Autobiography by Abraham Leib Schuss
Sydney, Australia 1999
Translated from Yiddish to English by Menachem Szus, son of the writer,
St. Louis Missouri USA June 2001
Submitted by Rosemary Eshel
I, the writer of this account, Avrhaam Leib Schuss, wish to describe my Family Tree
1st September 1917 in Brzostek
My mother was Hinda Rubel, my father was
My parents had 11 children, 4 died before the war and seven were alive before the outbreak of war.
Avraham Leib is the youngest.
My mother's family
My grandfather was Yitzhak Rubel. He was a farmer and had many fields, cattle and horses. Grandpa Yitzhak had 10 children, 9 daughters and 1 son. Grandma Sara died at a young age. Grandpa Yitzhak was largely uneducated. He didn't know how to write to his children so he kept a melamed who taught his children Yiddish, Polish and German since at that time this part of Poland was under Austrian jurisdiction.
Grandpa had a lot of money. He was able to "buy" the best sons-in-law Torah scholars. My mother was the second oldest. Her husband, my father, Menachem Mendl was from Debice. He was very learned.
We lived in Brzostek just like the rest of Grandpa's family. We had a scrap iron store and a forest. My father worked very hard. Three times a week he went into the forest. He gave his children both a Yiddish and a worldly upbringing. He himself was a Sancz Hassid. Every Rosh Hashana he traveled to the Rebbe (head of the hassidic dynasty). My mother (may she rest in peace) was totally committed to children and helping other people, because there was a lot of poverty in Brzostek.
My mother's entire family including sisters, brother, children and grandchildren perished during 1939-1945 at the hands of the German Hitlerites. From my father's family, Schuss, only 20% survived, mainly by escaping to Russia.
I do not remember when my oldest sister, Sarah, married. She had four children.
All of them perished in Belzec during 1942. My sister Feige Friedman and 3 children also perished in Belzec in 1942. My sister Hannah Bronfeld with her husband, my brother-in-law survived the war in Russia and died much later in Chicago. My sister Mirel jumped from a transportation train and was shot on the Aryan side in Dembice. My sister Devora went to a Polish friend and never returned. My brother, Yosel perished in the extermination camp in Pustin near Debica. My father died in the Dembice Ghetto in 1942. My mother (may she rest in peace) ran away from the Dembice ghetto with one grandchild. She hid out in the village of Cebiczyna. In 1943 Polish bandits shot them in a forest. In 1945 I transferred their remains to the Jewish cemetery in Dembice.
I now wish to describe my life from birth and my survival through the tragic time 1939-1945. At the age of three I started cheder (Hebrew school). At six I learnt mishnayot and gemara until the age of 13. After my barmitzvah my father (z"l) sent me away to Krakow to a Belz Yeshiva called Ohr Torah where I studied for two years, fifteen hours a day under very difficult conditions. At the age of 15 I left the Yeshiva and studied the silversmith's trade. In the evenings I continued Jewish religious studies. I love to read books. It does not matter what kind of books.
I was a member in a religious workers organization called "Poalei Agudat Yisrael". At 21 they conscripted me into the Polish army. I took part in the 1939 war in very difficult battles. I was lightly wounded in the Carpathian mountains and was taken into captivity. In 1940 all Jewish captives were sent back to Poland. I went back to Brzostek to my parents. I found the family in a difficult, economic and oral state. The Germans had taken everyone away. My brother Yosel (z"l) and I, worked together building roads, fifteen hours a day in terrible conditions. The worst came when the Russian-German war broke out in 1941. I was then lying with a broken leg in the hospital in Jaslo. After two months the Germans came and sent me home. The Jewish tragedy started in Brzostek. They took away all possibilities of life. There were great disturbances. They chased us from one place to another. In my home there was not even a potato or any bread left to eat. We died of hunger. My brother and I went to villages to steal potatoes.
