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[Pages 458-471]

Memories and Facts

Regarding the most tragic period of the annihilation
of the Jewish community in Staszów in the years: 1942-1944

by Szmuel Szaniecki, Łódź

Translated by Ken Blady

Summer 1942. Almost three years into Hitler's occupation. Years of difficult struggle, anguish and suffering, dread and fear, by day and by night; years of endless harsh decrees and persecution, terror, looting, and murder; years in which the life of every Jew was delivered over to the whims of every German murderer.

Tortured, bloodied, dejected, physically and morally afflicted under the horrible occupation, the Jewish community in Staszów, which in the summer of 1942 included refugees from Warsaw, Łódź, Kraków, and other localities, numbered at that time more than seven thousand souls, and they were herded into a narrow, locked-up ghetto.

The supervisor implementing the ghetto decrees upon us and the surrounding region was the Nazi-murderer Obladin. Eichmann and his henchmen had sent him to serve as a specialist in Jewish affairs. Together with the Gestapo and the S.D.[1] this well-schooled murderer with shrewd perfidiousness, this glutton, while setting up the ghetto, was engaging in extortionist activities against the Jewish community and in exchange promising to expand the ghetto tract and not having it locked up. This promise, like all other Nazi promises, turned out to be nothing more than cheap cynicism.

The ghetto became a nest of indescribable suffering, hunger and epidemic diseases. The communal relief institutions in the ghetto (cooks, infirmary, etc.) were intermittently and only to a very small degree able to alleviate the suffering of the impoverished, tortured people. Day in, day out hundreds of people were constrained to engage in forced labor (as rock splitting, highway workers, and other kinds of oppressive labor), in order to satiate the great hunger pangs.

Terror, pillage and murder became a daily occurrence. Panter (from Frankfurt-am-Main), the chief of “Schupo” (Schutz-Polizei[2]) in Staszów, would make the rounds of the ghetto streets with a pistol in hand, shooting away left and right. This particular murderer kept in bondage two young boys, about ten to twelve years of age, because they had supposedly broken into a German depot where stolen Jewish things were kept, and then commanded that their parents be brought before him. And while the parents, Meir Kuperberg and his wife Mashkeh (I can't remember her family name), appeared before him this blood-thirsty murderer shoved them up against the wall and shot them. Only the twelve year old Kuperberg, one of the two detained youths, managed to escape. (The murder was carried out in the market by the house of Elias Pomerancblum). This same Nazi beast murdered three Jewish women, who were standing right next to the ghetto boundary. From his bloody hands there were many martyrs in the Staszówer ghetto.

A “frequent” guest in Staszów was the popular murderer, the “Gestapo” man, “Pan Malutki” (“Mr. Small”; his headquarters was in Tarnów). When he would appear in the shtetl there would be immediately cause for alarm among the Jews. Everyone would crawl into a hiding place in order not to fall into the hands of this vicious Angel of Death.

Terrorizing the Jewish communal leadership he forced them to provide him with precious metals, clothing, fabrics, etc., every time he “visited” the shtetl. On one occasion, after leaving a restaurant, he shot a Jew named Lichtenstein who was passing by (he was a refugee from Warsaw). On another occasion he butchered two Jewish survivors of the Mielec massacre.

Acquaintances and strangers, from nearby and from afar, Gestapo and the S.S., gendarmes and Volksdeutsch[3] (Resler and his bands and those from the village of Przeczów by Połaniec) – attacked and tortured us, plundered and robbed, and engaged in murder.

During this same period when the extermination campaign went into high gear throughout the land – when the criminal Nazi nation commenced with great viciousness and shrewdness its well thought-through plan for annihilating the Jews – in this atmosphere of perpetual fear and dread, of hovering between life and death, no one had even the slightest illusion. Everyone knew that the so-called “rooting out” campaign in actuality meant total annihilation, and that this was explicitly the objective of the degenerate, unscrupulous enemy.

 

Consultations Regarding an Uprising

In this tragic time of great tension there still pulsated in us the yearning for a harmonious life. Representatives of all ideological stripes in our shtetl joined together and engaged in consultations, seeking to find ways to save our lives; principally, the issue of engaging the enemy in open armed warfare was brought up in discussion. Right here, I want to commemorate those of our comrades and friends who were actively involved in these consultations and who are no longer among the living: Mendel Szpiner, Chaim Frydman, Mottel Pomerancblum, Ramek Segal, Elimelech Beser, Moshe Nisengarten, Moshe Aaron Sztalryt, Tzvi Lewowicz, David Sznifer, and Israel Band.

During the war years Tzvi Lewowicz lived for a while in Warsaw, among the chalutzic[4] circles, where a Jewish combat organization began to crystallize. Upon returning to Staszów he devoted his time to organizing an active rebellion.

A good number of our yishuv,[5] mostly the youth, were imbued with a spirit of combat, to retaliate tit-for-tat during the “rooting out” period, and raise the dignity of their oppressed and dehumanized fellow Jews. It was becoming increasingly clear that an act of rebelliousness would bring about a swift and brutal retaliation with the intention of total annihilation.

However, in order to follow through in this campaign of resistance, two basic conditions were necessary, but which were woefully lacking in Staszów.

  1. Given the conditions prevailing in Staszów, and also in the whole region, there was no expectation that even minimal assistance would arrive from outside. On the contrary, the Polish reactionary elements of that time – and they had absolute rule in the region – who allegedly received their support from the London delegation, created an atmosphere of morbid hatred towards Jews.[6] This feeling of terrible loneliness in the battle against an enemy who was armed from head to toe, dampened the zeal of the resistance.
  2. Already in the early days of the occupation the Nazi command destroyed the great Jewish political-social centers, which for many generations had had an immense impact on the Jewish street, and reflected Jewish life as it was lived in the cities and shtetlech. The Jewish communal leadership, confined in the hermetic seal of the bolted ghetto, were effectively cut off from the masses. This caused enormous difficulty for the underground movement, which was not able to reach all the Jewish habitations.

