Translated from the Yiddish by Hiller and Phyllis Bell (Belchatowski)
(President and Secretary of the New York Independent Belchatower Benevolent Association)
With editing by Martin Bornstein
In general it is hard to determine when the first Jews settled in Belchatow. The old Jewish cemetery that was located in the new market (Polish Targowiska), did not have any head stones left at the beginning of the 20th century. This was an open space grown with trees. The old cemetery was, it seems, not used any more since the year 1860.
From the old Shul (synagogue) we can also learn nothing about the history of the Belchatower Jews. By the end of the 19th century the old wooden Shul (synagogue) was rotten. It was completely renovated by the year 1893. The old Mikva (ritual bath), not far from the new Mikva, in the backyard of the Bes Medrish (study house), was a broken down place to the end of the 19th century.
The only place that we could find out anything about the first Jewish people from Belchatow was the official statistics that only gave us dry numbers. The first information came from the census of the Jewish people that took place in the year 1764 through the Polish government. These statistics mention that there were only seven (7) Jews in Belchatow.
The second statistic took place in the time of the Warsaw Large Principality (Furstentum), in the year 1808. At this count there were seventeen (17) Jews in Belchatow already. It seems that at that time there lived no more than two or three Jewish families in Belchatow.
This Shtetl first came alive during the time of the congress of Poland, (This is after 1815). It started intensive industrialization during the Kingdom of Poland (Konigreich), with the help and under strong stimulus from the Polish government that wanted to pick up the backward country in the economic center.
In the Piotrkower and Kalisza counties (Gubernias) bursting with activity, were a few small sleepy shtetlach (small towns) and settlements awakening to a new intensive economic development, and among these small and larger cities were Lodz, Alexandrow, Zgierz, Zdunska Wola, Ozorkow and others.
Everywhere weaving looms started to knock. Factory chimneys were smoking, middlemen, sellers and businessmen started to get busy. Large horse drawn wagons were coming in loaded with materials. New inhabitants from far away and colonies sometimes with immigrants and specialists from other countries were also coming in. The main industry that stimulated the fast and hurried development in that region was the textile industry. Coming to life everywhere were spinning, weaving, coloring and making woolen and yarn goods. Later lining, padding and silk goods were made. Some manufacturers made tallisim (prayer shawls) and so on.
Belchatow was also brought in to the same fast industrial development. It's true that Belchatow did not achieve the fast development tempo as the larger industrial centers, but in comparison with the 18th century the city was also growing fast and big. The population multiplied ten times in a short time. The numbers from the beginning of the 19th century, seventeen (17) Jews, to the end of the century were three thousand (3,000) Jews, are truly not to be compared (in quantity).
In the year 1859 the city already had 101 houses (among them 26 made of brick) and the population was 1526 people. Of this there were 1100 Jews. From this we can see that the main role in the development of the city was the Jewish element. This made up over 70% of the population. The main income in the city came from the textile industry. There were also (in the same year 1859) ten small working weaving outlets with 101 workers, with a yearly production of 36,000 rubles (Russian currency), and fourteen cotton mills with 103 workers and a 17,200 ruble yearly production.
We have still more precise statistics from the Belchatower textile industry from the year 1867. Then Belchatow numbered 15 small wool and cotton textile factories. Of the two wool factories, one was Jewish and of the thirteen cotton factories twelve (or eleven) belonged to Jews. Besides this, there were also three small factories making large shawls and knit materials and those did not belong to Jews. The production from the Jewish factories in the year 1867 amounted to about 40,000 rubles.
According to the information that we received from a friend, Zalman Pudlowski, this enabled us to put together a list of the more important Jewish manufacturers who worked in Belchatow to the end of the 19th century. They are as follows:
It would be a mistake to picture the Belchatower factories like an industrial unit undertaking, where workers worked at machines in a mechanized production process. Until the beginning of the 20th century there were not, in general, any mechanized machinery or factories in Belchatow. The whole production was established by handwork. There were no spinning machines. All of Belchatow and vicinity were working on hand textile machines.
The Belchatower manufacturers were actually jobbers (farlagar) or (livarantn), as they used to call manufacturers without factories. They were, in essence, dependent on the Lodz manufacturers, from whom they took the raw material and delivered ready-made goods. The jobber very seldom had the weaving machines in his own house or factory. The organization of the production was very interesting.
Again, the jobber (farlager) gave out to his employed weavers (chalupnikas in Polish) the raw material and also a part of the necessary tools with which they had to work (the comb to hold threads in place for weaving and the sheet [blat]). The weaver took all this home and started to work on it together with his whole family, wife and children, and partly also with hired workers and apprentices. Even the younger children helped out to accomplish this primitive work, for instance handing over, cleaning, sweeping and so on. For all this hard work the weaver used to make an average of two to three rubles a week.
Among the weavers were faster workers who could move very fast back and forth from one side of the machine to the other and whose work earned a little more. This was a very small income. The hired workers and the apprentices with some knowledge earned still less. For all this the work was not secured.
In a bad season a lot of weavers were unemployed. However, in a good season it was also not so good. The manufacturer usually paid out the salary for the weavers on Friday afternoon when he came back from Lodz, where he delivered his goods. Many times it happened that he came back from Lodz without money, or in general, didn't come back to Belchatow at all for the Sabbath. Then the wife used to tell the weaver Her husband didn't come back, although he was back and didn't show up and the weavers used to be left without any money for the Sabbath.
Another trouble was the voucher system. A lot of manufacturers used to pay out the hired weavers not with money, but only with vouchers to a store. The storeowner gave the worker goods on account of the vouchers such as food, household goods, also clothing and so on. It is logical in this case that the storeowner could dictate the prices and the quality as he wanted, and the worker had no choice. This same voucher system, which was spread among the whole Polish wage industry (called the trok system in Polish) made a lot of bad blood.
The wages were not the same in all branches of the industry. The higher ups among the workers were the sharers. (This is those who make the prepared yarns (ketn) for the weaving machines) The sharers worked mostly in the homes of the manufacturers and did not take out the work to their own homes. The lowest category of paid workers was the spinners (tribarins) (women who spun the yarn for the sharers). Their salaries were pennywise.
A constant pressure to make the wages yet lower came from the farmers living in the vicinity in the small villages. The farmers took home all kinds of work for the long winter nights, (mostly spinners and weavers). Since this was a side income for them they could compete with the regular workers.
In this way many thousands of people worked in Belchatow and vicinity, among them a large number of Jews. In Belchatow itself, around the year 1895, there were 925 Jewish weaving workers.
Since the wages were so low that they couldn't make ends meet, they found all kinds of half legal and illegal ways to increase their income. The most half legal practice was to matzen. The word matzen comes it seems from the Hebrew rashi tuvut-mutrut tzmr. This means left over remnants of wool. When the manufacturer gave out the wool to the worker he weighed it and wrote down the weight. The worker had to give back the ready made material with the same weight that he received, but the weaver always had a way to save a little raw material for himself. For this purpose he put the ready material in the basement so that it would soak in moisture, and then it would weigh the same. The little saved up raw material (the matz) the worker brought to the dealers (called the matzers), who bought the stuff from them and the dealers then used to sell this same material back to the manufacturers. Similar ways started to develop in other branches of the weaving trade. For instance, the spinners took flour to stiffen the yarn, so they saved a part of the flour for themselves for their household needs.
