by Avraham Danziger (Israel)
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
The German occupation in Gostynin was a terrible one. The purpose of the Nazis was to take from the Jews everything they had their property and their life. They did that, as always, in a very organized manner: in order to rob their property they allowed the victims to live for a while. Cheating and misleading, they promised every time that the demands they issued this time will be the last, and that as soon as the Jews would obey they will not have to endure new decrees. The Jews believed them, because deep in their hearts they hoped that wickedness and evil must fail, that cruelty must be defeated and that a day will come when the power of justice will win. They hoped that if only they survived the difficult times, better times must and will come. Most importantly to survive.
But the Germans had other plans. Their intention was not only to take all that the Jews had; their aim was to take even what they did not have. The contributions that the Germans demanded day after day left the Jews empty of all their possessions. When the Judenrat returned to the Germans with the reply that the ghetto was not able to meet the demands, they sent a delegation from the Gostynin ghetto to Warsaw, to find the means to cover the payments.
A delegation of the Judenrat, accompanied by policemen, went to Warsaw. Members of the delegation were Motel Tzavier, Asher Zweibom, Yakov Zhichlinski, Israel-Meir Russak and Avraham Danziger. The delegation returned with a sum of one thousand Marks.
This sum was immediately taken by the Germans, of course. But even this did not help the Gostynin Jews. In a very short time, Gostynin has become Judenrein
by M. Brustovski (Israel)
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
On a Friday in August 1941, the Germans issued an order that all the Jews report to the transport to be sent to the labor camp. No one arrived, however, since nobody would volunteer to such a project. So the German soldiers began to seize the Jews from the streets, allegedly to take them to work in town, but, instead, all were taken to the church on Kutner Street. Since the number of people did not match the needs and expectations of the Germans, they entered the Ghetto and began calling the Jews and seizing all those who came out. A great panic fell upon the ghetto and people began to run to the hiding places. I fled, with a group of Jews, to the nearby forest, to the pitch-makers. When night came we walked back to the ghetto, from the other side, through the road where the families Alberstein and Librak had once lived. When I arrived home, the Sabbath had already begun. The candles on the table were lit, but the entire house was weeping my brother Yechiel-Baruch has been taken to the transport. As soon as I reached home my parents hid me in a little secret room we had in our courtyard.
Next day, all the captured Jews were loaded on trucks and driven alongside the ghetto. The Jews inside the ghetto, seeing the sad picture, burst into bitter tears; they cried for their husbands and
their grown sons who knows where they were being taken and what their fate would be They cried for themselves as well the livelihood earners and the food providers have been taken away. To this day the desperate words of my dear mother resound in my ears: Who knows if I will ever see you again in my life? Unfortunately, to our great sorrow, her words became true her heart sensed the danger.
After the trucks departed, the ghetto calmed down and became silent; people began to emerge from their hiding places, hoping that the Germans will leave them alone. But all felt fear in their hearts and concern for those who had been sent away.
Photograph: The body of Yitzhak Kreitzer, who was murdered by the Nazis in Gostynin in 1943, brought to Kever Israel (Jewish burial) in Israel
From right to left: Avraham Hersh Motil, his wife, Leibik Motil, Danziger, Ide Motil, Djiganski, Leibish Bagna, Moshe Goldman, Ribek Motil.
Soon letters began to arrive from the workers, telling us that they were in the labor camp in Posen. They were working at laying water pipes for the Continental company. The feeling in the ghetto improved a little, as the families realized that their dear ones were in a known place, and alive. In the letters they described their journey: From Gostynin they went to Wloclawek, there they were taken to a public bath to wash up they must be sparkling clean to be fit to serve the master-nation. From there they continued the journey by train.
We tried to make peace with our fate. For us, locked up in the ghetto, one day seemed like a year. Time seemed always longer than it was in reality. And then the German murderers reminded us that they needed new victims.
The scenario repeated itself. Again they demanded a certain number of men for work and I was among the men, too. This time they asked for women as well. It was clear that the same fate awaited us, as the first transport. We were divided into two groups first the men were taken through the gates of the ghetto, then the women. When the women realized that they were to be part of the transport as well, they began fleeing in all directions, until not one of them remained.
The men were much better guarded by soldiers, on all sides. As with the previous transport, we were taken to the church and we waited there for about two hours, then we were loaded on trucks. While we waited, our families brought us packages with clothes and some food.