Other than the above, there were two other factors – both positive – which drew the attention of the active section of the fatigued Jewish community among the youth – in their naïve faith that one could save one's naked life. These factors were the following:

  1. The large tracts of forest land in our region gave many Jews the illusion of real rescue-possibilities. So for hundreds of Jews a type of forest-psyche prevailed, but without any concrete objective.
    Because of the aforementioned antagonistic relations with the surrounding Polish population, there was also, tragically, little hope that one could survive in forest conditions, and certainly not be able to engage the enemy in an organized manner. Still, there was hope that by hiding in the forests they would somehow manage to endure during this period of great tribulation.
  2. Another illusion, in which the drowning Jewish youth were clinging to, be'ein breirah [having no choice], were the so-called “work-details.” By being considered “useful Jews” hundreds of Jews came to believe that they would be able to avoid a tragic fate.
    All these above enumerated factors rendered torpid the prostrate and tortured Jewish population – and being disoriented, confused and unsettled made it impossible to realize the possibility of a successful plan of resistance.

 

Before the “Aussiedlung” (“Resettlement / Evacuation”)[7]

In the meantime the word was spread of the murderous German death marches. Well-calculated and with cold brutality the enemy was planning to bask in the act of annihilation. The brutes concentrated the Jews in one area. The Jews from the surrounding shtetlech and villages were driven into our ghetto.

In the ghetto things are in upheaval; a terrible panic prevails. Jews are hiding things in the cellars and the attics. Devout Jews are lighting candles and praying. On these tragic days an officer from the S.S. would visit us daily in Miechocin, near Sandomierz, and spread the lying propaganda, that the Jews from the surrounding cities were sent off to the eastern provinces for work and their lives are quite satisfactory, and also that the Staszówer Jews will be sent to work there. At every opportunity the S.S. murderers would rob from Jews, whatever they could help themselves to. Together with the Schupo Kommandant Eleman (from Frankfurt-am-Main), they vandalized Jechiel Milgram's store and apartment, stole his entire fortune, dragged Milgram before the city captain's headquarters, detained him and had him tied up all day to his auto. In the end they hurled him into the city-jail, where he was incarcerated until the day they put an end to him.

 

8 November 1942

This was the day whose arrival we were in morbid fear of, which chilled the blood of every Jew – and became a tragic fact. On this day the annihilation-band under the leadership of the bloody murderer Schild, from Radom, arrived at the shtetl to carry out the “evacuation” with the utmost brutality, which the human imagination can't even begin to imagine.

The hundreds of holy martyrs who were annihilated during this murderous day of destruction, were buried in a common mass grave in the cemetery.

Shortly afterwards, the Hitler barbarians demolished the martyrs' grave, with the intention of wiping out any trace of their genocidal atrocities.

Excruciatingly terrible was the pain of those who had survived. Before our very eyes there stood incessantly the horrific image of this now wiped-out Jewish community, who only yesterday were driven to their mass destruction.

But soon afterwards the Nazi scum proceeded with their devilish work. Depraved Polish elements, criminal types, were lurking for Jewish lives, and Jewish blood was again flowing without interruption. They would spy on and ferret out Jews in hiding and then hand them over to the Nazi murderers. Every day Jews were being dragged out of bunkers, led to the cemetery, and murdered. There were also cases of grenades being thrown into the discovered hiding places (the family of Goldgrub). In the forests, fields and along the roads there were roving bands of thieves and criminal bands who robbed every Jew they encountered and then murdered them. Hundreds of Jews died at their hands.

After all these nightmarish days of mass murder – after the liquidation of the “sheep,” whose people were led off to Poniatowa, in the province of Lublin, and were massacred there; after, too, the outrageous trap that the Nazis set up for the unfortunate illegal Jews, in the so-called ”Jewish State”[8] in Sandomierz – we remained a small bunch: 250 souls in the Emler lager[9], and about as many in the forests and in the hideouts.

Among others the Emler laborers were occupied also on the roads, very close to the Golejów Forest, in this way having the means to stay in constant touch with our forest brothers, to assist them in any way we could, in their tragic hopeless situation. In the meantime the conditions of the Emler laborers within the work-camp deteriorated day by day. The lager leaders, the Nazi folks – Eimer, Buge, Mejdanek, and Geschel – perpetrated the gravest atrocities against us utilizing the most degrading methods. Together with the “Schupo”-folks they would assault us in the winter nights, drag us out of the “couch” and detain us half naked in the snow and frost for many hours within the work-camp, maltreating and torturing us. Sometimes these sadistic acts ceased with the handing over of redemption money. If we want to have some rest, the Lager-Führer revealed to us the “secret,” we have to pay exorbitantly for it. With the extorted loot the murderers made merry, and then proceeded to once again attack and murder. And this is how our suffering in this state of bewitchment seemed to stretch on with no end in sight.

 

Winter 1943

In the winter months the situation of the hidden Jews in the forest was even more tragic. It was especially difficult for women and children. The footprints on the snow would easily give away those in hiding. For this reason it was extremely difficult to forage for food. The fear of starving to death constrained many Jews to return to the city, and camp out in the ravaged Jewish houses, even though the home-grown[10] hoodlums and snitches were lurking for Jewish life step by step. Those who had loved ones in the Emler lager checked out the vacant surrounding houses, and hid in the cellars and attics, in order to have the gratification of closeness to their family members.

The results didn't take long. One day in January, in the late evening hours, lying there on the couches, we shuddered upon hearing the vicious, murderous noises that were reaching us from outside. A collective shudder shook our bodies. We sensed that something terrible was happening outside. Some of us went out to the gate of the ghetto – and we took sight of a horrific scene. The Hitler beasts, with rifles in hand, were driving a group of Jews to the magistrate, and throwing them into the city jail. Among the martyrs we recognized: Israel Olster and his wife and daughter, and the wives and children of Zissel Dula and Moshe Fiszman.

