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The Horrors of the Holocaust

 

Translated by Sara Mages

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This is not a literary work, the authors of the articles, from the abyss of doom, have no ambitions in this field.

They, the survivors of the Holocaust, yearn to describe their own history, and of all the loved ones and relatives who lived their last days in Wolomin Ghetto, and although they do not pretend to write history, we can easily, from the sequence of their events, imagine the events of the town's Jews.

They are the people dear to us who were murdered in a world full of blood and oppression.

Somewhere, on the border of the torments of the painful souls, we meet with them, past shadows and sounds, and our hearts will ache, will ache.

And from the town of Wolomin, as in all the cities and towns in Poland, a quiet lamentation was heard:

“O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely...
She weeps, yea, she weeps in the night, and her tears are on her cheek; she has no comforter…
For these things I weep; my eye, yea my eye, sheds tears…”

Wolomin, our town, we will carry a lamentation for you, for your Jews because they are gone, we shall remember them forever and devote our memories to their sacred memory.

There is no end to the pain and there is no limit to grief.

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The Holocaust in Wolomin

by Shimon Kantz

Translated by Sara Mages

The history of the Jewish nation is saturated with suffering, tears and blood, throughout its existence, from Pharaoh the king of Egypt, who turned the Jews into slaves, oppressed them and tortured them, and even ordered to throw their sons into the Nile; through Amalek, the evil Haman who plotted to kill and destroy them, the Spanish Inquisition who burned thousands at the stake, the Ukrainian rioters – Khmelnytsky and Petlura, and the Arabs who conducted pogroms, robbed property and murdered Jewish souls.

However, in all this bloody path of suffering, the persecution and murder did not reach, both in terms of their dimensions and in terms of the cruelty of the perpetrators, their methods and their actions, to such a criminal precedent, as the Nazi regime did.

There was nothing in the history of the martyrology of the Jewish people, and not in the history of all the nations of the world, that genocide of a nation would be planned, and carried out, in cold blood and sophisticated technical methods calculated to the minute details.

Only in our generation the regime of a big country arose over a peaceful defenseless population, on men, women, the elderly, children and infants – to exterminate them in all sorts of deaths: starvation, shooting, hanging, killing and suffocation, and all this in horrifying methods while the rest of the countries remained silent and stood on the blood.

The criminal precedent is also in the fact that this mass murder, which has no example in the history of the world, was not done because of a spontaneous flare–up, not according to individual plot, but with a criminal complicity in which thousands and tens of thousands took part, in uniform and without uniform, as well as organizations and units whose sole purpose was to fulfill the crime's tasks.

The heaviest blow was inflicted on the Polish Jewry which, before the war, numbered about 3.5 million. The terror and persecution against the Jews began immediately after the Nazi

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occupation of Poland. It was organized and managed by an organization established by the Germans specifically for this purpose and was headed by the oppressor, Adolf Eichmann, who planned and carried out the annihilation of the European Jewry. His emissaries were attached to all units of the German army and annexed to the regime in all areas of Nazi occupation across Europe.

Germans from all walks of life took an active part in planning the war against the Jews. Lawyers prepared the background, “the trial,” to exclude the Jews from the protection of the law, turn them into defenseless people who can be humiliated, starve them, rob them of everything, enslave them and kill them.

Psychological warfare experts dealt with the exploitation of conflicting views of the local population in religious and cultural fields, and aroused anti–Jewish sentiment. Their economists planned how to dispossess the Jews of all their possessions, even the hair and the gold teeth of the dead. Intellectuals, artists, religious leaders, writers, journalists, and radio personnel, proved the righteousness of evil with great enthusiasm. The engineers designed gas chambers and incinerators, while medical professionals, “experts,” trained on skeletons of human bodies.

The concentration camps became huge centers. Their millions of victims waited in line for death as they watched the smoke coming out of the crematoria's chimneys, symbolizing the end of suffering.

Chemists invent a special gas called “Zyklon.” Several cans of “Zyklon” suffocated thousands at once. German manufacturers removed, with maximum efficiency, the last drop of perspiration from the Jewish slave, free, in hard labor, in starvation, during which the person turned, in a short time, to a – “muselmann” – a dying person.

The German army executed the orders faithfully. There is no mass murder without an army. No deportation without its support. They destroyed ghettos, and where resistance arose – everything turned into ashes. The ruins of Warsaw Ghetto were silent and faithful witnesses to this.

This mighty–force organization landed its blows on the European Jewry, and in order to mislead its victims used devious methods and various tricks to spread illusions until the last moment.

The Germans, in order to ease the task of extermination, established autonomous “Jewish councils” within the ghettos and camps. They were designed to perfect the processes of mass murder. These innocent people thought that cooperating with the oppressor would prevent the decrees, or weaken their power, and when they came to their bitter error – it was too late.

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The Jewish public did not accept the decrees imposed on it by the Germans and opposed them with its meager means in order to withstand the storm.

The resistance was expressed in all fields. In the economy, despite all the decrees and confiscation of Jewish property in industry and commerce, and despite the dispossession of Jews of all means of subsistence and livelihood and cramming them into ghettos, they fought for their existence and also took care of the needy. They fought a desperate war against epidemics, took care, with self–sacrifice and total devotion, sometimes at a high cost of human life, to bring food and medicine into the ghetto.

Despite the ban on schools, the youth studied in private lessons, in courses that were secretly organized. Minyanim were held despite the closure and the burning of the synagogues. Jews prayed in basements and attics. There were underground libraries. Organizations and political youth movements operated in secret and maintained contact with the Polish underground. Despite the terrible terror, and despite the severe prohibition of leaving the ghetto, when the only punishment was death, dozens and hundreds of young people left the ghetto in all sorts of ways and tricks, traveled throughout Poland and maintained a living relationship with the tortured Jews in the ghettos.

* * *

All this also took place in the Wolomin Ghetto, the same gradual liquidation of an entire community, the same epidemics and famine that quickly turned the members of the community into human skeletons, persecution and murder by shooting and hanging.

Panic–stricken, by what was going on, the Jews of Wolomin sought ways to escape. People gave babies to convents or built bunkers to hide until fury passed, and those who did not find shelter made sure to get a certificate from the Germans that they were effective professionals.

