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[Page 372]

Moshe Kolko

Ciechanow Jews in the Uprising in Auschwitz

The Last Days of the Ghetto

At the end of 1942, the German press from time to time reported on heavy fighting on the eastern front and also about the regrouping of their army. The news also reached the Jews in Ciechanow.

In the evenings, a few of us, close neighbors, gathered at the home of Moishe-Reuven Vina, who had a good knowledge of German, and he told us the news from the German newspapers. We looked at the map and made calculations, figuring how long it would take for the Germans to reach us.

With the hope that it would not take long, we made peace with all our tzores and with all the decrees that the Germans came out with every day. We went voluntarily to work in order to save our lives. At first the Germans didn't pay us and we survived by selling some household item from time to time. Later Jews got paid, but only half the pay that Polish workers got. The Germans paid them 34 fenigs an hour while Jews got 17 fenigs. We were satisfied with this, though. “As long as it doesn't get worse,” everyone thought. We were all sure of the German defeat.

The Germans bought produce from the peasants, such as potatoes, cabbage and other items, and from this they gave the Jews small rations. They also gave peat and coal to heat the houses. Jews became so optimistic that they started to store produce for the winter.

When Noah Zabludowicz was freed, this was also encouraging. However, the hope did not last long.

November 2, 1942, was the last day of the Jewish Kehillah in Ciechanow. An order was issued that all Jews must leave the shtetl and can only take handbags and food for a few days.

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Immediately the mood in Ciechanow became nervous. With anxiety one asked the other: “Where will we go?” No one knew what to reply to this painful question.

According to the order of the Germans the Jewish population was divided into two transports -- one that travels straight while the second went to the Mlawa ghetto. Everyone wanted to go with the first transport because it consisted mainly of young people. This was considered a good sign, because young people were certainly being sent to work.

Jews ran to Ben-Tzion Ehrlich, the Jew-elder of Ciechanow, asking to be listed for the first transport. Whoever he chose to, he inscribed in the first transport.

We started to pack our bags. Tradesmen took their work tools Perhaps they would be put to work, in which case they would have their tools handy. Clothes were packed and everyone put on as many layers of clothes as possible. Each child was given a bag to carry. A day before being sent out, I wrote the last letter to my parents, who had been sent out a year earlier to the Neustadt (Nowe Miasto) ghetto Tearfully I had parted from them. Intuitively I felt that I would no longer see them.

Assembly point at the castle. Germans lead Ciechanow Jews to their death
Assembly point at the castle. Germans lead Ciechanow Jews to their death

Picture Index

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November 5th, a Wednesday, we appeared at a lager barrack that was on the Zborniak (assembly point) at the new railway station. We remained there all night. The following morning the Germans told us to hand over all our money and jewelry and keep only 20 marks per person. Anyone found keeping more money will be shot instantly. That was the German order. This terrible order was immediately carried out. They found that Shalom Lubinetski had more money and they shot him immediately. In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.

 

In Closed, Sealed Wagons

This wasn't the end of the atrocities of the Germans. As we marched out of the lager a Gestapo tore out of Urka Kostsheva's hands her child and murdered it on the spot.

In sealed wagons, with tiny barred windows, we were taken to an unknown destination. The wagons were so packed with people that it was hardly possible to stand. We traveled three days this way. Many times the wagon was detained on side roads. All three days we weren't given food or drink. Children cried. People fainted as they looked at the passing fields and trees. Everyone asked the other: “Where are we? Where are we going?”

In the wagons people said the blessing for the new Hebrew month Kislev. It was Shabbat. They recalled that the month of Kislev was a month of miracles and in this month the miracle of Chanukah happened. “Maybe a miracle will also happen with us,” we encouraged ourselves.

On a side railway line somewhere bordering on a field, the train came to a stop. Everyone stood at the barred, tiny window to see where we were. Shortly after, we heard marching soldiers singing in the distance. The singing got closer and closer. Suddenly it got light. All around the train electric lights went on. The approaching soldiers close in from all directions and surround the train with machine guns. Some Germans open the wagons and greet us with wild shouts: “Out of the train and leave your bags!”

Wild shouts deafen us. Our blood freezes in our veins. Armed S.S. meet us with mockery and beatings.

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After we lined up five in a row, men separate, women separate, the selection began. Those who endured this selection will never forget; that will torture us day and night in our nightmares. A German stands in his high boots. Thousands of exhausted Jews, mothers with their children, pass in front of him. Older people moan. The stone-faced German motions with one finger: “right and left -- life and death.” Families separate. Children run to their parents and cry. A woman says goodbye to her husband. A father embraces his son. Everyone cries so that it breaks one's heart.

Dr. Baron, at one time the only doctor in Ciechanow, could not bear the German cruelty. Together with his wife and child he swallowed the poison that he had prepared.

