The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Subject: Ostrow-Lubelski: Memories from the War Years
Summary: from the Yizkor book of Ostrow-Lubelski
Reply-To: kmcvay@nizkor.org
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Organization: The Nizkor Project, http://www.nizkor.org   
Keywords: Ostrow-Lubelski

Archive/File: holocaust/poland Ostrow.03
Last-modified: 1993/03/24

                 Memorial-Book Ostrow-Lubelski
                 -----------------------------
 
                   Editor: DAVID SHTOCKFISH
         Cociety-Committee: A. Falershtein, President;
           A. Aichenbaum, I. Goldstein, J. Llebhaber,
                    Dr. I. Last, M. Fishman
          Publisher: Ostrow-Lubelski Society -- Israel

                MEMORIES FROM THE WAR YARS 
             Bronya Wasserman-Eckhaus, Melbourne 

   I survived the holocaust With my child by a miracle, and like every
   survivor I should write my testimony, a document to commenorate the
   millions of innocent murdered victims -- children, young and old;
   leave a record of this dark age of the tyrannous and barbaric acts of
   the German Nozis .  

   I wish to share these memories with the readers of our Yiskor Book,
   so that the future generation never forget...  I will tell about
   Ostrow, the native town of my father and my husband.  My father used
   to tell us often about his family, his relatives and his neighbours
   and friends -- all honest people who were brutally murdered by the
   German barbarians.  

   My father, Moshe Wasserman, who was called Poleszuk, was born in
   Ostrow-Siedleck.  His stories about his family and friends embraced
   the period before World War I, when Ostrow was part of Russia.  The
   Jewish population was well-situated.  Like in all the small towns,
   they maintained their own national and cultural autonomy.  The
   gentile neighbours respected them.  

   My fathcr's parents - Itzel and Sarah - were well established and
   beloved by their neighbors.  They were well-off.  They had a large
   farm, a comfortable house, a grain mill and an oil press.  Peasants
   from the surrounding villages brought their products to be turned
   into flour and oil.  The mill was powered by a horse.  All around was
   a large square for the wagons and horses.  There was a ditch in the
   square which was jokingly called the "Donau" since during the fall
   rains it used to overflow and flood the surrounding neighborhood and
   cause great damage.  In the winter children used to slide on the
   frozen water and had a very good time.

   My father had a large family.  Together they were seven brothers.
   Simcha, Abraham, Moshe (my father) David, Asher, Leizer and Yossef.
   Generally there was a maid at home since the mother, Sarah, was
   occupied with the business, with the mill.  His father studied a
   great deal and prayed and discussed religious subjects.  From time to
   time he left town on business matters and also for religious
   purposes.  

   The children were educated in the Hassidic spirit, but secretly also
   learned to write and read Russian and Polish.  They didn't learn any
   trades since this contradicted the established conceptions of
   prosperous religious families.  When they grew up their spouses were
   chosen by their parents.  After their marriages uncles Simcha,
   Abraham, David and Leizer stayed with their families in Ostrow and
   made their livings from the same flour mill and oil press.  As one
   can imagine, their economic situation was not too good since there
   were many families making their livings from the same source,
   especially since the mill's motor was not replaced by a new electric
   ona and the horse remained the main source of power.  

   My parents lived in Lublin.  Uncle Asher and aunt Mindele settled in
   Markusow, and youngest uncle, Yossel, with his wifc Perele, in
   Lubartow.  

   During and after the first world war the inhabitants of Ostrow
   underwent many troubles since the front had passed through the town.
   The frequent attacks by bands of all kinds and the fires made ruins
   of the town.  Our father used to tell us that antisemitism and the
   difficult economic conditions complled many young people to leave
   the town and their families and to move away - some to the larger
   cities and some overseas - to Brazil, Argentina and the U.S.A.  

   I recall that in Lublin we were often visited by our faintly,
   neighbours and friends from Ostrow.  They used to come by wagons.
   which had their gathering places at Finkelstein's Square on
   Lubartowsky Street.  My father knew every Jew from Ostrow, even by
   his first name, since he was close to everyone.  They came to Lublin
   on business, very often with a sick person to see the doctor or to
   the hospital, and many times to arrange a wedding match.  Mosty 
   they arrived at our home very early, for the morning prayers.  After
   breakfast they went avay  to arrange their affairs.  More than
   once they stayed overnight.  My parents received them very friendily
    and with a great deal of hospitality.  

