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Siedlce Memoirs

Last Update 14 July 2005

Memoirs of Cypora Jablon - Zonszajn - born in 1915, resided in Siedlce, Poland, until 1942.

It was Friday, 22nd August 1942. For the last two weeks we are living under great strain. In Warsaw (600,000 people) there is the evacuation of Jews from Radom, Kielce and else≠where too. Trains are continually running full of people expelled to the death camp of Treblinka. Dosia Monczykowna from Warsaw, is staying with us and she has told us of the terrible things happening there. We know that the same fate is awaiting us but we till delude ourselves. In the meantime, like a bolt from the blue, the news comes of evacuation from Minsk≠ Mazowiecki, only 40 kms away. We are in the next lot but we continue under delusion. We hope that they will steer clear of us because the authorities here assured us that we are "Arbeit≠stadt" (a work town Ė tr.) and many hands are needed for work!

The atmosphere in the town deteriorates from moment to moment. I try to encourage my beloved parents but at the same time I look with tears in my eyes at our comfort and solace, my beautiful 11-months old daughter. Dear God, what will happen to the child and of what is she guilty that she should be found in such a hell.
In the evening news suddenly comes that the evacuation has been held up. People are kissing each other in the street with joy. Oh! That it turns out to be true! Alas, as my hus≠band remarked - it is the reaction of the optimists to all the bad news.
At 11 o'clock in the evening when we are going to bed, our friend and neighbour, Ule Nussbaum - a Jewish policeman, Ordnungsmann, tells us that it is thought that nothing new will happen this night. At 2 a.m. however, a meeting is called of all the Polish police. Moreover, many Germans have removed their work, even unfinished, from the area.
My heart begins to beat wildly and tears come to my eyes as I look at the child. Its such a pity for the little Doll. And even now I still delude myself. Maybe it is nothing - maybe the police are going on a raid to the partisans. Dosia says the the Polish police donít take part in such actions. One says one thing, another something else. At 2 o'clock in the night my hus≠band comes, who is also an Ordnungsmann, and tells us to be ready. I pull out some things for the child from the cases and we awaken the neighbours who know nothing and try to comfort my dear mother. Suddenly a shot is heard (a sign that the ghetto is surrounded). In silence I be≠gin to dress the child. We feel that a terrible time is drawing near. Until 4 a.m. we wait in great uncertainty and we hear a series of shots. In a moment Jakob drops in with the news that we are surrounded. My parents burst into loud tears. My mother says: "Save yourself and the child that my labour may not be in vain". I do not answer her and finish dressing the child, folding her in a blanket - and throwing on my coat I am ready for the road - to where I donít know. I dont think about taking something to eat and some clothes. The child awakened from sleep cries - then my dear father comes to her and silently, as he usually does, kisses myself and the child Jakob changes his clothes and tells me to go with him. I am so over≠come and terror-struck that I donít ask him where and I donít bid farewell to my parents and Dosia. My mother gathers us to her and in a tearful voices says: "Children, try to bury us respectably". These words make me lose control: "Mother, what are you saying, will I never see you again?" Why havenít I got the poison I asked for so we could finish life together.

On the street a crowd is gathering and from the houses can be heard laments and cries. From time to time someone can be seen running with a parcel and occasionally a shot rings out. "People, what is it? Tell us what is happening." There is no way now to leave the area. My husband takes us to the Jewish Police station and from there to the attic of the baths nearby so that we will be near in case they decide to spare the families of the policemen, as happened in Warsaw. I climb on the attic pushing the child to someone and she cries: "Mama!". I am taking you little daughter. I try to settle down comfortably in the attic asking friends to pull a mattress from the table to the floor. I try to let the child sleep. But it is foolishness - she can still chatter. It is better that she sleeps later, but who remembers about such things. It is 5.30 in the morning and there are more people in the attic but no one belonging to my family. Why doesnít Jakob bring my parents and Dosia?

