THE MEMOIRS OF SHMUEL LIEDERMAN
Transcribed from a recording made on May 27, 2000
Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann
TABLE OF CONTENTS
WHO AM I?
THE MEMBERS OF OUR FAMILY
CHILDHOOD & ADOLESCENCE
UNDER SOVIET RULE
THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING
SUSPECTS IN THE EYES OF THE AUTHORITIES
THE NAZI OCCUPATION
THE GERMANS INVADE
ROBBERY & LOOTING
DAYS OF MURDER & MASSACRES
THE “ACTION” IN KLEINZLISCH
ESCAPING TO THE HIDING-PLACE
ON THE VERGE OF EXTINCTION
ESCAPE FROM DEATH
AT THE HOUSE OF STANISLAW JASINSKI
A BUNKER IN THE WOODS
LEAVING JASINSKI’S HOUSE
THE SECOND ESCAPE
THE MURDER OF MY BROTHER JOSEPH
THE WAR IS OVER
IN ROWNE & KOSTOPOL
RECRUITMENT TO THE SOVIET ARMY
THE TRANSFER TO THE POLISH ARMY
A SERGEANT IN LODZ
INVITATION TO PASSOVER SEDER
A FRIEND NAMED GENIA
ON THE WAY TO ERETZ-ISRAEL
WE DO NOT BELONG IN POLAND
TO CZECHOSLOVAKIA, & GERMANY
A WEDDING IN ROME
ON BOARD THE IMMIGRANT SHIP
INTERNMENT CAMP IN CYPRUS
IN THE STATE OF ISRAEL
THE CAMP IN BEER-YACOV
THE APARTMENT IN JAFFA
JOINING THE POLICE
THE RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS
In putting to paper the story of my life, since the earliest day I can recall, I have no intention of using clichés, recount imaginary stories or fairy tales. My wish, quite simply, is to write about my roots – my parents, my brother and the other members of my family – and about the course of my life.
I do this for my children and grandchildren and their descendants, so that they would know who I am. Our sages of blessed memory said: “Know where thou came from!” and so I wish to recount here where I had grown up and what I had gone through.
Since the Holocaust and even during the Holocaust, I always dreamt that if I survived, it would be my duty, first and foremost, to tell others what I had gone through so that my descendants, and anyone who reads my life story, would know what Amalek had done to the People of Israel, so they never forget the Nazis’ intention to eradicate the Jewish nation from the face of the earth.
Therefore, I will do my best to describe what I experienced personally and saw with my own eyes, and everything the Germans and their collaborators were capable of doing.
Anyone reading my story must understand: everything that happened could, God forbid, happen again, as such things have happened before. We, the Jews, must preserve the unity of our nation and safeguard our homeland; as such catastrophes can only happen when a nation does not have its own homeland.
WHO AM I?
I am Shmuel (Shmilek), son of Yacov (Yankl) and Rachel (Rochtche) Liederman. I was born in 1922, in the town Siedliszcze Male, which the Jews used to call Kleinzlisch, in the Rowne district, province of Wolyn, south-eastern Poland.
My grandparents on my father’s side, Rabbi Aaron (Orke) and Gitl, were farmers.
How could Jews own land although this was forbidden in the days of the Russian Czar Nikolai, whose realm included ?
Well, as far as I can recall from the stories of grandmother Gitl, whom I remember vividly (I cannot remember grandfather Orke, as he had passed away when I was only two years old), grandmother’s father was one of the “abducted”. In those days, recruiting officers of the Russian Army of Czar Nikolai would raid Jewish settlements and practically abduct children for military service, for a period of twenty-five years. These abducted children were known as “Cantonists”. When grandmother Gitl’s father had been abducted in this manner, he was nine years old, and when he was discharged from military service, he was thirty-four. Many of those abducted children had lost any contact with their families after so many years, and most of them did not even know the places where they had been abducted from.
In exchange for their extended military service, the discharged “Cantonists” received a gift from the Russian government – their own agricultural land. This is how the town, or village, where I was born had been established. My grandmother’s father received a property of about 250 donums from the military upon his discharge, and that property was bequeathed to my grandmother and subsequently to my father and to his brother Joseph.
The town was located in an afforested area, and in the summer people would come there for their vacation. The Zamczysko River crossed the town and a bridge over it linked both parts of the town together.
The local population – Jews, Ukrainians, Poles and Germans – was about 1,000. The majority were Jews, with about fifty Ukrainian families, about twenty Polish families and about fifteen German families.
My grandfather and grandmother supplied food and other provisions to the 44th regiment of the Polish Army, stationed in the town of Osh. When my grandfather died, he bequeathed two haberdashery shops and my grandmother became the provider of the family. Of all her brothers and sisters, she was the only one who studied at a Russian high school. She was an educated, wise and kindhearted woman.
In addition to farmers, the Jewish population of our town included other trades. Grandfather Orke was a builder.
Initially, my father was a contractor at a glass blowing factory in our town. He later devoted himself to agriculture, but traded in timber, grains and gold as well. As far as timber trading was concerned, he was involved with the local Polish “Paritz” (land owner) – Proczynski. Eventually, when we were under Soviet rule, they treated my father adversely because of his past contacts with this rich land owner.
My father was also the town mayor (“Soltas” or “Soltis” in Polish) from 1922 until the end of the Polish rule in 1939.
THE MEMBERS OF OUR FAMILY
For many generations, my extensive family, on my mother’s side as well as on my father’s side, had lived in a region that belonged to and Poland alternately.
Firstly, I will describe the family of my mother, Rachel (Rochtche), whose parents were Malka and Joseph Katz. I never met my grandfather Joseph, who was a scholar. He died from pneumonia at the age of thirty-four, before I was born, leaving behind eight children – five daughters and three sons. I remember their names and will name them by order of their birth: Golda, Esther, Rachel (my mother), Sarah-Elka, Rivka, Yacov, Aaron and Yom-Tov.
My grandmother Malka remained a widow until the end of her days. She was a very wise woman who lived at the home of her eldest son Yacov all those years. She died at an old age. Regarding my grandfather, she told me that after their wedding he continued to study at the Yeshiva while receiving subsistence and support from her father.
