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[Page 249-253]

During the Shoa Destruction

 

From Zloczew to Auschwitz

Written by Raphael Lechman (Kojuch)

Translated by Moshe Shubinsky

As the war started, the Jews of Zloczew abandoned the town and moved east to the town of Sieradz, across the Warta river bridge, assuming that the Germans will halt their advance when reaching the river and as the refugees wanted to avoid any contact with the Germans and to get as far as possible from them. To block the Nazi army from further advance, the bridge over the Warta was blown up, but this was to no avail as the Germans built a temporary bridge and crossed the river to continue their advance.

The refugees then carried on trying to escape, to get as far as possible from their places of origin. Some reached the town of Lodz and some even went as far as Warsaw. The Germans, in every town and village they conquered, immediately let it be known that they wanted every refugee to return to where they came from and that they would not be harmed. In spite of that, it is worth noting that most of the refugees were on foot with their families, including women and children, and it was difficult to move freely on the congested roads.

The People Continued to Flee

 

The horrors of the refugees had to be seen to be believed. There were many cases of small children getting lost and separated from their parents and desperate parents were looking for their missing children. It was heartbreaking to see that and to watch pitiful small children looking for their parents as well. To make things worse, the German Air Force was flying over the roads and shooting and strafing the refugee columns with murderous fire with the Nazi pilots showing their sadistic intent by shooting at the refugees whenever they passed a straight road or an open plain, where finding shelter from death was impossible.

It was therefore small wonder that many people amongst the refugees died and some of those were our townspeople. In view of all those calamities, it is reasonable to conclude that after the Germans told the refugees that they should come home, most people, including the Zloczew refugees, decided to return to their towns.

When the returnees passed the town of Zdunska Wola, they were told that Zloczew was almost totally destroyed but they carried on, as they wanted to try and return and find out for themselves if there was anything left worth saving. The saying goes “there is no smoke without fire” and true enough, the rumors were true and Zloczew lay in ruins. The people who returned found it almost completely destroyed, a pile of smoking ruins. In great confusion and deep sorrow, they looked for somewhere to live and put their heads down. In the end, many had to share one apartment or house amongst the ruins that remained. To add to the misery, what was not consumed by fire was looted and taken by the local anti-Semitic population.

Zloczew after the destruction of the town
in the background, the synagogue and the beit midrash

 

Two months passed since the Nazi invasion and the Jews of the town, having undergone trials and tribulations, were subject to a large-scale deportation to the town of Lublin in the eastern zone of Poland. The road from Zloczew to the railway station in Sieradz was used by truck transport to move the deportees to the station where they were loaded on to cattle cars and sent east to Lublin. Before the deportation, the Germans promised the deportees that they would have apartments in Lublin to live in and work to do, but in truth, they were placed in a camp where they had terrible and unbearable living conditions.

Those Zloczew Jews who managed to avoid deportation, by all kinds of ways and initiatives, tried to organise their own transport by horse and cart and went on the road towards the Russian border, but after hearing many rumours about the border being closed, they returned and tried to rebuild their lives again with the people who remained in Zloczew. With the return of the escapees, the Germans ordered all the Jews remaining to concentrate in Yetke Gas, but only on one side of the street, as the other side was completely burnt out, apart from one institution where several Jewish families made their home for now.

The Jewish area was not fenced off, but people could move about and even maintain contact with the Christian population and thanks to that, it was possible to organise some kind of barter and obtain some essential food items. But, after a short period, the Jewish Quarter was fenced off with double barbed wire 3 meters high and 3 meters wide and any sort of contact with the population outside the Ghetto was forbidden. So, the satanic German plot to destroy the Jews in all the countries the Nazi beast occupied was being carried out.

With the establishment of the Ghetto, a representative or Juden Alster was appointed by nominating two people for the post - Haya-Sarah Faiwlowicz and Godel Gad.

In the meantime, the noose around the Jews became tighter and tighter. The problems and pressure and tribulations became worse and worse and living conditions deteriorated. Accommodation was cramped and every family, regardless of its numbers, received just one room for living space. Food was strictly rationed and if that was not enough, the winter was upon the town and there was no fuel to fire the ovens with or for heating. Just a lucky few had the opportunity to leave the Ghetto, especially those who were employed by the Germans outside the Ghetto and they could bring with them, when they came home from work, some wood or coal to fire the ovens or for heating their homes.