At 7 o'clock I hear Dosia's voice. This makes me happy and certain that my parents are also coming. "Dosia, where are my parents?" Alas, they are not there. In despair I ask her to tell Jakob that he should bring them.
Dosia brought some biscuits for the baby. Jakob sent sweets, lemons, apples, cherries and bread. "What is it for?" I thought. I am so bewildered that I donít realise how threatening the situation is and that it may be necessary to stay here for God knows how long.

There are more and more people in the attic (about 100) and shots can be heard more often - the deportation action has begun - and my parents are not here. My God, the last words of my mother are still in my ears - why did I rush from the house without them? Dosia tries to calm me: "Itís to save the child" but I could have saved the child together with them!

Deportation Square
Deportation Square
It is 10 o'clock, single laments and innumerable cries are merged in one immense and indefinable yell (later we learned that the Jewish police had received orders, under threat of death, to vacate all living quarters and to send the people to a point of collection at the Umschlagplatz). For the time being we dont know the meaning of those terrible heart-rending cries. Dismayed at the sound of the strange shrieks I look after the child and try to amuse her so she will not cry. For the time being she is happy at the breast which she has not had for a long while and is quiet - but what will happen later? (Later I gave her cybalgina (asprin) so she would sleep for longer). I dont want to think about anything because I am ready to go crazy. "Where are my beloved parents, what has happened to them?" I am now praying only that at least they may have an easy death (it was only two weeks later that I found out that even that was not meant for them).

It is nearly 12 o'clock. From the street the sound of the boots of our guards can be heard. Shots without pause and laments without pause! Suddenly loud bangs shake the attic - they are breaking up the boards around our hiding place. In a moment they will come upon us, ≠God that the child should not awake. Unfortunately, the noise is so loud that the child wakes up, crying loudly. The unhappy people with us begin to go wild. A woman falls on the child and wants to smother her. With animal strength I push her away saying that if my child cant live we can all die. To smother the cries of the child they push me with her into a cupboard at the attic. I un≠dress her completely, give her the breast and sing to amuse her as well as I can. Every minute is like a century. At last she calms down and becomes accustomed to the noise which has still not ceased. I stream with perspiration, the heat under the roof is unbearable. Dosia gives me a lemon which brings me back to consciousness. I take the little doll, completely undressed and naked (she wants to walk) round the whole of the attic. Sobs are shaking me unceasingly. If only Mummy was with me it would be easier to bear. She and the child would amuse them≠selves together in a better way. Dosia forces me to take a piece of bread and water - you have to have milk for the child. How fortunate that she is with us! The noise has stopped. I later learned that the Jewish police broke down the doors of the Baths specially to show the Ukrainians that it is not a flat - and for the time being this saved us. I leave the child with Dosia on the mattress and go to look at the street through the chinks on the roof. A fearful emptiness; in the distance a loud lament, shouts of those being killed and shots, shots without interval. We thought that the shots were fired to arouse fear but later it was revealed that each shot meant one life lost.

The tramp of boots, breaking in of house-doors and shops, unbelievable screams and shots close and far away. My head was confused. The last words of my mother and the quiet kiss of father disturbed me. What has happened to them? Only half a day has passed - what will happen if we have to be here longer? The child behaves completely calmly. My golden doll! When I say to her "Quiet" and put my hand on my mouth, she looks at me with her wonder≠ful black eyes, so understanding, as if she knew what it was I wanted to say to her.

Our police are going around on the attic and by calling each other let us know that they have not forgotten us. Under the roof the heat is terrible - it crackles and every sound increases the beating of our hearts a hundredfold. The night is falling. I keep watch and hope that maybe Jakob will give us a sign, but no one can be seen. Tired at the end of this terrible day, I sleep. I am awakened by an air raid alarm. "Dosia, can you hear?" "I can hear, maybe after all fate will be kind to us - maybe bombs will save us". Alas, the alarm passes - there are no bombs but instead there is steady attack of asthmatic coughing. Silencing them doesnít help. What can the poor things do? But in that quietness I close my ears so as not to hear the noise of coughing. A pity the night must pass. Dawn - and the little doll awakens and wails from hunger. My breasts are empty and so bitten that every touch causes me pain. However, I take a hold of myself - only that the child may be quiet. I give her a piece of biscuit and pour over it the fruit juice mother gave me at the last moment and I pour a little of the water over my hands. The little doll drinks and bites my hand when she has finished - she wants more. My dear God! How can I endure to look at the weariness of the child? To 10 o'clock it is quiet, later the terrible laments begin again, again shots. The orgy of "evacuation" begins again. ≠Today the action is more brutal than yesterday. Without interval the breaking-in of shops can be heard and the last cry of those about to die. Shma Israel, "God of Israel"! These words are spoken by the ordinary Jew when he is under great tribulation. And that cry can be heard all the time.

