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Part V

Shoah & Destruction

the translation of this section of the Yizkor Book is dedicated in the memory of Maury Adams

Chapter One

From Outbreak of WW II Until the Liberation

[The above title appears in the Table of Contents only. The title listed in the text is: Chapter One.]

Dr. M Schattner *

Translated by Jessica Cohen

If you grow old, you will know
In letters soaked with blood
For you shall feel and you shall hear
The lamentation and the wailing, that will not be silent

(From a Jewish Folksong)

A review of the events of the Shoah in Przemysl will show that the Germans treated our town as they treated all Jewish communities in European cities: they operated according to one predetermined plan, with that same Prussian preciseness, in that same cruelty with which they carried out the expulsions and the murders. The annihilation was performed in a particular way in our town, since Przemysl was located on the border between the east and the west. As we know, the annihilation of the Jews in eastern Poland was planned with extreme cruelty and speed, considering the cultural standing of the non-Jewish population and their attitude toward the Jews. The approach in the east was mass annihilation, in such places as Babi Yar or Stanislawow 1 , and in the west – transportation, supposedly to other work camps. In the west—kid gloves, in the east—an axe. In Przemysl the murderers followed both methods. The final result was the merciless destruction of the community, leaving only a few survivors. All in all, some three-hundred Jews survived out of twenty-thousand.

Following is an official account presented by the Jewish Committee 2 in Przemysl to the Przemysl city council, from September 12, 1945:

"The regional Jewish Committee in Przemysl hereby presents a list of the victims of the Nazi regime during German occupation. This list was compiled on the basis of direct information obtained by the Jewish Committee and on the basis of accounts collected from many reliable surviving witnesses:

  1. At the beginning of June, 1942, the Germans murdered all Jewish residents of Zasanie 3 , approximately 45 people.
  2. On June 18, 1942, SS soldiers transported 1,000 people from Przemysl to the Janowska camp, in Lvov.
  3. Between July 27 and August 3, 1942, during the first aktion 4 , 12,500 people were sent to Belzec.
  4. On November 18, 1942, during the second aktion, 4,000 were sent to Belzec. 5
  5. Between September 2 and September 3, 1943, the SS sent 3,500 people to Auschwitz and 600 to Szebnie 6 – a total of 4,100.
  6. On September 11, 1943, the Gestapo murdered approximately 1,000 people in the ghetto and burned their corpses.
  7. The Gestapo murdered 100 people after the first aktion, at the end of August, 1942.
  8. On October 28, 1943, the SS sent 100 people from the Przemysl ghetto to Szebnie.
  9. Between September 11, 1943 and the end of April, 1944, 1,000 people hiding out in bunkers were killed by the Gestapo, the SS and the camp commander, Schwammberger 7 .

The total: 23,845 people.

These are the dry statistics, which show that some 24,000 people were annihilated, enduring torture, suffering, humiliation, and an ocean of tears. The evidence points to a loss of humanity on one hand and a display of extraordinary bravery and self-sacrifice on the other.

[Page 372]

The prelude to the Shoah which was destined to befall the Jews of Przemysl began on the evening of September 8, 1939. As we know, the war broke out on September 1, 1939. During the first few days, the conscription and all other preparations for the defense activities were conducted in an orderly fashion. It occurred to no one—since Przemysl was far from the border—that the enemy would arrive at the town gates so quickly. Suddenly the town was filled with rumors that the Germans were approaching, murdering all Jewish men on their way. On September 8, in the middle of the night, the escape began: all the women accompanied their husbands, and in many cases their sons too, on their way to Lvov or Chyrow. Only few men were left, mostly ill or elderly, or "just regular" Jews, who hoped to be saved "with God’s will."

It was autumn – "Golden Autumn," as the Polish called it – and the escape route was as leisurely as a walk on a bright, sunny day. But everywhere they went, the runaways met Poles and Ukrainians gloating at the suffering of the Jews, always repeating the same words: "This is the end for you – soon the Germans will slaughter you all."

After the Russians entered the town on September 28 8 , most of the escapees returned to Przemysl. Others went to Romania and Hungary, according to information received later.

The bombing of the town caused some damage. Casualties were especially severe after the bombing of the Katz house on Targowica street, in which many of the area’s residents had found shelter. Slowly, things quieted down, but it was only the quiet before the storm. People said that the Polish army had retreated after difficult battles, and the town was left with no government. There were also rumors that the Poles would bomb the large bridge over the San river, and the nearby residents therefore attempted to escape towards the center of town. The bridge was bombed and two days later, on September 14, the Germans entered town. According to our information, the Germans were "reasonable" during the first two days. The optimists among the Jews saw them at first as cultured people, and therefore believed that they need not be feared.

At the beginning of their regime, the Germans took many people to work and then returned them safely to their homes. After a few days, however, Jewish workers began to disappear, only a few at first, and then whole groups. In the next stage, the Germans took the Jews out of their homes, based on a list of names. This was supposed to be revenge for the lives of twelve Germans who were allegedly shot by Jews during the first few days. Apart from these people, any Jews found on the streets were taken away. We estimate that six-hundred Jews were killed at that time, roughly half of them were refugees from west Poland.

According to the list on the communal grave stones in the Przemysl cemetery, the victims included the following 9 :

   

Born

Died

1.

Dr. Oswald Bethauer

1880

9.19.39

2.

Dr. Naftali Fenster

1897

9.19.39

3.

Yechiel Nelken

1884

9.18.39

4.

Aharon Silber 10

 

9.18.39

5.

Abraham Moses Silber 11

 

9.18.39

6.

Dr. Dawid Leib Auster

1906

9.18.39

7.

Moses Lozer 12 Dingot

1909

9.19.39

8.

Abraham Arteg 13

1882

9.19.39

9.

Herman Fischler

1885

9.18.39

10.

Shmerl Kastenbaum-Schop

1908

9.18.39

11.

Israel Bakon

1901

9.19.39

12.

Baruch (broken stone)

 

9.18.39

13.

Lejzor Wasserman

1898

9.17.39

14.

Kiwa Graub

1904

9.17.39

15.

Leib Kronenfeld

1869

9.18.39

16.

Shmuel Kessel

1883

9.18.39

17.

Edward Kunke

1881

9.19.39

18.

Yosef Goldfarb

1920

9.18.39

19.

Isaac Felikson

1911

9.18.39

20.

Leib Kastner

1888

9.17.39

21.

Meir Ber

1877

9.18.39

22.

Moses Hirsch

1874

9.18.39

23.

Yosef Arm

1885

9.18.39

24.

Israel Wogman 14

1920

9.18.39

25.

Isaac Weiss

1903

9.19.39

26.

Adolf Rechter

1875

9.18.39

27.

Moizes Grossman

1892

9.18.39

28.

Isaac Traum

1899

9.18.39

29.

Moses Friedman

1898

9.18.39

30.

Samuel Rinak

1902

9.18.39

31.

Pinio Frank

1919

9.18.39

32.

Rubin Weiss

1896

9.18.39

33.

Mendel Freuer 15

1892

9.19.39

34.

Wolff Kastner

1889

9.18.39

35.

Leib Lessing

1912

9.18.39

36.

Leon Firer 16

1900

9.19.39

37.

Abraham Rubinfeld

 

9.19.39

38.

Henryk Cwingerman 17

1922

9.19.39

39.

Samuel M. Lewenthal

 

9.18.39

40.

Moizes Baruch Adler

1921

9.17.39

41.

Pessel Zibetsner 18

 

9.21.39

42.

Friezner

1921

9.18.39

Deceased according to witness accounts:

   43. Scheffer, engineer
   44. Probstein, attorney
   45. Baruch 19 , attorney
   46. Rabbi Gelzer
   47. Dr. Giter
   48. Neta Scharf
   49. Deutch
   50-51. Zalzberg 20 and son (found embraced)
   52. Goliger, engineer
   53, Dr. Maks Schaffel

According to recently discovered information, 6,000 bodies of Przemysl Jews killed in Bircza, Kunkowce, Lubaczow and Grochowce were transferred in 1957 to the Przemysl cemetery, as decreed by the government and with its financial aid. Each group was buried separately in a mass grave, and the tombstones were engraved with the location of the murder and the number of victims.

[Page 374]

All these martyrs were shot in three locations: Lipowica, Pralkowce and Pikulice, and only a small number of the victims could be identified in these places. Before leaving the town, during the final days, the Germans managed to destroy and burn many more Jewish homes. Among these were the great synagogues – the "temple," the Great Synagogue, the Klois 21 and the great Beit Midrash 22 .

