In the springtime of 1916, after Passover, when the fields dried up, the Malcher Jews took out the gardening tools from the peasants’ abandoned homes and went to the field. Early in the morning the Austrian gendarmes searched all the homes and chased all able-bodied people to go to work in the field. The gendarmes warned the people that there would be famine if they would not go to work. While people were working, if the gendarmes while searching would find a horse in a stable, the owner would be punished. It was remarkable that our Jews, without proper preparation or experience, were able to plant potatoes, sow barley, sow oats and cultivate all the gardens. It was very hard to plant potatoes because the winter was mild and not having any experience in planting, the potatoes would rot in the soft ground. However, when the potatoes were planted in small cut-up pieces, they began to sprout and grow. After the holiday of Shavuoth, the command authority issued an order that all the men between the ages of 15 and 50 should report to the market place where all of them were registered. A few days later almost all of those who were registered were sent to work
Near the highway, the village Holitz (about12 kilometers from Malch) was not burned down. The peasants, however, ran away along with the Russians. The highway was badly damaged because of the movement of the armies (first the Russian and, later on, the German-Austrian). We worked there to repair the highway that was full of potholes. Our Austrian supervisors were not very strict with us. We went to our homes for Sabbath. We were paid two krones per day.
The majority of our men were sent to Kabaki, in the courtyard, where a workplace for brick making was established. Bricks were produced there in order to reinforce the fortifications at the frontline. A new narrow railroad had to be constructed from the workplace through the gentile fields up to Piestshanke at a distance of three kilometers. Here the men in charge of the project were strict. The master of the railroad line was a fuzzy haired German. The commander was a senior Lieutenant (a Pole from Galicia) who was a very mean man. He spoke a good Yiddish and he swore in Yiddish. We had to work there on Sabbath.
As soon as the railroad line was prepared for installation, we received a shipment of finished rails. The railroad tracks were laid out from the brick making workplace on a downhill slope. At the midpoint, the configuration of the rails was on an uphill slope, therefore we had to use a horse to help us pull the wagons up to the platform and from there we loaded the bricks in the railroad wagons.
Every morning we were lined up with the working tools on our shoulders, in alphabetical order and in a military style. My brother and I were among the first, since we were registered as Apelboym. Then came Alkon Pineh and so forth. On the way back home, after work, we would walk in the same order. Oftentimes at dusk, after a hard day’s work, the senior Lieutenant would order us to load the wagons with bricks. All the wagons had to be loaded.
We slept on wooden plank cots in the attic of the big brick house where the bricks were produced. At 5:00 o’clock in the morning we could hear the scream, “arunter!” (come down). At 6:00 0’clock we were already standing in a proper order. We worked until 12:00 p.m., then, officially, we had two hours for our midday dinner. We never continued with our work before 1:30 p.m. We ended our day’s work at 7:00 p.m., provided there was no order to load the wagons.
There was an incident that brought about a panic in our town. The Russians launched a fierce offensive on the southern front, somewhere in Wolyn. The Russians advanced toward the German occupied zone. On a certain day, the Germans were in such disarray that their garrison was ordered to march eastward. When the senior Lieutenant was asked about the civilian population, his answer was, pointing at us, “The people will temporarily remain here”. It seemed that the situation was serious enough to bring about fear among us. We already visualized the peril of an approaching front, the trenches, Cossacks and chaos. Even more – what if the gentiles, who abandoned their homes, would come back and expel us from their occupied homes! The Jews began to utilize their well-known weapon – to pray and to recite “tilim” (the psalms) and the women ran to the cemetery and wept over the graves of their departed. The panic lasted several days until we were assured by the commanding authority that the danger was over. Such an occurrence was not repeated anymore until the end of the war.
Our fields with the spring sowing were quite beautiful. It was pre-destined for us to have more or less a year of yielding abundance. Our only concern was that we were unable to get bread. In this respect, our women did everything they could. They went to the fields and tore up the stalks of the re-grown and scattered kernels of corn to grind into flour. At fall time, the authorities gave us corn seeds for sowing in the fields. It was not enough, however we sowed as much seeds as we had available. Later on, we had another problem – to prepare the pastures for the cows and horses. Near by there were overgrown meadows that had to be cut with a scythe, but all able-bodied people were forced to work at the brick making work place. It seemed that the military staff had also issued an order that a certain amount of hay had to be furnished to the front for the upcoming winter. Also, there were big fields of clover in Malch, Yamnik and Kabaki.
