The Yellow Star/ Conita Drew Jones
This yellow star of shame
This yellow star of pain.
A star designed to brand,designed to disgrace
A star that was meant to degrade a people so great
A star meant to bring down the souls of those who wore it.
A star meant to say you are nothing
You are hated ,you are alone.
A star invented in the evil mind of a man
To bring pain in any way possible.
This star had many tears shed upon it,
this star was stripped from the bodies of the dead.
This star took the place of names.
Those that wore it,knew all that it said.
Those that saw it,knew what it meant.
But, the men who made it embrace hell for all eternity.
Those who wore it, with HaShem they are home.
This star has become a beacon of light.
This star holds no shame, but the pride of a people,and their strength that remains.
This star though, it began as an object meant to shame and to destroy.
Has become an object that I embrace.
For by doing so,I embrace each of them, I remember them not with shame, but with pride.
My people, my family and a Nation of Honor and of Hope.
This star for me , speaks of their faith,their strength
For they, rather than deny who they were , wore this star to their death.
They were speaking words that can not be said with mere words.
They were saying we are proud,we are strong we are G-d’s people.
They were saying we are men,we will not be stopped, we will not be destroyed.
We will not go away.
They were saying,I would rather die for right and good than to live by bowing to evil.
They were declaring their faith,and who they were.
You ask me,what I see when I see this star ?
I see myself and a people that have made me.
I see the love of a family,the love of a people unlike any other.
I see a people that I am in awe of,and filled with pride.
A people so special that even the World can not comprehend.
A people that have proven the power and the hope of their G-d.
A people forever Chosen,a people that were not ashamed.
A people filled with pride.
What was meant to shame them,has only added to their strength
Only has spoken of how special they truly are.
Has only become a memorial of a people unlike any other.
A people that fills my heart and soul with pride and wonder and strength.
It reminds me of each one before me ,that endured all.
And was unable to be broken.
That came out of the darkness,shining ever so bright.
It reminds me of a people and of a land that is home.
It reminds me,to never bow.
To never deny who I am or to fear any man.
It reminds me that some things are worth dying for.
And that it is better to die than to live and to deny yourself.
This star for me ,is a sense of pride and of love for the people that wore it.
And a reminder, that G-d is with them.
Though the World may hate them,G-d’s love for them is ever true.
Though the World would destroy them, they are here to stay forever.
Full of pride,and hope and faith.
It has become a testament of who they were,how special they are.
And that they will never give in.
never give up and never bow.
Excerpt from David Herman’s autobiography: The Death March
The next day the train was approaching the town of Chemnitz when the American planes attacked again. The dive bombers made some direct hits on the train and on the railway station in the town. The train was brought to a standstill. Some SS soldiers jumped off the train and ran to hide in bomb shelters.
When we saw that there were no guards, we all left the train and ran into some nearby woods to look for food. As Vrumi and I headed away from the train, we saw dozens of German teenage boys, who belonged to the “Hitler Yugend” or “Hitler Youth”. They were lying in the tall grass, trying to shoot down the American planes with rifles.
My brother and I saw a small farmhouse. We went and knocked on the door, but there was no answer. The door was unlocked, so we went in. There was no one in the first room, so we walked through into the next room.
There was an old man sitting in a rocking chair. We said to him in German that we had had no food for five days and we begged him to give us some food. He looked at us suspiciously, but did not utter a word. Then he got up, walked into a different room, and came back pointing a rifle at us. He shouted “Don’t move!”
He must have raised the alarm, because suddenly a group of about a dozen of the Hitler Youth teenagers came bursting into the room, all with rifles. They ranged in age from about 12 to 14 years old, and began shouting at us “Raus! Raus!” “Out! Out!” They ordered us out of the house and then took us back to the SS soldiers by the train, under armed guard.
Back at the train station, the SS were lining up prisoners who had been running in all directions after the train was hit. About 300 prisoners had been killed by the Allied bombing. Some prisoners who were found trying to hide were rounded up and shot.
Now the SS made us continue the journey on foot. There were about 2,000 of us survivors, from the 3,000-odd inmates that had been evacuated from Rhemsdorf. Several dozen SS soldiers guarded us, some walking and some bicycling. The journey ahead was to become a death march.
We had no idea where the SS were taking us. We trudged wearily along on the hard packed-dirt road, which served as a main thoroughfare in that part of Germany. We stayed to one side of the road, heading east, while a long line of traffic headed west on the other side of the road.
It seemed that the whole German population was on the move, heading in the opposite direction. There were cars, lorries, bicycles, horse-drawn carts and thousands of pedestrians. There were German Vermacht soldiers and so many civilians, including those pushing their personal belongings in small carts and baby prams. As the Allied forces closed in, the thousands of German civil servants who had been working across the nearby border, in Czechoslovakia, where fleeing back into Germany. Apparently, all the Germans wanted to get as far away from the Russian army as possible, including if this meant moving closer to the American forces.
The Germans, as I learned from other prisoners, were deathly afraid of being captured by the Russians. The Russians and the Germans were known to be equally brutal with one another in war, and neither side was known for taking prisoners. The Germans preferred the thought of being captured by Americans than Russians.
As the fleeing Germans crammed the road, the American and British fighter planes swooped down and attacked every vehicle. They strafed and machined gunned and dropped incendiary bombs. As a result there were hundreds of burnt out lorries scattered along the road and the smell of burning vehicles filled the air.
There was a great sense of desperation among the thousands of fleeing Germans. They did not look us in the eye. There were people of all ages, men, women and children. Many of the children were crying.
We prisoners did not process clearly what was happening. We saw and we observed, but just mechanically moving one foot in front of the other. But the sense of time had changed. It felt like things were speeding up. Everything was suddenly happening so quickly.
Each time the Allied planes came in low to strafe the road, we moved off the road and jumped into nearby trenches or fields. We searched in those fields for food, and sometimes got lucky by finding a carrot or potato, which we ate raw. When the planes left, we lined up on the road again and continued with our march. Some prisoners were wounded and could not carry on. Others were simply too exhausted and weak. The SS guards shot these inmates by the roadside and carried on.
During some of the Allied attacks, some prisoners sought refuge by crawling into pipes that ran the length of trenches alongside the road. The pipes were just wide enough for a person to crawl into and there were openings to the pipes at regular intervals. As soon as the attacks had ended and the SS were rounding us up, some of the German soldiers would walk over to the pipes and, without a word of warning, shoot the people hiding inside. As we resumed the march, some of the SS guards would purposely fall behind with dogs. The dogs were used to sniff out anyone who was hiding and the SS shot and killed these people in the pipes.
The terrible march went on for 18 days. Sometimes at night we slept outdoors, in the cold and wet. The SS slept under waterproof cloaks. Sometimes we arrived at the end of the day at a town where the SS arranged for us to stay in sheds or stables. If we were lucky, we got a piece of bread and grain coffee or some soup. Often we got nothing.
We started off very early each morning, and there were always many bodies of people who had died in the night.
Vrumi and I were so hungry that we began to eat anything we could lay our hands on. We ate grass, buds from the trees. We chewed on tree bark.
One night when we had all stopped at a farm and were spending the night in some sheds, I saw two brothers fighting over a piece of bread. There was a lot of noise and commotion, and some of the SS guards came over and asked what the fight was about. When they were told, one of the SS soldiers pointed his gun and shot one of the brothers dead. Then he said to the other brother “Now you don’t have to share your bread.”
As we headed into the second week of marching, prisoners began to drop like flies. People were dying from hunger and cold and exhaustion. There were dead bodies all along the road, and our group got smaller and smaller. We were joined by some new SS guards, and all the vicious young German guards left.
The Almighty and I the Devine Spirit in the Lodz ghetto
The Almighty and I have had many disagreements in the past, but matters came to a head in the Lodz Ghetto on my twelfth birthday.
My mother conferred upon me the full status of a Barmitzvah boy, as my father was dead and my two elder brothers and two sisters were in other ghettos. In the twilight of every Shabbat, she would talk to me in a most serious fashion about all manner of things; especially about my ancestors (distinguished rabbis and talmudic scholars) and how they personally intervened with the Almighty. Once, when my eldest brother was critically ill, my great-grandfather Rabbi Henoch of Alexander appeared to her in the dead of night and pronounced that my brother would live, contrary to expert medical opinion. I knew of course that I was also a very near relative of the illustrious Gerer rebbe. So my chutzpa grew and grew and I started to demand of the Almighty straight answers. “Why,” I asked “does he let the Nazis throw down sick children from a fourth floor window into lorries to be taken to Auschwitz?”
I worked in a children’s hospital – office boy cum porter and big brother to the sick children. I was the only one in the hospital whom the parents of the sick children would trust with their precious food parcels (saved from their own meagre rations), to be safely delivered to the children’s sick beds.
And so, the Almighty and I grew further apart, till one Sunday morning we parted company. I discovered in an obscure part of the ghetto a fascinating library full of communist literature, Emile Zola’s “Germinal”, “The Communist Manifesto”, and others. The answers were there, loud and clear. My conversation lasted until Friday.
On Friday night, my mother lit the Shabbat candles and we both intoned in Hebrew “Shalom Aleichem Malachei Hashalom” – “Welcome Angels of Peace” – by then, I felt the Shekhina (Divine Presence) in our house. The meal was of course marvellous, Jewish mothers in the ghetto had perfected the art of making gefilte fish and tsimes out of potato peelings. But I eagerly looked forward to the second part of Friday night, the Oneg Shabbat with Jacob.
Jacob was eighteen, thin, tubercular with fiery brown eyes, and a large forehead. He was the leader of a secret Zionist youth group, which met every Friday night, at a factory which made uniforms for the Germans. When Jacob spoke of the Hebrew poets the Divine Presence rested upon him.
“You will all survive and one day see Eretz Israel. The Nazis will perish”, he kept prophesying. If arguing with the Almighty I found difficult – arguing with Jacob was impossible!
Friday night was a happy night.
The Almighty and I have a much better relationship now. I forgive Him his imperfections, and he is I think, quite reconciled to my fallen star, for my children can hardly claim to be the sons of a rabbi. However, on Friday night when my wife lights the Shabbat candles, and we all kiss her Shabbat Shalom, I feel that the Divine Presence cannot be far away
The Path to Rehabilitation
Liberation came to us in many ways and varied circumstances. Some, I imagine, were strong enough to be about to see the Germans run for their lives or saw them surrender. It must have been a sight to see, an emotion of a lifetime to experience.
I was flat on my back, ill, pretty well on my way out and certainly past caring. Needless to say I saw none of it.
Instead, I woke up one day to find myself in a hospital bed. A bed with linen, clean linen, I might add and people caring for me. Caring for ME!
It was not long before I was able to get up and found myself convalescing in a children’s home in Theresienstadt. My first HOSTEL.
I shared a room with four or five other boys. This of course was heaven when you consider the crowded conditions that I had been used to until then.
Erna, our matron, had two girls to help her and soon we became one small family. Some of us were more energetic than others, but we were all getting gradually used to becoming individuals again. I began to discover that I am a person in my own right – quite a revelation after years of propaganda about “vermin” and “parasites”, etc.
One could not leave Theresienstadt without a permit, add to it that it was a garrison town, life was inevitably somewhat restricted, a good thing in a way as it introduced us into normal life in a city in a gradual way.
The arrival at Prague was quite an experience. The friendliness and hospitality of the Czech people is something I, for one, shall never forget. It was in Prague that I went to a circus and to a cinema for the first time as a free person.
Then England by courtesy of R.A.F. Bomber Command. There were no seats or “mod-cons”. We sat where we could. On the floor, on boxes, anything at all. The R.A.F. men acting as kinds of stewards communicated with us in sign language. We spoke no English.
Carlisle aerodrome and then by coach to Windermere. Windermere, what a delightful place! On arrival I was shown into a tiny room with a bed, chest of drawers and wardrobe. A room all to myself! Has anyone ever lived so luxuriously?
