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Supplement 1: The “Holocaust” of the Jews of Krzemieniec in 1942

Jerzy Strumiński

Published 1996 or Later, Source Unknown

Polish Translation by Grzegorz Gembala

25 November 2004

[Translation Editor's Note: This apparently is a magazine or a book article, pages 21–25. It was written either in or shortly after 1996. Ronald D. Doctor received a copy of the article from Tamara Senina on a visit to Kremenets in September 2002. Unfortunately, the source is unknown.]

August 1996 marks the 54th anniversary of the genocide committed on the more than 12,000 Jews from the Kremenets ghetto.

The author would like to pay homage to the victims of those tragic events. The article includes a fragment from Stanislaw Sheybal's “Memoirs.” He was a witness of what went on in the ghetto on that day in August, watching the events from the Kremenets High School building, from the direction of the former Pierackiego Street.

This publication also includes drawings of the city map of Kremenets, with the location of the ghetto marked, bordered by Sheroka, Pierackiego, and Korzeniewskiego streets, as well as the location of the old Jewish cemetery at Kredowa (Chalk) Hill on the first part of the map, and marked on the second part of the map is the location of the genocide of the Jewish citizens at the former shooting ground on the road to the village Królewski Most, at the foot of Kuliczówka Hill.

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The Nazis began to create a ghetto for the Jews shortly after taking over Kremenets in 1941. The ghetto was located in the center of the town, which inhabited mainly by Jewish families. It was bordered by the streets Sheroka on the east, Krzemienieckiego on the west, and Pierackiego on the south, and the area of the Fire Brigade on the north. Jews from other quarters of the town were also moved to that area. The ghetto area was surrounded by a fence and guarded by the military police and the Schutzmanns (the Ukrainian police, subordinate to the military police). More than 12,000 Jews were locked up in the ghetto, including refugees from the west, mostly from Lodz. The social structure was differentiated. Apart from a group of wealthy émigrés from Lodz, most of the population was made up of poor people of the prewar era. The Germans set up a local self-government, the community, and the ordinal service, the Ordnungsdienst.

 

kre092.jpg
Figure 92. Holocaust Map of Kremenets, 1942

The food allotments for the ghetto provided by the Germans left the people, especially the poor ones, starving. In the initial period, trade between the ghetto and the surrounding areas was quite animated, due to the many holes in the fence and the groups of Jews leaving the ghetto to the locations of their forced labor.

The first restriction to strike the ghetto was the Gebietskommissar's order for the Jews themselves to demolish the synagogue – which represented the religious center of Jewish life. The synagogue on Sheroka Street was a mighty structure. The bricks from the demolished synagogue were used for the construction of German buildings. Also, the Jewish cemetery at Kredowa Hill met the same fate, the headstones being taken away in masses.

The Gebietskommissar of Kremenets, a high-ranking Nazi ruffian, realized quickly that the Jews of Kremenets could also be deprived of their gold and other valuables. The Jews trusted in the power of the gold and silver and hoped to survive by giving it to the Germans. Whole carts of gold and later of silver in different forms, e.g., candlesticks, boxes, and other products, were taken from the ghetto. These supplies, however, soon ran out.

In the summer of 1942, the Gebietskommissar was sent away to take a “well-deserved vacation.” Another Nazi ruffian from the Gestapo replaced him. In the eyes of Himmler, he was appointed to fulfill an “honorable” task – the liquidation of the Kremenets ghetto. This is how it began. From now on, I will be just a chronicler.

The ghetto was sealed off and surrounded by military policemen and the Schutzmanns. Then random shooting began, which lasted for two days. The aim of this was the psychological breaking and treatment of the Jews before the Aktion that was to take place.

During the shooting, the wealthiest Jewish families held farewell dinners, which ended often in their committing suicide by taking poison.

The random shooting of the ghetto area brought few victims, but it completely broke the instinct for self-preservation among the ghetto inhabitants. It turned the people into “involuntary cattle being taken into slaughter.” It was a beautiful, sunny day when the gossip spread that trucks with wooden structures were carrying the Jews from the ghetto somewhere in the direction of the Dubna turnpike. I learned from the inhabitants of downtown that trucks had entered through the main gate of the ghetto, Jews were loaded onto them en masse, and then they drove away. The tragedy of the situation was worsened by the fact that the Jewish police, armed with clubs, also participated in dragging the people from their homes and herding them to the square. The Nazis most probably promised them that they could save their lives by doing this, a promise they eventually didn't keep. They were taken to the site of the “holocaust” in the evening, in the last trucks.

