|Perela in 1945
This is my son-in-law's description, in Vova's own words, as told by him to his wife, my daughter Perela:
“…We left the city and went to live in our home in Niemenczyn, where my
father's turpentine factory was…My father was delivered to where the Jews of Niemenczyn were
held in the synagogue. They told the Jews that they would be taken to the ghetto of Wilno, they
were going to march the 20 kilometres to Wilno. Everybody was taking their belongings - their
pillows and teakettles. My father told them: 'Fellow Jews, don't bother to pack and drag all your
belongings, they are going to kill us.'
Nobody believed him.
They took the 700 people and they marched them on the road to Wilno and for every three
Jews there was one Lithuanian shooter. For the three here there is a Lithuanian on the right side,
for the next three there is a Lithuanian on the left side, for the next three on the right side again -
there were lots of executioners. They were walking on the main road and about six or seven
kilometres out of town they told them to march into the forest - there was a meadow between two
huge forests. They made a right turn - it was obvious that they were not going to Wilno.
The people marched, and then, as my father told me later, the leading Lithuanian signalled
with his hand and said something and all the Lithuanians aligned themselves - those on the left
side of the Jews ran forward and joined those on the right side and they started to shoot into the
mass of people. The people were being hit and fell; a lot of people threw themselves on the
ground instinctively. Some stupidly climbed the trees, which was an idiotic thing to do, but in
such a moment they did not know what they did, so they climbed trees.
|Wowka and Dov Gdud
My father did not loose his sanity, he did not fall or climb a tree, he just stood upright and looked
at what was happening. He said he stayed upright because if he was to be hit he wanted to be
killed rather than wounded. So everybody is falling, running, climbing - he is the only one
standing there and nothing happens. He was clever enough not to run in the direction
everybody was running, but ran towards the shooters, because if he ran towards the main road
he was sure there would be guards there who would pick him out. If you run away from the
shooters you are a target immediately - they see you very well. But if you run tangentially -
not directly towards them but a little to the side of them - they cannot shoot at each other.
There was shooting going on, he was running, there was another man running after him
and then he hears a woman's voice calling 'Mr. Gdud, wait!' He looked back and it
was the pharmacist's wife, Esther Bernstein. He called to her: 'Esther, run, run, run for
your life, run after me!' She ran after him and they ran away into the woods. I heard
all this from my father when I joined him three months later…
…Looking back at the Niemenczyn massacre, as related by my son-in-law, it appears that
the Lithuanians, (strangers in these parts, whose local population consisted of Byelorussians,
and Jews) perpetrated the murder of the Niemenczyn Jews on their own - the Germans did
not have to take part in the massacre.
It is not known to me whether the Lithuanians committed their criminal deeds in Niemenczyn
upon the command of Germans, but in many cases known to me they killed innocent and
peaceful Jews with bestial cruelty on their own initiative. The infamous Lithuanian "Ypatinga
which carried out all the executions in Ponary, consisted entirely of volunteers. My son-in-law
and his father survived with the active help of the Byelorussian peasants. They were imperilled
by the Polish partisans, members of the "A.K.", who were no less eager to exterminate the
Jews than were the German Nazis and the Lithuanians…
LIFE IN THE GHETTO AFTER THE GELBSCHEIN-AKTIONEN
…The murder of the innocent inmates of the Wilno Ghetto did not halt after the "aktzyes
of the yellow life permits. There were two more bloody "aktzyes
" before the end of 1941.
The first, during which about 500 people perished, was directed against the family members
of the Jewish manual workers of the Gestapo
, who during the previous "aktzyes
had been permitted to retain their brothers, sisters and parents. The second, the so-called
" of the pink certificates’ (to which about 400 people fell victim) was directed
against the "illegal" inhabitants of the ghetto and took place before Christmas of 1941. The family
members of those possessing the yellow life permits did not have to leave the ghetto this time,
they were given pink certificates instead…
…Even though our housing conditions were somewhat better, since after the bloody "aktzyes
the number of the inhabitants of our room was very much reduced, we still, as before, had to sleep
on the floor and were forced to contend with hunger, lice and cold. The food rations determined for
us by the Germans (half of the rations given to the Gentiles) were completely inadequate for people
who had to do heavy labour 12 hours a day, six days a week, but even those we had to share with
the "illegals". The Jews working in the German institutions outside of the ghetto were able to purchase
some food-stuffs by bartering their clothes and underwear, or by paying cash for their purchases.
Gentile traders were waiting for us at our places of work, foreseeing that they could charge us high
prices. Returning from work to the ghetto, we would contrive (at the risk of our lives) to smuggle the
food in - some for our families, some to sell.
This trickle of food into the ghetto was fiercely prohibited by the Germans, since it apparently
counteracted their plans for starving to death the non-working population of the ghetto. On the order
and under the observation of the Germans - frequently checked by Franz Murer himself - the Jewish
police would scrupulously search the returning workers and cruelly beat those trying to smuggle in food.
In some cases Murer, who was particularly zealous in the fight against the prohibited bringing of food
into the ghetto, would send the offenders to the Gestapo
, from where they never returned;
such was the fate of the singer Luba Levitska, the brother-in-law of Bundist
Stupel and others.
The news that Murer was at the gate as we were returning, was for us very bad news indeed. Our group
was twice searched by Murer personally as we were marching down Zawalna Street on the way to the
ghetto. I managed to let the food carried by me fall into the snow before Murer, pushing his finger into
my chest, asked: "Und Sie?
" (“And you?”)
Nevertheless, the trickle of food brought in by thousands of those working outside of the ghetto was
not the only way that provisions were supplied. By bribing the Lithuanian guards, the Judenrat
succeeded in systematically bringing in food by the cartload. Moreover, a whole new class of traders
evolved in the ghetto; most successful of these were those chimney sweeps who worked in the city.
My young former employee, Aaron Kagan and his brother Jasha were among these chimney-sweep
entrepreneurs. They provided the ghetto with all the necessities, by carrying them over the roofs and
through incompletely blocked openings between attics. Accordingly, everything could be bought in the
ghetto; the question of adequate nutrition was dependant on one’s possession of money. The Soviet
currency - 10 rubles to one German Mark
, continued to circulate in the occupied lands…
…The department of Social Help of the Judenrat
, headed by my friend, attorney Srolowicz,
cared about food for the needy. The Judenrat
income consisted of taxes, rent, special fees
and contributions (I gave them more than once). Additionally, motivated by the urgent need for money
to feed the needy and bribe the representatives of the authorities, the Jewish criminal police would
search private dwellings and confiscate the discovered gold and jewels. Thus, to the best of my
knowledge, we had no deaths from starvation during all the time the Wilno Ghetto existed - in
contrast to the Warsaw Ghetto, in whose streets one could everyday find bodies of people dead
took advantage of this short interruption in the realization of the Nazi
plans for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" to organize life in the ghetto. There were the
measures of hygiene, the provision for the inhabitants of the ghetto with medical help and food, the
feeding of the needy. In addition I should first of all mention the care for the ghetto children, the
vast majority of them orphans. The children received a supplementary food ration. Together
with the creation of shelters and orphanages, directed with immense self-abnegation by Dr
Szabad-Gawronska, schools were also opened with Yiddish as the teaching language.
There was also a school of music and piano playing headed by Tamara Abramowna Gerszowicz.
The books of the Matias Straszun library were greatly treasured and utilized at that time.
