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[Page 183]

XXXVI

In the “Labor Camp”

We went in twos, led by a Jewish policeman, one pair behind the other; altogether 10 people.

We went in the middle of the road on the bridge like horses and plodded in the mud. The passing Poles looked in our eyes, acquaintances no longer greeted us, but smiled from the distance. Non-acquaintances laughed in our faces and shouted curse words after us. Grown young Poles ran after us and shouted not only at us, but also at the policeman such insulting words that would insult the honor of each of us.

We went along the amply long Wilson Street in this manner until the end. Here we entered the first street of the former

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ghetto. The street was named “Krutka.” There we saw a terrible picture:

The windows of the houses in which Jews had been found not too long ago stood open. The window panes were broken. The frames dangled on the half pried loose iron bars. The wind blew in and out of the rain-soaked drapes and roller blinds. The sound of doors banging back and forth inside was heard. The wind ran from house to house, from apartment to apartment and from room to room. The gates of the houses were thrown wide open and as we went by, we looked deeper into the courtyard. We could see broken pieces of furniture, photographs and portraits. Various seforim [religious books] – khumishim, gemaras, siddurim, maksorim* were scattered on the street in front of the gates. In the gutters – pots, bowls and other crockery. The doors of several shops were ripped open and remnants of the goods lay around. It was evident that the shops had been plundered and only the least important things were left.

*[The Five Books of Moses, rabbinical commentaries, prayer books and prayer books for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.]

So were we, the 10 people, led by the Jewish policeman, passing streets where thousands of Jews had once lived, where Jewish life sparkled, where almost every open window was a reminder of a friend and an acquaintance. But now everything was empty and deserted. We did not see a living soul. We passed the square that was called the “small Warsaw market.” Again we saw empty, deserted houses. From this market we came to the “labor camp” and stopped at the large gate. A quartermaster, a tall, stocky person with a red face, appeared and asked: “Wer sind die bummel-manner?” That is, who are the idlers? The Jewish policeman answered him that he had brought 10 people from the artisans' house to the doctor. We found out that

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the person was the chief of the “labor camp” and he was named Uberschaer. The Jewish policemen thought highly of him. They said that he would drink and eat with several of them, but that did not stop him from shooting Jews at every opportunity and beating them for the least trifle.

We entered through the large gate, before which stood a Polish policeman on the side of the market and a Jewish policeman inside the camp.

I went into one of the three small and filthy streets. I met several Jewish policemen who looked at me with suspicion, as if they would say: “What are you doing here?” Then I met a policeman I knew, who told me I should be careful because from daybreak until 5 in the evening, no one was permitted to be found in the street. Everyone had to be at work. Only the Jews who work in the factories at night could move through the streets of the “labor camp.” They wore special yellow bands on their arms with the inscription “night shift.” If a Jew was found in the street during the work hours, he would be shot.

The policeman told me that the chief, Degenhardt himself, came here very often. He strolled around and searched. He asked that the houses be opened and checked for anyone who might be hiding. Once he found two young people in a residence. One was from the “night shift” and the other – a weak person, who could not go to work on that particular day. The chief ordered that the young man from the “night shift” be taken to the German guard and that the second one be shot.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon. Therefore, I waited in the room of my policeman acquaintance until it would be five. His residence was found in a house that was specially assigned to Jewish policemen. They lived there with their families, each family in a separate room. The more distinguished

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lived in two rooms. The wives of the policemen were freed from work; they were also permitted to “legally” have small children with them (this was a “privilege”), but all were full of worry about their future fate. Each mother sought advice about how to send their child over to the “Aryan side.” They had a premonition that the chief in the “labor camp” would not leave any children. He could not see any soul who did not work. They also did not believe that he would let those working live. In general, they were skeptical about the fate of the entire “labor camp.”

Suddenly I heard a faint noise behind the door. The woman came out of the room and immediately came back with her husband to whom she said: “The father can remain here; the Jew is an acquaintance of ours from the artisans' house.

