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[Page 555]

Witness Testimony
of
Gitl Libhober

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

No. 38/12 15-XII-1946

Minutes of the Voivodisher [provincial] Jewish History
Commission in Lublin Archive of J.H.C. Minutes no. 2112.

This relates: - Gitl Libhober, born 11/18, 1897. Possesses middle [school] education. Trade – a dressmaker. Before the war – lived in Chelm at Lwowske Street, no. 4, and she now also lives in Chelm at Pasztowe 39.

Recorded by Irene Szajewicz.

There were 18,000 Jews in the city in 1939 when the Germans entered Chelm. I had a husband and a 15-year old daughter and a son of 17. The Germans immediately began to bully the Jews, grabbed them for work. Mainly they employed the Jews for cleaning the toilets with their bare hands, and after the work they ordered the Jews to beat one another. S.S. members Ralfink, a tall blond, 30-year old man, and Dr. Selch, also of the same age, particularly tortured the Jews. A month after the arrival of the Germans, a Judenrat [Jewish council] was created according to their [German] procedures with the merchant, Frankel, at the head. Members of the Judenrat were: Biderman, Dreszer, Tenenboim, Frajberger.

One day the Judenrat ordered all of the Jewish men from 15 to 60 to assemble at Luczkowski Square where he [Frankel] would speak to them. The Jews gathered. The Wermacht [German armed forces] surrounded them and, pointing their guns at them, ordered that they surrender their money and expensive things. First they took everything from the assembled Jews and then they began to beat them murderously. The worst scoundrel and murderer was the above mentioned Ralfink who directed this aktsia [Nazi military operation usually associated with rounding up and deporting Jews]. The women and children also came from distant streets wanting to hear what the leader of the Judenrat would say. In a moment, Ralfink went over to a Jew named Motl Bakalczyk and asked him to dance. When the women and children seeing it all began to cry, the Germans began to shoot in the air and the assembled men were driven in the direction of Hrubieszow. I was also present for all of this because I did not let my husband and son go out of our house and, therefore, I wanted to know what would happen here. If there would be any bad consequences. The desperate women went to the Judenrat and begged to be told what had happened to their husbands.

Then the women left on the Hrubieszower Road and saw that the road was sown with dead bodies. There were traces of blood and pieces of clothing everywhere. One thousand Jews were killed then on the road to Hrubieszow.

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One of those who successfully escaped told me that the Germans had ordered the Jews to dig holes and then told them to lie in them and other Jews were forced to bury them alive. Eight hundred Jews reached Hrubieszow; from there they forced them to Keldz on the Bug River and told them to go to the other side of the river. Three hundred Jews were successful in reaching the shore of the other side of the river and approximately 100 Jews returned to Chelm in very bad condition. The Germans wanted to arrange such a spectacle with the women, but the Judenrat did not want to summon the women and the Germans gave up on this. Many Jews attempted to escape to the Russian side. The Jews were treated horribly (by the Germans). We received food cards; everyone was forced to work. When it was possible, they ransomed themselves with money. This lasted until 1941. The Judenrat had to fulfill all of the German demands, which was not so easy and, therefore, the Judenrat had to extort everything from the Jews in order to placate the Germans, but the murder of Jews had not yet started.*

*[Translator's note: There is a contradiction in the statement that the “murder of Jews had not yet started” as is evident in the previous paragraphs.]

At the beginning of 1940 we were forced to put white patches with the Mogen Dovid [Star or Shield of David] on our right shoulder… Still in 1940, I reported as a foreman and became a dressmaker for the S.D. (Sicherheits dienst [security service]).

Once, a member of the S.S., Schteinert, a terrible murderer, and his wife approached me and ordered a dress from me. He demanded that the dress be finished the next morning at 11 o'clock. I answered him that it would be finished at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. After long words, they agreed. The dress was sewn by the morning and I, myself, carried it away. Schteinert met me and asked at what time was I supposed to bring the dress. I answered that I clarified this last night that it could be finished at 3 o'clock and it was now just 2:30. Without saying one word, Schteinert began to hit me, so that I fainted. Then he told the Jews who worked for him that I should be carried to the cellar. When I came to, Schteinert's wife was standing near me and asked how I was doing and said that she was delighted with the sewn dress. Agitated, I said: And why did your husband beat me so if this was true? She began to scream that nothing had happened to me and he had beaten me very little and now I should sew three more dresses. When I categorically refused, she threatened that if I did not sew the dresses, she would immediately bring the dogs, which would bite me, and she said that her husband had especially not killed me because

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my work pleased her and as long as she had me sew dresses I would live. Knowing that I had no other option, I agreed to take on the additional work. My husband was the pharmacist for TOZ [Society for the Protection of Health]; my son also worked in the pharmacy. My daughter sewed with me.

