The destruction of the Jewish Community
Mielec Yiskor Book – 1979
edited and published by the Mielec Yiskor Book Committee with additional assistance from:
Dr. MOSHE LANDAU, Principal of Gimnasia "HEI", TEL-AVIV; Introduction DAWID BERNSTEIN; Translations SCHMUEL GARFUNKIEL; Collecting documents from YAD w SHEM, JERUSALEM ABBA FENICHEL; Cover design
Transcribed and published here on Mielec Yidn by Scott Genzer from the original text owned by Joseph Komito and donated to the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Library, Galloway, NJ 08205
[Note: Care has been taken to transcribe the text as originally printed in 1979. Numerous English spelling and grammar mistakes are re-printed with editor [sic] notation to distinguish from potential errors from the transcription itself. Additional footnotes by Scott Genzer are indicated by numbers in superscript. — SJG July 2021]
Table of Contents
Mielec Story (Untitled) – Marvin Balsam [efn_note]MielecID#5485 – a.k.a. Mordechai Balsam, son of Isaac Samuel Balsam and Leah ??. I have very little information about Mr. Balsam – please contact me if you have information[/efn_note]
I Remember Mielec – Dora Lander Berl [efn_note]MielecID#5486 – a.k.a. Devorah Lander, born around 1908 in Mielec, daughter of Joseph Lander and Rivkah Kestenbaum, wife of Oscar Berl, immigrated to New York in 1938, died November 29, 1992[/efn_note]
A Postscript of a Sister – Dora Lander Berl
Impressions and Scenes From Mielec – M. Keit [efn_note]MielecID#7312 – Dr. Moses Keitelman a.k.a. Marian Keit, born June 6, 1907 in Mielec, son of Eliezer (Lazar) Keitelman and Esther Komito, husband of Tila Vorshirm, died February 17, 1996[/efn_note]
The Theatre – Mechel Messinger
The Jewish Frauenverein – Tyla Vorschim
The Sztetel Mielec and The Rosh Hashanah Tragedy
My Memories from the Bloodiest Era of My People’s History – Sarah Blattberg-Cooper
The Road to Freedom – Helen Schreiber née Honig
The Holocaust – Marian Keit (aka Moses Keitelman)
Mielec Story (Untitled) – D. E.
Mielec Story (Untitled) – Anonymous
A Witness Statement – Chana Lind-Reiss
The Nazi-Killers (A Character Study) – Marian Keit (aka Moses Keitelman)
Mielec – My Home – Reflections
Nehemia Brodt – The Righteous Jew From Mielec
Mielec on the river Visloka[efn_note]Wisłoka – the river that runs alongside the town of Mielec[/efn_note] is an old district town founded in the late Middle Ages. The Jewish community had existed there since the middle of the 17th century. In 1765, the names of 585 Jews in the town and 326 in the adjacent villages, appeared in the poll-tax registers. The majority were craftsmen. The market was the centre of the economic life and all the streets by which the peasants of the vicinity arrived to sell their produce, led into it.
In 1900[efn_note]Other sources say the ‘Great Fire’ of Mielec took place in 1856. See History page for details.[/efn_note] a great fire swallowed and destroyed all the wooden houses which had given the town its characteristic feature. A short time later new houses of stone were built. The Jews took an active part in the reconstruction work and contributed a great deal to the restoration of the sight of the town.
According to statistical data published in Poland, the Jewish population constituted: in 1900 — 57 per cent, in 1910 — 53 per cent, in 1921 — 50.1 per cent. In 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, the percentage of the Jewish population was a mere 30 per cent.[efn_note]The statistics presented in the preface do not necessarily match the most accurate information we have now about pre-war Mielec. It was likely the best information at hand when this book was published in 1979. See the History page for a timeline and current best estimates of Jewish populations in pre-war Mielec.[/efn_note]
In the period between the two world wars, the Jews played a dominant role in the economic life. They engaged in commerce, small industries and agriculture. They took an active part in the export of grain, cattle and feathers. They also developed some important branches of industry: tiles, stoves, brick-kilns, tanneries, bus transportation. There was also a considerable number of Jewish landowners.
In the period preceding World War II, pressure from above greatly increased. The slogan of the Government became: “Economic warfare, why not?” Heavy taxes were imposed, difficult to bear: Poles from Poznan arrived in the town and began to open businesses of their own. Priests preached boycott of the Jews in the churches and at times Jewish businesses were picketed.[efn_note]This information from Dr. Landau does not appear elsewhere in historical primary and secondary sources. It is unclear where Dr. Landau obtained this information.[/efn_note]
Economic pressure and the difficulties for Jewish youngsters to be admitted to the universities for medical and scientific studies, made the young people turn to the parties of the Left. There was also a Communist nucleus among them. Police raids and even arrests were made in Jewish homes but they had to be released for lack of evidence.[efn_note]This information from Dr. Landau does not appear elsewhere in historical primary and secondary sources. It is unclear where Dr. Landau obtained this information.[/efn_note]
Political activity was lively. All parties existing in Poland from the extreme right to the extreme left were represented in Mielec.
Already before World War I a Zionist society was founded under the name of “Bnei Yenuda”. Between the two world wars a branch of the “Hashomer Hatsair” was established, followed by all the others: General Zionists, Herut, Ahdut Avodah, Akiva, Mizrahi, etc.[efn_note]There is no evidence that every Zionist organization was present in pre-war Mielec. Independent sources confirm that there were branches of Betar, Bnei Akiva, HeHalutz (also spelled “Hechaluc”, Hashomer Hatsair, Maccabi Hatzair, and Poale Zion. Also note that by no means were all Jews in Mielec supportive of the Zionist movement. Just as today, there were many strict orthodox Jews (known as Heredi today) who opposed Zionism on religious grounds. It is an unanswered question whether or not the pre-war Rebbes, R’Naftali Horowitz followed by his sons R’Isaac Horowitz and R’Mendel Horowitz, were supportive of Zionist ideas. There is a “Melitzer Shul”, run by the Melitzer Rav, R’Naftali Moskowitz, in Ashdod, Israel.[/efn_note]
The largest movement was that of the General Zionists and its Youth organization “Akiva”. Activities were lively and beneficent: money raising for the national funds, Hebrew coursed [sic], preparation for aliyah[efn_note]aliyah – the act of a Jew returning to the Holy Land (Israel) after the Diaspora. Aliyah was, and still is, one of the primary goals of the Zionist movement.[/efn_note] and others. It was the local “Halutz”[efn_note]HeHalutz (also spelled “Hechaluc”)[/efn_note] that succeeded in sending in the twenties emigrants to Eretz Israel[efn_note]the land of Israel[/efn_note] from their midst.
Religion and Tradition
In spite of the prevailing trends of modernization, the general character of the town was orthodox-conservative. On Sabbath and the Jewish holidays work of any kind stopped.[efn_note]Jewish work stopped on the Sabbath – the Polish catholic population would have worked on Saturday and gone to church on Sundays[/efn_note] The prayer houses, the “shul” (synagogue) and the besmderesh[efn_note]Yiddish pronunciation of Beit Midrash[/efn_note] (prayer and study house) were filled with worshippers. The besmedresh resounded with the voices of the young students. Every Jewish child began his studies at the Heder[efn_note]usually now written as ‘cheder‘ in English[/efn_note] (traditional religious infant school) and was sent to a regular school only afterwards. Before compulsory education was introduced, some parents even did not send their children to those schools.
The fanatics of the old generation inexorably persecuted the besmedresh youngsters; they suspected them of reading profane literature (modern literature, philosophy and fiction). It went so far that they were ignomously driven out of the besmedresh. The Zionists were a thorn in their flesh; to them, to be a Zionist was worse than being a criminal. Eretz Israel was rejected altogether. According to them, only the Messiah could lead the Jews out of the Diaspora to Eretz Israel. It does not have to be said that this attitude had far-reaching and perilous results.
Youth Aliyah to Eretz Israel from Europe between the two world wars (in chronological order of their aliyah): Genek Sternberg[efn_note]MielecID#3757 – no record of this person to date – please contact me if you have information[/efn_note] (descd), Gitel Balsam[efn_note]MielecID#24568 – born April 1, 1905 in Mielec, immigrated to Israel sometime before 1936, wife of Ervin Fogel[/efn_note], Menashe Leipzig[efn_note]MielecID#13007 – son of Aaron Leipzig and Malka Polimer[/efn_note], Dr. Michael Fridman[efn_note]MielecID#3758 – no record of this person to date – please contact me if you have information[/efn_note] (descd). Zvi Vindling[efn_note]MielecID#5246 – a.k.a. Markus Weindling, born August 8, 1903 in Mielec, son of Elias Weindling and Rochma Dienstag, husband of Feiga Langsam and later Tzipporah Beck[/efn_note], Sara (Sucia) Forshim[efn_note]MielecID#10560 – a.k.a. Sarah Vorshirm, born November 7, 1902 in Mielec, daughter of Berisch Vorshirm and Chaya/Chava Nussbaum[/efn_note], Efraim Forshim[efn_note]MielecID#10696 – a.k.a. Efraim Vorshirm, born in 1900 in Mielec, son of Berisch Vorshirm and Chaya/Chava Nussbaum, husband of Esther Braindel Hophart/Hoffert, immigrated to Israel on October 16, 1933, died in Israel in 1983 in Israel[/efn_note], Genia Cohen[efn_note]MielecID#3759 – no record of this person to date – please contact me if you have information[/efn_note] (descd), Dr. Haya Cohen[efn_note]MielecID#20549 – born October 18, 1897 in Mielec, daughter of Juda Cohen and Rosa ??[/efn_note], Dr. Ada Cohen[efn_note]MielecID#20603 – born September 2, 1907 in Mielec, daughter of Juda Cohen and Rosa ??[/efn_note], Zivia Tenzer[efn_note]MielecID#10559 – very little information known of this person to date – please contact me if you have information[/efn_note], Shmuel Garfinkel[efn_note]MielecID#4856 – born January 16, 1912 in Mielec, son of Efraim Garfunkel and Rivkah Blum[/efn_note] (descd), Mina Garfinkel[efn_note]MielecID#4764 – born August 12, 1908, daughter of Efraim Garfunkel and Rivkah Blum, immigrated to Israel in 1936, married man named Friedman[/efn_note] (descd), Moshe Schmidt (Shamir)[efn_note]MielecID#18334 – born in 1913 in Rozwadów, son of Sussel Schmidt and Helene Leipzig, husband of Doris Schraub[/efn_note], Sala Kartagener[efn_note]MielecID#7645 – born April 17. 1907 in Mielec, daughter of Leiser Kartagener and Etla ??, wife of Rachmiel Otrebski[/efn_note], Tsipora Sharf[efn_note]MielecID#3760 – no record of this person to date – please contact me if you have information[/efn_note], Beile Zitrin[efn_note]MielecID#4849 – a.k.a. Berta Cytryn, born April 1, 1917 in Mielec, daughter of Shaya Cytryn and Adela Feuer, immigrated to Israel in 1938, wife of Alek Safier, died October 5, 2011 in Israel[/efn_note], Tova Katz[efn_note]MielecID#22288 – daughter of Moses Yochanan Katz and Pearl Vorshirm, wife of man named Laufer[/efn_note], Shprinze Keller[efn_note]MielecID#3761 – no record of this person to date – please contact me if you have information[/efn_note], Tova Keller[efn_note]MielecID#23627 – daughter of Chaim Keller and Devorah Recht, wife of man named Bochman[/efn_note], Dola Fenster[efn_note]MielecID#26879 – born October 2, 1914 in Mielec, daughter of Shaya Fenster and Liba Thaler, immigrated to Israel in 1937, wife of Aryeh Allweiss, died March 29, 2003 in Israel[/efn_note], Haika (Ora) Blatberg[efn_note]MielecID#26391 – daughter of Jacob Blattberg and Tauba ??[/efn_note], Rachel Blatberg-Lederman[efn_note]MielecID#9627 – born in Mielec, daughter of Schulim Blattberg and Sarah Chana Lichtman[/efn_note], and others.
Mielec Story (Untitled) – Marvin Balsam[efn_note]MielecID#5485 – a.k.a. Mordechai Balsam, son of Isaac Samuel Balsam and Leah ??. I have very little information about Mr. Balsam – please contact me if you have information[/efn_note]
I WAS BORN IN Mielect [sic] on January 2, 1925. As a child I attended cheder, then talmud torah, and later I studied at Rav Israel Ellis’s shiur and in the Belzer Shtibel. I also attended the Polish public school where once or twice a week we had a Jewish teacher for Jewish history and religion[efn_note]author is likely referring to Jehuda Glucksman who taught Jewish studies in Mielec in the Polish gimnazjum prior to the Shoah. Mr. Glucksman was born in 1892 and was killed in the synagogue fire on Sept 13, 1939, along with his wife Esther and his daughters Sarah (age 25) and Anna (age 10)[/efn_note]. Until 1936. we were allowed to wear yarmulkas. After that, only our religious teacher permitted us to wear yarmulkas during his class, provided we take them off when the Director walked into the classroom.
As far as the Kehilla[efn_note]Jewish governing council[/efn_note] was concerned, it was a very active one. There were approximately 5.000 Jews in Mielec, out of a total population of about 15,000[efn_note]these numbers are not correct – see Statistics page[/efn_note]. The Kehilla was governed by a Rosh Hakahal and a board of directors. who were elected by the Jewish community. The Kehilla collected dues and sold tickets to anyone who wished to have a chicken slaughtered in the ritual fashion.* The money these two sources provided paid the salaries of the Mielecer Rav[efn_note]the Chief Rabbi – see Rabbinical Dynasty page for list[/efn_note], the three Shochetim[efn_note]a ritual slaughterer – see Wikipedia link[/efn_note], and the Dayanim[efn_note]a religious judge[/efn_note], as well as other community and administrative expenses.
There was a large, beautiful shul[efn_note]synagogue[/efn_note] in Mielec, and two Batai Midrash[efn_note]Jewish school for scholarly learning[/efn_note], as well as other shtiblachp[efn_note]a small place for communal prayer[/efn_note]. In addition, there was the Yad-Charitzim, where craftsmen had organized their own minyan and social activities.
The Kehilla looked after the poor people in town. For example, before every Pesach, flour for matzohs was distributed to anyone who needed it. I remember helping my father give out food and wine for Yom Tov[efn_note]Jewish festivals[/efn_note], as well as coal and wood tickets for the winter.
There was a Bais Hamerchatz[efn_note]an ‘unclean’ place[/efn_note] in the area of the big shul. In 1937 a special building was built so that poor people who came to town would have a decent place in which to sleep. The building was called the Bais Hachnasas Orchim. No poor traveler went hungry while passing through Mielec, especially on shabbos[efn_note]the Sabbath[/efn_note], when a poor person was always invited to someone’s house for the shabbos meals.
There were several active Zionist organizations in Mielec, including Bnai Akiva, Mizrachi, General Zionist, Betar, and Hashomer Hatzair. Chasidic groups included Belzer, Bobeve, Sandzer. Dzikiver, and the followers of various rebbeim who came to visit the town.
Unfortunately, this beautiful and active Jewish community was destroyed in September 1939, when the Germans marched into town. On the first Friday of the occupation, which was also Erev Rosh Hashanah, the Germans massacred the shochetim and the Jews who had brought their fowl to the slaughterhouse in preparation for Yom Tov. The Germans hung the bodies on the bodies on the meathooks intended for the chickens.
That Rosh Hashanah evening, the Germans burned down the shul, the Batai Midrash, the Bais Hamerchatz, and the Bais Hachnosos Orchim, which were all located in one large square block, and killed about 30 Jews there.[efn_note]the number of Jews killed on this date varies widely depending on the source. See Shoah page for more details[/efn_note]
* A friend of mine. Moshe Schwalb, who was my age, 14, was helping his older brother sell these tickets for the Kehilla on a commission basis. He managed to escape from the slaughterhouse massacre, described elsewhere in this article, after having been shot several times. He recuperated and, in 1940 or 1941, he left with his family for Croatia. Yugoslavia.[efn_note]MielecID#20238 – son of Baruch Abraham Schwalb and Handel Birnbaum. To the best of my knowledge, he was killed in Auschwitz later in the war.[/efn_note]
I Remember Mielec – Doris Lander Berl[efn_note]MielecID#5486 – a.k.a. Devorah Lander, born around 1908 in Mielec, daughter of Joseph Lander and Rivkah Kestenbaum, wife of Oscar Berl, imm immigrated to New York in 1938, died November 29, 1992[/efn_note]
In time to come, the name of our home town, Mielec, may be forgotten. For those of us who grew up there, however, Mielec was the town in which our parents were born and raised—and the town we had to leave, for reasons beyond our control: economic difficulties, war, and prejudice.
It is a long time since I left Mielec. Looking back into the past, my memories and impressions start with the earliest years of my life there.
Mielec was a town with a substantial Jewish population and an active, progressive youth. The town contained many schools, houses of worship of both faiths, and civic institutions, serving Mielec as well as the surrounding villages and small towns.
Once a year the draft board met in the city. This event was of great significance for the Jewish families with young sons. Being drafted into the Polish army for two years was not an inviting prospect.
My teenage years, spent in the Gymnasium in Mielec, left a vivid imprint upon me. There was a good reason for this: I was part of a small group of jewish youth, priviledged to attend an institution of higher education. The gymnasium was primarily a high school for boys, accepting only a small percentage of girls who has passed their entrance examinations.
In addition, daughters of public officials and non-Jews enjoyed a special priority. Though it was a large institution, there was only one Jewish teacher, Mr. Czortkower a professor of physical science and mathematics[efn_note]MielecID#4850 – a.k.a. Joel Czortkower, born February 26, 1879 in Buchach, Ukraine, was a graduate of the Faculty of Law and Philosophy of the Jan Kazimierz University in Lviv. He came to Mielec sometime around 1915 and taught physics and mathematics at the local Polish gimnazjum until 1939; he was later killed in Sobibór in 1942[/efn_note]. Between economic hardships and antisemitism, not many of the Jewish students survived the eight years of intensive studies. Coming from an orthodox home, with brothers steeped in the Talmud and the Torah, I pretty much had to ignore the secular life. Saturday classes, which were compulsory, created the biggest problem. In religious circles, it was considered a step towards assimilation, no matter how deeply devoted one was to Judaism and to Palestine.
My parents’ exceptional love and respect for learning, both worldly and religious, helped me in this situation. From my father came a moral and material support. He was, himself, a typical orthodox Jew, with beard and whiskers. This did not stop him from coming to school to inquire about our academic standing.
Instead of the ridicule usually heaped upon the Jew, in Mielec, he earned respect and admiration from the faculty and students. When my older brother, Pinkas[efn_note]MielecID#5488 – born around 1906 in Mielec, fate unknown[/efn_note], had to leave school because of antisemitic blackmail, my father was instrumental in getting him into the Hebrew gymnasium in Krakow. As for himself, every evening, after services he attended a class which he had helped to start, himself. After he passed away, this group came to our house, for the whole shiva, to study in his memory.
After graduating gymnasium I matriculated into the University of Krakow[efn_note]a.k.a. Jagiellonian University[/efn_note], and the struggle for academic survival continued. At this time the faculties open to Jews were very limited, and positions after graduation almost unobtainable. As a result, the future of the so-called intelligensia was very unpromising.
Visits to my family in Mielec, during vacation, brought me back into contact with the youth who had neither hopes nor future. For one thing, there was little opportunity to leave home for better pastures. There was no place to which to emigrate or to try to better one’s lot.
In 1938, a year before the outbreak of the second world war, I left Poland for America, going from the familiar to the unknown. With this single step, my whole future was secured. It was pure luck though, rather than because of any planning on my part. As a result, I escaped the fate of my nearest and dearest, but not their tragedy and that of six million brethren, exterminated in the Holocaust.
To finish on a more cheerful note, I like to think back to the happy days of love and closeness in family life. There was a sense of belonging; friends bring to one’s heart a nostalgia for the times spent on the banks of the river Wisloka, and for other pleasures that brought laughter and joy. There were other memories: belonging to an organization, although forbidden; a library or newspaper which had such great meaning at that time; going to a movie or to the soccer games, big events—which almost always ended in a brawl between the Jewish and non-Jewish team.
In reconstructing some aspects of life in Mielec, I hope I have given a glimpse of our past in the town of our birth and of our growing up.
A Postscript of a Sister – Doris Lander Berl
In a book written about Mielec, the name of Sam Lander[efn_note]MielecID#5490 – a.k.a. Simon Lander, born on November 23, 1896 in Mielec, son of Joseph Lander and Rivkah Kestenbaum, immigrated via sea and rail via Canada in 1920, husband of Sarah Schuller (also born in Mielec)[/efn_note] is of some significance. His care and tireless devotion to his people as a whole, and his Landsleit[efn_note]lfellow Jews from the same town[/efn_note] in particular, deserves recognition. He left Mielec in body only—never in spirit. An article written by him describing the main square and character of the Jewish community of Mielec attests to this.
Sam Lander was a Yeshiva product, with secular schooling, something that was not very prevalent in his day. After the first world war, as a young man, he was caught up in the Zionist movement and followed the course of building a Jewish state until the end.
He organized the first Hebrew school in Mielec[efn_note]not correct according to historical records[/efn_note], and served as the teacher until a professional one could be found. He was very active in founding a Zionist organization; he worked for this course in many forms, such as putting on shows based upon Jewish heritage. The task was not an easy one, in an atmosphere of the old-fashioned ideas of our elders. It was a revolutionary step, enough to create hair-raising problems in their minds.
After the first world war, Sam Lander left Mielec, to escape military service in the Polish army. Despite hardship, his illegal travel from country to country finally brought him to New York. Here he again started to work for the cause of Zionism and the Labor movement. As a member of the Farband and Poale Zion, he founded an industrial branch of Poale Zion, for the dressmakers’ union, of which he was an official. He put his heart and soul into the leadership of this branch, as well as a sense of empathy and compassion for his brethren.
His home in Brooklyn, which he shared with his wife Sarah Shiller—also from Mielec[efn_note]MielecID#5491 – a.k.a. Sarah Etel Schuller, born July 29, 1896 in Mielec, daughter of Jacob Meyer Schuller and Kreindel ??, immigrated to New York on October 28, 1922 on the S.S. Paris, died June 6, 1953[/efn_note]—had an open door for the Landsleit. They both offered a helping hand to many, in the form of a job or assistance with their personal problems.
The second world war opened a new chapter in Sam’s activities. The fate of Mielec’s survivors of the Holocaust created an enormous need for help. A “United Mielizer Relief’ was organized in New York. In this, Sam was not only a founder, but an ardent worker to the very end. Almost every survivor from Mielec, and even from nearby towns, turned to him for help. It was given to them in many different ways.
