WE REMEMBER JEWISH ROZHAN!
kilometers NNE of Warsaw
Makow Province, Warsaw Region
Association of Former Rozan Residents in Israel
4 Kvutzat L"G St.
Kfar Saba 44373
Chairman of the Rozan Association, Mr. Ephraim Ben Dor (Bender) died on August 2006, may he rest in peace. He kept the memory of Rozan with all his soul and with all his might, even when over 90 years of age... with much dedication and determination which should serve as model to all. He purchased the Jewish cemetery in order to protect and save it for generation, last remnant of Jewish existence in Rozan. This web site is dedicated to his memory.
Ada Holtzman October 13th, 2006
INVITATION TO THE DEDICATION CEREMONY OF ROZAN RENEWED JEWISH CEMETERY (Hebrew & English) Sivan 11, 5764 (May 31st, 2004)
ROZHAN YIZKOR BOOK IN JEWISHGEN
THE YIZKOR BOOK ON-LINE (NYPL)
THE LIST OF ROZAN HOLOCAUST MARTYRS
7 Tishrei 5763, 13 September 2002
At a gathering and memorial ceremony held in Tel Aviv on May 12, 2002, it was agreed that we would exercise our right to purchase the Jewish cemetery in Rozan in order to retrieve it from foreign hands and prevent it from being used for private construction or other purposes. This is our last chance to preserve one of our more important sites and perpetuate it for the sake of the community. We will be receiving title to the property in our name, allowing its safekeeping for future generations. We are being helped to a great extent to achieve our objective by a number of Polish residents whose acquaintance we made there.
A committee composed of Rabbi Kaner, Mr. Shmuel Broide, Mr. Yaakov Golan, Mr. Moshe Malinak and Mr. Efraim Ben-Dor was set up on the occasion of the gathering to attend to all relevant affairs.
At our first meeting it was decided to approach former Rozan residents in Israel and abroad for donations to save the cemetery. We have already donated thousands of shekels and are calling upon all our people everywhere to make whatever effort they can to achieve the sacred and important goal of perpetuating the memory of our community. If we succeed, our undertaking will spur future generations to visit Rozan in search of their roots.
It is important that we understand that nobody is exempt from playing his part in this mission. Each of us has a member of his family buried there whose voice calls out to us.
The cemetery will be definitively certified as ours according to law by the Chief Rabbi of Poland. All legal aspects are being handled by Adv. Traison, who is offering his services on a voluntary basis. He recently visited Israel, when he met the members of the committee. It was agreed that we must buy the cemetery without delay and resolve other matters later, e.g. paving of an access road to the area, erection of fencing, and construction of a stately headstone and memorial plaque dedicated to the Jews of Rozan.
In our estimation, a considerable sum of money will still be needed. Some of the required amounts have already been obtained. The rest must be raised from additional personal donations from each one of us - because each one of us has a part of him there.
So please do whatever you can to reach out to new donors - persons with means and institutions that are willing to help in this important and sacred cause.
Perpetuation Committee of Former Rozan Residents
P.S. 1) Please send your donations by November
2) Please write your checks to "Association of Former Rozan Residents in Israel."
THE YIZKOR BOOK OF ROZAN
The English Part of Rozhan Yizkor Book was typed by Mark Schwartz and Ada Holtzman September 2002 and will be submitted to JEWISHGEN Yizkor Books database.
Download the File in Word
ROZHAN MEMORIAL BOOK
The members of the Editing Board:
Mordechai Armoni (Zamek)
Ephraim Ben-Dor (Bender)
Published by the Rozhan Organization and Sigalit Publishing House
All Rights reserved
Printed in ISRAEL
Tel Aviv 1977
|The Editing Committee||Preface||
|Bejamin Halevy||With This Book||
|Aryeh Buchner||This Was Our Little Town||
|Aryeh Buchner||Rozhan: an Historical Sketch||
|Aryeh Buchner||On History of the Town||
|Shalom Perl||Rozhan, Landscape and a Dream||
|Efraim Ben-Dor (Bender)||The Story of Rozhan||
|Itzchak Magnushever||Evidence Given by a Child||
|Simcha Shafran(Shaftanovich)||When the War Broke Out||
|Frieda Sarig-Eisenberg||I Was Fifteen Years Old||
|Rachel Weiser-Nagel||I Was Just Thirteen||
|David Prath||What I Remember||
|Mina Mlinek - Magnushever||Troubles and Horrors at the Beginning of the War||
|H. H. B.||In the Ghetto and in the Camps||
|Pessach Mlinek||From The Scrap-Book of Horror||
|M. Czechanover||Boys from Rozhan among the Fighters||
|A. Buchner||I Visited Maidanek||
|Nathan Wygoda||Rozhan, Could I Ever Forget You?||
|Nathan Wygoda||Rozhan Relief Committee in New York||
PREFACE (Return to Contents)
Eight years have gone by since we first began preparations for this book on the Jewish community of Rozhan, until at long last it can be published now. It was a great effort made by a number of people devoted to the weighty and difficult task to erect a fitting memorial to our community. It is what other communities of Israel have done and no doubt it is the right thing to do for the people of the book.
Rozhan was no different from other Jewish townships in Poland that are no more, but to us, who were born and grew up there, she has something unique.
It is not only the landscape, the topographic situation on the high bank of the River Narew. It was also the Jews, who had been living at the place for generations, rebuilding it stubbornly and assiduously many times. In fact after each of the many wars that swept over the region, that lies on the road from Russia to Warsaw.
Those were homely Jews of all social strata, orthodox and freethinkers, Zionists and anti-Zionists. Above all we have at heart the Jewish youth of Rozhan that took upon itself the task to redeem the world and the nation - and only few of them have reached the final haven of rest here in Israel, while others, of the few who did survive, have found shelter in the West and built their homes there.
It is the intention of this book to keep our past alive and to preserve the shining memory of those who lived and were active there, to show that they were not anonymous and to describe their striving and struggling to maintain a definitely Jewish, religious, social and political existence. This book wants to tell future generations how the Jews of Rozhan created Jewish life in the midst of a hostile environment, how they built for themselves the framework of a society and filled it with deep-rootednational val, how they created their own institutions, that were able impose their authority - after democratically arrived at decisions with no governmental powers behind them. The book also wants to keep alive the old Jewish spirit maintained by our people everywhere, the rule "Jews stand by each other" that found its expression in individual help as well as in organized assistance such as various mutual funds.
The book is also meant as a memorial to the tragedy of our people. Jews of Rozhan had to run for lives during the very first days of the war, and one after the other they fell as victims on the bloodstained roads of Poland. Some survived after having passed througthe hell of exile in the vastness of Russia and Siberia and back; only a few were lucky enough to reach Israel and to build new homes here.
The book contains about 600 pages and it reflects a collective effort. It was not easy to obtain the material, as there are next to no writers among our people. So we had to apply to as many of our townsfolk as possible in order to make them talk or write - those who did write were a minority and most contributions were given orally and had to be taken down. We endeavoured to get in touch was many as possible and to give a rounded out picture of the town, its history, people and folklore, but we feel that in spite of all ocould not note everything worth remembering. All we can say is that we have done our best to present a many-sided picture of everything that was human and Jewish and good.
Financing, too, was not an easy task. It was, in fact, more difficult than we had originally assumed it would be. We had no millionaires to draw upon, neither here nor in the U.S., who could or would have donated the necessary sums. It was therefore the right thing to start work with the means at hand, trusting that our brethren in the U.S. and elsewhere would come in as soon as would have something to show them. And thus it was done. We collected some funds here and set to work. In 1970 our friend Efraim Ben-Dor visited the U.S. and. in a number of meetings with our townsfolk there, managed to open the doors. They promised to contribute written material and began to transmit funds. Thus encouraged we stepped up activities. Next faced the difficulties of editing - and there is no need to go into details - the facts are well known. It was a bold, but necessary decision to change the editor. The task was taken over by the writer Benjamin Halevy, a new impetus was given and in spite of temporary delays we can now lay the book before you in its present form.
One of the difficulties we had to face lay in checking and verifying the material. We tried to interrogate different people, wherever facts were open to doubt. In spite of this it is possible that here and there errors have crept in or that the list of the victims contains misspellings - for which we must beg the forgiveness of our readers. It is next to impossible to bring out a book like this absolutely free from errors.
Certain events come back in several accounts. This was unavoidable, as everybody had to be given the opportunity to present matters as he had seen and experienced them and in his own words. That's also why the material is not of uniform quality. We omitted very little, only in cases where, in our opinion and that of the editor, Benjamin Halevy, matters were redundant or not fit to print.
Putting in the pictures presented a peculiar problem. The principle we adopted was to given an objective presentation of our town's realities. We, therefore, preferred pictures of organized groups (movements or parties) or other bodies bearing a well-defined character, to pictures of chance gatherings. We gave, however, our people a practically unlimited opportunity to preserve the memory of their families in pictures or in writing. We regret that many did not make use of this opportunity in spite of our repeated requests.
The book appears in Hebrew and Yiddish and parts of it in English, too, for those who live in distant parts. Apart from the historical sketch a number of contributions were chosen for English translation to cover a variety of aspects according to the judgement of the editor. A number of texts of general interest he selected and translated from Hebrew to Yiddish or vice versa. The greatest part of the book is naturally in Hebrew, as it is meant for the generations to come in Israel, the only place where the memory of our people can be kept alive, the only place on earth where our national existence has a future.
The death of Arieh Buchner of blessed memory was a loss to all of us and a heavy blow to those engaged in having the book published, in which he took such a prominent part. However the work went on until the editor and the editing committee has now been able to complete it.
We would like to thank all those, here and abroad who assisted in its preparation and final publication; to those who wrote down their accounts or gave them orally or gave us documentary evidence, to the people of Rozhan, who donated the necessary funds, to the editor Benjamin Halevy, who gave the book its shape and invested great efforts and knowledge, to the proprietors of the "Ofer" Printing Press who performed their difficult task with an open heart and mind, far beyond any obligation. Our heartiest thanks to all -and blessings! In the month of March 1977, Adar 5737. The Organization of Jewish People from Rozhan.
The Editing Committee.
WITH THIS BOOK (Return to Contents)
Another book is being added to the long list of memorials to Jewish communities exterminated In Europe - it is devoted to the memory of the community of Rozhan. To many not connected with this town it will be no more than just another book, but to those born at the place on the river Narew it will mean much more; it is the fulfillment of a pledge to the sacred memory of their dearest, cruelly destroyed in a way unparalleled ever in our history. It is also a testimony for our generation to remember and for generations to come and learn the glories of our Jewish past that is no more.
To the people of Rozhan such a book is invaluable. They are unable to visit the graves of their dears as is the custom with Jews and Gentiles alike, there to cherish the memories of parents, brothers and sisters and to keep Jahrzeit for those whose tragic fate is ever present in the mind and burns the soul. People of Rozhan will read this book or merely skim through it and images of their past, of a happy childhood and the tempests of youth, above all the images of close friends and relations will rise before their eyes, of a past that was both rich and glorious and somber, a shining island of Jewish life within a sea of Gentile hatred. How sad that all this was wiped out and nothing is left but memories stained with blood, that are now bound up in this volume.
Yet the book concerns not only the people from Rozhan. The history of a nation and its image are made up from thousands of single bricks and this is just such a one. Historians and other writers will find here, as in similar books, a wealth of material and information about the spiritual and moral attitudes of polish Jewry.
The book contains sparks of human greatness and of Jewish heroism and we hope that somebody will use them on a wider Jewish scope.
I am neither a native of this township nor of Poland and originally undertook the editing as a professional writer, but very soon the contents took hold of me. One cannot do the editing without being deeply moved even to real admiration. Inevitably the heart becomes involved if one is Jewish and if your home and most of your relations, too, were lost in the Holocaust. More than once, when working on one of the contributions, most of all, when it was of a survivor who had been through the horrors, tears choked me and the pictures haunted me for days. Now that the important and painful task is fulfilled, I am thankful for the opportunity to join the handful of devotees owing to whom we can now say, "Our work is done". They have completed a very difficult and time-consuming task which, sometimes, was alsofrustrand I wish to express my thanks to them, also to tell the readers how much they should appreciate their achievement.
I still had the opportunity to meet your distinguished member, Arieh Buchner and to talk with him about the book and the editing. I owe still more to those who are still with us - and may they enjoy long years, - Mordechai Armoni, Pessah Malinek and Nathan Wigoda who took a great share in the book. Above all, it was your friend Efraim Ben-Dor who took upon himself the care of both essentialsand details and showed great devotion and also ability as a publisher.
I wish to thank you, people of Rozhan for the privilege you gave me to help in erecting this memorito your community, that was deeply rooted in Jewishness, active, and well deserves to be remembered forever.
THIS WAS OUR LITTLE TOWN (Return to Contents)
Who are those who are left? - A mere handful of people in Israel and fewer still abroad, scattered all over the world. The Jewish community of Rozhan, some 3000 souls, has been exterminated. It was a poor small place but had its peculiar charm. It was very much alive and struggling for its existence.
And what, in fact, couldn't you find there? Mitnagdim and Hassidim of differeRabbis, traders and craftsmen (a gamut of all parties), youth movements, libraries and drama circles, celebrations and performances, sports ex.
Everyevent in town was everybody's concern. Who wouldn't remember the weddings? Everybody hurried out for the Chuppah, as if it were his own or one of his close relations. On such occasions you could meet all the young people of the town.
And the performances. They used to begin at 10 or even 11 at night, when elsewhere they usually end. They took nearly twice as long as necessary and the audience could hear the text twice - first from the prompter and only afterwards from the actors - nobody complained that the actors didn't know their parts by heart. Performances would last till dawn and by then it was no longer worthwhile to go home to sleep. Therefore one used to chat or stroll along the road to Pultusk till sunrise. That's what our township was like.
And, yes, we also had thieves - of a special brand: they used to purloin books from the libraries. These were cultured thefts, such as our neighbouring towns couldn't boast of.
And in cases of bereavement the news spread from house to house and charitable women would get busy. Help was needed and it had to be given quickly, and therefore must be collected fast; and then you could see these women go from house to house begging - not for themselves - to extend hidden assistance and to "rescue a soul in Israel".
When holidays approached, the town was decorated, children ran about freshly washed and combed in holiday clothes near the synagogues and prayer meeting rooms; a festive atmosphere filled the town.
That's what our town was like - but it is no longer there and we shall see it no more; it is lost and gone and will never return.
ROZHAN: AN HISTORICAL SKETCH (Return to Contents)
We quote here information about the history of Rozhan and its Jews from six sources: these are nearly all the records extant. Unfortunately nearly all the information stems from Christian sources and even those who did not purposely belittle the impact of Jews on the town, did not give them full consideration.
We proceed by chronological order and begin with the Encyclopaedia Povschechna. Under the entry "Rozhan" very little is said about Jews, although (or maybe because) the writer was a Jew. Next comes the "Slovnik Geographiczny" complied and edited by the Catholic Church. This source has more to tell about Jews than the former. They are named Israelites and not "Zhid'
- to stress the editor's impartiality; however, he too doesn't attach much importance to the Jews of Rozhan and gives hints rather than details.
Only from two Jewish sources: Evreiskaya Encyclopaedia (1908-1913) and from the "Book of the Council of the Countries" from the years 1533-1760 do we learn of the existence of a Jewish community in R. in the 16th century. This means that Jews were not just living there in the past (in the Middle Ages) but they were organized in a way parallel to that of the state in which they lived, regarding jurisdiction, administration and legislation.
The Ev. Enc., which was financed by Jewish philanthropists, the baron Ginsburg and others, has a meager text but its data are reliable. Unfortunately they were gathered from official Russian records for the years 1847-1897 and nothing is said of earlier periods. The aim was not to compile an encyclopaedia, as the name would indicate, and many items relevant to the subject are omitted. There are no details of occupations, ethnography, jurisdiction, social affairs etc. Even on demography there are only figures and percentages and nothing more.
"The Book of the 4 Councils" fills in the gap to some extent and from it we learn that Rozhan had an organized community as early as the beginning of the 16th century and was one of a small numbof communities in Poland to contribute to the budget of the country-wide organization.
Thus we were compelled to glean details about the Jewish population of Rozhan from the Jewish historians such as S. Dubnov, J. Shipper and A. Levinson.
There are a great number of relevant passages scattered over their writings, mostly dealing with the Jews of Mazovia and R. among them.
The "Book of Rozhan" describes the period before the destruction. It is to us a last document of a community that was exterminated and has ceased to exist. We know how careful the committee was in compiling and collecting all facts and details as adduced by the various participants. We can, therefore, regard it as a popular historic source for our times and we can safely draw upon it for details to characterize Rozhan that was and is no more.
Old Jewish Rozhan
Of the history of Jewish settlement in Poland - and especially so in Mazovia - very little is known to us because of the lack of documentation. There are two reasons for this.
a) For hundreds of years the local princes, peculiarly those of Mazovia, enjoyed constitutional freedom and were practically independent from the central government and its legislation. Therefore we find next to no documents relating to their existence in the Polish royal judiciary archives.
b) Jewish communities enjoyed full internal autonomy, according to the Jewish Constitution (Constue Judo) the "Bill of Rights" given by Boleslav of Kalisz, the "Laws of Magdeburg"; proceedings were registered only in the books of the communities and by the rabbinical courts. All these records have ''vanished" accidentally or on purpose and no official administrative or judicial sources are left to supply us with information on our subject.
In this R. is no exception. All we shall be able to say about the history of Jews in Rozhan is therefore largely conjectures drawn from what we know about Mazovia. (However, history has never refused to draw conclusions from conjectures among the rest.)
It is well known that Jews settled in Mazovia, as elsewhere in Poland, near fortified places and administrative centers and we may assume the same for Rozhan, where circumstances must have been similar.
According to Dubnov, Jews began to settle in Mazovia at the end of the 9th century, when a mission of Jews from Germany visited Leszek, duke of Poland, asking permission to settle in this country - and permission was granted. "In those days (1173-1209) Jews settled in Greater Poland, Mazovia and Kuyavia." According to Shipper (p. 50) "Jews arrived in Mazovia also from the Khazar Kingdom after its fall in 969. Jewish settlements spread over Mazovia and Poland and onto Bohemia. From the chronicles of other towns we learn that Jews settled mostly in fortified places, that served their rulers as military strongholds from which to impose their authority on rebellious subjects. Such rulers would invite Jews in order to help them to introduce industries and to develop trade and handicrafts in the districts theidomination. In return the rulers would grant the Jews military and judiciary protection, freedom of movement and autonomy to administrate the internal affairs of their communities. There is a famous letter by King Casimir the Great, dated 1364, saying: "The King has granted the prayer of the Jews who live in all the towns of the Kingdom of Poland. As he wishes to profit his treasury he grants them the right to establish themselves and to travel, freedom of trade and of importing and exporting goods, also to lend monfor interest, on securities and mortgage."
Very similar is the statute of Kalisz, copied exactly from the Austrian statutes. There it says: It is forbidden to violatJewish cemeteries or synagogues. Litigation between Jews may be brought before their own courts." (Dubnow).
It may be assumed that the Jews of R. too came to settle at such a district seat, recognized as such in the Statute of 1401. The town privileges granted the same year were due to Jewish contributions. As elsewhere in Poland the Jews were the main factor in urban development of the otherwise entirely agricultural countryside. We are unable to establish the date of the earliest Jewish settlement in Rozhan whether it was 969 or 1173. There is however no doubt about the existence of a community by the beginning of the 16th century. Theris proof of it in the entry in the "Book of the 4 Countries' Council". We quote below in extenso. Now, if this was already an well-organized co, whicdid its share ithe countrywide organization of Polish Jews, we may safely assume that Jews arrived on the spot much earlier. On the Council old-established communities with traditions of administration and religious jurisprudence were represented. We may thus say that Jews lived in R. for no less than 500 years and maybe near to one thousand. Therefore one of the oldest of Jewish settlements in Poland was destroyed here -a very heavy guilt.
Economic and Social Life
We cannot say much about the early occupational and economic setup of the Jews in R. But again, assuming that the situation was akin to that of other Mazovian towns, they must have been mainly artisans, and in addition, traders and service workers. In his detailed work on the "History of the Jews of Warsaw" A. Levinson states that it is not easy to arrive at the facts regarding the occupations of Mazovian Jews about the time this province became part of Poland and for many centuries after this event. By conjecture it may, however, be said:
a) That not many of them were moneylenders. This was mainly the business of Christians, including parish priests and other clergy.
b) The Jews of Mazovia, as those of other parts of Poland, were largely artisans and craftsmen and as additional proof A. Levinson quotes J. Shipper, who tells of a pamphlet in Latin called: "The Jews' reply regarding commerce" published in 1539. The anonymous author states that there are next to no Christian artisans in Poland - the number of Jews in the crafts exceeding that of the Christian at a ratio of 3 to 1.
So, Rozhan was a township with 6 craft guilds (Enc. Puv.) a tannery and a growing amber industry. If, in 1401, Rozhan was granted town status, after having been a district center for a long time, this was largely due to its Jewish inhabitants who developed it in this direction: markets and courts, a custom house, control of weights and measures, a public bath etc.
On the religious and social setup of Rozhan we have only two pieces of evidence: one outspokenly saying that "in the 18th century it was a sub-community, belonging to the community of Makov" (Evr. Enc.) and another, earlier, less clear, saying that during the period of the "Council of the 4 Countries" (1530-1766) Rozhan had an independent community, directly represented on the Council and fulfilling the duties imposed on it as such. There is no earlier evidence of a community at R. except for a general remark by J. Shipper regarding the 12th century: "In contrast to the poor condition of the comm. in Russia, the Jewish comm. of Mazovia and Silesia were prospering and new comm. were coming into existence from time to time."
Figures, Ups and Downs
Statistical and demographic data about the Jews of R. go back only to the early 18th century. Till than we have few figures about Poles and others, let alone Jews, who had every reason not to stress their numerical strength in the places where they came to settle in the Diaspora. From the little we know, we gather a picture of continuous and considerable growth up to the period dealt with in the Book of Rozhan. In the Evr. Enc. we find the following:
173 Jews in Rozhan in 1765, 773 in 1856 and 1698 in 1897. The figure given in the Slovnik Geogr. for 1828: 304 fits nicely into this picture, showing that each generation doubled the Jewish population. The growth of the total population on the other hand was rather erratic, so that the percentage of Jews in the total fluctuated widely: 30% in 1828, 58% in 1856, 47% in 1897.
We have devoted much more time and efforts to this research than might seem warranted by the results: we felit was our bounden duty to preserve as best we could the memory of the lost communities, and where full sources were lacking to make shirt with scraps of information in order to reconstruct the picture and tell the world that:
a) Our communities were concentrations of hard-working and peaceful people, who far away from the ancient homeland enriched the host countries and created for themselves sources of livelihood - and this not at the expense of others.
b) Throughout the centuries Jews dreamt of Jerusalem and, whenever there seemed to be a chance to return to Zion, they seized it, left their host countries, willingly and gratefully.
c) Jewish diligence roused envy and in the end anti-Semitic outbreaks.
d) At no time and under no regime was Jewish diligence appreciated by those who benefited by it and this is a lesson to be drawn from history over the ages and from all the countries of the Diaspora.
APPENDIX (Return to Contents)
Editor: Shemuel Orgeband
Published in 1866
... A city in the county of Plock in the district of Pultusk on the Narew River. In medieval Poland it was the capital of an independent estate. It had a fortress and a district court.
... In 1424, Jan, the Prince of Mazovia granted it the status of a city and allowed it to annex nearby villages and numerous cultivated fields. Among its privileges was a license to maintain a bathhouse, a barbers' establishment and a weight-control station, and it was authorized to levy road tolls and other taxes.
After the decline of the principality of Mazovia, Rozhan was annexed by the crown and made a county seat.
Queen Bona built one of her palaces here and occupied it periodically.
... Records from 1564 show that there were 320 households in the city.
... In 1581 a central storehouse for salt was established here. The salt suppliers were required to provide the storehouse with 1000 barrels of salt from Woliczka and 500 from Buchnia, together with the right to sell the salt on its own (for its own benefit) at the end of two weeks' time.
... During the reign of August II the city was destroyed in the Swedish War, and all its antiquities vanished. The only building to survive was the walled Catholic Church. Recently the church has been restored, but the unique porticoes were so gravely damaged that their restoration was impossible.
The magnificent palace and the three other churches were utterly demolished.
... There were six craft guilds in the city, for spinners, knitters, weavers, furriers, tailors and shoemakers. There was also an association, "The Brotherhood of Plowmen."
... In 1813 the council hall and its tower destroyed. On the stones with which the city streets were paved, one can still (in 1866) make out certain inscriptions, which mark those stones as having been taken from the council building.
... Today the city was 151 households. It maintains tanneries and a council hall. It is authorized by law to hold six fairs a year.
Layout and sources: Vladislav Velebski
Rozhan... An urban settlement on the Narew River, where it is joined by its tributary, the Rozanitza. Part of the Sielun district. 88 versts from Warsaw, to which it is connected by the Warsaw-Kovno highway; 34 versts from Pultusk; 28 from Ostrolenka; 62 from Lomzha.
... It has a walled Catholic Church, a synagogue, a town-council hall, a brewery and a distillery for the production of honey wine.
172 households, 2414 inhabitants (the number of Jews not stated).
In 1828it had only 114 households and 1021 inhabitants, of which 304 were Jews. In 1860 it had 151 households and 1810 inhabitants (again the number of Jews not stated). Arfindings in the place include graves and trenches indicating the site of prehistoric settlements. It was this ancient settlement which undoubtedly became a judicial and commercial center for the region.
... A settlement was concentrated next to the fortress, which occupies the entire hill by the Narew River; at the beginning of the 15th century it was awarded the status of a city. In 1411, Jan, the Prince of Mazovia, granted cultivated fields to a person by the name of Pokszywka, so that he could annex them to Rozhan.
A 1403 document of this prince, which was certified in Czechanow, confirms and augments the privileges of the urbanization of Rozhan, and granto Rozhan additional privileges including a bathhouse, a barbers' establishment, a weight-control station, exemption from customs, duty and other.
... When Mawas annexed by thPolish crown, Rozhan became a county seat in every respect, both district and local courts being held there. Sabincziczki refers to it as "a city full of motion and vitality."
... Tradition has it that Queen Bona built the palace and came to stay there from time to time.
... According to the records from 1564, there were 320 households which paid no customs or excise duties.
In 1581, a central storehouse for salt was established here. The supervisor of the salt industry promised a yearly supply to this storehouse of 1000 barrels of salt from the Woliczka mines, and another 500 barrels from Buchnia. During the first two weeks, the salt was sold in accordance with the directives of the city government; after these two weeks it had the right to sell the salt as it saw fit.
... Revenue from passage on the Narew River accrued to the city.
... In 1526, Anna Princess of Mazovia, reaffirmed Rozhan's rights to the bridge (tolls), and these were reaffirmed in 1566 by Zigmunt.
... In 1549, Queen Buna permitted the city residents to cut down the forests about Rozhan.
... The area of its lands was then 1943 morags.
... In 1664, Rozhan County included the villages of Perzizanov, Los, Zaluxha, Razanof, Gerbovka and Zolotovka.
In the 17th century Rozhan was destroyed by frequent wars (the Swedish invasions) and by the Dzoma epidemic, but at the century's end it began to rise again.
Of its antiquities only the Church of St. Anna remains, having been restored in 1841. The work of restoration completely obscured its unique architectural style, which had flourished since the beginning of the 16th century and was marked by its pointed arches.
Of the palace and the three other churches not a trace remains.
The ancient council hall with its famous tower was destroyed in 1813.
... From the city of Rozhan came Maczi of Rozhan, who from 1430 on served as the scribe of the principality; it was he who translated the Mazovian constitution (from Latin to Polish).
The history of Rozhan, with the document from 1403 appended, was outlined by W.R. Geberczki in his book Memoirs of Plock in 1830.
... In 1877 amber was discovered in the forests of Rozhan.
Editor: Dr. L. Katznelson
Published in 1908
In the Rzeczpospolita period, Rozhan was a principal city (the seat of the regional council) in the county of Mazovieck.
In the 18th century Rozhan was subdivision under the control of the community of Makow.
In 1765 it numbered 173 Jews.
Today Rozhan is part of the district of Lomza and the county of Makow (formerly the county of Plock).
Rozhan is one of the Jewish cities in which the Jews were not subject to the restrictions of the Pale of Settlement and others.
According to an 1856 census Rozhan had a population of 553 Christians and 773 Jews.
According to an 1897 census it had 3721 inhabitants, of whom 1698 were Jews.
