Warning! The text retains the original spelling of surnames and place names by an Israeli researcher; in many cases it may not be correct. Fragments that could contain current personal data have been removed from the interview.
Interview with Moshe Goldsmidt, Zichron-Ya’akov
Born: Białystok, 1923
Parents: Szmuel and Rejzla Goldsmidt [Goldszmidt]
Immigration to Palestine: September 1948
Interview topic: Life of Moshe Goldsmidt
Moshe Goldsmidt was born in 1932 in Białystok and lived with his family at 4 Alejowa street, between the fish market and Wersalska street in the Jewish part of town. Most of the residents of Białystok were Jewish; it was almost like a Jewish country within Poland. They had Jewish newspapers, help and aid organizations and more.
Moshe studied religious studies, prayer, arithmetic and the Polish language in a modern Heder, for three years. In 1932 he began his studies in the first Hebrew school, Tarbut at 41 Lipowa street, in the schoolyard of the voctional school. They studied in Hebrew, except for the classes in Polish history, geography and language, which were in the Polish.
Moshe was a fairly good student and he finished school in 1937. He was living with his parents and two younger sisters, Pezska and Zila, when the “Boycott” against the Jews in Poland started. Polish citizens were told not to buy goods from Jews. Szmuel, who was a tailor, could not afford a good education for his son anymore and Moshe was sent to a vocational school, where he encountered deep anti-Semitism from the Polish youth. He studied to be a tailor.
In spring 1934 Jews were attacked, injured and killed all over Poland by Polish anti-Semitics. Białystok’s Jews suffered less than others in Poland – the entire center of town was Jewish. The bad wave of hatred did reach Białystok in the end, and Moshe’s father was injured from a stab near the heart and a knock on his head. He never fully recovered and suffered from a heart disease until his death on the 2nd of March 1939.
The situation in Goldsmidt family was desparate – no money was left, no income, and then the war started. The Germans conquered Poland easily – they had tanks and artillery. Moshe never saw a Polish tank, the Poles were preparing for war with troops and horses, as if it was still 1914. He was awed by the enormous military strength of the Germans.
According to the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement Białystok became Russian, and communist. Mother Rejzla, who spoke Russian, found work in the first food market in Białystok and the financial situation at home improved greatly.
Israel Simha Edelstein, Moshe’s grandfather, came to live with them after the death of his wife, and was working as guard at nights. Moshe started studying in a night high school on Sienkiewicza street. Communism started to spread in Białystok. Moshe went to work in the morning and study in the afternoons. In 1940/41 he got a small scholarship for the Soviet high school and stopped working.
Suddenly Poland was occupied by the Germans. On 27.5.41, Thursday night, there were already German patrols near Białystok. On Friday morning Moshe saw smoke from the big synagogue; the Germans were burning it down with thousands of Jews locked inside. Then they burnt down half of Białystok and there were many dead and injured. Moshe and his family escaped and found shelter with a relative in another part of the city. There was no food and Moshe had to look for it in exchange for work for the Germans. He got bread and soup and sometimes something for his family.
On 10.7.41 the Germans took all the Jewish Intelligentsia, about 900 men, and locked them in the Polish gymnasium. The next day they were sent away, never to be seen alive again.
On 12.6.41, a Saturday, The Germans took all the young Jews aged 16–40, and those 10000 Jews were never to be seen alive again as well, Moshe was saved thanks to a nice German who “ignored” him. The next day there were ads everywhere, stating that from the 1.8.41 the Jews would be living in a separate area called the “Ghetto”. If a Jew was seen out of the Ghetto he would be shot without a trial. The Jews had to attach a yellow star of David, 11 centimeters width and length, to their clothes: one on the left side of the chest, and one on the back to the right. If not, they would be killed.
They fenced the ghetto off with wood – 2.5 meters high, and wires strung above the wood. The Jews who lived outside the ghetto, took all their belongings and moved in. The “Judenrat” distributed accommodation in the ghetto, 2–3 families in a room.
Moshe and his friend, Zalman, found work with the Germans in collecting enemy booty. He always brought food home. They were allowed out of the ghetto with special permits. Thousands of Jews left the ghetto every morning to work for the Germans. A few German officers offered to rescue Moshe and hide him as a false German, but he refused to abandon his family.
