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[Pages 433-439]

Days of Fear and Terror

by Noson Nungold

Our house burned down in the great bombardment of Wolomin at the beginning of September, 1939. I was sitting at the table that was set for lunch when suddenly I heard the screaming of the siren, the alarm, as German bombers approached. Not far from our home was the Wolomin electrical station, which was the German bombers' target.

Fragments of the bombs landed on the roof of our house and the whole house began to burn. The flames encircled the house on all sides. It was already too late to escape by the stairs, because the stairway was burning. My wife and I started to thrown all of our soft possessions outside–clothing, laundry, bedclothes–and then I took my two children and leapt out from the second floor.

Thus we escaped from the fire and took refuge in a neighbor's cellar until the bombardment ended.

My wife later stayed at our house to see whether she could salvage other things from the fire.

When I arrived at the cellar, there were already many people there, Jews and Christians. With every explosion, a whine arose. The Christians crossed themselves and murmured prayers. The small number of Jews who were with me in the cellar huddled by the walls and in the corners in an attempt to protect their eyes. I held my children close, trying to protect them and shield them from a falling bomb.

I don't remember how long it lasted. But as soon as the sirens announced that the planes were gone, I left the cellar and ran immediately to our burning house, of which only a pile of ashes remained. My wife had succeeded in sheltering herself from the flames. In the ashes I found the pot in which our last meal in the house had been cooking.

Thus was I left, even before the Germans arrived in Wolomin, without a roof over my head. Our older child, Rochele, was seven years old. The younger, Esterl, was two years and nine months.

When I went to the town magistrate, I was given part of a huge three–story house near the magistrate's office, a single room for my whole family.

My neighbor in this house was a well–known Wolomin big shot, Mattis Teiblum. His kind family gave us a lot of help as we started to organize our new home, which was totally empty.

So passed the days in fear and terror. We received terrible news from the front. The Polish army was totally crushed. Only in a few spots had the Polish military made a stand. The military showed great heroism in defending Warsaw.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, at six in the morning, a German military unit marched into Wolomin. The whole area was taken by a motorized battalion. Troubles and oppressive decrees began to rain down on the Jews. Jews were forbidden to stand in line for bread. They could not walk on the sidewalk. This was also the beginning of night raids on Jewish homes, which invariably ended in blows, arrests, and even death.

During the day, they used to seize Jews in the streets, shave off their beards or pull them out, along with chunks of flesh from their backs. Terror oppressed every Jew in the shtetl. Especially terrible was the nighttime fear. People didn't undress. They slept in their clothes. Some went to find sleep with their Christian neighbors.

In the beginning I convinced myself that my outward appearance–no beard, European clothing–would help me avoid the misfortune of being arrested by the Germans. Like so many reckonings, this assumption proved incorrect. The Germans made no distinction between a Jew with a beard or without a beard. They beat and murdered on all sides.

Jews began to consider escaping to the Soviet border, especially the young people.

 

The Last Night

One night my wife started to beg me to run away and try to find somewhere to hide.

“The Germans,” my wife pleaded, “won't bother with women and children, won't do them any harm…The greatest danger is for the men.”

She maintained that the war would not last long and the short time that I would be in Russia would give me a chance to survive and later return home to my wife and children. For a long time my wife pleaded with me and tried to convince me that there was no alternative but for me to escape.

One night a Jew from Vishkov stayed with us, a brother–in–law of my brother–in–law, a Chasidic Jew, with a big black beard. His name was R. Bunim. The Jews of Vishkov, whose houses had been completely destroyed by German bombs, scattered over the whole area. R. Bunim had divided his family among all their acquaintances–his wife in one spot, his children in another. He himself came to us.

He also advised me that I should flee to the Soviet border. He himself had decided to do so.

Our conversation lasted several hours and I still could not decide to abandon my wife and children and go by myself across the border, when suddenly I heard how near to our house the Gestapo's vehicles had come. Soon we heard the steps of their boots on the staircase. Then they came nearer to our home.

I was paralyzed with fear. My glance went from my wife to R. Bunim. By reading their faces, I would know what to do. We were all silent. Fear stilled our tongues.

The first sounds of the Germans knocking on the door could be heard. I hear their voices. I think to open the door, because otherwise they will tear it down, but I stand there in fear for the lives of my wife and children.

At that moment I could hear the words of the prayer “Al cheyt,” which R. Bunim was reciting with trembling lips. I realized that he was saying his final confession, and I moved to open the door. However, at that very moment I heard that the Teiblum's Polish servant had opened the door of their apartment and told the Germans that Jews used to live there but that had moved away and the apartment now stood empty…

The Germans joked with the Polish young lady, who spoke German. She was actually from the area of Poznan. They went into the Teiblum's apartment with her, stayed there a little while, and then I heard them go down the stairs and away from our street.

This was a miracle. That night the Polish young lady had saved me from certain death.

After the Gestapo left, R. Bunim came to me and whispered: “Pardon me, R. Noson. Give me a little soap and water and a hand towel…I dirtied myself from fear…”

It was now clear to us that the only hope was to escape to the Soviet border. We figured that in the morning the Gestapo would either kill me or arrest me in the street.

That was my last night in Wolomin. I was careful not to awaken the children. With a pounding heart I stared at them, and then I left the house.

 

Truth and Dream

In my wanderings over Russia, I experienced all seven levels of Gehenna, in the Soviet camps of the Communist USSR. Over the Ural Mountains, until I finally arrived in Uzbekistan, in Tashkent, in Samarkand.

Through all these travels, I never forgot my home. Before my eyes floated the faces of my two little daughters, whom I had left with the Germans.

At the beginning of November, 1939, I crossed the border and arrived in Bialystokj. Because of my fear, I fell into a dark mood. When I heard a child cry, it seemed to me that I was hearing my daughters cry. With each day, my state grew worse. I was becoming a broken wreck. My terror increased.

