by Israel Yitzchak Grinbaum
Translated by Jerrold Landau
It was Friday morning, when the first shots from the Nazi airplanes rang out. A worker lay dead on the railway line, near the T.A.Z. factory. The shots were a bloody testimony that the war that had broken out between Nazi Germany and Poland was also raging in Zawiercie. The shots woke the Zawiercie residents from their sleep. Along with the entire country, our city was also caught up in the wartime fever. Within several hours, this event changed life in the city.
The Jewish inhabitants were overcome with an oppressive and upsetting feeling, as if they foresaw the terrible fate that the next day had prepared for them. The city itself changed its appearance, to the point where it was barely recognizable.
Within minutes May 3rd Street was crowded with people. The splendid railway station was packed with people who wanted to escape the city by train. At the same time, the area around Reb Henech (Chanoch) Weksler's house was full of people. Reb Henech was a pillar of the community, a merchant, who would at times leave his business to help someone in need. On this occasion, he organized an auto caravan to Krakow for the Jews. That was the reason Jews were streaming in droves to his house.
That is the way the city of Zawiercie appeared on that fateful Friday, until candle lighting time.
After candle lighting, all of the Jews went to worship some in the synagogue, some in the Beis Midrash, and others in shtibels. My father Moshe Mendel, an Aleksander Hassid, said, Children, come to worship.
I did not go with him, instead I wandered around the Aleksander Shtibel, located on a side alley off of Porebska Street, which led to the cities of Siewierz and Myszków.
After a time, my father returned from services with slow, heavy steps. We saw that many wagons with Polish soldiers, covered with green branches as camouflage, were coming from the Siewierz-Zarki direction. The soldiers were traveling in a long line of wagons in silence. They did not even call out Zydzi in their usual derogatory manner.
It seemed strange to me, that this time their refraining from using the curse word Zyd made me think that this was the beginning of their downfall.
This time, the meal was not as lively, as is customary during Friday night dinner. People ate hurriedly, as they wanted to know what was happening in the street. After the meal, we noticed small groups of people in the old market, especially on Marszalkowska Street near the synagogue, and further on, until Yoel Zwigel's house.
On a normal Friday night, we would go for a walk through the alleys or sit on a park bench. This time, we did not go into the alleys. Everywhere, we saw groups of people discussing the situation. Everyone was asking, What's going to happen? It was late. We decided that we would see what the next day would bring, and what we should do. The next morning, the Sabbath morning, the mood of the town became increasingly tense from hour to hour. People began to contemplate escaping. Nobody knew where to escape to. We only heard the word escape from everyone. From time to time, we heard a bang or a loud shot ripping through the air. These were shots from the anti-aircraft battery. It was located at Berent's in a courtyard on Siewierz Street, opposite the house of the Kromolower Rabbi. Many women fainted, and children became terrified, when they heard the shots. So, we stood, thinking and discussing, and decided to leave the city and go to Pilica at night. At the same time, there were Jews who did not want to leave. There were people who had businesses in the villages, so they did not want to abandon them. Later, it became clear that those who did not want to leave were correct, for the Jewish businesses of those who escaped were robbed. At night, there was an almost complete panic to escape. Even people who had earlier decided not to leave initially, later decided to join the march. People hid their gold, silver and most treasured possessions in the cellars, for everyone thought that they would be returning shortly. They left everything behind without protection. They only locked up the house in the usual manner and set out.
The more well-to-do families began to think about better means of transportation for the sorrowful march, such as obtaining wagons
The cost of transportation was great, for the Jewish coachmen also had their own families who they had to take with them. On the other hand, they were in need of money. These coachmen could not take on too many passengers, for their families had to travel on the wagon. They loaded up as many people as they possibly could. The consequences were tragic.
Yissachar Furman (the coachman) lived in our house. He was an honest man who worked very hard for his livelihood during his entire life. He knew that my mother was weak and sick, so he invited my mother and her grandchildren to come along with him. We were happy with Yissachar Furman's good deed.
In the meantime, a rumor spread that the Rabbi was also leaving the city after the Sabbath. A rumor spread, both among the Jews and the Christians, that the Germans were about to bombard the city, since it was a manufacturing city. Everyone, Jews and Christians, therefore prepared to leave the city.
