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[Pages 140-143]

Destruction of Brzezin

brz140.jpg -   Abraham Blanket-Sulkowicz

By Abraham Blanket-Sulkowicz

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

We want to report here to the landslayt [fellow townspeople] the “dry facts” about the destruction of Brzezin under the Hitler regime. We could have used florid language with the facts, but what is the point in using such language when each word was forged in chains and description is hopeless? Great masters of the word and the pen have not yet found appropriate artistic forms nor the proper perspective to describe the terrible tragedy of the destruction of six million Jewish martyrs in the Fascist-Nazi epoch in Europe. So let me here relate to you the prosaic, plain facts – facts that pertain mainly to our town – the town that bound us with thousands of familial, intimate threads. Today this very town is for us only a geographic concept that exists in our memory – that in reality, is no more …

Once we had a cemetery there – where rested the physical remains of our nearest and dearest – that the German murderers also destroyed, so that there is no remembrance left even of our graves …

The superbly beautiful synagogue that Brzeziners were so proud of – the pride of our town – was set on fire by the assassins and disappeared in smoke and flames. The beautiful Brzeziner synagogue is no more.

For us, it was a Jewish Brzezin, which bound together today and yesterday with beautiful, bright, orderly traditions. That Brzezin does not exist any more for us. Only a few Brzeziner mourners are left; they are orphans – bloodied, like limbs torn from a tree, thrown into all corners of the world. These very Brzeziners remain the living witnesses to recite the Megile Eykhe [Book of Lamentations] of Brzezin, all the horrors and atrocities that they lived through during the time when the German assassins were slaughtering, burning, and persecuting. They can relate moments when plain, simple, toiling Brzeziner Jews lifted themselves up to the level of sacred martyrs; moments of kdushe [holiness] and – about those past restful, sunny, light-filled days, when the plague of Nazism had not yet reached this world.


The September of 1939 will remain a tragic date in world history and certainly for the Jews of Poland. In that year the German assassins assaulted Poland with their totally sadistic malice. Soon every town and city was in a hail storm of flying destroyers with fire-spitting dynamite bombs. There was a stampede, an attempt to escape. Buildings began to fall like houses of cards; immediately there were the dead and the wounded – and among them, small innocent infants – yes, the villains, with distinct sadistic pleasure, snuffed out the little souls of nursing infants; it is unbelievable, but it is the absolute truth!

The German murderers brought devastation and destruction to Poland. In our town, as in the surrounding towns, there was gloom. People left all their belongings, possessions accumulated during difficult years of drudgery and toil, and wandered about aimlessly to save themselves from the flying devils. But the planes were all over; nowhere could they be avoided. With systematic brutal calculation, they attacked the unprotected, unarmed civilian population, which tried to escape to shelter and safety.

It soon became clear that Poland had lost the war. The Germans became total masters over everything. Many people fled to the east in order to find protection with the Russians. Others made peace with their fate and remained where they were. Many of the Jews who ran away from our town met the Angel of Death along the way; others succeeded in finding provisional shelter with the Russians. But the majority returned to town when the enemy fire began to abate.

But now, in fact, began the real trouble for Jews. The Germans from our town, such as Wolfschmidt, Bach, Lutomski and others, with whom we had lived as neighbors quietly and in peace for years, suddenly began getting khutspe [nerve] and displaying their German superiority in relations with the Jews, with whom only yesterday they had been friendly and polite. They began systematically to persecute and steal goods from Jewish shops. Yes, Jewish property became ownerless, and every outcast and degenerate began to order Jews around, harassing them with jokes and ridicule.

They began to enlist the cooperation of the Jewish underworld and ordinary degenerate elements. They were elevated to high position and given rank. With the help of these degenerate elements they sought to break the solidarity of Jewish bonds and deliberately incite quarreling and denunciations by one Jew against another. By this method they sought to bring confusion and bewilderment to the Jewish existence and, in general, to undermine and reduce Jewish morale.

This odious “game of sport” partially succeeded. Soon their vile intentions became clear, however, and people began to adjust themselves to the cat-and-mouse game.

