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ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST UNDERSTANDING & PREVENTION

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COLLAPSE OF THE BUNKER

by Alexander Kimel

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"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, Luba.

"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 to joke.

"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 blame me!"

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 Shmulek, etc.

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 ghetto?

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 ants?

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 rooms.

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.

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