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The Year 1941

AS THIS YEAR began, people felt the noose tightening around their throats. Externally everything appeared calm. For a number of those who dreamed about autonomous Jewish communities, the national, cultural, and personal autonomy of the Judenrat seemed authentically Jewish. The Judenrat had new missions to carry out. All of the Jewish houses were now formally placed under the control of the S. S., and all rents owing to and from Jews had to be paid to a bureau set up for that purpose. This bureau, as well as the post office located on the Plantn, were both inaccessible to Jews after the Plantn was Aryanized. Thus the Judenrat had to set up a Jewish bureau to manage all the Jewish homes (comprising 80% of the city), as well as their own post office, with a Jewish postmaster and officials. The housing bureau was in the very center of the city, in the Jewish area of Berko Joselewicz Street (between Kadlubek and Krzyska), and the post office was in the marketplace (at Mandelbaum's house), with the entrance also through Berko Street.

All of the Jewish businesses, without exception, were Aryanized. That is, they continued their operations, but every one had to have a German administrator ( Treuhendler ), who actually controlled the business. The Jew figured only as a servant of the German. The Jewish food stores, which distributed to the Jewish population the provisions received from the Judenrat, were in the same situation.

In the spring of 1941, close to Passover, the Jews of Auschwitz (twenty kilometers from Chrzanow) were ordered-to leave their city immediately. The gas chambers, crematoria, and other demonic instruments for the total annihilation of European Jewry were ready. The Germans apparently didn't want any undesirable populations, especially Jews, so close by. Some of the Jews of Auschwitz came to Chrzanow. The process of finding places for them to live went fairly smoothly and with fewer difficulties than during previous mass relocations, even though the city was rather crowded already.

At the same time the great advance of the German armies against the Soviets began. Day and night, without interruption, the angels of destruction, who had already been slaughtering East European Jews for several months, streamed past. An S.S. group which reached Chrzanow on the first day of Passover stayed there for several days, tormenting the Jews terribly. There was no one to turn to. The police in Chrzanow, under the lying degenerate Schindler, who didn't stop extorting "gifts" from the Judenrat and from individuals in exchange for his pretend help, organized a show the memory of which still gives one chills. On the seventh day of Passover the police, together with the S.S., surrounded the minyan praying with the popular Chrzanow rebe, Reb Chaim Yankele Rosenfeld (m/b/a), led him out into the street together with his students and congregants, and had fun with the beards and peyes of the terrified Jews. Later they dragged the same Jews outside of the city, where they were murderously beaten and forced to do heavy work on the Jewish holiday. This "'performance," Schindler later claimed, had been organized to satiate the S.S. officer's lust for a bit of anti-Jewish sadism.

MAJOR LINDNER

This name by itself was enough to inspire terror and panic among all the Jews of the Reich who had been included in the administrative region of Sosnowiec, under the bureau of labor assignments. Lindner headed this bureau. He was a wild animal in human form, a cold sadist and an enemy of humanity whom even the Germans feared. Major Lindner wasn't new to Chrzanow; he was a frequent if unwelcome guest, whose regular visits cast a pall of terror over all the Jews, without exception.

The first to meet this human animal were the young men of Chrzanow who were taken away in the first transports to the Upper Silesian camps of Sakrau and Gogolin. When Lindner went to inspect the camps, he sent some twenty of the young men to Auschwitz on ridiculous pretexts. Apparently these victims were among the first to die in that gruesome Gehenna. The bitter reports received from the work camps terrified the relatives and parents of the laborers, and at that time Lindner would come seeking new victims. The Germans apparently understood that Merin's fine speeches would no longer convince the Jews to respond voluntarily to the Judenrat's call, as they once had.

Before dawn on May 9, 1941 the Germans surrounded the entire city. No one was permitted to enter or leave. They sealed the streets, and like wild beasts they attacked the houses. They dragged the sleeping Jews, especially able-bodied men, out of their houses. In those families where the men managed to disappear into hiding places, the Germans took women hostage.

The Jews were taken off in groups to the assembly area in front of the gymnasium, and then lined up according to the Prussian military drill system. None other than the anti-Semite Lindner and his staff officers Knol and Kutshinsky came out to receive them. (After the Liberation the latter was spotted by Jews from Chrzanow in Weiden, Bavaria, in the innocent role of a teacher in a German high school. The Polish authorities demanded his extradition, and in October, 1948 he was sentenced to death by the Polish court in Sosnowiec.) After the sonders were checked, all of those who were regularly employed were sent home. In addition the old or sick, and those who had special connections (there were such cases) were released. The rest of the Jews, several hundred in number, were transported to the camps in Upper Silesia.

This action happened on May 10, the day when Hitler's righthand man, Rudolph Hess, got into his airplane and flew to England. We don't know what effect this news had in other Jewish communities, but in Chrzanow it was like balm for our wounds. The joy in the city, the hope that the nest of bandits would soon collapse, somewhat eased the pain of the families whose loved ones had been torn away.

As we have said, the Judenrat maintained a precise list of able-bodied Jews. During the roundup on May 9, several hundred Jews managed to reach their hiding places and avoid the "main event. " Lindner recorded these names, and summoned them on May 25. Once again a number of victims were taken to the labor camps, this time including several young women..

The establishment of a Jewish militia must also be mentioned in connection with the labor details. Actually this was a police detail under the command of Fasek Weber. They had all the trappings of a police force: blue and white caps, special insignia, fixed working hours, and so forth. These police regulated traffic in the Jewish streets, made sure that the houses were clean and orderly, and carried out various missions for the Judenrat. In a word, it was an authority that could not be ignored, because the Germans stood right behind them. In the beginning the police appeared to be practical and necessary, but unfortunately they later brought us endless troubles.

The first appearance of the Jewish police elicited a good deal of envy on the part of the Poles, although they had absolutely no authority over the Poles. The Poles watched, furious and dreaming of revenge, as the Jewish policemen controlled automobile traffic at the city's major intersections. In general there were no Polish police in Chrzanow during the war, because the city was 80% Jewish. Sometimes when no Germans were around-the city seemed like an autonomous Jewish state. But there were tragic scenes whenever a labor detail was mustered-scenes that revealed the full absurdity of this degenerate institution which the Germans invented as part of our annihilation.

