Translated by Mark Froimowitz
Every historian who will ever research the inner life of Jews in the ghettos will have to stop on the very unique worker institution, the Workers' Council that existed in the time of the Second World War in the city of Czestochowa.
The Workers' Council was an illegally organized administrative body that represented more than five thousand slave workers in the ghetto and conducted great social, political, and cultural work among the workers in the Czestochowa ghetto.
Let us recall here one wonderful chapter of that heroic era, the hunger strike that was organized through the Workers' Council and successfully carried out.
The strike was conducted against the Judenrat [Jewish Council] which had in its possession the distribution of the means for living for the entire Jewish population. The Judenrat ostensibly had to care for the slave workers, for those who worked in place of well-to-do Jews that had, through a payment to the Judenrat, freed themselves from the work.
As someone who actively participated in the societal life of the Czestochowa ghetto, I want to give over those stormy moments of the mass-gatherings of the workers on the day of the hunger strike. There, where the bitter complaints and the demands of the workers came to be expressed and the causes of the strike.
It was a day in the month of December 1941. Hundreds of Jewish workers stream into the Maccabee auditorium which contains one of the workers' kitchens. They come after a hard day of slave labor, tired, frozen from the biting cold. Jewish workers from the water works, from the railroads, from Rakov and other forced labor factories. All have wooden shoes on their feet and paper suits on their bodies, old, torn rags that were once coats. By many, the paper clothes are ripped and one can see their naked bodies.
The auditorium, which can barely hold several hundred persons, is quickly filled by a crowd of over a thousand.
In the kitchen, which distributes more two thousand meals every day, there is no eating today. A crowded together, hungry mass sits here faint, with pale, sick faces but deeply resolved to win their demands.
First speaks the chairman of the Workers' Council, Moshe Lubling (who died later as the leader of the uprising in the death camp Treblinka). He gives a report on the course of the strike. He reminds how difficult it was for everyone to agree to a hunger strike. Nevertheless, everyone knows how difficult, inhumanly difficult are the conditions of the workers. Those that work in the water or laying railroad tracks under the whip lashes of the Nazis, without human clothes on the body, and while being hungry and not eating to satiety. And coming home to see the suffering of wife and children. Lubling reminds that there was indeed the danger that, because of the hunger of the workers' families, the strike would be broken. Plain, because the wives and children would hurry to take the piece of thrown bread from the Nazi murderer. The strike, however, exceeded all expectations. None of the thousands of starved workers' families attempted to break the strike.
Lubling also reminds that the threats of the Judenrat, that those who don't take the bread would no longer receive it, did not work. At this remark, the female strikers called out, we would rather die than break the strike.
Then the writer of these lines spoke about the battle that is taking place between the forced laborers and the Judenrat and, in general, about the causes of the hunger strike. The Jewish folk masses, I said, undertake a bloody struggle for their lives that the murderous occupiers want to destroy. Death perils lie in wait for the lives of the Jewish masses and, in the present difficult struggle, a small group of Jews in the city placed themselves on the side of the enemy and this group, the Judenrat, helps the enemy carry out the Nazi edicts just to take care of the interests and the lives of the rich class of Jews. That is what we witness, that all of the edicts against Jews in the city until now, such as forced labor, being sent to camps, and the like must be carried out exclusively by the poor Jewish population. The members of the Judenrat, with the help of the Gestapo, rule the Jewish life of the Jews in the city. They take away the food that is allocated for the entire population and they distribute it at their own discretion. For the moneys that are paid to the work fund in order to free oneself from forced labor and which are designated for the support of the workers, there is no accounting. For all of our demands to the Judenrat to give an accounting, they answer that they only give an accounting to the Gestapo. The bread allocations that we obtained by fighting until now of 40 deca [400 grams] a day for those that do light work and 60 deca a day for those who do heavy work, the worker, because of great scarcity, cannot buy anything for 20 zlotys a week. With these meager earnings, he cannot feed his family, his wife and children.
Our demands are therefore: 1) to increase the bread rations for light workers to 60 deca a day and for those with heavy work, one kilo a day; 2) to increase the wages at a minimum to 30 zlotys a week.
I ended with the following words:
It should be clear to everyone that the battle is very difficult and, with time, will grow even more difficult because the Judenrat will not be choosy about the means in the battle against the workers. We have even heard threats from the members of the Judenrat that, if the representatives of the workers will not give up the strike, we will make them a head shorter. We are, however, certain that our workers organization, the only one of its sort in all of Poland, will not for one moment give up its battle until victory over sinister Nazism.
Then, the beloved representative of the Czestochowa workers, the young comrade Yisroel Avigdor Shildhoyz, took his turn to speak. He spoke with heart and soul and he was constantly greeted with stormy applause. Shildhoyz called to battle against the enemies of the workers - the Judenrat.
Also speaking were the comrades Mordechai Openheim, as the representative of the workers in Rakov and Volf Shimkovitsh (who now lives in Israel) in the name of the railroad workers who, through him, expressed their recognition to the Workers' Council for their bold leadership of the strike. Volf Shimkovitsh related that the railroad workers were ready to proclaim a general workers strike if the minimum demands weren't met.
By the end of his talk, Comrade Shimkovitsh made a motion that the workers in the hall should, after the gathering, start a protest demonstration against the offices of the Judenrat.
This motion was accepted by everyone with boisterous applause.