Hearing the woman call the person entering “Tata,” [father], I looked at him to see if I knew the woman's father. But it was difficult for me to recognize him because the Jew had changed so much. Before the war he was the vice-president of the Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community] in Czenstochow, a Jew in his 70's, with a long, wide beard. He had had a fancy goods business in the best neighborhood in the city. Now, I saw him clean shaven; his grey hair was colored black; his wide figure seemed as if shrunken. He told me with tears in his eyes that he was there with his wife. They lay hidden in a cellar for entire days and nights and could no longer bear the hardship. I also wanted to see his wife and, therefore, waited until it got dark. His daughter went for her and brought her into the room. She entered quietly – She explained to me, “We have to watch out for our own Jews.” The woman recognized me immediately. However, I had to look carefully until I recognized her as the once beautiful and kindhearted woman. She told me that for her

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all of life had been made unpleasant; she persevered only because that is how her daughter wanted it, but she could no longer bear so much pain.

The two older people burst into tears like small children. They were sorry that they had not gone along with all of the other Jews to Treblinka. Their son-in-law, the policeman, had tried with all of his strength and means to hide them in holes, in attics; he led them from one place to another, from one gate to another, bribed gendarmes, in order to save them, until they finally were brought here to the “new ghetto,” the present “labor camp.” They could not be given a residence because they were “illegal” and did not have numbers. They had to hide, but they lived in constant fear because they knew that in the end the murderers would come here and discover their victims.

It was already very dark when I went outside. The alleys of the “labor camp” were poorly lit. I encountered an acquaintance who was a conductor of the TOZ [Society for the Protection of Health] choir. We were both delighted that we were both still alive. He invited me to his residence. We went through the alleys and I heard Jews call out: “Meat to sell! Fresh bread, fresh rolls and bagels, wurst, herring, sugar, whiskey!”

I went closer and saw the workers who had just then returned from work. Now they had become traders. They brought all of the things from the “Aryan side.” There they bought or exchanged things for clothing items and here they sold them again. The prices were high. Wurst was produced in the “labor camp.” We went through a large courtyard, over hills and holes, through back entrances and back doors. A Jew stood every few steps and told the customers what was available today. They took great care about who was coming, against whom they must protect themselves. Today there were small sausages. Customers went in and out. Everything happened very quietly and

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carefully; for producing wurst, one received the death penalty. But the earnings were such that they risked their lives, because life was constantly at risk anyway.

In other streets, Jews were selling pants, coats, underwear and every sort of clothing. This was merchandise that was gathered every day from the abandoned Jewish houses and taken to the large warehouses on Garibaldi Street. The Jewish things from the former ghetto were sorted by Jews who worked like slaves. In order to stay alive, these slave workers – good, well-raised Jewish children – risked their lives and “stole” things, putting them on at their departure from work. They risked their lives in this way every day, because they were stealing Jewish clothing from the Germans.

I went up with my friend to his residence, which consisted of a room and a kitchen. Seven wooden and iron beds appeared before me, some propped up with pieces of wood. Four women were hanging around. It was very crowded. There were few chairs on which to sit. They mainly sat on the beds.

I saw a young man lying in one bed. I asked my friend why the Jew was lying in bed, if he was sick.

The sick one answered me himself: "There is nothing wrong with me. I lie in bed out of boredom."

He wondered why I did not recognize him. I started to look closer at him and saw a man with a thinned out face, with a skull cap on his head, but I could not recognize him.

Then the man said to me:

"I am the local city khazan [cantor] - former."
I shuddered. Is this the khazan? The khazan with the wide beard, with the long, wide face; the khazan who

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would proudly go through the Jewish neighborhood every Friday night and Shabbos on his way to the synagogue for prayer?

How different he had become. Nothing like the same person.

