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[Page 411]

With Kałuszyn Landslayt in the Warsaw Ghetto[1]

By Sholem Kamienny / New-York

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

In 1939, since the invasion of the Germans we, a group of Kałuszyn natives now residing in Warsaw, used to get together to maintain old friendships and to discuss the situation of the Jews of Poland and to share news of our hometown.

Our meeting place was at Mila 22. Alter Tcheladnitzky, Mayer Shtulman, Dovid Grushka, Avrohom Kamienny, Moyshe Goldberg and others used to come there. The topics revolved around the newly emerged situation and the prospects for the future. Alter believed that things will normalise and that no harm will come to Jews, other than being treated as second-class citizens. Mayer Shtulman was more pessimistic: Jews would be sent for (forced) labour outside the towns. From Moyshe Goldberg too, one could hear a note of optimism – things would stabilise, but it would be necessary to put up a fight for Jewish concerns.

All that took place during the first days of German rule. Soon however, began restrictions and harassment: a decree to wear badges of shame, a proscription to frequent parks and gardens, a prohibition from buying in non-Jewish shops. They started beating up Jews in the streets and grabbing people for forced labour.

However, even in this situation, we tried to continue our meetings and made contact with other former Kałuszyn natives residing in Warsaw: Kalman Shtaynhartz, the brothers Avrohom and Yudl Kramarz and Velvl Zhondjinski, who then had his shop at Nowolipki 7.

Thus, we maintained contact until Rosh-Hashana (Jewish New Year) of 1940, when the Warsaw ghetto was closed in. Until then we were all more or less economically established. After the ghetto closure, our meetings became less frequent, but when the deportations began, we started to meet again more often. In trouble, one landsman was seeking out another...

On a Friday in 1941 I became aware that the Warsaw municipality was requested to prepare a mass grave for a few hundred corpses. That night I spent in the cellar at Yankl Nayman's together with Shloyme Dembovitch, and in the morning we heard that SS-men[2] have at night shot all the activists of the underground movement. Yankev Kuperboym told me that Moyshe Goldberg was among those shot, that the bodies of Moyshe and his wife were still not removed from the Karmelicka Street. As Yankev related, Moyshe's wife begged the SS-men a permission to go with her husband when they came to pick him up. They allowed, and shot them both.

*

Autumn 1941 came to my apartment at Nalewki 43 Hertzke Kuperboym with his family and related that many Jews were escaping from Kałuszyn following the decree setting up a ghetto in the shtetl [3]. I forthwith got in touch with my brother Matis Kamienny and asked him whether he too, like other landslayt intends to move to Warsaw. His reply was that he stays put – he does not want to part with Kałuszyn.

Hertzke returned to Kałuszyn, but many of our townspeople began arriving in Warsaw due to the abovementioned decree. From the words and appearance of those I met, I was able to form an accurate picture of what went on in our hometown.

Arye Ptak, the pshystavtsa [4] walked around looking frightfully skeletal, as if he'd escaped from the morgue. I met him on the Nalewki Street. He told me that Kałuszyn is in the grip of a great panic, there is hunger and epidemics. No better was the appearance of the leading member of the Mizrachi[5], Netl Bronshpigl. He and Arye Ptak staggered about like beggars in constant worry about the next meal... In similar condition I found Shmul Chaim Levy (the medic), who in the past cared with devotion for the needy sick Kałuszyn Jews. Shmul Chaim died from a heart attack and I accompanied him on his final journey to the Warsaw Jewish cemetery.

At that time too I saw the Kałuszyn natives that remained in Warsaw: Chava Mitlberg, Moyshe Zylberman, Yankl Kuperboym and his wife; and Yeshaya Shapiro, who then resided with his wife and child in an attic in Leszno Street.

*

On the Ninth of Av[6] 1942 appeared announcements in German that all Jewish residents of Warsaw must move to the East for work; that only those who will be employed in the factories of the Wehrmacht[7] as well as the Jewish police will be allowed to remain. Already the next morning the patients were moved from the Jewish hospitals to an unknown destination. The first evacuation (from the hospitals) was made by Jewish policemen.

The situation worsened each day. Jews failed to report to the assembly points and the task was taken over by Germans and Lithuanians. The arrangement was as follows: Jewish policemen used to call from the courtyard for the residents to come out of their apartments and to report voluntarily to be sent to work; afterwards, the Germans and Lithuanians used to go from dwelling to dwelling making sure that nobody stayed behind.

In view of the chance to remain in Warsaw by working for the Wehrmacht, entrepreneurs started up factories to employ Jews (who wanted to avoid resettlement to the East). Some Kałuszyn Jews also displayed initiative in this area.

In Elul 1942, Yankele Nayman (who resided at Nalewki 43) set up a workshop to produce flypaper in order to employ Jews. The following Kałuszyn landslayt worked there: Mayer Dobrer (Hershman), Sholem Kamienny, Alter Moyshe Skovronek, Shloyme Dembovitch, Yisroel Yavorski, Itche Pshenny and his wife, Avrohom mayer Puterman, Yankele Nayman's father and Yosef Sapirshtayn (“long Yosef”). The latter and Itche Pshenny planned (and invited me to join them) to set up a (wood) turner shop.

All the above received from Nayman certificates, showing that they were employed in the flypaper factory, certificates sealed with a swastika. Every day Nayman would rush off to the employment office to obtain more certificates for Kałuszyn landslayt. In reality, the factory did not exist.

Meanwhile, the German Aktions[8] expanded: every day 8000 people (were taken). The factories that did exist were liquidated. These workshops served as collection points for deportation.

On a certain day, when Nayman returned from his trip to the employment office he did not find his wife and child at home – they were already taken away.

That was a sign of what was awaiting us all, and we - the Kałuszyn landslayt of the make-believe Nayman factory - conferred on what to do next. There was no option other than to look for a hiding place.

