I SURVIVED HITLER[i]
September 1939, our town Pruzhany fell in Russian hands. After some little time, each one adapted to Russian régime. This way continued up to 1941, when German beast attacked Russia by surprise. From that moment, our town began to collapse, and since first days of fight Germans occupied our city, and from first moment they made us feel their sanguinary hands. They caught Jews in the street for diverse and dirty works, especially those of better aspect and better dressed. Christian of the city, pointed out only to those that were more sympathetic with Russian régime.
Already during first days our lost people were many. Were shot 18 innocent Jews near Klibantz mount . Every day brought more darkness, and harder to satisfy compulsive ordinances for Jews, without differing rich and poor. From small children to grandparents, Germans tried to accelerate our death and annihilation. We, Pruzhany's Jews become unified and concentrated, to be able to continue ahead a life of suffering. Thanks to that unity each one understood what was awaiting us. For that reason we could be a model for all the other cities of Poland...
...Each day black clouds covered our sky . We saw as Germans liquidated Pruzhany's surrounding towns as Shereshev, Heinowka, Malech, Bereza and others ...It demonstrated us that for no money of the world, could we survive of sanguinary Germans.
In particular was trembling the picture of Shereshev youth. On the route where there is ZAIDEL KRUTZEL's sawmill, Germans pushed them of at five in each line, as if it were livestock Beasts went to both sides with sticks in their hands, and they hit and hit until killing. We knew the following through those that were able to escape: a midday, Germans expelled Jews of their housings, didn't allow them to take anything, and the road toward Pruzhany collected many deceased.
In the road while they walked, Germans ordered diverse "gymnastics" as for example, crawl on four extremities, slither on the stomach, to run, all accompanied with blows of sticks. Ragged, bleeding, with open skulls and wounds on the body, hardly arrived to Pruzhany. People of Pruzhany wanted to receive them, but Germans continued pushing them until Antopol. A few days later some of the same Jews, with a lot of effort, entered Pruzhany.
Germans allowed Jews of Hainowka to remain in Pruzhany with the condition that Pruzhany's Jews will maintain them. We can imagine the answer of Pruzhany Jews. Each Jewish family took another family, gave them food, and Judenrat treated them as humans.. The organization in the Ghetto worked as a small country. Were organized work groups, that daily left outside of the Ghetto. They were hundreds, men and women. There were shops in the Ghetto, bakeries, grocery stores, everything organized under collective rules. Thanks to this system, the Judenrat could satisfy constant German demands, and have a good name. Pruzhany was a working Ghetto.
Helped us a lot the wool boots manufacture which settled down in the house of material owned by YUDKOVSKY, the footwear shop, the seam shop, etc. Products were for the "Wermacht". But Germans did not like only one thing: we Jews still are alive, suffering and suffering. All other cities and towns around Pruzhany had already been evacuated, were neither signs, was no any Jewish remembrance. Then the "alternative" was: they should clean the obstinate last "island", that existed after the great flood of oriental Poland, between Baranovici and Brest.
Our youth did not sleep all this time, knowing what awaited them. They organized groups to acquire necessary elements, and to be able to survive in the forests or swamps. Many of them were able to break the steel circle, met in groups later in the forests, fighting against the powerful enemy behind the battle front. They exploded with ammunition bridges, trains, trucks. Many of these heroes fell, many survived to see the defeat of the enemy and to retaliate
Finally the bloody hand didn't avoid us, and arrived the day. January 28 1943, the murderous Germans surrounded our Ghetto's handful of tired and sacrificed Jews with these words: "The German G-d doesn't have any more bread for you Jews ". Arrived extermination hour; the order was: in the course of 4 days, Pruzhany should be clean of Jews. In the Ghetto were 10.000 souls and every day 2500 Jews should be presented to Nazis …
The day of my evacuation was the last one. January 3 1943. This day will be eternally in my memory.... The sky was covered with big black clouds, they floated very low and wrapped us in a day of intense cold, and it "admitted" something that we, human beings could not imagine in our fantasy.
In this icy day, our innocent town, with some high houses of material, and most of them wooden housings covered with snow, laid as if they understood what was happening around us. Hearts are destroyed when the first day stain appears. In the streets is not seen a soul. Only Germans go for a walk with their dogs for the streets, which jump to get some internal heat for the intense cold.
Near and distant human voices are listened which transmit pain, and cut the icy atmosphere. Nazis opened Ghetto's entrance doors thoroughly and German murderers commands entered marching with weapons in their hands, carts, and sleds. High officials give orders ...They spur on for the streets the livestock for the slaughterhouse. Many walk hardened and remain silent. Some murmur some prayer to G-d, others are sunk in cry that destroys the heart. All seven skies should be broken, throw fire, and sink the "civilized" world...