I did not ask him anything about his family. I was afraid to touch a painful spot. However, unasked, he himself began to tell me:

- I have become a young man - he said with bitterness.
His wife and his seven children, each smaller than the next, were deported. Now he must look young; he is recorded as a 25-year old. The beard is shaved off. He has become much thinner. Some sort of new person has grown, nothing like the earlier one. A Jew who had a wife and seven children has become a young man!

Suddenly he sat up quickly in bed. His face became red as if blood has poured in. He balled up his fists and screamed wildly:

- The murderers! They have made me young! Made me a young man! Annihilated my seven children! Murdered my wife!
His fury tore him out of bed. He quickly got dressed, thus tearing his suit jacket. Then he sat down at the table and immediately stood up again – he could not find a place for himself.

My friend winked at me. I should start talking to him about something else in order for him to calm himself. I tried to do this, but he did not let me. He could not forget his grief. He began to pace around the room, speaking as if to himself:

– Everyday I go to work; I am a slave. I work in a factory. What good is all of this? Why am I still living? To be a slave for the Germans!
Some of the other residents of the house sat at the corner

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of the table and put down bread. At another corner two couples who lived there ate. Everyone ate by themselves. The benches were surrendered to those who wanted to sit and eat. Four couples and four “young men” lived in the apartment. During the day they all were at work, both men and women. At night they came together and brought soup with a piece of bread from the kitchen and whoever had money bought other things in the street.

My acquaintance, the orchestra conductor, a very dear person, told me that his wife and child were deported and he was alone. Life was very tiresome for him; what should he do, he had no courage to end his life, but he would willingly do it.

I realized that I had to be at the exit of the “labor camp” at seven o'clock in order to go home with my group. However, it was now seven thirty. I took leave of my friend and quickly went down to the wire fence where I learned that my group had gone home half an hour ago. I had no other choice but to spend the night in the “labor camp” and leave there in the morning with a group of workers that would leave for work. In the “labor camp” it was permissible to be in the street until nine o'clock. I slowly went through the alleys and met still more acquaintances who I told of my situation. One of them took me along and said that he would provide me with a place to sleep on the floor in a corner. He said that one could sleep like that for one night. A Jew can do everything!

I entered a large room in which six people lived, three men and three women. Young women who remained without husbands and men who remained without their wives. They had decided to live together and to get married. It was difficult for both the men and the women to live alone. Each of them

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had experienced great misfortune, but the will to live was great and they were looking to survive.

Here I saw a young, beautiful woman who was in her own villa before the war with her husband and two beautiful children. Now she lived in the room for six people – along with a young man the same age as she. Each of them was at work the entire day; at night the woman cooked food; they occupied a third of the room. Their furniture consisted of a bed and a little cabinet with its back of plain boards facing the room. This was supposed to hint at a kind of curtain that divided their small piece of living space from the rest of the room.

My acquaintance “lived” in a second corner of the room with a young woman who became an orphan during an aktsia. He had had a wife and two children. Having earlier been a policeman, he showed his family how to hide. But during the aktsia when he was on “duty,” a gendarme uncovered his family and took them away to the railroad car. Now he had married the young orphaned woman.

The third corner of the room was occupied by a young man with his wife. The young man had always been a worker without any specialty. His wife and child were deported during the third aktsia; he married his wife's sister who remained all alone. This young man earned more than the others living with him. He became a foreman and removed the things from the former ghetto to the warehouses on Garibaldi Street. Every day he had the opportunity to hide various things which he brought home and gave to those living with him to sell when they went to their workplaces. They brought home money from the things or bartered them for food products. The three couples ate well, drank alcohol and smoked. They wanted

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to forget everything that was and not think of what would happen.

An oven for cooking stood in the fourth corner of the room which was used by everyone. In the middle of the room stood a large table with benches around it that were used by everyone.

They told me that rumors were going around that a further aktsia soon would be carried out. The chief had someone say that he knew of several people and children who were hidden in the “labor camp.” But nothing was known for certain.

