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Stanisław Szarota (Strasser)
Remembers

Reminiscences of Stanisław Szarota, a Jew from Rzeszów, complemented by a short supplement written by his wife, Henryka (Hanka), are valuable testimonies by outside observers thrown by history into Wielkie Oczy during the years 1940-1942. Despite a matter-of-fact narration, albeit somewhat critical and at times condescending with respect to the poor shtetl Jews, one should approach with caution the objectivity of some of his utterances and judgments, since Dr. Szarota "forgot" to add in his reminiscences that he himself was a member of the Wielkie Oczy Judenrat.

Dr. Szarota changed his Jewish name to a Polish one to survive the war. It was not such an unusual practice in occupied Poland. Many Jews changed their name temporarily when they knew that Germans intended to arrest them or when they found help from Poles, especially if they had some money to buy a new ID. It is noteworthy that Dr. Strasser decided to stay with his assumed name, even when he emigrated to Australia after the war.

The testimony of Strasser-Szarota was given in October 1965 at the Tel Aviv Branch of Yad Vashem, and was written in the Polish language. After escaping from Wielkie Oczy Stanisław and Helena Szarota spent most of their time in the ghetto of Czestochowa (north of Katowice in the Silesia region). This ghetto existed until 1945, longer than any other ghetto, and relatively many of its inhabitants survived the war.

My name is Stanisław Henryk Szarota, formerly Strasser. I was born on February 21, 1911 in Rzeszów. When the war started, I was in Przemyśl. I went to grade school and later completed high school in Rzeszów. In 1930 I went to Krakow and became a medical student at the Jagiellonian University. I graduated with a delay, as late as 1939.

On April 2, 1939 I got married in Krakow. My wife's name is Henryka Szarota born Feiner; she comes from Krakow. I survived the war together with her.

My father Dr. Fryderyk Strasser, a physician by profession, died in Rzeszów on February 10, 1920. My mother Dorota born Stern perished during the liquidation of the Rzeszów ghetto in 1942.

As for my siblings, I had an only sister whose name was Irena, married name Czarniecka. Irena died during the war, shot to death during the liquidation of the ghetto in Rzeszów. She didn't want to give away her only child and they were killed together. Her husband Leon Czarniecki died in Sosnowiec during the war.

Outbreak of war, years of wandering, and work as a physician in the military hospital in Stanisławów

In August 1939 I was called up as an ensign  to the 39th infantry platoon for the second exercises of the reserve in Przemyśl. I stayed there until September 1, that is, until the outbreak of the war. From there I was transferred to the reserve personnel of the 10th hospital in Przemyśl. That was during the first days of September, after the war had broken out. Until I was assigned I had been directed, as a liaison officer of the depot, to the railway station in Przemyśl, where my duty was to inform the commanding staff about the loading of the train and what was needed to load it. I was there five to six days and when the Germans approached, the whole depot went east. In the meantime, near Zimna Woda, a German group attacking from the Carpathian Mountains cut us off and everybody fled wherever he could. I got to Lwów and from Lwów I joined a group fleeing in a large bus and went east.

I got off in Stanisławów, where I reported to a reserve hospital. It was a military hospital whose number I don't recall. It was located in the Trynitarska Street. I stayed in the hospital as a physician. I came there during the first days of September. After some time the Russian army took over the hospital and held all the personnel as prisoners of war, until their personnel came to this hospital. We dealt mostly with the wounded or with sick Russian soldiers. We worked as physicians in the infirmary or in the operating rooms — wherever we were needed. In the hospital in Stanisławów I remained and worked as a physician for one and a half months. After that time an adequate number of Russian physicians came and we were let go.

Arrival to Lwów — a time of poverty and confusion

I went to Lwów where I knew I had some relatives. I had an aunt there. I found her and stayed with her thinking that I still wanted to cross the San river and go back home. Indeed, I went to Przemyśl, where the border was, and where people crossed the border from the German to the Russian side and from the Russian to the German side. And when I received the permit and was about to cross the border, somebody brought me a message from Hanka (my wife). It turned out that Hanka was on the way, crossing the border to the Russian side. This being so, I returned to Lwów and indeed, after a few days Hanka came. It was at the end of November 1939. The Lwów period was a time of poverty, of constant confusion, of waiting for the aid of the western countries, of constant faith that [the war] is already ending, that Africans had been already sighted on the other side of the Carpathian Mountains, most likely from Senegal 1 — a period of unending and new tales. People went from one café to another or met at friends' houses. It was a time of playing cards, listening to gossip, a time when actually nobody knew anything and when we were actually nothing, let's say — a gang. Everybody tried to do something for himself . . . Trading . . . I also tried to trade. Twice I didn't succeed. Once I was told that somewhere there was a demand for sausage and I went to Stanisławów, just where I used to be in the hospital. I brought a whole suitcase of this sausage, jeopardizing my life, and it turned out that there was already plenty of sausage everywhere. I had to sell my sausage for free, because it began to smell. The same happened with cigarettes. I brought a suitcase of cigarettes and just then a transport of cigarettes came from Russia.