On September 18, 1939 23 , the Russians entered the town and the Jews breathed a sigh of relief. Along with the Russians, many of the Jews who had fled the Germans returned. They were welcomed enthusiastically and everyone thought that as far as Przemysl was concerned, the war was over. There would be a new regime, but there would be peace in the town! The endless fear—the fear of life, was simply gone. When the Russian band went out to the streets of Przemysl and played the song "Katyusha," which the Jews considered to be a Jewish tune, they were very happy. Gradually, the Russians began to impose their planned regime on the way of life in the town.

The Jews believed that nothing would really change from the way things were before the war. On the third day after the Russians’ entrance, the intelligentsia of the town held a meeting in the "club" on Mickiewicza street, a sort of mourning meeting in memory of those who were murdered by the Germans. This meeting served as an opening session for an orderly way of life in town. However, two days later the Russian military rule announced that ownership of the club halls had been transferred to the workers.

Two days before the Russians entered the eastern part of town, there was a sudden announcement that the Jews must leave Zasanie within 24 hours. Any Jew found there after that time would be killed immediately. Since the bridge over the San had been bombed even before the Germans had arrived, one could get to the eastern part of the city only via a military bridge, but this passage was prohibited for all civilians, especially Jews.

[Page 375]

The Jews, who despite the bitter experience of the past few days, had not learned from the Germans’ behavior toward them, did not believe that the military governor would actually issue the aforementioned order, and they decided to send a delegation to the governor and to the Polish mayor. No Jews dared go out to the streets, and so it was decided to send Mrs. Brodner, a doctor’s wife and an attractive woman. She went into the chambers of Mayor Baldini and asked for his help regarding the expulsion. Mr. Baldini was angry and asked if the Jews thought he had no worries other than them, and refused to intervene with the Germans regarding the expulsion. The city engineer, Mr. Kotek, was present at the time, and he followed Mrs. Brodner out and asked her forgiveness for the mayor’s behavior. After this episode, she decided to go directly to the German military ruler. He received her politely and declared that he knew nothing of the eviction order and that the Jews could remain where they were, with no worries.

Upon hearing this response, the Jews finally decided, despite the governor’s promise, to leave Zasanie. The Jews began their exodus early in the morning, mostly on foot via the San, carrying their few possessions above their heads. Only a few managed to obtain a small boat or horse-drawn carriage in order to transport their children and family members. The Polish people stood on the river banks, looking satisfactorily at the Jews’ "exodus."

When the Russians entered Przemysl, it brought the end to the political and public activities of the Jews – both because of the government rulings and for fear of retaliation. Likewise, the Jewish community’s institutions ceased to operate, and their assets—except for those of the religious institutions—were nationalized. Since the government had officially begun its anti-religious actions, some of the religious activities had to be carried out secretly (such as ritual slaughtering).

Under the Russian communist rule, all Zionist parties were of course dismantled, because the Russians regarded Zionism in all its forms as counter-revolutionary. Most of the activists left Przemysl as they feared an "invitation" to the NKWD. 24 The secret service arrests were undoubtedly the result of denounciations made by the local communists, who operated as denouncers by orders from above. The Bund 25 —which was a very small party in Przemysl—suspended its activities as well, as it was a member of the Second International.

The clubs and apartments of all the political parties, including their furniture and assets, were confiscated by the orders of the Russian rule. This was also the fate of the Jewish public institutions, such as the Jewish orphanage, which was transferred to the governmental welfare authority, and ceased to be a Jewish institution. The Jewish hospital was also handed over to the government, and it’s management was transferred to a Jewish Russian doctor named Troinker 26 , but the Jewish character of the hospital was blurred. The "Society for Mutual Assistance to Academics" also ceased to exist, as did the "Gmilut Hassadim," "Yad Harutzim," and "Bnei Brith 27 " funds, and the other Jewish charitable organizations. The fate was the same for the cultural and educational institutions, such as the private Jewish secondary school, in which the language of instruction was Yiddish. The scientific library, Czytelnia Naukowa, which housed some thirty-thousand books and which was the largest library in Przemysl, also terminated its activity. In theory, the library was nationalized, but in fact most of its books were stolen.

During the Russian rule the Jewish population of Przemysl became completely impoverished. All the factories and shops, only ten percent of which were owned by non-Jews, were nationalized, and all raw materials and merchandise were seized by the government. All privately owned houses were transferred to the city administration and the municipal offices collected the rent. Artisans were forced to destroy their workplaces and "voluntarily" enter cooperatives and "artels 28 ."

[Page 376]

All diplomas held by lawyers were evaluated and only very few of them were given a license to practice law. (Some one-hundred lawyers were forced to become clerks or take on other professions). The work of private physicians was reduced and they were forced to work in hospitals or clinics for many hours a day.

Over time, the lack of jobs became very noticeable. Jews who worked in cooperatives or government offices were given low wages which did not suffice for daily needs. As a result, many had to sell any belongings they could.

Beginning in April-May, 1940, approximately seven-thousand Jews were deported from Przemysl to Asian Russia, mostly those who had escaped from the West to safety in Przemysl, as well as political activists and former Polish officers and wealthy people who owned a lot of property. All these were pronounced by the Russians as "public menaces." At the same time, the Russians began to give out passports to the town’s residents. A few thousand residents were given passports containing a stipulation which allowed them to reside only within a distance of seven to one-hundred kilometers from the town. Many families where thereby left homeless, and were forced to wander from one place to another. This act caused complete impoverishment, because it was difficult to find residencies in the new places.

There was large-scale confiscation of apartments and rooms in large apartments were divided. 29 The apartments, including their furnishings, were transferred to high ranking army personnel or senior bureaucrats. Some political party activists were imprisoned, and after brief trials were given sentences of 10 to 15 years of hard labor in camps in the far east. In this manner, Elias from the Hitahadut Poalei Zion 30 and Fischel Babad from Beitar 31 were imprisoned. They were both sent to Siberia and never returned. Typical of the Russian sentencing was that people who had escaped from the West and had not been included in the big expulsion of 1940 were sentenced as German spies and imprisoned. Scores were held in the prison that was built to hold approximately 300 prisoners, but which in actual fact always held some 1,500.

That is the history of Przemysl Jews during the Russian period, from September 28, 1939 until June 21, 1941. These were relatively quiet times. Despite the deportations and the perpetual fear of the NKWD, it was possible to maintain a social life without antagonizing the communists. It should be noted that most of the people who were deported during the Russian rule represented the majority of the remaining Przemysl Jews.

This period came to a sudden end when war broke out between the Russians and the Germans. The German attack came as a surprise to the Russians, as witnessed by their hasty escape in the middle of the night, still wearing their night clothes. At roughly two o’clock in the morning, the Germans began bombing the town, which was right on the border, and they entered that very afternoon (June 21, 1941). After the Russians had recovered, the Germans retreated, sustaining severe losses, and a week-long battle over the town began.

During this intermission, all the Russian civilians and soldiers managed to escape. Many Jews escaped with them. On June 28, 1941 the Germans entered town. 32

During the battles, the entire population hid in their cellars. When the Germans entered, all the streets and houses were empty. The Germans were already familiar with the Jewish streets, so they went from house to house and shouted orders at the Jews: "Juden raus!" – meaning, that they should come out of their houses. When the Germans entered the town there were some 17,000 people living there. Various rumors were spread regarding the Germans’ fair attitude towards the Jews, lack of violence, and so forth. When they came out to the command and were taken to work, after a physiological examination, the Jews discovered that this time they had truly been summoned to work, because they came home every evening.

The Jews established a committee comprised of the town’s honorable members, lead by Dr. Susswein 33 , Dr. Haas and Dr. Duldig, which served as a liaison with the German command. The Germans demanded funds and equipment for the army from the Jews – the Gestapo had not yet arrived in town.

[Page 377]

After a few days the Gestapo arrived and immediately ordered the Jews to wear a Magen David 34 which began the separation process. Posters were posted around town, describing Jews as fleas, germs and poisonous snakes. The non-Jews were called to distance themselves from their Jewish neighbors. This psychological warfare ultimately forced Jews to abandon their houses in non-Jewish areas and to move to Garbarze, the place the Germans had marked off as a future Jewish quarter. The Germans set up a labor office ("Arbeitsamt") under German management, headed by a Ukrainian senior official. Jewish clerks were obliged to supply workers for any kind of menial labor in and outside of town. All Jews were required to register at this labor office and to receive a work card. The office was located on the ground floor, and on the second and third floor was the office for non-Jewish laborers. Any Jew who tried to go up to the next floor was detained and severely beaten.

