Table of Contents

[Page 359]

The Destruction

It is the 21st day of the month of Av, 5702 (August 14, 1941), 5,000 Jews were evacuated from Lancut and from the neighboring towns and the Velcan woods, to their destruction.

The 21st day of Av was established by the survivors of Lancut in Israel and in the Diaspora community (outside of Israel) as a memorial day of mourning for the Lancut community.

Who can express or recount the pain and confusion of those who were martyred in their final moments?

Who can count their tears? Is there a human expression for death as a human torch? Which words can express the horror of murdered children in the eyes of the parents?


Yizkor [Memorial]

Translated by Pamela Russ

Let It Be Remembered The Lancut Jews, their children, and their children's children. The thousands of Jews from their community who were murdered innocently…

Let Them Remember this day of mourning in memory of their holy community that was erased from the earth, also their spiritual and material goods that were destroyed, ruined, and robbed…

Let Them Remember the community grave in Velkinye where men and women lie hidden, old gray child and chains – pure and holy, that died from all sorts of terrible deaths, and their ashes are spread over the entire Poland…

Let Them Remember the souls of the neighbor's dust that has been hidden in the Lancut cemeteries for generations and generations, whose holy rest the Nazi murderers disturbed …

Let Them Remember the Lancut youth that fell on all fronts in their struggle against anti-Semitism.

Let Them Remember the Lancut youth that sacrificed their lives in the War of Independence and the establishment of the State of Israel.

May the souls of the martyrs be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

Yisgadal Veyiskadash…


[Page 360]

At a Lancut Memorial

by Melekh Ravitch, Tel Aviv

Translated by Pamela Russ

Many tens – for sure. And maybe even many some hundreds of societies (landsmanschaften) exist today in the State of Israel. Amongst these many tens, maybe hundreds of societies, exists the Lancut Association. And Lancut is a town, half way between my town of Radom (Radzymin) and Reisha (Rzeszow). There is a theory that the dark fate of the 21st of the month of Av in the year 1942, chased together the population of Lancut and Radom into an area by the name of Velkinye, and there they were sacrificed in a common grave down below, and then went right up – up to the sky of Jewish courage through holiness.

A Lancut landsman (countryman), Mikhel Walzer, remembered me and my fated blood and ash connection to my town, and invited me to the memorial in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, the ninth of August. They even asked me to speak. And since I believe in the idea of the “eternal soul” (together with the philosopher Borukh Ber Michoel de Espinoza), I spoke about the martyrs, how their souls have been winged together with the wings of Elijah the Prophet, and how with this winged power they can reach the four corners of the earth, and as much as they have to do in the heavens, they are here with us now at this memorial. We remember them and miss them. Certainly. But they remember and miss us too. This is not the first time that I speak at memorials, but the others took place in all parts of the world, in all areas of the Diaspora. This memorial is happening in the land of reincarnation (גלגול מחילות ,תחיית המתים ). And if I was speaking about the visiting souls here – at this memorial – see, it suddenly becomes very quiet inside me and inside the hall; such a silence I've never heard before… Really, did my mother touch me, my aunts, my uncles, cousins from our complete family? Maybe, yes. Interpret it as you wish.


There Once Was a Community Called Lancut

by Dr. Natan Kodesh

Translated by Pamela Russ

There once was, and is no more. Cut down by German murderers, along with the multi-branched tree – Polish Jewry. But their memory will never let the hearts of the Holocaust survivors rest, for a few hundred Lancut Jews that remained alive, spread all over the world, with the majority of them living here in our country, the Land of Israel.

Where is that piece of earth that soaked up the blood of the Lancut Jews and hides in its own holy ashes? Where is their tombstone with the inscriptions? Or will it, according to our history, only increase the number of our decimated, holy communities, as is the martyrs' history of our Jewish nation?

Or will the memory of this Jewish town live and disappear with the last one from Lancut, whose wagon was just standing there and has now gone somewhere from this world?

Let these few words be the foundation of the tombstone that was put up on this memorial book in memory of the Lancut martyrs.

I see there the two squares of houses so close together, tall and bent over, surrounded by two things: the market and a few streets and alleys that branch out on the sides – that's the whole town, that during the past hundred years grew from a small settlement into its middle years, to rest at the foot of the palace of a mighty lord.

A Jewish settlement, one of many, that rooted itself in the southern part of Lower Poland, surrounded by villages and peasants, thirsty for Jewish blood and property.

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In the last few decades, before the Destruction and devastation, the Jewish community of Lancut reached the pinnacle of its nationalist and socialist awakening. In the light and darkness of what was there, in the positive and negative that embodied the struggle of Jewish life in the Diaspora, in foreign lands.

This Jewish town, appearing outwardly dreamy and calm, was like a watchtower in the large body of Polish Jewry, in which all the life splendors of the pre-destruction nations preened (reflected) themselves.

And so, the Jubilee of years passed. Until the destruction of Eastern European Jewry, as one era pushed another era and wove together until they blended in one concentrated historical era of the Jewish path, in a spiritual and cultural manner, and in a nationalist and socialist lifestyle, and whose roots have now been planted over the hundred-year Jewish history of Poland.

And here is the wondrous figure of a Jew: a Kabbalist, whose likeness was around only a hundred years ago in the center of the Jewish community in Spain or in Safed. And here is this ardently pious man, who with his lifestyle and dreams, is the prototype of the khasid (pious man) of the Baal Shem Tov's times. And the sharp Misnaged (opponent of the khassid), the genius in Talmud and Commentaries, is a replica of the Vilna Gaon's era.

And the smooth young man, the Hebraist and enlightened one, with his discussions on the Lancut streets, as one hundred years ago in the times of Peretz Smolenskin and Yehuda Leib Gordon, as if separated from the colorful community. He goes around, this half or quarter assimilated Jew, exactly as it was with our ancestors and their ancestors before in the Western European assimilated centers about two hundred years ago.

In the last few decades, the Lancut Jewish population went through upheavals in all areas where upheavals are possible, struggling with the wide river of the open Jewish life in Poland. Here, the mighty struggles of nationalist, socialist, and political movements were brought in to Lancut in small storms in every facet, starting with the religious fanatics and ending with the political-cultural assimilationists.

In front of our eyes, there goes a row of types and figures in the small, multi-colored community: workers (wage earners), community workers, rabbis and dayanim (those who work with rabbis determining judgments about daily laws and behaviors), Zionists (Khovevei Tzion), Zionists of all colors, Talmud students on one side and students of the Polish gymnazia on the other side. The melamed (religious teacher) in his cheder (religious school) and the Hebrew teacher in his modernized Hebrew school, and students of new Hebrew in circles of many different youth organizations. Also the socialist and the communist – the ones that will save the world – and for us, a very foreign world, were also there. That's how the town churned with pioneers and Zionists who yearn for their freedom in the Home Land – Israel.

And as the Lancut figures, there were also these types of institutions: the gray poorhouse, the bathhouse, the small synagogue, the rabbi's place, the House of Study (Bais Medrash) and the beautiful, old shul, charity groups, charity non-profit funds, new congregations, Zionist organizations and all her branches, large and small committees, youth groups working through their ideas, nationalists and socialists with new undertakings, culture societies, art and sports, and more.

Here is the wondrous, multi-colored gallery of figures and institutions, coming from all parts of the community – poor folks, workers, shopkeepers, merchants, businessmen, and other occupations.

That's how the town's life was – broiling and searching for human and nationalist redemption.

May this memorial book be a tombstone of elevated pages in which are chiseled the life and struggles of the holy community of Lancut – for Lancut people (landsleit) to remember, for their children and their children's children.

lan361.jpg

 

[Page 362]

The Destruction of Lancut

Naftali Reich, Bat Yam

Translated by Pamela Russ

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Friday, September 8, 1939, in the evening, I saw through the window of my home, the first German patrols in Lancut. A huge military tank stopped by the district office building. It was dark and still. A heavy door is opened and German is heard. With lightning speed, the flap of the tan and is closed and a command is heard: “Fire!” There was an explosion of a Polish patrol. The jeep with the Polish soldiers was burned. The next day the priests collected the burned bodies into a sack. The tank gave off rocket signals.