And in an excited, fierce state, the masses went to the offices of the Judenrat, 11 Avenue, went inside and sat down in all of the rooms.
It also did not take long and the barriers of the office were destroyed, the desks broken and the typewriters spread out over the floors. In the meantime, a group of the workers tore off the door of the presidium. The members of the presidium sat deadly pale. The workers went in with yells: You want us to die from hunger! Give us the bread that we are owed for the work! One worker ran to Kapinski, grabbed his hands, shook them and yelled into his face, Our wives and children are becoming swollen with hunger and cold and you are stealing the piece of bread that is allotted for us! If you do not give us what we are owed, we won't perform the slave labor for the well fed privileged dandies that hang around here!
It surely would have come to serious events if the representatives of the Workers' Council with Comrade Lubling at their head did not arrived right away. Comrade Lubling immediately stood on a table and with his thunderous voice asked the workers to control themselves. And here was again shown the immense influence of the workers' representatives. In middle of the stormy feelings, when the workers heard the voice of their representative, Comrade Lubling, to calm themselves, it immediately became quiet. All listened to his speech.
Comrades, Comrade Lubling said, I well understand your feelings and your anger! I want you to know that for a long time before we proclaimed the hunger strike, we already had negotiations with the gentlemen of the Judenrat. And we appealed to them to comply with our minimal, fair demands but they cynically rejected all of our words. 'The Gestapo is behind us, they answered us. We will go on with our strike though we know what the consequences may be because of it. Aside from death, we have nothing to lose. I ask of you one thing, comrades, in the present, serious moment. And that is 100% worker discipline. A larger delegation must go into the presidium of the Judenrat and present our demands and the rest of the workers should wait here in the halls for the results of the negotiations.
A delegation of the members of the executive board of the Workers' Council was immediately chosen on the spot.
Until late at night, the stormy negotiations went on. The members of the Judenrat unconditionally demanded that the mass of workers should leave the offices of the Judenrat because they did not want to negotiate under threat. The representatives of the workers however, stubbornly stayed with their decision. They knew that if the masses were not here, they would, as until now, hold the delegation under a threat. Many times, the negotiations were interrupted. It seemed that they would not lead anywhere. The constant intermediary, Berliner of the Judenrat, attempted to influence the representatives of the workers to agree to compromises. But nothing helped. The representatives of the workers stood resolutely by their demands. In the meantime, consultations were held separate from the representatives of the workers and separate from the members of the Judenrat. And finally, after long hours of arguments and counter-arguments, the Judenrat complied with all of the demands presented by the workers.
This success of the hunger strike at that time greatly lifted the prestige and importance of the Worker's Council in the eyes of the entire Jewish population of Czestochowa in those sorrowful days under the cruel rule of the bloody Nazi barbarians.
Translated by Mark Froimowitz
The city of Czestochowa had, as did many other Jewish communities during the time of the war, a strong organized resistance movement that woke and called the Jewish population, under the cruel conditions of the ghetto, to battle against Nazism.
Czestochowa will, however, quite specially occupy a place of honor in the history of Jewish resistance in Poland with its unique, illegal organization that called itself the Workers' Council, a body that represented the interests of the Jewish forced laborers in the ghetto.
This self-organization of the workers came about as a result of the Nazi decree at the beginning of the war concerning compulsory work for Jewish men between the ages of 16 and 60 years old.
The amount of time, how many days in a week that each Jew would have to perform compulsory work, was dependent on the needs of the local authorities. The required number of slave workers was provided by the Judenrat [Jewish Council] which, as the executer of the German edicts, was required to be the provider of the necessary number of Jewish forced laborers to the Nazi authorities.
The Judenrat threw this difficult edict exclusively onto the backs of the poor, working Jewish population.
The Judenrat created a system in which every well to do Jew could, for a certain sum, redeem himself from the forced labor. It came out that the poor workers had to work in the place of the well to do. Not only did they take the sick to work because they had to cover the number of the healthy that they freed for money, but they also took the sole providers of food for their families that, because of the compulsory work, were completely cut off from every source of income. The Jewish population, for the most part, was condemned to a death by hunger because of this.
In the spring of 1940, the first groups of a thousand Jewish men go for forced labor to regulate the Varta River. This forced labor, which was accompanied by psychological and physical torture from the Nazis, brings with it an incredible anger and hate by the Jewish population, not only against the Nazi tormentors but also against the executers of the decrees, the members of the Judenrat who help the Nazis in the extermination of Jews.
As in all the cities of Poland where Jews stood up in an uprising against the Nazis, in Czestochowa too, the first call to rebellion comes from the pioneer Jewish organizations that were a part of the Zionist worker movement.
May 1940 is the date of the rise of the Workers' Council in Czestochowa that recorded one of the most heroic chapters in the history of the resistance struggle of the Jews in the ghettos.
The Workers' Council afterwards became an elected administrative body selected by the over five thousand slave laborers. (Only the slave laborers who were members for two weeks and paid their members dues had the right to vote and to be elected. Every group of fifty workers sent a representative to the Council which afterwards selected the executive council and the presidium).
The Workers' Council organized their own aid institutions such as a sick fund, an invalid fund, a loan fund, and their own worker kitchens. The Workers' Council organized their own drama circle and a youth chorus.
The Workers' Council organized and partially supported the kibbutzim in Czestochowa that existed at the beginning of the war. The purpose for setting up the kibbutzim was purely political, to have organized groups when it became necessary. The Workers' Council led a constant battle against the Judenrat for bettering the economic conditions of the slave laborers. The battle consisted of hunger strikes and mass demonstrations in the offices of the Judenrat.
