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Wieliczka – The Salt City

by Dr. Moshe Yahrblum

Wieliczka which is situated 14 km. south-west of Cracow contains in its territory vast areas of salt. First mention of the existence of underground salt in Wieliczka is found in writings of 1124, but its industrial utilization began in the 8th decade of the 13th century. Since its early foundation the mine was the exclusive property of the king, as salt was in demand and very valuable. The proceeds from the salt amounted to one third of the kingdoms revenue. It can therefore be understood that the regular development of the mine was every ruler's foremost concern, he often visited the mine and established a royal monopoly on the salt trade. Casimir the Great established a code of rules relating to all matters of the mine which was in force till 1743, when certain changes were introduced. The salt layer from the west to the east extends an area of over 5 ½ km. in length and from the north to the south approximately 1 km. in width with the maximum depth of 326 metres. The history of its utilization can be divided into several stages. Until the middle of the 18th century mining of the upper layer of salt was mainly carried out manually and was limited to the depth of metres. The mining of deeper layers began in the 19th c. Mining is still going on at present.

In its first stage the utilization of the salt was of primitive nature, it was as aforesaid mostly done manually.

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Mechanical methods were introduced in the years 1396 – 1406. Another 40 years had passed and horses were employed in mining. Maps of the mine were drawn up and improved in the 17th and 18th centuries. An extensive internal railway network for the transportation of the salt from place to place was built in 1851. The steam engine for raising the salt to the surface of the earth was first installed in 1859 and the whole mine was illuminated by electricity in 1886. The length of the railway line today surpasses 200 km.

As a result of the excavation beneath the town of Wieliczka for hundreds of years, there arose a labyrinth of pathways and halls in the depth of the earth. According to recent calculations, the length of the pathways reaches 350 km. The volume of the cavity created is about 7 ½ million cubic metres. In the 700 years of the utilization of the mine, the plant supplied 50 million tons of salt.

The oldest part of the mine was turned into a museum in 1950. It attracts tourists of many lands. 136 metres deep in the earth there are the old galleries, corridors, underground lakes navigable by boats, a church furnished with an altar, carved statues of crystal salt, a dance hall, offices coated with wood, various installations for refining salt and more. The tourist pathway extends to 3 km. A tour of the mine lasts about 3 hours. Approximately 2 million people visit the mine annually. The spectacle of the halls and churches with statues carved of crystal salt and illuminated by electric light with plenty of chandeliers made of crystal salt, catches the eye by its splendor and attracts tourists from near and far.

Only a tiny part (about 1%) of the vast cavity was declared as a tourist exhibit. The permanent exhibition in

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the museum is to be found in the third layer of the mine, i.e. at the depth of 135 metres under the surface of the earth. It extends over 13 halls of 1 ½ km. in length. The remaining area is closed to the public, except for scientists, historians and the like.

Concurrently with the rock salt, the mine of Wieliczka also produced, like in Bochnia (which is the other end of same mine) salt and salt water. Its production was halted in 1724 due to its nonprofit ability to be renewed only in 1911 with the advent of mechanical industrialization. In the second decade of the 19th c. salt water was first used for medicinal purposes, curative baths were opened in 1837. This enterprise did not last for long, and today the medicinal properties of salt are limited to asthma patients only. For that purpose an underground sanatorium for chronic diseases, “Cinga”, was opened after the Second World War.

 

The Jewish Community in Wieliczka

Polish Jewry, as known, dates back as far as the Polish state. Jews lived in Poland as early as the 10th century. Polish Jewry had its ups and downs, equal rights but also cruel persecutions. Polish Jewry played a dominant part in the up building of the economy of that country, particularly in the development of commerce. The Jews were generally received with open arms by the Polish kings because they realistically saw the Jew as a helpful element. The influential upper classes of the Polish society did not think so, they hated the Jews and did everything in their power to clip the Jews' wings. At the head of the Jew-baiters stood the clergy, who hated the Jews with

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their traditional enmity as the crucifiers of their messiah. Second in rank was the aristocracy, who hated the Jews in spite of the fact that they had close profitable business relations with them. Another factor for Jew hatred were the townsmen, their hatred originated in jealousy as they saw in the Jew a dangerous competitor. It also happened that all classes joined ranks to organize pogroms against Jews; to issue bad and harsh edicts and to spread libels, against the king's will, who generally was the Jews' protector. I have no intention to speak about the chain of persecutions; these are recorded in the history books of the Jewish people. I shall limit myself to the topic before us.

Following a strict prohibition for Jews to settle in certain towns, the townsmen extracted from the Polish king Sigimund August the right “not to tolerate Jews” in some towns (Privilegium de non tolerantis judaeis) – in 1527. According to that right, to which the king agreed under pressure Jews were forbidden to settle in certain cities in Poland (the princedom of Mazovia with its capital Warsaw), and some small towns, among them Wieliczka[1]. Thus it came about that this old town (more than a thousand years old and 700 years since the establishment of the mine) was out of bounds for Jews.

However, the reader should not get the impression that Jews had no foothold in the city at all times. We know from history that among the lessees of the mine from the Polish kings between the 14-18th centuries there were also Jews. The most known of them were: Levko who leased the mine from Kasimir the Great in 1368; Saul Wahl who leased it from Stephan Batory in 1580[2] and finally, the father-in-law of Rabbi Dov Maizels, Zalman

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Borenstein from Cracow. Borenstein together with two other Jews from Warsaw, Berek Shmulevitz (the son of Samuel Zbitkover) and his brother-in-law Samuel Frenkel leased the mine. One can assume that all the above came to the town on business from time to time. Permanent Jewish settlement in Wieliczka began only in the second half of the 19th century.

There is no doubt that the right for Jews to settle in Wieliczka was the direct outcome of the Austria-Hungarian constitution of the 21st December, 1867, seemingly because of the turbulence in Austria following its defeats in the wars. This new constitution guaranteeing all nationalities of the kingdom the enjoyment of equal rights without distinction of race and creed in schools and public life; freedom of speech and the press, etc. was in force until the disintegration of the Austrian Empire in 1918.[3]

 

Wieliczka – Klasno

It is not a rare phenomenon to find two neighbouring cities that merged into one and still preserved their original names. It is enough to mention two pairs of large cities in Poland, namely Cracow-Padgush, Warsaw-Praga as adjacent cities though divided by the river Vistula. But why should we travel that far when the closest example is Tel Aviv-Jaffa in Israel. That latter is thousands of years old (a port town from the days of Solomon) and was absorbed

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By its sister town Tel Aviv, the larger of the two, that had recently celebrated its 70th anniversary. The two towns Wieliczka—Klasno shared the same fate, the latter, the old (by hundreds of years) was devoured by the Jewish community of Wieliczka that was established only about 1870.

It turns out that the old Jewish settlement in Klasno came into being because of the source of income found close to the salt mine. Because Jews were banned from settling in Wieliczka, they fixed their residence outside the city limits, but near it. And when the Jews were finally allowed to settle in Wieliczka, the Jews of Klasno were the first to move there. It is noteworthy that in spite of the growth of the new Jewish settlement that surpassed the old one in size, there still remained in Klasno important Jewish institutions, like the only public ritual bath that served both settlements alike, the synagogue – magnificent by its art – in which both communities worshipped, and last but not least – the only graveyard to which the deceased of both communities were brought for their final rest.

Whereas the approximate date of the establishment of the Jewish settlement in Wieliczka is known to us, the age of Klasno is quite concealed from us. Much effort was invested in that matter. In normal times it is possible to discover the age of a settlement in several ways: a) by finding the names of the line of rabbis who officiated in the community, b) by investigating the architectural artwork of the synagogue, c0 by taking of evidence from old settlers, d ) by a visit to the local cemetery for establishing the age of the settlement by its tombstones.