All Jews were registered in the Jewish labor office, managed by Dr. S. Tennenbaum. Those who felt they were unable to work were forced to undergo a medical examination, and only handicapped people or physicians were excused from work. The doctors did all they could to assist those who were unfit for hard labor. These workers, men and women, were organized into groups managed by "Volksdeutsche," who were usually sadists who made the workers’ lives miserable. Thus, the [Jewish]students of the gimnazjum 35 were forced to clean the streets and pile the garbage onto carts and pull them through the streets, while their gentile friends walked leisurely through the very same streets. The Germans’ main intention was to emotionally wear down the Jews and publicly humiliate them. The Jewish doctors, who enjoyed the same privileges that all doctors had during the first four months, were ordered not to treat Aryan patients, under threat of the death penalty if they broke the law. Their private practices were thereby effectively terminated.

Gradually, life on the Jewish streets returned to normal. Likewise, as it was during the Russian rule, the "artels" began to operate again, although under German supervision. There were even cases in which Jews managed factories, such as "Polna," "Minerwa" and others. People who did not dare trade during Russian rule, opened small stores in Jewish areas, apart from the stores opened by the Judenrat, which was allocated small food portions from the Germans. They were made to understand that they must either close down their stores or leave them open under German supervision.

Over the course of time, the Jews were ordered not to shop at the market except during specific times, from dawn until eight and in the evening from six onwards, by which time there were no food products at the market. If a Jewish home struck them as too affluent, the Germans, including the local Germans – the Volksdeutsch – would enter the house every day and remove its furniture, pianos, carpets, silverware and chinaware, under orders. The "decent ones" offered to "buy" the items, of course at extremely low prices. And the Jews would sell their belongings because they knew that they would be forced to hand over everything with no compensation if they did not agree to the proposed price. But, in general, there was still some semblance of order. The German response to any kind of "transgression" by a Jew was extremely severe, however. For example, for wearing a Magen David on the right arm, instead of the left, or visiting the market during prohibited hours, Jews would be severely beaten and imprisoned for a long period of time.

At first some Jews who had been imprisoned were released but, after a short while, there were no more releases. According to our information, these prisoners were sent to the central prison and murdered there.

At the beginning of June, 1942, all forty-five of the Jewish women who were concentrated in two houses in Zasanie were murdered.

Many of the victims were members of the intelligentsia, such as Dr. Rawicz, Raben, young Dr. Grabscheid, and Dr. Irgang, who were all killed roughly one month after the first aktion. During the days before the aktions these people were allowed to remove the Magen David from their arms, and to walk freely through the streets. This allowance was made as a result of the Polish Bishop’s efforts.

[Page 378]

Roughly a week after the Germans entered town, the Gestapo ordered the establishment of the Judenrat, headed by Dr. Ignatz Duldig, who suggested the Judenrat be comprised of over twenty members, including rabbis, doctors, lawyers, industrialists and so forth. At the first meeting, Dr. Duldig announced that the sole function of the Judenrat was to implement all orders issued by the Gestapo. Dr. Duldig established several committees: a) the treasury committee, lead by Dr. Duldig; b) the economical committee, lead by Dr. Kronberg; c) the health committee, lead by Dr. Wiltscher 36 ; d) the religion and culture committee; e) the housing committee, lead by Dr. Finkelstein; and f) the police, lead by Trau and Goldberg. These committees planned all their activities in accordance with the Gestapo’s orders and they were held responsible for any transgression committed by a Jew.

photo of Dr. Ignatz Duldig, Head of Judenrat

Until July, 1942, the Germans were "law abiding," although they imposed more severe sentencing on transgressors and confiscated Jewish apartments, including their furnishings. On a bitterly cold winter morning on December 26, 1941, there suddenly appeared Schupo 37 officers on the streets, and removed any furs and fur collars from the coats of all Jewish men and women on the streets. They also removed winter boots from peoples’ feet, mostly women, and left them barefoot in the harsh cold. At the same time, Schupo officers and German citizens, together with Polish policemen, raided all Jewish houses and removed furs, clothing and fine fabrics. The Jews were indifferent to this pillage and took comfort in the fact that nothing more severe had occurred.

Occasionally, Ukrainians or Poles who "privately" abused Jews were severely punished, which made the Jewish people hopeful that at least the Ukrainians and the Poles would not be allowed to abuse them.

During this difficult period some Jews made a living from crafts and others, despite the prohibition, carried on trade among themselves (as tailors, shoemakers and so forth), and even sometimes with non-Jews. Others could barely make a living from bartering various possessions with the goyim 38 in return for food. The impoverishment that had begun during Russian times became insufferable. Few Jewish people had any money or valuables left at all. Often, these remaining few were forced by the Judenrat to give them donations.

At the end of June and the beginning of July, 1942, more and more rumors spread of anti-Jewish riots in Tarnow, Risha 39 , and other places. It was difficult to confirm these persistent rumors, and the Judenrat members tried to find out from the Gestapo whether or not they were true. The Gestapo admitted that they were absolutely true and promised to prevent this harsh fate from befalling the Jews of Przemysl if they "behaved well." When asked by the Judenrat how they could do this, they were told by Bentin, the Gestapo "boss," that if the Judenrat provided him with one-thousand young people who were capable of working at the camp in Lvov (which was called "Janowska"), the Przemysl Jews would be safe. After a lengthy public debate, the demand was accepted and a committee was chosen, comprised of Moshe Gotfried, Dr. Aberdam, Dr. Tennenbaum, Dr. Finkelstein and others.

The list of designated "workers" was drawn up according to the lists maintained by the labor office, whose manager for the Jewish section was Dr. Tennenbaum. There was not much attention paid to age or health, but they did try to consider the rights and obligations of the people, such as whether they were an only child, or had an illness that might be exacerbated by hard physical labor. According to the rumors, which cannot be confirmed to this day, the committee selected an additional two-hundred people, so that others could be taken off the list if necessary. There were also rumors of bribery and discrimination against those who were unable to pay.

[Page 379]

The day arrived when the thousand people were to be transported to Lvov – June 18, 1942. The youngsters were locked up and remained under heavy guard by the Jewish police. But on that same day, Gestapo and Schupo members arrived and conducted the "transport" according to their particular plan and brought the people to the train station. While the transport was being arranged, some family members of the youngsters who came to bid them farewell, intending to return home afterwards, were shot by the Gestapo, under the malicious pretext that they were actually transport members trying to escape.

There were many casualties on that day, and the streets of the ghetto were red with blood – a foreshadowing of things to come. In addition to the demand for one-thousand people, the Gestapo also demanded a sum of money from the Jews, and the Judenrat had no choice but to comply. The Jews, therefore, gave not only blood, but also gold and silver, in order to free themselves of further troubles. But all these donations and victims were in vain. After a short while the ghetto was closed, and as a result of the closure came the first aktion. At the beginning of July, 1942, it was already clear that the ghetto would be closed soon, but its borders had not yet been demarcated. On July 10 it became evident that the border of the ghetto would be along Jagiellonska street, starting from Mnisza street until the next block.

photocopy of proclamation of Ghetto boundaries

[Page 380]

This section was joined to the ghetto by means of openings in the walls of the houses which lead to the viaduct and from there to Garbarze. When the plan was made public, Jews from all over town who had remained there thus far, began to flow into this ghetto area. They saw it as a safe haven, because it had an opening to the main section of town. And of course, everyone went to their friends and relatives and asked to be taken in—and they were warmly welcomed. In this way, some two-thousand people and all their belongings became concentrated in a relatively small area (ten buildings). On July 14, announcements of the official closing of the ghetto were posted. These announcements said that any Jew found without a special permit outside the ghetto, could expect a severe punishment, even death. Any non-Jew who sheltered a Jew in their house would be similarly punished. The ghetto was closed on July 15.

Interestingly, from the moment the ghetto was closed the Jews felt that they had more freedom, despite the fact that they were caged in. There were two reasons for this: firstly, they had previously been living in hostile surroundings and secondly, until then, any German could enter their house at any moment. In the preceding period, many criminal elements from Germany had arrived in town, and they would go into Jewish houses and make liberal use of them. From now on, the ghetto was "off limits" to any non-Jews, including Germans.

When the ghetto was closed, people began settling into their new apartments as best they could. First and foremost, they needed to find ways to make a living. Some sharp people opened up small stores in their houses, apart from the official Judenrat stores, in which you could buy permitted groceries and other articles intended for daily consumption. Sale of meat was strictly prohibited. Jews who ate meat were liable to be given the death sentence. Provisions were obtained by the Judenrat, who were given rations by the Germans. Groceries were also smuggled in from the main part of town. Many housewives earned their living by baking cakes. These cakes were much sought after in the stores, because for many it was the only food they ever had. The Judenrat established a kitchen where soup or coffee was distributed twice daily.