One evening as I walked alone through Bialystok's streets, lost in sad thoughts about my children, crying voices reached me, and it suddenly seemed as if I heard the cries of my Rochele and Esterl. They were begging for mercy.

Like a lunatic I went around the square looking for the sources of those crying voices. It seemed that this was a synagogue, and between the afternoon and evening services some of the assembled Jews had gathered by the reader's stand and begun to recite Psalms. The Jews accompanied those recitations with a lachrymose chant.

Those Jews were like me, who had lost their children, and their mournful prayers seemed to me like the cries of my children.

Shortly thereafter, I was arrested in Bialystok and sent to a camp in the USSR. On the whole trip in the troop train, which traveled for long weeks, I had disturbing dreams that drained me physically and mentally. When I arrived at the camp, I was totally broken.

The pain and woe of my anxiety for my children gave me no rest in the camp.

At the end of August, 1941, I was released from the camp and I again wandered across Russia, Kirov, Molotov, Sverlovsk, Tchelebinsk, until I arrived in Tashkent.

I remember how once on a cold November night I was sitting on the steps of the train station in Tashkent. Thousands of refugees were there. I was so fatigued that I dozed off, but hunger and cold would not allow me to sleep, so I got up.

My nearby neighbor, an older man, heard my moaning and came near me, asking if I was ill. We started talking and I told him that I had been on the road for ten weeks with barely anything to eat.

I told him that more than hunger, I was tormented by the thoughts of my wife and our two small children whom I had left in Poland. I could not hold back my tears and started crying.

The stranger sat immersed in sad thought and was silent. Suddenly he pulled out a little bag of crackers and offered me some, saying, “I have no more…”

When I ate the few crackers, he handed me a blanket, saying, “Cover yourself. You'll feel better if you sleep…It will calm you down…”

I actually fell asleep. Better than the warmth of the blanket was the warmth of his words.

When I awoke, my neighbor was gone. I looked for him everywhere, but it seemed that while I slept, his train arrived and he left, leaving his blanket behind because he did not want to awaken me.

 

Jews of Wolomin in Samarkand

From Tashkent I wandered on without a goal or a trade. The whole way, in all my wanderings, I was beset with anxiety about my children, which disturbed my peace and my nightly sleep. Nightmares never stopped afflicting me.

On Erev Pesach in 1942 I arrived at Samarkand. After descending from the train, I went first to the bazaar, and I was thrilled to meet with Jews from Wolomin who had been freed from the camps. They already had places to live, somewhere in an Uzbeki lime house. They took me home with them and gave me something to eat.

After many long weeks, for the first time I was able to wash myself. The camp clothes that I wore I threw off and burned in the courtyard. The Wolominers gave me other clothing to wear.

After several days I found work in the electric station in the Samarkand train station. I lived together with other Polish Jews, who worked there and found a room in a collective workers dwelling.

I was given a bit of bread and a roof over my head, with which I was quite happy, like all the others who had no great aspirations and who were just happy at the opportunity to survive the war. Once again, however, thoughts of my children began to torment me.

One evening around Succos when I came home tired out from work and had lain down on the iron bed to rest a little, I experienced another nightmare: I saw myself go into a dense woods. It was so dark I could barely see where I was stepping. Soon I heard children's voices. In the pitch black I could not make out a face. I just heard lamenting voices, the steps of German soldiers, the barking of dogs. Struck with fear, I wanted to run, but my feet were like stone and I could not move a single step. I broke out in a cold sweat and I cried out, “Hide, hide…”

When I awoke, I saw my friends standing by my bed. They had shaken me, wiped the sweat off my face and asked, “What happened, Noson. Why were you yelling in your sleep?”

When in 1945 I returned to Poland, I returned to Wolomin in October. The surviving Jews whom I encountered told me about their existence in the ghetto, and they informed me that the liquidation of the Wolomin ghetto happened on Hoshana Raba, at the same time that I had that horrible dream…


[Pages 440-441]

We Were Ten Children

by Nisn Zilbershteyn

We were ten children in the house. Our father was a simple Jew who lived by his own labor. He worked hard to earn his bread. Nevertheless, our home displayed poverty and need. Our home was a miserable heap, and we often had to sleep under a roof full of holes, through which the rain came in during the summer and in winter the cold. There were times when we had nothing to cover ourselves with and so we lay in sacks of straw.

When the war broke out, I was in Bialystok, where I passed difficult months in the company of thousands of other refugees. With them, I was sent to Siberia by the military police.

Along with my torments, I suffered anxiety about my wife and children, who had remained in Wolomin, overwhelming worry about their fate.

It was hard to work even for a bit of bread in Siberia. We had nothing to do and had to work in the coldest cold. On my feet I wore pieces of rubber from tires, tied with strings, around which I wrapped rags so that I would not freeze. I do not know where I got the strength to bear everything. Fate decreed that I alone of my entire family should survive.

Later I was mobilized into the army, and I lived through many harsh battles until I was wounded outside of Berlin.

After I was demobilized, I wandered for days and nights around the deserted Jewish shtetls, looking for anyone I knew, until I found Malle Berman. I will never forget the warm friendship that she displayed. In their home I felt for the first time that I was with good, close people, and that gave me the courage to survive hard times and fight for my life.

With each passing year of my renewed life, I nourished the dream that such things would not happen again, because now the whole world came to know the horrors of the truth, of what Hitler's murderers had done. The memories would not be lost and everything would be done to erase suffering from the world.

So I restarted my life, remarried, left Poland and came to Austria, where our daughter Simele was born. From the camp in Austria we went to Eretz Yisroel.

We never lost the memories of the great destruction of our shtetl. Always before my eyes the lights of my home shine, the treasure of virtues, of excellence, and next to them so much wickedness and killing that destroyed our shtetl with all our nearest and dearest.

We will never forget them.


[Pages 442-453]

Blind Fate

by Chaya–Sarah Rubinshteyn–Scharfshteyn

Sixty years ago, my parents went from Tchizheve on the way to Wolomin, where they had decided to settle and build their new home.

