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[Page 385]

In the Camps: Oświęcim, Maslowicz, Dachau

by Arie Weksler

Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky


On the 1st of September, 1939, when the war broke out, I was 17 years old. A day after Simchat Torah, I was sent along with several hundred other youths under the direction [leadership] of Moniek Meryn to the “Klein Mangersdorf” [Magnuszowiczki] labor camp. We were given the impression that we'd be working there for a few months and then be moved elsewhere. Almost immediately we felt the fist of the Nazi murderers. We were worked long and very hard, never given enough food to relieve the hunger, and in general poorly treated. Thus I was cut off in the flower of my youth from my beloved home. I was driven from camp to camp, working under severe conditions all the time, and saw death constantly in front of my eyes. It's difficult to write about what I went through until the liberation. I was in three camps: Oświęcim, Groß-Maslowicz and Dachau, where I was sentenced to death in the crematorium and was saved only by a miracle. In Dachau the Americans liberated us, but I was so sick I didn't realize we had been freed.

I remained in the hospital run by the Americans until I gradually regained my senses and my health. [At that point] I began to take an interest in finding out who was left from my family. Unfortunately none of them survived.


My Family's Chronology

My grandfather, Szymon of blessed memory, was a great “talmid chacham” with exemplary manners and a love of his fellow man. He assisted others with “gemilut chesed” [philanthropy; loan without interest to the poor]. He belonged to all the charitable organizations and was much respected by all in the community. At 03:00 he could already be found sitting in the Bet Midrash and studying his Gemara [text]. Similarly, my grandmother, Riwale, was of saintly character. She kept a charitable home and was always ready to help those in need. My dear father, Mosze Hersz, of blessed memory, followed in their footsteps – “The deeds of the fathers are continued by the sons”. He was a Chassid and an honest man, always ready to learn Torah; belonged to several charitable foundations and was respected by all who knew him, even Christians with whom he came in contact during in his business practice. They lauded his honesty and fairness in trade. My mother, Chajczel, would run a neat house with her diligence, cleanliness and charitableness. She was a true “Eshet Chayil”, raising her children with Jewish values and traditions but also in the ways of the world. She participated in all the charitable organizations. My four brothers, Szmul, Beryl, Motel and Jakób and my only sister, Baszka were religious people who were also worldly, honest and sincere. I was told after the war that my sister died shortly before the liberation. My parents and brothers were taken in the last transport from Środula to Auschwitz. They were all sacrificed on the altar of Kiddush Hashem. That's how the Nazi murderers destroyed my whole family.

Yitgadal ve-yitkadash shmei raba.




[Page 386]

My tortured path in the Holocaust

by Lea Szlenger (Tenenbaum)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


To many people today, Dąbrowa is just a spot on the post-war Polish map. However, for us, those who were born in the city, this is the greatest tragedy of our lives. Giving testimony is particularly difficult for a person who has lived and undergone the horrors between the first invasion to the day the ghetto was destroyed.

It seems that our city was like all the Polish cities with its Jewish population and its political parties, its societies, its many traders, workers, rich and destitute. The ideological struggle in the Jewish street intensified, and also the communist influence grew amongst the Jewish masses under the influence of an increasing danger of physical and spiritual anti-Semitism. Higher learning was unavailable. Work places for Jews steadily decreased and so the idea of going to live in Israel achieved an appropriate place in Jewish thought amongst both the simple and educated. Many were organized in various Zionist and youth movements and these strove in mind and body to the noble goal: to reach Israel by any means. Families whose children managed to reach their longed-for country – were very proud. The receipt of a letter from their children was a festive occasion for the family, neighbors and all the apartment dwellers. The letter was transferred from hand to hand and provided a source of light in the gray, daily life. On the other hand – restrictive laws governing aliya [immigration to Israel] increased and so we found ourselves between the hope of aliya and the evil of a wave of anti-Semitism.

We were in the shadow of growing anti-Semitism. The impression, that the catastrophe of war was coming, continued to strengthen. The Jewish public was subject to an atmosphere that serious rioting was about to occur, but who would have thought that matters would change so drastically.

The city of Dąbrowa was divided into two: Huta Bankowa and Reden and they were separated by an intermediate area belonging to an abandoned mine. The Jews lived in both parts of the city, and the estimate is that they made up 10% of the population.

The Jewish population in Reden was fashionable. The main street called Queen Jadwiga divided the neighborhood and at its sides there were short alleyways. The Jewish residents of Reden existed as a sort of large family with all its diversities and variations. There were unforgettable characters. I recall the home of Herzl and Jehudit Liberman that excelled in being a home that opened its doors to everyone: from near and far. I recall Sara'le Bittner who aided, assisted and encouraged every home that had someone ill on their deathbed, and many, many others.


