Jews could sometimes run away from the Germans and live in the forests of eastern Europe, but their chances of survival were slim. Rabbi Solomon Horowitz, the spiritual leader of 1,400 Jews in the Polish town of Potok, led a portion of his flock into the woods. Less than a year later nearly all of them were dead.
Potok is in Galicia, the easternmost reaches of prewar Poland that fell to the Germans only in June 1941.The thirty-two-year-old Rabbi Horowitz at first attempted to placate the Nazis when they looted his people and removed them to the ghetto in nearby Buczacz. Later he encouraged them to hide from deportations that occurred in October and November 1942 and from the massacres at Fedor Hill in February and March 1943. His story shows once again that the Germans unhesitatingly resorted to mass shooting once the Jews learned about the death camps and began to resist deportations. It also suggests that by then the Germans were treating the existence of death camps as an open secret, in Buczacz at least. On the other hand, the rabbi's assertion that he personally witnessed the Fedor Hill massacres should, perhaps, not be taken literally. This was a man who was both determined to convince a foreign observer of Nazi atrocities and unused to having his words questioned. That the mass shootings did occur, of course, is not disputed.
Discovered in their hiding place in Buczacz while trying to aid a family of homeless Jews, Rabbi Horowitz and his elder son slipped away from a large group of prisoners and made it to the forest with several hundred Jews. There they established a "family camp" of men, women, and children of all ages organized for survival rather than partisan action against the Germans. But how could they survive without reliable sources of food and shelter, in constant danger of being discovered by unfriendly peasants, and with only minimal aid from Soviet partisans operating far from their front lines? The rabbi provides a profoundly depressing sketch of the destruction of the camp during the last months of 1943. He and a handful of fellow fugitives lived to experience liberation by the Red Army in March 1944 by bribing a peasant to hide them under his barn. In Warsaw following its liberation, Rabbi Horowitz personally experienced the anti-Semitic climate that made a revival of Jewish Orthodoxy in the Polish capital all but impossible.
Boder interviewed the rabbi at the once grand but then run-down chateau at Hénonville near Paris, home of an orthodox kibbutz run jointly by the ORT and the Agudah. Note near the end the rabbi's expression of Orthodox Jewry's changed view of Zionism in the wake of the Holocaust.
From FRESH WOUNDS: EARLY NARRATIVES OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVAL by Donald L. Niewyk. Copyright (c) 1998 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu