Fleeing from the Hunter
In the Ghetto and Beyond
I felt that my survival depended on how far away I could get from the ghetto.
I found out how to get to Dubeczno from the stationmaster in one of the villages I used to visit. A train to Chełm, in the Lublin area, passed by the station in that village and stopped there briefly every day. After getting the information, I quickly decided to put my plan into action. In April 1942, I said goodbye to my dear friends the Cytryns, who had treated me like their own. I knew so many ways of getting in and out of the ghetto that I wasn’t about to risk being captured by leaving Otwock from the railway station, or by bringing attention to myself when buying a ticket. Instead, I hiked out of town to the village station where I had gotten the information from the stationmaster, and I boarded the train there.
The journey to Dubeczno, including changing trains in Chełm and stops along the way, took twenty-four hours. The journey seemed endless and I worried because Jews were forbidden to use public transportation – I fully expected the German military police to stop the train and check the passengers’ identities. I didn’t sleep or, if I did, I could not distinguish my nightmares from my conscious fears. Luckily, no German military police checked the train. I arrived without any problems at the last station before Włodawa. Because the train had changed its schedule and wasn’t going any further, I had to continue to my destination on foot. I walked for some time with other passengers until we reached Włodawa. It was nearly evening, and through a heavy mist we could see the city as it slowly became more visible.
By the time I arrived it was dark and I was afraid to walk the streets of Włodawa looking for some of my other relatives, cousins on my mother’s side, who lived there. I decided to go directly to my uncle’s instead. I asked around for directions to the road leading to Dubeczno and finally a passerby pointed me in the right direction. Surrounded by darkness, in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of the city, I felt insecure and tired. I was aware of all the dangers that threatened a Jew at the end of April 1942. I knew that I was on the outskirts of Włodawa, but I wasn’t sure exactly where. I decided to look for a night’s lodging through the method I had used in my previous wanderings – by getting the assistance of the soltys. I must stress that whether the procedure had existed already before the war, or whether the Germans had ordered it, for me it was heaven-sent.
While searching for the soltys, I found myself on a road where there were only isolated farmhouses, each far away from one another. These houses were like shacks with thatched roofs. I entered one and bravely asked for directions to the house of the soltys, explaining that I needed a note for a night’s lodging. The occupants were friendly and seemed glad to have a guest. They laughed at the very official way I was going about trying to get lodging and said the soltys lived a long way off. It was already dark, so the farmer invited me to stay the night there. Of course, the family asked me a lot of questions over supper and, even in my exhaustion, I invented answers almost naturally. My reward for telling half-lies was a warm bed and a hot breakfast the next morning. Such hospitality and kindness from strangers! Would they have acted the same way had they known I was Jewish?