Chapter VIII - I




By Zeev Soronovsky



I write about these events after fifty years. I have no doubt that years and age changed me, and I do not remember many things well, especially names and dates. But there are things that time does not change, things that I will never forget: one of them was my escape from the Ghetto being liquidated.


We lived in Ghetto "B" in Kartuz Bereza. I worked near the Bluden station, in Rybnik. There was an enormous pool where fish were raised. There also were big cement deposits, from Russian times. Our function was to build cement blocks that were adapted to pave roads. Another youth and I were entrusted to controlling the motor driven water bomb that was used to clean the water pipes, and to supply fuel to the water bomb.


I believe that it was July 14 1942. It was a pleasant summer day. I went to work as usual, very early. I took a piece of bread and two boxes of matches with me. Maybe luck would smile on me and I could exchange matches with some of the peasants who lived near the pool for food. I came come close to the exit of the Ghetto and saw a group of people there. They told me that this day we could not leave the Ghetto to go to work. The Ghetto was closed and nobody could enter or leave it. This made us very tense and nervous. As time passed more people came and then as we looked around we saw that guards had surrounded the Ghetto.


Guards were concentrated around market businesses, and on the side of the street near the Russian Orthodox Church. The river and a church building lay on the other two sides of the Ghetto. Everyone foresaw that something bad was going to happen, and that it was necessary to leave the Ghetto? But how?


We began to look for possibilities. Among the houses of the Ghetto, through the orchards, there were paths that led out of it. We met some people in the orchard from the KABRAN family, who lived in the last house at the end of the Ghetto. If we crossed this point we would be outside of the Ghetto. There were bushes on both sides of the fence, and since we could not see, we could not know if there were guards.  The fear was terrible, but more terrible was to stay in the Ghetto, because the danger of death was imminent.


I will never understand and know what pushed me to do this, to try to jump the fence in an orchard filled with grasses and flora. I began to run as if someone was hitting me, I jumped one fence, then another fence, and then I was near the wall of the church, a very high too difficult to be able to climb. But close to the wall was a shack that I climbed and from there jumped over the wall and landed on the church grounds. I rested on the earth among grasses and thistles as high as my waist.


Fear made it difficult to breath. I tried to listen and hear if anyone was pursuing me, but I did not hear anything.  Strange! Suddenly I felt myself removed from the Ghetto and from all that happened there. I knew that I was in immediate danger of death. From my position among the thistles I saw many sepulchers, and each one had a great cross and surrounding it iron bars. The sepulcher nearest me had rusty bars. I thought it would be safe to hide among the thistles on the ground near the sepulcher. I bent over a little and crawled so that the high grasses would cover me.


After several hours Ukrainian guards came to inspect the area.  I did not know how many they were but I was afraid to even breath. They passed to my side but they did not see me because I squeezed myself down as much I could. I listened as they spoke among themselves and heard them say, "We won't find anyone here, they know what is waiting for them". A powerful fear of death came over me.


For a whole day I remained in this place. Far on the other side of the wall I heard cries and screams. I understood that they had caught somebody. In the afternoon, danger appeared again. The big hall door of the church opened up and some Gentile children came to play hide-and-seek in the yard of the church among the sepulchers. Again I was afraid of being discovered, but luckily for me, a light rain began and they left.


In the evening, the priest came out of the church to walk back and forth in the yard. I thought perhaps it would be safe to leave my hiding place and to request help, but I didn't trust him. Finally he went back, closed the great hall door again and disappeared.


Evening came and I calmed myself a little. I began to think about what to do, of one thing I was sure: I should leave, but where to go? Maybe I should to return to the Ghetto area to find out what happened there. I was not afraid of the guards, because at night it was lightly guarded. But I should leave the grounds of the church. Suddenly, I heard a murmur: somebody stepped on the dry leaves. I was afraid; maybe it was somebody outside of the Ghetto. I didn't suspect the dead in the sepulchers, but if it was a guard, I was lost. I got up and I left. I didn't hear the word " STOP ". It was not a guard, but who it was, I never found out, not even until today.


I came closer to the Church wall, to be able to leave, but not on the side near the street. The wall was too high. I tried to climb over it, but I could not do it. Fortunately I saw a big wooden cross on a nearby sepulcher. I came closer to it and with difficulty I loosened it. I placed it on the diagonal to the wall, made a great effort and climbed up, wet with perspiration; I reached the top and jumped. I thought that it would be better to wait for the dawn, and then to go to my work place in Rybnik, and see if any of my friends from the Ghetto were there.


Early in the morning I began to walk to the address in Rybnik by a dirt path that I knew. I had to cross the train tracks but when I came closer, I could see two German soldiers that guarded the tracks. It was already too late to escape. I saw them and they saw me. I passed next to them, said "good morning" to them and continued on my way. I arrived in Rybnik very early. I met two girls, sisters, who came from Selcz. Their father was a shoemaker, and he stayed there. But the girls came to Bluden every day to work. I told them what I knew from the Ghetto and I asked them to tell me when they return from work, if youths of Bereza had worked that day.


I went into the house of a peasant to ask for some water. He asked me why I had come so early. I told him that there were problems with the water bomb, and, for that reason, it will have to be checked. As I stood there, suddenly the peasant's son came and he told us that as he was returning from Bluden he saw a great quantity of Jews in the station. The peasant served me a piece of bread, and he asked me to get out the house because he suspected that I was a Jew. I left the house; my head felt dizzy and my legs were unsteady. Where will I go?


I sat down in the yard, and I felt like a traitor who had abandoned his family, his parents and his sisters. Why didn't I stay with them? If I could not save them, at least I could die next to them! I sat down and I cried. Suddenly a cart driver arrived and entered the front yard. The peasant invited him to his house, and told me to leave. I left.


It was a pleasant summer day, green grass and leaves all around, but where to go? Youths of Bereza did not come to work; I saw the sisters from Selcz again. They came running to me and then cried. I asked, “What happened?” They did not answer. I ran behind them and asked again, “What happened?” With difficulty they answered me that all of the people of Bereza were in the station, Germans were beating them and many of them were thrown to the floor. They were depressed, and they decided to return to their house.


I was stunned and then I saw that the cart was getting ready to leave the peasant’s yard. I went over and asked the peasant where he was going. "Far, near Pruzhany", he answered. "Maybe you can take me with you because I am also going to that address" I told him. "And why will I take you, you are a Jew", he answered. Then I remembered that I had two boxes of matches in my pocket, and when I offered them to him, he let me to get into his cart. At once, I removed the yellow Mogen David from my clothes, and I made believe that I was sleeping. The cart advanced slowly on its way. We passed by some villages, and near one of them, the peasant showed me that Germans had murdered a Jewish family, and he told me that they buried them there near the tree. At evening he stopped, told me that we had arrived at a village, and it was not convenient for him to allow me to stay with him any longer. If I needed to go to Pruzhany that I should continue on foot, but said that it would take many hours. I began to walk dominated by fear, since it was noticed that I was a Jew! 


It was hot and after so much walking I was thirsty. I got into the first house to request some water, and to ask how to continue my way. The woman that offered me water told me that I was near the frontier. The area of the other side of the frontier belonged to the Reich and it was forbidden pass there. The next morning, she planned go to Pruzhany, because her husband worked in a bakery and I could accompany her. I agreed. She told me to go to the stable, and to wait there until the dawn. I was very tired and I fell asleep. She woke me up, told me that her husband had returned so she didn't have to travel to Pruzhany and that I had to leave her place. She saw that I was very afraid and she explained  to me how to cross the frontier.


Behind their house was a great field where the peasants cut the grass. They lived on the other side of the frontier. There was a channel and Germans allowed them to cross the channel to cut the grass. At evening they returned to their homes. There was no surveillance. Nearby there was a bridge and a man with a telescope was there. I was told to take off my shoes, and roll up my pants up to my knees. She offered me a stick of some meters long. I should stay close to the peasants as if I belonged to them, and follow them.


With the stick on my shoulder I came close to them, I greeted them in their rural language ("G-d help me") and I continued with them on the way to the channel. They washed their feet, and I imitated them. After the bath they went across, and I followed them. I went up to a couple and I asked them how to get to Pruzhany. They answered me by saying,  "Continue with us and then we will show you". After a short time, they stopped near an path way and they explained to me that the Russians had prepared the path for a future railroad; if I continued on that line, I would arrive to Pruzhany but not before evening.


I began to walk along the road. There was not a soul to be seen anywhere around. It began to get dark; to walk at night was very dangerous. It was already dark when I came upon an abandoned house. Near the yard there was a cabin that was used for log storage. I sat down in a corner and I waited until the dawn. I was about to have a nervous breakdown. I thought about my home, the family, and I didn't forgive myself for having abandoned them and only thinking of myself!


With first light of the day I continued walking and began to see the houses of Pruzhany. I didn't know what to do and where to go.  There were some people on the streets, but it was dangerous to ask where the Ghetto was. I took off my shoes like the rural Gentile people's habit (Jews never went barefoot) to do and I continued walking street after street. I was near the river that runs parallel to a street. Next to the sidewalk there was a fence with spike wires. From my experience in Bereza I understood that a fence inside the city meant a Ghetto. I walked along the sidewalk and when I was near a bridge I saw a poster that said, "It is forbidden to enter the Ghetto". There was not any barrier and I decided to go past the bridge. I came to the first house, went into it and saw that I was among Jews. I got dizzy, I wobbled and then they told me that I fainted.


When I recovered the first question was, "Where are you from; how could you enter the Ghetto if it is constantly guarded"? It turned out that the guard fell asleep and since I was barefoot he did not hear my steps. For sure the angel of g-d took care of me, and didn't give me away during the three years of suffering in the concentration camps to which I was sent. But why did he take care only of me?