As for religious life, only one small synagogue remained open, on Mnisza street, where the residents of the Mnisza block of the ghetto congregated. In addition, several kleiselach were opened throughout Garbarze, particularly on Czarnieckiego street, in which the prayers congregated while taking every possible precaution. The social and cultural life was reduced to walking through the streets, as this was the only way to find out what was new in the town and in the world. There was also one underground radio transmission.

After a week of quiet in the closed ghetto, rumors spread regarding an aktion which would soon be pronounced against the Jews, and of the need to sign up for some kind of essential work for the Germans. There were various jobs, including working for the Baudienst 40 , Wermacht 41 , Reiser and others. Due to the fact that the demand for work was far greater than the number of available jobs, acceptance to a job was dependent on bribery or other forms of protektzia 42 .

On July 23, 1942, the Gestapo notified the Judenrat that indeed on the 27th of July there would be an aktion which would include most of the ghetto residents. Those who were employed in essential positions and a few others who would be given a Gestapo stamp on their work cards, would not be deported. The Judenrat was ordered to prepare for the aktion. The tension was high, as there was no knowledge of what form the aktion would take. Although they had experienced deportations when the thousand youths had been sent to Lvov, everyone tried to find an appropriate job, in a variety of methods. On July 24, the Judenrat collected all the population’s work cards and handed them over to the Gestapo. And on the 26th, those cards which had been marked with a Gestapo stamp were returned.

That afternoon, crowds gathered in front of the Judenrat office and waited to hear their fate. Those who were not present there cannot imagine the terrible scene: shouting, waling which pierced the sky, fainting, assaults on Judenrat employees. But all was in vain. Dr. Duldig brought 5,000 stamped cards – he could obtain no more from the Gestapo.

[Page 381]

In those days the ghetto housed some 22,000 people (the 17,000 who had lived there when the Germans entered were joined by some 5,000 Jews from the surrounding area, including Bircza, Krzywcza, Nizankowice, Dynow, etc.) – this meant that 17,000 had been sentenced to deportation.

While the cards were being stamped, the Gestapo and Schupo had surrounded the entire ghetto, fully armed. No one was allowed to enter or leave. That night, no one in the ghetto slept a moment. Intermittent shots could be heard from the borders of the ghetto, and weeping children and adults disturbed the silence within.

photocopy of Meldekarte, a registration card with an official seal, which temporarily delayed the deportation

During the night, the Jewish police walked from house to house in the ghetto and prepared the deportees for their journey. They even took many people out of their homes and lead them to the deportation square. In many cases, policemen forcefully dragged their own parents out of their homes.

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Early in the morning, posters were discovered on the walls of the ghetto with the following announcement:

  1. Today the Judenaussiedlung (deportation of the Jews) will begin in Przemysl.
  2. The following people will not be deported: a) those whose work card is stamped with a Gestapo stamp; b) The Judenrat and its employees; c) employees of the hospital, which will remain open at present.
  3. Whoever attempts to evade the deportation will be shot.
  4. Whoever aids a Jew in evading the deportation will be shot.
  5. All Jews living in the Mnisza block and in the ghetto must gather at 7 this morning, from the viaduct until Czarnieckiego and Kopernika, in the Targowica square, and will be taken from there to the train station.
  6. Each deportee may take one package weighing no more than 10 kilograms.

In Niznakowice, the town next to Przemysl, lived Dr. Klinghoffer, who was liked by one and all—an excellent doctor and a very decent man. His hobby was beekeeping, he had some 12 hives. He also loved flowers and grew many kinds of roses. Before the ghetto was closed, all the Jews from neighboring towns were sent to Przemysl, including the Jews of Niznakowice, and Dr. Klinghoffer among them. When the ghetto was closed off he was extremely depressed, not because he had been wronged but because he believed that the whole world was good – he still could not accept the terrible situation. Something inside him had broken: his faith in man. But until the first aktion he still harbored some hope that things would return to their prior state. Then came the aktion. On the first day of the first aktion, Klinghoffer met an SS soldier on Czarnieckiego street and did not greet him by taking off his cap, as ordered. The SS man then approached him, slapped his face and asked him "why do you not remove your hat?" Dr. Klinghoffer took off the Magen David from his arm, threw the tattered cloth on the ground, and yelled at him: "You are murderers! God will punish you!" Of course, the doctor was immediately taken to a corner of the ghetto and shot, not before being severely beaten.

Despite the warnings and punishments intended for escaped deportees, many of them hid and did not come to the deportation square. But most families, including all the children and the elderly, went out in their best clothes, as if it were a holiday, carrying their belongings wrapped in white sheets on their shoulders. They walked dejectedly, but they believed that they were being taken to a working place in the east.

The people gathered in the deportation square. Disabled, elderly, and sick people, who could not walk and had to be carried from their homes on stretchers, were taken to a small square in the ghetto and shot. Among these people were Mr. Laub, and Lette the seamstress. Dr. Grabscheid, the eldest doctor, whom they tried to lead to this square, knew what would happen to him there and so he tried to protest the order and announced that he was strong enough to travel with the deportees in the eastbound transport. He was then lead along with the others in trucks to Grochowce, where they were all killed. Afterwards, the Gestapo took all their families to the deportation square, when the first transport had left for the train, and shot them there. There was one sick woman who came with a child in her arms. She was shot and the child was killed by a Gestapo man, who took him by one leg and smashed his head against the wall.

An interesting case occurred that morning, as soon as the aktion started, which testified to the poor relations between the Gestapo and the Wermacht. When the aktion began, the military commander of the town demanded that the Jews who worked in the Wermacht not be deported, even though they did not have Gestapo stamps. The Gestapo refused to comply with this demand, whereupon the Wermacht occupied the bridges which connected the two parts of town, prevented the Gestapo from using them, and even threatened that they would not allow the train transport to go through.

[Page 383]

Finally, after phone calls to Krakow, the Gestapo agreed to the Wermacht’s demand. At the height of the day’s aktion, the Judenrat head, Dr. Duldig, and his assistant, Mr. Rechter, were summoned to the Gestapo and there they were killed and buried in an unknown location.

As was mentioned above, despite the warnings and punishments, there were many cases of people who fled the deportation square, and others hid out in poor hiding places, where they were found by the Germans and shot. Everywhere lay bodies of men, women and children. After the first train left in the afternoon, the Judenrat was ordered to collect all the bodies – "to clean up" – and to take them to the cemetery. The bodies were piled up on carts, still bleeding. That was the end of the first day of the first aktion. On this day some seven-thousand Jews were transported, and there were still people who were certain that they really were just being moved to a different place. One example should suffice to illustrate the refusal of many Jews to believe that such a cruel massacre could occur: some six weeks after the first aktion, a Polish railroad worker told of how the Jews were being annihilated at Belzec with electricity, in the shower chambers. The Jews did not believe him, and thought the story had been invented in order to scare them.

After a three day intermission, the Jews prepared themselves for the second day of the aktion. The preparations were slow. There were discussions regarding the equipment that should be taken on the trip. (Dr. Henner, for example, discussed with his friends whether to take more than two syringes and which injections to take, for surely there in the east, they had nothing. Old Dr. Blech wondered whether to take more than two pairs of shoes, how many nightshirts, etc.) All the deportees took the "journey" very seriously. Immediately after the first transport, the Gestapo issued an urgent order that all the Mnisza block and the section until Kopernika must be evacuated within an hour. From that block, the frightened people took with them only what they could carry. Because the passage to the viaduct from the houses lead through small gaps in the walls, they could only take small objects. Therefore, all the people from these parts of the ghetto had to leave behind almost all their belongings, which were taken out by the Germans and put on trains traveling to an unknown place. The "cleanup" work in these houses and in all the other deserted houses was assigned to the Jews who remained.

It should be noted that next to the abandoned houses, a large crowd of Polish people gathered – anticipating looting – but the Germans would not allow them to enter the houses, and there were cases of shooting into the crowd which stormed these houses.

The continuation of the first aktion was set for July 31, 1942. The Jewish residents of Czarnieckiego, Kopernika and all neighboring streets were summoned to the deportation square at 2 or 3 in the afternoon, according to the previous procedures. It is known that on that day there were no evaders, or at least the Germans did not search for any. The Jews were punctual and arrived at the deportation place on time. A total of 3,000 people were taken, and again there were three days of "rest."

On August 3, 1942, the final stage of the first aktion was carried out. On this day, all Jews remaining in the ghetto—including those who had Gestapo stamps—were ordered to gather in the square in front of the Judenrat office at 7 in the morning, to hold their work cards and to wait for the Gestapo. The Jews came as ordered and stood in the designated place for several hours until the entire Gestapo gang came, lead by the head "boss," Scherner from Krakow. The Gestapo went from one person to the next and inspected all the cards. At the same time, Gestapo and SS officers went from house to house and checked every corner to make sure no one was hiding. They found a few ill people, but these were mostly people who had stamped cards, and those who did not have stamped cards were sent, after being beaten, to the deportation square.

