We Remember Moniek!
Written by Halina Birenbaum
The Holocaust Testimony of Moniek Sieradzki of Lodz, Poland
From left to right: Tzvi Szner & Sara Shner-Nishmit, Halina Birenbaum and Moniek Sieradzki
Halina Birenbaum's Web Page
Background: Bialystok During the Holocaust
The Beginning of the War
The Escape to the Russian Zone
In Zareba Koscielna
First Days in Bialystok
To Slonim and Back to Bialystok
The Outbreak of the War between Germany and Russia
The Beginning of the German Occupation in Bialystok
The Aktion of November 1942
Ghetto Life Continue
The Aktion of February 1943
The Liquidation of Ghetto Bialystok, August 1943
In the Stutthof Camp
The Death March and Liberation
The Beginning of the War
Iwas born and brought up in Lodz, now in central Poland. I lived in Srodmiejska street no. 72, together with my parents, three sisters and a brother. The older sister was already married woman when the World War II broke out and she had a baby daughter. I was 22 years old at that time and I managed independently a tailor's workshop at no. 5 in Zgierska Street. My younger brother Szajka worked there with me. Our father, Szlama Sieradzki was also a tailor who accepted work orders at his home. Mother, Eta was keeping the house. They were 53 and 47 years old, respectively.
On Friday, September 1, 1939, the war broke out - the Germans attacked Poland. I was in my workshop that day when suddenly tremendous commotion and tension ensued all around. Germans began bombarding and their bombers were shot at from the roofs of houses.
We lived close to the barracks of the 28th and 31st infantry regiments. We closed the workshop at once and ran with my brother home. Whatever is to happen, let it come when together! Soon after the news about the first killed and wounded reached us. A son of our friend, Pruszycki - the tailor from Gdansk Street, has been killed when he was walking along the Anna Street. We were awestruck by this news. The reality of war forced itself relentlessly into our consciousness.
Next day it was Saturday. I did not work on that day, so I went to the barber. When he was cutting my hair, a Polish officer came in. I asked him what was happening at the front. He answered that the situation was terrifying, that Germans attacked with awesome force and almost all soldiers of his company had been killed. To lift somehow his spirit, I replied that we should still see the day when Berlin would be crushed. He answered that he also desired that with all his heart. I wanted to give up my seat on the barber chair to him but he did not agree to that. Once my hair was cut he shook hands with me and we parted.
I returned home. The tension in the city intensified. The city was besieged by German troops. My sisters went to stay in queues for food, for bread. We, boys, were ordered by father to stay home.
A week later, that is next Friday, the Germans seized Lodz city. The criminal Nazi troops entered the downtown.
During those past days of siege many people escaped by various ways towards Warsaw in hope that it will be safer in the capital. My father wouldn't let us leave home. He was of the opinion that those fugitives were sure to die of hunger and thirst on the roads. He based his conviction on his experience from World War I. In many cases his stand proved right. German pilots lowered their planes and machine-gunned the roads. Plenty of people who fled towards Warsaw were killed in this way.
Germans began to catch men for various works. They caught them on the streets, snatched them from houses and flats and, later on, sent summons. Those caught were forced to carry furniture for them, to do all kinds of char work, or to carry heavy equipment. The German bandits were helped by the Volksdeutche, i.e. Poles of German origin. They beat the caught men with savage cruelty. The victims of that ill treatment returned home in the evenings only to evoke terror and despair by what they told and how they looked.
Father took special care that all purchases in the city be settled by my sisters. He was afraid of us and would not permit us to go on the streets. Despite that I was caught and taken to work in the barracks of a former 10th artillery regiment. I was snatched from home. I have been awfully beaten at work.
When I returned home in the evening, father told me to escape with my brother to Bialystok, a city on Russian side. He tried to convince us that Germans were not dangerous for women and old people, but the young they may set to hard labour camps... Father read a lot about what happened to Jews in Germany and he wanted to safeguard us against similar fate. He was not isolated in such thinking. Many Jews from around towns came to Lodz to get their bearings as to what the people in a large city intend to do and possibly to start on the way along with them. Two of my cousins, my father's nephews, came from near Kelce Glowa to us at that time. At first we found it hard to decide on leaving home and separation from family. As the prosecution and the men hunting intensified, though, we decided to flee together with our cousins.
In the meantime the Germans established in Lodz City the Jewish Committee (Judenrat). They ordered to sew on the outside of the clothes the yellow patch with the Star of David and inscription "Jude". Since then the community officials sent summons to report for those compulsory works.
In early December we decided to set out on our way and to get across to Bialystok. By then, Jews were already forbidden to travel by trains. My sister, Rajzel, who looked much like an Aryan, went with us to Kaliski railway station and bought tickets for us. We bid farewell to our parents and sisters. Father did not want to exchange kisses or bid farewell. He said that when he went to war in 1914 he also did not bid his family farewell and that is why he returned back home... He thought that now the situation was similar, the same fate was parting us, and, after some time, we will again be all together. He had no idea how far he was from the truth. We never met again! We have never seen each other any more!
The Escape to the Russian Zone
We reached Warsaw by train without any significant adventures, but the talks in the car about Jews, about the travel prohibition for them etc. struck us with horror. We used a horse-drawn cab to get to eastern railway Station in Warsaw. Then we again used train to reach Malkinia despite strict prohibition and all the risks involved
In Malkinia the Gestapo just took over the power. Up to now the military were in charge and they treated people with less cruelty. The railway station swarmed with SS-men and Gestapo men. They were armed and held sticks in their hands. At once they assaulted those getting out of the train and drove them towards the school where the Gestapo had their headquarters.
