Under Nazi Rule
September 1939: World War II
The war came to Radom in the early hours of its first day, Friday, September 1, 1939. German bombs had hit the airport and several buildings even before the population had a chance to hear the news of the attack on Poland over the radio. People were shocked into accepting the fact that the dreaded war was there, already claiming its first victims. The frantic last-minute defense preparations, such as digging trenches, made by practically everybody in the community, including the rabbis and the priests, proved to be completely useless. In the days that followed, more bombs fell on Radom, mostly in the densely populated Jewish section of the city.
On the 5th of September the town of Kielce (about forty miles from Radom) was captured by the Germans. Polish troops stationed in Radom left the city, and so did government agencies. They were followed by an exodus of draftees who did not know where to report and civilians who headed east in the belief that a stand against the Germans would be made there. People were fleeing all over the country; the roads were overcrowded with refugees on foot and in horse-driven wagonseasy prey for low flying German planes and dive bombers. To maintain some degree of order during those days of turmoil, the people who stayed behind in Radom formed a citizens' committee, which included several Jews.
One week after the war's start, on Friday, September 8th, the Germans marched in, unopposed. They moved through the empty streets which trembled beneath the tracks of hundreds of tanks and the roar of motorcycles. They occupied government buildings and hoisted their swastika flags, heralding the approach of the New Order.
This was the time of random bestiality and robberies under the guise of confiscations. Jews were kicked, beaten and humiliated; they were taken from their homes or from the streets to perform hard tasks which were often useless and senseless. German soldiers were given free hand to persecute the Jews and they invented diabolic schemes to amuse themselves at the expense of their defenseless victims. Several SS men were known by their favorite pastimecutting off beards of orthodox Jews, mostly on one side of the face only, and making them pose for photographs in grotesque positions. There were many instances of setting the victim's beard on fire with matches, while his hands were tied behind his back. Jews were ordered to take off their hats each time they passed a German in the street. Those who dared not to comply were beaten; frequently the Germans would beat even those who did remove their hats, saying that they did not wish the Jews to be their comrades. The abuses grew to such proportions that Jews left their homes only on urgent errands and when they did they moved in the shadows, through back streets and passages.
As the occupation apparatus was set up, thousands of Germans arrived in the city, both soldiers and civilians. They requisitioned Jewish homes and furnishings, ransacked Jewish stores and warehouses, and levied exorbitant fines on the Jewish community.
The first weeks and months of the occupation were marked by an ever-present fear of unexpected disaster, augmented by everyday occurrences of beatings and humiliation. The Jewish population speculated on what might be in store for them, expecting difficult times, but hoping that proven Jew-
ish sturdiness, forged in suffering, and an age-old will and ability to survive would withstand another test. In their wildest speculation, however, they did not envisage the events which led to the final destruction.
Martyrdom on Yom Kippur
During the High Holidays of 1939 the Jews were forbidden to hold services. The houses of worship, including the main synagogue, had been robbed of all religious objects and turned into stables and feed store-rooms by the Germans. In defiance of German orders, the Jews of Radom gathered in private homes to worship together on that first Yom Kippur under the Nazi occupation. In anticipation of this, the Germans had prepared a series of raids all over the tow: Jews were dragged into the streets in their prayer-shawls and forced to scrub sidewalks. Jonas Silberberg, the president of the Jewish Community, was made to run in the streets of Radom, carrying a heavy stone high above his head. After several hours of this ordeal he was incarcerated in the army barracks. A large group of elderly persons were forced to carry metal beds from a warehouse in one end of town to another, through the main streets, while the Germans beat them mercilessly with clubs and pistols. A man named Wiener was trampled to death by SS boots.
The second victim of the day was the Hebrew teacher Chaim David Waks. He was taken with a group of Jews to the army barracks and ordered to dig ditches. One German then tried, without success, to force Mr. Waks to eat pork. The German beat him relentlessly, but Waks still refused to take the pork, crying out repeatedly Shema Israel. A bullet put an end to his protests forever.
The Appointment of the Judenrat
On order from the Germans, the Jews had to form a committee which consisted at first of 50 people with Jacob Goldberg as chairman and Joseph Diamond as deputy. In October, an order came for the registration of all Jews, followed by another demanding that every day a certain number of Jews report to the Germans for work. Radom was then designated as the seat of one of the four districts of the General Government (the German name for occupied Poland), and the local Governor demanded of the Jewish population of the district a contribution of 2 million zlotys. When the Jews were unable to raise the money, the demand was changed to one thousand sets of bedding for the SS, which the Jews managed to supply.
In December 1939, conforming to an order by the Governor General for all occupied Poland, the German Stadthauptman (mayor) nominated Joseph Diamond as Aelteste der Juden (Elder of the Jews) to head a Judenrat (Jewish Council) of 24 persons. Its function was mainly to carry out orders of the occupation authorities.
During the first months of Nazi rule, the following decrees were issued by the Germans, aimed at robbing the Jews of their property and civil liberties. Most of the decrees were measures designed to humiliate the Jews and isolate them from the rest of the population, or simply to make their lives miserable.
From the very start of the Nazi occupation of Radom, manhunts for Jews in the streets wee the scourge of the community. Jews of all ages, even the sick, were rounded up by Germans and forced to perform hard work, which was accompanied by insults, blows and danger to life itself. Jews did not dare to venture out of doors for fear of being abducted and subjected to torture and humiliation.
To cope with the situation and to end indiscriminate manhunts, the Judenrat obligated itself to supply the required labor force, if the Germans stopped the raids. For this purpose, the Jewish council established an Arbeitsamt (employment office), whose task was to distribute the work load justly among the population. The former high school teacher, I. Wortsman, was appointed by the Judenrat to be chief of the office; he attempted to influence the Germans to ameliorate conditions on the jobs, to refrain from beating the workers and to supply them with food. In return, Wortsman assured the authorities to satisfy their daily demand for laborers.
Considerable improvement in this field was indeed accomplished, but not for long. For in the beginning the number of Jews demanded by the Germans was negligible, reaching only one hundred a day, and the employment office of the Judenrat easily enlisted volunteers. Soon, however, the German demands for forced labor grew rapidly to about one thousand to 1400 men daily. In addition, the Germans returned unchecked to their former tactics of rounding up Jews in the streets and homes and beating them.
The Arbeitsamt became the most powerful branch of the Judenrat. Joachim Geiger, a non-Radomer who had formerly worked under Wortsman as a minor clerk, replaced Wortsman as chief of the Arbeitsamt and used the position for his personal aggrandizement and profit. Under Geiger, everyone could be ransomed from forced labor for a fee; part of the proceeds was used to hire substitutes from the ever-growing masses of needy and hungry men who were willing to take any job to keep alive.
Congestion in Housing
With the influx of Germans with their families into Radom, Jews were thrown out of the better homes; whole street blocks in the newer residential sections were declared off limits to Jews. In addition, many Jewish and Polish refugees from the western territories annexed to the Reich arrived in Radom and caused further worsening of the housing situation. In order to justly divide available accommodations and to take care of Jewish refugees, the Judenrat created a Wohnungsamt (Housing Bureau) which, considering the circumstances, did a satisfactory job.
Shortage of Food
The first winter under German rule brought great hardships for the Jews of Radom. Fuel and food shortages became the major problems. Jews were discriminated against in the rationing system, which provided that Jews would receive half as much food as the Poles. In practice, however, the Jews obtained even less food than they were entitled to, ad suffered acute hunger. People stood in queues in front of bakeries all night in the bitter cold. Very frequently Jews were beaten and chased away from the waiting lines by both Poles and Germans.
The Judenrat brought some relief to the neediest by organizing soup-kitchens in several sections of the city. About 4,000 meals were handed out daily. Cut off from their source of income, most of the Jews could not afford to buy foodstuffs offered on the black market.
Of great help were food parcels sent in by the American Joint Distribution Committee, as well as a shipment of shoes distributed by the Joint representative, Mr. Israel Falk. The latter, in cooperation with the Judenrat, helped to provide matzos for the Jewish population of Radom during Passover 1940.
The overcrowding and lack of sufficient food caused the outbreak of epidemics among the Jews of Radom. The Germans' refusal to supply serum or medicines to combat the diseases contributed to increased mortality among the Jewish population.
Murder on Passover
During the Passover holiday of 1940, thirty-two Jews were summoned to appear for work at the German labor recruiting office; only eighteen reported. They were taken to the local jail and brutally beaten. Afterwards they were loaded into a truck along with a group of Polish community leaders and driven to the suburb of Firley. There they were pushed into a sand pit and killed with hand grenades.
