by Yitshak Katzenelson
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
Cry out from every grain of sand, from under every stone
from all the dust, the flames, from every wisp of smoke.
It is your blood, your life's blood, the marrow of your bones;
it is your body and your soul cry out, cry loudly out.
Cry out from inside the beasts of the forest, the fish in the river
(From, The Poem of the Murdered Jewish Folk)
Translated by Pamela Russ
Nowy Dwor is one of the oldest cities in Poland. It was built in 1333. It lies between the Vistula and the Narew rivers. For these reasons, the city was recognized as being strongly strategic in its location and important to its surroundings.
For geographic reasons, the Modlin Fortress was built in the area of Nowy Dwor, at a distance of one and a half kilometers from the town. In 1812, as Napoleon was headed towards Moscow, he waged a battle in Nowy Dwor and spent the night in the village of Bogumyn (three kilometers from Nowy Dwor). The resistance in 1861 and 1863 left its imprint on the town.
During each evacuation, the Jews suffered terribly, with many lives being lost as well as many possessions. The First World War also records many tragic pages about the sufferings of the Jews in Nowy Dwor who had to leave the town six times. With each evacuation, people's lives and much of their material lives were lost.
When Poland became independent, the town began to forge its way towards development. It finally acquired canals, lights, and planted gardens. It thus became a larger town with many prospects.
The general number of people, according to statistics, was 12,600, of which 8,200 were Jews. In the state council, there were eleven Jewish councilmen, three aldermen, and in those times the assistant mayor was also a Jew named Rudowicki. The annual budget reached 100,000 zlotys.
The leader of the municipality was Reb Reuven Leyb Neufeld, a very cultured man with a very refined character. During the World War, he was very much on top of the situation with his humanitarianism, bringing everyone help, and saving many victims from Russian executioners.
The following schools were in the town: A Hebrew Tarbut school, L. Mundlak; a Bundist school, Medem. In all the schools, there were Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish books, and some in other foreign languages, totaling 15,000 items.
Zionist, Revisionist, Mizrachi, Agudah, Poalei Zion, Bund, and Communist.
The town had the following economic institutions that formed a labor-financial framework:
a bank, two loan funds, a workman's guild. The adjacent region, along with Nowy Dwor, shared a Jewish workers' union and a small merchants' union.
Business and industry belonged to the Jews. These enterprises were, for example, factories of crockery, sales of produce, and running sawmills and flour mills. The development of the factories in those times moved so quickly in the town that the Jewish workers created their own professional machinery. The base for Jewish business was the Modlin Fortress. All necessary things and all supplies were transacted there by the Jews.
In 1934, the first footsteps of anti-Semitism appeared. In Nowy Dwor there were about 6,000 German colonists who had their own ample resources.
Until the outbreak of the war, the Jews fought difficult battles with anti-Semitism in business and in other economic areas. There were also rebellions that the mayor Czeslow Psedjewski had to quell. He was a very just man, of good character, and thanks to his energy and influence, these uprisings did not grow into major revolutions.
On September 1, 1939, the first German airplanes were already near the sawmills where the first victims fell. Because of this commotion, the Jewish residents left the town and headed towards Warsaw. During the month of these bombings, there were many victims. In Warsaw, there were 500 victims, and in Nowy Dwor itself, there were more than 30 deaths.
Once the Germans took over Warsaw, many Jews returned to Nowy Dwor, but this return was tragic because three quarters of the town was destroyed and the better houses that remained were requisitioned for the German colonists. The poorer houses were left for the Jews, wasted houses, where it was impossible to live.
The first decree that was passed was that Jews were forbidden to open stores. In December 1939, the German government passed an order to register all the Jews, and that showed a total of 2,800 people. And then, at the end of December, the representatives of the city Nachum Neufeld and Boruch Tik were summoned and informed that within four days the Jews would have to leave the city. At the same time, they began to requisition materials, furniture, bed linen, and whatever little else the Jews had left in their possession. They also imprisoned 20 people. Six of these died in concentration camps. They thought up all kinds of tortures for them, performed executions, and the agonies were horrific.
On one of those four days (it was a bitterly cold day), they collected all the holy seforim (religious books) into the center of the marketplace and then assembled all the Jews there. They cut the women's hair with knives, and used that to tie together all the seforim, then told Altshtayn, a Jew, that he should set the seforim on fire. When he didn't follow their orders, they beat him so terribly that he died on the spot. At this auto-da-fé, the Jews had to sing Hatikva, dance, beat themselves, and then jump into the fire. In this bloody scene, they told one religious Jew to beat his son, and when they saw that this father and son were hitting each other too gently, the Germans showed them how to do it right, so that the father and son were sick from this for many months thereafter.
On December 28, they took over the libraries of Harav Neufeld and Nachum Neufeld that were kept in the Fortress of Modlin, , and then they gave each Jewish worker a can of kerosene and told them that within an hour there should not be even a trace of ashes left of these books. Then they killed two of these Jews and robbed three others because they were taking too long to complete the task.
On January 15, after locking Nowy Dwor into the Reich, only poor people remained in the city, and of those about 20 men were arrested, and they were forced to produce 20,000 zlotys. Those who were arrested were taken by cargo truck to Legionowo. Because of the arrest, Benyomin Pinker died of fear. He was an Orthodox community activist. The prisoners in Legionowa were left without food and they were beaten mercilessly until they lost consciousness. A tailor, Abramczyk, was beaten to death. When the Jews had accumulated the stipulated amount of money, these prisoners were released. Some of them ran off to Warsaw and some of them stayed in the Reich, in Nowy Dwor, and are there until today.
With this I end the description of my tragic home town.
Friday, on the morning of September 1, our town was shaken up by the shuddering of the houses and windows. Everyone got out of their beds to find out what was happening. Groups of people gathered and one told the other how in his house the cabinets were shaking, and the other said how his glasses rattled. Very quickly, everyone figured out that a bomb had fallen near the Narew River. One person was seriously wounded and two lightly wounded from the fallout.
Later, I met our mayor and he told me that he had been trying to telephone the town's governor but was unable to reach him. At about 7:30, he received the first telephone message that Germany had declared war on Poland.
Our city lies near the Modlin Fortress and the declaration of war caused a huge panic. That same day, Friday, the well-to-do people packed their things and left the city. I accompanied a friend of mine to the train station. He had been called up to the army. There was a terrible panic. Mothers, women, and children accompanied their husbands, sons, and parents, and parted from one another with tears in their eyes.
By two o'clock in the afternoon, we had endured the first air fights between Polish and German airplanes. There was a frightful tumult. Some were packing; some were running to the shelters. Each step was taken amid great chaos. At eleven o'clock at night I was summoned to the military office and I was given the job of supervising the train line from the Modlin station to the station of our town.
On Shabbos, September 2, we saw trains loaded with evacuated people going from Gdynia and other cities near the border. We also saw the first wounded being taken to Warsaw. Everyone was leaving the city, only a few families remained. A lot of Polish military moved in. The homes of all those who had left the town were ransacked and the Jewish stores were looted.
The front was moving closer. The roads filled with military and civilians. There were people who were packed into their wagons, hurrying to get to Warsaw. At the same time, there were people on the road who were trying to run away from the city. Airplanes arrived, escorting those who were running with shooting and machine guns. I also left the city and arrived in Warsaw on September 7 in the morning. There was a terrible panic there and thousands of young people with backpacks were leaving the city.
