In the Clutches of the Gestapo
A long red flag with a large swastika fluttered over a beautiful new house on Kilinksi number 10. The flag was so big that it gave the impression that it would cover the entire three-story building.
This was the office of the Gestapo.
We had heard even before the war what the Gestapo was: the Gestapo members beat and murdered their political opponents, tortured them in concentration camps; they were deadly and the marking on their uniforms was a skull. Each of them was a malekh-hamoves [angel of death].
However, here we could see close-up and feel on our own bodies what the Gestapo was:
Once at midday on a Shabbos, when a number of Jews were on the street in their best clothing, the Gestapo started to chase the young and old women. They gathered a large group and led them to the city hall square where building material lay bricks, stones, lime and other things. Here the women were ordered to take off their winter coats or furs, lay them on the side of the open square and to start to work, which consisted of carrying the bricks and stones from one end of the square and then back to the same spot from which they were taken.
The Christian passers-by, who stopped to watch the spectacle, made fun of and laughed at the women, who were being tormented and insulted in such a brutal way. The torture stopped only when it became dark. Not all of the women found their coats; many coats were stolen by the crowd. The Germans stood in two rows at the exit of the square and permitted the women to go by, hitting them with riding crops. The Polish crowd laughed with pleasure and accompanied the beaten women with insults and curses. The Jewish women felt the taste of belittlement not only by the Germans, but by their local Polish fellow citizens.
A similar thuggish action during the same winter month
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at the end of 1939 was carried out by the gendarmerie officer Ambros with his comrades:
Once at 12 midnight, they surrounded several Jewish streets and ordered all of the Jews to come out to the new market, threatening to shoot those who remained in their residences. Everyone came out and stood in the middle of the snow, in freezing weather and strong winds. The tortured stood this way until 5 o'clock. Then the hooligans led them to their barracks. There they were ordered to get completely undressed, naked. The gendarmes searched through the clothing, took money, watches, rings and everything that had any form of worth. The naked women were thrown on the tables by the gendarmes for a thorough examination. The torture lasted until 6 o'clock in the evening. Then the women were thrown out of there insulted, morally and physically broken, half dressed.
The suffering Jews and their wives went to the Judenrat to complain about the gendamerie. However, the Judenrat could not help in any way. The Judenrat only had the right to do with their Jews whatever was necessary so that the orders from the regime were quickly and exactly carried out. It had no right whatsoever to intervene about injustices the Germans did to the Jews.
On a cloudy afternoon, the Gestapo drove in autos to Garibaldi Street to a certain Jew name Lenczner. Lenczner was not then at home and the Gestapo first demanded that Lenczner's wife give them a stick. As there were no sticks to be found in the house, the woman had to get one from a neighbor. Meanwhile, Lenczner arrived and the Gestapo
took him and his wife into a room from which a neighbor immediately heard blows and screams through the wall. The German hit Lenczner on his head with the stick that his wife had brought and shouted, Give us money, gold, diamonds! The couple opened a cabinet, took out the jewelry and all of the valuable items and gave them to the thugs. However, this was not enough for them and they pointed their revolvers at Lenczner and ordered him to turn towards the wall. His wife then fell to their feet and begged them to allow her husband to live. They then ordered the man to undress completely and to lie on the table. They again began to beat him murderously and when he bent from pain, they forced his wife to hold her husband's feet so that they would not move. The couple cried terribly and screamed and their cries carried to the street. However, the murderers so lost control that the more their victims cried and screamed, the more severe were the blows with the stick over the Jew's naked body. Lenczner's children cried terribly in the kitchen and tore their clothing from their bodies in grief. In the end, the Jew fainted and his wife poured water over him in order to revive him. When the murderers saw that he no longer was moving, they hit him still more, until his body became black.
Before they left, they hit the wife a few times and told her that they should come to the Gestapo tomorrow at four in the afternoon and bring all the valuable items.
