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[Page 216]

Ninth Chapter

The Period of the Wadowice Ghetto and its liquidation

 

The fateful day: 10 May 1943 (the fourth Aktzia)

Hella Strauss-Mandelbaum

Translated by Sara Mages

I remember this day very well although 20 years have passed since then. It was the last day that I spent with my mother and my sisters.

I was led to a labor camp together with 100 girls. It was the only transport of girls from Wadowice. The members of the Judenrat always boasted that the Gestapo honors our city, and because of that they don't take girls. When they came to take us we realized that their promise was a lie, and it seemed to us that it was the end of us all.

We were fortunate. All the girls who were sent against their will survived and lived, while those who remained in Wadowice perished together with all of Poland's Jewry. But who knew then where death lurks?

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In the morning of that day I went out to see what was happening in the ghetto and found out that my name wasn't on the list. The members of the Judenrat thought that my name wasn't listed because our family has already paid the price: the Nazis deported my father and my 15 year old sister, and my brother was in a camp. So, I wandered around without fear and helped my cousin, who was on the list, to pack her belongings.

The members of Judenrat hid their children and the children of the parents who had connections with them. But to deceive the public opinion they also put them on the list as a proof that there is no favoritism in the Judenrat. There were also mothers who hid their children in the chimneys. As a result, defenseless girls were turned over to the Nazis.

The Jewish militia led by their commander Yitzchak Burger, whose appearance always frightened us, came as the Gestapo's emissaries to take the victims. Although I wasn't on the list, Yitzchak Burger came to our house about one o'clock at night accompanied by Obsztender, a Jewish policeman from the city of Kenti [Kęty], and asked me to join him. At first, they told me that I have to leave for a labor camp as a replacement for the Judenrat's children who were in hiding. When my mother cried and refused to give me, Obsztender stated: “I assure you Mrs. Strauss that your daughter will come back home and they will be forced to come out from their hiding place!”

I was sure that my end arrived. It is difficult to describe my and my mother's grief at this time.

On the way we approached Meirtzik, a Judenrat's controller who was loyal to Merin. My mother begged before him to let me go, and he said: “Mrs. Strauss, there will be time when I will ask them to send me to a labor camp. Maybe it is better that your daughter is leaving…”

I told him that I wanted to die together with my mother and sisters.

I approached a truck full of girls. The truck already started to move. My friend, who was sitting in the truck, told me that I should go because I wasn't needed, but at the last moment an S.S. man grabbed my hand and ordered me to enter the truck that already started to move.

My mother gave me a postcard and a pencil to write her from the road. So this is how the miracle that saved my life happened.


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The atmosphere in the ghetto
in the last months before its liquidation

Paula Brunner-Einhorn

Translated by Sara Mages

My husband, our children and I hid in a truck under buckets of coals and traveled to Wadowice Ghetto a few days after its establishment, because it was impossible to stay in
Jowzno? our current place of residence. Here, the entire Jewry was eliminated.

We thought that in Wadowice, together with my mother and my family, there will be a chance for survival.

My beloved Wadowice is the city where I grew up and lived for many years. Our house, which was in the ghetto's boundaries, was still standing. The remaining Jewish population was concentrated in several dismal streets, in small houses and old huts.

No one saw us in the darkness of the evening and we entered the new gate to hell. Human shadows,

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who looked like worms that the brutal German boot haven't crushed yet, wandered around. These thin shadows, who at one time were noble and honorable people, wandered around humiliated and depressed, looking for a corner in one of the crowded holes to sleep in. But it wasn't easy to find a place to rest because ten people have been assigned to one room.

Despite this terrible overcrowding there was peace and mutual respect between them. We need to honor the human values ?? that remained among the Jews, when at the
same time, these values completely disappeared from the heart of the enemy who was engaged in humiliating and oppressing them.

And why not? Everyone still harbored the hope that it might get better...

They make order in the ghetto. We are trembling with fear from the regime that was organized from Jewish volunteers who serve the Gestapo. People stand in line to get a meager dirty soup and a small amount of food.

We don't hear laughter, we don't see a shadow of a smile on a face, and we don't hear a loud word. Terror and fear is visible on all the faces, and tragedy is peering from the eyelashes.

Where, the eternal people, is your wisdom and judgment that accompanied you through all the long years of exile? You've been warned countless of times.

Under the supervision of the militia, rows of sad old people and children (very few young people remained after the previous transports) march to the factory to sew uniforms for the soldiers of the “superior race” army.