*


My family origins trace back to the first settlers in Dąbrowa. I remember my grandfather, Binem, and grandmother, Frajdla, religious people and well respected in the city. As is the common custom, the sons left home and emigrated overseas, two left for the United States, and two remained in the city. The youngest of them was Lejzer Tenenbaum, who later became one of the activists in the Zionist movement in the city, one of the academics, manager of the local bank and well accepted, and likewise he was also renown as a journalist. My father, Szymon, was his eldest son, an educated Jew and diligent in torah learning, was respected and popular, was indulgent and easy going, was always at the center of life in the yeshiva and a large crowd eagerly listened to his speeches. He would defend anyone's rights. He also educated his children to behave in the same manner.

We lived in Reden till 1938, but as hooliganism began, we moved to the 3rd of May Street. These were the first signs of an approaching climax, and thus war found us when it broke out on the 1st of September: conscription and panic and not knowing what the coming day would bring.

On the third day of the war a large flight eastward began. By foot and by vehicle the masses flowed without knowing to where, but the internal drive determined that it would be to the east only. We hadn't traveled far when in front of us Hitler's thugs surrounded us, and a German atmosphere hovered over us and there was no point in continuing on. All our hopes were taken away. We began traveling back the 30-40 kilometer distance to our city. It was here that we witnessed the first victims of people from our city. One of the first was Lejbl Manela, but many other individuals found their demise in these first chaotic days. We returned to our home that had, in the meantime, been looted by our Polish neighbors.

The war days began, when the first foodstuffs disappeared, and standing in line for bread was one of the first signs of what awaited us. Together with this repressive activities and attacks on Jews began. A severe curfew was enforced and so a feeling of hopelessness of what was in store, intensified. News arrived that youths that had been conscripted to the Polish army fell as the enemy broke through the Polish borders, amongst them being beloved sons like Mandek Szajnoksler, Koperberg, Bialicki and others.


[Page 387]


When the Germans halted at the new Russian border a new political reality was created due to the proximity to the Russian world. People began swarming across the border. This was a very dangerous way with many obstacles and more than a few found their death there. Quite a few of the youth contemplated at length, whether to abandon their parents and run for their lives. I witnessed my sister, Masza, in her deliberation. She was an intellectual personality, popular amongst the youth, of attractive appearance and with this had strong ties to the family, and this is what determined and she stayed with us. My brother, of blessed memory, avoided leaving home. He was very frightened for his life because of his Jewish appearance and beard. Jews carried out minyanim [congregational prayers of ten adult males] in their private homes in order to avoid assembling in public places. I remember one of the prayer centers in the Kanarik's home.

The Jews of Dąbrowa were being whittled away, the economic status was being destroyed, homes and shops were nationalized and transferred to the “Volksdeutsche” who came in their masses. An atmosphere of destruction encompassed all of us and thus, on the 15th of June 1940, a family tragedy struck when our father died a natural death in his bed. This was also an historical date on which he had heard that Paris had fallen, and this upset him on this same bitter day and possibly brought on his early death. Our dear mother broke down and the burden of the house fell on my sister, Masza, and my brother, Mosze. Our brother, Abram was in Israel before the war and our sister, Ida, went to live in Sosnowiec. Our grandfather, Binem, remained with us but passed away in May 1943.

Our father left quite a few manuscripts and correspondence on various quandaries with the great rabbis of Poland. One of the usual subjects was “freeing abandoned wives”, and I remember one case that he dealt with related to one husband running away to Israel. I collected my father's legacy as a precious possession, which should be zealously safeguarded.

In the course of the awful horror that intensified in the Jewish street my brother, Jecheskiel, was caught and sent to Germany, and in this way our home continued on its way of destruction. However, we were not alone. All the Jewish population was closed into a narrow ghetto – in the Miejska area near the Great Synagogue. This was the beginning of the Judenrat [1] era between the years 1941-1943.


*


As known, all the remaining Jewish population worked in the “shops” and in various German plants. A large proportion went to work in the Rosner plants in Będzin. This was a noble German who displayed sympathy for his Jewish workers and thus, in 1943, paid with his life for this treatment and died in a Gestapo cellar. Work hours, particularly in Rosner's plants, were hours that substantially helped to forget the dilemmas of the day and the period. At work all the differences in social class and background disappeared and we were one family. After work the concern was to ensure the existence of the people at home and this was done in various ways.