Many times were the leaders of the Workers' Council arrested and put into the ghetto prison (9 Avenue) by the Jewish police on the orders of the members of the Judenrat.
In the leadership of this historic institution were, from the beginning until the final destruction, members of the Zionist worker movement. Chairman was the well-known Labor Zionist Moshe Lubling who later died heroically as one of the main leaders of the Treblinka revolt.
The history falsifiers in today's Poland, however, are willing to use any means to minimize the role that the Zionist workers movement played in those tragic years of destruction and holocaust.
Thus, Liber Brener, on page 180 in the Bleter Far Geshikhte [Pages for History] of January-July, 1955 under the headline The Truth about the Czestochowa Ghetto, writes, among other things, about the Workers' Council: In my treatment of the activities of the Workers' Council, I took into consideration only the period of the activity of this body from the time that it was dominated by actual forced laborers, that is from May, 1941 until the liquidation of the Large Ghetto. This body, however, came into being as an institution with the aim of meditating between the Judenrat and the workers and, in such a way, to restrain their anger toward the Judenrat.
It is the most shameful false accusation that has ever been made against heroic Jewish fighters who fell in battle.
Luckily, there are still witnesses living in America and in Israel who took an active part in the leadership of the Workers' Council who can deny Brener's untrue talk.
And when Brener says that from May, 1941, this institution was dominated by actual slave laborers this is absolutely not true and does not agree with the facts. The truth is, as you know, that from the rise of the Workers' Council until the liquidation, this institution was dominated and led by active members of the Labor Zionists such as Moshe Lubling, Yisroel Avigdor Shildhoyz, Avraham Lazshnizsh, Chaim Berenholtz, and others.
Again, on the same page 180, Brener asks, How did the Workers' Council begin? and he answers:
On the initiative of the Judenrat chairman who was a Zionist activist, several Zionist-believing workers received a room in the bureau of the Judenrat where they began to officiate and declared themselves as the Workers' Council that would concern itself with the interests of the workers. Until the establishment of the Large Ghetto, the workers took no interest whatsoever in this institution. Only in the Large Ghetto did the political parties interest themselves with this body, sent in there from among the forced workers their responsible comrades who took over the entire initiative in their hands. They steered the activities in the necessary direction and led the work there until the liquidation of the Large Ghetto. During this period, the leadership of the Workers' Council already included my then party comrades: Avraham Brot, Mendel Vilinker, Shemshl Yakobovitsh and Yitzchak Rozenfeld.
It should be reminded once again: Brener wants to create the impression that the founders of the Workers' Council were assistants to the Judenrat chairman, that they founded the Workers' Council on his command in order to calm the anger of the workers, and, only when his enumerated friends went into it, did the workers institution go onto the right path. I want, therefore, to assert that:
1) The idea of creating the Workers' Council arose from secret meetings that were held in private homes of active comrades of the pioneering organizations and, particularly, in the printing shop of Comrade Vatenberg.
2) The Workers' Council already existed before receiving the office to officiate. The large mass meetings in the offices of the Judenrat, 22 Avenue, and in the court of 6 Avenue where the workers' office was previously testify to that.
3) The renting of the office became a necessity because of the enormous expansion of the activities which encompassed thousands of workers and their families. And the Workers' Council did not receive the office awarded from the Judenrat chairman the way Brener indicates, but it was rented and paid for - one of the rooms that belonged to the owner of the restaurant and which was located in the rear wing of the premises of the workers' office.
4) This office existed only as a semi legal protecting wall. But the meetings of the executive board continued to be held in private houses. And this was done also in the time when Brener's friends were at the meetings, the same friends that Brener indicates controlled the Workers' Council.
5) The Workers' Council from its founding until its destruction led a stubborn battle against the Judenrat, with the chairman at its head.
6) A large majority of the presidium and the executive board of the Workers' Council were members of the Zionist workers movement and during the entire time of its existence, it was guided and led by these worker idealists.
7) The chairman Moshe Lubling, Yisroel Avigdor Shildhoyz and others were arrested many times on the command of the chairman of the Judenrat at the time that Brener wants to create the impression that the Workers' Council was instituted on the chairman's command.
8) Avraham Brot whom Brener mentions was never a member of the Workers' Council because he was never a slave laborer. On the contrary, he and Dovid Shlezinger, Yehoshua Nirenberg, Dovid Koyfman and Gershon Frendikin belonged to the advisory council that was created only with advisory powers. The Workers' Council wanted to have the moral support of the prewar workers' leaders.
9) Mendel Vilinger and Yitzchak Rozenfeld were active in the Workers' Council and belonged to the executive board since the inception of the institution and the claim by Brener is, therefore, false that only when the above mentioned comrades became active, did the Workers' Council go onto the correct path.
10) Shimshl Yakobovitsh belonged to the council, but he never was among the leading comrades.
In his further writings about the Workers' Council, Brener denies that the Workers' Council had its own kitchens, citing a document from the oldest council according to which it is asserted that the kitchens belonged to the Judenrat. I am convinced that Liber Brener is not so naive as to not know that a workers' kitchen could not exist officially under the name of the Workers' Council which was not legal for the German authorities. He himself writes that, under the pressure of the workers, the Judenrat was forced to found workers' kitchens. The truth is, however, that the kitchens were indeed managed through the Workers' Council and one of the managers of the kitchens was Comrade Yitzchak Rozenfeld in Maccabee hall and the manager of the second kitchen was Avraham Lazshnisezsh although the food for the kitchens, just as the bread distributions, came from the storerooms of the Judenrat. Brener also wants to deny that the Workers' Council had a drama circle and youth choir.
