I hope that the Polish translation I shall soon.
Text I publish in full, original version.
Outbreak of war, and the pogrom in Dubiecko.
Tzivye: In ’36 Pilsudski died. Until then there was plenty of trouble. But when he died the anti-Semites really started to raise their heads, and gave us to feel their wrath. First of all, there were taxes, unbearable taxes. We couldn’t pay, so many people went bankrupt. We wanted to emigrate, but there was no place that would take us. They passed a law, numerus clausus, which kept Jews from attending university. So those who could afford it sent their sons to
Czechoslovakia, or to . These sons came back and wanted to establish themselves in Italy . There promptly came out a regulation that with foreign diplomas you couldn’t practice. Why did they want to come back to Poland ? I don’t know if they had some possibility to be any place else. It was very hard. Nobody wanted us. At first it wasn’t clear what Hitler’s plan for the Jews was. But after Kristalnacht, we knew. And there was another thing that indicated what was to come. Hitler expelled all the Jews in Poland who didn’t have German citizenship. He expelled them and took their possessions; he didn’t let them take even a pin. Germany
Mechel’s sister Henna, who lived in
but wasn’t a citizen, prepared herself before she was evicted. She bought a house in Germany . Of course she left plenty behind in Poland . But she took out money because she saw what was coming. Still, nobody could believe that it’s possible for Hitler to carry out what he said he would do, even though he said everything that he will do. People were waiting for miracles, but miracles didn’t come. Germany
The War broke out the First of September, two weeks before Rosh Hashanah. There was only one radio in Dbetsk, at the pharmacist. We stood around listening to the news. We were surprised by how quickly
broke down. Poland Germany took in a blitz. They had a motorized army. Poland was very much behind. On the first day we saw squadrons of planes flying over Dbetsk, and we heard that they had dropped bombs on the Przemysl bridges. The War started on Friday, and ten days later, on Tuesday, the Germans were in our shtetl. In WWI it took the Germans three years to reach us. Poland
Mechel: At this time we had a grocery and we were living on top of it, but this wasn’t pleasant because people would turn up at all hours and make us open up for something; we needed another place. We’d made a deal to rent an apartment in a house elsewhere. We were going to move in during the holidays. The workmen were finishing it off. We’d arranged it with new furniture we bought, but in the end we never moved in.
When the war broke out there was a buying panic. On the radio the government forbad hoarding, so weren’t supposed to put things away; everybody could buy from us, but we weren’t supposed to keep anything for ourselves, even though it was our grocery. So we put aside a few sacks of flour and hid them away in our new home.
When the German army entered Dubiecko we were very afraid; but at the beginning at least the soldiers behaved like ordinary people. They came into our stores, bought from us, and they paid for what they wanted and didn’t molest us. They weren’t brutal, they weren’t bad. My brother Binem made business with them, buying and selling. On Rosh Hashanah one of their officers came into synagogue to find out why we were all gathered together. The synagogue was more crowded than it had ever been. In addition to townsmen and guests, there were refugees who’d left their homes in the west and were running east, without really knowing where they were going. Many stopped at our village to spend the holiday, before continuing. There was still a lot of fear, and we cried a lot during the prayers. When the officer came in some men, wrapped in their talilot, spoke to him in German and explained that we were celebrating a holiday. The officer accepted this, and we were left to continue.
Tzivye: But death and disaster were about to come.
Rosh Hashanah was Thursday and Friday, and this was followed by Shabbat, so for three days we didn’t know what was going on in the world. We didn’t know that there was an SS unit operating in our area. They were in Sanok on Rosh Hashanah, and on Saturday they were in Dinev, fifteen kilometers away, where they killed one hundred fifty Jews. From there advance units drove into our town Saturday night.
When the SS units entered Dubiecko, right away they arrested the rabbi and his wife; they held them hostage so the Jews wouldn’t revolt. They arrested the mayor and the priest also. Next morning more SS arrived. It was Zom Gedalia. This was the day of the big slaughter. Men were up early, going to slichot in the kloise. The SS men walked into the kloise and ordered twenty young men to come out with them. They said they needed them for work. Outside on the street they beat them and led them off to jail. Women and children stood by, crying. Your cousin, Benno’s brother, was among these men. He’d gone to the kloise with Mechel’s father Aryeh Leib. The Germans took the boy and sent Aryeh Leib home.
