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[Pages 98-100]

14. “Children for Children” – in the Ghetto

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

We continue walking through the half-ruined – some entirely ruined – streets of the old city. We stop by the house no. 28 on Oslanovicze Street.

This house was the place where the kitchen for hungry children in the ghetto had been. The kitchen was founded and operated by the children themselves. The story of the kitchen is told by Avraham Halber, his wife Hanke Apel and the sole survivor among the workers in the kitchen, Lusia Gorstein:

The hunger in the ghetto had reached everyone. Masses of people, adults and children alike, swollen and weak, would ramble in the streets from garbage can to garbage can, looking among the waste for something to alleviate their hunger. But soon a group of resourceful children came up with a plan to help their unfortunate sisters and brothers. They decided to open a kitchen and prepare every day some hot food for the children.

The group had a meeting and chose a managing committee: Chanale Eisenberg, (Efraim Tzelnik's granddaughter), Lilia and Salek Yablon (Yissachar Yablon's children), Lusia Gorstein (daughter of David and Ida Gorstein – of the entire group she alone survived), Dina'chke Tchibotzka (Shlomo's daughter), Ida Friedman, Marisha and Koba Levin (Yoel'ke Levin's children) and Feigele Yablon (Yosef's daughter).

A delegation of the children's committee approached the Judenrat, presented their plan and asked for help. The Judenrat gave the children a sum of money, with which the children managed to open the kitchen.

In order to be able to maintain the kitchen, the children sought help from different sources: they asked for regular donations from the Jews in the ghetto who could afford it; pairs of children would go through the streets and alleys of the ghetto and sell various artifacts; they collected food and clothes; in the garden of the house they organized various performances; in the courtyard they held sales; all this produced income that was used to buy food.

Almost all the children in the ghetto were drawn into this important work. Children who still had enough to eat at home would share their meals with those who had not. Many children would not touch their food at home before their parents donated a certain sum of money for the children's kitchen committee.

A group of women decided to join the children in their holy work. They helped obtain products – a very difficult task at that time – and worked in the kitchen as well. Among the women were Ida Gorstein, Bronca Yablon, Andje Levin and others. Some people made important material contributions. Among them were Mr. Parness, a refugee from Germany who lived at the time in the Siedlce ghetto and Mr. Ganzwohl, a Siedlce convert to Christianity who, seeing the terrible tragedy that befell the Jews, repented and returned to Judaism, and devoted himself to helping needy Jews and especially hungry children.

The children's committee worked according to a rigorous plan and followed all the rules of an organized corporation. The management and the secretary properly registered all needy children and distributed food according to plan.

With time, the committee and the kitchen expanded and developed into a central institution in the ghetto, whose aim was to give help to all needy. In those ill-fated days, cold, hunger, poverty and epidemics raged in the ghetto. From alleys, from crowded little houses, from cellars and attics, a stream of hundreds of poorly clad and swollen children would move at midday toward the house on 28 Oslanovicze Street. For many of them the little food they received there was their only meal of the day. Some of them shared the food with their parents, who would wait in a side alley, sit on the ground and silently have their daily meal.

This holy work of the school children, helping their sisters and brothers lasted a very long time in the locked up ghetto. It was savagely interrupted on 9 Elul 5702 [22 August 1942], when the children and their parents were driven by the Germans, the Ukrainians and the other child-murderers to the Umschlag-Platz and from there – to the gas chambers of Treblinka.


[Pages 118-119]

A. Labor Camps

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Various labor camps existed in our town and around it: small ones, where only few people worked, and larger ones, which would employ up to several hundred workers.

The most “popular” camps were:

  1. Reckman – for railroad equipment about 200 workers
  2. Kissgrube – stone and gravel excavation      “   150     “   
  3. Construction works      “   100     “   
  4. Army equipment camp      “   100     “   
  5. Ralnitche Syndicate      “    30     “   
  6. Glass works      “    60     “   
  7. Waste collecting station      “    59     “   
  8. Wolf & Goebel – concrete works, roads      “   150     “   
  9. Railroad inspection & various railroad works      “   150     “   
  10. Air force works      “   100     “   
  11. General collection center – and several smaller enterprises  

In some of these places, the German supervisors took their workers from the smaller ghetto, arranged for them living quarters in the local barracks and gave them their meals in a common kitchen.

