by Tzvi Shedletzki
I Am Mobilized for the Army
On August 24, 1939, I was working in Warsaw, where I had a job as a carpenter. It was before noon when I received a phone call that I should come home because I had received a mobilization notice ordering me to appear on that very day in Rembertov for the third battalion.
This was one week before the war. I said farewell to everyone at work and I went home to Wolomin. On that same day, many of my friends were mobilized, and after noon we all went to Rembertov. When we got to the regiment, there were many mobilized men in the square. We were led to the doctor and from there to the quartermaster to receive our equipment. There we encountered our first instance of disorder.
There were no uniforms and no rucksacks, and most other things were missing. I got a rucksack that was torn up and the mess kit had a hole in it. Later the mess kit was taken from me. Uniforms were brought from the soldiers who would be staying at the regimental headquarters. They took them off and we got their clothes.
That same day we received rifles, spades, bayonets, and the other things for taking care of the arms. This was exactly a week before the war. We slept that night and at dawn we were awakened. Soon after breakfast we were led to Vover. There we were loaded on a truck and taken to Tchiekonov and from there we went by foot to the area of Mlovo, where we were quartered in the villages.
The local population was hostile toward us, because many of them were German. We stayed there until September 1, 1939, until the outbreak of the war.
The War Begins
September 1, 1939
We awoke early and heard the sound of artillery firing. Immediately an officer came running. He gathered us together and announced that the war had begun and that the Germans had bombed various sites in Poland.
They gave us ammunitionninety bullets each and grenades for some. A staff officer arrived and talked about the significance of the war. They told us to eat quickly, because they would take us immediately after eating to a second regimental headquarters.
As we sat down to eat, we heard a shot nearby. When we got the square, we discovered that one of our soldiers had committed suicide. He left a note for his parents. The soldier was a Christian.
After breakfast, we were led out of the village. We had traveled only a short time when we were led into a little woods, not large, but with big trees.
In the woods we cleaned our gear until the cooks came and brought lunch. When the cooks appeared, so did an airplane, which passed over the woods at a high altitude two or three times. The last time, he trailed a white streak. The officer who was with us told us that this was an English airplane, so that the soldiers stood up openly and did not try to hide.
We did not have time to eat, because artillery began to fire at the woods, and the dead and wounded began to fall. They shot at us until evening.
At the time that they were shooting at us, there was a young officer who had just left officer school. He did not know what to do. In the evening, when the barrage was a little lighter, another officer appeared who had us assemble and who led us to Shassay. But Shassay was under heavy fire, so we quickly passed through.
Thus we put a distance between ourselves from the shooting. The officer was quite pleased that he seemed so military, that he had experienced his first attack. A little later more military men appeared and we were all led away to the front lines.
As we arrived at the front, we were immediately ordered to turn back, because the whole line was moving back. After a little while, we came to a river, and on the bridge were soldierslaying mines. They told us that we were fortunate, because they had received an order to destroy the bridge, but they had seen us and waited for us. When we told them that the army was coming behind us, they gave a wave of the hand and said that the army could swim across, because they had to destroy the bridge.
After moving on another short while, they divided our group and we dug in. There we remained with our young officer, who was barely oriented in matters of war. We came to realize that we were in the middle, the center, and other divisions were on both sides of us.
The night was awfully dark, so that nothing could be seen. At about two in the morning, the officer sent out a patrol of five men. I was in that patrol.
After sufficient time, we returned and we sat in the trench until morning. Then artillery fire broke out again, and when the artillery quieted down, we saw light armored cars and many soldiers, who took us to the attack, but after strong fire from our side, they started to retreat.
When no more Germans were seen in the field, we sent a patrol, which ran into a small patrol of Germans that was absorbed in looking at a map. After a brief exchange of fire, our side captured one German, who was sent back to headquarters. Then heavy artillery fire opened up again and lasted until that night.
That day we had many wounded. We had for a whole daysince yesterday's lunchhad nothing to eat, only what we found in the fields near uscarrots and cabbages. We were like that until eleven or twelve at night, without uniting with other groups.
The officer sent groups of soldiers to both sides of us to inquire what they had heard. The soldiers returned and told us that the trenches were empty and they encountered no one. Then the officer, on his own, ordered us to move back.
I Am Wounded
We went through a village where we encountered several soldiers who told us in what direction the army had gone. We went back toward Shassay, and we were nearby. Suddenly I heard an explosion and I fell near other men. I did not lose consciousness. I checked to see how I was. My right leg was torn up under my knee. My right arm was damaged above the elbow. My left hand was also bloodied. And blood was running from my left leg, from the knee. My shoulders and back were wet. I realized that the wetness was blood.
A few minutes later the officer returned with several soldiers. They examined me and said I should be quiet so that the Germans would not hear. Later, when it was possible, they would send somebody for me. They left and I never saw them again.
A Captive of the Germans
I was lying near a cart, and on the other side of the cart I saw in a field a small house, and I figured that I might get help there. I began to crawl a little. I crawled over Shassay. I stopped to rest a bit, and I lost consciousness.
Early in the morning I heard screaming. I raised my head a little and then saw coming toward me two Germans with the symbol of the Red Cross. I begged for water. They gave me some kind of spicy drink as well as water. They brought a greatcoat and laid me on it, then covered me with a second one. They told me that they would come back for me. So it was. They soon returned and carried me in a stretcher to the cart, where an ambulance wagon waited and took me, along with other wounded men, to an assembly point in the field.
They quickly took me to a tent, a field hospital, and after examining me they amputated my right leg above the knee. The other wounds they bandaged.
When I regained consciousness, I was lying in a bed. The doctor came with a nurse. He asked if I felt all right. He gave me a small glass and said that I should drink, that it was rum. Then they asked my name, my city, my religion, and other details. I gave them my real name.
After all this, they took me to another place in the field where there were many wounded Poles and hospital cars to transport them. They took us all to a hospital in a German border town.
We remained for three days in the hospital. The first two days I do not remember because I was unconscious. On the third day I did not feel too bad. During the night they took us to the train station. They loaded us in a hospital car and took us to Konigsberg.
For the seven weeks that I was in Konigsberg, conditions in the hospital were not bad. Specifically, I suffered no ills because of my background. After several days in the hospital I was taken to the operating room because my wound, which had been closed up, opened, so after putting me to sleep, they closed it up with a brace.
I do not remember the dates of each operation, but during those seven weeks I had the brace on my leg after the amputation, an operation on my hand so that the hand was in a cast. Then I had a hemorrhage in my hand and they amputated the hand.
A couple days after the first operation on my hand, there was an inspection in the hospital by a highranking doctor. When they came to me and the nurse had removed the bandage and cleaned out the wound, the doctor was thoughtful and they went into the next room. The nurse said that they would return soon and she would rebandage the hand.
After a few minutes I felt wetness. I noticed blood coming from my hand. I started to call for help. The nurse came, as did the doctor. They immediately took me to the operating room, and after sedating me, they stopped the bleeding.
Three days later, my hand turned black. I could not move my fingers. The doctor said that they would have to amputate my hand because it was septic, and thus I lost my hand.
When they brought me back to my bed, it was the first time that I really complained. I had also hurt my right ear. Because of the explosions of the bombs, I still do not hear well.
Immediately my right side became fiery red, and for a long time I had to use compresses.
I had to lie on a rubber hoop, because my back was wounded. I lay in a small room with another wounded man. The medic who was responsible for our room was an old German man who was not a follower of Hitlerism, so his care was good. He would bring cigarettes from home, apples, candies, and he was the first one who would lift me from the bed when the nurse came to change the linens.
When he was not there, a second medic, a young man, who also lifted me from the bed when the nurse came for the linens. He did it specially.
One day the nurse came with two young men from the Hitler Youth, and they took me into a large hall where there were ten or twelve beds. As they pushed the cart, they shook it especially hard so that I was in great pain.
The chief doctor in this section was a young German who often came into the hall and asked questions of the ailing. As a Jew, I used to translate, so he would always sit near my bed. After a while he learned to speak fluent Polish. He said that he knew Polish well because he was from nearby, but he hated speaking Polish.
I did not receive bad treatment from him, though he was very antiSemitic. One day he said that if he were at the front, he would not take Jewish soldiers as prisoners but he would should them right there in the field.
There were times when SS officers would shoot wounded people at the front regardless of who they were. I had the courage to ask him: since he knew who I was, why did he treat me so well, contradicting his own speech. He answered that he was a doctor and I was a wounded person and it was his duty as a doctor to help.
There was no point in speaking further about it. This was in 1939. It is possible that a few years later, if I fell into his hands, I would not have asked and he would not have answered.
After being in the hospital for seven weeks, the nurse came with the doctor and they indicated that I would be transferred to a second hospital. I had no fever. That same day, around noon, I was taken into the courtyard, where trucks were waiting, and we were taken as a large group to the station, where a train was waiting.
In the car, straw was spread on the floor. Those who could walk entered the car and sat on the straw, while the seriously injured were carried in on stretchers and were put, in their stretchers, on the floor.
It was already cold and frosty, and we were not far from the sea. I was covered only with a blanket.
When it grew dark, we came to a small train station called Stabloch. There we were transferred to trucks and taken nine kilometers to the camp hospital, which was called Stalag A1.
The road was rough. The trucks went fast and rattled our insides. It was so cold that we arrived at the camp half dead. When we got the camp, we saw a great number of little huts. I was put with a group of wounded, among whom only one could walk a little, in hut number 9. My bed was near the door. It was freezing, and I had only one blanket, but we were told that in the morning we would receive another blanket.
The cold was not the worst thing. Worse was trying to sleep that first night. The mattresses were filled with freshcut straw, and through the material I could feel the knots in the ropes that bound the straw. When they laid me in my bed, I could feel that knot right in my back, and all night it aggravated my wound.
There was no one to speak to. We saw no orderlies the whole night, so I moaned all night.
That lasted all night. At six in the morning, the orderly brought coffee. Each person received a cup of coffee and no bread. That was our breakfast. When we asked for bread, the medic announced that at noon we would receive lunch and at five or six we would get bread and coffee, but breakfast was only coffee.
I said to the orderly about the know in the mattress and that I was in pain. He could not help me until he received permission. Then he and another orderly undid the knot.
It seemed that the orderlies lacked the barest knowledge of their jobs. The Germans used captured soldiers as orderlies. Their work was to bring food for the ill, remove waste in the morning. When someone needed rebandaging, they took him to the operating room. They also had to take our temperatures.
For most this was an easy job. The orderly went to each patient and asked if he had a fever. Whatever the patient answered, the orderly wrote down, whether it was high or low.
No one worried about washing himself. Thus, I lay there for a couple of weeks without water ever touching my face. The bandages were made out of paper, so after a short time they were soaked with pus and falling apart, but still we had to wait two days to get a new dressing.
At noon or one o'clock they brought lunch for all ten of us in one container. There were different lunches. Often there was a container of water with a little head of cabbage. With great ceremony the cabbage was divided into ten portions, and that was lunch.
There was also a lunch of kasha, which brought great solemnity to the barracks, because however hungry we were, the tins of food sat on the table while we waited for them to cool off, because that made the food thicken.
After two weeks, the less severely wounded began to leave their beds, and they began to have bad experiences, but with bread it became worse. The orderlies brought in the bread and put it on the table. The ill, who were mobile, cut it. The result was that they had double portions.
This is how it was: twenty portions of bread were cut and laid on the table, and when the cutting was done, they gave a yell and those who sat at the table took a large portion of bread and those who were lying in their beds received a smaller portion.
The bread was old, and during the cutting it crumbled. Those who sat at the table knew enough to gather the crumbs, so that added to their portions. The same thing happened at lunch.
We tried a variety of experiments with the bread. Some tried to save their bread for breakfast, but at night, when hunger was overwhelming (the whole piece of bread was only about 200 grams), people would take an occasional bite, so that by morning nothing was left.