The Nazis destroyed our community. Their cruelty

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knew no bounds they violated the graves of the dead and uprooted the tombstones in order to use them in construction or sidewalks, and the like. Here is the story of our landsman, M. Szinagel who immigrated to Belgium before the war and lives now in California. He came to Wieliczka for a short visit after the war, in 1947. On his arrival to the city, he was shown by a municipality official a statue ornamenting the square in front of the municipality building in memory of a Russian personality. The official revealed to him that the precious stone was taken from the Jewish graveyard and put up in memory of I. Laks. The Germans turned the magnificent synagogue into a storehouse. Of all the possibilities there remained only the investigation of the line of rabbis. After corresponding with rabbis in Israel and abroad without any result, we succeeded in obtaining data from Meir Vander, the librarian of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which shows that Mr. Leichtal was the first rabbi in Klasno, seemingly in the middle of the 19th c. He was succeeded by Rabbi Yehezkel Szraga Frenkel, the author of “The Words of Ezekiel”. We find an innovation on the front page of the book, no more the rabbi of the Klasno community only, but of the two communities Klasno-Wieliczka, first Klasno in big letters and after it Wieliczka in small letters. The reason for it is that the latter was still in its early stages and the former in its seniority. The second rabbi, author of the Words of Ezekiel, died in 1885. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, Szmuel Szmelke Frenkel, who officiated up to ca. 1930. After he passed away, his eldest son Pinhas Leibusz took his place as the fourth and the last rabbi. Pinhas Leibusz, of blessed memory, was cruelly tortured

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and murdered by the Nazis on the night following the outgoing of Yom Kippur. It is still doubtful whether the community of Klasno was established in the middle of the 19th c. and if Rabbi Leichtal was indeed the first rabbi.

After an intensive quest, aided by our landsman and friend Mr. A. Friedman, we got to the YIVO Institute in New York where we found a Geographic Dictionary (Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego) – which had appeared in Warsaw in 1883: In the 4tyh volume under the entry Klasno it is written as follows:

'Klasno, a townlet, or rather a separate community of 558 residents, situated south of Wieliczka and having large buildings of the affluent in the community who are dealing in wholesale commerce. This townlet is populated by Jews only, all merchants. The separation of Klasno from Wieliczka was the consequence of the fact that Jews were forbidden to settle in Wieliczka. A fire which destroyed 22 houses had broken out in 1880.'
From this passage we learned the number of Jewish residents and that they enjoyed a sound economic status. But we still do not know the age of that community.

In our further research we found additional sources according to which Klasno had already been an important Jewish settlement in the 18th c. In above mentioned Geographic Dictionary we find on page 320 that the Klasno community built a hospital for the poor in 1780. We also learned from Dubnov's history book Divrei Yemey Am Olam, volume 7, pages 219-221 (Baruch Krupnik's translation published by Dvir) about the Patent of Tolerance issued by Joseph the Second, emperor of Austria, in which he

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promised rights to the Jews of Galicia on condition that they open German schools for the Jewish children. And indeed such schools were founded in the cities of Galicia. Naphtali Herz Homberg, follower and friend of Mendelssohn, stood at the head of those schools and caused displeasure to Mendelssohn who was then still among the living (died in 1786).

The historian Meir Balaban in his book The History of the Jews of Cracow 1656-1868, page 540, explicitly includes Klasno among the cities in which German schools were opened at the end of the 18th c. The conclusion is obvious, Klasno was a townlet hundreds of years old, the magnificent interior construction of the synagogue fortified from the outside had architectural class and so built that it could serve as a shelter for the community in troubled times.

 

Outline for the Image of the Community in Wieliczka at the Beginning of the 20th C.

It is not my intention to present a study of the Jewish Community in Wieliczka at the beginning of the 20th c.; I wish to review in essence the life of the Jews in our town as I remember it from my childhood and adolescence: the manner of life in those days with its light and shade, weekdays and holidays.

The Jewish settlement in Wieliczka was young, very young. Its beginning started in the 70s of the past century in the days of the liberal regime of the Austrian monarchy which lasted till the end of the First World War (1918); its continuation was under the rule of liberated Poland,

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which was hostile to Jews, and its end came in the Nazi holocaust (1942). Altogether the Jewish settlement in our town lasted only about 70 years.

 

The Population

Wieliczka was a district town with over 100 villages and small settlements like Dobczyce Gdow and others being affiliated to it. In those places there were also but few Jews, or just individuals. The Jewish community was in no way different from hundreds of other communities in Galicia, except for the numerical ratio between Poles and Jews, i.e. there were townlets with a Jewish majority and a Polish minority, but in Wieliczka the Jews constituted only 15% of the general population. There were 614 Jewish souls in the city in 1890; 981 in 1900, whereas in 1921 there lived 1700 souls. (vis. Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 16, pages 242, 496). On the surface, our community was no different from other communities in Galicia that shared the same way of life.

Yet it seems that Jewish life in our town was more developed because of its proximity to Cracow (all together 14 km.) was for many of us a happening. For what reason? No doubt it was the walk on foot through long boulevards to the railway station outside the city. The train to Cracow left on its way twice or three times daily. Suddenly good news arrived: good riddance of the clumsy train, a diesel train would enter the heart of the city on a railway line at an hour's frequency. The change was radical. Communication between the townlet and the metro-

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polis became fast – most townspeople often spent their time in Cracow either for pleasure or business. This was of significant influence upon our life. Unlike the other townlets that were resting on their oars, the people of Wieliczka brought home from the metropolis a gust of refreshing breeze that slowly changed their way of life. To better illustrate the change I shall describe a personal episode of mine. One evening, I, the yeshiva student clad in traditional long garb with side curls and trace of a beard, found an excuse to leave for Cracow. And – woe to the eyes which saw this – I entered for the first time in my life to a Yiddish theatre to see a show, something which was precluded from a fellow townsman to accomplish. It is needless to describe the impact of the play, the artistic setting and all that the theatre show had to offer.

The city of Wieliczka was beautiful. It was immersed in a sea of green and flowers, gardens, boulevards and a beautiful park. The Poles lived in wide circles around the Jewish quarters and in villas surrounded by gardens in the suburbs. The Poles had a name for each quarter. The Jewish population was densely residing in the centre of town around the downtown square (Dolny Rynek) and around the uptown square (Gorny Rynek). There was the Christian Church between the two squares, and the linking nearby street was called the Church Street. Here and there Jews settled also on the outskirts of the town.

 

Living Conditions

Most Jews of the Wieliczka community were poor and struggled bitterly to make ends meet. Whole families lived in miserable flats of wood and stone, devoid of the most elemen-

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tary sanitary facilities. Those flats mostly consisted of one room and kitchen. The one room served for many purposes: dining room, bedroom, guest room and study. And where there was no kitchen – also as a kitchen. Such a flat of one room often housed large families, two or three children slept in one bed. My family of 7 souls lived in a flat of one room and kitchen. The very poor lived in attics or cellars and were afflicted with asthma and T.B. due to the dampness of the walls. The supply of water had not yet been installed in these flats and water had to be fetched in buckets from the public faucets in the street to fill the barrels in the flats. Hot water for washing up? A bath? This was not in existence. For that purpose one public bath was put up to serve all the Jewish population of the town. I still remember when pipes were laid for the supply of water to the flats. And I certainly remember the great radical change in our life on the installation of electricity. Up to that time the candle and kerosene lamp served as the only light in the evenings in the house as well as outside. No doubt many of the readers will remember their way back home from the “Heder” with a lamp in their hand to light their way. And behold the electric bulb of only 25 watts had been lit and its light dazzled our eyes, the actual light of the seven legendary days. It is noteworthy to stress that in spite of the great development of electricity, the candle was and is still preserved among Jews and gentiles alike in the house as well as in public and holy places, as the symbol of holiness and festivity.

The middle and upper classes lived in more spacious flats, in at least two rooms, with reasonable sanitary facilities. However, in the most essential area of sanitation, all

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classes lacked toilets adjacent to their flats, except for the extremely rich who lived in villas and modern houses. Most sanitary conveniences were situated in the courtyards in poor condition endangering the health of the population.

 

The Economy

Retail business was the main source of livelihood for the Jews of Wieliczka. Nearly all shops around the square, uptown and downtown, were in Jewish hands. Most customers came from among the salt miners in the city. Business was conducted in a quiet manner most days of the week, but on the two market days (Monday and Thursday) when the peasants arrived with their carts loaded with their produce of poultry, vegetables, grains and fruit for sale, and in exchange purchased what was available in the city: sugar, food-products, clothing, industrial goods, etc., there was a tumult and nose preceded by extensive preparations.

There was no lack of craftsmen in the various professions: cobblers, tailors, blacksmiths, bakers, tinsmiths, etc. There were, of course, religious ministrants (rabbis, ritual slaughterers, teachers and others). It happened that a skilled and adroit craftsman sometimes engaged in another craft in order to improve his economic condition. I remember one tinsmith named Lephelholtz who knew to play the fiddle; he was invited to lay at weddings to make the bridegroom rejoice with the bride.