Monday morning, September 11, 1939, the German troops entered our town. They came from the Rzeszow direction, after having rebuilt the Rzeszow bridge that was bombed by German airplanes.

Erev Sukot (the eve of the holiday of Sukot), eight o'clock in the morning, the Germans assembled the Jews in the courtyard of the police precinct, and gave out an order that by four o'clock in the afternoon all the Jews would have to leave Lancut. At the exit of a small door, there were SS men standing on either side with sticks and steel rods, murderously beating the Jews. Right near me there were a bloodied Dr. Markel, longtime president of the JNF (Keren Kayemet Le'Israel – Jewish National Fund) and Professor Avner Fabian.

Terror befell the Jews. The majority of the townspeople ran to the Russian border across the rivers San and Bug, and some remained in the neighboring villages. En route, some of the refugees died. They were shot at by low flying airplanes. The Lancut magistrate, at a special meeting, issued the decree of the deportation. Only Councilman Count Alfred Potocki did not agree to this. A delegation of Jewish women approached Potocki and asked for help. He promised to help, but his intervention made no difference. Only old, sick women and children remained in Lancut. On the third day after the deportation decree, those people that remained had to register, by the order of the Gestapo. Of the 3,000 Jewish that lived in Lancut before the war, only 300 were registered. Of those who ran away, some remained in the surrounding villages such as Konskie, Lizhensk, Zhylin, and so on.

Those who wandered around the town and hid in the neighboring villages, spread out in all directions, afraid to distance themselves too much from their homes. After that, slowly they began to sneak back into Lancut, so that the number of Jews rose to about 1,000 souls. That's how the first six weeks of the war went. The Gestapo left the city and was replaced by a German police force (gendarmerie). Most of the Jews in the city owned their homes through inheritances from generation to generation, and in their cellars they found secret hiding places where they hid their few belongings, materials, and other possessions. From these hidden things they were able to maintain their survival during the later hard times. They sold some of the hidden materials even though this kind of transaction was forbidden.

In the first days, when the Germans marched into Lancut, they burned down the old synagogue. The fire was set on the northern side in the women's section that had been added on.

Yidden! Jews! The shul is burning!” This fact spread like lightning among the Jews that were hiding. With great sacrifice, the synagogue was saved. The burnt section they immediately rebuilt after a collection of money and building materials. Just opposite Hershel Krzheminic's house, where the cantor Reb Yehoshua'le lived, there was an old ruin, and from there they took bricks and other building materials. The main building of the synagogue was not seriously damaged.

After that, a Judenrat (Jewish Council set up by the Nazis to handle the management of the ghettos) was established.

These were the members of the first Judenrat: Dr. Pohorila, Shlomo Grinboim, Eliezer Morder, Yitzkhak Weinbach, Leizer Fass, Shmuel Keshtekher, Rosenblum, Leizer Papyol, Israel Gersten. Other than the fact that the Judenrat saved work for the Germans, they also got furniture for the Gestapo and anything else they needed. For this they collected money from the Jews. In the cellars of the Jews that had run away, the city council did searches, and found hidden things – the best and most expensive things – jewelry, and other inheritances from generations. The security police stole all this for their private possessions. That which remained, the magistrate sold, ostensibly making accounts, calculations, receipts, and keeping an account by writing things down in books. The money made from these sales was used to buy gifts that the Germans wanted for themselves.

Jewish refugees from Lodz and Kalish – 600 souls – came to Lancut. Mostly poor, broken, frightened, exhausted and confused. The Judenrat created an assistance campaign. One forgot one's own problems and collected money for those in need. From the Polish people, former neighbors of the Jews, only Count Potocki participated in the aid campaign ….

[Page 363]

… that distributed potatoes and wood. He also joined up with Count Okon, who sent 1,000 zlotys on behalf of the Red Cross overseas for the Jewish refugees.

