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The Holocaust

A Dirge for my Nation…!

by Yoav Katz of blessed memory

By the rivers of the Tiber, Wisla, Rhine, and Dnieper, where we sat for years and years, generations and generations, and wept for Zion [1].

Our heart went out for that beautiful and good land that was bestowed upon our fathers, and from where we were exiled due to a decree from the Most High, who became strange to us, and hid his face from us.

Behold, how bitter is our lot in this generation, that at the time of our return to our land and the renaissance of our people from slavery to freedom and servitude to liberty, this was decreed upon us, Oh!… That we should sit by our rivers – the rivers of our land that has been shaken out of its desolation and lowliness, and here, in particular here, in the midst of our redeemed land – and lament, weep and eulogize the many myriads of our brethren who were destroyed and annihilated in all of the lands of the Diaspora in which members of our nation found themselves.

How great and scalding is the pain over this breech that took place to our nation on the threshold of the renewal of its national life.

My heart, my heart goes out to the multitudes of our brethren, giants of spirit and thought, great in Torah and piety, great in fine deeds, entire communities, filled with the human flocks, our brethren of the House of Israel, upright and pure people, who ate their bread through the toil of their hands, visionaries and poets, believers and scribes, teachers and cheder students who never tasted the taste of sin.

Oh!… Zgierz, my bereaved city of Zgierz, it is not for you that we await with our pining and longing… You became strange to us, a cruel mother, a darkened land. Our heart goes out, beats, and pines with our entire being for the myriads of our relatives who had their graves dug in your midst, upon your fields and your forests.

Our parents, brothers, sisters, and all who were dear to us who were turned to dung upon the face of your fields, to fertilize your plantations and crops. We will never forget them forever!

Pillaged Zgierz along with all of your sisters, the cities of Poland, your sisters in murder and annihilation, fortunate is he who will repay you when your day comes, and the blood will be avenged.


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In One Day

by W. F.

(Wednesday, 15th of Shvat 5700, December 27, 1939.)

Thirty-five years have passed since that dark day when shots were fired, and the entire Jewish population left their hometown of Zgierz.

On that day, confusion and terror enveloped the big and the small, the poor and the rich. Children lost their parents and parents searched for their children. The weeping and screaming could be heard on all of the streets.

Driven to the old marketplace, with their packs over their shoulders, the Jews of Zgierz fled into the forests with the fear of death, that only the eyes that saw could believe. The largest group of them fled to Lodz, a smaller group went to Glowno, and only a very few set out and arrived in Warsaw. In their despair, the unfortunate souls could not imagine that all of the roads were leading to a strange ending, to death.

Thus in one day did end the flourishing Jewish community of Zgierz, that numbered 5,000 souls and was bound up with the city throughout the 200 year history with intertwined work for its growth and development. It ended – for not only were our holy shrines burnt, but the despicable people even desecrated the 150 year old cemetery and covered it over with earth, so that there would not remain even a memory of Jewish life on Zgierz soil.

For us, the survivors, lies the great and holy duty to observe this memorial day and perpetuate it forever. This should be a day of memory and warning – for us and for our children.

Just as we light the memorial candles for our martyrs, we also must not forget the curse and the eternal hate for the disgusting criminals and murderers of the Jewish people.

We who remain in sorrow should find comfort in the work for those close to us, and in the work to perpetuate the memory of our martyrs – our parents, our brothers and sisters, relatives and friends – and the entire community of Zgierz. May their memory be blessed!


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Jews of Zgierz Under the German Occupation of Terror

by Danuta Dombrowski and Avraham Wein of Jerusalem

The Tribulations Began During the First Days of the War

On the eve of the Second World War, there were approximately 4,800 Jews in Zgierz, out of a general population of 25-30 thousand residents of the city.

Already during the first days of the war, refugees began to stream into Zgierz, both Jews and Poles, from the towns of the border regions that had been immediately occupied by the Germans. The German air bombardment of the city began on September 3rd, 1939. It lasted for three days, until September 6th. For the most part this took place during the day; one could breath a bit easier at night. The bombardment, which was directed at the train station as well as the outskirts, cased fires and destroyed houses. There were also casualties. The bombardment was very strong on Tuesday, September 5th. It hit houses in the center of the city. The evangelical church was destroyed, as was the German Theater on Pilsudski Street. There were also victims from among the children. The following Jews were wounded from a bomb that fell in the neighborhood of Narotowicza and Dombroskiega Streets: Leibel Librach the son of Asher, his wife Esther who was the daughter of Yitzchak Meir Zylberberg, and their only daughter Sara.

The Jewish population, as well the Polish population, started to panic and began to flee en masse to the surrounding cities: Lodz, Strikow, Ozorkow, Piontek, and even Warsaw. The tramways that connected Lodz with the nearby towns ceased their usual routes. The trains were full of Polish soldiers and officials were being evacuated along with their institutions. The refugees filled up all the routes.