There were also heavy and light industries: Wolf's brewery and soft drink plant; Perlberg's distillery and Perlberger's tannery, and more. Wieliczka had a paper factory belonging to Gold-Sznur and three large plants belonging

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to the Friedman family: a sawmill, a brick burning factory and a flour mill.

There were but a few learned professions. Among the medical doctors were Dr. Tune and the assimilated Dr. Mollkner. Dr. Horowitz, who for years served as deputy mayor, was a lawyer. There was also the veterinary surgeon Ramer, the dentist Weinberg and the teacher of religion Szapiro. All branches of the economic life in every settlement were also to be found in our city. True, there were but few who had an adequate income. Most of the Wieliczka residents lived scantily because of financial straits.

The science of sociology in the United States established a rule some time ago by which it is possible to classify the middle class into 8 categories, from the lowest to the highest. According to this rule we shall be quite accurate in saying that the majority of Wieliczka Jews could be classified as middle class, but of the lowest grade.

 

The Jewish Community in its Relationship to Tradition

Our Jewish community was composed of all sects, starting with the extreme Orthodox of the kind of Neturey Carta (extreme zealots opposed to Zionism and a Jewish State) and ending with the assimilated Jews on the eve of their apostasy. At first the Orthodox element was predominant and comprised all pious sects: the Hassidim, the Mitnagdim (opponents to Hassidism) and g-d fearing and observant Jews. This widespread element was conspicuous mainly by its external appearance: growing a beard and side curls, wearing an oval velvet hat with a short, wide or round brim, and a long capote. On Sabbath they wore a long

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black or brocaded silk gown with a silk girdle encircled the loins.

But the breeze of western civilization blowing from Vienna, the capital of Austria, military service in the Austrian army, the economic struggle and the frequent train rides on business, not to mention the pressure of the Gentile environment, all these slowly but surely undermined the foundations of tradition, weakened the bases of the Jewish way of life and its customs. A hidden but consistent struggle was going on between progress and tradition. The growth of the merchant class and learned professionals helped to bring about the change. Many Jews became irreligious. Most of them got used to wearing European clothes, German style. They still grew their beards, but it was a well trimmed beard and their shirts with the hard while collars were worn with a tie, a la the style of the enlightened during the period of emancipation and enlightenment. They still preserved the traditional garb for the synagogue on Sabbaths, but on weekdays there were many who wore short jackets and one was amazed to see them completely dressed as “Germans”.

The truth of the matter is that this change in external looks did not contribute to anything, this external assimilation did not in the least diminish the Gentiles' hatred for Jews, be it Orthodox or “progressive”.

Assimilation also penetrated into everyday speech. Yiddish may way for Polish as the mother tongue. The German language which was prevalent among the enlightened in the 19th c. lost its value on the revival of Poland. The early intellectuals still enjoyed reading Goethe, Schiller and Heine, and derived pleasure from reading Herzl's feuilletons

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in Die Neue Freie Presse and the reviews of Max Nordau. The Hebrew intellectuals read Hamitzpeh edited by Menahen Lazar or the Lamberger Tagblatt in Yiddish, edited by Moshe Kleinman (later editor of Haolam). The Zionists read Die Welt, edited by Dr. Herzl in German, as well as Hebrew edition. The Polish language replaced the German of the assimilated. The Zionists too were forced to swim with the tide and publish in Galicia in the twenties of this century two newspapers in Polish: Nowy Dziennik in Cracow and Chwila in Lwow.

But in general, as mentioned, our community was marked by its religiosity. The Sabbath and Jewish holidays changed the face of the city. All work was halted, business transactions stopped at candle lighting time on Friday, till the coming out of the stars on Saturday evening. Nobody desecrated the Sabbath in public.

Between the two extremes, the Orthodox on the one hand and the assimilated on the other, there were masses of the simple folk (amcho) faithful to the tradition and customs of all kinds and shades, while religiosity and secularity were all mixed up.

 

Education

As previously mentioned, cracks appeared in the religious wall already at the beginning of the 20th c. Hassidim, Mitnagdim and simple Orthodox folk were still in the majority. Their everyday language, in contrast to the assimilated, was still Yiddish. Though most Orthodox sent their daughters to governmental schools and their everyday language was Polish, the sons received their education solely in Heder or yeshiva. There was a small minority in the community

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who sent their sons to the governmental schools and they visited the Heder in the afternoon only up to the age of 10. The former and the latter did not continue in the high school except for individuals, because they were forced to desecrate the Sabbath.

The typical Heder with roots from the preceding centuries, dominant in the 19th c. and keeping abreast in the beginning of the 20th c. was divided into three stages. The lowest – beginners of the tender age of 3. The children were taught the ABC vocalization and reading. Children at the age of 5 advanced to the intermediate stage where they were taught the Pentateuch and the Rashi commentary. From the intermediate stage the pupils advanced to the highest stage and studied the Oral Law.

The old fashioned schooling was considered a learned profession in spite of the fact that the Melamed was not trained for his profession. Anyone could assume the title of melamed without having his credentials checked. It happened that the melamed was a man of letters and capable of teaching and educating, but very often the melamed was unfit for teaching, and he became a teacher after he had failed in many other areas. The former saw the fruits of his labour and the pupils benefited, but the latter stumbled and failed his pupils.

The melamdim lived in poverty. Teaching was generally conducted in his one room flat. The melamed's wife cooked meals and brought forth her children in that same room, when only a thin partition divided between her and the “heder” – the classroom.

The life of the Jewish child in the townlets was very hard, both in winter and summer. In the very cold winter

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the children were dragging their feet in snow and deep mud at 8:00 o'clock in the evening lighting their way home with the dim lanterns' in their hands. They also learned till 8:00 in the evening summertime in the suffocating heat and the sweat running down their bodies while longing for freedom, greenery and fresh air. There were, of course, also good days, mainly holidays, but these were few. Corporal punishment was taken for granted and the parents accepted it in the spirit of: “He that spares his rod hates his son”.

There was o Jewish Day School combining religious and secular studies in our city. Neither was there a yeshiva for the graduates of the higher grades of the heder. Those boys became therefore bound to the bench of the House of Learning or the Hassidic shtibel where they studied individually or in groups the oral law until they became of age. The adults also studied in these Houses of Learning, fathers and sons, after the business hours in the evening. I well remember the night of the 15th of Av, when the days begin to get shorter and the nights longer. That night after the evening prayer all seats in the House of Learning were taken and the voices of the learners sounded in the traditional tune “ho, ho, ammar Ravah, ho tanu rabbanan”. These voices of the Torah students immersed in the sea of the oral law broke through the walls of the House of Learning. Also the simple folk gathered here and learned the Mishna or Ein Yaakov (collection of legends and homilies) under the guidance of a learned man.

The period between the two world wars was very turbulent and there were upheavals in the life of the society. New parties arose and political life became exciting. It

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Reached such a point that in one family there were “representatives” of several opposing parties: father was a Hassid and member of Agudath Israel, his eldest son a Zionist, the other a communist and the third a Bund member.

This agitated life and changes led to a complete revolution in the educational field. Modern schools for secular and religious studies arose (secular – Tarbuth, religious – Takhkemoni and Yavneh). The common factor for both types of school was that the language of instruction was Hebrew and both were imbued with the Zionist spirit. Also the Agudah Israel of the orthodox introduced fundamental change. No more a heder in the private flat of the teacher, but a spacious building with stress on order and hygiene. No more a melamed but a teacher who next to piety and learning was versed both in religious as well as secular studies and possessed pedagogic skill. The curriculum was also applied to the education of the girls. In the girls' schools, Beth Yaakov, the subjects of instruction were: the Pentateuch, Hebrew and ethical literature. The goal of the Beth Yaakov schools was to educate an observant and educated daughter.

 

Manners, Way of Life and Customs

Sabbath eve in the afternoon, as I remember it: Secular life came to a stop. Schools, business, workshops and industry had been shut down while it was still day. Jews were getting ready to receive the Shabbath queen. A festive atmosphere was hovering in the air, there was the impression that no Gentiles lived in the city. Also the nonreligious were getting ready for the Sabbath. At sunset Jews walked with their children, washed and dressed in Sabbath clothes, to the synagogue. The lit Sabbath candles in the copper candle-

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sticks glittered through the windows when the mothers blessed over the candles. The clean synagogue was brightly illuminated and bestowed a festive air. When darkness had set in, the cantor began chanting Lekhu N'ranenah, a song of praise for the Sabbath queen, and the congregation joined in. The singing and prayers were heard outside. The service came to an end with blessings of Shabbat Shalom echoing from all sides. The congregants parted from one another and walked home easily, accompanied by wandering beggars who had been invited as Sabbath guests. After blessing the household, the head of the family started the tune of Shalom aleykhemn (peace be upon you) and finished with Eshet Hayil, a hymn in praise of the housewife. When the blessing over the wine was over, all were ready for the festive Sabbath dinner, accompanied by Sabbath songs in a pleasant family atmosphere.