That evening I sat at a large table in a large room together with a little too many people for such a room and conversed in an almost cozy manner. A roasted goose was on the table and a liter of whiskey. The window shudders were closed; the doors were locked and sometimes for the moment it seemed that people were sitting here as in normal times and were spending time – in a somewhat primitive manner, but normal and cozy.

The people wanted to convince themselves and each other that they had forgotten what had happened to them and around them during the last few weeks and they did not want to think about what would happen – “They only wanted to live and nothing more!”

But it was really very different. A heavy stone pressed deep in their hearts and it did not stop torturing them for one second.

When the first glass of whiskey was emptied, one after the other, the women took out their handkerchiefs and began to wipe their eyes, unnoticed at first, then the tears began to fall rapidly and finally they wept loudly.

[Unnumbered page]

 

The Nazi murderer, Heinrich Kestner who liquidated the small ghetto in a bloody way
(Photographed after his arrest, when Czenstochow was liberated by the Polish military)

 

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– Why are you crying? – the “new” husband asked his “new” wife who had lost her two children at the aktsia.
The wife stood up from the table, shook and fell onto the bed with a heartrending cry.
– Where are my children now? – She cried almost hysterically.
My friend's eyes filled with tears at the word “children.” He turned toward a corner of the room and stealthily started to wipe his eyes. Little by little he came closer to the door and left the room in order to cry for his wife and two little daughters. As a man, he probably thought it not “suitable” to cry in front of everyone like a woman.

Finally, the woman who had married her sister's husband also cried and the entire room was filled with sorrow and crying.

The roasted goose remained uneaten; the whiskey was not drunk and everyone went to sleep.

I lay down on the floor in a corner near the oven. In the late night quiet I heard deep sighs. When one woman sighed deeply, another immediately sighed as if answering, then the third one. Finally the men accompanied them and sighing was heard from all of the corners.

That is how the life of the new married couples appeared.

I could not fall asleep and listened to the low ticking of the clock. When it struck five, I heard a trumpet similar to that which I would hear when serving in the military – in the morning to be awakened and at night at going to sleep.

Everyone woke up quickly and got up from bed. My acquaintance took a large pot and went out to the street. He came right back with black coffee. Everyone got dressed quickly, drank a little coffee and placed over their arms the wide

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sacks with wide stripes of sackcloth. No one had any more time to speak to me. Each one rushed to their work group.

I went to the exit of the “labor camp.” There was great movement there; there were masses of people on the square and each one looked for his group. All were lined up in rows of three; each group had a leader. The director of the work places stood at the gate with a note and counted how many people there were in each group. The chief of the “labor camp,” the sergeant major, stood on the other side of the gate. All of the passing Jews greeted him, taking off their hats from their heads. He stopped several groups: something did not please him. Someone's sack was too thick. He searched several, giving someone a slap in his face and screamed with screeching shouts.

Thus several thousand slaves left the “labor camp” for various workplaces.

I left with a group of workers who were going to the artisans' house.

* *
*

Chief Degenhardt ordered the Judenrat to put together a list of the Jews who had relatives in Eretz-Yisroel. It was said that this had a connection with an exchange between Germany and England; the exchange would be of Germans who were in England for Jews from the General Government.

Others again suspected that the chief would fool people with the list and they would be sent who knew where. It was again unclear why he needed to “fool” us

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with lists when he could do whatever he wanted to do with us.

The registration began. The Judenrat put together several lists. A separate list of children who had parents there; of those who had brothers or sisters, fathers or mothers; then a separate list of those who had distant relatives there.

Many people registered for these lists.

Several days after the registration we learned that there was a unease in the “labor camp.” One day, the Jewish policemen who lived with us in the artisan's house came for lunch. They said that after the work groups who work outside the “labor camp” went to their workplaces, the chief came and ordered that every Jew who remained at his workplace in the “labor camp,” namely, in the Judenrat, in the kitchen, in the hospital, in the warehouses and in the laundry – should line up at the small market.

When they were all assembled, the chief chose 200 young men and sent them with the Polish policemen to the German sentries.

