We left for Berlin at night and traveled in blacked-out coaches. Traveling
through the stretches of Germany we thought about the reason for the blackout.
Apparently the Allied bombardments. We amused ourselves with the thought
that the day of liberation was at hand.
Arriving in Berlin, we made our way to the Palestine office on Meineke [?]. Hoffman had known Dr. Pick, the director of the Palestine office from before
the war, which permitted us to speak freely. German Jews were very wary of
foreign Jews during that time for fear of their being Gestapo collaborators,
and even before the war they had not trusted Polish Jews. Dr. Pick at once
informed Prof. Rabbi [Leo] Baeck, who was also the chairman of the Union of
German Kehillot, of our arrival. They saw to our accommodations in the Hotel
Carlton. Next day they moved us to an apartment and obtained ration cards for
us on the basis of our permits. Passing through the streets of Berlin we
discerned the pervasive shortages, apparently due to the boycott of Germany. It
was possible to get meals in restaurants only in exchange for ration coupons.
The coffee was Ersatz [artificial]. In some restaurants they served
saccharine instead of sugar. The display windows looked pitiful, and in spite
of their quick victories over Poland, we couldn't detect the people's
enthusiasm. The streets were practically empty the men were in the army
and the women worked in factories. In the shops it was possible to buy inferior
quality goods in return for coupons except for eau de cologne and razor blades
which were not rationed. As we heard from the housewife where we lodged there
had been almost no bombardment of Berlin. Nevertheless, an absolute blackout
was in force throughout the city.
That evening we were invited to attend the annual celebration of the
Kulturband [Cultural Organization], whose proceeds were dedicated
to the Winterhilfe [winter aid]. The party was held in one of the
theaters. The men were dressed in tuxedos and the women in night gowns without
jewelry. The participants already knew about the arrival of a Polish delegation
and their curiosity was great. They wanted to know if the rumors about the
terrible news that had reached Berlin were true, about the killing of Jews, the
transports, and the burning of Jews in synagogues, and so forth. Many of those
present had relatives or friends in Poland who had been deported via Zbaszyn
[Zbonschen] in 1938.
They waited impatiently for the end of the official program of the
Evening in order to be able to speak with us. After the speeches by
Dr. Baeck and the chairman of the Kehilla, Dr. Stahl, in which they appealed
for contributions to the Jewish Winter Aid Fund, they surrounded us and
inundated us with their questions. We told all of the truth, left nothing out,
although we had been asked to tread carefully for fear of informers that might
have been present.
Next day, at noon, a special meeting of the Union of German Jews had been
called. This was the official organ representing German Jewry. Around the table
in the meeting hall of the organization
sat sober, mature gentlemen, representatives of the major communities in
Germany. Dr. Baeck presided, a Jewish leader of the same type as his friend Dr.
Tuhn [a well-known Zionist figure in pre-war Poland]. When he learned that I
had painted Dr. Tuhn's portrait several times, our relationship became very
warm and replaced the former suspicion which had been in the air at our first
meeting. Those present listened in sad silence to the report I delivered and to
the urgent request on the speedy resolution of the emigration issue and
financial help from the Union. They promised their help and informed us that
they had substantial funds which could be unblocked only by order of the man in
charge of the Reichsicherheitshauptamt [The Main Office of
Government Security], which was run by a man called [Adolf] Eichmann, and the
liaison with him was Dr. Pin [Fin Fein ?]. They assured me that our
request would be transmitted at once for approval. As for the main purpose of
our visit, it was made clear to us that the Reichsicherheitshauptamt issued
exit permits to anyone wishing to leave Germany and that there was no objection
We informed them of the order of the City Kommandant of Oshpitzin to open a
Palestine office and to keep him abreast of the results of the registration. We
also reported on the transfer of Jews from Silesia to Oshpitzin as a transit
point until their emigration. I had thoughts of getting in touch with HIAS
about emigration via the internationalized Danube River to Sulina and Varna.
With regard to this they responded that two days hence they were expecting a
delegation from the Center at Istanbul and that the Union would discuss this
with them. We also learned that in the camps at Sulina and Varna there were
already some 20,000 Jews, and there is no possibility to find enough ships to
transfer them to Palestine. Moreover, the British were not permitting the
transfer of Jews to Palestine. However, perhaps because of the worsening
situation of the Jews in Poland, the Istanbul delegation might succeed in
making their emigration possible.
At this point in time there are no obstacles as far as the German side is
concerned, inasmuch as their goal is to be rid of the Jews at any price.
Additionally, we learned that there was another possibility for emigration by
means of some American travel agency in Berlin, but as to that we would receive
further information from the Palestine Center office. The meeting ended with
the resolution that Dr. Pin, the liaison with Dr. [Hjalmar] Schacht and [Adolf]
Eichmann, would make efforts with respect to the transit permits for Jewish
emigrants via Oshpitzin to the United States. A meeting was arranged for us in
the Pal Amt [Palestine Bureau]. A tour of the Jewish institutions
in Berlin was also arranged for the morrow, to be followed by a visit with Dr.
Stahl at the Jewish Kehilla in Berlin.
After the meeting I was invited for lunch by Dr. Baeck. My colleagues went to
see the city. After the meal Prof. Baeck and I freely exchanged ideas, and the
first question I was asked if I knew someone named Munik Merin from
Sosnowiec. I answered in the affirmative. He warned me about him, since the
Union had information that he was a confidante of Himmler and
Eichmann, that he carried a letter from them to all German authorities to
assist him and in all questions that are in doubt he should be
consulted. He, moreover, had been provided with a special office in the
Gestapo at Katowice. Then he told me about the situation of German Jewry. The
Jews were no longer running their businesses and most of them were now clerks
and community workers of the Kehilla and its institutions. The only merchants
were street-vendors standing near the Kehilla and its institutions selling
notions and neckwear from a tray suspended from their necks, while the rest
were hospitalized or in old-age homes. There were almost no youth, all awaiting
a certificate or affidavit in order to be able to emigrate. In Dr. Baeck's
opinion, those not able to emigrate would perish in the camps or from hunger.
This was called the Final Solution.
To this very day I can hear the bitter complaint which Rabbi Professor Baeck
expressed against World Jewry and its leadership whose interest in their
brethren under Hitler's rule was nil. For each of the repeated appeals to the
Jews of England and the United States, which was passed to them by Dr.
