[Hebrew page 117 & Yiddish page 301]
Translation from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau The Polish-German war that broke out in September 1939 did not last long. There were no almost victims in our town until the last moment. The fact that Poland was fighting for life or death against the Nazi beast was not noticeable in our town.
After fierce battles that lasted for approximately three weeks, the German army conquered almost all of Poland.
In the final phase of this bloody clash, Bolechow served as a passageway for the routed Polish troops, for the officials of the administration, etc. Refugees from the breadth of Poland fled via Bolechow in the direction of the Hungarian and Romanian borders. Here and there, one would run in to infantry soldiers; thousands of civilians in cars, bicycles, and wagons some on foot and some in vehicles everyone going through the city in the aforementioned direction.
Those starving refugees purchased and depleted all of the food stores in the city. Some had to stay over in the city, since they were too weary from their great wanderings to continue on their journey.
Many of them requested financial assistance from the municipal authorities, since they were destitute.
There were many Jews among these refugees. The Jewish committee set up a soup committee as a temporary measure in order to meet the needs of the suffering people. Some of them remained in the city until it was captured by the Red Army.
At that period of time, the Germans approached Bolechow. The German troops captured the city of Stryj, which was near Bolechow. The troops would retreat to Stryj in order to fortify themselves and take a stand against the last garrisons of the Polish army and the civilian refugees. A small number of Bolechow officials succeeded, during this confusion, in escaping Bolechow through roundabout routes.
Nervously and sadly, the Jewish population waited for what was to come. A miracle took place. The German troops who stood at the gates of Bolechow retreated to Stryj in order to fortify and strengthen the Stryj River, which was of great strategic importance.
Apparently, the Germans did not attribute great strategic importance to our town.
That day, the German-Soviet agreement was announced on the radio. That agreement allowed the Soviet Army to capture a portion of Poland that is the regions of Tarnopol, Lwow, and Stanislawow. Despite this, the German army did not retreat, but rather left its troops in Stryj and nearby towns. Bolechow was caught between both alternatives, since the civic administration had left, and no army had conquered it.
The citizens awaited their new rules impatiently. They gathered together in groups and deliberated about the fate of the city and its future. One group was the Ukrainians, who were convinced that the Nazis would conquer the city, for that was their desire. The second group consisted of the Poles and a small part of the Jews, who were neutral. The third group, consisting entirely of Jews, awaited the arrival of the Soviet Army.
The Ukrainians decided to send a delegation to the Germans requesting that they hasten the conquest of the city. When they realized that the Germans were not inclined to this, they took advantage of the lawless, anarchistic situation. They organized the farmers in the surrounding areas, and sent them in to pillage the city. The wild mob fell upon the stores and houses as they pillaged. As a result of this anarchy, the Jews took turns standing guard in order to prevent the pillage and plunder.
Within a day, the Soviet Army conquered the city and took control over it. The Jewish population breathed a sigh of relief, in the hope that a German foot would not trod upon the town. They believed in the power of the Soviet Army, which was mighty.
On the other hand, the Ukrainians did not have faith in the power of the Soviet Army. They protested publicly to prevent them from maintaining a stand, in the hope that they would be forced to retreat.
After a brief period of military administration, the military officials turned over the reins of power to the civilian officials from Russia, to whom they added local Communists. Bolechow became the regional capital. The office was in the house of Gross. A Ukrainian native of Russia was appointed mayor.
Various laws and decrees altered the landscape of the city. The merchants were forced to sell their products at the former prices, despite the fact that the value of the currency was severely reduced, and it was not possible to obtain new merchandise.
They restricted the sale of bread, and a food shortage slowly began to be felt. Obviously, a black market was created, from which it was possible to purchase foodstuffs at inflated prices.
Queues formed outside the stores. Many woke up early to stand in line to purchase bread and other food necessities, for not everyone had the means to buy food at black market prices.
The situation was similar with regard to the purchase of clothing, woven goods, shoes, haberdashery, etc. The officials who had come from Russia purchased everything with Soviet currency, which had no exchange value. That is to say, they emptied the stores with the cheapest of cheap prices.
The merchants were forced by the authorities to sell their merchandise and liquidate their businesses. They would pay government taxes with the money they received. The taxes imposed upon them were unbearable, and the payment timeframe was short. Those who could not pay the taxes were imprisoned by the militia.
The factories and workshops were nationalized. Only in rare circumstances were the former owners permitted to serve as workers in them.
Former workers and owners who were able to prove that they were Communists were appointed as directors of the enterprises.
However, not all of those workers and employees were able to remain at their posts, for they were not experienced tradesmen, and their lack of experience would impede the manufacturing. Since the salary of the employees was low from the outset, they pilfered the merchandise in the storehouses and sold it on the black market.
The government found out about the shameful situation. Instead of confessing its own guilt on account of the poor and inadequate administration, they suspected the factory directors of sabotage. The era of imprisonment and court cases began then. Many directors who were suspected as being enemies of the revolution were imprisoned and sent to Siberia.
During a later period of nationalization, the Polish currency was exchanged for Soviet rubles. Obviously, from that time, the zloty was no longer legal tender, and it lost its entire value.
Instead of private factories, workshops and stores, government workshops and stores were opened. The prices were inflated.
Fundamental changes also took place in the administration of business. Instead of experienced, contracted officials, only Soviet officials were hired. Despite this, the civic administration remained in the hands of local Communists. Moshe Hauftman, who was well known in the city from the former court cases against Communists, was appointed as mayor.
The first activity of the mayor was to arrange a group of workers to uproot trees in the forest. Former small-scale merchants or non-organized workers were engaged primarily in this work.
A short while later, an edict was issued demanding that residents of houses with many rooms be evicted.
These decrees injured the burgher class. (For example, the owner of a cigarette kiosk was considered to be a burgher.)
Since approximately 90% of the Jewish residents of Bolechow were employed in business and trade, it would seem that these decrees primarily affected them.
In the eyes of the Soviet authorities, the land was not conquered, but rather liberated. Every subject automatically became a citizen of the Soviet Union. In order to add force to its authority, every subject was given an identity card. This certificate not only served as an identity card, but also as a certificate of validation: that is, it testified about the behavior of its owner, his past, honesty, etc. Great importance was attached to those cards, since a person was evaluated based on the information contained on it when he would turn to the government for various administrative reasons or when he would be looking for a job. This document also noted the place of origin and nationality of its holder.
Notes and paragraphs were added to the certificates of the former manufacturers and merchants. Obviously, a citizen possessing such a certificate was restricted and limited in his freedom of work.
At a later date, the civic militia arrested former wealthy people in accordance with a prepared list. They also arrested many refugees who were suspected of fleeing from the Germans to take refuge under Soviet authority.
A special train was prepared for all of these people to transport them to Siberia. Zionist activists were also judged and sentenced to many years of imprisonment. Later, they were drafted as volunteers to sell coal, etc.
The Jews slowly accustomed themselves to the situation, despite the oppression that pervaded in the town. They preferred this to the German boot, a government of cruel tyrants. Thus did they live until the end of June, 1941.
[Hebrew page 120 & Yiddish page 305]
Translation into English of the chapter dealing with the annihilation of Bolechow Jewry, out of the Memorative (Yizkor) Book dedicated to the Martyrs of Bolechow, published in Hebrew and Yiddish in 1957 by the Association of Bolechowers in Israel.
Some preliminary remarks: Certain important details then unknown or intentionally ignored are added, mainly from sources such as testimonies by competent survivors given in Poland after the war and from data based on material in the Nazi archives, or the like, provided by Dr. Thomas Sandkuhler, a German historian.
A number of explanatory notes will be added as well as a short chapter on the Soviet rule from September 1939 until June 1941.
It should finally be noted that some mistakes occurred when printing the original edition of the book. In the present translation this, naturally, is being corrected, along with some modifications in text and style.
In the aftermath of the German invasion of Poland and the RibbentropMolotov agreement Eastern Galicia, including Bolechow, was annexed to the Soviet Union. Whereas the attitude of authorities toward anti-Semitism shows a clear improvement in comparison with the former Polish rule the economic situation, already difficult, further deteriorated.
There were no more private shops, workshops, or small industry such as in the traditional Jewish trades. Most people had to work in nationalized enterprises. This meant they were given very meager wages. In order to subsist one had either to resort to stealing or to other dubious practices.
Some young men were enlisted in the Red Army. Several were sent to the Finnish front. Most refugees who fled the Germans and settled in Bolechow were deported to Siberia along with some members of the Jewish upper class. Apparently those were the ones who rejected the proposed Soviet citizenship. This applied to refugees only. One such family was the Sobel family, co-owners of a small oil refinery. Ironically, in most cases, this saved their lives. The same goes for a few dozen Jewish communists and others who fled to Russia after the German attack on June 22, 1941. Regrettably, conditions and the state of mind were such that not many people could, or wanted to, escape.
