This testimony is the first chapter, “The Aktion”, in a book by Noah Lasman, “Fifty kilometers from Treblinka”.
Translated from Hebrew by Mr. Yuval Romano.
The book describes the liquidation of the Jewish communities of small towns not far from the Polish capital and near the Treblinka death camp. It includes a description of the tactics of cunning and deceit by the Nazis, manifestations of hostility, indifference and help from the Polish population, an escape from the ghetto and the deportations, searching for hiding place in tunnels and trenches, a fate without hope under conditions of persecution and manhunts. The main theme of the book is the struggle for survival of a group of young people who are trying to hold by ingenuity, resourcefulness and non-surrender in front of the terrible blows of the enemy.
The book is based on the authentic experiences of the author and is a shocking document about the fate of Jewish groups and individuals during the Holocaust.
Published by permission of: “Moreshet”, The Mordechai Anielewicz Memorial House, Tel Aviv.
The Jewish Quarter of Siedlce hermetically closed in November 1941. Since then only working groups employed at forced labor outside the ghetto could exit. They would leave early in the morning and return late in the evening. During working hours they were watched, so they do not come into contact with the Polish population, not buy anything and not transfer goods into the ghetto. Nevertheless, in some work places they sometimes managed to buy and smuggle bread, potatoes or a piece of pork into a ghetto. A Pole who sold merchandise to Jews demanded prices higher than those prevailing in the market, but they were considerably lower than those in the ghetto.
The situation in the ghetto was terrible. First of all, the density of dwellings and the lack of basic sanitation supplies caused a typhus epidemic in the winter of 1941-1942, which caused many casualties among the residents. There was hardly any family that had not buried any of its sons during this period. The Jewish population, which has been previously restricted in financial dealings with the Polish population, now lost the basis for existence due to the strict isolation. The craftsmen had no one to produce for. The main form of livelihood was barter. The men were forced to sell not only valuables but also their clothes. “Luckily” for them, the war caused delays in the supply of clothing and other industrial products, and as a result the market outside the ghetto was very hungry for goods.
The Jewish Quarter was cut off from the Aryan population, from economic life and from the region’s supply chain, but was not cut off sources of information, which the Germans fed the “Nebbland residents’ newly established in this part of Poland. The newspaper “Gazeta Zidobskh” magazine, edited in Krakow and is aimed at Jewish readers arrived regularly. There was little politics, but spoke a lot about the need to improve the productivity of the Jewish population in the ghettos and the blessings of labor camps outside the ghettos. It said that there the worker are better fed and they can enjoy the gifts of nature – free air and free sun. These reports pointed to the fact, because in the area of the Generalgouvernement the same thing happened, which was well known in the Siedlce district: the Germans hastily transferred men, mainly youth, to concentration camps.
It was also possible to regularly obtain a newspaper intended for the Poles – “Novi Kurier Warszawski”. Nothing was written about the fate of the Jews of the Generalgouvernement. The Jews were mentioned every day as the source of all evil. They brought about the fall of Poland, they caused the world to degenerate by creating democracies in the West and Communism in the East. They wiped out half the population of Europe, during the Middle Ages, by passing the cholera epidemic and now strive to do so by spreading typhus. If any leader in the West and the East was not a Jew, then he was at least the servant of the Jews.
The reports from the fronts were received with great thirst, but that summer they were not at all encouraging. Everyone understood that the fate of the Jewish public, like the fate of all the peoples of Europe, was connected to the final outcome of the campaign, which would depend on the outcome on the battlefield. Unfortunately, that summer the Germans reached the peak of their conquests. In Africa they threatened Alexandria, in Russia they had already reached the Volga and the oil fields of Caucasus. There seemed to be no power to stop them. Still, people did not despair, and they took comfort in the fact that the lengthening of the front and the supply lines would eventually weaken the power of the aggressors.
Another source of information was information that went from mouth to mouth and it was not always clear what their origins were. In the winter, immediately after the closure of the ghetto, there was a rumor that mass murders of Jews were taking place in the territories of Ukraine and Belorussia. The Germans would order all the Jewish residents of a certain town to gather in the local market. They would be transferred to a nearby forest and shot to death. After that, the inhabitants of the area buried the dead victims in the mass graves together with the wounded who were still alive. The people did not want to trust rumors. It was too much. While people became accustomed to the various deeds and cruelties of the Germans during the three years of occupation. It was also clear that terrorism would intensify, but what was the point of annihilating everyone?