I found one in the courtyard near the Nayman factory, in an attic of a synagogue. We used to hide there during each Aktion. Once a Jewish policeman noticed us there, and when during an Aktion he came into our hiding place, we locked him in together with us, (he agreed to this for a considerable sum of money). After the raid, we let him out.

Next, Yankl Nayman was captured on his way to the employment office. That was the end of the Kałuszyn “Nayman-group” and Mayer Dobrer, Shloyme Dembovitch and Avrohom Mayer Puterman too were lost.

One day came to me my brother Avrohom Kamienny and told me that he and Dovid Grushka with his wife and children intend to go by voluntarily to the Umschlagplatz [9], since whoever goes of his own volition receives two kg of bread and a kg of marmalade. They went - and were not heard from since...

Yosl Dovid Obronczka and his two sons set up a toothbrush factory for the Wehrmacht and the survivors of the Nayman group were clinging to the new Kałuszyn lifeline in Warsaw. However, this enterprise too existed only a few days and disappeared like the others.

*

During the Days of Awe[10] in autumn of 1942 groups were formed which worked outside the ghetto under German supervision. I joined such a group and was thus able to renew liaison with Kałuszyn Jews in Warsaw.

Going to work outside the ghetto enabled one to smuggle some foodstuffs for the family and to contact Poles. Polish boys and girls used to bring bread for sale and with their help, one could also find addresses of Christian acquaintances.

Once, when we marched in military formation to work on Leszno-¯elazna, a Christian followed the group on the sidewalk. On reaching the worksite, he asked me how he could help. The following day I brought my little son. He spent seven days in the Christian's home, but he cried all the time fearing that his mother was dead. We - that is, his mother and I -decided to return the child into the ghetto.

On the way back towards our apartment at Nalwki 43, we encountered an Aktion and could not enter the courtyard. My four-year-old son then asked: “Dad, why did you have me – so that the Germans could kill me?”

Although we took back the child, I continued to maintain contact with the Christian. I sent with him a letter to my brother Matis in Kałuszyn inquiring about the situation in shtetl. The answer was that half the Jews were already taken away. After that, I had no more news of my brother.

I met Kalman Shtaynhartz, who wanted my advice. I told him about the Christian and with the latter's help Kalman sent his wife and child to Kałuszyn. He believed that there they could save themselves. He, however, remained and so too did Zelda Rozenfeld and her sister Toba.

I went with Kalman to a Jewish home in Muranowska Street where there was still a telephone and we tried to get a connection to our hometown, but from Kałuszyn there was no answer anymore...

At work, I found out that some landslayt were being hidden by Poles on the Aryan side [11] in Warsaw. One day Melech Kishelnitzky and Shloyme Piasetzky came to my place of work and asked for my help to get into the ghetto because of the bad conditions and the chicanery of the Gentiles that were hiding them. The two of them indeed went inside.

*

I was saved by a Christian, Szczepański - a Polish army officer. When he returned to Warsaw after the German invasion, I did him a favour and provided him with civilian clothing from my shop. His wife found me when she came once to my workplace to buy up Jews' clothing and bed linen. Szczepański's dwelling was at 10 Marianski Street, in an apartment previously occupied by Jews. It was there that I was hiding with my wife and child.

This was in December 1942, when 85 thousand Jews were still living in Warsaw. I used to go in and out of the ghetto to transfer things from our home in Nalewki Street. On 13th of December I went in to take some things for my wife and child to the Aryan side, and when two days later I wanted to get out, a Jew ran by warning me that the entire ghetto was surrounded. This particular Aktion then lasted three days. I again hid in the synagogue attic and got out the third night. The ghetto was still under siege and a Jew offered, for a sum of money to take me to the Aryan side.

I paid the asked price and as was arranged I waited about midnight in a court at the corner of Nalewki and Miła Streets. The man arrived on time together with a young companion. They took me out into the street, opened the cover of the sewer and we went down, with him behind us with a revolver in his hand. We walked through the stinking sewer, now and then catching our breath at intersections. At a certain point we stopped at a signal from the street above. We again opened the cover and went up. There a Gentile was waiting for us – on Bonifratów Square. He led us all to his dwelling, gave us food and drink (me, after three days of hunger and thirst). The Jew took some food parcels and went back to bring out others (from the ghetto).

We spent the night in the apartment and at dawn, about five o'clock I took the first tram towards ¯elazna Brama (Iron Gate), to my wife and child.

About two days later, we heard that the Aktion was suspended and people will again be taken to work outside the ghetto. I went again inside in order to get from my apartment a doona for the child since the weather was very cold then.

Following the Aktion the ghetto was even more wretched and desolated. One passed between the buildings through ruins and holes in the ground. During one of my walks amid the ruins at 17 Bonifraterska Street, I bumped into Alter Tcheladnitzky. “What are you doing here, Alter?” – I asked him. His reply was: “My wife and daughter are no more, and I too, am also dying, it's only a question of time...” I said: “Maybe I can save myself after all”. How, and with whose help - you would not dare then to divulge to your own brother...

That was my last venture into the ghetto. Thereafter, I remained on the Aryan side together with my wife and child.

As I have mentioned before, the dwelling of the Pole that was hiding us, had previously been the abode of a Jew. The latter used to be an amateur photographer and next to his bathroom was a small workroom. On my suggestion, our Christian landlady bought a hairdresser's mirrored closet, which we used to cover the entrance from the bathroom into the photographer's workroom. After our entry into that small room, we used to pull the mirrored closet shut with a rope and thus remove any trace of our presence.

It was arranged that the landlady would not let anybody into her dwelling before we managed to enter our concealed room.

The son of my brother Matis, Adam Kamienny who was then hidden on the Aryan side was the only one who knew my address and only he was allowed to meet with us, if he would choose to do so.

It turned out that our hiding place was compromised and we had to move. I took my wife and child to the home of our former maidservant. However, she only had room for two and I had to find, with Adam's help another hiding place for me.

