(Reworked by L. Podlowski)
Translated from the Yiddish by Martin Bornstein
It began Tuesday the 11th of August 1942, at five o’clock in the morning. A host of foreign police divisions, as well as the local German gendarmes surrounded the town. All of the houses and streets were simultaneously being guarded, such that it was impossible to tear yourself out from there. The civilian German people also helped to remove the Jewish people from Belchatow, which they did of their own accord (free will).
Already a month or two earlier, when no one had imagined that the end was so near, a division of the border police was dispatched to the town. They carefully watched (paid strong attention) that no one should illegally cross the border, into the "Fatherland" (Germany), from the governed region (General Gobernia). The Jews of Belchatow, even when they saw how people were being driven, still believed that this was just one of the many German "drag-nets" (raids) that was perpetrated against the Jews of Belchatow, with the purpose of (catching and) sending them to the Posnan camps. They also built it up in our minds, such that we thought it would be (affect) just old people and not younger people, capable of working. Had it been otherwise, certainly a lot of people from Belchatow would have run away to the nearby woods. When we first saw the hellish scenes, that played themselves out on the streets, did we then understand how great our woe is, but by then it was too late to undertake anything.
I looked out from a crack from my house at number 14 Pabianice Street, and saw how the multitude of Jews were being driven, women with children and old people, they were met with slaps from guns, knouts (whips), sticks, and other instruments. We didn’t even have time to dress ourselves, when we heard from our backyard the wild screams of "Everyone Out". Quickly the piece of bread was divided among all the family members. My mother in her haste put on my jacket. Everyone grabbed on the last minute what he or she could, and out we went to the backyard.
In the backyard area were already standing all of our terrorized turned out neighbors. We were pulled out to the street, and we were driven along with the rest of the population, to the old market place. At the location of the burned out houses, by the market place, there a few thousand Jews had already been driven together. One hears the cries and hiccups of children that are clinging to their mothers. They give the impression, like they would have a premonition, that a great tragedy was being pushed upon them. Everyone keeps themselves close to their relatives (near ones) almost as if to be able to be together in the last hour. A group of Jews were sent away immediately, without any selection, packed into vehicles being sent in the direction of the towns Zelow and Lask. There lies the road to travel to the Chelmno death camp. The remaining population was asked to place themselves in 2 lines. In one line were placed healthy people from 18 to 45 years of age, and all of the remaining people, that is grandparents, children, and the sick people were placed in the second (line). I was torn away from my parents. My sister-in-law Rivkeh Lieberman, who found herself together with her husband in the line of the healthy ones, was not able to bear the pain and crying of the children, went back over to them and perished together with them in the gas chambers of Chelmno.
The whole population had been driven to the synagogue courtyard. About 4,000 Jews were pushed into the synagogue. The people were packed in like herring ("sardines") and they were kept there in the synagogue for 3 days, children and old people without food and without water. There wasn’t even the ability to breathe. The screaming and crying of the children was heard throughout the entire town. The Germans were standing outside and laughing. The healthy ones and young ones were standing exposed on the synagogue courtyard by the outside wall of the Talmud Torah (Yeshiva). A lot of them risked throwing over bread to those that the Germans were unable to push into the synagogue. There wasn’t anyone that was badly beaten as a result of this. Sheva Rosenblat, who was holding a child by her breast, started to grab at one of the breads. Those people that were standing near her started jumping upon her. Everyone had bunched themselves together in one pile. People were tearing at and walking over one another. Sheva’s child was suffocated on the spot.
Such scenes weren’t so unique. We were standing outside pressed together in one heap. With grieving hearts we had to look upon these dreadful scenes. Twelve o’clock noon hour a German came to take out 200 men, from among those that were standing in the synagogue courtyard, in order to have them clean up the Jewish owned possessions and goods. My brother Joseph and I found ourselves in this group. While travelling by the synagogue courtyard, Hans Biebow, the hangman of the Lodz Ghetto held a speech for us, threatening and warning that by whomever they will find money or valuables, that person will receive (get) a bullet in the head. Of the 200 men only Abraham Granyk (Granick) reported anything. He showed where he had laying hidden valuables.
