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Stanislawa Chicha Remembers

Reminiscences of a former inhabitant of Wielkie Oczy, Mrs. Stanisława Cicha (b. 1924, d. 2000), from her letter written in the 1980s to Ryszard Majus. These are the experiences of people of Jewish nationality from the region of Wielkie Oczy–Jaworów and of Poles during the [Nazi] occupation of 1941 to 1945.

Stanisława Cicha (1994)

On August 25, 1941 I returned from Lwów and the administration called Judenrat 1 was already formed. The Germans entered Wielkie Oczy on June 22, 1941 and they immediately started organizing administration and offices. The chairman of the Judenrat was Wolf Thaler, and the secretary, his niece, the wife of Wisel Thaler, Ester, I think, but I don't recall exactly her name. A very beautiful and nice woman. The commandant of the German military police, a certain Wolf, used to come very often to Wielkie Oczy to the Ukrainian militia post, imposing tributes on the Jews to destroy them materially. First they decided that on a certain day, at a certain time the Jews had to bring, under penalty, that much money, that many kupony bielskie 2, that much gold. So the employees of the Judenrat had to carry out the orders. After a few weeks again another tribute — that much gold, that much money, and so on. After a certain time they requested all the furs, gold, pearls; in general, valuable things.

The German military police arrived — I don't know for sure, but it was probably coordinated with the Judenrat — and they took only the stronger and younger men to work in a forced labor camp. Right after the Judenrat had been organized, all Jews were requested to wear white armbands with a blue star on their sleeves, under penalty. The Judenrat was located in the town square in Weiss's house, just next to Holper's, the tailor. In the meantime they took also the chairman of the Judenrat, Taller Wolu, to the forced labor camp, to get a large ransom. After a few months he was released and came to Wielkie Oczy, but he looked very ill. So the Germans, that is the district military police, used to come from Jaworów and so they simply drew the last blood from the Jews. And on top of that the Ukrainian militia, which consisted only of bandits, also harassed the Jews by taking both women and men to do cleaning work at the militia post, at the township office — the Ukrainian one, which was located in the town square, where during the Soviet times there was a shop and a restaurant.

A year after the arrival of the Germans, I don't recall the exact date, but I think it was in June 1942, in the second decade of the month, on a very hot day a few trucks arrived, with German military police and civil servants; there were even a few women among them. Everybody was frightened of what would happen. So these Germans went to all Jewish houses, [they allowed to take only] as much as everybody could carry and they drove everybody like cattle to the town square. This operation lasted from the morning until the late afternoon. Immediately afterwards they sealed Jewish houses. When they displaced everybody from their houses, they brought a few horse carts, the kind used by peasants to carry manure to the fields. They put the weaker and older ones, in general everybody who wasn't able to go on foot, on the horse carts, and the rest they drove like cattle, kicking them on the way, downright tormenting them, to Krakowiec, seven kilometers of Wielkie Oczy, to a larger ghetto. At that time in the Ukrainian militia there was a mute man from Horyszka, commonly called Ija, a sort of a sidekick. He thrashed mercilessly with a bat, like [one beats] animals, not looking where and whom, whether it was an old woman or a child. All this ended with putting the Jews in the ghetto in Krakowiec.

Next day — the head of the township was a certain Ukrainian named Smutek from Kobylnica Ruska and the secretary, Bułycz from Wielkie Oczy. Both are deceased by now. Smutek was shot to death by the guerilla in 1944 and Bułycz was taken to the USSR in 1945 and also died — they, as the township authorities, designated people who were going to bring all those things to one building, to Just's house, the one who had an inn serving alcohol and, having themselves access to the things, helped themselves generously to all that. In a few days, Jewish houses were settled by people from Trościaniec near Jaworów, [who were] such thieves, because the Germans organized their military training ground in their village. The township and the militia took the better and more valuable clothes and bed linen, and the remaining things they gave to those settlers.

