The ghetto oozed a scum of Jewish swindlers and fixers who for money would agree to take care of various matters with the regime. They would promise to extract those arrested by the Gestapo and meanwhile drew large sums, ostensibly needed to be used in order to carry out the release. After receiving the money, the fixer found a means to extricate himself and he kept the money.
A strange young man named Besser appeared among us. He and his wife opened a small restaurant where this sinister business was carried out.
This is how it would be done:
When a Jew who still had some possessions was arrested, a person would appear who would contact the family or wife of the arrestee and in a conversation would accidentally mention that there is an honest man named Besser who had already extricated people from the Gestapo and only he could help. Those closest to the arrestee knew that if he were not freed immediately on the first day after the arrest, he would be sent away to Auschwitz, from which there was no return. The unfortunate, therefore, grasped at every hope and thus fell into the hands of the swindler.Another swindler was active here one named Szeftel incidentally, a Czenstochower resident. He was an informer even during the First World War. It was said that he legitimized himself with the Hitlerists with those papers, but this time his activities took on a wider scope. Now he made denunciations in order to then be able to make things good. In this way, he had twice as good a business with each transaction.
Jews were not permitted to possess gold, foreign currency and various goods. The main foreign currency office in Krakow organized a control brigade that made lightning visits to the cities where they expected to find something and it controlled the local foreign currency offices at the same time. Szeftel, the informer, had his German acquaintances on this commission and he told them where to storm in for a search.
The searches made on Szeftel's instructions were so thorough that the searchers did not leave the invaded residence until they had found something. The residence was simply turned over: floors were ripped up, the oven were taken apart, every corner was ransacked
dozens of times until something was found. If Szeftel had indicated something it must be found! The owner of the residence was arrested and tortured for so long that he revealed the names of his partners, who were also arrested. Such a bit of work was recognized as Szeftel's and, therefore, only he could make it good.
The wives and relatives of the arrestees would then run to Szeftel, who was immediately ready to do a favor for the unfortunate people. He would assure them that if he himself could not take care of the matter, he would send his son and if his son also could not help, he would send his daughter. Szeftel's making it good would usually end in this way: several people would be freed for the substantial sum that he extracted from the unfortunate ones and the others were deported. Szeftel explained that this could not be otherwise because if the commission members carried out a search, they then had to show that they had found guilty ones.
There was a series of other swindlers who operated as criminals among us in the bitter, dark days. This lasted until one day the Gestapo attacked the swindlers, took a great deal of money, gold and things of value from them. Then they were arrested and sent to Auschwitz. It later became known that the Germans eliminated them because they knew too many secrets and became inconvenient for the Gestapo.
A decree was issued by the regime that all non-German residents of the General-Government had to report to receive a kennkarte [identity card].
The identity card for Poles was of a green color, for Jews and gypsies yellow. In addition to this, a J was found right on the first page of the Jewish kennkarte, that is
Jude [Jew], in order that as soon as one had the document in his hand, it was immediately known with whom one was dealing.
Polish officials were employed in the ghetto with the preparation work for issuing the identity cards. They collected the payment and sent the Jews to be photographed. A large penalty was connected with not obeying the order. All Jews, men and women from age 12 on, fell under this law and it was carried out just as every previous law.
The German labor office issued a decree that all Jews from 12 to 60 had to appear at the labor office with all of their documents. There everyone was questioned and what they had done from childhood on was recorded. Everyone received a piece of paper on which was written that he had been recruited by the Germans for forced labor.
In time the Judenrat received an order to renovate premises for a Jewish branch of the German labor office. The premises were renovated and a sign was hung out over it with the words: Juden Einsatz [Jewish Employment]. Immediately after this, a demand was made in the ghetto that all of the Jews report to the new office of the Juden Einsatz. There, everyone received a work booklet that was called a meldekarte [registration card] that was annotated as to where one was employed. The meldekarte also served as a document to legitimize oneself.
When the issuing of the meldekartes was completed, the German labor office's Juden Einsatz branch took the Jewish workers under its supervision.
