number of pieces of kindling as we would have done with candles.
Hanukkah passed. We had no calendar but I kept track of the dates, both of the Jewish and Christian calendars.
The days got even colder. No outsiders came near us, but we still worried that the peasants from surrounding the neighborhood had sniffed out our hideout, and we knew we had to look for a new location.
We looked for a suitable place for several days until we settled on forest parcel #209. We moved there right away, set up a large shelter that could accommodate everyone and began to dig a well so that we wouldn't have to go out for water. The piece of land we selected was on a little hill and all around the hill the land was swampy. It was dangerous to approach and this eased our worries.
Another group of about 20 Jews was located not far from us, at a place called Balitshovka. My sister Chaia and her five children were there. One day, the peasants led several armed Germans there. The Jews heard them coming and fled, but my sister's three youngest children couldn't run away and the Germans killed them. Satisfied with their three victims, the Germans didn't pursue the Jews who had fled, who moved on to another place.
Again we had several quiet days. Our food started to run out and we again got ready to go to Lukowa to find food. Our money was also running out. In Lukowa I had an acquaintance, a miller who owed me money and also 20 meters of grain. I was certain I would get it from him and persuaded my friend to go with me to the mill to get money, flour and bread.
The mill owner was an honest man and I was sure I could go see him. But the way there led past the police station and the town offices. Going through the field we encountered the peasant who owned it. He was happy to see us and greeted us in a very friendly manner. We were reassured and coming to the mill, we stealthily looked through the window, listening for sounds of strangers talking, and then lightly tapped on the door.
The miller heard us and came out. It was already dark and he didn't recognize us. When I told him who I was he was a little scared but he soon rejoiced, happy to see me alive, and he began to ask questions about what was happening with us.
I gave him a short account of everything we had gone through and how we were living now. You could see how sorry he felt for us in our suffering. He consoled us and said we should hold on because the Germans had sustained a heavy blow at Stalingrad. This was good news and we felt somewhat relieved. We ate the bread the miller gave us with hearty appetite. He asked what else we needed. I told him honestly that we needed bread and flour but it would be hard for him to get it to us and so it would be better if he gave us money so that we could buy food closer to the forest. He gave me 500 zlotys and threw in six breads and 25 kilos of wheat flour.
We said our farewells in a friendly way. It was already past midnight and we took our packs on our backs and walked through the fields past Lukowa. We thought about stopping in at the postal official who was an acquaintance, but going through town I met a Christian man who recognized me. He was standing by the courtyard where the postal official lived and he stopped me and asked what was new. After a brief exchange we said goodbye and he went off.
We walked a few steps in the direction of the postal official's house but I soon stopped and told my friend that it would be better if we didn't go inside, because the Christian appeared suspicious; it was possible he had gone directly from us to the police to report our presence.
We went directly into the field, crossed the bridge and entered the forest. When we later went to Lukowa another time and stopped by to see the postal official, he told us we had avoided a certain death. It turned out that the Christian had in fact gone to the police and told them that we were at the postal official's house. The police, along with some firemen, had surrounded the entire courtyard and searched every corner.
The postal official advised us never again to use the same route because it was possible we were being watched. We didn't hesitate, accepted some potatoes and buckwheat groats from him, and went right back into the forest.
About a half-kilometer away from our forest location were several Jews from Josefow, who in need of food, went to a small village near Josefow and stole a cow, brought it to the forest and slaughtered it for meat. The peasants of the village were extremely angry and the next day they followed the tracks in the snow and armed with weapons found the hiding place, attacked and killed all the Jews.
After living in the forest for three months, the only shirt I owned had fallen to pieces. We slept in our clothing and in our boots. My boots were very tight and I knew that if I took them off, I would never be able to put them back on. My feet were covered with wounds and I couldn't walk any more. Then I tried to pull them off but I couldn't. I asked my friend to pull them off and he couldn't either. It was as if the boots were glued to my feet. There was no option but to cut off the boot legs. I almost fainted when I took off the boots and saw my wounded feet. I could no longer put the boots back on and sat there with my feet wrapped in rags. There was no possible way I could walk 12 kilometers to the village to get food.
My friend Efraim Lamerman, while cutting wood, had cut his foot with the axe and was also unable to walk. We sat there together; looking at our feet, shaking our heads over our wounds, but what hurt most was our sorrow for our hungry children. Without much thought, we each put on one boot, tied the other foot in rags, and set off for Lukowa.
We could no longer take our former route that now appeared to be dangerous. It was raining, the snow had started to melt. Our feet, in rags, were completely soaked. The cold wetness caused us even more pain. We wanted to sit down and rest, but that would have been dangerous, so we continued on, splashing through water and limping along.
We entered the farmyard of a peasant we knew, Makhnie. He came out right away, took us to the barn and let us stay until midnight. Only then did he take us to his house. He gave us something to eat and put together packs of bread and potatoes to take back to the forest. We were so exhausted form the trip and our pain that as soon as we sat down we fell asleep. When we awoke, it was already 3 A.M.
We immediately loaded the packs on our backs and set off, through snow and water, for our place in the forest.
The next time we went to the same peasant, he told us that the night we had last been there, a Jew from Lukowa, Avraham Yakov Gutharts, a shoemaker, had been hiding in his attic. He had been hiding with various peasants the entire time of the German occupation. The peasant hadn't wanted to tell us, because he was afraid that in our amazement we would start talking among ourselves and the news would spread to his neighbors.
His neighbors did in fact find out the shoemaker was staying there and suggested that they take him to us in the forest. The shoemaker believed them and went with them, but instead of taking him to the forest, they led him to the field, took everything he had and shot him.
Our Enemies are Singing
On February 11, 1943, in the middle of the day, we heard a lot of noise in the forest. People were talking loudly and singing. We thought it was drunken Russian partisans. But within 15 minutes, a girl from Jozefow came running, barefoot. This was Rachel Fischel, Reb Yakov's 15 year-old granddaughter. Panting, she told us we should flee because Germans and Ukrainians were conducting a raid in the forest. They had attacked her group and killed all the Jews, including her mother and brothers. She was the only one who survived. She lives in Poland to this day.
The singing got closer. We had no time to think. We grabbed the children and some food and ran until we reached a dividing line between two plots of land. When we tried to cross the road to get to the next plot the Germans saw us and began shooting. My wife and two children managed to cross the road along with several others. I ran with another child in the opposite direction, where the Sopot River flowed. We stood there wondering what to do next. Some people thought we should cross the river but I thought we should walk through the bushes that covered the high riverbanks, in the direction of our former location. We did this and after walking several kilometers we thought that the Germans had gone. It was quiet and we let ourselves take a rest. A bit later we learned we had been very lucky not to have tried to cross the river. Those who did so were shot and killed by the Germans, who had stationed themselves along the river on the other side.
At twilight we were approaching the place from which we had fled several hours earlier. Despite the quiet that surrounded us, we were afraid that the Germans had left behind watchmen and we sent someone ahead to see if there was really no one there. He quickly returned to say that all was clear.
We found our belongings untouched where we had left them, but our hearts were grieving. My wife and two children weren't there, nor my friend's wife and child and the other people who had crossed to the other plot. Who knew what had happened to them.
