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[Page 850]

Gevies Eydes

[Bearing Witness]

by Rena Anisfeld

Translated by Maciej Krol

Edited by Renee Miller

Crimes of the Obersurmführer Heinrich Hamann in the Nowy Sącz Ghetto

The Nowy Sącz Jews during the pre-war period. — education, devotional and social life, relationships with Polish community. — Cruelty of the SS commandant Heinrich Hamann in the Nowy Sącz ghetto. — Liquidation of Polish people. — Extermination actions in the ghetto: “rabbis' action”, “cigarettes' action”, “May action”. — Case of murder of the SS-man Kästner. — Liquidation of the ghetto. — The crimes of the prison commander “Johann”. — In the Szebnie camp. — Dr. Mengele's selections in Auschwitz. — Return of the Jewish survivors of the Jewish destruction to Nowy Sącz.
I am Rena Anisfeld, from the house of Guttreich, born July 16th, 1919 in Nowy Sącz. My father, Mojżesz Guttreich, was a merchant. Mother — Lea, from the house of Federgrin. The Nazis murdered them both. Brothers: Arie, Joel, Chanina, Jecheskiel, Aron, Icchak, Chaim also died at the hands of the Nazi criminals. Sisters: Bronka (married Szmueli), Sala (married Trau), Chaja (married Schlitten), are alive and live in Israel.

I graduated from the elementary school in Nowy Sącz and until the outbreak of the war I stayed in the town, helping my mother in the household. After the ghetto was created, I lived there until July 1943. Then I was sent to the Szebnie camp. In November 1943 I was transported to Auschwitz, where I stayed until January 1945. My camp identification number is 66797.

In January 1945, I was transported to Ravensbrück, where I stayed for one month. Then we were transported again to Neustadtleben near Hamburg. I was liberated there.

After I was liberated, I made up my mind to return to Nowy Sącz to find somebody from my family there. But before that the Joint [Joint Distribution Committee] had sent me to a sanatorium in Smokowiec [orig. Smokovec], in Czechoslovakia [currently Slovak Republic]. The doctors diagnosed me as suffering from general exhaustion, I was very skinny: flesh and bones. I spent half a year there in the sanatorium. When I recovered, I went to Nowy Sącz, and in the year of 1946 to Wrocław. That year (1946), I married Mojżesz Anisfeld, an industrialist. In Wrocław, we had

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a private business that was later nationalized. In 1950 we left by legal aliya [exodus] to Israel. We have two children: Amalia (13 years old) and Pnina (7 years old).

Nowy Sącz Jews in the Pre-War Period

Most Jews (in the number of about 15 thousand[1]) worked in trade or craft. There were many poor people (porters, beggars) who lived on Kazimierza Street and Gwardyjska Street. The young people belonged to various Jewish organizations, most of them to the “General Zionists” and “Haszomer Hacair” [Hashomer Hatzair- progressive Zionist youth movement]. Some belonged to the “Poalej Syjon” [Poale Tsion {Youths of Zion}]. There were very few youths who were not organized. After college, the young people could not find jobs, except for doctors or lawyers. There were no Jewish teachers in the public schools — neither in the gymnasium [school of secondary education] nor in the elementary school. Only Dr. Einhorn [Mrs. Einhorn] taught English in the high school.

There were many rabbis in the town, the famous dynasty of Halbershtam lived there (one of the Halbershtams came to Israel from America, and went on to Natanya, where he founded a settlement, “Kfar Nowy Sącz”. The devout Jews live there. They say that Rabbi Halbershtam brought the Hasidim with him and he settled them in the “Kfar Nowy Sącz”).

“Agudat Israel” [Orthodox party] in Nowy Sącz founded a school for Jewish girls, and used Yiddish as the language of instruction. Many girls were sent on to a seminar for further education. The devotional school was founded by Sara ¯enirer — a known activist.

There was also the Hebrew school “Tarbut” [secular schools]; my brother, Jecheskiel Guttreich, was its chairman. In addition, this brother was also the chairman of the “Hitachdut” [Zionist workers' party], the chairman of the Keren Kajemet committee, and also a candidate for the Town Council. During the occupation, he was the chairman of the “Jüdische Soziale Selbsthilfe” [“Jewish Social Self-help”] (abbreviated JSS), subsidized by Joint in the ghetto.

Other known social activists in the pre-war period were the attorneys: Dr Tisch (General Zionists) and Dr Syrop.

