The Meeting with the Germans
The Mayor, police and all official Polish representatives were the first to vanish. German motorcyclists arrived on Thursday, September 7, rode through the crowded streets several times and vanished. On Friday morning mechanised German forces, tanks and artillery entered the town, which was occupied without bloodshed. During the first few days there were no active anti-Jewish measures. However, when they bombed the trains both Poles and Jews were wounded and the Poles attended to their own people only. Wounded Jews were found in the streets on September 5th. in the midst of the general confusion. They were taken to the Community Library, given beds and food, and a refugee doctor treated them and said they must be taken to hospital. The nearest was in Cracow 50 kilometres away, and there were no communications. On Saturday I stopped a German military ambulance and asked the driver to transport the wounded. He asked: Who are they, people or Jews? He had no room for Jews. A week later I hired a Polish wagon and had them transferred to the Cracow Jewish hospital. They recovered and managed to reach the Russian-occupied district.
In Pinczow, the district centre, a young Pole fired a few shots as the Germans entered the town which was put on fire in consequence. The surviving Jews came to us. The Germans appropriated the larger and better apartments, and the Pinczow and other refugees were housed in the Bet Hamidrash, synagogue and shtieblech without any amenities whatsoever. It was the end of Autumn, all ordinary livelihoods had come to a standstill, the community council did not function, here was no Polish Government, the German Government had not yet taken over, and masses of refugees began to arrive from Lodz. Representatives of the Youth Movements met in spite of German prohibitions of public assembly, to find ways and means of helping the helpless newcomers. Special units were appointed to collect warm clothes, blankets, pillows, etc. They went from house to house and met with a very generous response. This in spite of the poverty of most of the Jews in town. Money was also collected. When we bypassed some poverty-stricken homes we were called back so that they could give their share.
That was the start of a Jewish Mutual Aid Service which functioned until the liquidation of the community and expulsion of the Jews in Autumn 1942. We set up a communal kitchen providing about 1500 meals twice a day, either free or at a nominal charge. It operated for 2 ˝ years. The members of this Committee were: The Brothers Shlomo and Hayyim Kaczka, Joseph Shulimovitch and his wife nee Weintraub, Mrs. Salomea Gertler, Eli Zilber, Moshe Kamelgarten, Feigele Dulla, Mira Rolnitsky, and Jacob Grosswald, all of them martyred. The survivors are: Dov Bejski and his brother Moshe Bejski, Alter Friedman, Moshe Rozenek and Israel Ber Skora. Special mention should be made of Mrs. Gertler who managed the kitchen as a volunteer from dawn till late at night in spite of her own very difficult economic position. Joseph Shulimovitch was the Treasurer and Shlomo Kaczka handled supplies. The Committee secured not only material but spiritual resources as well, under the inconceivably difficult conditions of the times. At Hanukka 1941 a special Children’s Party was arranged and a play on the heroism of the maccabees was presented, with sweets, etc. Moshe Kaczka spoke and openly compared those times to our own. Next day he was severely rebuked by Moshe Yossel Kruk, head of the Communal Council and the Judenrat, who threatened to close down all activities. Nor can he be blamed in the circumstances.
The situation grew steadily worse. All males over 14 were taken for forced labour such as digging drainage and sewage canals, without pay or food. The kitchen began to supply food to the workers. During the first years money was supplied by the Joint Distribution Committee until USA entered the War. Thus we received matzot for Passover but had to take them ourselves from Censtochowa, at a time when Jews were forbidden to travel. Still Moshe Kamelgarten and I obtained travel permits, hired a lorry, made the journey, obtained the matzot and after all kinds of adventures brought them back. In addition each family contributed whatever it could every month. The kehilla also provided food and sold it cheap.
But the situation became worse and worse. Most of the young men were sent to labour camps and the old people, women and children moved about as though awaiting execution. The entire community spent the last three days before the expulsion in the cemetery, praying at the graves of their fathers and ancestors. On Thursday 24th. Ellul the Jews were assembled and classified in the market square. The old folk, more than 1500 in number, were taken to the cemetery and murdered. Rabbi Stashevsky who was ill was shot and killed in bed. The rest were taken to Miechow and left for a day and a night in the open. Then those young folk who looked healthy were taken in open railway trucks to a labour camp at Prokocim near Cracow, and all the others were sent to Belzec extermination camp. Not one of them survived.
Rumours had been spreading for several weeks, but when the survivors of the Volbrom expulsion reached Dzialoszyce it was clear that we were on the list and our time would come soon. And come it did. The town was cordoned off on 1st September 1942.
(About a year earlier leaders of the Zionist Youth Movements had discussed the establishment of an underground Resistance Movement. They had been: The Brothers Shlomo and Hayyim Kaczka, the Brothers Joseph and Shlomo Shulemovitch, Moshe Kamelgarten, Elijah Silber, my brother Moshe, Moshe Rozenek, Mordechai Rozenek, Alter Friedman and myself. But we never succeeded in obtaining arms in spite of all our efforts. There was no Polish underground in the region at the time; and so we had to bow before the situation.)
