by Max Steig, New York City
The main concentration camp where the remainder of Jews from Cracow had been transferred after the bloody and merciless total liquidation of the ghetto in Cracow on March 13, 1943, was located on the territory of the New Jewish Cemetery in the uphill part of Plaszow district of Cracow.
There existed, however, in the same district, another concentration camp called JULAG I located near the railroad track in the downhill section of Plaszow.
JULAG I had been created much earlier than the lager (concentration camp) on the hill. The first barracks had been built as early as in the middle of 1941, and the Jewish men caught in the suburbs of Cracow and forced to hard labour were under the command of NSDAP (German National Socialist Worker's Party). The men in charge were: Pelz, Neuman and Zill and were all members of this party.
The reason for establishing JULAG I was simple. The old railway between Cracow and Lwow, built long before World War I by the then Austrian authorities, had only two tracks which were sufficient for transportation of goods and people in industrially undeveloped Poland. But, Hitler needed enormous quantities of food, timber, coal and oil which Stalin, his friendly partner in dividing and swallowing up of Poland's territory, was willing to deliver. However, the small and outdated freight terminal in Cracow turned out to be inadequate. Not only new unloading ramps had to be built but the number of tracks leading to the terminal, including those on the railroad bridge over the river Vistula had to be increased rapidly.
And so a camp of Jewish labour force had been established right near the railroad tracks in the downhill part of Plaszow.
In the beginning, the labour force consisted of Jews from suburbs and not from the city as such. However, this situation changed soon since the rapidly progressing liquidation and extermination of small Jewish communities, villages, hamlets and settlements around Cracow brought waves of new labour force. Among them were many young and strong Jews, originally from Cracow, who were denied the permission (Kennkarte) to remain in the city at the time of the establishing of the ghetto and were forced to emigrate. They found a short reprieve from their cruel fate in villages and hamlets located near Cracow. Now, they had been brought back to Cracow but as slave labourers.
In addition to the camp, Julag I, two smaller branches had been set up near and along the railroad tracks which led eastwards from Cracow: Julag II in Prokocim and Julag III in Bierzanow. Both of them were for Jews working at the expansion of railroad facilities.
On April 15, 1942, several smaller cities where Jews had found their temporary asylum: Slomniki, Skala, Ojcow, Lishki, etc., had been made Judenrein. All the Jews from those villages had been either killed on the spot or deported in sealed cattle wagons to gas chambers. Only 750 young men were selected and brought to Julag I. Also, for the first time, some Jewish women had been brought to the camp and assigned to kitchen duties or as cleaning women to the S.S. quarters.
The number of captive Jews increased eventually to about 1800 men and this number had been replenished as soon as the original labourers died out or were killed. However, the increase in the labour force and the replacements consisted now of young men from the ghetto of Cracow itself since the whole vicinity had been made Judenrein already.
In one way or other, all labourers in Julag I, II and III performed some kind of work connected with the expansion of the railway tracks and the freight terminal capacity. For this purpose, the workers were divided into groups and assigned to do the work for different German contractors: AmbiSchroeder; Klug; SiemensBauUnion; Stuag and MayerRoederKraus.
The whole work was under the supervision of German foremen and masters, most of them merciless sadists and beasts who drove the Jews without any pity in performing their tough jobs. Beating, kicking and slugging were part of the daily routine. Bleeding victims who could not make it back to the camps after 12 or 14 hours of hard work had to be dragged or carried back by their comrades.
The work at the tracks had to be performed 6 days a week; rain or shine; heat or snow. In the cruel winter of Poland and without proper clothing since most of them had been caught to work unprepared, just the way they were walking in the street scores of workers collapsed and died daily.
In different stages of its existence, Julag I had between 13001800 Jewish workers. Julag II had 400600 and Julag III some 600.
Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest after a whole week of backbreaking work at Baustellen (construction sites). But the Lager Commandant and the Jewish camp police, Ordnungs Dienst had always enough work waiting for the prisoners. All dirty work around the camp itself; cleaning, washing, moving and rebuilding was, as a rule, done on Sundays and so the prisoners were robbed of their rest.