Chaykel Lunski, the librarian, was spared by the Germans as long as the ghetto existed. That
was the time in which there were performances of the ghetto symphonic orchestra conducted
by the composer Durmashkin; the choir performed Jewish folk-songs under the direction of
Abram Slep. A Yiddish theatre was created, largely due to the drive and endeavours of the
chief of police, Yakov Gens, and of his assistant, Josef Glasman. A series of concerts was
organized. Some of the songs performed had been composed in the ghetto. The performers
Abram Bergolski, a newcomer from Russia, and Chayele Rosenthal, a native of Wilno, were
especially popular. We personally, grieving about the loss of those dear to us, did not attend
any performances in the ghetto. [Samuel’s daughter Perela recalled:
"Father said: "You don't go dancing in the cemetery.
HKP 562 AND THE LIQUIDATION OF THE GHETTO
…I worked as stockroom keeper in the vehicle repair shop situated on Wilenska 23. This repair
shop was incorporated into the military vehicle repair system - the Heeres-Kraftfahr-Park
the HKP 562, which was headed by the German army Major Plagge and whose main workshops
were situated in the Technical School built by the Poles on Antokol. Subsequently, this circumstance
made our survival possible…
…The work in the HKP workshops secured the obtaining of the vital "Facharbeiterschein
the qualified worker's certificate. We worked six days a week, from six in the morning until six in the
evening with a half-hour interruption, during which we received a portion of soup which was brought
from the central workshop situated in the building of the Technical school in Antokol. In addition to this,
the fact of leaving the ghetto and the contact with the gentile population gave us a chance, (by selling
some pieces of clothing and linen) of acquiring food which we then endeavoured to bring into the
ghetto for our families - a perilous undertaking…
…At the beginning of October 1941, at the same time as the Jews were ordered to give up to the
Germans all of their fur garments, some workshops were transferred out of the ghetto to the buildings
which used to house the radio receiver factory "Elektryt". The workers of these workshops and their
families - about one thousand people - moved out of the ghetto, thus creating a separate, more
privileged work camp named "Kailis". The "Kailis" workers were untouched by the "Yellow Life
” and were allowed to retain all the members of their families…
…The liquidation of our ghetto actually began at the beginning of August 1943, when the Germans
had arrested some crews returning from work to the ghetto and loaded them into a railroad transport
which they were told would take them to Vaivary, a work camp in Estonia. We were slightly calmed
by the fact that, in contrast to the former practice in which people supposedly taken to work were
actually ending in Ponary, this time letters arrived in the ghetto from which we learned that Vaivary
was not a myth, it actually existed. After a couple weeks this was repeated. A few hundred people
returning from work were again caught by the Germans and sent to Vaivary. Even though the
percentage of people working for the Germans was continually growing (by now even our thirteen
year-old Perela was working, sorting and cleaning German army coats), we knew that the
catastrophe was near…
…David came back after seeing Gens late at night and informed us that he learned from the latter
that the Gestapo
chief Neugebauer demanded 2,000 women from Gens - thus next day
there would be an “aktzye
” against women…
…When we came into the yard of Rudnicka 4 on the morning of 4 September, we heard Gens
addressing a crowd from the balcony with the following speech:
"Fellow Jews, I managed to obtain the permission of the Gestapo
for the wives and children of those deported to Vaivary to join their husbands and fathers!
With this treacherous trick, Gens managed to lure 1,300 women and children who believed him into
volunteering to go to Vaivary. After hunting all day in the ghetto, Kittel and the Jewish police managed
to seize the lacking 700 victims and force them onto the transport.
The treachery of Gens is made even more horrible by the fact we learned after our liberation - the
transport of the women and children was not sent to their husbands but to the gas-chambers of
one of the camps in Poland. According to Mrs Shapiro, who had been on that transport with her
child, their train turned around immediately after their arrival in Vaivary and went in the opposite
direction. She managed to jump out of the railroad car at the Eidkunen station in East Prussia
and had thus survived.
As a defence of Gens' shameful deeds one often hears the argument that if not he but the
Germans had carried out the "aktzyes
", it would have been worse. I ask: worse for whom?