An hour passed. We sighed and wept. Suddenly we heard rustling in the trees and tentative footsteps. Our hearts trembled and suddenly we saw our wives and children. We were very happy. We felt that everyone was here and we had lost no one. But then we looked around and realized that my cousin Blume Fefer was missing. In 1941 she had escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and managed to make her way to us. She had been with us the entire time in the forest. At first I wanted to look for her immediately but this was a crazy idea because it was night and the forest was very dark.
We consoled ourselves with the thought that she had gotten lost and was waiting for daybreak to go on. As soon as it got light we set out to search. This was very hard because we were afraid we would encounter the police or a spy. Convincing ourselves that no one was around, we started to call her name quietly. After a long search we found her lying dead under a tree not far from our hiding place. Near her was a basket that held the tfillin that my parents had given me for my bar mitzvah. She knew how dear they were to me and had guarded them closely until her last breath.
We stood speechless over her body. The well of our tears had dried up and no words could express our grief. On a nearby hill we dug a grave and thought to ourselves that tomorrow we too could die and there would be no one to bury us. We would lie there like animals until wild beasts devoured us.
A Bunker Becomes a Grave
About three kilometers from us in the forest was a group of about 15 people that included my sister Chaia and her 16 year-old son, and my brother-in-law Pinches Fersht and his two children, a boy and a girl. When the Germans tracked them down and attacked them, four people managed to escape; three were wounded, including my brother-in-law's son. He ran away barefoot in freezing weather and his feet swelled up. He developed a fever and in despair returned the next day to their hiding place. He heard the Germans approach but didn't have the strength to run away and was shot.
The other three managed to join another group. Two the brother and sister Kielich asked us to take them into our group and they remained with us the entire time. The brother lives today in Bat Yam (Israel) and the sister -- in America.
A wounded girl joined a group that had dug a bunker in the ground. My wife's sister Sara and her three small children were among those in the bunker. There were also several other women, a couple with a child, and two children, aged seven and eight, without parents. Whenever we went by their place we left them a bit of food. The fate of those children, like that of so many others, broke our hearts. Their father had been captured when he left the forest in search of food. The peasants turned him over to the Germans, who shot him. The same thing happened to their mother when she went to get food a few days later; the same peasants caught her and turned her over. The sight of the two weeping children broke our hearts, but how could we help them when we ourselves faced such enormous perils?
One freezing day, the 20th of Shevat, 5703 [January 26, 1943], when we walked by their location, we were frightened by the silence. All of the people who had been in the bunker had been killed. Their bunker was now a grave and their murderers had filled it in with earth. The peasants from the village Balitshovka, which was just two kilometers away, told us how the Germans had found out about the hideout, stole up to the bunker and threw in several grenades. None of the 13 people there survived.
Not far from us in the forest was a group of 8 young men and one woman. They had four guns and were determined to fight to their last bullet. But one day, after the raid when the Germans attacked us, Russian partisans approached them, demanding that they hand over their guns. We were surprised, because the partisans had always known that some Jews had guns and had not objected. Their confiscation of the guns made us deeply suspicious.
The Guardian Angel who Rescued Us
On February 20, 1943, in the early morning, while the children were still asleep, a Russian partisan, a Georgian named Vashke, came running. Soaked with sweat and panting, he told us that we had to leave immediately because a raid was coming. When we asked where we should go, he told us to follow him. We snatched up a bit of food and the children. My youngest son was five years old and we picked him up, wearing just a shirt, and began running after Vashke.
Burdened by the children in our arms, we couldn't keep up with Vashke and lost sight of him. Confused, we stopped and didn't know what to do next. We entered a thick young forest and stood among the trees. With bated breath we listened to muffled sounds around us. After 20 minutes, it grew quiet and we considered leaving to find out what was happening. But just then we heard shooting nearby. After a few minutes it again grew quiet. We were afraid to say a word and the children stifled their crying.
We stood in the knee-deep snow all day. At dusk we decided that one of us should return to our former location to see what was happening there. He came back in an hour with the news that our shelter had been burned. It was clear that they were searching for us and we must not go back there. We went back to plot #210, where we found an old shelter where we spent the night. The cold was intolerable. But by now we had several times convinced ourselves that a human being is stronger than iron. The hardest thing was seeing our children trembling with cold.
The first thing the next morning, we began to scope out the area. We entered a thickly grown part of the forest, sat down on tree stumps, very quiet, afraid to say a word, stifling the coughs that came from our inflamed lungs. Satisfied that no one was nearby, we went to the location where the 8 young men and the woman had been staying. Our blood froze when we saw all 9 bodies lying there, half-burned.
We later learned that the Russian partisans had worked out a plan together with the members of the A.K. [Armia Krajowa, the Polish Home Army, an underground resistance organization] to kill all the Jews in the forest. The leader of the Polish partisans, Mashke from Josefow, conferred with Mishke Tatar, the leader of the Russian partisans, and they decided to carry out their attack on February 20. Among the Russian partisans were four Jews from Josefow, one of whom was Avrahamtche Feingold. The Russians took their weapons from the four Jews and told them to come on Saturday to collect them, but when they came, they were shot. Only one survived; he told us all of this.
The Poles did not know the exact location of the Jews and had to rely on the Russians to lead them there. That's how Vashke and his friend Lashkali found out about the attack on the Jews. The two of them decided to save us. Lashkali was the guide for the Poles and he led them on a longer path so that Vashke would have time to warn us to leave. If not for Vashke the Georgian we would have all been killed by the Poles, who that day shot 50 Jews.
The Poles later boasted about how they had approached the various Jewish groups, with whom many of them had been acquainted, and engaged them in friendly chats. They then suddenly surrounded the Jews and shot them, then set fire to their shelters, as well as their corpses.
Vashke remained in our memories as a good angel, who saved our lives.
Trembling at the Slightest Sound
The days continued to drag on in cold and hunger. Sometimes we would fall asleep under a tree and wake up covered in snow. Like animals we would shake off the snow and continue our search for food or for a new hiding place.
Our last bit of food ran out and we had to go find more. There was a crackling frost and when we left the forest, instead of going over the bridge, we walked on the ice covering the frozen river. When we were half way across, the ice shattered. By a miracle, I was able to pull back and remained lying on the ice. Had I taken one more step forward, I would certainly have fallen into the water. We re-gathered ourselves and crossed over the bridge. Right after the bridge was a small forest called Soshnine. Several Christians lived there. When I knocked on the door of a Christian I knew, his wife came out and, terrified, told us that 15 minutes earlier a sleigh full of Germans had driven by. She was afraid they would come back soon. She pleaded with us to leave and didn't want to speak with us further.
It was no longer possible to go to Lukowa. We were afraid to go back over the same bridge and we had to go an extra three kilometers in deep snow to get to another bridge and return to the forest empty-handed. We went to two peasants who lived in the forest and after lengthy pleading they sold us some potatoes.
The situation in the forest grew more dangerous day to day. We had lost contact with the other Jewish groups that lived there. We longed to hear something about other Jews but we didn't dare leave our spot. Everyone sat silent, hidden, unwilling to come out, trembling at the slightest sound.
