This is the translation of article originally written in Yiddish by M. Grossman in the TM Yizkor book, which describes the liquidation of Tomaszow Jewry and its last days of horror and agony.
It was translated to Hebrew by Mr. Cnaani, by the initiative of the TM Organization in Israel, headed by Benjamin Yaari. It was than translated to English by a volunteer, Morris Gradel whom I thank deeply. It also includes a freezing account about the "Purim Gift" which the Germans prepared to Dr. Efraim Mordkowicz hy"d, his only daughter Krisza, 9 years old only and other 20 victims, on Purim day 21 March 1943.Ada Holtzman
Translated by Morris Gradel zl
In the summer of 1942 there was a spate of rumours that strange things were going on in the towns and neighbouring townlets. No one knew what this was all about. Information and communication with the area was totally absent. We were cut off from the outside world. Any sort of travel to a nearby town or village was strictly forbidden. Mail, all correspondence, and the sending of telegrams ceased immediately after the closing of the ghetto in 1941. The only persons able to go outside the town and into the villages and nearby townlets were holders of the "green armband". These were collectors of rags and leather merchants, who bought these materials from the local peasants and supplied them to the factories sequestered by the Germans. These "green armbands" brought news of deportations, removal of Jews from many townlets that were now "Judenrein", and continuous transports of deported Jews.
But to where?
No one knew. There were rumours that the deportees were sent to labour camps in Germany. The word "concentration camps" was also heard. If people ventured the supposition that the Jews were being taken to their deaths, not only did people turn a deaf ear to them, but they were also branded as madmen. Was it possible that young and healthy people without handicaps would be sent to their deaths?
During prayers in the synagogues at the time of the High Holydays a feeling reigned that something terrible was about to happen something compared to which, life in the ghetto was child's play. Jews gathered in groups, discussed the matter, and looked for proof that the rumours of deportation and annihilation were groundless especially with regard to an industrial town like Tomaszow. The beadle rapped on the pulpit time and again, but who took any notice? Fear and horror were imprinted on the faces of the worshippers, a foreboding that these were the last High Holydays of communal prayer and family life.
Life in the ghetto grew immeasurably harder and grimmer. Food became scarcer and scarcer, but members of a family found consolation in being together. Hunger spared no Jewish family, and sickness and a typhus epidemic spread to all the houses of the ghetto, and there was not one of them without a death. Four to five members of a family were crammed together in one room in conditions devoid of any hygiene. The shortage of medicine and medical equipment meant that the epidemic and various illnesses ranged wider and wider, claiming victims all the time.
On the Sabbath, October 23rd 1942, there appeared at the Jewish hospital a committee composed of members of the Gestapo and Szupa. They traversed the wards, walked about the courtyard, took notes, and exchanged comments.
The offices of the Judenrat were located in the house of Szulik Klezmer, next to "Bajska", the football pitch. His friends now held deliberations until late in the evening - as if they knew something that others did not for they conferred in secret and at length. Leaders of the community, men of standing, took part in their deliberations, discussions and meetings. They isolated themselves in their rooms; minor officials and ordinary policeman were barred entry, and were sent home from work early. Sometimes a sergeant of the Jewish police appeared, went inside, and talked to Commissar Mussman or the Chairman of the Judenrat Granat. An atmosphere of depression reigned something evil was in the offing and nobody knew anything. People were hungry potato peelings were the main diet but this concerned them less than the feeling of impending tragedy.
On October 23rd there appeared for the first time the Ukrainians in their black uniforms and armed with sub-machine guns. That same evening all the street lamps bordering the ghetto were lit (from 1940 until the deportation street lamps were only lit outside the ghetto, which was plunged in darkness). Now the ghetto was surrounded by Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and German police. They were all wearing steel helmets and armed for battle sounds of firing were soon heard and the first victims fell. The electric lamps lit up all the ghetto, underlining the condition of the unfortunates within faces pallid and starved, eyes lifeless, bodies bent, clothes ragged and patched. The glare of the lamps dazzled them and darkened their broken spirit even more.
The lamps that were suddenly lit were the first warning of tragic and terrible sights. In the light the angels of death who surrounded the ghetto had a better view of the living targets they would fire at, and could thus relish the horrors they would inflict on the ghetto.
Mothers clutched their small children, their despairing and pitying eyes fastened on those of their tiny ones; full of grief and sadness and with maternal instinct, they sensed that the end was near and with powerless hands raised to the heavens asked: Lord of the Universe, why have you inflicted on us such a horrible sentence of death?
On Thursday, October 29th, 1942, men, women and children proceeded to the building of the Judenrat, asking each other on the way for the latest news. Many Jews had already assembled around the building, again asking if there was news or listening to the latest rumour. Above all, they wanted to know where they would be deported. Could not the evil edict be changed? After all, were they not productive workers?
It is impossible to describe everything that happened in the "illuminated" darkness of that night in the ghetto. People, whether they knew each other or not, sought comfort by embracing one another, whispering words of parting, choking with emotion and ignorant of where they were going and what would be their fate. Did they have a premonition that they were parting for ever? In the evening, the Gestapo, led by Meister Fichler, made their appearance. Fichler ordered the Jewish police and the sanitary workers to calm the crowd, saying that "everything was quite all right" and assuring it that all the people in the ghetto would remain and none would be deported: but that anyone spreading rumours about deportation would be severely punished. Everyone was to stay at home, keep calm, and obey orders.
Slowly the crowd began to disperse, despondent and wretched to the core. All had a premonition of approaching tragedy. Each sought comfort from his fellow. Perhaps??? Perhaps the omens would not turn out to be as terrible as they feared?
But later that evening a group of Jewish policemen, and with them German and Ukrainian police armed with sub-machine guns, appeared at the station, where hundreds of Jewish men, women, children, and even tiny babies born that day or the day before, were already assembled. They had been driven from the neighbouring towns and villages and herded into a nearby field enclosed with barbed wire. At the entrance stood Gestapo soldiers carrying truncheons. At once they began to shout at the Jewish policemen "Mach mal Ordnung mit dem Judengesindel" ("Get that Jewish rabble under control"), and also hurled themselves into the crowd to impose order on the babies and their mothers, who were waiting for the train to take them somewhere or other
All night long these wretched people waited for the train, under strict orders not to move from their places. Jews kept on arriving, on foot or in carts all of them goaded on by the Germans or Ukrainians with truncheons or rifle butts. These vented their rage too on the Jewish police, who were trying their best to lessen the sufferings of the internees by giving them water or being asked to find the parents of children gone astray in the turmoil. From time to time shots were fired at fathers, children or other family members who were searching for their relatives. The shots too were a warning to anyone who even thought about escaping from that hell.
At dawn on Friday, October 30th, most of the Jews were crammed into railway wagons. Families were torn apart. Increasing numbers of Jews expelled from their townlets began to arrive such as groups from Biale Rawska, Ojazd? and the nearby villages. The station area was, however, too small to absorb all the arrivals, so some of them were sent into town, to be deported together with the Jews of Tomaszow to their unknown destination. Some of these were shot to death. The others were crammed into empty factory halls. Local Jews wanted to give them food and water, but were prevented from doing so by the Ukrainians.
Sabbath, October 31st. From early dawn, with darkness still covering the town, an unusual traffic was taking place. People were rushing here and there, trying frantically to be reunited with their families. This one with a rucksack, that one carrying a bundle, mothers with children in their arms and one holding several children by the hand. One was wrapped in a scarf against the morning chill, another wore a kerchief, a sweater draped over her shoulders. An order rang out: "Alle Juden raus" ("All Jews outside"), and was repeated in several languages: Yiddish, Polish and German. All the Jews of the ghetto were ousted from their houses into the courtyards, where the Jewish police, and Gestapo, Ukrainians and Blue Police armed with sub-machine guns as if going into battle, were waiting for them. From the houses more and more Jews arrived, guarded by Jewish policemen. (These Jews had been given severe warnings by Commandant Fichler, and therefore a Jewish policeman had to escort his own family, lest they be killed on the spot). Shots rang out nearby, the first vicims fell, and there were many wounded crying for help.
A German murderer and his victim TM Yizkor book, page 368
The Jews threw down their rucksacks and bundles and lined up in rows of five, to form 20 or 25 rows, and thus under armed guard marched towards the former hospital in Wajcznoso Street, leaving behind them the dead and the wounded, who fell on the way, unable to keep up with the forced pace. Children unable to find their parents cried for them, others were torn from their father's grasp. The adjacent streets resounded with screams and sobs. The marchers stumbled on the corpses of their loved ones, and the German and Ukrainian murderers rained blows on their heads with the butts of their machine guns. The street filled with blood, and more victims were left behind. Husbands were torn from their wives, children searched for their parents. Blood, tears and screams and still the march went on. The marchers reached the hospital courtyard and lined up again in rows of five; there were now 20 rows left.