Together with us in the apartment lived a Russian major from Kiev or from the Kierski region, a very nice elderly gentleman who was trying to present Russia to us as it really was and what a power it was — and we were laughing at this power . . .  That was what all that Russian power looked like at that time . . .  Beautiful paper monuments were being erected . . . and we got to hate the Russians.

But after a certain time everything began to get organized a bit. We couldn't walk around doing nothing. Everybody, more or less, tried to get a job. I reported to the Health Office and they sent me to such a small town, located some 10 kilometers from the San river called Krakowiec. The director of that district health division was the local physician, Dr. Berger. Dr. Berger directed me to an even smaller town, located some 8 kilometers from Krakowiec, which had a beautiful name  — Wielkie Oczy 2 (a name found only in "The Flood" 3). So Dr. Berger suggested that I go to Wielkie Oczy, where a one-person policlinic — one physician, one nurse, and one orderly — was supposed to be. And I indeed took charge of this immediately. In the meantime Hanka worked in Lwów and signed up for a special pharmacy course.

Jewish character of the town of Wielkie Oczy (until the outbreak of World War II)

The town of Wielkie Oczy had 1,100 inhabitants, of which 700 were Jews. The rest were Poles and Ukrainians. Since in the town there was such a preponderance of Jews, every Pole and every Ukrainian spoke "perfect" Yiddish. They were always in contact with each other. A very poor small town. A small town consisting of small tailors, small shopkeepers, such shopkeepers who were starving before the war. For instance: If you went to such shop and wanted to buy a box of matches, the shop keeper excused himself, went to the neighbor, took two boxes of matches and sold you one. I hadn't seen this town before the war. A town that lived basically on [money from] America. There was no family there that didn't have somebody in America who would send them money. Apart from that, everybody had a tiny garden or a tiny land plot which he ploughed and had a little bit of vegetables. These were Jewish-peasants. Apart from them, there were also Jews who sold horses and cattle and Jews who were middlemen in various transactions. But all of them were really extremely poor.

In the town there was one physician, a Jew whose name was Dr. Grünseit, whom I hadn't met since he died in the meantime. Dr. Grünseit was the district physician, and he was very afraid of getting sick. When, for instance, he was called to a typhus case, he didn't approach the patient, but performed his examination while standing at the door. Despite his caution, he died of typhus. His wife, who wasn't a physician, took over his practice. She was, however, a very gifted woman and she treated everybody in the whole district. She treated them very successfully, by the way. She delivered women of children. She did everything. She treated the sick in the whole region.

Such was the situation of the Jews in the small town of Wielkie Oczy until the outbreak of World War II.

Situation of Jews in the neighboring villages and towns until the outbreak of World War II

Jews lived in all the small and larger towns and villages nearby until the outbreak of the war. Krakowiec was the largest center. It was a larger town. I don't recall how large it was but it was probably three times as large as Wielkie Oczy. Of course the percentage of the Jewish population wasn't as large there as in Wielkie Oczy. There were two physicians, there was a pharmacy (in Wielkie Oczy and in other small towns nearby there was not a single pharmacy) and there were some offices. As for other villages, Jews lived in every one of them, even in the smallest one. I remember only one village named Kobylnica. Other names escaped my memory. Jews lived in each village. They were the poorest people in the whole region. Living permanently in a larger town, I hadn't encountered such poverty before. Of course, within those villages there were richer and poorer people, but actually all of them were poor.

In Krakowiec there was one synagogue, an old synagogue, there was a mikvah, there was a Jewish community and a bakery. There was no Jewish school. Most likely there was a cheder, because there was only a Polish school. There was also a baker in whose bakery people baked matzos. I remember once — each inhabitant would come with his own flour to that baker and baked matzos in his bakery.