The Jews in the ghetto were in dire straits. People did not think of rebellion for three main reasons:
- There were many informers within the ghetto
- Hungry people think only about food
- Most of the intelligentsia and young people had been killed.
Survivors from Treblinka extermination camp told the horrors they had witnessed and Jews started fleeing the ghetto, so on the 5.2.43 the ghetto was totally closed for entry and exit. Many people built hiding places in-between double walls, built bunkers and hideaways wherever they could. Women had to struggle to keep their babies and small children quiet. They did so by giving them sleeping pills, and some were forced to strangle their noisy children. Each night after eight, people would go out of their hiding places to breathe some air. During the day they had to sit very still – the ones who were caught were sent to die in Treblinka, more than 20000 people were caught. The “Akcja” ended on the 12/2/43.
Moshe went to have a look around the ghetto after this. He saw streets filled with dead bodies of women, men and children, heaps of dead bodies a few meters high were lying in the graveyard, waiting to be buried. One of those heaps was of children, many of whom had been strangled by their mothers in their hiding places. Crazed people, many of them women who had had to kill their children and infants, were seen on the streets.
The next day the Jews searched for all the informers, found and lynched them to death. Life in the ghetto started to return to “normal”. Moshe was miraculously saved, time after time, all the Jews working for the Germans thought that their work would save them. On 16.8.43 the Germans suddenly closed the ghetto and transported everyone to either Treblinka (the old, disabled, women with children) or to unknown destinations (the rest). Moshe and his mother and sisters were forcefully separated from grandfather Szmuel to be taken in inhuman conditions (120 people in each train-car). Moshe almost tried to jump out of the car, like other young men, but his mother’s plea not to – stopped him. Some of the jumpers survived, most – died. There was no water left, the thirst and cramped space killed many, and the rest were standing on dead bodies.
They went through Majdanek and were surprised not to end their journey (and lives) there. When they reached their destination, they were told to stand in a yard. Some people cut their wrists there, or helped each other to die – the despair was unbearable. Then they were divided in two groups: men and women. It was there that Moshe departed from his mother and sisters never to see them again. The women were taken to Majdanek, a 3 kilometers walk. The men were put in rows for showers, which turned out to be just showers, not death-by-gas make-believe ones.
They were nude and were given clothes; they were thinking only of their families. Moshe took the chance to move to another camp – a work camp, and after three days of an inhuman train journey, he arrived at Blizin [Bliżyn] “work” camp, where he was to sew, knit and build until mid. July 1944. There was a typhus epidemic that almost killed Moshe, and did kill many. Moshe struggled to survive with a strong will to live.
July 1944. Moshe was in Birkenau (Auschwitz 2) concentration camp. In Birkenau the selections of Jews to be cremated were done on Jewish holidays and except for one rebellion, everything went according to the German plan. When the allied powers started conquering Europe and freeing it from the Nazi regime, the Germans started fleeing. Moshe and all the Jews were taken on foot and by train to Austria, to the Mauthausen concentration camp.
In April 1945, Moshe and all the Jews were led out of Mauthausen concentration camp on foot westward; the allied powers were getting close. Many died, Moshe managed to survive. The shots of the freeing forces were getting close, the S.S. guards disappeared, it was Friday, 4.5.1945.
Moshe could not believe the freedom. They ate, ate and ate. They spoke to each other, and more than anything, they were happy to be free – no S.S. guards! No dogs!
Moshe started wandering through Europe. In Hungary he heard that the Polish people were killing Jews; Jews from Poland were seeking refuge elsewhere. He stayed in camps of Holocaust survivors in Austria and Italy. In Austria he got married to Miriam. He had no relatives at his wedding ceremony and after years of struggling to survive, the devastation of the Holocaust downed on him – he started to cry for the first time.
His first son was born in Italy. Samuel was born on the 12/4/1948 in Karmuna, Italy.
They all sailed to Palestine on the ship “Kadima” in September 1948. Moshe was enlisted into the army and they settled in Haifa. After two years of service, Moshe began work in a harbor warehouse, where he worked until his retirement
In 1951, Rebeca was born. Miriam was a housewife.
They have nine great-grandchildren and live in a high-class, old-age home. Since the war until this day, Moshe lives a normal life during the day. But he travels back at nights to the horrors of the past, night after night of nightmare.
Moshe went twice to Auschwitz with Israeli youth as a guide and to tell his story that moved hearts and brought tears to many eyes.