Someone is Watching
A Memoir by Florence Mayer Lieblich
The War Years: 1939-1945
World War II started in 1939. Hitler and Stalin made a pact and
divided Poland in two. Stalin occupied Ukraine and the Germans
occupied the other part. On September 17, 1939 the Red Army entered
our city, Czortkow. The Jewish population breathed freely for a while.
We were safe from the Nazi tyranny. Life continued normally. We had to
be very careful about with whom we associated. It was not easy to live
under a dictatorship, but the Jews were not harmed. The Jews were able
to get very good jobs and the professionals were able to continue.
There was no anti-Semitism, but everybody was watched. If they were
suspicious, you could be transported to Siberia, but other than having
to be very careful, we led a normal, quiet life. Our peace ended very
quickly. On July 6, 1941 the Germans invaded our city. From that day,
When the Germans were on the outskirts of our city, the Ukrainians
started to burn all the Jewish houses and villages. They covered most
of the entrances that they could see, so nobody could escape. My
friend Lila's house was already in flames, but one entrance was not
covered. Her mother pushed her out and told her, "Hide between the
high corn bushes, so the murderers will not see you. Try to save
yourself. For us it is already too late." Her hands and legs were
already burned when she went between the bushes. She was very quiet as
she hid. She heard children's voices, adults crying and begging for
help. Lila heard the response of the murderers, "Burn Jews, we don't
need you, we don't want you." It became very still. You only heard the
burning wood, and the air started to smell with burnt flesh. Whole
villages and all the people were burned to ashes. The hatred that the
Ukrainian people felt towards us was nothing new. They implanted this
hatred in their children from the day they were born, "You kill Jews."
Once the Nazis came, we were even afraid of the youngest Ukrainian
child. When he saw a Jew, he threw stones, started to fight and robbed
him. He would call for the Gestapo, "This is a Jew, kill him!" That
was our situation. We were surrounded by hatred, killers, and no way
out. Lila arrived at our house and lived with us. She survived and
moved to Israel. She is not alive today.
My father and I were looking out the window and saw a motorcycle with
Germans arriving. They stopped on the corner of a small street.
Suddenly, we saw a religious man coming out from the street. In one
hand he held a glass of salt, and in the other he carried the Torah.
He was greeting the Germans. The two Gestapos secured their
motorcycle, stepped down, threw the man down on the street, spitting
on him and kicking him with their boots. They threw the Torah down,
spit on it and stepped on it until it crumbled. They yelled, "Filthy
Jew!" and they killed him. They returned smiling to their motorcycles.
They had accomplished their mission- already killing Jews. When they
left, some people picked up the Torah, trying to straighten it out and
clean it. They took the man away. We knew this man very well. He was a
good friend of my father. I turned to my father and said, "Daddy,
destruction awaits us. Very long, bitter days are ahead for us Jews."
We walked away, we did not look anymore. Now, whenever I am in temple
for the holidays, and see how the Torah is celebrated with songs and
happiness, I only can see the Torah on the street, spit and stepped
upon, and crumbled. I cannot forget this. It hurts too much, and
nothing could have been done to prevent that degradation.
The Gestapo Kelner was assigned to destroy the Jews of Czortkow. From
the day he arrived in our city, the killing started. They snatched
people from the street, dragged them into the Black Forest, and killed
them. We have many graves with our people. We, the Jews were scattered
all over the city. It was not easy for the Nazis to find us. They
never knew where the Jewish houses were, but they had a lot of help
from the Ukrainian murderers. They led the Germans to our homes.
Kelner, the head Gestapo murderer, gave an order to print large signs
with the Star of David. Every Jew had to go to the city hall, buy it,
and hang the sign in a very visible place, on windows and doors, so
the Nazi murderers would have it easy. There was also an order given
that everybody had to wear an armband with the Star of David, so we
would be very recognizable to kill.