On 10th January 1942, the Gestapo came to Brzostek, the SS from Jaslo, and took me away to Jaslo because I was a metal worker. Together with another 50 young Jewish metal workers I was sent to the Lwow-Lemberg-Janowska concentration camp. This was in extermination camp. The Germans needed skilled workers at the railroads. We repaired locomotives. The Jewish workers labored only at night, 12-14 hours in terrible conditions. The food was a little better than in the camp. Some Polish workers helped us a little but not all of them. I had a Pole who gave me a piece of bread everyday. That kept me alive. The clothes that we wore, were totally torn. Often they gave us other clothes from dead people. This could be seen because they were still blood stained. We were numbered on our clothes on the back and on the chest. The shoes were made of wood.
I always thought of escape. One Pole told me that I did not look Jewish and that I spoke a good "village" Polish. Once, when we were returning to the Janowska camp at night we were surrounded by the Gestapo. I noticed how an SS man moved away to the side. I then ran away, jumped into a bombed-out building. After that I went to a Polish family who were good people. They gave me other clothes and a little food. But I could not stay with them. This was September 1942. It was the time of the greatest destruction of Jews in Lwow. 40,000 Jews perished. I was on the Aryan side and saw how the Ukrainians helped the Germans to destroy the Jews. For money I managed to obtain Polish identification documents and I went by the name of Stanislaw Nawracaj. To make a living I went around the streets and called out in Polish "Pot and Pan Repairs". 1942 through 1943 was hell in Lwow. After the big round-up action of September 1942, the Germans created a ghetto. They stuffed it with 40,000-50,000 Jews. The Jews lived in horrible conditions.
In 1942 (I don't remember the month), someone betrayed me to the Gestapo on Lackiego Street near "Oisfurshang". They beat the hell out of me and put me in a cell with all kinds of other people of different nationalities. One time the SS came and looked for tradesmen, for locksmiths. They took 20 people back to the camp from which I had escaped (Janowska). However this time I was there under a different name. They assigned me to a Steinbruch Camp brigade. Our task was to destroy the Jewish cemetery on Pilichowska St. We were 60 young strong people. The SS commander of the camp, Wilhaus, chose the people. Every day we went to camp guarded by SS and by Askars. Askars were Russian prisoners who were brought from Germany. They were worse than the Germans. The work was very hard. We had to break up granite marble stones. The food was a little better than in camp. Every day they brought Jews over from the Aryan side into the Jewish cemetery. There the Gestapo shot them. I remember how once in 1943 trucks full of young Jewish people arrived. They were surrounded by the Gestapo. They were led to be shot on the Janowski sands. When the transport went by close to the Jewish cemetery where we worked, a battle broke out between the Jews and the Gestapo. There were many dead and wounded. I saw dead SS men lying on the street. Then an SS support team arrived and eliminated all those young people. Our guards took us back to the camp. The next day they made a selection in the camp. Our brigade was placed on the left side. That meant that we had been chosen for elimination. They surrounded us with SS and Askar. The place was called Zadruty, the road that led to the shooting at the Janowski sands. We saw hundreds of tied-up people lying there men women and children. Then an SS man, whose name was Engineer Gebaver, arrived. He held a piece of paper with names on it in his hands. He took the listed people to the side. I was lying near an SS guard. I managed to slip through his legs and I joined the group of the chosen people. This escape took less than 5 seconds. From our brigade, I was the only one to survive besides our brigade leader whom the SS Geraver chose to send back to the camp. When I returned to the camp with the group, the camp was empty of people. On that day 90% of the people were killed at the Janowski sands. They also dragged there Jews from around Lwow, from the ghettos, from the Aryan side and even non-Jews. This took place in 1943 after the defeat in Stalingrad.
The next day they brought new Jewish "slaves", young people from small towns around Lwow. In the camp there was a Jew by the name of Dr. Akser. He was the Jewish elder of the camp. He helped people a lot. Thanks to him I am still alive. About that man, Akser, one can write a lot. But there were also other Jews, "murderers" Schuster, Kravt, Kampf, Orlean and Lacer.