Itís very hot again and you can hardly breathe at the attic. What you are afraid of repeats itself all the time. The over-tired child at last cries loudly. Again it is necessary to begin fighting with the people aroud us - this time I donít have the strength but Dosia is on guard. She pushes everyone away and pulls me out of the cupboard where we have again been thrown. She organises a few people to rock the child. The fresh air revives her a little and after a few minutes (which seem like hours) she slowly quietens down. I breathe more eas≠ily. Below, a group of Ukrainians along with Sonderdienst are amusing themselves. They broke into a shop (the Bakers on Jatkowa Street No.2), took some people who were hiding there and shot them. We can hear again the cries of the murdered. There is a few minutes of quiet, then steps and the wonderful choral strains of the song "Volga, Volga". I look across at Dosia, "Volga, Volga" those beautiful, sentimental strains with the bestial murder of unnarmed peo≠ple, mostly women and children. How much cruelty do these people have within themselves!
This scene sends me absolutely crazy. I am now completely out of control. And on my side I must try to amuse a hungry child who is swallowing cherries whole, taking bread out of my hands and drinking water greedily from them. But I tell myself that I should not grumble - maybe later these things will also be lacking.
Suddenly we all jump up joyously. Someone is knocking at our door and calling out in Yiddish. I am sure that it will turn out to be my husband. That it is Ule. He brought bread and gave us the news that outside the action continues. Many people have been shot and 500 men have been taken to one side for work. Thanks to that they try to take the young men away but what will happen to the women no one knows.
A little later, after he has gone, the news reaches us that the hospital is left so it may be possible to take the women as sanitary workers. Instead of feeling happy, a terrible desspair takes over me. If that is so, then my parents could have been saved! I alone am guilty of their death (if they had an easy death). Even if they are saved my conscience will reproach me to the end of my life.

Jakob Zonszajn
Jakob Zonszajn and
his Daughter Rachela
*
For the time being there is no sign of my husband. Has something happened to him? I observe the street through the window on the roof. Nurses bring water to those gathered on the Umschlagplatz. The Jewish police continually take the carts full of the bodies of those who have been killed.
And Jakob cannot be seen. I am so afraid for him that my heart fails within me. Suddenly from the other side of the roof someone tells me that they see my husband. Dosia runs over quickly to see him. I feel better!

The heat at the attic is unbearable. The child is losing strength and wails unceasingly. What can I do? I take courage and write a letter to Jakob that if the situation goes on for much longer he should try to get some poison from the hospital for the child because my heart is breaking when I must look on her torments.

It is four o'clock in the afternoon. The shots donít stop, nor do the laments and cries. The child is sleeping so I stand at the end of the attic and observe the street. A cart comes along fully loaded with dead - our policeman are driving it. They look very pale and tired - sweat pours from them. I admire their bravery in taking part in such an action and not to go mad when they see their nearest and dearest killed. Later I learned that thanks to their actions hundreds of people had been saved.
In a moment the picture changes. Some Ukrainians or Lithuanians (one and the same devil!) lead a youngster with a child. The child cries with fright and canít walk on. Those leading push it on with kicks and when they donít help they begin to beat it with their rifles. At that the unhappy father, with the last of his strength throws himself on the attacker of the child and strikes him. In a flash three shots are heard and three bodies lie in the street, The perpetrator goes away whistling. I stand, half dead with consternation at my observation post but I am pleased that at least the "pure blooded Aryan" felt the dirty hand of the unhappy Jew. If only such happenings could occur more often. Tears fill my eyes - perhaps my poor old parents were beaten. My dear ones, how could I leave you? Have you forgiven me for that? I did it for your beloved grandchild.