The policemen were not able to tell us what had happened to the people; they only knew that people who had committed some sort of sin were usually sent there and no one had come back from there. And as the 200 young people had not sinned in any way, this was something new and therefore a despondent mood reigned.

The people were under arrest for three days. None of their close relatives were permitted to see them. They received food

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from the kitchen through the Polish policemen; they slept on the bare ground.

Several trucks from an ammunition factory in Skarzysko* arrived at the small market and the young people were loaded into them. Two young men tried to escape during the loading and they were shot.

*[Translator's note: Skarzysko-Kamienna was the site of an ammunition factory built in 1924. During the Second World War, the factory became part of the German HASAG concern – Hugo Schneider Metallwarenfabrik AG of Leipzig – and was used as a forced labor camp. Many Jewish prisoners were poisoned by their work with the highly toxic picric acid which was used for munitions and explosives.]

In a week, on a Sunday, a Pole from Skarzysko came to my room and gave me 20 letters and a special letter to me from my cousin who was sent away with the young people and was told to give all of the letters to the wives and families of those sent away.

We learned from the letters that the young people were sent to work in the ammunition factory in Skarzysko. Immediately after their arrival, their clothing and everything they had with them was taken from them and they were given paper suits. There they had to work with chemical materials that harmed the lungs and under very difficult conditions. The food was very bad and scarce and they had to sleep on the bare ground. Whoever became ill was shot.

All of the letter writers asked those closest to them to send money with the bearer of the letters, a Polish worker in that factory, who was free on Sunday and, therefore, he could bring the letters.

I gave the letters to the relatives of the deported with the help of a Jewish policeman. The terrible news about the labor camp in Skarzysko spread immediately. The wives and closest relatives of the young men in Skarzysko sent two women who brought letters and money for their close ones to the artisan's house. The Polish worker took everything. He received 20,000 zlotes for the men and 2,000 for his trouble and he returned to Skarzysko on the same night.


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XXXVII

Again an Aktsia

The Death of Two Heroes

On the 4th of January 1943 we heard from the work group that came from the “labor camp” to the artisans' house just as every other day that every group was thoroughly checked that day at the exit gate. People, who had to take care of something on the “Aryan side,” would always enter our house with the people in the work group. The people would sit with an artisan and wait for their Polish acquaintances who came here. (The artisans' house was the only Jewish house in which “Aryans” were permitted to enter.) All of the artisans' rooms and also the corridors were always occupied with waiting people. The artisans willingly helped with what they could.

This time, however, none of these people came because they were not permitted through the gates of the “labor camp.”

At around noon, through the windows of the artisans' house we saw coal wagons and garbage wagons packed with Jewish children. They were traveling in the direction of the Polish police commissariat on Pilsudski Street. Then we immediately saw large groups of Jews half dressed, without coats, led by gendarmes with pointed rifles with bayonets. The Jews went with their hands raised in the air.

The artisans became uneasy. The children were afraid. No one knew what would happen. We waited for the Jewish policemen who would come here every day at noon,

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but they did not come on this day and that increased our unease.

It was clear that some sort of aktsia was taking place in the “labor camp.”

The policemen came home at night and we learned what had happened that day:

Immediately in the morning, Rohn, the lieutenant of the gendarmerie, the chief's representative, came to the “labor camp” and ordered that a thorough check be made at the exit so that not one Jew would be permitted to leave the camp with the workers. After the workers marched out, the “labor camp” became quiet until 10 o'clock. Then the lieutenant ordered that all of those remaining in the “labor camp” should go to the small market. The Jewish police again received the order to gather all of the children and to bring them there. When the police did not carry out the order quickly enough, the lieutenant called them together and declared that each one of them would be responsible with his life if he did not produce at least two children. The policemen went to the “labor camp” with heavy hearts to search for children.

The gendarmes searched through all of the houses to see if anyone was hidden. Those found were murderously beaten and dragged to the small market.

