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[Page 549]


In the ghetto and camps

by Avner Feldman (America)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

Edited by Judy Montel


The beginning

The 1st of September 1939, the day the war broke out, was the day my troubles began. At six in the morning the Szajn metal plant in Sławków (in the Olkusz district) where I worked was bombed. The plant was located 500 meters from the town. The White Przemsza River ran through the plant. At that time I was in a technical school and worked in this plant in order to gain experience. I was 18 years old then.

Within a few days the Germans captured Katowice, Sosnowiec and other cities, and were already advancing towards our town, Sławków. We were five in our family: my father who ran a ready-made clothing factory, my mother Bluma, my 20 year old sister Sara (Sally), my 14 year old brother Jerachmiel, and myself. We thought about what we should do, and decided to flee to the larger town in the area: Olkusz. Almost all the Jews in the town did the same thing, several hundred in number. Everyone ran towards Olkusz, Skala, Wolbrom, Działoszyce and other nearby towns. Along the way, from a distance it was already possible to see the houses going up in smoke. When we entered the forest, we heard shots in our direction, from machine guns. I asked someone close by what was happening, and he replied, that the Germans had broken through the front and were coming directly towards us.

What to do? – We decided to return to our town. Others decided to do the same thing. Together there were 15 people that returned. We went home along the road that went through Wolbrom, Skala and Olkusz. We arrived at a forest and a German attachment, numbering 25 soldiers, came towards us. We were very frightened but we passed them by in strained silence, and the soldiers let us pass without harm. Around Olkusz, we reached a bridge that was already guarded by German soldiers. A man in civilian dress came up to us and warned us, that we shouldn't go there, because the Germans would kill us. We thought that this was a German spy and hence, we didn't even answer him and continued walking. Soldiers on the bridge checked that we didn't have weapons, and left us alone. We continued on our way to Sławków. Before Sławków we came upon a large stone bridge, which passed over the White Przemsza [river]. We passed safely over it.

On Thursday, the 7th of September, we came back home. A deadly silence enveloped the town. At night we heard machine gun rounds. It turned out that, by evening, the Germans had already captured the bridge and prevented other people from getting across. Everyone crossing the bridge was arrested by them, if they recognized that the person was Jewish, he was thrown into the river. At night a group of Jews tried crossing the bridge, and they were shot. Indeed, this explains the rounds of shots that we'd heard. Hundreds of Jews lost their lives on this bridge, and the Bialy Przemsza river ran red from Jewish blood.

We learnt all this from a Jewish man by the name of Krakowski, from Będzin, a metal merchant. The Germans also threw him into the water. He attempted to save himself and the Germans began striking his arms with their rifle butts and pushed him into the water. However, he knew how to swim and managed to get away from there and reached Sławków. We saw the lacerations on his arms [that he had received.] At the back of the town hall was an electrical flourmill with a water [propelled] turbine owned by Jechiel Rechnic. Several days later, about a hundred murdered Jews were found near this flourmill, that the river had swept there, and they had been stopped by the turbine's metal grate. This is what Jechiel Rechnic recounted to us. The murder victims were collected and given a proper Jewish burial. The following day, cars filled with Jews passed through the town, young and old. They had come from Będzin and Sosnowiec. The Germans transported them to the fields between Sławków and Strzemieszyce, where they forced the Jews to dig a large pit, They were shot next to the grave and then covered up with soil. Approximately 70 people were killed there, amongst them an acquaintance of mine, Dafner, a metal merchant from Dąbrowa.

Several days later we heard that there had been a large massacre of Jews in Będzin. Hundreds of Jews were snatched up in the street, old people and children. The Germans had locked them all up in the synagogue and then incinerated it. The Germans waited outside and they shot anyone that tried saving themselves by jumping out the windows.

Some weeks later, throughout the Zaglembian region, they enforced a yellow [identity] patch (a strip of material with a yellow Star of David and the label “Jude” on it which was worn on the left arm). I wore this patch with pride: I believed that Hitler would be brought down, and this belief kept me alive.

Months after this, people started escaping towards the Soviet border. I also decided to try this and discussed this with a friend, Lejb Hersz Tifenberg, that we would set out together. I woke up one morning and began packing my belongings. My mother asked me what was going on and I told her. She was seized by depression. She began crying: How could I leave her alone? My heart filled with compassion for her and I decided to stay: If we were to die, we would die together.

Some time later, in the summer of 1940, the head of the Judenrat, Moniek Meryn, a young man of 25 who came from Sosnowiec, put out an announcement that there would be a “transfer” to Belzec and no more than 10 kilo could be taken with. Fear fell on all the town's residents but nothing could be done.

A few days later a clarification arrived, that whole families would not be sent, only one son or daughter per family: the rest would stay at home. A notice reached our home that I had to report for forced labor in building roads in Germany. A doctor checked me and together with some others was sent to do forced labor in Germany.


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That was in the autumn of 1940. We were taken from Sławków in a special train, 55 people, all of them Jews, almost all the youths of the town. Another carriage was added for each town we passed by. Jewish youth were taken from all of the Zaglembian cities: Sosnowiec, Będzin, Dąbrowa, Strzemieszyce, Sławków, Olkusz and others. We were promised that we were only going for three months and after which we would be allowed to return home and we would be able to take parcels home. Apart from this, the Gestapo promised, that since we were working in Germany, our families would not be sent to Belzec.

When the train arrived to take us, we were surrounded by SS men who didn't allow anyone to approach us, not even our father or mother. Relatives standing at a distance wept bitterly.



In the Gepersdorf camp

We traveled about ten hours till we reached the SS and Gestapo headquarters. They began sorting us into groups and sent us to camps. I was sent to Gepersdorf, in the Falkenberg district, near Oppel, Silesia. We marched accompanied by a Gestapo patrol. When we reached the place, it was already dark.

When they brought us into the camp, I was seized with fear: no water, no place to lie down, only partially built wooden shacks. At the entrance to the camp the sign showed: “R. A. B. Lager (Reichsautobahnlager)” As we learned later, the head of the Judenrat, Moniek Meryn, was to blame. He had hastened to place us there four weeks ahead of time, at least – that was what the Germans in the camp told us. We later received the impression that he didn't want to replace us, for fear that others would not want to go and take our place.

We lay down in the cold to sleep on the exposed floor. The Germans told us that this was the way we'd need to sleep for the next month or perhaps more.

Several days later we were sent to work in a workstation (Baustelle [building site]). The work involved digging up clay and loading it on steel trolleys. Two of us did this work. The German guarding us was a cruel person. He held a thick, gnarled truncheon with which he would blindly clout our heads and shoulders and any other place he could reach. After several days of work I was so weakened that the work manager sent me back to the camp, let me carry water and carry out various jobs near the kitchen.