However, all these actions did not help to improve the situation of the wage weavers. Their lot became more critical. The weavers used to get together Saturday afternoon in the bes-medrish (house of study) and they discussed what to do about their bad situation. They had ideas of having a strike, but nobody had the will to be the first.
At the beginning of the 20th century the situation worsened so badly that it came to the first open conflict. In one day the weavers decided to take back beams, (a part of the weaving machine) on what the material was made from. All the workers put down all these instruments at the manufacturers door. Around 1903 or 1904 there was a larger demonstration yet. The Gurer rabbi was very sick at that time and the Gerer Chasidim (among the manufacturers were a lot of Chasidim), congregated in shul and recited tihillim (psalms recited when someone is gravely ill). Coming out from shul a young group of weavers confronted them and badly beat them up. They were not satisfied with only doing this, they went to the houses of the manufacturers who had not been in shul and beat them up also.
New troubles and conflicts came out when the Belchatower industry began to change from hand weaving to mechanized production. According to Zalman Pudlowski, the first mechanized factories in Belchatow came at the beginning of the 20th century. The first pioneer in this field was Peretz Freitag. His factory employed about two hundred (200) workers. The factory of Mayer Zsuchowski (together with the firm Adler Zsuchowski in Lodz) also had two hundred workers and they also employed about two hundred workers in Lodz. There were also other mechanized factories like Velvel Farshtar, Joseph Warszawski's son, the brothers Epstein, the family of Dzialowski, the Szmulewicz Brothers, Borach Starowinski, Yankel Klug, Herzkah Tusk and Shloima Kowal. In total there were about twelve mechanized Jewish factories and one factory belonging to a German by the name of Baran.
With the creation of mechanized factories there came new problems. First the mechanized factories needed less workers than with hand production. Secondly, it turned out that even with many less working places, the Jewish workers still couldn't hold a job. The largest number of Jewish workers was employed in the factory of Zsuchowski . A certain amount of Jews were also employed in the factories of Warszawski, Farshtar, Epstein and others.
The main excuse from the Jewish manufacturers was that the Jewish workers could not work on the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays and the factories will suffer from it. The Jewish factories worked on the Sabbath and some of them (for instance Freitag's factory) even on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This called for strong protests from the religious circles in the city. Another deeper reason that was not brought to light was that the manufacturers preferred to have unenlightened people, the farmers from the villages, who would listen to the boss better than the enlightened Jewish workers, among whom revolutionary opinions started to show, and socialistic ideologies.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century the town grew very much in the economic and social structure. It became more differentiated. In the year 1897 Belchatow numbered 3859 residents, among them 2987 Jews. In the year 1909 there were 3849 Jews. In the year 1917 there were 4922 Jews. The first years after the First World War a large number of Jews came in to Belchatow. In 1921 Belchatow now had 369 houses and 6249 inhabitants, among them 3788 Jews. The Jews at this time made up only 60% of the cities inhabitants. The reasons for this change were in large measure connected to the suffering from the time of the First World War. During the war the Belchatower industry and commerce suffered a lot. The worsened economic situation along with (and also for) a number of individual reasons, compelled a lot of Belchatow Jews to migrate. A number of them moved to Lodz and other Polish cities, but a lot of them emigrated further to Germany, Austria and also some to America. As it is said in the last decades of the 19th century the economic life of the Belchatower Jews was a lot more variegated. The farmers until 1864 played a small role as consumers and purchasers as long as they were enslaved to their feudal masters.
Because of the Agrarian reform, the farmers in the year 1870, were brought into the modern financial economy and in small measure became consumers and buyers. The farmers used to come into the town to make business with Jews, selling their products and buying what they needed. The business in the towns brought everything to life. On market days (Belchatow had two market days a week) the farmers used to come into town in the hundreds. A part of the Polish youth started to settle in the town, some of them as workers in the mechanical factories and some (this happened in independent Poland) as students and hired hands and so on. In 1921 Belchatow already had over 2500 Christian inhabitants in comparison to less than 1000 in the year of 1897 and 450 in the year 1857. In ratio few Poles got involved in business. A larger amount of the Christian population were involved in home work. In general, the sphere of consumers from the Jewish businessmen, storekeepers, and home workers much increased. This was because of the increase from the town itself and also because of the larger consumption from the surrounding villages. The Jewish business in the homework situation grew very much. On the other hand the Jewish population lost their absolute numerical numbers in the town and started to feel with the time (in particular in independent Poland) ever-stronger Polish competition in homework and business. In Jewish life there started to show more concrete groups and economic and social classes. The richest in the town were the manufacturers. There were also rich businessmen and property owners. There started to develop a middle class in the town. Again, store owners, market stall owners who sold foodstuffs, hardware and so on. Some of the storeowners had connections with the manufacturers and sold merchandise to their wage weavers with vouchers instead of money. A more mobile element was the peddlers. They used to put up their stands in different towns on market days. There were also Jewish workers such as tailors, shoemakers, hat makers, metal workers and so on. They had their own stands in the market and sold their own production.
The large masses of Jewish weavers and other wage workers employed in the textile industry slowly started to lose their numerical power, although it was always the strongest and largest part of the Jewish population. The activity and devotion to business and the industry necessitated (caused a need for) a lot of transportation. Until the end of the 19th century the whole transportation business was in the hands of the Jewish shippers. These people had a special place in the life of the city. They, together with the horse dealers, butchers and so on, were the strongest, and many times you could hear of their unbelievable deeds in the city.
On the eve of Yom Kippur (possibly at the end of the 19th century) there were rumors in the town (Shtetl) that the Polish farmers were preparing to make a pogrom in the city. The strong ones didn't hesitate long. They waited for the farmers to come into town and beat them up right away.
It happened many times that drunk army recruits from the surrounding villages decided to make trouble in the city, before they went into the army. In many instances these came to big confrontations between them and the strong men and the Jews prevailed.
Zalman Pudlowski told an interesting story of what happened at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. In Szczercow there lived a Jewish vagrant who was a thief and also set fires, by the name of David Pfeifer. With his deeds he enraged the Polish butchers and they killed him. The Belchatower Jewish strong men paid them back for the killing. When these Szczercow butchers once came to Belchatow to a market, to sell their goods, the Jewish strong men beat them up.
Belchatow also had bad people. They were the delinquents who stole horses, people who made all kinds of tricks and card players. They made their living on market days by fooling and tricking the farmers. Another type were the Jews who extorted money from Jewish boys by pretending that the girl the boy went around with was their girl, and therefore they wanted and got money from the frightened young men.
The poorer Jews mostly gathered at the synagogue or Bes-Medrish, like the shoemakers, weavers and poor business people (and were called shul [synogogue] Jews or Bes Medrish Jews).
The young people strived for something different. They were eager for something new that would break the monotony of provincial life. One group of young people founded an association for young men. This group spent their time together and prayed together and on Saturday afternoons debated topics. However, since they did not have a concrete agenda, the whole group slowly fell apart.
Right after this there came into being another group of young men. They also prayed together and decided to make membership dues. With this money they brought reforms to the town. They built up a brick fence for the synagogue, made a wedding for a poor couple, wrote a Torah, and in honor of the Torah made a big gathering in the Shtetl. During this parade they disguised themselves as feudals and Cossacks and rode on horses. They awoke the whole town.
