[Page 179 - Hebrew] [Page 73 - English]
by Dr. Shmuel Krakowski
In August 1942, there came to the Lublin Southern District the Polish Communist activist Stephan Kilanowich, known as Gregori Korchinski, a participant in the Spanish Civil War. He was assigned the task of organizing an Armia Ludova (AL) partisan unit in the area. Korchinski wanted to make contact with partisans in Rayevski's former unit or with other partisans, mainly Soviet and Jewish, who were not associated with Armia Krakowa (AK) organizations or the peasant battalions already active in the region.
Korchinski soon made contact with some of them. At first the contact was loose, but eventually the Jewish group was integrated with the unit formed by Korchinski and named for Thaddeus Kosciusko.
Another group, which made connections with Korchinski and was taken into his unit, consisted of 40 Jews taken prisoner in the Polish-German fighting in 1939 and kept in the forced labor camp in Lublin (Lipova Street). Their organization and circumstances of escape are told in Chapter 12, which deals with the armed underground in that camp.
The Jewish group operated in the Krashnik area a short period only. It was attacked unexpectedly by the Poles with whom it was in contact and from whom it expected some help. All the Jewish partisans were murdered all but two, Jan Shaklovsky and Bleicher, who escaped by a miracle. The Polish historians say nothing about this group of Jewish partisans. The only mention is found in an article by Zedislav Roshinski, published in the Polish Military Academy Quarterly, but neither he mentions the fate of this group. We do not have sufficient data about the identity of the murderers. The deed was probably perpetrated by the P.O.W. men, with whom Korchinski stood in contact. After the war, this murder was a subject for court action against Korchinski, who was charged with full responsibility for the act. However, political conditions in Poland at the time having been what they were, the whole thing was quashed and the trial was postponed. Details of the case were never made public.
Another group, which joined Korchinski's unit, consisted of Jews who had escaped from the village of Rechitza (one of the villages inhabited by Jews), under the command of Yaacov Freitag. Other Jews, escapees from Majdanek, also came. Regrettably, we know neither their names nor the circumstances of their daring escape from Majdanek. All we know is the name of their commander Robert.
Most of the partisans were dispatched to the Lipsk forests or Pusche Solska. The Jews went with them. Information about their fate and activity during the winter of 1942/43 is not available.
Korchinski himself, with 20 partisans, most of them Jews, moved to the Zaklikov area and set up a partisan base in the village of Ludmilovka, the only one in the vicinity under PFR influence. Here Korchinski organized a group of 15 men from among the local peasants. His command now numbered 35 men. Among the Jews there were unified groups commanded by Yaacov Freitag and Reuven Pintel.
Shortly afterwards certain events took place which accelerated the destruction of the Jews in the Janishov forced labor camp and which, after the war, were used in a gross and false anti-Semitic campaign. Roshinski wrote the following about them:
On November 4 AL men brought before the commander in Ludmilovka two Jews, Yankel and Shloime, who had escaped from the Yanishov camp. They had come in the name of all the prisoners to ask for immediate help, else very soon as the commandant of the camp Peter Ignor boasted the Germans would liquidate the camp and send the survivors to Majdanek for soap. The refugees described the conditions in the camp in detail.
After compiling the detailed information, Korchinski decided to carry out the Janishov camp operation, together with the underground cells on the spot, in order to save the 600 prisoners still alive.
On November 6, moving in the darkness and sticking close to all the rules of caution, the unit left Ludmilovka, with Yankel and Shloime acting as guides.
The attack on the camp and the capture of the guards were eminently successful. After a detailed description of the attack on the camp, Roshinski went on:
The camp was dismantled. The prisoners who volunteered to join the unit were not accepted because of their poor state of health as well as because of the shortage in weapons and living quarters (emphasis mine S. K.). The few who were accepted were men with military training and experience. The others were shown the routes to the forests of Lipsk, Janow and Goscheradov, where they were to hide and gradually join the ranks of AL.
During the last stage of the attack on the camp, cars with police came from Zalikov and Krashnik. Afraid to approach the camp, they opened fire from a kilometer away, hoping to draw partisan fire and thereby estimate the size of the attacking force. The partisans were quicker. Finishing off the sentries, they helped the inmates get out and withdrew by way of the Gizovak forest. Ignor was executed in the morning.
In the course of the action, the partisans took quite a bit of booty: the camp safe (it contained several tens of thousands of zlotys, jewelry, and money taken from the prisoners), several rifles, three pistols, a machine gun, hand grenades and many bullets. They also carried away food, clothing, 80 pairs of shoes and a radio receiving set. All this was taken back to Ludmilovka and hidden in the camp. The booty reinforced the stocks of the partisans; they now had more weapons, plus shoes and clothing for the winter.
