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Jankiel Kulawiec

When the war broke out and the Germans came as far as the place where we were living, they surrounded it in such a way that escape was almost impossible. But I and Ilja Mokobocki's three sons - Josef, Borys and Jankiel - managed to break out of the encirclement and we crossed the Berezina river not far from Vitebsk. I only managed to get away with them because at the time of the German attack I was visiting them. All the rest of my family stayed in Kraysk, and I never saw them again.

On the way, as we were fleeing, I lost the three Mokobocki brothers and was left alone. I was soon caught by the Russians because I was a foreigner and didn't have any papers.
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I managed to get to Picice, where they knew me from Uncle Dawid renting out orchards there. That was 7 or 8 kilometers from Losice. Some farmers, Poles, hid me and kept me for a time. I was living with them in their house, and I didn't have to sit there the whole time. I went out to work sometimes, for instance to take apples to the squire.

After some time I escaped into the forest. I couldn't stay too long with the farmer because it would have been too dangerous for him. There was this huge forest around Losice that went right down to the Bug. A lot of lads from Losice and the surrounding villages were there, and we met up somewhere near Drogichin, where we could ford the Bug. And we crossed the Bug using the remains of a passenger ferry that had plied the river before the war. But since the Germans had been there the ferry had not run, and it had even been damaged.

So we managed to get to the other side, to Drogichin. There the border guards turned us back to Siemiatycze [about 30 km north of Losice], and from there to Slonim [Belarus]. There I found out where my family might be. As they were not allowed to settle within the border zone, being foreigners, they had been sent to a town called Pleshchenitsa, on the old Polish-Soviet border in the Minsk governorship.
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When the Russians withdrew, my father and I fled east with them [many Jews decided to leave the town with them and live in Soviet-occupied territories]. Mama and the children stayed.

Father and I reached Drogichin [Belarus, about 120 km east of Losice] with the Russkis. There we came to the conclusion that we had to go back for Mama. So I set off with a family that was going back for their things. But when I arrived in Losice, Mama wasn't there any more. Apparently, some Russki officer of Jewish descent that she knew had helped her and the children get to Brest. And then it wasn't so easy for me to get out of Losice to look for her, because the Germans weren't letting people out. So I was stuck there until the spring of 1940.
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We managed to escape out of town, down to the river. I couldn't pull myself together. My father hugged me there, my mother too. They put me under the feather eiderdown, because they'd taken the eiderdown too. After it was all over I went to the town to see what it looked like; I was curious, as young lads are! There were a lot of burned, charred bodies there. I sometimes see those bodies before my eyes. As a 15-year-old lad I found it very hard to take.
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Panic broke out, the Jews wanted to flee, but because it was a Saturday and they couldn't flee, they got all their things together on their carts, so that they could leave for the country in the night. And the Germans targeted that and let a few bombs off in that direction, right by the synagogue. The first bomb was a direct hit on the synagogue building. It was a massacre, I remember that I was in shock.
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Mico Alvo

My father's brothers were not on the list. I mean the list of those people that were not allowed to leave, or otherwise, they would execute the rest. Since they managed to leave it was for the best. My father didn't tell them anything. Nothing at all. Everyone was free to do as they thought was best. At the time they used to say like they say in French, 'sauve qui peut.' That means: Whoever can, let him be saved.

You have to understand that no one was thinking that they were going to die. They thought that they would take them there and put them in forced labor to work. We would go and buy good hobnailed boots and warm clothes and things like that. People hid the money in the shoes and the belts in order to have money to spend. The Germans had also done the other thing: you would give them drachmas and they would change it to zloti, which was a worthless piece of paper.

My father really appreciated German science, but not the culture. Because we already knew from World War I in France, that they had done a lot. He appreciated the industry and with many suppliers he had excellent relations. He couldn't have imagined that the Germans would get to this point. My father thought it was compulsory to follow the orders of the Germans. He thought that by having a good behavior towards the Germans, their luck might be different from the others. I think that if they had known that they going for certain death, at least half of them would have left.

