I was seventeen at the time of the Germans' entry; and my age was sufficient for the Nazis to turn me into a slave.
In the beginning of 1942 there came an order telling all the Jewish women aged from 14 to 25 to report to the authorities so as to be sent to Germany for slave-work. The situation in Dambrowa was so tragic and hopeless at that time, that the Jewish girls did not even try to avoid it. Two hundred Jewish women reported as ordered, and I among them.
Our first station proved to be in a "Dulag" in Sosnowiec, where they kept us for three days. We were happy when we were at last taken out of there and sent to work; the conditions in the "Dulag" were such, that if we had to stay there for longer we would not leave that place alive.
We were sent to Grinberg in Lower Silesia. In Grinberg the labor-camp was only being started with our transport. We began by preparing the material for the camp-prisoners' uniforms. The conditions in the camp were terrible from its very beginning. The women there were falling like flies from exhaustion, from hard work and from under nourishment.
Beating was there the order of the day. In some cases women had been let to expire their least breath under the whiplash. Seeing all that was happening around me, I strained all my will in order to work well; I managed to master the weaving-skill quickly, and by all means I strove to avoid the blows.
Yet blows could not be avoided in a German labor-camp. Twice had I been beaten up so severely that I could not move. On one occasion I had been put in charge of several girls whom I had to teach weaving and while I was teaching them, I myself could not, naturally, work as quickly as usually. The supervisor of my department came straight up to me demanding the reason for my not working, upon which I answered that I could not work while I was teaching and while all the machines were being used. This impudent answer earned me a sever hitting by the slave driver. On another occasion I had been beaten so terribly that I fainted and remained unconscious for hours. This time I was on a night shift, and when I was going back from the toilet, the controller attacked me, saying that I was too long there. Without waiting for my answer, he started to hit me murderously; after this beating I could not move for several days. I soon understood that the situation in the camp would go on deteriorating with every day, and I came to the conclusion that there was no other choice than to escape, if I wanted to survive.
But that was easier said than done. I had no safe place to escape to, since I did not know whether I still had a home. Furthermore, I could think of no way to escape; the camp was surrounded by a wire-fence, and there were two watchmen by each of the camp's gates. And yet the thought of escaping would not leave me. My will to run was not weakened even when I saw how a girl, by the name of Masia Zilberberg who had been caught while trying to escape, was beaten to near death.
As luck would have it, on one of those days, when I was on my way to work on a night shift, I noticed a bicycle propped against the barrack in which I had been working. Struck by the sight of the bicycle, I felt immediately with all my senses that this was the means by which to save myself.
The night shift began at 6 p. m. As long as there was light I concentrated on observing the surroundings and on outlining at least a rough plan of escape.
The night was very dark; the darkness could be nearly touched. I knew that the watch over the camp was on that particular night weaker than usual on the account of its being the Christmas-night. The fact that I was wearing normal clothes with a sign "Jude", instead of the prisoner's uniform, was of very much help, since I would not be recognized once I was out of the camp. I knew that if I succeeded in leaving the camp and getting away from its vicinity, I would be safe, for I did not look Jewish.
At eleven o'clock I went to the toilet, tore my "Jude" sign away, and went out through a back door into the yard. I went straight up to the bicycle, as if it were mine. I took it with both my hands and carrying it up to the gate I exclaimed boldly : "Heil Hitler!" and passed through it with the bicycle. I seated myself on it only when I was outside the camp and started to drive. I was so scared that I could not move the pedals quickly enough. My heart was beating as with the pounding of hammers. In the first moments of my escape I was unable to grasp why the Germans did not stop me at the gate; on the contrary, they just shouted back "Heil!"
The fear that I was being pursued caused me to lose my sense of orientation, and it seemed for a while that I was endlessly cycling around the camp. Though I knew the way quite well, yet I found it now extremely difficult to get away from the closeness of the camp. I was, however, being helped by the heavy bombardments, which went on throughout the night reducing thus the danger of my being caught. A couple of times I had to change my course; occasionally the bombarding would become so heavy that I had to get off the bicycle and hide by the side of the road.
