A Polish Jew Flees the Nazis

Capture and Escape from the Ukrainian Police


Ryfka Finkelstein [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling of her maiden name which is Sushka] was born in Poland in 1926 in a small town named Korytnica. The town is on the Bug River which borders Poland and Ukraine. She was the fourth of five children. There were three sisters, two brothers and her parents. They were a happy family. In 1939, the Second World War broke out and Poland was divided between Germany and Russia. Her town fell under the control of Russia. Life became very restricted. People were not free to go places. They needed a passport or a pass for travel and then they had to explain why they needed to take a trip. Her parents complained about the situation within the family. Her brothers were rabbinical students but had to stop studying because being a rabbi was forbidden in Russia. Finkelstein attended school with an uncertain view toward her future. In 1941, Germany attacked Russia. That is when the troubles really began. The Germans brought with them beatings, killings and forced labor on the local population. They also demanded money and gold. There was good cooperation between the Germans and the Ukrainian police. Ghettos were established. Families were forced to live together in the ghettos where they had previously owned a private home. Families sought help from non-Jewish friends. Some of those friends did help by taking in Jewish children. The children would help the adopted families by working in the fields or being shepherds. Parents were happy because their children were able to be in the open air. Schools for Jewish children were discontinued. The Jews had to wear yellow patches in the front and back making them very obvious. Life had become unbearable. It is hard to remember these times. Finkelstein is taken back to when she was a child when she recollects the horror of the Holocaust. Many things are left out for the sake of time. In May 1942, Gestapo and Ukrainian police came to Korytnica and surrounded the town. They asked for food and valuables every day. The people were poor and did not have much food to give. The police did not care. Early on the morning of 25 May, Finkelstein's father heard noise coming from the village. Her mother was no longer alive at this time. Her father told her sister Rosa [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] to go to see what the noise was about. When she returned, she told her father that people in town were saying that the Gestapo would be going through town at noon. There was still time for the family to sleep. Instead, her father told his daughter, Ryfka, that it would be better for her to leave home. She did not know where to go. Her heart was heavy. She had to obey her father. He gave her lima beans to bring with her and told her where to go. She sewed a button on her sister’s clothes before she left. Her sister asked to go with her because she was afraid that they would never meet again. People were running from town. Finkelstein outran everyone. She ran from death to life. She could not return because she would be killed. After 15 minutes, she found the house where her father had directed her. The family was still sleeping inside, but the woman woke up and spoke to Finkelstein through the window. At that time, Finkelstein also saw her cousin, Pearl. She was running and crying. She told Finkelstein that her family was dead. Shooting could be heard from the town. The woman investigated and then told Finkelstein to take off her shoes and coat and run away. She should run toward the fields and meadows. Finkelstein's head was spinning, but she ran. She saw others from town running. She went into a non-Jewish house. The Ukrainian woman told Finkelstein to take a Jewish child she had with her. If she did not, the Ukrainian woman feared she would be killed. The young Jew left the child with the woman because she felt it had a better chance of surviving. Later, Finkelstein met the child's mother. She told the child's mother that she refused to take the child. The mother said that was good. Later, Finkelstein caught up with her cousin, Pearl. They met Finkelstein's brother at a crossroads. He had stayed with a non-Jewish family that night and did not know Finkelstein had survived. As they continued to talk, they noticed that Pearl had been left behind.


Ryfka Finkelstein and her brother were fleeing [Annotator's Note: their village was being surrounded by Gestapo and Ukrainian police on 25 May 1942] when they heard Ukrainian police telling them to stop. The police were returning from executing the Jews in the village she was running to escape. Finkelstein's brother told her to run and let him be caught so that she could live and remember their family. She refused. She did not want to live by herself. She told him that he should run. While they were debating, they were apprehended by the police. They were only guilty of being Jewish but were accused of aiding Russian partisans. There were no Russian partisans then. If there were partisans, they might have helped the Jews. The Ukrainian police might not have cooperated so much with the Germans. The police asked her where she wanted to be killed and if she prefered a gentile or Jewish cemetery. She said a Jewish cemetery, but she really wanted to live a little longer. The police took the two young Jews to the station. They kept hitting her brother. She tried to protect him but got hit as well. The two Jews were accused of being spies and helping the partisans. Finkelstein's cousin, Pearl, was also captured. The police enjoyed harassing and scaring the Jews. The police said they would be taken back to their village in order to have the Judenrat confirm that they were not spies. The Judenrat were the local Jewish representatives that dealt with the Nazis for the Jewish community. That could not happen because there were no Jews left in the village. The police knew that since they took part in the killing. Along the way, they encountered more people who had been hiding in Buczacz [Annotator's Note: the Yiddish spelling for a former Polish village in what is today called Buchach, Ukraine]. Those people fled the police and Finkelstein never saw them again. Some young boys who had lost their parents in the morning killings were captured along the way. The captives were all put in a Jewish house with a cellar. There was a small window to the outside. The police rounded up another Jewish woman and put her in the cellar after taking her jewelry. Some children who had not been captured with their mother came to the cellar and wanted to be with her. She told them to go away but they would not. They were put in the cellar with their mother. There were 15 people in the cellar, mostly children. The woman with seven children in the cellar told the police that she had some hidden liquor that she would give to them if they let her and the children go free. They told her to go get the liquor and they would be set free. The woman did so but ended up being thrown back into the cellar and captivity. The captives were going through hell. Back at the police station, the captives were made to face the wall. They heard clicking of the rifles. It was a beautiful day and they expected to die. They had not done anything to anyone. Just then a wagon with older German soldiers arrived. The Germans asked why the people were being held. The response was that they were Juden or Jews. The Germans told the police to take the people into the building. They were questioned about the Russian partisans. The Jews told the Germans that there were no partisans and that the police were stealing from the people. The Germans left but the people stayed in the building. The next day, an older German came and freed the people. If not for him, the Ukrainian police would have killed the Jews. Only she and her brother survived from the 15 people held in the cellar. Her brother died in Israel and now Finkelstein is the only survivor to tell the story about their beginning in the Holocaust. They had to run and hide during that period. The danger was ever-present. Even a child could point a finger and denounce a Jew. That was enough for a policeman or Gestapo to kill them. There were righteous gentiles however and they are recognized as such. There are deniers of the Holocaust who say it never happened. There are even professors who tell their students that it did not occur. They should go to the remnants of the killing camps and concentration camps in Poland to see for themselves. They need to be educated about the truth of the Holocaust.

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