Another group went even further. It was called a Maskilim (Enlightened Men) group. The head of this group was Joel Leib Goldsztejn and his brother, also Shier Langnas and Berel Waldman and others. Joel Leib Goldsztejn was the only romantic writer that Belchatow produced.
He debuted with a story on the topic The Last Man. After this, in Warsaw, he issued a thick book (of 1200 pages) called The Breakdown or Rebuilding. He then wrote a book of stories called With the Face to the Mirror and at the end a utopian fantasy 1960 written in a territorial way.
Another young literary talent in the same Maskilim group was Meyer Zussman. He was a leather worker. During the years 1910 and 1911 he wrote a number of Yiddish songs with a partly social radical content. Later on other Belchatower started to become interested in literary activities. Schmuel Chaim Kalman, a Poalei Zionist workers activist, wrote stories. Peretz Freitag was a steady correspondent for the Polish socialist newspaper in Warsaw called Robotnik (The Worker). Zalman Pudlowski was the correspondent of the Peterburger (St. Petersburg) Zeit (Times) and later on in the bundist papers like Lebensfragen (Lifes Question) and Folkszeitung (Peoples Newspaper), in Warsaw. In these papers (between the two world wars) were articles about Belchatow written by Henry Ehrlisch, Chmurnar, Yankiv Pat, Barach Scheffner and others.
Some of the previously mentioned literary circle later started to create the first Zarei-Zion group in Belchatow. They were Chaskell Shotten , Feffer (a young man from Lodz), Weissblat (a private teacher to the Potockis) and others.
Still another group from the Bes Medrish young men, used to get together in the Bes Medrish and read about the Yiddish and Hebrew modern literature and have discussions about philosophy and literature. To this group belonged Ali Twardowski, the brothers Moishe and Shimon Szmulewicz, Aaron Pinchus Bornstein, Zalman Pudlowski, Abraham and Hanach Lieberman, Hanach Pegula and Hanach Grushka (the last four names belonged to the Radzinar Chasidim). One Saturday this group was caught by another group of Chasidim in the Bes Medrish (motzeieh Passover 1913) and a scandal broke out in the town because of these nonbelievers.
All the different groups in town had wars among themselves. All the wars in the religious circles were for mostly two reasons, regarding the rabbis and for ritual slaughtering. At the end of the 19th century the Rebbe Kanshtam passed away. He was a Gurer Chasid. It should be understood that the Gerer Chasidim wanted to have their own rabbi again. However, their enemies, the Alexander Chasidim, didn't like it. The Alexander united with the common Jews (Bes Medrish Jews). The leader of the plain Jews was Moshka Dozar. His surname came from the word Dozar, meaning commissioner. He was a member of the local committee and did good things for the town. Because of his deeds the new shul was erected, though the Gerer Chasidim campaigned against it. The arguments became more aggressive, but in the end Moshka Dozar, together with the Alexander Chasidim, prevailed and they brought down to Belchatow their own candidate for rabbi, Reb Moishe Ali Bierenbaum. The whole deal however was not plain and straight. It seems that the Gerer Chasidim could not do anything about it so they started to split the united front from the inside. For their own purpose they managed to persuade the leader of the united front, Moshka Dozar, to come to their side. Right after this they started a propaganda campaign against the rabbi. They spread rumors and innuendos. One of the heaviest arguments against him in the eyes of the Gerer Chasidim was the fact that he sympathized with the Zionist movement. In the end Rabbi Bierenbaum got fed up living in Belchatow with the atmosphere of a permanent Gerer agitation against him. It seems that he himself resigned from the position and went to Lodz. He was one of the most important leaders of the Mizrachi until he went to Palestine.
The new Rabbi was Rebbe Shmuel-Shloima Braun recommended and supported by the Gerer Chasidim. He was known in town as Der Lukovar Rebbe. He built a large Yeshiva in Belchatow and many young men from other towns also studied there. The Yeshiva was the pride of the Belchatower Jews. Although the material situation of a lot of Belchatower middle class Jews was not a good one, they whole-heartedly helped to feed these Yeshiva students in spite of this. The Lukovar Rebbe had a big influence in Belchatow and also had a very good name himself. His strong service couldn't however, divert from Belchatow the new free winds coming from all sides.
In the years 1904-1905 when Belchatow was full of demonstrations, strikes and new discussions, the Rabbi made big speeches in Shul against the non-believers who were against the good Jews, the King, Jewishness in general and thundered against the non-believers and violators (transgressors) of Israel (Jewish People). When all this did not help and the world went its own way, the Lukovar Rabbi resigned and left Belchatow (possibly about 1905-1906).
A new fight broke out for a new Rabbi. The Gerer Chasidim (supported by the Radziner Chasidim) opposed the coalition of the common Jews with the Walbarszer and Alexander Chasidim. The coalition won the fight and Rabbi Zmach David Tornheim, the Walbarszer Rabbi's son, got the job. The Yeshiva that the Lukovar Rabbi managed was not in existence any more in Rabbi Tornheim's time. Rabbi Zmach David Tornheim held the post in Belchatow until he died, a few years before the Second World War. In the infighting in the Jewish community he was always on the side of the Mizrachi and against agudas Israel. Fights also broke out between the religious slaughtering and slaughterers in the town. The Gerer Chasidim in general had their own slaughterers and went so far as not to eat the meat slaughtered by somebody else. This was particularly at the time they were fighting (struggling) against Rabbi Zmach David Tornheim, but the controversies and arguments between the orthodox religious groups slowly ceased to be the central events in the Jewish life of the town. In the twentieth century new ideologies came to life. New organizations and institutions came into being from branches of political parties. They organized workers unions and all these events brought out a new social life in Belchatow.
The events of 1904-1905 brought changes to Jewish life in Belchatow. This was a deep radical revolution that entirely changed the future of the social and cultural face of Jewish life in Belchatow. In 1904-1905 Belchatow was shook up by a series of strikes and demonstrations. The economic strikes were as a result of the tragic situation of the Belchatower wageworkers. There were several political strikes (the first of May strike, the January Strike after the bloody suppression of the (Gapons) demonstration in St. Petersburg the 9th of January 1905) and also a solidarity strike (at the time of the great Lodzer street fight at the end of June 1905 ). In the demonstrations of 1905 there showed up an armed Jewish militia in the streets of Belchatow.
It is really unbelievable how it was possible in Belchatow to organize such a complicated and hard working event with strikes and demonstrations with their own militia, since we know that until 1904-1905 there were not any working organizations in Belchatow. Professional unions only started to organize at that time (around 1904-1905). These professional unions were the wage weavers union, the sharers union, and the professional textile union.
The wage weavers and sharers unions did not come out with any professional or political activities. The professional textile union took in the poorest and most oppressed portions of the workers. For instance, the apprentices and young children who had to learn the trade and who worked by the wage weavers, the needle workers, the knitters and others.
The textile union was organized and led through the leaders of the Bund and was a part of the Bundist party organization. A charismatic fact that happened in the year 1905 gives us a sample of the connections that the Belchatower workers had in those days with the Jewish revolutionary parties outside of Belchatow.
When the strikes and demonstrations broke out, the frightened landlords and Gerer Chasidim looked for a power that could break the working class. They looked to the transport workers to break down this working class power as they had some influence with them. They wanted them to be the counter revolutionaries. The transport workers together with other strong people started to interfere with the workers meetings, but then a warning came from the leaders of the Lodzer Bund and this helped to quiet down the transport workers. From this we can see that the existence of the Belchatower Bundist organization started from these events of 1904-1905.