My father had a leather business on Dluga Street in Wolomin. There were eight of us children and most of my brothers and sisters were married in Wolomin and continued to live there. My father loved his grandchildren and great–grandchildren. My mother, however, died at a young age.

In 1935, my father decided to go to Israel, where his son Ephraim already lived. He gave his business to his youngest daughter Miriam and her husband Abba Fromm, who came from Lomzhe.

My brother–in–law Abba Fromm was a fervent Zionist and dreamed for his whole life to settle with his wife and four sons in Eretz Yisroel, but the dreadful war nullified all his plans and he and his whole family were killed.

My father, after a short time in Eretz Yisroel, was seized by a great longing for his family, who had remained in Wolomin. It was hard for him to be so far from them, so he returned to Wolomin, where he shared the fate of his family and of the whole Jewish community. He was one of the resigned ones, who never tried to rebel and who accepted the situation as a decree from Heaven that human beings could not overturn and from which they could not escape. He was shot during the deportations from the Wolomin ghetto.

Together with my husband and part of my family, we were hidden by Christians, stuck in a hiding place in awful conditions. My husband could not bear such harsh conditions, and six months before the liberation he became ill. We could not bring a doctor to him. This hastened his death.

Wolomin was overrun twice, by the Germans and by the Russians, and then later again by the Germans. Those were hard times, when we floated between life and death. We were hidden in an old building lot near Wolomin, in Helenvuek. That was already our third hiding place. We had had to escape from the earlier ones because the neighbors learned about us and we did not want to endanger those who had saved us.

As the front drew closer, the Germans sent all the inhabitants of the area further from the front lines. We were desperate, not knowing whether we should go along with the evacuated Christian inhabitants, thinking for a moment that in the panic no one would recognize that we were Jews. Our Christian saviors dissuaded us. They said that the Germans would take the men away to work in Germany, and in the best of cases only the women would have a chance to escape. That was enough of a warning that people would recognize our Yakov as a Jew.

It was 1944. For two years we remained hidden in a pit that had been dug under the floor, in constant darkness. Above us we heard the sounds and movements of soldiers and of tanks that were headed to the front. The house was made of wood, and it was shot through by stray bullets.

From time to time our saviors would come to us, bringing us a bit of unspoiled apple, since bread was then so hard to come by. With each day we became weaker, broken both physically and mentally, and we thought we would never leave there alive.

The day came when our saviors told us the news that the Germans were gone and Russian tanks had already arrived. We were free. It sounded unbelievable. We could not grasp the great miracle. When we left our pit, we were so weak that we could barely lift our feet..

Among the first soldiers that we encountered there were Jews. When they saw us, they quickly ran to bring us food. The Christian inhabitants looked at us and shook their heads, saying, “Living corpses, they shouldn't be alive…” However, as if to spite all their bitter predictions, we slowly drew close to them. In Wolomin at that time there was a Christian doctor by the name of Izdevski, a respectable man, who showed us compassion and helped us regain our strength.

Several months after the liberation, we lived in Wolomin. A few surviving Jews came to us, until there were about seventy Jews who had escaped the horrors. Our Christian neighbors regarded us crookedly, evilly. They could not bear the returning Jews. They began to send us threatening letters, saying that if we did not leave Wolomin, they would put an end to us.

We figured that the murderers could make good on their threats, so we left for Lodz, because it was not possible to find a dwelling place in Warsaw. The city was in rubble.

In Lodz there were already a few Jews. This was in May of 1945, a few months after the liberation of Lodz..

For over five years we lived in Lodz, until in 1950 we made aliyah to Israel.

The nightmare of those horrible years is with us all the days and nights of our lives. We will never forget our near and dear ones who died such terrible deaths. They will always be engraved in our hearts.

 

Through Rivers of Blood

Our father used to tell us how he came with his family to Wolomin, when there wasn't even a minyan of Jews there, no cemetery. When a Jew died, they had to take the body to Radzimin or Ideva.

The reason my parents came to Wolomin was that they had heard of the new shtetl some eighteen kilometers beyond Warsaw. It seems that conditions for settling down were easier in Warsaw and in the vicinity of the big city, and they anticipated a quick expansion. People worked in Warsaw and lived in Wolomin. There was a train station in the town and every half hour there was a train. The trip to Warsaw took no more than twenty minutes.

My father came from Warsaw and consequently Wolomin appealed to him because it was close to whole family, who still lived in Warsaw.

The shtetl did indeed expand and had a reputation as a modern shtetl in the whole area around Warsaw. Clerks who held government posts in Warsaw began to settle in Wolomin. Conditions there were favorable. People started to parcel out the land around Wolomin and Polish government workers built small houses.

Little by little the population grew until, before the world war, Wolomin had thirty thousand inhabitants, among whom were three thousand Jews.

In September of 1939, the Germans arrived in Wolomin. As they had in other places, they undertook to eliminate the small number of Jews, to steal their possessions, exploit their labor, and then to liquidate them. After the unspeakable suffering and pain that the Jews in Wolomin were forced to experience, November of 1940 arrived, when the Germans nailed up posters in the streets, announcing that they were creating a ghetto for Wolomin's Jews, who were forced to leave their houses and go to the ghetto, which was located in Sosnovke, a resort three kilometers from Wolomin.

Thus began the difficult expulsion, the journey to Sosnovke. Some people traded with the Christians, taking their homes and giving away their own in Wolomin. They paid for a year in advance. Anyone who lacked funds was helped by the Jewish township so they would have a roof over their heads in the ghetto.

Mostly people lived in small apartments, single rooms. However difficult things were in the camp, no one could imagine that this was only a small part of the overall plan to exterminate all of the Jews, the whole Jewish people.

Many of the young people did not want to be satisfied with these humiliating conditions into which we had been thrown, and they planned to escape to Russia, stealing across the border to Bialystock or Galicia. At first the borders were not closely guarded, and many were able to get across and arrive on the Russian side and from there make their ways further into Russia.