In May 1941, a transport of Jews arrived in Chelm from Slovakia. They had a great deal of baggage with them. The things were laid out in the synagogue and then the Germans removed it all. Each Jewish family took several people from the transport. They were at the mercy of the Judenrat because the Germans had stolen everything from them. Jews were not supposed to be taken care of by Aryan doctors or to make use of the pharmacy. Jews organized medical help in their own area. There were also Jewish businesses because the Aryan stores were not supposed to be entered. A Jewish militia was organized.

One day a member of the Gestapo came to me and demanded that I sew a dress for his wife during the course of three days. I did not have the time because I had the work for the shishkes [big shots] from the Gestapo and I could not be even a minute late with their work. The Judenrat gave him another dressmaker. Three days later I was called to the Gestapo by a Jewish militia man. There I found the member of the Gestapo with his wife in a new dress and also the dressmaker who had sewn it. Schlezinger, the member of the S.S., asked me if the dress had been sewn well. Although the dress had been sewn with many defects, I do not want to say this and I gave an evasive answer. Then Schlezinger gave his whip to the dressmaker, ordering her to give me 15 blows.

In Autumn 1941, the Jews had to transfer to a separate quarter. These were the streets: Szkolne, Unjejacka, Pocztowa, Siedlecka and Katowska. Only the Jews who worked in the city could go outside the limit of these streets. Jewish militia men and armed Poles stood guard over the quarter. I lived on the corner of Kopernika and Szkolne Streets. There were two entrances, one for we Jews and a separate one for our “clients” from the Aryan side. Other tradesmen lived in the same place.

The plight of the Jews became more difficult with each day. Spring 1942, the Jews were deported to Wlodawa from the small shtetlekh around Chelm: Dubienka, Wojsławice, Siedliszcze, Sawin and from others. All passed through Chelm. I saw how the Germans bullied them. I saw their terrible need and misfortune. In Chelm, it was said that only the working Jews could remain there.

The first aktsia was in May, 1942. The Jewish militia and the granatowa [granatowa policja – Blue Police, popular name of the police organized by the General Government] went with the S.S. members through the houses and took the old, mainly

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the Slovak Jews. Toymer of the S.D. led the aktsia. The Jews were deported on the train to Wlodawa, but some of them were off-loaded in Sobibor where there was a death camp, but we did not know that then. Letters arrived from Wlodawa to which the deported were sent and we were sure that they would meet the same fate as those from the small shtetlekh. That is, that they would be rounded up and deported, that the majority would be annihilated. Staying alive was more difficult for those who did not have any work to do.

Two months later in July, after the first aktsia, I remember that it was a Friday, the second aktsia broke out. The Germans and the granatowa police exclusively carried it out. The Jews were gathered from their workplaces (from the city hall, from the water facility and from others); they were bound together in groups of 5-6 people and were driven in the direction of Wlodawa. Several escaped in route and the remaining were taken to Sobibor. No one reached Wlodawa. We then first learned that they had perished and we knew that things were bad.

On the 14th of August a Jewish militia member came to me and said that all Jews must go into the ghetto and I, also, could not live in the same house in which I had lived until then. I ran to the S.D., to my “client,” and I asked what had happened. Then I was told that I should hide everyone of mine because those who did not work for the Germans would be deported to Wlodawa. I hid my husband and son with a Ukrainian acquaintance in a bunker. I remained in my apartment with my daughter and with the women workers. The Jewish militia violently removed us from the house and took us to the square on Siedlecka Street. There were many Jews there. My daughter escaped from the square and ran to the S.D. She explained that I had been taken and that all of the clients' goods remained in the house. Meanwhile, terrible things happened on the square. A Jew, who had held a piece of bread in his hand, was brought. The bread was torn from him and the Jew said that “the world is no longer for him.” Then, when the German asked him what his last request was, he answered that he wanted to eat the piece of bread. The Germans gave him the bread and when he placed the bread in his mouth, they shot him. One of the Germans standing on a balcony showed a Jewish child to those gathered beneath and asked if the child pleased them. Then he smashed the small head of the child, banging it into the wall and, tearing the head in half, he threw it on the square. It is difficult to write about the terrible, horrible events that took place then on the square. Several tradesmen, it seems the more praise-worthy, were taken from the square. The S.D., who had been informed by my daughter, came to take me from the square. All