In a very short time, after the Stars of David were on every Jewish
house, an order came from the Gestapo Kelner that a ghetto had to be
established. Also a Judenrat and Jewish police had to be organized. A
few houses were assigned to the ghetto. Our house was among the
assigned ones. The people started to move from their homes, and moved
in with other families. It was very cramped. Some of our family moved
in with us. The next order came from the Gestapo. None of the Jews
were allowed to go out of the ghetto. If a Jew was seen buying from a
Gentile, they would kill them on the spot. This happened. We had to
eat. I myself removed my armband with the Star, and went to get only a
loaf of bread. We were starving. If a Ukrainian or a Gestapo saw me, I
would be killed. I had no choice. I had to take chances. I could not
let my parents go out. Our Judenrat and the Jewish police were not
helping. They were with the Gestapo, helping to make our lives hell.
The Jewish police thought that if they helped the Nazis, they would
survive, but it didn't happen that way. I used to hide from the
police, but I was caught and sent to the Gestapo for very hard labor.
I had to do filthy work like cleaning the toilets and houses, bringing
in wood and making the fire. The Gestapo would stand over us with
their whips, and if they didn't like what we were doing we would get
the whip over our backs.
The winter was very cold. The German soldiers were freezing on the
Russian front. An order came from the Gestapo to the Judenrat, that
all the Jewish furs had to be delivered to them, and they would be
sent to the front, to warm the soldiers. My family decided that none
of our furs would go to warm those killers. We would burn all our
furs, and we had a lot: coats, jackets and hats. We were a large
family. Everybody sat down and started to cut the furs with plain
scissors. It was very hard to cut, fur needs special scissors. We were
bleeding, but all the furs were cut and we burned them. Fur burns very
slowly. We had the satisfaction of knowing that none of our furs would
be sent to those murderers. The majority of the Jews were very scared
and delivered their furs, but at least something good was done by us
against that tyranny. We took a chance because the smell of the
burning fur was all over the ghetto. We were very proud of ourselves.
That was the only thing that we could do to satisfy ourselves a little
I remember a very painful day in my father's life. Our front entrance
was left open by mistake. Suddenly two Gestapos walked into our
apartment. My father was sitting and composing, deep in his thoughts.
They stood behind my father's chair and asked, "Is that yours?"
Pointing to his book, my father answered, "Yes." They tore the pages
out of the book and started to tear it up, page by page. My father was
begging, "Please, I'm begging you, don't destroy my work." They threw
my father to the floor, started to kick him with their boots and spit
on him. They left smiling. I felt like running after them, scratching
their faces, and telling them that their destruction would come soon.
I picked my father up, he was bruised, and I collected the torn pages.
I still can see the pain in my father's eyes. I asked my father, "Why
didn't they kill us?" My father said, "You will survive." That was the
reason. My father was very sure that I would survive.
I was working in the Gestapo with three other ladies. One day a young
Gestapo walked in. We were very frightened. We thought it was our last
day of life. He looked at us and started to talk. "If I see a fly, I
hesitate to kill it, but you Jews are like rats, and rats you kill.
All of you will be killed." He walked out. At least for that moment we
were still alive. There was silence between us. I broke the silence
and I started to say, "We will surprise him." The two ladies answered,
"We will not, but you will have a chance." They didn't survive. They
were killed in the first Aktion, Bergen-Belsen.
A few weeks before the first Aktion, at 1:00 A.M., the Gestapo
Rosonoff, second in command, walked into the room. He carried a plate
of food in his hand. He put the plate on a small table, turned to me
and said, "Fraulein, sit down and eat the food." I replied, "Thank
you, but can I share the food with my friends? They are starving too."
His look became very vicious, his voice angry and loud, and he was
yelling at me in German. "They are Jews! To me, you are not a Jew. The
Jews kidnapped you." I replied that I am a Jew. He became furious. He
grabbed his gun out of his holster and pointed it straight at me. The
girls were trembling. I was sure he was going to kill me and very
calmly I said in German, "Why don't you kill me? Your intentions are
to kill us Jews." He looked at me, put his gun back into his holster
and yelled, "You are not Jewish. Run, save yourself!" Then he left.
I'm still wondering why he didn't kill me.
