Active and Passive Resistance
The Nazi propaganda minister, Goebbels, had once proclaimed that his plans were to wear down the Jews through persecution, starvation and degradation, so that they would inevitably degenerate to the level of criminals, and those Jews who did not die in the process would kill each other like wild beasts. In this respect the Germans failed completely and this failure must have been a source of great disappointment to them. For the Jews showed an extraordinary inner and outer resistance to the severe measures imposed on them by the Germans. An effort to surmount the degradations began the very first day of the persecutions a struggle that lasted all through the ghettos and camps. This unarmed resistance to the Nazis, carried on by most of the Jews consciously and at all times, was as brave a fight as an armed attack on the huge German war machine.
There were, of course, numerous groups of young men in Radom who, as early as 1941, joined the underground or organized their own fighting units to conduct acts of sabotage against German installations in Radom. Young men and women undertook perilous missions as couriers to other ghettos to exchange information on pending actions by the Germans, contact underground movements and coordinate plans.
Couriers from Warsaw
As soon as news was received in Radom of mass deportations from ghettos in the East in 1942, attempts were made to prepare an armed uprising in the Ghetto. Franka Kirschenbaum and Joseph Kaplan arrived secretly from Warsaw as delegates of the Hashomer Hatzair organization; their contact in Radom was Abraham Salbe, an attorney and former leader in the organization. The couriers brought detailed plans with them for armed resistance, should deportation take place in Radom.
The plans never materialized; there were difficulties in obtaining enough weapons and volunteers. The masses of the population did not believe the stories circulated in the Ghetto that deportation meant extermination. Nobody could grasp even the thought that death factories were operated in the heart of Europe. It must also be understood that the majority of the Ghetto inhabitants were older persons, women and children. It was therefore impossible to weld together these sick, bewildered human beings into a group capable of concerted action against a powerful and unscrupulous enemy.
Attempts at armed resistance were also complicated by the Germans' practice of collective punishment: retaliation by murdering entire groups of innocent people. There were numerous cases in Radom of executing entire families as a punishment for the escape of one member of the family. In April of 1942, the Gestapo entered the Ghetto to arrest active members of left-wing parties. Among others they searched for Israel Glatt, one of the Labor Zionist party leaders. When he could not be found, the Gestapo arrested three men with the same name; two of them were killed immediately, one managed to escape. As a result of this German policy, there developed a sense of collective responsibility among the Jews. Realizing that they would surely endanger the lives of their families and innocent friends, many prospective partisans preferred to remain in the Ghetto.
It would be a great mistake to leave the impression that the Jews of Radom were a passive group of slave laborers. Quite to the contrary, Radom can boast of an impressive list of unsung heroes, who fought the Germans as partisans, participated in
the Treblinka and Auschwitz revolts, joined the 1944 Polish uprising in Warsaw, worked in the underground organizations, demolished German communication lines and attacked SS guards with bare hands. Their stories will never be complete for only a handful survived. Before we relate some of the witness-verified reports of active participation by Radomer Jews in underground and guerrilla warfare movements, we will tell the story of their unarmed resistance and defiance in the face of the enemy.
Illegal Meetings and Publications
In spite of the Nazi ban on Jewish public and cultural activities, various methods were used to continue many aspects of community life and to preserve human values.
Mr. Israel Glatt reports that all Jewish labor organizations continued their activities until the major deportation of August, 1942. The Labor Zionists met regularly in private homes and received illegal publications from party headquarters in Warsaw. Mr. Moshe Kirschenblatt, one of the party leaders, made frequent trips to Warsaw and brought clandestine literature for distribution in Radom. The activities of the group centered around self-help and the maintenance of moral standards; it also attempted to safeguard the interests of the workers in matters concerning the Jewish Council.
The Bund socialist party and the Communists similarly conducted political and cultural activities in the Ghetto for the benefit of their members.
Mr. Zvi Rokocz writes that the Akiba Zionist youth organization held meetings regularly and, in collaboration with other Zionist youth movements, secretly organized cultural events and discussion groups.
The Hashomer Hatzair youth group had salvaged most of its library y, which was subsequently kept in the Ghetto, hidden in Moshe Weissman's apartment. The books were circulated among the young people in the Ghetto.
Elsewhere in this book we have reported on the spirit of defiance by the religious community in conducting services, observing Sabbaths and holidays, and maintaining underground Yeshivas.