I went on cycling for the whole of the night. Close to the sunrise I found myself approaching a village. I hid the bicycle among some bushes in a forest on the outskirts of the village, and proceeded on foot into the village itself.
Everything was still asleep there; very few people could be seen in the streets. I had not the least idea in what place I had arrived, and I was too scared to approach young people. Only when I came across an elderly woman I inquired by her where the railway station was. She told me also that I would have to wait long for a train going in the direction I inquired about, but that there was, on the other side, an express-train leaving for Berlin shortly. On the spot I changed my plans and decided to go to Berlin.
Having approached the railway station I retreated for a while to a place from which I could unnoticed observe the station and its surroundings. After I became convinced that there was nobody who could have been looking for me there, since there was, in fact, not a living soul at the station, I came in there boldly and acquired a ticket to Berlin.
On the train I pretended to be asleep. For quite a while I had the whole coupe to myself, and even the conductor had not appeared to disturb me from my "sleep". Only later an the train began gradually to fill up with passengers. The whole journey from Sterenberg to Berlin passed without an incident.
When I got off the train in Berlin, my first step was to buy "Mein Kampf". Just as I was leaving the railway-station, there started a bombardment and I had to run to a shelter with all the others. During my first days in Berlin I was eating the remains of my savings, and I slept in shelters. But I ran out of money soon, and there was not yet a living soul I knew in Berlin. I used to leave the shelter every morning hoping to find some Poles in Berlin, but for all my looking I never found any Poles there.
Distressed and with no perspectives whatever, I decided then to finish with my life. But even to commit suicide was not simple, since I did not know Berlin. I decided then to walk along the streets for as long until I came to the end of the town, and there to finish with myself. So walking I noticed an old railway-station and then it occurred to me that that was precisely the place I wanted; it should be easy to find an opportunity to throw my self under a running train.
But as I came into the station, I saw there a group of Polish workers, whom I knew at once by their signs "P". I came up to them and asked for help. There happened to be among them a journalist from Pozen, and he explained to me that they themselves did not know Berlin well, for they had been transported from Poland not a long time before. But, he added, he could take me to a place where there were many Poles.
First of all they saw to still my hunger. Later they started to look for work for me. Eventually they found a place for me, on a farm not far from Berlin. The work was not hard there, and the food was normal. That farm comprised of a whole international; among its workers there were Poles, Frenchmen, Dutchmen, Czechs, Russians and others. Naturally, nobody knew or imagined that I was Jewish.
The manageress of the farm was German, a very kind woman, and far from being Hitler's an adherer. She tried to help us in every way possible. My life seemed to go on a normal course for a while. But not for long; for after some time I had been given a roommate, a Polish girl, and then my peace was gone.
Her name was Stacha, and she came from Neusontsch. She was an enthusiastic Jew-enemy; the hatred streamed in her very blood. This Stacha started to torment me with questions, such as: why I never visited the church, why I never prayed before going to bed, why I never mentioned the name of the Holy Mother, and other questions in this vein. This constant pursuing me with the questions drove me to despair; I sensed that this bloodsucker would not leave me in peace.
On one Occasion Stacha said to me: "You know, Zosia, in my town there lived a Jew with the same name as yours. Wolfowicz. He was a great property owner, and a still greater swine". I realized that I should on no account let her talk on like this; if I waited longer I would be lost. I came up to her and said: "I see that you are taking me for a. Zhidovka. Now then, feel a Jewish hand an your swinish face!" I gave her a thorough thrashing, after which I ran straight to the other Poles and told them all about it.
The incident caused a great stir among them. A few of them went to Stacha, who was still suffering from the beating, and warned her not to go over such incidents. Since then Stacha left me alone.
I stayed on that farm until April 1945, when we were evacuated from there. For a time we wandered from one place to another, until the liberation by the American Army.
Another, and no less important motive of this record was to leave to our children, and to the posterity of the Zaglembie-Jewry, a source from which to draw knowledge about their roots and a memorial to the place where their ancestors struck their tents hundreds of years before.
We undertook the tremendous task of showing the Jewish life in all its aspects from its beginning until the coming of the Nazi-murderers. We also made an effort to give a comprehensive picture of the Nazi extermination activities aimed to convert Zaglembie into a "Judenrein" territory.
