We Remember the Rebels!
Bronia Klibanski Winicki
A R I A D N E
This material is posted for educational and research purposes only, and is fully copyrighted!
Translated from Hebrew by Vera Golani, courtesy of the Bialystok Landsmanschaft in Israel.
My landlady knows already and tells me the news. During the night, the Germans encircled the ghetto with a large number of forces and have begun the 'Action (akcja)'. The Jews are firing. How come my landlady knows and I am sleeping peacefully? At this moment, my entire world crumbled. How wasn't I aware? Where were my senses? Where is my famous intuition? I can't even think. 'Action" (akcja)'! Three words are throbbing in my head and heart: "It has begun. It has begun!" In front of my landlady, I pretend to be calm and leave quickly the house. To run in the direction of the ghetto.
My feet are carrying me there... there are my beloved. The whole purpose of my life. My street Mazowiecka is lengthy. It seems of no end. I hasten my steps. Suddenly Chaika is before me. She is on her way to my house. Is it indeed she, the underground leader of the 'Hashomer Hatsa'ir'? How did she get here? She was supposed to be there. I do not show my surprise and do not ask questions. Keeping silent. Without a word, we walk together to Rynek Kosciuszko. Silent. Walking and remaining silent. At last Chaika breaks the silence. In the darkness of night, at 2 o'clock., the Germans invaded quietly the ghetto and seized all the factories in order to secure the machinery, equipment, raw materials and the finished products, which should remain in their power. They knew about the underground and the active resistant movement. Guards are positioned so that nothing will be lost that night. All the passages are blocked. The Action (akcja) and final extermination have begun. The Judenrat has announced that following an order by the Germans, everybody should leave immediately their houses and, until 10:00 o'clock., proceed with a small hand baggage to the Jurowiecka street. From there, they will be deported to camps in the vicinity of Lublin. The ghetto will be destroyed.
People are thunderstruck. A feeling of being trapped. They don't even try to hide. The element of surprise suppressed every will. Crowds swarm to Jurowiecka street. The combing of the area will begin on the more populated western sector of the ghetto. Luckily our weapons storage and the hide-outs of the kibbutz are on the eastern side. I understood that Barasz, the chairman of the Judenrat, knew a few days in advance of the extermination, and remained silent. He kept the secret as he was ordered to do. "Now everything becomes clear - says Chaika - every time when Barasz has to choose between the underground which he considered as a friend of, and his abject servility to the Germans, he chose the Germans."
Chaika hesitated to speak out; she did not even once pronounce the name of Mordechai, although she knew... And I didn't ask. I was dying to ask, but did not. Something holds me back. I know. He will not stay alive. He will fight till the end.
We stand on Rynek Kosciuszki. The ghetto's walls were across the square. Here and there, the sound of occasional shooting pierced the air. A reminder of life. Maybe a call for help. Above Smolna street, the sky was painted red. And behind that a terrifying silence, broken by fire extinguishers' sirens. The fire did not spread behind the walls. The Germans watched closely for any possible breach.
Suddenly a strange figure appeared in the square, dressed in tatters, the head between her shoulders. Chaika knew her. Marilka! The liaison officer of the Jewish partisans group operating in the forests near Bialystok. They left the ghetto during the months prior to the final extermination. Marilka was also taken by surprise. Chaika tells me that comrades told her to leave the ghetto. She managed to convince the guard of the main factory, the No. 1 concern, that she is a Pole that got stuck there. She showed her Aryan papers and they let her pass through.
Marilka hurries to her friends in town. Chaika accompanies her and I continue in the direction of the ghetto. I walk past the gate on Jurowiecka street and the length of Sienkiewicz street to Poleska street. Everywhere my eyes meet with the most terrifying military blockade. Walls and fences are encircled by military S.S. units and other troops unknown to me. Later, I heard that these were special punitive troops established to combat partisans. In the field, on the eastern border of the ghetto, especially large forces are concentrated. Three iron rings are strangling the ghetto. Light automatic weapons, mortars and artillery are separating me from my friends. Until now I have not heard of a siege manned by such numerous forces against other ghettos. They knew that there would be a resistance, and they prepared carefully. All the forces were brought in secret from outside town, in the midst of night. Most of them from Lublin. The S.S. and police commander, Odilo Globocnik, planned the attack and commanded it personally.
At 10:00 o'clock, blazing fires erupted above the vegetables garden in Nowogrodzka street. Further, roaring shooting is being heard and columns of smoke appear. The revolt has begun. The scream of the fire, the breaking of the silence over the murder of an entire people. The battle is centered in the eastern sector of the ghetto. The housings of my 'Kibbutz' comrades are there. The Germans are accelerating the deportation of the western sector. The fighters are more and more isolated. People are hunted in small groups that are being led through the gate of Jurowiecka street to a concentration place in the suburb Bialostoczek. Here, they are lying without strength, on the naked earth under a blazing sun. The overcrowding is unbearable. Children, women and old people faint, they crave for a drop of water. Everywhere there is weeping. I walk towards them. I walk past the guards, like a shadow. Seeing and not being seen. Nobody takes notice. And I am helplessly clenching my fists. My heart is burning. Absorb the horror, the grief. Searching familiar faces, comrades and do not find. All of them are inside, around Mordechai their leader.
