I was born in Tarnoberzeg-Dzikow, in Poland. Five hundred Jewish families lived there, Chassidim, Zionists and even some Communists. My maternal grandparents, as well as my mother’s brother and his family, lived in the same complex as we did. My father’s sister and her family also lived in Tarnoberzeg-Dzikow. My maternal grandparents were Dzikover chassidim, while my paternal grandparents were Stuchiner chassidim.
My father and his partner owned three buses and two trucks. That was their business. When the war began all vehicles were commandeered by the army.
I had a brother and two sisters; I was the oldest. Public school was compulsory. After school, we went home for lunch and then we went to cheder, where we remained until after Maariv.
Did you feel anti-Semitism prior to the onset of war in your town?
Although our neighbors didn’t outwardly show their hatred, we always felt that the hatred was buried in their hearts. For example, until the mid-1930s, most stores in town were operated by Jews, but then the Polish merchants took over. Signs were posted, telling people not to buy from the Jews. At school, during recess, we Jewish boys huddled together in a group and the Polish boys would throw stones at us.
When did you begin to feel the pressures of the war?
When Hitler came to power, he moved into the Free City of Danzig. Poland did not want to relinquish its hold on it, so Hitler began to show his strength by moving into central Poland where we lived.
The Nazis immediately took control of all the businesses and factories. Many Jews were drafted into forced labor units, and the Jewish communities from seven towns in our area were deported. We, in Dzikov, were among them. On a Monday morning three weeks after the invasion, there was an announcement over loudspeakers that all Jews were to gather in the town square. We were to bring some of our belongings with us, including the keys to our homes. Most people obeyed these orders.
My father had a driver who arrived at our house just as we were getting ready to leave. He offered my father a deal to purchase a horse and wagon from him. My father immediately agreed, paying him 400 silver zlotys. My mother packed the wagon and my maternal grandparents, my uncle and his family and our family all piled into the wagon and traveled to the town square.
When we arrived, the Gestapo had set up a table where each family was ordered to deposit their valuables. My father was astounded. He thought he was going to get a receipt for the items. Instead, he was told that anyone who did not comply would be beaten.
My father walked over to the back of the wagon where he had an old coat. He told my mother to take all her valuables and put them inside the coat. Then he took the coat and covered the horses with it. We turned the wagon around and began following the crowd. Then, suddenly, my father turned off the road and, using the back roads, went to a village where a few Jews lived. My father knew one of them, for he had been a neighbor of his prior to his marriage. He took us in and we spent the night at his house.
My mother’s Uncle Itzik lived in this town as well. He harnessed his horses together with ours and joined us in our journey. People who traveled on foot and still had some valuables were being robbed by the Poles.
We arrived in the next village on Shemini Atzeres. This village was viewed as no-man’s land. We moved into the municipal building for a while to rest and then continued on to the next town.
We were 16 people. When we arrived at the next town, the Russians were already there. The Judenrat in that town became part of the militia, walking around with bands on their hands. My grandfather’s brother Shloime owned a large farm in the area, about two kilometers out of town. He was very happy to see us.
During the night, a man came to tell us that the Russians were retreating. They suggested that the young people flee with the Russians, for the Germans were coming. My father, my uncle, his two young sons and a few cousins, and I followed behind the Russians at night in a small wagon. The Russians were very friendly to us. They traveled by truck and on the way threw bread to us. My grandfather, my mother and my younger sisters and brother remained with my great uncle.
When we came to the next town with the Russians, we stopped at an abandoned house. People began arriving by foot. My mother sent word with them that my father should return for the rest of the family, for they had heard the Germans were close.
Eventually, my mother and the rest of the family fled, too, using the back roads. They were stopped at the border, but my mother, who spoke German fluently, explained that she was looking for her husband who had gone to war and hadn’t returned. Unbelievably, the Nazi guards allowed them all through.
To be continued.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.