On Friday morning, September 3, 1942, the
Germans knocked on our door. Within minutes my brother and I
found ourselves on the market square in the company of 50
other Jews. In no time at all, our group had swollen to 3,000
men and women, surrounded by the Jewish ghetto police. Then,
the representatives of the German firms came to pick up their
allotment of workers.
My brother Shimon was assigned to high
tension installations, and I managed to sneak into his work
gang. I had to take this risk because my "Kenkarte", or ghetto
identity card, was no longer valid. Unfortunately, my ruse
failed to get by an SS man on duty. He immediately checked my
papers, then beat me and dragged me on the ground. (At Hassag
I recognized him as the SS man Dumine). I can't remember how
long this lasted. Someone picked me up and helped me get on my
feet. From a distance, I caught sight of my mother, who threw
me a package which contained a few personal effects and a bit
of bread. Not being able to get near me, she was resolved to
at least do this much. I would never see her again.
My brother, for the time being, was lucky
enough to be able to go home every night and spend time with
At the market place I noticed a number of
people who were dear to me: my brother-in-law Hersh-EI'ye, his
brother Meilech, and my old Aunt MaIka who had brought a
parcel for the husband of her granddaughter Gittela.
After the commandos had departed for their
labour camps, we were ordered to form in groups of five, men
and women separately. We were then marched five kilometres to
the rail station at Jasice, under the surveillance of the
Judenrat, the Polish police and a gang of Ukrainians, all
supervised by the SS.
We began by going through Ozarow. On
Kolejowa (Station) Street we passed in front of my house. I
turned my head and could see my older sister Chava, prudently
hiding behind her window, follow our departure with her eyes.
Could she have spotted me in the middle of our group?
Something told me that it would be the last time I saw her.
We continued our march, surrounded by the
SS and their henchmen.
A stifling heat weighed upon us. We reached
Wyszmontow. The grain crop was at its peak, and the wheat had
already been harvested. I could glimpse fields in blossom.
Potato fields. In October, the peasants would pull them from
the ground and store them for winter. In October ... but who
would be there in October?
The Germans ordered us to halt, then
ordered us to parade in front of a group of young Nazis, who
with clubs in their clenched fists assailed us with questions:
"Are you in good health? Do you want to go back home, or would
you prefer to work?" By chance I ended up beside Shloime
Goldstein, the brother of my friend Leon, who lives in the
United States today. Seeing the rain of blows showered on
those who showed any desire to go home, we of course replied,
"We want to work!"
The victims of the beatings were also
subjected to revolting humiliations. They were ordered to
strip, and we thought then that they had come to their end.
But no, instead they were told to clear out and to head naked
through the fields, back to the ghetto.
At Jasice they crammed us into cattle cars.
Among us, there were two brothers, nephews of a member of the
Judenrat. Soon they were "inexplicably" let go. On the other
hand, the brothers Sender and Meilech Borenstein (a father of
four children), the Hillel Adlers, the Shloime Frydmans, and
so many others, did not enjoy similar protection. The labour
camp awaited us! We had to leave.
THE FIRST SELECTION
Upon our arrival at the Skarzysko camp, there were
around 700 men and women in our group. The Germans divided us into three
sections: A, Band C. Section A, to which I belonged, was
immediately brought to the registration office. I was given the number
The Germans asked us to indicate our trade, although
they made no practical application of this information. In reality, we all
became slave labourers in the Hassag factory, (ironically, a work place
forbidden to Jews before the war). A few days later there was an assembly.
We were forced to surrender all valuable objects: jewellery, silver,
leather boxes, etc. The slightest gesture of resistance invited summary
execution. Thus, our last memories of home were wrested from us. In this
way, Regine (Raca), who later became my wife, had the earrings which she
had worn since she was a year old taken away from her. Her older brother
Shaul was a member of our convoy. He took the chance of escaping, and
actually made it back to Ozarow ... but Ozarow was the beginning of the
road to Treblinka.
Ten days later, I was working the night shift. In the
absence of supervisors, we stretched out on the ground, behind the large
Economat building. All of a sudden, whistles pierced the air, followed by
angry shouts. This was followed by the appearance of the SS, flanked by
the inevitable Ukrainians. All of the sick inmates, both men and women,
were dragged from their pallets and stretched out on the ground. Those who
didn't look well, or whose clothes were tom, were grouped apart. I ended
up among those who still passed for being in good shape, in the company of
two other Ozarowers: Antchel Waksman and Cudyk Weingarten. The Germans
came to us and asked us a single question: "Are you in good health?"
Three by three, our group started out to the factory
for a night of toil. On the way, we wondered about a new development. Even
then, many still hoped to return to the village. As for the sick, what
fate could be in store for them? Cudyk regretted not having feigned
sickness. It must be said that he had left a wife and five children behind
in the village, and his oldest daughter shared our lot in the camp.
But one morning three weeks later, at dawn, as we were
leaving the factory, we were ordered to wait. All those who had declared
themselves sick had to leave the ranks.
We silently watched Chaim, Moishe and many others as they were marched
away. On that day in October 1942, we lost half of our group from Ozarow.
At the factory, we worked alongside free Poles, some of
whom we were able to persuade to carry messages to our relatives. In
return, our families would, according to their means, send us what we
needed to survive. We had to chip in to payoff the Poles who acted as our
go-between, and most of the time, they would take advantage of the
situation by not delivering us all of the articles or provisions which our
families had entrusted to them. MaIka, Chana, Chava and my wife Regine,
four Ozarow girls, found a Pole who agreed to go to their parents. This
worthy fellow returned from his visit empty-handed, claiming that in the
course of his trip, the Germans had checked him and taken everything - a
rather transparent excuse, but the Ozarow girls, understandably, had no
one to whom they could complain about such dishonesty. Even more
intolerable, this Pole could be seen every day wearing clothing stolen
from Jews, in particular, the overcoat and shoes belonging to the brother
of one of the girls.
I was lucky enough to find a Pole named Blasiak, the
head of my work gang, who behaved otherwise. He visited our families in
Ozarow several times, and in return they were able to send parcels of food
back with him, as well as precious information.
a letter which my mother was thus
able to smuggle to me, she wrote, "Your brother Shimon has been thrown off
his work crew and replaced by a protégé of the Judenrat. The situation is
very serious. To be in a work camp seems the last chance of survival, but
that chance is no longer available for us. You left us six weeks ago. The
relatives of the Judenrat and the Jewish police have been untouched by
this misfortune, and now they're replacing people like your brother in an
attempt at survival. A grim fate awaits us; I fear this is my last