Ropienka, 24 March 1995
Honorable Mr. Ambassador!
In connection with the recent 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where a huge number of Israelites were annihilated, I would like to point out that there are more execution sites in this nation, although they are never mentioned. These are not only Auschwitz and Majdanek.
To honor and remember those murdered in our municipality, I will now describe how they perished.
The Ropienka municipality is located in the outer Bieszczady, on the right bank of the San river. Before the war, it was inhabited by more than one hundred persons of Jewish nationality, who were on good or even friendly terms with the remaining residents.
Under the Soviet occupation, “the rich ones” were divested of their possessions and prohibited from private commercial activities. Rumors were indeed heard of persecutions under the German occupation – especially the persecutions of the Jews – but nobody would have conceived of a mass annihilation of innocent people. So, after the outbreak of the Soviet-German war, not many individuals fled with the Russians. All the families stayed put.
One night in March 1942, a Gestapo man from Sanok, nicknamed “bloody Bäeker”, came to Ropienka and executed the poor Jews in their own homes: he killed the families of Grinszweld, a tailor, Neche, a shoemaker, and Szprecher, a shop clerk, 17 people altogether. The peasants were herded, the bodies were loaded on carts and then buried in a cattle graveyard behind the Ropienka Orthodox church. Terror reigned in Ropienka. In August of that year, a Todt organization team came to Ropienka in a van. They headquartered in the bushes behind the community center. The area was cordoned off with screens more than two-and-a-half-meter high, and those snooping were driven off. Two days later, the entire municipality was taken over by the German gendarmerie and Ukrainian police. All the Jewish residents of the municipality were driven to the community center and kept under guard all the time, with nothing to eat or drink. Around 4 p.m., Bäeker and his commando of murderers came, and then 34 people were executed among those bushes. Only Szymon Haberman, a baker, managed escape through a window, and Rachela Wołoska hid in the prompt box. They fled from the area so I do not know if they survived. Adolf Szterbach, a dentist working in the oil pit’s infirmary, survived. I worked as his assistant. Grela Fajczewicz’s family, the wealthiest one, was taken away, only I do not know whether it was to Sanok, where the son owned a tenement, which is still there, or to the extermination camp in Załuże. In April 1944, the butchers from Todt came again, dug up the remains of the Jews murdered behind the church, loaded them into containers, took them away, and then leveled the ground and masked it.
Installed on the community center is a plaque financed by the local community to commemorate this crime. The execution site is now the municipal cemetery, and the spot where the murdered used to be buried is now an empty square. Although the remains of the murdered are no longer there, I believe this is where an obelisk or a stone with a proper plaque should be installed to commemorate this tragedy: in the honor of the fallen, as a caution, and as a symbol of the disgrace of the perpetrators.
Because I was a witness to these events, I felt duty bound to inform you, Sir, about them.
My kindest regards,