It happened in August, a short time before the first Aktion. I came
back to the ghetto after hard labor at the Gestapo. Rosonoff was there
with his vicious German Shepherd dog which was trained to jump and
crush every Jew. The dog jumped on me and threw me down on the street
and started to bite me. The dog bit my hands, crushing my hands and
fingers. To this day, I am left with deformed hands and fingers and
scars. After he finished crushing my hands he left. I was bleeding
heavily, but at least he didn't touch my face. I am lucky he didn't
kill me. I guess the dog didn't enjoy the skin of my hands. They
probably didn't taste appetizing after the hard day of work. It just
so happened that I was the only one visible, because if our people saw
him coming, they ran away. I didn't know he was there. I just walked
into the ghetto. When he saw me from far away, he saw his victim and
started running towards me. I didn't even have a chance to run. My
uncle was on the corner and fainted, because he was sure I was going
to be finished. I was the only one left alive in my city who had been
attacked by this dog. When they asked me how I survived, I said,
"Miracles." It was very painful. I couldn't go back to work. I said to
my mother "At least he didn't touch my face." She said "At least he
didn't finish you off."
About three weeks before the first Aktion, I entered the ghetto with
another woman. On the corner, I saw some Ukrainian police dragging
some people out of the ghetto. A policeman saw me entering the ghetto
and yelled "What are you waiting for? Go in." He started to drag the
woman who was with me, and I said, "Please, she is my friend. Please
let her go." He did. Suddenly I heard the voice of Mathilda Halpern,
my very close friend. She was being dragged by another policeman and
was yelling and crying, "Please help me! Save me!" I went to the
policeman and said, "She really is my closest friend, please, let her
go." He looked at me and started to yell, "Get in! I will take you
too." He left with her. She looked at me and she saw I tried. He
killed her on the sidewalk, just outside the ghetto. He said to me,
"Go in." Every once in a while, they would just decide to kill a few
Jews. There was nothing we could do. We had no protection. The
policeman could have taken me too, but didn't. He pushed me into the
ghetto. I believe, very strongly, that somebody above me was watching
over me. I believe, until today, that when I am in trouble, I am
always protected. Now I believe that it is my parents protecting me.
The killing continued by the Germans and the Ukrainians. The Jews were
taken to the outskirts of town. They had to dig their own graves
before they were shot and fell into them. There are a lot of mass
graves there. We all knew that something very horrible was awaiting
us, so we had to start to prepare a hiding place. Our houses were
attached to each other with brick walls in between. To get to each
other's houses for help, we had to have a connection. We decided to
make openings to all the houses. We removed some bricks from the walls
located in the attics, so that in case of an emergency, we would be
connected from the inside. Now, we had to have a hiding place. We
decided to build a wall in the attic, large enough for all the people
from the houses on our block. It was a long block with a lot of
people. It was impossible for all of them to have hiding places.
Bricks were accumulated and the work started. It had to dry up. We
left a small opening, and a few bricks were left outside to cover the
entrance after we were inside. We had to slide in. We prepared some
mattresses, pillows, containers of water, pails for the bathroom,
dried fruit and bread. We did this in the few weeks before the Aktion.
Everything was ready. The wall was dry, not recognizable.
The first Aktion started August 26, 1942. A few days before, we knew
that something was brewing, that something terrible was going to
happen. A man we knew who was in the Judenrat, was a good man, and he
warned us. We decided that we would all go into the hiding place. All
the families and children from the houses would go. I also went to
some of our friends and told them to pack whatever they had, take food
and containers of water and to come with us. The entrance was closed,
and we were praying and reminiscing about the "good old days." My
parents were very thankful to God that my brother was saved from that
horror. They always believed that I would survive. They were so sure.
When I would ask them how they were so sure they would say, "You will
survive, believe in us." The truth is, I started to believe it myself.
At least I had some hope. One of my mother's brother's, Nathan, didn't
want to stay in the hiding place. He walked out and said that he was
sure that he wouldn't be taken by the Nazis because he had a special
card from them. I also had a card, but I didn't believe those
murderers. I couldn't convince him. He was taken away by railroad to
Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.