Adam sent to me a messenger, a Jewish girl from Mińsk-Mazowiecki and it was arranged that on Sunday I would meet a man in khaki at the corner of Nowogródzki Street. I had further arranged with Szczepański's daughters that they would guide me by walking ahead of me. Just before I left Szczepański's apartment at 7 pm Adam showed up. It was for him very risky to walk such a distance in those dangerous circumstances. We went out, Adam and I - the Szczepański daughters leading the way. We were awaited by a Christian and the girl from Mińsk. Adam quickly left, the girl disappeared. I was left with the Gentile, who uttered one word only: “Come!”

He led me to tram 22, took me to Praga[12] to a dwelling at 18 Brzeska Street. Another 18 Jews were hidden there.

I stayed there for a considerable length of time. Every Sunday Adam came visiting me and through him, I was in touch with my wife and child.

They too moved to Praga and for a while we remained among the 18 Jews. However, all the time we expected a German raid, in which case we would not have a chance to escape, so the three of us moved back to Warsaw into the apartment of our former maidservant on Krochmalna Street. Meanwhile, the Russians came close to Warsaw, the Polish upraising broke out and we lost all contact with Adam.

After the upraising was suppressed, the Germans ordered all Poles to leave Warsaw and move to Pruszków. This presented a difficult problem for the Jews in hiding. There was only one option – a bunker. We found a cellar at 13 Hoża Street. After we spent seven days in the cellar, the Germans came to Hoża Street to expel the Poles to Pruszków, and together with the Poles we - my wife, child and I - went to the railway station.

At the station, a man pointed to a truck in which a bribed German was transporting Poles ostensibly to a camp in Pruszków, but would drop them outside the camp. We three boarded the truck, hoping for a miracle. The truck indeed took us to Pruszków and let us off before reaching the camp. In town, we spent the night in the home of a Christian woman.

We told our new landlady that we were in Warsaw among the rebels. She straight away told her neighbours that she is harbouring an officer, a hero. They all came to hear the hero's story. A bottle (of alcohol) was placed on the table and they all waited. However, when I started talking in my broken Polish, they immediately realised who we were...

That same night our landlady begged us to leave and advised us to move to a friend of hers on the other side of town. We went there.

At our new shelter we did not tell anything... Here, I passed for a mute... (The story was that) a piece of phosphorus from a bomb got into my throat and I lost my speech. Almost seven months I spent there as a mute and earned my keep by making cigarettes.

In January 1944 I was liberated by the Russian army. I later went to Praga where Jews began to congregate and where a Jewish Committee was established. I again met up with Adam, my brother's son who saved his life in Milanówek in similar fashion.

My trek led from Poland to Germany where I met again survivors from Kałuszyn. Some of them went to Israel. I and a group of Kałuszyn landslayt went to America.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of
    מיט קאַלושינער אין װאַרשעװער געטאָ
    an article in “Sefer Kalushin” published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961.
    Landslayt - plural of landsman, a townsman, a person from one's town or country. Return
  2. S.S. - Schutzstaffel (German for “Protective Squadron”), abbreviated SS was a major organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party... (T)he SS was responsible for the vast majority of war crimes perpetrated under the Nazi regime and was the primary organization which enacted the Holocaust. ..(T)he SS oversaw the isolation and displacement of Jewish people from the populations of the conquered territories, seizing their assets and imprisoning them in concentration camps and ghettos where they would be used as slave labour, pending extermination. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  3. Yiddish for townlet, lately used almost exclusively in relation to a Jewish small settlement in Eastern Europe. Return
  4. Polish spelling – przystawca – the word could not be found in the dictionary or the internet. It probably refers to a local occupation, say transporting people to the railway station at neighboring Mrozy (przystawa meaning “carriage”, “transportation”, hence przystawca is a person engaged in przystawa). [But see also http://books.google.com.au/books?id=0qlDAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA412&lpg=PA412&dq=przystawca&source=bl&ots=S0A3NqxDEh&sig=GX6yOdW-ai4695Tj-Rb8SJ9Klto&hl=en&ei=T584TYO6GImmcN35kKoK&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CFQQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=przystawca&f=false where paragraph 981 of an old legal document in Polish called “Common Law for the Prussian States” (from before World War I, when Poland was under Prussian occupation) says “whosoever undertakes to deliver to another a certain item for a fee is called a przystawca (a person that delivers)”.] Return
  5. Religious Zionist movement founded in 1902. Mizrachi is a Hebrew acronym of merkaz ruchani – “spiritual center” (“Mizrachi” also means “Eastern”). Religious Zionism is an ideology based on the synthesis of a Jewish religious and national outlook… and is dedicated to …the enhancement of Jewish religious life in the land of Israel, and the promotion of Aliyah (immigration to Israel). The National Religious Party is the representative of the Mizrachi movement in Israeli political life, and Bnei Akiva is its youth movement. (Based on Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary). Return
  6. The “Ninth of Av,” is an annual fast day in Judaism, named for the ninth day of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar. The fast commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  7. Wehrmacht – (“defence force” or more literally “defence-power”) was the name of the unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force). The Waffen-SS, the combat arm of the Nazi Party, became the de facto fourth branch of the Wehrmacht, as it expanded from three regiments to 38 divisions by 1945 (Wikipedia). Return
  8. Aktion (German) - Operation involving the mass assembly, deportation, and murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust. (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/wiesenthal_glossary.html#1) Return
  9. Umschlagplatz (German: collection point or reloading point) in the Warsaw Ghetto was where Jews (were) gathered for deportation to the Treblinka extermination camp. The Umschlagplatz was created by fencing off a western part of the Warszawa Gdańska freight train station that was adjacent to the ghetto. The area was surrounded by a wooden fence, replaced later by a wall. Railway buildings and installations on the site as well as a former homeless shelter and a hospital were converted to the prisoner selection facility (Wikipedia). Return
  10. The Ten Days of Repentance that conclude with the holiday of Yom Kippur. Return
  11. Aryan side refers to the areas of town outside the ghetto.
    The term “Aryan” was adopted for speakers of Indo-European languages in general, in the erroneous belief that this was an ethnic self-identifier used by prehistoric speakers of European languages. This development was in turn instrumental to the development of the concept of an “Aryan race”, which by the early 20th century … posited Northern European racial superiority over all other peoples … In Nazi Germany the classification of peoples as Aryan or not was most emphatically directed towards the exclusion of Jews. In colloquial modern English it is typically used to signify the Nordic racial ideal promoted by the Nazis (Wikipedia). Return
  12. Praga is a borough of Warsaw...located on the east bank of the river Vistula. (Wikipedia) Return


[Page 418]

From Kałuszyn to Landshut[1]

By Chaim Popovski / Charlestown (USA)

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

October 1939

The Polish army collapsed, and exhausted after having taken part in the heavy fighting, I tried to make my way to my hometown.