There were seven of us children, five brothers and two sisters, all born in Wolomin. Of those, there remain only a brother who returned from Russia and a second brother who managed before the war to get to America. My husband, Yakov, and I, with our five children, remained in the ghetto with other family members.

After being in the ghetto for two years, we began to see the end, and we hid with Christians. We stayed with our two youngest children. Right after the war, our oldest son returned from Auschwitz. My daughter perished in Auschwitz. My son was in a camp in Wilanov, near Warsaw. This was a camp where the Germans sent Jews from the ghetto who were able to work. He never returned from there.

One of my brothers, who had gone to Russia was killed in Kavel when the Germans invaded Soviet Russia. Two other brothers tried to escape with their families. They escaped from the ghetto, but the murderers seized them and shot them. My sister was with her family in the Warsaw Ghetto. Her husband and brother–in–law were killed in the bombardment in 1939 as they were standing in a line for water.

My sister remained with four children, and my mother planned to go and live with them.

In 1941 I went by foot to the Warsaw Ghetto, looking for my mother and sister, to see what their camp was like. I wanted to see if I could help them. First I had to worry about getting a certificate that the Germans had given the township, giving me permission to go to the Warsaw Ghetto.

We were three women from Wolomin. When we arrived at the gates of the Warsaw Ghetto, they took our certificates. I looked for my mother and sister, wandering around for several days. I saw that I could not help them. I planned to return home to my husband and children.

My experiences during those few days in the Warsaw Ghetto rattled me. The images remain with me in their full horror. People lay in the streets like living skeletons, worn out, starving, begging for a piece of bread. Many had no place to live. Their end was near.

We went to the gates of the ghetto leading to the Aryan side. The guards, because of our Aryan appearance, did not take us for Jews and allowed us to leave without hindrance, but outside we were arrested by Polish police and led away to the prison on Danielovitzhevska, where they deposited us in the women's section.

After a while I was allowed to send a short letter to my family so they could know where I was. My husband undertook extraordinary efforts, which cost him a lot of money, but to this day I do not know whether those efforts had any effect and whether they were the cause of our being released. I sat in that prison for a whole month. In my cell there were other Jewish women, some of whom had converted. Some of them did not even know they were Jews, since they were third–generation Christians.

At the beginning of the second month, I and the two other Wolomin women were released. We were given papers that allowed us to return to the Wolomin ghetto.

There was great joy at our return to the ghetto. No one had expected to see us again. There had been many cases of people being shot in the prison.

It was truly a miracle, for a month later every Jew who had been seized outside the ghetto was shot.

Conditions in the ghetto became worse every day. A typhus epidemic raged, and there was no place to escape it. Whole families died from typhus, including my brother–in–law Chaim Rubinshteyn and his wife.

The Germans began to drive Jews from the surrounding shtetls to Warsaw. There were no apartments for them, so they had to live in barracks. We deduced that they would drive us out of Sosnovke. People spent sleepless nights lying on their packed bags waiting for them to come for us. Then we heard reports about death camps for Jews. Jews were kidnapped for work details. Those few who managed to get out brought back tragic news. From the Warsaw Ghetto, transports of Jews set out for Treblinka. These transports went through our ghetto. The whistles of the locomotives, which tore through the stillness of night, sent fear through us. Life became unbearable.

One night, a group of Jews jumped out of a train car and told us about the frightful actions in Warsaw, in Atvatzk, Falinitz, Rembertov, and other shtetls. It was clear that our days were numbered. The Jews in the ghetto began searching for ways to escape. Some forged Aryan documents, some constructed hiding places, some tried escaping to Zambrove, which had been incorporated into the Third Reich but which lacked a ghetto.

The confusion daily took on a more terrible character. In their panic, people took to dangerous ways of escaping. It was clear that Wolomin would suffer the same fate as the other shtetls.

The night of Succos arrived. Jews sat sadly by their tables, which held pitiful meals. People's thoughts were not on the holiday, but even so, everyone tried to hold on to just a bit of hope that they would survive these horrible times.

That night, a Polish police official came with the terrible news that he had received an order that the police should be ready that night to liquidate the ghetto.

That night will live forever in my memory. I went out to the street, which was shrouded in thick darkness. People–horrified and broken–were in turmoil, not knowing what to do, how to save their lives. There were some who left the ghetto. Some hid themselves in the ghetto itself. Many simply resigned themselves and remained sitting in their rooms awaiting their sad fate.

None of these methods offered any assurance. Each of them showed how feeble were the attempts to escape. Outside the ghetto, the Poles helped to seize the fleeing Jews who had tried to escape. The situation in the ghetto was no better, and there were only feeble attempts to avoid the end.

At first, they surrounded the ghetto with gendarmes and police, German and Polish. There was a command that all Jews should gather in the square and leave open the doors of their houses. Horrible scenes played out. Old people and the ill were shot on the spot by the police. In the community's home for children, a home for orphans, a sadistic gendarme walked around and struck each child on the head with an iron bar.

In the Wolomin ghetto there is a communal grave for all the tortured and killed.

The Jews who remained alive were led to Radzimin, and from there they were taken, along with the Jews of Legyonov, to Treblinka.

Thus was the end of the Jewish settlement in Wolomin.

A few Jews from Wolomin returned from Russia. A few returned also from the concentration camps, and a few even survived based on their Aryan documents or were hidden by Christians, in holes in the ground or in attics.

My husband, thanks to the harsh conditions, became ill and weak. Throughout the war he struggled to hide a portion of his family. When the war ended and we thought to begin a new life, we recalled all of our bitter experiences. The hard struggles and pain totally broke my husband. He died in Lodz.

The majority of surviving Wolomin Jews live in Israel. Some also made it to America and other countries, but like us, they feel bound to our shtetl in their memories, bound to the remnant of the Jewish community of Wolomin.

