The Moses of Rovno. July 13, 1942 ()

This is the compelling, true history of a German Christian who risked his life many times to save Jewish victims of the Nazis. Herman "Fritz" Graebe was also the only German citizen who volunteered to testify against the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials. For his courage he was hounded out of Germany. He came to America, where he lives today in San Francisco.

But Fritz Graebe was no stranger to courage. During World War II he was a structural engineer assigned to the Ukraine by the Railroad Administration of the Third Reich. Shortly after his arrival, he witnessed with horror the cold blooded murder of nearly 1,500 Jewish men by the Nazi exter mination squads. From that day on. he began building a sophisticated rescue network that protected the lives of hundreds of Jewish refugees in a dozen Ukrainian cities and villages.

With great daring, and with the skills of a master actor, he eluded informers and Nazi infiltrators. In the middle of a mass extermination, he stood pistol-to-pistol with an S.S. commander and walked away, taking 100 Jewish workers to safety with him. He regularly forged work papers, internal passports, and food ration cards. At the end of the War. he took scores of Jews in his own train through Nazi-occupied Poland, into Germany, and finally across the Allied lines to freedom.

There is a memorial to Graebe in Israel for being one of the "Righteous Christians"; this book completes that memorial.

Douglas K. Hunekehas captured the tense drama, the moral vision, the great courage and profound compassion of this extraordinary man. The inspiring story of Fritz Graebe gives us new insights into the lives of those few daring people whose acts of kindness in the midst of the horror of the Holocaust defied danger and death and gave hope for all humanity.



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A crucial incident took place in Rovno in July 1942, less than a year after Graebe's arrival in the Ukraine The incident shows the complexities and severe dangers that faced the Jews and their protector in the Ukraine, Fritz Graebe Graebe and Otto Koeller, the Reich Commissioner for Jewish Affairs, wasted no time in becoming adversaries, working for exactly opposite purposes Their displeasure with each other was rarelv masked but because he outranked Graebe Koeller was a very real threat

On July 11, 1942, Fritz Graebe paid one of his regular visits to the Jung office in Rovno While visiting one of the building projects, the site foreman for the Jung interests in Rovno, Fritz Emsporn, confided to Graebe that word had reached him of a "Jewish Action" scheduled for July 13 The Action, planned and promoted by SS Major Dr Puetz, was to eliminate all the Jews in the Rovno region, including the nearly one hundred twenty Jews working for Jung Einsporn had received his information from a loose-tongued officer in the Wehrmacht When Graebe heard the names of those associated with the Action, he knew that he had to act quickly

Recognizing the great risk in what he was about to do to delay the Action, Graebe directed Einsporn to "order our Jewish workers and the women to travel to Sdolbonov today, at noon, and have them bring all of their belongings '

"We can't do that without causing trouble in the ghetto" was the foreman's reply But the order stood, and the Rovno Jews began packing Rumors of an Action had been flying around the Rovno ghetto for several days, and the departure of the one hundred twenty workers in the Rovno Jung labor column threw the ghetto into hysteria The Jung workers arrived at Mizocz the first night Their departure led to an explosive confrontation between the Judenrat and Dr Puetz "We must know," they demanded "Is there an Action planned^ Puetz, who knew nothing of Graebes order or of the departure of the column, demanded an explanation "Why do you come to me with this idiotic question?"

"Because the engineer Graebe, of the Jung firm, has withdrawn all of his workers and taken them to Sdolbonov," the Judenrat members replied

Puetz adamantly denied to the Jewish leaders that there would be an Action and sent them away He then ordered the immediate arrest of the foreman, the business manager, and all of Graebe s Polish personnel The business manager, who was able to escape arrest, made his way by night to Sdolbonov, where Graebe now was, and reported the arrests In spite of the arrests, Graebe relied on normally well-informed sources that he had among the police, they had not heard of a planned Action, and Graebe was soon convinced that the Action had really been onlv a rumor He knew that fear spread quickly in the ghetto and that these rumors regularly rushed like wildfire through the oppressed people After consulting with Maria, it was decided that Graebe would drive to Mizocz and explain the situation to the Rovno workers, who were still there

