Friday, June 27, 1941.
That's the tragic score of what has happened to a flourishing city and its Jews wiped off the map by the greatest brutality and heinousness in human history; only a cold slab over a mass grave bears mute witness to the great and horrible tragedy.
But the memory of our beloved Bialystok and its sacred martyrs has not been obliterated from our minds and hearts. We shall for ever remember them with pride and reverence.
May this photo-gallery serve, therefore, as our monument to the remains and memory of our hometown and landsleit who in annihilation and death have entrusted to us the heritage of LIFE their last will and testament, bidding us to continue the links in Bialystok's golden chain in every community throughout the far-flung earth.
Honoured be their name, revered be their memory!
August 15, 1943.
Bialystok Ghetto Resistance Organization
Fellow Jews!Fearsome days have come upon us. More than the ghetto and the yellow badge, hatred, humiliation and degradation we now face death! Before our own eyes, our wives and children, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters are being led to the slaughter. Thousands have already gone; tens of thousands will shortly follow.In these terrible hours, as we hover between life and death, we appeal to you as follows:
BE AWARE five million European Jews have already been murdered by Hitler and his hangmen. All that remains of Polish Jewry is about 10% of the original Jewish community. In Chelmno and in Belzec, in Auschwitz and in Treblinka, in Sobibor and in other camps, more than three million Polish Jews were tortured, suffering the most gruesome deaths.
BE AWARE all those deported are going to their deaths! Do not believe the Gestapo propaganda about letters supposedly received from the evacuees. THAT IS A DAMNABLE LIE! The road on which the deportees have gone leads to gigantic crematoria and mass graves in the thicket of the Polish forests. Each one of us is condemned. We have nothing to lose! Do not believe that labour will save you for after the first liquidation; there will be a second and a third. UNTIL THE LAST JEW IS KILLED!
Dividing the ghetto into various categories is a sophisticated Gestapo method of deceiving us and making their dirty work easier.
Jews are being led to Treblinka! Like mangy animals we will be gassed and cremated.
Let us not passively go to the slaughter like sheep! Even though we are too weak to defend our lives, still we are strong enough to preserve our Jewish honour and human dignity by showing the world that although we are in shackles, we have not yet fallen. DO NOT GO TO YOUR DEATH WILLINGLY!
Fight for your lives until your last breath! With tooth and nail, with axes and knives, with acid and iron, we will greet our hangmen. Let the enemy pay for blood with blood! THEIR DEATH FOR OUR DEATH!
Will you cower in your corners when your nearest and dearest are humiliated and put to death? Will you sell your wives and children; your parents, your soul for another few weeks of slavery?
Let us ambush the enemy; kill and disarm him, wage resistance against the murderers. And if necessary DIE LIKE HEROES!
Except for our honour, we have nothing to lose! DO NOT SELL YOUR LIVES CHEAPLY!
AVENGE the destroyed communities and uprooted settlements! When you leave your home, set fire to your households, burn and demolish the factories!
Do not let the hangmen inherit our possessions! Jewish youth! Follow the example of generations of Jewish fighters and martyrs, dreamers and builders, pioneers and activists go out and fight!
Hitler will lose the war. Slavery and murder will vanish from the face of the earth. The world will one day be cleansed and purified. For the sake of mankind's bright future you must not die like dirty dogs! To the forest to the resistance fighters!
Do not flee the ghetto unarmed for without weapons you will perish. Only after fulfilling your national obligation, go to the forest armed. Weapons can be seized from any German in the ghetto.
by Refoel Rajzner
At 8 am. On August 16, 1943, entire streets in the ghetto were in flames, gutted by the Jewish resistance. About 20,000 Jews were forced to congregate in the Judenrat gardens, hoping for a respite from imminent death. Yet, there was no escape. As soon as the Nazi saw that the ghetto streets were burning, they began to fire with machine guns rather than wait until 9 a.m. as scheduled.
The shooting generated mass confusion and panic. Within a few moments, hundreds of Jews had fallen shot or trampled. The shouts and cries of the masses could be heard far away. These terrible scenes remain indescribable to this very day.
Another thousand Jews fled to the Jewish hospital building assuming it would be immune from destruction as it had been during the February operation. This time, however, the Nazi opened fire from all directions and a vast majority of Jews in the hospital perished. Among those killed was the well-known paediatrician, Dr. Segal.
From another side of the ghetto, well-armed Ukrainian and White Russian Nazi entered the streets in tanks. They were greeted with hand grenades hurled at them by the heroic young Jewish resistance fighters. Chawe Chalef, a heroic 16-year old, was killed in a hail of bullets as she threw the first grenade. The slaughter of the ghetto Jews was carried out with typical German efficiency and precision. Gestapo officers on motorcycles made the rounds of the streets, spraying everything in sight with machine gun bullets and hurling grenades. These couriers of death remained in constant contact with Gestapo headquarters at the Judenrat building. Approximately 3,000 Nazi participated in liquidating the Bialystok ghetto.