In the midst of all this, few found courage and dared to rebel against the horrific reality and joined the partisans.

As mentioned, these were few. As opposed to them, despair gripped and devoured. Helplessness dominated everything and illusions planted by others did not help. The murder machine was activated with all its cruelty and all the Jews of Wolomin, men, women and children, were sent to Treblinka.

Some fled from the cars and later found their death on the roads. A few managed to escape and now write in the book what they had gone through, and what is written is nothing more than a concentrated abbreviation that overlooks many cases and experiences.

Only a few rose from the pile of ruins and tried to draw light

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to the breath of existence. They took great pains, diligently and devotedly, to extract from the ruins of destruction all that is possible to perpetuate the memory of the martyrs, but the words that will express the magnitude of the destruction have not yet been created, that will describe the chambers of hell in which they were tormented, the thousands of different deaths in which our parents, brothers and sisters were extinct from the world.

The Yizkor Book for our community in Wolomin will join, without a doubt, the history book of the Polish Jewry and will serve as a spring to future historians and writers, and a warning to the entire world, not to forget what one nation can do, under the leadership of a murderer, to other nations, and a warning to the Jewish people not to forget “What Amalek did.” A warning to the world Jewry to do everything to prevent the recurrence of mass murder, as it was carried out by the defiled Nazis before the eyes of humanity in the twentieth century.

What was written in the book is very little of what it was, a drop from the sea, a sea of trouble and torture from which our holy brothers and sisters suffered and in which they were tortured. With terrible cruelty they were tortured, and with great courage they bore their suffering, the suffering of a Jew for being a Jew, and with supreme self–sacrifice of Kiddush HaShem they took their last steps as the words “Shema Yisrael” were carried on their lips.

May HaShem avenge their blood!


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Wolomin Jews under Nazi occupation

by Yehiel-Yehoshua Eidelsohn, New-York

Translated by Sara Mages

With a heart filled with of feelings of grief and horror, I try to put on the paper a few things, and segments of things, about the days of the Holocaust in Wolomin, and what happened to the Jews in those days. I must tell, at least, part of everything that we have gone through during those terrible years in the ghetto.

At the beginning of my words I would like to point out that as one of the few who remained alive among those who went through the terrible path of suffering, that a person's imagination is unable to describe, I can proudly testify that we, the Jews of Wolomin, have not lost the image of God in this terrible period, we have not shamed the Jews' honor in general and the name of the community of Wolomin in particular.

All the members of Wolomin, wherever they may be, know that it is their honor to be counted among the family of this town.

Even when we were in a desperate and hopeless situation, not only did we stand up against reality, we also helped the local people and the masses that came from other cities and towns as refugees.

With the arrival of the Germans every day brought with it new decrees and the community committee was required to provide more and more people for forced labor. The Jews were employed in arduous work and were taken to work for whole weeks under poor nutrition conditions.

Life became harder from day to day. Food prices skyrocketed and those, who did not have valuables to exchange with the farmers in the area, suffered from starvation.

The first victims began to fall. Jews were murdered for no reason. There were gendarmes who killed Jews just for the pleasure of murder and without having to explain the reason. Only a notice was sent to the Judenrat about the place where the body of the murdered Jew was lying, and the committee was responsible for his burial.

Only a few fled. There were those who sought refuge with the Polish population but they were turned back. The Poles were, at best, indifferent to the fate of the Jews.

At the beginning there was contact with the Jews of Warsaw Ghetto. Over time the gentiles brought rumors

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about the liquidation of ghettos in the nearby towns. In Wolomin, the Jews deluded themselves that, by doing vital work for the Germans, they would not suffer from a similar fate. The Germans, on their part, encouraged this thought.

The Germans systematically continued their plans.

They declared a confiscation of valuables and furs. The sky of the Jews in Wolomin was covered with black clouds and sadness and without hope for a better future.

The ghetto in Sosnówka was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and a local police guarded that no one would enter or leave.

In the imagination of every Jew were images of horror that he did not talk about. Everyone felt that the ground was burning underfoot. The pace of events and incidents was very fast. Every day, and every hour, brought new decrees and each was different and worse than the other. But, together with that, cruel acts were also committed like the burning of the synagogue and murders, abduction of Jews for forced labor, their humiliation during this work to the point of removing the image of God from them and the imposition of financial penalties in astronomical amounts.

It was a heartbreaking sight to see how gentle and spiritually intelligent Jews were led from place to place to clean the streets, and during their work they had to dance with the broom.

The discrimination, the insults and the curses of the animals in human form, were occasionally accompanied by blows until blood flowed, and only by miracle they withstood these attempts and returned home broken in their bodies and whole in their spirit.

I will never forget the night, the night of Hoshana Rabbah, when we saw flames breaking through the windows of Beit HaMidrash. The gentiles stood around Beit HaMidrash and watched, with expression of joy and satisfaction, the destruction of Judaism and its temple.

In the evening I entered the rabbi's home and saw him sitting on the floor without noticing me, and I heard a conversation between him and God. He pleaded: “Ribono Shel Olam, how can you watch what's happening here? This Beit Midrash, which absorbed the Torah and the prayers of God-fearing Jews, and just ordinary people, who poured their heart there with supreme devotion, a place in which the voice of Torah did not stop for even a moment, was destroyed in such a despicable and humiliated way by the defiled murderers without any response.”

And as he spoke he banged his head on the wall, sat and cried like a little boy trying to get what he wanted with his tears.

When he noticed me he said in my direction, “See what happens to us ... What is our sin?”

I sat next to the rabbi and wept.

With a silent greeting I parted from the rabbi and in the darkness of the night I cautiously returned home, shocked and frightened by what my eyes had seen.

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I saw the skeletons of the smoky walls of Beit HaMidrash and they stood like tombstones on the grave of the Jews of Wolomin and its temple.

Over time, I saw the continuation of the process of destruction brought by the defiled hand of the oppressor of our community, destruction without revival and loss without compensation.

Rumors upon rumors arrived about deportations and the extermination of Jews from nearby towns and cities, faint news filtered about the establishment of death camps and gas chambers. We saw the transports to Treblinka, cars full of Jews being taken from their homes, some with suitcases and some nude and destitute.