And what they're talking about in whispers?

- Oh! You lose a lot of weight! You don't even have a drop of fat. In spite of that, the Nazis will sill use you for "RIF" soap.

- You better shut up. You aren't qualified for that. There is only water in your body. Well, we don't have to go too far…

- Where?

- To Auschwitz. Anyway, I don't have the strength to walk…

- Don't worry. They will transfer you.

When I heard those words I said: We will escape and will not give ourselves to the hands of the murderers. I've saved myself a number of times and maybe I will be able to do it again. I will escape to the forests or to Hungary.

But the question, of what will happen to my parents, was constantly on my mind and didn't give me peace. On the other hand, we work in a “shop” here in Wadowice. The work is intensive and of very high quality – otherwise, we will bear the responsibility. Even though death lurks here, maybe, with time, the situation will change. Here we gain time.

The superhuman efforts in the “shop” give wonderful results. The situation is paradoxical, we produce for the murderers. We work 12 hours a day. It seems to us that the time drags for infinity. The day is long, the week is terribly long, the month is tenfold, and the year - a hundredfold.

Meanwhile, rumors started to spread that the ghetto will be liquidated like all the ghettos in Upper Silesia. We are the last to be destroyed. And there were people who continued to live under the illusion: maybe I'll stay, maybe I'm needed.

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We work diligently all day, we work almost without breathing.

I disagreed with those who were devoted to this illusion. Many things didn't go unnoticed. An intuition dominated me during those terrible days and whispered to me that the end is approaching. My maternal instinct pushed me into action, and I go out to the Arian side where almost everyone knows me and many can hand me the police.

I'm going to the priest to ask him to take one of my children, the daughter. "I can't," answered the priest, "I'm responsible for all the believers." I went to him again and finally he promised me, but he has some reservations. “Save your own life” he says, “because a girl without a mother will always be unhappy,” but he has no idea how to escape.

I didn't give up. I took my daughter out of the ghetto to hide her in the church, but nothing came of it. Eventually I found a place for her somewhere else. I returned to the ghetto where they started to dig a bunker or two for the whole ghetto. My heart disagreed with this action because it was known that they blow up bunkers.

I came back from work at midnight. At 2 o'clock at night I see through the window a fence made of the murderers' daggers. They came! They surrounded the ghetto, crowded inside it and screamed! Raus (out!). We dress for the last road. It doesn't make sense to take something

“Go to the bunker” I whispered to my friends to fate. Everyone is desperate, they don't want to, they don't want to run away, and they walk one after the other like innocent lambs.

My family and I climbed to the attic and from there we heard how nearly everyone got ready for the road and walked out in unsteady steps. The operation didn't last more than two hours. Later, I heard a German voice shouting: “A number people are missing, but it's not a problem, they come out by themselves!”

Absolute silence prevailed. We heard the footsteps of the guard which was placed in the ghetto.

More than 20 people gathered in the hiding place, among them a number of children. The
mouth was silent from fear and excitement. The children know not to cry so the Germans would not hear them.

Soon we begin to feel the lack of air. On the next day someone came out to look for water. But there is no water. All the water taps were shut off! The Germans spotted us and some of them approached us with their dogs. We hear their breathing and we stop breathing. Eventually they didn't come closer, perhaps because of the fear that a large number of people was there. If they found us we would have walked after them without resistance. Maybe one, or at most two of us, would have tried to escape.

Every day, the intolerable situation without a shadow of hope and despair, pushed another person to come out from the hiding place. I felt that very soon it would be my turn to come out. When I came out with my son I didn't know where to go and what to start. And so began the story of my wanderings. I escaped from Wadowice to Krakow and from there to Hungary. In Budapest was incarcerated in prison. I spent time in Auschwitz, Freudenthal, and in other concentration camps.

It was a real hell. These experiences were etched deep in my heart so I would never forget them.

I will always remember what Amalek did to us!


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An inhuman struggle, which failed,
for the rescue of one family

Bertha Wurzel-Holzman

Translated by Sara Mages

I was born in Tarnów and lived in Wadowice since 1936. I worked in the shop of Mrs. Hamerschlag sewing corsets.

In this city I went through all the troubles in the ghetto, including the deportation of my husband Shlomo and my brother-in-law Yosef Wurzel to labor camps in Germany. My sister was also sent from Tarnów to a forced labor camp. I stayed in Wadowice with my father-in-law Simcha Wurzel, my husband's uncle Lipa Gruszow and his wife Sida.