After London's Order to the Polish Underground
It was the week of Purim. A boy from Josefow, Yoske Kalechman, suddenly appeared. He knew the forest well and liked to prowl around, looking and poking into things. We were very happy to see him. He told us that we no longer had to be afraid of the Poles. An acquaintance of his from Leshnits had told him that the Polish underground had received an order from (the Polish government in exile in) London not to harm the Jews who had remained in the forest. This meant we could around freely in the forest, no longer under threat from the Polish partisans.
We were very happy to hear this news. Yoske told us where the other Jewish groups were located and on a Sabbath afternoon before Purim, I, Efraim Lamerman and Yitzhak Onfasung from Josefow went to visit another group four kilometers away, near Biedna-Vioska. They were very happy to see us.
Efraim had to say yahrzeit [prayer in memory of a deceased person] that day and wanted to do it with a minyan [quorum required for communal prayer]. They built a fire and someone recited the Megillah [Book of Esther] by heart. Then our hosts served us a Purim meal consisting of cutlets made from horsemeat, from a horse a Russian had brought them and which the Jews had slaughtered. Someone had brought whiskey and people joined in singing a nigun [religious melody]. The oddly joyful sound of singing resounded through the forest, allowing us to forget our troubles for a while.
We stayed there overnight and in the morning we prayed communally, read the Megillah, ate a meal and warmly said our farewells, taking with us pieces of horsemeat the others had given us. Then we returned to our place in the forest, where our wives and children awaited us.
The days grew warmer. The snow had started to melt and we began to think about making matzah for Passover. We had no flour and decided to go to Lukowa to get some.
It was a Tuesday, the first day of the month of Nisan [7th month in the Jewish calendar, March or April], when three of us I, Efraim Lamerman and Itshe Onfasung set off for Lukowa. When we were near Balitshovka, Itshe said his leg hurt and that he didn't feel he could make it to Lukowa. He would go to the house of the two peasants who lived nearby and buy something from them. We decided on a place to meet on our way back from Lukowa. It was in the woods, where there was a pile of dry twigs. We would make a fire there and roast a few potatoes.
Efraim and I went to Lukowa; to a peasant we knew who gave us some potatoes and some whole-wheat flour.
My Encounter With My Four Sisters
Our packs on our backs, we left town. Near the Soshnine forest we noticed someone spying on us. We quickly crossed the bridge over the Tanew and entered the forest. After a short rest, we set off for the place where we were supposed to meet up with Itshe Onfasung. As we got near, we saw a fire burning, but hearing voices we drew back. Creeping forward slowly, we heard that the voices were speaking Yiddish. How astonished I was when I saw my four sisters sitting at the fire warming themselves. I was speechless with joy. We kissed and wept without saying a word.
After resting a bit, we continued on our way. My youngest sister Rachel was not able to walk. My sisters had spent the last five months hiding in a pit under a cow barn, and she didn't have the strength to move her legs. I carried her on my back to our meeting place.
My sisters told us how they had paid the peasant woman who owned the barn well to let them hide under there, but she gave them little to eat. The filth from the barn fell onto their heads. Every time there was word that the Germans were coming from Lukowa the peasant began to tremble and made them leave. When it quieted down, they came back.
My sister Feige had a two year-old child who got sick in the pit and died. They weren't allowed to go out and bury the child. The peasant took the child from them and buried him somewhere.
As Passover was approaching, the peasant didn't want to keep them anymore and they had to leave. They went into the forest at night and walked around for 24 hours. They encountered peasants from the village Osuchy who wanted to turn them over to the Germans. The peasants were not moved by their tears, but the gold ring one of my sisters offered them softened their hearts, and they let them go.
They continued to wander until they came to Bolitshovke and met the Christians who knew us, who gave them something to eat. These Christians knew I was nearby, but didn't know exactly where and they told my sisters to wait in the forest until I arrived.
They had been wandering in the forest for seven days, hungry, despairing, frozen and exhausted. The Christians let my sisters know when Itshe Onfasung entered Balitshovke and he led them to the designated meeting place, built a fire for them, and waited for our arrival.
Rachel, the youngest sister, slowly revived and was able to move her legs. The other sisters also felt better in the forest, freed from the darkness and fear of their hiding place. They all stayed with us in the forest and survived the war. Rachel lives in Haifa, on Mount Carmel. Her husband Tstetshik is a major in the Israeli army. The other sisters live in Australia and Bolivia.
Before Passover, a boy, Baruch Shlicher, the son of Hershele Shlicher from Josefow, came to us in the forest and said that he had sifted flour, which he would give us in exchange for our whole-wheat flour and we would be able to make matzo from the finer flour. He also told us, secretly, that Jews from the ghetto would be coming to the forest.
We cut up a large block of wood and spread it with a dishtowel, and we fashioned a fork and rolling pin from a freshly cut sapling. We made a big fire and baked matzo on the hot ashes. My family received 24 matzos that Passover.
The Sabbath before Passover we went to the Jews living near Biedna-Vioska, who directed us to a Christian they knew in the small village Glakhes, who gave us potatoes. We stayed overnight with the Jews in Biedna-Vioska. In the morning Baruch Shlicher told us that the Jews from the ghetto would be arriving soon. And in fact there soon appeared 15 men and a girl from the ghetto in the town of Yavoriv in Galicia. We greeted them joyfully. They had brought with them a machine gun and several rifles and revolvers.
The newly arrived Jews looked at us, surprised by our appearance after living in the forest for half a year -- tattered, barely clothed, heavily bearded, our faces blackened by the smoke of the fires where we warmed ourselves. They still looked like respectable people and were well dressed. Among them was a lawyer named Forst, from Sudova Vyshnya, near Lviv.
They told us how they had gotten here. In the Yavoriv ghetto there was a Jew from Zamch, a village not far from our forest. His name was Dovid Diamant. A Christian from Zamch would bring him food. The Christian told him that Jews had been hiding in the forest all winter. Dovid Diamant conferred with a group of 15 other Jews and they asked the Christian to lead them to the forest. When they got there, the Christian connected them to a peasant from whom we used to get food.
The First Seder with Matzo and the Four Cups
We parted warmly and returned to our wives and children. The next day, Monday evening, we celebrated the first Seder. We lit a fire and spread a white cloth on the wooden board we had made. For the ceremony of drinking the four cups (of wine), we cooked red beets with sugar and filtered the liquid through a piece of white linen. We did not sing when we recited the Hallel [prayer of praise and thanks to God]. Unable to hold back our tears, we wept.
After the Seder, when we were getting ready to go to sleep we heard a strange cry in the woods. Not far away people were travelling on foot and in wagons and we heard the sounds of their wheels and of human voices. We extinguished the fire and concealed ourselves. In the morning we gathered our belongings and moved to a new place in the forest, plot #212.
After settling into our new location, we went to pray with the Jews who had come from the ghetto. After praying we sat with them a while and listened to their account of life in the ghetto, about how the Germans kept bringing in Polish Jews from other towns, and murdered people every day.
In the midst of our conversation there appeared, as if arising out of the earth, several Russian partisans with their commander Mishke Tatar. They had learned of the arrival of new Jews from the ghetto and had heard that they had brought weapons with them. Mishke already knew that they had a machine gun and he directed them to display it. He regarded it with satisfaction and immediately proposed to exchange two rifles for the machine gun. Everyone had an opinion about this ploy. But we had to remain silent. Mishke was the ruler of the forest.
