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[Page 260]

Piotrkow Trybunalski in Holocaust Literature

"Kiddush Hashem" -- Wartime Chronicles

by Rabbi Shimon Huberband (1909-1942)

Compiled by Lorraine Justman-Wisnicki, New York

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Among the Holocaust-related literature, “Kiddush Hashem” deserves a special place in the historiography of those tragic, bygone times, never to be forgotten. Written by Rabbi Shimon Huberband as part of the Ringelblum Archives known as “Oneg Shabbat,” the book is replete with information on contemporary events -- life, martyrdom and death in the Polish ghettos, woven into a fabric of autobiographical stories. The text covers every aspect of Jewish religious life, of Nazi atrocities and Jewish spiritual resistance.

The chronicles, hidden in milk cans in a cellar in Warsaw, were discovered in 1946 and eventually translated from the original Yiddish into Hebrew in 1969. The recent translation into English was done by David E. Fishman of Brandeis University.

“Kiddush Hashem” is a living testimony from beyond the grave, a penetrating voice from the great beyond about a tortured world which crumbled under the heavy boots of German bestiality.

Shimon Huberband was born in 1909 in Checiny, near Kielce. Trained as a rabbi, he became a historian, a writer and a poet. He established himself at first in Piotrkow Tryb., where many of his works were written. There he founded the Society for Jewish Science and lectured each Saturday on topics of Jewish history. His monograph, “Jewish Physicians in Piotrkow from the Seventeenth Century until the Present,” was being published in installments.

At the outbreak of the war, Rabbi Huberband and his family decided to escape the frequent bombardments by following the stream of people who had fled to smaller, insignificant settlements. But the German planes knew no bounds, no restrictions. A hail of bombs hit the tiny village of Sulejow and killed Huberband's wife, child and father-in-law. Broken in body and spirit, he returned to Piotrkow, but could not recover emotionally. Everything there reminded him of his lost happiness.

In 1940, Huberband traveled to Warsaw, hopeful to find solace in a new environment. Surrounded by close, devoted friends, he immersed himself in work. He became active in the Jewish Community, working for the Jewish Social Self-Help Organization and, at the same time, attempted to carry on his research, both as a historian and as a chronicler of the Jewish tragedy and Jewish courage.

He won first prize for one of his studies, which he entered in a contest sponsored by Yikor, the Society for Jewish Culture. The conditions under which Rabbi Huberband worked are hard to imagine. Hunger, poverty, cold and lack of rest and peace of mind were his constant companions. And then sickness -- a bout with typhoid fever -- overcame his frail body. He recovered and, though weak and emaciated, continued to write for future generations.

Rabbi Shimon Huberband departed from this world as a pauper, and yet he left to posterity an enormous legacy: his writings.

Among the numerous pages that truthfully depict events in various towns and villages, portraying Jewish people and their struggle for survival, we also find poignant episodes about life in war-torn Piotrkow Trybunalski. With pangs of nostalgia and tears in our eyes for the world dissipated in ashes, we present excerpts from the book, Kiddush Hashem

The Beginnings

On September 1, I entered the synagogue and found a group of “politicians” discussing the morning's radio news. Suddenly, at about 9:20 A.M., we heard the siren sound announcing an aerial alarm. We soon heard the hoofbeats of the horse-drawn peasant-wagons leaving town, and the order of the LOPP commanders to hide inside the gateways.

It didn't take long until people from the surrounding courtyard came in with the news that it was war. A chill passed through our bodies. We all turned as pale as corpses. Many began to cry aloud. The streets were empty, as if they had died out.

Hour after hour passed, and people gradually became accustomed to the wartime atmosphere. Everyone assembled his own food rations and made his last possible purchases. Women began, shortly before Sabbath, to bake fish, meat and other dishes.

But soon word spread throughout the city that the neighboring town of Radomsko had been bombarded a few hours ago and that there had been many casualties. We began to sense the entire horror and tragedy of war.

On the Sabbath, September 2, we prayed in the early morning. In the middle of the prayers we saw several trucks full of Jews pass us by. The trucks stopped for a short while. The Jews inside told us that they were from Wielun and that yesterday, Friday morning, a squadron of German planes had appeared over Wielun and totally destroyed the city. Several hundred Jews were dead. We all felt as if we were in a trap with no way out.

It was close to twelve o'clock noon. As I ascended the staircase to my apartment, I heard the tik-tik-tik of artillery fire. Loud cries immediately went out from all the house residents. Mothers quickly grabbed their children and ran from their apartments to the cellars, which had been designated as the shelters. When we entered the corridor of the cellar, we heard the first boom of a bomb explosion. The entire building trembled. Soon there was another explosion, followed by many more.

Women went through spasms, children cried and several men fainted.