Taking over the medical practice in Wielkie Oczy as the only physician in the whole region

I took over the medical practice from Dr. Grünseit's wife who, although very respected and esteemed, didn't have high qualifications. I took over the position from her and got her small house. She left, I think for Lwów. She had two children. I don't know what happened to them.

First of all, I would like to describe life in this small town, the background and the changed conditions in which I started my practice as the only physician in the whole region. Life . . . changes . . ., which started when the Russians came — it was something unexpected. Something about which the local Jews thought as they did about the Messiah. People came and liberated them. Those Soviets liberated them. Raised their position. Gave them something — a status which they never before had. The Jews received the Russians with enthusiasm. Perhaps not so much the older ones, who were more reasonable, but the youth who created the komsomol 4 and then blew off steam in this komsomol. Unfortunately, in this komsomol there was only one gentile. and the rest — Jews. Let's say that this was a characteristic feature of a race, more of a southern race, that can exaggerate everything. And something started that was very unpleasant . . .  For instance, the komsomol group drove around the district, toppled over roadside shrines and broke them into pieces (see the comentary). They behaved plus catholique que le pape 5 — entirely unnecessarily. For this I turned against them — I admit that. I had been trying to take a middle-of-the-way stance, not to get involved at all. Since I was, however, the only physician in the town, I had to come, for instance, when there were disagreements and I had to come to meetings. I treated everybody in the whole region. I treated Jews and non-Jews. I treated also all Russians staying in this area. When I visited Russians, I tried to arrange things so that Hanka called me after 15 minutes with the excuse that a patient came to see me. I didn't want to get involved with the Russians. They were very nice, I admit, but despite that I didn't want to get closer to them. Those Russians in the town were newcomers. Most of them were soldiers. It was a whole group, a so-called Russian chastina, staying temporarily in this small town. They were soldiers, mostly Ukrainians. Among them there were quite a lot of Russian Jews, very nice, very pleasant — unfortunately they were brought up in such a way that they didn't answer when we asked them why is it actually that Germans joined Russians [sic] here instead of fighting them. They would reply — "Wait!". But they were really very decent people.

Commentary on the Szarota Narrative

Dr. Szarota’s testimony, that Jewish kosmosol youth in Wielkie Oczy had desecrated Christian roadside shrines has been published elsewhere, most notably in War Through Children's Eyes: The Soviet Occupation of Poland and the Deportations, 1939-1941, Irena Grudzinska-Gross (Editor), Jan Tomasz Gross (Editor), Hoover Institution Press, 1981) and in Polish as W czterdziestym nas Matko na Sybir zeslali - Polska a Rosja 1939-42 (London: Aneks, 1983).

Various other publications and Internet sites have cited the Gross publications as a source. However, there seems to be no firm evidence to support Dr. Szarota’s statement and he himself does not claim to have witnessed such desecrations.

Despite attempts to corroborate Dr. Szarota’s statement, other sources including various Christians and Jews, some alive and living in Wielkie Oczy at the time, either deny or cannot confirm that such events ever took place:

  • A longtime parish priest of the town, Father Josef Kluz, serving during the years 1969-2001, categorically states: "I did not find any papers or notes [in local church records] that komsomol youth destroyed the roadside shrines. On what basis was it written by this man [Szarota]?" (Letter from Father Kluz to David Majus, dated February 25, 2003.)

  • David Majus, a contributor to this web site, the author of the definitive work on Wielkie Oczy (Krzysztof Dawid Majus, in Polish, Tel Aviv 2002) and a frequent visitor to the town reports that such acts are not remembered by the older citizens of Wielkie Oczy and surrounding villages, including Stefan Stawarski who was a sacristan at the Catholic church in Wielkie Oczy during the period 1939-1941. In April 2001 Mr. Majus interviewed Mr. Stawarski and asked him about the specific events alleged by Dr. Szarota. Mr. Stawarski did not confirm that such desecrations took place.

While the events of the period are replete with stories of shifting loyalties and acts of revenge in Poland under the Nazi and Soviet occupations, it is difficult to say why Szarota wrote what he did some 25 years after the desecrations were supposed to have taken place. We may never know whether such acts did in fact occur. To say for certain on the testimony of one man that these events did occur is not a sound basis for determining the truth of what did or did not happen during those times, in that place.

More Recent Discoveries

Since the above was written, another source of the desecration of religious structures has come to light.

