Chapter 3: Under Nazi-German Occupation
It is impossible to describe the feeling that we experienced upon realization of the fact that we were too late in trying to get deep into the Soviet Union. Here we were, in a strange country, part of a group of other refugees, in a desperate situation. At that moment we were bewildered and didn't know what to do next. Slowly it dawned on us that we had no choice hut to walk in the direction of the road where the German columns were advancing and eventually try to get some food and rest in the village, which happened to be the place we encountered the advancing German Army. When we arrived at the road, we were immediately surrounded by German soldiers, who asked us who we were, what we are doing there and where we are going. We were within a group of about 20 people and I, as a spokesman for the group, speaking German well, was trying to convince the officer that interrogated us, that we were actually deported by the Russians when they retreated and now, that the front was broken, we are trying to return to Czernowitz, where we are from. I don't know if he believed me, but in any case he did not harm us and we remained in that village and tried to get some food and rest by sleeping overnight as the day came to an end. We approached one of the houses and begged the owner to let us sleep there and we would be on our way next morning. The peasant was willing to help us, but he said that he was afraid to take us in because we were Jews. He was afraid, not so much of the Germans, but of the instantly organized Ukrainian police, who were a lot worse when it came to treating the Jews than the Germans were, because the Germans were part of the Wehrmacht (regular army) and not part of the special extermination units. Nevertheless, he offered us shelter in the attic of his barn that was full of hay and he also provided us with some food in exchange for objects that we were taking out from our rucksacks, each of us contributing something like a shirt, a pair of pants, a pair of shoes or anything else. Everything was very valuable in those days.
After an almost sleepless night, during which German columns were steadily advancing, we got up at daybreak, bundled up our things and tried to move on. We kept on moving as a group in the southerly direction towards the first bigger city, Czortkow. On the way we had to pass a number of smaller villages and in one of those villages we were arrested by the Ukrainian police, who dumped us in a synagogue. More Ukrainian policemen came, searching everybody and anything valuable was confiscated. During the process of searching, they continually beat us indiscriminately and when it was all over, they left with most of our belongings that were pitiful anyway, and we were left with almost nothing.
After they left we kept on moving towards the city of Czortkow and during our march, at one point, we had to cross a bridge over a small river. We saw from afar that two Ukrainian policemen were standing next to the bridge. We knew that if we approached the bridge and tried to cross it, the policemen would arrest us, detain us, take us to the next village and throw us in jail, beat us up and maybe even kill us. So we were reluctant to cross the bridge. And here something very interesting happened, when, while contemplating what to do, we saw, from the other side of the bridge, a German soldier on a motorcycle approaching in our direction. He crossed the bridge and when he neared us, we stopped him and told him our fake story and that we were afraid to cross the bridge because the Ukrainian policemen were robbing people. At that point, he turned his motorcycle around and escorted us over the bridge. That is how we crossed the bridge safely
As we went on, we tried to avoid villages by walking around them. At one point, when we were only a few kilometers from Czortkow, we saw groups of people coming towards us from the city and when they saw us, a group of deplorable Jews (for some reason Jews were easily recognizable), they told us not to dare go into the city because there was a pogrom against Jews in progress in Czortkow, right then and there, with Ukrainians and Germans killing Jews in the street and looting Jewish homes. I had a strong suspicion that these groups of people went into the city to take part in the looting after hearing about the pogrom. They were all carrying parcels of merchandise that they could not have bought in stores.
When we heard what is going on in Czortkow, we tried asking several of these people to help us and give us shelter for a few days until things cool down in Czortkow and then we will go on. We promised to give them the few remnants that we still had. Among these people, there was one who, it seemed, was trying to help us and told us to follow him to his house, but at a fair distance, so that should anybody encounter us, it should not look that we are connected in any way. This was a dangerous situation for him too. He started walking towards Czortkow through a forest and suddenly a Ukrainian policeman came towards him and asked him to identify himself, which he did, as he was a local person. He also asked him who we were, but he denied any knowledge of us or of having any connection with us. At that-point we lost all hope of finding any shelter for a few days until things in Czortkow cooled down. So not having any other choice, we were forced to walk towards Czortkow.
The path through the woods where we walked was in an elevated area and at one point we came to a place from which we could see the city of Czortkow in the valley across the river Seret. We also saw that to get to Czortkow, we had to cross a bridge over the river, a bridge that the Red Army destroyed during the retreat and that was about to be repaired. We also saw that the repair work was done by a number of Jews, probably rounded up in Czortkow and supervised by Ukrainian policemen and German soldiers, who kept beating them while they were working. There was no other way to get into Czortkow, but to cross that bridge. So, even knowing that we were in a life-threatening situation, we approached the bridge and, sure enough, the Ukrainian police arrested us immediately and led us into the city to the headquarters of the Ukrainian Police where they dumped us into a cellar that was completely dark. We didn't see anything at all, but we felt that there were other people in that cellar. Suddenly somebody lit a match and some people recognized us and we also recognized some of them. They were living in Czernowitz, but were originally from Radauti. There were also some people we didn't know. Among the people that we knew were Salo Retter, Salo Reicher, Jusiu Reicher, Annerl Korn, all from Radauti. They were all part of other groups of people that left the same train we came from.
We were kept in that cellar about 24 hours and after that we were released into the Jewish district. Our release came as a result of the intervention of some people from the Jewish community in Czortkow, who organized themselves into some kind of administration and among the leaders was a Jewish high school teacher. Most of the Ukrainian policemen were his former students. His intervention brought about our release from the cellar.
After our release, we went into the Jewish district of the city of Czortkow and the community there housed us in a synagogue as a temporary measure, one of several in Czortkow. A soup kitchen was organized. They fed us, we were starved, not having received any food during our detention and we stayed in that synagogue several days. In the meantime, the community tried to place us among the population, so as to house us with local families. Jacques and myself were placed with a family by the name of Weiss that lived in a house in the Jewish district that faced a small square. The family consisted of an old man, his wife, and their two sons, of which one was married. Our room was on the left side of the hallway that started at the entrance into the house.
Our first contact with the local Jewish population was when we started to receive help from the community in the form of food and shelter. We were very surprised to find so many Jews in Czortkow. It was our understanding that most of the Jews would have fled deep into the Soviet Union to save themselves from the advancing German Armies. And here we found a Jewish community, where hardly anybody fled, even though they had the possibility to do so. When we inquired the reason, it turned out that many of the Jews were so glad to get rid of the Soviets that they considered even the Germans were better. They figured that the Germans represented a lesser evil than the Soviets. Of course, they could not have imagined what was to come.
In the meantime the Germans started to demand from the Judenrat (Jewish committee) to provide them with workers for different menial tasks, like cleaning streets and cleaning buildings that were abandoned by the Russians when they retreated. The first to have to execute these tasks were of course the Jews. The local Jews tried to shelter their own and provided the Germans mostly with refugees for work So we started to go to work every day to the German headquarters and they assigned us tasks to be performed on that day. The work had some advantages in a sense that we received for a day's work a loaf of bread (if one could call it bread) and sometimes make use of some leftovers at the German headquarters.
One day, when we came to work, we were assigned a special job to do at the local prison. When we arrived at the prison, we found out that the Soviets, during their retreat, which was hasty, not having had time to take all the prisoners along, just butchered them and left the corpses inside the prison. Our task was to dig graves and carry the corpses from the cells to the mass graves that we had to dig in advance, dump them in and pour some chlorine powder over them for disinfection. They were afraid of an epidemic in the city as these corpses were already several days old. After that we had to cover the graves. I became so sick from the smell of the chlorine powder that up to this day the smell of chlorine haunts me and always brings back memories of corpses and the Czortkow prison. We were also afraid that we would never get out of there, that the Germans will detain us and eventually kill us. But they did tell us to go home with the order to return the next day, which we did, as it was impossible to finish the job in one day. We worked there for several days, not only for the burial of the corpses, but also for cleaning up the prison cells which were splattered with blood and debris. After having done these jobs for a number of days, there came one day that will permanently remain in my memory, as if carved in stone. It was July 14, 1941.
July 14, 1941 was the day that the Germans decided to teach the Jews of Czortkow a lesson. It was also a day that proved, to me at least, that the Nazis had decided to exterminate the Jews a long time before the Wannsee conference, that was called to find and implement a "final solution to the Jewish problem". The Wannsee conference was in 1942 and we were now in 1941.
It was a beautiful summer day with a bright sun rising. At around 5.30 a.m. we were awakened by heavy knocking on the front door and by the door being broken down. We jumped out of bed and we saw some Ukrainian policemen inside the house, two of them looking around and one of them posted at the front door. The two opened the door to our room and told us to get dressed fast and to follow them. While we were getting dressed, the two searched the house and came out with the two Weiss brothers, sons of the old man living there. We got dressed and tried to get out the door, but the Ukrainian policeman stationed there hit us with the butt of his rifle. He also hit the other two men when they came out of the house. When we got to the small square that the house was facing, we saw other Ukrainian policemen doing the same thing to all the other houses around us, taking out all the men. During that process, they beat up whoever they could, wherever they could, and started to march us off in the direction of Czortkow City Hall. On the way, we passed a synagogue and they went into it and brought out an old Jewish man, a cripple, who was barely able to walk. They took him out anyway, beating him and they marched him off along with us.
They marched us to the city square, and on the way they brought out more people from side streets and other houses until, when we arrived at the Czortkow city hall, we were about 280-300 people. The whole operation was supervised by German soldiers in full uniform with helmets, as if going to war. We were told to stay in a kind of military formation, four deep and at one point they told us to turn around to face City Hall. In front of the building there were about a half dozen steps and a platform on top of the steps leading into the building. After we turned around to face City Hall, a German officer, tall and good looking, went up the few steps, stood on top of the platform facing us and right then we realized that we were doomed. The German officer had a military cap, with a black side-wall, in front of which was attached an insignia portraying a skull and crossbones under it. On the bottom of the sleeves of his uniform jacket, were clearly marked the letters SD for Sonderdienst (special service). After the German officer inspected the full group, there were several men who looked like reporters, who took pictures of the whole group in different positions and from different angles, especially of the under-privileged ones who were cripples, like the one they took out of the synagogue. I saw in later years some of these pictures published in a German magazine called Signal an Europa, under racially derogatory headings, to prove their point of racial supremacy.
