Second Witness

By Shmuel Rosental, Translated by Israel Pickholtz

The following is the testimony of Mr. Shemuel Rosental

In place of an introduction: "… that the civilian Rosental Shemuel ben Moshe – during the year that the Polish Army entered the Volyn District, actively participated in the elimination of groups of Germans in the forests of Volyn, as a partisan with Kolfek's partisan troops…"

Thus Lt. Polakovnik signed the certificate and sealed it with the stamp of the Grochalski unit. And there is a second certificate – from the Jewish community of Vorotzlav: "that at the end of 1945, the civilian Shemuel Rosental of Buczacz, gave eight Torah scrolls, one silver menorah from the synagogue, two silver Torah crowns. All of these items belonged to the Jewish community of Buczacz and were transferred to the Jewish community of Vorotzlav."

And in place of a third document, this same Shemuel ben Moshe Rosental, his hands trembling, brought out a book, placed it gingerly on the table and said: "This book is four hundred years old. The Jews of Buczacz guarded it as the apple of their eye. This book was their pride and glory. The fate of this book was part and parcel of their own fate. During times of troubles (and these were frequent), the book was removed from its place of honor in the synagogue and hidden like a great treasure and only when the danger passed, it resumed it's place of honor. Honored guests, Polish Jews, men of religion and secular scholars studied it with great interest. The book was shown in exhibitions and it outlasted its admirers."

The pages had yellowed. It had been published in 1523. It was a Hebrew grammar book with Latin translation. Scholars would be able to judge its scientific and historic value and to study it because it was valued by a simple man, an artisan, Shemuel ben Moshe Rosental, spared no effort to save it from destruction and guarded it lovingly as though it were holy. This Shemuel ben Moshe Rosental, a sixty year old carpenter, his voice breaking, his pain barely concealed, spoke to us – without playing the hero – as an eyewitness to destruction of the great and ancient Jewish center of Buczacz.

During the rule of the Ukrainian Fascists

There were 15,000 Jews in Buczacz, including refugees, in June 1941, when Hitler's murderous gangs fell upon the Soviet Union. The only ones to flee were those who had held political or public positions under Soviet rule. Much of the youth had been drafted into the Red Army. The unwillingness of the general population to flee was due in part to the Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria who calmed the local Jews into believing that there was no danger to their lives, despite the suffering and discrimination. They were blinded by their own unrequited love for "western culture."

The interim period

After the Soviet rulers left the city and before the establishment of Hitler's "New Order" – lasted fourteen days and they were days of anarchy. There was only the bloody rule of the Ukrainian nationalist gangs, for whom "national liberation" meant the freedom to kill and rob anyone who was not Ukrainian. The head of the "militia" was Nikolai Kiziuk. The first victims of the militia were the Jews of the neighboring villages and towns: Jaslowits, Potok-Zloty, Zbinograd, Terevohovits, Ptelikovits, Pidlasia and others. What the militia didn't take, they burned. The riots soon came to Buczacz as well. First they gathered 85 laborers who worked in cooperatives known as artels, and shot them outside the city on a slope known as the fedur, after accusing them of being Bolsheviks. Afterwards they began looting the warehouses and the shops and then the houses. Desperate cries for help were heard for nights on end from all corners of the city. On the fifth day, the Ukrainians set up the "soyuz" and commanded the Jews to give them all their goods immediately. Since there was no chance that this demand would produce results, the militia with the help of some farmers carried out searches among the Jews, ostensibly looking for weapons. While they were searching, they confiscated everything of value, suggesting to the Jews that they bring their valuables to the soyuz themselves, where they would receive "receipts" for them.

In order to ensure the proper mood, they murdered the whole family of Solomon Binder, six in all, because they did not follows orders quickly enough. The Ukrainians did not stop with just this looting. A few days later, they set up a "treasury office, headed by the "executor," formerly the rinibitch. He began his "public duties" my setting a mandatory contribution of two million rubles by the Jews. A "kehilla" was set up to "represent" the Jews before the robbers: Mendel Reich, a valuta merchant, was chairman and members were Baruch Kramer, Samuel Harzas, Dr. Hecht, Dr. Stern, Dr. Zeifer. The kehilla collected the contribution and sent two hundred workers each day to clean streets, clear rubble, empty sewers. The only wages for this work were, of course, beatings.