In the meantime, the Nazi soldiers approached the city. On September 6th, the evacuation of the Polish authorities took place as the culmination point: the police, the firemen, and the officials of the magistrate headed by the mayor all left the city in haste. Chaos prevailed. There were no electric lights in the city, and the streets were dark. The Polish riffraff began to rob the Jewish businesses.

On Thursday, September 7th, the city was taken over by the German military. The first German soldiers were seen at 10:00 a.m.

According to the testimony of several eyewitnesses, the German soldiers, prior to their entry into Zgierz, murdered in a bestial fashion five Jewish refugees who were on their way from Zgierz to Strikow. The Zgierz merchant Zusman was among them. The soldiers robbed the refugees and then murdered them in a cruel fashion.

(Another version relates the story in the following way: Gershon Zusman was on his way to Dombrowka with his children when the Germans captured him and shot him. According to this version, the victims were forced to dig a grave for themselves prior to their death.)

On the next day, September 8th, on the second day of the marching in of the Germans, the soldiers began to rampage in the city. They captured Jews in the streets and also took them from their houses. The several hundred captured men were rounded up in the old marketplace, in front of the building of the magistrate and were surrounded by guards. A few Poles and local Germans were included among the arrested. They took everything from the Jews, including money and jewelry. After that, the arrested people were taken to the Catholic church, where nearby lay a few dead German soldiers who fell during the battle. In the presence of the fallen, they announced to those arrested that they would be held responsible for every German soldier who might be killed in the city and region. The few arrested Germans were freed. The Poles were still held, but separate from the Jews. (According to one witness, the arrested Jews included: Mendel Gibralter, the pharmacist Rosenberg, Nachum Kaminski, Moshe Itzkowicz, Berl Helman (the undertaker), Avraham Yaakov Rodzinek, and several others who I no longer remember.) The Germans lined the Jews up into two rows, and had to remain standing for hours with machine guns pointed at them. A few times, a German functionary came to them and threatened that shortly the church would be torn down or burnt. The Germans constantly beat the Jews with deathblows, and a few Jews had half of their beards burnt off.

On the first day, they allowed the prisoners to go out to attend to their physical needs, but on the second day, they even forbade that. The prisoners were not given food or drink. The Zgierz Jews intervened when it was possible. Apparently after they gave bribes, the Germans permitted giving a little bit of food and water to the prisoners (once in three days). Yehuda Borkowski's wife brought the food. Among the guards that watched over the prisoners, there were a few Austrians who had some compassion for the prisoners. Quietly, so that their German friends would not see, they brought a drink of water to the Jews from time to time.

On the morning of the Sabbath (according to a few eyewitnesses, it was Sunday), the Germans took out two Jews from the church – Fishel Grynsztejn and Mordechai Zelmanowicz. People were afraid that they were going to shoot them. However, they shortly returned, and it became clear that the Germans summoned them to transport the corpses of Dr. Zygmunt Kaltgard and his sister Kama, who had committed suicide, to the cemetery. They had poisoned themselves. A large group of Zgierz Jews, who were lucky enough not to find themselves among the prisoners, attended the funeral.

This case of suicide was not a unique occurrence in Zgierz. There were other Jews who were psychologically unable to bear the indignities and persecutions of the first days of occupation. Two young women who came from Przemysl and worked as druggists in Rosenberg's drugstore also committed suicide.

The prisoners were freed on Sunday, September 10th. One of the local Germans, the scribe of the magistrate's office, lectured them and warned them that in the future, they must be loyal to the German authorities. By a stroke of good fortune, the rabbi of Zgierz, Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Leib HaKohen of holy blessed memory, wan not among the prisoners. It is told that on the second day of the occupation of Zgierz, a German officer came to him and asked to visit his house. He spoke politely to the rabbi and explained that a difficult period was coming for the Jews. He made the pretence, perhaps even with sincerity, that he had compassion for the Jews. When the rabbi remarked that the Germans are known as a people of culture, and that they certainly would not deal treacherously with innocent people, the officer was silent.

The local Germans, that is to say the Volksdeutschen [2], who were on good terms with the Jews prior to the war, completely ended their relations with the Jews very shortly after the marching in of the Wehrmacht. They began to cause trouble for the Jews, who were their acquaintances and neighbors. The Jews suffered in particular from the Volksdeutsche Strobach, who at that time became the mayor (Bergenmeister) of the city. Not far behind him in demonstrated hatred and persecution for the Jews were two other Volksdeutschen: the aforementioned official Mille, and Kerner.