At that moment, we heard the sound of German airplanes flying over the forest. We all looked up at the sky. Mishke Tatar, who was bending over the machine gun, raised his head and cursed in Russian, Why are you flying over our territory? and at the same time, he shot and hit an airplane, which continued to fly for a few minutes, and then fell.
We were struck by fear that the Germans would take revenge and attack the forest, but several days passed and nothing happened. So we went again to get potatoes from the peasant in Glakhes.
When we returned at dawn the next day, we heard shooting. The Germans and the partisans were fighting. Three of the newly arrived Jews from the ghetto were killed. After a short battle, the Germans left the forest and we got back safely to our place.
The Forest is Burning
The third day of hal hamoed [intermediate, non-sacred days of Passover] we noticed the forest was burning. Peasants came running from the villages, accompanied by police, and immediately began to put out the fire. We found ourselves between two perils. On one side, the fire threatened our place. On the other side, we feared that the police would spot us. We went deeper into the heart of the forest and lay down among the trees. It took two days to extinguish the fire, which had burned a thousand hectares of forest.
Passover was over and the days got warmer. We began to think about making weapons that would make it easier for us to go out to buy food. Again I went to visit the miller in Lukowa who was now my Liberating Angel. I got 1500 zlotys from him. Then we went to a Christian we knew who promised to make us three guns and told us to return the next week to pick them up.
When we came the next week he led us into a field and from a hiding place there he retrieved three rifles and some ammunition, and told us we had to pay 350 zlotys for each rifle.
When I lifted the rifle to my shoulder for the first time I felt the fear that had dominated our lives had lifted. I didn't yet know how to shoot; I had never been in the military. Still, I felt safer and freer. My friend was more skilled at handling a rifle and he felt as if he had received the most valuable gift. We felt new strength coursing through our blood. Until now we had been afraid of even the puniest Christian, who could terrorize us and take us to the Germans. The mere thought that we had weapons eliminated that fear. We no longer felt threatened by civilians.
Now, when we went to get food, we would set out with the newly arrived Jews from the ghetto, who also had guns. When we entered a village, we would station a lookout and fearlessly go to visit the peasants, whom we told to provide us with a horse and wagon, with which we used to transport food to the forest. We didn't take anything from poor peasants who themselves had little to eat. Pretending to be partisans, we spoke Russian. We always returned the horse and wagon to their owner, telling him in advance where to wait for them.
These sorties were very dangerous and we tried as much as possible to use single people instead of people who had families to care for.
In May of 1943, we again heard new voices in the forest. We understood that a larger group of partisans had arrived and at dawn we silently slipped up to the place from which the noise was coming. We heard people speaking Russian and Polish and when it got lighter we came over and spoke with them. Among them were two Jewish boys and a Jewish woman with her two children. The leader of the group, who was named Gzhegozh, had a small beard. He was very friendly and warm to us. The partisans had plenty of food and gave us some.
Several days later they moved to another plot in the forest and would come visit us occasionally. After the war we learned that Gzhegozh was a Jew who had to pretend to be a Pole when he was with the partisans.
Once, when I came to Bolishovke, a Christian I knew gave me a letter written in Yiddish from Moshe-Wolf from Babitsh, which had been passed on by my friend Kolye the miller. In the letter he asked me to let Kolye know when we would next visit him and Moshe-Wolf would meet me there to discuss how he could get to the forest. I went directly to Lukowa and agreed with the miller to come on Sunday night of the next week.
I got there exactly on time and waited until after midnight for the mill workers to leave. When I entered the mill I saw Moshe-Wolf chatting with the miller. He embraced and kissed me. It took a long time before he was able to speak. Moshe-Wolf hadn't seen a single Jew for seven months. He had hidden in a stable with his 9 year-old son and could no longer stand to live in the dark and in constant fear. By chance he had learned that I was in the forest and asked the miller to get in touch with me about taking him to the forest.
Moshe-Wolf's sister-in-law Sara was living near Hrubieszow under an assumed Aryan identity. She had obtained false Aryan identity papers. She didn't look Jewish and spoke Ukrainian extremely well. She had brought him the news from Hrubieszow that his wife had been in hiding with a Christian but when she went into the street one day someone recognized her and turned her over to the Germans, who shot her.
We agreed that I would wait for him on Wednesday night at the meadow outside Lukowa. He would be with his son and his sister- in-law who preferred hiding in the forest to relying on her Aryan papers and living in constant fear that her Jewish identity would be discovered.
I arrived on time at the designated spot and sat down to wait. A long time passed and afraid to be seen on the open meadow, I went into the tall grain field to wait. The hours dragged on and I had begun to fear for them. I had already thought of giving up when I saw three figures in the distance, moving carefully toward the designated meeting place. These were in fact Moshe-Wolf and his son and sister-in-law. They excused themselves, explaining that the peasants had been moving about in the village and it had been dangerous to go out.
Moshe-Wolf and his son felt good in the forest. In contrast, his sister-in-law decided after several days to return to her job and suggested that the boy come with her; she would find work for him as a shepherd. After long deliberation Moshe-Wolf agreed. The two of them did in fact survive the war. Sara lives in Detroit and Moshe-Wolf's son lives in Israel in Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, where I attended his wedding.
Moshe-Wolf remained with us in the forest. But several weeks after Shevuot we heard the Germans were getting ready to attack the Jews in the forest. We became very depressed. It was hard to flee with children and we didn't know where to flee. Moshe-Wolf asked me to lead him out of the woods so he could return to Babitsh to the Christian who had hid him earlier. My pleas that he stay with us were in vain. We said our farewells and he left the forest along with three Jews from the Yavoriv ghetto. They didn't get far before they encountered Germans, who shot them. This also happened to Volvish Fefer, Simkhe's son from Lukowa, who fled to the Zamach forest with his wife and two children. On the way, German bullets killed them all
We stayed in the forest, moving to another spot called Sukhi Tshop, named after a tree found there that had a dry top. The threatened attack did not take place. Rather, the Germans seized Poles from Lukowa and surrounding villages and sent them to work in Germany. Many Poles harnessed their horses, loaded their wagons with food, took along their cows, and went into the forests.
One Friday, when we emerged from the dense bushes, we saw the Poles, our neighbors, settled into the forest. We had our rifles on our shoulders, eliciting respect from the Poles, who were, incidentally, happy to see us. They told us about the suffering inflicted on them by the Germans.
The Poles found living in the forest too difficult and they envied us for having already gotten used to it. Our situation at that time was very difficult. The surrounding villages were full of Germans and we couldn't leave the forest to get food. The Polish peasants decided to go back to their villages and turn themselves in to the Germans. They left us some potatoes. They did in fact return to Lukowa and were sent to Germany. Ukrainians settled in their houses. Among the few Poles who remained was my friend the miller, Kolye.
Things worsened by the day, and our hunger became more terrible. Once, we tried to leave the forest but when we came to the river Studzienica, we saw Germans bathing there, and then go into the forest to rest. We retreated into the thick shrubbery. There wasn't anything to cook and we were also afraid to light a fire.