To our deep regret, we had to limit the size of this book for various reasons. But even in this limited form, the pages of The Book of Zaglembie evoke the spirit and vitality of the past ; they echo the sound of the hitting waves of the once, stormy sea of Jewish life in our lost home. We sense in these pages the distant tunes of the warm Jewish religious songs, which once upon a time used to linger above the Jewish towns and villages of Zaglembie and till their streets and corners with the specific Jewish joy of life.
Though the long chain of the thirty Rabbis and Rabbins of Zaglembie traced its origins to the great Ba'al Shem Tov himself, and though Zaglembie could boast of the best of religious instructors, yet the traditional side of its life could not overshadow the younger movements and organizations. The end of the 19th century saw the vigorous rise of the Jewish workers-movement as well as the development of the nationalist organizations in Zaglembie.
When the Jewish wanderers of the twelfth century raised their tents in Bedzin and its surroundings, the general picture of Zaglembie was very different from what it looked like in the last century. Only with the discovery of the natural resources of coal, iron etc., did Zaglembie start to develop rapidly. With the industrial development grew also the class of Jewish manufacturers, merchants and property owners who enriched not themselves only, but the whole region of Zaglembie as well.
Ever since the beginning of the industrialization process the acute contrast between the poor and the rich had been sharply felt in the Jewish communities of Zaglembie, and the gap widened even more after the establishment of independent Poland. From these social circumstances grew the Jewish proletariat, and many a glorious chapter in the history of Jews in Zaglembie has been filled with the political, cultural and professional achievements of the working class there, and imbued with the enlightened spirit of the working youth.
There existed in Zaglembie about twenty Jewish towns and villages, of which Bedzin was the oldest. But it was Sosnowiec, the youngest of them all a town not older than the writer of these lines, which was the wonder and the pride of the whole Jewish settlement in Zaglembie; it was Sosnowiec which finally gave the tone to the whole area. Sosnowiec had become the very symbol of the Jewish spirit and courage at their climax.
Even in the tragic days of the Nazi rule, the Jewish towns and villages resisted the Nazi beast and many Jewish sons and daughters fell in the fight against them.
In the Book of Zaglembie we survey all the stages of the Jewish life there from its very beginnings, throughout all its developments during hundreds of years, until the very last struggle for survival under the Nazis. We hope this to constitute the most appropriate memorial for the Jewish heroes and martyrs of Zaglembie.
Now, so many years after the war and the cataclysm, I find these words more significant than ever.
Again and again the past years of my life come back to me, and in my mind's eye the memory of my father and mother, of all that was so dear and can never be forgotten, is still fresh and vivid. Again and again my sorrow tells me that, had I had a shadow of fear that I should not see my parents again, I should have never left them on that October morning, and perhaps thereby I might have changed the fate of us all. Very often, now as then, during those dreary war years spent in the cold Soviet prisons, camps and kolkhozes, I reflect on the strange fatality of my life.
In the times when I was lonely and no news about what was happening to my dearest could reach me, I would reconstruct in my mind all the events that brought me to my sad condition.
One picture followed another with the quickness of a lightning in my recollections: the outbreak of the war; then the Polish soldiers retreating in panic, then the crowds of terrified people running towards the east, some with overloaded carts, others with an only eiderdown an their backs. And then, on the fourth day after the war began the Germans! Hidden in a corner by the window, I watched through a narrow gap in the shut curtains the German tanks and the soldiers in, their high boots, with the badges of swastikas and skeletons an their caps. A cold shudder ran through my body. We all stayed indoors and started to make ready to leave Bedzin and escape to the east; thousands of other Jews were planning the same.
My older brother was serving in the Polish army and we decided to wait for his return. But after a time we were told that he had been taken a prisoner; the authorities promised though his quick release.
As the days dragged on, life was growing more and more difficult. At last the dreadful night of the great fire came; the Synagogue of Bedzin and all the neighboring houses had been burnt down by the Nazis. This was followed by series of daily murders. The difficult economic situation, the endless queuing for bread, the detention of men so as to send them to the labor camps, and, last but not least, the constant chicanery on the side of the Poles all these were the reasons driving the Jews, the young ones in particular, to the territories occupied by the Russians.