There were two small windows in the hiding place. My cousin and I
looked out the windows and were able to observe the preparations. We
saw that the Judenrat were covering two large tables with white table
cloths. On the cloths, they put two bottles of wine and glasses. Two
chairs were put at the middle of table. The president of the Judenrat,
Dr. Abner, was a very mean, destructive man. He was delivering people
to the Gestapo. He was sure that only he and his family would survive,
but he was killed with his whole family. Preparations were made for
the killing of the Jews. Kelner and Rosonoff of the Gestapo were
sitting at the middle of the table, drinking, laughing and having fun
and preparing themselves for their big occasion- our destruction. On
the street corners, the Germans and Ukrainians were standing with
their guns, and the Jewish police were standing with their heavy
sticks. They were ready to fulfill the order which would be given by
those murderers. I could see everything. After they finished their
drinking, they stood up. They congregated the Germans, Ukrainians and
Jewish police around the table. We heard the loud voice of Kelner, the
murderer: "Two thousand Jews have to be delivered. The quota has to be
filled. If not, we will fill it with the Jewish police. Go from house
to house. Gather the people in the center of town. Kill old Jews, sick
people and small infants."
The killing started. The Jewish police, German police and Ukrainians
started to deliver our people. We saw people being dragged. We heard
yelling, crying, begging and shooting. What was happening to the Jews
was indescribable. The Jewish police were a big part of that crime.
Suddenly, I saw a lady I knew very well. She owned a very nice bakery
where we used to buy our bread. She was dragged by the German Gestapo,
clutching her baby to herself very tightly. The German tore the baby
from her arms, held the baby by its feet, so its head was down,
dragged the baby to a water pump and hit the baby's head against the
iron pump. The baby's head split open. The mother started to scream
and yell, "You murderer! Why did you kill my innocent baby? She didn't
do you any wrong." He turned to the mother, killed her, and threw the
baby down beside her. He walked away smiling and singing.
After what we saw, my cousin fainted. I became still like a statue. I
couldn't move. When my cousin woke up, she tapped me on the shoulder
and said, "It's all over. Let's not look any more." I asked her, "Did
it really happen?" She said, "Yes." We walked away and sat in an
opposite corner. We did not talk to our families about what we saw.
They knew what was going on outside. They heard the crying and the
shooting. I just couldn't understand the cruelty of what was done to
that infant. Their hatred of us was so deeply implanted.
The entrance to our house was not easy to break. It was very strong.
We suddenly heard knocking at the door. They had a very hard time
breaking down the door, but they did. We heard strong German voices.
"Where are the Jews? Look all over." They were standing right near the
wall. It became so quiet, for that minute it felt that we had all
died. Even the children were so quiet. The Germans looked all over,
but couldn't find us. After a while we heard a strong voice. "There
are no Jews here." They left. When we heard their boots moving away
from our wall, we started to breathe again. We didn't leave the hiding
place, we didn't know if the Aktion was over. It was very quiet
Suddenly, we heard voices outside. We saw our people. That meant that
the killing had stopped for a while. We decided that one of us should
go out and find out if it was safe to go back to our apartments. I was
selected. Somehow, I was never afraid. I always took chances. My
beloved parents always used to tell me, "Whatever the situation, you
have to face it. You never give up. You have to be strong to overcome
bad times and enjoy good times." This was implanted in my mind, and
has always helped me. When I walked out from our house, there was a
terrible scene in the center of the city. There were dead bodies all
over the streets, mothers holding their children in their arms, old
people dead, whole families were dead, side by side. It looked like
there had been a heavy bombardment. Unexpectedly, in a corner, I saw a
family who I knew very well. There was my best friend from school,
Fayga Preshel, with her parents, brothers, sisters, uncle and cousins,
all dead. I covered them with their own bloody clothing. Before the
Aktion I had begged them to come to our hiding place, but they had
refused. They had said, "What will happen, will happen." It did. You
had to see it to believe it. I couldn't stop trembling.
At once, I heard a soft voice behind me calling my name: "Miss Mayer".