I admit and confess: I do not give an account of the tragic events and write even a tiny bit of the terrible tribulations in the last darkest stage. Can a human heart understand, and can one's thoughts capture, even in the imagination, the feelings of people condemned to death as a sharp sword is placed on their neck?

When rumors grew that the turn of Sosnówka Ghetto for deportation and extermination is drawing near, it is impossible to describe the panic and the depression that have taken place. The sound of crying, prayers and pleading, came from every Jewish home. Everyone felt his end was coming. People were running around like in a trap searching for refuge in times of trouble, but all the roads were desolated and blocked.

The gendarmes caught Jews who tried to save their lives in a hiding place. The Jews were brutally tortured and beaten, and after the torture they were loaded onto trucks that disappeared to an unknown location…

If I were a writer, and devoted a thick book only for the deportation, even then I could not describe the tragic events in those terrible hours.

Small children were brutally removed from their mothers' lap and thrown into the cars or shot on the spot. Shocked, broken and devoid of any response, we stood watching the departing train. However, we have not been given time to observe our situation. With blows and shouts we were driven from place to place. The elderly and the weak fell without getting up. The shouts and the moans of the beaten continued for hours upon hours.

Beaten to the point of bleeding, with swollen callused feet, people stood in line to get a serving of soup. The noise, the shouts and the crying continued throughout the hours of the day and night.

Indeed I saved my life, but from here, until the end of torture and suffering, the road was still long. I will not elaborate on the additional wanderings with my family, in hiding, in a bunker and in a thick forest because I cannot put them in writing, even a tiny fraction of all the wanderings and the chambers of hell that we had gone through until we arrived there, and also the continuation of our struggle for our lives there and afterwards and, all the more so, the purpose of the memorial book is not to perpetuate the history of any individual or individuals.

I will not forget to mention the day when I returned with my brother, Shlomo, to Wolomin

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after the Germans retreated. As in a bad dream I saw the area in which Jewish life took place. All its tenants, its rich and poor, its “heders” and workshops, disappeared. The streets and the alleys are filled with gloom and despair. There are no houses of worship in our town without Jews. Those who walk here, the Poles - do they remember them? Mention them? Their lives, their deaths?

We peer into the houses where we knew each tenant. The houses are full, full. No empty space left for those who are gone. Those who do not know will not know what happened here.

The brain, apparently, cannot absorb the reality of terror. Our whole being is incapable of absorbing it. Here everyone continues with his normal life. The restaurant is full of diners who eat with appetite and their eyes sparkle with the satisfaction of the desire to eat, with these hands, with these many hands, that vigorously working with a spoon and a fork, and their faces rejoicing.

No, we cannot absorb the horrors of reality. Only in a dream at night it wears real and also strange forms.

We walk from street to street with a feeling of distress, the distress of a nightmare, a feeling of destruction.

The streets - their closeness is gone, they were taken at once from my love, my longing, my desire to tread in them. As in a horror dream that suddenly distances the family and relatives.

In a slow step saturated with anxiety, I approached the house that contained everything, our apartment, mornings and nights, longings and love, misunderstandings and reconciliations. With a burden of grief I stood still beside it, like next to a grave, and ashes strewn on the heart.

Here, next to this house, we cried openly, without shame and without disguising our feelings. Passers-by looked at us, some with an ironic smile and some in fear that we came to claim back the property they had stolen. And we did not want anything anymore, just to run away, to get out of a town inhabited by ghosts, ghosts of streets and alleys, ghosts of houses, ghosts of abandoned graves.

To save this town that is preserved in our soul, the beloved and the cherished. To save it as it had been preserved in the safest refuge from the devastating touch of time, life, history - in the depths of our hearts and in the depths of our memory.


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The News of the Liquidation

by Miriam Grodzitsky-Feignbaum

Translated by Sara Mages

Life in the town deteriorated daily and became hell on earth. The Germans conducted raids in public and private places, abducted Jews, both boys and old men, and employed them in hard physical labor. The abductees were forced to carry heavy sacks full of sand under the constant supervision of tyrants who abused their victims with great anger. They beat and kicked them with generous hand, not to mention the curses and hatred they constantly hurled at them.

In the town the food ran out in the shops and in the market, the overcrowding in the apartments was suffocating because several families of refugees found shelter in every Jewish home, they and their meager belongings.

In the ghetto, we, fourteen people, lived in an attic, in two rooms and a kitchen: my mother, my brother Yehiel with his wife and their three children, my brother Matityahu, my sister Chaya-Gitel with her husband and their two children, the two daughters of my brother Yakov and me.

It should be noted, in praise of the people of Wolomin, that they willingly volunteered to help the unfortunate refugees. In Sosnówka Ghetto they crowded together in a small place in order to house the refugees, divided their bread with them and encouraged their oppressed spirit.

That was how the people of Wolomin had always been, and they did not change their ways in times of anger and wrath.

I remember, from the days of my childhood, that my father devoted himself to helping others, and so did others. Wolomin had a reputation as a center of charity and love of Israel, until the enemies came and leveled it to the ground.

The night of Shemini Atzeret arrived.

The mood in the ghetto was tense and depressed. All the ghettos in the area had already been liquidated, only Wolomin and Radzimin remained. We waited for our tragic end. There were moments when we asked for the end to come quickly, because the expectation of death was terrible. We knew our end was approaching.

The Jews secretly organized to pray in a “minyan” at one of the neighbors. A sea of tears poured on the prayer books that were open before the men's faces. The prayers sought their way to the heavens, up to the Throne of God.

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There were those who tried to sing, but the mood was not festive. An overwhelming despair took over the holiday.

My mother said: “children, today is a holiday, it is forbidden to be sad.”

But her eyes looked at us with a piercing grief, as if she felt that this was our last night together.

She began to set the table. Two small loaves of black bread constituted the holiday meal. Two small candles tried to drive out the darkness in the room and in the heart. My mother made the candles with her own hands.

My brother, Matityahu, returned from the prayer, washed his hands and got ready for the “Kiddush,” and as he was still standing with wet hands the door opened and Chancza, the daughter of our brother Mordecai, entered pale as chalk and stood without uttering a word.

The end that we had been waiting for in the last few weeks had come, yet, it hit us like a thunder.

Although we knew the bitter reality we waited, deep in our hearts, for a miracle.

The miracle did not come. Chancza's white face and her frightened eyes brought us the terrible news: Here's the end!