We were divided into groups of 20 and sent to the different parts of the town, to collect together (gather) whatever may be found in the Jewish homes. My brother Joseph and I belonged to the group that cleaned out the homes on Stercower (Stertzover) Street. We were guarded by gendarmes of the Lodz "Kripo". While we were at work a group of men in uniform approached us. To our amazement, it was a group of police from the Lodz Ghetto, that Biebow had brought with him to liquidate the Jews of Belchatow. A lot of Jewish policemen also helped to rob for themselves. We worked hard for the entire day without eating or drinking. After working, everyone had to undress completely naked, at the instruction of Biebow, and if something was found on someone, even only a piece of bread, that person was beaten at the direction of that murderer.
After the review we were once again sent to the right of the synagogue. This time we were not by the synagogue courtyard, but in front of the synagogue, where there was laying the robbed Jewish fortune. We laid ourselves down to sleep on top of the packages, but none of us were able to sleep.
On the second day the beasts once again pulled us off to work. My brother and I ended up in the group that had to clean up the tailor (cutting) shop that was in Dzalowski’s factory. We carried out the new machines, which had formerly belonged to the Jewish bosses, and loaded them into vehicles. I used the opportunity, that I was designated to bring water for the group, and I went to take a look to see what had become of the Jews that were in the synagogue. I also wanted to know if my parents were still there, and as I came close I heard myself being called. These were my parents, who didn’t have a place in the synagogue. I wanted to give them the 2 pieces of bread that I had. They didn’t want to take it, because they said that in any event they were being sent off to their death. While I was standing there talking to my parents, and my heart was torn with pain with the sadness that was visible in my parent’s eyes, a German ran in with a fury. He was holding a knout (whip) in his hand, and he right away gave it to me on my head. When I attempted to explain, that I was sent away for water for the workers in the tailor shop, he gave it to me again, and warned me that if he sees me again, I will have an end like that of all of the Jews in the synagogue.
After my return, they sent my group to clean the Piotrkower Street. A wagon traveled with us. Everything that we loaded upon it was driven to a place in front of the new magistrate. When we traveled by wagon past the synagogue courtyard, I jumped off from it, and once again went to see what was going on in the synagogue and synagogue courtyard, I once again ran into my sister Zlata and her child. I gave away to her the bread that I had. I was encircled by the women and children, that found themselves there, with tears in their eyes, asking me that I should also give a piece of bread for their hungry children. I turned my head away, almost so as not to see the pain of the hungry children. As I was just out of the synagogue courtyard almost rejoining my group, I saw from the distance that something was going on there. When I came closer I saw that the Germans were beating the people from my group. It was as a result of my being missing (from the group). I was afraid to go over there, while I would certainly not come out from their hands alive. I cut through Faivesh’s house and back into my group without being noticed by the Germans.
After work, there was a repeat of everything that occurred yesterday. Once again we had to undress naked while being beaten. The second night we were sent to sleep in Machel Piotrkowski’s house. On the first floor the brutes were sleeping, the Jewish Police from Lodz. Us (We) a group of 200 people were sent up to the attic. We lay pressed together without a drop of air, simply to be suffocated. It should be understood that even from the act of sleeping you were not able to derive anything. On the third day of our work we had a bitter day. Nine o’clock in the morning a massacre began. A German sadist came along and whomever he found he killed. He pushed out the eyes of Shaye Berkowicz (Berkowitz) and Abraham Wengliszewski (Wenglishewski). There were other shameful abuses, but I don’t remember them precisely. My brother Joseph was beaten for such a long period of time till he lost consciousness. He also became deaf from the beating. We were on that day jealous of those that had already been sent away. At night we were sent (driven) to sleep in the synagogue. We did not find anyone there. Lying around there, there were different things that the people had thrown away. We believed that now the line was coming to (for) us. We were not able to fall asleep on the third night. Before our eyes were passing the nightmarish pictures of the last few days. We were filled with horror by it, that which transpired with the people we were close with and of them, as well as what we alone were awaiting. I became of the conviction that night, that there are (present) those moments when it is harder (more difficult) to die than to live.
On the fourth day, at noon time, the Germans called for everyone to give up their German Marks (currency). Those people that had Marks were asked to put them out separately. They numbered about 25 men. The Germans required 25 benches to be brought and all 25 men had to lie down upon them. The Jewish Police from the Lodz Ghetto lashed out upon them for so long, until the Germans told them to cease. After the execution (of the beating) everyone was put into 2 lines. Those that had good work, as tailors, shoemakers, and locksmiths were placed in one line and all the remaining ones, some 130 people, were placed in the second line. The tradesmen were sent to the Lodz Ghetto. They were a group of about 70 men. All of the remaining ones were the last Belchatow sacrifices that were sent to Lodz. Before we were sent out, we were still required to clean out the house where Moshe Luzer Podlowski had lived. We packed up everything from the house into trunks and brought it out to the street. Later they commanded that we carry the trunks on our shoulders and run with them. We ran with our last strength till we reached the place of Hillel the rope (knit-ware?) maker. There we were loaded onto vehicles, and together with the Jewish Police of the Lodz Ghetto, we were driven away to Lodz. With our departure was closed the last tragic chapter of the Belchatow Jewish Community.