One Sabbath day we heard that the Germans were planning an attack in the forest. We had no other choice but to go deeper into the forest. We gathered our belongings and went three kilometers deeper and hid our things among the white birches and thick shrubbery and sat listening for every sound.
We were exhausted by hunger and one of us went out in the afternoon to the meadow, where he caught a young cow that he brought into the forest. We slaughtered it and at night made a fire, cooked it and had something to eat. But in the morning a woman named Erni came to me and said she had heard shouting not far from the forest. I woke up Efraim Lemerman and told him that the shouting was suspicious and it seemed to be an attack. He wanted to keep sleeping and he said that it was probably shepherds who pastured their cows in the forest who were making the noise.
I tried to calm myself but the voices were growing louder and closer. Impelled by the threat of danger we went deeper into the shrubbery, screened further by freshly harvested saplings. This was Sunday, 2 Tammuz 5703 [July 5, 1943]. Lying hidden in the bushes I saw an armed German standing two meters away. I was clutching a rifle in my hands, ready to shoot but I realized that my shot would alarm other Germans who were certainly nearby and that would be the end.
Suddenly I heard someone shout, Is there a fire? and someone responded, No, and the Germans left. Then I realized the meaning of that exchange. A fire was for them a sign that people were living there and it was necessary to search for them. It was a miracle that I had managed to conceal the place where we had made a fire the night before.
It was already late in the afternoon. We were very hungry and Efraim crept out of his hiding place and said that the Germans had left and we could now prepare food. My wife agreed with him. I felt an odd unease thinking the Germans could return and I strongly insisted that we should all remain where we were. Within 10 minutes we heard the footfalls of Germans passing by. We heard an officer order the men to go another kilometer and then to march out of the forest.
The Newborn Child
We left our hiding place at sunset and ate the meat left over from the night before.
The next day, the people who had run away during the raid and had dispersed in various directions began to return. Two people did not return Miriam-Rachel Wolf from Lukowa and a woman named Sara from Borvitsh.
It was almost impossible to go to the villages to get a bit of food. Ukrainians had settled into the homes of the Poles who had been driven out, and they were ready to turn over to the Germans any Jew they encountered or to kill them themselves. So we had to go out at night into the fields, where new potatoes were already ready, and that sustained us.
Efraim Lamerman's pregnant wife began to go into labor. The news spread quickly among the Jews in the forest and everyone was deeply apprehensive. What would happen? Where could they find a midwife?
Then there appeared one of the newly arrived Jews who had come to the forest after the German raid and he reassured us, revealing his secret, that he was a doctor specializing in childbirth. He went to the woman, who was writhing in labor, and delivered the child, a daughter. A new person had come into the world, fated to endure a life of suffering in the forest. And yet people rejoiced and were filled with gratitude for the doctor, who had arrived as if sent from heaven.
Several weeks went by. The days were summery and the forest was quiet. Blackberries and mushrooms appeared, which helped to make life easier, as we didn't have to leave the forest as frequently. The newborn child was thriving.
Gradually we got used to life in the forest, and it began to seem normal. We forgot about our former lives and the comforts that once seemed indispensable to living a normal life.
About 150 new partisans appeared, who called themselves Chapayovtses, [probably in honor of Vasil Ivanovich Chapayev, a celebrated Red Army commander during the Russian Civil War] and they merged with Gzshogozh's group. They also took in the few Jewish groups that didn't include women and children.
The forest got livelier every day. The partisans went out on diversionary missions, cut down telephone poles all along the rail line, and halted the German troop transports. On the eve of Tisha b'Av the partisans left the forest with the goal of attacking the ammunition factory in Stalove-Vole. When they left the forest, they ran into a Polish partisan group from the A.K. Their leader was the officer Penkherski, who had led the aktsie in Lukowa a year earlier, in which 62 Jews were killed. The Russian and Jewish partisans now shot him.
When we heard the news we rejoiced. But at the same time, we were overcome by fear that the A.K. would take revenge. We were now alone in the forest so we had to move to a new hiding place.
The partisans marched through the fields on the way to the ammunition factory, engaging on the way in battles with the Germans, attacking a truck and shooting 18 German soldiers and officers inside. They never carried out the attack on the ammunition factory, but in the course of the march, which lasted an entire month, they killed about 200 Germans. Five of the partisans were killed.
When they returned to us in the forest, the Jewish partisans shared their experiences in battle with us. The doctor from Krakow had participated in the march, and on the way he discarded a valise full of medications, which was too heavy for him to carry. When the commander of the partisans heard about this, he threatened to shoot the doctor. Through strenuous pleading we were barely able to get commander to spare his life.
The doctor, along with Avigdor, the boy from Josefow, left the partisan group in the forest without permission and came to us. I tried to convince the doctor that this was the wrong thing to do, but he got angry and continued to hide in the forest.
The partisans began to establish order in the forest and all the Jews had to request permission to remain in their places. The doctor and Avigdor got sick of constantly hiding and they decided to present themselves to the partisan commander. They were accompanied by Baruch Shlicher and Beker, a Jew from the Poznan region who knew the commander and wanted to plead with him on behalf of the doctor and Avigdor. But as soon as they arrived at the partisans, all four of them were shot.
High Holy Day Prayers
The partisans divided into two groups. One went to the Bug River; the other stayed in the forest.
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah the Jews gathered at our place, laid out their weapons, set up a lookout and prayed. There were about 40 people and only one prayer shawl and one Rosh Hashanah prayer book. We prayed with bitterness in our hearts and wished each other a good year. We so deeply hoped that we would survive all our troubles and be completely free in the coming year.
Yom Kippur was approaching. We didn't have a Yom Kippur prayer book but I knew Kol Nidre by heart and wrote it out on a piece of paper. We made candles and set them up on a little pile of sand which we dug up from the well; around them we set out our weapons. When we began to pray, it looked as if the young forest with its small trees was weeping with us and we believed that our prayers would in the end be heard in heaven.
The next day we also prayed all day. The mood at the Neilah prayers [closing prayers] was one of dread. It was completely dark in the forest when we scattered to our different places, made fires and ate the previously prepared food. We felt a lightness in our hearts. Someone brought some whiskey and for a while we forgot we were in the forest, joined in singing a nigun, and the woods echoed with faith and belief.
We continued to live in constant fear that our hiding place would become too widely known among outsiders and right after Yom Kippur we decided to move to another place. It was four kilometers further on, near the river that was called Studzienica. Near the river bank, we built shelters from twigs, making sure that the rain could not penetrate. The winds were already heralding the coming winter.
The next day we received a visit from some Jews from Tarnogrod and Rozaniec, who had been hiding in the Rozaniec forest 20 kilometers from us. Having heard that Jews were living here, they came to meet us. Among them was my cousin Dovid Entner. His wife and four children had been killed and he was alone. Also among them were Hersh Welts, Eliezer Wertman, Temi Trinker, Chaim Lipiner, Chaim Adler, Malka Herbstman and Eliezer Lamerman. They settled in near us and things became a bit friendlier, a bit more relaxed. We had already heard the news about the German defeat at Stalingrad.
?Sukkot arrived. We went to pray with a group of Jews who were hiding in the forest outside Sosiets. They were in a hopeful mood. On Simchat Torah we even let loose, had some whiskey and sang Hasidic melodies.