It was a particular time of, certainly, my life when there could have been no gift more precious. For the first time in years, in my short life, I would have the luxury of a room ALL TO MYSELF. I could have danced in the street for joy. I could and would have except for a small “technicality”.
Well, the clothes in which we arrived were suspect – from a cleanliness viewpoint – and so it had been planned to have new clothes waiting for us on arrival. There was a hitch. We arrived first. No clothes, except for underwear. Well, we were issued these and nought else. Since we could not wear our old clothes, underwear was all we had. I just danced, metaphorically speaking, in my new room.
Windermere, my second hostel-home, was where a group of friendly people one of whom, at least, Alice Goldberger, is here tonight, helped me and the others in various ways; teaching English, etc. This was where I began to make friends with England and the English.
It was a happy time for me, I had the proximity of so many friends, sharing a dining room with them and participating in a variety of activities and yet being able to retire to the luxury of my PRIVATE room. I cannot recapture the wonder of it in words sufficient to do the feeling justice. However, I have no doubt that those who shared this experience with me will know precisely what I mean.
Windermere – “Wondermore” – as I like to call it, stands out for me for what it was, apart from its renowned natural beauty. It was my own reintroduction to a new life as an individual where living was no longer on the level of the animal’s instinct for survival but things of the spirit, of sight, sound and touch began to matter. Wonderful things were happening in “Wondermore”. A happy, happy time.
Three months or so went by very quickly and it was time to move on yet again.
Scotland. Darleith House was about three miles from the village of Cardross in Dumbartonshire. It was in the style of a mansion set in its own extensive grounds with a rhododendron-flanked drive leading to it from the keepers lodge about a quarter of a mile away.
It would be quite easy, again, to become ecstatic about the beauty of the setting and the general splendour of the place, which as my third hostel was about to become my new home, but to do so would be no more that to state a fact.
Here I must pause and say something for the people who planned all this for us. It was obvious that a lot of effort, accompanied by a generous breadth of imagination went into finding these places for our benefit. I feel that a deep humanity coupled with an understanding of our need to be in lovely surroundings as an antidote to the ugliness that we had encountered in our lives hitherto, was the visionary motive in all this.
To these people, whoever they are, MY SALUTE.
I settled down to study and my English began to improve, and although Polish and Yiddish were still used a lot, English gradually began to take over.
I recall an incident which amused us at the time.
Teachers would come up from Dumbarton for various subjects. One, a Mr Smith, taught us English. He was very good with us and we often shared a joke. Our English was beginning to be passable. One day, during an English lesson Mr Smith heard someone talking and it was not in English. “Boys”, he said, “unless you speak English only you will never learn the language properly”.
Up stood one of the boys and his reply, which although somewhat cheeky, was taken in good part as it demonstrated that we were making strides towards speaking the new tongue.
Here is what he said: “Mr Smith, you see, I have to speak Polish sometime because I am in the habit of telling myself jokes. If I tell them in English I shall not understand what they are about”.
Mr Smith seemed pleased with the effort.
Cardross was more a less akin to life in Windermere with the same aims, pursuits and above all its country setting.
Glasgow was different, and here I began to work, still living communally in a hostel. I was learning a trade and studying in my spare time. Gradually city life was something I was taking in my stride and soon feeling confident of being able to cope for myself. I moved with a friend from the hostel and into “digs”. Life has come full circle. I began a “normal” life.
The Hope of Survival in camps
We know that the average chance of survival in the camps was low, and that it varied through time. For example, it must have fallen substantially during the evacuation period which preceded the end of the War.
I seemed to be acutely aware of these changing chances of survival. As the evacuation period proceeded I regarded my chance as, objectively, getting smaller and smaller and indeed approaching zero. Yet, subjectively, I somehow did not believe that I would die. This tension between the perceived objective reality of one’s survival chance and the subjective refusal to accept it was illustrated by an incident I can still vividly remember.
