As someone who was raised and educated in this town and who absorbed from it the entrenched Jewish values within the unique and extraordinary environment with which this town was blessed, memories from it are very dear to me also, and, like others, it is of great interest to me that at the very least, the history and account of this holy community be preserved for the future. I do not make light of the obligation that the former residents of the town, Holocaust survivors, have to assist, to the degree to which they are able, to erect a memorial for this Jewish town.
My refusal stemmed from fears and doubts as to my ability to bear the heavy weight of this responsibility. Anyone who undertakes to record accounts of the history of the Działoszyce community, which is no more, faces a very difficult task. There never was a more cruel and efficient annihilation effort! The remains of its holy martyrs were never brought to a Jewish burial. Other than the near certain knowledge that most of its Jews were murdered in the Bełżec death camp, where they arrived in a transport after the first mass deportation on September 2, 1942, no trace remains of the rest of the town's Jews who perished in various death and labor camps to which they were deported. The thousands who died in the town, during the deportations or before them, were also not interred in a Jewish cemetery. For this the local Polish population bears responsibility, for it made sure that even the cemetery vanished both from above ground and beneath it.
The same situation holds true for the documentary material that spanned the hundreds of years of the community's life and included the Holocaust period. The community's records, its documents and its archives nothing remains of them! What German efficiency did not manage to eradicate, the local Polish residents destroyed. For this reason, not only is there no documentary basis on which to conduct research about the community, but there is also no method to validate memories in cases of doubt. There is no greater challenge than recording the memory of a community that has been destroyed without the assistance of any archival material.
There were also further doubts. The community of Działoszyce was under the hell of Nazi rule for about three years until its final annihilation. Every year had 365 days, each of which was an ocean of ever increasing hardships and calamities. Who could ever count and record the suffering of the Jewish population in general and of each family in particular? Even if all the leaders of the community who took care of the populace's daily needs had survived, it is doubtful whether they would have been able to describe the history of the community during those dreadful years. How much more so is this true for me, as I understand these matters so much less.
Approximately 30 years have passed since the destruction of the Jews in Poland. This period is much too short for any of us to forget the atrocities and horrors that we experienced and to gloss over the open festering wounds that have remained and that will never ever heal. Perhaps, due to the fact that each daily verdict became more vicious and horrible than the one before it, this creates a difficulty to relate all that occurred in a chronological order. There is no doubt that tens and hundreds of incidents that happened then are still reappearing, floating in front of the eyes, tearing out the hair and congealing the blood in their viciousness just in the order in which they happened. Certainly there are many events that are important from the aspect of the birth of the community that perhaps didn't reach my knowledge, or they became faded with the time that has passed. Please understand my hesitation to deal with such difficult, painful matters. And in addition, I greatly suspect that I will not be able to relate the events in sufficient detail, due to my lack of knowledge or inability to remember, especially regarding matters that will be recalled and brought forth in this book by others, and I will find myself committing a double sin. These were the reasons for my initial refusal.
However, after additional thought, I became convinced that in spite of my hesitation, the initiators of this project were correct in their goal. The truth is that my reservations have not diminished at all. However, there is yet another bitter and vicious reality to this. We who are the survivors of the Holocaust are the last generation to leave Działoszyce. Except for us, there will be no one able to talk about the glory and magnificence of the community, to describe its scholars and wise men, its righteous and pious inhabitants, to recall the joy of youth that long existed in that place and to remember the days filled with happiness. In those days, we had the vision and dreams of returning to Zion while being active in the Zionist youth movements. When our generation will cease to exist, no one will know about the bes hamedresh that hummed with students and scholars, about the young yeshiva men who passed their nights like days in the study of Torah, about Rav [Rabbi] Icek Lejb Staszewski and Rebbe Epsztajn, of sainted blessed memories, whose words inspired the entire community. Our children, who were born here in Israel, even though they have heard that their parents were born in a town called Działoszyce, have difficulty pronouncing the name correctly.
The earth in Działoszyce has become barren; it will never again produce another Jewish generation. Can we permit an entire Jewish community, with almost all of its residents, to be totally erased and wiped off the face of the earth and nothing remembered of it? After all, for hundreds of years, Jewish life bustled there in all of its magnificence and glory, steeped in tradition and full of character and faith. There our parents grew up and warm Jewish hearts beat, Torah and Hebrew institutions were created, and we, their children, absorbed from teachers and wise Torah scholars the values and mores of Orthodox Judaism. And we few survivors, who drank from the poisoned cup until the end and due to sheer miracles remained alive, suffered the hellish bitterness of the Nazi era along with those who were and are now gone. Our parents, brothers, and children were separated from us and sent to a place from which no one returned. We were partners in the efforts and superhuman attempts to survive this hellish period. Woe be to us, the few remnants who managed to remain alive. The others did not succeed.
For the memory of our dear ones and the holy congregation that was annihilated, it is a mitsve [good deed] to tell their story, even though it may not be a complete account and only the main aspect of their general existence will be recorded in this book.
The situation in the town wasn't much different than in the other places that we had passed while running away. Thousands of refugees congregated and were arriving here. From a logical point of view, they rationalized that a small town not on the main highway and away from the main traffic might not become one of the German casualties, especially not in the initial stages of the war. However, this proved to be a futile hope. On the evening of that very same day when we arrived in Działoszyce, an order was issued by the Polish government that all reserves, as well as men up to 50 years old, were to leave town and direct themselves toward Pińczów and Kielce. Masses of frightened people started fleeing. All of this was accompanied by the knowledge and clear signs that the Germans were following directly behind our footsteps the entire time. And in fact, none of us arrived at the right destination or enlistment center, since the German army had already preceded us to each place. We found ourselves in a constant state of fright and flight, while machinegun fire was directed at us the entire time. Poland became engulfed in a sea of steel, lead, and burned dust. When we finally arrived breathless and totally exhausted at the banks of the River San, we became aware that on the night of Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year], the Germans had captured it from one side, while the opposite bank was under the control of the Russians. That's when the torturous way back began, but this time, under the rule of the Germans. While on the way, it became clear to us how justified our fear of the Nazis was.
When we came back to Działoszyce, we found a totally different town than the one we had left. Even though it had not suffered any victims as yet and had not been bombed, the composition of the population had changed. From among the residents of the town who had escaped, whether because they were ordered to or on their own initiative, many did not return. After months and years, it became evident that there were those who managed to reach the River San before it became a dividing line between the Germans and the Russians. They suddenly found themselves in the territories occupied by the Russians and were totally separated from their homes and families. The great effort that these refugees made in order to reunite with their families on both sides of the river is a chapter in itself. Many sacrificed their own lives while doing so. Others started on their own wanderings and ended up in the Donbas region [Donetsk], in the Ural Mountains, or in Siberia. For instance, it became clear that Mr. Szlama Gertler and his son Poldek [Leopold] were under the Russian regime in Lwów, while the rest of their family stayed in Działoszyce. At the end of 1940, or maybe 1941, Poldek succeeded in crossing the border and arrived back home, while his father stayed and was sent into the depths of Russia. Very many of our brethren from Działoszyce ended up with the same fate.
In contrast to the families still intact or divided that were unable to return back to their homes from their first flight at the beginning of the war, a large number of refugees were added whose fate drew them here and who now remained in the town and could go no further.
In order to make things easier on myself, I decided to return to Kraków and try to get reemployed in my former workplace. However, I was only able to stay there for a few months. When they started to establish the [Kraków] ghetto in the beginning of 1940 and the Jews were forced to move into it, it seemed more reasonable for me to return to my parents' home in Działoszyce and not be confined inside the ghetto. The truth is that, in the end, Działoszyce itself became a ghetto as well. Here, too, the strict decree not to leave the town was in effect, and whoever attempted to do so did it at the risk of their life. However, to all outside appearances, at least, the feeling here was more comfortable. Barbed wire was not erected around the town, and guards were not posted at the gates. Of course, it was prohibited to leave the town to go to the adjoining towns. But because we were not confronted by the sight of barbed wire around the town, this seemed to be a somewhat more peaceful existence. However, there was an additional reason that I chose to remain in Działoszyce and not in the ghetto in Kraków. During that time, and we're talking about 1940, there did not yet exist a German police station in Działoszyce. Actually, one had been established at the beginning of the war in the town, but later on, it was transferred to Kazimierz Wielki. For the time being, this was a very big plus for the Jews, since the town was not under constant German control. The local German authorities were situated in Miechów, and the gendarmerie made its permanent location in Kazimierz Wielki. However, their representatives visited often and sometimes even on a daily basis. Although none of the decrees skipped our town, there still was an advantage that the Stormtroopers were not sitting inside the town. Each visit of the authorities became quickly known from the moment that they arrived in town. However, it seemed that our situation was better than that in the neighboring communities where the Germans were permanently ensconced, both the Gestapo and the SS, along with the German police and administrators.
