Ignacy Goldwasser, born in 1932
In the Bunkers
Borysław had 13,000 Jews. The Ukrainian population gladly welcomed the Germans entering our town. Right away, on the second day, the Jews felt the yoke of their enemy. The Ukrainians, mainly peasants from the countryside, attacked Jewish properties and began plundering. After the plundering, they started a pogrom. Armed with scythes, shovels, axes, pitchforks, and other implements, the peasants began to murder defenseless Jews. Three hundred were killed, and, in addition, many were mercilessly beaten. Bricks were thrown from the rooftops at escaping Jews; those who got caught were beaten with barbed wire, and cobblestones were flying in the air. After this occurred, things calmed down for a few weeks. There were now lots of poor people in town—because they had been robbed and, also, could not get work anywhere.
…“Germans entering our town” – the Germans entered Borysław in late June 1941.
When the Germans marched in, we were living outside of town in an Aryan district on Szczepanowski Street. We were ordered to leave this district. We moved into town to our cousin’s. Roundups began for digging ditches. Several days after the Germans marched in, we had to put on armbands with the Star of David to distinguish us from the rest of the town’s population. We were allowed to stay out on the street only until eight o’clock in the evening. We, the Jews, were told to concentrate in one district. It became very crowded. But it was not a ghetto; the area was not surrounded either by a wall or by barbed wire. We had exceptional luck, because we moved in with our cousin where we had a room for ourselves, that is, for the three of us (Mama, Papa, and me). Father worked in an annex where bread was baked.
…“where bread was baked” – chlebówka was the annex where bread was baked. (Author’s note)
A second “action” was conducted in August by the Germans with the aid of the Ordner. They grabbed people on the street and pulled them out of their apartments and hiding places. And this did not happen without beatings and torment. At first, everyone was assembled at the Sammelstelle in the Koloseum cinema. They were held there without food or drink.
Action/Aktion – forced roundup for deportation to concentration or death camps.
Ordner were members of the Jewish security police [Ordnungdienst]. (Author’s note)
Sammelstelle was an assembly place. (Author’s note)
They lay one on top of the other, that’s how crowded it was. Filth, noise, and poverty prevailed. For a bribe or a favor, you could go to the toilet; otherwise you had to relieve yourself where you were. It is easy to imagine what the prisoners looked like. They were then all taken away—where to, I don’t know. Five thousand people were taken in this action.
After the action was over, we came out of our hideout. When we were back on the street, an automobile filled with Gestapo police drove up and took Papa. Our despair had no bounds. After three hours, my father came back. He had been loading furniture for the Germans. We were happy to be back together again.
In September they began putting people in barracks. The Germans picked out those with a trade and placed them in a few buildings surrounded by a wooden fence. They were guarded by a Ukrainian policeman from the Werkschutz. They had a common kitchen, from which they received soup. With it they got one-eighth of a loaf of bread without butter. Some of them did a little trading in cigarettes or tobacco and made some money that way. They bought some additional provisions from the Poles. Such trading was called the “bazaar on the bunks”. A dentist named Grinszpan lived in the house next door. There he used to treat a German, the chief of the German police. Before every action the German would alert Grinszpan so he could hide.
Werkschutz was the factory police. (Author’s note)
The third action took place in October. It began at seven in the morning. Across the street from us was the building of the Ukrainian police. From it, before every action, a German came out on the balcony and summoned the Jews to assemble. Whenever he appeared on the balcony, we knew there would be an action. Grinszpan was warned by his German this time also and took us with him to his hideout. It was a small cellar. The entrance was blocked. The air was so thick that it was difficult to breathe. A match would not light. We were afraid to open the door so as not to be seen by anyone. During this action people were not taken to the Sammelstelle but loaded straight onto wagons. Lime had been spread inside the wagons so that people would suffocate.
That action lasted four days. This was in October 1942, and in November a fourth action took place. We left our apartment immediately. We got caught along the way and were taken to the police. There were some forty people there already. The Germans checked our papers, and whoever had a work certificate was released. Mama and I did not have one, so we were detained. Along the way, while they were leading us, I managed to escape. Farther along the way, Poles were helping Jews escape. A few dozen Poles mixed in with the Jews, and in the commotion, some of the prisoners were able to slip away. My dear mama was among them.