At the same time, many villagers and Bojki mountain dwellers (Ruthenian tribesmen) along with local Ukrainians gathered in yards. Many brought sacks. The Russians opened the bakeries, well stocked in meal, and also the Univermag (department store) on the Rynek, the main square. The mob soon plundered everything and started storming warehouses at the railway station and elsewhere.
At this stage, Jewish property was left intact. However, this picture of an omnipresent, plunderthirsty and bloodthirsty mob would repeat itself with every action.
Somewhat later Soviet engineers destroyed some facilities of the oil refinery. During the Nazi occupation no attempt to reconstruct it was ever made. Some amount of carburant was distributed to the populace. The reminder was drained into the stream (Potok) and incinerated. As a result the town was draped in a thick black cloud. An unsuccessful attempt was made to destroy the Great Bridge and some other installations. As the last Russian soldiers left Bolechow the Ukrainian intelligentsia established a new administration. Dr. Harasimow was appointed Head of the District and Simkow, a former police inspector, as Mayor.
After several days, a regional meeting was convened with the participation of representatives from nearby villages. They gathered at the Magistrate, the town hall, and were joined by members of the clergy wearing ceremonial garb. There they proclaimed an autonomous Ukraine. The neutral militiamen then changed their white armbands for blue and yellow ones. After a week or so, the German authorities issued an instruction abolishing the Ukrainian autonomy and imprisoned the government with its head, Stefan Bandera. The local administration did, however, remain in Ukrainian hands until Mayor Simkow's arrest and execution by Germans along with some Jews. He was accused of collaborating with the Jews although being a notorious anti-Semite. However, another Ukrainian mayor had him replaced. During the first days of July, Ukrainian nationalists ran wild. Apart from minor anti-Semitic incidents, neither the Slovak nor Hungarian army brought harm to Jews at this stage.
On July 3, 1941 in the afternoon a Slovak army patrol of three infantry soldiers appeared on Dolinska Street. Somewhat later the Hungarian forces entered Bolechow and its surroundings in great numbers and disarmed the militia. But, prior to this, the latter succeeded in levying bloody advances on the Jews of Bolechow. Among their atrocities best known are as follows:
During the relatively calm period from August through October 28th, there were no human losses with the exception of the suicide of Dr. Reifeisen, Judenrat head, who hanged himself in his orchard following maltreatment by the Germans.
However, Jewish life became deeply affected by administrative and legislative measures along with the annexation of the ex-Soviet Western Ukraine to the General Government as Distrikt Galizien. All the racist laws prevailing there entered into force. One had to wear a white armband with a Star of David in the center. No public institutions were permitted. Elsewhere signs appeared saying, Entrance for Jews Forbidden. This included cinemas and theaters, shops, hairdressers, parks, etc. Walking on sidewalks was not allowed. Jews had to step aside when passing German soldiers and take off their caps when greeting them. All their radios were confiscated under threat of the death penalty. Until the summer of 1942, Jews were given separate food cards, allowing them meager rations of poor quality.
All furs, even the smallest fur fragments were requisitioned one day. The transgressors were, again, exposed to capital punishment. It was later written in the Lwow newspapers, notably in the Polish collaborating Gazeta Lwowska, that the Jews voluntarily donated their furs to the German army suffering from the cold on the eastern front. The closing of all Jewish businesses and transferring of all industry to the German army brought further economic hardship. These, later, mostly passed into the hand of German firms. All of this had already happened under Soviet rule. A strict night curfew was imposed. Also, during the day, there were movement restrictions. It was forbidden to leave town limits.
Soon all these measures became unbearable and there was practically no way to survive without bypassing them. The Ukrainian police was created by the Germans consisting of ex-militiamen subordinated to the gendarmerie (the Germans). They arrested and cruelly beat the transgressors.
The Bolechowers were witness to tragic migrations of Transcarpathian Jews. The Hungarian authorities chased tens of thousands of them into Galicia, some from the direction of Skole. First they were seen moving in a southerly direction by foot bearing their scant belongings. They vainly hoped they would be allowed to return home at another place near Wyszkow. After some time, the survivors again crossed Bolechow toward Stryj. Others perished in a horrible massacre at Halicz and elsewhere. The Jews of Bolechow helped them greatly by giving them food and clothes. About one hundred of them remained in Bolechow until the very end, as also happened with a number of ex-German Jews. Most of the unfortunates who tried to go back home were murdered in the mountains of the Skole frontier. These events deeply shocked the Bolechowers.
The creation of the Judenrat on the premises of the former Jewish public school on Szewska Street, became an important event. Its first task consisted of sending scores of Jews to maintain the roads, railways, or the like, without any remuneration whatsoever.
Later, a huge tax was imposed consisting of a million Soviet rubles, four and a half kilos of gold and a large amount of various commodities. After Dr. Reifeisen's suicide, Dr. Schindler was appointed as the head of Judenrat. Jewish police (or militia) were, as well, organized under the command of the lawyer Dr. Pressler. Initially their role was quite modest and restricted, as for instance, the safeguard of order in the public kitchen of the Judenrat. Later on their importance increased. They got a special cap with a yellow band and an armband they wore on their lower forearm that read, JUEDISCHER ORDUNGSDIENST in red embroidered letters. A kind of cooperation developed between them and the Ukrainian police. Jewish policemen helped in the forced mobilization of Ukrainian labor for compulsory work in Germany. For some time the Ordungsdienst was much feared by the Gentiles in the neighborhood.
In the autumn of 1941 all Jews living in nearby villages were forced to move into Bolechow on short notice. They were allowed to take with them only a few belongings. That meant the deportation brought hundreds of deprived people, most of whom would soon starve to death.
Many inhabitants started working in tanneries and/or leather factories. There were dozens of them in Bolechow. Most were small operations. This enabled the people to subsist by thievery of the products, continuing the tradition of Soviet days.
Working Jews got some wages until December 1942, although the wage was extremely low. Most people had to sell their possessions of every kind. Often these were bartered for food, with a very cheap exchange rate. A new class of Christian merchant was born specializing in the trade of Jewish belongings. Many traveled to the agricultural region of Podole in order to sell there while acquiring food.
Since the early autumn one could see dozens of men, women and children begging for food from door to door. Most were horribly swollen from hunger. They also picked nettle and other supposedly edible plants in order to prepare something to eat. These people came mostly from the poorer element as well as from the expelled. The Judenrat kitchens supplied hundreds of meals but, unfortunately, these only consisted of thin soup. Typhoid and hunger played havoc with scores. The mortality rate started with several deaths per day and gradually rose to more than 40 deaths a day in the winter of 1942. Then there was a decline. Almost daily, Jewish policemen had to break into dwellings and pull out dead bodies. The total number of victims was then estimated at between 600 and 800.
In contrast, some relatively well-to-do Jews still managed to lead more or less normal lives. Some even had Gentile housemaids and their children got private lessons. Some problems could still be solved by money.
Both the Ukrainian and Polish press, notably the Lwow Gazeta Lwowska, was filled with anti-Semitic attacks of the lowest and most venomous kind. The same is true for the many pamphlets, wall posters, etc. in the Der Sturmer style, often warning of the danger coming from the dirty Jews, spreading typhoid and lice, and advising how to avoid contact with them.
From time to time new anti-Jewish regulations appeared. The infractions often threatened death. Most were signed by the SS and Police Commander in Distrikt Galizien, F. Katzmann. In 1942 they were also signed by Friedrich-Wilhelm Kruger, the Superior SS and Police Commander in General Government.
It goes without saying that Jews were deeply depressed by the situation. But even after the most horrible news of huge mass executions in Lwow and Stanislawow, some still showed optimism, perhaps as a denial mechanism.
Religious activity was then intense, with prayers held in private houses under tight guard. People were ready to disperse immediately. This was in spite of the prohibition against gathering in groups of more than ten.
Within the framework of a new administrative division Bolechow was put under the jurisdiction of the Landkreis Kalusz, later Stryj, headed by Victor von Dewitz. So-called commissaries were appointed in smaller towns to be in charge of the civil administration. This was in accordance with the already existing model in General Government. The commissary of Bolechow was named Kohler. He was a drunken ex-school janitor from Breslau who sadistically attacked Jews on the streets. He had continuous requests from Judenrat for various commodities for his Polish mistress and himself. He also completely arranged everything in a luxurious manner at his large, former Jewish villa. He and Aldak, the Judenreferent from Kalusz, dealt with several extortions, mainly in order to completely furnish several houses for German functionaries and an especially lavish hunting lodge for Dr. Hans Frank, Hitler's crony and governor of what remained of Poland. Their cruel ways directly caused the suicide of Dr. Reifeisen because of a delay in his fulfilling one of their excessive demands. Dr. Reifeisen was the first head of the Judenrat. He was a decent and respectable man. Aldak, a former theologian, spoke some Hebrew. He used to collect Jewish religious artifacts and books.
In Stanislawow, today's Ivano Frankivsk, there was the outpost of the Security Police and Particular Services, (Sicherheitspolizei und Sonder Dienst) commonly known as Gestapo under the command of the fanatically anti-Semitic SS Hauptsturmfuhrer (captain) Hans Kruger. The infamous Stanislawow prison evoked horror. Unfortunately, Bolechow was included in their sphere of action until the end of March 1942.
