Testimony of Wladimir Glembocki

Yad Vashem Document  03/7431

Translated by Shoshana Stiftel
Posted with permission of Yad Vashem
Those wishing to cite this material must get permission from Yad Vashem as well as the translator

The witness:  Glembocki, Wladimir
He was born in Ostryno [Ostryna], Grodno Region, today Belarus, in 1926, lives in Israel Ashkelon [address deleted].  The testimony was taken in 1994 by I. Alperowitz.

I attended the Tarbuth school and later  the Polish elementary school in Ostryna.  I finished in 1939, and in September Poland was occupied by the Soviet Government.  There is not much to tell about it.  The first thing they did – they gathered all the rich people and sent them somewhere inside Russia.   There were rumors they were sent to Siberia.  [This was probably a true rumor.  See Behind the Ice Curtain, by Dina Gabel, a member of an affluent Lida family sent to Siberia at this time].

Ostryno was a Jewish town.  There were about 2000 inhabitants, and about half were Jews.  There was a Hatsomer Hatsair organization for youth.   They learned about Jewish writers and Jewish songs there.  It was legal.  But when the Soviets came, it was prohibited.  Life began to be Soviet life.  All private businesses were closed and collectivized, and cooperatives established.  My father Leiba was a tailor and worked in a cooperative.  My mother’s name was Haya, and I had four brothers, Shmuel, Joel, Isaak and Ente.

When the Soviets came, some people knew about the Soviet system and presented propaganda all the time. They igathered Jews in the Synagogue and talked about the aims of the Soviet government to improve life and lower the prices of goods.

Jewish Community life was extinguished and there were no more Synagogues.  The buildings were turned into clubs and movie theaters.  One remained empty.

Ostryno had no industry.  There was a brick factory and a mill.   Both were taken by the state.  All the private businesses – tailors, shoemakers – were cooperatives now.

Young people were running away, particularly Zionist youth.  My brother’s friends,  Vili TAHRNICKI and  Leiba MEIROW – the rumor said, went  in the direction of Vilno.,  I don’t know how, it was illegal.

I know there were people like TWEROWSKI Nahman, who was working in the woods,  who was taken by the Soviets to Kazakhstan, with his whole family.  Non-Jewish families were taken with them, too.  The head of the Jewish Community was PARECKY.   He owned a textile factory.    They took his shop, but they didn’t touch him, neither the Soviets, nor the Germans.  He was in the Judenrat.   There were Jews who traded in wheat, who lived well in Polish times.  The Soviets did not touch them.

After the Soviets, I went to a Soviet school with some Jewish education.   The Tarbuth School became a Jewish school in the Yiddish language.  Yiddish books were published and we were educated completely in Yiddish.   There was no big change in the subjects, but the material situation worsened noticeably between 1938 and 1941.   Living conditions were bad, there were shortages of goods,  of bread and other items.   The Soviets said that everything was new and it would take time to get it right, so they are not able to provide everything.    Soon after the war started.  Refugees started to come from Germany and Poland.

Germans occupied Grodno and the surrounding region.   At the same time, the Russians occupied western Byelorussia on 17 September 1939.   The war started 1 September and lasted 17 days.   Refugees came from inside Poland, from Warsaw and from Lodz, at least 8 families.  They settled in Ostryno.  When the Russians came, they deported them mainly to Kazakhstan.

The refugees talked of how the Germans occupied Poland and began liquidating Jews.  That’s why they ran away.   I remember that a lot of them ran away to Grodno.   Many of them hid in the Synagogues.   One night the NKVD conducted a comb-out in Grodno.   They caught them all and sent them to Siberia.  Part of them arrived in Kazakhstan.   I was told that some of them even returned from there to Grodno and to Poland.

I continued in the Soviet school until 1941.

When the war started, we didn’t know much.  The radio did not mention the Russo-German war that was about to begin.    But at 3 in the morning we heard bombing.   I was in Grodno at the time, about 40 km. from Ostryno.   The first bombs fell on Grodno, because it was only 10-12 km from the border.  The radio announced that foreign newspapers were reporting the outbreak of war, but that that was not true.  This is what I remember I heard myself, as if it were yesterday.

It was Sunday at 4AM.  Bombs fell on Grodno and 3 unidentified planes appeared.  We immediately went outside to see what was happening.  Afterwards groups of 10-12 planes appeared and began bombing Grodno.  It was on the first day of the war.  The panic was enormous.    The river Niemen divides Grodno and the Germans made an effort to bomb the bridge and they destroyed the factory near it, and many other buildings.  That evening we walked to Ostryno.  The next day, the Germans came.   All of the Soviet Army disappeared, God knows where, entirely disappeared.  The Soviet government left the city to its fate.