We drank our coffee with a special ritual. Each person held his cup, and one called out, Ready! One, two three! By three we had each finished our coffee and began the wait for lunch, for the little bit of water that they called soup.
From one meal to the next, we talked about how we used to eat at home, all the good things, and we waited for the day when we could cut our own bread.
One day, after about three weeks, they changed my sheet because it was covered with pus and lice, but they did not wash me nor change my garments, so I was as filthy as ever.
When they changed my clothes, they did not change the sheets, and the sleeping bag and the straw remained filthy and liceridden.
After several weeks , several German came with the orderlies, and they told the orderlies that some officers were coming for inspection and the hut had to be washed and the soldiers had to be washed and shaved.
When the orderlies responded that they had no razors, because it was not permitted to have them, they sought out a hairdresser. He had a razor and he did the shaving.
By bed was right by the door, so I was the first to be shaved. My beard had grown well. When he began to shave me, I started to yell, because the razor was dull and he cut my face. He left my beard halfgrown. They washed me a little, and that refreshed me a little bit.
Several higher officers arrived, one of them a doctor. There was a briefing on each wounded man, and when they came to me, he told them to remove my bandage. He examined my wound and then spoke with the other Germans. Then he asked if I had any requests. I said that it was difficult for me to lie on the straw sack and that I was hungry.
I was lucky. He ordered them to give me a soft cushion, a rubber tube, and extra rations, supplemental food for a month. But until the extra rations arrived, I lost half my weight.
The supplement that I received consisted of two potatoes and twenty grams of meat.
The secular new year arrived. We received 600 grams of sugar and a larger portion of bread, and lunch was a bit better. We were also visited by a clergyman who spoke Polish.
We also received coal, briquettes, like bricks, and everyone who was mobile went out to bring in the coal. One day they brought in so much that the space under all the beds was full.
One Sunday we were visited by a German civilian. He held a carton, and in the carton was dry bread, hard as iron. He gave each man a piece of bread. I also got a piece. There was no way to take a bite, but I was very happy with it because I could not eat it quickly. I gnawed and gnawed at it for a half day until I had consumed it.
By then I could get out of bed and hop to the table, and others also could do so. We sought a way to prevent anyone from being cheated of bread. We made a primitive scale and weighed the bread.
After weighing it, we laid the bread out in a row. One man stood with his back to the table and someone held a piece of bread behind him. They asked him whose piece it was and whoever's name he called, that piece was his.
I Receive a Foot
In February, two orthopedists came from Konigsberg and began to make prosthetics for all those whose wounds had healed. They made plaster of Paris models. In March they took us to Konigsberg to try out the prosthetics.
That was a good day. The workers gave us sandwiches. We devoured them. After fitting the prosthetics, we returned to the camp hospital.
In April they brought us the prosthetics. Each individual was called into the operating room. We were the first group of over twenty men. An orderly carried me on his shoulder, because I could not walk with a cane, as others did. I had to hop, but the operating room was too far away. Each person was called in, and I was the last, because my name began with the letter shin.
Lacking the patience to wait, I hopped to my prosthesis. Each one had its owner's name on it. I put it on, with the orderly's help. I grabbed a cane and immediately began to walk. When they called my name, I was already walking on my prosthesis.
My prosthesis was made of leather to the knee, and below the knee was a canelike piece. For all the invalids who had lost only a foot, the prosthesis was made of plaster of Paris above and the canelike piece below. Men who had lost both feet received a normal prosthesis.
Back in the barracks, I could already walk by myself, though I had trouble with stairs for the first couple of days, and the entrance to the barracks had stairs.
I Make a Life
On that same day I went to the hut of the carpenter so that he could shorten my cane, which was too long. After he fixed the cane, he gave me two pieces of bread with schmaltz. When I returned to the barracks and began to eat the bread, I heard someone say, He's got quite a life!
It was permitted for people at home to send packages, but not more than 250 grams per package. One time I saw my name listed among those for whom packages had arrived, and when I went to get them, there were five packages from five different people. The packages had taken a long while to arrive at camp. In normal times, I might have discarded them, but there they were very good.
I wrote my first letter from the hospital in Konigsberg, but I received no answer. I wrote my second letter from the camp hospital, not to my parents but to my uncle in Warsaw, because I had received no answer from home. I guessed that my parents had gone to my uncle in Warsaw.
I received an answer to my second letter after a few months. Then we were allowed to write two letters a month, but only on special paper that we had to pay for in the canteen. Anyone who had no money sold a piece of bread, and for the money he could buy two cigarettes without writing paper. One time I sold my whole portion of bread so I could buy shaving equipment.
The Life of the Invalids
The invalids would go into the kitchen to bring out their lunch, and when the German was not in the kitchen, we would get the food from those who worked there.
Once it happened that the German was hiding under the counter where we stored water in case of fire, and when a number of the invalids had gathered by the window, he opened the water and began to shoot it at us in a strong stream. We quickly got away, but the water drenched us, so we were fifteen soaked invalids on the ground, and he continued to pour water on us so that we were even wetter.
There were times then when packages of good would arrive for the prisoners and the Germans did not give them to us. They took the good stuff, like sausage and schmaltz, and then they repacked the packages arbitrarily.
These packages of miscellaneous goods they brought to the camp hospital. Sausage, schmaltz, butter and other things were all mixed together. As the things appeared, we would lay them out and spread them on bread. This happened once a month.
The truck that brought these things also brought dry bread from the packages. Each time a different barrack received the bread.
One time I was by chance near the kitchen when the truck carrying the bread was standing by the open window. I put down my cane and went quickly to the window, where I snatched a piece of cake, but at the same moment a half of a bread fell out of the sack. When I grabbed at the bread, the cake fell from my hands and someone else seized it. I was left with the bread, about three kilograms of fresh bread.
At least when I left that scene I was not so hungry.
The other invalids complained that their prostheses were not so good. An expert came from the factory and he was ordered to exchange the prostheses. My prosthesis was also somewhat tight because when I received it I was so thin that my bones could be seen, but when I started to eat, I put some meat on my bones and the prosthesis became tight. Still, when I was asked if it was okay, I said that it was fine. I did not want them to take it from me so that I would again be confined to my bed.
Among the Jews
There was in the camp hospital a small group of the severely wounded. All the others who had recovered were sent to the camp at Gerken
I was still in the camp hospital at the end of May when a group of French prisoners were brought in. There was not enough room, so a group of us were transferred to a prisoner of war camp, Stalag 1, in Gerken. At that camp I was assigned to a Jewish barracks.
In that camp there were about seventy thousand prisoners. After they took down all our information in the recording station, I was told which barracks to go to. when I arrived at the barracks, the Jewish commander showed me where I would sleep.
I looked around to see where in the world I was.
It was a huge camp surrounded by two rows of fencing, and between the rows was barbed wire. There were also guard towers with machine guns.
Each collection of four barracks was surrounded by barbed wire. That was called a battalion.
In the middle of the camp was the canteen. In the canteen we could get paper to write letters, shaving supplies, and other little things. We could also get soda water, but there were few takers. There were also times when we could buy onionsall for money. But no bread.
At the entrance to the camp was the recording station, and near that was the infirmary. They had brought a Jewish doctor into the infirmary. I went to him and said that I could not walk on the platforms of several of the floors, so he admitted me to the infirmary.
A little further on was the worksite entrance, and near that was a post office. In the square was the illegal bazaar, which the Germans did not interfere with.
The bazaar was called Kerzelak. There we could buy anything, even serious stuff, for a quarter, a half, or a whole portion of bread. A whole portion of bread consisted of 200 grams.
We could also get a teaspoon of salt, tobacco, cigarettes and also a half a cigaretteall for money, or people bartered.
A packet of tobacco cost between three and four hard marks. There was real money and camp money. A Reichsmark, which we called hard, was worth four or five camp marks. The difference was so large because that was the will of the guards, who smuggled in the tobacco. For a packet of tobacco that cost fifty pfennig, they wanted two or three marks. I don't remember the price of cigarettes, but it was approximately the price of a packet of tobacco.
It often happened that the guards came to the bazaar and whoever they seized there selling his portion of bread, they took the bread away and gave it to an invalid..
When the guard left, the invalid would return the bread for a cigarette or two, but the guards saw what was going on, so they would stand next to the invalid while he ate the bread.
Outside of the bazaar there was also a business in soup. A mess tin of soup cost about three marks, or a full mess tin with thick coffee cost two marks, if it was sweet, and one mark if it was bitter.
Invalid Eke Out a Living
In the camp I asked if the invalids were exempt from the food lines, and they answered that they go into the kitchen and when a course of watery soup was ended, they gave what remained in the pot to the invalids.
I tried going into the kitchen from the other side and I stood there inside the door. The head of the kitchen, an older German, noticed me and called me to him. He asked what I wanted and I told him a meal. He called out to everyone to give me something.
The same thing happened then in many of the kitchens, though not all, because some kitchens were staffed by young Germans who chased the invalids away. There was no meat in the meals. They made the lunches with big fish that were stored for a long while in salt. They were not nearly fresh. At least they were filling.
The food was heavily salted and the fish were old, but even so the men ate with big appetites and sucked on the fish bones.
There were also days when the food was prepared with horse bones. After cooking, they removed the bones from the pot because they were so big. They put the bones in a crate outside of the kitchen. No one dared go there, but no one paid attention to the invalids, so that invalids were always there tearing little bits of meat off the bones.
Invalids also benefited from the stores and storehouses for bread. Several times every day a truck brought bread. The bread was thrown in through a window, and while being thrown, it often broke into smaller pieces. The Germans gave the pieces to the invalids who stood around the storehouse.
The allotment with the bread consisted of a teaspoon of marmalade and a tiny bit of margarine or a similar amount of ground fish. When the storehouse keeper finished a tub of margarine, he gave it to an invalid who stood by the window and who, with a spoon, scratched out whatever was left. And when the keeper opened a new margarine, he ripped off the paper covering and gave it to an invalid. On the paper there were always little bits of margarine.
Our regular meals were like those of noninvalids: 200 grams of bread for lunch and coffee in the morning.
When I was taken from the camp hospital into the camp, life in the camp had become routine. But earlier, the Jewish prisoners had sufferedthey had been beaten and tortured. Even after I arrived in the camp the Germans would for no reason beat the Jewish prisoners. There was a Polish officer in the camp of German ancestry who always wore a beret on his head. All the Jewish prisoners trembled before him.
Every evening there was a roll call, not in the barracks but outside. After everyone was accounted for, the invalids were let go and everyone else was made to stay out in the dark doing calisthenics over and over or just being made to lie in the mud and crawl in the mud while being beaten.
There was one sergeant who sought any opportunity to persecute the Jewish prisoners.
French Prisoners of War
One day they locked up all the battalions and stopped all activity. A little later they began to lead in French prisoners, many of them. I was then in the infirmary, which was next to the registration office. It took a half day to register all of them.
The Frenchmen had many good things, like English cigarettes, chocolate, good clothes, and wool socks, but they had no razors, so that every time that I made a trade, I had to quickly sell cigarettes so that I could get money to buy razors in the canteen.
In the battalion where they were led, there were guards who did not allow in any older prisoners, but we conducted business through the wires when the guards were not attentive. People bought socks, underwear, shirts, all for cigarettes or tobacco, and in the early daysand also laterfor bread.
Among the prisoners were also aristocrats from Vilna and nearby. Russia and Germany were getting along then and it was permissible to send products from both sides, and they received large packages full of good things, like sausage, bacon, and other things. But each of them cared only for himself, with no interest in anyone else.
The barracks was divided in two parts, with a small washroom in the middle. There was also a big pot for boiling laundry, but it was used more often to cook food.