However, we didn't know that a bitter and decisive day was approaching that would determine our fate. The 8th of August 1942 was a day that was designated as a holiday. It was a clear summer day on which all the Jews were called to one assembly point in the area of the ghetto. We were naïve and did not sense the trap that the Gestapo was preparing for us. We saw this as a meeting and, in fact, the Jews came dressed in festive attire as if for a gathering of friends and acquaintances. Very quickly we learnt that this would be the valley of death. The fateful aktzia began and those assembled were divided into different types. The family was separated: the elderly, adults, children, were each sent in a different direction, and thus our fate was sealed. An atmosphere of fear and death encompassed all of us, the heavy rain that began to fall caused the crowd to take flight but the Gestapo force overcame and most people were caught.

In the evening, individuals began returning to their orphaned homes. Bitter weeping – for the fathers and mothers that were gone, for children that had disappeared, for a wife and husband that had not returned – broke out in every home. This was the first sign of the breaking down of the idea “Mir velen zay iberleben” (we will live on after them). The awareness of the bitter reality and that we were heading for oblivion began to penetrate.

A further year passed with all its events and August 1943 arrived in which came the deportation order for the Jews of Dąbrowa, the destruction of the local ghetto and the transfer of the few remaining to the Środula Ghetto in Sosnowiec. During the activities of 1942, remnants of small communities in the region assembled there (Golonóg, Zabkowice, Strzemieszyce and others), and thus, in fact, the deportation and concentration in Środula of all the Jews of the region, came about. Some of them were transferred to Kamionka in Będzin and those that remained – to Środula in Sosnowiec. This was the last station for the Jews of Dąbrowa on their way to death.

We reached Środula on Tuesday and Wednesday, but on Sabbath eve (the irony of fate) the large aktzia began, in which hundreds and thousands were captured and sent to the crematoriums in Auschwitz. The horrors of these days and nights cannot be described in human language. The order was to convert Środula into a location “clean” of Jews – any found in the area would be shot.


[Page 388]


Commemorative Plaque - dab388.jpg [21 KB]

This picture has no caption but it shows a commemorative plaque
placed by the British Army in front of barbed wire, which says in German:


"This is the infamous concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen, that was liberated by the Second British Army on 15th of April, 1945. 10,000 unburied corpses were found here and a further 13,000 have died there since. This being a sacrifice to the new German order in Europe and as example of the Nazi culture."



Several times I accompanied those being led to the death carriages. How I managed to escape and how I found refuge in the bunkers, is a story by itself, which I don't have the strength to recollect. Thus on the 1st of September 1943, I found refuge for my sister and myself (I lost my mother and the other members of my family) in a well camouflaged bunker in which around 30 people assembled, survivors from our city together with other Jews from the region. We were locked for a few days in the bunker without going out and displaying a sign of life for fear of the police that were wandering about the area looking for people. There was one woman amongst us who had contact with a group dismantling the ghetto that had been ordered by the SS to stay in the region, but attempts to leave and look for food products and water brought about the discovery of bunker, and once again we dispersed, to find new shelters for ourselves.

Hunger and thirst was our lot and in the evenings I would set out to look for food, and after some efforts, I managed to make contact and join the group that was dismantling the Środula Ghetto and had remained behind. During the same period there was an aktzia whose goal was to carry out dispatches to Auschwitz. The destruction of the camp took place between the months of August 1943 to January 1944. It was now our turn to be sent to Auschwitz, and miraculously I escaped from the compound with my sister and reached Dąbrowa. We looked for a refuge in the area that the ghetto had existed, but couldn't find anybody. A Polish family gave us shelter for four days, and I have no words of gratitude for the bravery of the Polish laborer that saved us from the Gestapo.

After much searching we found a new refuge in Pogon that is not far from Sosnowiec. There was a group of Jews that was working in the SS headquarters under the supervision of a German, who was a righteous Gentile. However, this period only lasted seven months, after a time the order came to transfer the whole group to a Gestapo prison in Sosnowiec, together with the criminal inmates. The bitter day came when we taken out into the yard to be executed. We stood next to a wall with our hands raised, a squad of soldiers stood behind us ready to carry out the order to fire: after a number of hours we were transferred to a prison in Myslowice, and this being after unforgettable hours of terror.

Still, we did not know what was in store for us. We were on the way to the Auschwitz death camp, and on one day in June 1944 we were put in the blood stained hands of the murderer, Mengele. Days full of horror took place in the death camp – a constant struggle for survival and of not knowing what was awaiting us next. How we managed to reach liberation day from the horrors of death, I will never know. Is this the strong will for life or a type of miracle? It is some of both.