A short time later the Gestapo commander, Major Linder, came to visit (the second Gestapo chief was Dreyer[1] from Katowice; and above them was Dr. Thümmler.[2] He ordered all those who stayed in the camp to assemble, and the interrogation began. He told the doctor that anyone who didn't have a 40°C fever should not be considered a sick person. The first question that was asked of those assembled was – who had been in the camp for three weeks. A few people raised their hands. He began striking them with a leather whip that he held: “To Auschwitz!” he shouted and pointed towards the sky.

He interrogated me first. I told him that I had received work in the camp because I was weak. He called the SS man and told him that he should watch me carefully, since I was destined to be sent to Auschwitz. Even then, we knew that going to Auschwitz meant death. (The German guards would often tell us that).

Next day, I was sent to work and an SS man, Patermann, was assigned to guard me, the cruelest guard there (even the Germans later dismissed him, since he was known to murder Jews with his own bare hands). He beat me and kicked me. I only received ten deko (150 grams) of bread and water for the whole day, and after coming back from work, at 7 in the evening – a bowl of soup with frozen turnip. It was winter. The cold was intense. My work involved digging up frozen clay with a hoe. I dug with my last ounce of strength.

After two days of work my fingers were frozen and my hands covered with sores. My fingers bled and my eyes wept at my bitter fate, but for fear of the consequences I did not slacken and continued on at the same pace.

A German citizen that was together with me could no longer bear my suffering and he brought me a bandage, and when the SS man wasn't paying attention, he dressed the sores on my hands. In this way I worked for three weeks. These days, I don't understand, how I managed then to overcome all this.

Unexpectedly, the Gestapo commander, Linder, showed up again. The “Jewish elder” (Judenältester) of the camp, a man by the name of Kronenberg from Sosnowiec, asked him, if he was releasing me from being sent to Auschwitz. He answered, that this time he forgives me. I began going to work with all the others.

Amongst the camp leaders the Hitlerist, Ackermann, should be noted for his exceptional cruelty. One winter's day – when the temperature reached 22°C below zero – Ackermann assembled all the Gestapo personnel, each one holding a rubber truncheon, came towards us in the camp, whistled three times, and ordered everyone to come out naked and bathe near the tap – there was only one small tap and we stood for three hours in order to bathe. I barely managed to spray a little water on one leg. In this manner, I stood there in a line with my teeth chattering. Through all this the camp commander, Ackermann, stood there and laughed. When the “bathing” was completed, we were ordered to march and sing for an hour, in order to work up an “appetite” for eating. This was the way we were treated constantly. Under these conditions many of us died. Some of my closest friends perished: Szmuel Gertner from Sławków, died of starvation; and Welwel Warszawski, was murdered whilst working.



In the Gross-Sarna camp

Six or seven months went by. Suddenly, an order was given that all the professionals should be sent to one camp, where, as it were, each would work in his own profession. I declared that I was a metal worker and was sent to a different camp, close to the Nisa River, about 15 kilometers from the first camp, near the village of Gross-Sarna.


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When I reached the new camp, they initially told me that I would not be working in my profession but rather in building a bridge (500 meters in length) over the river. We didn't do anything for two weeks, since the ground was frozen and could not be excavated. When the ground began to defrost, I began working. The work was very difficult, and we didn't receive sufficient food. We arose at five in the morning, and at 6:30 we marched to work. In the morning we were given 200 grams of bread and a little black coffee; in the afternoon – boiling water with turnip; we'd return at seven o'clock in the evening. The work involved lugging damp and heavy logs for the water conduit next to the bridge. Under normal conditions, six men would have been needed to carry them, whilst we worked with only three men.

I worked this way for several months. I became very weak, but endeavored to work conscientiously, with my remaining strength, since I feared something worse would happen to me.

One day – it was in the winter of 1941 – when I left for work in the morning, I collapsed from exhaustion along the way and remained lying on the ground, unconscious. My work mates carried me in their arms and accompanied by the SS man, was taken back to the shack. The doctor gave me a number of injections and sent me back to work. I was still exhausted and waited for the day that I could rest and recover somewhat.

However, it was one Sunday that remains most deeply etched in my memory. At ten o'clock we had exercises. After that we received lunch – a little water with turnip and rusks. In the afternoon we sensed, that something was about to happen. The SS men returned from a walk with their young women. The SS commander whistled three times, and we were all forced to come out. Those who didn't do this fast enough were harshly beaten. We were stood in lines and the SS commander ordered us to lie on the ground, splayed on our stomachs in the snow. The SS men stood behind us with rubber truncheons and beat us. They didn't even take pity on the few Jewish girls, who worked in the camp kitchen. With tears in their eyes, they asked the soldiers to free them from crawling on their stomachs over the ground, but their pleas were in vain.

In this manner, we dragged ourselves over the ground for two hours. After that, only when the camp commander returned we were given the order: “Everyone line up in the hall!” Those that didn't manage to do this fast enough were beaten on their heads with the rubber truncheons. When I left the yard an hour later, it was completely red from blood. This was the way the SS men prepared a “Sunday rest”.

We understood that the SS men carried out this operation of their own initiative, and we talked amongst ourselves of complaining to a higher authority. These discussions reached the ears of our SS personnel and they contrived that we had planned to burn down the camp. They arrested the camp doctor, Heniek Najman, a Jew from Będzin, and the oldest Jew in the camp, on the charge – that they participated in the preparations to burn down the camp. We had to abandon our plan to submit a complaint to higher authorities, since we understood that it would cost us dearly. After that they released the doctor and the Jewish elder.

The day after this incident, I went back to work again. I collapsed again and they placed me in a shack and ordered a car from the camp to pick me up. Since the car couldn't reach the place where I was lying, being that the ground was very muddy, they carried me on a stretcher to the road and left me there. Later, a car came and took me to the hospital. The doctor gave me an injection that brought me back to consciousness. Several days later the doctor came again and ordered me to go back to work. I claimed that I still felt weak, but he told me that an SS major, Dr. Schwarz, was coming to the camp and if he found me here, he was liable to send me to Auschwitz. However, I couldn't lift myself up from the bed and said: “What will be will be; I can't go to work”.

The Gestapo commander did, in fact, arrive. The following day after his visit, an order arrived that all the sick should be sent home. We were all sent back home, eleven of us. I was sent to Katowice, and from Katowice to the SS camp in Sosnowiec, where I was checked again and I was allowed to go home.



In the woods again

I finally managed to see my father and mother again, something that I dreamt of and couldn't hope to realize whilst I was in the camp. As I opened the door and said hello to my mother, I heard the bad news, that the Germans were planning a hunt that night. I was still weak, but nothing could be done. I had to start thinking about escaping to a shelter, since I didn't have a permit confirming my release from the camp. Still my mother went to the SS doctor in Sosnowiec to request a document for me. The doctor replied that he only gives documents to someone without legs. That night we hid in the attic and this time we remained safe.