My cousin has been hit with a stick in the face. The Germans hit him in the nose and eye. The blood ran from his wounds and from his nose, which became strangely distorted. The cousin was a young strong man. He had a family of his own by then and was a baker by trade. He thought that he would manage to settle down on the Russian side and then he would go to take his wife and children. And so he did after some time. He returned with his brother to Kelce-Glowa town where he had a bakery. His brother returned to Zoloszyn to his own family there. They both did not return to us anymore. Only after the war I learned that they had been killed together with their families. Almost none remained alive of all my relatives, except one cousin who escaped to with his fiancee.
The SS-mordered us to take off our cloths and to give them our garmethings we had. They gave us cloths taken previously from other victims from previous trains. They searched the clothes for gold and money. My brother had a considerable sum of money sewn into the collar of his overcoat.
We were taken to work that day. After work they drove us all to a neutral square: on one side of this square there were Germans while on the other - the Russians.
The Russians were ordered not to let anyone pass over to their side and nobody wanted to return back onto the territory occupied by Germans.
Thousand of people were present on this neutral square. They remained here for a long time. Some died here. Some women gave birth to children. They begged the Russianto let them onto their territories. The Germans did not interfere with what was happening at that time on the neutral square.
Suddenly I noticed that a man was wearing the overcoat of my brother. I had 50 zloties in my pocket. Before departure from home father told me to hide this money on the bobbin of thread by covering them with the thread. I went to this man and offered him to change overcoats with my bother. This overcoat was too small for him, while this, which my brother was wearing, was too large. I added I was ready to support my offer with some money if he agrees. He willingly agreed and in this way we recovered our money which the Germans luckily had not found under the collar.
Soon after we managed to pass by night to the Russian side. About 3000 people started to press from all sides of the square and the Russians could not cope with it this time. They did not shoot into the crowd. Both our cousins were with us. We ran to the railway station. We reached the station in the morning. Russian border sentries were on guard there. They treated us kindly. They neither did utter curses nor did drive us off. They distributed just boiled water for drinking: "kipiatok"... Tension within us subsided. We were happy to have behind us the German hell and all that grimness of the neutral square - the cold, rains, shouts and beseeching, all in the open area, fraught with danger.
The Russians were asking us who wants to go to the Bialystok and who wanted to Warsaw and they informed where to turn. We, of course, went with those who were to go to Bialystok. At that moment, a few scores of mounted guards came. They forced themselves into the crowd between those who intended to Bialystok and those to Warsaw. They started to drive the former back to the neutral square and those who wanted to Warsaw to the train for Bialystok. The guards apparently considered them to be kinds of speculators and profiteers and wanted to prevent their passing as they wished... Both my brother and me were pushed back onto that cursed square!
While going towards the square I suddenly noticed my cousins running towards some small house in which they disappeared. I lost them from sight. Since that moment I had no more contact with them and I did not know anything about them till the end of the war.
At night I tried again to run through the frontier. Together with other people I ran through the forest towards the Zareba Koscielna railway station. We ran for a few hours. All along I have seen some searchlights. I did not know who lighted them and where I am. Finally, I found myself completely alone. I lost my brother somewhere along the way. Towards morning, I learned that I am on a German area. Obviously I lost my way while running panic-stricken. Suddenly I met one Pole with one German. It was on the frontier near the German casernes. They caught me for work. In the evening they lead me back to Neutral Square. During work they took my overcoat and jacket. I remained only in my underwear and it was December with cold and snow. Luckily I had several shirts on. I took them from home for the future. The German and Pole who led me back were content of my work - I sewed for them and cleaned their clothes. They showed me the way to Zareba-Koscielna railway station.
The night came already and the way to Zareba was long one. I have not slept for several nights on end. I got to some village and knocked to a hut. They spoke Polish. I asked them to put me up. I learned from the farmer that they were on the Russian side. There was no place in the hut. Various people slept in it already as the hut was situated close to the frontier. The host had pity on me, though. He told me to enter the barn through the ladder and sleep there. I dumped heavily with my head into hay and slept immediately. Only my legs were left outside. When I woke up they were stiff from cold and I could not move them. In utter tiredness yesterday - the day before - I did not even notice that I could bury myself entirely in the hay and thus make all my limbs warm. I was tired to fainting. Next day, I immediately started further on my way. My legs were swollen and I could hardly drag my feet. I had to go some 3 kilometers to Zareba Koscielna.
In Zareba Koscielna
Ireached it after a few hours. I went to the synagogue where all Jewish refugees directed their steps. In the synagogue I got warm and ate something. For the night I was told to lie down on the gallery where women usually said their prayers. Many people slept there already. I laid myself down and fell asleep.
Suddenly, I woke in terrible fear. I dreamt that Germans are chasing me. I fell into nervous shock. I jumped from the gallery straight down onto a great oven. I sat there like a wild hunted animal. I did not recognize anything. I was unconscious. In the morning the local Jews came to pray. They begged me to come down from that oven. They tried to calm me down and to bring home to me and that I was now among friends and no danger threatened me. Among themselves they said that they were sorry for the boy. |He seems to come from a good house because he has nice shirts, but his mind got mixed"... Finally I calmed down and got down from that oven.
They fed me and asked who I was and if I learned any profession. I told them everything about myself and that I was tailor by trade and I had my own shop in Lodz. They took me to the best tailor in the town on the Market Square. He had a lot of work and readily accepted me as a helper. I slept on the table in his workshop. I have sewed him an overcoat, which he liked very much. I earned some money. I remained with him one week, eating together with him and sleeping on this table. The host would be glad to keep me with him but I wanted to get to Bialystok to find my brother. We promised to each other that, whatever happens, we shall meet in Bialystok.
