I Wish It Were Fiction
Holocaust Memories 1939 - 1945
On the Aryan side.
It was Saturday afternoon. I decided to take my last chance. I climbed onto a balcony, that bordered immediately on the Ghetto, and with the help of a heavy cord, that I made myself, slid down from the balcony. Poles lived on the other side of the Ghetto, but fortunately, no one saw me sliding down. I saw a ladder nearby, with two pales of paint. I grabbed the ladder with the paint, and went outside.
There were S.S. men and Polish granat police, but they simply did not suspect that I was a Jew. Then I proceeded towards the ‘free’ world. I found myself on the Aryan side, once again a free man, escaped from hell. There was still a free world, but not for us Jews. I lifted the ladder with the two pails of paint and continued walking.
I was already about two or three kilometers out of town, when I stopped and thought to myself: What am I going to do now? Where does the road lead to? No one must see me and recognize me as a Jew. I must hide even from a human shadow. I must even hide from animals. I tried to avoid any house on the way, because the dogs may start barking. Their barking may alert the farmer inside the house. The farmers feared strangers, particularly, in the midst of war. But I noticed that people were eating, drinking, and carrying on normally.
After a while, and after I considered my next step, I decided to continue. I managed to survive so far, now I have to continue trying and living. I continued walking, until I came to a small house on the road.
An elderly farmer was sitting inside. I said “good evening”. The farmer looked at me and asked me to sit down. He began to busy himself and before asking any more questions he offered me something to eat. After I finished eating, the farmer explained to me that I must leave his house at once since he was afraid to have a Jew in his house. Nevertheless, I saw that the man was decent and compassionate and I asked him what I should, in his opinion, do next.
The farmer nodded and said to me “My son. I understand your desperate situation. Not far from here, you will find the Rakower Forest. There you will find Jewish partisans.” He gave me detailed directions, how to proceed safely, without difficulties and with little chance to meet any unwanted people.
I was extremely happy about the farmer, who helped me so much, and after thanking him, I began my journey towards the forest.
In a cellar with three Jews from Tarnobrzeg.
On the road that led to Rakow I came to a village named Stitchki. The forest was on the left side of the village, exactly according to the instructions that I had received from the kind farmer. I proceeded towards the forest. I proceeded walking and walking and did not meet a soul on the way. I began to doubt whether I will meet up with anybody.
But I kept on walking. It was a dark, moonless night. I finally reached the edge of the forest and noticed from a distance a small house. A light was flickering in the tiny window. I began to wonder: Shall I knock at the door or not? I was alone, and one person could be quite helpless. Someone may answer my knock and open the door, but the house can prove to be a trap. When I came closer to the house, I noticed an opening to a cellar. I was exhausted, wet, and hungry. I simply couldn’t stand on my feet. So, without much thinking, I went down to the cellar. I did not want the owner of the house to know about me or find me.
But the loud barking of the dog drew the attention of the owner and he opened the door to the cellar to see what is happening there and why the dog barked so loudly and consistently.
Seeing the owner opening the door of the cellar, I began to shiver. Soon, I heard his voice: “Here Moszek. Eat your supper.” Nobody replied. Then the man started calling again in a much louder voice: “Here. Moszek. Moszek. It’s very cold outside. Come and get your supper”. I suddenly realized, that someone else, possibly another Jew must be hiding in here. I started to talk to those, whom I thought were in the cellar. I realized that my fear was not justified.
There were three other Jews in the cellar, and one of them suddenly appeared to get the food from the owner of the house. I was invited to be the fourth partner to the food. The supper was warm and very much welcome.
After we finished the supper, the three Jews who were in the cellar began asking me where I came from and how I found my way to the cellar in the middle of a dark night and from which concentration camp I came. I told them everything about myself and about my experience. When I finished, the three began telling their stories.
Their names were: Alter Kaufman, Shloime Mandel and Chil Minc. All three of them were from Tarnobrzeg, on the other side of the river Wistula, opposite the town of Karzimierz.