It should be asserted that a drama circle existed under the leadership of Chaim Rapoport and Chaim Orbach and the performance of Dos Groyse Gevins [The Grand Prize] of Sholem Alechem in the hall at 12 Avenue was a wonderful success.
Also, the youth choir under the leadership of the renowned conductor Yakov Vatenberg gave a great artistic performance of song and recitations in the Maccabee Hall.
Finally, several personal words to Liber Brener:
You will certainly recollect the way that the writer of these lines, together with the unforgettable Moshe Lubling, often came to the offices of Taz and held conferences with Yakov Roziner and Dr. Kanarski and you were also present occasionally. You will certainly recollect our joint worry about organizing medical help for the slave laborers. For a minute, be honest with yourself and recollect our anger then about the members of the Judenrat and their wantonness. How can you come today and cast such ugly libels upon people who sacrificed their lives in the battle for Jewish honor and in the struggle against Jewish traitors? How can you today cast such bloody libels that these martyrs of Israel became intermediaries between the Judenrat and the workers in order to restrain the anger of the workers?
It would indeed be an act of justice that you print a public declaration and take off from yourself this mark of shame and withdraw the untrue claims that you have made against virtuous Jewish martyrs.
Translated by Mark Froimowitz Everyone who worked in Treblinka went around with a plan for escaping but carrying out the plan was a very difficult problem. First, one had to have a lot of money, and that was one of the most difficult things to obtain since whoever was found with even one zloty or other valuables, they would shoot immediately. In addition, one had to choose with whom to escape because one feared to let out the breath from one's mouth about escaping even with the best good friend. If one already had all of these, it was one of the most difficult problems as to how to carry out this rescue of oneself from Treblinka.
We were a group consisting of following friends: Hersh Goldshtayn, Hershel Koyfman, Yechezkal Koyfman, Yitzchak Zaydman, Yechiel Berkovitsh, Leibel Rozenthal (Shnetzik) Yankel Ayzner and I. As it was known that I was a barber, from time to time, I would cut the hair there of the capo Binyamin Rakovski and also the head capo Blay. The capo Rakovski came from Yendzsheyov, and he liked me because I resembled one of his brothers whom I had helped escape from Treblinka with ten other people, all from the city of Yendzsheyov. Incidentally, out of this group of eleven people, only one survived and this is Laybish Pleshevske who lives today in the nation of Israel. This Rakovski told me to work in the place of his brother in the barrack, and I took in another ten men to take the place of those who escaped. There, I had the possibility of gathering money and valuables. That is how we, the above mentioned group, accumulated things in a large rucksack until on a certain day, we agreed that tonight we will escape.
With great care, we wrapped the rucksack in a blanket, which meant that we were taking a blanket with which to cover ourselves into the barrack where we slept. After the roll call, when it was very dark, we crawled out of the barrack on our bellies. The first one was Yitzchak Zaydman. After him, Hersh Goldstayn and I. When we were already about 20 meters from the barrack, we saw how two Ukrainians were throwing themselves on Yitzchak Zaydman. When we saw that they weren't shooting at him, only speaking with him, we went back into the barrack and they shortly came into the barrack with Yitzchak Zaydman and they ordered the commandant (this was a converted Jew from Warsaw, Engineer Galenski) that all the people in the barrack should go out onto the [assembly] place. When we came out, we were put into rows of four and the two Ukrainians lead Zaydman out so that he could say who else was with him. But Zaydman did not betray anyone. They talked for a while about something with the commandant, and afterwards they commanded everyone to go back into the barrack. It looks as if the sack with money that they took from Zaydman tempted them and they didn't inform the German S.S.
A few days later, we again began to gather money and plan to escape. We again had a substantial sack with money. Leibel Rozenthal comes and says to me that he wants half of a rucksack with money. He was escaping with someone from Warsaw and that we were too large a group. He had found out that the man from Warsaw knows the way to escape. I discussed with Hersh Goldshtayn what I should do. Hersh told me that I should give Leibel a half rucksack with money and that is what I did. Leibel took the money and, by the roll call, we no longer saw him and also not in the barrack for sleeping. That meant that perhaps he was successful in escaping or that he had been shot.
In about four weeks, we are going to work in the morning, when a certain Kozetzski (his father was a shoemaker in the old marketplace) approaches me and says to me that Leibel Rozenthal is back. I thought that that he had lost his senses. What does it mean that Leibele is back? I go into the barrack where we have been working sorting boots and I take a look. It's true. Leibele Shneltzik is back in Treblinka. I ask him what has happened? Why did you come back? He tells me he came back because of us, because he wants to show us the way to escape. Quickly, the entire camp knew that someone had sneaked back into the camp.
The commandant Galevski, who had also dreamed of how one could escape, came in and spoke with him and told him to go back to work.
At night in the barrack, we questioned him as to how he had escaped and which way one could escape. He looks at us and says that only one of us can escape. That is, Hersh Goldshtayn since he looks like a Christian. He also showed us an identity card with a Christian name who lives in Prage, near Warsaw.