Roshinski said nothing about the fact that it was impossible for a mass of several hundred prisoners to get to the distant forests, in inclement (late fall) weather; nor were there any bases to receive them. After the first flush of joy over their release, the camp inmates realized that they were doomed. Only 60 of them were able to elude the pursuing German police forces and to hide in the depth of the forest. Others, seeing that flight was useless, returned to the camp. Some scores were killed by the Germans, and the others were transferred to the forced labor camp in Budzin. The 60 who escaped tried to set up a partisan unit in the forest, but they were attacked by several Polish partisan groups and destroyed.
The Polish historians omit any reference to this murder, as well. To the contrary several articles subsequently appeared in various publications, with a falsified account of what had taken place in Janishov. Each of these articles hinted that liberated prisoners ostensibly refused to join the partisans. Here are several examples of the falsehoods:
Edward Gronchevski, a former partisan and author of several works on the history of Polish partisanship, described the Janishov operation thus:
After the camp commandant was put out of the way, Gazhgozh (that is, Korchinski S. K.) ordered that the storehouses and exit gates be opened. The Jews were told that they were free, and that everyone who had done military service prior to 1939 would be accepted into the unit without delay. The joy of liberation was dimmed by the prospects of retaliation by the Germans. Only when the camp commandant was executed did the Jews believe that the people who had attacked the camp were truly fighting against the occupation forces. We offered all of them to take whatever they wanted from the open stores and leave for the Lipsk and Janow forests, where they would be taken into various partisan groups. Regrettably, not many took advantage of this one-time opportunity.
In the Janishov operation some booty was carried away: several firearms, much ammunition, and a steel safe in which we found 200,000 zlotys.
Thaddeus Shimanski, also a Pole and former partisan, concludes his very detailed description of the Janishov action with a false statement: Of the 500 liberated, only a small number was willing to go with the partisans. Obviously he too makes no mention of the murder of Jews in the forest. Korchinski on his part also published false versions. This illuminating chapter in Dr. Krakowsky's book extends over 30 pages and is based on 79 documents. It ends as follows:
The Lublin Southern District was the only region in which the Armia Ludova also took part in murdering Jewish partisans. Nowhere else were there bloody encounters between Jews and AL Poles. In this District the bad influence was Korchinski's personality. He was a conscious and intentional anti-Semite, carrying weight and decision as was possible under those circumstances.
Korchinski was able to emerge from all situations unscathed. True, after the war he was put on trial and imprisoned. But thanks to certain contacts, he not only evaded the sentence but was appointed head of army intelligence in the Gomulka government. Binyamin Lubelsky (Maariv Weekend Supplement, 29.4.77, page 10) wrote about the drunkard who helped Gomulka:
During this period, a member of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, Korchinski, was given a high office in Poland. He was a drunkard whose only claim to fame was that, in the Stalin period, he was imprisoned together with Gomulka. One day he saw Gomulka in the prison corridor in a bad state, and he yelled to him: 'Vislav (Gomulka's underground name) stand fast!' When Gomulka was released and regained his high post, he recalled the support he received from Korchinski. The latter, already a Lieutenant-General, was appointed head of the Second Department (Military Intelligence) and became part of the top brass
Rumor has it that in 1965 Korchinski was named Poland's ambassador to Algeria. The same rumor says that he was killed in a road accident.
[Page 222- Hebrew] [Page 78 - English]
by A. Braffman
When war broke out in 1939, offices were set up in Paris to recruit volunteers. I didn't deliberate too much; I went there and registered. Several days later I received a summons to appear before the committee. I was accepted as a good soldier, and so were my brothers; almost al I the Jews volunteered to serve. Later I returned to Paris and worked there until May 1940.
When Paris fell, we were notified to appear before the Germans with our documents, for examination. I decided not to go. I fled to an acquaintance living in a village and remained there.
All Jewish businesses in Paris had to be overseen by a commissar appointed by the German regime. The overseer of my store let it he known that if I wouldn't return to work, he would sell the place. In 1941 he informed me that he had a customer, and that I should come and sign the papers. I returned to Paris and slept there overnight. In the morning I came down, but the concierge wouldn't let me out. Jews were being rounded up in the streets and taken to some unknown destination. The concierge told me to go to her apartment on the sixth floor. There I found several other Jews. I heard someone downstairs asking about Brafman. The concierge replied that I was on a holiday. Later I made my way to the free zone and lived with my family in Grenoble, with Polish documents, which a friend arranged for me.
Things didn't go smoothly. The food ration card I got in Paris was marked Jew, and I couldn't get any food. A French gendarme and his family were living off the same courtyard. I decided to tell him the truth. He told me at once that he would arrange for proper ration cards and he did.
My good fortune didn't last long. The Germans took over in 1943, and we were in trouble again. Again I turned to my gendarme and asked for his help. He told me that he had a father living in a small town 30 kilometers away from Grenoble. He would go there and arrange living quarters for me. This he did, and furthermore took my son to the school in the town; he would live with his father. The latter even placed my daughter (for whose safety I feared, if she would be with us) with a local family. Not until after the war was over did he learn that we were Jews, not Poles.
