It took less than three weeks before the Russians came. We thought this would be better but only partially. There was no food; there was hunger. The cattle were taken away from the farmers in order to feed the army. However, we had our freedom and there was no violence. We continued going to school. The cross was removed from the classroom and in its place were pictures of Lenin and Stalin. We were given a red tie to wear. For an hour each week, we were taught three languages: German, Ukrainian and Polish.
The Poles and Ukrainians in town were so excited with the initial arrival of the Germans. They ran through the streets with flowers for the Germans and they were overjoyed! An agreement allowed the Russians to take over our territory. My husband lived in a part of Poland that was under German rule from the very beginning. Those were the people who were sent to the concentration camps for most of the war. But we were not aware of what was happening. For us, life was pretty normal until 1941.
What Changed in 1941?
In 1941, the Germans took over all of Poland and they continued on deep into Russia; they were on a rampage. This is when the Germans began confiscating everything. We were told to wear a yellow star of a specific size. We were told to pack just a minimal amount of clothing. Then we were forced from our homes and told to gather in the center of the town and from there we were taken to Rebena, which was enclosed with barbed wire and guarded by Ukrainians.
The young people were taken from the ghetto each day to work in the fields. My older sister, who was about 19 years old, was taken to work. I cried; I wanted to go along. My two brothers went out to work as well. My parents were among the older people who were locked in the ghetto. They had small kerosene ovens with which they cooked. Once a day they were given a bowl of soup.
We worked by the railroad station. As the trains packed with Jews passed by our town, the Jews saw us working in the fields and shouted from the train cars, “Yidden, Yidden, zugt unz — vi gayin mir — tell us, where are we going?” They still didn’t know what to expect.
As we worked in the fields, we were sometimes lucky to find an apple or a carrot that had fallen to the ground and we would quickly snatch it up. I recall once finding a bag which I promptly filled with some potatoes. I dressed up as a farm girl to be able to smuggle the bag into the ghetto for my parents. A guard on a horse began to chase me, shouting after me, “Hey, Jew, where are you going?” However I spoke the Ukrainian language and didn’t wear my armband identifying me as Jewish; b’chasdei Hashem he let me go and I was able to get the potatoes to my parents.
There were gentile women working there as well, but they got paid for their work. They were like regular employees — free to come and go as they pleased. After we were working in the fields for a while, these women informed us that the Germans were planning to take us away. They told us that we were going to be taken on transports just like the Jews on the trains that we saw passing as we worked in the fields. They let us know that our turn was coming very shortly.
When my sister Chana heard this, she said, “Let’s go, let’s run.” Two of my brothers, one sister and I fled together to the nearby village of Wolka Mazowiecka. We stayed a while in a barn, switching occasionally from one barn to the next. Some farm owners knew that we were there but others didn’t know.
My older brother felt that we should split up. He said that if the Germans catch us, they will kill us all. If we split up there’s a chance that one of us will survive. My brother Shea was caught two weeks before liberation. He went out in search of food; I heard the shots ring out in the still night. People who saw told me that my brother had been murdered. I was told that my sister had been shot, too. My brother Yankele, who was only two years older than me, just never returned. I don’t know what happened to him.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.