|Drawing by Yaacov Guterman|
The common denominator of all those letters is the hope that the days of hunger and suffering and epidemic diseases will one day become a matter of the past. We further learn from them that the Plotzk Jews were discontent with the attitude shown to them by the Jews of Bodzentyn who in their opinion, did not offer them assistance. In fact all of them eventually shared the same fate, prior to their final annihilation.
Among these letters there is also one written by Hayim Flachs, a popular Yiddish writer, who published several novels and stories.
This bundle of letters ends with a detailed report compiled by prominent leaders of Plotzk refugees who lived in 1941 in Warsaw, concerning the position of the refugees in 8 different localities. This document, which is of great historical value, describes the tragic conditions of life of a few thousand hungry, sick and helpless Jews, who waited in vain for salvation, not knowing what awaited them.
|Drawing by Yaacov Guterman|
The former describes the death of her father, who was kidnapped and killed by the Nazis, and the latter depicts her life, from her eleventh year onwards, in various camps in which she spent the war years.
Dr. H. Russak's testimony ends with the approach of the Allied forces and the prisoners' last struggle with the typhus epidemic which broke out after the liberation.
From the book in Yiddish: "Oyf der aryszer zeit" , written by the author and published in Tel Aviv 1957
This paragraph was published in the Yizkor book of Plock, "Plock, a History of an ancient Jewish Community in Poland, editor Eliyahu Eisenberg, Tel Aviv , 1967, pages 565-566, and translated from Hebrew by Mrs. Bianca Shlesinger March 1999
Here is Plock. My Plock. It is barely one year since I left and the town is not the same anymore. Rows of deserted houses on which red flags fluttered bearing large swastikas. Streets empty of people. Everything is full of the life that isn't anymore. At every corner shadows of the past. The awakened shadows are kind of accompanying me, whispering with sad voices remembrances from the past. The eyes take in, with love and sadness, all that once was so near, so familiar. All the windows are hidden by curtains, most of the shops are closed. Silence everywhere, as in a cemetery. Here is Somkat street and there, by the corner, what was once my house. The shop, the window.
The gate. Should I go in? Go on, go on. My steps resound with a faint and frightful sound. There, the coffee house of Gozakwitz. The door is closed, bolted. Does Rozke sill leave in her previous room? I wish she would be home. Three more houses, and two more.
Suddenly steps. What do I hear, the Hatikva song here? I stand as petrified by the gate and am unable to move. A large group of Jews, with working tools on their shoulders, is nearing. They march in lines of four. A black square under the guard of two Germans.
"Sing, Sing! Loudly! Shouts one of them, rising the bat of his rifle.
The loud song of Hatikva fills the empty street and rises above the roofs of the houses. The first Jew in the row is drenched in blood. Did they beat him in the eyes? His face is familiar to me, who is he? Yes, yes, it is Weinberg. His shirt and jacket are drenched in blood. He cannot see me. With his lonely eye he looks head, far away, his mouth open, full of blood, mumbling the words of "Hatikva". The German is not aware what kind of song this is
"Louder, louder !"
That same evening I went to see Weinberg, in his flat on Seroka Street. In the small room, in the corner by the sink, flickered the feeble light of a candle. His wife went about the room , silently, like a silent shadow. Weinberg lay on the bed, fully clothed. A wet cloth covered his mouth. Suddenly he jumped up and the cloth fell off, discovering a mashed face.
"You are here in Plock? How did you dare to put yourself in danger and come into this hell?"
Broken words were exchanged, words of suffering and answers. I tell him the reason for my coming. Two burning hands press into mines:
- "How I wish you to succeed to reach your home in safety. All my life I have dreamed of the Land of Israel, of a plot of land; of green pastures, of cows and sheep. I wanted to be a shepherd, a Jewish farmer in a Jewish village and eat form my own bread" .
He was completely detached from the reality of his present life and hovered about on the wings of his vision. He looked at me with his one good eye as from the depth of an abyss and whispered to me his dreams. The yellow light of the candle added to the horror of his wounded eye. The eyelashes trembled and twisted. Suddenly, In the heavy silence, a bitter crying erupted. His head fell on the pillow. His wife came forward and put a fresh wet cloth on the would. Under the cloth red tears were flowing.