What I found out is that when they got to Auschwitz, my sister and my father didn't go straight to the ovens [crematoria]. They worked for a while in forced labor. My father lasted three or four months. He, who was used to getting up in the morning and having his shower and go to the office. I can only imagine what he went through. My mother went [to the crematorium] straight away,, and my sister lasted only a very short time.

Olga was the wife of Bernard Landau, who was put in prison by the Germans because they regarded him as a spy. He knew how to speak German better than the Germans. He was an Ashkenazi. In the family they considered him a little bit as an outsider. He left with the last transport to the concentration camps because he worked at the Community. But neither he, nor Olga or his children survived. Only his older daughter, Yvonne, who got married to a Spaniard and got the Spanish citizenship made it. She survived and later went to Palestine.

Rebecca left with her husband and two daughters and went to Auschwitz. My uncle Daniel lived in the ghetto at the time. Nevertheless he managed to get out of the ghetto with his wife and his two children, Nico and Mary. It seems that when the deportations started a number of people left. Only a few though. Roula's mother, who was from Volos, sent someone to take them and bring them to Volos on a boat. Then, when the Italians surrendered, they went up to the mountains of Karditsa.

Daisy's husband thought that it was better to leave and go to Athens. He had friends there. Daisy had no problem to go to Athens because she had married a Christian. They had excluded the ones of mixed marriages, but those were very few.
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Just before the Germans entered, many wanted to leave for Athens. Even we did, Father wanted us to go. He wanted to at least send us. But it was very difficult to get a train ticket. And even though we knew the manager of SEK [Greek State Railways], Mr. Dimitriou, we didn't leave. Our father wanted us to leave but only half-heartedly. And he didn't want to leave and abandon the shop.
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Rafael Genis

Thus, we traveled for two or three days. We reached Gorky oblast and got off at the station Bogoyavleniye [about 700 km from Moscow]. There were carts there and we were taken to a kolkhoz [9]. At first I was assigned to a tractor brigade. There I got milk and bread. It was my first meal. There was no place for me to live, so I went around the village looking for shelter. I was housed by a smith, Mikheyev. He lived with a daughter who had recently given birth to a baby. His brother-in-law was in the lines and the smith decided that I would help them about the house. I was still barefoot and Mikheyev gave me straw shoes.
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It was the first time I was in a Russian town. It was so dirty! It seemed to me that I happened to be in a cesspool after clean Lithuanian towns. I walked around the town and reached the train station. There was a car with evacuees. I got on the train and it left shortly. It was a locomotive train packed with people. There were mostly women, children and elderly people. I had neither drink nor food. I remember that I was starving. If someone started eating I stood by them with hungry eyes. At times they gave me a spud or a rusk.
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We were going towards the Russian border. We were stopped by Lithuanians in Mazeikiai [town in North-West Lithuania, close to the Latvian border]. They had already taken the German side and they were not willing to let us through. Our activists had weapons, they shot a couple of times and the Lithuanians ran away. There was a covering force of Russian Army soldiers [8]. They didn't let any single civilian car, a cart or a pedestrian pass. There were a lot of people. At that time a low-flying German plane started firing at people a couple of times. Many weren't moving. Our car was crushed. The passengers scattered. My sandals were torn so I went barefoot. My feet still remember the hot July asphalt. At that time a military column was passing the border, and I got under the tarpaulin of one of their trucks and went with them. We reached Pskov [town in Western Russia, close to the Latvian border]. I was afraid that they would find me, so I jumped off the truck and sat on the curb.
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Janina Duda

And we were looking for partisans; there were already rumors in the area that we really wanted to join them. I have never told anyone about this period, this is really new. The chief of police was there, from the White Guard. Once, when we were going to the second warehouse in the woods near Svaritsevichi, we were hoping to find the partisans along the way. And this chief of police invited us for vodka and some food and he says, ‘So, are we going to meet with partisans?’ That’s what it looked like.