   All the Ostrow Jews treated my parents with great respect.  As I
   remember, most Ostrow Jews were good-hearted honest people.  They
   worked hard to support their families.  They all perished in the
   Holocaust...  My mother and father, Golde and Moshe, and my youngest
   sister Sarah, who were then in Ostrow, were among the victims of the
   Nazi murderers, as also my uncles, aunts, cousins, friends.  

   I was born in Lublin.  When I was a little girl in primary school and
   later a student in high school, I had so many plans..  so many
   dreams.  That was the time after World War I, the era of the
   League of Nations, and I believed that there would bc no more
   wars, that mankind would live in peace, without apartheid, without
   antisemitism.  I have had many disappointments.  The worst was World
   War II, when the Nazis murdered innocent people; thousands, millions
   of children, women, men old and young.  Why?  Why?  

   In September 1939, I escaped from Ostrow-Lubelski, which at that time
   was occupied by the Germans after overcoming the only weak resistance
   of the Polish army.  My parents and my sisters were at that time in
   Ostrow.  I escaped together with Misha Eckhaus, my future husband,
   since we were known for our socialistic views, to the other side of
   the Bug River to the territories occupied by the Soviets.  The
   separation from our parents and families was a very sad one.
   Everyone was in tears but nobody imagined that we were separating
   forever.  

   The highways and roads were filled with refugees walking or
   riding in wagons.  Carrying our few belongings in small packages, we
   finally arrived at the city of Kovel (a Jewish population of about
   20,000), where we found a place together with many comrades from the
   socialist movements and some former political prisoners.  In that
   house we were fed, very often we heard lectures, held meetings and
   discussions, but it was not permanent.  

   One early morning in June 1940 the Soviet army arrested all her
   husband Getzl, Misha's brother, and my youngcst sister Tamara, all
   arrived in Kovel.  My youngest sister Sarah remained in Ostrow with
   our parents.  My sisters and brother-in-law tried to find a place in
   Kovel but it was not easy to find a decent place to live and work,
   and, like many refugees, they decided to register to go back to
   German-occupied Poland.  Unfortunately, the Kovel Jews did not show
   any sympathy or hospitality for the refugees - they were unable to
   understand or to believe what the Nazi murderers were capablc of
   doing.

   I obtained citizenship and started to work at the railroad station.

   One day, at the end of October 1939, my older sister Shasha, with
   those who had registered to go back to German Poland.  My two sisters
   and my brother-in-law were amont  those arrested and were sent
   deep into Russia, to Novosybirskaja Oblast.  Who coult  then
   imagine that they had a better chance to survive than we who remained
   in Kovel?

   Misha and I decided to get married.  It was a small ceremony, in the
   presence of some friends.  My parents and my little sister Sarah and
   Misha's parents were in Ostrow.  My two sisters and brother-in-law
   were in Siberia.  Their letters were desperate ones; they suffered
   from cold end hunger.  I remember how we started to send them parcels
   of food and clothing.  We shared everything with them and they were
   very grateful.

   In October 1940 I became pregnant.  Through my working at the
   railroad station's bookkeeping department I made friends with many
   Polish railroad workers and also with a Jewish girl, Basha, who came
   every day to the office from Kamen-Kashirsk.  We became very good
   friends.

   At that time the political situation was not a very happy one.  The
   news told about Germany's military victories in Western Europe.  The
   world was dreaming, indifferent.  But still, we believed in miracles.
   We were young and enthusiastic.  At the end of March 1941 my husband,
   Misha, was called to military exercises for a few months.  Actually,
   we could have arranged for him to stay home since I was pregnant and
   without any other relatives, but our views did not allow us even to
   consider this.  We believed that it was our duty to be prepared to
   fight against the enemies - the Nazis.

   Our separation was a very sad one.  Misha was to return from his
   military service at the end of June 1941.  I tried to manage the best
   I could.  My friends at work were helpful, especially Basha.  She
   often brought me tasty food.  She looked after me.  She was so
   good...