I turned around and saw a young lady shaking. She said to me, "You
don't know me, I know your whole family. I have very bad news for your
mother. I was in the transport with your uncle Nathan. They dragged
us, pushed us, beat us with their guns and heavy boots. People
couldn't walk. The Germans were killing them, spitting on them and
yelling, 'Schnell! Walk quickly!' Many fell and couldn't get up. They
were stepped on and killed. People were yelling and crying. Even the
Jewish police were hitting them with their heavy sticks. In the
commotion, I ran out of the line and ran into a small house where I
hid in the back. When I saw that they were far away, I came running to
the city. I lost all my family. That transport was going to
Bergen-Belsen." My Uncle Nathan was with them. Later, when I started
to tell my mother, she knew already. It was one of her premonitions.
Soon afterward, I saw a good friend of mine, Dr. Philip Lieblich,
bending over the bodies and covering them. I walked over and asked if
I could help. The answer was that they were all dead. The Nazis had
done a very good job. Philip was very pale. I didn't have to ask him
what had happened to his family, but he told me anyway. They killed
his uncle and took the rest of the family away. Philip had been hiding
in a small corner. The Nazis had killed so many, that they didn't
bother to look for more, but his whole family was killed. In a very
soft voice he said to me, "I hope your parents and family survived." I
answered, "Yes, for now." We walked together to my house. My parents
and the other people went back to their houses.
I heard Phil saying to my father, "Those murderers want to destroy us.
I will do everything in my power to fight to survive." My father
answered, "Don't ever give up." He replied, "I won't." He left. He had
to go back to his apartment and then back to the hospital.
We had to leave the house where we were secure and protected because
after the ghetto had shrunk by so many people, we had to move into
very small houses. We moved into the ladies part of the Wizhnotzev
Synagogue. That is the synagogue where my parents and friends were
eventually discovered and dragged to the mass grave. The rabbi from
Ushatin and his family moved in with us there. They were the
sister-in-law and brother-in-law of my brother. We were occupying the
larger ladies praying room. We were twelve people in all.
Before we left our house, Kasha walked in. She was our cleaning woman.
Kasha, her sons and her husband were Ukrainian police. She turned to
mother and said, "Get out from my house. It is mine now. Don't you
ever ask me to help you. I will not. Get out you filthy Jews. We will
kill you all." My mother turned to Kasha and in a very soft voice
said, "Kasha, true, you will kill me and thousands of us, but do you
see my daughter? She will live." My mother then turned to me and said,
"Don't you ever forget her." "I won't," I answered. I never forgot.
With heavy hearts, we left our home forever: the house where I was
born and spent a happy childhood. The beautiful memories were left to
me from our home. I knew in my heart that my mother was right. It
would never be my home again. Only memories of the beautiful house and
happy times remain. We walked away and turned toward that small
street. We Jews were assigned to perish together. The houses on this
street were made out of mud. They looked like small houses in the
villages. There were a few brick houses which the Judenrat management
lived in. The people from those houses were killed already. Also the
Jewish police got the better apartments. We started to build a small
hiding place, to try to avoid those killers for a while. It was in the
attic of the synagogue. It was a very small place. We sat very close
to each other. The killing didn't stop. Each day we were in the hiding
The situation became unbearable. We were boxed in with no way out. We
were not allowed to leave the ghetto. On the corner, at the entrance,
the Ukrainian police were watching. If somebody tried to escape they
were killed on the spot. We had no food or water. We were starving and
the killing continued steadily. Some people were trying to help
themselves. They approached their Gentile friends and asked them to
hide them. There were very few who wanted to help us. Young Jewish men
who looked Christian, bought Gentile papers, and moved onto the
Gentile side. They became Christians and lived as Christians. Not many
were lucky enough to survive. If somebody recognized them, the Gestapo
was notified, and they were killed. Men were very easy to spot. For us
girls, it was a little easier, but the Germans also found a way to
catch us. When a German wasn't sure if a girl was Jewish or Christian,
he tapped the girl on the shoulder. If the girl yelled, "Oy, Mamanu",
he killed her. When the yell was "Jesus Christ", he apologized. Jesus
Christ was so implanted in our minds, that after fifty years, I still
express myself with a scream, "Jesus Christ." That expression was so
important that you couldn't forget it. It meant life or death.