After this thorough examination, all the Jews were allowed to return "home." But those who had no stamp, and also some of the people who did have stamps who worked for the Judenrat, were ordered to gather at precisely 3 that afternoon in the square.

[Page 384]

Everyone arrived as ordered. A special guard accompanied the roentgenologist, Dr. Rinde, with his wife and daughter, because a complaint had been filed against him by a Volksdeutche that he had treated Arian patients. Also present were old Dr. Hass, Krener, Rosenfeld, Dr. Schattner, Dr. Oberhard, Dr. Gottdank and many others. Fortunately for Dr. Schattner, Dr. Oberhard and Dr. Gottdank, they were required by Dr. Wilczer 43 , director of the Judenrat’s health committee, to stay behind as disinfection workers. The Gestapo did not object to their remaining. Y. Goldberg was also taken off the train and allowed to return home that day.

That was the end of the first aktion. 6,500 people had been deported on the first day, on the second day, 3,000, and on the third day, approximately 3,000. Altogether – 12,500 people.

The day after the aktion was over, the Gestapo demanded a substantial amount of money in return for arranging the transport (the train, and the provisions for the deportees), and also demanded payment for the construction of new barbed wire fences around the borders of the diminished ghetto. The Jews had no choice but to pay everything.

As the third transport of the first aktion was being prepared, some Gestapo and SS people appeared at the hospital, took all the patients out and shot almost all of them to death. Patients who were capable of walking, as well as most of the hospital workers, were transported in trucks to the deportation square.

During the aktion, from July 27 until August 3, there were suicides and many cases of euthanasia 44 in physicians’ families. Old Rinde and his wife were the first, and many followed.

After the first aktion, many people waited for signs of life from those who had been taken away, and there were some postcards from a few people to their families or friends. They were only greetings and notices that "everything was alright." After a long time, it became evident that these postcards were given to the deportees by the Gestapo on the way, and they were forced to write on them whatever the Gestapo dictated.

Slowly, things became calmer. The monetary fine was paid and for a while the Gestapo had no demands from the Jews who remained. It was the quiet after the storm. People started settling in to their new places. They opened the stores that had been closed, and the synagogues—the kleiselach—reawakened.

Some six weeks after the aktion, the Gestapo announced that it was willing to forgive people who had hid and evaded the aktion, and to give them new stamps so that they could be "legal" in the ghetto.

Many people believed these promises and were given stamps on their work cards – not the usual round stamp, but rather an oval stamp. These people were relieved to have been given, ostensibly, a legal status in the ghetto.

But after a few days the Gestapo announced, by means of the Judenrat, that people bearing the new stamp must come to a certain place in the ghetto, to be assigned jobs. The people arrived and the Gestapo placed them all in trucks, as if to take them to their jobs. We learned later that they were taken to the cemetery and murdered there, some one hundred people.

During the same period, all the converts in town were also killed. Suddenly, with no announcement, they were all captured after a brief chase, taken to the Jewish cemetery and killed there, despite the promises that had been made to the Polish Bishop.

Roughly a month before the second aktion, in the middle of October, it was already common knowledge that the transports that had been taken away in the first aktion had been killed, and then the Jews in the ghetto began to work feverishly in order to be better prepared for the second aktion. Bunkers and other kinds of safe hiding places were built in almost every house. These underground fortresses were equipped with all the necessary provisions (water, food, etc.)

[Page 385]

During those days there was already talk of a new aktion. The Judenrat denied the rumors, but they recommended that everyone register for the Werkstätte, 45 the institution that would soon be opened. But this was no easy feat – registering there required paying money to the intended director of the German institution, Ferster. For this reason, most people did not register on time, but waited until the last moment. Until November 16, 1942, there was no information regarding the new aktion. As has been mentioned, even the Judenrat denied the rumors of an aktion. On the 17 of November, it became clear that there would be an aktion within the next few days, and in the evening the ghetto was surrounded by the Gestapo and the Schupo, as had occurred in the previous aktion.

This aktion was supposed to be the aktion which would liquidate the ghetto, or as it was called, the Judenreinaktion (cleansing of Jews). There were 9,500 people in the ghetto and some 1,500 who worked in essential jobs (Werkstätte, Wermacht, Reiser, etc.), who were to be left alive for the time being. But this time the Jews disrupted the Germans’ count.

When the aktion began on November 18, all those who worked in the barracks and on Czarnieckiego were gathered by the Gestapo early in the morning and were not allowed to enter or leave after 8 in the morning. At the same time, the Germans, together with the Jewish police, went from house to house to take out all the Jews to the deportation square. It was a gloomy, sleeting winter day and the group being lead to their slaughter was severely depressed. Many tried to escape as they were walking to the square, and even from the square itself, but most of them were killed, among them Dr. Blech, the young lawyer. Again, there were many casualties that day. Even those few people whom the Germans found in the bunkers were immediately shot. At the end of the aktion the Gestapo destroyed the orphanage, which housed 80 children who had remained after the first aktion. In this aktion there was much "demand" for children; they even took the only son of Dr. Rebhan, who was then the head of the Judenrat.

On this day, 3,500 people were brought to the deportation square, and according to the count there was a "deficit" of 4,500 people whom the Germans could not locate.

The people intended for deportation were waiting in the square when an appell (a roll-call) was announced in the barracks were the people were locked in. When everyone stood to attention, the head of the Gestapo, Benvitz, came with his party and all his guests from the Krakow Gestapo, and read from a scroll the names of all the people. Those whose names were read out stayed in the barracks and those whose names were not were mercilessly lead to the deportation square. Among them were Dr. Stapp and his wife. It was later discovered that those who had only registered for the Werkstätte during the final days were not admitted to work, and were thereby destined for deportation.

According to the "account" there should have been some 4,500 additional people in the ghetto who were not included in the count of the workers, and the Germans therefore decided a couple of days after the aktion to establish a new ghetto, made up of the people who had stayed in the bunkers. Many Jews remained there for a long time without daring to leave, because they were already familiar with the Germans’ tactics from the first aktion. They were given "sacred" promises, with the German Ehrenwort ("word of honor"). This situation lasted for about a week, until the Judenrat members who could be trusted decided that it was alright to go out in daylight and settle into the new apartments.

After the second aktion the ghetto was divided into two parts: ghetto A and ghetto B. Ghetto A was for the workers and ghetto B was for the non-workers. Passing between the two ghettos was strictly prohibited. Ghetto A, which was in fact intended as a future work camp (Zwangsarbeitslager) was made up of the area surrounding Iwaszkiewicza square, and ghetto B was the front part of the previous ghetto.

In ghetto A there were some 800 people and in ghetto B there were approximately 4,000, and this number changed daily as Jewish people from all over the area streamed into the new ghetto as if to a safe haven.

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Until early February, 1943, the ghetto division was informal. Upon the arrival of SS commander Schwammberger, the camp was given its official title. Schwammberger came from Rozwadow, after the complete annihilation of the local ghetto, along with a few remaining Jews: Jons, Wasserman, and others. From among the residents of our ghetto, Teich and Dodowicz were prepared to help.

Schwammberger began planning the way of life in the forced labor camp, with the help of his advisors.

First, they arranged the Werkstätte: three departments were opened for sewing, toy manufacturing and sorting out the clothes of the deceased. The latter department supplied all raw materials needed for the other two departments. Finally, another factory was opened for feather cleaning.

All workers had to be at their positions by 6 in the morning. Each department was supervised by the Jewish police and by supervisors from among the workers, who were responsible to Schwammberger for the productivity and work hours (12 – 14 hours). Anyone who missed work or was late would be severely punished. There were such cases, and the punishment was to be transferred to ghetto B, in addition to severe physical castigation.

We should note here that the behavior of the supervisors was faultless, apart from one irregular case involving officer Larssen, who was an evil and sadistic man by nature and who was truly happy when he was able to snitch on someone. The other supervisors tried to help the workers as best they could and even took many risks.

In ghetto A there were some 1,000 workers (apart from 300 "illegal" children, elderly and sick people). In ghetto B, too, there were roughly 200-300 people who went to work in the Reiser, the Baudienst and other places. In addition to these, some 100 people worked in the Wermacht and they were concentrated in the barracks.

Ghetto A, or the camp, was empty all day because everyone was at work. Only during the evening hours could people be seen in the streets. From time to time, Schwammberger himself would visit during the day. Usually everything went well, because the Jewish police had lookout points from which they could give advanced warning, by means of prearranged signs, that Schwammberger was coming, and then all workers would assume their positions and work would proceed. But there were some unusual occasions when Schwammberger surprised the camp with his visit, and people who were caught off work were severely punished by flogging, imprisonment, and transfers from the camp to ghetto B.