The food was very poor and not sufficient for the hard physical labour performed by the prisoners. Half a pound of bread and a plate of watery turnipsoup was the daily ration for a prisoner. Sometimes they also received a little jam. No sugar, no fat, no meat ever. When any of these items were supposed to be distributed, they never reached the prisoners but dried out in the distributions and effectively stopped by the ordnungs dienst. Death from hunger and exhaustion were regular occurrences.
In the beginning, all three camps were under the supervision of NSDAP. But in a very short time, they came under the direct supervision of the S.S. and the new commandant was also an S.S. man Oberschaarfeuhrer Sepp Mueller from Mossbach, Baden. This new master of life and death of the prisoners in all three Julags was 30 years old, married and father of 2 children.
His main territory was Julag I where he had his quarters and where he brought his family. Depending on his mood whether he was drunk or sober, he would shoot to death Jewish prisoners without reason other than enjoy his unlimited power. A Jew whose reddish hair was not to his liking was shot to death. A worker who came back from a day's work not cleaned up ‘sufficiently’ was shot to death. The penalty for escape or even suspicion of intended escape was a shot in the head.
Two young Jewish women who could not stand any longer the tension of living among the Poles on false Aryan documents and who broke down under constant blackmailing and threats of betrayal by the Poles, came voluntarily to the Julag I begging Mueller to take them into the camp. Mueller killed both of them on the spot.
A young Jewish electrician, Mueller's favourite, who took care of electric installations in Julag I, had the misfortune of causing a fire in his workshop. He was immediately shot to death by Mueller.
To force the Jewish worker to greater efficiency, a devil's plan was conceived. Foremen at construction were asked to point out the least efficient or the laziest Jewish workers. Twenty two victims were pointed out to Mueller who brought them to the camp and had them executed, participating personally in the execution.
All Jews were supposed to wear armbands with the Star of David as identification. Taking off the armband was punishable by death. But, at the construction site, the armbands hampered the movements of the workers, so the order for wearing them was not enforced too strictly. Somehow, Mueller decided that the Jews deserved a lesson, came to the Ostbahnplace and ordered a lineup.
One of the Jews in the first row did not wear the prescribed armband. Mueler shot him right through his heart. The range was so close that the same bullet went not only right through the first victim but succeeded also in killing another one who was standing in the second row.
To Mueller, his dog was more important than the life of a Jew. Once, Mueller entered the room of the camp pharmacist Otto Hofstetter. His dog attacked Mrs. Hofstetter (Pola) who, in selfdefence, kicked the animal. Muller ordered the immediate killing of both Pola and Otto although Otto was his favourite man who attended to many of Mueller's affairs and saw to it that Mueller always had plenty of money in his pockets.
Not far from Julag I were located the barracks of German construction company Klug. Jews who worked for this company did not go back to camp every night but slept in their quarters in the barracks and also prepared their meals there. However, when a fire broke out, Mueller ordered all Jewish workers at Klug killed including eleven Jewish women belonging to the group.
The camp was surrounded by a double fence of barbed wire and guarded from the outside by Ukrainians, Latvians and Tartars. All of them were brutal, sadistic and specially trained to treat the Jews with the greatest cruelty possible. They used to enter the barracks at night, rob whatever was possible and pull Jewish women outside of the camp where they were first raped and then killed.
Jewish Police (Ordnungs Dienst O.D.)
As compared to other camps and considering the inhuman working and living conditions, the relationship between the Jewish prisoners themselves was decent. There had been no informers; no Jewish worker denounced before the German masters. There was however, one whole group of Jews who constituted an infamous exception. It was the Jewish Police OrdnungsDienst (O.D.), who were the rulers over the Jewish workers inside the camps.
The German masters created this institution, allegedly to keep order in the Jewish community. But no decent or educated Jew wanted to serve the Germans as an instrument of oppression against his own people. With very few exceptions, the Jews who applied for this kind of job were of the lowest quality; uneducated and poor. The sudden surge of power, the money they could rob or extort from other Jews, the complete immunity against any complaint placed against them with the German authorities and the impossibility of even placing such a complaint went to their heads and they abused their position to the utmost. Their sadism, beating and mistreatment of their fellowJews was on the level with their German masters. Doordie was their rule of handling other Jews. Whatever human feelings they ever had disappeared rapidly with the increase of their power. With very few exceptions, the O.D. men were the darkest page in the history of all Jewish concentration camps. A prisoner who could not pay off an O.D. man could expect no pity.
