The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Life and Fall of Wlodowa

The Memorial Book of Wlodawa

Experiences from the ghetto and extermination camp
Eisik Rothenberg

At the end of August 1942 a part of the SD of Wlodowa moved over to Kosmir. They took with them 20 different draftsmen and I as a constructor was among them.

After we had worked there about three or four months we were sent home. I, Shaja Lampl the constructor, his son-in-law, Henich, and three others whose names I do not remember. When we returned to our hometown we did not recognize it. We learned about the great "Akzia" which took place when we were absent and about which we did not hear anything. In town the ghetto was already closed and the camp was sealed. My whole family was transported to Sobibor. Only my mother, my brother and my elder sister survived. Generally there remained very few Jews from the thousands of inhabitants of Wlodowa and the strangers who lived in town.

Wlodowa suffered a lot from its nearness to Sobibor, the extermination camp. This camp could not consume at one time so many transports of Jews arriving from abroad, Vienna, Holland and the Polish towns Kalish, Lilitz and others as well from the villages. Therefore, Wlodowa became a collection place for thousands of Jews, women and children. From time to time they took from there a required amount of people and those who were left comforted themselves with false hopes that "one did not think of them".

For about three months I belonged to the "preferred" who had a working-number and to the lucky as I could freely leave the ghetto during the day.... but these days were for the surviving Jews of Wlodowa months of agony. We were watching through the windows, listening to every noise fearing a new action which was impending in the air. Sobibor which was six kilometers away was continuously demanding its victims.


May 1st, 1943 arrived. It was, if I am not mistaken Friday morning. All the Jews of the town were always on guard and slept with eyes and ears alert to catch every noise and moment. From outside you could hear restrained shouts penetrating through the walls. We understood that something was going on. We started hiding ourselves. My family and I also mounted the loft which could serve as a hiding-place. From the street terrible shouts were heard followed by gunshots. For nine days we stayed in the loft and it is difficult to describe what we experienced during these days of terror and agony without eating and drinking. At night one of us would try to descend in order to bring some water so that we could moisten our lips. Nearly all the Jews were captured and from time to time we heard shots followed shots, screaming and weeping of children falling on their murdered parents, they too were shot.

Our blood congealed, the heart wept, but the force to remain alive was very strong.

Our hiding-place became unsure. In the lot were also neighbors with children who wept because they wanted to eat and drink. At the end the crying of such a child denunciated us and we all descended the roof.

We were separated, the men were imprisoned next to the townhall and the women and children were put in a storehouse nearby. For days we were kept without anything to eat and to drink. All the time more and more Jews were brought there. On about the 12th or 13th of May the Germans and Ukrainians had collected 300 people: men, women and children. The children were piled of on carriages like logs. The screaming of the mothers and children went up to the heaven but who was listening?.. Only shots answered the yelling. The men and women were driven by foot along the rails leading to Sobibor.

In Sobibor

A German or an Ukrainian guard was stationed at every 3rd or 4th man with a machine gun. There were those who tried to escape and were shot. Those who remained slackened and with desperate glances approached the place of punishment, even though they knew that his was their last way.

In the camp. on the first ground the murderers greeted us with sticks beating us where they could. Then we had to run to a second place. The men were ordered to sit down and the women were taken into barracks were they had to strip off their clothes then made to run, have their hair shorn off and to the Sanitary center which was the gas chamber... The Wagons with the children were not brought into the camp but remained standing at the gate for the cars to come and then the children were thrown one on top of the other and brought into the crematorium.

From the young men 18 were chosen and among them were my brother and em. We rested until noon. The food they served us was tasteless and impossible to eat. All desire to live disappeared.

We received other clothes and were led to work. Our first work was to fetch sand in buckets. The work was accompanied by terrible blows. The next day we were given to construction work and we became used to work with this cruel accompaniment and they were not just blows - here a well-aimed brick was thrown at the head... and there an axe or something else until it was time to go home, which meant to the barrack and then it was impossible to recognize one who was beaten like this. And when as a result of such a low a leg or an arm was broken the sufferer was immediately brought to the gaschamber. Therefore we made efforts to look like humans after being beaten so that nobody should realize anything so that we could go to work next morning...

The camp was devided into three areas. The first one for craftsmen and professionals in the second one were the assorting houses where the victims stripped off their clothes which were classified... and in the third were the gas chamber and the oven.

