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[Page 393]


A twelve year old girl in the claws of the Nazis

by Esther Kaminski (of the Wajngarten family)

Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky


I know that you are these, the lines that I write, the particulars which I remember from the days of the Shoah, [and] the hundreds and thousands of youth of my generation who experienced for themselves the horror of the past. I was too young to understand why people could do things like this to other people; I think that until my dying day, I will not be free of the memories. Profound in my memory are the endeavors and first-hand experiences of Jewish persons in their effort to stay afloat and not drown, to exist and not cease [their lives] until the terror had passed. When I consider these things, I know the reasons why they cannot be forgotten.

When I raise [the picture of] my mother Balcza of the house of Chanoch Londner of blessed memory; of my father, Szymon Wajngarten of blessed memory; of my grandmother, Ajdel Londner of blessed memory; and my two sisters, Chaja and Hinda of blessed memory; their fear and trepidation; their eyes that wondered at what was unlikely; their being unable to understand why they were being killed, because what was their sin? When I conjure up their images in front of me, their faces horrified at each new wave of bad news, I say to myself [I must] write about everything, every minute detail, for the sake of the dead who wanted so much to live.



The Shoah

Twelve years old I was when the war broke out, and a student in school and a member in the Hashomer Hatzair organization. Life went on in a quiet family. My good and charitable father Szymon Wajngarten kept our household from shortages; my mother Balcza devoted all her energies for the good of her children. My sisters Chaja and Hinda and myself found a warm and loving home, which I will remember until my final days.

The days were in August, 1939. The summer was glaring [hot]. I was on vacation at my grandmother's in Żarnowica, and suddenly we heard news that the Germans were attacking Polish cities. The tranquility turned into chaos. Frightened Jews abandoned their homes and rushed towards the Russian border in the knowledge that the murderers would reap havoc among the quiet Jewish population. The roads were crowded with people trying to get across the Eastern border. The Polish Army, which suffered a tide of defeat already from their first clashes with the Wehrmacht[1], abandoned the battlefields and jammed the roads [looking for escape]. These days can hardly be described: great masses of people without hope; horses and an army routed and engulfed the refugees, yet cared not a whit for their brethren. Many fell along the way from sheer exhaustion, as none were to be found who would even offer them some water.

My father Szymele, bought with the better part of his money, a cart pulled by a harnessed horse that took us to Wolbrom. We heard [rumors] that the Germans were approaching us, killing the men or taking them away to place from which they'd never return. A group of men, among them my father, joined together, and sans them we proceeded to Miechów, with the intention that we would meet up there.


dab393.jpg [28 KB] - Esther Kaminski (Wajngarten) during the Nazi period
Esther Kaminski (Wajngarten)
during the Nazi period

First from the right: Esther Kaminski (Wajngarten)


Upon arrival, we found concealment in an abandoned house, but not long had passed when we heard the sound of gunfire. In pride and arrogance the Germans marched into Miechów, without encountering any resistance. [Almost] even before the gunfire ended began the hunt for Jews. They found my father's hideout and right then and there executed [most of] those in hiding. [However], my father and a few Jews managed to escape. My mother, my two sisters, myself and my grandmother continued on our way despite the situation, and there we met up again.

After the Germans had taken Miechów, the way to the Russian border was gone. German troops inundated the roads, and the bridges were guarded by sentries. By means of back roads, at night, we managed to return Dąbrowa.


[Page 394]


The picture we found in Dąbrowa did not vary greatly from the general situation. The fear of not knowing what might happen daily. New rumors and proclamations became part of our lives every morning. All families excepting young children, were required to wear armbands with blue and white Stars of David. After awhile, we were compelled to don another Star of David on a yellow background on our breasts, to better identify us as Jews. I don't recall that I felt any humiliation at having to wear the Star of David; in fact I was proud because it reminded me of the greatness of the Jews. Were it not for the danger around [me], I wouldn't have mind wearing it at all.

Days and weeks passed with [increasing] trepidation, [while] the pressures of life mounted; commerce [virtually] ceased; and Jewish schools closed. Just going out for business purposes became dangerous. The Hashomer Hatzair branch closed, and we met in private homes for proscribed activities, then returned home. We sat [at home] confined and ventured out only to find out what we could do. In front of my eyes I [can still] see the image of my mother, her eyes looking at us and her mouth, sometimes forming the words, “what will happen?” are burned into my memory and will be there until my last day. My father, an early riser, would cast his eyes to the bright heavens (shining through eternity and oblivious of the murder being perpetrated by mankind), angry and unable to understand the silence of the world such a time. Shortages began to appear from all directions.