From the whole transport 600 men and 300 women approximately remained. The remaining Jews, elderly and children, were put to death in the gas chambers that were closed into two village houses in Auschwitz in a forest in the Polish village Biezeyinki that was especially rebuilt for this purpose. The Germans killed the children at the edge of the forest.

After the selection we came to Birkenau lager near Auschwitz. Women were taken to the women's lager and we – to a men's lager. All our belongings were taken away as well as our clothes. Then we were lined up to have our hair shaved. Wherever there was a spot on a body that had hair on it, the hair was plucked out because the razors were dull.

When we were let out we were given old torn clothes that were marked with a red stripe in the length and breadth. Of course, the clothes didn't fit the one who got them. I got a pair of long pants with a short top, one leather shoe, the other wooden, and it was small…

That same evening we were taken to Block 29. Here it was hell on earth. The block-elder, together with his helpers, beat mercilessly whoever was within their reach. The mocking and shouts reached to high heaven.

Finally we lay down, five men to a reconstructed horse wagon. Not far from me were Ben-Tzion Ehrlich, with his son Avreml, who were choking their cries and clung to one another.

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After a short time certain people were taken out and kettles with a kind of liquid were brought, tea supposedly. Nakhum Blum was one of the distributors. It's interesting that after traveling three days on the train, without water, nobody could drink because it was brewed from strange leaves. It was simply poison.

The following morning we were chased out of the block very early. A light rain was falling. After we had been standing a few hours and soaked to the bone, after the roll-call, the block-elder, a well-known German criminal -- started to explain to us why we were brought to the lager. He pointed out that we didn't come to live in the lager but to “crap” all the sooner. After his talk we returned to the block. Then we were taken to a place where we went through the registration ceremony.

Special prisoners from the lager tattooed a number on each one's left arm. From that moment on we ceased to exist as people with a name. We became a number. The first Ciechanow transport, in which I was included, was signified with the number 73 thousand and on, and the second transport that came from Mlawa was signified with the number 75 thousand and on.

Late at night we were taken to a second block, the ninth block, where there were only Jews. Only the block-elder and the shreiber were Poles.

We got the first bit of food, that consisted of rotten potatoes. The distribution of food was accompanied by blows. The next day those who had signed up as tradesmen: carpenters, electricians and others, were sent to Auschwitz, in the main lager.

I won't describe the death lager Auschwitz here. There, millions of Jewish victims were swallowed up. There is a sizable literature about Auschwitz. Here I only want to describe the suffering, pain and heroic uprising of the Ciechanow Jews in this atrocious death lager. First the intellectuals were sent there from the surrounding countries: Poles, French, Dutch, Czechs. They were killed massively by the Germans, and after a short time only singular ones remained.

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Afterwards all kinds of Poles were brought, amongst whom there was no lack of criminals, anti-Semites who were always ready to torture Jews. When they saw that they were being rewarded for their murderous acts, they helped even more and became devoted partners of the Germans for the mutual aim of destroying the Jews.

In the middle of 1942, Auschwitz became an assembly point for the victims, particularly for the Jews whom the Germans were preparing to murder immediately. Jews who were brought to Auschwitz at that time were quickly converted to ash. People from all lands also came, though their lands were not yet occupied by the Germans, but they remained stuck in lands from where they could not return home. In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.

 

In the Hell of Auschwitz

The transport of the Ciechanow Jews belonged to these first mass liquidations that were carried out in Auschwitz in 1942.

After being in the lager several days, many Ciechanowers gave up the struggle against the cruel reality. The cold, hunger, beatings and hard labor broke the physical state and morale of the people. From day to day the number of the Ciechanowers grew fewer and fewer. If anyone remained alive it is just by chance.

Once, while returning from work, we weren't allowed into our block after roll-call. A kapo appeared and started to pull out people. Everyone tried to hide but later, when it was noticed that the kapo had a sign on his arm that be belongs to the clothing-cell, tens of people started to push towards him, I also. He took a look at me, asked where I worked before coming to the lager. “At construction work,” I replied. He added me to the chosen ones.

The group consisted of 40 people. We went to work in the clothing storeroom. Laibl Galel was also with me and both Hak brothers. We were taken to another block where there were mainly Poles. Conditions there were much better, the blocks heated and the food better. Working at the clothing we could also dress in warmer clothing and better shoes.

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A few days later selections took place. The weaker ones were taken out and gassed. Shabbat Chanukah, 6 weeks after arriving in the lager, nearly all Ciechanow women were taken to gas chambers. Just a few miraculously were saved.

I started to look for an opportunity to be transferred to another lager. The contagious diseases, typhus, diphtheria started to spread. Under these circumstances I met my good friend from Warsaw. We talked and agreed to go on a transport that was being selected to be sent off. We didn't know where it was headed for, but we didn't care, anywhere -- just to get away from this death-lager. We had to undergo a medical examination for which we had to strip naked and leave our clothes outside. We were already standing at the door, freezing from the cold. Suddenly the shreiber called that everyone can return to the block. No more were needed and we could dress and return to our block.