The journey from Gostynin to Wroclawek was not easy. Some of the Jews jumped off the trucks
and disappeared in the forest, among them was Yitzhak Kreitzer. It was already night when we arrived at the camp in Emzey. We met the Jews of the first transport when they returned from work. I saw my brother we met in total silence. Neither of us uttered a word, as if we were made of stone. One of the veterans in camp approached and helped us familiarize ourselves with the routine of the camp.
We went to sleep on hard wooden boards. Before we could fall asleep after the day's many experiences, we were already awakened by the guards. The first day we were not sent to work; instead, the managers of the firm, together with the well-known sadist Hugo Brasch, came to register us. Our surnames were entirely ignored they did not exist; we were given numbers and we were registered as 1, 2, 3 etc. One of the clerks who wrote down the details said: people have names, all of you we will have to remember by your numbers you are not people
We felt beaten and depressed, and in this mood we were sent to prepare the working tools. We were 50 men from Gostynin and our job was to lay water pipes between Goflo and Inowroclaw, a distance of 15 kilometers.
First we dug ditches 60 centimeters deep; some of us were not physically strong enough for this labor, and the stronger among us helped to finish the assigned task. Our food was 300 grams of bread a day and one liter soup boiled water with unpeeled potatoes. In the evening we returned from work frozen and broken. Not to go to work was a severe crime. Even the sick, with high fever, were forced to leave the camp and go to work. Many men died at the workplace.
At the end of the working day we were tired out, bleeding and full of mud. Washing up was out of the question there was no water for that. Our clothes were torn. We were miserable and we longed for a letter from home, in which we hoped to find some comfort. But life in Gostynin was not much better they had sent the women to another camp.
The situation became worse, when, one day a Nazi committee appeared in camp. Their task was to register and control the number of the healthy and the sick workers. Some of us were so naïve, that they imagined that the sick will be sent back to Gostynin, to recover! The truth was, however, that all the sick workers were sent to the punishment camp Blanje and there they were shot. When this sad news reached us, we began to considering a plan to escape from camp, at any price.
by Shmulik Ben-Tzion Matil (Israel)
Translated by Pamela Russ
Shabbath Shuva [the Shabbath between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur] of the year 1939, is a tragic date on the calendar for Gostynin Jews. On that fearful day, hordes of German occupiers marched into the town, captured Gostynin, and all at once Jewish life was shaken up. What happened to the diversified Jewry of Gostynin? All differences among the youth disappeared. Vehement party conflicts [with each other] quietened and were extinguished. In one swoop, the catastrophe hit every single Jew. Daily Jewish life in Gostynin became a slave life. The human being lost his own image of God. Often, one neighbor betrayed another. One brother snatched away a piece of bread from the other in order to save himself, and later he shared the same fate as the martyr.
Nonetheless, at the beginning of this difficult period, life went on with its old, established rhythm. It seems that in Gostynin the conditions were much easier, because tens of refugees came into the city from other cities hoping to live out the rest of the difficult war years here. And they thought that despite all of the blows of war, they would be able to survive. Then my father died, on the 25th day of the month of Adar [March], in his own bed, and was taken for burial. It did not occur to anyone to do anything other than to carry out the time-established, traditional burial. In the course of
an entire year, they prayed in our house. [This is the traditional mourning period for the loss of a parent.] Of course, there was someone always standing in front of our house to watch out for any oncoming Nazis.
The Gostynin youth felt that along with everything else, the Nazis were preparing for gruesome murder. They couldn't figure out all the details of the murderous plan. There were no newspapers, no radio. But instinctively, they drew back with distrust from every German visit and from each German as well. The youth got together very often. Many times, they would also get together with the Polish radical circles who were considering resistance.
At the same time, Yitzkhok Zukerman (Antek) came to Gostynin several times as a representative of Hechalutz Hatzair [the Young Pioneers youth group that trained for Aliyah, or moving to Israel, then Palestine], and I was even with him at several meetings. It could be that the quiet meetings and preparations that went on in Gostynin and nowhere else lit the spark for revolt that later flamed up in the Koniner camp that was guarded by the SS men. There, in the Koniner camp, our brave children from Gostynin and Gombyn demonstrated heroism. With a shiver of holiness and awe, I remember the names of Avrohom Zajf, of Filip, of Avrohom Tabacznik, of Getzel Klajnut and Komlozh, may their blood be avenged. These few Gostyniner Jews organized the resistance and set the SS camp aflame.
