PART II - War Years
"Now go and write it down"
in a book that it
may be before them
forever and ever. "
-Isaiah xxx, 8
ALTHOUGH THE system and the methods of extermination employed by the Nazi
murderers were the same virtually everywhere, the slaughters in Chrzanow, as
generally in the part of Poland that was incorporated into the German Reich,
were carried out "legally, " according to "juridical
formalities. " All of the barbarism practiced in Chrzanow was supposedly
consistent with German jurisprudence. The police followed set regulations;
there were security organs for personal protection, a local council, a German
labor bureau, and so forth. Jews had access to the entire German bureaucracy.
Jews paid regular taxes, and even received ration cards as did the non-Jewish
population. The ghetto that was eventually set up wasn't surrounded by a fence
or barbed wire-the exit was open.
Nevertheless, on the moral plane Chrzanow Jews suffered more than Jews in other
parts of Poland and Lithuania prior to their destruction. This was because,
living on the German border, for generations Chrzanow Jews had gotten along
well with the Germans, done business with them, believed in their good
character, and had a high opinion of German culture. As a result, they weren't
afraid of the Germans. People knew that the Germans were foolish and
hot-headed, but Chrzanow Jews were unable and unwilling to believe them capable
of what they eventually did.
Thus the Jews of Chrzanow were filled with false optimism, and as a result only
a very small number of them survived the terrible slaughter.
More than one reader will wonder: How could it be that so close to Auschwitz,
no more than eighteen kilometers away, Chrzanow Jews didn't see what was going
on? We've asked ourselves the same question-but not until it was already too
Throughout the entire occupation we believed that what might be happening
elsewhere wouldn't come to Chrzanow. In our city, we thought, the Germans would
behave in a more "cultured" manner. This view was justified to a
certain extent, because Nazi rule in Chrzanow was carried out more or less
according to the legalities. Harassment and even murder-every cruel action-was
carried out according to a certain plan, with forethought, with more sympathy
and "practical" explanations than in the rest of Poland and Galicia,
where the mass slaughters were carried out in open brutality for the heavens to
The tactics of the central office of the Judenrat in Sosnowiec contributed
significantly to the air of optimism. It is impossible to believe that Merin,
the director of the Judenrat, didn't know what "transfer" meant. The
fact is that the "transfers" from Chrzanow were carried out after
those in Sosnowiec and Bendzin. Instead of warning the Jews of the coming
disaster, instead of shouting out, "Jews, run for your lives, you have
nothing left to lose" - he lied to his own Jewish brothers. He thought up
various stories in order to avoid telling them the whole truth, from which, in
our opinion, many Jews would have drawn the correct conclusions.
This also implies that we shouldn't place too much blame on the members of the
Chrzanow Judenrat who, during the ultimate extermination, danced like trained
bears to the rhythm of the music from Sosnowiec, unlike Betsalel Cuker, who was
Even Sigmund Freud couldn't comprehend the psychology of these people, who held
sway over Jewish life during the occupation. People who were experienced in
communal affairs, people of deep understanding, carried out the German orders
like well-trained dogs. Suffice it to recall just one sad fact. The last member
of the Judenrat in Chrzanow, whom the Germans left behind to carry out the
"technical" liquidation of the Judenrat as an institution after all
the Jews of Chrzanow had been taken away to the gas chambers-this person, who
watched his brothers and sisters being led away to the slaughter, followed the
Germans' command two days after the final "transfer" and demanded
that the few Jews who were still hiding in attics and basements come out of
their hiding places and report voluntarily to the police. He himself personally
went through all the empty Jewish houses, shouting that the Jews should come
out of their bunkers, that nothing would be done to them. And the few Jews who
still believed him this time fell into the bestial hands of the Germans.
If Jews had known the naked truth, the terrible reality, many individuals,
especially the younger ones, would have been able to save themselves from
destruction. The leaders in Sosnowiec convinced themselves as well as others
that if everyone was well behaved and anticipated the will of the Germans, then
there was hope that some might survive. We don't want to state that this was
done intentionally, in hopes of saving their own lives. More likely it was
their naive belief in the decency of the Germans, and their lack of ability to
behave decisively and responsibly. Compared with other Jewish cities, the
slaughter in Chrzanow took longer, was done more carefully, and thus was
perhaps even more gruesome than in other locations.
In this second section I have attempted a chronological depiction of the
slaughter of the Jews of Chrzanow. I have tried to use simple words to draw a
picture for the generation to come, so that they will know of the death of a
city full of Jews who were honest and hardworking, who still believed in humane
justice until they were killed.
Before the War
THE OUTBREAK of the war did not come as a surprise to Chrzanow. As early as
August 1939, people were growing anxious about what was to come. The proximity
of the German border and the concentration of Polish military personnel in
Upper Silesia inspired the population to do some hard thinking. Starting with
the signing of the German-Soviet pact on August 23, the situation deteriorated
steadily, until daily life was thoroughly infused with a sense of panic.
Located on the main highway between Katowice and Cracow, Chrzanow witnessed the
evacuation of the civilian population who lived near the German border. Long
caravans of automobiles, jammed with people and belongings, made their way
through the city. They continued ever onward into the countryside in order to
be as far as possible from the enemy. For eight days the traffic continued
without a moment's pause. Economic life was almost entirely disrupted; people
stopped believing in tomorrow.
The wealthier Jews of Chrzanow deposited their valuables with relatives and
acquaintances. Everyone who could do so sent his wife and children to a safer
region. The situation of the less prosperous merchants and storekeepers, small
and artisans, grew catastrophic in the days just before the war, because
everyone was hoarding cash. People simply stopped buying. Everyone wanted to
secure as much hard cash as possible in case it came to war.
