The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Life and Fall of Wlodowa

The Memorial Book of Wlodawa

The destruction of Wlodowa
Ephraim Tilip

Already on the first day of the war September 1st, 1939, German airplanes bombed our town. The railroad station was totally demolished as well as the bridge over the Bug leading to the Nisuk station. The bridge was reconstructed by Polish soldiers but the station remained destroyed. Already on this day we felt that Poland had lost its leader. In Wlodowa the local authority was still governing.

The weeks before Rosh Hashana Jewish refugees from Congress Poland started flocking into Wlodowa. The town was crowded with refugees and the flow became stronger and stronger. Most of the refugees, mainly the young ones went on over the Bug to the east. There were less women because it was said that the Germans would not bother women so they stayed at home. Some stopped in Wlodowa assuming that the Germans would be pushed back and they could return home. The mayor ordered all the grocery shops to open on the holiday in order to enable the refugees to buy food and thus to prevent panic among the public.

On Saturday morning the Germans again bombed Wlodowa. The third house from mind, the house of the wife of Shmuel Bezalel on the Wirka Street was destroyed and her daughter with a child were seriously wounded. Also in the house of the harvest merchant Nachum Haf some people were injured.

At the end of Rosh Hashana we saw great flames rising on the Bug. The Polish army burned down the bridge and we realized that the situation was not good.

The first martyr

On the first day the Germans invaded in the town without any resistance from the Polish army who had remained in their army barracks. The elderly Jossl Geldermann was then visiting his son-in-law Moshe Weiss and had just stepped out into the street when a German riding a motorcycle took him away. For some days we did not know to where he had disappeared until we found him cut into pieces in Tomashowka.

Jossl Gelermann was the first martyr of Wlodowa. The next day the Germans drove out the Jews of their houses with truncheons and guns screaming: Laufen, laufen (run). They rushed them into the great Synagogue and those who lived in a Christian area into the Polish church. Though the great Synagogue was a big and high building there were so many people crammed in that it was impossible to breathe. Pople were fainting and we were running out of water. The Germans kept on adding more and more Jews and closed the doors. People were creeping on each other groaning: "Water!"

To this the Germans only answered by firing bullets from a machine gun into the Synagogue. Only the next day at 10 o'clock did they open the Synagogue, demanded hostages from the representatives of the community. I only remember the names of the two Rabbis: Stashorek and Jeshajahu Zerwanagre. The Germans explained that they were taking the hostages because on of the Jews had fired on a German soldier. In future 100 Jews would be killed for one German soldier. It was also forbidden for a Jew to be on the street after nightfall.

Silence prevailed on Jom Kippur. We did not even see a single German in town. People started to peep outside and to leave their house and were convinced that the Germans were really not there. Polish soldiers were also not seen. The town was without government. The Jews began organizing guards on the streets to oppose plunder and assualts. "Kol Nidre" was said at home and no one attended the Synagogue or the Beth Midrash. We prayed this "Kol Nidre" together with the Rabbi Eli Shochat and nobody could imagine that the "Kol Nidre" would be recited in more tragic circumstances in following years. On Yom Kippur a Polish officer appeared calling the young one to the military barracks 8 days. Suddenly the army disappeared without leaving any trace. On the third day the Russians invaded the town. The suppressed inhabitants could again breathe freely.

Jewish officers of the army of the Soviet Union told us secretly that the Russians were retreating beyond the Bug and that the Germans would return. Anyone who so desired could cross the Bug before their arrival. Many Jews followed them. After a few days the Germans once again penetrated the town.

They immediately confiscated all the goods in the shops. They commanded a "Judenrat" to be formed and every Jew had to wear a "Schand Band" (a band of shame) with a blue Star of David. The Judenrat together with the labour office were urged to set up a list of Jews for forced labour. I belonged to one of these groups sent by train to Chelm and from there we were driven by foot to the village Zernija. Leaving the train in Chelm we were compelled to pass "Brand", that is, we had to pass between two rows of SS people who beat everyone with sticks and those who did not succeed in running to the right beat was shot outside the camp. In Zarnijew we worked draining swamps and mire. In the winter 1941 our town was crowded with German soldiers. It was forbidden for Jews to leave the town, nevertheless they were led to the forest to pave streets and to construct barracks. Around the Bug feneces and other obtacles were erected. On the morning of June 21st. we heard the noise of cannon fire and some hours later the Germans were already walking on the other side of the Bug. In the afternoon wounded Russian and Jewish prisoners were brought from Tomashka. It was forbidden to talk with the wounded and with the driver who brought them as we were not supposed to know what had happened.

