Desolate Days and Nights

Jentl Kitaj

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I am one of the very few survivors of Czyzewo from that ruthless time of annihilation. I was then still a young girl, barely 13 years old. Where can I find the strength to report the pain of a child who sees how all of her closest were being murdered and herself looks death in the eyes every day?

How much and what I write is not significant and pales in comparison with what I lived through. However I know that this is my duty, the sacred duty of a Czyzewer Jewish child and it is like erecting a monument, a book of headstones for our destroyed, former Jewish shtetl [town], Czyzewo.
Therefore, I will attempt to communicate here at least a small part of my experiences during that ruthless time.
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Upcoming Storm

The fate of the Czyzewer Jews was – with certain nuances – similar to the fate of the Jews in other shtetlekh [towns] in Poland. It was quiet in the beginning. The bullying of the Germans did not take on a mass character. When they cut off the beard from someone, gave a slap, even shot a Jew somewhere outside the city, they found some kind of reason for it. The public began to be calm and to think that “the devil was not so terrible as he was portrayed.”

There began to be heard those who decried the pessimists, those who did not want to be calmed and believed that it was a bad situation. The talk of those who did not allow themselves to be thrown into melancholy began to be listened to, those who boldly and often appeared at the market and said that no community of Jews would be slaughtered.

There was no great activity in the shtetl. In 1939, many Jews, after their houses were burned, moved to live in the surrounding villages. Many Jews did not want to stand out and seldom left their homes.

The Death Gang

Permanent torture of the Jews of the shtetl began with the arrival of the commissar. Jews were driven daily to work where they had to endure various afflictions. In addition, through the Judenrat [council of Jews created by the Germans] the commissar imposed on the shtetl a mandatory contribution of money.

It began to be said that the Death Gang, which was known for its savagery and sadism, would be coming into the shtetl. My cousin, Dovid Kitaj, warned me – Go to the forest. Save yourself; I am telling you that we need to get through the war.

There was confusion when a decree was issued that all Jews, small and large, needed to appear ostensibly to travel to work. Some left the shtetl entirely; others consulted one another on what to do.

czy866.jpg [23 KB] - Szmuel Zeev Kandel, his wife Lea, and four of their children  (two of whom are in Israel)

Arguments also took place in our house, whether to appear or not.

Kruczewski, a peasant from Holdoki, an acquaintance of our father, came to our house. He saw what was going on in our house and shock appeared on his good-natured face:
– The luck that the Swabin [Germans] will give you, you will never be late for. Meanwhile come to me, Shmulke. To the village for as long as it is not a risk to our lives.
Everyone in the house agreed that we needed to go to Kruczewski.

It was quiet on the road; Jews went back and forth. Some sighed; some were hopeful that Jews would somewhere survive the calamity.

Ruchtshe Lev, whose child was murdered by a bomb, came from the village with a small leather sack. Sweat dripped from her face. She stopped and wanted to know what was happening in the shtetl. I told her that many Jews were escaping, hiding. Not me – she said with resolve – What happens to all of the Jews will happen to me.

We were well received in Kruczewski's home, were given food to eat, but the food stuck in our throats. Who knew what was happening with our mother? My brother, Motke, and my father consoled me that they had made arrangements with Nowicki that he would take care of her. She was sick, had to stay in bed; when the police raids stopped we would return to the shtetl.

The Echo of the Shooting

Thus we lived with Kruczewski in the attic and looked through the holes at the lonesome trees in the courtyard with its storage sheds and stalls. I thought about my mother, who lay alone in the house and my heart grieved but I could not cry. I knew that we must sit still, without a rustle.

Suddenly, a distant bang was heard that terrified us as if the bullet could reach us. It became quiet for a while after the first bang. We soon heard another shot and several more that quickly followed one after the other and soon a faint noise of automobiles reached us and a little later heavy shooting was heard. My father murmured quietly with a lowered head: – They are shooting with machine guns, the murderers.

When it became dark, Kruczewski came up to us. He left bread and milk for us and sighed: – Shmulke, it is bad. I did not imagine this… We do not spread calves out [for slaughter] like this in the middle of a clear day, like here…
He stood dejected with lowered hands and explained how the Jews in Czyzewo were loaded into automobiles and driven on foot to Szulborze, to the anti-tank trenches.
From there – he ended – no one came back.

