Roman Lewin, born in 1931
I ran away with my sister, we held hands
I was born in Sąsiadowice (district of Sambor, province of Lwów). My parents were Izydor and Klara Lewin. My mother’s maiden name was Erdman (in 1946, through a mistake, it was changed to Malwin). My grandparents, on my mother’s side, lived in the same community. My parents were engaged in retail trade, which constituted the main source of their support. In addition to myself, there were also my two sisters, Berta Lewin, born on May 2, 1923, in Sąsiadowice, and Pelagia Lewin, born in 1926 (I don’t remember the month and day). My sister, Berta (now Alicja Huńka), finished the Trade High School in Sambor in 1939, while that same year, my sister, Pelagia, entered the first year of the state gymnasium and lyceum in Sambor.
A few other families of Jewish nationality also lived in the town of Sąsiadowice. These families were murdered in the summer of 1942, i.e., in the first action of the mass extermination of Polish Jews.
In 1940, I finished the fourth grade of elementary school in Sąsiadowice, and with this, my sisters and I ended our school career, because at the end of June 1941, the Nazi German troops invaded.
During the period from the middle of September 1939 until the end of June 1941, our area was occupied by the Red Army. During the stay of Soviet troops, we suffered no harm except that we found ourselves on a list for deportation to Siberia. However, my father succeeded somehow to bribe the “organizers” of the deportations to Siberia. Later, during the Nazi occupation, we regretted it, because Siberia would have been better than the persecution by the Nazis.
After Nazi troops entered the eastern territories of Poland sometime toward the end of July 1942, all Jews from our area were taken to work on a nearby estate (Liegenschaft, in German) that before 1939 had belonged to Count Okęcki. We worked in the stables and in the fields. For instance, I, as a youngster, took several dozen head of cattle to pasture together with Jankel Erdman, (a cousin of my mother) and with Jan Osiurak (a Catholic). In addition, I had the daily job of delivering a five-liter can of milk to the chief of this Liegenschaft, who lived in Felsztyn about five kilometers away from the property (the estate was in the town of Głęboka. The work for Jews was forced labor and unpaid. However, the authorities made promises that Jews who were working would not be taken from the places where they lived. This gave us the sense that our lives were being spared.
July 1942 – refers to arrival of special SS task forces. German troops had entered eastern Poland in June 1941.
Immediately after the entry of the Germans, although there were as yet no “official actions” to harass Jews, nonetheless, we were regularly spending nights outside our homes, in barns on estates or peasant farms, in fields, or in the forests, because we were afraid of being murdered. In July or August 1942, in the town of Janów (four kilometers from the estate where we worked), Ukrainians murdered, in a cruel fashion, two very poor Jewish families, including a dozen or so children. Two of the children managed to escape and now live in Israel.
In the summer of 1942, we were alerted by Włodzimierz Huńka (subsequently, the husband of my sister, Berta), that a massive deportation of Jews to an unknown destination was to take place by night. This warning saved our lives during the course of the first action to liquidate Jews, because, thanks to Włodzimierz Huńka, we went into hiding for a few days. After that, we again resumed our “jobs” on the estate. After this first action to liquidate Jews, of the five Jewish families in Sąsiadowice, only we remained. In the nearby town of Felsztyn, in which several dozen Jewish families had lived, only three remained. On this tragic June or July night of 1942, all the Jews were deported and murdered, either in the forest near Sambor or in Bełżec. My older sister, Berta Lewin, began to hide out earlier than we, sometime before the first action in the summer of 1942. From the beginning to the time of liberation, she was hidden by Włodzimierz Huńka.
In November 1942, the final liquidation of the Jews of the Lwów region took place. We found ourselves in the ghetto in Sambor. However, thanks to the assistance of Huńka, we succeeded in slipping out and staying in hiding in the areas around the towns of Głęboka, Sąsiadowice, and Nadyby in the Sambor district. For a few days, in the winter of 1943, my entire family (together with a dozen or so other people) was hiding in the cellar under the palace of the estate in Głęboka.
For the purpose of camouflaging our presence, we were walled in, with only a small vent through which food could be passed to us. Because it became unbearable to remain there (relieving physiological needs, lack of sufficient amount of air), we begged for mercy. Consequently, we were let out from behind the wall.