We were marched off in a certain direction being watched by Ukrainian policemen and German soldiers, who were part of that special service. It turned out, that the direction they were marching us to, was the city prison, that I knew, because I had worked there performing the tasks described before. When we reached the prison gate, it was opened and we were led in. Once inside, the gate closed behind us and all hell broke loose. First Ukrainian policemen that were inside the prison compound started beating us indiscriminately to the point that most everybody was bleeding. After that they told us to lay down on the ground, which was covered with small gravel and to crawl on our hands and knees in one direction and after that in the other direction, until our clothes tore at the elbows and at the knees and the skin on our elbows and knees started scraping off and bleeding. After that they told us to lay down on the ground and eat the gravel. But then another policeman came with the idea that this method could lead to cheating, so he told us to stand up, take some gravel in our palm, pour it into our mouth and chew it That is when I broke and lost all my molars, upper and lower, on both sides. I just spit them out together with the gravel, the roots remaining inside. This punishment lasted for a couple of hours and then we were told to stand along the wall surrounding the compound, facing the wall.
We were not allowed to turn our heads, so we didn't know what is going on behind us. Later we were told to turn around and when we did, we saw the same officer that was standing on the platform in front of the city hall building, together with an individual, of whom we heard before. He was about 22-23 years old, Jewish and his name was Krell. He was considered to be a traitor and informer. He started walking along our lineup from one end to the other, together with the German officer, and started pointing to some of the men in the lineup. These were told by the German officer to step forward. When he arrived in front of us, my friend Jacques and myself, he pointed to us and told the German officer "Die zwei kenne ich nicht" (These two I don't know). The German officer asked us what we did under the Soviet regime and we answered that we were high school students. He let us stay where we were and went on.
After having completed the selection of the suspects, they were marched off towards the rear of the compound into a corner. Once arrived, they were given shovels and told to dig square shaped holes in the ground. There were two holes in the ground next to each other of about 4X4 meters and about 3 meters deep. This job took a while, during which time the others that were left standing next to the wall were used for the distraction and entertainment of the Ukrainian policemen, who were competing in inventing all kinds of punishments for us. All of a sudden we were told to stand again along the wall, facing it and when we stole a glance behind, we saw the gate open and what looked like an execution squad, in full uniform with helmets, march towards the place where the holes were dug in the ground. Those who dug the holes were told to stand along the edges of those holes and the squad pointed the rifles at them and shot them. Most fell into the holes, but some fell beside them and had to be thrown in.
After the shooting stopped, the squad retreated and the Ukrainian policemen received the job of cleaning up. They came along our lines at the wall, pointed to one or another and told them to go towards the graves. My friend Jacques was pointed at, so he did run towards the graves and soon after he returned. He told me that he had to take some of the corpses that fell beside the graves and throw them in and without waiting for any other instructions, he just ran back. When he returned he noticed that I was not bleeding from my face, as everybody else was. He was afraid that they were going to beat me up to make me bleed, so he took some of his blood and smeared it on my face so I would look bloody too.
The day continued the same way and some of us also were taken to cover the graves with soil and we all worked by changing groups until the two graves were completely covered. They were mass graves with about 50 people in each.
The rest of us, still alive, served again for the distraction of the Ukrainian police, but in the meantime, a number of German soldiers, belonging to the Wehrmacht (regular army) came in to watch the spectacle from the top of the wall.
In the rear of the compound, there was a pit with a concrete bottom and concrete walls that served as collector of sewage, about 4X4 meters and 3 meters deep. The bottom of that pit contained about a half meter of sewage and this was the place that the Ukrainian police decided to continue their activity with us. They took some men from our midst, aligned them at the edge of the pit and told them to jump in, to lay face down at the bottom of it and drink the sewage water. While they were lying down and drinking the sewage, the Ukrainian policemen standing at the edge of the pit, were aiming their rifles at them and shot them indiscriminately. After they were considered dead, which not all of them really were, they brought another group of people, told them to jump in and drink the water. They had to lay down on top of the first layer of corpses and as they did, they were aimed at and shot. This scene repeated itself several times until our turn came. We did jump into the pit, my friend and myself, and were covered with the sewage water, which made our rags very heavy. We attempted to pull ourselves up, but it was impossible because of the weight.
There was a young German soldier standing at the edge of the pit, whom we approached from inside the pit and begged him, speaking his language, to help us get out of there. So he actually pulled us out by our hair and once outside, we ran back to the wall where we were standing with the others.
In the meantime it became dark and about 10 oclock in the evening about two dozen survivors were told to go to the pit and get the corpses out of there. We were among those survivors that were sent to do the job, so together with those few left alive, we organized the removal of the corpses, some from inside the pit, others from outside. As we took the bodies out, we saw that some weren't even dead yet, they were still breathing. Among the bodies removed from the pit, we recognized the two Weiss brothers, sons of the man we were living with in Czortkow. We were told to dig graves and bury them, which we did. This took us way past midnight. All were buried, even those who were still alive. When we finished the job, the few miserable looking survivors were led into the prison, dumped into a cell and we fell asleep as if dead. One older man repeated all through the night "Schma Isroel". In the morning we were awakened by Ukrainian policemen and told to go into the courtyard. At every door that we had to pass to get out of the building there was a Ukrainian policeman standing, who hit us with the butt of his rifle. By the time we reached the main door leading out of the building, we were all bloody again and more dead than alive.
Now, at the main exit door of the building, a miracle took place. When we came out, we saw a German officer entering the compound through the main gate and walking in our direction. When he was close to us, one of the people in our group, the man who said the "Schma Isroel", fell to the ground in front of him, kissed his boots and begged him to let us out . The German officer didn't pay too much attention to this incident, pushed him away with his boot and went on his way. But after he was gone, Elie Neumann, the boy who took us into the train at the Zuczika railway station, went to the main gate and told the Ukrainian policeman on duty there, that the officer said he should open the gate and let us go. The Ukrainian policeman promptly obliged. As soon as we were on the other side of the gate, we started running. The policeman realized that he made a mistake and started shooting after us. He hit one or two people, who fell dead in the street and we, the others, ran into the ghetto. We lost track of Elie Neumann, but we heard about one year later that he didn't make it. He was killed during an attempt to cross the border, trying to return to Czernowitz.
After our return to the ghetto, we found a mood that is impossible to describe. The Jewish population realized that what happened on July 14, 1941, was just a prelude of things to come. Many families lost loved ones in the prison massacre. My friend Jacques and myself continued to do odd jobs to somehow support ourselves and were also helped by local Jews, who were themselves generally poor.
The remnants of the Czernowitz refugees got together and tried to devise a plan for the return to Czernowitz. That was an almost impossible task, even though Czernowitz was only about 100 km away. Had we walked we could have made it in about 5 days. The problem was that on the way we had to pass many Ukrainian villages and anybody who saw us could have robbed, denounced, or even kill us. We also had to cross the Dniester River, that separated Galizia from the Bucovina, with no bridge, and patrolled by German border guards. We decided to split the journey in two. The first part to get to Zalescziky, a resort border town on the Dniester, about 50 km away and after that from Zalescziky to Czernowitz, another 50 km.
It may be hard to understand why it was so difficult, almost impossible for Jews to move around from one town to another. By walking on a road leading to another town, a group of Jews were subject to being discovered by anybody they encountered, who, in turn, could blackmail them, or even worse, give them up to the Ukrainian police or the Germans. Because Jews were not allowed to move from their assigned places in the town, they were subject to being shot without much fuss. Therefore it was a feeling of intense terror that overcame us and that prevented us to even attempt to walk in the direction of Czernowitz or in the direction of Moghilev-Podolsk, where, we found out later, our parents were.
It so happened that towards the end of August every year, farmers from the Zalescziky area bring their produce, especially tomatoes, by horse and wagon, to the towns within a radius of about 100 km, which also included the city of Czortkow. After selling their produce, they return to Zalescziky with their wagons empty. Here we saw a chance. Someone among the Jewish population helped us to find a peasant willing to take us there. He said that since this was a dangerous project, which it was, the price had to go up, and we were to travel during the night. We paid in advance and started our journey towards evening by following his wagon on foot.
Immediately outside Czortkow, the route towards Zalescziky is surrounded by rolling hills. All of a sudden a number of Ukrainian policemen appeared from behind the hills, with rifles at the ready, surrounded us, (the farmer denying any knowledge or connection to us) and led us away towards the city. They dumped us into the same cellar of the Ukrainian police headquarters which we knew from before. It turned out that the farmer betrayed us. All he wanted was our money and valuables, among which was also a gold coin that Jacques had hidden, a present from his grandparents, that he always carried with him.
The Jews in the ghetto found out about our fate and the high school teacher that saved us before, again came to our rescue and succeeded in getting us out of the cellar. Several days later, that high school teacher was arrested by the same Ukrainian police, accused of interfering in police affairs and shot. Saving us has cost him his life.
In the meantime we found out that the German headquarters was issuing IDs for refugees of all kinds to enable them to return to their homes. These IDs were not meant for Jews, but for all kind of non-Jewish refugees around. But we took advantage of this situation and went to the Germans, told them our fake story, how the Russians tried to deport us to Siberia and that now we wished to return to Czernowitz.
They issued us these IDs. They consisted of a printed piece of paper that said:
Es wird hiermit best”tigt das der Jude Markus Lecker nach Czernowitz zur¸ckkehrt. Alle Zivil und Milit”rbeh–rden sind gebeten ihm die Zur¸ckkehr zu erm–glichen.
Stempel und Unterschrift.
(This is to confirm that the Jew Markus Lecker is returning to Czernowitz. All civil and military authorities are asked to facilitate his return.
Armed with the document issued by the Germans we continued our efforts to find a way to return to Zalescziky.
