Excerpt from translated article of Ostrowiec Yizkor Book Pages 330-334 by Yechezkel Mandel:
THE YOUTH OPEN A CHILDREN’S HOME IN THE GHETTO
The Youth in the Ghetto
Before the war, Ostrowiec had distinguished itself with its large, organized youth who belonged to organizations like, the Zionist Youth, Ha’shomer Ha’tza’ir, Betar, Mizrachi, Ha’shomer Ha’dati, Dror, He’chalutz, left and right Po’alei Tzion, sport clubs of different kinds, Yiddish schools like a Talmud Torah, Yavneh schools of Mizrachi, and many cheders [small religious schools for boys] of various groupings. Reb Nechemya Demsky of blessed memory, was a very progressive teacher, who expected every student to know a chapter of the Bible, by heart; he also taught Hebrew and grammar.
During the war, in the time of the Nazi decrees, when a substantial amount of voluntary social activity was necessary to lighten the situation of the Jewish residents, the youth, with their education, took upon themselves that important task.
The organized Jewish youth, particularly, the “Zionist Youth”[Noar Zioni], took upon themselves the task of teaching, clothing, and feeding Jewish children, and opened premises for this purpose. This was no easy task because the crowded conditions in the ghetto were indescribable, and they could not find a room. Secondly, the Germans prohibited the teaching of Jewish children. However, the youth ignored the dangers that threatened, and many members took to teaching Jewish children in the ghetto. Among the most active were, Moshe Gutman of blessed memory, Yosef Vineberg, now in Israel, Shmuel Yechezkel Mandel (Toronto), Berel Rozentzweig of blessed memory, Pola Arenshtein of blessed memory, Shoshana Eidelman of blessed memory, Yekutiel Goldblum (Brazil), Sarah Rozentzweig of blessed memory, Salke Macharubska of blessed memory, Shlomo Rubinshtein (Israel), Miller, the advocates daughter (is alive), Chanah Horovicz (Canada), my brother Avraham Mandel of blessed memory, Yisroel Neidik of blessed memory.
There were other members of our organization that participated in the sacred work of educating Jewish children in the spirit of Judaism, and also teaching them general studies, like, Moshe Peffer
( shot, when he was caught with Aryan documents), his sister Sheindl Peffer (in Israel), Rina Nisker (Israel), Batya Halbershtadt (Israel) and many others whose names I cannot recall now. During learning time, we set up a special patrol to warn us, in case the S. S. or the German police were approaching. More than once, we were forced to jump through the window of the “zshlobek”, as we called the premises. We believed that only by educating the children in the spirit of Judaism, would we be able to give them the strength to endure the terrible time.
The group managed to obtain special food from the Yudenrat that was brought from the folk kitchen in a big pot, and the soup was shared among the children. The same applied to clothing that we obtained for them. It was heart-rending to hear the children, with their big eyes, asking us, why such great hardship was being inflicted on our people, and we had no answer for them. We felt responsible for the innocent children, for their tragic situation. There were moments when one wanted finally, to put an end to all of this . . . .
When rumours reached about an impending raid, we asked the question, what to do with the dear, unfortunate children. We had already heard of the heroic act of the great educator Yanush Kortshak of Warsaw, who refused to be saved in exchange for handing over the Jewish children in his educational institution, to the Germans. As a protest against the bestial Germans, he walked ahead of the children, with one child in his arms, to the transport to Auschwitz where he was gassed and burned together with them.
At dusk on the Sabbath, several S. S. men came to the office of the Yudenrat, and began to shoot, first at the light, and later also at the people who had gathered there. The next day, 11th October, 2 – 3 hours before daybreak, the Germans, assisted by the Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and the Polish police, surrounded the Jewish ghetto. The Jewish police went around to the Jewish houses, knocked on the doors, told the residents to dress and assemble at the [Rynek] marketplace, near the City Hall. A few Jews, who did not want to leave their homes, put on prayer shawls and Tefillin, began to recite psalms and waited to be shot, as martyrs. This is how Yenkele Hertzig of blessed memory, died, and many others.
My brother Avraham Mandel was hit by the first bullet of the wild murderers when he wanted to rescue the 5-month-old daughter of our sister Beiltshe. He wanted to give the child to Polish neighbours who had already received much money for wanting to take the child to them. As he was wounded in his neck, he retreated to the ghetto and managed to be allocated to his work in the sawmill. After three days of hiding wounded, in the sawmill, he disappeared without a trace. Since that day, I did not see my dear parents and my dear sister Beile, because they went to their deaths with 17,000 other Jews from Ostrowiec. I do not know if it was luck or a misfortune that I remained alive, because I was allocated to work in the metal factory, with 1,500 other Jews.
This is how our activity in the children’s home ended, and this is how our dearest and closest were cruelly wrenched away from us, together the many children who avidly learned Jewish history, to understand their specific Jewish destiny. We will never forget your last song “zogt nit keinmol az ir geit dem letzten veg”[ “Never say that you are going your last way”]. Thanks to the spirit of martyrdom that lives in our youth, we reached the realization of our ancient dream in the form of the State of Israel and the return to Zion.