Michaylo Kozak in his book Minule i shohodennia Kobylnic’ Voloskoyi i Ruskoyik (The Past and the Present of Kobylnica Woloska and Kobylnica Ruska) in Ukranian (Przemysl, 2007). The cover page informs that the book was printed in Przemysl (south-eastern Poland) in 2006 but title page informs that it was printed in 2006. The correct year is believed to be 2007.

Of note is this sentence from the memory of a Ukrainian woman Maria Baran, who lived in Kobylnica near Wielkie Oczy at the time: "In 1940 there were among us some black sheep who destroyed roadside crosses and broke glass in the [Ukrainian] church." (page 206)

Elsewhere in the book, we find a list of Ukrainian victims of German occupation (1941-1944). Among those listed is "1. Vasik Ivan - also for the reason that he broke church windows." He was executed June 29, 1941. The main reason for his execution was his cooperation with the Soviet administration (1939-1941). (page 194)

So here history apparently has served up the very name of one of the destroyers of the roadside shrines.

Unrelated, but another interesting bit of information that illustrates how the Nazis played off one ethnic group against another is  noted here "8: Senik Michaylo (from Kobylnica Ruska) killed by Germans for the reason that a Jew Itzik killed a German soldier on June, 23, 1941" the day after the German invasion. (page 194)

I wasn't paid for every visit. Health care was nationalized; I was getting a salary. I treated sick people in the whole region, that is in the vicinity of Krakowiec and in the entire region of Wielkie Oczy. To describe this region graphically, it was shaped like a triangle. The only pharmacy from where I got medications was located in Krakowiec. Hanka made easier things, such as ointments, after she completed a pharmacy course in Lwów. At first I lived alone in Wielkie Oczy. Hanka studied in Lwów. After a certain time I brought her to Wielkie Oczy. The Health Office needed a bookkeeper. I went by train to Lwów to bring her and on the train I taught her the [Cyrillic] alphabet. She didn't know any Russian, and she had to be able to write at least a few words in this language. So I taught her the alphabet on the train and she came to Wielkie Oczy ready to use the alphabet. And she got the position. After a short time a Russian manager of the Health Office came. She was a young woman, a Russian, who was a nurse before the war and also during the war she was a nurse in the military. It was she who was the Health Office manager. Later we got another manager, who came from Pskov, if I'm not mistaken — and this way a normal life in the town began.

Outbreak of the German-Russian war and the order to take over health care in the whole region

When the German-Russian war broke out we were in Wielkie Oczy. Building of fortifications on the border along the San river and digging of trenches had started a while earlier, some two-three months before the war broke out. Digging trenches was a very unpleasant matter for me. People came to me for medical certificates stating that they were unable to work for health reasons. I, however, was constrained by the party and they didn't let me give sick leave certificates to anybody, unless somebody was really on their last legs. Old and young people, but mostly young ones, dug trenches. Digging the trenches was compulsory. Every small town and every village had to supply a certain number of people every day to dig those trenches.

After that, on June 22, 1941, the German-Russian war broke out. We didn't know anything about it. First, one day in the morning, around 4 A.M., a Russian car drove up to my house and somebody knocked on my window and called — "we brought a sick woman". I dressed quickly and went with them to the policlinic which was some 300 m away from my house and then they brought a dead woman out of the car. I asked about the circumstances — how it happened . . .  They didn't want to answer anything and they left me with this dead woman. In the meantime we began to hear the sounds of gunfire. I was bound by Russian regulations, so I absolutely tried to get a connection with the prosecutor to find out what I was supposed to do with the corpse of this woman. Finally I was connected with the prosecutor, and he told me, "Naplevat'! Voyna est'!" 6  That was the first official announcement about the outbreak of the war that I received.

In the meantime I was ordered to stay in this small town, because there was no other physician there. It was an order from the party, the order to take over the whole health care in the entire region and possibly also to assist military units. I was in charge of the region of Krakowiec and Wielkie Oczy. In the meantime a panic started. Komsomol members flee together with the Russians. Our chastina, the military unit, begins to dig trenches. I sent somebody to the pharmacy in Krakowiec to bring as many medications as possible. In the meantime I went to the so-called cooperative, because I had no more materials for dressing wounds. We took a piece of linen and begin making dressing material out of it. After three or four hours the first wounded started to arrive. I received these wounded and dressed their wounds non-stop until the night, until about 1 A.M. I alone had around 250 of these wounded. I don't recall what I was actually doing; I was as if in a trance. I was all covered with blood and did nothing else but dress wounds of one wounded after another. Two or three young men helped me. In the meantime we found out that it was already time to flee. They let me know that the best thing was to flee to the church. In the church there were large basements. We were told that the Germans were already entering the town . . .  The parish priest in this church was a personal friend of mine, Father Murdza. Murdza attended the same high school in Rzeszów as I did only 30 years earlier. We got to this basement in the morning and on the way we heard somewhere in the backyard machine-gun shots. At the same time we found out that the Germans had already taken the whole town . . .  The Soviets evacuated all the wounded they could, leaving some wounded behind.