It's hard for me to say how long we stood paralyzed with fear, the words and the questions choked in the throat. Maybe it lasted only minutes, maybe an hour,

“Mother, what's happening, mother? Did the gendarmes come to kill us?”

 

The monstrous laugh

Here is the black reality with all its horror. Here came the enemies who seek our blood and the blood of everyone called a Jew, and we are in mortal danger. At that moment the gendarmes' laughter echoed in my ears. A short while ago, before we moved to the ghetto, we were in the shop: my mother, my sister Chaya-Gitel with her husband Pinchas and me. Two gendarmes passed by. We tried to hide deep in the shop so they would not see us, but they entered, took Pinchas out and ordered him to cross to the other side of the street and stand against the wall. My sister burst into tears and tore her hair. My mother pleaded before the gendarmes and asked them for mercy. But the murderers screamed and pushed her back.

Pinchas stood next to the wall with failing knees, pale as chalk and muttering: “Shema Yisrael.”

The armed gendarmes took out a camera, took Pinchas' picture and burst out laughing, a hollow laughter, like the sound of tin, echoed over the houses for a long time.

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It was a terrible laugh, a monstrous laugh that resonates in my ears to this day.

And another terrible picture was engraved in my memory.

 

How they murdered Yoel

We lived in the ghetto not far from the barbed wire fence. Between our windows and the barbed wire fence was an empty lot. It was a beautiful day. I looked out the window and saw Yoel lying on the grass.

I do not know why Yoel lay down on the grass. Maybe he wanted to enjoy some fresh air since it was terribly crowded in the apartments.

I stood and watched how beautiful it was outside, how beautiful the world was for everyone - except for the Jews.

Suddenly I noticed that gendarmes were approaching the ghetto.

I left the window out of fear, because the arrival of gendarmes always ominous.

A few minutes later there was a terrible cry.

I approached the window and my eyes encountered a terrible sight. The gendarmes took Yoel out of the ghetto and ordered him to run. Two shots were heard, a terrible scream, and deathly silence.

Yoel fell dead.

The bloodthirsty Germans were satisfied. Their faces expressed satisfaction. They went to the Judenrat and ordered that the murdered man be brought into the ghetto.

 

In the spilled sea of blood

The clear recognition led us toward apathy, toward death.

We recovered despite the terror of death. It was a kind of religious experience that confronts the man and the absolute beyond the imagined reality of things.

And you don't have more intensive moments in life than the moments of standing in the face of the certainty of death, the fear, the sense of humiliation and the insult of terror, fall apart with the murderers' outburst.

My mother and sisters began pressuring me to escape and try to save my life. They, too, decided to hide. Only moments of extreme vitality that flare up in the presence of death remained, and I gave in to a glimmer of hope: maybe I could to help them.

That night I managed to get out of the ghetto into the darkness of the night and my ears caught the triumphant shouts of the Germans surrounding the ghetto. I trudged slowly to escape from the valley of slaughter to a hiding place.

When dawn came, the ghetto of the Jews of Wolomin was destroyed.

My family was among the few who tried to hide, but the day after the liquidation of the ghetto the Germans found their hiding place and murdered them all.

A terrible silence took over the ghetto.


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From the Depths of the Abyss

Tzipora Levita-Grodzitska

Translated by Sara Mages

I managed to finish six grades when we had to leave our home in Wolomin and move to Sosnówka Ghetto. The panic in the Jews' homes already broke out the day before. In the morning, when it began to clear, whole families, frightened and anxious, began to emerge from all the town's streets, from all the Jews' courtyards. They walked on the sidewalks, and in the middle of the road, laden with baskets, boxes and suitcases. Sacks bent the shoulders of the Jews until their faces were not visible. It was difficult to differentiate between one to the other.

The town emptied. Housewares and discarded old clothes were scattered along the road. Emptiness wandered from yard to yard, and from time to time the cry of a mother calling for her child, who had disappeared in the crowd, pierced this emptiness.

My father managed to escape from the ghetto. He wanted to sneak across the border, find refuge there, and later also get us out. We later learned that the Germans murdered him in Slonim.

In those days it was forbidden to leave the ghetto. My older sister risked her life and went outside the ghetto's border. She took me with her because we had to work in order to support the family.

We engaged in smuggling. We smuggled food, which we bought from the farmers, to Warsaw Ghetto, and brought back clothes, shoes and socks that we exchanged again with the farmers for food.

When we left the ghetto we never knew if we would be able to return. We put our trust in the Divine Providence.

We traveled by the train to the outskirts of the city, to Praga, and from there by tram that traveled to the Polish neighborhoods through the ghetto. Polish policemen made sure that no one got off the tram as it passed through the ghetto. The policemen, who accompanied the tram on its journey through the ghetto, usually performed their duty properly.

How did we manage? There were drivers who liked to take bribes and knew which of the policemen, who accompany the tram, also like to take bribes. They gave us signs by which we knew whether it was allowed, or forbidden, to get on the tram.

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When we received the permitting signal we got off in the turns where the driver slowed down, but also here we did not get off, we jumped. The policemen, or the drivers, did not constitute the main problem, but the civilians who were called “Szmalcowniki” [blackmailers].

They had a special talent for identifying Jews, even if they had Aryan facial features. They even knew how to explain how they succeeded in this, “your eyes betray you” - they said. No wonder, at that time the Jews' eyes expressed depression, sadness and fear.

The “Szmalcownik” knew how to exploit their talent. They attacked the Jewish traveler and stripped him of everything. In this manner they became rich from the terrible disaster of the unfortunate.

On my travels to Warsaw I had a chance to take care, without success, of a five, or six years old, Jewish boy - and the story is as follows.

In Sosnówka Ghetto lived the Shapira family, and this family had a married daughter in Warsaw. Once, Mrs. Shapira was informed that her daughter and son-in-law had died and their only son, who was five or six, was left unattended. Mrs. Shapira asked me to bring her grandson from an address she knew. My mother objected to that because she saw it as a terrible risk. Once, when I left the ghetto, I saw Mrs. Shapira standing and waiting for me. “Save my grandson”- she begged me - “thanks to this, God will save your father because he too needs mercy.”

