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ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST UNDERSTANDING & PREVENTION

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THE FALL OF SEVASTOPOL

by Alexander Kimel

Willy distinctly heard the voice of Dietrich: "I believe that the Jews are laughing at us. I do have to get them, and I will get them."

"But Herr Dietrich, three months passed after the liquidation of the ghetto. All Jews are dead now." Replied Hans, Dietrich's assistant.

"I don't agree with you. You don't know those Jews. They cling to life at all cost. They will do anything to stay alive. We have to patrol the area until we catch them."

Willy's heart lost a beat for a moment, his blood drained. He knew that they are in danger. Dietrich was a Jew hater. Dietrich patrolled the area with his German shepherd. Dietrich was a German Policeman who at the March 20 action saved about 20 Jews. Later after the continuation of the killing he received a letter that his wife and children were killed in a bombing raid. He changed overnight. He blamed the Jews for the death of his family and was hunting Jews with his dog.

At the time of the ghetto liquidation about 30 Jews hid, in the extensive bunker, called Sevastopol. They adjusted to living without sunlight, without daylight. The news from the outside was tragic. They stayed underground witnessing liquidation of the Ghetto.

To maintain contact with the outside world they established, around the clock vigil, at the listening posts, at the bottom of the main vent. The news was tragic: "They got Moses Orenstein, Willy heard screams and later a few shots." Another sentry reported: "They found Finkelstein. Willy heard Sarah sobbing and the baby crying. It was heartbreaking."

The underground community was prepared for a long siege. To maintain a resemblance of normality a rigid social system was established. Food was rationed, everybody received the same portion. Water was plentiful for drinking, but limited amount were allowed for washing. There was a problem the waste disposal.

After a few days when the things quiet down, the wonder of human adaptation took place - friction and conflicts erupted. The fight for the pecking order. "Ettie Barron wanted to have grit for supper, while Regina insisted that the potatoes, be eaten first. Grits could be preserved longer."

To fight boredom they started to play chess. The competition heated up and the best chess players became the new aristocracy. Quarrels and fights provided the much needed distraction.

As in any organized community a natural leader emerged, the leadership of Sevastopol was taken over by Mr. Bloch. Realizing that the news from the outside undermined, the morale of the community, he decreed that the news should be shared only with a few men. "Lets save the nerves of the women." He also established an arbitration board to solve the chess quarrels.

Like the religious Jews waiting for the birth of the moon, so the bunker people waited at the ventilation shaft for the sign of daylight, to start their daily activities. Most, started the day with prayers, some just said the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. With the prevailing destruction the Kaddish stirred them up emotionally, made them feel alive.

Looking at this strange underground congregation, reciting the praise for the Creator, Willy felt that it was the Kaddish that kept us together for generations. Paying homage to their forefathers, was the link that kept generations together.

Willy spent a lot of time at the listening posts. At the surface the ghetto was burned down and systematically destroyed. Most of the Jews were shipped to the Belzec. From time to time we heard some shots, the Germans were executing the latecomers. From the direction of the shots Willy assumed that the Germans were executing the Jews at the old at Jewish cemetery.

As things quiet down, they assumed that the Germans and the local population forgot about them. Now, when Willy heard Dietrich's voice, he faced a dilemma. The news about Dietrich will create a panic. "They had no place to run, no place to hide. So, why tell them?"

Next day Dietrich was back. "Herr Dietrich, do you want me to patrol the area every night. I won't be able to function during the day. I do have other responsibilities." Willy heard Hans complaining.

"Finishing of the Jews is our main responsibility. I want you to be here every night with the dog. Just walk the area with the dog. It is an order. No it is the Fuhrer's order to get rid of the Jews. I am following his orders."

"Jawohl, Herr Commandant." Answered Schmidt.

Willies dilemma increased tremendously. "Telling the people will create a panic. Where can we go? Staying here is dangerous, leaving invites a sure death. We had no place to go."

He decided to alert Bloch. "We have to make preparation for abandoning the bunker. Dietrich is on our trail."

"I don't believe it. They won't find us. We have to be quieter only. No way can they find us. And besides where can we go. Here at least is . . . our home. Here we have what to eat. Here we can sleep in peace." Bloch did not want to face the reality.

Now, most of the nights Willy spent at the listening post. One night, about a week later, the dog suddenly picked up their scent; he started to run in circles, barking and growling excited. Willy heard the Germans shouting, but it was dark and they did not find them.