This is how they started a communal kitchen in the Dzikower small synagogue. The refugees as well as the poor people from Lancut received warm food there three times a day. Aside from that, wood and coal were distributed. The needy Lancut Jews who did not come to the community kitchen had products delivered to them. Since it was forbidden to buy anything from non-Jews, the Judenrat opened a bakery in Yehoshua Flashen's house. Leizer Fass ran the bakery. Other than that there was a general store run by Yakov Derfler. The Judenrat itself sold the occasional cigarettes. The Jews were forbidden to come to the post office, so the Judenrat opened their own branch.

The first Judenrat in Lancut, in its devotion and character, remained true to the tradition of committed community workers. In order to do its job, the Judenrat collected taxes. There was not even a thought given to the possibility of cultural activities. The Judenrat received a permit to allow people to conduct prayers in the synagogue. But they did not make use of this permission because in the neighboring cities of Dynow and Mielec, the SS shot the Jews in the synagogue and in the bathhouse with the excuse that these were meeting places.

In the first period of the war, the Germans brought Polish soldiers that were prisoners to Lancut and “registered” them in the municipal school of Count Potocki. Among those prisoners were several Jews. While these Jewish soldiers were being helped or hidden, or being given clothing to get out of their uniforms, the youth of the Zionist organizations proved themselves exemplary in their true sacrifice for this.

With the outbreak of the Russian German war, the situation of the Jews became worse. We lived in constant fear, one decree chased the other. For any small thing, you were shot.

The Gestapo of the town acquired for themselves gold, silver, clothing, and expensive items. In every search, while looking for “gifts,” the Germans left murdered victims. Of the first were: Yakov Derfler,Wolf Yosem (the tinsmith), Aharon Kroit (the tailor). They were taken to an unknown destination. After them, they caught Leizer Itzik Gutman and his cousin Wolf Gutman. They were shot in courthouse. On those days when the Yeroslaver Gestapo would come for a “visit” to the town, an indescribable terror reigned over the Jews. Wherever one could, he went to hide. The murderers toyed with Moshe, son of Rav Yosef Rokakh. He was asked to sing, crawl on all fours and dance, and when they were satiated with this sadism, they shot him. That's how they murdered tens of Jews, among whom were Leibish Kern, Lozer Keshtekher, Eliyahu Reich, Shimon Walzer, Israel Anmut, Yakov and Leibish Bot, and a family from Krakow that were relatives of Lezer Kresh. On the threshold of her home, they murdered the woman Estlein Meyer, and the woman student Stempel from Zhylin. The murderers posed some sarcastic questions to the victims, told them they could leave, then shot them. The first mass murder took place against the returnees from the occupied Russian territories. They were gathered in the courthouse of the town. From there, at one o'clock at night, they were taken to the cemetery and shot. Among them was a family of nine people: Avraham Pechter, a brother-in-law of Feier from the village of Wisheluvka, Malke Wasser's son-in-law and daughter from Pshevorsk, Baruch Weinbach, Meyer Rosmarin, Shmuel Papyol and his wife, Perec Wasser, Yehoshua Frei and tens of others.

One of the victims, Wasser's son-in-law, was hit in the ear by a bullet. From fright, he fell as if dead. The wife of Pechter was wounded in her hand. They lay all night among the dead in a pool of blood. Late at night, they returned to the town. Dr. Yadlinski gave first aid to Mrs. Pechter. The mayor, a German national named Bunk, gave her a permit, and that was how they were able to take her to the Rzeszow hospital. When the security police of Yaroslav found out about this incident, they caught the Lancut Jews Zelig Kerner of the brick-yard, Alter Weiss and Moshe Goldoles' son-in-law, a tailor. They dug up the burial pit, counted the victims and then went to the Rzeszow hospital, dragged out the wounded, and shot them.

Wengers wife, a cripple, with crooked hands and feet, lay for a long time half shot, in the cemetery, moaning and groaning, cursing the Germans. A terror seized the non-Jewish passersby, and they gave her over to the German police who ended her tortured life.