In a different chapter we have also told of the Nazi-prohibited education given to small groups of children and of literary and dramatic programs arranged in the ghetto. It was all a conscious demonstration of the spirit of resistance prevailing in the Ghetto.
Acts of Sabotage
It is a well-known fact that while working on German orders in the shops and factories, the Jews intentionally turned out either inferior or completely useless products. In the Szkolna Street armaments factory, the Jews devised imaginative tricks to remove certain vital parts that would render the weapons inoperative. As we reported elsewhere in this book, many Jews were executed on charges of sabotage.
The Jews assigned to Armbruster's furniture factory did not complete a single order, though they worked there for nearly a year. The workers skillfully tampered with the machines in order to put them out of commission and, when these were finally repaired, they used them so as to cause power failures.
A similar situation existed at the Leopold Mai furniture plant. When it was decided that further procrastination at this factory might result in undue hardships to the workers, the furniture was finally assembled, but with such negligence that it could not withstand transportation. When the Luftwaffe later complained that the furniture could not be used, the Jews were not there anymore to bear the consequences.
When news of the fate of deportees reached the Ghetto Jews began to organize escape parties. A large group left the Ghetto and attempted to join the Polish underground in the forests near Radom. The entire group was killed by the Poles. As a result of this and several similar incidents, Jews learned that they had as much to fear from Polish partisans as from the Germans. Escapes still continued, but on a limited scale, mostly by individuals.
Some Jews were active in securing forged passports and smuggling people out of the Ghetto to hideouts in Warsaw, or even abroad, to Hungary or Czechoslovakia. This, however, involved extremely large sums of money, and only a few could avail themselves of this service. Nevertheless, many families reached Palestine in the summer of 1943, by means of such secret dealings.
Mr. Sam Gutstat (now in Toronto, Canada) escaped with five of his friends in 1943. Equipped with Aryan documents, they lived comfortably in Warsaw until they were spotted by Poles, who informed the Gestapo. Gutstat was the only one taken alive and jailed; the others were killed during their attempted escape.
There were numerous cases of individuals and entire families being harbored by Poles in hideouts. Most of them were well paid, but it must be said that by helping the Jews and supplying them with food, the Poles risked their own lives.
We can state with certainty that hundreds of young men and women of Radom had left the Ghet-
to to fight as partisans from their hideouts in the woods. When possible they joined Polish bands operating in the vicinity; otherwise they formed autonomous Jewish units. They entered the forests with the naïve faith that they might find comrades in their Polish fellow-fighters, but with a few exceptions, they encountered hostility if not a bullet in the back. It is known that late in 1941 a large group of boys left the Ghetto for the woods; they were all murdered by a band of nationalist partisans.
Preparations to form guerrilla groups were usually made in great secrecy; even the members' families seldom knew of pending departures. Unfortunately, very few Jewish partisans survived to tell of their bravery. For these reasons the story of armed resistance by Radomer Jews will remain incomplete.
Following are a few short accounts of Jewish participation in guerrilla fighting, as pieced together from available information:
After the first deportation in 1942, 100 young men from Radom and vicinity formed a partisan unit under the command of Berish Ackerman. They had secured some pistols before their departure from the Ghetto and received additional equipment from a friendly Polish left-wing partisan band. The Jewish unit conducted raids on German supply lines and also assisted in the escape of Jews from the Ghetto. Informed on by a nationalist band known by the initials A.K., they were surrounded by an overwhelming German force, and 46 men, including Berish Ackerman, lost their lives after inflicting heavy losses on the Germans. The surviving partisans, many of them wounded, were killed, one by one, by the A.K. group.
* * *
Abraham Konsker escaped from the armament factory with a group of friends. In the woods they were joined by other Jews from Radom and nearby towns who had escaped previously. As they grew in numbers, they decided, for safety reasons, to divide into smaller groups, led by Lindzen, Finkelstein, Zalman Rutman and the Lerman brothers. They later acquired arms and attacked the Germans. In one of their fights, Lindzen and six of his men were killed. After two years in the woods, these partisan groups returned to Radom with the Soviet armies on January 15, 1945.