Ehrenpreiss of Stockholm, no one had responded. Our continuous cries of
desperation were tongue-tied in a conspiracy of silence. The
Germans have almost emptied Germany of its Jews, almost all have been deported
to Poland, except for a few hundred families, mostly elderly. Now, after the
conquest of Poland, the problem has become even more acute due to the
difficulties of emigration which have no solution. The western countries have
no intention of accepting the Jews. One should, therefore, expect a total
disaster considering the merciless behavior of the German criminals and
murderers. It is difficult to imagine of what excesses they are capable,
especially should the United States participate in the war, something which
Hitler fears. If the U.S. government would seriously bring pressure to bear,
not only would the Germans permit the Jews to emigrate, but especially if the
western countries would consent to receive them, it would bring about a
solution for the Jewish problem. Dr. Baeck had reached the conclusion that even
Roosevelt was not a faithful friend of the Jews. He could persuade the British
to permit the entry of Jews to Palestine, or even Madagascar. During that
conversation Dr. Baeck expressed the opinion, that the presence of our
delegation was most important. It will make it possible to transmit the
information about our situation to the Istanbul delegation. Dr. Baeck was
afraid that even this last route for emigration would be closed off with the
freezing over of the Danube. He said:
If the West does not come to our aid the Jews will be squeezed like a
lemon for all their property and any means of physical sustenance, and then to
be discarded and incinerated like a lemon rind. These were his parting
Now then, as I recall the words of this experienced veteran Jewish leader, who
survived the war in Theresienstadt I must bow my head in saluting his
wisdom and prescience in foreseeing the rapidly approaching Holocaust.
From Professor Baeck, I went to the Pal Amt, where I found my
colleagues and Dr. Pick and Dr. Pin.
We descended to the offices of the Irgun which dealt with
emigration assistance, both legal and illegal. We were informed about
emigration possibilities to South American countries, by obtaining citizenship
in these countries which could be attained by proving land ownership there.
Purchase of land and passports could be arranged via a certain
travel agency. This avenue, however, did not mesh with the financial means of
Polish Jewry, since it required vast expenditures. There remained the required
Certificate of Uprightness [issued by the German Police] whose
prerequisite was the presentation of a visa to any country that would permit
entry. The Jewish organizations in other countries also did not display much
initiative. The only hope for Jewish emigration from Poland remaining was via
Sulina and Varna to Palestine. This could become a possibility through American
pressure on Britain to drop the prohibition of the entry of Jews to Palestine.
At that point we were not aware that the Americans also had their oil interests
in Arab countries, and it would seem that that was the reason for its apathy as
far as this issue was concerned.
I lay on my bed that night with a heavy heart, and was unable to sleep. I was
still under the influence of my conversation with Dr. Baeck. I was not able to
grasp that our brethren overseas, and especially in the U.S.A., were not doing
everything possible in order to allow 20,000 Jews, who had, through risking
their lives, escaped the Hitlerian Hell and were now on the coast of the Black
Sea, to reach safety. I couldn't believe that any Jew in the U.S.A. could sleep
peacefully knowing the situation of their brothers rotting away under Hitler's
yoke. I could not imagine that Jews there would not close their businesses, not
leave work, in order to go out and publicly demonstrate, raise a hue and cry,
and demand the assistance of this mighty world power of freedom, the United
States of America, for the Jews whose only one safe haven from the Nazi Hell
was the road to oblivion. Lying abed, though, I also entertained other
thoughts: Just maybe they don't really know as yet what is happening here;
maybe they have not heard about the concentration camps and the torments to
which the Nazis were deporting tens of thousands of Jews and what awaited them
there; perhaps the cries of their brethren who were being increasingly
annihilated by the accursed Nazi troops had not yet reached their ears. Maybe,
maybe...and when they become aware of this terrible atrocity they will
certainly rush to their aid and do everything possible to save them. Then
again, a doubt comes to mind: Who knows? Maybe our brethren in the U.S.A. are
also obliged to be silent, in order not to anger their authorities and their
president, and to remain good and loyal citizens? Who knows?
I dropped off after sunup, and in a nightmare I saw images of Jews burning like
torches. After waking I could not put these images out of my mind. I remained
in bed and in my imagination saw President Roosevelt, a handicapped president,
and remembered his speeches full of wrath against Hitler.
After knocking on the door, my colleagues came in looking rested and in a good
mood. While still in bed, I told them of the contents of my conversation with
Dr. Baeck. They, however, disregarded his estimation of the situation. It was
unthinkable, they claimed, that Morgenthau, Baruch, Warburg, Goldman, etc.,
would accept this. They had the support of the Jewish Agency, the
Landsmannnschaften in the U.S.A. and the Jews of the whole world. It cannot be,
they said, that in such a time they would distance themselves and not raise a
hue and cry whilst their mothers and brothers were being exterminated in
Poland, they would rend their garments, they said, and go out into the streets
with sackcloth on their heads, and force Roosevelt and Churchill to bring us
out of Poland just as they had brought out the Gerrer Rebbe and Rothschild. The
Germans will be happy to let us go. All they want is to get rid of us and it
was for that purpose that they are establishing the emigration offices.
I doubted that. I saw before me the face of Dr. Baeck
One of our escorts arrived and took us on a tour of the Kehilla institutions.
We visited the gigantic marvelously appointed hospital, and the splendidly
built old-age home, to which each resident could bring his own furniture in
order to preserve the character of his family home. There were large libraries
and modern dining rooms. The behavior of the residents was normal, they played
chess and read books. Peace and tranquillity reigned everywhere. This was a
quietude of self-delusion and deceit
I think they showed this to the Americans still stationed in Berlin.
We also visited the Kehilla offices. It was a huge building filled with
offices, clerks running to and fro
in the corridors carrying papers. We were told that the activity was crucial in
order to prove that people were hard at work so that they could have the
wherewithal to live.
The Chairman of the Kehilla, Stahl, received us in his well-appointed and
beautifully arranged office. His brother was Goering's family physician. Around
that time, a daughter was born to the Goerings and Dr. Stahl was the attending
physician at the birth. Goering dealt with the criticism leveled against him
for allowing a Jew to treat his family by saying: The well-being of my
family stands higher than Party concerns, and as to who is a Jew that I
determine. We knew about the tensions in the relationship between Stahl
and Dr. Baeck. Stahl was pleased with our positive impressions of the Kehilla
institutions, and promised to supply us with medicine and equipment from the
community inventory when he received the authorization to do so.
When we returned to our lodgings we learned that the authorities had refused
all our requests and that we would not be receiving any medical supplies, and
we were to return at once to Poland.
