Rywka Rybak A Survivor of the Holocaust

Rywka Rybak Book Cover

Rywka Rybak

A Survivor of the Holocaust

Copyright 1993 Prologue Publications. All Rights Reserved. Please do not use or copy without the expressed written permission of Prologue Publications. Email Art Rosenfeld with your questions. ISBN 0-9638507-0-9

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Book Excerpt

We didn’t know what to do. From the distance we saw a small building. The door was open and we sort of wandered in. There was a small pile of straw and we laid down on that straw. I held on tightly to my brother, the last part of my close family that I had left. He was only 13 years old. He was still a small child by his mother. Now he has to be an adult.From pure exhaustion I fell asleep. I dreamt that my father came to me in my dream and said to me that Should not worry. I should go to a gentile, who had a place prepared for me and that I should go there where he will take care of me and then he disappeared. Then I suddenly awoke and told my brother about my dream. We didn’t have any other choice about where to go. We stood up and shook of the straw from our bodies and we went . We had to walk across a small stream of water. If we did not go thru the water we would have had to go thru the city streets where it was full of Gestapo. We picked the route to go thru the stream.

The stream was very slightly frozen. We stepped into the stream of water, although I was wearing boots the water was too high and water got into my boots anyway and the same thing happened to my brother.

We crossed the stream , then we crossed a field into a forest as it started to turn to daylight. We arrived at that place that my father had told me about in my dream. He was a friend teacher of my fathers. Before my father was executed, he had made arrangements with this man for us to hide out at this place. He took us in and was very cordial. He also had our money and some of the things that our father gave him for us. He very quickly showed us where everything was . He had a small hiding place below his barn. It was so small that there was hardly enough room for us to stretch out to sleep. He brought us food twice daily and we were hiding out there for a while.

When it became a little dark we stepped out into the fresh air. We hid out there for about two weeks. We could not remain there because he himself had two small children and his children found out about us being there. They found out that they’re father was carrying food for jews. His children told him that they would tell all the children in the area that he is hiding out jews. So we could not remain longer than several week sin one place.

We were driven from one place to another. We couldn’t have one day of peace because of fear for death. Any minute, any time we could be shot. Because of this we had no idea what the next day would bring. This became very terrible for me and we had to go and search for another place. I knew that not to far from the forest lived a very poor family and that they would need money. We decided to go there. They took us in for quite a large amount of money for one day. There was a very small old room with a leaky roof and full of children. The room was dirty and the children did not have a place to sleep for themselves. We found a good spot on top of the oven where they used to bake bread.It was a very large oven that we put straw on top. They made a curtain in case someone would walk in, so they could not see us. When that lady was baking bread we could have fried ourselves from the heat, otherwise you could freeze. She cooked potatoes and water for us and very little bread that we could not eat. Everything was so filthy, it was nauseating to eat the meal. This was already good because we were not hiding out underground in the earth.

At night we could crawl down from the oven and sit down on the ground because there were no chairs to sit on.When they went to sleep they also used the only chair that they had in the house. I said to my brother many times why do we have to suffer so much? I don’t know the answer to that he used to say to me. But when you live, you want to live. Perhaps we will survive this too.

There by this gentile they had us there for a whole month. Then he became frightened. They were shooting gentiles who were hiding out jews in the area. Although he was very poor and needed our money, he still wanted to live. Because of two jewish children he did not want to lose his life. One evening he came and told us that there would no longer be any room for us there. He said we should go and look for a new place where to hide.

Every day I paid him more money, but this did not help any more. Now we finally had to leave this place also.here do we go now?

How often have we asked ourselves that question? Every time it became worse. Before we left the gentile man told us that they are finding jews in the small villages and they are killing them.

Gentiles were turning in jews for three pounds of sugar. Entire Jewish families were turned in. What to do?Before we left one jewish friend came to visit that Used to work with. He told us that they had a hiding place in the forest. But they did not have any money to buy food. They wanted me to support them with money so that they could buy food. In return, they will take using to hide out. I was very happy because I did have a little money. Because my father had given both me and my brother some money separately before he was shot. He had enough foresight to give everyone money separately so that in case of separation we each had some to purchase stuff for saving our lives.

We left with our friend to the forest . This was also a hiding place under the ground. It was currently midwinter and it was very cold. During the day we were not allowed to exit the hiding place. At night we went to the village to buy some food to eat. A poor woman cooked for us for money. Twice a week I had to go enter the village during the day and every place I went there was Gestapo. When I left the hiding place, I always said good-bye to me brother because I did not know if I would ever return. More than once did I avoid the killers. I walked straight,unafraid so that they would not suspect. But in my heart I was frightened. God gave me the strength so that I could return to see my brother. I always had to go because the money was running out little by little.But I still had some money that my father was hiding with some gentiles.