During the fall of 1941, a shortage of food prevailed in Galicia owing to floods and plundering by German troops and their allies. This furthered the will of the Germans to hasten the final Solution in the region. Earlier than elsewhere in General Government in the Distrikt Galizien, the mass murder of the Jews began in October.
For this end, policemen, Schutzpolizisten, from Vienna and the 133rd Nuremberg Reserve Police Battalion arrived. This unit took part in the October 12th killing at the Jewish cemetery of Stanislawow of at least 10,000 people under Hans Kruger's command. This massacre, known as bloody Sunday, was done wholly in public. News of it spread quickly.
In Bolechow, with the addition of the grizzly details, such as about people who had been wounded and who crept out of the mass graves, the effect was terrible. It seemed, however, that most soon adapted to even this. Some tried to acquire poison. Later there were attempts of suicide and successful suicides by dozens and often involving whole families. In many cases, poison was ineffective. This continued until the end of the occupation.
For the moment nothing happened. The Polish population as a whole was rather sympathetic to the Jews of Bolechow, in contrast to Lwow, the Distrikt capital. The worst anti-Semitism came from the new class of Volksdeutsche, i.e.: people having some ethnic German roots.
In the next several hours many people on the lists succeeded in hiding and by this means, it was believed, other Jews were indiscriminately caught instead. It appears, however, that both kinds of actions were applied: the intelligentsia action (also in practice against the Poles) and the mass extermination action.
In the afternoon many shots could be heard along with the commotion caused by the omnipresent, looting crowd. One could see the Jews being dragged out of their hideouts in attics and basements. No one could see or hear how these bands were raiding streets and houses, capturing, beating and extraditing Jews. On the other hand, many found refuge in their Christian neighbor's houses, often due to heavy payments or costly presents. But quite often these trusted friends chased out or denounced them after receiving the money or like. Then they participated in robbing their victim's houses or worse. In general, Christian houses were not subject to searches, especially in the first action. As there was a pause toward the night, hiding Jews profited from it. They brought food, warm clothes, etc. In the early morning of Wednesday, October 29th, the intensive searches resumed and continued until noon. The action was stopped at a predetermined time and those caught afterward were released. At the same time, some 800 950 Jews kept in the hall of the former D.K.A. (Red Army House or Catholic House) were about to begin their last way, after being subject to horrible physical and mental suffering, suffering beyond description.
A certain Polish book dealing with the Holocaust says the D.K.A. episode was unique and extraordinary in the whole of Galicia, for the horrible methods applied.
Here is a typical story of the action as told by survivors: At eleven a.m. three strong knocks were heard at my door. Who is there? An immediate answer came, The Gestapo. I opened the door and four people entered. A German in an SS uniform with a skull and cross-bones on his cap, a Ukrainian policeman in his black uniform, and two Ukrainian civilians. The German was armed with a Parabellum pistol and the policeman had a rifle. Both civilians held thick sticks. The German greeted me with Guten Tag (good day) and asked whether I understood German. Following my positive answer he asked if I was Mr. .. then he instructed me to be ready in ten minutes to go with them. My wife started begging the German to free me. He calmed her by saying, Your husband will be back. But he has to go far away. Prepare warm clothes for him and give him lots of money. Suddenly the Ukrainian policeman started shouting, Give me the Red banner and weapons. Show me your clandestine communist printing press. I answered that I never was in possession of such things. We will find them, yelled the Ukrainian. As I dressed myself they made a search while yelling, threatening and breaking glassware and furniture. The German, who suddenly completely changed his conduct, mainly looked for jewelry and money, while the Ukrainians filled the baskets and bags found in our house with utensils, clothes and shoes. When they discovered a page from an old Soviet newspaper in a drawer they started beating and kicking me numerous times.
The SS man then threatened my wife with his pistol for some time but suddenly removed the wedding ring off my hand and put it in his pocket. After leaving the house, I had to carry the bags and baskets of the looted goods. As we passed the Rynek, the town's main square, I could see many acquaintances escorted, as I was, in the direction of the Great Bridge, some of them bleeding as a result of their copious beatings. The mob began to concentrate. We were accompanied by shouts of contempt and derision. However, there also were many looking at us with compassion, some eyes filled with tears. Nearby, at the D.K.A. house, tens of Jews were about to enter the hall. Most of their faces expressed fear and suffering. Others were apathetic. But some even smiled. In order to enter the hall I had to run the gauntlet of young Ukrainians with their sticks, horribly beating every entering Jew. Some people died as a result. Almost unconscious, I reached the hall where many people were lying on the floor. I lay down in expectation of what would happen next. In a few hours the hall became completely filled. Windows were closed and the iron stove turned almost white hot. People sweated and suffocated.
Each attempt to remove some of the warm clothing was met with terrible atrocities by the SS men who threatened to kill the offenders.
The Germans spread a powder in the hall that caused coughing and suffocation. They stepped on the bodies, kicking them with their heavy boots and beating them indiscriminately. No one was allowed to sit. All had to lie down. From the stage various instructions were given. At sunset Fridman, a teacher in the Jewish public school was ordered to climb the high glowing stove. His horrible screams joined the incessant laments and moaning of the wounded.
Above all one could hear the cries of many women who became hysterical. Many fainted. Several did not recover consciousness and died. Occasionally, from the balconies, the Germans shot into the crowd. The number of wounded and dead increased. One woman suffered a miscarriage and died too. An order was given that everyone must immediately hand over their money and valuables. The great majority complied. Many later endured an extensive search of their person. Eleven people who failed to deliver their valuables were shot to death on the stage, while the others had to watch the execution. The bodies of the dead remained in the hall among the living, who were suffering from hunger, thirst and suffocation. Gradually they became more and more apathetic. Bruckenstein, the blind pianist, had to play the piano. The murderers were dancing with naked girls to the merry tunes among the agonizing and the dead.
The rabbis Mendele Landau and Yossele Horowitz had to go up to the stage. Two yellow candles were lit and the old men had to preach nearly this, Heavy sins have we committed so God brought upon us the punishment we deserve. Afterwards holy books were desecrated the rabbis were crucified. They died after being horribly tortured, their eyes pulled out.
A surprising announcement about dinnertime was made. Some begin to rise. They did not get the cruel joke. Bursts of machine gun fire followed, accompanied by satanic laughing and shouting, 'This is your meal.
When compelled to visit the toilets, again I had to run the gauntlet and be beaten with sticks. Some paid with their lives. At sunset the flow of captured Jews intensified, as many were caught by villagers. Often the victims were brought in horse carriages. They were tied with ropes like wild beasts. For these despised acts the Germans did not pay much; fifty groszy and a small jar of marmalade or a honey substitute (miodoslod, a cheap surrogate then widespread). In the evening, delegates of various firms arrived and read the names of needed employees from their lists. In this way hundreds were saved. The employees of the Judenrat were also released.
This night of horror passed with extreme slowness.
In the lit hall people were dying, the others fainting or were in a state of semi-consciousness. As far as possible, people helped each other by sharing an apple or candy or by whispering encouraging words. A few more were executed on the stage and everyone saw this.
In the morning, the joke about breakfast was repeated. Soon many new victims were packed into the D.K.A.
Toward midday, people were pushed from the hall into the yard. Then a sort of parade was mounted with bayonets and rifle barrels literally on our throats for hours - or on empty stomachs. Later trucks arrived. Groups of people were loaded onto them and headed to an unknown destination. After some time the trucks came back for new human cargo. Finally my turn came. I climbed into the crowded covered truck with dozens of mostly broken and indifferent people, and was placed next to the rear door. The two guard's rifles were aimed at our heads. We could hardly move because of the density of people packed into the truck. Out of the guards sarcastic remarks I understood we were being transported to the site of execution. With thoughts about my wife and children whose fate was unknown to me, an enormous desire for life suddenly overcame me. I gave a cautious glance upwards. I could see the treetops with falling leaves on the background of gray skies. I thought, Forest. Jump! I leapt from my place, pushed the German aside and jumped off the truck. I landed with a strong blow to my leg. But immediately I stood up and ran into the woods. I could hear shots and cries from behind me. Soon weakness forced me to fall. But I could hear from afar the truck's engine turning over again and concluded they had stopped searching for me. While still lying, after some time, mainly bursts of machine guns but also the shooting of rifles and pistols could be heard in the distance.
I reached Bolechow at night. The Jews I met told me that the pogrom was over. My wife and children were in the flat out of which many of our belongings had disappeared.
And so the gloomy story ends.
The number of people murdered in the Taniawa woods by six machine guns was estimated at between 850 to 1,000. Many Gentiles were witnesses to this mass extermination, either from the forest or treetops. Some Jews tried to escape from the mass grave, which was dug beforehand, but they were shot dead. The only one who succeeded was Ducio Schindler, of blessed memory. He reported many details regarding the last moments of the Taniawa martyrs. Many were beaten on their heads with stones by members of Drohobycz Sitch.