Eventually we found another farmer who agreed to take us there without asking anything in return, just out of pity. Here was an Ukrainian farmer ready to help Jews, practically putting his life on the line, which proves that one should not generalize; there are all kinds.
The farmer that "took" us along acted only as a guide. While he was riding in his wagon, we walked behind for about 50 km from Czortkow to Zalescziky.
So in the beginning of September 1941, we reached Zalescziky, a resort town at the southern tip of the former Poland (before 1939), presently part of the Ukrainian Republic.
We wanted to use this town as a starting point for our return to Czernowitz. As it turned out we never made it to Czernowitz before liberation. A series of events were happening all over the territories occupied by the Germans, events beyond our control that prevented us from achieving our objective. These events involved us in a series of adventures.
When we arrived in Zalescziky from the north, we saw at the entrance to the city several big buildings located on the left (east) side of the road. We were told that these buildings were army barracks used to house the armies of countries that were in power in that region at one time or another. When we reached the place, it was completely empty and we made use of those units to live there, to use them as our shelter.
I must state here that the Germans were not alone in their advance towards the Soviet Union. They had allies, one of them being the Hungarians, who were advancing in southern Galizia. The area where we were was actually occupied and administered by the Hungarians. During that time it wasn't too bad for the Jewish population. The thing that is important for my story was the fact that during that time the Hungarians deported many Jews, most of them from Budapest from the east side of the Danube River and some from other towns.
They brought them in many trucks and left them in Zalescziky to fend for themselves. These Hungarian Jews were better off than we were, because the Hungarians let them take along all kinds of things, clothes, medicine, money, etc. These Hungarian Jews, not having where to stay or what to do, came to these former army barracks (Kasernen) to live there. They were better off having had things to exchange for food. There were many Hungarian Jews and we were just a few, so we started to mingle with them and got to know them. In some instances, when one of us was sick, they provided us with some medication like aspirin which was completely unavailable in Zalescziky and so we started to make friends with them.
In the meantime we found out that Jacques had family in Zalescziky, some distant cousin of his parents by the name of Hunter, who was well off and at that time had a leading role among the Jewish community. We approached him and he helped us a little, invited us to eat sometimes, but generally the help we received from him was limited and insufficient. We felt that he could have done a lot more.
On the other hand, we also found out that there was a family by the name of Schulsinger there. We knew that the oldest son of the Schulsingers by the name of Max, was sent for adoption to a family Aron in Radauti, who had no children of their own and who were relatives of the Schulsingers. The Arons were much better off, having a housewares store in Radauti that was doing well.
I knew Max well, even though he was two years older than myself. He attended the same high school. The Aron family and all the other Jews from Radauti were deported in the fall of 1941 to Transnistria by the Rumanians. In 1944, after the liberation of Transnistria by the Red Army, Max was drafted into the army and sent away for training. While passing by train through the city of Briansk, the railway station was bombed by the Germans and Max lost both legs. I saw him in 1946, an invalid.
The Schulsingers were poor people and had three more children, two daughters and a son. The oldest daughter was married, but the husband was in the Red Army and gone, so she lived with the family. There was a son of about 19 and another daughter of about 17. When we approached them and told them who we were and where we were originally from, they took us in and considered us like family. They shared with us their meager food and also provided us with a place to stay. The place was in a house that they owned in another part of town. They were living downtown, having a small store, where they sold some housewares, dyestuffs, etc. We therefore abandoned our shelter at the barracks and moved into that house. The house consisted of a bigger apartment that was occupied by a Polish family, a smaller one occupied by a Jewish shoemaker, his wife and two small children and another small apartment, consisting of an entrance and another big room. There was a stove heated with wood.
We used to go once every day downtown to the Schulsingers, usually towards evening, to obtain some food and to hear other news.
It was dangerous for Jews to move around. A chance encounter with a German patrol or a Ukrainian policeman could result in arrest and detention without any reason. We always used to go through back streets that were partly located along the high banks of the Dniester River.
The house we stayed in was only about 300 meters from the Dniester. The German administration that took over from the Hungarians was very demanding of the Jews. They asked the Jews to provide them with anything they needed and the Jews obliged out of fear. Being a border town, Zalescziky was also the headquarters of a German border patrol unit whose commander was a junior officer by the name of Tank. He also looked like one, being a huge man of maybe 300 lbs., ferocious looking and behaving as such towards Jews. Among the demands they made of the Judenrat (Jewish council), was to send them to do menial jobs, two men to do cleaning, chopping wood, etc. Nobody wanted to volunteer for the job, so they forced us to go on occasion to work there. It was scary for us too, but speaking the language, we managed to get along with the other Germans and nothing happened to us. We also had what to eat that day and sometimes even managed to take home something. On occasion we witnessed scenes one cannot imagine. One day Tank caught a Jewish girl in the city committing some kind of offence (according to the Germans). He brought her back to the headquarters, beat her during interrogation, threw her into a shack and sent his dog into the shack. The dog attacked the girl and her screams were heart breaking. After several minutes he took her out and released her into the ghetto.
At about this time, the end of September 1941, the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei -- secret state police) came to town. That was always bad news. After making all kinds of demands to the Judenrat, which were obliged, they demanded that a number able-bodied men, about 200, be delivered to be used for a special assignment at a place away from Zalescziky. It was difficult to convince people to present themselves, so hardly anybody showed up. This was when they decided to go out into the streets and into the houses with the Ukrainian police and hunt down the required number of people. The men were taken away to a concentration camp. Among these men was the shoemaker who lived in the same house where we lived. His wife and the children remained alone. He was caught in the street not far from the house while trying to negotiate for food with some peasants. He disappeared without a trace and so did all the others. I don't know how he did it, but after about 6 weeks he returned saying that he ran away from a concentration camp called Maidanek and made his way mostly during the night, to his home.
In the meantime, we did try to earn some food by going in the early morning before light to a village called Dumbravleni, which was located along the Dniester River, close to Zalescziky. The village was a rich farming place. It was the only place in Poland (at the time when it belonged to Poland), where tomatoes and grapes grew because of favorable climate conditions. The farmers there were looking for workers to dig out potatoes and harvest the vegetables that needed to be brought in before the frost came. To work for the farmers was illegal, so we always risked our lives by doing it, but we had no choice. Working for the farmers provided us with food. They fed us well with a cooked meal especially in the morning before going into the fields. During the noon hour we had a break during which we also received some cold food. When we finished the day's work we headed home after dark so as not to be seen. We were allowed to take along a bag containing potatoes and other vegetables, as much as we could carry. This was very important because it provided us with a supply of food for several days. Some of the people who went to work for the farmers were caught and summarily executed. Doing so was a life-threatening proposition.
After the harvest was in and there was no more work at the farmers, there was no way to obtain any food. We had nothing to eat for days. I remember we were so hungry that we suffered from terrible headaches caused by hunger pangs and there was not much we could do about it. I dreamed of the times before the war, when I was a child, when my mother ran after me with the bread and butter and I did not want to eat. She used to complain to my father and he used to beat me until I promised to eat. I recalled the meals that my mother used to serve every day and especially on holidays, but all this dreaming did nothing to relieve our hunger.
Among the things we had left was a white woolen sweater. We decided one day to go to the village where we used to work and try to exchange the sweater for some food. When we arrived there, we found a farmer that was willing to do the exchange, offering us a loaf of bread and a chicken. We took the loaf of bread and the chicken and went home. We killed the chicken, plucked the feathers, cleaned the chicken, put it in a pot and started to make chicken soup.
It so happened that the same day somebody stole a chicken from the Polish family that lived in the same house. It may not even have been true, but at least that is what the Polish lady said. Immediately the Polish lady accused us of having stolen the chicken and called the Ukrainian police to investigate. We didn't know that she called the police, but soon the police came to our door and into our room and sure enough on the stove was a chicken cooking in a pot. We were immediately arrested and taken to the police station and were told to wait to be interrogated. During that wait I got an idea that saved us. When we were called in for interrogation, we denied having stolen the chicken, but we could not admit that we went to the village to exchange something for the chicken; that was completely illegal. I asked the officer in charge to ask the Polish lady what was the color of the chicken that she was missing. She was there and said it was a chicken with red feathers. At that point, I told the officer to come to the house and I would show him the feathers of the chicken that we were cooking. He came and I showed him the place where I dumped the feathers and he saw that they were white. And that is how we got off the hook that time.
The Jews became more and more depressed and started to behave like hunted animals. The way they walked with their heads down, the fear in their eyes, undernourished, dressed in rags, all these things gave them away instantly. I was asked many times: but how did they know that you were Jewish? Well that's how, the above description explains it. And this description falls way short of conveying the physical appearance and state of mind of the Jewish population.
The news from the war was very depressing. The Germans were advancing everywhere. They reached deep into the Ukraine and we had no news from the outside world, but here and there we did get hold of a German newspaper, especially when we worked for the border patrol unit and from those newspapers we realized that the Germans were advancing on all fronts.
They promised the Ukrainians that as soon as they reach and take Kiev, they would declare Kiev the capital of an independent Ukraine. This helped gain the sympathy and confidence of the Ukrainian people, who deserted en masse from the Red Army and went over to the Germans. The traditional hatred for the Russians, and especially of the Soviet regime, also played an important role in the defections and the Ukrainians alliance with the Germans. The Germans never intended to keep their word to the Ukrainians, so that after having taken Kiev, they used all kinds of delaying tactics and excuses so as not to go through with the projected Ukrainian State. This is one of the reasons why some groups of Ukrainians joined the partisans to fight the Germans in later years. Some groups were fighting both, the Germans and the Soviets, like the group led by a Ukrainian general by the name of Bandera. His band turned out to be plain bandits and were eventually liquidated by the returning Red Army the western Ukraine.
In the meantime the Jews of Zalescziky and other towns in southern Galizia led a completely hopeless life. The German successes on all fronts and the different actions taken against the Jews, caused a hopelessly and depressive situation for the Jewish population. This led to changes in behaviour in many Jews that were not compatible with the high moral standards that are the trademark of Jewish life.