The cooking was done on a contrived oven. Everyone combined their potatoes in a rag and tied them together. This was put into the pot. The pot was filled with water and thus we cooked. When the potatoes were done, we emptied the water and each man took his rag with the potato. The outhouse was a hundred meters from the barracks. Between the barracks and the toilet, a guard marched.
We had to salute every guard, but some guards, when men saluted them, struck them and yelled, Jew, why are you saluting? But if men did not salute them, they were beaten for not saluting.
One day a young soldier appeared at the post. He appeared fresh and very military. He had no experience. He did what he had been taught, that is, when someone saluted him, he saluted back. When one of us went by him and saluted as required, the German responded, so the prisoner came back to the barracks and recounted the miracle. In the next few minutes, many went to the toilet and the poor German stood the whole time at his post holding a salute.
One day the Jewish barracks was closed and several men were taken away for an investigation into a serious matterespionage.
This was the case: The paper that we got in the canteen for writing letters was manufactured with defects, with red dots. No one paid attention to them, but when the letters arrived at the censor, he noticed the dots and alerted the commandant, and from there they came to arrest the letter writers. After an investigation and after controlling the paper for letters in the canteen, the arrested men were released.
The Germans Shoot Jewish Prisoners
Before I was taken to the camp, when I did not yet have a prosthesis, that was in March of 1940, there was a transport of wounded men, including Jews who were fit for transport. They were freed and sent back to Poland. I was not suitable because I did not yet have a prosthesis.
All of the Christian prisoners in the transport were freed, but only the Jews from the Gubernia General were freed.
The Jews from other areas that belonged to Russia and to the areas outside of the Gubernia General , which the Germans considered German territory, were sent to Byala Podolsk, and we in the camp got news that they were all shot there.
This was all confirmed later. How people in the camp found out about it I do not know.
Later on there was a transport from Cracow, but it was only Christians, no Jews. I wrote a letter to my parents asking them to go to the command center and ask for me to be freed, so they wrote to the commander and asked for my freedom.
They received an answerthat they should send a note saying that they would take responsibility for me and a certificate from the city council that I was a VolksGerman and then I would be freed.
Understandably, I could not obtain such documents, so I remained imprisoned.
There were also many Ukrainians in the camp. Once I was walking around and I saw all the Ukrainians gathered in front of the block with several German officers. One officer read to them a document in Ukrainian about an independent Ukraine, after which they sang songs and then each one went up to the officer and signed a declaration.
One day all the Jews were assembled and led to a nearby second camp. This was a separate section of the same camp. It was called Camp L.
The Germans said that the Jews were conducting too much dishonest business.
In Camp L there were also Africans and Arabs from the French front and a small number of Englishmen. We thought there that we would starve to death, because there was no way for us to organize ourselves. We had only what we were given in the kitchen. But after a few days, the camp plumbers arrived. They were German civilians who worked in the camp and smuggled in different goods.
For these goods they accepted money, sweaters, and socks, which we would buy from the Africans and the Arabs in the usual way.
Also in Camp L I got a place in the infirmary. When I arrived at the infirmary and they showed me my bed, I sat down and looked around. It was a large room with twenty beds. In the middle of the room was a stove which burned nicely because the Africans and the Arabs were freezing, even though it was summer and the Europeans were sweating.
Also the French prisoners were permitted to wear their greatcoats because it was cold.
Also there was no work outside the camp for the Jewish prisoners.
We were in the camp for several weeks and then we were taken back to the first camp, where we were placed under arrest. A guard was stationed by the entrance to prevent anyone from leaving, but when the invalids went out, he pretended not to notice.
Everyone else was allowed in the evening to register for the doctor, and on the way they conducted business.
There were rumors in the camp that a transport was going to set the sick prisoners free. I went to the registration hall to ask if I was on the list, and when I was told I was not, I asked to be able to see the commandant, if that was possible.
They wrote it down, and early in the morning I went with a group to the commandant. Because of me, the departure was delayed for a whole day.
At the command post I asked that I should be freed and put on the list for the next transport. The commandant spoke nicely to me, saying that he would not answer my request. He said that he would telephone the registration hall of the camp and there I would receive a precise answer.
That night I was back in the camp, and early in the morning I went to the registration hall, where I was told that they would not list me for the next transport because that transport was only for Christians. Then I was told that in a short time, all the Jews would be sent from the camp to Poland.
Rumors started to flythat only men from the Guvernia General would be freed, or that men from the Russian territories would as well. The Jewish prisoners discussed whether they should list themselves as Polish or Russian.
There were also prisoners who were listed as Christians, but when they heard that the Jews would be released in Poland, they announced that they were Jews. Among these new Jews was a doctor.
One day about 800 Jewish prisoners were brought into the camp. From their first day as prisoners they were put to work, even while all the Jews were being processed.
Yom Kippur in the Camp
After several requests, the commandant gave permission that no Jewish prisoners should be required to work on Yom Kippur and that they should be allowed to davn. Among the religious Jews there was one whose name, I think, was Cotton, and that group arranged things.
Early on Yom Kippur, when everyone gathered to davn, there was a group of antireligious men who called for an antireligious lecture in the same place where men were davning. While the speaker was carried away, a group of Germans came into the hall, and everyone who was not occupied in davning undertook various activities.
The day came when they announced that we should be ready. The Germans made sure to take early in the morning and at night to the station, which was several kilometers away. Snow and frost were on the ground.
I remember it was midOctober. We were put into train cars. We were given a little bread and food for the way and we started. A military transport was either in front of us or behind us. I don't remember how long we traveled, because we often stood still. We were not allowed out of the cars.
Finally we came to another prisoner of war camp in Hammerstein. There was Stalag 2B. We were there for several days. A group of us invalids went to the commandant and asked for warm clothing because it was so cold. And a miracle happenedhe gave us invalids warm clothes and even winter coats.
We were loaded back into the trains and traveled even further until we came to a border town which before the war belonged to Poland. The train stopped not at the station but a little beyond. We were told to leave the cars.
In the town were Poles and remarkable Polish uniforms. They brought bread and threw it through the fence to us. But we did not collect the bread because the Germans kept us in the cars, and later that same day we arrived at Byala Podlosk.
Under Jewish Leadership
We were led from the station through the empty streets, where we occasionally saw a Christian who was out late. We arrived at a civilian work camp.
It was as though we had slept through the night. In the Byala Podlosk work camp the local Jews were the leaders, though understandably with German oversight. I remember one who was called Black Janek, but other names I do not remember.
There was also a Jewish doctor, but the doctor and the local Jewish commanders did not live in the camp. They just spent the day there.
They were there to berate the Jews in the ghetto. It was permitted at lunchtime for the Jewish women of the town to bring meals for the men in the camp.
There was a rumor in the town that Jewish prisoners of war would be brought to the camp, so the Jewish women began to bring pieces of bread or whole loaves. They stood by the fence and waited for the gates to be opened so they could enter.
We were all quite hungry, so when the women entered, each man tried to be the first to grab a piece of bread, and we all ran to the women with the baskets. The Jewish commanders also played a role. They fell upon us with whips and sticks and began to beat us murderously. At first we did not react, but soon we took a stand and returned the blows.
In the kitchen we received lunches that were worse than when we were in prison, but those who had money to pay the cook received better food.
Those who worked in the kitchen were among those who had been required to work, but they had paid off the Jewish camp leaders and got to work in the kitchen and do whatever they wanted.
The same was true in the bathhouse. Anyone who wanted to go and wash had to pay off the bathhouse workers.
In the morning, everyone who was ill gathered in the square for roll call. The orderly had to determine whether a person could go to work or not.
We, a group of invalids, stood around trying to see how the examinations went. One fellow came out from among those who worked in the camp. He had been appointed orderly, not because he was an orderly but only because he could pay to hold the post.
A group of twenty to thirty men stood there. The orderly went and asked what bothered each one and quickly said he could go to work. There were some among the ill who had severe wounds on their feet, running with pus, and the orderly said that they could go to work. At the prison, such men had received medical help.
We invalids who were standing and watching how the orderly handled himself took to cursing him. He left the sick men and went away.
The prisoners of war were set to work building an airfield, and while working they told the officer in charge about conditions in the camp, so he came to see for himself.
The next morning a military truck arrived at the camp bringing sleeping bags, wooden slats, and bowls for food.
Prisoners of war were also assigned to the kitchen and to the baths, so that the conditions ended up being a little better.
We invalids demanded that we should be exempt from work, according to cards we received as prisoners. The cards said that we should be exempt. The local Jews, the leaders, said that the cards did not apply to us and we had to go before a Jewish doctor who worked in the camp and was also one of the camp leaders.
Immediately a rumor spread that if we gave them our cards, they would free us, but none of us wanted to relinquish our cards because they were our only evidence that we were invalids from the war.
The commission met on Shabbos, or on Sunday.
We stood and waited. There were 180 of us. The first one who went before the commission was from Warsaw. I remember that his name was Soshikin. He had a below the knee amputation on one leg and an injury on the other foot. The doctor told him that he would not be exempted: because he could write, he would work in the office as a writer.
When he returned from the doctor and told us what the doctor had said, we all left.
I Am Released
We asked the group leader of the prisoners of war who were working on the airfield that they should tell the German officers about the invalids' predicament. Early the next day, when they were away at work, they told the Germans about the invalids and also about the doctor who would not exempt them.
At noon, a truck arrived with a highranking officer and one of the prisoners. He assembled all the invalids and sent for the doctor and the camp leader. When the doctor arrived, the officer raised a fuss and cursed him, then asked the doctor what right to cancel the orders of the German high command.
The officer immediately ordered that he did not want to see an invalid in the camp after 10 the next morning, and he went away.
The next day, the camp commanders summoned all the invalids. They demanded from us that we should promise that we would travel on our own money. They would no longer give us money. We had no money, but not wanting to make further difficulties, we promised.
Next they demanded that we should return the military coats that were totally new. There they ran into opposition, but luckily for the invalids at that moment the German doctor from the airfield arrived and prevented the seizure.
This was before lunch. We were taken to the Jewish committee, where we demanded money for traincards, and they gave us cards worth several zlotys.
That night we were a group of twentysome men on our way to the station. I went to the ticket office and asked if there were inexpensive tickets to Warsaw for invalids. He replied that there were no cheap tickets, not even for Christian invalids. But he also said there was a midnight train to Warsaw and the conductors were friends of his, so he could arrange for us to travel to Warsaw without tickets. He told us to wait in the waiting room until he would notify us.
We sat down in the waiting room and waited. After a half an hour, the cashier came with two men from the Red Cross who brought a big pot of tea with bread and shmaltz and a few zlotys for each man.
A little later they again brought bread and shmaltz. When the train came, the cashier sent for us and said that we should get into the first two cars. Thus we made it to Warsaw.
I didn't want to go home immediately because I didn't want to enter the shtetl in daylight for my first meeting with my parents. I got onto a tram and went to my uncle who lived in Warsaw and I stayed there until evening, when I went to the train station. I arrived at the last minute. All of the cars were overfilled. I went to the stationmaster and begged for a spot. He opened a military car and asked them to make room and then invited me in. When I was seated in the car, I noticed a Pole from our town who was known before the war as a confirmed antiSemite. In his lapel he wore the badge of VolksDeutsch. He was reading a German newspaper. When we got under way, he stopped reading and started telling the Germans how he had fought to prevent the Wolomin ghetto from being created in the town, but rather outside the town. He had gotten his way. Surely he did not recognize me, since he gave everyone cigarettes, including me. After twentyfive minutes we got to Wolomin. It was really dark. No Jews could be seen in the streets, since Jews were only allowed out after six in the morning.
It Was 11/7/40
I cannot describe how my father first received me, but it was the first time I had seen him cry. My mother and brother were not in our home because they, with a group of other Jews, were in the ghetto. It was a week before everyone had to be in the ghetto.
I also cannot describe my meeting with my mother. I don't have the words. I will simply say that there were two of us brothers, and I was my mother's son. So, too, the meeting with my brother. I have begun many times to describe it, but each time I have put aside my writing, because it is too hard to recreate the whole scene on those days when I was reunited with my parents and my brother.
