This chapter is a summary of the book “From the Debris“, published by Am Oved on TS”D, 1944. The Yiddish origin is in the Labonn archives of the labor movement, in Tel Aviv.
Shlomo Rosen came to Eretz-Israel as a refugee through Lithuania, Russia, Japan and China, in 1941. The book was written during the trip to Israel, from Hong Kong to Singapore. Shlomo Rosen fell in battle for the defense of Kfar Etzion. A candle in his memory is lit on this site.
Translated from Hebrew by Mr. Yuval Romano.
Elul of TRTZ”T (1939). I’m infinitely happy. The secretariat of “HaShomer HaDati” in Poland has approved me as a candidate in the next “MaApilim” group. I waited impatiently for the telegram that’ll announce the immigration date. Every day, I met with senior members of my city, who were also preparing for this immigration.
Our nervousness grows from day to day. For two weeks now we have been waiting for the telegram to come and it was lingering. In the meantime, stormy days came, and in the streets was a wind of war. While the Polish government is about to announce a draft, who knows if it will be possible to travel at all?
The war breaks out
Today the draft order was issued. For the first time in my life I hear weeping in the streets of the city. Jews and Christians cry alike. From time to time, runners run out of the town hall, distributing the draft orders among the city’s residents. An event is chasing an event. Today a state of emergency is declared in the city, the next day a state of war is declared. In all this, I turn around, and I do not know if the center will be able to send our group of immigrants before the outbreak of the war.
At midday I went out to the street to hear the radio messages. Just then Polish President Moscicki spoke and announced that today; September 1st, 1939, war broke out between Germany and Poland. German army entered Polish territory and German air-fighters bombed several Polish cities. On Friday evening, at dusk, there have been talks about bombed cities: Warsaw, Krakow, Toomasob – Mazobitzki and Radom – all cities where members of the group live.
On Saturday, the second day of the war; the first alarm was heard in town. Several German reconnaissance planes were seen several times over the city. We began to get used to the sirens, because the first air strikes did not have any serious consequences, but day by day the bombardments and damage to property increased.
Wednesday, the 6th day of the war. I go out to the street to hear a little radio news and see what is happening in the city. Today the bombs caused a significant number of deaths. The state gasoline station was damaged, and a train going to the same station. Bombs fall everywhere, without distinguishing between Jews and non-Jews.
Germans are said to constantly bomb our city because Siedlce is the main rout of flight of Warsaw refugees who began fleeing to the east of the country. Pilsudski Street, through which passed the road from Warsaw to Brisk, was crowded with fleeing cars. The difficulty in obtaining gasoline increased day by day, and many cars were “stuck” in the city and simply abandoned. After every attack from the air I visit the members of our group: Rachel, Mina and Yosef. I am satisfied that nothing has happened in their vicinity.
A shudder passes through my body as I remember this day. It was Thursday, the September 7th, the seventh day of the war. As I lay in bed, I heard a loud crack. The blows of the bombs hit me and I got up from the bed. Before I left, I glanced, as usual, at the satchel laying in the corner, packed since I’ve stated preparing for immigration. The bag was packed and ready so that at any moment I could put it on my shoulder and set off.
It’s about ten-thirty. I am standing outside, next to a speaker, and listening to news on the state of the war. Suddenly there was the noise of airplanes’ engines and the crowd fled in panic in all directions. The alarm signal was given in a delay.
In the previous bombings few houses were destroyed in the outskirts of the city. They were one-story houses or small wooden huts. I was tempted to believe that a big house was a better shelter. So I ran to the big house on Shankebitz Street, number 44, and hid in the hallway. Along with me were about 15 – 20 people. I remember a young woman carrying her baby, a black chimneys’ sweeper, with a dirty work belt wrapped around his waist. The chimney sweeper, a young Christian, stood and I could watch his movements. I remember, he came running into the hallway where we stood, eyed the ceiling stepped aside, away from under the iron girder in the ceiling. I understood his apprehension and thought, and looked at the ceiling too, as if seeking a safer place. Finally, I realized I’d better stand still in the corridor, on the first level.