We had been marched out of Flossenburg when the camp was evacuated in the face of the approaching Americans. During the march in the direction of Dachau we once had to stop on the road to allow a different column the right of way. You will recall that during those marches the guards had two kinds of arrangement for dealing with stragglers; either a straggler would be shot by the guard nearest to him, or some guards at the rear of the column would be detailed for this work. The second arrangement had been adopted for that other column. Since we now stood still, and our energies were temporarily released from the effort of marching, the extent of the prevailed slaughter forced itself upon us as never before. We silently looked at each other in muted horror as if to say: “at this rate our turn will come any moment”. Yet, subjectively, we probably refused to believe it.
In this particular case, however, the subjective beliefs of most of us were to be justified. Two or three days later the American Army overtook our column of marching skeletons. We were free – quite suddenly we were no longer prisoners whose lives had been at the mercy of any guard, but people who could even rely on the American Army for protection. Quite suddenly the moment had arrived of which we had been dreaming constantly for years but about whose likelihood of arrival we had always been ambivalent. And when the moment arrived we were too exhausted to greet it with the joy it deserved.
My name is Stanley Faull. I was born Salek Falinower on 29th October 1929 in Warsaw. I lived in Twarda Street, Warsaw with my parents – Naftali & Rachel (nee Frydman) Falinower. I had an older brother and sister. My elder brother Gerald (Chiel Zalman Falinower) was five years older than me and my sister, Henia Falinower, seven years older than me.
The first ten years of my life were spent with my family. We were a very close, happy family, with lots of aunts, uncles and cousins living nearby. Many of the family lived in the same street in which my maternal grandparents had a delicatessen shop, which ceased doing business in about 1935. My mother had two brothers who emigrated to England in 1911 & 1920 respectively, and three sisters, who remained close to us in Warsaw, where they married and lived with their families.
My father had three brothers and two sisters. The brothers had very different professions: one was a Talmud scholar, one a manufacturer of brass stair rods and the other was a watch-maker. His brothers and sisters were all married with families and lived in the same vicinity as us. My father ran an inherited family metal foundry and engineering business, which his family had owned and operated for some seven generations in Warsaw. He was also the warden of the Synagogue Nozyka, which was only a few yards away from our home, and which still exists. I remember going to my brother’s barmitzvah there in 1937. We lived in a large apartment, with a resident maid. We three children all went to private schools and enjoyed holidays at villas owned by the family at Miedzeszyn and Otwosk.
When my uncle travelled from England to visit his ailing mother in Warsaw in 1933, he saw the condition of the family business and suggested that it would be beneficial for my brother to go to England, receive a British education and obtain engineering and metallurgical qualifications. Consequently, in 1937, after his barmitzvah, I remember going to the central railway station in Warsaw to wave him goodbye when he left for England. It was my father’s wish that I too should go to England to be educated as soon as I was old enough – i.e. after my anticipated barmitzvah in 1942. However, the war intervened and I neither had a barmitzvah nor went to England for my education. The plan that Gerald and I would one day be able to improve and modernise the family business by using up-to-date British technology, and run it together, would unfortunately never materialise.
Life was relatively normal for me until just before my tenth birthday in September 1939 when the Nazi Germany war machine invaded Poland. Warsaw was heavily bombed, our home and my father’s factory were completely destroyed and we had to move in with relatives in a nearby street. Life for me was never to be normal again.
We lived in extremely cramped conditions in the confines of the Warsaw ghetto until the time of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. The conditions were unbearable – overcrowding, severe shortage of basic foods, illness, no medical care and people dying of starvation. The Germans offered free transport to work camps in the east and a free loaf of bread for each family when they reported to the railway station. This was a big incentive. Over 100 members of my family succumbed to the temptation and were transported to the death camps created by the Germans, never to be seen again. My father was, however, a great optimist and was of the opinion that the war would soon be over. Therefore, we remained in hiding, our lives in constant danger.
In 1942 my sister, then aged just 19, joined a resistance fighting group, against our parents’ wishes. We never saw her or heard from her again. In 1943, during the weeks before the ghetto uprising, I remember there being great confusion and turmoil – buildings were ablaze and being demolished by the Germans in order to flush out the last Jews remaining in hiding and resisting capture. There was smoke, machine-gun fire, screams all around us, with dead and dying men, women and children all around us.