Not far from the hospital courtyard, in Wajtsznosc Street, where the small church was situated, a painstaking inspection took place, as the Gestapo soldiers again and again perused the documents permitting the Jews to remain in the ghetto and work for the Germans in the "shop" or elsewhere. These Jews were then sent, for the time being at any rate, to a Blei factory building in Sotlerska Street. Many of these work permit holders, however, were sent back to the hospital courtyard to be transported together with the others. Also present were the managers of the "shop", together with Oberleutnant Greiser and Meister Fichler. It was these persons who organized the deportation of the Jews from Tomaszow, an operation carried out with German thoroughness.
The men, women and children, divided into groups of 120, and guarded by armed Germans and Ukrainians, were now marched to the railway station. Here, their shoes, rucksacks and bundles were taken from them, and they were crammed into the cattle wagons that were waiting for them. In addition to the soldiers accompanying them the train was escorted by a lorry with specially armed guards.
At the end of the day some 6,000 deportees had been expelled from the streets Jeruzulimska, Polna Czicha, Borznicna, Polodjowa, Slonczna, and Wajcnoszc. Next day there was a lull in the killings. The murderers were doubtless tired after a night of bloodshed. Perhaps some went to church to pray for succour in their handiwork? More certain it is that they went to the inn to get drunk and harbour strength for the next day. Yet the vigil around the barbed-wire fences was intensified to prevent escape.The tension and the horror into which those remaining in the ghetto were plunged on that day defy description. Nevertheless they still hoped that the spirit of evil would abate and that they would be allowed to stay alive.
Tuesday, November 2nd, 1942. The events of the sabbath were repeated the next day, but with even greater cruelty and energy. Screaming like wild beasts and with murder in their eyes, the Germans began to root all the Jews from their houses into the morning cold of incipient winter. Feeble old people, men, women and children were all lined up in rows. Horrible was the sight of children of 4-5 years, separated from their parents, as they faced their murderers. Thus did Jewish children march to the hospital courtyard on their way to annihilation.
Families began to arrive in rows of five. Among them were Reb Godel and his family, and Kalman Pinkusewicz and his family, apart from his eldest daughter Pesska, who remained behind in the townlet, as she held an authorized work permit. There was also R' Motel Neimitz and his family, apart from his son Moshe, who was a sanitary health worker. Rabbi Motel marched in the middle of the row, his lips moving. Was he reciting to himself verses from the Psalms, beseeching mercy from his God, and perhaps whispering a confession before his death?
R' Emanuel Grossman, his wife and children, were also among the arrivals. The mother held her little daughter by the hand, her eyes full of tears; the father's usual self-confidence had faltered, although his face showed no signs of the struggle that was going on inside him. He believed that our enemies would perish, but now his hopes had collapsed but neither did he show his despair. He said to his children: "Go, my children, save your lives, but remember always to remain Jews and tell the world what the German murderers did to us."
R' Gedaliahu Shochet now appeared, accompanied by his sons and daughters, sons-in-law and nephews. His tall figure was bent, his black-white beard hidden behind a kerchief (many bearded Jews covered their faces for fear of the Germans who, on seeing a Jew with a beard, would unsheath their bayonets and cut it off, together with the skin ). R' Gedalia was a God-fearing Jew, a synagogue reader with a clear and mild voice. On Yom Kippur, as he passed before the Ark, intoning "hineni heani mema'as" ("I am poor in deeds"), the walls of the synagogue resounded, and young and old, men and women, came to hear his prayers, and during "ezrat hanashim" ("help of women") could not restrain their tears. Now R' Gedaliahu stood in the hospital courtyard and saw how the satanic Germans mercilessly thrust the ailing onto the trucks, while others fell from their bullets and the Germans, their faces inflamed with alcohol, ran along the rows and beat the heads of their victims with their rifle butts and the blood flowed and flowed
Suddenly R' Gedaliahu stopped, threw off his kerchief and covered his head with it, as he used to
do during the prayer "lehitatef batsitsot" ("to cover with fringes"), lifted his head to the skies and cried
"and Thou, Lord of the Universe, sitting on high, see all this and art silent!?"
Again like the sabbath with all it's horrors: scores of murders; shots from all around, killing the old and ailing Jews who were unable to walk quickly enough; machine guns aimed at all who halted for a split second. In the courtyard of the church in Wajtsznosc Street the work too continued unabated. The Germans inspected the already authorized work permits of Jews, and then decided who would remain in the ghetto and who would be deported. Once more wives were separated from their husbands and children from their parents. Each group stood alone, and woe betide anyone who tried to cross over to another group. A blow on the head from a rifle butt removed all desire to try again. And those decreed to remain in the ghetto and work in the "shop" looked about them. Forlorn and isolated, they saw no sign of mother or father, brother or sister.