When I was sitting in the hiding place, I had very long conversations
with my father. I remember one of our last ones. I started, "I learned
a lot about our history. We Jews were always hated, beaten and killed,
but never gave up. We Jews are very stubborn people. During the
Spanish Inquisition, the Jews were observing Judaism in their
basements. From the outside, the Spanish thought that they had
converted. I also believe very strongly that the German tyranny will
come to an end. I'm sure some people will survive." My father
interrupted and said, "Our enemies have been trying to destroy us for
a very long time. We Jews are spread all over the world and they never
will. Yes, my child, I agree with you. Hitler's tyranny will come to
an end. Some will survive, I will not, but you will be among them." He
kissed my head and said, "You will see." We had to stop talking
because we heard the voices of those who were looking for us. This
time they didn't get us.
After the first Aktion, my mother's family was still alive except for
the one uncle who refused to hide. We realized, facing the cruel
situation, that it would be impossible for all of us to survive that
destruction. Therefore, each of us got a list of family member's
possessions that were left in some Christian people's homes, and
possessions that were in the homes of people who had robbed us. If one
of us should survive, we should go to those people and collect
everything back. I was the only survivor and this list remained with
me until the day we were liberated.
We expected that Judenrein would be declared very soon. Juderein meant
no more Jews in Czortkow. The day arrived. Czortkow was declared
Juderein in 1943. My Phil came down from the hospital and joined us.
They started to look all over the small houses, grabbing people. Some
were killed in their houses. The rest were dragged to the outskirts of
Czortkow. The people had to dig their own graves. They were shot, and
fell into the graves. The graves were covered. Many people were still
alive in those graves.
I remember after the liberation, speaking with my friend and her
mother, who both survived. My friend lost her two sisters. They told
me that they had had a visit from a young girl. She told them that the
sisters saved her life. She was in the line with them to be killed.
When the shooting started, the two sisters fell into the grave. The
young girl fainted and fell on top of them. The Germans thought that
she was dead and covered the grave. She regained consciousness. It was
dark. She realized that she was buried alive and heard crying. That
meant that other people on the bottoms of the graves were still alive.
They were suffering before their death. She started to dig with her
hands. The soil was very soft and she was able to crawl out from the
grave. Naked and bloody, she ran into a Ukrainian house. The woman in
the house was terrified. She asked for water, clothing and bread. They
were very scared of her. They gave her everything and she left
barefoot. She ran into the woods, met other people, and remained with
them until the liberation. She left with the aliya for Palestine. When
I was in Israel, my friend told me that the girl was a guest in their
home very often. I just hope that my parents didn't have to suffer,
and peacefully went to their deaths.
Juderein meant that if a German or Ukrainian saw a Jew they killed
them on the spot. That was the law. We were boxed in. We were
starving. We didn't have water. We were sitting in the hiding place
steadily, waiting to be picked up and killed. We had no way out. After
a few days in the hiding place, my father called Phil and me outside
the hiding place and said that it was time for us to leave before it
was too late. He asked us if we wanted to be married. We said "Yes."
He married us. I saw my mother embrace my Phil, hug him, and in a
whisper say, "Go with God, He will protect you both. Never give up
fighting for your freedom. In my heart I feel that both of you will
survive." I saw my father shaking Phil's hand, embracing him and
saying good-bye. I heard my Phil assuring my father that he would do
everything possible to save us. So he did. Thanks to his tremendous
strength and faith we were able together to overcome all the terrible
obstacles that we had before us. He was a very strong man. Quiet, but
I walked out from the hiding place and looked around to see if it was
safe to go outside. I was watching and I saw my Phil safely cross the
street. I was relieved and happy that he was safe. I came back and
rejoined my parents in the hiding place. I remained there two weeks
with them. I did not want to leave them. I hoped that I would convince
them to join us. They refused. Their answer was, "We have no strength
to fight any more." They considered themselves lucky. They had one son
in America, and I would survive too. They were so sure and convinced
that I would survive. My mother had premonitions and said that the
premonitions never disappointed her. I started to believe it myself.