There was, for example, not far from our house another house that belonged to a widow by the name of Rachel. She was around 50-60 years old, but she had the desire to experience some of the things that are part of life, including sex, because she felt that life is coming to an end. In this she sure was right. So she took in one of the refugees, a 20-22 year old man, provided him with food, she had the means, as she was pretty well-off, according to the standards of those days, and lived with him for quite a while until the next time the Gestapo came around and collected Jews during a so called Aktion and both of them disappeared forever.
The word "Aktion" meant a visit by the Gestapo to a certain city, during which time a free-for-all began, when everybody was allowed to kill Jews and to rob and burn their homes. Most of the killing was done by the Germans and the Ukrainian police in a variety of ways. The belief that everybody was doomed led to all kinds of abnormal behaviour. This explains the existence of a Jewish police, which was formed to collaborate with the Germans and become their instruments in persecuting other Jews. They hoped that by doing so, they would save their skin and maybe also their relatives. They only delayed the inevitable and their turn came later.
The Germans had devised a policy of deceit unparalleled in the history of mankind. They always gave the impression that their demands were due to a need created by a war situation and that by complying with their demands, the Jews would be safe. It took a while to realize that the whole thing was a way to annihilate the Jews. And even then some thought that they could make it if they collaborated with the Germans, as was the case with many members of the Judenrat and with the Jewish police.
There was also the hope that the war would not last that long and that the Allies would do something about the plight of the Jewish people.
When the Jews realized what was happening and no outside help came, it was already 1943 and then in very diminished numbers, hungry, cold, weak, and completely cut off from the outside world, they started to organize some resistance that resulted in uprisings in several places.
On April 19, 1943, the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto started, where remnants of about 60,000 Jews started to fight the Nazis almost bare handed, with only knives, Molotov cocktails and some homemade weapons. They succeeded to hold off the Nazi war machine, who came with tanks, artillery and other modern weapons, until May 16, 1943. Almost all were killed or committed suicide in the fighting.
There were other uprisings: August 2, 1943 in Treblinka, where 600 escaped. August 16, 1943 in Bialystok. October 14, 1943 in Sobibor.
Also about this time an attempt was made to save my friend Jacques from Zalescziky. The attempt was made by his family in Bucharest.
He had an uncle, a brother of his father, who was married to a sister of his mother. It was therefore a really close family. When they found out from a postcard that we had written to them, that they somehow received, they tried to save my friend by bribing and sending a Rumanian officer to Zalescziky. He could move freely as the Rumanians were allies of the Germans. The Rumanian officer was trying to take Jacques along and bring him back to Bucharest. When he came with the news that his uncle sent him to take Jacques back to Rumania, Jacques demanded that he take me also back to Rumania. The officer refused, saying that the uncle didn't pay for two people, only for one. At this point Jacques refused to go without me, even though I encouraged him to go. I figured that it was senseless to risk two lives when one could be saved. But he refused categorically and we remained together for a long time, but eventually, as you will see later, he didn't make it. From Jacques's uncle's message, we found out for the first time, that our parents were deported to Transnistria and were at that time in Moghilev-Podolsk. That is all we knew about our parents for the next three years, after receiving that message at the end of 1941.
We also didn't know anything about our other relatives. My father had three brothers in the Bucovina: Schlomo, Schmuel-Abe and Moische. He also had family in Montreal, Canada, that were thankfully safe from the ravages of war and the Nazi persecution. There were three sisters, Emma, Regina and Beatrice and a brother Max, all with their own families. We had no communication with them all through the war, neither did my parents.
The relatives on my mother's side, my grandparents Menasche and Rifka Sussman and two of her sisters, Mina and Jeanette with their husbands Max and Mechel and children Mendi-14 and Any-4, fled the advancing German and Rumanian armies. They reached a village Putila, 22 km north of Seletin, where they were overrun by the advancing Rumanian and shot. As they fell into the ditch at the side of the road, dead, Jeanette kept the 4-year old Any in her arms. When the peasants came to rob the dead of their belongings, they found the child alive. They took it and gave it to the only Jewish family in the village, who was the only doctor in the area, Doctor Stier. He eventually found out the identity of the child and delivered it to another sister of my mother's, Dora, who lived in Czernowitz with her husband Moische and her son Aron. When this sister and her family were deported to Transnistria, Dora sent the child to the Jewish community in Bucharest with a friend of the family, a German from Czernowitz, who took her and transported her to Bucharest. Eventually, she was adopted by a family Pascal in Bucharest. Any lived in New York and died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 58.
There is another thing I would like to mention. In the fall of 1941, there were torrential rains in the region. Those rains caused the Dniester to swell to the point that the water spilled over the banks and carried away a lot of livestock and even some people, who drowned. Sometimes entire houses came floating down the river. Coming from upstream, all these corpses of people and livestock were stopped in Zalescziky at the portions of the railway bridge that were immersed in the water after the bridge was blown up by the retreating Red Army. These bodies became entangled in the portions of the bridge and could not float any further. When the waters started to recede, the corpses became more and more visible and there was a danger that an epidemic would break out in the city because of the dead bodies. Therefore something had to be done.
One day, as Jacques and myself went to the Schulsingers through the back streets, we had to turn a corner and walk under a railway overpass, when suddenly in front of us appeared the commander of the border patrol unit, officer Tank on a bicycle riding towards us and behind him about three dozen Jews running after him. As soon as he saw us, he made a sign, said "Komm komm" and we had to get behind the others and run after him to wherever he was leading us.
It turned out that he was leading us to the banks of the Dniester. This happened towards evening. We had to descend a steep incline towards the river and there they started to organize the removal of those dead bodies, human and animal. There were several rowboats with Germans and Ukrainians in them equipped with ropes and hooks and they paddled to the place where they hooked a corpse. We were thrown into the water up to our neck, had to form a line of people and pull on the ropes until the corpse was removed from the water. And then it started all over again. I want to mention that this was already late in the fall of 1941 and the water was very cold. We stood in the water from the evening until about midnight, pulling the corpses out. There was another team on the banks of the river that buried those corpses right there. At one point, when a German passed us by in a boat, we told him that we have been at this job for the last 6 hours, it is past midnight and we begged him to led us go out and rest. He agreed, so we went out to the banks of the river and he took other people and put them in our place to continue the job. As soon as we were out of the water, we succeeded to run away under the cover of darkness and made our way home. The house where we lived was quite close. We came into the house, took off our clothes and put them to dry. I remember having a pair of shoes that were also soaked. I didn't know where to dry them, so I put them in the oven of the stove to dry. My neighbour, the shoemakers wife, who was still alone at the time, didn't know what happened and while we were fast asleep, she lit the fire in her stove next morning as usual, but the chimney connected to ours and when we got up, my shoes were completely scorched. So I remained without shoes. I don't even remember where I obtained another pair. Mostly we walked with rags wrapped around our feet.
We survived the winter 1941-1942 by doing odd jobs, chopping wood for people and keeping warm by stealing fences and heating with them.
One day in the summer of 1942, the Gestapo came again, made their inhuman demands to the Judenrat, who did the best they could to provide them with what they asked. They said that on a certain day the whole Jewish population had to be present in one of two places. All able-bodied men had to go downtown and all the women, children and the old people, the sick, mothers with babies (in other words everybody) had to go to the army barracks where we used to live. They had to bring along rags, pails, cleaning materials, as if they had to do a job of cleaning something. They used this method to make people think that there is a purpose in going there and not that they were going to their deaths. And in desperation, people tried hard to believe that there is a valid reason for this gathering and that they would be home in the evening. I must say that I would have gone where I was supposed to on that particular day, had it not been for Jacques, who didn't let me go. He was more courageous than me. He said we must run away and hide.
On that fateful day we ran out of town, not too far, about 3 to 4 km, and hid in the tall bushes on the side of a country road. We were hidden there for several days and had no idea what was going on in the city. Eventually whatever food we had was finished, so we had no choice but to get out of there. And so we did. When we abandoned our hiding place and started to walk back to Zalescziky, we met a peasant and asked him to tell us what happened. That was the first time we found out that all able-bodied men that were assembled downtown were taken to a concentration camp and all the others, that were assembled at the barracks disappeared without a trace. I don't even know today what happened to them. Some said later that they were assembled at the barracks and shot right there and then. Others said that since the barracks were near the railway tracks, a freight train came along and all of them were loaded into the freight wagons and transported to an unknown destination. The fact is that most of the Jewish population of the city of Zalescziky was massacred, exterminated during the summer of 1942. Among them the relatives of my friend Jacques, the Hunters, who did in a limited way help us in the beginning and whose head was a prominent member of the Judenrat. The whole of the Schulsinger family disappeared without a trace that day, father, mother, two daughters and a son, all fine people, as well as most of the Jews of Zalescziky.
After that fateful day the few remaining Jews were told that Zalescziky has been declared Judenrein (clean of Jews) and that we had to get out. There were only a couple of places where we could go, so we decided to opt for a town called Mielnica for two reasons. One was the fact that a member of the Judenrat there was a man from Czernowitz by the name of Soifer, who was there with his family, wife and two daughters. They were a prominent family in Czernowitz, bankers and writers, real intellectuals, whose older daughter Britta I knew because she attended the same Jewish school in Czernowitz as I did. We were hoping that we could be helped by them should we be in their proximity. The second reason was that Mielnica was geographically located to the east of us and closer therefore to Moghilev-Podolsk, where our parents were and we hoped that maybe we could make it to them.
When we arrived in Mielnica, we were well received by the Soifers, even stayed with them for a while. One day Mr. Soifer asked us if we would like to go away from Mielnica, not too far to the east to work on a so called "Liegenschaftsgut" which is an agricultural farm that used to be a collective farm (Kolchoz) under the Soviets and which the Germans took over for the production of food for the German Reich. The director of that Liegenschaftsgut had asked the Judenrat in Mielnica to provide them with farm workers and he thought, that considering the situation, it was a good idea to go there. We agreed because we were promised food and shelter. When we arrived there, we were assigned a barrack for shelter. We slept on a bundle of straw on the floor and started to work. It was the time when the grain was harvested and brought in from the fields. It had to be trashed to separate the grain from the straw, on a machine. We operated that machine and we carried sacks of wheat that were some 80-100 kg heavy. I don't know how I managed to carry such heavy loads from one place to another, but that was not the only kind of job that we performed. We did take care of the cattle and horses, cleaning and feeding them, sometimes we also worked in the fields that had to be plowed to turn over the soil. The job was done with a plow pulled by horses. Some Ukrainian peasants also worked at the Liegenschaftsgut, for pay, besides working their own fields.