In the morning the Germans came back and in the daylight discovered the masked vent pipe. "We found Sevastopol." Dietrich shouted excited. "Now we will be able to flush out the Jewish rats"

"How are you going to do it? I don't see any entrance." replied Hans.

"I will find a way. Go bring a few Ukrainian policemen. We will need help. This has to be planned like a military operation. We can't let them go." Dietrich was excited.

After the Ukrainians arrived, they searched for the entrance. They worked for till noon and did not locate it. The main entrance was located in the cellar of the burned out building, and neither the dog nor the Ukrainians could find it.

In the afternoon Dietrich said to Hans. "I am going to the Army Commandant to ask for the release of hand grenades. We need the grenades to bring the Jews up."

"I don't believe that the Jews could have survived for so long. Forget it Herr Dietrich."

Willy called Bloch and told him about the situation. "We can't keep people in the dark. Let everybody decide his fate. Let them make their own decision. We might have to break out."

Bloch said, "Let me talk with Shlojme. He is a smart man. I, myself would rather spare them the unnecessary anguish. Let them die in peace. Willy forbid you to talk to anybody about the situation."

Willy knew that Dietrich will get the hand grenades. In Hitler's Germany the war against the Jews was the first priority. Willy decided to close the outer chamber where the main vent line terminated. Willy scraped up some spare lumber, closed the tunnel leading toward the chamber, and filling it with dirt.

Sonia was helping me in this task, when Bloch came running. "I what are you doing for Heaven's sake? . We will choke to death. We need the ventilation. We will choke to death."

"We have to do it," Willy replied. "They are going to throw hand grenades. We have to isolate the tunnel, to retain the shock of the explosion."

Bloch was adamant. "The grenades will bury the chamber. The closing of the area will make things worse. The lumber will be blown away and damage the middle chamber. Willy, forbid you to proceed. Concentrate rather on the enlargement of the auxiliary vent. Please, open the spare shaft to provide additional ventilation."

The entrance to the bunker, the trap door was located under the floor of the baking oven that was in Shlojme's stable. The stable was still smelling with manure, and this gave us additional protection.

When building the bunker, Willy made a small opening in the wooden trap door, and the in the chimney Willy installed a sack with dirt. By pulling a string, running through the door opening, we opened the sack releasing the dirt for camouflaging. Now, Willy decided to enlarge the opening in the trap door, to provided ventilation. It was a risk they had to take.

Willy was working on the opening when the first hand grenade was tossed and the thundering explosion shook the bunker. The boom was partially absorbed by labyrinth of the tunnels, but the electric cable was cut plunging the bunker into total darkness. Then in short intervals additional four explosions occurred.

Panic hit the bunker. In the darkness Willy heard sobbing of the women. "It was too good to last, at least we lived a few months longer, encouraged Mojshe Binder his crying young wife.

"They are going to bury us alive. I am getting scared. I don't want to be buried alive. I prefer to be shot in the daylight. I want to see the sun before I die." Mrs. Bloch became hysterical. Bloch and Shlojme tried to restrain her. She wanted to get out.

The next explosions had a smaller impact. The blast buried the entrance to the shallow interconnecting tunnel but the shoring, made out of old railroad ties, held up the impact.

Willy ran to the listening post and again he heard the blood freezing "Juden Raus. Juden Raus." When he returned to the main chamber he saw Bloch lit a candle, and the flickering light revealed a ghastly scene: A group of scared men, women and children, sitting in circle, their faces distorted with a painful fear, waiting for their death. "This is a grave. This is a grave. I want to get out. I want to be shot in the sunlight. I want to see the sun before I die." Sobbed Mrs. Bloch.

Willy returned to the new listening post, under the trap door. Schmidt tried to convince Dietrich that they are fighting the windmills like Don Quixote. "It must be an old vent. Nobody is there. Let's go." He said.

"No Hans. I believe in my dog, Put. They must be hiding there. I will get them out."

"There is no use of wasting hand grenades anymore. The hole will get only bigger. Are you prospecting for oil or coal?" Hans joked.

"No. I am getting those Jews out. I do have an idea. Lets use smoke grenades. The smoke will surely flush the Jews out." Dietrich was serious.

"My God, they are going to choke us to death." Willy immediately ran to the main chamber and organized a party. They were working feverishly to close the tunnel, leading to the main vent. Then the area was covered with damp bedding.

Before they could finish the job. Will heard dampened thunder of two explosions. The end was coming. He took a flashlight from Bloch and went to check the entrance to the tunnel. It was holding. The smoke was retained. At least for now. They are going to live for a few more hours.