On 2nd. September all Jews, men, women and children, were summoned to the market in the early hours of the morning. After a heart-rending night they all appeared with their bundles on their backs. We were driven into line savagely by the S.S. men. Those unable to walk were told to get onto the waiting carts, and so the lines were emptied of old folk. The carts vanished, but not in the direction of the railway. Then the remainder were marched off in lines, families together, with the S.S. and Gestapo men on either side, their weapons ready.
On the Way to the Camps
We were all concentrated in a spacious meadow near Miechow, together with the Jews of Skalbmierz and the vicinity. Bread and water were supplied by the Jews of Miechow for their brethren. Next day they joined us. Then we were ordered to line up again, and the young people capable of hard work were separated. My two brothers and I stood together. I took a last lat my parents and my sister Rachel, weeping and waving farewell. And 1500 to 2000 young men of Dzialoszyce, Skalbmierz and the vicinity were marched off to the railway trucks and crushed together in them, while the train moved off.
At the Prokocim Camp
This camp was in a Cracow suburb, and in it we found young men from the small surrounding villages and a few from our own town, who warned us what to expect. In the morning they marched to work while we were lined up and surrounded by Ukrainian guards (Russian prisoners of war who had agreed to join the Germans). The Camp Commandant ordered us to hand over all our belongings of every kind, except for 25 zloty each. After this was done he searched the pockets of one man at random, found some money and shot him in the head. Now indeed everybody gave up whatever they had hidden away. That single casual murder by the camp commandant Muller told us what we had to expect. But at first it was possible to get in and out of the camp without difficulty, and many escaped. Some went back to Dzialoszyce when they heard that survivors were gathering there again. They were all exterminated two months later, and buried in a common grave in the valley behind the Jewish cemetery. But we three used the opportunity to get away from the camp, and with the aid of a cousin moved into a camp in Kobierzynska Street in Cracow.
Firma Richard Strauss
The men in this camp worked for the above firm which was owned by Germans and engaged in drainage works, built canals and embankments on the River Vistula. Jews from Dzialoszyce and Prosowice worked for them. The work was very hard and conditions were very difficult. We had never done physical work before, but now we had to dig for 13-14 hours a day. It was very difficult at first, but in due course we became excellent labourers. Like all our townsfolk in this camp we were consumed with anxiety about the fate of our families. Our other concern was how to fill our stomachs. We received a chunk of bread in the morning and watery soup for lunch, but it was entirely insufficient for the work we were doing. Luckily this camp and the one to which we were afterwards sent were not surrounded with barbed wire or strictly guarded, though we were forbidden to leave the area. This did not prevent us from getting out, selling odds and ends we still had and buying food next day while at work. Indeed, we only knew what a Labour Camp really was when we were all concentrated at Plaszow.
At this time, Winter 1942, there were still more than 20,000 Jews in the Cracow Ghetto. They all tried to be productive workers in the workshops that were being hastily established. (Actually our own synagogue had been transformed into an excellent clothing factory a year earlier, working for the German army. But it made no difference when the expulsion orders were issued.)
We thought that our situation was very harsh; yet we had no idea of what lay in store for us when we all concentrated in the camp in the Jerozolimska Street in Plaszow.
The Plaszow Camp
When we were transferred there at the end of 1942 or early in 1943, the camp on the former cemetery grounds was being enlarged to serve for extermination of the Cracow Ghetto. We ourselves had to work outside, in the municipal gasworks for light and cooking. The camp rose at 4 a.m., and after a long roll-call we were marched out under armed guard. All day long we had to shovel coal, returning at evening under armed guard again. Those who worked outside were far better off than those in the camp, for we did not see the horrors perpetrated all day long as they did. At this period the camp commandant was Scharfuehrer Mueller. The regime was unbearable, the food was less than insufficient, the housing conditions were inhuman. Hundreds were crowded into one hut with three tiers of boards for sleeping. Upon our return a second roll call was held and we were usually sent off to work again, this time within the camp. We dragged broken headstones, rocks, boards, hut sections, etc., all at double time and under S.S. supervision. Anyone thought to be slack at work received dozens of lashes on his naked body. Some of our townsfolk and others were shot and killed.
The Cracow Ghetto was liquidated on 13th. March 1943 and all the Jews, both living and dead, were brought to Plaszow, for several thousand were shot during the Aktion, and their bodies were brought along. On our way back from the gasworks we saw these bodies lying with the blood running into the roadway. The camp inmates buried them all in a huge collective grave, naturally first removing their bloodstained and bullet-riddled clothes. (When the camp was liquidated these bodies were removed and burnt, their gold teeth being first removed by German prisoners who were then in the camp. The fires burnt for weeks on end.)
