Hideouts on the Arian Side
by Dvora Popowska (Australia)
Translated from Yiddish by David Lukowiecki
On a Sunday in the month of September 1942, in the middle of the night, they knocked on the door and delivered the bitter news that on Wednesday the whole ghetto would be liquidated. We all jumped out of bed and discussed what to do. But where to go? What possibilities do we have? We were well informed what happened with all the other Jews that were deported from the ghetto. The terror feeling awoke in the heart and ideas ran quickly. There was no way out. The whole night we walked around thinking how people were condemned to death. One faced the other with the same question: What to do? Where to go?
In the morning we went straight out in the city, telling the friends and family the sad news but each one already knew and was desperate. For my father and brother they found a way out, to go to the camp in Wilga, which meant they would prolong their lives temporarily. Indeed they left in the morning. The journey was difficult, full with fear, they took everything from them, and however they got there. My older brother Leibl remained in the city and left later with other Jews for labor in the village Wilczyska.
My mother, sisters and I, remained at home with the hope that maybe we manage also to go to the camp. But we found out that women weren't allowed in.
The same day came to us a known Pole, Edward Turek. We begged him: Save us, we are young, we want to live. The hopes were weak but he promised to take me and my oldest sister. He used all the measures to help us. Not having where to take us, despite the prohibition, he told us to get out from the ghetto that same night and determined to meet us. Our separation was tragic, we were strongly desperate for the separation, and not knowing if will see each other again.
My mom and my sister well knew great is the danger to get out of the ghetto and were scared that we would die from German bullets. When the night fell we left the house. With great heart beats we went to the village.
Turek had barely convinced his sister so she would take us for a few days. We were taken into a barn and were given a bed in the attic. We were from the fortunate that were saved from the Żelechów ghetto and we were in the barn with heart beats and death fear. But we lived.
On Wednesday morning we sent a letter to my mom with the hostess. But not long after she returned and said that the whole city was surrounded by gendarmes and are taking out the Jews. That day we already felt that there was no way back. We also knew nothing about my mother, sister and family.
The same night, Turek came and informed us that my brother is alive. He is at his cellar. He decided to bring him to us because it was impossible to keep him at his place. Indeed he came on the second night.
We began to ask our hosts to make a hideout for us and with the help of the friend Turek they managed to make a cellar. Secretly by night they dug the cellar. And after a few days we moved in.
In the morning, we received a letter, which was sent to Edward Turek. The letter was from my mother and sister which informed that they escaped on the way to Sobolew and are in the village. They took everything from them and with them is also an aunt, Dvora Jontew.
Our joy was indescribable, joy mixed with bitterness. We began immediately to intervene to bring them in and after long appeals to their conscience, we received the permission. Turek left to see my mother. But he returned desperate. My mother wasn't there anymore. He wasn't able to find out what happened to them. Meanwhile, every day he brought different bad news, Jews shot, Jews escapees from hideouts murdered by Poles. And we sat there frightened, with broken hearts, filled with sorrow.
Later we received a letter from my mother and sister that they were not far from us at a peasant, which didn't want to have them anymore and they didn't have any money. They wandered for a few days and no one wanted to take them. They wanted already to go to the city and give up to the Germans and finish it all.
That same night they managed to bring my mother and sister to us. Our meeting was indescribable. We were together again but in another world, a world in the shadow of death.
The Murderous Acts of the Armia Krajowa
Almost two years we managed in a dark cellar at a Polish peasant in a village.
One day, I remember it very well, which was the anniversary of my brother and my boyfriend Hershel Winograd's death, the 14th of June 1941, between day and night, while we were sitting at our savior in the house, we noticed through the window, that Germans are approaching the house where we were hiding. Their number was about thirty people. We went straight down to the dark cellar. We were sure that the Germans come to us and that now our lives will end. We determined not to give up and fight until the end.