In May 1943, Schwammberger suddenly ordered the Jews in the camp to organize an orchestra. There were not many people in ghetto A who could play a musical instrument, so Professor Silber, who had taken charge of the initiative, asked Schwammberger to allow him to take people from ghetto B who could play. He was allowed to do so, and only two weeks after its establishment, the orchestra performed in public, from one of the open balconies which looked onto Iwaszkiewicza street. Schwammberger, with his wife and party, "honored" this first performance with his presence and listened to the Viennese waltzes and other tunes. This did not prevent Schwammberger from doing his job, because the next day he killed two people who were standing by the barbed wire fence conducting some kind of deal with the Arians. The orchestra played three times a week, it was a kind of "platzmusic 46 for the workers, who were ordered to gather at the "concert" location.

And thus, between concerts and shooting, and between shooting and working, the days passed by with not a glimmer of hope. Everyone sensed that the concerts were a deception maneuver, a sort of anesthetic in preparation for future events.

In the middle of April, 1943, a group of youngsters organized themselves, headed by Brunk, Kastner and Grin – these were energetic and active young people, who went outside the ghetto on their way to the woods surrounding Przemysl. They had received word that there were Partisans there and were sure they could enlist their help and cooperate in their activities. Before their departure, they were assisted by all the ghetto residents, who kept the plan from the Judenrat.

To the great sadness of all the Jews, word came that the entire group, some 12 men, had been killed near Przemysl by Ukrainians and there was only one survivor. He returned to the ghetto the day after one of the Gestapo men, Reisner, was severely injured.

[Page 387]

Various witnesses reported this affair, either having heard of it or having apparently seen it. From all these witness accounts, the following picture can be surmised: on May 10, 1943, in the evening, Reisner, who was inebriated, passed through the barbed wire fence into the ghetto, apparently making his way to meet a young Jewish woman he knew. On his way he met a young Jewish man – Meir Krebs – who was accompanied by a young girl and another young man. Reisner was a notoriously cruel member of the Gestapo, and when he saw Krebs he aimed his gun at him and ordered him to put his hands up and turn around. Krebs, who saw the danger coming, did not hesitate a moment, drew a knife, stabbed Reisner several times, and took his gun from him. Reisner collapsed, started crying for mercy and passed out. Krebs, who thought Reisner was dead, immediately ran into town, where he found a hiding place.

When the event was made public, the Gestapo came into the ghetto, killed several people and took 50 hostages. They promised to return them if Krebs and his accomplices were turned over to them. The Jewish police began a search around the ghetto and in the Arian part of town, and on their way they met Green, who had returned from the Partisans without anyone knowing, and another young man whose name was either Grost or Groft. They imprisoned them, but could not find Krebs.

Krebs, who later was discovered to have been hiding in the attic of the Scheinbach synagogue, began to have hunger pangs and sent a stranger whom he met on the street near his hiding place to the ghetto, to get immediate help and bring food and water. This messenger came across the Jewish police and that is how they found out where Krebs was hiding. Krebs did not use the gun he had; he turned himself over to the police voluntarily. The police notified the Gestapo that the entire "criminal gang" had been caught.

The three were handed over to the Gestapo, which held a public hanging in the ghetto square, at which all the ghetto residents, including the Judenrat, were forced to attend. The Gestapo commanded the Jewish police to implement the hanging sentence. The first policeman who was ordered to hang the people passed out. After a brief negotiation, another policeman took on the duty and did what he had to do. Krebs was hung first, then Green, who yelled as he went up to the gallows: "Cruel murderers! You bear the responsibility for our deaths! God will avenge us!" After the sentencing was carried out, another 27 of the hostages were shot and killed, despite the promise that they would be released. The remaining 23 were released.

A short time after this event, the Gestapo made a strange proposal: 30 young people who were being held in prison for various crimes, and who had been sentenced to death, should be replaced with elderly people to be given over by the Judenrat. Within the Judenrat there were many arguments, but after the deliberations they decided to make the "deal." No one in the ghetto knew of it, and one night the ghetto police raided all the houses and took out anyone who struck them as old. The "deal" was carried out: the old people went to prison and the youngsters left it.

This affair caused many heated arguments, even long after it was over. It stirred up the entire little kibbutz in the ghetto, and after the war it affected all the Jews in town as well. No one was able to decide whether this act was permissible. One thing became clear in the affair: the Germans wanted to devastate the Jewish moral values, to humiliate them and to test them under circumstances which would not normally exist.

That was how life went on in ghetto A and ghetto B, and between one event and the other, life was relatively quiet. Occasionally, some professional workers from other work camps would be demanded, and the sign for this demand was the entrance of trucks into the ghetto. Generally, any vehicle entering the ghetto was a bad sign. Any sound of a motor in the ghetto, heard in the still of night, would cause fear and fleeing into the bunkers, which were already prepared. When it turned out that it was just a transport of workers or an unimportant announcement, things calmed down.

[Page 388]

During August there was already talk in the ghetto of a new aktion, but the rumors were not taken seriously. On September 2, 1943, in the early morning, when cars were heard in the ghetto, no one thought it was the beginning of an aktion. Only when they learned that the ghetto was already surrounded by the Gestapo, did they realize what it was.

At 3 in the morning the first shots were heard. The first victims were the people who tried to escape the ghetto at the last minute – most of them had recently been smuggled in from outside, into this last remaining ghetto in the east.

All ghetto B residents were ordered to go to the deportation square. Almost everyone hid in their bunkers. But the Germans, by means of an entire battalion equipped with war weapons, took out all the Jews they could from the bunkers – some 3,500 people. They put them onto trains and sent them to Auschwitz. This was on September 2, and the next day the Gestapo took 600 people from the work camp and sent them to the death camp in Szebnie. They left the remaining 250 people, ostensibly for "cleanup" work. According to the Gestapo’s estimate there were still some 1,200 people missing. They began to search for them. With the aid of the Schupo and the engineering corps, they bombed any house that aroused their suspicion and after great efforts managed to find 300 more Jews. The Gestapo did not harm them, but concentrated them in two houses surrounded by barbed wire and appointed a new Judenrat, headed by Mr. Neubort, who was charged with the well-being of the people. The Gestapo promised that the Jews would stay there for two weeks and then be sent to work in Szebnie. Meanwhile, the Germans tried to find the rest of the Jews hiding in bunkers, and the head of the Gestapo even announced that he would send the people who voluntarily left their bunkers to Szebnie. This promise was given personally to the Judenrat, with their Ehrenwort ("word of honor") that it would be kept.

Based on this promise, some 900 Jews left their bunkers and announced their willingness to "go to work." A small fraction of them were received by Schwammberger in return for a "fat redemption" to the camp, some were sent to perform cleanup jobs and others were taken to the new temporary ghetto. For a few days, things were calm. On September 10, Schwammberger suddenly ordered an appell (a count) in the camp, and apart from a few people he moved all those who he had ostensibly taken into the camp, to the temporary ghetto.

During the appell the Gestapo searched the barracks and all other places for Jews hiding out. In the barracks cellar an eight year old girl was found, the daughter of Dr. Falick, a German POW, whose wife had been taken to Szebnie on September 3. The girl was a pretty blond. One of the Gestapo people found her – Miller, a strong, extremely tall man, whose appearance was terrifying. Everyone who had gathered in the square could see that Miller did not know what to do with the girl, and after some hesitation he threw her right next to Schwammberger. He too did not know how to behave, but at the last minute some human emotion was aroused in him, and he tossed her into the arms of the Jews who were to remain in the camp, saying: "Here, take the foundling." Incidentally, this girl was saved and now lives in her father’s house in England. It should be noted that all the distinguished townspeople – the German citizens – had been invited to this appell. They all came in their best outfits, in order to witness what was being done to the Jews.

On September 11, Benvitz, the Gestapo head, ordered an appell in the temporary ghetto. Not one of the 1,200 people present at the appell suspected that their time had come. They thought they would simply be sent to Szebnie. Benvitz himself, together with the three Gestapo men, Richel, Tima and Bansch, arrived in the ghetto courtyard along with some members of the Ukrainian police. Benvitz took a large sheet of paper out of his bag and began to recite something that was not clear at first, or rather—the people did not want to comprehend it. But after a few moments everyone realized that this was their death sentence. The reason given for the punishment was their evasion from deportation. After the sentence was read out, Benvitz demanded from all the astounded people not to panic and that there must be no yelling or crying. The sentencing would not be painful, everyone would be killed by a shot in their back. He demanded that, one by one, groups of 50 people would take off all their clothes and walk in an orderly fashion to the killing spot. And that is what was done.