The convoy took place as follows: The Christians travelled at the front on their wagons. They even led their animals out of the city. Jews in fully loaded wagons followed after them, women, children, other family members, with pillows and bedspreads. The men who traveled with the wagons walked along side holding on to the side boards, so as not to lose their families. Those who did not belong to a wagon, walked together. The children were carried. At times, the children were passed from hand to hand, exactly like one would do with a Torah scroll on Simchat Torah at hakafot.
What else took place on that dark night aside from the exodus of the families? In the darkness, we heard people calling for family members, whose whereabouts was not known. We were half way to our destination at midnight. It was impossible to rest, for nobody wanted to be left behind. The group continued on. The darkness receded and it became somewhat lighter. People were getting thirsty, and wanted to drink water. All of the wanderers, Jews and Christians, became intermixed as we got closer to Pilica. They did not offend each other, for both were fleeing out of fear of a common enemy. We arrived in Pilica before dawn. Those who had no acquaintances there set out immediately for the synagogue, which quickly filled up with men, women, and children. The Pilica synagogue was large enough to accommodate everyone. I did not rest like the others, and went out to the corridor. There, I quickly noticed two unknown, suspicions men. I quickly told the other Jews about this. I sent Yitzchak Abba, Yissachar Furman's son, to call the police, who were headquartered in the market and were busy burning all the documents. In the corridor, I intentionally acted as if I was just holding an ordinary conversation. Suddenly, four policemen entered and identified the suspicious people. The police found German documents on them. The Germans were immediately hauled to the market and shot. On Monday morning, we found out that the Germans were in Zawiercie. Things were burning in Pilice. Jews began to return home, for their fear of being bombarded had disappeared. However, many Jews, especially the young, ran away deeper into the eastern regions. We said goodbye to our parents and fled further in the direction of Wolbrom, Miechów, and Działoszyce.
We had taken Garnec's daughter with us, and arrived in Działoszyce tired, broken, and penniless. (In Zawiercie, Garnec lived in Sznyderman's house, on the old market.) She was like a mother to all the Zawiercie people. She cooked, even though to this day, we do not know from where she got the money to cook for us.
A few days after we arrived in Działoszyce, the Germans arrived. They issued an order that all non-residents must return home. We then returned home on foot.
During the first weeks, as the Nazi regime slowly consolidated its power in the city, the Jews slowly began to feel the iron fist of the Nazi occupation. First of all, the Germans, acting on information given to them by the Poles of Zawiercie, quickly requisitioned all of the food products and shoes that the Jews possessed. An order was issued by the city commandant that Jews were not to conduct business in foodstuffs. It did not take long for problems of finding a source for livelihood to begin. The entire city economy died. The Germans, together with Polish shikses , entered every Jewish shop and confiscated all the merchandise in the shop or warehouse, without paying for it. As a result, the food shortage in the city was exacerbated further. Before Rosh Hashanah, there were very long lines at the bakeries.
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Rabbi Elchanan David Shadlauski; Avigdor Banker; Avraham Brott; Shlomo Brott; Mendel Brauda; Avraham Goldmintz; Zalman Goldshmidt; Yechezkel Goldshmidt; Shalom Grinstein; Shlomo Grinstein; Rabbi Chaim Danziger; Tovia Dovlin; Yankel Diament; Itzik Haberman; Esther Haberman; Leibish Haberman; Moshe Haberman; Shalom Haberman; Shimon Horgin; Moshe Molman; Natan Tiefenberg; Chaim David Telner; Israel Markovitz; Hershel Manto; Refael Manto; Avraham Simchovitch; Yankel Erdberg (the ritual slaughterer); Tovia Fogel; and their families. Eliezer Fogel; Riva Fogel; Rivka Freidberg. Mendel Rottman; Refael Rottman; David Rozmarin; Yaakov Leibish Rottman; Litshe (Lea) Rothstein; Beila Rosinek; Mendel Schwartz; Srulke (Israel) Schwartz; Baruch Wolf Shtibel; and their families.
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Updated 17 Feb 2013 by LA