The 23rd Psalm
A Holocaust Memoir
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
The 23rd Psalm
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"After more than fifty years I have returned to Poland. I sit in the back of a taxi, riding the six miles from Rzeszów to Tyczyn and looking out the window at the bleak familiar roads. As we approach town, I recognize the places that marked my childhood. The forests give way to..."
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"I grew up in a small Polish town named Tyczyn. It was close to Rzeszów, a larger city and our county seat. In Tyczyn were the grade school that I attended and the local court where my father practiced law. The high school, county court, railway station, fancy restaurants, and movie theaters were all in Rzeszów, about six miles away."
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"Just before noon on the tenth day of war, the German army drove through Tyczyn. The soldiers rode on motorcycles, half-tracks, tanks, artillery pieces, and trucks, all marked with black crosses. They drove through Tyczyn in relentless pursuit of the retreating Polish army."
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"My father spent several days in bed resting and accepted few visitors. Friends brought potatoes, vegetables, and even some meat so that my mother could make him a few hearty meals to restore his strength. She brought him trays with soup and tea and spent hours at his side, holding his hands and watching him sleep."
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"Several weeks went by, filled with the daily struggle to find food and avoid the German soldiers on the street. One day the Polish newspaper that the Germans published in Kraków flashed a bold headline in red ink: FRANCE SURRENDERS TO GERMAN FORCES! ENGLISH TROOPS TRAPPED IN DUNKIRK!"
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"In early May 1941 a large detachment of German soldiers arrived in Tyczyn. They were stationed in people's homes and barns and lived in tents in the woods and orchards. They parked their trucks, tanks, and artillery pieces in grassy yards, along the banks of the river, and in the park."
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"German SS and Polish police moved into Tyczyn and began to patrol the streets in pairs. The Jews were concerned, for any change brought fresh worries about the future. We could not get any information from the Judenrat and the Polish policemen we knew. My father insisted that we stay close to the house. My mother put together a small package with food, extra clothing, and blankets in case we had to run to the woods to hide from the Nazis."
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"We passed through the gate and into the Jewish ghetto. The wretchedness of life was evident everywhere. Crowds of people, desperate beggars, and starving and sickly children were pleading for food. The Tyczyn Jewish parents were desperately calling for their children, from whom they had been separated during the rush into the ghetto. Jewish orderlies appeared, in civilian clothing and dark blue police caps, and moved us away from the gate. Judenrat volunteers told us that little housing was available."
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"Afew days later the Gestapo and German District Administration issued an order for the resettlement of Rzeszów Jews to the east. The lengthy notice, printed in German and Polish, was posted throughout the ghetto. The order stated that in one week all Jews in the ghetto, with..."
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"Manek and I went to the Labor Office early the next morning to get our work assignments. I was afraid that I might be sent to work in a forest or a mine. I had heard that the work there was very hard and that the supervisors and guards were brutal. More than anything, I hoped that Manek and I would be assigned to the same work group and that we would stay together."
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"Inside the camp were rows of wooden barracks surrounded by double barbed wire fences. Armed guards patrolled a walkway between the fences. Other Jews were lined up in long rows between the barracks. I looked in all directions for Manek but did not see him. We were ordered to halt, and a tall Jewish orderly lined us up in rows of three. One..."
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"Very early on that Monday morning in the fall of 1942, I lined up with the men who worked in the production hall. Aguard marched us to the back entrance of the large building. I was excited to see that the entrance was near the building where Manek worked and just across a narrow grassy area from his window. Inside the building a Polish foreman..."
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"As long as Manek had been nearby and I could see him, even for a few minutes, I was not alone. He had helped me to face the horror of the camp and shared the worry and despair about our parents. We supported each other with our hopes and by sharing the silence when we ran out of words."
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"In September the SS took command of the camp operation. Oberscharführer Oester became the commander, and a troop of Ukrainians was brought in to serve as guards. Oester was the former deputy to Schupke, the German commander of the Rzeszów ghetto. Oester inspected the prisoners, barracks, and washroom at random. He carried a heavy..."
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"The SS scheduled another selection in the camp. A large number of guards came into the camp on a Sunday afternoon when the day and night shifts were in the barracks. We were crowded to one side of the roll call area, and then we were ordered to run in groups to the other side as..."
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"Our train came to a stop. We could hear the Germans shouting and their guard dogs barking. A prisoner climbed up to look out the window. He told us that the SS men were armed with machine guns. I began to awaken from my stupor. All I cared about was getting out of the boxcar to find some water and fill my lungs with air. I pulled on my..."
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"The boxcar doors were pulled open. My legs were stiff and numb from the days and nights on the floor. I tried to pull myself up to stand as the Germans began to shout and violently pull the prisoners out of the boxcar. 'Out! Fast, you pigs! You shit dogs! Out! Line up to be counted!' I stumbled out of the boxcar and fell to the ground. I struggled to stand..."
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"We traveled in the boxcar for five or six days. Many prisoners were sick and lay dying. The train stopped often, and we would sit hoping for water or the chance to empty the latrine bucket. Hours turned into days, and I lost sense of time. Finally, after one extremely lengthy stop the..."
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"The boxcar doors were slid open. In the morning light we looked out into chaos. The SS swung their clubs and truncheons as we jumped and fell from the boxcars. They were shouting and cursing, and we cowered from their blows. We rushed to line up for the counting. Some prisoners had dropped their bowls and were beaten back in line as they tried..."
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"We had been on the train for four or five days. We were starving, thirsty, and soiled from our own waste. At each stop some prisoners would bang on the boxcar doors and cry out for water. Every few days the doors would open, and we would throw out the dead. One..."
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"The first snow fell during that night and covered the grounds, barracks, and roads. An icy wind blew the snow into deep drifts. Winter stalked the weak, the hungry, and the ill. We stood in frozen rows during the morning roll call. The snow reached over my old shoes and sank in around my bare ankles. I pulled my cap down over my ears..."
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"The train traveled for three or four long and miserable days. Many prisoners died during the trip and lay among us in the boxcar. The crowding, stench, and our thirst were unbearable. At one stop we heard the familiar shouts and whips of the Germans as the doors were unlatched and the prisoners were driven out. It was night. We jumped to..."
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"Iawoke to the noise of the boxcar doors as they opened. I heard the angry, shrill German voices outside the boxcar. 'Out! Out! Fast! Fast!' the voices commanded. 'Out! You stinking damned Jewish swine!' I tumbled out of the boxcar into the harsh daylight. We were at a railroad siding between two rows of tall barbed wire fences. Armed SS guards..."
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"Dawn came and the sun rose. The train had not moved during the night. The boxcar doors were still open. The SS and Kapos stood in a line outside the boxcars and shouted for all the prisoners to come out immediately and line up. They herded us into a tight mass between the boxcars and the barbed wire fence. The SS..."
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"The English trucks brought us to the city of Lübeck and a displaced persons (DP) camp established at an apartment complex that had housed Nazi officials. I was assigned to an apartment with several other survivors. Our soldiers were now British instead of German, and their eyes bore no hatred, only sympathy at our desperate and shocking..."
Page Count: 237
Publication Year: 2004