Some claimed that mass executions had indeed taken place in the east. This was explained by the fact that according to the German’s perception, the entire population of those territories was infected with Bolshevism and the needs of total war demanded the punishment of the residents, who, due to their origins, were bearing the same unacceptable ideas. It was thought that with all their fanaticism and cruelty the Germans were a rational nation and the exploitation of free labor in those days of tough competition was an imperative of the hour for them. This statement was supported by the fact that the number of employed Jews increased continuously. The Judenrat was also interested in sources of employment in the area. They thought that this might protect the youth from being sent to more distant camps and also to gloss over the German decrees.
There were also those who thought the Messiah was coming, who drew conclusions from the fact that 1942 consists of the same digits as 1492 – the year of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the intensification of the Inquisition. It was difficult to find the paralels. The Spaniards were not racists and the Jews who moved into the bosom of the church could reach the highest levels in the United Kingdom. Wealthy people could leave Spain and the neighboring countries were open to them. The Jews in Poland were scum because of their “sub-human race” and no conversion was possible. Deportation beyond the reach of the German government was impossible. What might have happened was not known, but it would be horrifying.
From May there were vague rumors that in the Lublin region and in Lublin itself there had been mass Aktions of deportation of Jews. On the other hand, nothing was known about the destination of the deportees. It was said that the Germans had taken part in the Aktions, Polish police and units of Własow. Workers from the ghetto who worked at the railway station told us in July that they saw long trains with locked cars, in which people were transported in the direction of Malkinia. This fact confirmed rumors about the German plans to settle the Jews in the East, in the Smolensk region. Other reports, which no one trusted because they seemed inhuman, spoke of horrific camps. It is said that people are burned there and that the Germans make soap out of human fat. What sick mind could have invented such madness? In general, all those rumors were too horrifying to think of as real.
Every day everyone was preoccupied with ongoing matters that demanded immediate solutions. How to hold on for another day? Every day would bring hell closer, this was life in the ghetto. At the end of July rumors spread that in the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest Jewish center, which was only about a hundred kilometers away, unusual acts were taking place. People are kidnapped in the streets and transported en-masse to the east.
At the same time, a strange incident took place, which had brought optimism to many ghetto residents. Fischer, the governor of the Warsaw district, visited the governor of Siedlce. He must have heard something about the rumors surrounding the Jews and decided to meet with their representatives. The Judenrat received an order that the representatives of the ghetto immediately report to the square in front of the main gate. It gave rise to anxiety. The visits of lesser officials always led to new decrees: the imposition of ransom, the reduction of the ghetto area, or the recruitment of young people to remote labor camps. Who knows, what might come to the mind of a ruler like this, who has the Jews’ fate is in his hands? Perhaps this means expulsion of some of the inhabitants of the ghetto? In a statement on the meeting, it was not clear who was referried to by “representatives of the ghetto.” The head of the Judenrat, Dr. Lebel, decided that all the functionaries must be present, and those who had received the message reported: council members, clerks, and local police equipped with hats and clubs.
After a while, a few cars arrived. Fischer with his entourage, the district governor with his senior officials and an armed gendarmerie unit as an escort. The local German officials knew the Gestapo chief – Fabis, and the inspector Harbiits – Emmett Sontag. The senior members of the Judenrat came to Fischer and were presented by the district governor himself. It is clear that the representatives of the “sub-person” did not have their hands shaken. After that, he was the district governor. He explained clearly and as a matter of fact, how satisfied he was with the fact that the Jewish population in the ghetto contributes so much to increase the German war effort. He personally tries to increase the productivity of the Jewish public. Workshops will be established in the future, in which the Jews would find employment, each in his profession, and it will increase the value of work and will allow the improvement of supply to the population. The visit ended. The chieftain got into his car, waved to the people in his hand as a farewell, and then the whole gang of Germans followed, leaving not a single person. It was an unusual thing that summer.
This short visit aroused a wave of optimism in all circles of the ghetto public. Some sought the source of the Governor’s generous words in the Allied demands to ease the decrees against the Jews in occupied Europe. They deluded themselves, that a new, more humane chapter would be opened in the life of the ghetto, which would make it possible to hold out until the end of the war. As always, young small-believers were found, who proved that the Germans had no human intentions at all. They claimed that Fischer’s visit was intended to lull the Jews to sleep, and that the situation should now be expected to worsen. They were silenced and not given a chance to speak their minds. The counter-arguments were logical. The authorities have not considered public opinion and have no need to make an effort to “put them to sleep”. They themselves decided on every issue unilaterally and the Jewish side was forced to accept and carry out any order. Even if it ended with death. Why did Fischer need to prepare this presentation and a personal address to the representatives of the ghetto? Such a thing has never happened before, even to the county governor, who is at a much lower stage in the ranks.
