Testimony of Golda Shwartz

YAD VASHEM Document 03/6922

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: Golda SHWARTZ, born in Ostrin, Poland in 1929. She lives in [address deleted], Israel. The evidence was given to Tikwa Petel on 25 July 1993.
Places mentioned: Ostrin, Szczuczyn, Solodgubowce

We were five children in the family of which I was the second. We all attended school and spoke Hebrew with our parents. Dad was a merchant. Mom helped him. He traded prosperously in dried mushrooms for medicinal purposes.

Ostrin was a little town. All the Jews lived near each other. Our house was between the Jews and the Gentiles. I studied in the Tarbut School. When the war started, all that my mother worried about was that her five children stayed home not learning anything. She did not know what to expect. The Tarbut School had seven classes. After the Russians arrived in 1939, we continued to study there for two more years.

We were Zionists in the Hachalutz movement. Father was active in the community. When new teachers applied, the committee decided in our home. We paid for our school and also for the poor pupils. When the Russians came, we had no problem because my father knew Russian well although we did not. We had to study in Russian so I just memorized everything including poetry by Taras Bulba. I recall language as the only change in the school.

The Russian officers wanted to take our new house that father built in Szczuczyn so my Dad decided to move to his house from Ostrin, keeping the house in Szczuczyn. The Soviets took our house in Ostrin that was smaller. In Szczuzcyn, we did not attend school. Now, my father worked in the dairy in Szczuczyn.

The Germans arrived in Szczuczyn on a Monday. First, planes dropped bombs. My little sister was not at home. I went out to look for her. I was outside my neighborhood. Two German planes could shoot me but did not. I ran away. They went after me but did not shoot as they did before. They could play with a child just to scare her. The atmosphere at home also was difficult. We had no shelter and only could stand by the wall for protection. That was all.

Shortly after entering the town, the Germans ordered the Jews to live in houses only on one street. They called it a ghetto. We lived there selling clothes that we brought from our house. Dad took a horse and wagon so that we brought what we could from our house. Our uncle had an apartment in the ghetto. We went to live there. Even before this, we were not allowed to walk on the sidewalk, only on the road. We could not walk side by side but only behind one another.
The Germans came mostly on Shabbat to see if the Jews were clean. The killed those they found on the street. The ghetto had no fence. This facilitated selling a robe to a Gentile in exchange for flour or something else.

During the days in the ghetto, all we did was read, even my little brother. That pleased my mother. Reading always was very important to my family. We had many books and exchanged them among the children. One day that I remember I was alone with my father. I had to cook, me, a little girl. There were other families but I did what women do in the kitchen. I cooked and cleaned the room. We did little else.

9 May 194_  [note: the major mass executions in the Lida area took place in May, 1942] was Shabbat, the day the Germans loved to kill us. They said for every Jew in the town to come out in the street. About two thousand people were there. They started making a selection, deciding who stayed. Of course, some cheated. Who stayed? Only a small family, mostly craftsmen and professionals. Big families were to work in other cities supposedly but they meant to bring them to huge graves already prepared. I was with my entire family, wearing many clothes. I told my mother I was going in to get a coat. I ran into the apartment of a family I knew. They were already gone. While the Germans started catching the running Jews, I hid under a bed. A German found me and wanted to shoot me but a Polish policeman, who worked for the Germans said, "There are more Jews. Leave her alone." They pushed out into the yard with a cellar. In the small towns, the cellar entries were outside the house with an opening like a roof. I was told to go down and look to see if there were any Jews. I came back and said that I saw no one. Then, the German shot me, missing my heart but wounding my lung. At this time, my father managed to run to the house where I was in the cellar. He went under the roof. The Polish policeman present at my shooting came back after a while and brought me a pillow. I asked for water. I must note this here even though others say that he killed Jews.

Interestingly, I felt nothing until I drank the water. I felt nothing. People say that when someone is shot they feel nothing at the beginning. It is true. I felt no pain until the moment I drank a lot of water. I was in great pain. I shouted. Actually, many Jews were in the cellar and asked me to be quiet. They promised to take me to the hospital later. I did what I could but I could not stop shouting.

At night, the policeman came with the people from the Judenrat. They took me out of the cellar and brought me to my uncle, a craftsman who was left in the town with his wife and daughter. I was there all night in great pain. My aunt tried to help. Only in the morning, together with my father did they take me to the Polish hospital that took me in and cared for me. It probably was traumatic for them too. After hundreds of years of living with Jews, this is all that remained. They did everything to help me.
That's all that was left of my family--my father and me. They killed my mother, my three sisters, and my brother. We knew it. The Gentiles prepared the graves near the airport a few evenings before the killing. I was between life and death. I recovered. Even the Gentile doctors were glad. Dr. Konrad and his son were well known around the area.