On that same minute, steps were heard in the house and they spoke Polish. It appeared that they were Poles dressed like Germans. It took a while, we were ready to fight. The Christian that helped us survive, shouted out loud: Jews, don't be afraid, these are our Poles, they won't do anything bad to you. They only have the order to take the weapons from the Jews. But we already knew what it smelled like because every time a big number of Jews was killed by the Polish A.K. (Armia Krajowa). But we couldn't help. We were surrounded from all sides. The bandits threatened saying they will throw grenades in the cellar if we don't give up. They led us to a moment of desperation. We didn't have any other way out but to surrender. We considered the possibility that maybe someone can manage to escape. I with my youngest sister Malka and with Hershel went out first from the cellar. We said goodbye to the rest that remained there. We went out to the house. The murderers attacked us immediately and took the revolvers we had. We knew that we were sentenced to death. We were indifferent. After the murderers searched us for gold, but it had been taken from us long ago. Later they took us to the kitchen and ordered us to sit in the ground. A few minutes passed and no one showed up. But when the bandits threatened once again that they would throw grenades, my oldest brother showed up, who had a wounded hand from a partisan battle. I was against the door where my brother stood. Close to me was the Commander of the A.K. bandits, a certain Bialecki.
When they ordered my brother to lift his hands, he pulled out a revolver and fired three times. The shots flew over my head and hit the Commander. He left the house and fell on the doorstep. There was a terrible confusion and shootings. They shot from all sides. My brother Leibl was killed in the house and the floor was full with blood. Simultaneously the ones remaining in the cellar looked for a way to save themselves. Monish Rojzenkind managed to get out to the field. They shot after him, but without success and he managed to escape. After him ran Eliahu Rojzenkind, which was hit. I, my mother and two sisters sat and gnashed with our teeth. The shooting stopped. We tried to talk and appeal. But every time we tried to talk they beat us with the pistols.
A scream was heard from a girl outside which was Rivkale Wajnberg, which tried to escape with her aunt Tirtza Boruchowicz and they were both shot.
After this bloody event, the bandits went down in the cellar and took out everything that was left there, the last shirt and so on. After that they consulted what to do with us, how to finish us. They took out Noach Winograd and shot him and his son Hershel was forced to look. Immediately the murderers came inside the house and took Hershele. My mother and sister faced them saying that we know what awaits for us but we want to die all together. We don't want to see the death of each other. The bandits explained that they won't do anything to him, they only want to ask him something, and he would immediately return to the house. As soon as he went out a shot was heard. In the meantime, deteriorated the condition of the commander who was wounded by my brother. The bandits went to save the commander. I left the house immediately. Hershel was laying by the door. His heart was beating. I begged our hostess to help me save him. She grabbed my head and pulled me inside the house saying that I shouldn't show up in the street, no one needs to know that there's someone still alive. But I went out again with my mother and sisters and he died on my hands. I didn't know what's going on with us. I felt like out of my mind.
Later we had to bury them ourselves. Our feet were covered with the blood of our own brother. It lasted like that until midnight.
Naked and barefooted they took us to a field and I was sick from diphtheria. But I didn't feel it at all. We weren't used to the fresh air after two years living in a cellar. After a day free we got swollen.
Every night we went to the river for a little of water and I with my cousin went at night around the river to Christians for bread. We couldn't find our way back to mother and sisters. Whole nights we wandered between the fields, looking for them. It took us four days.
I wasn't calm. I decided to go set on the road to look for Hershel's sister Chana, which was on another village. Everybody looked at me as crazy. Every step was threatened by death, but I didn't care. My mother and sister begged me not to leave but I was already determined.
An early morning I got lost in the way, not knowing where to go, dressed like a peasant with a swollen face.
I looked again at my relatives, said goodbye and left.
At the end I got to the place. Even today, when I merely remember the terrible experiences, I can't understand how I got to the village. I turned to the Poles with who we were in contact the whole time and told them that I want to meet with Chana Winograd. They told me to spend the day in the field. The whole day I laid by myself without a little bit of water and the heat was terrible.
At night, the known Pole came. I tried to talk with him about making a place for my mother and sisters but in vain. The situation was very tense. He told me that later in the night Monish Rojzenkind will come and take me to Chana. And to Chana Winograd he sent a message that I'm alive, I'm in the village and no one would take me in. I laid in the field until midnight when Monish came.
After I needed to walk 2 kilometers to Chana. The feet didn't carry me. Monish helped me. I begged him to leave me in the forest because I can't walk anymore but he didn't want to surrender. Like this I got to the place. No one can imagine my encounter with Chana Winograd. There weren't any comfort words for us. I couldn't calm myself. I asked someone to go and tell my mother and sisters that I was alive, but no one wanted to go, they were afraid. Especially I was worried because I left them on the field. At the end we sent Monish to arrange there with the peasant, to make a second hideout. And Monish, who escaped from that terrible fire, left by night and returned in the early morning, saying that Sokol the peasant from Wilczyska, will make another hideout. I calmed a little bit.