When the Gestapo bandits left, the neighbors began to revive the Jew. A doctor was called who gave him injections and said that he should be wrapped in wet sheets. When he began to regain consciousness, they became concerned as to how to make it possible for him
to go to the Gestapo office tomorrow, as the murderers had warned before leaving.
Lenczer's family members went to the Judenrat and explained what happened to them. The chairman of the Judenrat just helplessly raised his shoulders. What could he do against the Gestapo? They went to a Jew named Wajnrib, who had certain acquaintances in the Gestapo and could sometimes have edicts revoked with the payment of a sum of money.
However, Wajnrib, too, only shook his head in this case: he didn't know if he would have the opportunity to speak with the same Gestapo members who had been at the Lenczners. However, he would try to do something, if it was possible.
In the morning when the designated hour neared, the severely ill Lenczner got out of bed with great effort. His wife and children dressed him, took him down the stairs and put him in the horse cab he could not sit. His daughter held him so that he would not fall and thus they went to the Gestapo office, bringing their family jewelry and money.
Lenczner, with his damaged body, barely made it up to the second floor of the Gestapo house. He was taken into a room in which the people who had beaten him the day before were sitting. One of them asked him:
Have you pulled out the gold from the holes? And who is she? He pointed to the woman who had accompanied Lenczner.They laid out the things brought with them. The two murderers looked at everything precisely, took the golden objects, diamond rings and the money; recognizing the silver candlesticks with the menorah they returned them. One of the two wrote an enumerated list which he lay on the table and said: Sign
This is my father the daughter answered he cannot go alone, so I helped him come here.
it! Lenczner signed immediately, not looking at what was on the list. The enumerated list was read aloud and it stated that during the search of the residence of the Jew Lenczner, 1,000 zlotys were found that were requisitioned for the benefit of the German Reich according to the law that a Jew may not have more than 200 zlotys in cash.
Lenczner left for home with this list, pleased that it had ended well and he spent a month in bed while the wounds on his body healed.
The leader of the Gestapo was named Kriger. The Jews had to endure great misery from him. On the first day that he appeared, he immediately ordered that the Jewish residents should clean the houses and the streets under the supervision of the current Polish house watchmen. Every morning, he controlled the Jews at work and observed if the house watchmen was paying close attention to how the Jews worked. Every day he found new ways in which to torment and belittle the Jewish residents. Once, for instance, he asked that stones be thrown from one place to another and then back. Another time he selected similar work and thus, each time he found new sadistic pranks. The Jewish women had to wash the communal toilets in the houses, the stairs and other dirty areas.
He ordered that the watchmen in the Jewish houses who were all Polish should move into the apartments of the owners and the owners into the apartments of their watchmen. In the houses of the Christian owners, he ordered a Jewish tenant to give his residence to the watchman and move into the watchman's residence. Also, private residences
had to be cleaned up and purified by the Jews and the entire house, in which their residence was located. He always went around with a riding crop of twisted wire and lead, and beat every passing Jew, woman and child.
He also would help the Folks-Deutsch, who were supported by the administrators in the Jewish houses, collect rent from the Jewish tenants. He and the folks-Deutsch would go into a house and order all of the Jews to appear on a spot. When the Jews went down to the courtyard, the Gestapo person stood them in a line, casting venomous looks at them and began to beat them without distinction men, women and children until they were covered in blood. Then he gave them work to do: throwing stones from place to place under the supervision of the Polish watchmen.
After two hours, when the Jews already were exhausted from the work, he again stood them in rows, again beat them on the head and spoke as follows: You dogs! The rent that you owe up to today and in addition for the coming month, you should immediately pay in advance. And from today you should bring the money in advance to the German gentleman (pointing to the Folks-Deutsch).
It should be understood that this money immediately went into the pocket of the administrator. For the tenant, who was unable to pay, others paid in order to get rid of these people more quickly.
Soon after we read in the German newspapers that this Kriger was chosen as Gestapo chief for the entire General Government. Suddenly, we saw what kind of great man we had had here.
Germans and a number of Folks-Deutsch occupied the leadership offices in the Gestapo. Poles were employed as secret agents.