The wind whistles. Snow hits the face and devours the flesh. The sleds caravan leads 8 to 10 cadavers to the train station at twelve km, in the town of Lineve. Each 20 meters, a German "insect" with his ferocious look suctions as a leech. Suddenly a shooting is listened in address to a mount. Three people escaped zigzagging, they run and they fall. Others run and they also fall. A horseman pursues them. Shots are listened. ..Impacted? ...Fell?... No, still lives ...Continuous escaping ...Are listened interrupted words. A rain of bullets, the German horseman continuous pursuing. A voice is listened. What? Does he still live?... Snow with its white and fluffed whiteness is blood spotted. The sanguinary beast drops of his body the war machinery, shots in his head and kicks him. ..
The sled caravan continuous it's way towards horizon. The air becomes dense, it seems narrow for the evening cold and night fall. At the distance small lights are glimpsed in peasants houses.
Our thoughts run. Invades us life nostalgia. The sentry's step and the hiss of sleds on snow break silence. Suddenly cuts atmosphere the voice of the transport official: "Stop! Descend all"!. The order passes of one to other, everything is transformed and becomes as if it was a boiling pot . The mortal silence that some instants ago reigned around us is full with noises, cries and screams ...Small creatures are cold dead, and old men no longer got off the sleds, they were frozen in their seats.
Nazis loaded us in horse boxcars, 120 people in each closed boxcar. The sleds returned for the same road, the snow and the wind helped to erase the signs of destruction and death...
In the boxcar we could not be seated, and of course neither could we be put to bed. The train began to move very late in the night in address to Brest. Every hour worsened the hardship, and vicious air left it's imprinting in each one of us. Screams were already listened and the begging: Water. Water!! . Some people had bottles of water; during the first hours those fainted drank only a sip of water. A man begged: people, Jews, let me survive, only another sip!! But another person maintained strong the bottle and didn't give him. There is more people here, was the answer.
The convoy crawls. Passed the first night. Each one of us changed his face since yesterday , we feel it dies each instant a member of our body, and we request to die as soon as possible. Some old men were seated without being able to move, as stuck to the wall. They make a recount of their life: we were people, we lived for us ...for our children and grandsons, we educated them as honest people, and we guided them for roads of Jewish tradition.
The lips hardly murmur with hoarse voice: water, water, water...
The convoy stopped in a small station, I don't remember the place. Through the wired window I see that the world continues walking as it was ...I see from the distance two rail workers. I ask them to introduce through the window some snow balls. One of them, makes it at once, the other one tells him: for Jews? ...I tell him: we will pay you. In that moment a woman pulled my coat and gave me a small clock which I throw from the boxcar to the Polish workers. Then they began to throw balls of snow to the boxcar, and this was repeated during the whole road. As consequence of the hardship and lack of water, were already several deceased.
Seeing our agony, a young boy began to cut window wires, to jump off the boxcar. We knot several towels and we helped him to lift. Due to the hardship of the window, he should put first the legs , and when he was with all his body out, he was sustained of the knotted towels until being released. He fell well to boxcar's side, and began to run. In that instant I listened the noise of a machine gun: ta-ta-ta-ta. It seemed that he was already far, my eyes didn't reach to see if the bullets impacted him. The convoy continued its march. From that moment, several youths began to make same thing. But more than one fell below train wheels. And it was difficult to avoid German bullets. Very difficult...
It was already the third day. We traveled in boxcars for livestock, tightly closed . Compacted as herring in a can. Also without food and without water. And we are human beings with physiologic needs.
The train stopped after three days. The doors of the boxcars opened up, and in front of our eyes we see an a circle of SS armed soldiers. A German official of thick aspect, rode on his lustrous horse (they are for granted product of Jewish goods), and orders with his hoarse voice: "All out! Leave the baggage"!.
Each one of us leaves his belongings, already nothing is of interest. The cannibals with whips in their hands, hit all that get off the boxcar. It is listened again an order: men to the right, women to the left!.
Murderers don't allow a moment before death, to say goodbye to the wife, the son, parents, siblings and sisters, neither the last kiss to the young creature. They loaded women and children on trucks. Old and young men that were not sympathetic to the murderers, were also loaded in the trucks. Screams and cries directed to G-d. Last look and expression were directed to us ...Words even resonate in my hearings. We, healthy men, had to observe and to suffer! With aching hearts and silent look we cried very deep... German take us to the sadly famous Auschwitz camp and they drove us to a barrack.