The Schulzeft family, of four, deported from Wloclawek, lived in the ghetto in a small side alley. In the evening, all the news and rumors of that day were discussed. The curfew began at seven in the evening and at the end of the summer it was still full light. The stifling light and heat did not allow the day to end early. Masha, who worked in a hospital voluntarily and without pay, told of an exceptional patient.
– Yesterday morning, a policeman brought a wounded refugee boy from Warsaw. He says that the Germans have been conducting mass searches for a month. But this time they do not kidnap men for work or hostages. Just take everyone from the houses or the streets, men, women and children, regardless of age or work capability. They are all taken to the train station and sent in freight cars.
And that was the story of the boy; many thought they were being deported east, but they were not. He was also caught and led to the station with thousands of others. Many were murdered on the way, in Warsaw. Afterwards they were loaded and locked as animals in freight cars, 100-150 people in each car without food or drink. There was not enough space to stand. He argues that this is not the way to transport people, if they intend to settle them and employ them. This is how people are sent to be murdered. The people were dying there standing up for lack of air and thirst. The doors were closed from the outside and around the portholes barbed wire was stretched. Two young men moved the barbed wire in his car. With hands wrapped in rags they spaced it so that a person can slip between them. In this way, a few young people jumped out of the car aided by the others, who helped them climb up. Ukrainians sat on the roofs of the cars and shot anyone who jumped. This boy managed to make it. He was lightly wounded in the hand. Even the bone had not been damaged. If no serious infection develops, he will recover quickly. He did not lose much blood, but the hand swelled around the wound. He himself had put on some dirty rag and there might be complications.
The boy jumped near the village of Lohov on the Warsaw-Bialystok line, not far from the Bug River, before Malkinia. He fell on a pile of sand near the tracks, heard shots and did not notice that he had been hit. The train passed and he walked along the tracks because he wanted to meet those who jumped before him. A few hundred yards away he found a corpse, all bloody. Only then did he notice that his hand had been hit. He tore a piece of cloth from the dead man’s shirt and wrapped his arm with it.
He avoided entering the villages and overtook them via trails in the fields. On the way he ate beetroot, he says that for the first time in three years he has eaten well. He tried to enter isolated shacks, but they all expelled him. Only one villager felt pity for him and gave him a slice of bread, but they did not let him into his house. He was scared. He told him that the road led to Wangerov and on to Siedlce. There are two Jewish ghettos in these towns and perhaps they’ll help him there. The farmer advised him to look for hiding and sleep during the day, and continue on his way only at night. He said, “People like you are being hunted here, not just by the Germans or the blue police.” He heard the farmer’s advice and went to sleep and went to sleep in a bunch of grain.
After sunset, he continued walking. He was exhausted. It’s been a while since he had walked this long. Warts covered his feet. He was lucky, did not run into the Germans and was twice helped by villagers. From one of them he learned that it was worth his while to bypass Vengerov, because the day before a unit of gendarmes had arrived. The other man even let him into his house, fed him, and told him that in the nearby town of Mokobody, Jews from Siedlce were working daily. In the market square, they smash stones brought from the fields to pave a road. Every morning they are brought in cars and in the evening, they are returned. He suggested that he hide in the mounds of stones early in the morning and then join the workers.
He followed the advice of the welcoming peasant. It turned out that they were not Jews from the ghetto but from the camp on Brzeska Street. They helped him. He did not even tell them the story of his jump from the train because he was afraid that it would come to the ears of the German foremen. They gave him a drink and food and put a hammer in his hands to smash stones.
In the camp, he had no chance of surviving because of the wound, so they suggested that he join the returning workers at night and escape before entering the camp while getting off the truck.
He lay in a potato field until night and went to the ghetto as instructed. He knew he was not allowed to enter the main gate. He made his way down the fields toward the city garden. Next to the garden he entered the houses and continued to move. He crawled into the ghetto. There he lay down in front of one of the houses. In the morning, Motek, “our” policeman, found him and brought him to a hospital. Despite the terrible conditions prevailing, he feels like in a rest home. He was given two servings of soup a day and a slice of bread with coffee.