The food that we received there was very meager and we supplemented with fruits that were plentiful, even though we had no right to collect the fruits from the trees. There were mostly prunes and apples and we only had the right to use the ones that had dropped from the trees to the ground and those were usually full of worms and mostly rotten. Because we had very little other food, we ate so much of these that most of us had diarrhea. There was no medication and that is how we had to make do.
During the time when we worked at the Liegenschaftsgut, one day I was assigned the job of going with a young Ukrainian to plow the fields with a couple of horses and a plow. When we arrived, he told me to lead the horses and he was holding the plow by the horns. Pretending to whip the horses, he whipped me to the point of making me bleed. He did it on purpose, of course, because I was Jewish. We were all alone in the fields, nobody saw us and I had nobody to talk to or to complain to. In the evening, when I came back, some people saw how I looked and when they asked, I told them the story of how the young Ukrainian whipped me instead of the horses and somebody went and told his parents about it. His parents called me in, looked at me and apologized for their son's behaviour. They invited me to a very good supper, food that I hadn't eaten for years. I was thinking that it was almost worthwhile to trade the beating for the supper. It shows again that one cannot generalize, that there are some decent people among the crowds of beasts. I appreciated their apology, but I appreciated the supper even more.
During our stay at the Liegenschaftsgut, the Gestapo came to Mielnica and organized a so-called Aktion against the Jews. The system was about the same as they had previously done in Zalesczity. They collected all the Jews, they took them out, killed, deported to concentration camps, and declared Mielnica "Judenrein" which means free of Jews. We were extremely lucky having been at the Liegenschaftsgut all that time, but after that the director of the Liegenschaftsgut, a German came to us and told us that since Mielnica is now Judenrein, he couldn't keep us any longer and that we would have to get out of there.
And so, towards the end of 1942 we went to another town by the name of Borschow, which was about 35 km away and still had a Jewish population, even though there had also been several Aktionen there. The town, however, has not yet been declared Judenrein. The system that the Germans used was to make one or two Aktionen in the towns and the remnants of the Jews that were not caught during those Aktionen were deported to another town.. Gradually, more and more towns became Judenrein and less and less towns had a Jewish population.
When we arrived in Borschow, it was the only town in the whole area that was left with some Jewish population, which consisted of local Jews, but mostly of Jews that survived the Aktionen in their hometowns. It became easy for the Germans to find and liquidate the Jews of the area, as they were all concentrated in Borschow now and by doing so, they would have liquidated the Jews of the whole region.
Borschow was a city of about 20,000 inhabitants, mostly Ukrainian, with a good percentage of Poles, who were the colonists. During the Polish regime, many Poles were encouraged by the central government in Warsaw to settle in the western Ukraine so as to increase the Polish population there. They were mostly intellectuals, lawyers, doctors, judges, etc and represented the central authority. There were also a good number of Jews and at that particular moment when we arrived there, because of the resettlement of Jews from other towns and villages, there were many Jews there.
I would estimate the number to about 6000. When we arrived there, there was already a ghetto established, so we were thrown into the ghetto among all the other Jews, most of them having lived elsewhere, but who were also thrown within the borders of the ghetto. We did not have the right to go out of the ghetto except by special permission.
It is generally common knowledge, that all the Jews under German occupation all over Europe had to wear a distinctive sign that would include a Star of David, usually of a yellow color. Where we were, that wasn't the case. We had to wear a white arm band on our left arm, about 10 cm wide with a blue Star of David embroidered on it. I don't know how widespread this method was, but I am sure that in Galizia that was the method used. There were also in Borschow the ever-present German occupation forces, represented here by the German Gendarmerie.
When we arrived there in the fall of 1942, we settled among the Jews in the ghetto. The non-Jews who lived previously in that part of town, were evacuated and given the houses of Jews who used to live outside the ghetto so that the ghetto contained only Jews. No contact with non-Jews was allowed. But there was an illegal contact established with peasants who came to certain hidden places to trade food for valuables.
We found shelter in the basement of a small apartment block. The other apartments in that block were occupied by local people from Borschow. They were better class people; there were even a couple of Jewish policemen, sons of some of the families living there.
At the time, in Borschow, like everywhere else, where Jews still lived, there was a so-called Judenrat (Jewish committee) instituted by the Germans. They were no more than an instrument of the Germans to implement the policies of the occupying authorities towards the Jews, all leading unmistakenly to the annihilation of the Jewish population of the region. When we arrived there, there had already been some Aktionen in Borschow; a number of local Jews had already been killed, massacred, deported, so that the local Jewish population had diminished considerably in numbers. But that population was supplemented by the new arrivals from the other towns and cities, which had been declared Judenrein after the majority there had been massacred. We had not been able to find steady work but we were able to earn some food and money by doing odd jobs for other people, cleaning houses, chopping wood and so on.
At that time the Judenrat was reorganized and some prominent personalities became members of the Judenrat, among them Mr. Soifer, who was from Czernowitz. I mentioned him before when we were in Mielnica. He tried to do whatever he could to protect us and other refugees from the hardships that we were facing. At one point because of the terrible unsanitary conditions that prevailed in the ghetto, caused by crowding, lack of soap or other cleaning materials even water and medication, an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out and spread rapidly. It is a stomach infection with terrible diarrhea, high fever, headaches, etc. Many people succumbed to the sickness. Mass burials were the order of the day. I also became sick and didn't know what I was doing because of the high fever. Somebody told me later, that during one evening, when a little snow was already on the ground, I walked out of the basement, completely barefoot and almost naked, with just a shirt on and went over to a neighbour's house. They were shocked to see me that way and led me back to my basement. I was delirious from the high fever. Two local Jewish girls who worked for the German gendarmerie, had pity on us and knowing how sick I was, brought me some food and also a lemon, something I had not seen for years, that was to provide me with some vitamin C to help me get well. After a while I felt better and we were sent by the Judenrat to work for the German gendarmerie, so as to satisfy their request for labour. They did not want to send local people, so they sent refugees who had no protection.
The fact that they sent us, Jacques and myself, to work for the German gendarmerie, eventually became one of the reasons that saved our lives for the time being. At the German gendarmerie we did all kinds of odd jobs. We cleaned the stables, (they had one for pigs and calves for slaughtering and another one at a different location for 5 horses and carriages) and we were just working hands doing all the jobs that were required, feeding and cleaning the animals, etc. We received milk to feed the calves from a bottle, so we diluted the milk with water and took half back to the ghetto in the evening, part for ourselves and part we gave away to others. The fact that we were fluent in German helped us a lot because we could understand what the Germans wanted and we could also answer their questions and in time we became quite friendly with some of them. We had good food, more than we needed so that we could save some and bring it with us to the starving people in the ghetto. The cook at the German gendarmerie was a Polish woman by the name of Petrovska. One of her daughters, Wanda, also worked at the gendarmerie. Madame Petrovska's husband wasn't around. Some said that he was taken into the Red Army and was forced to retreat with the Russians. She was very good to us, fed us well and saw to it that we had plenty of food, so that we could bring back to the ghetto what was left over.
During our working period at the German gendarmerie, there was a young Jewish man by the name of Jossi, who worked as a driver of the horses and carriages that the Germans used for patrolling purposes. He had a sister by the name of Zissie and she also worked at the German gendarmerie at that time doing the cleaning of rooms, helping in the kitchen and other general work. She was helped by another Jewish girl by the name of Rosa. These were the two girls who brought me some food and a lemon during my typhoid fever days. In time we became friends with these Jewish young people from Borschow and we started to confide in each other. There was also a Ukrainian man working as a driver of the horses and carriages, as they had several of them. His name was Pavlo Darmapuk and we became quite friendly with him also, during our working period at the German gendarmerie.
At the time when we started to work there, there was a change of commanders at the gendarmerie. A new commander arrived, a lieutenant who came from Austria. When he took over, he inspected the premises and saw us working there, started to talk to us and found out our story, how we landed there after being deported by the retreating Russians, (that was our official version which was untrue) and how we would like to return to Czernowitz. In time we became quite friendly with him also, because when we started to work at the gendarmerie, he seemed to be a very nice man. He followed orders imposing all kinds of restrictions against Jews. The gendarmerie was not actually involved in killing Jews, that was the job of the Gestapo and the SD (Sonderdienst). He became quite intimate with Rosa, one of the Jewish girls that worked there and he used her as his mistress. Zissie, Jossi's sister, was also involved with another German. These two girls were protected by their Germans.. There were two Ukrainian girls working there, also involved with some of the Germans and so was the cook madame Petrovska and her daughter Wanda.
One day, the commander came to us in big secrecy, saying that he was informed that the next day a detachment of the Gestapo is coming to town and that there will be an Aktion in Borschow. He and his whole staff was mobilized for the purpose of helping the Gestapo execute these orders and do whatever they did with Jews in other places. He told me the news and I felt that he wanted me to convey the message to the people in the ghetto. When we returned that evening to the ghetto, we told the people there what was planned for the next day, so that the people had advance warning of about 12-15 hours. We, ourselves, after having conveyed the message, returned to the gendarmerie, because we felt that we would be much safer there than in the ghetto. We went up to the attic of the stable where the pigs were kept and stayed there. We had a supply of food and madame Petrovska knew that we were there, so she sent us some more.