The leader of the Juden Einsatz was a German aged 50 with the name of Frentzel, an absolute drunk. All decrees about Jewish workers were directed to him and Herr Frentzel
had the power to order that Jews be grabbed off the streets for work and, in general, he could cause a great deal of trouble if he wished. The German labor office was entirely under his authority. Therefore, the officials in the Jewish labor office would often treat him to a good drink and in this way made him one of their own, as one referred to this.
On a summer morning in 1942, Jewish policemen woke all of the men in the ghetto and in the name of the German regime ordered them to appear at the large new market. Anyone who hid would be shot. Everyone appeared at the market, where high German officials, the city captain, German leaders of the ammunition factories and the leader of the Juden Einsatz, Frentzel, were found and at the side stood officials of the Jewish labor office with papers in their hands. Frentzel called out the names of Jews who were employed in German ammunition factories and in other enterprises. Those whose names were called out were immediately taken to their workplaces. The Jewish officials continually handed Frentzel new lists of names. The purpose of this gathering immediately became clear. The German officials carried out an inspection in order to see if every Jew was employed in work and if Frentzel was carrying out his office appropriately. It turned out that of the 14,000 Jews, only 2,000 who were unemployed. It appeared that the inspection turned out well. The 2,000 Jews were led to a factory building that stood empty and a guard of Polish police was placed to watch them. No one knew what awaited these people. Days passed and the people remained under arrest in terrible conditions. They slept on the bare earth, the food they received came only from the Judenrat kitchen and no one was permitted to approach them.
The Judenrat worked on Herr Frentzel to get him to intervene so that the people would be freed; he should state that he needed the men for work. After many days and long efforts, the end came with the payment of several hundreds of thousand zlotes for their liberation.
The Judenrat received an order from the regime to create a gemeinschaft-werke [community works], that is, a shop where various workshops would be arranged that would carry out work for the military. For the privilege of arranging such a workshop, the Judenrat was required to pay a half million zlotes to the treasury of the city administration. The premises of the closed Jewish Metalurgia factory was allocated, for which it was necessary to pay the Germans 20,000 zlotes a month rent. All Jewish artisans had to submit themselves with their machines to the disposal of the shop.
In order to receive the demanded money, the Judenrat opened a registration of people who would work in the shop where work would be done for the German military and where there were the most secure positions. Each Jew wanted to have a document that he was employed and was a useful person. To be worthy of being recorded as officials, tradesmen or workers in the shop, each one had to pay several thousand zlotes. People pursued a place in the shop and a saying emerged Everyone needs to be covered, that is, have a workplace. Everyone was seized by panic, everyone wanted to be covered. Large sums flowed into the Judenrat; people sold everything from their home and on their person in order to be covered in the shop that was being organized. Everyone who left the Judenrat with a note that he was recorded in the shop felt
lucky. The registration of the shop workers never ended. The Judenrat realized that the registration was a good source of income and there were always fresh people interested in a shop position.
Finally, the organizers proceeded to organize the shop. Former owners of factories were chosen as directors of the shop. Former engineers were responsible for individual workshops. Trade engineers were chosen for the offices and warehouses, along with former large entrepreneurs and substantial merchants. These people had to pay large sums in order to receive the highest offices in the shop.
The first activity of the newly organized shop consisted of taking the machines from the artisans. The lesser officials of the shop traveled around with horses and wagons from one artisan to another and mainly from one tailor to another in order to take their sewing machines. Terrible scenes were thus played out; there was fighting between the officials and the artisans. The tailor's sewing machine was his source of income. He lived with it during the course of his entire life as with his right hand; he could not part with it. He knew that being covered would still not give him any income. If he worked in the shop the entire day for a little bit of soup from the kitchen, his family would starve together with him.
The Judenrat did not have any other choice. It could not take a stand on the side of the Jews. It then existed in order to carry out the German orders and the German orders were aimed at the devastation of Jewish life down to the ground. The tailors from whom the sewing machines had been taken were doubly embittered, because it was a Jew who had taken their machines from them. It was the same in similar cases. The fact that Jewish officials were taking their last possessions at the orders of the Germans caused them special pain. The
pain was much stronger than if it had been done by the Germans themselves. We knew that the Germans were our enemy, but that a Jew would rake the fire with their hands for the Germans! However, the sophisticated evil to organize things so that one Jew would take the last possession from another and bring it to the enemy really pierced.