It did not take long but the commandant Galevski called Leibel back and spoke with him for many hours into the night. When Leibel again came back to our group, he told us that the commandant had questioned him about how one could escape.
The next morning when we were going to work, I noticed that Leibele was being friendly with the capos of the camp and they gave him something that he hid very quickly. When the day had ended, and we had returned to the barrack, Leibele Shneltzik was no longer there. We quickly understood that Leibel had again escaped but that he had not taken anyone along, not even Hersh Goldshtayn who looked like a Christian.
Leibel was in Prage near Warsaw and, afterwards, in Volya. However, a few months later, Leibel was brought back to Treblinka with a transport of Jews. That time, they were no longer taking people out for work so that the entire transport with Leibel was killed in the gas chambers.
This was later told to me by my friend Baraks from Radomsk. When they brought Leibel back to Treblinka, I was no longer there since I had already escaped.
On the day after Leibel escaped, we saw how the S.S. men were turning around and whispering to each other. I understood that someone had let the S.S. know what had taken place. That a Jew had sneaked in to receive money and, with a lot of money, had escaped again and that the commandant also had had a conversation with him.
We soon saw the S.S. had called the commandant over and they were yelling at him and they were hitting him over the head with clubs. He gave some sort of excuse to them and they quickly came over to the group with which I was working. And there the commandant pointed out Shlomo Tshapnik, Hersh Goldshtayn, the two brothers Fayner from Warsaw Street, the two Piotrkover, and I.
They led us away from the working group but the capo Rakovski came running right away and said something to the commandant. The commandant came over to me and asked me if I was the barber. I said that yes. He told me, excuse me, I didn't mean you and he told me to go back to work. The remaining six men were led to the field hospital where they were shot. I understood that that the capo Rakovski had repaid me for helping his brother escape.
The next morning, after these events, I noticed how the capos were speaking about something and kept looking at the group where I was working. Yechezkal Kofman, Yankel and Yechial Berkovitsh were also working with me. A little further away worked Moshe Rapoport, Shimon Amsterdam and the brothers Volman (they were called the comics from the Kozsha Street).
We talked it over and agreed that three men should escape: Moshe Rapaport, Yankel Eizner, and one of the two brothers who worked under Neyfeld in the pharmaceutical warehouse. I don't remember their names. We couldn't send two brothers together since, if one didn't succeed, the second one should try his luck and perhaps the second one would succeed.
Before the roll call, they hid themselves among the things that were there in the yard. This was on a Thursday. In the morning, it was quiet at work so that we understood that the three comrades had succeeded to escape. We agreed that Saturday night we, I, Yechiel Berkovitsh, and Yechezkal Koyfman, would attempt to escape. As Yechezkal Koyfman was with a brother Hershel, it remained that he, Yechezkal, should be in the group.
Saturday, all day, we made a bunker. We took turns every hour so that, by the roll call, we had finished the bunker.
Before the roll call, when we went to hide ourselves, we noticed that someone was crawling around too much in the same place where we had the bunker. This was a certain man who collaborated with the Gestapo in Czestochowa. His name was Kaylenbrener. Understandably, we pulled back and we agreed to go into the bunker a day later, on Sunday.
Sunday, we calmly worked through the day, and, in the evening, we hid ourselves in the bunker. After the roll call, Ukrainians with the S.S. crawled around and searched as if someone had hidden himself. We saw from the hiding place that they were stabbing through things with the lances, and they were searching as if someone had hidden himself.
We noticed that, after some minutes of searching, they left the place and we breathed a little more freely. We lay like that for a few hours until we decided to crawl out. The only place through which it was possible to escape was the field hospital because there were only a few barbed wires there. We moved out of the hiding place on our stomachs and we crawled. The fire in the field hospital burned on one side and we crawled to the barbed fence. The first to crawl over was Yechiel Berkovitsh, the next was me, and afterwards Yechezkal Kofman. On the other side were watchtowers with reflectors. The reflectors were burning but there was no one inside. Thus, we rolled on our stomachs for a few hundred meters and, afterward, we stood up and began to run. We ran like that for hours in the night until 2:00 am when we heard Ukrainian speech not that far from us. We understood that we were in the camp near the Ukrainians. That is, during the five hours, we had run in circles and we had traveled one kilometer at most.
We immediately turned another way, and we began to run until we came to a river. That was the Bug River. We were six kilometers from Treblinka. It was about 5 o'clock in the morning and it soon became day. We noticed a rural hut in the distance. Yechiel Berkovitsh went into it, and he soon came out and told us what the peasant woman had told him, that the Gestapo was posted in the entire area and that we had to escape immediately in another direction.
We began to run until we came to a bridge. This was the Malkena Bridge, but we saw a German watchman in the distance. We were afraid to go over this bridge. It was already daylight. At nine o'clock in the morning, we agreed to hide ourselves in a hole in the field until it became night and to run again during the night.
Lying in the hole in the field, we saw a peasant in a wagon go by. We called him over and told him that we had escaped from Treblinka and, perhaps, it would be possible if he could take us into his barn. He tells us that he has to ride to work. We asked him if it was possible for us to pay him for the work? In the end, we convinced him and he showed us his barn in the distance and we went inside. But he doesn't know of anything. And if they would ask us, we should say that we sneaked in. That is what we did. We were there the entire day. At night, the head of the village came and told us that he would lead us out of the village and show us the way to go. He indeed took us to the main road, and we traveled all night until the morning. In the morning, we came to a village. We saw, in front of a house, that a woman opens the door. We went over to the house and the woman told us to come in. We were there for a week. The second week, we were at the friend of the peasant in the same village. I remember this peasant's name: Piotr Supel.