Flight to the Soviet Union
During the first months of German occupation, many Jews decided to get away from the German oppressors by fleeing east to the former Polish territories which were occupied by the Russians. Some 2,000 Jewish youth of Radom braved the cold winter to cross the new German-Russian border illegally and face the unknown fate of homeless exiles, at the mercy of the Russian communists. In the ensuing years, some of them were killed or interned in labor camps, others were scattered all over the Soviet Union.
In the summer months of 1940 the Germans mobilized several thousand Jewish young men for forced labor in camps alongside the Russian frontier. The first group of one thousand left Radom on August 20th followed by two more battalions.
They were first sent to a staging point in Lublin, where they joined 20,000 Jews from various Polish towns, assembled there under inhuman conditions. The groups from Radom were then dispatched to camps in Belzec, Narol and Cieszanow, located near the border with the Soviet Union. Kept under strict surveillance, the Jews were assigned to hard labor on fortifications, road building and swamp drainage projects. They were housed in wooden barracks which lacked basic sanitary accommodations. Food was scarce; were it not for the food packages sent by relatives from Radom and help from nearby Jewish communities, laborers in the camps would have literally died of hunger.
The men experienced unimaginable suffering inflicted by the brutal German guards. An official delegation of the Radom Jewish Community, headed by Dr. David Wainapel and Jacob Weingart, went to the camps and was shocked by the unbearable conditions. They pleaded for the release of the ill and wounded, and indeed brought several home with them. Upon their return to Radom, the Judenrat used its contacts with the Germans to negotiate the release of all workers. By the end of the year the men returned, their health ruined, some permanently disabled.
The First Deportation
In December 1940 the Nazi authorities decided that Radom was overcrowded with Jews and ordered the deportation of one third of the city's Jewish population to smaller towns in the district. That would have meant exile for about 10,000 people. The Judenrat tried to intervene and modify the order; the Germans agreed to a gradual deportation of groups of 2,000. On December 18, 1940 Jews, mostly families on relief, were transferred to smaller communities south of Radom. They were permitted to take along their possessions and were accompanied by Judenrat members who were to help the deportees to settle in their new location.
The Judenrat imposed a tax on all Jews who remained in Radom, in order to assist the deportees. Part of the collected funds was used to bribe the German officials and indeed, the order for further deportations was rescinded. Most of the expelled Jews soon returned to Radom.
The Ghettos in Radom
The Creation of the Ghetto
On March 29, 1941, Dr. Karl Lasch, Governor of Radom, issued a decree establishing two separate Ghettos in Radom: one around Walowa Street and a smaller one in the suburb of Glinice.
The decree created a panic among the Jews, who had only ten days to move from their homes and find new ones in already overcrowded parts of the city. All Poles living within the designated areas had to move out.
The Jewish population of Radom had meanwhile increased to 35,000 due to the influx of refugees from Przytyk and the surrounding villages, which were cleared of the civilian population and turned into military camps and maneuver areas.
The Judenrat was given the enormous task of assigning quarters to thousands of Jews within the limits of the Ghettos, in the congested slum areas of the city. Many Jews made contacts with Poles forced to move out of the area and arranged for an exchange of dwellings.
April 7, 1941, was the deadline for all Jews to move into the Ghettos. At first the several exits were not strictly supervised. Jews found outside the ghetto without written permission had to pay a minor fine. Because of acute shortages, food and supplies had to be smuggled into the Ghettos, mostly at night, with the tacit approval or in partnership with the Jewish authorities of the Ghettos.
By order of the Germans, the Judenrat had to organize a police force, whose task was to maintain order in both Ghettos, assist in guarding the exits,
escort labor battalions to and from their places of work, etc. There were 100 policemen in the large Ghetto and forty in the Glinice ghetto. They wore no uniforms, except blue-red caps with Star of David insignia and armbands inscribed Judischer Ordnungsdienst. Joachim Geiger, head of the labor office, became chief of the Jewish police.
There was an honest attempt in Radom to recruit as policemen young men with good reputations who would resist the inherent temptations and serve the welfare of the community.
It is not our aim to pass moral judgment on the role played by both the Jewish police and the Judenrat. It must, however, be stated here that Radom was fortunate in having a great number of fine young men in the rank and file of its police, most of whom later paid with their lives for refusing to be agents of the Germans. To replace them, the Germans appointed to the police people willing to collaborate, mostly non-Radomers. Some of them wee notorious confidants of the Gestapo. It is also only fair to point out that, though the Jewish Council was generally detested, a large proportion of the Council members assumed their positions in the hope of improving the lot of the community.
The Ghetto Administration
The Jewish Council controlled all major aspects of life in the Ghetto. It was originally created by the Germans to execute their orders and collect fines imposed on the Jews, but it later became the official representative of the community and spokesman for all Jews in the district of Radom. As the needs of the community arose, the Jewish Council organized many branches of activity aimed at regulating the unique and complicated life in the Ghetto. As it grew in scope and power, the Jewish Council employed over 500 people, ranging from letter-carriers to attorneys. Here are some of the Judenrat departments and their functions, in addition to the labor and housing agencies already discussed in previous chapters.
The food rations granted to Jews were purchased from supply centers and distributed in stores throughout the Ghetto. The department was headed by Moshe Leslau and Joseph Stelman.
Supervised by Dr. Szenderowicz, it had under its jurisdiction two hospitals, ambulances, an apothecary, a delousing station and public bath-house. The department had broad powers: it introduced many compulsory measures aimed at preventing diseases.
Managed by Jacob Fishbein and Henryk Zameczkowski, it kept precise records of the Ghetto population. The Gestapo frequently visited the offices and compiled lists of individuals to be arrested. The clerks in this department are known to have performed invaluable services by warning those in danger and removing the records of persons wanted by the Gestapo.
Bureau of Permits
Managed by Miss Martoffel, it granted passes to leave the Ghetto or travel outside the city. All permits had to be validated by the Germans and they were issued on a limited scale for high fees.
Offered complete postal services to the Ghetto inhabitants. Jewish letter carriers distributed the mails. Chief of the department was Isaac Bravman.
First headed by Leon Sytner, a native of Kalisz, later by Wladyslaw Weisfus, it gave the Jews legal aid and also served as an arbitration court in disputes arising between Jews.
Headed by Wolf Sanitzki from Warsaw, this department attempted to ease the plight of Jewish merchants and artisans through intervention with the German authorities.
Supervised by Yeschaya Eiger, it periodically examined the financial records of the Judenrat.
The Difficulties Increase
In 1940, even before the ghetto was established, every Jew was given an identity card bearing his photograph. This served in lieu of a passport. When the ghetto was established, Jews were issued yellow identification cards with a large J for Jude stamped on them. In order to leave the ghetto, a Jew had to have a special pass. At first these passes were obtained from the commissars and the directors of the places where Jews worked, as well as from the Council of Elders which opened a special department for issuing passes. Such passes were issued for various periods of time, and no one could leave or enter the ghetto without them. Even Poles who wanted to enter the ghetto had to have special permission. As time went on, it became increasingly difficult to obtain such passes. The commissars received directives to decrease the number of Jews allowed to work. Every pass was
limited. The streets that could be used and those that could not were listed on the passes. For example, Jews were not allowed to walk on the Reichsstrasse (formerly Lubelska Street), and Adolph Hitler Platz (3rd of May Square), the Rathaus Platz (Rynek) and all the other streets in the center of town. If it was necessary for someone to walk along one of these streets, the pass indicated how far he could go by listing the house numbers. All along the way he was continually stopped for pass inspection and questioning.
To leave the ghetto without a pass, which had previously been punishable by a fine, now became extremely dangerous. The Jews in the ghetto were shocked when it became known that two Jews had been shot for leaving the ghetto without permission. Later, the number of Jews shot for leaving the ghetto without a pass increased continually. Yet Jews had to risk their lives and leave the ghetto in order to retrieve garments or valuables from a former Gentile neighbor and bring home some food for their hungry families.
Bread rations became smaller and smaller. The monthly food quota distributed in the ghetto was hardly enough to last for a couple of days. The Jewish Council made an effort to ease the situation by opening a large kitchen, under the management of Selig Goldberg, and free soup was served daily. It became more difficult to bring food into the ghetto. Poverty and hunger became more widespread, and there was an outbreak of epidemic diseases especially typhus. Adding to the suffering was the forced labor that Jews had to perform every few days. If that was not enough, a series of raids began. Whenever the army needed a certain number of workers, a raid was made on the free slave market in the ghetto, and Jews were picked up and forced to work for the Germans.