Late at night, when I was already in my bunk, the light suddenly went on and the shreiber of the block called out that those up to the age of 19 should step forward. I quickly stepped down and got in line. It was my luck to be sent on the transport.

The next day we didn't go to work. In the afternoon we were taken out of our block. Outside, there were around 2000 young people, all Jews. A civilian German with a kapo carried out the selection. They told everyone to march past and those who pleased them they told to step aside. From the 2000, they chose 240, I amongst them.

We got our bread ration, and under the guard of S.S. we were taken to Auschwitz. There was another Ciechanower with me, Shmuelek Oysteriak, Eliyahu Oysteriak's son. We were taken to Block 7A in a bricklaying school, and here our tzores started anew.

The block-elder, a well-known German criminal, started, with the help of the overseer, to cause us tzores of the worst kind. We started to get frequent punishment, such as doing knee bends for hours on end with our hands on high. Food was taken away from us We were beaten and shouted at. It was like a crazy-house.

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From the abnormal and poor food many of us got sick. We started to suffer from diarrhea that nobody could avoid. Every morning when the overseer saw at roll-call that someone doesn't feel good or that their night-layer is not “clean,” they would be sent to the “sick-house” and from there nobody returned. That's what happened to Shmuelik Oysteriak. He was sent to the “sick-house” and never returned.

The diarrhea didn't spare me either. I held back with my last bit of strength. I didn't drink the water and used instead to wash my underwear with it. More than once I put on wet underwear and went this way to work. In this way I managed to get through the first winter in the “bricklaying” school. Later the opportunity arose for me to work in the hospital.

After a few weeks I was transferred to work at disinfecting where the clothes of the prisoners were disinfected before they were washed. Here I worked nearly to the end, that is, up to the time the Russians arrived in January, 1945. There wasn't enough food, but I didn't suffer there from the cold or the filth. In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.

 

The Lifestyle of the Prisoners in Auschwitz

Generally, the Polish Jews had more endurance than those of other lands. The Jews of Poland, until they came to Auschwitz, had already gone through a “school” of Polish anti-Semitism, German cruelty and ghetto torture, hunger and sickness. The knowledge of Polish and German also helped the Polish Jews a lot. Because of all this they were more able to overcome the hellish existence of Auschwitz than the Jews of other countries.

Amongst the Polish Jews as well as the Slovakian Jews there were those who lost their humanity. In the women's lager in Birkenau the Jewish women of Slovakia were indirect helpers to the cruelty in the lager. These were mainly young women who completed their education in the lager surrounded by electrified barbed wire, so what is the wonder that their hearts were poisoned by the German methods?

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The most horrifying work in the lager was burning the dead corpses. The unfortunate ones who did this work called themselves Sonderkommandos. At first, Russians did this work. That was at the time when tens of thousands of Russian prisoners died of hunger.

When the Jewish transports began to arrive, the Germans put the Jews to work burning the dead. Doing this frightful work were some Ciechanow Jews. When someone would meet them by chance, they bemoaned their bitter destiny.

From time to time the Germans would change those who were working at the crematorium by murdering the former workers and selecting new ones. The old ones were supposedly “transferred to another place and on the way they were murdered, or they were choked in the barracks where they slept.

Once, the Germans didn't succeed in carrying out their plan. The workers in the Sonderkommando (as they were called), made an uprising and fought heroically. Some Ciechanow Jews distinguished themselves in this battle. They were Yukl Verona and Shimon Altus.

*

Noah Zabludowicz, who used to come to Birkenau often because of his work as an electrician, brought us the bad news. At the beginning of 1944 the Germans brought thousands of Jews from Poland and Hungary. They went directly to be exterminated. In a matter of days they had turned into heaps of ash. Only a small percentage came into the lager.

We, those arrested in the lager, lived through days of inner turmoil and deep pain in those days. We thought that the murders would no longer affect us, but we made a mistake. The new murders affected us terribly. Every day we looked towards the ovens with the hope that the chimneys would not be emitting the thick smoke that poisoned the air.

For people who weren't in Auschwitz, the problem will certainly arise: How could a few thousand German criminals cause such a fear for a camp of 150 thousand people? Why didn't they rise up against this hell?

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An answer to this painful question can be found in the precise killing-machine that the Germans erected in Auschwitz.

Projectors lit up every step at night, machine guns, electrified barbed wire and police dogs caused a dreadful fear in every lager prisoner. And in addition to these so-called technical means, the lager apparatus that was installed according to the most modern methods of the German murder “science.”