Certainly not for the many thousands who Gens and the police acting on his orders sent to their
deaths. In this case worse off could be only those who, by pushing others to their deaths, had
hoped to save their own lives, a hope in which they turned out to be cruelly wrong…
…Into the ensuing dismal days filled with fear for our lives there came a sudden ray of hope: tidings
came to the ghetto that Major Plagge, the chief of HKP 562, had succeeded, after lots of requests
(he even had to go to Berlin to achieve this) to contrive a work camp for the Jews working in his
establishment. The authorities designated for this camp the buildings of the so-called "cheap
housing" on Subocz Street. They had been built during the times of the Czar by the Jewish Colonizing
Society, financed by the Jewish philanthropist, Baron Hirsh…
…On 16 September 1943 we left the ghetto and went to live in the camp provided for his Jewish
workers through the endeavours of Major Plagge.
The work camp HKP to which we had moved, consisted of two long, stone, three-story buildings,
in which were located both the workshops and the dwellings of the workers; it was standing in the
midst of a large empty parcel of land. We were separated from the rest of the world by walls of
barbed wire which were patrolled by the Lithuanian police. The entrance gate of the camp was
located on Subocz street and the back bordered the Rossa outskirts of town. We settled in a room
on the first floor of a separate, lower wing of the right-hand building…
…Our camp, as well as "Kailis", was under the administration of and subjected to the Nazi SS,
embodied by a long-necked German whom we had nick-named "Golosheyka" (little bare neck)…
As was mentioned by me before, it was thanks to the endeavours of Major Plagge, who was guided
by his desire to protect his Jewish workers, that the dwellers of HKP, numbering over 1,000, were
able to avoid, at least temporarily, the fate of those Jews who remained in the ghetto. Not surprisingly,
therefore, Major Plagge, our protector (who, in addition, according to those who had personal contact
with him, was a man of the highest moral character - as we also ascertained later) was much beloved
and respected by us.
The sympathy toward us of Major Plagge had put its stamp not only on our working conditions but
on the whole way we lived. Personally I worked not too laboriously as the stockroom keeper of the
workshop for vehicle seat-repair. We worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a one hour interruption for dinner,
which I ate in our room with my family. In the room which we shared with the people with whom we
had arranged to live, and in which there was running water and a kitchen stove, we slept in beds
and were able to wash ourselves and to cook...
…The possibility of sneaking out of the camp disappeared, however, in connection with an event which
reminded us again that we were living under the Sword of Damocles, and that our lives were in the
hands of our implacably merciless enemies. I do not remember the exact date, but it happened
before the advent of frosts, which usually comes in November...
…After all the workers had been mustered out in the yard where the Jewish police had previously
(upon the command of the Germans) built a gallows, the gate suddenly opened and three Gestapo
men, led by Bruno Kittel, the liquidator of the ghetto, drove in in an open car. They brought with them
two fugitives from our camp they had caught - a woman nicknamed "Pozhar" (Fire) and her common
law husband, a man named David Zalkind. A deathly silence reigned as the Gestapo
moved towards the gallows with the condemned, broken by the piercing cry of "Mama!" which suddenly
sounded from a window on the upper floor of one of the buildings, in which we saw a child's head.
Before the passing of even one minute a little girl, maybe eight or ten years old, ran out from the
building and rushed with a joyous cry of "Mama" to embrace her mother (Pozhar).