I had not finished the course of my thoughts and a hail of bombs rained down around us, and before I got myself together – Bang! – a bomb fell on our house. After a moment, the whole house collapsed on us and we were in darkness and suffocation. I did not see anything around me, I just felt terrible dust. I strained to remove whatever blocked my way, but in vain. I was in a state of fainting and only after a while I heard choked voices. Someone shouted: “Help!” Another voice shouted, “Shema Israel,” a woman sobbed loudly: “My child!” and the voice of a gentile was heard: “Jesus, save us!” I realized that all the people in the corridor were covered with debris, like me. What should I do? I was struck by despair. My burial place will be here, here I shall die – under these ruins. I asked myself: Did I say goodbye to my friends and relatives before the aliyah in order to die in a living grave? Was it for this purpose that I received the permit for aliyah from my group? Along with the general chorus of cries for help of all the people I whispered words that expressed my feelings at that time.
Something moved over my head and suddenly a small opening opened up near me. I got to see the light again. I felt like a blind man whose eyes suddenly opened up to see. Someone, who was before me, moved and climbed up to the side where the light came from. It was the window opening next to the stairs. I helped the person who was in front of me to climb and emerge, and after clearing the place for me, I too moved. I climbed over unrecognizable things. A jumble of broken bricks and wood, soft things, maybe organs of the dead or wounded. My head hit something. I was drawn into the breach from which the light came. Another climb, a dash, and I was saved.
When I came out alive I did not know what to do. First of all, I ran with all my strength to get away from the place of destruction. I moved to the courtyard passage of 44 Sankbitz Street, on to Feinkna Street, and from there across Sfitalna alley, and only now heard and realized, the bombing was still ongoing and the entire area had falling bombs and collapsing houses. I did not know what was better for me, whether to run on or hide again in the shade of their ‘protective walls’ as before. I saw people running like forest-animals, their eyes bulging and their appearance and faces looking like wild people, because of the layer of clay and dust on them and their clothes.
Meanwhile there was a break in the bombing. I left the courtyard and headed to the places where my relatives and friends lived. Walking on the sidewalks was impossible, because you ran into mountains of bricks and dust of houses that collapsed. From within the house I heard heartbreaking cries for help. There is no one to save them. Every man ran madly to find his family and relatives, despite the danger that other parts of the walls might collapse. People who survived fall on each other’s neck. Crying and shouting can be heard to the sky. Everywhere in the center of the city were images of horror. Half an hour earlier there were large, beautiful houses here. Now out of their ruins emerge half-dead people.
I continued the way home. Next to the gate leading to the Feinkna Street, I was told that this part of the city is burning and probably our house is on fire too. I ran fast. I see the fire from afar and I cannot get near. I have to get around and go to my house from the other side. All fences are broken. I’m by the house. Entering via the door is impossible, because the strong fire is burning in the opposite wooden hut. Through a window I enter our apartment. There is no living soul in it. The heat of the fire in the opposite house come in through the open window. A neighbor appears and I ask him: “Where are my family members? Where is my grandmother, her daughter and all her family, are they still alive?” The neighbor assures me – they’re alive and are concerned about me. Where they are now – he does not know. I hurry back to the window and come into the room and I do not know what to do. I’m crazy, I do not know what world I am in. Should I save the rest of my belongings and the rest of the things in the room, or perhaps pour water here, so the other fire cannot get hold of our house? Or run again until I find a member of my family? I’m confused. But when I saw my neighbor taking out objects from his apartment – I did the same. I saved my tefillin and carry out my backpack. Another neighbor calls me to help people wetting the part of the house close to the fire. I listened to him and carried water from the well to the house. I sat on the first-floor window and helped pour water over the nearby wooden warehouses. Finally we went away in despair, for the fire has already caught the nearby wooden warehouses, and the geese’ and chickens’ coop.
I learned that my old grandmother and her family are now in the opposite courtyard – the fruit garden on 29/31 Sankebitz, and went there immediately. I found them all alive. They were worried about me and did not think they would see me alive. Now they would not let me go back to the house, to the place of the fire. There are many people sitting here in the yard, some on the bedclothes they saved, and some on the ground, leaning against a tree. People talk about who they hope to be seen, but do not know their whereabouts. One mourns the son who was killed in the bombing, and one is sorry for the silver lamps he left in the house that was burned down.
I had no patience to sit there for a long time. When I saw that the sky was quiet from the planes I went to Rachel’e, at her ‘new home’ in the opposite garden. Rachel’e and her mother were preparing to go. They had nothing to lose, after their house had been destroyed. I parted from her, feeling that I would not see her soon. On the way I met my friend – Dantziger. His house was destroyed by a bomb and he decided to leave for Pinsk on foot after the Sabbath. He was looking for travel-mates. As I walked away I thought I might as well go. I had no clear plan where and why to go with him. I really wanted to escape from this place of destruction. I already felt hungry after a whole day without food. Throughout the day I did not think about eating. When I cleared things from our apartment I saw bread but it never crossed my mind to take it with me, for it seemed unnecessary to me.
Thursday, September 7th, 1939, was a cursed day for the city of Siedlce. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were not any better; nevertheless it remains etched in the memory as the beginning of harvesting death and doom in the city. On Friday, the birds of steel didn’t rest. Air patrol squadron flew over the city, and soon after it disappeared – a squadron of bombers arrived and unloaded its burden on the city. Half an hour later, another air patrol squadron followed by bombers again. It seems that thousands of dead are still under the rubble. Weeks of work were necessary to remove the rubble, and the survivors didn’t even have the option to save their own siblings, their voices coming from the tombs in which were buried alive.
At noon, when the aircraft stopped coming, I went into town to look for a baker and buy a loaf of bread, for I was very hungry. I found a baker and after pleading was able to buy a loaf of black bread. At that time two people came begging for bread, telling us they came from Warsaw by foot, and suffered much on the, bombs and starvation. The baker did not heed their request, for thousands of people like them were now in our city, and should he help with bread – then our city’s hungry should be first. I marveled at the Baker’s words: Was it right to differentiate hunger from hunger?
On Friday at dusk we prayed ‘Shabbat’ in public and held a joint dinner. The prayer and the meal were arranged in the apartment of the Goldberg-Asman family. At that time we were not afraid of a burning candle showing outside. The houses opposite Senkabitz street, number 28, 30, 32, 34 and 38, and a wood storage room at number 36, were burning big and strong, that was impossible to conceal the from the enemy’s planes, and darkness was unnecessary.
At night, when the ruined city’s air raids stopped, I went out and went to the place where Rachel’e’s apartment was. Perhaps I’ll find her or maybe learn from someone – where she went. In her area I found no one, except one old Christian, who told me the inhabitants left for the surrounding villages. The terrible bombing of the city did not stop even on Saturday. I could not wait and decided to go. Come what may, and as long as I keep away from this horror in the city. A young Jew, who fled from Warsaw to Radzin, passed through our town and happened to Goldberg’s asking for water. He said people die like flies on the roads from machine guns fire of the German planes. All this is nothing compared to what he sees here in the city. On the road you can hide in roadside ditches, under a tree or in the city, because the German planes aren’t bombarding the roads where Polish army isn’t seen. Only the machine guns operate over the heads of wandering refugees. Against those there’s a solution – do not appear on the road in broad daylight, only at night. We seemed insane to him for still sitting in the city. His words went to the heart and we decided that if today, Saturday, the attacks will not stop, we’ll rest a few hours at night and then go, wherever our feet take us.
On Saturday night, the first night of Selichot, I went along with some neighbors. We were forced to make our way in the middle of the street for fear of falling walls, because of the big heat from the burning houses, and because electricity and telephone wires were torn and twisted between our legs and the remnants of household items were scattered on sidewalks. Florianskah Street was impossible to get through. Various units of the Polish Army – infantry, cavalry and artillery with their guns filled the street. Everyone crowded, even climbed on top of each other. The cries, the clatter of horses with the noise of cannons’ wheels on the street cobblestones were a riot of sounds.
