The Violin / A Child’s Testimony
Children of the Forest
I was in a bad situation. I did not know where to go or whom to ask for advice about what to do. I thought, “What will be, will be.” I did not go in the direction of our town, but went through the fields that lay ahead of me. I did not take the roads, but walked through the fields and clearings. It became dark and I was still walking by myself. In one field there was a haystack. I was cold, freezing, so I crept into the haystack and fell asleep. I slept through the night. At dawn, I got up, stuffed myself with the bread I had and moved on.
I got to a small forest where I met a group of Jewish boys and girls from our town, Komarów. They, like me, had had to leave their farmers and were now walking around in the woods. I was somewhat relieved and in a better mood. I asked them about my mother and brother, but nobody knew anything. We told ourselves that cats and dogs had it better than we did: a cat has his oven, a dog his kennel, but we were being chased like rabbits from one place to another. For the time being, we stuck together. We were about eight or ten boys and two girls – all children. The oldest was perhaps seventeen years old, and the youngest, a girl, was maybe eight years old. We got along well with each other and shared our bread. Everyone was sad and we cried. I was worried because I did not know anything about my mother. I did not know if she had been caught or if she was in hiding. We slept on the leaves in the forest. I became friends with a boy, Yosel, whom I knew from the village. He had been herding cows not too far away from me. We stuck together, we slept and walked together.
One day we were sitting around a fire warming ourselves in the woods. We talked about the need to split into smaller groups because the [Polish] shepherd boys might notice us and give us away. We also decided that we should go ask for bread at the farmhouses. So we split up. I stayed together with Yosel. Yosel looked less Jewish than I did. We spoke Yiddish amongst ourselves because we did not know Polish well.
It was already quite cold, with strong winds. It was too cold to sleep in the forest, so we snuck into the village barns and hid in the straw, where nobody would see us. We stayed in those barns for many days. In the evening we went out begging, sometimes together, sometimes separately, to collect more food. At first we did not know where a good farmer lived or a bad one. The worst ones were the farmhouses where there were children. They called us names, yelling, “Get out, scabby Jews, we will soon go to the Germans.” They threw rocks at us and chased us. We did not go back to those farmhouses. We only tried the places where elderly people lived and where they would not chase us out. In some farmhouses, we were met with sympathy; they gave us dinner, hot soup, bread. They told us to eat fast and then get out. When people asked us where we were staying and sleeping, we always responded vaguely, “in the forest,” not giving away any details.
We lived this way for about a week. We knew more or less how we would be received in some of the farmhouses. One day, we went into a barn and apparently the mistress of the house saw us. We buried ourselves in the straw and stayed there. After a long while we heard steps and voices in the barn. We thought that the farmer might be looking for something. The steps came closer and only then did I notice the policemen. Someone’s feet stepped on me; they stopped, began shovelling away the hay and found us – Yosel and me. I came face to face with Polish policemen with rifles. The mistress of the house was standing in front of the door. The policemen yelled at us, “Get up and get out of here!” They chased us in front of them, hitting and hurrying us along. I began to cry and begged them to let us go, but they said they were taking us to the Komarów police station. They did not do anything to us, but they said, “This bullet,” they pointed at the rifle, “will kill you.” They pushed us with the rifle butts. We pleaded and begged them to let us go, but they joked and laughed at us. They were young policemen. We were already far away from the place where they had caught us. We continued crying and begged them to let us go, asking what they would gain by killing us. Yosel took out a purse in which he had some money (he had never told me about it or how much he had). He handed it over to one of the policemen. The policeman began counting the money and, before he had finished, told us to run away as fast as we could – like thunder! They stood watching us and we took off fast. As we ran away, we kept turning around to see whether they were following us. We saw that they had gone in a different direction. We made it to a small grove of alder trees where we rested for a while. We were relieved that the policemen had let us go because there were rumours that when they caught a Jew they didn’t just shoot him, they tortured and murdered him in a terrible way. I was afraid of such torture and I was glad that Yosel and I were saved.
We agreed that we would stick together, that God had saved us together. We got along even better than before, like true brothers. We were very afraid. When the wind stirred the leaves, we thought that someone was coming to get us. But it was cold and wet in the forest and soon we again began to go from house to house begging for food. We avoided the barn where we had been caught, however. We had to calculate our comings and goings so as not to be noticed by the same households. We were always looking for new places to sleep. We kept an eye on one particular barn that was open most of the time, so it was easy to get in and hide. Most nights, we stayed there.
We were in poor shape – always hungry, dirty and unwashed. I had one shirt and it was covered in lice. My woollen sweater was also covered in lice and I had to throw it away. My shoes were in an even worse condition – they were falling apart.
But a worse misfortune was in store for me…