Despite continuous sniper fire from windows and attics carried out by Jewish resistors, an army of 700 Nazi finally made its way to the Judenrat gardens where many thousands of Jews had assembled. Already hundreds lay dead and wounded. A fierce confrontation followed between the resistance fighters and the Gestapo.
The Heroic Jewish Youth
The young Jewish heroes of Bialystok fought to the death against the Nazi. As soon as one fell, two others took his place in battle. Dedicated Jewish women handed over grenades and bullets to the men. Quite a few young girls were killed before they had a chance to pass the ammunition. But this did not deter other heroines from aiding the resistance effort.
Abrasza Galter, one of the fiercest young resistant, saw his sister severely wounded in the Judenrat garden, after she had carried ammunition to fellow fighters. Unable to tolerate her suffering and hoping to prevent her from falling into Nazi hands alive, he shot her once through the head.
The courageous battle in the Judenrat gardens continued for about half a day leaving several scores of Nazi soldiers dead and approximately fifty wounded. The majority of the ghetto fighters perished in this inhuman and unequal combat which they had to wage with primitive weapons against such overwhelming military might. Some of the resistance fighters managed to flee and lived to carry on the fight in other places. At about 16hr the siege of the Judenrat gardens was concluded.
Among the brave martyrs of the Judenrat gardens was Welwel Wolkowiski, liaison between the Partisans and the ghetto fighters, whose home at n°13 Czepla Street was the meeting place for the resistant.
With virtually no Jews left alive in the gardens, I observed the apocalyptic scene from our attic for quite a while. In every direction, dead bodies were strewn mixed with other Jews half dead and groaning. Those still alive asked for some water and others shouted with their last breaths: Help! Some even pleaded: Shoot me in the head. I can't take the pain any longer.
While the struggle was taking place in the Judenrat gardens, a group of Nazi entered the ghetto streets with a fire engine to put out the blaze near the ghetto fence. From the windows and attics, the resistance fighters immediately started shooting, causing confusion and panic in the Nazi ranks. Two daring 15-year old friends, Szmuel Rajzner and Nochum Kozak hid in an attic at N°12 Czepla Street. They killed two Nazi standing near the fire engine with well-aimed shots.
As it grew dark, I sneaked out of my hiding place and, disregarding the danger, crawled on my belly to a neighbouring building. There I looked around, rummaging and calling to someone who might answer but there was no reply. Nobody was left alive. I then moved along to the gardens where bullets were flying in a thick hail. I found myself creeping over dead and half-dead bodies, the latter moaning with their last strength. To my horror, I saw live children next to lifeless mothers, the tots apparently unnoticed by the Nazi. The muted whining of the children was unbearable.
In some cases, Jews who had succeeded in escaping from the gardens were captured by sadistic Poles who handed them over to the Nazi. These unfortunates were shot on the spot in the presence of the Poles who laughed in delight to see the Jews murdered.
|Grynhojz's school for girls in Bialystok
Because most of the remaining Jews hoped to survive in the hideouts for a long time, they left their bunkers despite the barrage of gunfire to seek food in the abandoned houses. In these dark ruins, the survivors unwittingly trod upon corpses torn apart by exploding grenades. For a long while they combed these dwellings in fear of their lives and then returned to their hideouts with some supplies.
The Massacre at Pietrasze Field
About 25,000 Jews, men, women and children, among them the elderly those who had not lost their lives in the gardens were crowded into a narrow corner of Bialystok called 'Pietrasze Field'. The overcrowding and severe heat caused many to suffocate.
This mass of people was surrounded on three sides by Ukrainians, Lithuanians, White Russians and Germans, armed with machine guns. They stampeded, trampling many people to death. During breaks in the crush, the Nazi opened fire. The terrible thirst cost many hundreds of lives. For a few drops of water, many Jews offered to give away their last possessions only to be disappointed when no water came.
The Ukrainians beat the people with sticks, pulling off women's rings. Adding to this living hell, a torrential rain so drenched the mob that hundreds perished from exposure.
From afar, people could see the fires in the ghetto petering out just as the lives of the Jewish victims were slowly ebbing away on Pietrasze Field. A small group of ghetto fighters, who were also among this sea of humanity, met death in the cruellest imaginable manner!
On the second day of the August liquidation, the Gestapo command dispatched murder squads of ten men each to stamp out Jews that were still hiding inside the ghetto. One squad was enough to attack a smaller building; two squads were assigned for larger structures. These marauding bands turned everything upside down, pillaging everything left of value. In a house suspected of containing a shelter, the soldiers would order everyone to emerge or else they would blow up the building. No one would answer because the Jews hiding knew painfully well what was in store for them. Let the beasts do as they wish. Without waiting for an answer, the Nazi hurled grenades. Parts of bodies flew through the air. Every building was attacked at least ten times a day by the roaming death squads.