“The New Order”

The new German reign brought an end to the arbitrary mayhem of the Ukrainian bullies and began to execute their murderous plans with German orderliness. The kehilla became the "Jewish Council" (Judenrat). They organized the "ordenonges-dinest" (internal police) and the "arbets-emt" (labor office).

At first, people thought they would be able to manage, for the robbery nearly ceased. The Jews, who had no rights, were not able to earn anything, but at least they were able to live what was left of their lives. The Hell began just before Rosh HaShanah 1941. The Ortescommandant (local commander) ordered the Judenrat to prepare a list of all Jews from age 14 to age 50. The Gestapo arrived regularly, surrounded the Jews that gathered and began to "sort" them. They freed the artisans and the workers after some torment, and more than 350 merchants and "intelligentsia" were jailed. The next day, they were sent to the slope of the fedur and shot. That was the beginning. After several days, the decree was issued – the Judenrat was required to supply 200 young workers and 100 elderly workers each day. Shortly thereafter, the Germans chose 55 elderly workers and shot them under (maybe "below" [translator]) the tunnel. Afterwards came the "furs actzia" followed by the contribution of gold. At the beginning of the winter, the Jewish police were ordered by the Judenrat to snatch people. Five hundred Jews were sent to the "Vorky-Vialki" work camp. Of course, the first to go were the poor, who could not buy freedom. Shortly before Passover, 150 artisans were put on railroad cars and were never seen again. Despair paralyzed the Jews. They were surrounded by wild animals, who even though unarmed and illegal, were able to torment and kill. Jews were not permitted to walk on the sidewalks and were required to bow before whomever they met. They were permitted to shop during only two hours each morning, or more precisely, they were permitted to barter, for that is all they had.

Memorial Days – The days of terrible and humiliating death.

Thousands fell in muted shock, not fully knowing the cruel, blood-thirsty acts that took place, such as is unknown even among wild beasts. The few survivors did not even know the memorial days for their families – was it 17 October, 27 November, 2 February, 13 April or 26 June? These were the days of "actzia" in Buczacz. On the seventeenth of October 1942, the Gestapo (with the help of the Jewish militia) descended upon the houses of the Jews and brought more than 1500 Jews to the "May Third Plaza." >From there they were put on railroad cars and sent to Belzec. After this actzia, four hundred bodies were found in the houses and they were buried in a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery. In Yaakov Margaliot's yard, they found eighty-five babies whose skulls has been crushed. Every day, the Hitlerite beasts stole babies from their mothers, crushed their skulls and threw them onto piles. They were brought to a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery in four wagons. At the same time, other Jews were forced to gather the belongings of the murdered and deported Jews, and bring them to the Germans' warehouses. The second "shipment" went to Belzec on the twenty-seventh of November 1942. There were 2500 deportees and another 2500 bodies in the streets – those who tried to escape or who preferred death to deportation. Of the bodies in the streets, forty-five were children.

The actzia that began on the second of February lasted two days. Three thousand six hundred Jews were dragged from their houses and hiding places and were brought to a slope near the forest, where a pit sixteen meters long and four meters deep had been prepared. The victims were forced to strip naked and stand on a flat board above the pit. The were shot in the back of the head and fell into the pit – in most cases while still alive. This mass grave was not far from the city reservoir. Within a few days, the drinking water of Buczacz became red with the blood of the Jews and the Germans were forced to choose another place for their mass murders. Five hundred bodies, eighty-five of them children, were collected from the streets after this actzia. If it is possible to use terms like "better" and "worse," the situation for the Jews became worse after this third actzia and the Germans' main concern was that no Jew should escape their clutches.

The walls of the city began to show slogans against the Jews and announcing that the death penalty would apply to anyone who hid Jews. Bounties were to be paid to those who turned in Jews who were in hiding. Jews were forbidden from being in the streets before 7:30 AM and those who violated this edict were jailed. After accumulating a group of these "criminals," they were taken from the jail to the cemetery and murdered.