Some moments before, Mechel had picked up his tallit bag with the intension of going to prayers, but at the last minute he didn’t. There had been many guests in our house during the holidays; despite all the bread and challah we baked before the holiday, we were out of bread. Grandmother Peshe asked Mechel to go to the new house and bring flour from the cache we’d stored away. So Mechel put aside his prayer things and went instead to do what his mother asked him to do. While he was there, Peshe came running; she told him to stay where he was and hide. If Mechel hadn’t been gone and done what Grandmother asked him to do, he too would have been among the men the SS arrested, and later killed.
[This was the second time that same day that Mechel’s life was saved by his womenfolk. The first time was the night before.] Mechel: Rosh Hashanah Eve a group of about twenty Jewish men from
turned up in our shtetl. Silesia Silesia is on the border with ; they thought they could avoid the war by running east. But when the refugees arrived in our village they found German soldiers already there. So they thought, “Where can we run to? We’ll go back to our home.” They spent the holiday with us, and on Saturday night they left, heading back. We learned later that on the road they ran into an SS unit, and the SS killed them all. Peasants came to our town and told us how the Germans had offered them half a zloty for every one of these Jews they buried. Now, when this group was leaving Dubiecko, I wanted to join them, and the reason was because on the road they were taking there was a mill I worked with. I’d left a big consignment of wheat there, and I was eager to pick up flour because people were demanding it. But my mother and Tzivye begged me not to go with the Silesians. I said, “It’s quiet. They aren’t doing anything to us. You see that we prayed, and our holiday went by peacefully.” But the women wouldn’t let me be until I swore I wouldn’t go. Those Silesian Jews were all killed, and if I hadn’t listened to my mother and wife, I would have been among them. Germany
Tzivye and Mechel: After the roundup on Zom Gedalia the SS wanted to set fire to the kloise, but gentiles stopped them, because a fire there would have destroyed houses attached to the building, including gentile houses; that was our luck, because our place was next door to the kloise. Instead they set fire to the large synagogue. As the synagogue began to burn Jews plunged inside to save the holy Torah scrolls. When the fire was over, the rabbi and his wife, who had been held overnight, were released, but they had no place to go; their home was a couple of rooms in the synagogue itself; they lived just by themselves, because they had no children. So now they wandered around, confused, disoriented. They had no place to go, no clothes to change into. They’d lost everything. The rebbitzen’s wig was gone, knocked off her head by the Germans. Since she had no head covering she went around stark bald – she followed a custom of the extremely pious of shaving off her hair out of modesty. She didn’t have a kerchief to cover it with. The Rabbi’s skullcap too had been taken from him; he was also bareheaded. This was sacrilege for us, something terrible to see. This poor harmless couple…
The Germans kept the men from the round up in prison overnight. They beat the men murderously. The next morning they took them away – for working, they said. But they took them away and slaughtered them. These were the finest men of our village. People traveled around looking for them. We tried to convince ourselves that they’d been taken off to do labor. Rumors said they’d been seen here or there. Gentiles told us that they’d been shot, but we didn’t believe them. There was even a gentile boy, who worked for a baker, who said to us, “Don’t be fools. They were murdered at such-and-such place. They were taken to an open field and told to dig a pit, and afterwards they were all shot but the last two, who buried the others, and then were shot themselves. After the Germans finished their work they piled up their weapons in a stack, sat down and made themselves a meal.” But we didn’t believe this until two weeks later, when we were already on the Russian side and could see things with our own eyes.