This was probably also the reason that from the beginning of the first half of 1940, Jews from the larger cities started streaming into Działoszyce. The first to return were the former residents of Działoszyce who had left the town in order to seek better livelihoods. Because these people had family ties and affiliations with the local residents, they now returned without anything, in order to get far away from other locations that were more central. In those places, the situation of the Jews was much more horrible than in Działoszyce. Many from our town had moved during the twenty or so years before the war to Silesia and Zagłębie. In 1940, a great majority of them found their way back to their birthplace. Moreover, many Jews were forced to flee their dwelling places from many different areas when these became part of the Third Reich, and it was self-evident what the fate of these Jews would be. Also, there were many who arrived in Działoszyce closer to 1941 and in the ensuing period when the ghettos in the big cities were completely sealed off and the conditions reached unbearable levels. All who could sought to escape to an area that appeared to be somewhat better in order to endure these difficult times.
As a result, from the beginning of the war and approximately until the end of 1941, the population of Działoszyce grew at a steady rate to enormous proportions. It wasn't easy to escape. However, some Jews took the risk and, posing as native-born gentiles, boarded trains without any possessions at all after escaping the ghettos and other areas that had been declared Judenrein [free of Jews]. The lucky ones among them succeeded in arriving somewhere that appeared to be a better place for them to live through this hellish period, until it passed, than the place from which they had fled.
Statistics and numbers of our town's population during the war are not available, but it is clear that it amounted to more than 10,000 souls. This means that approximately two thirds were refugees who had settled in our town, the majority without even proper clothing to cover their bodies.
Our town was never well known for its spacious living quarters. The families grew steadily but not so the housing. Many of the permanent residents dwelt in difficult and substandard conditions. And now during this short period of time were added thousands of refugees without a roof over their heads. Almost every family, regardless of how poor or cramped, was forced to absorb relatives who had escaped from hell and share their homes. Despite the poverty and overcrowding, the local citizenry could not find dwellings for all those looking for a place to live. Each hole, nook, and cranny was used. The town resembled a refugee town. Hundreds of people were placed in public buildings under conditions that cannot even be described. In the bes hamedresh and the synagogue alone, close to a thousand persons were housed. Each family was entitled to a certain number of square meters in accordance with its size. Sleeping arrangements were made that enabled them to find a place for their heads during the night. A depression that one cannot even imagine overcame anyone who entered these public places that had been turned into refugee centers. The few meager possessions that each family had placed nearby only heightened the feelings of terrible poverty. If someone got hold of a piece of fabric or cloth, they put up a partition to indicate their private area. Dozens of babies and toddlers grew up under these circumstances without basic sanitary facilities. In order to drink, it was necessary to bring water in pails from afar. One of the most difficult problems was the preparation of cooked food. (During this stage we're not talking about earning a livelihood but just having a physical spot in which to dwell). The spaces for the refugees kept shrinking along with the growing numbers of people seeking them, until the area that was assigned to each family could not even be passed through, and certainly, there was not a corner in which to cook. Some measure of assistance was provided to these dwellers through the communal kitchen (we will talk about it later), through which people received at least one hot meal a day, but that did not solve the general appalling situation.
Another great difficulty of life was the issue of heat. This problem was common to the general population and especially to those who now lived in the public quarters. Among other provisions whose shortage was already felt from the beginning of the war were heating materials. Coal was very scarce, and wood was totally unattainable. In addition to the great troubles caused by the enemy, sufferings from heaven also befell them. The winter of 1940 was especially harsh. While in private homes, some means of heating the stove still existed, in public places like the synagogue and the bes hamedresh, this was non-existent. One of my responsibilities as a member of the sanitation committee was to visit these places almost daily, and I was witness to scenes that really tore my heart. I saw babies and children lying on wooden planks for days at a time, covered by some blankets or rags that had been collected from the residents in order to protect these little ones from the fierce cold.
The situation worsened even more toward the winter of 1941. The Jewish population was squeezed and crowded into the meager dwellings until it was unbearable. And under these circumstances, it was now necessary to absorb even more hundreds of families. A decree went out from the enemy authorities that Jews could congregate only in certain areas and that it was totally forbidden to be in small villages or farms. As is well known, there almost wasn't a village in the area that didn't have a few individual Jewish families living in them. Within a number of days, it was mandated for them to leave their homes and go to Działoszyce. I remember the fights and arguments between the Judenrat [Jewish council] and the homeowners and refugees, when it became necessary to squeeze in some more beds and mattresses into places where one couldn't even fit a pin. And even though this part of the suffering was minute in contrast to what the Jewish population of the town experienced during all the years of the occupation until its physical annihilation, this only served to make an already bitter enough life even more difficult and prolonged the day-to-day sufferings.
The horrible crowding and living conditions presented yet another most dangerous time bomb the outbreak of epidemics so prevalent in times of war. The community leaders were very much aware of this from the very beginning, and much work and effort were invested to try to prevent it from happening. This was not an easy feat to accomplish with the lack of sanitary facilities and the malnutrition suffered by most of the population. An outbreak of an epidemic would mean a double annihilation problem: First of all, its quick contagiousness, which would cause it to spread without any ability to control it, and second, the extreme measures the enemy authorities might take in such an event. In the beginning of the war, there was only one doctor in the town, Dr. Grębowski. At the beginning of 1940, Dr. Dwojra Lazar arrived from Kraków and settled in our place. (We are talking about the daughter of Reb Szymon Menachem Lazar, the editor of the Hebrew newspaper Hamitzpah [The Watchtower] and the sister of Dr. David Lazar, the editor of Maariv [Evening]). She was the only Jewish doctor in town. Aside from her normal medical treatment of the population that now numbered above the 10,000 range, she also had to prevent the outbreak of epidemics, which under these very trying health hazards and impossible living conditions were most susceptible to occur and spread. The job was an impossible one, what with the contagious diseases and epidemics that were rampant in the area and with no vaccines, medical supplies, or other vital necessities with which to fight them. Under the direction of Dr. Lazar, a sanitation committee was established. Its main function was to implement ways and means to take emergency action, to assure that sanitary conditions existed in both private homes and especially in public places, and to provide means and centers for decontamination purposes. The local committee members paid vigilant daily visits throughout the entire town and inspected every nook and cranny. They disinfected with sulfur and by other means. A center for decontamination was established using steam at very high temperatures, and those dwelling in public places had to disinfect their meager belongings during appointed times. And sure enough, for a relatively long period of time, the town was spared an epidemic, in spite of all the detrimental dire situations that existed.
However, all the frantic efforts and investments could not prevent the infiltration of epidemics that were already swirling in the nearby vicinity.
In 1941, all at once, there erupted epidemics of dysentery, typhoid fever, and typhus. A grave danger descended on our town, since according to the law, it was imperative to inform the authorities of any outbreak of a contagious disease. And the results were not long in coming. The epidemic became widespread and caused many casualties. To the credit of Dr. Dwojra Lazar, zl [of blessed memory], the fact is that information about the epidemic did not reach the ears of the authorities. Thanks to her outstanding efforts, dedication, and devotion, the typhus epidemic quieted down after several months. The hands of the doctor and the sanitation committee were overloaded with work. Aside from the crowding and malnourishment, which nothing could be done to improve, other harsh difficulties existed. It was essential to conduct a fundamental disinfectant procedure throughout the entire population and, as much as possible, to do so all at once. But the accommodations that were available for this procedure were too few and totally insufficient. The other great hardship that existed was that there was no local hospital or even suitable quarantine facilities to house all the sick people and treat them. The conditions in this respect were so very difficult that the ones suffering from typhus with the most critical symptoms were housed in a building called the hekdesh [shelter for the poor], located near the cemetery. As a result of this awful situation, people refrained from seeking medical intervention and only did so for a member of their family when the symptoms of the disease were already very apparent. They were most afraid that the sick one would be removed to one of these places. But the bitter truth was that in the entire town, one could not find any other suitable space that was still not occupied by the refugees.