Records of the Council of Four Lands
... In an announcement issued by the dissolution committee on April 22, 1766 (13th of Iyar, 5526) it was established that the Jews were to pay a poll tax of three gold pieces in order to discharge the council's debts; also established were the dates of payment, listed by amounts and communities. The principal creditors were the "forts" of Cracow, Lvov, Kalisz; various institutions in Russia and Major Poland etc.; and private individuals. (Among the cities whose Jewish inhabitants were required to meet this payment was Rozhan, and the list is not a long one).
The matter under discussion concerns a "vehement protest" brought bthe "Marshals, the Heads of State and the Honorable Rabbis and the rest of Israel's Chiefs" to the Queen, in which the former demanded "justice and mercy from her, her ministers and the councilors of the diet," requesting "a fair anal" regarding the many debts, of which "certain amounts had incurred" on their journey to the diet in the city of Warsaw.
We may learn something of the nature of the marshals' protest and proposed solution from the diet's decision, as quoted in the aforementioned document:
"Now by Royal Grace and the Authority of the Diet their protest has been heard and orders have been issued to the satisfaction of all, to the effect that I poll tax of there be levied on the populace of Israel, a Polish gold piece for every head, so that all debts and claims of the aforementioned chief marshals may be discharged."
1. 1766 was the year of the council's dissolution, and the marshals and chiefs etc., who had burnt the communal registers so that they should not fall into alien hands, hastened to present their "accounts" of the debts due them; the government imposed a poll tax on the Jews which was to pay the personal debts of the rabbis.
2. The higher tax, which was ten or twenty times greater than the regular tax, was imposed only on the older cities, which had participated in the Council of Four Lands since its origin and had enjoyed its services for many years. Hence Rozhan must have had an active congregation as far back as 1533 or 1560, the year in which the Council was founded.
Wietta Encyclopedia Povshechna;
Rozhan, a town in the district of Makow, Woiewudstva Warsaw, on the Narew River.
In 1965, 1400 inhabitants, a crossroads, center of public services, an ancient fortress consisting of four strongholds (1885). City charter from 1373. Since 15th century seat of "land" (regional farming council) and district. After annexation of Mazovsha by crown (1562), urban starostvo.
In 16th century, a center of farm industry.
Salt stores date from 1581.
Destroyed in latter half of 17th century.
Destroyed and gravely damaged in World War II.
ON THE HISTORY OF THE TOWN (Return to Contents)
Rozhan, town in the district of Makov, near the place where the Rozhanitza joins the river Narew, 20 km. east of Makov Mazovietzk, on the crossroads between Warsaw-Ostrolenka and Czarnow-Ostrov-Mazovietzk.
Rozhan, formerly included in the territory of Zakroczima, received in 1378 local privileges. These were confirmed and enlarged in 1403 by Janosh the First, prince of Mazovia. He invested the town with the "Laws of Chelmino" and recognized its rights to the revenue from the public bath and from the town weights. Beginning from the 15th century Rozhan became the capital of the district of Rozhan or Makov, the seat of a district court and of a governor (starostva). There were 330 houses in Rozhan in 1564 - a total of about 2000 inhabitants. In 1581 a salt depot was erected to serve Northern Mazovia. At the time there were five craft guilds in town: , millers, tailors,hatters and shoemakers. Peasants' association too was set up which is proof of the importance of agriculture for the town. Traders dealt in grains and forest products such as wood, pitch as well as wax and honey. There was also a trade in hides.
The town flourished to the middle of the 17th century. Later the number of inhabitants dropped to 250 and in 1777 there were only 65 houses.
In the 19th century some progress was felt. Six fairs a year used to be held. There was a tannery, a brewery and a mead factory. The population increasfrom 582 in 1810 to 1810 in 1860 but this was not Enough to keep its rights as a municipality, that were taken away from it in 1869. However, the popugrew steadily, reaching 4435 in 1910 and municipal rights were restored in 1959.
During the Second World War, R. was destroyed twice, first in 1939 and again in 1944-45. In addition the Jewish population was expelled by the Nazi conquerors.* 95% of the buildings were in ruins and of 6000 inhabitants in 1919 only 730 were left in 1945 (Non-Jews, of course) .**
In 1961 the number of inhabitants reached 1363, most of them employed in agriculture; there are 28 artisans' workshops, a fur-animal farm and a flourmill. There is a primary school and a lyceum (secondary). The municipal area is 12.77 sq. km. Town planning and building activities center around the market square district church in the Gotstyle, apparently erected in the first half of the 16th century and enlarged in the 19th and 20th.
* All the facts and figures about township nevermention the name of "Je" or hint at it. The source is an official Polish publication. (Miasia Polskie w Tyaiacleciu, Part II Warsaw 1967.
** In the "Slovar" Encyclopaedia of Brockhaus of 1899, R. is mentioned as a town in the district of Makov. Province of Lomzha on the river Narew. Number of inhabitants: 2352; church, synagogue.
ROZHAN, LANDSCAPE AND DREAM (Return to Contents)
There was a little window in the attic of our house, just a quadrangular hole, and to this day I don't know why it was put there: if for light - it didn't let in much, and if for breeding pigeons - many of the neighbours did so, but not we. To me, for one, it served as a vantagepoint, from which I could observe part of our town like in a panorama. When my mother wasn't looking, I used to climb stealthily up the wooden ladder and once near the window I could take in a marvelous view: green fields stretching far, the road to Makow and the lush trees around the Jewish cemetery; on the left the road to Pultusk and "Telegraph Hill". Nearer at hand the cross at the crossroads where the road to Ostrow, to the "Forts" branched off and bordered the town to the west. My heart went out to those unknown faraway places, that were beyond my range of vision.
In summer clouds came from the West bringing with them heavy rains and sometimes thunderstorms. In autumn the sky to the west would become red at sunset. The children at the "Heder" of Rabbi P. whispered between them in awe, that this red colour must be the fires of Hell where the evildoers were being roasted in boiling pitch. At the sight of this mystery I would be stricken with fear.
Not so to the East, where the lovely sun would rise over the river Narew, over the meadows and the surrounding woods. I came to know these places when going to the "Heder" of Shimele near Levandacha's orchard. The rabbi's house was the last and before it there were a number of ramshackle houses, where poor Jews lived, who toiled hard all day to eke out a meager living. Here was the house of the hatter who was bent over his sewing machine till late in the night, and here was his neighbour, who had lost his eyesight in an accident. He was a gifted man with golden hands. And here again a house of a peddler who stuttered to the delight of the jesters.
Our teacher, Rabbi Shimele, was a good man. We didn't mind if he pinched us - his intentions were probably good. He would hold his fingers "at the ready" for a pinch, a severe or a light one, according to whether your mistake was a serious or a slight one, when it came to the exam in the weekly portion. His troubles were many: a small income, marriageable daughters, a white goat that caused havoc and above all: a son whom he could ever scold enough.
All the Bible stories came alive here. We needed no maps or pictures of the places we were learning about. Here we learned how Abraham bought Mahpela Cave and in my imagination I saw it on the hillside, where the two poplar trees stood. For this our father Abraham paid 400 shekel of silver, true weight. Here we found a big bone, we used for our "Meta" game, but by couldn't it have been the one with which Samson broke the heads of the Philistines?
"And while I was coming from Padan Aram I lost Rachel" in the traditional singsong we repeat the sentence, that tells of the calamity that befell our father Jacob. There on the road from Zbendek, along the ridge that leads to Rozhan, his caravan was wending its way and in the old cemetery, on that beautiful hill, Rachel lies buried under the tree.
In summer all is marvelously quiet there, aonly when a light breeze moves the high pine tree, you can hear a soft murmur from their tops. Not far from that spot a clear spring comes out of the earth with cool refreshing water. Yes, this was the spring where the Hebrews fought their enemies. Every battle had its place. "Sun stop at Giv'on and Moon in the Valley of Ayalon." Giv'on was, of course, the "Maria Gora" where a statue of the virgin Mary stood holding two candles, and the Valley of Ayalon was where my grandfather Abraham Yeshaia lived and where we used to burn our Hametz (bread) before Passover. People from all over the town would come, each with his Hametz, and N. would be in charge. Straw from old mattresses was brought at his command, pieces of wood and the straw burned with it the bedbugs that had not managed to escape meanwhile, and thick smoke would rise to the sky. Sometimes gentile children would try to interfere and throw stones but N. would fight back vigorously. No one else was so adept slinging stones and he frightened our enemies away. It was not only the place where we found food for our imagination, but also the ideal spot for fights between the various "Heder" schools, and for any other kind of mischief. Our parents told us that, in their day, it had been just the same.
My father told me how the boys from Rabbi Pinhas Eli's "Heder" had solved to build a dam and to block the ditch that served as an outlet for dirty water of the Mikveh (ritual bath). Because of its "chemical composition" this water would never entirely freeze even on very cold days, and, it got a crust of ice, it was yellow and soft and our sleds would leave ruts it, when we tied them after the peasant carts on their way to the village of Palinovo. This dirty water somehow did not please the boys and they worked hard to "harness" it. They carried heavy stones, poured sand, collected all kinds of broken objects and pieces of wood and when they had done, they waited impatiently for the result - but no: the man in charge of the bathhouse opened a sluice and their handiwork was swept away like nothing.
Our desire for mischief making was entirely natural. After sitting still in the Heder for hours on end, we'd storm out and vent our pent-up energies in wild games. We played at thieves and police, at firemen, or soldiers and robbers. We were as if drunk and our shouting could be heard from afar.
It also happened that solemnity and fear cast a shadow over our childhood. At dusk, between the Minha (afternoon) and Ma'ariv (evening) prayers, our Rabbi would go to the synagogue. In the "Heder" It was nearly dark and we were sitting huddled together and telling tales of horror, of evil spirits and devils, of dead people and ghosts, whose place was in the Beth Midrash and under the "Older-Brickle", stories upon stories, hair-raising and causing you to shiver all over from fear.
It happened that one Jew was on his way back on the road from Ostrolenka and when, at midnight, he came to the "OlderBrickle", his horse stopped couldn't move the cart. The Jew looked back and saw a calf with bound legs lying in his cart. He understood at once that here was devil's work and he began to pray Shema Israel, and as he did so he could hear a heavy thud on the road, the calf vanished and the horse galloped off, until it reached town safely.
And another Jew, who fell asleep at the Beth Hamidrash and suddenly, in the middle of the night he heard himself called to the "Tora". He opened his eyes and saw an assembly of dead people standing around, reading the Tora. The Jew fai, and that's how the janitor found him next morning when he opened the door.
But here the rabbi is back and he lights the kerosene lamp with isooty and cracked glass cylinder. A piece of paper holds the pieces together and it sheds a feeble, reddish light. The flame is dancing and shadows move on the walls. You can follow the boys who recite their lesson "Arba'a Avot Nezikin". The rabbi strokes his broad beard and combs it with his fingers. The hair that falls out he puts in between the pages of the Gemara. Outside the moon travels over the sky and the town is all shrouded in white. During the long summer days, too, we felt chained in our seats. You were sweating and bored, A barter trade in odds and ends went on behind the rabbi's back. Here someone lets go a fly tied to a bit of straw. Some play at cards under the desk and everybody waits for the setting sun to peepin from the Shul-lane. As soon as it would reach a certain point on the tree we would rush out, free from bondage for the day.
A summer evening gently dover the town. Fromthe meadows you can hearthe frogs croaking and the breeze wafts in the inebriating smell of fields and hay. The "Heder" and peculiarly so "My Heder" with the stench of urine in the corner never could deaden the longing for the world of beauty - only a few hundred steps away.
The young began to rebel and to shake off the chains, to search for ways and means to build themselves a more beautiful and more secure future. The rabbi would be angry with us, when we came back panting from having run through the streets to attend a meeting of "Hashomer Hatzair." Youngsters in Grey shirts marching and singing "We are going to Eretz-Israel." "You went to see those people who were singing 'He Oole Artza'," the rabbi scolded. And many days later, when we came to the verse "A, those, who stay up late - the wine fires them", he would say, "Those are your Shomrim."
It was of no avail that I tried to defend them and explained that the Shomrim never drank wine and that the prophet's words did not apply to them. Only, because of my taking this side, I was shunned by the orthodox children. Our older brothers and sisters realized that the skies were darkening. They saw the axe of anti-Semitism that was raised against the Jews, and they went to find their redemption, and looked for it in various shapes and debated over it endlessly and everywhere: at home, at street corners, at le entrance to the synagogue and behind the "Belemer" while the Tora as being read on the Sabbath. When the debates grew hot and stormy, our old and honoured rabbi would get angry and he would scold "Shkocim (hooligans) go to sleep! The sleep of the wicked, may it does well to you and to the world.
But the just of the world and their good works did not avert the disaster. Millions of honest people, whose only fault was that they were Jews, were exterminated. My hometown, where, for generations, my forefathers had lived, was wiped out and with it my parents, brothers and sisters, friends and relations. Our lot was bitter. We were born in a beautiful country but it wasn't ours. We were driven out, destroyed; those who got away are scattered all over the world. But each and everyone will carry with him, to his dying lay, the memory of his dearest, of his childhood and of our town. A dream that will never come back.
Ephraim Ben-Dor (Bender)
THE STORY OF ROZHAN (Return to Contents)
We are left with the memories. We are alive and bear them in our hearts and shall remember as long as we shall live. They are like rays of light, sometimes bright and sometimes dim that come out of the past. As time passes: days, years and decades, they become blurred and in order to preserve them and honour our wonderful Jewish past, Jewish Rozhan, we have delved into and set down all the gems of our lives in that little township. We have tried to uncover the spring from which our forefathers throughout the ages drew the strength and the courage to bear martyrdom and to hold up and continue Jewish life, which now culminated in the State of Israel established following the Holocaust that decimated our nation.
Dozens of our compatriots have contributed to this book. It is the least one can do. It is our bounden duty to those friends and relatives who did not live to see the resurrection of our nation on the soil of its historic homeland. We are doing, what the survivors of many other destroyed Jewish communities have done: we are keeping the legacy, never to forget. We add a little chapter to Jewish history and give a crushing answer to those foes of Israel, who not have murdered its people and appropriated the heritage but would like to efface the traces from the history of their countries, which we have helped to build up over the centuries with Jewish blood and toil.
Our ancestors built their colourful, peculiar Jewish existence in the midst of hostile Christian surroundings. They became integrated in the realities of economic, social and cultural life while they had to struggle incessantly for their rights. Those were working people artisans and factory workers, shopkeepers and merchants, working intellectuals, townspeople, but also villagers, Hassidim and Mitnagdim and ordinary Jews. Among them were adherents or all parties, both national and socialist, inspired by the vision of a better future with the Jewish people and for the world at large. (They all strove for the good and the beautiful, each and everyone according to his lights).
On the background of economic and social conditions typical of a Jewish township in Poland between the two World Wars, from the beginning of the renewed Polish independence to the bitter end, at the outbreak of the War in 1939, life went on its normal course with peculiar, local overtones. The social and political movements grew out of it and were nourished on Rozhan's soil and aimed at bringing the redemption to Man and to the nation - or at least to alleviate the suffering of the Jews. Hatred and persecution being felt more and more like a tightening noose.
The development of movements and parties did not begin or stop at the gates of Rozhan, which was simply a microcosm of the Jewish condition everywhere: from "Agudat Israel", rooted in the numerous orthodox population (and enjoying the support of the government authorities), through all the shades of socialist parties "Bund" and Rightist and Leftist "Poale Zion", and the whole gamut of Zionist parties. The relative strength of all those movements was changing over time, more or less in keeping with developments in the Jewish world and in the state where we lived. It should be stressed that, during the 1920's and 30's, the Leftist "Poale Zion" and "Hashomer Hatzair" were especially active in Rozhan in addition to "Agudat Israel" whose position remained unshaken among the broad strata of conservative, orthodox Jews. Its influence weakened only towards the outbreak of the war, when the "Mizrahi" gained ground and began to attract these people to Zionism. We have written our reminiscences down. A memorial for ourselves and for generations to come.
Landscape and Atmosphere
Rozhan was a peculiar little town with a charm of its own; first of all because of its geographical situation. While Mazovia is mostly level country, Rozhan was built upon a considerable elevation, sloping down to the East towards the broad river Narew. To reach the town you had to cross a wooden bridge with a "history" of its own, and then you were in hill country, as it were. The same was true when you came ifrom the North, from Ostrolenka: you found the town situated on hills that continued to the South, parallel with the river. Only towards the West did the town melt into the broad expanses of the area in the direction of Makow and Pultusk. So the people of Rozhan had the feeling they were living on high, above a magnificent landscape that stretched far away, beyond the river, with fields and meadows like a carpet, whose colours were changing with the seasons. Dark green forests were closing the horizon in the distance, over the river with their dented line.
Each season had its opeculiar beauty. With spring the ice would break and begin to float downstream and the river would inundate a vast area. The sight of wide eunderwater would fill the heart with pride, but also with anxiety. The rising waters would approach the lower parts of town and threaten to swamp the dwellings of the poor, both Jews and Gentiles. Then it would get warmer, the waters would recede slowly and expectations turned towards the approaching summer time, when you could refresh yourself with a bath in the river, cross it swimming, make boat trips or go for a hike in the great outdoors. The river was now confined to its bed and you could see the large meadows, where the famous goats of Rozhan were grazing - that had become a by-word - also in jest, for our Jewesses.
How can I forget the goats and their kids we used to have in our back garden, when I was a child; how sorry I was when the lambs had to beslaughtered, so that only their soft pelts were left to cover and adorn the floor until our last day in town?
Spring also carried its special smells of tfruit trees and the lilac ibloom, mixed with that ofthe first hay to be cut. As the weather grew warmer, bathing and swimming in the river were very refreshing. Men and women had separate facilities, as bathing suits were not yet the fashion in our place. When these were finally introduced, strict separation was abolished and bathing in the river became an occasion for the social mingling of the younger generation, as is the custom throughout the world. Most of the bathers were Jews. Idlers would spend whole days in the sun to get tanned, but most people frequented the shore in the afternoon after work and on Fridays. You could see not only the young, but also old people with beards who took their plunge in the river instead of a ritual bath in the Mikve. So we had many Jewish swimmers in Rozhan. Yet, It must be said that it was not always fun. The river was large and sometimes treacherous and drowning accidents did occur.
People liked to take a stroll, generally starting on the sidewalks around the market square and going out on the road to Pultusk or the Wiemke-road that led from the main street down to the bridge. A longer walk, on Sabbath and holidays would be across the bridge to the barracks, to the copse and even beyond. Everybody, old and young, would go for a walk, but most of all the young with their romantic feelings and their sensitiveness to the beauties of nature. There the youngsters could really unbutton themselves, frolic, sing, laugh aloud, play games and enjoy practical jokes. Thus it went on until the Gentiles began to give free rein to their anti-Semitism. When this happened, walks became restricted to the sidewalks round the market-square.
We should also mention the "summer resort" of Rozhan where the "rich" or those in need of recreation would spend their vacation. It was in the nearby village of Kashevitz, but we, the young, never went there. We were content with an occasional ice cream, or a glass of ice cold lemonade. The ice cream was made with real cream in a primitive copper container that was rotated in a surrounding layer of ice. This, in turn, was kept in a natural kind of cellar, a pit in the ground, filled with ice from the river in winter and covered with insulating material like sawdust.
But then the hot summer days drew to an end and the High Holidays were approaching. Autumn came and with it Grey and gloomy weather. The joys of outdoor life had ended, but life went on indoors in the home and in public places and party premises. When the peasants gathered their harvest, the townspeople, too, had to make their preparations for the winter. Each family had to lay in its store of potatoes, cabbages and firewood. Autumn rain and storms come from a darkened sky and the double windows had to be taken out of storage, put in place and made tight with green moss.
The river rose again owing to the waters that come down from the hills. Puddles of water and mud appeared in the streets, that were not all paved and provided with sidewalks, and there were the first ice crystals on the window panes and the first snow. The atmosphere changed, a blanket of white covered the area and was enhanced by the contrast with the evergreen forests on the horizon. The cold became intense and blocks of ice formed on the river whose colour, too, had darkened. One day, a solid layer of ice covered it all, while the current continued to flow underneath. More snow fell and hid the ice. The river seemed to have vanished and you could discern first people and then horse drawn sleds cross it. Onlthe bridge reminded you of its existence. Days were short, but the joy of life knew no bounds and again we went for long walks - in appropriate apparel, of course. What fun sliding down the hillside in a toboggan loaded with children, laughing and giving vent to their elation. And as usual most of the participants were our Jewish youths, members of the various parties and movements. Those who went to school as well as those who learned at the "Heder". There was room enough for everybody on the hillsides and the skilled ones could also go skating on the frozen river. So the circle of seasons closed, each with its colourful beauty, its joys and adventures. Thus we lived our lives, close to nature, for many generations, and then, suddenly, there came the end. The Jews were cruelly torn out of their surroundings, in a way unprecedented in human history. The land is there, the landscape is there, the sun shines as always - only the Jews are no more and only our memories are left.
What the Town Was Like
These peculiar surroundings also produced a special human type. I don't know why, hut even our dialect of Yiddish was different from that of Makov, only 19 km. distant, where they spoke with a sharp 'r', or of Ostrolenka, 27 km. away, where they sounded like the Lithuanian Jews, or from those of Pultusk - 31 km. - on the river Narew as well. The situation of Rozhan on the main road from Warsaw to Russia made it one of the strategic points along the river Narew to protect, which a string of subterranean forts had been built as far back as the days of the Tsars. That's why Rozhan was destroyed and had to be rebuilt after each of the many wars that swept over the country. This fact is well documented.
It was a farming region, partly wooded, and the Polish population lived mainly on agriculture, cattle raising, fishing and forestry and allied professions. Rozhan belonged to the district of Makov-Mazovietzk. Farming practices were rather extensive, backward and holdings small and fragmented. I can't remember many large-scale farms in the vicinity.
Communications to our town were on poor roads, while the villages lacked paved roads altogether. The nearest railway station, at a distance of 14 km., was at Pasheky on the line from Warsaw to Ostrolenka. The whole region was poor, had no industries, no regular communications and as a result lacked modern comforts, and the standard of living was low.
The town of Rozhan, built in the midst of such backwardness, was backward too. There was no running water. Every household would get its supply from one of the many wells in town. Only one pump was installed in the middle of the market square and it was the livelihood of the water carriers, who would supply the householders with their buckets borne on a wooden yoke. Electricity was introduced only in the mid 20's, when a municipal power station was built. And yet, Rozhan served as a supply center of consumer goods for the vicinity. Most of thPolish inhabitants were partly enin agriculture, apart from their urban occupations.
As there was a vital necessity of crafts and tradesmen, a special Jewish form of economy developed over the ages, which was largely determined by the historic causality that ruled Jewish life everywhere in Poland, and the professional and social structure of this part of the population. At the outbreak of the Second World War. The 3500 Jews or Rozhan were approximately 60% of the urban population. To prevent the Jews from securing a majority of seats in the municipality the Polish authorities annexed a nof villages to the municipal area, thus increasing the number of Polish voters. Professions were varied; there were Jewish tailor, shoemakers, saddlers and upholsterers, carpenters, tinsmiths, locksmiths and blacksmiths, wheelwrights, hatters, bakers, butchers and all kinds of other craftsmen; also teamsters, porters, drivers and so on. Substantial merchants there were few. Most of the trade was in the hands of small shopkeepers with their tiny and crowded premises; grocers, haberdashers, and clothiers, ironmongers and stores of building materials, hardware and household goods, small eating places and sort drink stands.
There were two flourmills: one power-driven and one a windmill. A meat processing plant in the village of Orshobova was outside the municipal area and constituted an "empire" in its own right.
Craftsmen were organized in their guilds. Most of them were independeand employed no more than two-three apprentices or hired men, hired for a "period" (or term) either from Passover to Sukkoth or from Sukkoth to Passover. many cases these workers boardat the master's home and ththey were supposed to work from morning till night with no fixed hours. Only much later, after a prolonged struggle, did these tired men secure an eight-hour day. The apprentice's dream was either to get started on a shop of his own or to emigrate. Economic conditions for artisans were hard and to eke out a living they had to work dawn to dusk. Competition was keen and as time went on there was administrative chicanery. The craftsmen had to adhere to a national craft guild and to take out an official license issued on the strength of a certificate of proficiency (Karta Rzemieslnicza). To become an independent craftsman the apprentice had to pass an examination and to receive a certificate. The intention was clearly anti-Semitic: to create administrative difficulties for the Jewish craftsmen, who dominated many professions, and to encourage Polish craftsmen whose numbers were increasing.
Artisans marketed their produce themselves and there were among them a number of substantial householders. Most of them were orthodox and their public activities centered around the synagogues, of which there were two in town: the Big and the Small one, standing next to each other. The big synagogue was erected on the site of the old one, destroyed during the First World War. Its construction proceeded slowly and took many years. Because of its size and height it could not be used in winter and then people prayed in the little synagogue that was well heated. In a small town, a synagogue was not only a place to pray, it also served as a community center, where meetings used to be held before elections, where public events took place and where speakers from abroad would address audiences. The small synagogue served, in fact, as a center for the artisans, who held their meetings there. Apart from that craftsmen used to come for prayer meetings to our house, the home of Bender. It was a tradition introduced by my grandfather, Haim, and the prayer leader (Hazan, Shatz) was Abraham Saul Zamek. Here also records were kept of events regarding this hardworking community, but they were destroyed during the First World War.
Most important among the institutions of mutual help was the "Gmilus Hassodim", which extended interest free loans to its members. Its manager was Fishel Gogol, who ran a repair shop for bicycles and sewing machines. He held a position of honour in the organization of craftsmen and his main concern was with professional and social questions. This organization was politically neutral and people of various affiliations were active in it.
Most of the shops clustered around the quadrangular market place in the middle of town. Some were to be found in the side streets too, of which I remember the butcher's lane. Most shops were small and the choice of items limited. In the absence of wholesalers, the shopkeepers and traders had to bring their merchandise directly from Warsaw or order it through a middleman. Communication with Warsaw was by bus run by Jews, or by train from the station at Pasheky. Merchandise was also delivered to the shopkeepers and traders by motor truck. Towards the end of the 1930's when the anti-Semitic government intensified its economic pressure on the Jews, it nationalized the Jewish bus lines and transferred them to a State monopoly. To defend their livelihood the Jews, who had been engaged in traffic, introduced the horse drawn "omnibus", a closed wagon that could seat 20 passengers, to compete with the nationalizePolish buses. The time for the trip now took 17-18 hours instead of three, but in those days, time for the Jews was not money. They had plenty of it and, when the danger of economic strangulation increased, this inconvenience had to be borne. The omnibus would go to Warsaw twice a week and there had to be stops to feed the horses. The trip was anything but fun, people were crowded and seats uncomfortable. The road was in poor condition and at the end of the trip you would arrive at Warsaw or Rozhan thoroughly shaken and exhausted. On the other hand there were advantages: the journey was cheap and it gave you the feeling of "victory". You had proved you could do without the government bus!
Economic activities centered around the monthly fairs and market-days, held twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays, unless they collided with a Jewish holiday, which took precedence, as under the primitive trade relations that prevailed from time immemorial, all economic activities had to reckon with Jewish customs: without Jews there could be neither market nor fair days.
The fairs were held every four weeks, on Tuesday. On regular market days the peasants would bring their produce to own and buy those necessities which they did not produce themselves. Here Jews and Gentiles came into initial contact. Jewish families could buy their wants of farm products, while the peasants purchased from the Jews salt, sugar, kerosene etc., but also the products of artisans and of industry. All this took place in the market square and most of the trade in the region was transacted here.
Fair days were quite an event, for which the Jews would prepare a store of goods, products both of handicrafts and of industry. Preparations began on the eve. Artisans and traders would arrive in their covered wagons from all the neighbouring townships, take up their places and begin to erect their booths for display. There was no organization or planning but, it came to be that booths arranged themselves in rows by the nature of the merchandise they had to offer: tailors alongside tailors, shoemakers with shoemakers and so on. It must have been an ancient tradition.
Noise and commotion filled the town. In the market square hundreds or even thousands of people would he jostling each other: sellers and buyers and the curious. Booths stood close together. From early morning you could hear the noise: sellers would cry out their merchandise and buyers bargained. In all that turmoil there was also room for acquaintances and relatives to meet; in all a colourful, lively and joyous occasion.
Apart from the market square, another place at the edge of the town would be full to overflowing on fair day: it was the livestock market (horse fair) where horses, cattle, pigs (lehavdil) were traded, where animals were also brought for mating. The noise was tremendous too, but of a different nature, as it included the whinnies, lowings and squeakings as well as the voice of human beings.
Towards evening turmoil would subside but you couldstill hear drunken goyim in the streets, who had celebrated their bargains in the pub on the way back to their wagons. Jews would hurry home, as soon as the trading was over to avoid meeting a drunken Pole.
For the Jews this was an important day and the turnover and profit made at the fair had to keep you going for weeks. And so it went on from one market day to the next, from on fair to the other, imbued with an outspoken Jewish character.