The Ukrainian policemen partly decided whose turn it was to be executed. The ones who cried or implored mercy were punished by being killed first. By contrast, some old non-communists and decent merchants were given the privilege of dying last. Many fell into the grave while wounded and in full consciousness. Some were shot again and died; the others were buried alive.
Many died proudly, cursing the murderers and telling them about the expected punishment of the German nation.
It seems that the killers celebrated the action's end by getting drunk. A bill was submitted to the Judenrat specifying the number of bullets used and other expenses incurred in the action. The Judenrat was also ordered to send Jewish women to wash the blood off the walls and floors of the D.K.A.
The bodies of the 28 victims who died in the D.K.A were buried in a particular lot of the Jewish cemetery. The body of Rabbi Horowitz, however, was not found and no one knew where it was. Only after a year or so his remains were discovered during the cleaning out of the latrines.
The impact of this first action defied description. It can be said with certainty that all the further disasters did not shock the Jews in the same manner. For many months after the action, one could hardly be found smiling. There were endless stories in Bolechow about the action. So it was told how the supposed Gentile friends proved to be traitors, and how in contrast, sudden salvation came from complete strangers. There were tales about some Germans with human hearts, making efforts to let the Jews go free. To this end, they told the Jews in German to escape and then simulated shooting at them, where in fact they fired into the air.
This had to be done in order to mislead their Ukrainian aides who showed unlimited energy and enthusiasm for the dirty job. Again, many, in spite of blatant facts, did not want to believe that many hundreds were massacred. There were persistent rumors supposedly spread on purpose about imaginary labor camps in nearby Vienna or other places where one or another Jew captured in the action was allegedly seen.
Even after fixing the grave of Taniawa for sanitary reasons, by many of Jews, the illusions remained. It was believed that only a part of those captured perished.
Due to the fact that, in the nearby town of Dolina, Jews still did not suffer an action, the head of the Bolechow Judenrat was blamed for his lack for ability to properly bribe the authorities in the manner of his Dolina counterpart. Such naïve assumptions were spread, mostly among the common people. But the educated were not entirely free of various illusions, perhaps as a way of escaping the cruel realities. The saying of Antek Zuckerman, one of the renowned commanders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, was, In the Warsaw Ghetto the Jews had two enemies, the Germans and the illusions, fits Bolechow perfectly.
Some weeks passed and the life of Bolechow Jews apparently returned to normal, as it was before the action. In the looted houses, locks were changed. People got used to sometimes seeing their Gentile neighbors wearing the clothing of the massacred, or even their own. Many started looking for work, since they learned that many saved their lives during the action because they had jobs in greater enterprises. There was a great decline of morality. Many felt their days were numbered so they decided to have a good time. At the same time preparing hiding places took premier importance. Valuables were hidden in secure places or buried in the soil. Furniture and households were transferred into Christian-true or imaginary friend's houses. The purpose was to avoid robbery or securing an advance or payment for future help. As later proved, this caused more harm than utility with only a few exceptions. The poorer element further suffered from hunger and disease. The Jewish burial society had their hands full with work. A large lot was assigned in the cemetery for the hundreds who died of typhoid and starvation. The destiny was such that soon most mass graves of various actions would be close to it.
The spring of 1942 brought the almost total eradication of the backward and the poor. More German functionaries were arriving. The greatest factories became German companies except for the leather industry, which was directly working for the German army. Lesser enterprises, such as the flour mills, now belonged to the municipality and were named United Town Industries (Vereinigte Stadt Industrie). A labor exchange was created, also for Jews. A Railway Guard (Bahnschutzpolizei) composed of the locals and a Forest Guard, under the command of aged Germans, was being organized in Bolechow. Those bodies too, in the future, would fully contribute to the annihilation of the Jews.
The Jewish police (Ordnungsdienst) then consisted of several tens and had ties with the Ukrainian police. German directors of some factories seized the most beautiful Jewish houses along with furniture, etc. Megoff, the hypocritical criminal from Vienna and manager of the barrel factory, lived in the Bornstein (veterinary surgeon) villa. The manager of the Great Sawmill occupied Dr. Reifeisen's house. Krauthammer's house was chosen for a siege of the municipality. Its former premises in the Magistrate (town hall) became a Ukrainian police station, a place of torture and murder. During the spring and summer of 1942, the Germans intensified their various demands from the Judenrat. One asked for twenty kilos of cocoa, another wanted 50,000 zlotys and 500 kilos of white flour. Every hooligan or passerby seized the opportunity. As usual the blackmail was accompanied by threats to beat the local Jews unless the demands were satisfied in so many hours. The Jews were compelled to fully furnish a club for Volksdeutsche in Dr. Kurzer's house. The Jewish police coerced this organized robbery, often in a violent and merciless way. The German setback on the Moscow front in the winter of 1941 brought some encouragement to most Jews.
Some even hoped they would be saved very soon by the war's quick end. Others quoted the Polish proverb, Until the fat becomes thin, the thin ones die. People got used to beatings and humiliating insults, to searches serving as a pretext for looting or bad treatment. The fact that there were several informers and traitors ceased to be considered unusual. Jews learned to circumvent rules and to bribe the superiors, managers and commanders of every kind, a dubious and often risky undertaking.
During this period, many Jews occupied quite responsible professional positions, owing both to their skills and knowledge of German. Many were trusted to some degree by their German superiors and had certain influence. Through them important information could be obtained. They served as mediators in redemption of the arrested and so on. But in most cases, these people and, of course, the Germans profited from their privileged positions. The same goes for the Judenrat. Often the information released proved false, with the purpose of spreading confusion, mistrust and demoralization. Some of the professionals were honest or even naïve people, manipulated by the Germans. It should be noted that some of the mediators got megalomania and were convinced that nothing bad would happen to them or to their families. Obviously, such phenomena were characteristic not only to Bolechow. It seems, however, that especially in Bolechow their end, at the hands of the trusted friends was very cruel. In the interval between the first and second action, rampaging Germans killed several Jews. Some Jews were bitten to death by the trained dogs of the Gestapo. Some were sent to Stanislawow, a prison from which no one returned, not even their bodies. Others were sent to Kalusz prison or elsewhere. According to regulations, every Jew aged fourteen and over had to start working. In fact, the majority of young people were already working. Often their age was falsified in order to find a job. Soon all the employed received special cards (Ausweis) issued by the Security Police and S.D. in Drohobycz. Card numbers in Bolechow were mostly from 114,000 to 116,000. Along with this document, white armbands with the Star of David were distributed. Each armband contained the corresponding number with a letter A in the center of the Star of David. Both were embroidered in red. Until December 1, 1942, working Jews got wages although they were extremely low. In some places of work, like Hobag G.M.B.H., later Delta G.M.B.M., the former State Great Sawmill, poor meals were given to workers in a canteen. Because of such situations, Jews resorted to selling or bartering their various belongings very cheaply. Unfortunately, toward the fall of 1942, many had little or no belongings left. Of course, Jews had to do the most difficult or most degrading work as defined by the rules. On the other hand, a working day consisted of only eight hours, but later was increased to nine hours and in Delta to twelve hours. Despite the hard work and bad treatment, including beatings, the great majority adapted.
In the early summer, news spread about new actions on a huge scale in the whole of ex-Poland, including the immediate vicinity. The new kind of action was called wild action. The official name used by the authorities and mentioned in announcements was Aussiedlungsaktion, roughly meaning displacement or transfer action. In August, wall placards appeared signed by Major-General Katzmann, the police and SS commander in Distrikt Galizien. Their subject was the transfer and, mainly, a warning, of the death penalty for infringement of instructions on the transfer day. Christians helping Jews to escape were threatened with death too.
Here it is suitable to briefly describe the character of this new sort of action. With the exception of particular methods and idiosyncrasies applied by various action commanders, the actions went on as follows: First, wall placards were posted specifying the exact time and place of reporting by the Jews. Sometimes classes were mentioned; the old, children, sick, unemployed or all. There were instructions about the amount of food and clothing to be taken, mostly twenty kilos. Usually only a few hours elapsed from the posting to the time of reporting. The head of the Judenrat was detained because he was thought to be personally responsible for the fulfillment of the orders regarding the transfer. It was only in the first actions that some Jews reported as instructed. In no way could the Judenrat gather so many in such a short time. Therefore, actions were carried out by the Germans and their aides, while arresting the Judenrat head. The whole thing obviously was aimed at further terrorizing the Judenrat. In eastern Galicia in general, Jews were either mass murdered, mostly in Jewish cemeteries, or sent by cargo trains to the death camp at Belzec. The camp was active from roughly spring 1942 until early spring 1943 when it was destroyed and all traces of it carefully erased. During its activity, mass executions in the towns stopped, for the most part.