The organization for murdering people crushed the prisoners and sucked out their physical and spiritual marrow. The fear of the two-legged German beast seeped into the senses of the tortured ones. The Auschwitz prisoners had two dreadful enemies: the German beasts did not distinguish between guilty and innocent, and the national hatred of the Jews that was prevalent amongst the prisoners themselves.

No German leadership could have ruled over the tortured ones in the lager if not for the antagonism of the prisoners themselves. The more the antagonism grew, the easier it became for the Germans to rule over the people.

When, in 1943, an end was put to gassing the sick and weak of other nationalities, the mass extermination of Jews started. For Christians there was still a spark of hope of being freed, but for Jews it was clear that only death could free them. When a Pole or a Czech ran away from the lager and they came to a city and mingled with its residents, they could depend on their help, but when a Jew ran away he had no one to turn to.

The social composition of the prisoners in Auschwitz varied. Amongst the prisoners of other nationalities there were a number of Polish activities of various underground movements who fought against the German fascists. These prisoners knew why they were sent to Auschwitz and therefore they started to get organized, adjusted to the conditions in the lager so that could carry on their fight against the Germans. We Jews, however, were a mass of people who had been torn away from their homes because of the only sin that we were Jews. That tied us together spiritually -- physically and morally broken, degraded so low.

When the first winter in the lager passed, and it began to get warmer, it felt somewhat lighter. The days got longer and warmer and every ray of sun brought with it a bit of hope. After roll-call people used to get together in the lager, discuss the situation, news was passed around from one to the other.

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The Encounter with Ciechanow Jews

The first one I met in the lager was Motl Bergson from Ciechanow. I rejoiced to see him. We exchanged talk of our experiences as well as talk about the Jews of Ciechanow in recent days. Bergson came to Auschwitz from the German lager Zaksenhausen and thanks to his acquaintance with some prisoners, he managed to get into one of the best working places -- that of loading bread.

From him I also discovered that Noah Zabludowicz is also in the lager with his two brothers -- Pinkhas and Khanan. In their block I met others from Ciechanow: Godl Zilber, Yaacov Rosenthal, Yisroel Lichtenstein and his brother Yeshayahu. After that we met often.

At Noah's it became the meeting place of all Ciechanowers. Yitzhak Laib Kleinetz, Yehoshua Gelbart, Mordecai Belovich; Gedalya Vina also came. Others were: Eliyahu Kohn with his son Moishe, Nakhman Ustriak, Dovid Shmid, Barukh Zeloner, Adjulek Kersh, Moishe Gelbart and some others whose names I don't remember.

We started to help one another with bread, clothing, or with “pull” in certain cases to get better work. In time, Noah Zabludowicz and his brother Khanan managed to get jobs as house attendants in one of the best blocks in the lager. The prisoners of that block didn't take the food of the lager. They were mainly Poles who got food parcels from home. They would give the lager food away not only to the Ciechanowers, but also to other prisoners.

After a certain time the block was liquidated and Noah was returned to his former work as an electrician and his two brothers, Pinkhas and Khanan, went to work in a mechanical laundry not far from the place when I was working.

At the same time, through Mordecai Bielovich, we met a young fellow who had lived recently in Mlawa but from Ripin originally. His name was Laibik Braun, a dental technician by trade. He worked as a medic in the hospital. Laibik often gave us medication and salves so that we could avoid going to the hospital.

He became one of our best friends in the lager. In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.

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We Prepare for the Armed Uprising Against the Germans

We were sure that the German defeat would come and that then they would want to murder everyone in the lager in order that there shouldn't remain anyone to tell the world what crimes they had committed against mankind. We therefore started to talk about an uprising of the lager prisoners. For this, though, we needed connections and support from outside.

We knew that there was an underground movement in the lager, well organized with political prisoners at the head from various countries. We didn't have an approach to them, however, nor did we know how to take the first step.

Once, going from the roll-call, I met the shtube dinst who was in the same block as me. His name was Shimon, a Polish Jew who lived in France before the war. After speaking to him at length about the condition of the Jews in the lager, I told him that the youth who are with us want to do something in order to gain some power to be able to prevent the Germans from killing the remaining Jews.

Shimon looked at me sternly and asked me if we would be ready to organize small groups and gather information for the underground movement. I immediately agreed that not only that, but we're ready for other undertakings as well. At that point he told me of the existence of an underground organization to which belong prisoners of various nations: Germans, French, Poles, etc. He told me to meet with one by the name of Bruno.

I was very surprised because the person he indicated to me was someone I knew very well. He had been working with me for a few months. I spoke with him often and it never entered my mind that he was one of the main people in the underground movement in Auschwitz.

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Bruno was a German Jew, not very tall, with fiery dark eyes. He always made an impression on me of a quiet person, but in the course of time I learned that he can speak when he has to. I also noticed that he had many German friends, political prisoners, who come to him to hear his opinion. Since 1933 he had been in various lagers and was known as an anti-fascist fighter. Shimon had purposely sent me to Bruno because, as it proved to be, he had been appointed by the underground to leave the lager. After a time, he and two others ran away.