After considering the whole situation we decided at home that my sister's husband Bachrauski, my younger brother and I would leave Bedzin on the 2st of October, and the rest of our family would join us after any brother's release from captivity. But fate would not have it so. On the 29th of October, my brother in law father died in Sosnowiec in result of the tortures he had undergone by the Nazis. His son had to stay for seven-days mourning. Then my family decided that I should leave as planned, but two of my cousins and a girl friend.
On the morning of Sunday the 21st of October we parted from our families and left for Lemberg. That day of parting I shall remember till my last breath. The picture of my dearest as they were parting from me is engraved in my heart forever: my weeping mother's face and her encouragements coming through the veil of tears; my father's worried, sad eyes, the last kisses and farewells of my sisters; the small embracing arms of any sister's daughter Ruth, and my younger brother's cries. For years had their voices been running in my ears. It was the first time in my life that I was leaving home, and that caused me a heartrending pain.
On the train all the four of us my two cousins, my friend and I stayed silent for the most of the journey. Each was thinking her own sad thoughts, but after some time we regained our confidence and our hopes grew brighter with every past mile. We were planning to get over to the Russian side and then to help our families do the same. The train stopped at Tarnow. We slept there in the abandoned farmhouse of "Ha'noar Hazioni". The whole town looked a dead town. Not a single Jew could be seen in the streets. We reached Sanok by various side-ways and paths on the 1st of November. Sanok was situated on the river San, which formed the Russian-German border. Most of the local Jews had escaped to the Russian side, but there was still active there, a special help-committee for the refugees. At that Committee we got same food and a place to sleep. We intended to wait there for the border to be opened, but after three days of useless waiting we decided to smuggle the border on our own. In the dark and cold of the night, wearing heavy clothes and carrying our rucksacks on our backs, we stepped into the deep, cold waters of San, following a Ukrainian smuggler. Suddenly the Ukrainian disappeared, and we, four frightened girls, heard the first Russian: "stoi, kto idiot ?" In front of us stood three Russian soldiers with threatening guns. We exclaimed happily: "My Yevrei !" But the soldiers laughed and told us to follow them.
With our clothes freezing on our bodies and our shoes soaked over with water and ice, we had to march on for a couple of hours. The soldiers would not let us rest until our arrival at their headquarters in the town Lesko. There we had been promised by a Russian Commissar that after having our papers checked we would be allowed to continue on our way to Lemberg. Meantime we had to stay in a watched room, with several other women. Our confidence in the word of the Russian officer was so great that we conceded to hand over all our money and valuables for safety's sake, as we had been, told. We had been kept there for two weeks, after which we were taken to Lemberg in closed wagons. Not suspecting anything wrong, full of plans for the future, we happily watched the flying by fields and villages. Unlimited was our surprise when upon our arrival we found ourselves being taken to the well-known Lemberg-prison "Brigidki".
The prison was already overcrowded with men and women, Jewish mostly, who had run from the Germans. About forty women were put into each cell. The four of us belonged to the lucky ones we were sent to the workers' cell and employed in the kitchen. It was warm there and we were getting more and better food.
Then the investigation began. The officers who were questioning us were polite and friendly. They used to tell us about the Soviet "wonders", and kept repeating that our release was a matter of days. I even remember a Jewish major who showed me a picture of his wife and children in Leningrad, and asked me to visit them after my release. Two and a half months had gone by, and then we were divided into groups in order to be transported to some further point in Russia. We were told that we were being sent to work. My cousins stayed together in one group, but I had to join a group of utterly strange women and girls. After being brought to the railway-station we were loaded into cow-wagons, fifty women in each wagon. A few hundred men were being transported in separate wagons. After the wagon-door had been shut and bolted, we were left in complete darkness. Through the barred, tiny windows no light could come in; it was winter and icicles were hanging down. The train crawled on for sixteen days while we were freezing and starving. We used to warm ourselves by rubbing our bodies against each other. Towards the end of February we arrived in some town: only later we learned that it was Odessa. Until that time, even in the dreadful wagons, we still believed in the sincerity of the Russian promises; we really thought that we were being sent to work and live freely, and that only for safety reasons did we have to travel in this way. But our eyes had been brutally opened in Odessa. On our arrival, there we had been transferred straightaway to the horrid prison of Odessa, dating from the times of the Czars.
