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[Page 342]


The Destruction of Dąbrowa Górnicza’s Jewry

by Eliezer Nusinowicz

Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky


As one looks at occurrences of past years, they receive a different character. It [becomes] easier to see the truth and to set things straight.

Dąbrowa Górnicza was a city whose inhabitants were mainly Poles. Unmistakably a workers' city. Thousands worked in the [production and] sale of coal as well as in iron foundries. Jews didn't work in the large companies. The non-hiring of Jews by the factories had an unwritten imprimatur from all Polish spheres, whether from the left or the right. Here and there [however] were a few Jewish sub-contractors, among them a Jewish locomotive engineer from France.

The Jewish minority in Dąbrowa Górnicza was economically and socially diversified. The Jews were [mainly] employed in commerce and business, some honorably so, some under duress. Jewish shops could be found in all streets of the city, in the center as well as in the suburbs: stately, elegant stores and next to them, humble shops.

The market in our town took place twice a week. The location was filled with small Jewish vendors, who arrived from different areas of Zagłębie. These days of the week were the keenest economically, as this was the time the worker and farmer would use their savings to pay cash for goods. On other days they would buy on credit, and the Jewish trader needed cash on which to live.

On Fridays, the city view changed in our town. The Jewish shops and tradesmen would close in the afternoon, as they prepared to go to a bathhouse or mikveh [Jewish ritual bath] in order to receive Shabbat purely and cleanly. Just before evening, one could discern the lighting of Shabbat candles through the windows. Many men and their children, washed and cleaned, hurried to the synagogue or shtibelach to welcome Shabbat.

Anti-Semitism always existed in Poland. In our town, it was most developed among the intelligentsia, but [also] filtered down to the workers' level. The rightist party – the “Endecja” [“Narodowa Demokraczja”] – picked up many members thanks to the influence of Fascist Germany before the war began. The news about attacks on the German Jews encouraged and augmented their impudence against the local [Polish] Jews; here and there appeared on public walls anti-Jewish posters. these read not to patronize Jewish shops and businesses and not to give income to Jewish tradesmen. The authorities turned a blind eye on such activities perpetrated by Polish hooligans, [some of] whom stood in front of Jewish stores holding signs that said: “don't buy from Jews.”

The Jews had no answer against such hatred which threatened to take food from their mouths. Entreaties to the workers' organizations did not find receptive ears. They had no place to emigrate to: Palestine was closed by the Mandate authorities, and consequently poverty became commonplace in the Jewish streets; in some homes causing even hunger. Thus struggled Dąbrowa's Jewry for its survival between Polish anti-Semitism, which tried to wrest food from its mouth, and the impending panic from Nazi Germany.

With the invasion of Poland, the Polish army somewhat abrogated [this anti-Semitic campaign], but very speedily it died. The war came to our town without so much as a shot being fired. The perfidy of the Polish Army's high command was complete, and the entrance of the Nazis was arrogant and scornful with regard to the population.

The Jewish population was stunned. A surge began towards the East. No one imagined that the roads would be full of Germans and their Polish collaborators. The roads [soon] became jammed and there was no way to escape. Having attempted to break through the bottlenecks, the returnees to their homes brought stories about the first casualties.

The Germans employed a proven weapon [against the Jews]. That was to set one Jew upon another. It was successful because the question of life was [constantly] tested and the instinct for survival worked strongly among them. The first tactic employed was to ensure a complete separation between the Jews and the Polish population. A “Judenrat” or Jewish Council was set up by Nazi command, with one edict chasing after another. The first order issued was to surrender all radio sets, which had to be turned into German headquarters within 24 hours. Then came: curtailment of traffic, curfew after evening set in, and displaying Jewish identity by means of an armband worn on the sleeve. Everything had been diabolically and mercilessly planned. It was all compulsory for every member of the household. No exceptions were permitted.


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dab343.jpg [46 KB] - Eliezer Nusinowicz
Eliezer Nusinowicz
leader of the last “Hashomer Hatzair” movement in Dąbrowa


The edicts increased daily. Sometimes gold was requested; sometimes glassware; sometimes copper. The Judenrat extorted often more than what was requested by the Germans [in order] to show their fidelity. The community suffered – there was hardly money to pay doctors or for medicines. Thus even the most lightly ill [person] became a source of worry for his family.