The most valuable possession a prisoner had and only few still had it was his jacket and his coat to protect himself from the bitter cold of winters in Poland. But in the summer, while going to work, they had to leave their lifesaver in the camp. In the summer of 1943, right after the typhoid epidemic, the members of the O.D. decided to take away all the jackets and coats and put them allegedly ‘into storage’. They did so while all the prisoners were at work. All the garments were immediately
ripped at the shoulder seams in search for money, possibly hidden there by their owners. When in October, 1943, Julag I and II were liquidated completely and the Jews transferred to an ammunition factory in SkarzyskoKamienna, they faced the cruel winter without coats or jackets. Over one thousand died in four months.
JULAG II in Prokocim
Julag II was the first one to be liquidated. Mueller designated his subordinate, Kuenlein, as the commander of this camp. Following his chief's example, he killed and tortured many Jews.
In the summer of 1943, the typhoid epidemic erupted in this camp. Afraid that Mueller would annihilate all the inmates to avoid spreading of the epidemic, the Jewish physicians: Dr. Edmund Goldstein, Nuessenfeld, Gumplewicz, etc., did not report the truth to Mueller.
At the same time, a letter written by this whole group of physicians and addressed to the Jewish organization in Switzerland asking for help in emigrating from Poland, was caught by the Gestapo and given to Mueller. Mueller acted fast. He killed all the Jewish physicians and many of the sick. Julag II was liquidated and the survivors brought to Julag I to replace the men who had died there during the typhoid epidemic.
JULAG III in Bierzanow
The man placed by Mueller in charge of the camp was S.S. Ritchek, a 22 year old degenerate. The unlimited authority given to him went to his head. To flog, mutilate or to kill a Jew was to him an act of glory for the Vaterland. Under the pretext of preventing a prisoner from escaping, he divided all the prisoners in groups of five. If one escaped, the others were shot to death. Since nobody knew to which five he belonged, everybody watched everybody else to prevent his escape. Every few days, Ritchek transferred all inmates of one barrack to another, not letting them take their belongings with them. They reached the bottom of pauperization almost immediately. Ritchek's greatest pleasure was flogging victims in public and hanging them in public. To this ‘feast’ he used to invite his friends and their wives from the city.
The Jewish representative in this camp was Dr. Leopold Lipschitz, a highly educated jurist, a man of great character and wonderful personality and a former member of the Jewish Zionist Organization Akiba. Under his leadership the conditions in Julag III had been much better than in other camps. Somehow, he became a favourite of Mueller and had used his influence and position to facilitate the survival of Jewish compatriots. He was later killed by Ritchek.
Julag III was liquidated on November 15, 1943 at the same time as Julag I. The survivors were sent to a concentration camp in SkarzyskoKamienna.
In the summer of 1943, an epidemic of typhoid fever erupted in the Julags. In the beginning, Mueller used to shoot to death all sick Jews to prevent the spreading of the disease. But the plague of lice could not be stopped so the epidemic continued. Finally, Mueller realized that he would have to kill all the inmates and by liquidating the camps, lose his own job and the almighty position. He would probably be sent to the front lines in Russia. So, he left the care of the sick to Jewish physicians: Dr. Mietek (Marvin) Margulies and Dr. Leo Kurtz. These two men saved as many prisoners as possible. But Dr. Kurtz succumbed to the epidemic himself and died in the camp.
Women and Children
First women were taken into the camp in June, 1942 when small Jewish communities near Cracow had been wiped out. They did their hard work in the kitchen cooking for the prisoners. They also had to serve as cleaning women in the S.S. and campguard barracks. They were very decent and tried to help the starving prisoners whenever possible. Officially, no children were permitted in the Julags. Somehow, however, their mothers succeeded in hiding them. There were about 25 children who had to be kept out of Mueller's way.
On November 15, 1943, during the liquidation of Julag I and Julag III, all the children were brought uphill to the main lager at Jerozolimska and killed.