At the market, Lieutenant Rohn surrounded the Jews with gendarmes and began to choose men and women who where placed on one side. He ordered the gendarmes to take whatever they found in their pockets or hidden in their clothing.

The lieutenant again chose among the people until he came upon a young man of 18 named Fajner.

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The young man had lost his parents during an aktsia. The lieutenant ordered Fajner to leave the row and stand with those who had been chosen. The young man left and shouted to all the assembled Jews:

– We have had enough suffering from the murderers! We will no longer let them slaughter us!
At that moment he pulled out a revolver from his pocket and aimed it at the lieutenant. But the revolver jammed and did not fire.

Immediately, one of the other young men of his age stepped out, and seeing that the revolver did not fire, ran to the lieutenant and began to cover him with blows and slaps.

This did not last long. The gendarmes drew back a little and pointed their rifles toward the assembled. One pulled the revolver out of Fajner's hands with his foot and shot a bullet into him. With the bullet in his body, Fajner again ran and helped his friend in his struggle with the lieutenant. However, he immediately lost his strength and he fell down on the ground. Then, he moved toward the lieutenant on his stomach, grabbed him by the coat and pulled him toward himself, screaming: “You murderer!” At that moment gendarmes shot eight bullets into Fajner and he breathed out his soul.

Those assembled, around 300 people, stood as if frozen. In an instant there was a shout to them: “Hende hoch!” [Hands high] And everyone raised their hands. The gendarmes ran toward them and searched for weapons, but none of them had any more weapons.

Meanwhile, the second man was also shot and fell on the snow next to his friend.

The lieutenant had got on his bicycle and

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left. He returned in a few minutes with a larger squad of gendarmes.

Meanwhile, the Jewish policemen searched all of the hiding places. They knocked out doors and windows of the homes where they noticed children hidden by parents who were at work. The frightened children hid deeper under the beds, in attics and stalls. They crawled into holes, but each policeman had to bring two children and he had to find them. Each policeman dragged through the streets two children, who cried and begged: “Wait until my mameshi [mommy] comes. She will pay for me.”

The childish talk cut the hearts, but was of no help and 150 children stood in the “small market” in a great frost, half undressed, without coats, with frozen fingers. They cried and screamed: “Mameshi!” It could move a stone, but not Lieutenant Rohn. He ordered his assistants to throw the children in the garbage wagons and to take them to the Polish commissariat.

Later, the half wild Rohn approached the people who were standing with their hands in the air and choose 25 of the handsomest and best physically developed men from there. They were placed in rows of four and forced to a wall near the wire fencing. Gendarmes with rifles stood there and shot them. At the last minute, each of the young men shouted to the bandits: “Criminals!” Murderers!” “You will yet lose the war!” and similar outcries.

When the 25 young men lay on the ground, two gendarmes with revolvers in their hands went among the dead and shot them again. Then

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the other people with their hands in the air were taken to the Polish commissariat.

At the time when the gendarmes looted the houses, two women, a mother and daughter, left their residence with the intention of going over to the “Aryan side.” They took money and valuable things. However they were noticed by a gendarme. He shot after them and missed. The women remained standing and the thief ordered them to give him everything that they had. After taking everything from them, he told them to go farther, but just as they took the first step, he shot each of them twice and they fell to the earth dead.

Meanwhile, several thousand men and women returned from their workplaces. The men did not meet their wives and wives their husbands, the mothers – their children. If the men were not among those shot, they were in the police commissariat on the “Aryan side,” where they would be shot or deported.

Heartrending scenes played out in the three alleys of the “labor camp.” Women who had not found their husbands at home came to the place of the executions and searched among the dead; several women recognized their husbands and lost their minds. The entire “labor camp” behind the wire fencing was filled with crying and screaming.

In the evening, the 29 who tragically perished were buried.

By the light of candles in the dark and very frosty evening, the 27 martyrs were placed in a large grave and the mother and daughter nearby in a second grave.