ID card of Rabbi Shimon Huberband in the Warsaw Ghetto
ID card of Rabbi Shimon Huberband in the Warsaw Ghetto

Meanwhile, through the janitor's son, we received news about the situation in the city. The first bombs had hit a group of workers in St. Bernardiner Gardens, killing two of them. A bomb splinter had struck the Zaks family residence on Narutowicza Street and killed the younger Zaks, who was standing on the balcony at the time. On that day, closed to thirty people perished in Piotrkow, six of them Jews. Among them was the young Epsztajn, the son of engineer Epsztajn, who was one of the directors of ORT in Piotrkow.

On Monday, the fourth of September, at about eleven, the recognizable humming of heavy airplanes sent us all rushing back into the cellars. The planes circled the city for a long time, flying very low. The Polish artillery shot at them with machine guns, but the planes went on flying undisturbed, as if the shooting had nothing to do with them.

At close to four o'clock in the afternoon, Judge Bornsztajn and his wife burst into our cellar and told us that a bomb had struck their house on Narutowicza Street. Bornsztajn's mother had been killed and lay beneath the ruins. He and his wife had miraculously survived. They reported that the entire city was in flames; that Slowacki Street was in rubble. The bombing intensified at about five. The fear of death and destruction inside the cellar was terrible. Suddenly, we heard a strange cracking sound and were left sitting in darkness. A bomb had hit the electricity station, also knocking out the running water. And here we were, in the midst of a hail of bombs and burning fire.

Many people left Piotrkow in search of peaceful, safe place. So did Rabbi Huberband, with his wife, a small son and his in-laws. But there was no peaceful, safe place anymore and in search of it during the bombardment he lost his wife, his child and his father-in-law.

On Sunday, the tenth, we all went to the cemetery to bury the Martyrs.

Before noon, as we returned from the cemetery after the burial, we met Moishe Gomoliski, Rozenwald, D. Kaminski and other,

My mother-in-law and I took a coach to Piotrkow. Exactly eight days ago we had left Piotrkow as a whole family. Now we were returning with deeply wounded hearts. We arrived in Piotrkow at 4:30 in the afternoon. One was only permitted to be outdoors until 5:00. When we got to the front of our gate, the courtyard residents gathered outside, pitied us from afar and shook their heads in sympathy. We unlocked the door to our apartment and walked in. On the table there still stood plates with leftovers of fish eaten by my father-in-law, wife and child. I saw my child's unfinished slice of challah. We cried until we choked on our tears. Our home, once full of so much life and happiness, was now so sad, so very sad.

Our neighbors tried to calm us, begged us to control ourselves and explained to us how dangerous it would be if our cries were heard on the street. They told us of the attitude of the German authorities toward Jews, of the terrible way in which Jews were being seized for work, brutally beaten and afflicted with horrible torture. We learned from the neighbors that on the evening of Tuesday, September 5, when the Germans marched into the city, they shot and killed close to twenty Jews. Among them were: Reb Jekhiel Mikhl Promnitski, Reb Lejzer Blumsztajn, Rajchman and Reb Bunem Lebl, who was wounded and died afterwards.

On the following day, they (the Germans) surrounded the block of Jewish houses, which encompassed the streets -- Staro-Warszawska, Jerozolimska and Zamkowa. They ordered all Jews to stay in their homes, and immediately began to pelt the houses with fire-bombs and shoot at the windows. With the entire block of houses in flames, the Jews left their homes and despite the orders, ran out to the courtyard. A few Jews tried to leave the courtyards for the street and were immediately shot at.

An hour after the fire the Germans entered the house at 13 Zamkowa Street, took out six men, ordered them to run forward and proceeded to shoot at them. Five Jews died on the spot, among them Jalowicz, Tilis and the “Treger.” Miraculously, one person survived.

On Monday, September 11, all male Jews were in hiding. Those who were caught were beaten brutally and then taken to work.

On Tuesday, September 12, the seizure of Jews for work intensified. If a bearded Jew was caught, his life was put in danger. They tore out his beard along with pieces of flesh, or cut it off with a knife. Many Jews were wounded this way, including Meshulam Lipszyc, Moishe Temkin, Anshel Wajs and others.

The Germans collected taleysim, talis-kotons and kitls. These holy garments were given to Jews to wash floors, automobiles and windows. To clean the filthiest places Jews were given pages from the Talmud and other religious books.

Jewish stores were looted daily. Zyskind's and Frenkel's stores were emptied out and homes continued to be robbed. A large sum of money was taken from Mr. Michelson, under the claim that it was counterfeit. All belongings were taken away from Mr. Zylberszac and others.

On Wednesday, September 13, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, 5700, the seizure of Jews for work continued. Regardless of how one hid, Jews were still being found. And when a Jew was found, he was first beaten cruelly and then taken to the street where Jews were assembled. When a large number of Jews accumulated, the beatings began anew. Then the detainees were divided into several groups and sent to various workplaces. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah close to twenty Jews gathered in the synagogue. In many buildings prayers were held in private apartments. Such was the case in our apartment.

