During the “Quiet” Days

The Beginning of the Second World War in Czyzewo

Yitzhak Wrona

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Friday, the 1st of September, 1939, around four o'clock in the morning.

The larger part of the Jewish population was still absorbed in deep sleep. Only a few women, who were hurrying to prepare for Shabbos, were already awake. And suddenly there was a strong thunder that came closer and became stronger, noisier, but no, it was not thunder, it was airplanes; they were coming closer to Czyzewo. Then they were over the city and disappeared with frightening noise. People ran out of the houses in fear, lifted their eyes to the sky; whose airplanes were they? Polish on maneuvers? A second squadron flew in and disappeared in the direction of the first. Everyone already knew: it was war! Their mouths had not yet said this. Mothers thought of their children in the firing positions! Who knows? No one knew that the airplanes had already destroyed all of the Polish trains, all of the Polish military collection points, deep into the east.
At nine o'clock the radio reported that Germany had attacked Poland without a declaration of war. The Jewish population received the news with a heavy feeling and with fear, but externally calm. So passed several days.
The mobilization was expanded, new groups, new age groups were called and, at the same time, many of the mobilized returned. There was not enough clothing for the large army, not enough weapons. Contingents came and contingents went. The scenes of departure were dreadful; mothers accompanied their children, wives led their husbands, and children held on to their fathers. All cried and mourned the fate of those mobilized who were leaving Czyzewo and, at the same time, there were reports of the first Czyzewo fallen, Feywl Wajngold, Yosl's grandson, Moshe, and still others. The same reports said that the Hilterists were marching, destroying all positions of resistance. The number of fallen Czyzewers at the front reached scores.

Day after day, enemy airplanes flew over the shtetl and dropped incendiary bombs. This enveloped the entire shtetl in flames of fire. And the first victims of the bombings were: Mordekhai the baker and his son, Leibush the Szlachtchenike's [the generous person's] son-in-law and others, up to ten men. The mood was mournful; people went around dejected. It is impossible to describe what Czyzewo Jews lived through during the sad days. People ran like poisoned mice; they wanted to save what they could. One carried a pillow, one a piece of furniture, one a child who had fainted. The wives of the first fallen ran around demented with wild voices. The special militia drove the residents to their homes. The firemen's siren warned with an alarm that they should quickly seek protection against the incoming airplanes, until they finally became indifferent to the alarms.

A squadron of German airplanes appeared on the third of December; the street emptied quickly. Strong explosions were heard; all of the Jewish houses were immediately in flames. They could not think of slipping out of the city. Everything burned; all of the streets from one end to the other. People ran out of the burning houses. The smoke choked. They ran to the open fields and when the German tanks entered Czyzewo, the shtetl was already one large ruin.
An order was issued; the entire population, young and old, had to register for work. Up to the 300 people must appear each day; the work was very difficult and they were often rewarded for their heavy labor – with blows.
According to the agreement by the Germans and the Soviets, Czyzewo belonged to the Russians. The last act of the German retreat was to brutally beat everyone they encountered. When the Russians entered the shtetl, we wished ourselves mazel-tov [literally, good luck, but also used to mean congratulations].

* * *

Let us be permitted to remember the names of my closest and dearest who perished at the hands of the fascistic murderers: My mother, Tsibia, my sister, Czarna, and my brother, Eidl.

May my words be a contribution to the Sefer Matzeyvah [Book of Headstones] in memory of the Czyzewer Jews who perished.