The Wolomin Ghetto
On November 15, 1940, all the Jews had to be located in the ghetto. The ghetto was not yet fenced in and lay near the train tracks. The name of the area was Sosnovke. There were two divisionsone section near the tracks was made of big blocks where the Jewish Council and the welloff lived. The larger section was in the woods. It contained little wooden houses. The crowding in this section was terrible. Altogether there were two thousand Jews. I, my parents, and my brother lived in a room that was nine square meters. In our home was a lathe workshop (my father was by trade a woodworker), a kitchen, a bed, and at night we set up another bed. When the second bed was set up, we could not open the door.
The Jews lived off goods that they would buy from Christian smugglers or from Jews who got goods from the wealthy and smuggled them into the village. They brought them in by back roads. Another kind of livelihood involved smuggling leather and other materials, which were worked by Jewish craftsmen. People also smuggled in corn and milled it with hand mills. With the flour, Jewish bakers made bread, which was bought by Christian smugglers.
As I recall, the ghetto was not at first fenced in. There were no guards and people could move about freely. In the beginning people would work for the Germans according to lists compiled by the Jewish Council.
A little while later, the ghetto was fenced in on the side where the train lines were. People could no longer move about freely, and they could only go into the town with a permit from the commissar or in secret. If a Jew was seized in the town without a permit, he was brought before the Jewish Council, which had to fine him up to 2000 zlotys. The Jewish Council formed a militia to prevent people from leaving the ghetto.
I should also note that most of the people were hungry. The community provided lunch and distributed bread. Some Jews served by stealing wood from the forest or digging up wooden fences and selling the wood to the bakers.
In the town there was an organization of Christian war invalids. I went to its chairman and showed him my certificate that I was a prisoner of war and asked his advice for how to get help. He told me that he could not help any Jew but that I should go to Warsaw for a hearing in the military hospital. After the hearing, I should write to the Crisis Bureau for Invalids to get a pension. I wrote a letter to the hospital in Warsaw and asked for a hearing. The hearing was scheduled for the beginning of 1941. I got a pass from the commissar to go to Warsaw and permission to enter the Warsaw Ghetto. At the hearing, I was awarded 98 or 100 per cent by the German doctors. I received a certificate to that effect, and I went to the Warsaw Invalid Organization, where I was told that I should write a request, but there was little hope that I would get help. I wrote the request, but I never received a response.
The Problems Get Worse
The end of 1941 was very trying. If Jews were caught in the town, they were punished not only by a fine from the Jewish Council, but were often shot. The German police chief often announced in the Jewish Council that he had shot a Jew, or several Jews, and for every Jew he shot, he demanded two or three thousand zlotys. In the span of several minutes they had to come up with the money. If they failed, he threatened to shoot them. Members of the militia in the nearby rooms physically seized whatever money they wanted.
Among the Jewish militia there were sadists who enjoyed inflicting punishment: they assaulted and robbed and so on.
At the same time, a typhus epidemic spread. At first the doctors could not diagnose the illness. The afflicted died within two days. The epidemic especially afflicted the wealthy and healthy. There were no medicines in the ghetto, and no one wanted to risk his life by smuggling from the town. I, having no alternative, used to go in the evening into the town and bring back what was needed. For my efforts I received a half kilo of bread.
During my time in the ghetto, I never tasted meat. My friend, who was a butcher, gave me a gift of 200 kilos of meat On Shabbos, when he gave me the meat, I felt that I could not eat it and that I was feverish. I left the house and went to Dr. Resnick. The doctor decided that I was ill with typhus. He asked me if I would rather be at home or in the hospital. I said the hospital. The next morning I went to the hospital.
The hospital was in a house with broken windows that were covered with boards. Each sick person had to bring his own bedclothes and food from home, because there were no orderlies. The rooms were cold and dark. I was in the hospital for fifteen days. When I left the hospital, worn out and starving, I was given a little bit of bread that served as breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
There was an orphan home in the ghetto with about seventytwo children. The Jewish Council had commissioned wooden shoes for the children from my brother. My brother pointed out which trees he wanted to cut down in the forest. The Jewish Council had to promise his pay for the work, since he had to pay with bread.
In the neighborhood of Warsaw (Wolomin was about eighteen kilometers from Warsaw) was the Volnov labor camp. The camp was under the supervision of the Germans and in the camp was a Jewish militia. The commander of the Jewish militia was Alexander, a Jew from Otvotsk. The Jewish Council received an order that they should send a certain number of workers to the camp, so the Council summoned all the ablebodied and chose a number of names. All whose names were chosen were allowed to go home, while the rest had to answer the call. Among those who had to go to the camp was my brother. I made way to the chairman of the Jewish Council and made clear to him that my brother was the only one in our home who could work and I begged that he be released. He answered that he had to send men to the work and he had no alternatives.
It is worth mentioning that at first people took account of my situation. Thus, for instance, when my brother was sent to work in the town, I went in his place. When they called out the names and my brother's was called, I called my own. The chairman and the commander of the militia looked at me and said, We called your brother, and I answered, If my brother goes to the labor, there won't be anyone who can take care of our household. So they told me to go home.
Out of the Ghetto
The transports from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka passed near our ghetto. Every day transports went by, each one taking about twenty minutes. It was the time of the High Holidays. In the ghetto we knew where those people were being taken and what awaited them. I remember that on Yom Kippur I was standing in the ghetto while Jews davened in their taleisim. On one side I heard Jews crying and pleading with God and on the other side the transports carrying Jews to Treblinka. I could hear the Jews screaming from the train cars.
We learned the fate of those being taken to Treblinka from the train workers. It also happened that someone from our shtetl had been in the Warsaw Ghetto and was sent to Treblinka but had managed to escape. In Treblinka he had worked at loading wagons with the possessions of those who were murdered. He hid among those possessions and thus got out of the camp. On the road, not far from Wolomin, he jumped out of the wagon and made his way to our ghetto.
We called his father the Baal Shem. He lives today in Poland.
The small ghettoes in our area were liquidated. Some of the Jews were shot along the roads, while the rest were taken to the Warsaw Ghetto.
Only the ghettoes in Jadow, Radzymin, and Wolomin remained. On the first day of Succos in 1942 one of our village smugglers came (he looked like a Christian), and told us that the Jadow ghetto was liquidated. Only Radzymina and Wolomin remained. People felt that the liquidation of those two was nearing.
I resolved to leave the ghetto, and I was encouraged at home. As in invalid, I would certainly have no hope during the liquidation, so I had nothing to lose. I looked good, so it was worth a try. Again, I had nothing to lose. I thought that if I was caught, at least I would have tried. I had a good new overcoat that I put on. I went to the nearest village, Kubolka, where I bought a train ticket to Ostrov Mazavietzk. My plan was to go to Zambrow, on the other side of the Bug. Each region obeyed the Third Reich, and there were still ghettoes that were unguarded.
I traveled by train to Malkin, where I had to transfer to another train. At the crossing from one platform to the other, Germans were watching out to prevent Jews from sneaking by. But they paid me no attention. I boarded the train for Ostrow and arrived safely late at night. In the Ostrow station I ran into several young men from my shtetl, smugglers. When they noticed me, they tried to get away from the station before I could notice them. They were afraid that I would go with them, which would draw attention to them. I saw how they left the station and began to go on their way. I went through a fence, though even today I cannot tell how I got through it. Because they had to move carefully (since no one was supposed to go that way), they went slowly and I was able to follow them. On the way we met several Christian women (one with a child), who were going in the same direction. At dawn we arrived at the border (meaning the RussianGerman border of 1939). Before we arrived at the border, the Christians said that if we heard shooting, we must stand still. As we got to about ten meters from the border, we heard shooting. We stood still. After a couple of minutes, a German soldier came from the border guards with a dog and led us to his commander. When we came to the commander, it was light outside. Outside of the commander's headquarters, the German told the Christian with the child and myself to wait outside while all the others were led inside. The Christian woman told me that we would not suffer any large penalty.. We would have to wash the floor or chop wood and do other heavy labor, after which we would be released. I should say that the Jewish young men looked like Christians, and that I had also been taken for a Christian.
Weary from the journey, I lay down on the grass. Fifteen minutes later, when the guard emerged from the commander's and saw me lying on the grass, he came over and asked me why I wanted to cross the border. I responded that I was a war invalid who could not work, that I had relatives across the border who I believed would help me. He took me aside and said that at noon, the watch on the border changed, so that there would be few guards for a time. He also told me that not far from the border was a tower and that if I proceeded immediately to the tower I would encounter no guards and would be able to cross the border at noon.
I should note that the region I came from (Wolomin) belonged to the Gubernia General. The other side of the Bug belonged to the Third Reich. One dared not cross the border from the Gubernia General to the Third Reich.
I did not know the way to the border. I told the woman with the child what the German had told me. Before noon, the Christian and I went to the border according to the advice of the German soldier, and, in fact, we ran into no one. Arriving at the fence, the Christian woman went over it and crossed the border. I could not get over the fence because of my disability. I crossed the lower wire, but I got hung up on the upper one. I lay stretched out on the ground and squirmed over to the other side of the border.
I quickly put distance between the border and myself and came to a village. I went to the first house and encountered a peasant woman who had lost her son in the war. She gave me food, and I rested there. No one asked who I was.
The Zambrow Ghetto
As I made my way to Zambrow, I was given a ride in a passing wagon.
I had to enter the Zambrow ghetto by a side way. The Jewish police did not allow strangers into the ghetto. I met some friends who advised me to go to the Jewish Council and ask for help. The leader yelled at me, saying that refugees brought danger on the Zambrow ghetto and would receive no help.
Life in the ghetto when I was there (at the end of 1942) was like the Garden of Eden compared to Wolomin. The Jews worked at different occupations for the Germans, both in and outside of the town. The Jews went to their work without an escort. Food was also available.
Knowing that in the Gubernia General they had liquidated one ghetto after another, and believing that the same would happen here, I did not sleep in the ghetto. In the evening I went to a nearby village where the village magistrate gave me permission to lodge with a peasant. At the peasant's I was able to get supper and breakfast. I could lie all day in the field. I used to spend the night in different villages. I received permission from the magistrate to spend the night with no questions. I went into the ghetto once or twice a week so I could get the news. Thus I lived for a month.
The day of the liquidation of the Zambow ghetto, Shabbos or Sunday night, I was not in the ghetto at all. In the ghetto, life went on as usual, with no feeling that they were on the verge of liquidation. As usual, I was spending the night in the village. When I got up in the morning and wanted to go to another village, I noticed from a far a fellow resident. He did not go on the roads but through the fields, very carefully. When he saw me, he came towards me. His first question was whether I knew what happened in the Zambow ghetto. When I answered him that I did not, he told me that last night the ghetto had been liquidated. He managed to escape. He also told me that he would flee to Warsaw. We parted and I headed toward the east, desiring to reach the neighborhood of Slonim. I knew that area from my military service and I remembered that the Jews in Slonim had been rapidly killed. I hoped that they had been forgotten. I hoped to be closer to the unoccupied Russian territories. After the liquidation of the Zambow ghetto, or at the same time, the ghetto of Bialystok had also been liquidated. I was afraid to move around freely or to enter a village. At night I slept in a shed for potatoes. During the day I traveled in the direction of the sunrise. I went through woods. One day I walked the day and ended up back where I had started.
My Life in Danger
One evening, feeling worn out and terribly hungry, I came to a hamlet. I approached a house, hoping to beg for a piece of bread. There I was seized by a twentyyearold Christian., who cried out that he had caught a Jew. As much as I tried to argue that I was not a Jew, it did not help. He held that a Christian invalid would not go around dressed as I was (I had a new coat). He led me to the village magistrate.