The Living Hell in the Hideouts
Only someone who endured life in the hideouts can begin to describe those places of desperation, attacked every hour by the Nazi murderers. People literally asphyxiated from the overcrowding. In such circumstances, fights broke out which lead to the exposure of the shelter.
Many bunkers housed small children who, of course, did not understand the dangers in crying. All too often an infant's wail resulted in the liquidation of the shelter. Everyone's nerves were on edge and great fortitude was required to tolerate the tension and suspense. Some could not stand the stress and decided to put an end to their lives.
With the help of various technical devices including listening apparatus and bloodhounds, the Nazi succeeded in capturing 2,000 Jews from the bunkers on the second day of the August liquidation. Some of those arrested were shot on the spot and the rest were dispatched to Pietrasze Field that infernal place where Jews were caught in a human stampede. On that day the Gestapo shot Jakow Goldberg, head of the ghetto Rationing Department.
A small group of Jews who continued working for the Nazi in the ghetto were ordered on the second day to repair the gutted sections of the ghetto fence and to collect the thousands of dead bodies littering the streets and gardens for burial in mass graves.
At night, many emerged from the hideouts into adjacent buildings to seek food. Sometimes when they returned to the bunkers, new Jewish faces would appear, unseen before. There was suspicion until the newcomers identified themselves. People began exchanging information about the events of the day. The Nazi had uncovered many shelters, shut off all water to the suspected buildings, forcing the concealed Jews to draw water from distant wells, which meant they could be traced by the tracks they left.
These new Nazi methods led the Jews to devise counter-measures to avoid detection. People were advised to obtain water from the wells only at night and not to cook during the day because the smoke from the stoves was easily noticeable.
Meanwhile, some of the remaining resistance fighters
made attempts at escaping from the ghetto or to burrow under the fence to the outside. These efforts resulted in numerous casualties and, on the whole, failed.
At two in the afternoon the next day, several high-ranking officers of the Gestapo command, headed by Friedl, appeared at Pietrasze Field, demanding that everyone fall into line. The masses, frightened by this group, refused to obey and pandemonium broke out. Suddenly, a hail of bullets sprayed the field increasing the panic. One Nazi officer ordered a cease fire and explained to the throng that if they failed to line up as usual, the entire population in the field would be exterminated. His calmly delivered ultimatum quickly restored order.
The Gestapo officers made their way through the lines of Jews carrying long canes with u-shaped handles. The Nazi used these canes to collar the younger and stronger Jews, hooking the handles around their necks and pulling them out of line for slave labour. Many of those selected resisted for they did not wish to leave their wives and children. They were beaten over the head with the canes and were forced to go with the Gestapo anyway. In the next four hours, some 3,000 people were removed from Pietrasze Field including several hundred young women.
At the same time, a second group of Nazi officers pulled the elderly and ill out of line, shoving them onto wagons heading for the ghetto cemetery. There, the Jewish firemen, under orders from Friedl, had excavated a large number of pits. Many groups of several hundred Jews were brought to the cemetery on the wagons; Friedl arrived issuing instructions for the elderly and ill Jews to be pushed to the edge of the pits. He would then fire his gun, which signalled other Nazi soldiers to open a barrage of gunfire. The victims, riddled with bullets, fell into the pit. Those who were still alive were pushed into the mass grave which was immediately covered with earth.
Rabbi Dr. Rozenman, his wife and two daughters were also detained at Pietrasze Field. The girls, realizing what lay ahead for those sent to the ghetto cemetery, quickly shaved off their father's beard to make him appear young and fit for labour.
Several hours later, Markus, one of the Judenrat leaders, who still enjoyed a modicum of authority, succeeded in releasing Rabbi Rozenman and his family from the field. At once, other Jews began to plead with him to save them as well. With tears in his eyes, Markus answered that he could not rescue everyone. Still, he managed to extricate several Jews from Pietrasze Field, taking them to the Judenrat building where there were more than fifty Jews who were still of use to the Nazi.
The Rescued Children
The same group of Nazi officers that had separated the young and strong for labour from the old and weak for death, announced that children up to ten years of age would be removed from the field and assigned to other places where they would be well taken care of. The parents of these children wavered, having no confidence in the Nazi promises. Nevertheless, recognizing that either way they had nothing to lose, many parents poignantly parted with their children, entrusting them into the hands of the authorities.
Twelve hundred children were sent back into the ghetto and put in a building opposite the Jewish hospital. Several scores of women came along to take care of them. And Jews officially under the protection of the Gestapo also helped look after the children.
Those Jews at Pietrasze Field deemed unfit for work were transported to the railroad station, shoved into freight cars which were then boarded up with wooden slats. The next day, they were already in Treblinka where they were gassed and cremated.