Sick and as white as chalk, I had to get up and ask for work in a German factory, in order to receive a work permit (A “Yellow certificate” that saved its owner from being sent to Germany) I received a work permit working next to a machine in the “Skapek” factory [Sandal factory] in Strzemieszyce. I woke up at three in the morning, in order to eat and to reach work at 6:00 o'clock. I willingly made this walk every day, in order to be with my family.

Some months later we received information that our town would be given a “general transfer” to Belzec. The Jews walked the streets at a loss. During the nights they hid out, since the “Akziot” generally took place at night.

One day my friends Cygler and Hefner told me that there would be an “Aktzia” that night. In the evening we began our preparations. We received permission from a Polish acquaintance of ours, Jan Wiltas, to hide out at his place.


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In the beginning we sent my father and sister there, because my brother had come down with a stomach illness, and my mother didn't want to leave him by himself and stayed with him, and since I didn't want to leave my mother, I also stayed. About four in the morning, whilst it was still dark, noise of machine gun firing and also noise of windows smashing was suddenly heard. I looked out the window and saw that helmeted Gestapo men, guns in their hands, had surrounded the buildings. We were grasped by a terrible fear. My mother ran out and my brother and I followed soon afterwards; I wasn't wearing a nightshirt, my brother with his shoes still in his hands. We ran away through roundabout ways over walls and snuck into the Christian area. We went up to the attic of one of the Christian houses, in which no Jews lived. I rolled up in one corner of the attic, my brother in another corner and covered ourselves with our raincoats, which we had grabbed, when we ran away from our home.

From our hideout we heard the Gestapo arrive and ask the guards if there were Jews hiding out there. The guard answered that there weren't.

– What about the attic? – the Gestapo man asked.
– There is no one there – the guard replied.

But the German refused to believe him and went up to the attic. He looked for us with an electric torch and found us. He came up to me and began kicking and hurt my eyes. He also caught my brother and straight away, we again found ourselves out on the street with the rest of the captured Jews.

Around eight they began sorting out the people. Two hours later I saw how the police led my mother and I soon found myself next to her. She told me that she had hidden out with another girl in the apartment of our landlord, Mr. Kowalski. When he noticed them, he began beating both of them with a stick, and when this didn't help, he called the police. Once again we were all together.

The people were ordered to present themselves, each family in turn, and an inspection was begun by the Gestapo commanders, Dreyer, the mayor of Katowice, and Koczynski, the commander of the forced-labor camp. They divided the people into three groups. Each family approached the Gestapo commander. He asked where they were working and if they were working for the Wehrmacht and ordered them to show their identification papers. When it came our turn, I told him where I worked. He separated us immediately: my mother was placed in group 3, my brother in group 1 and I was put in group 2. I wasn't even allowed to speak to my mother.

I was placed in a group that was destined for Strzemieszyce, for labor. My brother was sent to Dulag (a detention camp in Sosnowiec), from where they were supposed to be sent to do forced labor in Germany. My mother, together with a group of others, was locked in a house heavily guarded by the SS.



In Strzemieszyce

When I reached Strzemieszyce, I found my father and my sister. When my sister heard that my mother and brother had been separated, she fainted. I tried to calm her, telling her that our mother had not yet been sent away and that I would try and save her from the murderers. I went to the factory manager and requested his assistance. He promised to try and do something, but a day passed and then another and nothing happened. After several days, carriages arrived. All the detainees were put in the carriages, the carriages sealed, and were sent north. This was the first blow that befell us – we lost our mother. But what could we do? I was compelled to think about my young brother, who had not yet been sent away. I went up to the two Habler brothers (Germans from Romania). I requested that they take my brother out of detention. They did so. Ten days later my brother came back to work in the factory. All four of us, my father and sister as well, lived in Strzemieszyce in a small room.



In Będzin

This is the way we lived for several months, till the news that a “transfer” had taken place in Strzemieszyce, as well. The manager of the clothing factory, in which my sister, brother and father worked, was reassigned – about the time of the “transfer” – to Będzin. Hence, we went there, as well. I began working in a tailor shop, repairing machinery. Thus another several quiet months went by.

However, this “quiet” did not last long. Here as well, people were being abducted and sent to Germany for forced labor. These abductions usually took place between 1 o'clock at night to 6 o'clock in the morning. Hence, we would hide out at night. My sister who saw that there was no end to the war, and was weary from lack of sleep and the continual hiding-out, decided that she would go back to sleeping at home: no matter what. Thus my brother and I decided to do likewise. My sister would keep a packed suitcase next to her bed in order to be prepared, in the event that the police came at night to take her away.

One night, close to 2:30 in the morning, they banged on the door. Two policemen called my sister's name, Sara Feldman, ordered her to get dressed and accompany them. She departed hoping that, at least we would attain our freedom. Immediately after my sister was taken away my brother said: We need to escape, since they are liable to return to take us, as well, and added: If they've already taken my sister, it no longer made any difference, and he was also prepared to go. Consequently, I went to hide out by myself. I went out into the street, before the sun rose, to find out what had happened to my brother and sister. I learned that my brother and sister were being held in custody. (A short time after they took my sister, they came and took my brother, as well). About 8:00 o'clock they were sent to a camp in Germany. Two hours later, I took the risk of going back into our home. I met my father and he said that I should get away quickly, since ten minutes ago the police had come looking for me. My father also ran off and locked the house. The police came another couple of times and during their searches they looted everything that was in the house.

I began wandering from place to place: Once I slept in Będzin, on another occasion in Sosnowiec; I was still uncertain about where it was better to hide out. That's how all the Jews behaved. They moved about in shock and in hopelessness.


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The destruction of the Będzin ghetto

Thus time went on till the bitter news reached us that ghettos in Będzin and Sosnowiec had been destroyed. This was the summer of 1943 (the Będzin ghetto was located in the suburb of Kamionka and that of Sosnowiec was located in the suburb of Srodula). The Jews were surprised. The Jews in Będzin and Sosnowiec worked in large tailor shops. In Będzin there was a clothing factory, in which 11,000 people worked. However, none of that helped.

When the destruction began, I was out in the street. I wanted to run away to the forest, but I didn't make it. The Gestapo caught me and put me together with a group of prisoners. This was a group of prisoners that was going to be sent to Auschwitz. All the while, I looked for a way of getting away. The Germans noticed this and put me in the first row. Still, I did not lose hope. I decided in my heart: I would either run away or be hit by a bullet. When we were put inside a shed, I took the advantage of the fact that I was first. I ran to the window and jumped out before the Gestapo could place sentries around the house. I began running with all my strength. I heard a voice call out behind call out to me in German “Halt!” and there was a round of fire from a machine gun but I didn't stop. I ran zigzagging and, from time to time, lay flat out on the ground, so that the Germans would not be able to easily aim at me. One bullet, in spite of that, penetrated my sleeve and lacerated the skin on my arm.