The injured had been tortured so cruelly that every day many of them died. In the winter of 1941 a new directive was ordered by the German government. All kinds of furs had to be handed over by the Jews. Disobeyment was punished by death. Everyone gave in their furs andN furcoats. Nevertheless, some Jews were murdered -- one Christian denuciated a Jewish family concealing a furcoat. Without investigating the case the Germans shot Moshe Schwartz and his wife Hania thus, orphaning their 3 children. The same happened to Peretz the shoemaker.

On Passoever Eve 1942 the Judenrat had to provide several hundred Jews for the deportation to Sobibor. Among them were my two brothers in-law. They met there hundreds of Jews from other towns and even from abroad. They worked fencing in the camp in the valley of the forest and building all kinds of strange structures without suspecting that they were constructing gas chambers and crematoriums, where they themselves would be the first to suffocate and to burn. At the same time a transport from Vienna arrived with people dressed elegantly as if they were out for a walk. They related that the Germans had behaved nicely towards them on the way and they were promised to be brought to a labour camp in the east. In the meantime they were to stay in the Wlodowa ghetto.

One day Abraham Ben Shamai and another young man from Matshin came rushing. They belonged to the group sent for work to Sobibor and had escaped. They were completely naked.

They told us that the group of Wlodowa and other Jews had built the gas chambers and the Germans had chosen them to be the first to test the efficiency of the gas.

Only they both understood the matter in time and by wonder succeeded in escaping as they were, naked, before being pushed into the gas chamber.

This news sounded so strange to the ears of the listening like sweating of unsane brains.

Nobody could believe that people could be killed just for nothing.

The first action

On the Savuoth holidays it was decreed to provide 500 or 600 ailing and old Jews. Those who found out this in advance succeeded in hiding. My father Moshe and my mother Freide Malka also hid in an attic and were saved on that day. Refugees from other towns and villages were also delivered. Jews from Vienna were picked up as well and as the required number had not yet been attained people were seized on the street by SS-men.

After severe tortures and shooting; tens of them were deported to Sobibor.

The children's Action

In July it was decreed that the parents had to deliver their children up to the age of 12. My wife, children and I remained undiscovered in an attic. Rabbi Mendeli the son of the Rabbi of Lakow presented himself with his children.

It was told that he and his wife drew lots and it was he who drew the lot to accompany the children. The Germans told him to go back but he refused and went along with his children to Sobibor. As the number of children was not sufficient adults too were grabbed on the streets.

With whips and sticks they were pushed into the train and into the wagons. Little children were thrown like wooden blocks.

It was so crowded in the cars that it was impossible to move even a limb and many suffocated on the way.

This was later described by one who managed surviving by jumping from the moving train.

The third Action Some weeks after Succoth 1942 when all Jews living in the villages were ordered to move to the town the market place became crammed with people, children and luggage.

Those there were especially Jews who had hidden in the villages without the knowledge of the farmers. Jews from the camp Osobi and Krichow were also brought there. Many fearless Jews who had "guts" dared to flee to the forest.

On Shabbat all the labourers of Falkenberg, about 2000, went to work as usual. There he directed them to go to the lot next to the ground-school promising that they would soon return to work. At the same time hundreds of German soldiers blockaded the streets driving the Jews towards this lot. Most of the members of the "Judenrat" were captured and brought there. Falkenberg requested only 400 of his labourers back and these later reported the events. I hid my wife and children together with the wife and children of the butcher Zernik (he was killed in Maidanek) in the corridor behind the kitchen which contained a staircase leading to the cellar. I closed the door behind them and further sealed it with wooden beans . I myself hid in the neighbourhood in the attic of Mendel Orchover's house. In a small part of the roof concealed by a wall ten people were hiding.

On Saturday at dusk I went down to see how my wife and children were. When I found the cellar empty I nearly went out of my mind from despair. It was only two hours later that I saw them again safe and sound. They had nearly suffocated in the cellar and had thus been compelled to go out. It took them two hours to pass 4 houses until Mendel's house.

