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Chapter Eight

Destruction of the Ghetto

 

Ralph Feinnes as Amon Goeth in the Speilberg film
 
Amon Goeth Plaszow 1943
Ralph Feinnes as Amon Goeth in the Speilberg film   Amon Goeth Plaszow 1943

 

The population of the Ghetto decreased each day. Almost daily, transports were sent to the camp in Plaszow. They started billeting people who worked on the barracks in Plaszow and also those who were employed in many other shops, offices, and factories beyond the Ghetto area—such as Schindler's Emalia, the airport and cable workshops at Montelpich, the clothing manufacturing firm of Madritsch (Podgorze's Main Square 2), Deutsche Rustungsfabrik in Zablocie, and the brick factory in Bonarka. Only in a few places were the Jews billeted. The others were brought to work under close guard from the camp and were returned to the camp in Plaszow after completing their work. Long columns of people could be seen, wretched and abused physically and mentally, filing slowly through the streets of the former Ghetto.[1]

The first doctor from the Krakow Ghetto who was sent to the Plaszow camp was Dr. Leon Gross. He later became chief camp doctor, elevated to that position because he was the first one who came to Plaszow[2], and he was used by the Nazis for selections in the camp. Dr. Gross and his stepson were on the 'Schindler List' that left Plaszow for Brunnlitz via Gross-Rosen. All fathers and children were later transferred from Brunnlitz to Auschwitz in late 1944. Much against his will, Dr. Gross was again used by the Nazis for selections. Dr Gross and his stepson survived the war, but he was arrested after the war and tried for collaboration with the Nazis and was hanged in Krakow in 1946.

Direct orders from the Reichsfuhrer SS for the destruction of the ghetto were carried out under the command of SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Friedrich Wilhelm Kruger, Commander of the Police and SS Forces in the Generalgovernment. Kruger was assisted by Amon Goeth and Sturmbannfuhrer Willy Hasse.[3] The Nazis had prepared the ground beforehand. In November, 1942, Jewish work details[4] were employed building barracks for the new extension to Julag 1. The area to be extended was between Abraham and Jerozolimska streets, where two Jewish cemeteries belonging to the Krakow and Podgorze communities were situated. Both cemeteries were completely destroyed during the course of the leveling of the ground. Only one solitary headstone remains standing on the site, the headstone of Chaim Jacob Abrahamer, who died on May 25, 1932.[5]

At the beginning of 1943, the Ghetto was divided by a wooden fence and barbed-wire into two parts. Part 'A' for those who were working, and Part 'B' for those who were not working. In Plaszow there were now three camps fully equipped for the intended intake of prisoners: Julag I in Plaszow, Julag II in Prokocim, and Julag III in Biezanow. Julag I, the main camp and under the command of Amon Goeth, was to be used exclusively for Jews. The Jews who lived in ghetto 'A' were rounded up and paraded on Plac Zgody, where the selections began. The men were separated from the women and children. The children were separated from the women, with the assurance from the SS that they would be taken to a special barracks in the Plaszow Kinderheim. Many of these mothers did not trust the SS and were unwilling to leave their children alone. Taking their children, they would cross from Ghetto A to Ghetto B, whose existence was not calculated to last 24 hours. Transfer from the good to the bad was allowed-- i.e., from A to B, but movement from B to A was forbidden.

Under the directions of SS- Obergruppenfuhrer Scherner, the gates of Ghetto 'A' were opened, and in columns of four-abreast, the Jews designated for Plaszow were marched out of the Ghetto on route to Plaszow camp. The preliminaries had been completed. Late in the afternoon, the last inhabitants of Ghetto A departed, with the exception of the OD, Gutter, and a few members of the Judenrat, who were ordered to stay until the liquidation of the Ghetto was completed.

During the evacuation of Ghetto A, many people tried to escape, but were shot on the spot and left lying in the road. Others had devised clever escape methods, by lifting off the covers to the main sewers that crossed under the streets of Podgorze, and disappearing into the stinking waste and crawling to the outlet on the Vistula. This had been the way of escape of Dr. Julian Aleksandrowicz with his wife and small son.[6] There were two main escapes into the sewers, one at the junction of Jozefinska and Krakusa streets, and the other at the crossing of Jozefinska and Wegierska Street. Many escaped this way, until the SS detected this, waited at the outlets, and shot the escapees.