At home people were busy blackening their windows. The Poles were
pessimistic-they were quite sure that war was coming. Jewish opinion was
divided, with some not believing that war would break out. It is worth
mentioning that on the evening before war was declared, Poles belonging to the
ruling party called a public meeting, which featured slogans about the struggle
against Jewish business.
At six in the morning on Friday, September 1, 1939, even before we knew that
the war had broken out, German fliers bombarded the Trzebinia railroad station.
There the first victims fell. Panic grew by the minute. It was announced on the
radio that Cracow was being bombarded. Railroad traffic stopped almost
completely, as did the traffic between Katowice and Cracow. That afternoon and
an day Saturday, thousands of refugees, including women and children, streamed
through the city, some in wagons but the majority on foot. Most were Poles from
Upper Silesia. The realization that even the Poles were afraid of the Nazi
troops had a depressing effect on the Jews of Chrzanow.
On Sunday, September 3, the Jews began to flee in panic. Some had carts, some
had wheelbarrows, some had bicycles. But most of them left on foot on Sunday
evening and Monday morning, going wherever their feet carried them, abandoning
their homes and all their possessions.
GERMAN RULE UNTIL 1940
Around midday on Monday, September 4, 1939, the Nazi hordes entered the city.
Their first task was to grab people off the streets-Poles as wen as Jews-and
incarcerate them. The Jews were kept in the synagogue, the Poles in church. No
one understood the purpose of this action; no one was harmed in any way, and
the next day everyone was released. Jews, instinctively sensing what they could
expect from the "Master Race," hid at home, afraid to appear on the
Food shortages began during the first days. Willy-nilly, one had to go outside
to look for food, in order to avoid starving. At the bakery, everyone had to
stand in line to receive enough bread to keep body and soul together. This was
our first great disillusionment. We had made a sober reckoning of what we could
expect from the Germans, and were psychologically ready for both moral and
physical torture. But soon we received the first blow from none other than our
"dear" erstwhile neighbors, the Poles. They were the ones who pointed
out the Jews to the German soldiers, who couldn't tell the difference between
Jews and Poles. They didn't know any German, but with sign language they
pointed out: "Jude!"
THE FIRST VICTIM
The first Jewish victim of the Germans in Chrzanow was Reb Chaim Reiber's
sonin-law, a young man who was a bit hard of hearing. He was crossing the
street; the Germans wanted to detain him, and when he didn't hear them shout
"Halt!" they shot him on the spot. Despite their fear of going
outside, the few Jews who remained in the town, led by a member of the burial
society named Wolf Schif (m/b/a/) attended to the corpse and quietly buried the
young man at the cemetery. The German soldiers coldbloodedly assembled 15 Jews
and lined them up against a wall to shoot them. By some miracle, a higher
officer came to investigate the situation, and the Jews were released.
THE TRAGEDY IN TRZEBINIA
On Friday, September 8, the Jews of Chrzanow who had escaped to other regions
because they believed that the Polish army would put up some resistance, began
to stream back into the city. Actually the Germans were already at the gates of
Warsaw. When the Germans arrived in Trzebinia, a town five kilometers from
Chrzanow, they seized these returning Jews en masse and shot them without
mercy, old and young, throwing them still alive into a pit next to the
monastery not far from the Trzebinia railroad station. These mass slaughters
continued on Sunday, September 10 and Monday, September 11. For the record it
should be specified that this brutality was carried out not by the S.S. Gestapo
or the S.A., but by regular German army troops-in fact, a unit of the German
work brigades under the army's command, men of the working classes who used to
shout slogans like "Freedom," "Brotherhood," and
"Unity." It also should be noted that members of the Mickiewicz
nation gladly pointed out those who were Jewish.
By some miracle, a single Chrzanow Jew named Simcha Shonberg survived. Today he
is in Belgium. After he was shot, he managed to make his way out from among the
slaughtered. The following is cited directly from his testimony:
In 1939, on Saturday night, the second day of the war, my wife, my son and I
escaped to Cracow. On Wednesday, September 6 the Germans entered Cracow. After
continuing to wander until Sunday, I decided to return to Chrzanow, leaving my
wife and son in Cracow, so that I would have a chance to see what was happening
in our town first. As we left Cracow we began to sense that things were not
simple with these brutes. Nevertheless my brother Motl and I decided to
continue. Another acquaintance was with us. When we arrived at Bronovice, two
kilometers past Cracow, we were ordered to halt with wild shouts,
"Bandits, where are you going? You're going to croak here!"
Fortunately a cavalry regiment approached from a narrow side street, and when
the German soldier saw them, he retreated for the time being. In our hearts we
thanked the Lord for this miracle.
Continuing two kilometers further on, we met Meir Rosenbaum and his entire
family from out of town, carrying all their possessions and riding on a cart
driven by a Polish coachman. We were happy to meet a few friends from Chrzanow,
so that we could ride home together.
We were stopped again and taken to a compound near a church to do some work,
but when we saw that there was no real work for us to do, we managed to get
ourselves free for a small bribe and we left. We rode a good way further, and
then we saw the first victim from Chrzanow, the well-known butcher Reb Kalmen
Siegel, lying shot in a gutter.
We decided to get home as soon as possible, because the situation seemed to
become too risky. At four in the afternoon we arrived at Kszeszowice. There I
met my friend Chaim Hirshtal, He said to me: "'Listen to me Simcha, don't
go any further! Let's spend the night in Kszeszowice, and then well see what we
have to do next." But all I wanted was to get home. I told him that there
wasn't a minute to spare, that evening was coming and we had to hurry. And we
proceeded. I said goodbye to Chaim Hirshtal and we rode on almost until the
curfew at 7:00 p.m. Thus we arrived at Trzebinia. When we arrived at the
marketplace in Trzebinia, we were approached by several German soldiers. Meir
Rosenbaum was certain that everything would go smoothly. One of them asked us,
"Are you Jewish?" At first he wanted to deny it, but apparently the
soldier realized that he was a Jew. He shouted, "What? Aren't you a
Meir became afraid, and naturally said immediately, "Yes!"
