by Josef Piwniczni (Nitzani)
Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky
Hoshana Rabba, 1941. I was still working at the same location, in the foreman's' circle of the Cyryng Brothers factory on Zaszynowola (?) Street. I lived together with my brother on Włościańska Street. [Just] going home to sleep carried a risk to life because firstly, I had to traverse the city center, [then] full of Ukrainian militia, SS personnel and Gestapo. Even though I all my papers were in order, the mere fact that a Jew had the chutzpa to show himself there was deemed an affront to the Master Race. Secondly, I had no way of avoiding walking past the Gestapo Headquarters at the corner of Zaszynowola (?) Street. An SS man always stood guard there, and if he'd see a Jew one of the enemies of the Third Reich he'd order him to komm' herein [come in]. This would usually end with a blow to the person's head. Thus I would frequently spend the night at friends' homes, who lived not far from where I worked. Also on the night of Hoshana Rabba I slept at friends' house, the Diamant family on Hubero Street.
Around 06:00 I was awakened by the lady of the house with the words, Get up quickly. Something new is going on in the street. They're leading groups of Jews out of the city in vans. In the kitchen were already assembled the residents of the apartment as well as the nearest neighbor and his wife and two children. With pale and frightened faces the women looked at the men, as if expecting their more competent spouses to explain to them what was going on. The men however had no answer, their own eyes betraying a lack of comprehension themselves. The children didn't want to leave, being even more afraid than their parents. We all reached an unspoken consensus: we would just have to wait and see what happens. At 08:00 we breathed a sigh of relief as we were told that we'd only be gathered for an assembly. Everyone was ordered to bring bed items, clothing, items of value and food for a trip. These requirements had been previously shown to be a fact, as a few days earlier, Jews from the neighboring small communities had been transported to Stanisławów. There needed an answer the question of where would they ship some 30,000 Jews from the second largest city in Western Galicia after Lemberg [Lwów; L'viv] and what would be their place of permanent resettlement. On the other hand, no one wanted to entertain the thought or idea that everyone was destined for death.
In the meanwhile, a plague was approaching us. In the streets appeared a well-known terror: groups of street hooligans, some barefoot with torn clothing. This scourge would blow in from ill winds from all sides, always ready to steal or rob from the miserable refugees who passed by.
We all packed whatever we could: clothing, laundry and food. I also helped pack
(though I had nothing myself), so I could help avoid the beatings which might
be meted out when the thugs would pour in shouting Heraus! and we
didn't move fast enough. We'd be packed and ready to go down to the street and
join the fate which awaited the rest of us.
As I stood ready, I looked out a side window at families being herded out from the house across the street. Men, women, children and old people. They all had packages, bedclothes, suitcases or knapsacks. The actual owners of the apartments could be identified by the fact that they were the last to be expelled from the dwellings, hounded out by Ukrainian militia. They also looked back at their apartments [perhaps] wondering if they had not left behind some items of value or even of no value, but something of daily use over the years. I also saw an elderly Jew who had been forced out. He fell and landed in the yard. He picked himself up and scurried around, like a mouse that had been driven from his hiding place yet couldn't find a new one.
Now occurred a coincidence which proved to be our rescue. Namely, the only door to where we lived was for various reasons, always kept locked. On the fateful day, some of us thought maybe we should prop the door open, so that when the bandits came looking for us they wouldn't find a locked door to smash open. After more consideration we decided against this plan, but that we'd stay ready to open the door at the first knocking.
Minutes and more minutes passed by, and then a wonder! The sounds of fury, persecution by the demons and cries of the victims grew fainter by the minute. What did this mean? Our hearts virtually stopped beating as we wondered what would come next. And just as before, when no one wanted to mention what we considered an impossibility that we had been spared a death sentence, we hardly dared to think the hangmen had left us and that we were out of danger. As if dumbstruck we looked at one another, trying to read each others' thoughts, each wondering whether the other person also thought the danger was past. After some minutes, I said out aloud that I thought they were gone. No one dared to look out the window, much less to venture out to the street. We figured that when the militia came and saw our door was locked, they surmised our apartment had already been evacuated by another Aktion group and left.
At around 10:00 we heard the sound of machine-gun firing. We were again struck into dumb silence, not daring to ask ourselves what this portended. In any event we never believed it could have been a mass execution, previously arranged and now [actually] perpetrated. We had no idea that to this end, in the preceding days, fresh mass graves had been dug at the Jewish cemetery.