Upon leaving the city I saw red sky on the town of Mard. Having passed more than 11 km, and with 7 more to go, we met a group of Jewish refugees from Siedlce. Yesterday, on Friday, they left for Mard on foot and now they return, for the town is on fire and all its wooden houses are endangered. Several German planes dropped and fired into the town houses, fire and seized several houses in the town is on fire.
We asked the people: “where are you going now?” the wanderers answered: “Back to Siedlce”. We told them: “Siedlce burning on all sides”. We advised them not to return to the city now. They said that Mard was impossible to go to now, because they are running away from the fire. “Where, therefore, shall we go?” They went back to Siedlce. On the way they met a lot of refugees, people familiar and unfamiliar, who came from Siedlce. They went to Mard and heard people fleeing away from the fire, stood awkwardly.
Going back, we came across a group of well known acquaintances who came from the city. They heard Mard was burning and said they shall not return to Siedlce, no-way. Better to go to a certain village. We turned our faces and we went together to look for the village. We walked the whole night on the road back and forth, seeking that specific village.
Meanwhile, much commotion on the way. Mothers lost their children and desperate crys are heard: “My Haim’l, where are you?” – “Esther, Esther!” – calls a brother looking for his sister. Running back and forth and looking for lost relatives.
In the Village Kraslin
All the yards were full of people who came from the city. I saw some villagers on the way and even there the situation was similar. After a long search I found a place where we were allowed to stay for one night. It was a wooden shed filled with peat and a thin partition between it and the farmer’s pigsty. The air was foul, but we were pleased at finding a temporary resting place.
The first day in the village was quiet. The explosions were heard in the distance, toward the city. And there are new refugees distributing terrifying news that the Germans were expected, they have been to Winegrob, and now they charge Sokolov and from there – to Siedlce. Nobody could imagine that the Germans have deeply penetrated into the country and already surround Warsaw.
On Monday, the eleventh day of the war, traffic on the road outside the village increased. Refugees from the road to Sokolov said the Germans advanced and the Polish army retreated in all the roads and byways. Not long after, the road filled with the fleeing Polish army. Heading for Siedlce and than Brisk. Most of the soldiers were traveling in wagons, military or rural. Everyone’s face – tortured, covered in sweat, unshaven. The farmer told us that we leave the yard for we agreed on only one night’s lodging. We want to add money, but he wouldn’t hear of it. We must reload our belongings and go. Where? No one knows.
By evening fireworks light shone from the road leading from Sokolov to Siedlce. Cannons’ thunder sounded all night. Now there was no doubt that the battle between German and retreating Polish troops is near Siedlce.
At first, fear gripped us when we heard from the city’s refugees the Germans had already taken over Siedlce. But those who came from the city calmed us and said that for now the Germans did not touch anyone and all roads are full of people returning from the villages to the city.
The village had no bread. The next day was New Year and we had the desire to pray publicly before God and shed all welled up in the hearts. We return to the city, on the way we encounter broken army wagons, cars missing wheels and other parts, iron boxes overturned and documents, which were stored in them, are scattered on the road and in the trenches, tossed soldiers’ bags, crumpled hats and so on. In the roadsides we see horses and dead, some of whom with open bellies and worms swarming them and bad smell, stuffy, and going afar.
People are coming towards us from the city, to greet the returning families. They say the Germans are at the entrance to the city, checking all travelers and taking their money and valuables. Youngsters of military service age are checked more strictly, lest they have weapons. I decided not to meet the German guards. I did not go into the city through the church’s bells gate and go by a side road. In every street corner, you see motorcycles and small cars with Germans. The German patrols stop every person they encounter. With a threat of an aimed gun, they order to raise arms and check. “Halt!” – sounds an occasional German commanding voice, and this call tears the quietness of the city, which has no movement of trolleys and buses. My eyes dart around, whether the call is for me. I avoid walking in street crossings and seek side roads.
