From the FACES OF DYNÓW series:
Road Of Suffering
oil on canvas, 48 x 42 inches
The Road of Suffering
Story from the Dynów Yizkor book*, 1949/50
By Rywka Klein-Weinik
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Thirty-nine years have passed since the German murderers in Dynów, our shtetl [town], drove together a large number of Jews, mostly men who were caught in the streets and taken outside the shtetl, where they were forced to dig large pits with their own hands. About 200 Jews were thrown in alive and covered with dirt. Among the mountain of covered up people were many bodies under the covered over ground that were still moving over the course of several days.
A night earlier, at the close of the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Nazi hordes burned the synagogues along with all of the Torah scrolls and the Jews who were located in the prayer houses. In order to increase their number – the murderers tossed in more Jews from outside.
All of the Jews who succeeded in hiding on the day of the wild fury were caught for unskilled labor, accompanied by “scenes” of mockery and blows.
On that bitter day there were a small number of Jews who tried various ways of saving themselves, such as making use of their acquaintance with gentiles in order to hide and those who crossed the San River to the other side, which was ruled by the Russians.
A few days later, an order was immediately issued in the morning that all remaining Jews – women, children and the sick – had to be at the marketplace in an hour. The dread was very great and at the designated hour, we all appeared there.
Here we were surrounded by Gestapo divisions, which drove us to the shore of the San and told us to go into the river to the opposite shore. Women holding many children strode into the water, stimulated by the power of the hope of saving their lives. A number of us reached Bartoẃka and other villages. Others, I among them, wanted to get further away and climbed over the Dynów Mountains, reaching other places. As always in a time of trouble, a heavy rain fell and we slipped and fell holding the children, got up covered in mud and climbed further.
And so during the climb carrying my year-and-a-half old child, my mother and my sister, Ruchla, followed me. Suddenly my mother cried and said: “I am now losing two children because Rywkala cannot endure this. My sister took my child from my hands, but fell along with us. She could not carry the child. I, as the mother, it appeared had other strengths. I feel the vestiges of that march to this day.
Night fell and the Christians of that area who had a humane character took us into a barracks, spread straw on the ground and, here, we, women and children, old and sick – amidst the sound of children crying which caused a terrible sadness for us – spent the first night.
In the morning, the gentiles, from whom we hired horses and wagons, took us to various places. Everyone searched for a place where they had a family member or an acquaintance. The greater number went to Przemyśl. Our family went to Berch [Bircza] where our older sister Rayzele lived.
Now for us began the difficult life of refugees. It is difficult to describe the poverty and loneliness that accompanied us every day of our life when simultaneously we felt the usual situation of formerly well-situated people who now, with great effort, had received a small residence jointly with a few families. We suffered from hunger and were without clothing and without shoes. Everything already was torn and this all was still just the beginning of our troubles.
The Russians, who were the bosses on that side of the shore of the San and also in Przemysl, carried out police raids, grabbing people, packing them in freight trains and sending them as refugees to Siberia like cattle. Among them, too, were the few Dynów Jews. We succeeded in escaping and hiding. We left Przemyśl for eastern Galicia and settled temporarily in Złoczew.
Then the Russian-German War broke out and the Germans arrived in Złoczew. This time they gathered the Jews together, the majority women and children, and led them to the pits, where they also buried many alive. A concentration camp was created for those remaining alive – for heavy labor and annihilation. Simultaneously, a ghetto was created for the Jews in the poorest area where there only were old, collapsing houses. The surviving Jews were placed in them, a few families together [in each house]. We were provided with very little food. Various epidemic diseases broke out immediately and every day the dead, who had been covered only in sacks, were removed.
The Nazis carried out aktsias [deportations] every few days – surrounding the ghetto, where the Jews had been driven from all of the small shtetlekh in the area of Złoczew, and led out a few hundred Jews. It was said they were being taken “to camps,” but in fact they were sent to their death. And thus, fewer Jews remained every day. Those remaining in the ghetto were given instructions to go to work. They were ordered to put on a white band with a Mogen Duvid [Shield of David – the Jewish star] so that it would be easier for the murderers to recognize a Jew.
The remaining Jews saw and felt that the final annihilation already was underway. They began to pay large sums of money to the Christians, who would agree to hide someone. Others dug bunkers in the ground in the houses of the ghetto.
One morning the Nazis surrounded the ghetto, gathered the Jews and also pulled out those who were hiding in the bunkers and sent everyone to their death. They then declared the city free of Jews and simultaneously covered all of the streets with placards stating that any gentile hiding a Jew would be shot with his entire family.
There had been few Christians who would hide Jews. However, now their number decreased even more. A number of them took the money from the Jews to hide them and later called the Germans and gave the unfortunate ones to the Germans. There were cases in which the Christians themselves with axes in their hands killed their victims.
We were successful in hiding with a decent Christian family with five children in a village near the forest. The man, Franciszek Kalicine and his wife, Hani, treated us very humanely. My husband, child and I, disguised as peasants, left for a village seven kilometers from Złoczew. All three of us were there together with another woman and her young son, hidden in an attic of a pigsty. We lay on spread out straw for 16 months. At that time my husband worked in a private camp, in a leather factory. When the Christian friends informed him that the intention was to liquidate the rest of the Jews, they escaped and my husband and a daughter of the woman who was with us succeeded in joining us in the hiding place. We then made a bunker underground, in the grain barn – we were there when the situation outside was dangerous because they searched for Jews from yard to yard.
When the searches outside stopped – we went back to the attic where there was more air. It is difficult to describe the hunger and lack of water. We lived with a constant fear of death. Our number of hidden reached 14 Jews over the course of time. In the neighboring house of the brother-in-law of our Franciszek there also were 11 Jews hidden and we maintained constant contact with them. Our money reserve became still smaller. On the other hand, the gentiles were afraid to buy a great deal of food because they were wary of too much attention. We then received one large bread a week. We divided this into 14 pieces. We weighed the portions of bread on a scale that we had made ourselves. We received a pot of soup twice a day that had a few potatoes and square flour noodles in it. Everyone received a small cup as a share of this “warm food” twice a day.
Little by little I took off my coat, all of my clothing, the rest of my jewelry that I still had from home and each time gave it to Mrs. Kalicine for her to give my child a small glass of milk every day. She also agreed to give me an onion from time to time. Every day I gave another piece of bread from my portion, which I always kept for this purpose, to my child – because I was a “specialist” at fasting…
My child often looked out through the cracks between the boards and saw the children playing. She begged me that she also wanted to play. I told her that we Jews could not go outside because the Germans were killing Jewish children. To this she asked: “Must I be a Jew when it is so bad?”… She was then four and a half years old.
At one time the Germans learned that Jews were hidden with gentiles in the village. They arrived with bloodhounds and searched for a few hours. To our good fortune they did not discover us. During the German search for us, I begged my little girl that if the murderers found us and took us to our death – she should, as a small child with blond hair, try to escape and hide among a group of good Christians. And when the war was over – she should leave for Israel and be with our family. The answer from my small child was that she would only live with us and what happened to us should also happen to her.
Our situation lasted this way for almost a year and a half. Then the Russian Army, with a heroic struggle, retook the area. This was heralded by heavy bombardment from the air. The Russian military entered and liberated us from the hopeless situation. We were free.
We already were depleted of strength, barely dragged ourselves with the help of sticks across the battlefields back to a life.
*Courtesy of JewishGen Yizkor Book Project