From outside the ghetto, news filtered in that heavy concentrations of German troops were moving eastward. It became clear that Germany was about to attack the Soviet Union, and Jews began to wonder whether this would improve or worsen their situation.
At four o'clock in the morning of June 22, 1941, the ghetto was awakened by the loud noise of airplane motors. The sky was filled with countless German aircraft flying eastward. Soon it was known that the war had started. For two days there was no news and everyone waited in suspense. Then the news came. The Germans were advancing rapidly inside Russian territory.
The German victories were accompanied by increasing Jewish despair. The Jewish Aid Committee was no longer able to alleviate the privations faced by the population. The charitable institutions which had existed before were no longer functioning but here and there a few individuals tried to take over some of their responsibilities. They solicited contributions privately, and distributed help among the sick and the needy. In the large ghetto, Leibush Mendel Zisserman and Mechel Rychtman carried on such campaigns and in the Glinice Ghetto this work was done by Gershon Lederhendler and Mendel Steinbok. The majority of those who had some income made contributions willingly. Among them were the tanners Israel Goldberg, Hershel Bojman, Israel Wertsheiser, Buchman and Cemach. All this, however, was only a drop in the bucket, compared to the urgent needs of the Jewish sick and impoverished. The Jewish Welfare Committee and some individuals utilized every piece of unoccupied land in the ghetto to plant vegetables. A great effort was made to support the orphanage and the old age home. Jews took care of these two institutions which sheltered sixty children and thirty old people. Their task was made somewhat easier because of the orphanage's five cows and garden which the children cultivated under the direction of the dentist Dr. Tatar. Later, it became more difficult to sustain this effort because the orphanage was outside the ghetto and a special permit was necessary to go there. The collection of money and food, however, continued. The following persons made heroic efforts to maintain the two institutions: Sumner Adler, Mmes. Horowitz, Lastman, Levinson, Green and Bluma Rottenberg; Messrs. Isaac Green, Jonah Goldberg, Suskind, Leslau, Shaya Eiger, Mordecai Langer, Mechel Rychtman, and Dr. Tatar. Of the staff, the following were active: Dr. Gustave Horowitz (Rabbi and Hebrew teacher), the director, Mrs. Grossfeld and the teachers Mania Speisman, Necha Friedman and Blumka Klein.
An Ordinary Day in the Ghetto
Rachel R. describes an ordinary day in the ghetto:
It is eight o'clock in the morning. I get dressed. Since we were forced into the ghetto eight of us are living in a small room on Walowa Street. I walk over to the window, and I see that the street has suddenly become empty. I hide behind the curtain and try to find out what is going on. From the labor office across the street emerge several German soldiers, leading two boys. It seems that they are picking people up for forced labor. Suddenly, one of the Germans starts running in the direction of our house and yelling Komm, Komm, and a fifty-year old Jew comes out from behind the gate.
Our household is in panic. We do not know
where to hide the men. We know that the Germans will soon begin searching the houses. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to be caught. When this happens, he is beaten even while he works. I get an idea. I go out and padlock the door from the outside to give the impression that there is nobody at home. I go to the neighbors next door. There are no men at the neighbors; the son is at work and his father is hiding in the attic. So we sit there, three women waiting for the visit. Two Germans kick the door open and come in. Without uttering a single word, they open the closet, pull out all the drawers, and fling the bedding around. Then they begin to bellow: Where are the men? Gone to work, my neighbor stammers. The Germans curse us and leave.
I hear their steps approaching our room. They bang on the door and I think the house will fall down, but they finally leave and climb the stairs to the second floor. A few minutes later, we hear them cursing again. We look out and see them dragging our neighbor's husband, who has a black eye and a bloody nose. His wife runs out crying and begging for mercy. She pleads that her husband is ill, but to no avail. They take him away. They have already assembled about fifty men.
Sometime later, people come out into the street. The raid is obviously over. I go back to our room and unlock the door. We still have to be alert because the day is not over yet.
We sit down to breakfast. Every minute somebody knocks on the door. We are besieged by hungry beggars, who plead for a piece of bread; but how can we feed everyone? The ration card is good for only seventy grams of bread a day, and on the black market a loaf of bread costs twenty-five zlotys. But there are beggars who refuse to leave unless they get something, and then we have our own paupers who come to us a few times a week for dinner. We cannot give, but we cannot refuse either.
Later, I go to buy bread in a Shul Street bakery, where the prices are somewhat lower. Shul Street is so crowded, it is almost impossible to push through. There is a brisk trade going on here. If one looks carefully, one can see meat showing under piles of rags, and eggs and butter hidden under vegetables. With the right connections and enough money, you can buy anything here. I meet a woman I know who is selling food and she advises me to buy all the food I can. You have to eat while you can, she says, there's a famine coming and who knows how long it will last. She is right. A lot of people are thinking like that and exchanging their furniture, clothing and everything they possess for food. Everything people once held dear is being sold dirt cheap; all valuables finally get into the hands of the Poles outside the ghetto and they group rich on Jewish misfortune. Among the sellers, I see an acquaintance who is selling a coat. She sees me and is embarrassed. She explains the sale in the ironic language of the ghetto: The coat is worn and I don't need it. It just takes up room in the closet. I'm selling it to buy myself a tidbit. I agree with her and we walk a little way together. The street is noisy, dirty, crowded and smelly. I notice my companion looking at my shoulder. A blondie she says with a smile and delicately takes a louse off my shoulder. She puts it into a piece of paper so she can burn it later. That is how one acts in polite society these days. I thank her politely and invite her to visit me in fourteen days to make sure that blondie was not a typhus carrier. . . We have a new custom here. We wish each other that our lice should be strong and healthy.
On the way back, I notice that the street is empty again and I duck into a gateway. What happened? The gendarme and his dog have appeared. He has invented a new sport. He walks his dog on Walowa Street and turns him loose on Jews to attack and bite them.
I walk a little further and I see the hearse coming toward me. Another victim of typhus. So many people have died from typhus and funerals have become so common, that no one pays much attention to them. The hearse is followed by a few people, but they can only go as far as the ghetto gate.
When I come home, the family is talking business. They have found a customer for leather, but he must have it by tomorrow morning. There is a possibility of making a few zlotys. My brothers decide that I should go and find out whether there is any leather available. I even protest a little and ask Why me? but I know why I have to go. It is much less dangerous for a woman to be out in the street than for a man.
I eat lunch quickly. While I'm eating, the messenger from the labor office comes in with orders for forced labor. My brother has to report tomorrow, and my father the day after that. The problem is that my brother has to be home tomorrow to take care of the business deal, and we decided to hire a substitute for a few zlotys to report for him. This is a hard and poorly paid way of earning money for bread, but people have no alternative. They will do anything in order to live. As far as my father is concerned, we will try to get a medical excuse for him. Meanwhile, I have to go to Old City Square. Ordinarily it would be a two minute walk, but I have to make a twenty minute detour through the crowded ghetto streets
and Pentz's garden, because two local Germans, Kind and Hempel, have their factories in Old City Square and dirty Jews are not permitted to go past them.
In Pentz's garden the mud is thicker than anywhere else. Paupers accost you and beg for a piece of bread. Those who give them something receive their blessings, but those who do not are followed by curses until they are out of earshot. I cross the garden and enter Przechodnia Street. This section is less congested, because better class Jews live here and this is where people come in the evening to get some fresh air. Old City Square is plowed up for potato planting, and I hurry along until I come to the tannery. The owner knows me and promises me immediate delivery of merchandise.
When I get home, I find myself in the middle of a political discussion. Everyone is optimistic in the belief that Germany will soon face a second front and be defeated. I'm not so optimistic, and when I express my opinion they tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about. I decide to keep quiet, because if they can find some consolation in believing that a German defeat is imminent, why should I destroy their illusions?
Lately, the political analysts of the ghetto are talking enthusiastically about America, which is on the verge of entering the war against Germany. The German newspapers rant and rave about Jewish America and the Jew Roosevelt, and our know-it-alls are busy figuring how many airplanes and tanks the United States can produce in an hour; how much gasoline and how many soldiers they have; and how long it will take them to smash the German war machine. It is true that there are some pessimists who believe that for every defeat Germany will take revenge on the Jews, but nobody pays much attention to them and the ghetto is full of optimistic talk; and people forget a little about their hunger and their sad oppressed condition.
The conversation turns to local matters, and someone points out that in comparison to Lodz we are on easy street. There people are dying of starvation in the streets. A neighbor shows us a postcard from his sister in Lodz. The card is not from his sister, but from Rumkovski, the Elder of the Jews of Litzmannstadt who signed the printed card, which provides the information that such and such a woman is well and is getting along fine. That is how things are in Lodz, which is part of the Reich. By comparison, Radom is heaven, we can still write our own letters without having to go through our own Rumkovskis.