The German police coped with the recalcitrant artisans with their rubber sticks; they took the machines and placed them in the shop.
The furrier workshop on the Aryan side that remodeled Jewish furs for the military was also transferred to the shop. Other workshops for locksmiths, carpenters and so on were organized there. The shop began its work in the middle of the summer of 1942.
The majority of the people who paid large sums for being accepted in the shop were not really artisans, so the workshops would not have been able to exist only with them. Therefore, the artisans whose machines had been taken away by force were pressured to come to work. They were simply forced to work. A number of non-working people were placed around each artisan. However, the fact was that the thousands of people from whom the Judenrat had taken money could not be employed. A system of protection began; wives of the members of the Judenrat and others of the privileged sat in the shop near a table ostensibly handing something to the tailors, while the real working women, who had receipts for the sums they had paid, remained outside the shop. The Judenrat knew how to calm them with the explanation that it was enough to have a receipt for the paid sum and it was not actually necessary to work in the shop.
Many German officials often visited the communal workshop and examined the organization, the people and the work. The workers explained the shop's organization, made efforts to introduce themselves in the best possible way. The Germans winked at everything, good good Those employed in the shop were satisfied that the Germans were convinced of their usefulness, as opposed to those who remained outside the shop, envying those who were covered.
People became frantic and used every means possible to be covered because news reached us from other cities about the existence of a Juden-ausrotung komando [Jewish extermination commando] that had the task of sending all of the Jews who were not employed to extermination camps.
The Jewish labor office was besieged by men and women. Everyone wanted to obtain work. However, the labor office did not have workplaces to employ so many people. A business of work positions began that was referred to as placowkes [Polish word for post or position]. Large sums of money began to be paid for a placowske and it reached the point that people were pushed out of jobs, for which they had already paid. Great scandals occurred of deceptions in usurping jobs. Everyone was controlled by one frantic desire: They must be covered! They paid large sums of money for placowkes in the ammunition factories or for a position as an official in the Judenrat. The brigadiers in the Jewish labor office sold placowkes and thus earned a great deal of money. The price for placowkes constantly rose and for a broom the payment reached into the thousands. The work of cleaning the streets was called a broom. Every morning and evening groups of Jews with brooms in their arms marched to the large city squares and in front of the government offices and cleaned the streets there. This was the easiest
work and after great effort this was assigned to the intellectuals. Professors, lawyers, former directors and others marched in rows twice a day under the leadership of a brigadier with their brooms in their arms. Thus they went through the most beautiful streets of the city until they arrived at their workplaces. There they cleaned and gathered the garbage that people, horses, cattle and Germans left after themselves. While marching across the Aryan streets, they often encountered their former Polish friends and acquaintances. Some would look at them with sympathy; others would openly ridicule them with mockery. However, the street cleaners were satisfied because they had a certificate from the city managing committee that they were employed and thus were protected from being sent away who knows where.
The first concern for everyone was to be covered that is, covered by obtaining a job somewhere. When acquaintances met, their first question was were they already covered and did they work in a Batrieb A [Company A], that is, an enterprise that carried out work directly with military purposes, which was considered the most secure means against transfers.
When I learned that the transfer would first of all occur for older people and children, I became very frightened for the fate of my parents and began looking for the means to save them. As my wife was considered the best milliner in the city and made hats for the German women, she told her clients that she could not obtain the materials for the hats in the colors for which they asked. However, there was a way: there was an older man in the city who was a good dyer and if she could obtain this man as her employee, it would be possible to have materials for hats in all colors. Because of his higher age 71 it was
very difficult to obtain a workplace for my father. But then after continued efforts, we were successful in receiving permission for my wife to have him as an employee as a dyer of materials for hats. I could not obtain such a position for my mother because a woman of 70 could not be employed in a fashion salon. However, I obtained a position for my mother and also for my brother with an administrator of Jewish houses. My brother became a collector and my mother, a guard. All of my acquaintances were envious of me because I was successful in covering my family.