Together with our parents, we were placed by Huńka in a hiding place made out of hay in a barn located on the estate in Głęboka. This hiding place was devised by Włodzimierz Huńka and his brother, Bogdan, in such a way that one could lie or sit there, but it was impossible to straighten up. Darkness reigned the entire time. We emerged from this hiding place to the outside only at night and then, only for the purpose of satisfying physiological needs.
Sometime during the winter of 1943, we were spotted by a worker on the estate, and thus, Włodzimierz Huńka decided to transfer us to another hiding place. It was located under the basement of the palace on this same estate, and it was built under the floor by scooping out the soil. The surface of the floor was covered with ceramic tiles. The tunneled entry, through which we could descend into this hiding place, was paved with the same tile. There were over a dozen people staying there, namely, my father, my mother, my sister, Pelagia, and I, the Korenblit family consisting of four persons, and the Milrad family three persons, and Milrad’s brother-in-law with his wife, whose names, unfortunately, I no longer remember.
Once a day, food for our family was delivered by Włodzimierz Huńka. Such food consisted of bread and potatoes in starvation portions without any fat whatsoever. From this hiding place, we were transferred for two full days to an alcohol distillery in the same town and placed inside an inactive production tank.
The wife of Korenblit, unable to withstand these indescribable conditions, decided that she would set out with their two beautiful daughters, age five and eight, to the ghetto in Sambor. We tried hard to dissuade her from this suicidal decision. Unfortunately, her husband did not take a decisive position and allowed her, together with the children, to proceed to the ghetto to a certain death. Before she departed, she declared that if she assessed the conditions in the ghetto to be bearable, she would write a letter and have it delivered by the driver who was transporting her, with the children, on a horse-drawn sleigh loaded with hay. This poor woman wrote a desperate letter that conditions were cruel, that she regretted having gone there but that there was no return for them, so she was forbidding us to commit the same mistake out of despair.
I must state that her husband, Izaak Korenblit bears to a large extent the blame for the death of Mrs. Korenblit with their two most lovely children. It was his duty not to allow her to proceed to the ghetto to a certain death, while he remained in hiding and thus survived the war, departing for the United States in 1946. Although I, together with my parents, managed to get through the Nazi hell, the thought still torments me that Izaak Korenblit, as a husband and father of two innocent little children, consented to his wife and children going to their death, while he himself stayed behind. It was his duty to restrain his wife and children or to also go to the ghetto with them himself.
In the early spring of 1944, my parents, Pelagia, and I, as well as Mr. Milrad and this unfortunate Korenblit, left the barn, heading for the nearby forest in the town of Sąsiadowice. Milrad and Korenblit stayed in this forest only one day, from dawn to dusk, and then they went off, we didn’t know where, but we stayed in the forest.
We hid in the forest without being under any cover, staying above the ground between clumps of trees. After a few weeks, however, we were spotted. We therefore dug out a hiding place inside some mound of earth that was in the forest, and there we stayed for a while until we were spotted again. Then, we left the forest, moving to the grain fields. Conditions in the grain fields were especially difficult to tolerate, because it was either torrid heat, or (most often) it rained. We were forced to lie flat on the hard bare soil so that we would not be noticed. When harvest time approached, we hid in rows of potatoes, the whole time in a prone position.
Subsequently, we moved over to an abandoned railroad shed, located right by the tracks on the Sąsiadowice-Sambor route. We hid in this railroad building in the attic, which had only a partial covering of roof tiles. The stay in this attic was for us a veritable “heaven” as compared to the previously mentioned hiding places, since rain did not fall on us, and the sun did not bake us.
The late fall of 1943 was approaching. Any further stay there became impossible, particularly, because we had been spotted again. For these reasons, upon the advice of Włodzimierz Huńka, we proceeded to a barn located near a church in Sąsiadowice. It was a barn built only of posts and a roof, without any walls. In this barn, we hollowed out a pit in the hay and lay on top of it. On December 30, 1943, at about ten o’clock, a Ukrainian, Antoni Łoziński, entered this barn, noticed us, and with hurried steps, ran toward the office of the manager of the estate in Głęboka to report this fact. The then chief of the Liegenschaft, a certain Buszkiewicz, brought the Ukrainian police.