For the earned money I bought an overcoat in the "Gala" shop in the Market Square, where used items were sold, as I had nothing on to keep me warm. I bid goodbye to my host. I followed his recommendation to go by sledge to Czyzewo, to the railway station there. From there I reached Bialystok without anymore obstacles.
First Days in Bialystok
To my great joy on the very first day in Bialystok, I found my brother Szajka. He was just walking along the street with our cousin, Chilek. They lived in a rented room. They slept on the floor there. I found a place for myself in the synagogue in Odeska Street, no. 8.
At first we got eating rations from a special kitchen for refugees, which was in Brukowa Street. Food was given away by Russians from army stores. After sometime I found work with a poor tailor. He took both Szajka and me to his only room. We all worked for Wajnsztein, a well-known tailor in the city. I usually went to him to bring work home and carried ready things back to him. We sewed trousers, jackets, and coats. We earned only pittance money for that.
New refugees were still coming. The synagogues were over crowded with people seeking help against German persecutions. In summer - it must have been July - Russian army came to Bialystok in great force, as well as the NKWD security forces. They had a list of refugees living in the city. By night, they started to "visit" homes and factories and to take off those people. They collected them on the railway station and took them off frtherby train. Nobody haany idea where they took those people or why. They had not caugus. my band me hid in the attic. After sometime, I asked Szajka to check what happened to our cousins. I reasoned that such a young boy would look less suspicious. My brother was 16 at that time and he looked even younger than that. He went to Odeska Street where both our cousins lived and learned that they had been accepted to Becher factory in Bialystok.
After several days we left the hiding place. I thought that the raids and catches were over and I stayed at this tailor's home. But an order has been issued that whoever keeps refugees, should report to police about them. The home-steward of the house, in which our tailor rented the room, reported to the police about u. We knew nothing about it. One day a militiaman came and ordered us to go with him to the police station. He told us to take with us our belongings.
In the police station I showed them the permission for stay within 100 km from Bialystok, which I had obtained when registering after our arrival. The officer who interrogated us did not know what to do with us. Finally, he decided that for the time being, we could return home, but we had to leave the city within the next 24 hours. We were to turn in the direction of Slonim or Baranowicze. When we were at the police station, a horse drawn cab came suddenly, from which a Jew emerged with three suitcases. I heard him requesting to be sent deep into Russia. He said that "only there it will be possible to survive till the War ends!" His father had also escaped deep into Russia during the WWI, and in this way he has returned home, alive and sound... I listened to this man in a state of confusion. I did not know what to do. Will it be safer to follow him? But I had already the permission to stay in this region, which was closer to home and to parents... I deluded myself that the War would be over soon and we will immediately be able to return to our motherland. I did not want to move too far away. I did not know at that time how right the thinking of this unknown man had been and how much suffering we could avoid if we would follow him then. He ardently tried to convince us but we did not agree.
To Slonim and Back to Bialystok
We sat there in some eating place when I noticed my former client from Lodz. He used to live in the same street as us. He showed me that he still wore the suit, which I sewed for him before the War. At the time when we met, he lived in the Market Square in Slonim. He told us that in the house where he lived, there was a cubbyhole at the attic and we might sleep in there, if we wished. We readily accepted this unselfish offer. We preferred this to staying at the synagogue. After considering the certificate of Bialystok's militia - their permit for us to stay - we have been given a passport with paragraph 38, i.e. with stipulation: we were neither to leave the town nor stay closer than 100 km from the frontier. The Russians did not know who we were and did not trust us. Could we be German spies?
One day a municipal officer came from Bialystok. He was in charge of city cleaning. He needed a hundred persons for work there, but he managed to enlist only forty volunteers. The others did not want to leave Slonim and to part from their families. They established themselves here somehow. I decided to apply for that work. Szajka remained, but I preferred Bialystok to Slonim. They gave me a horse and a cart to carry the garbage off but I could not lead the cart properly... So they shifted me to sweeping the streets. I earned 210 rubles per month. I wasn't much but I managed to get additional work nearby as well. I was to keep a watch over a kiosk with cigarettes against thieves. I have gotten additional 150 rubles for that. I rented a place to sleep at a certain woman's.
One evening when I kept a watch over the kiosk, when Hana "Jolczycha", a well known Bialystok's prostitute seated herself down on my bench with a drunken railway-man. In the amusement and laughing, the railway-man's official cap has fallen down off his head. When they left, I picked up this cap. Later it proved very helpful. Whenever I had it on my head, it was easier for me to get any allowance or rations. I pretended to make order in a queue at the door and this gave me perfect opportunity to get into the shop and to get products of short supply.
My brother came to me often. He took usually a part of those products and sold them on the Market Square in Slonim and in the synagogues. We earned a little money in this way and we started to send parcels home, to Lodz. Every few days we sent a package from some other place. It was not permitted to send more than one parcel from a given town; therefore we tried to send them from Vilna, from Baranowicze and so on. It helped my family very much. They wrote us about it in the letters. After the War, we learned from the cousins that their parents had grievances against them, because we sent parcels to our parents while they sent none at all. The cousins had been exiled as far as Archangielsk and had nearly nothing to eat themselves... Our situation was better.