Indeed, that very night we returned. We also did not wait for the arrival of
the Istanbul delegation. We hoped that the report we had given to the
leadership of German Jewry would somehow reach our brethren outside the
country. The rest of our hopes evaporated
The Great Synagogue is set ablaze
When we reached Katowice we met a Jew from Oshpitzin, who imparted the horrible
news that the Great Synagogue had been burned down. A special Gestapo unit had
come to town for that purpose, surrounded the area so that no one would be able
to extinguish the fire, poured gasoline and set the synagogue on fire. With this
act the feeling was that Oshpitzin Jewry was doomed. This Jew also told me that
the Germans took advantage of my absence from Oshpitzin in order to burn down
During the journey from Katowice to Oshpitzin, Manheimer related the history of
the synagogue, that this was not the first time that a synagogue in Oshpitzin
was burnt down, this had already happened before, but that time the fire was
started by burning candles. In its place a new modern synagogue was built,
bigger and more beautiful than the previous one. The inside of the synagogue was
decorated with splendid paintings. The domed ceiling was painted to resemble the
blue skies, in which golden stars were strewn. Around the sky were depicted the
signs of the zodiac and biblical musical instruments. In the center of the
synagogue there was a green colored platform, the Holy Ark and the Lectern were
made of elegant white marble. The gallery and a section of the ground floor
designated for women was curtained off. So many quarrels there had been as to
who would be the Gabbai! How many sighs were uttered and tears shed during the
Yizkor Prayers. During the winter the prayers were conducted in the anteroom,
because it was impossible to heat such a large synagogue. With the burning of
the synagogue, the Jewish ambience of the Jews' Street ceased to exist.
On our return to Oshpitzin we felt helpless. To our surprise, people in
Oshpitzin exhibited somewhat of an air of hopefulness.
Daily, on my way to the Kehilla offices, I would pass the high charred walls of
the synagogue. Some days later, the Shamash of the synagogue died, and we
conducted a funeral for him as for an important person which was attended by a
large crowd. I understood that his heart could not bear the loss of the Shul.
The only one who bore up and was not down-hearted was Jachtzel, the Gabbai of
the synagogue, who encouraged us and invigorated us. He said that we would yet
build a more beautiful synagogue than the one we lost, and if not we ourselves,
then our children, and if not here then in Jerusalem, and even our bones would
be resurrected and we would yet pray in our Holy Temple in Jerusalem. When he
saw that I was not able to sit in the office and work, he shouted at me and
encouraged me. He told me that I needed to be as tough as steel. I was in a
state of shock after Berlin, and then the synagogue's destruction to add to
that, as if I had been hit over the head with a steel truncheon.
The Kehilla activities increased, more and more people required its services.
The Kehilla Council demanded a report on my trip to Berlin, but I couldn't read
it to the meeting. I was broken and mentally exhausted. I wanted to resign from
the post at any price, since I was in a state of utter despair. The Jews in town
knew this, and in order to encourage me they paid their Kehilla dues on time. I
really had to get a hold of myself and return to my duties.
That day, I was summoned to the Mayor's office. He informed me that by order of
the Gestapo in Bilice I was to house the Jews in the barracks at Zasula. I
suspected that the German Mayor, formerly a baker in Silesia, wanted to create a
ghetto for the Jews. I opposed that. When he began to shout at me I woke up from
the state of shock in which I had been. I turned away from him and left his
office. I went to the city Kommandant and told him of the Mayor's demand. I said
that if he insisted on it, I would resign from the chairmanship of the Kehilla.
The Kommandant grabbed the telephone and called the Mayor, rebuked him saying
that as a Party Member he was to obey orders and not interfere in matters
concerning the Jews. On that day I decided to refuse to supply people for forced
labor (every day people went out to work at cleaning up the city). I also
refused to supply men for the police with the argument that this was opposed to
the Nuremberg Laws. The Police Chief was astounded and summoned me, and after I
threatened to complain to the Gestapo, he withdrew his demand for the workers. I
had stopped believing the Germans.
The “honeymoon was over”…the order to wear the badges [of shame] came. I
didn't hurry to pass it on. Ridiger phoned me and I was asked why I had stopped
supplying the work-parties. I replied that I needed the men to build the old-age
home and the hospital, and if he expected me to supply men for other work he
should stop the transfer of Jews from Silesia to Oshpitzin. Indeed, Ridiger
withdrew his demands and agreed that I continue to employ the men for the work
we found necessary.
I called a meeting of the Council and gave the sad report on my meetings in
Berlin. During the report Abraham Gross fainted and we were barely able to
revive him. On returning to my home late that night, I found the villa lit up.
German officers were seated in the dining room gobbling wild geese which they
had caught in the “Stawy” and had been prepared by my housekeeper. I was
enraged. None of them had noticed me when I came in and I heard their
conversation. They were discussing the outcome of the war: “What did we gain?
Unless we successfully invade America, we can expect an unpleasant end”. On
hearing these words, I was very encouraged.
Next day another difficult day awaited me. Every day refugees of the Jewish
intelligentsia arrived. Among them was Mrs. Lieberman's stepmother, a pleasant
and cultured lady. There only hope was to “bear up”.
In Dr. Drucks' villa lived the most senior German officer in Oshpitzin, Major
von Greif. One day I was summoned by him. After the maid had opened the gate and
ushered me in, I saw the inside of that exceptionally well-appointed home, just
as it had been, only with its former residents gone. After a long wait, an
elderly officer entered and ordered me to sit. He was gray-haired, very
wrinkled, and wore a civilian shirt and slippers. He sat down behind Dr. Drucks'
desk. Impatiently I waited to learn why I had been summoned. I had decided to
refuse all of his demands.
After informing me that his unit was leaving town, I noticed the packed
suitcases which filled the courtyard. He removed a small letter from a drawer in
the desk and gave it to me saying that I should guard it like an amulet and
always keep it with me. I read what it said; that I had saved the life of a
German pilot. The letter bore the insignia of the military unit and was signed
by him. He thanked me once more for having saved the pilot, said goodbye, and
accompanied me to the gate, then remembered something and wanted to return to
his room. He said that I should be very wary of someone named Munik Merin from
Sosnowiec and from his superior Kommissar Dreier from the Gestapo in Katowice.
