Abram Kohn & Esther Terner, July 25, 1943

Abram Kohn, Ursala Stern and Chaim Trager, July 25, 1943 (Alexander Pechersky Foundation)

A few days after their escape from Sobibór, Esther Terner (later Raab), Samuel (Shmul) Lerer (Lehrer) and Avrum (Abram) Kohn chanced on a farmhouse near the forest, and approached it to ask for food. This was the first time they had done something like this. They did so with trepidation and did not let their guard down even for a minute. As they discovered, these were not prosperous farms (like those in Western Europe), and the inhabitants lived in a state of constant fear. Yet despite their initial succcess, the Jewish fugitives soon changed their ways. They simply did not trust the “primitive” peasants and did not want to take any unnecessary risks, so they resorted to terror tactics.



The two men waited at the side of hut, while Esther knocked on the door. It was soon opened by an old farmer. “Can you help us, please?” Esther pleaded desperately.

“How many are you?” the farmer asked.

“Three. Two men and myself.”

“Did anyone see you coming here?”

“No,” Esther said. “We just came out of the woods nearby.”

The farmer looked around to see if anyone was watching. “Okay. Come inside,” he said quickly. “There’s no one here, but my son and I.”

Esther walked in and looked around the small, one-room hut. A cow stood at one end of the kitchen, and behind some curtains in the corner were the beds where the man and his son slept. The farmer led them to the table and invited the three to sit down.

“You must be from Sobibor [Sobibór],” he guessed. When Esther nodded, he added, “It’s incredible what you people did there. You did well. Very well.”

Esther, Samuel, and Avrum exchanged glances. They were surprised to discover that their host approved of their actions.

“Can we have some water?” Esther asked.

“Certainly.” The farmer hurriedly brought a bucket full of water to the table. Esther gulped down several cups one after the other, trying to quench her overwhelming thirst.

“I’d love to serve you a regular meal,” the farmer said, “bur I can’t right now. Today is Sunday, and my son and I always go to church. If we don’t show up, there will be many questions. Let me give you some bread and milk, and my son will take you to the barn outside. When we come back, we’ll bring you in here again. I’ll try my best to help you then.”

The three could hardly believe their good fortune. Not only had they happened upon a farmer who was trul decent and kind, nut he was even offering to serve them an entire meal!

The farmer gave them two loaves of bread and a bottle of milk. His son led them outside to the barn, and they sat down on a pile of straw. They quickly divided the food that the gracious farmer had provided and wolfed it down hungrily. As they munched on the bread, they heard the farmer and his son leave the farm with a horse and wagon.

By midday, the two men had still not returned. The three didn’t know how far the nearest church was, and they realized that the trip to the church and back could last almost an entire day. Still, as the hours passed, they couldn’t help having some doubts.

“Who knows if they really went to church?” Samuel said. “They may have gone to summon the Gestapo.”

“You’re probably right,” Avrum agreed. “They’ll be here before long and arrest us.”

Although Esther realized that they might indeed be in danger, she was too tired to move. It was such a relief to lie on the dry straw after spending several days on the wet forest ground.

“What will happen, will happen,” she announced. “All the muscles in my body are aching, and I must rest. Besides, there is a slight possibility that the farmer was being truthful, and if so, I want to wait for that meal that he promised to serve. Do whatever you like, but I’m not moving anywhere. I’m staying right here.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Samuel said skeptically. “I’m not so sure, but I think I’ll stay, too.”

It was late afternoon when they finally spotted the farmer’s wagon in the distance. As it came closer, the three let out a sigh of relief when they saw that it was not accompanied by any other vehicles. There were no Gestapo or Nazi soldiers following the farmer back to his house.

When they reached the farm, the two men went into their little hut. Only after it was completely dark outside did the farmer’s son finally come out to fetch them. “Come on,” he said amiably. “We’ve prepared some food for you.”

When Esther, Samuel, and Avrum walked in, their mouths watered at the sight of the food that lay on the table. There was bread, milk, and a thick borscht that had cabbage and other vegetables in it.

“Sit down. Eat,” the farmer said with a smile.

They did not need a second invitation. After the months in Sobibor and the last few days in the forest, it seemed almost incredible to be sitting down at a table and eating a meal like regular human beings. …

“Thank you. You are very kind,” Esther said. “Before we go, though, I must take care of my injury.” [Her face had been wounded by a German bullet during her escape from Sobibór—M.P.]