The Outbreak of the War between Germany and Russia
On June 22, 1941, I sat near this cigarette kiosk when suddenly, I heard the bomb explosion. I did not know what happened. It was about dawn. I usually started to sweep the street, after my night watch over this kiosk. The bomb must have been dropped onto the airfield or onto railway station. People ran out onto the streets. They shouted in panic that the War broke out. The army appeared at once on the streets and roads. Near the kiosk, there was the Rydz bakery. I noticed people carrying bags with flour out of it. They simply raided the bakery and took flour from the store. I went there also and I took a bag of white wheat flour on my shoulders. I brought it home and returned to the street. People ran to the cooperative and took various products away. There was a tremendous crowd. I went inside. Suddenly the Russian soldiers appeared. They started to shoot right in the crowd. They killed several people. Later they buried the bodies in the nearby park. They surrounded the crowd, which was in the cooperative and drove all into a house once used as an army quarter. Soldiers kept watch on the outside. They alleged the Russian soldiers were here, shot at. I was frightened enormously that I would have been arrested together with the enemies of the government. I could be killed together with them. There were here also some 20 women who were also in the crowd at the cooperative.
German approached Bialystok very quickly. In the evening, the Russian soldiers left everything and fled. But one soldier, a Mongolian, remained in the place. He guarded the door with a rifle in his hand. He wouldn't go. He only repeated: "Soviets put me to stay here at the guard post, so Soviets will relieve me off duty." He was killed by the Germans.
I returned home. Actually, I should have gone to live in the synagogue, together with 15 other Jews recruited for cleaning the city. But a driver, - a Pole from Lida - offered me to live at his place. Apparently he liked me, that is I got his sympathy. Besides, the fact that I was a tailor might have contributed to his hospitality. He wanted me to sew him various things. He provided good living conditions for me; I could wash and live more comfortably than in the synagogue where one was always cramped for room. After sometime though, I moved back to that woman's place because I couldn't live at this driver's place for too long. When the Russian shot in the cooperative, that woman at which house I had lived, was among those killed. Her brother came from Zabludow and took her child under his care. I remained alone in this house.
The Beginning of the German Occupation in Bialystok
Germans entered the city. They set fire to the synagogue with people in it. Fifty-three people had been burned alive. One Saturday they caught 5000 Jews and sent them into the unknown. Next Saturday 3000 Jews met the same fate. People said that they had been all shot in the forests outside the city.
I had been caught for wotogethesome othermen. We washed cars, cleaned, pealed potatoes. Bysheer cI came unan officer who treated me slightly better. When he learned that I am a tailor, he started to give me private jobs each day. I sewed for him a suit and some other items. He belonged to the army logistics division, supplying necessary materials and equipment for soldiers. Just from there he took cloth and ordered me to sew him a suit. He was satisfied with my work. He said to me: "Schneider-Maister, how can I reward you for this suit?" I replied that I had a younger brother in Slonim and I would very much like to bring him to me. They were just to deliver petrol for the airplanes to Baranowicze. He said to me laughing that from there they would to bombard Moscow... He told me to come to him as early as 4:30 in the morning, so he will take me with him to Baranowicze and on the return way, he will take us both to Bialystok.
All night I have not slept for emotion and tension. I had to pass a few small streets while the curfew was in force and it was forbidden to move about at such an early hour. I sneaked through between houses, though. The German gave me coffee and a piece of bread. I went with him to Slonim. On the way I encountered working Jews. They were beaten ruthlessly. I have also seen plenty of Russian soldiers led by Germans from the forests. They were taken prisoners. It was horrifying and very depressing picture. They were led under escort and they went barefoot, shoes on their shoulders. I had to watch it with all my former dreams about an early defeat of Germans and quick end of the war.
The German told me to get out at the road in Slonim and to return to the same place in two or three hours. I ran to our old flat in the Market Square in the Jewish quarter. I learned that the husband of the house-lady, shoemaker and a communist, committed suicide...
I was covered with dust from the road. My brother thought that I escaped from some labour camp. I immediately explained him everything and told him to take his things and go with me back to the appointed place on the road. Szajka has been working for the last two weeks at digging pits for potatoes storage. He was given a few potatoes and a piece of bread for that. On that day they, by accident, had not taken him for work. Because they did not like his digger tool... The overseer has taken another man who had a better three-armed digger. If not for that trifle coincidence, we would never meet anymore! And Szajka was so much worried by the fact that he had not been taken to that digging of pits and he would not get his piece of bread and a few potatoes, while finally, it proved to be a lucky occurrence!
We came back to Bialystok together in the evening.
Soon after that the Germans established a ghetto in Bialystok. The German officer, for whom I have sewed, ordered his driver to bring our things to the room allotted to us by the Judenrat in the Ghetto. Two boys from Warsaw lived with us in the same room, i.e. Marek Szlinger, the tailor and Pasternak, the tinsmith from Wolska street no. 18, Warsaw.
Even before the ghetto had been established, I had been sent once with a soldier to bring a few men for loading the drums. I had no right to refuse. It was a good place to work in. We were not beaten there and the food was given. We were walking in the city towards the Jewish quarter, when suddenly, a drunk German officer appeared. He held a revolver in his hand. He pointed at me and shouted "Jude? Jude? I must lay him down at once." The soldier who led me took his rifle off and pointed it at the drunken officer. He told him that I was their tailor and he wouldn't let him touch me. The officer gave up. He said that he would find another Jew then... "I must kill a Jew today." He shouted. After that incident, we no longer looked for people for work. Besides, the streets became depopulated as all people fled and hid themselves away from this prowling killer.
After moving to the ghetto, I didn't work any longer in that work place. The Judenrat sent summons for various kinds of work. The specialists in trades like tailors, shoemakers and locksmiths got better works and slightly better conditions.