I helped the deportees as much as I could and sent them food parcels. I also helped my widower father-in-law, and Sida.Gruszow after her husband's death.

Mail service was provided in the ghetto by the community's office, and it was possible to send packages to the prisoners in Germany. I collected undergarments and clothes from the ghetto's residents, and sold them in the Aryan side. Occasionally, I joined the night shift that went to work in the “shop”, and snuck into the Aryan side. Here, I sold these items to the Poles and with the money that I earned I bought bread, toasted it, packed it, and sent it to my family.

My sister, who was in Grunberg labor camp [a Gross-Rosen sub-camp], wrote me a number of times that the Germans only show her the package and the shipping certificate, and asked me to send her white beets instead of bread in the hope that that Nazis will give it to her. It is easy for us to imagine the hunger that prevailed among the Jewish prisoners in the camps, when they asked us to send them beets.

I risked my life when I snuck out. I was lucky that I had a good friend that I knew before the war. Here name was Henya Pombraska and she lived in Melinska Street. I lived in the same building before the establishment of the ghetto. She gave me a place to hide in her apartment and helped me to sell my “merchandise”.

This friend tried constantly to convince me to stay with her, to use her Aryan papers before her marriage, and travel to her brother in the village where I could survive the war. I couldn't accept her advice because of the thought that the trip to the village will cease the shipment of packages to my family's three deportees, and I won't be able to take care of the rest of the family who remained in the ghetto. I thought that the main reason that the Creator sent me to Wadowice was to rescue my relatives.

I stayed in the ghetto until the end without utilizing the proposed rescue options.

Once, before the establishment of the ghetto, my brother-in-law Yosef Wurzel wrote me that he was near death because of the torture and the terrible life in the camp, and asked me to help him with the camp's doctor. Immediately, I removed the ribbon in the shape of a Star of David from my coat, traveled to the same doctor in Silesia, and begged him to help my poor brother-in-law. Indeed, a short time later, I received a letter from Yosef that his living conditions improved and he is regaining his strength.

On the faithful day, 2 July 1942, my father-in-law was taken to the transport to Bełżec. I went, together with Lipa and Sida Gruszow, to a German friend who held an important job in the “shop”, and begged him to save

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my father-in-law. He responded to our request, went in the middle of the night to the location where the victims were concentrated, called my father-in-laws' name, and brought him back to the “shop”.

I was next to Lipa Gruszow when he passed away. He was one of the first pioneers who immigrated to Israel, but because of his diabetes he was forced to return to Wadowice.
His health deteriorated during the war. He worked as a guard in the “shop” and also lived and died there.

His family members were not allowed to participate in his funeral because the cemetery was outside the ghetto's boundaries. Only a certain amount of people from “Chevrah Kadisha” accompanied the coffin to the cemetery.

After his death I lived with his widow, and did everything I could to help her. I divided the food that I purchased when I smuggled merchandise to the Arian side to three portions, I gave two to my father-in-law and one to Sida.

But all my efforts to save my family came to nothing. Sida Gruszow was deported to Auschwitz together with me when the ghetto was liquidated. My brother-in-law died from torture in the camp, and my husband was shot by the Nazis before the arrival of the Soviet Army. Also the end of my sister was bitter and tragic when the labor camp was liquidated.

In Auschwitz I was locked in Block 20. There, I fell ill with Typhus Fever from the contaminated water that they gave us to drink, but I survived. At the end, I was sent to labor camp No. 2, and from there I walked every day to the city to work in the “Union” munitions factory. We had frequent selections and people were taken to their death, but the Divine Providence wanted me to live. When my turn came the officer's small stick tended to the right, and so I survived.


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In the days of fury and wrath

Lucia Bleiberg-Weissman

Translated by Sara Mages

I would like to dedicate a few words in this book in order to describe the atmosphere in Wadowice during the Nazi occupation.

It was in 1941. We still lived in our apartment. The “Judenrat” sent invitations to various jobs such as cleaning the police station and peeling potatoes in the barracks. Every day we went to another job. The work was divided by the member of the “Judenrat” Yisrael Miller. One day, I received a written order to appear at the police station at 4 o'clock in the morning for a cleaning job. The police station was in the “Starost” building, and the distance from my apartment was small. In spite of that, great fear gripped me and my father. He was so anxious about me that every morning he accompanied me to my place of work. I remember to this day the sad lines on his face when we walked. His heart was aching as he walked with his last strength whispering a prayer that nothing bad will happen to me.