Ukrainian students enthusiastically hunted Jewish children and turned them over to the Gestapo for execution. On all the roads leading to Buczacz, the Ukrainian militia and their Jewish collaborators ambushed and killed Jews who escaped from action in their own villages and had tried to reach Buczacz.

Like Moths to a flame…

The Jews were in a state of bloody siege, pursued, surrounded by professional murderers and the crude and blood-thirsty Ukrainian mob who were always ready to kill and rob the weak and defenseless. Desperation does not always produce the best ideas and decisions. At the suggestion of the chairman of the Chortkov community, Dr. Avner, the Jews of Buczacz began to petition the German rukers to set up a work camp for them in Buczacz. The hoped that being involved in "productive" work would save them from the akziot. The Gestapo agreed to their request and gave them a permit.

The camp was set up on Podhajcke Street at the edge of Buczacz. It was located in several apartment blocks and surrounded by a three meter high barbed wire fence. The work camp accepted only those who could pay a 1000 coin entrance fee plus ten coins a day for food, which consisted of hot water and ten dikos of bread in the morning and thin potato soup in the evening. The camp commander was the cursed S.Sh. and his second in command, L.K. – and special Jewish police were chosen for the camp. Altogether 1200 Jews registered for the camp and they were required to bring all their belongings with them.

Several days after the camp opened, the Gestapo took all the children in the camp under age ten. There were thirty-eight children and they were shot, after being declared "unfit for camp life."

Every morning at sunup, there was a roll call and afterwards each work group was sent to work at whatever the Germans and Ukrainians required. They worked all day, but there was neither food nor pay. Occasionally the commander of all the work camps in the district would appear. This was Etmaniuk (Moina) from the Gestapo. He gathered all the inmates, chose the best looking young women and had them sent to his headquarters where he conducted orgies. He demanded wine, tea, salami,etc on the spot. The German gendarmes and even the Ukrainian militiamen began making the same demands.

At about the same time, the remaining Jews were put in a ghetto. The ghetto was in a long, narrow street and the impression was that the Germans did not intend it for long term use as it was neither fenced nor guarded.

On April 13th at two in the morning, Meir Budzenover drove his wagon to the home of the writer Hirsch Yonah Kwallenberg. Shemuel Rosental and Gedalya Duchovani loaded forty-five Torah scrolls and eight sacks of prayer shawls and tefillin.This strange procession moved through Stephen Batouri Street, Targovitza Street, Gimnazialna Street, the bridge over the Stripa and Kushchelna Street to the Greek-Catholic monastery of the Basilian monks. Without concern for the possible death awaiting them, for any guard could have killed them on sight, Hirsch Yonah Kwallenberg, Meir Buzdenover, Shemuel Rosental and Gedalya Duchovani had decided to save these symbols – symbols which commanded more respect than their own lives. No sooner were the monastery gates open – shots were heard from the city. The frightened monks accepted the wagonload and told the Jews to flee for their lives. The four Jews lay for two days in a family burial plot and when they came out, they learned that the Gestapo had used those same days for the fourth actzia and murdered four thousand Jews near the cemetery. And another six hundred bodies lay in the streets.

The camp remained untouched. The Jews who remained in the city concluded that only the camp could keep them alive and they flocked to register. But a few days later, the Gestapo suddenly surrounded the camp and, from the "tower" (Baszty), the 1800 Jews who remained in the camp.

At about this time, as the inevitable end approached, the writer Kwallenberg and this witness, Shemuel (Samuel) Rosental, gathered the twenty Torah scrolls that they had hidden and gave them to the priests at the Roman Catholic church for hiding. After a few days the end came for the camp. The only ones left alive were the members of the Judenrat ("Jewish Council") and of the "Ordenongesdinest" (police), a few tens of laborers ("roishtaf") and those few who succeeded in evading death at the last minute.

The last act of the tragedy (but not the epilogue) was a few weeks later. In the meantime, people arrived in Buczacz from hiding places – from neighboring villages and even from cities which had been declared clear of Jews – mere shadows of people. But the Germans had no mercy for them and they were ordered to open the camp anew and to remain in its confines. But they were there only ten days. Afterwards they were taken by wagon to Gavitov. There, on the estate, they were all murdered and their bodies thrown into a large concrete pit full of garbage. The farmers who saw the slaughter said afterwards that during the execution, the renowned Buczacz cantor Shelomo Schiffman sang songs of mourning and was the last to be killed.