Jews performing forced labor in Bialystok, June 1941
(Source: Yad Vashem, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Facts on Life, Inc. Jerusalem, 2000, page 146)
One day, a German officer came. He was responsible for building the airfield. He was looking for tailors. I applied immediately, together with my brother. Along the road to Baranowicze, Germans requisitioned houses from Poles and turned them to their quarters. In those houses, three of us worked for the building engineer, i.e. me, Szajka and Marek Szlinger, whom I also took with me. Some of the building workers wore civilian clothes and let their clothes be sewn for them.
We had special identity cards, "Ausweise", which entitled us to certain privileges and usually ensured us a bit of better working conditions. Each morning we left the Ghetto in a group of workers and we returned back in the evening. Also some women worked in the same place - as shrub-women. A "foreman" led us to work who was a kind of a manager for us. That function was performed by an elderly heavy built Jew named Marynski. Later on he has been taken, together with other Jews in a black truck behind the city and gassed in that truck. Previously they had to dig a pit for burying their bodies.
One day I was sewing a suit for the engineer Rytnauer from Austria, when the main director of airfield building project, Bauleiter Fink, entered the workshop. He ordered me to put the suit for Rytnauer off and to start immediately the sewing for him. I did as he ordered. Suddenly, Rytnauer came in and noticed that his suit is put off, while I sewed something else. He asked me for whom I was sewing. I explained the order of the chief Bauleiter. He said nothing but took a big brush with a strong thick stem and started to hit me over the head and shoulders. He beat me to blood. Till now I have traces of it on my body. I could neither raise myself from the place, not make a step. Four boys put me on the blanket and carried me to the Ghetto.
Next day I went to the community's administration and I showed them my bruised and blood stained shoulders. I couldn't go to work in such a state. They relieved me and my brother from paying the rent of 50 mark per year per "head".
After a few weeks I returned to my workplace. I asked the chief Bauleiter why the engineer beat me so severely for sewing his, Bauleiter's suit? He answered that the engineer got angry because he allegedly found his unfinished suit on the floor in dust and dirt.
I had to accept this pretext in silence and to finish quickly the director's suit. He gave me then some bread, as well as some butter and cheese. He apparently wanted to reward me for the beautiful suit.
The Aktion of November 1942
On November 1, 1942, a rumor broke out that Germans intend to block the Ghetto and to start the evacuation of Jews. In the meantime, they collected Jews from the area surrounding Bialystok and drove them somewhere. People were told that it was to the former Polish casernes. We hid with Marek Szlinger in the workshop, because we were to return to the Ghetto as to avoid evacuation, if the rumors were true. We remained there for 24 hours. My brother, who also worked at this place, as a gardener, hid himself in the cellar where Germans kept potatoes.
Through the workshop window, we have seen Germans driving along the road columns of Jews from Zubladow and the environment. Nobody paid any attention to us because no Jews were left on that day for work. They did not even look into the workshop, so they were sure that nobody was there. In the evening, we hid into some cubbyhole under the stair. We had thick coats on, although it was not that cold yet. We constantly thought that we might have to escape tot he forest and hide there and that is why we always had warm clothes on.
We were lying in the corner under the table, covered with those coats. In the morning, about 8 o'clock, the Poles from Warsaw's Kelner Company cto work. Twere employed onthe airfield. Everyday Germans carrthem in trucks from this area to various works in the airfield, such as construction, fitting works, mechanical ope. Suddenly, the door of our receptacle opened and one of them sathat thewere some blankets here. They apparently wanted to take them. They topped and started to pull those coats from us, thinking they were blankets. They uncovered us and shouted "Oh, Jews lie hidden here!" Then: "Well, give off these coats and we will say nothing about you to the Germans". I replied that we would not give anyone the coats because without them we would freeze. One of them ran to the post of the local military police in the schoolhouse nearby, while the remaining two held the door from outside to prevent our escape.
We started to press on the door and pushed them off. The door opened suddenly and we got outside. ran towards the building of the German engineers for which we had sewn the suits. The Germans did notice us but did not react. They had no idea at first what was actually happening here. We rushed into the potatoes cellar where my brother slept before. Szajka was not there; he was working in the garden. Soon, an officer with revolver in his hand and six military policemen, specializing in partisan hunting in the forests, entered the cellar. They came in a small jeep. The entrance had a very low vault. The officer hit himself strongly in the head against this vault. I have seen it. We were frightened to death. The military policemen dragged us out, shouting and pointing their rifles at us. They led us to the military police building. We heard them consulting each other what to do with us. One, the officer, started "umliegen" "lie them down" or "shoot them down". I was sure our end was near. Suddenly, my brother came in. I shouted: "Why are you coming here, they are going to shoot us!" "When they shoot you, let them shoot me as well!" was his reply. There were three of us now.
In the same building, the elderly Germans from "Schlussel Geselschaft" ("Key Company") were guarding various documents, plans, important measuring maps and similar. Germans kept here also the maps of the places from which they intended to bombard the enemy positions. Bauleiter Fink has seen that we were led down by the military police. He sent the man in charge for this company, who wore black uniform to explain the military policemen that we were employed at the materials used for darkening the airfield and that is why we had to be and work here day and night. Our stay in this area was legal, as we were indispensable for this work, which, had to be finished. The Ghetto was blocked so nobody could come to work. It was our rescue! The Bauleiter showed mercy to us in the last moment! The military police officer ordered two armed soldiers to lead us off somewhere with a small delivery car.
I could not believe my eyes, when I learned that we were again in the Ghetto and we could go home. We ran as if winged. We got away from certain death!
The Ghetto remained closed. Jews were not taken from it for the time being. Only the environment of Bialystok, small towns around the region were "cleaned" of the Jews. They deported them to unknown destination (mostly Treblinka).