He pointed out that he was telling me this because he trusted me. I left
preoccupied. This was the second time I had been warned about this Jew whom I
had never met. On returning to the Kehilla I began to ask and get information
about him, but no one had ever heard his name before. Some days later they
brought me one of the Jews who had moved from Katowice who told me that in
Sosnowiec, the Germans upon entering the city had seized young Jews for various
tasks and to clean the streets and had appointed one of them – Munik Merin –
as the “Brigadier” (group-leader). It seemed he was married and from a good
family, but a careerist. At that time Sosnowiec was still comprised of a Jewish
Kehilla composed of the best people. Merin had become the chief supplier of the
German officers and troops, and after that a trusted collaborator. He would come
to the Jewish community with various demands on behalf of the Germans. The
Kehilla responded as far as it could, but could not always meet all their
demands. Munik Merin exploited this in order to incite the Germans against the
Kehilla. I should point out that the situation in Katowice differed from that of
Oshpitzin in that they, immediately after the Germans came, were under the
authority of the Gestapo, while Oshpitzin was under the authority of the
Wehrmacht. The men of the Gestapo in Katowice were extremely dangerous. Right
away they established a work camp in Szrodula, and in the barracks there they
concentrated the Jews that had been seized for labor, so that they should be
available at all times for work. Merin's cohorts who lived with him in the those
barracks, among them members of the “Chavura” organization, persuaded him to
seize the reins of the Kehilla with the help of the Germans. After that
Kommissar Dreier from the Katowice Gestapo appeared at the Kehilla offices,
disbanded it and appointed Munik Merin as “Judensalter” and he was to select
a Judenrat as he saw fit. He chose for his Judenrat mainly reckless people and
as his clerks he appointed Jews from the city's intelligentsia. In the same
manner he organized, by order of the Gestapo, Judenrat in Zawierce and all the
towns under the authority of the center in Sosnowiec.
He developed broad activity within the Judenrat in Sosnowiec. The financial
resources for the activities he attained through a special tax (contribution)
which he levied on the Kehilla and other taxes were levied on those Jews known
to be wealthy. There were cases where people refused to pay, and this led to
arrest in the jail at the Szrodula Camp and murderous beatings by the Gestapo,
so that only after a few days of torture they were willing to hand over all they
had. The story went, that the owner of an iron works by the name of Fürstenberg
who had been taken there, was tied naked as they day he was born to a truck and
dragged along a road full of debris until his skin was flayed off until he
passed out, and then was put into a small dark room with a cement floor. Next
day when Merin came into the room, he immediately agreed to pay the entire sum.
It was hard for me to believe these hair-raising stories. I was reminded of what
my grandfather had told me in order to deter me from accepting a public office.
He told me as follows:
“When he had been vacationing in Karlsbad he got to know a Jew who introduced
himself as the head of the Kehilla in Mielec. Some years later, when grandfather
was in Mielec on business, he wanted to visit him and asked for his address from
the first Jew he met, who answered: That crook, that robber...and he walked
away. He asked a second and a third Jew, and all heaped abuse and scorn on the
head of the Kehilla adding additional curses. Finally he asked a Christian who
showed him the way to the Jewish Kehilla building. The head of the Kehilla was
very pleased to see him and with difficulty was able to free himself from his
workload for a conversation. Grandfather asked him: I see you are working hard,
how much do they pay you? He answered: What a question? I work without pay. Head
of the Kehilla – that is an honorary position…”
To my sorrow I came to learn that these stories about Munik Merin were nothing
compared to the reality.
In the meantime, my father and all of my family returned after many hardships
from Kazimierz to Krakow. A German officer, an acquaintance of the wounded pilot
who had lodged with me, traveled to Krakow and took me along. We traveled
through Bubrik [?], where the Germans had built a temporary bridge over the
Vistula. Chelmek and Libiaz were completely burned down, and we saw only the
remains of walls and chimneys. At Trzebinia we passed its burnt out synagogue.
When the German officer's car reached Augustianska Street in Krakow, to the
house where my sister-in-law Teichtahl lived together with my mother-in-law,
they were very frightened, especially when they saw a man in civilian clothes
getting out of the car – they hadn't recognized me after I had shaved off my
beard. After knocking on the door for a long time they finally opened the door
and recognized the civilian who had frightened them. It was me.
My father, wife and children lived next door. My father tearfully related what
had happened to them on their way back to Krakow. They rode on a farmer's wagon,
and German soldiers that passed them on the road ordered the horses to be
unharnessed and for my father to pull the wagon. Fortunately they met someone he
knew who helped them and arranged a place for them to spend the night in some
My father had decided not to return to Oshpitzin and to remain with his wife in
Krakow. He never saw Oshpitzin again. My wife and children returned with me to
The pilot who was in my house was not feeling well. It turned out that aside
from the fracture, he also had a dislocation in his arm which had been
improperly set in the military hospital. I summoned Enoch Jr. and he reset it
properly. After that he traveled to a convalescent home in Lunz. In his place we
accommodated another officer who would not consent to live with me in one
apartment, and I was obliged to uproot myself and stay in the attic of my villa.
He permitted me to take some pieces of furniture and replaced them with new
furniture he had brought with him, probably confiscated from where he had been
stationed earlier. It will suffice me to note one detail to characterize the
personality of this officer. Next to the pond in my garden there stood a
magnificent little statue, which had been fashioned by Hochman. The German
kicked it into the pond.
In my father's villa on Jagielonska 36, changes had also been made. After the
military headquarters moved elsewhere, the “Employment Bureau” took its
place. The clerks of this office were generally young Volksdeutsche from
Bielsko, enthusiastic admirers of Hitler whom it was best to avoid. They seized
young farmers and shipped them off for agricultural work in Germany. Those that
refused to go they locked up in the basement and “worked them over” until
they agreed to go. Quite often, I heard the screams of the Poles being tortured
during the night in my father's villa, just opposite mine. Things in the Jewish
community also worsened. No word had come from Berlin about Jewish emigration.
Manheimer pressured forcefully for instructions from the HIAS representatives in
Slovakia and demanded that at the very least the children who had been
registered should be sent. They would only have had to go to Cieszyn and cross
the border to Slovakia during the night. Winter was already here. I had heard
about German troop movements in Slovakia. It was hard for me to decide. The
danger was too great, especially when it concerned children. One evening, with
the consent of the parents, Manheimer gathered several dozen children and sent
them off. The children were caught somewhere near the border and brought back to
Oshpitzin, their parents were arrested and interrogated to find out if I was
involved. They also interrogated the children (some of whom had been employed by
the Kehilla Council), and they testified that I had not been involved. This
allowed me to try and intervene to free the children and their parents from
jail. I argued that this was a childish adventure, organized by the children
themselves, as they were convinced that the German authorities supported Jewish
emigration as evidenced by the posted announcements throughout the town. The
children and their parents were released. This whole episode made me feel
terrible. The echoes of my report in Berlin must surely had to have reached
overseas, and yet no response whatsoever. Our hope was America. During the
daytime I didn't even have time to think. There was much work to be done in the
Kehilla. Meetings, consultations, committee work, tax assessment computations,
etc. The “trustees' of the businesses required various documents in order to
be enabled to travel and bring merchandise. Jews also needed various permits.
