My Experiences in World War II
The Underground Movement at the Beginning of the German Occupation
At the beginning of 1940 I was in Ciechanow under German rule. One day the German Military commander called all the Jews together at the shul in our shtetl. When all were gathered, he gave a speech and declared that in a short time his Military would leave Ciechanow and in its place there would arrive a German civilian leadership. At such a time the situation of the Jews would get worse and he would therefore advise us to leave Ciechanow and to cross over to the Soviet side. He declared his willingness to provide us with comfortable transportation.
In reply one of the gathered Jews said in German: Here we were born and here we will get lost. At the command of the commandant we all went home. Shortly thereafter the German Military did leave and German civilian powers took over, consisting of S.S. and other police formations. As city mayor, a German by the name of Rot was appointed, as well as a German commander of the region.
The German occupiers restricted the area in which Jews were allowed to live. An open ghetto was established in the center of Ciechanow. Jewish property was confiscated: goods, houses, jewelry and all valuables.
Ciechanow was not included in the general-government. The Germans called this section the New Residence Place, and the name was changed to Ciekhenau. The Germans tore down the Jewish homes and the Jews had to move to other quarters, and as a result we ended up living in terribly cramped quarters, sometimes three, four families in one room. Mail no longer reached us Jews so that we should no longer have any contact with the outside world, so that we wouldn't know what's happening elsewhere.
We, the youth, organized an underground organization. We met often to discuss means of protecting ourselves from the terrible decrees. Those who took part in the organization were my two brothers: Pinkhas and Khanan, Moishe Kolka, Godl Zilber, Noah Eisenberg, Yosef Eisenberg, Motl Bergson, Yisroel Likhtenstein and Dovid Shmidt. Noah and Yosef Eisenberg are no longer alive.
The Germans issued a decree that forbade the Jews to work as chauffeurs and in general to carry out any kind of work. I didn't pay attention to this decree and approached the German leader of the transport, Kesler, introducing myself as chauffeur by trade. He examined me and confirmed that I am suitable for him, and gave his approval for me to get this position.
After working for him for a short time, when I saw that my work pleased him, I told him the truth, that unfortunately I can't work for him because I'm a Jew and Jews are not allowed to be chauffeurs. To this he replied: Don't worry, you'll work as my chauffeur and I'll make all the arrangements for you. A few days later he came to me with a permit in the name of Zabludowicz, but instead of Noah there was the name Robert and underlined that I am a volksdeutch. The contents of the permit were as follows:
Dem Kraftfuhrer Robert Zabludowicz, (Volksdeuttscher) is gestatet dem Lastwagen 32439 zu furen. Die Gen aehmigung ist erteitt, dass am Reichsdeutsche Kraftfuhrer ein Mangel ist.
(The chauffeur Robert Zabludowicz, a Volksdeutch, is permitted to drive the auto 32439. This permission is granted because there is a shortage of Reichsdeuttsch chauffeurs.)
At the bottom the red stamp of the regional commandant for communication was added. During that period I was on the road all week except for Shabbat. On Shabbat he allowed me to return to the ghetto, when I would meet with the chaverim to whom I would report on my activities. I also got instructions on how to conduct myself the following week.
I was in constant contact with the ghettos in Mlawa, Neustadt, (Nowe Miasto), Plonsk, Vlodava, Plotzk, Schenegov and others. I brought them information about everything that was happening.
There were instances when the Germans transferred the Jews from one ghetto to another or to do forced labor in the lagers. There they lived in terrible conditions. They were transported on wagons, on back roads, and they tried to hide. Those who were caught were shot immediately. During my trips with the German vehicle I saved many of these unfortunate Jews, some of whom I knew and others whom I did not know. Quite a few I took back to the ghettos from which they were taken for slave labor.
In 1941 the Germans expelled fifteen hundred Jews from Ciechanow, chasing them to Neustadt. Because of the crowding and hunger, many died. Many families were successful in returning illegally to Ciechanow.