At this point my family became separated. The bunker in which we were hiding was ablaze and there was chaos everywhere, Together with a group of young resistance fighters, my mother and I were taken by the Germans as “prisoners-of-war”, rather than simply as Jews. We were sent to Majdanek, where we were separated, my mother being in the women’s camp and I was with the men. We were unable to meet. I never saw her again. Up to this time I had always been protected by my parents. I was just 13.
In Majdanek there were mainly Russian prisoners-of-war, Hungarian and German political prisoners, together with Jews from a multitude of countries. I was initially put to work carrying stones from one part of the camp to another. Then I was put to work in the kitchen, which saved me from starvation. At this time, there was a cousin of mine Marysia Balbin, 11 years older than me, in the women’s camp. On several occasions, I was able to steal some bread and smuggle it to her in the women’s camp. Before the war she had worked as a secretary/book-keeper in my uncle’s office at Ulice Prozna.
However, food became increasingly scarce and the Russian armies were now advancing towards us from the east. There were frequent ‘selections’. At these random ‘selections’ the weak, the sick and anyone else whose face did not fit, were sent to the gas chambers by the Germans.
In the winter of 1943, as a registered metal-worker, I was selected to go with a group of workers sent as slave-laborers to Skarzysko Kamienna. This was an ammunition factory run by German foremen. Work was on a 24 hour shift basis; it was a very harsh and cruel regime. Due to a shortage of oil, hot soapy water was used to lubricate the presses making various metal parts. I worked as a ‘soap boy’, boiling the soap and distributing the liquid to the presses. I worked directly under the orders of the chief engineer, a middle-aged German. He ate his meals in his office and I had to clean up the office afterwards. He used to leave me food (bread, cheese and German sausage) and warm clothes (woollen pullovers and woollen socks), all of which were luxuries. It was largely due to his kindness that I survived when deaths were occurring all around me due to overwork, cold, starvation and disease, especially typhus.
My cousin Marysia was also sent from Majdanek to Skarzysko Kamienna and survived the war. After a period in a displaced persons camp in Italy, she settled in Israel, married and had two daughters and seven grandchildren. Apart from my brother in England, she and I were the only ones out of a large family to survive.
In late 1944, when the Russian armies were rapidly advancing, the remaining Jewish slave-labourers were sent west by lorry to Buchenwald. On arrival, I contracted pneumonia. I was saved by a fellow prisoner, a French Jewish professor, who nursed me back to health without any medication, as none was available to us. It was midwinter – subzero temperatures. I worked as a member of a work party clearing roads in Weimar City, which were blocked and damaged as a result of night-time allied air-raids.
On one occasion a German civilian – a retired first world war general – came and took me and three other Jews to his home. The SS officer in charge of our guards saluted him. He deliberately chose four Jews from the work party – clearly identified by the Star of David on our clothes – despite the efforts of the SS officer to get him to select non-Jewish Poles. At his home he and his wife fed us hot baked potatoes – he said it was all they had. On the walls we saw photographs of his three sons all in military uniform and about the same ages as us. The frames were draped in black as they had all been killed on the Russian front. He and his wife told us about them in tears.
In March 1945 the Germans sent about 1,300 of us by train to Theresienstadt. We were put into open cattle-trucks in freezing conditions, without food or water, not knowing where we were being sent. This journey was undoubtedly my most horrific experience. Only a small minority of us survived this horrendous journey, which lasted about two weeks. In my truck, more than half the prisoners were dead on arrival. At this point a miracle occurred. Suddenly all our SS guards disappeared. We were left to fend for ourselves and lived on grass for four or five days until liberated by the Russian Red Army in May 1945.
At the end of the war, I was 15 and both my family and my childhood had been taken away from me.
The Russian civil administration then took charge over the next few weeks, and we gradually got used to eating normal food again. However, due to the sudden change in diet, many of my friends died from over-eating rich food too quickly. Most of my group wanted to go to Palestine but that was not possible at that time and so some returned to their homes in Poland. Having family in England, I wanted to go there.
