When were selections made in your town?
The first Aktion took place on October 28 and 29 of 1941 by the Germans and the local Ukrainian police. They entered my cousin’s house. They had a list they held in their hands and ordered my Uncle Herman out of his house. He was ordered to dress and follow them. When the factory workers noticed what was going on at Uncle Herman’s house they quickly came through the attic in our house. They transferred us to a far dark corner of the factory attic. My father was not in the city while all this was going on. My grandmother wanted to see what had happened to her son. No one could imagine they were gathering Jews just to kill them. Uncle Herman was just 49 when he was murdered.
On the second day of the Aktion, a selection was made. One thousand people were taken to the forest and there they were shot and buried in mass graves. Uncle Herman was among those murdered.
After these episodes and more, my parents began to think differently. They began planning how to be prepared and ready for the next Aktion and maybe escape from the city the next time.
My parents prepared all the things that we would take with us to Hungary. The German manager at my father’s factory, by the name of Herdinger, would transfer us there. My father sat with him for many hours planning how to escape. It was decided that he would bring a truck to move the family to Hungary in the spring.
One autumn day, my father showed me the place where he buried all the jewelry and the gold and silver coins. Everything was sealed in big glass jars. The jars were buried in two places. Two jars were hidden in the corner outside our house, two meters beneath the lilac bush. The other two jars were hidden in the fruit garden between the two cherry trees. He also showed me another place in grandma’s attic where he hid valuables.
The winter of 1941–42 was an extremely hard one. People were starving. The peasants had almost nothing to sell. The Jews starved more than anyone. Over the winter, many people died. When the spring of 1942 came, people died of starvation and from typhus that was spreading everywhere. We were becoming accustomed to seeing the dead bodies every day; it almost seemed normal.
How was your family affected by this?
One day several Ukrainian policemen appeared at our house and began to search it. Our housemaid, Zosia, whom we treated as part of the family and who helped hide the good things, privately revealed the hiding places. My sister’s dowry was discovered and all the goods were gathered, put aside and confiscated. When we asked why they were doing this, they replied, “Your father was arrested. It is his fault that we have to behave in this manner.”
My father and his brother Israel were being held by the Ukrainians in one of the detention cells of the Magistrate. They were accused of commerce in stolen leather. My mother ran to the silent partner, the German protector Herdinger, to beg him to intervene. Undoubtedly, he had knowledge of what was happening and disappeared as though the earth had swallowed him.
My mother negotiated with the head of the police. For a sum of 240,000 zloty they were willing to forget the case. My mother promised to have the money required for the ransom by the next day. My mother was confused; I had to remind her that the money was hidden in grandmother’s house in the attic. We went up there. I approached the dark corner and started counting the bricks. I pulled the right brick and was able to pull a leather bag full of jewelry and golden coins from its hiding place. Mother sold part of the bag’s contents.
The next day my mother took me to visit father in prison. In the dim light we were unable to see how much he’d been tortured. We couldn’t see his wounds. My mother told father that Herdinger had disappeared and that apparently we didn’t have any chance to leave for Hungary. Mother told father about the money she had to pay for the ransom and that they would be released tomorrow; however, father didn’t believe they would release them. He felt they were being held solely because they were Jews.
To be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness