Karol Galiński, born in 1931
The tragedy began in 1941
I was born into a Jewish family in the small town of Mosty Wielkie, formerly in the Lwów Province. Here is my family: father, Hersz Karg, mother, Sara, née Kuszer, sister, Freida, brother, Józef, another brother, Abraham, and myself, Naftali. I was the fourth and youngest child in the family. In September 1939, the Soviet Army entered, and great misery set in. Shortages of everything began immediately––food, soap. There was literally nothing. Enormous lines for even the smallest purchase. Taking turns, one would have to stand two full days for a kilogram of sugar or, at another time, for a bar of ordinary soap. These shortages rendered life terribly difficult, but they were of themselves not yet tragic. No one from my family was sent to Siberia.
Siberia – between 1.5 and 2 million Poles (including Jews) living under the Soviet Occupation were deported to Siberia and the Soviet Far East.
The tragedy began in 1941 after the entry of the German troops. My father was shot near the house just for amusement, maybe because he wore a beard. My oldest brother, Józef, was held in some camp, probably Zawonie; we never heard of him again. My mother and sister perished on the day of the liquidation of the ghetto. I lived through that butchery together with my brother, Abraham, four years older than I.
Here is how that day looked in my eyes. My mother and sister left early in the morning, as they did every day, for forced and unpaid work, and my brother and I, as youngsters, remained home. At a certain moment, we heard the outburst of heavy shooting. We understood that the liquidation of the ghetto, which had been nervously awaited already for some time, had begun.
In one room of an apartment occupied by many families, a small pit had been prepared, dug out under the floor and camouflaged. We entered it, closing the lid over us. It was covered by a piece of old car- peting. In this hole, we stayed the entire day. Without interruption, the shouts of the murderers, the crying of children, and the lamentations and prayers of adults reached us.
At a certain moment, we heard somebody stop near our window, the crying of children, and a male voice in Ukrainian, “Are you coming or not?” A woman’s voice answered, also in Ukrainian, “I am coming, Sir, I am coming.” We recognized by the voice that the woman was a relative of ours with her two small daughters. The older one was five, and the younger one, quite small, a babe in arms. My guess is that she stopped intentionally for a moment to bid us farewell in this manner. She knew of our hiding place.
After coming out of this hiding place, I discovered that this woman’s mother had been shot a moment earlier. They had been hiding in the loft of a shed in the courtyard. The crying of the children undoubtedly gave them away. The dead mother appeared frozen in place at the small window of the loft while below lay an eiderdown and a pillow. Evidently, the old woman had not wanted to jump.
Adjacent to our room, there was another room with a basement where a large group of people were hiding. They were taken out and murdered. We heard all of this perfectly in our dug-out hole. Yet another horrible murder took place in Mosty Wielkie. A large group of Jews were locked up in the synagogue and burned alive.
Toward evening, when all sounds had already quieted down, I came out of this hole without my brother. Just beyond the door, in the vestibule, I spotted a German. I froze with fear, but I overcame my nerves and walked away. He stopped, looked at me but said nothing.
In the town square, I saw two piles of evenly stacked dead people. I knew that our mother and sister were among them, as well as this relative with her children, and, as I estimated, several hundred other people. I went to get my brother, and together we set out for the place where our home had been located before our going to the ghetto. Here, our nerves no longer held out. We were overcome with horrible despair.
That day, we lost our most precious mother and sister, and in addition, we found out that our house did not exist anymore. It was taken apart by our Ukrainian neighbors because it was old, while the new wooden cow shed had been moved over to their lot. The boy from that house said with laughter, “Take another look at your stable.”
Daily fear, grief, cold from the wet ground, hunger and thirst, and now the sight of the remnants left from our house engendered such great despair that we cried out loud without paying any attention to the threatening danger. We could not get hold of ourselves. Indeed, even today after fifty years, writing these words, I am also crying. There is no way to erase it all from memory. Between ten and twenty other Jews may have survived that day.
The next morning, we were all transported to the ghetto in Żółkiew. Here, we lived as if in a concentration camp – barbed wire, probably electri- fied, every day this or that person killed, terrible hunger, awful crowding, misery difficult to describe. The surface of my hands and feet were swol- len from hunger. Lice and other insects were eating us up. We were lacking even water and dishes, not to mention soap or washing powder.
Such was the life that continued until the day of the liquidation of the ghetto. My brother and I survived it as follows. In the little courtyard, there was a shed, and underneath it, somebody had dug out a cellar. We got in there after lifting up the toilet seat in the outhouse which had been placed there. In the morning, eleven of us entered, and we sat through one day, one night, and still one more day.
The killing of Jews lasted these two full days. They were shooting at everybody wherever they were found. Only babies and little children were killed differently – swung by their little legs against a wall or a post and then dropped onto a truck. Only in one case, they handled it differently. Some fifty Jews did not want to come out of a cellar. The assassins poured in gasoline and tossed in a grenade. This was related to me by a boy whose brother perished in this cellar while he survived, probably only he. They were twins, and I knew them because we attended school together in Mosty. He told us about this in the evening of the day of the annihilation of the ghetto.
In the ghetto in Żółkiew, there were frequent incidents of people deliberately throwing themselves on the wires in order to hasten the end of their miseries. The sentries would shoot immediately. The second or third day after the massacre on the grounds of the ghetto, my brother and I were taken out by a Ukrainian we knew from Mosty Wielkie. He gave us each a piece of bread and showed us how to make our way, twenty-some kilometers through side roads, to a Polish village named Stanisłówka.
Along the way, in one of the Ukrainian homes, they must have surmised who we were. A young woman said, “In Żółkiew, they were beating up Jews for two days, and they are still around.” Our horrible appearance must have betrayed us, but they gave us each a piece of bread, and we went on. People in Stanisłówka knew our family well because my father used to purchase provisions from them, and they, in turn, stopped frequently at our place when they came to Mosty for church or shopping. We expected assistance from them, which they indeed provided us.
I must stress that they themselves lived in poverty because Germans took food away from them all the time. Sometimes, Soviet partisans or Ukrainian bands would appear, and everybody was looking for food. In spite of this, they would occasionally give us a piece of bread, sometimes a meal, and well, they would pretend that they did not know that we were sneaking in to spend the night in their barn or stable.
Summers, we slept in the forest. A certain family let us stay a longer time in the hay in their barn and fed us, risking the penalty of death for this. I have stayed in touch with the grandson of this family to this day. Their names are Zofia and Bogusław Rączka, and they live in Kraków.
At a certain point in time, a whole little group of us got together. We wandered through the forest all day, and evenings we would set out for the village to beg for something to eat. Late in the evening, we would sneak in to sleep. Winters, it was best to sleep next to a cow because it was warmer. There were night searches, and several Jews were captured and shot on the spot. The owners of the farm pleaded and managed to have their own lives spared.
One time, while we were in the forest, engaged in conversation, we were surrounded by a few murderers in black uniforms (probably Ukrainian police in the service of the Germans), and they began shoot- ing at us from close quarters. Somebody fell next to me, evidently hit, and I jumped over him and began to flee. My brother was running ahead of me. One of the bandits gave chase after us. Every so often, he would kneel down and fire a single shot from his rifle. I could see it because once in a while, I peeked behind me.
We ran away like this two or three kilometers even after he stopped chasing us. I would guess that nobody else survived from our group on that occasion. I remember that among us, there was one doctor and one young lawyer. There were also two women.
When we recovered, we entered a nearby Ukrainian village, and in one of the homes, we asked for something to eat and that they show us the road to Stanisłówka. Of course, we said we were Poles and that the Ukrainians had chased us. An old woman burst out crying over us, saying, “What are they doing to you, how can they have no fear of God?” As can be seen, among Ukrainians there were also decent people.
At night, we tramped through the forest along a freshly built rail- road embankment on which the track had not yet been laid. At a cer- tain moment, we saw a nightmarish scene: dark forest, an open fire, and people bustling about some kind of business. It looked eerie. We had no idea whether this was a UPA band or maybe a unit of Soviet partisans. We couldn’t tell. We would have gladly joined the partisans, but we were very afraid of a band. In great fear, we walked around that apparition and went on. Again, we hid out in Stanisłówka.