Toward the winter of 1942, the epidemics quieted down. Afterward, only individual cases of typhus would surface.
With the outbreak of the war, the sources of livelihood for most of the residents in the town became closed off. Already in the first weeks of the war, the Nazi regime appointed commissioners called Treuhändler [trustees] for the larger businesses. The fact was that the owners stopped being in control of their possessions. Other businesses and stores liquidated themselves due to the fact that they could not obtain the merchandise that they were used to selling. To mention some of them: fabrics, textiles, manufactured goods, leather, shoes, and a very long list of products and necessities. Truthfully, most products were under surveillance. Still, many of the merchants managed to hide some of their merchandise in different hiding places, to take it out at one time or another, and do business with it in order to survive. However, during the three years of occupation and until the extermination of the population, innumerable troubles were brought upon them as well. Every Monday and Thursday, thorough searches were conducted for merchandise that was restricted, and the fact was that the gendarmerie would sooner or later find each and every hiding place and take out everything of value and confiscate it. So they found many goods belonging to various merchants, among them Icek Majer Waga, Alter Spokojny, Dula, Gałązka, Szulimowicz, Platkiewicz, and others. Most of the time these discoveries were accompanied by jail time, fines, and, in some instances, even by a worse fate.
The prohibition not to leave the boundaries of the town suddenly prevented all those who were accustomed to doing business with the surrounding farmers from making a living. But the pangs of hunger were worse to suffer than the danger, and more than a few risked their lives out of sheer necessity. They went back to the farms secretly to buy food products and stealthily brought them into town. There were instances where they got caught and were jailed. Sometimes, they were even shot to death when they were found to have violated the prohibition not to leave the boundaries of the town.
The situation of the workers in town wasn't any better; the visits of farmers to the town lessened, simply because there was no longer any reason to enter it. In the wake of this impossible situation, they couldn't obtain any merchandise. Raw materials also could not be found, and the selling of produce was also prohibited. In addition to this, it was decreed that the majority of the farmers had to supply the main bulk of their produce to the authorities. Trading between communities totally stopped. The worry for a piece of bread for the children eliminated thought of any other purchase. Most of the refugees were bereft of any means of earning a livelihood, and only very few of them had any means of survival. Generally speaking, with every passing month of the war, the destitution, overcrowding, and poverty grew. In the beginning, householders sold anything possible for food or money. Later, there was nothing more to sell.
On top of all this, more decrees were added. Due to constant new rulings, the Jews were forced to surrender all their possessions of value to the Germans. In the beginning, they had to give all foreign currency; later on, gold, silver, radio equipment, and furs, etc. were added. Casualties accompanied every confiscation in order to instill fear and terror. Likewise, many times, people were fined large sums of money. These contributions had to be paid exactly on time; otherwise, there was murder. In this way, many of the prominent inhabitants of the town perished. In addition to this, there was the Judenrat, which, on a constant basis, needed huge sums of money in order to bribe the authorities to nullify the verdicts or at least to postpone them for some time.
The majority of the inhabitants existed in a terrible state of dire poverty. Many didn't even possess the few coins needed to purchase the small amount of flour and sugar allotted according to a point rationing system. Under these circumstances, there blossomed various unusual occupations, such as ways and means of taking food to the big cities by posing as a gentile, etc. These people put their lives in very grave danger, where each of their steps was subject to death. What other choices did the Jews have when they couldn't earn a livelihood?
In the beginning, the Jews were forced to carry out different types of jobs within the town's borders and, occasionally, other work as well. Those working still did not include the entire population, and from time to time, groups would be rounded up in order to accomplish certain tasks. But even during the first winter, the community council [Judenrat] had to supply a specific number of people in order to clean up the snow, etc. In the ensuing periods, they started to carry out the plan of drying up swamps, paving roads, building new railroad tracks, and other such types of work. A German labor director by the name of Mucha arrived in town. Every day he would send out many hundreds of Jews to the central labor areas such as Cudzynowice, Rosiejów, Słaboszów, and Kazimierz Wielki. There they would work on development projects according to the German plans. In this area there was great cooperation with the Judenrat. In order for the continuity of certain groups to keep on working, they established a labor division under the direction of Mr. Hofman. According to the rules, all able-bodied men had to perform forced labor. There was a rotation system of all able-bodied men, where every few weeks the groups would change in accordance with the decisions of this labor division to meet the changing demands of the authorities with regard to the number of workers who were needed each time. Of course, certain considerations were given to the heads of large households and also in certain social cases. This was the cause of much complaining and unhappiness regarding favoritism. As much as it is strange to say, this forced labor supplied a large number of families with some measure of a livelihood. This was carried out as follows: As long as there were able-bodied people in town who still had some money, they preferred, of course, not to go out to do this back-breaking labor that lasted from sunrise to sunset under the ruling hand of vicious supervisors. They looked for substitutes when their turn came. They were willing to pay a daily fee of 5 to 12 złoty, depending on the working place and the time frame. As far as the purchasing power was concerned, these amounts were abysmal sums. However, there were always those who were ready to take on this labor even for this pittance of a wage as long as they could earn a little money in order to buy bread. The labor division of the Judenrat allowed these substitutions and even supported them.
During the period that followed, this forced labor took on another form. On several occasions, German police officers appeared in town and rounded up dozens of young people and took them away with them. In the beginning, no one knew their fate, but after a while, it became clear that they were taken to labor camps near Kraków in the town of Kostrze or Podgórze (Kobierzyńska Street) to the German company Richard Strauch. In the beginning, measures were taken to send packages of clothing and food as much as possible in an organized fashion to those in the camps. The Judenrat was successful in obtaining a permit to send a truck to these camps and take along a small quantity of food, clothing, and blankets. The news that arrived from these camps was very troubling, both because of the unbearable living conditions and lack of food and also because of the harsh labor. After several months, the Judenrat made an effort to replace these people with others. And indeed, they organized a system where those who had been caught during the first roundup would be exchanged, on the condition that they supply replacements to Kostrze and to the camp on Kobierzyńska Street in Podgórze. So the question arose, of course, as to who would be the ones to be sent. This problem led to bitter fights and arguments among the population with the Judenrat, and I want to point out that there wasn't a person in the town who was willing to go to these camps of his own free will. At other times, the Ordnungsdienst (the order service the Jewish police affiliated with the Judenrat) got involved with these issues, and this resulted in great clashes and led to animosity between brothers. And again, this will appear as strange today, but in a few unique cases, there existed exchanges as follows: Among those who were sent to the labor camps in the first transports were those whose families still had some means. Such a family was interested, of course, in having their son freed and was willing to pay for another person to be exchanged for him. They provided a certain amount of money as compensation for the substitute to go out to the labor camp for several months. When the arrangements were completed for this exchange, several people would be found who offered to go to the labor camps for a sum of money. Also, they were assured by the Judenrat that they would be sent packages on a consistent basis. And indeed, these exchanges took place several times, but each time this came about with great hardship, controversy, and bitter fighting. The Judenrat used the money they collected from this to send additional shipments of food to the camps.
The last groups placed in Kotrze and on Kobierzyńska Street were saved from the hell of the first deportation to Bełżec, since they were far from the town and were already situated in a camp. Fate decreed that those who had been sent to the labor camps were among those who avoided the selection and segregation on the day of deportation and were thus not sent to their deaths. Several hundred had been sent to the camp in Prokocim to strengthen the two labor camps that already housed former people from Działoszyce. From this aspect, it proved to be a salvation from annihilation, since it is a well-known fact that no one returned alive from Bełżec.