It was quite possible for Jews and Poles to have a relationship before the war. But during the war, most of the Polish population acted badly. For one kilo of salt, they could send a Jew to his death.

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When the Germans arrived, almost all the Poles immediately became Volksdeutsch. After the war they were afraid that someone might give them away. There was a known incident when Gürke was murdered. He was a criminal. He came from the Œwiniarsko village, near Nowy Sącz. During the occupation he became the main assistant of Hamann, the chief of the Gestapo in Nowy Sącz. He was a horrible man. In 1942, he gathered all the Jews in the marketplace in Mszana Dolna. Because there was a little missing from the contribution that he had put on them, he murdered many Jews there with his own hands. Hamann, murdered together with Gurke. More than a thousand Jews died there in the marketplace. The peasants who were there said later that the blood flowed like a river.

Gürke was a sexual pervert. He would rape girls in the prison. After the liberation, he found himself in a Polish prison where he was to be tried. Suddenly someone had killed him. People were saying that the Poles killed him, so that he would not give up those who were Volksdeutsch [ethnic Germans] and had cooperated with the Germans.

But there were also Poles who acted decently during the occupation, the intelligentsia in particular. Thanks to them, the two Klausner sisters and Baœka [Barbara] Lehrer were saved.

It was the Polish scum who would go on hunts with the Germans. They would show them the Jewish hiding places.

Cruelty and the Crimes of Hamann; Extermination Actions

None of the Jews of Nowy Sącz ran away when the Germans were about to enter the town. Who could then imagine what they were capable of? They came into Nowy Sacz in September without firing a single gunshot.

In the beginning, there was as yet no Gestapo. On the very first day, a couple of SS-men took away a group of Jews and nobody knew where they dragged them. Later on, the Schutzpolizei [security police] was organized and immediately the Jews were taken to do forced work in town, hard manual labor.

The Judenrat [Jewish Council] was created. Respected citizens of the town were included. Jewish militia was organized. All of them — both the members and the militiamen — died in later actions. They are dead anyway so there is not much to talk about them. But I have to mention Folkman, the commandant of the Jewish militia.

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Folkman was from Chorzów. He owned a brothel there. He would walk the streets of the Nowy Sącz ghetto with pride, patting himself on the pocket and saying: “I have 15 thousand Jews here to sell” — it was up to him who to give away to death.

Immediately after the Gestapo appeared, some devilish ideas were set in motion: actions, shooting Jews, hangings. Hamann used to say: “All belongs to me, your lives also, actually it's all mine!”

Obersturmführer Heinrich Hamann had the title of doctor. It was said he was an attorney, but I don't know how much of this is true. He was exceptionally beautiful. He was tall, blonde, with blue eyes. He had a wife and two sons. It was said that he came from Berlin.

In the beginning, Hamann liquidated the Polish intelligentsia. He would transport them in cars to Marcinkowice, and execute them there. The pharmacist, Jarosz, the merchant, Górka, the doctor's son, Kozaczko, the judges, Smolik and Barbacki, all died in this manner.

Hamann, the chief of Gestapo, was a natural born killer. He would systematically torment the Jewish population. In the beginning there were the robberies. He would not leave us alone, day after day. He had said that everything Jewish belonged to him, so he acted that way. He himself had trouble deciding what to choose. He ordered that all the most expensive things should be brought to him.

Soon there were the first victims. It was not enough that he would abuse people and beat them, but after a time he started to murder. He began to carry out actions.

In 1941, the so called “rabbis' action” took place. At that time, Hamann took 10 rabbis, Mosze Eichenstein, Hersz Halbershtam, Froim Halbershtam, Menasze Flaster among others, and after torturing them he sent them to Auschwitz.

In order to threaten the Judenrat and the militia, so that they would be even better tools for him, he ordered a couple of Judenrat members to be shot in the cemetery. This happened in 1941. Izrael Welzenberg, Leon Goldberger, Mendel Wasner and some others were among them.

In January 1942, the “cigarette action” took place. At that time, some Jews traded cigarettes. One day Hamann gathered all those who were selling cigarettes — both those who were selling in the street and the Polish wholesalers, who delivered the merchandise.

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The Poles were sent to Auschwitz (the disabled £obodziñski, a former member of Polish Parliament, among them.), and he personally shot the Jews, numbering a few dozen, in the Gestapo building. The baker Nord, whom Hamann ordered to transport the corpses from the Gestapo building to the cemetery, would later tell about it. On the way to the cemetery, everybody could see the corpses on the wagon.