Only after having been taken into the small, cold cells with cement-floors, only after having been locked behind the heavy iron-doors then only did we perceive with horror that all we had been promised was a dreadful lie.
I threw myself on the mattress lying an the cement-floor and started to cry fitfully. My escape from the Germans proved to be useless; I had been cut up from my family; I could not contact them, I could not help them. Distressed, I wept on, accompanied by the weeping of the other women.
At last I calmed a little down and looked around me. No sign of light could get through the windows covered with iron-bars and boards from the outside. Over the iron-door with its Judas a small lamp was burning day and night, lighting up the dirty walls with the big wasps creeping about. In a corner there stood a Small night table and a tin-bucket for our needs. The cell was three and a half meter long and about two meters wide. When the fifteen of us arranged ourselves in the cell, we were lying along two walls, crowded as sardines, with our feet towards the middle of the cell, and with our clothes under our heads instead of pillows.
Our days stretched endlessly with nothing to do. Each day we waited for some news concerning our fates. The Russian watchmen used to laugh at us, they used to say that we would see our mothers just as we could see our ears. In this way six months passed, and we had no news from anybody. Among the thousands of prisoners there were several hundreds of Polish citizens (Jews, Poles and Ukrainians). By means of our prison-telephone (knocking an the walls with Morse-signals), and various other devices we all agreed to go on hunger strike and demand a fair trial, in order to learn for what crimes we had been imprisoned. When we started on our strike, the watchmen just laughed at us. They could not believe that we really meant it, for any strike was considered impossible in Russia.
But on the second day of our strike they sent a high officer who declared he was the prosecutor. He promised that we would be given our sentences in four weeks' time, and that most of us would be freed. But he warned us in an angry tone: "U nas zabastovok niet!" (We won't have strikes here!) As soon as the strike was over, several men and women had been sent to the bunker, as a punishment for their participation in it. A couple of weeks later the inquisition began. The interrogations were conducted during the nights mainly. I cannot remember how many times I had been taken in the "black coach" to the big, elegant building of the N.K.W.D. Each time I was being questioned by one or two officers and accused of various crimes, from smuggling to spying. Frightened, I repeatedly denied the accusations, and again and again told the story of my crossing the border. My acts were piling on, each time new papers were being added, and I was still awaiting the trial. A year had passed since our hunger strike, yet the prosecutor's promise about our release had not been fulfilled.
In the beginning, of June 1941 I had been called out into a cell where an officer of the N.K.W.D. informed me that I had been sentenced to three years of labor-camp, for illegal crossing of the border. During the following days all the Polish prisoners were sentenced in this way to from three to five years of labor-camp. In the last days of June we learned by a chance that Russia was at war with Germany.
Throughout the dreary months of the prison, half-starving in the suffocating stink of the cell, left to myself with nothing to do, I had lived only with the hope for freedom and with the belief that my family were safe from the Nazis and living free on the Russian soil. Many of the prisoners acquired grave diseases in the prison; two girls died and two women went mad. I had lived through all that time as in a dream, my heart and soul were with my parents, and my belief that I should live to see them again gave me the courage to survive those hard times.
In the middle of July I had been taken out of my cell. With me was another girl, named Lena, and a Ukrainian woman. We had been put into a prisoners' train together with Russian prisoners, most of them criminals.
During the following weeks we travelled from one camp to another, and none of them would have us. The food-stores run out after the first few days of our travel. From then on we lived on herring and water. At last we arrived in a camp not far from Archangelsk. There we were taken, first of all, to a quarantine building, were we stayed for four days. After that each one was allotted a narrow bed in a barrack and sent to work. In that area the winter lasted nine months, but we arrived in the summer, in the time of the "white nights".
The camp was not a big one; it consisted of 600-700 prisoners. It was closed and watched; there were also watchtowers on its four sides. The work and administrative order in the camp were being managed by the prisoners themselves.