German army enters Wielkie Oczy

I know and I saw it that the first person to enter the presbytery with a machine gun was a parish priest from Salzburg. He immediately undressed and went to our Farther Murdza for confession.

Now we  . . . were staying in the basement of the church for a while, actually until the end of the day. Next day in the morning we gradually left. I went home. On the way we encountered German troops that arrived to the town. The soldiers wash themselves very nicely, the way they are accustomed to do.

I come home and have nothing to eat at home. Then people started to reciprocate, because all the time I tried to behave relatively neutrally and properly. They began to arrive one after another, my patients, Jews and non-Jews, and they brought me food.

The first moment — it was the moment when the German soldiers entered. Jews were not harassed. I was immediately called for a press conference, since war correspondents were in the first group. They asked me in German what my impressions were, what was the Soviet power, etc. At that time I didn't think much about that power and I thought that war would end within three months. I had an impression that the Germans thought the same.

Arrival of administrative units. Wearing armbands becomes compulsory, the Judenrat 7 is established; beating and plundering of Jewish property by the Ukrainian police

Slowly, the administrative units start entering the town. Appropriate authorities issued a decree to wear armbands and to form the Judenrat. Forming a ghetto was impossible here; the town was too small for a ghetto. Besides, there was no Jewish police or a Jewish neighborhood here; the town was too small for a Jewish neighborhood to form. Jews remained in their houses.

A Ukrainian police force, however, was immediately formed. These police immediately showed what they were capable of. Beating and looting began. Jews were beaten on every occasion, but not at all when they were working. There was namely no work here. Houses were being searched. In such cases Jews were beaten and Jewish property looted. Every father whose son was a komsomol member was made responsible for his sins.

We wore white armbands with a blue star. At the beginning the armbands were supposed to be white, without any sign. Later, after a certain time, they had to be worn with a star. I'm still a physician and as such I remain with the Jews from Wielkie Oczy.

Sending to labor camps

Shortly afterwards the period of sending Jews to labor camps starts. There was no reason for the sending. Quite simply, the Judenrat received an order to send a certain number of people. I don't recall the name of the camp where they were sent to. People were put on horse carts and driven on horse carts to Jaworów. Jaworów was a larger center. Jews from other villages and towns were sent there. From there they were taken out by trains — it was said that they were going to labor camps. Of course everybody tried to avoid being sent to forced labor and then the American money, hidden for a rainy day,  emerged into the light. With this money people tried to bribe the Judenrat members.

I don't remember the names of the Judenrat members. I remember the name of only one — his name was Feiner. This helped me a bit, since my wife was born Feiner, and so he treated me better. We even claimed we were his relatives. That wasn't a flattering relationship, because Feiner was a horse thief before the war and also had a mill; in any case, he didn't have a good reputation. Besides, it was his own business whether he was a horse thief before the war or not. I didn't know that. I don't recall the name of other Judenrat members.

People started sending parcels to labor camps. The first fugitives from one of these camps began to appear; they talked about the treatment there. I don't recall the name of the camp. It was a very small camp, one of really small camps. Nobody knew — that's my impression — how that camp was exactly called.

And then — let's call it — wegetowanie, the hand-to-mouth existence of the Jews, began: Although in the past Jews were the majority in this town, they now had to go underground and hide. Apart from that, there was hunger.

Hunger in the town; hunger whose victims were mainly Jews

And then hunger came. It was in the spring of 1942. At first the vicinity of Wielkie Oczy, and the town itself, was designated for tomato growing in an agricultural program. It was forbidden to sow rye, or actually only a very small area was left for rye and wheat. Tomatoes didn't grow at all, and there was no rye either. Then the farmers started going to Lwów and buying whatever they saw. They brought pianos, they brought all kinds of clothes and furs. Everything to trade for food. They went so far with their buying that before the next harvest time they had nothing to eat.