In the early evening Ule comes for his cousin and brings news that my father-in-law, his two daughters, their husbands and his grandchild have been shot. Poor Jakob! That is why he has not appeared. The news from the hospital is uncertain and it is not known how it will be with the women. I give Ule the letter for Jakob.

PAGE MISSING

... Children are taken from their mothers, there, wives from their husbands, and sisters from brothers. Beatings are commonplace - maybe because you have an intelligent face ≠because you are a person. It seems nothing to only beat someone when shootings are a com≠mon occurrence!

Again a cart arrives full of bodies, whole piles of them; so many people who two days ago lived normal lives hoping that the war would soon be over. One corpse falls off but is thrown back like you take frozen animals for meat. Another thing - every animal has more right to live than the people amassed on this square. They are not people, they are flies which a hand sweeps off the wall ...

"Water", "Give us some water" - "drink", "I feel weak", "Itís hot". These cries become a great shriek, the shriek of despairing, innocent, unnarmed people. A policeman who gave his mother his own apple and a little water is told to take his place with the crowd and his "insignia" is taken from him. Other, at the last moment, crouch down to avoid the bullets after he tried to make contact with a wife or child. The cry: "Shma Israel!", "God of Israel!" is uttered on all sides. People, why are you still calling on God? - Rebel! Even so, you go to certain death. We all know about Treblinka.

Cypora and her Daughter Rachela,
shortly before the first Action
Alas, that strong, indispensable impetus for life is not fading. Yet everyone of these unhappy people is hoping that maybe he will be chosen for some work - maybe he will be rescued. On the one hand it is understandable, yet on the other, not.
Afterwards transports left this place, on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, for the station. On Monday when I was already rescued, the whole staff of the hospital had been shot - the doctors, Dr. Leobl, Glazowski, Szwarc and others - all the nurses, the helpers and all the rest of the staff of the hospital. All the young, intelligent girls of Siedlce who wished by taking on this work to keep out of danger and save their lives, all these were shot as nurses. About some of them an occasional Ukrainian would growl: "Vot krasavica!" (what a beauty) and spitting on the side would carry on. After all these young, worthy people were loaded like beasts on a cart and taken to the cemetery. From one would be taken clothes, from another a good pair of shoes and from a third some valuable possession.
Now a party of people were brought out, pulled from a hiding place - a whole family ≠mother, daughter, grandchild and in-laws. They are put into a car which will take them to the cemetery. There they will each stand on an open, freshly-dug grave to be shot and to fall into it. It is a pity even to give work to these animals. And so died my cousin, Sucherowa-Jablo≠niowa, with two lovely children and Dorka Krygierowa, as well as many others.
A group, sent to the station, are now loaded on railway wagons. A hundred to two hundred people, loaded on wagons which normally hold forty or fifty. I received news about this from those who got away from these wagons. At the beginning the people in the wagons were bewildered but slowly they became crazy. "Itís hot!", "Water". Unfortunately there is no water. They begin to take off their clothes and little by little most of them are naked - men, women and children. No notice is taken of anyone. "Itís hot, I'm smothering!". Slowly, people begin to suffocate - first the old people, then the sick and children. People begin to go wild and they fight to get to the windows. The atmosphere is unbearable, one person walks over an≠other. "A little air, let me get to the window!". A small window cannot serve to calm all of them. The young are victorious - of the old, the ma jority die before reaching it. They have not the strength to fight for a little air. (I cannot bear to think about it - my parents, my dear departed, probably suffered such a death.)