This group of martyrs had hidden out in the lairs of Herszel Wagner's home. Local criminal elements spied them out and handed them over to the Hitler murderers. The next morning, a couple of us edged up close to the jail, in order to serve the unfortunate ones some food. This was a horrific thing to endure – leading to insanity. It was a terribly grievous thing for the soul, when our eyes made contact. It was very difficult, virtually impossible, to find words of consolation for people over whom the Angel of Death was hovering. After detaining them for three days under conditions of excruciating pain, the murderous S.S. folks from Opatów arrived and, leading the martyrs out to the cemetery, mowed them down. When the reverberations of the massacre arrived to the lager, we did our best to try to console the fainting hysterical men, fathers and children of the murdered holy ones.

 

Eimer Accuses Us of …Demoralization

A new contingent of gendarmes arrived to the shtetl. Soon these bloody murderers wanted to show what they were capable of. Together with the Schupo and some Lager-Führers they perpetrated acts of plunder and murder. When they would attack us, one segment of the band would hold us in place and torture us, while the second group would ransack our beds, robbing us of the last bit that we had squirreled away for bread. Among those who were killed during these acts of bestiality were Leibush Sznifer, Eliyahu Winer and Mrs. Miriam Dambrowska.

The families of these Nazi animals were as depraved as the fathers. On the occasion when the Lager-Führer Eimer brought his fourteen-year-old son Helmut as guest, this young hoodlum would daily strap a rifle to his shoulder, and together with the Schupo murderers would go out into the city and into the forests and shoot down Jews. During one of these bloody actions, near the lager, Chaim Wincygster was martyred at the hands of these bloody murderers. Oftentimes, in the evening hours, this young degenerate, with revolver in hand, would enter the lager and break into the women's compartment. Eimer would accuse us of…demoralizing his son, and for this caused us lots of tzuris[11]. At the same time Eimer removed the sickly 17-year-old Gershon (I can't remember his family name) dragged him out to the graveyard and shot him. Our pleas and prayers to spare him were in vain. His craving for Jewish blood impelled him to carry out this dastardly deed, in order to satiate his pathological lust for murder.

At the same time that some Volksdeutschen captured Sarah Frydman in the field and threw her into the city jail – the same day it was fortuitous for her son Dr. Elias Frydman (who survived and later lived out his years in America) to have encountered Schupo-Kommandant Eleman, and offered him a fat reward if he would free his mother and sister. One part of the deal the Nazi misfit fulfilled in full – he showed up at the lager, took the agreed-upon bribe, and cash and other valuable things, but instead of freeing the two unfortunate women, that same evening he removed them from the prison and shot them in the magistrate's courtyard. In the end, tragically, nothing came of the self-sacrificing and perilous deed of Dr. Frydman.

 

Child Murder

The Kornblums (Shlomo and Etke) gave away their three-year-old child to have him hidden. On a certain day these Christian “benefactors” put the child out in the street. When the gendarmes found out about this they brought the child into the lager, placed him on a window and began to torment him with questions: What is his name, the names of the parents, where did he come from, does he have family in the lager, etc. After the “interrogation” the barbarians flung the child in a cellar-prison and the next morning cold-bloodedly murdered him.

 

German Pledges

For the directors of the Emler-firm (engineers Golick, Eisler, and sometimes the owner, the director Klein), it was not enough that Jews were working with no recompense and in inhuman conditions. With all kinds of deceptive means and threats – to liquidate the lager if they won't receive lucre – they were invariably able to extort from us money, valuables, and clothing. Naturally, we were interested in extending the existence of the lager in Staszów – for as long as it was possible. We deprived ourselves almost of the last morsel in order to satiate the insatiable appetites of these “Great Herren.” But like all German pledges this also turned out to bebrutal lies.

In May 1943 one hundred men from the lager were sent to Kleczanów, in Sandomierz Province, a quarry which also belonged to the Emler firm. And a couple of weeks later, on the third of June, 1943, the lager in Staszów was completely liquidated. On the same day the Jews of Kleczanów were deported.

 

We Jump from the Trucks

With bitter hearts, morbidly fearful, we left the shtetl of our birth. First of all, we had no idea where these murderers were taking us, and what their intentions were. And second, we did a reckoning, that from this day forward the forest Jews would be cut off from the world – abandoned! On the way we were escorted by the Gestapo and the gendarmes. With weapons in their hands they were riding in front and from behind in a number of vehicles.

It was a warm day, the sun was burning, and we were suffering from thirst. But no one wanted to forfeit one's life by having the “chutzpah” to beg for some water. Only after we had arrived to Opatów and a large number of our “escorts” left for a while in a restaurant – a Polish woman handed us a bucket of water. While we were continuing on the journey, between Opatów and Ostrowiec, an empty truck arrived and the Gestapo folks commanded that all the women and a number of the men should get on the arrived vehicle. Incidentally, upon getting on board we received murderous beatings. Along the way we got our bearings that the Staszów vehicles were taking us to Skarżysko – while at the same time the one that had just arrived was driving to Radom. We also noticed that, at the place of the Gestapo escort, we were being accompanied by labor police, who were sitting together with us, with weapons in their hands.

At that moment a number of us gave thought to running away. After the terrible news we had received from Staszów and Skarżysko, the fear of being sent to strange lagers was so great, we were thinking – that, not withstanding the risk of getting killed, which was a very real possibility – there was nothing more to lose.