There was another work camp DAW where people labored for the Wermacht (the German Army). They assigned me to a tinsmith brigade. Before going to work they used to count us three times. In the barracks we slept in our clothes on wooden planks, squeezed together like herring. The beds were stacked four high. At night it was forbidden to go to the latrines so one urinated on the other. At 3.00 in the morning they chased us to wash, but there was no water. Then they chased us to eat 5 decagrams and 50 grams of black bread and black water, which they called coffee. Then we did calisthenics, frog jumping". Every day we carried out the sick and the dead from the barracks, because the barracks had to be emptied daily. The camp commandant, Wilhaus, used to say to us mockingly, "Through work to freedom, my dear children". And then he immediately grabbed two people and shot them. There were SS sadists who hung the helpless with their feet up and their heads down and cut living pieces of flesh from them. They forced us to watch this. I cannot fully describe this in writing, the punishments and the horrific conditions under which we lived.
The names of those SS I remember: Wilhuas, Rokita, Gebaver, Schonback, Kolanro, Friedlich, Heines, Benko. Their greatest satisfaction was to strangle helpless victims using a towel.
I always thought how to escape. But this was very difficult. When one escaped, then they shot five others. But I didn't have any other choice. One time when we returned from work the SS were running around catching young helpless people. They caught about 60-80. I don't remember exactly. They gave each one an iron shovel and iron rods and wheelbarrows. The camp commandant Wilhaus with another 20 SS men led us out to the other wide of the camp which was called Janowskie Sands (Piaski-Janowskie) Between two sand hills there was a valley. In that valley we found at least two hundred recently murdered women and children. Then we were forced to labor. The blood was pouring from all sides. With us there was a Jewish engineer. He showed us how we had to do the work. The engineer then walked over to an SS man and asked him to be shot. He shot him. After a few days work we went back to the camp. I always though how to escape from the camp. I saw that every day there were fewer and fewer people in the camp and on the Janowski Sands they were burning dead people. It was called in Polish "Brygada Smierci" the Death Brigade. That was in July-August 1943.
When I worked in the DAW as a tinsmith on a roof, I noticed that a wall was being constructed so that it would not be possible to see what was going on in the camp. The workers were Jews. The wall was already two meters high. When we went out to work, I moved away from my brigade and walked up to the workers at the wall. This was 5 o'clock in the morning. I then clambered up onto the wall, jumped down onto the other side and mixed in with the people on Janowska Street who were going to work. Nearby was a Christian cemetery. I lay there all day. At night I went over to the Jewish cemetery. I knew that there was a bunker at the Jewish cemetery with young Jews who had arms pistols. The bunker was well masked but not guarded. At the Jewish cemetery there were mass graves to which were brought people each day to be shot. The screams of the people in Yiddish and Polish were heard from inside the bunker. At night I went out to steal food. I decided not to remain in the bunker because the conditions were terrible. I organized for myself some good clothes, good shoes, and a shovel, a set of overalls and a Belgian revolver. Those arms we had bought from Italian soldiers. At the end of October, early on Sunday morning, I told my friends that I was running away. They told me that I would fall into Ukrainian hands. I answered "There is no choice". At 5 o'clock in the morning I left Lwow and walked 300 kilometers from east to west. I crossed 15 towns, emptied of Jews. This was in the beginning of November 1943.
I remember till this day the names of those towns I passed through: Zimna, Wada, Grodek Jagielonski, Sadowa Wisnia, Moscicko, Przemysz, Radymno, Jaroslaw, Przewosk, Lancut, Rzeszow, Sedziszow, Ropcczyce, Debica, Pilzno, Jaslo, Brzostek. I walked 45 kilometers a day. At night I slept in the fields. The worst road was from Lwow to Przeysz. The places were lived in by Ukrainians and I did not know their language. On the way I had various scares, but my clothes and my shovel saved me. Everyone thought that I was working on the roads. I had a Slav-looking face and spoke a good Polish. Finally on Shabbat, I arrived not far from my village of Brzostek. That village was called Zawadke. I went to my Polish friend, Leszniak with whom I had gone to school, he was an orphan. He received me in a very friendly way and fed me. But I could not stay with him because of security reasons. He gave me good advice. From him I went to another Polish boy Stanislaw Pietrucha. He had been with me in the Polish army. He received me very warmly and kissed me. He wanted to help me but his family did not want to risk their lives for me. I stayed with him for one day. He described what had happened to the Jews of Brzostek and which Poles had helped liquidate the Jews. He also told me how my family perished. But the most important thing we talked about was how to help me. I used to be called Romek and my friend was called Staszek.
