The Bunker on Ilzecka Street

The topic of Ostrowiec Jewish youth participation in Warsaw Ghetto uprising may not be known to all, but certainly has been discussed before. Local historian Wojtek Mazan years ago made a list of the fighters that came from Ostrowiec, based on the book of Hanka Grupińska:"Odczytanie Listy. Opowieści o powstańcach żydowskich".

What is important in the below  recently translated article however, is what we can learn about the background and  activity of the Bunker, that was not known before . Further research work was done by the Jews of Ostrowiec Memorial Project , and after consulting Polish archives from early 20th century, we learned additional family details including  the location of the Sylman Bunker which was on 32 Ilzecka street – a building that is no longer standing as the numbering has been changed and is now area where 47 and 49 Ilzecka is located.

 The Bunker

written by Rokhel Guthaltz-Kempinski -Yizkor Book 1971, Page 342  Translated by Pamela Russ

It was a dark Friday, a typical, overcast, Polish, autumn day. Already at dawn, the skies were cloudy. You could feel in the air that a tragedy in town was approaching.

We lived near the cemetery. That morning, we were awoken by hysterical cries of mothers holding small children in their arms, those who had come to the “ohel” [“tent”; monumental tomb] of our Rebbe [rabbinic leader], not to ask, but to plead that nothing bad should happen to our city. There was activity in the cemetery as there used to be on the eve of Yom Kippur.

I was also carried away by the atmosphere and went to the “ohel” as well. Tens of memorial candles were burning, and the “ohel” was crowded. The women's cries went all the to the heart of the heavens. Our mothers sensed the horrible tragedy that was approaching the city. Their cries were able to open not only the seven gates of the heavens, but also thousands of heavens, if only they could have listened. Women cried in otherworldly voices: “Rebbi, this is your city. This cannot happen here! Tear open the gates of the heavenly courts, just as we are tearing your gravesite. We have nowhere else to turn. You are our father!” Sadly, no voice came out of the grave…

The Ostrowiec Jews shared the same fate as the rest of the Polish Jews. There were no Shabbath preparations in the Jewish homes. People were going around as if intoxicated. “What should we do?” This question lay on everyone's lips. Some prepared bunkers, which, in Polish, we called a “schran.”

At that time, there was a hachshara kibbutz [“training farm”] of “Hechalutz” [youth movement training for agricultural settlement in Israel], which was run by a young man from Slonim, Beryl Broide. I would go there often. The kibbutz had connections with Warsaw. Often, I would find messengers from Warsaw with “nice” (non-Jewish) faces.

Also, a group of young people would come into the group: Bashe and Sarah Sylman, Leibel and Avraham Eiger (these were all the Lublin Rebbe's grandchildren), Yisrolik Hermalin, Dovid Shulman, Franie Biatus (from Konin), and others.

At the Sylman's house on Ilzecka Street, the youth, following Beryl Broide's instructions, built a “schran” [hideout]. They cordoned off a room and walled it off with a door. There was a secret entrance – through the roof in the attic. When I came there with Beryl on Shabbath, and they told me to try and find the entrance, there was no way I could do that because it was simply hidden. After that, I never went out of there. That same night, there were rumors that an Aktzia evacuation was about to start.

The “schran” was made up of a large room. We were about thirty people. First, the entire kibbutz – all strangers. Not from Ostrowiec. And then, residents of the city, whose names I still remember:

Rokhel Sylman and her grandchildren Bashe, Sarah, and Yosele; the son of the Lublin Rebbe, and a few daughters-in-law and some grandchildren; and his daughter Mrs. Rubin from Bielsk, and her little boy “Bobush,” an exceptionally beautiful child, who stands before my eyes to this day: a head of dark locks, and two Jewish eyes that reflected all our pain. The child understood the seriousness of the situation even though he was so young. It is noteworthy that he did not cry the entire time, and did not even speak. From time to time, the beautiful Mrs. Rubin turned to her father with a puzzling question: “Tatteshe [dear father], the child!” But the grandfather had nothing to say, and silently just shook his head.

Beryl Broide distributed Molotov cocktails to all of us youths. The older people did not know about this. He would raise up a bottle and say: “They will not take Bobush alive from us!”

