I ESCAPED FROM THE NAZIS
by Rachmiel Frydland
It was on the 28th of August 1939 that I came to know the possibility of war. I
decided to stay in Warsaw. Supplies soon ran low and from September lst there
was nothing to buy. Other young Hebrew Christians and myself lived on what little
we had for ten days. Then we were called up to help defend Warsaw.
Three of us went and were accepted. As I did not want to shoot, I asked for
physical work and received it. They were hard days. Though we were near the
front and were being bombarded day and night, we all survived. One of us was
seriously injured, but recovered after a few weeks in the hospital.
The Germans Arrive
The Germans entered Warsaw toward the end of September, and soon there was
famine in the city. One of the Hebrew Christians stood in the line to receive some
hot soup which the German Army was distributing to the hungry Polish population
in Warsaw, but he was recognized to be Jewish, was beaten up and thrown out of
the line hungry. I decided to leave for a village near Plock, which meant 75 miles on
foot. Jews were not permitted to use any public conveyances. As I was leaving
Warsaw the Germans stopped me. One looked me straight in the face and said
with a rough voice: "Are you a Jew?" I did not answer him. Upon this he hit me and
pushed me to the other side of the road, where I was handed a spade and had to
work with all my strength, though I had nothing to eat all day.
Toward the evening they took us to a camp where I sat down and wept. I do not
really know why. Some Jews tried to comfort me, so I wiped my tears away and
told them of my faith. A little later I felt moved to leave the camp and in the sight
of all I did so. No one challenged me.
I went on my way and slept in the open. The next day I found something to buy;
great was my joy when I went into a shop and found that there was bread on sale
there. How fresh and appetizing it was! After three days I reached Plock and was
received by the brethren with open arms.
In the summer of 1940 I was going from our village to Chelm. On the way some
drunken German soldiers fell on me and beat me with a stick until I fell senseless.
They left me, and with my last powers I dragged myself, bleeding, to Chelm. The
doctor said he did not know whether I would recover, as my wounds were
probably infected and I might die of blood-poisoning. To his great surprise I
recovered after a week, though I suffered a lot and could not eat for some time,
for when I did, I vomited blood.
I earned my living by working from time to time for farmers. At first I had not
much work, but soon I became known as an honest worker. Then, except on
Sundays, I was kept working hard at every kind of farm work from sunrise to
sunset and had no time for spiritual things. Oh! if I could only have foreseen what
would happen, surely I would not have eaten or worked, but would have done
something to help those that were to pass through such misery.
God Stronger Than Man
In the winter of 1941-42 there was not much work on the farms. The bigger cities
had Ghettoes where a certain slum district in the town was given up to the Jews
and surrounded by a wall and barbed wire. We in the villages were forbidden to
leave the village on pain of death. However, many times I risked my life for my
parents to go to the nearby town and bring home the necessities for our lives.
Being so faithful to them, my mother first got interested and began to read my
Yiddish New Testament secretly. The Jews in the surrounding villages respected my
faith and witness.
The Gas Chambers
It was the time when train load after train load of Jews were being taken to the
gas chambers and crematoria only about twelve miles from our village. We knew
what awaited us. In danger of death I went from time to time on Sundays to
Chelm to have communion with the brethren there. I spent a few months in a
slave labor camp working hard, but this gave me a chance to witness to Jews
On August 30th, 1942, I received the order to go to the gas chambers. I did not
go, but stayed at home and awaited the mercy of the Lord. On September 24th
the village mayor came and told me, while I was at work (helping one of the
peasants cutting wood), that he had received orders to hand me over to the
Gestapo. He gave me permission to say good-bye to my parents who were in
tears, especially my mother. The man who led me had pity on me and hinted that I
should escape. I did so and fled to the woods. My sister was in hiding in the village,
but my parents went when they were called to go.
At this time two Jewesses joined us; they had escaped from the train that was
taking them to a death camp. Then three young Jews joined us in the woods. They
shared with us in the reading of the Bible, in song and praise.
Snow and Death
On November 24th our fortunes changed. My sister, who was in the village, was
killed. We hid ourselves in the high grass that grew in the wood. They discovered
and took away all our food, but our lives were spared. That night heavy snow fell
some three feet deep. We had to go and get some food. Alas! when we reached
the road leading to the village, the police were there. What were we to do? There
were shouts of "Stop! stop!" and shots. For quite a time I did not know what I was
doing and where I was running, nor what was happening. I did not think; I just ran
and ran as shots whistled over my head and around my ears.
At last there was silence; no one was pursuing me any longer. I flopped on to a
tree trunk; I could neither speak or pray. My sweat chilled me. I gathered some
sticks, made a fire and gradually recovered my senses. No one was near to
comfort me; only the flame of my little fire broke the darkness around. My whole
being seemed to cry aloud, "Why are we so persecuted?" The coming of morning
brought no news, but I was convinced that my companions lived no more. What
was there left for me? I would have sought the police that they might kill me too,
but I had not yet recovered enough strength to go and find them.
But there still remained the Lord, the same yesterday and today. He began to
speak to me with His soft voice. "You have enough of My grace. Had not job
enough; had not Paul enough?" I became silent to hear what the Lord had to say
to me, and He said much. For a time I continued to weep, but then the victory! I
stayed where I was and decided to live as long as the Lord would allow me to live
and work for Him. I said, "If I am not necessary to God, surely He would have
taken me away; but if God wants me to live for Him, should I not bow to His
almighty will?" I bowed my knees and was cured. There I was, alone in this cruel
world, alone in those woods with the wild goats and swine. I could no longer stay
there. but there or elsewhere I was not alone, for He had promised to be with me
always; how true this became to me, especially in those days when it seemed that
no one remained.
I started on my way to Warsaw but was caught. I was not killed but put into a
camp where there were some 5,000 Jews. I was there eight days but not in vain.
Some believed my testimony and I soon had a circle of sympathizers. At the end
of the eight days the camp was surrounded by black uniformed S.S. guards armed
with machine guns, but God led me out, for I jumped over the well from which
both the peasants and the Camp drew water.
Once again I tried to go to Warsaw. This time I got to Chelm safely; here brethren
helped me to get a railway ticket for Warsaw. I arrived there on December 20th,
1942. I returned to Chelm for Christmas, but was caught again on Christmas Day
as I was going from our village to Chelm. Approaching the town, I stopped and told
my captor that I was not going to move until I prayed. His protests and threats
had no effect on me as I knew that only a few hundred yards further were the
Gestapo quarters. I knelt and prayed, yielding my life to God. When I arose my
captor began to talk to me softly and finally let me go free. I returned to Warsaw,
where I stayed awaiting the Grace of God.
The Warsaw Ghetto
From time to time I went around the walls of the ghetto thinking of the possibility
of getting inside. One of the places where I was permitted to spend a night or two
in hiding was in the shop of a Christian undertaker. With another Jewish Christian
boy we put chips in one of the unfinished coffins and thus spent the night. (Alas,
this boy, too, was later caught and killed). Here in the spring of 1943 1 became
acquainted with Jews who worked outside the Ghetto for a German firm adjacent
to this Christian undertaker. As they had a special permit for ten to leave and enter
the Ghetto, one Friday they took me in wit