We were approximately about 400 men elected to work, of a transport of 2500 people. The remaining 2000, without ceremonies, already "rested in peace". I felt that we were sinners and we should win ourselves the eternal rest. We were allowed to enter the bathrooms, they shave us the hair, and at the same time we receive blows on naked body. We entered to the showers and had a civilized and cultural bath according to German system. They allowed us to leave for the other door, we were no longer the same ones.
It was difficult among us to recognize each other. We seemed comics of a disguised circus. Some received a feminine nightwear, another received wide pants being of low stature, high people received short pants, and also a wooden footwear with a piece to it's side, which was called "shoes". For this footwear more of one left this world. They tattooed us the number in the left arm. The numbers replaced the name. They drive us to open barracks where wind was blowing and snow fell. The beds were wooden planks of three floors. In each floor some ten people should be put, we may say "one above the other", so narrow was the space.
Food consisted during the morning only of black coffee to wet the lips, lunch was half liter of water with another color than coffee, the same coffee we had it for dinner with 150/200 grams of bread. There was not water to drink, then we drank water of the sewers. Many of those that drank of this water got sick, and every night German took them out of our block, five to ten deceased. We remained this way 6 weeks in Birkenau, and this process was called "karampin".
In the course of first 6 weeks "left" us half of Pruzhany's people , and of this small quantity Nazis would select the group that they would send to Auschwitz central camp . Here were formed work groupings: tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, etc. Some were able to be inserted in light works, and others finished their lives in hard works.
The external outlook of Auschwitz didn't give the impression that there we would be crossing the last stage of our life. It seemed a recreation place, with pretty hoisted streets, walks, colored blocks, a bathtub. When leaving and returning from work, played music... but when returning, no longer entered the same quantity of people, and of each group daily increased the quantity of victims. In place of deceased, Germans completed the groups with people of new transports, people that arrived of all Europe, and all accompanied by music ...Also those recently arrived had the same destiny.
The smallest error was punished with 25 lashes, twice a day, and we were staying during hours, without considering the climate, rain or cold. Every month Germans made selections, that is to say they moved away those who were weak, whom Germans called "Muslims" for their thinness. And this way, in our lines every day people diminished, because Germans worried that the crematory does not stop for lack of work..
But all beginning has an end. Began to roar canyons, and allied armies came every day near us. January 17 1945 we were evacuated of Auschwitz camp toward more distant places in Germany. All that I saw while we walked, it is difficult to describe, impossible to tell. We walked about 50 km. and we slept on the snow. We crawl this way some two weeks with an intense cold. Who stopped and could not continue, shot him a beast mounted on a motorcycle pursuing us of behind .
I won't exaggerate, but to the road sides spread laying men and women, so close one to another as trees that grew besides the road. Victims were destroyed by bullets "Dum-Dum". More people shot I saw , and more I stepped on cadavers, bigger was the desire to survive German beast, to be able to retaliate of my dear beings, and to be an alive witness for the world.
January 30 1945 we arrived to a determined point that was the new Austrian camp called "Nathoiszen". Very few people could arrive there. In this camp the same history began: take a bath, run nudes after bathroom to the block, sleep pressed one on another on the floor. I was in that camp during three days, and then was transferred to another, 60 km. of Lintz, Austria, the "Melk" camp. Work consisted here on digging tunnels in the mountain in form of streets. In those tunnels, Germans installed machines to manufacture airplanes parts.
We spent this way dark days and insomnia nights. We were hungry and with much cold, drained by hard work, until April 20 1945. The battle front came closer. Germans transferred us to another place, and they loaded us on small crafts on the river "Dunai" in address to the Alps. After navigating five days and walking during two days, our men were less and less.. I could no longer be staying on my feet. I was conscious and knew what awaited me if I detain marching. But my feet didn't want service me. To my side walked a man of Pruzhany, a friend, MOISHE KRASNER, he hold on me under my armpits, and I crawled some distance on the way until I recovered. I will never forget him. He is now in Cuba.
After great sufferings we arrived to "Ebenezer" camp in the mountainous Alps area. Human eyes never imagined to have seen this hell. I was here hardly three weeks. If Americans had arrived only one week later, they would not find neither a person in the camp.
May 5 1945 I was liberated by the victorious American army. The first great happiness of each one of us, was to be able to sit down in front of a slice of bread, and eat as much as he wanted...
But happiness doesn't last much time. I saw that I was left alone in this cruel world, alone and far away, distant and very far, and the world was more strange and empty for me....
[i] Fragments of survivor Lazar Kartshamker permit the completion of details described in preceding stories, related to Pruzhany's life and nazi's cruelty.