The burial took a long time and those closest to those who

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perished and other people stood for a long time at the fresh graves and could not tear themselves away, until they were forced to leave.

At the time when the burial of the annihilated took place in the “labor camp,” the men, women and children, who had been brought to the Polish police commissariat, were tortured there. The Polish policemen took the victims into an office one by one and ordered them to undress completely, men as well as women. Everything that was found was taken from each one and then they were murderously beaten.

Early in the morning, Lieutenant Rohn entered the “labor camp” and ordered more children to be brought.

The chairman of the Judenrat turned to the lieutenant with a request to free several of the Jews who were at the Polish police commissariat, giving as a reason the fact that those people were needed for the work carried out by the Judenrat.

The lieutenant agreed on the condition that other Jews were put in their place. Therefore, the Jewish policemen captured other “less important” Jews and a few children and brought them to the commissariat.

The people who were going to be taken back to the “labor camp” as “necessary” stood in the courtyard of the police commissariat waiting for the other “unimportant” Jews and children who were supposed to ransom them. Among those who were supposed to be freed was a woman who a day earlier during the departure to the small market had hidden her two young sons, one seven and the other nine years old. When the people were brought who were supposed to ransom the “needed,” her two children were among them. Seeing her

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standing in the courtyard, they got out of the wagon in when they were being taken, and began to shout: “Mama! Mameshi!”

They became desperate; she was free – her children were doomed. The mother ran to her children and they to the mother and all remained together to be sent away.

It occurred in several cases that a Jew for whom liberation had been obtained was standing and waiting in the courtyard and he saw his wife among the newly arrived people. She had presented herself voluntarily to come here where her husband was found, not knowing that he would be freed. Here they were not allowed to go to each other. The man returned to the “labor camp” and the wife remained in the commissariat.

When the “exchange” was completed, the several hundred men, women and 200 children were sent to Radomsko, where the Jewish doctors had been sent several weeks earlier.

Several days later, four young men and two women in very sad condition entered the artisans' house. These people were escapees from the Radomsko ghetto. One young man was from Radomsko and the others from Czenstochow, who had been sent to Radomsko a few days before.

We learned the following from the young man from Radomsko: a while ago the General Governor in Krakow published an order that ghettos would be created in three cities, where Jews would be able to live because in many cities the ghettos had already been liquidated and Jews were not permitted to be found there. One of the three cities was Radomsko.

Because many Jews were found in the vicinity of Radomsko, hidden with peasants in the villages and living in constant fear of being denounced – they, hearing about the govern-

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or's announcement, began to move to Radomsko, so that in the course of two weeks, 5,000 Jewish souls arrived in the Radomsko ghetto.

A Judenrat was created; residences were allocated and the Jews settled down. Little by little artisans began to work. The Polish population was permitted to enter the ghetto and food products were thus brought in. This lasted for two months.

However, suddenly the ghetto was closed. The Polish population was no longer permitted to enter and no Jew could go out.

It appeared that the General Governor's arrangements to fix up the ghetto was nothing more than a net to fool the Jews to come out of their hiding places. It was clear that everyone was waiting to be deported to Treblinka.

Some even began to make bunkers, but it was clear that they could no longer extract themselves from the net.

After the closing of the ghetto, Ukrainians arrived, taking over the supervision of the ghetto.

One morning, the aktsia took place. All of the Jews, over 5,000 souls, were chased from their residences and forced onto a large square in a burning frost. The several hundred Jews, adults and children from Czenstochow arrived for this aktsia. They stood under the open sky for long hours together with the Jews from Radomsko because the railway train with 16 cars that was to take them away was late. Meanwhile, the Gestapo and the Ukrainians ran around among the unlucky ones and robbed whatever they still possessed. It was in the afternoon that they were chased into the railway cars.