- And what will happen when he recovers?
- who knows?And what will happen to us? If there were no changes and would be healthy enough, he could go to work instead of someone with the means to pay for his replacement.
- This is not at all simple.The number of people with means is decreasing.
The Solzafts’ living conditions were relatively reasonable. They had a separate room on the top floor of a two-story house. The father, a carpenter by profession, installed a large bunk built of floor boards, which occupied nearly half of the room. Downstairs he slept with his wife and the top shelf with a partition in the middle was for Masha and her younger brother Henick.
The house where the Schulzaft family lived had nineteen rooms, including kitchens and a large attic. Twenty-three families and a few individuals lived there, a total of 127 people. In the winter there were more residents, but seven of them died and in the last few months nine young men were taken to the camps. In contrast, several new residents were added. These were mostly young people who came by chance. As in all other houses, the most problematic places were the communal kitchens. Each of the families had their own heating materials kept in rooms and a time-slot for using the stove. With all good will, it was difficult to maintain a rigid time frame. It was customary to lend a piece of wood or a glass of warm water. Among the women, quarrels broke out over the stirring of a pot or even over a spoonful of porridge that someone had tasted. Things also came to blows, but the occupants of the house themselves usually made peace. The Jewish police had to intervene in serious disputes. After a few hours of detention, the main foes would be set free, threatened to exacerbate the punishment in the future. Masha’s father saved his family this problem by placing his own small iron stove called “goat” and its chimney reached the top of the window. The stove caught relatively a lot of space, but in the winter, it warmed the room at least. It was not so in the summer, even when they opened the windows and the door, the heat was unbearable when cooking.
Day after day passed as a nightmare in the race after filling the stomach of the family, no matter what with, and in digesting rumors of the terrible things happening somewhere far away, hoping that it will ever be better and man will be full every day.
On Thursday, August 20th, the Germans demanded that several dozen workers report immediately at the side of the railway tracks. The hinges of one of the freight cars were worn out and there was an urgent need to move the contents into one car. It is not known how the rumor spread that in the car the people witnessed a horrifying sight: about one hundred and fifty twisted corpses, men, women and children. The floor of the carriage was covered with quicklime. People died of thirst and heat.
Under the supervision of SS men who accompanied the “Death Train”, all the bodies were transferred to wagons. Of course, they did not spare blows with guns’ butts until bleeding. All the bodies were taken to the Jewish cemetery, which was about three kilometers away and buried in a mass grave.
The ghetto was in turmoil. Indeed, entire Jewish cities were evacuated! It is not deportation, it is death, some people have tried to calm themselves down. It must concern only the big cities: Warsaw, Lublin, Ardom. The small towns achieved a high degree of productivity and the Jews were needed by the Germans.
The next day tension and anxiety increased. The ghetto had received new tragic news. An Aktion took place in Minsk Mazowiecki, fifty kilometers away from Siedlce. There was talks of a partial deportation of Jews. Others said that the place was completely cleared of Jews and that it was Judenrein. It was very close. Many had relatives there. In Minsk Mazowiecki had a Jewish center more or less of the same size as Siedlce. It was concluded that such actions were not confined to large cities. There was talk about Treblinka as a destination station. That evening, the workers at the railway station reported that the Polish police had been ordered to surround the ghetto in the early hours of the morning. Rumors circulated that what happened in Warsaw, Minsk and Radom, the Germans would do in Siedlce too. Many could not close their eyes. Others, considering the deportation, packed their belongings. There were those who thought of hiding somewhere in the ghetto. Young people thought that it was better to escape on the way. The members of the Judenrat denied the rumors. They claimed that nothing like this could happen here.
The night was warm and few managed to fall asleep. There were shots in the ghetto. At dawn, the shooting intensified. These were aimed at young people who tried to escape from the ghetto through the barbed-wire fence. People went from house to house and gathered news. Someone came to the Schulzeft family’s home and announced:
The ghetto is surrounded by gendarmes, Gestapo,Sonder-dynasty and civilian police. Apparently, no one would work today.
Masha’s father, who was an optimist by nature, said:
- Apparently they are carrying out a deportation operation again. Maybe we’ll move to a new place of residence, Smolensk. It also has an advantage. We will be close to the front and the Red Army will be early to release us. They also say that there are large-scale partisans working there. Perhaps in time they could be contacted. There is also the Russian civilian population and a better attitude towards Jews. Now we just have to decide what to pack and take with us.