At the first opportune moment – the women had specially placed themselves opposite the murderers – individually we started jumping out of the moving truck – and ran into the fields. When the labor police first began to realize this they started shooting away, and as a result the following fell: Boguchwal, Lowczyk, and Goldsztajn. Eight men succeeded in escaping. Aaron Wajnbaum, Gabriel Mandel, Beryl Goldfarb, and the above-mentioned ran off, each in a different direction. Deep into the woods a band of hooligans managed to catch up with us, threatening to hand us over to the Germans if we didn't give them ransom money. Our pleas to leave us alone landed on deaf ears. Frisking us they took the little bit of food which everyone had, pulled off our boots and clothing, and took off. Trying to avoid similar encounters with robber-bands who were at that time infesting the road, we hid out among the crops and at night we wandered in the direction of Staszów.

Lying there among the crops, we noticed Gabriel Zyngier, from the Elmer lager, who had been deported from Staszów to Ostrowiec and managed to escape from there. That night – now five altogether – we wandered until we arrived to Bogoria. Exhausted, half-fainting, we plopped ourselves down in front of an isolated house out in the field.

We started going into convulsions when there suddenly appeared a man holding a revolver in his hand, and in a loud tone demanded that we get up and hold our hands up high. He searched us looking for weapons. His behavior towards us was full of hatred. An even greater fear and shudder pierced through us when we noticed that, not far from us, was a group of his gang, who were only waiting for his command. We pleaded with him to let us go. A woman also came out of the cottage and, standing up to him, told him to let us go. After giving thought to it for a considerable time, he commanded that we leave the town immediately – and he went back to join his friends. Saved from great peril we took off immediately. The next morning we arrived at our destination: to our suffering friends in the forest.

 

Three Polish Bands

After having liquidated the lager, the Hitler-folks in Staszów had no access to the remaining Jews. But our life's-struggle was not rendered easier because of this. On the contrary, our actual, dramatic struggle to preserve our naked lives had just begun. Incomparably more than before, our lives were endangered by the local Polish bands, who threw themselves upon us from every direction. First, under the alleged influence of the London delegation there was an assignment at hand to annihilate, literally, all the remaining Jews.[12] Their attitude to Polish liberal circles was one of enmity, and towards the Polish democratic underground it was outright vicious. Second – hooligan bands of thieves, who murdered for the purpose of robbing. And third – simply, depraved criminal elements who were occupied with spying and snitching on Jews, or would catch them themselves and hand them over to the Germans.

There were various motives as one can see from the above description, for these different bands: Ideological, thievery, and plain underworld. But the blind Jew-hatred was something they all had in common, and its tragic effect would have an impact on bringing about the systematic non-stop liquidation of Jewish life – and also reduce the small cluster of survivors until the last possible moment.

 

Spring 1943

With the onset of spring, we thought that life in the forest would be easier and more secure – many Jews who had hidden themselves among the Poles deserted their “platzuvkes[13] and took off for the forest. In addition to the illusion of safety in the forest there were other mishaps, such as: shortage of money, Polish fears of continuing to hide Jews and, most of all, the Jews' fear of remaining with their irresponsible “benefactors.” All these helpless, non-practical people in the new forest environment were concentrated in large groupings, supposedly for security reasons. But soon there began to flare up once again the fatal hunt for Jewish souls. Masses fell as victims. In the course of only a short period the bandits' hand had cut down – Tuchman's two daughters, Beser's two daughters, Mrs. Bernczwajg and her two children, Mrs. Sznifer, Sima Herszkowicz, Mrs. Tenenbaum, Sarah Troper, Dambrowski's two young girls, and many more. Abraham Gerszt and Meir Frydman were caught on the Rytwiańska road, their hands were bound, and they were dragged into town and handed over to the gendarme. Shimon Frydman (Matys Frydman's son) and his brother-in-law, Yehuda Erlichman, left the forest for the road to buy some food from some peasants passing by. Soon, some fascist misfit showed up and commanded his forest workers to detain them. Then, he took off on his bicycle and rode into the city to fetch the gendarme. Their fate was sealed. Shlomo Kornblum and his wife were handed over to the murderers and were shot while the young couple on the cemetery embraced and kissed. Melech Rosenberg was hiding out among the crops of the Staszów peasants. The informers brought the gendarme over and murdered him right there on the spot. Abraham Hauer went into the village to buy some food for a group of forest Jews. As soon as he walked into the cottage of a familiar peasant the bandits fell upon him, tied him up, threw him on a wagon, drove him to Staszów, and handed him over to the Angel of Death – the gendarme. Koppel Rotenberg and his brother hid out for many months in the Golejów forest. When the hunger pangs became overwhelming they decided to go to the neighborhood where they were born – the village Turska Wola. There, in their place of birth, they were attacked by their former schoolmates and murdered.

Under similar circumstances Beryl Goldberg and his wife paid with their lives seeking protection in their birth-place. The brothers Aaron and Mendel Wajnbaum also went off to familiar peasants to calm their hunger. Along the way, in the Adamówka Forest, some hooligan bands tortured and shackled them. Aaron managed to tear loose from their hands and disappeared. Regarding Mendel, the criminals dragged him to Staszów and handed him over to the gendarmes. These gendarmes, trying to extract information from him regarding details of other hidden Jews, took him back into the forest, while brutally torturing him. The wild murderous voices of the Nazi animals echoed across the whole forest. In addition, when they had given up trying to break their victim's morale, they took him out to the graveyard and shot him. On that same day a group of us Jews hid out in the same forest, thereby being living and powerful witnesses – based on what we had heard – of the horrible tragedy, which was playing out not far from us. When it turned dark we left the interior of the woods. From the edge of the forest we heard some movement between the trees. We started to shudder. However, it turned out to be the survivor Aaron. His first words to us were: “Does anyone have any idea what happened to my brother?” When he found out the bitter truth he broke out with a sorrowful cry. In similar circumstances the following were also murdered: Laser Szuldman, Jacob Rosencwajg, Leibush Wajsbraut, Isaiah Nisenzwajg, and many others.