We remained without money, without a possibility to survive. We slept in the little cellar where everything was wet, where we couldn't catch a breath. I got a plan, so send someone to Warszawa to the director of the brewery Hoberush and Shile, with who we traded before the war, and ask him to give us money. My parents had also asked previously some money from the same place, but we didn't receive it. I thought there was nothing to lose. It was my greatest surprise when the Christian lady returned with 2 thousand zlotys, saying that the director ordered: If I will need more help, I must send for him.
A few days later, I heard how someone came in the house and said that my mom and my sisters were shot. What I experienced in that moment is not to describe. It pointed out later that AntiSemites informed that Sokol had Jews. On an early morning the Germans came to the house, carried on an inspection and found my mother and sisters, which were taken to the Command in Żelechów together with Sokol. They were kept there for three days. My mother asked them to release Sokol as he wasn't guilty that they were inside his house without his knowledge. It didn't work. The 10th of July 1944 they were shot at night and thrown inside a clay pond.
After the liberation Sokol's family took out their father from there. Sometime later, when the exhumations of the Żelechów victims was carried out by the Żelechów Jews Laksman and Abraham Wolf Jasny, my mother and two Popowski sisters received a Jewish burial.
by Tzivia Rozental (Barranquilla)
Translated from Yiddish by David Lukowiecki
In the Żelechów ghetto were found 15 thousand Jews. Despite all the decrees Żelechów was considered to be a good ghetto. A certain time the ghetto was opened, and people could go in and out. After forbidding to visit the Arian side, every day there were Jewish victims, because the hunger forced them to risk their lives and go to a village for a few potatoes and if succeeded one time they would go again.
They persuaded others: What are you going to do sitting at home and hungry? Come with me and you'll earn a few zlotys. The hunger was then scarily big. Whoever had money paid for food how much was wanted and didn't risk his life. But a worker, not earning any, didn't have what to buy and go out of the ghetto. As such fell a lot of victims.
When the deportation of different cities started: Lublin, Ryki, Dęblin, Warszawa and others, Żelechów was also taken. A certain evening the Polish and German Police guarded the city and reported that people must not leave their houses. We already knew from other cities, what that meant. At 7 in the morning, it was alarmed, that all Jews must leave their houses. They gathered all in one place, a few Jews hid themselves, old people were given wagons to drive to Sobolew and the young men and women walked by foot 21 kilometers.
The heat was big. The dust was swallowed, we became terribly thirsty, but if someone got out of the line for a drink was immediately shot. Like this fell hundreds of people on the way from Żelechów to Sobolew. When I and my family arrived in Sobolew, they took us immediately with the rest in the cattle wagons. There weren't wagons for all, part remained waiting until the morning. I was lucky to go in one wagon with my family. My 5 year old child I left at a peasant at a village. Suddenly I missed my child. Therefore I escaped from the wagon and went to the village to see my child. In the village I met my little son playing with the peasant's children. My child didn't recognize me. At the same peasant was my friend Rivka Lewinzon. Her husband was also among the deported. When she saw me alone, she cried strongly because her husband was killed. My little son approached her and told her: Rivka don't cry, my mother was also killed with your Yechiel. I fell over my little one, kissed him and with tears convinced him, that I am his mother. In the meantime arrived my friend's husband, he jumped from the wagon. Together with my friend and her husband we went to a farm in the village Okrzeja. The Jews there received an order not to receive any foreign Jews. They were very afraid to receive anybody, because the Germans told them, that if they won't let in any foreign Jews, they would be left alive. 20 Żelechów Jews, men, women and children were shot in Okrzeja. I with my child and friends went to another village to a peasant and were there 2 months. We paid the peasant monthly. He made a cellar for us in the barn under the garbage. Over us stood the cattle and there we were given food. That was one of the best hideouts.
In a certain evening, we are sitting in the house and eating dinner, when suddenly we hear a riffle shooting. You can imagine our fear, the householder went out to see what's going on and didn't come back. The hostess went after him and also didn't return. The shooting was heavy. I and my little son went down in the bunker and my friends went to the forest. When it became quiet the householder returned and told, that it was a bandit attack and 2 Jews were shot, Chaim Alfyszer from Huty and his brotherinlaw. The householder with his wife explained, that they were afraid we stay longer at their place and proposed us to go look for another place to live. I with my child and my friends gathered and hit the road. The householder and his neighbor, who also hid Jews, drove us back to Żelechów.