So we finally decided to give it all up, our situation was unstable and we wanted to join the partisan troops. So we decided to go into the woods, to go east. And this peasant, his last name was Shchur, who was once the manager of the warehouse, took me to a woman from the village of Ozery, who had a Jewish husband or friend. I stayed with her for one night and she went to get Grzegorz herself and walked him to that place. I had some baked chickens which my friend, Pogorzewiczowa, made for me. We were helped the most by the researchers of the Holy Scriptures – some sect [probably Jehovah’s Witnesses]. They were deeply religious people, whose faith obligates them to help others. They led us from one village to another.

The Gestapo looked for us in the first house, because we burned all the documents from the warehouse and all the grain, with Shchur’s help, was taken by the peasants. This Shchur was later tortured by the Germans, beaten, but he didn’t tell them anything. The peasants, when they got their grain, didn’t say anything of course. The Germans never got the grain and all the documents were burned. Such an act of sabotage was death for us. So they were looking for us. They sent out arrest warrants and the Gestapo.

We were in the barn and the peasant was in the house. The peasant slipped out and he led us through mud to another village. These villages were so-called ‘chutory’ [old Polish word], settlements where each house is surrounded by an entire estate. This was all in Palyeskaya Nizina. But nobody knew we were Jewish. They only knew that the Gestapo was looking for us for sabotage, for the grain warehouse. Perhaps they suspected it, I don’t know. We had these backpacks with all our things: the Jews with whom we had stayed in Vysotsk gave us some rags, sheets, such things. We had a deal that if they survived, we would give everything back to them. This Jewess told me that if her child ran away to me, I would manage to somehow save him. I wanted to tell her – the blind leading the blind. But there were such situations.
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So once, already after the Germans had come, I met some buddies of mine who worked in that tile factory in Antoniuk, Wacek Dziejma, Marian Wolniewicz and some others, on the street. And Marian told me, ‘Listen Janina, you’re still having doubts, run off to the countryside, you’ll wait out the war and that’s it, look at yourself, don’t stay in Bialystok.’ So I thought that perhaps I really should leave the town. With my past I’d be the first one to go to the Gestapo and the family would suffer. And how much help could I be anyway? Just one more mouth to feed and there was no food in the house.

Meanwhile, a friend of my sister Dina, Grzegorz Lewi, was looking for me. He was graduating from gymnasium at that time, he was several years younger than I. We had a deal that we would leave Bialystok together. Grzegorz came looking for me, because he wanted to go. He only had a mother, his father was dead. My parents didn’t want to tell him where I was, but Dina knew him, so she said, ‘Listen Grzegorz, Janina is there and there.’ So that’s when we [with Grzegorz] decided to go. I had a piece of sausage and bread, butter that I was supposed to take to my husband, because it was a Sunday and it was left over in the house. And in the house, apart from what I was supposed to take to Janek, there was just this one bag with buckwheat groats. There was nothing more. We left, Mother even gave me her sweater, and we went east.

We got to Bielsk [Podlaski] [150 km east of Warsaw], where my husband’s family lived, they gave us some food, but we had to go on. We both decided to change names in Bielsk. Grzegorz found some Soviet identification card of a Ukrainian, he corrected the date of birth, put in his photograph, this was amateur work, but somehow during the war it was enough. So he became Ivan Carycynski, born in Stanislavyv.

In Bielsk Podlaski we spent the night at a woman’s house, the notary’s wife. Her husband wasn’t home. She gave us a room, some straw, a sheet. There was a large orchard there. And because it was summertime we filled up on fruit. And, what’s interesting, I went to the mayor of the city, he was a senator [that is, the officials working there addressed him as ‘Mr. Senator’]. Erdman, I remember this name. So I asked him for an identity card and hid my Soviet one. He asked for my name, I gave my chosen last name, Zurek, and he asked them to put on my identity card ‘born in Vawkavysk’ [300 km east of Warsaw, today Belarus].