Joining the multitude of Jews and Gentiles that thronged the roads to their respective towns and villages, I set out on the Dęblin-Otwock railway track in the direction of Praga (on the right bank of the Vistula). There I saw for the first time SS-men[2] with the skull and crossbones on their helmets. A resounding HALT stopped me and I found myself in a spot – I would have to identify myself as a soldier of the Polish army and a Jew to boot. The task of the SS was to transport all detained Polish soldiers to a prisoner-of-war camp and the Jewish ones to special camps. This was my first challenge - not to allow myself to fall into the murderers' net. I decided to turn back and wait for a few days. Two Gentile colleagues joined me and we went to a village and hid ourselves for two weeks in a barn. During that time we worked out a plan how to reach Warsaw (on the left bank) avoiding Praga. The plan succeeded and after five days, we arrived in the former capital. The town was still enveloped in fire and smoke from the battles. Rubble from the destroyed houses was littering the streets, which were being cleaned by squads of Jews. It was horrible to behold Warsaw - beyond recognition.

 

Kałuszyn, November 1939

At my parents' request, I came for a few days to Kałuszyn. On arrival, one could see the dreadful condition of the scorched town. Whole streets were flattened, everything burnt to the ground. It was painful to see the small group of Jews huddling on the courtyard of the synagogue and in the halls, sitting on their bundles with half-frozen small children in their laps. Friends and acquaintances were looking at each other without uttering a sound. People were lost for words, choking on tears, nodding their heads in despair: “What will happen now?”... In a room at Berl Itche Fooks' I encountered Rebbe Naftole. Who did not remember the Rebbe? – his stately appearance, his dignified walk on the streets of Kałuszyn. Everybody used to follow him with eyes full of admiration. Now he looked depressed, his beard and payes[3] shorn. He poured out in his prayers his pain and sorrow at the calamity. His son Yosl related to me the woes and suffering experienced by the Jews of Kałuszyn, how the town was put to the torch, how the people were locked in the church – all the agony and the violence. I listened to the horror and with the dreadful sight of my destroyed town (before my eyes), I returned to Warsaw.

 

The Workshops in the Warsaw Ghetto

I was in the Warsaw Ghetto from November 1939 until April 1944, and experienced all the hardship associated with it: the hunger, the epidemics and the harsh labour conditions that were designed to exploit the afflicted, starving Jewish population to help bring victory to “Deutchland űber alles”...[4]

To this end were organised huge factories that employed thousands of people from many branches of manufacturing.

In the wood workshop where I was employed were also a few other Kałuszyn natives: Yosl Dovid Obronczka and his sons, Gershon Henech Obronczka and his son Chaim Hersh (now in Detroit, America) and the brothers Yankl and Shmul Mitlberg.

The boss of the shop Holman, an SS-man used, on every occasion, reassure his slave labourers that those that work for the Germans will never be removed from there... Thus, we toiled, starving - right until the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto.

End March 1943 an order came from the Gestapo [5] to make Warsaw Judenrein [6]. Thirty thousand Jews still employed in the workshops were facing the end of the road... Our boss summoned all the workers and announced that according to an order from the Gestapo, we had to leave Warsaw forthwith, and that the entire workshop with all the machinery will be moved to Lublin, where we will continue our important work. He also added that ours, being the best workshop, had to be first to relocate. He promised that we would not lack anything there. He asked us to disperse quietly, pack our most necessary belongings and be ready to leave Warsaw the following morning.

We knew exactly the truth about Lublin-Treblinka[7], and only a few hours were left us to decide what to do. The following people apart from myself were then in my home: Pienknavyesh, Luzer Stoler[8], Shklar (council member Lev's brother-in-law), the brothers Mitelberg, and Dr. Ringelblum[9]. All exits from Nowolipia Street, where the workshop was situated were heavily guarded and offered no possibility of escape.

The wood workshop was blown up about midnight and a big fire consumed Holman's enterprise. It spread to the entire Nowolipie Street and lit up all Warsaw. The panic of the firefighters and the SS was great, and when the hour of the “deployment to Lublin” arrived, no one showed up...

That was the beginning of the deportation of the last remnant of Jews of Warsaw.

 

In the Bunker on 16 Ṡwiętojerska Street

After the burning down of the Holman wood workshop, I managed to get into the brush making shop at 16 Ṡwiętojerska Street. Here too, I found the same commotion – people were running from their hiding places. I found myself in an underground bunker from which tunnels were leading to Krasinski Garden on the Aryan side[10]. The conditions in the bunker were beyond description: no air, no light, and no water, you felt as if you were melting from the heat, you were almost fainting from thirst and you could choke from the crush. I endured this torment for eight waking days, and only at night we, a group of friends ventured outside to roam through the Ghetto. There we encountered corpses and ruins – it was hard to make contact with a living soul. We used to return to the bunker not knowing what fate had in store for us.