Not far from there, I found myself in a cornfield. I quickly ran inside and hid amongst the ears of corn. I could not run any further, since the shots had become more intensified.

I lay down on my stomach so that I would not be seen in the cornfield. It was out of the question to continue running, since the Gestapo had already surrounded the field. At one stage, I heard a noise nearby. I saw a soldier with a metal helmet close by with a gun in his hand. I never even heard the shot but I suddenly felt that I was covered in blood. Still, I remained where I was. The German surely believed that he had killed me – and he went on his way. I continued lying down and didn't move from where I was. Blood oozed from my mouth. When I saw that there was no one around, I stood up and covered my mouth with my hand, to stop the flow of blood and began running. I ran in the opposite direction from previously till I reached some houses. I entered a house where Jews had once lived. Now it was empty. I looked for something to stop the blood. I put my head into a barrel of water that was standing there but this didn't help. The bullet had hit the jawbone and injured my tongue and, miraculously, had gone out the other side of my mouth.

I went up into the attic of the house. There I found two Jewish children hiding out, one eight years old and the other ten. It was not good place to hide out.

I went back down again and descended into the basement. There I found a barrel and hid under it, however, I could not stay there for long. I suddenly realized that when I'd hidden under the barrel, I had been dripping blood all the time, and the blood traces were likely to lead the Gestapo men to my hideout. Once again, I ascended to the attic, found a towel, and plugged my mouth in order to stop the blood, and then went out to a place six houses away, where I hid out.

In this manner, I lay down for a further two hours in my new hideout. When it was completely dark outside (as it happens, everyone had already been taken to the carriages) I went out into the street. In the street, hardly anyone could be seen any more.

I began searching for water. Whilst looking for water, I collapsed to the ground from exhaustion. People came over to me and asked what had happened, but I didn't have the strength to answer them. Consequently, a car was brought and they took me to the hospital in the Sosnowiec ghetto in Srodula.

In the hospital I was immediately taken to the operating room. With great effort, the doctors managed to stop the haemorrhage. They placed me in the hospital and began treating me. I had to drink a lot since I had lost a lot of blood, however, drinking entailed great effort and pain because of my injured tongue.

I lay there like this for six weeks. One day – about two o'clock in the morning – blood began dripping from my mouth again. Once again, I was taken to the operating room. Dr. Dreyfus, a Jew from Czechoslovakia, operated on me till six in the morning, till he managed to stop the hemorrhaging. Due to the large amount of blood lost, I was connected to fluid intravenously.

I was so weak, that at a certain point, I thought I would not live. Once again, the doctors began treating me and somehow managing to restore my strength. They also planned to fit me with a special device to replace my jaw that had been shot. However, they didn't have time to carry this out.

A short time later, the Gestapo, once again, carried out a hunt and the remaining Jews were dragged off to Auschwitz. Two days later the Gestapo commander came to the hospital and said that all the patients would be sent away. It was already clear to where – Auschwitz.

Several days later, machine gun fire was heard once again. Tens of dead were brought to the morgue. I looked through the hospital window and I was terrified by what I saw in the street. Only the hospital was passed over, this time.

However, two days later, the Gestapo cars arrived and began gathering up the hospital patients. The nurses there, dared to poison the children with Luminal powder, so that they wouldn't be burnt alive in Auschwitz.

What could I do now? – I left the ward and looked for something to wear. I went up into the attic and found a pair of trousers there. I put them on and stood by the hospital exit. When I saw that they were leading a group of youths, probably to be sent to a labor camp, I began running towards them. They began shooting at me, but luckily I wasn't hit and managed to blend into the groups being transported.

People in the group noticed my paleness. They began shouting that the Gestapo would notice that I was ill, and that could have put them in danger, as well.


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In the camp shed

The Gestapo commander, Dreyer, carried out a “selection” as we entered the camp shed. Out of the 600 people, he only left 140, and all the rest he sent to Auschwitz. However, I was lucky and I was amongst the 140. Each 20 people were given one room. They brought straw and laid it out to sleep on, since there were no beds or bunks in there.

Several days later we were taken to work. Our task was to collect items, that had been left by the Jews after they had been sent to where they'd be sent. Each day Jews that had been hiding out in bunkers were brought in utmost secrecy into the camp. The Gestapo noticed that our numbers had grown, (we already numbered 600) and a new “selection” was carried out. Two Gestapo transports would come, and 80 Jews were thrown inside, and were transported to Auschwitz. These “actions” were carried out every Saturday. Everyone was stood in the courtyard and they would randomly select, anyone they came across.

One day I was part of these 80 people. I immediately looked for a way of escaping. Behind me I noticed the door of a house. I ran straight inside and several others followed me. A Gestapo man noticed this and ran after us. He caught those that were following me, but I being first, managed to hide out.

I looked around and saw that I was in a building that previously had been a shoe factory. There were lots of hides and hence I took cover under about 20 hides. Several moments later, a policeman came in, searched and turned over everything but didn't find me. Outside it was silent, I went back into the camp shed and lay down to sleep. Out of the 20 people in my room, only 4 remained.



I am ordered to look for Jews hiding out

The next day I went to work, as usual. In the evening, when I was meant to be getting back, a Gestapo man, Schultz, called me and ordered me to follow him. My spirits sank, since he was renowned for his cruelty, and on his own initiative would shoot people to death. Schultz led me out of the city, and took me to an isolated house and said that, in the day, when he had gone past the house he had heard children's voices. Hence, he ordered me to go into the basement of the house and drive out those that were hiding. The Germans, themselves, were frightened to go into the bunkers, for fear that they would be attacked.

I went into this gloomy basement that was 5 meters underground and found a narrow opening. I went through this and down into the hideout. I found bedding that had been prepared for sleep. I starting looking and found two children hiding out - one 10 years old and the second 12-13 years old. They began crying and asked me to give them something to eat. I had some bread with me (I always kept a little bread in a container). I gave them this and ordered them to lay down in silence, because otherwise everyone would be killed.

This continued about a half an hour. The Gestapo man called from above and asked if I had found something. I answered that I had not found anything. He shouted at me that this was a lie and I should look better, and threw down an axe and an iron bar. Shouting at me, he ordered me to look, break open crates and anything that I came across. I banged on a rock with the axe so that he would think that I was doing an intensive search. After several minutes, he returned and called out to me if I'd found anything. Once again, I answered that I hadn't. I asked him if I could come up and he answered yes.