At the same time the counter-revolution in Russia succeeded and Belchatow started to feel the new iron hand of the reactionaries.
In the year 1906 the Czarist government, without any reason, sent a detachment of ten Cossacks in to Belchatow. They had nothing to do in this little sleepy town so they were always drinking and dancing and having a good time, until this quiet little town played a trick on them. In the year 1907 the horse thieves, at the suggestion of the Jewish organizations, broke into the Cossack quarters at a time when they were away drinking and partying in the town, dressed themselves up in the Cossack uniforms, took away the armor, then mounted the horses and galloped out from the town. They killed some of the horses and led the others to the forest and tied them up. The Cossacks could not stand this indignity. One of them committed suicide and the others were arrested and sent out of Belchatow. A new detachment of Cossacks then came to Belchatow, but they were already very careful and stable.
In the meantime the government found out that there were subversive elements in Belchatow, and it seems they decided with a strong hand to make an end to these activities. On January 30th 1908, they all of a sudden arrested twenty-three young people with the claim that they were leading an illegal Bundist activity. In truth, only some of these people arrested belong to the Bundist organization. They put these people in jail in Piotrkow and later in Siedlec. They never had a trial but sent them administratively to Siberia, some of them for four years, and the rest from two to three years. By these arrests the Bund organization was destroyed. However, the police, being in such a hurry, left the entire library, the first social library in Belchatow that was created a few years before. Still, there was no one left to manage the library and little by little the books disappeared.
It did not take long until by a coincidence this group of people organized again and started to lead an even larger and greater activity. In the spring of 1913 there came into Belchatow a textile worker named Gershon Percal. Percal was from the city of Lodz. He had been arrested in Lodz in 1912 and kept in jail for eight months. After he was released the Czarist regime exiled him to live in the small town of Zdunska Wola. Percal ran away from Zdunska Wola and came to Belchatow to live. He organized an active Bund organization again. They had discussions, made speeches and once more created a small library.
They brought in progressive Jewish papers from Petersburg and Warsaw. This work was led by a committee consisting of Percal, Zalman Pudlowski (secretary), Hainach Lieberman and others. Meetings and smaller gatherings used to take place on the new road on the Berzia (Gathering Place), or at the mountains near the town. Later, they also met in the café of Shloima Midlosz. Percal himself, after a short time, left Belchatow because his place of exile was in Zdunska Wola. It seems he became concerned that the Czarist police might arrest him because he left his forced living town (Wisedlenia), and he disappeared from Belchatow. Later on, after a short while, he again returned to Belchatow.
The Zionist movement changed with the times. The Mizrachi Organization had a big influence in Belchatow. This organization did not rely solely on its own membership, which was not very big, but relied mostly on rich individuals and rich landlords who belonged to the organization. Beside this the Mizrachi influenced the Jewish Folkes-Bank (Peoples Bank) in Belchatow to a large extent. This gave them much power. They also tried to open a school for their own children (Yavneh school).
The Zionist Socialist organization from the political right had less influence in Belchatow. They also founded a club for young people called Freiheit (Freedom) the sport club Hapoal and also had Hebrew lectures.
The political left called the Poalei-Zion was a weaker group in Belchatow. Also weak were the extreme right faction in the Zionist movement (revisionists).
Around 1921-1922 there started to develop a communist party. They were fighting strongly against the bund and also the professional textile union, and the culture society. They also tried to create their own legal organization, their own library, an I.L Peretz club and a sport club affiliated with the Agro-Yid. Some of them were convicted by the Polish courts and sent to jail. Others, in the later years, were sent to a concentration camp called Bereze Kartuska. After the First World War a strong political power developed called Agudas Israel. However, before the First World War and during the time of the war, there appeared a group of religious young people in Belchatow who created an organization called Tiferes Buchurim (Young peoples group). This was a loose group without a crystal clear program. They had long discussions about world events and political questions. After a while this group split up. Some of them went to the Zarei-Zion organization and the rest created the base of Agudas Israel.
For the first time the Agudas took part in the stormy election to the Sejm (Parliament) in 1918. At this time the Aguda managed the largest amount of the Jewish vote on her side. The second largest vote in this election was for the Bund. After the persecution in the Czarist times, the Bund came out into the open for the first time at the time of the Austrian occupation (around the year 1914).
The Bund created not only a strong political organization and had a big influence in the professional organization, (the professional organization embraced Jewish and Polish workers); the representative of the bund also led a wide active work in the legislation of the city of Belchatow, and also in the health department. They also, in general, had a large part in the Jewish life in Belchatow. They created a library (of 1,000 books), a club, the young workers organization Kultur (Culture), the young organization Zukunft, (The Future) the sport club Morgenstern (The Morning Star) and a childrens' school to which they brought the teacher Aharon Bergman from Lodz.
From time to time at special events they gave out a periodical from Belchatow called Veker (Alarm Clock). They also created a dramatic club and brought in from Lodz and Warsaw as guests the famous Jewish actors the (Turkow Kaminska Vilna Troupe). In general, Belchatow was a cultured town. Almost every organization had a dramatic club, their own choir and music classes. Among the local theatre people, the previously mentioned writer, Joel Leib Goldsztejn directed and led the dramatic club and also gave music lessons.
Until 1925 Belchatow was considered a market shtetl or a settlement (in Polish: osada). It did not have the full municipal right. In 1925 Belchatow was again elevated to the rank of a city. After Belchatow regained status as a city a municipal election took place for the first time in 1925. They elected 24 councilmen, among them 13 Jews. Besides the councilmen the city also had an executive of 5 people, one mayor, one vice mayor and three commissioners. Two of the commissioners were Jews: Mayer Warszawski (a Zionist) and Shmuel Jacubowicz (representative of the self-employed). In the year 1927 at the second municipal elections only seven Jews were elected among the twenty-four councilmen, two Bundist, one Zarei-Zionist, two from the business organization and two from the self-employed. In the executive was commissioner Noach Lieberman (from Agudas Israel).
In the city council there were always strong arguments about political, national and social questions right from the first celebrated meeting of the council. The Jewish councilman reminded everybody about their Jewishness. Councilman Zalman Pudlowski, in his welcoming speech to the councilmen and government guest, spoke in Yiddish. In one of the later meetings, the Bunds councilman suggested changing Pabianicer Street to I.L. Peretz (a famous Yiddish author) Street. This suggestion was accepted after a vigorous fight.
Belchatow went through hard economic and political changes between the two world wars. The mechanized factories developed rapidly (in the year 1939 they employed more than 1000 workers) and the situation of the hand weavers became more critical. From time to time there were strikes. The hardest and longest strike in the Belchatow industry broke out in 1932. It lasted for six months. Besides economic strikes there were also political strikes. A separate impressive strike and demonstrations took place in Belchatow after the pogrom in Przytik.
pa) In the first years of the German occupation (until 1942) On September 1st 1939 the war started between Nazi Germany and Poland. On September 5th 1939 the Germans were already in Belchatow. The German offensive was made with lightning speed and only a few Jews managed to escape. Many Jews started to leave on the road to the east in order to save themselves, but were overtaken by the motorized German units and after the cessation of the war operations of the moment, most of them returned to Belchatow. With the Germans entering this was the last tragic hour for the Belchatow Jewish community. The number of Jews in Nazi occupied Belchatow was greater than ever before. The Germans had accurate statistics of the population and the new German commissar diligently sent these numbers to his boss, the German commission of the Lask rural district., who resided in the city of Pabianice. According to this information the number of the population in Belchatow was:
Date Total Jews August 16, 1940 10,951 5,371 July 3, 1941 10,955 4,874 August 1941 10,324 4,874 January 1942 11,064 5,560 March 1942 11,070 5,460 December 14, 1942 5,379 0
As we can see, the number of Jews was not stable even in comparatively quiet first period of the German occupation. In the time between July and August of 1941, 450 Jews disappeared from Belchatow. These were the unfortunate victims who were sent away to German work camps in the Posner vicinity from where they never came back.