We witnessed a horrible, heartrending scene - the joy of the child who thought that she had found the
mother she was longing for, and the distorted-by -suffering face of the mother who was passionately
embracing her child, knowing that she was walking to her death. When the whole group arrived
at the place of execution, Kittel motioned with his hand for Grisha Shneider, the camp's blacksmith to
step forward from our lines and ordered him to be the executioner. However, when the man (whom
they were hanging first) fell twice because the noose tore, Kittel ordered him to kneel down and
killed him by a shot in the back of his head. Afterwards, while he was killing the woman one of the
men killed the child.
was not satisfied with this, however. Having decided to shoot 36 women as
a punishment to forestall any more flights from the camp, next morning, after the men had gone to
work, the Gestapo
ordered the Jewish police to chase all the women and children out
of the rooms onto the huge yard adjacent to the buildings…
…When I happened to walk out of the workshop I saw the following picture: in the yard stood a huge
black van with our German driver Beck at the wheel. On the lot behind the building were hemmed
in a few hundred women and children, my wife and daughter among them, whom the Lithuanian
police were dragging to the black van and pushing in. When, without hesitation, I rushed to my
wife and daughter, a Lithuanian policeman grabbed me and started to drag me towards the
black van. I broke away from him and ran towards my family. By the time I had run into the yard the
Lithuanians had stopped the "aktzye
", having taken the appointed number of victims.
Immediately afterward the black van left the camp without any guards, with just Beck as driver.
We later learned that on the way to Ponary the condemned succeeded in opening the door
which was located in the back of the van and, disregarding the consequences, started to jump
out of the van. The results were quite serious for some, since Beck was driving very fast and they
broke their legs jumping out of the speeding vehicle. Some of the women (from whom we learned
all this) did manage to come back to the camp.
The chief of HKP 562, Major Plagge, came to encourage us after these events. Obviously
embarrassed about the latest "achievements of his fellow Germans", he told us, among other things:
"Regrettably, the war has destroyed moral values as well as the material ones.
…On 27 March 1944, in the early morning, after the men had left for their work places, the gates
of the camp were suddenly opened and into the yard of our camp drove trucks carrying a large
contingent of officials of the Gestapo
and of the Lithuanian police, led by Martin Weiss,
an executioner, the hands of whom were already crimson with the blood of many tens of thousands
of the inmates of the Wilno Ghetto.
The new arrivals scattered swiftly over the dwellings from which they began dragging out children
and teenagers up to the age of fifteen, as well as even those few elderly who managed to get to
our camp. Those captured they took to the trucks, into which they pushed their prey. Heartrending
scenes took place in our camp when the sobbing children vainly looked to their parents for protection.
Mrs Zhukowski, the mother of the boy whom Kittel, amazed by his beauty, sent with his mother to
our camp from Ponary, was killed by Martin Weiss with a shot from his revolver, after Mrs Zhukowski
had called him "murderer". I saw with my own eyes the Lithuanians wrenching by brute force his
talented daughter from the arms of Beniakonski. She had enchanted us just the day before. In some
cases the mothers, not wanting to abandon their children in this terrible moment, shared their
children's misfortune voluntarily. The fate of the seized children was more than horrifying. As I learned
after the cessation of hostilities during my stay in Italy from some Jews who had serviced the
crematoria in the "Vernichtungslager
" (Extermination Camp), since the gas chambers
could not keep up with their task, the transports with the children were sent straight to the ovens.
Our daughter avoided this horrible fate by hiding in a "maline" which our neighbour, Attorney Zmigrod
began building in the cellar and which she found a few days before.
The "children's aktzye
" shook the camp to its very foundations. The air was filled with the moans
of the disconsolate mothers, people moved around the camp like shadows. Running into Borys
Beniakonski who had lost his daughter as I recounted, I couldn't hold back a whisper:
"How could one let go of such a daughter?
"Are we human
", Beniakonski answered me, "we
are worms, you hear, we are nothing but crushed worms!
These words of Beniakonski aptly characterized our emotional state at that time.
The three-year-long torture by fear, the continuous chain of disasters, our enemies' merciless and
boundless cruelty on the one hand, and the complete futility of resistance on the other, exhausted
our spiritual forces. The majority of us were only left with the instinct common to the most primitive
beings, that of self preservation. The realization that we were doomed and that the point of tragic
resolution was getting near did not weaken this desire to live - if anything it rather strengthened it.