At the magistrate's, two peasants searched to see if I had weapons. The Christian kid said that I had only to live until morning and I would see what they did with Zhids. The magistrate was not at home. When he arrived, he spoke with the kid and said I should be released because I was a Polish invalid, but this speech did not work.
In the morning I was put into a wagon and taken to the shtetl of Lapy. With me went the magistrate's representative, an older Gentile of about seventy. The young Gentile was not with us. On the way, I told the magistrate's representative that I was prepared to give awaymy coat, a gold watch, and 100 Deutschmarks, if he would let me go. The representative told me that for his part, he would free me without taking anything, but he showed me that behind us were many other wagons and he therefore was afraid to let me go.
Travelling further, we encountered a coach with German police. I begged the representative that he should not call attention to ourselves and he should take me to the town. Our concentration made the time go slowly. Not far from the town, I told the representative that I would give him everything I had on the condition that he would not reveal to the commander that I was a Jew but only that he had brought a vagrant. He responded that he did not want me to give him my things. I told him that everyone would see that he was taking me to the commander and he was not responsible for anything else.
We arrived at the police station (the police spoke Polish), and there the representative declared that he had brought in a vagrant, but he did not know who the vagrant was.
To the policeman's question of who I was, I answered that I was from Warsaw, but because I had nowhere to live, I wandered from village to village. I had my discharge papers from the German captivity and I showed them to him. The family name was Christian, and the given name, Hersh, he read as Hershitz, so he took me for Polish. He ordered that I go back to Warsaw.
The magistrate's representative had left, and the police took me to the commandant. The commandant read my papers the same way. He yelled that I was from the Gubernia General and that I should not be found in the Third Reich. If he caught me again, I would get a bullet in the head. He ordered me to go to the local commissar where I would be given a valid pass to Warsaw. The warning about getting a bullet in my head, which would normally have caused me to break out in a cold sweat, struck me as good news, because I could still live.
I arrived at the local commisar's at 9 a.m., but he was not there yet. When he came in, the police gave him my papers, saying that I was to be given papers to get to Warsaw. My papers were given to the secretary, who was told to write out travel papers.
As the secretary began to write the travel papers, I took my papers back. It was the case that although my name was Polish, my given name of Hersh showed my Jewish roots. The Germans had not grasped this, and the paper from the prison camp with its swastika made a good impression. The secretary, however, was Polish and she would have known who I was. At that moment they would have become aware, so I decided to create my own luck. My trick saved me from death. My luck held out. The secretary looked for my papers, so I told her that I had them. She did not ask for them. Instead she asked my name. I said Henrik, and that is what she wrote down.
I soon had a valid document to travel to Warsaw. At the station I had no trouble getting a ticket to Warsaw. Seeing that my beard had grown, I was afraid that that my raise suspicions. I took a chance and went to the barber for a shave. Leaving the barber and heading toward the station, I was stopped by a policeman. He was in charge of inspecting documents, and everything went well. But at the train checkpoint, the conductor asked why one document named me Henrik and the other Hersh. On the spot I responded that Hersh is a short form for Henrik. That answer sufficed.
The trip went well. The checkpoint at Malkin, at the border between the Third Reich and the Gubernia General, presented no problems. There was a brief stop at my shtetl of Wolomin. I was afraid that Gentiles from the town might recognize me. I wrapped myself up in my coat, and since it was cold, that created no suspicions.
When I got to Warsaw, it was dark. I had nowhere to sleep. At a stop on the tramway I met a Polish invalid who lacked a foot. He told me that he lived in Grochow. I told him that I had come from the Third Reich (Zombrow) and I had nowhere to sleep. He invited me to go with him. Arriving in Grochow, my acquaintance said that because he had only one small room, I should go to the magistrate and ask for a place for the night. He offered that if I could not get a pass from the magistrate, I could come to him. He promised to wait. The magistrate told me to go to Warwur where there was an inexpensive lodging house. The Polish invalid did not wait for me.
I arrived at the lodging house (the Notzlegawi) and said, Good evening. I forgot that I should have said, You should be well. The overseer of the house was drunk and immediately said, This is a Jew. His wife said, You can see that he is no Jew, and I said the same thing, but the goy insisted. Finally he said that he didn't care and I could stay over night. He took me to a large room where many people were sleeping (without mattresses), and said that I could sleep there. He also told me that he would leave the door open and in case anything untoward happened, I could get out. In the morning, the goy had totally forgotten his suspicion that I was a Jew and he gave me breakfast.
On the Aryan Side
While I was in the camp, I was in the sick room. Near my bed lay a sick Polish soldier. Since the war had begun, he became a motorman on the tramway.
As an invalid, I ate in the kitchen, outside of the normal routine. I used to give my neighbor some of my food. He would always say that if I were ever in Warsaw and I needed anything, I should make my way to him and he would do whatever he could to help. Having come to Warsaw, I began to search for him. I did not have his address. I asked for him among the tramway workers, and they immediately asked if he owed me money, stressing that he had underworld connections. This did not frighten me at all, because this type of person was involved in business. I learned his address in Praga [a district of Warsaw]. He lived in an attic room. Arriving there, I found the room locked. I came another time, after a fifteenminute trip. The door was again locked. Near the door was a small niche. I went in and decided to wait for him. I was somewhat hidden.
After about two hours, I heard his voice. He was singing drunkenly. I also heard a woman's voice. I was afraid to show myself, so I stayed in that niche. After a short time the woman left. I left my niche and knocked on the door. He opened the door and recognized me immediately. His first words were, Do you know what awaits me? and he took me into his room.
That night, lying in bed with him, I explained that if he could procure for me a birth certificate for someone of my years who had disappeared, I would be able to use it to get an identification card. He responded that his brother had disappeared in 1939. He was my age, and his birth certificate was at his mother's. He would bring it and help me get an identification card. Until the matter was settled, I should stay with him, but he warned me not to leave the house. In the morning he took my coat, and that night he arrived back without the coat, drunk, and he told me that he had pawned the coat so that he could get food for me. During the next four or five days, he took my watch, a gold chain, and a suit of clothes. He himself was short, and he gave me his pants, which went to under my knee.
On the fifth day, when I had nothing left, he told me that I could no longer stay with him, because the home was not his and he was subletting. The owner of the dwelling was a prostitute, and it would be bad if she found me. He also told me that he would go with me to Grochow to another tram worker and tell him that I was his brother and we would take a room for both of us. We came to Grochow, to the tram worker. He did not want to rent to us, saying that his wife, who was travelling, would not agree; but when my protector took out a flask of brandy, he said no more and allowed us to spend the night. The next day I walked the streets. In the evening, I returned to the house, but it was locked. I waited until midnight. The janitor said that he could not let me into the house and he made me leave. He advised me to go straight to Grochowski Street, where there were open courtyards and I could spend the night on a staircase. After passing thirty or forty houses, I found an open courtyard. The stairways were locked up. But I noticed steps that led to a cellar. I went into the cellar and sat on the lowest step. I did not notice that in the neighboring courtyard, which was divided by a fence, there were German military vehicles and soldiers. After a few minutes, they shone a light on me and yelled in German that I should come out. They asked me what I was doing in the cellar. I explained to them that my friend was not at home and I had nowhere to sleep. At first they did not believe me, alleging that I was up to something. When I showed them that I lacked a foot and a hand, they said that I could still do more than others. They argued over whether I should be taken to their officer or released. One said that possibly I was telling the truth and should be released. They told me to get going. As I went back towards Praga, I noticed a broken down kiosk without doors, windows, or a floor. I stayed there until dawn.
In the morning, while it was still dark, I heard the sounds of the first tram. This was the signal that people could go out into the streets. I boarded the tram and went to the last station in Warsaw, Narotawicz Place. There I wound a waiting room for the tram workers, and it was warm.
I sat in the waiting room and warmed up. My situation was desperatewithout money, without food, hungry, not knowing my next move. Across the street was an inn and I noticed that by the building were sitting beggars, both men and women. I decided that the only profession for me was to be a beggar.
I went to the door of the inn and stood there, not having the heart or power to go further. As I stood there for a while, passersby gave me donations. I took in twenty zlotys. I left there and went to Narotawitcza Place, where there was a bazaar. I bought a kilo of bread and I spent the rest of the day eating in the tram workers' hall.
I knew the location of the bar where my protector did his drinking. That evening I went to the bar and found him. He told me that he had no place for me to live. He advised me to go to Praga, Jagalonski Street. There I would find an inn called The Brothers Albertinov. He said that no one asked questions there. For ten groschen, one could get a place to sleep.
My First Evening in Fshitolek [?]
My chaperone led me to 19 Jaglonski in Praga, where the lodging house was. I paid ten groschen at the window and they showed me to a bed, the closest to the entrance. It was a bunk bed. There was no mattress, only boards. . In that room where I found myself, there were forty such beds. A small blue electric lamp cast a weak light in the room. All of the sleeping places were occupied. Outside of my room there were bigger rooms. I climbed into bed and took out a large roll. As soon as I did so, one fellow, who had been talking with two others, approached me and invited me to join their company. They had brandy and they proposed that I should share my roll. My voice was low, weak, and I thought that a drink of brandy would not hurt. I went over to their bed. They poured some brandy into a cup so that it looked like lighter fluid, but because of the darkness I thought it was brandy. I drank it down in one shot, and only then could I make out its real taste. I was embarrassed to show that I was not accustomed to such drinks, but after this meal I retained that taste in my mouth.
I stayed in that place until the Polish revolution in Warsaw, in August of 1944. In the beginning I practiced my profession as beggar in the same spot by the inn in Narotawitcza Place. Before noon I would earn forty or fifty zlotys. This was enough to sustain meit bought bread and something to go with the bread. There was a little left over. When my overseer knew that I had a couple of zlotys, he would come and take the money. I had to give it to him because I was afraid of blackmail. In order to prevent him from taking my money, I converted it to larger denominations (paper money) and concealed it. The overseer instituted an overall search and took whatever he found.
As I mentioned, my overseer said that he would give me his brother's birth certificate. When I still had not received it, I told him that if I did not get it soon, I would give him no more money. It was all one to me, because without the document I could not exist. He grasped that I was serious and told me to wait in the spot where we had met and he would bring me the birth certificate, which he had found at his mother's. Not trusting him, I sought a hidden spot where I could observe whether he came alone or with someone else. I saw him alight from the tram, and he was alone. I emerged, and he gave me the birth certificate. The birth certificate was in the name of Edward Kempkowitsch, born in Warsaw in 1913, my birth year. I had then about a hundred zlotys, which I gave to him. I did not see him again for several weeks.
I wanted to get an identification card. I was told that if I had a profession and slept in the same place for six months, I could get an identification card. I went to the secretary and asked for a certificate. He told me that he could not give me a card because I had not lived in the same place for six months. After I gave him money, he immediately gave me a certificate. I gave the birth certificate to the city council along with the certificate and two pictures in order to get an identification card. They told me to come back in a few minutes.
I remembered that I had converted my money into larger denominations. I hid the money in different places. One day I came to a grocery store to convert the money. By the counter stood a tall, pockmarked goy. His appearance did not make a good impression. When I gave him my change, we talked a bit. My instincts alerted me and led me to pay more attention to our business. In the course of a couple of weeks, I converted my money with him. He ran the business with his brotherinlaw. His name was Robert Barutzki, and his brotherinlaw was Henjek Grabowski.
During those couple of weeks, I became friendly with Barutzki's wife.
Yes, I Am a Jew
One day when I came as usual to convert money, Mrs. Barutzki's wife was alone in the store. She called me in, looked around to be sure that no one could here or see us, and said, Edward! I believe that you're a Jew…
It was all one to me. Begging had become hateful to me. In the place where I slept there were beggars, thieves, drunks, swindlers, and me.
I answered her curtly, Yes I'm a Jew. I answered in an agitated voice, and then I continued: I shed blood and was wounded on your Polish soil. Then I asked, Don't I have a right to live with you in Poland?
She turned pale and then began to explain that she meant no harm. On the contrary, she was my friend and would help me. At these words, I left and went to the tram workers' hall. At four in the afternoon she came and called me to the store. When I got there, her husband was eating lunch. The same lunch was set out for me.
Edward! Don't worry. Better times will come. He invited me to their home on the following Sunday.
The next month I arrived at the town council to get my identity card. I went to and from the window several times. I feared that the owner of the birth certificate was still alive, and then all would be known. From a distance I could see the papers they were preparing for me. Seeing my papers near the secretary, and no police, I approached the window. She said to me that there was no identification card for me and that I should go to the central town council office on Theater Place in Warsaw, but for what purpose I did not know. They told me that I absolutely must to the central town council office or I would be taken there. I was afraid to go there. The flunkies in the office told me that they understood from the notice that I only had to go there to register. This news relieved me a bit, because I was still worried about the birth certificate.
Early the next morning I headed to the central town council office, to the window to which I had been directed. I left with the news that instead of giving me an identification card, I had just been invited there. The commissioner had taken out my file and said that I could not obtain an identification card because I was not registered in Warsaw. I carefully explained that I had attached a document showing that I had lived at my residence for six months (which was required to get an identity card). I explained that there was no official record there, only a registry for those who slept there and that must suffice. A nearby commissioner said that as far as he knew, that was enough. He stapled the papers together and told me to go back to the first address in a month. So it was. When I came to the town council, I got my identity card. My picture was on the card, and it said that I was Roman Catholic. After I got the card, I went to my acquaintances on Narotowitsch Place. They were very happy.
With an official document identifying me as Edward Kempkowitsch I felt more secure. A little earlier I had bought a Catholic prayer book and I learned the prayers, the names of the saints just like a born and baptized Pole.
I Change My Profession
I mentioned that Barutzki and his wife were my friends. Therefore I was bold enough to ask them to look out for a job for me, legal or illegal. As natives of Warsaw, they knew a lot of people. Barutzki told me he would be interested in helping.
Barutzki dealt in black market meat. A butcher who made sausage would come to him from Bielen. The butcher would buy at the market and also from Barutzki. The boy who used to transport the meat had found other work (the butcher himself did not transport the meat), and there was no one to replace him. Barutzki proposed that I would transport the meat. He declared that he would stand behind me. The butcher was cautious. I had to get twentyfive kilograms of meat and take it on the tram to Bielen and then from the station carry it several kilometers. For me, in my condition, that was pretty difficult, especially the first time., when I had no rucksack. For each package of meat that I transported I earned twenty zlotys. An lunch with the butcher and then thirty or forty individual sausages. I made this journey four or five times a day. I also brought the sausages back from the butcher, for which I was also paid. I should add that Barutzki's guarantee was that I would not steal, but if the Germans interfered, no one would be held responsible.
It was cold and I had no warm clothing. I had about 700 zlotys. I asked Barutzki to go with me to the oldclothes market on Kazhimirizhe Place. He went with me. I was looking for a jacket in accord with the money I had, but my friend had a fur in mind. I said to him, Robert! I don't have such money… He responded, That's not your worry. What you need, I will give you.
He bought me a fur coat that cost twice the money that I had.
Before I began working for the butcher, Henyek Grabowski, Barutzki's brotherinlaw, had a friendly conversation with me. He also knew that I was a Jew. He asked what organizations I had belonged to before the war. When I said that he would never have heard about them, he responded that he knew them all. I told him that I had belonged to Hechalutz hatzair. He then declared that if I wanted to be a communist, he would not help me. He told me to come to the store the next morning at 3 or 4 in the morning. He would be at the store then. I should look in and if I saw a tall young man with a mustache, I should come in, stay for two minutes, say nothing, and then leave. He also told me to write my name in Yiddish on a piece of cigarette paper. He said that I would get support from him.
I did as I was told. I went to the shop, saw the tall young man with the mustache, stood there for two minutes, and went away. When the young man left, I went into the shop and asked who he was. He told me, It's enough for you to know that he is from your people and his name is Antek. About two weeks later, Grabowski gave me 500 zlotys. He asked if I knew where the money came from. I replied that it was from Antek, and he said to me, You know nothing! I said, I know nothing!!! At the same time, Grabowski introduced me to Mrs. Irena Adamovitch.
In the Polish Underground AK
Near the shop of my friend Barutzki was a kiosk where they sold drinks and desserts. The kiosk belonged to Barutzki's brother. I used to patronize the kiosk often. I noticed several times that some unknown men would come, and the owner of the kiosk (Barutzki's brother) would eat with them before closing the kiosk and going away with them. It seemed mysterious. One day, in the evening, during the winter of 1943, the owner of the kiosk, Jan Barutzki, sent two of his friends outside and then approached me. We know that you are aware that we have a chapter of the AK. Do you want to join? I immediately answered, Yes. Then one of the unknown men took out a paper and read to me, in a quiet voice, the oath and I repeated it after him. He also explained that anyone who revealed secrets would be executed. One asked me what pseudonym I chose, and I immediately said Kulov , but then I realized that there were people in the area who might know that name and I might be unmasked to the German police. I proposed a second pseudonym, Tzenti, and this was accepted.
Soon after my first days as a member of the AK, I was sent to perform various duties. On Zvawitshela Place, near the barracks, lived a teacher, a Christian, who worked with the Gestapo. The AK knew which house she lived in, but they did not know which room. I had to adopt my old profession of begging. I went to the highest floor. The house had six or seven stories, and I had to go begging from door to door. As they expected, I recognized her dwelling. A little while later I read in the daily news that she had been sentenced to death.
Another time I was assigned to investigate the approach to a place where military equipment as stored. The place was bordered by a courtyard, and I had to spring whatever fence divided the place from the courtyard. There was a German club in the courtyard. I went into the courtyard and when I was by the end, a German approached and asked what I was looking for. I answered that I was looking for a toilet. He threw me out of the courtyard. A couple of hours later I reentered the courtyard and came to the fence, which was made of barbed wire.
The post office and telegraph office were on Fiyus Street. I was given the assignment of determining how many people worked there, whether there was a kitchen, when the shifts changed, and making a diagram of the approaches from neighboring buildings. Opposite the post office is where the German embassy was before the war, and in front of that building was a high brick wall. I had to determine if there was a military guard there. It was already the summer of 1944, not long before the Polish rebellion. I had to carry out my task on a Sunday. At 3 o'clock I took up my post as a beggar about 50 meters from the post office. In front of the building's tower stood a Pole in the uniform of a post office official, unarmed. After I had watched for a while and saw that there were no Germans, I started to approach the Pole. I acted like a peasant and asked if the telegraph is what one pushed with one's finger. He took me for an ignoramus. While I was begging, I had a little conversation with him and stole glances into the courtyard. There I saw an armed German guard. After a couple of hours, I had become friendly with the Pole, and he told me how many people worked there and even invited me into the kitchen for a bite. I also noticed when the shift changed. Just when he wanted to take me into the kitchen, a German civilian approached, one of the post office directors. He yelled at the Pole and drove me off.
A little later I entered a neighboring courtyard so that I could make an accurate diagram. While I was doing so, I noticed three couples going by me, taking turns. I was later assured that they were also from the AK and were keeping an eye on me.
After finishing the diagram, I had to confirm if there were any military people in the house across the street. As I recall, there was a high brick wall there. I sat by the entrance and considered how to carry out my task. At the moment the door opened and the housemaid came out. She warned me to leave that spot right away, because if a German came out, he would beat me, since it was forbidden to sit there. I replied, What are you carrying on about? This house is empty and there aren't any Germans there. To this she responded, What are you saying? The house is full of military men. So I knew everything. I left that place and resumed my begging. I did not dare leave my post without permission. A little later a couple walked by, and between them was someone who had been sent to me. He came over to me and gave me alms and then whispered that if I had finished my work, I could leave. I stayed there a little while, counted the money I had collected, and left. After I had gone a little way, I suddenly noticed that two policemen across the road were going in my direction. I was, understandably, petrified, but I did not panic. I took a cigarette out of my pocket and went up to them, asking for a light. They yelled at me, but they gave me a light. I went to my assigned spot and gave all the information that I had gathered.
Another time I was sent with an accomplice to determine what was happening at a certain villa, not far from Narotawitch Place. The street was called Filtrova. Many villas were there, occupied by SS men. In one of the villas were offices. We sat on a bench in the square and tried to figure out how people got in. At that moment a car arrived, equipped with weapons, and SS men got out, looking for workers. My accomplice was taken. I had nothing to do but wait until he returned. He got all the information.
I also used to distribute underground bulletins. Mostly I used to put the bulletins in the tool kits of the tram workers and city workers and so on. One time in the evening I was late for the last tram before curfew. I got into the tram that was still in service. This was at the corner of Marshalovski and Krulewski. This tram was headed for Praga. As we approached the Cambridge Bridge I noticed people shooting at a tram that was going from Praga to Warsaw. I was standing next to the motorman. It was already dark. In my pocket I had a stack of bulletins. I quickly hid the bulletins under the engine. After we crossed the bridge, the police stopped the tram and demanded our passes. They looked me over and asked what I was doing. I told them that I was late for the last tram and now I was going home. One of them thought about it, looked at my wooden leg and gave a contemptuous wave of his hand, as though to say I was not worth bothering with. I did not mind his contempt…
When I think today about my experiences during the war, I do not know how to account for the fact that I am still alive. As one who lost a hand and a leg in the war and then was saved from the ghetto, from the camps, and then lived for two years in Warsaw, it was not only luck. It was a miracle! Luck alone would not be enough. I do not believe in miracles. And for many of those who will read my writings, many facts will seem unbelievable. But they happened. The best evidence that these miracles happened is that I am still alive. Anyone who had been there would know that without miracles my fate would have been the same as that of millions of other Jews. I did not escape because I had money. The couple hundred zlotys that I gave do not count as money. It could be that my weak appearance, my being such an invalid, saved me. In any case, it is beyond my ability to understand. The facts have to stand for themselves. I can go no further.
In Pshitulek, in Praga, where I resided for two years, Polish agents often came dressed in civilian clothing. They sought out new residents, particularly Jews. Each room had its leader, who had to point out the new boarders. A few weeks after my arrival in Pshitulek, the agents arrived and the leader pointed me out. I was sitting on the bed, putting on my pants. The agents asked if I was missing a hand. I answered that I also lacked a leg. They gave a wave of their hands and went away.
During my time in Pshitulek, three agents came looking especially for Jews. On the floor where I lived, the agents came in 1944. A fellow boarder told me that they were coming. I was completely flustered, but my neighbor did not notice and went away. Suddenly a messenger came and called the agents back to their headquarters. They did not return.
Once a week we had to go to the baths. In the baths there were enclosed showers. What frightened me about the bathsI cannot write down. But I found a solution. Everyone took along his few valuables. I put my things in a military sack. I carried the sack in front of me and it hid my Jewishness. Later on I learned that for half a zloty, the bathkeeper would give a note saying that I had washed.
Generally I got along well with my fellow residents. Later on, when I had real work and could buy drinks and snacks with them, we became friendly. In Pshitulek there were different types of people. There was a colonel from the Czarist army, a big drinker. When he got hold of a bottle and drank it down, he began to give commands. Then he would hold the bottle before his face and talk to it for an hour or more.
One fellow who was a mute told me I should buy some holy pictures. I should not ask the price. Whatever you thought you should pay, he told me in sign language, you should give more. Right away I went and bought holy pictures.
A son of a Petersburg bank director in Czarist times, an outspoken antiSemite, lived with me and awaited the moment that the Germans would take Leningrad, so that he could claim his inheritance. He had letters of recommendation from a variety of people, and thanks to those letters he became involved in a number of undertakings. He gave me several addresses, saying that the people there would surely help me. I used them with varying degrees of success. I will say that most of the residents had no interest at all in Jews, either for good or for bad. They were interested in stealing a little and having some schnapps.