At this point, Shemuel Rosental suddenly became silent, turned his head in a rapid, nervous movement, wiped tears from his eyes and continued in a soft voice: A few days before the first liquidation of the work camp, Emaniuk took me to Chortkov as a carpenter. In Chortkov, there were Jews only in the camp, five hundred of them. These were the formerly wealthy and the intelligentsia, who had managed to hide part of their possessions. Life in this camp was different from most other camps. Most ransomed their lives and did no work and no one prevented them from purchasing even expensive items. I saw well dressed men, and women who did their nails.

Three weeks after I arrived in this camp, it was liquidated. Only eight people remained alive. Our job was to collect, clean and store the clothes and shoes that we took from the victims. The second night I fled. I reached the work camp at Jagolnici. There were six hundred Jews there. They all wore the letter "W" and they all worked growing the caochuk-cokskiz plant. They had to pay fifteen coins a day to support themselves.

There was one occasion when all the Germans suddenly fled. The farmers told us that the Soviets were nearby. We cried from happiness like little children. We hugged one another and began planning how to return to our former homes. The farmers began looting the homes of the Germans, the factories and the estate. Can you imagine our disappointment when the Germans returned a few hours later and everything returned to the way it had been.

After a time, this camp too was liquidated. A large pit for storage of potatoes became a mass grave for six hundred victims. I survived as did the painter Tchaban and his family, because we were working in the palace. They put up with us awhile longer, but when the ground began to tremble beneath us we took the advice of the old groundskeeper, Michel Kuziuk, and dug a hiding place under the greenhouse. We stayed there two and a half months and the groundskeeper protected and fed us. On the twenty-second of March 1944, Buma Schwarcz of Chortkov, who also survived miraculously, appeared at our hiding place and told us that Soviet tanks were in Jagolnici. I rushed to Buczacz and found another six hundred people who had survived, all malnourished and exhausted, dreaming only of rest. At the front it suddenly got worse.

Buczacz was one of the only places in Podolia that the Germans succeeded in recapturing. The weather was bad and the snow deep. Only a few were able to escape. Most hid but the Poles gave them away to the Germans. The Germans gathered most of them and brought them to Monastzhiska where they murdered them all at the cemetery.

I reached Skalat, but on the way I lost my daughter and my wife, who had lost her mind. I left my son with some good people and I joined the partisan forces that worked behind enemy lines. We spied and found the weakest and most critical points in the enemy forces and so we were with the first of the Red Army to reach Lwow.

After this, together with W.P. (the Polish Army) we cleared the Volin forests of German army units. We took no prisoners. "And in August 1944, when I returned to Buczacz for the second time, I found a few Jews, both from nearby and from distant places. We did our duty to the thousands of martyrs who did not live to see the victory over Hitlerism and brought them to rest in sixteen mass graves. We cleaned up the study hall of R' Abish. We took the valuable book that I mentioned earlier from the ground of the old study hall and the other holy articles that had been brought there by Fischer, Shimon Hecht, Moshe Yitzhak Stampler and others of blessed memory. I returned the Torah scrolls which we had hidden – some I took to Chernovits and gave to the synagogue there and others I brought to Broclaw." The city of Buczcaz was destroyed in rivers of blood and torture. The survivors cannot take comfort in the punishment of the perpetrators.

In the summer of 1946, a heavily guarded group of about twenty criminals were brought thorough Broclaw towards Pomorska street. Suddenly a hoarse cry was heard from across the sidewalk and into the marching group charged an old man who pointed at one of the criminals and yelled "That is him, that murderer killed tens of thousands of people." Shemuel Rosental had recognized the executioner Emaniuk.

Haporochnik (maybe THE Porochnik? [translator]), the commander of the guard, heard the excited Rosental, made a significant sign with his hand and added smiling: This one is in any case finished. He doesn't need anything more…

Shmuel ben Moshe Rosental