Constant persecutions against the Jews of Zgierz began. The soldiers, the S.S. members, and the local Germans beat and tortured Jews on the streets, organized lapankes [3], conducted searches and robbed Jewish houses. Daily, various anti-Semitic ordinances and decrees were issued. A curfew was declared for the Jews between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. They were forbidden to gather together for public prayer. The synagogue, Beis Midrash, and shtibels were closed. The ban was applicable even to prayer quorums (minyans) in private houses. The Germans threatened severe punishments, including the death penalty, for any Jew who disobeyed the ordinances. With a heavy heart, the rabbi was forced to declare to the Jews that they should not organize private minyans on the eve of Yom Kippur.

No small amount of fear was awakened in the Jews when the decree was issued that the entire Jewish population (according to another version – only the men), must register. The Germans imposed the duty to conduct the registration upon the community itself.

The Jews suffered a great deal of vexation from the local Polish population. The tribulations from the Polish anti-Semites were especially difficult with respect to attempts to obtain food. There was a shortage of food during the first weeks of the German occupation. When long lines formed outside the bakeries in the evenings, the anti-Semites, or the ordinary hooligans, threw the Jews from the “kolejkes” [4]; it also happened that they turned over Jews into the hand of the Germans. Indeed, the nightly attempts to obtain a morsel of bread were fraught with mortal danger. On more than one occasion, the attempt of someone to obtain a bit of food for his family would end with a beating or even death blows.

As has previously been mentioned, there were incidents of robbing from Jews by the riff-raff already in the first days of confusion at the beginning of the war. After that, when the Germans took over the city, the robbery became widespread. On the Sabbath of September 9th, the Germans perpetrated a massive pogrom upon the Jewish stores on Pilsudski Street. They pillaged and destroyed the businesses of Mandel, Korcacz, Bechler, Spiewak, Yitzchak Grand and others. The owners were cruelly beaten. They did not even spare women.

Many Jewish merchants closed their businesses during the first days of the occupation for fear of robbery. However the mayor (bergenmeister) Strobach strongly warned that people must keep the businesses open, and threatened severe penalties for those who did not.

A series of searches in Jewish homes began on September 10th. The pretext was that Jews held arms, and that they were engaged in food speculation, an activity that carried with it the death penalty. During this opportunity, money, jewelry, food, clothing, linens and furniture were removed from the Jewish homes. During the searches, the Germans and their assistants sadistically destroyed the Jewish homes: they tore apart the floors, destroyed the ovens, pillaged the cellars, and simply made mayhem.

In the following weeks of the occupation, the new civic authorities granted the robbery a stamp of “legality” so to speak through their ordinances: all Jewish stores, enterprises and factories were requisitioned. The factories were provided with German commissars (Treihender), who oversaw their operations. Rosenbaum's pharmacy was also requisitioned. The Germans issued ordinances that required the Jews to register their gold, silver, jewelry and other items of value, including their furs.

As in other places under German occupation, the Jews of Zgierz were permitted to possess 2,000 marks of ready cash. The remainder had to be deposited in a “spare account”, which for all practical purposes meant that the money was taken from them.

Another form of theft was the contributions that the Germans imposed upon the Jews. They required the Jews to pay two contributions. The witnesses related the following sums: 10,000 Zloty, 50,000 Zloty, 100,000 Zloty and even 250,000 Zloty; it is difficult to establish the exact amount.

The first contribution was imposed right after Sukkot 5700 (1939) [5]. Three weeks later, the Germans suddenly arrested twenty prominent citizens as hostages, among them the rabbi, the dozor and communal head Aharon Hersch Kompel as well as several Jewish manufacturers and merchants or their wives (Mrs. Poznerson, and Mrs. Aranson). After a few hours, German functionaries came to the hostages and ordered them to produce detailed lists of their assets. Afterwards, the Germans demanded a new contribution from the Jews and forced the hostages to underwrite an obligation that they would pay it the next day by ten o'clock. The hostages were freed from arrest once they underwrote the obligation. The contribution was paid according to the set terms; it was given over to the aforementioned functionary.

Slavery, Humiliation and Torture

Jews were conscripted for work, for the most part hard and dirty labor, already in the first days of the occupation. TheVolksdeutschen and police grabbed Jews as individuals or in groups. Those who succeeded in hiding were tracked down and chased in the homes, and dragged out of their hiding places. During the time of their labor, the Jews were beaten with deathblows, tortured, and degraded. The women were told to remove their dresses. Wearing only their shirts, they had to wash the floors of the offices and barracks with their dresses. They were forced to clean latrines with their bare hands. In such a manner, for example, the Volksdeutsche Brand went into the home of the Grand family and grabbed two women – Guta Grand (today Fein) and Chava Zylberberg – beat them and then forced them to wash the corridors of the magistrate. A day later, that same German brought a group of women – Gittel Grand and Waks (dentists), Glowinska (from the iron works in the old market), and Fela Boaz – into the building of the seminary near the train station, and forced them to wash the windows with broken panes for an entire day, without food or a drink of water.