The following day the scene at Pietrasze Field was the same. The masses were provoked into a stampede resulting in the trampling deaths of many hundreds. When the tumult ceased from time-to-time, the Nazi opened fire. The heat also caused the deaths of hundreds of Jews who did not even have a sip of water for days. When the sun rose, many hundreds of crushed, bullet-ridden or comatose bodies were seen lying all over the field. That was the grim climax of the second day.
On the third day, an 800-man Nazi force, armed with axes and saws, systematically continued to tear down all the buildings they suspected of harbouring Jews. Whenever they found people in hiding, the Nazi hacked them to death. The shut-off water and electricity made some Jews conclude that they could not survive in the hideouts. As a result, some three hundred willingly surrendered to the Nazi.
The Heroic Resistance of the Jewish Fighters
On Jurowcer Street, not far from the ghetto fence, some eighty resistance fighters hid in a shelter making preparations to escape from the ghetto by armed force. Apparently they were noticed by someone because at 14hr p.m. the bunker was suddenly surrounded by a platoon of over 100 Nazi. A desperate life and death struggle ensued. The young Jewish combatants fought bravely, killing a number of Nazi with their bullets. Following a three-hour battle when only ten of the 80 fighters remained alive, the Nazi forces succeeded in blasting the shelter with hand grenades and machine guns. Noticing that the hideout offered no more resistance, the Nazi descended into the bunker and quartered the bodies of the young Jews with their hatchets.
The tragic yield of the third day was a thousand Jews exposed, some murdered right away and most of the rest, sent to Treblinka.
The wagon drivers were assigned the grim duty of
carting hundreds of bodies to the ghetto cemetery. In some instances, however, the Ukrainian Nazi would load people who had fainted, but were still alive, onto the wagons. Not infrequently, some of these victims would regain consciousness and plead with the driver to let them go. But the Nazi escort insisted that these people be buried along with the dead. Some wagon drivers occasionally recognized relatives or friends who were still breathing, yet had no choice but to transport them to their final destination at the cemetery. Consumed with guilt, a few of the wagon drivers later committed suicide.
The Gestapo was determined to remove the factory machines and merchandize from the ghetto as quickly as possible. They increased the number of slave labourers assigned to this work. Subsequently, the Nazi ordered that a fence be constructed around the Jewish hospital building a sort of 'mini ghetto' where the small group of slaves could stay while their services were required.
Meanwhile, conditions in the hideouts were deteriorating from moment-to-moment. The number of concealed Jews diminished each day. A sense of despair pervaded the shelters, people becoming resigned to the fact that, sooner or later they would be killed. Some, unwilling to accept the inevitable began frantically building new shelters that would be even more difficult for the Nazi to expose.
On the third day, a house near the Judenrat building went up in flames. Some twenty-six Jews perished in that fire. Attempts were made to pinpoint the cause of the blaze but no explanation could be found. Many Jews suspected that the Nazi set the fire, an ominous new method of liquidation in the hideouts. On Wednesday, August 18, 1943, the task of emptying Pietrasze Field of its throng of Jews was completed. Most had been deported to Treblinka; some 10,000 others were dispatched to Lublin-Poniatow or Majdanek.
On the Way to Liquidation
At 12hr, a large group of Jews was divided into 'suitable for work' and 'unsuitable for work'. Those in the first category were forced with cattle prods into the forward twenty cars of a train. The unsuitables were jammed into the rear twenty railroad cars and locked in. On the roof of each car, a Nazi with a machine gun stood guard making sure no one jumped from the train. A number of Jews, as they were being forced into the train, managed to grab weapons from the soldiers but were immediately shot. The train then left Bialystok in the direction of Warsaw.
The terrible jamming and the scorching heat caused hundreds to suffocate or to be trampled. The cries from the cars were heartrending. The Nazi guards on the roofs began firing into the train leaving many killed or wounded. Some daring Jews did jump from the train, provoking a fusillade of bullets. If some escaped being shot, all was not yet well, for along the entire length of the Bialystok-Treblinka route, well-armed Nazi had been placed to capture escapees.
At the railroad station in Malkin, the train stopped because Malkin was the way-station for the newly constructed route to Treblinka. The rear twenty cars where the unsuitable workers were trapped were uncoupled from the rest of the train. A second locomotive was quickly attached to these twenty cars carrying them off to Treblinka. Suddenly, cries and screams from the Treblinka train became deafening and were heard in the other twenty cars with the suitable workers. After a while, the noise abated and the train to Treblinka vanished into the forest.
The Nazi then turned their attention to the remaining twenty cars. Some of them had breeches in their walls made by Jews trying to escape. In retaliation, the Nazi dragged ten Jews outside the cars and shot them in front of everyone else.
As soon as these cars were shut and bolted and the surveillance intensified, the train continued its grim journey which last for about forty-eight hours. The dead bodies in the cars and the human excrement created an unbearable stench.