Once, at three o'clock in the afternoon we heard heavy steps above the big cellar of the burnt house. The killers were running around looking for the entry to the bunker. They tossed grenades over the entire area until they found the entrance, and we heard their shouts: “Jews, come out! Nothing will happen to you! You'll only be taken to work”...I could see that all was lost, that the time was up... Quickly and with great effort, I was digging for a way out under the tunnel in a different direction to escape certain death. I was successful, and in a few minutes found myself above ground, on the Aryan side. Without being given time to decide on the next move, I suddenly heard: “Halt! Hands up”! I was facing an SS-man with a submachine gun, accompanied by a vicious dog. I followed him half-naked with my arms in the air. He led me to the command post outside the bunker. There I saw a crowd of enraged SS-men with fixed bayonets. The Sturmfûhrer [11] asked whether I had any weapons, and interrogated me about the people in the bunker. When I answered that I did not know the people in the bunker, and that only by accident I found myself in the vicinity where I was detained, he pointed at me: “oh, yes – this one here is a real wily old bird, he ought to be shot, take him to the side”. Forthwith I was taken aside by an SS-man and ordered to kneel with my hands up. My thoughts dwelled on the means to end my life - sitting like that, with my hands above my head already made me feel half-dead. The murderers were forcing people out of the bunker, men and women, young and old. They ordered everybody to strip completely and searched the clothes for weapons. Two Jews suspected of being insurgents were ordered to kneel next to me. The naked people were observing us in deadly silence. Another two Jews emerged one after the other from the bunker and joined the row of the detained. Next, a Jew carrying a Torah scroll came out. The killers led him between the two rows of naked men and women and the commander asked him pointing at the scroll: “Jude, what is that”? “This is my faith”, answered the man. He was ordered to throw away the scroll and to strip. The rows were growing; they already comprised about 150 people. Among the last to come out was a young girl of eighteen. I recognised her as the daughter of the doctor who had been with us in the bunker. “Strip”! - ordered the SS-man. The girl wept and begged: “I can't do it”. Infuriated, the SS-man drew his revolver and threatened to shoot her. Bravely, the girl jumped up and spat in his face. He shot her twice, and seeing her still moving, he shot her again, ending her life.

The SS-man guarding me and the other two detainees asked me whether I knew the “lady that was shot”, when I answered in the negative, he said, “Soon you'll be making her acquaintance”… It was getting late, night fell and everybody was ordered to get dressed. Hastily, we lined up three in a row and waited. Presently, an armoured car with soldiers arrived. A tall officer came out and the Sturmfûhrer reported to him the progress of the raid, pointing at us – the three – and especially at me. The officer glanced at his wristwatch, reflected for a moment and waved his hand: “egal[12] … as if to say – they'll bite the dust, anyway… We were ordered to join the line of all the other men, and heavily guarded, we were marched off to the Umschlagplatz[13] on Stawki Street, to the (Warsaw -) Gdansk (freight) railway station, from which the transports to Treblinka and Majdanek were departing.

 

In the Death-camp Majdanek-Lublin

We were transported from Warsaw in tightly packed freight rail-wagons. The conditions were awful – crowded, standing room only, no windows, no ray of light, or air to breathe. The Ukrainian guards sat on the wagon-roofs, fired shots at the slightest sign of a breakout or attempt to jump from the train. Where were we being taken? The only wish was to get out of the wagons, where half the people were already dead. After two days, we arrived in Majdanek.

I saw before my eyes the crematorium burning and belching out smoke non-stop. The first to be consumed were (the bodies) of the children and the old, followed by the rest. Tens of thousands of women, men and children were awaiting their fate in the barracks. I met there friends and acquaintances – lost and despairing.

The following morning the men from our transport were ordered to the roll call area. The camp commandant requested specialists in various trades to report and an SS-man approached the rows and told us that he required 20 expert carpenters for his work camp in Kraśnik. I was selected together with another 19 Warsaw colleagues, and in the morning, we were taken to the Kraśnik work camp.

 

Eleven Months in Work Camp Kraśnik

We arrived in Kraśnik the next day, in the afternoon. The same SS-man, Greger, who collected us from the transport and brought us into the camp, handed us over to the Jewish camp commandant, Pesach Kave, an elderly man with a Star of David on his commandant's cap. He supplied us with food, and the other inmates were observing us from a distance with curiosity. In the evening, during the camp Appel (roll call) the master (presumably a German) allocated our duties. I was designated assistant master craftsman of the mechanised carpentry workshop. We worked there for months for the benefit of the Lublin Sonderkommando [14]. The shops employed shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, radio technicians, watchmakers, furriers and others. In the evenings, after work the Jewish inmates used to ask us about the events in Warsaw and talk about the fate that was awaiting us all. Through the barbed wire, the Jews of Kraśnik used to gaze at their houses already occupied by gentiles and point out: “You see, that's my house, over there is my mill – and I have to sit here waiting for death”… Everybody in the camp was overcome by a powerful urge to escape. However, flight would cause many casualties. If one person escaped, the master ordered an Appel and shot four others. During the selection of the four to be shot, tragic scenes would take place. We eventually arrived at an agreement among ourselves eschewing individual escapes. Three of us from among all the inmates of the camp began considering some form of organised response to our plight. However, the situation on the outside and rumours of radio dispatches from London about the advance of the Soviet Army into Poland caused me to be circumspect …

 

On a Mission to the Partisans

On a certain Wednesday, I and my two friends from Kraśnik, Yosl Shmukler and Berish Helik left the camp on the pretext of looking for timber for our work. That was previously arranged with the workshop supervisors. Outside the town, we were met by a peasant with a cart. We set out with loaded weapons (supplied by him), and agreed among ourselves that should we be stopped by Germans, we would open fire forthwith. We travelled for hours, coming across gendarmes, SS-men, Gestapo, and we - nothing – as if belonging among them… The peasant, our driver had coached us to say, in case of a mishap that we forced him to stop and give us a lift. He turned on to a country road, in the direction of a small village with a few cottages. From the dense forest near the village emerged five armed partisans who led us to the designated place. In the house we entered, we saw a young peasant girl feeding some pigs and following us with her eyes… We sat down and started a conversation with the owner. Soon, a man of high military rank appeared with two attendants and invited us to another room.