At first my connection with him consisted merely of passing on information, military and political. Bruno checked up on me for some time to see with whom I was meeting and who my friends were.

In his book, Vidershtand in Auschwitz, that appeared in Germany after the war, Bruno writes with much praise about the Polish Jews who joined the underground movement in Auschwitz.

On pages 12-13 of his book Bruno points out what the underground in Auschwitz put forth:

“Not to be led to the gas chambers.” “When you'll be loaded onto the trucks to be brought to the gas chambers, all should jump from the trucks at the train station Obershlesia-Cracow, and carry on a fight with the S.S. bandits.” *

In the ranks of the Jews this last proclamation resounded well and it became a means for gathering the active Jewish forces.

The narrow circle to whom I conveyed Bruno's proclamation were: Noah Zabludowicz, Mordecai Bilovich (Aaron Gelbart's son-in-law), Laibl Laufer, a Slovakian Jew, Yisroel Gutman from Warsaw and Laibek Braun from Ripin. More recently he had lived in Mlawa.

We, on our part, extended the framework of our activities, increased the number of our people, and asked Bruno to assign important tasks to us. I informed him about our supplies factory D.A.W. Bruno warned us not to conduct any action on our own.

*Bruno Baum, Vidershtand in Auschwitz, a report of the international anti-fascist lager action, Winnie Publishers, Berlin, Potsdam.

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The Organization of the Uprising in Auschwitz

In order to maintain contact with the people, we needed support. We appealed to Motl Bergson, who worked in the bread supply. He enabled us to carry this through. At his place all Ciechanowers found an open door. He helped everyone in every way he possibly could. There was also a German Jew with him, Yaacov (both had come from the German lagers). He knew nearly all the Ciechanowers. When anyone asked him where he was from he said: “Ciechanow.”

Being somewhat supplied with food, we were able to carry on further with our work. We started to think about sending one of our chaverim out of the lager. Once, after a talk with Noah Zabludowicz, he told me that he is ready to run away together with Avraham Boimgart. Noah was the most suitable candidate because of his “Aryan” looks and also because of his experience in the former lagers.

I came to an understanding with Bruno in this regard and he agreed that Noah should leave the lager. I requested from Bruno names of people on the outside who act as contacts with those who run away. He sent me to one in Block 1, a German Jew called Max. From him I got the necessary addresses that I had to memorize. At the last minute the plan was not carried out because the dangers grew greater and the chances of getting out of the lager became slimmer.

Noah continued his contact with the women's lager. There also we met a Ciechanower girl, Rosa Robota, Shaya Robota's daughter, who joined the underground movement.

At the same time some Ciechanowers were sent to Birkenau. Amongst them were: Godl Zilber and Baruch Zeloner. Unfortunately, Zeloner didn't survive long He got sick with typhus and died.

In 1944, large transports were sent to the lagers in Germany. Noah was supposed to be amongst them but his brother Pinkhas, who knew the work representative, succeeded in rescuing Noah from the transport.

At the time that preparations are being made for the general uprising, it was decided that the Jewish group should supply the explosives from the munitions factory “Union”, in order to make bombs.

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The job was entrusted to two chaverim from our group: Yehudah Laufer and Yisroel Gutman. But the matter encountered great difficulties and great dangers. All efforts were in vain. It remained to make contact with the small women's group that worked in the gunpowder-factory where the grenades were prepared.

The Jewish women who worked there were always strictly controlled and it was forbidden for them to meet with prisoners of other barracks, especially with men, so that it was very difficult to come into contact with them. After a consultation it was decided to send Noah to Birkenau to make connections with the women's groups of the gunpowder-factory.

Noah knew that Rosa Robota is in contact with the women who transport the explosive material that is handed over through them to Rosa. She, in turn, gives it to Godl Zilber, and from him the material goes to the Sonderkommando. The material gets put into a container of acid, that is used for welding iron.

Rosa promised to help. It didn't take long and contact was established. During a pause in the work the women put a bundle of dynamite at a pre-arranged spot. All the work was done during the night shift, when the control wasn't so strict.

In the morning when the workers came from work, I awaited them, and from a Hungarian Jewish acquaintance I took half a loaf of bread. In that bread there was a packet of dynamite. I kept it at my work place and later gave it to a German Jew who worked at the railway station.

The dynamite that was handed over to the Sonderkommando by Rosa Robota was handed over to a Russian technician, Borodin, and he produced bombs in preserve cans. The bombs were hidden in various places.

 

The Uprising and its Tragic End

Noah, when returning from work to the lager one day, informed us that the Sonderkommando was preparing for an uprising. At that time the Germans stopped exterminating the Hungarian Jews. The Jews from the Sonderkommando already knew that the Germans will kill them all. The experienced ones already knew from previous transports that the Germans had supposedly transferred to other places to work, and in the middle of the way they killed the Jews. For this reason the Sonderkommando decided not to wait any longer.

The day that news got out that a transport would be sent out, consisting only of men who work in the Sonderkommando, the uprising broke out. In the period of a few minutes around 600 people who worked in Sonderkommando were involved in the uprising. Crematorium 2 was exploded and burnt. The kapo, a German, who was known for his atrocities, the rebels threw into the burning oven while still alive. In hand-to-hand fighting 4 S.S. were killed and some others wounded. Around the crematoriums it looked like a war zone. The enclosure was torn up and the people ran off.

All the S.S. who were in the area were recruited. All the kommandos that worked outside of the lager interrupted their work and came to the lager. Immediately a roll-call took place. S.S. men ran around like poisoned mice. They hadn't expected anything like this: that they would have to defend themselves against the Jews.

Unfortunately, the prisoners from other larger-parts didn't come to help the rebels of the Sonderkommando. The end was that the Germans gained control of the situation. The uprising of the Sonderkommando remained a symbol of revenge and an inspiration for all the prisoners. The Christian prisoners started to conduct themselves with a certain respect towards the Jews.

The Germans murdered all those who had participated in the uprising. Amongst those murdered were the Ciechanowers: Yukl Verona and Shimon Altus and others. Only a few, who hid and only appeared again after a few days, remained alive.

The inquest connected with brutal torture that the Germans conducted proved that the explosives that the rebels used came from the ammunition factory. This information the investigators got from informers who worked in the factory. The suspicion in giving the prisoners explosives fell on a few women who worked in the gunpowder-factory.

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They were arrested and taken to Block 11 in Auschwitz. After several days of grueling questioning and terrible torture, they broke down. Amongst the arrested women was Rosa Robota.

Pinkhas Zabludowicz, who often found himself at the entrance of the lager, once noticed Rosa Robota being led in the lager to Block 11. Fearfully we thought that she would not be able to bear the merciless torture and that she would divulge the names who were in contact with her or with other girls. Every morning I saw her go out of the lager in the political section.

Once, after a roll-call, it got dark in the lager. Such blackouts were now frequent in the lager because of bombings. During the blackout I was standing with Yukl Rosenthal at my place of work. We noticed two women supporting a woman. An S.S. man was going along with them, taking them to Block 11. We recognized Rosa. When they had gone a few feet away we started to shout: “Rosa! Rosa!” so that she should be aware that we know where she is. We thought that maybe the Germans had purposely made a blackout so that no one should see the condition in which Rosa was returning from the political section.

We were also worried about the chaverim, Laibl Laufer and Yisroel Gutman, who worked in “Union.” Their arrest could bring great misfortune to the underground movement in the lager and this through Jews.

 

A Visit with the Tortured Rosa Robata and Her Heroic Death

As I have already mentioned, my workplace was not far from Block 11 where the bunker was. Yaacov Kozelchik, a Jew from the Bialystok area, was the kapo for Block 11. He used to come in to us often to wash, and each time he would tell about the four Jewish women, amongst them Rosa also, who get tortured in his block. He helps them with whatever he can, but unfortunately he knows their fate.

I met with Noah at that time. I told him about the condition of the tortured women. He decided to talk to Yaacov to find out if he could possibly arrange for one of us to go in to Rosa's bunker and hear from her personally what the situation looks like. Yaacov agreed that Noah should go in to her, taking along a good bottle of whiskey and a vurshtin in order to bribe the S.S. man who is always in the block.

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The visit was arranged for the evening. Noah took everything along. Yaacov took him into the block and introduced him to the S.S. as a friend who came to visit him. They started to drink until the German fell asleep. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Yaacov grabbed the keys and led Noah through the dark corridor to Rosa's cell and the following is what Noah wrote in his memoirs about that visit:

“I was privileged to see Rosa a few days before her death, for the last time. At night, when all the prisoners were already asleep, and when it was forbidden to go about in the lager, I went down to Bunker 11 and saw the room and the dark corridors. I heard the groans of charged people. I shuddered. I went by way of the stairs where Yaacov led me until we came to the cell where Rosa was. Yaacov opened the door, let me in and locked it again and then disappeared.

“When I got used to the light, I noticed, lying on the cold cement, a form, wrapped in torn clothes. She turned her head towards me. I hardly recognized her. On her face one could recognize the pain and torture that she had endured at the inquest. After a few minutes of quiet she began to speak. She told of the sadistic methods that the Germans use at these inquests. Nobody can endure it. She also said that she takes all responsibility on herself and she will to the last. She didn't betray anyone.

“I tried to comfort her, but she didn't want to hear. 'I know what I did and I know what awaits me,' she said. She asked that the chaverim continue their work. 'It's easier to die when one knows that one's work continues.'