The United Mielizer Relief became a ray of hope for the needy, and for those broken in body and spirit. Money collected by Sam Lander, through benefit shows run by him, was spent on food, packed and sent by his own hands. At the time, these were life savers. People who knew Sam only by reputation hoped some day to shake his hand—a wish that was not always possible to realize. The meetings and shows of the Society of the Mielizer, of which he was a symbol, became like a bridge between the older arrivals and the newcomers.
Even now, the Relief continues to help the needy in Israel. Sam Lander’s spirit lives on, in the traditional home of his son Sol, a high school teacher and himself a Yeshiva graduate—as, too, are all his grandchildren.
Impressions and Scenes From Mielec – M. Keit [efn_note]MielecID#7312 – Dr. Moses Keitelman a.k.a. Marian Keit, born June 6, 1907 in Mielec, son of Eliezer (Lazar) Keitelman and Esther Komito, husband of Tila Vorshirm, died February 17, 1996[/efn_note]
Let me make it clear from the start that I am unable to describe the town Mielec or the life of the Jewish community there in all its aspects, since I left Mielec when I was only about 20 years old.
My memories are rather hazy, and full of the embellishments that, in his dreams, one always adds to his young years. My first recollection are, of course, of my parents, brothers and sister.
My father was a man of medium size, with a gray beard and a smoked brownish moustache. He was soft-spoken, a good story teller with a sense of humor, and blessed with common sense. Sometimes he served as an umpire (borehr) in settling business disputes between people. On such occasions, our home was full of noise and cigarette smoke.
My mother was an active, energetic woman. Rather short and with dark hair, dark eyes and cheeks like two ripe, red apples, she was proud of my father in her own quiet way. (It was not customary for our Mielecer mothers to be ostentatious with their feelings of love. Who, in Mielec, wanted to be called a “Chatzifa”?) Like most mothers, mine was both the dictator and the slave of her Jewish family. Women of her generation had to be wife, mother, and housewife, combined. They were the first to get up in the morning, and the last to retire at night. Our mothers were ready to protect us, to fight for us, to watch our conduct, and to be lenient about the children’s foibles-the so-called “good Jewish mother”. In contrast, the majority of the fathers and husbands in our town were brought up to pray, study the Talmud, and quarrel over the fate of an egg which a hen happened to lay on the Sabbath. They were, in short, “Batlanim“—without knowledge of the problems of practical life. But the women made up for this—double, and triple if need be.
When the short Friday threatened to disrupt the schedule of the preparations for Sabbath, my mother almost always won the race against time. As the Sabbath approached, the haggard, hard-working slave changed, as if by magic, into a fairy tale princess. Dressed in her finest clothes, my mother stood erect in front of the silver candelabra, lit the candles, covered her closed eyes with her hands, and recited the blessings in a whisper. Shortly after, she turned around and wished us all a “Good Sabbath”.
The Sabbath was a time of rest, when the Mielecer Jew could leave his worries behind, rest, sing, and even dance. Come with me and look through the window of Rabbi Mendele’s[efn_note]R’Menachem Mendel Horowitz, the Mielec Rebbe. See Rabbinical Dynasty page.[/efn_note] court. In the light of the Sabbath candles, men with long gray beards are moving in a small trot in a circle. They move faster and faster, their eyes closed, their heads raised up to heaven. With one hand they hold their beard, while the other waves upwards, as if to invite God Himself, to come down and take a swing too. In loud voices, they sing the praises of the queen Sabbath, “Yada, day day, yada day”.
When you looked at the Jew – the storekeeper, the everyday craftsman – you wouldn’t recognize in him the dignified patriarch, walking slowly to the Synagogue on Sabbath eve, with his sons and sons-in-law on kest, his back erect, in a silken bekesha[efn_note]long coat[/efn_note] and a strimel[efn_note]traditional large fur hat worn for special occasions by orthodox Jews[/efn_note] on his head. And what a grand event was a walk to the synagogue on Sabbath or on a holiday. Le Koved Shabbos[efn_note]in honor of the Sabbath[/efn_note], they took from their closets the finest silk or velvet dress, sometimes passed along from mother to daughter. Look here, as my grandmother walks by. She is wearing all her jewelry. All the rings, pins, watches on golden chains, and earrings. Pearls are embroidered in the band on the forehead: strands of pearls and coral hang from her neck. She looked like one of the grand ladies you see in paintings in an art gallery. Our humble mothers enjoyed admiration on this occasion, as if to say, “See I am not one you can sneeze at”. They smiled, they stopped, “How are you Sara? and “How are you, Esther?” “How is your daughter?” “Fine? Good to hear it . . . Good Sabbath”. I was glad to see them that happy. They deserved it.
But once the Sabbath was past, the festive atmosphere swiftly faded away, the ethereal figures disappeared, the muddy shoes were put on the feet, and the hard, everyday life was here. Mielecer Jews had to earn their bread by the sweat of their brows. Many started each day so early, it was still dark. The Yeshiva Bachor[efn_note]a Yeshiva student[/efn_note] sometimes had to carry a candle or lantern to his place in Beth Hamidrash where for hours on end, bending his body back and forth, and piously twisting his sidelocks in two fingers, he would discuss a chapter of the Talmud, in a loud sing-song voice. The “do-nothings” started their day in a steeble of Malkelv of the clouse, praying and quarreling about the valor of their tzaddik[efn_note]a righteous, spiritual leader[/efn_note] and about his miracles. Not so the storekeepers or the craftsmen, like Shulim the baker, Sindel the tailor, Meilech the shoemaker, Oyzer the hatmaker, and the others who worked in sweatshops, sewing ready-made suits for the peasants. They had to work nights in order to make ends meet. The nights were not peaceful for everybody in Mielec – neither for the Jews praying Chatzot, nor in time of Slichot, nor for the Jewish youngsters “Plaguing their bodies” so as not to be acceptable to the draft- board doctor. The service for a Jew in the antisemtic Polish army was no picnic. More than one Jewish boy chopped off a finger in order to be ineligible.
The morning started for me in a fairly fixed routine. First, a Jewish neighbor loudly recited the Psalms, as he led his cow to the pasture, while the unruly animal interrupted him frequently with a long and loud “Moo”. Next came the pealing of the bells of the church, and each May morning we were serenaded from the steeple by the town bugler, Adamski, playing sweet music about spring and the morning dew.
Mielec was the center of an agricultural hinterland and had a population of about 10,000. Nothing distinguished our town from other small towns in Galicia. We had neither big museums, nor high-risers. But for those who grew up on her streets, swam in her river Wisloka, and roamed the woods of her surroundings, it remains forever in our dreams.
It is true the town was poor and parochial, but it was our town. There we loved and were loved—with the result that we were ready to defend her against detractors. The rich Jews, like Verstandig[efn_note]Eliezer (Leizer) Verstandig, born 1872 in Sokolów. Wealthy ceramics importer and owned a lucrative alcohol & tobacco shop on the Rynek. Killed between Mielec and Berdechów on the forced march of March 9, 1942. His son, Mark, survived the Shoah and wrote the book “I Rest My Case”.[/efn_note], our Rosh Hakahal, Salpeter[efn_note]Eliezer (Leser) Salpeter, birth information unknown. Wealthy banker, land owner, and beer distributor. Fate unknown.[/efn_note], Blattberg[efn_note]Alter Blattberg, born 1860 in Mielec. Cattle trader and banker. Fate unknown.[/efn_note], Seiden[efn_note]possibly Dr. Herman Seiden – dentist. No other information.[/efn_note], Honig[efn_note]Psachie Honig, born 8 Nov 1890 in Mielec. Owned the “Olga” flour mill. Survived the Shoah by hiding with a Polish family along with his family.[/efn_note], Hermele[efn_note]Chaim Hermele, born 4 Nov 1882 in Mielec. Wealthy land owner. Killed in Shoah – date and place unknown.[/efn_note], and Friedman[efn_note]R’Chaim Friedman, born 10 Sep 1893 in Baranów. Last Rosh Hakalal in Mielec. Fate unknown.[/efn_note] lived there. The stores were occupied by storekeepers: Kurtz[efn_note]Leib Kurtz, born 15 Sep 1876 in Mielec. Fate unknown.[/efn_note], iron; Klagsbrunn[efn_note]Aaron Isaac (Yitzchak) Klagsbrun, born 1886 in Borowa. Killed in the Shoah around 1942 in Połaniec.[/efn_note] textiles; Brandman[efn_note]this is likely either Simon Brandman, born 1848 in Mielec, or one of his sons Moses Berl, Chaim, or Shulim. All were merchants. Simon is the only one known specifically to be in the lamp business.[/efn_note], lamps; Golda Srulkis, groceries; Blassbalg[efn_note]Israel Blasbalg, born 7 Feb 1893 in Mielec. Killed between Mielec and Berdechów on the forced march of March 9, 1942.[/efn_note], leather; Stempler[efn_note]possibly Abe Stempler, born 15 Mar 1870 in Mielec.[/efn_note], confections; Siegel[efn_note]possibly Nathan Siegel, born 1 Jul 1877 in Mielec, or one of his sons Solomon, Joseph, or Yechiel (Chiel).[/efn_note], hardware; Gray[efn_note]Rachel Grau, born 12 Mar 1878 in Mielec. She owned a book store and printing shop on the Mielec Rynek.[/efn_note], books; and so forth.
The craftsmen, the manual workers and the people without any source of living, crowded the small houses on the muddy streets on the periphery of Mielec. The shoemaker; Oyzer, the hatmaker; Sindel, the tailor, and the water-carrier. The latter was very important in Mielec, and the water he carried in a giant barrel on a horsedrawn buggy was big business. Each drop of drinking water had to be brought from the only well on the main street. As a result, the braids of our girls got their softness from the rain water, collected from the runoffs of the roofs, since this was cheaper than water bought from the water-carrier.
The Polish population lived on the outskirts of the town, in small houses with vegetable gardens and trees. Some of them kept a cow or a pig. Their pets were dogs, whereas a Jewish family’s pet, if there was any. was a cat—it helped to fight the mice—but never a dog. Could somebody in his wildest dreams imagine a Chasidic Jew in Mielec walking a dog? The dogs of Mielec, like their masters, disliked the Jews, and they barked at us even when we were far away.
In Mielec there were no big parks to enjoy. The marketplace had some shade trees on the sidewalks, and there were the blonies, but the coziest place of all was the stranznica – the garden around the firehouse. It had benches where you could sit with your date, only to have this romantic idyll interrupted suddenly by a trumpet blast from the watchtower, signalling a fire. Then, the whole population would run behind the only horsedrawn fire pump, either to lend a hand, or to enjoy the spectacle. Mielec did not need high-risers, museums and the like . . . the outstanding buildings were the synagogue, the high school and the church.
The synagogue had oil paintings on the wall, by Issac Fenichel. depicting the zodiac and episodes from the bible. These paintings frightened us, as children, but they all gave us our first view of some wonderful creatures that seemed almost alive.
For us, the church was a forbidden kingdom. We were not to look at it, and religious Jews turned their heads away when they passed the crucified figure in front of it. Deacon Pawlikowski was an antisemite, a teacher of antisemitism, and a memeber of the antisemitic student organization. O.N.R.
The high school, a red brick building, was the “temple of knowledge . For the Jews it was almost unattainable, except in very special cases, witness the fact that there were only two Jewish boys or girls in each class, in a town with a Jewish majority.
Transportation was not a problem in Mielec. Who needed transportation in such a small town? For special occasions we had two fiakers, two brothers. Cytrin, Isser and Shaya, who would constantly fight tooth and nail over each passenger. Only on Yom Kippur eve was there a reconciliation. They embraced each other, cried bitterly, asked for forgiveness, and promised eternal brotherly love.
This lasted until the next passenger arrived. For contact with the outside world, we had a one-track railroad to Krakow, to the west, and to Lublin, to the north. The train was our delivery service. It announced its arrival with a shrill whistle, and approached the station with a huffing and puffing like a bia, black, slippery dragon. On the platform, meantime, pandemonium would break out, with people pulling and pushing. The noise was overwhelming. This train also brought the youngsters from our little town out into the big world; some made it, and those who did not perished in the Holocaust.
The biggest event of the week was market day, on Thursday. There was always a crowd of peasants – men in long coats, tall fur caps, and holding horsewhips in their hands. And Jews with long beards. All of that humanity, mixed together with livestock, screaming; the smell of horse manure, of sausages and raw leather boots clogged the nose. The storekeepers, the owners of the stalls belonging to the Bobkies, and the fortune tellers were there. Even the melamed, who couldn’t make a living from teaching the poor children; Moshe Chelm, and Pincus the Rother, who conversed in a mixture of Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish, like “afilu greizer nie opuszcze”. There was a multidue [sic] of humanity in one place; everything was bought and sold, goods that Jews needed, and things that peasants needed. It was an exchange of commodities. And, in the process, more than one drunken farmer lost his money to a stranger. The only sour note in this brisk business was the occasional, but familiar, outburst—“don’t buy from the Jew!’’
The seeds sown by the Nazis took early root in the Polish soil. The Jewish community in Mielec was not one united, equal, monolithic family, though in some neighborhoods they lived like one tightly knit family. Everybody was interested in the life of his neighbor, and everything quickly became public knowledge, to be discussed, praised, or condemned. There was no privacy. God forbid! Everything, it seemed, was everyone’s business. Any cover-up of family affairs was almost considered treason. It was ghetto intimacy – in the extreme.
The Jews were divided into layers, like a cake. It w as a kind of totem pole. On the top were the rich—the professionals—then the rabbis, the dayanim, and eventually the people seated at the Mizrach wall, in the synagogue. Among the rich were the Verstandigs, the Salpeters, and the Friedmans. The professionals included lawyers Isenberg, Atlas, and Fink. Then, there was our rabbi, Mendele—a thin man, with a black beard and black eyes, very orthodox, very narrow-minded. We also had two dayanim. quite different from one another. Shimele dayan was a man with an easy smile, lighthearted, the darling of women. In matters of Kashrut, he was the one to ask. He knew his poor clientele best. At the opposite end of the spectrum was the uncompromising Mendele dayan. He was a pragmatist, and one was well advised to avoid him when he happened to Find a grain of wheat in the pot on Pesach.
Among the people seated at the Mizrach wall, I knew only those in the Mauer, where my father also prayed—Asher Reich, Moses and M. Koller. My father, L. Keitelman, had inherited the seat from my grandfather, Alther Komito.
Among the best known Talmudists in town was Niesele Nussbaum, a tall, imposing man, with a long gray beard, head held high, and uncompromising to the last.
The middle of the totem pole was occupied by the small storekeepers. The elite among them were called by both their first name and their surname—Schlomo Scheier, Moshe Apple, and so forth. Lower down were the men identified only by their craft, the color of their hair, their father’s name, or defects of the body, as, for example, Shaya Fiacker, wig-maker, Mordche Smoluch, Rother Pincas, Goldie Srulkies, and Gitel, the Kula. Everybody knew immediately who you were talking about, and where his place was. Don’t forget that here the gite Yidden and the Schone Yidden did not always have the same meaning.
The Jews were always proud of learning. A Yeshiva bachor, a student was the pampered one in the family, to whom the parents pointed with pride. On the other hand, it was an extreme insult to be called am haaretz. They were contemptuous of illiteracy. That and their faith helped them survive through the ages.
Poverty in Mielec was on the increase with each new-born baby. The busiest person of all was Pessele, the midwife. Nothing could stop the flow of babies. With the birth of a daughter, the headaches of the parents multiplied. How were they to feed her? What about a dowry? How would they cover her head with a chupa? The stores in Mielec kept being divided into smaller and smaller cubicles with each new wedding of a child. In some shops it had almost reached a point where there was not enough space for the buyer and the seller to be inside at the same time.
A happy break in the sad routine was a wedding or a holiday. We especially liked Purim, before spring, with sweets, makagigis, Hamantashen, and shelach hamanuth. The orange sat on a tray among the small cookies and candy, like a queen. Nobody dared to eat it. but it was gently picked up and passed from person to person to smell until at the end of the complete circuit, it was placed in a drawer to remain there until some person became sick and would get the half-rotten orange as a special treat.
Another favorite of ours was Channukah, with the menorah and Maoztzur. And Simchat Torah.
On an occasion such as the donation to the synagogue of a torah which the congregation would carry in their arms like a child, the crowd preceding it, dancing and singing.
A real sensation was the arrival of a tzaddik from Bobov, Belz Dzikov, or Szczucin, coming to town to hand out blessings in return for money.
And I loved it in the winter when my father would tell us tales of leprechauns and ghosts till late at night.
Weeks before Pesach, in each family, the wheat was cleared away, and the dough flatttened with a- wooden roller – all under strict supervision. When the matzot was ready, the children would sneak in and eat it.
On Shevuot and Succoth, green was in fashion in Jewish homes. But there was not too much rejoicing on New Year, We parted with the old year without regrets, but we awaited the new one without much optimism, either. The honey we ate on this occasion left an ashy taste in our mouths.
Yom Kippur was a day we held in awe. The Kol Nidre tunes, the weeping during the heartbreaking Unethanetokeph (“Who will live and who will perish”) and the exhausting prayers of Nila aroused emotions in every Jewish soul. Of course, the impression the prayers made depended much on who was the cantor. Mr. L. Schreir’s musaph had a rather jazz-like style. But when you listened to Davidel, the Shochet, intone in weeping voice, “al tashlicheynu beeyth zickno, veckechloth kochenu al taazveynu” The whole congregation wept with him. His “vetashiveynu lezion berachamim” was a hit even with such an unbeliever as Mrs. Isenberg.
I confess that it was our prayers in the Mieletzer synagogue, rather than from Richard Tucker that I first learned the arias from “Aida” and “Carmen”. Did he learn it this same way?
The Jews and the Poles, though the neighbors, were far, far apart. There was an unbridgeable gap between them. The two groups differed in almost anything: dress, customs, faith, language, and cuisine.
If, as happened occasionally, a Jewish girl fell in love with a Pole, her family considered her dead and sat shiva.
The Chasidic Jews’ mode of dress was almost comic – a black silk coat and black velvet hat, with a broad brim like a medieval Dutch burgher’s, and from the waist down, like a French courtier in short pantaloons and white stockings.
A Jew was almost never employed by the government, not even as a garbage collector. Even a Jew’s horse was not supposed to enter a government factory, in Cyranka!
In the grimness of reality – with its poverty and persecution – the religious Mielec Jew frequently turned away from reality to the miracle-making rabbis and to dreams of the Messiah. “When Messiah comes, he will solve all the problems”. Everything real was “Hevel Havulim!” But when the going got even tougher, they became impatient with the Messiah’s slowness in arriving. “Messiah must come, it is high time”, they said.
The Poles looked at the Jew with contempt and hate, ingrained in their minds for generations “Didn’t the Jews kill Christ?” they rationalized. There were pogroms, mass antisemitic violence, looting of Jewish stores, windowbreaking of Jewish homes after the midnight mass at Christmas. But there was, in those pre-Hitler times, rarely a case of rape, mugging or killing. Apparently the Ten Commandments were still valid … up to a point.
As far as the Jewish population in Calicia [sic] was concerned, even the word, “antisemite”, was inaccurate. Not all the Jews were Semitic, at all. There were Jews with black hair, blond hair, and red hair, wide heads and narrow ones. It was the legacy of our people’s wanderings through Spain, France, Germany, and the Ukraine, with a sprinkling of Moors, Crusaders and Cossacks in our ancestry. The Semitic type was rather in the minority.
The difference in the customs of the Jewish and Polish population of Mielec became especially apparent at a Jewish or Polish funeral. They were divided even in death. Each community had its own cemetry, surrounded by a high brick fence with padlocked gates. When a Jew lay dying, the men of the Chevra Kadisha waited in the wings to arrange his funeral quickly – the very same day – in a plain pine coffin, carried at a fast walk to the cemetery and followed by mourners in torn garments. The only music was the tinkle of the coins in a collecting box—alms given in response to the call, “tzedaca tatzil mimaveth“. After the last word of “Kaddish” and “El Moleh rachamim“, everybody hurriedly dispersed. For perhaps the first time, the dead Jew could rest under trees, undisturbed, alone.
Not so when a Gentile died. A “Clepsydra” announced it on each street corner, inviting the population to the funeral, which was almost always a big show. Leading the procession was a boy carrying a big wooden cross. Next came the priest in his finery, singing church hymns. After the priest followed a richly decorated horse-drawn hearse, topped by a black coffin with silver ornaments. The family of the deceased were garbed in their best clothes, with wreaths in their hands. The pealing of the church bells competed with the firefighters’ band playing the Funeral March. The drummer (who wore a moustache turned upward at the ends like the horns of a bull) was an acquaintance of ours, Henry Baranski, the town chimneysweeper. A Jewish wag asked “with such a beautiful funeral, who wants to live?”
There was an equally wide gap between the life-style of the Jewish and Polish youths. The former took life more seriously, looked at the future with fear and suspicion. Not so the Polish boys and girls. They could taste the pleasure of their youth, they were on their ground, and they had nothing to be afraid of.
Our meeting place in summer was the main street, the “Corso”; in wintertime, a club or any of the many organizations. Among the boys there was Baruch Singer, a shrewd manipulator, Bruno Durst, distinguished and gentlemanly, and the fast talking I. Schnall. There was also E. Chortkower, always ready with a joke, A. Fenichel, with a smile glued on his lips; and myself. The younger teenagers were Sam Garten, Milgrom F. Isenberg (rarely seen in Jewish company) Manek Strauss, and F. Bram, miming everything and into horse-play. Among the young women were Tillie Voschirm, the Reich sisters, D. Lander, T. Chotkover, R. Stroh, and my blond smiling cousin, H. Honig.
The darkness in Mielec was a blessing to the lovebirds among us. Initially, small circles of light were supplied by gas lamps hanging on high poles, and electric lighting, when it finally came, was welcomed by the whole population of our town, but it destroyed the romantic nights in the moonlight.
Like all other small towns, Mielec didn’t lack in some well-known characters, good and bad. A philosoper-turned-textile merchant, J. Kohen, who would sell a yard of cotton to a peasant between chapters of Nietzsche or Kant. Nissele Nussbaum sold ironware while discussing a passage of the talmud with other Talmudists. My brother, Chaskel, told fantastic stories as behooved a future Jewish writer. We didn’t lack in Apicorsim, cheaters, brokers for Polish estate owners who were selling their crops two years before harvesting them, only to gamble away the money at Monte Carlo’s casino. We had our own town fool, “Xiel”, and the retarded Yoox brothers, Kiva and Moshe.
With each change of season, the life of the people changed.
In spring, before Pesach, the doors and windows of Jewish homes were thrown open and people not only went outside in the sun but they took with them all of their belongings as well. Out of the dampness of winter came the furniture, featherbeds and clothes.