The Russians would not let anyone over 16 out of the country because they wanted them for military service. In August 1945 – when I was two months short of my 16th birthday – I was flown to England with about 350 other boys and girls in a British bomber aircraft, as part of the first group of children admitted by the British Government. Our travel had been arranged by the Central British Fund (now World Jewish Relief). On arrival, we were taken by coach to Windermere.
There I was reunited with my brother, whom I had last seen when he left Warsaw in 1937, some eight years previously. From the outbreak of war he had served in the Free Polish air force. He was a sergeant-pilot flying Lancaster bombers. I was then taken from Windermere by my family in England, and sent to a boarding-school to catch up on five years of lost education. Later I joined the family metal business in England.
In 1954, I married Dian Calo, the daughter of a Hatton Garden diamond merchant, at Brighton Middle Street Synagogue and we subsequently settled in Hove, East Sussex. We have three sons, Steven, Maurice and Ashley; two went up to Cambridge University, graduating with honours in Economics and Law respectively, and the other one graduated with a Law degree from London University and subsequently obtained an MBA from Kingston. Their professions are as diverse as my father’s three brothers: one being a Chartered Surveyor, one a Chartered Accountant and the other a businessman running a television company. My wife and I now also have three grandsons (Matthew, Harrison and MacKenzie) and a granddaughter, Emily.
I feel very fortunate that, from the time I lost the protection provided by my parents, I have survived, by dint of sheer good luck, some very terrible years.
In the Spring of 1942, a rumour circulated that the North Western part of White Russia would be passed over to the Lithuanian government.
This rumour caused much distress as it was known that, within three days after the invasion of the Germans, the Lithuanians cold-bloodedly murdered all Jews in the small towns.
Therefore when we heard that Volozyn was to remain under White Russian control, I and my family, along with other families, moved from Olshan to Volozyn.
This, however, was a flight from water into fire.
After a short while, on the 10th of May of that year, we found ourselves in The Valley of the Shadow of Death, in the midst of a terrible slaughter whose survivors could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
I recall a dream which I had dreamt on the night before that horrible day. In the dream, my father and I were walking to the synagogue. Suddenly, big stones were falling upon us from out of the sky. One stone hit my father and killed him. I was also hit by a stone, but I was not hurt.
The loud knocks on the door, which woke me up from the nightmare, were also the explanation for my dream, as well as an omen of the end of the Ghetto in Volozyn. In fact, already a day earlier we had seen that the Lithuanian militia had encircled the Ghetto. They had also been joined by militants from Latvia. We, however, did not understand the meaning of such activities.
At four a.m., the drunken murderers burst into the Ghetto like a storm, fired in all directions and kicked the Jews out of their houses. They then gathered them into a large building and from there took them in groups to the cemetery, where they shot them. On the streets that led to the cemetery, there already lay the dead bodies of hundreds of men, women and children who, through illness or weakness, had not been able to walk, and so had been killed on the way to the killing fields.
In the yard of one of the houses, the families that dwelled there built a hiding place underneath a pile of firewood.
On the night of the action, I slept in that house. When the drunken murderers attacked the dwellers of the Ghetto that early morning, I ran with a few others to that hiding place. We climbed a ladder to the top of the pile and then lowered ourselves into it. We then pulled the ladder inside, so as to hide our place. However, our footprints were visible on the grass, which was wet from the morning dew, and these led the hooligans to the pile of wood. With wild shouts, they pulled us out. One of them even came down into the hiding place and kicked me out along with two others who did not come out straight away.
When I reached the top of the wood pile, I suddenly jumped onto a nearby roof and then to the ground, and started to run wildly. The hooligans shot at me and hit me in the shoulder. With the remains of my strength I reached a little hut in one of the yards” the hut served as an out-house. Without much deliberation, I jumped into the hole and sank up to my shoulders in excrement. The murderers would have never thought to look for me there.