The German attack on Russia didn't surprise the Jews of Chrzanow at all. Several months earlier they had seen the massive advance of German forces toward the Soviet border. Webs of hope were spun in the hearts of many Jews. Who knew? Perhaps there would be a German defeat, and the Russians would liberate us. On the other hand, if, God forbid, the Germans won, perhaps they would ease their murderous pogrom, at least for a short time, just as they had a year earlier during the victories over France and Belgium.

Unfortunately, the outbreak of war with Russia brought a change for the worse. In addition to the bad news coming from the rest of Poland-the mass slaughters in Lemberg, Stanislaw, Tarnow-in Chrzanow, too, we could begin to smell the scent of gas. As in a speeded-up movie, the Germans began to realize their dark plans. They were desperately eager; they hurried to carry out their mass slaughters as fast as possible. Regulations fell on us like hail, regulations with only one aim: to worsen the situation of the Jews and to drive them together in a crowded ghetto.

In the fall of 1941, the ghetto became much more crowded and shrunken. Mickiewicz Street, Cracow Street, and the marketplace, where the majority of the Jews lived, became Judenrein. The Jews were left with only the small, narrow back streets around the marketplace, along with Krzyska Street and Kadlubek. The community council was moved to Reb Yakov Lemler's house (on the corner of Cracow Street and Pipek's Alley [Garncarska]), where it remained until the final catastrophe.

Even more than before, Jews were forced to go to work each day. Even on the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays they had to serve the police and S.S. troops, polishing their shoes, washing the floors, cleaning the outhouses, and the like. Furthermore, the Jews had to provide a few dozen men each day for work in town-cleaning streets, clearing snow, and so forth.

Meat, eggs, butter, and milk were forbidden to Jews, even though they were available in sufficient quantities. German policemen went from house to house inspecting the pots to make sure they contained nothing forbidden. Our hearts nearly failed when we heard the tramp of police boots. Many of our women and children actually did succumb to heart attacks caused by terror, a long time before they were suffocated and burned in Auschwitz.

Lindner never stopped arranging work details during that period. He continued to demand (or better, to grab) new victims for the German labor camps. After a time only girls were taken, because the young men of Chrzanow didn't allow themselves to be taken so easily. The frequent roundups by the German police often failed to bring the desired results, because the intended victims often reached their hiding places. The inventiveness of these people, who wanted to survive to take vengeance on our torturers, was astonishing-the Germans rarely came across their cleverly constructed hiding places. Lindner and his Jewish helper Moniek Merin understood this, and therefore recruited the Jewish militia to help them carry out the last labor action. They didn't even rely solely on the local Jewish militia from Chrzanow, instead bringing along some Jewish police from Sosnowiec for the purpose. In November 1941 a detachment from Sosnowiec arrived, and with true devotion to the German hangmen, they carried out their vile task. Although officially only those girls who had been assigned by the Judenrat to be taken to the labor camp were to be seized, the roundup by) the Sosnowiec police turned into a general hunt for young women. The Sosnowiec militia, or "Merin's Bodyguards" as they were called, were the equal of their German supervisors in many respects. Without second thoughts, with cynical cruelty, nearly all of them burst into Jewish homes, searching for terrified Jewish girls, dragging them out of their hiding places, and taking them to Sosnowiec and thence to the local transit camp. Afterward the young women, along with similar victims from other towns, were transported to various labor camps.

At the same time the discriminatory regulations against Jews were increased. The German police, headed by Schindler, began checking for the most trivial "sins," such as buying an egg or a chicken from a peasant woman, or selling something forbidden to a Gentile. The police filled out reports and punished the "guilty" with a small fine. We thought that these trivial infractions had been forgotten, but a few days or weeks later the police turned their attention to these people again. The results of this attention were quite unfortunate. Those who had committed the infractions received notices to report to the police on a certain date in connection with their "crimes." It wasn't until they got to the police station that the people realized the trap they'd fallen into. The Gestapo from Katowice had come to Chrzanow for a guest appearance, on the pretext of checking trivial infractions. Not one of those who was detained even dreamed what was coming. Without trial, they were sent to Auschwitz; we didn't really know what that meant yet. Among these victims of German "justice" were the wife of Moyshe Richter, a mother of four children, who had bought a chicken from a Gentile woman; Mrs. Guter, guilty of the same sin; Mrs. TaybI Cyzner, who had sold a few pennies' worth of candy to a Gentile in her own store; and many similar cases.

The practice of sending people to Auschwitz for individual infractions continued from May 30, 1942 until February 18, 1943. In general these actions were called Kripo actions (an acronym for "kriminal police"). This threat hung like a sword of Damocles over the heads of the Jews of Chrzanow throughout the last year before the death of the community.

It is interesting to analyze the handling of the various "crimes" committed by Chrzanow Jews during that period. In order to avoid starving, certain individuals dealt in currency and gold. These merchants were even able to buy passes from the Germans permitting them to travel to Berlin and back, and managed to complete various transactions involving currency. Anyone caught committing this category of infraction was tried in a court at Myslowice or Katowice. The accused was allowed to be represented by a defense lawyer, and the court proceedings were conducted normally. If convicted, the accused was sentenced to several months in prison and money seized in his possession was confiscated. On the other hand, the "crime" of buying an egg for a sick person or a child carried the sentence of certain death in Auschwitz.

This relationship between the sentences for different categories of crime could have existed only under the Germans. Their goal was to extort from the Jews their hidden valuables- money, jewelry, securities, and the like. The German finance minister Viltshok, a frequent guest in Chrzanow, was well informed about all of these dealings. He had at his disposition a staff of Jewish traitors from Upper Silesia, the likes of Laderer and others. The merchants fell into the well-laid trap, dragging a second and a third in with them. Even after all the Jews of Chrzanow were "liquidated, " the Germans didn't desist from finding more Jewish treasure bricked up in the walls of houses, or buried underground.


The Year 1942

DURING THIS YEAR, torture and pain fell on the Jews of Chrzanow like a flow of molten lava. No one was surprised any longer by the constant issuance of new regulations. Unfortunately, their fate had already been sealed. By now they weren't struggling for personal freedom, but rather for their very lives.

