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Review of Yad Vashem Recorded Testimony Review of
The Chaya (nee Wasersztejn) and Yisrael Finkielsztejn Testimony
By the Interviewer: Ida Glickshtein Yarkoni; Translation from Hebrew and Yiddish*
Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority Archives

Division of Evidence Collection

Finkielsztejn Family
Upon arrival in Israel, 1946
[Bottom row L-R]: Yisrael Finkielsztejn, wife Chaya (nee Wasersztejn) Finkielsztejn and eldest son Menachem
[Top row L-R]: Chana, Sholem, Yaffa
Entire family of six survived the Holocaust
Went to Israel, 1946



Evidence Title Page

Country: Poland

Language: Yiddish

Witness: Chaya and Yisrael Finkielsztejn

Address: Haifa, 32 Yotam St.

Education and occupation: ______

Date, place and country of birth: (1) 1897, Radzilow (2) 1894, Szczuczyn

Place of witness' residence at the outbreak of the war/incidents described: ______

Main Subject:

About a couple of Zionist workers from the town of Radzilow, district of Bialystok; the lives of the Jews between the two World Wars, during the rule of the Soviets and about the liquidation of the community in July 1941; the manner of rescue of the family with the aid of Polish farmers in the area.

Testimony Content:

Recollections of the witness on the lives of the Jews until the outbreak of the Second World War; events of the war in the town of Radzilow in September 1939, entry of the Germans into the town, and their withdrawal in accord with the agreement with the Soviets; life during the rule of the Soviets until June 1941 and persecution of the family because of their Zionist activity, as well as their identification as "bourgeoisie"; entry of the Germans on the 22nd of June 1941, brutality against the Jews; behavior of the local Poles, burning of Torah scrolls and Jewish ritual objects, eviction of Jews from their homes and their annihilation in a variety of unnatural deaths in the course of two weeks; assembly of the Jews in the town square, their transfer to the barn and their burning by the Poles on command of the Gestapo; continuation of the riots from 12 Tammuz to 14 Tammuz, until the liquidation of the Jews of the town; escape of the couple with their children to the village of Konopki, their wandering among the farmers of the village and other farmers in the area until liberation on January 22, 1945; hints of the witness on the Christianization of the family, and the role of the anti-Semitic priest in the rescue of the family; transfer of the family to Kodz and from there along the routes of the escape to Eretz Yisroel; loss of their young son Sholem in the War of Independence in 1948.

Names of people mentioned in the testimony:

See attached list.

Names of places mentioned in the testimony:

See attached list.


The memoirs were written in Israel in the year 1946.

The Testimony includes:

Memoirs, testimony, review, and photos.

Inclusive number of pages:

18 + 306 memoirs

Number including sub-units: ______

Place: Haifa

Date: August 16, 1966

Name and signature of interviewer: Ida Yarkoni

Review of Testimony and Memoirs of Chaya and Yisrael Finkielsztejn:

Mrs. Chaya Finkielsztejn welcomed me very warmly when I approached her with a proposal from Yad Vashem for her testimony. She told me that she had written memoirs, and for many years she had been waiting for the opportunity to publish them and add her contribution to the story of the mass destruction of the Jews. She gave me the memoirs and also agreed to give testimony. Unfortunately, she spoke so rapidly and indistinctly that it was difficult to understand. She spoke about the situation of the Jews in the town of Radzilow in the period from the First World War until the destruction in 1941; she spoke a lot about the cruelty and anti-Semitism of the Polish population and accused the Poles of burning alive 2000 Jews. It was difficult to get from the couple a clear description of the destruction of their town, since they became terribly worked up. When she spoke, her husband helped and recalled various details, but when it came to him giving independent testimony, he drew back and said that he remembers nothing. Thus, the wife remained the chief witness, who, during the period of the great danger, was very active in the struggle to save the family.

The memoirs of Chaya Finkielsztejn begin with a description of the Second World War. The turmoil between the Polish population was then so great that everyone began to flee, some from east to west, and some from west to east. The Jews from Radzilow, and among them the Finkielsztejn family, also fled, but in a few days they returned home. The Russians had entered Radzilow.

As active Zionists, the Finkielsztejn's were subject to vexation on the part of the Soviet authority and also on the part of the local communists who wanted to take revenge on the "bourgeoisie." They not only took the Finkielsztejn's mill, but also their 3-room house. In those bad times, Chaya Finkielsztejn did not lose her bearings. True to her world-view, she provided a Zionist education for her children and arranged for a teacher who taught them privately and secretly. The communal worker observed how the hatred of the Poles grew against the Jewish activists of the new regime. She felt in advance that revenge would at some time be taken against all Jews.