Translated from the original Polish by Andrzej Selerowicz**
Edited by Jerry Liebowitz
Until the German-Russian war began in 1941, the Jewish population of Belchatow was integrated into the everyday life of the town. Craftsmen and weavers continued their work illegally, and when someone was caught, he bought himself free after paying a bribe. At night smugglers transported textiles to the Gouvernement [the German administrative district in the central part of Poland, west of Lodz, under Nazi occupation] and brought back shoemakers accessories such as leather, nails, pegs, and other things, tailors accessories, cigarettes, candles, in other words everything that was not available in our town. Jews displaced from surrounding villages snuck back to their former houses and smuggled butter, eggs, meat, as well as other agricultural products for us.
Thanks to the group of Jews mentioned above, the rest of us were able to survive, some by trading, some acting as middlemen. In other words, nobody was starving. The people sold everything that they possessed, willing to survive at any price. They knew that the future would be better, without fears or war, and they expected this new life and the end of the war very soon.
The smallest fact, every piece of gossip, was taken as evidence of the oncoming end of the war. [The rumors increased as much as the number of Volksdeutsche [inhabitants who declared themselves to be part of the German people] after 1 September 1939. Every story contained a high level of probability, coming from real life.] [Ed: This passage, as all others in brackets, was deleted and does not appear in the Yizkor Book.] For example, one German said (whispering in order to underline the importance of his message) that there had been a rebellion in Southern Germany. This rebellion meant that the end of the war was near.
Not to mention letters from Russia about Aunt Rosa, about a Messiah on a white horse, and different uncles, which stood for Russians, who were about to arrive. This was the reason why nobody took to heart when he lost something. When a smuggler, for example, saving his life at the border at night from the hands of the thugs, had to throw away his goods, saying the next morning that he did not mind and went again as soon as he was able to collect new goods just to stay alive.
Once Stobiecki was caught as he was baking bread, and two SchuPo-men [German policemen] harassed him some 5 kilometers to the village where he had bought flour, throwing him for fun into water (they told him to dive in and catch the ducks). Afterwards they beat him so severely that he had to be carried home in a sheet. When he regained consciousness and was asked by neighbors how he was doing, he answered: and we will survive anyway.
After the shochet [ritual butcher] Mlot was arrested, he was beaten severely, forced to drink a glass of denaturat [a very strong alcohol not for consumption], and was thrown into a shack, where he had to sit all night without any water and having terrible pains. The next day he was set free and returned to his work right away, because he wanted to survive.
Moszek Rozenblat, father of five, every day delivered fresh milk, butter, and chicken. No matter, summer or winter, he crossed the river on foot, although the water went up to his hips completely wet in summer, and almost frozen in the winter time, shaking from cold in his frozen clothes, having wounds from the cold from crossing the river in the darkness. Nature kept alive this man who desperately held onto life but later perished through German culture with the help of gas at Chelmno [a concentration camp]. He did not stop trading, even when he was beaten and his hand was broken after he was caught carrying ducks. He did not even stop trading after being denounced and a dead calf was found at his place, for which he was again beaten and forced to clean the floor of blood using his own hat. He continued his work also after he spent half a year in prison. The saying and we will survive anyway was a kind of slogan which kept him alive even during the worst torture.
I could name many Jews who were turned by Germans into creatures, shapeless bodies and who until the very end still longed to survive the Germans. They will all remain anonymous because the murderers destroyed all archives, even their graves in the cemetery; [they all will be remembered in the chapter of the Holocaust of the Jewish Nation.]
[Every one of them was a human being with his life, thoughts, wishes, everyone wanted to survive those atrocities. How many times he had to struggle with death, being successful only due to his enormous will to live. Why the voice of revenge does not bring the heavens to explosion and a hail of damnation fall upon the nation of murderers and their helpers?]