The ghetto began to shrink as the amount of food Jews received dropped correspondingly. On the black market run by Poles, [virtually] everything was obtainable, but the ability to buy became reserved for the few.

The first transports of young Jews to labor camps began. Every family was requested to send a family member. It cannot be explained in words what this did to the Jewish public, who felt that the Nazis had opened their mouths to swallow what was left of Jewish peace; to render and destroy the family unit. Everything was calculated to instill a feeling of hopelessness and despair and to prevent any progress towards advancement. Things grew worse daily and a man never knew what awaited him tomorrow.

The pursuit of Jews chosen for deportation constantly grew. It became sad to see how Jews were exploited.

Young men, who yesterday were members of the public today became pariahs and subject to the murderous policies of the Germans only to remain alive for their short lives. It was strange to see the soup kitchen opened by the Judenrat to distribute food among the hungry (which was soup and a piece of bread). Who could stand on lines for hours and hours in personal danger? Yet hunger brought out strange impulses in mankind.

The only “safe” place of work was the shop run by Baron, a disreputable shoe factory and repair facility for shoes for the German army. In order to work there, one needed a “Sonderkarte” (special card), the holder of which was entitled to remain in the ghetto. But the reality was different.

The big Selection which occurred in the summer of 1942 wrecked havoc among the city's Jews, ransacked families and did not leave a single house undisturbed. The liquidation advanced wave after wave, home after home.

By 1943, there were no more Jews in Dąbrowa Górnicza. The community's life had been altered forever.



“Hashomer Hatzair” in the Shadow of the Destruction of Dąbrowa’s Jews

The Hashomer Hatzair organization had been well developed in our town. It served as a organizational refuge for the minds and character of our youth. It was upon us, the last generation guarding the embers [of Dąbrowa's Jewry] to be caught in this tragic episode, to work in the shadow of the destruction of the Jews of our city, and to close their beautiful past. To be the witnesses of the annihilation of our community and of our unsuccessful efforts to save them.


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dab344.jpg [43 KB] - A group of "Shomrim"
A group of “Shomrim”
before the outbreak of WW2


The “Sharon” branch to which I belonged was founded in 1932. Even then blew the winds of misfortune, but despite everything we continued our efforts for education. We nurtured new pupils and instilled in them a sense of optimism and hope for a better future.

A portion of the “Sharon” branch was already involved in Hachshara [preparation for Aliyah], a policy followed in all our educational and organizational activities. Within the ranks of our youth a scouting framework was cultivated. We functioned then in two small rooms and a hallway in the house of Ruwen Grosfeld. In those small rooms, life burned incessantly. The décor was pleasing and reflected differing and arousing values.

Our library was small, but it had good books. The books were loaned out for short periods, as the readers were many. Every book purchased was guarded with meticulousness. Alert [i.e. stimulating] discussions took place among the readers. Many of our students however were also members of [other] libraries in our town or in Będzin. The newspaper “Zew Młodość” (“The Voice of the Youth”) reached us monthly and told us about the activities of other branches of our movement. The newspaper informed us about goings-on of youth organizations and explained various questions. Many times vigorous and stormy arguments were caused by one article or another.

Three branches in Zagłębie had connections between them. The branch in Sosnowiec was large and well-organized, with a lovely clubhouse. The chapter in the Jewish city of Będzin was well known. Our branch in Dąbrowa didn't fall into these categories because of the education and activity levels. [Rather] we organized group activities with all three branches. There was mutual cooperation across all fields; joint lectures and cultural activities; organized hikes and summer camps. These joint efforts were successful and bore fruit. They created new friendships and improved relations among all of us.

Our town, which was situated close to the German border, had become rather dear to us. A book, “Das braune Buch” (The Brown Book), published in 1934 by Dr. Maler and others, we read with some concern. It was a summary of the first steps for what would finally happen under the Nazis: racial discrimination; concentration camps; dictatorship; condemnation to death without trial of political opponents, etc. Above all, the call for the annihilation of Jewry when the Nazis would come to power.


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We failed to grasp and understand what this heinous regime meant for the Jews of Europe, then just beginning its threat to Europe. We [merely] thought this was a wave of wickedness that would be passing.


dab345.jpg [28 KB] - "Hashomer Hatzair" members
“Hashomer Hatzair” members
during activities


Many lectures and arguments erupted between various groups. Education about the new problem was our daily bread. New [Hashomer] brigades were formed: “Leor”, “Avik” and “Midbar.” Life continued normally despite the sober atmosphere that surrounded us. We lived in the hope that this would pass.