Kroczewski went down bent and we remained sitting on straw, dazed, huddled together.

Later we learned that when the aktsia [action, usually a deportation] had just begun, Nowicki took my mother in a wagon, told her that he was taking her to us and took her to the Shul Street where all of the Jews stood to be sent out. Immediately after, she was loaded into the automobiles with the other women.

“Where is the Jewish God?”

When everyone was standing in the street, the gendarmes and the Polish policemen began to run through the houses and pulled out whomever they found, beat and shot them. Those who watched immediately felt that something very bad was being prepared and many took advantage of the police being occupied and ran in various directions, to the villages and forests. Zisha Slucki, who is now in America, also escaped then.

The Germans wanted to enjoy themselves and they began to ask about the rabbi. When they heard that he lay paralyzed, they went into his house where he lay with an open religious book near him. – Tell us, old devil, where is the Jewish God? – They shouted with wild voices and laughter, pulled him across the ground and threw him like a pack of old rags into an automobile that was fully packed with women and children.

A gestapowiec [member of the Gestapo] sprang to him lying in the automobile and whispered in his ear. The rabbi began to shake as if poisoned, trying to murmur something with his open mouth and could not bring out anything. He looked at the people surrounding him through his yellow, dried out eyelids as if he was asking that they help him cry out at least one tear from the large cracks that were his eyes. The women around him broke out in a loud cry.
The gestapowiec and the Polish policemen laughed.
On this day, the 25 Av [18 August], 1941, 1,750 Czyzewo Jews perished in Szulborze. The earth still heaved in the following days. The peasants were afraid to go out to work in the fields.

The Ghetto of the Survivors

A small number, more than 100 people, succeeded in saving themselves. The commissar, himself, had chosen young, healthy people. In the morning, after the slaughter, he created a ghetto of them, led them into the small houses near the train line and sent them to various work.
Still more Jews came later, among them, some who escaped during the deportation and went not too far away. They had to go out to work every day, to build the highway to Wisoki, to the noble courtyards and to the railroad to load scrap from the bomb blasts.

My father considered everything to escape farther from Czyzewo, from the great misfortune. But this was not an easy thing. The roads were being watched by the Polish bandits who attacked the passing Jews. Murdered Jews were often found lying on the roads. Yet, we got through as far as Malkin where we stayed until things would get calmer.
I went to Sterdyn to an acquaintance. But I was not there for long. My father, who remained in Lachow, where Jews lived, later removed me. But before that, I succeeded in surviving the lapanke (round-up) for Treblinka. Lachow lay on the road to Treblinka. Here I saw the transports to Treblinka pass through. The train wagons were fully packed with people. Fainting faces looked out through the window holes.

The Priest and the One who Jumped from the Train

Once, when I walked from the village, laden with a basket of food, a long train with dark red freight cars suddenly sped by; in the small windows appeared pale, fainting faces. I remained standing with my heart throbbing heavily. The deafening bang of the wagon wheels was in my ears. My feet became clay-like and I could not move from the spot.
Suddenly I noticed a bent figure getting up from the ground not far from me; it straightened up, looked around on all sides and slowly, cautiously, with shaking steps was going in the direction of the village.

I stood frozen to the earth for several minutes and tried to recognize who this could be. I had met people several times in Lachow who had escaped from Treblinka, but they were barefoot, half naked. The figure appeared to be well dressed. This was a woman. Suddenly I heard booted steps. Several peasants who seemed to lie in wait for victims sprang out from behind the bushes. They tore her clothes from her. The woman began to try to argue, but probably thought that it was better than again falling into the hands of the Gestapo.

The nervous strain reached the highest level in me. I barely kept myself from screaming. I wanted to attack them, scratch, beat, fall to their feet, asking them to leave her alone. At that moment, the priest came from the village with fast steps. He immediately approached the group of peasants. – Why? – his low voice reached me – why are you doing this to her? It is still a crime. – She is Jewish – several voices spoke up at the same time – she sprang from a train car, from a transport to Treblinka. The priest was not surprised. He stood erect, with outstretched hands. – Leave her alone. She has been punished enough and God will forgive your sins.