If at the beginning of the Hitlerian occupation there had been some individual cases of suicide, these
ceased completely when we entered the period of systematic mass extermination. As described by
me before, these times bared people’s souls. In many cases mothers would sacrifice their lives to
save their children or ease the children's last moments. But there were also some cases when the
thirst for life made the mothers sacrifice their children to save themselves…
…Feeling that the noose around our necks was getting tighter, the men living on our landing started
to work feverishly at night preparing a hiding place, the so-called “maline.” We knew from experience
that if the entrance to a maline stops being a strict secret, its usefulness is zero. At the critical moment
a crowd craving rescue, much larger than the capacity of the maline, would dam the entrance to it…
Working diligently, we blocked off the farthest room in the basement by a brick wall and excavated
an underground passage to gain access to this isolated space. For this we had to chisel a large hole
through the stone foundation of the house. The shaft leading to the crawlspace we camouflaged
by covering it with an earth-filled flat wooden box. We fastened wires to two sides of the box.
By pulling on the wires we could raise the earth-filled box. The required materials - cement, boards
and so on - we stole from the Germans. The car battery we needed for illumination we acquired
by the same means… We were speedily nearing the outcome which would prove tragic for the vast
majority of the camp's inmates.
As early as Saturday 1 July 1944, we were warned by Major Plagge that our camp would be evacuated
westward because of the approaching Russians. To emphasize his warning, Major Plagge informed
us in his speech that we would stop being a HKP work camp and would be entirely in the hands of the
SS. This speech of Major Plagge aroused terrible fear in us. According to the BBC, before retreating
the Germans had shot without mercy all the Jewish inmates of the camps. Thus having no illusion about
the intentions of our executioners, the vast majority of us understood that for our camp the moment had
come which we all feared and for which the dwellers of our landing had made feverish preparations.
At dusk a few tens of men, mostly young ones, ran away from the camp, jumping out of the window
of the blacksmith shop, which was facing the outside world.
Even though the day of Monday 3 July was marked for our "evacuation", we decided to begin descending
into the maline without delay, especially since we had to do so very carefully so as not to give away the
secret of the maline to "outsiders". The vast majority of the inmates of the camp had no prepared hiding
places and hearing about the looming "evacuation", were rushing around the camp looking for any
imaginable way of rescue. The dwellers of our landing, as well as the family of my wife's brother,
descended to the cellar through the camouflaged hole in the asphalt floor of the cubby-hole under the stairs…
A small electrical bulb connected to the stolen car-battery barely illuminated the space where about
one hundred of us lay down on the bare ground. With the coming of morning, i.e. of the moment when the
Germans would discover that a few hundred people did not appear at the inspection, our tension was
getting speedily worse. I remember that, fearing that the Germans would blow up the building, we began
to thrust ourselves against the outside walls, assuming that this would give us a better chance to survive.
Added to the fears of discovery by the Germans or that we would perish under the ruins of the
building came a sudden excruciating physical suffering. We had not appreciated the importance of,
and therefore did not arrange for, sufficient ventilation; to this was added the unforeseen crowding.
Thus our hiding place was rapidly becoming ever more stifling. Being faced with unavoidable death
by suffocation, our leaders, Zmigrod and Mintz broke through some tiny openings in the outside walls
with pickaxes (risking that this would bring us to the attention of our enemies). The scanty trickle of
air thus generated saved us from suffocation but was insufficient to protect us from the effects of the
severe oxygen deficiency of the air we breathed (a candle could not burn).
|Ida and Samuel Esterowicz
To our misfortune, this severe oxygen deprivation, together with the terrifying psychological burden to
which we were subjected, evoked (as we later learned) the many cases of insanity. As a result, truly
infernal scenes (worthy of the pen of a Dante) were enacted among the Jews suffering in the maline…
This did not end the horror: with every passing moment I was more persuaded that my wife was
also hallucinating. Her speech was becoming ever more irrational and pointless. I remember that my
despair related to my wife's mental aberrations was deepened by the realization that if she should
start to scream her life would be endangered not only by the Germans. As events demonstrated,
my fears were well founded - in such an eventuality [some of those in the maline] would not have
hesitated in killing my wife either.