[Page 389]


In May 1945 we gained liberation by the Allied forces, we the few individuals, remnants of the great Polish Jewry and terribly few from the Dąbrowa community.

Thus we come to the other stages of my life: the recovery period and convalescence in a cultured Sweden, maapalim [illegal immigrant] camps in Cyprus and later emigration to our liberated country.

Due to the fact that I survived, I wish to dedicate my life to the memory of our loved ones, who did not survive and perished tragically in the ghettoes and the death camps.

May their memory be blessed.






The “Judenrat” in Dąbrowa

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


The years 1941-1943 were the years in which the Judenrat existed and were the beginning of the annihilation of the Jewish population of our city. At that time, we did not know what was in store for us. We were still living the delusion of independent authority, as it were.

At the time, there were divided opinions regarding the task of the Judenrat, certainly even today you will not find someone who is able to determine absolutely how we should have acted. I believe that in this intermediate period of the Judenrat administration with all its negative phenomena also had quite a few redeeming points of mutual assistance and a feeling of a common fate for us all.

The leaders of the Judenrat were responsible to the centre in Sosnowiec – where the infamous, Moniek Meryn, governed. I feel that the Judenrat people had the common opinion of “gaining time”, in the hope that state of affairs would change and deliverance would come. In the meantime, work needed to be done to ease the daily distress, and the independent administration – although imaginary – would assist in this goal.

Certainly, there were negative manifestations like the favoring of relatives, demoralization, bribery, activities of the militia and so on. However, in truth, the mutual assistance achievements, that characterized our life during this same period, should not be neglected. Food supply was improved; there was concern for medical facilities, education and social services.

I believe that this was a great honor to those, under these conditions who manage to show that we all shared a common destiny and continually strove for our physical and spiritual existence. I will note several of them: medical assistance, which was headed by Dr. Mitelman, of blessed memory, and Dr. Szmydel who worked with him in the clinic. The medical assistance also included dental care and preventive medicine. Difficult medical cases were transferred to the Jewish hospital in Sosnowiec.

The social services, in fact, operated for the whole population, since all of us were unemployed, apart from a few that managed to sell their properties and assets to the Poles outside the ghetto. There was a concern for hot meals, especially for the children. This, however, is a separate chapter and I wish to dedicate this to the person who was responsible for these efforts and may this be a small mention of her great name. (Cyla Lemkowicz).

(Note: Finally, I would like to point out that the matters presented here are my own personal evaluations of the Judenrat period).



[Page 390]

The kindergarten and the children’s quarters
in the Dąbrowa Ghetto

(In memory of my soul mate, Cyla Lemkowicz)

by Lea Szlenger (Tenenbaum)

Recorded by Isser Lavie

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


I met Cyla when she was my neighbor in Reden, and later on as one of the popular leaders in the Hashomer Hatsair center.

During the years 1940-41 a kindergarten-boarding school was established in Mendel Wajnsztajn's house, behind the Great Synagogue. Around 70 children from kindergarten age were brought together within this project and Cyla was placed in charge. This would have been a social-educational project of the highest level in normal times, however its value was multiplied several fold in the living conditions of the ghetto. The parents of these children went out to work in the “shops” (workshops) and various plants in which the Germans employed us. The Judenrat carried out a righteous deed in establishing this project and thus prevented the young children from wandering the streets and witnessing the horrors that were taking place in the ghetto. Cyla was given this great privilege, and she received this position and turned the project into the only shining ray of light in the ghetto environment.

The parents and children saw her as a heavenly angel. She knew no bounds in her devotion to beautifying, as much as possible, the lives of the little ones. She devoted great imagination and a superior educational effort into creating a different world for the children, far away from the threats of war. This was a world that was for only a few hours each day, but a world full of laughter, song, dance and life, as if it was completely locked out from its surroundings.

From where did this young, 20 year old, woman draw these superior educational powers? Was this the influence of her education in the home of her parents, Aharon and Szprynca Lemkowicz? Or perhaps, the movement education of Hashomer Hatsair in which she was active and acquired the basics of an educational approach? One way or another, she was a noble person, full of softness and gentleness, who in these horrific conditions succeeded in creating an abounding world for the children, if only for hours or days till they would be taken with or without their parents to the Auschwitz and Treblinka camps.

The fate of Cyla, may the Lord revenge her blood, was similar. She was behind the ghetto when they [the Germans] reached Środula in Sosnowiec, and from there she was sent with her parents and the head of the Judenrat, Icchak Bornsztajn, to Auschwitz.