He broached the subject of liberating the Kraśnik camp: he explained that the Soviet Army was already at the outskirts of Warsaw, and when it will get nearer to us we will be notified when to cut the barbed wire. He advised to desist from any more unorganised escapes, to avoid unnecessary casualties. An armed escort took us back from the village onto the main road, and another peasant gave us a ride to Kraśnik, where the inmates were awaiting us with anxiety…

 

The Liquidation of the Kraśnik Camp

End August 1944, when the Soviet Army was advancing towards Lublin, every one of us was tense with expectation of the hour of deliverance. We awaited the end of the camp any minute now.

The partisans notified us by a letter written in Yiddish that the following day, Wednesday, at one a.m. the camp would be liberated, and that a large contingent would take part in the action. Together with my two friends, I made the necessary preparations. However, to our surprise and disappointment an order came from the Gestapo that the camp had to be evacuated by 10 pm since the “enemy” was already 20 kilometres from Kraśnik. In great haste and under heavy guard we were led on to the road used by the retreating Germans. We were hemmed in on all sides by soldiers without any chance of saving ourselves. Many were shot trying to escape. We trudged on foot until dawn and arrived at an assembly point, where a train directed towards Kraküw-Płaszüw was awaiting us (packed) with many people displaced from Lublin. Płaszüw was a transit point for Jews from various camps for transportation to Austria, to the big, harsh concentration camp Mathausen.

 

In the Mathausen Concentration Camp

After spending only a few days at Kraküw-Płaszüw, we were transported in sealed rail wagons to Austria, to the Mathausen camp. Everything happened on the run. The enemy was watchful. (During the trip) the conditions were indescribable. We had the feeling of nearing the end of the road. We travelled from Poland to Austria for almost two weeks on half a loaf of bread and no water. Nightmarish scenes took place: half the inmates died of hunger or due to the hard sanitary conditions. On the tenth day after our departure, we arrived at Mathausen. During the “offloading”, a selection [15] was carried out - the sick and the weak were put aside and taken straightaway to the crematorium[16]; the rest were led to the baths and received after washing up a shirt and underpants. No footwear was given and barefoot and half-naked we were driven into the barracks. We were seated on the floor, one behind the other - that was how we were supposed to spend the night, without moving. That was the order of the kapo [17], a civilian German, a criminal (prisoner). We remained sitting compressed, without the slightest move. If anyone emitted so much as a sigh – all were sprayed with water and hit over the head with a rubber truncheon. Here, I discovered what a concentration camp was really like in Germany, where hundreds of people were tortured to death daily. The next morning we were taken out to work in a stone quarry. Countless steps were leading down into the depth before we arrived at the place where the boulders were being broken up. Each of us has to pick up a large stone and carry it up into the camp. We are walking half-dead, four in a row, and each with his stone. Suddenly Chaim Hersh Obronczka came up to me and whispered with a sigh that his father was loaded with a heavy stone beyond his strength. I dropped my boulder for a minute and ran to help taking up his father's heavy stone. Thus, we were climbing the steps with the stones until 12 noon, when we went into the barracks for lunch. The kapo distributed bowls – one for every four prisoners. All four had to eat from the one bowl with their hands. Our “lunch” consisted of raw cabbage sprinkled with vinegar. Each one of us lifted a piece of cabbage and tried to chew it up… Soon we heard a whistle and again we marched and lugged stones until late into the night.

Days and weeks passed until we were again transferred to another camp, not far from Mathausen - Melk[18]. Melk was a subsidiary of a big camp. Here, I was assigned to a commando working in a timber mill. We were taken out to work every morning at six and brought back at 8 pm in special carriages under strict security.

The mill, which was situated close to the railway junction at Amstetten used to be under frequent surveillance by English and American aircraft. They often raided the Göring Works in Steiermark, not far from us. In case of an air-raid alert, we used to seek shelter in holes in the ground. The raids and the running into the open trenches became a daily occurrence. The kapos asked the commando leader to allow us in the event of an air raid to seek shelter in a more secure place in the forest. He refused declaring that he was ordered to keep us in open trenches, and that he could not change the order.

 

March 13th in Amstetten

Precisely at 5.30 in the morning, we were assembled at the Appelplatz (roll call square) for the march to work, and exactly on time we arrived at the Works. An hour after work started we heard the uninterrupted wail of the raid alert siren. The commandant declared that a very heavy bombardment is expected over the entire area. The guards were scared, afraid to remain at the open trenches and together with the kapos pleaded with the commandant to allow us to hide in the forest, far from the plant. He again refused, and we already were hearing the noise and buzzing of the large number of planes above our heads. We were laying there awaiting our fate. At the last minute, the commandant relented and together with the guards, we ran with all our strength toward the forest. Many did not make it and fell exhausted by the wayside.

Exactly at 10 am, the allies attacked the railway station, the timber mill and all the factories in the area. The bombardment lasted until 5.30 in the afternoon. The whole town was ablaze. After all quietened down and we emerged from the forest, the plant was nowhere to be seen… All went down in flames. The trench where we used to seek shelter took two hits and the earth was thrown over. We stood there reflecting on how far afield our bones might have been scattered… With the train out of service, we set out for the camp on foot. We walked all night and on arriving at dawn, the commandant met us full of curiosity. He wanted to know what transpired at Amstetten, and he was “pleased” that we did not let the enemy kill us. He even treated each of us to a cigarette.

 

Death by Starvation in the last Camp at Ebensee

After the Red Army captured Vienna, we were hastily evacuated to Ebensee in upper Austria, the last camp that remained from the Mathausen complex. Here were gathered all the survivors for the last act of their tragedy. The pitiful nourishment that we used to receive in the other camps was now also unavailable. What we were fed here was some water and potato peel. People became swollen. We existed in such near death state until the end of April 1945. Knowing that the day of Germany's defeat is nearing, and also that we have only hours left (to live) - we expected any minute liquidation Aktion[19]. We dreamt of the liberation, but feared that we will be murdered minutes before it will arrive. The American Army was already on the outskirts of Ebensee. The constant aerial and artillery bombardment held us in suspense, and the SS-men too ran around confused. Everything hung in balance…The German kapos suddenly became humanitarian in their attitude to the prisoners – they could feel what lay ahead… The camp commandant issued his latest order that we should assemble on the Appelplatz. We were all facing the last temptation – what to do in the final hours. Half-dead and swollen, we wrestled with ourselves. Some barrack overseers led their wards out to the Appelplatz, whilst others were afraid and did not want to risk it.