I remember that almost every year, during the annual holiday, I would travel to the home of grandmother Malka in the town of Osh, Rowne district, twenty five kilometers from our town. Most of the inhabitants of Osh were merchants, and some of them were wealthy. My uncle, Rabbi Haim-Shmula, the husband of Sarah-Elka, owned flour mills and was famous throughout the region. I will never forget the vacations I had spent at the home of my aunt and uncle.
I will now recount what I know about my father’s family.
Firstly, I was never able to determine the origin of the surname Liederman (in German, “lied” means “song” and “Liederman” means a songwriter). It is possible that when this name had been given to one of my ancestors, he lived in an area inhabited by Germans.
My father’s parents, grandmother Gitl (daughter of Shmuel and Deborah) and grandfather Aaron-Orke (son of Itzhak-Yacov), had six children: three daughters and three sons, whose names, by order of their birth, are Schöendl (the eldest), Rachel, Yacov (my father), Joseph, David and
Deborah. Schöndl immigrated to Argentina in 1912 and was followed by Rachel, David and Deborah. My father and my uncle Joseph remained in Poland and were murdered during the Holocaust. My grandfather had passed away in 1924, two years before I was born.
My uncle Joseph and his wife Haika had four children: Deborah, Shifra, Shimon and Gitl. All were murdered during the Holocaust. I will not list the names of other members of my extensive family on my mother’s side and on my father’s side. I submitted all these names to “Yad Vashem” in Jerusalem. Regrettably, all of them were murdered during the Holocaust except the son of my aunt Golda, Yacov Rivnik. During the war he was in France and while serving in the French military he was captured by the enemy and survived as a prisoner of war.
CHILDHOOD & ADOLESCENCE
When I turned four years old, I began studying at a “Heder” (= traditional private study classroom) with Melamed (= tutor) Shmuel Kupperschmidt. The Heder was nothing like a current kindergarten, where the children play and sing songs. At the Heder we began immediately to study the Hebrew alphabet, and subsequently began reading the Pentateuch. The pupils of our Heder helped the Melamed feed the chickens in his yard and assisted with other chores in his farm and house.
I was a privileged child, as my father was the town mayor (“Soltas”). He was also the “Gabai” – manager of the local synagogue affairs, while Shmuel the Melamed was the synagogue “Shamash”, or caretaker. When the old synagogue building had begun to deteriorate, my father devoted two years to the building of a new synagogue, which turned out very nice. There were two rabbis in our town. One was regarded as a “left winger” in his views while the other was considered a “right winger”. My father was among the followers of the “right winger” rabbi.
We lived in a semi-detached house with my father’s brother Joseph. We lived a life of affluence. Our home was always stocked with the best: bread, butter, milk and fruit were always plentiful. Next to our house was a large courtyard with apple and pear trees, and beyond it was a vegetable garden where we grew potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and other vegetables. We had a cowshed with cows and a stable with horses, as well as a large barn.
In our farm, we employed Ukrainians as well as Poles and Germans as hired hands. In my youth I showed interest in the various chores of the farm and was proficient in many of them.
I continued studying at the Heder for three years, until the age of seven, as from this age, the law made it everyone’s duty to attend a Polish elementary school. Anyone who failed to send his children to school was penalized. While studying at school, a private tutor would come to our home every day, two hours after the end of our school lessons, to teach us Hebrew, Bible with Rashi commentary and Talmud. I also took violin lessons and my brother Joseph learned to play the balalaika.
At the Polish elementary school I studied for seven years, as it only had seven classes. We studied Polish, arithmetic, geography, history and religion. At the age of fourteen, I completed my formal studies. There was no high school in our town, and in order to pursue a high school education one had to travel to Rowne, which was too far away. My father found a solution, though – I continued studying with a private tutor until just before the breakout of the war.
At the age of eight, I joined the Zionist youth movement “HaShomer HaTzair”, as there was no other movement in our town. It was a very positive movement. During our meetings we studied and spoke Hebrew, lit up bonfires and danced.
At our home we observed the Shabbat, so I was not allowed to go to the movement “cell” on Friday nights and Saturdays, as their activities involved the lighting of bonfires. On Shabbat nights I was free to do what I wanted, but had to be back home by a certain time.
When I was twelve years old, a chapter of “HeHalutz HaTzair” was organized in our town. I subsequently belonged to this movement, which was similar to the movement “Gordonia”, until the breakout of the war. As a member of “HeHalutz HaTzair” I had hopes, in 1939, shortly before the breakout of the war, of going to a training camp in preparation for my future immigration to Eretz-Israel.
During that three-year period, I became interested in my father’s business affairs – both commerce and the management of the agricultural farm. We were good farmers, running a model farm. People would come to visit our farm and were always impressed by our work. Our financial situation was sound. We produced everything we needed: bread, meat, oil, eggs, milk and other kinds of produce, everything, of course, except salt, sugar and kerosene. I point this out because during the Nazi occupation, until the time of the “Final Solution” and subsequent extermination, we hardly experienced any shortage.
When I was twelve years old, my mother gave birth to a baby girl, which brought a lot of joy to our home. My mother and father were delighted. When my baby sister was twenty one months old, she suddenly came down with meningitis and passed away within a week. Our family fell into deep mourning, as if an older child had died. I can clearly remember how my baby sister could speak well at the age of one year. She practically made speeches.
Relations between my brother Joseph and me were excellent. He was twenty one months older than me, but we were as one. We looked like twins. Joseph was wise, smart, handsome and brave. He was afraid of nothing. Our father introduced him into his commercial affairs and he practically ran the business, as our father was preoccupied with public and community affairs.
We lived peacefully until the war came and put an end to our piece of heaven.
After we were hiding in his barn for two months, Jasinski found out, from relatives, that rumors were circling that he was hiding Jews. He came to us and said that if they came and caught us, they would murder us and him, too, and burn down the house. The Germans had already done that in several places. He did not demand that we leave. He only explained the dangerous situation in simple terms, and added that now it was the Poles’ turn – they were being pulled out of their homes and sent to as forced labor.