On a certain evening, all of us were lined up and the senior Lieutenant looked us over and asked if anyone of us would like to cut grass. All of us volunteered for that job. The Lieutenant also kept a small group of workers at the brick-making place. The rest had already started to cut the tall and thick grass with scythes that were distributed by the authorities under the supervision of an Austrian. The work was not without recompense. The authorities took two thirds of the cut up grass and gave the workers one third. This enabled us to provide enough pasture for our cows the forthcoming winter.
We had a difficult problem with obtaining clothing. There was no fabric available. Out of necessity, we had to dye some of the gentile linen with a black coloring matter (since black will dye over most other colors). Later on, we started to deal with the military. We bought topcoats and raincoats from them that we took apart, dyed the material black and sewed them into civilian styles. We also bought boots from the military. Our young people, especially, were in charge of this business since they worked at the railroad in Bluden and Lineve where there was a constant military movement to the front line and back to our area.
The harvest from the fields was satisfactory. We gathered the crops of barley, little oats and buckwheat. We dug out the potatoes and we were satisfied with our fate. We celebrated our holidays with joy and satiety.
THE AUSTRIANS DEPARTED AND, AGAIN, WE ARE UNDER THE GERMANS
On a certain day, after our holiday, Sukkoth, our young workers were assembled in the opposite direction of the commanding headquarters and a junior officer delivered a speech. He told us that the Austro-Hungarian detachment would depart from our area and that it would be replaced by Germans. He brought to our attention that the previous occupiers were very lenient with us and that the Germans would enforce a stricter discipline, that we should be attentive, obey all orders, and help with their effort to continue the war. He told that as long as we obey their demands, no bad things would happen to us. Before he left, he greeted us in a friendly manner, thanked us for being industrious in our past endeavors and undertakings. In the same week the Germans arrived in Malch.
When the Germans arrived in Malch, there were no particular changes. The community leaders were the same as the previous ones – Yaakov as a “Starosta” (Senior Leader) and the militiamen. They demanded that the workers should work at the railroad, thus, many of them went to the railroad booths to work as watchmen between Lineve and Bluden. Some workers from Pruzana, Bereze and Seltz were already employed at the railroad station for about two years. We were paid 2 German marks and 20 pfennigs per day. It cost us 1 mark and 20 pfennigs to purchase the different food products that were plenty for us.
The winter of 1916-1917 was extremely cold. It started after our holiday Sukkoth and lasted until after our holiday Purim. The thermometer in the commanding headquarters showed, with a few exceptions, a constant temperature of minus 31 to 33 degrees every day. Many people died due to the severe cold weather, bad nourishment (without fat) and lack of medical treatment.
The Germans levied a milk tax that had to be paid with milk. All those who had a milking cow had to deliver a certain quantity of milk. Every day a wagon with cans of milk was delivered to the barracks in Bereze. This was for the wounded and sick soldiers. Part of the milk was then taken by the commanding authorities for themselves. Some of the workers were ordered to make large square bundles of previously cut up hay and ship them to the Piesczanke railroad station. From there the hay was shipped to the front.
During that cold winter, on the frosty days, the authorities ordered many people to be sent as forced laborers behind the front.. Our militiamen informed us that the Germans would go from house to house to search for people to take with them. Just like magic, all young people disappeared (except those who worked at the railroad). At nighttime, the people stayed in open barns. The Germans did go from house to house but they could not find anyone, except for one person - Itshe Zuk, who was sent to the front around Pinsk. A great number of forced laborers from Bereze, Koseve and other towns were gathered in the Berezer synagogue that was located on the street leading to Malch. The commanding authority established a sort of concentration camp for these workers. They would remain there until they were transported to the front lines. The synagogue was surrounded with barbed wire and the Germans with rifles, wearing long white fur coats, watched the assembled people. Later on we found out that around Novojelnie and other places there were fresh heaps of soil indicating they buried innocent young people. Itshe Zuk came back to Malch from the war front around Passover. His place was taken by Shimon, Moishe Yosel’s son, and he was also sent to the front. He, too, returned home as a healthy man.
In the springtime of 1917, we again worked in the fields. There were no changes that occurred in this respect. The Germans took away all male calves for which they paid a negligible price. After our holiday, Shabuoth, a new order was issued which required that whoever had a cow or a horse had to make a contribution of hay. For a cow, 120 poods of hay, about 4300 lbs. (a Russian pood is approximately 36 lbs), for a horse, 150 poods of hay and for both, 270 poods of hay. If the hay contribution was not provided, the cows and horses would be confiscated. The people, somehow, did make the required contribution.