If, after the action, Jews still remained as planned beforehand, then Judenrat's head was freed. In August Bolechow was terrified by the action in Dolina where all its 3,000 Jews were murdered in one day. As already stated, many Bolechowers believed in the Dolina's Judenrat's head's ability to prevent catastrophe, in contrast with his counterpart in Bolechow, Dr. Schindler. An electrified atmosphere spread throughout the township. Feverishly, hiding places were being improved and rucksacks packed with food. Rumors often spread, soon to be denied. All had the feeling of forthcoming disaster. Many started to spend nights in hideouts or in Christian's homes and many did not report for work. The tension and fear reached a degree beyond description. In the first days of September, SS men arrived in Bolechow, not something unusual. But one of them told a Jewish woman on Szewska Street, It will begin on Thursday. The news spread immediately. Somewhat later, so it was told, a telegram was received by the Judenrat coming from Stryj saying, The parcels did arrive. This was the password agreed upon in case those in Stryj obtained reliable information about the action's start. On September 3rd, at dawn, three rifle shots were heard from the town center. Then shots became more frequent and some were mingled with the screaming of the wounded and the executed. The noise of the breaking down of doors and cupboards accompanied by sobbing, curses and yelling could be heard everywhere. This was the typical tumult of an action; a combination of horrifying voices, strong enough by itself to break people's spirit.
So the murderous gang of the Flying Brigade, an expression in common use but quite unclear, entered into the action, aided by the Ukrainian police, Jewish police and other organizations.
On Wednesday night, Judenrat was approached by the action's command with an order; gather 2,000 Jews in the Rynek in the morning. Dr. Schindler and the members of the Judenrat were arrested since the order was rather formal and not feasible. This was in accordance with the common practice in actions, as explained. The action lasted for three days. This time most of the old, sick and children were killed on the spot. In some cases, old women were strangled. The skulls of the elderly men were crushed with rifle butts and infants' heads were smashed into walls or telephone poles. Many living on the outskirts of town, which meant relatively far from the concentration point in the Magistrate's courtyard, were shot in their homes or yards. On the Dolinska Street
whole families were shot dead in the yard of Mr. Levi's house. They were the families Levi, Kuddish, Zauderer, Streifer and more.
Since most of the hideouts proved to be primitive and resembling each other, some were no match for the searchers. Often the crying of babies caused the hidden to be found. Some mothers strangled their babies with their own hands to prevent their crying. Elsewhere the hidden tried to kill the children while the parents protested. This was the background to horrible tragedies. In some cases children and adults disclosed the hiding places of their families, being promised life for their treason. Such promises were never fulfilled. The traitors died in even more cruel ways than others. Some Germans liked to appear as justice makers so the punishment was for both being Jews and traitors. But generally, on the verge of death, Jews behaved with courage and dignity, sometimes evoking amazement among the Germans. In particular many were the manifestations of family love and devotion. In these days, Bolechow seemed an incarnation of horror. Hundreds of dead and those in agony lay in the streets, yards, houses and ditches. Streets filled with mobs penetrating hiding places, beating, murdering, extraditing and, above all, robbing. Nearly all Jewish houses were subject to break-ins and pillaging. There were some 2,000 detainees in the courtyard of the Magistrate and the adjacent part of Rynek Square. Many perished there, the old and the weak in particular. For three days the victims suffered from thirst and hunger in the extreme heat. The honest among the Jewish policemen tried to do their best to supply some water and food. But their opportunities were very limited. Still, thanks to this and the efforts to obtain a little food at a high price, brought some relief to a part of the unfortunate in their last days. Jewish policemen and undertakers used carts to carry the killed to the Jewish cemetery. In Szewska Street the passing of blood dripping carts became a common sight. It appears that a man simulated death during the action and was transported in the death cart. He dared to stop feigning death only when already in the grave. The martyrs of the second action, some 400, were buried in several mass graves in the western part of the cemetery next to the majority of other victims of the Holocaust. Although heavily guarded, many succeeded in escaping from the concentration spot. Others, by various ruses, joined the groups of liberated employees. While releasing the specialized workers, no importance whatsoever was attached to the famous Ausweis cards. On Saturday, September 5th, in the afternoon, some 1,600 heavily escorted Jews, made their way to the railway station. Some religious elders were told to sing My Shteteli Belz, a Jewish folk song (although Belzec is a different place). In the station, more of the employed were freed.
At the same time others were cruelly butchered. It happened as a result of the attempts made by many to escape. No one succeeded. All those who tried were killed. After packing some 120 people per freight wagon, the train started slowly moving in the direction of Lwow toward an unknown destination. The Germans claimed that all were being transported to a distant working place. To some extent it seemed plausible because of the systematical extermination of the children, the old, etc. On the other hand, the horrible conditions of transportation and some quite direct allusions did not leave much hope. So, some tried to escape the death train. A few succeeded. Upon returning to Bolechow, after several days, they gave full details about the hellish conditions in the locked wagons. The density was unsupportable (120 or more instead of 40 as per standard). People suffered to death of suffocation, thirst or hunger. Many died and some lost their sanity. Various vague rumors circulated as to the fate of the deported but this time only a few believed that anyone survived. After the liberation of Galicia, it only became clear the victims of the second action had been gassed at Belzec. Along with hundreds of thousands of Jews from the region they were buried in huge graves. Later their remains were exhumed and burned. The whole Belzec complex was totally eradicated in early 1943. This was in order to erase evidence of the crime in the wake of the deterioration of Hitler's army's situation on the eastern front.
The Great Action, as the second action was called, differed from the first action in many ways: public executions (although not of hundreds or thousands), searches in Christian houses, apparently better and more methodical planning, participation of the Jewish police and groups of Hitlerjugend (Hitler's youth organization) brought from outside. Paramilitary organs of Railway Guards (Bahnschutzpolizei) and Forest Guards also joined. Helmets were commonly worn, a kind of novelty at that time.
The worst murderers proved to be the Ukrainian policemen, Luhovyi, Demianyn and, above all, the depraved sadist Matowiecki. Another horrible assassin, equal only to Matowiecki was Strutynski, also a Ukrainian policeman. The German Piatke of Stryj Schupo (Schutzpolizei), chief of Bolechow's Ukrainian police, had dogs trained to literally tear their victims to pieces.
Some Jewish policemen showed extraordinary ability, enthusiasm and initiative when searching the hiding, often being praised by the Germans and Ukrainians.
When some 2,500 Jews returned from the woods, villages and hideouts they found a looted and deserted town. Dead bodies were still lying everywhere. Again, many noticed that their neighbors and other Gentiles were wearing their clothing or using their household goods or furniture. This was despite the execution by the Germans of several looting villagers. It seems the Germans decided to monopolize this branch. They sent great amounts of commodities and furniture to Lwow by lorries. It appears, however, they only took interest in goods of higher quality.
The impact of the Great Action, most probably carried out under the command of Captain (Hauptsturmfuhrer) Hans Block of Drohobycz, was enormous. But most people soon recovered. It seems that one of the main reasons for this was that the people now saw these events as inevitable and almost natural. Only a few days elapsed and life returned to normal. Simultaneously, effort restarted to improve hiding places, finding Christian friends, obtaining Aryan papers, etc. At this time some survivors of the fully liquidated Jewish communities started coming to Bolechow, from Skole in particular. Most were young people.
Others continued on their way to Hungary. Some began to hide with the aid of Christians. They would remain hidden for a long time; until the liberation. Others took refuge in elaborate hiding places for the same purpose. After the action, the attitude of most Gentiles coming from the lower classes sharply deteriorated. This probably happened for the following reasons: new victories of Hitler's armies, further evidence showing that the Jews would be subject to total extermination, the fact that Jews knew a lot about the perpetrators of the robbings and murders. Most of the Polish intelligentsia behaved with hypocrisy at that time. Their aim was to gain the confidence of their Jewish acquaintances so as to obtain payment for the promises of future help. Scores succeeded in improving their financial condition or even enriching themselves at the Jew's expense. They got bolder because they succeeded in this manner. The formerly mentioned Podole barter business continued and flourished in this state of affairs.
On October 24, 1942, the Judenrat was ordered to extradite 400 Jews to the Gestapo. The task was carried out by the Jewish police. Only on the third, and last, day the Ukrainian police were approached to give a hand. The victims were detained in Rand's house on Kosciuszko Street. Workers of various factories, unless they were highly specialized workers, counted among the arrested. The conditions under which the arrested were held was quite comfortable compared with the previous actions. For money one could easily acquire food and something to drink. During this action, whoever had the means to bribe the Judenrat, the Ukrainian and the Jewish police, was released. To replace the freed, poorer people were arrested. In fact, they only recently turned poor since the bulk of the original paupers had already disappeared in the spring. This base practice, in addition to being a means for extorting money, also represented the policy of the Judenrat to get rid of the poor. They were considered an element lacking the ability to survive. Finally the 400 were packed into a freight train and transported to an unknown destination (We later learned it was Belzec). A couple of weeks prior to the third action, all Jews were ordered to settle in a special quarter. It was restricted to Rynek and the streets Szewska and Kazimierzowaka, and their adjacent lanes.