[Page 389]

In a hut in the last ghetto, which was known as "the circus" because of its round shape, the people took off their clothes and walked calmly toward the inferno next to the prison, where they were greeted by the three aforementioned Gestapo men. Calmly and quietly, without shedding a tear, they all went to their deaths. Antman, a rural Jewish man from Pikulice, a strong tall man, wanted to be first in line, followed by his son and wife, tall and strong like him. They were followed by the others.

The shooting went on for six hours. Each shot echoed and burned the ears of all the Jews who were still left, gathered in the barracks.

A mother cried out: "Now they are shooting my child!" and a sister sighed and cried as if she sensed that her brother was being killed at that moment. And in the corner, a man stood beating his chest, enthusiastically reciting a confession, as if he were facing his sentence. Many tried to stop up their ears with something.

As soon as the shooting ended, Richel, the Gestapo man, arrived in the courtyard and demanded that Schwammberger give him two people to help burn the bodies of the victims. He was given Greor from Dobromil and Wolfling (a goldsmith) from Przemysl. The next day he asked for two more people and then Schwammberger asked the Jews to choose two people themselves. No one was willing to do it, so Schwammberger sat down in the barracks courtyard and announced that the first two people to appear in the yard would be taken for the job. To their misfortune, two well-known violinists appeared first, Professor Silber and Mr. Rosenzweig, and Schwammberger took them to the killing place.

photo of the violinist Klemens Silber

[Page 390]

For five days and five nights the fires burned and a thick cloud of black smoke hung over the entire ghetto and throughout the town. As the townspeople later recounted, the air was poisoned with the sweet, nauseating smell. Everything seemed to be covered with a palpable layer of sticky grease. Peoples’ hands, faces and even slices of bread (which were then a rare commodity), made them sick.

After all the bodies had been burned, under Gestapo supervision, the four Jews who had helped with the burning were made to go through the ashes and search for any pieces of gold or other valuables. After the cleaning up, the Gestapo lead these four people to Bakonczyce and killed them with a hand grenade. They loaded the remaining ashes onto carts and threw them into the San river.

At this point, we would like to commemorate two martyrs who voluntarily went to their deaths out of their love and devotion to their families. One, the son of Professor Brandler, decided at the last moment to die along with his parents. And the second, Shmuel Nagel (a Captain), refused to let his wife and child go to their deaths alone.

photo of the Mass Grave

After this slaughter, silence and depression pervaded the small remaining camp. There were no longer any allusions as to the bitter end. After a slight recovery, everyone started to think about the options of salvation. Those who were able, made contact with Polish people in town and asked for their help and shelter. These things could not be arranged within a moment.

[Page 391]

It was difficult to make contact, and the Poles themselves did not answer quickly. Even so, a number of people managed to escape. In some cases, the husband would escape and the wife remain, or the opposite. When Schwammberger found out – and it was not difficult to detect the missing numbers in such a small group of people, especially when an appell was conducted two or three times a day – any remaining relative would be killed, with few exceptions. There was a significant number of "illegal" people in the ghetto who managed to leave.

All the residents of the small camp thought that that had been the last aktion. The September aktion had been the last, but to their surprise there was another "little" aktion. On November 28, the Gestapo entered the tiny ghetto and took out a hundred people who were sent to Szebnie. There were 150 people left in the ghetto, apart from the "illegals", among them a few children. After this little aktion, the numbers slowly decreased, as a result of escapes, and even all the Judenrat people defected. Only a few were left, and they were sent away at the end of February 1944, some to Stalowa Wola and some to Auschwitz.

Among those who remained until the bitter end was the renowned author, Matityahu Mieses 47 . He was a modest man who worked and wrote while he lived in the ghetto and in the camp (according to accounts of his acquaintances), and recorded his memoirs of everything that happened during the Shoah. He was one of the people sent on September, 1943 to Szebnie, but he was returned to Przemysl after an order was given from above. Some six months before the final aktion, on September 2, two senior ranking Germans visited the camp. One of them was a scholar who wanted to visit the library (which housed the books accumulated from all the private and public libraries of Przemysl Jews). In the library he met Mr. Mieses, who was then the library director. He talked with Mieses for a while and recognized him as a knowledgeable man, and tried to save him. And indeed, Mieses remained in the camp until its complete destruction, and was then sent to Plaszow. From there he was forced to walk to Germany, as the front neared. He collapsed on the way and was shot.

Mieses, who was the director of the library and whose assistants were Moshe and Shmuel Gotfreid, Dr. Oberhard, Asher Tuchmann, Isador Mahler, and Prof. Brandler, regarded himself as an independent commander in the place. When Schwammberger once paid a surprise visit to the library and saw people talking, he commented: "The gentlemen are having a pleasant conversation, are they?" To which Mieses replied, "Why are you asking? You have lost the war anyway." Schwammberger’s only response was to leave the library.

The camp was destroyed at the end of February, which meant that in theory there should not have been any Jews remaining in Przemysl. But in fact there were still some remaining bunkers, with approximately 120 Jews, in the town of Przemysl and its surroundings. According to our information, from March to August, 1944, three or four bunkers housing forty to fifty Jews were destroyed.

We would like to mention at this point Dr. Loebel, who until 1934 or thereabouts, was a gynecologist in the town of Przemysl (he was the son in law of Meir Honikoks, of blessed memory). He was appointed director of the Jewish hospital in Sieldlce, where he demonstrated his skills as a doctor and as the administrator of the institution. In October, 1939, the Nazis appointed him head of the Judenrat and he fulfilled the position honorably and won the respect of the Jewish population. He continued to work as the hospital director. On the Sabbath of August 28, when the Nazis ordered all the Jews to gather in the Umschlagsplatz 48 to be sorted, Dr. Loebel came with all the organizers, even though the hospital director was permitted to stay at the hospital; this caused the Gestapo head to promise that no harm would come to him.

photo of Dr. Henryk Loebel

[Page 392]

Many injured and dead Jews lay on the Umschlagsplatz, and Dr. Loebel asked the German murderers to be allowed to transport the injured people to the hospital. He was given permission and thereby many injured people were saved in the hospital. That evening, those who had been selected as capable of working were moved to the small ghetto, and Dr. Loebel was ordered by the head of the Gestapo to leave his residence at the hospital and move to the small ghetto. Dr. Loebel replied to the Gestapo man: "I will not leave the hospital. I will share the fate of the nurses" – and indeed, he did share their fate.

Two days after the ghetto liquidation, the hospital was destroyed too. After shooting all the patients in their beds, including the children, in Dr. Loebel’s presence, he and his wife were taken outside behind the hospital and shot, along with all the doctors and nurses. At the last moment of his life Dr. Loebel cried out "Death be upon you, murderers! The Jewish people will live long after you," after which he fell as a loyal soldier.

The Loebels’ son, Witek, hid for several months together with a number of young Jews, until they were finally killed by the Germans.

At the beginning of July, 1944, the front began to approach Przemysl rapidly, and on July 23 the town was bombed by Russian airplanes. These bombings were the first sign of liberation for the Jews who still remained in their bunkers. And on July 27, 1944, at three in the morning, all the bunker residents at the higher points of town heard a voice coming from the town center, "Davay Nazad" 49 and then everyone knew that the Russians had entered town. It was on July 27, the day on which two years previously the first aktion had begun in Przemysl.

It is difficult to describe the joy mixed with tears which pervaded on liberation day. In the morning, at approximately nine o’clock, the first Jews began to leave their bunkers, although the Russian army had not yet reached town and only small groups of Russian partisans had arrived. On the first day of liberation the Jews searched for one another and carried out a sort of count of the remaining people. On this day there were many who returned to their hiding places, because they still could not internalize the sense of liberation. They did not yet believe that redemption had come. Many Ukrainians and Poles spread rumors that the Germans would return. But these were false rumors. After a few days, a small number of Jews – approximately one hundred – gathered to examine the situation and decide what to do next.