The living conditions in the camps varied, according to the whims of the camp leaders and their wild and sadistic moods.

The general system and the overall goal was, however, the same everywhere: to extract from the Jewish slaves maximum work with minimum food and rest; to exploit their strength as fast as possible, that they would collapse as quickly as possible. This was the wish of the leader, the “Führer,” the initiator of the “new order,” and all the little “führers” of the camps were dedicated to helping realize the big plan. In some of the camps the “plan” was carried out slowly and gradually, step by step, while in others – swiftly and brutally.

He bloodiest and most cruel of the labor camps in town, where hundreds of Jews from the small ghetto were tortured and killed, was the “Reckman” firm.

The central offices of the firm were in Berlin. The company's main business was building railroads and other transport means for the army, as well as dispatching ammunition transports to the East. Several hundred Jews worked in the Siedlce branch.

[Page 120]

The special tactics of the company leaders concerning the Jews was to torment them through work and hunger until they died. Working without end, without a break, day and night, without food, without rest, along with cruel and continuous beating, the Jews would lay the rails, cut stones, carry heavy loads and unload the wagons. People became swollen and collapsed on the spot when their strength gave way. The dying would be pulled out of the way and finished off one by one, and in their place another person would be assigned right away, and then another and then another. There were enough Jews around – too many, in fact. And, when all the Jews of this region would die, they will bring Jews from countries where there still existed some, for all of them must be used and their lives sacrificed for the new happy order that the Nazis would bestow on the world.

Yudel Ruzhowikwiatt, who had worked at Reckman's for some time, tells that the chief murderer, Reckman himself, would often boast that every morning before breakfast he must kill at least one Jew, otherwise he could not swallow his breakfast.

The healthiest and strongest person was not able to bear for more than several weeks the terrible conditions of hunger, hard work and beating that were commonplace in the Reckman camp. This was not a labor camp – it was a death camp. No wonder that nobody wanted to work there. Thus every morning the messengers from the camp would enter the little ghetto and the terrible hunt began. Every person they put their hands on, even women and old people, knew that their horrible death sentence had been signed.

As a result of these tactics – to wear down people through hunger, hard work and beatings – daily the streets of Siedlce would witness groups of pale and emaciated Jews, in rags, pushing little carts full of other Jews, their faces pale green or yellow like wax, some of them swollen, with very weak signs of life; behind the procession would walk the German watchmen. The Jews in the carts were the workers that the Reckman Company sent back to the ghetto – the tormented and dying Jews that they could not use any longer. They were done, and not needed.

As soon as the cart loaded with the living skeletons would enter the ghetto it was overturned as if it were a load of stones or sand. The wretched bodies would fall out and remain on the ground, unable to move.

[Page 121]

The poor tormented Jews, who had pulled the cart and unloaded the dying people, were led by the watchmen back to Reckman's, to pay with their last drops of blood, until it was their own turn to be carted away by other unfortunate Jews, back to the ghetto. The only creatures that would pay any attention to the still living skeletons were the swarms of flies and worms.

It would happen sometimes, that one of the ghetto residents would furtively give one of the dying persons a piece of bread or a drop of water; seldom would the dying have enough strength left to extend his hand to receive it. It was too late for any help – most of them died the same day.

Leibl Mandelbaum, who worked in this Reckman hell-camp, told his story:

– I worked at digging up and cutting stones. The German supervisor would constantly push the workers, not giving them even a moment's rest. The portion of food we received all day was 80 grams of bread and a bowl of soup – mostly plain water in which we would sometimes find a piece of rotten cabbage or some other vegetable. When I tried to take a few minutes' rest, the supervisor hit me with the shovel over my back so hard, that the shovel broke. I could not move, and Reckman himself, who witnessed the scene, permitted me to rest for one hour, after which I was driven back to work.

Mandelbaum ran away from the camp and went to the little ghetto. He was caught by a policeman and sent back to the Reckman camp and punished by 25 whippings. Several days later he ran off again, was caught and again punished by beating. Feeling that he was so weak that he would soon collapse anyway, he decided to risk everything and escaped for the third time – this time with success. Finally he got rid of the Reckman Company.

 

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