A group of intellectuals and high-ranking officers from various countries who were also incarcerated with us tried to convince us not to go to the Appel. Some followed their advice, and the commandant, now not having much time left either, refrained from making an issue of it. He declared to those assembled that in view of the great danger from the enemy's aircraft it would be advisable for the many thousands of inmates to gather in the underground Schachtbau factories[20] to protect themselves from the American foe… He added that he had no ulterior motives, and that he would make another roll call the next morning. He asked us all to arrive, as usually, on time…

“The next morning” never materialised. That day, the sixth of May the American Army captured Ebensee. The SS-men escaped in a panic, leaving behind all their possessions. The guards discarded their rifles and the big entrance gate was open – no lock, no guards. However, we still did not trust ourselves to go out and see what was going on… Passing civilians were telling us that the Americans were already in town, and at once white flags appeared above the camp entrance. The more daring prisoners ran to town to see whether it was all true. The tension was indescribable.

A few hours later tanks appeared on the road to the camp. The first one, led by an American lieutenant entered inside. All the inmates gathered in the square. This one was an Appel in full swing… Even the weakest came crawling – they wanted to see with their own eyes the hour of deliverance. Shouts of joy and weeping released the enormous tension of the moment. The din was great and the American officer was trying to calm the crowd. He had duties to attend to, and wanted to make a statement, but could not to be heard over the tumult. An old Frenchman saved the day by climbing onto the tank, pacifying the crowd and translating the officer's words into German. In total silence the officer's words resounded: “You are free! Our army is in town. Tomorrow morning a special detachment will arrive and bring food and help you recover your health”. With a friendly “good-bye”, the American left the camp.

That day was the last day of my five years of agony during the Nazi regime.

In October 1945, I arrived in Landshut (Lower Bavaria) as an employee of an American field hospital, which had been moving about from Austria to Bavaria. Together with me were also Chaim Hersh Obronczka (Gershon Henech's son) and a few other friends from the Kraśnik camp. After the closure of the hospital, a group of five of us remained in Landshut for a period of time[21].


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of part (covering the period October 1939 - October 1945 on pages 418-425) of the article פֿון קאַלושין ביז לאַנדסהוט,
    in “Sefer Kalushin” published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. S.S. - Schutzstaffel (German for “Protective Squadron”), abbreviated SS, was a major organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party... The SS was responsible for the vast majority of war crimes perpetrated under the Nazi regime and was the primary organization that enacted the Holocaust. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  3. Sidelocks worn by Chassidic Jews. Return
  4. Deutchland, Deutchland űber alles... (Germany, Germany above all...) – The first line of the German national anthem. Return
  5. GESTAPO (Abb. GEheime STAats-POlizei, “Secret State Police”), the secret police of Nazi Germany that persecuted Jews at the outset of the Nazi regime and later played a central role in carrying out the “Final Solution”. (Encyc.Judaica). Return
  6. German for “cleansed of Jews”. Return
  7. Here the author may have used the nexus Lublin - Treblinka to refer rather to the totality of the then known geography of extermination since of all five major extermination camps, Treblinka (in addition to Chelmno) was not in the Lublin district, whereas the other three (Majdanek, Belzec and Sobibor) were. Return
  8. Possibly not a surname, but indicating a trade (stoler – carpenter). Return
  9. This most likely refers to Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum.
    Ringelblum, Emanuel (1900–1944), historian of the Warsaw ghetto. Born in Buchach, eastern Galicia, Ringelblum graduated from Warsaw University and subsequently taught history at a high school. He was ...a founder of the “Circle of Young Historians” in Warsaw. [In] Warsaw [Ghetto] Ringelblum kept constant contact with active sources in the community at large, from whom he received reports and evidence on events in the capital and provincial towns at a time when there was no press other than the Nazi press. He recorded this information himself and directed his assistants, whose numbers steadily grew. Thus, a large and diversified enterprise was established for the collection of documents, reports, evidence, summaries, and even research work, memoirs, and literature produced during the period. Most noteworthy is the collection of clandestine newspapers in various languages. The enterprise ... employed dozens of workers directed and encouraged by Ringelblum. This work even continued in the “Aryan” district, after the liquidation of the ghetto. The collections of material were put in containers and buried in three groups. After the war, only two groups were recovered from the ruins ... The material discovered became the property of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw (there are photocopies in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem). [It] is the main source for research into the history of Polish Jewry under Nazi occupation. Ringelblum's own notes, summaries, and essays, written during the occupation, were published after the war in Ksovim fun Geto (2 vols. 1961–63; Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto, ed. and tr. by J. Sloan, 1958). Ringelblum was a member of the ghetto's underground movement. The Gestapo discovered his hiding place in the “Aryan” district on March 7th, 1944, and he and his family were arrested and murdered. (From Encyclopaedia Judaica). Return
  10. Aryan side refers to the areas of town outside a Ghetto.
    The term “Aryan” was adopted for speakers of Indo-European languages in general, in the erroneous belief that this was an ethnic self-identifier used by prehistoric speakers of European languages. This development was in turn instrumental to the development of the concept of an “Aryan race”, which by the early 20th century … posited Northern European racial superiority over all other peoples … In Nazi Germany the classification of peoples as Aryan or not was most emphatically directed towards the exclusion of Jews (From Wikipedia). Return
  11. Should be Untersturmführer, (junior assault leader) - an SS rank equivalent to a junior or 2-nd lieutenant in the Army (based on Wikipedia). Return
  12. Whatever, never mind. Return
  13. (German for transfer point), the departure point in Warsaw from which hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to Nazi Extermination Camps. The Umschlagplatz was actually the area that separated the Warsaw Ghetto from the Polish part of the city. When the Germans began mass Deportations from the ghetto in July 1942, the site no longer served as a point of transfer between the ghetto and the outside; instead, it was used as the assembly site for the ghetto Jews who were to be deported… Jews were arrested in the streets of the ghetto and marched to the Umschlagplatz. They were made to sit on the ground in the Umschlagplatz's courtyard or on the floor inside an empty building on the site, where they waited for the daily train to pull in. When it arrived they were packed in, 100--120 persons to a freight car. (From http://www.answers.com/topic/umschlagplatz-1). Return
  14. German for 'special unit”. Sonderkommandos were work units of Nazi death camp prisoners who were forced to assist in the killing process during The Holocaust. The death-camp Sonderkommandos were killed after some weeks and replaced by fresh squads of inmates. These differed from the SS-Sonderkommandos, which were contingency units formed from various SS offices between 1938 through 1945. (Based on Wikipedia and other sources). Although not stated explicitly, it would appear from the context that reference is made in the article to the SS-Sonderkommandos. Return
  15. Selektion – selection of inmates for execution or slave labour at an extermination or concentration camp (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_Nazi_Germany). Return
  16. “Crematorium” or “oven” was often used by prisoners for “extermination” - in this context it was most likely used for “gas chamber”. Return
  17. A kapo was a prisoner who worked inside German Nazi concentration camps during World War II in any of certain lower administrative positions. The official Nazi word was Funktionshäftling, or “prisoner functionary”, but the Nazis commonly referred to them as kapos. The origin of “kapo” is unclear. Some think it is an abbreviated form of the word, Kameradschaftspolizei, (roughly, “comrade police force”) or comes from the Italian word for “head”, capo. Kapos received some privileges denied to normal prisoners, towards whom they were often brutal. They were often convicts who were offered this work in exchange for a reduced sentence. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  18. See http://www.jewishgen.org/ForgottenCamps/Camps/MelkEng.html Return
  19. AKTION (German). Operation involving the mass assembly, deportation, and murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust. (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/wiesenthal_glossary.html#1) Return
  20. The original text is: “shacht-boy fabrikn”. “Shacht/shachte in Yiddish means a “mine”, however this is not supported by the context. In German “Schacht” means a number of items, including shaft, funnel, duct & other. The sentence may also refer to a branch of the Thyssen Schachtbau industrial complex. Return
  21. In the last segment of his narrative the author relates how a number of survivors of the concentration camps arrived in Landshut. In 1946 also arrived Jews from Poland (presumably from the camps situated in Poland and those returning from the Soviet Union). Together they coalesced into a community under his leadership. He further tells about the problems faced by the survivors in their struggle to resume a normal life.
    Following the establishment of the Jewish State the community in Landshut dispersed. Some went to Israel, others, including the author – to America. Return