In 1940, the Germans gathered all Jews of Tarnobrzeg — young and old, men, women and children — in one big square. The older people were segregated from everybody else and kept separately. The younger people were ordered to dig deep trenches. This completed, the Germans shot everybody. The three young men, whom I met in the cellar managed to turn away and escape. They escaped into the forest and met here several hundred other Jews. The Germans didn’t dare to come into the forest.
The life of the Jews in the forest was far better and safer than in the Ghetto. They decided to get some ammunition and organize into a regular partisan battalion. In the neighbouring forest there were Polish partisans who raided from time to time German ammunition dumps and acquired guns, hand guns, machine guns and others. The Jews also acquired some ammunition, 2 machine guns; some hand guns etc. They organized their life in the forest on a more or less normal basis. Some had even brought their wives and children. They dug out camouflaged hiding places to hide in case of a German attack.
The Polish partisans in the neighbouring forest; the so-called “A-K” (the name stood for the initials of ARMJA KRAJOWA, the Polish national Army), were organized by the Polish government in exile. They received from the Government-in-exile arms, planes, medical supplies and food. They received their instructions from that Polish government.
One morning, a group from the Polish partisans came to the Tarnobrzeg forest and told the Jews that they were instructed to confiscate all the weapons in the possession of the Jews, since they need the ammunition for themselves. They claimed that they are organizing attacks against the Germans and they lack sufficient arms and must get all the arms possible. The Polish partisans told the Jews they can live safely in the forest, without ammunition.
The answer of the Jews was, that they are prepared to join the Polish partisans in their attacks on the Germans, but that they cannot remain in the forest without ammunition. The Jews understood that once they will part with the ammunition that their lives will be in grave danger. When the Polish A-K partisans realized that the Jews will not give them the ammunition, they opened fire. A number of Jews were killed there and then. The Jews then replied with fire, and a number of the A-K were also killed. The battle continued for some time, until the Jewish ammunition was exhausted. The A-K partisans celebrated their victory over the Jews by expelling all Jewish survivors from the forest. This was the story of the Jews whom I met in the cellar.
To remain in the cellar was useless and dangerous. The owner was afraid to continue hiding us, even though he was paid daily for his food and for permission to remain here. We discussed our next steps. Winter is approaching and it will be impossible to survive in the cellar. And then there is the question; Who should we fear most, the Germans or the A-K partisans. We finally decided that one of us should leave the cellar and try to find out what the situation is outside and whether there are any Jews left in the neighbourhood.
I undertook to go out. I left the cellar and went back in the direction of Kazimierz. I soon found out, that there is a camp for Jews in Mokashin, not far from Kazimiers.
I meet some Jews from Opatow.
It was late in the afternoon, when I reached the approach to the camp in Mokashin. I suddenly noticed a man coming out of the Camp. He was happy to see me. He told me that there are close to 300 Jews in the Camp.
There are some landsleit from Opatow there. The commander of the Camp is Jurek Hertzberg from Opatow, son of Chimik Hertzberg. Jurek Hertzberg was the deputy commander of the Jewish police in Opatow. He was shot, when the camp in Mokashin was liquidated. I found another landman from Opatow, Chaim Erenburg. He was the leader of the arbeits-commando (labor-command). The former president of the Judenrat, Mordechai Weitzblum, was also in the Camp. I asked Weitzblum whether he can do something for me, but his answer was, that he couldn’t do anything, since he is only a plain laborer, the same as everybody else. Another landsman from Opatow Kutchi Sobol also came out from the Camp. He was happy to see me. He told me what the situation in the Camp was. There is only room for 300 in the camp. But new inmates arrive every day. They are considered the illegals. Most of them were shot. Sobol also told me, that in addition to the count every morning, the Germans carry out searches almost every day trying to find illegals who were hiding.