Sundays and Christian holidays were official days of rest and shops had to be closed by law, but trade was carried on in spof this. The Gentiles, who came to pray at the big church in town, found the way to effect some of their purchases on Sundays as w. They could quench their thirst at the Jewish pub and, when full with meat and drink, they were apt to become a nuisance. As time went on, assaulting Jews became almost a regular phenomenon. In addition, soldiers from the barracks across the river would turn up in town on Sundays and Christian holidays and they, too, took their share in the drinking, licentiousness and the "fun" of Jew baiting.
Polish holidays left a bitter taste and in the period before 1939 they became a real nightmare. And Jews were afraid of going out into the streets. This was true for the Polish national holidays as well; Independence Day on the 3rd May (Constitution Day) when soldiers would parade in the streets, accompanied by the military band or the band the local fire brigade. Houses had to be decorated with the national flag and otherwise, and the Jews complied without relish. We knew that at the end of thidemonstration of force by the powthat be, we would be left withthe nagging question in our hearts: what next? We would watch these demonstrations of national and political independence with hidden envy, dreaming of our own country, Eretz-Israel, of independence, of a Jewish State and a Jewish army. Only on such occasions would the Jewish character of the town be obliterated; and for us they were not days of celebration but of fear and of sorrow. Only on Jewish holidays did we breathe a festive atmosphere.
Jewish Day-to-Day Life
On Friday afternoons the peasants, who had come to the market, left town and the quiet atmosphere of the Sabbath spread everywhere, instead of the noise and the hubbub that had been reigning only a short while ago.
Shmuel-Jankel, the synagogue janitor (shammes) walks about and at every corner he announces that the Sabbath is beginning and calls the Jews to prayer. Who doesn't remember his booming voice: "Shabbes! Come to prayer!"
Shops close one after the other. Jews are returning from the Mikveh, clean and radiant. Those who do not frequent the Mikveh make their preparations at home. The sun has set and candles can be seen in every window. Jews hurry to the synagogue or to other places, where prayer meetings are held, to greet the Sabbath and to pray together. At the synagogue the atmosphere is festive. Some really come to pray, others just to meet, but even if you don't pray, if you are not observant, you are part and parcel of the community and you feel that this is the day of rest after a week's toil and trouble.
The meeting of people begins at the synagogue. The week's news is told; social, political and regarding the world at large. There is no topic that isn't discussed at the synagogue. After prayer people go home for the festive evening meal and for the Kiddush on the wine and the homemade bread, for a meal of fish and meat. For the young Sabbath Eve begins only after the repast at the weekly meetings in the movements and parties, in circles and groups, lectures and performances.
The same holds true for the holidays. Rest was complete according to traditional Jewish custom. Everything is closed in town; no need for laws or ordinances. No Jew would venture to open his shop on the Sabbath and on this day you couldn't see any Gentiles. It was the Jews who gave the town its character and here I would like to expatiate a little on the peculiarities of the Jewish holidays as I saw and remember them.
Passover is approaching and with It the time to bake Matzes. A few weeks earlier ovens have been tried out in a number of places and neighbours organize in groups for mutual help. The children, too, sense the event as they take their share in the preparations from the baking of Matzes to the burning of the Hometz, for which a special place has been allocated opposite the Mikveh on an empty lot near the street that leads down to the river. It's there where bonfires were made with the straw of old mattresses that had to be renewed for the occasion. In every house and courtyard people are busy, making crockery kosher with heated stones, cleaning and scrubbing. Even the walls are whitewashed.
Nature, too, is making preparations and the smells of spring are in the air. The sun is growing warmer; the new green appears and adds to the festive atmosphere. It is the celebration of spring and of freedom.
And here is the Pentecost. I remember the milk-fare one used to have and the houses adorned with greens and reeds that we would carry home from afar or buy frothe Goyim, who knew Jewish customs.
I have special memories of the High Holidays. It is already autumn and the weather is no longer bright. "Sliches" (prayers for forgiveness) are said and in the meetings between people you feel that they endeavour to make up their differences. On New Year's Day the big Synagogue would be full. Whoever had a permanent seat insists upon his rights for himself and for his relations, since there was not room enough for all the inhabitants. Therefore Jews would carry chairs from their homes to sit down on, so as not to miss the prayer as sung by the Hazanim, best of all by the Hazan and Shohet Freedman, the Radzinower.
Yom-Kippur was felt in town days beforehand, when people brought their "Kapores" (chickens) who were then slaughtered on the holy day's eve. The atmosphere of sanctification descended on Rozhan well before the evening and after the last meal (before fasting) people went their way to the synagogue - or private places of worship (Shtiblach) - everybody went. It became the custom to collect gifts for the J.N.F. at the synagogue before nightfall, when gifts for various purposes were collected. Members of "Hashomer Hatzair" served at the collection plate for the J.N.F. as did everybody else.
With reverence I remember the Kol-Nidre nights at the Synagogue, bright with electric lights and with the candles in memory of the dead, which add to the solemnity of the Day of Atonement. It all goes to the heart from the first words of prayer to the weeping of the women behind their partition, that mingles with the clouded and trembling voice of the rabbi who intones Kol-Nidre and the congregation that responds.
Yom Kippur, too, had something special in our town. First of all, I must mention the three ritual slaughterers, who on this day acted as cantors - each according to his ability. They would divide the task among them. Itche-Meir Elbik began with hymns, Haim-Shlomo Hatzkowitch took the morning prayer, and the chief Hazan, Freedman the Radzinower, with his strong and sweet voice excelled in Mussaph.
Even boys from "Hashomer Hatzair" joined in the impromptu choir that helped the Hazan at the climax of the service-Ha'avoda. In my mind this was their finest hour in the Synagogue. There was something strange about it, but here it was; maybe their feeling were not religious, but they wanted to be part of and share with the whole community the festive atmosphere in those sublime and bright surroundings from Kol-Nidre to Ne'eela.
Only a few days later came Sukkes. In every courtyard the hammers are pounding as the huts go up; branches to cover them are brought in and palm fronds (Lulovim) and Ethrogim, which the Shammes carries round, so that those who cannot afford this expensive citrus fruit can at least say the blessing over it at the synagogue. For the last day "Hoshanes" are ready - green willow branches, which you beat during prayer until the leaves fall off. Most of the Jews in our town did their best to keep up Jewish cus, although modern life was already the . And so Jewish life went on from one holiday to the next as of old in the midst of changing times, while religions and worldly habits existed side by side, in conflict and then compromise.
It was the younger generation, and above all a strong "Hashomer Hatzair" movement that brought the Zionist revival to our town and with it a new dimension to Jewish life. This revival of national feeling became imperative, as anti-Semitism and the economic steps to strangle the very existence of the Jews made life increasingly difficult. The "Owszem" became the official policy ofthe "Sanatzia" party, which ruled the country to the outbreak of the war.
Economic boycott of Jews became practically legal as the"Sanatzia" tried to vie with the ND. (National Democrats), who preached physical violence against the Jews in order to force them to leave the country.
So a gloom was cast over our lives; the joy of our holidays was dimmed, cares multiplied because of the openly anti-Semitic policy of the authorities, which was in turn influenced by what was happening in Hitler's neighbouring Germany. Before long the world would be plunged into a terrible blood bath and we, the Jews were to be its first victims.
Jewish Education and Schools
Jewish education, which had been essentially religious in keeping with the general attitude in town, now also began to undergo changes in the direction of worldliness, which I experienced as I greup. Even as a child I felt this struggle between the religious and the worldly trend. First I went to the "Heder", changing them from one term to the other. Firthe "Heder Metukan" (improved) of S, then that of teachers Avigdor (G). Mendel Abba's, Raphael Hirsh and others. Lessons in the "Heder" were routine and boring; the teachers were mostly old men without any pedagogic training or wider views on education. Children were punished for the slightest fault, as was the traditional rule under the backward and outmoded system of education. The only occasion for relaxation was in the traditional games such as Metta (played with a ball and stick), Palant (played with a stick and a small piece of wood) and the bike. No wonder children were not happy in their boring "Heder", while outside a different. More liberal and more progressive kind of education was beckoning.
Meanwhile, compulsory education was introduced in Poland and knowledge of the Polish language and culture became an indispensable condition of existence and advancement. This tipped the scales with my orthodox parents and they agreed to send me to a non-orthodox Jewish elementary school, where the pupils were sitting with bare heads and the language of instruction was Polish. And yet the school was Jewish to all intents and purposes: pupils, teachers and the headmaster and the whole atmosphere were distinctly Jewish. The buildings, that housed the school, belonged to a well known Jewish family by the name of Segal and the Polish authorities had sequestered them, when the family left town at the time of the Bolshevik invasion. This was the first opening to enable the Jewish child and adolescent to escape the traditional, exclusively religious education, to receive a general education, which also was a co-educational one. I still remember the curious stares when a boy sat down next to a girl and both were embarrassed.
At noon when lessons ended, I went straight back to the "Heder" till evening. The "Heder" had lost all interest for me and the pressure exerted by my parents to go on with traditional studies created great tension. For the sake of peace and quiet I did my best to fulfil the demands of the two conflicting authorities, which were educating me, while my bias was clearly in favour of the worldly school. But here, too developments intervened. Because of the demographic structure of our town it was absolutely necessary to maintain an elementary school for Jewish children only with its headmaster and staff. Together with it there existed a purely Polish school, not only for the children of Rozhan, but also for those of the surrounding villages, and for some time the two schools existed side by side without friction. However, with the rising tide of anti-Semitism trouble was brewing. Lessons in the Polish language were forced upon the "Heder" in order to teach the orthodox children, who were kept out of the elementary school, the elements of Polish culture. This was in fact an agreed measure, designed to comply with the compulsory education act.
But matters were not allowed to rest at this. The anti-Semites did not like the fact of a virtually independent general but in reality Jewish - institution and an order was issued to transfer pupils of the two higher grades - the 6th and the 7th - to the Polish school and to mix them with the Gentile children. This, of course, raised the question of classes on the Sabbath - a possibility unthinkable for any Jew. Ferment seized us all and we decided to declare a strike. A public campaign was waged and a delegation of Jewish parents went to plead with the educational authorities of the district town in order to the evil and ask that the Jewish school might continue to function as before. However, the delegates came back empty handed and in shame. I can remember my father, one of the delegates, on his return from Makov. Tears were choking his voice as be told us there was nothing left for us to do but to swallow another bitter pill.
So we went to school only five days a week and this created great difficulties. Open anti-Semitism among both teachers and pupils was growing from day to day. Our class teacher, one Panzshinsky, baited us with provocative questions. To this day my classmates remember a debate I had with him on the situation of Polish Jews following the anti-Jewish economic measures of Grabski (finance minister in the 1920's). In the end, when he no longer knew how to answer my complaints about discrimination against Polish Jews, be shouted at me in wrath "Hold your tongue! You talk like a communist!"
Of course I fell silent. But then I was called before the headmaster, Zibbeisky, in the presence of a priest. My father, too, was called in, so that he might hear what a rebellious son be had. There was tremendous excitement in the class and I was stirred to the depths of my soul. After all I was only a boy of 13. However, this experience taught me to think of my future and how to choose my way in life.
During the first year after transfer to the Polish school we were still only Jews in our class. But the next year, in the 7th grade, the class was integrated and life became disagreeable. The more important subjects were brought up on Sabbath - on purpose - in order to make things difficult for us. Religious instruction was given separately and debates and altercations with our Polish classmates became routine. We complained and struggled, and this went on to the end of the school year. Only the course in Jewish history, which Aryeh Buchner gave us under the guise of religious instruction, was a ray of light. The Jewish school in the Segal building was now limited to five grades and, when the Jewish headmaster was accused of communist activities; it was subjected to the authority of a Polish headmaster and lost the last remnant of autonomy.
The "Hashomer Hatzair" movement, which penetrated our school, showed our youth how to extricate themselves from the tangle of our existence and to strive for a better Jewish future. We were swept away by the vision of a Zionist solution to the Jewish question, which became more pressing from day to day. We found a new meaning to our lives and this made the situation bearable. The ideas fell on fertile ground and in time they bore fruit.
EVIDENCE GIVEN BY A CHILD * (Return to Contents)
I was left with my grandpa at Rozhan on the Narew. The Poles forced us to move to the little town of Govorovo 13 km. from Rozhan. On Friday night the Germans entered Govorovo. We spent the night in the cellar and had no sleep. Next morning, at five, they were already firing into the windows. The town was an all Jone and the Germans ordered all the inhabitantsto assemble in the town square, made us raise our hands and searched us. Then they chased us into the synagogue, boarded up its doors and windows and set fire to the town. All the houses were burnt. They poured gasoline on the Synagogue. We were all inside: grandpa and grandma, my aunt and her two children and even my great-grandmother. Whoever has not experienced such a thing can not imagine it. People took their clothes off to have it over with quicker. I, too, undressed. I thought my clothes wouldn't catch fire and I didn't want it to last long. The cries were terribl. We were closely packed and stepped on each other.
Suddenly, somebody arrived on a motorbike, an officer, maybe a general - I do't know. He stopped and asked what the crying was about. They told him that a German had been killed, and that all the people in the town - maybe 1000 - were to he burned for it. Then the general gave orders to set people free. He said "We shall exterminate all the Jews anyhow - but not this way. We shall kill them of one by one." They let us out of the synagogue while the town was all ablaze. We ran across the brigade to a meadow on the other side of the river Narew. It was very cold. I had only my shirt on when I came out of the synagogue.
*From the autobiography of Yitzchak Magnushever, 13 at the time of writing. 6 at the time of the events.
Simha Shafran (Shafranovich)
WHEN THE WAR BROKE OUT (Return to Contents)
(Reminiscences from Rozhan)
I was 14 years old and was studying at the Yeshivah at Pultusk. I had gone home to my parents to spend with them New-Year's Day and the Day of Atonement. About weeks before the Holidays, when we retfrom the synagogue, our Gentile neighbotold us that the war had broken out. Early next morning, Sabbath, one of our Jewish neighbours woke us and said that the danger was near and that we must flee as fast as we could: the d-d Germans were already near Rozhan. In panic we grasped whatever we could: clothes and other items and ran down to the bridge. People said the Poles were about to blow the bridge up to prevent the Germans from crossing the river Narew. Our house was not far from the river. When we came to the other side we went on close to the water. We were afraid of the gas bombs that the Germans might drop and if so it would be wise to protect your face with a wet handkerchief. On our way we met many Jews from Rozhan who had also fled. We reached the neighbouring township of Govorovo and stayed there till Thursday night. When we heard that the Germans had crossed the river, we went on, on foot, to Dlugoshioldo. On the road we met Polish soldiers who had deserted from the battlefront.
We walked all night and on Friday morning we could see from afar, on the road, a great number of soldiers. Somebody spread the rumour that these were British soldiers who had come to help the Poles; but very soon we found out to our dismay that they were Germans, and of course, we could not hope to escape.
So we walked back to Govorovo. On the road we met more German soldiers. Some of them talked to us in a friendly way and one even offered us a horse. We reached Govorovo in the evening. Tired from a long and exhausting day, we entered a house, dropped to the ground and fell asleep. Early next morning S.S. men woke us up shouting "Come out, come out!" They led us to the market place at the end of the town, near the synagogue. At the time we were: my parents o.b.m. (of blessed memory) Abraham Isaak and Esther Shafranovitch, my elder brother Fishel, my sister Golda and my younger brother Menahem. My sister Freda-Leah was already married and was not with us and my sister Tsivel was staying at Warsaw. My two eldest brothers were in Eretz-Israel: Nahman at Ein-Hashofet and Haim-Meir near Tel-Aviv. Of all these only Nahman, Haim-Meir and myself survived. May God revenge the others! They forced us to raise our hands and they took pictures. The town was in flames. The Poles were allowed to leave in horse carts with their belongings, using a small bridge not far from the synagogue, but the Jews were stopped at the market place, which was full of men, women and children, who were kept standing there for hours on end with their hands up. We didn't know what they'd do to us.
Some said they'd throw a bomb and kill us. Our uncle Geltshinsky, my mother's brother-in-law, tried to escape together with the Poles, but a Gentile betrayed him to the Germans who shot him on the spot for all to see. Thereafter any rumour could be believed, but the Nazis had a nefarious plan of their own. They led us from the market place to the synagogue and blocked all the doors. Many of the houses around were on fire and we were afraid that they were about to burn us.
Some of the Nazis came in and announced that all the able-bodied men would be taken to work. They wanted to take my brother Fishel too, but my parents entreated them with tears to leave him, as he had a crippled hand, and they agreed. That was before we knew of their intention to burn us, and we were happy that he was allowed to stay with us. After a while we saw that the house next to tsynagogue was on fire. Then my parents were distressed that they had not let my brother go. The cries and wailings in the synagogue were indescribable. Some people were injured. I saw an old woman with a wound in her belly - and nobody to help her. Many confessed themselves, prayed whatever prayers came to their lips. Utter despair reigned.
The synagogue and its courtyard were full of people. Some were standing near the bridge and all around were German guards. Just then a German officer crossed the bridge in his car; he heard the wailings, stopped and asked what it was all about. The soldiers told him that one of them had been found dead the night before and that the Jews had done it. Therefore they had decided to roast us alive. A miracle happened: the officer had mercy and he gave the order to let us out and bring us to the other side of the river. Some of the soldiers even helped old people to cross the bridge. There we were told not to budge. So we sat on the spot and witnessed how the synagogue with all the Tora scrolls of Govorovo and Rozhan was burned to the ground.
That night we slept in the open. Meanwhile the men were burying the dead. In the morning no soldier was to be seen. They had left Govorovo and it was all in ashes. We went back and found a few pear trees with fruit on them wasted in the fire. From there we moved on to Dlugoshlodlo, where we stayed until the end of the Sukkoth holiday; then we were handed over to our Russian "brothers" at Zambrov. And here began a new chapter of sufferings - but that is for others to tell.
I WAS FIFTEEN YEARS OLD (Return to Contents)
The Beginning of the Odyssey
Rumours began to spread that the Nazis were approaching. Two days later the Polish authorities advised the inhabitants of Rozhan to move to places across the river Narew. "Here," they explained, "they shall be stopped and beaten back, and, when it is over, you will be able to go back. The fighting here is going to be heavy and bloody. It is, therefore, better that no civilians should be around to hinder the troops and lower their morale."
My father sent me, a girl of fifteen, to bring movables to Ostrov-Mazovietzk, planning to join me there. I had been to Ostrov under happier circumstances when on trips and for private visits. Now it became the place, where I was cut off from my family, a stranger on my own. The town was full of strangers, Jewish refugees, who had left their shattered homes. Most of them came from Warsaw and only a minority from our neighbourhood. The feeling of being cut off seized hold of me in full force, when, going out into the street, I saw the fire which consumed my hometown of Rozhan. I knew that the bridges to my childhood were being destroyed. I was worried about my parents and restless. I couldn't sleep at night, haunted with the feeling of living a nightmare.
On the third morning my parents and my brother reached Ost. They had walked all the way, carrying with them bundlesof the basic necessities for living the oncoming dark days. They were, of course, tired and worn out, but being together again made things better. A few days later the Germans entered Ostrov, without a shot fired. The toy barricades which the Poles bad erected didn't stop them. They had caught us and we didn't know what they would do to us. I tried to console myself with the idea that, at least, we were not in Rozhan, which they had burned to the ground.
We stayed with the Greenwalds. The Jews of Ostrov behaved like brothers. The presentiment of the trouble, that would soobe our lot, still enhanced Jewish brotherhood. Rachel Greenwald, a very dear girl, was working for the Germans. Once, when she home she told us that her superior, a very terrifying Nazi, had said to her: "When I see you, I remember my daughter who is your age. Who needs this war? What devil has invented it? Here is my beloved daughter left alone at home - my wife died not long ago. What'll be my daughter's fate, if I fall in one of these battles? Who's going to take care of her? How shall she ever know what happened to her father?"
Rachel was hopeful; apparently the devil was not so black - and meanwhile one did live and work. By and by, things would arrange themselves. This story somehow allayed our fears and gave us some feeling of security. Those were the early days.
Later on they took us to work. The sister of Fishel Rosenblum and me - they treated us politely. We were not paid for our services, but nobody hurt us. As we had heard taleof horror from other refugees, we greatly appreciated this, and we also took it as an omen for the future - a fond illusion. One day, when we were on our way homefrom work, a young German urged us to hurr, as within the hour anybody found in the strwould be shot. That night a number of Jews were shot under the pretext that they had left their houses during the curfew hours.
A few days later I saw German officers and soldiers plundering Jewish shops. They had Polish children with them who - under orders or willingly - told them which shops belonged to Jews. The few Christian shops were left alone.
Bread was the staff of life and one had to stand in line for it. Then the Nazis fixed the beginning of the distribution at four in the afternoon and purposely never kept the hour; so when you saw that according to your place in line you would have to go home close to six, when the curfew and the shooting began, you preferred to forego your bread and run. They also used to harry those who were standing in line, but worst of all was the shooting in the streets, which began at dusk and went on almost without interruption throughout the night. One dreamt of the victims that were lying around and thought that, maybe, in the morning you would find a friend, an acquaintance, someone from your hometown. The constant nightmare nearly broke the will to live.
For three weeks we stayed in Ostrov under German rule and in these three weeks the Jews became like a flock of sheep, a crowd, without will or direction. Days of forced labour, hunger and harassment did this to us, hut to a child like me it was above all the nights with the shrieking bullets that disturbed your sleep and made you aware of the constant danger, that was lurking just under your window. Later on, when I came to think of it, I began to believe that these fiends, who were planning our destruction, and were ready to spend a lot of money for that purpose, also took into account the number of bullets to be fired every night in order to break down the morale of the Jews, to weaken their hearts and destroy their will to exist.
Before leaving Ostrov-Mazovietzk, mother decided to walk back to Rozhan on her own in order to fetch whatever possible from our old home. She thought that nobody would touch a single woman, and she might he able to bring back some things and food which we had prepared for an emergency. She managed to reach Rozhan, but not to come back to us. We were very downcast by mother's disappearance. I felt lonely without her and wanted all the time about her fate. Only after the war did I learn that she had indeed reached the town, which was by then in ashes. Only the bathhouse had been left standing and served as shelter for those who, unfortunately, had gone back and were now again shut in by the Germans - mother among them. I heard that together with other refugees from Rozhan she had reached Makov. But from there they were sent to Treblinka and perished. I received a postcard from her from Makov, but thereafter lost track of her. I don't know the date of her death.
Zambrov and Bialystok
At the end of three weeks - It was the morning of the Hoshana-Rabba holiday - loudspeakers announced that the town of Ostrov must be cleared of strangers. Anybody, not a native inhabitant, was to leave on foot, with permission to take with him whatever he could carry. As explanation the Germans added: "We have to think of the health of the inhabitants. Overcrowding entails the danger of contagious diseases. Therefore, strangers will leave the town to its own people."
We had to pack our bundles, as best we could and, within minutes, to appear at tmarket square, where all the refugees were to assemble. What could we take with us? We had to make haste. In the market square there was a German who delivered a speech in broken Polish, repeating his former excuse about the overcrowding, the health hazards and their responsibility to the towns people and for public order. He concluded: "We shall let you cross over the border to the Russians, where you can find places to live."
Before leaving the market square we had to pass by a number of buckets and other receptacles, which the German robbers had put there, and to throw in jewelry or any other valuables we were carrying. With a broken heart Jews had to part with their gold and silver ware. It was as if you were leaving behind your last hope, your only means of support. I still remember the heaps of jewelry, rings, watches and gold coins, that filled the receptacles to overflowing. My poor father had to throw away his watch and the remnant of his money, all he had saved through hard work.
Yet this was not all; a number of Germans began to pass between the ranks and take for themselves whatever they liked: clothes, boots, blankets, or sweaters; anything the Jews had not managed to wrap in the bundles so that these gangsters wouldn't see it. I still remember Moshe Frenkel standing there holding a counterpane in his hands like a baby in need of tender care, thinking it would serve him and his half-naked children in the approaching days of cold. One of the Germans seeing him went straight up to him and snatched the counterpane out of Moshe Frenkel's hand with a truly sadistic relish, leaving Moshe standing there like a punished child.
After this last robbery, perpetrated in spite of the promise that we would be allowed to take with us whatever we could carry, we were told to form ranks and to start marching; so we set out in a long sullen column, broken in body and spirit, towards the Great Unknown, while armed soldiers surrounded us and watched lest somebody slip off or try to come back. A few did indeed try to slink away and stay behind, but the Germans shot them down without much ado. The impression the sight made was deep as it reflected the character of the invaders and their real intentions. They would not hesitate to fire at people who showed the slightest suspicion of trying to leave the ranks, so very keen were they to send us off and to rid Poland of her Jews.
We reached Zambrov tired out from the march. We were not aware at the time that this was our salvation; that there was no more imminent danger to life and that we now had come to the frontier of a country whose rulers did not exactly love us, but at least were not bent upon murdering us. Zambrov belonged to the Russians according to the new partition of Poland, decided this time by the Germans and Russians alone with no additional partner, as on earlier occasions. A family took us into their small house and gave us a tiny where we had to sleep under the table. Zambrov had suffered damage from fires, apparently during the short stay of the Germans in town. The Jews were shattered. They had not yet lived down what had happened to them and refused to believe that they were safe even now. I never saw anybody smile. The townspeople seemed as if they envied the refugees who would soon move on beyond the range of the dangers that were looming over them. It was the only topic of conversation.
I, too, had an idea for the preparation of the long journey. Two or three days after our arrival I set out for Ostrov with Rachel Margulis to see whether we could not bring us some additional items of equipment. We slept a night in the open field outside Ostrov and waited for dawn to find a dangerous passage. Russian soldiers were sitting around and warmed themselves at the fires they had lit. When they saw us they called us to them, gave us potatoes baked in the fire and behaved in a very friendly way.
In the morning we entered the town, collected some items and returned safely to our families. We succeeded because the Germans, at that time, were not checking upon everybody who came and went. They had managed to tranquilize the local Jews, who now believed that the Germans were really concerned about their health and welfare.
As there was not enough room in the devastated town of Zambrov, for the thousands of refugees who had gathered there and who were still arriving daily, the Jewish authorities sent us on to Bialystok. There I met Chajtcha Mallakh, whose husband was in Columbiand had sent her an affidavit so that she could join him. She hoped to go to Vilna and to get out from there, but when war broke out between Germany and Russia, theGermans conquered Vilna and she perished towith her two children.
In Bialystok we lived ipoor wooden shacks, unfit to serve as dwellings. The winter was extremely severe and we had no means to heat the shacks, which had been meant for summer conditions only. In addition, the Russians began to show signs of nervousness. It was said they suspected the Germans of planting spies among the refugees. Night after night they staged surprise searches for men between the ages 18 to 50, which according to them, was the most dangerous age, and those who were caught were dispatched into the depths of Russia. This went on until June 1941, We spent many uneasy nights and suffered from the coarse behaviour of the Russians who were never sure of themselves. Everyday I was afraid afresh to lose my father and brother and to be left alone in this world in turmoil. The fear never left me.
In Faraway Russia
One day we heard a tremendous noise, as if of people scurrying about in panic. Dozens of soldiers were hurrying through the streets under the orders of the N.K.V.D. They collected Jews, who had no papers as inhabitants of Bialystok and brought them to the railway station. They went from house to house, broke in and carried the people off shelter, awakening them from their sleep. We didn't know what it was all about. It was still dark when we were loaded on trucks. They told us that our destination was the forests near Arkhangelsk. The trucks were sealed and the overcrowding unbearable. For five days we travelled without food and fresh air. We were comparatively lucky; the N.K.V.D. man who arrested us was nice as they go - maybe he was a Jew - and before leaving he told us : "Good citizens, take with you whatever you can, where you are going you shall be glad of anything."
Therefore we took some food with us, but it didn't last very long. At one station we halted opposite a trainload of recruits, who were going to the front. They threw us a little bread and sausage through the windows and thus we managed to stay alive. About the same place - near Smolenak - we met another train full of "sentenced criminals", Jews and Gentiles. They knew they had been given exile sentences, but had not been told where they were being sent, and they were worried, low spirited and complained to us. As if we were better off. We had no idea what Arkhangelsk was like or what kind of life we should expect there - in fact, in what respect was our lot different from that of these "condemned criminals"?
Arkhangelsk was a hard place to live in. In winter, the cold was terrific, down to 40 or 50 degrees centigrade below zero, while the summer was stifling. Primeval forests separated the town from the rest of the world and also isolated people from each other.
We stayed there for fifteen months. Father's job was in the tool-sharpening shop. I became a driver (of horses) and my brother reached the position of a Stskhanovitz, working in the forest uprooting trees. I, a young girl, had to carry supplies for the horses and the people. At the time an animal disease was widespread in the vicinity and visits from one village to the other were prohibited for fear of contagion. Supplies were brought to a quarantine station, where the villagers came to be disinfected and to get their stuff.