We started to get ready for winter. We brought in potatoes and hid them in a pit so that they wouldn't freeze. There was the prospect that we wouldn't need to leave the forest in search of food.
Our second Hanukkah was easier. We lit candles in holders made of potatoes with holes carved in them and wicks made of cotton. Right after Hanukkah, Russian soldiers drove up with two large barrels of whiskey. The Russians began drinking and also shared some whiskey with us. Among the partisans was a Frenchman who liked to visit us. When he got hold of the whiskey, he drank so much he died. The Poles put out a false accusation that we had poisoned him. By a miracle, the Russians testified that on the day of his death he had not been with us, but had been with them the entire time.
The false accusation again convinced us that the Poles' hostility to us was great. For several days we were on high alert for an attack. Luckily, the incident ended peaceably and we stayed in the same place about three months. But we couldn't stay there longer than that and moved to plot #20.
Russian Partisans Bring Jews to Us
When we had already settled in, the Russian partisans brought to us a woman who had been hiding the entire time with peasants. But when she found out that there were Jews in the forest, she came out of hiding and went to the forest, where she encountered the Russian partisans and they brought her to us. This woman, Ratse, was from Kaminke, near Lviv. She had been certain that there were no Jews left in all of Poland and she was very happy to find us. Several days later the Russians brought another Jew, Berger, who had also been hiding with Christians and having learned that Jews were living in the forest, came to find us. Berger lives now in Nahalat Ganim [Israel].
Several days later some Poles brought us a girl with a gunshot wound in her leg. This girl had jumped from a train taking Jews to Belzec, and the Germans had shot and wounded her. They thought she was dead and left her lying in a field, where the Poles found her and recognized her as a Jew. She pleaded with them to shoot her. She had no strength left. But she had happened upon Poles with kind hearts who brought her to a hospital, under the pretense that she was Christian. She stayed in the hospital a long time until they became suspicious and began to investigate where she was from and who she was. The Poles who had brought her there had continued to follow her fate and learning of the investigation, quickly snuck her out of the hospital and hid her in their home. Later they took her to the forest.
A short time later the Russians dropped off troops in the forest and at the same time took wounded partisans away in an airplane to Russia; they also took the wounded girl with them. After the war, having recovered from her wound, she returned to Poland. She lives now in Bat Yam in Israel with her husband and two children.
At the beginning of 1944 the partisans began a period of intensive activity. On February 15, 1944, Kolpakchi's army, [a Soviet field army led by Vadimir Yakovlevich Kolpakchi], numbering 5000 men, arrived. They were armed with cannons and various other kinds of weapons. They settled in the villages around our forest and the Germans in the nearby towns began fleeing in great panic.
The partisans would often pay us friendly visits. Among them were two Jews from Lutsk who sometimes brought us whiskey, joined us in a drink and encouraged and consoled us, assuring us that we would survive the war.
Those days we felt free and cheerful. We felt as if we were already rid of the Germans, until one Friday at 8 A.M., the partisan army suddenly withdrew, taking with them some of the partisans who had been in the forest before their arrival. At 10 A.M. German airplanes began bombing the villages, destroying and burning the peasant huts, but the partisans were no longer there.
Panic broke out among the partisans who remained in the forest. They said that the Germans would soon attack. The Jews who did not have families fled the forest, but those of with small children could not go. The snow was too deep. We had to rely on a miracle. We wiped away our tracks on the paths and roads and increased our watch patrol day and night.
Our fear continued for ten days. Once, when I and my cousin Dovid Entner were keeping watch, we heard a sleigh passing by, as well as human voices. Frightened, we hid behind a tree, took up our rifles and got ready to defend ourselves. But when the sleigh drove past, we recognized the occupants a Jewish girl who was sitting next to a Pole whom we knew from the forest. They were very glad to see us, and told us that the partisans were returning to the forest. We were very relieved.
Purim arrived. The Jews in the surrounding hiding places gathered at our group's place and someone recited the Megillah by heart. By this time we felt like long established residents of the forest. For one and a half years we had been wandering from one place to another, enduring snow and freezing cold. Oddly, this entire time, there had not been a single case of a child catching a cold.
The news from the front was cheering. The cold let up. They resumed dropping off Russian troops. Once, we were frightened by an airplane circling overhead. We could clearly see that it was German and we ran and hid in the bushes, but luckily they hadn't seen us.
At night we went back to our places but the next day we moved to another location, plot #213, where we had once already stayed.
Before Passover we left the forest to get flour and began baking matzo. We prepared apple wine for the four cups, and we celebrated this Passover in a much better mood than the year before. About 30 people attended the Seder.
On the second day of Passover two commanders of the Russian partisans rode up on horseback and spent several hours with us, comforting us and giving us hope that the war would soon be over. But an hour and half after they left we heard heavy shooting nearby. We grabbed our children and ran deeper into the forest.
The shooting lasted two hours. When it grew quiet, we learned that several hundred Germans had invaded the forest and attacked the Russian partisans. There was a bloody battle and the Germans withdrew, leaving behind several dead.
The partisan army grew stronger by the day, numbering several thousand, and that made us feel safer and more free.
The week of Shavuot we ordered bread from a peasant in Lukowa and when we went to pick it up, a Christian came running, shouting that we should run away immediately because a large group of Germans was approaching. Running through the fields we heard the loud noise made by the German army. The next day we found out that the forest was surrounded by German soldiers. A few days later heavy fighting broke out. German airplanes bombed the forest for two weeks, until the Germans withdrew and the partisans regained control.
The [Russian] troops who were parachuted in made things lively. Their parachutes were made of good silk fabric that we could use to make clothes. The Russians asked for whiskey in exchange. We went around the villages buying up whiskey and traded it for the parachute fabric.
The Peasants Begin to Treat Us with Respect
On June 15 we heard that another group of Germans was coming to attack the forest. The people in the bunker where Efraim Lamerman was living with his 11-month-old child were very fearful because the child kept crying. So, they wrapped her in shawls and cloths until she stopped crying and when they unwrapped her, they found that she had suffocated to death.
A relentless battle raged overhead. There was constant roar and thunder of various weapons. When night fell it grew quiet. But we could hear the Germans speaking quite near to us in the forest. The next day it again thundered. Suddenly the branch that obscured the entrance to our bunker lifted and there entered a man who looked frightened to death, murmuring a prayer to the Virgin Mary. This was a Pole, a member of the A.K. who had fled the fighting. He had wanted to hide in the tree that concealed our bunker, but when he lifted up the branch, he fell into the bunker.
We told him we were partisans. He was starving and begged for a bit of bread. Although we had very little, we gave him some.
Finally, the Germans left the forest. When we emerged into the sunshine the Pole recognized us as Jews and was grateful to us for saving his life. He said his farewells and we went further into the forest, seeking more detailed information. We met other Jews who like us had left their bunkers. Nothing had happened to the Jews in hiding. But many Poles who hadn't wanted to join with the Russian partisans were killed. Their corpses were everywhere. As many as a thousand had been murdered.
The Germans had in fact left the entire area and we resumed our trips to Lukowa to get something to eat. The peasants regarded us with respect. They realized that the Germans were suffering defeats and they change the way they treated us, providing us with food and drink.