The farmer gave Esther a bucket of water. …

“You must put something on that gash,” the farmer said to Esther … “You can’t just leave it untreated. I don’t have any medication, but I can give you some lard from a pig that was recently slaughtered.”

“Lard? From a pig?” asked Esther, trying to hide her disgust. It was obviously used as a primitive form of treatment, but Esther was repulsed at the idea of putting some on her face.

“We use it to treat lacerations,” the farmer explained. “It always works wonders.”

Esther realized that she had to do something to help the cut heal. She couldn’t risk letting it become infected. So stifling any words of protest, she let the farmer apply some to her would. Surprisingly, it did work remarkably well and the area never became infected.

When they were ready to leave, the farmer packed up some cheese, a couple of onions, a bottle of milk, and several loaves of bread. He gave it to the three grateful runaways and ordered his son to take them into the woods. …

The farmer’s son took them some distance into the forest and wished them good luck before turning back. The three walked on for a little while, but soon they had to stop and find a hiding place to spend the day. They resumed their trek on Monday night and then again on Tuesday.

By Wednesday night they had depleted their food supply, and they decided to knock on another farmer’s door and ask for food. They waited until they found a secluded farmhouse that was not surrounded by other huts. They agreed to present themselves as partisans, hoping that the farmer would be too afraid to argue with them.

Esther had a large flashlight in her pocket that she had taken with her from Sobibor. A short chain was attached to the flashlight, and it had to be pulled repeatedly for the bulb to light up. Much like a lawnmower, it made a grinding noise as it started up.

With the two men beside her, Esther knocked loudly at the door. Although her heart was racing in fear, she tried to put a ruthless, self-assured expression on her face. She kept her hand in her pocket, and when the farmer opened the door, she moved the flashlight around to make the bulge obvious. She pulled on the chain several times, frightening the man with its loud sound.

“Please, don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” the farmer begged.

“We need some food,” Esther said gruffly.

“Yes, yes. Just a moment.”

As he handed them some bread and vegetables, Esther asked for directions, again giving the name of a village …

Esther and the two men continued on their journey, trying to move as quickly as they could. …

Because Esther wanted to be absolutely certain that she had come to the right place, she decided to knock on the tenant’s door.

Esther rapped loudly several times until a man opened it. Like before, she put her hand in her pocket and starting up the flashlight. “I’m with a big partisan group,” she said harshly. “We won’t hurt you. We just have something to settle with your landlord. Where is the owner? Is he at the farm across the street?”

“N-No,” the man stuttered. “His old mother lives there. Sh-She’s senile. He comes here every two weeks to visit and bring her provisions.”

“Is that so?” Esther asked suspiciously. “Are you telling the truth?”

“Yes, yes. I am not lying. Please believe me.” He looked at her fearfully. “Wait one moment,” he said, trying to placate her. “Let me bring you some bread.”

“When he returned with the promised food, Esther eagerly grabbed it out of his hands. The man closed the door, and she rejoined Samuel and Avrum. …

After dark, Esther and the men agreed to leave the farm and scavenge for food.

They left the barn and walked down the dirt road to one of the neighboring farmhouses. When they knocked at the door, it was opened by a small, elderly woman.

“Please, do not hurt me,” she pleaded fearfully. “Here, let me give you some bread and a bottle of milk.”

Esther took the food and thanked the woman. The three made their way back to the barn and again climbed up to the loft. Their mouths watered in expectation as they sat down and prepared to eat their humble meal.[1]

[1] Shaindy Perl. (2004). Tell the World: The Story of the Sobibor, 167–72, 176. Revolt.Lakewood, New Jersey: Israel Bookshop.
Esther Raab, Judka Terner, Samuel Lehrer, and Avrum (Abraham) Kohn were later sheltered by the Marcyniuk family. See Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, vol. 4: Poland, Part 1, 491–92; Testimony of Jan Marcyniuk, Archive of the Jewish Historical Institute (Warsaw), no. 301/6814

Mark Paul (2021). A tangled web. Polish-Jewish relations in wartime northeastern Poland and the aftermath (Part three). Toronto: PEFINA Press.