In the first couple of months of 1942, Hamann carried out a “housing action” — as he himself called it.

The ghetto in Nowy Sącz was divided into two parts: the big ghetto and the small ghetto; also referred to as the open ghetto and the closed ghetto. The open ghetto was located at the Lwowska Street and the adjacent streets. The closed ghetto was near the Kazimierza Street, the 3 Maja Square and the Pijarska Street. Apart from the Jews from Nowy Sącz, there were also the Jews from Muszyna, Krynica, ¯egiestów, Rytro and £ącko in both the ghettos. At the beginning of 1942, Hamann ordered the arrest of 60 Jews (Peterfreund, Chaim and Rajzia Klagsbald among them) on the charge of housing frauds. They were taken out of prison to the cemetery and shot there. Hamann witnessed that event.

SS-men Denk, £apicki (or £abicki), Fechner, Kästner and the manager of the prison, who was known as “Johann”, I can't remember his last name, were Hamann's helpers with his crimes.

Hamann, personally shot Kästner in the following event: during one of the subsequent actions, Hamann stormed into a Jewish apartment, and Kästner was there at that time. Hamann then shot Kästner, causing his immediate death. Now Hamann is in prison in Hamburg. Questioned by a judge he testified that the Jews shot Kästner. But then, he changed the testimony saying that he shot Kästner in the dark, thinking that he was shooting a Jew. After Kästner's death, in the ghetto people would tell one another that he had shouted to Hamann: “Hamann, enough blood already!” and Hamann responded with gun fire.

In April 1942, in the Court archives, Hamann accidentally discovered a list of the members of the Maks Rosenfeld Library. Before the war all the Jewish inhabitants of Nowy Sącz had used the library. Hamann ordered all who were on the list to be brought to him. There were about 400 people on the list, all the youth, the most beautiful children. “These are all communists!” — Hamman said.

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In the prison, he would then arrange a show with them. An orchestra would play for the whole night in the prison court. The young ones were forced to dance. On the gallery, the wives of the SS-men would sit together with their children and watch. “This is your dance of death!” — Hamann kept saying to the Jews.

In the morning they were carried handcuffed to the cemetery and shot. The corpses were thrown into ditches dug by the Jewish militia. The very young Racka Goldberg kept encouraging everyone, predicting Nazi defeat. Before she died, she was horribly beaten because of that. After murdering the 400, SS-men got drunk and with drunken singing they entered the Jewish streets, entering the apartments and murdering. 80 people lost their lives that time. The corpses were found in the morning, in the apartments. There were dead mothers lying in their beds with their children by their side. It was then that Hamann shot Kästner. It was in the Neustadts' apartment, near Kazimierza Street.

The action was called the “May action” because it was carried out in the beginning of May, 1942.

I learnt about the cemetery execution while in the Judenrat building, partially from the Judenrat members, partially from the militiamen who cleaned up the corpses. At that time, “Jewish Social Self-help”, where I worked, had its offices in the Judenrat building. That's why all the news reached me quickly.

I was also told how Fried from Kraków had died horribly. He was a brother-in-law of the restaurant owner, Finder. Hamann would frequently travel to Stary Sącz to Finder's restaurant to have some fish and Baczewski's liquor. One day he ordered some liquor but they did not have any more. Then Hamann told them that they had hidden the liquor. He took Fried outside, tied him to a fence, he plucked his eyes out and cut off his tongue. Dereszewicz — who now lives in Israel (I don't know the exact address), was an eyewitness to this. Dereszewicz told me this to in the Judenrat building, in 1942.

Although it is hard for me to talk about this, I must now say what Hamann did to my family.

In the evening, after the shooting of those 400 in the cemetery, our neighbor rushed into our apartment screaming: “Run, Hamann showed up in our street!” We lived at 1 Lwowska Street back then. My brother Chaim was ill, and Icchak was already asleep. Upon hearing the neighbor's screams, they both ran out of their beds and rushed to the inner court. I stayed in the room with my mother. My father was lying in the other room.

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We were paralyzed with fear. Hamann stormed into the room. He was alone. He kept a pistol in one hand and a whip in the other. I started to beg him to leave us our father. He hit me on my back with the whip a couple of times and entered the room where my father lay. We heard him asking how old my father was. Father then answered, and Hamann left without doing him any harm.