The frightened workers were very reluctant to believe their boss and return to Rovno Graebe calmed his younger workers by promising them that he would protect them and their parents if their lives were endangered by an Action The next morning the entire Jung column returned to the work site in Rovno, their arrival was as clearly noted as their departure had been After the column arrived in Rovno, Fritz paid a visit there to Dr Puetz

FVetending to be confused and inconvenienced by the arrest of his senior staff, Graebe explained to Puetz that all his workers had returned to their home base for the routinely scheduled delousing

I can't have a typhus outbreak Last year, as you know, thousands of people died in the typhus epidemic I must have all of my workers if I am to complete my assignments for the Reich, so I schedule regular treatments for them

Puetz's response was comforting to the worried engineer "Herr Graebe really! An Action now would be absurd You need your people the railways need people, the military needs people, that sort of Action just now would be foolishly contrary to the best interests of the Reich

Graebe was in fact being misled by the smooth, diplomatic comments of the SS major Still in Rovno, he returned to his local office there to find another SS man waiting with an order for him to appear immediately before the regional commissioner for Rovno, Dr Behr iwho was not with the SS) When Fritz arrived at the SS headquarters he was taken not to Behr, but to his deputy, Lieutenant [Stabsleiter Beck, whom Graebe remembered from the Rovno Action the previous November The engineer repeated his story about scheduled delousings and expressed his concern over an outbreak of typhus Graebe explained, "1 cannot stress enough that we are on a tight time schedule, regulated by direct orders from Berlin Any disease or Action will cause delays, and delavs will mean investigations by Berlin and trouble for us all

"Herr Graebe, who issued your orders from Berlin" May 1 see them, pleasen" Beck requested He thereafter repeatedly internipted Graebe's argument attempting to learn the office or the names ot those in Berlin who had issued the engineer's orders

Fritzs response was always the same "It is not possible for me to divulge the source of my ordersthey are confidential and come from the highest authorities ." Then with a knowing glance and a wave of his finger, he warned, Besides, it is better for you that you not know about Berlin."

Beck persisted with his inquiry, asking Graebe what unit in Berlin had issued his orders and to whom in Berlin he was responsible Graebe again evaded him Then, for inexplicable reasons Beck leaned over the table and in tones of whispered confidence warned Fritz, "Tonight at ten there will be an Action, but you may not do anything at all "

Til withdraw all of my people, now, and return them to Sdolbonov," said Graebe

You must not do that'" replied the now-frightened officer, "you'll create a panic and the., everyone will die I'll give you a signed document that will safeguard your employees You may come back in two hours and pick up your people Believe me, they will be safe

Beck gave Fritz the signed document and asked him to leave Rovno immediately He did not trust the document now that he had discovered Puetzs duplicity, but Graebe complied, leaving Rovno for a hasty consultation with Maria at the Sdolbonov office Maria and Fritz considered the document, the consuming violence an Action would involve and the dishonesty of the Reich command There was no choice for Graebe "I am going back to Rovno tonight," he said What" You can't do that!"

I must I promised our workers that I would protect them They might panic and all be killed by the militia, who don't give a damn anyway

"You're mad1" Maria cried "Do you hear me"1 You're mad1 They are already shooting people and they wont hesitate to shoot you, too

Maria's response did not faze the highly principled German, who nevertheless knew that his secretary was correct

Word of Graebe's decision raced through the Jewish workers in the Sdolbonov office They fully appreciated the severe risk that then em ployer was about to take A few stopped him to express their concern for him and for his safety Mixed with their expressions of compassion were reasonable concerns for the safety of the Sdolbonov staff and the overall rescue effort "What if they shoot the engineer" they asked themselves "What if he dieswhat will happen to us and to the others" He cannot go there and risk everything "

For his part, Graebe would have none of that fear and hysteria He had given his word to the workers and he would be there to protect them If he feared anything at all, it was the possibility that the Action would move from Rovno to Sdolbonov He directed Maria to stav in the office by the phone and to avoid the city, warning her "If the shooting starts here there will be no protection for anyone and I must have someone on the switchboard "