On Saturday morning after father's return from a dig in the ritual bath, he sat down at the table and went over the portion of the week (twice in Hebrew and once in Aramaic), and again back to the synagogue for the morning prayer, reading of the Torah and the additional prayer (Mussaf). On return from the synagogue, father blessed over the wine and the second Sabbath dinner began. This dinner was of special significance because of the hot and tasty cholent (meat stew) that was served straight from the bakery oven, where it was shoved in on Sabbath eve.

After a nap came the hour of studying the Savings of the Fathers (in summer) or Borkhi Nafshi (in winter) or reciting the Psalms. There was a custom that father, relatives or strangers examined their children in the portion of the week and as a reward was given Sabbath fruits

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and sweets. I too was many times invited by the intellectual of our city Kalman Zajdenfrau for such a test.

Slowly the day turned towards eventide. The turn of the evening prayer arrived and with it the third dinner, but this time a light one to fulfill one's obligation. At evening twilight we assembled again in the synagogue and sang the last Sabbath songs in public. It would soon be dark and a heavy depression would come over all. The children would be sorry to go back to the heder, the fathers would worry about the coming weekdays and the anxiety of making a living. Soon the Sabbath queen would be on her way out and the prince would again turn into a dog (a la the classical description of Mendeli Mokher Sefarim in the story “The Dog and the Prince”). The first stars were sparkling outside. Father blessed in low spirits over the wine – hamavdil, he sniffed the spices as if to sweeten the bitter pill a little. It was hard to take leave of the Sabbath queen, they tarried therefore a little by having an additional (the fourth) feast (melaveh malkah) accompanied by singing and dancing. All were consoled that before long the Sabbath will reappear in its full splendor.

 

Superstitions

The fear of devils and evil spirits, mainly in the dark hours, incantation against the evil eye and being injured, the belief that the dead leave their graves at midnight wrapped in their prayer shawls to pray in the synagogue, the belief in a Dybbuk, i.e. that a soul can enter a strange body and only the rabbinical court can drive that soul out by the authority and blowing of the ram's horn – all these

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are only part of the superstitious beliefs that struck roots in our places and others. As for myself, I am still not quite free from this type of education till this very day. I remember when I had been in Vienna in 1937, I decided to visit Herzl's grave (before his remains were transferred to Israel). It so happened that I arrived there towards evening. Nobody was around and I found myself wandering alone amidst the graves looking for the leader's grave. I have to admit I felt very uneasy…I had to brace myself up to continue the search until I chanced upon his grave. I then left the place as quickly as possible…

One crazy man by the name of Israel Moshe was part of our city landscape. He was sometimes balanced in mind and uttered ideas like that of a sane man He claimed that the whole world was actually crazy with very few sane people, and since it was impossible to confine them all, only the sane were concentrated in asylums…

To Berish Mandel, the beadle of the House of Learning “Dorshey Tov”, who was blind on one eye he said: “Be it known that your death will be an easy one”. “How do you know?” – the beadle wondered. “Because you will have to shut one eye only” – was his reply.

 

Personalities

Our community was very small (ca 250-300 families), and very young (ca. 70 years). It is no wonder then that our community did not produce famous people. Yet, there were important personalities who held positions in the town and community councils. There were also some local Zionist community workers. Of the most important ones, there were 2-3 personalities who attained outside fame: Eliyahu

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Tzvi Friedman, Adolph Hirsch and Naphtali Gross. The first was a self-made man. He began dealing in lumber and very quickly developed a network of saw-mills in western and eastern Galicia, and his branches reached as far as Rumania. He was famous far and wide as an industrialist and philanthropist. The second was known as a Zionist leader, though unknown outside the city bounds. The third one was famous for his great learning. There were many learned people in our city, but surpassed them all. He devoted all his life to the study of the Torah and was spreading knowledge everywhere. He used to assemble congregations and teach them the oral law and Ein Yaakov. Many benefited from his wide knowledge in the vast treasury of the oral law.

My review dedicated to the memory of the martyrs of our city, whose only sin was their being born Jewish, came to an end. No trace was left of our community, the graveyard was completely demolished and its tombstones uprooted. Let this modest review serve as a memorial to our community and let it be bound in the bond of life forever.


Zionism in Our City in the
Second and Third Decade of this Century

by Yehoshua Ofer

My memories go back to the days of the Zionist Organization in our city, to the beginning of the second and third decade of this century. There exited already at that time a Zionist movement “Heatid” (the future),

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but I do not know when and by whom it was founded.

The only short notice about the existence of a Jewish Zionist Organization in Wieliczka at the beginning of the 20th century, we find for the first time in Dr. Block's Wochenschrift Vienna, 1905 p. 268. At the meeting of young charitable women ”Miryam” as to assisting the needed, Adolph Hirsch held a very interesting and instructive lecture on the burning issue: Zion versus Uganda.

The movement rented rooms for a club in the house of Hirsh and Licht, and all the activities of old and young were held there. One of the rooms of the club was furnished with small tables and chairs and served as a lecture and reading room containing all the Zionist newspapers.

Lectures on general and national topics were held there pretty often, especially during the winter season. The lecturers came mostly from Cracow, and among the prominent speakers were: Dr. Schwarzbard, Dr. Feldman, Dr. Terlo, Magister Salpeter, Szmulewich and Hofsztadter. The local committee met there from time to time and organized all Zionist activities. Zionist parties were not yet in existence at that time, the committee represented all. In an adjoining room there was the library consisting of large bookshelves crammed with many books in Polish and some in Yiddish. Books were lent twice a week and the readership was numerous.

With the expansion of the Zionist Organization and its division into fractions, the movement Heatid dispersed and due to an evacuation order had to move out of the club. The following movements of adults and youth came into being: Wizo, Ari – a non-party sports club, Academic Society named A. Hersz and the youth movements: Betar,

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Akiba, Dror and later on also Meir Grosman's movement – the Jewish National Party, and Gordonia. The Bund was not in existence and there were but a few communists among the Jews of the city.

 

Zionist Activity

First and foremost among Zionist activities was the raising of funds, the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod – the United Jewish Appeal. Since the UNA served as the basis for the Zionist Organization budget and demanded the collection of large sums, it was entirely in the hands of the adults and influential people who made the affluent sign annual pledges. On the other hand the JNF was considered a folk fund which embraced every Jewish home and was mainly in the hands of the youth movements, who collected the donations with great success. The JNF activities concentrated on fixed topics, placing a JNF box in the greatest possible number of houses alongside with the traditional Rabbi Meir Baal Haness box, which was part and parcel of every Jewish home for ages. Every Sabbath and holiday eve the housewife deposited pennies into the Baal Haness box and its white blue companion box. This was quite an achievement taking into account the fact that the majority of Jews in the city were orthodox and boycotted all Zionist functions. T he JNF box was accepted in 150 to 170 homes.

The JNF expressed by its popular form the revolt of the young. It was not so with the UJA campaign that called for vast sums and needed extensive preparatory work for its success. Outside lecturers were often invited in order to appeal to the Jewish heart. During such a campaign

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in 1925, Dr. Terlo of Cracow was invited to lecture in the great synagogue of Klasno on the significance of the fund and its activities. After the reading of the Torah the guest lecturer was invited to the podium. He hardly took his place when the orthodox of the neighbouring House of Learning broke into the synagogue and tried to prevent the speaker from lecturing, but they failed. Next day the local Zionist committee visited Jewish homes and stores in order to collect the pledges to the fund, and they were very successful.

After the split in the Zionist Organization and the foundation of the New Zionist Revisionist Organization, another fund Tel-Hai came into being. This naturally caused losses to the JNF fund since the Revisionist devoted themselves to their fund.

 

The Circulation of the Shekel and the Zionist Congress Elections

Another significant function was the circulation of the shekel. The Zionist Organization embraced large circles of the Jewish population in dispersion. The shekel served as an identity card and entitled its holder the right to vote for the Zionist congress. About 2 months before the election all Zionist activity concentrated on propaganda for the shekel, distribution of printed materials and holding election rallies.