We had no choice. It was clear to us that we should leave. We packed our few belongings and headed out to the woods. The woods in that area were twenty kilometers deep. According to my calculations, it was November 1942.
We were four: my brother Joseph, I, our cousin Akiva and Shaya Fodler, who was a liveryman. At nineteen or twenty, I was the youngest. Akiva and Shaya were thirty five to forty.
We entered the great Polszcinski woods and looked for a safe place, were we would not be easy to reach – not necessarily an area with tall trees, but a remote location that would be difficult to access. We looked and found a spot with no roads, and dug ourselves a bunker. We covered the bunker with tree branches, earth and vegetation.
While we were in the woods, we had to obtain food, and what we could not get willingly from the huts of the peasants on the edge of the woods, we took by force. Our food consisted mainly of bread and potatoes. Sometimes, when we trapped a chicken, we slaughtered and grilled it over a bonfire. One or two of us would always stand guard near the bunker. That is how we lived from January 1943 until the end of December 1943.
Thanks to my good memory, I knew my way around the woods and could get out and return to our hiding-place without difficulty, as in those woods it was easy to become lost, and so wander into the hands of the Ukrainian murderers. I had no shoes. Instead, I used “Posteles”- a kind of wrapping I fabricated out of thin tree bark.
One day, I went to the house of a peasant who lived on the edge of the woods. I had heard he was hiding Jews. He had with him a girl from my town and a couple of shoemakers, as the gentiles needed shoemakers to make shoes for them. He kept them in his barn. There was also a Jewish tailor who would sew for them. When I came over, the peasant told me: “Do some work in the barn first.” We harvested the crops and sieved the wheat grains, and they would use it to make bread. I would work for him for a few days, and he would prepare a few loaves of bread, potatoes and cheese for me, which I would take to the bunker.
THE SECOND ESCAPE
When I walked through the woods at night, even when I was armed, I envied the dogs that barked at me. The dogs ate the food reserved for the pigs, and I would have loved eating that food. When we approached the peasants’ houses and their dogs started barking, they knew that Jews were approaching and began chasing us. In some cases, we had to exchange fire with them.
Once I went with another member of our bunker group to get the latest news. We wanted to know what was going on. They said that the Germans had already been defeated at Stalingrad. We did not have newspapers and could only gain information from the Poles. We sat at the home of a Pole whom the Ukrainians had suspected of collaborating with the Russians during the Soviet rule. Three Ukrainians who came looking for us caught us there. They knew immediately that we were Jews. They did not have handcuffs, so they tied our hands behind our backs with a rope and loaded us onto a horse-drawn cart along with another gentile, whom they also suspected. That gentile knew he would be shot and decided to run. When he ran, they fired at him while we were standing there with our hands tied behind our backs. The runaway was shot and killed, and the murderers said: “It is not enough that we have killed him, we need to pour salt over him”.
These Ukrainians drove us into the woods and there, in all probability, they intended to kill us after finding out where other Jews were hiding. My fingernails were as sharp as a cat’s and so, with my hands tied behind my back, I cut the rope, thread after thread, with my fingernails during the ride in the cart. With both hands free, I told my friend: “Let’s run. They will probably torture us and drive us to our death so that we tell them where other Jews are hiding. Let’s run before they kill us!” He did not respond, so I decided to run on my own.
I was barefoot. One of the Ukrainians, armed with a pistol, guarded us. The other one went to speak with the third Ukrainian. I took advantage of an instant when the guard was not looking at me (as no person can focus on the same spot all the time), and when he looked away I jumped off the cart, fell to the ground and started running. It happened in the woods, at one or two after midnight. The Ukrainian opened fire but could not aim properly in the dark. The firing stopped. I knew that if I remained there, they would come for me in the morning, when they would find and kill me. I walked away in the moonlight and just before dawn I arrived back in the bunker and told my story to my brother. He was confident I was no longer alive. He thought that I had been apprehended and killed. Such instances of mortal danger were commonplace. Murders occurred every day. Today, I find it hard to believe that I had personally experienced all of this.
THE MURDER OF MY BROTHER JOSEPH
One day, when I wanted to go over to the peasant who employed me, my brother told me: “Don’t go today. Go some other time.” I found no reason to accept, so I went anyway. When I returned two days later with a sack of food for our bunker, I found all my three friends dead. They had been taken out of the bunker and slaughtered with axes. Near the bunker, we had dug a cistern for collecting storm water. The killers dumped the three bodies into the water cistern.
Many Jews who had survived the German “Actions” and managed to escape to the woods were subsequently murdered by Ukrainians. Generally speaking, the Nazis could not have accomplished their total extermination plan without the assistance of the Ukrainians.
When I saw the body of my brother Joseph, I was shocked. I wanted to throw myself into the water cistern along with my dead friends, but after a moment I had the sense to ask myself whether this would do any good. I ran back to the house of the peasant who employed me, and, shouting and crying, I told him what had happened. He tried to calm me down, saying: “Come, come, my son” and took me, on horseback, back to the bunker. We buried my friends and covered the grave. Afterwards, he took me to his home, fed me and let me stay there. After a day or two, I met the girl from our town that was also hiding there. Her name was Bluma.
I stayed at the peasant’s house, but after a while realized that it was too risky. Numerous Ukrainian murderers were roaming that area, the Russian front had moved westward and we could already hear the distant thunder of artillery fire. The Ukrainians who had been hunting and killing Jews were now hiding in the woods, too, as they feared the advancing Soviet Army.
One day, a gentile neighbor walked into the peasant’s house. His name was Ivan. When he saw me, he wanted to embrace me, but I told him: “Leave me alone, you are a killer! You killed Jews along with your associates!” When he left, I told the peasant I wanted to leave. He asked me why and what had happened, and said: “Stay here, where would you go?”
I said: “No. Here they will kill me”, then called Bluma and told her: “You’d better get away. They will kill us. Soon they would be liberated.”