In the last few months of 1942 the population of Belchatow again grew by 700 people. At the same time, according to an estimation from an underground leader, the Jewish population grew even more, to about 6,000 people. This was as a result of the resettlement policy of the Germans that they activated in the vicinity of Belchatow. They liquidated many smaller settlements like Grocholic, Szczercow, Widawa, Klesciw, Chabialic, Gurszkowic, Orzekow, Parzniwic, and others. They brought in part of these people to Belchatow, part to Lodz or to other cities and work camps. This way the Jewish population in Belchatow was enlarged during the three tragic years from September 1939 until August 1942.
They were constant victims of German brutalities until the tragic end of Belchatow.
When the Germans came, one third of Belchatow was burned as a result of the war activities. As soon as the soldiers came into town, they started wild activities against the Jews with the help of the local Germans. In Belchatow, like in other industrial cities in the vicinity of Lodz, in the 19th century a certain number of German specialists, mostly textile engineers, settled in the town. With time some of them became integrated but most of them stayed with the German language and with the Lutheran church. Now, all the Germans, even those that were integrated, reminded themselves of their Teutonic background.
The German authorities relied strongly on the folk Germans (Volks Deutsch) (those born in Poland). They brought them into all the Nazi organizations. They were supposed to play a large role in the Nazi plan to Germanize the occupied Polish land, especially the parts that were integrated into the German Reich.
For a short time in the beginning, Belchatow had belonged to the general government, but right after this it was incorporated in the part of west Poland, which was incorporated again into the Third Reich under the name Wartegau (District Watch). The Gauleiter (District Manager) in Vater Land (Fatherland) was the famous tragic Jewish enemy and Jewish murderer Arthur Greiser, who resided in the city of Poznan. .
It seems that the folk Germans, who became Nazis overnight, were also big anti-Semites and tried at every step to show their great enthusiasm by being trustworthy to the Nazi idea on account of the Jews. Because of the pressure of the Nazi occupants and because of the good example of the local German leaders, the local party of the folk Germans in Belchatow was constantly growing.
The official German statistics gave the following numbers: In August 1940, 1106 Germans in Belchatow. In July 1941, 1447 and in March 1942, 1458.
The Folk Germans together with the German soldiers made plenty of trouble for the Jews in Belchatow right from the beginning. The Germans right away nominated a Folk German mayor and vice mayor, the bricklayer Wolf and Otto Frei, who previously was a worker in Epstein's factory. It seems that the Pastor, Jacob Gerhardt, had a large but not a good influence on the fate of the Jewish population. He was a fanatic Nazi and had already been arrested before the war for his pro nazi political activities. The Germans freed him from jail immediately and gave him back his post as an evangelical pastor. He also functioned for a short time as the mayor.
The new German (Folk German) city government right away gave out anti-Semitic ordinances. For instance:
At the same time they started to make holdups and murder Jews. The German soldiers and SS men were walking around in Jewish homes under the pretext of looking for armaments. They took away jewelry, gold, money and beat up the people in a terrible way. The folk Germans helped them out a lot in this respect as well. Every member of the local party was allotted a few Jewish homes. German women and children also helped to search these Jewish homes. They took out everything they could, loaded it up on wagons and took it to their homes or officially to the warehouse, which they made from the confiscated house of Mendel Feld, (Schutzen-haus [shooting-range/ guard house] in Polish Strzelco) ) where the German gendarmes made their headquarters. They also brought Jews to this same house to beat them up and get out every penny they could from them.
The forced labor was also only a pretext to torment Jews. Let me give you one example: according to a report from an eyewitness, a group of Jews went out with brooms to the Market Square to clean up the horse manure there. They were under the command of the Folk German Wiler. Before the war he worked as a weaving loom fixer in a Jewish factory. He told them to collect the garbage with their hands and put it in their own pockets and caps and do it at a faster and faster tempo. In his hand he had a little leather whip with a woven piece of iron through it and hit them without any reason. After this he told them to make a big circle around the water well and told them to sing Jewish prayers, zmires and songs. Then he finished with a speech saying that it is the Jews fault that the war broke out and in all the world's troubles the fault is only the Jews.
At such forced labor places Jews were beaten up terribly. The first victim of these beatings was Mayer Zieslawsky.
In order to belittle the Jews even more in the eyes of the non-Jewish population, the Germans made all kinds of mock masquerades with the Jews, especially at the time of the Jewish holidays. They dressed them in prayer shawls, told them to climb on ladders and were carried around the city and then threw the ladder together with the Jews on it, off a bridge, till they had beaten / bruised their head and bones. They also painted their faces and told them to dance in the streets and photographed them in these situations. The Germans behaved especially wild on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur in 1939. They told the Jewish people to go out into the streets and throw out all their Jewish religious and other books. They again made mock parades in the center (Market Square) of the city and at the end told them to burn the books and dance around this bonfire upon spread out Torah scrolls. These wild events only stopped when the new German administration stabilized in Belchatow. To the post of commissar of Belchatow they selected the German named Talmer. Belchatow belonged to the vicinity of Lask and the commissar resided in Pabianice.
New legal events of robberies and economic pressure started up. They took away the best houses and apartments from the Jews. From other living places the Germans took out the best furniture and put German commissars into Jewish businesses. Jewish manufacturing materials and machines were confiscated and sent out of Belchatow. According to figures from a Polish underground report, the losses that the Jews sustained at that time came to more than a half million Zlotys (Polish currency).
The Jewish population all at once fell into an abyss of economic poverty and became very depressed. The hunger was everywhere in Jewish homes (streets). The Jewish committee (Judenrat) made a soup kitchen in the Bes Medrish, where they served about one thousand meals a day. Frau (Mrs.) Rottenberg led the kitchen with a lot of devotion, but in 1940 the Folk Germans destroyed the Bes Medrish.
As a result of having its way with hunger, need, and lack of housing the disease typhus came (a typhus epidemic broke out). In Belchatow there were very few Jewish doctors as some of these doctors managed to run away before the Germans came in. Of the remaining doctors, Dr. Baran was right away liquidated (killed) by the Germans. The second Jewish doctor in the city, Dr. Basiar, fought the epidemic with the help of a Feldsher someone with medical training (an old time barber surgeon) named Abe Warszawski, who immediately became a victim of this epidemic.
It seems that the epidemic was stronger than the Jewish medical capabilities of
the town. The Lodzer Jewish committee (Judenrat) also sent in a Jewish doctor
to fight the Typhus (outbreak). The community at that time still had a small
Jewish hospital at her disposition. Dr Basiar remained still at his medical
post until the liquidation of the
Belchatower Ghetto, when he, together with a truck full of Jewish children, was sent to be (annihilated) killed.