The German-Russian war broke out [and, with this, new hopes arose. Unfortunately they disappeared very soon, right after the first Sunday. While listening to the Sondermeldungen [special war report] many Jews lost heart, but the passage of time also proved to be a good doctor. The German front moved forward], Germans became polite, and Volksdeutsche showed us how our future life would be: the Germans would stop killing us and start using us as a work force, because we were young and strong; Germany would be as big as the entire world, and the best evidence was the fact that the German/Russian front was moving forwards quickly, they have only to take Moscow and then the [Russian] government will give up, like in France. Then the time of reconstruction would come. [The evidence that we, Jews, could be useful in this was the fact that we had already repaired the whole street which had been destroyed in 1939, and that a building for the city hall was erected (and remains there even today). This building outlived all the Jews who built it, outlived all the mister murderers who relished in its rooms; and city hall still fulfills its purpose. All papers, all documents, were destroyed, and still this building and the ruins of the synagogue will remain as a monument at the graves of six thousand Jews who once lived in this town.] [The ruins of the synagogue have since been removed.]
[One did not have to wait long for the realization of the Volksdeutsch plans.]
Before the holidays, the authorities proclaimed that all male Jews between 18 and 40 years old must gather at the yard of the Klug factory. The only exceptions were men working as tailors and those who had permission to run a workshop. [They produced goods for the army.]
Nearly two thousand men appeared, accompanied by their wives, children, and fiancées, who gathered around the fence and tried to look through the smallest opening in it, fighting sometimes to have the chance to glimpse inside. The yard looked like this: in the middle a table was placed, and a woman sat there with two boxes in front of her with registration cards and yellow cards for those people who would be let free. In the distance some uniformed Germans stood like guests of honor; at an appropriate distance stood Jewish authorities, President Ehrlich and his advisers, Mr. Altman and Mr. Winter, as well as Dr. Basier from Piotrkow. The factory door was guarded by Jewish policemen and the gate in the fence by SchuPo-men [German police].
The inspection started at about 2 p.m. Naked men, carrying their clothes in their hands, came to the German doctors who ordered all healthy looking ones to be transported away. Meanwhile they had to wait in another room in the factory building. The others got red cards, evidence that its owner had taken part in the medical examination on that day (I do not remember the exact date). After the German commission left, the mongering started: Winter, Altman, Wengliszewski, not to mention the lesser ones who were part of the authorities, the police, the Grenzwache [border patrol], and other German agencies with their supervisors wandered around and took aside all of their relatives and acquaintances. But the poor mothers and wives, of those sons and husbands who did not have a chance to get free, cried and cursed at those who went in and out. The poor mothers knew that the person who left with Altman did not belong to his family at all, but an uncle bought for some 500 Reichsmarks [German money]. Before evening fell, the SchuPo broke up the crowd of women, because nobody could stand their crying and screaming any longer, and secondly, because the Jewish authorities felt the problems coming. How many were selected by the medical commission, I do not know. I only remember that after this mongering, 250 persons were sent to Poznan the next day.
Already after three weeks, new announcements with the same text were posted. This time, however, Jews did not appear so collectively like the first time. This transport had to be supplemented by a street raid, and finally a group of 450 was again sent to Poznan. Also this time, of course, they could not do without the mongering. Every German who was a member of the local hierarchy had his own Jew, through whom he got a part of the ransom for his freedom.
After the second group was sent away, the town looked changed. Logically enough that after sending away 700 Jews who almost all fed directly or helped to feed their families, hunger started to creep in under roofs of many houses. Now women and youngsters had to risk their lives not only to find enough food for themselves and their relatives, but also for the relatives who sent alarming pleas for help from the Lager [German word for camp]. Sometimes a mother saved up food during the whole week not eating anything and also taking away from the portion of 250 grams of bread given for her child, just to be able to send a package for her father or husband in a Lager.
Days and weeks passed slowly. Everybody lived out his problems trying with all his energy to keep himself and his family alive. Boys as of the age of 10 or so became heads of families, growing up very fast, finding out what is allowed and what is not, what has to be sent in a parcel to his father and how to pack the parcel in order that Germans would not discover food inside, but think it was old clothes. The news from the fronts via the Nazi propaganda began to become diluted. Newspapers with red-marked headlines became more and more infrequent. Jews again gained hope, although bad news about the Nazis brought about more beatings to our heads, backs, and cheeks, and the saying and we survive anyway gave new moral support.
All of a sudden, a public execution during Purim took place, bringing 10 victims: Taube, Baum, Feld, Wolfowicz, Ehrlich, Landau, Szapiro, Weiss, Lajzerowicz, and Pelzman. They were people of different convictions and social positions. All Jews who had to assist in the execution finally understood that they had to unite because they suffered as a unit, as a race unit. [They stood side by side observing this tragic spectacle, Zionists, Communists, and people from Bund and Mizrachi, party members and non-members, pious and free-thinkers, rich and poor, factory owner and worker.] Maybe suddenly the idea went through their heads that unified they would manage to tear off the head of the Hydra.