I want to remind everyone again about the Szczuczyn Judenrat. They did everything they could and more to help. For example, I knew someone named ZLOKOWSKI personally. He went from house to house and arranged meals for the children.
I have another sad story from before May. I had an aunt, my mother's sister, and an uncle, my father's brother, and their two children. They lived with us in the ghetto. Uncle worked for a Pole, who had a maid. The wife of the Pole had a clerk who quarreled with the maid. The maid reported to the Gestapo that the wife gave milk to my uncle that he later gave to the sick and poor in the ghetto. That was true. My mother did not let them take the children. They killed my uncle and his wife. The Germans sent someone from the Judenrat to get the children. When he understood what was occurring, he said that he would return to tell them to take him instead and to let the children go. After a while, he returned with the children. Meanwhile, another family was reported as communists. (What communists in our town?) So, the Germans first killed the parents of the so-called communists and then demanded their children. They did not search much. They took out children and killed them. They were found embracing each other. [NOTE: This may refer to the KOPELMAN and BUTRYMOWICZ children. The Butrymowicz children were found in such a fashion, mentioned in Yad Vashem document 03/4378, O33C. Here the story is unclear. The witness refers to Jewish policeman. The meaning is unclear.]

Nobody gave food in the ghetto. We lived from exchanging things with the Gentiles.

After a year, the Germans decided to close the ghetto. The night before, the Polish policeman came and took me to his home. My father gave him whatever he could but also thought the policeman wanted me as a witness for him. I really cannot tell anything bad about him. Ironically, as I said, he killed many Jews on the day of the big Aktion but took me to his home, endangering his wife and three children's lives. Nothing is simple. My father hid in a pit with another man and woman. Every evening, they went to a Gentile woman who helped them. One day, my father sent a Gentile, who together with the policeman took me to a village about ten kilometers from the town. He left me to wait in the woods and sought out the Gentile who disappeared. He did not find him so we returned to the town. His wife worried greatly about the danger to her little children.
After a day or two, again my father sent another Gentile. Again with the policeman, we went to a village. This time the policeman asked his name and the name of the village and which house was his. In the evening, my father came with two friends. We went to a woman where we stayed for some months. We saw that remaining meant starvation. We lived in the barn of this war widow. She hardly had enough food for herself and her three children. One of my father's friends had a brother who was a partisan. He and the other man decided to look for him. They went out one evening and never returned. The Gentile woman brought a pot of flour boiled in water every morning with no spoon or plate. We ate from the pot and hardly could get all the flour out. We could not subsist on this food. The woman brought us peas straight from the field. We arranged ourselves in a corner of the barn where we crawled on our knees in this very small place, large enough for two to lie or sit. I was with the young girl who came with my father.

A neighbor saw the woman bring the pot to the barn every morning and became suspicious. He probably reported her, not to the German but to the White Poles who hated Jews. They came and looked for us. They saw the hole for we had no time to pull hay to hide the hole. A Pole said, "What is this hole?" and shot inside. Luckily, he did not wound us. The next morning, the woman was afraid to go to the barn. She was sure that we were dead. When she came finally, she shouted to her children, "Girls, girls…" She saw that we were alive and was happy to find us. We continued to live with her. She did not ask us to leave; we had no other place to go. Actually, she did not really like us but thought that after the war, we will give her a dowry for her daughters. We did promise her and even made a contract, not for money but for things that we buried in the ground. Thus, we hid until the end.
During this time we talked, the young woman and I. She was much older. Once, we caught cold. The winter was very cold. We had not water because the woman did not go the well. She was quite sick of us after the year.) My partner suggested that we kill ourselves to stop the suffering. Actually, what kind of people would we be if we survived she wondered. Probably insane and ill. Indeed, she had blood in her lungs and got tuberculosis. I was younger and stronger. We got better and did not die.
What did we do all the time? First, we sewed and repair all the woman gave us. I knitted to keep me busy. It was dark inside but a crack admitted light to which we put a sheet of white paper. You would not believe how much light that gave us.
We were not in real danger except for the time I related above. Once, on a rainy day, a shepherd took refuge in the barn and heard us speaking Yiddish. He knew but never told anyone. He only said that if the woman would marry him, he would not tell. Eventually, they married after the war.

At one period, the family was sick with typhoid fever and could not bring the pot. They brought the cow to the barn. We milked the cow to stay alive.

At the end of the war, the Germans were not so organized and also were hungry. They went from village to village plundering pigs, chickens, and eggs. They came to "our" house too. One of the daughters, sick with typhoid, wanted to run from the Germans but fainted. The woman cried and shouted that she was hungry too and had no food. The Germans believed her and left. Then, came the spring. The war was over.

We knew liberation was near when we heard the planes at night. We felt this was the end. Then, the woman did not want us to be in her house. She took us to the nearby woods. We sat there, suddenly hearing people sing. I cannot describe the joy we felt. The next day, the woman went to the policeman, the one who saved us and brought him to the woods. He said that the town was now dangerous without any governance yet. Everyone does as he pleases. They may kill us. The woman did bring us to town. Her name was Helena Jocewicz [or Jucewicz]. The Gentile was Kaminski. The village was ten kilometers from Szczuczyn and called Solodgubowce.

We came back from the woods to the woman and then to the Polish officer who cared for us. I worked as a clerk. Then, I went to Minsk to take a course as a cook-housekeeper, not easy but I finished it and returned to Szczuczyn where I met my husband. We decided to go to Palestine. This took us four years, three in Italy and one in Austria. We went through Poland, living in Lodz for a while. Then, we went to Czechia [sic], Hungary, and on a train to Italy. We waited a long time.

 I corresponded with Helena for a long time. I sent her a lot of packages of good clothes. She was happy with them. I could not give her more for the Gentiles dug every centimeter of earth and took all that the Jews put there. I still correspond with one of her daughters who lives in Szczuczyn.

Copyright © 2001, Shoshana Stiftel
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