"My Ordeal During the German Occupation" Voivode Historical Commission
Bialystok 6th day of December in the year 1945.
Report - copy Jozefina Szaper Modzelewska
sygn. 301 - 1275
Copyright © 1946 Centralna Zydowska Komisja Historzcyna
Translation copyright © 2000 by Stefan Shrier. All rights reserved.
Coordinated by Tilford Bartman
Written by Jozefina Szaper Modzelewska, who was born in the year 1910. Prior to the war and during the occupation, she lived in Bialystok. She lived in the Bialystok ghetto. In the course of the liquidation of the ghetto,she passed through various camps; she currently lives in Bialystok.
On the 16 th day of August, 1943, Barash (leader of Judenrat) returned with gloom on his face, after meeting with German authorities outside the ghetto. He said that the Bialystok ghetto is being liquidated. Notices had just been posted on every ghetto street. Everyone must assemble on Jurowiecki Street no later than 10 o'clock that morning, taking only essential belongings. Everyone must appear at this ghetto street as ordered, without any reservations, as one body, with no exceptions. People swarmed about the assembly area, with alarm and terrible nervousness, asking questions of one another with unfocussed eyes and fear showing on every face. What are we doing to respond to this, remarked Tabaraszcz. To which Subotnik proclaimed that it doesn't make the least bit of sense to hide. German authorities are reassuring us that we will not be harmed. That we're onlyleaving to work elsewhere.
That day was extremely hot. The horrors have imprinted themselves into my mind so firmly that nothing will ever be able to erase them. We all came to the designated place, resigned and prepared for the worst. We spent the entire night in Pietrasze, where one had to pay the Belorussians with watches and gold for a glass of drinking water. That night was a nightmare. Families were already getting separated from one another. From time to time, people searching for one another called out names, piercing the night's stillness. Once separated in this confused assemblage, they could no longer find one another.
At dawn, under Belorussian and Ukrainian escort, we went to the station. Escape was not possible. Once underway, after passing the first two stations, we decided to try to make a run for it. Wires by the windows were cut and people started jumping out of the train. Bialy, a Hebrew high school student, who jumped first, was killed instantly. Undeterred by his friend's death, Spietrej, another student from the same school, also tried to make a break for it and succeeded. I saw him myself, as he sprinted into the forest. I don't know what happened to him after that. As the train continues on its way, each of us looks upon the other, and some of us know exactly where we're headed. Those who said that the route led to Treblinka were not mistaken. When the train stopped at Treblinka station, many began to moan aloud, and became hysterical. Others waited, resigned to their fate. At Treblinka station, half of the cars were uncoupled from the train. Many Hebrew high school teachers were in these cars. These included Mazanowicz with his family, Aronowicz with his family, Zabludowski's wife with their children, Jakubowski, and many others from Bialystok, all of whom were killed that same day.
Those of us remaining in the train rode further to Lublin's Majdanek. When we arrived at Lublin, the men and women were separated immediately. And after realizing what Majdanek was, they played out awful scenes:unconsciousness, suicide, loud fits of seizures and despair.
With my own eyes I witnessed as a young physician sat on a rock together with his wife and cut open their veins. They pleaded that they be allowed to spend their final moments together. The wife, with a pleasant calm and smile, continually asked her husband, how much longer, and what does he feel, because she was already feeling so weak. To which he answeredgood, good; the end is coming. He kissed her, and after a long hug of a few minutes, they were gone forever.
Precisely at that spot, from afar, I made my farewell to my husband and son. Hakim Szaper, my husband, professor at the Hebrew high school, lifted up his son to show me that they would never be parted. He kissed his son and raised an arm skyward shouting: revenge, there must be revenge.
At Majdanek, I myself begged a sentry to shoot me, because I was so afraid of the gas chambers; but the answer I heard from the sentry wasthat it was not allowed. So I said: you easily can find a reason to do this. If I insult both you and your fuhrer that's sufficient reason for you to grant my plea. But he pretended not to hear
me and walked away.
Other scenes took place there. Dantesque scenes that aroused feelings of dread, dismay, and terror amidst ultimate danger. A mother trying to save her own life cast away her children and didn't want to acknowledge them as her own. With my own eyes I watched as one child sought out his mother and happily ran to hug her. But he was rebuffed and pushed away again with the words: "go away, I am not your mother." A German major on a white horse, with an iron crop in his hand, and a sadistic smile, circled all these poor wretches. Treating them to lashes like cattle, to hurry us along into Majdanek. The smell of burning flesh dogged our every step.
Of course, mothers with children would be sent to a block designated for those to be executed. I met there aHebrew high school teacher, Mrs. Pairmajster, who was there with her year-and-a-half old son. Whereas I'm also a mother and that I recognize that familiar, blessed [maternal] feeling, I confess that I begged her to leave her child with me, since she could not save her child anyway. And Hitler will have me as his one victim [in her place]. But she would not be persuaded, saying that her duty was to die with her child. And indeed, many died with their mothers there at Majdanek.
