COLLAPSE OF THE BUNKER
by Alexander Kimel
"Wake up Siko. Get up. something strange is happening. I don't
know, what is." I jumped out of bed, dressed quickly and in a minute I was ready
to run. In the ghetto, constant danger made us very alert. "Listen to
this noise, son."
I heard a rambling, muffled noise. Its source was difficult to
determine. I also felt a light tremor, like a small earthquake.
My sister woke up. Father was first to figure out the source of
the rambling noise. "Oh God! He yelled. It's the bunker. The
noise is coming from the bunker. We have all our money buried
there. Let's run."
He ran out of the house and I followed him. The gray sky that
hanged over the ghetto opened and poured heavy torrential rains
over the hapless dwellers. Water, water was everywhere. Although
we were drenched, we felt secure. The Germans never conducted an
action in bad weather. Why should they get wet? The Jews will
wait. They did not feed us anyhow.
Luckily the heavy cellar doors leading to the trap door were
not locked. Forgetting all the necessary precautions we opened
the trap door and got into the first bunker. I had a flashlight
on me and in the light of the flashlight my father pushed away
the pile of dirty, soiled linens, smelling with rot, and opened
the trap door.
We entered the main bunker and we were met with a rain of clay.
Pellets of wet clay were coming down like rain. I raised my head
and saw a small stream of water coming down through the base of
the ventilation opening.
I directed the beam of the flashlight up to the ventillation
shaft, trying to find how to stop the water. "Let's get the
money. Stop fooling around. Help me digging," commanded my
father. One big piece hit my head and splashed all over my face.
We worked feverishly, pushing for fifteen minutes and got the
metal box out. My father tucked it under his arm and ran out
from the bunker. I closed all the and quickly followed him.
When I came back to our room, my father working at his next
problem. "Where do we hide the money? This is all that is
left." He was worried.
"Let's put it into the straw mattress." Suggested my sister,
"No. Everybody hides money in a mattress. This is the worst
place to hide." Father pushed away one bed and tried to pry
open a floor plank. Suddenly there was a big underground
rambling, the floor shook violently and seconds later the outside
wall collapsed. It just slid down like a house of cards. Our
room was completely exposed to the outside. We just experienced a
small, very small earthquake.
Father standing with the metal box in his hands, and we looking
in amazement through the space that second ago was a wall. A
minute later my father was hiding the box under the mattress. With a swift motion, father pulled out the bed cover and hang it
over the opening created by the collpased wall.
My father was first to asses the dire situation: "We have no
bunker to hide, no place to sleep and all the money exposed."
In the morning the rain stopped, and the sun came out, and lots
of curious people came to survey the strange occurrence. The
gawkers, standing three feet from my bed, looked straight into
our room. The collapsed wall created a sensation in the ghetto.
Droves of onlookers were passing by and everybody had some
question to ask or some comments to make.
At midday the crowds of onlookers disappeared. A minute later I
got really scared. Framed by the irregular outline of the open
wall, a German appeared. It was like a picture frame. The
German dressed in a green uniform, with buckle proclaiming that
God is with the Germans, framed by the outline of our matching
green, of our wall. Alongside him stood a Jewish Policeman,
" What happened here?" Asked the German
"It looks like the flimsy foundation was undermined by the heavy
rains. It happened all ready before in some other place." Explained the Jewish Policeman
One thing I have to say about Jewish Policeman, he really tried
to help us.
After observing the open bedroom, the German left.
"Siko, come with me to the Judenrat, and Luba will stay here, on
guard. We have to get a place to live," I heard my father saying.
In the Judenrat, the clerk Izio Landman was very understanding. Most I can give you is a corner of Lea's house. "We are
overcrowded, unless you can wait for the next action," he tried
"What a joke. I am laughing to death, Izio."
Izio's face became serious. "It's a big room and will hold a few
more people. That's all that I can think off."
"What do you think Josh? You know the place. Your friend Willy
used to live there."
I called my father aside and told him": Don't take it. It's a
dangerous hose directly on the border and without a bunker. I am
not ready to commit suicide. Are you?"