I left the filthy basement completely covered in sweat. Shultz yelled at me, that there were people in the bunker and I had allowed them to escape through a different opening. I claimed that I hadn't. He continued to angrily accuse me and I continued my own stand. He was then taken by a wild bout of anger, he stood me next to the wall, ordered me to open my mouth, put in the barrel of his rifle in there, placed a finger on the trigger and said: He would ask me three times if I would admit my guilt, if I didn't admit – he would shoot me.

Suddenly, as if a divine miracle had occurred: at that very same moment, a police officer approached by the name of Richter, and asked what had happened. Shultz told him of my “guilt” and I continued to claim that I hadn't found anyone. The officer hesitated for a moment and with a motion of his hand said: ”Leave him alone”. I quickly raced back to the camp.

And they continued to send 80 people every week to Auschwitz.

One night, it was already in the autumn of 1943, the Gestapo surrounded the whole camp and we were assembled and taken to train carriages, that were already standing waiting. They told us that we were no longer needed, and we were being sent to a different work camp. We already knew where we were being sent to…

By now we numbered more than 200 hundred people. We were thrown into cattle wagons. Each wagon had one barred window that was guarded by 4 Gestapo men armed with machine guns.

When they locked us in the wagon, we began thinking, nonetheless, of how to escape. There was a carpenter with us who had a drill with him. Consequently, we began drilling a hole in the wall. In the middle of the journey the door was finally breached and people started jumping. Everyone shoved to be amongst the first to jump. Three woman and four men managed to jump. The Gestapo men fired in their direction, stopped the train and came into our wagon to look for weapons but didn't find anything. Once again, they locked the door and the train began traveling. We dared endangering ourselves, once more, and broke though the door through the hole that we'd drilled. Several people quickly jumped out of the train. Again, the train was stopped and a second search was undertaken in our wagon, however they didn't find anything. The Germans marked our wagon with a special marking and threatened us, that we would be taught a lesson when we reached our destination.

A short time later the train stopped at Auschwitz.



In Auschwitz

The wagons opened. The Gestapo men were already waiting with cages and transport trucks. We were stood in groups of fours and the “selection” began. The Gestapo commander scrutinized the whole crowd. Out of 550 men, women and children, only 200 were left. The rest were sent immediately by trucks to the crematoriums. Men over the age of 35, women with children and abandoned children were sent to the ovens. There was an eight-year-old boy amongst us. The Gestapo commander ordered him to get in the truck. The boy broke out in tears when put in the truck and he jumped straight out. He cried and begged to be left alone, but nothing helped. Once again, he was thrown in the truck and again, he jumped out. The same thing occurred several times. Finally, he threw himself at the feet of a Gestapo clerk and wept bitterly to be left alone. Apparently, the Gestapo man could not take this any more and ordered him thrown into the truck.

After all the trucks had been sent to the camp, we were sent, the remainder, to the Birkenau camp, 5 kilometers from Auschwitz – one of the worst camps. The camp was completely surrounded by high-voltage electrified barbed wire. I looked around in terror and thought: Would it still be possible to get out of here?

When we reached the camp on that same night, we were pushed into a stable, and we lay down to sleep on bare ground. In the morning, five were found dead. During the night they had died from hunger and exhaustion.

Straight away, on the next morning we were taken to a bathhouse and numbers tattooed on our arms. We were ordered to hand over all that we had: money, jewellery, belongings and just everything. If we didn't, they threatened us by showing us what they'd do to us: a German was taken from amongst us, at random, and one man ordered him to lie on his stomach and gave him 25 beatings with a truncheon, till he lay unconscious on the ground. In this way, we were given a lesson of what they'd do to us if we hid anything. After that, everyone handed in what they had. Others went into the toilet and tore up the money that they had, in order not to hand it over to the Germans. They took our clothes and gave us camp clothes with red stripes and heavy wood shoes (“trepes”).



A month of confinement

After that, we were taken to a detention center, in which we had live for a month. We slept on a “box”: a bunk made from planks, 1.5 meters in length. Eight people slept on this bunk. Every evening we would receive a small piece of bread and margarine – this was meant to suffice for a whole day. Apart from this, in the afternoon we would receive soup made from potato peels.

On the eighth day of our time there, they locked us in the shed, since they were planning to undergo a “selection”. We were ordered to undress completely and wait. The SS commander with a doctor and three SS personnel arrived. A large heater was placed in the center of the room. They assembled us on one side of the heater, and the three SS people climbed up on the heater and scrutinized the group from above. After that, each one was checked separately. The unfortunate were taken to the other side of the heater and their number registered.

When I approached the doctor, he turned me around and around – I passed this inspection and my number was not registered.

During this spectacle, I spoke with the unfortunate people on the other side of the heater, who in several hours would be going to the gas chambers. I especially will not forget one of them, whose name was Nathan Zyta. He was from Sosnowiec. He had immigrated to Brazil, and around the time of this terrible war he had returned to Poland to visit his family, and the war in Poland had caught him. I met him in Auschwitz and both of us had been sent to the same shed in Birkenau. He parted from me with the following words: “I will not be saved; Remember that if you survive – take revenge for me”. When they took him away, he turned towards me and with a bitter smile on his face he bade me farewell.

Of the 300 people who were living in the shed, only 90 remained. 210 were sent to the ovens.

All these wretched people were placed inside one shed. They were stripped naked and they were murderously beaten with truncheons. They were tortured in this way through the night. By early morning they were completely apathetic. The closed trucks arrived and they were pushed inside and taken to the gas chambers.

The gas chamber was built underground. It was possible to put a large number of people inside. A number of small portholes, through which the gas was introduced, poked up into the yard. The gas was brought in a truck with a Red Cross emblem, so that it looked like they were bringing patients. Five minutes later all the people in the chamber would be dead. After that the dead would be extracted with long metal tongs, three dead bodies at a time, and put in the crematorium oven and a large voltage was run through them. Two men and a woman were put in the crematorium at once. They would say that women burned better. After a few minutes nothing would remain of the people but a small handful of ash. Thus I was forced to watch and hear every day how thousands and thousands of my people were murdered. I thought to myself: What type of luck I have to live, to remain alive after these cruel murders.

Our work involved moving rocks from place to place. It was completely useless work. Through this work they wanted to wear out our strength and after that send us to the ovens. However, somehow I managed to hold on and pass this horrifying month of confinement.

A month later, an engineer from the German company in Berlin, Siemens-Schukart, selected engineers, technicians and metalworkers from amongst us to make use of us in suitable work. My knees shaking, I entered the examination room. However, it seems that I had answered the questions correctly, since I was taken as a machine mechanic and my number registered.


[Page 556]


(This remains till today tattooed on my left arm). Out of the 300 people that were in the shed, thirteen people were taken to work. We were moved to shed “D”, where they kept people who were allowed out to work. We were dressed in “convict” clothing (blue and white stripes).