Two other girls worked there with me. I couldn't accept the fact that I had to arrange the beddings in beds that were still warm. The work aroused disgust and depression in me. We also cleaned the furniture, windows, ovens and tiles. Everything had to shine. While working, words of mockery were directed towards us by the police officers. I tried not to

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look at them and hear their foul language. Not once I asked the “Judenrat” to send me to another job. They comforted me and said that they only send selected girls to work in the “Starost”. I saw irony in these consolations.

After a long time we were taken to regulate the Skawa River. We traveled to our work by train. We worked between 8am to 4pm. We transferred wheelbarrows full of sand or stones on narrows wooden planks to the other side of the river. This work was better than the cleaning work, because we worked outside and only under the supervision of the Poles (Polskie Deutsche).

Once, when we pulled a full wheelbarrow, one of the planks moved from its place and we fell together with it into the river. I was quick because I took gymnastics classes in my youth. I jumped, grabbed one of the planks, and the people who got closer to me dragged me to the riverbank. My friend, Wilma Korngut, tried to get closer to the riverbank, but the water swept her away. At the end she was saved by a miracle. We were wet to the last thread of our clothes, and the manager sent us to a cubicle next to the office to dry our clothes.

This work continued until the establishment of the ghetto. From that day on all the work was concentrated in the “shop”. My group sewed nylon raincoats and uniform for the army. Very often we received dirty coats stained with blood and full of lice, but we didn't complain and worked quietly. We only had one concern: to exist and stay together with our family in Wadowice.

Indeed, the fate that was waiting for us was cruel: first came the terrible news about my brother from a man who returned from a labor camp. According to this news my brother, who was deported in the first transport and was sent to a labor camp in Ruda, died of starvation. He was a passionate smoker and traded all of his tiny bread rations for cigarettes. As a result he starved to death.

On May 10 1943, 100 young women were taken from Wadowice to a labor camp in Silesia. The “Judenrat” also turned to my family with a demand to give one daughter for work. We strongly objected this decree because we wanted to stay, at all costs, in Wadowice with our father. But the “Judenrat” didn't move from its demand. At the end, I joined the transport in place of my sister who was sick. I left my home in a very grim state. From all the excitement my sister went into shock and lost consciousness. They pushed me into the truck without giving me the opportunity to separate from my family. In the labor camp I received a letter from home and soon after also a package. In the center of the package I found a coil of wool wrapped around a piece of paper on which my sister wrote me her last letter. Today I keep it as a memento, and this is its content:

“My beloved,

Don't despair, things will get better, and very soon will see each other. Don't go against fate and don't sink into sadness. Maybe it is better that way. We reached this conclusion after we suffered severe shocks during the first days after you were taken to the transport. We were in a terrible emotional state. We thought that we will go wild, although I remembered that this isn't the end, and the one who can hold on will save his life.

We will not forget you and we hope to see you again very soon. You can imagine our suffering when we pack the packages for you, when we read your postcards and write letters to you, they are wet with our rears.

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We were all broken after Herman's death but we recovered, and there are glimmers of hope in our hearts that fate wouldn't be as cruel to us as it was to our brother. Fate will face us and smile to us.

We also talk this way to other people who are in the same situation.

Send home your unnecessary belongings.

I emphasize that we will try to send you everything that you want, don't despair, we want you to be happy and to write us good postcards, they will also affect our mood.

It is relatively calm here and father feels pretty good. People come to see him. Life is going on, and we still don't known when salvation will come.

Again, I ask you: relax and believe in the good end. Maybe we will find a way to rescue you, and hopefully it won't be too late.

A thousand kisses from me, father is already sleeping.

Arna”

This letter highlights the utter ignorance to the situation in the ghetto, the concern for people who were sent to Germany and the aspiration to comfort and help them - when death has been knocking on the doors of every house in the ghetto.


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A city without Jews

Translated by Sara Mages

The city was liberated by the Soviet Army in January 1945. The city of Katowice, the center of Upper Silesia, was liberated on 27 January.

The public transport was completely paralyzed, and the survivors from our city walked to Wadowice to search for their families.

Everyone hoped that at least someone from his family survived the war and returned home safely. Here remained the apartments, shops, businesses and all of their parents' property. It was hard to give up everything and totally erase the past from the memory.

Those who returned were in awful state. They were wrapped in rags and wore sandals
in the winter. They were emaciated in body and soul from their life in the camps or in the underground, and also from their last walk of hundreds of kilometers. Some of them were blotted from hunger and some were horribly gaunt. They looked like skeletons. There were cases when a released prisoner achieved his goal and entered his birthplace, but immediately fell from exhaustion.