- "Mr. Weinberg I muttered maybe you have a parents or a friend in Israel to whom you wish to send regards? If I will reach it , maybe I will reach it"
Weinberg sat up brusquely.
- A friend? A parent? All the Jews are my friends and parents; regards? I send them as regards our today's "Hatikva", that is our "hope". Take with you the song to your new life. The day will come and the promise will be realized : "And there they will dwell until they will be commanded, God's words. And I will rise you and return you to this place". -
He fell silent. The tremulous, quivering light wandered around the room as if seeking refuge.
Outside reigned the night, silver-green, and a sense of doom prevailed in the empty streets and in the silent houses, on which hovered the red flags with the big swastikas . A pale, sickly moon crawled toward the sky, with a wounded eye and a mouth twisted by pain.
The author visits Plotzk, whose name was changed by a German decree to Schroetterburg, but decides soon to leave the place. In spite of the danger involved in using the same boat on the return journey, Mr. Zylberberg succeeds, thanks to his "Aryan" physiognomy, in returning safely to Warsaw, where he continued to live in the non-Jewish part of the city.
She and her husband lived in a Polish quarter until the ghetto was closed. After the July-"action" of 1942 many people, especially those with "Aryan" faces, tried to escape.
Mrs. Mairanc-Meiri made contact with non-Jewish friends outside the ghetto and with the help of a Gentile who used to enter the ghetto, succeeded to leave it in his company at the beginning of 1943. Until that time she was employed as a "useful Jewess" in a factory which produced ammunition and spare parts for the German war effort.
After leaving the ghetto she destroyed her "Ausweis" (work-card) and prepared herself for a new life, disguised as an Aryan Polish woman.
The author of this testimony was such a "submarine". In the possession of Aryan papers, he was sent by the German Labor Office ("Arbeitsamt") to Vienna at the beginning of the war. Throughout the war he worked there under horrible conditions, underfed and poorly clothed, disguising himself as a Catholic Pole.
He tells an interesting episode a short time before the liberation he met in the camp a Czech who, in a friendly conversation mentioned a certain book written by the Jewish author Shalom Ash. Mr. Koenigsberg pretended that he had never heard this name. He regrets that he never had a chance to meet Schalom Asch after the war in order to tell him of his popularity as a writer among non-Jews.
|Drawing by Yaacov Guterman|
There he was assigned to a working squad who collected the clothes of the camp victims, once they had been annihilated. He thus became an eyewitness to the process of killing people in the gas chambers. According to the quantity of clothes and the heaps of personal belongings (gold, watches, etc.) he could tell the number of Jews arriving in the camp daily (about 15,000 people).
The members of the squad to which he belonged were of course doomed to death, once they would have completed their work. The death camp was for many months disguised as a "transfer-camp", from where people were supposedly sent to "work" somewhere in the East. The signposts (like "waiting rooms", "buffet", "hospital") were fictitious, and were planned to deceive the new arrivals who would not believe until their last breath that they were led to their death.
Only those camp workers engaged, as Platkiewicz, in collecting the victims' personal belongings and other tasks, such as burning the bodies, knew the real nature of this disguised camp, which was in operation from August 1942 until August 2nd, 1943, when an uprising broke out.
The preparations for the uprising began at the beginning of that year. The first task was to accumulate the necessary amount of arms and ammunition and this could be done only by careful and extraordinary planning, which took into account the special conditions of the camp, where the various groups of prisoners were completely isolated from one another.
The initiator, planner and commander of this revolt was the unforgettable Captain Galewski, an engineer by profession. He planned, and with the help of others carried out an onslaught on a German depot of arms from which rifles and hand-grenades were taken and well hidden.
The second task was to organize groups which were to assume separate and special tasks in the general uprising. In accordance with the plan, the first act would be a hand-grenade attack on the German officers' club.
The plan worked out well and on the appointed day, late in the afternoon, the workers passed by the club and after having seen the boy taking off his hat (a sign that the Nazi officers were all inside their club) they attacked the premises with hand-grenades, which immediately started to burn.
This served as a signal for several other groups of fighters who attacked the Ukrainian sentries and then destroyed the gas-chambers. Unfortunately, the attackers did not succeed in cutting off the high tension electricity line and many of the inmates who tried to escape, according to the plan, were electrified to death by touching the barbed wire. The commander of the revolt then gave an order to open fire on the wired fence and thereby enabled the people to make a break-through.