Around noon, the news spread that the shooting of the Jews would take place at the end of the Podlesiecki Gorge, under the western slopes of the Kuliczówka. Many people were going to the Kuliczówka, and I joined them. From the hill one could see the “Dantean scenes” that took place at its foot (around 200 meters away, straight ahead). The word “Dantean” is probably improper because what he once described was a fantasy, whereas here we saw the real crime of genocide of such magnitude, later described by the Hebrew word shoa.

After the first shock caused by the scenes at the foot of the hill, the human psyche had the strange property that it got used to them with time and registered the scenes that took place as a kind of macabre movie.

I will allow myself a digression and describe the site chosen by the Nazis as the place for the mass execution. Since World War I, the former rifle range of the Yakutian infantry regiment had been located at the mouth of the Podlesiecki Gorge (further down the road is the so-called Rotten Lake, known for its ski range), along the road from Krzemieniec to Mlynowiec-on-Ikwa. The rifle range was over 100 meters long and a couple of dozen meters wide, with embankments on three sides. It was accessible only from the side next to the road. In the area of this rifle range, a ditch 8–10 meters wide and a couple of dozen meters long had been prepared. Barrels stood along the ditch next to the excavated earth, most probably filled with lime chloride. Armed military policemen and Schutzmanns were standing on the embankments. The extermination action took place in the area of the rifle range.

The process of extermination was as follows: each arriving truck was surrounded by more than a dozen military policemen with whips. After the people were unloaded, they were driven to the so-called “dressing room,” where they had to undress to the nude and leave their clothes, which were later thoroughly searched. Lots of gold, valuables, and foreign currency were found in them. Then they were driven one by one by the military policemen to the execution ditch. In the ditch, two Gestapo men were “on duty” with their pistols. They fulfilled the “honorable task of Hitler and Himmler” by shooting their victims in the backs of their heads. One could conclude from the example of the “holocaust” in Krzemieniec that Himmler's “scientists” had developed a sophisticated method of killing people. In order to “rationally” utilize each square meter of the ditch, the victims were killed and fell on the bodies of their predecessors lying crosswise, which resulted in a much higher layer of bodies in the ditch than if they had been laid next to one another. The shot in the back of the head caused little outflow of blood (thus, the Gestapo henchmen didn't have to paddle in blood). The military policemen filled the empty space between the legs of the victims with the bodies of murdered children.

A few words about the henchmen: during the few hours of my stay on the slopes of Kuliczówka, six henchmen were “active” at the rifle range, two in each “shift.”

While two were “working,” the other four were sitting at a table crammed with food and bottles of vodka, and they changed “shifts” from time to time. There is no doubt that they were all drunk, and the accuracy of their shots was also problematic.

The fact that during the few hours of my observations there were only two attempts to escape proves the effectiveness of the methods of psychological abuse of humans. Young men who had already been driven to the death ditch tried to escape. They started to run, jumped over the embankment of the rifle range, and ran into the cornfields surrounding the rifle range. Shots were fired from the embankments. I don't know whether they managed to escape. Another example: one of the trucks carrying the victims and their escort overturned while negotiating a very sharp curve. Everybody fell out. It was a magnificent chance to escape; however, nobody tried, and the military policemen drove the people with whips to the “dressing room” and then to the death ditch.

As the ditch filled up, the “burial” took place. It consisted of spilling white powder (most probably lime chloride) onto the bodies; then the bodies were covered with a dozen-inch-thick layer of earth. Under these circumstances, those who had not been “offered” a sudden death by the drunken Gestapo men also had to die.

I will return for a moment to the extermination. As I mentioned before, one gets accustomed after a longer while to the atrocities observed, but some scenes remain in the memory until the end of one's days – such as a naked woman with one child in her hand and the second, older, holding her hand, being driven with whips to the extermination ditch or an old man with a long, white beard being driven to the same ditch.

The Germans might have purposely tolerated the fact that inhabitants of Krzemieniec were sitting on the slopes of Kuliczówka – the aim was intimidation. I suppose that many of those sitting there (especially Poles) thought the same: today the Jews, and in a while, it will be us. Many of us were thinking: God, where are you? God, do you see that?! ... On that day, approximately 10,000 Jews were killed. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the sky was blue above their mass grave.

Finally, I would like to quote the memories of Professor Scheybal, published in his book on pp. 278–281: “The mentality of many German intellectuals, both military and civilians, was astonishing, and one cannot explain it plainly by blaming the terror raging in the Third Reich. Even the well-educated and cultured ones, often lovers of and experts in music and art, were able to accept even the most brutal acts and monstrous crimes. May I allow myself to quote here a characteristic example, which took place in our photo shop. It happened during the inhuman liquidation of the Jewish inhabitants of the ghetto in Krzemieniec. The atmosphere in the town was terrible and depressing. The executions took place just outside the town, and we saw the victims being driven away, all those local merchants, craftsmen, teachers, doctors, and students we knew.