In February 1943 a new commandant, S.S. Oberscharfuehrer Amon Geth, arrived with a large group of S.S. officers. Geth was a giant with a rigid face. Upon his arrival working conditions were worsened and hours lengthened, collective punishment became more frequent, torture and death were daily events. Groups passing one another on different work shifts reported the daily number killed. In any case all outside work soon ceased, cutting off the possibility of contact with Polish workers who had sometimes slipped us a little food for those in camp, in spite of orders. (If anyone was found with food the whole group was punished, the mildest punishment being whipping with the victim counting each blow. I myself was lashed 25 times on several occasions, and 50 times once. Of course we had to go back to work immediately.) Being sent in a punishment squad on night work in the quarry within the camp was worse. Then there was a punishment cell of 20 inches by 20 inches, where the prisoner had to stand 24 or 48 hours. Men were sometimes hung by the hands from a wall for several hours, being lowered only when they fainted. Cold water was then poured over them, and then they were sometimes hung afresh.
Any S.S. man could impose any of these punishments whenever he felt like it. On occasion a group returning from work would be shot either in whole or in part. (The Hebrew text contains many additional details.) Every inmate of Plaszow Camp faced death at any moment. I remember those cases in which all the 20,000 inmates of the camp were summoned to watch public executions. Thus on Yom Kippur 1943 the S.S. men took 50 men from the barracks and shot them. Another time Engineer Krautwirt and a boy aged 15 were publicly hung. The rope broke and the boy fell but was hung again till he died. The engineer cut his wrists and was hung up bleeding. Meanwhile S.S. men whipped the inmates to compel them to watch. I cannot understand to this day why not one of us broke the ranks in revolt, even knowing that it meant certain death on the spot.
When bread was found in an office-worker’s drawer all the office workers were sent to the shooting range and killed.
Work outside stopped in the middle of 1943 and my group was put to building, road-making, building barracks, levelling ground, etc. in the camp, at the risk of our lives. When a German was seen approaching a signal was given so that we should all speed up. Geth would stand at his window with a rifle and shoot down Jews working outside his house. In the workshops established within the camps the foremen and managers had to be able to state just where every man was at any moment. Otherwise all those in the workshops were liable to collective punishment.
Food consisted of a portion of poor-quality bread and a tasteless drink called coffee twice a day, a thin soup at noon and irregular intervals, with occasional fat or some other spread. Naturally some of the hungry people tried to steal into the kitchen to beg for something more. For a while Yehoshua Wdowinski worked there and would get something for those from Dzialoszyce who could reach him. Those caught were usually shot and killed on the spot. Work that was judged of poor quality was also punished, usually by death.
There was also a special camp prison which was usually kept for Jews who were cauwith Aryan papers. Few people came out alive. I remember how Geth brought a Jew named Olmer of Miechow and set his dogs on him. They tore him to death.
Main danger-spots were the kitchen as already told, and the women’s camp to which approach was absolutely forbidden. Still men stole there to meet wives, sisters and daughters and get news from them or give them some morsel of food, no matter how great the risk.
The punishments were: Group Whipping at special parades. Night work after the exhausting regular days’ work was over, when part or all the camp were called out to drag great loads up the hill to the new area, carrying great stones on their backs for two or three kilometres in rain and cold. The Stone Railway. A narrow-gauge railway was constructed from the camp quarry to the height 2 kilometres away. Little carriages were loaded with stones quarried by a punishment squad, to which I belonged for some time. The carriages were dragged along by teams of women who were harnessed to them and who had to pull them uphill. They wore wooden clogs which slipped in the mud or snow, and had to work under all weather conditions.
In 1943 we practically all still had warm clothing, but this was taken away in 1944 and replaced by the familiar concentration camp garb of blue and grey stripes and thin material, so that we all suffered from the cold. There was a small enclave of Polish prisoners, and at time there were more than 25,000 in the camp. Prisoners were also sent from Plaszow to Mauthhausen, Friedburg, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen, etc. There must have been 1000 - 1200 people from Dzialoszyce at this time.
Early in May 1944 we were all paraded and ordered to strip naked. An S.S. Hauptsturmfuehrer was there, reportedly named Blanke. All inmates were run before him and he sent them right or left, to which side the old, weak and defective or juvenile were sent. Two days later they were separated, placed on good wagons and were joined by the 250 children in the camp. The outcry was stifled by S.S. guns pointed at us all, and loudspeakers played lullabies. More than 1200 adults and 250 children were taken to Auschwitz and the death chambers. One boy of 12 or 13 named Jerzy Spiro managed to escape and hid all day in the cesspit at the latrine, with only his head uncovered. I do not know whether he survived the war.