   One Friday evening, June 19, 1941, my son was born in Kovel State
   Hospital.  On Sunday, early in the morning, sounds of air bombardment
   aroused us.  There was a turmoil, but soon high-ranking Soviet
   officers assured their wives and us that these were only aviation
   exercises.  They were mistaken: it was the beginning of the war.
   German airplanes and bombs were making the noises.  At the hospital
   there were many patients: sick people and women with newborn babies.
   Husbands and relatives came in a hurry to take them home.  I asked
   myself constantly: "What to do?  Whele to go?  To whom could I
   turn?

   My husband's parents and my sisters were far away.  The house where
   I lived was closed because it was situated near the railroad station
   and that area had been heavily bombarded.  What to do?  On Tuesday
   morning my friends Henia and Fajvel Hammerman came to the hospital
   and took me and my child to their home, even enough they themselves
   lived in one small room.  They told me that on Monday most of the
   Soviet citizens, officials, police and miltary personnel had fled
   Kovel but had returned on Tuesday morning.  Howevel, no one knew what
   any moment or any hour would bring.  My friends Henia and Fajvel
   were in the streets attempting to hear some news.  On Wednesday
   evening they returned with the news that the Soviets were leaving
   again and that empty cars were waiting at the station to evacuate the
   people, to take everyone who wanted to go.  On Thursday my friends
   left in a hurry.  I, with my six-day old child, didn't feel the
   strength to go with them.  I was too weak.  

   Kovel was occupied by the Germans.  On June 29, 1941, hell broke
   loose...  My landlords asked me whcn I would be Ieaving the room
   since they knew my marital situation and didn't want to have such a
   tenant...  Where to go now?  I don't know how, but I remembered the
   Silberman family, which I asked if I and my child could stay with
   them.  Abraham Silberman, born in Lublin, and his wife Malka, born
   Kagan in Kovel, had three children: Marale, Sheivale and Menashele.
   They accepted us; they were very good and noble people.  Malka's
   mother, her two married brothers, with their wives and children,
   sister, nieces and nephews, were friendly to me and I felt like part
   of the family.  

   Right after the first days of the occupation the Germans and their
   Ukrainian collaborators began their sadistic actions against the
   Jewish population.  Every day, every night, there were different
   orders, arrest raids, groups of Jewish people killed.  Abraham
   Silberman was one of the first victims.  The Ukrainian police
   arrested him together with more well-known Jewish citizens and
   massacred them.  They were forced to dig their own graves.  I saw
   this, I was a witness.  Malka, the unfortunate widow, the three
   little orphans, together with the whole family and I, mourned Abraham
   Silberman's death.  

   Notices appeared to volunteer for work but not one of those who went
   to the labor camps was ever seen again.  We lived in continual fear.
   The names of Kassner and Manthel, the district commandants, were
   enough to frighten the Jewish population.  I was watching when Mr.
   Motel Kagan, Malka's brother-in-law, was killed, shot together with
   some other strong young men.  (I was a witness in Oldenburg in
   Germany in 1965, against the two Nazi murderers, Kassner and
   Manthel.) 

   My parents wrote that I with my child should come back home to
   Ostrow; how could I appear with an uncircumcized child?  By the end
   of July my son was circumcized.  An old mohel with trembling hands
   carried out the Operation.  Pesha Kagan, Malka's sister-in-law, was
   present.  My son was named Reuven after my husband's grandfather.  It
   was a very sad ceremony, never to be forgotten.  

   At first we were marked With arm-bands bearing a Star of David, later
   with yellow patches.  Every Jewish house was marked.  In the spring
   of 1941 two ghettoes were constructed--one in the old city around the
   old synagogue not far from the market, the second in the new city,
   not far from the railroad station.  At first there was a free choice
   where to stay.  but one morning before Shavuot an order of
   segregation come : people with work certificates should stay in
   the New City Ghetto; the others, the elderly, people with children,
   the sick, were to stay in the Old City Ghetto (without work
   certificates).  By the afernoon everybody must be in his place.  The
   whole day was a shocking chaos, turmoil--impossible to describe.
   People were running back and forth; families and friends were
   separated.  

