[picture – Polish forest where Sam and Esther hid]
Dirty, hungry, thirsty, tired, lice-covered, cold, hot, scared.
This was the life of a Jew hiding in the Polish forest during the Holocaust. Esther hid like this for two years and Sam, after his escape from Treblinka, joined her for the second of the two years. They lived in barns, utility buildings on the Stys family property and a pit they dug in the ground, just outside of Stoczek. Their survival is remarkable.
I just read a book by Christopher Browning about “ordinary” German men who were drafted into Battalion 101. It opened my eyes even wider to the miracle of Sam and Esther’s survival in hiding. In Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, Mr. Browning discusses the work of this Battalion during the war. One of the Battalion’s jobs was to search the forest for hidden Jews. Though Battalion 101 was doing their “work” in the Lublin district of Poland, his descriptions paint a picture that extends out to all such searches. He quotes George Leffler, one of the members of the German Battalion:
“We were told that there were many Jews hiding in the forest. We therefore searched through the woods in a skirmish line but could find nothing, because the Jews were obviously well hidden. We combed the woods a second time. Only then could we discover individual chimney pipes sticking out of the earth. We discovered that Jews had hidden themselves in underground bunkers here. They were hauled out, with resistance in only one bunker. Some of the comrades climbed down into this bunker and hauled the Jews out. The Jews were then shot on the spot . . . the Jews had to lie face down on the ground and were killed by a neck shot. . .. Some fifty Jews were shot, including men and women of all ages, because entire families had hidden themselves there.” (124)
The search and kill missions became routine for the men of Battalion 101. The members called such forest forays – Judenjagd or “Jew Hunt.” (123) Most often the Germans were tipped off by a local Polish resident. The residents were eager to help, as they received a reward for each Jew found and the chance to keep the dead Jews’ clothing. When such information was received, a routine patrol would follow the Pole to the forest hiding place. Locating the opening, the Germans threw grenades into the bunker. Anyone who survived the initial blast was forced out and then shot in the neck, lying face down. (126)
There were Jew Hunts in the forest where Sam and Esther were hiding. On our trip to Poland we learned the name of one such Polish “Jew Hunter” hunting the forests outside of Stoczek – Andrzecjczuk. In one of the many shocking moments of the trip, Shlomo saw Andrzecjczuk’s grave in the Stoczek cemetery when we visited the righteous Stys family graves. He snapped a picture and has spent the past year processing the information.
Browning explains that a significant number of Polish Jews lost their lives because of “Jew Hunts.” He describes these hunts as a “tenacious, remorseless, ongoing campaign in which the ‘hunters’ tracked down and killed their ‘prey’ in direct and personal confrontation. It was not a passing phase but an existential condition of constant readiness and intention to kill every last Jew who could be found.” (132)
The pit that Sam and Esther dug and lived in for most of a year (August 1943 until liberation by the Red Army in the summer of 1944) did not have a chimney pipe to give it away and was well camouflaged with brush they pulled over the top with a rope- pulley system. Neither Andrzecjczuk nor any other enterprising Pole found their hiding place. The Nazis did not kill these Jews. For this miracle (among the many), I am grateful.
 See Hayes, Peter, Why: Explaining the Holocaust at 251.