Everybody moved on his own, without pressure, after finding a dwelling. Many occupied flats, now empty, as a result of the great action. Still there was a great shortage of flats. Therefore, quantities of furniture and household goods had to be left behind or sold for next to nothing. There were no walls or fences around the quarter, nor guards. No restrictions on movement outside the compound were imposed. There were complaints by the mayor deposited in Stryj about this and other similar subjects. Aryans also lived in the quarter. It looked like the only reason for creating it was to gather the Jews in one place to make future actions easier.
Toward the end of November a new instruction was published by Major-General Katzmann. It announced that starting December 1, 1942, the Jews of Galicia would either stay in ghettos or be interned in labor camps. Up until this time ghettos only existed in larger and medium sized towns. People were free to choose between the labor camps and the ghetto in Stryj. In Bolechow only the camps would remain. As usual, those who would not comply (i.e.: remain in Bolechow but not in a camp) were threatened with the death penalty.
Consequent to those instructions a vivid debate developed among the Jews as to what was preferable: the ghetto or the camps. A great majority decided to remain in the Bolechow camps. Some claimed that the whole issue was nothing more than a stratagem and that all would be killed on December 1st. In fact, the four camps were already in existence before this official date. They were Delta, tanneries/leather factories, water management, Wasserwirtschaft dealing with river maintenance, and United Town Industries (together) and the barrel factory. It does not mean that camps were constructed. In fact, some blocks of Jewish houses, or separate houses, were adapted to this purpose. The houses were surrounded by a wooden fence about two meters high. The entrance was through gates watched by Jewish policemen. In some houses kitchens were installed along with three tiered bunks. The arrangements were far from uniform. In most cases people had their own beds, sleeping six or seven per room. Several hundred left for the Stryj ghetto, mostly those unfit to work. They were permitted to move individually with no restrictions as to quantity or kind of belongings to take with them. But, of course, again the transfer caused the added loss of property.
It was not by coincidence that the subject of households is being mentioned. The lack of possessions meant too often death by starvation. All the horrible events, coming rapidly in sequence after the second action, brought disastrous blows on the psyche of many. There were many suicides, sometimes by whole families. The poison business flourished. Often fakes were sold. Most suicides occurred during the actions so as to spare the torment. People did not want to die at the hand of the murderers. Many people kept poison with them at all times. In contrast with this phenomenon reflecting despair, numerous others spent unlimited energy on efforts to survive.
In town and the surrounding area many Jews hid illegally but their numbers are unknown. Some lived in various bunkers on their own or were hidden by Gentiles. Others were hiding in the camps, among them a number of small children. Almost without interruption, small groups of Jews passed through Bolechow, survivors of annihilated communities or those who escaped from ghettos and camps. Here they sometimes succeeded in finding food or even time and a means to heal their diseases and wounds on their way to the forest or to Hungary. Unfortunately, many were caught and executed on the spot.
All the inmates were given a new insignia, in the form of a white cloth badge, a square of about 5 by 5 cm. In its center, embroidered in black were either the letter R or W. Each letter was stamped by the seal of the Police and SS, over which everyone had to embroider his personal number (as per old Ausweis). One had to bear the badge on the left side of the chest (so as to hit the heart straight according to their joke).
The letters R and W were the initials of the Ruestungsindustrie (Munition Industry) or the Wehrmacht (Army). The R was considered better, perhaps because the majority got the letter W, (Water Management, United Town Industries, leather factories and Delta Saw Mills).
The new era had begun with rather superficial changes to the lifestyle of the remaining Jews. Apart from living in concentration under slack supervision, (this provoked complaints from the Ukrainian local authority), basically there was little change. As already stated, many lived in camps beforehand. Most continued to work in the same place.
The food distributed was not sufficient to sustain life because of the interruptions of supplies. People had to buy provisions at Christian groceries or from the peasants. There was only tighter supervision with respect to hygiene and exterior order. Large boards were posted on the gates and walls of the camps on which was written: Compulsory Labor Camp Bolechow Jews and other details. There were rare cases of illness in the camps. Most people seemed healthy. They were also reasonably well dressed. A state of partial hunger only existed in the last weeks. This was in spite of the hard work. Sometimes work continued for 48 hours or more with only brief interruptions. However, in general, work lasted 9 hours (also during the night shift) and in Delta it lasted 12 hours. Most people were already hardened and held on. Till the end, Jews kept responsible positions and sometimes many Aryans were under their charge. As already stated, this caused many an illusion of being important and thus not subject to harm. It seems these illusions had been nourished on purpose by the Germans who gave calming messages in profusion.
At the same time they enjoyed valuable presents.
Apparently, important factors acted in favor of the Jews in labor camps: heavy bombardments of German industries, sending hordes of Poles and Ukrainians to forced labor in Germany, mobilization of young Ukrainians to form the SS division Galizien and the defeats of the Axis forces. This probably explained the existence of the camps of Bolechow until the end of August 1943. In Drohobycz and Boryslaw they existed until the Russians came. It seems that the penetration of Soviet partisans under Kolpak, indirectly brought the liquidation of the camps.
During the winter of 1942/3 the remainder of Bolechow Jewry felt relief. The illusion of safety was mainly fueled by the fact that the Stryj ghetto still existed. It was clear the unproductive element would be liquidated first. Some ascribed the calm to German defeats, mainly in Stalingrad. As it looked, the old unbiased optimism made a comeback. This was perhaps a reaction after a long period of despair. In any case, such attitudes always brought enormous damage. In the camps even a sort of folklore evolved, including songs, saying, jokes, etc. During that time an attempt was made by a group of young people from Lwow and Bolechow to cross the border into Hungary. News spread about their betrayal by the guides, who turned them over to the border guards.
According to a new regulation issued about then, Jews would be kept in prison for a maximum of 24 hours and either freed or executed. However, at the same time, the power of the Ukrainian police versus the camp inmates was restricted. This created a paradox: there was more freedom after being locked in the camps. In the last days of February, around one hundred young people were brought from the Stryj ghetto. The group consisted of ex-Bolechowers who now joined the workers in the barrel factory. They were lodged in its camps. At dawn of March 5th, these camps were surrounded by strong forces of the SS and Ukrainian police. All believed the hour of the final action had come. But after some time it became clear that the aim was only to capture the newcomers from Stryj. Jewish policemen arrived and took the unfortunates out, promising they would be sent to the Janowski camp in Lwow. This was an infamous labor camp in Lwow where thousands died. The group was escorted to the Magistrate. There they were held until the afternoon (pending the digging of the grave). Then they were led, until heavy guard, including the Ordnungsdienst, to the Jewish cemetery. There they were ordered to completely undress and had to wait an additional two hours as the grave was still incomplete. Some tried unsuccessfully to escape. All the others were shot. The Jewish policemen intended to leave the cemetery but suddenly the
Germans and Ukrainians surrounded them. Prior to being executed, the Jewish policemen performed a kind of military parade with salutes, standing at attention, etc, literally to the verge of the grave. Finally they, too, had to undress. Apparently their commander, the lawyer Pressler, son-in-law of Dr. Schindler, had slapped the face of the Nazi superior officer. It should be mentioned that early in the morning several Jewish policemen fled, since they felt endangered. On the next day, Dr. Schindler committed suicide.
Equally, on March 5th, the Stryj ghetto was liquidated. Its thousands of residents were shot outside of the town in the village of Holobutowo.
These events depressed the remainder of the Bolechow Jews.
Already in the initial Katzmann's order related to the establishment of the camps, there was mention of March 31, 1943 as the final date of the camps legal existence. The majority of inmates did not notice this detail, at least at the beginning, since they were used to living from one day to the next. A period of four months seemed fantastically long. Various big shots promised the camp's legality would be extended beyond March 31st. Then an instruction came to again register all the inmates. An anxious wait started toward the fateful date but the camp's people still had hope (provided there was any sense in logical thinking under the Nazis). The employees of the Litter Collecting Service already knew they were fated to die. One after another news came about the annihilation of this group in various places.
It seems worthy to briefly comment upon this service. For reasons totally unclear unless one considers the German mania for recycling, they enjoyed a privileged status. In every action they were among the first to be freed. They were given a special great round tag made of tin, which had to be attached to their lapel. Several tens of Jews enrolled as employees of the service. In fact, most never worked. And, they profited by their safety. They were among the few allowed to remain in their houses. But suddenly they fell into disgrace and, being aware of this, they made desperate efforts to escape. Most failed. The majority were arrested by the Ukrainian police and shot dead in the Jewish cemetery by the infamous Matowiecki.
This massacre took place on March 12, 1943. The number of victims was 28. The service's manager Joshua Freilich was released and kept at his duties as before.
Contrary to previous fears, nothing happened in the camps on March 31st or afterward. From March until June, a relative calm reigned. The life in the camp continued as before. The only difference was the complete lack of watchmen. As already mentioned, even when manned by Jewish policemen, the guard was quite inefficient.
During this period - and it seems such was the state of mind in the whole of Poland many Jews developed a mentality of resistance. Unfortunately, this happened too late and without proper momentum. As an example of this new spirit, an event in summer can be recalled.