From there, I run to my work. Again and again, I come back stubbornly to circle the walls and fences, seized by a kind of madness. Maybe I'll have some luck and may be meet somebody. May be I will get some sign. I am confronting the horror. The body of a young girl is hanging on the wall; shot while trying to run. Her contracted fingers still grasping the stone. On Smolna street a fire started at the fence. Bodies of fighters soaked in blood are lying in dust and soil. An attempt to pave a way to the forests that failed. The fighting goes on. One day, tanks enter the ghetto through the gate of Fabryczna street. An intensifying shelling spreading death. A murderous fire tearing to pieces the few rebels left. Desperate shouts that I fail to understand. A large group of children accompanied by adults is leaving the ghetto. I have heard that the destination is supposedly Switzerland. To exchange them for German prisoners. I do not believe it.
From day to day, it is harder and harder to keep appearance towards my landlords and at work. Asking myself, what am I doing here? I feel drawn to the fire, there. My place is near Mordechai. But the blockade. Impossible to get inside. Why don't I try? Maybe they would let me in. Maybe they would shoot me on the spot. I don't understand myself. Something is stopping me. What is it? From day to day, my senses are overwhelmed by hatred and loathing for the persecutors, the murderers. These Germans are no human beings. Bloodsuckers. Menschen fresser! Cannibals! Once I was almost arrested because of the glance I threw at them. The anger helps me. Masks.
Aweek and another week went by. Slowly days become quieter. The soldiers are bored. The nights are tense. The noise of the shooting shakes the town. My landlady complains to me that it is impossible tsleep. She tests my reaction. The rebels attack now at night. I wander through the city with a renewed hope that maybe I will meet escapees of the deportation trains. I may now save somebody, bring him to the forests, to the Jewish partisans. Through Marilka, I have met a few girls liaison officers from other groups. I didn't know about them. By turn, we visit the Jewish partisans. In the last weeks, comrades who jumped from the deportation trains reached the partisans. Their condition is difficult. Among them some are wounded. Medicaments are missing. They have no weapons. And if there are no weapons, there is no food. Morale is low. Together with the other girls, we organize help. In the midst of night, I carry to the forests food, medication received from Dr. Filipowski, and some arms that I could attain.
After some three weeks of drifting around the fences, I notice a carriage loaded with Jewish possessions, leaving through the Fabryczna street gate. On the carriage, I recognize some fighters, comrades of Kibbutz 'Dror', Israel Margulis, Noemi Blumencweig and Icchak Engelman. The carriage takes the direction of the freight train station in Poleska street. These possessions meticulously packed, are loaded on trains on their way to the fatherland of the murderers. I run after the carriage. Am able to get close and exchange some words with them. I try to convince them to escape and join the partisans. I have a contact that will lead them to the forests. They don't want to listen. Despair and gloominess overcome them. They say they "will go to be transformed to soap". They know that the work finished, they will be sent to an extermination camp. They are decided to share the fate of their fighting comrades.
Imeet them again and again. Try to convince, speak with logic. In the forests, they have the possibility to go on fighting. But they have no weapons and without weapons they see no sense in escaping to the forests. I have the feeling that finally they agreed to run away. I presented them a plan. We fixed the time and the place where I would wait for them the next day. In any event, I gave them my address. Our girls would be positioned the length of the escape route. They would lead them quickly to the next comrade. A messenger from the forests would wait for them at the edge of the forest and bring them to the camp of the partisans.
Iwait for them. Time is running out and no one arrives; maybe something went wrong. Maybe a mistake. Maybe they couldn't make it. Maybe they went to my address. I run home. My landlady tells me: Somebody looked for me. A Jid. It was Berl, a member of the organization. He worked together with my friends at the train station. They decided not to escape. He was the one who chose to run away. I brought him to the forest.
Adeathly silence fell on the ghetto. The last transport left through the gate of Fabryczna street in exemplary order. Among the people walking, I saw the chairman of the Judenrat and other Judenrat members. My three friends, the last rebels, were not among them.
What happened to them? My heart was bitter with anger and pity. I heard that this last transport was sent to Lublin, to the Majdanek camp. I was unable to find out how and when Mordechai the commander of the revolt perished. There are rumors, that he and his second-in-command committed suicide with their last bullet.
The siege was successful. Germany had won. Bialystok was declared 'Judenrein', a place clean of Jews. More than thirty thousand human beings, the last remains of the Jews in Poland, were swallowed by the gas chambers of Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz.
The revolt went on for about three weeks. Isolated, without help from the outside, a few hundred young people fought heroically at the cost of their life, up to the very end. Their attempts to attack and break through the blockade failed; they were unable to escape to the forests. Their last arms were gone.
Our main bunker in Chmielna street was discovered. Maybe tipped off by an informer. The entrance steps inside the house were destroyed. The cache became a trap. The fighting was short. They took out from the well seventy people and shot them to death. Hershl was among them. One was left alive by the Germans. Was he the informer?
Reuwczek succeeded to reach the Judenrat building, the headquarters of the extermination. He tried to place a bomb. He was sprayed with a string of shots. They evacuated the hospital. Women and children to Treblinka; men to Majdanek and Auschwitz. No help was extended to the wounded. The electricity and water were cut off. A handful of fighters are still alive. They have no weapons to fight with. They find hidden shelters. Wandering from one hiding place to another. Waiting for an opportunity to run to the forests, to the partisans. This is the end.
The last chance to jump from the racing deportation trains. Those who will try, and succeed to remain alive will reach the partisans. No one of my comrades the rebels remained alive. They fought till the end.
They are the heroes of a glorious chapter in our history.
A flash of light in the darkness of heaven. A narrow opening to life.
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Last Updated July 7th, 2003