The weather just happened to befit this Jewish tragedy. Snow mixed with rain fell all day long. The bursts of machine-gun fire started up again at frequent intervals and continued throughout the day, until about 18:00, with a break from 13:00 to 14:00 or so. During the hour's break, the murders rested from their slaughter and ate and drank so as to fortify themselves to continue. Their murderous and vicious instincts had to be catered to. While this kind of behavior didn't occur often in Jewish history, it reminded us of the suffering during the pogrom days.
We remained dressed in our traveling clothes the whole day, our bags packed for
travel. Not many of us even [dared] sit down. Around 18:00 the firing stopped.
Soon the men allowed themselves [the luxury of] smoking a cigarette.
As we believed we were the only surviving Jews remaining in the city, we began to think about what would happen to us. To simply remain hidden was an impossibility. We'd slowly be found out [i.e. sooner or later]. We thought we had to figure out where all the Jews had been transported to and go there ourselves.
Suddenly we heard the sound of mass movements of footsteps, together with cries, sighs and curses, all jumbled together. As we did not know what to make of the sounds, we allowed ourselves a joyous thought: the Jews are coming back! We wanted to run into the street, and stop the first Jew that came along, to ask him what had happened. The reality however was different no one dared to be the one to do it, we were that scared of what was out there. And like a young calf bewildered and shocked with the first slit of the butcher knife, looks up as if to ask what's going on?, we asked ourselves if those outside themselves really knew the meaning of those strange, frantic sounds. What returned to their homes upon the orders of the Gestapo chief were [now] broken families: parents without children; children without their parents; men without their wives and wives sans husbands.
We returned to our rooms. It was now around 19:00. We lit a candle and each one of us begged the other to eat something. Without a word to each other, we went to bed. We lay as dumbstruck ones from the tragic images in our minds of what we had seen and heard today.
The next day, the Judenrat, upon the orders of the Gestapo, conducted a count of the remaining Jews. [And indeed], the Nutrition Office now found itself with a surplus of 15,000 food ration cards
by Makusia Golombek (Feldberg)
Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky
The ghetto was created in 1941. As the Jewish population began leaving their homes and were moved to the so-called ghetto that had been built on Mieska Street in the neighborhood of the synagogue, the Christian population lost no time in occupying the Jewish apartments.
The Jewish inhabitants were squeezed with two or three families into the smallest apartments. Some families remained [literally] without a roof over their heads; certainly a very black decree for many people.
However this was [only] the beginning of the suffering. The Germans had begun nabbing people off the street and sending them away to work camps. One of the greatest fears was for the children who were continuously guarded by their parents. When the children would see Germans in the ghetto, they'd immediately run to their parents, who would try to hide them.
During the month of Av [July/August] in 1941, [note: text here says 1942 but this must be an error see below] the Germans told the Judenrat through the Judenältester, Moniek Meryn, that they were all to assemble at the square in front of the synagogue. The Judenrat already had informed the Jewish community several days earlier about the coming assembly, and that needed to be present at 6 a.m. were all Jews, young and old, men and women, sick and well, etc. Meryn told the Jews that nothing [bad] would happen, but that new identity cards were to be stamped, after which the Jews could return home. He cited as examples Dańdówka and Modrzejów, who had assembled and were then sent home.
It was from that assembly that the downfall of the Dabrowa Jewish community began.
Meryn told the people to be dressed in their Sabbath-best clothing and that anyone who had a beard should appear cleanly shaved. As we had no choice, we followed this order with fear and heart-beating trepidation. On the 9th of Av [August 2nd] in 1941, the Jewish populace assembled at 6 a.m. , young and old, sick and well, men, women and children. All were nicely dressed quite a large throng of people.
Not a single family remained intact. Mothers were without children, men without their wives. A big family of orphans and widows was suddenly created. The remaining people were driven to Będzin, accompanied by dogs and machine-guns. The sick and elderly were herded on to platforms and all were sent to the orphanage at Będzin. There the Jews of Będzin and neighboring areas had already been collected as were the Dąbrowa Jews. The orphanage [quickly] became hell. No food, no water, only packed humans treated worse than animals, surrounded by dogs, machine-guns and barbed wire.
The German bandits ordered us to surrender all valuable: cash, gold, silver, jewelry, watches, monetary notes, etc.
At the same time, they were set upon by dogs and beaten with batons. The dogs bit people while others were beaten over the heads with the batons. In this way the accumulation of generations was collected in just a couple of days. Once they saw they had wrested everything they could from the Jews, the deportations to the train station began. There they were herded into cattle cars: men, women, children, the elderly and sick, in preparation for the last journey to Auschwitz.
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