Meanwhile, we were sitting in the hiding place, starving and thirsty.
The Nazis were looking for us, but we still remained alive. Suddenly I
heard my father's voice. It was like an order was being given to me:
"Say good-bye to your mother." My mother came out from the hiding
place, embraced me, and in a very soft voice said, "My kinde, (they
never called me by my name, always my kinde) it is time to join your
husband before it is too late. You are young and have the strength to
fight for your survival. Fight, and never give up. I feel in my heart,
that you both will overcome every obstacle in your way and you will
survive. Remember, those were your mother's last words. After your
freedom, leave this bloody city. Don't ever forget what those
murderers did to our people and deprived you of your parents and
family. I have a sister in Palestine, you have a brother in the United
States." She kissed me, and that was the last time I saw my mother
alive. I can still see the tears in her beautiful blue eyes. "Go see
your father" she said, as she went into the hiding place. My mother
was a very beautiful lady.
I came down and saw that my father had a prayer book open. He said to
me, "These are the blessings of your voyage. Repeat after me." I
started in Hebrew: "May it be the will of the Lord to lead us to the
destination. Live in joy and peace. Protect us from all enemies. From
evil, bigots and robbers. From catastrophe and all the dangers of the
journey. Bless our Lord. Grant us grace and mercy. Bless our Lord who
listens to our prayers. Amen." My father closed the book and started,
"All my life I was a Zionist. I prayed and always hoped that I would
live to see my homeland, Eretz Israel. But never will I see my
homeland, but you and many survivors will. To regain our pride and
dignity as Jews, the only way is our Eretz Israel. The day will come.
Miracles will happen and we will regain our homeland, Eretz Israel.
Yom Israel chai. Long live my people." That was my father's last
sentence. He hugged me and said, "Leave now and God will protect you."
I left to join my husband in the hiding place. That was the last time
I saw my father alive. I was very lucky that I was with my family
until the end. Some didn't have that luck.
I left my parents' hiding place and my heart was very heavy. I knew
that I would never see them again. I left them hungry and thirsty and
I could not convince them to come with me. I was very depressed but I
could hear my father's strong voice: "Don't give up. You will
survive." It was very convincing and I believed it. I promised myself
that I would never disappoint my parents. When I walked out from the
hiding place, there were Ukrainian police with guns waiting to catch
the remaining Jews. As I approached the Gentile side the policeman
looked at me and smiled. He couldn't decide if I was Christian or
Jewish. I did not give him a chance. I walked into the Stretenev
Synagogue. I looked around the synagogue. It was very empty. The
torahs were destroyed and the benches had disappeared. The Ukrainians
were warming their houses with the wood. I thought that only two years
ago I was enjoying Simchas Torah. It felt so empty, like it never was.
I turned to the bimah where the torahs were, and I said a prayer: "Oh
God, protect me and let me arrive safely to join my husband."
A new chapter began in our lives. Very hard and painful times in our
lives now awaited us. Now we had to have the strength to fight for our
survival. I knew that it would be very hard, maybe even impossible. My
father's voice was singing in my ears: "Don't ever, ever lose faith."
I became very strong and walked across the street and came to the
house where our hiding place was. I looked around to see if it was
safe to knock on the door. It was. Palania, the lady who saved our
lives, opened the door and I quickly walked in. Now I will describe
the hiding place where we spent nine months, not stepping out, until
the liberation day arrived.
The house belonged to Jewish people who were not alive anymore.
Ukrainian people had moved into empty Jewish houses. It was a very
happy time for them. They became owners of all the Jewish properties.
All around the house where we were hiding, Ukrainian people were
living. The house was very small. It only had a few rooms. Our hiding
place was the small back room. The entrance door to the room was
removed, and replaced with a large closet that matched the frame.