[Page 435]

kal435.jpg Binem Heller

Binem Heller[1]

 

On the Fields of Poland[2]

On Poland's fields – scattered bones,
In old cemeteries – neglected stones –
Who needs them now?

The dead – abandoned
Overgrown with grass –
Who will bury them?

They were shot together,
The baby still cleaves to its mother –
Who will let out a scream?

As they were shut in the Ghetto,
They lie between soil and litter –
Who will set them free?

On land and in towns peace had set in,
Food is prepared and songs can be heard,
And laughter resounds,

And they think that the dead cannot be woken,
That all which can with the earth be covered
Should just be forgotten.

[Page 436]

(Europe) Without Jews[3]

It's peaceful in Europe, the earth is at ease.
There are no dark, obstinate Jews,
Who carried unrest all over the lands –
It's tranquil in Europe, the ground is covered,
A German tank passed and had the soil flattened.
Thereafter the grass accomplished the task -
It covered the traces of murder and mayhem.
A burned out tree then sprouted some leaves.
A bird from its nest tried reaching the heavens,
And took up anew its meaningless trilling
Over the graves of Jewish buyers and sellers.

It's quiet in Europe, the earth is receptive
And knows how to cover the remnant
Of people, the stiff-necked that wandered
In separate ways, with different rites,
The nation with challenging look in the eyes,
The people, the chosen to be hated, despised.
It's peaceful in Europe, the air is fresh,
The asphalt is washed on the streets of its towns,
And there, in the Ghettos, newly restored,
No one remembers the others, the dead ones,
That used to dwell here and sometimes rejoice,
And readied to die whilst yearning for life.

It's tranquil in Europe, the Jews disappeared.
The tank was in peacetime into tractor converted,
It plowed over the soil that covered the graves,
Where a people lie buried in eternal embrace.
The swastika – scarecrow is guarding the field.
The language, the German - for shouting and cursing,
By wind has been banished and is quite forgotten,
In peace are the homes now already settled.
One only roams there in shock and despair,
Under his feet, the earth seems to shiver,
Under his step, the road seems to heave –
He looks for his people, and still can't believe.

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Binem Heller, the Yiddish poet was born in 1908 in Warsaw, and became a glove worker at the age of fourteen. He emerged early as a leader of the so called “proletarian poets” with his first collection “Through the Bars”, published in Lodz in 1930. From 1937 to 1939 he lived in Belgium and Paris. He returned to Warsaw, and fled to Bialystok before the Nazi armies. After the invasion of the Soviet Union he took shelter in Alma-Ata and in 1947 returned to Poland. “Spring in Poland” appeared in 1950 and “Poems, 1932-1939”, in 1956. He then moved to Paris and Brussels. A year later he made Israel his home. His many later works include “New poems” (1964), “It´s the month of Nisan in the Warsaw Ghetto” (1973), and “They shall arise”(1984). Binem Heller died in Israel in 1998. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  2. אויף פּוילישע פֿעלדער (Oyf poylishe felder). Return
  3. אָן יידן (On yidn). Return

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