Then he went out to the court. “Why did you hide yourselves!” he started screaming when he saw my brothers. And he started to beat them horribly. He mutilated their faces. My mother was standing in the window, and she was watching it all. She was crying horribly. She was screaming and begging Hamann to let them go. Then Hamann fired towards my mother. The bullet gazed her head and got stuck in the ceiling. He handcuffed my brothers. “Take a last look at your sons!” — he said to my mother. In this way he dragged them both away. Icchak was 28 then, and Chaim was 22. Having been an eyewitness to this crime, I can testify to it under an oath.

The Liquidation of the Ghetto

In August 1942 — 4 weeks before announcing Nowy Sącz “Judenrein” [“clean from Jews”], Hamann decreed that a selection be made from among the working and non-working people. A German, Swoboda from Tirol Arbeitsdienstführer [chief of the agency of employment] carried out the selection. Whole families, among them some Jews (apart from Swoboda), who were also from the employment agency: Baumann, Grün, Ropper, Regina Weiss appeared before the committee. Identity cards were handed out. Hasidic families, older people, and the weaker ones were counted as the non-working group and directed to the closed ghetto, surrounded by a wall, through which no one could leave or enter.

More people found themselves in the ghetto for the working people. They were the workers from various places: Städtische Werkstätte [City Workshops] (uniforms and fur cloaks for the military were made there), the carpenter's workers, and those from the sawmill, the militiamen with their families, members of the Judenrat, and the workers of “Jewish Social Self-help”. The last institution gave out lunches to the poor in the ghetto, assigned food supplies, and, sometimes, financial welfare. A kitchen for the poor was also founded.

During the whole month of August, all around Nowy Sącz, Jewish displacement actions were carried out, and the Jews were all gathered into the ghetto.

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The ill and the old ones were not displaced. They were being killed immediately.

In September[2] 1942, Hamann's decree that all the Jews were to appear in a field next to the Dunajec river [area adjacent to the old castle hill] was announced. By Friday the ghetto was already surrounded. On Sunday, everybody was to appear at the Dunajec. An order was also given that the apartment keys with addressed tags were to be passed to the Jewish militia.

Although we had gone through so many things in the recent past, we would again believe this would be a displacement only. 16 thousand people stood at the Dunajec: women, men with backpacks. We were to stand in rows, according to the streets. Hamann, assisted by five Gestapo men, walked in front of the lines, and the person he would hit with a whip had to step forward from the line.

It's now simply unbelievable that sixteen thousand people were standing in obedience before six murderers, and they did not throw themselves at them.

The Judenrat members and the hospital personnel were not there at that time. Before the gathering at the Dunajec, Hamann had taken them to Marcinkowice and shot them.

He took 1100 people from the lines at the Dunajec, only the youth and militiamen with their families, together with workers of the Rytro sawmill, of the brick factory in Nawojowa, and of the workshops from Nowy Sącz. He took all those chosen, including me, from the site, and we went to Kraszewskiego Street, to the abandoned Jewish houses. The rest of the people were placed in the small ghetto. Hamann then carried out three actions there. All three in September[3]: on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The people who were taken from the apartments and caught in the street were transported to Bełżec.

In the last transport my parents and brothers with their families were taken. They were all loaded onto freight cars with burnt lime. We sent some Polish acquaintances to learn where the transports went. The Poles came back with a message that they lost sight of the transport in Rawa Ruska. But later I learned that the transport went to Bełżec.


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On Sunday our group was led to the closed ghetto. It is indescribable what the abandoned apartments looked like. We were kept there from Monday to Friday with no food, 15,000 people on one street. We entered these apartments to find a horrible sight. The apartments looked like bathrooms, the people were prohibited from going out. Here and there children's shoes, as well as some cloaks and broken mugs.

Our small group was displaced three times. There were fewer and fewer of us. We were the so-called “Räumungskommando” [Room cleaning group]. We would carry things out of the apartments, wash clothes, and stack them in the warehouses, before the Gestapo took the people. There was clothing, underwear, glass, porcelain, silverware, all remnants that the Jews had left behind.

There were 30 remaining members in the group, men and women. A couple of girls were sent to clean the Gestapo offices. I was cleaning there, too. What we saw there! Whips of various sizes — including these that had a steel rod inside, upholstered with pig leather — and pliers for the fingers, for mouth tightening, everything was splashed with blood, even the walls were splashed with blood. All that had to be cleaned again and again, every day. We also heard the screams of the tortured people.