A smuggler at the age of twelve

In 1940 we continued to live on Narutowicza Street. The Germans issued ration coupons for food. It fell to me to stand all night on a queue in front of the bakery to receive a loaf of bread, but when it came to my turn, the bread would run out. I would go home livid and despondent. If my luck were better and I did manage to get a loaf, we didn't know how to divide it between six people.

When I saw the situation, it weighed upon me to [help] support the family. My Aryan looks and Polish fluency helped me a lot in this vein. Aunt Fryda, my father's sister, lived in Olkusz. Her husband was a goldsmith. Before the war he had forged links with some influential people in the community, supplying them with gold. He was taken to a concentration camp but the links remained.

Dressed as a Christian girl, with a kerchief on my head and a basket containing weights to weigh the gold concealed on my body, I traveled twice a week by train or Christian wagon [i.e. transport forbidden to Jews] to Olkusz. With me were other Jewish and Christian girls from the villages near Olkusz who brought farm produce to Dąbrowa. Aunt Fryda sold the gold and with the proceeds hidden on me, I returned home via the same route.

At night we were stopped by the Germans. They searched us and shone bright torches in our faces, seeking to find the hidden Jew. However it was in vain. Neither the wagon driver or the Christian girls ever revealed who I was, and neither the other Jewish girls they may have suspected were in our group. Actually, no one really knew who anyone else was.

The smuggling continued for about a year and made life easier for us, as then for decent money one could still buy food in the area. I knew that in this manner I alleviated the food shortage in our home. One night the SS barged into the home of the woman who exchanged the gold for us, and conducted a search. We realized we had been denounced. But they didn't find anything. My father, who had been engaged in conversation with the exchanger, was arrested. He was taken to a jail in Katowice. My dear mother did not rest for a minute but traveled to Katowice to try and secure his release. Indeed, he was freed after she paid [an amount] to ransom him.

At the end of [my] year of smuggling, the Germans increased their efforts to harass us. The searches and controls on the trains were stepped up and included the use of search dogs. The group of Jewish girls was discovered, myself included. We were arrested and incarcerated. Because I was a minor as well as a citizen of Palestine (I was born in Eretz-Israel), while arrested I was treated more leniently and my mother was allowed to visit me.

In the meantime the harassment, bannings and deportation of young people to work camps from which they didn't return, continued. Within Jewish homes, fear and depression reigned. After my release from prison, I did not continue with the smuggling, as I was now known to be a Jew.

The Jewish population continued to decrease with the “selections.” An edict was promulgated to liquidate the Jewish homes of Reden. The remainder of the Dąbrowa community was ordered into the ghetto of Mieszka. It was dreadful to see them evacuated from their homes, leaving behind all their possessions excepting one bag they were allowed to carry with them. It was similarly terrible to see this column of unfortunates, walking on foot to the new ghetto.

We all lived together in one room, joined by Fryda, my father's sister from Olkusz, as she too was interned in the ghetto.

Year 1942. I was a year older. I worked in Rossner's sewing shop, [operating machinery] for the Hitler Wehrmacht. This work made possible for me to receive a “Sonderkarte”, which meant I was not to be deported to a camp.


[Page 395]


We worked 12 hours a day with the thought that somehow we would survive the storm, but this vanished as with a burst soap bubble.

In the middle of 1942, all Jews were ordered to assemble for the [ostensible] purpose of new “identity cards.” It was a hot summer day and we had to stand for hours and hours. [Some] people fainted from exhaustion. Suddenly, armed SS appeared and then began the pushing and shouting. We were divided into four groups. The first group was sent home; in the second were young people destined for work camps; in the third were also people who had Sonderkarte, both young and old, according to the whim of the SS. The fourth group had [elderly and] the infirm, who were immediately sent to Auschwitz; among them were my grandmother, Ajdel Londner of blessed memory. I was immediately released. My father, mother and sisters were put in the third group. My two sisters I managed to sneak into the freed persons group. My parents stealthily hid themselves within a building and thus managed to avoid the transport to Auschwitz and survived for another year. I am telling all this in order to show how great was the will to continue to exist, despite the terrible fear which constantly hung over our heads, and despite the hunger. I cannot free myself from the picture of people fighting for their very survival using all their wits [just to stay alive] and keeping death at bay.



In the work camp

1943. On the streets appeared notices for all young people, even those with Sonderkarte, to assemble. Failure to comply would result in severe punishment. I assembled and didn't return home again. We were taken to a transit camp in Sosnowiec and from there to the Gellenau [Golęcin] work camp.