"Then you're coming along with us," the soldier ordered him.
My brother and I immediately got down from the wagon. Rosenbaum's wife, son and
daughter also came with us, and we went into an old house and shut the door.
The last one to come into the house said he had seen the Germans order Gentile
women to get into the cart and drive away with Meir. We were under the
impression that Meir had gotten home. We envied him.
(Author's note: Meir Rosenbaum and his brother were murdered in another
We sat quietly in that house all night. Then a Jewish stranger took a close
look at my brother Motl and said, "Motl, don't you recognize me? We
studied together in the study house in Chrzanow!" He was a Jew from
Trzebinia. His face was covered with tears.
"What happened to you?" Motl asked him. "Don't ask, my friend! I
have to say kaddish. I had one son, who studied with the rabbi of Trzebinia.
When we fled we got to Kalisz. During the fire in the synagogue he wanted to
rescue the Torah scrolls. When the German murderers saw that, they refused to
let him leave the burning synagogue, and my child was burned to death together
with the Torah scrolls. Now we've decided that we can't wait another minute. As
soon as God gives us daylight we've got to get out of here."
Slowly the sun rose. At 6:00 a.m. we decided that Meir Rosenbaum's daughter
should go out into the street to see how things looked. The girl immediately
came back, saying that it was quiet in the street. We slowly began to leave the
house and continued as far as the main street, which leads to the railroad
station. At that moment we noticed in the distance several soldiers washing up
in a courtyard. We crossed to the other side of the street. When we got close
to the soldiers, we heard a shout: "Come over here!" We were taken to
the local elementary school. There we saw the Jew Zagorski from Chrzanow. He
warned us that the situation was grim. Mrs. Zimnovodsky (Rosenbaum's sister)
was also with us. For some reason she decided to greet the killers in German.
For that, she received a hard slap. She could barely get up. We were ordered to
strip. All of the men and women were lined up with their faces to the wall,
"hands up." They took everything we had in our possession. They cut
Mrs. Zimnovodsky's brassiere open with a knife and took her money. After a
short time we heard them bringing some more people in.
The shouts could reach the heart of Heaven. The house was full of people. The
tables were loaded with thousands of zlotys in cash. The soldiers' pockets were
full. We were taken out of the house and taken to a storeroom, where we had to
kneel for more than two hours. Then we were ordered to get up, after which they
It wasn't until we got out onto the street that we saw several people from
Chrzanow, including Avrom Korngold, Yitskhok Grubner, Klapholz and several
others. Everyone wondered: "What are you doing here?" Thus all of us,
a group of thirteen, decided to get away from this Hell and go home. When we
got to the bridge next to Count Michtselski's brick factory, an automobile
drove by. We didn't pay any attention to it, but just then we heard,
"Halt!" Several of the villains stood near us. "Do you
have any weapons?" We told them that everything had been taken away from
us, and we never had any Weapons. Suddenly some of them said, "Are you the
Klapholz replied, "No!"
The German said, "What? No?"
We were forced to shout three times, "Yes." Then he ordered us to
shout three times, "We are bandits, we are thieves."
When that was finished, he said to us, "Hands up! You'll get it from us
yet, you bandits." They herded us back into the brick factory. There we
were confined to the cellar.
A short time later we were once again taken out of the cellar into the
courtyard and counted. A soldier asked another how many of us there were, and
the second replied that we were thirteen. "So! Yesterday these bandits
attacked our soldiers with razors. Now we have to give them a shave! " At
that moment another soldier came out, carrying a long pistol. The officer asked
him, "Did you bring along enough cartridges?" The answer was
affirmative. We were taken out onto the football field in Trzebinia and as the
gate was opened, we saw some twenty people lying shot in various positions. We
were herded further. The soldier grabbed the first four by their collars, threw
them onto the sand and shot them. Then he ordered the nine remaining men to lie
down on the ground with our faces down. At that moment we began to shout,
" Shema Yisroel!" At that we heard wild laughter: "Let Jehovah
help you!" Then he aimed at our hearts and shot each one in turn. I was
the last. After I was shot, I was still conscious. I lifted my head to see
whether the murderers were still there. When I saw that they had gone, I
gathered my strength, made my way to the fence and threw myself over to the
other side. My friend Yitschok Grubner also made it over the fence. With my
last ounce of strength, I made my way to the home of a Jew in Trzebinia. From
there my wife brought me home wounded. I lay in bed for six months.
This was on the twenty-seventh of Elul, September 11, 1939, at 10:00 a.m. The
entire football field was covered with military personnel who wanted to attend
the execution of a few dozen innocent Jews.
The exact number of victims who fell during that gruesome slaughter is
difficult to ascertain. The Jews of Chrzanow alone, who were properly buried
some time later with considerable difficulty, numbered more than thirty. The
Judenrat at the time did everything it could to exhume the martyrs and bring
them to Chrzanow. Jewish victims from other towns were buried at the Jewish
cemetery in Trzebinia.
Gruesome scenes took place while the martyrs were being exhumed. The rabbinical
court of Chrzanow required the wives to identify their murdered husbands, in
order to avoid questions about their right to remarry later. The scene later on
common grave at the Chrzanow cemetery was even worse. The heavens must have
been wetted by the weeping and wailing of the parents, widows, and orphans.
Even the few Poles who were present wept.
