Survivor STORY

Bernard Sloman (Berl Slomianski) was born in Goniadz, Poland (today Belarus). In 1921 there was about 1,135 Jews in the town, but under Soviet rule from 1939 to 1941 the Jewish population dropped to about 900. The Germans occupied Goniadz on June 26, 1941, and started an immediate reign of terror and small-scale murder. The Jews of Goniadz were put to work in the Osowiec Fortress, which had been an armory and quartermasters post for the Russian army, where they worked sorting all the goods the Russians had left behind.

Bernard’s mother, Feygl Slomianski, was a widow as his father, Moshe’ke, died somewhere between 1939 and 1941 under the rule of the Soviets. Feygle and Moshe’ke had three daughters and two sons. One of the daughters was named Golda and, of course, Bernard (Berl) was one of the sons. His grandfather was Shmuel-Ber Malozowski. During the time of the Germans Feygle and her children lived with her father Shmuel-Ber in a house on the old market place. Shmuel-Ber was a tailor.

On November 2, 1942, all of the Jews in the village were rounded up and in a few short hours put into carts and sent to Bogosze transit camp, where 7,000 other Jews were being held. The place where they were held had been a Russian army camp and was only a big field with a few barracks surrounded by barbed wire. The camp was liquidated in two Aktionen: the first on December 22, 1942 when about half of them were taken away to the Treblinka death camp. Those who didn’t move fast enough were shot on the spot. In the morning bodies were strewn all over the path the train. The remaining 3,000 Jews were sent to Treblinka on January 3, 1943. This was the Aktion in which Bernard lost his entire family.

There had been rumors the night before Goniadz was liquidated and Bernard fled with a friend, Shabtai Finkelshtein, who had been staying with the family. Many other Jews also tried to flee through the fields. Berl and Shabtai tried to cross the bridge in Dolko but encountered German soldiers guarding it and so turned back. They fled together with two girls, Feitsche and Grune Hirszfeld, who had been trying to do the same thing. The German shot after them but they managed to escape. They ran for several kilometers and finally stopped in the Downar Forest. As they lay in the woods hiding, they saw Jews being driven away in carts.

When it got dark, Berl led them across the train tracks in an area with which he was familiar because he had worked there for the Russians. A Christian woman let them say in her barn under a pile of hay. As they lay there all night they heard the trains departing. In the morning, the woman asked them to leave because she had small children. The girls, however, remained with the family.

They moved on seeking shelter. They knew of a Christian who was hiding Jews through their friend Aisik and they finally found his farm. He was already hiding six Jews in a bunker in the woods and they joined them in hiding. Ultimately, the farmer ended up hiding ten Jews. Shortly thereafter, the farmer advised them all to flee as the Germans were searching the area. It was snowy and freezing and dark. The ten separated and for a few days Berl, Shabtai and another Jew named Chana lived in the woods and dug for potatoes in the fields and finally made their way to Jasionowka, where there were still Jews.

In Jasionowka, Berl met his uncle, Leibl Molozowski (Moshe Molozowski’s brother) and several other refugees. No sooner had they arrived did Jasionowka suffer the same fate—it was liquidated on January 25, 1943. However, Berl and his friends had used the time to build an underground hiding place that could hold eight people. However, nearly 22 people ended up in the small space. There was no air. One child had whooping cough and when steps were heard overheard someone threw themselves on the child and smothered her. After a few days they couldn’t take it anymore and some began leaving the bunker hoping to find another hiding place. Berl’s uncle left at this time.

Now there were only 14 Jews in the small hiding place. They had no food except what they could beg from Christian friends at night. They brought in snow in a pail and ate raw barley. They existed in these miserable, freezing conditions for two weeks. On the 14th day a Pole searching for Jewish gold and valuables found them and he ran to find the Germans. The Germans didn’t find them on the first search, but they left a guard, intending to return in the morning and resume the search. When the guard left to warm himself up at a neighbor’s they slipped out one by one, agreeing to meet in a nearby field.

[This narrative is taken from the account of Shabtai Finkelshtein, and until this point he and Berl were together. When they slipped out of the hiding place they were separated. Shabtai, together with his wife, went to the field but no one came. Eventually they fled to the forest and were hidden in the fields by Christians. They survived until liberation.]

At this point, Berl, having separated from his friends, somehow made it to Bialystok. He was apparently deported from Bialystok on or around August 18, 1943, when the ghetto was liquidated. Twelve thousand Jews were put into 12 transports: 10 went to their deaths at Treblinka and two transports went to Auschwitz. A train with 1,200 children was sent to Theresienstadt. Bernard was put on one of the two transports to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Bernard survived Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Sachsehausen and Oranienburg. He emigrated to the United States and started a new life in Atlanta with his wife, Rella, whom he had met when she was recovering from tuberculosis in a hospital in Germany. Bernard passed away in Atlanta in 1996.

Explore themes found in this biography:

  • No themes
Bernard Sloman