ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST UNDERSTANDING & PREVENTION
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YOM KIPPUR ACTION
A few months after the March killing, life in the Ghetto returned to normal. People were preoccupied with the fight for survival. As the Talmud says: "Danger to life overcomes everything else." On the streets of the Ghetto one saw poorly dressed with the hungry look on their faces. People moved slowly thinking, dreaming of food. The smallest edible piece of garbage was consumed with delightful abandon.
One day, my Father asked me if I would go to the services. "Tomorrow is Yom Kippur and the services will be held in Orensteins' house." From the time of Kaddish said at the mass grave, I somehow avoided the issue of religion. For me it was hard to pray. Looking at all this destruction around me how could I pray? At that time I didn't realize yet, that God doesn't need the admiration and prayers from the mortals. It's the mortal that needs God, to make sense to their lives and give it some structure.
When we entered, we found the synagogue full of anxious, scared people. For most of them it will be the last Yom Kippur. The Rabbi, dressed in a white robe resembling a shroud, conducted the services. His emaciated, drawn out face with two burning eyes was covered with the prayer shawl had an eerie, unearthly look. The Congregation tearfully responded to the ancient prayers.
The sooner the service started; there was a knock at the window. "The murderers are here. Run for your life. Run for your life." Pandemonium broke out. Screaming, weeping people were running to the bunkers.
Our house was close to the synagogue, so we all reached the bunker in time, before the action started. Last to check-in was Sam Hecht. He closed the hatch door, camouflaged the entrance. "We are all in, Thanks God."
Despite the seriousness of the situation I felt resentment rising in me. Why are we thanking God? A Jew gets sick - we thank God, a Jew recovers we thank God. And now, the Jews are killed like flies, we also thank God. We have no self-esteem. This is the reason that we let ourselves be brutalized. <
We sat in complete darkness, in complete silence. I was sitting on a wooden bench between my parents. Despite my religious rebellion I did fast that Yom Kippur and I felt the pangs of hunger. I concentrated on this feeling of hunger; it gave me a relief from the gripping anxiety.
Soon, we heard the heavy German boots kicking the furniture, stamping the floor in search of the bunker. At one point the German was above us. I heard the floor squeaking when he walked. "Why are all the people breathing so loudly? God help us! God save us, at least this time." I prayed. The old cellar was built solidly; the floor squeaked but protected us. The Germans did not find us. The Yom Kippur action lasted two days. Normally an action lasted only one day. It turned out that the Jews perfected so much their hiding methods that it was impossible for the Germans to fill the waiting train, so they extended the action for another day.
The bunker was equipped with a metal pail used for sanitation, but we did not have any food or even water. Next day I grew restless. I changed seats with my mother and she was now clutching tightly to my father. I was afraid for her. She had a heart problem and every time she got scared she was shook like a leave. I have not eaten for two days.
I decided to leave the bunker to explore the situation. Chaja, Hecht's sister joined me. We slowly opened the hatch and like pilots climbed out from the cockpit.
I approached the window. The deserted streets were drenched with warm sunlight. Nature was cooperating with the murderers, making their job easier, pleasant. Looking through the window I saw two Germans approaching. I weren't sure if they saw me. A few seconds later there was loud knocking on the entrance door and loud German voices yelling their blood chilling: "Juden Raus! Juden Raus!"
I ran to the bunker entrance and opened the hatch door and turned to Chaja:
"They saw us. Jump quickly! Jump!"
Chaja turned around and I saw the eyes enlarged by fear. After a moment of hesitation, Chaja jumped her head down. I heard a loud thump, when she hit the floor. I was getting ready to jump when I heard the German braking down the front door and boot steps. The Germans were approaching yelling their "Juden Raus, Jews Out."
I froze for a split second. It time of danger one thinks with lightning speed. "If I jump now, I will endanger the lives of thirty people, down below. There is not enough time. I won't endanger the bunker. I can't jump. I can't jump. Good Bye." I closed the trap door and swiftly masked the entrance. In the last minute a caught the glance of my father standing below the opening.
Like in a daze I walked out of the room and saw two Germans walking toward me. They were alone, not accompanied by local people. On the flash of the moment I decided to try a trick. Being brought up by Ukrainian housemaid, I spoke fluent Ukrainian. I turned to the Germans and told them in broken German: "No Jews. All Jews Kaput here. I found them. Me Ukrainian helping Germans find Jews. Let's go! "
I looked at the two Germans, the Raiders. One was a young boy and the other an overweight, heavyset man hardly fitting in his tight uniform. "So those are the Angels of Death. I was surprised. I never expected to see a fat Angel of Death. In my imagination angels of death are always skinny.
It looked so peacefully, like people going for an outing. No cries, no pleas. Even the children behaved like zombies.
I was afraid that I will be recognized by the people from the column and maybe incriminated. I have to get rid of the Germans. We were passing in front of the Melzer house. I turned to the Germans, and told them in Ukrainian that I am going to look for the Jews and motioned them to wait for me. I darted through the house and left to the rear door and in the next house I run into a tool shed, covered up myself with old rugs and stayed there.
After the dusk, when the shooting stopped, I slowly moved out from his pile of rubbish, and crawled to the ventilation pipe from the bunker. There he whispered in - "Mom it is me I am alive. I am alive." Through the ventilation pipe I heard my mother crying.
I was very much surprised with my parent's reaction and despair. I was a shy, inhibited youngster, who grew up in the shadow of his pretty sister Luba and dominated by his stern father. I was as sickly child, who spent his time reading a multiple of books. I was always criticized and I never felt loved by my parents.
After the reunion we emerged from the bunker to assess the damage. The damage was extensive. About 1200 Jews were driven to the railroad station, loaded into cattle cars, and shipped out. Where? We did not have the slightest idea.