Via broken down courtyards I’m going to Rachel’e’s former apartment. Perhaps she has been back from the village. Have to go carefully, because burnt embers still fall from the burning buildings. Walking near large burned buildings is dangerous, as lumps of clay fall from them and brick walls collapses. My home is totally burned and cannot be approached. Rachel’e’s home is destroyed and is being dug to extract the dead. Mina’s apartment was not harmed, but none of her family is seen. I found Rachel’e, finally, after a long search. She returned from the village with many experiences. A few soldiers were hit in the forest by machine guns and fell dead. She survived the shots miraculously. Now she lives with a woman who took her to her apartment.
We gathered on the night of Rosh Hashanah in a Jewish apartment on our street. We prayed in depressed mood and were careful not to moan loudly, lest the Germans noticed. The next day I went to pray in some remote street at the edge of the city. Some girls from the “Bund” have found an opportunity to make war on “Klarikal” Jewish population, and at the very moment of the shofar wailed hysterically and shouted: “Today isn’t a time to pray! You’ve prayed enough! Why don’t you go take out the dead from under the debris and bury them? This doesn’t concern you, you let them molder there and come here to pray in peace; get out! You cannot pray anymore!” Some Jews tried to influence them with words. After all, they helped clear the rubble with their own hands, but the Germans are delaying, dragging people for military related tasks and abusing them. They cut the elders’ beards and despise them with a lot of contempt. The city-Rabbi himself, was busy with the burials of the dead. The Germans called him and forced him to take off his pants and wear others’, threw off his ‘Streiml , and took him to clean horse dung in the market. Fear gripped the worshipers, who feared that the noise in the yard will reach German ears. Our prayer was interrupted.
In the small group I stayed with, one says that we should break our hunger and feel it is Rosh Hashana. Another says that he has some potatoes and we all participate peeling it. Someone will bring good water, as the water supply in the city was completely destroyed and we’ll cook soup with potato and feel like in a kibbutz.
I accept the job of searching for a good water source: a well or pump. I’m coming down with a bucket and walking on the “May 3rd” street. Near the Russian church, on the crossroads of Kilinski Street and Shenkabitz, was a German soldier. A shot sounded and a bullet went near me. I turn around and see the soldier aimed his gun at me and yelling savagely: “Hands up!” I lift one hand and show him that I wanted to return the bucket. He doesn’t listen and strongly calls me, and when I approached he handed me to another German soldier. I explained to him that I wanted to return the bucket first and then I’ll return. “Stand here!” – he roared madly. He orders me to put the bucket in the middle of the street and go to a place that he shows me. The soldier who received me handed me to the hands of a third soldier, thirty paces away, and on to the fourth and so on until I reached Shenkabitz street, near my former apartment. A long line of people, two at a time, young and old, Jews and Christians was already there. I went into the line, guarded on all sides by German soldiers. The line is growing by the minute, and would soon be half a block long. Guard soldiers enter every house that wasn’t demolished and drive out all men. “Men, get out”! – we hear every time from nearby open windows. Locked doors – are broken. When they find a man hiding in the attic or elsewhere – they shoot him immediately.
The Germans are said to take all men aged sixteen to sixty and send them to work. People who are asking for release because they are old people, over the age of sixty or because they are sick – do so in vein. Mothers are standing afar spreading their hands and begging the soldiers to release their sons, who have not reached the age of sixteen – to no avail. In the distance stands my grandmother, along with many other women, and spreading her hands. The women think that we are led to slaughter and mourn us. We are confident we head for forced labor and calm them down. The Germans count and give an order to go. We come to another street, where we stand again for a long time until joined by more “recruited” men. Together we are going under German command. Where they lead us – nobody knows.
They brought us to the big city sports field opposite the prison. I think I cannot adequately describe everything that happened in the same court. There were civilians “recruits” – prisoners, more than the largest demonstration I’ve ever seen. So many captive Polish soldiers and horses and wagons and on those – the bodies of wounded and dead found on the sides of roads. Perhaps they’re preparing to slaughter us outdoors? Machine-guns fixed on buses and directed at us reinforce this view, but if so, then why do they let women come in here and bring food to their detained husbands? Nobody understands what they want from us and what will become of us.