 

The Destruction of Wolomin

The Jewish people do not know about happy days. Each joy is mixed together with sadness. Each day is a memorial day for another Jewish settlement, another Jewish community that was extinguished by the Germans.

So, too, sorrows fell upon our Jewish community in Wolomin. Our shtetl is destroyed and empty.

The Yiddsh language has disappeared from Wolomin. No longer are our dear Jews there, no longer the great Jewish life in that small, beautiful shtetl that was all of eighteen kilometers from Warsaw.

Wolomin was a modern town with a population of 3500 souls, a town that was quickly being built and was becoming nicer from year to year. The shtetl was becoming more tightly bound to the greater Polish state. Every half hour, the train brought a mass of passengers from Warsaw and took back people from Wolomin. People did business in Warsaw and many Wolominers worked there. Little Wolomin had many Jewish businesses and workshops.

A beautiful Jewish life flourished there, with a school and a Talmud Torah, a school for Jewish children and a Bais–Yakov, with fine young people, many Zionist organizations and two sports clubs. Every year young people would come here for training, in order to learn how to work and prepared for a new life in Eretz Yisroel.

Jewish life pulsated grandly, until the coming of that dark year, 1939. When the German army marked in, little children marched after them in cadence, not knowing what awaited them. But we quickly felt the yoke of occupation. The first tragic days came soon, when the murderers burned down the school, with all its books.

Then began the ugly bacchanalia of robberies. People stole from Jewish businesses, kidnapped Jews at their work, snipped off beards and beat people to death. Jews had to get off the sidewalks if a German approached. Insults and humiliations had no limitations. Later–toward the end of 1940–came the order to establish a ghetto. We thought that they would send us to the Warsaw Ghetto, but they sent us to Sosnovke, a sanatorium three kilometers from Wolomin, where people from other towns were also brought. At first this was an open ghetto–people could come and go in order to work and earn a little bread or to sell things so they could sustain themselves. Most took to milling corn with hand mills. This was really hard work. So a year passed, and then the Soviet–German war broke out. The ghetto was shut up. Anyone who tried to get out was shot. The first victim was a sixteen–year–old young man, Chaim Gorbin's grandson. From that day on, no day passed without victims. The Jews wanted to preserve their lives, but outside, the murderers were always on the lookout. The murderers often visited the ghetto, each time demanding greats sums of money and threatening to shoot the leadership unless the money was forthcoming. Then came the typhus epidemic, which took many of us. Many of our young people were sent away to work in the concentration camps, from which they never returned.

The ghetto was located near the train tracks. Every day we would hear two trains passing with cars filled with people. We often heard desperate cries. We understood that these were transports of Jews being sent from Warsaw to Treblinka.

Many Jews who had escaped from surrounding communities that had been liquidated came to us. They thought that perhaps a miracle would happen and the destructions would cease. But every whistle of the trains filled us with the fear of death that was waiting for us there on the railroad tracks…

Sad were those days in the helpless ghetto, surrounded by enemies and violence.

Then came the tragic news. On the evening of Succos, a decent Pole came to tell us that early on the morning of Shemini Atzeres the “Action” would begin. Darkness fell over our Jewish hearts, a night of horrible anticipation. There was nowhere to escape. There were none of our former Christian friends who could hide us…

Before dawn on Shemini Atzeres we heard shooting, and the first victims fell–the Action had begun. Jews were herded into the square. They were told to leave their houses open. The Germans were helped by the Polish police and firemen. The Germans shot several Jews on the spot. One German murderer used an iron tool to beat to death most of the children from the children's home. The parents of these children had been killed earlier. A number of Jews hid themselves in the ghetto, but a cry from a child or information from a Pole gave them away and they were killed.

The Jews were led to Rodzimin and then, together with the community of Legyonov, to Treblinka. These were the last three communities left near Warsaw.

A few Jews were saved from the ghetto, but hardly any remained alive. Others managed to get to Zambrov (near Bialystok), where there were still some Jews. Many of those did not return. And those who got there shared the fate of the Zambrov Jews, who were sent to Auschwitz.

Such was the fate of Wolomin's Jews–just like the fate of Poland's Jewry. In the hearts of the remnant of Wolomin's Jews are deeply woven the golden threads of the spiritually rich Jewish life.

This description, that we are publishing in our Yizkor Book, is nothing more than a drop from the sea of agonies, horrible suffering, and bizarre deaths that we experienced and saw with our own eyes.

None of us could have imagined that such things were possible, that people could treat each other so badly, so coldly murder children and adults.

Each murdered Jew in the ghetto and in the camps was a martyr, and we should sanctify every memory, telling our children about their virtuous lives and their horrible deaths, telling them what our enemies did to us and what our current enemies are capable of.

Let us never forget what Amalek did to us!


[Pages 454-457]

A Wolomin Mother Becomes a Martyr

by Saul Rosenblum

The life of the Wolomin Jewish community flowed quietly. The shtetl had its schools, its beis–midrashes and Chasidic study houses, Zionist organizations, sports clubs, and professional organizations. The Jewish youth led an active community life.

The Loskovski family lived in the shtetl. He, Yoske, tall and thin, with a beautiful beard, was known as Yoske the Magistrate, because he had served as the magistrate of Wolomin under the czar. When he was at ease, he would tell about different episodes from those days, taking out a long golden key, which he had carried on his person as a magistrate and which had made him seem important.

His wife, Rochele, not too tall but a bit heavy, used to travel every year to Kuratzia in an effort to lose some weight. They were a well–to–do family, owned several houses, a dry goods store, and a field that was planted with potatoes, carrots, onions, and grain.

Of their six sons, only four were in the shtetl. The eldest, Avraham, was in America, while Shmuel was in Paris. They also had a single daughter. Aside from the ordinary worries of everyday Jewish life, they led a simple, peaceful life.

Yoske the Magistrate was known for his caring Jewish heart. People would come to him if they needed something, to help make a wedding for a poor bride or to do a good deed, to intervene in a problem with a Pole, and other such things.