There was one, who was a Polish policeman before the war; under the German occupation he became a Folks-Deutsch. He was named Szabelski. He knew the people of our city very well. Right from the start, he went after the Jews. He was the leader at all of the searches. He only spoke German and he beat Jews murderously. His greatest pleasure was to see Jewish blood. He did not leave a Jewish house until he made someone there a cripple.
Once in the morning I went out to the street. Suddenly I felt a sturdy hand on my arm. I turned around and saw a Polish train official standing before me. He said to me:
Where is your arm band? You are obviously a Jew!I looked at my right arm and saw that I had forgotten to put on the armband. The train official immediately told me to go the police commissariat. I told the person who led me that today I had put on different clothes and forgot to put on the armband. This did not interest him. One could not forget. In addition, he said, train officials had to carry out the orders of the Gestapo.
We arrived at the premises of the Polish police; the policeman on duty asked for my identification and after I answered him, he requested a small monetary fine from me. When I laid out the money on the table, from a second room, a taller police official appeared who was once friendly with me, and hearing what had happened, he announced tersely: Jews who are de-
tained without armbands need to be sent to the Gestapo. I tried to defend myself, explaining why I had been without an armband today. However, my former friend did not even want to listen to me politely. I was detained until the commissar came and when he came, my former friend tried to have me sent to the Gestapo.
I found myself in a cell one meter wide and three meters long. There was only a long small bench and a pail. The floor was made of stone; a small barred window was on the ceiling, smeared with lime. It was terribly cold, even though it was sunny outside. The hours passed slowly in hunger and cold. Finally, I heard heavy steps. The door opened and I was given an order: Out! I was led into the same room in which I had been in the morning. A man in civilian clothes was there. At the same time, Wajnrib appeared. He said, pointing to me, This is my cousin, for whom I asked today. The civilian turned to me angrily: Why do you not want to wear the band of shame, do you want to pass as a Christian?
I noticed my coat with the band, which I had left in my residence today, lay on a bench. I understood that my coat was brought in order to see if the band was there. I again explained that I had forgotten to put the band on my arm. The civilian took a long twisted whip out of his desk; he showed it to me and said:
If you were not Wajnrib's cousin, you would have received[Page 56]
20 lashes! However, if you are caught again without an armband, I will order that a Jewish Mogen Dovid [Jewish star] be burned onto your forehead with a glowing piece of iron.
Persecutions and Robbery
The German regime gave out an order that all Polish officials must return to the posts they held before the occupation.
The Polish officials were enlisted to return to their offices very quickly. A German was found as the manager of every office and his closest co-worker was a Folks-Deutsch.
The city managing committee worked under the leadership of a local well known Polish merchant, Pawel Belka. This Belka was a German agent during the First World War and he also became one this time, as soon as the Germans entered our city.
As a merchant, he had many Jewish acquaintances, who independently now tried to ask for a favor. Belka did not refuse; however, he also did not do anything. He was not good and not bad.
A Polish newspaper quickly began to be published that printed the ugliest of defamations of Jews and attempted to prove that the former Polish government together with the Jews was guilty in the war. This work of incitement became more frequent and more venomous. And, since, this newspaper was the sole source of news, it had many readers. The editors did not
have any difficulties finding collaborators, because there was never a lack of Polish anti-Semites here.
Dr. Frank, too, was not lacking in venomous incitement against the Jews in an appeal by the General Government to the Polish population. The former Polish police also contributed its share to the persecutions in relation to the Jewish population. The German regime reorganized the former Polish police, leaving them in the same uniforms as before the war. The policemen received the same salaries as before; they carried out their police functions with the German gendarmes. The Polish policemen knew every person in the city and knew how they were employed. In addition, pairs were created: a German gendarme and a Polish policeman. Among other assignments, they also controlled the prices in the businesses. It should be understood that, they gave their primary attention to Jewish businesses and always found some offense. The Polish policeman and the German gendarme would take part in the work the policeman searched for some underground crime and informed the gendarme and this one beat the Jews until they were bloodied. Then, together, they took anything they wanted and divided the spoils.