Thus I had the opportunity to meet various people and to learn of conditions around us. Once I chanced upon a young man from Makov, a driver in another village, who gave me news about mmother. I had known his family, Gerber, at Makov and had become friends with his sister. I asked for his address and through him wrote my mother a letter and received two postcards from her. That was about Purim 1941. Among other things she wrote that her brother, Abraham Lask, "was no longer living". She didn't dare to write what had happened to him.
In the autumn of 1942, when the front had penetrated into Russian soil, we were freed and told that we might go to Ulianvosk or to Kuibyshew - as we preferred. We packed our belongings and sent them off as freight. We were given a freight train and left for Kuibyshew empty-handed.
The Journey to freedom took three weeks. As it is the custom in Russia, we were provided neither with food nor facilities to rest. But I comforted myself with the thought that in Kuibyshew conditions would be tolerable. On the way my brother alighted at one of the stations to fetch bread. The Russians had a very odd custom. They would distribute bread and some hot water at some of the stations, which were crowded with people milling around. The ration was 200 grams p.c. and my brother's chances were, at best, 200 grams for all of us, but that, too, was better than nothing. Unfortunately he got lost in the terrific welter of refugees, and we never saw him again. We were not very far from the frontline and the train suddenly began to move backwards in an unforeseen direction. Maybe my brother ran after us, waving us goodbye, and we didn't see him; maybe he called our names - and we didn't hear. Anyway, be did not manage to board the train and I was again abandoned, bereft - another cruel stroke of fate, as if I hadn't suffered enough. There were only the two of us children, and I was the little sister whom everybody had spoiled, most of all he. Later on I learnt that he was seen in Tashkent, where he died.
So I was left with my father, and we made our way to a Kolhoz in the vicinity of Kuibyshew, tired and broken as we were. Father never stopped thinking about finding his son. Early In 1942 he set out to search for him. First of all he went back to the unhappy place, where we had lost him in order to gather information - but in vain. Some time later father returned to the Kolhoz with a very bad cold. He had been wandering for days with no proper clothing against the winter weather. The roads were blocked, the trains overcrowded and more than once he had travelled on the sideboard of a fast running truck - all in order to find traces of my brother. His lungs were affected, he ran a high temperature and in the end he died in my arms - the last of our family. There was not one Jew at the burial. The Gentiles arranged the funeral. As it happened there was a cemetery of Subbotniks at the Kolhoz. These were Russians, who kept the Saturday, and were ready to give their lives to sanctify it - and there they buried him. It was a small consolation: at least he was among those who kept the Sabbat.
I learnt that our Kolhoz "Bolshevik" had originally bean foundeby Subbotniks and, until the founders were submerged among a majority of newcomers, they used indeed to keep the Sabbath. We were living with a family of Subbotnik ancestry. But they were no longer "toying" with such things and had no understanding for their parents and their "crazy principles", as they called them. They wondered why these oldsters had been prepared to accept all that they suffered at the hands of both the Tsarist and the Soviet authorities, because of the weekly day of rest.
But now to return to my own fate, I had to accept the fact that I was now alone in the world. I hadto be a grownup, to harden. Yet, at the place of misfortune I could not stay. I took leave of the people of "Bolshevik" who had received me so kindly and often lent me a helping hand, and went away.
Opole - A Forgotten Extermination Center
I went to work in an oil well in the vicinity, and remained there till February 1945, when it was announced that Poles could be repatriated. I wanted to go back; above all I wanted to leave Russia, where I had spent the years of my youth in hunger, suffering and loneliness. I didn't know what I would find, but decided to return to Poland.
The Polish authorities at Kuibyshew told me to get ready, "packed up" to leave in April. I had nothing to "pack" and a month to wait. In April we all left. I hoped to meet somebody from our neighbourhood, somebody who might accept me as a relation. I even believed I might still find my mother. However, when we approached Poland, Iunderstood that there was nothing to go back to. The train stopped at Sarny in Volhynia, where I met thousands of Jews from previous transports, They spoke of the desof Polish Jewry, of Jews who had been extermand never buried, and of mass graves here and there. took us to the mass grave of the Jews at Sarny - an irregular mound untended - and I realized that I had nothing to expect from "our" Poland. Yet we continued westward until we reached Opole. On the way we could see barbed wire camps with numbers on them, the places where Jews had been gathered for extermination, They were many, real concentration camps, and I don't know why they are never mentioned in the writings about the Holocaust. Has nobody ever heard of Opole? I have seen the place, the ovens where the destruction was done.
In Opole I met members of the movement who persuaded me to join a Kibbutz, to prepare for Allyah and, in any event not to stay in Poland. I accepted the advice, but remained for another two months. Transports of returning Jews were passing there and I went to meet them all, hoping against hope to hear of my family, to learn that the bad news had been exaggerated. In the end I despaired. I met people from Rozhan, not all of whom I knew or remember now. I do remember the aunt of David Fratz and her son and members of the Grude family, one of who I knew well. I asked him to give me news of any people from Rozhan whom he might meet. Once he told me that there were some of them at Reichenbach, I went there at once and met the mother of Chaitcha Mallakh, the Bursteins and Vilgovich families, who had come back from Russia. Once I met Khatzkel Geltchnisky who told me how during his wanderings in Russia he had come to Tashkent, to find my brother there. The meeting was a sad one, as my brother was very ill at the time with nowhere to go for treatment. Khatzkel said he had given him a little money, but apparently he had not survived. He must been 21 when he died, my only brother, Hertzke.
For many years I was haunted by the horrible specter of my brother's death far from his dear ones. He died alone and neglected. I remembered what the Kolhoz women had said to me when my father died: "Your father has died as a just man, in his bed, in his home, pure to the last; he has had a proper burial and for sure will go to paradise." So, a generation after atheism and communism, women still believed in Paradise! To me this gave a little comfort. My poor brother didn't have any of that and my heart ached.
So I left Russia behind and Poland, too, where all those dear to me were buried, where I spent the years of my youth, which was no youth at all, and I came to Eretz-Israel.
I WAS JUST THIRTEEN (Return to Contents)
When the war broke out we fled to the village of Bagatella where we had many friends - the village-head among the rest. A few days later he told us to leave explaining that such were the orders he had received from the Germans, who had threatened to revenge on anybody would contravene - and that included his family, too. It was on Sabbath-Eve. Everything was ready to receive the holy day and the table was laid. We had to leave all this behind and went back to Rozhan, where we stayed for another few weeks. Those were dark days. Jews were walking about sullenly and downcast. Everyday the men had to go out to forced labor and you could never be sure of coming home safely.
One day ten Jews were to work and in the evening they were told to come back next day and woe to them if any of them were missing or exchanged for somebody else. One of them, however, broke down. He feared the heavy work more than death and also shirked responsibility towards the rest. So he disguised himself as a woman and slipped off to Makov. My uncle David Wolensky volunteered to go instead of the runaway and so the nine others were saved.
At the same time another group was made to build fortifications. The murderers killed Shmuel from the oil-mill while he was working. We were bewildered and felt helpless. One of the "good" Germans advised us to try to get away: "There'll be no life for you here." So we moved to Makov, but couldn't stay there either. The priest, one of the honest Gentiles, bribed the Nazis in order to make them let the Jews alone. They agreed on the condition that strangers who had arrived as refugees leave the town. So we had to clear out in all haste and come back to Rozhan. We stayed overnight with a Gentile woman, called Brengoshova, whose son was known as a rabid Jew-hater and had become infamous for his cruelty to the Jews of Rozhan and the vicinity, when the Germans occupied the town. Yet, oh wonders! It was his mother who took good care of us that night, in the teeth of her son's resistance. More than that; at her behest he went out to see that there were no Germans around so I might go and save something from our old home. I arrived there under his protection but found it destroyed. So I returned to the Brengoshova, where we also found the Greenwalds and my aunt Rebecca and her children. We understood that we had to move as soon as possible. Mother went to the market to buy some food for us and for the rest, but one Polish woman hit her over the head and shouted: "How dare you show your face here and buy things that are for Christians?" So that mother could buy nothing.
We went to Dlugoshlodlo and near the road we found corpses of Jews who had just been murdered and who were still bleeding. We slipped away to Govorovo. There we found a wooden shack at some distance from the town and hid in it. We hoped to rest after the tiresome journey, but very soon I felt like choked. I rushed out crying: "It's terribly hot in here!" We all rushed out and saw that the shack was on fire. The Germans had found out and decided to deliver us to certain death: to roast us in our hideout. So we ran into the open field as best we could. They descried us, began to shout "Halt!" (Stop) and showered us with bullets, one of which hit my uncle. We wanted to stop and assist him but he only raised his head calling: "Run, children, Escape, don't tarry." One of the Germans walked up, hit him over the head and finished him off with the rifle butt, not to waste another bullet on him. Next he turned on us. We saw that we couldn't get away, that he'd reach us, so we came back to him, hugged him and kissed his uniform and entreated him to let us live. Somehow he had pity on us and let us go. We couldn't go further and spent the night in the field. Next morning aunt Chajtcha and somebody else went to bumy uncle, in his clothes and in the very place where he had died. Thefound on him a charity box, which he had saved, hoping in vain to carry it to its destination.
When we reached Govorovo we were at once directed to the Market Square where the inhabitants had been assembled. After a long while people were ordered to gather at the places of worship: the Jews in the synagogue and the Christians in their church. As we entered the building I could see many Jews lying on the ground in the courtyard bleeding from severe wounds. It seems they had failed to hurry while squeezing in and the German has shot them and left them where they had fallen, some dead, some dyin. I shall never forget that sight. Some had been shot in their faces, blinded and gored with broken skulls, past recog.
Horrible beyond description was the sight of the girl whose belly had been torn open so that her bowels were spread on the ground. There was also our neighbor Judith Schreiber lying between the dead, wounded in her face, distorted and writhing in pain. I saw more people of Rozhan who were no longer living: Shlomo Zinamon, Shemlke Plotka - I do not remember all the names.
I have no remembrance of how I managed to squeeze in and get out again. When all the Jews were inside, the Germans sprayed the synagogue with kerosene and set it on fire. Suddenly, I felt as if dried up, choking and terribly thirsty. I went for a drop of water from a pump in the courtyard with a little cup in my hand. That very moment a car drew up and stopped. A short, rather fat officer stepped out and asked: "What's the matter h?" Lower ranked soldiers - his subordinates explained: "Here we can destroy all the Jews at one stroke." He interrupted them and in a quiet, determined way told them: "This is too much." He gave the order to open the dooand shouted: "Out!"
Only one word but, it worked like magic.The Jews came pouring out, while the walls were already on fire. Half-naked people bounded over each other - it had been so hot inside that many had begun to pull their clothes off. At first being outside, I didn't grasp what was happening. One of the Germans seized me and tried to push me back, but was swept on by the crowd that was breaking out.
I was standing a little distance looking for somebody whom I knew. I saw my father coming out of the door, running, while he held a Talith (prayer shawl) in his hand. Everybody was running down to the river for some water. The turmoil was terrific. Down there I searched for my parents, my family. I was afraid - I had never entered the river alone, but now I had to cross it. Instinctively I raised my braids over my head and managed to get across. My parents were not there. I was running around like mad - like everybody else and crying. One German soldier with a tender and merciful look on his face approached me and tried to soothe me. He even offered me some food. But I wouldn't take it. I was only looking for my parents and repeated my quest again and again but in this he couldn't help me - nobody could. In the end we found each other, the whole family and we returned to Rozhan - where else could we go? We crossed the river in a boat and came back to Rozhan, which was in ruins. We were not alone. A number of families with children joined us. On the way we met some Germans who forced the Jews to cut off each other beards, to dance and to sing. They also gathered the children together and made us dance and sing. We sang, we danced, we cried, sobbed - and were afraid. For some time they enjoyed themselves until tired of it they let us go. In fact they did not set us free, but all of a sudden, we realized that they had gone. So we went back to our parents and continued on our way. In Rozhan there was no place where you could lay your head. So we left and turned to Kossov, where the Jews received us with open arms in an unforgettable way. It was the Sabbath, but everybody was eager to help: they brought us clothes and food. The adults were given a place to sleep in the synagogue, while the children were taken to different families and returned to their parents in the morning. Next day we left these dear Jews of Kossov and went on to Bialystok, and from there scattered all over the world. Some to Russia and to Siberia. We were among the few who were rescued. But the great majority perished, the Jews of Kossov among them - as the Germans were already entering their town, when we left. My father died in Siberia, Meshullam Negal in Turkestan. They are both buried in Jewish cemeteries. At the end of 1945 we arrived in Eretz-Israel.
WHAT I REMEMBER (Return to Contents)
From Rozhan to the Hell of Ostrov
Three days before the war my regretted wife gave birth to our daughter - our boy was 4 1/2 years old at the time. I was then employed at the barracks of the Polish army as a saddler, and was earning well. I had good reason to dream of a rosy future: many children and a decent return for the handiwork I was doing. In a word, I felt happy and the German bomb attacks, which came as a surprise to the Polish state, shattered my life, too. I was awestricken andbewildered.
We knew that Rozhan, as a fortified place, would be a target for bomb attacks of the Germans who would first of all want to destroy the bridge over the river Narew, to cut off the town and to vent their spleen on it without hindrance.
Therefore I decided to leave for Govorovo, but two days later firing started there, and we continued our flight to Ostrov-Mazovietzk. There was panic, no cart was to be hired and went on foot. The Germans spotted the refugees and their planes pursued us. They were flying low and strafing us with the machine-guns. We would run, drop to the ground each time a plane approached and then continue to run. In this way we made 35 km. with the noise of planes and the shrieking of the bullets over our heads all the time wearing us out.
When we reached Ostrov our baby seemed lifeless. We refused to accept the fact and even with the primitive means at our disposal we succeeded in reviving her and she lived on for a while under the Nazi terror. The Germans reached Ostrov two or three days late and immediately began to hunt for men to work for them. They behaved like dogcatchers. Two or three of them would assault a Jew in the street and carry him off to a concentration point for slave laborers. The work itself was of no importance to them. Their aim was to degrade us with the show of their power. That's what gave them satisfaction and pleasure, and they liked to take pictures of such "historic scenes" - the devil knows what for?
As time went on they improved their methods. They would invade Jewish homes - as Jews would no longer venture out into the streets - drag the men out brutishly and force them to go to the appointed place, with hands raised. There they would be kept for hours on end with their hands up. The process would take hours. As a place of assembly they had chosen the courtyard of the town hall. On the balcony a Nazi was standing, machine-gun in hand, watching the Jews intently. Woe to the man who would let his hands down for a moment: the culprit would be beaten mercilessly. That was the first day and we were afraid that they had gathered us here to liquidate us. When after hours of this ordeal, we were permitted to sit down, we felt better; yet there were more hours of anxious, nerve-wracking expectation. In the end two Germans appeared on the balcony and one of them explained that from now on no Jew would be allowed to be in the streets after 5. Trespassers would be shot on the spot. Windows in Jewish houses must be darkened any crack of light would be fired into. It was forbidden to assault any German and Jews had to salute Germans they met by taking off their hats.
After this "illuminating" speech we were told to go home. The hour was already half past five, when any Jew was liable to be shot without warning. People began to run like mad for their houses. We were thousands of refugees from many places, running, pushing, stumbling, falling down while the shots were ringing, some to frighten us and some to kill. it happened we encountered a column of Nazis who began to hit us with theirrifle-butts over the head and over the most sensitive parts of the body. When we got some distance away from them, they began to fire indiscriminately. I ran and hid in a courtyard where many Jewish victims had gathered. I didn't know the place and it was already dark and cold and I stayed hidden there all night. In the early morning I ran back to my family and before long I knew who were the dead in the courtyard where I had been hiding. Soon I heard of additional victims and I saw myself how they entered a bakery and murdered the baker's son. After a short while we were again called up for forced lunder the same circumstances: "Hands up! Walk! Run!" Vexation at work, scorn and photos to commemorate the e.
To Vilna via Zambrov
It was now the time of the High Holidays. We arranged for a Minyan (10 people) in my uncle's house and prayed. We knew we were risking death in doing so, but we felt a vital need for it. It was like the remnant of our self-respect, of our will power. We posted a guard outside to warn us of any approaching danger and prayed.
Two more weeks passed and in the streets appeared posters of the kind which later on made you shiver in your bones. They said: "All refugees who do not belong to the original inhabitants of Ostrov, must leave within 24 hours! Contravention to be punished by death on the spot!" Together with my father (of blessed memory) I ran to find a cart, in order to save what might be saved. On the Russian side we found a Gentile who was ready to come, stay overnight and next morning carry our belongings over thborderline. It was agreed that he stay with us, but at four in the afternoon he had second thoughts about the arrangements and we had to leave at once, as he demanded. had some difficulty in persuading my father that the the better. He worried about our younger brother, who was at folabor outside town. My mother, who had a permit, ran to his working place to hurry his arrival and as soon as he turned up we set out. It was already late afternoon, when we left and reached the Russian side at a few km. from Zambrov.
Compared with the German soldiers with their shining uniforms, the Russian soldiers looked rather poorly dressed. They were a depressing sight and I began to doubt the solidity of their system. We did not want to stay near the place where the Nazis had humiliated and tortured us and went on to Zambrov. A Jewish tailor took us into his house; otherwise we would have found it hard to find shelter, as we were in fact two families: my parents together with my brother and two sisters and my own family.
The atmosphere in town was gloomy and frightening. People had no hopes and tomorrow's portents overshadowed everything. On top of all this, the Jewish authorities were entirely different from what we had witnessed at Ostrov. Here the heads of the community had become giddy with their power. We decided to leave Zambrov behind, too, and to go to Vilna, where we had a brother and the Russian administration was stable and orderly. Rumor had it, that the authorities there were more liberal and that ways to the outside world might be found.
We travelled by way of Bialystok. Communications were bad and trains didn't run on schedule. Nobody could tell when our train would be moving. We waited not knowing why it had stopped and when it would go on. The Soviet regime, that pretends to supervise man in all his doings and prescribe his way of life and thought, revealed itself in all its nakedness. Shiftlessness, lack of concerted action and order were the hallmark of everything.
In the end, after many vicissitudes, we reached Vilna and felt much better. Our brother received us well. We could wash and rest and sat down for a regular meal at the table. Hope was again kindled in our heart. A few days later my brother rented an apartment for us. We settled down and began to live again. Temperatures went down to 25 degrees C. below zero. It was an exceptionally cold winter. I did roadwork, which was hard, but we managed to get by on it and support our morale and the will to endure. My comrades at work were Polish scientists, professors, judges, senior officials and released criminals. One had to queue up for the meager food rations and prices rose from day to day. Our comfort under these difficulties was that maybe, from Vilna we might escape abroad. Here I met Hannah Blum and her family. Welwel, Beilis, Rivka Nagel (Mallakh). Our common birthplace, Rozhan, made us draw together and we talked about our several plans.
Welwel Beilis had two sons and a daughter. The elder son, Moish'ke escaped to Japan. Welwel began a trade in hides and had already a forged travel document and was about to leave. Then, one Saturday morning, when I was going to work in a driving rain, all wrapped up in my rags, I saw a truck standing before Welwel's house and Russian police dragging him out, with his wife and son, and beating them with their rifle-butts. The daughter was not with them. They werexiled to Siberia and I pitied them and their lot, but owing to this they got away with their lives, while the daughter was in the ghetto together with me and later on was martyred in Slonim, where one of her relatives had taken her expressly to save her. Those were the wondrous ways of those days.
Again in the Hands of the Nazis
June 1941. The Germans entered Vilna and imposed their Nazi regime aided by the local Lithuanian population. For a few days nothing happened and we were left alone. My brother kept his barber-shop open and the Lithuanians continued their usual contact. Owing to this brother we had enough to eat. One day under Nazi order Lithuanians surrounded our house and demanded the surrender of gold and other valuables. The men were told to take soap and a towel and to come with them. The women had to leave the apartments too, and they were asked to surrender the keys to the doorkeepers. There was talk of concentrating the Jews in one part of the town in a kind of open ghetto, but nobody knew where he was being led and what his fate would be. The Polish doorkeeper of No. 14 Stephen Street, where my brother lived, went ahead with them part of the way. When he returned he said, he had heard they were to be kept at Ponar for seven days and then set free.
In fact, that day the Jews were made to dig pits - their own graves - and when they had worked all day and their forces were spent, they were killed in the very pits they had dug. To this day I don't know, what the doorkeeper meant by his story; maybe he knew the truth and wanted to spare us. My brother was among the first victims of Vilna-Ponar and then began the manhunts; everyday the "catchers" passed through the ghetto streets, seizing people and leading them to the Ponar for extermination. From six in the morning till six at night they were at their job, apparently to fill the quota they had to hand in. My father too fell victim to one of these manhunts.
I as a saddler was working for them. Because of this I got a pass and was able to bring some food to my children. Until the ghetto was finally sealed, I used to work on Plotzki Street for the Lithuanian mounted police and was reckoned as a "highly useful Jew". When the ghetto was sealed off, the S.S. officer in charge of the workshop tried to obtain a permit for me to leave the ghetto, but he failed and I had to stay inside with the rest.
Our condition worsened from day to day. The manhunts became more and more frequent and in one of them my mother, sister-in-law, two sisters and a cousin were caught - may their memory be blessed. A Friday was the last day of their lives. The hunt occurred near our house and they were in fact taken out of our apartment.
I was saved by a marvel and this is how it happened: before the manhunt I crossed from our courtyard to the neighboring one - through a gap in the fence - I had heard that there was a secret vault there, where one could hide, and I wanted to prepare a shelter for the family. However, the vault didn't look right and I decided not to put the children in there for fear they might smother even beforwe were detected. So I went back home and suddenly I saw my wife running towarme with both children in her arms. So we ran together and entered a room where many Jews were huddled together. There we stood waiting for what we thought was inescapable death. Suddenly a door opened close to the spot where I was standing and a hunchback peeped into find out what all the hubbub was about. We all crowded into that room in panic and by chance somebody moved a cupboard uncovering a secret door, through which we passed to safety, the door closing behind us.
From the window I could see the miserable Jews who were being carried to the Ponar. I could hear their desperate cries and wails as theywere beaten while being loaded on the trucks. I knew that my dearest were among them, but could not rescue t.
In the evening we returned to our apartment, to life... Those who had been near and dear to me had been sent to their deaths. I would never see them again and yet we returned to live. My greatest care was food for the little ones. Risking my life I slipped out of the ghetto to get something to eat for them and so we carried on. It was a miracle that we managed to keep our two little ones alive, while only the strongest and the rich remained hidden in bunkers in the homes of Gentiles who demanded large sums for their help.
Miracles in the Ghetto
A couple of months later I was detailed to work in a sawmill. Rumors spread to the effect that the whole ghetto was to be liquidated and only 20,000 Jews would receive yellow cards and all the others would be exterminated. Some Jews were "in the know" before the others. They hadlearned the contents of the redeeming piece of paper and had them ready for themselves. The cards were meant to be given to those whose profession was most required. I wafirst in line to receive a card, but somebody on the Jusold them to the rich and I was left earmarked for extermination. At thtime I was working in a group of 30 Jews, among whom was a rabbi who survived and is now living in Haifa. I was told that there was no card for me and that I was to stay in the ghetto. I knew full well what that meant. Next day they would come, take their victims and carry them off straight to the Ponar. So I ran to look for that vault. I found an iron door behind which the "chosen", the holders of the yellow cards, had hidden their families. I raised the door and entered with my wife and children. There was general objection - but to no avail. I pushed my family in. The air was stifling and our baby began to cry heart-rendingly. Somebody taunted me: because of this baby we would all be discovered and executed. They asked me to strangle her, lest she betray us. A few of the younger ones attacked me, ready to murder me and my little daughter; others, more educated ones, recoiled from murder, but began to try and convince me: "Look here: you are still young, can have more children. If we do not silence that baby, we are all lost, including yourself, your wife, and children." They proposed to me to draw aside a little while they would choke her. I began to cry like a child. My heart broke, could I let my child be killed - but then, how could I endanger so many lives. My conscience smote me and I nearly gave in and I was already being seized by the hand and dragged aside and then I went mad. Some superhuman force possessed me. I shook them off and flung them away and that very moment a miracle happened. The younger people, who had been assailing me, apparently sensed danger and bolted to escape from the cellar, while we were left behind. Next the Lithuanian murder gang arrived and ordered everybody to step out. I was the last. I fought them off one after the other and they left me, but then there was one who insisted that I come out or else he'd shoot us on the spot. So we obeyed. It was dusk when we walked down Spital Street towards the gates of death. I knew full well where we were going, so we slipped away and entered Shawli lane; we climbed up a flight of steps that had belonged to a house which was no longer standing. It was a shambles, looked as after a pogrom. We reached the attic, in fact its upper store, and there we lay down. We could see the Germans and their Lithuanian tools roaming the streets, uncovering the hideouts here and there, dragging Jews out, beat them up and kill them on the spot. The sight almost drove us out of our wits. We knew they had scheduled three days for the liquidation of the ghetto and this was only the first.
After six in the evening the street became quiet. Instincts prompted me to stir among the ruins. I found matches and a thermos bottle. I stepped down into the street and looked for a place to hide and shelter us. The house bordered on the courtyard of our former dwelling place. I went down Spital Street, where on the one side the Jewish hospital had been and on the other the Jewish police. It was dark by now and one could see nothing. Suddenly I heard on the opposite sidewalk: I cried out: "Hello! Can you hear me?" It was a Jewish policeman, who was dumbfounded when he heard me speaking Yiddish. Then he called back: "What're you doing here? Are you mad? Gans will come and do for you!" I knew who Gans was and began to cry and to beg. I told him of the tragedy in the cellar, how I had managed to save my baby's life and I asked him to help me get her into the hospital - maybe she would be safe there and for us, too, it would be easier to hide. He refused, and only advised me to put her down at the gate - maybe passersby would find and rescue her. I didn't accept his advice, wouldn't abandon her. In the deep darkness I couldn't see the expression on his face: was he softening or did he still insist? I entreated him and in the end he acceded and went to the hospital to find out whether they could take her in. Meanwhile I went back and brought my wife and children down from the attic. They had already despaired from ever seeing me again.
Meanwhile the policeman came back and told me: "Give me the baby. Let's see, something may be done." My wife went with him lest she begin to cry and would have to be soothed. We couldn't even kiss her good-bye; from afar I could hear the parting. Both my wife and our daughter were sobbing. She felt she was giving up her dearest. When she returned we began to make plans where to hide next.
We passed by the cellar of our misfortune and found a woman there under a pile of rags. She came out and joined us. Next we returned to our house, beyond the wall, where the Golomb family used to live. I heard some noises from below the floorboards. I found the house empty but the pounding and noises were distinctly audible. I found a large kitchen knife and pried loose two of the boards and then something occurred which I shall never forget: clouds of vapor arose from the opening I had made as if from a bath house - it was the pent-up breath of the hideaways. Good God! How could they have been breathing down there? These Jews had to be saved. Had they escaped death at the hands of the Nazis only to die from asphyxiation, which is the most horrible form of death?
I tried to pry loose another board to widen the exit for them, but then one of them climbed out and wanted to kill me for betraying them. I managed to reassure him and the others and explained that I only wanted to conceal my wife and child while I would stay outside and cover them up. I was dead tired, covered the bunker and went to look for a hiding place for myself. I returned to the courtyard, which served a number of houses with outhouses and coal shacks. In one of these I decided to stay hidden overnight. I leaned a number of boards obliquely against the wall and spent the night underneath them, like a horse in its stall after a day's work. I stood staring into the empty darkness, unable to think; only heaving a sigh of exhaustion and despair from time to time. In the street I could hear the cruel shouts of the Lithuanians, drunk with lust of murder. Even these didn't stir me. Suddenly I hard shouts of joy from the drunkards and the desperate cries of a little girl of maybe, ten: "Let me live! I am so small! Mercy! Let me go!" But they didn't.
For two days I was left standing hidden behind those boards , when the three days allotted to the annihilation of the ghetto came to an end, I crept out. I ran straight back to my dear ones and opened the bunker. Again clouds of vapor came forth and stifling smells, but nobody had died. They all climbed out and began to settle again in their empty houses. I went to see my little girl in the hospital. My heart was beating as a rumor had been spread that among the many thousand victims there were also the inmates of the hospital. I found her however alive - only her curly hair had been shorn.
In the Ghetto after Liquidation
We went back to our house on Spital Street. All who had been hiding in the bunkers were now back. Jews wanted to survive, were hoping for something.However, we had no yellow cards and without these it was dangerous to be seen in the streets. They also served as food coupons and with their help one might find work and bread.
