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- This week's Yizkor book excerpt on the JewishGen Facebook page
In “The Miracle of the Last Jews in Chelm” from that Polish town’s Yizkor book, the Gestapo is preparing to evacuate as Soviet forces approach. The sadistic and murderous chief of the prison where the Jews were being held was getting drunk on whiskey. The writer of the chapter encounters him and summons the courage to say, “Herr Chief: As you know, we are the last Jews in Chelm and our fate lies in your hands. If you want, we could remain alive. We are the last of the last.”
He says, “One thing is clear. If I remain alive, you will remain alive; but when I die, you too will die.”
Some time after, the prisoners hear in the distance the sound of cannons and Soviet planes bombing the German’s escape routes. “It was for us like a beautiful rhapsody, just as if nature wanted to present a magnificent concert with our long time torturers…We wanted to look into the eyes of the Germans, to see their nastiness mixed with fear.”
The prisoners hid in a cellar catacomb — a night full of nightmares — listening to the sound of battle and wondering what the outcome and their fate would be.
In the morning, the prison courtyard was packed with Russian soldiers. The Germans were gone except for tired and broken down soldiers staggering back from the front.
Liberation was bittersweet:
“It was July 22, 1944, a lovely, warm day. The sun shone brightly, or maybe that was just what we thought. But where would we go? Where was our home, where were our families and friend, where were our people, where were our good Chelemer Jews? The town was empty. A town without Jews, and we, the last of the Mohicans, the last Chelemer Jews, now felt the entirety of the tragedy, the heartbreak.”
Silver Spring, MD
Researching: DRACH, EBERT, KIMMEL, ZLOTNICK
Towns: Wojnilow, Kovel