* * *
Jerzy Weingart appears prominently in several testimonies as an organizer of Jewish underground groups. A young man of daring, he traveled to other ghettos to contact local partisan leaders and secure arms. On Weingart's intervention, a Polish partisan corps agreed to accept his group, which included Mendel Gotfried, Lolek Gurfinkel, Mieczysllaw Buch, Moniek Wygodzki, Fred Rosenbaum, Daniel Berkowitz, Michal Berkowitz, Zenek Werber, Kuperwasser, Stern, Bojman, Studnia and others. As a condition for their inclusion in the corps, the Poles specified that everyone had to bring weapons. After they finally were in possession of guns, mostly bought from Poles at high prices, the Jews escaped from the Ghetto to join the partisans. The latter robbed them of the weapons and chased them back to the Ghetto.
Weingart later made his way with part of the group via Hungary to Rumania, where they boarded a refugee boat to Palestine. They perished near Turkey, where the board is said to have hit a mine.
* * *
Moshe Goldberg was assigned to work in the SS warehouse and succeeded in smuggling many guns into the Ghetto. These he gave to his friends who joined guerrilla ranks in the woods.
* * *
The entire Malarski family was known to be actively working for the underground movement. The Gestapo located Israel Malarski in his hiding place, but he committed suicide before being apprehended. His brother Joseph also committed suicide while being tortured by the Gestapo to disclose the names of his collaborators.
* * *
Noah (Nolek) Schlaferman fought the Germans as a partisan near Bialystok. He was captured once on a visit in Radom, but managed to escape and return to his guerrilla unit. He is said to have been killed later during an attack on a German post.
* * *
Mirka (Minna) Liebeskind a heroine of the underground movement in Krakow, came to the Ghetto in Radom in 1943 to inspire active resistance against the Germans. Her contact in Radom was Saba Wainapel, a former leader in the Akiba youth organization. Mirka was arrested by the Gestapo and subjected to torture in order to force her to disclose the names of the underground conspirators. She died in the Gestapo chamber without disclosing a single name.
* * *
The sisters Sara and Rose Silver were active in the underground movement of the Warsaw and Wilno Ghettos. They were caught and killed on a mission outside Warsaw, after they put up a gallant fight, armed only with pistols.
* * *
Samuel Gutman, disguised as a Pole, was a captain in the Polish guerrilla forces operating in the area between Warsaw and Bialystok. Known as Grzegorz, he was commander of the unit named Vengeance, which conducted daring raids on German military installations in the area and frequent-
ly used explosives to destroy the railroad tracks leading to the death-camp of Treblinka. Serving under Grzegorz were several officers and men who were also hiding their Jewish identity to avoid discrimination and abuses by fellow partisans. Mr. Gutman now lives in the United States and writes his memoirs. An excerpt, full of dramatic moments, is given on page 362 of the Yiddish section of this book.
Radomers in the Warsaw Uprising
While the Russian armies were on their offensive march towards the capital city of Warsaw, Polish patriots rose to arms against the entrenched Germans on August 1, 1944. At that time there were about one hundred Radomer Jews in Warsaw who had escaped from the Ghetto in their home town in the hope of finding refuge in the large metropolis. It was a nerve-racking existence, in constant danger of being discovered by the Germans or betrayed by the Poles, on whom they depended for food and supplies.
Upon hearing of the uprising, most of the Jews left their hideouts and joined in the fierce street battles against German military units.
Mr. Sam Gutstat reports that together with ten friends who had hitherto been hiding for weeks among the gravestones of the Powazki Cemetery, he joined the unit of Captain Topolnicki, who led the revolt in the area. That group was the first to capture a tank from the Germans; with this tank the brave fighters attacked a concentration camp adjoining the Pawiak Prison and liberated the four hundred inmates, mostly Jews. The liberated Jews immediately joined the revolt and were instrumental in the victorious assault on the German garrison. The defeated Germans fled in panic.
However, the joy of triumph was short-lived. For within days the Germans brought in reinforcements, supported by heavy artillery and airplanes, and crushed the revolt. Again, as in the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto during the preceding year, the survivors of the 1944 revolt took to the bunkers and canals. When the Poles finally surrendered, the Jewish participants in the revolt were forced to go into hiding, to await liberation by the Soviet army.
Among the Radomers who took an active part in the 1944 uprising in Warsaw were: engineer Arthur Haskler (killed in battle), Dr. Kadysiewicz-Kusinski (chief doctor of the rebel forces), Menachem Lipszyc, Severyn Weingart, Lora Rutman, Ruth Weisberg, Yechiel Leszcz, Abram Domaniewicz, Mendel Glatt, Isidor Sheinfeld, Zaidenweber, Zingisser, Kaplan and many others, whose names could not be ascertained.