In the “schran” [hideout] there was also Yisrolik Hermal and his little sister Sonia and a little brother; there was also the Mendelevitch family from Kielce; Yisrolik Shulman from Szeroka Street; Yecheskel Krongold and his wife.

In the evening, all the young men who worked in the factory left the “schran.” We stayed behind and waited. At dawn we heard the orders of the SS and we understood that the Aktzia had begun.

The “schran” was located on the second floor and it had small windows, so-called “dimnikes” [chimneys]. We covered up the windowpanes, and through the cracks we were able to see what was going on outside. From time to time, we heard shooting, and people's dying cries. We had prepared provisions, but who could think of eating.

After a few days we found out that they were amassing groups of Jews in the courtyard where we were hiding. This allowed us to go out from time to time and mix with other people, get food, and water from the well that was in the courtyard. I want to mention here the warmhearted Jew Mendelevitch from Kielce, who risked his life and went to buy bread for everyone, and brought water for everyone and distributed it.

We were there for almost two weeks. During that time, the Germans searched for hiding places in the house. We heard the German boots and their shouts. They discovered a few hiding places in the house at that time but did not find our “schran.”

The group that had prepared to go to Warsaw in order to join the Warsaw ghetto uprising consisted of, at the head, Beryl Broide, then Bashe and Sarah Sylman, Leibel Eiger, Franie Beiatus (who served as a courier and went back and forth to Warsaw), Yisrolik Shulman, Yisrolik Hermalin. If I have forgotten someone, please forgive me.

Once, Bashe Sylman went into the street during the day. Her appearance was that of a Christian. They grabbed her up, as well as other Christian girls, and sent them to work in Germany. But she escaped the transport and returned to the “schran” where she told everyone what had happened. Her grandmother, Rokhel Sylman, admonished her strongly as to why she had run away from working, where she could have saved herself. But Bashe replied: “Bubbe, I don't want to die with “Christ the king” on my lips!”

I want to mention another important event that took place in the “schran.”

Once, Beryl Broide came in breathless, and said: “Everyone, I promise you that whoever will survive should not forget this: The vice-commandant of the Jewish police put me on the transport with his own hands, but I escaped!”

I think it is my holy obligation to my friend Beryl to fulfill his wish. I am the only surviving person of the “schran.” The rebels [putschists] knew about the activities of Beryl Broide.

Then, they divided up the entire house where we were for the factory workers, so that once again we were left in the street. By chance, I met Shmuel Zhabner in the courtyard, a policeman who lived with his mother in the ghetto, in our house. He told me that our family was hiding in our attic in a “schran.” I told my friends and soon we all went up into the hiding place, and meanwhile, the entire group went to Warsaw. The last two who left were Leibel Rappaport and Dovid Shulman.

The whole group died in the Warsaw ghetto, and we of Ostrowiec also contributed to the bravery and heroism in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The first one to die was Sarah Sylman, with a weapon in her hand. The day of the resistance uprising is holy for me.

I want to relate an event that is etched in my memory: Leibel Rappaport, 18 years old, Sarah Silman, 17 years old, and Dovid Shulman, 17 years old, went out on a rainy, dark night, to set fire to the marketplace. They took along with them combustible material. They went into Fridlewski's house on Szeroka Market, set fire to the roof, hoping that the wind would blow up the fire. Sadly, the rain put out the fire.

I remember how they came into the “schran” soaked from the rain, and they called out: “Beryl, we lit it up!” How much courage they must have needed to carry out this act.

In the final days, several other bunkers were discovered in the nearby areas. More people came to us. Our place became too popular and would not be able to last much longer. The police became aware of the house. Two policemen came and they chased all of us out. Some were sent off to Treblinka. I remained with the group from the kibbutz. We had another hiding place. Better said, a living grave – in the house of Franie Beiatus, the one from Konin. The entrance was through a bureau. The drawer in the front was sealed shut, unable to be opened. Inside, there was a masked board which could be removed, and that was the entry point to the “schran.” The cabinet looked regular from the outside. When it was opened, it was filled with linens and clothing.

It is also an honor for me to mention Chan'tche Grinblat from Szeroka Street. Holding her child in her arms, she went at the head of all the children of Ostrowiec who were sent to Treblinka. Let it be said here that our Janos Korczak was Chan'tche Grinblat from Szeroka Street.


Excerpt of this translation in Polish can be found by clicking Polish flag or here