Summer’s clear weather let me see from my window past the river and green field to the horizon in Podleshany, where the dark woods touched the blue skies. It looked like an impressionistic landscape by Manet.
For me, the countryside was a living thing. I walked the meadows, swam in the river, and when I grew up it’s where I met a twiggy teenager with a dimpled, freckled face and a ready smile. I fell in love with her. She is the mother of our two sons.
Summer was the time for a swim in the river Wisloka. What Mielecer kid didn’t love the river? Which one did not enjoy a swim in her clear waters? You could see right down to the bottom, shining with golden sand.
On one side, the religious women in long white shirts like tents would sit in the water like a flock of hens; on the other side were three corpulent sisters, separated from the crowd, who stepped down the banks in a single file. And in the middle, two chasidic Jews with beards and moustaches, frolicked in the water like two sea lions.
Summer was also a time for soccer games. Matches were played close to the Smoczka woods. If a match was between a Jewish and a Polish team and the former won, God save us! A holy war against the Jews usually ensued, with fists and stones flying.
There was some tennis played in Mielec, mostly by the Jewish professionals’ wives. It didn’t do to forget who was who in the town and each ball was ceremoniously served with the title of the respective husband, “Please Madame Doctor”, or “Please Madame Advocate”.
Autumn was a sad time in Mielec. Clouds covered the sun, like a thief stealing the pleasures of life. The rain changed the streets into quagmires, and rain drops drumming at our window panes seemed to be playing the “Rain Prelude” by Chopin.
In winter, the snow fell for days without an end, often reaching the windowsills. It was so quiet, you could hear your own breath. Everybody bundled up in heavy black coats. Beards turned white with frost. Those black human spots on the white background of the snow reminded you of a winter landscape by Grandma Moses.
The mood of our winter evenings was completed by the sounds of crows, flying back to the woods with a shrill “Cra-cra-cra”. On such winter days, we liked to walk in the Cyranka woods with other youngsters like M. Friedman, a self-educated linguist and violinist. The snow-covered branches of the pine trees looked like standing crystal candelabras in the soft moss.
The Holocaust finished it all.
My wife and I survived, though destroyed by the memories of thousands of Jews, the young and the old, herded together in our small town and murdered in a few days. All were shot at the edge of the graves that they dug for themselves.
I came back to see Mielec, after the war, as a stranger in a strange place. I walked the streets unrecognized. My people were gone and the town I knew was gone too.
The first sentence of Jeremiah came into my mind. “Aychu yoshyu babad“. Let these few memories of mine be a small contribution to those who perished in the Holocaust—shot, hanged, torn to pieces by dogs, bodies hung limply on barbed wires … to those left without a burial, and those buried without a name. Let me be the stone-cutter for the names of those who died of Kiddush Hashem. Let these words, cut in their grave-stones, be the words תהי נשמתם צרורה בצרור החיים – Let their souls dwell among the living. Amen.
Let these memories be the El Moleh Rachamim for my father, Eliezer ben Zwi Elimelech, shot in Berdechow; for my mother, Esther bath Alter Chaim, and my sister, Bronia, burned in Belzec: for my brother, Nathan, shot in the forests of the Ukraine; my brother, Abraham, who died in Casablanca, and for all the others.
The Theatre – Mechel Messinger
Off the main line of the railroad between Tarnow and Tarnobrzeg was our home town of Mielec.
It was small, but enjoyed a certain local fame in the surrounding areas, thanks largely to its Jewish youth who were active in the cultural, social and political life.
We have everything in Mielec—Zionists, Hashomer Hazair, Gordonia, Poaley Zion . . . even Jewish Communists. A very active Jewish sports club—Maccabee—a chess club, a library rich in Jewish, Hebrew, and Polish books both in the original languages as well as translations of world literature.
The young people made all kinds of excursions. They attended lectures by local speakers, followed by discussions, and often invited guest speakers from all over.
In short, a vital, intense Jewish political and cultural life was going on in Mielec.
I wish to memorialize, with a few thoughts, the activities of the Jewish theatre in Mielec.
The plays which where put on in Mielec gave much pleasure and enjoyment to the Jewish community for many years.
My memories of this theatre begin at the time when “The Hashomer Hazair” decided, together with all of the other Zionist organizations, to put on a play.
We put on two one-act plays by Sholem Aleichem, “God” and “A Peaceful Home”. Their success was so impressive that we immediately began to make plans for bigger plays. In the meantime, we arranged all kinds of artistic evenings—monologues, sketches, improvisations, and comedies—until finally we decided to stage serious plays.
The first was “Jojvel”, by Perez Hirschbain. Soon after, there followed a musical, “The Pintale Jew” by Goldbaden.
We also organized our own orchestra.
So great was our success, we decided to become a steady theatre group. We played “The Dybbuk”, by Anski, “The Peasant Boy”, by Perez Hirschbain, and “The Big Win-200,000” by Sholem Aleichem. Mostly we performed reviews which brought our greatest success, but the work was not easy.
There was a great deal of antisemitism, and this caused considerable disturbance and difficulty, but our stubborness was even greater and we did not give up.
We performed our plays and the Jews of Mielec had their enjoyment.
After a short time, we became so famous that we were urged to play in all the neighboring towns.
The younger generation continued the tradition of playing in Mielec’s theatre, until the outbreak of the war 1939.
Let these few modest words be a memory to our little stetl, off the main railroad line.
The Jewish Frauenverein – Tyla Vorschim
In the Mielitzer community, as in any other, the poor and the sick were problems. In order to help them in their plight, a group of women volunteers got together and started to work for that cause.
At their weekly sessions a list was presented of sick people who needed immediate attention. Very often a doctor was called in, and in case of extreme need, those volunteers worked in shifts around the clock at the bedside of the sick person, who was also provided with food which the volunteers prepared at their homes. Sometimes, if a consultation was needed, the patient was sent to a specialist in a bigger city like Tarnow or Krakow. When a death occurred in a poor family, especially on Friday, some of the volunteers would leave their own preparations for the Sabbath and rush to the mourning place and help with the cleaning of the body and the sewing of the shroud in order to speed up the burial, before the Sabbath. No amount of dissuasion could stop them from doing this.
Another problem which the volunteers confronted was the marrying off of poor girls already of age. The First objective was to find a match for the girl. Whether suitable for her or not didn’t matter too much, since the main goal was to get her under the Chupa.
Those weddings were quite an experience. The town musician was asked to play without pay. The volunteers forced all their unmarried daughters and their girl friends to participate in those affairs, and they made the ceremony lively with their singing and dancing. After a child was born to a couple thus married, the volunteers felt an obligation to help the family. The money came from donations, but those women volunteers, sensitive to anybody’s sufferings, did their utmost to help and ease the plight’of the poor and the sick.
Psachie Honig, Nechemia Brodt, Hendsia Friedman. Ruchiciu Friedman, Miriam Schachter, R. Hertz, Brandla Schoor, and others were wonderful sources of financial help. Mrs. H Friedman’s daughter, Balcia Brodt, is following her mother’s example and devotes her life to the Jewish sick and poor in New York City, doing a tremendous Job. GOD BLESS THE SOULS OF THOSE THAT HAVE PASSED ON.
The Sztetel Mielec and The Rosh Hashanah Tragedy
Poland was our home. Our ancestors, fleeing the persecution and chaos of the Dark Ages in western Europe, found a haven in the land where—as it’s name implies— God rests (פיה לן יה) For hundreds of years Poland was our sanctuary. It shielded us from the turmoil affecting the rest of Europe, and allowed us to cope with the Age of Enlightenment at our own pace. Every Jew thought of Israel, but it seemed as unreachable as the moon. Besides, we were willing prisoners of the Diaspora. Although every year at the Seder table we intoned “Next year in Jerusalem”, our roots were deeply imbedded in Cracow, Belz and Galicia.
In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, the light of the Haskalah finally filtered through to Poland—years after it affected the rest of Europe. The new emphasis on secular learning and nationalism enticed many people of our generation away from the quiet atmosphere of the Beth Midrash.
Instead we went to college. We studied world history and the history of our people. In the process, we realized the high risk of disaster for any people living in a country not truly theirs.
In the late 1930’s a new cloud—Nazism—appeared on the horizon, containing an all too familiar revival of the hatred to which Jews had been subjected at other periods of history. Nazism was distinguished by the intensity of its cruelty. Those who recognized this threat for what it was desperately warned their brothers and urged them to leave while they could. On their lips was the word, Zion.
But the Polish Jews, for the most part, did not heed this warning. Motivated by skepticism and complacency, they grossly underestimated the seriousness of the situation. Had there not always been trouble for Jews?—Chmelnitzky, the Czars, pogroms. Yet. despite it all the jew managed to survive, however precariously. The prevailing view of the situation among the Jews was, “This, too, shall pass”. It was just this attitude which sealed their fate.
What had been a burning ember quickly developed into a roaring blaze that engulfed all of us. The Jews of Poland were the first and easiest victims. Too surprised to fight or run, many voluntarily walked into open graves and silently awaited the German bullet. They prayed in the gas chambers for the Messiah they had scorned a few short years before. No town was immune to the thoroughness of the Nazi murderers.
My town was no exception. Mielec was a district town in the province of Krakow. Most of the Jews in Mielec were poor, although there were a few rich landowners. There were a large number of tradesmen, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, plumbers, barbers, bakers, butchers, house painters, watch makers, bookbinders, and so forth. The craftsmen carried on their trades at home; their children and apprentices all worked together to prepare for the weekly market day which provided income for the entire week. The market square, where the Jewish merchants had their taverns and stores, was in the center of the city. On market day the whole square was crowded with stands selling various wares. But neither trade nor small commerce yielded a decent living. The neighboring farmers who attended the weekly fair were also extremely poor. They usually bought on credit or borrowed money from Jews. Often they came merely to have a drink at the Jewish taverns.
Many of the Jews engaged in various religious occupations: scribes, teachers or ritual slaughter, and the town was alive with Jewish merchants spread along the main streets, recently modernized and equipped with new fixtures. The town was also well provided with a Jewish intelligensia: lawyers, physicians, dentists, teachers, technicians, and so forth. Life, in our town, was progressing much as it idid in many similar cities around us.
The years immediately before the war, our town was included in an industrial triangle called C.O.P. As a result, we experienced an upsurge in every aspect of life, especially business. However, an influx of new people to our town, mostly non-Jewish, brought the beginnings of open antisemitism. With the support of the Polish government, they opened modern stores and cooperatives in competition with Jewish merchants. They used such slogans as “swoj do swego”, “Polski sklep” and “Polacy popierajcie Polski sklep”. The hysteria of blind nationalism hit our town. Naturally conditions such as these aggravated tensions among the population. The Jewish people were faced with a struggle for economic survival.
New winds of racial hatred from Hitler’s propaganda machine made life more difficult. The political situation worsened with every day. Louder and louder became Hitler’s demands for return of Danzig and other territories held by Poland. With each new demand, conditions grew more tense. Naturally, all of us were following events very closely, reading the papers and listening to the radio analysis of the political situation. The tension continued to mount, until, inevitably, Germany invaded Poland by land, and air in September, 1939.
As I recall it, I was in town a week before the outbreak of war. My brother and I had returned from Krakow because our parents, sensing uncertainty and tension wanted us at home rather than away in the big city. My mother’s premonition, as always, proved correct.
It had been an unusually hot summer, especially September. Among our friends, we discussed current events and our impressions of the big city. The small-town philosophers were always on hand with their interpretations. Usually these discussions were lively—even heated—but they were just part of small town existence. All our friends had different points of view, which could be classified as leftist, rightist, centrist, religious, or even atheist. But despite our differences we always parted friends. When we finally heard that war had come, we were not so much surprised as nervous and uneasy about what might happen next.
Within a few hours we noticed a plane flying low over our town, suggesting that the Germans were interested in the nearby industrial complex (C.O.P.). German agents, planted in these industries before the outbreak of the war. made possible a bloodless takeover by the Germans.
Business came to a standstill. Stores were closed, and the hoarding of food and necessities became the order of the day. People who had gone through World War I generally believed that it would take time for the Germans to capture the entire land. We were inclined to believe the government’s boasts concerning the strength of the Polish army and air force, and their ability and determination to defend every inch of Polish soil. It did not take long to realize that our confidence in Polish resistance was groundless.
The townspeople were reacting feverishly to the increasingly grave situation. All around us the scenes of war were becoming part of the daily experience. Refugees by the thousands, carrying bundles of their precious belongings on bicycles, horses and wagons were moving east through town, trying to escape the advancing German army. These were pitiful-looking people—tired, exhausted, disappointed—who had left comfortable homes to undertake this miserable journey. My own friends, influenced by the sight of these war refugees, discussed what, if anything we could do. We knew that the outlook was grim—maybe hopeless. One thing upon which we agreed was that it would be pointless for us to take our entire families east, since most of us did not have the means for such an undertaking. We decided to hire a bus that normally commuted between Tarnobrzeg and Tarnow to carry about 20—25 of our friends as far east as possible. Our parents reluctantly agreed to our plan and prepared clothing and money for us to take along. Anyone who has ever gone through a similar experience knows the tension and heartache of leaving your loved ones to undertake a trip with no visible end, but we thought this was best under the circumstances.
Carrying our bundled possessions and accompanied by our families we all met at the bus, where unexpected obstacles suddenly developed. The bus, because it was considered a public transit vehicle, could obtain neither a permit for the trip nor gas, which was rationed. Our negotiations availed us nothing and our hopes—so high a little earlier— were cut short. Greatly disappointed, we all returned home.
For the next couple of days, despite conflicting rumors concerning where the fighting was taking place and the Germans advancing, there were no significant changes. People streaming through town began to reflect the feeling that their efforts to escape were useless. Worn out and disappointed, many decided to stop right where they were and some even turned back to their own towns. The weather was warm and dry, a blessing for these travelers—but also for the Nazis. Any open spot could be a resting place for these refugees. They slept and did their housekeeping under the open sky. Watching them and seeing the human misery to which many of them were exposed made us feel almost relieved that our own trip had not materialized. Back in our homes, we again met with our friends to plan the next steps. Everyone offered different suggestions. Events, however, were progressing so rapidly that all of our plans were impractical even before they were fully formulated.
Hitler’s troops quickly mastered the situation. The entire Polish army, despite their boasts of readiness, fell like a house of cards. The air was full of rumors; one day we were looking for English or French planes in the skies, the next day we were awaiting a Western army sent to defend us. In reality, even the slightest attempt at organized resistance by the Poles was summarily crushed. Hitlers army took over town by town, region by region. Our town nervously awaited its turn. The Jewish population was especially jittery. We knew that very hard conditions lay in store for us. The little knowledge we had about the Nazis’ attitude toward the Jews, and their treatment of the ones in Germany, left us with no illusions. Although the Jewish community anticipated terrible conditions, they wanted desperately to believe those who had gone through World War I and who claimed that eventaully we will weather the storm and manage to adapt ourselves to the new conditions and live with them. How naive they were! The younger generation did not share that view, and had tried to escape, but failed. Since we had no alternative, we remained in town, wondering along with everyone else what would happen next. It did not take long to find out.
Finally the day came when the spearhead of Hitler’s army entered the town. First a group of German soldiers on motorcycles drove into the center of town. The rumble of their motors was accompanied by bursts from their automatic rifles and machine guns as they fired indiscriminately at bystanders. There were a few casualties and the rest ran for shelter. The Nazis’ objective was to scare the people as well as to keep the road open for military traffic. The Jews for the most part, locked themselves in their houses, watching and listening. Tanks and armored trucks with soldiers soon filled the marketplace. Except for the troop movements, the town was quiet and tense. Very few people ventured out onto the streets. We knew that it was the beginning of a new order. Gone were the Polish officials in charge of governing the town. Into this vacuum flowed the opportunistic—hooligans, underworld, and the rest of the animal element. In no time, they were mingling with the Germans, showing them the better stores to loot. The Germans and their newfound allies broke windows and doors, pillaging merchandise right and left. Of course, the police made no effort to stop them, and in minutes they destroyed what had taken years to accumulate. This was our first taste of German presence.
We were in our homes, windows covered, and with the smallest possible light in an effort to appear as if nobody was there. We took turns at lookout through the rest of the day and night. By the next morning, things seemed to have quieted down. Slowly we emerged from our hiding places. There were no longer any German army units in the market. Instead, German soldiers armed with carbines patrolled the streets, in pairs. It appeared that Germans who had been living for years in different settlements in the countryside (Volksdeutsche) were now suddenly in position of authority, in charge of various functions in town. It did not take too long to adjust to this somewhat unclear existence. Naturally there were many moments of fear. The sudden knock at the door by the Germans to check the people in the house; the constant demands for “Schmuck” or other valuables; the requisitioning of various household items which happened to catch their fancy. Sometimes they took the male Jewish members of the family to perform various chores for them, such as cleaning the office, washing the cars, or sweeping the sidewalk, as well as many more humiliating types of activities. Some people were taken for the whole day and some just for a few hours, as we started to feel the real pinch of the Nazi occupation. At first they were “polite”, taking just the Jewish men and exempting our women and children. This went on for the first few days. Later, Jews were randomly picked up in the streets or at home, wherever Germans caught them, and taken to different places where they were held without food for an entire day. Families often puzzled as to the whereabouts of a loved one, but during this period nothing truly terrible occurred and, given the circumstances we grudgingly accepted it.
After that first day of looting we were prepared for more drastic events, especially now that the Volksdeutsche were becoming more visible in their swastika armbands, issuing orders and confiscating property. In other words, they became the real “balabatim”. All their previous cordiality, especially with some of the Jewish merchants, abruptly was replaced with nothing but hatred and mistreatment. We swallowed these new conditions, since we had no choice.
Just before Rosh Hashanah, the mood of the Jewish people of Mielec became one of depression. Preparations for this holy occasion were curtailed because, given the negative attitude of the German occupying army towards the Jews, the wisest action would be to avoid any overt religious activities and to keep things as quiet as possible. The very devout Jews, including our Mielecer rabbi, Mendele Horvitz, and his advisors, felt that the Germans would not interfere with our religious practices. They believed things were not so very terrible, that somehow the Jew’s would manage to maintain their day-to-day existence. On such an important holiday, they said. Jews should not neglect their laws and traditions. Rather, they should make all the customary preparations. The rabbi decided therefore to order the re-opening of the ritual slaughterhouse, and prepare the bath house (Mikva) to accommodate local residents and strangers stranded in town.
Beginning early the following day, people rushed to these newly reopened places, and at first it seemed that no difficulties would arise. Suddenly, in the early afternoon, German soldiers armed with machine guns surrounded the slaughterhouse and bath house and ordered all the people present to step out into the yard and line up with their hands raised. Those inside the slaughterhouse were hopelessly trapped, but some of the ones in the bath house tried to hide or escape through the rear of the building. The armed ring of Nazis grew tighter, and more soldiers carrying machine guns appeared. Some of our supposedly good gentile friends began to congregate for the drama that was unfolding in all its gruesome details. They even helped the Germans by pointing out people trying to hide or escape.
The situation became grimmer by the hour. People unaware of what was happening in the area continued to arrive at the bath house. They were immediaely [sic] stopped by the Germans and brought to the yard of the Mikva to join the other captives A strange calmness embraced the town.
From my house, bordering the encircled section of town, I could see armed Germans harassing any Jew trying to leave his house. The Germans shouted “Jude—halt!” and sometimes accompanied this shouting with bursts of shooting, causing the terrified Jews to retreat to the relative safety of his home.
It was twilight, as I recall, when my family and I locked our house, sneaked through the back yard, and climbed up into the attic of our next door neighbor to await the unknown events to follow. The town was incredibly quiet; we could hear every footstep of the soldiers Suddenly we heard a barrage of spurting machine guns, and feared the worst. After a short interval, we smelled smoke and assumed that a fire was burning not far from us.
As the night went on the fire intensified, giving the night skies an eerie brightness and engulfing us in smoke. From our neighbors we learned that the bath house, slaughter house and a few surrounding buildings all had been set on fire. Our large shul (synagogue) was also on fire.
Shortly afterwards we heard a knocking on the gate of our back yard. A muffled voice called up to us “Open up, open up, let me in—this is the rabbi, Mendel”. We quickly lowered a ladder and let him in. The rabbi was accompanied by one of his assistants, disguised as a woman by a white shawl covering his bearded face: He told us of the tragedy that had occurred—that all the people caught in the little slaughter house and bath house had been gathered in the yard and, after a few hours, were made to return to the cramped slaughter house. The Germans then directed their machine guns on the helpless victims. Still unsatisified, the Germans poured kerosine on what a few moments ago had been living people and set them on fire.
The fire burned until the morning hours and we remained in our hideout. It was estimated that 40 or more died that day. It is difficult to establish the exact number, since many were out-of-towners.
We tried to find an answer, some explanation for this senseless, barbarous, vicious, murderous act perpetrated on innocent decent people. The pride, dignity, and feelings of all of us who lived and witnessed this nightmare were shattered. Daytime arrived and we left our hiding places with one burining [sic] question on our minds: “What’s next, WHAT’S NEXT???”.
My Memories from the Bloodiest Era of My People’s History – Sarah Blattberg-Cooper
It was a few days before the High Holy Days at the end of September, 1939, when the Nazis marched into our town, Mielec. A deadly fear immediately overwhelmed us. It did not take long for them to commit their first outrageous act. When they found out that there were Jews in the bath house since it was the eve of Rosh Hashanah, they immediately surrounded the area. Then they went inside and drove the naked victims into the courtyard of the nearby slaughterhouse, doused them with kerosene, which their Polish helpers had brought along in barrels, and ignited the kerosene. One could hear the cries of the victims for as long as there was a spark of life in them. The bestial murderers remained in the courtyard until the last body was consumed by fire. During those terrible hours, no relatives of the victims were allowed to come near them. The area was surrounded by the S. S. Only when they left did we behold the terrible picture. We did not know the exact number of dead because in addition to people from Mielec, there were also in the bath house at the time many refugees from towns previously occupied by the Germans.
After this frightful tragedy, the town was quiet for a short time. People again started going out in the street, and a few even ventured to go to the synagogue. Alas, they paid for this with their lives. One morning the Germans entered the synagogue and chased the worshippers outside. They were then lined up along the walls of the Shul, and shot. Afterwards the Germans put fire to the three houses of worship and a whole street nearby, where the ra- bi’s house was located.
After this new slaughter, we sat in deadly fear behind closed doors. Closing the doors didn’t help us, however, because the Nazis would break in any time of day or night to abuse us and to plunder our homes.
After a time, we were commanded to set up a civil administration—a Judenrat. Orders were constantly being received by the Judenrat to deliver merchandise of all kinds. In order to meet these demands, the Judenrat had to impose heavy taxes on the Jews.