This was not the case with Pesska Pinkusewicz, who held an official work permit issued by the Gestapo, and was thus permitted to remain in the ghetto and continue working in the "shop". Suddenly, however, she runs over to a Gestapo soldier and tells him that she wishes to stay with her family. He at once retorts that her request meant "an ascent to heaven through the chimney" but his words fell on deaf ears and Pezka tearfully repeated her request. She knows very well that the German speaks the truth, and when he opens the gate he cries to her: "Go, go, stupid goose". Her tear-dimmed eyes are radiant. She embraces her mother and father and cries out: "Let us be in heaven, but together!"
In the courtyard Meister Fichler and Oberleutnant Greiser, in concert with Gestapo officers were shouting out orders. The first batches of Jews were already in Pilsudski (Piotrkow) Street on their way to the station. Behind them, an old peasant on the driver's box, a limping horse wearily pulled a cart, piled high with the baggage the deportees were allowed to take with them a measure designed to fool them that they were on their way to a labour camp.
Among the marchers was Bracha, the baker, and in her arms her year-old daughter. She felt that her strength was failing and whispered something to the Jewish policeman escorting her (whom she knew from days past). He took the child from her and placed it on the cart. Marching beside Bracha was Regina Pakin (of the Stern family), whose husband, Asher Pakin, was a sanitary worker at the Blei factory (he was deported from there shortly afterwards). Regina was carrying her three-year-old daughter Marilka. The little girl too knew the policeman and she said to him: "Put me on the cart as well, I'm so tired". The policeman then put Marilka on the cart, but at once a guard struck him on the head with his machine gun, and blood gushed over his whole body. The German cocked his gun, but at that moment was called away by another soldier. The policeman, with the last of his strength and with blood seeping over his clothes, continued to escort the cart to the station. The Polish inhabitants of the townlet stood on the pavement and stared apathetically at the marchers, some of them with sad eyes. But more than one thought in his heart: let this be the price if it is only to get rid of these zyds. Behind each group of Jews there was a lorry and on it guards armed with sub-machine guns and hand-grenades. In addition, each batch of ten people was guarded by two soldiers.
Thus did the Jews of Tomaszow march, none knowing to where, their hands grasping a family member, their eyes glaring hatefully at their murderers.They were encompassed by armed guards. The faces of their Polish townsmen were contented. And yet it seemed that they still did not believe the calamity that was about to befall them. Even those who were exhausted physically and mentally showed no sign of their anguish. When, however, they reached the station the beatings and frenzied blows recommenced when they took off their shoes.
Let us here recall the fate of the Jewish policeman, Leopold Gotgeld. When the deportees were removing their shoes, he suddenly caught sight of his sister, whom he had not noticed amid the chaos and bloodshed. Their eyes met and Gotgeld broke down and burst into tears. One of the guards saw his bewilderment and began to rain murderous blows on his head. The assailant's whip of leather intertwined with iron lashed out again and again until Leopold wallowed in blood. At once, another Jewish policeman took Leopold's place and the removal of shoes continued.
Amid the blood orgy of the German butchers the Jews, in batches of 100 or 120, were pushed into the wagons. There was no water in the wagons, nor any arrangement whatsoever for natural human needs. When it appeared impossible to pack more Jews into a wagon they were "assisted" with indescribable violence and cruelty by blows to the head of whips and rifle butts until the last one had been crammed inside. The wagons were then bolted tight, and a soldier placed on the roof, his weapon at the ready lest anyone try to escape!
Such were the scenes of horror at Tomaszow station that day: families wrenched apart, children and parents searching frantically for one another. The Ukrainian butchers did not for a moment cease to belabour their victims. Nor did the Jewish policemen at the station escape their attention ; they too were beaten mercilessly, rifle butts crushing their skulls, whereafter they were thrown into the wagons to share the final sufferings of their fellow-Jews.
Thus ended that day of bitterness. Eight thousand Jews were sent to their death, and hundreds of others slaughtered on the spot. The roughly thousand Jews remaining in the ghetto were housed in the factory buildings of Blei, Leistman, and others, in blocks prepared in advance for workers in the "shop" by the Volksdeutscher Meszig and Oberleutnant Greiser.
The "Akzia" in the Ghetto, TM Yizkor book page 367
The Shrunken Ghetto
That same day, after the deportation, the remnant was ordered to assemble. Again there were heartrending scenes. The remaining Jews, fooled, robbed and despondent, looked vainly about for other members of their family, and did not know what had happened to them. The Germans, who had declared that they would not split families, had deceived them in the cruellest fashion. After an evening of horror, the remaining Jews felt like branches torn from a tree full of life. A dreadful feeling of loneliness overwhelmed them. How could they get through the coming night? How could they face the morning sun? Some of them were older, but most of them young, but in a trice they had grown up now they were all orphans, all lonely and desolate.