The work

The day's work would begin at 5:00 in the morning. They yelled at us to wake us, and the flowing brutal torture would begin: The SS men would come in and they'd start beating our heads and all the sensitive parts of the body with heavy truncheons. The work place was 15 kilometers from the camp. We worked building a factory. It was winter and the route was very difficult. We would leave work at 6:00 in the evening. Only then would the real “muster” begin, which would take from 2 to 5 hours. If someone escaped, as punishment, they would keep everyone down on their knees for many hours and quite often, for the whole night. After the “muster”, we'd march and sing for several hours. Only after that were we allowed to go into the shed to eat “dinner”. The “food” that we received for a whole day was: at night a 100-150 gram slice of bread with a little margarine and in the morning black and bitter water (which they called coffee) and even that wasn't every day. In the evening, we would receive a watery soup made from potato peels or turnips.

After ten months, when the building of the factory and been completed, we asked the engineers if they could build a shed for us, so that we could sleep near the factory. We weren't so interested in the building, itself; it was more to escape living next to the gas chambers and seeing how people were being incinerated every day.

In the summer of 1944, the Germans built a special railway that led straight to the crematoriums. In each train there were about 60 carriages. During this period many afflicted Jews from Hungary arrived and also Jews from other countries and sometimes Christians, as well. These people were incinerated in five ovens. Apart from that, the Germans had prepared deep pits that were two meters wide and long and into which they'd throw children. The children that were thrown into the pits were covered in boiling tar and incinerated. A full orchestra played on the way to the crematoriums. They would lead the people to their death accompanied by music. The murdering and incineration of the people continued non-stop. The Germans felt, that their defeat was imminent and they hurried to murder the whole Jewish people.



On foot to Buchenwald

One time, it was after the Russians had conquered Krakow and were already approaching our place, around 12 o'clock at night, an SS commander arrived and ordered everyone to wake up. Without delay we had to march to Auschwitz, since the Russians were occupying the area. I looked around for a way to escape, but it was impossible, since the SS people guarded us from all directions. Around 7:00 o'clock in the morning we reached Auschwitz. We were put together with a second group that had come from Auschwitz, itself. Around 12:00 o'clock at night, an order arrived from the SS commander in Auschwitz, Herbert Schwarz, to burn all documents in order not to leave any traces, no evidence on the people who had been annihilated. After the documents were burnt, we were stood in line and we began marching by foot to Breslau, a distance of 800 kilometers.

Weary, sleepless and without food, we began marching. The road was covered in deep snow. With our last remaining strength we dragged ourselves along in the heavy wooden shoes. I was so exhausted that I lost the only loaf of bread that I had. It simply slipped from my frozen hands. In this manner, we walked and walked without food or sleep, and those that fell by the wayside were shot by the SS men. There was even a case that one old SS man, about 60, shot himself since he no longer had the strength to drag himself along and constantly guard the marching camp.

After a few days of this hellish march we reached Gliwice. There, a German sentry approached us and told us that it was impossible to reach Breslau, since the Russians had already taken over the city. Through this we also learned, that Auschwitz had been taken over by the Russians. Our guards ordered lorries to take us to Buchenwald, to the concentration camp. 130 of us were cramped into each carriage. Luckily for us they were open carriages. Everyone received 100 grams of bread on entering the carriage for the rest of the journey. The train traveled to Katowice, but after making only a short journey it was forced to return, since the Russians were shelling the area. It turned out that there was only one way open to the Germans – through Czechoslovakia and Austria, this journey would take twelve days, and despite that, this was the way chosen for the train.

It is difficult to describe the hardships met with along the way. It was winter, it snowed, inside the open carriages we were completely drenched and frozen. There was not even room to stand. People yelled incessantly, argued between themselves: To stand, to sit, some went crazy from the hunger and exhaustion. Hungry and frozen, we related to each other like wolves. I did not want to push, and so I leaned on the edge of the carriage. I swallowed snow since I didn't have any food. How did we endure this – I cannot understand to this very day.

In Czechoslovakia a loaf of bread was thrown into the carriage. The loaf was snatched up and torn into crumbs.


[Page 557]


In Buchenwald

After 12 full days of this horrific journey, the train reached Buchenwald. Out of the 2,000 people that had been brought by train, there were about 800 dead bodies. These were taken out, and we, those who had remained alive, were taken to A. G.-“Sauna” for disinfecting baths. We were washed and our heads shaved. This continued on through the night – the 13th night without food or sleep.

In the morning were led into a shed, in which 1600 people were living. At this time, people from various evacuated camps were being congregated in Buchenwald. Twenty people lay on a “bed” that was meant for six people, on bare boards, without straw or cover. It was even impossible to lie on one's side. People lay down on tables, benches and anywhere that they could rest. The food we received was: morning – black coffee; lunch – some soup with a thin slice of bread. At five in the evening, the infamous “muster” began. Usually people would stand at attention for a “mere” two hours till the SS arrived. On these frosty days, people stood with light clothing. Sometimes it would snow. Nothing prevented us from this standing-anticipating in the snow.

Work was carrying rocks for road paving and other similar work. One day an engineer from the Siemens-Schukart company arrived and ordered all those who had already worked in the company to be sent to the factory in Birkenau. We had set out, 200 men and 40 women, and now we were only 130. 110 had died on the journey from Auschwitz to Buchenwald and in Buchenwald, itself. Before the transport set out on its way, I was transferred to a different group that was immediately sent to a different factory, which made aircraft components. I wasn't even given a moment to say goodbye to my friends. A car with SS men came straight away; we were seated in the car and taken to a new place called Atzendorf that was near the city of Stassfurt. We reached there late at night and immediately lay down to sleep.

The factory was built underground inside an abandoned salt mine. At 6 o'clock in the morning we would travel to work, 600 meters underground. I was stood by a lathe, which had previously been worked by a young pilot aged about 19. He was required to teach me the work, so that I could work in his place. He pestered me a great deal during work hours, but I didn't pay any notice. When I had finished a trial job, an engineer and an SS man came to check my work. The engineer said that my work was accurate, clean and exceptional and I stayed on to work there.

I worked 12 hours each day, one week from 6 o'clock in the morning till 6 o'clock in the evening, and the following week from 6 o'clock in the evening till 6 o'clock in the morning.

The young Hitlerite didn't stop bothering me and tired to make me lose my cool. When he had something good to eat, he would put in front of my face and try to tease my appetite, knowing that I was terribly undernourished. Still I held back and stood up to these testing ordeals.

In the factory-camp there were 550 people. Amongst them, there were some Frenchmen. Every day, an average of 15 people would die – from hunger and hard labor. Due to the appalling hunger, people would sometimes sneak into the kitchen and steal potatoes, a little soup and potato peels and similar. When one of these “criminals” was caught, he would be severely punished, even with the death penalty.

