Jacob Gewirtzman (LOSICE)'s Life in Losice
From an Eulogy Delivered by Daughter Renee at the Memorial Ceremony after Jacob Gewirtzman's Death in 1998
Renee Losice's Story
My name is Jacob Gewirtzman, born Jacob LOSICE - Yiddish Yankel Losice. The year was 1896. The name of the town was and still is Losice - a small town of 8,000 people in eastern Poland near the Bug River. Eighty percent of the population was Jewish. Jews inhabited this town for over four hundred years and my ancestors were probably among the early founders of the town, for their last name was the same as the town's name.
I was one of seven brothers. My parents were devout Jews, and although they had a hard time supporting a large family, lived a decent life and were well respected. At age thirteen I had to leave school to help my father in his business as a merchant. My first business enterprise was to carry a big sack of potatoes on my back to the market, and sell the potatoes for double the price. Business was good and I sold a lot of potatoes. I would have preferred to be a farmer, but being a Jews, I was limited in owning land, so I learned to be a merchant and soon was even able to help my parents and younger brothers.
Standing ( left to right ) - David, Malka, Henia>, Jankiel ( Jacob ) . Seated ( left to right ) - Chaim, Rywka (now Renee and the donor of these photos ), Yospa, Noah , and Moishele Losice.
Although most Jews in town were managing to scrape a living, I lived comfortably, I married a lovely woman Henia (Anna), had three wonderful children and a nice home. We lived in a harmonious, supportive community of Jews helping each other, and even though anti-Semitism was rampant all around us, it did not interfere with our everyday quality of life.
Then came the year 1939, the Nazi occupation. It was an immediate shock. The first building that the Germans bombed was our beautiful synagogue. Tanks rolled in, Germans took over many blocks where Jews lived, many belongings were confiscated, such as coats, pots and pans, furniture, etc. But worst of all was when my two older children came running home from school crying, "Daddy, they sent us home, we can't go to school anymore, why Daddy, why ?"
A few weeks later a group of elderly Jews, my father (Jacob's father) among them, were taken out at night. Germans with mad barking dogs asked them to dig a big hole in the ground. The dogs were placed in the hole. To make sport the Germans first beat them, pulled some of the hair from their beards, and then asked them to jump over the hole, while the Germans stood there laughing and the dogs were barking. Those who didn't make it fell into the pit and were badly mauled. My father, although badly beaten and shaken, made it.
In 1941 the Jewish ghetto was formed, and all the Jews were crammed into a few blocks of the town. I was lucky that my immediate family did not have to relocate. Things got worse and worse by the day. People were dying from hunger and disease. Most able men and women were taken for work; many of them never returned. One day I looked out the window and my son Berele, aged barely thirteen, lined up with other boys and men on the town square for a selection. I quickly ran down to the square and started pulling my son out from the crowd while the guard was pulling him the other way. Suddenly my boy was loose, and we both ran back home. God was with us and I thank him.
On August 22,1942 the Jewish community of Losice was destroyed forever. S.S. troops along with Polish policemen surrounded the ghetto, ordered all the Jews onto the town square, herded them into trains which were about ten kms. away, and them to Treblinka where they were gassed. Many died along the way.
My immediate family, consisting of my wife Henia (Anna), myself (Jacob), Berl (David), Rywka (Renee), and Icek (Irving), hid in the upper attic of the house along with twenty-two other terrified Jews. We were there for three days and little by little some of us sneaked out. Some made out safely, some got caught and taken away, four were shot in or near the house, two of my children Berel and Rywka were caught and jailed, but miraculously were not shot.
Five of us were briefly reunited in a small ghetto. I desperately started looking for places to save ourselves. I placed my daughter Rywka with a Polish policeman, my little boy Icek with a farmer who kept us hidden most of the time in the field in a haystack. The remaining three of us and four members of my sister-in-laws family I placed with a poor farmer who for a specific amount of money hid us in a pit dug under his stable. After a few months my daughter Rywka also joined us there. Eight of us lived there like rats for nearly two years.
The sty/shed in which some of the members of the Losice family hid during 1942-1944. Farmer Stanisław Szczerbicki of Koszelowka and two daughters.
On July 30, 1944 we were liberated by the Red Army.
We went home, but there was no home. Our house was there, but there were no Jews. Out of 6,000 only 16 survived, five were members of my immediate family.
The house of the Losice family in Losice
Gone were my father, Shlomo, my stepmother and four of my six brothers and their families. Moishe, his wife and six children, Avram, his wife and four children, Ruben, his wife and two daughters, and David, his wife and three year old girl. Later on I found out that my youngest brother, Chaim, who escaped from the German side to Russia, was killed in August of 1944 while fighting in the Polish Army against Germany in the Normandy invasion. He died one month after our liberation.
One brother, Noah, who still carries the original family name of Losice, emigrated from Poland with his family at the end of 1938 and settled in Albany, New York. After the war he learned that we were in a refugee settlement in Italy. He brought us over to the U.S. in 1948.
Italy (1947) . Standing - left to right - Irving, David, and Rywka . Seated - left to right - Jacob and Henia
Renee Losice's Story
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First posted on November 7th, 2005
Last updated on May 11th, 2007