We were also subjected to forced labor. Every day, there would be an increased demand for laborers, both men and women. We accepted this readily enough, wishing only to be allowed to live. Soon, the businesses were reopened and the businessmen were given allotments of merchandise and permission to travel out of town to buy more merchandise. At the same time there were all kinds of regulations which every Jew had to obey, such as wearing the white-and-blue armband with the Star of David, and observing the prohibition against leaving the city.
Despite all this, we had the impression that the worst was over—that from then on we’d at least be able to exist. We did not yet know about their diabolical plans because we were cut off from the outside world. Thus, we had not yet heard of the transports and the extermination camps in different districts of Poland, as well as elsewhere in Europe. So, in our ignorance, we coped with the constant day to day regulations.
In the winter of 1941 the Germans ordered us to give them our furs. The Judenrat announced that any items of fur had to be brought to a certain place—even a child’s coat, or a fur collar. Further, we were given only a few hours to comply—with the death penalty in store for anyone found in possession of even the smallest piece of fur.
And there was worse to come. Robberies, break-ins in the middle of the night, and beatings to death became quite frequent at this time. This situation lasted until the 9th of March, 1942.
On this gray, cold morning the Nazi goons surrounded the streets, broke into the Jewish houses and chased everyone outside. After they had searched thoroughly in every nook and cranny of the houses, they forced the people to walk a long way outside the town. There the detainees were locked in hangars for 24 hours, without food or water. Mothers begged the guards for some snow which they gave their children to drink. Many people were shot during the enforced March.
On the second day, the victims were transported in open wagons in the direction of Lublin, where many extermination camps were located.
How was I saved from this “Aussiedlung” as the Nazis called it?
There was a doctor in town who came to Galicia from Vienna many years before. He was a German, but a very fine man. The Nazis chose him for Mayor. He sympathized with our bitter lot but could not help much. Before the “Aussiedlung” he notified the Judenrat about it, and they, of course, told us cautiously that whoever had the courage should try to save himself or herself. By this time the town was already surrounded by murderers who would shoot on sight anyone they suspected of trying to get out.
When I learned about this new danger, I ran to a “Volksdeutsche”, a fine man with whom I was acquainted for many years, and begged him to help me. He hesitated—his mother, who had Jewish forebears, told him: “You cannot endanger your life”. He, however, had a Jewish heart, and when he accompanied me out of the house, he told me to wait for him in a certain place, and that he would meet me there in his automobile. I begged him to permit me to take some of my family with me, but he said that he would take only me and one of my daughters. Should the police interrogate him, he would say that I was his mother and the girl his sister.
I ran home quickly to get my daughter, and then, in unbelievable fear I walked slowly to the meeting place, so as not to awaken any suspicion. He soon arrived in his car and transported us to a township named Polaniec, which belonged to another district. My other daughter was then in a village and joined me too in Polaniec.
The Jews were still living in their homes in this tiny township, but one felt already the approaching doom because here we heard about the concentration camps from the Poles. People thought about little else but how to save themselves from this awful fate.
In our desperation we decided to obtain Polish papers. This was very risky, because it was easy to recognize us as Jews. And generally it was very hard for Jewish people to get along among Poles.
At this time, this threat of recognition was not so much from the Germans as from the Poles, who after recognizing a Jew would denounce him to the Gestapo.
By a miracle, I found a Pole who provided Polish identity cards for my two daughters, my sister’s daughter, and myself. I paid him a large sum of money for this, but it was well worth it because it opened the way to escape from the Nazis’ hands.
Having Polish papers, I now needed help from the Poles again. To just go and live among the Poles in a town or village was dangerous because the Poles recognized us easily, and for a pound of sugar they would bring a Jew to the Gestapo.
In this situation, a miracle happened again to me. In Polaniec my neighbor was the late Psachie Honig. He knew some Poles like the Dobrowolski brothers who, like himself, were mill owners. He asked them for help and they provided hideouts for us.
Afterwards he contacted a second brother, and proposed to him that he help me, which the Pole agreed to do. For me the situation was difficult. I was now ‘Polish’ and he had to Find a place for me to live as a Christian. He found a place with a peasant in a village. He did not tell him that I was Jewish, but introduced me as a wife of a Polish officer from Posnan.
It was- the day before the “Aussiedlung” the Pole came to my house and took my daughters and me away. The peasant who took us in agreed to take in only 2 persons, that is only one of my children and me.
My older daughter remained in the house in Polaniec, and another Polish friend came and took her away. It is hard to describe the parting with her. I don’t know how my heart endured the pain, This was indeed proven by those who were able to withstand the spiritual and physical tortures of the Nazi beasts. The friends who found place for my older daughter and my sister’s daughter were our neighbors in our estate. They showed great heroism in these acts, since the Nazis punished with death any friendly contact with Jews.
These friends brought the two girls to acquaintances in Cracow, who kept them only a short time because they were afraid of both the Germans and their own neighbors. Thus the unhappy children found themselves in the tragic situation of not knowing where to find a shelter.
The Nazis had been hiring young Polish people for work in German factories, because their own youth was in military service. My two unfortunate girls volunteered—as Poles, of course—and were sent with a transport of Polish workers to Germany.
Each of them was sent to a separate place. Again they were in danger from the Poles, who quickly recognized them as Jews, which was very easy because they looked emaciated. To make matters worse, the element of Polish youth was very low, mostly adventurers and the like. It was a real miracle that these Poles did not betray the two girls to the German administration. They spent two fearful years in the labor camps. They survived.
And how did I fare during these 2 years at the peasant’s house? Since we came as Christians, they gave us a room where we were able to cook. We went out very little because we were afraid of being recognized, but despite these precautions, once the neighbors saw us, they started to suspect us as Jews.
One morning they indeed sent in a Polish policeman, an antisemite. to investigate the two so-called Poles. He quickly recognized us as Jews, despite my stubborn insistence that we were not. I presented our Polish identity cards and said that I was deeply insulted by him thinking of us as “Zydowkis”. It is hard for me to describe this experience—it was the dread of death that gave me the courage to defend myself.
It was dreadful when he turned to my child to question her about her school certificate, and so on. She, alas, had no answers. This policeman was a loyal servant of the Gestapo. After the deportations, a few Jews had escaped to the fields, but he exterminated them. He had a firm conviction about us. As he left, he told us he would be back. But to the landlady he remarked: “I am sure they are ‘zydowkis’, but I won’t bring you to the Germans because of them since it can be dangerous for you.
Why was he so good to these people? A short time before he had received from my landlady a present of a young pig, and this was a big thing during wartime. This is how we were saved, thanks to the gift the policeman had received.
After this visit our landlord asked me whether it was true that we were Jews. I denied this, I assured him that we were Catholics for generations. He calmed down, and even admitted that we did not look like ‘zydowkis’.
Some time passed and then, by accident, our identity was uncovered. An acquaintance who had been hiding in the same village heard a rumor that Jew’s who said that they were gentiles were living at my landlord’s house. He came late at night, and requested to see me. Then, thinking that the landlord knew that we were Jews, he told them my name with all the details. When my landlady knocked on my door and told me that a Jew w anted to see me. had said that my name was Mrs. K, I almost fainted. When he came in, I could only say: “You brought misfortune on us”.
I waited fearfully until the morning, certain that the landlord would not want to keep us longer. He thought for a long time, looking at my face w hich expressed the terrible desperation of a mother preparing to defend her child’s life.
Finally, he took pity on us and said: “I won’t deliver you to the murderers, I will hide you”. And the same night he moved us to the barn, where he had a hiding place for Polish officers who had fled during the Army’s retreat. This was a corner covered with straw and other things. We were lying there all day and night because it was dangerous even to go out at night. We had to beware of the neighbors and even of the children of our landlord, who were still too young to keep a secret.
How was it possible to exist in the hideout?
Our guardian angel, the owner, provided us with everything. In great fear that somebody might see him, when all the lights were out. long after midnight he would come to our hiding place. He brought food for us, and emptied the pot that served as a toilet. Not only did he endure the physical drudgery, but more important the fear that somebody might become aware of our presence. He said that should the neighbors of the next house become suspicious, they would certainly denounce us to the Germans.
We remained in the hideout for the first few months, but it became increasingly dangerous. A practice of searching the homes of the peasants had begun, particularly those who did not deliver to the Germans the children who were registered in their homes. They forced their way in at night, and searched. In some houses they found Jews hiding. Our own landlord became more frightened and thought about finding a safer shelter for us.
In the darkness of night, he dug a deep hole in the same barn, lined it with straw, and covered the entrance with various tools. This time he made the entrance from the coach-house, which was attached to the barn with a wall of boards. He cut out a very small opening in two small boards, through which it was possible to crawl on all four. The small boards were like a door, with a wooden bolt inside. From outside he covered it with tools, carts, sleds, and so forth. It was no small thing for this man to come to this place in the pitch blackness of night, to bring us food for the next 24 hours. One can image how big was the physical exertion for him after a day’s work as a peasant, and even more, the strain of the deadly fear in which he was living.
At about this time, he heard about a case near Dembica, where Jews were found at a farmer’s house. The farmer, together with the Jews, were all shot.
In time, the village deduced that Jews were living with our farmer. Accusations to the police station started again, ushering in a horrible time for us all. One search followed another as they looked into every nook and cranny of the house and farm buildings. Four times during the last year of Nazi rule they looked for us. threatening the house-owner with death if they found the Jews. If. however, he would voluntarily give up the Jews, nothing would happen to him, they said. The man, however, stood fast like a hero, crossed himself and swore that he never had had Jews in his house.
It was a great miracle that the Nazis didn’t find us, since they often stood just a few steps from the door to our hideout. Of the four searches I want to describe one. It was the last search and the most terrifying one. It was a short time before the liberation. The Nazis pried into every nook, as always, and when they finished, they said to the farmer: “You have to report this afternoon to the office of the criminal section”. One can imagine the fear that must have seized him. Before leaving, although he never came to our bunker during the day, he came to us and spoke thus: “I have an order to go to the police and I don’t know whether I’ll come back alive, but I promise you that I won’t give you away”. To his wife he said: “Remember, you should not reveal anything, even if the devils come to you and tell you that I confessed—you should know that I won’t do it even if they threaten me with death”.
And again a miracle happened. The Pole who obtained the shelter for us at our farmer lived in the same village. When the search went on by us, the whole village knew about it and. of course, so did he. Since he was very anxious that nothing happened to our farmer nor to us, he stationed himself on the road where the Germans had to pass. It was his good luck that he was acquainted with them. He did not reveal that he knew anything about their mission and only asked them why they were there. So they told him that they had been looking for Jews. He told them that if Jews had been hidden there, he would have known about it. He invited them in for drinks and they were drunk when they left his house.
When our peasant came fearfully into the office of the chief of the criminal police, the latter was very friendly to him, even treating him to a cigarette, and then ordered him to leave.
During this time, we had been experiencing moments of deadly terror. When night came and the farmer was still not back, I could hear through the cracks in the boards how his wife was wringing her hands and speaking to herself in desperation. I cannot understand how my heart could endure the fear that the murderers might come for us at any minute, and the pain over the fate of the people who had protected us so faithfully.
At last, late at night, our angel came into our bunker and told us that all was in order. This was the last search, in 1944.
At this time a ray of hope had already started to shine for us. The Red Army advanced closer, and at the end of July 1944 the front stabilized not far from our village.
Bullets flew over our heads and we could hear the clatter of the cannons, but despite the danger from grenades which fell on the houses, we were full of hope of impending freedom, because it was evident that the Germans were being defeated.
The front did not shift for a long time, until the Russians attacked the Nazis with Katyushas, and started to pursue the retreating murderers.
We were still lying in our bunker where we were joined by others Jews who had been hiding in the same village. They had escaped from the houses in which they were hiding, before the retreating enemy set them on fire.
At last came the great moment. Our guardian, after he looked around and determined that it was safe for us to leave the hiding place, came to us and told us: You can already come out, you are free people”.
He stressed that for our safety from the peasants, and in order to be farther from the front, which was still not far from our village, it was important that we leave the place.
He led us out early in the morning when his neighbors were still sleeping, because it would have been dangerous for him if the peasants had found out that he had hidden Jews.
The farewell was so moving that I will never forget it. He handed me two thousand Zlotys, and told us, “I have no more: take it, so that you will have a piece of bread until you come back to your house”. His wife gave us a basket of bread, cheese and other products. Both accompanied us some distance and told us “God bless you”.
This man, Jozef Madry, suffered almost two years of living in constant fear of death, for our sakes.
After we came out from the bunker, my daughter and 1, plus the Jews who had been with us during the last days, headed away from the front. We walked, although we could hardly keep on our feet which were weak and stiff from lying so long in the bunker. Ther was no possibility of getting a horse and wagon, however, so we wandered, spending the nights in barns of peasants, until we arrived in in the town Rzeszow. Here we remained a few weeks until we were able to return to Mielec. The return was very, very heartbreaking. Living in all the Jewish houses were Poles, who received us with great hatred because they did not think that any Jews had remained alive. In some cases, the peasants killed the Jews who came back to their homes. In the town of Kielce, the Polish murderers started a pogrom that killed 42 people. These incidents frightened us, the few survivors and we left for Cracow. There the few who came out from the bunkers, fields, and woods soon gathered.
It took some time until we contacted the American “Joint”, which assisted us.
In Cracow, too, it was impossible for us to remain for long. The atmosphere was full of hatred. When a dead child was found, the poles accused the Jews of having killed it. I lived through a frightful experience at this time. One time. I was in the street with my daughter when a mob of holligans appeared, yelling “Kill Jews!”. We managed to escape with our lives in a streetcar. At this time, the Polish enemies killed a Jewish couple who had survived Hitler’s hell.
After that we had to wander further. With a group of others. I went over to Silesia. After a time “Brichah” started smuggling people through the borders. We were among these. At last, they brought us to the very land of the Nazi murderers. But here in the American Zone, we felt protected by our American friends.
It was ironic for those of us who suffered so cruelly at the hands of these people, in a land literally soaked in Jewish blood, to come here. This, however, was the place where “Brichah” brought us, and told us to remain until there would be a possibility to emigrate to other countries. Here we had the assistance of the international refugee organization, and from our brothers, the “Joint”. The latter, generously gave material and spiritual help. Their medical help and the fact that they sent us to spas, made it possible for us to slowly regain ow health. We were very depressed because by this time the great tragedy involving the death of our brothers and sisters was already clear to us. The few who had survived the Hitler hell were all identified through the “Search Service,” or through other means.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize the magnanimity of those Poles who acted so nobly, risking their own lives to help us.
I intended to reward them with land from our estate, but the Polish Government instituted an agrarian reform and divided the estate among the peasants without any indemnity for us.
My children and I are corresponding with them and sending them packages and money that we can afford. Of course, this is very little considering how much they really deserve.
These are the ones who helped us:
The Ruseks family, neighbors of our estate; they did a lot for us after the deportation (“Aussiedlung”) when we were in Polaniec. It was their son-in- law, Jozef Stachara, who obtained the identity cards for us. The one who took us out from the fire a day before the Aussiedlung was Wladyslaw Dobrowolski; he also brought us to Jozef Madry, who kept us almost two years.
I also want to mention that what I have described here is only a small part of my experiences of these awful years. It was truly miraculous that I was able to survive so much suffering. Only the urge to save the lives of my children gave me the strength and courage to face .such terrible dangers.
Before Dobrowolski found the place for us with Madry, I was travelling around, naturally with a handkerchief on my head like a gentile, without the armband and looking for a place among the gentiles but no one let me cross his door step. I was aware that I was endangering my life and I cannot understand where I got so much courage. Only a mother can marshal it when the lives of her children are at stake. I am among the very few mothers who can tell about it, since few of the older people survived. They were the first selected for the crematoria.
The Road to Freedom – Helen Schreiber née Honig
The idea of writing about Mielec 30 years after the Holocaust, was put forward to us by a dedicated worker for the Mielec Society, who helps wherever he can to make the lives of the few survivors of our town easier.
He approached those of us living in New York City and organized a committee to memorialize life in the small town of Mielec, in southern Poland. He also asked Mielec survivors in Israel and Australia to write their recollections of our town’s history. In accomplishing this, we have had to battle our reluctance to relive the painful past.
I will try to do what I can to add, in small measure, to the Jewish history of our town.
Mielec was a town with between 10 and 15-thousand inhabitants during the period between World Wars I and and II. The town was located between Dębica and Sandomierz, on the River Wisłoka. Its population was about evenly divided between Jews and Poles.
In the beginning of the 20th Century, when this part of Poland belonged to Austria, the Jews of Mielec were concentrated around the square market place, and two streets branching from each corner. Their houses, at the time, were made of wood, with pillars in front of each home. According to a story, an insurance company from Vienna sent a representative to the town and persuaded a group of people there to buy fire insurance, a very new idea then. After a few weeks, one part of town caught fire and was destroyed, but the people who had taken out insurance rebuilt their homes as two-story brick dwellings, very modern at that time. The people on the opposite side of town became jealous, and they also took out fire insurance. One year later, that part of the community went up in flames and within a few months, it was also rebuilt with new houses.
My own family lived on the second floor of a building on a side street. In the adjoining house, on the ground floor, lived my paternal grandparents. As a little girl of four or five, during the long winter evenings, I would go to them for a story. I asked the usual children’s questions: “Why is it day, and why is it night?” . . . “Why are we Jewish and why are they Goyim?”
My grandfather, a very religious man, would tell me stories from the Bible—how God created the world, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I remember asking where they were buried and he would tell me, “In the Machbela, in Hebron, in the land of Israel, where we will all live someday when the Messiah comes.” Later, in 1968, when I actually stood in Hebron in the Machbela, or in Jericho, or in front of the Wailing Wall, I thought that I was chosen to represent my grandparents, for whom all this had been only a dream.
In Mielec, there were five Jewish places of worship, of which the most beautiful was the three-story Mielicer Schul, on the plaza, between two other places of worship called Bet Hamidrach’ and the Mauer.
“The Schul,” as it was called, was attended by the younger, more modern Jews. As a small girl, I trailed after my father on Saturday or High Holidays, to the synagogue. Since I couldn’t, pray yet, I sat quietly admiring the beautiful frescoes, which were different from anything I ever saw later in any of my travels. They were done by a local Jewish artist, Icchak Fenichel, who though very talented had no formal art education. (His son, Abba, also a famous artist, lives in Israel) I used to admire especially a picture on the ceiling of a big fish, “Leviathan,” who was depicted holding his tail in. his mouth. The walls were covered with biblical scenes—the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses striking the water with his stick, the burning bush, the tablets with the 10 Commandments—all this marked the beginning of my deep attachment to Jewish history.
The Jews of Mielec were, for the most part, small businessmen—shopkeepers, shoemakers, bakers, handworkers, tailors, and so forth. Most families barely made ends meet, but there were a few exceptions—landowners, like the Verstandigs, Blattbergs, Harmeles, and Aschheims; flour mill owners, like Honig, Zuckerbrodt, and Schacher, plus owners of cement factories, breweries, brick factories, wood cutting industries—the Friedmans, Salpeters, and Gottingers.
There were also about a dozen Jewish doctors and lawyers in Mielec. Most of them took part in the mainstream of Jewish life, belonged to Jewish organizations, and contributed financially to Jewish causes.
Except for the handful of rich, most of the town’s Jews made a living selling things to the peasants, who exchanged food products for clothing and household goods. After the trading, the Poles went to the pub, often returning home drunk. Along the way, they would amuse themselves by throwing stones at the windows of Jewish homes, and cursing or beating up religious Jews. Most of the windows in town were covered for the night with shutters to protect them and to avoid injuries. A popular saying among the peasants was, “Jew, go back to Palestine . . . leave our land and bread . . . this is not your country.” There were no Jewish municipal or state employees, except for Professor Czortkower, who fought for Poland, and one Polish Jewish judge, Pohoryles, who distinguished himself during the War of Independence.
At the elementary school, teachers freely indulged in anti-semitic namecalling. We were rarely permitted to take part in an Independence Day school play, or in the parades through town on national holidays. On the other hand, we were required to sell raffles for the Polish sports organization, Sokol.
There were very few jobs available. After high school, most of the boys studied law in Krakow, some distance away. The medical schools had a numerus clausus, that permitted only a small percentage of Jewish boys to be admitted, generally those who had influence or were rich enough to pay steep bribes. Some, determined to study, went to foreign countries.
In the 1930’s, the Jewish youth began to look for solutions to these problems. A dozen organizations sprung up. Most were Zionist in orientation, each representing a different ideology. There was the religious Zionist Mizrachi, and Aguda. The middle-of-the-road Akiba (of which I was a member) numbered among its leaders David Kurz, Bruno Durst, Mindaand Schmul Garfunkel, Sala Kartagener, Moshe Schmidt, and Rela Leiman. The Militant Zionist Revisionists were led by Marc Verstandig. And there were others: the Socialist Zionist-Hitachud, Gordo’nia, Poale Zion, Shomer, and Communists. Each organization had its own meeting place. The members studied Jewish history, Zionist history, and Hebrew. Some went on to train at Hachscharas to learn how to work the land. In the summer we went to Zionist camps. We felt that Zionism held the answer: a land of our own, where we would be free to go to school, speak our language, and live as we wished.
University students, coming home for the holidays or for vacations, brought new ideas. They staged Jewish plays, with the help of M. Messinger, an actor at the Jewish theatre in Krakow, who himself hailed originally from Mielec, and is now living and acting in Israel. Michel coached all the players, and the proceeds went to the fund for the Jewish student house in Krakow. Most of the Jews in town attended these plays. The Jewish students also organized balls and concerts.
In addition, we had a sports club in Mielec, “Maccabi,” under the leadership of Psachia Honig, a city councilman representing the Jews. He used his influence in the town hall to secure a place for the club—admittedly, in the worst possible location, on the outskirts of town at the edge of the woods, in a spot that was full of holes. But the members filled it in with sand, built a fence around it and bleachers for spectators. Later, a tennis court was added, as was a calesthenics [sic] course for women. For the first time, the young Jews of Mielec could play almost any sport they liked.
On Theodore Hertzl Memorial Day, or other special holidays, parades were held at the stadium. The big excitement of the week was the soccer game between the Maccabi and Club Sokol. Most of the time, our Maccabi players won—and since the Poles didn’t accept defeat at the hands of the Jews gracefully, such victories were usually followed by a fight and a few bloody noses.
In the town there was a Maccabi clubhouse, where Jews gathered to play cards, pingpong, read in the library, or take part in other social events.
In the late 1930’s, the winds of Hitler’s ideas were blowing. Mielec became the center of the Polish airplane industry, called “COP” industries, where military installations were built. Most of the engineers and workers came from Poznan, near the German border. We heard the Nazi propaganda slogans: “Poles should buy only from Poles.” Jews could no longer enter a cafe attended by Poles. There were signs reading, “Jews and dogs: entrance forbidden!”