When the approximately 3,000 Bialystoker Jews arrived in Lublin-Poniatow, they were met by the commandant of the concentration camp who, riding on a white horse, inspected his slaves and shot many of those he considered less than adequate.
Back in Bialystok, on the fourth day, the Nazi revealed yet a new, even more diabolical, method of luring the Jews out of the hideouts in the ghetto. A group of Nazi soldiers would enter a house and thoroughly search it for about an hour. Then, finding nothing, they would leave the building in a noisy manner giving the concealed Jews underneath the impression they had nothing more to fear. Actually, two soldiers would remain inside the house without making a sound. In the hideout, the Jews believing the Nazi had gone, began moving about feely and noisily. Some would start to cough. One of the Nazi would immediately summon reinforcements. The house would soon be surrounded with SS officers who would shout the orders to the Jews in hiding that they should come out at once or be killed.
These sudden surprise attacks would confuse the Jews in the shelters who did not pay any heed to the Nazi ultimatum to emerge. The Germans then threw hand grenades into the house and when they discovered the exact entrance to the bunker, would throw more grenades inside. At once the shelter exploded and destroyed. Men, women and children lay mutilated under the debris. Those who remained alive were dragged outside and brutally beaten. After a thorough search, the freshly exposed Jews were sent directly to the railroad station for deportation to Treblinka.
With this new method of uncovering hideouts, the Nazi captured more than 2,000 Jews on the fourth day
including a large number of resisters who, because of the surprise attacks, were unable to defend themselves. It became increasingly difficult for the resisters to plan any further escapes or offenses.
The Murdered Heroes of Chmielna
At 12hrs on the fourth day of the liquidation, a group of resisters, hiding in a shelter on Chmielna Street, was discovered and shot to death. Suddenly a large brigade of Nazi soldiers had appeared and surrounded the building with rifles and hand grenades, reinforced by machine gunfire from cars that were following them.
The din of the soldiers' movements and the tumult spread hysteria inside the shelter. People began screaming. Not long afterward, the Nazi were seen taking away young Jewish boys and girls who were as pale as chalk. As they were being led away, they sang revolutionary songs.
Just how this particular hideout was uncovered was unknown. The shelter had been stocked with weapons and thoroughly camouflaged; its entrance was through a well. Two theories emerged: one was that the Nazi noticed smoke from the nearby well, leading them to the bunker and the second was that one of the Jews inside the shelter betrayed its inhabitants to the Nazi. This view was plausible since such a saturation attack on a hideout was unprecedented. Evidently, the Nazi had known in advance that this shelter was heavily armed.
A Gestapo officer dragged out four resistance fighters from the bunker, ordering them to start walking. The four began shouting anti-Hitler slogans. They were immediately caught in a cross-fire of bullets. At that moment, the entire group began fleeing in all directions. Unfortunately, a machine gun had been placed outside the building that began shooting at the fleeing Jews. In a few moments, the group was felled by the Nazi firepower.
It was estimated that by the close of the fourth day, no more than 2,000 Jews were still hiding in shelters. This increased the feeling of despair among those who remained.
The Jews in the Shelters
The Judenrat garden was the chief meeting place of the Jews who emerged from the shelters at night. There, information was exchanged about the events of the day and people advised each other of new ways of avoiding discovery. In the dead of the night, the hungry Jews would pluck fruit and vegetables from the garden. Had the Nazi not previously removed wagon loads of vegetables from these gardens, many hundreds of Jews would have been able to sustain themselves a while longer.
It was decided that the best course to follow would be to sleep during the day and cook and eat at night. In this way, it was hoped that people would be better able to evade the claws of the enemy for a while longer. In fact, this strategy slowed down the Nazi liquidation effort.
On Friday, August 20 the fifth day the Nazi killed more than two hundred patients as well as doctors and nurses at the Jewish Hospital. The seriously ill were loaded onto military wagons which formed two rows. Those who could walk were forced to stand between the wagons? Under Friedl's supervision, they were driven to the Zabia cemetery.
All the sick patients knew that they were making their last trip. Their cries and screams were bloodcurdling. Following his bestial custom, Friedl ordered the victims to stand at the edge of the excavated pits. He personally took a machine gun and opened fire and then Ukrainian Nazi shot at them. In ten minutes, the two hundred patients were lying dead in the graves. Another two hundred Jews were captured when their hideouts were uncovered. They too were forced to the cemetery where they were shot and thrown into mass graves.
The fence around the new 'mini ghetto' adjacent to the hospital building was completed on the fifth day. The Jews in this smaller ghetto, who worked for the Nazi, were permitted to bring food supplies into their enclave. They hoped to continue living for quite a while but, as it turned out, their prospects soon dimmed.
The 1,200 children who had been evacuated from Pietrasze Field were in several buildings where they lived under quite good conditions with plenty of food provided by the Judenrat pantry. The children were cared for by a large number of women and received medical attention from physicians.