The wagons are going to Treblinka. I have news from there from Maks Bigelman of War≠saw, who worked there for 15 days (from August 27th to September 9th) sorting out belongings of those brought in, and escaped. This man is at present lodged with me and relates many things. As I write he is talking to us, me and Mendel, so-called Paya, former councillor, collector of documents from Siedlce ghetto.
The wagons arrive at the station of Treblinka. There are usually about 60 of them but only 18 to 20 go through the gate of the camp. Here the wagons are emptied of people and belongings. The people go through the gate to the square on which are two barracks. Women and children go to the left, men to the right. The women stand before one of the barracks, the men at the other. The women take off their shoes before the entrance then go inside to undress completely. From this barrack the women go along a corridor by a garden path to the "baths". These "baths" are situated in the next securely and tightly sealed bar≠rack. 400 people go inside and it is locked with a horizontal bar from outside. In front of the barrack are four machine guns which "help" them to go in. When the barrack is closed, gas is intro≠duced. After three or four minutes all are gassed. They are, however, kept in a little longer. After about 15 minutes the barrack is opened on the other side, where Jewish workers are standing (about 200) who take small wagons, with the dead, to the graves. Many of the corpses are stuck together and water is poured over these to separate them. After half an hour the barrack is empty and ready for the next lot. The next wagons then move in, but the men are still waiting in the first courtyard. After the "bathing" of all the women, it is the men's turn. If it should happen that someone from the group hides under cover and is afterwards found he is sent to another pre-prepared grave and shot there.
People who have not the strength left to walk to the "baths", like old people, children and the sick, these are just taken to the open graves and shot there to fall into them. Before the entrance to the "baths" there is an orchestra of Jewish musicians who play for their brethren going to their deaths. Workmen who assist at the taking out of the gassed "bathers" are completely separated from those who work in the first part at the sorting (these must be kept apart as they are forbidden to speak about anything). However, it doesn't help as we know about everything.
Young people are taken from among those who stand in the first courtyard. They work at sorting out all the clothes. These clothes, taken from those who have gone to "bathe" are put into parcels, put on the wagons and sent straight back again. Thanks to these wagons a few hundred people saved themselves. It is from these that we know about everything.
In the first courtyard many big notices are hung informing new arrivals of the order of events taking place here: " Attention! . . . You should undress here . . . after bathing you will go to a clean barrack with clean clothes and be sent to work, etc., etc". So many lies, beastliness and sadism!
Maks tell us with tears in his eyes of the moment when he saw his wife and only daughter of 13 arriving on one of the wagons. He tried to rescue them-as he was a forarbeite (Vorarbeiter)and went to his "chief" to ask him if they could be left as workers - but he received a refusal and had to bid farewell to his daughter who said: "It canít be helped Dad, dont worry!". His wife did not know she was going to her death but he told his daughter. What a terrible tragedy Ė how much these people had to endure!
After two weeks Maks had got into a wagon, with items which were being sent back and in this way he made his escape.

One's hair stands on end to hear all that he relates; a terrible awe hangs over us. When people who have not been through this, hear about these things, will they ever be able to be≠lieve them? Will they believe that all I am writing is the absolute truth? May my words be a living witness to those who went through these terrible things, these terrible tragedies !

That then is how the evacuation of the Siedlce Ghetto was carried out. In that way thou≠sands of people were finished off. I've spoken of nearly all but the fate of my dearest parents. And yet I have detailed news of them, taken by me from various people with great solicitude and care. I shall write about it in detail so that my daughter will eventually come to know how the grandparents who adored her died. Already on the Saturday morning they had de≠cided to go to the Umschlagplatz together with all their neighbours. When one of the neighbours, a good friend, wanted to give poison to my mother who suffered with her heart, she did not agree. She said that she had decided to go through that hell with my father and maybe, in that way, to buy with her own life that of myself and my daughter. And so they went to the square. Ule gave them water and apples a few times and they continually asked about us. On bidding goodbye to Ule my mother said: "Be in good health, at least you will be saved". On the Sunday they were sent with another group to the station but there were no wagons and they had to return and spend the night on the square. What a gehenna! On Monday they found out that I and the child had been rescued and my dear mother then said that she would now go to her death as to a dance. On the Monday they were sent away. They probably both suffocated in the wagon. I believe that must have been so because my mother was already very ill and then she had gone through all those terrible days. My dearest ones! I have your deaths on my conscience and as long as I live (if I do live, because I havent much chance of that) I will not be at peace. I am guilty of all that terrible, tragic suffering. I hope, though, that you forgave me, more so that I rescued your beloved Lalka. I also couldn't grant my mother's last wish and give her burial rites. But, alas, she was not the only one ≠tens, hundreds and thousands of people died in that way. Hundreds of thousands had their "bath" in Treblinka and other places like Treblinka.