The regime inside the Ghetto was very strict; movement was limited and allowed only from 7 am until 5 pm. Leaving the Ghetto was totally forbidden, under the pain of death. The whole area was surrounded by barbed wire and guarded well by German gendarmes headed by a Volksdeutche named Makovski whose role it was to open the Ghetto gate to enable those who had work outside such as porters, stable hands etc, to leave in the morning. This regime of extreme oppression and deprivation became the normal fare for the Ghetto dwellers and on top of this there were incidences of looting and barbarity.

One morning, the German gendarmes entered the Ghetto and ordered everybody out, saying they were looking for something new, but it was just a plot, a criminal one, and while the Jews stood outside their houses, the Germans looted and took whatever they wanted and prevented the people from entering their properties from morning until night when they finished their barbaric work.

Liquidating the Ghetto

This was planned and organised methodically with brutal German efficiency. After the first stage of humiliation, starvation and noose tightening by concentrating the Jewish population in a small space, they approached the second stage, which was the last one before the actual liquidation. This stage was carried out by using stealth tactics. In January 1942, the Jews were told to leave their houses and stand outside in the cold and snow and wait for new instructions which were rained on them morning and night. This time it was a list, prepared by the Nazis, according to which 50 men were chosen to be sent to a work camp near Posnan called Zuchinia. When the deportees got there, they were immediately put to work laying a railway from Posnan to Warsaw.

The hunger was relentless

 

From the time those men were deported to the camp, no news of them was received in Zloczew. Their poor families waited for signs of life from them, but to no avail. Weeks had passed and still no news, but in spite of that, the relatives tried to console themselves that perhaps one day, the sun will shine and their loved ones will come home. But, in March 1942, a new blow came when barely two months after the first group was deported, the Jews were again taken out of the Ghetto and 40 men fit for work were selected, amongst them boys of 15. This group was sent to another camp near Posnan, called Autochna. And so began a new chapter in my suffering in those dark days of the Holocaust as I was amongst these unfortunate people.

The Autochna Camp

Forty of us were crammed into a cattle truck on our way to the camp, a motley group of all ages from 13 year olds recently Bar Mitzvah to old people aged 60 or more. It was spring and it was cold outside when we were taken by truck to the railway station to be transported to an unknown destination, without knowing what was waiting for us in the future. We were all worried and depressed with doubts gnawing at us and in each of our hearts we were only too aware that we were being taken away from our families to an unknown destination. In the station, we received a bit of dry bread and some water and were ordered into the cars. At night, the cold became worse and we suffered quite a bit because of our poor clothing and as the trip itself took two days.

On the second night, the train stopped and we were immediately ordered to disembark. We saw a small camp in front of us made of wooden barracks and surrounded by two rows of barbed wire with a gap of 2-3 metres between them. This fence had guards posted, as we found out later, mostly composed of Volksdeutche, ethnic Germans and Slovaks and Hitler Jugend. After a short roll call, which became, in time, our regular fare at any time, day or night, we entered the barracks, which became our new home. This sudden change into new circumstances completely confounded us but, having recovered from the initial shock, we started to notice all the minor things that made our lives hell. The mud, the penetrating cold which did not leave us for one minute, and the constant hunger gnawing at us without pity.

We were not the first in this camp. Other inmates from Kolo preceded us and from them we could hear at the first opportunity what this camp was like and got some ideas as to what was going to happen to us. This only added to our tension and general depression. All in all, there were between 400-500 men in that camp, sent to it as it was relatively close to the place of work the prisoners were expected to do, that is to lay a railway line. The day started with a roll call in the morning and after coffee was distributed with some bread, we went out with groups of 20-30 men to the place of work, 7-8 Km away. We were then split into smaller groups of 3 men, which became a work unit.

A great expanse of muddy ground stretched before us, mainly flat, but dotted with small hills and we had to dig the ground to level it and to make it suitable for railway tracks so that the ties and iron rails could be laid down. The work was very, very hard, as we had to move heavy wheelbarrows and drag the railway ties and tracks from afar. Work was relentless, until 10 at night and apart from those moments when we had some soup at lunchtime and a piece of bread and a cup of coffee in the evening, we could not stop.

Ghetto forced labour

 

Our guards were not burdened by physical work and could not possibly be there all day so they worked in three shifts, changing over during the day. The regime and the discipline in that place of work were extremely strict. It was forbidden to distance yourself even to go to the toilet by more than 20 metres, the reason being that we might escape but, in truth, it was just another way for the sadistic guards to make our lives a misery. Many opportunities arose for the sadistic Nazis and they never missed a chance to take advantage of it and to relieve their sick urges in the cruellest way.

Humiliation and brutality

 

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