   I and my child should have gone to the Old City Ghetto, but I decided
   to stay in the New City Ghetto and to wait for an inspection.  I took
   the risk.  

   I remember well that day, the evening...  The people around me...
   The night and the early next morning when the rumors came to the New
   City Ghetto that thousands of Jews had been shot and killed...
   dragged off in trucks from the market place to sand pits and thrown
   in, dead or half-dead, and covered with soil...  Can we understand
   such things; that such murders can happen?...  Rumours came from
   Polish people that the earth was shaking a long time afterwards.  I
   and my child were supposed to be in those pits; we were saved by
   chance.

   Now we remained alive and were ordered to go with our bundles
   to the Old City Ghetto.  We were cramped together, thousands on
   thousands, the remnants of many previous selections, all humiliated
   and in a state of continuous danger.  Together - the sick and the
   healthy.

   There was a shortage of food and medicines.  Everyone had one
   desire--to survive.  To survive, to take revenge...  Revenge!

         The second ghetto had a short and tragic end.  One day in July
   1942 rumours came that Kassner and Manthel, the Nazi commanders, had
   appeared in the city, that the ghetto was surrounded.  This was
   always an ominous sign.  Everybody went into hiding in hiding places
   prepared in advance.  We did not have any choice.  Together with my
   child I hid in a shelter on the roof, together with the Silberman
   family, the Kagans and others...  Twenty twenty-two people.  The
   shelter was dark and small.  We hid behind a wooden partition.  We
   were cramped, thirsty, hungry, dirty...  The few chamber pots were
   emptied downstairs at night.  All the time we heard gunshots and
   screams, orders in German and Ukrainian.  Days and nights passed in
   fear, cramped together, but still with the hope of surviving.  Hope
   that after a few days the action would stop...

   My child was hungry, dirty and wet.  He was suckling.  What did he
   have to suck from me?  I hugged him, but he cried, and one afternoon
   we heard knocks on the wooden wall of our shelter and voices in
   Ukrainian: "Fellows, a child was crying here.  We must get an axe to
   destroy the wall." They left and didn't come back; they were sure we
   could not run away.

   There are no words to describe the tension in the sheler. I felt
         guilty. As night fcll I heard whispers: "You have to do something
         with the child. He can't stay here alive'... We must do everything to
         survive, to take nevenge'... Somerbody gave me a big scarf... I was
         holding the child and the scarf... I knew that my unfortunate frienns
         were right. The child was looking at me and I didn't know what was
         going on in my mind. The friends around me, the women, men, girls,
         boys, the darling children: Marale, Sheivale, Mcnashale, Esterl,
         Dvoshale-- they all loyal my child very much... They were all frighte-
         ned... They suffering, the sadness in their eyes. I looked around and I
         whispered: no... no..., I am not going to kill my child... I am going
         d.own With the child. It was dark; very dark for all of us. Somebody
         prepared a ladder and I came down to the empty, plundered house
         with gaping doors, open windows, wrecked and robbed.

         I found a place to wash my child and to feed him. I even found
         some aspirin tablets to make him sleepy. Nobody came in... Outside
         there was shooting. I stayed in that open house for a few long days
         and long nights. There was less shooting, less screams, and I began
         to think that I should go out and that the aktzion was finished. I was
         mistaken. I left the house with my child in my arms. It was a hot
         day in July--summer in Poland.. I came to the high fence of the
         ghetto, not too far from the gate to the unfinished bridge, and I
         could hear orders in Cerman and Ukrainian: "Halt, halt, come here,
         come herel"

   I remember that I was thinking that we were going to be killed.  I
   came closer to the gate and a Ukrainian asked me: "Where are you
   going?" and I could hear my answer in Polish: "I came in and I don't
   know how to get out."

   The only possibility was to have "fallen from the sky," but surely
   they all were drunk. I can hear the answer: "Go through the gate." I
   went through the gate. We were out!  Out of the ghetto...  A big
   free world, but not for us...  a homeless woman with a child without a
   right to live...