Once, my Ciechanow chaverim asked me to save the Cohen family, whom the Gestapo was seeking. I agreed to this, and Motzei Shabbat, at midnight, I told the Cohen family to wait for me in a courtyard. I wanted to take advantage of the Saturday night because at that time my boss and his family were in Tilsitz. But just that Saturday he remained in the city. It was very dangerous to do something like this. Relatives tried to convince me not to attempt this, telling me that I'm endangering my life and the life of all my family. I didn't heed these warnings, however.
I got Avraham Baumgart to assist me. My auto was standing in the courtyard where Kesler lived. In order not to awaken my boss, I didn't ignite the motor. The two of us pushed the machine out onto the road. There, I started the motor and set off. Around midnight I reached the spot where the Cohen family was waiting. I took them all in the auto and set off for Neustadt.
I knew that on the way to Neustadt there were two turnpikes that are guarded by German gendarmes. I knew that there we were in great danger. However, there was no other way. As we approached the turnpike, I started to pick up speed. I put on the strong headlights and then weakened them (flashed them on and off). At the same time I signaled in the highest octave. This all had to signal that I'm traveling on an urgent mission and have no time for delays. I was successful with this behavior, and in this way we successfully reached the gate of the ghetto Neustadt.
The Jewish police who guarded the entrance on the inside didn't want to let in the people whom I had brought. My pleas and explanations were of no avail when I told them that I and my family were in great danger -- that every moment was very crucial. However, they refused to open the gate. I climbed over the fence and was immediately held by the Jewish police. Then I told them that I want to see the head of the Judenrat. One of the policemen accompanied me to the head, who was asleep in bed.
I woke him up and told him what was happening. He gave an order to open the gate immediately and to take in the family. Around three-thirty in the morning I returned home. It was like Tisha B'Av. Scared, they were sitting there crying. They thought that for sure the Germans had caught me.
At the command of the Germans in Ciechanow, all the men had to line up each morning at seven o'clock in front of the city hall. From there people were sent to various forced labor. When the mayor (a German) arrived, all the Jews had to take off their hats and say in a chorus: Gut morgn, Herr Bergermeister. (Good morning, Mr. Mayor). To this he replied: Gut morgn, shveine. (Good morning, swine). He checked the rows and whoever displeased him he hit with a rubber cudgel. The cudgel had a lead tip. After such a treatment the Jews were sent off to work. For work the pay was nine marks per day. From this scanty pay for forced labor the city treasury deducted fifty per cent for their funds.
People worked from dawn till dusk. In the ghetto people lived in terrible crowding. In one room -- several families. Beds had to be mounted one on top of the other; four levels, one on top of the other up to the ceiling. In the evenings the houses had to be blacked-out because from nine o'clock on it was forbidden to go out on the street. After nine the Germans made inspections in the houses.
There was a German in the Gestapo by the name of Rosenman who used to enter at night and wherever he found a man sleeping with a woman, he dragged him out of bed and asked him why he was sleeping with a woman. The man answered that he is doing so because there's no room to sleep separately. After such a reply, the German, revolver in hand, forced the man to go outside so that they could take their place with the woman and have intercourse. (Because of the crowding, several families lived in one room).
One night in 1942 this Rosenman, with a group of Germans, wanted to enter a courtyard where there was the house of the Jew, Lucatz Brink. The door of this house was locked. The gang, with Rosenman at the head, knocked down the door and shouted that all the men and women must go out. Everybody assembled in the courtyard. Rosenman selected five men: Teitelbaum, Sadek, Rumianek, Malotzker, Galadzer. The sadist led off these three deathly afraid Jews to the police station and accused them of sabotage -- supposedly because they didn't want to go to work. The fifth week the Germans again called all the Jews to gather at the marketplace. There the Germans erected a gallows and hung the five Jews.
Avraham-Aaron Kelman, a Jew, a Talmid Khokhem, the principal of the Ciechanow Talmud Torah, was walking one Shabbat morning, with his tallis under his arm, to daven. A German stopped him on the way and told him to stand still. Apparently the Jew didn't hear him, and walked on. The German shot him from behind, in the head, and the Jew fell down dead on the spot.
The Germans carried out other murderous acts on the Kirshenbaum family and other Jews. This was after fifteen hundred Jews, including Kirshenbaum, his wife and two children were deported from the Ciechanow ghetto and brought to Neustadt. After some time the Kirshenbaum family managed to escape from there and return to the Ciechanow ghetto. They hid in the house of their in-law, Aaron Gelbard. When the Gestapo discovered this they immediately arrested the whole family: Aaron Kirshenbaum, his daughter Rachel, the in-law and Kirshenbaum's brother, Binyamin, the treasurer of the Judenrat, because he didn't inform about the illegal return of the Kirshenbaum family to the ghetto.
who were hung according to Eichmann's order
To this group of victims the Germans added a Jew called Eliyahu Lindberg. He was accused of sabotage because during work he was told to bring a spade and he apparently, not understanding, brought a pitchfork.
These unfortunate Jews were detained for five weeks in Ciechanow prison. Afterwards they were transferred to Navidvover ghetto. There they were publicly hung in the presence of all the Jews.
People who witnessed the German murders told that the rope with which Gelbard was hung tore. The murders took another rope and hung him a second time. The daughter of Aaron Kirshenbaum didn't allow herself to be led to the gallows so the Germans shot her on the spot.
The Jews: Yisroel Yaacov Student, Avraham Freedman, Berish Kleinetz, were arrested by the Germans because they found a Sefer Torah hidden amongst the graves.
These Jews were held in prison for some time, then on Krulova Buni Square, a gallows was erected and in the presence of all the Jews the two martyrs were hung. Yisroel Yaacov Student died in prison from a heart attack. The Germans didn't allow for the arrangement of the martyrs. Only four Jews occupied themselves with the burial. I, and also the closest relatives of the family were the four. The hands of the martyrs were tied behind with barbed wire. The Germans ordered that they should be thrown into the grave in this way. The grave was the one in which the four Sefrei Torah had been found.
At the request of Kleinitz's son, the Germans allowed the father to be buried in another grave beside his grandfather. The others were simply cast into the grave. Only their shoes were removed.
I remained standing and did not remove my hat in the presence of a German as was the rule here in the ghetto. One of the Germans started shouting at me in a brutal manner:
How dare I not remove my hat in his presence? I replied, not knowing at the time what a dangerous thing I was doing. They became outraged and wanted immediately to take me and tie me up.
I started to run and suddenly bent down. The Germans, who were chasing me, tripped over me and fell. I took advantage of the moment and started to run faster. I succeeded in hiding in a courtyard. I lived with my family at that time in a courtyard with Kesler.
The next day I got an order from Kesler to bring, for a day's rest in the ghetto, the few Mlawa Jews who were working in the nearby village, Bielin. When I was driving these Jews, I passed the courtyard where my mother lived. I found her in tears. She told me that the Shturmfuhrer Lisker had been searching for me. He carried on and created a scandal for my not being at home. Kesler, who heard the row of the German, found out from him the story of my running away, and this from his own son, one of the two who had chased me.
The Shturmfehrer demanded that I report to the police (German). Kesler replied to this that I am one of his responsible and best workers and he asks that this order not be carried out. My boss promised him that tomorrow he would detain me in his own house and he, the Shturmfehrer should come and do with me whatever he pleases. Kesler asked of him one thing -- that after I receive my punishment I should return to work for him. The brutal German agreed to this.
Regarding this exchange between the two Germans, I was informed by my mother. According to Kesler's order, I brought the Jews back to the Mlawa ghetto. I also brought along a Jews from the Ciechanow ghetto, by the name of Alter, who was being sought by the Gestapo. He was from Mlawa. In Mlawa, as in other ghettos that I frequented at Kesler's command, I behaved like a German. My outfit was also typically German.
When I brought the Jews to Mlawa, a Jewish policeman approached me. He pardoned himself and asked me in German if I am the chauffeur who had brought the Jews from Bielin. When I replied in the affirmative he invited me to the commandant of the Jewish police. He also did not know that I am a Jew.
The commandant asked me in German if I had brought a Jew by the name of Alter. At this time he brought Alter to me. I declared that I'm not sure if he came with me. Soon a Jewish policeman entered, the nephew of Alter, who knew me from prior to the war. He said to me in Yiddish: Noah, you brought my father from there and you'll take him back. I understood the intention of this Jewish policeman. He had sent his father to Ciechanow in order not to have to care for him, and I'm the one who brought him back.
Meanwhile everyone discovered that I was a Jew and the attitude towards me naturally changed. The Jewish policeman who had wanted to get rid of his father threatened me that he would report me to the Gestapo. To this I replied that I also can inform the Gestapo about this. It's enough that by bringing this Jew into the ghetto I had acted dangerously, without any reward whatsoever, and I would not take this Jew back because both in the Ciechanow ghetto and on the way there, the Jew's life is in danger. Other Jewish police intervened and Alter remained in the Mlawa ghetto.
Having no choice, I reported to the police (German), giving my true name, Noah Zabludowicz. The German demanded that I tell him what had happened between me and the Gestapo. I told him the truth. The commandant ordered that I be given a beating.
A policeman led me into a separate room. There I was ordered to strip naked. I was ordered to lay down on the table. Two of them beat me on my naked skin and one of them crunched the blows. From the terrible pain I began to cry. Someone opened the door and ordered the beating to stop.
When I put my clothes on my beaten body, a policeman entered the room, a Volksdeutsch, called Gottesman. This rogue knew me very well. He asked me what I was doing here. The policemen started to talk amongst themselves. They were interested in knowing from where he knows me. To this he replied that I'm from the Kesler-Bande and that there we have A Jewish Government and that there we do whatever we like. We even have a radio, he said. There was a sentence of death at that time for possessing a radio.
The police commandant, Lieutenant Lifker, started to question me about whether I had really listened to the radio. The Volksdeutsche had reported on Sara Altus, who was working in the household of Kesler, that she and I had listened to the radio. We were both arrested and kept under watch. Our hands in chains, we were led to the Gestapo. During the inquest I did not admit to listening to the radio. The commandant of the Gestapo beat me mercilessly and threatened me that I wouldn't exit from there alive. After the first inquest I was taken to prison.
Two weeks later the questioning began once more. The torture continued from seven in the morning to seven in the evening. In this manner I had to go through the streets with terrible wounds on my whole body. A Gestapo guy was guarding me with a revolver in his hand. He threatened to shoot me immediately if I tried to get away from him a distance of more than three feet. In this manner I was brought back to the Gestapo.
Once more sadistic beatings were given to me. A Gestapo officer finally took me away from this torture. He gave instructions that I should be brought to him and meanwhile not to harm me. He invited me to his room and very politely told me to sit down and treated me to a cigarette. In a very delicate manner the officer addressed me, calling me very politely, Herr Zabludowicz. With the same courtesy he told me to tell him everything that had taken place.
I told him everything. The German asked me if I know what kind of punishment was coming to me for this. When I replied that I know, he said that the punishment is much worse than I can imagine, but he is ready to help me, even free me from my punishment, if I tell him one thing: I should tell him who in Kesler's house listened to the radio. After I will tell him I can go home.
In Kesler's home there really was a radio receiver. Whenever Kesler was not at home I would put on the radio at midnight and listen to news from London in Polish. Kesler also listened to the same radio station in German, but later than me -- around two in the morning. Naturally, I explained to the Gestapo officer that I have no idea of what is happening in Kesler's home. All week, I said, I'm on the road, and only come to Kesler in connection with my work.
The German officer tried, with all kinds of delicate means, to win me over. He wasn't so interested in torturing me, but rather to find out from me who was listening to the radio at Kesler's. He interrogated me for two hours, and I remained with the same story: I don't know about anything.