Who will revenge us? Who will revenge the terrible beastly death of hundreds of young, intelligent people - teachers and thousands of good doctors, professors and writers.
Who will revenge the parents taken from their children, children from their parents, wives from their husbands? Who will revenge the sorrow of the mother looking on the death of her child? If I am able to live, it is for that moment of revenge when I shall be able to retaliate for the death of my parents, cousins and uncles.
Unfortunately it does not seem to be going that way. We are sitting in terrible conditions in a dirty verminous area with a lot of gypsies who have become our succcessors to a place where death hangs in the air around us. The atmosphere is one of continuous panic. Every day new people arrive, escapees from the wagons arriving from other towns: from Lukow, Wegrow, Miedzyrzec, Kaluszyn, Sokolow and many, many others. Every day we hear that another action has taken place, again here and for a third time there! Why do they still leave us alone? Even in this case, however, we are not deceived. We know that our fate will not escape us.

In the meantime, however, the situation is tragic - its difficult to understand, hard to imagine. Everyday representatives of the authorities appear in the area - Arbeitsamt and others. " People are needed for work" - to fetch coal - 25 men, for carrying bricks - 100 women, to Rekman - 70 women, to Fleger - 100 women, and so on. People for work! The best, the most beautiful, the most dear have gone to Treblinka - and here, where are gathered the worst elements, people are needed for work. Why donít they go to Treblinka? Why donít they hold up the new wagons bound for Treblinka? People for work are not really necessary - they need Jews in order to tire them out completely before death - to rob them of their last strength. Itís not surprising that no one volunteers for work, that every day begins with a "parodia of the area" - the hunting out of people for work. Every worker at the firm of Rek≠man, for instance, a watchman or others, have the right to beat, threaten and curse. You are not a person, you are subject to the will of German workers.

Our life hangs now on one thing only - news! What are they saying, What's happening at the railway stations? Are there more wagons of people, is the action still going on? Have any stranger arrived - what does he say?

On the 6th November 1942, there was official news in the gazette that in some towns in the district of Warsaw new living quarters are being organised where all Jews can gather, Siedlce is also named. The atmosphere improves. We donít believe, however, that they will let us live. We believe that the sentence passed on us will be carried out at a certain time. A day or two of some peace but it is not granted to us for long. On Sunday rumours begin to spread that in Lukow, which is also among the towns mentioned in the Gazette, all Jews were taken, even those quartered at the workshops. These rumours, which were not at first believed, have now, however, been confirmed. And so what did the notice in the Gazette, the Komunikat, mean? We donít know anything, we donít understand anything except the we are condemned to a ter≠rible, tragic death and we are waiting for the sentence to be carried out.

Translated by Stella Morawska.

Sabina Zawadzka
Sabina Zawadzka
Translators note:
The writer describes her mother and father as "moja zlota matka, moj zloty ojciec" The word "zloto" means "gold". I have translated it as "my dearest mother" and "dearest father". The young wife and mother who writes the memoirs in the small ghetto, after mentioning her child "Lalka" (Rachela Zonszajn) at the beginning of the narrative, later on does not say anything about her. This is because she had given over her little daughter to Polish friends who looked after her at a great risk to themselves (3 missing pages had been destroyed by rescuers, for security reasons). She knows that her daughter will survive as she says she is writing the memoirs so that later her daughter will know how her grandparents died.
Cypora committed suicide before the November Aktion. Her husband was deported to Treblinka. Only her daughter Rachela survived the war. Her rescuers (Sabina Zawadzka, Irena Zawadzka and Zofia Olszakowska-Glazerowa) were later named a "Righteous Among the Nations", by Yad Vashem.
Dosia survived the war thanks to false arian papers provided by another Righteous, Lucyna Rzewuska.

Photo: Dabrowska, A. Przyczynek do dziejow Zydow w Siedlcach ... in: Szkice Podlaskie 9/2001 *

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