The next day the Germans arrived.  I remember that I lived in front of the tserkwia (Russian church).   They started shooting.  Then a peasant ran up, waving a white flag.   After that came battalions of tanks, a lot of tanks, they did not stay for long, they drove through Ostryna and kept going east.  After the tanks came the infantry battalions and went in the same direction.

Announcements in Russian to beware and to rid the city of Communists and Jews were everywhere.  I remember it well.  Local collaborators appeared immediately.  Most of the Germans left the city, only a few remained.  They organized headquarters in the Jewish school and police units of Belarussians and Poles, but mostly Poles.

The ghetto was established in June.  It was ready in July.  There were announcements for Jews to move to the ghetto.

Right from the beginning, in addition to the police, the civil municipal government was organized.  At the head remained the former starosta, a Pole named Dogel.  Every Jew received papers identifying him as a Jew.  In July all the Jews were in the ghetto.  It was surrounded by barbed wire.  Those who had no place to live, lived in the Synagogue.  My family lived in the Synagogue.

The Germans established the Judenrat.  PARECKI was head of the Judenrat.  The Jewish policeman was one SLOTCHNIK.  They kept peace and quiet and did whatever the Germans demanded.   From time to time they ordered Jews to the square, to check if anyone had any gold.

The Jews were sent, right after the occupation, to forced labor.  There was a factory making thin wood plates [sheets?  Plywood?] in a town called Siniativka about 8 km from Ostryna, where many Jews were sent, as well as to wash and clean the roads and to shovel snow from them in winter.   There were very few Germans in Ostryno, so essentially the Polish police ran things.  They were very cruel.  Some of them, like Dombrowski, Maslow,  and Shimashko ruled the ghetto.  The last one watched the gate.  There was also one Liah, who came from Nowy Dwor, (8 km from Ostryno).   All the Jews from Nowy Dwor, about 1000,  were brought to the Ostryno ghetto early in 1942 (February – March).   Many of them lived in the Synagogue, which was cut up into cells, like stalls for animals, and many families lived there.  There was nothing to help all the people, with food, or anything.   There was no public kitchen, nothing.  Everyone tried to get food on his own.  Some went out to trade personal belongings for potatoes.  The Germans supplied some watered milk and 100 gr. of bread per person.

Those who worked got the same amount, sometimes they managed to buy something outside.

The Germans forced us to wear a yellow star in front and in back.  We were not allowed to walk on the sidewalks.  On holidays we were not allowed outside the house.  If someone opened a door and went only 1 or 2 meters, he was shot.   There were cases where I saw the dead people myself.

The Polish police could enter the ghetto freely and shoot as they wished.   At that time, there were no organized partisan groups, so no young people ran away.  There was no contact at all between neighboring towns, we knew nothing of what was happening in Grodno.  Each town lived its life separately.  Szczuczyn and Wasiliszki were about 13 km from Ostryno, one north, the other south, still we heard nothing from them.  We did not know the Jews in them were all shot at the beginning of 1942, near the airport in Szczuczyn.  The Zoludek Jews were shot ½ km  outside the town.  I saw the place.  It has a sign, with trees and a little fence.  We only heard about it in late summer.

In Ostryno the Germans quite often arranged hunts for Jews.   The first time was right after the ghetto was established.  By the time the Jews started to come in, the policemen were very cruel.  I saw a 12 year old boy, Nachman KAPLAN, killed.   He was taking things out of a house outside the ghetto.  He had his hands full of things when the policeman Liah shouted at him to throw the things away.  He did not understand him or hesitated and kept going, running forward, so the policeman took a gun and shot him.  They shot an old man, Beril.  Shooting and killing went on all the time.

One time the Germans made a man-hunt.  There was a family ANSTIBOWSKI with 5 children.  The Germans  demanded Jews to bring all the gold they had.  This family hid some gold rings they had.  They were taken from the group of people and shot right there, one by one.  That is how it was.  At another Aktion, they saw 2 invalids.  After the “Aktion” for taking gold and valuable objects, they took them out of the group and shot them there.

The Germans started to liquidate the Ostryno ghetto at the end of October 1942.  They took the Jews to Grodno.

They woke us up at 5 in the morning, it was dark, and ordered all the Jews to gather in the nearest square.  All the people form Ostryno and Nowy Dwor, except those too sick to walk.  They remained in the ghetto.  Afterward we heard how the policemen went through the houses and shot everyone they found.   There was a young man who’d broken his leg and it was in a cast, so he could not walk, and his family was forced to leave him behind in his bed.  His mother could not take him out.