Mueller escaped the Polish Authorities but he has been tried and sentenced by a German court in Mossbach, Baden on April 21, 1961 to life in prison. He has been found guilty of 22 cases of proven direct murder; 58 cases of order to murder; 5 cases as a murder accomplice and 4 cases of striking to death (totschlag).
All traces of the 3 camps have been wiped out. There are no visible signs where they were located. There was no specific place to buy the dead and the killed. They were buried all over the camp and in most cases just dumped into the swamps near the camp.
At the site of Julag I, there are now some industrial buildings. Some bones and skeletons were discovered during construction and have been buried in one common grave.
There are no historical documents related to the Julags outside of the hardly accessible protocols of the trial in Mossbach. This article is probably the only Yiskor for the Julags and is based on personal experience, some testimonies recorded in Yad Vashem, TelAviv branch and memories of a handful of other survivors now living in New York City.
by Moshe Singer, Beth Yehochua, Israel
During the first two years of the Nazi occupation, the Germans had indeed succeeded by means of their propaganda tactics directed at confusing the Jewish community, to force it into a complete lethargic stupor and inactivity.
The Germans had first entrapped the Jews within the confines of ghettos; had gradually persecuted and terrorized them into total inaction and then deported them to labour camps and gas chambers.
Only in 1941, when the Jewish population became finally aware of the evil plans for its extermination, did the organized resistance movement intensify. Thanks to this movement, which had been responsible for uprisings in the ghettoes of Warsaw, Krakow, Bendzin, etc., was the honour of the Jewish people saved and the heroism of its fighters constitute a glorious chapter of human resistance against oppression.
1. Spiritual Sources of the Resistance
From the perspective of 25 years, a searing question probes our minds: from what unknown, hidden sources did the handful of Jewish youths delve into their spiritual strength to resist with practically bare hands, the Nazi oppressor at the height of his military might?
In the issue of Hechalutz Halochem of August 13, 1943 which was the official paper of the Jewish Fighters Organization in Krakow and edited in Polish by Szymek Dranger, member of the Executive Board of Akiba, the names of all the members of the Fighters Organization who had fallen in their struggle against the Germans were published. Close to seventy names, including two ‘families’ appear in this memorial issue. The lion's share of them belonged to the Youth Movement Akiba which, under the leadership of Aharon Liebeskind and Shimon Dranger, was the leading spirit among the Jewish youth movements of Krakow before the outbreak of the war as well as during the years of the occupation. However, among the names, appear members of other fighting organizations as well: Dror, under the leadership of Abraham Leibowicz; Hashomer Hatzair; Hashomer Hadati; Hatzofe and Histradruth Hanoar Hechalutzi, under the leadership of Maniek Eisenstein.
There was also another splinter movement, smaller in number, which was sponsored by the Polish Labour Party (PPRcommunist), whose leading spirit was Heshek Bauminger and Gola Mire. From the data indicated in the letter addressed to Dr. Bauminger (brother of Heshek B) by one of the surviving members of that group, Shlomo Shine, this organization was comprised of about twenty members. If we take into account that in August, 1943, there were still some survivors among the fighters who have not been mentioned in this memorial issue of Hechalutz Halochem as having fallen in battle, then the Jewish Fighters Organization in Krakow numbered about 150160 members.
This was a handful of isolated, almost homeless people, deprived of all human and civil rights, surrounded by an unfriendly population, without any outside help, cut off from the rest of the world, unarmed, without any strategic based and without any experience whether in the field of conspiracy or in the military.
This feeling of isolation and loneliness was expressed by Zymek Dranger in the organ of the organization, Hechalutz Halochem: No one had extended a helping hand to the doomed Jews or had attempted to aid them in order to facilitate their escape from certain extermination. Even the hatred of the Germans on the part of the Polish population disappeared when it concerned giving aid to Jews. Only very few retained the spark of humanity and even those were afraid to demonstrate it publicly. The truth of our isolation has been demonstrated again and again, and we will carry its tragic consequences to the last day of our lives.