Individuals were shot on the spot, anywhere and everywhere in the camp. For group executions the victims were conducted to a special hill, called Hujar Hill after the executioner. There they had to prepare wood and lie down on it. Then they were shot and their bodies burnt. Jews caught living as Aryans were killed there, also Polish partisans. These were brought direct in closed cars.
The Plaszow Camp was liquidated in mid-October 1944 when the Russians neared Cracow. With about 1200 others I was taken to the Gross-Rosen Camp in Germany. About 100 men were forced into each goods truck and the train journey took 3 days. There was no possibility of sitting, and food for less than a day. The only sanitary provision was a pail in each truck, which was closed from the outside. The treatment in Gross-Rosen was even worse than in Plaszow, but after a short stay we were transferred to a branch-camp at Brilnitz in Czechoslovakia where the Russians released us on 8th. May 1945, at the end of the War.
We Jews of Dzialoszyce were only a small handful among the millions who were slain. Let us never forget them.
When those who took the initiative in preparing this Memorial Volume asked me to give an account of some of the things that happened to the community and its members during the years of the Nazi terror I first refused. For I doubted whether I had the strength or other qualities necessary. It is almost certain that most of the Jews of Dzialoszyce met their deaths at the Belzec Camp on or after 2nd. November 1942. Thousands were killed in the town, in various Aktions round it or in neighbouring camps. Even the graveyard has been destroyed. And so it is with all the centuries-old archives, the community pinkas and other documentary material. Whatever the Germans may have missed the local Poles completed. And memory alone is a poor witness. Besides, I did not feel competent to describe the three years of communal and family and individual hell through which the community and its members passed.
In the thirty years that have passed we have not forgotten anything except, it may be, the order in which things happened. We kept no records. Because of all these difficulties in giving an accurate account I refused at first. And yet I have changed my mind. As survivors each of us must put on record what he can, for after we have gone nobody will be left who knew our community. Our children find it hard even to pronounce the name of the town where we were born. So whether adequate or not, I shall try to honour the memory of our forefathers and those of our kin who sere destroyed by the Nazis. It is the least I as a survivor can do.
When the war began I had been living in Cracow for several years, but promptly returned home. My older brother Dov and I set out on foot, for there were no means of travel. After three days and nights on the road, with German planes machine-gunning the refugees who did not know whither to flee, we finally joined the family.
That evening the Polish authorities called on all reserves and males up to 50 years old to withdraw to Pinczow and Kielce. But the German army was ahead of us. When we reached the River San we found the Germans holding one bank and the Russians the other. We returned home to find the town in German hands. Many of the townsfolk had escaped into what had become Russian territory. Of these, many ended up in the Urals or Siberia. But meanwhile Dzialoszyce had filled up with refugees from other communities.
Inhabitants and Housing Conditions
Anti-Jewish legislation began as soon as the fighting was over. Some of it was countrywide and some local. By the end of 1939 silver, gold and jewels had been confiscated, a curfew was imposed, Jews might not leave town, the Jewish badge had to be worn, Jews might not ride in trains or do business, property was taken away, etc. I returned to work in Cracow but early in 1940 the Ghetto was established there and I came back home, where no barbed wire or walls had been erected. In 1940 there was no permanent German police station in town, and the district authorities were in Miechow, so we had a minimum of peace compared with other places. That may be the reason why former Dzialoszyce residents began to return from Silesia and Zaglembie. The Jewish community in 1940-1941 must have numbered well over 10,000, of whom two-thirds were penniless refugees.
In general local housing conditions were very poor, and building never caught up with population. But kinsfolk housed kinsfolk. Every hole and corner was put to use. Hundreds of families lived in the public buildings and institutions under indescribably conditions. Almost a thousand persons lived in the Bet-Hamidrash and synagogue, the use of which for prayer and study was prohibited. An area was allocated by size of family, and ledges were installed for sleeping. People tried to put up partitions of linen or other stuff. There were no sanitary conveniences and water had to be brought in buckets from afar. Cooking became a major problem for lack of space, but in due course the public kitchen (of which more below) made things easier. The problem of fuel and heating was shared by both residents and refugees. And Winter 1940 was particularly hard.
Towards Winter 1941 hundreds of additional families came to the town from the surrounding villages by order of the German, increasing the congestion. Place had to be created and was created for them.
Hygiene and Epidemics
The Community Council took steps from the first to reduce the danger of epidemics, which could spread uninterruptedly under the bad hygienic and poor nutritional conditions, and also because of the measures taken by the German to eradicate them. At first only Dr. Gremlived in town, but early in 1940 the Jewish physician Dr. Dvora Lazer came there. Besides ordinary medical services for over 10,000 people she had to take preventive measures against epidemics. Contagious diseases were running rife in the vicinity and there were scarcely any remedies or prophylactics. However, thanks to Dr. Lazer a Sanitary Committee was set up and established disinfection stations. The members made the rounds daily, visiting all points, and fumigated with sulphur and other disinfectants. High-temperature steam centres were opened where all refugees and their belongings had to be disinfected regularly.