Every morning at 5 o'clock we had to assemble in the wide camp-yard for a counting Parade, after which we were being led by armed soldiers with watch-dogs to the fields distant a few kilometers from the camp. There we had to prepare the soil for the cultivation of potatoes. With the long period of prison and partial starvation behind me, I felt utterly exhausted, and the hard work in the fields caused my worn out body to dilate.
Luckily, I got unexpected help and support at that critical stage. There were a few veteran Jewish prisoners in the camp there. Having heard that a Jewish girl from Poland was working in the fields ill and swollen up, they made every effort possible in order to free me from that work. Few days later I had been transferred to the tailor's workshop, where I was working with an old Russian by mending the prisoners' clothes. I became very friendly with the other Jews in the camp. They told me much about the general conditions in Russia and also the stories of their own imprisonment. There was one Jew from Sosnowiec among them; he ran from Poland to Russia in 1933 escaping the Polish Police who were persecuting him for his communist activity. He had lived in Moscow until 1937, when he had been arrested as a traitor of the Communist Party and sentenced to 10 years camp. In the camp he was the supervisor of the tailor's workshop. There also was Sasha Lazevnikov, whose sister was the wife of Peretz Markich, the great Jewish Poet. Sasha himself, was a Journalist, and until his arrest in 1938 he had been working in the "Komsomolskaia Pravda". After having been accused of plotting an assault on Stalin himself, he was sentenced to 8 years. There were several more Jews, all of them devoted communists sentenced for fictitious crimes. They were all certain that they would never leave the camp, that with the end of their present time they would be accused of some other crimes and given further sentences.
After a period of two and a half months in the camp I learned about the formation of a Polish Army and the amnesty for all the Polish refugees. In October the three of us Lena, the Ukrainian woman and myself, had been freed. I shall always remember with deep gratitude how the workers of the workshops, most of them Russians, collected for me 65 rubles, which they gave to me at our parting, so that I should not go penniless.
On a cold October morning, nearly two years after having left my home and my dearest in Bedzin, I was at last free. I looked around me upon the free world and my heart was full of joy and hope.
I believed deeply that my family was living on the Russian soil and that I should see them shortly.
I and my friend Lena started on our way to a kolkhoz by Ursk (Ural) -where we had been directed by the authorities. After a long journey we arrived there. The fields had already been covered by the early snow and we had to help there with the still unfinished harvest of the corn. The work in conditions of steady frost was exhausting. After a few weeks of this work we decided to escape to some warmer place and we chose Tashkent, "the town of bread", for our place of destination. This time our journey lasted nearly a month. The trains were overcrowded with refugees, and fresh crowds of them were waiting on every single station. Most of the men wore the unmistakable appearance of the just released ex-prisoners, they were travelling from the camps-districts, and they looked worn-out and unwashed. Dirt and lice ruled on the trains.
We had to change trains quite often on our journey and this was connected with long hours of waiting on various stations. On one occasion, while I was sitting and waiting on a station, I had been robbed my and Lena's tickets, all my belongings and the little money we still had, all had been stolen from us. We cried, we called for help, but nobody, not even the police, would help us. The people around stayed unmoved and indifferent, though they had seen the thief. Without any papers, we somehow managed to reach Uzbekistan where we had been directed to a kolkhoz. There Lena started to work as a nurse, and I had to go out to work in field together with a group of other refugees.
The kolkhoz-members treated us very well there. At first we used to get for our work food only, but in sufficient quantities, so that we even could exchange some bread for other products at the market. But the situation in the kolkhoz worsened gradually, we were getting less and less food for our work, until we were practically starving. At last we started to live on cooked grass; sometimes a kolkhoznik would pity us and offer a fruit.
Perceiving that there was nothing which would save us from literal death of starvation there, we decided to run once again. We walked on foot to a village situated over the Uzbekistani border, in Tadzhikistan. After a long series of various difficulties, we managed to get work there in a textile-factory "Artel", which had been organized by a Polish Jew especially for the refugees.