So it was with Avraham Binensztok who returned from Dyhernfurth camp. He felt that he was at death's door and went to Wadowice General Hospital where he died. There was hunger in the city and shortage of medicines. No wonder they couldn't save him in the hospital. The unfortunate man was liberated, but didn't live to see his sister Henka who returned a few days after his death from Auschwitz.

Exhausted, she went to see Dr. Shimon Schongut, who returned from a Nazi camp, and asked for his help. To his credit, it is necessary to emphasize that he gave her medicines that were difficult to obtain. He also gave her a loaf of bread, that in order to get it you had to fight for it and stand in line. The doctor told her that the bread will be the most effective medicine for her.

The returning survivors were very disappointed. They didn't find their families. Their
apartments were occupied by the Christians. Some of the Jewish shops were turned into workshops and supermarkets, and managed by new people who came from Eastern Poland.

The Poles robbed all the belongings that didn't fall into the hands of the Nazis. None of those who returned recognized his furniture, not in his previous apartment or somewhere else… The Poles didn't want to return the apartments that they occupied, and it was neccessry to take legal actions to get back the stolen property. But who among the survivors needed his previous apartment, his family's nest that was destroyed?

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Everyone quickly came to realize that this isn't his place, and he wouldn't be able to rebuild his life on the ashes of his family. All were in the same opinion, to stay in the city only for a short time in order to improve their health, and then to travel to the distant world…

The city had an abandoned and neglected appearance. Wadowice became a provincial city. It lacked the Jewish energy and talent. The Jewish wholesale stores and the magnificent shop windows completely disappeared. Kiosks for soda-water and fruit, and small workshops replaced them.

Those who returned first were sent by the mayor to live in the Hess Hotel. A short time later, Meir Jakubowicz, whose survival story is being told in the first chapters of this book, returned and let the survivors use his father's, Matityahu Jakubowicz, big apartment. Marcus Bruner, Yehezkel Goldberg and Kalman Ribner, kept it clean and organized. Adolf Hewel, who also returned, took care of the food supply. Food rations were sent by the Regional Jewish Committee in Krakow.

Adolf Hewel was the only Jew who re-started his previous business. He opened a restaurant in Zatorska Street. In 1949 he closed the restaurant and immigrated to Morocco. He returned to Wadowice a few years later, after the death of his wife, because of his longings to his birthplace. He passed away there.

Also Dr. Shimon Schongut left the city and immigrated to Israel. Here he settled in Rishon LeZion.

Only one Jew, by the name of Schenzer, remained in Wadowice. He was an offspring of a Jewish family who lived on the border of Tomiza.

During the war, and later also by the Polish government, a number of district offices were transferred to other locations. As mentioned above, the entire wholesale trade was eliminated along with the Jewish Holocaust, and only the retail trade served the local consumption.

According to the 1956 census, the number of the population decreased to 8700 people[1]. Wadowice became a provincial city, quite and abandoned, as it was before the Polish uprising of 1863, when the Jews haven't lived there yet.

Personalities like, Herman Riech, Dr. Isador Daniel, Yisrael Huppert and those who followed them: Matityahu Jakubowicz, Dr. Richard, Malgorzata Deniel, and others disappeared and died, the hand of the Nazis hit them. Houses, businesses, furniture and magnificent libraries were robed by the damned Nazis, by the local mob, the mob from the surrounding villages, and also by the Poles who came from the eastern border.

History is often cruel. The anti-Semitic circles, who dreamed of eliminating the Jewish trade, achieved the elimination of Jewish population, but together with it they also liquidated all of the extensive trade that the city was proud of.

Due to the lack of Jews, the loss to Poland's economic balance is very prominent. The millions of Polish Jews, who lived around the world, were in close contact with the Jews in Poland. Thanks to this fact, the Polish Jews have always been pioneers in the export of goods from Poland to the entire world. They discovered new markets, founded and funded the Polish industry with foreign capital. But this book is not the place to deal with this issue.

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There are currently no Jews in Wadowice and there is no trace of Jewish life. Only one relic remained in the city's border. It is the Jewish cemetery with its prominent headstones, who in the silence of the cemetery will tell the legend of Wadowice active and vibrant Jewry, which lived a short productive life that only lasted for several generations.


Footnote

  1. The small general encyclopedia “Phon”, Warsaw Return

 

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