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[Pages 135 - 139]

I Saw the Destruction of Our Shtetl

brz135a.jpg -   Dr. S. Warhaft

by Dr. S. Warhaft

Recollections Of The Ghetto Doctor

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

The outbreak of the Second World War found Brzezin, along with all the rest of Poland, unprepared. The town was already bombed from the air in the first days of September, 1939. There were many victims among the Jewish population. We lived in fear and worry – what will happen when the Germans occupy the town? Many men left town, mostly the young. A number of them returned after a time; a number of them succeeded in escaping to Russia.

At that time I was at the front as a Polish reserve officer. On the fourteenth of October,[1] I returned to Brzezin. The town was occupied by the Germans. The local Germans, who now felt like the “chosen people,” were helping them. Already the situation for the Jews was difficult – Jewish stores were closed; on them was the inscription “Jude” [Jew], and no one would sell any food to Jews. Jews could only appear in the streets from six in the morning until five in the evening.

On the streets, Jews were beaten and insulted. They were grabbed on the streets and in their homes for forced labor. The local Germans helped the German soldiers ransack Jewish homes, where they stole everything possible.

The merchandise of magaziners [owners of clothing enterprises] was confiscated by the gendarmes and shipped off to special camps. Jewish working families, who never had to worry before about making a satisfactory living, had not earned a grosz [coin worth 100th of a zloty] during the last two months. Hunger began to appear in the homes. All Jewish social institutions were shut down. From the Jewish kehile [community], only the chairman, Icek Dymant, and the secretary, Abraham Szafman, remained. Their task then was to supply Jewish workers daily to the Germans; often they were beaten and insulted for not providing the required number of workers. Immediately, the command went out that Jews must wear the Yudn-late (yellow Star of David).

On the fifth of October, I was arrested as a Polish reserve officer. Thanks to my former German patients, I was freed. At that time we came together secretly at Icek Dymant's – Jakob Zagon, “Jasza,” the dentist Ehrlicht, and I. We evaluated the situation and came to the conclusion that at that time we must create a people's kitchen as quickly as possible and that the workers supplied by the kehile every day must be paid.

But where could we get the means to make it happen, since the community chest was empty? We then decided to carry out a voluntary collection of monetary resources among the population, and anyone who wanted to free himself from work duty would have to pay for a substitute worker – the sick and elderly were completely exempt.

Jaszka Zagon had, however, another way to generate money. The magaziners goods lay confiscated in a special camp – and the Germans demanded workers to sort them out. Jasza got a special group of workers who had that assignment to smuggle out new suits of clothing, coats etc. every day or twice a day, by wearing them on their bodies. The clothes were stored and then sold. Lajzer Zagon, Jehoszua Zagon, Mordcha Szufleder, and others belonged to this group. This brought us a very nice sum of money – morally we felt this sort of dealing was appropriate.

 

brz135b.jpg -   Assembly in memory of the Brzeziner martyrs
Assembly in memory of the Brzeziner martyrs
Dr. Warhaft, the doctor in the Brzeziner ghetto, is the speaker

 

In the first days of November, rumors spread that the Germans would carry out arrests among the Polish people, since their [the Poles'] holiday fell on the eleventh of November [World War I Armistice Day, which had finalized the defeat of Germany]. On the ninth of November, German soldiers actually appeared in the street with local Germans in attendance. They arrested many Poles, but they didn't forget the Jews.

The Brzeziner rabbi, Harov [town rabbi] Borensztajn, Dr. Klajnhaus, Dr. Ehrlicht, attorney Drucker, attorney Jakubowicz, and others were arrested. I also expected them to come after me at any moment. One of my former patients appeared and told me that I could rest easy. They would not arrest me. Those arrested were held on the premises of the Bajka movie theater, where they were tortured and beaten.

 

brz136a.jpg -   A group of surviving Brzeziner remnants in Stuttgart
A group of surviving Brzeziner remnants in Stuttgart
Some of them are now in America

 

On the evening of November ninth, the Germans set fire to the synagogue. A notice in the German Lodz newspaper stated that the Jews and their rabbi set fire to their synagogue. “The provocateurs were arrested.” In a few days those arrested were taken to Lodz; they were held several months in special camps. Later they were sent to other towns. They were not allowed to return home (some did come back later).

At that time, the Germans divided occupied Poland into two parts: 1) Warthegau and 2) General Gouvernement. Warthegau was annexed directly to Germany [including Lodz and Brzeziny]. Many towns got German names: Lodz – Litzmannstadt, Brzeziny – Lowenstadt near Rogow. At that time the border between the two lands was located in Kolacin, with a customs office and a border guard.

On the twentieth of November, a section of the Gestapo came to Brzezin, and in a matter of a few minutes, I had to vacate my residence for them. I got a room at my wife's grandmother's. The Gestapo chief announced that only the Gestapo had the right to handle all Jewish questions. They asked the kehile to supply workers to serve them and demanded various other things. Among the workers that the kehile sent was Fiszka Ikka. Over time, through various tricks, he managed to become the only important Jew to the Gestapo.

Later, the Germans decided that in Warthegau the towns must become Judenrein [free of Jews]. The Brzeziner Germans also adopted the same decision. On a cold winter day at the end of December 1939, they chased the residents of Court Street [ul. Staszica] out of their homes; the Gestapo permitted the Jews to take with them only a little clothing, and the residences were sealed. The keys were given to the gendarmes.

I turned to the mayor (a German Brzeziner manufacturer) with a request that he stop the deportation. He said he would hold off the deportation for two days until I came back from Lodz with an answer from the authorities. A delegation traveled to Lodz – Icek Dymant, Chajkel Grynszpan, and I. There was a terrible frost. We traveled to Lodz by wagon – Jews were not allowed on the bus. With heavy hearts we went to beg mercy from the Nazi beasts in Lodz. A few steps from the entrance to the German Kreischef [district head], my companions, Dymant and Grynszpan, were grabbed to be laborers; I got out of it, thanks to my insignia that I was a doctor on an assignment.

 

brz136b.jpg -   A group of friends
A group of friends – landsleyt [fellow Brzeziners]
the majority of them were tortured in various camps in France and Germany

 


  1. This date must be the fourth rather than the fourteenth, as Warhaft was already in Brzeziny by October fifth, when he was arrested. Return

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