In this vacant wing, they established a communal kitchen and a dining room under the initiative of an active group from the youth organization. At the helm stood Mrs. Salomea Gertler, zl (the wife of Szlama Gertler). The beginning was relatively modest, and in the first few months, only a few hundred refugees ate there on a daily basis. However, as time went on, the number of people eating there grew tremendously, so that this institution very rapidly turned into the most important one in town. Without it, thousands of people in the town wouldn't have been able to survive. It is impossible for me to even begin to describe the superhuman work and effort that this group of active volunteers put forth. All of them dedicated themselves to the continual existence of this kitchen. I am hopeful that one of my surviving friends who was among those who carried out this virtuous action, and who turned nights into days for the duration of three innocent years, will give more of an account about this. In spite of the dire lack of provisions existing in the town, they provided nourishing food, cooking dishes, and heating supplies to anyone who needed them. The kitchen never rested and provided each and every day, in addition to a portion of bread, thousands of hot tasty meals. I would not do ample justice if I did not mention here at least some of the names of those people, who, among others, devoted and dedicated all of their energies and time to this holy project. The first and foremost of them and the one who organized the kitchen was the noble woman, Mrs. Salomea Gertler, zl, and by her side worked the brothers Kaczka, Josek and Szlama Szulimowicz, Moszek Kamelgart, and Motel Rozenek, who have all perished, may God avenge their blood, and may they be blessed with long life: Dov Bejski, Moshe Rozenek, Alter Frydman, and others.
Today, I am convinced beyond any doubt that under the circumstances existing during those times, this group of activists earned anew each and every day their shares in the world to come.
One cannot forget how very difficult it was during the war years to acquire food products for a single family and so much more so to collect food to prepare thousands of meals on a daily basis. As time went on, a part of these supplies were provided by the Judenrat from the rations of food made available by the authorities. But all this provided only a minimal amount of what was necessary. The main food supplies and products had to be acquired by the people dealing with this and was carried out both by honest and dishonest ways and means. All of this was in addition to the collection of funds in order to enable the operation of this huge project.
To all those who needed the provisions of this communal kitchen, the meal that was provided was the only hot meal for the entire day. For many among them, this meal and the portion of bread given was the only food they received for themselves and their family. As the war continued and was prolonged, the numbers of those in need of the communal kitchen continued to grow. In the beginning, only the refugees partook, and the local residents tried as much as possible to refrain from using it. There was a certain degree of embarrassment for one to need this public kitchen. However, the times and circumstances played their part, and eventually even honorable citizens couldn't withstand the hardship and dire need. And so the number of registered people for this kitchen grew day by day. With regard to these people, what they did was unusual. The refugees who had come to the town used to eat their meals in the general dining room (that meanwhile had spread and now encompassed the entire floor), whereas the local citizens would take their own and their family's portion of food to their homes. So it would not be an exaggeration for me to say that this action of volunteerism and heroism was the most important and significant one that lightened the bitter circumstances of thousands who lived in the town as well as those who came in from the outside to find refuge. Not possessing adequate and sufficient words, I cannot begin to express the true appreciation to all those valiant people who dealt with and were active in the foundation and steady organized existence of this kitchen in spite of all the many difficulties, obstacles, and hardships.
I do not exactly remember when the Judenrat became established in Działoszyce. When I traveled to Kraków at the end of 1939, the kehile [Jewish community council] was still in operation. It had been elected, during its time (a long time before the outbreak of the war), and at its head presided Mr. Moszek Jozek Kruk. I would like to emphasize the fact that this council was formed from honorable residents of the town, even though today I would find it difficult to enumerate all of their names. Immediately after the casualties in Poland began, this council was besieged with new and varied responsibilities with which they had never dealt in their entire lives and had never dreamed they would ever have to shoulder. No longer were the most important aspects of their jobs the overseeing of ritual slaughter, the inspections of the bes hamedresh, or not even the salary payments for the rav [rabbi] of the town and the existence of the talmed-toyre [Jewish elementary school] and the Hebrew school. This community council now became the central destination for all those many many refugees who were searching for a temporary roof over their heads in their escape or wanted to settle down in this place until the hostile period passed. And these people were bereft of any possessions, torn and bedraggled, without proper coverings for their bodies. And the problems only grew worse and became more intensified with the arrival of fall and the approach of winter. The community council itself was without means and in the midst of a pandemonium even when a portion of the town hadn't yet returned from its wanderings, and they couldn't stand up to the circumstances. Nonetheless, it is important to shed a positive and supportive stance for all the great efforts that were exerted during that first period to absorb the steady flow of the refugees or those passing through the town and especially for the provisions of food and a roof over their heads.
When I returned after a few months from Kraków, the Judenrat was already in existence. Although the name the Germans gave it was new, its make up hadn't changed. At the head of the Judenrat, same as in the kehile during its former years, stood Mr. Moszek Jozek Kruk. If I remember correctly, also included were all of the members from the former council. It is clear that the number of members in the Judenrat was greater than the number in the former community council, but I cannot recall if this was the case immediately from the beginning or only during the time when other members were added.
With the passage of time, changes took place in the mission of the Judenrat. In addition to the necessity of taking care of the community's affairs that grew from day to day, the Judenrat served as a contact point for the Germans. They were to carry out the anti-Jewish orders and verdicts that were established each morning anew and also to meet the varied needs of the occupation authorities in the area. When the decree was established for Jews to wear identifying armbands with the Star of David, carrying this out became the responsibility of the Judenrat. All residents were forced to surrender their valuable possessions, gold and silver, to the Germans. The Judenrat had to oversee this collection. Any time a contribution was levied on the Jews, all of the members in the Judenrat were responsible that this money would be handed over in cash to the local authorities on such and such a date and by a specific hour. In most cases, this was accompanied with a warning that if this decree was not carried out by the appointed time, the members of the Judenrat would pay with their lives. It was a well-known fact from occurrences in other communities that these were not empty threats.
In addition to the general decrees of the central or local authorities, the Judenrat served as a sponge to be squeezed by each and every authoritative Nazi in the district. A Gestapo man needed so many pairs of boots and a gendarme asked that he and his friend be supplied with so many yards of material for suits. These demands were mostly turned over to the Judenrat, whose members knew that if the requests were not granted, bitter troubles and misfortunes would befall the community. And these often came again even after their demands were fulfilled. Those making such demands were very many; among them were high-level officers from Miechów such as Schmidt, Bayerlein, Vogt, Becker, and Rittinger, along with the most vicious gendarmes such as Kozak, Dachauer-Kornhäuser, Schubert, and many many others who were active in the area and became steady visitors to the town.
The opinion of the Judenrat was, and in this they did not differ from the opinion of the rest of the population, that by fulfilling the Nazis' demands and supplying their needs, they would succeed in lessening the evil decrees and sometimes in eliminating them altogether. The truth is that on a small scale, this did get accomplished when the beast got satisfied for the moment. We're talking now mainly about individual instances of destruction. And an additional bitter truth is that the Judenrat didn't have any other choice when it came to fulfilling the various material demands that were passed on to them along with threats of initiating bitter sanctions on the entire population or against the members of the Judenrat itself.
However, it is a self-evident fact that these situations brought the Judenrat into conflict with the population. First, it was the Judenrat that was responsible to pass and enact the bitter decrees levied by the authorities. In addition, the implementations themselves were beset with confrontations. For instance, when a head of a household was requested to give his part of the contribution that was required and the amount was large, he viewed this as being the fault of the members of the Judenrat. Whether this was because of the constant pressures, fear, and dread, or due to living under the ceaseless threats of the Germans or the great burdens that they found themselves confronting, all of these factors gave rise to the situation. But the truth is that at certain times, the behavior of the members indeed underwent a change. When I see in front of my eyes the image of the head of the Judenrat, Moszek Jozek Kruk, going from door to door to complete the collection of the money to pay for the third contribution, while the zero hour was nearing and the amount of money collected was very far from that demanded, of course, his behavior and attitude to the head of the household was far different than would be expected from the head of a community leader under normal circumstances. This wasn't the same honored Jew who used to dance at the head of the congregation on Simkhes Toyre. But, God forbid, we should turn to judging the people of the Judenrat about this episode or any similar one. We should never forget that not a single person among them (and we are only talking about those in Działoszyce) brought this responsibility upon themselves during the war. They all continued in their former positions under new circumstances that were created and over which no one from the town had any control. Also, all that was happening and the way it developed was in such a manner that no one could foresee or even imagine. The Judenrat was confronted with problems that were impossible for them to solve, and heavy burdens were placed upon it that the members could not withstand. Basically, the members of the Judenrat were the same honorable citizens. Their goal was to lighten the burden as much as they possibly could. They tried valiantly with the wit and traditional intelligence of the Jews to outsmart the Nazi beast, while rationalizing that with time and without any extra mishaps and casualties in the Jewish population, there was increasing hope that they would witness the downfall of the enemy.