[There is however no fact or event which would be able to stop the wheel of history not even for a moment. That execution did not rescue Nazism from a defeat similar to all those executions taking part in the whole Warthegau [the German administrative district during the occupation of Poland in which Lodz was situated], in Zelow, in Lask, wherever Jewish communities used to exist.]
Before Pesach a message went around that again raids would be taking place. This was not an official proclamation, because Nazis knew that this time Jews would not appear in front of the medical commission. This was more gossip, which however made us pay more attention. Germans wanted to use some tricks, but they did not succeed one hundred percent. One day the management of the tailors union announced that current work permits would not be prolonged without a stamp from the Arbeitsamt [Labor Office]. In this way they wanted to gather all workers and to select a group for transport to Poznan. This did not succeed, because only a portion of the workers appeared, especially those who were safe anyway. The situation became tense, and rumors spread that if people did not show up, they would be shot. In fact, just the next day, a certain Gliksman who joined the crowd died from a bullet wound. Towards evening almost all police stations drove their members with weapons by truck outside of town. They wanted Jews to think that the policemen had been driven to other villages to make raids there and hoped that Jews would leave their hiding places and go back to their beds. But this was not successful, because this time the hunted animals were on alert. When the Nazis started a raid at midnight, they found only children and handicapped and older people. [That night Ickowicz and Cymberknopf were shot. But this all did not have any relevancy, because] the raid lasted three days and three nights, in the end using the Jewish police who had to bring five hostages each. On the fourth day, 400 Jews were sent away, and they had a tragic ending because they were mostly handicapped, old people, and children, who could not survive the hard work. [At the time that we were deported from town, almost no one from this group was still alive.]
[Dark clouds hung above the town.] Shortly after Pesach, like thunder from heaven, the news arrived about the deportation. [The question where to and when was asked by a thousand lips, longing for an answer which would be able to lighten the darkness and bring a piece of hope.] [In the Yizkor Book: No one knew where to.]
[I vividly remember those days when the szpera [curfew] was ordered in town. The first news about the deportation in Pabianice arrived, about how children were ripped away from theirs mothers and thrown onto trucks.] Neighbors and family members gathered in our apartment and wanted to make common plans, exchange information or simply unload their bitterness. [A young woman carrying a child said something that others were afraid to articulate. Never, she said, never will I give my child away, even if we have to jump together into the fire. She pressed the dark head of her child to her breast, and a stream of tears flowed from her eyes. Other women joined her crying quietly. To no avail the older women tried to calm her, saying that this was a sin and she was not allowed to talk like this and that God was merciful and would protect the Jews from Hitler as he once protected them from Haman. But all words of consolation coming from the lips of religious people or common optimists could not bring peace even for a moment to the completely shaken mothers. Their intuition told them that the end of their suffering in a very tragic way was approaching, without leaving anybody who would be able to remember them or to say a pray for their souls.] Deep sorrow overcame everybody who looked at the children becoming more and more afraid [YB: infected with fear].
It is difficult to describe what happened in our apartment during those three days. It is easy to describe the activities, deeds, and facts, even my own thoughts, but I would never find out what was in the hearts and heads of my mother and my other family members. What we did was actually opposite to what we thought, because everybody tried to stay calm and thereby influence the others. We carried out our everyday work, although it was hard to do so.
Despite all this we drew up a plan according to which everyone should act. My sister and I would probably stay in Belchatow in case of a deportation, because we had official work. My mother and the children would probably be deported. Based on those presumptions, she made rucksacks for my younger brother and herself, packed with the necessary underclothes, and sewed our address on them written on white sheets of fabric. For the child she made a bag which was put around his neck with a paper in it with his personal data. The poor children did not know what such bags were for and pranced with them around the yard. For me and my sister, mother hid some food under the roof which should help us in an emergency.
Additionally, we decided that our common address would become the address of our father in Poznan, and everyone should send letters there no matter where we were. After the war we should meet again in Belchatow.