Now it was the turn of Ghetto B. At dawn on March 14th, the Sonderdienst (Auxiliary police units) composed of Lithuanians, Latvians, Ukrainians, and the Blue police, surrounded the Ghetto. People in the Ghetto were running in all directions, in absolute panic. Shouting, crying, people were loaded down with possessions looking for sanctuary where there was none. Then, there was utter silence and all those in the area froze, their eyes turned towards Targowa Street. Dressed in a black leather coat, holding a riding crop in one hand and a short automatic rifle in the other, accompanied by two large dogs (Rolph and Ralph), and surrounded by his personal bodyguard, stood Amon Goeth,. Other dignitaries arrived and selected their favorites, their informants, and selected personnel who were not to be subjected to the liquidation to follow.[7] Spielberg gives us a graphic account (I believe taken from the Pankiewicz documentation) of the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto, the brutality and the fear, the hopelessness and despair, the surrender of the weak against the full might of the battle-tested SS.

 

Jews marching 5 abreast in Plaszow 1943
Jews marching 5 abreast in Plaszow 1943

 

Following are contemporary accounts of this day

Tadeusz Pankiewicz notes from his observation post only meters from the action:

“Ghetto A had been completely liquidated; all close and distant friends were gone. People were moving like lunatics in corridors, cellars, and attics of the buildings in Plac Zgody. There were the old, carrying religious books and ritual attire under their arms. Children were wandering on their own, holding one another's hands. They sat down on asphalt in utmost composure. They were laughing. And the throng was swelling; the square was getting more and more crowded. And now the SS and Sonderdienst units enter the gate on Plac Zgody. Helmeted, fully armed, the sons of Herrenvolk (Master Race) draw up in a double line. And again the scenes in front of our windows are similar to those already seen; but now the butchery expands in ever widening circles. It looks as if the Germans wanted to choke with blood to satisfy their hunger for it. Everyone is shooting; everyone who wants, everyone who is willing.

I saw how the OD man Immergluck led his own mother. As a token of recognition for his dedicated service in the OD, he was permitted to accompany his mother. He covered her with a blanket, gave her last directions for the journey, embraced her, and smoothed her hair. The farewell - a long, suffering unending kiss, the son's tearful eyes and the infinite terror in his mother's face. When he left the square walking slowly, she stood with her arms outstretched. The Germans stood nearby, but somehow this time, they did not laugh. Several hours later, the son was stripping his mother's clothes and carried her still warm corpse to the platform where the murdered were collected. Thus, she was saved from deportation.

Deathlike silence lies heavily on the empty streets and houses of the ghetto. Emptiness breathes from every corner, every street, and every threshold. The ghetto ceased to exist...”

Victor Dortheimer (69124):

“On March 13, 1943, when the ghetto was liquidated, I was selected for labor and taken to Plaszow labour camp. I was ordered to join a detail to dig mass graves. On the next day at 10 am flat top wagons loaded with corpses covered with tree branches started to arrive. We buried thousands that day. All the Jews left in the ghetto had been shot. My father joined me in Plaszow, and he was put to work in the stables.”[8] Victor was 24 years old.

Solomon Urbach (69427):

“On the night of 12th/13th March, 1943 I was working in the Emalia factory. Schindler told us not to return to the ghetto. He told us that there was trouble in the ghetto. The ghetto was liquidated, together with my family, my parents, two sisters and two brothers. One brother was shot down as he crossed from one line to another. The rest of the family's fate is unknown to me, but I suspect they went to Auschwitz.”[9] Solomon was 17 years old.

Moshe Pantirer (69040):

“Goeth himself, together with the SS, were in charge. Children and the sick people were shot on the spot and the bodies were brought up in flat trucks into our camp in Plaszow. I myself, with a group of other boys, had to unload the corpses. In one case we asked a German to give a "kindness" shot to a young kid who was still alive. The German told us it was a shame to waste a bullet on a Jew. We had to pour gasoline over the bodies and keep burning them. My father and mother, my younger sister and youngest brother were all split up. The Germans put the men to one side and the women and children to another side. My father decided not to be separated. My mother was holding a child in her hand and my father was holding a child by the hand, and the SS shot him on the spot. I know that for a fact. A few days' later people who witnessed this told me and said that my father was a hero, and that's the insanity of it. That we, the innocent, felt guilty for what the murderers did to us.” Moshe was 17 years old.[10]

Young children were led by the hand by the SS around a corner and lined up, one in front of the other. With a single rifle shot several children were killed with the one shot, which was graphically displayed in Spielberg's film.