Graebe's decision was further complicated by the fact that Elisabeth and Friedel were visiting Sdolbonov at that time on | specially arranged family holiday When she had arrived two months earlier in May, Elisabeth had witnessed the results of the hanging of a Jewish carpenter Otherwise, she knew little about the mistreatment of the Jewish people Fritz had intentionally withheld the full scope of the suffering from Elisabeth because he did not want her to be implicated if his efforts were discovered He wanted no accidental slips of the tongue that might later betray his work But now he had to tell her nearly everything, in large part because he feared that he might die, and he did not want to leave his family ignorant of his mission. Fritz explained to Elisabeth the plight of his workers in Rovno and the promise that he had made to them when they left from Mizocz to return to Rovno Her response was typical of her "Fritz, you have no choice to make You gave your word to those poor, suffering people and now you must keep your promise 1 ask only that you arrange safe passage to Solingen for Friedel and me

The long awaited family reunion was ending prematurely, but somehow no excuses or justifications seemed necessary Graebe went back to his office to complete some details, and in the pressured moments before his departure for Rovno, he retreated from his worried staff to the quiet of his study and drafting room There he wrote a rough copy of a letter authorizing the safe passage of his family He also drafted a note to his wife, a note that Maria would type and hold until the results of his efforts were known

My dear Elisabeth, if you receive this letter, fate will have caught up with me Maria has the letter authorizing the train trip for you and Friedel God bless youI love you and Friedel 1 am thanklul that you told me that I could not forsake the people so 1 did not desert them in their time of need

Fritz Graebe walked out of his office renewed and ready With his coat under his arm, he gave several orders to the office staff and left the letters on Maria's desk A deep silence fell over the office, all eyes moved with each step of the engineer as he resolutely strode toward the door and an uncertain destiny in Rovno Those who were present recall that the eyes of nearly everyone in the office were clouded with tears Ab-sentmindedly, Maria picked up his letters as his hand pulled the door shut Her eves scanned the page and her sobs broke the silence "Oh, no!" she cried out

This released the cries of the others Graebe walked to the house where Friedel and Elisabeth were waiting Graebe and his wife went into the bedroom, leaving Friedel in the darkened living room A soft rav of light seeped into the room From a crack in the bedroom door Friedel strained to hear a word, any word, that might reveal the situation but he could detect only the urgency and tension in the hushed voices A bag was packed, then the two adults emerged from the bedroom Almost oblivious to their son, they continued talking and making preparations for Graebe's departure Finally, the moment arrived Motionless and silhouetted against the dark window, Graebe slowly removed Becks paper from his billfold and held it before his wife

"My head hangs on this," he said solemnlv

A warm, gentle embrace, tears, and the fragile prospects for the future were all placed in perspective by Frau Graebe s deeply held religious values

"You must go to them now,' she said "Try everything and God will protect you "

Friedel quietly watched as his mother paced the floor ITien his fathers parting words created a blended emotion of fear and hope

"I will be carefulfor you and for Friedel I love you

Later that night Friedel was cradled in his mothers arms Pretending to be asleep, he rested in her arms, recalling, ewer and over, the ominous words that his father had spoken

Maria and Fritz had devised a plan He would go to Rovno with his coachman and two horses He would send back a message with the coachman if there was danger, and Maria would then dispatch trucks for the workers and their belongings But if the driver failed to return or returned without news it was to be the signal to commence a larger effort Contrary to his normal style, Fritz decided to take an automatic pistol with him He knew the Ukrainian militiamen were baital and unpredictable The superior firepower of an automatic weapon might prove to be the one thing that could change the situation in his favor, although he had no intention of firing it unless lives hung in the balance

From the time he arrived in Rovno that evening until nearly six o'clock the next morning, Fritz stood in the street at a spot where his workers could see him from their hiding places in two separate houses He rea sorted that if there were trouble, the desperate refugees might take flight and further risk their lives His presence at that location would calm them A symphony of slaughter echoed through the city all night Bui lets whistled and ricocheted off brick walls, grenades flew like wingless bats, exploding and sending fragments smashing against glass and splintering wood, tnrcks filled with guards darted in and out of alleys, careening frantically, tires screaming, and people howled, the final human sound in this, their requiem

The "Jewish Actions" were studies in mayhem and chaos People who in normal circumstances might never harm anyone suddenly succumbed to bloodlust and hatred The Ukrainian militiamen went from house to house, smashing doors, breaking windows, carelessly trampling on furniture and personal things, while indiscriminately beating children, women, and old men with the butts of rifles Once a group of militiamen came to the door of one of the houses where Graebe's Jews were hidden Graebe dashed toward the house shouting at them, but because he spoke no Ukrainian none of them understood him