When the war in Poland was over and the mass slaughters by various military
units had slowed down, the German military command in Chrzanow began taking
hostages. These respected members of the civilian population, both Jews and
Poles, were interned in the county courthouse. At first this appeared to be a
temporary measure, but this curse began to develop into a specific system.
Naturally, the most prominent citizens remaining in town were the ones
selected. At first the Germans held them for a certain time, then let them go
free and took others to replace them. Of course, the Jews who were in danger of
being taken hostage hid or fled, but the German sadists knew what to do about
this as well. They simply stopped looking for new hostages, demanding that the
hostages themselves provide substitutes in order to be released. Thus they
tried to force Jews to betray others. But this gambit didn't get very far,
because the Jews who were interned bore their fate with honor.
Until this very day it is not known whether a genuine act of sabotage took
place, as the Germans insisted, or an evil trick was played to frighten the
populace. In any case, it was said that a telephone line had been cut, and the
Germans regarded this as an act of sabotage. An officer went to the hostages,
and smilingly announced that two of them were to be shot. According to German
justice, he took the youngest of the hostages, one Jew and one Pole. The
director of the health fund, Tshepla, was the Pole, and as for the Jew, the
misfortune fell on twenty-year-old Avigdor Klagsbald, who had been taken
instead of his father, Reb Yitschok Klagsbald. The victim was an active Zionist
and a member of the bris
The first victim of German "justice" went to his execution like a
hero, refusing to have his eyes covered when he was shot. Even the murderous
officer who carried out the execution was moved by the proud bearing of Avigdor
Klagsbald, and ordered that Klagsbald be given the finest and most prominent
grave at the Chrzanow Jewish cemetery.
The German system of not permitting the Jews to catch their breath made them
expert at finding new forms of torment. Not one day went by without new
trouble. The fact that regular taxes were levied only from Jews hurt us
morally. From a practical standpoint, it was difficult to gather the sums
demanded by the military commander of the city, because the rich men and the
better-off citizens hadn't returned to town yet. Jewish representatives were
literally forced to go around town with a collection bag, convinced that in
this case, truly "charity saves from death."
The trouble here wasn't with the work itself -the fear of forced labor arose
from the insulting behavior, bloodletting, and simple brutality with which the
Germans tortured their victims. At the beginning of the German rule in
Chrzanow, the dirty work of capturing Jews at home and in the street was
carried out by the Polish civilian militia authorized by the Germans. At first
they took to this "holy task" enthusiastically, but after several
days, they turned out to be too weak for the job. Then the German soldiers took
over, and Jews were taken in the streets and in their houses. No one was
spared-neither old nor young, the sick nor the weak.
Yom Kippur in the year 1939 is etched in my memory. Although no explicit order
forbade us to pray in the synagogue and the study house, the Jews of Chrzanow
instinctively avoided doing so. They did not want to risk drawing the attention
of the mad beasts and giving them an excuse for more brutality. Thus Chrzanow
Jews gathered quietly on Yom Kippur in the smaller Chasidic synagogues or in
private homes, broken-heartedly pouring out their hearts to God, who had so
gruesomely punished them. Suddenly the familiar voices of German soldiers were
heard: "Jews, to work!" In the middle of the morning service Jews
were taken away wearing their
some to dean the streets and others to clean the toilets in the barracks of the
Master Race. The Germans knew very well that it was a holy day for Jews and
that the Jews were fasting. After several hours of hard labor and profound
humiliation, the Jews were sent home, and finished the morning service as if
nothing had happened. Even Jewish humor wasn't lacking: the wen-known Torah
reader Reb Shloyme Proper
who had worked together with the rest of the Jews, used a common German phrase
when he was about to resume leading the service:
THE FIRST INSPECTION OF HOUSES
As soon as the Germans entered the city, we immediately sensed that private
property and family tranquility meant nothing to them. The myth of German
discipline and order turned out to be a simple lie as far as the German
soldiers were concerned. They frequently broke into private homes by day or at
night. German regular army officers and enlisted men (at first there was no
S.S., S.A. or Gestapo) entered stores, looked over the merchandise, asked the
price out of sheer habit, ordered that whatever they had selected be packed,
and left behind a small coin in payment. As they were leaving, the more decent
among them gave the excuse that their colleagues were taking even more
merchandise from other stores, paying nothing, and meanwhile beating the
merchants. They weren't lying.
Gruesome deeds were committed in the dark of night. Two such incidents are
In the middle of the night a group of German soldiers went to the home of a
wellknown, established Jewish family (whose name, for understandable reasons,
we will not mention). No one was at home except for the mother and her grown
daughter, a young, intelligent girl. One of the soldiers brought in a young man
with whom the girl was acquainted, who happened to five in the same house. With
a pistol in his hand, the soldier forced the young man to rape the girl in the
presence of the soldiers and the girl's mother. He beat the young man
murderously during the horrid orgy.
One Friday night German soldiers entered the home of the Rosner family. One of
them climbed up onto the table, where the Sabbath candles were still burning,
defecated and threw his feces at the sick woman lying in bed.
Such incidents were believed to be isolated acts of riotous, degenerate
soldiers. But on the night of October 6, the entire city was suddenly
surrounded by soldiers. Machine guns were placed in all the streets, and mass
inspections of Jews began. The soldiers used iron bars and axes to open the
locked stores, whose owners had not yet returned. Many stores were emptied, and
the merchandise was taken away. Houses were searched for money and valuables.
The barbarians weren't ashamed to take literally the last bit of food from the
very poorest. The writer of these lines observed Jews from whom
"provisions" had been requisitioned being forced to take their last
few paper sacks of food onto the street. The Germans later took these away.
