Cypora Zonszajn née Jabłoń was born in 1915. She lived in Siedlce. Cypora took her one-year-old daughter Rachel out from the ghetto when the Germans began the liquidation of the ghetto in August 1942. Zofia Olszakowska and Irena Zawadzka, Cypora’s school friends, looked after the girl. Rachel survived the war and went to live with her family in Israel.
Cypora and her husband Jakub committed suicide during the next displacement action in December 1942.
Below are fragments of the diary that Cypora kept during the extermination of the Siedlce ghetto (August-November 1942).
It was Friday, August 22, 1942. We have been living in terrible tension for the last few weeks. The expulsion of the Jews (600,000) in Warsaw continues. There are constant trains with people from Radom, Kielce and other [cities] being deported to the Treblinka death camp. Dosia Monczyk, from Warsaw, tells us terrible things about what is going on there. We know that the same thing awaits us, but we delude ourselves. Meanwhile, as the thunder falls from the clear sky, the news is that today the expulsion of the Jews of Minsk Maz[owiecki] 40 km away from us, will take place. We will be the next target, but we continue to delude ourselves – hoping that it will pass us by […]
The mood in the city is getting worse, moment by moment. I comfort my beloved parents, but at the same time I look at our child, my beautiful 11 months old daughter, with tears in my eyes. Dear God – what will happen to the child? What is her crime to be in such a hell? […]
At two o’clock my husband [Jakub Zonszajn], Ordnungsman (Jewish police), arrives and tells us to be ready […] Suddenly a shot is heard – a sign that the ghetto is surrounded. I start dressing my child in silence – we feel that horrifying moments are approaching. […] My parents burst into tears, Mommy exclaims: “Save yourself and your child – that my work [in bringing you into this world] will not be wasted”. […] My child awakened from her sleep is crying – then my golden Daddy comes to us and silently kisses me and the child in his usual manner.
Jakub has changed his clothes and tells me to follow him. I am so dazed and terrified that I do not ask where [we are going], I don’t say goodbye to my parents and Dosia. Mommy leads us to the hall and says in tears, “children, try to bury us decently”. These words upset me. “Mother, what are you saying – will I never see you again?” Why don’t I have the poison that I requested from Mr. O. to allow us to end our lives together?
People gather in the street. Laments and cries can be heard from homes. A man scurrying with a package can be seen from time to time. From time to time a shot is heard, voices are heard: “will someone, tell me what’s going on?” Leaving the district is out of the question. My husband leads us to the police station – and from there to the attic of the bathhouse, which is next to the police station, so that we are close by in case they honor the police families, as it was in Warsaw. […]
There are more and more people in the attic (about 100 people) – more and more shots are heard – the “expulsion” action has begun – and my parents are not there. My God! Mummy’s last words sound in my ears – why did I leave home without them? […]
10 o’clock [AM] – a single lament and tears merge into an immeasurable, indefinite scream (we later learn that the Jewish police received an order under the threat of death, to empty the apartments and to send people to the assembly point at Umschlagplatz). We do not know for now, what these terrible, heartbreaking screams mean. I watch over the child terrified and listening to these amazing sounds, and entertain her so she does not cry. She enjoys breastfeeding for now. She has not received such a large quantity of breast milk previously. She is calm, but what will happen later? (I give her cybalgin to make her sleep a lot.) I don’t want to think about anything, because I’m ready to go crazy. Where are my beloved parents? What about them? I am praying that they should have at least a quick and painless death. (A few weeks later I learned that unfortunately even that was not given to them).
It is approaching 12 o’clock [noon]. We can hear the tapping of our torturers’ footsteps from the street. Continuous shots without a break, continuous laments without a break. Suddenly, a terrible pounding shakes the attic. This is because shops around our hideout are broken down. In a moment they will approach us – God, please don’t let my child wake up. Unfortunately, the noise is so great that my child does wake up with a loud cry. Our companions in this imprisonment become wild with anger. A woman reaches my child and wants to strangle her, but I force her away with a wild push and say that if my child would die – let everyone die. To suppress the crying of my child, they push us into the attic closet. I strip her naked, give her my breast, sing songs to her and calm her as much as I can. Every minute seems to be a century – finally the child calms down – she becomes accustomed to the noise that has not stopped. Sweat is pouring down from me – the heat in the attic is amazing […]
A terrifying emptiness, from a distance you can hear a loud lament, the screams of the killers and their shots, shots without a break. (We thought they were shots to incite fear and terror, but later it turned out that each shot meant that there is one less human life.)