Elsewhere in the Ghetto on that morning, three thousand Jews were rounded up for deportation. Even before the trains could leave for Birkenau, several hundred small children were shot in the entrance to one of the houses, and several hundred old people were shot in the streets. The sick were also killed. When the Gestapo entered the hospital, an officer ordered Dr. Zygmunt Fischer to abandon his patients. He refused to do so and was shot, together with his wife and child. The patients were then killed in the wards. Also murdered were the Drs. Blau, Bruno, and Palin. Dr. Wladuslaw Sztencel was murdered in Plaszow and Dr. Stanislaw Eibeschutz was deported in one of the transports to Belzec. Two women doctors, well known in Krakow, were transferred to the camp in Szebniach: Dr. Paulina Wasserberger and her sister, Dr Door. They were both killed in the liquidation of that camp. Dr. R. Glassner perished in the camp at the airport.

From his observation post, Pankiewicz saw other SS officers personally known to him: W. Kunde, K. Olde, Heinrich, K. Heinemayer (Chief of the political division of the Gestapo and his deputy, specialist SIPO Koener), and, of course, Goeth's personal body-guard, Oberscharfuhrer Albert Hujar, who was personally responsible for shooting all the patients in the main hospital at Jozefinska Street. Pankiewicz noted, "Hujar was running amok like a rabid animal through the entire building, leaving a trail of blood and corpses; he shot the guard at the gate and the dog cowering in the dog house."

Many of the Jews committed suicide, mostly with cyanide. At first, getting a supply of the poison was difficult.. Later, a source was found: the lamp factory of Wachs on Lwowska Street used cyanide in the manufacture of their products. People were able to obtain the poison there which was coveted as a priceless treasure. Entire families always carried it with them in small bottles just, as the saying goes, in case.[11]

For three days it was carnage on the streets of the Ghetto. There were sad hearts, and an air of depression everywhere. There was not one person who was not affected by the events in the Ghetto. Schindler had witnessed the carnage from the vantage point of Krzemionki hill which overlooks the ghetto.

In another incident during the liquidation of the ghetto, Julius Madritsch was hard at work in his clothing factory within the Ghetto. As an SS subsidiary factory manager, he was obliged to issue his workers with identity papers. While finalizing these papers he received terrible news. All the small Jewish children of Jews were to be resettled. Madritsch frantically wrestled with himself. How could he at least save the children of his workers?[12]

Oswald Bousco[13], a German-Czech, had joined the SS when in Vienna, but he was now Lieutenant Bousco, assistant to the German police commander in Podgorze. He was well-known and respected by the Jews in the Ghetto. Bousco came to Madritsch in his greatest hour of need. Bousco, Madritsch, Schindler, and Titsch smuggled men, women, and children out of the Ghetto, to the safety of the Madritsch factory. In order to do this, Bousco had to dope some of the smaller children with Luminal and Codeine which he had obtained from Pankiewicz, the Podgorze chemist, and put the small children into ruck-sacks. With the help of the other conspirators, he smuggled them out of the Ghetto to safety on the Aryan side. Many Poles came forward to help in this rescue. Olek Rosner, the six year-old son of Henry Rosner (69261) [Goeth's music maker] was one of these children.[14]

Even soldiers of the Wehrmacht were appalled at the brutality of the Ghetto liquidation. Some of these Wehrmacht soldiers assisted in spiriting away women and children to the Tarnow Ghetto, away from the danger.[15] The full might of the Third Reich had borne down on an unarmed and defenseless people with no sign or suggestion of retaliation by force of arms. These were the heroes of National Socialism, the SS. It was a massacre.

“How much longer will we go 'as sheep to the slaughter?' Why do we keep quiet? Why is there no call for escape to the forests?”[16] asked Emanuel Ringelblum in a speech he gave in mid-June, 1942 to the head of the Jewish Social Relief Organization in Warsaw This is the one central question that has concentrated the minds of many. Pankiewicz was no exception and gives us his simple and logical explanation:

“I was frequently asked, in the company of my Polish acquaintances, whether the Jews were so oblivious that they could not realise what was in store for them. Why, knowing that they were to be deported and would be killed, did they take these things with them? [Pankiewicz was referring to the bundles, packages, bedding and household items which the Jews took with them on the transports, knowing they were going to the deaths.] Why didn't they resist in self- defense? Why did they let themselves be led docilely like sheep to the slaughter? Such questions could only be asked by people who were not eyewitnesses to these events, whose information was received obliquely and not quite completely.