Outside they had vehicles and the all the Jews of Ostryno  were taken on them to Oziery, 24 km from Ostryno and 24 km from Grodno.

We were told we had no need to take anything with us but food and clothes.  We had nothing to take with us.  There was nothing.

The original Jewish population of Oziery had been liquidated, and we were brought in to replace them.  But on the next day we were placed in vehicles again and taken to Kolbasino, about 1.5 km from Grodno.   It was a former camp for Soviet captives.  There were long trenches in the ground.  They put us there.  The Jews of Oziery and Lino were already there.   They gave us 100 gr. of bread and soup once a day.

I do not think that Jews were taken to work.  The whole camp was fenced with barbed wire.  It was near a narrow-gauge railway.  There were a lot of German SS guards.  Not far was a cemetery and many of those buried there died in the ghetto.  As a matter of fact, Kolbasino was a transit camp to Auschwitz.

There was a cruel discipline.  For example, I myself saw how a man took a potato and put it in his pocket.  The SS man Kurt Wyze saw it, I heard a short order, and the man was shot immediately. All the people from the ghetto were brought in to Kolbasino on carts by peasants.  They put us down in the trenches, all of us, young and old.  The old people died frequently, and were all buried in the cemetery.

Here, too, Parecki was head of the Judenrat.  There was no order, he was the only one who dealt with the Germans.  I don’t know why, but the Germans in Kolbasino acted as if we came from Grodno.  I have asked the Auschwitz museum and they sent me documents in 1989, and there was one that stated I arrived from the Grodno ghetto.  In Kolbasino were people from different towns in the region.  We were in Kolbasion about a month.  I don’t think people knew what the future would bring.  Only when they started taking people out of Kolbasino, did we hear maybe they were being taken to Auschwitz, but we didn’t really know what that meant.  We heard it was a kind of work camp and that people lived there in groups, with families.  Though Kolbasino was only 1.5 km from Grodno, we knew nothing of what was happening there.

The situation was awful.   People died from hunger and illness and nobody helped them.

My mother died in 1938 in Vilno, but my father and brothers were all in Kolbasino.  After a month, on 30 October, all the people from Ostryno and Nowy Dwor were ordered to walk to the railway station in Lososnaya, about 2km away.  There were about 2000 people, many old ones and children, and they could hardly walk.  There were regular wagons, and we sat there and had no idea where we were going.  Actually, we arrived in Warsaw.  We stood there, two and a half hours, hungry, tired, with no strength to go on.  I saw one woman who asked someone outside the wagon to bring her water in exchange for a gold ring.  When the train started to move, someone said, “Thank G-d, it’s not going to Treblinka”.  We already knew Treblinka meant death.  But Treblinka was not far from Warsaw. Too.

Well, the train transport was full of our people and it took us to southern Poland.  We rode all night and in the morning of December 2, arrived in Auschwitz.  [note:  probably an error, probably means November 2]

Before arriving at Auschwitz, the train stood 3 hours.  After that it moved and this is what we saw:  barbed wire, long barracks, SS-men and a lot of armed guards.  A building about 40 m from the barracks, a very high gate, 4 meters.  The train went inside, and on the gate was written “Arbeit macht frei” – work sets you free.

The entire train came into the camp, at a big square.  A command “eintreten” was given.  On the square you could see a lot of SS-men, standing there with all kinds of clubs in their hands.  They walked on the square.  We heard a command “Leave with your things”.  Who could walk, exited, who couldn’t, remained on the train.  SS-men took those people off the wagons in the most violent and sadistic way, using sticks and fists.  They heaped them up near the wagons and moans were heard around.  Those were old people, who couldn’t move.  Grey beards, it is just terrible to tell.  Moans, moans, and moans.  After that came a command:  “Men separately, women separately, children separately”.  They stood in a row and the SS-men pointed with fingers – this one here, this one there.  This was a selection.  Then trucks appeared and these people were loaded on them, half dead.  They were taken, we don’t know where.  We, my brother and me, were separated from our father, they put us in another column, and we stayed alive.  My father with our other brothers and little sister were taken away in another column and I never saw them again.  I stayed alive with my older brother Shmuel.  After the selection, they took us to a bath.  We were very dirty and hairy.  In fact, they took half dead people to the bath.  After shaving and bathing, they put us in a separate block.  I don’t remember its number.  In the block they put us in a row and began registering people.  My brother got a number of 79435, and I got 79436.  After becoming prisoners of Auschwitz, they dressed us in clothes with stripes, and those who survived the night in Auschwitz-1 were sent to Auschwitz-3 the next day, to the concentration camp Monovitz.  When we arrived in Monovitz, it was early December, we a newly built camp.  There was still a mess all around.  They put us in a quarantine barracks.  The first thing I remember was that there were other, non-Jewish prisoners.  They were green Germans – thieves, and black Germans – saboteurs, political prisoners, and, of course, Jews.  There, in Auschwitz, there weren’t just Jewish prisoners.  There were also Germans and Russians and all kinds of people.