There were a lot of shelves in the closet that were filled with books
and other articles. The lower shelf of the closet was left open. That
was our entrance. We could slide in. We were eight people in that
hiding place. There was a very small window in our hiding room which
was covered with a lot of boxes on the outside. It was very careless
and neglectful of us to leave the window covered like that, because if
the Ukrainians removed those boxes, we would be discovered and all be
shot. It was a miracle that we were not discovered. Somebody "up
there" protected us. Food was given to us through the opening. We were
never hungry. Palonia and Ruzka tried their best. When holidays were
observed, we were treated to a nice meal and some sweets.
In the bunker we were constantly afraid and terrified of Ruzka's
fourteen year old son Vladik. He used to threaten us terribly. He was
always saying, "I will go to the Gestapo and inform them that my
mother is hiding Jews." We were always trying to please him, teach
him, and shower him with a lot of gifts. He was a very bright boy and
liked to study, but each time he walked out of the house, we were
terrified until he returned home. Our lives depended upon his moods.
One morning, I remember Palania yelled in through the opening, "Fire!
Fire! Come help to put out the fire." Phil and others walked out into
the room where the fire was. Many Ukrainian people were helping to put
out the fire. The room was so dark that they didn't notice anybody. If
they had, we wouldn't be alive today. After the fire was put out they
quickly slid into the hiding place. Another miracle happened here!
When they gave us the food through the opening, they always told us
what was going on outside. They informed us that more Jewish hiding
places were discovered and the people were dragged to the outskirts of
Czortkow to be killed. I felt in my heart that I would soon get the
news that my parents were discovered. It didn't take long. One day,
after a few weeks, while giving us the bread, Palania said that
Ukrainian police discovered a group of Jews congregated in some
synagogue. They were sitting on the floor waiting to be picked up.
They looked like skeletons. They couldn't walk. When they fell, they
were kicked by the Germans with their boots, and yelled to: "March!"
They dragged them, beating them, until they arrived at the outskirts
of Czortkow. Many graves were dug and waiting for them. After this
news was delivered, I was sure that my beloved parents were among the
group. I was trembling and crying. I was thinking that my parents
couldn't take the hunger and the thirst that they were suffering. All
twelve people walked down to the Wizhnotzev Synagogue and waited to be
picked up. Other people joined them and together they were driven to
their death. I could see my beloved parents, pale, thin, no strength
left, and my mother holding on to my father for support. Together they
went on the last voyage of their lives. I could see my father's lips
moving, saying the last prayer in Hebrew: "Listen Oh God of Israel,
the only God." With peace in their hearts, their lives ended. I know
that. I could feel it in my heart.
The last few months before the liberation were the hardest and most
painful times for us. Some hiding places were discovered by the Nazi
murderers. They killed everybody. Palania and Ruzka were frightened.
Palania opened the entrance door and said, "Get out! I don't want to
die." We survived thanks to my dear Phil's strength, determination,
and the powerful will to survive. He never gave up. By the open door,
my Phil was saying, "Look out. It's so very dark. The minute we step
out they will kill us. You are very good religious people. You are not
capable of such cruelty of sending innocent people out to their
deaths. Your consciences will bother you. Please, I'm begging you,
give us an extra day. Tomorrow we will leave." Ruzka saw the ruby and
diamond ring that had been my mother's, and said, "I want it." I gave
it to her. That didn't help. I promised, if they would save our lives,
an apartment would be given to them. It took a while, but Phil
convinced them, and they agreed to one more day. We went back to our
hiding place and hoped that some miracle would happen the next day. It
was still three months before the liberation, but we knew it was
around the corner. The next day arrived and we didn't know what would
happen or where we would go, but a miracle happened. Palania and Ruzka
told us of the defeat of the Germans on the Russian front. The Germans
were running back to Germany. They didn't tell us to leave. Each day,
until the day we were liberated, my Phil went into their apartment and
tried to convince them that the day of liberation would come very
soon. The atmosphere outside was very panicky for the Ukrainians. They
were afraid that they would be punished by the Red Army. They killed
many Russians, just like the Jews. Palania and Ruska felt better and
weren't afraid any more. We remained until the day of our liberation.