The bloody nightmare of that experience will follow me all my life. The Gestapo received the alarm of the fiery chaos. After the firemen put out the fire, we miraculously remained alive and were surrounded by a tight guard. The Germans ordered us to collect all the dead, burned, and hanged bodies from the camp and I and another elderly Jew from Gombyn were ordered to search the bodies (that was the first time in my life that I was involved with a dead body). As it happened, the first body was of a childhood friend, Shlomo Mikholski; my
brother released him from the rope, hiding the rope for himself to hang himself. It was this type of suicidal mentality that held onto us on that day. It became evident that we had taken the rope off him too soon because he was still alive. An SS man then shot a bullet into his eye. Now I approached the dead body, and odd despite all this, that he had been hanged, then shot, and even though he had always been a frail young boy, to my great fear and shock, he opened his other eye and recognized me I could not tolerate this pain. I went to the Gestapo man and pleaded with him to shoot me. As always, he would not fulfil my request.
Again, I remained alive
The bloody ghost of those terrible days in the Koniner camp still follows me everywhere, like a shadow. Wherever I go, wherever I turn.
After two years of a tortured life in the Gostynin ghetto, they sent us out, 850 able-bodied men, from the Gostynin province to the camp in Konin, where we arrived on March 15, 1942.
The Gestapo was already waiting for us at the train station in Konin. And very soon, they let us feel their brutality. They welcomed us with murderous beatings. The camp was not yet completely finished. There was no water, and we slept on the ground. In the first two days, they gave us nothing to eat. Since we were on the building site the first day, we already saw our tragic future. We had to build a railway line. Jendeczki, the chief of the East German firm, showed us how to do the work. He said how many persons should carry a rail, and each person could hardly take a step. And if someone fell on the way, then this person no longer got up as a whole person
The SS men took care of that. Every day, the dead and wounded fell from these beatings.
On the third day, another 150 Jews arrived from the Jaksyczer camp. We were now about 1,000 men. In a few weeks' time, more Jews arrived from Podzhebycz. The Gestapo received an official order to murder Jews. Winter time, in the frost, we were ordered to undress and stand for hours outside. Our food consisted in the mornings of 250 grams of black bread with black, bitter coffee. At eight o'clock at night, lunch was given out, a little bit of hot water with turnips nothing else.
Understandably, such nourishment had its price on our health. People dropped from hunger. Everyone's feet were swollen. The nurses were not able to help us. But the Gestapo came up with an idea for us. The Sonderkomando [a group composed almost entirely of Jews who were forced, on threat of their own deaths, to assist with the disposal of gas chamber victims] was a frequent visitor to us. Whoever remained lying sick in the camps was soon transported to Chelmno an extermination camp, where tens of thousands of Jews from the Kuyawer and surrounding areas died sanctifying the Name of God. Many of them tried to escape but the majority of them were captured. The Jew had no value. For trivialities, the guilty person was immediately hanged.
The food became worse and worse. In winter, people froze to death in the barracks. Within 14 months, only 60 Jews were left in the camp. Earlier, 150 men were sent from here to a camp near Lodz. The 60 remaining Jews now fared much better. It was at that time that we heard news about the crematoria in Auschwitz. From the Polish train workers we also found out about the Warsaw ghetto uprising. That heroic act of Jewish courage completely strengthened us.
August 7, 1943, once again the Gestapo tax was put onto us and we quickly understood that once again
there would be a selection [selektzia]. We knew very well what this meant: It meant tortures once again, suffering and death. We all decided that we would not allow ourselves to be led like sheep to the slaughter, and as a last resort, when it would be clear to us that the end was near, and that we would have to die in sanctity of God's name, that along with us the camp should be burned down at the same time.
The resistance broke out on August 9. Tobaczinski and Klajnut from Gostynin, and Komlozh from Gombyn were the first to set the workshops on fire with coals and then they hanged themselves in the burning fire. In the main barrack, after that, Zajf from Gostynin and Filip from Gombyn also hanged themselves. Nisinowycz and Shlomo Mikholski from Gostynin, and Dr. Kropf, a Jew from Germany, took the same fate upon themselves.
This tragic event made a huge impact on the city. We, those who by chanced remained alive, stood before our heroes with heads bowed. These heroes did not allow the name Jew to be shamed. After two weeks of pain and suffering, the rest of those who were still alive were sent to Auschwitz.
The document is located at the Archives of Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot in the State of Israel
Below is a facsimile of part of the document ed.
by Avraham Seiff
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
The document below is the last will of Avraham Seiff, may God avenge his blood. Avraham Seiff was in his youth a student at the Gostynin Gymnasium (High School) and later married a Gostynin girl. For a time he lived in Danzig, where he was involved in extensive Zionist activity.