She did not listen to me and said that the peasant would protect her. I went back to the woods, to where our bunker had been, about five or six kilometers away from the peasant’s house. In the woods, I found a few Jews and told them about the disaster we had experienced. They let me join their group and took me into their bunker.
At that place, I contracted typhoid, as I was full of lice that transmit that disease. After a while, we heard that the killers were coming for us with intent to kill us all. Everyone fled, leaving me behind in the bunker, sick and helpless. I was lying there for twelve days, without food or water. I was so sick, I defecated lying down.
The time passed, I was in a daze, until one day I heard footsteps. Someone opened the bunker door and stepped in. It was a Russian soldier. I remember his red insignia.
The soldier asked: “Who are you?” in Russian, and was ready to shoot me. I could speak Russian, and told him: “I am a Jew”, so he closed the door and went away. He disappeared without giving me even a drop of water.
I remained there, helpless, until I felt my soul was leaving my body. I said to myself: “Come what may, I am going out for some fresh air”. When I exited the bunker, the snow outside was about a meter and a half thick. It was January.
Where would I go? I did not even know where I was. I picked up two sticks, so as not to collapse, and started walking. I wanted to go back to the house of the peasant who had put me up. When I arrived at his house, he welcomed me and said: “Do you know that the Russians are already here? You have nothing to fear. Come, I will wash you and give you food and a shirt and underwear.”
While he was washing me, a few gentiles walked into his house. They had come to kill the remaining Jews so that there would be no witnesses to their murders. When I saw the gentile neighbor among them, I thought I was looking at the angel of death. The moment he left the house, I told Bluma: “Let’s go. He will be back with his gang and they would kill us”.
She said: “No. The Russians are already here”.
I decided to get away. I did not know where to go, but I remembered how to get out of the woods and go to the nearest town, Mesritz, about twelve kilometers away. I walked, I fell, I stood up and continued walking until I arrived. I saw abandoned houses and asked someone for the name of that place. A gentile told me it was Mesritz. I continued walking until I met a Jew. I did not know he was a Jew, but he could see, by the way I looked, that I was a Jew and asked in Yiddish: “Bist du a Yid?” (Are you a Jew), to which I replied: “Yes”, and then he said: “Ich bin auch a Yid” (I am a Jew, too), and asked where I was from.
I told him I was from Kleinzlisch and then he said: “Do you know you had an aunt and uncle here, with children? None of them survived!”
We went into an abandoned house, sealed it with a few planks and I asked that man who had survived in that place. He replied: “Only I survived. Come, stay with me”. He turned out to be the same age as I.
I told him that I suffered from scabies and sores, because of the lice, and that the itching was driving me crazy. He said he had scabies, too, and when I asked him how we could get some kind of medicine for it, he asked whether I had any gold. I said I did and gave him five Rubels. He took the money and found a military veterinarian or orderly of some kind, who prepared an ointment of butter and mercury. We applied that ointment and it brought us some relief.
After we rested for a while, we went outside. Children from here and there gathered around us, and a woman came with her daughter and said she was from Kostopol. No one from my town was there. I told her I had an uncle in Kostopol, whose name was Rivnik, and she suggested we go to Kostopol together, to which I replied: “Why should I go there? I know they would kill us all over there.” She said: “Here they will kill us. It is a small place. The killers would come and kill us. Let’s go to a bigger place, where they have police and military forces.”
I agreed to go with her, and then a wife and her husband appeared. They were former residents of Lodz, who also survived in the woods. They said to me: “Where are you going? You will fall by the roadside. You can hardly breathe. Wait for a while. In the meantime, stay here with us.” I stayed, and later they decided to go together – a group of twelve people, first to Tulchin, from Tulchin to Rowne, and from Rowne each one would go to their respective hometowns.
They were barely about twelve kilometers away from Mesritz when they were attacked by killers on horses and were all shot and killed. If I had joined them, I would have been murdered, too. We received the sad news that very evening – that everyone had been killed.
And so, I was saved yet another time.
I remained in Mesritz for a while, and yet I yearned to go to Kostopol. When our group was on the main road to Rowne, there were troops, tanks and artillery pieces driving by. We stood by the road and lifted our hands. A Studebaker car pulled over and the driver asked me, in Russian: “Kuda?” (Where to?), I said: “To Kostopol”. He said: “Pojalsta” (please) and let me in his car. He was an officer, possibly Jewish. He took me as far as Rowne, the district town.
IN ROWNE & KOSTOPOL
Before the war, there were thirty thousand Jews living in Rowne. Now, I could not see a single soul. I roamed the main street, as I knew the town – I had gone to school there. Someone told me that at a certain house was a store with a few Jews. I went there and found everyone lying down. None of them made a sound. I left and went to the train station, where I took the train to Kostopol. In Kostopol I felt at home. My aunt Golda had lived there. Their house remained intact and was subsequently used for a museum of Ukrainian history.
When I went into my aunt’s house, I found out that some gentile had settled there. I told him: “You know, this is my house”, to which he replied: “This is not your house. Go away. They killed everyone and they will kill you, too!” and drove me away.
In Kostopol I saw armed Soviet soldiers and local civilians – but none of them were Jews. After a while, I heard that a local Jew had arrived in town. He was Yom-Tov Gendelman, who had a butcher shop before the war. When he saw me, he asked: “Are you the son of Liederman the ‘Soltas’? I survived. They killed my wife and eldest daughter. Only I and my younger daughter Sonia survived.” He invited me to his home and I accepted. He had a spare bed for me, and I washed and stayed there for a few days, then went to the house of my uncle Rivnik again. Yom-Tov Gendelman had told me: “You know, there, at your aunt’s house, there’s a cow. Go get it and we’ll have milk to drink.”
I didn’t think twice. I took a knife, went into the yard, cut the rope and took the cow with me. The gentile who had settled there shouted and cried, but I told him: “I will kill you! This is all mine!” and led the cow to Yom-Tov’s house. At that moment, two Russian soldiers arrived and said: “Is that you? You stole the cow? Come with us to the ‘Procuror’ (prosecutor). A woman came over and complained that you took her cow by force.”