In August of 1917, about 70 – 80 elderly Germans arrived in the fields to cut the grass. They worked only in the morning. After noontime they would work a few extra hours for 3 German marks with good food. Thus, they helped us to prepare the required quantity of hay. The first person in alphabetical order that made the high contribution of hay was my father, Apelboym. He did provide the full amount of 270 poods of hay. The German commandant was very pleased to see the first contribution. He asked my father what kind of a reward would he like to have. My father answered that he would need wood from the nearest forest, from Samorowke, in order to heat the house. My father immediately received a permit to get a certain number of wagons of wood, however he did not receive any money for the hay.
There were certain families whose breadwinners were taken to the war. For those people the contribution of hay was a difficult problem, since they had to depend on somebody else’s help. Therefore, a committee was established under the direction of Betzalel Wisoker and Hershel, Aaron Dovid’s son, whose job was to provide the aforementioned needy people with the required contribution. The committee hired young people who eagerly cut the grass and, thus, solved that problem. In this way we got used to this situation, so that it appeared to be normal. We worked and made contributions to the Germans. After all, there was a war and we had no other option. It should be noted that in Malch the Germans, in general, conducted themselves correctly. In fact, there was a strict discipline, but there was not any maliciousness against us. It was safe to drive on the roads and there was order everywhere.
The revolutions in Russia and in Germany did not bring about any changes. Kerenski’s new Russian government did not end the war. With the indirect help of the Reds (Communists), the Germans occupied the Ukraine and cut through into White Russia. We heard rumors about peace but, in reality, the news did not bring joy. On the contrary, it brought worry, fear of disorder and chaos but no safety. Later on this fear, in fact, became a reality.
Our soldiers began to arrive in Malch from captivity in Germany, Austria and Hungary. At the end of summer of 1918 almost all of them came back. A few of those soldiers remained in Russia. The following persons were killed at the front: Moishe Sorotshik (Eliyahu the hunchback’s son), Kopel Friedman (Jacob’s son), Moishe Gersh (Rachel-Leah, the seamstress’s son) who died in captivity in Germany, Michael-Zalman Goldman who was killed at the front and Yeshieh-Moishe Rosachowski (Sara Hinda’s son) caught a cold in the trenches and died later on. The former gentile inhabitants in Malch and the farmers from the surrounding villages began to return from Russia. Also, the ”Pritzim” (the landowners) came back: Swide from Malch and Fele Staszewicz from Kutnewicz who settled in the courtyard in Malch. An administrator arrived in Kabaki to manage its courtyard.
The gentiles were glad that their houses were occupied and their fields cultivated by the Jewish people. With regard to the dwellings, somehow we got along with the new arrivals. As for the cultivated fields, the Germans, according to the wage system, gave one third to the farmers and two thirds to the laborers. The same scale was applied to the landowners.
At the end of that summer a disease appeared that was not known before. The name of the disease was ”Shpanke” (probably a viral infection). Without any medical treatment, the “Shpanke” did not avoid any home. Many people died from this disease, particularly the farmers who returned from Russia who suffered the most. It was said that the returnees brought the disease with them from their “excursions”.
After the German revolution that ended their monarchy, there were odd rumors that floated through the town. One thing became clear – the Germans had established a government in Ukraine and had crowned a ruler whose reign was to also extend to our zone.
Two weeks after the holiday Sukkoth, on a Sunday, a man arrived in Malch and called together a meeting at Moishe Aleksandrowski’s house. He made a speech in Ukrainian and proclaimed that we belonged to Ukraine. Afterwards, he recruited militiamen among the returnees from captivity: Shmuel Rosenblum (Yaakov-Asher’s son-in-law), Moshe-Aaron (Nachum the Redhead’s son), Hirshel Miskun from Chwoinik and a farmer from Kabaki. The militiamen received new rifles from the county’s administrative office of the new Ukrainian government that was in Pruzana. They had to get their orders as well as their pay from the same office.
After the fall of the German monarchy, the German military units were in a state of total breakdown. They ran away from Ukraine without weapons. In Poland, they were disarmed by Pilsudski’s legionnaires. The Baltic nations began to establish their own independent countries with armies and blocked the organized retreat of the German military units through East Prussia. In general, the German garrisons left the smaller places and began to group themselves in the larger cities in order to concentrate near the communication routes. They left Malch from all secluded places and they concentrated in Bereze and Lineve (at the railroad station Oranczyce).