After some time I reported to the police and applied for a new document. A couple of days later I had been called out to the N.K.W.D. There I had been asked to work for them; their offer was accompanied with many tempting promises. They knew everything about me; they knew I was alone Lena had already been married; I had no money, and I could not even get that minimal support all the other Polish refugees were getting, because I had no documents. During the weeks that followed I used to be called out frequently to the same N.K.W.D. office; each talk ended with the warning to keep these Interviews secret. The tone of my interviews changed soon enough; threats and shouts replaced their former sweet promises. At last, when the threatening proved of no use, and I still would not give in, rejecting the demands while crying bitterly, I had been locked in a cell. Though they threatened me with prison, yet after a couple of hours of mournful sitting in the cell I was released. But not before I signed on an assurance not to reveal a thing to anybody about my dealings with the N.K.W.D., under the threat of imprisonment. Naturally, I had not obtained any document, but I was free at least. I went on working in the same factory where I made friends among the other Jewish girls.
During all that time I never ceased from trying to find out something about the fate of my cousins and my whole family, and there was practically no institution or committee of the refugees to which I had not written. But all my efforts were fruitless, and I went on living in loneliness, until at last, in 1943, one ray of brightness shone through the darkness of my life. I met a young man and we married. But already in January of 1944 we had to part; he had been mobilized to the Polish Army. For several months I lived only with his letters in which he described the quick advancement of the armies and expressed his belief in a quick fall of the Nazis. He also described the misery of the liberated villages of Ukraine and Poland, where every sign of Jewish life had been wiped off. And then, after a short break in the correspondence, I had been notified that he was killed in action near Warsaw.
At that time I was living in Tchairuk, a new settlement built around wolfram-excavations, where I was working at the excavating and loading of the wolfram-stones.
The end of the war found me in that place. Despite my own tragic experiences, despite all I knew about the fate of the Polish Jewry, I still believed that my family had been saved. This belief only gave me the strength to survive all I had been through. As soon as the Russian Army freed the Polish territories, I wrote to Bedzin addressing my letters to the Jewish municipalities and to the several Poles I used to know.
In October 1945 I had been notified that there arrived a letter for me. Not knowing what it contained, I ran in the evening, stumbling over stones and mud, blinded by fitful crying, to get this long awaited letter.
Choking with tears and trembling all over, I opened the letter and read it through:
"Dear sister, this is your brother writing to you. I and our order brother had been from the concentration camp and are staying now in Sosnowiec. From our family nobody else has survived".
I dropped the letter and fainted. All my beautiful hopes had been smashed. One word kept ringing in my ears: Dead... Dead...
A couple of months later, in 1946, I was evacuated back to Poland with a transport of other Jews.
Already in his powerful accusation-speech (starting with the words: "I am not standing here alone. Here, with me, are standing the six millions Jews, whose ashes are scattered over Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka, washed by the Polish rivers, and spread throughout the whole of Europe"), the Prosecutor Gideon Hausner (the juridical counsellor to the State of Israel) mentioned the Jewish Zaglembie when he stated the fact, that not in Warsaw only did the Jews dare to rise against their Nazi-murderers, but that there were uprisings in various other towns, and in Bedzin among them. The same fact was later confirmed in the evidence given by Itzhak Zukierman ("Antek") one of the leaders of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto (living now in the kibbutz Lohamei Ghettaoth).
The daily paper "Davar" said in one of its editorials in the days of the trial: "Not in Warsaw only did the Jews rebel; they rebelled also in Bedzin and many other places, but not all of those revolts came to be as known as that of the Warsaw-Ghetto." (4.5.1961)!
The prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, presented the court with hundreds of documents; among them there was also a letter sent from Bedzin to Turkey, in which the leaders of the underground-movement in Bedzin describe the distressing situation of the last of the then still surviving Polish Jews. Among various other things the letter says:
" Our only hope to see the Moledeth (the Home-land, an allusion to Israel - M.H.) will, to our deepest sorrow, not be fulfilled. We write in haste now, for your Arian messenger, who is to deliver this letter to you, is in a hurry, and as for us - we have no power to express anything in writing "
After the letter had reached Turkey, the movement-communicator sent it from there to the Jewish Agency in Switzerland. But the message had been intercepted by the German censors, and re-discovered in Germany by the prosecution of the Eichmann trial. This letter from Bedzin was presented to the court as an evidence of the annihilation-acts carried out by the Germans. (For more details about this letter see the Yiddish and Hebrew part of the book.)