At the first opportunity to return home, everyone ran back, but by then no one could recognize the city. The trade center burned to the ground. The entire Warsaw Street, Neufeld's sawmill and flour mill, Winogradow's crockery factory, the Beis Midrash, the shul everything was burned down. There were hundreds of Jewish victims wounded in shootings and from bombs.
Four families settled in one house. A new hell began for the Jews. The thugs went from house to house and everything that there was became requisitioned and was taken. They took clothing, bed linen, furniture, let alone all kinds of other materials, and so on. Also, they began to snatch up people for work, and it was impossible to leave the house because as of six in the morning they would go into Jewish houses and grab out the men for work. The majority of the work they assigned was to clean toilets with bare hands, and meanwhile workers were beaten over the head with iron bars.
Again, we ran, and this time it is to cross the border. We sold our last things for pennies, just to have some money.
Party leaders and the youth were running away, and those who stayed began to modify their lives to these conditions.
Once, the town became terrified when there was an influx of unknown Jews. These Jews had been chased out of Sierpc from across the Narew, and because Nowy Dwor is the first city past the Reich's border, they told the Jews that they could stay here. They settled the Jews in Jewish homes for the night and brought help for them along with all the necessities. These Jews were hardly able to spend the night and recover, when the police went from house to house, taking all these strangers to the marketplace and then beat them. Whoever tried to bring these people food or drink was also detained there and beaten.
The night that was yet to come was even more terrible. At 12 midnight, the town was wrapped in darkness, and again a few thousand Jews were collected from other cities and brought in. They didn't leave these people alone, and they were kept under the open sky all night. There was a terrible frost and a lot of snow. The screams of mothers and children tore into the town. I was shocked by this horrific scene that I saw from my window. Under the whips of the soldiers there were a few thousand Jews who were being forced to sing all kinds of songs. I heard strains of Hatikva, Ovinu Malkeinu (prayer recited on Yom Kippur), and so on. That's how they kept them until six in the morning, and then they beat them again.
Friday, September 1, six in the morning, the first bomb fell. There were many wounded and dead.
Sunday the 3rd, daytime, an air assault over the station and Modlin Fortress. Dead and wounded.
Tuesday the 5th, fleeing the city took on massive proportion. The rich and the poor alike were leaving.
Wednesday, the 13th, firebombs kept falling. The center of the town disappeared in the fire.
Wednesday the 27th, the day of Yom Kippur, firebombs and grenades kept falling. The Beis Medrash was burned down. The shul was destroyed by grenades. There were scores of dead and wounded.
Shabbos, September 30, the German military captured the Modlin Fortress and Nowy Dwor.
The people began to return to Nowy Dwor on October 3rd. At that time, people would be snatched up for work every day, both from their homes and from the streets. Mostly, people would be grabbed out of the lines at the bakery. The relations between the Jews and the Poles were not good. At that time the entire building of the shul and the mikva (ritual bath) was taken over. Also, some of the Jewish houses were taken.
December 9, there were arrests of Jews, about twenty plus men. They were beaten brutally while under arrest.
Sunday, December 10, it was announced with drums that the Jewish people had to pay the magistrate 50,000 Gilden. In the interim, the mayor demanded payment of 15,000 Gilden. At that same time, a group of Jewish workers was returning home from working on the bridge, and a Jew of about 70 years old was shot. The monies that were demanded created such a panic that this provoked the greatest flight of the Jewish population.
At the beginning of the year 1940, the famous auto-da-fé took place in broad daylight, and all the Torah scrolls that were found were burned.
At the beginning of spring 1940, some individuals began returning to Nowy Dwor, and then a terrible tragedy occurred 19 men and two women were taken away. Until today, there is no trace of them.
by A. Goldbroch and W. Shliamowicz
Translated by Pamela Russ
German troops entered Nowy Dwor on the second day of Sukos. The following day, the Gestapo arrived and immediately started destroying Jewish houses and property. This destruction continued for a few days, during which time the Gestapo shot two Jews, while a third miraculously survived and suffered severe beating. The Gestapo's actions had a huge effect on the Jewish population. They began to abandon the town in great numbers and fled to the devastated city of Warsaw, which was already packed with refugees from surrounding towns, including Nowy Dwor. The number of Jews remaining dwindled to very few.
The inhumanities continued. Soon, at the end of November 1939, forty Jews were arrested, including Chaim Abramczyk, Chaim Gorecki, and Yisroel Yakov Biak. Wendt, the appointed city mayor, a local Folksdeutsche (an ethnic German-resident of pre-war Poland), brought them from nearby Modlin where they had tried to hide. During the days that followed, the prisoners endured merciless beatings and many different methods of torture, such as having fingernails and hair torn out, being forced to drink quantities of castor oil, and having to eat their own excrement. Chaim Abramczyk died soon after as a result of this mistreatment. In addition to all these terrible sufferings, the German authorities imposed an additional contribution (ransom) of 50,000 zlotys (to release the prisoners).
A short time later, the Gestapo dragged out all the Torah scrolls from the shul in order to burn them. The burning ceremony took place in the middle of the marketplace. The Jews, including the bookbinder Alman and other elderly Jews, were forced to dance around this fire of Torah scrolls.
Not long after this, the order was given that all Jews must obtain German identification papers. When the Jews arrived at the Magistrat (City Hall) to acquire the documents, the Folksdeutsche police arrested a few of them. They were taken to the police station where they were tortured and forced to drink castor oil and eat spoiled and rotten food. The German police amused themselves by watching the unfortunate Jews complain of stomach cramps and then soil themselves. The Germans continued to laugh at the victims and beat them, then eventually threw them out. Among these victims were Mayer Kleister and Shmaja Puterman.
After this incident, Jews, including those had returned to Nowy Dwor, again began to flee to Warsaw.
Because of the horrible conditions in Warsaw, where hundreds of Jews died in the streets from hunger, the runaways began to return to Nowy Dwor. Once the Gestapo noticed this, they ordered Jews to register. The Gestapo headquarters at that time occupied the house of Myer Mundlak, not far from the Polish cemetery. In this place, the most horrific acts of torture were performed. The Gestapo selected 41 Jews from those who had returned from Warsaw. These people were sent to an unknown destination and were never heard from again. Among these unfortunates were the families of Chaim Bur, Yankel Kleister, Moshe Aaron Eidelsberg, Dovid Itkowicz and Yankel, the husband of Chava Tyk.
During entire year of 1940, all Jews were compelled to make themselves available for forced labor on a daily basis. The Germans were not satisfied only with imposing extremely hard work, so they persisted in their beatings and tortures.
At the beginning of 1941, the Germans established the Nowy Dwor ghetto in the poorest part of town, known as the Piaskes (the dogs' place[kennel]). The ghetto was enclosed with a barbed wire fence, with only one guarded gate for traffic in and out. On orders from the Gestapo …
… the ghetto inmates elected a Judenrat (Jewish Council) with a Jewish elder. Rothstein (the power station cashier) became the head of this institution. A Jewish ghetto police was also established under the control of the Gestapo. The Judenrat was ordered to supply 400 Jews daily for forced labor in Modlin, where they had to carry heavy bundles of barbed wire and they were often beaten for slowing down even slightly or for not filling the exaggerated quota requirements. For their work, they were fed an insignificant amount -- 100 grams of bread and a liter of watery soup for a full day's work.