She was my friend, sister and a dear soul, who worked and devoted herself to the lives of the children and can be an exemplary example of a Jewish soul, who in conditions of torment and death knew how to create a rich world for others.

Cyla did not manage to reach a refuge – to our country that she loved so much and yearned for it and her brothers living there.

May these lines be a sort of wreath of flowers on her unknown grave, and some recognition for a warm, noble Jewish woman.


[Page 391]


Dąbrowa Górnicza

Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky


In the year 1939 there was a general total of thirty thousand inhabitants of Dąbrowa Górnicza. Among these were to be found some 5,600 Jews. In the second half of December [of that year] came the decree of a yellow arm band that Jews had to wear. It was the beginning of the racial hatred campaign.

In 1940 began the deportations of the Jewish community. This started with the forced labor evacuations, ostensibly for three months. By this time the number of Jews reached 6,300, as it included Jews who had come from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. [Once begun] the evacuations did not cease, and none shipped out to Germany came back. In the city Jews were employed in various types of labor, while taxes and ever-worsening edicts were promulgated.

In 1942, all Jews were concentrated in one part of the town (i.e. an open ghetto). This encompassed the following streets: Chopin, Łukaszńskiego, Stara Będzińska, Hieronimska-Dolna, and Górna. Together with spring came the evacuations. The first to be shipped out [large scale] were the poorest of the community, those who lived on the charity of the welfare organizations (about 300 Jews).

Before being evacuated each person was given an evacuations sheet, which described articles allowed to bring with in a package not to exceed 10 kg.

Later were evacuated [those] persons who had been administratively punished. (i.e. who failed to wear the arm band or who wore one that wasn't according to the rule); those who had left the Jewish quarter without permission, etc. Additionally, elderly and sick people were sent as well.

One tried to secure a “Sonderpass” but later even possession of one of these did not help. The young people left in the city were obliged to try and hide themselves. Those who appeared on the streets wearing their armbands were immediately rounded up and shipped to Germany.

Word reached us that those groups of laborers began to shrink significantly, with hunger and mistreatment taking a toll in the rising number of corpses.


dab391.jpg [33 KB] - Dąbrowa youths during the ghetto period
Dąbrowa youths during the ghetto period

In time the work camps became concentration camps. Postal connections ceased and packages could no longer be sent. The situation became steadily worse and mail did not come from those shipped out. Nonetheless we never believed that those evacuees had so quickly been liquidated.

In July 1942, the [remaining] Jewish population was ordered to appear on 12 August at the central square near the rail station. The ostensible purpose was that everyone (including children and the elderly) had to be fingerprinted. Even though the community informed the people that there'd be no new developments, a sense of dread took hold of those remaining.


[Page 392]


On the designated day at 07:00, the square was packed with people, including those who had employment. Seemingly only about 40 people were missing. They were arranged into four rows in alphabetical order.

The great heat caused some to faint. Doctors and sanitary workers began to assist those who needed help, but in general most managed to eventually help themselves.

At around 08:00, the German murderers appeared. Elderly without children and parents who held their children were sent to one side. Only the young and able-bodied were left standing in the rows and separated from the others.

The SS began beating with truncheons any who attempted to cross from one side to the other. It was felt that the majority would be taken away permanently. Even the rain which suddenly fell heavily didn't stop the murderers from accomplishing their evil deeds. The stumbling of the aged and cries of the babies cannot be described.

By midday, only a small number remained in the central square and it was they who were fingerprinted. The long rows of those sent to one side were taken to the orphanage in Będzin.

Those left in the square watched as the large columns moved into the tram, which seemed as if it would never fill up.

The orphanage in Będzin took in around 3,000 souls. The next day they were all taken to the train, and thus everything ended.

Only a few remained to be saved, and they were seen with jealousy by those whose families had been deported. The Arbeitseinsatz and deportations never ceased.

At the beginning of 1943, the ghetto was sealed off.

(From the archives of the Jewish History Institute in Warsaw, evidence given by Genia Lewkowicz)




__________
  1. When the German authorities herded the Jewish population of Poland first into urban areas, and subsequently into ghettos, they required each community to form a Jewish Council. In smaller cities the councils had twelve members, in larger towns the number was twenty-four. Most often composed of former community leaders, the councils took on all the duties of a local government. Most importantly for the Germans, the councils acted as intermediaries to carry out the their increasingly oppressive dictates, such as providing forced labor battalions for German war factories, and eventually even delivering Jews directly to the trains bound for the death camps. return


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