Our entire zone was in a state of anarchy that brought about fear in our town. We heard about robberies and murder. In Wiluski, a courtyard around Antopolia, the entire landowner’s family was killed by the farmers. We started to organize in order to defend ourselves in the event of an attack. The Germans sold weapons and ammunition to us. Our people were chatting that Pruzana’s 1500 young men were armed with weapons. We only obtained a few rifles and a trumpet! We worked out a plan to defend ourselves against an attack: if some suspicious persons would be noticed in the nighttime, we would sound the trumpet to alarm the people. Then the women and children would leave their homes and raise a cry. At the same time, those who had weapons would start shooting wherever they would be present. This was supposed to be a “strategic maneuver” to scare away the attackers. With this plan, fortunately, we did not make any mistake.
The 8th day of Hanukkah in 1918 was on a Sunday. On that quiet evening because it was cloudy and dark outside, it was very suitable for robbers. At that time a column of farmers in military formation, carrying rifles on their shoulders, entered our town through Zaluzer Street. It was not known how many of them marched in. It was estimated that there were about 200 – the number was possibly exaggerated. Their plan probably was to rob the town of all the reserve of food. They came in quietly and carefully. At Chaim Goldstein’s house they met my grandfather, Moishe, may he rest in peace. The old man did not become flustered. He only began to scream and admonish them with these words, “Ach we razboiniki” (you robbers). They did not touch him, they only said, “Go into the house, you old man”. The armed men were noticed by the townspeople. Yosel Krawczyk, who had the trumpet, did not lose any time and alarmed the people to warn them of impending danger. The women and children left their homes and began to scream loudly in the almost empty town.
The plan of the attackers was, first of all, to disarm or, rather, to kill the several Jewish militiamen who stayed at Moishe Aleksandrowski’s house where Shalom Sacharov resided. However, they were mistaken because the militiamen, along with several of us who bore arms, were at that time at Yankel Asher’s house at the opposite side of Aleksandrowski’s house. In the middle stood Leibe’s large white brick house. The first robber who entered Aleksandrowski’s house with an outstretched rifle met Shalom Sacharov, a strong, healthy Jew who grabbed the attacker’s rifle. His wife, Elke, became frightened, ran toward them and stood on the opposite side of the barrel of the rifle. Intentionally or accidentally, the rifle discharged and the bullet hit the unfortunate woman in the stomach. Our defenders, hearing from where the shot rang out, started shooting in that direction. The attackers, hearing the volley of bullets of the defenders, got scared and left the town.
Because of the fear that the attackers could come back again, our defenders dispatched a rider, Shmuel (Leibke’s son), to Piesczanke at the train station, 8 kilometers from Malch, in order to telephone the German authority in Bereze to tell them about the above-mentioned incident and to ask them for help. In the middle of the night a detachment of 50 Germans armed with weapons arrived in Malch. However, the band of robbers did not return. After waiting a few hours, the Germans also left. The gravely injured Elke (Shalom Sachavor’s wife) was taken care of by Leibel Pomeranietz, Chaya’s son, who was a medic in the Russian army and came back home from German captivity, however Elke suffered until daybreak and then passed away. The next day, Monday, was her funeral in which this entire town participated. Since that incident, it became necessary to organize patrol groups to guard our town. Thus, Malch was protected day and night.
The Germans, after their negotiations with Poland and with the Baltic countries, received permission for the remaining detachments of their army to return to Germany. Shortly before the holiday Purim in 1919, the last train with the Germans left Lineve’s railroad station. Before their departure, the Germans blew up the ammunition warehouses. The explosions, afterwards, lasted for several days. During the explosion of the ammunition warehouses in Lineve, a detachment of riders arrived in Malch from Pruzana. The riders wore German, Russian and Austrian uniforms. Declaring themselves as Polish legionnaires, they showed off their insignias of white eagles on their caps – the only sign of their adherence to Poland. Among them there also were some who spoke Yiddish. They ordered us to harness the horses and wagons and drive to Lineve in order to load up the leftover weapons. When we arrived in Lineve (Oranczyce), Polish people there declared that the ammunition was already taken away and told us to drive back to our homes.
On the same night, there was another scary incident. A group of armed men arrived from Bereze and declared that they were Bolsheviks. They did not do anything, they only went to the “courtyard” and robbed the landowner, Swide, and left afterwards. This incident brought about a new panic in our town because we found ourselves between two fires – the Bolsheviks in Bereze and the Poles in Pruzana.