The heroic wife of Szymek Dranger, Gusta, expressed this feeling in very strong terms in her Diaries written in prison at the beginning of 1943. The Jewish fighters had to operate outside the ghetto walls in spite of the fact that if caught outside, the offense was punishable by death. It was often easy to evade the German pursuers but it was unavoidable to overhear unpleasant conversations about Jews. One heard scraps of conversation of the kind that: ‘it was a good thing that Jews were being persecuted; that it was high time to do something about them; that they rightly deserved the punishment meted out to them; that they often escaped but luckily most of the time were being caught’. Vile slander, base lies, and the expression of animal pleasure on the faces of the slanderers at the fact that thousands of women, children and old people were being slaughtered daily. Like vultures hovering over corpses, they were lying in wait, anticipating the plunder of Jewish property.
While these whispers were going on, a man was sitting in the corner of the railroad car, someone who had just been orphaned or had just lost his wife and children and he dared not move a muscle in his face for fear of being discovered. Inside, his blood was boiling but outwardly his face was a mask of stone and woe unto him who let any emotion register in his face or eyes.
It was no accident that next to the names of the fighters who had fallen in battle, Szymek indicated their organizational affiliation. The fact is that among the fighting organizations both in Krakow and in Warsaw, most of the participants were members of youth movements. Until the beginning of mass deportations, most of the fighters were still living with their families. On Saturdays, they would assemble with the members of their respective movements in meetings where they would find intellectual solace and spiritual sustenance. In some cases, they lived on a collective farm established by the various youth organizations.
In the middle of 1942, mass deportations had liquidated most of the Jews and the fighters could no longer stay with their families, but had to find living quarters throughout the city. There was no party competition among the various fighting organizations. On the contrary, a spirit of cooperation carved by the common fate and brotherhood prevailed among the fighters of different affiliations. The leading role in the overall resistance movement was held by Akiba, which was the oldest youth movement in Krakow. The organization had been founded in the 1920's by students of Jewish high schools. They called themselves AKIBA after Rabbi Akiba, the great scholar of the Mishna who, in his own personality, symbolized the supreme sacrifice for the sake of Judaism and the spirit of the Jewish rebellion during the Bar Kochba uprising against the Roman Emperor Hadrian. His immortal words Love thy neighbour as thyself were also the motto of the movement and his ideas of armed resistance against oppression had been adopted as their guidelines.
Long before the uprising took place in the Warsaw ghetto, the Jewish Fighters Organization in Krakow had organized acts of sabotage, attacks and armed resistance against the Germans on a large scale. Hela ShipperRufeisen, a member of Akiba, writes in her memoirs: We accepted without a murmur and without any feeling of humiliation the German decree that every Jew was forced to wear a white band with a blue Magen David on his arm. We bore proudly the symbol of our Jewish identity and were not ashamed of our heritage. Unfortunately, very often we had to remove the band in order to survive.
2. Specific Difficulties Encountered by the Jewish Resistance
The conspiratorial activity required free mobility on the part of the members of the Resistance in the ghetto was well as on the outside. The Gentiles who were engaged in this kind of work had only to hide their activities but the Jews were compelled to change their appearance, their customs, their speech, their mentality and their place of employment. This created technical as well as psychological difficulties. Gusta Dranger Davidson writes in her Diaries: How can they, who for years have been proud of their heritage, who have proudly resisted any attempts of slander against the cherished traditions of Judaism; they who have given their youth to their people and who saw in the rebirth of the Jewish people their whole raison d'être; how can they if even for a fleeting moment deny their identity and cowardly hide their origins? But this was a necessity without which no one could survive. The Jewish resistance fighters who changed their appearance in order to be considered as Poles, carried with them Aryan documents issued under false names. Since they were afraid that on the basis of these documents, if found dead, they would be buried as Aryans they had sewn into their clothing small notes with their real names.
Such was the case with Abraham Leibowicz (LabanRomek), the representative of Dror, one of the leaders of the Command of the Resistance. He had sewn into his vest his real name and his date of birth and indicated I am a Jew. Gusta Dranger's brother David, who had been employed at the time in the steam bath of the camp in Plaszow, had found that piece of paper in Laban's vest, all covered in blood, after Laban had been shot by the Germans.