- We do not have many things, but what we have – we need. Said the mother.
Masha pulled out an old dusty suitcase from under the bed, a remnant of better times in Wloclawek and said:
- Here you can pack a large part of our possessions, but it will be very heavy.
- After all, they will not lead us to Smolensk by foot. Even the station is a long way.
- No choice.Our family has four adults. In others, the situation is worse. They have small children. We’ll be together and we’ll carry by turns. Apart from that we have two backpacks. From Mother’s kerchief you can make a bundle. You just have to decide what to take.
The mother tentatively removed objects from the shelves. A cabinet was long gone. In the meantime, the neighbors peered and asked questions that no one could answer.
- Where will we be led?
- Will we go by train?
- How to dress the children?
- What should we take for the trip?
Vladek, one of the few young people from Warsaw, tall, broad-shoulders, dark, had already managed to calculate. If there were 20,000 people in the ghetto and all will be sent at the same time, 50 people with their belongings in each car, 400 cars would be needed, that is ten trains. This is not technically feasible. Siedlce trains junction was anyway overloaded with transports to the East.
- If you’re so smart, tell us what to do?
- No one can say it to others, but I will not go.
- You’re mad! They’ll murder you!
- There is a risk, but if we go to the streets the danger will be greater. After all, you’re talking about deportation. The Germans did not say so. And maybe there is some truth in what is said about the mass summary executions of Jews? Do any of us know the fate of the Jews recently evacuated from Warsaw?
- You’re here alone and it’s easier for you to decide your fate, but everyone here has a family here and must think of others.
- This is the advantage of solitude.
The women began to weep, packed their belongings in tears. They examined whether children and adults are dressed properly, though no one knew what it meant to be dressed appropriately. They also had to take any foodstuffs and water. Most homes did not have a lot of food and whatever they had – they stuffed into their pockets.
Despite the ban, someone came running from nearby to obtain information. He learned nothing, of course. Everyone faced the same mystery. What did the Germans plan here? Every sensible person understood, as the day of the order to wear the Yellow Star and the closing day of the ghetto were steps in persecution of Jews, this day is also a new stage, no less important, and perhaps even more crucial.
The people were ready to leave, but the streets were empty. All were waiting for the order, even that has been declared having to go outside. Now, while waiting nervously began discussions on the new situation and the possibilities that could open by the evacuation. One neighbor, Mr. Ickowicz, refugee from Fabianitzh with a wife and two toddlers, said:
- We know from experience that with every new German decree – the Jewish situation worsens.
In fact, I do not know how you can further worsen our situation. Recently it has been impossible to make a living. The Germans do not pay for slave labor, people are starving. No one will hold another winter like the last year.
His wife, white-haired despite her young age, interrupted.
- True, but here we have a corner, at least. There, in Smolensk, they’ll throw us in some station and we will not have this, even. Winter there is also more difficult and what will happen to us and the kids? – she wept.
– Our fate will be the same as that everyone. Only the Master-of-the world can save us.
– We cannot wait for Salvation from heaven – intervened Masha – you would think that the Germans have got God on their side as claimed ob the buckle their belts, ” Gott Mit rape” (God with us). Until now God really stands beside them.
Such comments from Masha typically evoked the opposition of one of the adults. But this time all were silent. Current affairs were more important. They began to consider the possibility of disobeying the order and hiding. One of the adults said:
- Do not get smart with the Germans. Assume that everyone remain in their homes. There’s probably no doubt that they are able to carry out their threats. They’ll move from house to house, apartment by apartment and shoot them all without exception. Hiding will be for the very few, mainly to individuals. If someone succeeds even that, what’s next? It seems that here in Siedlce no Jews will be left at all. This means having to move to another ghetto or a closed labor camp. We do not know what is happening there. Perhaps they’re being deported from there too? Finding refuge on the Aryan side is possible only for those who have Polish friends. No choice. We must go.
Several shots were heard. We’ve heard a cry from afar of someone injured. Shiver thrilled everyone. Suddenly, they realized that this might happen today to someone from their relatives or themselves. Masha said:
- Dad, maybe we will not go? Perhaps hide under the bed? They will not notice us.
- Masha, be wise, is it playing hide and seek? Suppose after they take them all, the Germans will check and not find us. What will be after this? where shall we go? How will we live? Of what? This is not a hunt, with whoever managed to run away can live peacefully until the next time. This time they caught us all. You’re an adult and knows what to do. You must decide for yourself whether to stay and hide.