When I escaped, I did not know where to go. Betrayal lurked around every corner. There was little time to think about it. A sand pit was nearby, and the sand was being piled up beside it. I wanted to hide in that sand. Ukrainian boys noticed me there. They demanded ransom and threatened to turn me in to the Germans if I refused. There was no choice; I gave them my new coat, difficult though it was to part with it. The two sweaters I had on me followed the same route. When I set out to go back, a Ukrainian policeman caught me and was going to take me to the Sammelstelle. Along the way we passed the bakery where my father worked. He noticed me and was able to get me released with a bribe. I stayed in the bakery. Only late at night did we find out that my mother had also managed to escape.
A Pole named Luder came to the bakery. He was a good friend of Papa. He took me and one of Papa’s coworkers, Mr. Hammerman, and put us in his hideout. This was a place where formerly salt was produced. This hideout was discovered by the same Ukrainian boys who had already taken a ransom from me once before. Mr. Hammerman gave them one hundred złotys per person, and for the time being, we got rid of them. Although we were afraid to stay there any longer, there was no other choice.
The next day Mr. Luder brought Mama to us. We spent four days in this hideout. There was a pause for one day, and then an action began again, lasting a whole month. This action was conducted by Germans with the assistance of the Ordner and the Ukrainian police. They pulled people out of their hideouts and apartments. These people were assembled in the Grażyna cinema. The healthy ones were sent to the Janowski camp. Relative peace then ensued.
Janowska/Janowski – a concentration camp on the outskirts of Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine) where 40,000 Jews were killed.
The Jewish quarter was reduced in size. Around that time Papa met a Pole named Lipiński, who, for payment, took us into his hideout. When we got there, there were already two women and two children my age there. It was a pantry with a small window high up on the wall. There were two beds and a very small wardrobe. The three of us slept in one bed. We ate dinner together with the Lipiński family. We did not go hungry. For money, we were supplied with food. Papa visited us quite often. Being employed, he felt safe on the street. Before Christmas we decided to return home, because we had learned that there would be no roundups during the holidays. And we did indeed have a respite until February 15. That day, the German came out again onto his “famous” balcony, which foretold new repressions. This action has remained memorable for me.
This time Papa decided that each of us should run in a different direction. Papa went to the bakery and sent me to the Lipińskis. I had to cross a particularly well-guarded bridge. I slipped in among some boys who were going to school, and luckily, I was able to get through to Lipiński’s place. There, in addition to the previously mentioned pantry, a new hideout had already been prepared. We went down to the hideout. Two hours later, Mama arrived. On the way there, she also met some boys from whom she had to ransom herself. She gave them her leather gloves and some money.
Papa joined us in the evening. Mama and the Lipińskis insisted that he should stay with us. He maintained that he had been to the police and identified himself as a worker, so that there was no danger for him. In particular, he had to return because he had the keys to the bakery.
The next day some Poles came and told us that many Jews with armbands with the letter “A” had been taken. That was the kind of armband Papa had.
On the third day, Mama went home. Father wasn’t there. In the bakery, Mr. Hammerman didn’t know anything about Papa, either. It turned out that just before the action ended, a German, standing next to the last car, summoned Papa and loaded him onto the truck. A policeman who knew Papa had tagged him with a white card, which was an Ordner badge, wanting to save him in that way. Unfortunately, a Ukrainian policeman came up who knew Papa and was aware that he was not a Jewish policeman, so he sent him with the others to be killed in the “slaughterhouse”. That was the place where all the Jews were executed. It was a deep hole, quite long, with a wooden footbridge across it. All those doomed to die were told to line up naked on the bridge and were shot with a machine gun. There were cases when some, who were only wounded, fell into the pit and were buried alive. I can’t describe my pain and that of my mother. What could be worse than to lose a healthy father in the prime of his life in such a bestial manner? He was only forty-two at the time.
After this action, the Jewish quarter was liquidated. Everyone was to be moved to the barracks. We were also supposed to go, but Lipiński came and took us to his place. We hid in a shed. Only a thin wall separated us from our host’s quarters. Whenever he had visitors, we feared betrayal. We stayed there until April 1943.
We received a letter from my aunt in Drohobycz. She invited us to come to her. Mama thought a long time about whether it was worth the risk, until finally, on the night of April 12, Aunt sent a man for us, and we went with him. My aunt was in a Lager [forced labor camp]. The people from this Lager worked in an oil refinery. In addition, there was a concentration camp. The camp was guarded. The ghetto was surrounded by a wall.
Mama got a job in the Lager kitchen. It was not so bad for us. The commander of the Lager was a German named Sobotta. Whenever we found out that Sobotta was about to come to the Lager, we would hide
—all the children and the elderly, anyone who was not working. Sobotta was known for his cruelty. There were rumors that in Sambor he had personally shot children. After a few months, Sobotta was sent to the front. A German named Mensinger was sent to us. He was much better than Sobotta. He spoke Polish. He took a liking to my cousin, Jakub Tenenbaum. He called him Jaś. When he went out on his rounds, he would take Jaś with him.
After three months of our stay in the Lager, the following event took place. The Gestapo and Schupo arrived. They surrounded our entire camp. They ordered everybody to leave their rooms. Mama quickly stuffed me under the bed. Other mothers also tried to hide their children somewhere. While I was lying under the bed, the Gestapo came into our room, poked in the drawers, and looked under the bed. I was lying scrunched up against the wall, and by some miracle, they didn’t notice me. My heart was pounding like a jackhammer. Then they took out all the mothers and children to go to a roll call. Only the children who were favored, like my young cousin, remained.
A Gestapo was the abbreviation for Geheime Staatspolizei [German secret police]. (Author’s note)
Schupo was the abbreviation for Schutzpolizei [German security police]. (Author’s note)
In June 1943 the ghetto was liquidated. At seven in the morning the Schupo and Gestapo arrived and began an action. All those who could work were sent to a camp. Many of those who were not workers managed to escape to our Lager. There was a giant cellar in our Lager that could hold as many as a hundred people. Some people had made bunks for themselves on which they slept. Those taken prisoner were hauled off to Bronica, about fifteen kilometers from Drohobycz. There they were told to dig ditches, and later, those unfortunate people were executed. The liquidation lasted three days, after which we came out of our cellar. For a short while, it was quiet.
Bronica was a forest near Drohobycz where Jews were taken to be killed.
Next to the camp were two firms in which Jews worked. These firms were called Umschlagstelle and Treuben. Not long after the liquidation of the ghetto, these firms were also liquidated. Thereupon our Lager was made smaller, and many of those who were not workers were taken away. We had to move, because our home ended up outside the area of the Lager. We moved into one corner of a room. The refinery was two kilometers from the Lager. Next to it was a garden where, in the beginning, Mama worked.
Umschlagstelle means transfer place.
One time when a group of workers was going to work, the Schupo surrounded them. Mama was also in that group. Miraculously, she managed to escape. At that time, many people were taken to Bronica, among them, my aunt.
In October Ukrainian policemen arrived with Mensinger in the lead. They grabbed all the children who were playing in the courtyard and dragged others out of their apartments. They collected about thirty people altogether, took them to the Sammelstelle, and from there to Bronica. It was then that they uncovered the hiding place of my Uncle Weiss and his family. They took my uncle, my aunt, and my two cousins. They were all killed. That is also when the plant that manufactured bricks and shingles was liquidated. Several dozen people had worked there. The women and children were taken to Bronica, and the healthy men were taken to work.
My uncle and one cousin survived that place, but the rest of their family was killed. At the same time, the Germans were bringing in groups of thirty, forty, or fifty Poles, lining them up in the market square and shooting them. A truck would carry the bodies away.
In November the Germans announced new regulations. Before we went to work, Weintraub, our block leader in the Lager, had to line everyone up in rows of four for roll call in the courtyard.
After a few days, they assembled everyone. The people from our Lager usually waited until the people from the labor camp came in, and then they went off to work together, guarded by the Werkschutz. That day, the group from our Lager waited for the people from the camp for several hours.
Finally we got news that there was a roundup in the camp. This is when people from our Lager began running away. I had prepared a hideout. I hid together with a three-year-old boy. Mama told an Ordner friend where I was, so that he would know in case something happened. And indeed, the Schupo came in with that Ordner, looked under the beds, everywhere, except in the corner where I was. This is how I survived.
Every few weeks they conducted roundups, always taking a few people. In January we found out that our Lager was to be liquidated. More and more people began escaping from the camp. In March 1944 we learned that Kiev had been liberated.
Hildebrand, the chief commander of all the Lager in the area, came to ours. He appealed to people not to escape. He promised a transfer to Jasło, where everyone would be treated well. He said he would ensure that we would stay warm, but people didn’t believe him, and escapes became more common.
At the end of March, we found out that the Soviets were very close. Several dozen people, mainly young boys, went to the forest near Borysław and built underground bunkers there. Later they would come to the Lager and take people back to the bunkers for a fee (several thousand złotys).
