Excerpt, Between Galicia and Hungary: The Jews of Stropkov

The Schwartz family had been hiding near Stropkov since September 1942; Simso had eventually joined them.  Before the Nazi occupation, they and their peasant protectors had only to fear informers; now Nazi patrols scoured the villages, shooting anyone who harbored Jews. One day, while the peasant’s wife was in the kitchen cooking supper, a Nazi entered the house where the Schwartzes were hiding. Thinking quickly despite her fear, she said, “Oh, you came just in time! I’m making kreplach Come eat with us!”  The Nazi did.  But this incident made the family more determined to be rid of its “guests.” As the front neared, these peasants, fearful for their lives, planned to flee, abandoning their Jewish friends to their fate. Somehow, Simso Schwartz convinced them to stay in the area, reasoning that if they left, they would lose all their property.  “The war will end soon,” he said.  “We can all hide together in a bunker in the forest until it is over.” The peasants agreed. The two families dug a hole in the forest floor together, covered it with planks and branches, stocked it with dry food, and moved in…..

Sitting in the freezing dark of the bunker, the refugees could hear sounds of fighting close by.  As the front neared, bombs exploded overhead and katyusha rockets flew by.  It sounded as if the very mountains that protected them would become their tomb. Suddenly, in a lull in the fighting, the Schwartz children heard the scratching of branches.  Someone raised one of the planks over their heads and said in German, “ Who’s in there?” The peasant’s wife quickly climbed out and faced the Nazi.  She explained that they were villagers who simply had not wanted to evacuate the area.  When the Nazi asked if there were partisans in the bunker, she invited him in to see for himself. The Nazi looked at her intently.  “I won’t go in to look—and I didn’t see anything,” he said, as he turned around.  “I ate kreplach at your house,” he added as he left.

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