I strolled through the streets to get something to eat for my family. I saw people who had bought their yellow cards and others who were selling them, as they had been unable to obtain the cards they were entitled to. The Germans were looking for skilled artisans and couldn't find any. Now they became aware of the cheating but didn't do anything about it. They had to issue additional "living certificates" that were now called "extra papers" (Zugabe-Scheme). For these, too, you needed "pull". With great difficulty I got one from the Jewish authorities for a bribe and ...because of party affiliation. I sold a blanket and gave the moneyto somebody who was employed by the S.S. and so, in the end, I obtained the cherished piece of paper.
As I began to work I found ways to bring food home. I was employed inmy own profession on Politzker Street. I worked for the Lmounted police and for the Germans who were quartered in the former Polish barthere. With me there was another elderly Jewish saddler, and a number of Jews, men and women, were employed in various services. My situation was good. I received a laissez-passer and was allowed to go by myself and not in a group led by a "brigadier", as was the custom. I was able to take things from home to the barracks, to sell them there and to buy victuals instead.
I had a round toolbox, with which I never parted, as it also served me as "advertisement" of my trade. I had my working tools hanging outside, while inside I used to keep other things. I also used to wear two pair of trousers, the under one tied round the ankles, so that I could use them as bags for potatoes or groats, while the upper pair served as camouflage. Flour I used to carry in little bags, put as padding on my shoulders. The risk was considerable, but I had no choice. At the ghetto gates they frisked people and the Lithuanians enjoyed the double fun of their booty and the beating of the victim the search would entail. Each time to enter the ghetto was like entering Hell. As I could go to work and come back by myself, I sometimes hid my stuff somewhere in order to save me the trouble. Sometime I even left things valuable to myself and to the family at my place of work and came home empty-handed.
The head of the mounted police, an S.S. Lieutenant, did his murderous job with gusto. One day a horse got a bruise from the saddle, whereupon he called us to report to him. We knew what was in store. We went in terror and bewilderment. He asked: "What to do in such a case?" One of us took his courage in both hands and said: "Must be padded above." That answer maddened him and he shouted with all his might: "How do you talk? Don't say 'above', above is only one - God; you should say 'higher up'" - and then in the same breath: "Is there a God in this world or no?" So we kept silent and he added with biting sarcasm: "How could there be a God? It would be impossible for him to look on how you are tortured and do nothing."
This time we got away unscathed. He left us the saddle to mend and stalked out.
My partner at work was a native of the place and had many acquaintances in the villages around. He used to take pieces of leather from our workshop, bring them to the peasants and, in exchange, would receive butter and eggs for his family. One time a German sergeant, who used to search those who were returning from work, met him in a village, and I saw how that German brute killed my elderly mate, felled him to the ground and left him there. He never touched me. I made him halters for his horses and sometimes gave him pieces of leather, which he would sell when going on leave to Germany. He also brought me pieces of cloth from his home in barter for items he wanted. He fairly shielded me from all evil.
What I Saw and Heard in the Ghetto
Because of my profession, which was in great demand, I and others like me enjoa privileged "status" in the ghetto. I was however eyewitness to a number of cases - or heard of them at first hand from those directly involved - and they left an indelible impression on me. I am going to relate a few of them here. Early in 1943 the ghetto was sealed off and I, too, could no longer leave it. The sergeant knew, that I had a cupboard in the workshop where various items were locked in, and that I had the key. One Monday he took me to the workshop to get the stuff out. However, we found the cupboard broken in. The Lithuanians had carried off whatever had been there. When I told him that I had left merchandise for barter in a number of villages - on his account and on my own - he accompanied me there and had me collect the produce for both of us under his protection. First we went back to the barracks, where he gave me my fair share of the victuals and then he sent a Lithuanian with me to the ghetto with a cart and gave him orders to drive inside and not to leave me at the gate - so that I would not be searched. I arrived laden with flour, groats, bread and potatoes, which kept us alive for a couple of weeks.
In the ghetto the Germans heard of my skill as a craftsman, so they set me to work to make warm galoshes of felt and leather for the Nazi soldiers. They paid me some money and from the food they gave me I could spare some for my family.
One day they took a group of people to work outside the ghetto. I, too, was in that group and there I met Rivka Nagel (Mallakh). She was barefoot, had a peasant woman's kerchief on her head and wore no yellow-rag on her clothes. So I could see, that she had gone underground and was living in freedom outside. I didn't talk to her, so as not to attract attention, but we both knew the secret. I never saw her again.
A few days later after the ghetto was sealed off, rumors began to spread of intentions to liquidate it, of quotas for forced labor and, finally, extermination. One felt utterly helpless; yet, as long as we lived and somehow found means to feed the children, we allayed our fears and tried to console ourselves with all kinds of logical arguments; the whole thing doesn't stand to reason. We have survived the liquidation; we are being useful; there is no sense in destroying us - and other illusions and self-deceptions.
The truth was, however, that the extermination process went on all the time, although only few people were aware of the fact. At one time partisans came in and confirmed the fact; they had witnessed some cases. So the danger became concrete and it was never out of mind. Two women and a girl joined us, who had escaped from a death pit at the Ponar. They had hidden under a heap of corpses and when the shooting ceased they climbed out of the pit, naked, picked up some of the clothes that were lying around, and returned to the ghetto. So the rumors were confirmed. The Jewish police isolated these women at once to prevent the story from spreading - but the news was already known and all the ghetto was seething.
There was talk of a delegation of partisans who came to see Gans (the head of the Judenrat), told him that they were planning a rebellion, and asked him to prepare his men for the event. They also revealed, that some of their people and groups within the ghetto had hidden arms in one of the lanes. Gans waof the opinion that a rebellion would achieve nothing. The Nazis and their localhelpers were too strong and there was no chance of overcoming them. He thought that the best thing was to continue as before, in spite of more executions and victims, in the end some would survive, while, in case of a rebellion the whole ghetto would be wiped out. It was related that the delegates finally acceded to this view. His arguments had convinced them and it was agreed on both sides to encourage the escape in to the woods. For that the Jews had to find arms, as the partisans would accept nobody who came with empty hands. Gans knew this and undertook to find arms.
From then on Jews began to leave for the wooby tens, every day. This was an unprecedented rescue operation and hundreds of people owe their lives it - but it did not last long. Among the last group of escapees there was a Pole, whom the Jews had agreed to take with them out of pity and he turned traitor. The night on which the group's departure was planned he did not turn up. He had betrayed them. The Jews were arrested one by one and executed after indescribable torture.
Final Liquidation of the Ghetto
It was the month of Elul 1943. Rumors were rife that the ghetto was to be finally liquidated. As always, nobody could tell where these rumors originated, but everybody knew there was good reason to believe them, and yet people trusted that the end might be put off. The inhabitants of the ghetto had seen so many "Actions", so they assumed it would be no more than another.
One morning we were ordered to get ready to leave, as the gwas to be terminated. We began to pack whatever we had in bundles. I prepared small rucksacks for the children and then we went down into the cellar. However, the memories former experiences down there were frightening. So I ascen, covered up those who were hiding downstairs and stayed outside with the members of my . Better trust on a chance miracle to happen than endure the stifling air in the cellar. Later on I learned that I had been right and all the others lost their lives. The bunker became their grave. Next day we were led out to a siding, where those who were to be liquidated were assembled. We passed a double row of soldiers armed with machine-guns and at the end we were sorted out - those who were to die at once, and those who would have to endure still more. That walk between the double wall of hatred was terrible. Children were crying, the bundles were heavy, despondency and the feeling that the end was near tagged at the nerves to breaking point. When we had covered a distance of about one-kilometer, we were separated: men on one side and women and children on the other. I wanted to take the boy with me and help him by the hand, but a Lithuanian officer tore him away with a shout: the order was that children had to follow their mothers. I never held the little hand again. I never was to see my wife and my little daughter again.
That night even the skies wept and a pelting rain poured down while we were standing between that double row without roof or shelter over our heads. The desperate cries of the parting mingled with heart-rending wails of little children who asked for some protection against the wet and the cold. We could hear the children crying in spite of the distance between us and in spite of the rain and wind, but we were unable to help them.
We were left at the siding for a whole day and night, waiting for what our tormentors would do next. The Lithuanians exploited the darkness and our miserable condition and they robbed us of our last belongings and the little food we had prepared in our bundles. In the morning the Germans came to search for "rebels" and took the members of the "Judenrat" with them. I thought they were looking for skilled workers and ran after them crying: "I am a craftsman, one of those you need." But meanwhile I understood that again treason had been at play. There were indeed rebels amongst us and they were handed over.
They were four men and a woman. The Germans hanged them in public, so that we might see and be cowed. Therefore we all saw these heroes going to their deaths. They mounted the platform with sure steps; each one put the noose around his neck, with his own hands and then jumped off. I could see the scene in all its details, as I was standing near the gate. If there is heroism in man - here it was. None greater than this!
On the Road to Estonia
After the hangings they marched us to the railroad trucks that were kept ready for us. We had to form columns and were urged forward with rifle-butts. Then we were pushed inside the trucks and beaten all the while. The space became overcrowded to an incredible extent and the small windows wehardly sufficient to let the breath and sweat vapors out. In the middle of the car there was a hole originally meant to sweep the cattle droppings and urine out; now it had to serve human cattle and the stench became unbearable. One day at dusk, when the train had been standing still for some time, it began to move in a queer way and we felt that something must be the matter. Some of us climbed up to the little windows that were barred with iron and barbed wire. We realized then that the train did not move forward at all but was circling the Ponar as if waiting for something. Amongst us, we had a young doctor aged about 35, an unusually stout man. When he saw that the train kept close to the Ponar he went mad and began to shriek: "Save yourselves as best you can! Get away! Else they'll kill us all at the Ponar the same as they have murdered all the others! We are at the Ponar and that means only one thing: death!"
Meanwhile he tried to get through that narrow opening which was impossible, but it exemplified our miserable and desperate condition. Such a fat body trying to squeeze itself through that small window, which was barred - all in terror of death. We pulled him back, lest he push his head between the iron bars and choke himself to death and if not for fear. The Germans might see him, take this for an attempt to escape and then we all would have had to suffer. I too thought of getting away, but not by way of the window. I planned to use the opening in the floor but I hesitated for fear of hurting myself when falling upon the sleepers of the railroad. I could not muster the courage to throw myself down and stayed inside with the rest.
We were crowded together, aching, hungry and thirsty and when in need to relieve ourselves we had to step over human bodies to reach the only hole in the floor. Thus it went on for a couple of days until we reached Estonia. The cities there received a quota of slave-labourers in return for faithful service to the Nazis. At each stop a carload of slaves would be left behind while the train moved on.
One morning, as we were standing in a station, we could see, by the window, Jews who had arrived on a previous transport. Among them I recognized three brothers from Vilna with whom I had been working at the students' house, serving the Nazis who were quartered there. I approached the window in order to talk to them and then I learnt that we were in Estonia. They had no belongings at all and were all in rags and tatters. "They take away from you everything." News of that kind we had met with so often.
In Kibiuli Camp, Estonia
A few days later the slaves were allotted to their Estonian masters. Finally about 500 Jews were left in seven railroad trucks and nobody turned up to take us. This was a very frightening situation, as, unless we were needed for labor, we might - God forbid - be sent to extermination. For three days they kept moving us around until we finally arrived at Kibiuli, where they had a mine of selnitz as they called it, a kind of brown coal that was dug up and sent to the factory as fuel.
We were unloaded with much cruel beating. Soldiers and Ukrainians, who had been brought in to assist the Gestapo, stood ready for our reception. They made us run over a long distance until, tired out we reached the Labor camp. The harsh conditions there were a kind of relief to us. We felt better as we were needed now for work and we had a new on life. In the camp we were led into a courtyard, in military order thirty in a r, a distance of three steps between the rows. We stood ready but no order to move was given. After exhausting hours of standing and waiting we got the order: "Three steps forward. Leave bundles where they are!" Only then, without our bundles we were sent to our barrack blocks, divided into groups one to each hut. We never got our bundles back.
Next day we were sorted out for labor. We were asked if anyone of us knew German, and as Tripilevits did, he was appointed "camp elder" and saw to it that we received food rations. Two big cauldrons were set up to provide hot food. Eighty women were there, who had been picked up brought to Estonia before the liquidation and they did the work in the improvised kitchen. Food wanot bad. A loaf of bread for three working persons. This was not given for any humanitarian reasons but only to keep people fit to do their job.
We used to work in the factory, dig trenches for defense or do other kinds of hard work. Hardest of all was the pushing of the cinder lorries. The brown coal left a great amount of ashes and we had to run in order to keep us with the clearing. The cinders piled up in heaps and we used to erect platforms from which the lorries might then glide down to be emptied. The cinder heaps used to slip and were stopped by the corpses of Jews who had been shot on various occasions and were left here to serve as barriers. We know this and had to behave as if these horrors were nonexistent.
For eight months we stayed there. The Kibicamp was the "best" in all Estonia. We had rabbis and doctors. We had a Tora-scroll and prayed in a "Minyan" every day and read the weekly portion. Our food was Kosher and under circumstances that was a great comfort. It was a boon to knowthat we were able to maintain our Jewishness. Food was sufficient. There were two brothers us, gangsters from the underworld. They were employed in transportation and could bring some additional victuals for all the inmates of the camp. And finally there was Tripilevitz, the camp elder, the soul of honesty, who gave his loving care to any and everyone. All these circumstances combined to make the Kibiuli camp better than others and we though it might go on until the day of freedom would dawn. However, as the Russians began to advance to the west, the labor camps near the Russian border were wound up and we, too, had to move west.
The last days in the camp were days of unforgettable horror. Germans from camps that had been closed down were transferred to ours and here they let fly. Tripilevits lost his former connections and he, too, came under attack. Conditions worsened from day to day and sometime we were on the verge of despair. We felt that our foe was near his downfall, but the heart was full of doubt whether we'd live to see that day. Meanwhile we got hold of a radio and received underground newspapers, so we heard of the events on the world scene and of the situation on the war front. The teacher Tabatchnik and his brother used to listen to the news at night and in the morning they would tell us what they had heard or read. We knew that the end of the Nazis was drawing near. We were waiting for the Day of Liberation and our patience grew thin. We thought that before long we would be rescued from the hell we were in and set free. Tortures and humiliations became unbearable, yet as time went on new troubles arose with ever increased and refined cruelty.
Among the Jews there were Dr. Volkovsky, Shoshkes and another man, whose name I forget. They would carouse with the Germans and, when spirits were high, they tried to secure all kinds of alleviation and promises for us. Once when they were thus sitting together and talking over their meat and drink, one of the Jews said to the Germans: "You are near the end of you tether. The wicked among you and their helpmates will be punished, but you are our friends and benefactors. We shall speak for you and save you."
The German medical orderly overheard this and told the Gestapo, who began to watch Shoshkes and the doctor. They also changed their attitude towards Tripilevitz. Next day a German doctor, a Dr. Bitman, arrived instead of the Jewish doctor and the new man decided to sort out the Jews and separate the weak from those who were fit for work. He arranged for a parade and passing between the ranks selected about 10% and ordered them to step aside. When the first 20 had thus been set aside and handed over to the guards, some Jews made use of an opportunity arising when the guards attention was averted and rejoined the ranks. Bitmaremarked this. His lust of murder boiled over and, breaking into the first ranks, he seized some 25 young men indiscriminately and murdered them.
On the same occasion hundreds of Jews were "selected" for certain death. They were transferred to the military camp and held there all night. Among them were Dr. Volkovsky and Shoshkes. Tripilevits was still with us, but under house arrest. That was an unforgettable night of horror. We knew perfectly well what would happen to those who had been taken away and it was anybody's guess what was in store for us.
In the morning Tripilevits was still in charge of the daily parade. He knew it was his last. The Nazis had told him that those who had been removed were being sent elsewhere and he would be with them and let them "partake of his valuable experience". Tripilevits was dressed in his best white overcoat and white trousers and we just stood there and wept. We knew what would befall him and our hearts ached at his innocence. But he surprised us. While leading the parade he told us: "Dear friends and brothers, Fellow Jews! Why do you regard me with such sorrow and bewilderment? I put on my burial clothes in time. Don't be sorry for me. What must happen - will happen, and what happens must happen." We had loved him very much and wept like children when we saw him go fully conscious to his death.
After the parade he was taken to the other camp and together with those selected the day before he was carried to a little wood and there they were murdered one after the other. We had spoken with the victims and asked them to leave notices on the trucks to tell us of every detail. When the trucks came back, we found some slips of paper and learned that some Jews had assailed the Germans and tried to kill them. But the Germans, who were heavily armed, had overcome them and shot them on the trucks. Their blood was spattered all over the trucks, soaked into the boards and defiled them forever. The papers also related how the Nazis had torn out gold dentures from their victims' mouths while they were still breathing.
Ovens to Burn Jews near Danzig
A few days later it was our turn. Ships had been ordered to carry us to Danzig. In the port it was said, that no ships were available as the army needed them. So we were sent back to a rather distant camp and from there they again asked for ships. Two days later some ramshackle transport boats arrived and in these we were carried to Stutthof near Danzig. When they let us down from the ships into the rotten boats, which awaited us in the port at some distance from the quay, we thought they wanted to drown us on the spot. In the end we arrived in port fainting from thirst and exhausted. We ran for the puddles of foul water on shore and lapped the water up avidly - and the will to live revived.
From Stutthof they took us to a nearby concentration camp as bad, as if not worse, than Auschwitz. The incinerators were working at full "capacity". Poles were in charge of the operations and did their job with all the pig-headedness and sadism typical of them. Bloodthirsty criminals entered the buildings and dragged out the Jews to be burned. On the way the victims were beaten with axe handles and the blood spattered all around. We were told we would have to pass a general cleaning and disinfection and this would be done in the bathhouse. Those who had been here before told us that in the bath-house people were stripped of everything from valuables to clothing, and we in a fit of madness began to bury in theground whatever we had: gold, rings, watches, and also prayer shawls and Tefillin (phyla) so as not to have them fall into the unclean hands of the Poles.
We proceeded to the bathhouse under a hail of blows. We were allowed to take with us one day's bread ration - to this day I don't know what for. In the bathhouse we were stripped naked, while the Poles all the time urged us on with blows to hurry, hurry. We had an ice cold bath and then we were told to crawl on all fours onto a table and so standing as cattle, every hair on our bodies was shaved off; this was done with a blunt razor, so that the hair was almost pulled out with the skin. Next came the searches after diamonds or gold and they were thorough. Tpressed their fingers into every cavity of the body causing acute pain with ever-increasing crue.
I managed to escape this ordeal. I was in the middle of the line and when I saw this shameful torture I took the risk and slunk away. Better die at once than undergo this prolonged ordeal. I was so excited that I even threw away the piece of bread I had been holding in my hand until the last.
After the bath we were given "official clothes": a kind of nightshirt, drawers and slippers. The Poles chose to hand tall people narrow clothes and vice versa. When looking at each other we broke into hysteric crying, mixed with spasmodic laughter. It was heaping insult on injury. The slippers were studiously unfitting and either two left or two right ones. The adroit ones would throw the slippers into a heap and pick out what they needed. When I the same a Pole found me out, approached me and beat me senseless. I was bleeding in rivulets. With great difficulty I got away from him. We were housed in wooded huts where the only"furniture" was four tiered bunks with four people to each tier -the space being, of course, insufficient. The procedure of going to sleep was barbarous. ThePoles in charge of the huts (Shtubovy) used us of performances. We had to undress within two minutes, to arrange our clothes on a bench, to jump on the bunks and to fall asleep at once. The weaker ones, who did not manage to jump up fast enough, were pushed aside and the Poles would beat up stragglers mercilessly. Then they would pull down those who had already stretched themselves out and beat them up for pushing aside the weaker ones.
In the morning there were similar scenes, only in inverted sequence. One had to jump off the bunk, snatch up the clothes - which would be mixed up on purpose - within seconds all under a hail of blows and abuse. Once a day we got a mess of weeds, nettles and other plants. We were supposed to get ten kettles of coffee, but the Poles gave us only four, while the rest was shared out to those they "favoured".
From nine in the morning we waited for work, milling around, left to our own devices, which was the most awful humiliation. A few "fortunate" ones were sent to work in the forest, but they came back scratched and bruised, so that there was no reason to envy them. Those fit for work were selected at a special parade: we had to pass between two barbed wire fences and all the time received blows left and right.
One day an orderly came running like mad and announced that saddlers were required. This didn't occur in my block and I didn't hear of it. But one of our Polish tormentors, one Weychorek, a native of Rozhan and a bad drunkard who in our home-town had served as a "shabbes-goy", remembered and when, next day, they asked again for a saddler, he gave my name and together with four more Jews I was sent to work in my profession. First thing they asked me, if I could make harness fit for thoroughbred horses - if not, they told me, they'd kill me like a dog. The question was put to me by the commander of the camp himself, a criminal released from prison, where he had served a sentence for the murder of his wife and two children. Next to him stood the Rapport Fuehrer (Sergeant Major or Record Keeper) and other Gestapo men to whom he gave strict orders: "The block wardens shall give this Jew what he needs: tool and material and let him set to work."
It was now the end of Elul (the last month before the High Holidays) when one's frame of mind is apt to be gloomy anyway. I was afraid and near despair. I hurried to the block warden for tools and material, but he had nothing. In the end he collected a hundred and twenty leather belts. I asked for additional material for the collar lining that has to be broader than a belt. I had to make myself a workbench and some kind-hearted Jew at the lo's shop made me a cobbler's knife and the rings and buckles I needed and so I set to work.
Time and again I applied to the block-warden for more leather, but in vain. He also disregarded the order to give me decent food and a place to sleep in the shower room. Two days later the commander came in and realized that I knew my job and had already made some progress and from then on he began to take me seriously. He asked if I had enough to eat and at once called in the block warden Kostak, told him off scathingly and gave him orders to supply me the best food available and fulfill all my demands.
The End of the Nazis is Near
By and by we felt a wind of change in camp. Something was in the offing. We could see that the stronger ones were transferred to other labor camps while the weaker ones - myself among them - were left behind. We could guess what our fate would be and looked for ways to slip away. One day, when the Jews of Riga, who had arrived recently and were not yet worn down, were being sent away, I joined their ranks. Naturally I didn't tell the camp commander. So together with these Jews of Riga, I reached the German town of Magdeburg, where we were sent to work in artillery munitions plant. My place was in the division where the shells were treated with acids to prevent rust.
By then the Allies were approaching Magdeburg and began to bomb the city. Thousands of planes dropped their bombs and we were afraid to perish on the very eve of liberation and at the hands of friends. Now the Nazis made us put up barricades out of the debris of destroyed houses. Even when their downfall was imminent they treated us with their usual cruelty. We had to work without food and were beaten up all the time. The bomb attacks caused disorder, but one could not just slip off and disappear. We would scatter and run for shelter, but as soon as the attack was over they would again assemble us. Until the very end they would not let us go. We were the only joy left in their inhuman existence. They already knew that they were lost, and yet they wouldn't forego the pleasure of mistreating us.
On the occasion of one of these "exercises" I was left alone hidden under a pile of boards on a railroad siding. It was Thursday and I remained there until the following Sunday. From my hideout I could hear that the S.S. had again entered the camp and were ordering the Jews to come out in order to be transferred "elsewhere". On that Friday many of those who were to be sent "elsewhere" and among them many young people were killed.
On Sunday they detected me and one other Jew in our hideout, brought us to the camp and made us stand facing the wall. Apart from us there were other Jews, who had been brought in. When we were several dozen we were told to form a column and to march off. This time our guards were Hungarians, with rifles pointed at us. It was already dark when we entered a little wood and many began to melt away between the trees. The Hungarians fired and shouted: "where are you running to? We are taking you to a place of safety." Nobody would believe them, but it was true. We reached a little town by the name of Alt-Grabow and there we were sorted out. It was a medley of all nationalities and now, suddenly, we, the Jews, became very important people. Anybody who professed himself "Jude" was received with great honor.
By and by we discovered why we had become so very important. The Germans, who now were aware of their condition and their chances, were eager to surrender to the Western allies instead of falling into Russian hands. We were to serve them as witnesses of theirgood behavior, as proof that they had saved us from the Nazis.
Fate willed it otherwise. days later the Russians arrived. We were set free, while all the Germans, the Nazis as well as their followers, fell into their hands.
TROUBLES AND HORRORS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR (Return to Contents)
In the Burning Synagogue
September 8th 1939, Govorovo. On that Friday when the men were taken away "to a certain destination", as the saying went, we returned home from the market place and went down to the cellar. Throughout the night we heard the rhythmic bursts of firing, as by command. Then the firing ceased, as planned, and instead came the loudspeakers that blared out wita blood-curdling voice: "Not to come out! Nobody comes out! Whoever shows himself outside will shot on the spot!"
Next morning, Sabbath, new orders from the loudspeakers: "To the synagogue!" We were given a short time to reach the synagogue and everybody hurried and hustled in panic. On the square in front of the synagogue the executioners were standing and ordered us to throw jewelry, money and other valuables on the blankets they had spread out. "Quickly, hurry, throw your things down and pronto! To the synagogue!"
I hesitated but I saw how they treated anybody who kept back. They killed them, cutting off fingers with the daggers they held. So I ran and threw my rings down - that was all I had with me. At the entrance a very old Jew was sitting with bags full of Hallah (Sabbath bread) handing them out, one to each person. I couldn't take mine, as I was busy takinoff my rings - I didn't want to have my fingers cut off. I was one of the last because of an accident that happened to me - a fateful one.
In front of the synagogue a Nazi got hold of mylittle boy, Moishele, searched his pockets and found pictures of tKing of England which my husband had stuffed in them as a souvenir. The Nazi became furious atore the pictures to little pieces, which he scattered to the wind. He seized Moishele and shouted: "Your cursed Hore Belisha (at the time secretary of the army in Britain, a Jew), Hands up!" The child was frightened by the shouting - he couldn't understand the words. He hugged my legs with his little hands and sobbed: "Mummy, don't let them shoot me!" I began to cry and to beseech the German not to kill my little boy. He refused, so I entreated him to kill first me and my baby and then him. "Yes," he said gladly, "but first that little cur and then you two." He drew his revolver and told me to push Moishele aside. Just then I saw the ring on his finger and said: "Now you murder my child, next someone will come and murder yours." It worked. His hand dropped; he inclined his head and asked me in embarrassment: "How do you know that I have a son, that I'm married at all?" I explained and he sighed: "My poor Hans, yea, poor Hans!" And then with a hysterical cry he added: "So now, you shall all be murdered anyway."
At the appointed hour sharp - the doors were closed and a hail of shots fired outside told us what was happening to those who had not managed to squeeze in time. Inside the synagogue thousands of Jews were packed together, old people, women and babies. They had come from Mishnitz, Dlugoshlodlo, Ostrolenka and other townships. The house, which was built for a few hundred people, was now filled with thousands of miserable human beings.
On the way to the synagogue the Germans had shot babies in their mothers' arms. When entering, the mothers put their dead little ones on the ground, to the left of the entrance. One did so, and those ho followed did the same. Some twenty murdered babies were thus lying there, their mothers bending over them, wringing their hands, tearing their hair and their faces and wailing. The sight of these little ones riddled with bullets and of their crying mothers shook the people, who, before, had been as if numb, going as sheep to the slaughter and everybody began to shout with a voice that shook the walls. Many were seized with hysterics and suddenly when the shouting died, a mad kind of laughter was heard. I only remember how giddy I was and how I pressed my baby against my own body until it ached. I didn't react to what was going on around me. I only kept close to the window above me, so that my baby might have fresh air to breathe.
Meanwhile the atmosphere in the crowded house became stifling hot. I looked out of the window and saw clouds of smoke billow and come nearer. It was Grey with rosy tinge. I awoke from my trauma and told my father: "If I'm right there never was a garden here, how come now that there are trees?" He looked out. Later on he told me that he thought I must have gone mad - and didn't answer. And then suddenly, he shouted: "Yiden (Jews), we are aflame!" The idea occurred to others too and cries of "undress" were heard from every corner. It was a horrible thing, a ghoulish sight. In that press hands were raised, elbows moved, shorts were thrown off and within minutes we were a welter of entirely naked human bodies waiting for the flames approaching inexorably.
Another moment - and the fire, that was raging all over the town, would consume us too. Red tongues could already be seen from the windows. When the doors had been shut, Nazi stormtroopers in their camouflage dress, with revolvers ready, had been watching the windows telling us with sadistic glee that the town was burning and asking us whether we were warm enough. Now we couldn't see them any more. They had withdrawn a little.
At the window a light breeze was felt. There I stood with the baby in my arms; Moishele, four-and-half years old, clinging to my leg, and next to me my father with my nephew in his arms. I couldn't see my mother, who was standing next to her 103-year-old grandmother. Later I saw her. Great-grandmother had refused to undress, shouting: "If I am privileged now to be burnt for my Jewishness, then, at my age, I want to burn wrapped in the scrolls of the holy Tora!"