The Polish press was far from being sympathetic to the Jews. As a matter of fact, it went to great lengths in order to hide the truth from the Polish population of the Jewish heroism. On April 29th, 1943, women who had been held until then in prison at Heclow 30 Street were being led to the camp in Plaszow for execution. Among the prisoners were Gusta Dranger and Gola Mire. They decided to escape. Gusta succeeded in eluding her German pursuers. Most of the women, however, were shot and killed while fleeing. The Polish press failed to report that the women were Jewish.
Presence of mind and arrogance were not enough to hide one's true identity. That was an era of documents, official seals, permits, etc. One was unable to leave one's home without carrying all the necessary papers. And if one happened to be Jewish writes Gusta, one had to carry with him a batch of documents proving that one was not Jewish. From daytoday, the regulations changed. New documents were required, new seals had to be obtained from the German authorities in order to validate the documents required for identification.
Shimon Dranger was responsible for the supply of necessary papers to the members of the Fighters Organization without which one could not function with any measure of freedom. Szymon Dranger (Marek) had organized and administered the technical office for forged documents in order to facilitate free mobility for the members of the organization. His chief assistant was Idek Tenenbaum who was known under the pseudonym of Czesick. Idek Tenenbaum, according to Gusta's reminiscences, was liked by all, was well known for his wit and had contacts in various official circles. He had enjoyed the confidence of people employed by the various departments of the government. He had acquaintances in the labour offices, police precincts and everywhere was considered as an inmate. He was great friends with the policemen and everyone was grateful to him for something he had done for them. Idek exploited his popularity in the official circles for the benefit of the cause. He never hesitated to act. He would enter one of the government offices, would nonchalantly greet one of his acquaintances and with his other hand, would appropriate documents, forms, questionnaires even official stamps. Exploiting his acquaintance among the
employees of the civil service, he was able to purchase certain articles and chemicals which were inaccessible to the civilian population.
Szymek Dranger, an amateur typesetter and draftsman, knew how to exploit every little bit of Idek's booty and put it to practical use. In a very short time, the technical office was operating at full speed. The documents were so expertly forged that even the Germans themselves could not detect any irregularities. The technical laboratory partly financed by the budget of the Jewish Fighters Organization by supplying forged documents outside the ghetto walls.
All this work was being executed in quite incredible conditions. They had no office no place to work. It was a wandering operation. At the start, writes Gusta, he carried his entire operation in his pockets. When something had to be done, one had to look for an empty room. Once a room was found, Szymek would spread out his entire office on a table and would function until such time when steps would be heard on the staircase. He would then hide his entire activity in his pockets again. As soon as this operation had expanded, and his pockets could no longer contain it, he had to resort to the use of a briefcase. He would officiate in various places depending on the availability of empty quarters. This wandering office symbolized the activities of the Jewish Fighters Organization which had been created from a vacuum and had accomplished a great deal through its strong will and perseverance. In time, the briefcase could not contain all the documents and one had to follow Szymek with briefcases, boxes and a typewriter. Every morning, this entire caravan had to start wandering again in order to find a place of work. The danger of working under these circumstances was great both to Szymek as well as to the people for whom the documents were being prepared. They had to find a niche for this office; a good hiding place and live on its premises. This assignment was entrusted to Gusta Dranger who, in the early fall of 1942, found an apartment in Makow where they resided under Aryan names. None of the neighbours ever suspected that in the intimately furnished apartment, the entire apparatus of the technical office had been located.
Within 20 minute walk from them, an apartment was found for Hanusa Blass (who was shot in April, 1943), who served as liaison between the technical office and the city. She would pick up the material from Szymek and travel to Krakow by bus disguised as a peasant going to the market with baskets of eggs, apples and mushrooms.
The Jewish Fighters Organization was made up entirely of members of youth movements. They all knew each other, had complete confidence in each other and knew that each one of them would rather perish than inform on his comrades. That was the reason why the necessity for conspiracy was so difficult for them to accept. All plans for future activities were being determined collectively and every one of the members of the organization was well aware of what was being planned ahead. Despite these feelings, they had slowly come to realize that conspiracy was a necessity.