I went along. The prosecutor told me: “Are you aware that what you did is against the law?”
I told him: “You are the prosecutor, and you are telling me that that is against the law? Everything they have, they had taken from the Jews, and this cow belonged to my uncle,” and I began to cry.
The prosecutor’s secretary, a Polish woman, took pity on me but she could do nothing to help me.
RECRUITMENT TO THE SOVIET ARMY
I went back to Yom-Tov’s house and stayed there for a week, until the Soviet authorities assembled all of the Ukrainians and sent them away to the front. When the soldiers came to the house of Yom-Tov Gendelman, who was about sixty, they took only him out. I told them I was a Jew, but they could not care less. The soldiers took me to the recruiting office and dumped me there along with all the Ukrainians. I was the only Jew there. Later on I could get out, but I had nowhere to go to, so I thought if I joined the army and fought, I would be able to get revenge. What do I have here? I have no one here.
The Soviet authorities eventually concentrated sixteen thousand killers, old and young, loaded us into cattle train cars and sent us into . The trip lasted ten or twelve days. The train was going at a speed of ten or twenty kilometers per hour. When we reached the town of Skalow they let us off the train. Many of us were sick. I was twenty-one and held firm. They gave us sugar, dry toast and hot water – nothing more. An escort made up of a sergeant-major and soldiers was waiting for us. They told us to form up in a three-deep formation and marched us somewhere. On the way, we passed a person whose facial features told me he was a Jew. He looked at me with pity and said: “Bist du a Yid? Kanst Yiddish Redn?” (Are you a Jew? Can you speak Yiddish?). He then told me he was from Odessa and that he was in charge of all the recruits. “We are taking you to receive firearms training, and then you would be sent to the front, but the place you are in is not good. Are you aware who you are with?”
I told him that I knew. I was the only Jew, surrounded by thousands of killers.
He said: “Correct, and we are sending you to the Russian front. These recruits are convicted felons, and they would be sent to the front line.”
I asked him what I should do, and he said he would do something for me. His superior was an officer at the rank of major, a Jew, who served as a political officer. He had returned from the war and was awarded the Lenin Medal. He would tell him about me and arrange for me to remain there and work in the kitchen.
This Jew came back to me after a while, and said: “I am very sorry, but you are moving out of here in a few days. You are being sent to the Leningrad front. Leningrad has been liberated already, but they are still fighting there against the Finns, and it is going to be very bad there. Unfortunately, I could do nothing for you. You will have to get by. You will share the same fate as the others.”
Once again, we all traveled by train for a few days. They let us off before Leningrad. The toast and water gave me diarrhea and every time the train stopped I would run over to defecate. One of the officers noticed this and told me: “Come over here, you have dysentery.” They put me in quarantine with several other patients in my condition. A female officer walked in, probably the chief physician at the rank of major, accompanied by a captain. The captain wrote down my particulars and the female officer noticed that my name was Liederman, and ran around me as if she wanted to do something, but was afraid. Finally she came over and told me, in tears, that she was a Jew, too. She told me she was from Odessa and that all her family had been killed. She asked how I survived and what I was doing there.
I told her that I was the only survivor of my entire family, and then she said to me: “Listen, there is no time. Soon, an ambulance will be along and we will send all of the dysentery patients to the hospital. No one lasts there very long, but you will get by, come what may.”
THE TRANSFER TO THE POLISH ARMY
The ambulance took me to a hospital. It consisted of small cabins somewhere out of town. They gave me a bed, gave me medicines against the dysentery and white bread to eat. On the following day a welfare nurse came over and asked how I was. She had apparently heard that I was Jewish and was probably Jewish herself. They kept me there for a few days and finally assigned me to a unit heading to the front.
At the entrance to the unit office sat a clerk and registered everyone. According to his facial features, I knew he was a Jew. When I told him my name was Liederman, he asked: “Bist du a Yid?” I said: “Yes”, and he then informed me that a Polish army was being organized in Russia, that they had already liberated Maidanek and are now being sent to Lublin. He said: “Tell them you were not born in the Ukraine but in Poland, and that you are from Warsaw. Here, write a letter according to my instructions. There is a political officer here at the rank of Polkovnik (general). Run over to him and tell him that you request to be transferred from here to the Polish army.”
I did what he had told me to do. With my heart beating, I reported to the general’s office. I wanted to get in but a sentry stopped me. I told him I could not understand Russian, only Polish, and finally he let me in. I walked in and placed the letter in front of the general, but did not utter a word. The general read the letter and said: “What’s the difference? This is our army and that is not our army.” I told him: “But I don’t know the language. Send me to the Polish army and I will fight with them.” Without thinking for a moment, he wrote out an order to have me transferred to the Polish army.
I felt as if I had seen the Messiah. I left on the run and returned to the clerk who had advised me what to do. Now they assigned me to another group that waited for transport. It consisted mainly of Poles and a few Jews. A few days later they marched us to the train and we traveled for a few days from Leningrad to Lublin and from Lublin to Maidanek. The chimneys of the crematoria were still smoking.
A SERGEANT IN LODZ
I was assigned to a certain unit of the Polish army and they asked me what I could do. I told them I was a driver and that I had qualified as a motorist, and they assigned me to a transport unit. We waited for the fighting at the front to be renewed. In Warsaw, the forces stopped by the river Vistula and did not advance for a long time. All of a sudden, they sent us to Lodz. The city was empty. All we saw were white flags put up by the German inhabitants. We settled at No.5, Sebzka Street. I belonged to a tank repair unit. I could not drive a tank – only automobiles.
There were still eight hundred Jews in the Lodz ghetto. I helped them as much as I could. I told them I would help them obtain clothes and shelter.
In my unit I had a friend named Savitzki, who had fought with a partisan unit. We roamed the city together to get an impression of the extent of destruction. I met a Jewish doctor who had lived on the Arian side of the city and worked as a conductor on the train. His wife, who looked like a gentile, was a housemaid on the Arian side. This doctor asked me to help him. He said his father had left a two-storey house, and now a Polish woman was living there and claiming it was her house.