A short time later, the Germans, over and above the wild Lapankes [6], set up forced labor for the Jews of Zgierz. They forced the community to provide daily a large contingent of Jews for the work (one witness mentioned the number as 200). The Jews were employed by various enterprises in town, including in military positions. Work groups gathered together each day in front of the communal building, and from there they were led to their work under a guard consisting of police and Volksdeutschen. The Jews suffered from the seven fires of hell on their way to and from work, and also while at work. They were beaten, chicaned and mocked before the eyes of the masses. A group of rich Jews was able to elude the fate of the slave laborers; they hired proxies from among the destitute people who had lost all means of livelihood.

The Git Lusmieci [7] was a steady place of hard work for the Jews. About forty men were employed there in unloading the garbage and in dragging (four Jews were harnessed to one wagon). One day, one of the workers, a young boy by the name of Skosowski (Zalman Feldscher's grandson) did not wish to laugh when a soldier of the guard played a joke on another Jew. For that, that young boy was shot on the spot. Similar attacks were a common occurrence during the time of work.

At the work place not far from “Lustgarten” on Piotkowska Street, where the Jews worked with the stodoles [7], a soldier noticed a watch on Hershel Kaliski, and asked him to give it to him. When Kaliski refused, the solder shot him.

Murder came to Jews at every occasion, and for the smallest pretexts. Only a small number of the names of the victims are known. For example, Wolf Szietonski was severely wounded. Shimon Zusman's brother Gershon was shot. Prior to his execution, the murderers forced him to dig a grave for himself. The Zgierz Jew Leibel Librach was shot in Strikow. In the cellar of Meir Szwarc's house, under Rosenberg's pharmacy, the Germans set up an inquisition room, where they tortured and flogged Jews. Among others, the coal exporter Dubin was interrogated there.

If the above mentioned murders had “accidental” characteristics, the sending (in November 1939) of Jewish notables and party activists to the Radogoszcz Concentration Camp near Lodz was already an organization aktion with the aim of killing members of the Jewish intelligentsia and cultural activists. Like other cities in Warthegau (the Polish western realm, under occupation of the Reich; to which Zgierz belonged) and first and foremost in Lodz, in November 1939, there were arrests and expulsions of Jews as well as the Polish intelligentsia to Radogoszcz. The following names are known from among the Zgierz Jews who were arrested and sent there: Karol Eiger (the president of the Maccabi, the son of the well-known Zionist activist Moshel Eiger), Avigdor Roszalski, Avraham Zylbersztejn, Leibush Srebnik, and Yosef Pantel. The same fate overtook several Polish personalities in the city, including the previous mayor Szwiercz, the director of the gymnasia, and others.

From the first days of the occupation, the Germans conducted anti-Jewish propaganda efforts directed towards the Polish population in Zgierz. Placards were posted in the streets that incited the Poles against the Jews and promoted rumors that Jews were speculating with food, causing difficulty in obtaining approvals. The Hitlerists placed anti-Jewish slogans, caricatures, etc. in the windows of various Jewish premises. For example, the window of Moshe Sidlowski's requisitioned manufacturing enterprise was always decorated with “Der Stuermer” with the large type headline of its articles: “The Jews are our enemies”, “The Jews are warmongers”, etc.

Along with the anti-Jewish incitement propaganda, the Hitlerists conducted activities that mocked the Jewish religion and denigrated the national honor of the Jews. For example, they forced Jews, at the time of their forced labor, to wash floor, trash bins, and lavatories with tallises and parochets [8]. During the time of the searches, the removed Torah scrolls, tefillin, tallises, and mezuzas from the Jews, and they beat their owners in a bloody fashion. Pages of books were desecrated, torn into pieces and burnt in the marketplace, along with other holy objects.

A beloved activity of the Hitlerists and their accomplices was the shaving off of the beards and peyos of Jews. The shaving was more tearing, plucking and burning than shaving. On one occasion, the Germans forced the victim to eat the shorn hair. Despite all this, G-d fearing Jews did not want to part with their Divine image, and bound their faces with kerchiefs under the pretext of being in pain, so that their beards and peyos would not be noticed by the murderers. Once, the German police brought the rabbi to the barber's chair and bid him to have his beard and peyos cut. Then, they brought the rabbi to the dozor Kompel and ordered him to pay for the rabbi's shave.