I asked Sobol whether it would be possible for me remain until the Spring. He promised that he will find for me a place to hide somewhere on an attic, not far from the Camp. But he cautioned me that searches for illegals, who may be hiding, are being regularly carried out. I found out later, that he was absolutely right.
There were many who hid in the neighbourhood, because they wanted to be close to the Camp. To get to the Camp proper was almost impossible, since the Germans were on the look-out for illegals. Still, I was able to meet friends and acquaintances, when they came out to work, since they were not guarded too strictly at work. The situation in the-day time was still more or less tolerable. There was a chance to hide somewhere. But at night it was very bad. One would have liked to rest for a while and guard against the bitter cold. I met a few more inmates who were in the same position as I was. Every one of us was looking for a place to spend the cold night, even a hole in the ground would have been welcome. In addition, one had to be strong and alert, that no suspicion should arise, since many Germans lived in the neighbourhood. You could not be in the same place where you were the night before. Every evening you had to look for some other hole in the ground. I and a few others found a dilapidated barn and hoped that the Germans will not find out about it.
My friends are caught by the Germans.
In the Mokashin camp, the unpaid Jewish slaves were employed at different menial jobs. Women worked along with the men, particularly in the fields during harvest time when wheat was harvested.
Work in the field started at 5 o’clock in the morning until 9 in the evening. We also worked on the railway tracks. We replaced old tracks with new ones. I myself would have liked to be employed in the field, if I could get some rest after work. But I wasn’t given the chance. Day after day passed. The days dragged on endlessly, and I was forced to be, as an illegal, always in the cold. Every one of us illegals was wondering what will happen tomorrow. And when the morning finally arrived we again were wondering about our future.
We, the illegals, spent another night in the dilapidated barn. We were almost sure, that our movements will evoke suspicion and that will be the end of us. But we had no alternative. It was bitter cold outside and we were forced to find some place where we could get some sleep. We lied down on a bit of hay that we found, moved close one to another, so that we should be a bit warmer. But it was impossible to fall asleep.
We were young people, from different cities and towns and still retained some semblance of hope. We still managed to tell stories about our towns and even joke at the expense of the German “heroes”, who kept on looking for us, and still couldn’t find us. I couldn’t fall asleep, since I was cold from being a whole day outside, in the bitter cold. In addition, I was terribly hungry. A while later, when I managed to warm up a bit, I dozed off.
When I woke up, I saw that all of us were lying in one bunch, one almost on top of the other. I began to think, that this was no place for me, since the place is bound to evoke suspicion by the Germans. I decided that I must look for another place.
I left the barn, and started to walk. After walking some distance, I instinctively turned my head. I saw an amazing happening. A few autos drove up to the house, which I had just left a while ago. Some people emerged from the autos and began to illuminate the house with their flashlights. They were looking everywhere. I immediately realized that this was the police and the S.S. gendarmes. I did not go any further, and looked from the distance. I wanted to see what will happen next.
The S.S. men surrounded the house and began to escort the victims from the house. Everyone was searched. Everything in the dilapidated barn was taken away. Among those who were arrested were a number of men from Opatow. Their names are as follows:
Hershel Sosnowitch, son of Abraham Sosnowitch, Israel Fishman’s son, Also from Opatow were a few women, a girl Marmurek, two cousins Sosnowitch, Amalia Topel, granddaughter of Praidel Nachum Myers. She had a paint store in Opatow. Then there was Kalmen Orenseein, son of Itche Orenstein and several others from other towns. I don’t remember their names. Some of those who were led out of the house succeeded in escaping. One of them was Hershel Sosnowitch. The Germans ran after him and shot him, but he was only wounded and he succeeded in his escape. He is alive and lives in Montreal.