My brothers suddenly remember that they have to go for the smuggled merchandise. It is better to move the stuff in the dark when nobody can see you, because anyone seeing you carry such goods automatically becomes a partner, and gets a cut for not informing. There are Jewish police and even civilians who make a living that way. What can you do? Everyone wants to live.
Two hours later, my brothers return tired but happy. Someone did spot them, but they were able to buy him off for a little nothing. The whole deal is a major occurrence and there is much to talk about.
The day ends. Before we go to bed we talk about enrolling my youngest brother in the vocational school, even though we know that it is not easy to get in. We decide to try to enroll him, because there he will learn a trade and be exempt from forced labor. We hear somebody knocking on a neighbor's door. A policeman has come to look for someone who did not show up for forced labor. We all heave a sigh of relief. Another day in the ghetto is over. What awaits us tomorrow? Maybe we are getting closer to our redemption?
Typical of those days in the ghetto is the song The Forgotten Man, a parody on a Polish tango that was popular in the ghetto then. The Polish words of the parody were written by Renia Sanitsky-Greenberg. Here is a translation of the son as we remember it:
In the morning, when you wake,
All you face is pain and woe.
No one's here your case to take,
And like a candle you sink low.
On Walowa you chase about,
Frantic to make some dough.
Afraid to speak out loud
That you were, once, in the front row.
You were rich, had friends galore,
Now they see you no more,
Forgot you, oh, what a mess!
Need a room, poor man?
In the morgue is room aplenty.
Want a pass, you damn?
Will do, only for dollars twenty.
Can't afford? Hungry, broke?
Don't give up, stay sane!
For strange is fate's stroke,
The sun will shine again!
(Reported by: Dr. Wainapel, Mrs. Wolchowitz-Zabner and Nurse Rose Rivan)
Ever since the Germans occupied Radom, the medical facilities have been in critical condition. Almost all the Jewish doctors had left the city. The Jewish Hospital was full of victims of air raids and street shooting. At that time it was established that the Germans had fired on the civilian population with dum-dum bullets. At the outbreak of the war, the following were staff physicians at the hospital: Dr. W. Finkelstein, Dr. H. Newfield (surgeon) and Dr. D. Wainapel of Radomsko. Soon, however, the following doctors returned: W. Cung, N. Szenderowicz, A. Fried, L. Fastman and H. Witonski. Their homes were returned to them and they resumed their practice and worked in the hospital. At first they also worked in Polish institutions, but the Germans soon prohibited Jewish doctors from treating non-Jews.
Most of the patients at that time had been victims of SS cruelties. Soon, however, there were many patients admitted with sicknesses caused by malnutrition.
Health Center Opened
In addition to the Jewish Hospital, a health center which treated the ill and wounded free of charge was set up in the Ezra building. The center also had an ambulance.
Dr. Szenderowicz became the director of the health department of the Council of Elders and soon undertook an immunization campaign against typhus and dysentery. There was no serum for typhoid fever allocated to Jews. An isolation ward was established for those suffering from typhoid fear and there was an agency which disinfected their homes. These measures, however, did not control the situation, and it was necessary to establish a hospital for contagious diseases.
Hospital for Contagious Diseases
In accordance with a directive of the government, such a hospital was organized in April, 1940, in a section of the orphanage building. Four rooms were allotted for this purpose. In addition, there were two small rooms used as an office and a nurses' duty room. The rooms were damaged, dirty, and had no beds. The first patients were put on the floor with straw pallets for mattresses. The Germans did not wait until the Jewish Hospital was ready, but ordered all Jewish patients moved to it from the City Hospital. Because of lack of space, men and women were put into the same rooms, since the rooms were classified according to diseases. One room was for typhus, another for typhoid fever, and the third for dysentery. Seventeen patients were transferred from the Polish hospital for contagious diseases. Dr. Szenderowicz was able to wangle some beds and other equipment. It should be pointed out that the whole staff did an extremely fine job under enormous difficulties.
Research and . . . Painting
In addition to their medical duties, the doctors and nurses performed the task of cleaning and painting the hospital premises, many times working through the night. Special mention must be made of the fine work done by the hospital manager, Maria Hartman, a deportee from Lodz. Dr. Szenderowicz also set up a laboratory which was operated by the bacteriologist Anna Hershtal, another deportee from Lodz; she was assisted by Miriam Yershurin. In this primitive and difficult environment the staff did research on typhoid fever which was of interest to the government. Dr. Weitzeneger, a Nazi physician, read a paper prepared by the staff of the Jewish Hospital, at a
medical conference in Krakow, without indicating its authors. This paper was later published in the German medical journal Leben und Gesundheit.
Confining Jews to crowded ghettos had serious medical consequences. Lack of adequate food added to the problem as did the transfer of many Jews from one place to another, thus spreading the germs of infection.
Some of the nurses were professionals and some were beginners who had just started to practice. There were also trainees in the nurses' course, which the health department had organized. Doctors Szenderowicz, Fastman, Witonski, Newfield and nurse Maria Neihaus had trained approximately thirty nurses, who later functioned in all the health facilities. Nurses who had been qualified before the war were: Rose Rivan and Sonia Gorin (in the Jewish Hospital), Maria Neihaus (in the Clinic), Saba Wulcan of Krakow (Chief Nurse in the Hospital for Contagious Diseases), Anna Zuckerman, Irka Shlaferman and Niusia Gutstadt. When the epidemics intensified, Dora Munk, Dinah Bango, Esther Sheinfeld and Hannah Rutman joined in the work. The last two performed their duties with great sacrifice.
The clinic in the Ezra building had to be discontinued since it was outside the ghetto. It was removed to the city bath-house, opposite the Jewish Hospital. The bath-house with its showers and delousing rooms was on the ground floor, and the emergency wards were on the second floor. Thus, with the exception of the Hospital for Contagious Diseases, all the health facilities were within the confines of the ghetto.
Control cards were issued and every ghetto inhabitant was supposed to be deloused at least once a month and have his card stamped. This campaign was only partly successful for most people used every trick not to undergo a mass delousing session.
Isolation Ward in the Synagogue
The large synagogue was turned into an isolation ward in order to prevent further spread of diseases. Hastily constructed board beds were placed on the main floor and the women's balcony, and here those who had been in contact with patients suffering from contagious diseases were quarantined.
Conditions at the Hospital for Contagious Diseases became more critical with time. The number of patients increased to such an extent that a larger part of the orphanage building had to be utilized. In order to make more room, one floor was double-decked and the sick-beds placed in tiers. This still was not sufficient. The hospital soon became so crowded that two patients had to be put in one bed (except for the very ill) and, at times, four children had to sleep in one bed. As the disease spread, the corridors were full of patients on beds and straw pallets. For 150 patients there was only one bathtub. As a result, all the strenuous efforts of the staff were wasted, and the louse plague increased, also spreading to the staff and employees. In 1942, almost the whole staff contracted the disease. Those who escaped it reached the point of exhaustion from overwork.
The following succumbed to typhoid fever: nurses Hannah Rutman and Bronka Kellerwurm, Dr. Minsky, and of the disinfection personnel, Bakoven and Feldstein.
In the short period up to autumn of 1942, about four thousand patients passed through the hospital. There were many more people stricken with the disease, but they were kept at home and their illnesses were never reported.
In the district of Radom there were three hundred cases of typhoid fever reported on the day of April 18, 1942. One-third of patients died. In general, about fifty percent of the illnesses among the Jews of Poland during that period were fatal.
During the epidemic Doctors Feldhof, Sibershatz and Helling were engaged by the hospital. They, too, worked unselfishly to aid the sick, and themselves became the victims of the disease.
At the same time, the Jewish Hospital was overcrowded too. There the patients were victims of starvation, swelling, tuberculosis, pleurisy, and other diseases resulting from hunger and privation. In the surgical department, doctors Kleinberger and Newfield performed many difficult operations successfully. Thanks to the great efforts made by the managers, Joshua Helfand and Maria Hartman, supplies in both hospitals were adequate.
Due to the shortage of physicians, medical students were recruited to help in the health institutions. Among them were: Leon Kurtz, Gimpel Weintraub and Edward Borenstein. Several local dentists volunteered to assist the physicians in the hospitals. Dental surgeons Tatar, Nadel and Fraydas were active in the Glinice clinic, headed by Doctors Zabner and Boim.
People with academic degrees were enlisted for supervisory jobs in the hospital. The engineer Berish Goldberg became supply director of the Hospital for Contagious Diseases and was assisted by his wife Bala (nee Speisman), a former high school teacher.