I went to them, many of them did return the money tome. Others said maybe tomorrow. When I returned back to the forest at night. I had to go alone thru to the deep forest. To this day I don’t know how I did that, I had no fear of anything. When I was home I was scared to go outside alone, and now that I returned from such trip, my brother was waiting for me with anticipation. I never let him go because I was frightened for him to go alone.

Staying there for two months I became very disillusioned with the place. The dirty hideout, and always the fear of being caught and killed. It became so bad that I could no longer take it. I heard that in the town they created a ghetto. We didn’t care what was going to happen. One thing I knew was that we had to leave that place. I told my brother that want to leave this place and go because the place we were in was worse than dying.

They all called me a child, but I didn’t want to listen to anyone. I was fed up with that place. My brother and I , not wanting to stay there by himself went with me. We left this place on a Sunday morning and we went to the Jewish ghetto. The ghetto was about 10 kilometers away from the town. On the road there were many Gestapo. The Gestapo was patrolling everywhere in case they would spot a jew somewhere.

As we were walking, we counted the miles. We walked for at least one kilometer or two until we arrived in the town. From the distance we saw the ghetto. The ghetto was surrounded with barbed wire and jews were inside it. We could not go thru the gates because there they would arrest us immediately. From the distance I saw a man that I knew inside the ghetto. He also recognized me. He called to us and spread the barbed wire so that we could get in. This is how we finally got in to the ghetto.

Inside the ghetto I also had an aunt and a cousin. We went to her where she took us in and took very good care of us. She gave us soap and water to get cleaned up and put us to bed in a clean bed. A clean bed is something that we had not had for a very long time.The people inside the ghetto were able to survive somehow even though they were under constant threat of death.

The next day I went to look around inside the ghetto.The ghetto consisted of several streets surrounded with barbed wire. The gates had two entrances thru which we could go outside to go to work. Many of the people that were in the ghetto worked outside in factories. The work consisted of making ammunition. Inside the ghetto they had very small stores that you could buy some of the things to sustain life. Everything was very expensive.

On these few streets there were many small children running around. They carried hard rolls and halleagh. To wards evening time we saw many of the people go for a walk The ghetto was full of people. In the evening time the people went out to get some fresh air because in one room you could find seven to eight people living together. One bed was situated right next to another .Because of the overcrowding , some people started to get sick with typhoid and other diseases. I went inside the ghetto with my aunt and we arrived at itemized temple. Into that temple they placed thousands of people that they were supposed to transport out of the ghetto. There was no food or wate in the temple. In that place my mother was also there . I don’t know how she could survive there. My aunt was telling me there were constant screams and people dying inside that temple. They were dying of thirst and hunger. The screams went to the heavens. I could not stay there very long because before me eyes I could see my mother there suffering. My mother and all my family were inside there. My mother was not a very strong person. How she could take it there I don’t understand.

After leaving a few steps away from the temple I met a friend of mine that I used to work with. She told me that she was transported on the same train with my mother. While she was on the train she did not worry about herself, she was always concerned about what was going to happen to her children. They were left alone and there father was also shot .

My beloved mother went to the place where no one ever returns and she was still worried about me and my brother. My friend told me about all of that. She rode with my mother for a few stations and escaped from the train to return back to the ghetto.

Listening to all these stories that I was being told and returning back from my walk with my aunt , I fell down on the bed and started to cry very hard. Why were we left here, why didn’t we go together with my family.My brother came over to me and comforted me even though in his heart he felt the same way. My brother and I stayed in the ghetto for four months. It was quiet,from time to time someone was being shot that they caught leaving the ghetto illegally. Most of the people that went outside the ghetto were small children. They went to get bread from the gentiles for their poor parents and family. Many of those children never returned. The Gestapo caught them and they were shot.heir parents were waiting for them but they never returned. I spoke to one small little girl about the age of eight. She told me that she goes every day outside the ghetto to the gentiles in the village to bring some food for her small brother because she no longer had any parents. This is the way it was in the ghetto.

Small children became self-sufficient people. My brother also wanted to start to go to work. I would not let him do that. As long as I had some money left. I didn’t want him to be in danger every minute at work.We did not live a very nice life but we were not hungry. We had to live very sparingly and budget our little money. The money we had from my father we already lived almost a half a year on.