As soon as we returned to the city, I informed my brotherinlaw and my brother, who were in the firemen command that I find myself at some Christians'. They as also some friends of the firemen came soon to look for us. We couldn't stay long in the city. The second day of our arrival, we traveled to Sobolew and went inside the ghetto. There we were 3 weeks. The situation in the ghetto was terrible: Some rich were asking for a piece of bread, people died of hunger as result of the terrible hunger made different diseases. The bugs ate the people. In a room lived 3040 people; the fear was horrible, because if a German noticed at night light in a window, he shot, people fell like flies.
A certain evening there was an alarm, that wagons are arriving to take us. That hurt terribly on our hearts. Some had accustomed to the ghetto.
The 10th of January 1943, 7 o'clock in the evening, they reported us, that we must be in the morning in a place next to the train. Already the whole night the ghetto was guarded by Germans. I go out to the street at 5 o'clock in the morning, people couldn't go from one street to the other. People are looking how to save themselves. People bribe the police, others risked their lives. People talked about 5 shot and later 3 which were hung in a place where they slaughtered geese. The 3 were Moshe and his brother Meir Rotpas and a Łaskarzew girl. Seeing that they were shooting, people stopped running and were prepared to go in the wagons. In a wagon that could take 50 people they packed 300. When I went into the wagon I heard, that people call me. These friends wanted me to go in their wagon with them together on the last journey. I tried to sit in the wagon. A German noticed this and started beating me with a riffle in the head. Not caring about the beatings I went in the wagon to my friends and we traveled together to Treblinka. Among others were there found: Chaim Rozenberg with his brother Itzchak, Hershel Pinte, Yidl Iglicki, Ruchele Roterman and Faige Rotpas. I and all of the mentioned decided to jump from the train. That we managed. The train stopped but jumping we got lost. I walked alone to Łuków and from there to Żelechów. A few days I didn't eat.
The 14th of January 1943, after the 2nd time jumping, now without child, I arrived in Żelechów. I went to see my brother and brotherinlaw, which were in the firemen command. I only meet my brother. The joy was extraordinary. I ask him about my brotherinlaw. My brother tells me, that he is sick with typhus and willing to endure. For the Germans not to shoot him, he must hide, because when someone gets sick they don't let them save themselves only shoot them immediately. For the sick one my brother called Doctor Kasperowicz who was very liberal in his attitude against the Jews (he lives today in Żelechów). I couldn't be long in Żelechów. Friends that were at a peasant in a village and which used to write letters to my brother, got interested in me and proposed me to come to them. I dressed again as a peasant and traveled with a Pole to the village. There I was for 5 months, later moved into another place. In this way during 2 years I was with my friends in several places. A little in the forest and a little outside.
After the liberation I remained the only one from my whole family. I came to Żelechów without any cent, without shoes in a little dress. In the place of our house a little garden was planted. I ask at the neighbors, who planted the garden, they tell me that a certain Jarzecki. I go inside to Jarzecki and it shows up that he's known to me and a good friend of my father. He wasn't too excited with me. I chatted with him about selling the place. He told me: After what do you need to sell it. Come all the time and take some potatoes. I looked for another buyer and sold the place. With a little bit of money I started to trade. I went in the houses and sold different goods. As such I earned for food and clothes.
One time I come inside a Polish house and notice in the courtyard a steel that was my father's property. I explain the householders that the steel is my father's and because I live, I want it back. They didn't oppose. I sold the steel for 4 thousand zlotys. I became rich and enlarged my trade. In a certain early morning I go to a certain baker, Mazurek, who lived in the Pałacowej Street. The daughter to buy something from me. I go inside the second house and recognize my sister's dresser. I didn't say anything until I brought a friend with me. He recognized the dresser and confirmed it was my sister's. The owner of the dresser became pale and red. He says, and he bought it from the Germans and with not a small pleasure paid me 3 thousand zlotys.
All this was in the first times when the Russian Army was in the city and the AntiSemites were afraid. But later, when the Russian Army left Żelechów the bandits took revenge. They shot several Jews. The little group of surviving Jews had to leave the place where they lived, suffered and grew up. Some went to Lodz and others to Warszawa. I was a while in Lodz, where I traded again. I made contact with my family abroad. After a short time I went to Germany where I was 5 weeks and received the documents to travel to Colombia.
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