The Russian partisans who in the recent battles had withdrawn to other forests started to return and each day brought fresh news. The partisans had radio equipment and we heard news from Moscow about how the Soviet army was seizing one town after another. But one day we heard loud cannon fire. We again prepared a new bunker and concealed it well. The shooting lasted three days and then suddenly stopped.
On a Friday evening when we were already asleep, airplanes began to fly over the forest in the hundreds and thousands all night. It didn't get quiet until the morning, when we learned that Lubaczow, just 25 kilometers away, was already in Soviet hands. We went to pray in a joyful mood at forest plot #26 where all the Jews gathered.
Suddenly a peasant from the village Boroviets came running and told us that the Russians were already here and we were free. Our joy was boundless. People embraced, kissed and wept. But in the midst of this great joy we felt our loneliness. We could leave the forest, but where and to whom could we go? All of our family and friends were dead.
Until now we had lived in such a frenzied effort to escape death that we hadn't felt pain and sorrow for those who had been killed. Now our wounds opened and began to bleed. On the way back to our place I fainted. When I came to, I felt a terrible weakness. I could not move and lay there about two hours. When I felt a bit better, the Russian army was already marching through the forest. I stood up and greeted them. They were very friendly and advised us to leave the forest as soon as possible, because it was possible that the German divisions that had not managed to withdraw were hiding in the forest and could attack us.
Back to Lukowa
It was Saturday, the second day of the month of Av, 5704 [July 22,1944]. We were still sleeping in the forest and the next morning I, along with another Jew, went to my house in Lukowa. A Christian was living there and I demanded that he leave immediately. We rented a wagon and drove back to the forest, loaded the several packs and pots that we had, settled the women and children in the wagon and drove out of the forest.
The entire time that we were driving through the forest we still had the old feeling that we were being pursued, a feeling that had permeated our blood from our long stay there. We constantly looked around as frightened as wild animals, despite the fact that we were armed.
At the beginning of our stay in the forest, we had numbered 300 Jews. When we left, there were no more than 75. All the others had been killed.
Our Christian neighbors visited us, looking at us as if we had risen from our graves. They expressed pity for us, but we knew that many of them would have been glad if we hadn't returned.
For the first time in two years we slept in a house under a roof. We didn't have beds so we slept on the floor and oddly it felt cramped and stuffy inside. We opened the windows to get some air but the stuffiness continued to oppress us and the night was difficult.
The next day Christians from the nearby villages began to come to visit. They wanted to see how we looked tattered, shoeless, half-naked. But when they saw our weapons hanging on the wall, they showed their respect and fear.
I went to see my friendly miller Kolye, who owed me money and who had supported me all this time. He received me warmly, gave me a little money and 100 kilos of rye flour. I and Efraim Lamerman started to make whiskey and sell it to the peasants, making a living this way.
Rescuing Parchment Sheets to Make a Torah Scroll
The month of Elul was approaching and we began to seek out a shofar and a Torah scroll for the High Holy Days. Passing through the village of Mashtshiniets I met a Jewish woman with two children who had hidden with Christians and she told me that there were a shofar and Torah scroll in the attic of her house. We went straight there and found them, but the scroll was missing the first two of its parchment sheets.
I drove to Tarnogrod where several Jewish survivors were living. We searched the vacant houses of the murdered Jews and found several parchment sheets. I took them to Lukowa where we sewed the sheets together and produced a complete Torah scroll.
In the house of a Lukowa peasant I found the Torah ark from our besmedresh [house of study also used for worship]. He immediately handed it over and we began to prepare for the Holy Days.
On the day before Rosh Hashanah we went to the mass grave and wept copiously. We resolved to transport all the corpses to the cemetery in Tarnogrod. This entailed various formalities. We had to obtain certification from a doctor and a permit from the local authorities.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Jews of Tarnogrod and Bilgoraj, lacking enough Jews in their respective towns to constitute a minyan, gathered together in Lukowa. We prayed together in my house for the High Holy Days and for Sukkot as well. We celebrated Simchat Torah with singing and dancing but we remembered everything we had gone through and all of our near ones who had not lived to see this holiday.
A short time later soldiers of the A.K. Polish underground army surrounded my house and searched it. I wasn't home at the time. It turned out they were looking for Efraim Lamerman, whom they suspected had informed on a pharmacist who was connected to the Polish underground. The pharmacist's son, a member of the A.K., had instigated this action against Lamerman.
Luckily, Efraim Lamerman was not in the house. When we came back together from the villages, we shuddered to hear what had happened. Efraim immediately fled and hid. The next day he and his family went to Tarnogrod, where the number of Jews had grown.
Gradually, other Jews from Lukowa also went to Tarnogrod and I remained alone. It was hard for me to abandon my own house. But I had no choice. I didn't want to be the only Jew in town and I decided to go to Tarnogrod. The Christian who had lived in my house while I was in hiding came back.
In Tarnogrod I moved into a house that had once belonged to Manish Shtatfeld. It was near the house of the Tarnogrod rabbi and the besmedresh. I collected all the religious books that were left behind in the attics of vacant Jewish houses, loaded them in a large truck and brought them to my home.
Like many other Jews I set up a shop and began doing business. I made a living but I was very sad. When Sabbath came we thought of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who used to stream into the synagogues and besmedreshim. Now, everything had withered away.
The way to the besmedresh was overgrown with grass. The windows had been knocked out and the doors broken and it seemed as if the dead were hovering in the air. There I was, singing at the Sabbath afternoon meal the same songs with the same melodies that used to come from the rabbi's window. But all around it was dark, dead. Terror seeped into my bones and the melody ceased. I couldn't contain the tears that tore through me.
During the week, I was increasingly absorbed in work. The winter passed and Passover arrived. Again the joy of observing the Seder as free people was mixed with grief over the murdered Jews.
A Jew from the town of Lezajsk, 20 kilometers away, arrived and told us that at night Poles had surrounded a house in which several Jewish families lived. They tried to break in but all the doors were hammered shut, so they threw in explosives, destroyed the house and killed several people. Panic broke out among the Jews in town and they all went to Lublin.
The panic spread to Tarnogrod, where 30 Jewish families were living, and many of them decided to also go to Lublin. Those remaining became increasingly anxious. There was a feeling that something was about to happen. On May 3, 1945, after midnight, we heard a bang on the window and the panes shattered. Several armed bandits broke in and began looting. Pointing their guns at me they demanded money and took my last 2000 zlotys. One of them hit me over the head with an axe and I was knocked unconscious. The bandits revived me and again demanded money. I appealed to their consciences, telling them everything I went through hiding in the forest. The children cried, my wife appealed to them, but instead of answering her, they began to beat her. One of them hit her near her eye and she fell down, covered in blood.
Finally, they took everything from the house and fired a shot in my direction. The bullet flew past my ear and as he left the leader told me I should warn the other Jews that we should all leave Tarnogrod or they would kill us all. They also warned us not to move from our places or leave the house until morning.
Morning came and fear still hovered in our emptied-out house. The bandits had taken all our household goods and clothing. I was wearing only underwear and had nothing to put on to go outside. Then I remembered that I had hidden a sack with some items in the attic and I soon found some pants there.