With the outbreak of the war, Avraham Seiff relocated with his family to Gostynin; his activity in the Gostynin ghetto is described in three articles in the Pinkas. He was deported by the Germans to the forced labor camp in Konin. He was praised, in the Pinkas, for his outstanding devotion to his fellow workers in the camp.
Avraham Seiff wrote his Last will, reprinted here, one day before the uprising in the camp. He gave the document to a Polish man who worked there, and after the war it was sent to his sister-in-law in Eretz Israel.
Konin, 12 August 1943
My last wish:
I request to inform the following persons: 1. My brother Azriel Seiff, high-school teacher in Tel Aviv, 2. My sister Miriam (Marila), the wife of Heinrich Bloch in Jerusalem, 3. My sister-in-law Dr. Tzelina Stadter, nee Matil, dentist in Haifa.
My very dear ones,
I would like you to know how my family and I perished:
On the 9th of March 1942, I was torn out of my home and sent off to this labor camp together with other Gostynin Jews. More than half were tormented to death during the hard work; many were shot for taking a few potatoes, or for other such crimes.
On the night between 16-17 April, my dear wife Minia and my 4 year old Ilana Naomi and my mother-in-law Salia Matil, together with the entire Jewish population of Gostynin were sent to their deaths. We know only that they were taken first to Krasniewic and from there, we assume, they were driven to Chlemno to the slaughter.
I never heard from them again. My dear little children Immanuel and Shulamit escaped from Gostynin and managed to arrive to David and Rivka in Warsaw. My father-in-law Note Matil was in Warsaw as well. He died 4 November 1941.
By the end of July 1942, the tragedy began in Warsaw. On 6 August 1942 Rivka was captured and sent to her death. David was seized on 19 January 1943. However he managed to escape and after three days returned to the ghetto in Warsaw. Then, hoping to save my children, he gave them to a Polish family, and they lived with them until July 1943. In March 1943, David left the ghetto and lived in several hiding places. His last letter was from May. In it he described to me in detail our brothers' heroic battle in the Warsaw ghetto. The ghetto fell on Pesach (Passover) 1943.
On 14 July 1943 I suddenly received news from my children, that they were in a hotel in Warsaw together with some foreigners and they were hoping to leave soon for Eretz Israel. With them were also Binem Matil with his wife and Tasha Bressler. On 17 July I received the last postcard from my dear daughter Shulamit (Zulia). It was from Frankfurt am Oder and she wrote that she will be going to Berlin. She was separated from her brother, my son. She wrote that
Imanuel will probably go with the next transport. Since then I had no news from them. Who knows whether they are alive. If they ever read these words, I would like them to know that until my last moment I have lived only for them.
Here in camp, from 687 men we remained only 60. Our fate is sealed. Tomorrow morning, the Gestapo people will come to lead us to our deaths.
We have decided, however, not to sell our lives cheap. We shall burn everything and commit suicide.
Earth, do not cover our blood!
by the Esteemed Rabbi Yehoshua Moshe Aronson (Israel)
Translated by Pamela Russ
In November 1941, Yisochor Cohen's son from Gostynin came to me in the Szenic ghetto. He was a religious young man, very competent. He conducted trade among the various ghettos, going without permission, without the yellow patch, and without the Jewish star. Because of these frequent travels, he had first-hand information about all the laws in the Reich and in the protectorate. From him I learned about everything that was going on in the other ghettos.
With great discretion, he told me that in Chelmno, near Kohl (in German Kulmhof, and in Polish Kolo), the Germans had set up a huge slaughter-house that they disguised as a bathhouse. Since the eve of Yom Kippur, 1940 he said Jewish souls were being murdered in large numbers in a brutal manner. He listed tens of communities that had already been killed there. Each ghetto received an order a few weeks in advance to pay two or four Marks as a head tax, that is to say for injections; in this manner this money would certainly cover the expenses of extermination operations in that specific ghetto.
It happened often that Chelmno was overcrowded, so the victims would be locked up for a few days in the Kolo Beis Medrash [House of Study]. Until their turn would come.
Cohen also told me that even before the Chelmno period, the Germans murdered many Jews in the Karzhmerske woods.
All this information, understandably, made a terrifying impact. But in some places, there was even a doubt: Can this really be true?
In the middle of January 1942, the veracity of all this news was confirmed .
and the phrase: Where are the transports being sent? became familiar and real.