These preventatives served for some time, but epidemics were raging in the area and in 1941 there were simultaneous outbreaks of dysentery, typhoid and typhus. According to the law the authorities should have been informed in every case of contagious disease, and they always took drastic steps. Although the diseases spread rapidly and many people died the Germans never heard about it thanks to the late Doctor Dvora Lazer, whose energy and devotion helped to bring the typhoid epidemic to an end. Apart from the dreadful overcrowding and malnutrition about which nothing could be done the whole population had to be disinfected as near simultaneously as possible, despite the absence of necessary equipment. Besides there was no hospital, nor even isolation rooms. The situation was so bad that those suffering from typhus were taken to the Hekdesh (lodging for poor travellers and communal poorhouse) near the cemetery. However, the epidemic ended before Winter 1942, though there were still occasional cases of typhoid.
Livelihood and Occupations
Even in peacetime a considerable part of the Jews in our town lived from hand to mouth, and many were poverty-stricken. Most of the local craftsmen made their livings from the peasants of the surrounding villages, as did the supposedly well-to-do shopkeepers. Others traded in the villages all the week, selling what they purchased on market days to wholesalers who sent it to other places. There were also the usual communal functionaries and officials. The livings of most of the townsfolk came to an end when the War broke out.
One of the first things done by the Nazis was to establish Trustees (Treuhaendler) for the larger businesses. Other shops simply closed up. Jews might not trade in cotton or linen goods, textiles of any kind, drapery, leather-wear, shoes, etc., etc. Practically everything was under control. Though a few tradesmen managed to hide part of their goods and traded with them later, their stock was used up during the three years before the Liquidation. Searches were carried out every few days and sooner or later the gendarmes took everything away. Goods were found in the possession of Isaac Meir Vaga, Alter Spokoiny, Dula, Galonzka, Shulimovitch, Platkievicz and others, and the discoveries usually led to arrest, fines, or more serious penalties.
Though Jews might not leave the town, hunger was often stronger then the risk that was run. Many people risked their lives in visiting the neighbouring villages. Some were caught and arrested, others were imprisoned. The situation of the craftsmen was no better, as the villagers simply stopped coming to town. There were no raw materials and the free sale of agricultural produce was prohibited while the farmers had to supply almost all their harvest to the authorities. Interurban trade also ceased completely.
Meanwhile the Jews had to turn over everything of value to the Germans, as already reported, including foreign currency, radio sets, furs, etc. A number of people were killed at every confiscation, and large punitive fines were imposed. If these contributions were not paid by the specified time a number of leading townsfolk were killed. The Judenrat also constantly required large sums of money for bribery.
Many of the population did not even have the tiny amounts necessary to buy the scanty rations of flour and sugar. As a result people disguised as Christians and smuggled food to and from large towns. All that was left was forced labour. To begin with the Jews had to carry out various works and other chance jobs inside the town. Often people were caught in the streets for this purpose. But by the first winter the Community Council had to supply a certain number of groups to clear the snow, etc. A German Labour Chief named Mucha arrived, and hundreds of Jews went out daily to various places in the neighbourhood to engage in development works.
Here there was considerable co-operation with the Judenrat, which set up a special Labour Department under Mr. Hoffman. A rotation of all the able-bodied men was introduced, and the working groups changed every few weeks in accordance with the requirements. Sole supporters of large families and special social cases were given special consideration, which led to many complaints of discrimination. The compulsory labour gave a living to many families. As long as there were people left with resources they preferred not to go out to exhausting work from dawn to sunset under the Nazi taskmasters. These people found substitutes to whom they were prepared to pay between 5 and 12 zloty daily. There were always candidates for such jobs.
In the course of time German police would appear in town, seize a few dozen youngsters and take them away to labour camps near Cracow or the factories of the German firm Richard Strauch. At first an attempt was made through the Judenrat to transmit them parcels of clothing and food and blankets. The reports received about working conditions were very depressing and the Judenrat arranged after a few months that the first groups should be replaced by others. Nobody was prepared to go willingly and the Jewish Police of the Judenrat, known as the Ordnungsdienst, sometimes had to intervene. Yet once again those families that had a little money were prepared to pay for substitutes for their sons, and the substitutes also insisted on regular food parcels as part of their pay.
Relief and Welfare (The Communal Kitchen)
Besides the daily troubles of the permanent residents, steps had to be taken to help the ever-increasing number of refugees. It was not easy to provide, for the townsfolk themselves grew poorer and poorer. The younger generation, particularly the active members of the Zionist Youth Movements, began to take steps, first collecting clothes, blankets and bits of furniture. However, the problem of food was even more urgent. At the beginning of 1940 the first floor or rather one wing above the Bet Hamidrash was still empty and was used to set up a public kitchen and dining hall thanks to these young Zionists, headed by the late Mrs. Salomea Gertler, wife of Shlomo Gertler. During the first few months only a few hundred refugees ate there daily, but before long it became the most important institution in town, providing a daily meal for thousands. It is impossible to describe the superhuman efforts made to ensure that this institution should continue to exist. I hope the tale will be told by one of the surviving members. The kitchen provided daily hot and tasty meals as well as bread. The people who dedicated themselves to this sacred task included Mrs. Gertler, the brothers Kaczka, Joseph and Solomon Shulimovitch, Moshe Kamelgarten and Mottel Rosenek, all of whom lost their lives; and Dov Bejski, Moshe Rosenek, Alter Friedman and others who have survived.
The difficulty of finding food was renewed every day, although the Judenrat in due course gave part of the requirements from the rations allocated by the authorities. The rest had to be obtained by legal and illegal methods, and money also had to be raised. For all those who came to the kitchen this was their only hot meal, while for many it was their main source of food. As time went on the townsfolk came there as well as the refugees, and were permitted to take their share home.
The word Judenrat has justly or unjustly become a term of abuse, and its members are often identified as collaborators. This is not the place to discuss the real situation and functions of this unhappy . Here I shall only try to describe how the Judenrat of Dzialoszyce appeared to one of the local residents. But first I must add that it is unjust and unrealistic to treat the Judenrat as a uniform phenomenon. The negative and collaborationist Judenrats were almost always appointed by the Occupation Authorities after a preceding Judenrat had been liquidated because the Nazis found it unsatisfactory. But I know of many other Judenrats of a very different kind.
When I went to Cracow at the end of 1939 our long-elected Community Council was in office, headed by Moshe Joseph Kruk. The War brought it entirely fresh duties. It had to provide for the refugees. It had no money and could not face the pressure of circumstances, though it made unbelievable and surprisingly successful efforts. But when I returned from Cracow the Judenrat was already in existence, with almost the same membership as the former Vaad Hakehilla, although it had a larger number of members as time went on and its functions altered.
It served as an address for the Germans, both for carrying out the ceaseless flow of anti-Jewish orders and for satisfying the demands of the local authorities. Furthermore, the members of the Judenrat were personally responsible for implementing every order given. And any authoritative Nazi in the district used it for his own private extortion activities. Extortioners of this kind included high officers like Schmidt, Bayerlein, Vogt, Becker, Redinger, and Gendarmes like Kosko, Dachauer-Kornhaeuser, Schubert and many others. The Judenrat thought like many other Jews that satisfying Nazi demands would enable them to make things easier. Truth to tell this often proved to be the case temporarily, as individuals were satisfied. It must be admitted that the Judenrat had very little choice. But as a result it was in constant conflict with the community.
I have undertaken not to discuss the Judenrat in general from the historical standpoint. Yet one must always remember the factors involved in daily life, which caused the ordinary Jews to view it with suspicion. Yet I am certain that in our town it functioned only in order to handle those difficulties produced by the times and the circumstances. These included the urgent necessity of carrying out Nazi orders today if any part of the Community was to survive till tomorrow or even longer. (In the Hebrew text many instances of Judenrat activities are included.) I wish to repeat that in our town at least the Judenrat fulfilled all its duties to the local Jews. And this is not the place to discuss the attitude adopted in general by Jewish leaders towards all revolt and resistance activities.
Faith and Hope
In spite of all the oppression by the Germans and the horrors undergone by the Jews, two of the basic factors of small-town Jewry in Poland remained unaffected: Their faith and their hope. The more I look back the more I am astounded at this, and the subject is worthy of very careful study and deep research. Without this capacity it is impossible to understand how the Jews bore the burden imposed upon them. There are very few cases in which our people lost their faith and hope; not only in the Ghettos but later as well, in the concentration and extermination camps.
Public prayer was prohibited as soon as the Nazi Occupation began. Still, Jews continued to pray together wherever they could collect a Minyan or prayer quorum of ten, not only on Sabbaths and festivals but all the week round. Jewish slaughtering and the sale of kosher meat were also prohibited; yet if ever there was meat for sale, it was always kosher.
I do not remember exactly when Jews were forbidden to wear beards (the end of 1941, I think). But I do remember the effect on our townsfolk. Actually this order distressed not only the bearded Jews but also those who had long been shaving themselves. Everybody seemed to be disguised. Yet there were many who disobeyed the order, including my own father who preferred to stay at home for many months but did not remove his beard. If he had to go out he wrapped his face in a scarf as though he had toothache. But finally he was caught and punished. He was not the only Jew who did this. When the Jews were expelled never to return, those with beards marched in their simple Jewish faith and faces; and in their martyrdom they revived the time-old and awesome concept of Kiddush Hashem, the Hallowing of the Divine Name.