This is an example of what would sometimes happen: When we'd reach the camp after work, the SS men and guards would stand by the gate and not let anybody come in. They would remove about twenty of us, those that had caught their eyes, and stood them by wooden posts, put two blocks under their feet, tied these wretched people with steel wire on the post and after that, they pulled out the blocks. These people remained hanging in this manner for a whole day. There were those that held up to this whilst others died.

We worked in this manner for six months. Rumors began reaching us that the American army was getting closer, that it had already captured the city of Fulda, not far from us, and it was possible to hear the thundering of shelling and the searchlights. One night at 11:00 o'clock, I saw how the Germans packed their belongings in panic and ran away.

An SS man came right away and ordered me to go within him into the camp. Everyone from the camp was assembled and under the guard of the SS, we began marching. Some said that we were going in the direction of Hanover, others – to Leipzig. We received 100 grams of bread per person for the whole day and nothing else.



Hiding out in a hayshed

We crawled along in this manner for two whole weeks. The places where we woke up in the morning – we didn't sleep there the next night. One evening we reached a certain village. The SS men confiscated a hayshed with piles of straw from a farmer that became our resting place.

I thought that to continue on like this was impossible, my legs no longer carried me, no matter what. I began looking around me for a place to hide. Around 12:00 o'clock, I woke a friend, Max Mordkowicz, from Czestochowa, and told him of my plan. He agreed with me. Both of us looked outside for a place to hide, but we couldn't find one. We went back into the hayshed and decided to hide in the straw. At 6:30 in the morning they began the roll call. We didn't move from where we were. When everyone went outside, we dragged ourselves into a corner, in a place where the straw was higher and we pushed ourselves through into an adjacent room. My friend hid inside the straw and I hid under an old bench. We immediately learned that another one of us was hiding in the straw, a man by the name of Richard Leichter, from Krakow. He had heard how we had talked between ourselves about hiding out and had decided to do likewise. From our hideout we heard how the people outside were counted, and the shouts that people were missing, however, apparently, they no longer had the time to look for us. They promptly left this place.


[Page 558]


Around noon, the farmer came in to the hayshed and began collecting the blankets that our people had left behind. People were so exhausted that they didn't have the strength to carry the blankets. Others had left “meals” of carrots that we had with us, that had been our main sustenance during our wanderings. Straight after this, the farmer and his wife entered the adjacent room, in which we laying hiding out. She began looking around the bench under which I was laying, and told her husband that no one was laying there. They left and locked the hayshed after them.

In this manner, we lay there for a whole day. In the night we decided to go up to the top part of the hayshed in order to breathe some fresh air. We pulled out a tile from the roof in order to see what was going on in the courtyard. In this fashion one day passed and then another. The food that we had with us ran out and including the few uncooked potatoes, that we had found there. During the night, we snuck into a pigsty, but we didn't find anything there either. The pigs had eaten all the food that was given to them.

We suffered greatly from hunger. My friend Mordkowicz suggested that he go to the farmer, tell him that we had fallen asleep and not heard the roll call and would ask for some food. He hoped that the farmer would not refuse him. We warned him not to do this, since the Germans had rocks instead of hearts, and that the farmer would surely give him up to the police. I would go out, I told him, only when I felt that I was dying and was in a state of indifference. Mordkowicz didn't listen to me. We talked between ourselves that he should leave his coat. If the farmer would take him to the police, he would tell him that he needed to take his coat and while doing this he would tell us to hide out.

He left at about 6:00 o'clock in the morning. As he left, we immediately heard shouting in German. After a few minutes, Mordkowicz came in to take his coat, as we had discussed, indicating that we should hide out. Both of us penetrated the straw even deeper. From there we heard a horrendous noise and German voices in the courtyard. From the sounds, we managed to discern what was being said: that the police should be called, and it was apparent that there were others hiding there. Immediately a number of Germans came in and began looking through the hayshed, but they didn't find us.

Thus another day passed. In the night we heard heavy shelling. The shelling was directed to the city of Halle. In the meantime, we suffered more and more from hunger, but we decided to hold out. We thought that within two or three days we would gain freedom.



The Americans come

On the fifth day of our stay in the hayshed, I heard a German saying that he needed to hide something because the Americans were coming. This somewhat improved my spirits. And another day passed, Friday. My legs trembled from hunger. We decided between ourselves that we would wait till tomorrow, if the Americans didn't arrive, we would go out, because we could no longer keep this up. I was still wearing my concentration camp pants with the blue stripes. To leave like this would be dangerous. Hence, I took a blanket and sewed myself a pair of pants (I always had a needle and thread with me), and a hat for my head. My head was shaved like all the “inmates”. My intention was, that if I was forced to run away, the Germans wouldn't see us as refugees.

Around 11:00 o'clock in the morning we went out from our hideout into the garden. It was a fine day, the sun shone and spread warmth. It was the first time for five years that I had breathed fresh air without the fear of a gun. We wandered around the garden and suddenly, a German policeman came past, but he was without his gun belt and did nothing to harm us.

We decided to go to the farmhouse and ask for some food. We found an old woman there. She told us that, she herself, had no food since her home had been bombed, but the Americans were situated within a two kilometer range from the village and we could receive chocolate, cognac and the like from them. I didn't want to believe her, I though that she was joking. Another German woman came out and told us the same thing. We asked her for a little food and she said that she had some cooked potatoes for the pigs and if we wanted – she could give us this. We “attacked” the potatoes and demolished half a bucket full. We asked what had happened to our friend and she replied that the farmer had taken him to the town mayor and he had released him. I didn't believe this (in fact, I never saw him later anywhere). I made a thorough search for the farmer but couldn't find him – apparently he had run off.

We went on our way. Straight away, we encountered American tanks and transports. We stopped a car and requested something to eat. They took us up into the cars and brought us to the closest American sentry station. We were given food to eat and for several days we were employed as interpreters from German to English (my friend knew English). Later, we were taken to the first concentration camp of camp survivors in the city of Rotenburg. We immediately began looking for relatives. We looked for sisters and brothers, but sadly we didn't find anyone.

One day a group of American soldiers arrived. Several of them showed interest in looking for Jews. People pointed us out – the only two Jews in Rotenberg. Two of them came forward and asked, if there were Jews here. It is difficult to describe in words the picture of what happened at that moment, when they heard the reply: “Yes, we are Jews”. They were as joyful as parents who had found a lost son. One of their names I don't remember. The name of the second was: Bill Glaser from Winthrop, Massachusetts.

During the whole time he served in Rotenburg he came to visit us, twice a day. He brought good food and cared for us like a father. When the day arrived that had to leave Rotenburg, he came to part with us and he cried like a child. Several times he came back to us, he could not break with us – till his car departed.