We returned empty handed. At the alley the gawkers were gone and
our neighbors were already discussing the building of a new
bunker with Shmulek, the bunker builder. "The only solution is to use the first
chamber and built another bunker next to the outside wall of the
shed. Both chambers will be connected with a masked tunnel.
My father was fuming: "Shmulek, I told you that the vent line is
no good. It was the water penetrating through this line that
caused the collapse. The outlet was too far from the wall, where
all the rain water was collected.
"Leon," replied Shmulek. "You insisted and a large vent line. The
small vent line was good and more secure. It's your fault. Don't
Again Father lost the argument, when the majority opted to accept
Shmulek's plan. The work was about to start when Lustig asked:
How long will it take to built the bunker?
"About three months. We have to dig an underground structure,
move a lot of earth. It takes time."
"Three months? The Germans will not wait for us, three months."
Worried our neighbor, Lustig.
"How long will it take if we use an open excavation method?"
"About a week, with the proper manpower."
Sam Hecht suggested that we built the bunker next to the
collapsed wall. "We will use open excavation under a pretext
that we are shoring up the damaged foundations."
Everybody agreed and the daylight open construction of a bunker
started. It was a historic first in the annals of bunker
building. The rubble from the collapsed wall was arranged to
provide a type of retaining wall. The dug out dirt was placed
behind the wall. The excavations proceeded around the clock.
To get some resemblance of privacy we redecorated our apartment.
We nailed two brown woolen blankets to the wall and covered up
the hole. We lived now, in a tent type dwelling. I could push
aside the blanket and jump in straight to my work place, at the
bottom of the excavation.
Now our situation became worse. We lived with an open wall close
to a dangerous "illegal" construction site. Luckily after three
days of intensive work the excavation was completed, and it was
time for covering up the bunker.
Sam Hecht was charged with providing the heavy planks needed to
support the new ceiling. The hole was about 12 feet by 10 feet.
Soon Sam came back empty handed. Ten foot's planks were not
available in the ghetto, at any price.
In the rush of the emergency digging. Nobody did the planning.
Bitter incriminating started again. My father, of course, blamed
Luckily for him and for us, Shmulek found a solution: "We will
divide the bunker into two chambers by using old armories, filled
with dirt and stones, as support columns. This will shorten the
span to about five feet."
"Yes, interjected Father. We will build two separate oversized
graves. It is too small for fifteen people."
"The hole was enlarged to 12 feet by 12 feet and furniture was
used as support columns. The bunker was ready to be covered when
the next emergency developed. The first bunker, the entrance
bunker was situated under the floor of the shed, had to be
connected with a tunnel passing under the weakened foundations.
This tunnel had to be properly reinforced to prevent a new
collapse. The problem was how to reinforce the tunnel. A steel
plate was needed. But where can you get a steel plate in the
The ingenuity of the people in danger is difficult to describe.
Necessity is the mother of invention. An amazing solution was
found. The "solution" was rolled up to the bunker by Lustig.
It was a heavy oak wood barrel used for collecting of rain water.
"You cut an opening through the bottom of the barrel and you have
an age old tested tunnel."
Within one week from the start of the construction, the bunker
was completed. Now, the retaining wall removed and the rubble and
bricks scattered over the surface, to provide additional masking.
Now, we had to solve our next problem. We needed a place to
sleep. How do you squeeze-in a family of three, into a nest of
The house of the Guttmans consisted of two one-bedroom
apartments, four rooms in total. About five families lived in
those four rooms. Now we had five families living in three
My father found a solution, using the only power of persuasion
available to him - money. In the kitchen of the next apartment
lived the son of the original owner, Guttman and Elke a widow
with two children. They all were living from hand to mouth. They
all needed money. My father offered them a substantial amount of
money and Gutman moved into a closet in Hecht's house and Elke
with the kids moved in with the Lustigs.
Our family moved into a small kitchen with the added luxury of a
separate entrance. The emergency was over. We could relax and in
luxury wait for the next action.