- No, Dad, it is not out of the question. Anyway, good or bad, we should be together.
Shots rang again, longer this time. it came across Aslnobitz street, and Sokolowska. Someone came running and breathing with difficulty said:
- People of the Sonder-dynasty shoot them all in the “triangle”. Do not spare anyone. They kill even children.
The “Triangle” was the north part of the ghetto, behind Aslnobitz Street. No one understood why they’re killing everyone there.
- Great Lord! – cried Mrs. Ickowicz – the end of the world has arrived. Whoever heard of murdering innocent people? What else is in store for us? Why did I have children? So that sinners will kill them??
- Shut up – scolded her husband – this is not the time for your hysteria. You are not alone and you’re not the only mother here.
Everyone began to calm her down. Everyone understood very well that hysteria may infect others and it was a luxury no one can afford these prevailing circumstances. If the Germans will hear cries and screams they’ll come here and certainly will cause victims. From the experience of three years of occupation, we knew not to draw the attention of his oppressor. Again they began to guess what awaited them and ask what to do. Some of the young people who have already decided to hide now changed their plan. They will leave with the others, to see how things would develop and then will decide to flee or stay with the rest of the family. Only Vladek determined to find a hiding place in the attic.
The attic a low sloping ceiling. In the corner was a huge box with a double bottom. Vladek decided it was best suited as a hideaway. Meanwhile he prepared buckets with water and asked for donations of foodstuffs, which in any case they’ll not be able to take with them. Nobody had surplus bread, but they contributed potatoes, some beans, semolina, beetroot. He did not have an idea how to cook all of these, but in time of need he’d be able to gnaw raw vegetables or immersed in water and hold out in the attic for a while.
Vladek came to the ghetto in Siedlce in March after escaping from the camp in Mrozi, where he worked in the construction of a railroad for Kirchhoff company. He was not liked by the Meister and decided that he had to flee. Here he found a corner and suffered from hunger. He used to rent himself as a substitute for forced labor. Before the war he was a second-year law student at the University of Warsaw.
Masha praised him and envied his simple decision. She would prefer to hide with him, but she could not abandon her family. Her mother was never healthy. Hanik also weak, during the last two years he grew up and became a young guy, but food shortages took their toll. In fact, only Masha and her father were capable to deal with difficulties. She was determined to go with them.
It was almost seven when shouts in German, “Raosghn” Yiddish “Arois” and Polish “Vihodz’itz” were heard again. People strapped bundles and backpacks on their backs, some had suitcases. Waves of people began to flow from other houses. Many were dressed in their finest clothes they have left for good times. Though the day a was hot sunny August day, some wore a coat or warm jacket. Each person wanted to start in the new place properly equipped.
The masses streamed toward the square in front of the burned synagogue. In the parade neighbors, friends and relatives met. People whispered to each other surmises, conjectures, talk-gossip or news. But mostly questions who no one would answer.
It was not far. In the Ghetto, there was no place too remote. Yet some of the crowd, which carried heavy suitcases or bundles, was tired. The day was torrid. Occasional shots were heard coming from the remote streets. This column had no fallen victims, yet. They were walking on the road and soon reached the square. Already at the corner of the street they noticed they’re not the first to arrive. In the square were people sitting here and there, with bundles and packages and talking in whispers. They also were ordered to sit down. They were all panting and sweating from lugging their luggage. Everyone knew that this was just the beginning of a journey of unknown length. Quietly they passed on information to each other.
It was alleged that hundreds of people were killed. Victims were random people, workers with special certificates who swarmed, as in any other morning, to leave the ghetto. There were also stray bullets that hit women, men and children indiscriminately. There was also talk about the murder of all residents of the “triangle”. They were gathered in the yard of a house and shot. These were news from unknown sources. No one has seen, but heard. Barrage of shots from that direction served as the basis for stories.
The square was filled quickly and overcrowding was a great deal. Along the barbed-wire fence that separated the Jewish quarter from the Aryan side stood and walked uniformed German, Polish police and soldiers from Vlasov. Members of Vlasov were Russian POWs, mostly Ukrainians, who went to the service of the enemy. On both sides of the main entrance were stationed two heavy machine guns with German teams nearby. The square was full but people kept coming. On the streets where evacuation was conducted frequent shots were heard. All residents must stand in the square by 10 o’clock. For those evading – capital punishment awaited.