A group of about ten young Jewish men and women were hiding nearby the camp of the barrel factory. They consisted of survivors from nearby towns. People in the camp fed them. When the Ukrainian police discovered them, they did not beg for their lives. Neither did they try to bribe the policemen, or even try to escape. They attacked the policemen with knives and succeeded in wounding several of them. After quite a long struggle all were killed except one man who succeeded in escaping in spite of the great numbers of policemen and hooligans.
The Germans knew what happened and apparently there was an inner dispute between the economic circles and the political party circles (including the SS who were in charge of the camps and had the last word) as to whether to keep or abolish the camps. As already stated, there was a shortage of labor in Galicia then and many skilled professionals stayed in the camps. The cost of running the camps was next to nothing, so the German firms greatly profited and wanted the situation to continue.
It appears the protagonists of the final solution had the lower hand until the summer of 1943. The situation changed when news spread about the dangerous fermentation and uprisings in the ghettos of Warsaw, Bialystok and Cracow. The penetration of the brigade of Soviet partisans, under the renowned major-general Kolpak, into the Carpathian Mountains no doubt played a major role. In June the people of Water Management and the United Town Industries started feeling they were in danger. The economic importance of these enterprises was rather low, except for the leather industry. The inmates of Water Management used to pay their directorate for each day of work. In other camps no such thing existed. In June they were requested to pay increasingly higher amounts until it finally became absurd.
In the early morning of July 6th, the two camps were surrounded by many Ukrainian policemen brought from outside under German command. Some 100 people were brought to the Magistrate, town hall and put into two big cells. The magistrate was turned into a police station and prison. Again, several were killed when trying to escape but a number of inmates succeeded in avoiding capture and hiding. As told by survivors, the Ukrainians tried to convince the Jews they were only being taken to work in nearby Dolina. However, all of them knew the waiting in the Magistrate Building would end when the grave was ready.
In the morning, Ducio Schindler succeeded in snatching the rifle of a policeman and almost killed him, but was disarmed by many thugs. A German who appreciated his courage spared his life. He later approached the arrested and proposed a massive flight.
It was agreed that in Szewska Street, leading to the Jewish cemetery and the so-called Horses Cemetery, when they heard a whistle, the people would disperse in all directions. In the afternoon they were led toward the cemetery. Schindler's whistles were heard but nobody moved. Ducio decided to give the example and broke into the chain of escorting policemen. Wounded by many bullets, he agonized for hours in a yard. The remaining people were brought to the vicinity of Dolzka, a place where dead horses used to be buried and the Jews were executed.
Ukrainian policemen prevented robbing the deserted camps. Several Christians trying to break in were arrested. Later, the Germans took some objects and the camps were abandoned to the pillagers. Gentile witnesses said this time, in particular, many jewels and watches were thrown into the Mlynowka stream, as well as torn dollars and local money banknotes. A new pleasantry in the camps was: We work like horses and therefore we are being buried in a horse cemetery.
At other camps nothing changed on the surface. At this stage, thousands of soldiers of Vlassov's army (ex-Russian POWs under German command) arrived in Bolechow and its surrounding area. They were soon joined by units of other nationalities, mainly Azerbaijanis and Tatars who also collaborated with the Nazis. These were commonly nicknamed Kalmyks. The reason for their arrival was the penetration of the Soviet partisans in the mountains around Jaremcze after a near 1,000 mile march.
A strict night curfew was imposed on the whole population. Watchmen were placed every 50 meters on the roads and railways. An enormous tension reigned in the camps and almost everyone prepared to leave. On the days of July 25th and 26th, many did leave and nearly all the rest intended to do the same in the next hours. The authorities this time delayed their action.
On July 26th at around 4 P.M. an action started. Its aim, no doubt, was the total murder of the remaining Bolechow Jews. First shots were heard in the camp of the leather workers which caused flight from the other camps. Despite the participation of Vlassov's Russians, and many other police units, the action failed, lacking the surprise factor and poor planning. The Jews dispersed everywhere and most fled to the distant forests. Only one hundred were caught and about 80 were killed in various circumstances. After three days the arrested were freed and a kind of amnesty was published toward the others. And, since the massive fleeing was rather spontaneous, with only little planning, it could not hold up for long. Most had no choice but to return. The camps underwent a thorough pillaging; this time, it seems, mostly by Jews. Many people who came back discovered that fellow inmates sold their belongings unless they were already stolen by the Gentiles. In general, a minority with a dubious past did this. The returned greatly suffered. Some destroyed their banknotes and valuables when caught. The Germans started with an apparently new approach toward the remaining, seemingly out of fear that they would join the partisans or resist with arms. Indeed, during the last action, several Jews opened fire with pistols on the Germans in the camp of the leather industries.
Although there were no German casualties, as far as known, this left a strong impression. The coming days were marked by the arrival of SS Oberscharrfuhrer (sergeant-major) Grzymek and his aide, an Unterscharrfuhrer. They brought a suite of Jewish employees and servants and settled in Strassman's house on the end of Kolejowka Boulevard.
Soon Grzymek began his series of speeches to the camp people in German. As later proved, the aim was to calm the spirits and to lie. According to him, the policy toward Jews underwent a change due to the latest victories of the Allies. He said the American would kill Germans if the Germans killed the Jews. He claimed that a great amnesty was happening and encouraged Jews to pass on the news to all who were still hiding including the old and children. He promised that the construction of a central camp for all Bolechow Jews would start immediately. It would include, among other things, schools, kindergartens and a hospital. The speeches usually ended with strange declarations such as, I am your father. The situation in the camps then abounded in paradoxes. So, for instance, the camps were watched by Ukrainians with pistols. But at the same time, Jews were allowed to freely move, not only in town but in the surrounding area as well. The guards' presence was explained by the need to protect the Jews. Simultaneously, the area of the camps was reduced to a minimum. The camp of the barrel factory that used to consist of seven houses now consisted of one. The meager food rations were abolished. Many suffered from hunger and some collapsed. They were taken to camp's hospital, which still functioned on a relatively high standard. The overcrowding in the camps became unbearable, Many slept in the yard or in the factories.
In the meantime, the promised camp's construction proceeded at a feverish pace on an open space between the refinery and Dolina Road. Its form was typical of concentration camps, strongly fenced by barbed wire, etc. Pending this, the Father (as ironically nicknamed in the camps) Grzymek was extorting money as he could, through the people in charge of various camps (Lageraelteste). As usual the collecting of money was accompanied by scandals and acts of violence.
August 22nd was determined as the day of transfer to the new camp. Everyone had to take a bath in the Mikveh (ritual bath) situated on Kazimierzowska Street, put in operation especially for this. Owing to the great bustle, many were able to escape, the conditions being favorable. Prior to moving into the new camp there was much arguing about whether to join the camp or to flee. Most agreed that the camp would exist for long. Hardly could one believe the miserly German would invest in something profitless. On the other hand, there was fear of heavy guards, etc., preventing the possibility of escape. Tens left their hiding places and entered the camp. So, after an interruption of many months, again Jewish children and the old could be seen but not for long.
On August 25, 1943 the new camp was surrounded by strong forces consisting mainly of Vlassov soldiers. About 1,200 people were escorted to the Jewish cemetery and shot including hundreds from Skole who had, at the time, been brought to the camp. This time a new method of murder was used. The victims were shot upward into the neck from a very short range and simultaneously pushed by the murderer's leg into the grave. In former actions sometimes the victims were ordered to enter the grave and lay down over the killed, to be shot in their turn. Mostly, however, the victims were shot with rifles and machine guns from some distance while they were standing on the verge of the grave. As a result, quite a number were buried while slightly wounded or even unhurt. This resulted in many stories, widespread among Jews and Christians alike about sighs from the graves and earth moving on the surface. It seems, however, that the main purpose of the new method was saving bullets. As far as known, there were no successful escapes. The Father, Josef Grzymek, originally from Silesia, nicknamed the butcher of Lwow, ran wild and horribly tortured his victims before killing them.
In the camp, Vlassov's soldiers arranged a kind of auction for the commodities left. The graves were covered with a layer of lime and Bolechow became Judenrein, free of Jews. To celebrate this joyful event the brass band of Salina Salt Works paraded through Bolechow. It seems plausible that some 300 Jews remained in forests, hidden by Christians or hiding on their own in various places. Probably a half of them were discovered and executed by the end of September. These people, mostly deprived of outside help (i.e.: the Gentiles), also used ramshackle and primitive hideouts, if any at all. Many fell into the hands of hostile Christians when searching for food and were handed over to the police. The Christians who brought the Jews to them in order to exploit them financially, of course, hastened the extraditing. The more prudent among such Christians gave preference to poisoning or simply slaughtering the hiding and burying them in secret. Indeed, the possibility of punishment then seemed a sure thing. Quite a number of Gentiles sincerely desired to save Jews by hiding them. In this period Fascist Italy collapsed and all believed Germany would soon surrender. Unfortunately, things evolved differently, putting both the hiding and their benefactors in a most difficult situation.