When the whole group was being led to their execution, one of the group, Yomele Topol, managed to escape. German bullets that were directed at him, fell short of their intended victim and he was fortunate enough to make good his escape. But unfortunately his freedom did not last long. Yomele Topel the grandson of Fraidele Nachum Myers’ daughter always bravely fought for his life. He was always a leader. He taught people how to escape from different camps. He always managed to outmaneuver his enemies. He never abandoned hope. His will to live was strong. He was an energetic and brave man, and never surrendered. But finally, he was trapped by the enemy and thus forfeited his life.
After the S.S. left, I went back to (the) house. The Germans abandoned the shot victims and left them on the field. I looked at my friends, among them my dear landsleit. I was shocked. They were victims of cold-blooded murderers.
I return to Opatow again.
The camp at Mokashin was transferred to Kazimierz. A few people were still in and around Mokashin. I couldn’t, naturally remain there and decided to leave and look for another place to hide. Maybe go back to Opatow. I knew that I will not find any Jews in Opatow. Still I longed for my home-town.
I began to walk. I had no particular plan in mind. One thing, however, I knew. The German murderers are everywhere. You have to be very alert, so as not to be caught by the murderers.
After walking several hours through fields — and occasionally through side roads, the day began to recede. It got progressively darker. As I approached Opatow, I realized that I had to be extremely careful, so that I should not be noticed. I avoided the main road leading to the city. But my plan did not succeed. Suddenly I met up with a group of Polish children: When they saw me, they began to whisper among themselves, that this must be a Jew. They began to yell in unison: ‘A Jew came...’ The further I walked away from them, the louder they yelled that ‘a Jew came, a Jew came’.
I was sure that someone will come out and this will be the end of me. I had no alternative, so I began to go back into the thick fields. When the yelling subsided, I turned back and saw an elderly Pole, who came out of his house and silenced the children. After a while, when everything was quiet. I started back towards the city and approached a house, where a Polish acquaintance lived. I knocked at the door, and when asked: “who is there”, I gave my name. The door opened and my acquaintance asked me, in a rather friendly way, to come inside.
It seems that good deeds are not easily forgotten. Thus the attitude of the Pole was not accidental. When I came back to Opatow after the deportation, some six weeks before, I was ordered to clean out the left-over possessions from the Jewish homes. All the articles and houseware I brought to one place, which was not far from the house of my friendly Pole. From time to time, I used to give him some of the stuff. I thought to myself: let him also have something, so the Germans will have less. It looks that that deed paid of for me.
My friendly Pole told me that there are no Jews left in town, and described the situation in the City without Jews. He also indicated to me that I cannot stay with him more than one night since people come around and suspicion will arise when a stranger will be noticed in the house. He will be accused of harboring a stranger.
He also asked me if I needed some money, which he offered to get for me. I replied, that for the time being, I needed no money, but I need a place to live. I received no reply to this.
A bed was made up for me and I went to sleep. It was quite a while that I slept on such a comfortable bed. I wished that the night should last for at least several years.
When I got up the next morning, I asked my friendly Pole, whether he can give me advice on what to do. He began pacing the floor back and forth. I could see by his behaviour, that he would like to help me. He finally said to me: I want very much to do something for you. Go to a friend of mine in the village of Kiniw, near Ostrowiec. You will tell him, that I sent you.
When I arrived in Kiniw, I was received in a friendly manner by my Pole’s friend. He had a store, and he employed me immediately as a clerk in the store. At first, nobody knew who I was. I felt quite good for a while. But I could not remain in that place for very long, since people began to ask questions about me. I realized that suspicion will eventually arise. To make sure, that I will not be discovered by the Germans, I had to leave the village.
I went back in the direction of Opatow. I reached the village of Chernikow, 3 kilometers from Opatow. I had some acquaintances among the farmers there, who used to be frequent visitors in our home before the war. Maybe I’ll find a place to hide there!