From time to time someone would be arrested and there was the subsequent
necessity for trying to gain his release, this one had been beaten and the other
had had his merchandise illegally seized. There was the need to furnish
necessities for the needy, to provide housing for the Jews who were being
transferred in to town, and so on and so forth. During the nighttime, however, I
couldn't sleep. I always had the feeling that I was aboard a sinking ship in a
stormy sea with no help in sight. When I did doze off, I dreamt – I saw
America, the people working in factories, doing business, commuters packed into
the subways, skimming through their newspapers, especially the sport and stock
market sections. Do they have any time to think about us? In my dream I also saw
London, this great city, in blackout, bombed at times, Churchill, Eden – will
they be thinking about getting us out of here? Can we really expect them to
respond to our cries for help?
I thought about the daughter of Lord Malchett [?], the Lady Ervis [?],
who had in the past visited us in Krakow together with Leib Jaffe in regards to
the “Keren Hayesod”. But how do we make contact?
The war had developed badly for us. The hope we had pegged on General Gamelin
[?] had waned. The Germans were nearing Paris, and the English had escaped via
Dunkirk, and bad news came from Krakow.
The Germans had organized a “Party” with Jewish women. They stripped them,
and made pornographic films. They had confiscated everything of value. Jews were
afraid to go out into the streets, because of the seizures for work parties. In
Lodz a ghetto had been established with a Jewish police, the printing of Jewish
money, and passages from window to opposite window via a bridge built over the
The King of the Jews
by Courtesy of Himmler
Unexpectedly, one day Munik Merin and his secretary appeared in my office at the
Kehilla. She was a young blonde, he in his thirties, short of stature, thin,
unpleasant face, mousy eyes, dark hair, and semi-literate. He had come in his
personal Volkswagen driven by his own chauffeur, also a Jew. He said to me that
he had heard of the excellent organization of the Jewish Kehilla in Oshpitzin,
and requested I tell him about my visit in Berlin in the offices of the “Union
of German Jews” and about the work of the “Pal Amt”. He was interested in
the methods of financing our Kehilla and how we had succeeded in keeping the
Jewish shops operating. He then asked me to accompany him for a visit to
Sosnowiec to learn about the Center of Jewish Kehillot that he had organized. I
went with him, and on the way he showed me the document about which Dr.
Baeck had told me, which said:
“Israel Munik Merin is acting under my orders. All
officials of the German government are to regard his instructions as if they
came from me. Any questions requiring clarification should be addressed to
Signed: Heinrich Himmler.
The certificate was accompanied with Merin's photograph.
He also affirmed that he had an office in the Gestapo headquarters in Katowice
and that his superior was Eichmann in Berlin.
In Sosnowiec he had appropriated the old building of the Kehilla Council and
added two adjacent buildings to it, from which he had evicted all the residents.
He had a large staff. Looking at the faces of his men, one could assume that
they were porters and the like. These were in essence his private guard. In
addition, he already was then in charge of the “Ordnungsdienst”, the Jewish
police, who had not as yet received their uniforms. The men wore dark-blue hats,
with a red band and a tin emblem in the form of a Magen David, an armband on
which was written “Ordnungsdienst”. All of the Jews in Sosnowiec were
already wearing the Jew-Badge on their arms, and Merin sported an armband, which
had the inscription “JudenAelster”. By the way – they didn't always wear
them. I visited the financial departments of the Kehilla and learned that the
budget was covered by assessments. I asked if people paid their assessed taxes
in a suitable manner. I was told that the collections were greeted with growing
refusals, and it was apparently due to the fact that people had run out of
money, especially after their shops and merchandise had been confiscated. Under
the circumstances, they are obliged to levy “Contributions” [forced
assessments] on all of the communities over which they have authority. Any
Kehilla that does not pay, all those responsible as well as the members of the
Council are arrested and sent to work camps. Merin interrupted my conversation
about finances and invited me to one of the halls, where he introduced me to a
youth delegation from the work camp in Szrodula. These were youths, former
members of Hachshara, in whose attitude I saw the readiness to do whatever was
required. After they learned that I was in Sosnowiec they had come to determine
what chances existed for making Aliyah. It seems that the news of the opening of
a Palestine emigration office in Oshpitzin and my journey to Berlin had spread
through almost all of Poland. I had to disabuse them of the possibility to make
Aliyah legally and told them that I was still awaiting further instructions. I
hinted that the only possibility remaining was illegal Aliyah. For that, one
would have to smuggle over the border. Merin became increasingly nervous. I
realized that they wanted to speak to me in private, and some of them began to
argue about it with Merin. He refused to agree to this, and quickly took me away
He had a special restaurant for the Kehilla Council. Set tables covered with
white tablecloths, and waiters dressed in white shirts, with white napkins
draped on their arms. They served the best Jewish cuisine: Liver, chopped
onions, large portions of gefilte fish, etc.
In the middle of the meal which was towards evening several nervous and sweaty
people came in and whispered something to Merin, and he, along with other
Council members, got up at once and went out in to the courtyard. The sight that
greeted our eyes was horrible: In the street, between two rows of Gestapo men in
their black uniforms holding burning torches, a group of bleeding Jews were
being driven. It was a scene out of the Middle Ages. Merin called over two Jews
from the 'Police” station and began to argue with them. It turned out that the
Kehilla Center, of which Merin was the chairman, had assessed the Zawierce
Judenrat the sum of 30,000 Mark and they had not been able to come up with the
money, and that was why they had arrested all the members of the Kehilla
council. These bleeding Jews were the Zawierce Kehilla officials. After a long
argument, Merin agreed to accept a smaller amount, with the assurance that they
would attempt to raise the entire sum if at all possible. Merin regarded the
beaten and tortured Jews with indifference, and called to the Gestapo
group-leader. He came over and stood at attention, and Merin instructed him to
call off his men. The Gestapo men put out their torches and dispersed. We
returned to the dining room where we were served huge portions of all kinds of
meat, and they, while laughing, resumed eating heartily, as if in celebration of
a great victory. I, on the other hand, couldn't swallow a thing. At my request,
Merin ordered his driver to return me to Oshpitzin.