The head of the Judenrat, Rothstein, could not watch the hunger and pain of his townspeople, and so he resigned from his position as Jewish elder in the ghetto. He was replaced by Yosef Gershon (Nieszkele's son) and his assistants: Herman Abramowycz, Yisroel Tiszler (Skrobak), Nachman Reichman (Ktunte's son), Yankel Baranek (the new police chief), Shlomo Sosinski (Hershel Morde's youngest son) and Chaim Dachfan (Jacek's son). These men began working and co-operating with the German Gestapo, to their fullest capacity.
The ration cards distributed by the Judenrat were for minimal amounts of food, so the hunger became unbearable. The ghetto population was forced to seek ways of smuggling in basic life provisions from the outside. This smuggling involved sneaking in and out through holes in the ghetto's barbed wire and putting one's life in danger. During one of these attempts by eight Jews driven by hunger, they were captured and hanged in the ghetto on the same day. Ghetto Jews had to act as executioners in the presence of the entire population of the ghetto. For three whole days, the unfortunate martyrs remained on the gallows. Among those captured was the oldest son of Jehoshua Weiskopf (the grube Rochel's grandson). The mother of the young man wanted to save her older son by substituting her youngest son for him. She was convinced that they would free a minor. But this was to no avail: the young boy was hanged along with the others.
Shortly after this incident, six more ghetto residents managed to get out under the barbed wire, with the purpose of obtaining food for their starved families. Two were caught and immediately shot dead: the two grandsons of Moishe Henoch Gertner Avrohom and Boruch Gutkind. A few weeks later, a man by the name of Kirsztein (probably the son of Hershel Kirsztein) was shot under the same circumstances.
During that same time, the ghetto would be randomly riddled with bullets by members of the Gestapo. This game always resulted in many deaths and many wounded.
In May, 1941, the Gestapo decided that there were too many people living in the ghetto and they began a new set of horrific acts. By decree, all Jews had to leave their homes and assemble with all their belongings for disinfection. Naked women and men were forced to march to the Vistula River and were kept there until late in the evening. Their clothing was disinfected and returned to them before they were marched home, but all other belongings were stolen.
That same night, at approximately 2 AM, the ghetto's residents were awakened by the sound of sirens and gunfire, and all were forced to leave the ghetto. They had to leave through the only gate, where they passed through a gauntlet consisting of two rows of Gestapo agents who beat them mercilessly. About 4,000 Jews were assembled in the Nowy Dwor marketplace. Some 750 of them were selected for work and those remaining were sent to Pomiechowa.
The camp in Pomiechowa was a death camp for Jews and was located about five kilometers from the Narew River. There were many underground bunkers in the surrounding area (storage facilities for the old Modlin Fortress) that were hastily converted for this purpose. The S.A. troops (German Sturm Abteilung) packed the men, women, and children into the bunkers, leaving no space to move. The S.A. entertained themselves by selecting the youngest and prettiest girls, raping them, and then silencing them with a bullet.
The main task of the inmates in the Pomiechowa camp was to dig mass graves for themselves. Permission to bring food from the ghetto was given only about two weeks later. When the field kitchen arrived in the camp with hot soup, all the starving Jews rushed toward it, and while pushing and shoving to get some, overturned the pot. The spilled soup formed a muddy puddle. This did not stop some of the hungry prisoners who threw themselves on the ground and licked the muddy soup. Similar incidents occurred every time they brought water, and many Jews were trampled to death that way, including one of Szymanowicz's grandchildren. The German guards enjoyed watching these scenes that were a result of hunger and thirst, and laughed as they watched.
As a result of these conditions, illness started spreading through the camp. Typhoid affected almost everyone. Instead of providing medical help, the Gestapo used to shoot 50 of the weak and sick every day. Once, when the Gestapo made a mistake and killed only 48, they quickly took two more, Leibish Soszynski (Pupek) from Nowy Dwor and Nisen Mirabel from the town of Zakroczyn.
After these shootings, very often they buried not only the dead, but also those who were wounded but still alive. This could usually be verified the next day by the inmates who, after a fresh round of shooting, had to dig new graves in the same execution place. These inmates used to say that the old and barely covered graves often seemed disturbed as the top layers of soil had been scattered in the struggle made by those victims who had been buried alive and were trying to escape. It is said that among those half dead and buried were Yankel Karasz (Betzalel the glazier's son), Mendel Kornstein ( or Szweiger), Avrohom Szymanowicz (Abraham Pinje's son) and his wife Rivka, Avrohom Hersh Gothelf (the barber), and Moshe Kirsztein (or Moshe Lepek).
When anyone from the Nowy Dwor ghetto tried to bring some food to his relatives in the Pomiechowa camp, he would be shot on the spot. This was the case of Zelig Top (or Szczerb), a 12-year-old boy. After he was shot, his parents were forced to bury him. A great number of Nowy Dwor Jews perished in the Pomiechowa camp in the same way under these conditions.
Soon after the typhoid epidemic spread and affected the S.A. guards as well, an order arrived to liquidate the Pomiechowa camp. The liquidation proceeded as follows: first, the sick were murdered, then the healthy inmates were placed into freight cars, and to increase their misery during transport, they were treated to poisoned sausages. The transport travelled at night and the destination was the town of Legionowo. The S.A. prepared a big welcoming celebration for the inmates: a burning fire through which each of the Jews from the transport had to run. This resulted in many being burned to death. These included Balcze Tarnegol (Itche the baker's daughter) and Sara Gladomosc (Moshe Mordche's wife). Many had already died from the poisoned food on the way. Only a very small number of inmates managed to survive their move to the Warsaw ghetto. This concluded the bloody chapter of the Pomiechowa camp.
Meanwhile, in the Nowy Dwor ghetto, the death-machine continued working without stopping. When the 750 Jews who were selected for work returned from the market to the ghetto, they found a mass of dead bodies, the result of the attack and shootings that had taken place during the earlier forced assembly in the square. Twenty-eight bodies with gunshot and knife wounds lay in front of homes and in the streets. Among these were the whole Gershon family (Nieskele's), Yechiel Prag and Aron Stolcman with his brother-in- law. During the burial of the 28 bodies, an S.S. man approached the gravedigger and asked Aaron Leyb Knecht, How many dead are there? When he replied, 28, the S.S. man shot him as the 29th.
A decree was issued by the German government that the population of the Nowy Dwor ghetto could not exceed 750 Jews; anyone over that number was to be shot immediately. Responsibility for adhering to this decree was placed on the Judenrat.
The decree was rescinded not too many weeks later and it was undertaken to enlarge the ghetto in order to absorb the surviving Jews of the ghettos Wysegrad, Czerwinsk, Zakroczyn and other small ghettos that had already been liquidated in the surrounding area. The Nowy Dwor Jews in the Warsaw ghetto exploited this opportunity to smuggle themselves back into their home ghetto. The sudden influx of so many new arrivals led to horrendous chaos and indescribable hunger. People had to sleep in the streets for lack of housing and a raging typhoid epidemic led to an exceedingly high death rate. With complete disregard for everything that was happening, the Gestapo insisted on doubling the number of workers that were sent daily to the Modlin port.