In that state, as I was sitting in this hole full of stinking dirt and suffering from my injured shoulder which still had a bullet in it, I was destined to witness, through the cracks of the door of the hut, one of the most devastating scenes in our history.
Next to the large building in which they housed the Jews, there sat a German. His rank was “Gebis Komisar” (district director). He conducted, in the most organized fashion and with much “expertise”, the selection of the groups to be sent to their deaths in trenches which had already been dug in the cemetery.
From amongst the condemned, the Germans selected a few trades people to be spared. They were allowed to have their wives join them. One of the selected was a bachelor. Two women jumped at him, each claiming to be his wife. One had a baby in her arms. The man was allowed to take the woman without the baby. The Germans then snatched the baby from the arms of his mother, threw him in the air and shot him. He fell lifeless to the ground.
The atrocities which I was forced to witness continued through the morning and afternoon. The hooligans then went on their way. One could still hear shots in the Ghetto. Later, I found out that White Russian policemen had searched the Ghetto, shot the people they caught in hiding places, and looted Jewish homes. These events all took place on Sunday, 10th of May 1942.
At nightfall, I carefully came out of the outhouse hole. I went to the closest house and climbed into the attic. Injured, dirty, and hungry like a dog, I lay there until Monday morning. Then I came out of my hiding place to try and find out what was happening. However, the noise of the crowds and the local policemen who came to loot the empty houses immediately forced me back to my hiding place. At nightfall, I decided that I needed to regain my courage and go into the houses in order to look for clean clothes, and perhaps find a means to tend my wound, which was beginning to bother me. However, when I crawled out, I heard two shots and then someone shouting in Russian: “Again we shot two Jews” I ran back to my hiding place.
On Tuesday morning I heard someone climbing the ladder leading to the attic. From behind the open door that concealed me, I heard the hooligan telling his friend (who was waiting downstairs) “There is no-one here”. These were local residents who used to help the Nazis do the final “Chametz check” before completing their atrocities.
In the evening, I went down and entered one of the houses. I found a piece of bread and a few cooked potatoes. I also saw there a discarded Sefer Torah in which the looters, it seemed, had no interest. An atmosphere of great sadness and abandonment cloaked me, which added to my loneliness and my heart’s despair.
The following day, I lost all that had remained of my strength, and I lay there half alive. The pain in my shoulder was very strong.
On Thursday, at twilight, I tried to come out of my hiding place, but could not move a limb. I managed to crawl to the attic window. In the street below, I saw a woman I knew. I wanted to call her, but I was too weak and too excited to be able to utter a sound. Later, I saw another acquaintance, a man I knew very well. Again, I was too weak to signal that I was alive.
Suddenly, I fell down and fainted.
I woke up to the sound of Yiddish conversation and strong hammering on the door below. Through the attic window, I could see men nailing up the door leading to the house in which I hid. I began to shout: “There is a Jew in here! Open the door!
The men took me to the house in which the tradesmen lived. There were a few other Jews there who had also miraculously survived. Amongst them there was a doctor. He managed, with a simple kitchen knife, to extract the bullet from my shoulder. In that house I also met a good friend of mine. I asked him how he had survived. He told me that the murderers had kept him alive so that he could bury the dead.
He had buried, with his own hands, his parents, his brothers and his sisters along with their children.
The Christian dwellers of the surrounding neighbourhoods told me later that the ground of the big mass grave was moving up and down for a long time after that dreadful day, as many of the those buried there were still alive underneath.
I and a few other Jews who were not residents of Volozyn, decided to go back to our hometown, to Olshan. In normal times, it was a walk of about three to four hours. We walked for two days on side-roads and tracks, gripped by the fear of our enemy, which was lurking everywhere.
When we reached Olshan, the Jews there stared at us as if we had just returned from the dead. They had already heard about the destruction of the Volozyn Ghetto. They did not expect to see us alive.
And so I was the witness to the murder of three thousand five hundred Jews, residents of the Volozyn Ghetto, and I remained one of its sole survivors, with the duty to tell the world about the great tragedy that befell one of the most glorious Jewish communities in our history.