During the next day the Gestapo really came to town and started she Aktion by collecting all the Jews from wherever they could find them, shooting people in the streets during an attempt to run away and breaking into the houses and taking them out. We were told later that they were taking groups of hundreds of Jews to certain places, telling them to strip naked and marching them naked to the cemetery, where they had to dig graves, after which they were shot. The graves were covered in a rudimentary fashion, so that after several days, the blood in those bodies, having been buried warm, started to ferment and the earth on top swelled to the point that the blood spilled over. Some peasants interpreted this as a bad omen for the rest of the population and, here and there, there was a peasant that helped or saved Jews.
Among the people who were killed that day were many refugees from the Bucovina and also a lot of local people that we knew, who were living next door. During all that time we hid at the German gendarmerie and were safe. We were told of the horrors of that day later. They did not succeed in catching and killing all the Jews, partly because of the advance warning, so that after the horrible day was over, the Gestapo left and the rest of the Jews continued to live in Borschow in a reduced size ghetto, so that the concentration of Jews remained the same as before.
That was the first Aktion that I lived through in Borschow, but not the last one. There were some more coming at a later date.
We continued to work at the German gendarmerie, going back to the ghetto every evening. We noticed that in the ghetto, the Jews started to organize themselves, not for any resistance purposes, but for a kind of passive resistance. This organization was in fact a method of trying to survive, by establishing and building secret hiding places for the time when the Gestapo and the gendarmerie, always aided by the Ukrainian police, would come into the houses hunting for Jews. There were all kinds of ingenious hiding places that the Jews invented during that time; we called them "Bunkers" and some of them helped me and Jacques survive. About that later.
During the winter 1942-1943 the situation of the Jewish population in Borschow became more and more desperate. Sanitary conditions were appalling. There was no heat, medicine, soap, disinfectants, and no food. The lack of food caused many people to become sick with all kinds of skin diseases, people had open wounds that wouldn't heal and there was no way of treating them. The typhus epidemic spread all over. A lot of people were affected. People used to die by the tens every day. They were buried by throwing the bodies on top of a cart and carrying them to the cemetery. I remember, one day, meeting a young man from Radauti, a law student by the name of Salo Reicher and when I saw him, even I was shocked because the small hole on his throat below the Adam's apple was completely filled with lice. Lice were everywhere. We couldn't get rid of them, no matter how hard we tried to keep ourselves clean. We used petrol on our hair, but it didn't help. Many people gave up on the battle against lice and were practically eaten alive by them. Lice are the carriers of the typhus microbe and so the disease kept on spreading.
News from the war was very scarce. All we knew was that the Germans had advanced deep into Russian territory and were having successes. At the end of 1942 there were some rumors about a city called Stalingrad, that somehow the Russians succeeded in stopping the German advance in the Stalingrad region. But these were only rumors and unconfirmed. There was no radio, no newspaper, except for an occasional German newspaper and they printed news that were convenient to them. The only thing that kept the people alive was the hope that one day the Russians will return and that the allies will be able to defeat the Germans. But as time went on and the situation being desperate, this hope was fading rapidly.
The Germans didn't let loose. The different laws with more and more restrictive instructions concerning Jews kept on coming all the time. Now and then the Gestapo came around and subjected the Jewish population to one of their Aktionen aided by the gendarmerie and the Ukrainian police. It reached the point that the Germans from the gendarmerie considered the Aktion as routine work and some of them developed in time a sadistic pleasure from participating in the killings. If I was working at the gendarmerie the day before the Aktion, I knew about it, because the German commander told me and I could and did warn the people in the ghetto. But one day an Aktion came and, not having worked at the gendarmerie the previous day, I didn't know about it. The Aktion started very early in the morning and we were caught completely by surprise. As soon as we heard shots in the streets, we understood what it was all about and we ran to the next house which had a well hidden bunker, so that we could hide together with the people from that house.
And here I would like to explain what that bunker consisted of. To enter the house, you had to walk up a few steps, pass through a door and come to a small entrance. Across the door, there was another door leading to a cellar after descending a number of steps. On the left side of the entrance, there was a staircase, leading to the second floor and to the attic and on the right side of the entrance, there was a door leading to a room, where a Jewish family lived. What we did to build that bunker was the following: we completely built over the door leading to the cellar, so that it was unrecognizable that there ever was a door there. The door was removed, a brick wall built in the opening, covered with mortar and painted over, so that anybody who didn't know the house, would have never guessed that there used to be a door there. In the room located in the right side of the entrance, where the Jewish family lived, in the rear left hand corner, there was a bed. The floor was a hardwood floor with interlocking pieces in the form of a zig-zag. We pulled the bed aside, removed several of the hardwood slats and dug a hole underneath, leading into the cellar. We fastened the pieces of hardwood that we removed to a piece of board, so that when we slipped into the cellar through that hole, we could, from the inside, with a handle attached to the boards, pull the cover down to close the hole. The pieces of hardwood mounted on the board would fit the floor perfectly. If somebody looked at the floor, they could not see anything unusual. We succeeded to jump into the cellar, through the floor and after pulling the bed in place and pulling the cover down, we considered ourselves relatively safe.
When the Germans and the Ukrainians came looking for Jews in that house, they didn't find anybody. At that moment somebody opened or broke down the door to a shack located in the courtyard, where an old Jewish man lived. That man knew about the bunker we were in, but failed to make it in time and was caught by the Aktion inside the shack. When the Germans and the Ukrainians broke down the door to the shack, they found the old man inside, took him out, beat him and threatened to kill him, unless he provided them with information regarding the whereabouts of the people living in the house. We heard that conversation from the cellar and we also heard the old man tell them where the bunker is. At that point the Germans came into the room, pulled away the bed, looked at the floor and couldn't see or find anything. So they went out back to the old man, told him that he is a liar and started beating him again. The old man trying to save his skin, told them to provide him with an ax, which they did. He came into the room and with the ax started to destroy the cover of the hole. When the hole became visible, the Germans pulled away the cover and started to scream at the people inside: everybody out! Nobody moved, the fear paralyzed us. There were several children among us. Some Germans and Ukrainians positioned themselves around the hole with guns pointing inside and started shooting. A woman holding a child was hit by a bullet and fell to the floor bleeding. That's when somebody said to the Germans to stop shooting and we will come out. And so we did. One by one, as there was no place for more to pass through the hole, we came out into the room, and the Germans directed us to go into the courtyard. Most everybody did go outside. But at the exit door a Ukrainian policeman was standing and looking towards the courtyard. When we passed the entrance and he wasn't looking, we ran up the stairs to the second floor and from there to the attic, where we had another bunker, for back up purposes. This one was not as good as the one in the cellar, but we had no choice as we were trying desperately to save our lives. The other bunker was built in a corner of the attic. This was a stand-up attic, but the corner did not permit standing up because the roof was slanted. Between the slanted roof and the floor of the attic, there was a space, where one could lie down and that space was boarded up. A couple of those boards were loosened up and when you pulled them apart, you could walk into that area, move the boards back into place and hide there. We were not the only ones, there were about five people who managed to hide there after running up the stairs.
After the Germans finished with the people from the cellar by moving them out into the courtyard, they started searching throughout the building to see if there were more Jews hiding there. They searched every room until they came into the attic, looked around, did not find our hiding place and left. We heard them speaking quite clearly, saying that they must have cleaned out the place. We didn't even dare to breathe. We were lying in that very narrow, crowded place for about two days, didn't dare to come out. The people who were marched into the courtyard, including the old man who gave us away, were joined with others from other houses, were formed into a group and marched off to the cemetery, stripped naked and shot. As usual, the Germans did not keep their promise to the old man to spare his life if he would divulge the hiding place of the others.
From the place in the attic where we were hiding, we could look down to the street and we saw some horrible sights. We saw a young girl being shot by a German while trying to run away and while she was lying in the street, some local Ukrainians came and robbed her of her clothing, stripping her naked and letting her lie there. We saw a dog come, who started to eat her flesh. Scenes like this repeated themselves all over the city of Borschow.
While in hiding, I experienced a feeling of anxiety and fear of such an intensity that it consumed me. And without any specific intention or ulterior motive, I couldn't help thinking that I experienced a similar feeling before. I tried to identify the time and circumstances when I could have felt the same way. All of a sudden it dawned on me that I felt the same way when I had to pass a difficult exam during my high school years. I concluded that the intensity of such a feeling goes only that far, whether it is a life and death situation or a difficult high school exam.
After being hidden a couple of days we had no choice but to come out. There were other survivors. They did not succeed in rounding up everybody. Life resumed, if one can call this life.
During the last Aktion that took place in Borschow, a number of people that we knew, were caught and executed by the Germans. Among them was the Soifer family. Husband, wife and two daughters from Czernowitz, who had survived all the hardships up to that point and also served the Jewish community in Mielnica and Borschow to the best of their ability, under terrible circumstances. That was the end of the line for them.
Others whom we knew and were caught and killed were a family that lived next door to our building in the room where the bunker had the entrance to the cellar, that I described before. It was the Getzler family, husband, wife, a beautiful daughter and the husbands mother. They were some of the people that came out of the cellar and went into the courtyard.
The pain that we experienced by the loss of these fine people, that tried to help us and other refugees, cannot be put into words. Our situation was also desperate. Some food could be obtained by the people in the ghetto by exchanging certain things for food with the peasants. We did something out of desperation.
We knew that the people next door, that lived in the room where the entrance to the bunker was, had stashed away some valuables with a Polish family that was well off and that lived outside the ghetto. We knew it from the people themselves, who confided that information to us for just such an occasion, should they be caught during an Aktion.
As we had the possibility of going outside the ghetto because of our occasional work at the German gendarmerie, we went to the Polish family and told them that we know that they are in possession of some valuables that belong to a Jewish family that was recently killed by the Germans and asked them to use some of these valuables to help us survive. Whether out of fear to be reported, or for humanitarian reasons, they did provide us with food and some clothing.
We continued, in the beginning, to work sporadically for the Germans but as time went on we went to work daily to the gendarmerie, mostly because we had food there.