We left the house of the good peasant Piotr Supel. This was in the village Zagradniki near Ostrovek Vengravski. The peasant traveled with us to Warsaw. In Warsaw, we gave him money and he bought us tickets for Czestochowa.
When we were saying goodbye, the wife of Piotr Supel cried and pleaded with us, that if one of us should remain alive, we should write to her.
After the war, I wrote her a letter for which I received a reply that her husband and his friend had died in Mauthausen. She had married a Jew. I could have sworn that she was a Jewish woman.
Of our entire group, there remained alive: Yankel Eyzner, who lives in Israel, Moshe Rapaport, Yechiel Berkovitsh and I, in the United States.
Translated by Mark Froimowitz The defeat of Nazi Germany in the year 1945 liberated from various German concentration camps, groups of Jews who settled in the American, English, Russian, and French occupation zones in Germany.
In Bayern, which was occupied by the Americans, the survivors created a central committee in Munich which began to function and regulate the life of the rescued Jews, both those who were in camps such as Feldafing, Landsberg, and the like, and also those who lived in the cities.
The organizational apparatus required a great number of office workers who would carry out all of the necessary functions. The workers received a salary in the form of the JOINT food allocations that were an important help for the survivors in the German D.P. camps.
The D.P.s thought of Germany as a transit place to emigrate to Israel or to other free countries for which they prepared themselves by learning vocations and languages. The vocational courses were led by the society ORT [Organization for Rehabilitation through Training] and through separate committees. The vocational courses were for both men and women and were comprised of the following kinds of work: metal cutting, mechanics, carpentry, tailoring, masonry, embroidery, dentistry, pharmacy, photography, and a whole set of other vocations. Characteristic is the fact that one of the main leaders and instructors of the ORT vocational courses was the Czenstochov landsman Engineer Arlinski. The head of the health division of the general committee was Dr. Tzvi Cantor. The head doctor and head of the hospital in Lansberg D.P. camp was Dr. Yezshi Dobzshinski. There were also nurses, Czenstochov women who worked in the Landsberg D.P. camp hospital and in the infirmary in Bamberg.
In the legal division of the central committee in Munich, a distinguished office was occupied by Attorney Esther Epshtayn. She and her sister Tamara performed as experts and witnesses on the Czenstochov trial in Leipzig where German Nazi criminals who were overseers in the HASAG [Hugo Schneider AG] slave labor camp were tried.
In the religion domain, Harav Alevski was head rabbi in the English zone in Germany, Yisroel Yosef Kutner, zl, [of blessed memory] was the cantor and ritual animal slaughterer in Celle. Yisroel Yosef Kutner was killed in an automobile accident on the 14 day of the month of Elul 5706 (1946) at the age of 30 years. He was always where Jewish D.P.s lived in the English zone in Germany. In the American zone was Efraim Nechemia Trambkavski zl, city cantor in Bamberg. Efraim Nechemia Trambkavski died from an operation on the sixth of Elul, 5707 (August 22, 1947) at the age of 26.
Among those that were active in the cultural and educational realms were Mrs. Birenbom, teacher of English in Bamberg; Rena Frank, administrator and teacher in the children's school in Bayreuth; Binyamin Orenshtayn, director of the regional historical commission in Bamberg which included three governments provinces, Upper Franconia, Middle Franconia, and Lower Franconia, in which there were 22 historical commissions, being at the same time lecturer at the central board for culture and education in the American zone in Germany; and Vulf Gliksman who was an associate of the central historical commission in Munich.
There was a whole group of Czenstochov landsleit who were chairmen of the city and camp committees. An office of a chairman of a committee was one of the most responsible because it included the entire activities in the given city committee. The chairmen were: H. Viyn in Schwabach, Tzvi Rozenvayn in Ainring, Shimon Mladinov in Fürstenfeldbruck, and also in other various cities. Dovid Yakubovitsh was the economic leader in the Feldafing D.P. camp, M. Kroze was the UNRRA officer in Zeilsheim near Frankfurt-Am-Main. Henech Fradelski was the general secretary of the Federation of Polish Jews in the American Zone in Germany. H. Dilevski and others distinguished themselves in sport and G. Richter distinguished himself as a solo singer.
Despite the fact that there were among the Czenstochov landsleit representatives of a whole series of parties, namely Dr. Tzvi Cantar, vice chairman of Revisionists World-Farband, Aharon Gelbard, member of the central office of the leftwing Poalei Zion, and others of MAPAI and also of worker committees which had its main center in the Feldafing D.P. camp, no one tried to bring in party considerations into the activities of the landsmanshaft [landsleit organization]. Just the opposite, the landsmanshaft united everyone, made everyone brothers, and created a homey, friendly atmosphere.
Chairman of the memorial service was Aharon Gelbard who also gave a talk on the underground movement in the Small Ghetto. Among the speakers were Aharon Gelbard, Avraham, Shtaynbrekher, Dovid Yakubovitsh, Tzvi Rozenvayn, and the writer of these lines who represented the regional committee of the liberated Jews in the American zone in Germany. Aside from that, there was also a literary program that consisted of the reading aloud of songs that were found in the Czenstochov ghetto and in the HASAG slave labor camps. Franya Kornfeld and Binyamin Orenshtayn read aloud their own works. There were published reports about the memorial service in Undzer Vort [Our Word] a weekly of the regional committee in Bamberg, number 16, July 5, 1946 and in Dos Fraye Vort [The Free Word], a weekly of the Feldafing camp committee, number 39, July 12, 1946.