A particularly troublesome phenomenon occurred with increasing frequency. At night, when Jews left the shelters to seek food in nearby houses, they would find that thieves would also enter the houses by using the secret password. Panic would ensue and these people, who were discovered to be Polish, were suspected of being Nazi agents. In most of these cases, however, the Poles went away without bringing any harm to the Jews.
On the 6th day, about a thousand Jews remained in the ghetto hiding in the bunkers. The Nazi nevertheless believed there were many more and continued large-scale raids against suspected houses. Their hunt became more and more difficult because there were very few children remaining and the total number of Jews had sharply dwindled. Frustrated, the Gestapo soldiers showed greater brutality and rage in their search operations. In the meantime, 700 Jews who had been assisting in closing down the ghetto factories were granted permits to enter the mini ghetto.
Noticing that the fence around the small ghetto was not carefully guarded, many Jews from the shelters sneaked in at night and obtained bread and other food from the legitimate inhabitants. This was important
because up until then, the Jews who were hiding subsisted only on vegetables from the Judenrat gardens.
That evening, it was learned that many women and children had succeeded in gaining admittance to the factories as the workers were packing the machines into cartons. These workers claimed that the women and children belonged to them, thereby bringing them under the protection of the factory. The Gestapo guards didn't believe these claims but nevertheless permitted them to remain in the factories since, in any event, they would not escape alive.
The Second Week of the Massacre
On Monday, August 23, 1943, the second week of the Bialystok ghetto liquidation, the Gestapo dispatched smaller search and destroy teams because they realized the remaining number of Jews was quite small. But these diminished squads availed themselves of new tactics in exposing concealed Jews. They began searching the garbage cans to determine whether fresh refuse had been deposited and checked the stoves in the houses to spot recent fires. These clever methods only stimulated the Jews to increase their own caution at night.
Once the factory machines and the merchandize had been fully packed for transfer out of the ghetto, Friedl decided he no longer needed the 2,000 Jewish workers conscripted for this task. After spending a full day cramped in the mini ghetto, they were taken on Tuesday at 12hr to the railroad station where the women and children were placed in the rear section of the train while the young men were loaded into the front area. The cars containing the women and children were sent to Treblinka and the young men in the forward section were transported to Lublin-Poniatow.
Arriving in Treblinka, the women and children were forced out of the cars, attacked and beaten by workers in the camp. Before they knew it, they were sent into the so-called showers from which they never returned.
The men arrived in Lublin two days later after a gruelling journey in which many had been shot or trampled. A thousand people comprising of tailors, cobblers and other tradesmen left Lublin for Blyzin which was a work camp. Many believed Blyzin was worse than a concentration camp because the combination of hard labour, the bitter winter cold, hunger and illness caused hundreds of deaths.
Despite the energetic efforts of the wagon drivers to remove the bodies in the streets, they could not quite finish the job because new victims fell every day.
In the Mini Ghetto
Life in the mini ghetto was filled with suspense, depression and confusion. Every few hours the Nazi entered, checking papers to discover whether anyone was there without permission. Chairman Barasz was warned after each inspection that if even one person was found without proper credentials, all 700 inhabitants would be shot. Regardless of the harsh security, a number of Jews sneaked into the mini ghetto at night seeking relief from the horrible conditions in the hideouts.
The wagon drivers, who had been carting the machines and raw materials out of the ghetto, informed the Jews of the mini ghetto that these materials were destined for Lublin-Poniatow, which everyone knew was a work camp. Everyone hoped that when the mini ghetto was evacuated, the Jews would be sent to Poniatow where they could continue to live until the hoped-for liberation. It was widely felt that if the ghetto continued to exist for at least another few months, the Jews of Bialystok could be saved. Reports reached the ghetto that the Soviet Union had launched a massive offensive in July 1943 and that its forces might well descend upon Bialystok in a couple of months. In any event, the ghetto was completely liquidated at the end of August and those Jews that were sent to Poniatow were exterminated shortly afterward.
The following were among those who were in the mini ghetto: Rabbi and Mrs. Rozenman and their two daughters; Mr. and Mrs. Barasz and son; Mr. and Mrs. Izak Markus and children; Mr. and Mrs. Liman and son; Dow Subotnik; and almost all the factory managers and their assistants.
On Wednesday, August 25, the number of Nazi soldiers carrying out search operations decreased from 400 to 200. About 500 to 600 Jews remained in the bunkers. New tactics were used to ferret out the holdouts, including measuring the buildings from inside to outside to see whether all the floors were of equal length and width. Should any discrepancy in the measurements be detected, the Nazi thereby would be able to discover a shelter. Not too many new Jews were found by these methods.
The Final Journey of the Children
The last 1,200 children were evacuated from Bialystok in the final days of August, 1943. Under the supervision of Gestapo officers, physicians and women volunteers, these children were transported in closed railroad cars to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia where they were isolated in separate barracks. None of the other inmates of the camp were allowed to come in contact with them on penalty of death.