Signs appeared of harsher terror in relation to the Jewish population:
A member of the Gestapo once stopped a Jewish young man outside of the ghetto and took him into a courtyard and there in a corner shot him. The Jewish police received an order by telephone two hours later that they should come with a horse and wagon and take away dos dreck [this dirt] (that is, the young man) that would be found at the indicated address.
Several days later, after eight o'clock at night, two young men were detained in the ghetto by the Gestapo in a passing car. The Jewish young men presented their night passes, which the Gestapo took from them and ordered them to enter the car. They drove the young men to the cemetery, took everything they had from them and shot them.
Another case happened within a few days that revealed the new, harsher pattern:
The Jewish Dr. Wolberg, leader of the sanitary system in the ghetto, was called to the office of the city captain. Having to wait a long time in the corridor, Dr. Wolberg started to read a German newspaper. A representative of the city captain whom the doctor did not know well was passing and tore the newspaper out of his hands in anger. The German then slapped the doctor several times and said that a Jew does not need to read a newspaper, particularly in German.
The Judenrat received an order from the regime that it should move out of its house on Alee 11 in two days and set up their offices on Garncarska Street in the house in which the Artisans School had been located for dozens of years and from which all of the machines and all of the tools of the locksmith, carpenter and electrical divisions were removed and given to the Polish Artisans School. The Judenrat endeavored to carry out the order in the designated period and to give the house to the regime. Two days later, the neighboring house at Alee 9 was made Judenrein [free of Jews] in the usual way. The residents of the houses on the First Alee were afraid that their houses on this street would be made Judenrein and they began to transfer whatever they could from their residences to the farthest streets. Others again brought goods and valuables to Polish acquaintances to be hidden. Every day they expected gendarmes to come and drive them from their residences; thus they lived in fear and insecurity.
The panic was even greater when the frightening news from the Warsaw Ghetto arrived at the end of August. Rumors spread that the Juden Ausrotung Komando [Jewish Extermination Commando] would be coming to Czenstochow. Many began to arrange secret hiding places in cellars and attics.
The Judenrat received an order from the city captain without an explanation to make a payment of a contribution in the high amount of 55,000 zlotys. It was decided at a meeting of the Judenrat that the sum must be paid just as the earlier contribution. Several gave as a reason that if the sum were successfully paid quickly, it would save the Jewish population from the danger that was coming closer to us. However, the question emerged: From where would so much money come so quickly? Taxing a large number of people would take a long time. Therefore, it was decided to demand of the affluent Jews that they immediately lend the Judenrat this sum and then when the money was collected from the population, 70 percent of the loaned money would be returned.
The well-to-do Jews in the ghetto were summoned to the Judenrat, where the president described the approaching danger that threatened all of the Jews if the sum were not paid during the required term. The greatest number of those assembled immediately gave the required sums and those remaining paid the next morning. Those who had again not fulfilled the demand of the Judenrat were placed in a cellar by the police until they paid the set amount.
The money was given to the city captain. It seemed that the chairman had received complements from the city captain because from that day on the Judenrat spread the rumor that what happened in Warsaw would not happen here because we fulfilled the demands of the regime. When the Juden Ausrotung Komando came to us, the German regime in Czenstochow would explain that the Czenstochower Jews work and fulfill all of their duties as regards the regime and thus the Jewish population would be saved.
The Judenrat sent demands to everyone who was suspected of still having possessions. A special commission was created, which determined the sum that each had to pay. Most paid and the stubborn ones were again forced to pay by the police. However, the money needs of the Judenrat were so large that the newly collected money melted in their hands and the several dozen wealthy people never again saw the money they had loaned to the Judenrat.
A local man, a well known Jew in the city, received a letter from his daughter in Berlin through secret means. Years earlier she had married a German who was an important figure in Germany. She was successful in remaining with her husband. She wrote to her parents, who were always the dearest in the world to her, that she knew definitely from unquestionable German sources about the extermination of the Jews in the countries occupied by the Germans. Therefore she advised her parents to commit suicide. She informed them of various chemical means to poison themselves that would not create any pain. She wrote that her parents should do this quickly because time was short.