The memorial service took place a year after the liberation of the concentration camps. All were soaked in anger and pain, with tragic and horrible experiences that came to be expressed at the memorial service. Not all could yet comprehend the truth of the horrible reports. The majority of those present at the memorial service still thought that they would go back to Czenstochov and find their father and mother, family, houses, factories, all as it once was. When the speakers gave their talks and someone said the sentence Jewish Czenstochov, you died in a holy battle, all of the listeners broke out in a lament. That's how it was with every speaker who brought out a similar sentence. The phenomenon is a deep psychological problem, that the landsleit, and including all Jews, could not believe what had taken place, although they themselves had been eyewitnesses. The phenomenon was not only among the listeners in the hall but also among the speakers on the stage. One of the speakers, after he had spoken a few minutes, referring to the role of the Worker's Council in the Czenstochov Large Ghetto, looking around the hall that consisted of a wooden barrack, and the listeners, Czenstochov landsleit who had come from various D.P. camps and cities such as Feldafing, Munich, Zeilsheim, Bamberg, Landsberg, and many others, called out If so, our misfortune is greater that we imagined since all those assembled here are actually all that is left of Czenstochov. With these words, the speaker literally broke out in a great lament and the listeners along with him. The speaker was Tzvi Rozenvayn and his tears then expressed more than words and left an enormous impression on all of the listeners who will never forget the episode in their lives.
The memorial service in Feldafing was in memory of the revolt and liquidation of the Small Ghetto. The second memorial service was in memory of the mass slaughter of Czenstochov Jewry that took place in the days between Yom Kippur and Simchas Torah. The date is accepted by all of the Czenstochov landsleit in the world. The memorial service took place in Landsberg and was arranged on a large scale so that all surviving Czenstochov landsleit from all the D.P. camps in Germany would be able to take part. The organizing committee consisted of Attorney Esther Epshtayn, chairwoman, Dr. Yezshi Dobzshinski, and Zaydman. Also invited to the memorial service were representatives of the highest authorities of the Holocaust survivors.
The memorial service took place October 20, 1946 in the large theater hall of Bais-Ichod in the Landsberg D.P. camp.
Twelve hundred landsleit participated in the memorial service, along with a group of representatives of the Holocaust survivors authorities and the press, namely, the Central Committee of the Liberated Jews - Dr. Samuel Gringoz; the Regional Committee of the Liberated Jews in Franconia and the editor of Undzer Vort - Binyamin Orenshtayn; the Federation of Polish Jews - Henekh Fradelski.; the editor of Undzer Velt [Our World] - Dr. Tzvi Cantor; and the editor of Yidishe Tsaytung [Jewish Newspaper] - M. Fridenzon.
Detailed accounts of the memorial service were published in the Yidishe Tsaytung, Landsberg, number 43 (55), October 25, 1946; Undzer Vort, Bamberg, number 29, October 25, 1946, Fun Letstn Khurbn [From the Last Destruction], Munich, number 3, (October-November edition), 1946, page 99, and in a whole series of other newspapers.
Attorney Esther Epshtayn was chairwoman and, in her opening talk, she gave a historical overview of the tragic events in Czenstochov during the time of the Nazi occupation. Cantor Ephraim Nechemieh Trambkovski led an El Moleh Rachamim [God, Full of Compassion] that brought everyone to tears. Akiva Kashitski said Kaddish [prayer for the dead] and G. Rikhter sang a whole set of songs of sorrow that were fitting for the program.
The speakers at the memorial service were Dr. Samuel Gringoz, Dr. Tzvi Cantor, Henekh Fradelski, Binyamin Orenshtayn, Attorney Mendel Goldberg, and Chaim Shtayer, a Czenstochov landsman who participated in the Treblinka uprising.
How does one explain that almost all Czenstochov landsleit from all of the D.P. camps flowed to the memorial service, coming from hundreds of miles from all parts of Germany? Dr. Tzvi Cantor, in his talk in an individual manner that was very characteristic of all, declared that a dynamic force drove me here today to Landsberg to participate in this mourning celebration of those remnants of Czenstochov that we are here eulogizing. I came here to join my shared feelings in a shared eulogy and in a shared Kaddish as one who, in the city of Czenstochov, has lost all of those closest to me.
The large and well-attended memorial service gave the organizers the conviction that it is more than right to organize a convention to coordinate the entire activities of the Czenstochov landsleit on a central scale. The individual landsmanshaftn in the individual D.P. camps were not able to be in contact with all of the foreign Czenstochov landsmanshaftn and to arrange such magnificent memorial services. To that purpose, a conference was called also this time in the Landsberg D.P. camp, on Sunday, June 8, 1947. The result of the sessions of the conference was the founding of a headquarters of the Czenstochov landsmanshaftn in the American zone in Germany.