The Jewish people had, relatively speaking, all the fine food they needed for the holidays. But who could eat under conditions of such terrible fright and panic? The Germans were proceeding from house to house and were carrying out searches. They took from the Jews all of their possessions and dealt murderous blows to men and women alike. Then they took the men off to work, which in fact was not work but an inquisition.

As night arrived the sense of fear subsided, because they didn't seize Jews for work at night, and didn't perform robberies. But the night brought with it a new set of anxieties. Our blood froze in our veins as we heard the noise of tanks, artillery guns and other deadly weapons traveling all night long in the direction of Warsaw.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, after Shachris, we decided that today we would blow the shofar. The shofar-blower made all efforts to blow as softly as possible. When the “job” was done, we all felt greatly relieved.

However, there was terrible chaos at the Amshinov shtibel, 8 Farna Street, the only shtibl in which prayers were held. A number of officers entered in the middle of services and took everyone away -- roughly thirty Jews -- to prison. They were taken away dressed in their taleysim and silk caftans, and were beaten en route. Those arrested included Yitzkhok Aron Sochaczewski; the rabbi of Uszakow, named Tiger; the rosh yeshiva, Reb Baruch Asher Nudelman; Moishe Chaim Zelmanowicz, his son and others.

The news filled us with great fear. Toward evening we leaned that the detained Jews, in their maimed and bloodied condition, had been taken away by trucks on the Czestochowa highway.

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were terrifying.

The seizure of Jews for work intensified as did the searches of Jewish houses. Whenever they (the Germans) found a few Jews together during the house searches, they would torture them and charge that the Jews were holding clandestine meetings. They also simply harassed people. For instance, when they found a leather eyeglass-case in the home of a seventy-year-old man named Dovid Kaczka (Trybunalska Street), they “established” that the case was for storing ammunition. The matter was “settled” for a large sum of money.

Because of such instances, people stopped visiting each other. Everyone hid in his own private corner. In addition, everyone shaved off his beard, either entirely or partially, and put on European clothes.

The sense of terror, panic and fear was unbelievable. When the day finally passed and the night drew near, people sighed with relief.

Two days before Yom Kippur a truck full of soldiers drove up to the synagogue. They went over to the ark, flung the Torah scrolls onto the floor, tore them apart and hurled them into a lot across from the synagogue. Then they chopped down the ark and demolished the eastern wall, designed two hundred years ago by the artist Dovid Fridlender.

On the eve of Yom Kippur the Kehilah appealed for the last time that all those who had received notices should contribute the amount requested of them toward payment of the tribute tomorrow, on Yom Kippur.

On the day before the fast, the round-up was larger than usual. They (the Germans) had a good day's catch. The details of how the Jews were tortured are not within the purview of this study. In general one can say that the (Spanish) Inquisition was put to shame by their deeds. The Inquisitors were veritable men of compassion compared to the Germans.

The chairman of the Judenrat at that time was the Bundist city councilman Z. Tenenberg. In the beginning of December 1939, Dreksl, the mayor of the city, known as a vicious anti-Semite, summoned Chairman Tenenberg to his office and ordered that the Jews of Piotrkow construct military barracks.

The construction materials were extremely costly and this levy was imposed after three contributions had already been extracted from the Jewish community. Tenenberg manifested great courage by categorically refusing to have the Jews pay the contribution. Dreksl began to threaten. Tenenberg told the mayor that he could shoot him if he liked, but the Jews would not give the money and he left the room. The next morning, an urgent meeting of the Judenrat was convened to discuss the question. During the meeting an emissary from the mayor's office arrived for Tenenberg to see the mayor at once.

The mayor informed Chairman Tenenberg that he was releasing the Jews from the obligation of covering the cost of the construction materials for the barracks.

 

In the summer of 1941, all of Piotrkow's local Bundist leaders were arrested, including Chairman Tenenberg, Wajshof and Yakov Berliner -- a member of the Piotrkow municipality and of the Kehilah, a man who had devoted his entire life to the community. Abraham Cahan, editor of the American Forward, once wrote the following of him: “When the history of the modern thirty-six hidden saints is written, Berliner will occupy the first entry.” Wajngarten, Frajnd, Stasienski and others were also arrested. They were taken to Auschwitz for extermination, where they died for Kiddush Hashem.

HONOR TO THEIR MEMORY!

Compiled by Lorraine Justman-Wisnicki, New York


[Page 266]

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On ancient photos from the Nazi days
I search for dear faces in grief and in vain,
Not once when I stop for a dream on my ways,
They grow amid gravestones and lakes full of pain.
Suddenly the shadows crowd the tint of stone,
Posing for a picture on the rocky bed.
And through cloudy eyes landscape-burning tone
They give me a little smile. Would they know they're dead…

Leopold Lewin (translated by Ben Giladi)



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