I got dressed and went out into the street. I told the first Jews I encountered what had happened that night and we started to think about leaving Tarnogrod. Many were opposed because we knew that Polish partisans from the underground were in the forest outside Bilgoraj and they attacked Jews who drove by. We were in despair. To leave would be to risk death from the Polish partisans. To stay where we were would expose us to attack in our houses in the middle of the night.
The day passed in desperate indecision. When night fell we were afraid to stay in our homes and went to sleep elsewhere. Quietly we locked up our houses and went to the abandoned ruined building near the bathhouse and slept on the ground. At dawn we returned to our houses, slinking along the walls so no one would notice we hadn't spent the night there. We did this for several nights. Then we were afraid someone had seen us in the abandoned house and we switched to Naftali Wakslicht's half-ruined vacant house and slept in the attic there.
My cousin Dovid Entner was also living in Tarnogrod. Before the war he had lived in Rozaniec and then with me in the forest. Now he was all alone; his wife and children had been killed. One day he went back to Rozaniec to see what had happened to his property. When he got there some Poles attacked him. He escaped them briefly but the bandits pursued him, caught him and shot him.
That Tuesday, the third day of Sivan 5705 [May 15, 1945], several Christians came to my house and told me that Dovid Entner's body was lying outside of town. I got together with several other Jews and we went to the location and took the corpse to the Tarnogrod cemetery.
Newly Dug Graves
The murder produced a sense of urgency among the Jews. After emerging alive from five years of Nazi persecutions and murders we were once again in peril of being killed by our own neighbors. The desire to flee the town grew constantly stronger.
After Shavuot, a truck from Lublin came to Tarnogrod to sell eggs and we took the opportunity to get a ride to Lublin. There we rented an apartment at #21 Lubartowska Street and began to look into how to make a living. With the help of friends and acquaintances I began to deal in clothing. I travelled to Katowice and Wroclaw where there were a lot of Germans and they sold what they had stolen during the war.
Our material circumstances were satisfactory but we were still oppressed by fear. Every day there was news about the murder of Jews on the road. A Jew was thrown out of the window of the train to Prashnik. A Jew who had gone to Belzec to sell his belongings was shot. Outside of Lublin a Jewish soldier was shot.
Many freshly dug graves appeared in the Lublin cemetery. They were all for people who had survived the war in bunkers and forests who faced death the entire time and emerged alive. Now they were being killed by Poles in whom they had trusted, thinking that they too rejoiced in having rid themselves of a shared enemy, the Germans.
One night, when we were all asleep, there came a knock on the door. When I asked who it was, there was no answer, but the knocking grew louder. I opened the window and shouted into the street to summon the police. I refused to open the door and the people at the door threatened to shoot into the house. They then broke open the door; it was the police.
One police officer began to question me as to why I had been shouting. Meanwhile the other officer went into the next room and opened the window and got ready to throw my merchandise out the window. When I saw that, I began shouting and the police demanded that I show them a receipt for the merchandise. Of course, I had no such accounts. But I categorically opposed their demands. They placed a seal on the door to the room with the merchandise and left.
The next morning I went to the commissariat and demanded they unseal the door. The duty officer denied responsibility saying it wasn't he who had issued the order. I waited and when it became clear that no one else was coming, I myself tore off the seal, removed the merchandise and went to sell it in the market place.
Some time later a libelous rumor circulated in Lublin, that Jews had killed a Christian child. The child was supposed to have lived at #18 Lubartowska Street and there were Christians who said that they had seen traces of the child's blood there. Groups of frenzied Christians began to gather, getting ready for a pogrom. The threat of murder was again in the air. Jews were afraid to go outside and locked themselves in.
At the time, there were Jews who held high-level positions in the army as well as in the secret police. When they were alerted to the danger confronting the Jews in town they quickly organized the military forces, which energetically began to repel the inflamed mobs. Some of the agitators were arrested and this quieted the angry mood of the Christians.
But this incident forced the survivors to consider their future fate. It became clear that there was no longer a place for Jews on Polish soil, soaked with Jewish blood.
Note from the editors [in the original]:
Avrom Haler lives in Israel and is an active member in the Council of the Tarnogrod Landsmanshaft [organization of townspeople].
Translated by Tina Lunson
Each word that is written about the dreadful destruction that befell our people, I swallow with great sorrow, and I think that every surviving Jew must from time to time read through a book that tells about the life in the ghetto. We are forbidden to forget the great destruction that has no comparison in the history of human kind.
One must learn about the destruction not only of ones own shtetl [small village], but also of all the towns and villages in Poland. The memorial books and everything in which the murderous Jewish annihilation is spoken of are our keyver oves [graves of our ancestors] because there are no graves for our nearest and dearest with whose ashes the fields around the Hitleristic death camps were fertilized.
This memorial book for our shtetl was written by us alone. Each surviving Tarnogrod Jew brings a brick to the constructions account, to the gravestone to the memory of our martyrs. We tell about the life of our grandfathers and fathers, about the heroic struggle that they conducted for life and about their martyrs deaths. We tell about the persecutions that were done both by the Germans and by the Ukrainians and Poles. We also tell about each noble act that was performed by the righteous of the nations, the individual Poles who risked their own lives and brought help to the pursued, tormented and persecuted Jews. There were such exceptional people everywhere and they were also in Tarnogrod and in the surrounding shtetlekh [villages].
We tell about the good-heartedness of our dear Tarnogrod Jews, who lived side by side for decades, became bound together as can only happen with good and sincere souls.
Tarnogrod Jews had an insight into the best Jewish character, for charity and for acts of loving kindness. In 1939, when the Hitler troops attacked Poland, thousands of refugees streamed through our town and all were taken in with open arms. A special committee was formed whose assignment it was to see that no refugee went hungry. Even the poorest people took their bread and shared it to the last bite. No refugee was left without a place to sleep at night.
In a far-off Russian town where I lived with several other Jews, there came to us some Jews who had been freed from a camp in Siberia. When we got to talking and they realized that I was from Tarnogrod, two of the Jews stood up and came over to me and greeted me with the greatest warmth.
We will never forget, they said to the whole gathering, the warm hearts of the Tarnogrod Jews, the goodness they showed us when we were fleeing the Hitler hell.
In their memories was etched the name of Yeshaya-Leib Walfish in whose home they stayed four nights, not considering that they were not the only ones. Many others spent the nights there too and to everyone he showed the same hospitality and brotherly love.
These liberated Jews related that throughout their entire wandering they had not found such good-heartedness as they had been shown by the Tarnogrod Jews.
I later learned several facts from the Tarnogrod Jews who had met people in far-off Siberia who considered it an honor to speak with Tarnogrod Jews because they had not forgotten their touching impression of our town.
Such was the character of the Tarnogrod Jew. And we will also teach that spirit to our children, with reverence and love for those martyrs, for whom we bow our heads in deep and ongoing sadness.
Translated by Chesky Wertman
Dedicated to Joseph Fink ZL who helped
me discover the treasures of Tarnogrod
I see you, Tatte
In the early morning hours,
Wrapped in tallis and tefillin.
Also you, Mama,
The children to cheder
You escort them with a prayer.
I see you, Mama,
I see you, Tatte,
Erev Yom Kippur,
How is it that you perished,
Brooklyn, 24 May 1963
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Tarnogrd, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 16 Jan 2023 by LA