I saw the woman quickly turn around and enter the village. The priest also went in the same direction, a great distance from her. My heart became lighter. I wondered if he was not one of the lamed vovnik tzadekim thanks to whom the world still exists.

The Czyzewo Ghetto is Liquidated

Word would come from Czyzewo that it was calm there. The several hundred Jews were working and no one bothered them. In contrast, it constantly got worse in Lachow. Jews were grabbed for work, where they were beaten, tortured. The smell of those burned in the crematoria of Treblinka reached here. And the word was passed about a deportation that would occur in the nearest days. My father told this to a member of the Judenrat who advised him that he should quickly leave Lachow.

We returned to Czyzewo, but at the last minute, my father stopped and did not want to enter the shtetl. He left Motke in a village, in Rush, where he became a shepherd. He parted with me with tears in his eyes: You will be with Uncle Yankl in Czyzewo. Meanwhile, I will search in the villages; perhaps someone will take pity and I will find a place for me. His heartbroken words came out of a choking throat and I cried. I understood that my father did not believe they we could save ourselves in Czyzewo.

I worked for several weeks on the highway. The mood in Czyzewo was tense. The rumors of what the Germans were doing in Wysokie, Zambrow and Ciechanowiec reached here. A deportation was also expected in Czyzewo. – Today smells of some kind of abomination – Kruczewski once said to me, and then he told me that the Germans had ordered wagons from the peasants to carry people, probably Jews, who else?
When I came back to the shtetl and told this to my friends, they laughed at me. They clearly knew that the commissar was looking for workers and we did not have to be afraid of any deportations.

At night, my father came to take me away to a village. He also knew about the wagons, but I repeated what the girls has said and maintained that there was no good in showing such fearfulness. My uncle, Yankl, urged me: – Go child, with your father. My heart is also telling me that something is not good.

Something stirred outside. The watchmaker, Motl Stalowitch, said that the office commissar had called him to repair his clock and simultaneously to hire him to ring [the bell] at four o'clock in the morning. People were certain the office commissariat wanted him to thus give him a sign and to show the Jews that something was being prepared for them.
In the morning the S.S. members and gendarmes actually did come and in their way, with shooting, blows and wild cursing drove out the Jews, took them in the peasant wagons to the Zambrower barracks, from where in two months they sent them to Auschwitz.

The ghetto in Czyzewo was entirely liquidated.

In the Peasant Attics, in Hunger and Thirst

My father had taken me away to Pienki, to Janczewski, a rich peasant with a good character. He had compassion for us and could not watch how we ran around as if chased by dogs. He did not think to take money from us. In general, he spoke very little. When my father took Motke from Rush and brought him here, he did not say one word. Then I thought that he had great compassion for us.

Rumors about raids of hidden Jews spread in the village with the arrival of the freezing temperatures. The S.S. members warned the peasants that they should turn in all of the Jews to the Gestapo. Janczewski began to be afraid and blurted out harsh words for us. We understood the hints, but we did not have anywhere to go. The peasant began to starve us, not giving us any bread for entire days.

At night when the village had begun to fall asleep, my father trudged out of the courtyard and each time asked another peasant for a piece of bread, listening to the stories of newly caught Jews in the villages. Janczewski became more sour and more bitter from day to day. He stopped bringing us water. It was dangerous to go to the well and we had to be satisfied with snow, which substituted as water for us.

There would be very snowy nights and we did not have any fear that someone would hear the splashing from the pail in the well so Motl would go to take a pot of water that we kept for several days.

My Father's Death

On the night of the 22nd of February we lay in the attic and waited for the last noises of the village to be stilled. We had not had a swallow of water in several days and Motke needed to scrape along to the pond to take a little water. A door still creaked somewhere; a shutter closed. A murmur of a couple and a suffocated laugh was carried from behind a fence. When it became quiet, thirst dried the gums and excited the brain.

Finally it became quiet. The village slept; the littlest rustle could be heard for a mile.
Meanwhile, Motl also slept. My father did not want to wake him and took the dipper himself and began to creep out of the attic. Something in me began to shiver. – Father, I will go with you… – It is not necessary – my father barely moved his lips – two make more noise. I could not lie still in the attic for long. I went down, pressed myself to the wall and waited, listening to the rustle of the night. Suddenly I heard a scream: Halt! Soon a shot echoed and it again became quiet. I felt a cold shiver go through me and I went back up to the attic, told Motke about the shot. He was confused and I felt how he shivered and his teeth began to chatter. We again heard footsteps in the silence and the thump of spades in the ground.