The year 1942 began with a new evil decree: Now women also had to report for the same forced labor that the men did. All the women were sent to Modlin to load bundles of barbed wire. This work was done under the worst conditions. The number of Jews required for this task increased daily; many were forced to report for work in Modlin just after completing a full day's work in some other place. On one occasion, 42 Jews were taken away to one such work group. These people were forced to strip naked, they were beaten murderously, and they remained naked as they carried out their tasks with the barbed wire for the entire day. One very discouraged Jew from Zakroczyn, by the name of Gosh, couldn't tolerate this work any longer. He jumped into the Narew River and drowned. The remaining 41 had to finish the assigned job. Afterward, they were made to dig a large hole in the ground. Twenty-nine of them were shot immediately and thrown into the freshly-prepared hole, including Mordechai Matuszok, Shaya Moshe Olszynka and a son-in-law of Mordche Joskowicz. Eleven survivors managed to be hidden by Yechezkel Szwarc, and they sneaked back into the ghetto during the night, completely naked. Terrible scenes followed in the ghetto among the relatives of those who were shot.
Soon, the evacuation from the Nowy Dwor ghetto began in earnest, one after another.
November 1942 - the first evacuation. The German S.A. surrounded the ghetto and it was now completely locked up. The order was given that all those unable to work, the sick and the very young, should assemble in the ghetto square. All those assembled were immediately herded to the train station, loaded into closed cattle cars, and taken to Auschwitz.
A week later - the second evacuation. The Judenrat was ordered by the Gestapo immediately to assemble all families with more than two children, as well as widows and orphans, in the ghetto square. The final outcome was the same as for the first group: transport to Auschwitz.
And then came the day of the liquidation of the Nowy Dwor ghetto, December 12, 1942.
At seven o'clock in the morning, the ghetto was overrun by a large number of Schutz Polizei (Security Police) and S.A. troops, all shooting rifles and handguns to evoke panic among the residents. All the Jews were chased out of their homes and assembled in the ghetto square where they were grouped in rows of five. Money and any valuables had to be surrendered under threat of death. Despite this, the Germans also engaged in various death games. I am one of these with whom they are playing games, co-author Abraham Goldberg writes. I am dragged away to a house on a side street and completely stripped. The guard presses his revolver to my head and miraculously I was not shot. After enduring many acts of cruelty, the residents of the Nowy Dwor ghetto were marched to the railroad station, packed into cattle cars, and sent to the death place of the majority of Nowy Dwor Jews Auschwitz.
December 14, 1942, the last transport with the remaining Jews of the Nowy Dwor ghetto arrived in Auschwitz. As soon as the approximately 2,000 Jews disembarked, 600 of the strongest looking ones were selected to stay and work in Auschwitz.
Those remaining, men, women, and children, were taken to the extermination camp Brzezynka. The six hundred new inmates in Auschwitz immediately learned of the fate of the previous Nowy Dwor transports from the old inmates how the Nowy Dwor inmates from the first and second transports were murdered. And from this they already knew what awaited them in this new transport in this new extermination camp of Brzezynka.
At this time, Auschwitz did not have any crematoria, only large gas chambers. Every gas chamber would be densely packed with two hundred people, and each of them given a piece of soap and a towel to give the impression that they were going to bathe. The moment they were packed into the gas chambers, another group of two hundred was already prepared, waiting outside. The gassed bodies were thrown into pits, then they were doused with benzene and burned under the open sky. So went one group after another. Those waiting their turn could see the smoke after the gassing, and because of that there were horrific scenes of hysteria, people screaming, and then outbreaks of madness. We witnessed all these horrible occurrences with our own eyes. That was the scene in the extermination at that time and that's how our loved ones lost their lives in the Brzezinka, Auschwitz, and other death camps. The first thing that happened to the 600 who were selected for work in the Auschwitz was a change of clothing. All civilian clothing was exchanged for prisoners' clothing, and shoes for wooden clogs like those worn in Holland. Inmates were forced to conduct various exercises in these uncomfortable wooden sandals under the eyes of the guards who handed out all kinds of physical punishments. At the roundups the S.S. guards used every opportunity to threaten that they would get rid of all the Jews, and meanwhile the Jews had to work hard. Despite the sub-zero winter conditions and indescribable hunger, the prisoners were forced to perform hard work from sunrise to sundown. Tens and hundreds died daily under these conditions.
There were four working crematoria in Auschwitz. All the burning work there was carried out by Jewish prisoners, under constant threat of death. Included in this group of workers were also the former residents of Nowy Dwor: Gutman, Bronstein, Yechezkel Gutkind, Yosef Szydlo, Sholom Cudiker, Yehoshua Baranek, Josef Shul, Nachmen Helfenbein, Matis Shliamowicz, the brothers Guzhik, the brother-in-law of Moshe Lokiecz Avrohom and his brother Efroim, and Szepsel Grossman (the only survivor of the aforementioned inmates). They all continued this work in the crematoria until 1944.
The crematorium workers (known as death commandos') were completely isolated from other camp inmates and were constantly watched, under penalty of death themselves. In spite of this strict isolation, they tried to organize uprisings in the camp. The first such attempt to organize an uprising in the camp did not work, but after that the death commandos organized an uprising in the actual crematoria, and this time it was successful.
In utmost secrecy, they set out explosives around the crematoria. The sadistic Kapos of the commandos were thrown into the ovens before the explosions. Then came the explosions.
After the destruction of the crematoria, the prisoners of the death commandos managed to cut the electrically-charged wire fences using improvised pliers, and they escaped to freedom through the walls. The surprised guards in the towers surrounding the camp immediately opened fire, sounded the alarm, and started to pursue the escapees. German reinforcements arrived almost immediately and a grave battle was fought at a cost of some two hundred lives, including the above mentioned Nowy Dwor group.
The captured prisoners were returned to the camp under the repaired electrified barbed wire, and the number of guards in the watchtowers increased.
We stayed in Auschwitz until January 18, 1945. During the two years of 1944 and 1945, we continued to suffer, and lived with the memory of the uprising. According to the details that we found out later, the explosives used to destroy the crematoria had been smuggled in by the women inmates who worked outside the camp and were in secret contact with the men of the death commandos. Four of the women prisoners were hanged.
On January 18, 1945, in order to escape the approaching Soviet Army, the transport of prisoners to other camps in Germany began. During this evacuation, many Jews died, among them almost all of the Nowy Dwor Jews who had been in Auschwitz.
The Walled Ghetto
by Sender Blank, Haifa
Translated by Pamela Russ
Until the Establishment of the Ghetto
Right at the beginning of the war, with the German invasion of Poland, Nowy Dwor suffered terribly on account of its military location with strategic bases near the city.
The well-known Modlin Fortress near Nowy Dwor was able to hold out its own defense one day longer than the residential city of Warsaw. The day after Warsaw surrendered, Nowy Dwor still had to endure bombing by German airplanes. At that time, about twenty souls perished in the cellar of Blatt's house. Among these victims were: Mendel Koczalski (the grain producer) and his wife, Hershel Zakhajm with his wife and sister-in-law the mother of Hershel Dubnikow, Miryam Laya.
A large part of the Nowy Dwor population went over to Warsaw very soon after the outbreak of the war on account of the persistent air assaults on the Modlin Fortress. The Nowy Dwor people experienced terrible times. Soon after the military operations terminated, many of those from Nowy Dwor returned to their homes. But just a few days after their return, everyone was already able to see what the future held for them.
The local Folksdeutsche became the governors of the city. These were known criminals, the Wendt brothers. They began their vengeful acts on the Jews …. saying: The Jews have lived too well until now… There was already no thought of a Jewish store being open, and they began snatching men for work, particularly for heavy work which the Jews were not accustomed to doing. Large work brigades of Jews were assigned to repair the bridge across the Narew. The bridge had been destroyed by a Nazi bomb. In the Modlin port (stocznia Modlinska [Modlin dockyard]), the Jews had to do the dirtiest work in their service to the German soldiers. Their situation was unbearable, and some of the youth found a way to cross the border to the Soviet side.