All the time they were forced to conceal themselves from the eyes of strangers. This situation lasted several days until things calmed down again. From the rood I could observe the whole proceeding of the action. I heard the screaming of the children snatched from the arms of their parents, the heartbursting howling of fathers and mothers fighting against the kidnappers and being beaten merciless or shot. In this action move than 10,000 Jews were massacred.

The fourth Action

After the great action the labour camp and the ghetto were inclosed by high fences with barbed wire. Those who worked were compelled to live in the camp and others -- in the ghetto. Housing problems were now over as many houses stood empty.

The shortage of a large number of people marked the atmosphere. Even those who remained knew that their time was short. Sooner or later they would be slaughtered.

At that time a group of partisans was formed and they even succeeded in buying some weapons and escaping into the forest.

Moshe Lichtenberg was the leader of this group. Peace had not returned to the ghetto. Again kidnapping of people in the street and again an action lasting 5 days. Hiding-places were discovered and there was shooting in the streets and houses.

In the camp on the contrary nobody was touched. After 5 days of "action" they announced that there would no longer be kidnappings in the ghetto and nobody has to fear anything.

A new "Judenrat" was founded for the remaining Jews and Nitschke promised there would be no further harm to the Jews.

The labour camp Adampol

Some days after this action my sister-in-law came from Adampol -- the estate of the Earl of Samoiska to find out how we were. She proposed to us to move to Adampol where she and her fiancee were working. She told us that about 1000 Jews were living there with their families. The distance between the Adampol estate and Wlodowa was 8 km. One dark night we set off. In return for a gold clock the administrator of the estate included us in the list of names. It was very crowded and extremely dirty. Swarms of lice crept on everyone. The administrator of the estate constantly received "little presents" and allowed all those seeking shelter to enter. We dug pits and chopped down trees, our livinghood we earned by seeling our belongings. In this camp many were starving looking like skeletons. But as German strangers did not come here the place seemed to us like a real paradise.

We had already spent some wintermonths in the camp. During this time many arrived of those who had escaped to the forest, as they did not posses weapons and were unable to stand the frosts and cold. Gradually the winter came to an end, the snow melted and with the spring, Pessach was approaching.

The Jewish partisans used to come here during the night to visit their relatives and returned to the woods. The Germans found out about this and they enclosed the camp, checking up who is registered and who not. The latter were shot on the place. Among them was also the son-in-law of Slikel Harb.

In those days I lost my wife. She had gone with some other women to the town in order to sell and to buy some things. When they returned to the camp a German caught them and all were killed. This happened on Adar A 16th and this is the memorial day of my wife (may she rest in peace), the daughter of Anshel Melamed who was the Gabbai of the Rabbi of Minsk. She was the first victim of our family.

I remained sad and depressed with four little children.

The fifth Action

After this event I went back to the ghetto which I found in ruins. I collected broken windows and doors to prepare a hiding place where I could bring my children. Because of the late hour I was forced to sleep in the ruins. In the early morning hours I heard familiar noises and shots, I understood their meaning and climbed up the destroyed roof stairs. I remained lying there throughout the day terrified, shocked, seeing what was going on in the streets and remembering my poor little children. At night it became silent. Only the 'Blacks' as we called the Ukrainians patrolled the streets. One of the was walking around the ruined hut where I was hiding. As this hut was located on the border between the ghetto and the camp, I took off my shoes and stood barefooted at the hidden passageway and when the Ukrainian had moved some steps away I escaped into the night. I reached the station and from there I continued through the fields to Adampol. But also here I did not find anyone. Here too an action had taken place and those who had been able to had fled into the forest. At sunrise I set off into the forest to find out about my children. To my big joy and happiness they had hidden together with my sister-in-law and her fiancee under the stock of pine-tree pins. We thought over our situation and came to the conclusion to return to the Polot camp S.A. back to the Samoiski estate.

Many did the same and the camp filled again. Wlodowa was "Judenrein" (free of Jews). We were afraid to go there because of the danger of new actions. There existed a possibility to join the partisans in the forest but only those without children and with much money could dare this as you had to provide yourself a gun. Without one, it was impossible to live in the forest.

Therefore the most remained in the camp.

[ Previous | Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.