It cost me quite a bit in the village and for all those hiding places. In the ghetto we heard rumors that they were preparing to get a transport together for evacuation . Because it was quiet for a long time. This was on a Saturday, I was going with my girlfriend for a walk. It was becoming evening, we heard people talking that tonight something was going to happen. We could not sleep that night. We remained in our clothes as we laid in our beds we expected that any time something was going to happen. We laid on the beds snoozing until around 2:00 in the morning we heard gunfire and realized what that meant. The evacuation had started. We opened the door to the hiding place down in the cellar. The hiding place entrance was under a bed. We moved the bed and there was a small entrance. We lowered ourselves by ladder down to the cellar and moved back the bed to where it was and we remained in the hiding place. In that cellar there were at least 150 people. It was a very large cellar.

We were squashed like herrings in a barrel. There were a lot of small children there. We were all afraid that the children should not start to cry, because we heard shooting up in the street. The shooting consisted of machine gun fire and hand grenades. We heard screams and rolling of wagons, we sat in the hiding place in the dark. All at once we heard the Gestapo walking around inside our house. The gestapo had heard that there is a hiding place somewhere. But they didn’t know where to look. They were pounding with axe sin the walls, all at once we heard someone cry from a small child that was only several months old. All the people inside the cellar forced the mother to keep the child quiet even though she might choke her. The mother of the baby did not want to do that.But the people insisted on her doing so. She could not risk the lives of 150 people because of her baby crying. She thought about it for several minutes and then decided to comply with the wishes of most of the people. The woman sat next to me, I could not look but she had to do it. She had to suffocate the baby. The Gestapo heard a noise. They thought it came from the cellar. But they still could not find the entrance to the cellar. They started throwing hand grenades and one of them exploded in the wall next to me where Was sitting. The wall shattered a bit from the force of the grenade but they still could not find where it was. Not being able to find the hiding place they left.

We remained in the cellar a full day and night. We heard the constant shooting and the screams of the people who were being captured. It is now Monday morning the first of May 1943. We hear that the Gestapo is closing in on our hiding place. They opened the small entrance and we heard the screams. get out you dam jews. We looked for you for a very long time and could not find you. I held on to my brothers hand and my cousin by the other. We leave the hiding place one after the other. They took us out to an assembly place where several jews were already there.

I know that these are our last minutes, either they will shoot us, or they will burn us in the ovens in Treblinka. They assembled us in five rows, and made us sit on our legs. I looked around and I saw that there were bringing out more captured people.The people looked horrible and they were bleeding from their heads, and wearing dirty clothes. There were many of them who did not look like human beings. The SS soldiers , they pushed the people and kept hitting them with the buts of their guns. The place gets more people all the time. There already is several thousand people assembled there. Every where you look you can see damaged buildings from hand grenades that have been thrown by the soldiers. As you look you can see hands and feet sticking out from the windows of doorways from the people who had been hiding inside. You see wagons being driven, full of dead people that the jewish police from the ghetto are transporting to the cemeteries. The wagons looked horrifying to the degree that I can not describe them.We heard gunfire and more Gestapo kept arriving. Along with all the extra soldiers we can see someone who must be the chief of the Gestapo.

They called this man the “Beater” or the “Killer”,that was his nickname that the jews gave him. When he walked the streets with his dog no-one was allowed to be on the streets. If anyone was there on the street,he would send his dog after them to attack the person. After the attack, he would come and shoot the person to death. When he arrived, they brought him ac hair and he sat down in the center of the ghetto. Every few minutes he calls out the name of a different person that he liked to kill. He tells them to run and then he shoots them right on the spot. With me in the second row there was an older jewish man. The alderman’s name was Ca got. The killer had called one of his soldiers to bring this older man to him. One of the Gestapo soldiers came to the older jew . The old grey man stood up and grabbed the gun from the soldier and hit the Gestapo soldier. The soldier was not expecting this to happen to him. He stopped dead in his tracks and pulled his revolver and shot the old man. That made a very big impression on the rest of the Gestapo soldiers that they started to watch us much closer. The old man fell, he was dead. He did not want to go to the ovens. After this had happened they started shooting even more.