Then the villains began to install the infamous bloody ghettos in various cities and towns throughout Poland. The Jewish community was imprisoned behind walls armed and reinforced with barbed wire. They began “systematizing” their devilish and murderous deeds with their sadly well-known precision. They began documenting and registering. They wanted to have an accurate accounting of their victims. Woe to the individual or to the entire camp if anyone dared to run away or generally shirk the harsh procedure of registration and selection. This registration had to be precise. There one had to furnish the entire family record, what possessions were owned, and those who were not merchants had to state their occupation.

The Brzeziner ghetto was established in April 1940, under the harsh supervision of the Nazi murderer Kopman. The ghetto housing was located on several streets – Apothecary Street, Court Street (Staszica Street, where Szotenberg's house was), Synagogue Street, and Butcher Street. Incidentally, it should be mentioned here that the streets themselves were strictly forbidden to Jews. If one Jew wanted to see another Jew who was located on another street, they had to devise their own paths and trails through the courtyards in the back of the houses. Often they risked their very lives in order to see a relative who was imprisoned in the ghetto prison on another street. But we did it. We were not afraid.

 

brz141.jpg -   'Haskore' [memorial service for the dead]
Haskore [memorial service for the dead] in Paris, France,
in honor of Brzeziners who perished

 

The Germans selected Fiszka Ikka as the “elder” of the Brzeziner Jewish ghetto, who, with all due respect, did not play a very sympathetic role. True, he was bound by the German murderers, but many others also found themselves in similar positions and still found a way to get themselves out of an uncomfortable situation. But we will not judge here. Because who can presume to judge a person who is forced to carry out the orders of an executioner? There were other “petty people,” whose names we will not mention here so as not to shame the memory of their families, who played a very ignominious role by helping the Jew haters. These disgraceful, worm-like elements performed their vile work with a determined fervor in order to be rewarded by the villains. These very “small souls” were themselves later annihilated by the ax of the villains.

In Brzezin there were also established large tailoring factories under the supervision of the German Günther and Schwartz. The entire community was harnessed to hard labor to produce military equipment. If truth be told, at the beginning of the terrible years, we felt “happy” that we were working, because at least there was enough to eat for a meal – it was certainly a very meager meal, but a meal nevertheless. Later, in the course of months and weeks, the situation seriously deteriorated. The meals began to shrink and shrink. Under these conditions, the production in the factory naturally began to fall – but the villains became more savage and harsher. The SS [Schutzstaffel – elite military unit of Nazi party] began to use rubber sticks and loaded revolvers. Those physically weakened were naturally the first to fall under the harsher regimen in the workshops. But as bad as it was on the war front, the situation was more horrible in the ghettos. The Nazis became more arrogant and murderous. Their devilish management became more brutal and unbearable. Repressions and severe punishments became an everyday phenomenon. They began a systematic annihilation in the camps.

In the early months, here and there, they tortured someone to death – and it was done unofficially. It had the character of an “unfortunate accident.” This is what happened in our town. They dragged the Hasidic young man Efroimowicz (a nephew of Esther-Lajele, the baker) and a Jezower shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], who was in Brzezin at that time by chance, into the nearby woods. They dishonored them and then hung them. When they were found hanged several days later, the assassins tried to justify themselves – yes, that was the beginning. We wore the yellow patches. We were abused and crudely insulted. Here and there we were punished with whipping.

But later the situation began to be horrible and barbarous. Later, the treatment took on the character of wildness and brutality toward a wounded animal.

Because of some sort of a smuggling incident in town, they ordered the “elders” of the Jewish ghetto to deliver ten Jews to the gallows as punishment. The elders tried to bring to bear all means to have the punishment revoked but without success. With broken spirit they “chose” ten Jews for the German executioner. Among them were several who were already at the disposal of the German assassins because of previous “crimes” and others who were abnormal or mentally ill.

This “hanging spectacle” took place in the first months of 1942. The villains undertook to arrange this tragic spectacle with holiday pomp, so that it would make the “proper impression.” The gallows were raised behind the synagogue, by the river. The entire Jewish community had to be gathered there. The German schoolchildren were also nearby and contributed their share by yelling out loud “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!” The entire German killing crew of our town were there all dressed up in their finest military uniforms. The “elder” of the Jewish ghetto, Fiszke Ikka, gave the “festival speech” in which he had to say that this spectacle is just an example of the “superior” morality of the German people. There will be worse examples if Jews do not behave “more appropriately.” Hitler's ethics are the accepted ones, and his orders are sacred.