We did not close our eyes for the entire night. When it began to dawn, I went down to the well and saw the dipper lying empty. A bit of dug dirt caught my eye. However, I did not think that this was the grave of my father.
Later, Janczewski came up to the attic and said that our uncle, Yankl Kitaj, had been shot that night in the village.
I told him about our father's departure and that he was sure to be frightened by the shot and was hiding somewhere and was afraid to come out.

We waited impatiently the entire day for our father to come. Late at night I fell asleep and I suffered terrible dreams. I saw myself lying with my father in a river of blood. Wild horses sprang over us, stepped on us… Janczewski came to us again in the morning and soon declared that the person shot was not our uncle, but actually our father himself.
I buried my face in the straw and sobbed bitterly.

Janczewski's words that we had to go away from here because the entire house smelled of death reached me as if through a fog. I said nothing. Motl lay with wide open eyes as if mixed up. Only when the peasant went down did he turn to me: – What will become of us now? I felt his hot tears on me.

The Awakened Conscience of the Dejected Peasant

The peasant did not give us any food and we did not go anywhere to seek bread. Through a crack we watched when the dog was given food and each time one of us went down and divided [the food] with him. The dog watched with great understanding eyes, let himself be petted and wagged his tail as if he were satisfied by his friendly action…

We lost count of the days and weeks. Some sort of non-Jewish holiday arrived and relatives and neighbors came together in Janczewski's house; they danced and frolicked. Someone played a harmonica. Suddenly a fight broke out there and the curses became louder and wilder.

We lay with a death wince in our hearts and pictures of the house being set on fire swam under the lids of our closed eyes; we saw ourselves running and everyone was starting after us.

Suddenly it became quiet. The crowd dispersed. Someone harnessed the horses to go to call a doctor for the badly beaten Janczewski. Janczewski came up to us in the morning. He was completely bandaged and was barely able to hold a jug of milk and white challah [bread eaten on the Sabbath] in his hand… His conscience had begun to torture him that the misfortune had come to him because he had let us starve.

Better, more satisfying days began for us. They came just in time because we were so exhausted from the hunger and thirst that we felt as if we were losing our last strength.
But soon he came with the frightening news that they had learned about us in the village. Someone must have noticed us in the courtyard and we had to leave. The police could come at any minute. He was pale and had an insane look full of fear. He breathed with heavy gasps: – For this comes death…

He accompanied us out and showed us his field stable from afar, where we meanwhile could stay. He would not be responsible if we were caught. We, I and Motke, held each other. I felt a painful vertigo and my feet felt as if they had been cut off. Motke frequently fell. Wanting to pick him up, I felt at once that I was sinking into the snow, that something heavy had slammed me over the head and Janczewski stood from afar and looked at us.

Alone in the Field

We were exhausted and weakened from walking. Here, in the field, we breathed easier, although the dangers were much greater. We had to learn new methods of caution and to rely on our memories. We were stuck for the entire day in a hole that we had hollowed out in the sheaves of straw and artfully disguised. We crept out at night like animals being chased, trembling as if a hyena would spring out from where it lurked at any time.

There were still beets in the fields and they had to be ripped out in such a way that no one would notice that someone had been here. We fed ourselves from them for a long time.

One night we stood in the middle of the field and looked towards the village where the lit small windows winked at us like scores of eyes and told of a sated, calm life, of warmth.

At that, it occurred to Motke: – I have not eaten a piece of bread for so long, have not warmed myself … perhaps we should go to a peasant? At first, I shook off this idea. There were peasants who gave every Jew they encountered to the police either because of meanness or because of cowardice. The better ones who did have mercy were also afraid to help. Rarely did a peasant want to take a risk.