When the train was at full speed, several young people proceeded to cut out the wires from the little windows. However, in the wagon

[Page 205]

there reigned a mood of indifference and resignation. They tried to turn the young people away from their undertaking. But the young people made a great effort and tenaciously filed for hours until the wires of the little windows were sawn through and the six people sprang from the train into the darkness of the night. Some of them fell on soft snow; still others on wood and they severely bruised themselves. They decided not to travel together, but came back here to Czenstochow one by one and they arranged to meet in the artisans' house.

Thus did the six young men (eight had jumped out, but two were still missing) arrive in Czenstochow through many efforts and another series of encounters on the way. They were sick and broken, their bodies wounded and their feet swollen. They remained in the artisans' house for three days and then went to the “labor camp” where they received medical help. On the first day they had to live there in secret until they were assigned to certain workplaces and again became slaves.

Several days later a young woman with a bound head arrived at the artisans' house at night. At first, we did not recognize her, but after a closer look, we saw that this was Mrs. Braun, the same one who had run to her two sons at the courtyard of the Polish police commissariat and, although, she could have been free, she had not wanted to leave her children, but went with them to Radomsko and from there in the railroad cars to Treblinka with all of the Jews.

She explained:

Several young men were in the railroad car, in which she traveled with her children, who after long hours of work had pulled out the wire-covered little windows and jumped out. Everyone in the wagon knew that they were going to Treblinka to their deaths. Therefore, everyone believed that whoever had the courage should save themselves

[Page 206]

by jumping out. She also wanted to save herself, but how could she jump with two children? Again she did not want to leave her children. But people in the wagon began to explain to her that everyone would perish in Treblinka, including the children. Therefore, it was better that at least she save herself. The two children sensed something and cuddled up to their mother. She kissed and calmed them until they fell asleep from exhaustion.

Feeling freed from the children, the mother again went to the window which drew her as a magnet to steel. She looked out into the darkness and became frightened. The train was going fast and no one knew where they were. She again ran back to her children; she kissed them in their sleep and again went to the window. Several people, who saw her uncertainty, convinced her that in any case she would not be able to help her children in Treblinka and they pushed her to the window. She became dizzy and she suddenly jumped into the white snow.

She did not know for how long she lay unconscious. When she came to, she saw that she was lying in the middle of the night in an empty place. She sat up and felt a dampness on her forehead. She wiped it and saw blood by the light of the white snow. She placed snow on the wound on her head and wanted to stand up, but she immediately felt severe pain in her legs. There were also wounds on her legs. She also put snow on her legs and after lying for a while she slowly got up and began to put one foot in front of the other. She saw small candle flames in the distance and she slowly went in that direction. After a longer time she reached there and realized that she was at the Rogow train station near Warsaw. When she entered the train terminal she met a Polish train official. He recognized that she was Jewish and he hid her in his residence where she

[Page 207]

could wash and bandage her wounds. He bought a train ticket for her and placed her in the train for Czenstochow. She wanted to pay him with a piece of her clothing, but he did not want to take anything. That is how she came to Czenstochow.

She rested a little with us in the artisans' house, but she did not stop crying. She felt guilty about her children.

In the morning she left for the “labor camp.” There it was learned right away that she had jumped from the railroad car and left her children. Many condemned her for these deaths; others were sympathetic to her.

Two weeks later I met her in the “labor camp.” She cried terribly and told me that she could not find any rest. Her two beautiful children with their hands held out to her were always before her eyes and they called to her constantly: “Mama, mameshi!”

The woman was despondent; she did not know what to do with herself. She had no one. Her husband had been murdered by the Germans a long time ago.

We went like this through the three “labor camp” alleys. Suddenly she remained standing in front of a passing Jewish policeman. She stopped him and asked:

– Is your name Szladowski?

– Yes. – The policeman answered.

– You pulled my children from under the bed in the locked residence and took them to the market to the aktsia?”

– Yes – the policeman answered – and you are the mother of the two beautiful young boys who left them in the railroad car in order to save yourself? As a policeman I was forced with the threat of death, which still torments me, but how

[Page 208]
could you, a mother, leave children and save yourself?

 

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