 

Pioneer Training

The most important goal of the youth movement members was going on aliyah to Eretz Israel and sharing in the up building of the land. The essential precondition for

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obtaining an aliyah certificate was the adequate preparation for the new life. This was accomplished in pioneer training kibbutzim in the villages and cities. Already in 1925/6 some pioneers founded such a kibbutz in our town. The youth movement centres (Dror, Betar, central Hechalutz, Hanoar Hatzioni and Akiba) organized pioneer training groups who were sent for at least a period of one year to the kibbutzim. Most of the first pioneers stayed there for several years living a communal life on the pattern of the kibbutzim in Eretz Israel. They worked at every job they chanced upon and led a rich social and cultural life. In our city alone there were such 4 groups: Dror, Betar, National Party and Poalei Agudath Israel. The Wieliczka Zionists tried to find occupation for the pioneers and some worked at the saw mill, brick factory, etc.

The local youth often visited these groups and took part in their deliberations and activities. This encouraged them to join such groups in other places. Many of them found their way to Eretz Israel.

 

Municipal Elections

Jews achieved good results in the election of council members in the municipality of Wieliczka: out of the 24 members elected 8 to 9 were Jews. Thus the election of Dr. Horowitz as deputy mayor was possible, an achievement which facilitated Jewish municipal interests in the city.

When the national Zionist movement arose it understood immediately the anomaly of Jewish life in dispersion, and though its main target was the aliyah of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, it did not neglect its role in the diaspora and tried to influence community life. In this

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area the Zionist movement met with great opposition from the orthodox and community elders. In view of that, one can better understand Dr. Theodor Herzl's appeal “conquer the communities”, as well as the Helsingfors conference platform which outlined the policy of the Zionist Organization in this matter.

 

The Zionist Loan Bank

The Jews in our city made their living from two sources. Wieliczka was the district city and over 100 villages were under its jurisdiction. The peasants brought their produce for sale and in exchange acquired industrial goods. The second source was the miners of the salt mines. The custom was that the pay-day fell on a Saturday when the Jewish stores were closed. Since the stores were also closed on Sundays, the rest day for the Christians, there was no money left in the hands of the miners when the stores opened on Monday. This situation handicapped Jewish merchants. Many a time small store-keepers found themselves in distress when they had to pay the bills and there was no cash in their possession. The loan bank came then to their rescue by extending to them a loan on low interest.

 

The Sports Clube “Ari”

The sports club Ari was organized by the brothers Szinagel and Aptowicz in 1921. The only sport they engaged in was soccer. The team mates were amateurs, most of the students, yet they did well. In the course of 2-3 years the team fell apart because of insufficient training, but came to life again in 1926 and began its activity on tennis and bicycle riding sections were added. The table

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tennis and bicycle riding sections were added. The table tennis section excelled in the city and overpowered all Polish teams. The soccer section was very active and its members, students and workers, financed their own equipment. They often defeated Polish teams, and on such occasions the Polish crowd threw stones at them at the end of the game. The bicycle section went on group hikes and participated in races.

 

Celebrities' Visits in Wieliczka

Our city was famous for its salt mines and the wonderful engravings of salt halls and palaces carved in the mines below the surface of the earth, and also for the great church which was adorned with chandeliers made of salt crystals, pieces of art. These sites attracted tourists from all corners of the world. Among them we were privileged to see world celebrities and great personalities of Jewry and Zionism. These visits greatly enriched our activities and made us proud of our Zionism. Among the important visitors were colonel Windham Dyds, who headed the political department in General Allenby's headquarters, General Ord Charles Wingate, the strategic genius who devoted his great talent to the service of Israel and founded and drilled the night-squads. The Jewish public felt very honoured by General Wingate's visit. We were greatly impressed with the visit of general Smuts, prime minister of South Africa, a great man and a good friend of the Jewish people.

And last but not least, our greatest poet Chaim Nahman Bialik, who while touring Polish cities in 1931 came also to Wieliczka. Bialik was very much impressed with the art work in the salt mines. The poet was very happy

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when he noticed on one of the walls a Hebrew inscription in block letters greeting him with the traditional blessing Baruch Haba (welcome)! The poet got excited and exclaimed: how wonderful! Even in the depth of the earth I find the Hebrew language!

These visits enhanced and strengthened Zionist activities in Wieliczka.


Evidence

by Michael Zellner

 

The Nazi Atrocities in Wieliczka

The Nazi persecution and murder of the Jews in Wieliczka began on the first day of the Germans' arrival in our city.

Their first query on reaching the city was: where are the Jews? The few males they had found in the city (most of them fled on the day of the outbreak of the war), were mobilized for cleaning the square. They were forced under threats of being shot to sweep the square with their bare hands and to collect the horse dung into their pockets. This was the German way of greeting…

A company of German soldiers in black uniforms with the death's-head on them arrived in our city on the 12th of September, 1939. They ordered the municipality to supply them with a list of the Jewish residents. The commander of the company was a Pole, municipality clerk Mazurowski, aged 30, who had worked here before as a messenger, but had actually been in the German secret service. With the list in their hands, the Germans raided the Jewish homes in search for males. They apprehended 32 men and brought

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them to the city square. There they were lined up, ordered to put their hands behind their necks, loaded on lorries and brought to the outskirts of the city. After they had been unloaded they were lined up in 8 rows and shot row after row up to the last one. The corpses were left at the scene of murder, since the Germans were in a hurry to proceed to Limanova to commit the same crime on that very day. By the injuries on the bodies of some, one could assume these were the bodies of those who had shown resistance to the murderers.

Since there had been no men left in the town, the women were obligated to bury their dead. 32 victims lie there buried in a separate plot in the graveyard.

These are the names of the first 32 victims, may the Lord revenge their blood, who were murdered by the Nazis on the 12th of September 1939:

Orbach and his son
Armer Jacob and his son Joseph
Buchstahl Samuel, Hendler's son-in-law
Bajor Samuel, Hendler's son-in-law
Blumenfeld Shmelke and his son Hershel
Goldberg Abraham and his son Moshe
Gerber Isaac, Blumenfeld's son-in-law
Gross Jacob and his son Samuel
Dancig Samuel
Hendler Pinhas and his son Abraham
Heler Abraham
Waldman Jacob Hirsh and his son Naphtali
Wishnicki
Winer Moshe
Melcer Abraham
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Poremba Joseph
Falk Meir and his son Joseph
Fiszer Moshe
Kornhauser Leibish
Kriger Aron
Kaner Moshe Jacob
Stern and his son
And one more martyr whose name is not remembered by the city survivors.
The men who had fled the town at the outbreak of the war were afraid to return. In the meantime a new German mayor, Frenzel, arrived in the city. He, too, repeated on his arrival he question: where are the Jews? He gathered the women and commanded them to form a new Judenrat, and on that occasion charged them with a heavy tax of 8000 zloty. The women managed with great effort to raise this high amount and submit it to the mayor.

Three months later the Jews began gradually to return to the city. They were afraid to cooperate with the women in the Judenrat and were taken to hard labour without pay. At the same time a series of robberies and looting of Jewish homes began. Individual German soldiers broke into Jewish homes and looted what was at hand. The German gendarmerie demanded that the Judenrat supply them with linen, kitchen utensils and crockery. A great effort was needed to meet these demands, but it was done in the hope that the tormentors would ease their oppression, but this turned out to be false. The German demands grew from day to day, and it was impossible to meet them. More than once, mayor Frenzel accompanied by Mazurowski came

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With a lorry to the well-to-do Jewish homes emptying their contents and ordering to have the finer items transported to his house in Germany.

There seemingly came a turn for the better in 1940. An S.A. officer, Rosig from Dresden, replaced mayor Frenzel. He was more intelligent than his predecessor. After learning the local conditions and receiving diamonds and other precious gifts, he promised that no evil will befall the Jews of the city. Nevertheless, he could not or did not want to ignore the orders of the district governor in regards to the limitation of the freedom of movement of the Wieliczka Jews. Certain streets were limited therefore out for the Jews of Wieliczka. Concurrently a new order on behalf of the Sonderdienst (Special Service) was proclaimed commanding all Jews to bow before every German met on the street. Woe to the Jew who ignored this order or who did not wear the Star of David badge as regulated. Flogging and torture was their fate.