I agreed to bring the boy. I found him in a dismal state, hungry and dressed in rags. He was with his uncle who previously owned a clothing store and lived in the ghetto. I got him suitable clothes, dressed him and together we took the tram to Praga. On the tram, apart from us, were Germans and Poles. Suddenly, the boy began to speak in Yiddish and tell in a loud voice: “Here, in this house we lived … on this street…"

In an instant we were surrounded by policemen. They took us off the tram and brought us to the police station where we were beaten countless times. The policemen were convinced that I was a Christian who wanted to save a Jewish child for a decent payment.

Fortunately, a member of my family saw me walking with the policeman, understood what was going on, called my relatives and they rushed to bribe the police chief. With the last of my strength I dragged myself home.

The ghetto was liquidated on 2 October, 1942.

We felt that we could no longer suffer and, in spite of it, we deluded ourselves that our situation would change.

The day before the liquidation of the ghetto I left with my sister to visit the labor camp in Izabelin, a distance of about twelve kilometers from Wolomin, where they dug “turf,” for heating furnaces. According to an agreement between the Judenrat and the Germans, eighty young people from Wolomin had to be employed in digging “turf.”

Twice a week the gendarmes came to the ghetto and left laden with silver and gold, gifts from the parents of the young people in the hope that their children would survive.

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My sister and I left with the same gendarmes for Izabelin. We hoped to return home in the evening, but we did not find transportation to Sosnówka and spent the night in Izabelin.

At night we heard shots, but we did not know where they came from. Shortly before sunrise, at four o'clock, the teenager, Brodshtein, came and told us that the ghetto was liquidated at night. He jumped off the train to Treblinka.

It was clear that we should not return to Wolomin. After many hardships we, my sister and I, arrived in Milanówek. There, we managed to obtain documents with Aryan names and thanks to them we managed to get a job in Warsaw.

From time to time I visited the camp in Izabelin. A few weeks later, on my way to Izabelin I came across gendarmes on horseback and they were happy and cheerful. When I arrived in Izabelin a blood-curdling silence jumped over me. The Polish manager, Frank, sat on the hut's threshold and quietly played the accordion.

Shocked to the depths of my soul, I followed Frank to the hill where the bodies of the murdered were buried.

One head protruded from the ground, it was the young son of Shabtai Dubner.

 

Of the Righteous Among the Nations

During that time I visited the teacher Zawadzki in Wolomin. He was a member of the Polish underground. He welcomed me nicely and said:

“My home is at your disposal. You can stay, but you must know that it is dangerous, the Germans are watching me.”

He allowed me to take everything I needed from his home.

Zawadzki restored my faith in humanity and instilled in me a glimmer of hope.

Despite the certificate and my Aryan face, I aroused the suspicions of villains who denounced me and started to follow me, and I had to move to Warsaw.

 

The ghetto uprising

As I mentioned, my uncle, my mother's brother, lived in Warsaw Ghetto. After the liquidation of his store he was left with a certain amount of goods and from that he made a living. The Poles entered the ghetto in various ways and brought food in exchange for fabrics, socks, etc.

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Before Passover 1943, I had the opportunity to be with my uncle. He decided to conduct a “seder” and asked me to get raisins for him. I left the ghetto on April 18, and when I returned the next day with the raisins I managed to get to Nalewki Street and was not allowed to walk further.

The revolt broke out.

In the morning hours, announcements calling for an armed revolt appeared on the ghetto's walls. The slogans: “To die with dignity!” also appeared.

The first confrontation took place on Nalewki Street when the first German unit got closer to the triangle, Nalewki-Gesia-Francuskana. A hail of bullets, hand grenades and Molotov cocktails rained down on the Germans.

The battle on Nalewki Street ended in the rebels' victory. The Germans retreated leaving their wounded.

 

I returned to the “Aryan side”

The term, “Aryan side,” was adopted after the establishment of the ghetto in Warsaw in November 1940. From then on, Warsaw was divided into two separate parts: the Aryan side and the Jewish side. With the closure of the Jewish population in the ghetto the contact with the Aryan side became quite difficult.

At the time of the establishment of the ghetto the number of Jews on the Aryan side was very small. Assimilated and converted Jews also lived in the ghetto for fear of punishment. Only a small handful of people of Jewish origin remained on the Aryan side. They had family ties with the Polish environment and could not summon the strength to wear the “Jewish ribbon.”

It goes without saying, that the Hitlerites often caught these “criminals” and sent them to Pawiak Prison or to Auschwitz.

Only with the opening of the first “aktzia” to liquidate the ghetto on July 1942, only then, a considerable number of Jews began to move from the ghetto to the Aryan side. The first group to move there was part of the working Jewish intelligentsia who had friends and acquaintances among the Poles. A number of wealthy people also moved there.

This wave increased after the second “aktzia” on January 1943, when the hope of surviving in the ghetto was very slim. In those days this wave already flooded various social strata and also some of the public activists.

[Page 392]

Also during the ghetto uprising, and after its suppression, a certain number of Jews were saved by escaping to the Aryan side. There was also a fairly large group of people there, especially the young, who jumped off the trains on the way to Treblinka.

I was among those who had a “good” appearance, meaning that they did not have a typical Semitic appearance and spoke fluent Polish.

When I read in an ad the newspaper that a family was looking for a housemaid, I turned to them. I met twelve young women there who wanted to work, and only two of them were hired. I was among those who were allowed to stay in the house until they found work. There were also Jews among them, but no one knew their origin. Most were Polish women who came from small towns in the Russian occupied area.

I finally found a job and tried to be diligent. They were probably satisfied with me, but I did not work for long time because they asked for a residence registration certificate from a previous period.

The vast majority of Jews, who lived in the Aryan side, were forced to hide, to be “on the basis of knowledge,” meaning, with the knowledge of the homeowners who brought in Jews. Most of them lived in hideouts built specifically for this purpose.

Of course, this arrangement involved large expenses. I only had the option of getting a job and living openly without revealing my Jewish origin.

There were many like me. These people did not hide. After obtaining forged certificates, first of all a birth certificate, an identity card and also a residence registration certificate, they registered as required by law.

It took a few days of searching until I found a job in a place that did not require a residence registration certificate, but it was precisely there that I had bad luck.