Why in Vawkavysk? Because they had no identity cards there. What I mean is that in 1939 Soviet officials issued identity cards, but only to people who were born in a given town. But they wouldn’t issue identity cards to refugees from central or western Poland. That was because they claimed they didn’t know them and they would have to be checked. If they wanted to live in the interior of Russia, they could do so, but they were afraid to have them near the border. They thought they might be spies or something. So if I said I was from Bialystok, they would say, ‘Dear child, but where’s your passport?’

And so I said Vawkavysk, because Vawkavysk was burned down during the first military activities… I listed an area where there was no [documentation] and they could control me however long they wanted to and they still wouldn’t find anything. You have to be clever, when your life’s at stake. I said we were going to Stanislavyv, to my fiancé’s family and it’s very difficult to get anywhere without an identity card in wartime. The official didn’t want to issue anything, but Erdman told him to. So I now honor the ashes of those people who were so wise and decent then.

So this is how we ended up, after a long march, in Polyeskaya Nizina [about 400 km south east of Warsaw, today Ukraine]. Then we reached this small town in – Vysotsk [Rivne, Ukraine]. There was a fully Ukrainian government there, not Soviet.
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And then I had to go to this ‘rajkom’ [regional committee] to pack all the documents [probably documents of the Soviet authorities, which could not fall into the hands of Germans]. All this is lost now, all my data is in that office. I was there with a friend, Lida Kowalewska. And the Germans were close by. They told me to go east. I offered to my entire family to get on the trucks and go. Father and mother said: ‘We are old and we won’t move anymore.’ So I took my sister Fania with her family, my sister Dina, I put them all on a truck with other Belarusians and I chased after them on my bicycle.

The road was clogged up with cannons, tanks, people and I managed to ride for some 15-20 kilometers on that bike and I didn’t have the strength to go any further. I threw the bike on the road, I saw some soldier pick it up, and I also got on that truck, but they were bombing the road, so we had to get off. At some point the truck left and I was in some small wood next to the road with all of them. My sister was holding the baby, 18 months old; there was my brother-in-law and my little sister. I didn’t have the courage to tell them, ‘We are walking east.’ Because how could you walk with such a crowd of people and a baby? How could I take on responsibility for someone’s life? After all, we weren’t expecting the Holocaust then. We were expecting the worst, but not the Holocaust. That’s why I decided to walk them home.
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This year, 1939, was a horrible one. As you traveled from west to east – dead horses, human bodies, mooing cows that hadn’t been milked, destroyed houses, fallen trees, crying people and us, in the middle of everything, without food, in prison ‘kabats’ [‘jacket’, word of Hungarian origin]. When we reached a country estate and asked for milk, bread, potatoes, they gave it all to us. The squire gave it to us. But he separated us from his people, the farm-hands. And what were we in for? We said – for strikes. Well, what were we to say, for communism? He separated us immediately anyway.

On 15th September [1939] I reached Warsaw, via Bielany. There was heavy gunfire.
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Lily Arouch

My mother-in-law, Sonhoula Arouch, was a woman of quality; she survived the war hiding in the mountains. Before the war she lived with her daughter, Gracia, and her son-in-law, Leon Carasso. Leon had known and collaborated with my father before the war. He was very well connected and from the first moments of the occupation he made clear he was not going to follow the Germans.

He took his wife and mother-in-law and left for the mountains. His mother in law was 70 at the time but still followed her children. There she was looked after and taken care of by all, but she was the one to look after the sick and feed the weak. She was known under the nickname 'Comrade Katina.'

Every time the partisans had to move further up the mountains, because the Germans were coming close, they all had to walk while 'Comrade Katina' was always on a donkey or a mule. She was the oldest woman from Thessalonica to have survived; during the liberation most people called her 'Nona.
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