Several thousand Jews were uprooted from Cracow and vicinity and brought to Wieliczka at the end of 1941. The situation became worse from day to day. About 4000 Jews were transported to hard labour camps where they paved the highway from Wieliczka to Bochnia. T he distress of hunger, poverty and despair was felt everywhere. The meagre portion of bread was the only food the Jews had received. The ban to leave the city was strictly observed and woe to the one who left the city without a permit. In order to divert Jewish opinion from the true German evil devices, the Nazis order the Judenrat, which was then composed of men and women, to restore the municipal bathhouse at the great expense of tens of thousands of zloty.

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The new mayor Rosig who demanded full remuneration in jewelry for everything he did, suggested to establish workshops, named “city workshops”. These came speedily into being by the toil of Jewish engineers. Among others they also employed around 700 Jews. The Jews were very eager to be absorbed in the workshops in the hope that this would save them from the certain destined death. Yet life became more and more unbearable. The slightest offense brought heavy penalties.

Dark clouds covered the Jewish sky in the city of Wieliczka in July, 1942. There had been then around 8000 Jews in the city and the Germans imposed on the Judenrat, headed by Dr. Steinberg from Cracow, a heavy tax in the sum of half a million zloty. This sum had to be handed in within 14 days. The Jews of Wieliczka were stricken with great panic not only because of the high tax, but from the experience of other cities they had learned that a tax levy always preceded deportation to unknown places. The tax had to be understood as payment for “travel expenses” of “coffin nails”.

The enormous sum was raised with great difficulty, particularly from the affluent Jews and submitted n the fixed date, namely, the 1st of August, 1942.

Under the pretext of establishing a new ghetto in Wieliczka, the Judenrat got the word that the Jewish population of Dobczyc, Gdov, Niepolomice, Biezanov and surrounding villages were ordered by district governor, Dr. Holler, to leave their places of sojourn and arrive in Wieliczka no later than the 20th of August, being allowed to bring with them all their belongings. When the mayor Rosig had been asked whether this was true that a new ghetto was

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about to be established in the city, he confirmed it and in his greediness promised assistance in the matter. He was surely well rewarded in advance for his promise.

A high Gestapo official, named Kunde, brought with him on the 15th of August an order to establish in Wieliczka a modern hospital with improved sanitary facilities, that could accommodate 250 sick. All this had to be carried out within 8 days. All city factors were called to participate in this project and the Judenrat was forced to make use of the Jewish police to throw into the street 10 to 20 families in order to make room for the site of the hospital. The fear and anxiety of a destined deportation mitigated after having fulfilled this heavy task. The Jews were deceived in the hope that after complying with the authorities' demand, there could not possibly be a deportation. But the Jews of Wieliczka came pretty soon to realize that the murderers had laid a trap fort them and that this satanic scheme was meant to mislead them and dumb their alertness. The Germans intended with this evil design to concentrate all sick in one place in order to facilitate their extermination scheme.

The German gendarmerie informed the Judenrat by phone on the 23rd of August that from that date on the Gestapo will treat Jews as lawless residents and completely submissive to their orders.

The city was surrounded by hundreds of policemen of different unites on the 25th of August in order to make sure that no one can flee. The few who had tried were caught and shot.

The news spread fast on the 25th of August that freight trains had been stationed at the city railway station waiting

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for the deportees to be transported to an unknown destination. It is impossible to describe the confusion and panic of the Jews. The Germans exploited this situation and imposed another heavy tax of 150,000 zloty in order to heighten the tension. This levied tax was not only meant for further extortion of Jewish capital, but was intended to sow bitterness and despair among the frightened Jews. To fill the bitter cup the German gendarmerie turned to the Judenrat with the demand for immediate delivery of 10 kg. coffee, 2 kg. tea and some other luxury6 items. The Jews, frightened to death, did all in their power to comply with all these demands.

The very day, at 7:00 in the evening, when the Jews of Wieliczka were in the state of aftershock desperately awaiting their fate, the Gestapo ordered all Jews – about 8000 – to gather next day in the square opposite the railway station. Those not showing up or being late will be shot.

The 27th of August was the most tragic day for the Jews of Wieliczka. From all corners of the city the Jews gathered at 5:00 at dawn at the appointed place surrounded by police. Those found hiding in the city or arriving late were shot on the spot. The frightened crowd carrying small bundles in their hands and up to 20 zloty in their pockets stood waiting for the new orders. T he selection started. First the Nazis removed the old, crippled, exhausted and sick, about 700, and located them on lorries and transported them to the nearby forest in Niepolomice. They had to undress and were shot in pairs falling right into the trenches that had been prepared before. The selection continued and 700 healthy young men, fit for work, were

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taken out and sent to labour camps in Stalowa Wola or Plaszov. The rest, the bulk of the crowd, were crammed into freight wagons, 150 to a wagon, and transported to Belzec. A great part died on the way from thirst and suffocation. The German escort did not allow the supply of even a drop of water. Those who had been still alive on reaching Belzec died in the gas chambers.

From all the great crowd of Wieliczka Jews murdered in the gas chambers, only one eye witness to the massacre, Rudolph Reder, survived. The memory of this tragic event appears in a book under the title of “Belzec”. It was published by the Jewish Historical Committee in Cracow.

For some months after the massacre of the Wieliczka Jews, the German still searched the city for surviving Jews and caught hundreds of Jews hidden in the city and vicinity. Those were shot on the spot or brought to the graveyard and tortured before they were liquidated.

There are many mass graves in the Jewish cemetery testifying to the murder of innocent people. Michael Halkuf, cemetery foreman, who lives at present in Wieliczka, known to tell about the barbarous atrocities of the Germans, since he buried the victims by the order of the German gendarmerie. The number of the victims from the 27th of August to the end of 1942 reached more than 1000. There are many mass graves in the forests of Niepolomice, of about 700 Wieliczka Jews.

The undersigned witnessed the Nazi atrocities up to the 27th of August 1942, the day of the deportation.

Wieliczka, 5th of August, 1946.
(Translated by M. Y.)


Translator's Footnotes

  1. S. Dubnov, The History of the Jews, vol. 6, page 166. Return
  2. Ibid. vol. 5, page 266 & Encyclopedia Hebraica, vol. 16, page 321. Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 16, pages 242, 496. Return
  3. Salo Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, vol. 16, p. 250; Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 2, p. 468; Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 3, p. 895; vol. 6 “Emancipation”. Return


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Yom Kippur 1942, The First Sacrifice

by Yoachim Wimmer (Romek)

On Yom Kippur, just after the fast, our Rabbi from Wieliczka was shot down by the SS in Camp Rozwadow, Stalowa Wola.

He was working on the day of Yom Kippur, while fasting. He was with ten other fellows from Wieliczka on the trolley car unloading metal scrap. Then in the middle of the day, the SS Sturmband Fuehrer of the camp visited our work place and singled out our group. He was looking for the Rabbi. He came over and requested the list of the group who worked at this place to be presented after we came back from work in the evening.

I had been working at Camp Stalowa Wola. When I returned to Rozwadow, I gave the Rabbi a tomato because I knew he had been fasting all day. That was to be the last morsel of food for him. Upon entering the Camp and the “Apel Place” I asked Jonas (the Juden Elterste) what was happening. He wanted me to give this list of people who worked with Rabbi Frankel. I refused.

Then the SS Sturmband Fuehrer called out Frankel, at that moment David Frankel stepped out. The Sturmband Fuehrer said, “Not you, but Rabbi Frankel”, and declared in German that the Rabbi, blessed be his memory, sabotaged the work and had to be shot. His words were translated into Polish. Afterwards, in the presence of 1200 people, Rabbi Frankel was shot down. The soil trembled with all of us together. Then his body was put in a wheel barrel for burial.

This was the first shooting. Then in ten weeks, of the

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1200 Wieliczka Aussiedlung people there remained only 320. Camp Rozwadow was liquidated and transferred to Stalowa Wola where we remained until the fall of 1944. After that we were moved to Plashov and from Plashov to Gross Rosen, from Gross Rosen to Reichenbach. In 1945 we were liberated by the Russians.


My Wanderings in Russia During the Holocaust Period

by I. Klein

I was 21 when the Second World War broke out. The fear of the Nazis was great. I therefore decided to flee town.