It was a family from the aristocratic stratum in Warsaw, wealthy and privileged. Once, after midnight, the men of the Gestapo broke into the apartment, ordered all the tenants to stand before them and announced: “A Jew is hiding among you, if he comes out on his own we would not conduct a search.”

No one came out.

Then, the men of the Gestapo approached the homeowner, Sulima was his name, and said to him: “you are a Jew!” and took him to prison.

The event caused me great grief. I felt the family's pain and looked for ways to help them.

I knew that Zusia Lipman was active in the Polish underground, and her friend had an important position in the underground leadership. I turned to Zushia and days later I received an answer that it was possible to release Sulima at a price of 60,000 zloty.

[Page 393]

I hurried with the answer to Sulima's wife and she caused me trouble. The family suspected me of being a spy for the Germans, and that I had sneaked into their house to inflict disaster on them and win some of the ransom.

My explanations did not help and they fired me.

The wanderings from house to house began again and continued until the end of the war.

It is worth considering that also the Polish population, that Aryan side, lived under Hitler's whip of terror. Frequent searches, arrests, “street abductions,” searches in the trains and the trams, deportation to work, the Pawiak Prison nightmare, the horrors of the concentration camps to which tens of thousands of Poles were sent - all these were the daily fate of the population of Warsaw. More than once, the blood of those executed in the middle of the street flowed through the streets of Warsaw.

Despite all this, many Poles helped the Hitlerites to spread anti-Semitic venom in all possible ways, and carried out incessant propaganda against the few Poles who helped the Jews.

In comparison to the ghetto, life on the Aryan side was like “paradise.” The difference in those days was striking: on one side of the walls - death, torture and destruction, while on the other side - a relatively “normal” life - in the shadow of the terror of the Nazi beast.

 

On the ruins

With the liberation of Warsaw I returned to Wolomin out of hope of finding someone from my family.

My heart exploded inside me at the sight of the destruction.

Despair struck me and coolness pinched my heart and soul. Loneliness and apathy took hold of me with no way out.

The Jews of Wolomin were liquidated and their property was robbed.

Despite all these torments, people tried to draw hope and cling to life, wanted to build, rehabilitate, and re-grow felled branches.

Indeed, I met a few Jews who came with the same glimmer of hope in the heart, and were bitterly disappointed.

These moments were the worst in our lives. We could not believe, and could not accept the bitter truth that that slapped our faces.

During the short time we were in town we received threatening letters, in which the Poles informed us that if we did not leave Wolomin quickly, they would murder us and our fate would be similar to the fate of all the slaughtered Jews of Wolomin.

We knew that the Poles could carry out their threat and we left Wolomin, this time forever.

[Page 394]

On the train to Lodz a Pole entered my compartment. I immediately recognized him as the man that I worked in his house as a maid and the Germans arrested him as a Jew. He also recognized me, attacked me with insults, shouted that I worked as an informer for the Gestapo and spat in my face. Immediately people gathered around us, got me off the train and continued with insults and cursing. I burst into tears and tried to convince them that I was innocent, but to no avail.

All this took place in a small train station between Warsaw and Lodz. It seemed to me that my end was approaching and I was falling victim to a serious mistake. Suddenly we came across a Russian officer who was walking on the platform. He approached us and asked for an explanation for the commotion. I began to explain to him, but he did not understand Polish. I was surprised to hear from him that he was Jewish and he started to talk to me in Yiddish.

The Poles were astonished.

I saw how Sulima's face had changed. He understood his mistake, fell on my neck, kissed my hands, and his lips murmured words of forgiveness and apologies.

 

From darkness to light

In Lodz I met my husband and married him.

In 1950 we arrived in Israel.

With that, my memories of the period of horrors and the period of transition from darkness to light, came to an end.

Today I live with my family, and my people, in the independent and free State of Israel. I am excited and thrilled at the sublime wonders that take place every day in our country, both on the security level and in bringing Jewish immigrants from all over the world, the building of the country and the revival of the holy language.

I bow my head, with respect and admiration, to our brave and fearless sons and daughters, the soldiers of Israel Defense Forces, who stand on guard day and night and protect the borders of our country in the land, sea and air, and the security of the people living in Zion.

The great privilege that Divine Providence has given me to live and work in the State of Israel compensates me, to great extent, for the atrocities and tortures I experienced during the years of calamity and wrath.

The flourishing and prosperous State of Israel is a symbol of revenge for the massacre of six million martyrs, God's overwhelming response to the Holocaust that destroyed the best of the Jewish people, the glorious European Jewry.

I will never forget the noble figures of my parents, my brothers and sisters, my uncle and aunt, my relatives and the residents of my town, Wolomin, who were cut down, in various deaths, by despicable monsters.

I will never forget the destruction of my town.


[Pages 395-396]

In the Valley of Slaughter

by Tova Silberstein-Yagoda

Translated by Sara Mages

The Germans entered Wolomin on the eve of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. The next day the Jews were ordered to open the shops, German soldiers arrived immediately, threw all the goods into the street and they were looted by the Polish mob.

Our anxiety is indescribable. Great terror enveloped us. But with all our might we restrained ourselves so that they would not recognize what was happening within us.

The Jews were afraid to go to the synagogue and organized "minyanim" in private homes. When the Germans discovered them, they expelled them dressed in tallitot and forced them to clean the toilets in Broszczynski's house. Among the deportees was also the slaughterer, R' Baruch Branzweig, who was forced, together with everyone, to clean the toilet with his own hands.

Life became more difficult day by day. The Germans caught Jews in the street and forced them to carry buckets full of water. Those who spilled a little water were brutally beaten.

The Jews began to look for ways to escape. We too were among the escapees to the Russian border. A Polish carter brought us to Bialystok. On the way the Germans stopped us, conducted searches and took all our meager property.

The women and children rode in carts. The men walked on side roads.

We stayed in Bialystok for about three months. We sold the few things we managed to hide from the Germans. My two sisters, who came with me, returned to Wolomin in order to bring our parents with them, but they did not return. The fate of all Polish Jews also befell them.

The men of the N.K.V.D in Bialystok began the deportation of the refugees. They came to us at night and loaded us on trucks that took us to the train station.

For six weeks we traveled under terrible conditions until we reached the Arkhangelsk Forests. There we were employed in logging. I brought the trees to the river and they arrived with the current to different cities.

