In the Circle of the Agony of Death

Simcha (Seymour) Moncarz / New York

Translated from Yiddish by Dr. Jerry Sepinwall

Edited by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

From Czyzewo to Gross-Rosen

The first of September, when the Second World War broke out, the Nazi airplanes had suddenly hailed bombs down upon Czyzewo. Several friends and I came to the decision to flee from Czyzewo. We ran to Ciechanowiec.

On the eighth of September we heard that Czyzewo was burning. Together with Eliahu Wisocki, two others and I returned to Czyzewo.

Entering into the town we found everything in flames and one could not see any living persons; everyone had gone away to the Brak River, near the orchard [of a wealthy individual]. By backroads we were successful in getting back to that place, and there we already saw the tragedy of the Jews of Czyzewo. Mothers searched for their children, children sought their parents, old and young mourned for the destroyed town.

Until today I still hear the voice of the wife of Moszele the teacher, who lost her mind from fear and she ran around and with a wildness cried out “Shma Yisrael.”

I, Chaim Visotsky and the Rav, Rabbi Levinson, Jakob Plicker, Chaim Judel, his brother-in-law Ben-Cjon, Surowicz's's son-in-law, and still others entered into the town, while we were hearing that there were many dead who needed to be buried. We began to look for the ones killed by the bombardment. The first victims were: Lejbisz Kac, Symcha Roczkowski, Abraham Josel Maslo, his father-in-law and his wife Doba, Arke the baker's wife and Bluma Kitajewicz.

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Symcha Roczkowski,
among the first victims in Czyzewo

Night fell. Those who knew gentiles ran away to them and the others ran away to the fields.I searched for my family and we divided up; I and my sister went away to thestation and we went in to Melech Rotman's. My parents went away to Rusz to aChristian they knew.

Sunday, the 10th of September, the Germans entered Czyzewo. The only building they found that had not burned was the synagogue. There hundreds of families had sought shelter.

A short while later, when the Russians entered Czyzewo, the Jews breathed a bitmore freely. This did not last long, however, and the fighting flared up –Russians against Germans. Once again, bombs fell on Czyzewo, again [there were]corpses and we were once more under the rule of the Hitler murderers. Now therebegan the great calamity.
A Judenrat was established consisting of the following people: ZebulonGrosbard, Alter Wolmer, Szmulke Wengorz, Jakob Kitaj and Jehoszua Lepak.

A decree was soon issued that all men had to go to work at the train station.The work was extraordinarily difficult and, moreover, the workers were beatenviciously for no reason. However, everyone had to put up with all of this.While everyone feared that when the work at the station would be completedthings would take a turn for the worse, and that is indeed the way things went.The work lasted for three weeks. And when it had ended, the Judenrat let it beknown that all people, craftsmen and women had to come out at 4:00 a.m. thenext day and to assemble in the town square. This was the 28th day of the month Av, 1941. There was a great turnmoil; people could not sleep that night. Everyone had the premonition that a black fate was about to befall the Jews of Czyzewo. A small number fled from the town. With broken hearts and fright, everyone came at the appointed hour, and to whomever did not come, the Judenrat came around to awaken them and to beseech them, “Everyone should come in order not to provoke the Germans, which might then, God forbid, bring a greater sorrow upon the town.” Children and people who were sick or too weak to work remained in their homes. We had to stand in rows and the Official-Commissar selected out craftsmen, such as tailors, shoemakers, cabinet makers and blacksmiths.

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The school in Sember where the Jews were kept.
From there they were taken away to be murdered.

The “selection” lasted until about seven o'clock. Gestapo forces from Lomza came with trucks and machine guns and ordered: all persons, women, children, old, sick, must come at once to the square.

I still feel today the horror and the pain from the sight when our great Tsadek and Gaon, the Rav Zawlodower, was thrown unto a truck. I still hear today the wailing which broke out from the women who had seen this then. It is impossible to describe this horror. All the trucks with the packed-in people drove away in the direction leading toward Zambrów, via the blacksmith's street.

At three o'clock in the afternoon, the street was already cleared, save for us, the group of chosen craftsmen [were] still standing. It was announced that for the craftsmen, among whom could be found several women, a ghetto was being made ready. This consisted of several houses fenced in by barbed wire. Everyone had to remain there until a subsequent order. The next morning, Polacks already began to tell us that all who had been taken away yesterday were shot in Sember.

We were made to put on yellow patches and herded to work. The craftspeople, who worked at their trades, had somewhat better conditions. My brother Izrael and I found strong favor with the Commissar because of the good furniture which we worked to make for him. In recognition for all this, he freed us from having to wear the yellow patch and ordered that we should be given better food.