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the Jews who had been brought together, about 3,000, were deported from the square to Sobibor, where there was a death camp. I remained living in my apartment. The Jews who were left after the aktsia remained in the Jewish quarter, went to work and some time passed that seemed quieter to us.

The first day of November 1942, repression began again. It became clear that something would again happen.

Two day later, before the aktsia broke out, I brought work for the S.D., finding S.D. Horn completely drunk. He then told me that only the Jews who were needed tradesmen would remain in Chelm and the rest would be deported. I asked the date; he answered that he did not know exactly.

On the 6th of November, Taymer* and the S.S. member, Roshendorf, (the worst hangmen over the Chelm Jews) came to the apartments of tradesmen who needed to remain and marked their doors with chalk as signs that they were to remain with the workers and their families. At the same time, they ordered that the doors be bolted and that no one be allowed in. I did what I was ordered to do.

*[Translator's note: This name is spelled as both Toymer and Taymer.]

In half an hour the S.S. came and took me and everyone, except my husband who had hidden the last moment. My protests and all of my talk about the chalk mark on my door did not help me. I was brought

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to the square that was on Kopernika Street. On the way the daughter of S.S. Horn saw me. I called to her; she should tell her father that I had been taken. A member of the S.S., hearing my talk, called out to her: “Do not say anything to your father. All the Jews must die,” and at this, Horn's daughter answered: “All of the Jews can die, but not Mrs. Libhober. She must sew my new dresses.” And she immediately ran away. There were several thousand Jews at the square near the Russian church. The Germans beat them with whips, tortured and bloodied them. The walls of the church were red with blood. Horn came with several S.D. and said to me that I should go with all of mine to the other side where a group of the chosen tradesmen stood. The Jews at the square were ordered to line up in rows of three and they were taken away to Piarske Street. Six thousand Jews were taken then. Many bodies of murdered children and several adults were laid out on the square. The population of Chelm stood on the other side of the church calling out: Good for them; long live Hitler! Wagons immediately came and the bodies were taken. They were thrown in the wagons like sand. The S.S. surrounded our groups of tradesmen and told us to go. On the way we met the other Jews. They were taken in wagons and we to the camp on Kalajover Street. They were taken in the wagons in front of our eyes.

Signed: Libhober Gitl. VIII.25.1950, in Warsaw.


[Page 559]

Not a City, but a True Cemetery[1]

by Ester Bas-Meltser

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

…so I am in my birthplace Chelm. This is, alas, a true cemetery. Every stone – a headstone, each house – a witness to the murdered martyrs.

If we could understand the language of the wind that shakes the leaves on the trees in the emptied streets, we would certainly learn about many tragic scenes that were played out when the hangmen drove our parents, sisters and brothers to death.

Everything chokes with the heavy, oppressive picture of the nightmarish day. Our Polish neighbors greet us with an open hate in their eyes. We see, literally, a resentful astonishment when they look at us; from where did we come and how did we survive?

“Yet, a small number of you were saved,” a Polish acquaintance said to me with a tone of suspicion.

Day in, day out, I roam around the emptied

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Jewish streets. Only the strange, unfamiliar eyes of Polish children, who surely are wearing the clothing of those who perished, now look out of the windows from which the faces of Jewish children with dark, sad eyes would look out. I stand on Kopernika; the sun starts to go down. The redness reminds me of the flames of the destroyed Jewish houses.

It looks to me as if the blood of the tortured runs from its rays… I instinctively close my eyes and I think that I hear their voices. It begins to get dark; the moon appears in the sky. Its bleached brightness also frightens me, remembering the bleached out dear faces, the frozen eyes of my husband, Kuba, who fell asleep forever along with the Chelemer Jewish community.

Footnote

  1. An excerpt from the book, In the Fog of Death by Ester Bas-Meltser, which was published in 1950 in Montreal, Canada, published by a group of newly-arrived Chelemer. Return
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