The names of all the fighters were well known to the general population of the ghetto. In whispers, writes Gusta, the rumours of the activities of the resistance would circulate from one home to the next. The population of the ghetto felt nothing but awe and respect for what the fighters were trying to accomplish, but there was also the danger that the names of the fighters might reach the ears of the Jewish police and other undesirable elements. The necessity to move the operations of the resistance away from the ghetto to the Aryan sector of the city had been recognized. It was high time to do it. Apartments were found in the Aryan part of the city. Idek Tenenbaum found living quarters in the German section of Krakow which he shared with Laban (here is where Idek and Dolek Liebeskind were killed in battle with the Germans following the action which took place during Christmas of 1942).
Preparations for Armed Resistance
In August, 1942, the command of the resistance became aware of the necessity for armed struggle against the German oppressors. However, the resistance fighters were not yet ready. All the fighters were educators, teachers and leaders of youth movements but their leadership had a spiritual character. They could instil in the Jewish youth their own ideals and serve as an example of readiness, perseverance and willingness for a supreme sacrifice for the sake of the Jewish people but they were not military men. Nothing in their past had prepared them for this function and they were in no way ready to lead others in this armed struggle.
They were willing to serve in the ranks themselves but they needed a leader to command them someone with great military experience who would know what to do and how to act in time of emergency. They hoped to find this military experience as well as the weapons necessary for armed resistance in the ranks of the Polish underground. However, the Polish underground was not ready for armed resistance as yet. It was their opinion that nothing could be accomplished by responding to terror with acts of violence. They wanted to gather strength and await the results of the war being waged on various fronts. They wanted to wait for a propitious moment created by favourable international development. They were not threatened by extermination and had time to wait. Certain circles in the Polish underground, probably those who were linked to the Polish Government in exile in London, offered to hide the Jewish fighters until such moment when they would be able to strike but they failed to offer arms and military aid.
The next step attempted by the Jewish Resistance was to approach the PPR (Polish Communist Party) in whose ranks many Jews were loyally working before the outbreak of the war. They were convinced that the PPR would offer its underground experience as well as arms to the Jewish Fighters Organization. A contact had been established with the PPR through Gola Mire and Heshek Bauminger. Gola was very active in the Party before the War. She was a member of the Party Council of Lwow, was convicted by Polish courts for underground communist activity and sentenced to 15 years. She had the soul of a poet, indeed wrote poetry and had a magnetic personality. She had very good relations with the leadership of AKIBA and was trying to incorporate the Jewish Fighters Organization into the framework of the PPR. However, no agreement was reached since the PPR demanded individual affiliation and not collective collaboration of independent Zionist groups of the Jewish Resistance. The real reason, however, was that the PPR, like the other Polish underground organizations, was also biding its time for a suitable moment to strike and only the Jewish element within the party was forced to and expressed its willingness to act immediately. Gola was still hoping that at least the PPR would help the Jewish Fighters with arms provisions. Indeed, the first five revolvers had been acquired with the help of the Party, the rest of the arms were acquired by attacking and killing German soldiers and confiscating their weapons.
Exit to the Forests
The Jewish Resistance Movement approached the PPR asking them for aid in establishing contacts with the Polish Partisans in the forests. They themselves would provide the fighters and the equipment. In September, 1942, the first group of five fighters: Zyga Mahler, Edwin Weiss, Benek Wechsner, Salo Kanal and Milek Gottlieb left for the forests of Niepolomice.
The boys who were trained by the PPR were left to their own devices by the Polish guide of the PPR as soon as they reached the forest. The anticipated contact with the partisan group failed to materialize. They were wandering around the forest unable to perceive the truth that they had indeed been deceived. Their supplies dwindled and they did not know whether to return to the city or remain in the forest. In the meantime, they had been noticed by the neighbouring peasants who immediately notified the German authorities that 300 fighters were hiding in the forest and planning an armed attack. The German forces surrounded the forest shooting in all directions. The boys decided to send one of them, Edwin Weiss to report on the situation to the command of the Resistance in Krakow and await instructions. Edwin delivered his report to the utter dismay and shock of the command who had realized the terrible disloyalty of the PPR. They instructed the boys to abandon the forest and go to the nearest village and await instructions.