A rumor spread at that time that it was mainly the men who would suffer and whose lives were in danger. So, the women were able to be less frightened. Because of the situation for the men, the women urged their husbands to go to Russia while they would remain alone in the town and take care of their belongings. Many of the youth who could have escaped to the Soviet side remained in town out of loyalty to their parents and families.
It was the ones with more means that were the first to leave. The merchants began secretly to move their goods into Warsaw and find housing there, figuring that the war would last another few months. Meanwhile, we'll use up some of the money, was the thinking. And that's how we survived the war.
Only a small number of Jews remained in Nowy Dwor at that time the laborers and the general workers those who said: I've always worked, so I'll continue to work. There also remained those who did not have the means to rent housing in Warsaw nor the finances to survive. Within a short time, only several hundred Jews were left in Nowy Dwor.
These Jews that were left had to do the worst forced labor. The Polaks [sic] and Germans robbed them of everything and took over all the Jewish stores and workshops. What hit hard were the arbitrary laws that were soon heavily enforced …
… stating that Jews had to sew onto their left breast and on the right shoulder yellow patches of shame that were ten centimeters wide; that Jews were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks but could only walk on the curb; that the Jew must remove his hat before each German; and all Jewish institutions shuls, study halls (Beis Medrash), and ritual baths must be destroyed so that there should be no trace of anything Jewish. The Jewish population was very demoralized by this. Out of shame, each person tried to avoid the other. The humiliation was unbearable. But slowly, people began to become accustomed to Hitler's orders and never-ending decrees.
In December 1939, there was an auto-da-fé. They collected all the Torah scrolls and Jewish books (seforim), and then on a frigid day, they assembled all the Jewish men into the market square, women and children too. All the men were forced to don prayer shawls (taleisim), and the ceremony began, as Mendel Frankel was given the honor of setting fire to the Torah scrolls and Jewish books. The Germans standing around began to laugh: Here, the Jewish God is burning! And everyone was forced to dance around the fire and sing the songs that the Nazis with their rubber clubs forced the Jews to sing beginning with Hatikva and then moving to other songs with an anti-Semitic theme.
The ceremony would certainly have ended with many Jewish victims if not for the coincidence that at that very moment an officer from the Modlin Fortress just happened to go by. When he saw this gruesome scene, how the Jews were running through the fire and singing, he ordered them to stop. Everyone left the market square and returned to their homes.
Each day, the situation worsened, and each night became more terrifying. The Nazis began nightly surprise attacks looting, destroying, fighting, and then escaping. This again pushed the remaining Jews to run away from the city. Some went to Warsaw, some to Legionowo where it was still calmer. The Jews suffered a lot more in Nowy Dwor because it was a base with a large military presence, gendarmes, and Gestapo units.
Later, when the General Government was established in Warsaw, and the point at eight kilometers past Nowy Dwor was designated as the border of the Third Reich a new plague began, the border guard, with a whole new set of miseries. The entire city was full of thousands of Nazis in all kinds of uniforms and in all colors, but for us Jews, it was all one color….
One night in January 1940, the local Folksdeutschen, under the command of the mayor Wendt, undertook a mass arrest of Jews, and also imprisoned in the kozeh (the Nowy Dwor prison) about thirty Jews. Among them was Chaim Abramczyk the tailor, and Chaim Gurecki the barber. They murderously beat those who were arrested. Two days after the arrest, a contribution of 50,000 zlotys was demanded of the city as a ransom for the prisoners, with the threat of all of them being shot if the monies were not raised on time.
How would they raise such a colossal sum of money? At that time, there was no one left who had that kind of money. There were only paupers left in town because these were the people who did not have the means to escape to Warsaw. The situation was very tense, and the Jews started to collect their last possessions. Some brought their wedding rings, a watch, or their last few coins, and with those, they made their way to Warsaw, to the former Nowy Dwor residents of means, to seek help. Within a week, they were able to put together a part of the necessary monies and a delegation went to negotiate with the Nazi hoodlums, to try to appease them with this sum of money. But only after heavy pleading were they successful in having the prisoners released, in a state of being half dead and hardly resembling anything human. Those who were freed immediately left Nowy Dwor.
In those days, when the number of Nowy Dwor Jews was getting smaller and smaller, they issued an order that everyone had to get German passes …
… and they were to be sealed with a fingerprint. Those who were still there got these passes, but those who had already left did not, and so lost their rights as Nowy Dwor citizens.
Meanwhile, the situation for the Nowy Dwor Jews in Warsaw began to worsen, particularly for those who were impoverished. Among the 70 relief kitchens for the needy in Warsaw, there was also a kitchen for the Jews of Nowy Dwor, located at Mile 16 and run by Nachum Neufeld and Menashe Koczalski. Every day, they served a lunch of thin soup, but even this didn't last long. At the end of March, this kitchen was shut down because the Nazis didn't want to give any aid to Jews. The Joint organization tried to have the kitchens opened again, but they were no longer active. Many of the Nowy Dwor Jews were forced to return to Nowy Dwor because of their difficult living conditions, despite the hardships they would suffer en route.
Those who returned went back to their old homes, or some of them stayed together in rooms, and some individual family members went to Russia. There was still some food left in Nowy Dwor, so that their hunger could be stilled, whereas in Warsaw bread was already just a dream.
There were two means for the Jews to have some earnings in Nowy Dwor at that time: by working for the municipality in Rotsztajn's work brigade for 60 pfennigs a day; or by smuggling foodstuffs on the roads from Nowy Dwor to Legionowo and Warsaw, and from Nowy Dwor to Plonsk and Zakrocyn. Understandably, smuggling brought in more earnings, but it was a lot more dangerous. Still, many risked their lives because they could not exist on the 60 pfennigs, so there was nothing to lose.
Social life for the Jews came to complete halt. No one lived normal lives. There was no way out and one could only dream of a better tomorrow when all this abnormality would end and we would be able to renew the destroyed Jewish life.
At the beginning of 1941, all the Folksdeutschen and the major military units were removed from Nowy Dwor. Life for the Jews became a little easier. The entire administration was given over into the hands of the Reich Germans. They didn't conduct any personal business with anyone as did the earlier governors, the Folksdeutschen, but they imposed the Nazi direction without any leeway and with total harshness.
In the summer of 1941, when the Germans were preparing to take over Russia, they also imposed new forced labor in Nowy Dwor for which they took all the local Jews. About six kilometers past Modlin, on the road to Plonsk, they began to build huge airfields with all its necessary facilities and roads. Thousands of workers were mobilized for this work, as were all the Jews of Nowy Dwor. I was among them.
Higher wages were paid for this work, and because of that the smuggling business as a means of income stopped for a time. Many were busy with this work that lasted four months. But suddenly, in June, an order was issued that all Jews must move together into one place, in a ghetto. Very soon they began to set up a wooden fence to mark off the living space for the Jews. This began with the gravel from Moishe Berman's house until the shul, skipping Wyl's house at gruber Rochel's and back lengthwise until Berman's house. Two gates, to enter and leave, were set up. One was by Eta Baile Rajchman, and the other on the second side near Berman's house.
By June 17, 1941, all the Jews had to leave their homes in town and go into the cage, or the ghetto. It was here that the terrible chapter of Nazi terror really began.