I refrain from voicing any opinions regarding the general questioning of the Judenrat from the way things look from a historical viewpoint and the passage of time. These questions are open to heavy controversies even today. However, it is next to impossible not to mention the causes that on a daily basis brought about differences of opinion between the population and the Judenrat, and as a result, there developed a mutual distrust, even in our town. It seems to me that I can freely say with total conviction that during the entire period that the Judenrat existed in Działoszyce, there was never an incident when any action taken by it had any other motive than to lighten the sufferings and to find an organized approach to the difficult issues that the times brought about. All that was done took into consideration the various options that existed under the prevailing circumstances and that seemed to be the best and most logical. In contrast, the occupying authorities saw the job of the Judenrat not as one that lent assistance and support to the Jewish population but as an institution through which their different and varied demands could be levied against the Jews. To this end, the Judenrat was given some power. They were not free to ignore the Germans instructions just the opposite. In very many instances, they had to issue edicts on their own so that the instructions could be carried out for example, the payment of dues, the supply of forced laborers, etc. And even though in the beginning the Judenrat tried to collect the money from the townspeople who had the means, with the intention of not overburdening those who had nothing, this nevertheless evoked anger and wrath among a part of the population that felt they were being taken advantage of. The same thing pertained to the exchange of workers being sent for forced labor. In actuality, the effort of the Judenrat to exchange from time to time those who had been rounded up for forced labor was justified. Moreover, many of them were the single providers for their families. However, this was dependent upon sending other laborers in exchange, both in the local area as well as to the more distant camps. And this was also a good enough reason to provoke the fury of those who had to go out as replacements.
And there were times when, without realizing it, the Judenrat found itself involved in horrible incidents. As an example, I will mention the episode of the family Rafałowicz. One day, the Gestapo or the gendarmerie (or both of these together) appeared at the offices of the Judenrat and instructed them to assemble all the males in town by the name of Rafałowicz. Since exact records of the entire population in the town existed, it was no use and even impossible to hide anything from the authorities. All those whose name was Rafałowicz were gathered, and after inquiries that indicated suspicion that one of them belonged to the Communist Party, they were all taken outside of the town by the Germans, and the people of the Ordnungsdienst (the Jewish police) were commanded to go along with them. When they were out in the field, the one who supposedly belonged to the Communist Party was ordered to come forth, and when no one admitted to any guilt, one of the Germans murdered four or five members of the Rafałowicz family without distinction. (As was later reported, the one who shot them was the gendarme Kozak, who is still alive and living peacefully today in Germany.)
Many people had many reasons, whether justified or unjustified, for their anger and severe criticism of the Judenrat. From an objective point of view, it is very doubtful that they could have acted otherwise. One could not count the very many refugees and local inhabitants who knocked on the office doors and complained, for instance, about rain penetrating and streaming into their wretched allotted dwelling place or something else of that nature. Clearly, there was no use explaining that even the last of the last available spots had already been occupied. All of these complaints and many more were submitted to the Judenrat, which served as the institution to which the public turned in spite of the fact that its possibilities were minimal in the face of unceasing demands.
And this is what I started to say in the beginning. The problems with which the Judenrat was confronted by the Nazis went beyond any Jewish institution's ability to withstand and cope with. And even from a current prospective, it is essential to say that as one tries to view the activities of the Judenrats from the vantage point of the dire constant demand for help and the efforts to lighten the daily sufferings of the Jewish population's extreme distress, here in our town of Działoszyce, at least, the Judenrat fulfilled all its obligations to the local Jews. And this is not the place to discuss the attitude adopted in general by Jewish leaders toward all rebellious and resistance activities.
However, in spite of the terrible oppressions and horrors that the Jews endured, the enemy could not affect two of their Jewish characteristics in the many towns and villages in Poland their faith and their hope! The more I think about those days, the more astounded I am at these two magic qualities without which it would have been impossible to live through the hell of the Nazis. This subject is worthy of very careful study and deep research, but here I just want to point out the presence of these traits in our small town. The subject seems to me to be of great importance, given the people's abilities to live through the great sufferings of this era.
It is difficult to point out instances when the Jews actually lost their hope and faith. Not only during the period of the ghettos, during which time they hadn't even started toward the final solution, but even at a later period, when the suffering and pain continued in the concentration and extermination camps.
Allow me to mention that even during the first days of the war, public prayers were forbidden, and synagogues and houses of prayer were closed. In our town, as already mentioned, there existed a bes hamedresh [house of prayer/study] and a beysakneses [synagogue] along with many shtiblekh [small Hasidic houses of prayer], which now housed the refugees. In spite of the strict prohibition not to assemble in groups, Jews used to pray in any place where they could squeeze a minyan [quorum of 10 men needed for prayer], in spite of the great danger that this imposed. And this took place not only on Shabes and the festivals but also during the week. The town didn't lose a bit of its exemplary Orthodoxy, even though efforts were made that this not be visible. Jewish ritual slaughtering and the sale of kosher meat were also totally prohibited, under the severest restrictions. Despite the dangers facing the ritual slaughterers and butchers, if ever there was meat for sale, it was always kosher.
Of the many decrees that came forth from the authorities was one that hit the population in Działoszyce very hard. Growing a beard was prohibited. I cannot recall the exact time this edict was issued (I believe it was at the end of 1941) nor the specified time a mass shaving was instituted. However, I do remember very well how great the upheaval was among the men in our town. There were the jokers in our midst who pointed their fingers at this one and that one who couldn't wait for such a decree to get rid of their beards. But the truth was that this decree caused great spiritual anguish, not only to those who wore beards but also to those who had always shaved. Indeed, it was very strange to meet Jews who, since my early childhood, I was used to seeing with beards. Their beards evoked a degree of respectability, and suddenly, now with their shaven faces, they seemed to be in disguise. Nonetheless, there were many who disobeyed this order, including my own father, zl, who preferred to stay at home for many months and not remove his beard. When necessity required him to go out into the street, he would wrap his face in a scarf as though he had a toothache, and this is how he would go through the street with great caution. God forbid he should meet up with a German. But finally, he was caught and punished. I want to also note that my father, zl, was not the only one who kept his beard; many others did likewise. And when the bitter day arrived, the day of deportation never to return, as they marched into the gas chambers, Jews who were successful in not shaving off their beards had their pure Jewish faith unblemished, both in a spiritual sense as well as in their outer physical appearance. Indeed, these holy martyrs perished al Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God's name fulfilled in all its glory.
The never-ending hope was a miracle. It did not drain away from the heart of the Jewish population even during the days of the Nazis' resounding victories in the first few years of the war. The Germans, so it seemed, marched from triumph to triumph, with countries falling before them, and soon all of Europe was mowed down by their troops. The Jews, however, saw every small sign as an indicator of the Germans' imminent defeat with salvation [for the Jews] in its wake. There was no end to the rumors that cropped up from unknown sources and, for the moment at least, raised morale. The most important news source was the YVA, an abbreviation for Yidn Viln Azoi (Jews Want Thus)[11}. Even when a rumor proved baseless, the Jews did not despair. Another rumor would take its place and raise the spirits. Everyone said: Mir vellen sei iberleben (We will outlive them). How cruel is fate! Most of these wonderful Jews did not manage to fulfill this wish.