A few young people, seeing no future there, managed to leave for Palestine. These included Mindla and Schmul Garfunkel, Sala Kartagener, Moshe Schmidt, Dola Fenster, and Balcia Cytryn. In our Akiba Club, the younger group took over the leadership—Ruchia Steuer, Rachel Strauss, Hela Kartagener, Giza Weg, Frieda Schternglanz, and myself. A few left for the U.S.A. but even that had become difficult. As for marriage, Jewish girls had to have dowries in order to be able to set up a husband in business or in a profession. In short, there was no bright future in sight for the Jews of Mielec.
On September 1, 1939, war came as the first bombers of the German Luftwaffe attacked the military installations. On the third day of the war, thousands of people from Western Poland crossed through Mielec, running eastward from the approaching German armies. Panic struck the Jews in town. The young men, whether single or married, became frightened over the rumors of what the Germans did to Jewish men, and they packed and left on foot, by bicycles, or in whatever means of transportation was available.
The president of the Jewish Kehila, Chaim Freedman, notified the few Jewish families who he thought would be in danger that a van would be available to evacuate them from Mielec. He advised these people to take with them whatever they could. My own family was among this group, but my father was certain that the Polish army would be able to stop the Germans, so he sent my mother, grandfather, brother, and myself, while he remained behind. We took whatever we could carry—bedding, clothing, fur coats, money, and jewelry. At night we joined about 10 other large families— the Friedmans, Brodts, Salpeters, and Gottengers, and under the bombing of the German Stukas we followed the retreating Polish army out of town. I had started crying and could not get myself under control for days.
The van was heading east, though we didn’t know where we were going. The next day, in the late afternoon, we arrived in a little town called Nemirow, part of which was a spa. Since it was September, and the summer guests had gone, the owner permitted the refugees—which we had become—to occupy the villa. Each family had one room
For us, this marked the start of a new and different life, for which I was totally unprepared. My brother and I were sent to buy food from the peasants, something that I could do, but for the rest I didn’t know how to clean dishes, shoes, how to hold a broom or brush, or how to clean a floor, and I had to ask other girls for help because some of them were much better prepared for life than I.
The next morning, my father arrived, with my uncle George, and my uncle Eli, plus his wife and three children. My father realized that it wouldn’t be possible to stay here, so he brought his car, which he hid in the woods. The Jews in town, seeing frightened refugees arriving en masse, packed up and ran further east.
After a few days we felt that it might be safer in the town, and we moved into one of the abandoned houses. The German army caught up with us and entered Nemirow from the four corners of the town simultaneously. There was heavy shooting, and after a few hours the Germans were in command. Fearful, we all retreated behind locked doors and drawn shutters for a few days. Thousands of soldiers, lavishly equipped with hundreds of tanks, trucks, and other military gear, were marching east. One morning from behind the shutters we saw German soldiers assembling Jews in the marketplace, pulling the hair from their beards, beating them on their heads, and taking them to work washing cars or Fixing the roads. At night, they made bonfires and sang German songs. After three days, it quieted down and we left the house to buy food. We decided that since we were already in occupied territory anyway, we would be better off going back to our homes and taking our chances there.
Meanwhile, the Germans had discovered my father’s car in the woods, guided there by over-cooperative peasants, but we made a deal with a farmer who agreed to transport us in his wagon to Jaroslaw. From there, we would try to continue to Mielec, somehow. On the way, the German soldiers were taking the men to work on the road, and to show the Jews that the situation had changed.
Towards evening we approached Jaroslaw, on the east side of the river San, and there we saw hundreds of Jews being expelled from the town, with very few belongings. Jaroslaw was to be cleared of all Jews, as it became the border between Germany and Russia. We turned back, but since it was almost night and a curfew had been imposed, we found a Jewish family in a nearby village and they took us in. Next day was Yom Kippur, so the men prayed in a separate room.
In the evening, even though food was scarce, our Jewish host gave us some oil and potatoes, and we made potato pancakes. The next day, we drove to the neighboring town of Oleszyce, where we again stopped at a Jewish house. A few’ hours later, the Russians marched in. Their tanks were decorated with big pictures of Lenin, Marx, Stalin, and Engels, They impressed us as modern day counterparts of the medieval crusaders. Almost immediately, a Russian political instructor appeared to harangue the crowds about how great life was in Russia, and how happy we would be. There was no going back for us, but my father and uncle went to Lvov to see how conditions were there, while we were left behind.
Through some friends my father found an apartment—one big room and kitchen—before returning for us.
Most of the people who fled to east Poland came to Lvov, hoping that the war would end soon. They had decided to wait it out here. Winter came, and the lines for food and clothing were long.
The streets of Lvov were packed with people. Everyone wore shabby clothes, was jobless, and living off the money he had brought or had gained by selling his clothes to the Russians. The local people, still living in their homes, looked down on us even though the people who had come here were the cream of Western Polish Jewry. There were quite a number of single people from Mielec and Lvov. Most had left their wives and parents behind, and life was difficult for them. Many visited our house daily to exchange news, meet one another, pick up mail, and discuss matters of common concern.
In the meantime, the war to the west was continuing. Hitler had been victorious in Norway, Belgium, and France. The news from home was even worse. On the first day, when the Germans marched into Mielec, they surrounded the shul and the mikva, and set them on fire with about 40 men and children trapped inside. Soon afterward, they set up a concentration camp near Mielec, in Pustkow, and took young people to work as slave laborers. From time to time, one of them was shot.
On the other hand, life with the Russians meant, for many, hunger and being away from their families. The Russians permitted the non-Jewish refugees to return to their homes, while for the Jews they promised, a special registration.
In the spring of 1940, the Russians started registering the names of people who wanted to go back west which turned out to be virtually everyone. Meanwhile, France fell to the Germans—a black day for refugees, like us, who could see no end to the war, no hope for the future. About the 25th of June, we heard that in a town near Lvov the Russians had assembled all single men and put them aboard a train that, rumor had it, was bound for Siberia. As a result, the two boys who were staying with us, as well as my uncle George, left our apartment and went to different hiding places. That night, the two boys were caught and sent to the trains, and the next night the Russians searched all apartments where single men were registered and took them by truck to the train station and then on to Siberia.
The following morning, my brother was running a high fever. We called an old friend, Dr. Henry Milgrom, who retired in Lvov after many years in Mielec as a physician and Health Commissioner, and he gave us a note stating that my brother had typhoid. The next night, there was a knock on our door. It was the KGB, but when we showed them the note they were afraid to come into the apartment or to put us on the transport for fear of infecting the others. That is how we happened to be left in Lvov when the others were shipped off to Siberia.
People left behind in Lvov, as we were, escaped being shipped with the others, but we were forbidden to go within 100 kilometers of the border. We were considered a ‘dangerous element’ and the Russians issued us passports with special restrictions. Again, we lived in fear that we would be sent to Siberia on the next transport.
My father had friends in a town named Kolomyja—the daughter of Mr. Salpeter, of Mielec, who was married to a lawyer, Dr. Knopf. He found out that for $100 we could get false passports from the Russian police stating that we were residents of Kolomyja, dating back to the pre-war period. Once we had these documents, my parents, grandfather, brother, and I left Kolomyja. My uncle rented a room and a kitchen, at the same time the Russian army marched into Rumainia, and took over Besarabia. As a resident of Kolomyja, my brother who was now 20 was ordered to report to the Russian army. Since the Rumanian border was close by, he and my uncle crossed it to Czerniowic, and we didn’t see them again until after the war.
The mail from Siberia was horrifying. Many people died of hunger and from overwork, as we learned through letters from my uncle Eli and his family, as well as from others.
In Kolomyja, under the Russians,, in order to rate an apartment or the right to buy food, one had to have a working person’s identification card. To get around this, my father organized a group of refugees, like us—some were Jews from Czechoslovakia—and they set up an ‘artell,’ where they scraped reeds in order to make baskets. The object was not so much the few rubles we earned, which hardly paid for the bread, but rather the permit which was important.
At the time, we owned a radio, and many of the people we knew used to gather at our house to listen .to the news from England. We would get excited by the number of German planes shot down by the Royal Air Force. It raised our hopes. Each time I wrote to the people in Siberia, I reported to them on the news from the English radio in order to lift their morale and strengthen their hopes.
On June 21, 1941, the day the Germans attacked Russia, I got up in the morning and saw the Russians, through the window, running as if in distress.
Following the Russian withdrawal, the Germans and their Hungarian allies marched into Kolomyja. On the first day, they allowed (if not actively encouraged) the Ukrainian peasants to amuse themselves with the Jews. The streets were full of bear-footed Ukrainians, carrying rifles. Through the window, I saw a bearded rabbi running towards our house. I opened the door for him and ran out to lock the gate in front of the house. He told us that two Ukrainians were chasing him. All the Jewish men in the house, including my grandfather, ran into a small room. My mother and I pushed a big cupboard in front of the door. A neighbor’s wife and three little girls came into our apartment and a few minutes later two Ukrainian militia men came in and asked if we had seen the rabbi. We said no, and I pleaded with them in a loud voice to leave us alone. They asked, “Why are you so nervous . . . are you Jewish?” “Yes,” I replied proudly. “In that case, you’re coming with us,” they said. My mother said, “I’m going too.”
While we were walking with them on the street, a Hungarian army officer, taking pity on us, pleaded with the Ukranians to let us go, but they would not listen. They brought us to a park where a few hundred Jews were assembled, beaten up. I saw bleeding eyes, women’s wounded breasts, broken limbs; Hell could not have been worse. One of my captors walked away from us about 50 feet, then—with his rifle pointed right at me—charged like a bull hitting me in the hip with all his might. It hurt, but I didn’t make a sound, for I was still proud. Then he hit me in the face. I took it, chin up, without a sound, but I think that at that moment I lost my ability to laugh or cry.
Then they told us to line up, put heavy ropes on our shoulders, and forced us to pull down the busts of Stalin and Lenin that the Russians had erected. “Schma Israel Adonai elahenhnu, Adonai echad,” intoned a rabbi, leading us in the prayer of Vyda„ the prayer before death.
They told us to march forward through swamps, and we marched while bullets whistled near our ears. We marched towards the center of town, where drawn shades covered the windows, doors were locked, and a mob of Christians, only, lined the sidewalks, laughing, cheering, and screaming— ‘Death to the Jews!” In my memory, I still see the face of a Catholic priest standing among them, and I could not understand how he could keep silent.
We thought that they would shoot us right in the marketplace, because that was the way we were heading. Or perhaps they would burn us alive. Suddenly, a few truckloads of Hungarian soldiers drove up. They jumped out of the trucks, shooting and yelling at the Ukranians to let us go. We started running in all directions, during the confusion. Bullets were flying over our heads. My mother and I ran into a house whose gate was open, and up the attic, where we hid. All night long the shooting continued, while at home our family knew nothing of what was happening to us, and as we learned later, my grandfather cried all night long out of worry over us. Early in the morning, we left our hiding place and walked home through the side streets, arriving much to the surprise and relief of our relatives.
After a few days, I dared to go over to a friend’s house, again. They hadn’t known that I had been involved in the death march.
In every other respect, however, things were getting worse. Every day, the Germans would round up the Jews from an area of several streets—generally a few hundred people—and take them out into the woods and shoot them. As a rule, the Germans walked their captives through the streets, guarded by only four or five soldiers and a few police dogs.
One day of the week was designated for the Jews to buy their supply of vegetables at the market. I went there, but when I picked up a bunch of carrots, a German soldier appeared and hit me on the head with his fist. I dropped everything and ran, as did the other Jews, all of us wearing the required white arm-band. After that incident, we had to rely upon our Polish landlady to buy food for us.
Soon, the Jews were ordered to bring all of their gold, jewelry, and furs to the Judenrath, but we hid our Jewelry in a hole we dug in the barn at night—even the landlady didn’t know about it—and gave our fur coats to her.
Our friend whom I was able to see far less frequently now, summoned a photographer to their house to take pictures of me. They confided to me that they believed I would survive, because of my looks, and asked me to send those pictures to their son in Israel, if I lived through the war. This I have done.
One day, my father reported to work, as the Judenrath directed him to do. On his way, he saw the German soldiers dragging a young Polish boy into the Jewish cemetery. The boy cried and begged them to let him go, but they wouldn’t listen. After a few minutes, he heard shots and knew what had happened. It upset me terribly.
It was particularly bad in eastern Poland. Every town had its massacres, and thousands were shot in the woods. At about this time, we wrote a letter to our cousin, asking her to send for us. A few nights later, we heard a knock at the door. “Gestapo!,”. My mother and I ran through the kitchen door and out into the garden. Then we heard the landlady calling us. “Those are chauffeurs from Debice—they came to take you there.” The Poles thought it would be fun to scare the Jews, so they identified themselves as Gestapo. And these were to be our rescuers! My parents packed quickly, but they couldn’t dig up the jewelry at night in the presence of strangers. In addition, since father preferred to risk his life rather than mine, he decided that the rest of the family would go first, while I remained behind, until they were convinced that it was safe for me to go and sent for me. I went to a neighboring house, where my friend’s brother lived, and the following night I returned to the barn to dig up the jewelry. The next day, the same chauffeur who had taken the rest of my family arrived, with a Polish ID card for me. Travelling on a German train, I went to Debice.
There was enough food. Everyone was well dressed. Since they had been able to remain in their own home, The Jews that had somehow managed quite well. In part, this was a result of the fact that they owned a store that sold wool and handmade sweaters. The Germans loved these sweaters for winter sports, and they went considerably easier on our hosts as a result.
The Judenrath in Debice refused to register us, since anyone who came from a previously Russian-occupied zone was considered a communist and shot by the Gestapo. A friend from Radomyal [sic], came to Dembice with a buggy and drove us through the woods to Redomy’s, at the risk of his own life, since we had no permits to leave the town. Redomyal was a small village where my uncle’s son also lived. He arranged with the Judenrath there not to register us, but instead to pretend that they.were unaware of our presence. It was now January, 1942, and we rented one room from a Polish family on the outskirts of town. By this time I fully realized the utter seriousness of Hitler’s plan for a ‘final solution’ to the Jewish problem.
Throughout it all, I had the firm conviction that I would survive, and this gave me inner strength. But I knew that survival depended upon getting Polish papers, and I approached everyone I knew, listened to rumors, and found out that an old client of my father’s could arrange this through the men in charge of the town hall. I told my father, and, just as I’d heard, we all got papers with Polish names.
On March 19, 1942 we heard that Mielec, about 10 miles away, had been surrounded by the Gestapo, making it the first Polish town to bear the full brunt of the ‘final solution’. As we found out later, Mielec’s Jews were sent, first, to Dubenka and Wlodawa, and after a few weeks to Majdanek and Belzec. The Jews in Radomy’s were frightened that the same thing would soon happen to them, but there was no place to go and nothing to be done to avoid it.
At about that time. Dolak Liebeskind. a leader of the resistance movement of the Krakow ghetto, and an Akiba leader before the war, appeared in Radomy’s. He asked me to join with his group of partisans to help free Rachel Strauss and Hela Kartenger from Dubienka. I refused because I felt that my first obligation was towards my parents, but I sent a Polish messenger to Dubienka to help my close friends, Feiga and Sala Borger, leave town. I asked them to drop their armbands, but they were afraid to do this, so two other sisters went with him, instead. Both now live in New York, but the Borger sisters perished.
There were constant rumors that any day the Jews of Radomy’s would follow in the steps of those from Mielec. As a result, we decided to move to Polaniec, a small town on the other side of the Wisla River. In Polaniec, I met my dear friend.
September, 1942, town after town had been cleared of Jews, who were sent to the death camps. One night, the Germans surrounded the young Polish people in Polniec, in order to send them to the work camps in Germany. They came into our house. It was dark, and they were using their flashlights, but they asked for a lamp. They asked me whether I was Polish or Jewish. I didn’t know what the right answer might be, under the circumstances, and started to answer, “We are … we are—wait. I’ll bring a lamp,” and again my mother, father, and I ran out of the back door and into the fields. While we were running, I lost my parents, but I continued to run. It seems as if the bushes were moving—everywhere I thought I saw people hiding in them. When I couldn’t run any further, I decided to hide in a ditch and cover myself with leaves. No sooner had I done this when I heard steps—heaven, soldier-like steps, like the sound of marching troops. I tried not to breathe. It went on for a long time—the steps sounded neither closer nor father away. I listened carefully . . . and then I understood: the sounds I heard were the beats of my heart!
At sun-break, cold and tired, I left the ditch and started towards the village, nearly drowning in the swamps along the way. People, most of them Jews, were emerging from the bushes on all sides. I met a Jew from Mielec and he said that someone told him that my father had been shot. I had become numb to pain, and I didn’t react. After a while, we saw some Polish peasants who told us that it had been a Polish lineup, rather than A Jewish one. I walked into town, afraid to go home and face the new’s. I decided to go, first, to the Schillers’ house and when I went inside, there was my father. It had been a false rumor.
After that, we tried to live as a Polish family, with our Polish papers, and went to a little spa, Solec. We rented a room, but after a day the Poles recognized us by the way my mother prepared the food. It had become clear that it was impossible to live disguised as Polish people, and the Poles ordered us to leave, so we went back to Polaniec. Meanwhile, more news arrived concerning the surrounding of Jewish towns: Debica was cleared of Jews, and my uncle his wife and son w’ere sent to Belzec.Their four daughters and a three-year-old grandchild. The only solution for us seemed to go into hiding. I could have taken a chance and lived as a Polsih girl, which I could have managed easily because of my looks. But I didn’t want to leave my parents.
We decided it would be better to look for separate hiding places. That way, if something happened to one of us, the others might still survive and perhaps get help from the outside. But where were we to go?
During this period, Polish business people would come to Polaniec on weekends to trade black market money for Jewish gold and jewelry at cheap prices. I learned that a Mr. Stanislaw Dobrowolski used to come on Sundays to exchange his money, and usually stayed in the house of the Rothmans, another Mielec family. I told my father about Dobrowolski, who had owned a small flour mill before the war in the next village to where my father had had a big one. They had been friends before the war; my father had lent him money and given him credit at a time when he could easily have eliminate him out of business. My father waited for him one Sunday, and begged him to take me into his house, giving him a promisory [sic] note for 50-thousand zlotys. He also offered him a partnership if we survived. Dobrowski agreed, but said he would consult his wife and he would come to pick me up the next day, which he did. There were no children in his house—only two brothers and one sister, a polio victim.
Meanwhile, someone arranged a hiding place for my mother and his sister in a house owned by a Mr. Skibe, in a village near the Wisla River. He had built a double wall in his storage room with a big enough hole for someone to crawl through on his knees. Later, Mr. Dobrowolski placed my father and a friend in a similar hiding place in the village of Gawluszovice. My grandfather stayed with a Jewish family in Polaniec. We had planned to send for him but the Germans shot him before we got a chance. He was 86 years old and could not comprehend how God could permit such things to happen.
Through Dobrowolski, my father arranged a hiding place for Jewish woman and her daughter in the same village where I was. Dobrowolski now had ten people under his protective wing: my parents, his sister plus a child, in the house next to Dobrowolski, and I myself. He had a note and a promise of compensation after the war from us. In addition, my father borrowed S500 from Dobrowolski, promising to repay him twice that sum after the war . . . which he did. All of us assumed that something would happen soon, and that the war would not last more than two months. This was at the end of 1942. There had been a landing by the Allied Armies in France, in the town of Dieppe, which raised our hopes.
Meanwhile, no one kept money with him for fear that the farmers would kill him for it—even though Dobrowolski was paying them 3,000 zlotys for each of us per month—at the time about S150.
I was treated as a member of the family, as a cousin hiding from the Germans in order not to be sent to the Polish working camps. That was the story told the maid and some of their friends. My room was on the second floor, where I could hear Rothman’s steps above me.
After two months, my parents’ money ran out. One day, Dobrowolski came in for a friendly chat and told me he hoped that the war would not last longer than three months. He didn’t care how much we cost him, so he said, but it did not seem so. At this time, my parents’ jewelry—a considerable bit of gold, diamonds, and pearls—was in my possession, but there was no more cash. I kept the jewelry on my body during the day, in a belt with a zipper; at night, I stored it under the pillow. It squeezed me all the time. Since I realized that we could not expect Mr. Dobrowolski to support us indefinitely and at the same time to risk his life, I made a decision without consulting my father: I excused myself and went out of the room where I took off the belt. Then I returned and showed him the jewelry. I explained that we never considered the jewels as money—that they had a sentimental value to us—but that I felt sure my father would sell him whatever he wanted. As to the price, he would have to discuss that with my father. I only asked that he hide it with his own, so I could be more comfortable. I trusted him; he was a gentleman, and I admired him because it took guts to help us in the way he did, at that time.
Mr. Dobrowolski was very pleased by my offer. It was a risk, according to others, to give the jewelry away, but he did not disappoint us. Every month he went to pay the farmers for my mother and father and when money was needed, he established with my father the price for each item he wanted to buy. Sometimes his wife sent fish, white rolls, or jam to the people in the shelters. In this wav, the jewelry lasted two years, by which time all that was left were my mother’s diamond earrings, an engagement gift.
Two weeks after I arrived at the Dobrowolski house, I heard shots and a big commotion, near the river not far away. A few minutes later, they told me that a Polish policeman named Ortyl, from Mielec, was chasing Jews hiding in the bushes near the river. He had already shot Mr. Machel Lichtig, from Mielec—the father of my dear friend. The Dobrowolskis sympathyzed with the Jews and they told me everything they heard about what was happening to them while we were in hiding.
Other friends hiding with two daughters, were in the same village with a farmer named Korczak.
We also heard how Jews were poisoned by farmers, when they ran out of money—and how the four Kornreich brothers, my highschool friends, were dismembered and thrown into farm machines. Komito, a cousin of mine, was poisoned in the next village.
Meanwhile, on the Russian front, there was a stalemate near Stalingrad—and still no landing on the western front.
During Christmas, the priest from the village, a colonel from the Polish army, and the village mayor were all invited to a party at the Dobrowolskis. I joined them for dinner. The priest voiced the opinion that the Poles would have to build a monument in Warsaw to Hitler, after the war, in gratitude for what he did for them in exterminating the Jews. The others agreed. It embarrassed the Dobrowolskis that I heard this.
My father was not comfortable in this hiding place in Gawluszowice, so Dobrowolski arranged for two separate hiding places in the barns adjoining his garden and belonging to his two brothers-in-law. They built double walls in these barns, with a place to sleep a few feet below ground level, a small kerosene lamp, a wash basin, and a pail for toilet use. Twice a day the two fugitives were given food. They could lie down or sit, but it was very hard to stand up. Sometimes at night they would come to the house and wash up with warm water. The Rosens visited my father almost every night by jumping over the fence and announcing himself with a special signal at the wall. I also visited my father once in two months between 12 and 2 at night. Dobrowolski would notify them in advance when I was to arrive. We were very happy to meet and I was told the news. Our joy and desire to be free was expressed in speaking Jewish among ourselves and singing songs from the Hebrew prayers—Ein Kelohainu. Adon Olam, and others.