As I said before, among the people who worked at the gendarmerie was also Jossi, a local young Jewish man who was driving the horse and carriages for the Germans. We started to notice some unusual activity on his part that didn't seem to be kosher. That was in the beginning of 1943. In time we found out that he became a partisan, part of a group that was active in a forest in the Borschow area called Tzigany forest. We saw him coming out of the German gendarmerie in a long coat in the spring of 1943, when there was no need to wear a coat. We found out later, that he used to go to the attic of the gendarmerie building, where a number of confiscated weapons were stored and he stole rifles and guns, hid them under the coat, taking them out and turning them over to the partisan unit of which he was a part.
That activity went on for quite a while and one day we heard that two German gendarmes, on a patrol mission in the surroundings of Borschow, were attacked by some men that jumped out of the woods and killed. The horses and carriage were stolen and so were their weapons. The two Germans were stripped, left lying on the road and their uniforms stolen. The Germans started to feel the activity of the partisans in the area. They knew, of course, of partisan activity in many areas of the occupied territory. Soon afterwards, two German gendarmes appeared at the gate of the Borschow prison that was guarded by Ukrainian policemen and ordered them to open the gate, which they did. The Germans entered the prison compound, killed the Ukrainian policemen, took the keys to the cells, opened all the cells and liberated all the prisoners that were there. Among those prisoners were also many Jews, who were kept in prison for one reason or another, waiting to be executed. There were also other political prisoners, but also some common criminals.
After they did that daring feat, we heard that one of the two that did the job at the prison, was none other than Jossi. The weapons and uniforms were the ones that came from the attack and killing of the two German gendarmes. At the time, he had quit working for the Germans and plain disappeared.
When this happened, sometime in the spring of 1943, the Germans organized a mission to hunt down the partisans in the area. They mobilized whatever units they could from all over Galizia. Gendarmerie from other places, SS, Sonderdienst, anybody they could put their hands on including Ukrainian police and they came with motorized and armored vehicles, even tanks, surrounding the whole area, where they presumed the partisans to be and slowly advanced into the woods. There was a battle between the partisans and the Germans that lasted for several days, but eventually the partisans could not resist the might of the mobilized German units and were all wiped out. Jossi was among them. He was identified by one of the German gendarmes and the commander told me about it. The Germans never knew that Zissie was Jossi's sister. Had they known, she would have been shot right then. As it turned out, she was killed later.
In the ghetto of the city of Borschow there weren't many Jews left. The Germans, as was their policy from the beginning, decided to liquidate the last remnants of the Jews in the ghetto and so they organized an Aktion which was executed according to their standard procedure. They, the SS and the Sonderdienst came one day, mobilized the German gendarmerie and the Ukrainian police and started to clean out the ghetto house by house until they had collected all the Jews, taking them to the cemetery, stripped them naked and shot them. We knew about that Aktion from the commander of the German gendarmerie a day ahead of time. As usual, we warned some of the Jews in the ghetto and went back to the German gendarmerie the same evening, to hide there the next day when the Aktion would take place. We heard from the attic where we were hidden, shootings in the streets, people screaming, crying of the ones caught, and the screaming orders of the Germans. We remained in the attic and waited for the Aktion to end. After the day was over, the last visible members of the Jewish community were executed and the Germans declared the city as Judenrein (clean of-Jews) the same as they did with many other cities before. That was in the summer of 1943.
When they declared the city Judenrein, there was no way of going back to the ghetto. We just didn't have where to go anymore. We started sleeping in the attic of the stable for the horses with the knowledge of the German gendarmerie commander, of madame Petrovska, the cook, and of Pavlo Darmapuk, the driver and caretaker of the horses. They knew that there were no more Jews alive officially in the ghetto, but there were some remnants that were hidden by gentiles and some that fled to the forest to hide in the woods. One of several forests where Jews were hiding, was the Tzigany forest, located about 7 km north-east of Borschow.
We found out from Pavlo Darmapuk that some Jews who succeeded in hiding during the last Aktion, fled to that forest and were hiding in an underground bunker, that they had dug in the middle of the forest. There was one local Jewish man, who came weekly to a neighbour of Pavlo's for some food and perhaps a German newspaper, who told him about the bunker in the forest. This information was very important to us, because we felt that the day will come when we will be forced to flee and the only place to go was the forest. But about that later.
We settled into some kind of routine by being hidden in the attic of the stable. We slept in there, got up very early in the morning, before light and came down to the stable to clean the horses. There were five horses and by the time we finished cleaning them, it started to be light outside. Then we returned to the attic. I must mention that to reach the attic, one had to go outside the stable and mount the stairway, which was attached to the outside of the building. There was no way one could reach the attic from the inside. Sometimes we also came down in the evening, after dark, late in the evening and lit a fire in the stove used for heating the place. The stable building consisted of two rooms. The big one accommodated the 5 horses and the small room was where harnesses and saddles were kept. That small room had a stove for heating. In the same room there was also a wooden box with a cover and three partitions inside, where food for the horses was kept, mainly oats. The room contained a bed, for no particular reason, but sometimes the driver of the caleche would rest between trips.
As I said, when we finished cleaning the horses and cleaning up the room, we went back up into the attic. I also want to mention that the two Jewish girls that worked at the gendarmerie, cleaning the rooms and serving as mistresses to some of the Germans, could also not remain there, because the city became Judenrein. They were hiding across the street from the German gendarmerie, where there was a house in which the two Ukrainian women, who also worked there lived. They, living there, were hiding the Jewish girls in the attic of that house. For a while they stayed there. Sometimes the commander of the German gendarmerie came to visit us and tell us the latest news from the war. This gave us hope that eventually the Russians will return and liberate us. We knew, for example, that the German armies were retreating on all fronts and that the Russians were on the offensive.
The retreat of the German armies also caused the retreat of the Ukrainian units that were part of the SS and were fighting together with the Germans against the Soviets. One day the commander told us that some Ukrainian units will pass through the city of Borschow on their way west and because they had no place to stay, some of them will have to spend the night in the attic where we were hiding. Half of the attic was filled with hay for the horses and in the very rear of the attic, Jacques and myself were hiding under the hay. That same afternoon some Ukrainian soldiers came up to the attic to sleep. We heard their voices, we heard them talking, singing and drinking. These people were extremely antisemitic and had they suspected that some Jews were hiding there, it would have been the end of us. We didn't even dare to breathe. But luckily the next day they left and we resumed our routine of getting up very early in the morning, coming down, cleaning the horses and returning to the attic. As I said before, some evenings we came down late in the evening, lit the fire in the stove of the small room and we baked some potatoes on the coals of the stove. We got the potatoes from a garden located across the street from the stable, a garden belonging to a Polish family. We went into the garden at night and dug out potatoes. It was late summer of 1943. The baked potatoes were a welcome supplement to the food that we received from madame Petrovska through Pavlo Darmapuk.
At one point it became too dangerous for the two Jewish girls to continue to hide at the house where the two Ukrainian women lived; so they transferred them to live in our attic. Since we knew from our past experiences that it was not enough to have only one hiding place, we devised another. In a corner of the stable's courtyard, there was a huge pile of manure that came from cleaning the stable. We dug a hole in a side of that pile, quite a big hole, which we lined with straw. In one of the sides there was a small opening, camouflaged with straw hanging down. Sometimes we hid in that pile of manure, the two of us and the two girls.
An incident which brought about an end of our stay in the attic of the stable, or in that pile of manure took place one day. We had to leave.
One early morning we were coming down to do our routine work, went into the stable and while doing the cleaning of the horses, we saw through a window a German gendarme together with another German that we didn't know approach the stable. The one that we knew, whose name was Lange, was sent to an SS school some time back. We had no idea that he had returned and he was one of the worst ones. We had no way of getting out of the stable without being seen, so we went into the small room, opened the cover of the bin where the oats of the horses were kept and slipped in two of the compartments that were almost empty, hoping that they would not discover us. When Lange came into the stable, we heard him talking to the other German and explaining everything about the horses, their usefulness, etc. It turned out that the other German was an inspector of some kind who came to check things out. After that they came into the small room and Lange showed him the harnesses and saddles and suddenly he opened the cover of the bin to show him the food for the horses. At that point we stood up and they both got scared to the point of shock. But they recovered quickly, told us to get out and took us down to the headquarters of the German gendarmerie which was about 200-300 meters away. He pulled us in and we were convinced that that was the end of us, there was no escape. He told us to wait in the hallway. To the right and left of the hallway were the offices of the German gendarmerie and at the end of the hallway to the left, was the kitchen. We came in by the front entrance and at the end of the hallway, there was a rear exit into the courtyard. The commander of the gendarmerie was still sleeping as it was very early and they woke him up while we waited in the hallway. He came down and when he saw us, he was surprised himself, not so much to see us because he knew about us, but more for the fact that we got caught. He told us to get out of the building through the back door and hide for the time being in the attic of a small stable located in the rear courtyard. There the pigs and calves were kept and used to provide meat for the gendarmerie. We ran out of the building, up to the attic and realized that it was not possible anymore to hide at the German gendarmerie. Nevertheless we stayed there a few days, and during that time the commander came to us once and told us that Italy has capitulated, that the F¸hrer (Hitler) will speak about it on the radio and he promised to open the window of his room, turn up the radio at high volume so that we could listen to Hitler's speech. And when we did hear him speak, it was one of the first good news that we heard in a very long time.
At the same time we contacted Pavlo Darmapuk and asked him to tell the man that came once a week from the Tzigany forest, that we would like to speak to him. We made contact with him one evening and told him that we would like to go with him to the forest and stay there for good. He agreed and so in the fall of 1943 we left the German gendarmerie for good and walked the 7-8 km with that man into the Tzigany forest and entered the bunker which they had dug.
I must explain here that it wasn't easy to be accepted by a group of people hiding in a bunker. In our case most everybody knew us and all of them lived because we had warned them in advance of an impending Aktion. So, they accepted us out of gratitude. We found out later from Pavlo, that the German commander was trying to do something for the two Jewish girls that were hidden within the compound. He found them a place at a Liegenschaftsgut whose director was also a German, who agreed to keep the two girls there. We also found out later that the SS found out that there were two Jewish girls at the Liegenschaftsgut, after somebody denounced them, so they came, took them away and liquidated them. As you see, the war of the German SS against the defenseless Jews continued unabated, despite the Germans suffering by now defeats on all fronts.