While we were in quarantine, there was only one barracks for the Jews from the Ostryna and Nowy Dwor ghettos, about 300 men.  When we joined them, we got wooden beds, all with mattresses and pillows stuffed with sawdust.  Every morning at 6 they waked us and brought us some kind of coffee, G-d knows of what it was made.  I will never in my life forget the sight of hungry people looking for something to eat in the bottom of a kettle.  In that way we passed one month in quarantine, 4 weeks finished and it’s exactly January 1.  After that they sent us to blocks in which prisoners lived already.  I was sent to block number 14 and my brother to block number 12.  In my block, the block leader was a strong, healthy, tall German.  Ernest was his name.  And this German settled matters with the prisoners every day.  He had a resin pipe with lead in the end.  Someone who didn’t get in line in time when the command “eintreten” was given, or something like that, and the resin pipe hit his head. And that was that.  He killed a lot of people.  There were many blocks in the camp.  During this time there were more and more blocks, the whole camp was full of prisoners.  All of them were supposed to work.  In our block number 14 was a carpentry section, a section who prepared potatoes for dinner, a shoemaking section, and many others.  When we arrived in January, they put us in different work teams, Jews among them, too.  At the beginning, prisoners from other camps, particularly from Buchenwald, were sent to Monovitz.  A lot of Jews and Germans came from Buchenwald.  Many Czech Jews were among them.  One of them, an old man named Loui, had some influence on the others, and this man told me one day – you should go work on the potato team.  The potato team took potatoes from the warehouse near the kitchen and cleaned them.  For some time I carried clean potatoes to the kitchen.  After that I was transferred to a painting team and then to a locksmith team, where I stayed until the January 19, 1945 evacuation.

I remember well that in March 1943 some kind of commission arrived at the camp.  German military and civilians.  They stood by the gate as section after section, about 30 men each, went to work.

Near Auschwitz was a big chemical factory for methanol gas called Bunowerke. I learned about it accidentally when I was sent there as a painting team worker or a locksmith worker.  You ask, what was my job?  I had to clean pipes with a metal brush.  As I said already, at the beginning of March this commission was standing by the gate and drew out some prisoners from the working teams.  An orchestra was standing by, playing German marches, the prisoners went out in columns, were counted and sent to work.  At the same time a German was standing there and pulled sick and weak people out of the columns, forming a new column near the fence.  And the kitchen potato storage was not far from this fence, about 70-80 meters from the place where the prisoners were standing.  I think it was a group of no less than 2000 men.  They stood there until noon, about 2-3 hours, and then the trucks came and took them away.  I never saw them again.  They were killed in the Auschwitz crematory.  My brother was killed among these 2000 people, they pulled him out because he was sick.  Much later, in 1989 or 1990, I wrote to the Auschwitz archive and got some details about this arriving from ghetto Grodno and staying in the camp until December 1944. After that, “his destiny is unknown”.  No doubt, “unknown” means “killed”.  There, in Monovitz, terrible things took place.  Particularly in 1944.  Trains with prisoners came in and columns of sick people went out constantly.  The camp was filled.  In July or mayb September, I saw prisoner number 565000.  Do you know what that means?  People were pulled out and liquidated  and at the same time new victims came in.  In this camp, Auschwitz-3, Monovitz, were no fewer than 20000-25000 prisoners (at a time).

In July 1944 and later, planes bombed the camp.  At 11 AM, American planes came to bomb the Bunowerke and at 10-11PM, Russian planes appeared.  We understood the front was not far from us.  The prisoners began to plan how to survive.  I remember two of them, Nathan and Leon, were in the camp bath and because the distance between the bath and the camp fence was not more than 80-100 meters, they decided to tunnel.  Near the camp was the main road to Krakow, and they hoped to escape this way.  Unfortunately, a German guard discovered the tunnel, and these two men, Nathan and Leon, were hanged on the camp’s main square.

In August-September the same year there was another escape attempt from the Monowitz camp.  Three men, Shlomo, Oleg, and another, ran away.  They left camp in a working team and then escaped in the direction of the Carpathian Mountains, only 30 km from Auschwitz, but they were caught, too.  I remember all the prisoners standing outside almost a whole night, while the Germans chased the fugitives.  Finally they were caught and hanged in the middle of the square.  Such cases happened very often in the concentration camp Monowitz.

