Rabbi Hersh Meir Lichtig (Part I)

Where were you born?

I came from the town of Sosnowiec — Sosnovitz — in Poland. There were all types of Jewish people living there — Chassidim, Misnagdim, the in-betweens and the non-affiliated. There was a population of about 25,000 people.

Our city was a prosperous city. It was situated near an industrial region, not far from the German border.

What do you remember about your family?

I came from a chassidish family. My father was chassidish, but he knew how to get along with everyone. Especially in Poland, because of all the tzaaros that the Yidden suffered, there were many secular Jews. My father never differentiated between one Jew and another.

My mother passed away when I was five years old. My father remarried a fine woman. With my mother he had three children, and with my stepmother he had eight. Together we were 11 beautiful children. The children were all very young. The youngest was born at the beginning of the war. In Yad Vashem I found a picture of my father and my stepmother.

Where did you learn before the war?

I was a young bachur of 16 years old, learning in one of the biggest yeshivos in Poland, known as Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. This lasted until September 1, 1939. About two or three weeks before that date, I got a postcard from my father that said, “Why don’t you come home?” My father told me that the situation at home was very tense. I was the oldest of 11 children, and he wanted me home.

Those bachurim who remained in Lublin had a tough time. In a way, it was worse than I had it — at least I was home with my family. We had each other.

Where were you when the war broke out?

This date, I will always remember. It was on a Friday, September 1, 1939. I was standing outside early in the morning, preparing myself to go to the beis medrash to daven. I listened to people discussing what they heard on the radio — that Germany had begun to invade Poland. “Se’z given shoen nisht gut.”

Three days later, on September 3, I was at home in Sosnowiec. Now it was our turn: I was standing near a window behind a curtain so that nobody would notice me. I knew not to look out because they were shooting anyone in sight. First they sent men in on motorcycles to check out the situation. At this point, I didn’t go to the beis medrash anymore. I put on tefillin in the house.

How did life change once the Nazis invaded? Can you describe what occurred?

We lived on top of a grocery store. However, now there was nothing to buy. People waited on line two or three hours to get some bread or challah. Many people were turned away. I managed to bring into the house a little bit of food. I tried to stow away a little bit of flour and some other things.

I saw written all over the cars, “We are going into Poland to get rid of the Jews.” Can you imagine how we felt? We were young men — 18, 19, and 20 years old — and our lives were now in danger.

About two to three days later, on September 5, the Germans gave out a notice that all Jews had to assemble at a certain place. We didn’t know if I should go or not. My father stayed home, and I went. As soon as we got there, the German soldiers started pushing us and hitting us. You couldn’t talk to them or ask them anything. Anyone who tried to speak got more than their share. We were instructed to go home and pack up a few items.

I made up my mind that I would not return. I would go back to get my belongings and I would stay home. However, they already had a list of all the names in the kehillah; I had no choice but to return. They gave out jobs to each person. All the jobs were low jobs, demeaning jobs. Every day there were new gezeiros. Everything was just to bring pain and more pain to the Jews.

to be continued…

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.

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