Sunday night between mincha (afternoon prayers) and maariv (evening prayers) the synagogue was over-flowing. Among the people there was a whispering, Bundists in the synagogue? This smacks of being something new suddenly a strong bang (knock) could be heard at the table, it hurts, Jews, important news! A dead silence dominated the synagogue, it felt like everyone would be holding their breath. At the platform (lectern) stands the chairman of the Bund, Peretz Freitag. (He is) a young handsome man, with burning black eyes. He is known in the town not only as the bookkeeper of the large textile factory of Peretz Freitag **, who had gone to study for many years in Paris, but also as one of the nicest (best) speakers. This counts itself (as something) separate from his open stage performances in Polish.
Brother Jews he began with a resolute sure voice I have come before you to report (declare), tomorrow a pogrom is being prepared against our town. The Bund, together with other political parties, and also in communication with the Polish workers, has done everything to stand up against the possible pogrom initiators. Tomorrow morning, as on every Monday morning, you all must put out your tables (hucksters), no one should be missing. Remember Jews, we are being put before an exam, let us not shame our town.
When he had finished, the synagogue rocked like a cradle. Everyone commented on the peace that was presented by the chairman of the Bund. It was divided among 3 main commanders that must carry out the eventual resistance: from the Bund the writer of lines, from the communists Mendel Szimkiewicz (Shimkevich), and someone who understood the Polish workers Wojczechowski (Voitshechovsky). An armed militia was prepared (arranged) that was composed of all the known strong youths in the town, such as wagon drivers (teamsters), horse dealers, and others. Naturally no wealth could be derived from sleep that night. Everyone had belabored the question: would the Jews put out their tables? Will they weigh in (the pogrom initiators) to come? If they do (come), from what direction (will it be)? Above all, the terrible responsibility that we wore on that day for the Jewish people.
Monday morning, the first pleasant surprise, before the designated hour, all of the tables in the market were already put out. Not even one was missing. By (before) Hershl Plowner's (Plovner's) gate (the point from which the road to the woods goes out) is found the central point. Here you find the main commentator. Here is where all news must be picked up. From here is where the different orders must be sent out. The world of the market began putting out their different things to sell. The tailors also, who are pictured in a separate section, are hanging out the suits, jackets, and cloth pants. The same (was true) for the hat-makers, (and) farther down near the firefighter's headquarters, the shoe-makers and harness (saddle) makers had already put out their goods. The assorted wholesale stores, shops, butcher shops and bakeries opened today earlier than usual. Everyone is conscious of a noticeable nervousness. There began to circulate various rumors, one more fantastic than the next. One was known to speak of a concentration on the Gochaliczer (Gochalitzer) road; others reversed the same thing putting it on the Piotrkower road. The smallest incident, by such tension, can provoke a conflict. Patrols were right away sent out (dispatched), to search (weed) out how much the information matches (what is happening ). A day that seemed to go on forever, such that it has remained that way in my memory.
They never came, perhaps it is that they had a premonition of what a fiery reception was prepared for them, and perhaps it was only a test to throw out fear and see how the Jewish people would react. This all has remained a story. Pride filled my town of Belchatow that held out against that pogrom test that was placed before them.
* Bund the Jewish socialist organization
** Peretz Freitag was a large textile factory named for its' owner. Peretz Freitag, the chairman of the Bund, was a relative of the owner and was employed at the factory.
|The old market in Belchatow,
as it looked in 1930. (page 11)
Belchatow had suffered badly from the war between the Nazis and the Polish army. A third of Belchatow went up in smoke. While the Nazis were in the half-destroyed shtetl, their first work was to make a pogrom against Jewish businesses and homes. Afterwards, they went in and confiscated every valuable object. The searches took place mainly at night, and therefore not a blow [klep] was omitted.
Later the Jews were rounded up for forced labor. They conscripted Jews to clear up the war ruins, to do other work in the shtetl, and to serve every German. The Jews were humiliated in the ugliest ways, and were struck and tormented.
The Nazis also organized special mock-demonstrations to humiliate the Jews. For example, they forced a group of Jews to carry a ladder, and on the ladder a Jew had to sit, wearing a tallis and tefillen. A large crowd of Jews had to follow them, singing prayers and Jewish songs, and they were made to cry out that the Jews were responsible for the war and other similar things [affecting the gentiles].