After parting and receiving my parents' blessings, I packed my satchel with some food, clothes and a pair of phylacteries and set out on my way, naturally, on foot. There were practically no other means of communication. After several days of wandering, the Germans caught up with me. There was no point any more to my panicky flight, so I returned home. When I reached Wieliczka I tarried for security reasons at the first Jewish house, that of Meir Haim Aizen in Lednica. This was during sunset and I met there some Jews hiding, among them Tzvi Freidenfeld and his son Meir, of blessed memory, who later fell in the War of Liberation in Gush Etzion. I heard from them about the murder of the 32 martyrs following the Germans' entrance into the city.

I did not return home at once and slept over in Aizen's house. The mood was oppressive. We sat and recited the

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psalms. Next day we heard strong knockings on the gate. One of Aizen's daughters walked up to the gate and immediately retreated in panic and whispered: the Germans, Gestapo, hide! Instead of running to the yard and jumping the fence into the fields to escape, I ran up in consternation the steps leading to the second floor, the flat of the Aizens. The flat was empty. Together with another boy, the son of Bezalel, we ran from room to room like crazy. We finally reached the attic and climber the ladder into it. We pulled the ladder and lay down in a hidden corner. Soon the heavy steps of the Germans coming up the stairs reached me and I could hear them asking the daughters: where are the owners? We thought at first they were after us, the hideaways. It appeared they were looking for the Aizen family who had donated a considerable sum of money to the Polish government for the war against Germany (the Germans found the list of donors). After a thorough search in the Aizen flat they moved on towards the attic, not far from our hiding place. “What is up there”, one Nazi asked the other and continued climbing up in our direction… We, still under the impression of yesterday's horror-story, lay and shuddered. The eyes were shut from great fear, the hearts palpitated, thoughts ran through our minds crazily: we had only one more minute to live, may 5… what could a Jew do in such a situation? I cried out whispering: “hear, o Israel” and continued with the confession: “We are guilt-laden; we have been faithless…” Seemingly the Germans did not want to get dirty from the dust of the roof and were satisfied with a quick glance. Luckily for us they did not notice us. Thus we remained lying with our sad thoughts and terrible fright till the evening. Only

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then did we overcome our fear, took off our shoes in order not to be heard, put down the ladder and climbed down to the flat, to the surprise of all.

Only next morning did I return home. It was dangerous to stay in the house. Opposite our house t here was a stationery factory belonging to the Gold family. With their consent I hid there for a number of days, including Rosh Hashana. I joined my father in Cracow after Rosh Hashana. When I was on the street on Yom Kippur eve, I saw two cursed Nazis holding up an elderly Jew in Rabbi Majzel's street. They made him stand against the wall, tore up his fringed garment and put it on the bayonet of the rifle and burned it. The other German took out a pair of scissors, cut off the Jew's side curls and beard together with the lobe of his ear. And so the pale and shivering old man remained standing tight to the wall with the blood dripping from his ear unto his garments to the joy of the Poles watching the scene. I ran home to my aunts' house on Starowislna Street, where my father, of blessed memory, and I resided. I firmly demanded my father shave off his beard. By his consent I cut off his beard a few hours before Kol Nidrei. Next day on Yom Kippur a quorum for a congregational prayer was organized in my aunt's house. In the middle of the prayer we noticed Germans coming into the yard. The congregants hastily took off their prayer shawls and ran for their life. Only my father and myself remained with the heap of prayer shawls. Luckily the Germans did not enter our flat.

I decided to run away. I went to Przemysl, crossed the rive San, the border between Germany and Russia. I arrived in Lvov, met friends there and looked for ways

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to get to Israel. There were some alternatives: via Vilno, via Rumania and through Japan. I wanted to inform my parents about my plans. Not having any access to a phone, without postal communication, I thought to return home and lay my plans before my parents. Together with my friends Jakob Lerner we returned to Przemysl with the intention to cross the San at a sot known to us. Unfortunately, the Russians stopped us, separated between us and put us in jail. This arrest completely changed my plans. After several weeks under arrest, at the end of December 1939, the Russians transferred the prisoners, Jews and Poles alike, to a Russian prison in Czarnigov. The cells were very crowded, 25 prisoners to each cell. As an observant Jew and educate of Hashomer Hadati I took great pains, among other things, not to lose the calendar. Without a Jewish calendar one could not know when the Jewish holidays were due. There were two more observant Jews among us. We began constructing our own kind of calendar and we succeeded. We knew when Pesach, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were due.

The food in prison was not only meager but also standard, al days without any variation whatsoever, a portion of bread, a cup of tea with a small teaspoon of sugar in the morning, a spoon of soup for lunch and a spoon of soup and tea in the evening. The three of us began storing the teaspoons of sugar during the months before Pesach. When the holiday arrived we had a couple of hundred grams of sugar. On the Seder night when the rest were asleep, we sat down together, filled a matchbox with sugar and blessed the holiday. We recited some parts of the Haggadah by heart as best as we could remember. Many

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sayings of the Haggadah were for us not only of historic importance, but also of current significance. These sayings, we recited with devotion: “At present we celebrate it here, but the next year we hope to celebrate it in the land of Israel…to be freemen of the Land of Israel…”. We licked the sugar and made an oath that when G-d comes to our rescue and we shall be free again, we shall put a matchbox full of sugar on the Seder table on Pesach night in remembrance of our suffering in prison, I do so until this very day.

I was summoned to the prison office on June 1940, where I was informed that my trial had been held in Moscow and I was sentenced to 5 years of hard labour in Sybiria. After a while I was taken on the road with tens of thousands of other prisoners. We were driven towards the north by different means of transportation for two months, trains, ships and trucks. We reached a place where all the roads came to an end, and after a week we reached a forest region, where the railway line also came to an end. Gone were the roads for any kind of vehicle. We marched then on foot all day long and dragged the tools and utensils with us. Our group consisted of 500 men. We finally came upon a tree with a sign on it: “camp 45”. This was on the 1st of September, 1940.

The conditions there were inhuman. Until November 1st, 1940, two months after our arrival, 300 out of the 500 died, only 200 survived. We slept in the open and had no shelter from rain. We worked from morning till evening, in rain and snow. The hunger was severe. The lice crawled over us and sucked our blood. And so passed the weekdays and holidays without change. I remember one day, it was Yom Kippur when I fasted, when I decided not to go to

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work. I tried to hide behind a heap of wood before dawn, but someone had already preceded me. I asked him to move a little, but there was no reaction. I tried to push him and then realized the man had already been dead. I stretched out beside him and waited till all leave for work but the guards detected me with the help of the dogs that wanted to tear me to pieces. There were two more “wise guys” like me. They made us run to work with the dogs in our footsteps. I worked and prayed with tears running down my face. Thus passed Yom Kippur of 1940 in the evergreen forests in the sub-Arctic northern Sybiria. Once I was stricken with a sharp pain in my back, rheumatic fever. I was unable to work, but the doctor refused to exempt me from work. My temperature was unfortunately not too high, nor was I swollen from hunger (only in such two instances could one be exempt). Having no other choice, I went to work. I stood there like a marble statue without being able to bend, and the rain was falling down…Our guard, a young soldier, approached me and asked me for the reason of my idleness. I told him I was sick and could hardly stand up. I found this moment propitious for starting a chat with him: “How is that possible – I asked him – that one does not help a sick man and forces him to work in the open when a heavy rain is pouring down and he is wet through and through, sick, hungry, aching, shivering from cold and bitterness?”. “What kind of life is that – I continued – it is better to die than live”. The guard listened to me and said: “If you are indeed fed up with life, I can be of assistance to you. When you try to escape from the camp, I have the right to shoot you”. He had hardly finished his words, without thinking it

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over for a moment, as if automatically, I turned round and began walking. I well remember this fateful moment, I saw nothing in front of me, everything was dim and a strange buzz rang in my ears. I walked and walked. My thoughts were paralyzed. I closed my eyes till I heard a cry: stop! The dimness grew in intensity, but my feet continued their pace. Then came another cry: stop! Rushing footsteps were approaching, it was the guard in front of me with his pointed rifle commanding me to return. He invited me to his small bonfire to warm and dry up a little. Then he began to speak kindly to me: “Right, the conditions are here very hard indeed, but there may be a change tomorrow, you are still young – he continued – without confidence you are a lost man, I pity you, there is no choice but to hold out”. During that conversation a light rain was coming down. My torn shoes without socks were full of mud from the outside and wet from the inside. I was all wet and only part of my clothes got dry from the heat of the fire and evaporating. When we returned to camp towards evening, the guard came and brought me about half a loaf of bread accompanied by some encouraging words. He repeated this deed several times.