My bed stood in a corner, which was some advantage, because on the one side I had no fear of thieves. On the other side I kept a number of reflectors on the bed. One evening I got home and found another fellow lying on my bed. I asked him to get out of my bed and he began to fight with me. (This was at a time when I already had good friends, thanks to my tributes.) When my friends heard the fighting and saw what was going on, they threw him off my bed and said that if he bothered me, they would smash his bones. When my friends left, he said to me, Remember, I have suspicions about you. If you don't give me your bed, you're in for trouble. I acted like I did not know what he was talking about, and I did not give him my bed. The next day, when I got home, I found him lying paralyzed in his whole body. Nor could he speak. The brothers (monks) took him to the hospital and he died a week later.
During the time of the ghetto, they used to lead Jews out of the city for different kinds of work. I used to follow them and watch the Jews from afar. I just wanted to see Jews.
On the streets were loudspeakers which delivered news four times a day. My usual spot for hearing news was on Narotawitsch Place. One day the loudspeaker was out of order. The nearest one was at the corner of Marshalkovska and Yerezalimska (not far from the main train station). I went there to get the news. Afterwards, as people drifted away, I remained there. Suddenly I felt an impulse to turn my head. I did so and saw a young woman named Grodzitzka. I did not want to go towards her. People were afraid of each other and I did not know if she wanted me to recognize her. After two or three minutes, she noticed me. She approached me and we spoke for about five minutes. As were separating, I put my hand in my pocket with the intention of giving her money. Simultaneously she put her hand in her pocket with the same intention. We both smiled and parted. (She is still alive.)
It was my custom after hearing the news that the Germans were retreating that I would go to my friend Jan Barutzki and have some brandy in honor of the free state. They knew how many places the Germans had given up. After drinking I used to name those places. After my encounter with the young woman from my town, I ordered a big glass of brandy. After I drank it, I was asked the purpose of the big glass. I answered that I had met someone from my town. He understood…
Once, at night, as I went home, I noticed a German settler named Chwapek from my town. I did not know if he recognized me. I went further and then turned my head. The German was standing there looking at me. I understood that he had no mind to chase me. I went over to him. He gave me his hand and said that he was also in hiding. He had done something for which the Germans were after him. When he left, I watched him for a long time, and then I turned. I wanted to be sure he could not know where I lived.
It was announced in the streets that there would be an exhibit about typhus. I went to the exhibit. Under glass there were different kinds of lice, with diagrams showing how the lice fed. In another room was a film. The film showed a path, and it a Jew was walking. Then the Jew was replaced by a louse. Behind the Jew a Christian woman was walking with her child. The film showed how the louse seized on the child. Arriving at home, the child developed a high fever. The doctor diagnosed typhus. The end of the film consisted of writing stating that Jews brought typhus, so do not hide Jews because they bring illness.
My friends the Barutzkis chastised me for going to such places. Why should I pay attention to such nonsense?
Once I worked as a translator. This was when a German soldier wanted to trade a Christian a box of matches for eggs. I was their translator. After concluding the transaction, I asked the German for an egg. He said to me, You're a Jew! I said to himJust because I ask for an egg I'm a Jew. And if I hadn't asked, that would have been all right. Then he gave it to me.
Frequently the Germans would enter trams and search the passengers. The meat that I carried for the butcher, I carried on the tram. I was never caught. Either the car I rode in was not searched or the whole tram was ignored. On those occasions when I was searched, I was not carrying meat.
I used to take the tram from Bielany, but I would get on at the station before Bielany and then go to Warsaw. At the last station I used to stand and watch the soldiers who were exercising. One time one of them came up to me and said, Your rucksack smells like sausageHa? You're not saying anything. I responded, Which is better, to smuggle or to beg. He gave a wave of his hand and dismissed me.
In Warsaw, Hungarian Jews were working for the Germans. They were dressed in halfmilitary and halfHungarian garb. They traveled on the trams without guards. One time when I was on the tram and saw no Germans, before I got off I asked one of them if he knew German. (I was afraid to speak to him in Yiddish. He said that he did. I took out a pack of a hundred cigarettes and gave them to him, letting him know that we were similar. (Don't think about the expression I used to say this.) Then I quickly got off the tram.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Since I lived on the Aryan side, I did not, understandably, dare to show any intimate relations with Jews. Aside from a few select people, like Barutzki and his wife and the one who got my documents, no one knew that I was a Jew. I mingled quite freely among the Germans, as I have shown.
I learned about the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto from a tram worker. It was on Narotovitsch Place, the place where I often spent free time. When a tram came from Bialany and it had been shot through by a bullet. Then the tram man told me that it was shot from the ghetto. Other Poles said that they had seen in the ghetto blueandwhite and redandwhite banners. I heard a variety of reports from Poles, although, for obvious reasons, I could not ask questions. Some of them spoke scornfully. They laughed, not believing that the uprising was a serious matter. On the other hand, others believed that the Jewish uprising would bring with a general uprising. That was at the beginning. A few days later, when people saw had the Germans had sent reinforcements of soldiers and tanks, everyone developed respect for the uprising.
One day I came to Kraszinski Place, not far from the ghetto. There, not far from Miadava Street, was a unit that was firing on the ghetto. At the same time on Kraszinski Place there was a carousel which operated on Sunday as never before. Among the Poles rumors were spreading about many German dead and heroic deeds of the Jewish rebels.
The tram system in the direction of the ghetto broke down. From the sounds of the shooting and the from the flames and smoke of the burning ghetto we knew that the battle was continuing. I once saw a group of rebels, young men and women, being led, covered with soot and dirt, in the direction of the east station.
After the liquidation of the ghetto, the Germans brought Greek Jews from Auschwitz, so people said, to clean up the ghetto from the destruction. The bricks, iron, and other building materials the Germans sold to the Poles. Other materials they took for themselves. They took loads of stuff to the Vistula. The tramline was back in operation and I saw the ghetto in ruins.
After the uprising I would encounter groups of Jews that the Germans had captured. This was in Szalibasz and other spots in the neighborhood. Once on Narotowitsch Place I saw a Polish policeman leading a thirteenyearold girl. a janitor sent a German gendarme after a young man who was about to board the tram, saying that he was a Jew. The German examined his documents, which were in order. He wanted to let him go, but the janitor insisted that he was a Jew. He was taken to police headquarters and I never saw him again.
Such things I saw often. I could only look but never do anything.
The Polish Uprising in Warsaw
A week before the uprising I left the Pshitulik in Praga. My friend Barutzki knew about the uprising, but he did not tell me when it would occur. He advised me to come to his place because of the possibility that Praga would be cut off from Warsaw and I would suffer from hunger.
There was a sense in the air that something was about to happen. Many divisions of the German army were coming back from the eastern front, marching through Warsaw on their way west. Not many soldiers were left in Warsaw. The bridges over the Vistula were mined by the Germans.
On the day of the uprising in August of 1944, I was on Grayetzka Place. We heard shooting and I and others hid in shelters. We were in the bunker for a whole night. At dawn a German came into the bunker and announced that anyone who lived in the neighborhood could go home, but with our hands in the air. Others could stay in the shelter. My friend Barutzki lived at the second corner of Grabska, so I went home with my hand in the air. At home, everyone was in the cellar. The area was held by the rebels. Through our courtyard marched groups of rebels with weapons, some in uniforms and some in civilian clothes. Passageways were made in the walls of the houses so that they could go from one courtyard to another.
Soviet airplanes dropped leaflets signed by the high command of the Polish army in Russia, General Berling. They said that the Soviet army was now near the Rodzimin Woods, near Praga, and called on the rebels to persevere. The tone was dignified.
On the next day we learned that the Soviet army had gone back to Sedlce. On that day or the next we heard the sound of tanks. Looking out through the holes, we saw on the streets German tanks and many Ukrainians. They knocked on the doors, and when the doors were opened they called the people from the cellars. A group of Ukrainians shot people on the spot. Others occupied themselves with looting. They sent the men to a gathering spot in Zeleniek Place. I got away with a watch, which they took from me. After we left the houses, they were burned down.
About twenty thousand men were assembled in Zeleniek Place. The place was surrounded, and all the walls were Ukrainians with machine guns. The next day a German general named Zelenen arrived with a group of officers and announced through loudspeakers that because many German officers had been killed, he had sent an inquiry to Berlin about what to do with usto kill us there or to send us out of Warsaw.
We had no water. From a broken pipe dripped a little water, and at that spot there were dreadful scenes. We received no food. Barutzki's wife had, as she was leaving the courtyard, grabbed a bread and bacon. This food was shared by Barutzki, his wife, his child, his inlaws and me. Fear showed on everyone's faces. People pleaded, cried, and trembled about the future. At night the Ukrainians would rape the women and then shoot them. There were no toilet facilities, so people had to relieve themselves in public.
A day later they announced that an order had come from Berlin to take us out of Warsaw. They took us to the west train station. On the way the Ukrainians shot into the marchers and many were killed. Among the thousands on the march were women, children, the elderly, as well as many young men. We arrived at Pruszkow and were put into the waiting rooms. There we were guarded by Germans and Vlasovtsy (Russian deserters from the Red Army who fought on the German side). In Pruszkow we overnighted. In the morning the Germans announced that those capable of labor would be sent to Germany to work and those not capable would go to Lowitz and then be scattered among the peasantry.
We were put into transport wagons. On the way, the train stopped. A young Pole, a bit lame, tried to escape. The train was full of police. They shot at him. Not far from the spot where the train stood there were German police, who also shot at him and killed him. The people in the cars said this was a sign that we would all be killed, because if not, why had they shot him? But now it seemed that fear was useless. At the station in Lowitz there was no military presence. Instead there were nurses from the Red Cross. They opened the doors of the train cars and called us out.
The nurses told us to follow them, and we left the town. There were barracks just like those in the ghetto, as the Poles had told us. I stood still, fearful to enter the barracks. I wanted to see whether people only entered or whether they also came out. When I saw that they went in and out, I went into the courtyard. They registered us and told us not to wander off, because soon wagons would come from the villages among which we would be divided.
It was getting late and the peasants had not arrived. I heard people speaking among themselves that it was dangerous to spend the night there and it would be better to spend the night in the nearby village. I went with themthere were about ten of usand we spent the night with a peasant in a stable. When we returned to the barracks, most of the people were not there. During the night the wagons had come and took them to the villages. We were told that more wagons would arrive soon. When the peasants came, I inquired how far the village was from the town. I was going to a village nine kilometers from the town. I should add that the dividing up was voluntary. Each person got into a wagon, and when it was full, it left.
With The Peasants Until the End of the War
I and an older Christian were quartered with a peasant. We were treated well. We were given a big bowl with potatoes and milk. I was really hungry after not eating for a couple of days, so I got right to eating. Before the elderly Christian got to her bowl, I had eaten half. When she put her spoon into the bowl, I could eat no more. The peasant noticed and said that he understood that as a city person I was not used to eating out of a bowl. He promised to give me special food.
In the village I lasted only one day. The reason is that according to tradition, what would suffice for a peasant for ten days will suffice for someone from Warsaw for one dayand what will last twenty days for a peasant will suffice for three from Warsaw. The village mayor said that the village met up to that saying. I was sent to another village, but the mayor said that my new landlord was a carpenter and new about city life, so I would be comfortable with him.
The peasant treated me well. People ate together. The landlord was young. They had a small child, and his father also lived with them. Obviously when they asked me who I was and so on I did not want to give them too much information. Therefore I asked if I could go with an old peasant to look after the animals. Later on I took care of them by myself. I wanted to be useful, so I used to saw and chop wood, cut the fodder, clear manure out of the stalls, all this with one hand and a wooden leg.
As long as it was warm, I slept in the stable. When it got cooler I slept in a room on straw. After that I put together a bed and slept in the stall with the animals.
I was with this peasant for five months. People never spoke about politics there. Instead they told stories. A rumor went around that someone from the underground was in the area and was planning an uprising that would free them. From time to time I would throw in a word or two. That made me seem important, and they took me for an officer.
Life went on quietly. But there were moments of terror. The animals used to pasture in the field that was not far from the road. Once a truck passed with German police. They asked who I was and examined my documents. That ended peacefully.
A Jewish Woman in the Village
Every week there was a meeting of the peasants in the village. They talked over the village's affairs. In these meetings they considered various matters of village life like, for instance, the appropriations for the Germans, the plowing, the sowing, and the like.
Once my peasant asked me when he got back from a meeting, if I might know an older woman who lived in the village and who said that she was from Warsaw and lived on Groyetzka Street, the street that I lived on in Warsaw. I replied that in Warsaw many people lived in a single house, more people than in the whole village, so surely I did not know all the residents of that street.
The peasant told me that at the meeting, the peasant with whom the woman lived had raised the suspicion that the woman was Jewish. The meeting created a commission of three peasants, among whom was mine, to look into the question of whether she was Jewish or not. The next day they spoke with her, but her Polish was better than theirs. After this conversation, she disappeared from the village. She said that she was going to look for her husband. I believethat she was Jewish.
Halfway through January of 1945, when the offensive against Warsaw began, we in the village heard the sounds of artillery bombardments. The next day a peasant woman from nearby who had escaped from the front and arrived at our village reported that she had seen how German tanks had tried to cross the water at Sochochov (the water was frozen) but remained stuck because the ice had broken. That same evening, at 10 o'clock, a German military vehicle was all lit up. On the road, another vehicle went toward the village (about 100 meters).
The peasants were afraid the whole time that they would not be evacuated as the front drew closer. Everyone had packed a bag with necessities. When they saw the lit up vehicle, they believed that they were about to be evacuated. The vehicle stood for a half hour and then, after asking the way, it left. We were overcome with terror.
This was in the early morning hours. Day dawned. Suddenly I heard banging in the stall where I was sleeping. When I opened the door, my peasant surprisingly let me know that the Bolsheviks were there. You can imagine what I felt at that moment. I cannot describe it. I did not even notice how the news affected my peasants. From sheer joy I ran outside, nearly naked and barefoot, even though there was a heavy frost (I do not remember the exact day, but I think it was the eighteenth of January). Finding myself outside, I asked where they were. The peasant answered that they were in Lowitz. I have to admit that at first I did not believe the good news. When I looked at the road, I saw how a peasant was driving a wagon and pulling a small German car. That was the best sign that the news was true.
I waited impatiently to see the Soviet military, but by the end of the day they still had not arrived at our village. They only came the next day.
I stayed in the village for another week. At my request, the peasant took me to Lowitz. There was no way to get to Warsaw. The Red Cross put me up in a school with refugees from Warsaw. That did not last long, and a column of empty military vehicles was going to Warsaw. They took a number of refugees, including myself. That very day, in the evening, I arrived at Praga.
Back Among Jews
Arriving at Praga, I asked a militiaman to recommend a place where I could sleep. He examined my document. The main job of the examiners was to stop the smuggling of Volksdeutsch. They gave me a place to sleep in the commissariat. In the morning I found a Red Cross office where returning refugees had stayed. But they gave out no food.
Near that office were cars on their way to Lublin. Near one car I noticed an officer who had a Jewish face. I watched him, which he noticed and immediately asked, Amcha? [Are you a Jew?} When I responded, Amcha, he asked what I was doing there. I told him my situation, that I had nowhere to go. He asked why I did not go to the Jewish Committee in Warsaw. This was the first time that I ever heard of such a group.
Arriving at the Committee in Praga, 34 Torogowa, I registered and was given the number 293 or 294. First I received a quarter kilo of bread and a quarter kilo of sugar. There was a crowd in front of one door. This was the entrance to the chairman's office. Next to the door was a doorman who recognized me. His name was Kazak and he was with me in the prison camp. (He now lives in Israel.) The chairman gave me 500 zlotys.
In the office I recognized a young woman from our shtetl who had served with the partisans. She told me that there were some Jews in Wolomin.
I Come Home…
The road to Wolomin was not easy. The train tracks had been torn up. You had to go by way of Radzymin, but even to Radzymin you could not go by train. I small train went about half the distance. I met a peasant who took me to Radzymin. Arriving there, it was already dark. I went to the police station and asked for a place to sleep. The police commander said that it was cold in the commissariat. He advised that I go to a rich Jewish family where I would certainly be given a place to sleep.
A militiaman took me to the Jew. The militiaman explained what was going on and left. They showed me into a room and I sat by the stove to warm up. In the next room, music was playing. There were guests there. After I sat there for two hours, they brought me a glass of tea and a piece of bread. I was told that I could not sleep there because the place was too small. I asked if I could sit near the stove because I had no strength to go on. He did not agree, stressing, What's the problem. Not far from here lives another Jewish family and there you'll sleep like a prince. He offered to go with me, and I had to agree.
When the door of the second dwelling opened and when the inhabitants saw who it was, they greeted him with curses and then invited me into the room. It was a small room for three young men. There were three beds made of boards. They were just cooking dinner (kasha). They honored me with a plate of kasha and one offered me his bed. They told me that the Jew who would not let me sleep at his place was quite rich, lived like a count, but would not allow a Jew to sleep over.
I still had nine kilometers to go to get to Wolomin. There was no rail line, so I went on foot. The road I took was the same as the one the police used to take to the ghetto. It filled me with terror. Each snap of a twig made me tremble.
Arriving at the center of town, I asked a Christian about several Jewish families. The Christian looked at me and then yelled, You're still alive? That was my reception in the shtetl. I got the address of the Rubenstein family. There I first encountered a Jewish home, a Jewish heart. The churban had created woe, but there was also a bit of consolation. Of my familymy father, my mother and brothersnothing remained. I went to the ghetto, hoping to find a picture or another keepsake, but nothing remained.
After I had rested a little, I headed toward Warsaw in search of my friend Barutzki. I found them at their old address. Our joy was tremendous. They made a special dinner, and when I was in Warsaw I stayed with them.
I also saw my old employer, the butcher. He also rejoiced to see me. After several glasses of brandy, we spoke about Jews. He proclaimed, Yes, whoever had money survived. I responded, I had no money, but I survived. He said, What did you say? and I repeated my words. Then he said, Are you a Jew? Then we began to drink again. By chance he told me the story of a Jew who had been hidden with his brotherinlaw.
The butcher's brotherinlaw lived in the next house. He worked at the Warsaw gas works. A Jew and his wife hid with him, obviously for money. When the Warsaw Uprising broke out, the whole family, including the Jews, came to the butcher's house. During the uprising, everything was very expensive, if you could get things at all. The Jew took out much gold and dollars and wanted to give them so that he could continue to stay there. According to the butcher, he said, I'm no speculator and I won't take anything from you. When the war ends, you can pay me back for everything. The family stayed with him until the liberation.
The butcher asked me to go to the Jewish family, They had established a factory in their house, and he wanted me to ask them for money, because he was in a bad way. I asked what he needed and he said 1500 zlotys.
I went to the Jew. A servinggirl answered the door and asked me in. When I told the wife that I had come from Benju (that was the butcher's name), she was so happy and confirmed his story that he had told me (which I had earlier doubted). She simply called him an angel.
I conveyed the request of her angel and she said that her husband was not at home but she would take care of it. A month later I accidentally ran into her at the Jewish Committee. She came up to me and asked if I was going to Benju. She said that 1500 zlotys was too much, but she could give 500. I was embarrassed and walked away from her. I didn't go back to Benju out of shame. It makes me sad to have to write such a thing. It's a sad fact.
On the Way to Israel
I began to think about going to Israel. It was not such an easy thing. I could not go with every transport of the B'richah. After the pogrom in Kielce, a transport of German Jews was organized to Germany. The organizers were the POR (the Bureau for Repatriation). I went to West Germany. For ten months I was in Bad Reichenhall as an active member of the PKhH (Partisans, Soldiers, Pioneers). Then I received a certificate.
In July of 1947 I arrived in Israel.
by A. Feldberger
In deep sorrow, with broken hearts, we recall for you and mourn your gruesome death, dear parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, friendsJews from the town of Wolomin.
Old people, weak and innocent children, whose only sin was carrying the name of Jew, their membership in the holy Jewish people.
Surrounded by bloodyminded enemies, there was no one to help you, to protect you in the last days of your lives.
Your pure souls will remain consecrated in our hearts, engraved in our memories.
Dear and holy remains the figure of R. Yechezkel Feldberger, a great Torah scholar and fearer of Heaven who also enjoyed his work. He had a little factory for making brooms, plus a shop, from which he made a living and supported his family.
Gifted with virtues and good qualities, he radiated the quality of trust, and in his soul shone a genteel joy that always illuminated his face like a newly dawned day and brightened those who came near him.
A quiet bliss shone from him even in bad times. He believed that the Creator's mercies were spread over all the Jews.
On weekdays, sitting at his work table, he composed songs and rhymes that he would sing on joyous occasions.
On Shabbos he would sing out deeply felt melodies touched with nostalgic joy that would elevate his listeners' souls, calling forth a sea of love, love of God and love for Israel.
R. Yechezkel translated the Shabbos and Shabbosending songs into Yiddish, in rhyme. So he also translated numerous piyyutim.
Even today people sing those Yiddish translations of songs and piyyutim in different cities of the world, where Jews from Wolomin have settled.
Industrious, and beset with the problems of earning a living, still there always dwelt within him a religiously inspired hope for a better time, for a time when all would be good. Those who knew him well felt that an everpresent joy vibrated through his veins, like the strings on a violin. The movement of a finger would bring forth music that traveled from heart to heart.
Modest and respected was R. Yechezkel's wife, ZipporahReizel, the daughter of R. Reuben Rozenzweig of Rika, one of the finest people produced by the Jewish communities in all of Poland. He was a giant in Torah and Chasidism. His son, Rabbi YakovYehuda Rozenzweig was the Yezherner rabbi.
The Feldberger's oldest daughter, Bracha, was a Goldnodl after her marriage. She lived in Lublin. At a young age, before the war, she became a widow. She and her three children were killed by Hitler's killers..
Their second daughter, MalehFreida, married Rabbi YeruchamYisroelMayer Skurnik, from Shedletz, who became a rabbinical judge in Prague, with Rabbi Yakov Zilbershteyn. Later he was in Vahin, near Rodzin.
They had four children, who were killed with them.
The son, Rabbi YakovYitzchak Feldberger, was one of the best students in the Lubavitch yeshiva in Warsaw. He was a very virtuous person and received rabbinic ordination in the Warsaw and Lublin rabbinates. He married Feige, the daughter of R. Yakov Rachman of Warsaw. They were killed together with their five children.
A son, Ezriel, who in 1934 made aliyah to Israel together with his wife Shifra from Nashelsk and they live today in PetachTikvah.
The son Eliezer, a student in the Lubavitch yeshiva, thanks to his excellent insights and proficiency in the Talmud and the commentators, was accepted as a student in the Lublin yeshiva. He managed to live through the hard times of the Second World War and lives today in America, where he is a rabbi in Cleveland.
Just a few survivors of a large, meritorious family, largesouled, always prepared to do mitzvos and good deeds. R. Yechezkel was one of the community leaders before the war's outbreak. In 1942, on the sixth of Nisan, he died in the Warsaw Ghetto. His wife, two daughters, his son, and their families were killed in that horrifying time that came upon the Jewish people.
May God avenge their blood and may their memories be blessed.
[He appends some of R. Feldberger's Yiddish translations of zmirot.]
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Wołomin, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2022 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 18 Feb 2021 by MGH