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Part Two

My personal fate

Now for the description of my personal fate, my own struggle to avoid death, in whose claws I was so often nearly captured. Some mysterious hand always seemed to save me. When people ask: "How did you save yourself?" I do not know what to answer. I certainly was not stronger or smarter than many of my friends who did not escape death and could not save themselves. It was pure coincidence, a pre-destination, or my private fate. I was amongst the few who were meant to be saved. From my description, you will see how destiny sometimes decided the most unnatural outcomes, because tens of times I was in the clutches of death. Perhaps, it was because I had to stay alive to be a witness of the horrible events in order to tell about them later, to write about them as an historical memorial. I, therefore, consider it my debt to record the horrible events, to describe the inhuman scenes, to recall names and tell about the witnesses of the tragic period of the destruction and the acts of bravery, so that it will serve as material for future historians who will research the history of this great destruction in Europe during the Nazi epoch in the years of the Second World War, which left a soil bloodied with six million Jewish victims.


I fall into the grasp of the Gestapo

When I came back to Sosnowiec, the first days of November 1939, I started to liquidate my business. I saw that it would not be possible to continue the undertaking, a wholesale of plate glass. It was obvious that the Germans would soon grab it. During my absence a lot had been robbed away, but since it was not a matter of food supplies or clothing of any kind, the thefts were not too significant. My storage rooms were full of glass stock so I quickly sold whatever I could. I had already been informed to prepare a balance sheet, listing everything I had on hand and present it to the supply officer. I also had to sign that I "voluntarily" donated everything I owned to the state. The situation became worse with each passing day. It was under these conditions that I decided to leave Sosnowiec and join my family. Whatever would happen to them would happen to me. Above all let us all be together. Since it was quite a distance to Ostrowiec, I decided to make Krakow my destination. There I had a married brother and a large part of my relatives. Although Krakow was already on the other side of the border and belonged to the Generalgouvernement, nevertheless, it was close to Sosnowiec, a journey of two hours. I, therefore, thought that first of all I would be close to the family and should it become necessary I could quickly reach there. I started to prepare for the journey. I sold everything I possibly could, bought gold and jewelry with the money so that it should be easier for me to carry, and at any moment, change it for cash. Jews could not obtain passports but for money one could buy such a "document." Yosel Landau, a friend and neighbour, introduced me to an intimate friend, a former partner, a Volksdeutscher from Katowitz, a certain Pole, who declared himself ready to accompany me safely across the border for a fat fee. We agreed that on February 8, 1940, at the break of dawn, he would come to my house from where we would leave together for the train station, which happened to be close to our house. That is what occurred. On February 8, seven o'clock in the morning, the man came to my house. I gave him a large part of my valuables, removed my arm band with the Star of David, and we left for the station.

It was a lovely, sunny winter day, quite frosty but nice to walk through the snow. Close to the station I noticed two civilian clad men walking back and forth. Instinctively, I was disturbed because I had never seen these people before. These strangers made me fearful. I thought: Oifn Ganef Brent Dos Hittel (a guilty man is always self-conscious). After all, what is the connection between myself and these two people?

We purchased tickets, entered the train which immediately started en route. I sat on one side and my accompaniment on the other, to give the impression that we do not know one another. Right away, however, these two strangers entered our train car, appearing to be looking for places. They went into another car and came right back as though they had not found seats there, and sat down in a corner near us. I was very anxious and inexplicably afraid. I felt that I was feverish and short of breath. I felt danger in the air. I tried to enter the toilet, and came out again, but I was bewildered and couldn't find a place for myself.

In the shtetl Szczakowe we had to change trains for the one which was to take us to Krakow. As we descended the train I did not look at my accompaniment at all, but blended into the crowd as though wanting to hide, to disappear. Suddenly I felt a strong hand grab me. I turned around and saw the steel face of one of the two strangers. He commanded me in German: "Come along with me!" It was as though I beheld the Angel of Death. I got dizzy. My arms and legs became limp as though I was going to collapse. Immediately the two spies took me under the arms and led me into the office of the train director. They also brought in my accomplice. The first thing they asked me was if I was a Jew.