Need continued to increase among the robbed and tortured Jewish population. Street trading arose. Children and adults as well stood in the streets and carried out a pitiful trade with goods that were held hidden in bags: soap, saccharin, thread and other small things. The policemen persecuted the small Jewish children, who were employed with this trade, with particular savagery. The
policemen would change to civilian clothes, so that they could prey upon the small merchants. They hurled these children to the ground, beat them murderously and took their small amount of goods and money. Then the children had to go home with them to their parents where the remaining things found there were taken.
In addition to the Polish police and the German gendarmes, the Jewish population had to endure another vicious affliction that had the name tzipers. [Translator's note: a variation on the Hebrew word, tzipor bird, used to describe the way the Poles who would nip at everything the Jews did in the manner of a bird that appropriates the food it eats.] Tzipers were Poles from various strata. They lived on what they had nipped from the Jews; every Jew, whatever he was employed doing, had to support several tzipers who tormented him like leeches. The tziper spied and learned where a Jew had hidden goods, then he came to the Jew and demanded money or a portion of the goods. If one refused, he brought the police who not only took the goods, but also beat and arrested the entire family.
The number of these parasites who lived at the expense of the Jews grew from day to day. They stood at the gates of the houses and watched everyone who went in and out, searched the packages that were carried in and out. They stood watch at the bakeries and food shops and other businesses and controlled everything.
And even if this were not enough, a new woe suddenly appeared. These were Polish women who established close links to the Germans. Such a woman, who had a German for a friend, entered a Jewish business, chose the best things, and asked for the price. The merchant would give the normal price. Then the woman would leave and immediately return with a German soldier or gendarme who took the little package of goods and threw a small coin on the table, that
was usually five percent of the value of the goods. The German would throw such a look at the Jews that it was enough for the Jew to know not to say a word in protest.
The Jewish businesses would be full of such customers. If a merchant said that he did not have the requested things and the German with the friend found them, this merchant was not someone to envy.
A Message From Lodz
Suddenly new Jewish faces appeared in the streets, men and women. Closed horse cabs arrived quickly at the gates of houses, people came out who were dressed like everyone else; however, they had something on them that was new to us in Czenstochow: they wore yellow patches in the form of a Mogen-Dovid [Star of David], sewn on the chest and on the back. The color of the patches was such a screaming yellow that it could be recognized from a distance. We immediately learned that the Jews from the city of Lodz wore these yellow patches.
The city of Lodz did not belong to our General Government, but to the German Reich. Now, Lodz was called Litzmannstadt.
The Jews, who exited from the horse cabs, had barely escaped with their lives from Lodz and endured great trouble until arriving here. I started a conversation with one of the Lodzers, who told me the following history:
There, in what was once the Polish Manchester, a Jew does not walk in the street as you do here. You have a paradise here. There are tens of thousands of folks-Deutsch in Lodz, in addition to the military and gendarmes. When a Jews appears in the street,[Page 60]
he is beaten until blooded. The same thing happens to the women. At every call by a German or grown German child in the street: Yude, Kom! [Jew, come!] the Jews must remain standing, waiting for a blow and must do everything they are asked to do. Jews are being driven from their residences and the city is being made Judenrein [cleansed of Jews]. This is being carried out quickly in this manner:[Page 61]
There is in a neighborhood in Lodz with the name Balut. This was always the poorest and most neglected neighborhood in the city. The Jews received an order to move there and disappear from the remaining parts of the city. They were only permitted to take a small bundle of personal underwear. However, they had to leave their household, furniture, clothing and all of their possessions.
Thus, 100,000 Lodz Jews became poor people with one blow. We always had the richest Jews in the country in Lodz: large manufacturers who employed thousands of workers, owners of the largest wholesale businesses and manufacturing businesses in Europe, who were worth significant millions; thousands of small manufacturers of the so-called woven chairs, thousands of owners of smaller, but rich enough businesses.