On the return trip in Merin's car I began for the first time to consider the
necessity for convening an underground court in order to eliminate Jewish
traitors of Merin's ilk and other Hitler collaborators.
Some two weeks later, I received a letter from Merin's center that I, by order
of Kommissar Dreier of the Gestapo in Katowice, was to initiate a meeting of the
delegates of the Kehillot for consultations regarding Jewish emigration and the
attendant organizational problems. The next day I received a similar letter from
Ridiger in Bielsko, which instructed me to call this meeting. I sent invitations
to various Kehillot, among them Lodz and Warsaw. The meeting was attended only
by Silesian delegates, as the rest had not received travel permits from the
German authorities. Merin came to the meeting with a letter from the Gestapo in
Katowice in which he appointed Merin as the Chairman of the Center over all the
“Judenrat”. After a consultation among all the delegates – not including
Merin – which was convened in another room after we had stated that we were
not “Judenrat”, but representatives of religious Kehillot, and therefore we
rejected the demand that the Kehillot would be subsumed under the Central
Judenrat of Sosnowiec, as stated in the order of the German authorities.
It was, indeed, clear to us that this would result in the disbanding of the
Kehillot by the Germans and that they would soon appoint different
After we had considered the way Merin operated we did not want to organize
“Judenrat”. Merin left the conference in a fury and with that we dispersed.
It was immediately obvious that Merin was dumbfounded when I informed him of our
decision, despite the document he had in his possession. The other Kehilla heads
were in full accord with me on the decision that had been adopted.
Notwithstanding our position, Merin transmitted an order that the Jewish Kehilla
in Oshpitzin must pay a “Contribution” of 30,000 Mark within a few days.
After consultation with the Kehilla council it was decided to gather the
required sum. A committee was formed to collect the money and everyone, without
demur, paid the sum he was asked, and the next day the money was deposited in
the Kehilla treasury. At the same time we sent a telegram and letter to the
Union of Kehillot in Berlin in which I requested instructions how to deal with
the matter. Two days later, I received a telegram from the Gestapo in Katowice,
which said that the “Contribution” had been annulled. In spite of the
opposition of the Kehilla council members Josef Gross, Ahron Silbiger, and one
of the Henenbergs, I pushed through the resolution to refund the money we had
collected. Thus, I returned the funds to their owners. This was the first
instance of opposition to my views in the Kehilla Council.
About two weeks later someone by the name of Bernstein came from Dabrowa with a
letter from the Gestapo in Katowice, which instructed me to transfer the
management of the Kehilla to Bernstein, a government Kommissar appointed to
conduct the affairs of the Kehilla in Oshpitzin. Indeed, I followed instructions
and this was properly entered into the minutes, I left the Kehilla offices and
went home. The Kehilla Council members Yitzchak Hutterer, Jachtzel, Grinbaum,
and Abraham Gross also ended their activity in the Kehilla.
Some two weeks later I was suddenly summoned to the Kehilla offices where I
found Merin and a number of Gestapo officers, including Ridiger from Bielice and
Kommissar Dreier from Katowice. Dreier asked me if I knew what a “Katzet”
was, and I replied that I knew it was a concentration camp. He asked me if I was
prepared to come back to manage the Judenrat in Oshpitzin. I answered with
absolute calm that I was not prepared to do so. For some time I had been ready
for the worst. They ordered that I be taken to the jail in the municipal
building, and a little later I was joined in my cell by Jachtzel, Hutterer,
Abraham Gross and Baruch Grinbaum. They detained us for two weeks, and then
released us. Meanwhile, Josef Gross had been appointed “Judenaelster” of
Oshpitzin and his brother-in-law Lerhaft was appointed with him to the Judenrat.
Lerhaft later became the head of the “Ordnungsdienst” in Sosnowiec. After my
release, Merin summoned my wife to the Judenrat and advised her that I leave
Oshpitzin at once, and if not – “it wouldn't be good for me”. This time I
Very early in the morning I left my villa, again by the back gate, and walked
through the fields in the direction of Trzebinia. As the sun rose, I had reached
the Libiaz forest. I had brought with me nothing other than Talith and T'filin
and a coat. The trees in the forest still had snow on their branches and as the
sun began to rise the treetops glistened. I stopped near one of the trees in the
middle of the forest, donned my Talith and T'filin, said the morning prayers,
with the feeling that the Rock of Israel was watching over me. During the Amidah
[Silent Devotion], the words were infused with a strange significance I had
never experienced before. From afar the sounds of snow falling from the branches
reached me. Aside from that – utter silence reigned. Since then, whenever I
come to the end of the Amidah, my mind flashes back to that prayer I said in
1940 during my flight.
“We thank thee, Oh Lord.... for our lives which are in thy charge and for our
souls which are in your care, for thy miracles which are daily with us, and for
thy continual wonders and favors, evening, morning and noon. Beneficent One,
whose mercies never fail, whose kindnesses never cease, thou hast always been
During that prayer it felt as if I were in the Great Synagogue in Oshpitzin.
The Last Days of Oshpitzin
On the 22nd of June 1941, with the invasion of Russia by Germany,
the mass extermination of Jews began.
On the 20th of January 1942, the decisions on the “Final
Solution” were taken. On that day, in the Wannsee district of Berlin, the
senior officials of the Third Reich gathered: Heydrich, the Gestapo Chief
Mueller, the President of the “People's Courts” Preisler, Adolf Eichmann and
other senior civil servants and Gauleiter, who decided on the total
extermination of the Jews in gas chambers by the most efficient poison –
When I was in Krakow, Wieliczka, Tarnow, and Bochnia I met Jews who had
succeeded in escaping from Oshpitzin. They told me about the trains filled with
Jews that came to Oshpitzin.
The panic amongst the Jews right after my flight from Oshpitzin subsided. The
Kehilla Council operated as before, and there were those who thanked God that
they were rid of me, that stubborn man who knew how to insist on his rights in a
continuous struggle with the Germans. There was a need for more thoughtful
people in order to persevere through the hard times. The Americans, after all,
will land some day in Europe and defeat the Germans. I had adopted the policy of
encouraging escape and emigration to Palestine, an act which required abandoning
home and possessions, and people didn't have the will to leave even a pot
behind. Whoever wanted to – please, go, but to force people to emigrate and
help Hitler to rid himself of the Jews was seen by many as tantamount to
suicide. People still ran their shops; the German soldiers crowded into them and
bought almost everything; the Polish “trustees” were very accommodating,
since no German soldier dared to take any merchandise without paying for it.