The Nazis turned Yom Kippur of 1939 into a day of pain and suffering for the Jews. Early in the morning they drove the Jews out into the public squares. There the Jews had to carry religious books from the synagogue, from the Hasidic house of prayer, from the rabbi, and from other Jewish homes. In New Market Square logs were piled up, and a mountain of books was burned on the square. And around the fire, the Jews had to dance on unfurled Torah scrolls. These barbaric disgraceful acts of the Nazis were attended by the Germans and the Poles. When the Jews were allowed to go home, they went broken [in spirit], with their heads hanging down.
The Jews had no rights or protection. Any German could murder a Jew and not be punished for the act. The Nazis made a game out of shooting the Jews. From time to time, one of them would shoot a Jew without any reason. During the time of the German occupation, many Jews were shot in this German game. Among others shot this way, was Aharon Pinchas Borenstein a quiet modest intelligent man, who had belonged to the Rightist Poale Zion [political party].
One of the Nazi atrocities was the sending away of men to work. Those sent away had to perform the most difficult work under inhuman conditions. The food consisted of only a bit of warm soup. In a short time scores of Belchatower Jews died because of the harsh conditions.
The fiendish Nazis made the weary, wavering existence bitter day in, day out, and night after night. But early one morning in March 1942, after obtaining by fraud a large sum of money contributions to ransom 15 Jews who had been arrested, the Nazis declared the ransom money sufficient for only 5 and that the other 10 would be hung.
The following morning all the Jews had to report to the market place. If they didn't report to the market place, the German order threatened them with death. All the Jews stood on one side of the gallows. On the other side were festively and flamboyantly attired German men and women, and behind them stood the Poles. Upwards of an hour, the ten condemned Jews stood with nooses around their necks, which a Jew had been forced to place on them. A Jewish elder had to read from a paper that the Jews were responsible for the war, that the Jews were swindlers, robbers, liars, murderers, and similar accusations. At an order from an SS man, several Jews had to pull away the board on which the Jews with nooses stood, and suddenly the ten Jews were hanging in the air.
Four months later, on the 11th of August at dawn, Belchatow was surrounded by German police and SS troops. The Jewish population was driven out, and a selection was made 80% of the Jews were forced into the synagogue, and 20%, the younger ones [in good health], were loaded into trucks and driven away to the Lodz ghetto, where the majority later died from starvation and disease and even later, [those who survived] shared the fate of the Lodz Jewry who, in August 1944 were exterminated in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
The other 80% were immediately taken to Chelmno, where the Germans had built their first gas chambers. The pictures of their mass extermination curdle ones blood.
The few Belchatower Jews who still live are scattered and dispersed over the whole world. But wherever they find themselves, in whichever land they turn up, they mourn Belchatow and carry in their hearts their love for their home shtetl and for those whose lives were cut short by the cruelty of the German monsters.
|Yosef Gliksman||--------------------------||Vice President|
|Heszke Goldman||--------------------------||Assistant Secretary|
|Velvel Napartstek||--------------------------||Assistant Treasurer|
|Yankl Naparstek||--------------------------||2nd Assistant Treasurer|
|J.M. Pokacz||--------------------------||Acting Secretary|
|Chaim Grunwald||------------------------||Ari Wilheim|
|Naftali Huberman||--------------------------||Lezer Huberman|
|Yankel Lieberman||--------------------------||Feivel Wilheim|
|Hersz Wigdor Zilbersztajn||--------------------------||Avraham Rozental|
In spite of this being an anniversary publication, we consider how we must publish manuscripts that remember (recall) our town of birth, as it was before (in the past). There will also not be lacking the unpleasant memory but that we must not forget for a single instant the destruction of our city by the Nazi-Fascist hordes that now threaten to be revived.
We take advantage of this number to send a greeting to all the residents of Belchatow, in what ever part of the world they may find themselves, and a message to our members so that they may make efforts one more time, as up to now, to maintain a living bond that unites us with our brothers from Belchatow in the whole world.
Summoned by our eternal optimism, we hope that in future publications, for other joyous and happy opportunities we will be able to speak of (about) the landed properties of our residents in their new homes, in circumstances of re-construction and of peace for the Jewish life.
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