We had an idea and stole into a stall where there were pig pens and we took a few potatoes from the pigs. The dog already knew us and did not bark. Crawling once to such a stall, I noticed a peasant acquaintance who led horses to be watered. I went to him and simply asked him if he would be able to give me a piece of bread. He told me to wait and immediately brought out an entire bread. Later, we went to other peasants who I believed would not do anything bad to us. Tired from an entire night of creeping around, we went back before the first rooster cry to our hiding place, where we had to lie immovable the whole day.

With the Two Girls from Zaromb in the Icy River

Once lying down at night, I felt someone pulling at the sheaves. Our hearts withered. But before we had time to do anything, we saw two girls standing in the opening.
These were Jewish girls from Zaromb. The same fear blew from them as from us.

Our family grew larger. The anxieties of getting food also became greater and we had to think about new ways of supporting ourselves.

The girls were furriers. We went into a village where no one knew us and presented ourselves as Polish girls who could sew pelts and were looking for work. We spoke a peasant language and the peasants believed us, although once when we went to a shoemaker, he received us well at the start, smiled, but his smile changed immediately into a mocking grimace and he began to speak to us with a Yiddish accent.
We were unmasked.

Drawing back by a side road, we saw the same shoemaker was already waiting at the exit of the village. He had a bicycle and there were two others with him. – We are lost! – one of us said, expressing what we were all thinking.
In great desperation, we instinctively began running. From where did we get such strength? The non-Jew on the bicycle had trouble following us. But we felt that the distance between us and he was becoming smaller. The road was bad, with pits, but he did not stop. He saw fat prey before him. Three girls – three portions of kerosene, sugar and, perhaps, alcohol.
We ran where it was advantageous for us, where we knew it would be difficult to ride on a bicycle. We had already run past the last hut and felt as if our last strength was leaving us. The non-Jew had to feel it. We thought that he was laughing, he was sure he would win. But, suddenly, a dog ran out from somewhere with a resounding bark. We did not turn our heads. Yet we heard a wrangling. The dog had grabbed the non-Jew by the foot and threw him off the bicycle. The non-Jew's curses reached us, but running, running, we did not look at him.

We ran in the direction of the river. We reached it. The trees on the shore were naked; the river was covered with white frost but only with a thin, icy membrane. It broke with the first step, but we did not stop. We went up to our necks in the water.

Later, when we lay in the bushes soaked, gasping, without breath on the other side of the river, we saw the shoemaker running with other young peasants who he had called for help. They stood at the shore and looked in all directions. Nervous, windblown, choked with rage, they searched along the entire shore. It never occurred to them that we had crossed the river.

With effort, we moved ahead on all fours. I felt a strong pain in the joints with each step. The pain went through my entire body. My friends remained behind for a minute, but soon they were ahead of me. I saw the trembling of their shoulders as if they were wrestling with someone who wanted to stop them.

None of us said a word. We did not feel the frost, the pain from the prickly bushes that irritated us on the road. Yet moans came out. The other's moan seemed as if it had come from one's own breast.

We finally left the forest. It was night. A village with fires lit lay to our right. Oh, if we could only warm our soaked bodies somewhere!...

But gendarmes were stationed in that village. We had to avoid it. We went across the bare fields. The cold hurled us to the ground like frozen birds from a tree. A shudder went through our bones. We again stood up, ran a little way. My knees bent and my body shook on them. I sank down frozen
on the ground. Other frozen hands helped me get up. The wet clothes pasted to the ground, ripped with pieces of skin.
We, three Jewish girls, frozen, desolate, went through empty fields, where no sign of a person, of a settlement was seen from afar. – Oy! – Another one gave a shout, like a child, who wants to go and cannot. – Let us rest for a minute.

My head began to bang, my ears grew deaf. I began to dream… It was dark in front of my eyes and the night was so vast, a deep and velvet one… The dream lulled me to sleep. A girl's hand pulled my shoulders, my face. She spoke with a steamy, tender, desperate, suffering voice: – Do not sleep… You will die. With the last strength of someone dying, my hands shook; my entire frozen body. – Oh, a little warmth to release our frozen blood.

But there was only hard, wintry darkness around. No rustle, no movement from a human step and no breath from a living being. We dragged ourselves farther, tired, fainting, without strength. Late at night we arrived at our hiding place.