I arrived in the village and went to an old acquaintance. He and other acquaintances told me the same thing. Everyone was afraid to have me stay with them for more than one night. The farmers told me, that for harboring a Jew, one can be shot. Stool pigeons abound and they are watching every step. Anyone telling where a Jew is hiding, gets a prize of 1,000 zloty. Jews have “become a profitable commodity”, my acquaintance said. I had no alternative and turned back towards Kazimierz. When I was already near the camp, I met an old acquaintance by the name Kutchi-Sobol and told him about my desperate situation. You cannot find a place to hide, and all roads lead to death. When you meet someone and you don’t know who he or she is, you fear the worst. My acquaintance could not give me any help, not even a reply to my story.
I contact the partisans.
I met the same acquaintance the next morning. He told me that the situation in the Camp is quite grim. Everybody expects a sudden raid, to be followed by the liquidation of the Camp. He also told me that there is a chance to contact the partisans in the district.
This latest information gave me some hope. With a benign smile on my face I told him that such contact would be very welcome. He interrupted and said; there is a possibility. There are several groups of partisans. Not all of them are A.K.’s (Polish National Army). A contact can be established. But there is no one who could contact them, particularly because the road leading to their quarters is very dangerous.
I proposed to my friend Kutchi, that he should entrust me with the mission to contact the partisans. My friend told me that the man who knows how to contact the partisans is a landsman of ours, Chaim Erenburg, son of Yosele Erenburg. My friend assured me that he will tell Chaim, who by the way is the commandant of the Camp, about me. I owe gratitude to my friend Kutchi Sobol, who saved me temporarily. Also to other landsleit of Opatow, and some who were not even from Opatow. They managed to literally snatch me from the jaws of the murderers. My friend Kutchi survived the Holocaust and lives now in New York.
Thanks to these contacts, my situation improved. Chaim, the commandant of the camp, managed to legalize me and he got for me a temporary shelter. Chaim Erenburg did a tremendous job in organizing and leading the illegal activities in the camp. He organized groups and helped them to escape and join the partisans and he also secretly managed to obtain ammunition and guns from friendly Polish acquaintances.
Some time later, I received an order from Chaim to carry out the first mission. I was ordered to establish direct contact with the partisans. I changed my clothes, hoping that my appearance will be a little different. I rented a horse and wagon from a farmer and proceeded to the indicated spot in the forest, which was known as the Midlawer forest.
When I finally reached my destination, I saw a man standing. He looked the way he was described to me and I understood that I am in the presence of the one whom I was ordered to contact. He approached me and asked who I was. I handed him the letter from Chaim. After he read it over, he remained silent for a while. After a few minutes, he began to describe to me the situation prevailing in the forest. The S.S. gendarmes raid the villages surrounding the forest almost daily. Many battles are fought between the gendarmes and the partisans. The cold weather makes it very tough. It was too early, in his opinion, for the Jews, particularly for Jewish women, to join the partisans. It may be bearable for the men, but certainly not for the women. It is almost impossible to find any shelter. Men, who wished to join, will be accepted and provided with small guns and ammunition.
I returned and told Chaim of the conversation with the partisan leader. Chaim expressed the opinion that it was still possible to remain in the Camp for a while. My own situation also stabilized. My work in the camp was not too hard. Most of the time we were employed maintaining the railway tracks.
Some time passed. Then I received another order from Chaim to contact the partisans again and tell them that the situation in the Camp has worsened considerably. He gave me some money and other valuables and together with two women we went to the forest to speak to the partisan leader. On Chaim’s instructions we told him that more and more people are being liquidated daily.
We returned safely and told Chaim about our conversation. Once again, he sent us back. This time I took along the first group who were ready to join the partisans. We also took along some cooking utensils and some clothing and bedding to keep them warm in the bunkers. Our mission went through smoothly. I myself began to go back and forward several times without any incidents. Somehow I evoked no suspicion.
Once, when I came on a mission to the partisans, I was told that the partisans will not accept any more Jews in their ranks. The reason that I was given was that the A.K.’s (members of the Polish National Army A.K.) are looking for Jews, whom they hated. I was also told that a few days ago,aA group of A.K.’s lured away eight Jews, took away their clothing and money and shot them.