The house inspections continued all night, and until the middle of the next
day. The Germans gained little, however. No one was arrested. As often happens
in such situations, the Germans didn't want their actions to come to the
attention of the higher authorities, in case they would have to surrender the
This first inspection is noteworthy, because it was the first instance of
organized robbery of the peaceful Jewish population. It should have induced us
to take stock of our true situation. But there were still quite a few optimists
in Chrzanow, who claimed that the Germans weren't as bad as they were made out
The First Judenrat
WRITING THIS chapter about the first Judenrat in Chrzanow arouses mixed
feelings. Feelings of shame and anger overcome anyone who recalls this
institution, which could only have been invented by the Devil himself. At first
people thought the Judenrat would be similar to the Jewish community council,
with philanthropic aims- a juridical corporation that would represent the
Jewish population in dealings with the German authorities, and so forth.
Superficially that was the case, but in practice the Judenrat was merely a
cover for the Germans' dark plans, enabling them to complete the extermination
of the Jews more easily and quietly. The first Judenrat consisted of the
following individuals: Yosef Umlauf, chair; Weber (Fasek) as deputy; (Bishte)
David Wachsberg; Levi Krauskopf and Yosef Shmuel Shonhertz. This first Judenrat
was really controlled by Fasek Weber and Bishte Wachsberg, two characters
without any sense of Jewish responsibility whatsoever. They had only their own
interests in mind when they forced their way into control, because no one
invited or asked them to serve. These two immediately drew the wrath of the
entire Jewish population by their many deceitful actions, even the public
mention of which is embarrassing.
Yosef Umlauf, as chairman of the Judenrat, was unqualified for the position,
despite his good intentions. He failed completely to comprehend the general
situation. As an assimilated Jew he was alienated from the Jewish masses; he
had no experience as a communal activist; and because he was already seventy
years old, he was like a mannequin in Fasek Weber's hands, dancing to his tune.
Shonhertz and Krauskopf, although both responsible and well-intentioned, were
also too weak to resist the control of Weber and Wachsberg, fearing their close
connections with the German police.
And to this Judenrat the fate of the 10,000 Jews of Chrzanow was entrusted. The
main task of the Judenrat, according to the German directions, was to see to it
that the Germans were comfortable. The gymnasium and children's home, which had
been transformed into barracks, had to be cleaned by Jews every day. Jews had
to polish the boots of any German who demanded it. The Jildenrat had to come up
with whatever number of workers the Germans demanded. And they demanded
countless numbers. Quite often the Germans- civilian officials, no less-stopped
Jews in the street and made them perform personal services.
The Judenrat also had other tasks to attend to, such as providing the police
with various items that were in short supply, such as coffee, tea, and
chocolate. Of course, such transactions created the opportunity for corruption
within the Judenrat itself.
On account of the chaotic work and the incompetence of the first Judenrat, real
authority lay with the police and the various predatory hustlers who crowded
around, all sorts of "do-gooders" who, thanks to their acquaintance
with one or another German, were able to pay money to have various sins
expunged-sins like being caught with a beard, praying with a congregation, and
the like. The corruption of the Germans only increased with the arrival of the
police chief Schindler, of whom more will be said later. This ugly character
liked money, jewelry, and women, and the Judenrat became a tool in his hands,
assisting him in his criminal excesses.
There were a few positive moments in the activity of the first Judenrat. Thanks
to its intervention, at the end of November 1939 it was possible to provide a
proper cemetery burial for the first martyrs from Trzebinia, who had been
placed in a mass grave there. The free kitchen in the Anshei Chayil synagogue,
created by the first Judenrat, was important because it created the possibility
for a rather large number of families to get a bit of warm food once a day. The
Judenrat acquired the food legally, and under the direction of the well-known
Chrzanow WIZO activist Mrs. Korngold, the free kitchen served the needs of the
time. Individual Jews were forbidden to buy the same food.
CHRZANOW BECOMES PART OF THE GERMAN REICH
At the end of December 1939 the borders of the Polish "General
Government" were fixed, with Cracow as the capital. Chrzanow was
incorporated into the Reich, and the border ran past the village of Dulova,
some six kilometers from Trzebinia. The economic situation, which was already
bad, received an even greater blow, because Chrzanow had always been closely
tied to Cracow. Now Cracow was hermetically separated from Chrzanow. In order
to cross the border and go to Cracow, one needed a passport. Such documents
could easily be had for money- or more accurately, for a bribe. Corruption was
the norm among the German officials. Jews and Poles went back and forth. Both
sides dealt in merchandise and provisions, which was, of course, forbidden.
During the inspection in Trzebinia, Jews were harassed more intensely, because
the Germans knew that they'd get payoffs from the Jews if they caught them with
THE YEAR 1940
A good proportion of the Jews of Chrzanow, left without any livelihood, set off
for Cracow to try to make a living. This "exodus" took on a mass
character. Frightful shakedowns took place in Trzebinia. This influenced some
of the young people to head individually or in groups toward the Soviet border,
where they risked their lives crossing the river San. Thanks to this
initiative, some of Chrzanow's young people managed to escape death.
In comparison with the later years, 1940 was the most normal year of life under
occupation in Chrzanow. The first blows were over. People had already gotten
used to the new restrictions and regulations that were imposed on us daily. We
were used to expecting "news"' when we got up every day. The most
painful thing, which we regarded at the beginning of 1940 as a cruel decree,
was that we had to wear white armbands with blue Stars of David. If, until that
point, Jews had somehow been able to disguise themselves as Aryans while on the
trains, doing business, or even just walking around freely-all that stopped.
This regulation ensured that the anti-Jewish laws would be totally effective,
and it eased the task of quickly finding and seizing Jews.
