Memories of My Life in a Polish Village 1930-1949
I was born and grew up on a farm in a rural village named Czernica in eastern Poland. My father’s family had been there for generations.
There were ten Jewish families in the village, The total population was about two hundred fifty families, Polish and Ukrainian. There was no synagogue or cheder (Hebrew school) in the village, and services were held in our house on the Sabbath and holidays. When we needed a shochet (ritual slaughterer) or rabbi, we had to go to Podkamien, the nearby shtetl (town).
MAKING POTATO LATKES
Our family enjoyed a potato latke (pancake) dinner, but Mother complained bitterly about making one. The latkes always disappeared before she could bring them to the table. When my brother and I were very young, we would grab the pancakes from the large clay bowl. Because oil was expensive, Mother made the pancakes on the iron sheet on top of the stove. To make them tastier, a few drops of oil and crushed garlic were added after they were cooked. Pancakes fried in oil were eaten only on Passover and Chanukah.
Mother baked the wedding cakes for the gentiles. This special cake consisted of white dough baked in a large dish 25 inches in diameter and about 13 inches high. The top was decorated with roses, birds, and leaves’ also made of bread dough. Black herbs were used for the eyes of the birds.
The large cake was necessary, because the peasants invited everybody from the village to their weddings. The parties were held in the barn for lack of space in the house. The cake was brought in on a large tray, and the four men holding it danced in a circle and then it was served to the guests.
GOING TO THE GHETTO
In the fall of 1942 the Nazis ordered my family along with the other Jews to leave our homes to go to the Brody Ghetto. All the Orthodox men were forced to shave off their beards. For my father this was a big humiliation. We packed all our belongings on two wagons that the local village officials had sent us. We mostly took food, such as flour, potatoes, and beans. We gave our house to our neighbor Katerina’s son. We gave our neighbors the furniture, sewing machine, and some clothing, hoping to come back after the war to claim everything. Our aunt Tema and cousin Dusia went to hide in the woods. They warned us not to go to the ghetto because they’d heard that we probably would be killed. But no one really believed that.
LEAVING MY FAMILY
In March of 1943, there was a rumor in the ghetto that the liquidation was to start the following morning. The panic was indescribable. Men and women were distraught. Some were crying, others praying. The children were confused, not fully understanding the situation. People were thinking of ways to escape. My parents didn’t want to try to run away from the ghetto because Father had built a hiding place in the building we lived in that he felt would be safe. My sister Surcie was very anxious to escape and asked me to go with her. My mother encouraged me to do so. It was very difficult leaving the rest of my family for the first time in my life.
WALKING THROUGH THE FIELDS
My sister and I walked for hours through fields on a cold miserable snowy winter night and became disoriented, losing the direction of our village. We followed a small light in the distance to a farm and slept there in the barn. The next day the farmer showed us the road to Czernica.
Then our ordeal truly began. We fought for our lives, living in fear every moment of the day and night, in cold, in rain, and at times with no food at all. This terror lasted me for a whole year.
At the liquidation of the Brody Ghetto all the Jews were taken to the Majdanek concentration camp. Some were lucky to escape to the woods, or they were hidden by farmers in the villages. Those caught hiding in the ghetto were shot on the spot. My father hid in the attic of the house where we lived and was caught right away by an SS man. The SS man shot my father right there. The people that were in the ghetto hospital had the most tragic deaths. The hospital was burned with all the people in it. The SS men shot any Jew who tried to run out of the burning building. My sister Lajcie was among those who perished.
EATING HOT SOUP
Hot soup was a treat. I got it only once every few months when I stayed with Karolczycha. She was truly a wonderful human being. She hid first my sister and then my mother and me for a week at a time. Others would only let us stay one night, although they always gave us a chunk of bread. There were two extremes among the peasants: those who believed in helping their neighbor in need, and those who were full of hatred and would kill you because you were a Jew.
There were very, very few people who helped. Thank God for those good souls.