From there on, began days of freedom, and days of gloom – I was by myself and alone in the entire world.

(“Yawa Bletter”, Volume 30, 1947. Pages 223-248)



Footnotes

  1. SS-Obersturmführer Hans Dreyer, assistant of SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Schäfer, leader of the Gestapo regional headquarters in Katowice in 1940. <Return>
  2. SS-Oberstumbannführer Johannes Thümmler, leader of the Gestapo regional headquarters in Katowice from the 1st of October, 1940. <Return>






[Page 559]


Did the Jews of Zagłębie go to their death
like lambs to slaughter?

by Y. P. N.

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


Did the Jews of Zagłębie go to their death like lambs to slaughter? No! No! The Jews of Zagłębie did not allow themselves to be killed easily. The Jews of Zagłębie, in particular the Zaglembian youth – fought back. They fought by whatever means they could lay their hands on and did not give up the fight, as long as there were Jews in Zagłębie.

It should be noted that there wasn't even one instance of disloyalty amongst these fighters. There wasn't even one case of a Jewish fighter showing signs of weakness. They had fearless resolution and had a brazen determination to fight against the German murderers till the last drop of blood. If there was an incidence of fighters being caught during an “akzia”, they would march proudly to their death.

Only a very few defenders survived, but those who are still alive tell us that the Nazis weren't able to break the spirit of a single Zaglembian fighter that fell into their hands.

I frequently ask myself, how much spiritual background, how much stubbornness and endurance did they require, for those youths that were caught, in order to survive all the brutal torture, that the Nazi animals inflicted on them, without breaking their spirit.

Herszl Dunski, Lipek Minc, Gucia Lustig, Josef Goldberg, David Skolimowicz, Henoch Zicher, Ela Gertner, Rozia and Dorka Sapirsztajn, Regina – continued their silence whilst they were tortured to death. (The last four youths were the same well-known heroes who smuggled out explosives from the “Onion” explosives factory for the underground movement, in order to help organize the resistance). Rina Kukelka, Fridka Mazja, Munia Szwarc, Dawidowicz, David Zicher and tens of others, underwent the most brutal suffering by the Gestapo and continued to keep their silence.

Not only in Zagłębie proper, but even in Auschwitz the Nazis weren't able to break the fighting spirit of the Zaglembian youth who were exiled to there.

Auschwitz – was a place of satanic terror that engulfed more than a million human lives, amongst them our friends and family. In Auschwitz, death appeared in every corner. How did Katzetnik described this: “Auschwitz was a different planet. Humans lost their names there before they lost their lives”.

In spite of that, the Zaglembian Jews did not allow themselves to be killed, to have their spirits broken without a fight. They were amongst the most active members of the underground, who organized the uprising in Auschwitz. They were those that destroyed several of the incinerators there and those who killed a large number of Nazis.

Many of the Zaglembian youths gave their lives during the Auschwitz uprising. Four brave young women, who were mentioned previously, marched bravely to the gallows, without showing a single sign of fear, without revealing a single name of their comrades in arms.

The Jews of Zagłębie did not go to their death like lambs to slaughter. An historian and researcher will arise who will reveal the hundreds of heroes from amongst the Zaglembian Jews, who sacrificed their young lives in the struggle against the Nazis, against the worst murderers of all time.

The historian-researcher will describe our heroes, men"and women, who shoulder to shoulder with the fighting Jewish youth of Poland did not disgrace the pride of our people.

In our book “Pinkas Zagłębie” there are many indications of this heroic struggle, this same grueling conflict, against the incredible hatred that were the Nazis.

Honor the fallen and the sufferers.




The heroism of Hersz-Dawid Skolimowicz

by J. Frydman

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


I met my brother-in-law, Hersz-Dawid, when we were still children. This occurred in times when most of the children who were born to poor parents, continued on in the same way of hunger and suffering. Whilst in my house I still had a father, Hersz-Dawid's father had already passed away, and when he was only a young boy at the age of 12 he had to take on the burden of earning a living [for his family].

Earning a living in Losice meant being a boot maker. This trade swallowed both of our best, young lives.

Hersz-Dawid, as a young workingman, became a “Zukunft” member and later a “Bundist”. All the poor Jewish people in Losice belonged to the “Bund”. In 1921, when there was a rift in the “Bund” movement, Hersz-Dawid became a communist.

Neither as a Bundist, nor as a communist did my brother-in-law show any signs of heroism or of initiative. He was completely different from his father, Mojsze Skolimowicz, who died at a young age during a typhus plague. I barely knew him. Still, years after he'd passed away, all the town would praise his heroism and his confrontations with the anti-Semites in Losice. My brother-in-law was very unlike his father, who died at an early age, who was a distinguished hero.


[Page 560]


Even when he came to us in Sosnowiec, he still remained a communist as previously. Still as then, only in words and not in deeds.

However, in the depths of his soul a heroic spirit lay concealed. The spirit blazed inside, when the murderous nation occupied Sosnowiec. Each time we asked him, his sister (my late wife) and myself, to run away with us, his answer was only: No! No! No! As tears rose in my late wife's eyes, he remained determined in his stance:

“A communist”, he said, “does not flee from the enemy, rather he sets forth to tackle him”.

He stood by his words, and hence he was amongst the first to be transferred to Auschwitz. His only son, Mojsze, was murdered by the Germans in the gas chambers. His wife, Ruchama, approached the doctor in Auschwitz for something against stomach pains and the doctor helped her without hesitation – he sent her straight to the gas chambers.

My brother-in-law remained alive, alone in G-d's world, a prisoner of the Nazi animal. The struggle against the Nazi animal began, ironically, in Auschwitz, in the death camp, in which hundreds of thousands of Jews lost their lives in the most horrific way. My brother became the liaison between the underground groups organizing the uprising in Birkenau.

When the Germans caught him, they only wanted one thing from him, via dreadful torture to make him reveal the ringleaders of the underground movement. The Germans tortured him in various cruel ways, as their satanic imagination guided them, but he did not succumb, he kept silent.

The Germans then came up with an idea: they tied both his arms together and lowered him into a sewage pit. When he was almost suffocating, they lifted him up, bathed him and revived him in order to interrogate him again. Still my brother-in-law continued his silence.

When the Germans became convinced that from Hersz Dawid's mouth not a single word would pass, they released him, as it were, to freedom, in order to follow his tracks, to find where the underground movement was located.

However, my brother-in-law realized full well what the intentions of the Germans were who had released him after undergoing so much torture. He decided not to make any contact with the underground movement.

Nonetheless, about the same time, the Birkenau uprising erupted. My brother-in-law participated in it and fought heroically, and as a hero he fell in a prejudiced battle.

Today we know that the greatest heroism of the Nazi prisoners was that they didn't break down during the interrogational torture.

Let his memory be blessed!


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