The few who worked outside the ghetto were escorted by Jewish policemen to the "shop", though there were some carpenters and painters and the like who did not work in the "shop".
From time to time a Polish railway worker, briefly coming across Jews outside the ghetto, would tell them that the deported Jews had first been taken to Malinka, and from there directly to Treblinka, to annihilation! And when their hearers returned to the ghetto and reported what they had been told by the Pole, no one wanted to believe them. They said it was just a joke by some anti-semitic Pole. After all, such things were incredible for any sane person. Was it possible? How could such a thought occur? To burn living beings?!! To burn old people, women and children? No! No! No! Impossible! Instead, they were inclined to believe rumours that there were letters from the deportees. There was, for instance, a rumour that the wife of Yankel Wolard, who had been on the last transport, had written a letter stating that she was working on a farm in Germany and her children were with her. Though nobody could confirm this rumour, people were inclined to believe it. After all, it sounded more reasonable they wanted to believe it in this way the Jews fooled themselves and grew accustomed to their daily routine, guarding in their hearts the hope of better times to come.
One group of Jews was detailed to collect the belongings and furniture from the
houses of the deportees under the watchful eyes of Ukrainian and German
guards. The houses had already been broken into. The shattered windows gave the
houses the appearance of blind people with gouged eyes. The stillness of death
hovered over the houses yet cried unto the heavens.
Silence and death permeated the air, but amid the silence there still was heard the weeping of a little child, torn suddenly from it's bed. The parents' beds also held secrets: they were still warm, the pillows moist with the tears of mothers who cried into them in order not to add to the grief and anguish of the family. There were clearly distinguishable bloodstains in the houses, the blood of aged and ailing Jews, who had been unable to leave their beds and who were shot on the spot. (Jewish policemen, under military escort, had been ordered to remove the corpses, which were then buried in the cemetery). On the tables were plates with soup the Jews did not have time to eat, glasses of tea they had not drunk. Here and there lay bundles of laundry, abandoned on hearing the cries of the Germans "Juden raus, schnell, schnell" ("Jews outside, quick, quick "). There were also books: holy books, schoolbooks, exercise books all crushed under the heels of the butchers. Now other Jews collected the contents of ruined Jewish houses. All these effects were registered with German thoroughness, and the German sentinels warned the Jewish workers not to break anything!
The persecutors tore up floors, broke down walls, and poked about and rummaged in every corner to find the treasures the deportees had concealed in their houses. All the loot was then piled onto lorries, taken to "Zamelcna", for examination and sorting, and then sent to Germany. There were outbursts of weeping and scenes of anguish during the sorting process. Mothers found the clothes of their children or of their parents, brothers and sisters. People, for instance, would cry out: "My God, these are my mother's clothes, here is my sister's costume, these are Rayzele's shoes!" The household effects, clothes, shoes and so on sorted by the remnant of Jews was visible proof of the ruin and horror that had struck at the Jewish community of Tomaszow.
In the shrunken ghetto, comprising a few houses in one block, some thousand souls were crowded together. Their lives soon became routine. In the morning they lined up in rows to go the various places of work assigned to them. It was only when they returned to their houses, to the four walls that held so many memories of family life, of joy and sorrow only then did they realize and "digest" the full horror that had suddenly befallen them. And immeasurably greater was their anguish and suffering when the rumours were confirmed that their dear ones had never been sent to work in Germany! Each sought the nearness of a fellow-sufferer. In tragedy they drew closer together, became friends, for they all now knew nothing but grief and sorrow.
The food situation improved a little, for at their places of work they met with Poles. who gave them food and in return "agreed" to receive clothes and household goods; and when the crisis grew worse, the Poles only supplied food in return for articles of gold or expensive jewellery. Amongst the remaining Jews friendship grew stronger; pre-war distinctions between rich and poor disappeared. At the end of the week thay all joined together in toasting "Lechaim". However, it was precisely at such moments that they realized the reality of their existence in all it's brutality. Sometimes furious anger was expressed against World Jewry, silent in the face of the destruction and everything happening under the German occupation. Many got drunk to forget their pain and sorrow; and also turned to thoughts that if there was no escape from their terrible suffering perhaps they should put an end to their lives and thus also to their suffering without end! But at once a new thought banished the first one. No! Because that was the aim of the Nazi butchers. Therefore, despite all the suffering and lamentation, the wish of the murderers should not be fulfilled! No surrender, no bowing to their wishes! And maybe, maybe we will yet succeed in seeing our loved ones alive and our murderers dead!