When I told Chaim about this incident, he said, that it looks that it is impossible already to associate with decent Poles. It seems that our situation is hopeless. Most Poles, evidently, agree with the German murder of Jews. Chaim asked me to go out and try to look for some place where we would be able to survive. Insofar as the camp was concerned, if we will stay here much longer, we will all perish.
I began my search for a place to hide. After several hours I suddenly noticed a small house perched in a valley between the hills. I thought that this may be the place where we could hide.
We hide in a bunker.
I approached the house carefully. A dog began barking. The farmer came out and started walking towards me. As soon as he approached me. I asked him whether I can come inside. He motioned his agreement.
Inside I asked him, if he had any food for sale. His answer was that he can sell me some corn bread. After a while, the conversation became more friendly and almost intimate. The farmer told me about his own difficult situation.
His wife died some three years before. They had no children. All he owned was some 3 acres of land, a small cow and a lean horse. He pointed to his badly worn clothes, since he could not afford any new clothing. He was fifty years old. A farm girl named Marisha comes in to the house to help him out. She, too, is poor. He would like to marry her and get for her a pair of new shoes and a dress to make it possible for her to go to church. At this point, his eyes began to shine brightly.
Our conversation warmed up. I told him that I was a Jew and asked him if he could accommodate me and a friend in his house. In return I promised to get him money for clothes and for Marisha’s clothes. His reply was that he can even accommodate five more. I could see that the poor farmer did not know how dangerous it was to hide Jews. He was anxious to have us come as soon as possible. When I said good-bye, I assured him that we will be back in a week.
When I returned to the Camp, I told Chaim about our exploits. We decided to send Leibke Rosen, who was a carpenter and a landsman from Opatow. We figured that he would be able to prepare bunkers. I and Leibke Rosen went back to the farmer and also took along some carpentry tools, such as a hammer, nails, saws and a few others.
When I came back to the Camp, I reported to Chaim about everything we have achieved and assured him that Leibke will prepare the bunkers. Chaim replied that we should wait a few days. At the moment we have to decide what to do immediately. But I expressed the opinion, that in view of the situation, waiting may be too late.
Then, suddenly, the Camp was surrounded. I and a few others succeeded in escaping. When the S.S. realized that we were escaping, they began shooting, and at the same time searching every nook and corner, both in the Camp and in the surrounding fields. I remained hidden and motionless in the field. After dark, I got up, and began walking in the direction of the farmer’s house. Leibke Rosen was waiting for me. He told me that he prepared a bunker for the two of us on the attic of the barn. He built a double wall, 2 1/2 meters long, and 1 1/2 meters wide, as well as a well-hidden place for us to sleep. For a mattress he collected some hay. It was not possible to stand up in the bunker.
I told Leibke about the attack on the Camp by the S.S. Only a few of us succeeded in escaping. I told those few about our plan. Leibke replied that he prepared a few more bunkers, that will serve as a hiding place for the other escapees.
Our "defender" tries some blackmail.
The hunchbacked farmer fed us all, in lieu of the clothing we have brought for him and for his Marisha, and also for the payments in gold that we kept on making. He began to realize that hiding Jews is comparable to hiding illegal goods. He began to “smarten up”. He began squeezing more and more money out of us.
The hunchbacked farmer - his name was Pawel - used to tell us all kinds of stories when he brought us the food. He told us that the A.K.’s are after him and that he is in danger of the S.S. men finding out that he was hiding us. He began to complain that we are paying him very little. He needs to buy another few acres of land and his barn needs rebuilding.
We tried to convince him that this was no time to buy land, and that he should also save up his money for after the war. We told him that if he will begin spending larger sums of money, he will attract the attention of the authorities, who will eventually find out, that he was hiding Jews and that will cost him his life and also ours.