The whole town lived actually only on milk and grass boiled in milk. The whole population of the town was starving. On the one hand, the peasants went too far buying things. On the other hand, the previous year didn't bring a good harvest, since there were those tomatoes that didn't work out — and so hunger was in the town. Only in few houses did people bake bread. We knew that, since one could see the smoke from the chimney and one could smell that bread was being baked. But that was happening in a only a few homes. The rest of the population really suffered from hunger. Of course, Jews suffered more than anybody else.

Continuation of medical practice in the town based on individual fees

I still treated patients. I treated everybody, Jews and non-Jews. During the Russian times I was getting a salary for my work. During the German times there was no money and I started getting fees. I received fees in the form of food. I would get a chicken, here I would get eggs, there some rye or wheat; it depended on who had what. And if somebody didn't have anything I treated him for free.

Deportation of all Jews from Wielkie Oczy — Judenrein 8

It was the month of June, the year 1942. One day the SS 9 came to the town, and together with them the "black police" — these were Ukrainians who wore black uniforms — and the director of the whole district, a so-called Landrat. It started with their taking some hostages, including me, and then they started driving all the Jews to the town square, for deportation. From there all the Jews went to Jaworów, and from Jaworów to the Janowska [camp]. In the meantime I was released. Apart from me there were also a few other hostages; they were mostly citizens who were better known in the town. They were also deported, together with other Jews, to Jaworów. The whole small town was emptied, [and became] what was called Judenrein, except for two Jews, that is me and Hanka (my wife).

Until the day of the deportation the German military police would sometimes come to the town, but very rarely and in passing. The town was situated very much off the beaten path, there was no highway there leading to larger centers, so that actually only sometimes somebody would come in passing.

The only larger edifice that was there was a distillery — spiritzavod 10, where a very dear friend of mine, an engineer named Urban, worked. At that time he used another name, I don't recall his surname. In Russian times, and later in German times, he was our friend and we went with him through the most difficult times. He survived the war and is now professor at the university in Wroclaw.

Permission to leave in town the only physician, a Jew, and to allow him to have a medical practice for the whole district

Actually Hanka was going to be deported too. As it happened however, the Landrat with his female friend came to me and started checking what my policlinic looked like. He then asked Hanka, "Du Jüdin, wer macht hier Ordnung?" 11 And Hanka replied, "Ich!". Then the Landrat took a white glove and started wiping the furniture in the infirmary, checking if there was any dust on it. Luckily, as it happened, there was no dust. In view of that he said, "You will stay here and help the Dr. — he stays here!". At that moment it was the end of my stay as a Jew in Wielkie Oczy. I was told to take off the armband, since there was no need anymore to wear it. There were, quite simply, no more Jews. I was told to take off the armband by the head of the township council, a Ukrainian. Also the police told me to take off the armband, since there were no more Jews in Wielkie Oczy and none in the whole district. All were taken through Jaworów to the Janowska [camp]. That was May 1942. From June 1942 on I lived actually very comfortably. I was getting the same rations as the Poles and there were times when I would completely forget what was going on in the world. There was no news from the war, there were no newspapers, only sometimes some news reached Wielkie Oczy. It was mostly peasants who brought all kinds of news. During the whole time I didn't go anywhere, only to those villages in the district where I treated my patients.

Escape from Wielkie Oczy with help of the head of the township council, a Ukrainian

One day the head of the township council (the same who told me to take off my armband) came to our house and told us that he received the order to bring me and Hanka to the police. A Ukrainian physician was supposed to arrive next day and therefore I wasn't needed anymore. In was in September 1942, thus after six months. The order was for the Ukrainian police to bring me to the Janowska [camp]. The head of the township council said also, "Now the Germans are already near Stalingrad, the devil will take everything sooner or later. If you want, I can either hide you or give you an official letter from me and horses, and you flee from here!"

We listened to him and in the night we fled to Jarosław. In Jarosław we boarded the train and went — where to? We didn't actually know where we were going to. The only document I had with me was the letter from the head of the township stating that Dr. Stanisław Strasser and his wife travel to their relatives in Krakow. This was the only document I had with me. I had nothing else, since there was actually nothing in Wielkie Oczy.

The rest of the reminiscences of Dr. Szarota (Strasser) describing his vicissitudes through the end of the war are not included here, since they contain no further reference to Wielkie Oczy. Dr. and Mrs. Szarota survived the war and emigrated to Australia.