In January 1942 the Gestapo ordered the Jews to surrender all of their gold, furs, and better clothing. (Actually Jews had long since been forbidden to own any gold.) All of this was to be delivered to the Judenrat, whose task was to hand it over to the Germans. The Gestapo told the Judenrat that the more the Jews delivered, the better impression the Jews of Chrzanow would make on the German authorities.

The Judenrat devoted all its energies to making sure that as much as possible was handed over, especially furs and woolens, which the Germans so desperately needed for their armies in Russia. With nearly all the Jews contributing to this collection, the Judenrat actually turned over a substantial quantity of gold, furs, and woolens, which the Germans accepted with their familiar poisonous smiles. It seemed that these "sacrifices" satisfied those to whom they were given.

Another incident took place almost at the same time, but with even more fatal consequences for Chrzanow. As already mentioned, the Judenrat controlled an economic department, which supervised food warehouses for the needs of the Jewish population. In one of these warehouses turnips (klokes) were stored, and they began to spoil because of a lack of light. The Germans exploited this accident as an excuse for a murderous action against the Judenrat itself, with the chairman Betsalel Cuker, the director of the economic bureau Mendl Nussbaum, and Kalmen Teichler, both members of the Judenrat, as their main targets. These men, who acted as responsible Jews and members of the community, were accused of nothing less than sabotage against the Germans. It was already known in the city that the Gestapo was keeping its eye on Betsalel Cuker, whose proud and courageous statements had "mocked" the Gestapo officers Kranuy and Freitag. In Cuker's dealings with these beasts , he neither bent over backwards nor smiled submissively, as most Jews did at that time when talking to German officials. For this reason, he also was disliked by his director Moniek Merin, who was a spiritually crippled Diaspora Jew despite all his talents. Apparently Cuker, who had a realistic and far-reaching perspective on the Jewish situation, made Merin uncomfortable. Cuker clearly saw what was going on around him, and he clearly comprehended the tragic situation the Jews were in.

Several days before his gruesome death, he expressed himself accurately to his closest colleagues in the Judenrat. He said that in the last analysis the Judenrat was nothing less than an agent of the Gestapo, and the chairman of the Judenrat, willingly or unwillingly, was guilty of the murder of his fellow Jews. The devilish Merin grew afraid of Cuker, who was more intelligent than he was, and painful though it may be to acknowledge, he brought about Cuker's downfall.

Without any investigation or discussion, Cuker, Nussbaum, and Teichler were taken to the police station, murderously beaten, and sent to Auschwitz. Several days later telegrams were sent by the Auschwitz camp administration to their families, announcing the death of their husbands and fathers, even listing a "disease" from which they had died.

This serious blow, which had in fact been carefully calculated, was felt by the entire population of Chrzanow. The police later related that when Betsalel Cuker was taken to the Gestapo chief, the latter had said: "Now we finally have the proud and cold Cuker in our hands!"

During the first days of March, the entire Jewish ghetto was surrounded by police and S. S. men, who set about inspecting the Jewish houses to determine whether the Jews had handed over everything demanded. Anyone found to possess any furs no matter whether it was an old worn-out coat, or even a child's fur coat- was taken to the police, where they were detained and beaten brutally. In the beginning we didn't think much of this, and it seemed that the people who were taken in would quickly be released. However, when the Germans had detained ten people, these innocent souls were sent to Auschwitz. Among those detained were the long-time member of the Chrzanow city council, Reb Chaim Richter m/b/a, and the well-known WIZO activist, Mrs. Korngold m/b/a.

In order to fill the cup of sorrow, on March 11 came a visit from Major Lindner. Once again Chrzanow was surrounded. Jews were dragged out of bed. The angels from Hell took anyone they could catch, those with certificates and those without, several hundred men women, and children in all. They were taken to various work camps, where most of them died.

With the liquidation of Betsalel Cuker, whom the more perceptive Jews recognized as a defender against internal and external enemies, there arose a gap in the Judenrat- a gap that could not be filled. The Judenrat had no direction. Chaos reigned, just as the Germans intended, because by that time the plan for complete annihilation had already been worked out. It wasn't convenient for the Germans to have to deal with conscious, proud Jews like Betsalel Cuker.

In the meantime Merin sent Dr. Boehm to Chrzanow to serve as commissar, representing Merin as leader of the Judenrat. At the end of April, in addition to the continuing individual Kripo (Gestapo) cases, the Germans hung seven Jewish martyrs in Chrzanow, in a gruesome spectacle. Apparently this was the signal for the complete liquidation of, Chrzanow Jews. These actions were intended to terrify the Jews and throw them into panic, to break their courage to resist their tormenters.

There was no shortage of victims for this tragic game, because the police prison was always occupied by several Jews. Those who were to be hung were chosen from the interned. The identity of the victims was not important. At that time an old baker named Reb Yisroel Gershtner and his two sons were accused by a Polish chimney sweep. He said that he had seen smoke coming out of their chimney at a time when they were forbidden to bake, and they were taken to prison. Another Jew named FayvI Weissberger (Fayvl Yoshes) was found in possession of a bit of coffee. Yehoshua Spangelet "illegally" possessed a few onions and parsley. Yisroel Frish, an honest merchant, was taken to prison because he was accused by a German. The seventh victim was a Jew from Olkusz, who had been found in possession of a piece of sausage. All of these "criminals" were sentenced to hang. In mid-May 1942, the Judenrat was ordered to make all the Jews come see their own brothers being hung. To be sure that the Jews would come, a large number of them had their personal documents taken away. They were told these would be returned only at the specially-arranged "Hanging Place" on Krzyska Street.

The Germans prepared for this performance with pomp and circumstance. A truck carrying a megaphone was driven back and forth through town, announcing joyfully and triumphantly, "Today seven Jews will be hung, a hundred tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow all the Jews." All of the uniformed Germans came in their finest uniforms; German civilians came in their holiday clothes, with their wives and girlfriends. Seven half-dead Jews were brought to the "Hanging Place." They had been shaved, and their necks exposed. They could barely stand up. Seven hangmen brought in for the occasion, along with their seven assistants, carried out the horrifying murder. The nooses were strung from seven old trees. Fasek Weber had to test the tree limbs to see whether they were strong enough.