We promised him that we will give him all our possessions and money. One thing Pawel understood, that he can not wear the new clothes that we bought for him, when he goes to Church. But Marisha, the woman he wanted to marry, was determined to wear her new clothes to Church. She wanted everybody to see what her boss gave her, such as a pair of fancy boots, a flowered dress, and a flowered kerchief. We knew that this can evoke suspicion, but we had no alternative. We knew that if we should leave and start going further, we may meet up with the A.K.’s and that would be the end of us.
Spring has arrived.
Spring was approaching. Our farmer brought us pieces of newspapers from the city. We learned, that Stalingrad was saved from the Germans, and that the Russians are marching forward. We both agreed, that if a second front would be opened, we could look forward to our freedom. Time passed. The winds of Spring began to blow and penetrate our hiding place. The sweet aroma of the Spring flowers had a calming effect on our nerves.
But we had to be on guard day and night. On top of that, I started to talk in my sleep ... I had to be extremely careful, that nobody should hear or understand my mumbling in my sleep. I slept little. But from time to time I fell asleep for several minutes. Through the cracks in the door, we could see almost the whole village of Midlowa. Below flowed a small creek. You could hear at night the flowing of the water. We hear that the villagers have already begun to make plans for plowing the fields and feeding the animals. As the sun began to shine stronger, we could enjoy the tiny streams of light, that penetrated our hiding place.
April 1944 was approaching. Green grass covered the village. We figured out that Passover was approaching. We read in the pieces of newspaper that the farmer brought us from time to time, that the Red Army was marching forward continuously. We were encouraged by the news and began to believe that the miracle will happen and we will remain alive. We began to fantasize about the future. We seemed to have forgotten what was actually happening. We almost began to believe that the war is already over.
And then, Suddenly ... a raid. The Germans arrived in the village and began to search every house. Our “landlord”, the farmer rushed upstairs to the attic and filled the attic with hay, so that the partition behind which we were hiding would not be visible.
The Germans raided Pawel’s house and began to search in every nook and corner. They grabbed all the young people, boys and girls, and took them away. They also took away Marisha. It was already six months that we were here in hiding and did not see any Germans in the village and now the raid by these wild bandits. Fortunately they did not find us. They left the village.
Whenever our farmer-landlord brought us some food, he never failed to tell us of the danger he is in, because of us, how he is being threatened by the A.K.’s and about the leaflets that are being distributed warning everyone who is hiding Jews that they are subject to the death penalty.
Summer, 1944. We left our hiding place and began wandering in search of another place to hide. We could not stand the antics of our farmer, Pawel. He kept on pressing us for more money. No matter how much we gave him, it was not enough for him. We began to fear the man. We did not know what he might do.
We were simply desperate. The bit of money we had was already exhausted. There was no visible end to the war. What should we do next? We decided to return to the farm house. We still had one gold coin worth 10 rubles. We gave it to him. Every day became a day of suffering and agony. We tried to explain to the farmer that the gold coin was more valuable. He replied that he knew that the gold coin is worth much more than the Polish paper money. He completely changed his tone. He tried to encourage us that we will survive. Insofar as he was concerned, he said, he will do his best to hide us. No matter what they will do to him, he will never betray us. He was ready to withstand any kind of torture, he assured us.
All these fine words were said to us when he was getting the gold coin. But the next day he had forgotten what he said the day before and began to pressure us for more. He told us that they caught some Jews not far from the village and the A.K.’s shot them. The specter of death hovered continuously over our heads.
It was not long after that a group of A.K.’s arrived. They surrounded the house, and began questioning him: “Where are the Jews”, they asked. “We were told, that you are hiding Jews. Where are they?”
We were in the cellar, fearing the worst. We were afraid that Pawel will weaken and tell them. But he did not. He kept on saying that he had no idea what they are talking about. The A.K.’s then led him away to be shot. But he did not weaken, even in the face of certain death. He maintained that he does not know anything about any Jews.