However, along with this encouraging news, there also filtered worrisome bad news as well. Although our town was entirely cut off from the outer world, rumors and information began to spread in the summer of 1942 about the Aktions [roundups and deportations] in different parts of Poland during which Jews were deported to unknown destinations. No one knew for sure the truth of this and where these deported people were being sent or what their fate had become. Today, with subsequent information, it is clear that there were Jewish settlements and ghettos that had heard of the existence of the death camps even during the summer of 1942. I can say in full truth that this news did not reach our town. Not one person suspected, even in his or her worst thoughts, that this type of thing was happening. It was clear to all that the deportation in and of itself was a terrible, horrible phenomenon. According to the rumors, Jews were being transferred to nearby areas of the Russian front in order to perform different types of labor, etc. I cannot say exactly as to when such news was heard, but in my estimation, this was approximately during the months of June or July 1942.
Even after the bitter experiences during the three years under the rule of the occupying Nazis, and even after the Jews had already gone through seven degrees of hell due to the decrees and horrors, not one person could fathom that the sole goal of the enemy was to totally and thoroughly destroy the entire Jewish people and to eradicate its name from the face of the earth. The Germans were also clever at concealing their actions and directing the rumors in ways that suited them in order to avoid any terrible suspicions. Among all kinds of news flooding the ghettos, the people were able to tell with reassurance and calmness about news they had received regarding their deported brethren on the other side of the River San, a fact that in and of itself was probably true. And the fact is that at a later time, when I was already in the concentration camp, it happened that letters were received from people who had been sent to Auschwitz. Despite this, it did not prevent the Germans from exterminating the writers of these letters in the gas chambers immediately after the letters were written. This was also one of the ways and means the Nazis employed to fool and shrewdly hide their horrid inhumane activities and actions.
In spite of all this, the news intensified during the last week of August 1942. There were suspicions, and in the atmosphere hovered the hidden fearful feeling that something was about to happen, but no one knew exactly what. During this same week, one heard that Aktions had already taken place in Zagłębie and that most of the Jews were transported to an unknown place. It seemed as though something was happening in our area as well. The Judenrat members (holding special permit papers) traveled on a daily basis to Miechów, the site of the German administration, but were unable to gather any information whatsoever. And even if they caught some sort of news, there was nothing they could do about it. There were individuals who had good connections with the farmers in the area, and they tried to make contact with them to secure a hiding place for themselves. However, only a few rare individuals were successful in doing this. And this, of course, is no surprise, since the Polish population was anti-Semitic toward the Jews, not only today. In the best of circumstances, they viewed the current ordeals with total equanimity and peace, and in the majority of cases, with complete satisfaction. Indeed, we have a very long reckoning with the Poles, filled with a bloody trail.
Rosh Hashanah drew closer; this time the suspicions mounted before the Days of Awe. Yom Kippur appeared in the distance indeed like the Day of Judgment in its full terror. But the thing that we feared most arrived even before Rosh Hashanah. This terrible thing became a reality on September 2, 1942. By evening, before fear and nervousness reached its peak, one knew that an Aktion had started in our immediate area in Słomniki, Wiślica, Żarnowiec, and the closest vicinities. A feeling of helplessness and fear of the unknown overcame us. There remained only one option, to escape. However, any attempt at escape wasn't realistic for the majority of the population. And this is not even mentioning the difficulties involved in starting to wander the treacherous routes together with children and the elderly. The main question was: Where should we run? The Poles not only refused to give us shelter, but, in most instances, they themselves would denounce and turn over to the Germans any Jew who was found wandering around. Even prior to this, when a Jew was found wandering outside the borders of the town, his fate was certain death. This was much more so during an Aktion. Only those rare individuals who, after prior negotiations, accompanied by hefty sums, had arranged for a secret refuge tried that night to escape to their hiding place in the adjoining farm areas. But merely wandering around served no purpose whatever. In addition, in our area, forests didn't even exist. Even to those with the utmost courage, who had thought of this, it was very clear that within a few days they would be caught. Greater than any fear was the fear that night, and it was no less the following day.
During the afternoon hours, the word spread like lightning that the angels of destruction had already arrived in the village. Even on normal days the streets would become deserted when it became known that the Germans had arrived. But this time, a deathly silence descended at once on the town. Not one person looked through their windows or even peeked through their door. We were terrified and petrified when we got the warning that the town in its entirety was surrounded by heavy guards. I tried to go out to Kościuszko Street, which was generally bustling with people all the way from the train tracks to the center of town, but here, too, an eerie heavy silence prevailed. I noted that the Catholic Poles who lived on that street had put crosses on their doors and in their windows to show that Jews did not live there. I didn't dare walk the length of the deserted street. What's more, I was totally alone and the only person on it. In spite of it all, I was very curious to know what was happening in the center of town where, according to my understanding, the Germans were probably gathering. I sneaked along the riverbed and behind the houses, and in this manner, I succeeded in arriving at the back yard of the Targownik home where the Szternberg pharmacy was also located. I peeked through a crack, and the following scenario unfolded before my eyes. At a distance of about 2025 meters from where I stood were a number of armed Germans, and in the center of the market square, near the statue of Kościuszko, they forced four to five Jews to stand in a row with several meters between them. The Germans barked to the Jews to perform various exercises: Fall to the ground! Stand up! Hands up! Hands down! And this was repeated all over again. Because of the distance from where I stood, I could not recognize the exact identity of the people being tormented. Suddenly, when all the Jews standing had their hands raised upward, the guns were drawn and single shots were heard. With these shots, the live targets fell to the ground. Thoroughly shocked and frightened from what I had just witnessed, I slipped back to my house the same way I had come.
Meanwhile, night fell, and with it deep depression, fearfulness, and anxiety. First, I went to my neighbors, but from them I could only learn about their own fears and hopelessness. At a later hour, I summed up more courage, and through the house of Wdowiński, near the synagogue and the butcher shops, I made my way to the offices of the Judenrat, somewhat in the hope that I could gather some information. Here in the yard stood a number of people saying that the heads of the local authorities and other officials were in the offices together with the members of the Judenrat. It was clear to all that indeed the Aktion had already began. There was even someone who said that what was going on was the deportation of the entire Jewish population from the town, including the Judenrat, as well as the members of the Ordnungsdienst [Jewish police]. I also heard that in the last minute, before the Germans succeeded in encircling the entire town on all sides, very many people succeeded in escaping ahead of the enclosing chain of Germans. Someone else claimed that even then there probably weren't very many guards in the area of the soccer field near the Stawisko.
Although I had no clue as to where I was supposed to escape with my family, I myself decided to test whether this was a possibility at all. The fact that in the yard of the Judenrat I met people gave me additional courage. I started proceeding toward the Stawisko, but all I did was progress maybe 100150 meters when I saw in front of me a shadow escaping and immediately afterward a shot. Someone who had tried to escape before me was shot and fell. After a second, another shot was heard, and then a third. I stopped a bit in the yard of one of the houses and, after another few minutes, frightened, I returned the way I had come. On the way, I encountered the body of a person lying on the sidewalk. I arrived home in one piece. This was for me and everyone else a night of terror. I don't recall what we did until the morning. I think we sat without uttering a sound. This silence was strange and filled with terror. Every so often, someone else from our family would look out of the window to see whether we could see anything in the darkness. Every so often, we would hear gunshots from different directions, and only this disturbed the deep depressing silence.
With the arrival of morning, individuals with courage could be seen on the streets. The daylight lessened the fear somewhat. Much movement was felt in the center of town. There were very many Germans, and among them all the important ones from Miechów. Their cars were parked along the sidewalk near the stores of Fornalski and Rolnicki. It was very clear to us that we were now surrounded on all sides and this would be our last day in Działoszyce.
In the hours before noon, the order was already given that all residents were to appear at specified times according to their street in the center of the market square. Everyone was allowed to take along a small bundle including work clothes, since we were all traveling to a working place. Those living on my family's street were told to assemble at two o'clock. Silently, each one of us gathered some possessions and put a knapsack on his back. My father, zl, gave each one of us possessions of value that still remained from the family valuables and also evenly divided the small amount of cash that was being held in reserve. Who could justifiably imagine and comprehend the acute pain of leaving the house that contained so much and never to return to it anymore? My father, may he rest in paradise, kissed the mezuze and set out with faltering steps, looking backward every so often. It wasn't difficult for me to guess what his thoughts were during those moments. I knew how hard he had toiled to build this house and how many years he had worked on it. Now all this was at an end, and, as to the future, who could fathom?