A Jewish hygienist working in the camp reported after the war that many of these children were infested with lice which necessitated shearing off their hair. The children refused to have their hair cut, interpreting this as a sign that they were to be gassed. Evidently, the inmates of Theresienstadt were unaware of the gas chambers in other concentration camps; the children's fears seemed
groundless. Later on, however, it was learned that the youngsters had been telling the truth.
These children remained at Theresienstadt for about three months. In comparison with Jews in other camps, the Bialystoker children lived under reasonably good conditions. After a while, the people suddenly noticed that there were no further movements in the barracks where the children had been quartered. It was later learned that they and the personnel supervising them had been sent to Auschwitz where they perished in the gas chambers.
A horrible incident occurred. As one of the Jewish workers, who loaded gassed corpses into the crematorium, was placing the body of a little girl onto the loading shove, she begged him not to cremate her because she was still alive. The Jew, not hearing her plea, pushed her into the oven alive. The entire camp was awash with horrified conversations for the next few days. This hapless Jew shortly thereafter lost his mind and was shot and cremated by the Gestapo; it should be pointed out that many children who had been gassed together with adults, still showed weak signs of life at the time they were to be cremated.
Back at the ghetto, the remaining Jews were convinced that the Nazi would not leave until the last Jew had been rounded up. Moreover, the scarcity of food in the hideouts was becoming more severe. Hungry people who yearned for a piece of bread left the shelters at night, stealing into what had been a Jewish bakery to bake some bread. This action cost them their lives for when the Nazi smelled the aroma of baking, they quickly uncovered the bunkers where the bread-makers were hiding. The increasingly unsanitary conditions cause an infestation of lice and disease.
No more than 500 Jews remained in the bunkers at the end of the second week of liquidation. Many of them stole into the mini ghetto because conditions there were preferable.
The Liquidation of the Mini Ghetto
At the beginning of the third week, a rumour spread that the mini ghetto would very soon be destroyed as well. Clearly its Jewish inhabitants no longer had any useful function to perform since all the machines, raw materials and dead bodies had been processed. The order came at the end of the week that more than 1,200 Jews in the mini ghetto would be transferred to Lublin-Poniatow.
When they arrived in Poniatow they were assigned work in the local factories. On November 3, 1943, all of the Jews at the Poniatow labour camp, numbering 22,000 (including 9,000 Bialystoker Jews) were taken to an open place and shot under the orders of the camp commandant. While these wholesale murders were being committed, the camp orchestra played Strauss waltzes. Virtually all of the leading personalities of Jewish Bialystok, both before and during the war, were killed in the Poniatow massacre.
During the fourth week, the Nazi were still looking for Jewish holdouts. The Jewish mood was one of resignation and apathy. There was no longer any hope of survival.
The Bitter End
On September 16, 1943, exactly one month after the final liquidation began in the Bialystok ghetto, it ended. The large search squads were replaced by a small group of older and less physically fit Nazi. A few Jews succeeded in escaping because of the less stringent security in the ghetto.
(Editor's note: Further on in his diaries, Rajzner mentions the few Bialystoker Jews who remained alive in and around the ghetto and who managed to continue hiding from the Nazi. He also describes Jews who were arrested, tortured and killed in the prisons as well as those deported to the death camps and exterminated. Only a handful of Bialystoker Jews who experienced the horrors of the Bialystok ghetto's liquidation succeeded in avoiding extermination. They are alive today in numerous lands, frequently sharing their memories of those tragic times, exhorting as never to forgive or forget the wholesale slaughter of the Jews during World War II in Bialystok and whose magnificent heritage shall continue to be honoured as long as they live).
|A group of refugees in a German concentration camp|
by Szymon Amiel
During the night of August 16, 1943, thick shadows, like black crows, spread throughout the Bialystok ghetto with its 40,000 captive Jews. It seemed as if the jet blackness of the night carried with it an omen the sealed fate of death and ruin for the prestigious Jewish city and its proud community.
No sooner had we gone to sleep than the grim portents of our liquidation awakened us and we stood bolt upright in terror. The ghetto was swarming with soldiers and police; Germans side-by-side with Ukrainians and White Russians. Shaken by this rude awakening, by the jarring din of the wild animals in human form and their weapons, we scurried about not knowing for sure what was happening. But the posters on the walls which we noticed at dawn clarified the purpose of the entire manoeuvre. These Judenrat handbills caused our hearts to stop their grim message: Bialystok is becoming Judenrein (free of Jews). Everyone was required to abandon his house by 9 a.m. with permission to take along a small hand-carried bag. These were the orders of the Gestapo liquidation command headquartered in Lublin.
