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Should They Have Tried To Escape?

May 9, 2009 | by Sam Halpern

A survivor explains that freedom was not worth the horrible price.

Arie and I often spoke of escape. The simple reason we did not try, until the very end, was that we did not want to save two lives at the expense of scores of others. We had seen what often happened when other Jews escaped and their flight was discovered.

Once, a landsman from a town not far from Chorostkow, ran away while working on the road. The next day, Hauptsturmfuhrer Rebel came into the camp and ordered everyone into the yard. It was raining and very cold, but we were made to stand there, without moving, from five until seven o'clock in the morning. Then Rebel stood in front of us in the center of the yard, facing the inmates.

"A man ran away today," he thundered. "You will all pay the price."

We were frightened for we knew how the Germans punished.

"You, you, you, and you," the hauptsturmfuhrer pointed at four Jews randomly. "Himmel commando, shoot them!"

A Ukrainian police officer, only too happy to oblige, dragged the men from the line and shot them right in front of us with one bullet each to the head. They wanted to frighten us, and they succeeded.

"If any of you think of running away, the blood of your fellow Jews will be on your head," the SS officer screamed at us.

These monsters actually had the audacity to blame us for trying to save our lives. In the end, no matter how twisted this logic was, Jews would die if we ran away, and I said to Arie that I would never consider escaping: "I will not have others killed because of my decision." Arie agreed. He too did not want to live with the death of other Jews on his conscience.

Of course, when I was wildly galloping with Chestnut in an open field or thick forest, I thought of running away. Who wouldn't have, in my situation? However easy it would have been for me to escape, I did not. I could not stand the thought that others might die because of a selfish act of mine; then too, I had no place to go. It might be argued that in the end almost everyone was killed, and so my escaping would not have made a difference. It is true that almost everyone was killed. But that was because the German barbarians were obsessed with their notions of racial purity. No one was killed because Sam Halpern decided to look out for himself alone. For me that has made all the difference.

from "Darkness and Hope", (

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