“I heard a squeaking of the door. Yaacov told me to go out. I said farewell to her. That was the last time I saw her.”

*

Shuddering, I stood outside and waited for Noah. I was afraid that he might have a failure. Finally the door opened and he came out. From his face I could recognize that the visit to Rosa's cell made a strong impression on him. He couldn't free himself from that impression for a long time.

[Page 390]

Once, when the women were being taken to the washroom, I succeeded in speaking with her. She told me that for the last few days they weren't taking her for interrogation and she no longer needs food. She doesn't know what will happen further.

When a few days had passed, information was given to the “Union” factory that all the women must leave work early and return to the lager. The women immediately understood that something would happen. True enough, the Germans hung four women that day. Two, they hung in the ammunition factory “Union” and two in the women's lager. The women immediately understood that something would happen. True enough, the Germans hung four women that day. Two, they hung in the ammunition factory “Union” and two in the women's lager. Amongst these two was Rosa Robota.

From what the women who were present at that bestial act afterwards told, Rosa went to the gallows and sacrificed her young life.

*

In his already-mentioned book, Vidershtand in Auschwitz, in the chapter Fir Topfere Medals, Bruno Baum describes the heroic death of the four girls.

At the interrogation about the hand-grenades that were prepared by the Sonderkommando, the S.S. proved that the explosives were taken from the “Union” store of gunpowder. Because of the information of the bandit, Shultz, eight women were arrested. They were freed after terrible torture at the interrogation. It was only after the proof given by kapo- assistant Koch that four girls were arrested who worked in the day-shift in the gunpowder store.

In spite of the sadistic torture at the interrogation, the arrested girls were silent and didn't divulge any names.

“The execution of the girls was ordered. They were to be hung in the women's lager No. 1. The night before the execution we succeeded, through a connection, in speaking with one of them. We were in a bunker at night (a cellar in which those who were sentenced to death were kept) and spoke to a girl of around twenty. We wanted to comfort and strengthen her but she tried to give us courage to continue our fight. She told us that she is proud that she participated in the uprising. She will die in peace. We knew that these heroic girls will be silent to the grave.

[Page 391]

The following day she was hung during roll-call in the women's lager. She died quietly, calling out: “We'll take revenge.”

“Who were these girls? They were young Jewish girls between the ages of 18-22. They were from Poland. In 1939 they went into the ghetto. In 1942 or 1943 they came to Auschwitz. Immediately upon arrival their parents and sisters were taken away from them and sent to the gas chambers. They were the only survivors of their family and immediately joined the Jewish group of 300 prisoners who were in contact with the uprising organization. On January 6, 1945, an end was made, by execution, to the lives of these heroic girls.

Nobody who was in Auschwitz will ever forget these heroic Jewish girls.”

*

The above quote from Bruno Baum's book does not give the names of these four heroic Jewish girls who, in Auschwitz, participated in the truly heroic struggle against the German murderers.

We Ciechanowers who were in Auschwitz knew one of these heroines very well -- our Rosa Robota from Ciechanow. It remains for the researchers to find out the names of the three young Jewish heroines who sacrificed their life in the fight against the German bestiality in Auschwitz.

 

New Hangings, and the Tumult of the Germans Because the Front Was Getting Closer

At that time the front was already at Cracow and all along the shore of the Veisl. Frequent air raids occurred in the vicinity of Auschwitz, where the German heavy industry was located. No bombs fell on the lager.

Once, when the prisoners were outside the lager, an air raid took place and the houses in which the S.S. lived were hit. A bomb also fell somewhere where there were lager workers. Sixty people were killed. Quite often, during such raids, the Germans came into the lager because there they were more secure than outside. This situation encouraged us. We were sure that their defeat would come very soon.

[Page 392]

In order to make a connection with the Russian front that was 60 kilometers away from the lager, it was decided to send out a small group of people. For this purpose two Austrians and two Poles were selected. They were at the head of the underground movement. They prepared a long time for this and made contact with a friend of theirs, an S.S. man, in the lager. He was to take them out. He betrayed them, however, and the whole group were captured and sent to Block 11. After lengthy interrogation and torture, they were hung in the lager.

It was already the end of 1944. Their death left a deep sorrow in the lager. It greatly affected the work of the underground fighters.

The Germans, while awaiting the approaching Russian attack, that was likely to strike any day, started to liquidate everything that was connected with their criminal acts. Large transports of clothes, shoes and gold were sent to Germany. Fearing an eventual uprising, the Germans from Auschwitz and from the surrounding lagers transferred all the Poles to Austria and Germany. Hundreds of lager people were put to work to destroy the crematoriums. In the furnace of the laundry the Auschwitz files were burned, a total of a million files.

There was a great tumult amongst the S.S. in Bunker 11. S.S. who didn't want to carry out the orders were arrested. At night, Russian rockets lit up the sky for hours.