Almost every Sunday, and sometimes on weekdays, the Volksdeutschen along with the Wehrmacht soldiers organization large scale plays in which the victims were Jews. They grabbed Jews, forced them to don tallises and tefillin or women's clothing, put women's hats, wigs, or ordinary pail on their heads. The victims held Chinese lanterns or brooms in their hands. Then, they forced the Jews to sing “Hatikva”, “Das Shtetele Belz”, or Russian songs. The Jewish actors had to shout the slogans: “All Jews are swine”, “We Jews are responsible for the war”, etc. The participants in such a performance then had to perform gymnastics, jump, crawl on the ground, dance, and drag the fireman's wagon. Not infrequently, hundreds of Jews would take part in such a performance – and the jeering lasted for a long time. The witnesses mention the following people among other tortured Jews of Zgierz: The lawyer Jochwet (Eliezer Shlumiel's brother-in-law), Mordechai Srobka, the dozor Kompel, David Dawidowicz, Shimon Zusman, Mordechai Jakubowicz, and others. On one Sunday, the Germans forced a few hundred Jews into the new marketplace, and from there to the fire station, where they were told to lie with their faces in the dirt, as they were beaten with death blows. As the witnesses relate, Shlomo Bialystocki and Yechiel Kompel were among the wounded who died later.

On another occasion (probably in November), the German dragged Shabtai Itzkowicz, Reichmanen and Mrs. Gitel Grand to the building of the Polish school, and asked them to tear down the cross from the wall and throw it on the street. When the Jews absolutely refused to do this, the murderers beat them and threw them in jail.

The culmination point of the violation of the sanctity of Israel was the burning of the synagogue and Beis Midrash. The first attempt to burn down both buildings (apparently, this took place on October 27, 1939) did not succeed, for the neighboring Jews succeeded in extinguishing the fire and saving the Torah scrolls, which were later transferred to canopies in the cemetery. The Hitlerists quickly found “the guilty party”. The arrested the tinsmith David Gotlieb, who lived close to the Beis Midrash. They accused him of setting the building on fire. Gotlieb spent six weeks in jail. One month later (apparently on November 24, 1939), the Germans set the synagogue and Beis Midrash on fire for a second time, and this time, they succeeded. Both buildings were completely burnt down. On that critical night, when the synagogue was still in flames, a group of German soldiers, Volksdeutschen and firemen came to the rabbi and demanded of him a payment of 250 Zloty as payment for “their effort in saving the Jewish homes from the fire”. According to another version of the story, they demanded the sum in payment for the benzene that they needed in order to ignite the buildings. The rabbi asked that they wait until the next day so that he could collect the money. However, they requested that he immediately go to the dozors of the community to collect the money. Along the way, they forced the rabbi to stand and look at the fire for a long time. Other witnesses relate that they brought the rabbi to the magistrate, and forced him to write a declaration that the Jews alone (or himself alone) ignited the school and the Beis Midrash.

They also destroyed or demolished all of the shtibels in Zgierz – the Gerer, Sochaczewer, Strykower, and Aleksandrer. It is not clear if this happened during the first months of the occupation, or after the expulsion of the Jews of Zgierz.

They also desecrated the Jewish cemetery. The Polish population played an active role in this. On one occasion, on a Saturday morning, the Poles broke the large wooden fence of the cemetery and began to steal the boards. One Jew, together with Berl Helman the undertaker, ran to the magistrate and requested intervention. They were told that the police would become involved, but in fact, they did nothing. A few hours after the deed, two policemen came, but there was not even a remnant of the fence left. Some time later, after the expulsion of the Jews from Zgierz, they removed all of the tombstones and broke down the canopies that covered the graves of the rabbis. They paved streets with the stones, and they uprooted the very old pine trees to use for lumber. Finally, the Germans ploughed over the Zgierz cemetery and covered it with earth.

The Jews of Zgierz had to persevere many other persecutions and vexations that the Germans perpetrated against the Jews, as in other places. Thus, in November 1939, the command was issued for Jews to wear a yellow band on the sleeve of their outer garments. One month later, an ordinance was issued, exactly as in other places in Warthegau, that the Jews of Zgierz must wear a yellow Star of David on the breast and shoulder of their outer garments.

A ghetto was not created in Zgierz, but the Jews suffered no small amount of tribulation from the constant evictions from the choicest dwellings. At the time of an eviction, they were not allowed to take anything with them. Thus, for example, did they evict all of the Jewish residents of Tauber's house on Pilsudski Street within one hour. Included among those evicted was the textile manufacturer Yaakov Meir Kupfer, who was kicked out of his dwelling without anything. He went to live in the house of Yosef Meir Haron (the owner of the dyeing factory), however not too long thereafter, the Germans also evicted all of the Jewish residents of that house as well.