She walked with sure steps to the Tora-shrine and men who had followed her complied with her wish. They took out a scroll and wrapped it round her. Thus shrouded, and unable to move any more they bore her down, and deposited her on the floor. Higher up, the heat had already become unbearable.
That very moment I heard the noise of a motor. I looked out and saw a high-ranking German officer jump out of his car. He approached the window, smiled and then told his men: "Throw them out. It's too soon yet!" And with a significant gesture towards the throat he added: "They'll be slaughtered anyway. But not now - not yet!" Immediately his subordinates opened the doors.
Then everybody rushed out into the open pushing and tumbling over each other. Thousands had to rush out of that single gate and they trampled underfoot some of those who had been lying on the floor, fainting from the heat. They too were victims of the Holocaust, poor human beings, done to death by their nearest and dearest in their mad rush for life. The flames, that burned the synagogue to the ground, consumed them too.
Somebody was shouting: "Now they'll shoot us! Don't run in a straight line, evade the bullets!" And mad as they were, people obeyed and began to zig-zag and jump in all directions. I shall never forget the fiendish sight of our people running about thus ridiculously, hitting each other and separating, as if part of a mad dance in Bedlam.
We had forgotten that our great-grandma was left inside, bound up - as she had demanded - but now we could hear her crying from the burning house: "Nesha! Why have you left me? Nesha! Help me!"
She was fully conscious and had the will to be rescued and live. She tried to get out by herself but near the door she fell down and was unable to rise. Jacob Pokshivka found her. When he heard her cries, he went back into the fire, lifted her in his arms and carried her out.
Who can count these small feats of heroism? For such they were. Outside we found her with the scrolls she had been wrapped in singed. She was unable to hold her head up. We had rescued her - and hadn't. For three weeks we carried her with us on our wande. She was badly burned and unconscious. On the 30th September this pure soul breathed her las. We buried her in the Jewish cemetery at Makov.
From the Fire into Cold, Hunger and Fear
Meanwhile people scattered, escaped and were saved. We were too slow - because of the grandmother - and so were others, about 200, weak, half-fainting and the bloodhounds caught us. At gunpoint they led us into the swamp at Govorovo and forced us to enter; then left us half-naked and barefoot, as we had come out of the synagogue; for 24 hours we sat in the swamp in the cold of Polish autumn. On September 11th we were given permission to step out and to go wherever we liked - only not on any road or path. Yet how can you walk on the rain-soaked Polish ea, if not on a road or path? So we wended our way over the stubble fields that wounded our bfeet like barbed wire. We didn't mind if it hurt, if only we could get out of the hell where we had so nearly perished. But now came the Poles to whom the fields belonged, armed with pitchforks and red-hot tree branches, whips and iron bars and forbade us passage on their fields to safety. They beat us and shouted "Only because of you have we got this accursed war!"
In spite of all this people ran, overcame the barriers and were saved. They continued to run, often without knowing where. I didn't know the direction. I hadn't been to Govorovo before and had no idea where to turn. In front of me I saw a big flour-mill and there I went maybe I could find a place there, where our family could hide; maybe I could even find a little grain or flour.
A number of pefrom Rozhan had gathered at the mill. They recognized me and made room for me in the barn, apparently out of consideration for the little children and our grandmother. We lay down to rest,not knowing what the next day would bring. In the morning we went oto find some grain or roots to feed the hungry children. The mill belonged to a Jew but it was eand swept clean. We scratched the courtyard and every corner between the buildings; we ran about like famished animals but in vain.
A few days later an S.S. man entered the barn and announced that next day the mill would he operated and food would be distributed. Everybody went out into the courtyard, as everybody wanted to be first. I didn't go out but tried to hide. I had recognized the German; it was the same one, who had mistreated my little Moishele - and he recognized me too in spite of the darkness in the barn. He approached me - I was trembling - and he said in a low voice "Before operating the mill we shall open the store and distribute some grain, flour and groats. Have bags ready for yourself and for the kid." I told the miller and he gave me some bags and the next day we got some precious victuals.
And then the German turned up again and wanted to see me. I had the impression that he was at odds with himself. One day he repented of what he had done to the child and the next day he was angry with himself for having been merciful. I didn't want to see him. When people told him I had gone he said he'd wait for me to come back, and he did so. The situation became uneasy; people got nervous and began to shout they'd drag me out of my hideout as there was no other way to get rid of him, and there was no telling what would happen because of the airs I was giving myself.
So I agreed to come out. I bade my mother farewell, leaving Moishele in her care. The baby I took with me. I was sure we'd never come back. My mother cried. I hugged her and my boy and began to weep myself. The German decided to put an end to the scene. Impatiently he stepped between me and my mother and commanded "Straight behind me."
He walked briskly and angrily and I followed him with the baby in my arms. At a distance I could see a windmill and some hovels - a hamlet. The teacher, Henrietta Rosenblatt, peeped out of one of the hovels. She embraced me and wept over our fate. The German scolded her and threatened to shoot. I managed to say to her "Keep away from me. It's dangerous. But I have a wish: look out of the window, so you can tell my family, and my husband if he's still alive, where I have fallen." We embraced and I left. When we were past the hamlet he told me to stop. I stood still. Then he turned round, took out a little package which he had under his tunic and said "That's for the boy, but nobody must know." And therewith he went away. I stayed there in order to nurse my ba. Henrietta Rosenblatt called: "I have no milk for my little daughter and she'll surely die, but yours shall live to pay them back."
Suddenly the German came back. I decided to follow him as I didn't know my way. An undamaged house was standing by the roadside. It was abandoned and in the upper store there was a pharmacy and we went in. There was a clothes closet and he told me to choose whatever I wanted for the boy. I refused, explaining if the Poles came back, they'd say the Jews had robbed them. I had to be careful. There were babies' bottles on one of the shelves and I took two of them with the lids. Just then he saw a ball lying on the ground, picked it up and said: "That's for the boy. Let him play with it." I said "He's not in the mood for playing," but I thanked him and returned to our barn. When my mother saw me alive, she fainted. She had never expected to see me again.
The next day he was back. We felt assured now. He called me out and led me to a lane between the peasants' houses, entered one of them and told the peasant woman to let me have a kilo of tomatoes every day. "And let her also pick the baked apples and pears from the burned trees."
I was never to see him again. Nevertheless I went to see the peasant woman; she told me her name, Zalevska, and declared she was ready to help me of her own accord. I answered: I was afraid to disobey the German that's why I came. But I'll take no more than two tomatoes. Never fear, I shall not tell him if he comes'."
A week later we moved to Makov.
I Find my Husband Pessah
All the refugees gathered at Makov. I looked for the teacher Rosenblatt, but couldn't find her. At the outskirts of the town we sat down by the roadside, just sat down. We were ashamed to show ourselves in our rags and tatters. We wept. We were waiting for people to come and see our destitution and, maybe, do something for us.
Makov was as yet untouched, but the Jews lived with the presentiment of the disaster that was looming over them and had not yet reached them. That determined their attitude. We were like a living warning of the horrors they would not be spared. There were no hard feelings - on the contrary they behaved like brothers and brought us, each as he was able, blankets and sheets, coats and other garments to cover our nakedness. When we entered the town they made us at home.
For two weeks we stayed at Makov. The Germans were putting carts at the disposal of the Jews and urged them to cross over to the Russian side. They tried to persuade the Jews to organize in-groups for emigration. But the Jews somehow did not respond. They believed that here, where they and their forefathers had been born, they might suffer a little, fear a little, lose property and even their lives - not too many - but in the end, after the nightmare, Jewish life would be resumed as before. Not so in Russia, where religion had been banned for twenty years now. Jews collected money, bribed, paid fines and did whatever could be done with money - and stayed. Others did leave, packed their belongings and began to move, but came back at once. They couldn't bear the hardships of migration, while their families, friends and relations stayed at home, waiting for better days.
One day I heard that my husband, Pessah, was alive. A blacksmith from Rozhan, a man who had neither feelings nor mercy, brought me the message, but would not reveal to me his whereabouts, nor even hint where he had seen him. From his way of talking I guessed that for money he might have told me the secret. Yet I was able to detect a clue: incidentally he mentioned where he had come from and I decided to search for Pessah in that direction.
It was however difficult to obtain a cart and I somebody to share the expense. So I waited, but when the Germans demanded their third "contributio" I thought: rather hire a cart and go than hand the money over to them. I went together with the blacksmith. He accompanied me to Ostrov and on the way tried to convince me that I wouldn't find my husband unless he helped me. When he saw that I didn't care for his advice, he left us and vanished. I couldn't bear the expense alone and didn't know what to do. It was fairly obvious that I had to go in the direction of Zambrov, but the road there was in poor condition. Five in the afternoon was the curfew hour and what if we became stranded in the fields, with two little children in the cold of the night?
So I stayed overnight in the slaughterhouse Ostrov. God knows how my little baby 41/2 month old lived through that night without beor cover. At 6 in the morning, before dawn, I went to ask for the road to the Russian zone. No Jew was about. I met only a Pole and he told me.
Suddenly somebody called: "Auntie Mindele" It was my nephew, Juda'le, my brother Meir-Shlomo's son. The first thing I saw was his swollen legs. By him stood his stepmother with her five children. A terrible thought overwhelmed me and I asked: "Juda'le, where's your daddy, my brother?" "Gone, all killed. They shot my father at Pultusk." And then "I want to go with you. I turned to my sister-in-law: "Rivka, take the children and let's go." We found a Jewish driver with two worn-out horses and set out for the Russian border in the direction of Zambrov. In addition to the human freight we took wus old kitchenware, broken pots and rags as a precaution against the Germans. Rumour had it that they let people pass, when they saw such "treasures," while they would rob or even kill those whlooked wealthy.
We wended our way slowly. The road was full of misermigrants, Jews who tried to escape with the remnant of their energies looking for a haven of rest. light one horse vehicle passed us and everybody made room for it, as if it was Germans, but I recognized Ida and wanted to talk to her - but she warned us not to come near : "Typhoid," she said. I only managed to call after her: "If you meet my husband, tell him I'm coming. Let him stay and wait for us."
A little later the Germans caught up with us. They made us descend, took the driver and his team and left - what could we do? Continue on foot.
It was a toilsome day and dangerous too, but in the end I reached Simova, worn out and half fainting. As it happened, our driver had met Pessah and told him of our arrival and so we met.
Attempts to Fetch my Parents
We went on to Zambrov, where a family let us sleep in their house, so we could rest a little. We began to size up our situation and to make plans for further wanderings. One became aware of things. Now it seemed odd to me that our little baby never cried. Things like this may worry a mother, who wants her child to react, to show signs of a will of its own. Could this be the reaction? Maybe he felt that this was not a time for caresses. It was a phenomenon observed in children in those days of horror.
It was impossible for us to stay at Zambrov as the little town was swamped with refugees; so we moved to Bialystok and later to the neighbouring town of Ignatievko, where we met more people from Rozhan. The talk was of the great migration into the depth of Russia that lay ahead, the parting, for a long time, from the surroundings that were ours - that had been ours.
It was said that this was a one-way road and that, therefore, one should go back and fetch whatever possible of the possessions we had left behind - as "there" it would be unobtainable. Nearly everybody spoke of taking the risk, going back to the German side, to save what could be saved and then return and continue where fate would lead us.
I worried about my parents and other relations whom we had left at Makov. One day I got up, nursed my baby, dressed as for a journey (we had managed to earn some money and to buy ourselves winter clothes) and told my husband I was going to Makov to rescue my parents without whom I couldn't live. Pessah wondered how I dared to go back to the Germans, what would happen to the children? And above all - another parting. Yet in the end he agreed. So I took some money with me and left. I had planned to join with a number of people from Rozhan but, when everything was ready, they told me they wouldn't me as a woman: "There were so many obstacles on the way it would be necessary to run, to sleep in hideouts off the road and to move by night: that's no woman's job." I replied: "My errand is a 'good work' (Mitzvah) and as you know God protects those who go on such errands and no harm comes to them." In the end they had to take me and, as it happened, I was a better walker than the men. I passed swamps and rivulets and was able to run and to move easily. We arrived near Makov after a day and a night and hid in a little copse outside the town. From there we ran out singly after intent watching of the German guards. When I entered my parents' house my mother nearly fainted and her first words were "How are the children? Has anything happened?" Next day we hired a cart together with some other refugees. I took my parents and my six year old nephew Itzik'l, son of my brother who couldn't leave Makov. Again we had to move in secret. Again there was danger, but I was adamant in my resolution to escape from that hell end to stay together.
When we reached the village of Shlon near Ostrolenka, some Poles betrayed us. They sent a boy of theirs to fetch the Germans and to deliver us into their hands. In the meanwhile they surrounded us lest we slip off. They were rejoicing at the idea of seeing Jewish blood. The others, refugees from Wlotzlavek and Plotzk, got away and only I and those I had rescued were left as prisoners in their hands. They robbed us, took our garments and handed us over to the Germans, who first of all beat us up and then searched us thoroughly and took whatever they found. I had nothing left but a heavy heart. I had not rescued my parents, had abandoned my children, as a burden, which my husband would have to carry, and which might make it impossible for him to reach safety.
I was terribly downcast and near despair, but then, as always, help came from some unexpected quarter. In all that hubbub and turmoil I observed one Nazi, who didn't touch my parents nor beat me and my nephew. So I approached him in a propitious moment - as it seemed to me, and said "You see, they have taken away everything - what can we do now? Why have they done this to us?" He listened intently and asked who robbed us. I said "Those Polish swine. Go, take, from them what you like and keep it, but help us." Meanwhile my parents had second thoughts. They were tired of their wanderings and couldn't go any more. They wanted to go back to Makov, to die in the midst of Jews and to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The German didn't understand what they were saying, so I explained: "Please, air, take my parents to Makov. The cart I hired is at your disposal, and let me go and for that may God requite you. May you come through this war safe and sound and return home." That blessing apparently did it and he said firmly: "Yes, I'll do that." I had a loaf of bread, which I broke in two, giving my parents one half and so we parted. I had rather not say much about this parting from my parents. To this day it pains me to think of it. It was a moment of terrible tension between doubts and decision, despair and recovery. Where was my duty? With those to whom I must return or to those I did not want to leave behind?
The German was as good as his word. In the letters I still got from them, my parents told me that he had forced the Pole to give up all the stolen property and restored it to them; that he had given him orders to bring them back to Makov and to submit to him a written statement signed by them, confirming the fact - or else he would shoot him.
So they went back to Makov and I remained with Itzik'l and with Hannah Golovinski. They took us both to the "Kommandantur" (Military administration) and had us whand clean the whole building. When we had finished, one of the Germans said: "So they have done their job. Now let's finish them off."
I was entirely listless. I had a feeling as if I had caused my parents' death. During the three weeks I spent with the Germans I wrote to Makov and never got an answer. I regretted the whole operation I had originated and which had led to such disastrous consequences. I didn't care whether they'd murder me or not. But my poor companion broke down. Those were terrible moments, when we thought that our lives were at an end. But here again, the Good German who had helped my parents interfered and said "Why bother with the corpses? Why soil the whole place? Leave them to me. I'll take them out to the forest and there I'll do thin - and nobody will be any the wiser."
Wonderful idea! He took us to the forest,drew his revolver and fired twice in the air - a shot for each of us and then a third for the child, who hugged me in fear. Then he turned to the boy, and whispered in his ear: "Don't be afraid - I'm not going to kill you. In my city of Lodz I worked with Jews all my life and I have nothing against you. What I did was only in order to rescue you." The child was reassured, although he couldn't understand the words. Something in the expression of the man won his confidence The German wanted the matter to be brought to a speedy conclusion, so he went with us and showed us the Russian border which was quite near. He showed us a windmill on the horizon and said that it was already on Russian soil. "But," he warned, "don'tgo now. Wait until midnight, when they change the guard. Then drop down on the ground, where the slope is and crawl down to safety." With that he went. We knew he really wanted to help us. So we dias he had advised us, although it was by no means easy. The night grewcolder and we would have liked to have a roof over our heads. The child was trembling and wanted to cry,but I wouldn't let him. I told him the Russians would hand us back to the Nazis, if they heard him and detected us. He understood this and swallowed his tears in spite of the severe cold that froze the marrow in his bones, as in ours.
Caught by the Russians
At midnight sharp we dropped to the ground, slid down the slope and there we stood on Russian soil in a village near Lomza. And yet we were caught. A Russian sentinel was standing where we had crossed. I was dragging the child, who was half-frozen and unable to move and he must have heard us. Suddenly there came a call: "Stop - or I shoot!" So we stopped. He ordered us to stay with him until he was relieved. So, there we stood till morning in the ice-cold wind, aching all over. Doubts ate our heart no less than the biting cold. What would they do to us? How would they receive us?
At dawn the new guard came and the man who had caught us, ordered us to follow him to the German border, i.e. to hand us back to the Nazis. This we wouldn't do, so he had to bring us to his command post in the village. That was a long stable building where they were investigating those who had been caught, to find out whether they were spies. I refused to go in for fear that they arrest us and we'd never get out. The soldier cursed, but I didn't yield. Meanwhile we approached the stable and I could hear voices within. I could make out that they were investigating. I pinched the child, as now I wanted him to cry and to draw attention away from the soldier. I squeezed his leg and yet he wouldn't cry, remembering what I had told him before. Just then the door opened and someone - a commissar apparently - came out. Now I began to cry. He asked what was the matter; called me in. I told him that the sentinel who caught me suspected me of being German, but that I was a local inhabitant. Meanwhile I showed him the little pump I had taken with me to extract my milk while I was not nursing. He told me to wait. I sat down and immediately heard shouting within: "Magnushever is here. Magnushever's daughter." I gathered that people from Rozhan must be there and entered. I asked him, entreated him to let me go back to my baby son, who would be hungry - to no avail. His answer was: "Wait. I'll be back in two hours." When he left the people burst into hysterical laughter, the laughter of despair. I knew the joke was on me, because of my simplicity. Two hours indeed! He would appear once a week and until that time might starve, waiting to be investigated. Yet, two hours later a bell rang and he appeared. People thronged to be first in line, but he cleared them away, sat down and called for me, because of the baby. Very soon it came out that he had taken me first because he thought me dangerous. The investigation was awful. He spoke as an all-powerful ruler and he was suspicious. He understood that I was spying for the Nazis. He might send me back to them immediately. He might also kill me on the spot without formalities. He'd find out the truth by himself - that was very easy for him, but I had better confess freely. It would be best for me to confess all my sins and to repent etc. etc. And after each sentence a threat to kill me in cold blood or to send me back to the Nazi border. Whatever I said was in vain. I said I had wanted to see the Polish woman, with whom I had left my baby's clothes. Nothing would impress him until I remembered that I had voted for annexation at Bialystok and it could be proven. He could call Bialystok, Killinsky 21 and find out. The wireless indeed saved me. They checked the voters' list and found my name - I was free.
Now my wish was granted. I was given a cart to Lomza and a certificate. "Spravka" in Russian, to the effect that I had been investigated. This was because I knew that at Mistkova there was another border control and I might get into more trouble. The Spravka proved very useful as, at Mistkova, they stopped me again. At Lomza I stopped at the home of Hannah's parents. When I reached the house I had a fit of hysterics. I was overtired and overwrought from the Investigation. I could understand the man. He only did his job, but to me it was the last straw and I broke down. When I was a little rested they gave me some money and I went on to Bialystok where I found my family beyond despair. Pessah had "heard" that I'd been killed at the border, near Malkin.
Now I also experienced the most painful thing that can happen to a nursing mother. My child absolutely refused his mother's milk. I had become a stranger to him. Pessah, who held him, handed him to me but he protested. In the end he began to smile, made his peace and accepted me again.
After all, we had been separated for three long weeks, and it had been a hard time indeed. So I rescued my child and my brother's child, but not my parents.
This is a small part of my experience. My memory, which is beginning to fail me, as I am growing older, has kept vivid all the details of the Nazi horrors and I could have filled a whole book with the hair-raising facts which will haunt me to the end of my days. I have tried to keep within the limits of the space allotted to me.
The choice of events related may be haphazard but I think they should be sufficient to startle people all over the world and to serve as a warning for the Jews against another possible tragedy. A tragedy which overtook us because we were living in exile among strangers. Jews living in a world of Gentiles should remember this.
H. H. B.
IN THE GHETTO AND IN THE CAMPS (Return to Contents)
When the War Broke Out
When the war broke out I lived not in Rozhan, but in Warsaw with my husband and son. We were both working, he as a teacher and I at the W.I.Z.O. center without pay; we were happy with our child who was growing up nicely and made excellent progress at school. The war brought all this to an abrupt end. Our world was shattered and in ruins. We were awestruck, couldn't accustom ourselves to the terrible reality, although for years we had been conscious of the darkness that was casting its shadow before it. And then, all at once, it happened: Alarms, bombing and all clear you could hear people shouting "They're here! 've passed!" As the planes were approaching and dropping their bombs, you had to run for shelter and then come out . Our apartment was on the fourth floor. At the first attack we took shelter in the basement. Next to it was the basement of the neighbouring house, and there, too, people were hiding. Through the wall we could hear their noises - the same as ours. The all clear was sounded, but we all stayed in the shelter overnight. In both basements there was quiet; people slept. Next morning we heard that 22 people had been killed in the basement next door and we had not been aware of it.
The Warsaw Ghetto
Thus it went on for days and then Warsaw was taken and we found ourselves under Nazi rule. In the beginning of 1940 the Ghettoes were set up. As is well known, thewere 2 of them in Warsaw, the big one, that included the densely populated Jewisquarter, the Nalevkl, Gensha, Smotcha, Zamenhof, Muranov and other streets - and the little ghetto, where only half the population was Jewish. There were no fences or walls to separate the ghettoes from the rest of the city. The boundaries were fixed by the conqueror's orders and the gentiles surrounded them with a wall of hatred. They were only too glad to serve the Nazis. A number of houses were set aside, where the Jews of Warsaw had to crowd in and to live. On one of the first days fires were kindled all around the bigger ghetto - proof of the intention to concentrate the Jews in one area. The fire raged throughout the night. Jews in their nightdress, frightened out of their wits, were running about in panic and fleeing without knowing where to t. It was all turmoil and terror. The sound of the crackling and breaking wood and the sizzling of the fires mixed with the anguished cries and wailings of the people. Burning beams and blocks of briwere flying about as by force of an explosion and fell on the human beinthat were fleeing and running to and fro.
I, too, was running, i. e. the three of us. We tried to find a for the night, for the next day, for another spell of time. We passed under a shower of burning amber and sparks that were flying about. We skipped over burning pieces of wood with danger on our heels until we reached Tvarda Street, where a relation of mine lived. These people were orthodox and in their small one-and-half-room apartment it was the Sabbath. A small bottle with a little wine was on the table and glasses and a Hallah (Sabbath bread) was ready for the Kiddush. It was a long time since I had seen these things. The world was in turmoil - and here they kept the Sabbath - how was that possible?
We had to spend the night with their neighbours - on the floor - and next day we went back to our own apartment, which was left unscathed. Unfortunately the people, people who had been quartered upon us did not suit us, and that made things still more uncomfortable. This was the beginning of our Calvary, but it was nothing compared with what was in store.
Meanwhile, many refugees arrived from the vicinity and they were barefoot, naked and limping. A society named "Zhitaos" was organized, a kind of welfare office instead of the "Joint" that had gone underground.
My husband, Monick Holzman became head of the clothing department. It was a difficult job: he had to persuade people to donate clothes, which, under the circumstances, had become the most important objects of barter for which one hoped to obtain some food to give the children. People were not easily induced to give up their most precious possessions for the sake of others. My husband worked in close contact with Immanuel Ringelblum, the chronicler of the holocaust in Poland. I remember evening assemblies, when my husband spoke on this thorny question of clothing the naked. Many indeed donated, even necessities. Those were evenings of Jewish solidarity.
As time went on the organization expanded. Cells and house committees were set up that helped with collecting the stuff. Most of these activities fell upon the women, whose circles were busy all the time. I too devoted a great deal of time to them and to this day I remember those days of doing small things with unceasing enthusiasm as one of the finest periods in my life.
Life in the Ghetto
We experienced an epidemic of typhus - the terrible spotted fever. Most of the inhabitants of the ghetto were affected, above all the men who had very little immunity. 40 years old people died liflies. Victims of the epidemic - and of hunger - were lying in the streets. One could do little more than cover the corpses with wrapping paper, so that you would be spared the sight of your friends and relations, of those you had been talking to but yesterday, with their frozen bodies and wide open eyes.
One day when I came home, I didn't find my husband. I had sinister foreboding, was bewildered and didn't know where to turn. I began to run about from one friend to the other, to the office, everywhere. They tried to comfort me, but nobody could answer my urgent quest: Where Is Monick? Has anybody seen Monick? Exhausted I returned home and there I got the terrible truth. A Nazi had shot my husband in the street and I was left alone with my son. Meanwhile we were also on the move constantly. We were expelled from one house after the other; when that happened one ran, together, with total strangers, as if we had been friends for years. There was no room for questions or inquiries, there was nothing left, but to run and to arrive together. Where to? Who knows. One day we thus ran together, two women. She asked: "Where are we running?" and became part of one, as it were, in our common plight. All of a sudden - a single shot. I thought I had been hit, turned round to tell her how I felt - and here she was, behind me, sprawling on the ground, with a bullet in her head. I didn't even hear a sound from her and here I was alone again and returned home while death stalked the streets. One cannot remember it all, but some incidents impressed themselves indelibly. We had a neighbour, a rabbi's wife, a pious and delicate woman. Once she went to see her daughter, the only member of her family left alive. She met two Nazi hooligans, tried to escape, but they pursued her, caught her on a staircase, where she had tried to hide, dragged her to the courtyard fainting and killed her on the spot. I saw this scene with my own eyes, when I glimpsed from my window down into the courtyard. My good son made us a bunker in a little closet where, formerly, a housemaid used to sleep. The bunker was hidden behind a moveable cupboard and many were helped by this haven of hope. We hid there in evil moments and as soon as the imminent danger seemed over we hurried out to breathe fresh air. Once we had come out, but had to go back at once as the all-clear had been false and that entailed a double danger: everybody was squeezing into the shelter, but one neighbour had not managed to; maybe wanted to breathe fresh air for another second. We heard a shot and thought they had got him, but he came back later and had this to tell: "I didn't want to live any longer, am not going to hide any more; what I've just seen has destroyed my will to live". From his hiding place he had seen an S.S. man pursue a Jewish girl of, maybe, 18. When he caught up with her, he drew his revolver, but she began to entreat him: don't kill me! I am so young, let me live a little longer! The hooligan looked as if he were impressed and when he sheathed his revolver the girl thought she was saved; but he violated her on the spot and when he had done, he drew his weapon again and shot her before she had come to her senses.
Amidst all these horrors, sufferings, grief and death, we tried to help each other. We opened a soup kitchen for the needy in the high-school building of engineer Finkel. It was the initiative of one doctor - whose name I have forgotten. He hoped to feed destitute people, whom pride or any other reason had left helpless. It's there I met the poet Isaak Katznelson during his last days. Katznelson used to lecture on the Bible in Yiddish. He gave his lecture cycle the name: "read between the lines of the Bible" or "flower-beds of the Bibl". His lecture about Gideon-Jerubba'al, who kindled hope in the heart of the people and put his trust in a handful of hselected followers, made a deep impression on all his hearers, because of its topical interest. Next to Katznelson sat the Yiddish actor Jacques Levy who, at the time, was switching to Hebrew, and began to write down his impressions and the vicissitudes of his life in Hebrew. That was a most wonderful phenomenon, which Jacques himself can't explain.
During the lecture he was staring at Isaak's mouth and accompanied his words with miens and gestures as if to give a live commentary to the biblical story.
It was Jacques Levy who told me of my husband's death and gave me the details. Maybe, the people of Rozhan would like to know all this, as the teacher Holtzman w, at one time, very active in the cultural life of the town, and very popular t, but I prefer not to go back to these memories, as they are two awful. I will say only this: When Jacques Levy told me of my husband's death, Isaak Katznelson was present. Jacques spoke with great restraint, tried not to hurt me unnecessarily, and yet was deeply shaken. I knew that death was lurking every moment, that the danger was greatest for men, but the way it was done, the protracted agony to the bitter end broke me entirely. Then Issak Katznelson approached me and said: "It was not your husband, who was the target; it is a historic reckoning with our people, with an entire nation and the missiles hit us the individuals. The nation will hold its reckoning with the murderers. The survivors will revenge the victims and your , too. We shall wear them down. Your consolation is one with that of all the mourning Jews of Poland!"
About that time the manhunts in the ghettoes, in those death reserves, became more and more freque.