I stayed in this camp for about 6 months doing all kinds of construction work for the murderers. Houses, canteens, distriction houses, heating-ovens and baking ovens. All this was accompanied by blows to which we had already become used as if they were a part of work.

The preparations for the rebellion

When I became more acquainted with the Jewish labourers from Isbiza, Krasnotov and other places they told me that some time before I arrived at the camp some tens of Jews were organizing and preparing a rebellion. The Germans heard about the matter and they shot about 100 men.

After I lived some months in the camp the assorting-labourers planned to organize a rebellion. But his plan failed too - The Germans learnt about it and all were killed.

After this event 2 tree-cutters escaped. And as they were not found at the roll-call every third Jews was taken out of the line they were collected and brought to the third area...

In the group of the forest consisting of 18 men the following took place: two Jews from Krasnotow went to fetch water. They were guarded by the driver "Pornal" (from the estate) and they attacked him. They cut his neck with a razor and escaped. In the meantime the others saw that the two did not return so they fled too. Yet the SS-men Klaski and the people of Wlasow enclosed them capturing them. Only two succeeded in escaping. One of them Josef Freitag is living in Israel and Eli Kashimacher from the environment of Wlodowa was killed by the Polish partisans in the forest.

A transport of Jewish war prisoners from Russia

There arrived a transport of Jewish war prisoners from Russia and a part of them remained to work in the camp. In the beginning we started to form carefully contacts with them and gradually we became more familiar until we began talking about a "Solution"...whereby we agreed to organize a rebellion.

We had to take great care not to fail like the former rebellions, especially not to be noticed during the preparations as to avoid infiltration of a provacateur or denunciator.

The rebellion

On October 13, 1943 it was decided that the following day would be the day of the rebellion. Every group was to kill its guards at the same time. And so it happened: the tailors invited their German watcher to come the next day to try on the new suit at a fixed hour. The shoemakers invited their German to try on his new boots. When the Germans came one labourer started fitting and the others also did their work with axes, scissors hammers killing their watchers and covering them with rags.

We the construction labourers were working in a barrack fortifying the floor - and one of us attacked our watcher beating up his head with a piece of iron. The forest labourers, too fulfilled their duty perfectly. All the functions which had been imposed on us were accomplished exactly and on time. From this moment we were kindled and our tenseness grew from minute to minute. Yet we were ordered to continue our work in the workshops and in the forest until he end of the working day.

Finally the hour arrived. The horn always announcing the end of the work was now heard 10 minutes earlier. We wanted that during this time the assorting labourers would gather and thus strengthen our strength.

When we all stood for the roll-call a sonouros shout "hurra" was heard over the entire camp. More than 150 people who knew about the mutiny took out of their clothes hammers and axes and when we started running all the prisoners of the camp started running after us.

Shouting "Hurra" we ran to the gate of the camp. On the way we met the Germans and Ukrainians who seing what happened lifted their arms. Some of the people of Wlasow fired on us and many of us were shot, but we killed also many of them.

My elder brother Aharon was holding my hand while we were running and in one moment, I don't know how, he got lost and I did not see him again. The tumult was terrible. The Wlasow-men and the SS-men who had been for a moment perplexed came round to themselves and pursued those escaping the wired fences from all parts breaking through with axes and knives continuing to the third fence where the mined fields were, we threw there bushes and all kinds of other things to make them explode. Many of the mines did not and a lot of us were torn into pieces.

After my brother was lost I returned to the camp and I entered the rebellion and seizing a hammer set off for the fences. With a jump I crossed the first, the second one I broke through and at the third - I threw myself where the mines had already exploded and then ran in the direction of the forest and arrived there safely.

In the forest those who had preceded me were running and I looked over their faces as I was looking for my brother and waited for other survivors - but in vain, I did not meet my brother again. I and some other thirty or forty survivors penetrated into the forest, some turned to the east to the river Bug and I with some others set off to the woods of Lublin.

In the forest of Adampol

After we had been wandering for about 2 days in the woods leading to Lublin, most of our little group, about 6 or 7 decided to return to the woods leading to the river Bug. They were Jews from White-Russia. They said that over the Bug Russian partisans were living... as I did not want to remain alone I joined them. As it was the season of the potatoe harvest we would steal into the potatoe field taking some potatoes and roasting them on a small fire and we ate them halfbaked. We also nourished ourselves from blueberries and woodberries. We lived like pursued animals in a hunt not knowing from where to keep away. And without a gun we could be discovered and shot at any moment.

Our mutiny was actually a revolt of despair. We did not know whether we would succeed or not.

And if we succeeded we did not know where we could flee. The Germans did not stop looking for those who escaped. It was especially difficult for the Jews to go into the forest, there they were ambushed by the right-winged Polish and other gangs.

In this desperate situation we wandered around in the forests of Wlodowa.

Once at night, we noticed a flackering of fire and when we approached a shadow of a man escaped into the forest as he thought us Germans. We ran after him and seized him. He was a Jew from Kalish who had lived in Wlodowa and was sent later to the camp Adampol. He had already been staying some months in the forest and he looked very savage. He was hairy and wounded and he healed himself with all kinds of leaves of the forest. He was nearly naked only some rags covered his body.

I stripped off my coat over my cloths and dressed him with it. He told us that some shepherds had pity on him and sometimes brought him a slice of bread. He also knew a Pole who sold him bread. We gave him some gold coins we had taken from Sobibor and for a few days he was our financial administrator.

One day the Jews of White-Russia decided to cross the Bug, we I as well as Tuvia from Kalish remained. They had just left when something happened giving our life a new tragic turn. Lately Tuvia had been buying bread from a young Polish man called Wiak from the village Kraliwke and when he saw that our gold coins were running out he went to Adampol and returned with Selinger the commander of the camp and other Germans, guards and dogs. We naturally started to escape. But they sent the dogs after us and they caught and tore our clothes. We were placed on carriages and they put a heavy chain around Tuvia's and my neck that was closed with a lock and brought us to Adampol where they threw us into a stable chaining us like dogs.

About the chain

The stable contained about 20 horses. We were tied up to the wall with rings close to the body so that we could only lie or stand on four - but could not stand up.

If we slept that night I really don't remember. But according to our thoughts then - here they were coming to shoot us - I am sure we did not close an eye. And as daylight grew nearer the more we were filled with thoughts: "Has now our end come?" We did not talk to each other as we were afraid that the Germans would hear us and beat us. We were frightened of the cruel blows of the Germans. The murderer Selinger did not intend to kill us. He just planned an amusing spectacle for him and the other Germans. The next day he brought us new clothes as the dogs had torn ours and all through the night we laid nearly naked: He loosened the chain while we were dressing and then put us back again. After an hour he came back with other Germans to look at the wonder. In the whole environment there existed no more Jews and Selinger wanted to show them how he kept dirty Jews tied to a chain like dogs.

The Germans attacked us beating us with their whips, striking on heads and faces. I was screaming terribly but Tuvia did not utter a sound and kept stubbornly silent. His silence made them loose their temper and they hit him more and more striking real death blows but he continued to remain silent. Thus he returned again and again for several days every time with other murderers "honouring" every one of us with his peculiar murderous inclinations.

Officially we were not given food. But from time to time, once a day or every few days, the coachmen of the property flung a slice of bread or rotten potatoe into the stable. Water we did not receive at all, only on the fourth day they brought a dirty pot with little water on its bottom hardly enough to moisten our lips... Once a day we were unchained and we were taken out of the stable to relieve ourselves.

After 8 or 9 days they loosened the chains and we were let out, now I was sure that they were going to kill us... but they brought us to heap of wooden beams and ordered us to cut them up.

From that day on we were taken out once every day or two to cut trees or to "brush" horses in the evening we were chained up again. All day long we were watched over by a guard with a gun. Gradually we got used to our dog's life and began exchanging some words on silence. We became calmer and more relaxed. We realized that for the time being Selinger did not intend to kill us though we could not know his real intensions , but the fear of death disappeared at least in the meantime. This situation caused us to think of escape.

Winter passed and spring was drawing near gradually the snow disappeared. Now they started to take us out of the stable every day, we had gained their confidence and we received more potatoes. They had not thought that we could slip away from their eyes and escape. Nevertheless we were tied up to the chain in the evening the idea of escape took a deeper hold on us. It would be difficult to escape at night as we were chained up and also the camp was better guarded so we decided to escape during the day. It was in the beginning of spring, the snow had nearly disappeared. Green began blossoming and the smell of spring penetrated into all limbs animating our blood with the desire to slip away from the claws of death and to escape into the forest. We had to wait quite a long time for this opportunity. At the same time we heard from the "Formalins" who were discussing among themselves the defeat at the Russian front and the retreat. This filled our hearts with joy and warmed our blood. We thought of one thing only: How to escape from the chains.


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