At a certain moment tens of thousands of Jews rich and poor stood one next to the other on the Lodz Balut [market area in Lodz].
In normal times the Lodz Balut could contain 10,000 souls. Now, however, 100,000 were pressed together there. Several families lived in one room. The once rich together with the poor.
A number of Jews saved something of their personal property, selling their best things for almost nothing to their good acquaintances, Aryans, several days before their expulsion. Others again gave to their Polish acquaintances now Folks-Deutschen their linens, furs and valuable things to be hidden until the bad times ended when they would take back everything.
My new acquaintance explained further:
Jews escaped from Lodz, if they could. There it was said that here in Czenstochow it is still bearable ; I did everything in order to come here. And the truth is that compared with Lodz, it is a paradise here.Yet he appeared to be content and cried out almost with enthusiasm:
The road from Lodz to here he said further is not an easy one. In my life, I traveled through dozens of borders from one country to another, but no other way was as far as the one from Lodz to Czenstochow. I traveled by train, by automobile and horse drawn cab, walked during the days. And at night, bribed Germans, Folks-Deutschen and Poles, gave away the most expensive things I had in my possession, until I arrived here.
Suddenly, he said, I was a poor man. I came here to a distant relative who still considers me the earlier rich man. I am living on the last few zlotys that the various robbers and black mailers did not notice and take from me on the way.
Here I walk on the sidewalk; with us in Lodz, Jews have to walk in the street, near the gutter, where the horses go. The Jews who are caught for work here come back after several hours. On the contrary, there, if a Jew is caught for work, at best, he first returns a cripple after several days or, in general, we never see him again.[Page 62]
A Pole was employed as a master craftsman in my factory, who is now a folks-Deutsch. He worked for me for 25 years and lived well from his earnings from me. This Folks-Deutsch led me out one
night from Lodz. When he went with me to the train and traveled with me as far as Koluszki, he kept bleeding me for money. In addition, he introduced several of his acquaintances who blackmailed me. They threatened me You are a Jew; we will summon the gendarmes here immediately. And they drew money, gold and diamonds from me. This gang searched and robbed me and my wife. And my master craftsman, too, was not ashamed of doing the same. It disgusted me to look at him.We traveled by horse drawn cab from Koluszki until Piotrokow. On the way we were attacked by scoundrels, who shouted: Jews, give money! They took everything they found from me and my wife. When we were midway, our blackmailer stopped and said that he was not traveling further. You are giving everyone money, he said, and where am I? I am traveling with you and am taking you away from here, I do not deserve something? I saw that from his point of view he was correct: why should he be worse than other Polish hooligans? In addition to that, if he left us here, we would be entirely lost. We were not able to walk and, in addition, who knows who we could meet on the road. We took our wedding rings off of our hands and took out the last golden bracelet from a hiding place and gave them to the blackmailer. After riding for two kilometers, our blackmailer again stopped. What is it again? I asked him. He was feeding the horse, he said. Meanwhile, two automobiles were traveling in our direction. We hid in a hole near the road; they drove by without stopping. We begged our blackmailer to go farther. However, he did not answer. Only after we started to beg and scream that he should go farther, he answered that the entire business was not worthwhile to him. He was afraid, he said, of the Germans: if they caught him traveling with Jews, they would take his horse with the cab and because we would be shot,
there would be no one to pay for the damage. Therefore, he demanded that we should pay now for everything. We again had to give him something and he finally moved from the spot. We saw dozens of Jews lying dead on the road.
We had conflicts several times with our horse drawn cab that cost money each time. Even when we drove into the courtyard here, we were pursued by two Polish policemen to my relative's house and asked questions; where were we from and who are we. These questions also had to be answered with nice gifts.
My Lodz acquaintance expressed his satisfaction that his position enabled him to ransom himself with money from all of the robbers and he hoped to be able to live quietly here in Czenstochow.
I would not rob him right on the spot of this hope. Although I knew that he was wrong.
One thing was sure: the robbers would no longer have anything to rob from him.
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