Fritz has never forgotten that horrifying scene

It was a terrible moment before the confrontation with them What was I to do1 spoke no Ukrainian and they spoke no (ierman As they prepared to bash in the barricaded doors I decided I had no other alternative 1 pulled the automatic pistol from my coat and made it very clear to them that I would shoot unless they went away They seemed to understand the universal language of violence, but I was terribly frightened I was certain 1 would be forced to fire the gun and people would be hurt The Ukrainians had the same fear because they saw that mine was an automatic weapon and theirs were not.

This confrontation occurred at about three in the morning It was the impetus that caused Graebe finally to scribble a note to Maria and send it off with the coachman The militia group had rushed the next house, smashing doors and throwing a grenade through a window No one survived that raid It was now only a matter of time before Maria would have the trucks en route to Rovno

Many of the militiamen behaved like sadists It was more than blood-lust that led them to seek out the youngest children. They seemed almost gleeful whenever they found a mother with an infant Ripping the child from its mothers arms, they would rush from the house, holding the screaming infant by a leg Then thev ritualistically would whirl the child several times overhead and smash it against a pillar From his vantage point Graebe ^aw such acts of terror repeated again and again in front of terror-stricken mothers There was no way that one man could stop the carnage Graebe watched everything, recording in his methodical memory the incidents and the identities of the instigators and the perpetrators

Fritz Graebe was well known among the lews As he stood guard at his street corner station, hundreds of them passed, prodded by militia and police Those who recognized the engineer called out to him, pleading for his intervention To save one in this column would have been to jeopardize the one hundred and twenty in hiding The dilemma was worse than that faced by King Solomon when two women claimed to be the mother of the same child. But wisdom in Rovno, dispensed in front of machine guns, was not wisdom from a throne Hundreds marched past Graebe en route to the collection point and on to death

By five in the morning, Fritz was physically and emotionally exhausted The confrontations with the militiamen, the incomprehensible brutalities, and the futile pleading had drained him of energy For the victims, death was an escape from the terror Mysteriously narcotized by their own violence, the guards too escaped the trauma of their actions Only the engineer could not forget the horrifying scenes In a state of foggy exhaustion he took a vow never to forget, and to seek justice for the murdered The images of that night remained with him for the rest of his life

By six o'clock, two of Graebes workers and the foreman, Einsporn, from the Rovno office slipped past guards into the ghetto They hardly recognized the exhausted engineer

"Herr Graebe, you look terrible You must rest Go to the office and have some coffee

"You are right," he replied "Stand here1 Whatever happens, don t move away, not even for a minute1 One of you come get me immediately if the militia comes

The office, which was four or five hundred yards from the corner, provided a momentary sanctuary for the engineer He collapsed into a chair and quickly dozed in a fitful nap His mind raced through the scenes of devastation, but he could not wake himself to escape the dreams He was startled awake as a German worker burst through the door The Action had begun at the house where Graebe s Jews were hiding

"Come quickly! Some of the Jews were looking out of the slatted windows on the first floor The militia spotted them They have been dragged out and taken to the collection point!

Seven of the Jewish workers were being taken to the center of town Graebe flew out the door and threw a revolver taken from the office to the foreman, shouting, "I command you to shoot anyone who tries to break into this house again' My people are not to be touched You are responsible for everything." With that he ran in the direction of the town square, hoping to stop the militia before they arrived

Nothing was the same in Rovno The familiar landmarks had been reduced to rubble Broken windows and smashed doors, broken furniture, and bodies in bloodstained nightshirts all littered the streets And at the base of the stained lamppost lay a child whose blood heralded the arrival of the angel of death

At the collection point near the fountain were hundreds of lews, mostly men, squatting with their hands behind their heads It was a macabre scene, with the hunched shadows of the victims, and F)r Puetz, like a devil in one of Dante's scenes, standing with one hand on his holstered revolver and a whip darting carelessly about from the other His raised eyebrows signaled his astonishment as the interloping engineer shouted, "Dr. Puetz!" Graebe stressed the title, hoping to control the dangerous situation

"I must remind you of what you told me yesterday! Exactly the opposite has happened "

"Why are you here, Graebe?"

