The First "action" in Czortkow Zonka Berkowitz (Pollak)
Wednesday the night of August 26,1942. One can hear the first shots. crushing of window-panes, shattered doors, lamentation, weeping. screams. there is a feeling of a cruel slaughter outside. The "action" started. Midnight; a beautiful and clear August night. with the moonshine lighting up the rooms, so nice around, and in such a night you hear cries of innocent children, of mothers and men, shaking the air. Only a few streets separate us from the "Aryan" side, where evrybody sleeps freely in his bed.
My ten-year old sister prays to God that she may. be saved and stay alive, and we both. my mother and myself, while watching her, feel that our blood stands still in our veins.
At 2.30 in the morning the "SCHUPOS" (Schutzpolizei) with whips in their hands, having the merciless faces of murderers, are driving us out from our house. We join other Jews, and we are assembled on the square near the "Bristol". where the horse-cars used to stay. And here, watching the scenes of children, being shot to death in their mothers' hands and thrown from balconies. I recall the horrible stories from barbarian times: but even these atrocities are pale as compared with the cruelties and savagery before my eyes.
Wherever I looked around, familiar faces. We are arranged in formations of "sixes", and so we go to the prison yard where there are already several hundred more people gathered. The prison gates are locked and here we have to stay until the following day.
Our faces reflect silent despair. People ask each other about the circumstances of their arrest, and we are wondering what's going to happen next.. Groups are formed, friends look for each other; there are many wounded people with bloody injuries from having been beaten. Children without parents, separated families.
It begins to dawn, and with the appearance of the sun, the heat grows. There is no water, and we quench our thirst with rainwater in the nearby barrels. Hours are passing with the heat becoming unbearale. We are like animals destined for slaughter and kept in a cage; but for thoes animals they spare neither water nor food. Everybody is hungry and forgets even the feeling of shame, making his ordure in public.
At 1:30 p.m. we hear the opening of the gate and we are ordered to step out. Everybody is sticking to the corners, to avoid bing the first, but after a while, we give up and all of us go out. We are now ordered in ten-men formations and escorted from all sides by SCHUPOS, Gendarmes and Jewish militia.
Mickiewitz Street is full of people, as in the days of big parades. We deliver the onlookers a wonderful show. theya re the happy ones and privileged to stay alive.
We are sure we will be taken to the forest, where we can expect to be shot, but we are directed to the railroad station. It seems to me that I never walked carefree and without fear through these streets. The feeling of thirst grows more intense. My lips are dry and the tongue sticks to the palate. It is a terrible feeling. People get rid of their belongings to ease their way.
On the railroad station we are spit up in groups of 120 and more and packed off into freight cars. The doors of the cars are shut. It is dark and tense, impossible to stretch out your arms, absolutely no air to breathe. Everybody strangles and chokes and you feel as if a rope were tied around your neck and such a terrible heat as if fire had been set under the car.
About ten people from the group are placed near the door; whoever has hairpins, nails, fasteners, starts to bore between the boards to get a little bit of air. People behind us are in much worse plight. The take off their clothes and look as if obsessed by bestiality and madness. They are hawking, choking and driven into the utmost despair.
I cannot recall for how long we are waiting of after how many hours the train starts. But when after a long waiting, the train is in motion. a sigh of relief emanates from the mouths of those who are still alive. The hope tht now more air will find its way inot the carriage, or it will start raining and a few drops will penetrate through the clefts. But none of these miracles happen.
It occurs to, me that we are making our way towards Trarnopol. I noticed that in our carriage there is more and more free space. People die and we are seated on their dead bodies. The remaining are raving and wild, mad from suffereing, quarrels between themselves aboug water.; mothers hadn thier children urine to still their thirst.
At night we are arriving at a station where the train stops for some time. We can hear a conversation in Russian. We wonder wht they will do next. A short ray of hope comes to our hearts. maybe we shall stay here to work. We hear many sounds, like that of a detachment of carriages, opening of doors, orders to undress, lamentations; we do not know where from, and whether there are more trains. Our train is driven back, and in our car there are still about 20 people alive. I remember, my mother with a very poor voice asking us to easoe our suffering and to break open a small window which if discoverd would not make any difference for us. being anyway condemned to death.
All of a sudden it becomes light in our car and from this moment I can hardly remember,how my mother insisted that I should jump out.I do not hesitate at all, because the motion of the train does not frighten me when I look on the dead bodies around me.
And then I recall two countrymen leaning over me and insisting that I should run away, but all I wanted was to drink, drink,drink.
I throw myself in a nearby pond and I can hardly quench my thirst, which burns my stomach. I am pouring handfuls of water with those hands which had lifted a short while ago dead bodies in the carriage.
Within a short distance from me, I notice a body of a woman from our car. She certainly has been shot to death by the Germans, who were on gurad on the roof of the train. Soon I am discovered by a German, who escorts me to the nearby Police Station, but later I am escorted to the Rawa-Rusksa Prison and put into cell No. 12. The date is the 28th of August 1942. Friday.
Luckily, I arrive at the prison soon after it has been emptied of a big transport of Jews, and I find out that in this transport was Zosha Feldman form Czortkow, the daughter of Advocate Feldman.
There are two days more left for the next transport, and they were to be decisisve for my destiny. Maybe, on account of my young age, the watchman decided to leave me alive and kept me in the prison. for ten weeks. Eventually, though their representation with the Judenrath, I am in a legal way directed to the Ghetto.
Later on, my father delegates to the Ghetto a man with "Aryan" papers, and he takes me to the ghetto in Buczacz. where I stay with my father and brother until "liquidation".
After the "liquidation" I am living in the camps in the region of Jagielnica (Marylowka, Shulthanowka, Trawna) until January 1944. The last two months before the liberation we were hiding in the fields and in the forest.
Translated by Michael Lande, Advocate.