Henryka Szarota (born Feiner)
Remembers

My name is Henryka Szarota, born Feiner. I was born 29 June 1912 in Krakow, where I attended grade school and graduated from high school. When the war broke out I was in Krakow. My father, Izydor Feiner, died of natural causes in the Krakow ghetto. It was on the day before the expulsion to Płaszów and the liquidation of the ghetto, in March of 1943. My father died of heart attack. My mother, Maria Feiner, born Silberbach, perished in Stutthof.

As for siblings, I had one sister and three brothers. My sister Bronisława (married name Gelbwacks) perished together with my mother in Stutthof. After the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto they were both sent to the camp in Płaszów, where my mother worked for Madricz and my sister worked first in a hospital and then in another place which I don't recall anymore. They were both displaced from Płaszów, via Auschwitz, to Stutthof, where they were both shot to death together with a group of women who came from the Madricz's [factory] in Płaszów. The group consisted of about 1,000 women. They were all shot to death at the seaside.

My brothers survived the war in Russia. Here are their names: Leon, Teodor, and Józef. I brought them to Australia, where they are now.

Making medications and supplying them to patients

At the time when my husband started working in Wielkie Oczy as physician, I went to Lwów and signed for a pharmacy course, lasting a few months. After the completion of the course I returned to Wielkie Oczy. There was no pharmacy in Wielkie Oczy or in the whole region, or in all the villages and small towns in the vicinity as far as Krakowiec. My husband was the only physician in this whole region and I was the only pharmacist who supplied medication in the region. I made the medications in our laboratory. The medications weren't complicated [to make]. I made various ointments used in skin diseases; apart from this I prepared modest medications, made of modest components, bought most often in Krakowiec.

My husband treated people in the whole region and after his visit I supplied medications to the patients, most often bringing them on foot, because most often I had no way to get to the given village or town. Wielkie Oczy were located 20 km from Jaworów, and Jaworów was 50 km from Lwów. I visited Jaworów very often and brought medications to that town. I also visited Krakowiec very often, which was 8 km  from Wielkie Oczy. I used to go with medications to Krakowiec and to the neighboring villages, most often on foot. There was almost no possibility to get there by any other means. Sometimes it happened that I went with some urgent medication to Jaworów on foot. I did that in summer and in winter for almost 18 months.

The only pharmacy and the only hospital within 30 km

The only pharmacy in the whole region, within at least 30 km, was located in Krakowiec, The owner and the manager of the pharmacy was a Jew. Unfortunately I don't recall his name. His son helped the owner in his work. This was the only pharmacy to which people from the whole region came. In the region there was also the only hospital, located in the town of Budzyn, a distance of 8 km from Wielkie Oczy. It was a hospital for people suffering from infectious diseases. About going to the hospital, people would say that they were going "to Budzyń". At the time, when we lived in Wielkie Oczy there were epidemics of meningitis and typhus in the district. My husband often went "to Budzyń" and treated people who were there. After each of his visits I would go to the hospital on foot and brought the medication needed for the patients. There was no other hospital for patients with infectious diseases in the whole region.


Translator's notes:

1. There were about 100,000 African soldiers from the French colonies in the French army, many of them from Senegal.

2. "Wielkie Oczy" means "Large Eyes" in Polish.

3. "The Flood" (Pol. "Potop") — The title of a historical novel by the Polish writer and Nobel Prize laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz; it is one of the most popular Polish novels.

4. komsomol — Russian: short for Kommunisticheskiy Soyuz Molodiozhď, Communist Union of Youth, an organization that served as the youth wing of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

5. plus catholique que le pape (Fr.) — "more Catholic than the Pope".

6. "Naplevat'! Voyna est'" (Rus.) — "Who cares! There is war!"

7. Judenrat (Ger.) — Jewish Council, an administrative body that the German authorities required Jews to form in each Jewish community in the General Government (part of the Nazi-occupied territory of Poland).

8. judenrein (Ger.) — "clean of Jews".

9. SS — Schutzstaffel (Ger.) "Protective Squadron", colloq. "Storm Troopers". The SS was an instrument of terror during the Holocaust. [cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schutzstaffel,  ed.]

10. spirit-zavod (Rus.) — distillery.

11. "Du Jüdin, wer macht hier Ordnung?", "Ich!" (Ger.) — "You, Jewess, who cleans here?", "I do!"

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