The only Jews who could move around were the officers with a nominal power: hats, clubs and ribbons with the inscription “Yiddishe Aordnongs-Folitzii”. They also were better dressed than the “citizens”. The role forced them to demonstrate graces of the Ministry. They wore high boots, riding pants and well-cut cloths or jackets. Their task now was to accompany the Germans and summon occupants of the houses. In some homes they even superficially examined whether all tenants left. Not once have the Germans treated them as late and ordered them to go out and join the crowd in the square. It happened they shot them all in by machine gun, without listening to any explanation. The Ukrainians did not usually spare anybody. Polish police fired mostly just in front of the Germans. When they were alone contented themselves with bribes given by the victims. Jewish policemen tried to warn and advised people how to behave, but did not always help. They also brought news about events in various parts of the ghetto. Of course, the distance between the master race murderers and their accomplices was always maintained. The Jewish policemen were barely tolerable.
Pressure in the square was growing. Many were thirsty. The children wailed. They wanted to drink and use the toilettes. Member of the Judenrat Weintraub and Mr. Forman who spoke better German got up and walked to the front gate. They wanted to ask the German officer for water for the thirsty. When they approached the gate, few shots were fired and both fell dead. At that moment one of the machine guns opened fire and several people were injured. There were shouts: “Sit! Everyone must sit!” At few minutes intervals, they now shot above the sitters’ heads and thus denied the possibility of movement. Help was not submitted to the wounded and bleeding. It was clear that the seriously injured will not be able to go. Minutes passed, and people kept coming. Wounded arrived and new reports of dead kept coming. Terror and despair rose. The heat increased. Thirst intensified. The children were crying.
The walking wounded were referred to the Jewish hospital. This created the illusion of a humanitarian attitude. Fabis, the local Gestapo chief, also ordered the head of the Judenrat, Dr. Lebel accompany the wounded.
At eleven special liquidation units arrived, “Frnictongs-Tropen” consisting of Germans and Ukrainians. The commander of those units and the head of the local “Arbeits-Emmett” had a brief argument. One demanded that all Jews be transported and the other wanted to keep as large a number as possible of young men and professionals for work. After two o’clock, an order that all men aged 16 to 45 go out from the crowd. Not all men have showed up. Many preferred to stay with their relatives. Masha’s family remains united.
The men were marched into Boz’nitzn’nh Street. Here were German, Ukrainian and Polish police in two rows. A selection was made. Those considered fit for work were sent to the right and the unfit – to the left and back to the square. The qualifications were decided by a glance. People moved one at a time between rows of murderers and were beaten with fists, batons and rifle butts. At the end was the director of the “Arbeits-Emmett” determining by lifting a finger, who will stay and who will return to the transport. Some well-dressed people were particularly badly beaten up so they could not reach the end of the row. They are simply thrown away and killed by “a mercy shot”. At four in the afternoon approximately 1,500 men were transferred to the “Triangle” that was sponsored by Sonder-dynasty.
The Germans and Ukrainian militiamen were, in the meantime, enjoying target practice in the square. Anyone who aroused attention was being targeted: a long-bearded man, a well-dressed man, a woman with a hat and everyone who raised his head. In such a densely populated range, each shot hit someone and the number of casualties was increased. The thirst was unbearable. Many had their needs in place, sitting, without taking off clothes.
In the evening, the Gestapo allowed police to distribute water for the thirsty. All night long people stayed in the “Umshlag-Platz” as the square in front of the burnt synagogue was immediately dubbed. Fabis brought urban firefighters at night, who sprayed water on the thirsty crowd. The Germans were still busy in the area of the ghetto in search of hiding people. Individuals or entire families were taken from their hiding places, the cellars and attics under the roof and shot on the spot. Several families were found in the bakery, about thirty people. All of them were executed by firing, after being stripped of their valuables. That night, they found and shot several hundred people.
In the late afternoon, the first group of about three thousand people was transferred. To the train station. Among them was also the Solzafts.
People were walking on the road at a slow pace. Almost everyone carried a backpack or briefcase. Mothers have led children. On both sides, front and back – uniformed guarded with armed precipitated the crowd. Everything was too slow for them.
In the streets, on sidewalks and out the windows of the houses – the Polish population watched this parade. Some – with compassion for the persecuted and others for whom the Jews were the source of all evil, watched with great satisfaction the carrying out of the slogan “Poland without Jews”.