For the Nazis it was not enough to kill, they wanted to relish the anguisof their victims. The actions were a treat to them, They would spread rumors beforehand, allow the Jews to rfor shelter and Jews would, of course, run about like mad in their utter helplessness and in the end, when the victims were frightened out of their wits, they would be murdered.
One day they gathered all the members of the council of the Jewish community, carried them of and liquidated them one after the other. Among those employed at the council was also my only son, dearer to me than my own life. Now it was all over; It is my cruel lot to mourn for my son too; he died and I was left alone, a widow and childless.
The Horrors of the Ghetto
For many days I hid in the bunker and so was not yet sent off to be burnt. One day, the Germans discovered our hideout, poured in asphyxiating gas and everybody had to come out and surrender. I was left choked by the gas and fainting and I didn't know how long I lay there. When I began regain consciousness I heard that someone was talking to me - I could not make out what she said - lifted me up and carried me out. When I recovered my senses I found myself sitting in a courtyard among Jews, who told me that an old woman, who had happened to pass by, had found me, carried me out, put me there in their midst and vanished. I was wondering: How could an old woman carry me up? Why should she have done it? Who knows? At all events, I had escaped death by asphyxiating gas.
It came out that I had been brought to a hiding place. The people received me well and I stayed with them for 2 days. It was obvious that we couldn't hold out long and, together with another woman I went to find some other place. We reached an abandoned poultry slaughterhouse in the passage of Nalevki No 39 corner Kopitzka. The building was burnt out and empty. One Jew who had a lot of money with him was hiding there, so the three of us stayed together. Later on I heard that the Germans had discovered the people at my former hideout and had killed them all. One day our man went out to relieve himself, was caught and we never saw him again. In the end we, too, were found out and caught. We were taken to a concentration point (Umschlagplatz) where Jews had been assembled by the tens of thousands, crowded and squeezed together, while Ukrainians were passing among them, beating right and left as they pleased. When they realized that the Jews were afraid of the blows they felt encouraged and now began to extort bribes of money and other valuables for sparing people.
The Jews were bedespair. Many died of hunger, others lost their wits because of the horrors. Mothers with babies in their arms were running about sobbing, tearing their hair and asking leave from anybody who would listen to kill their infants for their own good. I have seen mothers choke their children with their hands and at the same time bending over them with kisses, parting from them and trying to tell them that this was the only thing left to a mother to do for her beloved. I have seen a mother, who let go her strangled child, dropped it on the ground and went raving mad, suddenly and without transition. A moment before she had been in her senses and now she began to laugh, tear her clothes, loosen her hair, smiling an idiotic smile at her surroundings.
This Umschlagplatz was the worst of all the horrors I experienced in the ghetto. So much cruelty and suffering was concentrated on such a narrow space. Worst of all was the open cesspool in the middle, where everybody had to go in the open, old and young, men and women - the feelings of shame and decency were entirely blunted - and the stench!
I have seen many horrors I shall never forget. As I grow older the memory weakens, but these things haunt me ever afresh and come to the surface; I am going to relate some of them.
When the two of us were walking away from the slaughterhouse we passed by a place with open doors so that you could look in. In one of the rooms, near the entrance, there stood a cradle with a baby in it, crying with all it's might and main. The table there was set for lunch but people had fled for their lives leaving everything behind. We were very hungry and wanted to have a mouthful, but, when we saw the abandoned child and heard its' cries we couldn't touch anything and went away. Could we do more than the mother?
In the street we met corpses sprawling or contorted, shot or with broken skulls and open bellies - small scale murders before the wholesale extermination.
Awful was what happened to my companion - the last. On the way she remembered her son, who had vanished that very day. When, suddenly, the manhunt began, they had parted, went into hiding separately, hoping to meet again. She knew approximately where he must be. It was a moonlit night. She asked me to accompany her and so we went together to look for him. Before we reached the place my companion saw the form of a boy sprawling on the ground, on his back in the moonlight; it was her son. She left him and went away. The world was empty now for her, so she could go and, as told before, we now reached the Umschlagplatz.
For two days we were kept in this hell. On the third day a train drew up and we were told to board it. Nobody knew the destination, one didn't care.
There I stood and didn't push. I didn't know how to push. I was afraid there would be no room for me to sit and waited. I wanted a place to sit. And what if not? Would I be left at this place of horrors and murder? Everybody was pushing ahead of me and I was nearly left behind. In the end I climbed up, or rather, I was pushed up. When we reached Lublin most people had been choked to death, first of all those who had climbed in first and sat on the floor to rest their legs that were tired from long standing. Those who came later stumbled over them, trampled, fell down and that was the end.
At Maidanek Camp
From Lublin to Majdanek we had to walk. There were few German soldiers, mostly Ukrainians, who served their masters well. They urged us on with blows and stragglers were shot and left lying by the roadside.
At Majdanek we were housed in wooden huts, men and women apart. We were told that this was a labour camp, that we were the labour force, would be given food to restore our forces, as we were needed for the war effort. Yet, bewe received our first bread ration our eyes fairly bulged from their sockets. We never saw the men, we were only women amore women. What would we have to do? What did the men do? Where were they? Nobody knew. Next day they put us to work, but gave us mean and useless tasks to do. Some had to carry faeces in wheelbarrows, empty them and reload and the work had to be done briskly with the accompaniment of oaths and blows. If any were suspected of shirking, she would be beaten to death or shot. One day the Nazis hanged a young and beautiful girl - there were not many of the sort among us - for allegedly having tried to escape. They hanged her in the middle of the square and left her there for several days - as a warning.
Nearly every day there were screenings; the inmates of the huts wepicked out to be burnt by some unknown criterion. There was no telling why tone was sent to her death while the other was kept alive to suffer still more. We didn't talk of it amongst us, were reluctant to touch the subject of instant death or waiting for it. Every day there disappeared some friend, someone with whom one had shared work, suffering and - silence; and nobody would talk of it, while generally talk is supported to alleviate a heavy heart. It seems that in these surroundings talking was still more painful, stressed and deepened dejection. Every spoken word might make matters worse. If we were to give expression to what we saw, we'd destroy the last shreds of illusion. And so those near and dear to us disappeared one by one, while we kept silent as if not aware of what imeant for ourselves.
In those days a miracle happened to me and as is the case with miracles you can't explain how and why they occur, and why just now. Yet sometimes there is a concatenation of events which a person's fate. Anyhow, a miracle happened to me. There were flowerbeds betwthe huts (one of the officials seems to have had the idea that our hell should be beautified). One Polish womaengineer was in charge of the task and used to pass between the huts, to measure, plan, stake out and perform the work. One day, as she was passing by, she called me to come and help her measure the flowerbeds. I helped her and apparently must have done a very good job. Maybe I felt that this kind of work could better my chances of survival and I did my best. The gardener was very content and even said that yesterday's help had been negligent and inattentive but that today she really enjoyed it.
Next day she told me to pick 10 women and prepare a piece of ground - I was to be the overseer. I chose 10 workers, who could not continue with other kinds of work, among them 2 old women who no longer cared, stood around all day and wouldn't work. Whatever I told them was of no avail; they refused to lift a finger and we others had to do their share. But it came out very soon, that the Polish woman was one of the just on the earth. She had her companions among the authorities, she knew of impending selections and managed to put us out of harm's way by different means. Sometimes she kept us hidden between two huts and told the commander that she needed us as a "professional team". And so I survived the screenings until we were sent to Birkenau,
I stayed at Majdanek for 9 weeks. At the last screening they took me, too. Later on I learnt, that thereafter Majdanek camp was liquidated. We didn't know where we were being taken. Before the journey we had to pass, naked, between two rows of men. Next we were taken to the bath house, at some distance from the camp, and from there back to a hut for the night. Nobody slept that night as we had heard a rumour that they would use the night to liquidate us. We kept the windows open as a precaution against the gas. All that night there was crying and wailing: "You shall not kill us" again and again until dawn.
There was also a division for men, more shadows then living beings, who walked about frightened and murmuring imprecations. More than death itself they feared the process and they were sure we'd be killed to the last. Among those men there was the husband of one woman in our division, who told us later, that her man had hanged himself that night for fear of the horrible death his wife would have to suffer.
On the Road to Birkenau
In the morning we heard our destination was Birkenau. We were loaded on coal carand as we were still moist from the bath the coal dust settled on us immediately and upon arrival at Birkenau we were black as chimneysweeps. On the way one of the woman began to sing (in Yiddish) "I want to go back to my little town, back to my home". This was really touching and we all listened and may chimed in. It was like a prayer, full of devotion and faith at a place where there's no room for faith or hope. It was an odd spectacle. These women worn down, with their grimy faces, singing on the brink of extinction. I, too, was seized with the fervour and began to sing aloud. My comrades must have heard me and they asked me for more. I agreed and began with a very sweet, romantic Russian song. The train had stopped and I saw a German officer approaching our car. I remembered that Germany and Russia were at war and fell silent. I was sure he would be very angry with me for having shown sympathy for the enemy, but he only asked "Who's been singing here just now?" A soldier pointed at me, the officer looked, raised his hand and shouted an order: "Sing on! Sing on!" Meanwhile the train began to move. The officer went back to his car and I didn't sing any more.
Reminiscences are chasing each other and sometimes you lose the thread and cannot tell them in their chronological order. Here is one episode that goes back a little; when we were taken to the bathhouse in our nakedness, I saw not far from me a cousin of my murdered husband. She was a very young and beautiful woman; all of a sudden, before our eyes could meet, some S. S. women, the worst of brutes, began to beat her until she fell to the ground. I saw her bleeding; she reached the hut with difficulty and I never saw her any more, she must have died from that mistreatment. At the moment I suppressed the event. It was too awful to realize that women could be so cruel and I wouldn't relive what my eyes had seen for fear of despair or of losing my wits. Only at Birkenau I remembered this feat, that exemplified the human tragedy which that accursed man Hitler had brought over us. Nothing more awful that the sight of women beating to death another woman. After centuries of attempts to refine the members of the weaker sex we were now back at the period of the savage female beast, that is more dangerous than the males of the jungle.
So we arrived at Birkenau. First of all we were tattoo marked with numbers. In one hut a Jewish girl from Czechoslovakia was burning the numbers in with a white hot steel needle, just as we used to get inoculated against the smallpox, only here there were no precautions against infection. Next in the order of Birkenau our heads were shaven, with no traces of hair left. This, too, was done by 2 Jewish girls who did their job most unwillingly as you could see by the expression on their faces. They were nice, softhearted Jewish girls, yet what could they do?
Then we were led to the shower-room to remove all the dirt and grime with which we were encrusted. There was a number of showers and we pushed in a disorderly way as everyone wanted to get rid of the accumulated filth of the last days as fast as possible.
After the shower we were given other clothes. I got a black bridal gown of diaphanous lace. When I came out my companions from the hut of Majdanek didn't recognize me. I looked entirely changed with my shaven head and the black dress. Only later on we were given the infamous striped Birkenau clothes, the shirts of those marked for death. We were then made to work. I had to prepare straw mattresses, from bags and straw for myself and my companions. Suddenly we were called to another block, where we were to stay and where, apparently, those fit for work were to be selected and separated from the rest. This separation was, of course, all - important. So weran over to be eligible for work and for survival. We stood in groups of 5. When it was the turn of my group, the German in cordered 2 women, who had been in Majdanek, together with me, to turn to the right. I was about to follow them automatically, as I wanted to stay with them, but the German wrathfully hit me ground with his stick and shouted: "Left I said, and left you go! Understood? " (Verstanden?) So I turned to the left and found myself in the company of young, healthy girls. I had to sort out the effects of those who had been burnt at Birkenau - and I didn't know what I was doing. Naively I thought that it was loot brought in from Jewish homes. I imagined that we were in a labor camp. Our block was kept clean and I thought the same must be true for the others and these were living quarfor workers who were doing useful and necessary jobs. This idea restoremy peace of mind a little and after a while I decided to try and do something for the public. I applied to the warden of our block and asked permission to invite the other Jewish women, who were in charge of blocks, so I could give them a talk about the nature of their job and about how they could help the Jews under their authority.
She was a good Jewish woman who listened to me patiently, with a smile on her face. When I had had my say, silence fell. She looked at me with her kind eyes and sized me up. She took in my ridiculous appearance, the oversize striped shirt, the shaven head wrapped in a rag and my torn and far too large shoes. She heaved a deep sigh and said: "It seems thyou have not grasped where you are. You haven't understood the nature of this place. Could it be that you are not aware of the incinerators, where the last remnants of the Jews from the concentration camps are burned? This shall be our end too."
I answered: "I had thought this was a Labor Camp" anshe went on: "You must know that nobody will accept your invitation and I can't grant you permission as it is agaithe rules, and above all: before such an assembly convenes you may all have gone up in smoke." She left me alone and I was under the impression that she was angry with me and she might take it out on me that I was planning to organize her subordinates. My hair roots began to tingle and my head was aching. The terror of death was on me. But a few minutes later she came back and said: "You applied to me not for your own sake. I can see that you really have the good of the public at heart. You haven't asked for better fitting clothes or any other privileges for yourself. I shall do something for you. Follow me!"
We entered the clothes store and she gave me a striped shirt, a new clean kerchief and whole shoes that fitted. When I saw myself in the mirror, I could hardly recognize myself. When I returned to the block, the Gentile women became jealous and showed their hatred openly. One of them said: "That's what it always is: the Jews cling together". One of them promised me bread and margarine ii I would agree to swap clothes with her. But my looks saved me from their vengeance. I didn't look like a "Musulman" and they honoured me. This was still more enhanced when two hours later the block warden appeared with her deputy, a very simple woman from Krakov, and told her: "You see this woman? Always give her some extra soup and bread, if you have any left." Next she turned to me: "That's all I was able to do for you under the circumstances" and then she added another sentence, addressed to nobody in particular: "A woman who cares for others, when she's in need herself, is worthy of all our help."
The days passed; I was working and hardly remembered whose clothes these were and what the place was like. Once a haughty German walked up to the block warden and barked an order: "Draw your block up in parade here. I need twenty women." She did as she was told and he walked between the ranks and picked his twenty women. He chose the young and the strong, Ukrainians and Jewesses, myself among the rest. We thought we were needed for special responsible work, but he first made us form a column and then said: "These twenty I have picked are to be transferred to that well-known block. (It was the one before the cremation.) Tomorrow all the others go to work as usual and these stay here."
It was abundantly clear: this was to be our last daand we could think of nothing else; couldn't sleep. We bit our fingernails, scratched our heads. There were sisters and other relations amongst us, good friends. They hugged and kissed each other and wouldn't let go; tried to stay together as long as possible. I had nobody and sat alone. I remembered how one day I passed by that block and saw women there behind iron bars with yellow faces and bad teeth. I remembered how they had seized the iron bars as if they could shake them loose and get away; and tomorrow our fate would be theirs.
In the morning everybody went to work, while we were left, three in a row, waiting for our last march and for death. So we were left standing for two or three hours while our knees were shaking. Our block warden, a dear Jewish woman, looked as if overnight she had grown twenty years older. She passed by and was ashamed to look us in the face. The despair in her eyes told us that our fate was sealed. She ran to the command post several times to ask what she should do with us and was told to keep us standing. When she asked for the third time, the Germans broke into a horselaugh "It was only a joke. We wanted to amuse ourselves. Take them for your own needs".
A few days later she was taken away and we never saw her any more. We have kept her memory sacred. She was a great woman, a noble soul of the kind that are few and far between. In her stead we got a tiny slip of a woman, thin and emaciated. She reminded you of a viper, winding round and poisonous, and so she was a dangerous snake, bloodthirsty and cruel.
During one of the parades I had to go and relieve myself. When I came back she boxed my ear and told me to stay in the hut, which was tantamount to going to the ovens; and you don't disobey orders. There was a Jewess from Paris, who told me to take my place in the column. I was afraid of more beating from that viper and hesitated. So that Jewess dragged me to her side. The shrew saw me there and thought somebody of higher authority had countermanded her order in her absence. In her poisonous way she hissed at me "I shall find you and pay you as you deserve."
However, she forgot and meanwhile I survived, but life was unbearable. There were epidemics and those in charge treated us as a nation of bearers of infection and that was awful. To prevent the spreading of disease one had to pick the lice and we were told to do this on all occasions. It was like a ceremony but a degrading and humiliating one. They also used to beat us, but the lashes hurt less than the humiliation. Lice picking was done outside. There we had to undress for everybody to see. The clothes were thrown into tubs with some stinking material and then we had to sit down on the ground and pick the lice that swarmed all over the recesses of the body. We collected them by the handful and threw them into the tubs. When we were comparatively clean, we had to walk to the bathhouse, entirely naked, while the males of the master race were looking on and making their remarks. Back from the bath we would fish our clothes out of the stinking liquid and put them on as they were. The disinfective material caused burns and itching to tears. The suffering was really indescribable.
There was also another mode of disinfection: we would undress in the bathhouse and put our clothes in boilers. Before the boiling was done it would be night and until then we had to sit and wait for our freshly disinfected clothes. At the end we had to stand in line to get our garments back. One night I was unlucky and my clothes were last, all the others were already dressed and had run away. I, too, wanted to take my stuff and to get dressed, while the woman in charge was standing there impatiently. She began to beat me up and to curse and revile me. I took it all without a word, fished my clothes out and waway. It was a dark night and here I was alone in this strange and hostile world. The flames from the crematoria could be seendistinctly against the sky. Smoke was whirling up from the chimney and sparks flew about, a sign that today's transport was being consumed. I had seen that transport during the day. They had known where they were being led and went as sheep to the slaughter, who cannot change their lot. As always, when a transport arrived. The block was closed and we regarded the victims through the windows. There were children with faded toys in their hands, little girls with tattered dolls. They looked like grown-ups and only their toys showed that they were still children. I knew only too well what these flames meant, and here I was, alone in the dark with only the sparks flying about. I couldsee German soldiers strutting about, armed the teeth and dangerous to mee. I walked about for hours on end and I don't know how, in the end I reached my own block.
Another disease was rife at the time: diarrhea, the name of which I never heard either before or later. It was a kind of involuntary loosening of the bowels and the infected person spread his faeces wherever she goes. I got it once by night. I stepped down from my bunk to go out, but the floor was all filthy and people were lying around as if unconscious of the mess. I stepped over them and they pinched my feet - were unable to do more. I approached the fence, beyond it was a camp similar to ours and there I perceived a woman pleading with the guard: "I entreated you to killme! What does it matter to you if you do so? You'll only do me a favour." She repeated her request again, in Polish and in German. First he refused and when she insisted he fired into the air to drive her off, butshe did not run away, and then he did what she had asked for. She slumped down at the fence clto me. I passed by her on my way back. What could I have done? I was so tired and weak that I fell asleep at once. WI awoke in the morning I found two corpses next to me. Both my neighbours had succumbed to the disease and I had not been aware of their dying.
At Bergen-Belsen and Liberation
From Birkenau I came to Bergen-Belsen, where I stayed until we were liberated. Part of the way had to walk, part of it was done in open vehicles. That was in January 1945. It was the famous march from one camp to the other, with overnight stays in roadside barns. In the ditches along the road, we could see hundreds of corpses of men, who had perished on the way. It seems that men can't bear as much as women and they succumbed.
At Bergen-Belsen I had to make cords from rotten rags. A Belgian Nazi tried the cords' strength and when, at the third or fourth attempt, he managed to tear the cord, he hit me in the face with his fist and I dropped to the ground bleeding. This caused considerable commotion.
We stayed in camp until Liberation in April 1945. The most shocking sight I remember was two great heaps of corpses arranged like bales of straw. Apparently they had not been able to burn them and you could see the gaping mouths from which gold dentures had been torn. The camp was freed by British troops under General Glenn Hughes. Life in the camp was organized immediately. Various committees were set up to deal with current affairs, including cultural activities. We had even a theatre of our own. The change in camp was another proof of the unbreakable Jewish spirit that showed its vitality even in the death camps and under all circumstances.
The dead left us a legacy: YOU SHALL LIVE!
FROM THE SCRAP-BOOK OF HORRORS (Return to Contents)
September 2nd 1939
We're tired of the contradictory declarations by the government over the radio changing back and forth from optimism to pessimism. We are oppressed by a heavy premonition that disaster is looming. I fell asleep near midnight. Friday night was gloomy. At four in the morning I woke up as somebody knocked at the door. My mother-in-law was standing there, unnerved and shaken: "What's the matter with you? Everybody's packing up and leaving and you - as if nothing has happened!"
I look out of the window: a welter of people and cattle. Families who try to save themselves and their cow or goat, so that they might have a little milk even in these days of turmoil. Refugees are arriving from neighboutownships, where they have already felt what the new times will be like and now it's our turn. The Jews of Rozhan always knew that their town, as a fortified place, was in for trouble in case of war and one had best leave it.
We live in the house of our in-laws, who are helpless and we have still more to look after: our eldest son Moshe is 41/2 years old and Abraham 3 months. There is another child in the house, my brother-in-law's orphaned son of 6. There is also Minna's great-grandmother of 103. How can you move such a family? You need a cart and horses - yet the Polish army has commandeered all the horses in the villages around Rozhan. So - what can you do?
I walk over to Govorovo, where there are Jewish teamsters. Some two kilometers before reaching there I meet a cart and ask the Jewish driver to come with me to Rozhan and rescue my family, He hadn't heard that the roads were blocked and agreed. I promised him that only those unable to walk would ride, while we, the adults, would foot it. I would pay him whatever he'd ask. On the way he remembered that he had relations of his in Rozhan, the Kaplans, and he wanted to save them, too. I agreed on condition that there be room enough - first we and then the others.
Indescribable panic reigned in town. Unkempt and ragged people were lying on the crossroads, tired and in despair, with their children and belongings. They were worn out already before leaving. Everybody swarms about my teamster, promising him treasures, if he'd leave me and take them: "We need your cart more than others." I plead and shout myself hoarse: "I've brought him here! Went 6 kilometers to fetch him! Is there no fear of God in you?"
Nobody knows me, nobody will know even those nearest to him. The fiery lava is approaching fast - how can you expect people to be considerate or friendly? I'm lucky and the good teamster from Govorovo decides in my favour. I walk behind the cart, pushing Avrema'le's pram. The driver's cousin turns up with a modest demand: "Look here, Pessah, you have to push the pram anyway: put some of my merchandise, some haberdashery on it and take it to Govorovo. That will be very useful for our wanderings." I agree. Meanwhile the cart drives on and I am left with the pram. Suddenly Polish officers arrest me near the barracks. I am of military age, and if I'm not in uniform, then probably I am a deserter, liable to be court-martialled. I entreat them: "I haven't been called up; my family is on the way to Govorovo and if you want me, you can find me there." After three hours they let me go and when I joined my family in the evening they had already despaired of seeing me again.
Govorovo is expecting the Germans, who may arrive any moment. A gloomy Sabbath day. We are sitting in the basements. The little town is shaken by repeated bursts of gunfire, but suddenly they stopped. We waited a little, thought of going out to see what was happening, but at that time the Germans were already in the streets and loudspeakers blared: "Come out! Assemble in the market square!" Somebody left our basement and so we were detected. The Nazis broke in and told us to come out - or else they'd throw in a grenade.
In the market place all the inhabitants of the township are gathered and thousands of refugees besides, who for some reason have flocked here from the surrounding townships to find a haven of rescue. Orders are given with a loud voice: "Separate! Men of 16 to 55 to the left. The rest stay where they are!" (I remember having a letter from H.M. King George the Sixth in my pocket, where he confirms our rights as British subjects and grants us visas of entry to the U.K. I had congratulated him on the occasion of his birthday, claiming British citizenship as a subject who had emigrated and now wanted to home, etc. The answer had been in the affirmative, as befits a gracious King who came to the throne because his brother, King Edward,had abdicated. I push this precious document into Moishe'le's pocket hoping: with luck we may get out of this hell and go to England.)
Now I have to leave my family and we feel that it may be forever. We had heard what had happened to other men. May those papers help them. I have no chance anyway.
For hours on end we were sitting thus, facing each other in the hot sun or the cold wind that blew in turn, hungry and thirsty, longing to be together, but we must not look. Dusk. Germans with bloodhounds surround us: "Get up!" We are marching towards an unknown destination. We have to march briskly, while rifle-butts and whips urge us on.
Midnight. We are in the courtyard of an estate. Abig stable, smoking horse dung. That's where they put us, 600 men, Polesand Jews together. We are hungry and thirsty, tired and footsore, stretch out on the litter and fall asleep at once.
Four in the morning. Dogs and men break in. Savage shouts are heard "Walk!" - and we do so. At six we realized that we were approaching Rozhan. How did they do that? They urged us on for so many hours from Govorovo to Rozhan and we are not yet there? We look ahead: the bridge is destroyed; that means they are going to drown us here. A large German convoy approaches. We take leave from each other as we feel that we shall never meet again. Some murmur prayers - but the convoy passes by. They had been building a pontoon bridge elsewhere. At 6 we crossed it and here we were at Rozhan- but the town no longer existed. The fires we had seen. When leaving a week earlier, had burned it to the ground. A chimney here and there, some ruins - that's what Rozhan is like now.
Sunday, September 10th.
They separated us from the Poles. The Jews are being loaded on motor lorries while Nazi officers glowith wickedness go through the motion of cutting throats and say: "That's what shall be done to all the Jews. Up and youshall see the place!" We passed Makov and reached Prushnits near the border between Poland and Germany. Orders to get off and again hints at slaughter and remarks: "This is the end of all the Jews. Your doom is near." We are murmuring prayers, confess ourselves, say psalms, get ready to die and have only one wish that our families be spared the knowledge; let us die instead of the others, Lord!
Two, three depressing hours pass by. Again we are made to climb up. 40 people to a small lorry. Those two or three days we go hungry and thirsty. We cross the German border. Here's a little village, whose inhabitants greet their victorious soldiers with flowers, embrace and kiss them. We receive looks of scorn - we're the prisoners.
Towards the evening we reached Hindenburg. I am on German soil and my heart is in Poland, with my family. What's happening to them? Do they know what's happening to me? We are brought to a huge S.S. camp with an electric wire fence all around and inside rows of wooden huts, three together within another wire fence, electric and equipped with enormous search-lights. So at least we shall have a roof over our heads to protect us against the cold of night, against heat or rain - maybe we'll get a little water? They gave us a loaf of bread and some jam for each person, straw mattresses and a blanket for every three or four men, so we lay down and fell asleep.
At one we got orders: "Get out! Face the fence, nobody looks back!" And we obey. Immediately shots are heard, but it is pitch dark and you can see nothing. We were sure there must already be heaps of dead and that it was our turn now. The living envied the dead. At half past one the shooting ceased and again shouted orders: "Back to the barracks!" The scheme to frighten and humiliate us had worked - we might now be allowed to sleep.
Monday September 11th.
We are gathered in our hut. Officers come in and speechify. All the speeches to the same effect: it's at the fault of the Jews. If it were not for the Jews. Europe would enjoy eternal peace and so on in that vein. We try to explain that all these accusations are baseless: what good do wars do to us? It's ridiculous! And their answer: "Nothing doing - that's how the Fuehrer wants it!" They were not yet hardened; they were young Nazis who still argued with Jews.The days passed quietly, but the idea nags you: what did they carry us here for - if not to kill us?
Tuesday September 12th.
We're in for something. Well fed German estate owners come to choose slaves to work for them. Things brighten a little. Many throng to work, hoping to be fed at least. I have my doubts and do not want to move on. My heart told me that here in a public place I might be spared. I didn't want to go to slaughter. In the evening the workers returned content. They had got plenty of good food. So that had become the criterion of good or bad: the food.
Wednesday September l3th.
Our masters appeared again and the number of volunteers for forced labour increased. Among them the youngest of the Raitchik's, a boy of 17. He overworked and over-ate himself and at 11 in the night we could hear him sigh and presently sob. We approached his bed, where he was writhing in pain but there was nothing we could do to help him. At one o'clock David Pokshkivka woke us up saying that the boy was dying. David was a member of the "Hevra Kadisha" (Burial Society) and knew what he was saying. We went out to the fence and cried for help, asked for a doctor, but nobody came. At three in the night the boy breathed his last. The headman of our hut, a German Jew walked up to the guard, reported the death and asked permission to arrange the funeral according to Jewish custom, which was done with 10 people attending and Kaddish said.
Thursday September 15th.
In the third hut Poles had been housed, whom we used to meet. Our relationship was like those of two separate parties with a common enemy who brutalizes both. On that day they turned against us and we were shocked. We thought somebody must have incited them, maybe the Germans wanted trouble, whereupon they would step in and hand down their decision. It was obvious in whose favour that would be and therefore we resolved to restrain ourselves. First they demanded the suits we wore under our coats. Next they demanded our shoes we made holes in them so that they might not want them, but they took them anyway.
Yom-Kippur's Eve 1939.