A certain Jew from Kolo, Mikhel Podkhlebnik, who until the outbreak of the war lived in Bugoj, a village in the Kolo circle, delivered the following news:
On January 9, 1942, the Gestapo arrived in Bugoj, and demanded 15 strong men to work for a few days. Podkhlebnik was taken along with this group. They also took 15 men from Izbica-Kujawska. The following day they were taken by car to Chelmno, a large court between Kohl and Dombje. There they threw the 30 men into a cellar. This took place on the day of Shabbath.Podkhlebnik continued: From time to time, we heard the noise of an oncoming car. The Gestapo welcomed the arrival with wild screams: 'Faster, louse! Faster!' We heard the steps of bare feet and soon thereafter, cries to the heavens: 'Shema Yisroel!' wretched, breathless, wild voices. This horrifying scene would continue for about ten minutes, and then a deathly silence would settle all around.
On the walls of the cellar, they noticed all kinds of writing, such as: 'Jews! Be aware that no one comes out of here alive!' and so on. They immediately understood that they were now in hell. Later they overheard that in another cellar there was another group of Jews also locked in. They made contact with them through the walls. From these contacts they learned exactly what was going on there. It was quiet all day Sunday. The following day, Monday morning, 20 of those men were removed. The other ten remained in the cellar. He, Podkhlebnik, was among these remaining ten in the cellar.
Each time after the screaming chaos, the Sonderkomando from the Gestapo would come to us and bring us up from the cellar with a wild rush, and we would see a shocking sight before our eyes:[Page 313]
In a large room all kinds of clothing was thrown around. Men's clothing, women's and children's, under garments and outer wear. The Gestapo would order us to carry over everything into a nearby larger room. There we found countless heaps of clothing, garments, shoes, and so on. Everything was mixed together. When we finished our job of emptying the first room and wiping away all the traces, they sent us back to the cellar. This is what went on several times a day.The next day, Tuesday, the others remained in the cellar and Podkhlebnik was taken into a truck by the Gestapo, under heavy guard. After driving for about ten minutes out of Chelmno, the truck stopped in the nearby woods. Large ditches were dug out there, slanted deep, wide at the top, and narrow at the bottom. Approximately every half hour, the truck came with the victims. A Sonderkomando was already waiting for the truck, and the cellar Jews immediately opened the doors of the truck, from which a light, black smoke came out. When the truck had aired out, they took out the still warm, naked bodies of the fresh victims. They spread out the bodies on the ground. The Gestapo men went around with pliers in hand and walked around among the dead rows of the newly suffocated. They thoroughly searched through each body and took whatever they found. They also ripped the teeth out of the mouths of the martyrs' bodies. After this deplorable procedure and brutal theft, a second group of the cellar Jews arrived and threw the bodies into the ditch. A third group of Jews was already standing there, that covered up the corpses.
Meanwhile, the truck went back to Chelmno to bring fresh bodies. This went on all day. In the evening, they covered up the ditch with a thin layer of earth, and the cellar Jews were taken back to their Chelmno cellars.
April 7, 1942, the Jews were evacuated to Chelmno
from Gostynin and from Gombyn. On April 18, that same year, the Jews from Szanik were also taken there.
The above events I described in my diary in 1942, when I was in the Koniner camp.
I would like to describe another episode from this bloody history of those tragic times:
At the end of 1941, when the Jews from our area were still in their towns, we found out that in Bendzin-Sosnowicz there was a Judeneltster [Elder of the Jews], Munik Merin, and he was in charge of the ghettos from eastern Upper Silesia. News reached us that this very Merin received an extraordinary letter from Himmler himself, and was highly regarded by the Germans.
It occurred to us that we should go to Munik Merin and tell him about the horrifying events in Chelmno, and maybe he would be willing to help us. A delegate left for Sosnowicz under the supervision of Avrohom Zajf from Danzig, who recently, as a son-in-law of a Gostyniner, lived in Gostynin. After great difficulty, the delegation arrived in Zaglembie and met with Merin, telling him that thousands of Jews were being murdered in Chelmno. Merin declared that he knew nothing about this. He did know that in Auschwitz, criminals were being murdered. He did not speak too much with the Gostyniner representatives. He directed them to his secretary who called a council meeting together to hear about the story of Chelmno.
The delegation was very upset by their visit to Sosnowicz. Merin gave the impression of being a Gestapo man. He suggested they organize workshops and warehouses for the German military to make themselves useful for the German war machine, and in that way be able to save themselves.
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