Ghetto Life Continue
When this evacuation campaign ended, the SS-man Lenz came, looking for people to work. Again he called for tailors, fitters and other trades. I, with my brother applied at the gate of the Ghetto in Jurowicka Street. We wanted to go to work, as this gave one a feeling of some degree of security. They led us to Parkowa Street. The Germans evacuated the Poles from it and occupied themselves all the houses in this street. There was a wood-store, which employed Jews from the Ghetto in it. We sewed cloths for Lenz and other SS-men. One day, Lenz came drunk to the workshop. He came up to me and began to prod the point of the bayonet around my eyes, then he put the bayonet edge against my nose and undercut my nose. He was half-conscious, white foam covered the lips of the sadist. I stayed motionless, numb with horror. What could I do? Blood ran from my cut nose. At last he left me and went away.
Marek Szlinger worked here with us as well. In the evenings we returned under escort to our home in the Ghetto. We still lived there, four of us as before. I, my brother, Marek Szlinger and Leon Pasternak, the tinsmith from Wolska street in Warsaw. We cooked potatoes, which we brought from work. The Germans permitted us to buy potatoes from Poles along the way. They sold them in bags. Sometimes, we also bought butter or back fat. A part of these products was smuggled through the gate of the Ghetto was sold by us to be able to buy other food products we needed. From the Ghetto we took out clothes, caps and various other things which Poles bought from us for the local farmers. It was a kind of barter we run with them. We still had also the flour, which we took from the bakery next to the Ritz hotel on the day the war broke out. In this way we lived, awaiting an early end of the war and the defeat of Germany.
The Aktion of February 1943
In early February 1943, Lenz told me that all the Jews would have to die, so if I had any gold or other valuables I should hand them over to him... I understood that something bad was again in prospect. Lenz must have learned about some new action being planned against the Jews in Bialystok.
Several days after that statement of Lenz, on February 7, the Germans closed the Ghetto. People were told that the Germans would evacuate 20,000 Jews, because they had to reduce the size of the Ghetto.
The Aktion started. They blocked the streets and started to drive people out of the flats. They dragged them to the train behind the Ghetto boundaries.
There was a good hiding place in our house, in the basement. It was planned by the engineer who lived there. We hid there together with 50 more tenants of this house, at No. 18, Polna Street. The basement was entered through the toilet down the ladder. The normal entrance had been walled up so that nobody could recognize that a basement existed in this house. In the early morning, we ran down to this shelter. One person had to remain outside, to close the port in the toilet. It was covered with floor planks near the lavatory pan. For this person, there was a perfect hiding place in the attic - but that was for one person only. If this person would be caught, nobody could open our shelter from outside and we could not get out of it. Air reaches us only through narrow pipes on the roof and our exhalations went out by this way also.
We sat there in the darkness and shortage of breathing air. The candle we tried to light went out immediately for shortage of oxygen. The children cried. When the noise of the Germans was heard, the crying children were covered with cushions to dampen their voices and prevent the Germans from detecting us. We were in tremendous tension and horror. We have not been found, though. In the evening the Germans went away and we got out. Now we could walk on the streets. The raids lasted sine 8 in the morning until 5 p.m. Everywhere the bodies of killed Jews were lying.
One old man had shown a shelter in the attic of a house, because the Germans announced that whoever would reveal such a shelter, would not be deported. They took everyone from the reported shelter, to the gate of the Ghetto, while they killed the old man on the spot. Next day we again ran away to our shelter. But people did not let two crying children to go in this time. They said that those children had to remain in the rooms, otherwise we all would perish, because of them. Their parents left them in their rooms and hid themselves with us... The Germans searched again the entire house, but as it appeared, they did not take these children. In the evening, the parents found them in their cradles, sound and healthy.
I did not like hiding in this shelter. I had a foreboding that it would end ill here. I wanted to get out of the Ghetto to the Aryan side. I knew well the house nearby, at No 3. Przejazd Street. On the second evening of this ak, we decided, of us, to get out ofthe Ghetto.
We slowly to sneak across a wooden fence onto the other side. The guarding military policemen just went away. Onby one, we ran into that house. Leon sat on the fence and pulled us uand then wejumped quietly with all possible care, overfilled with tension. If the guard would notice us, he would have killed us like dogs.
We entered an empty room. A few boards of the floor were removed. The house belonged once to the Ghetto and Jews apparently started to arrange hiding place for themselves there. We immediately pressed ourselves into that hole. We were lying there for 48 hours. During all that time I have not slept a minute. I kept watching over everyone. The rest of the boys slept soundly, some snored. Suddenly I heard the thud of heavy boots. I woke the others, to stop snoring. Germans could hear it. A German soldier entered. He laid his rifle on the floabove me and lit a cigarette. Nobody slept in the shelter anymore. We waited in tremendous fear and tension; what will happen next. If he would light any lamp, he would find us in this hole. But it did not come to his mind to search here. He smoked his cigarette up, took his rifle and left. The room was open, it did not even have a door.
We were alone, cut off from the people. It weighed heavy on our hearts. We decided to return to the Ghetto to check what was happening there. Again, we sneaked one after another through the fence. Leon jumped first and, as before, pulled us up onto the other side. I was at last, as usual. I wanted to make sure that my brother and the other friends went through safely. We returned to the flat at No. 18 Polna Street. The shelter under the toilet has not been discovered and we could stay there safely, and we unnecessarily risked our lives while escaping beyond the Ghetto. But who could predict that two days ago?