We lived in wooden huts and when a typhus epidemic broke out I too became infected. I went through all the hardships until we were released in 1941 and traveled to Turkestan. There, the men were drafted into the Polish army and with it they left the Soviet Union and arrived in Eretz Yisrael.

We, the women and children, were left alone without means. We suffered deprivation and hunger. Many died. I got a job in a factory, but it was impossible to survive from the meager salary.

At the end of the war we began to wander west, from one train to another.

 

wol396.jpg
The members of the Yagoda family

 

According to legend, the hearts of parents and children are tied with a thin thread that can be stretched without limit. It stretches under the influence of geographical distances and expanses of age and time, but remains attached forever.

When we were children in our home in Wolomin, it seemed that the invisible thread was very sensitive and every slight movement in our souls, the soul of a family member, immediately took the whole family out of its serenity and it rushed to help. In this way the family was connected and felt, in all its essence, the feeling of supreme love that beat in the hearts of the parents and operated among the whole family.


[Page 397]

A Wedding in the Ghetto

by Pela Stalik

Translated by Sara Mages

In a whisper they talked about it in the ghetto. The Germans shouldn't have known what was going to happen. The preparations were made with sadness. Grief hovered on the parents' faces and the young couple looked at each other in trembling and fear. No one thought of music, singing and dancing.

A wedding in the ghetto - an almost tragic event.

The Germans forbade the Jews to marry, but the ban did not help. Life has its own laws, stronger than the orders of the Germans and the fear of death.

The blessings were sad, and the wishes of the parents and the relatives who congratulated their children and wished them a better life.

The ghetto in Wolomin was small and cramped. It was divided into two sections: the "blocks" and "Sosnówka." At the beginning of the ghetto the apartment blocks were at the edge of Sosnówka.

Only burnt ruins remained of them, and fear solidified in the eye sockets. We were surrounded by walls and policemen guarded the gates, S.S men disguised as human beings. They ambushed children like beasts of prey.

Jewish children died more easily, especially the infants, because they were not yet afraid, and if mother and child fell together, they were happy.

Not a day went by that the Germans did not prepare surprises for us. The moans of the tortured and the cries of the dying were music for the Germans, Beethoven's symphony.

If they had heard of a wedding in the ghetto, they would have given the couple and guests a death meal.

Therefore, a wedding in the ghetto became a secret act, and in place of music and singing, the participants in the meal recited verses of Tehillim that were familiar to them and soothed the fear in their hearts. Their lips moved in silent prayer so that their voice would not be heard and would draw death upon them.

 

wol398.jpg
The Stalik family

[Pages 398-399]

Days of great horror

It is a pure psychological phenomenon that after the bloodshed a strong desire for life arose in the ghetto, and from time to time the ghetto took on the image of a small town and adapted to the unusual conditions. Fear and anxiety were felt day and night, there were no schools, the youth were devastated, little children grew old prematurely, and everyone repeated the same words: What will happen? What to do? Escape? Where? How?

In those days it was customary to say: We will survive them.

Along with the fear many hopes for good days were also woven, and immediately the disappointment came and brought the recognition of the bitter reality. Horror and fear fell upon us and we realized that more bad and terrible days would come.

There was a force that held us all together in the ghetto, one comforted the other and the Jews of the ghetto became one miserable family.

It was forbidden to leave the ghetto, it was punishable by death. Still, people risked their lives to bring something to eat.

It is difficult to remember things that are very painful, but we must not forget them. I remember how the Germans captured a young girl who came out of the ghetto. The Germans murdered her.

The Germans burnt and murdered for only one reason: we were Jews.

I had an uncle, Yosef Zilbershtein, who was very devout. He obeyed all the Nazi's decrees, except for one decree. He refused to part with his tallit, the Germans murdered him together with his tallit.

On the day of the liquidation of the ghetto one called to the other: "escape," but it was already too late. The ghetto was surrounded by the men of the Gestapo. Where? Where to escape? A trap lay in wait for us in every place.

But, despite the fear we escaped at the last moment. There was no place to hide or turn for help. The Germans, as well as the Poles, ambushed us. We, the three of us, my husband, my brother-in-law and I lost each other. I remembered the address of a Polish family that my husband instructed me to turn to. I arrived at the Polish house and asked for permission to stay for only one night. They refused me, they were afraid, because the Germans searched the houses for Jews in hiding.

I finally found a Polish family, who agreed for a fee of five hundred zloty to let me sleep one night in the barn with the chickens under the condition that if the Germans found me there, I must say that I snuck into the barn without their knowledge.

There were many more difficult days of sufferings and tribulations, also in the road that I went through alone with Aryan papers.

The long-awaited day of liberation has come, but I was not happy that day. The day of liberation was imbued with sadness, accompanied by tears and deep pain for those who were no longer with us.

May their memory be blessed.

 

wol399.jpg

 

[Pages 400-404]

Rosh Hashanah, 1942

by Dvorah Grodzitzki–Schicht

Hard by the railroad tracks between Warsaw and Wolomin is the vacation village Sosnovka where the Jews of Wolomin were sent into the ghetto.

This was a large district with a small number of houses and cabins. The crowding, therefore, was terrible. On the average, ten people lived in each room.

In 1940, when the decree was promulgated, no one who lived in the ghetto would have thought that we would witness the funeral processions of hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of Jews on their death march that went from Warsaw and passed by Sosnovka on the way to Treblinka.

In those days, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, 1942, in the small ghetto of Sosnovka, things were astir. From the surrounding ghettos came horrifying reports of liquidation. The word “liquidation” hung in the air like a nightmare. People ran around like stampeding animals seeking a hiding place where they could save themselves, or a piece of advice, or a way out.

People escaped from one ghetto to another seeking a hint that would give them security or hope, assurance that surely the ghetto would be preserved. When that illusion came to an end, they tried to find another place, another ghetto, with the same hope, with the same accounting for the future, with the same false thoughts that there the Jews would be more fortunate…a guess that so far the Jews there had been left in peace. They hung on a promise, an assurance from a Nazi commander or policeman who gave them to understand that it would be different elsewhere.

People knew that the decree had been sealed. But everyone grasped at straws, went after the slightest bit of hope, of illusion, that everything was not lost. This was the illusion of life that comes at the most difficult times, when the heart stops beating because of the horror, because of the fear for little children who see death before their eyes and whose silent looks ask: Why?