The Poles continued to harass us. They tore the coats off our backs which we were wearing over our undergarments. Again we kept back as we were afraid of a provocation planned by the Germans. If there was anybody who wanted to show resistance we urged him to desist. Next they took from us our straw mattresses and that was awful. How could we pass the night with nothing to lie on? So we tried to resist and there was noise. At that moment we heard footsteps outside, between the huts. Men in uniform appeared. At their head a German general. Now, we thought, we have done it. Had we only kept our peace! And lo and behold: a miracle! The men wore red cross badges and they had come to witness that prisoners got humane treatment at the hands of the Germans - apparently following an invitation, and here the performance had gone wrong. The general was visibly embarrassed when he saw us barefoot and in nothing but our drawers. He asked what the noise was all about, and we told him. While we were talking, an altercation was still going on between a Pole and a Jew, who refused his demands and in the heat of the struggle they were unaware of the commotion in the courtyard. The general walked up to the Pole, gave him a few blows and shouted at him: "You Polish robber!" He gave an immediate order to restore whatever they had taken from us and to compensate us out of the Poles' belongings for anything they might have spoiled. Everything was taken away from them, even their shoes and their sleeping bags, which the Germans gave us saying: "Here's for you to cover yourselves with." A miracle of Yom-Kippur's Eve indeed! For six weeks they kept us idle at this camp of Tannenberg near the town of Hindenburg.
In the morning we were standing in line as usual for bread and jam, when they told us that all the Jews were to be set free, and of the Polethose domiciliated in the area allotted to the Russians according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement. The conclusion of this announcement was worded with the well known German haughtiness we were to be transferred to the "Dirty Russians".
Before leaving we had to sign a declaration to the effect that: "We had been treated very well, had been allowed to take all our property with us, and that we undertook never to return, otherwise we would be shot like mad dogs." We were loaded on cattle-cars, crowded as sardines in a box and then we were packed off to a destination unknown to us under heavy guard. There were no windows and nobody could peep out and try to identify the direction. Thnight trip was hard, as we had to stand all the time. In the morning topened the doors and we found ourselves at the station of Ostrolenka. Again the fear of death gripped us and still more the thought of our families from whom we were separated. But the loudspeaker urges us on: "Get out!" and when we have done so we get an "explanation". "You go to Russia. This is the direction. If anyone dare come back... a bullet in his head." So we walked on like waifs, not knowing where. We began to argue amongst us. There were differences of opinion about the right direction. Joshua Laufer, Tzvi Grinspan, myself and others from Rozhan decided to take the direction of our own town. Above all we wanted to find out what had happened to those we had left at Govoro. We had to reckon with the fact that this was dangerous, as we might meet Germans; yet we took our courage in both hands and set out. In a village garden about 5 km. distant from Rozhan we met a young priest, who awhere we came from and where we were going. We told him we were returning from captivity and werlooking for our families. He explained that Rozhan was in ruins and that many of its people were at Makov, but he warned us noto go there as German patrols were swarming all over the place and they were shooting indiscriminately. Here our reactions were again different: Joshua, Tsvi and myself decided to turn back and pass over to the Russians. The others went on to Rozhan and. unfortunately, were all shot the same night.
We reached Ostrolenka, where we met more Jews, who had been ordered to go to the "Dirty Russians". They however had been granted a number of days to get ready and on a certain date they would have to leave for Lomza. The Jews were in poor spirits but resolved to get away, to run from the Nazi hell. Joshua had a relation there, Golda Greenberg, who received us as brothers; she prepared a bath for each and gave us clean underwear and we rested a little.
We walked the short distance from Ostrolenka to the new Russian border-line. On the road we met the late Melekh Lifshitz, who invited me to come to the village of Simova, where his relations were already staying, which would make things easier. His people at Simova received us with open arms, and Lifshitz's wife took out a wad of banknotes and offered it to us: "If we survive, you may pay me back, and if not - then who'll need it?"
We went on together to Zambrov, on the Russian side, where I met P. from Rozhan, who had always looked like a Gentile - so much the more so now. He told me he had papers as a goy and a license to go to Makov. For that purpose he had bought a bicycle and he invited me to join him, but I refused. I told him quite seriously: "With a nose like mine, I'll betray you." I only asked for one thing; if he ever met my wife or other members of the family, to tell them I was alive, here and waiting for them to come. And, to convince them he was telling the truth and not just spreading rumours, I gave him secret signs: my wife had two jewels sewn in the children's clothes, as well as British banknotes we had prepared, hoping to emigrate to England.
The roads to Zambrov were blocked. An incessant stream of Jewish displaced persons was moving east towards the parts newly annexed to Russia. I used to stand outside the town and scan the newcomers for one of our family. My longing was intense - more intense still my misgivings. I saw a dogcart with rubber wheels appthat attracted attention, I could see Ida
Levartovitch sitting in there. I ran towards her, crying "I am Pessah". She wouldn't let me go near, as she was carrying her son who was ill with typhus. That was dangerous and that's why the Germans had given her the vehicle. to get her out of the way, but before going on she said: "Pessah. I met your wife on the road. She's coming with the kids. Don't go away. Within a day or two she'll be here."
For two days I waited by the roadside, without food or drink. I was restless. There was an endless stream of Grey degraded humanity and of animals. The people looked ragged and unkempt. Mothers were bearing in their arms little children frozen to death whom they wanted to bury in a Jewish cemetery. Children who were still living, dragged themselves after their mothers. The sight of these children broke my heart. I never saw such listless eyes, such utter despair. Old people with bent backs, spent and stumbling, were looking around as if they were searching for something. And the migration went on in a tremendous current, as if a dam had broken somewhere and released a flood. Good God, how shall I find my dearest here - all that is left to me in life?
It is winter, close to Hanukah. Puddles freeze over by night and thaw again by day. I am cold to my bones. And how about them? My little ones? I am all in rags. When the Poles assaulted us at Tannenberg I cut up my shoes. Now I had to tie them to my feet with rags and a piece of belt. My cap is all in tatters, and my clothes dilapidated and threadbare. I am unkempt and unshaven, look like an escaped criminal. Would they ever recognize me? And how do they look - maybe as bad as I? And how, than, would I recognize them?
And so it went on. One cart among tens of thousands attracted my attention because of a fur-coat that looked somehow familiar. The cart was full of children. It came nearer and - no mistake - it was my wife's old fur-coat, She hadn't recognized me. A short while before her cousin had found her, and jumped up to embrace her, laughing and crying. And she hid us from each other. I approached the cart slowly and whispered: "It's me. Pessah, Thank God!" Minna couldn't hear me whisper. She was as if trapped in her cousin's arms. But Moishe'le caught fright and cried: "Mummy, here's the madman I told you of. He's here and I'm afraid!" And he sobbed. Than only she turned to me, made sure I was her husband and soothed the child.
It was obvious that we couldn't stay in Zambrov for long. The little town was swamped with refugees and the authorities told us to move on and make room. They didn't tell us where - just move on. I was quite willing to move, but had neither money nor any valuables, without which we would have been forced to walk and that was beyond our forces and dangerous besides. We were very miserable. Every day I would go out into the street, hoping that something would "turn up". Maybe a miracle, that would help us to get away. Miracles did happen at the time - not enough, compared with the enormity off the disaster, but here and there something would turn up as a surprise.
One day we heard somebody call my wife by her name, We knew he must be from Rozhan, as he called her "Mindele". He was a young man from Rozhan, Meir Rosenberg, brother to Esther (Hadassa) Rosenberg, whom I had not known at Rozhan, Here he appeared armed with a rifle and felt more secure than others. When he saw us ragged and bewildered, he understood that we were in need of help, and he offered it. I asked what he could do and he said: "I can get you a cart to take you to the railway station and from there you'll manage somehow." And so we reached the station, at some distance from the town. With great difficulty we squeezed into a car. It was understandable that everybody was eager to go and that nobody showed consideration for hisneighbour, but it added to the suffering and the situation became awful. In our car there was the mother of Lea Kurlender, mother-in-law to poet Abraham Broides, and a number of people from Rozhan, whose names I have forgotten. We reached Bialystok at 8 in the morning, on a Sabbath. It was cold, raining and snowing and the moisture penetrated your very bones. What to do next? Where to turn? Where to lay your head? I alighted, told the family to await me at the station and went to town.
On the way I remembered a friend of mine, who worked in the office of "Hehalutz Hamizrahi" (Orthodox Pioneers) and I even remembered his address, or rather the name of the street, for which I began to ask. I passed by synagogues, Batei-Midrash and a bathhouse. Everywhere refugees were thronging in. I could see the miserables lying around or sittpicking lice. I heard the hungry children wail they were tired o, never got enough sleep, and their parents too, were nervous. It was a terrible sight. I was standing in the street and said to myself: rather put my family in an abandoned shack than bring them to this hell.
In Killinsky Street, where my friend was supposed to live, I went from one house to the other but nobody could tell me until finally at No. 21 somebody could show me where my friend lived. When I entered, I saw on the wall a Goblin my wife had embroidered for him as a wedding present. My friend was not at home, but when I told his parents of the story of this Goblin and said: "For Koppel Spitalny's wedding we wanted a very special present and my wife chose thisone," they became very friendly indeed. Koppel had remained at Warsaw but they would take us into their home as if he were here. The Spitalny girls accompanied me to the station and we came to live with them.
The welcthey gave us was really unforgettable: a hot bath was ready and a cozy corner. Wonderful Jewish broth! Next day, before I ever breathed a word about it, the father said to me: "I'm sure you have no money. Now you go to the cloth next door together with my son. They'll give you merchandise on credit, so you can begin to earn money to feed your family. No sooner said than done.
The merchant accepted Spitalny's word and I began to trade. I met Chatzkel Geltchinski and Tsalke Broide, who had heard my story - one of the miracles of our times, as it seemed to them, too. Spitalny senior had been a teacher at the "Tahkemoni" School and, when this was closed, he turned his roomy house into a kitchen and dining-room. I used to get up early with Rabbi Noah and help him fetch bread from the bakery, a token repayment for what he had done for me.
Thus it went on until R. Noah's wife decided to risk her life in order to search for her son Koppel and to bring him home. I knew that I'd have to make room for him and moved to a wooden hut in the well-known summer resort of Ignatki, near Bialystok. There I became a member of the local committee in charge of the distribution of bread and other food in the refugee kitchen. On my way from Ignatki to Bialystok I had to pass by Dzhedzhinitz, where I would meet most of the other refugees from Rozhan. Once they told me the N.K.V.D. would allow people to register with them and name the place where they intended to go from Bialystok. Everyone was free to choose. Most people were tired of their situation as refugees and wanted to go back to the German zone. I did my best to dissuade them. The horrors I - we - had been through had impressed themselves deeply upon my mind As far as my influence reached, I prevented people from committing such an act of folly, which would cost them their lives, but they were afraid above all of the Russians. I explained how dangerous it would be to approach a Russian and to tell him, that you wanted to leave Siberia. I, for one, registered far travel to Russia and asked for asylum and refugee status in Russia till the war would be over.
On the way back to Ignatki I passed through Dzhedzhinitz, where I found the people from Rozhan confused and bewildered. Some even showing signs of a nervous breakdown. I tried to persuade them not to accept Russian citizen-ship. I explained to them what I knew about the Soviet regime and added that if entry in Russia was difficult, exit would be a thousantimes more difficult. Above all I pleaded with those who had relations in Eretz-Israel not to make the mistake. I tried to persuade Fishel Gogol, as I knew that he had children in Eretz-Israel. But unfortunately I failed and we know what happened to them.
Meanwhile my cloth business activity came to an end and I began to sell meat, onions and other vegetables in order to feed the family. When we had stayed in Bialystok for six months "in transit", the authorities began to send the Jews away. Some were sent back to the Germans as they had wished -and we were sent to Siberia.
BOYS FROM ROZHAN AMONG THE FIGHTERS (Return to Contents)
How We Were Humiliated
In the Makov ghetto there were also Jews from Rozhan. They arrived there after the Germans expelled the Jews, two days after the town was occupied. At the time the ghetto was set up I was 18 years old and I didn't ask people's names nor where they came from. There were boys of my age and also children who had arrived with their parents. Together with these youngsters I experienced the horrors of those days and we became deeply attached to each other. Therefore I feel close to the Jews of Rozhan, who now want to preserve the memory of those days and of their dearest.
What causes me write these pages is the common fate I shared with your township for six months of suffering and humiliation during the period of the Holocaust.
In the autumn of 1941 the ghetto of Makov was set up and in May 1942 we were sent to a labor camp at Rozhan. The ghetto served as a kind of labor exchange, that supplied the Germans' needs for workers in the vicinity. Jews were sent as slaves, on forced labor, to German army camps, to estates seized by the Germans or as cleaners and road menders. Rozhan was found suitable, as the subterranean fortifications came in handy to house the Jews, so that the time and expense of preparing the housing could be saved. Tao hundred youngsters were taken from the ghetto and transferred to the forts of Rozhan, among them a number of natives of the town. To them it was a double tragedy: to return to their hometown and see it in ruins and then to live there like moles underground. Unfortunately, I don't remember the names of these boys, some five or six, although we were very close. We all felt very close to each other. Life was hard. We slept on straw, never renewed, where lice and other vermin multiplied. We received next to no food, one third of a loaf of bread per day, in the morning and evening, and infusion of leaves sweetened with saccharin and at noon one liter of thin soup. The camp commander, a sadist of the worst sort, gave orders to feed us with any kind of carrion to be found in town or in the neighbourhood. It was a feast day in camp whenever a horse or a pig died, as then our soup would be fatter and we'd enjoy it. And yet, it was neither the hunger, nor the hard work that depressed us most. On my forearm I bear my numbers from Auschwitz, Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. I have been through all the horrors and yet, what I remember first and foremost are two things I experienced at Rozhan.
We used to go out at sunrise and then were led to the market place and to other streets to clear away the debris. We came back to our dens at dark And thus for six days a week. They wanted to make Rozhan into a park for the vicinity, maybe they thought to leave it as a monument by which their friends, the villagers would remember them, if they were ever to leave: for having rid the town of Jews and leaving public gardens for the children of the murderers, who had helped them. The market place was all in ruins. Here and there were remnants of what had been a dwelling. The rest had been cleared by the Gentiles who had searched the debris for valuables and building materials.
Sunday was the day of rest - and for us the worst. On that day Goyim (Gentiles) from the neighbourhood would be invited to our camp. They would sit down on chairs on top of the fortifications and look down while wwere ordered to amuse them. The camp commander, a dandified German and a sadistic intellectual would be in charge of the performance. Somebody found a German song for us (which I shall quote later) and we had to stand in pairs and pick each other's lice. We were in fact infected with lice and we could collect by the handful. While this was going on, some Goy might walk down and "Help us", lift our shirts and show what they had "detected", at the same time beating our naked bodies with belts and horsewhips. Next five of us, who would be selected every Sunday, had to contribute to the high spirits of the onlookers - at the commander's orders. They had to run around with incessant commands of "Falldown" and "Get up" till they fainted. Then they were revived withbuckets of cold water, that was kept ready, and the next game was leapfrog. This had to be done properly or else you were whipped and told to jump as a good frog and not to cheat, while the Goyim were roaring with laughter. In the end the volunteer taskmasters would apply a whipping of 30 lashes on our naked bodies until one became unconscious, whereupon you d be brought back to life with cold water and then the beating could continue. After such treatment a Jew could only crawl back to his den, his body all black and blue - but the next day he had to report for work as if nothing had happened. Every Sunday required its victims. Everyone was a candidate for this ordeal and the consciousness thayou might be the next froze the blood.
There was always a third act to the performance and this humiliation hurt even more than the beatings. All the 200 boys were assembled and we had to bend the way Jews bend while pfervently. Now and then the German sadist would interrupt these fake prayer movements and our forced murmand explain to the audience which was roaring with laughter how fanatic these people (the Jews) were and how barbaric to pray to such god with these idiotic body motions. The performance would end in a march round the place in threes while singing the above-mentioned song, which was:
"What shall we make from the lice, lice, lice?
From the lice we make hides, hides, hides.
From the hides we make bags, lousy bags.
In the bags we put money, lousy money.
With the money we buy a shimmel (white horse), lousy shimmel.
On the shimmel we go to heaven, lousy heaven.
In heaven sits our god, lousy god.
And from heaven, we shit on the world, the lousy world."
A second thing that makes the memory of those days at Rozhan a nightmare was our walks through the streets at the end of those Sunday performances. Among the ruins we looked for some remnant of Jewish life. Maybe we could detect a Jew, who was hiding there, rescue him and make him join us - in vain. We only found torn pages of prayer books, Mezuzoth and other cult items; nothing else was left of this Jewish town, except for the Goyim who came to enjoy themselves and gloat over our humiliation.
How We Held Out
In that labor camp at Rozhan we nurtured the desire for revenge and for that it was worthwhile to stay alive. To go on existing was an imperative for the moral forces we had left. To exist and to live! Mayorek from Warsaw, a very fine young man, who overcame all these horrors and kept up his spirits and courage, gave expression to these feelings. For all the events of our lives he wrote songs. The grandest of all he wrote at Rozhan - both the words and the music - was like a hymn we would sing while going to work and while coming back. Local Poles, whom the Germans had enlisted as taskmasters and overseers, were sadistic like their overlords and they would harry and beat us at work. They would tax our bodies to exhaustion in order to depress and break our spirit. When they heard us sing, they knew that we were still keeping up our morale. To this day I don't know how they failed to grasp what we were singing - after all they had picked up some German and Yiddish.
At all events we managed to keep up our miserable lives and to preserve some hope for a fight and for the resurrection to come after.
Now, you might ask, where was the fighting spirit of the young men of Israel? Why did't they rebel? In our eyes those days of Rozhan, our unshaken stand in the face of suffering and humiliation, were like a prolonged war of attrition; under the circumstances our answer could only be life itself, survival. No other form of fight was possible. Every moment of singing was proof of daring - the peculiar kind that suited the time.
Don't forget: to bear this tension, everyday afresh in those times, required moral forces, real heroism and faith in something beyond the needs of the individual, beyond his will to live as a particular man. I might perhaps call it the national will to live. This definition comes closest to what we felt at the time. It is something to deep to be spelled out, but I am sure that this was what we sensed. This was our only hope: to be a nation once more. I remember how we sang our anthem with our whole souls and we felt how it strengthened and refreshed us. We felt stronger, and our faith in the future grew.
It was chiefly Mayorek, the creator of songs whose spirit nothing could subdue, who imbued us with these feelings. At Rozhan we used to sing Mayorek's anthem. Here I'm quoting only the refrain:
"Sisters and brothers close the ranks,
He, who's afraid - let him not go to fight.
As long as we live, let us march, march -
The road is long, but never stop!"
Here in Rozhan one of the sparks was kindled that led to the armed rebellion against the Nazis. It is no coincidence that the survivors of the Rozhan camp were those who blew up one of the incinerators at Birkenau where boys from Makov and Rozhan were buried under the fiery rain that consumed it. All survivors of Birkenau know the fact.
You may add this article of mine as a contribution to your memorial book, as a stone in the monument in honour of the martyrs of your town, evidence of the heroism shown during the long, long days of the Holocaust.
I VISITED MAJDANEK (Return to Contents)
I had heard and read about Majdanek, but hearing and reading is not like seeing.
In 1963 I visited Poland and on the 21st July I travelled to Lublin, close to which is Majdanek extermination camp. I arrived in Lublin by train and then proceeded on foot, a distance of about 4 km. which took me an hour of walking in silence. I had people to accompany me; they walked by my side or behind me but I didn't speak a word to them - I couldn't. I was trembling all over, shaking from cold in my bones in spite of the summer's heat.
As I approached the camp I could discern the flags that were flying over it. Our blue and white national flag clearly visible among them. Tears welled up in my eyes. I sensed that I was entering the place where a million and a half human beings had been done to death, most of whom had been Jews.
When I stepped on the accursed ground my feet tingled. I felt as if I was treading upon corpses from which life had just now departed. The buildings were left whole. I approached and touched the walls that had shut in a teeming mass of Jews, who were being led to the incinerators. Here they had lived through their last minutes facing inescapable death.
I went in and saw where the victims had been housed. The terror of death was in the air and I thought of the holy martyrs and their fiendish executors.
In one room there was a heap of shoes taken from those who were going to the gas chambers, shoes of all sizes, of children, women and men, new and worn-out. I had a feeling as if all those shoes were about to march towards me and continue their walking from where it had been stopped.
So I went on and reached the incinerator. How degraded must have been those who had done the devil's work here! How much thought they gave to perfect the machinery, those outcasts, who are our contemporaries, yours and mine, sons of the 20th century.
We were told that when this death factory was taken, the liberatorfound a heap of ashes of some fourteen hundred cubic meters, near the incinerator where the victims of the gas chambers were annihilated.
I stood tand wept. I was grinding my teeth and was angry with the world that stood by and didn't lift a finger when innocent human beings were mass murdered, only because they were Jews. I sent a postcard home with the words: "I am ashamed to think that the murderers were created in God's image. Majdanek, the shame of the enlightened world"
ROZHAN, COULD I EVER FORGET YOU? (Return to Contents)
May my tongue cleave to my palate, if I ever forget you! And how could one forget all our dear holy martyrs? Forget the place and the surroundings, life and friends, fellow men who gave us the feeling that we were modern Jews with values. Here I can see before my eyes the litownship of Rozhan and its vicinity, the marvelous nature, thills, the river Narev, the woods, the Older Brick about which were told grueling stories. And all around were Jewish, Jews with sad eyes, afraid of tomorrow, and yet with hearts full of hope that for us too, for the Jewish people, there might arrive better times and days of joy.
How much heroism was hidden away in each and every one, necessary in order to survive in an environment of hatred, which was in power. Who dare say that our brothers went like sheep to the slaughter, as the story is often told. The truth is that our Jews of Rozhan had more than once beaten back anti-Semitic assault and its pogroms.
In Rozhan you could find (Tora) students, traders and artisans, workers and associations, libraries, evening-courses, lectures, sport-clubs, a drama-circle anso on and so on.
On a Sabbath Jews put on their silken coats, their Sabbath clothes and went to prayer meetings. The youngsters went to their associations and everybody had the same aim, the same hope and will: to live aJews. The innocent martyrs met death in every horrible way, what for? For whom? Only because they were Jews!
TheHitlerites and their supporters wanted to erase from the world and from world history one of the oldest nations; and the rulers of the world content to look on and to keep silent. How can we forget that? How can we forgive them? On the contrary! We shall protest and demand that the Nazi murderers who are still strutting about in both Germany and in Austria not be allowed to go set free. We shall cry out and apply to the last shred of conscience in the world: Don't allow the law to pass that will grant pardon to the Nazis and oblivion to their shameful crimes!
The State of Israel that came into being after the 6 million martyrs had been killed is the repository of their sacred memory. Many of the dead might have been living with us here; they might have increased our number, added to our strength and rendered the land fertile.
Let us remember and let us swear: never to forget the horrible crime of the Nazi bandits and of their helpmates! Let's do whatever we can to strengthen our state, as a Jewish state is the only guarantee against another disaster!
THE ROZHAN RELIEF COMMITTEE IN NEW-YORK (Return to Contents)
(Origins and Activities)
It was in 1937/38 that appeals from our township Rozhan to us, who had emigrated to America, became more and more urgent. Jews had much to complain of in semi-fascist Poland and the situation in Rozhan was especially bad, as it was surrounded by a hostile, gentile population, thirsty to vent its spleen upon the Jews.
We heard of the economic and political repression our brethren had to suffer, of the brutal aggression by the local N.D. anti-Semites who called quite openly for the economic extinction of Jewish traders and artisans through complete boycott of their shops.
In those days we already had the "Etz-Hayim Society" with its "Ladies Auxiliary", as well as "People of Rozhan" (Landsmannschaft). Following the appeal issued by the "Etz-Hayim Society", a group of people from Rozhan erected a corporation whose task would be to extend help to individuals and institutions of Rozhan, who might be in need of it in any respect. We used to send money and parcels to the "Ort" school, to the Talmud-Tora and also to individuals, who, in our view, required assistance.
During the bloody years of the Nazi Holocaust our activities came to a standstill. Only in 1944 the first reports of the catastrophe of PolishJewry reached us. Rozhan, we were told, was one of the first places to be hit. As yet we did not know what was left of our town and who were the survivors, nor how to assist them, but we began to organize the members of our community in New York. A meeting was called for Wednesday, December 20th 1944 at the Rozhan "Shul", 9-11 Montgomery Street. In attendance were the heads of the above mentioned organized bodies as well as of the Rozhan branch 454 of the "Arbeter Ring" and of branch 98 of the Jewish Fraternal Order; the Progressive Young Men of Rozhan and the Radzimin Hassidim of Rozhan. The following officials were elected at the meeting
President: Israel (Saul) Welwel Goldstein
Vice-president: Idel Katz
Finance Secretary: Abraham Rosenberg
Treasurer (Cashier): Anna Schultz
Recording Secretary: Morris Goldstein.
The following members of our community joined the executive committee:
Sam Orlowsky Morris Tshelst
Isidore Rozin Saul Goldstein
Jack Gruszko Sam Goldstein
Kalman Zamek Florence Goldstein
Morrls Shultzer Alter Plotkin
On September 10th 1945 an enlarged meeting of members of our community living in New York or elsewhere in American was held, where plans were made to assist our people from Rozhan who had survived the holocaust. At the memorial service for the victims our president Israel Welwel Goldstein succumbed to a heart attack and we lost one of those who had been most active in our work. His place was taken by the vice-president Idel Katz, while Saul Goldstein became vice-president and assistance work was carried on. At this time came a first appeal from the (Organization of) Polish Jews asking us to adopt two orphans. At the next meeting, October 11th it was resolved to comply with this demand and two orphans were adopted. At the same time $600 were levied for the Association (Farband) of Polish Jews in America. Next we received the first direct calls for emergency help from Rozhan survivors at Reichenbach, Silesia. Financial help was sent at once and a collection of clothes and food began. Sam and Rose Orlowsky were specially devoted to the work, in whose house the food parcels were packed, also Benjamin and Norma Plotkin, who put their home at the disposal of those who prepared the clothes and made the packages to be sent to our dears. We should mention as very active our friends in New York Sam and Florence Goldstein, John and Sara Rosenberg, Paul Goldstein, Sam Nagel, Saul Miller, Haim Plotkin, Dave Rozin, Alter Plotkin, Jack Lipniak, Morris and Ann Shultzer, Abraham Keltch, Jack Melnik, Feiwel Pultusker and Shmuel Rogoza. Owing to the devotion of our community members in American assistance work could be expanded to reach survivors in Poland, Germany, Austria, France, Italy and the U.S.S.R. Help was even sent as far as Australia and China.
When the war was over, the Jews from Rozhan began to arrive in the U.S. We called a meeting (September 20th 1946) where it was resolved to take upon ourselves the task of assisting any newcomer from Rozhan who might be in need of help.
So our Assistance Committee carried out its activities for people from Rozhan in America and elsewhere. Then Jews from Rozhan also began to arrive in Israel and we made Israel the center of our activities. Above all we stressed help to the loan fund organized by the Rozhan committee in Israel.
Meanwhile we lost our president Idel Katz and another active member. Benjamin Plotkln, took over as president and Dave Rozin as finance secretary, so that relief and assistance work for our people all over the world could go on.
As time went on our "Landeleute" became established in Israel, while. In New York, the number of people active on the committee was shrinking, so that the work suffered temporary eclipse. When however, the Israeli committee began to take practical steps towards publication of a book in memory of the communitof Rozhan and its martyrs, and they applied to us for help in this sacred task, we reorganized our committee and put ourselves at the service of this important undertaking.
At a meeting specially devoted to this memorial book (Feb. 28th 1971. New York) a new active body was elected:
President: Benjamin Plotkin; Vice President: Jack Tshelst; Financial Secretary: Haim Plotkin; Treasurer: John Kvartgwitz; Recording Secretary: Morris Goldstein; Honorary members of the executive committee are: Arthur Tshelst, Alter Plotkln, Morris Beilis, John Rosenberg, William Berman, Morris Shultzer, Menuha Shultzer, Elia Wilgovitch.
We continue sending financial aid towards the publication of the Memorial Book as well as cematerial for it. We do our work, being grateful to our "" both in Israel and the U.S. for the effort they make in order to have this book published, which is to be a memorial for all times to our holy martyrs, testimony to their spirit and a warning to the fiendish Hitlers of the world to tell them that none shall ever be able to wipe out Israel.
Such a memorial book gives a deep meaning to the activities of our Landsmannschaft-Societies. Every small thing done, every meeting, the committees, they are all part of a deep Jewish national instinct and togetherness which has given the Jewish people the force to withstand all their enemies, to overcome them and in the end to establish their own state.
This site was last updated on August 25th, 2006 (originally page initiated on 14 September 2002)