I took my friend and the doctor led us to his father’s house, at No.25, Polodnowia Street. His father had been a dermatologist and a religious man. In the large courtyard, he had built a synagogue. We went in. The gentile woman was alarmed when she saw us in uniform, and told us that her husband was serving with the Polish Corps of the British Army, under General Anders. I told her: “Anders-Shmanders, this house belongs to this doctor. You get out or I will throw you out. We will be back in two or three hours, and you will no longer be here.”
So we roamed around Lodz and performed similar acts. There were homeless Jews who were not allowed to get back to their homes, and we helped them reclaim their property by force. Many of them recognized me after I immigrated to Israel. Here and there we received information about Poles who had served with the Gestapo, and handed them over to the police.
When I served in the Polish army in Lodz, I was promoted to the rank of sergeant. I met the Russian governor of the city and befriended him. I spoke Russian with him. He very much enjoyed speaking with me in his own language, and told me: “If there is anything you want to do, you can do anything in my name and with my authority.” I was not concerned about my own welfare. I was not interested in money or any other benefits.
INVITATION TO PASSOVER SEDER
One day, as I was walking along Sebzka Street, near a restaurant where we liked to eat, I ran into a Jew who had heard me and my friends speaking some Yiddish and some Polish. He came over to me and asked if I would like to “do some business”. I said: “What do I know about business? I am a soldier.”
“I will teach you,” he said. “Find me places where there are goods, bring them to me and I will pay.” His name was David Burnstein. Before the war he had lived in Lodz and during the war he, his wife and their children stayed at a hiding-place on the Arian side of the city. After the Germans had retreated, he made a living by engaging in all sorts of business.
“I do not need money,” I told him. “Don’t pay me, but taking German property is a mitzvah.”
There were several factories in town. We broke into them by firing our pistols into the padlocks. We had two Studebaker cars and we filled them with goods. I took some of the guys from the Lodz ghetto with me, and they helped me. I gave them and Burnstein whatever they wanted. We had vodka and wines and groceries, and they filled two rooms with leathers, wool blankets, socks, warm underwear, sweaters and other goods.
When I handed the goods to Burnstein, he pushed American dollars into my hand. I said: “Leave it. I do not need anything.”
“So what,” he said to me, “Is that how you live? In that case, I am inviting you to my place for Passover Eve and we’ll have a great time.”
One day we were sent to Warsaw. I was assigned to general headquarters in those days. Warsaw was demolished and we had no place to stay. For this reason, we were taken to the town of Bluchi, near Warsaw, where they put us up in private apartments. I was sent to live at the apartment of a woman, who received me very pleasantly. She introduced herself as the former cook of Pilsudski, and told me: “Get me good groceries and I will fix dishes like you have never tasted before.” Indeed, I had a good time there.
A FRIEND NAMED GENIA
Just before Passover, I asked for a leave. The secretary of the political general Josevitz was Jewish. I went to see her and told her that I was Jewish and that I wanted to go to Lodz for the holiday. She arranged the leave for me on the spot. In Lodz, I went to Burnstein’s house on Passover Eve.
Three female relatives of Burnstein’s who had returned from the camps came to his house for the holiday. We all gathered at his home with other cousins and relatives and celebrated Passover properly, with fish and matzo bread.
My host was a religious man and wore a yarmulke. He sat me beside him at the table and told me, in Yiddish: “Nu, do you know how to say Kiddush?” I said: “I’ll try.” He gave me a Haggadah, but I said the Kiddush by heart, and then he said: “Oh well, you must have been brought up in a proper home…”
“That’s not important,” I told him, “What once was is gone.” Then he said: “There are three ladies here who had returned from the camps. Go on, meet them and befriend them.” Two of those ladies were twins, and I took a liking to one of them. Her name was Genia Halperin and she has been my wife for fifty-five years.
Since that Passover, I visited Burnstein’s home every Sunday. During one of those visits, the girls told me that they had relatives in Palestine and urged me to go there with them. Renia, my wife’s twin sister, had linked up with a Jewish guy, Vladek, and all of them spoke about the wide-spread anti-Semitism in Poland and about the fact that we had nothing to do in that country.
Anti-Semitism was indeed wide-spread in . I had experienced it myself. One day, while I was walking along Platkovska Street, the main street, two Jews who had come out of the ghetto were walking ahead of me, speaking in Yiddish. Two gentile women passed them, and one of them said to the other: “You see? They have not stopped speaking in that Semite language of theirs.” I became enraged and was ready to kill her on the spot. I walked over to her and said: “I am a Jew! Jid!” She saw a Jew in uniform and could not believe it. I slapped her twice and kicked her.
All of us eventually realized that we did not belong in . A pogrom had taken place in the town of Kielce. They massacred Jews there, and soldiers were involved. When we heard the news, I said I was ready to go, but for that purpose I had to be discharged from the army, and that was out of the question, as I was twenty-two or twenty-three and this was right after the war, in 1945. I had no alternative but to desert, so I went back to the general’s secretary and told her I had found out that my family might have been spotted and requested a leave for two weeks. The secretary, who knew I was Jewish, gave me the pass as per my request. I traveled to Lodz and told the gang: “Pack up, we’re going!”
“How will we travel?” they asked, “Leave that to me,” I said.
TO CZECHOSLOVAKIA, & GERMANY
I traveled in uniform, with my rank insignia and pistol, all the way to the border with . Our party consisted of three ladies and two men. At the border, I went into a restaurant and changed into a civilian suit. I packed the uniform and the pistol in a parcel and left it there. I then came out and told my friends: “Let’s go on the train. We’ll go by train and cross the border.” And so we did. We boarded the train without any problems and made it safely to Prague, where we met other Jews who were also heading to Eretz-Israel. Food was unavailable. Everything was rationed and allocated in exchange for food stamps. We started walking along a rough road, and somehow made it to , where we crossed the Alps in order to get to Italy.