In the summer of 1943 a clandestine hand murdered, at the bridge by the mill, the Staszów mayor, a collaborator and Hitler agent, Suchan, who was actively working with the Hitler folks, to annihilate the local Jewish community. Miscreant types ferreted out the two brothers Sznifer (Moshe Shlomo's sons), who hid out by an honorable Polish family, allegedly to carry out an assassination. Israel Szpiner and his wife and his brother were led out to the place where the assassination had taken place and in front of the spectators the gendarmes murdered all three martyrs.

In this way, day in, day out, Jewish life was streaming rivers of blood and their graves were sown and spread in the forests around Staszów.

 

Smaller Groups, Greater Safety

The nightmarish long summer days stretched on like for eternity. We, the still living, did an accounting of the tragic happenings. We understood that if the brutality in the forest and villages being perpetrated against the few orphaned Jews did not cease, we would all be condemned to die.

The murderous band took no respite from their dirty work, not even for one moment – persecuting and lying in wait for Jewish shadows everywhere and anywhere their blood lust was able to reach. Hidden in a bunker in the forest by a peasant, we could never foresee when and at which time the mortal enemy would attack us. The disquiet, the terror of that black moment became so pathological that even when the trees rustled from the wind we thought that the wicked ones were pursuing us – and then we, in our overexcited state, realizing that no one was chasing us, would leave our hiding places and scurry off to another edge of the forest. This is how day in, day out, chased and harassed from real or imagined enemies, we would run from one place to the next, and this would take a toll on our dear lives.

From our tragic experience we learned that the larger the group we are concentrated in – this of course being a natural, personal need under the circumstances – the greater the danger to our lives, making easier the devilish work of our enemies. So, for this reason we indeed did break up into smaller groups, with the meager hope that perhaps we would yet succeed in eluding their murderous hands.

 

Czajków – an Island in a Sea of Enemies

Those who were saved in the forests tell about the village Czajków (ten kilometers from Staszów), the only place in the Staszów region where the tormented, hounded Jews encountered humane-human relations. Many of the peasants there embraced us heartily, helping everyone with word and deed.

One of the Righteous Gentiles there was the Polish schoolteacher Irena Dyrcz – who later married Dr. Shlomo (Stephen) Frydman. This particular brave woman, who experienced the pain of tragic existence, was selflessly ready and willing to help Jews, whether in the village or in the forest, and more than once stood up to the Polish brutes with a weapon in hand to intercede in defense of Jews. She was also a courier between us and the city. Ms. Dyrcz was also summoned to the gendarme in Staszów, who threatened her with death for making contact with Jews. But this decent woman was fearless and never hesitant to carry out her good deeds. With her authority, assured manner, and her daring spirit, “Pani Dyrcz”[14] wielded enormous influence on the village. So, for this reason, many of the surviving Jews waited and managed to reach the yearned-for and unbelievable liberation in the village Czajków, or in its immediate surroundings.

More than once did Czajków peasants defend and save Jewish lives. On a certain day fascists attacked the Czajków peasant Gawel, who was at that time hiding a group of Jews (the Frydman family, Simcha Rotenberg, his wife, two Eliaszewicz women, Israel Goldberg, Avigdor Cytrynbaum, and Yehuda Sztajnberg). Terrorizing the proprietors they demanded to be shown the bunker with the Jews. Gawel, seeking some means to save the Jews from certain death, warned the murderers that the Jews in the bunker were armed and would put up a fierce resistance. The great “warriors” beat a hasty retreat and brought in reinforcements, leaving two of their own to guard the cottage.

The family of Gawel was able to exploit this precious interlude. After getting the two guards drunk they let the men out of the bunker, while the women placed them on carts, masked them with garbage, took them out into the forest where the men had run to. When the larger contingent returned and found an empty bunker, they took their aggression out on Gawel, whom they gave a severe beating. These was the kinds of acts of rescue orchestrated by Teacher Dyrcz.

A second time, at night, a Polish robber-band assaulted a Hashomer Hazair group (Joseph Gruszka, Joseph “Shash” Sztajnberg, Paula Goldhar, Moshe Fuks and others) who were hiding out in a hut in the forest, not far from Czajków. Sztajnberg, who managed to escape from the bunker, immediately alarmed the villagers of the attack. In no time at all the peasant Gawel, the brothers Tutak, and others, with shovels and pitchforks in hand, set themselves upon the marauders and with force chased them away and saved the group.

With special satisfaction and gratitude we recount the stories of these decent groups of simple folks who, in the atmosphere of an all-devouring sea of pervasive wickedness, displayed the noblest form of humanity, backbone, and consequence – even though their lives also were in great peril.

 

September 1943

Days came and went – oh, so slowly! – The hunt for Jewish souls went on. On a dark September night a band attacked a peasant cottage, in South Czajków, and dragged out three Jews inside a bunker: Avigdor Cytrynbaum, Shifra Eliaszewicz, and Israel Goldberg. The latter was somehow able to successfully tear himself away from the murderers hands, while the other two were bestially murdered. Incidentally, these last two, only a short time earlier, were saved from certain death, during the attack on the peasant Gawel. In a second bunker, in the same house, were also hiding Yehuda Feldberg and Tzivia Eliaszewicz, whom the murderers miraculously were not able to discover.

 

October 1943 – Simchas Torah

In the morning of Simchas Torah – the “Master Race” invariably chose Jewish holidays for their depraved acts of barbarism – Polish misanthropic snitches brought out the Staszówer gendarmes to the Golejów Forest, to show them the places where large groups of Jews were hiding. At the time the human skeletons, exhausted and half-naked, were still in a deep slumber. The Hitler-gang stealthily snuck up to them and began firing away. Only some six managed to avoid the hailstorm of bullets, which was coming at them from every direction, until the remaining, more than twenty martyrs, were killed on the spot: Zalmen Baum and his wife and daughter, Abba Wincygster's wife and son, Leibel Szwarc and his wife, Gross and his wife, Israel Eliezer Tenenbaum's wife, David Zylberman, and others. The fateful news of this mass murder arrived to us already that same day. Three men, Meir Bydlowski, Leibel Zylberberg (Piegacz), and this writer went off to the murder-place the following evening. Before our eyes we beheld the most ghastly macabre sight: A story-high pile of murdered martyrs! Holding back the terrible grief we silently, without words, gathered a pile of wood and lit a fire on the mass grave while Meir Bydlowski, trying to hold back choking tears, said Kaddish. Incidentally, after the war Leibush Wincygster performed an exhumation of the bones of the martyrs-grave at the cemetery in Sandomierz.

At this juncture, I would like to acknowledge the great sacrifice which friend Meir Bydlowski exhibited in various perilous situations, for all of the suffering brothers in the forest, and in the course of our wanderings in general. As a former lumber merchant, he was possessed of considerable knowledge and experience of the ways of the forest, as well as great resourcefulness, all of which he put at the service of the larger community of persecuted Jews, wherever he happened to come in contact with them. Never slowing down for anything, Bydlowski, as in “normal” times, so in times of great tribulation, was always ready to be of assistance, ready to put his own life on the line – not just once – in death's path.

 

11th November 1943

A whole circular year of murderous betrayal perpetrated against the small group of remaining Jews was still not enough to satiate the pathological blood-lust of the local murderers. They continued to savage and lurk for Jewish sacrifices, their objective being to bring the Hitlerian work to its conclusion.

Knowing of the friendly attitude of a segment of the Czajków peasants, these home-grown murderers, on the 11th of November, 1943, besieged the village and broke into the peasants' cottages scouring for Jews. Seeking to save ourselves from the hands of the murderers, as soon as it got dark outside, we scurried out of our bunkers in the village and ran into the woods. Others, who didn't know about these raiding bands, that same evening came from the forest, to find some food in the village. During this persecution-campaign seven souls lost their lives: Samuel “Barsht” Zylberberg and his wife, Shimon Frydman's two daughters, Jacob Fydman's wife, Shalom Mandel's daughter, and Pesach Goldfluss, Mordecai's youngest son. At about the same time Joseph Gruszka was also murdered. He had gone off to visit an acquaintance who lived in a cottage in the forest and there met his fate.

 

April 1944

This tragic, bloody year 1943 went by. In early 1944 things became a little bit calmer. It seemed that our perennial fears and sense of hopelessness began little by little to dissipate and was supplanted with cautious optimism, and a hope to live for better times.

At that time we would often get together and talk about our present situation. We shared the good news about what was taking place at the front, and mutually encouraged each other with the belief that the day of liberation was approaching. Incidentally, one of the hallmarks of our encounters was our singing Jewish prayer-melodies and folksongs. Regrettably, our sense of equanimity proved to be premature. Our home-grown murderers were lusting after Jewish blood up to the very last moment. In April 1944 a group of us Jews met in Czajków. Among others: Simcha Rotenberg, Benjamin Goldberg, and Chaim Cynamon. Around midnight these three bade everyone farewell and were planning to head over to a peasant in the adjoining village Wólka, where they would hide out in a bunker. At the last moment Simcha retracted, because there was some suspicion that the place was not secure. Shortly thereafter we heard the reverberations of the shots in the direction where Benjamin and Chaim had gone off. Tragically, it turned out that as soon as they arrived to the peasant's cottage a Polish band was already lying in wait for them, which fired away and killed them. At that time two others from among those who were hiding out there were murdered: Leah Wolbromska and Paula Goldhar.

The pain and grief were excruciating. The military scenarios of those days, the news from the Soviet-German front, made obvious the unequivocal message that the great day of liberation was approaching. For this reason the loss of these four young souls was for us especially tragic and painful.

In the summer months of 1944, shortly before our liberation, the various Polish bands, glutted with their Jew-hatred, began to curtail their depraved murderous work, and crawled back into their lairs. But we, with unrelenting energy and vigilance, had to continue to hide from the wiles of our local mortal enemies, whose flaming hatred of us was burning indeed to the very last moment.

 

1st August 1944

The day of liberation finally arrived. On this day the Red Army crossed the Vistula onto our side, liberating the whole area around Staszów. Two days later, Staszów proper was also liberated – and we left the forest and the village bunkers to experience freedom. With the refrain “Am Yisroel Chai” [the Nation of Israel Lives] and with a conviction of a better, more just world we, the orphaned remnant of the Holocaust, went back to living our lives.

But this feeling of joy – of having made it to freedom and vengeance against the greatest, most vicious enemy of our many thousand years history – was rendered grievous because of the boundless sorrow over the tragic fate of our dear and close ones, who were not alive to witness this day of vengeance against the Hitlerian tyranny.

The grievous total sum of this devilish reign of terror is: Of the more than 800 souls, who had run into the forest when Staszów was being demolished – this is not including the several thousands from this destruction alone – there survived after liberation only some 60 people! All the others, who fought and suffered, dreamed and hoped to survive to this great day, tragically, did not merit it, and their martyrs-graves are sown and spread as testimony over the fields and forests around Staszów.

To conclude: Just as we had recorded – as much as our powers had withstood – the brutal, inhuman atrocities of the Blond Beast, and, concurrently, the equivalent aggressive criminal behavior of a conspicuous segment of the Polish people towards us, a circumstance which reduced the surviving remnant of the German holocaust to a minimum; just as it is our holy duty to fulfill the last bequest of our martyrs: “Never Forgive! Never Forget! – we are at the same time obligated to acknowledge the only two remaining families – in the way we did above regarding the Czajkówers – who, with the greatest responsibility and sacrifice, in the course of that whole dark period – from the day of destruction until liberation – had hidden Jews in their own homes.