Three days passed rich in happenings like centuries. The date of deportation was expected anytime. All of a sudden a good piece of news arrived like lightning, reaching all the places where a Jewish heart beat. The deportation was withdrawn. Many people thought about the meaning of this expression. Clear thinking was not possible when everyone was almost crazy with joy, when crowds of Jews gathered, despite the szpera [curfew], in the so-called Judenstrasse or in the yard of the Jewish Committee, trying to find out something more concrete and official about the quieted storm which hung over the town. Jews kissed each other, hugged, forgetting for a couple of hours all the differences between them, between the rich and the poor.
The szpera was withdrawn in the afternoon. There was, however, something which should not be forgotten and which somehow overshadowed the joyful mood which existed after the biggest danger, the deportation passed. This was the case of President Bodganski, a lawyer who was born, had studied and practiced in Piotrkow. Before the war, he married the daughter of well-known medical assistant Laskowski, Miss Andzia, who worked as a dentist in her private practice. During the Nazi occupation, many changes in the position of the President took place. After Ehrlich was hanged and Topolewicz stepped down, Bogdanski was appointed. During the entire period that he was in office, he tried with all his might to help people in their difficult existence, met delegations of workers, and debated with them about the slightest possible help.
[After asking the visitors to the soup-kitchen, he decided that the free soup served would be enriched with fat instead of margarine. He also wanted to establish a canteen like the one in Piotrkow, where one could get lunch for a minimal price, some five pfennig for larger families or 10 pfennig from a single consumer. Unfortunately he did not manage to realize all those plans due to the storm which broke out.]
On the first day of the szpera he rented a taxi for some thousand Marks to bring him and his family to Piotrkow. The cab driver, a German, brought them instead directly to the police station. After the Judenrat paid a ransom, they were not executed, only sent to Radogoszcz [a concentration camp near Lodz]. Among them were Bogdanski with his wife, old Laskowski with wife and his old mother, his son Szlamek with wife Pola Dykierman, who originally was from Radom, and their several months old baby, which she bore thanks to a big protection and money paid for in a clinic in Lodz, as well as Dawid Laskowski's wife, son of the old Laskowski, who at that time was in the Lodz Ghetto with an 11-year-old boy. All those listed above were transported to Radogoszcz by these murderers.
The President's chair was taken on by Topolewicz once again.
May ended and the summer arrived, time was quiet, no more raids for work camps. Although the Germans had not changed their tactics towards Jews, everyone was breathing easier. Even new facts of terrible torture did not disturb people. More and more cases of letting dogs loose on Jews. The Germans smiling, would say to the dog, Du, Mensch, nimm den Hund [You, human-being, grab that dog!]. Also murders became more common; for example, Zwierzynski was shot, after he escaped from the transport, hid in Zelow, and simply came home for a short visit. Borensztajn, who used to be a Hebrew teacher in Yavneh before the war, now earned money by giving lessons to children of richer people. One day he was caught hovering over a book with a child, and this was enough for the murderers to arrest him in the evening and shoot him on the way to the local prison, after having tortured him.
Also, Yossel Machabanski and his son were shot, in order to eliminate witnesses who could confirm that a German butcher had sold sausages to a Jewish woman who ran an illegal grocery shop. Moshe Zygmuntowicz, who was arrested carrying chickens, was beaten so long that he died after two days of torture, but still not confessing the names of the farmers where he bought the chickens.
All these facts could not darken the joyful atmosphere at that time as a message spread that the manager of the Arbeitsamt for the entire Warthegau was bribed. He came to us at the time when a raid was expected from Zdunska Wola where his office was. His arrival used to spread fear, but this time, however, he was literally welcomed. For furs, gold, diamonds, and similar gifts, he promised to bring our people from Poznan back to Belchatow.
[The will to be greedy was successful.] The first eighteen persons came back from the Lager towards the end of July. One can imagine what happened then in town. Everyone started selling everything he could turn to money, and this money flew to the boss through the cash shelter of the committee. The first eighteen persons came Friday before evening, and just the next Thursday came the second group of 70 people.
In the center sits Kalman Gelbart
This was another story. Actually a group of eighty should have returned, and for all of them the Lagerfürhrer [camp manager] had been paid. However, he kept ten men, demanding a ransom in the form of two pairs of shoes, two leather coats, and two clocks. This message about the Lagerführer's demand was brought by the people in the group that just arrived. Of course, the families of the remaining ten prisoners collected the needed ransom and sent Mr. Altman with these things to Poznan.