He returned to the listening post to discover that the smoke backed up and attacked the Germans and Ukrainians. He heard coughing. They will have to stop using the smoke grenades. Dietrich ordered the Ukrainians to guard the area, and retreated.

The news that the German failed with smoke grenades caused relief and even jubilation in the underground community. People became hungry and the dried bread with water tasted like the best cake.

The night passed quietly. In the morning Willy recognized the voice of Tomash, the Fireman. It looks like that Dietrich brought in the manual pumper from the Fire Department.

"We are going to flood the underground bunker with water from the river." He recognized the voice of Dietrich.

"But I don't have such a long hose," objected Tomash. "We can't do it. "

"How much hose do you need?"

"About a hundred feet of hose, using the standard couplings."

"Hans ordered Dietrich take the Volsvagen and go to the next town to get the hose." Dietrich was like a bloodhound.

"We will pump the water as long it takes."

"Good luck Dietrich, I hope you find some Jews, otherwise we will become the laughingstock," retorted Hans.

Operating the pumper required hard work, and additional men were needed. Willy heard Dietrich calling the Commandant of the Ukrainian Police and asked them to clear the area from the curious onlookers. "This is not a gladiator show. If somebody wants to watch the drama let him work."

It looks like he got plenty of volunteers because the humming and cracking of the pumper never stopped. At the beginning the water filled out the underground void, and started to backup. The clogging of the interconnecting tunnel by the explosions of the hand grenades prevented the water from penetrating the bunker. The water from the pumper was backing up and flooding the grounds, running off to the river.

"Nobody is there, Dietrich, lets finish this ridiculous show," begged Hans.

Dietrich was almost ready to call of the pumping, when suddenly and Ukrainian called out all excited. "It broke through . The water broke through."

Dietrich ran fast, and saw the water level at the vent dropping fast. It was like unclogging a water closet. "We got them. We got them. Keep pumping the pumpers. Keep pumping." He shouted excited.

"The pressure of the water, swept away the loose non compacted layer of dirt clogging the tunnel, and the water slowly penetrated the bunker network."

On the surface the crowd started to cheer, while the people in the bunker slowly resigned to our fate. The Day of Judgment had come. Shlojme and Bloch pout on their prayer shawls and in started to pray silently with the typical rhythmic motion. The women kissed the children.

Willy went back to the listening post where Sonia found me. She was excited. "Willy, the water is receding. They gave up. We are going to make it.'

Indeed the water receded an inch after inch. Shlojme looked up from under the prayer shawl and said." God answered our prayers. The Lord is saving us."

Bloch was breathing heavily, his face was all covered with sweat. He was gasping for air. "We need cross ventilation, otherwise we are going to die, choke to death. We have to dig another shaft."

"Forget up about another shaft. We have to run. Dietrich will never give up. It is time to prepare for the escape."

Shlojme emerged from under the prayer shawl, said "I am too old to run again. I will stay. You can run."

At the listening post Willy heard Tomash arguing with Dietrich: "The pumper broke down, it is not designed to work without an interruption. I can't give you the other pumper, without the permission of the Oberamter."

"Why?" asked Dietrich.

"In case of a fire, the whole town is going to burn down. I cannot do it. I cannot leave the town without fire protection."

Dietrich was fuming. "Get the repairman," he ordered his assistant Schmidt.

After an hour, Schmidt returned accompanied by a tall lanky Pole who everybody called Anton.

Anton surveyed the broken pumper, pulled out the supply hose from the river and said in a firm voice. "You did not use a strainer, The pumper is either clogged or the cylinders jammed. "

"How long will it take to fix it?" Dietrich was annoyed:

"It depends what is broken. From one day to one week." Came the answer.

Get to work immediately," ordered Dietrich assigning a Ukrainian policeman for supervision.

At night, Willy warned Bloch: "Listen we have a few hours to abandon the bunker. We have no defense against the water. It will penetrate at the cracks and drown us. I prefer to die fighting . . . I am leaving tonight.

Bloch remained silent for a minute. I could see the pain in his eyes. "Good luck I. . . I will wait another night. If you succeed in breaking out, I will go next. I do have to do it. My wife will die here from claustrophobia.

The breakout did not occur and the next day day the townspeople had their last road show: Two flatbed, horse drive wagons were taking the defenders of Sevastopol to the cemetery to be shot. It looks like the French revolution, the condemned driven to the guillotine, and the crowds are cheering.


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