In the meantime the Gestapo representative, whom they had informed, arrived. They took me to Sasnoviec to the headquarters of the Gestapo, Piervshego Maya. My accomplice was immediately freed. As I later found out, it was this Pole who notified the Gestapo that he is bringing to the Generalgouvernement a suspicious Jew who is carrying a lot of valuables. The second suspicious character was his own son who also served in the Gestapo as Volksdeutscher. Thereby he wanted to show his loyalty to the fatherland in order that later he should be well-rewarded and be put in charge of the Jewish businesses. His son was probably also decorated for his devotion.

I was examined, in a naked condition, and searched for everything. I had stuck valuables into my clothes and even in my most intimate parts. As I was undressing, I slipped a three carat diamond ring into a finger of my glove. Soon they brought all the things from my house: documents, papers, letters and my writings, all tied up with the straps of my phylacteries.

The first inquisition started.

While looking through my personal belongings one of the SS, a redhead, who was sitting and writing, called out to me:

"Jude, weisst du was man mit misseh mishina meint? (Jew, do you know the meaning of the expression 'hard luck'?) That's what you are going to get today."

They started to roll up all my papers and writings. As they tore up each bit they tortured me and tore at my flesh. They were determined to know with whom I was in contact and what sort of underground missions I had performed, whether I have contact with the underground and whom I knew in that movement. These were experts at torturing and forcing explanations. It was not only the inquisitor who beat me, but also the two special whippers, and the inquisitors changed shifts.

They also read my writing and poetry, searching to see if there was any evidence that I had participated in the anti-Nazi campaign. I was scalded with hot irons. My nails were pulled out and I was administered electric shocks. By various torturous methods they wanted to force me to talk but I did not talk. I was as silent as the wall. My head was already swollen, my eyes full of blood. Bruised and battered as I was, I could still hear them speaking amongst themselves: "Der Schweinhund will nicht reden. Mir werden ihn aber reden machen." (The swine doesn't want to talk, but we will make him talk). Outside, when they found out that I was arrested, that I was being questioned by the Gestapo, many people hid, cleared out, because they were afraid that I might betray them, that some secrets would be extracted from me. After all, I was familiar with the whole underground and youth movement and knew many secrets. It was also known that the Gestapo had specialists for extracting information. It is true they tried every means, good and horrible, trying to convince me that as soon as I would disclose the names of the members of the underground, even if only a part of them, I would immediately be freed and even be given protection against attacks. At one point they even threatened to shoot me. They took me, naked, into the yard, in the snow, and told me to face the wall to be shot. I ran as though the devil was chasing me.

I pleaded with my torturers: "Shoot me, because I can't endure any more", but they teased me. "You will die when we're ready." They were wild, like beasts let loose to roam. When they heard from my mouth only the words: "I don't know. I can't," they tore at my flesh. Blood was running from all sides but I did not succumb and did not surrender. I thought to myself that anyhow I am going to die. There is no help for me because there is no way that I will escape from these murderers. If I will betray others they will only extend my agony and will drag me to more and more questioning and confrontations. It will not help the situation at all but will only make matters worse. I made a firm decision not to say anything more. When my head was already swollen, my eyes covered with blood, I heard, more by instinct than through my ears, as though through a fog, how one said to the others: "He will have to talk. We'll make him talk. He knows a lot."

In this fashion they tortured me a whole day on February 8, 1940, until nightfall, without ceasing. Also, for an hour they put me into a narrow, dark chamber where it was impossible to sit or stretch out. I had to stand with sharp stones protruding on both sides. In the evening I was thrown into a jail cell the way a pack of broken and bloody bones would be thrown. This was a cell where bandits, criminals and violators of the worst kind were kept. When they saw my condition, they knew how cruelly I had been handled because they could see my bloodied body, so, taking pity, they washed the blood off me and applied cold compresses to my wounds.

The following morning I was again led out for questioning. Once more they started to torture me with new means and inquisition methods, desiring to extract from me declarations. I prayed for death to bring my suffering to a quick end.


Those in the prison

When one finds oneself in prison, behind bars, one encounters a whole new world which is so different from the outside world. Up to that time, I had not encountered criminals. I had read a lot about prison life, had heard a lot about life behind bars, but when one finds oneself behind narrow barred walls of such a prison in actuality, one then realizes the horror of such a world which becomes reduced to a few cubits of damp and foul air. Above, there is a small strip of sky and only seldom does a ray of sunshine enter.

I sat in a cell together with political prisoners and criminal elements. The criminals were the elite here. They were the ones who had the upper hand in ...

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