Anyone who did not see at first hand the awesome horror could not understand or grasp the dire circumstances that plagued these people. They could not fathom the perfidious lies which misled them the day before their death. If my questioners could spend even a few hours in the funeral atmosphere in which these Actions took place. Every few steps someone was killed, beaten, humiliated, and tortured. If one could look behind the scenes of these crimes and see the perpetrators, observe the means they used to instil fear and terror, cruelly shooting, and deceiving the 'resettled' with a hope that they would live; if the inquirers knew about the threats of revenge on the entire family for even thinking about escape, for sabotage, and for any self-defense action - he would no longer ask 'why?' Besides, unlike the Warsaw Ghetto, for instance, the Krakow Ghetto could not utilize any resistance effort because of its geographical location.

After all, deep in the heart of all glimmered... the hope of survival that was a wonderful word in those days; this was my impression arrived at in those fateful days as a result of my experiences in the Ghetto”[17]

The Germans had killed within a few hours approximately 1,500 persons and a further 3,000 were transported to Auschwitz. The Sauberungskolonne (cleaning up teams), worked in the Ghetto until December 1943, selecting and storing objects, furniture, equipment, etc., left behind. The Ghetto enclosure was then taken down and the area reverted to dwellings for the Polish inhabitants of Podgorze.

Julius Madritsch who had a previous warning of the impending massacre had been able to hold on to his workers but there were still hundreds of Jewish families evading and fleeing selection. Madritsch transported scores of them at night to the cellars of his workshops and then over a period of time removed them to his other factories in Bochnia and Tarnow, and even later, to sanctuary through Slovakia to Hungary.

Jacob Sternberg (68882) writes:

“Madritsch was entirely aware of the acts of rescue being carried out through his workshops, and obviously he thereby exposed himself to great risk. Nevertheless, he did not interfere, and so, greatly imperilled his own life. I was a witness to these acts of mercy and to Madritsch's involvement and sense of responsibility, as I was, at the time, in charge of the kitchen in the cellars, which was a focal point of the operations.”

The final act in the destruction of the Ghetto was on December 14 and 15, 1943. In the early evening, truckloads of helmeted and armed SS, under the direct command of Amon Goeth, surrounded the OD (Jewish police) building. All members of the OD with their families were loaded onto trucks, driven away, and executed in Plaszow. For some reason a Mrs. Katz and her children and Dr. Kessler, and his wife and children escaped execution. It became known at a later date that they survived the OD executions due to the intervention of Tadeusz Pankiewicz.

 

Footnotes
  1. Pankiewicz, 105.
  2. Return
  3. Ibid, 106.
  4. Return
  5. Goeth and Haase could not stand each other. (Krakow archive record 2586/76).
  6. Return
  7. Part of a 150 person Jewish detail, sent to Plaszow to help build the new camp, were the Bejski brothers (Israel, (69385) Moshe (69387) and Uri (69384).
  8. Return
  9. The headstone was still in-situ - June, 1996.
  10. Return
  11. Pankiewicz, 113. Dr Aleksandrowicz's escape from the Ghetto is related in a book Pages from the Diary of Dr. Tough, published in 1962 by the Literary Publishing House.
  12. Return
  13. Ibid, 107
  14. Return
  15. Interviewed by the author 1995. Dortheimer Snr was later taken to Mathausen where he was killed with a lethal injection of benzene. A doctor Eigenholtz from Haifa, a prisoner in Mathausen told Victor of the fate of his father.
  16. Return
  17. Jon Blair film, Schindler (1982).
  18. Return
  19. Interviewed by the author at the King David Hotel Jerusalem. Also Jon Blair film Schindler (1982).
  20. Return
  21. Pankiewicz p, 42.
  22. Return
  23. Madritsch documentation.
  24. Return
  25. Bousco, sickened with the Nazi policies fled to the forest dressed as a Polish farmer. He was caught and summarily tried for treason and shot. The date was the 18th September, 1944.
  26. Return
  27. Henry and Olek Rosner interviewed by the author at the King David Hotel Jerusalem. Also see Jon Blair film Schindler (1982)
  28. Return
  29. Madritsch documentation -statement of Raymond Titsch.
  30. Return
  31. Martin Gilbert , The Holocaust, 367.
  32. Return
  33. Pankiewicz, 114-5
  34. Return

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