When the Second World War erupted, the Germans came to Wolomin and the Gestapo became the rulers over life and death for the Jews. A decree was issued that within twenty–four hours, all Jewish women had to bring their fur coats to the Gestapo. Anyone who held on to a fur coat would be shot.

Loskovki's daughter–in–law, Moyshe's wife Chutshe, did not want to give up her fine fur coat, so she went to a Gentile who had worked his whole life for Yoske in the field. She gave him the coat to hold onto until the danger had passed…

This Gentile had received many benefits from Yoske and had, in peaceful times, shown his gratitude. He said that he would never forget what Yoske the Magistrate had done for him. He even referred to him as “my father.”

Now the Gentile took the fur and ran right to the Gestapo, where he told them who had given him the coat for safekeeping.

The Gestapo immediately called for Mrs. Loskovski.

At home, they had a warning of the danger that hung over them. Wailing filled the house. Chutshe looked at everyone and passionately kissed her children, thinking that she was going on her final journey.

At the last minute, Rochele, her mother–in–law, could not stand the sorrow of the children and she called out, “Chutshe, you're not going…They demanded Mrs. Loskovki, so I will go. You have young children for whom you have to stay alive.”

Chutshe struggled with this, but Rochele was insistent: “I've already lived three–quarters of my life….As God wills it, so will it be…Just pay attention to your father.”

She spoke with a strong voice, with no crying. Yoske the Magistrate was silent. Suddenly he seemed older than his years. He was totally broken.

Rochele walked with bold steps to the corner, where her cane stood. Without the cane she had trouble walking. With her head held high, she set off for the Gestapo.

The news spread through the shtetl. The Jews in the street watched after her and marveled at her moral strength, the firmness of her character. Everyone knew that she had made a deal, that she was going on her final journey.

She walked proudly and quickly, as she used to when she went to shul to pray on the holidays. Thus she walked to the Gestapo building.

The Gestapo officer on duty was at first flummoxed by her proud bearing. He tried to demand that the younger Mrs. Loskovski should come, as he had been told that it was her fur coat, but Rochele argued firmly and said that was a mistake, because the coat was hers and she had wanted to hide it.

Finally the German let her prevail, called for her to be taken to Rodzimin, and in a few hours she was no longer alive.

People later recounted how the eyewitnesses saw the murderers tormented her with wild joy and watched her death agonies with sadistic pleasure.

After Rochele's death, Yoske could barely be recognized. Old, grey, and broken, he wandered alone through the ghetto, silent, not exchanging a single word with anyone until the liquidation came and he was herded with the other Jews into a train car; and those who stood near him heard him mumble to himself, “Now I am going to Rochele and we'll be together…”

Our shtetl produced many illustrious women. One of the most illustrious was Rochele Loskovksi.

When we think of and bewail the millions of dead, tortured and subjected to horrible deaths that are impossible for the human mind to comprehend, we plant an eternal flame, a yahrzeit light, for such illustrious figures who, in the last moments of their lives, demonstrated such proud humanity and dignity.

We are the greatest mourners in the world. The ashes of our martyrs are spread over wide areas, over field and woods, and forever their memory will recall their honor, their greatness, their beauty, which they bore from the beginning of their lives until the last minutes, without ever losing their dignity.

Rochele Loskovski carried the beauty of Mother Rachel, of Miriam and of Deborah the Prophet, and of all the sacred souls.


[Pages 458-460]

Our Martyrology

by Yankel Manketo

I know that there are many Jews who survived the horrifying Gehenna and who want to forget it, and so they flee the memories and descriptions of those fearful times. The circumstances in which we now live in America help in forgetting, in forgetting their own histories, the gruesome events that occurred only a few decades earlier. But for us it is clear that we must not forget. We must remember and think about them until the last days of our lives, and our recollections should remain for coming generations.

In my free time, therefore, I jot down not only what I experienced but also what I hear and read from others about the murders and suffering and the awful years of Hitler's reign.

We must not try to suppress the shudders caused by the Jewish martyrology. Our innocent, shed blood, the tears of the afflicted and the murdered must not sink into the depths of oblivion. Our people have always gathered and preserved in manuscripts and books everything that happened to us. Everything–we must collect everything, the endless horrible and sadistic beastliness; we must not rest, nor let others rest; we must not spare our nerves, not shrink back from weakness, not fear sleepless nights, only read and write, depicting everything that lies in our memories, what we lived through and what we read and heard from others.

Lying in front of me is the document collection The Martyrology of the Children which was compiled by Noach Gris and published by the Central Organization for Polish Jews in Argentina. Noach Gris writes:

“At first no one believed in the possibility of killing defenseless children, but the Germans went even further. In March of 1942, Himmler's order went out that people should stop shooting Jewish children but should bury them alive, thrown them to wild animals in the circus. It became a contest to excel in sadism. The murderers grabbed children with their hands and smashed their heads into walls, posts, and trees, chopped them up with axes, and threw them alive into the fire.

“On a street in Warsaw, a German officer seized two Jewish children and stopped several passers–by, ordering them to open the canal so he could throw the children in. With horror the children huddled together. The murderers took their time. They did not hurry opening the canal; they worked slowly in order to increase the fright of the children.

“Finally the canal was opened and the officer and the officer tore the young girl from her brother, raised her over his head, and with all his might threw her into the deep canal.

“The young boy fell to ground and cried out, ‘Mama, Mama.’

The officer did his sadistic task cold bloodedly, slowly raising the boy and in the same manner throwing him into the canal…”

In Vilna, a German officer smeared the lips of a newborn Jewish child with poison.

In a letter written from Poligan, near Vilna, other stories are told:

“They tortured our children in a bestial fashion. Eight–year–old girls were raped. Lithuanians and Germans tied a twelve–year–old girl to a table and one after the other raped her. Her mother was forced to stand there and prevent her child from crying…

In Lublin, in the spring of 1942, the Germans forced people to dig graves in a field. A transport truck brought children there in their underwear, and a Gestapo troop undressed them and threw them into the graves.