One day I saw Hela Goldberger come into the office for testing. She was handcuffed, and had been tortured; totally unlike the beautiful Hela we had seen not so long ago. Hamann kept tracking her. He noticed she was not there at the gathering place by the Dunajec River. He kept looking for her for so long until he found her in Kraków, where some Pole had hid her. Hamann had her brought back to Nowy Sącz and from that time until now he had kept her imprisoned. Hela was a real beauty, tall and blonde. One day the prison commander, Johann, told our “Räumungskommando” group: “Hela is here. She was found. We are keeping her in the prison”. He smiled when he said that. He was known for raping girls in the prison, and for setting the beards of Jews ablaze before dropping them into the river.

Then the Gestapo gathered together a group of Jews who had been hiding, about 50 people. They took them to the cemetery and murdered them there. Hamann himself shot Hela.

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In Szebnie and in Auschwitz. — The Crimes of Grzimek. — Dr. Mengele's Selections

In July 1943, Hamann together with Fechner came to us and said that the Räumungskommando work had been finished and that he was sending us to the ghetto in Tarnów. We got on a truck that came over. Fechner went together with us. As we were on our way, he said: “The Tarnów ghetto will be liquidated. You will go to the Szebnie camp”.

It was a horrible camp. We were told to carry planks from one place to another — what for? — nobody knew. The Gestapo didn't want to go to the front lines, so they kept people in the camps. Sometimes they would arrange games with us, waking us up in the middle of the night, telling us to take off all our clothes and go naked to the baths, together with the men. They were roaring with amusement. One time there was a Zellapel [roll call]. A prisoner had escaped. We were told to stand arranged in rows on the camp square. They took hostages. If they would not find the runaway they would shoot the hostages. Among them there was the camp elder, Elsner, a very decent man. We called him the father of the camp. Fortunately, it turned out that the runaway was a Pole. So they did nothing to us, and told us to go back to the barracks. But we were prepared to die and many of us wanted to commit suicide, not to die at the hands of the murderers. We kept cyanide on us; we had gotten it from Janek Kornreich who gave it to us in the ghetto.

The worst of the SS-men was Grzimek. He would always walk around with a dog and an automatic gun ready to shoot. He would kill prisoners in the Morderówka woods. One day he called out a young boy from Bochnia. When he pulled out the pistol, the boy — he probably didn't want to do it, but somehow it happened that he grabbed Grzimek by the hand. So Grzimek slapped him in the face. And then, at his demise, the boy called out: “You murder us now, but you will die yourselves!” So, when Grzimek heard this, he really got angry. He hung the boy by his hands twisted behind his back. How horribly this boy screamed! Grzimek ordered a man to stand by him and pour cold water on him when he fainted. It was already after roll call when the camp commandant came and shot the boy, telling him that he's showing mercy to him. The name of the commandant was Kellerman.

In November 1943, we were sent to Auschwitz. Three days in sealed cars, with no food and no water.

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We didn't know where we were going. We got out in Auschwitz. They were astounded at our sight. All of us women were naked, because we had been told to take off all our clothes before they rushed us into the Mordarówka. “Where are your clothes?” — the Germans asked.

Since we came to Auschwitz, we underwent dozens of selections. We would stand for hours, naked in the cold and in the rain. Dr. Mengele was there. We would walk naked before him, and he would point at us with his finger. The ones that he pointed at, to be written down, would go to the gas chamber. He would still count how many there were left. There was an experimental block in the camp, surrounded with barbed wire. It was said that he was the chief doctor there.

One time I saw a truck filled with naked men. They were going to a gas chamber. They were singing “Hatikwa”.

In Nowy Sącz After the Liberation

When I returned to Nowy Sącz after the liberation, I met about 30 Jews there. They were people who had come back from Russia, or from Nazi prisons, or camps. Out of all the women, I was the only one who returned. The people who were saved from the camps were Lauer, Schöngut, Pfeffer, Anisfeld, Herzberg, Dereszewicz. The Jewish community in Nowy Sącz had ceased to exist. Only those who came back from Russia stayed there. The others went to Israel; Herzberg is now in America.

There for some period of time, a committee worked preparing documents for the Jews going to Palestine with the illegal aliya, — then, when the State of Israel was created and aliya became legal, the committee ceased its work too.

I certify to this testimony

Rena Anisfeld


Footnotes

  1. Inadequate number: there were nearly 10 thousand Jews (Red. [Rafal Mahler]) Return
  2. should be “in August” (Red.) Return
  3. in August: Monday 24th, Wednesday 26th, Friday 28th (Red.) Return
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