On the night of August 31, 1939, a silent
procession of Jews and Poles marched side by side from the
market place to the church lane, the first time in the history
of the village that both communities were united in any kind
of manifestation. A young university student named Potocki
addressed the crowd and made a stirring appeal for solidarity
to defend the Motherland in peril. Everyone then sang the
Polish national anthem and recited the military oath, the
The Germans began their attack on the
morning of Friday, September 1, and the Jews of Ozarow
prepared their Sabbath in grim sadness, aware that this was no
ordinary Sabbath but war.
On September 3, a general mobilization was
declared, and we witnessed the arrival of the first refugees
who had fled the border region with Germany.
Soon they became an exodus, thousands of
people crossing Ozarow toward the Vistula. All of these
refugees hoped that the river would enable the Poles to block
the German advance. An oppressive heat weighed on this long
procession of wagons, bicycles and pedestrians marching
eastward. Ozarow was dense with people.
On Wednesday, the sixth day of the war,
Ozarow was bombed. On the little public square there was a
well, which the German planes flying over the village
obliterated with their bombardment. Sarah Donditchke, an old
woman, was sitting on her doorstep, with a child on her lap.
One burst killed her instantly. The child was hurled to the
ground, but miraculously, got up unscathed. People ran to the
fields for shelter. A number of them were felled by bullets or
severe burns, like Wolvale Waksman, and his two little boys.
After the first shock, the population
organized itself. Most of the Jews of the Main Street and the
market quarter abandoned the centre of the village, taking
shelter with families living closer to the outskirts. There
they stayed with doors and windows closed under the exhausting
heat of the long September days. It was impossible to get
relief from sleep. Each night was an eternity of anguish. Even
the dogs stopped barking.
On Thursday, September 7, 1939, the Germans
Everywhere you could see tanks, cannons and
hundreds of soldiers taking their positions, while the rest of
the troops continued their eastward advance. The houses
remained shuttered, with no one daring to set foot outside.
But this situation did not last long, for
the Germans began to hammer on the closed doors with their
fists and to bark orders. The Jews were conscripted into
The time of menace, humiliation and death
A DAY AT THE SYNAGOGUE
It was the first week of the German occupation in
September 1939, and we had been living with several other families at my
Aunt MaIka's on Ostrowiec Street. One morning, we heard deafening knocks
on our door, accompanied by shouts of, "Outside! Outside! All men between
16 and 60, outside! Those who disobey will be shot!" So my brother Shimon,
Moishe, my aunt's grandson, our neighbour, Abraham Zalcman, and myself all
found ourselves out on the street, where other Jews were already waiting.
The Germans forced us to run. If anyone stumbled, he
was beaten black and blue with rifle butts and had to manage to rejoin the
race by trying to catch up with his group on the road to the synagogue.
The latter filled up in a few minutes. The Germans had
drawn an uncrossable chalk line on the floor, which forced us to cram
closer and closer together. All talk was forbidden. Tobacco, watches,
jewels and all valuables were confiscated. The atmosphere grew stifling. A
few hours later, the Germans ordered us to leave the premises, which
caused a crush around the exit. They gathered us in the synagogue square
and began to crop the beards of the oldest men with bayonets, while they
showered the victims with sarcastic taunts. Then they ordered the "filthy
Jews" to once more get into the synagogue.
Following an identical scenario, we were once again
crammed together. And once again, we had to leave in the same disorder
under a barrage of insults. Yet, to be outdoors, able to take a breath of
fresh air was a great relief to us. But we had no idea of what to expect
next. A few officers showed up and ordered that the bakers be released so
that they could prepare bread for the population. The soldiers then culled
out all men older than 50, cut off their beards with bayonets and without
a further word, ordered them to hightail it home.
Those who remained were once more herded into the
sanctuary. Since there were now fewer of us, the Germans forced us to
gather even closer together. The day dragged on without respite, and the
more time passed, the greater grew our worry as to .our fate.
Then bellowed orders startled us. "Everyone outside!
Three at a time!" We saw Basia Nissenbaum arrive, accompanied by a German
officer. He had requisitioned a part of her house. She managed to obtain
the release of her son Abraham, of his father-in-law Meyer Fraiman and
numerous others, and they all went home.
For the rest of us, the situation did not change. With
night approaching, we still did know what was to be our fate, and having
already been held prisoner for 15 hours, we were exhausted. Shortly after
nightfall, a soldier fired a shot in the air and yelled into the deathly
silence: "You have three minutes to get yourselves home! Run as fast as
you can because it's late and the curfew has already sounded. If you
linger on the way, the patrol will gun you down without hesitation!"