My mother and Mrs. Levins were still near Polaniec. In the spring of 1943, on Easter morning, I was invited down to the kitchen to join them for breakfast. Through the window we saw people coming back from church after mass. Dobrowolski said jokingly, “They are all so clean from their sins . . . just try to give them a Jew!” A few hours later, they were looking in the village, house by house, for Jews. They found Mr. Leizar Berger and his daughter, Lea, and I saw through the window how they were driven by a farmer and a policeman toward Mielec, where they were shot.
One day, a Pole from Mielec named Flour, who used to deal with my father before the war, passed near the mill and saw me through the window. He told Dobrowolski that he knew who I was and if he wouldn’t throw me out, he—Flour—would tell the police. That evening, Dobrowolski’s brother-in-law drove me to my mother’s hiding place. Roth had to leave, too, but since he had no place left to hide in, he walked to Mielec and sat hopelessly on a bench near Straznice Park, until a policeman came along and shot him. His sister and her child left for Przemysl, where she had lived before the war with her husband. She never came back.
My mother, Mrs. Levinsohn and I shared a small wooden bench as a bed. If one of us turned over, all three had to do it. We had to whisper in the dark. Once a week, we crawled out, and only one time did I go out into the yard to catch a breath of fresh air.
I was now in my twenties. I was depressed and thought it was better to die than to live like this. Flour did indeed send the police to look for me. They searched everywhere in the Dobrowolski’s house, but a month later after it had quieted down again, Dobrowolski came to pay for my keep and to take me back. I was glad to be in a room with lights again. I was thinking of writing a diary, but I was afraid that if they found me, a diary would incriminate others and reveal my true identity.
One Sunday in August, while the Dobrowolskis were away visiting, tw’o German soldiers knocked on the front door with their familiar, “Offenen!” The maid who had been in the kitchen with Mr. Dobrowolski’s sister, came running breathlessly to my room crying “Hide in the mill!” I ran through a door to the mill and jumped into a deep silo, where I covered myself with wheat. After 20 minutes or so, the maid, called to me saying that it was all right to come out. The Germans wanted butter and eggs, and had asked if we knew about any Jews hiding around here, but now they had left. She lowered a long ladder for me to climb out with, but my legs were shaking so badly that it took a long time to do it.
I was very lonely. I passed my days by reading, studying English, mending the Dobrowolski’s clothes or occasionally translating their mail into German. I also w’rote letters to my parents. I wanted to live to tell the story and I believed in my dream from Lvov.
Late in the summer, the Polish underground got orders from the London Polish government in exile that no Jews should be left alive in Poland. In the neighborhood where my mother was hiding, the Poles conducted a house-to- house search at night. They suspected that Jews were hiding in Mr. Skiba’s house. That very evening, my mother came out of hiding and into the Skiba’s bedroom to wash up, when she heard Mrs. Skiba scream that she had no Jews. My mother jumped into the bed and covered herself with a high feather comforter, putting her hand out briefly to smooth the cover. The window was open, and the would-be murderers came into the room, saw the open window, and exclaimed, “Damm it, the Jews escaped!” and left.
Later she told me that, upon seeing a chicken walking back and forth in the sun, while she was in hiding, she wept because even a chicken had the right to be free while we Jews did not.
Soon after the incident of the search, my mother and her roommate w ere transferred to my father’s first hiding place. There, they were discovered and severely manhandled. The Poles demanded gold and jewelry, but somehow my mother and Mrs. Levin managed to run away from them, hiding in an outhouse during the night. In the morning, they came to Dobrowolski, in Chrzastow, where I saw them. They were in a miserable state, and Dobrowolski contacted the young Borczak, where the Jews were staying and transferred them to a separate place in the barn.
Meanwhile, Dobrowolski was troubled. It was taking too long. His wife, too, was impatient and wondered aloud why they had to put up with all of this.
One day in September, 1943 Dobrowolski knocked at my door and told me that he had been in the attic, listening to the radio broadcast from England, and had heard Rabbi Cook calling on all Jews in hiding not to lose hope and that freedom was near. It was on Yom Kippur. Dobrowolski asked me if I wanted to fast, but I said that I did not—eating was my protest to God.
Dobrowolski was now changing, himself, as things on the Russian front progressed. The Poles were becoming worried—they had always believed that somehow the Polish Army, under General Skikorski, would free their country and that they could then take over all the Jewish properties and businesses. But instead, the Russians were pushing forward and it seemed as though they might take over Poland. To make matter worse, Russain Jews were communists, and they would take revenge for what had happened in Poland—or so people thought.
The food for me became poorer, and the Dobrowolskis stopped visiting me. I became worried—especially when I noticed that the letters from my parents were being censored. I had become friendly with the maid, and now she told me that the Dobrowolskis were talking about me, and also that Mr. Dobrowolski had bought himself a rifle. I feared for our survival.
At this time I was waiting anxiously for the Russians to save us. By December 1943, they were nearing the Polish border, and I decided to run for it. In this way, I hoped to be able to save my parents and the others Jews in the village. If I ran, so I reasoned, the Dobrowolskis would be obliged to watch over them for fear that after the war I would tell what had happened. What’s more, I knew about the radio and the rifle and these acts were punishable by death.
I had about 500 zlotys. My father always wanted me to have some money for toiletries, or for stockings, if I needed them … or for a tip to the maid.
On Christmas afternoon, the Dobrowolskis went visiting. When it was dark, I put on my coat and tied a kerchief on my head. I took my Polish papers and the 500 zlotys, and I ran from the house to the River Wisloka, through about 10 inches of snow, hoping to mislead any search party that came after me. I took off my shoes and went into the river. The current was so strong that for a moment I thought I might drown. I had entered the water on a slant; now I climbed out on the other shore barefoot, walking in the snow. I walked a couple of miles until I saw a light on in a nearby house. I put my shoes on, but I could not go in because I was soaking wet. It would have been easy to guess that only a Jewish girl would look like that. I hid behind the barn, behind a few bunches of straw. During the night, I heard a dog crawling on the straw, and I held my breath. The dog left and returned a few times . . . then it walked away for good. That was the extent of the seach [sic] for me.
I must have had a high fever, for I had hallucinations in which I heard Polish voices screaming and beating my father and calling, “Scream louder, so she will hear you and come out!” I believed that if the Poles found me, we would all be dead, so I covered my ears and tried to be strong. I lay there under the straw until the next evening. My coat seemed dry, so I walked to the house and asked the way to Mielec, and if they could drive me there. They said no, but a neighbor would be going there the following morning. I went over, and since there was a curfew, they let me sleep in their house. The next morning, I got a lift to Mielec with the farmer-neighbor. A few miles outside of town, I told him that this was as far as I wanted to go. I got out and thanked him then went into the woods. All that day I walked, eating snow. Toward evening, I came to a village not far from Radomysl. I knew that there was a Polish woman, Miss Droba, who worked as a teacher in that village, but I was certain that she was home in Mielec for the holidays. I needed only an excuse. I found the house where she lived, and asked the farmer’s wife if she was there as I had an important letter for her. The woman, who was convinced that I was involved with the Polish underground (as all the intelligensia were at that time), said that Miss Droba was not there, but that I could stay overnight. She even gave me her bed—she would not permit such an important messenger to sleep on the floor!—while she made a bed for herself above the oven. The following day, I went toward Radomysl, where I knew our previous landlord, Mr. Waclowski, as a friendly person. At the same time, I hoped to contact Dr. Gawenda, our family doctor from Mielec, who was a convert to Catholicism. He could not stay in Mielec, for fear of the Germans, so he moved to Radomysl during the war. I came to Radomysl in the evening. I opened and shut Mr. Waclowski’s door a few times, and then ducked out of sight, waiting to see who would come out. When Mr. Waclowski himself appeared, I walked over to him and identified myself.
He told me to go to the barn and up to the attic above the cow’s. Later, his daughter brought me something to eat, but told me that I could not stay because her husband might betray me to the Germans. The next morning, I walked across the street to Dr. Gawenda. I told him about what had happened to us and the other Jews hiding in Chrzestew. I expressed my feeling that we would be killed by the Poles because of the approaching Russian armies. He agreed with this view and asked me what I wanted to do. If I could do any housework or other work, maybe he could find me a job with a Polish landlord, but I wasn’t sure if I could do it. On the other hand, I did not want to impose on him, and in the end he examined me—I was healthy—and gave me food. I had remembered that during my stay in Radomysl one of my father’s former workers had visited once and told me that if I were even in any trouble, he would try to help me—a task made somewhat easier by my Polish appearance.
I told Dr. Gawenda that I would try to find the place by myself, but that if I wasn’t successful I would return to him and perhaps he could find me a job. Dr. Gawenda arranged for a driver to take me to the village of Rzochow to find Mr. Rusinek. I left the driver in the center of the village and asked a man for Mr. Rusinek’s address. He conducted me there personally, then asked Rusinek, “Do you know this spy?’’ His face pale, Rusinek replied that he did indeed know me, so the man left. Later, he told me that this particular man informed on Jews, and it frightened Rusinek when he saw him. I asked him if I could stay, but he told me to run away as quickly as I could because his wife, who had just gone out to the grocery, reported all Jews.
Two villages away, on the road to Pustkow, lived a woman who ran the Post Office where my father’s mill had been . While I walked the 17 kilometers to Dabie, Gestapo cars from the Pustkow camp passed by continually. As I walked, I hoped to find a place to stay, but when I reached Zosia’s house, she too, was scared to help me. She gave me soup, and offered me money but she refused to let me stay.
Once again I was on the road, this time walking towards Przeclaw. With night coming on, I asked in a nearby house if I could stay. When they asked me where I was going, I replied that I had something to deliver to the teacher in the next village. Again, they took me for an underground messenger, and gave me their nicest room to sleep in. The next morning, I hitched a ride back towards Radomysl and returned to the house where I had slept the first night, asking again if the teacher, Miss Droba, had returned, but she hadn’t. I asked the woman if she could get me a messenger to take a letter to Dr. Gawenda. She called a nephew, and he went to the doctor. In the letter, I asked if he could find me a place, since I had not succeeded in arranging it myself.
(Curiously during that entire week, I had forgotten about my parents, so preoccupied was I with my own survival.)
The messenger returned with a letter from Dr. Gawenda, who wrote that Dobrowolski had come to his office, asking for me, but the doctor did not admit that he knew me.
After they discovered my disappearance, the Dobrowolskis ran to my father and told him. My father did not know why I did it, and I was afraid to write him about my plans before hand because the letters might be censored. If I died, life would have lost its meaning to him. He thought that if I was alive, the only person in all of Poland I would trust would be Dr. Gawenda. And since they found the tracks on the snow leading towards the river, they thought that if I was alive at all, I might be sick—and would naturally turn to Dr. Gawenda for help. But although Gawenda denied seeing me, he wanted to send my father some sign that I was alive, so he told Dobrowolski that he had a patient by the name of Helena Zalotynska (that was my Polish name). That was enough to let father know that I was there.
Dr. Gawenda also wrote me in his letter that since Dobrowolski had admitted to him that he was hiding Jews, the best thing for me to do would be to return there, since they would not dare to do anything now.
After I’d finished reading the letter, I said goodbye to the woman where I was staying, and she said to me, “Take a drink of whiskey . . . maybe God will help you and you will survive the war.” I realized that she had recognized that I was Jewish.
I left again through the woods and walked the whole day, again eating snow. Towards evening, I came to the river on my way back to Chrzestew. A fisherman took me across on his barge. I walked to the barn where my father was hiding, and knocked at the wall. He asked who was there and was stunned to hear my voice. It took him a while to open the taped-up door. When I got inside, I told him why I had run, and about my belief that the Poles would want to kill us all. Only through my escape could I save him. The Rosen came in at night and they all realized how perilous the situation was. Together, we decided that I should go to Krakow and try to live there by myself until the end of the war. The Russians, by this time, were near Tarnopol. I left the barn but there was so much wind and snow that walking was impossible. Only a Jew trying to escape would walk in weather like this. I went back to find that in the meantime Mr. Rosen had had second thoughts about my going and had decided that Dr. Gawenda was right about the Dobrowolskis having to take me back and watch over us.
The next morning, they sent for their host, Dobrowolski. When he saw me, he was angry. Why had I run away, he demanded? I replied that I simply could not take the confinement and I had to be free, but he understood very well that I had done it to insure our safety. When I went back to his house, they were all very cold towards me, and I lived from day to day asking the maid for news when she brought me food.
Mr. Rosen sent me a code: for every letter in the Jewish alphabet, I should write a number—Aleph was one, Bet was two, and so on. This was how we now wrote—in numbers—and it drove the censors crazy. Those smart Jews!
One day in April, 1944, Dobrowolski knocked on the door. They had found the bodies of four people in the woods, shot. The victims were the Ostros and the Blasbalgs. The same thing had probably happened to the Verst, but their bodies nad not been found. The older Korchak and Wales had been arrested for hiding Jews. I was heartbroken and realized that not even my escape could have prevented their deaths, which I had foreseen three months earlier. I thought that Dobrowolski might have told Wales that I had run away, since they were friends.
What would Dr. Gawenda think, now?
It took until early August for the Russians to reach Chrzestow. There was heavy fighting near the Chrzestow airport, and a tank fight over the village, itself. On August 4th, the Russians entered the village and we were free. My father, Mr. Rosen, and I walked out and greeted the Russians happily. “Zdrastwuyte!” The part of the village where my mother, Mrs. Leven, and the other families were hiding was on fire, and we did not know if they had escaped. A few hours later, though, a messenger arrived from themto say that they are alive.
The younger Korczak left the house with his family and livestock when the Germans were planting mines around the building, but he did not tell the people who were hiding there. However, they saw through the cracks what the Germans were doing. All of them crawled through the fields under rifle fire. The Russians found the two German soldiers who had been left behind by their army to set the village on fire, and brought them over to the Dobrowolski’s house, where they had set up their headquarters. The Russians wanted to shoot the two young German soldiers, who cried bitterly. My father went to the Russians and asked them not to shoot these two. He convinced the Russians to take them as war prisoners, instead. I could not understand my father—I wanted revenge. Only years later did I comprehend my father’s true greatness.
The Dobrowolskis, who had grown thoroughly unhappy with the occupants of their home, were impatient to see us go. We left the village on foot, a group of eleven people. Walking slowly on feet grown swollen from sitting so long, and living on berries, we were going back, away from the village. The Russian soldiers threw us bread, american jam, and sardines.
My father and I were anxious to see Mielec and hoped that it would be possible to go back home. We left the group sitting near the road, and we went into town. As we entered Sandomierske Street, three smiling faces rushed out of a house towards us—friends who survived too. They had been the first to reach Mielec, following the Russians from Tarnopol. The embraces, the tears, the joy of seeing someone alive was indescribable. They were able to move back into their house, but ours was occupied by some strange people. There was still some shooting going on, since the front was right behind Mielec. After a few hours, we returned to our little group. The Russian soldiers took us by truck to the town of Kolbuszowa, and my father and I went to the Russian headquarters to arrange for housing.
They assigned us to an abandoned house which a Polish collaborator had vacated, running aw’ay with the Germans.
Our friends Mark and Fryda told us that one day in April, Polish bandits came into Korczak’s house and demanded the Jews. They found them in their hiding place. There were six people. The Poles told them to walk towards the woods. Two of the bandits went in front, while one—a very tall man, w-ith a rifle—remained in back. Mark and Fryda were the last in the group. Mark told the man behind him, “I have my last $100 bill . . . I’ll give it to you if you let us go.” The bandit seemed ready to take the money, and switched his rifle from one hand to the other. As he .did so, Mark jumped into a nearby canal and swam away. The bandit wanted to shoot but Fryda defending her husband, threw herself on the rifle, fighting with the tall man, who shot her in the back during the melee. She fell to the ground while, meanwhile, the rest of the people who had been taken to the woods were killed.
Later, Mark returned to Korczak, and Fryda—who had recovered sufficiently, after being shot, met him there. The Korczaks, who were scared, let them stay in a second hiding place they had been using for a Polish officer. Meanwhile, they sent for Wallace, who had been their patron in the beginning, and he transferred them to his sister, Markowski. When the Russians entered the village, an officer helped them to go to Kolbuszowa. Fryda still had the bullet in her back when we met her in August. That day, I went out to the fields and dug out a few potatoes and a head of cabbage—(the first time in my life that I ever stole something!)—and the entire group had a meal.
One day a young boy from Kolbuszowa, who had come out of the woods, apppeared at the door. His name was Zaleszycki, and someone had told him that there were Jews in town, so he came to see us. He kept repeating, as if he were drunk, “Jewish girls . . . Jewish girls . . . Jewish girls! (There were four of us.) I never thought I would see a Jewish girl again. I cannot believe it! Which one of you wants to marry me?,” he asked. He was in rags, and in the situation we were in, we thought he was crazy. When he got no response, he assured us that when he had a new suit, we would change our minds!
We were still too near the front for safety as Jews. Next day, we asked some Russians passing through in a truck to take us to Rzeszow, where there was a curfew. We arrived at night, and a Polish family took us in, thinking we were also Poles running from the front. They made us tea, and gave us bread. Soon, though, they recognized us as Jews. Trembling, they asked us to leave early in the morning so their neighbors wouldn’t see that they had Jews in their house. However, they gave us the address of two Jewish boys from Rzeszow who had already returned and had an apartment—two rooms and a kitchen. We had only bare floors to sleep on, but my father spent his last 80 zlotys with a Russian soldier for three blankets—one of which we sold to another Russian for 200.
From then on almost all the returning Jews who heard that we were living here came to see us. Henek, with his sense of humor, tried to make us laugh by singing funny songs and telling us jokes.
A week or so later, Henek S. went on a business trip to Romania and found out that my brother. David, and my Uncle George were living in Bucharest. He notified them that we had survived, and soon they came to visit, but they later returned to Romania.
The Russians were looking for anything that they could buy. sugar, flour, paper, and pencils. My father and I went by Russian truck to Mielec, where father bought a whole truck-load of merchandise from the local wholesale grocers. The commission on the deal turned out to be a sizeable sum of money.
But on the street, some familiar faces would not answer when we greeted them. When my school teacher, whose pet I had been, turned her head away, I had tears in my eyes. The mailman, whom I had known since I was a child, looked in a different direction. The baker where I wanted to buy bread said I should come at night, so the neighbors wouldn’t see him selling bread to Jews.
The most painful feeling was looking at the windows which were silent reminders of dear friends and relatives. So, in the end, we went back to Rzeszow, where Fryda had the bullet removed from her back—without anesthetic—at the hospital. After dressing her wound, they sent her home, but she had to return a few times to have the dressings changed.
Soon our apartment became overcrowded. When Fryda felt stronger, she her husband and I went back to Mielec. They thought that they would be able to reorganize their lives there. Mark had been a lawyer; he would start anew. They moved into his parents’ house, and found—and reclaimed—a little girl named Martha, who was the daughter of the slain Lea Ostrow. She was four years old. The woman who had kept her demanded a big sum of money, but was finally forced by court order to return her to Fryda and Mark. She was very cute and very smart, but it took her a while to adjust to the new people. She had no memory of her parents.
A few other Jewish people trickled back to Mielec—all that was left of a community of a few thousand who had lived there for about 450 years.
I and a few others went to the town hall to ask for identification cards. The clerk, who had been Mark’s schoolmate, said, “What right do you have to walk around without a white armband? There’s been no decree releasing you from it, yet!” Mark and Fryda, knowing that the murderers were still at large, were afraid that they might come back and finish us, so they decided to move to Lublin. I went with them and we lived like a family, taking care of one another. They showed me alot of love, introduced me to young people, and tried to make my life in a big city most enjoyable. Little Marta was fun and a joy. Fryda did everything to build up Marta’s strength and get her used to us. At the end of the war, her father came back and immigrated with her to Brazil.
After a few weeks in Lublin, I felt homesick for my parents and went back to Rzescow. By this time, many people had moved out of the apartment, having found their own. Meanwhile, people started returning from Russia. Among these was my good friend, Sam .A week or so later, the Russians advanced and Krakow was free. Within a few days, we moved there, as did more and more Jews. In the bigger city, we finally began to feel safer.
Many Jews were still portraying themselves as Polish, and in order to ascertain if they were Jewish or not, we used a password, “Amchu.” It became the password throughout Poland, known by all Jews.
In Krakow, we rented a four-room apartment. Once again, our house was full of people. They started coming back from Russia, and from concentration camps. Eventually, all the Jews left in Mielec came to see us, for there were no wives or families waiting for them.
One winter evening, I went to buy something at the drug store and met Henry my fiance on the street. He and his family, who were also among the lucky survivors, were back from Russia. A few weeks later, we were married. Mark came to the wedding, as did about 20 or 30 people from Mielec.
During the wedding two burglars broke into our apartment, taking my parents’ clothes, jewelry, and passports which they had prepared in order to leave Poland after the wedding. Roth’s brother-in-law, returning from camp, came to our door to ask where the wedding was taking place, and the burglars let him in—then shot him. When my parents came back from the wedding, he was lying on the floor in a pool of blood, he died of his wounds.
All through Poland at that time, returning Jews were being shot and there were two larger pogroms in the towns of Radom and Kielce. A few weeks later, my parents, my husband, his parents, and I left Poland for good.
We forgot the tensions of the last months in Chrzestow, and we were grateful to the Dobrowolskis for saving our lives. My father signed over a house to them.
We now live in the United States; my dear parents passed away a few years ago. We hope to settle in Israel soon. Dobrowolski once came to visit us here, and twice a year, for Christmas and their birthday, my brother and I sent money and gifts for them and for the three other farmers who helped us to survive.
The Holocaust – Marian Keit (aka Moses Keitelman)
In memory of my Mother and Sister burned at the Belzec Death- Camp; my Father and Brother shot, buried alive by the Nazis.
The Killer in a Death-Camp With a gun at his hip. With the knell of a whip, a grin curling his lips, The crowd he divided. His voice hoarse, His word shrill “Right, left; kill, kill" Their fate he decided. Though Horror around and death, yet lingers, His hands he rubs, For the well done job; The killer with manicured fingers.
My Mother; Burned in the Belzec Death-Camp Smithen by storm was Mother's home; Destroyed the fruit of her womb; Nobody washed her bony chest, No shrouds on the skinny breast. No Grave for Mother’s rest, No stone to mark the place; A scapegoat in the purple haze she perished; in oven's searing blaze. In clouds up she went; In smoke from human flesh; One of many saints, On burning auto-da-fe's
Your Son I'll light a candle for your soul; And for the flood of blood spilled; in this fiendish glut- kadish I'll say for all.
