b. Horodok, Poland, 1920
On September 17, 1938, the Soviet army crossed the border of Poland from the east, while the German army entered from the west. The Polish army collapsed. The Germans and Soviets, by previous agreement, divided Poland. Our shtetl, the village of Horodok, fell to the Soviets.
Life as we knew it came to an end. All Jewish activities stopped. People active in the community and those belonging to the bourgeois class were arrested and deported.
The Communist Party with the help of a few local, and until then clandestine, Jewish communists took over the town. Mass meetings with communist orators spewing propaganda were held to “brainwash” us. Occasional arrests continued. Secrecy and spying on neighbors became a way of life.
Little did we suspect that the Russian occupation was heaven compared to what followed. In a surprise attack on June 22,1940, the Germans broke the resistance of the Soviets and within a few days reached Horodok.
A period of terror began. Jews in leadership positions disappeared. The yellow star was to be worn front and back. Walking on the sidewalks was forbidden. No schools, no trade, no free movement. We were forced to do denigrating labor—with bare hands, pulling grass from between cobbled stones in the market square. Military vehicles roared through the town, sending some into hiding while others trembled or scurried aimlessly, looking for an escape. There was no place to go.
The Germans demanded that we establish a committee, the “Judenrat, ” to carry out their orders. Extortions—demands for specific amounts of gold, silver, and valuables—followed. The Jews complied, under the illusion that temporary safety might be bought.
The Germans enlisted local gentiles into the police. They became loyal and eager collaborators. A schoolmate of mine who joined the police was “kind” enough to take my watch during a sudden night intrusion into our house.
Early in 1942, a ghetto was established at Horodok. Eight hundred dehumanized souls were herded into an area where approximately three hundred had lived. Among them were my family—father, mother, brother, and two sisters. Barbed wire was strung around the ghetto and guards were posted. Entrance and exit were restricted.