In the midst of the interrogation there suddenly appeared four Gestapo men in the room, each one with a different excuse, and the interrogation continued. One of those who entered called out to the officer: Release him. Just hand him over to me. One, two, three, and I'll finish him off. Then my interrogator once more turned to me: Good that you didn't fall into his hands. He would have finished you off right away.
The second part of the interrogation started. The polite German officer suddenly became a sadist. All four suddenly ordered me to lay down on a stool on my belly, knees down on the floor, my head pressed to the back of the stool. One of the officers grabbed my head between his legs. A second one stood on my feet and two beat me with cudgels. This probably continued for about twenty minutes.
I couldn't endure and cried out, struggling as much as I could. The stool broke and the two sadists that were holding me fell. Then they madly grabbed the legs of the broken stool and started to beat me even more murderously and I was left there in a state of unconsciousness. The murderers poured a pitcher of water on me and I revived.
Three of them left for lunch. One, by the name of Kraizl, remained and continued with the interrogation. He started to do gymnastics with me. There was a tall built-in-oven in the room. He commanded me to climb up and down on the oven. With my tortured body it was very hard for me. After a few times I fell down exhausted. I pleaded with him to shoot me, but he replied that it's a shame to waste a bullet. You'll crap one way or another anyhow, he said with laughter. The bandit kicked me with his steel-tipped boots and knocked out all my teeth.
Soon the other three torturers returned and with fresh energy started to torture me. When all this didn't help they put handcuffs on my hands. The handcuffs were tied with electrical wire. An electric shock immediately ran through me. My hands started to shake. The Germans beat me murderously while at the same time shouting mockingly, telling me to remove my electric handcuffs that where still clamping my hands. The suffering was enormous.
This is how they treated me for an hour and a half. Around seven o'clock in the evening the torturers started to say amongst themselves that they have to bring Sara, (Sara, the second one accused of listening to the radio). She was then in prison. The torturers told me to get dressed and put myself in order, but I couldn't move my hands. All my fingers, all my sinews were broken. My body was covered with wounds. They took me to a tap and told me to wash. At that moment they brought in Sara.
The door of the interrogation room was open and I heard everything that was taking place there. The Germans told the tortured woman that I have already confessed and have also said that she had listened to the radio. Sara didn't let herself be misled and argued that she had worked at Kesler's as a cleaning woman, and had never heard the radio. The sadists also applied their sadistic treatment to the unfortunate woman. With this torture they ended the day, and we were led to the prison.
In the prison where I was confined there were fifty-five people, Poles. All of them related to me properly and treated me like a brother. I was all beaten up and in a terrible state. Wounds and sores covered my body. There wasn't an unharmed spot anywhere. For fourteen days my prison-mates applied compresses on my wounded body. For this they used the water that was sparingly given for drinking.
Amongst the arrested ones was the former commandant of the Polish police. He was called Roman. In 1940 he was sentenced to death. He had succeeded in running way from the Warsaw citadel. In 1942 the Germans caught him again. He sat in prison with his hands handcuffed. We spoon-fed him. Once, at his request, I removed a nail from his pocket. He taught me how to undo the lock of the handcuffs with the nail. I did as he instructed me, and the handcuffs opened. By the same means I closed the handcuffs. One morning I opened his chains. In the afternoon, during the walk, he succeeded in running away.
After working for him for a short time, and after a few brief conversations with him, I understood that he was an opponent of the Nazis. He even introduced himself as a social-democrat, but he was afraid to open his mouth when the German mayor of Ciechanow issued an order at the end of 1940 to destroy 28 wagons and destroy the horses of the Jewish owners. Kesler requested that this all be given to him. He did get them.
Kesler lined up the wagons in his yard. He erected stables for the horses. He had a locksmith shop and a smithy. There he repaired his trucks and the wagons. The horses and wagons were used for city work for which Kesler got properly paid. The profit that Kesler earned, after deducting the expense for maintaining the horses and wagons, Kesler gave me to distribute amongst the Jewish wagoners, the former owners of the same.