The Solzafts marched together. Mom went first ith Masha, Dad was back with Henik. The father was carrying a suitcase on his shoulders and Henik helped him from behind. He himself carried a backpack and his hands were vacant. The cargo hampered the father very much and he slowed down. Stopping was forbidden. Those weighed down by their cargo just threw the burden on the street. The last ones in the back rows were executed by a shot.
Mr. Solzaft carried the baggage with his remaining strength. The content of the suitcase was supposed to help start life in a new place. The people walking behind urged him, he began to move to the side of the column with Henik. When he was already at the end of the column he dropped the suitcase and fell with it onto the sidewalk. A Ukrainian came by, shot and hit him in the chest. Henik leaned over his father in despair and shrieked “Dad!”
The Ukrainian fired again, this time at Henik’s head and shouted: ” Sperm of Jews, drop dead together!”
Henik had died on the spot. Mr. Solzaft was injured and lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness and opened his eyes, he first saw his son wallowing in his blood and the mutilated trunk with all the contents scattered: clothes and a few carpentry-tools. Beyond that lay more bundles, suitcases, packages and some dead. Every once in a while, someone jumps quickly from the neighboring houses, grab a package and take it hurriedly into the house. Mr. Solzaft crept to Henik and glanced at his battered and dead face. He still did not understand that his son was gone. He sat next to him and when he began to realize he remembered he had a wife and daughter, and he must join them. He stood up and began hopping toward the train station, leaving behind a trail of blood. Near the railway he met a gendarme, who, without uttering a word, pointed the gun at his temple and pulled the trigger.
After a while peasant carts came, ordered by the authorities the same day. Jewish policemen were now loading the corpses of the victims on carts. They were taken to the Jewish cemetery, where thrown by workers under the supervision of gendarmes to mass graves. The farmers who were required to be bearers of corpses the graceful masters allowed to remove the dead clothes and shoes. It was their only reward.
While marching Masha saw that her father and Henik go to the left side of the column. She realized that they did it so those following them do not push them. After this she heard close shots and Henik’s scream. Inadvertently she wanted to go there, but her mother forbade her.
All the way to the railroad platform the mother and daughter believed that Father and Henik were marching somewhere behind. At the platform, it turned out the cars had not yet arrived. Again, everyone was ordered to sit down. Move around was forbidden. Questions, answers and information were passed around from one to another. Someone brought up on the death of the father and son. In fact they saw how they were shot and fell. Considering the experience of the last few hours their fate was clear, even if injured. The mother was broken. Masha now had to be the strongest in the bereaved family. She encouraged the mother. She said things she did not believe herself.
- They probably added them to another group. After all, most people have not left the ghetto
The people were very thirsty and began to cry: water! water! Wasser! Wasser! In response, the Germans fired over the heads of those sitting. Anxiety overcame thirst. There was silence. Only a few children continued to wail.
Masha remembered the story of the wounded Warsaw resident who fled the transport column. He said that this isn’t how you transfer people to a new place, this is how you send people to death. This happened a week ago, but it seemed like years passed to Masha. It occurred to her: even if it’s an expulsion to another place. Who will get there alive?
Suddenly, the mother said:
- We don’t know what happened to father and Henik, but we know what’s going on here, and no longer expect anything good. I ask not to worry about me. If you will have any chance to escape, use it. My fate will be like all the others. It seems that it was God’s will. I would not want you to have qualms about me. You just cannot help me in any way. Here no one can help others. You have a chance of escape because the young.
- Mom, there’s nothing to talk about. You will not remain alone. Apart from this there is no point in talking about escape. We can not move, we are sitting at the dock and waiting for cars. Even inside the car they’ll certainly keep us safe. And perhaps the cars will have better conditions?
She did not believe that herself. Inwardly she admitted that Mom was right, but the thought itself seemed as a betrayal. She’ll never do it. She hugged her mother and whispered:
- Masnka, you must do this not only for you but also for us. Someone must tell.
- Mom, you SHALL tell the tale yourself.
Shots rang out. She knew that every shot was a dead man. Well they are already in place, here on the platform. But father and Henik? I wish it would end once and for all! And the thirst! It’s late and people did not drink or eat since the morning, but thirst is stronger than hunger. She noticed that someone urinated into a cup and gave it to a child to drink. She didn’t even feel an emotion of disgust. It’s wet – she thought. Master of the Universe! Where have we reached and what’s still awaits us? How can human beings reach such a situation? They could kill us instantly!