On the way, they caught us and sent us back. This was the French occupied zone. A French officer searched us and then let us go. Soldiers of the Jewish brigade from Eretz-Israel drove us to Munich. We stayed at the Deutsche Museum, which had been demolished. Only the basement remained intact, and dozens and hundreds of Jews, as well as Polish gentiles, who were fleeing from the Russians, gathered there. While we were there, we heard statements like: “A shame they had not killed all of the Jews.” We apprehended two anti-Semites who spoke that way and handed them over to the U.S. Army.
In Munich I could no longer be the boss. The Americans were in charge there. The American colonel to whom we handed the anti-Semites said he would take proper care of them – they would not see Germany or Poland again, he promised. We beat them up a little and took off.
From Munich they transferred us to the town of Prabl, about thirty kilometers from the city. They put us up in a room and we received German army field rations from UNRRA. We made a living on the black market. Vladek and I sold sugar and cigarettes and that was our subsistence.
A WEDDING IN ROME
Eventually, they sent us to a training camp in , where they said there was no point in waiting for certificates. We would only be able to reach Eretz-Israel through “Aliyah Beth”, as illegal immigrants. That was in 1947. We stayed in Italy for less than a year.
We stayed in Santa Maria di Leuca initially, and later moved to Modena and then to Rome. In Rome we met the Tanenbaum family – two sons and their father, Haim, who was a public activist helping the refugees, and prior to that he had been at Auschwitz. As it turned out, he was born in Szckajisko, near Kielce, where my girlfriend Genia had been born. He developed kin-like sentiments toward us, and told us: “You should get married here, before you go.” I said to him: “What’s the rush?”, but he never rested until he organized for us to get married at the Great Synagogue of Rome. Both twins, Genia and Renia, were married one after the other. After that, they sent us to Torino and there we waited at a “Kibbutz” for our turn to travel to .
ON BOARD THE IMMIGRANT SHIP
One night, pick-up trucks of the “HaBricha” organization took us from the Kibbutz. It was just after the immigrant ship “Exodus” had sailed to Eretz-Israel. They drove us to the shore and dumped us in fishing boats that ferried us to a larger fishing vessel anchored at sea. On board this boat, they had built decks from planks. Originally, the boat could accommodate fifty people, but they loaded eight hundred onto it.
The voyage lasted twelve days. Before we reached Haifa, two British Navy destroyers intercepted us and escorted us to the port of Haifa. There, they moved in alongside, on both sides of the boat, and British soldiers jumped into our boat and took control.
INTERNMENT CAMP IN CYPRUS
At the port of Haifa, we disembarked one by one and were promptly transferred to a British ship, by which we sailed to Cyprus. In , British soldiers were waiting for us. They loaded us onto lorries and drove us to Internment Camp No.55 near Famagusta. At the camp, one tent was allocated to two families.
Now we found ourselves detained in a camp surrounded by barbed wire, guarded by soldiers armed with rifles. I said: “A broch! I came out of hell and now I find myself in hell once again!”
At the camp, the four of us lived in one half of the tent. A family of three lived in the other half. We remained there for a whole year. During that time, we decided that they might release us if we had a child, and then our eldest daughter, Deborah, was born on August 14, 1948.
Haim Tanenbaum, whom we had met in , was an “Aliyah Beth” activist and the administrator of our camp in Cyprus; when Deborah was born, he helped us move from our tent to a small hut, and our conditions improved somewhat.
Following the establishment of the State of Israel, it was a while before the British finally released us from their internment camps. The first in line to go to were families with children, and so we arrived in Israel on January 20, 1949.
We arrived at the port of Haifa on a rainy night, and they drove us from there to a camp in Beer-Yacov, where they put us up in a tent, once again.
Conditions were rough. Little Deborah caught a cold and came down with bronchitis. They took her to the Hadassah hospital on Balfour Street in Tel-Aviv, and we went along with her. At the hospital they told us that they had no room for us and that we had to leave. Genia went back to Beer-Yacov and I said I will sleep on the floor, but would not leave the child alone. I stayed there with her until she recovered.
THE APARTMENT IN JAFFA
In the meantime, I started looking for accommodation for us in Jaffa. I found an acquaintance there who had come to Israel before me. He was a clerk at the general administrator’s office, and his job was to allocate apartments abandoned by their Arab owners. He gave me a few addresses and I found a three-room apartment at No.7, 150th Street. Unfortunately – we were only entitled to two rooms. I informed the administrators of the camp in Beer-Yacov that we were leaving, so they gave us two mattresses and a bed and charged us eighty lira.
After I had settled down, so to speak, I received a letter from an advocate demanding that I paid the eighty lira – which I did. My wife and I moved into the apartment in Jaffa and a girl named Fala lived in our second room. The general administrator sent another couple to our third room. We shared the kitchen and bathroom, and got along well.
Our second daughter, Harela, was born at that apartment in 1952. We lived there until 1954.
JOINING THE POLICE
Soon after we had moved to Jaffa, I was ordered to report to the recruiting center and join the army. I was twenty-six or twenty-seven. At the recruiting center, the interviewing committee consisted of an army officer, an army sergeant and a police sergeant. They asked me in Yiddish for my name. I responded in Hebrew. The police sergeant, whose name was Rosenthal, asked me where I was from, and I said I came from Poland.
” is a big country,” he said, “Where in Poland?”
“From the Province of Wolyn,” I told him, and then he said he was also from the Province of Wolyn, from Ostrow. I told him I came from a small town near Kostopol, and then he said: “Now I know where you learned Hebrew. I suggest that you join the police instead of joining the army. We are looking for people who can speak Hebrew.”
I said: “No. I am not joining the police. I still haven’t forgotten the police abroad,” to which he replied: “Go home. You have a wife, consult her.” And so they gave me a postponement for a week or two.
I came home and told Genia what had taken place. She said: “Absolutely not! You are not joining the police – only the army.”
I knew that Moshe Baum, who was the head of our youth movement cell in Kleinzlisch, lived in Tel-Aviv, but I did not have his address. He had managed to immigrate to through “Aliyah Beth” a month before the war broke out. I spotted him somehow, he lived on Masaryk Street. He received me warmly and for a few hours I told him about my family and myself. Finally, I told him I needed his advice: I was sent to join the army and received an offer to join the police instead. What should I do?