"Why did you lie to me, Dr Puetz^ I tell you now what I told you before I need all of my workers 1 want them back now1"

Puetzs response was almost inaudible "No When the soul of a man has been brutalized by such scenes of slaughter when every muscle is exhausted, when death alone prevails, when there is no help, no compassion, and no end in sightwhere does a person find the strength to go on?

From some untapped reserve of energy, Fritz Graebe centered himself OH this dusty, public stage, commanding the situation With a firm, stately gesture, Graebe took out Lieutenant Beck's signed document and handed it to F\ietz It was cold water in the face of a raging man

Puetz trembled and screamed, "No! No1 I cannot release anyone who is here I start Actions, but I am powerless to stop them These people shall be transferred to another location."

Graebe stood motionless, silent He stared straight at Puetz, his mind racing Another lie. Transfers mean death J must have my people

Puetz could not stand the silence As if he were reading Graebe's mind, he shouted, "No, damn it' Get away from me "

Then, as if his personality had been transformed, Puetz smiled Slowly he began pulling his revolver from its holster. Graebe cautiously mimicked Puetz, allowing his automatic to rest visibly at his hip

The gun hung limp in Puetzs hand at his side, his finger inched slowly toward the trigger For several minutes, the silent confrontation continued, observed by the squatting victims, many of whom understood German But Graebe and Puetz waged a silent battle For uncounted seconds that lasted as long as hours, they stood face to face, still as statues. Puetz was attracted to death as much as Graebe was attracted to life. For Puetz, these Jews were merely things, objects of inconvenience and derision Puetz lived, thrived because of his unlimited hate and his insatiable appetite for homicide

Almost imperceptibly Puetz's finger moved into the trigger guard Graebe's eye caught the subtle motion, and he began to move his automatic weapon up from his side His voice filled with madness, Puetz ripped at the silence

Nobody gets out of here!"

Puetz spotted motion in Graebe's arm and began to level his gun

Graebe thought to himself, What a damn fool I am One oj us must die. There is too much tension. Too many guns. I know that if he shoots me, I can take him with me. too

Whether intimidated by his opponent's weapon, or anxious to get on with the killing, or convinced of Graebe's will, Puetz dropped the gun to his side, leaving his finger in the trigger

Graebe' Go get the rest of your Jews, take them with you and leave '

"Puetz, I want my craftsmenthere, these seven men "

The ploy failed The choice before Graebe had once been Solomon's seven men or more than one hundred? Graebe's mind raced, there was no choice, again Then he made a final counterdemand

"I'll go, but you must send with me an SS guard, because the Ukrainians don't understand me, they are drunk with killing and I cannot protect myself and my workers from them

The demand was honored but not without a condition "You have vour people," said Puetz "Get out of Rovno by eight o'clock this morning. If you are not gone, my men will bring you and your workers back here "

The whip, which had rested inertly in Puetz's left hand, suddenly leaped to life, slicing the air and pointing to the victims who were squatting, as Puetz snarled, "By eight o'clock, Graebe, or it will be your problem

The two adversaries parted, one to kill, the other to search for the strength and the means to escape Graebe turned and slowly walked over to his seven workers. Now, at this moment, the fast-approaching deadline was less important than the momentary visual embrace that was to come Graebe's eyes must have shown the pain and powerlessness that he felt so intensely Every other memory of that nightthe bloodied infants, the beaten women, the pillaged citywas pushed back as Graebe's eyes settled on each man, making a covenant with each of the seven: / will never forget Never!

Their eyes caught his unspoken message, and there was no recrimination The men seemed to understand, to accept Slowly, intentionally, Graebe walked away, pausing near each man Not one protested Never had Graebe known such silence, such pathos, such fear No one moved, no one spoke, as the German engineer walked away

He felt that perhaps this was the quietest moment in the Holocaust

It was already seven o'clock in the morning Fritz ran back looking lor the coachman whom he had dispatched to Sdolbonov with the note for Maria hours earlier When he arrived back at the safe house, there was no truck, no coach, only his German staff standing guard on the corner Time was now critical, with less than an hour remaining before I )r Puetz sent his SS goons to clear the house The engineer's usually clear mind was clouded by exhaustion and the encounter with Puetz fighting his sense of impotence and emptiness, Graebe stopped to think, to formulate a new strategy He decided to march his Jews on foot out of Rov no and on to Sdolbonov, in the hope of meeting the trucks and coach en route The Jung workers began lining up outside as Fritz explained the urgent situation to them. Suddenly tear-struck, one of the men hurled a challenge

"1 thought you promised to protect us Have you forgotten your word already?"