During the trial there appeared one of the survivors from Sosnowiec, Mrs. Fredka Mazia-Oxenhendler, who worked in the Jewish Hospital of Sosnowiec at the time of the German occupation. In her evidence she said that the "seizures", i.e. capturing of the passing-by Jews with the purpose of sending them "for work" to Germany, started in the streets of Sosnowiec as soon as 1940. A certain Jew who had been assigned the task of mobilizing people for work in Germany tore his work-card, protesting to help in the concentration of the Jews for transport. He was immediately sent to Auschwitz, and there, refusing to die by the filthy German hands, he threw himself on the electrified wire-fence, and was dead in a trice. Mrs. Mazia went on and told the Court how the Jews used to be hunted like dogs in the streets of the town. Whenever the number of captured prisoners fell short of the "norm" set by the Germans, they would draw old Jews out of the House for the Elderly, children out of the orphanage, the sick and women in confinement out of the hospital. They used to throw the sucklings out of the windows of the high-stories of the hospital straight into the trucks below.
She also described the visits of Gedalia Geller and Mordechai Anielevitz in Zaglembie. They came as the delegates of the Warsaw-Ghetto in order to establish cells of an underground-movement in Bedzin and Sosnowiec.
Mrs. Mazia related the story of the indescribable heroism and self-sacrifice of the young boys and girls of Zaglembie, and how they fell an their posts, fighting the German oppressors.
Among many other details, Mrs. Mazia also recalled how the Jews of Sosnowiec had been warned not to speak neither Yiddish nor Hebrew during a visit of a high S.S.-officer who was reported to be born in Israel and to know both these languages. There spread a rumor that this officer came from Sharona, the German colony in Israel. (About the activity of Mrs. Mazia in the underground-movement of Zaglembie see I Am Not a Nazi andThe Ha'noar Ha'zioni of Zaglembie in Its Fight Against the Inside and the Outside Enemy M. H.)
Among the many witnesses there also appeared in the trial Mr. Gedalia Ben Zvi, an arts-teacher who had been transported from Slovakia to Auschwitz, where he was "employed" with the group sorting out the personal belongings and clothes of the annihilated in the death-camp. He described the arrival of a transport from Bedzin. An especially enforced watch had been attached to this particular transport, since many of the Jews there, knowing already too well where they were going and what was expecting them, tried to escape on their way. But most of these were caught and shot, and the camp-prisoners had to work on for hours until the transport wagons were cleared of all the corpses of the shot. Then the German guards shot all those who were too exhausted and worn out to be able to get on the trucks by the railway. Here is a short extract from Mr. Gedalia Ben-Zvi's evidence speech:
"I saw there horrors: a ten year old girl was just creeping out from under the heap of dead bodies, where she had been hiding herself, when an S.S.-man shot her in her back: a half-naked boy seating in a corner was shot in the midst of his cry 'Shma Israel!' (Hear, Israel!); one of the camp prisoners working there discovered his brother among those who were about to be exterminated, and when he begged of the bloodthirsty murderers to save his brother from the gas-chambers, they answered: "If you wish you may follow your brother to the oven "
Undoubtedly, one of the incidents of the greatest impact in the course of the whole trial was the unfinished, shuddering evidence of Katzetnik, who has bewailed the exterminated Jewry in his numerous works dealing with the annihilation period, who is himself a Zaglembie Jew, and who lived for two years "on the new planet", as he put it, namely in Auschwitz. Breathlessly we were waiting for the continuation of Katzetnik's unfinished, uncompleted, tragic words. He intended to unroll the picture of the most dreadful Gehenna on earth Auschwitz, he meant to speak of the most perverse atrocities committed there. But his powers failed him; at the very beginning of this speech he fainted and was taken to a hospital in a state of unconsciousness.
Thus Katzetnik's words could not be heard at the Eichmann trial. But his works, written with blood and tears, form a memory for the generations to come; they are a highly important contribution to the bulk of the genocide-literature, and to the shuddering Jewish book of tears. His works awake and demand to remember the old commandment: "Remember what the Amalek did to you!"
|||"Committee for State Security", political police and security agency that was also the primary intelligence and counterintelligence entity of the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1991. Return|
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