In the autumn of 1943 if Jews hidden by Christians were discovered, the latter could still expect only to be reprimanded in most cases. This was despite the draconian regulations threatening death for helping Jews. On the face this could seem quite unlikely. But for certain the German and Ukrainian police had good reasons for such a policy. The main one was the relative weakness of their armed forces in the region. This was along with the background of the growing underground armed forces of Ukrainian nationalists, directed against both Germans and Russians. At this stage the Ukrainians became deeply disappointed in the Germans. Although hating Jews, the Christians considered it unacceptable to die because of giving shelter to Jews. They were taught by the Germans themselves that a Jew's life was not worth a penny, so why kill an Aryan because of a miserable Jew. In addition, almost everyone had some business with Jews, to profit from their distress. If one hid the Jews during an action, no one could know whether he really wanted to save them or extradite them. In cases of prolonged hiding, some Christians paid with their lives, such as the Pole Zdzislaw Szymanski and his sister.
In the autumn of 1943 a stricter approach began, perhaps because of fear that any Jews would survive. Ukrainians at this stage also felt a strong hatred for the Germans and were not ready to be punished by them because of the Jews.
Even before, when the camps still existed, a directive was issued by Katzmann promising 5,000 zlotys and twenty liters of vodka for each Jew denounced. It seems that until the Judenrein period, in fact, only a small fraction of this was given to informers. The lion's share was shared among various supervisors. Now, however, the income of many decreased. There were no more Jews to blackmail or rob. Many became interested in receiving the reward being now paid, if not fully, at least in its greater part. This probably was due to pressure by the interested. Germany's defeat then appeared as though it would soon come. May feared heavy punishment for their involvement in crimes. They were searching for the hiding Jews with almost endless energy. Some spent weeks combing the fields and woods to find a Jew. Others were eavesdropping in the night, putting their ears on the walls and windows to catch a suspected voice or noise.
In the winter of 1943/1944, Jewish houses were put up for sale for almost nothing. Some were dismantled in order to get various building materials and wood for heating. However, the main reason was trying to discover caches of valuables that indeed still existed in many Jewish houses. As a result, most of the ex-Jewish homes were severely damaged.
Despite the mild winter, the hiding Jews had to face some of the most complicated problems. Searches for Jews then attained a peak. Villages were combed by the army using dogs and aided by the peasants who were idle in this season. During the winter at least 100 Jews lost their lives. Some fell while fighting as members of the Babij's partisan group. Some 40 people, the Josefsberg family and others, were revealed in Huziejow village, hidden by the local miller. This happened because of criminal negligence by one of the hiding. He went to his former home to pick up valuables out of the cache on hearing that the house was being dismantled. The miller and his wife also paid with their lives. Sixteen people were found in a cave at Gerynia Forest. They had been smoked out and then shot and buried. The Ungar family was among them. Only nine of these people were certified as dead by 2004.
Smaller groups were revealed and shot. People hiding Jews were exposed to incessant intimidation and coaxing. So, for example, during a public meeting in the village of Gerynia, people were told that presently all over the world Jews were being annihilated. The Soviet army was doing the same and also killing those hiding Jews. After the meeting two Jews were turned over to the authorities.
The hope for the war's quick end vanished. At the same time it became clear that sheltering Jews was a difficult, death-threatening task. Thus, some decided to kill and secretly bury the Jews they were hiding. One can assume that in most cases they succeeded. But it also happened that such attempts became publicly disclosed. Eight members of the Wohl family hiding at Gerynia were poisoned. However, as the poison proved ineffective, they were butchered and buried in the fields. From time to time the bodies of Jews who died of cold and starvation were discovered in the woods. In the winter of 1944, four bodies were found hanging from the trees. These Jews apparently committed suicide.
During the autumn several Jews handed themselves over. It is worthwhile to mention the case of the ex-policeman Kopel, who appeared before his friend the deputy-commander of the Ukrainian police asking to be killed by him personally. The request was fulfilled.
In the spring and summer of 1944 several lonely Jews were found and executed. The last case occurred about a fortnight prior to liberation. During this period the general interest shifted to other subjects, such as the massive appearance of bands of Ukrainian nationalists, the activities of the Polish underground, mutual killings between Germans and Ukrainians.
Searching for Jews ceased to be lucrative or easy. However, the Jews were mercilessly tortured and killed if found. The Ukrainian nationalist bands policy was the murdering of Jews. So, for example, when Bandera's people got information about Rozia Adler hiding in the village of Hoszow, they requested that she be handed over. After robbing her, she was murdered. This happened in early summer of 1944. In the winter, Ukrainian nationalists had already started attacks on the Polish population, by killing a family of seven at Polanice village. They finally set fire to all Polish houses in the neighboring villages. Whole families were burned alive. Several families of Poles were murdered in Bolechow proper, although not in great numbers.
Many Bolechow Poles took refuge in Stanislawow. It should be noted that there was some anti-German activity by the Polish underground, most likely the Armja Krajowa (A.K.), reaching its peak with the setting on fire of the barrel factory. However, all their activity stopped after the arrests of some people and their execution in Stryj. Much more important seemed to be the operations led by groups of armed Jews during the winter of 1944. Among other things, they attempted to kill the butcher Matowiecki in Bolechow. He narrowly escaped. In another incident Ukrainian police were attacked by an armed group. In fierce exchanges two policemen were killed and the rest fled. These actions were ascribed to Babij's partisan group. He was a Ukranian communist from Dolina and served in the Ukrainian police after the German invasion. He later deserted and organized a partisan unit, manned almost exclusively by Jews and based in Dolina Forest. Until the autumn of 1943, they showed nearly no activity. Despite the incessant combing by German, Hungarian and Vlassow armies, most group members perished. Their deeds still greatly impressed the population. Many feared the armed Jews in the later period. As a result, whenever Jews were revealed, relatively great forces were deployed in order to apprehend them, taking minimal risks.
In one case, to illustrate, when rumors spread that a Jew armed with a pistol was hiding at a farm in Gerynia in the spring of 1944, the Ukrainian police merely promised they would soon come to deal with him.
Some sectors of the Ukrainian nationalists (U.P.A. of Bandera) fought the Germans for some time. A German unit of 22 soldiers riding in the narrow gauge mountain train (Kalejka) near Bubniszcze was attacked and annihilated.
During the spring of 1944 Stryj, Drohobycz, and Lwow underwent heavy air bombardments, mainly by hundreds of American planes based in the U.S.S.R. The blasts were distinctly heard in Bolechow. Leaflets were dropped. Heavy military traffic started on the roads. Jewish labor companies were attached to the Hungarian troops. But at the same time horrible news spread about the exterminations of Hungarian Jewry.
At the end of June the thunder of artillery could be heard from the east. Its stopping depressed the few Jewish survivors. In July army movements attained their peak. The Germans started entrenching themselves in Bolechow and its surroundings. Guns were placed in many locations.
Prior to this, much of the industrial equipment was dismantled and sent to Germany. Since spring, hundreds were employed enlarging and improving the roads. Many tombstones from the Jewish cemetery were used. Some were crushed into gravel and others were used whole to pave the sidewalks.
Finally, bands of hungry soldiers mercilessly robbed the peasants of their food, provoking general hate of the Germans. The same Ukrainians that welcomed them with enthusiasm were now expecting the coming of the Soviet liberators. But this was only a temporary mood. The echoes of heavy fighting was heard from the direction of Dolina. The Russians arrived there but were repulsed. A strong force of Soviet paratroopers had been, for quite some time, in the mountains. Now they barred the only road of retreat for the Germans at Cisow. For three days there was an artillery duel. The Russians used, among other things, the Katyusha rockets and the German 220 mm. heavy guns and six-barrel mortars.
Thousands of projectiles hit the town causing heavy damages. Finally light weapon fire could be heard. Soviet infantry stormed Bolechow as the enemy retreated in panic, leaving their dead. Bolechow was liberated August 9, 1944 by forces of the 4th Ukrainian Front, under General Petrov. Notorious collaborators and German citizens as well as the Volksdeutsche fled weeks earlier. Most Ukrainian policemen joined the Bandera forces.
The surviving 45 Jews, including 2 children, started to leave their hideouts. The horrible Nazi rule was over.
Most of the survivors settled in an ex-Jewish house on Szewska Street for security reasons.
Indeed, the bands of Ukrainian nationalists still presented danger. It was 1954 before they were finally suppressed. Later, many started various occupations in enterprises restored by the Soviets with great energy. Most finally left for Poland in 1945, during population exchanges between the U.S.S.R. and Poland. Five to seven Jews remained. Later they were joined by several people who returned from Russia and by Soviet Jews. One of them fell in combat while in service within the Extermination Battalions, a unit created by the Soviets to fight the Ukrainian nationalists.
The Russians converted the Great Synagogue into a military store. Nothing was done by the authorities to honor the memory of the victims. The mass graves remained deserted and neglected.
After some years the grave at Taniawa was properly arranged and a commemorative plaque was affixed citing Soviet citizens according to then Soviet policy. In 2003 the grave was in a bad state again and the plaque had vanished.
Jewish Bolechow completely disappeared.
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