The number of Jews in Zgierz began to decline during the months of September-December, 1939 for many Jews “voluntarily” left the city during the time of the battle, and also thereafter, in an attempt to flee the Hitlerist persecutions. A group of them fled to Lodz, but the majority fled to the cities under the Generalgouvernement (the central authority of occupied Poland). A number of Jews of Zgierz succeeded in stealing across the borders and arriving in areas that were administered by the Soviets. From among those who fled to those areas, a large number of Zgierz residents fell into the hands of the Germans, and were murdered very quickly at the time of the beginning of the Soviet-German war; a few perished due to the tribulations of hunger, cold, illness, and hard labor, and a larger number succeeded in surviving there until the liberation. Most of the refugees (aside from the youth) were from the upper classes; most of the Jews of modest means remained in the place, for they did not have the means to pay for travel. In total, approximately 2,000 Jews were left Zgierz in this manner, that is to say, close to a half of the Jewish population of Zgierz.

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The Beginning of the End

The liquidation of the Zgierz community took place at the end of December 1939. On Tuesday, December 26 (14 Tevet 5700) the Germans issued an order that all Jews must leave Zgierz. They threatened the death penalty to anyone who transgressed this order. The Jews were to gather together at 7:00 a.m. in the Sokol sports arena. They had a baggage limit of 25 kilograms and a cash limit of 50 Zloty per person. Prior to the execution of the order, those who had the means (and only a few Jews had the means) left the city on their own volition and brought with them a few of their belongings. Already in their first steps out of the city, the Germans and Poles robbed those Jews, and did not spare them beatings and persecution. The majority of the Jews, about 2,500 people, gathered together the next day at the specified gathering point. There, the Germans doled out cruel beatings right and left. They stole the money and baggage from some of the Jews. After this introduction, they were driven towards Glowno, which belong to the Generalgouvernement. Along the way, the German guards threatened the Jews with shots if they would find money or other items of value on them. The terrified Jews quietly tossed away the rest of their belongings along the way.

Yissachar Szwarc was “fortunate” – he was spared the torment of exile. He died one day prior to the expulsion, and the Jews brought him by a hand wagon to a Jewish grave in the Zgierz cemetery.

A few Jewish families remained in Zgierz. For the most part, they were tradesmen, shoemakers and tailors, with their families. The Germans were in need of their vocations. A few names of those that remained are known: Dawidowicz, Blanket, Ziskind, the two Waller shoemakers, Wroclawski and others.

Emanuel Ringelblum, in his notes written in the Warsaw Ghetto, provides some incomplete information about the Jews in Zgierz. On October 4, 1940, he writes that he heard about the expulsion of the Jews of Zgierz. Ringelblum does not mention the date of the expulsion. It is possible that the news of the expulsion of December 1939 reached him late. It is also possible that he was writing of a new expulsion of Jews, who arrived in Zgierz from other places during the course of 1940. In those notes, Ringelblum further writes that the Jews of Zgierz (he does not give the number of those remaining Jews) had the right to live in the surrounding villages, but the Germans permitted the peasants to sell the Jews only limited amounts of food. From that note, we can deduce that the Jews were forbidden from living in the city itself.

A later bit of information about the group of Jews in Zgierz comes from a German document from the beginning of September 1941. According to the document, there were 81 Jews in Zgierz (22 men, 30 women, 22 children, and 7 elderly). These were tradesmen who were needed by the Germans, and their families. On January 12, 1942, that group, now numbering 84 or 85 people, was transferred to the Lodzer Ghetto. The Jews were transported to Lodz in wagons with all of their belongings, even with relatively large reserves of food and wooden materials. Prior to the transport, there was a long correspondence between the government president Eibelher, the Lodzer Ghetto authorities, and the mayor (bergenmeister) of Zgierz. As a result of this correspondence, the government president gave his approval on September 5, 1941 for the transport, which was to take place, as mentioned, four months later. The reason for this is not clear. It is worthwhile to note that the transfer of the group of Zgierz Jews to Lodz was probably tied up with the general German plan of creating a central concentration point of all the Jews of Warthegau in the Lodzer Ghetto.

The fate of the expelled Zgierz Jews was exactly the same as the fate of the other residents of the Lodzer Ghetto. Both the earlier refugees, and the Jews driven out of Zgierz, suffered the tragic fate of the settlements to which they came.

Approximately 350 Zgierz Jews survived the war. A few of them survived the hell of the German concentration or work camps. A few came back from Soviet Russia. In the first post-war years, about 60 Jews of Zgierz lived in Poland. Most lived in Lodz or in Lower Silesia. A small number returned to Zgierz: Gittel Grand-Fein, her brother Avraham David, Aharon Zeidel and his wife, Ketler, Chaim Szulcz, Yitzchak Zelgaw, Przedworski, Jakubowicz, Grynbaum, the two Feldman brothers, Honigstok, and others.

The survivors did not remain for long amongst the ruins of the Jewish community of Zgierz, and they gradually left the city.