Now came the tragic moment when they took the ten doomed people to the gallows. As if it were not enough that we selected the victims for the assassins for their bloodthirsty aims, the villains ordered that the Jews should be the hangmen. The majority of the ten Jews were mentally ill, but they went to the gallows normally, quietly, conscious of their status as Jews – sons and daughters of a long-martyred people.

Here are the names of the martyrs: Judel Sochaczewski, a Kutner (Kutner's grandchild), who'd studied so long and hard that it affected his mind – a water carrier from our town; Jankel, the Kuke's [looker's] son; Mojsze-Icek Frankensztein (the tailor's son); the old water carrier (name not known); Misza the meshugene [crazy one] (Idel Beder's daughter); Fajgele with the pigtail (Icie Midlak's sister), the others were from Lodz, who found themselves in the Brzeziner ghetto, their names unknown.

While they were throwing the noose over his head, Judel Sochaczewski said the following words, words that are etched in memory and cannot be forgotten by those who had the mournful luck to have heard them. “Yesterday, I was Judel Sochaczewski; tomorrow I will be Judel haKodesh [the martyr]” Yes, simple words, but from their content breathes the history of an ancient persecuted people.

But the “Black Day” of the Brzeziner Jews was still to come. This was the fifteenth day of May, 1942. The villains issued an order that Jewish parents must deliver their children. And on the designated day, Jewish mothers had to part from their children. That was the evil decree. Neither crying, nor begging, nor asking for mercy helped. Jewish mothers had to bring their children before the sacrificial altar of the German rulers. The day when the parents took leave of their small children and infants for the last time was the most awful day, the culmination of the German bestiality against the Brzeziner Jewish community. The lament and the wails of the unfortunate parents, while their children were torn from them and taken in trucks to the death camps to be annihilated, was something that words are too inadequate to describe.

Another black evil decree was the deportation of the elderly of our town. The enemy had previously tormented and bullied them. Earlier, before they sent them to the crematoria, they had been ordered to come before an alleged medical commission. The commission ordered the men and women to undress until completely naked, and they packed them all into a small room. Then the German doctors made jokes about our elderly. They pricked and tugged at the breasts of the women and the sexual organs of the men. The behavior of the doctors was the behavior of loathsome, odious sex maniacs.

These two evil decrees were terrible symbols for the Jews of Brzezin. With these two, they were robbed of the past and the future. Brzezin was left kinderrein [cleansed of children]. What could have been more terrible than these two evil decrees?

 

brz143.jpg -   Brzeziner martyrs in German death camps
Brzeziner martyrs in German death camps

 

The miserable remnants went around like lost sheep, their spirits completely broken. The devil had completely achieved his aim. After these two evil decrees that are described, the butchers began to liquidate the Brzeziner ghetto. On the eighteenth and nineteenth of May, 1942, the ghetto for Jews in Brzezin was formally closed. Those who remained were transported to the Lodz ghetto. While they were dispatching them, the Jews were ruthlessly and murderously beaten by German SS men. It should be noted here that many Brzeziner Jews met their death while on the way between Brzezin and Lodz.

The chapter of martyrdom for the Brzeziner Jews had not yet ended when they entered the Lodz ghetto. As soon as they arrived, a new “selection” began, and the number of Brzeziner Jews remaining from that day on was severely reduced. Of the 6,000 Jewish men, women, and children who had been located in the Brzeziny ghetto, 1200 children and elderly were sent to Auschwitz to the gas chamber, 4300 were sent to the Lodz ghetto, and ten were killed in the Brzezin ghetto. The majority were annihilated little by little in the Lodz ghetto. A very small number escaped to the Soviet Union. Before and after the war, a number of Brzeziners succeeded in getting to Eretz Israel, where they were materially and spiritually assisted. Right after the war, about a hundred and fifty returned from Soviet territories and went to Lodz. All of them fled at once from the place that embodied within it such a mournful, terrible past.

This is the sorrowful summation of the Brzeziner Jewish community, and we believe, that this summation does not need any commentary.

Yizkor Book Editor's Note: The author of these bloody documents is Syna Blanket's son, who was left an orphan when he was young. He was brought up by the Sulkowicz family. As a result, with deep gratitude, he adopted the name Sulkowicz. Everything he relates, he himself lived through and experienced. By a miracle, he survived death and remained a living witness to relate the horrors and terrors of the Brzeziner community.

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