Hope remained unbroken even amid the most resounding victories of the Nazis. The Jews regarded every victory as a further step towards their inevitable defeat and collapse, which would be followed by a Salvation for the Jews - the Yeshua of Jewish Messianic tradition. And all Jews knew: Mir vellen sei iberleben (We shall survive them). How few of them did!
The First Expulsion
By the end of the third year of the War it was possible to hope that we would see the defeat of the Nazis. The hope was no longer based on rumour but on actual facts. Jews were well experienced in reading between the lines of official statements. Yet though we were entirely cut off from the outer world, rumours and information began to spread in summer 1942 about the Aktions in different parts of Poland, from which Jews were expelled to unknown destinations. Nobody in our town could even imagine such a thing as the death-camps. It is strange to think that even after three years in the Nazi inferno nobody could imagine that the sole aim of the Nazis was to destroy the Jewish People entirely. The Germans themselves sedulously spread rumours and concealed their activities in order to prevent any such suspicion. They saw to it that letters were sent from extermination camps such as Auschwitz, and then exterminated the writers immediately afterwards in the gas-chambers. In spite of which a general apprehension began to be felt in the last week of August 1942. Tales were told about Aktions in Zaglembie. Judenrat members with special passes went to the German administration town Miechow every day but could not learn anything.
What we feared came before the New Year of 5713, on 2nd. September 1942. Aktions were reported in our immediate vicinity. (There was no possibility of flight. Poles not only refused to give shelter but in most cases denounced any Jews they saw.) Next morning the German forces entered the town, and took up positions all round it. The Poles who lived in town put crosses on the doors and in the windows. I stole along the riverbed to the centre of the town, peered through a crack in the house where Sternberg had his Chemist shop and saw armed Germans facing four or five Jews standing several metres from each other. The Germans put the Jews through various gymnastic exercises: all down! Stand up! Hands up! Hands down! All of a sudden while they stood with raised arms they were shot. They were too far away for me to identify them.
That night, after hearing rumours in front of the Judenrat, I decided to see whether it was possible to escape, but found at once that it was impossible, and those who tried were being shot. We spent another terrifying night. Before noon we were all instructed to appear at specified times in the market square, arriving by streets. Each had to bring a little bundle with working clothes, since we were all going to working places. Our street had to appear at two o’clock. Each of us prepared a rucksack in silence and took it on his back. My father of blessed memory gave his parting words to each one of us as a family heritage, and shared out the little ready money held in reserve. Then he kissed the mezuza on the door and set out with faltering steps, looking back from time to time.
A pitiful sight met us in the street, with men and women, old and young and children, stumbling along under their packs on their way to the marketplace. From time to time I saw a familiar Polish face looking out of a window, without a twitch or a word. Were they waiting for Jews and Germans alike to depart in order to swoop down and loot whatever they found, as in so many other places.
The marketplace continued to fill up for an hour after our arrival and nobody might leave.Then an armed sentry approached, chose four young men, including me, and ordered us to follow him into the courtyard of Gertler’s house. Several corpses of women were lying there. We were told to put them all together. A man who looked out from an upper floor was called down and shot on the stairs. His body had to be placed with the others. The sentry entered the next house, and I fled back to my family and friends, who kept me out of sight.
Later many horses and carts came into the square, with peasant drivers. Those who found it hard to walk to the distant station were told to mount the carts. Many old folk and women did so. The carts did not take the road to the railway station, but that to the cemetery.
Meanwhile the square filled up and we were ordered to march to the station. On the way we heard the ceaseless rattle of machine-guns. In due course I learnt that 1200-2000 old folk and women had been mown down at the cemetery and were buried in 3 mass graves.
At the station we were loaded on open trucks and taken to a huge open field near Miechow where we found Jews from neighbouring towns, and the members of our own Judenrat and Ordnungsdienst, though they had been promised that they would be left behind. By the following morning there must have been 20,000 Jews there. At about noon the men were ordered into fives, and meanwhile the selection began. The fives marched with their hands up and the selecting officer directed each on right or left with his finger. Only the young men were sent to the left, under guard. My two brothers Dov and the late Uri were sent left with me, while the rest of the family were marched in the other direction, and vanished at once. Everything took place at lightning speed. The entire operation took some two hours, and about 2000 young men were left and were promptly marched to the station and loaded on cattle trucks. Other Jews were loaded on the same train, but we young men were taken off at Prokocim station while the others went on to the Belsec camp, where all the Jews of Dzialoszyce and the neighbouring towns met their deaths. We others were left for the labour and concentration camps instead.