My Experiences – M. Montag
In the period from March 6, 1942 to January 20, 1945—from the day of evacuation from Mielec to the day of liberation by the army of U.S.S.R.
I, Montag Marcus, born January 1, 1925 in Mielec, son of David and Gyta n. Reich (born in Kolbuszova) witnessed as follows:
The day of March 6, 1942, was cloudy An [sic] atmosphere of uncertainty was in the town. Rumors go around, or rather a sad truth backed by the alert of the german and our polish police. Nobody knows exactly the reason. Resettlement? Evacuation? Or only creation of a ghetto? Information transmitted from mouth to mouth create fear in our hearts. Representatives of the “- Judenrat” inquire at the german authorities. Gestapo, as usual in these circumstances, assure that nothing will happen, that everything is in order. They lull the vigilance. Meanwhile, news from “Kreishauptmanschaft” arrived about the imminent evacuation of Jews from Mielec. Jews leave the town. The Judenrat issues temporary identification papers -for persons without any documents. March 7—Gestapo surrounds the town. The first victims are falling. March 8—Gestapo took away all Judenrat stamps stating there won’t be an evacuation. They imposed a contribution of 500,000—zlotys in cash, 10 kilo coffee, 10 kilo tea; furs and boots for all Gestapo personnel. The Jews contribute without opposition what was demanded of them in order to save their lives. Relaxation and joy followed. “This time the evil was avoided, there won’t be an evacuation!”
The night from March 8 to March 9, dissipated these illusory hopes. The town was surrounded by SS, SD and “Judenvernichtungstruppen”.
March 9 at five a.m. the evacuation began-action. Shots are heard, explosions and demolitions of entrances to Jewish houses. It lasted until nine o’clock in the morning. They drove all the Jews to the Marketplace. Patrols of “Judenvernichtungstruppen” circulate about the town and shoot into Jewish apartments where only a shadow of a person flashed by. They shot the sick and old in their beds.
Seeing this, whe [sic] decided to leave the apartment and join the Jews concentrated at the Marketplace. There separation of families took place. The crowd passes by Lagerführer O. Schatkops. The henchmen selects victims of the future “Erzichungslager” in Pustków. I was attached to this group.
At eleven o’clock the radio stations broadcast the’ announcement, the orchestra struck up a march giving a sign to march out. Everyone left the city.
They transport us to the aircraft factories. There selection took place. The sick, old and such who did not seem worthy are taken to the firing squads.
I went in the opposite direction together with the youths selected by O. Schatkops. After leaving the city we stopped. We were surrounded by SS men as if waiting for an execution. We were resigned to death. This situation lasted for three hours. They brought fifty more persons over who were missing to the “contigent”, then we marched out. The road was very hard, interrupted only by shots and breaking of gun butts on our spines or heads. At six o’clock in the evening we arrived at the camp territory in Pustkow, to the so- called “Heidelager” i.e. SS. Truppenübungsplatz. We perceived how our new life would look. Men worked very hard with henchmen over them. A German foreman with a rubber club and “Posten” SS hit and drove them to work.
We entered the camp’s gate. The kapo and SS men were awaiting our arrival. At the entrance Sturmmann Scholi and Sturmmann Kleindieust received the parade. Upon entering the baracks, we received a club on the head. In a room with dimensions of 4×5 yards, they let in two hundred persons. Food and water was not given at all.
First aid was given by two Jews, delegates of Judenrat in Debice and functionaries of Gestapo, Inmerglück and Bittkower.
On March 11, the first food was distributed. For forty persons there was one loaf of bread and for the whole hall a half pail of warm water.
On March 12 they accompanied us to entlicing [sic]. It took place in this manner: They took away from us money, documents, valuables, clothes, leaving only one shirt, one pair of pants, a jacket and shoes. After the bath we were transferred to another camp surrounded by double barbed wire and posts of “SS”. This was the penal camp named camp “E” (Judenerziehungslager”).
Penal lager and a new life, camp life. At five o’clock a.m. reveille, six o’clock coffee, six thirty appeal!
At the appeal place , SS.O. Scha. Kops., Rapportführer Kleindienst and representatives were there. The Jews, Immerglück and Bittkower came too. The Lagerführer read camp regulations: 1. The camp is the dwelling place of Jews. 2. Any Jew leaving the camp will be punished by death. 3. Possesions [sic] of documents, valuables, writing accesories, money or double clothing will lead to death penalty. 4. Any contact or conversation with Poles or Jews from “Arbeitslager” will be punished with death. 5. Writing letters will be punished with death. 6. Death, for selling anything on the worksite. 7. For bringing food into the lager beyond the lager allotment, death penalty! 8. For dirtying the barrack or the appeal place, death penalty! 9. For stealing of lager inventory or pilfering a fellow inmates property, death penalty! 10. For disobedience towards Kapomen or Vorarbeiter, death penalty!
When the appeal is finished the kapomen take over command. We head toward the direction of the lager gate. At the gate the kapomen report the prisoners roll. Postenführer assigns “postens” guard and march out to the worksite takes place. On the way, before each SS man, kapo throws out a command, “caps off! Look right!” Again “Postens” throw a command, “march!” and hits the head of a passerby with his rifle butt.
We reached the side and the foremen took over. They distribute tools (shovels, picks) and assign work. The foremen watch the execution of the work, with “postens”, kapos, who walk among us not considering whether someone is working well or not, and hit us with rubber clubs over our heads. In this way they thought they would give the work “tempo”. Postens also have their field of activity. Instead of of exercises on the shooting-range, they would aim at the group of workers. Victims fall. Nobody is allowed even to turn around to see whose turn it was because a kapo would strike you with his club over your head. This is the way a workday passed on the construction. At six o’clock it was time for the “fajerant”, assembly. They count off the roll, collecting the cadavers and we return to the camp. On the return back to camp there are disciplinary exercizes: fall! get up! fall! get up! in the deepest mud. We hear surprised questions coming from the SS men: “From such a commando, so few corpses? They all should have been shot!” We near the camp gate and the whole camp personnel awaits us. Postenführer reports to the camp chief the roll of the returning prisoners alive and killed, stating that the latter ones were shot for attempting to runaway. Lagerführer says with a smile, “They desire freedom?” In the gate a search is held. They look for money, mail and food carried into the lager illegally. If they find anything the person holding it is hit with a club over his head and his number is registered.
We enter into the lager and all around the question is being asked, how many victims were there today in your “Kommando”? “Who has been shot?” Nobody, however, is affected by the sight of a dead companion. It is a common, everyday picture; the condemned know that this fate awaits everyone of them, it won’t miss anyone. Today it is him, tomorrow it will be me. A normal turn of events in an “educational” camp of Jewish youth.
At seven o’clock an appeal with SS men receiving it. The place-chief gives the signal and a loud whistle sounds. Everything turns insane. “He” with a watch in hand controls the time of formulation for the appeal. After three minutes we disperse! The disciplinary exercises start on the place. On camp there are standing three barracks. The first one is barrack “7”. It is a non inhabited barrack named “Mordownia”. They would lead inside people and take out corpses. Until now it was not determined how these executioners murdered the people. For coming close to this barrack, unintentionally, involuntarily, the uncautious [sic] was brought inside and he was killed. Between barracks seven and eight was a gallow, basically, they did not hang on it. Only when they “tried out” the gallow, they hung everyone who in the given moment fell in the hands of the executioner. In barrack eight, there is a sickroom located on one side where the physician accepts patients with a temperature above thirty-nine degrees or completely unable to work already.
At the appeal, everyday they would read different orders and called out “numbers” registered during the search. If counting of the victims is finished for the given day, the “criminals” receive lighter punishment, i.e. they are not punished with death. They are only locked up in bunkers and are tormented with whips. The bunker is located in the barrack. These are single cells of the following dimensions: 100cm. width, 80cm. height, 250cm. length. On the ceiling there is a big ventilator which cooled the prisoners in the winter, and in the summer did not let in air. Food was given to the bunkers every third day. The supper was given after the appeal and it consisted of 1 liter “soup”. “Soup”, was dirty water with sand and sometimes a piece of rotten beet could be found. For breakfast, there was 250g. bread, 15 gram margarine or artificial honey, 1 liter of “black coffee” unsweetened. Lunch- there was none.
At nine o’clock in the evening a whistle was blown, everything moves to the barrack. The lights go out and a fight begins with insects, flees [sic] and lice on empty cots. Torture at night, torture during the day. This is the way the days flow in camp.
One day I was left behind in camp. I worked in barrack no. 7, the “Mordownia”. I then succeeded to determine how the henchmen murdered these people.
The henchmen SS-Sturmführer Kleindienst brought in one prisoner. He laid him on the floor and hit him several times on the head with an iron hammer until he lost his conscience. He then took a whip and hit him until he killed him. The execution lasted fifteen minutes. The corpse was carried out at once to the morgue. I went inside the slaughter-house. It was all covered with blood of its victims.
Wednesdays were “black days” for the sick room. The corpses were transported to the camp of Russian prisoners and burned. Contingents were filled out with the sick from the sick room whom the henchmen strangled.
In the tortured bodies and souls a hope for a better tomorrow and improvement of existence is born. From somewhere a rumor penetrated that from May 15, 1942, conditions in camp “A” will improve. A hope of betterment dawned for us tortured in camp “E”. The longed for day arrived, May 15. Everyone waits for the appeal with a trembling heart! SS. O. Scha. Kops enter the appeal place of lager “A”. He reads off the new camp laws. Lager “A” is freed from the “postens”, prisoners elevated to the rank of free workers in the area of the SS shooting range and along with this goes improvement of conditions.
We from lager “E” are standing and waiting for betterment of conditions! The henchmen comes on the appeal place of our camp and gives over the report and the camp’s roll. The chief lifts his head, with a keen look takes in the camp and reads the new order out loud. “Until today you had a splendid life. Good food and firstclass apartments! From today on your freedom ends. You will go where you belong now, to the camp of Russian prisoners and there your dreams will end. All this swinery will disappear. There near the oven, barrack “7” won’t be needed. You will all disappear without a trace left behind!” The henchman finished his speech and left the camp. With lowered heads we are awaiting the end of our suffering.
The 13th of August in the year 1942, our camp was transferred to the place shown by the henchman. SS-Sturmfiührer Kleindienst waited for us at the entrance to the new camp. While the gate was opened for us, he spoke: “Enter to the death’s hell! Here your last dreams will end!”
We came inside the barrack constructed like a shed for wood. Unhewed [sic] sticks, boards placed one on top of another and cracks in between that were so big, one could put a hand in them. Tiny windows upstairs which hardly let any light through them. Without a floor, uniform board-beds three story high the length of the barrack. The wind blows from all sides and when it rains one can bathe in the barrack. Outside the view is ghastly! The dreadful barbed wire surrounds us. The coils of barbed wire spread on the ground and horrible towers. On the towers stand guards with machine guns directed toward the camp. This is an all day observation through field-glasses. The grounds are brightly lit at night, like factories; the cemetery-like stillness on the place, and the horrible, horrible view of strewn nude corpses and men dying from hunger and exhaustion. What a nightmare! Those who still have strength rob their comrades to prolong what remains of their lives.
In the morning the sanitationmen [sic] look over the board-beds, collect those deceased at night from the cold and wind. Thus looks our life in the new camp. The Sickroom here is inactive. The chiefs order: “If sick are accepted he will hang the doctors!”
There are appeals every day. Identification of the corpses lying on the place! The unable to work remain in the camp. They do not get food at all, but they must work inside the camp. They fall like flies.
The commandoes return to camp. One cannot recognize a human face among the returning. All were beaten up and mutilated with shoes at work. Everyone expects and awaits the moment of death.
In the camp, a rumor spreads about an impending resettlement, we await this moment impatiently.
The day of September 16, 1942 arrives. At 3 o’clock in the morning everybody runs in tempo from the barracks to the appeal place. The camp chief issues the order: Until 6 o’clock a.m. no Jew alive or dead, dare be at the area of the camp! We exit outside the gate, there we are joined with camp “A”. The Jews were “gleichschalted”. A new sort of Jew came up again. Hofstr. führer Albrecht, former captain of the Polish army came to the appeal place and starts selecting experts, who had to remain on the shooting range. He called the “Kommmando” I worked in. It was “Kommando” “AGM”, i.e. Painters-Kommando.
He read the order for creating a new camp:
- From today on you are free workers in the shooting range area.
- One can leave the camp for work on the basis of proof of work (Ausweis).
- For spontaneous fleeing from camp there will be a death penalty.
Orders to clean our clothes of painted stars and stripes on our pants and jackets and march out to work.
The new camp under the name “New barrack camp”, (Newe Budelager) numbered two hundred Jews.
Life here is quieter, conditions are more tolerable. Such a state lasts for not a full ten months.
On June 13, 1943, an order from Berlin forbid the Jews to go out to work without a guard. They suspected the Jews to have connections with partisans and their sabotage.
At seven o’clock in the morning they open the barracks and Raportführer takes away all Ausweises, stating that Lagerführer will personally give an explanation for the taking away of the workproofs [sic]. At nine o’clock the Lagerführer arrives and says, from today on, at the order from Berlin, you are prisoners and that he will receive further instructions on how the work komando will be regulated.
After three weeks, an order came stating a new camp was to be created and in its confines to organize shops for this work which we performed while still on the free.
On the camp’s construction, I worked very hard, but after three months they assigned me to the shoemakers shop where I worked until July 26, 1944.
The offensive of the Red Army in the East started. An order came to transport us out to Auschwitz. We were loaded on the wagons with eighty persons in each. The windows were covered with boards and barbed wire, the doors were locked and watched very carefully. On the days of the-transport, the heat was horrible so that it was hard to breathe. There was no place to sit or stand comfortably. The trip lasted three days. We arrived at Auschwitz at night; the engineer brought the wagons straight into the gashall [sic]. After a few moments, the place chief came with the order to withdraw the wagons from the hall and to stop on a sidetrack. In the morning they opened the wagons and throw a command: Get out! Everyone of us, barely alive could not even go out. They started to chase us and rush. We were led to the bath house, on the way horrible pictures assault us. In the bath we undress nude, we were not allowed to take anything with us. We beg for a little water before our death! We are weak and thirst is burning in us after the heat in the closed freight cars. Barbers shave our hair and lead us to the bath. Suddenly, the Rapportführer comes in with an order to cease the bathig [sic]. Bathpersonnel [sic] drop their heads. Condemned, we await our coming fate. After an hour, the previous order was withdrawn and we were ordered to continue bathing. Everybody breathed. “You are lucky,” they say, “you were supposed to go straight to the oven!”
After the bath we go out on the place of assembly. There the commission inspects everyone and directs to the quarantine in Birkenau.
On block 6, a blockman called “Bloody Frank”, took over. At the appeal he read us the day’s order of quarantine. Life in the quarantine was hard.
At 5 o’clock there is reveille. March out in files to the “Wasserraum”. Washing in tempo, everything had to be taken care of in five minutes under the threat of a billy club. Then was an assembly at the place and distribution of breakfast which lasts four hours. Breakfast consists of black coffee and a few hits with the billy club for not preserving order. Whoever has a utensil, receives a little beverage and who does not have has to do without. They did not finish giving out the breakfast, and already they were “serving” lunch. Lunch was the same story. Until 12 o’clock we must stand out on the place without regard of the weather. At 12 o’clock there is an appeal and afterwards we return to the barrack. The barrack looks like a stable. Three stories, boardcots [sic]. There is place on the cot for two, but eight sleep there. It was not permissible to leave the cot. If somebody put his head outside, he was hit with a cane over it. There isn’t anything on the cots besides garbage, which seemed to be there since the creation of the camp.
At five o’clock there is a assembly and “Läuse-Kontrolle”. If they find a louse on somebody, the ufortunate [sic] goes with it to the gaschamber [sic]. After this control they distribute bread and back to the cots to sleep, if on can, or to think!
After three days of quarantine, we were ordered out to Gleivitz. Here it was more tolerable. There was work reconstruction of a new lager, ammunition factory for V-l, V-2. Conditions were better, we were treated like workers. It lasted until January 18. 1945. It was at the beginning of the offensive attack by the Red Army, already after the liberation of Cracow.
At two o’clock, reveille. We were given reserve food and we set out for a trip towards the unkown [sic]. Basically we knew that we have to move in the direction of our central camp, i.e. Auschwitz. In the meantime, Auschwitz was conquered by the Soviet Army. So our order was changed and we set out in the direction of Retibo. There we received an order to cross the border in the same day. This was impossible. The Lagerführer appeals to us to fulfill the order to make it possible to force through the border. The way was very tiresome. By now, we had no strength left. We crossed the border at 12 o’clock midnight, and received an order to return to camp in Blechhamer. At the gates of the camp of Blechhamer, the Oberf. of camp Blechhausen and Unterscharführer R. Klipa received us. In the camp one could hear rumors of retreat of the Red Army and that we would probably have to return to Gleivitz, to our camp, to our everyday work. This was January 1, 1945. At five o’clock we received the order of assembly and of preparing for the march out.
Because of lack of guards, they did not take all the prisoners. In the lager, a rumor circulated that the prisoners who remain in camp will be shot. We arranged ourselves in fives outside the camp gate. Near the camp, passed transports of prisoners who were shot on the way.
While we stand so undecided, the camp’s oberkapo approaches us asks, “What are you standing here for? Either march away or return to the camp because we are closing the gate.” There was no need to repeat it twice. We accepted this as an order of outward march and ran. Obviously, instead of going after a column of prisoners and SS guards, we traversed the road and into the forest! Shots fell after us, but did not hit anyone. In the forest we threw down all the baggage and even emptied our pockets in order not to hinder our running. We passed 15 kilometers and at last we came to the edge of the forest. Here we divided up into small groups because of safety. There was a misunderstanding among us, some wanted to walk on the road and others wanted to wait in the forest until nightfall. Because of the friction, sad consequences came about. Suddenly, we heard sharp footsteps and shots. Then a scream, “Hande hock! Alles rans!” Terrified and defenseless, we came from the pits and in a tight group. Bullets whistle overhead. In the posse, Volkssturm, Hitterjugend and SS took part. One from Volkssturm asked how many are we and where is the rest. Nobody answers him. We stand terrified and already resigned. Suddenly we hear the voice of Untersturmführer SS: “Keiner spricht mehr. Das Kommando…ich.”(illegible) He pulls out everyone third one and says, “If you do not tell where the rest are, I’ll kill all of you!” We were five hundred. In the forest, however, we divided into small groups. We agreed in case some group was caught, they should never admit that there were more of us. Seeing that we were not afraid of death, they started to interrogate.
I stood at the edge, he asked me whether I understand German. I answered that I understood. The inquiry started:
Where are you from? I answered that we are from the Auschwitz concentration camp, Arbeitslager Gleiwitz; that now we are coming from Blechhauser.
Did you run away from a camp, came the next question?
No, we were freed because the camp was liquidated by order of Untersturmführer Klipa.
We received orders to file up in fours like in camp and to march away. We were brought to the town command. The commandant came out to us, some captain (Haupts Sturmführer) and asks:
“Seid ihr Waldwanderer?”
I answer that we are freed from camp.
“And where are you going now?”
“Where are you from?”
“You are all from Cracow?”
“Do you know that the Russians are there already?”
We do not know that. We have lived in camp for three years, we have no notion of what is going on.
“Do you want to go to the Russians?”
We did not know what to answer. However, we were afraid to answer that that was our secret dream.
I said that if the Russians are in Cracow, give us work and food by you and we will remain here.
We figured out fast how to get out of this oppression. We knew that the death penalty awaited us.
Then a row of troublesome questions followed.
“Do you have a card of release from camp?”
There was no time to write. Lagerführer was in a hurry to leave and could not write it up.
“You lie! You were met at night in the forest. This is sufficient proof that your answers are untrue. If it were as you say, you would apply to the mayor for a release card.”
We wanted to convince him that we were telling the truth, so we argued that we haven’t been in the forest but that we walked at the edge of the forest and only because we were tired from the trip and wanted to rest.
The commandant finally decided to communicate with the camp in Blechhammer by telephone. He said, “If it is true what you say, you will receive release cards and everyone will go his way; if however, you lied, woe you!”
Exhausted, we awaited dawn. The dawn ought to bring a solution. From far, the cannonade of the Russian artillery could be heard.
At six o’clock we heard sharp steps. SS men, with grenades in hands, armed with carbines and reitpeitsches enter the cell of the “criminals”. They do not even allow us to get dressed but chase us ahead without sparing terrible beatings. We had to hold one another in so that no one runs away. We on foot, they, on bicycles, chase us on side roads in the direction of the camp.
We were brought on the lager road. A company of SS men stood in rows. Inside the camp Obersturmführer asked the lagerführer what he has to do with us and the latter to it: “shoot!” A command falls: running march! They shoot after us.
Hearing the first shot, I fell on the ground and simmulating [sic] death. This, however, did not help me at all. One of the SS men noticed my ruse and said: “Dieser Schweinhund liegt und schläft, der hat noch keine Kugel bekommen.” He jumped towards me, aimed at my heart and shot. I felt a terrible pain, the bullet went through the back and came through the arm. I folded. With all my force, I lay very still, stifling the groans. I simulated a dead not withstanding the blood flowing from my back, arm and mouth.
After conducting the execution, the control of corpses followed. Obersturmführer approached everyone to make sure he was not alive. I laved in a puddle of my own blood already very weakened. Not thinking, I started taking clotted blood in my mouth from the puddle, knowing that black clotted blood on the mouth meant death. Our henchmen, at least, came to me, kicked me and yelled , “get up!” I did not even twitch. Then he bent down to pick me up. At this moment I held my breath with all the force of will and spat out the flow of blood which convinced the bandit of my death. He threw me on the ground like a rag and went ahead. In the meantime they doused us with benzine and set us on fire.
At this moment the crudest thoughts went through my head. What to do. To be allowed to be burned alive, or get up and get another bullet which would shorten the suffering?
No! The moment of liberation is too near. The life we’ve lived through too horrible. Why should I perish now? I wanted rather to burn than to get up and let them shoot at me the second time, this would be suicide.
With difficulty, a friend succeeded in placing me in the barrack. I remained there for yet another few days awaiting death.
After 12 days an American officer entered the barrack in the evening issuing an order to prepare the seriously wounded and deliver them to the fieldhospital in the morning. It was done so. In the morning, he came by car and took us. It was not easy. The transport was terrible, every moment threatened death.
Finally, they brought us to the hospital where we were treated. The doctors and sisters behaved toward us like a father and mother would toward their children. Honor and glory to them for it.
Mielec Story (Untitled) – D. E.*
I, was brought up and attended school in Mielec.