At the same time as Altman was on his way to Poznan, the mayor of Belchatow, who did not know anything about what had recently happened here, requested Altman's presence in order to discuss a matter. The mayor's anger was boundless when he found out that Altman was not there and when he learned of the purpose of his journey to Poznan. He called the camp immediately and ordered that the release of the people without his permission be stopped. After Altman's arrival, he was informed of the mayor's decision. With empty hands he returned to Belchatow on Saturday morning. In the afternoon, President Topolewicz was arrested, and, in the night from Saturday to Sunday, he was liquidated with a shot in the back of the head.
On Tuesday the 11th of August, at 4 o'clock in the morning, my uncle, with whom I worked at the shoemakers, woke me up. The first shift started at 5:00 am and lasted until 1:00 pm.
[The fog that morning could not block out the sun already coming up behind the roofs of the small houses. I left home without a coat and a cap, wearing only my workers shirt and trousers and carrying a bundle with shoemaker's accessories, such as a hammer, pincers, knife, and other things.]
In the street I noticed an unusual movement. [Something was in the air, but I was not able to say what. A German rode by us on a horse and answered our polite greetings. I am ashamed now, but I must confess that I presumed that a revolution had taken place in Germany. We all imagined that on a nice morning we would get up and everything would be over.]
In the workshop, also, where there were only a few men, we were discussing what each one had seen on the way to work [and analyzing the meaning of this information. Meanwhile newcomers added to our observations]. But suddenly we were interrupted by the news brought by Mr. Zylbergold, whose father was a gardener with the SchuPo. He said that Mr. Winter ordered him to go to the chief of the Jewish police, that all old and sick people and children should gather in Zelowska [YB: Zelower] Road. And then the happenings developed with the speed of lightening.
In front of us one SchuPo-man led with a whip in his hand a group of men, women, and children, old and young. Many of the workers went home to change clothes. My uncle also left, but I stayed because I was morally too weak to say goodbye.
At 7 a.m. trucks with trailers arrived from Zelowska [YB: Zelower] Road and stopped on both sides of Stary Rynek [Old Market Square]. We stood around helpless, not knowing what we were waiting for; some left for home, others for the factory. The general confusion which existed in the town also came over us. We were simply standing there and waiting.
Soon the manager of the factory arrived (a German) and told our supervisor (who was also a German), to get the keys and lock the building [literally: shack] and to send us to the devil. His order was followed. I was on the street and wanted to go home, but how? Between me and the other side of the street was a long row of German vehicles. At every one stood a driver armed with a weapon or at least a stick, club, or a knuckle-duster. We stood in a group without knowing which direction we should go. Someone called out, Hop, Jude, hej [Hey, Jew, come on], and this indicated the way. We had to run past Germans standing in a double row where we were beaten repeatedly, and out of breath we reached the yard of the synagogue.
I started looking for my people among the Jews who were gathered there. I could not find anybody, because these were mostly Jews from the outskirts of town. The Germans were afraid that if they started the action from the center, all those who lived on the periphery would flee and hide. They started their raid at night encircling the town, shooting those who tried to flee like hunting rabbits, and emptied one Jewish house after another. The people, half naked, were led to the synagogue yard. After the yard was full, the murderers led by Bibow arrived. It was silent, like at a cemetery, as he announced that those having documents or permission to work should go to the other side and form rows of five. Between us and the other side, Germans stood, checking all our documents, every single paper. The crowd jumped towards them, one pushing the other, showing their papers, afraid that the contingent soon would be full and they would have to continue roaming. The Germans created order right away. Two shots were fired towards the masses, and two dead bodies taught the people discipline.
After having shown my card, I was ordered to the other side; that means I was allowed to join those who, thanks to their work permits, could stay in town, according to circulating rumors. Standing in the row I was able to look around. The crowd had to form rows of two and was escorted outside. Dr Basier stood there with his wife, wearing a Red Cross armband. When he was supposed to form a row, his wife did not want to leave him. She kept coming back to him, despite being beaten with hands and feet. Finally she was allowed to stay with her husband, and both hugging each other left for the unknown.
While all this in the yard happened, while the fate of the people was being weighed, not knowing that they were going to their death, just peacefully standing together, happy not to be separated from each other, a girl with loose hair and torn skirt was brought in. Her appearance indicated that she had fought with the soldier who escorted her. I knew her. She was Miss Mendlewicz, about 17 years old, who came to Belchatow from Wielun during the occupation and who still traveled there earning money for her family from trading. I do not know how they found out she was Jewish. The soldier brought her in front of Bibow. His first question was, Bist du Jüdin? [Are you Jewish?]. I don't understand, she answered in Polish. A loud slap to the face was heard. Bist du Jüdin? came the same question, and the same answer followed with the same reaction. This kind of conversation took so long until the Nazi became furious, hit and kicked her, and, when she was on the ground in spasms, he ordered that this piece of sh__ be taken away from him and thrown on a truck.