The Auschwitz Revolt
Impossible as it may seem, there was an underground movement in the huge, tightly controlled Auschwitz concentration camp. Initiated in 1943 by the Polish resistance leader, Adam Krzyzanowski, the movement grew in strength and finalized its plans for the destruction of the gas chambers and a mass escape.
Mr. Yeshaya Eiger of Radom, a confidant of Krzyzanowski during the years of confinement in
He also served as chairman of the Jewish National Fund in Radom.
He was a frequent contributor to the Yiddish newspaper Hajat in Warsaw.
Auschwitz was entrusted with the task of organizing a fighting unit and preparing the explosives. Eiger enlisted the help of his friends who worked in various sections of the camp and they, in turn, were able to recruit conspirators working in essential camp plants, such as the explosives factory, or in strategic points, like the area near the gas chambers. Among the Radomers who were instrumental in preparing the revolt were, in addition to Eiger, Jacob Handelsman, Jacob Rosenzweig, Leib Rosenzweig, Joseph Warszawski, Godel Silber, Leib Silber, Bronka Glatt from Radom, and Dorka Saperstein from Sosnowiec, two girls who worked in the explosives plant, smuggled gunpowder into the camp daily in small portions. Colonel Borodin, a Russian prisoner and expert pyrotechnist, built powerful bombs, which were entrusted to Handelsman and Warszawski, because of their jobs in proximity of the gas chamber. The plans called for destruction of the camp in October.
In September, 1944, the men who were given the bombs learned that they would be transferred to a different location. Anxious about the bombs,
they made a desperate decision to use them immediately.
Gas chamber no. 2 and the crematorium were blown up completely; the two men had gained access to the buildings after killing the supervising SS men. The blast also tore up a section of the barbed wire fence, through which many prisoners escaped. The affair ended in disaster, for the majority of the escaped prisoners were caught by the SS and consequently killed.
Handelsman was wounded during the explosion; though tortured by his captors he never revealed the identity of his collaborators in the underground movement. He was then shot to death.
Yeshaya Eiger survived the war and was one of the founders of the Jewish Historical Commission in Munich, Germany. He emigrated to the United States where he was active in community affairs and held positions of trust with the Histadrut. He died in 1960.
Successful Revolt in Treblinka
Treblinka was not a concentration camp, but a mass production factory of death, where three million persons of various nationalities were exterminated. Every person arriving in Treblinka was doomed to death. Merely a handful of people lived longer than a few hours, a few days. If they lived for a few weeks or months, it was because they were skilled workers carpenters, tailors, barbers who were temporarily needed by the Germans in Treblinka, and would sooner or later be replaced by new arrivals. These prisoners, doomed to death, evolved a plan for revolt and succeeded in destroying Treblinka.
One hundred persons participated in the preparation of the uprising. An immense, complex plan was worked out to the last detail. With astonishing patience and daring, the prisoners accumulated secret caches of axes, knives, explosives. Through a super-human effort that only people imbued with a desire to inflict vengeance could make, the plotters had stored enough gasoline to set the entire camp on fire. Hand grenades and pistols were stolen from the SS arsenal. All this was concealed in specially prepared excavations.
The revolt was set for August 2, 1943. Each group of five had its exact assignment. Some were entrusted with storming the watch-towers, others had to cut the telephone wires and to make openings in the barbed wire fences; some had to guard the passages. Some groups finally were assigned the task of pouring gasoline over the camp buildings and setting them afire.
At the appointed time a pistol shot gave the signal to commence. A barrage of shots and explosions of hand grenades roared in the camp. Soon the machine guns on the towers were seized. The air shook with the noise of battle. Treblinka was ablaze.
Here a new pattern developed, one that was to repeat itself time and again towards the end of the war. The Germans, who had been behaving like representatives of a superior race, proved to be miserable cowards, crawling and begging for mercy.
Joseph Zimmerman from Radom took part in the battle and lived to tell his story. He killed a guard with is pistol and blew up the gasoline station with two grenades. A Radomer girl named Cesia Mandel was one of the masterminds and organizers of the Treblinka revolt. Her father had participated in the 1905 revolution against Czarist Russia. Her fate after Treblinka is unknown.
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