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In the Years of the German Extermination of the Jews (cont.)

Murder, Terror and the Destruction of Jewish Homes

At the beginning of 1940 a Gestapo member shot a Jew in a murderous way. There was a Jew in our shtetl by the name of Avraham-Aaron Kelman, a religious Jew, the supervisor of the Talmud Torah. In the years prior to the war he accomplished much for Jewish education. Avraham-Aaron gathered all the melamdim in one place, and under his supervision all children were taught, rich and poor alike. He also provided all the poor folk, strangers, with a place to eat and sleep. For the arrested ones -- kosher food and food for the spirit, such as a book or a religious text.

The first Shabbat of the year 1940, right in the morning, Avraham-Aaron went out of his house, dressed in his Shabbes-capote and his silk hat, as he was accustomed.

There were two exits in the house of Hersh Berman where Avraham-Aaron was living: one to the marketplace, the other to the Optaik (Pharmacy) Street. He wanted to look out to see what was going on outside, when one of the Gestapo called to him. The Jew was terribly frightened and withdrew into the house. The German followed him and shot him near the door. Just as he was clad, so he was buried. His death made a deep impression in Ciechanow.

That winter there were terrible frosts. Jews suffered bitterly and their ears and the fingers on their hands froze as they worked.

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In the second month of 1940 a command was given that Jews must wear yellow patches, and must remove their hats when they meet a German. The Judenrat was responsible for carrying out this order. The yellow patches were round, 10 centimeters in size. One patch had to be worn in the front, on the left side of the chest, the other on the shoulder.

An order was issued that Jews must not walk on the sidewalk, only in the gutter. This was connected with morale and physical pain, because winter time when the snow melted, one had to splash about in the puddles. Besides, the Jews didn't have proper shoes.

The situation got increasingly worse. Whoever could and had the strength tried to run away. Everyone wanted to save their life. The wandering, however, was also very dangerous because there was a command that no one must leave Ciechanow without permission. Every resident was registered, yet many people risked going into Australenko where the Russian border was, and so they crossed over into Russia.

Furthermore, an order was given to beautify Ciechanow. The Germans wanted to establish Ciechanow as a “residential” city of the captured territories and refashion it according to the German style. Meanwhile they started to tear down houses and this affected mainly the Jewish residents. First on the Warsaw Street on one side: from the marketplace up to the cinema, the houses were torn down in order to widen the street. The work was carried out by Jews. Women were also taken to do this work.

The tearing down of the Jewish houses brought new suffering for the Jewish population because the better homes were seized by the Germans. When a house was going to be torn down, the owner was notified one hour in advance. During this hour the house had to be emptied; if not, the Germans confiscated everything that was there and gave it to the Poles. Many Jews had to live without a roof over their heads in the winter. The Judenrat started to create order and assigned residences. Five families were placed in a single dwelling. Unfortunately, the shortage of living quarters was taken advantage of by the Jewish makhers. Whoever had money to pay the Jewish quartermaster got a residence immediately. Whoever didn't have money lived in a stall or in a loft.

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The tearing down of the Jewish houses
The tearing down of the Jewish houses

Picture Index

 

 Reb Yishaiyeh Cohen beside his destroyed home
Reb Yishaiyeh Cohen beside his destroyed home

Picture Index

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The Judenrat also formed a labor force that provided the Germans with men and women each day. For the distribution of labor the same principle applied. For money one could remain at home and whoever didn't “bribe” had to work without pay every day.

The distribution of food for the Jews was according to ration cards. Five deca bread was distributed each day per person, and ten deca meat for a week. The meat was not kosher because Jewish slaughter was strictly forbidden.

No private trade existed. Craftsmen were not allowed to work without a permit. The poverty was horrendous. People starved. They started to sell their household belongings to the Polish population for meager food. The Poles got rich from Jewish belongings.

The German forces also forced the Jews to relinquish their best clothes that were then sent off to Germany.

 

The Open Ghetto and the Lasting Hunger

It appears that the Germans couldn't tolerate the fact that the Jews had good relationships with the Poles so they ordered that the Poles must not mingle with the Jews from the time when the Jews were given a quarter where only the Jews were allowed to live while the Poles had their quarter. There was no fenced ghetto in Ciechanow. Jews also got a Jewish doctor that the Germans sent, and the Polish doctors were not allowed to visit Jewish patients.

Because of the crowding and uncleanliness in which Jews were forced to live, various sicknesses broke out amongst them. Jews died of hunger, frost, catastrophic lack of nutrition. The Jewish quarter looked like a Jewish cemetery with living dead.

The terrible hunger caused certain persons with weak characters to serve the Gestapo. Some of the cobblers, tailors, “buried” their goods. There were other Jews who dealt with life necessities that were called “special” products. The Jewish snitchers would bring these items to the Gestapo and get well paid for this. Ciechanow Jews didn't occupy themselves with this ugly work, but there were certain refugees from the surrounding shtetlech who created problems for us in this respect.

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Jewish property robbed by the Germans in Ciechanow
Jewish property robbed by the Germans in Ciechanow

Picture Index

Under such circumstances we lived in great fear for the morrow, and waited patiently and hoped for a change.

On June 22, 1941, when war broke out between Germany and Russia new hope arose. “Politicians” explained that such a situation would not last long. There was talk that an end must come, “either life or death.” The mood was that we would perish with them. The Germans ordered shelters to be built in every courtyard. Fresh work arose for the Jews. In every courtyard shelters were made. In the evening every window had to be blacked-out so that no light should be seen. After six in the evening nobody was allowed out in the street.

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The city and all around the city was built with new houses. Complete quarters were constructed and occupied by Germans. Various German firms established themselves here and forced Jews to work there. These German businessmen discovered that Jews are also capable of working and this was a great wonder for them. They met good Jewish craftsmen. A German newspaper that appeared during the occupation in Ciechanow praised the “good Jewish craftsmen.”

I worked for the above-mentioned Germans and they asked me, “how is it that a Jew can work?” I explained to them the misconception with which they had been living.

With the command to walk in the gutter and not on the sidewalk, more than one Jew paid with his life. The Germans deliberately ran over a Jew, angrily complaining for not clearing the way for them.

Soon a command came to drive out of Ciechanow those Jews who are weak or too old to work…

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