In Ravne, they gathered together Jewish children in the barracks on Tarlova Street and kept them confined there for seven days. No one was allowed to see them. They were given no food and not a drop of water.

A few were able to hide from this Gehenna and later bore witness to the horrifying events.

Such deeds, and others, are conveyed in scores of books. Human understanding cannot grasp all of this, but should we therefore be silent?

No. A thousand times, no.

It should be written about, published, and distributed in all languages. Young and old should read, should remember what the world did when the murderers were in power.

It should also be proclaimed in our Wolomin Yizkor Book. In our shtetl, too, the nights were rent with the cries of children being forced out in hunger and fear.

The enemy spared neither old people nor children. They humiliated us and trampled us. Our fear became the patience of the martyrs.


[Pages 461-464]

Days of Sorrow

by Rachel Asch

I will never forget my shtetl of Wolomin, where I was born and raised, where I spent my childhood years, where I grew and led a family life, and where all the people were so dear and beloved. A thousand strings bound me to Jewish life in Wolomin, joining together sorrows and joys, with the happiness and the problems of every Jew in the shtetl.

Now it has become my fate to record in the Yizkor Book things about our dear shtetl, inscribing my own memories and thereby contributing to the monument for our devastated Jewish community, for our murdered martyrs, my own flesh and blood, my fellow citizens, whose interrupted lives will follow me like a shadow to the grave.

We led a colorful cultural life in our shtetl: a Peretz Library, a Tarbus school, a variety of Jewish youth organizations that cultivated a thirst for Jewish knowledge, for education. I have sorrowful recollections of every day in the year, of our childish summer evenings, of our joyful Shabbos and holiday celebrations, nostalgia for home, for the Jewish streets and alleys. I see before my eyes Koshtshelna Street, where my whole family lived. I see my uncle Yoske Loskovski with his whole family. My uncle Pioravitsch with his whole family, my aunt Beila Friedman. They were all family. Later on they were joined by my mother–in–law and father–in–law, Yitzchak and Malkah Asch with their extensive family.

Do not think that we lacked worries and problems, but it seems to me that we lived peacefully and happily until 1939, the beginning of the awful destruction, which did not skip over our shtetl.

On Chopin Street, where the Krieger family lived, the first bombs fell and several people were killed. Several days later the Germans set fire to the school on Leshne Street. My mind combines the awful picture of the burning school with the picture of the German murderers leading out the young men who learned there, ripping out the pages of the holy books and throwing them into the fire. Then they ordered the students to dance around the fire. That was a horrible image, and with unsteady legs I ran home. Even today I see before my eyes that gruesome infernal dance.

When I arrived home, my husband Hershel told me that the rabbi was in our house. People had told him that the Germans were seeking him so they could take him to the burning school. It was easy to get from the rabbi's dwelling through the courtyard to our house so the rabbi ran and was hiding with us. When things quieted down, he left.

Soon thereafter the Germans started to seize Jews at work. They bullied and jeered at the unfortunate Jews. They harnessed them to wagons instead of horses and ordered them to pull the wagons. Every day they issued new decrees and created new sorrows.

One day my husband arrived home and described how he had seen Yosef Krasiver harnessed to a wagon and pulling it with his last bit of strength. In Jewish homes the mood was a mixture of darkness and despondency.

We decided to leave Wolomin, and together with other Jews we came, after difficult experiences, to Bialystok, where we found thousands of people milling in the streets without a roof over their heads. People slept in the schools and the beis–medrashes. Somehow we learned of a dwelling where Jews from Wolomin went and were received with friendship and sympathy.

Problems were not lacking in Bialystok, and many Wolomin Jews returned home to their families that they had left in Wolomin.

In 1940 the NKVD sent us to Siberia, where we lived through dreadful times, but the whole time we lived with the hope of returning to our old home and seeing our dear friends and families whom we left in Wolomin. Until the very end, we did not know about the great devastation.

Only when the war ended and we returned to Polish soil could we determine the extent of the destruction. As soon as we crossed the Polish border, the Poles threw rocks at our wagon. When we came to Auschwitz, I went with several others to see the death camp, and for as long as I live I will never forget the horrible scenes that appeared before my eyes, the gas chambers, the crematoria, and the piles of children's shoes, taleisim, and a mass of letters that people had written before being murdered. The horror dulled our senses, but suddenly I began to tremble when someone found among the letters a letter signed with the name Eliezer Bergazin from Wolomin. I nearly screamed, “That was our rabbi's son!” But the person who found the letter would not give it to me.

Eventually we came to Lodz, and I went further on to Wolomin, and that put an end to my hopes of finding someone I knew. Sadly, I met no one. I wandered the streets of Wolomin and my heart wept within me. There I was in my old home, where my parents had lived, and I didn't even know where their graves were. I imagined that I heard a stifled cry that hung in the air. The entire shtetl seemed like a desolate field, but the truth is that all the Jewish homes had been taken over by Poles.

I wanted to cry out loud, to bring up tears from the bottom of my heart, but the source of tears had dried up. Too great was the destruction. My tongue was dry. Every bit of the ground seemed like an open grave.

There was once a home that is no more; there was once a world that is no more

Broken and depressed, I returned to Lodz, and from there we began to wander again, and we wandered all over until finally in 1948 we came to our land.

Each year, at the memorial service for our shtetl, we meet other refugees from Wolomin and we are united by the memory of our martyrs.


[Page 465]

My Wanderings in Foreign Lands

by Tova Paskowitz-Taiblum

Translated by Sara Mages

The Taiblum family was a large, wealthy and respected family, among them were noble-minded and intellectuals. Several members of the Teiblum family left Wolomin at the outbreak of the Second World War, and I was among those who arrived in Bialystok.