We went to the community administration to learn what were the news. On our way, close to the administration building, we noticed in the dark a hanged man. People said that he came from Slonim and his name was Melamed. His parents were killed in Slonim while he escaped to Bialystok. During the raid he did not want to hide or leave his room. He held there a bottle of hydrochloric acid. When the two SS-men came in and shouted "Jude", he has thrown this bottle onto the face of one of them and burned out his eyes. The German shoot blindly and killed his community-partner, while Melamed escaped. The Germans announced that they would kill everyone in the Ghetto, including the administration staff if that Jew, who had thrown the bottle of hydrochloric acid on the German, would not be delivered. Markus, the commander of the Jewish police, and Barasz, the community's president, were responsible for finding the "villain". When Melamed learned about it, he reported of himself, by his free will. They erected the gallows near the administration building and hanged him.
I got the information that Jews working for SD and SS were to come with their families to the administration building and wait there till the action is over. I took with me my neighbour, Mrs. Szpitalna with her daughter and I told them that they were my mother and sister. A German soldier guarded us to prevent us from being caught and taken during the action. We were allegedly necessary for the Germans. In the Ghetto, thousands of people were caught from all possible places and were driven to the trains. Some Jews went to the hospital in the hope that they will rescue their lives there. But it soon appeared that the Germans took all the sick people from the hospital to the cemetery in Zabia Street and shot them all there. Through the window I saw them being led. I noticed among them Barenszteim, the owner of a big restaurant in Lodz, strong and healthy man. In Bialystok he also managed a small restaurant. Both the Germans and the local Polish police ate at his place. Now he hid himself in the hospital among the sick and he has been taken out together with them. The Jew-hunt lasted a whole week this time. Then we returned to work at our work-post behind the Ghetto. The red headed Lenz boasted before me that he himself killed 2000 Jews in the Ghetto !!! Corpses lay scattered all over the streets. The Germans shot the cripples, the palsied, the insubordinate or sluggish.
In the wood store, a certain Birenbaum was working - a good and gentle boy. One day, Lenz ordered him to take off his trousers and another Jew to flog Birenbaum with his (Lenz's) whip. "Ten lashes, but with might, on the exposed back, otherwise you'll get them yourself". It was in the early morning. All men and women who worked there were forced to watch it and they wept.
The Liquidation of Ghetto Bialystok, August 1943
Istill kept thinking where to hide in order to survive the war. I was thinking about the attic close to our workshop, but from whom would we get food? One Polish woman, who worked as a house-lady for the Germans, wanted to take me to her place and to hide me in the basement there so that I would survive, But only me. I did not agree to leave my brother.
In the meantime, Szlinger and Pasternak got into contact with a group, which escaped into the forest. Leon and Marek stole the rifles at work, which lay there in chests. I was afraid to do that. I did not want to go to the forest. Szajka complained of his weak legs, flatfoot - he did not want to wander about in the forests. He could hardly go to work from the Ghetto. He repeated that whatever was to happen to all the Jews in the Ghetto, will happen to him as well! Our friends attempted to convince us by saying that it was the only chance to survive. They have already prepared hiding places and arms in the forest. There was a whole group of them there. They were constantly getting in and out of the Ghetto. Leon Pasternak was the group leader.
One day they have had an accident. They used a small boat to carry arms through a river to the forest. Suddenly, the boat overturned and Leon and his friends dropped into the water. There were three or four of them. Marek, a handsome gentle boy, could not get back to the surface. He had on him a thick overcoat and a rifle. He drowned. His girlfriend informed us, crying, about it.
My brother and me remained in the Ghetto. We worked at our work-post until Sunday, August 15, 1943.
At 11 hour in the night, I heard the sounds of music band playing. I could only suspect what may be the meaning of it. Germans were marching around the Ghetto and posted the army all around. We were caught in a siege!
We ran to the girls with whom we made friends in the Ghetto. We helped them a bit in material things, by bringing food from our work-post outside. We asked them from the door what was the news. They already knew everything and answered curtly that it was the end of us.
We went tot he administration building. People who worked for SS and SD were still kept separately. All the others had been driven to the field in Zielonki, behind the Ghetto.
It was the final evacuation of Bialystok. Suddenly, we heard shots. As the rumors had it, some youth organization opened fire at the Germans on Jurowicka Street. May be Leon Pasternak was among them. The SS-men had withdrawn immediately from this area and tanks were sent there instead. They set fire to all the houses from which Jews were shooting. On Monday, August 16, 1943, they led us out, together with community workers. Jewish police and the Ghetto's fire brigade, onto the field in Zielonki. Almost all the Jews from the Ghetto were there - 75000 people. Around this field there was a ring of German military police, lined on the inside with another ring of Ukrainians. Both of them wore skulls of their caps. They continued to search after watches and jewelry. They beat people over the heads with butts of their rifles and pushed them to the other side of the field. People trod each other to death, lost their children. Whoever fell, became tramples by the crowd who was escaping in panic and helplessness. The Ukrainians searched through the abandoned luggage and packages. There was scorching heat and no water to drink. People went mad in this torment. Ihave seen a Germanshooting a woman who ran in mad fit. She was in such a shock, as unaware where she was. So it lasted till Thursday when the guardbrought water in bug drums. My brother said that if he would be given oliter of watehe would agree to be shot afterwards. The heat and thirst tormented him terribly.
Again some German truck came to the square and we heard a voice calling through the loudspeaker that those who worked for the SS and SD were to step forward. They called names. My name was the first. I was a master tailor. There were 50 names on the list. I was surprised to hear my name. A woman standing next to me said that I was sure to survive the war and I had to tell the world what I had seen here. I did not believe in such a possibility. I went with my brother and the tailor Wajnsztein toward the truck. Wajnsztein has withdrawn, though. He did not want to depart fromhis family, parents, brothers and sisters. Another tailor with the same name went in his place... This one was working in the fire brigade in the Ghetto but, as we knew a bit how to sew (he was a son of a tailor) he decided to avail himself of this chance of rescue.