On a certain evening, a rumor spread that there were covered wagons that would be arriving the following morning. There was a stampede. Anyone who knew of it ran away. My brother and I took the families and we remained in the cellar, there where we had worked. Remaining in the ghetto were people whose despair had made them indifferent to everything. They said: We do not wish to struggle any more for a life which has, in any case, no worth. At night, we heard a shooting in the street. Everyone was loaded onto wagons and driven to Zambrów. Whoever was found to try to run away was immediately shot. We remained in the cellar two days and nights. We resolved to flee to Sutik to a well known farmer named Andrzejtyk.
We gave him money and promised more if he would shelter us until after the war. We made a bunker at his residence, under the floor of a small room. There eighteen persons were hidden: I and my friend, Raizel Brukowski (eshet hayil), my brother Izrael and his wife and children, Mosze Kuzmacher with his family, Mashel Zylbersztejn, Feiwel Niewad, Eliahu Wisocki, Zelig Gromadzyn's wife and children, Rochel Kachan, Rochel Lichtensztejn and Brocha Kirszenbojm.

Our food every day consisted of a bit of watery soup. Only two times a week did he also give us a piece of bread. It is hard to convey how our existence was in the filth. In the barn there were also hidden three youngsters: Judel Wengorz, Szmulik Lepak and someone from Zambrów. One can also imagine the farmer's situation. The hardship he had in supplying food to us, even the little insignificant food; however this was also to come to an end.

After laying up in the filthy cellar for 21 weeks, it was on an early Shabbos morning March 20, 1943, the house was suddenly surrounded by police and gendarmes. The first to be found were the three youths and they were immediately shot, and right after them the farmer was shot. They then went to his daughter, they said to her: if she would reveal where Jews could still be found, she would continue to live: but if she would say only that she knew nothing of any more Jews, she would be immediately shot exactly like her father. Trembling and tearful she disclosed our bunker. We were all led out of the pit and we were sure that this was the end.
The chief of the gendarmes was one of those for whom we had made furniture. He recognized us, looked at us with strong pity. After a brief conference he ordered a wagon to be brought and we were all driven to Czyzewo to the Official-Commissar. We were all stuffed into a dark cell. We were all certain that these were our final minutes. Mosze Kuzmacher already had made the final confession with us. We bid farewell to one another. The women and children cried bitterly. The only one who did not cry, rather who comforted everyone, was Rochel Kachan. She said: this is our our greatest good fortune, as we will soon be freed from our suffering. [For a long time already, we should not have been able to endure all of this.]

Around 12 o'clock noon the door to our cell was unlocked. The Official-Commissar appeared with his subordinates. After a brief silence and staring at each face, he turned to me and my brother and asked: “Why did you flee!” I replied: “We are sorry, but we are once more ready to work for the Official-Commissar.” After an exchange of words with his people, he decided that I and my brother should be placed into a special cell; all the remaining ones were taken away to Szulborze and there they were shot. Only Mosze Zylbersztejn outwitted the gendarmes and they brought him back and placed him in with us in the cell. He explained to us that the outer garments were stripped off of all of them, they were placed at the edge of a pit and they were all shot with machine guns.

The Official-Commissar from Czyzewo, dressed in a brown uniform with a black-white armband and a swastika on his left arm, had taken over the house of the General in Czyzewo together with a servant staff of ten people. It was continuously swarming with SS officers and gendarmes. There in the same building, in a room on the second floor, he decreed that we should work. I, my brother Israel and Mosze Zylbersztejn worked there for a whole year from March 1943 until March 1944.

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Second from left, sitting Moszele Zylbersztejn. Standing on the right, Berel Melamen's grandson

Sunday the 21st of March, in the morning, the Commissar was still asleep. Gendarmes came into our room, chained us one to another and took us to prison in Lomza. We were taken out into the yard each day and beaten viciously. The dogs were incited against us and they [literally almost] tore pieces from us.

This is how it was for three weeks, and how it ended up was arranged by the Official-Commissar in Czyzewo, that we should be taken to the cabinetmaker's shop; there we worked for some seven months, our living conditions became a lot better and easier. Germans used to come to stare at us and couldn't believe that we were Jews and could not understand why we were allowed to continue living, while in Lomza and in its surrounds there was no longer a single Jew.

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Israel Monczrz and wife

Finally this too ended. The Russians having entered into Lomza, the prison was liquidated. About a 1000 Polacks and we three Jews were packed into wagons and transported to Germany to a concentration camp, Gross-Rosen.

The bitter life and the torment that we suffered in the camp is impossible to write down. Hunger, filth, sickness were there and people were literally trampled underfoot, experiencing various “tsoures.” After this we were taken down to the Krupp ammunition factory. We worked there until the month of December, 1944 and then were returned again to Gross-Rosen. Only Mosze Zylbersztejn remained in “Funf-Teichen” [i.e. Five Rivers]; he was sick and could not walk. We were subsequently taken to Buchenwald; there I was separated from my brother. I worked after this in Bissingen and in Dachau. Later, in the camp “Allakh” we were liberated by the Americans.

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My sister Doba with her husband