Testimony Submitted by Stuart Cohn March 1999.
ON THE EVE OF AUSCHWITZ
BY: Yakov Greenshpan from Raciaz (Racionz) Poland.
The original testimony was published in Yiddish in the Raciaz Yizkor Book, page 303-318
"Galed le-kehilat Raciaz", Memorial book of the community of Racionz, editor: E. Tsoref, published by the Former Residents of Raciaz in Israel, Tel Aviv 1965, 493 pages, languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English.
Friday, September 1, 1939-- the fateful day in Poland. War between Poland and Germany has been declared. I'm on my way to Glinovestsk, 13 kilometers from my little shtetl Racionz. My father had sent me for sugar. About 12:00 o'clock I hear a blaring commotion. What is this? People are milling about in the streets and furthermore I hear than this is war and that the German pilots have bombed our shtetl Racionz. I remain in the midst of all of this with a wagon of sugar. I don't know what to do. At the moment my brother Leybl appears on his bicycle. He ask me if I have already paid for the sugar and if not that I should turn backwith the money because we are at war. My brother doesn't spend any time thinking any further, takes me on his bicycle and the wagon-driver goes to the shtetl with the sugar.
I come home and I hear that the station has been bombed and that a great miracle occured-- 2,000 people narrowly escaped because the bomb missed the station. The front is at Mlawa, 40 kilometers away. people from Mlawa-- men, women and children are pouring into our shtele trying to survive because all of Mlawa is under fire between the shooting at the front as well as at the bombing. Wagons moving through the streets can be seen filled with dead and wounded. The confusion is very great-- the shtelt civil servants departed in their autos. Civils with red crosses on white armbands have organized to help the wounded. The sky is black with airplanes. We hide in our homes, windows covered, shutters closed and sit with gas mask protecting our faces. The house becomes stuffy and airless. Someone shouts that he smells gas. The old folks begin to cry "Shema Yisroel!" However within a few minutes we go outside and it appears that it's not true about the gas because gas is used only under extreme conditions.
The front in Mlawa is penetrated and the talk is that in two or three days the Germans will arrive. We pack up the best provisions such as tea, tabacco, soap, jams, chocolate and some imported articles, place them in the wagon and leave to hide it all in grandfather Mendel Keinne's cellar.
Staurt Cohen's great-father, Mendel Keinne, wife and their two of their daughters. They were all killed by the Nazi's. the photograph is from
Saturday and Sunday. The Polish army can be seen retreating a. The soldiers faces and gloomy and famished. They broke into our shop and took preserves, chocolate and various kinds of food that they found. They had already been without food for two days and they told us that the Germans would enter tommorrow or the day after and it would be worse. My brother Label and Srulik, 20 and 21 grabbed a wagon and took off with the troops for Warsaw. We were afraid of the Germans in the area who knew our family-- the family Greenshpan. We were afraid that my brother would be captured. Bread is already in short supply in the shtetl.
The poor arrivals, strangers from elsewhere have little or nothing to eat. They're at the synagogue and the children cry, "Mama, give me something to eat." I wander around them, take some candy and cookies out of my pockets and share them with the children. I run quickly to father and tell him that the children are hungry along with their fathers and mothers. My father was a soft-hearted man who was always active in the community. He quickly collected a few women from the shtetl, gave them a sack of rice, some twenty packages of butter amd a number of necessary items. He then ran to the butcher and procured meat. The women prepared the food and the hungry people were really refreshed that day.
Tuesday evening Moshe, the grave digger returned from the cemetery and told us that he had seen a German patrol on the way. Wednesday the first German patrols enter our shtetl. The ride in small autos with revolvers in their hands and vicious expressions on their faces. One auto drives up to our store. Two soldiers walk forward. They're dressed in well fitting uniforms with yellow " Deutsches Reich" armbands. They shoot right into the door and tear it open. my father enters through the back door and I run through the front door. When one of them points the revolver at me, my father hurries toward them and says that I am his son. They aim their revolver at my father's head and tell him to immediately turn over the tabacco, cigarettes, and whiskey thats in the store. If not, they'll kill him. We had none of these things. My father said, "Please look around. If you find any of these things you can shoot me." They went down in the cellar with candles, rummaged through everything, all the while shouting. They finally let with nothing.
Later, more autos and more soldiers arrive and then more and more. The Poles accompany them and show them where they can find the Jewish shops and indeed, they point to ours and the very first one. The soldiers enterm help themselves to packages of candy, scatter them in the street as the frenzied mob seizes the sweets. Others come into the store and begin to rob; one grabs soap; another coffee and whatever comes to hand.
At dusk all the Jews are ordered into the marketplace. A few autos appear. A handful of individuals, dressed in black uniforms embossed with the word " Gestapo", emerge from their cars. They demand that the Jews line up in rows, ten per row. Then they order the Jews to shout in unison, " The Jews wanted this war," and other such slogans. Finally the real excercise begins.
The pull the rabbi and a few other Jews with beards off to on side, bully and ridicule them. Then they choose several stout, rather portly men, demand they lie on their backs and begin to trample upon their abdomens. Finally they call up five Jews, tie them hand and foot as one of the torturers wars: " If the shtetl won't remain calm, these sackloads of hostages will be shot!" They put the five Jews in their cars and took them away. One of the tormentors takes his revolver and begins to shoot once, twice and then again and threatens, "In two minutes the marketplace had better be empty."
Everyone begins to run in great haste as the Gestapo agents shoot after them. A few victims fall to the ground. The marketplace is cleared. The terrified people, numb with fear, sit in their houses staring out the windows. In the morning Germans from nearby villages enter Jewish homes and take whatever appeals to them-- lovely furniture, all kinds of merchandise-- anything their hearts desire.
Within a few days England and France declare war against Germany. Renewed hope awakens in our hearts. We tell ourselves that the war won't last very long, that two such mighty nations will vanquish Germany one, two, three. Meanwhile one day passes, then another and soon almost three weeks pass and the Germans are victorious all over. They are practically in Warsaw. We see thousands of airplanes flying over our shtetl-- all against Warsaw. We hear that all of Warsaw has been laid waste, in ruins.
My father, mother and I are unable to eat, filled with despair. G-d knows if my two brothers are still alive. We can't sleep all night worried about them. After two weeks Warsaw falls. The Germans take over more than one-half of Poland. The Russians take over the other half. The people who had earlier fled to Warsaw, began to return to their shtetls. The first returnees tell horrible stories regarding the havoc, the corpses and the extreme hunger in Warsaw. A couple of days pass but among the returnees there is no sign of my two brothers.
A Group of Hashomer Hatzair in Raciaz
Standing from Right to Left: Israel tabak, Moshe Weiss, Itzhak Buch, Lajbel Greenspan
Sitting (from Right to Left): Reuven Bialostucki, Fajwel Krucki, Franko hersz, Josef Kenster, Wolf Kolnirsh
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