Twilight. The Germans arrange the Jews first, followed by Poles, in rows of five people. I’m going to stand in a row with my uncle and owner of my workshop. For every eventuality I will be among my acquaintances. An order is given to go. The cries of women follow us like a funeral. Germans drive them away with bayonets and fired warning shots. Some are also beating the women. We are led to the Polish Army barracks. The prisoner Polish soldiers were left for the time being at the sports field and here go only men captured in Siedlce. The German soldiers rush us and we come to the field of the barracks. We’re housed in groups of forty people. My group gets a small room on the first floor. It’s stuffy. Few straw bags are on the floor. The place is not even enough for sitting down. People sit on the stone floor and get up immediately from the cold.
“March! Do not stand!”
My tired bones got no rest. “Get up!” – a German warrant was heard in every room. Worn out, tired and hungry, I stood on my feet. The Germans urged us to go down to the field. Many were already there.
We were arranged in rows of five and marched back to the city, to the sports field. The number of Polish prisoners of war diminished. Instead, ‘common’ captured people were brought from somewhere. Again they allowed women to bring food, but most of the detainees are suffering hunger because they do not have any relatives here. We are again marching, to and fro. Finally all ‘common’ prisoners are gathered to one big and long camp, the eye could not see the end. After that they took us out of the field and we’re going on the Sokolov road. Women and girls, Gentile and Jewish, followed us and cried. The wailing women accompanied us a long way out of town. Until they weren’t allowed to continue and we were pushed on.
We walked for many Kilometers, kilometers passed and no end. Whoever had strength and walked in the front rows, walked quickly. The elderly and the weak stay back and slow the gait of walking behind them and create a space between each other.
“Go! Walk in line!” – shouted the Germans as savages and beat the slow ones and those marching out of the line. With my own eyes I saw a white-bearded Jew lying in a ditch with outstretched hands. A German killed him and now he lies in front of all passer-bys.
The crowd panicked because of the shooting and the bayonets, pushed and rushed forward, pushed the slow ones and was pushed back by the ones walking in front. . There was a muddle. Many lost their ranks and pushed-held other rows. The Germans beat them seen until straight lines were formed again, five in a row. There was no separation between Jews and Christians anymore, and together they walked. Each man tried to sprint and not fall behind. I kept the line and all five of us, holding one by another, didn’t let the line disconnect. Hunger burdens the heart, but greater is the suffering of thirst.
Today is “Shabbat Shuva”, the Sunday after New Year’s. the sun’s heat is still strong and fiery on the roads. Sweat streams from our faces and each one of us seeks to quench his thirst. Empty sardines cans, old, wrinkled, thrown by passing soldiers, rolling in the ditches. Hiding from the Germans we pick them up. Now, when we pass the next village, we may be able to grab some water. We go through the village. Peasant women wailing standing near the yards’ gates and spreading their hands. Nodding at our procession.
“Bread”! Shouting out of the lines.
“Water”! Another yells.
One farmer grabs a bucket, lowering it into the well and fills it up with water. Whoever has a can in his hand rushed to pump water. He returns with a box half full and some people get some water to drink. The Germans attack the running people and chases them away with gun shots. They return into their ranks with fear and panic. One farmer throws us big piece bread. Dozens of hands move to catch the bread. One hand managed and caught it but other hands snatched it away.
Finally the bread Falls to the ground and is trampled by many feet. Whoever succeeds in snatching a stub of bread from under his feet chews diligently. Dust and filth mixed with the bread, grains of stone crunching between the teeth. But the happy man breaks his hunger.
Many of us wanted to relieve ourselves. The Germans let them move away in the field, they put guards nearby, so no one would escape. The German guard looks at his watch and tells them to get up and return to their seats and allow another group to come and sit. The first still hold their trousers asking to stay for an additional minute, but no one listens. An order is an order. An order is given to leave. Again, the repeated calls: “Hurry! Come on!” Again sound shots and screams of the Germans.