We wish to mention here the cooperation of Dr. Rust, who came from Krakow with his mother-in-law, the widow of Dr. Joshua Thon, a former leading member of the Polish parliament. Dr. Rust was wanted by the Germans for political activity and was later arrested and deported to Treblinka.
Early in 1942 the Gestapo began its so-called political actions. These were night raids and on-the-spot executions of Jews suspected of resistance activities. During the February raid, the Gestapo brought nineteen bodies to the hospital morgue in the early morning hours. The Gestapo left clear orders not to permit the families to claim their dead. In April, forty-nine blood-soaked corpses were delivered to the hospital and laid out on the grass. On one occasion, the ghetto-policeman Abraham Silberstein was ordered by the Gestapo to deliver to the morgue a truckload of corpses of men killed that night for alleged conspiracy. He found among them the body of his own father.
Refugees from Warsaw
In 1942 the hospital opened a section to accommodate refugees from the Warsaw ghetto, who arrived exhausted and swollen from hunger. Only a few recovered. The dead were buried without shrouds because the linen supply of the hospital was completely used up.
No Food or Medicine
The summer of 1942 spelled disaster and more suffering. The hospitals were hitherto supplied with food, though meagerly. The rations were maintained through the combined efforts of personal and citizenry. The patients were given daily: 3 ½ ounces of bread, 1/3 ounce of butter, 5 ounces of meat (3 times weekly), soup, sweetened tea or coffee. The seriously ill were given milk and fruit. In the summer of 1942 the Germans cut down the food supply to a mere trickle. The supply of medicine and bandages were completely stopped.
The Beginning of the End
News came from Lublin that during the deportation there in August, 1942, all hospital patients were shot to death. This prompted the staff to discharge everyone who could manage to walk out of the building on his own. Thus there were only seven patients in the Hospital for Contagious Diseases on the night of disaster, August 16, 1942.
Cultural Activities in the Ghetto
As soon as the Germans occupied Radom, Jewish cultural life became practically non-existent. Yet, under the most difficult conditions, in the intervals between one horrible action and another, great efforts were made to maintain intellectual activity to the maximum extent possible.
Most school buildings, including that of the Jewish High School, were occupied by the German armed forces. Most of the teachers fled to the Soviet Union at the beginning of the war.
In the spring of 1940, the Germans permitted elementary schools up to the seventh grade to be opened. This, however, applied only to the Christian population. Jews were denied the right to any type of education. They did not, however, resign themselves to this state of affairs. Secretly, parents and teachers maintained classes in Jewish and general subjects.
The following were engaged in teaching: Elchanan Schuetzer, I. Wortsman, Sheva Baum, I. Frenkel, Niusia Ehrlich, Niusia Wortsman, the Goldstein sisters, Helen Graneck, Leona Vudka and others.
Special mention must be made of the courage shown by the educator and private school owner, Isser Lipshitz, who secretly continued to conduct his school on 20 Peretz Street until the resettlement. At no time did he have less than twenty pupils.
Dr. Isadore Schuetzer gave group and individual English lessons; David Frenkel taught bookkeeping;
Wolf Minchels conducted secret classes in Hebrew.
Younger children attended kindergartens. One was known to have been maintained by Miss Finkler. The children were trained to pretend to be sewing when they heard Germans approaching.
Regardless of the difficult situation, Jewish parents made an effort to provide education for their children.
At one time the Germans were petitioned to permit the reopening of schools in the Ghetto. They gave a definite promise that permission would be granted soon. In view of this, Mrs. Hurwitz organized in 1941 a Teachers' Seminar, in order to train prospective instructors in Jewish and Hebrew literature and Jewish history. The Seminar was housed in the Talmud torah building and was attended by former public school teachers.
Punitive actions and restrictions in the Ghetto and the brutal resettlement nullified all hopes for legally organized Jewish schools in Radom.
In November of 1941 the Jewish Aid Committee established mechanics and locksmith courses, under the direction of the engineers Marek Bojman and Mieczyslaw Baum.
At the beginning of 1942, courses in dressmaking, taught by Lutka Landau and Rachel Finkelstein were organized.
These courses aroused a great deal of interest among the Jewish youth. The mechanics and locksmith courses attracted eighty students, among them a number of orthodox young men. There were forty students in the dressmaking course. The mechanics course was located in the Gutman and Zucker tannery. It was equipped with a forge, three metal lathes, a welding apparatus and forty vises. The dressmaking course was given in the synagogue at shul and Peretz Streets.
The instructor in metallurgy was I. Zuker and the locksmithing instructors were Teichman and Rafalowski. Professor Shelubsky taught theory and mathematics, and the engineers Buch and Bojman instructed in design and blueprints. Engineer Baum taught machine construction. The course students produced, among other things, Matzoh machines for Hoch's bakery.
The financial assistance given by the Jewish Aid Committee was insufficient and the courses had to be self-supporting. There was a tuition fee of fifty zlotys a month. In addition, the school derived an income from products manufactured in the shops.
The German government tolerated the courses. The engineer Baum prevailed upon the representative of the German labor office. Yanik, that the students be issued labor cards which would excuse them from forced labor and protect them from street raids. In exchange for allowing the courses to function, the Germans in power demanded and received various gifts, made by the students, such as decorative candelabras, inkstands, ashtrays, etc. remain.
This situation continued until the liquidation of the Glinice Ghetto on August 5, 1942. The students were then taken from their classrooms and driven to Glinice to remove the bodies and clean up the streets. It became clear that the exemption cards would no longer protect them from deportation, and the courses were disbanded just prior to the resettlement of the large Ghetto.
All Jewish libraries ceased to exist as soon as the Germans entered Radom. Until the Ghetto was established, Jews could borrow books from Polish libraries, particularly the city library, but later, this too, was prohibited.
Nevertheless, the Jews read books during the whole period. There were a number of small, private lending libraries in attics and other secret places (24 Peretz Street and others). Since it was dangerous to have catalogues, codes were set up to keep track of the books.
Most of the books from the largest Jewish libraries (the Zionist organization and Hashomer libraries) had been transferred to the Polish City Library. A small number of books were retained by Jews and were later circulated in the Ghetto.
Upon orders of the German school inspector, two Jews were assigned to classify and catalogue the Yiddish and Hebrew books in the city library. Jews were even promised that some of the books would be returned to them.
We do not know exactly what happened to the thousands of volumes, but we are certain that none remained.
There were many books and diaries written in the Ghetto of Radom. We know, for example, that Professor Elhanan Schuetzer wrote a book and memoirs in the Ghetto, which he took with him on his last journey during the Purim action of March 1943. Rabbi Zlotnick also wrote a book in the Ghetto. Tuvia Rutman chronicled Ghetto life; Moshe Weissman wrote on the experiences of a prisoner of war. Alfred Lipson kept a diary on events in the Ghetto and camps. It was later taken away from him at the Dachau concentration camp.
Many poems and songs were written in the ghetto; some became popular at the time. The
authors were mostly anonymous. A few are still remembered and are recorded in the Jewish section of this book.
All Jewish plays and concerts closed on September 1, 1939. Jews were forbidden to go to the movies. In front of the Adria movie theater a sign was put up which read: Jews and dogs not allowed.
In May 1941, a theater group was organized by the Jewish Aid Committee, under the direction of Mrs. H. Hurwitz with the assistance of S. Lotte, V. Stelman, I.M. Gutman, M. Weissman, Prof. Wortsman and others.
In December 1941, this group presented at the Judenrat building, 8 Grodzka St., a revue called As Long As We Go On, written by Moshe Weissman and others. The proceeds of the show were earmarked for the orphanage. The following participated in the review: Genia Rochman, Lisa Banowicz, Oscar Goldberg (recitations); George Krongold (songs); Guta Lotowicz (folk songs); Moshe Weissman (monologues); Krongold, Lotte, Mandelbaum, Gottfryd (male chorus); c. Nasielska, B. Hershberg, L. Soloveichick, F. Hershenstraus, P. Frenkel (women's chorus) and an orchestra under the direction of the well-known violinist B. Kagan. The script of the revue was given to Dr. M. Weichert of the American Joint for safeguarding. The performance was repeated at a later date on Old City Square and Glinice.
Jews read Polish newspapers published under German supervision. On easier jobs and when the Germans were lenient, Jews often had an opportunity to get a glimpse of German papers and magazines. Frequently, the German papers carried news that the Polish press did not.
Radom also received the Jewish Gazette, the only official Jewish newspaper published in Krakow in the Polish language. This paper even had a representative in Radom.