There was not time to argue and no energy to waste "Shut up1 Don't make me lose my nerve

A number of women who had been hidden in the other house arrived, and their presence seemed to break the tension, allowing Graebe to reassert his purpose The twelve-mile march began without further incident

Maria, stationed at the Jung switchboard in Sdolbonov, had not received a phone communication since seven o'clock the previous evening All had seemed well at the time, so the engineer had promised to call again at eight Worried that the call might not come across the line, Maria began calling Rovno at seven-thirty When she finally managed to get a line through, she was informed that all communications were suspended on the order of the Gebietskommtssar This was the dreaded signal that an Action had started Throughout the night Maria maintained a silent, fearful vigil She was poised to act quickly, but the catalytic call never came, nor did a coachman bearing instructions arrive Throughout the night she imagined the scenes at Rovno, and then she imagined herself delivering the letter and papers to Frau Craebe

It also was a sleepless night for Elisabeth Craebe All night long she paced the floor of the house, trying not to disturb her son. She feared for her husband's safety, but also for the well-being of the Jews whom he loved

At seven o'clock in the morning a delivery man stopped briefly and confirmed Maria's worst fear The Jews in the Rovno ghetto were being killed The Action had started hours earlier By eight, she was frantic What could have happened to Herr Graebe and to the one hundred twenty workers^ Finally the familiar sound of the wagon and horse team brought Maria out of her worried imaginings She raced out of the office to meet the coach

"Where are they? What has happened to the engineer?" she asked

The mumbling driver fussed over the harness and reins as he described the scenes in Rovno They are killing the Jews, even the children, in the streets,' he said

As the coachman went on detailing the horror in Rovno, Maria noted that his horses were neither lathered nor panting "When did vou leave Rovno"' she demanded

"Oh, maybe it was about three or four this morning I don t really recall "

Maria exploded at the revelation "Where have you been^ It takes little more than an hour to get here Why didn't you come directly here? What did Herr Craebe say to you?" Her questions flew at the bewildered and cowering driver

"All Graebe said was, Quick1 Quick1' But what does he know/ Where have you been all these hours?"

"Herr Graebe doesn't know horses You can t wake them in the middle of the night and expect them to work When I got out of the sound of the shooting in Rovno, I let them graze and water They need good care or they don't work "

Only at that moment did the coachman reach into his pocket and deliver to Maria the letter from her boss

Maria could not contain her rage as she ripped open the note It was already two hours late Her screams startled the horses

"Oh, my God' We must go get them before it's too late How could you do this?" She imagined the plight of Graebe and the Jewish workers His mission may have succeeded only to jail because of these stupid horses/ must gtt to them By the time she had received the note, all the trucks that could have been used to rescue the people in Rovno were out on the road projects five miles north Worse, the trucks could have gone off on any of three different roads Maria jumped on the wagon

"Let's go, we must find the trucks now "

The driver balked because he felt that his horses had labored enough for one day Maria grabbed the reins and threatened to go on without him Cursing her, he finally started the beasts on the search for the trucks

Maria attributes it to an act of God that they turned onto the first road and within a few miles located the convoy of trucks When they reached them, a surly foreman proved to be uncooperative Maria told him that he must obey Herr Graebe's orders, to which the foreman retorted that his orders came from another division and not from the Railroad Administration With patience spent and time racing to I po tentially awesome end, Maria called out, "Who drives this truck? Come forward, now'"

A Jewish boy with yellow patches on his coat jumped out ot a ditch and volunteered to drive

Take off that jacket and hide it under something in the truck "

As Maria and the boy drove toward Rovno, they passed Ukrainian farmers carrying their loads to market The fresh morning air and the tall corn reminded Maria of prewar Poland It was a rare but momentary escape from the reality of war and the urgency of her mission Behind the truck came the coachman and horse team moving almost as fast as the dilapidated truck