Immediately following liberation, on July 27, 1944, the few survivors began to leave their bunkers. They were weak and helpless, scarcely more than skeletons, but they were all elated at being liberated, at the sense of freedom which they had not tasted for the past few years. At first there were some one hundred people in all, who left the gloom of the bunkers into daylight, and over time the number of survivors grew to 250 at most. During the first few days they did not realize how weakened they were and did not notice their physical and emotional wounds or give any thought to healing them. For a few days they just enjoyed their freedom, but after a while the situation changed. Everyone had come out from their holes – from darkness into light – to a new life full of hope that their wounds would soon be healed, but they were met with profound disappointment. They fell out of one empty space into another, because the entire "goyish" environment, which had been anti-Semitic before the war, was now, after Hitler’s downfall, even more cruel in their attitude to the survivors. The first question the Jews heard from their Polish "friends" was: "And you, Moishe – you’re still alive?" But even so, the survivors asked for shelter and livelihood and tried to somehow make do. At a general assembly, a Jewish committee was chosen, in accordance with the instructions from the Central Jewish Committee in Lublin, headed by Dr. Zormstein (the temporary Polish government had convened in Lublin at that time). At the head of the town committee was Dr. M. Schattner. The committee had wide jurisdiction, but it was given no financial resources, either by the government or by the Central Jewish Committee, and certainly not by the impoverished Jewish community.

[Page 393]

At first it was necessary to help the people who were literally starving. Second, there was an urgent need to help the orphans who had been left homeless, and those who for the time being were living with the Poles.

Despite great difficulties, everything suddenly went into motion. After lobbying and persuasion, the committee was finally given a house which had once belonged to the "community" on Tarnawskiego street, from the estate of the Goldman family. One floor in this house was designated for the orphans. This act—the establishment of an orphanage—was in fact the most important and urgent one, because there were many orphans in Przemysl and its surroundings who were living with Polish families or in various monasteries, who could then be retuned to the Jewish committee. Later, it was no longer such a simple matter to get the children back, as the "guardians" began to ask for vast sums of money in return.

It took huge efforts to move beds and other necessary equipment into the orphanage; the beds had been salvaged from the former Jewish hospital. Furthermore, the requisite financial support for the orphanage administration was organized.

Some 80 to 100 orphans were gathered. They resided there until the beginning of 1946, but then the Central Committee requested that they be transferred gradually to Krakow, Lublin and Lodz. Only a portion of the children moved, however, because a significant number of the orphans were taken to Israel during an "escape" which was secretly organized in mid-1945. The Central Committee in Lublin allocated monthly allowances to support the aid efforts. The Joint began aid efforts by sending food, sugar, flour and canned goods. Substantial packages of clothing and other provisions were also received from Irgun Olei Przemysl Be’Eretz Yisrael.

The activities of the Jewish Committee, whose direction was given over to Dr. Rubinfeld after Dr. Schattner left Poland at the end of 1945, continued for about two years, until it was dismantled by orders from above. Only a religious committee was left, which was responsible for administering to the religious needs of the Jews in the area.

photo of Orphanage 1946. Sitting from left: --- --- Poller, Dr. Susswein, Dr. Rubinfeld, Dr. Blech, Lazar.


Footnotes

*   With the participation and generous assistance of Shoah survivors Mrs. Brodner, Mrs. Kaspi Finkelstein, Mrs. Bauman, Mrs. Tennenbaum-Knapfel, Dr. Stremer, Y. Knapfel. Back
Editor's and Translator's notes
1.   Present name: Ivano-Frankivsk (ed.) Back
2.   Hava'ad Hayehudi (tr.) Back
3.   Zasanie is a part of Przemysl located on the north-western side of the river San. That part of the city had been under the German control since September 1939. The Soviets occupied the south-eastern part of the city until June, 1941. For more information about the history of the Holocaust in Przemysl see Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. An abbreviated version is available at the Simon Wiesenthal website at http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/text/x27/xm2780.html (ed). Back
4.   Term used for any non-military campaign to further Nazi ideals of race, but most often used to referred to the assembly and deportation of Jews to concentration or death camps (tr.). Back
5.   For more information about Belzec see the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust entry at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Website: http://motlc.wiesenthal.org/text/x03/xm0307.html Back
6.   Szebnie was a Nazi labor camp, located south-west of Rzeszow, between Krosno and Jaslo (ed). Back
7.   For more information about Joseph Schwammberger see The Last Nazi : Joseph Schwammbergerand the Nazi Past by Freiwald and Mendelson (ed.) Back
8.   The Soviet-Nazi Pact of August 1939 (the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact) has made it possible for the Soviet forces to occupy the eastern Polish territories. For more information see the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust entry at http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/text/x23/xm2305.html(ed). Back
9.   See also http://www.jewishgen.org/ShtetLinks/przemysl/murdered.htm (ed). Back
10.   This name is spelled Silber in other sources, including the English transliteration included in the Yizkor Book (p. 389). Because the Hebrew rendition of this name starts with the letter "zayin", the alternate spelling of this name could have been Zilber (ed.). Back
11.   See above (ed.). Back
12.   Lejzor? This name is spelled in Hebrew "lamed, vav, zayin, resh" (ed.) Back
13.   Or Ertig. Spelled "alef, resh, tet, gimel" (ed.). Back
14.   Spelled: "vav, vav, gimel, mem, nun". Possible alternatives: Wegman, Wagman (ed). Back
15.   Spelled "pe (phe), resh, yod, yod, resh". Possible alternative: Freier, Freyer. (ed.). Back
16.   Spelled: "pe (phe), yod, resh, resh". Possible alternative: Fuhrer, Firr (ed.). Back
17.   Pronounced: Tzvingerman (ed.). Back
18.   Or Zibecner (ed.). Back
19.   Spelling: "bet, resh, vav, khapf". Possible alternative: Broch (see : The 1929 Polish Business Directory) (ed.). Back
20.   Spelled with a "zayin" as the first letter but in other sources this name appears as Salzberg. Possible alternatives: Zalcberg, Zaltsberg (ed.). Back
21.   Yiddish for a small synagogue or a house of study (tr.). Back
22.   Lit. "House of Study." Jewish institution for religious studies (tr.). Back
23.   This possibly is a typographical error. According to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, the Soviets took possession of the city (i.e. the section located on the south-eastern bank of the river San) on September 28, 1939. Later (p. 376) the Yizkor Book also notes that he Russian period started as of September 28, 1939 (ed.) Back
24.   The Soviet secret service (tr.). Back
25.   Also called Jewish Bund. Jewish Socialist political movement founded in Vilnius in 1897. The movement was opposed to Zionism and Hebrew culture. Between WWI and WWII, its activities were centered in Poland. During World War II fought in the underground and joined the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) in 1942. In May 1943, Szmul Zygelbojm, a prominent Bund activist committed suicide in London, in protest against the western world's indifference towards the plight of the Jews (tr. & ed.) Back
26.   Spelled in Hebrew: "tet, resh, vav, yod, nun, qof, resh" (ed). Back
27.   Jewish charity organizations (tr.). Back
28.   Artels were Soviet workmen's cooperatives (ed.). Back
29.   This probably refers to the fact that, due to housing shortage, often additional tenants were assigned to apartments that were perceived as large. (ed.) Back
30.   The Zionist Labor Movement (tr.). Back
31.   A Jewish Zionist youth movement (tr.). Back
32.   Refers to the part of Przemysl located on the south-eastern bank of the river San, which, since September, 1939 had been under Soviet occupation. The north-western bank had already been in German hands since September 1939 (ed.). Back
33.   Spelled with an "u umlaut". (We are not including the umlaut here due to the fact that not all browsers can display all diacritical marks.) However, the name is transliterated in Hebrew with the first letter as being "zayin", second letter "yod", suggesting an alternative spelling of Zisswein (ed.). Back
34.   The star-shaped "Shield of David," a traditional Jewish symbol (tr.). Back
35.   Polish for high school (ed.) Back
36.   Probably spelled: Wilczer. Hebrew spelling: "vav, jod, lamed, tet, shin, resh" The Yizkor Book is not always consistent in surname spelling. Also see page 384 in the original text. (ed.). Back
37.   The abbreviation of Schutzpolizei - the German Police (tr.). Back
38.   Non-Jewish people (tr.). Back
39.   A name Jews used to refer to Rzeszow (ed.) Back
40.   A construction service belonging to the German ministry of labor (ed.) Back
41.   Units of the German military (tr.). Back
42.   This word, meaning favoritism or nepotism, is still commonly used in Hebrew (tr.). Back
43.   This time the name is spelled: "vav, jod, lamed, tsadi, apostrophe, resh" (see endnote #35 )(ed.) Back
44.   Alfred Steinhardt has shared with me that some physicians were able to administer poison to their family members rather than let them be killed by the Nazis. Mr. Steinhardt was present when a family friend injected his mother with poison, and after one hour she stopped breathing. (ed.) Back
45.   Network of factories (tr.). Back
46.   Music played in the square (platz) (ed.) Back
47.   This refers to Mateusz Mieses (see also p. 209 in the book: Personalities of the City in Caricature - not included on this website). Matityahu is the Hebrew rendition of the Polish name Mateusz. (ed.) Back
48.   Deportation square (tr.). Back
49.   Russian for "Commoner, back up!!" (ed). Back
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