Frequently, some clandestine publications were smuggled in from outside Radom, for example Naszw Haslo, published by the Labor Zionists in Warsaw.
The official German notices and anti-Jewish decrees were also published in the local Polish paper, Radom Daily.
According to a decree issued early in September 1939, the whole population (including Poles) was required to turn in their radios. However, not all Jews complied with the order. They hid their receivers and secretly listened to foreign broadcasts despite the death penalty. Yudel Swiatlo narrowly escaped being shot for having a radio in his possession.
Jews who were employed privately by Germans often had an opportunity to listen to the radio in the German's absence and sometimes they even switched the dial to the London station. In this way, Jews had only limited access to the latest news.
Somehow, Dr. Isadore Shuetzer always had late foreign news and he used to disseminate it among the Jews.
All the places where Jews used to meet socially were shut down. All clubs (Intellectual Club, Zionist Club) were closed. Most people who had frequented the clubs and coffee houses, now favored Silberstrum's confectionary shop which was at first located on Rwanska Street and, when the Ghetto was established, moved to Blacharska Street.
Religious Life in the Ghetto
As soon as the Germans occupied Radom, Jewish religious services were forbidden. However, this order was never obeyed. The great Synagogue was tightly sealed and later turned into a warehouse. At first, Sabbath Services were still conducted in the Beth Hamidrash, but it soon had to be closed after several menacing raids by the Germans. Later, when the Ghetto was established, it became an isolation ward, and the ante-room was used for the dressmaking vocational course.
The Germans seemed to know the dates of Jewish holidays, and these were special occasions to raid Jewish homes and to beat and torture the Ghetto inhabitants more brutally than ever.
For the first time since their settlement in Radom hundreds of years ago, the people of the Jewish community could not attend High Holy Day services in 1939. As time went on, and after they were herded into the Ghetto, Jews gathered for Sabbath and holiday services secretly in private homes. With complete disregard of German orders and inherent dangers, all rabbis and rebbes, as well as many orthodox leaders in the community, turned their homes into houses of worship, open to anyone seeking solace in communal prayers.
Robbery and Murder
In the winter of 1942 conditions became progressively worse. There was a decree ordering Jews to surrender all the furs in their possession. The penalty for having furs after the deadline was death. One furrier, Samuel Ringermacher, failed to
turn in a small fur; he was ordered to start singing and then the Germans shot him in the mouth.
In the spring of 1942, the Germans confiscated all horses, wagons, cattle, milk cans, sewing machines, bicycles and typewriters in the Ghetto.
Actions in the Ghetto
Serious Gestapo raids in the Ghetto started in February, 1942. Early one Thursday morning hundreds of them raided a number of homes according to a prepared list and arrested over forty men, some of whom were not on the list, and shot them on the spot. In addition, they arrested and abducted another forty men, who never returned.
The second action took place on April 27, known as Bloody Wednesday. On this day several hundred Germans of the Security-Service raided the Ghetto. Again they had a list, this time of supposed Communists. Everyone named on the list was either shot on the spot or arrested. If they could not find the people listed, they picked up victims at random and shot them. A total of one hundred Jews were killed in the Ghetto on that day. Among those arrested were: Chairman of the Jewish Council Joseph Diament and members Merin, Eiger and Blass, also officers of the Jewish police force Geiger, Katz, Weiner and Weitzhendler, as well as twenty Jewish policemen.
During the days that followed about one hundred more persons were arrested. These were butchers, ritual slaughterers, and persons connected with the supply of kosher meat in the Ghetto. Aside from this, Gestapo agents raided places of work, and executed a number of innocent Jews. Hundreds were taken to the Gestapo cellars for torturing and late sent to Auschwitz.
By 1942 conditions were such that those who had previously tried to avoid forced labor at any cost, now volunteered to work because of the food rations that went with it, and most important because of the desirable Labor Card, then considered a means to survive and escape resettlement (no one knew that resettlement meant extermination; most people interpreted the term as forced labor in the Ukraine). In order to avoid deportation people sought to take on any kind of job.
These were the major industries where Jews performed forced labor in Radom:
Steyer-Daimler Armament Plant (Waffen-Fabrik)Most of the factories and shops were former Jewish property, confiscated by the Germans. Some were new enterprises, paid for by fines imposed on the Jewish population.
Foundries and machine shops (formerly owned by Diament and Rosenberg, now renamed Deutsche Maschinen-Fabriken und Giessereien)
Army Vehicle Maintenance (Heeres-Fraft-Park)
Army uniform shops (in several locations)
In several factories the slave laborers were confined to barracks, separated from their families, with no right to leave their appalling living quarters at any time. They existed in these inhuman conditions with no personal property and no right to complain. They labored sixteen hours a day, were beaten at their work, terrorized and starved.
The Austrian managers of the armament plant were well known for their brutality. They tortured and beat the workers for the slightest infraction of the rules. They were responsible for the following atrocities:
Rosh Hashonah 1942 shooting of a man named Kuper;Liquidation of the Glinice Ghetto
Succos 1942 executive of thirteen Jews;
February 1943 execution of thirteen more Jews;
Passover 1943 murder of Weinberg;
August 1943 killing of Rembishewski and Norymberski.
Excerpts from eyewitness reports:
Ch. Sytner: The entire Jewish police force of the main Ghetto was ordered to report at 11 P.M. Tuesday, August 5, 1942, to headquarters on Old City Square. All local Gestapo and S.S. leaders were there to brief the police. Said Schoeggel, the much feared a security service commander:[Page 53]
'We have orders to resettle the men of Glinice ghetto to labor camps. You of the Jewish police must help us carry out this action peacefully by seeing to it that all Jews obey our orders. You are responsible for the maintenance of discipline among Jews.'
After the speech, German S.S. officers assumed command of the Jewish police and marched us to the Ghetto in the Glinice district. Forty Glinice policemen waited there to join us.
The streets of the formerly quiet suburb of mostly private homes presented a picture of madness. The streets were brightly lit by searchlights. Germans with insignia of lightning streaks on their black uniforms filled the streets. They were wild drinking savages. I saw tem smashing windows with empty vodka bottles. Terrifying orders boom-
ed from loudspeaker trucks roaming up and down the Ghetto streets. We were ordered to go in groups of three from house to house and repeat the orders:The trains kept rolling, to an unknown destination in the East.
'All Jews with labor cards are to report at Kosna Street within a half hour. Jews with no labor cards are to report at Graniczna Street. Only essential personal belongings and food may be taken. Whoever will be found home will be shot.'
* * *
M. Frideman: the 'action' started at midnight sharp. Hordes of S.S. troopers ran into homes shouting Jews get out!' and drove the frightened victims into the streets with pistols and boots. People who had been asleep had no chance to put on their clothes. The aged, crippled, and women and children who could not get out in time were shot in their homes. In the streets, people were forced to run to the assembly point by a hail of bullets. The shooting, mixed with the wild shouts of the Germans and incoherent crises of the victims, created a noise that could be heard for miles around.
The Ghetto was surrounded with a double cordon of German police with machine guns at every conceivable avenue of escape. Polish police guarded all approaches to the Ghetto.
At half past midnight, S.S. officers arrived in cars and voiced dissatisfaction with the slow progress. They urged the troops to 'work' faster. The shooting and clubbing intensified. More and more people were killed and the cobblestone streets were literally covered with blood.
The Jews ran in terror and panic. The onslaught came so suddenly and with such a crushing impact, that some lost their minds. Mothers lost their children; husbands were separated from their wives.
* * *
J. Manela: In the confusion, I could not find my mother and brother. Numb and bewildered, I arrived with the crowd at the Kosna Street assembly point, considered 'safe', for it was designated for labor card holders.
About 2 A.M. the Germans started the selection. Those with valid labor cards and who were seemingly fit for labor were lined up in rows of tens and cordoned off with police. The majority, however, was herded towards Graniczna Street. These were mostly women, children, and men whose cards or physical appearance did not please the selective Germans. I was among the few 'fortunate' ones to be transferred to the main Ghetto in Radom.
* * *
Ch. Sytner: The stream of thousands was funneled into Graniczna Street, which led to the railroad sidings. S.S. troops took up 'battle positions' on the sidewalks along the route, kneeling behind machine guns. Others practiced sharpshooting at individual targets in the crowd, mostly crying children or those who could not keep up with the pace. The crackling machine gun fire mingled with the horrible screams of the wounded. Hysterical and panic-stricken, the crowd stepped over the dead and wounded, who lay in pools of blood.
At the railroad siding, Germans with drawn pistols forced the helpless people into the waiting freight cars. Before entering, each person had to leave his belongings neatly piled upon the ground.