In Germany, I worked ten hours a day in a textile plant. Before heading to work [in the morning], we received a measure of thin gruel and a cup of black coffee. For lunch we were given watery vegetable soup. These conditions soon took their toll [upon us], but the Germans had no compassion on our tender years, working us mercilessly on difficult and demeaning jobs.

Our connection with home continued, and I occasionally received food packages – from whom though, only G-d knows. The packages served me and my friends with a shot of optimism and helping to ensure that we didn't starve through lack of nourishment. [However] in the summer of 1943 the packages suddenly stopped coming. When all our hopes faded, we realized the sad fate of our parents. We knew we would not see them again, that the Nazis spilled their guiltless blood. We cried and eulogized them as would girls of 14. We carried our anger and bitterness as orphans every day arriving for work at the factories that helped Hitler perpetrate his murderous crimes.

After a year I was transferred to a camp at Langenbielau [Bielawa], which belonged to the SS. There conditions were infinitely worse.

The camp was surrounded by electrified barbed wire. We lived in barracks where the cubicles were made of fine board, stacked in 3 rows high. Our night covers were one black military blanket. Upon entry to the camp, we were stripped and searched, just in case someone was trying to smuggle in gold [or other valuables]. The Blockälteste[2] was a sadist, and would punish the whole camp for a violation by one individual – for the theft of a piece of coal, the hiding of a potato from the camp fields. All our clothes were taken from us and we were left with one garment for changing. Once in awhile, SS doctors would come and, with the aid of the Blockälteste, conduct examinations for the quality of our health. At any sign of weakness or physical malady, at the smallest sign of a blue color on our lips, the destination would immediately be marked as the Auschwitz death camp. The mutual aid and assistance between [we] younger persons was great. I.e. one who worked in the kitchen would risk her life in order to smuggle some extra food to a weaker person in our group, or to bring a piece of charcoal at night so that we could warm our frozen hands and feet.

Twenty five years after this suffering, twenty five years after this sabotage of my youth, I ask myself: “what power was within me to sustain me through all this and not despair?” To believe and to believe… endlessly? I remember the food we were given: a kind of mélange of grasses without salt, something which could hardly be classified as “food”. Not just once did I envy a dog in his kennel, a pig in his trough, for the better food they'd receive. A “festive” meal was a soup made from potato skins. When I remember the punishments which included crawling on one's bare knees through the snow outside (a reprisal for someone who smuggled in a piece of charcoal), this infliction on our youth screams to the heavens and begs for revenge!

German soil was littered with concentration camps. Women were brought from all the conquered areas of Europe. [Some] were given a bit more freedom, but the Czech girls were worked as miserably as we were. We tried helping them by slipping them some extra bread on the sly. Near us was a big camp for men. Their conditions were still worse than ours – their job was to forge railroad tracks and to repair the rail lines.


[Page 396]


They would leave [the camp] early in the morning and return in the evening. They were handled with curses and shootings. We made gloves for them from leftover thread we smuggled out of the textile factory.



On the eve of liberation

The time preceding liberation. Word of the German defeat at Stalingrad was spread secretly to us from mouth to ear. The nervousness of the Germans increased after that, [especially] as they began to make attempts to cover up what they had perpetrated. It wasn't long before we heard distant gunfire of the Russian front approaching.

One day I felt [severe] shivering, and did not report for work. I had gotten a bad fever. I was brought to a room where several other girls with my same condition had been brought to. They locked our door and hoped we would expire gracefully. I was told I had contacted severe stomach typhus, and that because of this the Nazis could not send me to Auschwitz. After I had recovered somewhat, I found myself in a Red Army hospital. They ministered to me until I was able to stand on my legs again, and on the 8th of May, 1945, I was freed. I didn't know where to go. I knew I no longer had a home, but decided to go to Dąbrowa Gornicza anyway, with the thought that just maybe I could find someone [alive] from my family.

In Sosnowiec, I met my uncle, Ruwen Londner, who had been in the Kittlitztreben [Kotlicki Trebin] camp. When he left the camp, he weighed 35 kilograms and was unable to walk, only crawl on all fours. The loss of his wife and children whom he loved so dearly had broken him. He would not be consoled.

He was sent to a sanitarium to recover, but emotionally was unable to come to grips with his loss (he now lives in Canada). When I left him prior to my Aliyah, I looked into his sorrowful eyes and understood his pain. [They were] like my father's.