In general, the situation stabilized to a certain degree. Random seizure for
forced labor lessened. The Judenrat created its own labor office, regulating
somewhat the work done for the Germans. An obligatory work schedule for every
Jew was introduced. Each Jew either had to devote one day a week to slave
labor, or else pay a certain sum into the account of the Judenrat to hire a
The stores reopened gradually, as they received, paying dearly, renewed
licenses from the German authorities. With great difficulty they managed to get
merchandise. The situation of the Jewish workers was very difficult, because
nearly all of the Jewish industrial enterprises had been closed, and the
machinery confiscated. Private artisans had no work because no one thought of
buying new things. In the beginning people managed to find a few pennies to
save here and there. Later they began selling off anything they could. Some
sold jewelry or other valuables, and some sold clothing, as long as they could
stay alive. People lived with confidence that they would survive the hard times.
Chrzanow, which had largely emptied out on the first night of the war, began to
fill again. The Jews who had left in order to escape the murderers returned
home, because no other place had been better. On the contrary, the fact that
Chrzanow was included in the Reich attracted many naive people, who believed
that the regime would be more tolerant there.
THE REORGANIZED JUDENRAT
In March 1940 a new Judenrat was appointed in Chrzanow. The initiative came,
not from the local German authorities, but from the central Judenrat in
Sosnowiec, whose main figure was the chairman, Moniek Merin. Those unfamiliar
with the situation will need a bit of explanation about the scope of the
Judenrat. Throughout Europe this institution's purpose was to help ease the
task of murdering Jews. All of the communities included in the Reich were
concentrated under the central directorate, which was set up in Sosnowiec
because it had the largest Jewish community. This central directorate took in
the Judenraten in Bendzin, Dambrowa, Gurnicza, Huta, Zawiercie, Chrzanow,
Oswiecim, Jaworzno, Trzebinia and other smaller communities. The directorate
was under the personal supervision of the chief of the Katowice Gestapo, Dr.
Dreier, whose fine words about the favors he was going to do for the Jews
considerably influenced the directorate and its chairman Merin.
This rat Merin rose to prominence by chance. When the Germans entered
Sosnowiec, they herded the Jews together into one place. After various
chicaneries and torments they summoned from the crowd someone who belonged to
the community council-a young man who had indeed belonged to the community
council in Sosnowiec before the war, and who had the courage to say, "I
was." This young man became the infamous "leader" Moniek Merin,
who was instrumental in sealing the fate of the Jews in the cities and towns
that were included in the Reich. With his brave response Moniek Merin drew the
Germans' favor, and they named him the founder and director of the central
Judenrat. Moniek Merin was granted unlimited powers by the central office of
the Gestapo in Katowice, and the Germans made the right choice. Merin employed
his organizational talents for four years (ending with his own liquidation in
the gas chamber at Auschwitz), effectively directing the annihilation of over
100,000 Jews within the Reich.
Merin, with his sensitivity to organizational function, immediately realized
the competence of the first Judenrat in Chrzanow and reorganized it, coopting
new members from among the bourgeoisie. Despite his faults, Merin understood
that the Judenrat had to be staffed with responsible people; the hustlers and
underworld characters had to be gotten rid of.
The new Judenrat, which had just been appointed in Chrzanow, consisted of Fasek
Weber and David Bishte, with whom Merin himself didn't want to come into
conflict, because of their intimate acquaintance with the police. Yosef Shmuel
Shonhertz remained from the previous council, because of the honesty and
goodwill he had displayed in his earlier work. They were joined by Betsalel
Cuker, Moyshe Nagoshiner, Kalmen Teichler, Zelig Grajower, Shmuel Yosef Weiss,
and Mendl Nussbaum.
With the installation of the new Judenrat, life became somewhat easier in the
city. The new members' position in the Jewish community and experience in
communal affairs guaranteed a degree of security against the neglect indulged
in by the former bosses, Fasek Weber and David Bishte. The latter, pursuing
their own self-interest, slavishly and blindly carried out the will of the
Germans, rather than using deception to ease the situation of their own
The new Judenrat unquestionably revolved around its chairman, Betsalel Cuker. A
proud and nationally conscious Jew with particular talents in communal affairs,
he was honest, just, intelligent, and strict, but also had a warm Jewish heart.
In a short time he attracted the attention of the Jewish population,
introducing into the Judenrat exemplary order regarding every aspect of
communal life. First, the labor bureau was set up, headed by Meir Goldberg, who
died during the war. An accurate catalogue of all the able-bodied Jews was
developed, and the labor bureau's job was to distribute the assigned tasks
equitably among the Jews. The wild scenes in which Jews were stopped in the
street and taken off to work stopped. Rational distribution of the work had to
satisfy everyone, because before it had been even worse.
The economic bureau, under the direction of Mendl Nussbaum, was assigned the
task of distributing provisions to specially designated Jewish stores according
to a ration system. The provisions were sent via the central economic bureau in
The creation of the charity bureau, under the direction of Shmuel Yosef Weiss,
was also a welcome step. This bureau extended its activities from day to day,
taking on new clients. During the course of the war, the financial structure of
Chrzanow Jewry changed entirely. The same Jews who had been givers of charity
until the war, now had to come to the charity bureau of the Judenrat, and it
must be admitted that S.Y. Weiss- incidentally the only survivor from that
Judenrat- carried out his work with tact and deep understanding.
Hard and thankless tasks fell to the housing bureau. Living conditions in
Chrzanow hadn't been especially good even before the war. During the war the
invading army, police, and considerable civilian staff forcefully seized the
better living places in the city. The Plantn and the surrounding area became
Judenrein (clean of Jews), and its residents had to be moved into other
dwellings. This situation became even more difficult in the summer of 1940,
when a large number of the Jews remaining in Upper Silesia were transferred to
Chrzanow. The Judenrat's housing bureau had to find shelter for the first of
The mass psychology that ruled in 1940 has to be understood. Very few could
imagine that the Germans would slaughter us. It wasn't easy for people to give
up the home that had been theirs for so many years, so the housing bureau had
to work tactfully but strictly. It had to be dictatorial but just, in order to
find dwellings for the unfortunates who had lost theirs. Naturally, there were
frequent tensions among the various parties and the Judenrat. The director of
this bureau, Moyshe Nagoshiner, needed a great deal of knowledge and competence
in order to resolve these conflicts.