The cars were of the kind ordinarily used to transport horses or cattle. The usual small air vents on each side were now boarded up as too luxurious for this human cargo. One hundred and fifty people were crammed into each cattle-car. The doors were then slammed on the outstretched fists, and locked tight, sealing off the prisoners' cries of revenge.
Many people tried to escape before reaching the train or to hide under the cars. All were killed.
The Decimated Ghetto
One thousand men and eighteen women out of an estimated population of ten thousand in the Glinice Ghetto were selected during the night to remain in Radom. They were first sent under escort into the large Ghetto, but after a few hours they were returned to Glinice and ordered to clean up the streets and homes. On orders of S.S. Sturmbann-fuehrer Voight, the Jewish police force was made to roll up their sleeves and joint eh clean-up operation. Prodded by German bayonets, they carried the bodies from the night massacre to one collection point and then loaded them into lorries for transportation to the fields near Biala Street. There the survivors were kept busy digging long ditches.
The following is an excerpt from a testimony by Israel Zaidenweber during the post-war trial of S.S. police chief Boetcher in Radom:
The guards escorted us to the Lentz property on Biala Street, where hundreds of Jews were digging graves under the watchful eyes of the S.S. A great number of bodies were laid out, their faces down. Jews were forced to remove the clothing from the dead, search the pockets, remove rings and watches and sort out all items in separate piles. Boetcher and his staff, including officers Blum and Schippers, were everywhere giving out detailed instructions as to how to lay the corpses in the ditches, etc. They repeatedly came to the piles of valuables and selected better items of jewelry with which they loaded their pockets.[Page 54]
At one point an S.S. man reported to Boetcher that several wounded Jews had been hidden under
the clothing pile. Boetcher and his companions rushed to the scene with drawn pistols and shot them. Then they ordered all of us to line up alongside the ditches and picked out six well dressed men whom they forced to step into the grave and stand on top of the corpses. They were immediately killed.
In a speech that followed the execution, Boetcher warned us that anyone found assisting a wounded Jew would be executed in the same manner.
A wounded man named Seifman was later found among the corpses, unnoticed by the Germans. With some ingenuity he was kept on his feet all day by a group of workers and Jewish policemen and was brought back to the Ghetto with the other workers; Seifman survived the war.
* * *
A total of over one thousand victims were buried that day on Biala Street.
* * *
Before the last train with deportees left the ramp, the Germans found they had enough room in the freight-cars to add another two thousand people. Hundreds of bloodthirsty S.S. troopers, led by the sadistic Schoeggel, Voight, Shippers and Weinrich, descended on the large Ghetto at 5 A.M. August 5, 1942, and surrounded an area of several square blocks. The massacre of Glinice was repeated there with such swiftness that the Jews hardly had any time to think. Spurred on by their success, the Germans tried to outdo each other in violence and brutality. Weinrich, an S.S. captain and father of six children, ordered his company not to waste bullets on Jewish infants and demonstrated how to smash their heads against the stone buildings and streets.
During the selection, a hundred older men were made to face a wall for execution. The marrow of the Jews chilled as they heard the concurrent clicks of the rifles bolts of an entire S.S. detachment.
Ready, aim unload! The Germans roared with laughter. The hundred Jews, shaking with fear and relief, were ordered to join the two thousand on their march to the train.
* * *
Malka Yeshurin was a biology research worker at the Jewish Hospital for Contagious Diseases. Having a properly stamped labor card, she was free to go home after the selection. But she chose to join her ailing mother on her march to the train. Though assisted by Malka, the mother was falling slightly behind the marchers. A German shoved her forward with the butt of his rifle. Miss Yeshurin struck him in the face and tried to wrestle the weapon away from him. Two bullets in the back, fired by another German, killed both mother and daughter instantly.
* * *
One third of the Jewish population in Radom, or about ten thousand, were deported on August 5, 1942. The decimated Ghetto fell into a grip of fear worse than any it had ever experienced. Those who remained were heartbroken. They wandered through the streets in a daze, in search of a mother, a child, a brother.
Liquidation of the Large Ghetto
(August 16-18, 1942)
Denuded of their leadership and physically exhausted by almost three years of deprivation under the German boot, the Ghetto inhabitants were panic stricken, unable to grasp reality. All their efforts now concentrated on the search for daily food and frantic attempts to secure labor cards.
Where did the trains go?
Reliable information left no doubt that the trains with deportees went to Treblinka, a camp somewhere east of Warsaw. It was the general consensus that they would be put to work at the eastern frontier. But what about the women and children and old men?
Eleven days passed on wild speculations as to the fate of the deportees and of those who remained at the Ghetto. The day finally came when there were no more illusions.
Sunday, August 16th, a crew of Polish electricians arrived in the Ghetto to install powerful spotlights on the street corners. At midnight the lights went on and the usually dark Ghetto streets were light as day. The entire Ghetto was sealed off hermetically with units of Polish and German police.
There had been rumors all day of a deportation planned for Sunday night. The chief of the Jewish police had inquired of the German authorities, and
was assured that none would take place. But ten minutes later the same German officer who gave the solemn assurances arrived in the Ghetto to alert the Jewish police force of the impending operation. S.S. officer Voigt demanded complete co-operation by the Jewish police in exchange for this promise that there would be no bloodshed.
Thus started the most tragic event in the history of the Jews in Radom. For three nights and two days men, women and children were systematically rounded up, block after block, building after building, and mercilessly herded into freight-cars. Complete units of battle-ready S.S. troops, Gestapo, gendarmes, Ukrainian detachments in S. S. uniforms, roamed through the streets of the Ghetto, killing anyone who would not keep up with the others. Escape was impossible. In addition to the belt of police around the Ghetto, all imaginable exits were guarded by machine-gun fire from the rooftops. A few tried to break through, but were mowed down by shots from different directions.
Many families attempted to hide in cellars or attics, but were found sooner or later, by the Germans or their bloodhounds, and killed on the spot. Several families committed suicide.
The Germans had orders to retain the most able young men and women and highly skilled workers as slave laborers in their war industry. For this purpose, selection points were set up to screen all Ghetto inhabitants. Twenty-five thousand people were forced, with whip and bayonets, into the enormously long lines to the selection point to hear the final and unalterable verdict of right or left, which made the difference between life and death.
Miss Diana Zelichowska mentions in her eye-witness report: I finally reached the three S.S. men who were to decide my fate. I had watched the two younger soldiers at the side tables: they tore up all labor cards shown them, without even glancing at the contents. Whoever passed these two tables was sent to the left, for deportation. The man in the center, middle-aged and rather stocky, with eyeglasses paid more attention to the identification cards. I maneuvered my way in the line towards the soldier in the center. I showed him my labor card. 'Mattress maker; good, we need these badly' he muttered, and sent me to the right. It was like a lottery; I had picked the winning number.
The Gestapo had ordered all factories outside the Ghetto which employed Jews (except the munitions factory and four army installations) to send them under escort to the selection points in the Ghetto. An estimated three thousand workers were thus brought to the ghetto to join the long lines to the judges of life or death. The majority of these were selected for deportation. Several hundred people employed in private German enterprises had managed to hide at their places of employment for the duration of the resettlement proceedings.
Fifty Lives Saved
Alfred Lipson relates the following story of fifty people who escaped deportation by hiding in a German furniture factory:
While the spotlights were being installed in the Ghetto streets on that memorable Sunday afternoon of August 16, I had decided to defy the Germans and evade an almost certain fate by leaving the Ghetto at any cost. The fact that my superior was away on vacation was rather encouraging, for as the only office worker I was thus in charge, with freedom of movement about the plant. I personally contacted several of the factory workers and asked them to pass the word: all Leopold Mai Furniture workers were to come with their families to spend the night at the factory.
By nightfall I had made half a dozen trips between the Ghetto and our hiding place in the factory, each time in a different disguise in order not to draw the suspicion of Ghetto guards. Each time I led another member of my family out of the Ghetto, using the one pass, owned by my sister, for all women. Thus I was fortunate to be able to sneak out ten members of my immediate family from the Ghetto.
I had noticed that some of the factory crew were having difficulties in getting through with their families. When I reached my office I picked up the telephone and called the Jewish police headquarters in the Ghetto. My voice disguised to sound like that of my boss, with his typical arrogance, I shouted in German: This is Leopold Mai! I make you responsible for seeing to it that my workers are let out of the Ghetto with their families!
More than fifty people were in the factory building, including children. The women did the cooking n an improvised kitchen. We were ready to settle down for the night, when the floodlights went on, on the other side of the Mleczna River, beyond the meadows, exposing the doomed Ghetto to us like a giant stage.
