(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this day in 1942, the Nazis shot five Jewish men from Sokal, which was then part of Poland and now belongs to the Ukraine.
During the first years of the war, the Germans had designated Sokal as a Judenstadt (literally “Jew-town”), a central destination point for all Jews expelled from nearby towns and villages. Or, as diarist Moshe Maltz put it, “A solitary island in a sea of blood.”
It was Maltz, an Orthodox Jew and native of Sokal, who recorded the executions described in this entry. He kept regular notes throughout the war about the plight of Sokal’s Jews — not a diary exactly, but a chronicle, meant for the benefit of history.
On February 24, five Jews from Sokal were taken to a place somewhere on the outskirts of town and shot. One of them was Yeshaye, son of Yankel the coachman. In 1940, during the period of Soviet occupation, Yeshaye had been a coachman working for the NKVD. Now the Gestapo called him and ordered him to turn over to them the reins of his horses. They said to him, “We’ll give you three days to deliver those reins to us. If we don’t get them by that time, we’ll have you shot.” Yeshaye thought that the Gestapo must be joking. How could he go on working as a coachman without his reins? Unfortunately for Yeshaye, the Gestapo men were in dead earnest.
Also among the five shot was Dr. Knopf, a lawyer who had converted to Christianity. The Germans had ordered him to dismiss his Gentile maid so that she could be sent to work in Germany. Knopf petitioned the Gestapo to let him have his maid back. That’s why the Germans shot him. Despite his baptism, he was simply not an Aryan. The third victim was blind Yankel, who was found guilty of buying and slaughtering a calf. Under German occupation regulations, cattle can be slaughtered only by officially approved butchers.
In October 1942, the Jews of Sokal were confined to a ghetto. The following month Maltz wrote, with the same dispassionate tone, of the murder of his fourteen-month-old daughter at the hands of the Nazis.
Later in November he escaped from the ghetto with his wife and surviving son. They had made an arrangement with a Polish woman who lived nearby, and moved into her hayloft, above the pigsty.
Eventually fourteen people from three families in all would come to live in the hayloft. All of them survived except Maltz’s sister, who died of fever while in hiding. The others staggered out into daylight, barely able to walk, when the Russians liberated the area in July 1944.
Maltz and his entire family eventually emigrated to the USA.
After his death in 1993, his diary was translated and published under the title Years of Horror, Glimpse of Hope: The Diary of a Family in Hiding. In 2009, a Pennsylvania State University professor made a prize-winning documentary based on the book, called No. 4 Street of Our Lady. You can watch it on Netflix or read an article about it here.