Completely disillusioned, they reached the sad conclusion that they could not count on anyone for support and that they were standing completely alone. They had not abandoned their hopes for armed resistance in the forests. A group of four fighters: (Benek Weksner, Jehuda Schmerlowitz, Zyga Mahler and Salo KanalAdas) were dispatched to the forest in the vicinity of Debica to prepare the terrain for future operations of the Resistance. After every armed action, the fighters had to leave the forest and remain a couple of weeks in the city. Who can evaluate the tremendous effort, danger, courage and presence of mind in executing this plan? They were four men and had two revolvers between them. That was their armed equipment. When their food supplies began to dwindle, two of them would go into the village. One of these expeditions ended in tragedy. Benek Weksner and Idek Szmerlowich were surprised by two policemen accompanied by a forestier. Benek, who succeeded in pulling out his revolver from his boots, shot the two policemen. If Idek had had another revolver, he could have killed the armed forester. But the other revolver was left with their comrades in the forest. Both young fighters were killed. Their comrades in the forest waited for them all night long. Finally, they found out what had happened. They had to notify the command. They returned to Krakow. They paid dearly with the lives of their friends for their inexperience. From then on, they knew that whoever went into battle had to have his own arms.
Activities of the Resistance
Among the members of the Fighting Organization who had fallen in battle and listed in the memorial issue of Hechalutz Halochem of August, 1943, three more victims of the groups fighting in the forest are mentioned: They are: Milek Gottlieb, Edwin Weiss (both from Akiba) and Chaim Sternlicht from Histadruth Hechalutzi. The fiasco of the partisan activities convinced the Jewish Resistance Movement to change its tactics and to move the centre of armed resistance to Krakow itself, which served as the official seat of the German authorities. In Krakow they could operate simultaneously in several places and operate with small groups of fighters. The awakening of unrest in the capital would have a strong echo among the population outside the confines of the city.
The leadership had decided on an immediate start of armed activities rather than wait until spring, at which time the partisan activities in the forest could perhaps be renewed according to the opinion held by some members of the Resistance. But they were facing death daily. No one knew whether they would succeed in escaping. Where was the certainty that they would indeed survive until spring? They had to act now.
Every fighter had a clearly defined area of
activity assigned to him be it liaison work, technical work or attacks on German soldiers or destruction of German installations. Some of the fighters had to deal with informers within the confines of the ghetto. But the main objective of the resistance was individual terror against German soldiers and confiscation of their weapons. The fighters were active in many sections of the city lying in ambush, lurking in dark corners behind house gates and, whenever possible, they would suddenly emerge from the dark, attack, attain their objective and disappear again in the hustle and bustle of the teeming city. The excitement of battle seared their souls. After a successful attack, they would stay up all night reliving the excitement of the action.
After each operation, the city was combed by the German in housetohouse searches and inspections looking for the perpetrators of the action. The German authorities would not admit that these actions were being committed by Jews. After each incident, they circulated rumours that the respective soldier or office was killed by unknown attackers or else, that he took his own life.
On the other hand, the Germans had taken steps to increase security measures. Curfew hour was moved up, the city was being patrolled more frequently and inspections and searches of people and apartments were daily occurrences. Hostages were constantly caught and arrested in order to tie the hands of the fighters.
The apartment of Jozefinska Street served as the main base of operations. The apartment belonged to Szymek Lustgarten, one of the youngest members of AKIBA. After the deportation action of October, 1942, some of the fighters lived there and many of the leaders also used to frequent it. The intensity of armed resistance and the frequent searches on the part of the authorities forced the organization to liquidate this base of operations and whose residents were well known to the population of the ghetto. On the eve of closing down the apartment, the fighters spent the night in various sections of the ghetto. Wuska, Dolek's wife, in one place and Dolek and Laban together. They paid dearly for this carelessness.
On the night of November 25, 1942, the apartment of Dolek's parents where both Dolek and Laban were staying was surrounded by militia led by Arthur Loeffler who had been suspected of informing on fighters of the resistance. He told Dolek that his wife had been taken as a hostage by the police. Dolek expressed his willingness to follow them on condition that his wife would be released. Loeffler promised to release her. While dressing, Dolek succeeded in taking a revolver with him. On the way to the police station, disbelieving Loeffler's promise to release Wuska, he decided to escape. His attempt was successful and he escaped from the ghetto.
Notifying that the leaders of Jewish underground forces have been killed
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