He said: “Grab it. Firstly, it is a paying job and you will have a salary, no matter how high. Secondly, you will be close to home, in Tel-Aviv.”
I told him that my wife did not agree, so he came over to our home and convinced her, too. So eventually I joined the police and was immediately sent to the first policemen training course in Shfar’am. The course lasted for six months, and they reopened all of my old wounds. We did armed foot drills and night field training and studied all of the laws and regulations. I became a soldier again, albeit a police trooper. I was one of the oldest men there.
When the course ended, they sent me to police headquarters in Tel-Aviv, and I initially served as a patrolman. Police headquarters were at 9, HaShachar Street. When they realized I could speak and write Hebrew, they made me a duty (desk) officer. I worked morning, afternoon and night shifts, and had neither day nor night. Later on they transferred me to the police station on Yehuda Halevi Street, where I served as a mobile unit investigator, as in the meantime I had passed an investigators training course.
One day I met a police officer who, during conversation, uttered a word in Yiddish, so I asked him where he was from and it turned out he was from Rowne. I told him I was from Kleinzlisch and he immediately asked me where I was serving. He said: “I am the camp commandant of police headquarters on 14, HaRakevet Street. I will have you transferred to my command,” and so he did. I served there for almost ten years, until my discharge.
As a policeman I earned very little, but I did some moonlighting as a taxi driver, so I managed to save money.
Just before I left the police, they built several popular housing projects in Ramat-Chen, Ramat HaTayasim and Ramat-Aviv. As a new immigrant, I was entitled to an apartment in the popular housing project of Ramat HaTayasim.
THE RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS
In our town, Kleinzlisch, lived – not far from us – the Glückman family. They did not own any property, so they had nothing to lose. When the Germans arrived – they fled to and thus saved themselves from the Holocaust, except for one family member who stayed and was subsequently killed by the Nazis. She was married to a man who owned property, and anyone who was well-established and owned property was not inclined to abandon the wealth that had been the fruit of his own toil and his ancestral heritage.
If we had fled to , we could have lived well there, but as I described earlier, my father did not want to leave. Even when I came for my family with a pick-up truck, after I had qualified as a motorist, and suggested to my father that we escape, he refused, saying: “No, I am not going anywhere, come what may.” He still remembered the days of World War I, when the Germans had behaved properly. In those days, the Jews had prayed at their synagogues for Germany’s victory.
And so, thanks to one of the daughters of the Glückman family who had immigrated to South America and one day came to for a visit, I learned the whereabouts of Emilia Slodkowska, the daughter of Stanislaw Jasinski, who had hidden me for two months. I asked her whether she kept in touch with anyone in Poland, and she gave me the address of our school headmaster in Kleinzlisch. His name was Grokhovski. I wrote him a letter in Polish and added a fifty dollar bill. In the letter, I asked him to put an advertisement in a Polish newspaper, to the effect that the son of Yacov Liederman, the “Soltas” of the town of Kleinzlisch, was looking for members of the Jasinski family.
Emilia’s brother had seen the advertisement and sent me the address and telephone number of his sister in St. Louis. I called her immediately and spoke with her. We both became very emotional. It was a mixture of sadness and happiness.
After that, I wrote her a letter and asked her that she write to me about herself. She responded to my request and told me that her father had already passed away. Admittedly, her father as well as she and her husband had only put me up for two months, but if it were not for them, I would not have remained alive. Late at night, on the day that I had taken a bullet in my hand, I called at their house, bleeding and half naked, and they opened their door for me and for my brother. I never forgot this favor, so I called “Yad Vashem” and recommended that Jasinski and his daughter be recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations”. My recommendation was accepted and I traveled to “Yad Vashem” in Jerusalem and planted a tree in their name. The Israeli Consul General in Chicago awarded Emilia an official Righteous Among the Nations certificate.
In 1982, I traveled to the and visited Emilia. I stayed at her home for four or five days. I could not stay any longer. I was unable to relax. Emilia had not harmed me in any way during the war, on the contrary, and in the USA I had nothing to fear, and yet – I did not feel comfortable at her home. Any Jew who had experienced the Holocaust lives in fear. I still live in fear. I cannot trust the gentiles
The gentiles in Kleinzlisch used to call my father “The Father of Everyone” – not just the Jews, but the gentiles as well. When the Nazis came, two brothers, gentile neighbors, came over and defended our house from robbers and looters. They announced that anyone entering Liederman’s house with intent to steal will be shot. But after the Germans and Ukrainians had massacred all of the Jews in our town, those two – the same gentiles who had guarded our house and our property, were among the first who entered the house to take away whatever they could find.
One of those brothers had kept a lot of our possessions. One or two weeks after my brother and I had been wandering in the woods and had nothing to eat (it was after we had left Jasinski’s house) I came to the house of this gentile, knocked on the window and asked for a loaf of bread. He told me that if I did not leave immediately, he would come out and kill me with an axe.
That is why I keep saying that to this day, I do not trust any gentile.
After all I have recounted, I would like to conclude by saying that Jews around the world have no other place but Israel.
Thank God, I have established a nice family. I have three children and eight grandchildren, of whom the older ones have already served in the IDF. I also have a two-year old great-granddaughter. Admittedly, my life in has not been easy. I took part in the Kadesh Campaign of 1956, the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom-Kippur War of 1973. Prior to that, I had fought in the woods and as a soldier in the Polish army.
Based on my experience, I have come to the conclusion that if we had had our own country prior to the Holocaust, the Holocaust would have never turned out as it did. The lives of Jews, who did not have their own homeland, without an independent country of their own that would stand by their side, were fair game to anyone.
Poland did not like the Jews just as the Germans did not like them. Anti-Semitism in Poland was fierce, and the Jews were too prominent there. That is why the Poles accepted the killing of the Jews and the plundering of their property. They simply wanted to get rid of the Jews once and for all.
Jews who consider their future must realize that they should live in their own country.
May 27, 2000