The picture that met one's eyes on the streets evoked a feeling of pity and mercy, even in the hearts of the most vicious and unfeeling. Here were human beings who were created in the image of God, with faltering steps, old men and women, women with children. On the back of each one rested a backpack or sack and therein a few meager possessions. Where were they going? To the unknown. Even without knowing where, it was certainly a horrible place! As I was passing by with the others, I saw every once in a while a familiar face looking out of the apartments, one of the Polish Christian neighbors. The face was watching and not uttering even a word of goodbye. Were they so callous? Or were they waiting impatiently for the last Jew to leave town? Their real celebration would start after all the German authorities had left the division of abandoned property. More than once during the war they had their eyes on so and so and on his furnishings, and in the end, they succeeded in confiscating the booty.
Many people had already assembled in the area of the market square. Others kept flocking there from all sides. Armed guards were seen all around, and they made sure that all those who were there could not leave anymore. We were standing when an armed officer suddenly approached our rows and took out four youths, including myself, and ordered us to follow him. He brought us into the yard where Gertler lived. Here lay the bodies of several women. We were ordered to pile them into one area. From utter fright and terror, I could not identify the bodies. During the time that we were busy dealing with the women who had been murdered, a person appeared on the porch of the first floor. The officer yelled in his direction, Come, come! He started descending the stairs, and while he was walking, a shot rang out. The man buckled under and fell, releasing his soul there and then. We were forced to deal with this corpse as well. When we went out of the yard and the officer turned to go to the adjoining house, that of Richter, I seized the opportunity to escape as fast as I could and mingled with the people in the market square. I found myself again near my family, which hid me in case this same officer came looking for me.
After some time, many carts harnessed to horses, with farmers serving as the drivers, started arriving in the area. The Germans and men of the Ordnungsdienst walked through the rows of standing people and announced that all those for whom walking to the train station some distance away would be difficult should climb onto the carts and be transported there. Very many women and elderly were persuaded to climb on. They did this in the hope that they would save themselves the effort of walking while their meager possessions were on their backs. The row of carts started on its way but we immediately observed that something was not as it should be; instead of leaving the market square in the direction of Kościuszko Street that led to the train station, the carts continued going straight down Skalbmierska Street, the street that led to the cemetery.
In the meantime, the market square had become full of people. We were ordered to march in the direction of the train station while the SS armed officers escorted us. While we were underway, we heard machinegun fire shooting non-stop. Our thoughts were with all those people who had traveled on the carts. This machinegun shooting was probably aimed at them. After some time, when I returned to the town after having escaped from a camp, it became clear that this was indeed the truth. Three huge mass graves were visible in the cemetery in which were buried all those who had been shot and murdered which, to my anguish, included all the elderly and the women who had traveled on those carts. We will never ever know the exact numbers of the murdered victims. The estimates are between 1,2002,000 holy martyrs.
At the station, they loaded us onto open train wagons. All the Jews of the town were taken to Miechów. We arrived before nightfall and made our way by foot from the train station to a large open field at the edge of town. Here we found other Jews from other places and vicinities who had arrived before us. Among other things, we learned that despite the promises that were given to the Judenrat and the Ordnungsdienst that they would remain in Działoszyce and not be deported with the others, they, too, found themselves here with us. The explanation was that indeed they were given this promise, and it was even sealed with a proper seal. However, after the Germans discovered that in spite of everything there had been quite a few who succeeded in escaping from the town, they included the Judenrat and the Jewish police at the last minute.
That night we spent under the sky while armed German officers kept watch. The next day, before noon, Jews from Miechów, and I think also from Kazimierz Wielki and Skalbmierz, started arriving. (It is possible that they had already arrived the day before from the latter two places). According to my estimation, there must have been a concentration of about 20,000 Jews from the entire nearby vicinity. I don't remember how long we stood there. I estimate that it was until noon or close to it. All of a sudden, we were ordered to organize in groups of five. Each family tried to stay together. We realized that they meant only the men. A great commotion began. Everything was done with lightning speed, making it impossible for us to pay attention to what was happening. While the guards were still busy forming groups of five, in another section of the field the selections had already begun. From the long lines they quickly separated out almost a fifth of the people, and these continued on to the leader in the front. All five people walked together with their hands raised upward, and the guard, without any hesitation, pointed with his finger right, left, right, left. While he was still at it, another five people stood in front of him awaiting his verdict. It became immediately apparent that the young were being sent to the left side and all the others to the right. The armed guards immediately separated those who were sent to the left, without allowing them a second to hesitate. Even before I could realize what was happening, I found myself with my two brothers, Uri, zl, and Dov, may he live a long life, standing on the left side of the field, while the rest of my family, together with the others, were being led in the opposite direction. I didn't have any way to signal my parents or my sister, and there was absolutely no way I could go over from my group to the one on the other side. Everything was carried out with the utmost speed. A mere few seconds had passed, and my family members had disappeared and become swallowed among the throng of people directed to the right. These events took place unexpectedly and with the speed of lightning. Only the mutual turning of heads and silent looks of deepest pain signaled these silent partings, the partings forever. All this took place without a single word of blessing, without any hugs or kisses, without saying our goodbyes.
Approximately 2,000 young people remained after this selection, standing on the other side, while at some distance stood our closest loved ones, and not a person knew what their fate would be. All these activities, which involved about 20,000 people, had only lasted approximately two hours altogether. Under strict surveillance, we were immediately brought to the train station and this time loaded into cattle cars. Suddenly, we were ignited with a spark of hope when the 2,000 of us inside the cars saw the other family members also arriving at the train station. We became aware that some of them were also traveling on this same train but in different wagons. We thought this meant that we would be traveling together. However, this hope was quickly shattered. The train stopped after a while at the station in Prokocim. Some of the wagons, those carrying us young ones, stayed put, while the others, which contained the [other] Jews from our vicinity, continued on. Their last station was the extermination camp at Bełżec! In that camp all the Jews of Działoszyce, Miechów, Słomniki, Wolbrom, Skalbmierz, Kazimierz Wielki, Pińczów, Proszowice, Charsznica, and all the other dwelling places met their deaths. From all of these places, only approximately 2,000 people were left alive, temporarily. For them a horrid and torturous life was about to begin, first, in the labor camps, and afterward, in the concentration and death camps.
My friends have done me a favor, since they released me from the need to tell in detail this torturous episode. In my opinion, it is difficult to find a person with enough descriptive powers who can portray even in the driest manner our lives from that day on, when we were put into the camp in Prokocim, until our liberation on May 8, 1945. If it has been determined that hell has seven levels, I myself wish to revoke this theory, since we ourselves passed through not seven, but seventy-seven layers of it. We went from level to level and stayed there again and again. However, this distracts from my story about the entire community of Działoszyce during the Holocaust and only touches a few hundred of its sons that only blind fate and the flick of the finger of a Nazi general directed to the left side of the field during the selection.
I don't know the exact numbers of Działoszycers who were sent on a separate transport to the Prokocim camp. My estimate is about 600700 people from among the 2,000. However, I may be mistaken, since there are no figures available for this. However, it is clear that the majority, together with the others who were already in the concentration camps before the deportation, as well as those who managed to hide for a while in various places, perished in the different camps in Poland and Germany. These souls were tortured before their deaths with indescribable horrors that could be thought of only by the satanic brains of the Nazis. No exact statistical reports are available on the people of Działoszyce who survived and succeeded in seeing the downfall of the enemy and the end of the war. What we know is that there are now about 330 survivors in Israel and another few hundred dispersed throughout the world. That is all who survived the Nazi beast out of a large community that consisted of over 10,000 Jews (during the war) and that had existed for hundreds of years. This is how the Jewish community of Działoszyce was annihilated, only one community among many, many others in Poland. It became erased from the face of the earth except for another very short period. More about this will be told further on.