The central managing committee consisted of Dr. Tzvi Cantor chairman from Munich; Attorney Esther Epstayn, General Secretary from Landsberg; Binyamin Orenshtayn - Chairman of the Culture Committee from Bamberg; Attorney Mendel Goldberg; Chairman of the honorary court from Heidelberg; Dovid Yacubovitsh from the Feldafing D.P. Camp Organization; Dr. Yezshi Dobzshinski; the Landsberg D.P. camp Board of Directors; Henekh Fradelski., Munich, member in honorary court; Tzvi Rozenvayn, Ainring D.P. camp, member of the Culture Commission; Shimon Mladinov, member of the Culture Commission from Fürstenfeldbruck; Y. Manavitsh -Geiselhöring, Bureau of Directors; Ziskind Shmulevitsh - Fürstenfeldbruck, Bureau of Directors.
The central managing committee, without any doubt, had a great effect on the communal life of Holocaust survivors, standing in contact with all divisions in Germany, with Czenstochov itself and with all landsman societies in the world.
The members of the central managing committee participated in the Second Congress of the liberated Jews in the American zone in Germany that took place February 25, 26, and 27 in Bad Reichenhall. At that time, those who participated were Dr. Tzvi Cantor, Attorney Esther Epshtayn, Binyamin Orenshtayn, and Shimon Mladinov.
The central managing committee also participated not only in the congresses of the Federation of Polish Jews but also took distinguished offices in the Federation. During the Second Congress of the Federation of Polish Jews that took place in Bad Reichenhall, November 23 and 24, 1947, the following of the Czenstochov delegates were elected: Henekh Fradelski as member of the managing committee (Executive), Attorney Mendel Goldberg - chairman of the honorary court, Dr. Tzvi Cantor - member of the council, and the writer of these lines, representative in the council.
The second Central yizkor memorial service in the American zone took place in Fürstenfeldbruck where Shimon Mladinov was the chairman of the city committee. He was the organizer of the memorial service and Ziskind Shmulevitsh and other Czenstochov landsleit of that place helped.
Despite that travel to the place was very complicated because it was necessary to transfer on the highways several times, the theater hall was nevertheless packed. A religious ceremony took place that has become a tradition for all of the Czenstochov societies in the world until the present day. The speakers in the memorial service were: Dr. Tzvi Cantor, Attorney Mendel Goldberg, Aharon Gelbard, Binyamin Orenshtayn, and Shimon Mladinov.
The memorial service left a deep impression on those present.
Germany didn't consist just of the American zone. It also had Russian and English zones.
Concerning those from Czenstochov in the Russian zone in Germany can only be asserted the following. In Gardelegen, a city in the province of Saxony, a group from Czenstochov settled themselves. The city was first occupied by English military forces, but, afterwards, the English gave the city over to the Soviets. The Soviet military authority quickly let us feel what freedom means and particularly to the Jewish D.P.s, among which there were those from Czenstochov. The Soviet commandant decreed that all D.P.s should leave the city and go back to Poland. All of the D.P.s , exclusively Jewish, exhausted, and starved, wanted in the meantime to rest a little and then to see what to do. The Soviet military commandant showed his freedom methods just as in the time of the Nazis. The Jewish D.P.s were encircled by Soviet soldiers, armed and battle ready with force and, with the help of the German police, standing in rows, the D.P.s were led to the train station and deported to Poland. The method of the deportation, no different than the Hitler method, was done in the name of freedom and in the name of symbol Hammer and Sickle.
In the English zone, the Czenstochov landsleit concentrated themselves in the Bergen-Belsen D.P. camp and in the city of Celle. They led a common set of activities. The committee of those from Czenstochov from the enumerated places consisted of Harav Alevski, cantor-ritual slaughterer Yisroel Yosaif Kutner zl, Chaim Stavski, M. Kakhman, L. Bukhvalter, G. Bialek, F. Fridman, H. Fridman, Freyzerovitsh, Chaim Stavski and others.
From 1945 through 1948, they arranged yizkor memorial services in which Harav Alkevski handled the religious part of the memorial services, the Bergen-Belsen D.P. camp cantor performed (Cantor Kutner died in 1946), and with their own and invited guest speakers.
The third central memorial service arranged through the central organizing committee of the Czenstochov landsmanshaftn took place in October 1948 in the Munich synagogue. Two publications from the central managing committee were published about the memorial service: My book Khurbin Czenstochov [The destruction of Czenstochov] in Latin transcription and the journal Undzer Yohrtseit [Our Anniversary] under the editorship of the writer of these lines, Dr. Tzvi Cantor, Attorney Esther Epshstayn, and Tzvi Rozenvayn.
The program of the third memorial service that took place in Munich was identical to the program of the memorial service in Fürstenfeldbruck.
After the memorial service, a convention took place with the same participants of the memorial service. Attorney Esther Epshtayn, general secretary of the central managing committee delivered an activity report in which came to be expressed the many faceted activities of the headquarters, namely: aid for sick landsleit, obtaining for them with great effort places in hospitals and sanatoria, financial and moral support, representing the Czenstochov landsmanshaftn in the central managing committee of the Holocaust survivors, bringing to justice the Nazi criminals who killed Czenstochov Jewry, connecting with the Czenstochov societies in the world, publications and a whole set of local activities. Despite carrying on with the mentioned activities and being the spiritual soul of the central managing committee, Attorney Esther Epshtayn finished her account with a proposal to dissolve the central managing committee and the local landmanshaftn. After a long discussion, the proposal was approved and, with it came to an end the chapter of the central managing committee of the Czenstochov landsmanshaftn in the American zone in Germany, in the English zone, and also of the local landsmanshaftn in the individual D.P. camps and in the cities.
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