(Written by: Juda Londner)



[Page 397]


The Deportation of the Jews from Dąbrowa

(Evidence given by Dr. Szmul Mitelman)

Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky


The first Arbeitseinsatz of the Dąbrowa Jews was in the autumn of 1940. At that time the Germans sent some 400 young men who were between 18 and 25 years old to the Groß-Mangelsdorf camp.

The action was achieved through the production of name lists given by the Jewish community. At that time there wasn't as yet a “Dulag.”

The second large-scale work transport was executed in the spring [of 1941], around the beginning of May. In the morning, a “Schutzpolizist” officer came for me (he also wanted to take my son, but the latter wasn't home). He took us to the police station at “Huta Bankowa” square.

At that square they assembled some two thousand males of various ages. Londner came and alone sorted the people. In a building on the square, a German doctor examined everyone sent in by Londner. Approximately 500-600 men were sent to the “Dulag” and from there to camps. Those with occupations were released.

In the autumn (around November) was a large Arbeitseinsatz of women (girls as well as married women). The women were expected to present themselves at the square near the Community Center. The Center was [then] at the Chopin Street. The Germans evacuated by tramway some 400 to 500 women to the Dulag at Sosnowiec.

In the Dulag, the women were medically examined by the Polish doctor Sarzicki. Around 60 women came back from the Dulag. In the spring of 1942, Londner, Kuczinski and Mesner came to Dąbrowa and assembled at Braun's shop. The men were examined by me and Dr. Schmidel, and at that time, hundreds of healthy men were evacuated.

In April, Londner called me and a Krankenschwester [a nurse] to the Dienststelle [bureau] in Sosnowiec. They took me to the camp on the St. Annaberg (Góra Świętej Anny).

Upon my arrival at Annaberg there were 20 sick and 60 healthy people. The healthy ones were soon deported to the camp at Klatenberg.

Within 3-4 days a group of around 400 sick Jews with typhus were brought from the East, mainly from the area around the Leningrad front.

It was said that the so-called “Osteinsatz” had worked all winter in the construction of a railway line. They said that many had perished there while on the job; some had died on the way and still others arrived in St. Annaberg in dreadful condition: dirty, lice-infested, with torn clothing, starving and sick.

In the middle of July I was sent back to the Dulag in Sosnowiec. Upon returning to Dąbrowa I learned that the first Aussiedlung took place in May, 1942. At that time, 5-600 hundred people had been sent away. By the end of July, smaller groups had been sent to Auschwitz for various sins.

On the 12 of August, the large-scale assembly of Jews took place in Dąbrowa. Some 3,500 Jews were brought to the central square near the community center. At the command of the Germans, the Jewish community leaders ordered that the people have their documents with them [ostensibly] because new Lichtbildausweise (ID cards) were to be stamped. Once they were all assembled, they were surrounded by the Gestapo and “Schupo” (police) on the roofs of nearby buildings.

Kuczinski came and segregated the people into rows of families. He established three groups: 1, 2 and 3.


[Page 398]


The Germans separated each group from the others. Experts came to further sort the rows and those qualified were added to group 2. The Germans then led some 1,500 in a group on foot to the orphanage in Będzin. Around 2000 Jews still remained in Dąbrowa. Towards the end of 1941, a Jewish residence area was established for them. At first Jews were taken from following streets: Sobieskiego, 3 Maja, D¹browskiego, Sienkiewicza and the city center. The area was sealed off at the beginning of 1943. It was comprised of the following streets: Szopena [Chopin], Miejska, part of Łukaszńskiego, Stara Będzińska, Hieronimska-Dolna, Hieronimska-Góra, Towarowa, and Mireckiego. Other roundups came regularly. Usually Kuczinski came with other Germans and grabbed people.

In the last week of July 1943, the remaining1,000 or so Jews were ordered to report within 3 days to the ghetto in Środula. A few got themselves over to Będzin. The rest were either taken in wagons or got there on foot, according to their ability.

Dąbrowa was without Jews.

At the end of 1939, Jews were compelled to wear yellow armbands, and in 1941, a yellow star was added.

At the beginning of 1940, an edict was issued that Kreisärzte [district medical officers] could attend only to Jewish patients. Once the Nuremberg Laws were in effect [in Poland], Jews could only be attended to by Jewish physicians. Prescriptions bore the stamped notice, “this prescription may only be filled by Jewish pharmacies.” There was a small yellow star in the left corner. The crest had to be a blue color with black lettering, while in the corner there was a yellow magen-david with blue lettering. German police later took over the disbursement of such prescriptions.