Here, I will describe what the forest bunker consisted off. When we arrived there, right in the middle of the forest we saw a square hole about 50x50 cm. The opening was about 1 meter deep and you could enter only one person at a time of course, and once we entered the hole we came to an opening of about 4x4 meters and about 1,70 meter high in the middle passage only, that was dug underground. The passage was about 50 cm wide. On both sides of the passage, there were earthen platforms left there from the digging. The height in the platform area was only about 1 meter and these platforms, on both sides of the passage served as bunk beds for the people to lie down. We were 16 people in that bunker, mostly men but also 4 females, two local women and two young sisters from Budapest, that were part of the original group of Jews brought by the Hungarian army and dumped in the summer of 1941 in Zalescziky. Among the local men, there was a man and his 12 year old son. The platforms were covered with straw. Inside the bunker it was quite warm, even in winter as it was deep underground and had so many people in such a small space. It was mostly dark inside, but during the day a small ray of light penetrated through the opening, but it was not really sufficient to light up the place. It only indicated where the opening was. With conditions as they were, it must have been a superhuman effort to built that bunker. Most of the time we stayed in the dark. Only in some cases did we use a system to slightly light the place. It consisted of a half scooped out potato, filled with vegetable oil. A piece of wick was dipped into the oil and lit. As soon as the light was not absolutely necessary it was extinguished because we couldn't afford the waste of oil. Most everybody did go out at least once a day for some fresh air and to move around. But most of the time we were just lying there on top of the platform next to each other, just waiting. The conditions inside the bunker were unimaginable. The stench was intense. The lice were eating us up alive. As time went on, everybody developed open wounds, where lice used to feed, because of lack of nourishment.
Not far, about 2 km from our bunker, there was, what we called, a Polish colony. During the thirties the Polish government tried to increase the proportion of the Polish population, where the majority was Ukrainian so as to have a more solid claim to that area. Between the two World Wars, that area belonged to Poland, but the population was mostly Ukrainian and they were afraid that at one point the Soviet Union may have a claim to the province of Galizia because of the Ukrainian population there, so they tried to increase the percentage of Poles. To achieve this, they brought some Polish colonists - farmers from other parts of Poland and gave them land, built houses for them and extended credit. The colony close to our bunker, as I said about 2 km away, consisted of six houses with six Polish families living there. Each family had a parcel of land close to their house. These 6 Polish families were the main support for us Jewish outcasts who lived in the bunker. We used to go to the Polish colony at night and exchange whatever we had left for food, and some of the local people still had some valuables, gold, jewelry, etc.
But I must say that these Polish colonists did supply us with some food, like a pot of boiled potatoes (with the skin), a loaf of bread ( black and very primitive), etc., even if we didn't have what to give them in return, as was the case with us two. They did it for humanitarian reasons but also for political ones. After all, they were Poles and also under German occupation after their defeat, living within a sea of hostile Ukrainians. Whatever the reason, their help was very welcome.
We also settled into another routine. The man who used to go to Pavlo Darmapuk's neighbour once a week constituted the only connection to the outside world. So we accompanied him and while he went to the neighbour, one of us (we took turns - one week Jacques went, the other week I went) would go to Pavlo's house. During the previous week he would collect from the German gendarmerie, where he still worked, remnants of food and some German newspapers, from which we could, by reading between the lines, find out some information about how the war was going. This went on for quite a while and we continued to hide there waiting for the day of liberation, which during the winter of 1943-1944, seemed to be approaching, but for us much too slowly.
We continued to be eaten by lice. Slowly the people inside the bunker became more and more like animals. We saw scenes, when the boy's father denied him food by refusing to share with him whatever he had. But as desperate as the situation was, there were some signs of human emotion.
Jacques started to be attracted more and more to one of the Hungarian sisters. This attraction would prove to have been fatal to him.
From time to time German patrols with dogs combed the forest in search of partisans and Jews. We were lucky not to have been discovered by them.
Towards the end of March 1944, on a Saturday evening, because it was my turn, I set out together with the local man, to go to Borschow as usual. When we were about 2 km away from our bunker, it started to snow heavily. Soon everything was covered white and we lost our way. It seems that if there are no orientation signs, one walks in circles and so we did. We walked all night and only in the morning did we realize where we were and eventually arrived at our destination late in the morning.
When I took off my boots, I saw that I had big wounds on my feet that were bleeding. (The scars are still visible today). I also felt that I had fever. Being impossible to return the same day to the bunker, I asked Pavlo to let me stay for a while at his house and he reluctantly agreed. It was dangerous for him to give shelter to a Jew. The other man was advised about my condition and he remained at the neighbour's house. On Tuesday Pavlo told me that he cannot let me stay any longer and so the two of us took off Tuesday evening towards the bunker. I could barely walk because of the fever and also because I had my feet wrapped in rags inside my boots that were torn. But slowly we made it to the forest and when we arrived there, we couldn't find our bunker. After searching for several hours, we gave up and decided to go to the colony to see if they knew anything. And indeed they did. The snow that fell on that Saturday night covered everything including the bunker. It was a wet and heavy snow, as a matter of fact so heavy that the ceiling of the bunker started to leak. All of a sudden there was a crack in the ceiling and a noise that was the beginning of the ceiling caving in. When the people realized what was happening, they started to leave the bunker, but the opening being so small, they could only get out one at a time. Several people got out including the 12 year old boy, but when his father tried to get out, who was next in line, everything collapsed and he was half buried. The upper part of his body was outside and the lower part was trapped. The people who got out ran to the colony to try to get help to rescue the others and some of the colonists came with shovels to the bunker, but all they could do was to dig out the father of the boy. I was told by the people who escaped that Jacques could have come out, but he preferred to give priority to the two sisters and they were slow to gather their belongings and so all of them were buried alive. They are probably buried there to this day.
The people who got out were almost naked when they came out into the winter air and all of them suffered frostbite and most of them lost part of their toes of parts of their feet. I saw later after being liberated, when I was at the Borschow hospital, one of the survivors losing half a foot when doctor Rabinowitz removed half a rotten foot as if he would take off a glove, leaving the bones exposed. He cut these bones off later. The man who was half buried and later saved by colonists suffered terrible wounds all over the lower part of his body, but in time he recovered and the wounds healed when he started to feed himself properly after liberation.
Of the 16 people that were hidden in that bunker, there were 7 survivors plus the two of us who weren't there at the time of the collapse. We didn't know what to do with ourselves so we just wandered around in the forest like animals. The people of the colony sometimes let us hide in the attic of their stables and many a time we hid there without their knowledge. We realized that we have to find a better solution, so we decided to build another bunker, this time different for fear of yet another collapse. We dug a hole in the ground and covered it with branches, The cover was about level with the ground and could be seen only from very close. Inside that new bunker it was very cold and we just stayed there lying down and shivering. I myself, beginning from that Saturday night when I went to Borschow, suffered from high fever, which was a result of having typhus. As happened to other people, because of the big difference between body temperature and the outside temperature, one night when I went out of the bunker to relieve myself I suddenly felt a terrible pain in the tip of my toes and when I wanted to return to my place, I couldn't walk anymore and had to crawl back. I learned from the other people that I suffered most probably from a complication as a result of the difference in temperatures. It was a gangrene of the tips of my toes. It was almost as if the tips of my toes were frozen and after a couple of days, the tips of my toes started to turn a dark color until they became completely black. The pain was excruciating. The border between the normal color of the toes and the black portion became visible and from that place a dirty liquid started to emerge.
And so we stayed there for a while until one day we heard from far away what seemed to be canon fire. Several days later, by the middle of April 1944, the people from the colony told us that there is a rumor that the Russians are in Borschow. We weren't sure that there was any truth to that rumour, but we decided to go to Borschow anyway.
And so we left the bunker, a sorry lot of nine people, covered with sacs and rags, our feet covered with and bound with rags, emerging from the forest that was our home for almost one year and started to walk towards the road leading to Borschow over a snow covered field.
In the distance we saw a military column heading in the direction of Borschow. When the soldiers of that column saw that group of people in the middle of a field, about a dozen of them came towards us and surrounded us with rifles at the ready. They were ready to shoot us, even though they were Russian soldiers that we were waiting for years too see. There was a war on and the rule was to shoot first and ask questions later. At the last minute an officer stopped them and when they came closer and saw in what state of despair we were, they only asked us some questions, which we answered explaining who we were and then they left and we resumed our walk towards Borschow. We were close of loosing our lives after liberation.
When we arrived into the city, it was the third day after liberation. I went to Pavlo Darmapuk and found out from him that a Jewish doctor had survived, Doctor Rabinowitz, who organized the reopening of the city hospital and so I went to that hospital and they took me in. The hospital had only a number of beds and nothing else in the beginning. But with just rudimentary means, they started to treat the wounds on my toes. The problem was that after only 4 days at the hospital, I had to flee and run for my life once again because the Germans were returning.
What actually happened was this. When the Russians first liberated Borschow, it was only an advance column, that had made contact with another advance column much to the south and so encircled a huge part of the German army, that became trapped, They tried to fight their way out of encirclement, pushing towards the west. Slowly they succeeded to break through the Russian lines and continued their retreat towards the west. That is when they recaptured Borschow.
When I fled the hospital, I went again to Pavlo and he took me to his mother in law, who lived elsewhere in the city. I stayed there and a little later, looking out the window, I saw slowly advancing, first the gun, after the turret, and then the whole of a German Tiger tank. After the Germans entered the city, some came into the house where I was and told the lady of the house that they are going to establish there a communication center for the army. Should they ask about me, it was agreed, that she would say that I am her sick and crippled son, who cannot even get out of bed. They did establish their communication center there with radio transmitters and telephone exchange and stayed for one more week, when they were forced to get out and retreat under the ever increasing pressure of the Russian army, who occupied Borschow and continued their advance toward the west. I got satisfaction looking at the retreating German soldiers, who were hungry and in rags, not at all the way they looked in 1941 when they were advancing east.