At the beginning of 1939, we felt that something was happening and approaching. A war ambiance permeated all our activities. At the beginning of September of that year, the German army entered our town. The branch activities ceased. Our library was broken up among a few members, with the hope that eventually it could be re-established. Because of the chaos which ensued in the Jewish community, the links between the branches at Sosnowiec and Będzin were severed. One didn't know who remained in the city and who fled. Jews were forbidden to congregate or travel in groups of more than two persons together.

Our dispossession began when the Germans instituted the Einsatzkommando[1] in Sosnowiec. Jews were obliged to provide manpower for German industries. The notorious Germans were: Landner, Kocynski, Kenil and Ludwig were the “buyers” of Jews, who sent them to the work camps. Every community was obligated to send a “load” [of Jews].

Families were torn tragically, as someone had to decide who in the family would be going, especially because now and then, the idea occurred to them that maybe this wasn't just for work! They began to request girls for labor. If the number wanted wasn't filled, the Jewish community had to make up the difference. With the Germans' help, young men and women were hunted down in their houses and on the streets, kidnapped and stuffed into trains destined for Auschwitz. Thus was liquidated the orphans' home in Sosnowiec with 80 young people.

The situation reached the point where one had nothing to lose anymore. One simply tried to hang on to the olive of life and one's honor where possible. Our outlet was to resist by force any attempt at deportation; to expose the workings of the Judenrat, whose objective wasn't to save Jews but their own skins and those of their relatives as well as those who could offer them huge sums of money.

Small resistance groups got together in Będzin with Tosia Altman, (who fell captive during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising). She told us about the resistance organizations which formed in Warsaw and about the annihilation of Jews in the camps. She said, “the transfer of Jews to camps is just a deception. The truth is they are being sent to for total destruction; thus it's important to warn the Jews [in Dąbrowa] to resist deportation.” A link was established with the first defense organizations and armed resistance was planned. The problem was to secure arms and to learn to use them. In the youth groups, youth of both left and right ideologies were active. Such groups were involved as early as 1940.

At the head of the Zagłębie resistance organization were two friends from my neighborhood: Cwi Dunski and Kalman Tencer. The first priority was to arouse the Jews to resist deportation, and this was a dangerous task. Cwi Dunski organized acts of sabotage in the factories working for the war [effort]. This became known to the Judenrat and they went hunting for him. They asked the youth not to listen to his words and [to] stop the resistance. During the time I was in a concentration camp, I learned that Cwi Dunski had been apprehended by the Jewish command and turned over to the Gestapo.. He was condemned to execution after substantial torture.

Mordechai Anielewicz visited Sosnowiec in August 1942, at the Shomer branch of the resistance headed by Cwi Dunski. He stressed the importance of becoming involved in action by two means:

  1. to obtain papers in Polish names, so that young Jews could escape to the partisans, and
  2. to awaken the population to resistance and to inform openly the real nature and purpose of the Judenrat.

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Flyers were printed stating that Jews were not really being sent to labor camps but to the gas chambers. Mordechai Anielewicz's visit served to open the eyes of the youth that there was no alternative to resistance. He met with leaders of the Jewish community and told them about what was happening in Warsaw and about the gas chambers that awaited them at the end of the trip to the camps. “You should know [he said] – it's not to work that you are being taken but to annihilation!” Mordechai Anielewicz jeopardized his life with this visit to us, but his pleading fell on deaf ears. He was unable to convince the Judenrat as to what was really happening. On the contrary, the pressure and chases only intensified, and all those left in the city began to feel that the bitter end was rapidly approaching.

At the end of 1943, the remainder of Dąbrowa's Jews were taken to Środula. Baron's shop was taken there together with them. All the Jews from Oberschlesien [Upper Silesia] were concentrated there. The resistance organizations were broken and the rest of the Zagłębie Jews, including those from Dąbrowa, were sent to Auschwitz and the gas chambers. At the top of the final transport were the leaders of the Judenrat, with Meryn at their head.

The branch of Hashomer Hatzair that worked in the shadow of the destruction was a witnessed to the wonderful Jewish community that was sacrificed. Among them fell some of the last to lock the golden chain.


__________
  1. “Special action” commando, referring to Nazi mobile killing squad. Return


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