No one slept in the Ghetto that night, but neither did we. I had never before witnessed a pogrom or a battlefield, but the sounds reaching us from the ghetto indicated a combination of both. Firing of machine guns, rifles, pistols, shouted commands, heartbreaking cries of children, panic stricken shouts of mothers, mixed into one terrible tragedy. After listening to this for hours our hearts sank
in despair, our throats dried up, we were just looking at each other without uttering a word. Towards dawn we were not sure anymore whether this was reality or only a horrible nightmare. It just could not be real, in the heart of civilized Europe, in plain view of the world.
Monday, a hot August afternoon. Not a breeze, with all windows open in the large office. I had been napping for a while in my chair after a sleepless night. The ringing telephone startled me and I picked it up hastily.
'This is Gestapo calling. Send your damned Jews to the Ghetto immediately for resettlement!'
'Burt we have no Jews here' I said.
'According to our information, you are harboring over fifty of them!'
'This I would have to check!'
'Let us know. Heil Hitler.'
Though my voice was steady, I was frightened by this call. Evidently Mrs. Mai had denounced me to the Gestapo. So far they did not realize they were talking to a Jew, because my German pronunciation was faultless.
Late at night they called again. I used delaying tactics, explained that I need 'my Jews' to complete an urgent Air Force order and I would send them back in the morning. I was fully aware of the danger but I seemed to be enjoying this bickering with the Gestapo. They must have been too busy in the Ghetto, for they forgot to follow up on my group the next morning.
Tuesday our morale was high. The boys were working the machines full steam; the women did their best to feed us. I had a visitor in the afternoon, a Polish police officer sent by the Gestapo to escort 'my Jews' to the Ghetto.
I sat in my boss's chair, with Hitler's portrait behind me, flanked by Goering to the left and Goebbels to the right. The Pole clicked his heels and saluted me mumbling about his mission in a broken German. Without hesitating for a moment I showered him with a torrent of German cursing. He had a vague idea that all this meant for him to go to hell, but he still asked me for permission to use the telephone to report to his superiors. I simulated a terrible rage and lifted the phone making believe that I was going to throw it at him. He ran away on the double.
Later that night, Komissar Volter, a friend of Mrs. Mai, came into my office completely drunk, and with the cold barrel of his pistol against my temple, gave me five minutes to gather the workers and their families in front of the office building. I went to the factory and we locked and bolted all doors, determined to hold out another night.
Wednesday morning a dead stillness lay over the Ghetto. It was cleared of Jews except for a block of buildings on Szwarlikowska Street, where the Germans gathered the remnants of Radom Jews. We were told that a detachment of Polish police had arrived on the factory premises in order to escort us there. Before agreeing to go I telephoned the Jewish police, revealing my identity and the fact that I had succeeded in preserving a large group including women and children. I was assured that the S.S. had left the Ghetto and that it was now safe to join the rest of the Jews at Szwarlikowska Street.
The S.S. units, numbering several thousand men, had their headquarters in the Jewish Hospital building. A nearby lot, known as Pentz Park, was designated both as the execution place and graveyard. Hundreds of young men who had been saved from deportation were now engaged in the job of collecting bodies from the Ghetto streets and buying them in the hastily prepared ditches in the park. At the same time the Germans were searching house after house for hidden Jews, merchandise and valuables. The Pentz Park workers witnessed many shocking instances of brutal murder committed by the Germans in broad daylight.
Here are a few excerpts from their testimonies:
Symcha Katzman: The S.S. men brought a woman with four children, whom they found hidden in the Gelka tannery. The latter was told to kneel and were shot in the head. The Germans ordered me to place the yet warm bodies in the ditch. When I hesitated, they kicked me with their boots into the ditch and stepped on me till I was unconscious. I still do not know how I ever got out of there.
Selig Lipson: Among the hundreds of grave-diggers there was the tailor Huberman, a heavy-set man, who suffered from Asthma. Police lieutenant Magiera decided Huberman had been working too slowly and aimed the pistol at him. Huberman ran away, but the German pursued him and shot him in the head.
Pesach Speisman: I saw dozens of Jews being dragged from their hiding places to Pentz Park. They were pushed alive into the grave and then killed. At one time I was ordered to dig a separate small grave, a yard and a half young, while a six year old Jewish boy sat nearby, under the watchful eye of an S.S. officer. The boy had escaped from the Ghetto in the morning and joined a group of Polish children in a playground. Polish police had arrested him and handed him over to the Pentz guards. The S.S. man killed the boy and made me undress the warm body and bury it in the small grave.
The End of the Jewish Hospital
The Jewish Hospital had, at the time of resettlement, fifty-nine Jewish patients, mostly bedridden cases. On Sunday night the Gestapo chief came to the hospital for a personal inspection and ordered that the patients be given clothes and food for 24 hours. He assured the chief physician, Dr. Salolmea Walchovicz, that the patients would be transported to another hospital.
The following day all the patients were taken to Pentz Park, laid out in a semi-circle, and killed. Among them was the 82 year old former judge Josef Beckerman, grandson of the hospital's founder and benefactor of the city of Radom.
Deportation of Orphans and Aged
In their efficient planning, the Germans did not forget the orphanage and home for the aged, though these were located some distance from the Ghetto, in a different section of the city.
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 18th, the children from the orphanage were taken directly from t heir beds into waiting trucks and driven to the train. With them went the old people and the personnel with their families, headed by the orphanage Director, Dr. Silver.
After the trucks left, the Germans entered the building and shot seven patients of the Hospital for Contagious Diseases, located in the same premises. On the way out, passing the kitchen, they killed Rywka, the orphanage cook.
That day the Germans deported the members of the Jewish Council, headed by Chairman (also called Elder of the Jews) Jozef Diament. Part of the Jewish police force, including several officers who had been jailed some time ago, were also deported.
Only one person survived the train trip and returned to Radom, a name named Nathan Berkowitz. Here is his story:
I was among the thousands taken out of the Ghetto for deportation. We were marched to the trains accompanied by flying bullets and blows of rifle butts. At the Maryvil railroad siding there were more S.S. men and Ukrainian guards than deportees. Before we approached the car, we were ordered to leave our bundles and take off our coats and shoes. To enter the freight cars we had to pass a gantlet of club-wielding, vicious S.S. men and then over a gangplank, a board slimy with blood. By now one was happy to be in the train, past the inferno. I saw many wounded women with infants in their arms, who fell off the boards and were shot. I saw an S.S. beast who made it a sport to smash with his club milk bottles held by infants or their mothers.
We were two hundred in a car, squeezed so tightly that we could hardly breathe. The air inside was foul and unbearable. After 24 hours traveling only twenty were still alive, mostly those standing near the small barred windows. The following night I finally succeeded in removing the bars and, with the help of my friends, I squeezed through the opening and jumped from the moving train.
I ran into the woods, searching frantically for water. In the ensuing hours I thought I was losing my mind from pain and thirst. I finally encountered a farmer who gave me water and bread. I arrived in the nearest village of Kosow and there I found a group of Jews. They told me about the Treblinka camp, eight kilometers away. They had worked on the construction of barracks and a gas-chamber in the camp, but escaped and were now hiding in the woods. They had seen the train-loads of Jews arriving from Radom and other cities. All deportees found alive in the cars were gassed and cremated.
I decided to try and get back to Radom to join my family and deliver the information on Treblinka. Near Kosow, I then met about fifty young Jewish men who had escaped from the trains and from Treblinka. Two of them were from Radom: Zigman and Bankier, who were deported from Glinice. They all confirmed in detail the existence of the extermination center in Treblinka, the terminal point of the deportation trains.
I had my hair bleached and, disguised as a farmer, I arrived in Radom. By then the Ghetto had been liquidated. A few thousand remaining Jews were confined to one city block and a sign over the single heavily guarded gate read: 'Zwangs-Arbeits-Lager' (Forced Labor Camp).
No one in Radom believed my story about the destination of the deportation trains, not even my own father. I gave a detailed report to the head of the Jewish Council, but he called me a liar and chased me out of his office.
* * *
So it was not a deportation or resettlement or final solution. It was plain, cold-blooded murder.
The Final Count
1500 bodies were buried in Pentz Park on August 17th and 18th. 20,000 Jews were taken out of Radom for resettlement during these two days.
In 1939, according to post-war statistical research, there was a total Jewish population of 360,000 in the District of Radom, comprising 148 towns and villages. In 1943, after the deportations, there were 18,000 left, confined to several forced labor camps in the area. But this was not the end of the suffering: the Final Solution was yet to come.
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