We went out to work daily in order to show that we aren't interested in what was going on around us. Every day brought greater hope, and this went on until January 16, 1945.

Late at night all block shreibers were called out and were told to prepare to evacuate everyone.

The next day, we Ciechanowers gathered at Motl Bialovich's room and discussed the new situation. Because of the quick advance of the Russians, there might be a possibility that we will be freed in the middle of the way, though we knew that marching in the cold and frost would cost many lives. We supplied ourselves with warm clothes and food, and on the 18th of January we were led out of Auschwitz.

[Page 393]

Because of the breakup of the blocks we got separated. Some went to Germany and I, Motl Bialovich, Yehoshua Albert and his brother Moishe, and Yehoshua Lichtenstein, were led away in the direction of Austria.

 

The German Bestiality Before Their Final Defeat

After walking for four days we came to a train station where we went into open wagons. We reached Czechoslovakia. The population there brought us food and hot coffee. The Germans, our guards, chased away the good Czechs and even fired shots over their heads.

After traveling for several days we reached Austria and were taken to the Mauthausen lager. Here fresh tzores started for us. Our clothes were taken away from us. We were kept in a block for two weeks, not sent out to work. We had to line up for roll-call almost naked.

Afterwards, we were sent in a transport of a few hundred people to Abenze in Upper Austria. There fresh troubles started: stone-digging in the mountains, which was very hard work. Hunger, cold, beatings and mocking were daily events. We were isolated from the world around us.

After being in the lager for two months, I decided to go to the sick precinct. It wasn't so easy to get in there, however, Hundreds of people were waiting for a place and for a bed to become vacant. Finally, I got a place as the fourth one in a bed. In the same bed there was also the Ciechanow teacher of the Yavneh School, Petrikus.

Once, at the end of April 1945, he got off the bed and fell down. I picked him up and put him back in bed. Laying there together with him, I asked him to move a bit but he didn't answer me. I touched his cold body. He was no longer alive. A few days later Moishe Gelbard could not survive the hunger.

A Tarnover Jew told us about the situation in the lager. He had come to visit his sick father who was in our block. He told us that nobody is going out to work. Those who do go, return at noon. The S.S. are very irritable and lost.

[Page 394]

It was also told that the lager leader appealed to the prisoners that in order to prevent the loss of lives, everyone should go to the bunkers that were dug out in the hills. The lager shreiber, a Czech, replied that no one would go. After a brief consultation, he agreed that we should remain in the lager. The intent of the German murderers was to blow up all the bunkers together with the people in them.

In the middle of the night we were suddenly awakened. A man came in who addressed us in Polish: “Where is the block-elder?” Out of fear none replied. He went into the room where the block-elder lived and he found two large pots of food there. He immediately divided it up amongst us and said that tomorrow a different block-head would come and that in another few days the Americans would come and we should remain as calm as possible.

The next morning one of the sick noticed a white flag on the crematorium. With my last bit of energy I went down from the bed to see the flag. Two days later the first Americans entered. It's easy to imagine the jubilation. They immediately started to send the sick to various hospitals. With food they made a big mistake: the food that they sent to the lager was not good for the sick, and hundreds of people died from it.

The Americans noted the situation and thereafter only sent such food as the sick could digest. After being in the hospital for half a year I felt completely well. I started to realize my youthful dream of coming to the Land of Israel.

So it was that, through Italy and Cyprus, I reached Eretz Yisroel.

[Page 395]

Ciechanower refugees in Vilna at the start of the war
Ciechanower refugees in Vilna at the start of the war

Picture Index

The German extermination caused a great wandering in the occupied areas, as is well known. As long as there were no closed ghettos, Jews ran from place to place in order to escape the brutality of the Germans. Many of the refugees also came to Vilna. Amongst them was a group of Ciechanow Jews.

Unfortunately we don't have any information about the life of the Ciechanow Jews in Vilna during the war. The group photograph that remains shows that they kept together. Ciechanow readers of this Yizkor Book will probably recognize their friends or close relatives in the photograph.

[Page 396]

Uprising Against the Germans

In various forms, expression was given to the uprising of the tormented Jews against the Germans and against their extermination of the Jews: the acts of sabotaging the German orders, giving mutual help to one another in the lagers, organizing food, medical help. In all these ways the Jewish uprising against the Germans expressed itself. The armed Jewish uprising stands out. It was possible only under certain conditions. When Jews could get ammunition.

The fight against the Germans, the Jews carried on in all the above-mentioned ways. They also took part in the armed uprising, not in Ciechanow, but in the death-lager -- in Auschwitz and in occupied France. In both of these struggles heroic persons stand out, who sacrificed their lives with their martyr deaths. One of them was the heroic girl, Rosa Robota.

The (signed) A.V.I.

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