One of the graduates of the Krzemieniec High School entered the photo shop, nervous and crying. She told us that she had just seen a former classmate of hers, a Jewish girl, her friend, being driven on a truck to the execution site. They bid farewell to each other by waving with a sad smile. I was trying to comfort her when a German officer entered the photo shop. I knew that he was a lawyer. He was intelligent, always courteous and well mannered, a real aesthete, compassionate and an expert in the values of artistic photography. Seeing the crying girl, he asked with concern what had happened to her. The girl popped out and started to shout at him in a hysterical, hoarse voice (she spoke German perfectly): “Don't you know what's happening? What are you doing with the Jews? You scoundrels, you cruel criminals, you bandits!” The German stood there, stunned and confused. Then he turned around and ran out of the photo shop. I was certain that he had gone to call the military police. I told the girl to run away at once and waited with anxiety to see how matters would develop. However, nothing happened that day. The next day, the German officer came with a triumphant look on his face and asked me the whereabouts of that girl. I told him that I didn't know her and that she must have been from out of town. She had just come to buy some postcards, and after talking to the officer, she left. He started to shout that he must find her and explain it to her. She had said that the German nation was a nation of criminals and murderers. He called that slander. He explained that he had checked everything personally – he had gone to the execution site and convinced himself that there was no cruelty. The Jews walked quietly, nobody pushed or hit them, the shots were aimed perfectly, so why had she talked about cruelty ...

I was stunned. And the German probably recalled that he was a lawyer, too. He said that unless someone questioned the fact itself of getting rid of the Jews, and added, with slightly less conviction, that the will and the sake of the German nation represented the highest law. This was probably the most horrible time during the German occupation. Shortly before the liquidation of the Jews, the news coming from the ghetto was terrible. One of our colleagues who had been forced into the ghetto, a history teacher of Jewish origin who was very popular among the young students, committed suicide on the very same day he had been appointed the head of the Jewish police. Another Jew whom we knew very well, an ophthalmologist, poisoned his family – his wife and a couple of young children, and when he didn't have enough poison to kill himself, he committed suicide by hanging himself.

During the liquidation of the Jews, I saw a scene through the window of the local museum that froze the blood in my veins. I won't forget it for the rest of my life. I could see the backyard of one of the Jewish houses, with a line of old and ill Jews lying there, men and women. Most probably, due to their infirmity, it would have been difficult to transport them to the execution site. Suddenly, a German officer entered the yard wearing snow-white overalls. I recognized him: he was an elegant man, and he started to kill these people with single shots from his pistol, approaching each of them and pointing the pistol at the head. A noncommissioned officer followed (I think he was a medic) and checked the effectiveness of the officer's shots. Here and there, he “corrected” ... and that was it.

On the evening of the same day, I was sitting in our photo lab, and the director of the local museum came to me (he was Ukrainian, an art historian). He told me that two young Germans had come to visit, but he couldn't communicate with them and asked me for help as a translator. The young men, whom I then met in the museum, introduced themselves politely. They impressed me as modest, intelligent, and cultured young men, interested in the history of Ukrainian countryside.

The discussion concerning the museum exhibits lasted until midnight. During this conversation, I felt uneasy only once: when the director showed those men a skull with a hole and explained that the hole was made by a nail, which allowed the conclusion that the victim was a convict. The Germans started to examine the hole with delight, laughing loudly. After they left, I mentioned this unusual behavior to the director. The director asked me then: “Why do you wonder? Don't you know who these young men were? They are the murderers of thousands of Jews. They've boasted to me that only today they shot 300 Jews during their “working hours.”

This reminded me of the words I had heard from another young German soldier just a few weeks before, who declared that “he was ready to commit anything previously considered to be a crime on the order of the Fuhrer and that he would be proud to do this for the sake of the German nation.” He said also that “a true German cannot be a crybaby and this is how they had been taught and educated in the Hitlerjugend.”

Concluding my report, I will add a few words concerning the end of the ghetto in Krzemieniec. After the day of the mass killings, which cost the lives of approximately 10,000 Jews, the Nazis penetrated the area of the ghetto for several weeks. During this time, they took away everything that was of any value, e.g., furniture, clothing, bedclothes, etc. During this time, one could hear single shots being fired from time to time, most probably the sounds of liquidation of the final hidden inhabitants of the ghetto.

Most probably around early September, a number of the buildings in the ghetto were set on fire. The fire raged for a number of days, and all that remained was ashes and ruins.


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