At the same time, twice a day trains arrived with boxcars packed with Jews. These were transports on their way to Treblinka. They would stand there for a little while. One could see there different types of Jews: Greek, French, Belgian, Dutch, and others, in different types of clothing, with hats and umbrellas. Through the slats we could hear their questions: “Is it far from here to the colony of Treblinka?” Jews were afraid to approach the cars, but passing Poles relayed their questions. We could hear their voices in the ghetto, but we could not make out their words.

Not so naïve were the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, although in the earliest days of the campaign they did not believe that they were being led to their deaths. We recognized the Warsaw transports by the sound of their sorrow and suffering that emerged through the barred windows.

From one of the windows came a weak voice begging for water. From another car one could hear a child begging for a cup for a physiological necessity. Their voices went into a vast wilderness.

From many cars, pale, pained faces looked out, and their glances seemed as if they scorched the earth and in their last minutes sought among the passing Poles a familiar face. Perhaps they sought someone from their family who had escaped to the Aryan side, a husband or a wife. There were some who in their last minutes tested the strength of the bars but ended up powerless and despairing.

There were times when Jews jumped out of the train cars. They were seldom successful in escaping. Usually they were greeted by a bullet from a Ukrainian, German, or Polish murderer.

The Wolomin Jews in Sosnovka saw all this from afar. Twice a day the trains went by, one at dawn and the other in the afternoon. No one knew how many Jews were in each transport, but people said that each transport represented six thousand souls. The Jews in the Sosnovka ghetto calculated that each day, twelve thousand Jews went to an awful death.

Such was the atmosphere in Sosnovka. And with such thoughts, people approached the High Holidays. Even going to the Selichos service was a problem. It was forbidden to leave our houses from seven o'clock in the evening until five in the morning. The curfew was strictly enforced. Transgressors received capital punishment. Still, people came together in minyans and recited Selichos. People hid by the walls, took hidden paths, and in an apartment in a nearby neighborhood they gathered, wept, begged forgiveness and purification.

Oddly, at that time the Jews were particularly free of sin, but they were more fervent in begging forgiveness for their transgressions. Were their terrible sufferings, their inhuman pain that they felt day in and day out, not punishment for their sins? Was simple existence itself a sin?

So Selichos night passed and Rosh Hashanah arrived.

People gathered early to pray and they arranged to finish early so as not to be noticed by the murderers. Such prayers! Whoever prayed or heard such prayers could never get the sound of her ears.

Everyone was suffused with sacred trembling, the men wrapped in their taleisim and the women in their headscarves sobbed and cried. The two crowded rooms gave off an atmosphere of mournful sanctity. The men were pressed together in the bigger crowd, crying and pleading. The greatest request was for a year of life. The usual pleas for health and sustenance had disappeared. One desire, one request dominated everything: to live, to survive.

“Ribono shel olam, hear the prayer from our broken hearts,” was heard from a corner, the lament of a young woman whose husband and child were far from home and from whom she had heard nothing for a long time.

I see them living in front of me, those who prayed in the secret prayer halls, men and women, broken, pained, and yet with so much belief in the justice of the Almighty. I see my mother before me, who laments over her sixteen–year–old son, who was the first sacrifice of Sosnovka, who was killed beside the ghetto. Everyone had someone to mourn. Each home had those who were killed who died a more natural death through an epidemic.

A great plea rose from everyone's heart, filled the air, floated up and penetrated the heavens: Let us live!

The children, too, who came to hear the shofar blown, were dominated by the communal fear, and with terror in their eyes they looked to their fathers and mothers, seeking answers to the many questions that disturbed their childish minds.

The children in the ghetto were not mischievous. In the ghetto, one did not hear childish laughter. It seemed that they completely lacked a childhood. All were old before their time. Little children felt and knew what was coming for them. They lived with fear, that engulfed them. It was especially strong and clear to those children who helped to support their families. They went thieving on the Aryan side. They begged and then smuggled food into the ghetto for their families. A number of them were killed by the murderers, by the German SS or by Poles.

All the children on that Rosh Hashanah experienced fear, just as the adults did, and were suffused with that one urgent prayer: to live!

Soon, silence fell. You could hear the deep sighs of the adults. People paid attention to the shofar blasts. The chazzan began with a trembling voice to sing “Lamnatzeyach,” but suddenly a shot was heard..

Everyone's turned their faces in the direction whence the shot came. Everyone's thoughts were on the question of who had been shot. Everyone knew that the Germans didn't just shoot. The commotion lasted just a short while. The Jews had learned to be controlled and disciplined. They all waited for some information, and soon someone came in who told us that a policeman had shot an old Jewish woman who had tried to leave the ghetto.

Everyone felt the pressure in their hearts, but they could not dwell on it. It was a daily occurrence over which people gave a deep sigh or a sharp cry. Then they began their prayers again. As they said “Unethane tokef,” a heart–rending cry filled the air of the tiny rooms. That was the prayer of the martyr Rabbi Amnon that people traditionally recited fervently and with great devotion, as they did then in the small congregation, in the crowded rooms of the ghetto in Sosnovka.

With their weary lips the Jews whispered: “Open the gates of heaven…” The gates of heaven had never for these Jews fallen on the Earth, but now, in the last days of their lives, they pleaded from deep in their hearts that their prayers should go to the Throne of Glory and their cries should be heard.

There were also some who desired in those moments that the gates of heaven should open and allow into the world all good, to establish eternal peace for their inhuman suffering and a bit of a reward for the hard travails that filled the days and nights of their lives on earth.

Hidden strengths, whose source no one knew, replaced their hard and bitter thoughts, and their souls were illuminated with sacred beliefs.

It seems that the Jews in the ghetto became more spiritual with God's holiness and were, at that moment, transformed into heroes, strengthened with the power of ancient holiness.

A great power infused the prayers on that Rosh Hashanah. Encouraged, the ghetto dwellers wished each other a year of life and left their secret synagogue, strengthened with trust and belief, that same trust that sustained the Jews in all the hard times of their existence.

On their way home, they encountered the train that had brought a fresh transport of Warsaw Jews on their last journey. It was as if the devil himself had played this trick. The Jews stood still and looked pityingly at the martyrs.

Then the train moved on.

 

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