For more than two hours, which seemed like an eternity, the assembled Jews had to stand at the "Hanging Place" and watch as their unfortunate martyred brothers died. Each and every one shouted out a terrifying "Shema Yisroel!" as the noose was placed over his neck, One of the martyrs managed to cry out a plea for revenge on the murderers. Following is an eyewitness statement by the surviving son and brother Menachern Gerstner of Bat Yam Israel.

STATEMENT

I, Menachem Gerstner (Mendek), born in 1924, want to bring to your attention details about the murders of my father and my two brothers, Chaim and Shimshon, who weren't known to Mr. Bochner, the writer of the original book of Chrzanow. My father was an honorable citizen of Chrzanow. He was a Talmud chuchim (Torah scholar); a man known in town for his Matn Zduku beseiser (generosity); he was a Zaloshitzer Chasid; he prayed in the Chevra-Kvaitim; he fasted twice a week (every Sheinivechamishi). In spite of all this he was very liberal. For example, I had very religious brothers and sisters, but also brothers who were Socialists. One bramkarz (played catcher) in the Jutchnia team in Chrzanow and also served in the Polish army. My sister Zipora married Shlomo Lauber and went to Palestine in 1932.

I also had a brother-in-law, Cyna Horowitz, who served in the city administration as delegate of P.P.S. (Poland's Socialist Party).

My father had a large family, with 13 children. My mother Sara (Schehnberg of the famous Kamienica) died at a young age in 1932 and left nine children, none married. My father was known in Chrzanow as der Chrzanover Baker or Reb Sruel der Beker. He was 69 at the day of his death.

And now to the exact description of the events before the killing of the seven Kedoshim (martyrs) of b/m on April 29, 1942. On April 22 German police escorted by Gestapo broke in and arrested all the men who were present in my father's house, without a word of explanation. The next morning my sister Frumka found out that they were found guilty of violating a German ban not to start up bakery furnaces. My father had two bakeries: one for the baking of bread during the whole year, the second only for baking of Mazot for Pesach (Passover) at Bolinska st. 2.

In 1941 the Germans gave an order to my father not to bake bread in the bakery but they allowed him to use the Mazot bakery for preheating food for the Sabat. A Polish neighbor saw the smoke and immediately informed the German police.

In April 1942 the Germans decided to begin the final liquidation of the Jews of Chrzanow. Therefore, in order to frighten us, they were looking for scapegoats. All the Jews who were at that time in jail had been executed by hanging and so it happened that my father and my two brothers were among the seven who died that day.

My brother Chaim was 39 at his death. He lived in Auschwitz before the war where he had his own bakery. He had three children. Men who were present at the execution told me that he wanted to split the chains and attack the murderers, but my father didn't allow him, saying: "There are still Jews left in Chrzanow, the Germans will take revenge. " Then he stepped on the scaffold and shouted: "Jews take revenge for our blood," and he gave his soul with Shema Israel on his lips.

My brother Shimshon was 37 at his death. He was a quiet and melancholy man. He received his fate quietly, saying, "What is written (preordained) above will happen down here, it is impossible to change anything." And so he stepped up to the scaffold without a word. At the murder of the seven martyrs, about 900 people were present. The police had taken away their identity cards a day before the execution. To reclaim them they were compelled to be present at the execution. One of them was my youngest sister Frumka. The poor girl was forced to look all the time at the horror. A plainclothed Gestapo man stood at her side and made sure that her eyes were turned in the direction of the trees, where the hanging took place.

Menachem Gerstner Bat-Yam Israel 1988

The hanging of the seven Jews was a signal for the commencement of the planned liquidation of the Jews of Chrzanow. On May 30, all the Jews of Chrzanow had to report to one of several designated places. This action was given the innocent name of " resettlement," and at that time we didn't know exactly what the term implied. The Germans ordered everyone to bring along a few personal possessions. The director of the central Judenrat in Sosnowiec, Moniek Merin, came, along with his secretary, Mrs. Czarny. Accompanied by Gestapo personnel, they carried out the selection, determining who was to live and who was to die. The Jews were lined up in rows and divided into three groups. The first group was to remain. The second group was to be sent to the camps. The third group, including the elderly and the sick, was to be resettled." Roughly 3,000 Chrzanow Jews, including the most respected elders such as Reb Nute the Judge, Reb Chiel Perlstein, and Reb Moyshe Lipschitz (an indefatigable philanthropist during the occupation)-in a word, the cream of Chrzanow Jewry-were locked up in the elementary school and synagogues. From there they were transported to nearby Auschwitz.

As we have said, a large number of Jews had special certificates, or worked at various kinds of hard labor. Although the certificates were no longer as effective as they had once been, since a large number of their bearers had been taken to the work camps in March, nevertheless several certificate holders continued to work at various sorts of public employment, organized by the labor inspector Kleinecke. This German may have been well-intentioned, thinking that the Jews who worked for him would never be sent away. He also did everything he could to involve Jews in vital industries, and assured all the Jews working for him that there was no danger of their being taken to the camps. But in June 1942 all the Jews working for Kleinecke were ordered to go to the camps. They weren't even given time to bring along their most necessary possessions; rather, all of these "secure" workers were transported straight from work to the camps. Once again, the Jews had a chance to evaluate German assurances.

The troubles suffered by the Jews of Chrzanow in 1942 can barely be described in words. As was the case with Job, the troubles came one after the other in quick succession. Before the Jews could catch their breath, another form of torture would appear. They didn't have time to think about their desperate situation. The German race to murder all the Jews as fast as possible took on such terrible forms that the Jews almost stopped noticing the individual victims who suffered at the hands of the Kripo or the Gestapo.

Individual Jews, and then eventually entire families, were constantly sent to the Hell of Auschwitz on various ludicrous pretexts. A typical case of German behavior was the deportation to Auschwitz of David Wachsberg (Bishte) and Fasek Weber, two characters about whom the Germans had no reason to complain. It was impossible to find out why they had been fired; however, the speculation was that these two, who were also members of the Judenrat, knew too many police secrets, and the police apparently wanted to destroy the vessels it had used for its evil goals.

The 3,000 Jews the Germans had just taken away weren't enough for them. The Moloch of Auschwitz constantly demanded new victims to test the newly-installed gas chambers and crematoria. Thus it was that at the end of July, or the beginning of August, the police announced that all Jews still remaining in Chrzanow were to report to a certain area, where their papers would be stamped. This was supposedly a census,. enabling the authorities to determine exactly how many Jews were still in Chrzanow (such were the reassurances of Merin). While the papers were being stamped, the Germans surrounded the area and the same "game" was repeated. Several hundred more Jews were seized and sent down to Sheol.

THE SHOP

We need to devote a separate section to the institution in which the Jews of Chrzanow placed so much hope-the shop. This was a business set up to employ tailors and others in manufacturing uniforms for the Germans.

At the time the shop worked its way into our bones, like a leech sucking out our marrow and blood, its victims including the women and minor children who remained. The shop was supposed to be for our own good, and that was what we believed in the period just before the final liquidation. Although the shop was like a thin straw, which a drowning man grabs in the belief that it's a raft, we soon realized that the special work certificates were no good. The belief that working for Kleinecke would be the salvation of the Jews burst like a bubble. Everything we touched smacked of death. Thus it is hardly surprising that all the Jews who remained in Chrzanow had no choice but to try to get into the shop, which was nothing but a Fata Morgana, an illusion which deceived, or more accurately, blinded us.

The attraction of the shop lay, as Jews like to say, in its rationality. The Germans were at war; they needed clothes for their army. At their disposal was a large number of skilled tailors, who were eager to work, as long as they could remain alive. The S.S. took most of the wages. The administration cost almost nothing, because it was in the hands of the Judenrat. The work was done quickly and accurately. The conclusion was that the Jews were needed to work in the, shop, because otherwise the Germans would have no uniforms.

Actually there were two shops. One was a branch of the Trzebinia rubber factory; the other was a branch of the Berlin firm of Rosner, whose main shop was in Bendzin.

The shop-generally referred to in the singular-was located in the building of the Study society, which was most appropriate for this purpose. The adjoining buildings of the Talmud Torah, the old age home, and the synagogues of the Radomsk and Bobow Chasidim were also used. Just as in Pharaoh's time, the Germans didn't provide straw for the bricks the Jews had to make. The necessary sewing machines and all the other equipment had to be provided by the Judenrat. An of the Jewish sewing machines in the city were requisitioned, or else the Jews who wanted to work in the shop had to bring their own sewing machines. About 1,500 Jews worked round the clock in three shifts-men, women, and children. The pay was minimal, the work difficult and responsible. The workers were divided into groups, each supervised by a skilled tailor who was responsible for seeing that the work was carried out perfectly, with exemplary order and strict, almost military discipline. The Jews had to work on the Sabbath and the holidays, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

All of Jewish communal life during the last period (roughly from July 1942 until February 1943) was reflected at the shop. Joy and sorrow, trouble and pleasure filled the buildings. One Jew would speak from the bottom of his heart; a second told a new joke, or sang a new song. Their common fate erased the differences between the aristocracy and the common people, between the erstwhile rich man and the pauper. People sensed instinctively that their lives hung by a thread, and they enjoyed themselves with a kind of gallows humor for as long as they could. They laughed and joked at their home troubles as no other people could possibly have done.

The directors of the shop were Shimon Orenstein and Rosenberg, who were deliberately and suddenly taken to the Hell of Auschwitz as soon as the shop began to operate. This detail is worth discussing because one theory, which cannot be verified today, holds that this case was analogous to the case of Betsalel Cuker. The central Judenrat in Sosnowiec wanted to keep the majority of the meager wages sent for the workers in the shop. The two directors forcefully resisted this move, unwilling to accede to this sort of treatment of the workers. Sosnowiec did not easily suffer subordinates who had their own opinions, and considered this behavior to be a rebellion against its rule. It swept the two men away with the back of its hand. Nor can it be overlooked that the murder of Orenstein and Rosenberg was intended to terrify the shop workers into behaving properly, a method that had been used successfully by the Germans before.

The shop continued to function until the resettlement, when the workers were taken from their sewing machines and presses to the assembly points, some to work camps and some to the ovens.


The Year 1943

AFTER 1942, the year of greatest suffering for the Jews of Chrzanow, a degree of calm settled in early in 1943. This doesn't mean that there was total quiet, but there were no mass actions, although the daily Kripo actions continued. Two higher functionaries of the criminal police, Latz and Westphal, were especially diligent in carrying out these actions. They harassed their victims with special sadism, shadowing particular individuals in order to catch them committing some infraction. In most cases, these murderers were successful. They didn't spare even their closest Jewish acquaintances, from whom they used to take bribes. (These two murderers were recognized by Chrzanow Jews in 1948 and handed over to justice. They received a fitting sentence from a Polish court.) In general, apathy was the norm among the Jews of Chrzanow during the last period before the final liquidation. Like a herd without a will of their own they marched along, thinking of nothing. All of their energies were devoted to work in the shop, and the other public enterprises still functioning under Kleinecke.

Absurd as it may seem, the distribution of rations to the Jewish population improved significantly at the very end, when Jews received rations equal to those of the non-Jewish population. This in itself led to a certain degree of optimistic faith that those surviving would be left alone. This optimism was apparently the goal of the Germans in those last hours of our people's death agony. It helped assure that the German extermination plan would be successful. This apathetic optimism, in our opinion, virtually sealed the fate of the 3,000 Jews remaining in Chrzanow, and the leaders of the last Judenrat bore considerable responsibility for the way things turned out.

Before dawn on Thursday, February 18, 1943, the Germans sealed the city and drove all the Jews into the marketplace. Just as professional slave traders came along with the Romans during the destruction of Jerusalem, so too Lindner and his staff came to the last action in Chrzanow. They selected the younger and stronger Jews to work as slaves in the German labor camps. (While these lines were being written, the news came that Lindner had been arrested in Hamburg. Not only did he fail to express any remorse to the British military court; on the contrary, he mourned that he had killed so few Jews... One hour before his trial, he hung himself in his prison cell.) As tragic as it may seem, during this last resettlement Lindner had competition. The Gestapo came as well, in order to secure as many Jews as possible for the gas chambers in Auschwitz. There was very nearly a struggle between the Gestapo and Lindner's staff-each wanted as large a contingent as possible.

Since the last resettlement came so unexpectedly- since the Jews of Chrzanow believed that this time, as before, only some Jews would be sent away, and the rest would be able to stay-we became confused. During the selections at the Chrzanow market place, when the Germans sent one Jew to the right and the other to the left, a number of people stole across to the other side, thinking they were joining the group that would stay in the city. But they were fatally mistaken. Many young people who, as it later turned out, were intended for the work camps where they had at least a minimal chance of surviving, thus fell among those intended for the gas chambers.

The terrible scene at the market place, when people finally realized what was happening, is difficult to convey in words. With a cold shudder one remembers taking leave of sorrowing mothers, who had been selected to go to the work camps but ran voluntarily to the other side to be with their children, thus earning themselves blows at the murderers' hands.

All the Jews, those intended for the gas chambers and those to be sent to the work camps, were taken to the gymnasium building. Two transports left from that place: one to Auschwitz, the second to the infamous Jewish work camp at Markshtet. The Germans left the members of the Judenrat in the city for a few more days, so that the remaining Jewish institutions could be liquidated. Then they were sent to Sosnowiec to stay in the ghetto there.

The tragic fate of Moyshe Nagoshiner, which demonstrates the unreliability of the Germans, is worth describing.

Among those included in the transport sent to Auschwitz was the Zionist activist Yosef Hochbaum, who was a member of the Judenrat and director of finances during the final period, and his family. Moyshe Nagoshiner intervened with the Gestapo chief, who stopped next to the train carrying the unfortunate Jews, and asked him to release Hochbaum, whose services were needed in connection with the liquidation of the finances. The Gestapo chief calmly listened to Nagoshiner and agreed to his suggestion, ordering Nagoshiner to enter the train to find Hochbaum among the crowd of Jews. Nagoshiner naively believed that he had saved Yosef Hochbaum. But just when Nagoshiner entered the railroad car, the Gestapo chief ordered that the doors be sealed, and the train started off with Nagoshiner inside, while the Gestapo chief laughed demonically.

On that day Chrzanow became officially Judenrein, although a certain number of Jews remained in hiding, as we mentioned at the beginning. The Germans themselves found a few of these hidden Jews, aided by traitorous Poles. Some voluntarily left their lairs, believing the German assurances that they would be released. Several days later all of these Jews were taken to Sosnowiec, where a selection was made at the local transit camp.

Finally an incident should be mentioned which the survivors from Chrzanow may not know of. There are Jews from Chrzanow who still believe that Schindler was a friend of the Jews. After the police, led by their commander Schindler, had completed the final annihilation of Chrzanow Jews, they had themselves photographed at the Chrzanow market place, their faces beaming with pleasure. This group photo graph, with Schindler at the center, was seen in 1944 at a work camp by a Jewish girl from Chrzanow named Fela Scharf. It was in the hands of a German policeman from Berlin who had been present during this incident. The picture is captioned, "Chrzanow is finally Judenrein".

Mgr. Yakov Silfen

A Word About the Council of Elders

When we first saw the Nazi bandits on the streets of Chrzanow, our hearts were filled with indescribable and infinite sorrow. We instinctively sensed that the most dreadful period in our recent history was coming, a period of total annihilation of Jewish society.

Where could we escape, where could we lay our weary bodies and our tortured souls?

Everyone sought an answer to this question. Jews from cities and towns burrowed into caves, holes, and bunkers, seeking protection against the barbaric enemy. Our blood froze in our veins when we heard the tragic news arriving from all sides. In Mielec Jews were being burned, in Trzebinia they were being shot, around us the brutal terror of animal sadism reigned. In this situation the words of the Polish poet Mickiewicz's Dziady came to life: "Darkness and silence everywhere; What will be?, what will be?."

The concept of a body of Jewish representatives was alien to the Jewish masses. Thus it was with a certain astonishment that the Jews heard the news that a Jewish committee would be established to represent Jewish concerns in dealings with the German authorities.

Jews who were influenced by the tragic news about the barbaric oppression of the Jews in Germany couldn't comprehend the fact that an institution had been called into being to serve the interests of the Jewish masses. We must acknowledge that the masses always have clear instincts, and sense the approach of great events.

The first Jewish committee, whose official name later resounded as "Aeltestenrat der Judische Kultursgemeinde," consisted of the following individuals: chairman Yosef Umlauf; vice chairmen, Shmuel Kluger and David Wachsberg (Bishte); Levy Krauskopf, and Menachem Unger. After the committee had been in existence for a few weeks, Zelig Grajower, Dr. Riter, and Dr. Werner were coopted as well.

The work of the first committee was quite chaotic during the first weeks. The functions of the various members had not yet been defined, and the office wasn't organized. The only activities were the requisitioning of furniture by Wachsbeirg (Bishte) and Fasek Weber, and the assignment of Jews to forced labor in the framework of the German contingent.

The first positive step taken by the committee was the organization of a popular kitchen, which saved a large number of the poorest members of the population from certain starvation.

Among all the members of the Judenrat only two, Fasek Weber and Bishte Wachsberg, showed off their ugly "glory." These were people with no sense of Jewish pride, without any communal responsibility. Only our tragic fate and the cursed new realities enabled them to assume power over Jewish society. The rest of the members were people of good will and decent intentions regarding the vital interests of the Jewish masses. However, they had no significant influence on the actions of the Judenrat.

The arrival in December 1939 of Chaim Merin was a major event in the history of the Chrzanow Judenrat. Chaim Merin presented himself as a delegate of the new director of the Silesia Judenrat, his brother Moniek Merin, whom Dreher, the chief of the Jewish department of the Gestapo, had assigned to set up a central Judenrat in East Silesia.

Chaim Merin conducted long presentations at the home of Zelig Grajower, in which he described the significance of this new institution, claiming that it would defend the interests of the Jews of Silesia. Merin emphasized in no uncertain terms the necessity of coordinating the work of all of the communal bodies under the direction of Moniek Merin, whose official title was "Director of the Councils of Elders of the Jewish Religious Communities in East Silesia." Moniek Merin was to be the official representative of all the Judenrats in Silesia, and all the chairmen of the Judenrats were to fulfill obediently the commands and regulations he issued.

Merin's entire presentation aroused considerable dissatisfaction among the members of the Judenrat. Fasek Weber and David Wachsberg, for whom Merin's involvement was inconvenient, tried to prevent the reorganization of the Judenrat, and its subordination to the central Judenrat in Sosnowiec. Chaim Merin, meanwhile, referred to his own Zionist activism and his socially responsible, nationalistic approach to every problem. Meanwhile, he insisted that in reorganizing the Judenrat he would rely on the support of serious, respected people with a record of fruitful social work on behalf of the Jews of Chrzanow. Nevertheless Merin's plans did not touch a sympathetic chord among the members of the Judenrat.

However, after long negotiations, explanations, and threats, Chaim Merin managed to reorganize the Judenrat entirely and to bring in new, competent, and honest people. Among them were well-known Zionist activists such as Betsalel Cuker, Moyshe Nagoshiner, Mendl Nussbaum, Kalmen Teichler, and Shmuel Yosef Weiss. After the redistribution of tasks, the constitution of the Judenrat was as follows:

Yosef Umlauf-chairman (a nominal position); Betsalel Cuker-chairman (with actual control); Moyshe Nagoshiner-first vice-chairman and director of the finance department; Kalmen Teichler-second vice-chairman and director of social assistance; Zelig Grajower- director of the winter action and aid to children; Shmuel Kluger-director of the housing department; Mendl Nussbaum- director of supplies and trade; Yoysef Shonhertz-the health bureau; Shmuel Weiss-director of the social institutions of the Judenrat; David Wachsberg-the labor bureau; Dr. Werner-office manager; and Fasek Weber-police liaison.

With this setup, the Judenrat organized a new office and a complete staff of employees. The network of social institutions, of unquestioned importance for the population of Chrzanow, was extended. They included the following:

- The free kitchen. Directed by Mrs. Korngold, the kitchen helped considerably to ease the hunger of the Jewish masses in Chrzanow. The kitchen provided 1,000 lunches every day. The citizens' kitchen was later set up by the Judenrat, under the direction of Betsalel Cuker. This kitchen served middle class persons who had been impoverished in the last years, and who were ashamed to ask for charity. The lunches served in the citizens' kitchen were tasty and inexpensive, but the small fee permitted those who frequented it to believe that they weren't "eating for free."

- The clinic. The difficult material situation and the spread of malnutrition among the Jewish masses encouraged various diseases. Therefore an institution to distribute free medical assistance to the people was urgently needed. The clinic was directed by a well-known doctor-first Dr. Riter, and later, Dr. Gutentag. The doctor was assisted by two paramedics and one nurse.

- The children's home. This institution was created by the division of social assistance. Its activities sent wide ripples among the Jewish population.

- The health bureau ran a laundry for the poorer population.

- The children's and youth club. As a result of the Nazi occupation, it became impossible for the young people to continue their studies after September 1939. The parents, who had to struggle for their very lives, simply could not devote any attention to their children's education. The children's club, directed by experienced teachers, filled the void created by the cataclysm.

Under the direction of Bruche Wasserberger and Mrs. Weiss, the children spent nearly the entire day irk a warm, pleasant atmosphere. In addition to the youth club, the division for social assistance organized summer camps for the older children. These camps were set up at the field belonging to Berl Neufeld, at No. 3 Fischer Street.

- Trades courses. The trade and retraining schools for the older youth played an important role. These courses were led by professionals, and were well attended. The following courses were exceptionally well taught: locksmithing and electronics, under the direction of Engineer Fleissig; the beautician's course, directed by Sala Khon; sewing and tailoring, under the direction of Ruth Weinreich; fashion, under the direction of Mrs. Norman.

In addition to these practical courses, Hebrew, mathematics and physics were also required. After these courses were completed, the students received diplomas at special ceremonies organized by the Judenrat.

The number of social institutions grew constantly. During the last phase of the liquidation of the Jewish community of Chrzanow, a hospital was set up under the direction of the pharmacist Silberstein, and a post office under the direction of Steinitz. There is no question that all these institutions fulfilled an important and useful role under tragic circumstances, and that they significantly eased the difficult conditions for the Jewish masses.

Returning to the personnel of the Judenrat, it should be emphasized that the participation of well-known community activists, under the direction of Cuker, inspired confidence and trust among the Jews of Chrzanow. Cuker actually oversaw the evolution of work in several areas. He organized a network of social institutions, and did his very best to ease the influence of the two low life scum, Weber and Wachsberg.

Cuker, Nagoshiner, Teichler, Weiss, Shonhertz and others unquestionably had moral credit with the people of Chrzanow, and they enjoyed general respect until the Judenrat was burdened with responsibility for the labor details. The first labor recruitment action was bitterly resented by the Jews of Chrzanow, because it was carried out by the Judenrat. The central office of Silesian communities in Sosnowiec promised that all of the local Judenrats would fully meet the quotas assigned them. From that moment on, the Judenrat was transformed into an object of hatred and contempt, and all of its subsequent actions aroused fear and resentment.

Cuker was an honest man, concerned for social well-being, and naturally intelligent. A superficial evaluation of his activities could lead to the conclusion that he was strict, cold, and hard as stone. But this conclusion was false, for Cuker possessed a warm heart. He believed in the Jewish nation and desired its well-being. Pained by the suffering of the Jews, he expressed his pain more and more often. Moniek Merin immediately sensed that Cuker wasn't his man, that he was too conscientious, too responsible. That was why he stopped confiding in Cuker.

In light of these facts it is clear that all of the subsequent labor recruitment actions and resettlements were organized and carried out by the central office in Sosnowiec and its delegates, with the assistance of trusted officials, who cooperated with the police in Bendzin and Sosnowiec.

Cuker's end was tragic. Together with Nussbaum and Teichler, he was sent to Auschwitz by the Chrzanow police. A short time later came the news that all three had died of heart failure. After Cuker's arrest, the books were checked by the Gestapo men Kranuy and Freitag. This audit was undertaken because of several anonymous letters, in which the Judenrat was accused of taking money in return for apartments, and also of slighting those resettled from Silesia. Although the audit revealed no irregularities, Kranuy is said to have explained to Merin that according to the German authorities, Cuker had displayed too much nerve and independence. Teichler was freed and then immediately rearrested on the pretext that he had revealed secrets concerning the investigation to his colleagues and to the central office.

There were rumors at the time that Merin was very interested in getting rid of Cuker, who had begun to resist the policies of the central office, which was actually carrying out the liquidation of the Jewish population of Silesia. It is an incontestable fact that after Cuker and his comrades were arrested, Merin still had a great deal of influence with the Gestapo. However, he didn't make the least attempt to intervene on their behalf.

Moyshe Nagoshiner worked closely with Cuker. He was responsible for the finance department, and for some time was director of the housing commission. Later Nagoshiner took over the position of Judenrat chairman. After Cuker was arrested, he moved to the department that supervised Jewish trade and artisan production. Nagoshiner, a great philanthropist and a warm-hearted person, did not long survive as chairman of the Judenrat. Thereafter he returned to his purely economic responsibilities.

After Cuker's arrest, the central office in Sosnowiec sent its directors to Chrzanow. For two months Yankel Ehrlich was in control in Chrzanow, until local conditions drove him away. As soon as he took over, the representatives of the Treuhandsteue and GrundstueckgeselIschat threatened to resettle all the Jews of Chrzanow, because they were "spreading all sorts of infectious diseases." This worried Ehrlich greatly. Since he was well connected with Merin, he managed to get himself reassigned to his previous position in the finance department in Sosnowiec.

He was followed by Moyshe Lefkowitz, the former chairman of the Judenrat in Olkusz and Zawiercie. Moyshe Lefkowitz became energetically involved in the reorganization of the community. But after a few months, he too resigned when Merin accused him of profiting from the liquidation of goods belonging to those who were deported.

The last chairman of the Judenrat in Chrzanow was the well-known chairman of the community councils in Sosnowiec and Bendzin, Wladek Boehm. Apparently Merin wasn't very comfortable with Boehm's presence at the central office, and sent him to the difficult Chrzanow assignment in an attempt to get rid of him. In Chrzanow the Kripo took a few dozen Jewish families every day. Although Boehm himself was a victim of Merin's machinations, he was altogether subservient to his boss in Sosnowiec, viewing all local problems from the perspective of the central office.

He grew anxious when he was unable to provide the proper number of women and men for the labor details. At the same time, however, Boehm did the best he could to support the Jews in Chrzanow, using his influence to increase the number of shops and other workplaces. Boehm fully believed that getting Jews involved in productive labor would enable him to preserve Chrzanow Jewry. His conviction was strengthened by the visit to Chrzanow of Commissar Dreher, who showed Boehm a map of the projected ghetto. All of these plans were pure fantasy. In February 1943 all the Jews of Chrzanow were deported.

THE JUDENRAT AND THE GERMAN AUTHORITIES

Contacts between the Judenrat and the local German officials were carried out on more than the official level. The Judenrat had close relations with some of the German officials, thanks to various gifts and bribes. However, the Judenrat's closest contacts were with the police, headed by Oberleutenant Schindler. An intelligent German, he understood thoroughly how to profit from the situation and received a steady income from the Judenrat, along with numerous gifts from dozens of Jewish families in exchange for taking care of the most trivial matters. He was false through and through, although he pretended to be a friend of the Jews. At the last, however, he showed his true colors.

The liaison between the police and the Judenrat during the entire period was Fasek Weber. After Weber was sent to Auschwitz, the job was taken over by Zelig Grajower. Fasek Weber exploited his situation in base and brutal ways, growing rich on Jewish trouble and pain. Zelig Grajower, on the other hand, carried out his work impartially, helping the Jews in question whenever he could.

The position of local magistrate was occupied by Dr. Kantner, a young Nazi who utterly detested Jews. As early as 1939 he issued a regulation forbidding Jews from walking on the main street, Alea Henryka. The Judenrat had no access to Kantner. His representatives, on the other hand, were older and more experienced, and they had a better attitude toward Jewish affairs. These were Inspectors Lutherle and Shorshek. The latter issued many passes for travel to Cracow, Berlin, and Moravia.

The liaison between the Judenrat and the magistrate, Yosef Shonhertz, displayed a great deal of concern for the needs of the Jews. In addition to Shonhertz, Usher Friedman was well acquainted with the magistrate's office and often used his connections to help the people of Chrzanow.

The Kreisbauamt, led by the famous Kleinecke, was extremely important, and its importance grew daily, because it organized its own work camps in Libiaz, Bobrek, and Babice, all close to Chrzanow. Those sent to these work camps avoided the dangerous labor details, whose camps were located in Lower Silesia and central Germany. People were allowed to come home from Kleinecke's camps once a week, and sometimes more often. The Judenrat managed to establish close ties to Kleinecke and his staff, with Nagoshiner, who displayed deep understanding and empathy in dealing with the problems of the Jews, as liaison.

A significant role among the Nazi institutions was played by the Grundstueckgesellschaft and the Treuhandstelle. The first of these institutions was responsible for assigning housing. Its importance grew when Jews were resettled from one part of the city to another, and during the evacuation of the so-called Jewish quarter. The Judenrat liaison was Shmuel Kluger, a good and competent person.

The Treuhandstelle, on the other hand, headed by the great anti-Semite Gupert, confiscated furniture and other valuable items found in Jewish houses. The tragic situation was somewhat ameliorated by Kalmen Teichler, an Orthodox Jew who managed to establish contacts with this bureau, and who won Gupert's favor. Teichler did a great deal to help Jews, sitting at the Treuhandstelle for days on end, stubbornly fighting like a lion in defense of Jewish possessions.

In these lines, I have provided a brief account of the activities and structure of the Judenrat. My goal was not to analyze the institution in depth. I have only mentioned important facts and certain individuals, who unquestionably operated with good will, and who more than once fell unwilling victim to the forces of barbarism.

Reb Moyshe Bochner

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