For three days Mama and I tried to catch a truck to Borysław and from there to get to some bunker. Only on the fourth day someone convinced Mama to take the train, as a Pole. We had nothing to lose; we were in danger of being deported, so we decided to go. Some woman bought us the tickets. The train was very crowded. We seated ourselves on the steps, and after many hours we arrived in Hubicz, a suburb of Borysław. Here the train stopped for a longer time. This was a disaster for us. A German noticed Mother and summoned her and me to him. He searched us. He took our documents and money and led us to the Ukrainian police. A report was drawn up, and we were taken to a cell. Mama was severely beaten there. I got a beating, too, but not till blood was drawn. Many Jews were brought in the next day.
Everyone was searched again. All our belongings and money were taken. On the third day at eleven in the morning, Pel, the deputy police chief, came in and let us out. They needed people for work. We were taken to barracks in Borysław.
We got nothing to eat all those days. It was good that Mama had brought with her some bread and cheese. This saved us. We were so exhausted from the beatings and what we had experienced that we could barely stand up. Every day, when morning came, we expected to be taken away and executed. There were about a hundred of us. We lived together with some casual acquaintances we had met in the cell. We stayed there until April 12.
On the thirteenth, the police surrounded our barracks. We managed to escape to a nearby sewer, which was actually only the drain from the kitchen. We hid there and deliberated on how to make it to the forest. That night the people who got caught were sent off to Płaszów. People heard shots; evidently, they were firing at those attempting to escape.
Płaszów was a slave labor and, later, concentration camp outside Kraków where 20,000 Jews perished. It was depicted in Schindler’s List.
Our journey was very eventful. It was night; we couldn’t see the road. We kept walking into bushes or in the mud; the sound of our wooden shoes could give us away. But there was no choice, we had to keep on going. We wandered all night.
At four o’clock in the morning we smelled smoke. There was a small bunker in front of us. We entered it through a trapdoor. It was a hole in the ground. The walls were reinforced with logs. The roof was also supported by logs.
Altogether twenty people could fit in there, in about six square meters of space. The walls were wet. Water was dripping down on people. There were bunk beds, and a few people had some bedding, but everything was wet. We had a tiny stove, but we could cook only at night. Every day we had to clear the outside of the bunker from snow. Those who had lived there before us had left some rye, from which we made various dishes.
A so-called forest commission or forest police was active in the forest. There were about fifteen of them, and they were armed. They knew every bunker. Each bunker had to collect five hundred złotys of ransom. The money was given to the police commander, Eisenstein. Eisenstein then used it to bribe the Gestapo. He also maintained order, making sure that people did not rebel. When escapees from the camps or Lager came in, the police assigned a few persons to each bunker. We were placed in the bunker of a man named Baktrog. We lived in extraordinary harmony there. Everybody shared what they had. We stayed in this bunker for six weeks, until the end of May 1944.
Not far from our bunker, there was one belonging to a man named Lubianikier. When they ran out of supplies and money, Lubianikier went to the barracks to fetch someone who was wealthy. When you had money, you could buy provisions that would allow you to go on living. Unfortunately, as soon as he left the forest, he was caught by Mensinger. Under the pressure of heavy torture, he gave away the location of his own bunker and those nearby. We found out about this, so we had to leave our shelter quickly. We headed for an area called “the Jewish quarter” in the forest (where most of the bunkers were located). Unfortunately, they didn’t let us in, because there was no room.
We spent the whole day under the bare sky. Before dusk, we returned to our bunker to spend the night there. We learned that the whole forest was to be surrounded in the morning. Before dawn, we set out along the road that we had taken the previous day. We assembled on a hill. The owners of the bunkers in that “quarter” were afraid for their own lives, so they decided to take in only women and children. Therefore, the men built a makeshift shelter out of trees, which gave protection only from the rain. After a few days, we were also chased out of there.
It was terribly cold, and it was raining all the time. Things were so bad that we stopped being careful and started lighting open fires. We were tired of living, anyway. We were constantly reminded that we should not light fires, because the Waldschutz [forest police] could easily discover us. Besides, there were plenty of shepherds around, and it was indeed they who discovered our shelter. Mama and I fled to a bunker we were familiar with, belonging to a man from Drohobycz. We spent barely two days there. One of the Jews had an Aryan wife who brought him food every day. The second day we were there, Szaler was supposed to meet his wife in a village called Mrażnica. The Gestapo caught him. Szaler gave away our bunker. We expected a roundup, so we went back on the road before dawn.
From a distance, we saw the entire retinue—Eisenstein, the chief of the Jewish police, Weintraub, the engineer (now living in Italy), and the Gestapo. We managed to evade them. We escaped to another forest and spent several days in the thicket. The braver ones returned to our previous place of stay and there learned that nearly all of the bunkers had been discovered. The people were taken to the barracks. Everything they had was taken away from them.
