English עברית
Chapter 3: Shadow of the swastika
On June 24, 1941, while we were still stunned by the news, German tanks reached Pruzany, which lay less than 20 miles from the border. The Russians in the area fled for their lives, heading for Soviet territory. Some of the Jews joined them in their eastward stampede.
When the German units entered Pruzany, the Christians poured into the streets to welcome them, but the Jews withdrew into their homes. We had heard rumors about the persecution faced by Jews in the German-occupied parts of Poland; even before the war, numerous Jews from Reich territory had been deported to Poland. When the Germans reached Pruzany, we preferred to keep out of their way.
Much of what I did not know at the time became clear to me after the war. The Polish province of Lomza, and the portion of Grodno bounded by East Prussia to the north and the Generalgouvernement to the south - an area the Germans dubbed Generalkommissariat Bialystok for the city of that name - were attached to East Prussia and therefore partially integrated into the Reich.
Under this division, our situation was initially better than that of the regions administratively attached to Poland.
The advancing German army was followed by the Einsatzgruppen, units which specialized in “handling” Jews. Their arrival was accompanied by anti-Jewish decrees; Jewish homes were attacked, Jews were subjected to robbery and abuse. Abetted by anti-Semitic elements and collaborators from among the local population, the Germans herded the Jews together, massacring them by the thousands. Initially, they burnt the corpses in great pits; later, they developed more efficient techniques.
The Einsatzgruppen were backed up by the German civilian administration, which established ghettoes in the larger Jewish towns.