The Judenrat's first arrests in the beginning of July 1942, following orders from the Yaroslav SS, marked the beginning of the quick end of the Lancut Jewry. Shlomo Grinboim, Lozer Marder, Yitzkhak Weinbach, Shmuel Keshtekher, a shoemaker (the bather's son) and Chaim Ertel they took to Yaroslav and “played” with them, torturing them in many ways, until they were shot on July 16, the second day of Av, 1942…

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… in the fields by the old church near the barracks. Before that, we were in touch through correspondence. For payment, a Polish woman – Bleier's daughter – brought them food, until they were forced to dig their own grave, and then they were all killed.

The mayor contacted Dr. Pohorila and told hom not to come to the meeting. Thanks to this advice, the following were able to save themselves: Leizer Fass, Rosenblum, Israel Gersten, Dr. Pohorila, Leizer Papyol, Zalpin, Kern Yosel, Kornbloi.

In the second Judenrat, the additional members were Reuven Nudel, chairman, Perlmuter Yoel, Moshe Ziegel, Fass, Israel Milrod. Before the last akzias (roundups), an order was given that all the Jews that would not be taken away had to pay all the outstanding taxes for those who had run away and even for those who were murdered. To get a piece of bread was life threatening. They arrested Nachman Walzer on the day of the deportation for buying milk for a two-year-old, and for that “sin,” they shot him. Several days before the deportation to Felkienje for the mass slaughter, when everybody prepared themselves for their approaching death, some help came in a moving way.

The order was given to all the remaining Lancut Jews to move to the village of Felkienje. In a deathlike mood the Jews quickly gathered their last bits of poverty on August 3, 1942, 21st of Av, and left the city. On this last journey, the Lancut Jews went as a stampeded herd, without rest, exhausted, in a cloud of dust. When they arrived in Welkienje, they met other exiled Jews from the surrounding towns of Radzim, Przevorsk, Zhylin, Dinow, and more. At the sounds of gramophone music and German laughter, the Jews said vidui (confession before death) and kadish in front of the huge, prepared, open grave.

According to a list from Lancut, 50 young people were taken out of the rows and sent back to Lancut. The elderly, women and children – 5,000 Jews – were shot during the night. Only one woman survived, and she crawled out of the grave late at night. During the roundup, about 100 Jews ran away and hid in the surrounding villages.

The 50 Jews that returned received papers and they were placed in a newly established smaller ghetto in the houses of Kornbloi, Feier and Zelner.

A large number of those who ran away eventually returned to Lancut. When the German animals found out about this, they, along with the Polish policemen and shkotzim (non-Jewish youths), among them Shliwinski, conducted systematic raids in the ghetto, and herded together groups of captured Jews. In the garden of Reif and Zelner, they were murderously beaten, then shot. Loud cries of Shema Israel, from the men and women, elderly and children, filled the air.

The day of the 17th of October, 1942, when the last 50 remaining Jews in the Sienjawa ghetto were removed, was the end of the Lancut Jewish community. That ended the journey of pain, and the eternal sacrifice for our town of Lancut.

lan364.jpg
Sitting from right: Ruzhka Mechlowicz, Leizer Fass, Manya Sternheim,.
Standing from right: Shimon Wolkenfeld, Sara Weinbach, Ruzhka Lifshitz, Chana Helsinger

 

[Page 365]

The Destruction

Count Potocki an Eye-Witness to the
Annihilation of the Jews of Lancut by the Nazis

Translated by Pamela Russ

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

In his memoirs, which Count Potocki published in London in 1959 (title: Master of Lancut), he, as the last son of the famous aristocratic dynasty, tells how Lancut was occupied by Hitler, as well as about the cruel attitude of the Germans towards the Jews and their expulsion from Lancut, and so on. It is of interest to mention several excerpts from this book – excerpts that touch on the destruction of Lancut and the annihilation of the Jews, because these excepts are written by noble people who were helpful to these tragic and tortured people in those terrible times.

 

1. Lancut is occupied by the Nazis

They marched in at five in the morning. With the dawn's glow, I noticed straight rows of German soldiers passing by the palace going in the eastern direction. Most units were motorized. I was perplexed to see that the appearance of the soldiers was much better than was our Polish military. All day, they passed in rows, in an endless flow. It was Sunday, and my mother and I went to church. We prayed for ourselves and for the city of Lancut, and our prayers on that day were more intense than usual. Soon after the services, my mother, the nuns, and Dr. Yedlinski opened a hospital for the wounded.