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List of Sources

The Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem: S. 26, No. 1208 – “Committee on the Affairs of the Polish Jews”, Jerusalem, April 1941 (minutes of the testimony before the United Committee for Aid to Polish Jews in Jerusalem on August 28, 1940)

The Yad Vashem Archives in Jerusalem: Historical questionnaire number 536.

Eyewitnesses (in the archives of the editor of the Yizkor book)

  1. from Leib Gelbard
  2. from Gittel Fein-Grand
  3. from Yakor Blosztejn and Shaul Blanket
  4. from Chaim Zalman Roses
  5. from L. Weinsztejn
  6. from W. Fiszer
  7. Avraham and Esther Gotthelf
  8. Fishel Feldon and others
Publications

S. Huberband: Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of the Divine Name), Tel Aviv, 1969.
M. Zanin: Over Stones and Sticks.
E. Ringelblum: Writings from the Ghetto, volume 1, Warsaw, 1952.
A. W. Jasni: The History of Jews in Lodz During the Years of the German Extermination of the Jews: Volume 1, Tel Aviv, 1960. “
Davar” 41.1.1940 [9].
Eisenbach: Geto Lodzkie, Warszawa, 1946.
T. Berenstein, A Rutkowski: Przesladowania Iudnosci zydowskiej w okresie hitlerowskiej administracji wojskowej na okupowanych ziemiach polskich (“Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego” 196, No 39-39).
D. Dabrowska: Zaglada skupisk zydowskich “Kraju Warty” w okresie okupacji hitlerowskiej (“Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego” 1955, No 13-14).
Kronika getta Lodzkiego vol 1, Lodz 1965.
The collected knowledge, eye witness reports and other information for this article was expounded upon (when possible) and amended – W. Fisher


{551}

The Synagogue is Burning!

by Chaim Zalman Rus

From Sunday September 3rd until Wednesday September 6th 1939, German bombs fell on Zgierz, especially in the afternoon and evening hours. Only during the night was it quiet. On Thursday, September 7th, around 10:00 a.m., the first German soldiers were seen on the streets of Zgierz. Throughout the entire day, the sounds of gunshots and the crackle of machine guns could be heard. Nevertheless, a few Jews ventured out of their hiding places.

On the next day, Friday, throughout the entire morning, they grabbed Jews from their homes and streets and locked them in the local church. From time to time, people thought that they would tear down or burn the church. For three whole days, until Sunday, the unfortunate ones were help in very cramped conditions, without food or drink. They were all fried that afternoon.

I do not remember if there were any Jewish casualties from the bombardment, but I do know that some Jews were wounded. On Sunday morning, the murderers set the synagogue on fire, however the surrounding neighbors succeeded in saving the Torah scrolls. The Germans set the synagogue on fire a second time, and that time, it was burnt down completely. This took place on the 14th of Cheshvan, 27th October, 1940*. That same day, I organized a minyan (prayer quorum) in the home of my eldest brother-in-law Yechiel Meir Kotek of blessed memory, with whom I lived, for that day was the yahrzeit of my father Fishel, may G-d remember him, who died in the year 5697 (1936) [10].

In the midst of the prayers, a few Poles who worked in the same courtyard came in and informed us that the synagogue was on fire, and had been completely destroyed. With weeping and screaming, Yankel Himel arose stood up and called out:

“Woe Jews, how can I pray when our holy synagogue is burning?!…”

He removed his tallis and tefillin and wanted to run there. It took time for us to calm him down and remind him that he is needed for the minyan, and he should remain until the prayers are finished.

On the Sabbath of November 18th, 1939, Jews were ordered under the threat of death to wear the yellow badge. The next day, on Sunday afternoon, the murderers drove several hundred Jews into the new market place and into the fire station, and forced them to lie down with their faces to the ground, which was wet and muddy. The unfortunate people were goaded and beaten, and there were a few casualties. As far as I remember, Shlomo Bialystocki and Yechiel Kompel were killed that day.

On Monday, November 20th, I decided to leave Zgierz. I went to Lodz on the tramway. In those times, such a journey was fraught with the peril of death. The walls of the tramcars were sprinkled with blood – and the conductor told me that one-day earlier, a few Jews were killed there…


{553}

Jews of Zgierz in the Warsaw Ghetto (from a letter to Wolf Fisher)

by Mary Fisher-Fishman of Montreal

… With regard to a Zgierz “Landsmanschaft” [11] – such did not exist at all. Furthermore, there were not a large number of Zgierz Jews there. Most of them went to Lodz or the Warsaw area. I cannot remember the name of the town, which was not overtaken by the “Reich”. There, from Zgierz, there was the Boaz family, the father of Genia of blessed memory. Tears welled up in his eyes when I brought him on Purim… a spirited little something. At the end of the deportation, he was held in a cellar, full of mice. Hid daughter told me that at the time of the aktion that grabbed older people… There, there was also the sister of Boaz-Tracki – Andzia. Her son was run over in the Ghetto.