"You know what, Romek? I remember that your family were very friendly with a Polish family. They were called Dziedzic. They will help you for sure". I left my friend Staszek, told him I planned to go to another village, and made my way to the Dziedzic family. It was a long way. I walked at night through water and mud, crossed over the Jewish cemetery where I left behind a few tears on the grass. After about five hours wading through water in the cold, I arrived at the home of the
Dziedzic family. The place was called Szkotnia. Their dog tied on a chain started barking. I hid in a bundle of straw. At first the shepherd boy came to investigate. He was followed by the owner Wojciec. He recognized me and cried and embraced me. He took me into the house. His wife prepared a meal. For three years I hadn't eaten such a dinner. I was very dirty and over grown with hair. The owner gave me a haircut and washed me and put me in a warm bed.
After four years of suffering I was lying in a warm bed. The owner prepared a bunker for me in the barn. That was a man who spoke little. Three times a day he brought me food. I asked him how long I would lie in that grave. "Don't worry, they will come for you", he answered. After I lay in the grave for ten days, armed people came from the forest and took me with them. This means that the Pole was in contact with the people in the forest. I want to say here that the Pole with his family risked their lives and did not request any payment from me. After the war I managed to help him in other ways.
This was the winter of 1943/44. The forest was large. The villages were in the forest. The inhabitants were very religious super-believing Catholics. Only a few of them co-operated with us. One factor that helped us was the fact that we had arms. And the people from the villages were frightened of us. We had a young Pole of 21 whose name was Joseph Ryba. He risked his life helping Jewish girls by supplying them with false documents (Kenkarten). These girls left for Germany to work and they all remained alive. He sold us weapons pistols. He came to the forest to inform us when there would be an attack by the Gestapo and the Polish police. He told us which Poles from the villages were informers. We convicted them. The end of this honest man Joseph Ryba was that the Poles informed on him. Together with another Jew, he died a horrible death at the hands of the Gestapo. He left behind a wife and a child.
There were three Jewish groups in the forest and among them were 12 children. Of these children, only two remained alive with their mother. We survived by stealing and taking what grew in the forest. And, occasionally from killing a wild boar. The worst time was winter. Snow, frost it is very hard to write about the suffering in the forest. But even worse were the random attacks by the Gestapo with their helpers. 80% of Jews hiding in the forests perished. They lie until today in the Jaworze forest.
The worst time was May 1944. The Germans had cleaned out the forests of the partisans. The front was advancing from east to west. We, the Jews, were already completely broken up. My friend Asher (z"l) and I joined the Polish partisans. We did this not as Jews but by using Polish names. The German Wermacht broke up those Polish partisans. Together with my friend Asher I joined the Russian scouts. This was a group of armed Russians who worked on the German side of the frontline in counter-espionage and passed information over to the Russians. Initially the Russians did not want to accept us. In the end, the Germans broke apart the scout groups. I , my friend, two Russians and two Poles made a bunker in the forest under the German frontline.
It was November-December 1944. Our job was to disrupt the German communications by cutting the cables. The village where the bunker was located was called Gebiczyna. In one of the Russian bombardments, they hit our bunker. Of the six people in the bunker, only I was left alive. Until today they are still lying in that bunker.
On 7th December 1944 I fell into captivity into the Wermacht , the German Army. German soldiers caught me under the frontline. I was completely swollen from cold, naked and without shoes. They bound my hands and took me to German headquarters. I only spoke Polish. There was a translator. They did not ask whether I was Jewish. They were only interested in the whereabouts of the partisans. I only told them that I had escaped from the Russians. After five days two field gendarmes came, tied my hands and rode away with me to a labor camp. This camp was comprised of Poles who worked at building bunkers at the frontline. The Poles recognized me because they were from the same village, Brzostek. But they treated me very well and said nothing. Already I had no strength left for work. I fell down at the work. After five years of what I went through I could not drag my feet any longer. The Russians shot at us while we worked for the Germans. There were many dead. Before the Russian offensive, we noticed that the Germans were packing and preparing their escape. That was on 10th January 1045. On 12th January the Russians made a strong offensive from the air and on the ground. Many Poles ran away. But I could not run. I and other Poles in similar condition were taken along by the Germans. We traveled with them for more than 100 kilometers. We arrived at the river Dunajee. There the Russians surrounded the Germans. An entire German army fell into Russian captivity. Thanks to a Jewish Russian Captain, I remained alive, because the Russians had refused initially to recognize me as a Jew.
After the liberation my life was sad sick, torn-up, swollen. I did not meet a single Jew. The Russians had given me some bread and a document. I asked for it to be in a Polish name Roman Strzelecki for protection. There were Polish bands at the time searching out for Jews and killing them. Not far from the village of Sowina there survived a family Korzenik. One night murderous bands came and killed the entire family. Only two daughters remained alive as they were not at home at the time.
I returned to my village Brzostek. The village was destroyed by the war. There I found four Jews a woman with two children, Sala Scheinwetter, Zosia, Manek and a young man, Menachem Grienberg. Good Poles had hidden them. Overall, the population wasn't friendly to surviving Jews. But there were also good Poles who helped. I did not remain long in my village and went to a nearby town, Debica. There I met more surviving Jews including my cousin, and his wife and children.
The conditions were better there because the Russian army kept order in Debica. I left for Tarnow. There, there was a community of Jews some of whom had returned from German camps, some from Russia. But there was no real rest. Every week there were Jewish sacrifices.
In 1946 I was married in Gliwice. I settled in Krakow. In 1959 I left for Australia with my wife and two children.
Two incidents that happened earlier one in 1942 in Lwow when I was illegally inside the ghetto and there met a family called Apfelschmit. I used to jump over the ghetto walls and bring food for this family. They were a huge family of some 20 educated and intelligent people. One day Mr. Apfelschmit told me that he felt that I would survive the war. He said to me "Staszek . . (that was my name then) . . I have a son in Australia. He is a doctor. When you survive the war, tell him how his family perished in Lwow. After the war I searched, but could not find anyone with that name. When I finally arrived in Sydney I continued to search. Thanks to a Lwow family called Bouman, I found the son and his family. He lived in Melbourne under the name Dr. Alpin. They came to visit me. I fulfilled the will.
Another thing that took place. When I escaped from the camp in1942, I lay low on the Aryan side and I met a Polish woman. Her name was Ostrowska. In the beginning she did not know that I was Jewish. She traded in the market. We got to know each other quickly. She gave me produce and I sold this in the ghetto. Once while I was transferring produce to my friend in the Ghetto, the SS shot and killed him. I returned to the woman Ostrowska and told her everything. She had already guessed that I was a Jew. Her husband was a big Jew hater, but he was good to me. I hid a lot of things with her. When I ran away from Lwow I sent my Polish friend to her and he brought back everything. Much later after I married I lived in Gliwic, while walking down the street with my wife I heard someone calling out in Polish "Panie Nawracaj" Mr. Narracaj. That had been my Polish name in Lwow during the war. It was the Polish woman Ostrowska who had recognized me. Everything can happen in life.
In 1978 I was a witness in a trial against an SS man in Germany. His name was Friedrich Heines. The trial was in the city of Sharbriken. He was a sadist in the Lwow Janowska camp. His greatest satisfaction was to hang people upside down and cut living pieces from them with a knife. His sadistic murders cannot be described in words. I want to forget the times that I went through but I continuously have sleepless nights. The horrific pictures are always before my eyes.
From the Polish government I received a medal for fighting against the Germans, it is signed by Lech Walesa
I hereby present this short account of my life during the horrific times from 1939 to 1945. I pass this history on to my children and grandchildren.
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