In the afternoon I was notified that German officers had come to see me in the palace. I saw immediately that these were SA Nazis (Sturm Abteilung – Stormtroopers). They came escorted by two doctors, and they informed me that they would use the palace for soldiers' quarters.

 

2. The Jews are expelled from Lancut

The need and pain of the Jewish population of Lancut was heartbreaking. On the morning of September 26, 1939, the Germans ordered that all Jews were to leave Lancut within six hours and cross the river San. The cruelty of the order made a horrific impact on the councilmen, and they pleaded with the Germans to revoke this decree. But – without success. Entire families, among them many that were rooted residents of Lancut for generations were chased from their houses like animals. Some of them managed to hide and then later came to the palace to ask for help. I did everything possible to help relieve them from their pain.

 

3. Help for the needy

As soon as one German general left the palace, a second came in his place. We continually quartered new units of soldiers. The Germans spread over the land like locusts, confiscated food from the farmers, and the situation for the village people became worse and worse every day.

In order to help them, I set up an “Aid Committee” that distributed more than 400 meals per day.[1] My mother gave much help to the poor families, who were afraid of the Germans. That was a dark and terrible time for us all, yet, amidst the general uncertainty I still found a way to help others, because I felt it was my duty.

The “Aid Committee” distributed more than 400 meals a day. My mother worked eight hours a day in the hospital and would come home totally drained. I asked her not to strain herself so much, but she didn't listen.

 

4. Arrests in the palace

On November 2, 1941, I discovered that the forest guard and his two sons had disappeared. I asked the Germans what had happened and they told me that they had been arrested. Coming back to the palace, I saw German guards outside and in the palace itself. I demanded an explanation. The Germans responded cold bloodedly: “The palace is surrounded.” A few hours after that, I sent away my mother to Lubomirski's court but he had been arrested and sent to an unknown destination, and the possessions of Count Tchartoriski were confiscated by the Germans. Being afraid that soon the Germans would do the same to me, I sent away my mother to Lubomirski's court in Pshevorsk to prevent her from suffering.

 

5. Jewish refugees in Lancut

Masses of Jews in a tragic situation that were expelled from Germany and Western Poland, began to …

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… appear in Lancut before the new year. Their hardships are impossible to describe, and it is not for the human mind to be able to understand the degradation of their pain. Their inhuman treatment surpasses any fantasy and is simply unbelievable – except those who saw with their own eyes the agony of these innocent people, men, women, and children.

 

6. The annihilation of the Lancut Jews

That horrible winter of 1942, the suffering of the Polish people themselves increased. People suffered from hunger and a cold winter that stretched into spring. Summertime, the Germans strengthened their akzias against the Jews. In the month of August, when the Germans reached the Volga, north of Stalingrad, the annihilation of the Lancut Jews began.

Some Jewish men and women, those that had more energy, ran and hid in the forests, and there they received help from the farmers and from the partisans who were active in the Lancut neighborhood and lived in the villages. I informed my underground agents that they should help the Jews mentioned and should try to upset the German akzias.

My attitude towards the refugees of Nazi terror and the partisans was well known, and many would come at night to the palace asking for sustenance, despite the danger of doing so. Not all were patriots or hunted by the Nazis, but we gave them food and help nevertheless. I increased the number of workers in the palace from 60 to 100, ostensibly there to clean more often for the soldiers in the palace. In that fashion, I managed to give help to many refugees[2] who otherwise would have fallen into German hands and then be sent to concentration camps.


Footnotes:

  1. This is how the Jewish communal kitchens in Lancut obtained the best potatoes then a real treasure (Dr. Michael Weichert, Yiddisher Aleinhilf (Jewish self-help). Return
  2. Dr. Michel Weichert, in his book Yiddishe Aleinhilf 1939-1945 (Jewish Self Help 1939-1945), p. 292, writes: “In Lancut, Count Potocki's estate management refused to take Jews, in compliance with the ban of the labor office” Return

 

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