In the meantime, they grew accustomed to the new situation. Life became freer,
without restrictions. Morals, integrity, the sanctity of family life, began to
disintegrate. Lonely men sought the company of lonely women and the women
sought the company of the men. Shame and modesty disappeared. The constraints between the remnants of the ghetto and the ways of life became
freer than they had been. If life and the world were licentious, then long live
licentiousness! Who knew what tomorrow would bring? While you live, live life
to the full! After all, you did not know if you would be alive tomorrow!
However, there were many who did not follow the stream, but bore their pain and
did not want to shame the ancestors who were no more. These were observant
Jews, who refused to accept that all was permissible! They even believed that
now the Germans would leave the ghetto alone for so few Jews were left, and
they were productive workers. It was in this spirit that the ghetto entered the
On the day following a night when the Germans and Poles had got drunk in honour of the New Year, large posters appeared on the walls, declaring that whoever had relatives in Palestine and who wished to go there should come and be registered. At once stormy discussions took place among the Jews of the ghetto. Tempers flared and arguments broke out. Some maintained that it was unthinkable that at such a time the Germans would send Jews to Palestine, and the whole affair was another example of deception, whose object was further annihilation of the Jews. Others asserted that such an operation was indeed feasible, since in America and England there were German citizens and also prisoners-of-war, and it had been decided to exchange them for Jews. The proponents of this latter argument belonged to the organization "Yiva" (a Yiddish acronym for "Yiden villen azoy" "That's what the Jews want"), so that every unfounded rumour spread in the ghetto was a straw to be grasped by these Jews.
Amid all this confusion Jews rushed to queue up to register for Palestine. They began to ransack their memory for relatives near and far who had gone to Palestine. The Germans in their "mercy" eased the way for them by declaring that "even having friends and acquaintances in Palestine was enough". After a day or two the Germans announced that the list was full, and so the Jews began to bribe the Germans with jewels and gold and "protektsia" if only they could be included in the list. The "fortunate ones" who were registered at once began to pack, ready for the journey to Palestine.
All of a sudden a rumour was abroad that it was not to Palestine they would be sent, but to work camps in various places there was something dubious about the list, as the names of the "privileged" persons had been replaced by others. When this rumour reached the Jews of the ghetto a new bout of febrile activity began how to be removed from the "Palestine list"? The "middlemen" who had previously been bribed to include people in the list now demanded new bribes to take them off it and replace them with other names.
At dawn on January 5th, the ghetto was once more encircled, and the Ukrainians
and armed German guards appeared within it. With them were lorries and carts,
onto which they loaded several hundred Jews, who were taken to
Ujazd, (about 10 kilometres from Tomaszow). From there, together with other Jews,
they were all sent to their deaths in Treblinka.
"A Purim gift" from the arch-murderer Oberleutnant Greiser to Dr. Mordkowicz
Dr. Mordkowicz was one of the leading members of the Jewish community of Tomaszow. His parents had been simple people, who could barely scrape a living. His mother used to sell milk and his father was a night watchman for various shops. The family lived at No. 6, Koszcoszki Place, known as the "Corridor". At an early age Mordkowicz showed outstanding ability and was one of the best pupils at the Gymnasia. His teachers foresaw a brilliant future for him in whatever career he might choose. However, in order to earn a living and pay for his studies he gave private lessons in various subjects to less talented pupils. Although he was small of stature, his schoolmates recognized that he rose above them all. He was not deterred by difficulties, and was determined to achieve his aim of becoming a doctor. Even as an assistant at the Poznanski Hospital, he earned a reputation as a talented surgeon, and was afterwards recognized as one of the most proficient experts in his field. In complicated cases he was consulted by other doctors, and when he worked at the Eisner Hospital in Lodz he was called by the patients "zlota roncka" ("hands of gold").
Though he was celebrated throughout Poland, he remained modest: a sociable man, fond of his fellow-men and held in affection by all. If he had time to spare he would visit his parents, and would also spend the sabbath with them. It need hardly be said that he helped his parents and all his family. Immediately after the outbreak of war, when Lodz was annexed by Germany, he succeeded in fleeing from it and returning to Tomaszow, his native town. Here he worked indefatigably, giving medical aid to many Jews. He was also Director of the ghetto hospital, as the Jews were no longer able to avail themselves of the town hospital. With the limited means at his disposal he succeeded in acquiring the most essential medical equipment. Despite the strict demands he made on his staff, he was respected by them all, and earned the esteem of his colleagues and of his patients.