There were 10,000 women at Majdanek, from among whom 150 of us were selected to leave, and thus got out of that hell. We left for Bisen, a camp near Radom, which had many work details. Everyone worked intensively, immersed in one's work, to forget. Our situation was horrific. All the important work details were run by Jews, who had become infected with the Hitleresque disease. Jews in whom the Jewish heart was extinguished and for whom fraternal feeling had died. Our brothers showed themselves more loyal to the rats and the SS than to us. In this Hitler triumphed, because his words had been successfully turned into deeds. [Irchunwerten ich seischernintchen].
The conditions of hygiene and subsistence were rotten. Epidemics were rampant. Spotted typhus decimated our ranks. And in this monstrous situation here, Stasiek Wartinkuk from Radom, robbed us and disposed of us. He would often beat a few of us unconscious. People such as this had lost all feelings for their own dignity. Sad to say, this unhealthy egoism touched some Jews whose character was weak and fiber lacking.
Fascist perfidy exceeds human comprehension. At first the Germans seemed so polite and well behaved at Brzezin and Oswiecim, handing out chocolate, honey, and kielbasa to the children. They also strolled with these children. It was merely a sham, and yet these poor kids used to run to these murderers. Their little hearts could not divine that some day soon, they'd be corralled into cell blocks and taken to their execution by these same Germans. All these childreninnocent victimsdied then the same way as the rest of Dr. Cytron's and Dr. Sabczyca's children from Bialystok died.
Dr. Sawczyka's six-year old child behaved as such a grown up when he bravely bid his parents farewell, without tears, and even reassured them. Then this little boy said to the German sentry: I know that you're leading me to my death now, but know thismy daddy will make you pay for this misdeed.
The route from Berzyn to Auschwitz was a tearful one, with great shocks and ordeals, because each of us knew well what Auschwitz meant: that it is a death camp. Indeed, at Auschwitz station, there was a selection and only a handful of us went on to Obiel and then to the camp, while the rest went to the gas chambers. Four crematoriums burned day and night. Ashes and smoke of burnt flesh spread across the entire camp. Each of us waited here for her turn. I was convinced that none of us would be spared. Selections were held every two weeks under leadership of our sadistic German, Dr. Mangiel. He was the terror of all Auschwitz. He conducted his task so pleasing to him with such satisfaction. He separated out individuals, whom he called forward for execution and ordered to strip naked. Then they were transported away in special carts to the gas chambers. Sad for me to say that the attendants, who awaited the victims there, were also Jewish. They were organized as if they were in a laundry, effectively plying their trade. They deluded themselves into believing that they would become the chosen onesthose who would survive the war. How very mistaken they wereHitler had no wish to have witnesses of this sort, especially not Jews. For many of them, their turn to die came also.
Prior to the liquidation of Auschwitz, as German armies began to withdraw, masses of remaining Jews were brought in from various towns, but mostly from Lodz. I saw how entire families died; husband, wife and children, beautifully dressed, carrying their essential belongings, valises, and various packages. Ordered to leave these things, and sign for themand what bloody ironythe authorities assured them that cars would pick up and deliver their possessions to them at their blockhouses. But for right now, after such a long journey they must go to bathe. These unfortunate pitiable people believed what they heard, not suspecting in the least, that this would be a bath from which there is no return. I thought to myself, that for the most part it's just as well for them not knowing, and that it's all behind them now.
Dr. Katznelson from Bialystok was at Auschwitz area D, helping many from Bialystok. Subsequently, he was killed in this same cheap way, but without it lessening his worthiness. Honor his memory! Soviet armies approach Auschwitz. Prisoners leave Auschwitz on trains running day and night, to be shot in Germany's interior.
They sent me with a small group of women to Saxony for hard labor in an ammunition factory. Hunger often tore at our hearts. A beast of an SS woman, who supervised us, beat us and tormented us in such an inhuman way, that it's no wonder that a person stopped being oneself, without further awareness of where she is, who she was, and what she is. We were crammed into quarters laden with the worst parasites, which sapped all of our strength. Our only goal was finding some angle, some way, to get a raw potato, because you couldn't even wish for bread. I myself remember how I stole a potato from the kitchen, stealthily as a cat lest, God forbid, someone might notice. With satisfaction, I swallowed it greedily.
In these conditions, many of the much treasured young died of tuberculosis. As soon as we break from roll call, the Germans move us farther along. At Leitsmaritso in Czechoslowakia, frequent bombardments and German army retreats augured well for liberation soon. I began to believe in predestination. Ghetto Kommandant Wlintmerits, a German, advised the multinational Red Cross that the Soviet armies be encouraged to hurry up, because an order had been given to put an end to the entire camp. As a result, this German got an award, and we were liberated sooner.
What an unexpected delight it is for me to be among honorable people again; with the Jewish soldier, who did not lose his sense of dignity, who fought and exerted himself for the spilled blood of his innocent brothers. Not being sure who among us is Jewish, AMFO personnel would ask us. Our answer took the following form. We fell into their arms, thanking them for everything they had done for us. Each of us assuring them that they did what they could, paying lavishly for wrongs done to the Jewish people.
Bialystok Hewbrew Gymnasium Building Click here to read about Dr. Moshe Katznelson from the book, The Immortal Spirit, The Bialystok Hebrew Gymnasium Poland, 1919-39, by Yaacov Samid, 1999
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