   Days, nights, Weeks, months, years passed Life was not easy for us.
   I was young, healthy.  I didn't look Jewish.  Still I wondered where
   I found this strength and courage to fight for life for myself and my
   little circumcized son.

   How many nights I spent in the open, in the cold and in the rain, in
   the snow...  We were lost in a forest, in swamps.  I wanted to meet
   partisans but I didn't know where to find them.  All there was to eat
   was grass, leaves, raw potatoes.  I cleaned my child near every
   stream and by every river.  I saw big farms, small farms, hut where
   was I to go?

   Richard was a very good child.  Sometimes I thought that he
   understood our fear and hunger.  In sickness and in pain he never
   complained too much. He didn't Cry much either. He smiled, and
   his smile helped me a lot in the most desperate moments.  More than
   once people wondered at his behavior.  I met different people...
   Some were frindly, some helplul, some were mean. In a lot of places
   I met hostility.

   How many times I was ready to give up and to surrender, to go to the
   first person, to the police, and to scream: "Here I am, a Jewish
   woman with a Jewish child," and at the last moment I looked at the
   child who had suffered so much, who still had a smile on his little
   face...  I carried on.  "Why do I have to give up?" and started
   walking again.

   August 1942.  I was working on a Polish farm in Janowka.  There I met
   a woman from Kovel.  Her name was Mrs.  Voloshinsky.  She came to
   exchange clothes for food.  Despite the fact that she recognized that
   I was Jewish (the child was circumcized), she gave me her address in
   Kovel and suggested that whenever I came to Kovel and was in need, I
   should visit her.  Mrs.  Voloshinsky was surely aware of the danger
   this involved.  The slightest help given to a person of Jewish
   background threatened the penalty of death.


   A few times when I was in a hopeless situation I visited Mrs.
   Woloshinsky.  She was always very friendly and helpful and she
   encouraged my faith in fighting for survival through this nightmarish
   period.  Mrs.  Woloshinsky more than once displayed her
   good-heartedness, courage and heroism.

   I remember one night in March 1943, a cold winter night.  I was
   homeless and I wanted to stay overnight in the open entrance to Mrs.
   Woloshinskiy's house.  With my child pressed close to me I was
   sitting in a corner when somebody unexpectedly opened the door and I
   was compelled to stand up and go in.  Mrs.  Woloshinsky and her older
   children, a son of about 20 and a daughter of about 18 years of age,
   were very frightened.  Her husband and her little son, if I remember
   correctly his name was Leshek--a 3-4 year old, were asleep.  Death
   faced the whole family for any help to a Jew.  However, what that
   woman said to her children, I will never forget.  "If you are afraid
   go and stay overnight with your friends, but that woman and her child
   will stay here." The children stayeed home.  The night passed.  My
   child and I were able to rest in a friendly place.  Next morning,
   after breakfast, Mrs.  Woloshinsky and her husband and children told
   me the latest news from the front.  The Germans had started to
   withdraw from the Russian territories and the Soviet Army was not far
   away.  These were happy news but my situation was still a hopeless
   one.  My friends advised me to go back to the countryside and not to
   give up.  

   Mrs.  Woloshinsky gave me a package of food, a coat of her little
   son's for Richard, and a shawl for me.  She even accompanied me a few
   kilometers out of the city...  She spoke to me friendily  and
   wished me good luck.  We parted.  I had more courage, more
   confidence, more hope.  I had met good people.  I survived with my
   son...  In 1944 my husband was transferred from the Russian Army to
   the Polish one, which was then in Lublin.  While stopping over in
   Kovel my husband met a Ukrainian woman who had known me and she
   told him that I was staying in Rozyczcze. He came to find us and
   we were united.

   After the liberation we were physically, mentally and spiritually
   exhausted--wrecks, after the war.  We had to start from the
   beginning.  Jt was not easy, but we did not complain.  

   Many years later I was able to find Mrs.  Woloshinsky thanks to the
   Red Cross in Warsaw.  I am happy that Mrs.  Woloshinsky was rewarded
   for her noble behavior with the title of the "Righteous of the
   Nations" from Yad Vashem.  The medal she was awarded testified to the
   good in humanity and offers the hope that the years of Nazi barbarism
   will never be forgotten and hopefully never repeated.  

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