The big shot Gestapo man was also referred to as the”king”. He walked around and shot whomever walks into his sight. We remained in that place until that evening while being watched by the Gestapo. Then, in rows of five they marched us to the trains. On the way there, many of the jews escaped. They were shooting at them but they did not care and they kept running. Many of them fell and died and we kept going to the trains. Along side the roads, many dead were laying. We arrived at the trains. They loaded us up into the wagons 150 people to a car. They closed the windows and doors. It didn’t take more than an hour before some of the people started to choke. The was no water and food for several days. The heat was very uncomfortable, it was now the month of May. It was very hot and hard to absorb the heat and the stench from the people that had died.

The train remained at the station until the next evening. Many of the people had already died from choking. My cousin who had been a healthy boy always kept fainting. I didn’t have anything that I could help him with. We prayed that the train would move out. Around 10:00 at night the train started to move. It became somewhat better because when the train was moving we caught some air coming in to the cars. The men with small pocket knives tried to dig away at the door so that they could perhaps open it. They succeeded and they opened up the door. They started to jump from the train while it was in motion. Every time someone had jumped from the train,we could here gun shots because the guards were sitting on the roofs of the cars and were shooting their guns at everyone who jumped. The jumping off the trains became very dangerous. They stopped the train and the Gestapo entered our car. They started to shoot,without looking where. Three people were shot and they said that if any more of this was going to happen they would shoot all of us. Then the train started to proceed again. The people did not scare so easily this time. The people still continued to jump from the train. My cousin pleaded with me that I should jump with him. But I was too frightened to do so. I didn’t have any reason to try to save myself. Already went thru to much before this to again go into the forest to hide out. I did not have any specific hideouts to go to or the strength to go thru this. My brother told me to jump but I didn’t want to do it. Begged my brother to jump with my cousin but he didn’t want to leave me alone. My cousin stayed with us for a few more hours and every now and then he would pass out. I didn’t have any water to revive him. When Finally did get a few drops of water from someone that knew, (You could get water at some of the stations from the polish for a large some of money) the rest of the people took the water away from me so that I wound up with nothing.

My cousin could no longer stand it there and when the train was moving he jumped. I was left alone with my brother. It became very late in the night and I fell asleep. When I woke up I was laying on top of dead bodies. We all knew that they were taking us to Treblinka. We remained on the trains for three days without food and water but we did not feel any hunger.The worst part was the thirst for water. People we retaking raindrops from the roofs to satisfy their thirsts. On Thursday we arrived at the station where they told us we would embark at this station. But we were not at Treblinka. This was Lublin and they told us that the healthy ones would be taken to work.They took us all off the trains. From the 150 people that were in our car, only 50 were left. The rest of them had jumped and a lot of them were dead from being shot. They took us off the trains in Lublin,which is past Maidanek where we had been scheduled to go. That was about three kilometers away. They were marching us under guard until we arrived at that place.here they took us all to one place. There they separated us, Men were separated from the women. That is where I got separated from my brother. I don’t know,but they took him away from me and I was left alone.They placed me with all the other women. A short time later a lager commandant arrived because Maidanek was a concentration camp. The strongest people that were able to go to work came here. Children and older women they took away. Me and some of the younger people they took into the camps

What kind of a camp was Maidanek? This was a camp that contained thousands of people for slave labor. The camp contained five large fields. The five fields were divided with barbed wire and had soldiers with rifle sin between the fields. Trying to move around from one camp to another meant instant death. Thousands of people perished there in those crematoriums. All the time they brought in new prisoners. Before we entered the camp, we had to turn everything over to them. They took us to go to the showers where there was always doctor. Whomever the doctor didn’t like or that he thought did not look good to him, he placed them to one side. We took the showers, they then provided us with torn clothes. On the clothes was inscribed the lettering “L” meaning concentration lager. After this they were moving us to the fifth field. This was a camp for just women.


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A recent poll done by the Roper Organization showed that 38% of adult Americans and 53% of high school students either “didn’t know” or offered incorrect answers when asked what the term “Holocaust” refers to. A similar survey done by Chicago’s Spartacus College of Judaica asked high school students what they thought life was like in 1941 in the Warsaw Ghetto. Typical answers included: “No one had their own room.” “Only black and white TV.” “No snacks between meals.” “No air conditioning.” and “Only two pairs of jeans per person.” This book was written in 1946, immediately after the Holocaust occurred. It is a detailed account of Rywka Rybak’s experiences starting from the beginning of the war thru the liquidation of the concentration camps. This book was lost for thirty-seven years until it was recently rediscovered, translated, and published with the hopes of helping educate people as to what life was really like during the Holocaust. The more educated we are about the atrocities of the Holocaust, the less likely we are to repeat it.