The Judenrat had various additional functions. It had dealings with the police
and the civilian authorities; it provided furniture, linens, and clothing for
the Germans and their families, who came like hyenas from every corner of
Germany, with the one goal of robbing Jewish goods. Not only that-the Judenrat
even had to supply them with provisions for a feast, on demand.
It is interesting to note that at the Judenrat there was a cupboard filled with
all kinds of good things, such as cognac, wine, liquor, chocolate, coffee, and
other very rare items. All this was prepared to be given to the Germans when
they demanded it. Most of the Germans who came were police, or as they were
nicknamed, Shupo's. Their commander was the always laughing, never satisfied,
Oberleutenant Schindler. With his smooth talk and pretended philo-Semitism, he
led the annihilation of the 12,000 Jews who were in Chrzanow during the war.
The Judenrat had colossal expenses, which they either did not want or were
forbidden to record officially. In addition to the charitable activities such
as the free kitchen and the "Anshei Chayil" support for needy heads
of households, and salaries for a considerable staff of officials and Jewish
policemen, they needed large sums of money to pay off the Germans. Although the
oppressive regulations couldn't be avoided entirely through bribery, thanks to
the corruption of the Germans, it was possible to make life a bit easier, a bit
more bearable-but even this small goal was not always reached.
In order to raise the necessary money, appropriate sums were requisitioned from
those Jews who still had means. The Judenrat also had some income from its
interventions with the authorities on behalf of Jews with money. Money had to
be raised by any means possible, regardless of whether it was morally
questionable. Naturally, there could be no supervision of the expenditures.
This in turn gave rise to rumors that the members of the Judenrat were getting
rich at the cost of their brothers' suffering. At the time it was impossible to
determine whether this was true, and today it is utterly impossible.
The first major task faced by the new Judenrat, as we have already mentioned,
was to find apartments for the Jews who had just arrived from Upper Silesia, or
more accurately, the German Jews. These German Jews for the most part had
little connection with living and breathing Judaism. The members of the
Judenrat had to exercise a great deal of intelligence and tact to get along
with these Germanized Jews. They had to be given the chance to live in a
reasonably clean and comfortable situation; otherwise there was a danger that
they would turn to the authorities and diminish the independent role the
Judenrat had shaped for itself. Although their living conditions were better
than those of the native Jews, later on many of these German Jews caused
trouble.. Unfortunately among them there were traitors who ruined many families.
After the random killings of the Jews from Upper Silesia in the beginning of
the summer of 1940, the situation became generally bearable. While the daily
problems didn't stop, they were manifested in minor incidents, which we had
simply gotten used to. Pious Jews, who refused to remove the "image of
God," their beards and peyes, for all the riches in the world, had to
withstand great trials. These Jews were sentenced to remain shut up at home,
summer and winter. Even when they were at home countless times a day they were
seized with terror, hearing a German voice or the sound of German boots on the
stairs or in the hallway. How sorrowful and terrifying it was every time a
German caught a Jew with a beard!
Hunting beards-Jewish ones only, of course-became a kind of sport for the
German police and their commander Schindler. This sport was connected to a more
useful occupation-fundraising. If the possessor of the beard was wealthy, he
could buy it off with money, or with
The latter could buy off even their divine Fuehrer.
Recalling some other minor incidents that took place during that
"quiet" period demonstrates the base and shameless methods used by
German propagandists. There was an idiot in Chrzanow, a dirty brute, who had
been born a Pole, but spoke Yiddish. He pretended to be a convert named Avrom
Ger. The Germans took this poor soul and shot him, claiming that because he was
so dirty, he could cause an epidemic. Before they shot him they took his
picture, which appeared a short time later in the Nurenburg newspaper
over a caption reading, "The richest Jew in Chrzanow, and so dirty!"
Another time the Germans captured the well-known Chrzanow baker and scholar Reb
A small, thin Jew with a sad face, he too was photographed, and the picture was
with the following caption: "This Jew was captured with weapons, fighting
against the German army. . .
After the German victories in France, the level of German terror against Jews
seemed for a short while to diminish. The police looked the other way when Jews
committed such crimes as praying in public or going for walks outside of the
city. Somehow the Germans seemed to be coated with honey at the end of summer
1940. The Jews' terror of them diminished somewhat; people dared to stick their
heads outside of their houses, dress a bit better, and in general breathe more
freely. Naturally, this encouraged Jews to gather for prayer in the smaller
synagogues. At that time, the following curious episode took place.
The well-known sadist and police chief Gurtz, whose gruesome, degenerate
methods of torture caused even the Poles to fear him like the plague, happened
one morning to enter the Mizrachi synagogue, which was not far from the police
headquarters. Seeing several Jews there, he asked them what the purpose of
their gathering was. The congregants, trembling with fear, explained that they
wanted to pray, but since they were short of two or three Jews for the minyan,
they had to wait until somebody else came. Their tormentor didn't say a word,
but when he went out into the street he stopped several Jews who were passing
by, took them into the Mizrachi synagogue and said to the Jews who were waiting
there: "'Here are the rest of the Jews you needed. Now you can
During that "happy" time the Judenrat managed to get the authorities
to agree to the reopening of the Jewish bathhouse, the only bathhouse in the
city available to the Jewish population. It must be remembered that given the
living conditions at that time, and the general hygienic situation of the
Jewish population, the opening of the bathhouse was like a miracle.