After a few months an inspection committee came to our camp. When the inspectors saw the inhuman conditions we were in, they liquidated the camp, put the commander on trial and transferred us to hospitals and more orderly camps. I was transferred to an invalids' camp. I met there, to my great joy, a landsman of mine, Mendel Gross.

Some days before Pesach 1941, Mendel Gross confided in me and told me had had about 800 grams of flour, but was unable to bake matzah from it. He asked me if

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I could do anything about it, and I promised to try. On Pesach eve I went to my wood chopping work and there switched with someone for the job of burning branches. I prepared two tin cans, in one I put snow and melted it on the fire. In the other can I mixed the flour with water, kneaded the two mixtures into a dough and passed it from hand to hand in the air, giving it some shape of matzah and put it on the fire. I turned it over after a few minutes and finally got a matzah, though very thick. All was done in fear and palpitations of being caught. My friends were naturally on the lookout for any danger. I baked the second matzah in likewise fashion. I hid the two matzas under my coat. On my return o camp Mendel gross had been waiting for me. He looked into my eyes and I hinted I was successful. I handed him over the 2 matzas and he asked me if I could hold out during Pesach if we shared it equally. I told him I was not sure. We finally agreed for him to get 1 ½ matzas and I held out for 3 days with half a matzah, even sharing a tiny bit with my friend who slept next to me. Thus I passed another Pesach in the evergreen forest of the subarctic northern Siberia, working hard at chopping strong and tall trees down, often on an empty stomach.

After the holiday Mendel Gross was sent to confinement at a penitentiary, from which he, as it seems, never returned. I remained in camp for another few months. There I was deeply impressed with the experience of the July-August nights that were as bright as day. One could read by day and night without the help of artificial light. On the other hand, the dawn tarried in the winter and dawned only at 9:00-10:00 in the morning and at 3:00 p.m. darkness

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returned to reign. Thus there were 18-19 hours of night during a calendar day.

The surprise came on the 1st of September 1941. When we returned from work and were approaching the gates of the camp, lists of Jews and Poles were read out. To our bewilderment we were told we were free as a result of a Polish-Russian agreement after the German onslaught against Russia.

After tedious and long wanderings I arrived from the northern tip of Russia to its southern end – to the city of Bukhara in Uzbek. I lived there until 1946. I found in Bukhara many Jews from Poland and some from my town Wieliczka. Part of them never came out from there, they died of various diseases. In the beginning of 1946 I received a postcard from Mr. Zellner, then in charge of Jewish matters in Wieliczka, in which he informed me that my beloved parents and all my family were deported on the 27th of August 1942 to the Belzec destruction camp, where they were suffocated by gas and cremated, all my family of 11 souls.

I am the only survivor of all my family.


From Poland to Israel via Russia

by Yehoshua Freifeld

I was under the Nazi rule for only 6 weeks, a short period, but sufficient enough to see through the Germans and know what to expect of them.

Then, a group of young people got organized with the view of fleeing eastwards to Lvov, which was already

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under Russian occupation. The Russians exiled us, together with many others, to the Arkhangelsk region near the River Dvina, next in the town of Kotlas.

We were brought to this forest region in order to deforest it, to cut down the thick trees. This deforestation was very hard due to the severe climatic conditions prevailing during all seasons of the year. The heat with all its attributes was very oppressive, flies and mites bothering the perspiring bodies. We had to work with eye shields to protect ourselves. It was severely cold in the winter. The temperature often dropped to 45 centigrade below zero. The way to and from work was a very great burden. We had to walk a distance of 12 km. from our living quarters to the forest, and at the end of the day after being tired and exhausted from the toil of the day, we had to walk back the same distance. When we finally cut down the trees near us, the forest receded and our walks became more and more painful.

There was no fixed settlement, in the accepted sense of the word, in the Arkhangelsk area. We had found on our arrival a scanty population consisting of exiles like us, who preceded us by a few years. According to their version they were brought there from White Russia after their property had been confiscated in the days of the Stalin purge. They too had been employed in felling trees, government farms and camps. The hard conditions of life annihilated them and only few survived. The survivors were appointed as our overseers. Though they themselves suffered heavily, that did not prevent them from treating us, the “fresh” exiles, cruelly, and driving us with an iron fist.

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As mentioned, our camp was a forced labour one. Leaving the camp was strictly forbidden and there was nowhere to flee. Endless wasteland stretched all around, sky and earth with unbearable climate.

For about a full year I survived in this cruel place. Who knows if I would have had the strength to go on had not something come to radically change my way of life, and for the better. The Nazis attacked Russia in 1941. Following this new war between Germany and Russia, an agreement was signed between General Sikorski, representing Poland, and the Soviet Union, by which all Polish citizens in Russia were freed in order to enlist in the Polish army. After I had enlisted we moved with the Anders army to the Middle East in 1944. First we reached Gaza in the south and from there we were taken to a training camp in Iraq for one year. After that we returned to Eretz Israel. We were about to leave for Italy on Rosh Hashana eve, 1943, and joined the Polish troops in Monte Casino. I and my friend resolved to bring all this to an end. When shall we care about our home if not right now? No sooner said than done, we took off our Polish army uniforms and joined a kibbutz. We began a new life in Israel. I married and begot children. At present I am living in Herzlia and am a happy father to a married daughter and a son who is still a student, I rejoice in my share.

I described the hardships I was stricken with after I had fled home at the beginning of the holocaust. Decades passed since then. I am sure others have suffered more than I did, yet I cannot forget the blow that stuck me in those days. I was a boy of 18, inexperienced and bound by all my heart and soul to father's home, a good and

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wiee056.jpg
A group of “Akiba” members

 

warm home. I was tied to the Zionist youth movement Akiba, where I had been educated. I took back cravingly to those happy days. The movement was heade4d by Yehoshua Ofer, and Tzipora Kichler was my instructor. The movement stressed in its activities: hikes, learning Hebrew, Sabbath enjoyment, lectures and dancing. I was torn away from my roots by a cruel hand and thrown against my will to a distant world, strange and hostile, a world devoid of human feelings, without a bit of righteousness and compassion, lacking parental warmth, protracted by dull and grim days of no feast or holiday. These were most difficult times and no hope was seen on the horizon from extracting oneself from these tribulations.

If we were consoled then and had hopes the war would soon come to an end and the world return to what

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it was, this illusion faded fast and instead came t he bitter reality of the murder of millions of our brethren, among them my parents and beloved sisters. It is hard to be consoled. If there is some consolation to my bereavement, it lies in the fact that I have built a home in Israel and begotten offspring who will continue the national chain of tradition for a better future.


Years of Hardship

by J. Kornhauser

I am the eldest son of my father Leibish and my mother Rivka (nee Ferster), was born in Wieliczka, on May 22, 1924, and followed by four brothers and two sisters.

Unfortunately my mother died in labor while giving birth to the youngest son. I was then seven years old. A year and a half later my father remarried. My father had a sheet metal shop maintaining thereby his big family. He was at one time in Pilsudsky's brigade earning himself a decoration for his bravery.

With the outbreak of the Second World War (I was then fifteen) the Nazis seized 32 Jews in Wieliczka (my father was among them), rushed them to the upper-market, tortured the victims cruelly, finally loaded them on a wagon to the periphery of the town near a little forest, slain all of them, then went away leaving the corpses on the ground. I was the first to reveal the bodies and I buried my own father.

At the end of 1939 I was taken into a camp in Pustkov by Dembitz. After several months of hard labor, I escaped to Wieliczka. I was then sent to Cracow to work on a railroad.

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At the day of total annihilation of the Jews in Wieliczka I was caught by the Jewish police in the Cracow Ghetto and together with 39 other men sent to Wieliczka to gather all Jewish goods in order to transfer them to Germany, We found there a lot of jewelry, worth a fortune.

Being aware of the fact that once the work is done, and they will no longer need us, we will be destroyed, I escaped back to the Cracow Ghetto. From there I was taken to Julag in Plashov, and there I got sick of typhus. 2000 Jews got sick, but only 800 survived. I was one of them. And again in 1943 I was sent to my first concentration camp in Plashov near the cemetery.

The year 1944 finds us in Mathausen, afterward in Styria (Austria) and in Guzen, where I was liberated by the Americans on May 5, 1945.

I live now in Peabody Mass. U.S.A. together with my wife. I have two married sons, and two granddaughters.

 

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