And these are the two: Szczeciński and her children, who in her home, near the train station, had hidden fifteen Jewish souls (of the families: Segał, Posmantier, Goldberg[-Piekarska], Wiener, and Band), and the rare, good-hearted Dajtrowski peasant family (on Rytwiańska Road), by whom there were seven survivors after the war – Moshe Hauer and the members of his household, and Shimon Wolbromski and his wife.

 

Footnotes
  1. S.D. – Sicherheitsdienst (security police). return
  2. Schutz-Polizei: The regular German constabulary police, whose presence in central Poland was an indication that this area was being annexed as a subordinate territory of Germany. return
  3. The “volksdeutsch” were people of German ethnicity living in East-European (mostly Slavic) lands, who generally were in alliance with the Nazi invaders. return
  4. Chalutzic: pioneer settlers intending to settle in Palestine. return
  5. Yishuv: Jewish community dwelling in an area. This term was at the same time used to designate the totality of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel prior to the State of Israel. It is interesting that the same term was applied by the Jews to the totality of their community in Diaspora lands – in this case, Poland or the vicinity of Staszów. return
  6. Editor's note: It might be more accurate to say that the reactionary, anti-Jewish elements among the Polish population took advantage of the lack of clear, effective direction from the London leadership, especially after the tragic death of General Władysław Sikorski in July, 1943. There were definitely efforts among the leadership of the Polish resistance to aid the Jews in Poland, as well as calls to restrain and penalize the activities of “blackmailers” and informers, but they had to contend with general scarcity of resources, as well as deep divisions within Polish society. See Joseph Kermish, “The Activities of the Council for Aid to Jews (“Żegota”) in Occupied Poland,” Shoah Resource Center (www.yadvashem.org), 1977 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rescue_of_Jews_by_Poles_during_the_Holocaust. return
  7. As will be seen in this narrative, the Jews of Staszów were in no way taken in by the Germans' euphemistic terming of their extermination program as “resettlement.” return
  8. Another black irony. Many of the Jewish resisters belonged to Zionist groups and were committed to forming a “Jewish State” in the Land of Israel. They were doomed to a short-lived autonomy in the forests of Poland. return
  9. Lager: Work-camp, a mini-concentration camp of workers, run by the same principles of total enslavement and the ever-present threat of death for the merest infractions. return
  10. “Home-grown” (heimish) The author repeatedly uses the familiar Yiddish adjective heimish ironically to refer to the local, home-grown criminals and terrorists who preyed on Jews, in distinction to the “foreign” Nazi invaders, but with the same ultimate result. return
  11. Tzuris: trouble. return
  12. See Note 6 above. return
  13. “Platzuvkes” – Polish placówka. Placements, outposts. return
  14. Pani Dyrcz: Not translatable. “Lady Dyrcz” is too archaic and formal, but conveys something of the prestige that a young educated woman could exercise in a society where higher education was rare but respected. return


[Pages 472-474]

Yizkor [Memorial Prayer] for a Polish Town[1]

by David Eydelsberg, New York

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

When a single mass–yizkor service can serve to commemorate our six million holy martyrs, and when the destruction of thousands of Jewish communities can be mourned on a single, global yortsayt [anniversary of a death], there is somehow no special tear to be shed for any individual town wiped out in the same all–encompassing conflagration. Just as the names of each of the six million cannot all be recited at these national memorial events, so too is it impossible individually to recognize and commemorate each of the destroyed towns, each of which constituted an integral part of the inexhaustible spiritual heritage that was called “East European Jewry”.

Yet, each destroyed Jewish town, I think, deserves a separate, special eulogy, and those who record history ought to devote separate pages to these towns, in general and specifically, that is, as a general phenomenon and as a memorial for each extinguished community, separately. One cannot imagine a more glorious source of material for a national historical monument, because for generations the Jewish shtetl was the “hinterland” that nourished great communities with holy purity, with the example of fulfilling the Torah and of sacrificing for it, in poverty.

The Jewish shtetl, especially in Poland, somehow possessed a special, disproportionately greater spiritual exaltation than the large towns and cities. It was less bound to the material world and more devoted to the spiritual life than the large communities. It was the difference between the common man and the aristocrat, between a home–cooked meal and a lavish buffet. It was a whole–hearted, honest Jewish life, for its own sake, body and soul.

*

I would like, at this time of remembrance, to commemorate one Polish Jewish town among all those destroyed in the Holocaust – not because it provides a special, unique model, but on the contrary, because it was not exemplary, but rather a single drop of water among hundreds of thousands of other Jewish towns, and because the portrait of one such drop can be said to reflect all or most of them.

The typical Jewish town to which this commemoration is dedicated was the place where I had the privilege to be born – Staszów. Over the years, I have more and more come to consider it a privilege, because, even though I spent only 12 or 13 years of my life there, I haven't been able to forget it for almost half a century. Staszów accompanied me everywhere I went in the big cities, and constantly reminded me, don't lose your way, keep to the high road.

I became convinced that there had to have been something in that town, when just a few childhood years there could continue to influence a whole life. What was that “something”?

My Staszów landslayt [fellow townspeople] in Israel and America have provided me with important material about our town, together with information about the great rescue work accomplished by the American landslayt for the Staszów Holocaust survivors, to bring them to Israel and help them to build a new life there. But these materials have to do mostly with the destruction of Staszów, and before I deal with that tragedy, I want first to provide, within the narrow confines of a newspaper article, short sketches of how the living Staszów appeared, or more precisely, a reflection of the Jewish spirit that enveloped the town.

*

The geographical position or the landscape is perhaps not so important, except that the town, which was once in Radom Gubernia, Sandomierz Uyezd,[2] just several miles from the border with Galicia, was surrounded by fields and woods. But, for me, the crowning feature of Staszów's geographical beauty was the river, which cut through the end of the town. Even as a child, I often thought that the river ran as serenely and as deeply as my mother's whispering of the Yiddish prayers from the women's prayer book.