Even more impressive, in 1940, thanks to the good relations between the
Judenrat and the German police, permission was received for public prayer on
the High Holidays. These services were held in the Mizrachi Synagogue no less,
under the very eyes of the German police. Even better, the police came to the
Mussaf service, and listened to the beautiful cantorial voice of the young
student of Reb Hirsh Leyb, Simcha Shonberg, who, as previously mentioned, had
miraculously managed to escape from their hands in Trzebinia.
In October of the same year, right on Simchas Torah, the news appeared like a
black cloud: Merin, the director of the central Judenrat in Sosnowiec, arrived
with a directive called "labor details, " which involved internment
in specially designated Jewish work camps. Every Jew was seized by
indescribable terror. We had some idea by then of what it meant to work for
Germans, but before, it had at least been possible to go back home after a day
at work. Now we would have to part with our nearest and dearest, and go
straight to the Devil's lair.
As a rule the Germans carried out all of their actions in a panicky rush. They
were always successful, because the efficient apparatus of the Judenrat was at
their disposal, ready to carry out their orders precisely. Today we can assert
with conviction that the Judenrat buried their own brothers.
At the beginning the members of. the Judenrat didn't understand the ugly role
the Germans had devised for them. With rare exceptions, they believed the
scurrilous reassurances of the Germans, who said that going to the work camps
would improve the situation of the Jews, and so forth. There is no other way to
explain the enthusiasm and energy displayed by Merin at the time of the labor
Apparently Merin didn't entirely trust the Chrzanow Judenrat to carry out the
action. He deigned to come personally to supervise the operation. He delivered
a speech about the importance of work to the assembled Jews of Chrzanow.
"No longer will the Germans be able to say that we are lazy
parasites." Even better, he promised roast pigeons in the German labor
camps, and he promised that after a few months people would be able to come
home. In a word, he promised that things would be just fine.
The first labor detail consisted of the blossoming youth of the city, as well
as married men who couldn't prove that they were in some way employed-
altogether, 300 young men at the prime of their lives. These young people were
assembled in the elementary school of Mickiewicz Street. Then they were
transported by brutal Vermacht men in a special train, to the Jewish work camps
of Sakrau and Gogolin in Upper Silesia. Signs were hung on the railroad cars,
reading "Voluntary Workers for Germany."
The first news from the camps was very bad. The work was hard (the Jews were
building the "Reichsautobahn") and the treatment was brutal. The most
primitive hygienic accommodations were lacking in the camp, and as a result
filth and lice consumed the young people. This led the chairman of the Chrzanow
Judenrat, Betsalel Cuker, to investigate the actual conditions in the camp.
With his unrelenting energy, together with Moyshe Nagoshiner, he managed to
visit the above-mentioned camps. The young men from Chrzanow greeted them with
bitterness and outcries of enraged hostility at their fate. He returned
heartbroken, but unfortunately he could not do anything substantial to help them
The labor details demand further discussion. It is true that a large number of
the young people of Chrzanow gave up their souls in torture and pain at the
work camps. But it should also be noted that the majority of the surviving Jews
of Chrzanow which is a large percentage, relative to other Jewish
cities-remained alive on account of
the camps. I can attest that if they had not been in the camps, they would
doubtless have died in the gas chambers in nearby Auschwitz. Other means of
survival-such as joining the partisans, hiding in the forests or bunkers, or
acquiring Aryan papers -were very seldom used here. Merin's claims. that the
camps would save us from utter destruction contained a small kernel of truth.
The question is only whether Merin himself really believed his own prophecy.
In the belief that it would thus be possible to avoid further deportations to
the work camps, there began intensive agitation in favor of the creation of a
sort of work camp in Chrzanow itself. Individual Jews began to secure places to
work, some fictitious and some genuine. With the help of the Judenrat, a camp
was established in Gromiec, devoted to drainage work near the vistula. In
Libiaz itself, Chrzanow Jews came to work at the heaviest labor in the local
quarries. In Pogorzec near Chrzanow, several dozen Jews were employed building
the highway. Later on several dozen Jews were hired at the rubber factory in
Trzebinia, which the Germans permitted to continue functioning. There was no
lack of volunteers for work in the Jaworzno coal mines; they even paid money
for this privilege, just to be sure they had employment. There was competition
for every job, and everyone was firmly convinced that work would be their
salvation, because that was what they were told by the German labor inspector
Kleinecke and his representative Nukish. The latter actually gave considerable
assistance -whether free or for money, we cannot determine-to the higher class
of Jews in Chrzanow.
Every job given to a Jew had to be certified in Sosnowiec, by the so-called
"Special Commission of the S. S. for Foreign Labor Details, " headed
by General Schmeltz. To this department belonged those who would later become
the Angels of Death for Chrzanow Jewry, such as S.S. Obersturmbanfuehrer and
former German Army major, Heinrich Lindner, his adjutant Bruno Ludwik, Sergeant
Knol, and the Rumanian Germans Dr. Messner and Kutshinsky. Anyone who received
a certificate of work from this department soon had to pay a substantial sum,
" to the S.S. each month. Those who made these payments felt-or convinced
themselves-that they were safe from being sent to the labor camps.
As in other cities throughout Poland, so too in Chrzanow the ghetto began to be
enclosed at the end of 1940. First of all the Plantn became totally Judenrein.
The Judenrat, which until then had been quartered at the Jewish community
offices at the home of Reb Kalmen Klein, moved into the municipal building on
Mickiewicz Street. Thus the Plantn became purely Aryan. An exception was made
for the members of the Judenrat, who received special permits, and also for
those who had business with the German police, quartered at Reb Mendl
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