It is doubtful whether anyone could describe our lives from that day until the liberation of the survivors on 8th May 1945. I shall not attempt it. In any case there are no figures as to the numbers who were exterminated or perished in the camps, nor of the number of survivors. What we know is that there are now about 330 survivors in Israel and another few hundreds dispersed all over the world. That is the end of a community which had lived a full Jewish life for hundreds of years.
The Final Liquidation
Our camp experience started with handling over whatever valuables we still had to the Ukrainian guards, who shot the first two who tried to conceal anything. In due course I was sent to a camp at Podgozhe, where I found many more from our town. This camp had the advantage that there were no German guards. A fortnight later I learnt from a newcomer that Jews had gathered at Dzialoszyce again; namely, those who had escaped before the expulsion. The rains of Autumn, it should be remembered, had begun in addition to all their other hardships, and they had nowhere to hide. While we were at this camp the Germans assembled all former members of the Ordnungsdienst and sent them back to Dzialoszyce and elsewhere, to collect and liquidate whatever was left behind; for it seemed that the Poles were beginning to pillage and loot. And that outraged the German sense of order and fitness.
As soon as this news came, a number of the camp inmates escaped and went back to Dzialoszyce. Some of them soon returned bringing a few belongings with them, while the rest remained in the town for the present. I decided to go back and see what I could still save of the family belongings, to be exchanged for food, which was becoming very scanty in the camp. When I came there I found several hundred other Jews. Plainly we could not remain, but the only alternative was the labour camps. This was the end of October 1942. (I had already communicated with the Zionist Youth groups in the still existent Ghettos of Cracow and Czenstochowa, suggesting that contact should be established with the partisans. But in our part of Poland this was impossible.)
After a few days in town I was awakened one night to learn that the town was again surrounded by Germans. A day or two earlier the Brothers Levitt of Miechow, who had moved to our town during the war, told me they had prepared a hiding place against trouble; and if necessary I could join them. The place was in an attic in what had formerly been the home of the Moshenberg family. I went there at once, and within a few moments 12 persons had assembled: The Brothers Levitt, their brother-in-law Salek Katzengold, Shanietzky and Yehiel Reisfeld. The bunker was well hidden. When we were all inside the Polish policeman Kamerdiniak appeared and put a padlock on the outer door, taking the key with him. I personally did not trust him but was reassured by Yehiel Reisfeld, who told me that the policeman would keep us informed of what was going on. We spent a whole day in the dark, without knowing what was going on, unable to move. About midnight Kamerdiniak appeared and told us that all the Jews in town had been rounded up and taken away under heavy guard. Then he locked us in again, promising to return the following night.
We spent the day discussing possibilities of escape. The policeman never came the second night and we grew very anxious. During the third day we heard shots and understood the Germans were hunting for those in hiding. Early in the evening the policeman came and told us that house-to-house searches had been conducted for the past two days. All those found were killed on the spot, and he expected it would be the turn of our house next day. He was not at all sure that we would not be found, in spite of the excellent hiding-place. Most of the Germans, said he, were still in town but there were few guards outside. He thought it would be possible to escape by way of the Christian cemetery where there seemed to be no guards at all. After he left we decided to leave in pairs at intervals of half an hour. I went with my friend Salek Katzengold. Our first surprise was the snow everywhere; and our coats were dark and very visible.
But we crossed the church courtyard and cemetery and found ourselves outside the town. We went to a Pole in the nearest village with whom I had gone to school and begged for shelter, but he did not even open the door. Dawn was approaching, so we made for the Pole’s barn where the door was not locked, and hid ourselves deep in the straw. There we stayed for three days and nights and the farmer knew nothing of it, but the single loaf of bread we had with us was finished by the second day. On the third night we left, went to the railway station at Janowice and succeeded in reaching Cracow. The mishaps which befell me after that have nothing to do with the fate of Dzialoszyce which had been cleansed of Jews by this time, for good and for all.
Several hundred Jews from Dzialoszyce found themselves together in the Plaszow Labour Camp at the end of 1942, and underwent indescribable sufferings for another two and a half years. Many lost their lives there after bitter torment, while others perished in camps throughout Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria. Those few who survived until 8th. May 1945 were physically and spiritually broken. While the whole world rejoiced at the end of hostilities we suddenly became fully aware of our situation. With nobody and nothing left, we had to decide where we should go. Poles and Frenchmen had only transport difficulties to face, but what were we to do?
A few decided to return and see what had happened to the home in which they had spent their lives before the Holocaust. Others hoped they might find surviving kinsfolk, and it was only natural to suppose that they would make their way home as well. So two or three dozen Jews arrived in Dzialoszyce, naked and barefoot and lacking for everything. But the Poles were not pto accept even that handful. They had made up their minds that once the town was without Jews it must remain so. One day they murdered Samuel Piekarz, Ben-Zion Chernocha and Yorista. Those murders served as a warning to the others, who fled that selfsame night.
Since then no Jewish foot has trodden the streets of Dzialoszyce.
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