A short time later, the village was attacked (only Poles lived there) by a Ukrainian band. By then, I was alone. Earlier, my brother had gotten a high fever, and after a few days, he passed away while I was holding him so that he could drink some water which he had requested. My despair was enormous, and I cried so much that the farmer who was the owner of the haystack in which my brother and I were staying yelled at me. Thus, I lost the last person who was close to me. In an attack by bandits under the sign of the Trizub (trident – symbol of UPA, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army), a dozen or so people perished, and half the village went up in flames. The shooting was so dense that it seemed to me that I could see the bullets flying. While fleeing, we banded together into groups. Some people carried, on their heads and backs, eiderdowns and pillows from which feather stuffing floated into the air. In this way, along with a sizable group of inhabitants of the village, I made my way some four kilometers from the place of the fire.
In spite of the distance, the scene was horrible. Sixty wooden houses, as many barns and stables, some with live animals, and stacks of hay and straw were all on fire. It was already dark. The attack had begun at sunset. The burning sheaves from the roofs, carried into the air by the heat, intensified the horror because we thought they were live chickens and geese burning. The next day, I did not recognize the village. Only chimneys were sticking out, and cinders were smoldering. Thus, I lost the little village from which I had been getting support.
What to do now? Where to go next? Fortunately, earlier, I made up for myself the life story of a Polish boy from an actually existing family. From that time on, my name was Karol Gorzko, and I was a Pole whose parents were murdered by the Ukrainians. It was, after all, quite plausible. I had no documents, and this made me very uneasy, although,
there was still another thing that was much worse, which had caused the death of many Jews. Such “branding” of people is a tragic mistake. In the morning, the parish priest from Mosty arrived and proposed that we all proceed to Żółkiew. I joined them and walked once again some twenty kilometers to Zółkiew.
The ghetto was already gone. After the liquidation of each ghetto, the German authorities would declare the area a so-called “Judenfrei” (free of Jews) zone. From that moment on, every citizen had the obligation to immediately report any Jew he encountered or to kill him. The syna- gogue, which was of historical value, survived in Żółkiew. It stands ne- glected to this day. I saw it in 1988. The majority of the Polish population had managed to leave from there for the West. Everywhere, there were very many people who had arrived from small towns and villages, escaping from Ukrainian bands. There was crowding, hunger, and lice. One day, I read in the newspaper a small announcement, “Donate your groschen to the Polish Assistance Committee, Lwów, 15 Sobieski Street.” (Newspapers in three languages, German, Polish and Ukrainian, were then free of charge.) I thought to myself that if there was “assistance,” one ought to go there. But how? I had neither money nor documents.
Groschen – coins, each one worth a hundredth of a złoty.
However, I had a little luck. One time, I saw that somebody was loading things onto a small truck. I approached and asked whether they were going to Lwów and whether they could take me. I had to tell them a dreamed-up life story, but I managed to get to Lwów. The owner of the truck was a decent person. He took me all the way to my destination and even gave me a little money.
But there, I was overcome with horrible fright seeing a huge edifice full of people on the stairs, in the corridors, and in front of the building. Everybody needed help. I pushed through, literally between the legs of the crowd, to some office door, and there, I again told them my dreamed-up life story. They fed me, put something on my back, and took me to a boys’ home.
It was already evening. The next day in the morning, after breakfast (the first normal one in years), I traveled to Kraków by train with a group of ten boys. Some lady accompanied us. Along the way, each of us received a small loaf of bread and a bottle of tea. For the first time in a long time, I was not hungry. In Kraków, we found ourselves at the assembly point for refugees on Krzemionki Street. Here there were orphans from institutions for children as well as entire families.
After ten or twenty days of stay, I was taken into service by an older confidence-inspiring man to help out on his farm in Korabniki near Kraków. It was very unpleasant for me there. I received little food although I worked very hard. I was treated exactly like a dog. I had my bowl and slept in a wooden box in the cow barn above the cows.
I lived there for a whole year but was never once in their quarters. I always ate separately in a hallway. I bore this life in humility. The war was still going on, and Germans were still around. Here, I lived to see liberation and then the end of the war. They did not find out that, unwittingly, they had been sheltering a Jew.
Kraków, July 29, 1992