We Are Surrounded

During the night, we again crept over the field and dug for beets like moles. This was now our only food because, after our failure, we did not dare go into a village for a long time.
It was already the middle of the night. Motke and the two girls carried the beets. They went bent, separated from each other and I ahead, the spotter, if the enemy appeared – a shadow of a person.

We were not far from the barn; I suddenly heard a suspicious, faint noise. Dark shadows moved in the darkness, surrounding the field and the barn. It was as if my blood gelled. From surprise? Were we not then prepared for this? We made an agreement with ourselves every night before going out into the field that if something happened, we would meet in another place.

And so this happened. We were surrounded, lost. Willingly I would have opened my mouth and would have screamed into the night as a cow bellows when she senses the arrival of death. But I did not scream. Like a good spy I only murmured quietly and so that each word would reach everyone without any mistake. – We were surrounded.
We all threw away the beets and scattered, each in another direction. I remained lying in a furrow, stretched out, as one with the ground.

The idea of time did not exist then. The darkness was vast and good, and possessed a heart that beat. We wanted it to be thicker and to stretch even longer. An alarm rang in a nearby village. I understood that the raid, the search for us had moved to the village.

We met at the arranged spot in the morning, in another stable. Each told how they had saved themselves. The girls had lain the entire night buried in a potato pit, covered with potatoes. The sheaves in which we lay hidden little by little became fewer. The covering, a thin one, let in the cold. However, still worse was that it no longer disguised us. Every move was seen from the outside.

It happened. A peasant, traveling past, heard our whispering and tore apart the sheaves. A brightness hit us in the eyes. But, for us, it was black and dark… We cried, a cry of desolation, helpless ones who no longer had anything with which to defend themselves. The peasant stood surprised, as if turned to stone. His eyes, which were glued to us, sparkled and froze. In a moment, he ran to his sled and eagerly went to the village.

Singing in the Darkness

We recovered quickly and began to think about what to do. There was a fear about remaining here because it was possible that the peasant would alert the police in the village.

We entered Sutker Woods. It was the middle of the day. Cuckoos and crows pulsated over the trees. Their unease promised fresh snow. The wind turned in the air like a mill plastered with withered leaves that still remained in the trees from summer. But each rustle rang in our ears likes steps that chased after us.

The short winter days finally ended and in no way could we find a place to hide. Snow fell in the forest, a wet one that stuck to the branches and melted, fell on the ground and melted, with such desolation, just like us.
We hid under a tree, seeking protection, but the wind threw wet handfuls [of snow] in our faces. Dampness penetrated our bodies, ate into our limbs. A frightening unease enveloped us. Where would we hide our tired, damp and broken down limbs? Our eyes searched, groped… – I am hungry – one called to the other. – We will die of hunger and from cold – another quietly murmured – Let us at least not stand in one place, let us go. – They can still see us.
– Let them see – a drawn girlish hand was raised in the air – Let death come… Dying little by little is still worse than suddenly.

We held hands and left the dark forest. But a thick darkness also hung over the fields that did not allow us to look in. A heavy sky hung from above that merged with everything all-around, with the darkness and our hearts.

We walked. We barely placed our feet. We did not hold up our heads, the wind cut our innards like a knife. It seemed to us that we were dragging ourselves without end and a sweet dream wanted to comfort us. Colorful flames swarmed in our eyes. – We could yet fall asleep walking – I called – let us sing. Think of some sort of song. – The Germans will hear – Motke pleaded. He was then 13 years old and so fervently did not want to die. – Let them hear – said the furrier from Zaromb, and immediately began to hum some sort of Polish song. She sang quietly; we helped her with clenched teeth. When she finished one song, she began another, a third. Later someone remembered a Yiddish song about a lonely tree on the road to Eretz-Yisroel. We all were more caught up in our own singing that became louder, at ease, flowed like a river in the dark night.

The hunger, the tiredness, weakness and fear left. We expressed all of this loudly in our singing. Every minute someone could have heard us. Maybe it would be better this way. The readiness to perish eliminated the fear of death, which had no reality. Who said that we are weak, cowardly? Let the Germans come with their raised guns and bloodhounds. We had been escaping from them in panicky fear for two years. Now, this all looked like a wicked joke. Futile, there was no way out.