It seems the epidemic possibly returned in 1942, because in March 1942 the local German commissar demanded that the Jewish doctor, Dr. Haber from Turig (Turik), be sent to Belchatow.
A hard event for the Jewish population in Belchatow was the transport for forced labor to Poizner (Poznan) and vicinity. In 1940 they first took Poles for forced labor and in 1941 they registered all Jews in Belchatow from the age of 16 years to 50 years, for forced labor. Since not everyone registered and not all of those that were registered came to be taken for forced labor, they made searches to find these people. Some categories of the committee (Judenrat) and specialists in the important war industry were exempted from the forced labor. Beside this, if you had money, you could free yourself by paying from 50 to 200 Reich marks (German currency of the Third Reich) of buy-out money. In the end there was a transport of about 450 young people, mostly workers and poor people, who were sent out to the Poznan camps to work. Right away tragic reports started to come in from the camps. Hunger, cold and hard work destroyed the workers. Almost no one came back from these camps. (There is available an exhaustive work about the Jewish working camps in Vater Land (Fatherland), written by the master of arts (Yishaiha) Isaiah Trunk.). (The name is called Pages for History, volume 1, number 1, pages 114 - 169, and number 2, pages 14 - 45) When it came to a second registration in Belchatow, for the forced labor camps, no one went to register anymore. The Germans conducted a search all over the city that lasted for two days. They caught a number of people (about 200 people according to one source) and sent them out to the camps.
A separate ghetto did not exist in Belchatow. The Germans only decided where the Jews had to live, it was carried out in principal (they made a law) that Jews and Aryans, especially Germans, are not allowed to live in the same apartment houses. The fact that a ghetto did not exist in Belchatow made it a lot easier for the economic situation. A lot of Jews started to make illegal business (in manufactured goods and money) and to smuggle. Smuggling of manufactured goods and money was widespread in general in the occupied countries by Jews and non-Jews as it was a form of economic struggle against the occupation and also sabotage of their robber politics.
In Belchatow the illegal business was concentrated in the bazaar, and the illegal materials were delivered by the Germans and Folk Germans (so called patriots) or through the peasants (farmers). Besides the local illegal business there was also a widespread black market from the Vaterland (Fatherland) through Belchatow. Over the green border they took all kinds of material, which were found in the general government, manufactured goods, jewelry, money and medicines to Piotrkow. The main traffickers stood out especially in this black market. There was Winter, Flakowicz, Lieberman and others. These black marketers worked together with the German middlemen. They paid off the German officials and gendarmes (soldiers), drank together with them and developed their own dark underworld morals. From this mutual business with the Germans, it was not too far from collaboration with them in other fields.
The already mentioned Winter, they called the king of Belchatow. The anti-Semitic Poles used to say that in Belchatow there are two governments, one German and one Jewish. A similar role was also played by an other so-called Jewish Macher doer (arranger of slightly illegal transactions mover and shaker) Peretz Altman, who had been a leather stitcher (Shtepper makes leather shoe tops, pocketbooks, and other items) and in the leather business. A characteristic type of collaborator besides the already mentioned Winter, was the one time mentioned Szmuel Jakubowicz. He was also a so called Macher doer / arranger, even before the war, under the Austrian occupation of 1914-1918 in the first world war, when he lived in friendly conditions with the Austrian occupation and exploited it for his own personal needs.
Later on he opened a barbershop in Belchatow and created a union of (artisans) self-employed businessmen. With the support of this union he managed to be elected to the city government in 1925. Due to various off-colour activities, that he carried out (illegal business activities), he was arrested, and after this went to live in the city of Lodz.
In the year of 1939 he came back to Belchatow and was again elected to the city government as a representative of the artisans (self-employed union). For a man of this type the German occupation was the right time again to play a role in Jewish life. He started (bought up) all kinds of connections and acquaintances with the Germans and tried with their help to put his hand on the Jewish social life. He became the Gray Excellency (an untrustworthy man), who stood behind the scenes of various secret crisis of Jewish life in the Jewish community of Belchatow.
The speculators in the war, smugglers, the Machers doers / arrangers, and the black marketers were only a small part of the Jewish population. The main Jewish people, the workers, the self-employed and the former business people and shopkeepers found themselves in a worse situation. The self-employed businesses that were almost all in Jewish hands, were registered and controlled strongly by the city hall. Jewish self-employed were not allowed to accept direct orders from customers but only through the middlemen of the magistrate. The magistrate set the prices and the customer had to pay in the money to the magistrate, of which 50% went to the Jewish businessman and the balance was shared between the magistrate and the Jewish committee (Judenrat). They often made searches of the workers and artisans and if they found a piece of work not registered by the magistrate they confiscated the goods and heavily fined the worker (tradesman) and the one who ordered.
The Jewish workers worked in the commissar led factories for a very small wage. They worked almost for nothing. This is because they wanted to avoid a greater disaster of being sent out (transported) to forced labor camps or to be deported.
In still a worse situation were office workers, religious people and all kinds of free professionals. For them there was no way to get work unless by physical labor, as there wasn't any qualified work. They sold everything they owned and possessed. Some of them looked for work in the professional institutions, which were the only places available to the (intellectual) Jews, the Jewish committee (Judenrat), the Jewish police and the Jewish work organizations and so on. This was a slippery road to take, especially for people of weak character. It is possible that a lot of them did not figure (judge and calculate) out the moral conflict and ethical decline this could bring them (resolve) to. Very few of these people were left (in-tact) uncorrupted in this rotten atmosphere of corruption and violence. They thought they had bought their secure existence for the price of betrayal. Still less had the strength and courage to get out of this spellbound circle. Because of these factors, the abyss between the plain Jewish people and the intelligent ones grew deeper than it would be.
There were a few free professions where the Jews could stay longer, because they could not be replaced by others. For instance, the Jewish medical personnel. In the beginning there were only a few individuals involved, and this was also temporary. Characteristically this was the case of the Jewish dentists in Belchatow. In the Polish cities this profession was almost monopolized in Jewish hands. In Belchatow as well almost all the dentists were Jews. They were Berta Regirar, Channa or Anna Bugdanska, M. Jakubowicz, Janina Obolewska and the tooth technician Shlomo Laskowski, also one Polish woman Olszewska. Right from the beginning there was an extensive correspondence between the German institutions on how to limit or prohibit the Jewish dentists from doing their work, although they did not have any non-Jews aryans to replace them. In June of 1941 the high German authorities told the Belchatower commissar Talmer to Sicherstellen (This means to confiscate) (put in safe keeping) the dentists' cabinets of the Jews for the future German dentists, who will come in to practice after the war in Belchatow. Little by little they took away all the working instruments from the Jewish Dentists and forbid them from working any more. There was only one Jewish dentist left, Anna Bugdanska. Even this the Germans didn't leave in peace. In April of 1942 a German official report writer lamented that Bugdanska had a large clientele,-- even customs officials, gendarmes (German soldiers), and (German) Reich civilians were coming to her because she was good and cheap. This difficult problem eventually solved itself. After the atrocities that happened in March and the summer of 1942 (see below), a big calamity befell the Jewish people in Belchatow. Everyone tried to save themselves. They tried to escape the extermination action that hovered over the heads of the Jews in Belchatow. In Belchatow they thought that the action would only take out (encompass) the Jews in the Fatherland (Vaterland) and whoever would go out (escape) to the general government would be saved. The Jews started to illegally cross (smuggle) the border to the general government. Anna Bugdanska and her family also tried to save themselves by taking the same road, but they were caught in the middle of June 1942 by the Gestapo, when crossing the border (blackening the border). Their fate was doomed. The whole family, among them her husband the lawyer Bugdanski and her brother Shlomo Laskowski were taken away to the Radogoszczer jail near Lodz, and from there to an extermination camp.