According to information kindly provided to me by my young friend and landsman Hershl Pomerancblum, about 5000 Jews lived in Staszów before the Holocaust. It's better not to ask how they earned living. Except for a few wealthy people, the town distinguished itself by having the poorest paupers in Poland. I visited many Polish towns, and if there were poorer people elsewhere, I didn't find them.

People made a living however they could, and I don't remember anyone worrying much about how to provide for the Sabbath, because they couldn't provide for the weekdays, either.

An important part of Staszów's industry was the manufacture of whips for horses, called “biseskes”, but judging by the income this provided, the town's jokers reckoned that Poland must have had more horse thieves than horses.

*

But this poor, ever–needy town was as rich as Rockefeller in Judaism and Torah. Staszów was one of those centers of religious learning where people literally studied day and night. There were two besmedroshim,[3] and in one of them several hundred boys and young married men were always studying. The older ones would study with the younger ones and they would help each other out when they encountered a difficult portion of Gemara, a tusfus, a Maharsho or Rambam.[4]

After Minche/Maariv [afternoon and evening prayers], studying would first begin in earnest, and the sound of Torah study would be heard throughout the town until late into the night. Especially remarkable was the unpretentious attitude toward this constant studying. In other places such an “inn” full of several hundred boys would be considered a renowned yeshiva, but in Staszów it was just one of the local houses of study, no more.

There were of course also heders, some of which had melamdim who were truly great Torah scholars. And there were also all kinds of Hasidic shtibls, where they were immersed in Torah study day and night.[5]

My impressions of the second Staszów besmedresh,[6] located in another part of town, remain especially deeply etched in my mind. During most of the day very few people studied there. But from early dawn to about 9 o'clock, businessmen whose entire day was burdened by worries about earning a living studied there. By 4 o'clock in the morning you could already find in this besmedresh on Ritwiner [Rytwianska] Street several tens of Jews, poring over Gemore and Mishnah, after they had said the appropriate psalms for the day and the maymodes[7], and so forth.

My father would get up every day at 3 A.M., and after reciting psalms, he would wake me up to accompany him to study at this besmedresh. My mother would plead with him almost every day, as if with a criminal: “Let him sleep another hour.” She was always worried that her only son would fall ill from getting up so early. But her pleas were in vain. My father assured her that 'You don't get sick from studying Torah, because Torah protects and saves you,” and so I had to get up and go with him in the snow, rain and freezing cold, to study several hours each day, until it was time to go to heder or to the other besmedresh.

In this way, over the course of several years, my father taught me several tracts of Mishnah, mostly Rashi,[8] and rarely also a tusfus. I can affirm that if today I am able to “look into a religious book”, it isn't because of the years I spent in heder or later, the several years I spent in yeshiva, but because of what my father taught me in the dawn hours in the Staszów besmedresh.

As I have said, I had occasion to visit many other Jewish cities and towns in Poland and I found there almost the same Jewish way of life, but nowhere did I find a greater or more intense life of the Torah than in Staszów, this community of 5000 people.

*

But Staszów, like many other Jewish towns in Poland died several deaths. The first death, in which the tortured body became too shrunken to contain the soul, resulted from indescribable hunger and want, afflictions which the younger generation was apparently less heroically able to withstand than the earlier generations, who embodied the old Jewish concept of “the beauty of poverty.”

This probably had a lot to do with the ensuing spiritual death, that is, when Staszów died again because of the Haskalah [enlightenment], that bird of prey that emptied out the besmedroshim and synagogues and turned Jewish communities into spiritual wastelands. When I visited Poland in 1937 I no longer found in Staszów, nor in tens of other towns, any Torah scholars in the besmedroshim, and the walls of these holy places wept at their ruin. They mourned, in the words of the prophetic lament, “My children have gone out from me, and they are nought.”

Staszów died its final tragic death in 1942, when it succumbed to the world plague spread by the German devils, and shared the fate of the more than 6 million martyrs.

I have been informed that several hundred Staszówer Jews managed to survive and later reached Germany, where they received the first relief aid from the Staszówer Association in New York, and ultimately managed to reach Israel. There, the association established a loan fund that helped the refugees build a new life in the reborn Jewish land.

A yizkor book for Staszów is currently being prepared by my landslayt in America and Israel, and I join in this prayer for the dead with profound sorrow and longing for an unforgettable Jewish town. I join, too, in the prophet's curse on the barbarians who destroyed it: “Pursue them in anger and destroy them from under God's heaven.”[9]

 

Footnotes
  1. [Footnote in original]: Published in the Tog Morgn Zhurnal [Yiddish language newspaper],April 22–29, 1955. return
  2. Radom Gubernia, Sandomierz Uyezd: Defining the larger territorial entities within which Staszów was situated. A “Gubernia” is a larger unit roughly equivalent to a province or state, while an Uyezd corresponds roughly to a county. (LL) return
  3. Besmidroshim: sing.besmedresh: house of study, also used for worship return
  4. Gemara: The larger expository–argumentative part of the Talmud. Tusfus (a.k.a. Tosafot): the mind–boggling commentaries on the outside margin of the page, composed in the 12th–13th centuries. Maharsha: the commentary of Rabbi Samuel Edels (16th century Poland), found in the back of the volume. Rambam: the works of Maimonides – in this connection, probably the Mishneh Torah, his legal code summarizing all the laws of the Talmud in fourteen volumes. return
  5. Heder: religious elementary school. Melamdim (sing. Melamed): religious elementary school teachers (always male). Shtibl: small house of worship, usually Hasidic. return
  6. Besmedresh: house of study for adolescent and adult males. return
  7. Maymodes: extracts of religious texts recited after early morning prayers. return
  8. Rashi: 11th century commentator on the Talmud. His commentary enjoys a prime place on every Talmud page, in the inside margin facing the main text. return
  9. “Pursue them in anger.” Lamentations 3:66. return

 

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