And when the Germans entered, Jewish life and their possessions became worthless. The local Christians exploited the situation without pity.

Chaya understood the impulses of the young people. During the time of the Soviets, the Jewish communists took revenge on the Zionists and [blurred word missing], and when the Germans entered the town, the Poles took revenge against the communists and also against all the Jews. Polish neighbors entered Jewish homes and took whatever their hearts desired.

"Since in any case every Jewish possession would be taken, it is better that the neighbors should use it"... Chaya Finkielsztejn defends her husband and her children. She succeeds in rescuing her minor daughter from the hands of a gentile, son of a neighbor who is the head of a band of hooligans and attacks the Jewish homes.

To no avail she seeks help from the Polish representative of the civil administration which the Germans had created. With a spark of humor she tells how the son of the "Feldsher" [old-time country barber-doctor] provided his father with clients: the son beats up the Jews and the father gives them medical help.

The detailed descriptions of the horrible murders in the small town illustrate how wretched the Jews had become, how hated and subject to suffering and death. How much courage and heroism this little woman exhibited in the struggle for the lives of her husband and children. The picture of the burning alive of the Jews of Radzilow is horrible. I had become iron-strong and cold as ice - she remarks from time to time.

Miraculously, the Finkielsztejn family was rescued from the destruction. But even then their suffering was still unimaginable: wandering, regularly looking death in the eye, fear, suffering from not having a roof over one's head, suffering from thirst and hunger, and the overall suffering of having to play a comedy, of Jews who want to go over to Christian beliefs. This detail in the family story is unique: a village of farmers interested in having a Jewish family go over to Christian beliefs as the price for being rescued. The tragic comedy which they had to play did not in the end assure their lives. In November 1942 when the Germans liquidated the ghetto in Szczuczyn, the village official commanded that the Finkielsztejn family should also be placed there. Their former friends immediately agreed and lay in wait for the few possessions which the family still owned. However, Chaya Finkielsztejn did not want to give up and thanks to a few farmers who still had a bit of a conscience, they were able to flee and hide out in a second village, until the liquidation of the Jews of Szczuczyn ended. From then on the members of the Finkielsztejn family started their underground life in darkness and filth. In these horrible, inhuman conditions they found comfort in reading underground Polish appeals and in enlightening their "hosts" - the illiterates - that the war will end with Germany's defeat. Their children, who had become accustomed to their pursuits, suffered from the long days and nights and played "words," but the difficult hiding-out did not last a long time. They had to flee from one farmer to another, each one was fearful and almost everyone wanted to exploit them. It is hard to understand how a weak woman could hold out for so many months.

Chaya Finkielsztejn tells of tens of facts about cruel crimes which the Polish farmers committed against Jews, but also how individual good people treated them well and sympathized with their tragic situation.

Reading the memoirs, it seems that Chaya Finkielsztejn repeats herself, but that is not so. She describes one week after another, month in and month out what they lived through, and the situations are similar, since they went from stable to stable, from one pit to another and everywhere they underwent new suffering. Their situation became even worse when the civilian population left the village, since the front came closer and the Jewish family was left alone with the Germans. Words cannot describe their life in the pits, when seeking a bit of water was a life-threatening undertaking. Their youngest son undertook this. Chaya Finkielsztejn describes their inhuman suffering in the damp pit.

When the situation became unbearable, a Christian would appear who would save them from certain death in the damp pit. Chaya Finkielsztejn portrays very well the fanaticism of the farmers and describes elegantly a young village girl with a warm heart.

Finally, the Finkielsztejn family survives to see the defeat of Nazi Germany, but their suffering and horror did not yet end. Underground Polish bands undertook to murder the few Jews who had been saved. After so much suffering, Mrs. Finkielsztejn still found strength in her worn-out body to provide for the future of her children, sent them to school, taught them, supervised every step of their way, heedless of the fact that she herself was ill and broken.

And when salvation finally came, and the family found itself on route to Eretz Yisroel, how much effort, how much suffering remained.

Chaya Finkielsztejn merits the highest respect. In each situation she behaves like a mensch in the full meaning of the word. She ends her memoirs by describing the last smile of her youngest son who fell in the War of Liberation. She gave a precious sacrifice to the rebuilding of a new life for the survivors of the Shoah.

Ida Glickshtein Yarkoni

*Yad Vashem File 033033 - 2636/255.

Editor's notes or definitions are entered in [brackets].
(Parentheses) in the translation appear here as they appeared in the original text.

Translated from Hebrew and Yiddish by: Helen Lewis. Edited by: Jose Gutstein.

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