The frequent bombings made us realize the end was near.  There was a rumor among the prisoners that the camp would be evacuated.  And exactly 19 January 1944, all the prisoners were quickly formed into columns, everybody got ½ kilo of bread, a little margarine, and camp was ready to march.  It was Wednesday, and at the beginning the weather was very bad, there was a cold wind, but later the sun came out and at the end of the day the camp began to evacuate on foot.  When the prisoners were ready to go, a change of guard was noticeable.  Instead of SS-men guarding the towers, there were some men  in black uniforms, G-d knows who they were, maybe collaborators of Vlasov.  The entire camp moved in the direction of Auschwitz; the Monowitz camp was 8 km from the town Auschwitz (there is also a town named Auschwitz).  On our route we went through places like Nowi Buri, Glivitz (Gliwice), and Katovitz (Katowice).  On foot the whole time.  In Novi Buri we spent the night in an abandoned brick factory.  The next day we kept moving and the next night we spent in a camp called Javorno.  Day after day we marched on foot.  This way, we reached Katowice.  I remember when we passed Gliwice, German civilians threw empty bottles at us.  In Katowice, they put us in cattle cars and a very long train headed southwest.  The train passed the Carpathian Mountains and the Czech border.  In a Czech town, the train stopped under a pedestrian bridge, and the people passing by threw us some bread or whatever they had.  But they could only help so many hungry people.  The train moved on and at the end of the night, about 4-5 AM, when we passed a woods full of snow, I jumped from the train with my friend. Many had already done it before, taking advantage of the light guard.  We decided to go east, we hoped to hide in the woods there.  But in about one day we were caught by German gendarmes, probably betrayed by our prison uniform.  They put us in the jail of a small town named Litowie, where we met a lot of other prisoners caught the same way.  The prison in Litowie was already full, so after 4 days they transferred us to jail in another Czech town called Olmice.  In this prison, I saw on the wall a sentence written in blood “Hello, brothers of bad luck”.  I was shocked.

From Olmice, they took us to Brno.  They put us in the 4-story local Gestapo building and almost every day there were investigations.  Every one was accompanied by physical suffering and shouts like “you dirty Jew”.  In my first investigaion, they had about 20 men in one room, and when it was my turn, they pulled me out of line so roughly I lost consciousness.  One the questions were asked in mixed German-Russian language, by men dressed in not really German uniforms.  They were from the Russian Liberation Army of the German collaborator Vlasov.

From Brno they transferred us to a prison in Prague called Pankrac, then to the concentration camp Terezin.  When we arrived in Terezin, I remember it was the end of February, there was a thaw and dirty snow all around.  They put us in a row, told us to take off all our clothes, including shoes, except shirt and trousers.  We stood there barefoot, and you can imagine what that mean.

After that they put us in a building where we met another group of prisoners from Auschwitz.  People began to die like flies.  A lot of people died there.  We also met people from Czechoslovakia with yellow stars on their chests.  I can describe exactly what kind of food we got there, without exaggeration:  Sunday – 100 grams of some kind of soup.  G-d knows what it was, but it was warm, so we ate it.  This was the only food for the day.  On Monday, we didn’t get any food at all. On Tuesday we got about 200 grams of bread.  On Wednesday nothing, and on Thursday 200 grams of soup again.  On 8-9 May, the Soviet Army finally liberated us.  We arrived in Terezin as a group of 500 men, but there were only 18 survivors left.  I was half dead, I couldn’t stand.  I was healed by the Soviets and stayed as a soldier in the Soviet army from May 1945 to 30 September 1950.   After I left the army, I went back to live in Grodno.  I lived there until the 27th of September 1991 when I left for Israel.

I left the Soviet Army without any specialization, so I had to finish a 14-month bookkeeping course and then a 2-1/2 year course for head bookkeeepers.  After I finished the 9th and 10th grade of regular school, I studied from 1962 to 1969 at an Institute of National Agriculture.  When I finished my studies, I began work as head bookkeeper of a large undertaking in Grodno, a top office of 24 organizations.  I spent almost all my professional life there.

At the end, I’d like to add something more.  When the work teams walked to their work at the Bunowerke, the road was very slippery, and the prisoners had wooden shoes.  Every slip was considered an escape attempt by the guards, and the prisoner was shot on the spot.  In winter, the prisoners had to carry such dead victims back to camp almost every day.

End of testimony of Glembocki Vladimir.

Copyright © 2001, Shoshana Stiftel
HTML by Irene Newhouse, ed. 6/21/2016

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