Alas, Ozarow did not have a single living Jew. As if
that pain weren't great enough, he also had to endure the incredulous
greeting of any Poles whom he met: "Jeszcze zyjesz? - You're still alive?"
For Maurice Gryner there was no doubt. He was not welcome in his own town
of Ozarow. Several other young survivors from the camp at Tchenstochowa
came to Ozarow, but the reception they received was such that they
immediately got out.
Shejwa, the daughter of Itzchak-Chaim Borenstein, who
had owned the mill situated on the Zawiechost Road, came back to Ozarow
for a day in August 1945. To enter the town, she came by the Jasice Road.
Alas, she never reached the train station. She was
found beside the road, strangled with her own scarf. According to the
information I was able to gather when I passed through Ozarow on August
31, 1945, only a few days after her death, the murderer was a man called
In 1942, after the deportation of the Ozarow Jews, he
had taken possession of the Borenstein mill. He must have spotted Shejwa
removing a few objects from a hiding place at the mill, and then followed
her to the edge of the village where he savagely attacked her.
After my own liberation, I too decided to go back to
Ozarow. To tell the truth, I did not harbour any hope of finding any
member of my family alive, but I thought that maybe I could gather some
information about their tragic fate. On the train we were several
survivors in the same circumstances. We had been warned to avoid the Armja
Krajowa, a nationalist faction combatting the new regime which attacked
and murdered Jews in cold blood, by going to Lodz instead of to small
In Lodz, I discovered several Ozarowers
They greeted us warmly; Yoissef Tcheresnia (an
officer of the Polish Liberation Army) and Chaskiel Chalman, one of the
120 survivors of the Lodz ghetto. We also met Yocheved Fraiberg and her
three children, the oldest of whom was only 12 years old. It was the first
time we were able to see such a marvel with our own eyes: the next
generation vibrant and carrying the future beside their mother. It was a
symbol. Y ocheved, her husband Itzchak and their three children had lived
in hiding in the country. Only a few weeks before the liberation, Itzchak
had left their hiding place in search of food. Unfortunately, he never
made it back. Later Yocheved and her children would emigrate to Canada.
Not a single Jew left in Ozarow! And the country
itself, newly liberated, proved to be more than menacing. In
theory, the Polish government respected the rights of its citizens
regardless of their religion. But in practice that was not the case. Most
of the functionaries had been in place from before the war. They therefore
applied, without scruple, the laws of an anti-Semitic regime to which they
adhered without reserve. For these clerks of the State, the murder of a
Jewish survivor was not fundamentally evil. It certainly did not amount to
Ethel, the daughter of Moishe Weinryb, was part of our
group of Qzarowers. She had suffered the fate of all the survivors: the
ghetto, dislocation and internment until her liberation in April 1945.
In this hell, she had met a boy who had also
survived the concentration camps, Hershel Jakubowicz. The two decided to
marry. And the rest of us, overcome by emotion, crowded together to
witness the ceremony. Afterwards, no one dared to venture outside the
house so late at night for fear of being accosted and killed by the Polish
nationalists. We spent the rest of the night stretched out on the floor,
just as we had grown accustomed to in the camps.
The marriage of Ethel and Hershel warmed our hearts and
took on a symbolic importance. It was as if life was reasserting itself.
Ethel and Hershel managed to find a way to emigrate to the United States.
And there they remain to this day surrounded by their family.
Poland was a dangerous place immediately after the war.
It became necessary to organize ourselves to get out of the country as
quickly as possible. Fortunately, the place was so disorganized that
departures for the west were made easier. So I boarded a train at the central station in Lodz,
bound for Ozarow.
The cars were dilapidated and jam-packed with
travellers. I had to climb on board very quickly in order to have a better
chance of finding a seat. All of a sudden, a soldier with rifle and
bandolier placed his hand on my shoulder. I started, but then immediately
recognized him. It was Stasiek Grela, whom I had known since school days!
He was doing his military service in Lodz: "I'm so happy to see you
alive," he offered. When I told him I was on my way to Ozarow, he said,
"Be very careful. If you must spend the night there, go to my mother's and
tell her that we met in Lodz. She lives alone and she will make you
Stasiek found me a seat in a compartment and advised
me to sleep.
The next morning, I was awakened by an identification
control. The militia scrutinized all the identity cards and detained
anyone who appeared suspect. The train got underway again, and I found
myself facing a Pole who never stopped looking me over with his protruding
eyes. He brusquely broke his silence: "How is it that the militia didn't
bother to check whether your military status was in order? But of course!
Now I get it! You're Jewish! The Bolshevik powers are protecting you.
bet that you or others like you disarmed
me in Lwow in September 1939 when I was an officer in the Polish army!"
Beside myself, I replied, "I spent the war in a concentration camp, so
stop your disgusting accusations!" But he wouldn't back off. "Prove it to
me," he hissed. "Show me your papers!" I was going to put my hand in my
pocket when all of a sudden, the former Polish officer blew his nose,
closing his eyes. I thought better of it and profited from the occasion to
slip away. At the next stop, as a precaution, I changed cars.
Jasice. The Ozarow station. It was there in September
1942 that I left my village for the labour camp, and it was from there
that my relatives made their last journey, to Treblinka.
I crossed the eerily silent meadows of Wyszmontow which
were resplendent with a thousand different colours on the eve of the
harvest. I entered Ozarow by Kolejowa Street. There was the house where I
was born. In a corner of a window I imagined I could still make out
my older sister Chava, anxiously looking after me as I left. Three years
had gone by since. The market place was almost deserted. A few Poles
approached me to talk, wanting to know how I could have survived. I could
barely hear what they were saying, for before my eyes there still passed
the images of what had so recently occurred in this cursed place. The
wailing of our mothers still resounded in my ears.
We left Poland, heading for Germany, now occupied by
the Allies, or Czechoslovakia, or Austria, on our way we hoped to the
United States, Canada, France or Palestine, and far away from the desolate
places of our shattered youth.