Kohn with the long beard from the mill (he was also run over on the street) was in the Warsaw Ghetto, as was Gincberg with his wife and son, of blessed memory. He died from typhus in Radom. Jeszik Gross and Falcza with their child were killed during the deportations. Falcza Braun, the daughter of Herman Braun of Warsaw, was a well-known singer in the Ghetto. She composed and wrote the well-known song “Through walls, through holes, and through fences”. I believe that I am the only one who remembers and knows the melody. It is difficult for me to write about the Siedlowskis (Moshele and his wife). They literally died of hunger. I kept them alive as long as it was possible to move about in the city. Same with the Dawidowiczs – I brought them bread and potatoes. I did this in memory of their children – Ali and the others, and also in memory of the devotion of these people to me when I was treated as one of them in their home.

Do you know what Zgierz Jews did in the Ghetto? -- They died of hunger! Only one, Yaakov Albersztejn acted deplorably. He once stated: “I fear that this war will end”. He turned me over to the police when he caught me. He gorged himself, and was happy. What overcame that person – nobody knew. The Haron family was also in Warsaw, and had what to survive. They ate in the same kitchen as the Dawidowiczs, as long as they could move about and pay. The fate of the Zylberberg (Genia) family, Itzik of blessed memory's wife, was tragic. The children and parents fell like flies. The large family had no recourse. Only Genia herself had where to eat. The Dawidowicz, Itzik's children and myself, young and capable, with a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, sold coupons on Gensze Street. I had brought them from Warsaw in great amounts and stored in the cellar, thereby risking my life. Later, when Piniush of blessed memory returned from the Russian side, he took part as well. Unfortunately, there was no longer any merchandise.

We could still own gold and jewelry – and I had an idea. We also smuggled old items, and Poles would come into the Ghetto and exchange them for a piece of bread or butter.

On Meizels Street # 3, where we lived along with our uncles the Bergers, one of our neighbors was the Zgierzer Rabbi, who lived at # 7. Once, my brother-in-law of blessed memory took me along to the rabbi, and brought him a few Zlotys for Passover. He introduced me to his daughter-in-law. The rabbi blessed me, and talked about my father, Shimon Fiszer of blessed memory.

As I have already written, the Zgierzers in Warsaw were not organized. I was culturally active as long as it was possible, while we still had what to eat. I found myself together with H. Wynik, as far as I remember. I spoke to him twice. At that time, I was still in contact with the historian Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum. From that time, I lost track of him.

I transcribed my poem “Yom Kippur” from memory. I also wrote a poem about Zgierz, leaving out almost nothing that is important to perpetuate. I wrote it only for myself, in Polish, not for the Yizkor book.

I wrote a great deal, but not what you requested. As I myself know, my head is full of a strange chaos, and a rush toward memory, when I think about those terrible days – and in the end, nothing comes out. Therefore, Passover is not the time for this. Indeed, I wanted to answer you earlier.


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

1. This is a play on the first verse of Psalm 137, the famous Psalm that begins “By the Rivers of Babylon…”. This section contains many snippets of biblical verses and elegies (Kinot) of Tisha Beov. Back

2. A term used for ethnic Germans in Poland.Back

3. I am not sure of the meaning of this word. It is evidently some form of persecution.Back

4. The Polish word for 'queues'.Back

5. Sukkot concluded on October 6 in 1939.Back

6. I am not sure of the meaning of this term.Back

7. From the context, it seems as if this is the trash collection. Smiec is the Polish word for trash.Back

8. A tallis (tallit) is a ritual prayer shawl worn by Jewish males during prayer. A parochet is the ornamental covering of the holy ark in the synagogue. Tefillin are the phylacteries worn by Jewish men during weekday morning prayers in accordance with a biblical command. Mezuzas are specific sections of the Torah, written on parchment, often encased in an ornamental casing and affixed upon doorposts in keeping with a biblical command.Back

9. There is something wrong with this date.Back

10. On the day of the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of a parent, is proper to recite the daily services with a prayer quorum, and to recite the Kaddish prayer. A prayer quorum (minyan) consists of 10 males over the age of 13.Back

11. This word usually connotes an organization of emigres from a certain place in a new country (such as the Zgierz Landsmanschaft in the United States or in Israel).Back


* Note by Dr. Avner Falk: This was a typo in the original Yiddish. “Zgierz synagogue was burned down completely on 27th October 1940.” It actually  happened on October 27, 1939, as it says earlier on that page, in the paragraph beginning with “The culmination point” Back

 

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