In the Nowy Dwor Ghetto
As soon as we walked through the walls of the ghetto, everyone felt as if they were in a prison. The gates were organized and guarded by the Germans. The crowding of such a huge number of people into such a small area, and with the worst living conditions, resulted in only a small number of people going to work in those first few days. Also, the work of building the airfields almost stopped after we entered the ghetto. Only a few Jews, I being one of them, had the good fortune of still working at a better job. And that's how I was able to leave the ghetto every day. There was terrible panic in the ghetto, as we could see the chaos and decline of our lives. There were no prospects for any earnings, and for the first few days no food was brought into the ghetto. It appeared that the Jews were brought here to slowly be annihilated.
A few days later there was somewhat of a change, and suddenly it became too good…. The Germans informed us that an independent Jewish institution had to be set up in the ghetto, to be called the Judenrat. A building was completely emptied to allow for all the departments and offices for a Jewish elder, secretary, treasurer, and other smaller positions. A Jewish police force was also set up, and as the commandant for this, the Germans nominated the well-known criminal figure Shloime Morde. As for the Jewish elder, the Germans decided on Rotsztajn, since he had always been working with municipal issues. He was a very respectable person and because of that, in fact, he was not able to retain this position. The second well-known underworld figure from Nowy Dwor, Yisroel Skrobak, who was a friend of the famous Nazi Wendt, was given the position of supervisor over all the provisions for the ghetto. Thanks to this job, he earned a lot of money at the expense of the exhausted and starved Jews. He opened a bakery in Cohen's former bakery, and also a grocery in the grocery that formerly belonged to Eta Baila Rajchman, and he began to take in his criminal profits.
Slowly, to all those in the ghetto who reported themselves, he began to give a daily ration of 330 grams of bread that was baked from ground chestnuts with an added little bit of corn meal. But really, for the purpose of baking this bread, the Germans gave 80% corn meal and 20% chestnut flour, but this crook made the bread as he wanted to. The bread was very bitter, but we ate it because we had no choice. With these conditions of hunger, even this was good.
It's not worth talking about the distribution of other foodstuffs. They were really at a pitiful minimum, at 500 grams of black flour a month. It was Sone Helfenbajn who distributed the meat. And for each person there was 120 grams of horse meat per month. And even this was sometimes not provided. For the additional products, we paid the government price and whoever had the means got other products from the smugglers at a totally different price, such as two Marks for a kilo of bread.
It was the Jewish police that guarded the gate. The constant guarding of the gate was a job given to Chaim Jaczek, who diligently followed German orders.
When the war between Germany and Russia broke out, the Jews danced for joy and kissed each other in the streets. People hoped and were certain that their problems would be over and that in about a week's time everyone would be liberated, even though the front was still a few hundred kilometers distance. But the disappointment was enormous when after about three days they found out that the Germans were actually advancing. The news of the huge victories of the German armies at the Russian front hit us all …
… like a thunderbolt. Final hopes vanished, and the entire ghetto was enveloped in depression. There were about 3,000 Jews in the ghetto at that time.
There was a special hospital for the Jewish sick in the ghetto, with Jewish nurses, and it was under the medical direction of the well-known Polish surgeon Dzhurawski, who did a lot for the Jews.
A short while after going into the ghetto, there was an outbreak of a typhus epidemic. Because of the cramped and unsanitary conditions, more than half the ghetto population contracted typhus and many died. Yosek Gershon (Nieskele's) showed great devotion to those in the hospital through his tireless work with the masses of sick people.
The Germans were worried that the typhus epidemic should not carry over to the military, and so they ordered an Aktzia to counter the typhus a parowka (Turkish bath) in the ghetto; all the clothing and items would have to go through a steaming process with a special machine that was brought into the ghetto for this purpose. Also, it was set up that all the residents of the ghetto would have to go through forced bathing as well.
One cannot forget that specific morning when all the Jews were assembled men, women, and children, and they were all taken to bathe in the Vistula River. Men and women were forced to bathe together, chased by the German guards with truncheons in hand. That's when we witnessed the real German culture. Many became sick from the offensiveness and humiliation.
The Aktzia in the Ghetto
On July 6, we heard loud commotions in the ghetto. Soon everyone was awake and saw what was happening. An Aktzia was about to take place. The entire ghetto was surrounded by SS, Gestapo, policemen, and other accursed people. The gate to the market square was opened and an order was given that within ten minutes the entire ghetto must be emptied. Whoever remained behind would be shot. The terror and chaos were indescribable. Everyone left his bed and ran to the gate. There we were greeted by the SS and their huge dogs that were lined up on both sides of the gate, all the way to the market square.
Many died from the beatings even before they reached the market. The Gestapo entered the ghetto and whoever they saw, they stabbed to death with their knives. Little children whom the mothers could not grab quickly enough were thrown out the windows. The entire ghetto was swimming in a river of blood. Arms and legs were strewn like rocks across the roads. Later, all these bodies were collected onto boards and taken out to the Jewish cemetery. Upon order, the gravedigger buried all these bodies in a communal grave, and when he was done, they shot him as well and threw him into the same grave.
The Aktzia in the market square took more than four hours. The goal here was to select 750 Jews of the 3,000, that would remain in the ghetto. A selection took place, and all those who had smuggled themselves into the ghetto and did not have a German pass with their fingerprints were separated. They also removed all the elderly people.
It was only those who had worked in the military who had the good fortune to remain behind the younger men and women. My wife and I were among those fortunate 750 people.
At eight in the morning, the Aktzia was over, and more than 2,000 people were taken away in the direction of the Modlin road, but where they were going no one knew. For us, the fortunate ones, as the Gestapo referred to us, we overheard that the selected 750 would be allowed to live in the ghetto and that all those beyond the 750 limit would be shot.
Under the watch of the SS and their huge dogs, we were taken back the same way, back to the ghetto.
It's hard to describe the mood of those Jews who returned to the ghetto. Only segments of families came back, and the trembling and crying continued all day. Everyone in his pain wanted to know where they had taken his dear ones.
In the Pomiechowa Forts
The following day, we found out that all those who had been evacuated were in the Pomiechowa forts along with other Jews from Plonsk, Zakroczyn, Nazielsk, and other places. The total was 6,000 Jews. All of them were put into underground bunkers, 600 men at a time, where each person had only a place to sit on the hard floor, not even enough room to stretch out his legs to sleep or rest.
The first few days, before we knew where all these Jews had been taken, they received no food or drink. Only after great efforts and pleading did we receive permission to take some food and water to them. We rented a wagon and everyone gave whatever they could to their families. It was terrible for those who had no family in the ghetto and no one to send them a little food. Occasionally, the Judenrat send some food to these helpless people, but this help was too insignificant.
The conditions in the filthy, putrid underground bunkers brought on terrible epidemics, and each day the Nazis emptied these bunkers of the very sick and those who had been shot. It was the Jewish police that guarded these underground bunkers, and at the head was Mailechel who later became well known (he was the Gerer's son-in-law and a former Communist), who ran his life by the price of money and gold. And if he wasn't compensated with gold or with a gold watch, then he would take you to bunker #16, from which Jews were taken out daily and shot.