[After the Germans counted 100 people,] we were escorted outside to the vans. They were high trucks, and we were supposed to get on through a hatch at the back. A large tumult started, because nobody knew how to climb onto the trucks, and, before we could think, we heard the sticks over our heads hitting people standing close together next to the truck. Even if someone managed to climb up, he was torn back down by those grabbing him trying to climb up.
[Not being aware of the risk involved,] I went to the truck at the side of the driver's cabin, climbed up over the wheel and got in, waiting until the truck was full, looking around the square.
Near the church fence stood those Jews who did not find room in the synagogue yard. Among them I expected to see my family. Using the knowledge of those who lived in our neighborhood, I discovered those from number 18, those from 20, all made to stand in this order. Then I saw number 22. At that moment my mother found my searching eyes and raised my 6-year-old brother into the air. He was saying goodbye to me, waving his hand. Unfortunately, this was the final farewell.
When the three trucks with trailers were full, the command to start was given. A Gestapo man got on every truck and ordered us to turn to the front for the journey, not leaning on sides, which could result in an accident. The transport started, first, second, third truck, and a taxi with some Gestapo policemen at the rear. After a two-hour drive we found ourselves on Balucki Rynek [YB: Baluter Ring] in the Lodz Ghetto. Here I [again] met my sister, who came with the same transport [because she had the documents for a tailor's workshop. What scenes of tragedy as brothers, sisters, and mothers discovered that nobody else had reached the ghetto. Jews from Balucki Rynek looked at us shaking there heads with pity; it is really hard to describe].
[All those happenings to which I was witness in the last couple of hours did not break my soul, my eagerness to live. I shook it all off like a dog leaving water, and with new energy I started my life under Ghetto conditions.
When I saw my desperate sister continuously telling me how my youngest brother looked when he woke up, and how he shook from the cold and fear while being dressed, or when she told me how my mother calmed everybody down, that this was all a new German trick, I was not able not to answer her.
Always when she started, heartbroken to remember our family, I calmed her down saying: We have to stay alive! If the war does not last long, we will see all of them my father in Poznan; also my mother, who surely survived as I expected she would, a healthy woman, was deported for sure and we would meet them. If not, we have to stay alive to take vengeance for their deaths.]
Three years have passed since then. From Belchatow into the Lodz Ghetto, then Auschwitz, Flosseburg, Buchenwald and Theresienstadt [all the time I was driven by the idea of vengeance. When finally the moment of paying back, when the groaning comes from under the soil and demands revenge, the mighty gentlemen in full dress and top hat spread their protective wings over those nests of vipers, which again multiply and will again poison the world with a new poison in the future. The hope which did not leave me during years of torture, and now brings me new energy to start a new fight, for once and for all the end of all those dark powers breeding this new nest of mean individuals. I am standing in the row of all those 44 million victims who should be addressed for the position of judges and those seeking vengeance and who overtake in their hands the steering wheel of government. Finally the gentlemen from Westminster Hall will speak their judgment, which will be fair for all those criminal Germans with heavy cleated boots covered with mud combined with the blood of innocent victims, will destroy the nest of those reptiles.] [In the Yizkor Book, this passage ends as follows: I have been dominated by one desire: survival, to be able to take revenge when the day of retribution finally comes.]
Lodz, 15 January 1946
[Narutowicza Street 29/37]
* From the Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in [Warsaw,] Poland, catalog number 1413 [written in Polish by Moniek Kaufman] retrun
** [Editor's note: This chapter was originally written by the author, Mendel (Moniek, in Polish) Kaufman, after World War II, in Lodz, as one of many official Reports of Holocaust Survivors. Several years later, after he had settled in Israel, he was visited by his childhood friend, Jacob Meyer Pukacz (who had emigrated to Argentina in 1937). They found a copy of the original document in the archives at Yad Vashem and translated it into Yiddish for this Yizkor Book (with some deletions and minor changes that do not appear in this translation). Andrzej Selerowicz's translation is from the original document in Polish in the Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw, catalog number 301/1413. Mr. Kaufman now lives in Kibbutz Yafit, Israel, and has given permission for this translation.] return
*** [Editor's note: The original report in Polish includes some passages later deleted and not included in the Yizkor Book. These are denoted with straight brackets in this translation.] return
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