We are approaching Sokolov. Next to each gate near the house, on the corner of every street and alley stands a German soldier with his gun in his hand. Deadly silence reigned in the city. Not a soul in sight. But, in no way could you drown out the sound of our boots, hammering without pace on the cobbles. There was no rhythm in the march of the 12,000 non-trained legs walking. Legs carrying the bodies of tortured men, beaten, humiliated and degraded. All were wounded in body and spirit. This must have been the sight of Titus’ victory procession, in which marched prisoners for slavery or gladiator games. Who knows what role we shall fill in our Titus’ schemes?
My shoes have been torn from walking. The right one opened and exposed the toes, touching the stones. I cannot stop for a moment, take my shoes off and walk barefoot. They let us rest once more between Sokolov and Vinegrob. Not more than five minutes. Night fell after walking for fifty-some kilometers, walking and jogging, walking and falling, we finally came to Vinegrob at night. A dense chain of soldiers guarded us on both sides so we cannot escape in the darkness. They led us to a wide field surrounded by a fence.
The concentration yard
At first I could not figure out where I was, but it slowly became clear to me that this is a concentration area for captured soldiers and civilians. In the biggest field of Vinegrob concentrated masses of prisoners. People were lying on the damp ground in great density. I established me a place to stay among the my acquaintances and went to look at the new surroundings. A Jewish prisoner, brought there two days ago, told me that every day Jewish women and children that the Germans had not yet moved out of their homes in the town gather near the fence, carrying bread and leftover food. And the prisoners fall upon this like hungry animals.
The war already turned us to animals. The strong will consume the weaker, but sometimes you encounter a completely different kind of people, like angels descended from heaven. A captive Jewish guy, unknown to me, approached me and took out white bread from under his coat and gave it to me. We do not know who he is and why he chose me. I want to ask him something, but he disappeared in the crowd. His innocent eyes and his smiling face is etched deeply in my memory.
I found an empty can of sardines and I keep it as a valuable treasure. Now I will be able to draw water for drinking. A Jewish woman walks out along the fence holding a hot steaming bucket. She didn’t spare the little potatoes she had and cooked a full bucket to revive our souls. A little girl walking by her side does not take her eyes from the German soldier, and when he turns she runs to the fence, where arms are outstretched, grabs a box and give it back full of soup. I stand by the fence peeking out from between the boards and holds out an empty box, which comes back full of hot potatoes soup. After swallowing this full box of soup I am a completely different person. I had forgotten when I tasted a dish. I held the box out to get more soup. In the process my eyes see a gap between two planks nearby, which are moved apart. A few guys had already escaped and fled. I give the soup I get from the girl. I did not move from this place. About six people were standing there and pushed through the breach.
I decided to escape. Now it was my turn. I pushed my head through and saw a German with his back to us. Two Jewish girls standing in front of me and say to me: “Save yourself, run away quickly and hide in a house”.
I’m free, I’m out. There’s a yard ahead, and I run for it. All the houses are of Jews. In a doorway stand a few men, denying me entry. Each apartment is full of escapees, no place. Run on! I keep running, through fences and courtyards and out into the alley. I fell into the first house in the alley. A Jews’ apartment. A girl stands near the kitchen preparing lunch. Her mother was frightened because of me. An old father sits in the room. I asked them to let me stay at their home that night, and they better put me in the wood warehouse and lock it behind me. They do not understand why I ask for the woodshed, and they tell me that I can be with them in their room. Lunch time is approaching and I am invited to eat with them. I know they do not understand my status and how I got to them, but I do not want to frighten them. One of the neighbors saw me come in and realized I escaped from the camp. He walks around in the hall and glances at me. Finally, he calls the woman and they whisper to each other. The woman returns shaking with fear and cannot utter a word.
“You ran away from the camp,” she says to me, “Quick, get out of my house; the Germans come to every house and are looking for the fugitives hiding there. My neighbor says that some Germans were just in our alley and are now checking apartments. They are not far away. Go quickly or you will bring Holocaust our house”, she begged me. I had to get out. I go where my legs carry me through yards and fences. I lay a little on the ground to rest and decide to leave town immediately and wander far away from it.