The terrible things that this underworld degenerate did to his own brothers would have continued for who knows how long if the Plonsk Jews would not have suffered from him as well. Ramek, the oldest of the Plonsk Judenrat, began to deal with Mailechel. Ramek was a very loyal and refined person who knew all the important Nazis and major public figures. Through all kinds of avenues, he was able to snatch the underworld figure and policeman Mailechel out of their hands and immediately bring him right into the Plonsk ghetto into the Judenrat court. The Judenrat in Plonsk felt that acting as usual and taking the life of a person like Mailech who caused the deaths of scores of Jews through shooting or hanging, would be too easy. So, the Judenrat decided to give each Jew the opportunity to take revenge, and then add their final touch to put an end to Mailechel. Hundreds of Jews assembled either to slap or punch this murderous villain. In just a short time, before the very eyes of the Plonsk Jews, the beaten Mailechel ended his ugly life.
The situation in the Pomiechowa camp became even more terrible, and each day, the people became weaker and weaker. Everyone was caught up in an epidemic, and daily there were reports of scores of deaths and shooting victims. Fate did not allow the Jews in the camp any peace. Jewish delegations tried to soften the hearts of the Nazi rulers, pleading for them to release the Jews, or at least to send them to another camp to better conditions. After weeks of negotiations and interventions, the liquidation of the Pomiechowa camp began.
After the Liquidation of the Pomiechowa Camp
Following an order, all the farmers, along with their wagons and horses, were mobilized to transport all those from Pomiechowa across the border …
… eight kilometers past Nowy Dwor. All those from the Pomiechowa camp were accused of belonging to the General Government and illegally having smuggled themselves into Nowy Dwor that belonged to the Third Reich.
Transporting these Pomiechowa Jews took half the night and continued until morning. At that point, they were in such a state that they were hardly able to stand on their feet, and then they were forced to run. When the entire transport arrived at Legionowo (Jablona), then a fire was started on order of the Nazis, and everything on the wagons had to be thrown in the hay, and all the other items, with the reasoning that all those who had come from Pomiechowa carried contagious sicknesses and their belongings had to be disinfected. The fire, in which all their things were burned, spread all the way to the crowd of people. Those who were stronger tried to run, but many of the weak and sick were consumed by the flames. At that point, Balcze Tarnegol, the sister of Shloime Karsowicz, was one of those who were killed in the fire.
A terrible situation threatened the ghetto after the Pomiechowa camp was liquidated, particularly for the representatives of the Judenrat. Following the orders of the Gestapo, the number of people permitted in the ghetto was limited to 750. But those from the Pomiechowa camp, who were dragging themselves around sick and depleted after being transported between the Jablona fields and forests after weeks of wandering, had no other choice but to risk their lives by smuggling themselves across the border and into Nowy Dwor into the ghetto, where they still had family and friends. At the fence and gate of the ghetto, there was fighting day and night between those who had returned and the Jewish police who obeyed all the German orders and didn't allow these Jews to enter the ghetto.
In spite of the resistance by the police, many were successful (with the help of some bribing …) in entering the ghetto. But one of the results of this situation was that the elder of the Judenrat, Rotsztajn, went to the German government and asked to be relieved from his position because he didn't want to participate in this business of fighting with the Jews, his own brothers, who wanted to enter the ghetto in order to save their lives.
The Germans freed Rotsztajn from his duties and he was replaced by Yosef Gershon, a young man of about twenty years old. The Jewish police was also fortified and Yankel Baranek became the commandant, a former Bundist and later an ugly criminal. Shloime Morde was delegated as his assistant along with several other assistants of this type. Also, the Judenrat was restructured. Herman Abramowicz (Moishe Kosower's son-in-law) was appointed secretary; as political liaison there was Yisroel Skrobak, and there began a draconian governance according to German orders: A prison was set up near the Judenrat in the ghetto, and anyone who violated any of the laws was immediately locked up and later given over into the hands of the Gestapo. None of these prisoners ever came back.
The death penalty was imposed in cases where a little flour, butter, eggs, or meat was found on a Jew; in cases where one was caught smuggling, or if caught trying to cross the border.
The carpenters in the ghetto, according to the orders of the Gestapo, had to finish building seven scaffolds, and each week the Gestapo celebrated hangings with festivities. On that day, they found out who had not followed the rules. After receiving the order, all the Jews assembled at the set hour of execution in the assembly place of the Judenrat where the hangings took place, so that everyone could see how the Jews were hanged. The Gestapo behaved in a more humanitarian fashion towards the women who were not hanged. The women were shot instead.
The first execution by hanging took place after they caught seven young boys, and among them …
… a thirteen-year-old boy who had smuggled in eight kilos of corn meal. Smuggling at that time was the only means of having any earnings and people were prepared to risk their lives, because otherwise they would die of hunger.
The trickery and challenges increased daily. Betzalel Mordik (the son of Mendel Grafek) was imprisoned because his stepbrother, a young boy of 12, was caught on the Aryan side, so the blame was placed on him. After a month in the Nowy Dwor prison, he was sent to a death camp and two weeks later, they already heard that he was no longer among the living. Without any notice, Yisroel Bogacz and Chaim Yaczek were arrested because of their former connection to a well-known party. They were detained for a month in the ghetto prison, then they too were shipped off to a death camp, and traces of them were lost there.
At a control search, even though the ghetto was asleep after ten at night, Yechezkel Ronczke was caught, and they did with him as they did with all the others first they kept him in the Nowy Dwor prison and then sent him to his death.
Sending people away was then considered a lighter punishment than a hanging in the ghetto that took place in front of parents, wives, and children, particularly since it was traditional to leave the body hanging for twenty-four hours and only with the permission of the Gestapo were these bodies brought for burial in a mass grave that was sparsely covered with a thin layer of earth measuring five to ten centimeters. This ditch remained open since it also frequently served as a dump for garbage from the ghetto. The garbage was thrown over the bodies. Everyone walked around in fear that at any moment he could be the next victim and experience his own death in this same manner.
The Gestapo with Tomasz and Shaffer at the head, both of them hideous thugs, came often to the ghetto. Their appearance alone caused everyone to hide in great turmoil and panic. These two made their visits several times a day and each time caused terror.
With the expulsion of the Jews from Wyszogrod, half of them were sent over to Nowy Dwor and the other half to Czerwinsk. They extended the area of the ghetto to accommodate these numbers, stretching to the railroad line, and the Jewish government was expanded by adding several officers and policemen.
The Jews in the ghetto had to do forced labor. Everyone had to work three days a week without payment. Neither the German government nor the Judenrat were concerned about how these people secured the means to live.
The majority worked in the Modlin port. It was a miracle to survive a day's work there and to come home in one piece. The entire Modlin dockyard was covered with German soldiers who were wounded on the Russian front and had come here to recuperate after leaving the hospital. They were all embittered, many were invalids, and they would spew all their rage onto the Jews, saying that the Jews caused the war. Jews, they said, were communists and helped Russia be victorious, and so on. They took revenge on the Jews through their [forced] labor, and all the Jews wished their own deaths rather than to do the work of loading and unloading rusted wires that were sent to the front lines.
Every morning the Jewish and German police came into houses to search for and seize people for work. This alone took hours because they searched every hiding place because the Jews wanted to avoid working in the Modlin hell. In many instances, those who were found hiding were shot on the spot.