Naturally this was all done secretly. When the German forces discovered that he had hired me, a Jewish chauffeur, he was arrested. A court case took place and he was freed. He proved that he had made good use of the Jewish chauffeur. While the Jews were being driven to Auschwitz by the Germans, Kesler stood in the yard and cried. I don't know what happened to him later.
I arrived at Auschwitz 7/11/42. At first I worked in the train station crew that worked at loading and unloading goods from the wagons and trains that arrived at the lager. In 1943 I, together with my brother Khanan, was transferred to Block 24 where we were house-supervisors. In this block there were the 'privileged' of the lager, mainly Poles: cooks, butchers, bakers, musicians who played in the orchestra, and others. They received food parcels from home and didn't need the lager food. My brother and I took the food rations for Block 24 from the kitchen and brought it to Block 16, where my third brother, Pinkhas, was. There we divided much food amongst the hungry Jews.
One day in May, 1944, the Jews of Bendin, Sosnowiecm. I was a witness to the following murderous act of the Germans: I saw a German standing with his gun ready to shoot is leading a woman with a girl of five or six. At that moment a commandant came out of the woman's lager. The German soldier stood at attention and reported that he has a woman and a Jewish child from Bendin who had hidden with a Pole.
The commandant asked the woman if she was a Juden. To this she answered in Polish that she doesn't understand German. After repeating the question a few times, and receiving the same answer, the haupt-shturmfuhrer got angry and grabbed a revolver. At this the child ran up to the feet of the German and cried, begged for mercy. The sadist lifted up the child from the ground, kissed her on the forehead and then shot her. When the mother began to cry, he shot her also.
At that time the Germans brought two transport trucks with children to Auschwitz. Male and female teachers accompanied them. They were all well-dressed. Upon their arrival they sang German songs. They were immediately led to the gas-chambers and crematorium.
A half-hour later I went in the same direction and I heard from one of the Sonderkommando (those who worked at the crematoriums) that the Jewish children were from Bialystok, and from there they had been taken, together with their teachers, to Theresienstadt (Czechoslovakia). There they got education, clothing, good food, and in 1944 the children were brought to Auschwitz to perish. The children were led to a shallow channel in which a fire was burning. The Germans threw them in and they were burnt alive.
The mutual help of the Ciechanowers in Auschwitz made an extraordinary impression on those arrested in the lager. The underground movement in Auschwitz started to take an interest in us. I found out from Moishe Kolka about this and all of us Ciechanowers joined.
At that time I worked as an electrician. Every day I went out to Birkenau to do electrical work. Thanks to the possibility of moving around in the lager, I took upon myself to be the contact between the various lager sections. I was also in contact with the Poles who came from the city of Auschwitz to the lager to work. Through them I made contact with the A.K. (Polish underground party).
There was also an ammunition factory in Auschwitz called Union. There only Jews worked: women separate and men separate. Work was done in three shifts. There was no contact with them. They all lived in Birkenau lager.
From the leadership of the underground movement I got an instruction to make contact in any way possible with trustworthy people who work in the ammunition factory, Union, who can help us to acquire arms and ammunition for the underground.
After a short time I managed to make contact with one of our own -- Rosa Robota. She worked in the clothing section in Birkenau lager. She organized a group of women who worked in the Gunpowder Pavilion. Twenty girls, endangering their lives, hid between their breasts small packets of explosive material. Rosa received the transport and gave it to those who worked hidden in the wagons in which the bodies of those who died in the barracks during the night were carried. Close to the crematorium the secret arms supply was organized. We also assured that those who endangered their lives in gathering arms and explosives should get better food. We worked in this way for a year and a half.
We also bought arms from the Poles and paid with gold and silver. That's how we prepared for the rebellion in the terrible extermination lager that the Germans had built, where Jewish lives were burned en masse.
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