In order to avoid the German forced labor and the terrible transports to the work camps the Belchatow Jews created a needle factory that in the beginning worked for the German military orders. Sometimes a few hundred workers were employed in the sewing shop. It should be understood that all these people were not professional tailors. A lot of unemployed among the Jewish intelligence and rich young people from Jewish homes tried through influential people to get jobs as workers in the shop and in this way avoid the forced labor camps and transports.
After a certain amount of time the orders from the Germans stopped coming in and the number of workers was severely reduced. At the beginning of 1942 the number of workers in the shop was only 200, they made only cheap civilian clothes (men's suits). The workers, of course, never received real wages for their work. Of the money that came in from the goods that were delivered, the workers received very little money (advance), but even that came to an end. Their only reward was the so to say protection from the German round ups and transports. The leaders of this factory were: Shloima Szmulewicz, Sucher Przybylski, and a certain Pelcman who was there, during the time of the war, in Belchatow.
Besides this there also existed a shoe factory. This was not as large as the needle factory. In this factory worked more specialized men than in the needle factory, mostly qualified leather stitchers and shoemakers. More than 100 Jews worked here. The leader of this shoe shop was Peretz Altman.
Regarding the Belchatower committee we have information from two sources. First from Jewish witnesses who survived and second the German and Polish sources. The Jewish sources of information allow us to penetrate deeper into the lives of the Belchatower Jews. The Polish and in particular the German sources of information only gave the formal circumstances of the development of the Jewish committee (Judenrat).
Right after the Germans came into Belchatow there came into being a social committee that wanted to be in the leadership of Jewish life and see to the security of the population through intervention with the authorities. They had a very naïve belief about the German Nazi government methods and believed in the effect of parliamentary methods and democratic peoples representation with regard to the occupiers. Right after the first German activities they lost all their illusions. Besides this, a few Machers (doers / arrangers of slightly illegal activities) penetrated this social committee like Shmuel Jakubowicz and others. Seeing their methods, the other responsible Jewish activists decided to get out right away and give up on this committee.
In the meantime the German government organizations began to be organized in the town, they were instructed to create a (Judenrat) Jewish committee. The Judenrat (was established) whose members were nominated by the German police and gendarme authorities in accordance with communication with the German mayor. This committee did not always have the same amount of members on it. The smallest number was three and the largest were twelve Judenretler (Judenrat members). Originally there were twelve people on the Judenrat. In March of 1940 this number was drastically reduced through the gendarmerie to three persons. Upon the intervention of the mayor the number was raised to five. On October 18th 1940 all the members of the committee were dismissed and in their place they put in five new people. A few days later on October 23rd 1940 the new president was arrested and in his place another new person was put in. The new committee was in power for almost a whole year. On August 2nd 1941 they put in a new leader (Judeneltster Elder of the Jews). This one was like a dictator with only two other people to advise him and six resortleiters. This committee didn't have much longevity. On September 24th 1941, the resortleiters were changed. Only the president and the two other members were left in their place. That's how things happened. As you can see from these dry examples, heated fights were occurring around the G-d like thrones of (Judenretler) members of the Jewish committee. All kinds of Machers (movers and shakers) and cliques tried to get into the Judenrat By this they looked for security from the German persecution, they searched for power, money, and prestige (honor).
No eminent and social-minded people were involved in this clique competition. In the beginning a few responsible leaders did try to have an influence at least on certain aspects of the Jewish committee (for instance (social security and social help)) but seeing the real face of the activities of the (Judenrat) committee they right away pulled back. The fights among the cliques were very hot and reckless (ruthless)(rucksichtslos). In a lot of cases they used the help of the corrupt German government authorities and brought them into these quarrels. In one case, the mayor, also pursuant to information given to him by the Jewish machers (movers and shakers), who squealed on the president of the Judenrat committee saying he was in contact with a band of Jewish smugglers, and the Elder of the Jews was arrested.
Who were these Judenrat leaders and what do the surviving Jews know to tell about them?
We don't know much about the exact composition of the first social committee. Besides this, as we remind you, it did not have much longevity.
The first individual nominated by the Germans to the Judenrat was Michal Jakubowicz. He was a former commissioner. After him a young lawyer named Bugdanski became president of the Judenrat. (This was the husband of the dentist Anna Bugdanska) He tried to bring in to the Judenrat Jews with a social background. On this commission of the social security were Haskell Birenzweig, Mendel Lipman, Meilech Galster and so on. One Yankel Flakowicz refused to become a member of this commission. Birenzweig also pulled out right away under the pretext that he had heart trouble. Identically it right away became apparent that the Judenrat was going down a slippery road. Shmuel Jakubowicz had a big influence in the Judenrat and from this time on was in all later Judenrats. This new Judenrat made new ordinances that shook up the Jewish Population. They started to lash people as punishment for not executing the orders of the Judenrat. Strong protests came into the Judenrat through courageous Jewish representatives and the shameful punishments by whipping were officially abolished. In fact however, the Jewish militia in a quiet way continued to beat up and murder Jews who committed the crime of not obeying the Judenrat.
At the head of the third Judenrat was the bank employee and Mizrachi leader Yankel Ehrlich. He was mild to the Jews according to the depiction of a survivor in Belchatow. In March 1942, he together with nine other Jews, were hung by the Germans in Belchatow. At this time he was no longer the Judenrat president His successor was Shloima Hersh Topolowicz. Perhaps lashing about on a report (denunciation) against him the Germans carried out a search of his home and immediately shot him.
The last Judenrat president (Elder of the Jews) was Yakov Schier Szmulewicz, nobody spoke evil (badly) against him. This is the only scarce information and characteristics we have regarding the Judenrat members. We know still less about the activities of the Judenrat. The so-called wide autonomy that the Germans gave to the Judenrat was only an unashamed fiction and a cover for the criminal extermination plans. In the frame work of this autonomous fiction the Judenrat had unlimited power (rule) over the Jewish population.
For this purpose it had built up a large bureaucracy. The Judenrat had about fifty employed members in Belchatow besides the Jewish militia. Some of them were paid (between fifty and one hundred twenty marks a month). Others worked for nothing, just to enjoy the feeling of security, of course, this proved to be completely worthless right away. We don't know about the budget of the Judenrat. We have only scant information of their expenses. Until 1940 the Judenrat gave out about one thousand free meals daily. The expenses for social help at the beginning of 1942 came to two thousand marks a month. The same amount was spent monthly for administrative expenses. The largest expense of each Judenrat was the colossal sums of money used to bribe the German authorities in order to avoid all kinds of (cursed) ordinances. These sums, of course, were not registered.
The income from the Judenrat came from all kinds of sources, direct and indirect taxes, buyout money that came in to the work division, repayments from the artesans, and from all sorts of economic undertakings, that the Judenrat carried out. The Judenrat had the whole distribution of foodstuffs and coal and wood for the Jewish people in their hands, it (also) carried out various workshops. They also collected contributions for the German government that were levied on the Jews, special repayments and larger taxes.