The surprised Germans had no idea that a revolt had broken out inside the camp and thought that they were attacked by partisan fighters from the outside. Many of them were killed by the Jewish fighters who, after completing their task, escaped together with the rest of the camp inmates.
Unfortunately, they had no place to hide. They took temporary refuge in a nearby small forest where they could stay only overnight. During the night the Germans encircled the forest with troops and the majority of the fighters were killed by the Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators in the morning.
Platkiewicz, and a few of his friends, dared and succeeded to break through the German lines before dawn and later hid in a nearby village. They lived for several months in a hideout behind the barn of a friendly peasant and later joined the partisan groups which attacked German arms and supply trains and carried out many other acts of sabotage, which all contributed towards the final victory of the allies over the Nazis.
Platkiewicz survived and lives now in Israel. In 1964 he gave evidence before a Dusseldorf court in the criminal case against Kurt Franz, one of the Nazi commanders of the Treblinka camp.
Unlike the revolt in the Warsaw ghetto which is widely known in the world, the uprising in the Treblinka death camp has not yet come to the attention of the public at large.
These two historical events (as many others) refute the widely held belief that Jews were led to the slaughter like lambs, without offering resistance to their cruel oppressors.
The extraordinarily daring and heroic Jewish uprising in Treblinka, under indescribable difficulties, proves that the contrary was true.
The late Mr. Bursztyn, who died several years ago in the U.S.A., was a leader of the Jewish Workers' Party in Plotzk, the "Bund", and as such all the pre-war Jewish places of Plotzk were dear to him. He describes with great nostalgia the town as it was, as well as the subsequent destruction.
We learn from this article that there were people in the town who did not surrender to the Nazis and once they realized that the destination of the deportees was extermination, they fought and encouraged their brethren to do likewise. He recalls the case of a young man who delivered an ardent speech against the Nazis and prayed that God would take revenge on them, right in the truck which took him and many others to their death.
He also describes the social activity of a man who took care of the Home for the Aged and stayed with the old people until the last moment. (A case similar to that of the Warsaw teacher Janusz Korczak, who proudly marched together with his pupils to the death-camp).
After returning to Plotzk, Mr. Bursztyn and his friends arrived very soon at the conclusion that they would have to leave this "valley of death", and find another place of residence. All their efforts to renew Jewish life in Plotzk were in vain. "The plant did not take roots again" concludes the author.
He describes the long train-journey from Siberia to Plotzk as a repatriate who still cherished some hope to find somebody of his family there. On returning home in 1946 he found his town empty of Jews. A Polish family lived in the house where he had spent his boyhood. After some hesitation, he entered his former home and asked its new inhabitants whether some pictures of his family were perhaps left there. In reply, the door was closed in his face with, a bang by a hostile woman.
After wandering a few days through town and meeting a handful of Jewish survivors he came to the conclusion that there was no purpose in his staying there.
The author tries to reconstruct his. memories of Jewish Plotzk's glorious past, its institutions, synagogues, organizations and cannot comprehend that this epoch is all a matter of the past. Even the cemetery had been destroyed. The Germans had taken the tombstones to Germany and now no evidence was any longer available concerning the previous existence of a great Jewish community in Plotzk.
Messrs David Lichtenstein, Koenigsberg, Zielonka, Eisenberg, Platkiewicz and Margolin described the sufferings of the Plotzk Jews in the war years at all the stations of their torturous road td death.
One of the participants of the Treblinka uprising dedicated his" speech to the Plotzk Jews and other inmates of this death camp who had planned and carried out an attack on their Nazi oppressors, killed many of them and freed hundreds of Jews from that camp. Unfortunately they were eventually overpowered by the Germans and their Ukrainian helpers, and many of' them were killed. But with their death they proved that the Jews, whenever possible, made valiant attempts to fight their oppressors.
The chairman A. Blei encouraged the remnants of the old Plotzk community, among them a number of people from nearby Sierpc, to carry on Jewish life.
Judge Koenigsberg gave a historical survey of Jewish life in Plotzk. Representatives of nearby localities were also present.