While the coachman had been meandering into Sdolbonov with the urgent message, Graebe had arranged his workers into a column An SS sergeant with four militiamen had been assigned by Puetz to escort the column to the city limits Women were placed at the center in case an SS patrol stopped the group and caused trouble During an Action it was common practice for the SS units to range around an area looking for Jews who had escaped or who traveled unwittingly through an area without papers Graebe anticipated a confrontation between the column and such I unit For the moment, though, Fritz had to worry about the Ukrainian militiamen blocking his exit from the Rovno ghetto It was obvious that Puetz's escort would do no good, they found the entire spectacle amusing At about seven-thirty, with no sign of the truck, Graebe placed his German staff at the rear of the column and he took the lead position The march began with Graebe holding his automatic pistol in Iront of himself at shoulder level, pointing the way to freedom and warning any marauders Ukrainians were killing every lew that passed their rifle sights The automatic pistol was a clear enough warning for these murderers Garelutly, quickly, the column scurried down streets filled with rubble from the Action Finally, the column reached the intersection of the road to Kwasilow Fritz could lower his weary, trembling arm and holster his weapon They marched as fast as they could really a slow walk, because people were exhausted and starvedtoward Kwasilow, the westernmost boundary of the Rovno region, and on to Sdolbonov and immunity from Dr Puetz

Graebes group trudged through the morning heat under the beautiful skies that went unnoticed, past rows of tall cornstalks The cornfields seemed to be teeming with life, shaking, moving, cracking in the warm, windless morning Hidden Jews moved through the corn like swarms of grasshoppers Whenever it was safe, a signal was given and one or two people would jump from the cornfield into the safety of the column They all wore patches and were emaciated As each new person iomed the line, they were sent back into the middle of the column where they could remain hidden in the event of an encounter with the SS

On the horizon, a large dustcloud created by the truck and wagon alerted the refugees to the arrival of their rescuers As Maria and the boy drove past the tall cornfields, she suddenly saw the column She remembers the scene with incredible clarity

It was a sight there they were, twice the total number in our group, all walking, struggling behind Herr Graebe He was totally spentI do not think I had ever seen him so completely fatigued He was wearing his leather hat and long coat, leading the Jews Women huddled in the middle, flashes of yellow darted from the corn into the center of the line When we arrived I fell crying into Herr Graebes armsI tried to explain to him about the grazing horses and the coachman's wonderful compassion for his horses Flerr Graebe managed a small grin

Fritz ordered the people with personal belongings to place them on the wagon Then he climbed aboard and the column set out for Sdolbonov The truck brought up the rear of the line, providing a sort of flank guard

Word had reached Frau Graebe that her husband was returning She awaited him on the porch of the house, and when she saw him she rushed weeping into his arms Once back in Sdolbonov, those people without papers were issued papers, everyone was fed, and Graebe retired to a tavern frequented by German soldiers and workers Because the area is so close-knit, word of the march had spread through Sdolbonov, and everyone was talking about Graebe leading the column of his Jews When he walked into the lounge, one of the German officers lightheartedly teased, but for Fritz the title conferred in jest was in truth, a great honor

"Here is the leader of those Jews, the Moses of Rovno "

Graebe was relieved to have his workers back safely in Sdolbonov, but the loss of the seven men was a heavy burden The Moses of Rovno wondered to himself how the Moses in Egypt would have felt and acted it Pharaoh had commanded him to leave seven Israelites behind

The anguish over the seven who were left behind was compounded nne night, a short time after the rescue, when a Wehrmacht officer Confided to Graebe that the only reason there had been an Action that night was I visit to the area by the senior Reich commissar for the Ukraine, Erich Koch Drs Puetz and Behr had wanted to give him a gift When Koch arrived, the Rovno ghetto had been gift-wrapped in blood and rubble, it was Judenrein, empty of lews To gratify murderous egos and to nourish a ravenous, diseased political system, thousands of Jews had been murdered But the eyes of the seven skilled Jewish craftsmen had sealed their covenant with one German witness, who promised never to forget and who kept that promise.
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The Moses of Rovno.
Douglas K. Huneke
1985 .


 

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