Place Date Jews Wloin February 1942 10 Bresin February 28, 1942 10 Zdunska Wola March 3, 1942 (Purim) 10 Lecycz (Lentshutz) March 10, 1942 10 Podembia March 10, 1942 10 Belchatow March 10, 1942 10 Piontek April 10, 1942 2 Ozorkow April 10, 1942 8 Naj-Czecholic (Neu-Tzecholitz) April 17, 1942 10
The purpose of this it seems was to terrorize the Jewish population and break its moral power of resistance. It was also to prove to the Germans and Poles the feeling that the Jews are unprotected and guilty of all crimes and therefore deserved this punishment at the hands of the Germans. With it they also used the opportunity to squeeze out money from the Jews. How this devilish scheme of psychological and physical terror, also blackmail (szantaz) and killings worked we can see clearly by their methods in the Belchatow Murder Spectacle.
At the beginning of March the Germans arrested 15 to 17 Jews from different social spheres in Belchatow and started to build gallows in the main market square. A fear befell the Jewish people. With the intervention of the German mayor Talmer, they succeeded in asking him to agree to a big money contribution instead, in order to buy out the hostages. A special contribution commission started to collect money, jewelry, gold, and silver from the Jews. At the contribution place Jews were standing in line in order to pay this money and jewelry to redeem the captives. The Belchatower Jewish population (made an effort beyond their strength) worked hard to make this money available (to save these Jews), but when this money and the boxes of gold and jewelry were brought to the Germans they declared in a cynical way that this was not enough to buy out all the arrested Jews and ten of them will be hanged. All the Polish and German population from Belchatow and vicinity were invited to this execution. Jews had to appear dressed nicely and were not allowed to cry or shriek. The Germans first took the Jewish hostages out from the jail, took them to the Shul and told them to pray vidui (confessional) and after this they took them to the gallows.
The Judenrat leader Topolowicz had to read a long accusation papers, against the 10 criminals, written in the known Nazi style, (before they were hanged). A Jewish militiaman named Goldberg was forced, under threat of death, to carry out the execution by hanging.
Those condemned to death were as follows: Yankel Ehrlich, former bank employee and member of the Judenrat, Mendel Feld, a manufacturer, Chaim Shapiro, a business man, Moishe Wolfowicz, a butcher, Leibl Pelcman, a butcher (yidl), Moishe Lazerowicz, also a butcher, Moishe Aaron Taub, a fisherman, Yerachmiel Baum, a weaver, Yitzchok Eliahu Greenbaum, a business man and Leibish Michal Landau, a weaver.
The condemned kept themselves very quiet. Some of them at the last minute managed to say something. To comfort their families and the Jews gathered there one of them said soon will come the defeat of Hitler and the right trial for the Nazi hangmen and called on them to take revenge.
Since the executions in March, tragic events took place at a breath-taking tempo. In the month of May or June 1942 the barbaric selection of the Jewish population came in the building of the Talmud Torah. They told all the Jews to march naked before the Nazi commission, and they were divided into three categories. Every category was marked with a different stamp on their papers. Later on this selection did not have any great practical meaning, but in the meantime the fear was great among the Jewish people.
At the same time in different cities there started the expulsions. Over 10,000 people from different towns and communities were driven into the Lodz Ghetto in the month of July. Among them was also a group of Belchatower. Some of them were taken to work on the land at Mariszin (near Lodz), which was governed by the Judenrat of Lodz. Another group the Germans sent to (forced) labor and later killed.
In the neighboring towns there were constantly many expulsions, deportations, and bloody liquidations. The bitter fate came upon Belchatow on August 11th 1942. The Germans collected the Jewish people in the (market place) main square and carried out selections. A group of about one thousand young and strong people from the ages of 16 to 45 was taken away to Lodz. The remaining people were chased into the Shul (synagogue) and a Catholic church, kept there under inhumane conditions and then sent to the liquidation camp at Chelmno (Ingerman-Kulmhof) near Lodz to be gassed. The Chelmno killing factory is well known through a lot of written literature and it is not necessary to repeat it here.
In the meantime, mayor Talmer started to collect all that remained from the Jews' possessions (fortune). He bought up from the Nazi ghetto authorities in Litzmannstadt (Lodz) all the furniture and everything else from the houses of the killed Jewish people of Belchatow. (This was the official German committee for Jewish possessions in Lodz and the surrounding towns with Hans Bibow at its head). He then resold it for dirt cheap prices to the Germans and Folk Germans who lived there.
The Belchatower Jews who came into the Lodzer ghetto tried to create a committee to help other Belchatowers. A Belchatow help committee was created especially through the representatives of the workers organizations. Some Belchatower representatives also went into the Zionist committees to help. Other Belchatowers were active in the Bundist organization. Some Belchatower with leftist leanings went into the Agudah young peoples organization in the Lodz Ghetto. The Belchatower in Lodz went through the same tragic fate as the rest of the Lodzer Jews.
In August of 1944 they were sent out to Auschwitz and other German concentration camps, where the majority of them perished. Only a small number of Belchatower Jews had the opportunity and luck to stand up and face the enemy with arms in their hands.
We know all kinds of particulars, about a small group of Belchatower who turned up in Bialystok at the beginning of the Polish German war and lived there or in the vicinity in 1941 when the Germans came in. These Belchatow Jewish youth are: Moishe, Hinda and Chaim Kon (Kohn) and their brother-in-law Leib Pudlowski. They already understood what a German transport meant. They jumped down from a German transport train taking them to a concentration camp and left around October of 1942 to join a partisan group called forward. There they fought heroically against the Nazis. Chaim Kon (Kohn) fell in the fight of August 18th 1943 in a village near Bialystok. Moishe and Hinda Kon (Kohn) are now living in Poland. Leib Pudlowski went to Israel. The 3 men Chaim Kon (Kohn) (already after his death), Moishe Kon (Kohn), and Leib Pudlowski were decorated by the Polish government with the Heros' Cross Krzyz Walecznosc (medal).
Besides this we don't have any sure information about a fight that took place in Belchatow itself. At the time of a German search there came about a shooting between a group of Jewish young men and the German gendarmes. One of the young men, Moishe Lev, was wounded and fell into German hands. Through a large bribe they managed to get him out of jail and after this he went to the forest, where it seems he joined up with a group of partisans. Later he was again caught by the Germans, they sent him to Oswiecim (Auschwitz) where he perished.
We also know about a Belchatower tailor by the name of Josef Reich. He was also in a partisan group in the Stolpczer vicinity. He now lives in Australia.
The number of Belchatower survivors is hard to determine. In the year 1939 about one hundred Belchatower Jews saved themselves from the German hands by going to Russia. Some of them died in the wartime over there. The rest came back later to Poland. The number of Jews who immediately appeared back in Belchatow in 1945 and 1946 after the war was very small, about twenty families. Slowly others started to come back -- from Russia, those saved from the German concentration camps, from the bunkers and from hideouts, from the forests, and from the partisans, and from those that survived on false Aryan papers. They did not stay in Poland for long. They migrated further to Germany and D.P. camps and from there waited for an opportunity to migrate to Israel or America. The number of Belchatower Jews in the German D.P. camps in 1946 and 1947 was estimated to be about 250 people. By now, most of them have already left Germany. In total the number of Belchatower survivors is estimated to be about 300 to 350 people. This means less than 1% of the previous flourishing Jewish community in Belchatow.
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