Then the Germans demanded 10 thousand children, five to ten years old. They said they would send them to be taught. The Ukrainians snatched the children from mothers. Their fate was doomed. One of the locksmiths in our workplace had a wide ten years old boy. He told me what happened there at that time.
The Germans collected about a hundred workers from various work-posts and posted us close to the drums with water. They finally let us drink.
On Thursday, August 19, they loaded us in the trucks and took us to the prison in Baranowicka road. I was glad that I wasn't anymore in this terrible field in Zielonka. We were given some food. Next day, they brought us various things to sew. We immediately started to work, each one in his trade. I sewed clothes for the wife and family of Roth, the prison's commander. Other men were taken for exhumation, digging out the corpses from the common graves and burning them. In this way, the Germans obliterated the traces of their crimes. One man of this group escaped to the forest but soon he came back of his own free will to the prison. I asked him why did he do that. He replied that he could not endure the loneliness in the forest. He did not know what to do with himself there. So he returned to be together with the rest of the Jews.
One day they ordered those Jewish workers (there were about 50 of them) to dig pits in the forest. After doing this work, the Germans shot them. They killed 79 of them. One escaped, the same who previously escaped to the forest and returned of his free will. He himself told me about this murder and about his escape later on, after the war, when we met in Lodz.
When they selected so young men for work behind the city, I wanted to join them. I have seen that only the old remained in the prison and I was afraid that they would all be killed, elderly people and all those caught in hiding places in the Ghetto. I heard that they were gassed with poisonous gas in those trucks and than thrown into pits in the forests.
Roth wouldn't let me and my brother join this group. Twice he has drawn me out and put me back in the group of older people. He obviously knew that they would finally be shot. We have worked for Roth for a few months already and both liked and needed what I sewed for him. Here I also was the master tailor. I could take someone else for help. The cells in the prison were overcrowded. All the time they caught and brought there people who were hiding in the Ghetto and put them in the basements and prison cells. Women, men, children. They took them from there in a black truck every week.
I asked Roth to give them one more cell so that they would not be cramped for space and at least can sleep. Up to now, they could only stand in their cell... I was just sewing a blue costume for his wife... He heard my requesy and allotted those caught one more cell, so they were a bit more loose.
I pulled the tailor Abram Bender (now living in Jerusalem) from such a cell. I told him I need for help one tailor. He replied that as long as his eyes were open he believed in the chance of survival and was willing to work. Later on, Bender was sent together with us to the labour camp. We survived the war together. After the war he had found his wife.
The List of the Last Jewish Prisoners Deported from Bialystok's Prison to Stutthof Death Camp
In the Stutthof Camp
At this place, this grim, tragic story of Moniek, who died suddenly on July 2nd, 1986, breaks. He has never completed his testimony because of his death.
From what his wife could all to it, I could write down the following details of his further life.
From the prison in Baranowicka road, he had been sent with his brother and the tailor Bender to Stutthof Concentration camp. They were confined there for two more years. He also worked there as a tailor in a tiny cubby-hole, situated opposite the gas chamber and crematory (icinerator) and repaired German uniforms brought from the front. Once a SS-man who favoured him somewhat, enetered his receptacle just to see a uniform dropped to the floor. The SS-man hit him over the shoulder with a thick stick. For all his life he had marks on his body from that "gracious" German.
During these two years of his work in that tiny room opposite the gas chamber, Moniek had seen everyday rows of naked women driven to death. He heard their cries, moaning and prayers. He had seen then the hand-pushed carts full of their corpses, being rolled for incineration in the crematory. He breathed continuously the smoke of burned bodies of people who, just a short while previously, moved before his eyes hugging each other, frightened to death, looking for help, live and wishing to live, Live! It was a hell, which he never forgot till the end of life.
He witnessed the murder of 25000 of women who were drowned in a special ship because there was no more place or time to gas them in the camp. Later on, heaps of their corpses were brought on carts to the crematory. He observed such events constantly form his workshop in the cubbyhole.
The Death March and Liberation
In the winter of 1944, when Russians approached the camp, the Germans dragged them out and drove them on foot to Germany. They went days and nights without rest or food. Moniek weighed 37 kgs at that time! Whoever walked too slowly and showed that he is weak - they shot him on the spot! Moniek's brother got ill with typhus on the way. Moniek himself, extremely weak, dragged him on his shoulders, to avoid him being noticed by Germans who would kill him.
One night, the Germans let them lay down to sleep in a stable along the way. Moniek supported his head with something hard. The prisoners lay there tightly pressed because of lack of room. In the morning it appeared to be a corpse. This deadly march from Stutthof to Germany lasted about 8 weeks. Near the end, the Russian army caught up with them. They were released. They rescued themselves! It was in April 1945. Moniek and his brother returned to Lodz. He acquainted himself with Sabina who was rescued of death by a miracle. They got married after a few months, in August of the same year. After some time, they immigrated to the United States. There their son was born. A few years later they came to Israel.
Moniek was a noble simple minded man, hard working, devoted, modest and agreeable. After his experiences of hell on earth, he never got too enthusiastic about anything nor was he ever angry about anything. Nothing could equal his former experience in the Holocaust. He was able to value his rescued life and he always remembered what contributed most to his survival.
Halina Birenbaum, 1988
Bialystok Web Page
Lodz Web Page
Halina Birenbaum's Web Page
Last UpdatMay 9th, 2003