Many Jews were hidden by Catholics, despite of the terrible punishment, jeopardizing their lives, but later Germans discovered this, too. In the ghetto — the ghetto existed until the defeat of the Germans in 1943 at Stalingrad, until February, right after that all the ghettos were being destroyed and burned down and whoever could flee was shot at. What kind of life the Jews had in the ghettos, we know that. Terrible. Hunger, filth, and poverty. I had the opportunity, although I was afraid, to talk to Icio Just, to Mr. August's wife, the mother of Josek-Beir, at the border of the ghetto and I could see those plank-beds where they slept.

In the meantime the Ukrainians usually reported Jews and brought them to the police posts, because such appeal was issued. Then the German military police would come from Jaworów, where there was a certain commandant, named Wolf, who wouldn't eat his breakfast if he didn't indifferently shoot a person. They robbed this Jew completely, brought him to the Jewish cemetery. If he was still strong. he had to dig a grave for himself and was shot to death. There were very many such cases. In the meantime Jews from the Krakowiec ghetto slipped out during the night and came to the village to obtain some food or to come, clandestinely, to their houses if they were still able to hide something valuable, to bring the valuable things and exchange them for food.

After the Jews from Wielkie Oczy had been displaced to the ghetto, the township started demolishing some of the Jewish houses, in particular the wooden ones, and selling them to people, usually to the Ukrainians from the village. The township gave the land plots to people who lived in the neighborhood and they immediately planted gardens on them. At that time the small synagogue was demolished, but I don't recall anymore who bought it. The head of the village council of Wielkie Oczy, Iwan Semczuk, took some of the bricks. The people who plundered Jewish possessions are mostly deceased or were exiled to USSR in 1945 and to the West after the death of general Świerczewski 3.

In fall 1943 the UPA 4 bands started murdering the Poles from time to time, and from April 1944 on, in our region the UPA bands started burning down Polish villages. People were mass murdered and their possessions taken. This was happening at the time when the Germans were already withdrawing from Russia, suffering defeat after defeat. In July 1943 the Polish-Russian guerrilla was already in our region. In the forest in Lipowiec the guerilla was spotted by a Ukrainian forester who reported this to the Germans. The military came and three guerilla men, young men, were shot and buried in the Catholic cemetery in Wielkie Oczy; one Russian man was taken as prisoner. He was sent to Jaworów to the German authorities, where he was terribly mistreated and later executed. A man from Wielkie Oczy, a certain Jan Pałczak (nicknamed Smeryk), a poor cobbler, saw all this; he was jailed for buying cigarettes for the guerilla men when they passed through Wielkie Oczy.

The houses were taken down, as the rumor among friends of the Germans had, because all trace of the Jews should vanish.  As for the Jewish cemetery, it was stripped by the local people of all the tombstones. For instance, Wolańczyk Wojciech has almost the whole barn built on these stones and the people from Trościany, who were settled here, made steps from these stones everywhere where they lived — even here where I live, but from the side of the town square, there were steps made of three stones. The entrance to my house is from Kościelna Street, and my neighbor, whose entrance is from the town square, made concrete steps instead of those stones. I really don't know what happened to these stones. Nowadays the Jewish cemetery is in a lamentable state. Some few years ago it was cleaned, some kind of chain to fence it off was put from the street side, a round stone and an artificial wreath with a plaque with a sign was put. Supposedly, a delegation came from Warsaw and instructed the township to take care of it, but now it is again neglected.

I recall that Jew Rosenwasser, director of the co-op in Soviet times; his wife was taken to the ghetto, but the Ukrainian authorities held him for a while longer as a translator, because none of those roughnecks knew any German. One day the Germans came, gave him a bouquet of flowers and took him in their car. There were also two young Jews from Czaplaki, painters, who painted the militia station and the township school. I think it was in 1942. They were told to go to the ghetto in Krakowiec. Two militiamen came to meet them half-way and executed them in a forest near Krakowiec. This is the ultimate in barbarity.