Two weeks went by, and an escapee from Działoszyce came and told us that Jews had gathered again in Działoszyce, namely those who had escaped before the deportation. It became clear that after the deportation, they were hiding in fields and other hiding places and that the night before the roundup, they had succeeded in escaping the Germans. But the bottom line was that they didn't have any place to put down their heads nor any source of sustenance. In addition, their fear of the Polish farmers grew. And also the autumn rains began. Lacking any other options, and since they heard that the Germans had left the town, individuals started drifting back into the town like thieves. Slowly, slowly, they could be counted by tens, and after several weeks, the returnees amounted to a few hundred. Another episode had taken place. While we were in Prokocim, the Germans rounded up all the members of the Ordnungsdienst who had been expelled together with us to this camp and returned them to Działoszyce and their other hometowns. The motive behind this was probably that the members of the Ordnungsdienst could be used to collect and liquidate the properties and assets that were left behind by Jews, since Christian Poles had already started doing so. Of course the Germans couldn't tolerate this.
When news of this arrived, several of the camp inmates escaped back to Działoszyce. After a few days, some of the escapees returned to the camp bringing a few belongings with them, while the rest remained in the town. In order to make things easier for my brother and myself, I also decided to do this. I said to myself that I would return home on a temporary basis and would take everything I could carry from the house. The bartering and exchange business had grown and was flourishing in the camp. A shirt could be traded for bread that we hungered for so much. The food supply in the camp was already poor and limited. Among my working friends was a Polish fellow by the name of Marian Włodarczyk, who also decided to go to Działoszyce. I turned over to him mainly the articles of clothing that one could exchange for food.
Upon my return to the town, I found there several hundred Jews who had arrived before me. The town itself lacked any life. No one thought that anyone could remain. The misfortune was that there was nowhere else to go except back to the labor camps. Whoever had already experienced camp life knew what this entailed, and those who had wandered from place to place in the hope of finding some type of hiding place knew that one could not expect any assistance or help whatsoever from the Poles, not even a stay of one night. This was at the end of October 1942. The ghetto in Kraków still existed, but this wouldn't solve the rescue issue at all. Earlier, I had been in touch with members of the Zionist Youth Movement both in Kraków and Częstochowa and suggested that they take steps to make contact with the partisans. The trouble was that in our part of Poland, this, too, was impossible for Jews.
I stayed a few days in the town and tried to find some solution to my situation. Suddenly, one night, they awakened me with fright, and I was told that the town was surrounded again and probably they were about to carry out another deportation. A few days earlier, the brothers Lewit of Miechów, who had moved to our town during the war, told me they had prepared a hiding place for an emergency situation, and being that I was very good friends with them, they said that I could join them. The place was in an attic in what had formerly been the home of the Moszenberg family. I went there at once, and within a few moments, 12 persons had assembled: the brothers Lewit, their brother-in-law, Salek Kacengold, Szaniecki, and Jechiel Rajsfeld. The bunker was well hidden. When we were all inside, the Polish policeman Kamerdyniak appeared and put a padlock on the outer door, taking the key with him. To the naked eye, it appeared as though not a living soul was inside. I personally did not trust him, since I didn't think of him as a Jew lover. But Jechiel Rajsfeld, zl, reassured me and told me the policeman was trustworthy and would keep us informed of what was going on. The advantage was that since Kamerdyniak was a policeman, he had free-ranging privileges without himself being suspect.
For 24 hours we were totally disconnected from any contact with the outside and had no idea of what was happening. We were imprisoned in the dark without the ability to make any physical move due to the lack of space. Our apprehensions grew with the oncoming darkness, and one thought bothered us all: Would Kamerdyniak keep his promise and come, or would he reveal our hiding place to the Germans and seal our fate? Close to midnight, we heard sounds in the lock, and Kamerdyniak appeared. Even though it was clear to us that he would not bring our salvation, at least we had some communication with the outside. And so we had some hope that he might direct and lead us in some way. He told us that all the Jews in town had been rounded up during the day and taken away under heavy guard. The town was still surrounded, and there was no chance of escaping. When he turned to leave, he again locked us in from the outside, promising to return the following night.
A day of fear and waiting followed while each of us was thinking aloud as to where we could make our way once we had escaped alive from the town. Hiding places with farmers who had been paid large sums of money in advance were waiting for the Lewit and Rajsfeld brothers. The question that stood before them was only how to get to the farm. Also Szaniecki possessed some kind of an address. For the others, myself included, no address awaited, and I also possessed no money. The only idea that I could think of was to try to reach Kraków. First, my two brothers were in the camp and expected some news of me. Second, in the Kraków ghetto were my friends from the movement with whom I had kept in touch during the war in the hope that we could plan something. My friend Zelig Bajuk lived on the Polish side, armed with Aryan papers, and, together with my friends from the movement from Sosnowiec, was searching for a way to get to Slovakia. This seemed to me to be the only solution at that moment. However, the question remained how to get there.
On the second night, we waited in vain for the arrival of Kamerdyniak, but he didn't show his face. Terrible thoughts crowded our minds. We started to debate how to proceed and what to do. In the end, without information about the guards surrounding the town, we couldn't see any possibility of going out of our hiding place. The situation and our apprehensions grew worse during the third day when we heard shots close by. It was clear that the Germans were searching for those in hiding, and we could imagine what these shots meant. Our forebodings were confirmed when relatively early in the evening, Kamerdyniak appeared. He told us that for two days the Germans had been conducting thorough searches in each nook and cranny for anyone in hiding. Those caught were shot, murdered on the spot. His opinion was that the house we were hidden in would be searched tomorrow. Based on their method of searching, he was concerned they would locate us in spite of the successful camouflage. We also heard from him that the majority of the Germans were still staying in the town, but they were satisfied with putting just a few guards in the outlying area. His opinion was that there was a good chance of escaping the town by way of the Christian cemetery, where there seemed to be no guards.
After the policeman left, there wasn't much time to think. We agreed that we would leave our hideout in pairs, at intervals of half an hour. I left with my friend Salek Kacengold. Our first surprise was the snow everywhere. The snow kept on falling, and everything became white. The snow made things more difficult, since our coats were dark. However even this wasn't enough to stop us. We crossed the church courtyard and cemetery and, without meeting up with any guards, found ourselves outside the town. The big question now was where to go. Of course, it would have been simple and easy to go the seven kilometers from the town to the train station in Słaboszów and to go from there through Miechów to Kraków, posing as Poles. However, this seemed to be most dangerous; we assumed that at each train station the Germans were searching for Jews and we had no papers. I now remembered a farmer who had sat together with me in school for an entire seven years and that he lived in Jakubowice this was the closest farm to us. We decided to try our luck and turned our steps toward this place. We made the distance without meeting up with anyone. However, we were soon disappointed. I begged my former classmate to allow us to stay for one night only and immediately afterward we would be gone. My friend and his father didn't even bother opening the door. This was the assistance that the good Poles were willing to extend to their persecuted Jews!
Meanwhile, the hour was already very late (or maybe early), and it was clear to us that we could not go anywhere since the morning was upon us. In the yard of this same farmer was a barn, and the door was unlocked. Without hesitation, we snuck in and dove deep into the piles of hay. For three nights and days, we stayed there hidden among the straw without the owner even being aware of our existence. Except that the only loaf of bread in our possession had already been consumed by the second day. On the third night, we decided to leave our temporary bunker. We managed to get to the train station in Janowice and succeeded in arriving in Kraków.
From then on started for me a chapter full of pain and tribulations that is not the place here to elaborate upon, since we are talking about the fate of our town Działoszyce.
Działoszyce was cleansed of its Jews. This time the annihilation was final and total.
While hundreds of thousands of refugees roamed Europe immediately after the war, the Poles and Frenchmen could turn to go to Poland or France. They now only had to confront transportation difficulties. But what about us? What were we to do now? Where were we to go? Where were our homes, our parents, our wives, children, and relatives?
There were those who saw it as their duty to make the effort and return to their hometowns to see what had happened to the home in which they had spent their lives before the Holocaust. Others hoped they might find surviving kinfolk, and it was only natural to suppose that they would make their way home as well. So two or three dozen Jews arrived in Działoszyce, naked and barefoot, and lacking everything. But the Poles were not prepared to accept even this miserable remnant. The Poles had made up their minds that once the town was without Jews, it should remain so. This was said and done! One day the bloodthirsty anti-Semites murdered Szmul Piekarz, Bencion Czarnocha, and Jurysta. Those murders served as a warning to the others who fled that same night.
Since then, no Jewish foot has trodden the streets of Działoszyce.
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