It became day, light; no one appeared from anywhere. We dragged ourselves back to the Sutker Woods like wounded animals that drag their wounded bodies somewhere to a hole, ready to die. It again began to snow. It did not fall, but attacked. Because of its thickness and brightness, we could not see what was a step in front of us. The snow also landed on us, grew, raised itself. We stood doubled up, hunchbacked, like white hills in the woods. Only inside were the thoughts veiled in a heavy fog like an eternal, endless night had settled in us.

The End Comes and I Remain Alone

Hiding in the wheat became easier with the arrival of summer. Eating also became better. The peasant more readily gave us bread.

The front neared. In addition to the mindless rumors that reached us, we sensed something from the bread that the peasant would throw to us. The closer the front was – the larger the portions were.

The days began to pass more quickly. The front was very close and there was turmoil in the area and energy. They burned entire villages near the Ostrower highway. They dragged people from hiding places to dig trenches and here, suddenly, Motke, who had already indulged in a peek in the village in the middle of the day, was seized for digging trenches.

I ran around as if poisoned. I looked for a way to save him. In Janczewski's house I learned that he [Motke] had escaped from the trenches. No one knew where he was. I did not find him in any of our hiding places. After several days, I found him lying in the middle of a field covered with straw.

But after a few days, the same thing happened to him. I again started to look for him and I suddenly saw that they were leading him, injured, on the road. I looked at him. My look asked: – How did this happen? I tried to go to him, but I thought he was winking at me that I should not come near, not reveal myself and him.

They took him to a hospital that was quickly taken by the Russians and they took him to a camp near Moscow. They thought of him as a German prisoner of war. In order to learn all of this, I had to run around all day and look at the military locations. During one of the searches I met a Ukrainian who recognized me as a Jew and I just succeeded in saving myself.

Later I learned that Motke, and other such “prisoners of war” as he escaped from the camp and went to Moscow on foot. The road was difficult. They could not endure it and in the middle of the road, turned back to the camp. Motke was the only one who reached Moscow, entered a synagogue where the Jews helped him to explain his situation and prove that he was a Jew.
During the last days, Janczewski permitted me to stay longer in his house and talked with me, remembering the names of Czyzewo Jews with whom he had been acquainted and friendly for many years, went to their homes, knew their children, their entire lives during the week and on Shabbos and holidays. – They were such good people – Janczewski sighed. – There are none of them, none – I looked at Janczewski with a stiff look. In that minute I relived the days and nights in his attic, with no bread or water, the death of my father. He probably understood what I was now reliving; he lowered his eyes and spoke quietly: – Who could anticipate such a hell? Only accursed devils could invent it… Such slaughter, so many people killed. – Now I was alone. From where would I get the strength to survive so much bitterness? – You must strengthen yourself – Janczewski spoke weakly – forget everything that was and start anew.
– Forget? How could one forget all of this? “But we will have to start anew” – Then I thought for the first time that everything anew can only be begun in Eretz Yisroel.

The reverberation of the battles reached here in the village that day. A powerful blow suddenly shook the walls and rang in the panes of the windows and we immediately heard the echo of shooting by a machine-gun and guns. There was an echo, another blow and another one…

I went out in front of the gate, inflamed by eager waiting, listening to the roar from the front that grew in waves.
I stood entirely without fear and watched the retreating Germans who were not interested at all in what was around them. If they looked to the side, their look was not that other well known look of one who believes he is the subjugator, but the look of a surrounded hare. It appeared to me as so similar to the look of their Jewish victims. It could seem that their own shadows threw a fear of death on them.

A considerable time passed and Soviet soldiers in hordes entered the village. They were smudged. They had tired, browned faces; they ran in a disorderly way and lugged the various sorts of burdens of war, machine-guns, artillery guns. Suddenly right near me stood a young, smiling officer.
– So, young girl, see how they run, the nobles, ha? I stood distraught for a minute. The spoken foreign language words were understandable to me. A strange person stood in front of me, armed from head to foot and I had no fear of looking right in his face. He saw my confusion and pointing at the courtyard, he asked with the same smile: – Your cottage? You live here? It was as if I had awakened from a deep sleep. – No, no. I am not from here… I am from Czyzewo, from Czyzewo.

After three years I smiled for the first time. This was the first elemental outbreak of the newborn freedom.