Dr. Mitelman

Recorded by N. Szternfinkel

Dąbrowa on 4 May 1947 (in Polish).
(From the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw)





[Page 399]


Mass murder

by Cwi Kożuch

Translated by Avi (Avraham) Stavsky


Jewish Dąbrowa, along with other towns in Zagłębie and indeed in all of Poland – with its developed cultural and political life, began to feel what was in store for it as soon as the German troops entered the country. Already from the first days of the occupation, nefarious posters were hung up signaling special limitations on the Jewish community. All Jewish-owned shops and factories were immediately given over to German “Treuhänder” [trustees] who paid the owners a pittance; furthermore, the Jewish community was to provide labor for various German industries. Jews were restricted from leaving their homes during evening hours. Jewish social life was soon paralyzed. All [Jewish] political parties, from Aguda to the Communist party were forbidden to meet, and Jewish schools and cheders were locked.

At the end of 1939, a census was taken of all [Dąbrowa] inhabitants. Jews were counted separately by a German official. It was resolved that the Jewish community and people without [a fixed] address were mandated to carry a special document, a “Palshuvka”, which enabled the Germans to locate the whereabouts of all [Dąbrowa] Jews and later, to put their reprehensible plans into action.

In 1940 the ill-fated “Judenrat” [by the Germans] was established to take over the function and leadership of the Jewish community (the leaders of which were Szlomo Freund and Abram Neufeld). Mosze Meryn was appointed by the Germans to head the Judenrat for the whole of the Zagłębie area.

The [so-called] Jewish Police helped in requisitioning money and furs upon the request of the Germans. In a matter of days, the storage centers were filled with plunder. Tens of kilograms of gold were placed at the disposal of the occupiers. The first groups were mobilized for forced labor. Already in the winter of 1940, hundreds of Jews could be found in the labor camps of Klein Mangersdorf, Sachso, etc. The first notifications came back by mail from such camps of the poor treatment and hunger of the inmates.

The first to be sent to fill the work quotas were the poor and jobless people. Those who could afford it bought their way out of deportation, in the belief that so doing would get them off future transports as well. {Unfortunately] this was no more than a temporary reprieve.

The Germans didn't concern themselves with whom the Judenrat chose to be sent off. SS contingents roamed the streets and grabbed people arbitrarily, sending them to undisclosed locations.

In 1941, the Jews of Dąbrowa were ordered to live in the streets of a concentrated area, the center of which was near the synagogue of Miejska Street as well as some side streets. Jews were forbidden to use the main arteries of the city. 2-3 families were shoved into small apartments that had been vacated by Polish residents. Other Polish gleefully seized the homes that belonged to Jews and where they had lived for dozens of years.

In 1942, the Jews suffered the fate of Jews from all over Poland, that is, they were more and more persecuted. In Auschwitz and in the newly added Reich provinces and the Generalgouvernement[3] [names such as] Majdanek, Treblinka and Sobibor were being readied for mass murder.


[Page 400]


In Dąbrowa as well as in all of Zagłębie, the forced labor activities were intensified. Now came the turn of those self-employed trades people who had “insured” themselves with “Sonderkarte” against deportation. What was left in the city then were mostly elderly people, and in the great roundup of August, 1942, they were herded by SS men with dogs and weapons to the square near the main synagogue. There all were taken, young and old, well, weak and infirm to the train station in Będzin. Ultimately they were placed aboard cattle cars for transportation to Auschwitz and destruction.

A few dozen families which somehow missed being taken in the great roundup were later sent to Środula, together with others from nearby communities who also escaped the large-scale roundup. In 1943 when the order came to make [Poland] “Judenrein”, they were liquidated. A few saved themselves from the various concentration camps. Of the 6,000 Jews of Dąbrowa who were in the city at the outbreak of the second world war, there is one from the Grinbaum family and a few hundred scattered around the world, mostly in Israel. Entire families were destroyed or disrupted, many without a male heir surviving. And those who remained alive were [largely] orphans, the cause being the Nazi sword which so heavily and murderously affected Poland's Jews.


dab400.jpg [37 KB] - The crematorium in an extermination camp
The crematorium in an extermination camp


__________

  1. (Literally – “defense force”) was the name of the unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945. return
  2. Prisoner appointed by the SS to be responsible for the blocks. return
  3. The General Government (German: Generalgouvernement) refers to a part of the territories of Poland under German military occupation (that were occupied in September 1939) during World War II by Nazi Germany and was an autonomous part of “Greater Germany”. return



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