The A.K.’s were confused in face of Pawel’s persistent claim. They decided to let him go, but told him that they will be back. They will then burn down his house and shoot him, if they will find out that he lied. Our Pawel was now in great fear of the A.K.’s return. But for us there was no alternative. We decided to remain there in hiding.
We realized that Pawel’s fear works to our advantage. This led to our decision to remain. We knew that Pawel was afraid that if he lets us leave and if we should be captured, then we might divulge the secret where we were hiding and that would mean his death. So he decided to let us remain in hiding and wait for some miracle to happen.
Meanwhile the battle front was closing in. We began to hear artillery from the distance. With every day that passed, the artillery duels became louder and louder. We became impatient and panicky. We did not know whether to run away or remain in hiding where we were.
We are liberated.
Not long after, our Pawel came up to us and joyfully told us the good news that the Russians have arrived. He repeated the news several times: “The Russians are here! The Russians are here!” He told us that we were free and that we can come out of our hiding places.
I did not believe him at first. I was afraid, that he did not tell us the truth. I did not want to leave my hiding place. Several hours passed before I agreed to leave the attic, where we were confined. I saw the Russians and told them why I did not want to come down. The Russians told us that we were free and that we should not fear any longer.
We are free and equal with everybody.
All this happened in the middle of August, 1944. I started to (look) up my friends who were also in hiding. They met me with joy. The question arose “What should we do now ? Where should we go ?”
The front was about 18 kilometers from Opatow. The war had not ended yet. It may take some time yet, until complete liberation. The war officially ended in May of 1945.
We began marching from village to village. Opatow was still in the hands of the Germans. The fighting was still raging. We kept on wandering, until we reached another village. There we were stopped by Russian military guards. They wanted to know who we were, particularly because we were so close to the front. We could not speak any Russian. We feared that we will again be interned. We were kept for several hours. There seemed to be no end to the questioning.
I decided to escape. While running, I was noticed by another military guard, who shot at me. The bullet hit my shoulder. I fell down, half dead. I remained on the ground, in a pool of blood, most of the night. I was unable to get any help, since the front was so near and the Germans (kept) on bombarding the roads. It was only the next day, that I was taken to a Hospital. There I was operated on. The bullet was removed from my shoulder. It was a very painful operation.
From there I was taken to another hospital, and then to still another one, until I reached Lemberg. I was confined in the Lemberg hospital for a whole year, until I recuperated completely, I was well treated and was given excellent medical attention.
I left the hospital in 1945. I then returned to my home town Opatow. I did not find any Jews in Opatow. It was a chaotic time.
There was no stable government as of yet. The situation of the Jewish survivors was very tragic. The Poles did not relish the sight of any Jewish survivors. A lot of them said, that if Hitler failed to murder ANY Jews, we will complete the job. And this is what happened to many.
A bloody pogrom took place in Kielce, with close to 50 victims.
Several Jews who returned to Opatow were shot by the Poles. I decided to immediately leave Opatow. From Opatow I went to lower Silesia, where a semblance of Jewish life was being reestablished. There I met a number of my landsleit from Opatow.
And fortunately, I survived.
Now I live in Toronto, Canada. I was brought here by my older sister. I have here a number of relatives. My wife is also from Opatow. She was born there. Her maiden name was Pearl Sperling. She also survived the tragic hell of Hitlerism, from 1940 to 1945. She was only 15 years old when she was brought to Skarzhisk as a slave laborer in an ammunition factory. The conditions were horrendous.
We met each other after liberation, got married and left for Canada. The Hitlerite bandits did not succeed to kill all Jews from Opatow. Some several hundred survived. Here in Toronto, I met quite a number of them. May they be blessed with good health and long life. I also met some landsleit who came to Canada many years ago, before the war. Several Apter organizations function here in Toronto and they are doing very good work. My wife and I joined them, and we are doing our best on behalf of our towns people from Opatow.
"I was alive when I woke up, but the man was dead. This was his last eternal sleep."