Starting in the fall of 1941 the township began, very systematically, to designate people to be sent to Germany until 1943 while the USSR still suffered defeats. My sister Maria was designated and on August 16, 1942 she left with other people for Germany to forced labor. Almost all young people, of course the Polish ones, were taken to Germany, and some of the young men to Baudienst 5, that is to forced labor on railroad tracks, to Lwów. My mother worked all the time on a field of a Ukrainian neighbor, who was secretary in the township, to keep me at home, because I was too frail to go to such hard labor, but I used to go to the Li[e]genschaft 6 to work in the field a few times every week.

During that time the local Polish population suffered very much from the hands of the Germans, while the Ukrainians were privileged. The Ukrainian police were in power until finally a German was appointed as the commandant. On 21 or 22 July 1944, I don't recall exactly, a UPA band invaded and surrounded the whole of Wielkie Oczy; they used incendiary bullets so that Wielkie Oczy burst in flames. Almost the whole village was burned. Twelve people were then killed. Livestock and possessions were plundered. In one house two women and four children were killed. One four-month-old baby in a cradle had his head smashed with a rifle butt. Around noon next day the remaining survivors gathered to flee beyond the San river, because the Red Army front was already between Lwów and Jaworów and in Wielkie Oczy there was disorder and we were fleeing along field roads toward Młyny; that band was waiting for us on the road in Świdnica. They wanted to finish the rest of us when they realized that we were already on the road Krakowiec–Radymno, and the German soldiers already marched on that road. Only Bronhasek Stefan was killed at that time, while we had already reached the San river and beyond. At that time I went to the vicinity of Rzeszów to our relatives; my mother stayed behind in Wielkie Oczy with her mother, an 86-years-old, sick old woman, because it was impossible to take her for such wandering.

The Red Army came to Wielkie Oczy only after these events, while that band broke into the "spirt-zawod" 7, that is the distillery. People were carrying vodka from the distillery in buckets. They drank heavily — so my mother told me. When the Red Army with the Polish Army had come and after they had passed Wielkie Oczy, the local authorities started organizing. I returned to Wielkie Oczy at the end of October 1944 and immediately in November I was employed in the township office. A Russian lieutenant was the military commandant and there were also two Russian soldiers with him. They lived in Hołajka's house and were the authorities of Wielkie Oczy. Slowly, the resettlement of the Ukrainians and of the families of those bandits to the USSR started in the fall of 1944, and the rest were resettled in the spring of 1945. That much I still recall and am writing. This is the truth.

Stanisława Cicha
written in Rudzienice
September 25, 1983

Translator's notes

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

2. kupony bielskie (Pol., plural) — A "kupon" in this context is a piece of fabric of predetermined size (depending on the kind of clothes to be made of the fabric), sold in retail stores. A "bielski kupon" was a piece of high-quality pure wool, manufactured before World War II in Bielsko, one of the largest centers of textile industry in Poland (nowadays Bielsko-Biała in southern Poland). "Bielskie kupony" were bought mostly for making men's suits.

3. Karol Świerczewski aka "Walter" (1897--1947) — Polish Communist activist, Soviet and Polish general. Evacuated to Russia in 1915, he spent several years in the Soviet Union and returned to Poland in 1944 as general in the Polish People's Army (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie). He was killed in a skirmish with UPA.

4. UPA (Ukr.) — Ukrayins’ka Povstans’ka Armiya (Ukrainian Insurgent Army), the military branch of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists.

5. Baudienst (Ger.), full name Der Baudienst im Generalgouvernement (Construction Service in the General Gouvernement) — an organization established in 1940 by the Nazi occupants on the Polish territory, providing forced labor for road construction work, railway work, etc. Serving in the Baudienst was obligatory for most citizens of Poland, except for Jews and Gypsies.

6. Liegenschaft (Ger.) — landholding.

7. spirt-zawod, actually spirit-zavod (Rus.) — distillery.

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