Fields … the outskirts of the village. A farmer comes out to me and asks where I come from. I tell him I’m a wandering refugee and beg for food. “it’s afternoon already” said the farmer, “but my wife’ll find something, but why lie to me? You are running away from the prison camp. I know that. Every day people like you come through here.” Before I bid him farewell he guides me: “You do not want to get caught again by the Germans. You, therefore, must go through the fields, there in front of you is the road to Warsaw. There is also a river. A highway with a bridge is built over the water, but you have to go by the fields and find a place where the water is shallow, and cross there. Be careful not to cross where it’s deep lest you drown”. I went on my way.
Near the river, I found an old shepherd, grazing a few cows nearby, and asked him where I can cross the water. The shepherd gathers his herd, led me to the water and told me to follow him. “Here, only yesterday,” said the shepherd, “I led the animals across. Over there is a bit deep, but do not be afraid to go where I show you and you won’t drown. I can see you ran away from a camp. You’re a young man and will see many troubles during your life. If you managed to escape from the palm of the Germans – I like you already. Do not see me as the old shepherd that I am. I had many troubles in my life. When I was young like you, or perhaps a little older than you, I knew suffering in Siberia. I ran away and good people helped me and showed me the way to go. Keep in mind the words of the old shepherd who suffered a lot of suffering. Do not be afraid of anything, be of brave spirit and never gives up hope of rescue, even if you seem to have no way out.
I quickly take off my clothes, taking them by hand and entered the water. I’m going as the shepherd instructed. “Go straight!” – He calls me, “Now turn left and straight again. Do not be afraid; the water will only reach your chest. If you go all the time according to directions, you shall not drown”. I crossed the river, did not wait until my body dried and put on my clothes. I thanked the old shepherd from a distance and walked away.
I moved down the road away from the buildings. Darkness fell. I thought, what’s the point of running in the dark? Why wander in the dark of night, alone in the fields? I found some bushes, a mark for my way the next day. I lay with my head pointing at the direction I should take and fell asleep quickly on the dew-damped ground. A tired man, but a free man in God’s world again. *
Following dad’s book (Hanna Nosboim-Rosen)
Both my parents were townspeople of Siedlce. Both fled the city during the occupation and the evacuation of Jews from the city, and made it to Eretz-Israel. My father, Shlomo Rosen H.Y.D, fell at the War of Independence, defending Kfar Etzion. I had been evacuated from the area, as a toddler, along with dozens of mothers and children orphaned by the war, like me.
In the summer TSS”B, we – a bunch of ‘Children’ of Kfar Etzion left for a roots journey following the Fathers from Poland, who fell when we were toddlers, and the Mothers who told us only little of what happened in Poland. From my mother’s stories I understood that today’s Siedlce is completely different and there is no point in searching for the remains of houses from before the war. I took my father’s book – “from the debris” with me on the journey. During the long drives I looked through the book again and again. I could feel the terrible experiences related in it. But still I ignored scores of houses and streets in the book, because there is no point to dwell on the addresses that, surely, no longer exist.
As we approached the city, the guide asked me if I wanted to stop in Siedlce. I answered that to the best of my knowledge, I have nothing to look for in Siedlce today. The guide took the book, leafed through it, and to my surprise led us straight to Sankebitz Street. He immediately showed me houses on the street, which seemed to have been built before the war, based on their decoration. Alongside these buildings we saw houses with plain and perfectly smooth fronts. These were houses built after the war, instead of the houses which collapsed in the bombing.
Within minutes, I found myself at No. 44 Sankebitz Street, and it was immediately apparent it was built on the site of a destroyed house. This is the house where my father sought refuge in the bombing, but was bombed and collapsed entirely on father and the rest hiding in it. I remember reading the book: “I have no home. My home is the public park behind 44 Sankebitz”. I got off the bus and walked to the back of the house and here – a park with benches and swings. Great excitement gripped me. The other members were excited when they saw me get off the bus.
Sixty-three years have passed since those terrible days. It is possible, perhaps, to destroy homes. Maybe to deport people, but I’m here and you cannot erase the excitement. This will accompany me forever.