In Bialystok we lived together as one family. We kept our personal belongings, our clothes, in shared suitcases and when the members of the secret police, the N.K.V.D, came to deport us to Russia, they did not allow me to take my clothes out of the suitcases. They expelled me from the house and I left only with the clothes on my body.

 

Wol465
Miriam and Mordechai Teiblum and their children

[Page 466]

To those, who have gone through this journey, it seemed that the world was on fire. Many have already written, and more will be written, so that our sons after us will know all the hardships that have befallen us. Here I want to mention one detail:

Despite the harsh conditions, friendship and brotherhood was formed among the passengers. The shared destiny brings hearts together. I was very close to the Paskowitz family.
Have I ever hoped that one day I would be part of that family?

Our paths parted. I was sent to Komi Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, an area where the frost reaches up to over fifty degrees. It is told that the Cossacks, who rebelled against the Don, were deported there and they died after a few years.

Kulak families were also deported to the labor camp to which I was brought with another Jewish woman. The heads of the families were deported to another place and only the mothers and their children remained. They lived in wooden huts in the white frozen wilderness, and there we straightened our bones after the long freight train ride.

Everything was shabby and meager there. In the morning we were given soup in which potatoes were cooked with their peels. It rarely had a little salt in it. After this meal we went out to work in the forest.

We walked because they felt sorry for the horses. Where did we get the strength to work? We took out red berries from under the snow and ate them. We learned to pick berries in the summer and save them for the winter. In addition we made another discovery: some distance from us was a potato warehouse. Occasionally rotten potatoes were thrown out of the warehouse. In winter the rotten potatoes were covered in snow.

In the evening we received slices of bread. The size of the slice was proportional to the amount of work we did, but the size of the slice of bread depended largely on the wishes of the director, an ugly and bad woman in her forties.

The Kulak families had many belongings and valuables that they exchanged for a bucket of potatoes. They ate them uncooked and most of them got sick and died.

We, the only two Jews in the camp, tried to at least to cook our potatoes when we were able to get them, and because of them I also fell into a trap. Once, when I went out to look for them, and after I managed to hide several potatoes under my coat, I got caught. I was put on a trial and sentenced to one year imprisonment. In prison, I had the opportunity to come into contact with the members of the Russian intelligentsia, academics, people of education and culture.

[Page 467]

My condition was very poor. A doctor, Dr. Prywes, saw me and decided that I have to work in the kitchen. Under those conditions it was happiness. In the kitchen I was no longer hungry. At first, I I washed dishes in the yard and while doing this work my hands swelled and cracked. When the doctor saw my hands he ordered to move me to work in the kitchen. It was so good for me there that I was afraid to leave when the release order came.

At the end of the war all of us traveled west. I arrived in Kiev and worked there for a year until I received a letter from my sister Chana who was in Turkestan. She asked me to come to her and join her family. At that time, when everyone traveled west, I decided to travel east to my sister. I bought a train ticket and packed in a suitcase everything I collected during a year of work in Kiev. But, in Russia it was not enough to pay for a ticket. In every connecting station I had to get off the train to get a new stamp. It was necessary to wait two to three days for this stamp and several more days for the next train. In one of the train stations I was not able to enter any car. They were all locked up.

At that time there were masses of abandoned children in Russia, mostly orphans. These children were ready for any crime. Two of them stood on a small bridge between two cars. They called me and offered me a place next to them. I stood next to them. While traveling they snatched the suitcase from my hand and escaped. I shouted and the train stopped so I could look for the thieves. I did not find the thieves, but I stayed inside the car even though I heard some passengers say that I was a cunning Jew who shouted to win a ride in the car.

I got off in Kuybyshev [Samara] and had to continue on another train. And here I got lucky. An old woman came with her grandson and with a suitcase. She asked me to bring her grandson to Turkestan. In the suitcase, the grandmother said, there's food for both of you.

In this train a Jewish officer from the Russian army was revealed to us as an angel from heaven. He guarded us so that nothing bad would happen to us from the mob of savages that murder and robbery was like a game for them.

From then on he went with us at every station to the officers' canteen and there we received warm and delicious food.

That Jewish officer left a deep impression in my heart. Once he asked me to sing "Mein Shtetle Belz"... He smiled and tears glistened in his eyes.

In Turkestan I met again with the Paskowitz family. There, I also married my husband.

On the way back to Poland we traveled through burnt cities. Tens of thousands ruins stood in the cities of Russia and Poland, and tens of thousands of corpses were dumped on the fields of the world. The earth under our feet was wet with blood. I don't have the strength to write about those terrible events which are still engraved in the space of the world in letters of blood and fire.

In the darkness of the night I can still hear the cry of the tormented. When I meet our townspeople, who survived the massacre, I can read the horror story in their eyes.

[Page 468]

The Righteous Among the Nations

I will always remember those days as a long winter, murky and cruel. As I reflect on them, I see frost-strewn fields and dead trees that black ravens nest in their dead branches.

We left Russia exhausted mentally and physically. The cry of crisis and disaster of our slaughtered people accompanied us on our way. But, in the darkness of the night there was a soft ray of light, human light and human love.

A Catholic priest, who had returned from his exile, traveled with us in the same car. At each stop, when Polish hooligans wanted to enter and abuse Jews, the priest stood in the car's doorway and did not allow them to enter. He scolded them: "you have nothing to do here. Get out of here."

The Poles harassed the Jews when they saw them getting off the train. My husband and brother-in-law had to go off to get milk for the babies, but returned broken and sad. When the priest saw this, he did not let them go out, and in every station he brought milk and also food for us.

The Righteous Among the Nations.

Like glowing lights they are planted in the world to illuminate the darkness of human loneliness. God did not make wings for human beings and therefore gave them radiant lights, which would serve as their wings, so that they could rise and pass over all the abysses and darkness lurking for them in the world.

The Righteous Among the Nations.

On the verge of extinction we found them and we will remember them forever. They appeared as a glowing light when there was darkness around us. Darkness. Darkness.

 

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