There was only the one tax of 3% of the turnover to be paid to the Judenrat, no
other taxes at all, and although it was unpleasant to wear the yellow badges,
one could after all get used to that too.
Then suddenly, the sweet dream was interrupted. Germans from the Reich arrived,
drove the Jews from their shops along with the Polish “trustees” and
appropriated their shops and merchandise. Some of the people in the labor gangs
returned exhausted and battered. Most did not return at all – they had been
sent to labor camps in Germany. They took hostages and molested them. Any little
an excuse for the cruel conquerors to take them out to be shot. An order of
execution, for some reason, was carried out against Baruch Grinbaum and the
Waxman brothers. The Judenrat begged Merin to intercede on their behalf – but
Jewish boys who were working on the other side of the Sola on barrack
renovations told about the Poles who had been brought to the camp that was being
built there; about the tortures inflicted on these Poles – apparently
Merin came one day to Oshpitzin and announced that preparations were to be made
to transfer the Jews to Sosnowiec by wagon on which they could bring the few
things they had left and would be housed in the barracks at Szrodula. The former
members of the Oshpitzin Judenrat were put to work in the Sosnowiec Central
Judenrat. One of them was even appointed as the head of the “Ordnungsdienst”
and he rounded up Jewish men and women who were sent away to work in Germany and
to the Sudetenland. There were those who worked in the Jewish
“Arbeitsamt”[Labor Bureau]. A doctor selected those who had been picked up
for work according to their fitness. The former members of the Oshpitzin
Judenrat tried to ease the plight of their townsmen and delayed whenever
possible their transfer to labor camps. Everyone attempted to “get through the
period” and save himself even if it was at the expense of another. In this
struggle for their very existence, even the fair-minded and best of them lost
their essential humanity. Their feeling for others atrophied and they didn't
feel the distress of their fathers and mothers, their brothers and sisters, and
certainly not that of other Jews. At times, in exchange for bribes they were
able to free those who were to be sent away, but others had to replace them.
Then, too, there were those who gave away their last penny to the ones in charge
of the “Arbeitseinsatz”[work battalion], in the Judenrat, or to the
“Sicherheitsdienst” [security service], etc., in order to save their
The roundups increased. People died in the barracks, which lacked the most
elementary hygienic facilities.
In 1943 the remaining Jews from Oshpitzin in Szrodula were sent to the camps,
the greater part to Auschwitz. The younger ones were sent to Mauthausen,
Giessen, and other camps in Germany. Merin continued his activity in Sosnowiec.
Meanwhile, in Oshpitzin all of the buildings on the left bank of the Zasula were
demolished to create an open area around the camp. They built plants to
manufacture synthetic rubber and fuel for the I. G. Farben Industry.
The factory was put up on the acreage formerly occupied by several villages from
Dwory [?] outwards. Some 20,000 prisoners worked there. Dwellings were
built for the Germans and next to the Jewish cemetery barracks were erected for
French P.O.W.'s. In Brzezynski [Birkenau] they built a spark-plug factory for
the “Union” Company. Not far from there, they built barracks for Jews and
Gypsies. They also built a huge crematorium with a special rail spur leading to
it. Kuperman's factory in Bobrik was transformed into the Siemens motor assembly
plant. These dreadful things are well known and I have nothing to add about
Jewish women, who knew that they would eventually be sent off to the camps,
placed their children with trusted Polish families. Occasionally a lone
certificate arrived, with which it was possible to make Aliyah or be sent to a
distinct camp designated for alien citizens. Frequently, the Judenrat officials
would substitute the photograph on their special passes and sell them to others.
Thus began a commerce in false documents which enabled their holders to live
outside the ghetto.
One day a certificate was received for a young woman in Sosnowiec. Merin,
instead of informing her of its arrival, sent her to work in the Sudetenland and
gave her certificate to another young woman. This was discovered in some manner
by the young woman for whom it had been intended, and she let her relatives
overseas know. Unexpectedly, a committee from the Gestapo Passport Bureau in
Berlin arrived and summoned Merin to Katowice. He went there as usual with his
secretary and they were summarily sent off to the camp at Auschwitz. He was
brought to the camp in his car and arrived at the time when the prisoners were
returning from their work. When the news of his arrival spread, the prisoners
came out of their barracks, attacked him and beat him to death. The shots by the
guards and the blows of the Kapos were to no avail – and even the women
inmates took part in the lynching.
During that period, Jews began to hide in the woods, with the Poles in their
cellars, in attics, and any other possible hiding place. A few women obtained
Aryan documents. The struggle to gain time was at its height.
Again it was decided to send messengers overseas in order to inform them what
was happening. A plane was scheduled to arrive in order to extricate the leader
of the Polish Socialist Party and bring him to London. [These were to be]
Arczyszewski [?] and a representative of the Joint. After consultations it
was decided to land the plane in a pasture near Tarnow, close to a German
airport – but safely out of sight of the Germans. The plane was supposed to
land at a designated time and place during the night, where they would be
signaled with coal miner's lamps. The delegates arrived after dark on farm
wagons. Finally, there was hope that the free world would be informed by our
delegation to London what was happening to us and what was going on here. Night
fell. Some 1000 meters away the airfield and the German pilots' dwellings could
be seen. Our heartbeats were like hammer blows as we heard “our plane” in
the distance. Instantly the men with the lamps came out of the woods and lit
their lanterns directing the beams upwards. The rest of the men lay on the grass
or in the woods looking skyward. The plane came in lower and they were waved to
the exact landing spot by the men holding the lamps, and ran back to the woods
for fear of some mix-up. The plane lowered its wheels and landed gently on the
grass. Some shadowy figures emerged to remain in Poland, and others ran towards
the plane. Our delegation boarded immediately. The pilot revved the motors but
could not budge from his place as the wheels had sunk into the soft ground. At
once, they removed the wooden boards from a farm wagon, and fixed them under the
wheels of the plane. The plane began to move, lifted up into the sky, and
disappeared from view among the stars. Those remaining looked towards the German
airfield and determined that the plane had not been spotted. The people
disappeared silently into the depths of the forest.