He describes the life of the survivors who tried to resettle after the war in Plotzk. Those who returned were assisted by central Jewish institutions in Poland and abroad. Great efforts were made to establish social and cultural institutions and to rebuild Jewish life. Alfred Blei and Mr. and Mrs. Koenigsberg distinguished themselves in this task and helped all those Jews who returned to town. 50 Jewish children were born in Plotzk after, the war and a lot was done to make conditions easier for their young mothers. A drama circle was established in order to restore cultural life, as it had been before the war.
The author also mentions the preparations made by the Architect Benjamin Arye Leib Perlmuter and the heads of the community towards the erection of a monument in memory of the martyrs.
The white stone monument was erected according to designs drawn by the Plotzk Jewish Architect Benjamin Arye Leib Perlmuter, in the shape of a tent. Its inscription reads "For these things I weep" (Lamentations, 1, 16) and a list of names of the 25 victims, whose bodies were exhumed there from their temporary graves, is added.
Representatives of the Polish army, the Central Committee of the Jewish survivors in Poland and of the Jewish combat organization delivered eulogies in memory of the victims.
Julian Golde came to Eretz Israel in 1909, and joined the Kinneret group.
In 1925 there were already about 30 former Plotzk people in the country and in that year they held their first rally in Tel-Aviv. Although they did not establish a permanent organization, they used to meet, arrange parties and visit each other from time to time. Most of them lived in Tel Aviv, where the Shoshani home served as their centre.
Organizational activity started only in 1945, when survivors of the war began to arrive in the country. A Committee with members from Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem was elected that year. Its primary function was helping newly arrived Olim (immigrants to Eretz Israel) and sending money and clothing to the survivors in Plotzk, France, Holland etc.
The organization came into contact with former Plotzk people in the U. S. A., Argentine and elsewhere, asking them to render assistance to the survivors.
Once the relief work came to an end, the organization suffered a setback. Only after 1949 a group of members: Itzhak Ben-Shai, Eliyahu Eisenberg and others constituted themselves as an executive committee. Their main task was to help Olim to settle in the new State by granting loans, finding suitable employment and housing for them.
The 28th of Adar on which the Jews of Plotzk were driven from their town by the Nazis was proclaimed as a Memorial Day. On that day all Plotzker Landsleit in Israel convene every year in Tel Aviv with their families and after a memorial ceremony and the "El Male Rachamim" prayer, the committee reports on its activities in the past year and a new committee is elected. The 1951 convention was attended by Itzhak Grinbaum, and the establishment of "Irgun Yotzei Plotzk" (the Organization of Jews from P³ock) was then formally announced.
When after 1957 scores of Plotzk-born families arrived in the country, the association increased its activities and the newly established Loan Fund (based on the legacy of the late I. G. Burshtyn) made it possible to grant interest-free loans to all the needy arrivals.
The committee passed a resolution to publish a Memorial Book of Plotzk. Although two such books in Yiddish already appeared, one in the Argentine and the second by the late Shlomo Greenspan in New York, it was felt that a book in Hebrew was needed, since Hebrew is the language of all Plotzk people and their children in Israel.
Eliyahu Eisenberg, the Vice-Chairman of Irgun Yotzei Plotzk, was appointed as Editor and he worked together with an editorial board, consisting of Messrs Moshe Rubin (Chairman' of the organization), Itzhak Ben-Shai, Itzhak Tinski, Benyamin Galewski and the late Shlomo Greenspan.
The Committee found several other suitable ways to commemorate the Plotzk Jewish Community. A forest of 2.000 trees was planted in the "Martyrs Forest" of the Jewish National Fund near Jerusalem. The funds for the planting of these trees were collected from landsleit in Israel and in U.S.A. A memorial plaque was put up in the Martyrs Chamber on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
The primary functions of the Society were to provide financial assistance when necessary, Sick and Sheva benefits, funeral allowances to the families, and Death Benefits to the widows of deceased members. In later years the Society took a great interest in general and national Jewish organizations, and is making annual contributions to the United Jewish Appeal, Histadrut, Hias, Ort, and Federation of Jewish Charities of Greater New York. Throughout its history our Society has been one of the most active and respected branches of the Federation of Polish Jews in America.
