Hillel Adler of Ożarów, Poland


Ożarów is a member of the Museum's World Jewish Communities

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Hillel Adler



One day, a few weeks before the outbreak of the war, a representative from the Jewish community of Ostrowiec, Mr. Lederman, came to Ozarow. He was a gifted speaker who was able to explain the seriousness of the situation to everyone, and he exhorted the Jews of Ozarow to make their own contribution to the war effort in the face of the German menace.

He declared that he had not come to convert us Jews into patriots, but he emphasized that if Poland could defend itself, that would also be our victory, as well as the best guarantee of our security. Otherwise, we were doomed.

The situation became more and more threatening. Youngsters were conscripted to dig trenches in anticipation of an aerial attack.


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 "Rota".

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 occupied Ozarow.

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 forced labour.

The time of menace, humiliation and death had begun.


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!"

Ożarów 23







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