In the morning, again, several Polish riders came to Malch. They were informed what happened and they left in the evening. The same story was repeated the next night. The Berezer Bolsheviks arrived in Malch and displayed the same heroism from the previous night – they robbed Swide, the landowner, and departed. This time, they took two wagons to haul the stolen things. The wagons belonged to Aaron-Ytzhak, Yekutiel’s son, and Yudel, Getzel’s son.
The next morning, Thursday, the Poles came back again. They proceeded on the road leading to Bereze in order to intercept the wagons with the stolen goods. The two above mentioned Jews were brought into Moishe Aleksandrowski’s house and they were punished, according to the Polish custom with 25 lashes each. Afterwards, the Poles caught a calf, made a good meal and rode back.
This uncertain situation, fortunately, did not last long. The same Saturday, in the morning, a large detachment of legionnaires marched into Bereze unexpectedly, ambushed all nests of the Bolsheviks and easily defeated them. Thus, they became the rulers of the entire zone. In our town, a new commanding authority arrived and settled in Baruch’s big house. Order was then established.
In that springtime of 1919, under the Polish rule, we were confronted with a terrible event. An epidemic of smallpox and typhus was rampant and it swallowed many young and strong lives.
With the establishment of the new Polish order, and after an interruption that lasted four years, a door was opened up to the wide world. Correspondences as well as material help from individuals and organizations began to arrive from the U.S.A. and good prospects emerged with regard to the future emigration overseas.
In the springtime of 1920, the Russians launched an offensive and chased the Poles to the West. They reached our town in August. Because of our fear for the retreated Poles, we hid our horses in nearby Yamnik. We were unable to hide the cows. The Poles went to the stables and took them away when they retreated. There was not a single cow left in our town.
It is worthwhile to describe the following episode:- In the middle of the night, several Polish riders rode through Malch. They spoke a good Russian and were accompanied by two gentiles, one from Worozbieti and the other one from Likomir. They walked into Feigel Jacob’s house, identified themselves as Bolsheviks, and asked about the route to the highway. Feigel, not a foolish woman, said that she did not know how to get there. They proceeded toward Aneliner Street and walked into Yekutiel, the fisherman’s house. The old Yekutiel (the young ones were in Yamnik) put on his Tallith (prayer shawl) and recited the credo, “Shma Yisroel” (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord in One”). He pointed to his neck and said, “Cut my throat”. The intruders did not touch him. They only asked him where they could find a young man to lead them to the highway. Yekutiel pointed the way to Omelian’s house, a gentile who had returned a short time ago from Russia and vaunted that soon the Bolsheviks would arrive and would take away the horses and cows from the Jews They knocked on Amelian’s door and spoke to him in Russian. Amelian, seeing who they were, crossed himself for great joy and thanked God that he lived to see the Bolsheviks in Malch. When he dressed himself and was ready to go, it was early in the morning. Then he realized that he made a mistake. He noticed the white eagle on the their caps, but it was already too late. The above-mentioned Likomirer farmer was able to hide himself in a garden of beans and stayed alive. The Worozbieter farmer was shot at when he tried to run away. He suffered until midday and then died. Amelian was taken to the highway and was shot to death near Zaprud. The next morning, the intruders returned to Malch and personally informed Amelian’s family about the “news”.
When the mass of the Polish army retreated, they set out to search all the Jewish homes, however they did not find anything. The Poles did not dig any trenches around Malch. The shootings lasted almost a whole day. The Bolsheviks, who were already in Samorowka, fired their artillery guns. At that time, Zaluza was already captured by the Bolsheviks. Under the cover of darkness, the Poles were able to escape. This changeover in power went through peacefully without any casualties and without fires.
At this time, the Bolsheviks did not yet establish their domain in our area and finally they left our town. After the “miracle at the Vistula” (the largest river in Poland), the Russian army was cut off. Two days after Yom Kippur of 1920, after intense machine gun shootings in Malch and in other places, the entire area was again under the Polish rule. Again, we had a fearful night, but this time, luckily, the changeover of the regime went through without any casualties and without fires.
After the peace treaty in Riga (Latvia), the Poles declared our zone as part of Poland. The entire area that was inhabited by White Russians and Ukrainians was called “East Kresen”. Order was established in the newly emerged independent Polish country. Our Jewish life also gradually started to normalize. The town began to heal its wounds and to rebuild itself. A new chapter began to emerge in our life. My time in Malch ended shortly thereafter.
Our family immigrated to Argentina in 1922.