During the depression years of 1929-1930 many of our members were out of work and in great financial need. Through the generous contributions of some of our members a Loan Fund was quickly established. This fund took care of all our members in distress, and has been functioning satisfactorily ever since.
After the First World War our Society, together with a group of Plotzker landsleit, raised a fund of several thousand dollars to help our brethren in our home town. We also sent a sum of money to the Jewish Hospital in Plotzk, to establish a. ward in our honor.
After the Second World War we, together with our Ladies Auxiliary, again raised a fund of over $ 9000.00 which we distributed in cash, clothing, food packages, or machinery, to our surviving landsleit in Plotzk, DP Camps in Germany, Sweden, Canada, United States and Israel. This timely aid helped many individuals and families to start their lives anew, and to tide them over the initial difficulties of readjustment to post-war conditions.
With the establishment of the State of Israel we raised a substantial sum of money to help our landsleit in Israel establish a Loan and Relief Fund; plant over two thousand trees in the Plotzk section of the Martyrs Forest in the Judean Mountains, and prepare and publish a Memorial History in honor of the Martyred Dead of the Plotzk Jewish Community. During the past ten years the Society purchased over $ 5000.00 worth of Israel Government Bonds.
A few years ago, when the Society purchased new cemetery grounds, an impressive Memorial Gate was erected at its entrance to honor the memory of the Martyred Dead of Plotzk Jewry.
Throughout its long history the Society has been blessed with able and devoted leadership. Among those who have already passed to the Great Beyond, besides those mentioned above, were the late Ex-presidents H. Domb, J. Wollman, D. Goldberg, L. Davis, I. Wisla, B. Dolman, M. Roberts, A. Rosenthal, S. Iron, and J. Gluckson.
The living Ex-Presidents, who have given much of their time and. efforts for the welfare of the Society, are S. Bornstein, Sol. Hyman, H. Lipner; L. Bomson, S. Sturman, M. Levy, J. Gomberg, S. Steinberg, B. Kosh, and M. Magnes.
At the present time the officers of the Society are:
Pres. Geo. Seeman
V-Pres. Dr. K. Bach, and C. Okolica
Treas. S. Bornstein
Fin. Secy. H. Lipner
Rec. Secy. J. Gomberg
Trustees - M. Weitzman; J. Bernstein, N. Fink
The Scientific Institute in Plotzk decided after his sudden death, to award him a posthumous medal.
Shlomo Greenspan made arrangements to settle in Israel, but unfortunately he did not live to see the realization of his life-dream.
May his soul rest in life eternal.
A temporary Committee was elected at a meeting which took place on November 10, 1939, at the house of Mr. N. Lerman, consisting of Messrs. M. Magnes Secretary; S. Leibgot Treasurer; N. Lerman and M. Lutenberg organizers. The first General Meeting was convened in January 1940 and it elected a Standing Committee under the chairmanship of S. Pencherek. A hall was rented and a loan-fund for needy Plotzk immigrants established.
When the full impact of the Holocaust, which had wiped out the Jewish Community of Plotzk, became known, former Plotzk Jews in the Argentine did their utmost to extend assistance to the survivors. Funds, clothing and medical equipment were sent to the survivors jointly with the Plonsk and Nowy Dwor landsleit. The proceeds of various meetings and shows were also earmarked for this purpose.
Cultural activities were carried out in Buenos Aires, where a library was established, mainly through the efforts of the Hon. President of the Plotzk Association in Argentine, Mr. Israel Schreiber Halevi, who contributed many of his books to it.
A 246-page Plotzk Memorial Book, edited by Mr. Josef Horn in the Yiddish language was published by the Association in 1945.
More than 70 families who hail from Plotzk, mostly employees, artisans and some merchants, live today in the Argentine. Two of these have settled in Israel.
At the outbreak of the war some of them joined the anti-Nazi underground movement and found their death in the fight against the oppressors or in the annihilation camps.
The small group of Plotzkers, who survived, established there the "Association of Jews from Plotzk and vicinity", with the purpose of helping survivors financially and morally.
A touching last letter of a Plotzk Jew named Menachem Banach, who, before being put to death in Drancy concentration camp, wrote to his wife and daughter asking them to carry on and wait hopefully for a better life in a new world of peace and happiness, is quoted in the article.
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