Dr. Eugspach, the director of the town hospital, though he was a Volksdeutscher, was a "righteous Gentile", and in exceptional circumstances he would enter the ghetto to meet with Dr. Mordkowicz. He always apologised, as he was in general prevented from seeing his Jewish colleague more often. The Germans and the Gestapo, including Oberleutnant Greiser, knew that Dr. Mordkowicz was an expert in his field. For some time Greiser had been suffering from a venereal disease and other ailments. German doctors had tried to cure him, but in vain. When he was told that in the ghetto there was a Jewish doctor who was a spcialist in those diseases, he did not even want to know his name. To think that he, Oberleutnant Greiser should be treated by a Jew! He could not even bear to hear the word "Jew"! If he had no choice but to contact a Jew he would do so through the intercession of the Meister of the "Shop", Hans Fichler, and if he absolutely had to talk to a Jew, he would do so at a distance of six metres from him. His gaze was always fixed over the heads of the Jews, for as a son of the "master race" his honour would not allow him to stand near them. The anti-semitic hatred that flowed in his veins had no equal for cruelty so how could he possibly agree to be treated by a Jewish doctor? However, his condition deteriorated, and even the professors from Berlin that were sent to Tomaszow could not help him. Thus, given no alternative, the Jewish police were contacted to inform Dr. Mordkowicz to present himself at once before Greiser.
All the inhabitants of the ghetto knew that if any of them was required to leave the ghetto he would be accompanied by an ordinary Jewish constable. But this time Dr. Mordkowicz was accompanied by none other than Josek Goldberg. Goldberg too was, to begin with, an ordinary policeman, but for various special "reasons" he had reached the rank of Commissar, head of all the Jewish police - and it was he, as stated, who would escort Dr. Mordkowicz to meet the Arch-Murderer Greiser. The turmoil and anxiety in the ghetto increased from minute to minute and when the doctor and the head of police returned, everybody breathed a sight of relief. It transpired that Dr. Mordkowicz had been ordered to appear before Greiser every Tuesday, to treat his ailments.
Wonder of wonders! No more than two weeks had passed since the doctor first visited him when Greiser appeared close to the ghetto (he rarely entered the ghetto itself). He ordered Dr. Mordkowicz to come to him, and the two now stood facing each other: Greiser, as tall as Goliath and Dr. Mordkowicz, a midget in comparison. They talked quietly. This was probably the first time that the German talked to a Jew publicly. After a brief conversation he left, after thanking Dr. Mordkowicz for curing him.
March 20th, 1943. Today is Purim Eve, a warm and sunny day. Even the work of collecting and sorting Jewish belongings proceeds in a lighter spirit. In the evening Megillat Esther will be read and there will be a tinge of festivity. A few drinks had been prepared, there were even "Haman's ears", which the women had taken the trouble to bake, and perhaps the meal would be a trifle tastier. Perhaps they would even get a little drink and forget their sorrows for a moment. Perhaps the complex of guilt that they were still alive and working in the ghetto would be alleviated. Perhaps their jealousy towards those families where none had been deported and who were still together would disappear. Anyway, that evening all would be forgotten, the survivors in the ghetto would gather in fellowship, eat a little, drink a glass or two, maybe even sing, and maybe for an hour or so the burden of their tragedy would be lightened. And they were also happy that the accursed work they were doing would soon be finished.
Dr. Efraim Mordkowicz too felt relief that day, compared to other days. In his youth he had been far from religious, but on festivals, Rosh Hashana, Succot, Pesach and Shavuot he took care to celebrate with his family until it became a tradition for him. Even when the demands of his profession left him little time, he continued to visit his parents. In May 1942, when Jewish doctors and intellectuals were murdered, he began to fast every Tuesday and Thursday. He was profoundly worried as to what might happen at any time. Despite this, he devoted himself heart and soul to his nine-year-old daughter Krisza, while investing all his energy in the hospital. This was particularly the case when there was a typhus epidemic in the ghetto, to which he also fell a victim. After recovering, he committed himself even more to his patients. Now, however, after the deportation, work at the hospital had diminished, for there were only about a hundred Jews left in the ghetto, including the doctors Yudek Milstein, Knikheit, Zloloslow and of course Mordkowicz himself. There were few patients, and he had plenty of time to take care of his only daughter, for whom he had to give the love of both father and mother. And so that day he would invite the other doctors, his brother Menasze and his daughter, and a few neighbours, and little Krisza would invite some of her small friends, and thus they could all forget their sufferings for a while.