We spent six days in the forest, cold and hungry. At night the men sneaked through to the old bunkers, but, unfortunately, they were all burned down. It was decided to build a new bunker. Without shovels or axes, it was a job beyond our strength. Trees had to be cut down with extreme caution, because the Waldschutz sometimes used police dogs to track us. Women and children hid in the bushes. During a torrential rain some shepherds discovered us, and we were forced to flee again.
We set out for the bunker of an acquaintance, Sternbach, who now lives in Wałbrzych. By chance, we encountered there Aunt and Uncle Miler and cousin Janina. After eight days, our bunker was nearly finished. As if out of spite, a heavy rain poured down. We were up to our ankles in water. Mama’s legs swelled so much that she could not stand up. The first bunk was built for my mother; it was put in place, covered with bedding and other rags. This was in June. When the sun came out, we took everything outside to dry out. This was a memorable time for us.
We brought our water from a clay pit. Everyone was unhappy. Late in the evening, risking their lives, the men would go to the village for food. This state of affairs lasted for six weeks. We heard rumors of the approaching Soviet offensive. It was already very difficult for us during these final weeks. We had neither food nor money, and we had little strength left. Many people were returning to the barracks. Rumors circulated that bandits (later known as Banderowcy) roamed the forests. They robbed, plundered, massacred, and murdered.
Banderowcy were guerilla bands of Ukrainian Nationalists, named after their leader, Stepan Bandera. They were anti-Polish as well as anti-Jewish.
One day, Sternbach’s son burst into our bunker and said that their bunker had been attacked by a band. They took away everything, claiming that they were partisans. He fled because he did not believe them. After a while, his father came running; he also managed to escape. He left his wife and sister-in-law to their fate. We began to panic. Where were we to run? We sent one of the men to scout around. Some people took off in an unknown direction. I stayed in the bunker with Mama. It was out of the question to go anywhere with her; she was horribly exhausted, swollen, and covered with sores.
We sat in the bunker. Suddenly Sternbach’s sister-in-law burst in, all bloodied, with her blouse torn. She had managed to escape from the hands of the bandits. She told us about their cruelty. She walked around half-naked; none of us had anything to give her, nothing to cover her, as we each had only one set of clothes. She finally borrowed a coat and went to get some clothes from her bunker. On the way she managed to take with her several other people, who had survived in other bunkers. In less than half an hour, the previous band showed up and murdered everyone in a cruel fashion. Sternbach and his son watched this scene from afar; then they escaped to Borysław. Everyone from our bunker fled. Only I, Mama, and my aunt and uncle remained.
The Red Army was approaching. At the end of July a Pole named Stefan came to us with the news that the Soviets were already in Lwów. The Germans were escaping from Borysław and taking the local population with them. People from the nearby village of Opaki were fleeing to the forest along with their cattle and belongings. They camped out in the bushes and noticed our bunker. They gave the children some milk and bread. They assured us that they would not harm us, that they were refugees just like us. They said that the Soviets were in Stryj already and would arrive here any day. They said that they would come in the evening and fix some potatoes for themselves and that they would share them with us. However, after they left, we did not feel safe. Some young people ran up and shouted to us, “Run away from here as quickly as you can; the Banderowcy are going to come at night and slaughter you!”
We did not think about it very long. We went to Engelhard’s bunker. This bunker was very well camouflaged. We rushed in there without asking whether we would be welcome. This was our last attempt at saving ourselves. There we spent three days without fresh air, without food, and without light. Mama tried to rouse me with water; she thought I would die at any moment. I really did feel half dead; in fact, I didn’t feel anything. I was like a corpse.
Engelhard did not have any place to sleep, so he went over to Ringer’s neighboring bunker. That night Banderowcy assaulted that bunker. They ordered everyone to come out. They shot at those who tried to escape. One person was killed. We found out that before they raided that bunker, they had been to our abandoned bunker.
In the evenings we heard the sounds of tanks and shooting. My uncle decided to go to Mrażnica, and there he found out that the Soviets had already been in Borysław for three days. He came back at noon and took us to town. We were afraid of the Banderowcy, but the bandits had gone into hiding like mice. We kissed each other with joy.
After a few hours we reached Mrażnica. Here life was proceeding normally. I was dragging my feet like an old man. Mama was barefoot and exhausted. On the way, we met a Jew who said that Jews were being registered at the former Jewish Community office. We went to that community office. Only there did we realize what nonentities we were. Each of us got a piece of bread, which we had not seen in months. It took a long time before we started believing that we were equal to others, that we were human beings.