If she and her son, Heinrich, were destined to live, she would sometimes be able to come to their visit their graves. Only if they committed suicide would she be able to find their graves and if they did not do this, but waited for the general extermination, they would suffer a great deal. If, however, she and her son did not survive the frightening times, and this was entirely possible if it was learned that she is a Jew, her husband would do it [visit their graves] and would also write to her sister, Liza, in Palestine so she would know where to find her parents' graves. She took leave of her parents in the letter with moving words. He son also took leave of his grandparents
in a heartfelt manner. Her husband also wrote a warm letter to his in-laws and assured them that he was doing everything possible to keep alive his beloved wife and only son.
The paper on which the bizarre and tragic words were written by the daughter to her parents was bent here and there as if swollen. The paper had become wet from the daughter's tears as she wrote the letter and had later dried out. She wrote that she would have preferred to send the tears, wet and hot, straight from her eyes, but she asked them to accept the crushed paper just as she had sent dried flowers in her letters to her parents in the past.
The contents of this letter floated over the ghetto as a specter. It threw terror into everyone who heard of it or read it. Calculations were made of a situation in which a daughter was persuaded to give such advice to her parents. The letter increased fear in people and strengthened the panic.
|Notice about the death penalty for Jews for leaving the ghetto in German and Polish|
Early on the morning of Yom Kippur, the 21st of September 1942, the streets of the ghetto looked like every other day. The work groups went to their workplaces; the Jewish women did not go to prayer, but to wash the floors, windows and doors of the various German offices; the teachers, lawyers and all other intellectuals marched to their workplaces in rows with brooms on their shoulders. All the other Jews, who had somewhere to work, quickly ran through the streets, tapping out a slave-cadence with their wooden shoes.
Here and there people moved along the wall, as if avoiding being noticed too much. These were older [Page 145]
people going to the synagogue in order to remain there the entire day for prayer.
The officials sat in the offices of the Judenrat without any work; today they had not received any interested clients. One official was carrying on a conversation with the German chief, Herr Frentzel. He told him about the fear that reigned among the Jews, that deportations would take place. Frentzel was angered and said, Your side has become crazy, es komt nichts for [it will not happen]. At the request of the official, Frentzel telephoned several places and was assured that nothing would happen, because where would he find the thousands of people who he needed to work?
However, the mood in the ghetto was anxious. Some knew and said that in the morning, on the 22nd of September, a Juden auszilding [deportation of Jews] would take place here in Czenstochow. News came from the Aryan side that there were already Latvians and Ukrainians in the city, who had boasted somewhere that they had come here to make an end of the Jews. A Polish woman, the owner of a restaurant, said that Ukrainians and Latvians, who had arrived the day before from Warsaw, were being fed in her restaurant. They had told her that they were in the ghetto there for two months to liquidate the ghetto. Now they would do the same thing to the Czenstochower Jews.
The news was carried through the ghetto like a windstorm and the terror grew from minute to minute.
All of the known non-commissioned gendarme officers, who had received nicknames for their cruelty, were seen assembled on the large square near the boundary of the ghetto; the white head, the little belt, the murderer, the throat and still others. They stood there with their bicycles and held discussions. They talked and talked. It lasted an hour; one rode away and then came back with still another one. Then one again went
away and came back. They carried on their conversation quietly; they pointed with their hands here to one street, there to another. It gave the impression that something was being planned here. One Jew showed this to another Jew and the panic grew.
In the late afternoon hours, a calming message from the chairman of the Judenrat was spread that he had received an order from the regime that he should calm the Jews, that nothing would happen and the gossip was groundless.
At the same time, an officer from the gendarmerie and his wife came to the artisans and ordered things for themselves, the production of which would take two weeks. This was a silent notice to the artisans that according to what was being said that if something happened tomorrow morning it would make the carrying out of the order uncertain. The officer laughed at this and gave assurances that nothing would happen to us in the city.
The good news was immediately spread lightening fast through the ghetto.
The fear again fell from the faces of the people and they again breathed easier.
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