At last, 5 o'clock in the evening came round, and everyone lined up to march back to the ghetto camp. However, when they got there, a lorry drove up to the ghetto gate and cries of "Aufmachen, ihr dreckigen Judenschweine" ("open up, filthy Jewish pigs") were heard. The speaker was Hans Alsch, a police officer, and he was quickly inside the ghetto. Through the main gate now appeared Fichler, who at once presented the Jewish policemen with a list and told them that all the persons on it had to assemble at once, as they were to be sent to another labour camp.
A knock was heard on Dr. Mordkowicz' door, and the Jewish policeman Y. Sh. entered, the list in his hand. From the list he reads out the names of Dr. Mordkowicz, his little daughter, his brother Menasze and his daughter, and he repeats Fichler's instructions. They must at once pack a few things, as they were being transferred to a camp, and the Germans were waiting for them.
In the meantime, other Jewish policemen were running here and there to round up the others on the list, amongst whom were fellow policemen, such as Kasztucki, his wife Rachel, and their two children. Also named were Rejgrodsk and his wife Yadza, of the house of Bresler. Meister Fichler examines the list to see that no one is missing. When Dr. Mordkowicz arrives, holding his little daughter in one hand and his bundle in the other, he asks Fichler where they are going. Fichler burst out sarcastically: "You are being sent to a place of rest". Little Krisza asks tearfully: "Why do we have to be sent just today?", for she had invited her friends to that very evening! "Perhaps we could postpone our journey to tomorrow?" Fichler placed his hand on her head, and she sensed it was the hand of a murderer and, wrenching herself free of him, clung tearfully to her father.
Meanwhile, everyone on the list had arrived, and they were loaded onto the lorry, with their baggage. There were 21 of them. When the lorry reached the house of Szeps, outside the ghetto, some armed gendarmes clambered onto it, among them the Volksdeutschers Fuchs, Walkowiak and Krapfisch, as well as Gestapo soldiers. In a car that followed sat Oberleutnant Greiser, Meister Fichler and Obermeister Siegert it was the latter who suggested that the Jewish policeman and his wife be included in the list, because he had seen him outside the ghetto accompanying a Jew to a dentist who lived outside the ghetto. For this "offence" the Jewish policeman and his family paid with their lives.
The procession proceeded to the cemetery. Helped by blows from rifle butts, the victims jumped from the lorry, which had stopped beside an open grave (to avoid attention this had been dug by Poles). At once, Fichler ordered the unfortunate Jews to take off their clothes terrible cries then rang through the cemetery. Two women, Yazda Rejgrodska and her sister refused, and one of them began to struggle with the murderers. (These women were members of the Wein family, all of whom were among the victims. The Weins had come from Kracow, where the husband had been an engineer and his wife a dentist).The two women now started to run screaming towards the fence. Krisza also burst into tears and began to make for the fence. Krapfisch, who was known for his sadistic trait of firing at the heads of small children, put a bullet into the head of little Krisza, and thus staunched her tears. The other butchers began firing at the Jews standing on the edge of the grave, while Hans Alsch, Fichler and Seigert ran after the two women and a few revolver bullets halted their cries and their flight, whereupon the Germans said "Die verfluchten Hunde haben die Kleider verseucht" ("the cursed dogs have ruined their dresses").
Polish workmen filled in the graves. Afterwards, they said that the earth on top of the graves went on heaving for some time after the murders.
Oberleutnant Greiser had remained in his car all the time, making sure that the murder of the 21 Jews was carried out punctiliously. The butchers, their hands and uniforms stained with the blood of their victims, climbed onto the lorry and returned to town, as did Fichler and Siegert in their car. Oberleutnant Grieser thanked the murderers in polite German tones for the loyal assignment they had carried out. This then was the "Purim gift" of the German butcher to the Jewish doctor who had cured him. Now his conscience was clear, for the Jew was dead and thus Greiser was no longer obligated to him. Later that evening some soldiers and workers came to the cemetery to collect the clothes of the victims and take them to the store to be sorted.
The Matzeva of the 21 Jews murdered in Purim, 21 March 1943 in Tomaszow Mazowiecki
|EUGSPACH||Dr. A. Volkdeutcher Who Helped Jews|
|GROSMAN||Emanuel Reb, wife and children|
|GUTGELD||Sister of Leopold|
|KASZTUCKI||A Jewish Policeman|
|KASZTUCKI||Wife Rachel and two children|
|MORDKOWICZ||Krisza, Dr. Mordkowicz's 9 Years Daughter|
|MORDKOWICZ||Menasze And His Daughter|
|PAKIN nee' STERN||Regina|
|SHOCHET||Gdalia, Reb And Family|
|WEIN||Family from Krakow|
|WOLARD||Wife of Yankel|
|||Bracha and her baby daughter Marilka|
|||Sister of Yadza Rejgrodska|
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