At the start of the war I lived on a big estate, which the Germans took over soon after the invasion, and installed a Volksdeutsche as administrator. I was forced to work as a servant on my own estate, and to take care of cows and pigs.
On March 9, 1942 at 4:00 AM, Gestapo agents surrounded the house and arrested my 3Vz year old child and me. They brought us to Mielec. Later, we were driven through snow and water to Berdychow, where we were locked in a big hangar. On the way to Berdychow, the Germans took out 700—800 men and women, and shot them in a field. Samuel Keller told me a few hours later that with his own hands he had buried his father, Meyer Keller, his uncle Chaim Keller, Jeruchim Steinhard and his wife. In the hangar, the people seemed almost insane. Thousands of them were lying on the cold cement floor. The windows were broken and the cold unbearable. My little girl became sick and ran a high fever. Cyla Reich Fenichel gave me her pillow to cover the child and keep her warm. I had nothing with me, and no money. I was desperate. At midnight, a freight truck drove into the hangar and brought some soup. It was, however, worth one’s life to obtain some of that soup. Who had a dish? If somebody had a chamber pot he was lucky. The next day, the Germans paraded these poor people. They went out through one door, and back into the hangar through another door. Out side stood Gestapo men, conducting a selection. Those who did not please them were sent to one side. Dr. Pohoriles, with his wife and child, Srolo’s wife (I don’t remember their last name) with a daughter, and others. My little child contracted pneumonia in the hangar. Dr. Berger responded to my cries and came over, but could not help in any way. In a few days the child improved. It is a great miracle how the child withstood this great cold and lack of food.
A week later, they loaded us into the kind of wagons on which cows and pigs were transported, 80 persons in a wagon, without water or food. In Lublin someone brought in a pail of hot water from a locomotive, as black as coal, and oily. I gave this to my child to drink, and I drank some myself. After a few days underway in the freight cars, we arrived to Hrubieszow. It was night and very cold. Here the Jewish Committee took us over, and we spent the night traveling to Dubienka. Despite all suffering, we were still alive. Dubienka, a poor little township, did everything to help us. It seems to me that we were about 500 Mielecers. In the synagogue, they prepared cots and straw, and hot tea with a piece of bread. The next day I went to look for work. I found a job as a seamstress in Ukranian [sic] homes. I also worked for the police.
In Dubienka, more selections were conducted. Twenty to 25 people would be taken to the woods to work, but they never came back. Once Simon Fenichel passed near my window with a shovel in his hand, crying “Instead of a paint brush they gave me a shovel to bury the dead”. I don’t know where he died. Often, drunken Gestapo men from Hrubieszow came to Dubienka, and started shooting left and right. They searched the apartments and anyone they found hiding they shot at once. This happened to Mr. Matzner, hiding in an attic, and to Ruchcia Jochnowicz, whose daughter was hidden behind an oven.
The Germans wrought mayhem in the town. At the end of May 1942, the Jews in the town of Dubienka were all deported—2000 Dubienka Jews and about 500 Mielecers. In the Market place were 600 horsedrawn [sic] wagons, which transported us to Hrubieszow. In the evening we arrived at a large assembly place. While we were descending from the wagons, the Nazis beat us with whips and sticks. I protected my child with my own body and got beaten twice as badly. At the entrance to the place, I saw Cyla Reich fighting with a policeman in blue who wanted to shoot her mother, who was paralyzed and lying on the ground at the gate. Cyla tried to snatch the gun from the Nazi’s hand. As I was being pushed into the assembly-place, I heard a shot behind me.
In the morning, we were driven swiftly to the railway station. Anyone who could not keep up the pace and fell down was shot. My child asked me, “Mommy, who is shooting and why?” When I explained it to her, she still did not understand.
The Germans brought us to the railway station, where freight cars were waiting. Some people I didn’t know approached us and asked about skilled people, specialists. I remember Nunek Rotter, a dentist, held his mother in his arms. His father had died in Dubienka a few weeks before. The Nazis wanted to free him to work for them, but without his mother. He did not want to leave her, sick, and went with her in the wagon to Sobiboz. Meanwhile, I was released from the station, with the child, because I was a seamstress. I rode back to Dubienka with 10 other people, all skilled carpenters, tailors, shoemakers and a blacksmith. By the time we got back, the town was burned down and empty. The Christians, mostly Ukranians [sic], lived on the side streets.
We had been working at the Kommendatur. Among the 12 persons who had been sent back to Dubienka was the wife of Pini Lender. We used to work together sometimes. Suddenly, a cousin from Podleszany, got in touch with me and sent a gentile, from Wojslaw, who provided me with false papers and brought me to Radomysl. This was a very dangerous trip. After we arrived in Polaniec, on the way to Radomysl (it was now July 1942), we heard that the previous day there had been a punitive action, and nobody was there anymore. I remained in Polaniec where I met still other Jews. A few days later, I found my family.
Days I spent in the fields and the nights in the attics. One dark Saturday night we went into the fields because the news had arrived that the next day there would be another action. Dreadful were the minutes and hours spent hiding in the bushes, where one could hear every shot and know that each one signalled [sic] the end of a human life. After 24 hours, when it calmed down, my cousin hired a gentile with a boat to bring the child and me to the other side of the Wisla. Before leaving, I said goodbye to my family, and I never saw them again.
I travelled to Jaslany, and from there I again set my sights on Dubienka. In Polaniec, my cousin had bought me false documents and an identification card. I did not have anywhere to go, one person alone, so I decided to return to Dubienka. I got off the train in Chelm, hoping to meet someone I knew, because Dubienka was 30 kilometers from Chelm. With my false documents identifying me as a Christian I felt a little freer but I was still afraid because my child looked very Semitic.
Suddenly, a terrible panic broke out in Chelm. People ran, yelling “Action! Action!” The Gestapo was firing, and I felt as if I was in the midst of hell. I pushed through the havoc, tried to reassure my child with a smile. I entered a small store to buy the child some candy for two groschen. Two gentiles stopped and one said to the other, “Look a gentile woman leads a Jewish child”. At this time, the township was surrounded by the Gestapo. I had to pass through them. They stopped me and demanded my identification documents. I showed them my false Kennkarte (I.D. card). While they examined the documents, I recited in my mind ‘Shema Yisroel’. They gave me back my papers, and my child and I went further. The child became tired and I had to carry her; but my strength was at an end when we finally came to Dubienka.
In the middle of the night, I knocked at the door of my Ukranian [sic] acquaintances’ house. They let me in through the window although they were very afraid. I was cooped up with them for five days, after which they wished me luck and I pushed on. I walked on and on until, lo! near a forest I ran into the Gestapo, again, and they examined my identity papers. I had to walk straight; I was not allowed to make a turn. They examined me, and again I inwardly cried out to God “El melech nehehmon“. It seemed as though my prayers were heard for the Gestapo men returned my documents and continued walking. I spent the night in a forest, under a tree. We were hungry, frozen, and dirty; our clothes were wet because we had gone through water.
We arrived at a tiny house. An old woman did not ask us anything but, after looking at us, understood everyting [sic]. She gave us hot soup, warm water to wash in, and made a place behind the oven where we could lie down for the night. In the morning she greeted us with “Praised be Jesus Christ!”
Leaving her house, we set out in the direction of Doratwosk, 15 kilometers away. Near evening, I saw a pig-stv in the field (the house had burned down). I went into the shed with my child. The straw was wet and smelled terrible. Using the belt of my coat, I closed the door from the inside. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, I heard scratching at the door. I held my breath, transfixed, when a woman’s voice spoke delicately, “Don’t be afraid, come out, come to my room”. It was a Ukranian [sic] woman who had seen us go in there at the beginning of the night. She was very afraid, but her good heart did not let her rest until she had taken the child and me into the room. She gave us something to eat, invited us to wash up, and let us spend the night. Very early the following morning, while it was still dark, she gave us a piece of bread and we went on. My child did not feel well, coughed, ran a fever and was very weak. Small wonder! I went into some houses and begged for a piece of bread. Suddenly, like a lightning from heaven, I remembered that I had a brother in a town near Lemberg. He was my only hope for help. I still had a few zlotys I had begged, so I bought a ticket to Lemberg. There I sneaked into the coach and rode to my brother, and his family. This luck did not last long, for the ghetto was soon organized by the Germans and my brother, along with his family fled to Lemberg.
With my Aryan papers I was able to remain in town with my child. I took a small room at a Ukranian [sic] woman’s home. One evening, a few days after I arrived, the secret police came to my room and interrogated me along with my small, 4 year old child. They searched our room, then took me to the police, where I signed some document. But again I was saved from death. It was a pure accident that we remained alive.
Once again, I got a job sewing, thereby earning my piece of bread and a roof over my head, while I worked I had to leave my child alone, locked up in the room. She was ill, and besides, I was not allowed to take her with me. The doctor who I consulted did not offer me much hope. How could I go to work, away from my child and worried, and yet not let other people notice my desperation? I had to smile, to be pleasant. Once they let me know that they had started to suspect me. I packed a bundle and with the child rode to Tarnopol. Here again I got work as a seamstress. One Sunday, in the church, I perceived from some distance away a familiar profile—a lovely Jewish face. As if attracted by the sheer force of my looks, this person turned around to look at me—it was a friend of mine. We understood one another’s situation without saying a word—and we met after the mass.
In Tarnopol I worked for a Mrs. Bittner, who contributed very much to the saving of my life. I am also thankful to many good people who helped save my daughter and myself.
In July 1944 we were liberated in Lemberg by the Russians. Six million had perished, yet my child and I remained alive—I can’t understand why? God’s deed! My little daughter and I had endured this Nazi murder- machine. Is it any wonder that we paid dearly with our health?
I returned home to Mielec, but for me our lovely town had become a cemetery where I could no longer live. The synagogues were destroyed, the cemeteries were destroyed, the marketplace was paved with tombstones, the small Jewish houses were demolished and the better ones were occupied by gentiles from surrounding villages.
Here in Mielec, I again met my husband, who had been one of the first Jews to return from Russia in April 1945. Soon after, we left Mielec. When the State of Israel was established, we went there.
Now I live in New York. My son and my daughter now are the parents of two lovely babies who shine and illuminate my life—compensation for my tragic and dark days, months, and years of Nazi persecution.
* By process of elimination, I am guessing that this is Dora EISIG née SCHNALL, born 1912 in Mielec, wife of Markus EISIG.
Mielec Story (Untitled) – Anonymous
On Yom Kippur in December 1939, the Germans raided Jewish homes and took out the adult males to clean the streets. Later on, in a more organized fashion, they shipped young Jewish men to a labor camp, called Pustkòw [sic], not far from Mielec; few survived.
Others who stayed worked as forced laborers on the railroad, loading and unloading wagons, and building roads in Ceranka. This was a village about seven kilometers outside of Mielec, to which we walked each day.
The German firms where we worked from September 1939 to March 1942 were Firma Heonig and Baumer Laosh. During that time, Jews were not allowed to leave the town without special permission.
The so-called Judenrat was organized by the Germans, and through this administrative body the Germans issued orders affecting the Jewish community. It was also through this group that the Germans demanded money and jewelry or deported people.
Finally, on March 9, 1942 the Jewish inhabitants of Mielec were liquidated.
All the Jewish families who were still in town on that day were herded together in the center of town with whatever belongings they could carry, and then dividied by age groups.
Most of the young people and the women were dispersed to forced labor camps. Women with small children were loaded into railroad cars and sent to a town called Parczew, while older or disabled people were taken to a village called Berdechow, just outside Mielec, and shot to death in a common grave.
I managed to escape just one day before this took place, on March 8, 1942. Later, I was captured by the Nazis, going through several concentration camps. I was liberated by the Russian Army on May 9, 1945, at Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia.
A Witness Statement – Chana Lind-Reiss
Excerpts from the statement of a witness, Mrs. Chana Lind born Reiss at “Yad Vashem” in Jerusalem, about the destruction of the Jews in Mielec (Poland) and the systematic annnihilation of the Jewish population by Nazis in 1942. She states as follows:
I, Chana Lind born Reiss, the daughter of Chaim Reiss and Nechi Buksbaum, born in Mielec on December 9.1919.
I was, at the time of the described action, 23 years old. My fatherm [sic] 62 years old, was killed in Berdechow which is close to Mielec during the liquidation of the Jewish population in Mielec. My mother perished at the age of 60 together with my sister Feiga, 27 years old and her 3 year old baby in Wlodawa. My brother in law, Elias Reich, 33 years old, was killed in the death camp of Auschwitz. My second sister, Dora Bernstein, 26 years old, perished in the ghetto Bochnia and my brother, Feivich Reiss, 18 years old, perished in the concentration camp Pustkow in Poland. The Jewish population in Mielec made up about 50% of the total population, there was no ghetto in Mielec during the Nazi occupation and the majority of the Jews lived in poor condition. Our town consisted mostly of craftsmen and shopkeepers. There were 3 Jewish physicians and about 6 Jewish lawyers. There was a public school which the Jewish children attended and some cheders for orthodox youngsters.
In September 1939, on the eve of Rosh-Hashana, the Nazis occupied our town Mielec and their first act was the killing of over 200 Jews in the abattoir where the Jews brought fowl for ritual slaughter before the holidays. They burned their victims alive in the public bath. Afterwards, they burned the Synagogue and they forced the Jewish by-passers to watch the Synagogue burn.
On Yom Kippur, the Nazis made a pogrom of Jews in their homes, beating and killing them. The Jews were forced to do hard labor; collecting garbage, sweeping the streets and no pardon was given to women and old men. Beating the Jews was the usual enjoyment of the Nazi tormentors and even more enjoyment for them was the cutting off of the beards of old orthodox Jews along with a piece of live flesh.
The Germans organized a Judenrath [sic] to whom they had given orders to form a work force to confiscate jewerly [sic] and furs. The members were Rubin Kurz, a shopkeeper; Freiberg, a carpenter and Tafler, a lawyer. The last one soon resigned from this honor. Contributions were extracted from the Jewish population at will. People were sent to load and unload cargo in slave labor, dehumanizing the population and starving them chronically. There existed, in the vicinity of Mielec german villages for almost more than 100 years. The Germans co-existed with the Jews in time of peace. The youngsters from these villages joined forces with the Gestapo at the moment of occupation. They helped the Nazis in the destruction of the Jews, killing and raping. The most infamous were 2 young Germans, Zimmerman and Jek. On March 9, 1942, Mielec was to become a model of the first Judenfree [sic] town in Poland.
In a well planned action of liquidation of the town, systematic and massive extermination was done mercilessly with German precision. It started on a cold winter night. The SS and SD surrounded Mielec. They ordered the Jews out of their homes and to gather in the marketplace. Old and sick Jews were killed on the spot in their homes. The rest of the population were forced to march towards the village Berdechow where the hangars of the airport were located. Who could not walk fast enough was shot on the road. We were pushed into the hangars. For 4 days we were there without food. Later they divided us into groups. About 500 men, mostly old and weak, were selected, killed and buried in a mass-grave in Berdechow which was prepared beforehand. My father was among them. Another group of youngsters, among them my brother, were selected and sent to the concentration camp in Pustkow where they were tortured to death. I and a group of girls were selected to work at the airport. The Jews who survived the massacre were sent in freight cars during this harsh winter to the east to an unknown destination and fate. During the selection, Jews were murdered for no reason and without mercy. Among them, the only Jewish judge in town, Baruch Pohoryles with his wife and daughter. We found out afterwards that the transports of Jews were directed to Parchew, Wlodawa, Niedzyrzec and Dubienka, all in the district of Lublin, in the eastern part of Poland. Members of families were divided and were sent in different directions like cattle. I managed to get out from Berdechow after the selections and I started 3 months of running through the woods and villages not knowing what to do next but for the bare survival. I could move only at night since anyone who could see me during the day would recognize me as a Jew and denounce me to the Nazis. That was sure death. I was begging to get anything to eat, scraps of food, hiding in the ditches and woods during the day. Sometimes for 3 or 4 days I was starving, having nothing in my mouth. That forced me during the night to knock on unknown doors in strange places in order to get some bread. If I was lucky I met villagers who gave me shelter for a short period of time and that brought back my strength. In the woods I met single Jews and groups who were runaways like myself from ghettos transports and extermination camps. After a long time, I reached the town of Wieliczka near Krakow. I tried to live there, but life in this ghetto was sure death. I left and went at nights in the directon of forests around Kielece [sic], I managed to travel by train to Pacanow where I heard about the fate of my family. They were transported with other Jews to Parchew where the Germans unloaded the Jews of Mielec, beating and kicking the weaker, pushing them into a Synagogue. From there, with the help of the local Jews, they were marched off to Wlodawa which is located only 3 miles from the extermination camp Sobibor, district Lublin. They had to wait 7 months for their destruction because the camp was not equipped yet for mass murder of such big proportion. At the same time, the Jews from Western Europe were shipped to Sabibor [sic] for annihilation and death. My family died there too.
The organization of the inmates in the camps were regulated by Judenrats with the help of the Jewish policemen. They were no better then the German Nazis. When they were not needed by the Nazis any longer, the Jewish policemen were killed like all the other Jews. Selections of groups to put into the ovens were made when all were kneeling in dust.
I went first to Pacanow and later to Stopnica in the district Kielec. There I witnessed the evacuation of the local Jews to the east. Here, with the help of a local Jew and Jewish woman from Mielec, I got a hiding place in the village of Zrebin in the vicinity of Polaniec. The Polish shopkeeper, Wojtusiak took me into her house and selflessly gave me shelter for months, feeding me without pay. I fell sick with typhoid fever. I recovered from it later but when my hostess later became sick and hospitalized I was forced to leave the place and move on. Good people helped me with food and shelter for short periods of time until I survived to see the liberation of Poland by the Russian Army in 1944. I went to Mielec, where a few single Jewish survivors had drifted back. There was no future for us. I went to Germany and from there to Israel.
Signed Hana Lind, born Reiss
The Nazi-Killers (A Character Study) – Marian Keit (aka Moses Keitelman)
No choice has the butcher’s knife Things have a bloody flavor It stabs around man or wife, The old, the weak it favors. His ax englufed in sticky flood Its razor gets baser and baser; No refuge from the glut of blood No mercy from the ax, no savior. Mute is his knife, it never wavers It pardons none the slash of its razor. Damned the plea of all savers Forsake all hope, don’t seek no favors. Cutting of flesh, splitting of bone Cruel a time for cattle dawned. Don't blame the ax for the job done, No mercy, no pardon to none. The butcher is guilty, the ax he wielded? He got orders and orders don’t fail There was a job to be done The butcher not guilty as well. The cattle is guilty, the cattle blame. The butcher was fit, got stronger; The hangman is alive and swell The cattle is dead, cries no longer The victim is guilty like hell. That is the missal. In the hardest stone I will chisel; In the mind of my son: "carry a gun. carry a gun."
Mielec – My Home – Reflections*
My home where I am from . . .
The sound of Torah and Tehilim reverberating into the street as we passed by the Shul on our way to school early in the morning still rings in my ears.
The vitality and warmth of a group of people sitting in my parents home discussing some “Klall” problems is still pictured in my mind.
The house was a virtual melting pot of all segments of the population. From the Prince travelling in to conclude some major business, to the “Shames” registering some grievance, to the “Orchim” coming to receive much needed nourishment and money all were treated with the same warm dignity and congenial hospitality by Father, Chaim Friedman ז׳׳ל, Mother, Henci Friedman ז׳׳ל, and the household. How many times did I see Mother taking some chicken soup and nosh under her wrap and carry it to the sick person who needed it so badly, and Father up and around most of the night with a problem in the “Kahal”.
I can well remember my in-laws’ home. Father-in-law, Reb Nechemia Brodt ז׳׳ל, being busy collecting money for the poor, always with a smile and friendly word for all. Mother-in-law, Layci Brodt ז׳׳ל, serving food, or both of them preparing the beds for those unfortunate who did not have where to rest their heads for the night. And who can forget their Melave Malka for the poor every Motzei Shabbos.
One can get a thorough picture of Mielec by observing it for a little while.
During the week people were busy trying to make out a meager living, and during their spare time rushing to the shul and shiurim.
But on Friday a dramatic change could be seen. In the morning there was a hustle and bustle. As the afternoon approached we could see the little children all clean for Shabbos and with the time for candle lighting everything quieted down. As one looked out, one could see candle lights flickering through the windows and Fathers all bedecked in their Shabbos best, serenely walking to Shul with their young ones.
And this is no more . . . Just a painful memory.
* This was clearly written by Beila BRODT née FRIEDMAN, born circa 1925, wife of Aaron Shalom BRODT.
Nehemia Brodt ז׳׳ל – The Righteous Jew From Mielec
A person seeking to understand the Jewish soul could find its personification in the character of Nehemia Brodt ז׳׳ל. A businessman with a family of eight children and a modest home in Mielec, ז׳׳ל was the symbol of the Jewish culture in the shtétl [sic]. The doors of his home were always open to welcome poor Jews who wandered from town to town collecting alms for a living. Out of his own means, he ז׳׳ל established a special dwelling for the poor to sleep overnight or longer. Often, he would wait, greet and guide the weary poor travelers to the לינת אורחים. His devoted wife, Leah ז׳׳ל, on her part made sure that the linen was kept clean and that the “guests” had a full meal every day during their stay.
He was an outstanding personality in Mielec as a result of his charitable activities. Yet, his public service did not end with this. He ז׳׳ל served as one of the twelve councilmen in the municipality of Mielec. He established two factories in the town—one to produce brushes and the other to manufacture soap. Both Jews and non-Jews were employed in these factories. He also opened a store to sell these products.
Those who knew him ז׳׳ל personally could not help but feel the spark of Judaism eminating [sic] from this man. In public as well as private life, he ז׳׳ל conducted his affairs according to the letter of the Torah. His eight children received a strictly orthodox education and upbringing. The values they learned at home guided them through the hardest times of World War II and on to a more peaceful life in America. He had the fortune to keep his family together throughout the Holocaust and lived to see his children and grandchildren follow in his footsteps.
After the war, Nehemia Brodt ז׳׳ל, the Jew from Mielec. lived in Brooklyn, New York. All his energy was spend on charities. He gathered funds to marry off poor girls, to heal the sick and other charitable causes. From his own finances, he established a free loan fund to lend interest free money to those who needed it. He heartily welcomed Jews who came to him for a loan and took special care not to hurt anyone’s feelings or G-d forbid to embarrass anyone.
In the last three years of his life he lived in Bnei Brak, Israel. American Jews who visited him there relate that his home was a “beehive of charity”. The light of the Torah and the warmth of kind deeds shined far beyond the confines of Nehemiah Brodt’s apartment. There is a Jewish ethical maxim: “By three things the world exists: by the Torah, by the (Temple) service, and by the deeds of lovingkindness.” (Ethics of the Fathers, 1,2) Nehemia Brodt’s life epitomized these Jewish values. May his memory be blessed.
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