It is quiet until 10 AM the next morning – then orgies start again, terrible laments again, shots again. The “expulsion” orgy has begun again. Today the campaign is even more violent than yesterday. You can hear shop windows breaking, more shots and the last pre-death cries of those killed all the time. “Shma Israel” – “God of Israel” – these words are usually spoken by a Jew when he is near death, and this cry is heard constantly. […]
The heat in the attic is unbearable. The child’s strength fails and she whimpers without a break. What to do? – I gain courage to write a letter to Jakub, requesting poison for the child if this situation is to last longer, because my heart breaks when I look at her suffering.
It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The shots do not stop for a moment. The lamentations and crying do not stop. The baby is sleeping, so I stand by the roof and watch the street. […] Some Ukrainian or Lithuanian (one devil) is leading a married couple with a child. The child is crying and cannot walk. The leading Lithuanian pushes the child with kicks. The child cannot walk faster so the Lithuanian starts to beat him with the butt of a rifle. Then the heart broken father lunges at his child’s torturer with his last effort and slaps him twice. In the blink of a second three shots and three corpses are lying on the street, and the torturer goes away whistling cheerfully. I stand at my vantage point, frozen in terror, but I am glad that the “pure Aryan” felt the dirty hand of a lousy, heartbroken Jew. May there be as many such accidents as possible. Tears fall from my eyes all the time – aren’t my dear old parents beaten? My beloved, how could I leave you? Will you forgive me that? I did it for your dearest granddaughter!
[…] “Water – give water” – “drink” – “I feel weak” – “hot” – these shouts blend into a great scream, a cry of despair of innocently murdered, defenseless people. A policeman who gave his mother an apple and some water is told to sit in the crowd and return his “badges”. Another policeman at the last moment dodges a bullet after trying to communicate with his wife and child. Shouts of “Shma Israel”, God of Israel – come from all sides. – People, why are you calling God? – Rebel! You go to certain death anyway! You all know what Treblinka is!
Unfortunately this strong, necessary rush for life prevails. Each of these unfortunates hopes that maybe he will be chosen for work, maybe he will save himself. This is understandable on the one hand and not on the other.
And then transports went from the square to the station – all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday. On Monday – when I was saved – the entire hospital staff was shot […].
People were sent to the station and were loaded into wagons. 100 and 200 people in a wagon that can normally fit 40-50. I have messages from people who have escaped from such wagons. The people in these wagons are at first dazed, then they slowly become more and more crazed. “Hot! – Water!” Unfortunately, there is no water – people are starting to undress – slowly, after a while most of them are naked – men, women, children. Nobody pays attention to anyone. “Hot, I’m suffocating” – these are not unreasonable shouts, people are slowly beginning to suffocate. Older people, sick people and small children are first to die. People are becoming wild, they are starting to fight for access to the window. The air in the wagon is unbearable – people are jumping over the other. “Some air – let me come to the window!” A small window cannot satisfy all these people. Young people win – most of the older ones will not arrive alive. They don’t have the strength to fight for some air (I don’t want to think – I’m crazy with terror – my parents – my dearest have reportedly died with such a death).
Wagons reach Treblinka. From there, I have messages from Mr. Maks Bigelman from Warsaw, who for 15 days (from August 27 till September 9) worked at Treblinka sorting things, and then escaped from Treblinka. This gentleman lives with me and tells me many, many things. […] The wagons arrive at Treblinka station. There are usually about 60 wagons together. But only 18-20 wagons enter through the gate to the prison camp – here the wagons are emptied of people and things. People come out through the gate to the square where two barracks are located. In the yard, women with children go left, men go right. […] Women take off their shoes at the entrance, then go inside and undress until they are naked. From this barrack, women go through the corridor and garden path to the “bathhouse”. The “bathhouse” is located in the next tightly closed barrack. 400 people enter there, [the door] […] is closed by the staff from the outside. When the barrack is closed, the gas is instilled. After 3-4 minutes, everyone is gassed – but they stay in the barrack a little longer. After a dozen or so minutes, the barrack opens from the other side, where Jewish workers are already standing (about 200 people), who carry the corpses to graves in wagons. A lot of corpses are stuck together, so these are doused with water to tear them away. After half an hour the barrack is empty for the next batch which will be coming. Then the next wagons move, and the men are still waiting in the first yard. After “bathing” all women, it’s the men’s turn. […]
People who have no strength to go – old people, children, the sick – do not “bathe”, but are led to open graves and are killed there so that they fall directly into the graves.