Before we were able to leave the barn, the police arrived at the barn on sleighs (about fifty meters away from us). Seeing this, we jumped off the hay and began to flee in the direction of the forest. I ran away together with Pelagia; we were holding hands. Father and Mother, while fleeing, fell behind. While trying to escape, my father fell, shot twice in his left arm. My mother also fell, into a ditch filled with snow.
The policemen left my father, thinking that he had been killed on the spot, and ran after my sister and me. At a certain moment, we let go of each other’s hands. I took off separately along a beaten path, while my sister, running toward the forest, for unknown reasons, took a path that made fresh tracks which the policemen followed, giving chase. They caught up with her, sitting down at the edge of the woods, and they shot her to death on the spot.
My poor sister was sixteen years old. To this day, I have pangs of conscience, and this is how it will probably remain to the end of my life, that I ran off in one direction, and she, poor thing, in another. As I remember, at one moment, I let go of her hand and said: “You run that way, and I will run this way,” to which she answered, “Why should I run that way?” and these were the last words that I heard from my most beloved sister.
I hid in a ditch after first breaking up the ice with my feet, and I lay in the water, holding up only my head above water level. And so I lay until dusk. When I got up and took a few steps, my whole miserable attire (torn knickers, a boy’s jacket, a beret, and shoes) had turned stiff as sheet metal, frozen instantly because the chill was more than thirty-five degrees (—35°C = about —31°F).
I went back to the place where my father had fallen and found only a pool of blood. It turned out that my father, wounded, had started to flee in the direction of Sąsiadowice. There, at the outskirts of the village, he was bandaged and, afterward, continued on. However, he was captured by a young scoundrel, regretfully, a Pole, and taken to the Community Administrative Office. He was taken away by the Ukrainian police in Felsztyn, and the next morning, on the thirty-first of December, he was shot to death in front of the police building in full view of the neighbors.
I managed to get to Włodzimierz Huńka who advised me to hide in a stack of straw located in the empty fields of the Liegenschaft. Being frozen, I was unable to scoop out a bigger hole in the stack. Therefore, I lay myself down at the bottom of the stack, covering myself with a thin layer of straw. Thus, I lay through the night between the thirtieth and the thirty-first and the entire day of the thirty-first of December, 1943, and then half of another night. But feeling that I would no longer be able to endure the cold, I took a chance and walked over to the nearby barns on the estate without being spotted by the caretaker. I broke in through a gap in the doors which faced the road, and surprisingly, I came upon a lawyer, a Jew from Lwów, a certain Kenigsberg, hiding there.
Already on the thirtieth of December, 1943, while I was in the yard at Huńka’s, I learned that my father had been wounded and was being held at the police headquarters in Felsztyn and also that a woman had perished, except that it was not known whether it was Mama or my sister. As it turned out, it was my sister, Pelagia. After two weeks passed, I went to see some people I knew in in search of my mother. The first time, I was not able to locate where Mama was staying, but the next time, I found her in a barn.
After a few days, we started to hide together, again in the same barn as in the early spring of 1943, but we were discovered there. However, we managed to move in time to a stack of straw on the estate in Głęboka near the oil refinery. There, in this (dark) hiding place, the attorney, Kienigsberg, stayed with us also.
On the twenty-fourth of April, 1944, we were spotted by children playing there who hurried off to report this fact to the police in the Liegenschaft. It was a beautiful sunny day around four o’clock in the afternoon. When we came out of this stack, two SS men with hand weapons ran toward us, as well as the chief of the estate, Buszkiewicz. Since Kienigsberg started to run away, Mama and I decided to walk straight towards the Germans. They ran after Kienigsberg, instructing Buszkiewicz to hold us. We successfully pleaded with Buszkiewicz, and he let us go.
We started to run away in the opposite direction. Mother, not having the strength, hid under a railroad dike, and it was there that she was caught. I managed to avoid capture for the second time. Mother and Kienigsberg were taken to the police station in Felsztyn, and the next day, to the prison in Sambor and from there, to the camp in Drohobycz. From there, she escaped during the transport to Majdanek.
From the month of April until June 1944, I was by myself, hiding in neighboring forests, grain fields, and shrubbery. At the end of June or July, Mother found me again in a grain field in Sąsiadowice, and she took me from there to the village of Biskowice near Sambor, where we lived to see liberation by the Soviet Army.