The dwelling, which the gendarme arranged for us, was actually a barn, but we weren't going to be choosers.
Many were the episodes in those dark years. On one occasion, when I was accompanying my son to the village, we ran into a roundup. Another gendarme I knew spotted me, and pretending that my presence mystified him, he led us away and took us to his home, until the way was clear.
at a rest home in France, 1946
[Page 223 - Hebrew] [Page 469 - Yiddish] [Page 76 - English]
by Joseph Crystal
We were taken farther, to Polshitz, where we were put aboard boxcars. Destination: Auschwitz. At nightfall we arrived at a spot, which no one could identify. But not far from us we saw a huge fire burning. Auschwitz. We reached the end of the railway line, and these were the furnaces of Auschwitz. We didn't know that prisoners were working there, but certainly not all were burned. After all, some people did survive. As we were waiting, boxcars arrived with Jews from France; they wanted to know the location of the colony Auschwitz.
We remained in the cars all night, then we were taken to Flossenburg, near the Czechoslovakian border. We were ordered to strip to the skin. Two young doctors told us to run around, into the steam bath. The doors were locked automatically behind us. As the vapors rose we thought it was gas to asphyxiate us. The steam warmed our bodies.
We were then rushed to the cold showers, then to a room with warm air to dry ourselves. The two doctors went from one to the other of us, pins in their hands, and pricked us in the flesh, leaving a black dot on the skin. Some were tattooed on their arms, and others were marked KL. We were given ordinary civilian clothes and put into huts.
We were put to work, but hard as it was, it wasn't the worst. The beatings were. The Germans, the Communists, the Kapos beat us. We worked, relentlessly, loading the boxcars with hewn stone. We were there three weeks, on a diet of 200 grams of bread and a bit of water. Like our forefathers in Egypt, we had to fill a quota. I felt that if we would remain there much longer, we would kick the bucket.
The Germans kept replacing the work force. All of us tried to appear strong and alert, so as to be assigned to some other spot. We were herded into the camp square, and those selected by the Germans were set aside, placed abroad the train, and taken to the Dutch border. This was already at the end of 1944.
The camp had a mixed population: Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, and 40 Jews. The overseers were young fellows who acted in the best traditions of the Gestapo, strutting about with their whips and lashing anyone within reach. Our work was to put up huts and build fortifications; the Allied armies were drawing closer. We dug wide and deep trenches. More than once we were strafed by British planes and suffered many casualties.
Several days later, as we were returning from work, a German overseer came along with his whip. He was about to beat me when my father embraced me. Strike me but not my son! he said. The overseer was puzzled. How is it that you are here with your son? he asked. My father said: We are Jews. The overseer hurried away to tell the commandant. He was surprised that any Jews were left. All Jews were ordered to stand aside, and the commandant ordered that Star of David patches be made for them.
The front moved closer. The British forces were only a few kilometers away, and the British bombers were concentrating on Hamburg.
One night we were awakened by bombs falling close at hand. The Germans fled, after letting us out from the huts. All of us fled, some barefoot or half-naked, prodded by the German whips to keep running. We kept on for about 30 kilometers until we reached a kind of valley. The earth was moist and the air was warm. It was already springtime. We lay there about an hour, without an ounce of food. I remember that the commandant came along on his motorcycle and sank in the mud. We could barely extricate him.
At daylight we moved on to a highway, with the intention of reaching a railway station. The commandant took a sandwich out from the leather saddlebag and gave it to me. The war is over, he told us. The British have captured Holland. We left the camp at two after midnight, and by six in the morning the British were in the camp.
We were nevertheless taken to the boxcars. The British kept bombing the area. The Germans locked us in. One of the boxcars was hit and burned, together with everyone inside.
The train pushed on to Bremen. We were pushed into a camp, but there was no longer any order. This was a prison camp, with a population of 160,000 Poles, Russians, French, Americans, Yugoslavs, Belgians, Dutch, all in their military uniforms and each ethnic group in its own section.
When the British reached the camp, it was surrounded by 4,000 SS men. The British broke in at two past midnight, burst into the arms depot and handed out weapons to the prisoners. About 20,000 were slain that night in the battle with the SS. We were liberated on April 29, 1945.
We took vengeance on the SS men. The liberated prisoners left the camp and came back with German civilians, whom they forced to dig graves for the dead, strewn in the area. The Russian prisoners, and others shot the Germans as they threw the corpses into the graves. Others raided the villages and set them afire. The vengeance they wreaked during the few days (until the British closed the camp) was unimaginable. The British forces surrounded the camp and didn't allow its inmates to emerge, lest the German population be further hurt. Slowly the camp emptied, and people set out to look for surviving members of their families. Some of us wanted to go back to Poland; perhaps there were survivors. But I knew that if I returned to Rachov, the Poles would murder me. I survived all the horrors of the Holocaust; should I go back and find death in my own home?
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