The events in our maline had demonstrated that when people are caught in the situation of hunted
animals, their lust for life (sharpened in such cases) frequently converts them into merciless killers…
…In the meantime, in the camp (as we were told later) there appeared on Monday a special German
military detachment wearing black uniforms with skull head insignia on their caps. They sent all the
inmates who came to the inspection to be shot at Ponary - nobody survived. Discovering that a large
percentage of inmates did not appear at the inspection, the Germans started a search of both buildings
and those discovered there, (numbering about 200) were shot immediately in the yard. The Germans
mobilized the surrounding Gentile population for burial of the corpses, after which they lifted the guard
and abandoned the camp on Tuesday 4 July. Simultaneously, the Germans liquidated in the same
way the Jews of the camp "Kailis" and the group of Jews, headed by Doctor Margolis, who were
working in the military hospital on Antokol. They were all shot at Ponary.
The Jewish manual workers servicing the Gestapo
, headed by Kamenmacher, were sent to
Kowno where they were all shot at the 9th Fort.
Through the mercy of destiny we were not discovered by the Germans and, cut off from the world, we
continued our torment in our maline. I remember that we suffered from thirst most terribly and to assuage
it we were forced to drink the sewer water, which we filtered by covering the neck of a bottle with a
handkerchief. On Tuesday evening the scouts sent out through the crawlspace came back with the
news that the Germans had lifted the guard and left our camp. After this news we decided without
hesitation to break out from the maline with its inhuman conditions and nightmarish experiences
and brave the dangers on the “Aryan side.”
In the meantime the following was happening: learning that the Germans had left, crowds of Gentiles
inundated the camp to grab the belongings of the killed Jews. We had brought clothing, linen, dishes,
pots and pans, pillows and so on from the ghetto. It all was left in the habitations - immediately all
was appropriated by the mob. But the looters were not satisfied with this - after all Jews were famed
for their "riches", their gold and jewellery. Thus, searching for the Jew's hidden riches, the looters
started to rip up the floors and everything else they suspected could hold anything.
It was Wednesday evening when, by moving the oven in the "cooperative", they discovered the
entrance to our maline. Apparently those who had left the maline the day before did not replace the oven
very well. The stream of light coming suddenly from the ceiling, blinding to eyes accustomed to darkness,
made us fear that the worst had happened - the Germans had discovered the entrance to our hiding place.
The fact that the order to get out was made in Polish rather than in German was rather unexpected.
Exhausted physically as well as psychically, we decided to submit to fate - even more so when we soon
realized that we were discovered, not by Germans, but by a band of Poles.
We had to pay off the Poles who awaited us. For my part I gave them a gold pocket watch, the wedding
present of my father-in-law. Learning from the Poles that the Germans and their flunkies had left the camp,
we decided to leave it too. Fearing that on Subocz Street we might be faced by our persecutors we turned
toward Rossa where our camp adjoined a wood. On our way we passed the incompletely buried corpses
of those whose hiding places had been discovered by the Germans and who were shot on the spot…
…The first patrol of the Red Army appeared in the yard of our bomb shelter on the morning of 12 July 1944;
it consisted mostly of Kalmyks
. Their coming proclaimed the end of the three years of our torment.
Thinking back I remember that having been crushed by the ceaseless flood of disasters, we were
utterly drained psychologically by these years of terror as well as by our struggle to avoid our appointed
destiny. Thus we were unable to react to the fact of our miraculous deliverance with the joy it deserved…
Reproduced by kind permission of the family of the late Samuel Esterowicz.
For the complete memoirs, see www.searchformajorplagge.com
Tomek Wisniewski Collection*
© ARC 2005