At the entrance to the “bathhouse” stands an orchestra – Jewish musicians play as their brothers are going to their deaths.
Workers who work on taking out gassed and “bathed” bodies are completely separated from those who work in the first courtyard in sorting. They must be separated – because they are not allowed to talk about anything. (And it doesn’t help. We know everything). Those who stay in the first courtyard are chosen young people – they work on sorting clothes. Clothes left by people going to the bath are sorted straight away, packed in packages, put into wagons and immediately sent back. Thanks to these wagons, a few hundred people were saved, from whom we have all the news. […]
Mr. Maks tells us with tears in his eyes the moment when his wife and his only 13 years old daughter entered the square from the wagon. He tried to save them because he was a leader of a workers’ group. He turned to his “boss” asking that they be selected for work. Unfortunately, he got a negative answer and had to undergo his farewell to his daughter, who told him: “what can we do, Daddy – don’t worry.” The wife did not know, that they were going to die, but he told his daughter. What a terrible tragedy this is! – How much these people had to go through!
After two weeks, Mr. Maks got into the wagon with things going back and thus saved himself.
My hair stands on end when I hear all that he says; terror is terrible. Will people who were not close to these experiences ever believe it all? Will they believe that everything I write about is absolutely true? Let my words be a living witness of these terrible events, these terrible tragedies.
This is what happened during the resettlement of the Siedlce ghetto. So many thousands of people were finished off this way. I have already mentioned almost everything, but not the fate of my beloved parents. Information about their fate I have in details – collected by me from various people with great care. I will describe them carefully so that my daughter will know how her grandparents who adored her, died.
On Saturday morning they decided to go to the square – to “Umschlagplatz” – together with all the neighbors. One of their neighbors, a good friend – wanted to give poison to my Mommy, who was suffering from heart disease – but she would not agree. She said that she and my father decided to go through all this hell and maybe in this way they would sacrifice their life for my and my child’s life. And they went to the square. […] On Sunday, they were sent with the group of people to the station – but there were no cars left and they had to return to spend the night in the square. What a gehenna! On Monday, they learned that my child and I were saved, and then my golden Mom said that knowing this her death would be as if she was going to a dance. They were sent on Monday. Apparently they both suffocated in the wagon […].
Who will avenge us for all this? Who will avenge those tortured so terribly, a “cattle death” of hundreds of young intellectuals, scientists, thousands of valuable doctors, professors, writers. Who will avenge the torture of parents taken from children, children from parents, wives from husbands? Who will avenge the torment of the mother watching her child die?
If I want to experience anything more, it’s a moment of revenge. A moment when I can avenge my parents, cousins and uncles.
Unfortunately – this is not expected. We sit in terrible conditions in a dirty, lousy neighborhood – full of Gypsies who have become our heirs – in a district where death is in the air. The mood is full of panic almost constantly. New escapees from the wagons appear every day. They come from Łuków, Węgrów, Międzyrzec, Kałuszyn, Sokołów and many, many other cities. We hear every day that the action is repeated here for the second time, there for the third time! Why aren’t they moving us yet? This time, however, we do not delude ourselves. We know that fate will not miss us. […]
Our life now consists of only one thing: news! What is being said? What is at the stations? Are there still carriages with people? Are the actions still ongoing? Has any stranger come? What does he tell? […]
We don’t know anything, we don’t understand anything except this, we don’t know what for and why we are doomed to a terrible, tragic death and we just wait for the execution of the sentence.
(Based on: Written testimonies collected in the Archive of Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw; testimony number and the relationship of the witness and the deceased (if known) are provided. Archive testimony no 302/313)