One morning, about 9AM, after the searches and the snatching, the Gestapo and policemen appeared unannounced and grabbed …
… 50 skilled people from the ghetto. The elder from the Judenrat, Gershon, delivered them directly into the hands of the commandant of the dockyard. These people were set up as a separate work team under the supervision of the most notorious of abusers. They had to do double the work and they were beaten incessantly. They were chased into the Vistula River near the dockyard, they got soaked, and blood ran off them like water. Twenty-one of the fifty managed to mix with other work groups, and the other twenty-nine were tortured all day long. After their work, they had to dig a ditch near the Vistula, into which they were thrown after being shot. Among the twenty-nine that were shot they found Mordechai Matusak, Yehoshua Moishe Olshinko (Bendit's son), and Fishel Lewinsztajn.
It's difficult to imagine that specific evening in the ghetto the panic and the fits of the women when they saw the frightful condition in which the men returned. Parents and children ran to the leaders of the Judenrat, and particularly to the elder of the Judenrat, Gershon. His house was demolished and everyone was screaming: Give us back our fathers, our sons, our husbands! But these men were already all dead. Eventually, the screams quieted down, and the following day the Jews from the ghetto once again had to go to work and leave behind the painful life of the ghetto.
The First and Final Evacuation
From July 1942, with the first evacuation of the Warsaw Jews to Treblinka, they began to sense in the Nowy Dwor ghetto that the end was near. They spoke of Treblinka every day. Children already knew to say that in Treblinka there is a large frying pan where they roast all the people.
At that time, the Germans didn't want the Jews to suspect what awaited them. They wanted us to live with the illusion that we would survive, so that we would work diligently. In order to create this illusion they began bringing into the ghetto a lot of potatoes during the winter. They also brought several wagonloads of coal and all kinds of foodstuffs. It somehow became too good, just as for a sick person before his death. But we understood what the Germans were doing here, and despite all these benevolent gestures, with broken spirits, we always followed the events in Warsaw.
Soon there was a report that completely unsettled everyone the evacuation of the ghetto in Legionowo. On the eighth day of Sukos, at 4AM, the Legionowo ghetto was overtaken by Ukrainian bands of thugs. Many Jews were killed on the spot, and the majority were taken to Treblinka. About one hundred people managed to hide, and the following day, those who managed to save themselves tried to smuggle across the border and enter the Nowy Dwor ghetto. Here they met with strong resistance by the Jewish police who arrested them all and locked them in the Judenrat prison in order to give them over into the hands of the Gestapo.
Some of the relatives of these prisoners went to the Judenrat to Herren Gershon and Skrobak, begging for help and release from prison. My sister and brother and Anzho Pitulska were among those released. The criminals from the Judenrat delivered 38 men, women, and children into the hands of the Gestapo. All of these were taken by wagon over to the border's watch guard and then they were all shot and thrown into a pit that they themselves had been forced to dig. After that, the clothing of these 38 people was given over to the Judenrat. That's how the thugs from the Judenrat consistently led innocent people to their death and then were able to make use of the clothing that belonged to these murdered Jews. Yankel Baranek decked himself out in a leather jacket, and Shloime …
… Morde in a nice pair of boots. Also, the other policemen benefited from all these fine things that were soaked with the blood of the Jewish victims.
On October 26, 1942, the ghetto was completely surrounded by scores of S.A. men and the gates were locked. It soon became clear that the evacuation was to begin. Chaos increased from moment to moment. People were saying goodbye to their families, children were crying, women were fainting, and the panic continued for several hours until the German police came forward with an explanation, saying that for now there would be no evacuation, but on order of the higher ups in the government all the ghettoes in the Third Reich had to be locked and guarded and no one could leave until further notice.
Later it was discovered that from the moment the ghetto was surrounded by S.A. men, the sweeping extermination of the Jews in the entire Third Reich had begun. The terms of how to make everything free of Jews (Judenrein) were set on December 20, and because Nowy Dwor was the last border point of the Third Reich, we were among the last ones to be sent for extermination. Because of that, those who were in the Nowy Dwor ghetto had to live with the sentence of death hanging over their heads for six weeks.
Twice a week we saw a train filled with Jews go by. These were the Jews from the ghettos of Mlawa, Prosnicz, Checkanow, Nazielsk, and other towns. On October 28, all the Jews from the ghetto of Czerwinsk were brought to the Nowy Dwor ghetto, a transport of about 2,600 Jews. The crowding in the ghetto became intolerable, with about five or six families in one room. That's how we were choked until the evacuation three weeks later.
On November 15, it was officially announced that the Nowy Dwor ghetto would be evacuated in three groups: The first at the end of November, when they would take all the elderly, women, and children, meaning all those who were not fit to work; and the other two groups would be evacuated in December.
On November 16, an order was given by the German police that all the money, gold, and silver that was in everyone's possession had to be brought to the Judenrat within two days, where a special delegate from the German government would take charge of all these things. If they would find money, gold, or silver on any person after those two days, he would be hanged. That's how they took away the last pennies and belongings from the Jews. On their own initiative, the thugs from the Judenrat implemented strict searches in order to be able to give the last few belongings as a gift to the German police who promised to do these criminals a favor by sending them along with their families to the Warsaw ghetto or to work in Czestochowa.
November 20 brought the first terrible announcement of the evacuation. The first victims were those from the Jewish poor. The Judenrat had to bring forward 2,000 people, and 40 elderly, along with those who didn't have husbands or whose children could not work. Now there was a new means for the Judenrat to undertake making even more money through bribery. Whoever gave them a lot of money stayed home, and in his place another person was sent, meaning someone who couldn't pay.
The misery in the ghetto after the first group left is difficult to imagine. The way the Judenrat dealt with human lives and monies preyed frightfully on everyone's spirit. The tension in the ghetto grew stronger and it took another two weeks until the evacuation of the second group took place December 9.
During the second evacuation there were episodes where they wanted to remove individual members of families, so the entire family voluntarily came forward so as not to be separated.
One Sunday, December 12, the order was given that all Jews, without exception, had to leave the ghetto. So, Nowy Dwor became Judenrein. The searches took place, they looked for money …
… for gold, and after that we were all chased to the train station where we were herded into the wagons.
According to a prior agreement with the German police, the members of the Judenrat and their families 42 people were moved into the last wagon, and when the train passed Warsaw the car was removed and all those chosen, the Judenrat people, entered the Warsaw ghetto. With this ended the tragic page of history of the Nowy Dwor ghetto.
The entire transport of Nowy Dwor Jews was taken to Birkenau which was five kilometers from Auschwitz. A special assembly point was located there for incoming transports. At that time, there were already four crematoria in operation all day and all night. We soon learned of the activities of this place, how they acted with the new arrivals. The healthy and capable people were sent to a special camp where they were put through a disinfection process, tattooed with numbers on their arms, and then after a designated time in quarantine, three weeks later they were sent to work.
The others the elderly, frail, women, and children, all of them without exception, were sent to a different place, bathing rooms that were equipped with all the amenities, even mirrors on the walls, and there they were murdered by a poisonous gas.
During the night between December 13 and 14, flames tore through the chimneys of the Birkenau ovens and the ashes of innocent victims, the Jews of the Nowy Dwor ghetto, were carried across God's world.
Also, the small group that was assigned to the work force did not have a better fate. The majority of them died very soon from hard labor, frost, and hunger.
Today, if one wants to determine how many Jews survived of those who lived in the Nowy Dwor ghetto, you can probably say about 30 people. Not all the cities had such a tragic ending. Only those Jews of Nowy Dwor who escaped to Russia in 1939 managed to save themselves, or those who were carried by the storm into the far corners of the earth.
By A. Pinker
Among others: Matis Shliamowicz, Moishe Feldman, Asher Raszkes, Mosak and his son
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