The crematoria in the camps, all the while, were in operation day and night. A
thick cloud of smoke emerging from the chimneys could be seen from afar over
Auschwitz. The transports to the death-camps increased. Dogs were loosed on the
exhausted arrivals and ravaged them. The Doctor Beasts performed their medical
experiments on the unfortunate victims. Their gold teeth were extracted, their
heads shaved, their prosthetic limbs removed, their spectacles from their faces,
and the dolls clutched from their children, and they all – straight to the
crematoria… and the whole world was silent…
When we went out of Egypt the Jews were counted. In this dying town in which
9000 had lived, there are now seven, seven Jewish souls! As many as the days of
the week. In six days – God created the world and on the seventh he rested...
Sages foresaw terrible events which were to
transpire before the coming of the Redeemer and the
Revival of Israel. This vision has come to pass, to our sorrow and grief, in all
of its dread and wrath.
When the Belzer Rebbe was in the Bochnian ghetto and observed the disaster that
was befalling Israel, he accepted the decree and said: “The Lord is righteous
in all his ways”.
Then, I also, looked at the greatest of the tragedies that had befallen the
Jewish People, in its historic and national ramifications and significance. I
also grappled in trying to justify this terrible judgment.
I wanted to find some kind of explanation for this earthquake – but in vain.
Can you at all contemplate, citizens of the free State of Israel, that it would
have been possible to secure the agreement of the nations of the world for an
independent Israel in its historic homeland, were it not for the destruction of
a third of our people? Would the rulers of the nations have recognized the
state, which had been proclaimed by our leaders on the 5th of Iyar
5708 [May 14th 1948], were it not for the terrible Shoah in which
six million had perished only three four years before then?
I take the liberty to declare that the affirmative attitude of the world's
nations at that time to Israel's independence in our land stemmed, primarily,
from feelings of guilt that remained in the consciences of the leaders and
rulers with respect to the millions of Jews who had been exterminated, murdered,
slaughtered, burned, and buried alive by the Nazis and their accomplices in the
countries of “Enlightened” Europe. Now, that the work of destruction had
come to an end, the leaders of the free world felt a bit of pang of conscience
for their apathy to what was being perpetrated on millions of innocent people,
whose only fault was – that they were Jews. During all those years of terror
they had stood aside, they had been neutral, had not reacted in any way to the
atrocities that befell a defenseless people. Their conscience was aroused only
after they had been able to consider their blunder, their conspiracy of silence,
in the wake of the murder of a million Jewish children and suckling infants that
had been perpetrated for five whole years. They began to feel the debt which the
world owes the Jews who had all of this happen to them because they had no
homeland. It was deemed a necessity to allow the escaped remnant to establish
their home in their country, their historic homeland, into which would be
gathered the refugees of the murder and destruction of Europe and the other
Diasporas so that they could live normal lives like all other people, without
fear and apprehension, and that their fate would no longer be dependent on the
benevolence of the rulers of other nations.
My intent is not to deprecate the roles of the heroes of Israel in the land
before the State, who fought with valor and great sacrifice to liberate the land
from the yoke of foreigners and for independence. The recognition of the world's
nations, however, in the complex prevailing conditions at the time of the
proclamation of the State came to us primarily thanks to the millions of Jews
killed in the years of murder and destruction in the various European countries.
You, the citizens of the State of Israel, must remember these facts and to be
aware of them.
So also you should remember and realize, that not only did the state come about
in the wake of the deaths of the millions in all of the various ways, but that
its very establishment, its rebuilding, its development, were made possible in
no small measure by the reparations that the state received, and is still
receiving from Germany in the form of various grants, as a small compensation
for the enormous wealth and vast property stolen and robbed from the Jewish
victims by the Nazi criminals.
Please remember, citizens of Israel, that our martyred brothers financed and
continue to finance the upbuilding of the land. The funds of these departed have
built cities, established industries, developed agriculture, bought ships, etc.
– provided the foundation and wherewithal of its economic strength.
May this truth guide you in all your endeavors; repeat it to your children after
you so that they can transmit it to the coming generations.
May unity and fraternity be a cornerstone in the building of your society. Expel
from your midst the tricksters, the avaricious, the ambitious climbers, and
traitors of all kinds. Let your encampment be holy!
Be courageous in your political and military struggles. Don't rely on anyone but
yourselves. Don't expect favors from others. Put not your trust in Princes, and
do not rely even on your brothers in the Diaspora. They are liable to disappoint
you, God forbid.
Also we, the Jews from the town of Oshpitzin, have
sacrificed all that is dear to us, our parents and children, our brothers and
sisters, our relatives and loved ones, on the altar of the redemption of the
Land and the People.
Their memories will remain with us forever and will light the way for the coming
Translator's notes and remarks
A problem that arises in translation is how to transmit the internal integrity
of the piece and how to preserve the nuances inherent in the language, while
trying to make it understandable to the English reader who lacks the background
of terms and concepts discussed. The latter problem was resolved through a
glossary, while attempts to handle the former constrained me to adhere to the
punctuation, and sometimes overcomplicated sentence-structure.
on the Schenker article
I cannot but salute the author, a trained artist, for his eye, his memory, and
personal integrity. The piece is an important microcosm of the upheaval in
small Jewish Communities from the months just before the war until February
1940, a small slice of the more than 5-year period of Nazi rule when the author
was resident there, as well as the months subsequent to the liberation. It
clarifies and exemplifies the rapid and steady ravages of the helpless Jews and
the steps taken very early in the period when the "Final Solution"
had not yet been the known goal and the open policy of the local German
These first steps, in hindsight, were so crucial and incrementally devastating,
while those experiencing them without our hindsight could have no real inkling
of the ultimate result. The author, who was the Rosh Hakehilla until he was
ousted and replaced by the German appointed Judenrat, paints a detailed
portrait of his town and the initial period of German occupation. Regrettably,
he omits the next five years of his ordeal and how he survived during that time
in other locations, (since the Yizkor Book format deals primarily with
Oshpitzin), and resumes with the story of his town's remaining 7 Jews on his
An important trait of Oshpitzin, which might be missed by the casual reader,
arouses profound admiration, since it is universally lacking in modern times.
Having over the centuries experienced the repeated waves of refugees fleeing
expulsions and massacres, this interstitial community had a highly developed
sense of compassion and a tradition for caring, housing, and support for these
frequent invasions of impoverished and traumatized Jews. It is no
wonder that Schenker was moved to make enormous efforts to save and accept the
Jews from Bielsko and surrounding areas. He could not have done so without the
knowledge that his townsmen would rally to him in a community-wide effort.
Nowadays, we seem to rely solely on relief organizations and rarely personally
participate in amelioration of major tragedies.
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