The SS units left Dubiecko and continued with pogroms elsewhere. Three Jews from another town were brought to Dubiecko and taken to the cemetery and shot. Our villagers were ordered to bury them. In Rupshitz they drove Jews into a bath house, poured kerosene over it and burned it down with all the men packed inside. But the worst massacre was in Przemysl. What happened was that the Russians only entered the war on September 17, and until then the Germans were advancing all the time. They’d crossed to the right bank of the San and taken the center of Przemysl l and were heading for
. When the Russians invaded Lvov the Germans stopped and pulled back to our side of the San. But before that they killed more than one thousand Jews in Przemysl. When the Russians came it was possible to open graves and everyone could see for themselves what the Germans had done. There were children also in those graves. Poland
Mechel: For ten days I stayed in a loft, hiding, together with my new landlord. The loft was underneath the roof of our new house. My landlord had livestock, and in this loft he kept straw and fodder for them. We were afraid to come out. Maybe it really was true the Germans were killing Jews, but even if not, then they were conscripting Jews for work, and they could send you someplace far away, who knew where? The house was big and empty, and Germans soldiers were billeted there. From our hiding place we heard their voices at night. We lay in our hole, frightened, and we heard them sleeping beneath us. Throughout town in this period you didn’t see a man on the street; all men were hiding wherever they could – you only saw women and children, who so far weren’t molested. But after the SS pogrom, the German soldiers remaining in town began looting. There was one incident where soldiers stole a chicken from a gentile woman; they were soldiers so of course they were hungry. The woman chased after them in anger, cursing them; so they turned around and shot her.
Tzivye: At the time of course no one knew of the secret pact between Ribbentrop and Molotov, the German and Soviet foreign ministers, to divide
in half. By the middle of the month the Germans had crossed the San and went almost to Poland . On September 17 the Russians invaded Lvov from the east, and the Germans retreated to the Zasamye, a suburb of Przemysl, on our side of the San. The San was the line which divided between the two forces. We were on the German side. Poland
At the end of a week that Mechel was in hiding, on Yom Kippur itself, Mechel’s brother Binem’s wife, Mindel Melber, came running from other side of the San where they lived to say that Binem begs us to come over to them, because the Russians have entered Poland from the east, and here on the German side you’re not certain with your life; people were already talking about the Germans pogroms. On the Russian side it will be better.
Mechel: I didn’t want to go. We were also afraid of the Russians, we remembered their pogroms in World War I and in the Russian-Polish War afterwards. At that time my father was almost killed by the Russians. Besides, I didn’t want to be a Communist, I didn’t want them to take away everything I had. So we stayed in hiding. I prayed on Yom Kippur together with my landlord in the loft, amidst straw and fodder.
Tzivye and Mechel: The town was paralyzed. All the stores were closed, no one was working. People were terrorized by now. On Tuesday, a day before Succoth Eve, the Germans announced, “Everyone has to come out. We know you’re all hiding, and we can find you. Come out and open your stores and go back to regular life. We promise we won’t do anything to you, you can carry on as before.” We decided we had no choice, and we opened our stores. We sold everything we had left, because people were buying whatever food they could get. We made two thousand seven hundred zlotys. This was nice money.
We weren’t harmed, but the next day we were ordered to assemble in the market by a certain hour, and if not they will come after us. When we were all gathered there the SS announced to us that we have three hours to get out of town. Whoever isn’t out of town by then will be killed. The Germans already knew that the Russians were coming, and this was their way of getting rid of us, by sending us off to the other side.
In fact, at first the Germans’ assembled us in the marketplace in order to shoot us. But the mayor of town interceded on our behalf. He asked the Germans to leave us be. This man himself later on was killed. He kept a big dog, and once as a joke he called to his dog, “Hitler!” Well, this was overheard by Germans, and they shot him.
Mechel: I hired a gentile I knew who had a wagon, and we loaded the wagon with all our things to cart them to the other side. But then we heard that the zone between the two armies was unsafe; the Germans had pulled out and the Russians hadn’t come in; there were roving, violent gangs robbing everyone. So instead I took most our things to the Orthodox priest for safekeeping. I was on friendly terms with this priest because we often did business together. The church had agricultural properties, and I used to buy their produce. The priest spoke to me affectionately, comforting me. He said he prayed that one day we would come back. And so we went over the San, with hardly a possession, just ourselves.
[Mechel never forgot this priest. Mechel was generally scrupulous in business; but like most businessmen, sometimes he fudged. He told me that one of his greatest regrets, when he thought back to his earlier years, was remembering how he used to cheat the priest in business. He would jerry the scale in his favor when they transacted for produce. As a Jew, he should not have done this to a true man of God.]