Thus we witnessed the beginning of the end and decided to implement the long-planned resistance to fight with dignity and die like heroes if necessary and not like sheep going to the slaughter. At six in the morning, our young people, spanning the political spectrum from extreme right to extreme left, clandestinely assembled for the battle. To be sure, these valiant people constituted a small cluster in comparison with the overwhelming might of thousands of Germans, Ukrainian and White Russian soldiers armed with machine guns and tanks.
The dramatic resistance effort started at 9 a.m. We had three hundred guns as well as a few machine guns and grenades. Our strategic position, however, was not advantageous located as we were in wooden quarters. The Germans immediately hurled hand grenades on our positions our inadequate strongholds going up in flames in short order. Although we fought like lions, about a thousand of our men were killed within six hours and our resistance was virtually wiped out. Thus, our remaining forces were exposed to the direct onslaught of the enemy.
The Death March
Under a barrage of gunfire, the surviving resistance fighters were force-marched to the Pietrasze Fields. All of our belongings were confiscated and we were jammed into a small area, treading upon one another until hundreds were trampled or suffocated in the intolerable crush. Many lost their minds or poisoned themselves the elderly and the very young dropping like flies.
On the second day, the murderers began arresting children between the ages of six and ten, promising that they would be fed. Later on we learned that they were deported to Auschwitz and gassed. Some 1,200 Jewish youngsters were taken away. My own daughter, a seven-year old girl named Mirele, begged me to save her. I grabbed her with my hand attempting to hide her in the sea of humanity, out of sight of the predators. Subsequently, we were force-marched to wagons that had been prepared for us in advance. Hungry and thirsty after four days without water, we had no choice but to moisten the parched lips of our young children with urine.
Near the wagons stood Ukrainian soldiers who forcibly separated the men from the women and children at which time I was taken away from my loved ones. I spent the night in the field with 800 other Jews. The next day, the Gestapo, seeking slave labourers, selected eight people seventy men and ten women, I among them. They removed us from the Pietrasze Field and confined us to the prison in Bialystok.
In the Prison
Our group was incarcerated into four cells men and women separate. Our food consisted of 150grs of bread in the morning, mixed with potatoes, beets and other raw foods. For lunch, we were served a portion of sour cabbage and for supper, a bit of cornmeal cooked in water as well as small quantities of drinking water. The Polish prison guards beat us and imposed back-breaking labour that was simply unendurable.
On the fifth day, we were placed on trucks and transported to a farm that reputedly belonged to the head of the Bialystok Gestapo. The officer in charge of our transfer was a sadist; he beat us with canes, wooden boards and anything else he could get his hands on. The police ridiculed and beat us and some even poked sharp objects into our abdomens. They beat up young Nochum Kozak whose father, Herszel, a printer, was sent away with other printers to a camp in Germany. The most difficult work was being forced to load steel bridge sections onto wagons which demanded superhuman strength. Many of us contracted infections during work including Tewele Wrubel, whose fever raged for four weeks; Boczkowski, a locksmith and jazz musician and Zylberblat, who owned a house near Druskeniki Gymnasium. Those who were deemed unsuitable for labour were immediately shot while those who exhibited stamina continued to live for the time being.
|Transferring the dead from a garbage heap to a mass grave in the ghetto cemetery|
Our situation worsened from day-to-day. Life behind bars became loathsome. We decided to find a way out; to extricate ourselves from human bondage, even at the risk of death as we felt we had nothing more to lose. Our plan was to escape and join the Partisan resistance fighters.
Several in our group suggested they could contact the Partisans through Polish connections. On November 1, 1943, we sneaked out of our place of work in the ghetto. Under the cover of night, we crawled on our bellies through the streets until we reached our Polish contacts. We numbered eight: Szymon Amiel; Berel Szacman; Mojsze Grotkowicz, who owned a locksmith business on Nowolipja Street; Trocki; Meir Bez, a weaver from Horok; Henach Lupe; Drzakanski and Icele, a barber from Lodz. Unfortunately, we were disappointed for we were told that the Partisan who was to take us to the resistance forces had been shot and nothing more could be done for us. A Polish intermediary hid us for a couple of hours in a pigsty but soon afterward forced us to leave because he did not want to jeopardize his life. He told us the Gestapo was combing the area for us since we, numbering eight men, had turned up missing. The cold, hunger and terror caused one of our group to develop a persecution complex; he repeated over and over that we were surrounded. We could do nothing to calm him down.
On top of everything, the night was bitterly cold. Our teeth chattering, ravenously hungry, our clothes in tatters, all alone, feeling useless, pursued by Nazi beasts and at the mercy of a cold-blooded peasant, we fell to his feet and begged him to save us. Apparently, he was moved by our fervent entreaties which could have melted a stone and he promised to lead us to the forest where the Partisans hid.
In the dead of night, with the help of the peasant's dim electric lamp, we sneaked out of the city in a group each man a hundred feet behind the next our guide leading the way. We soon lost one another and, after much straying, five of us were reunited while the other three were still missing. The Pole left us stranded at the edge of the forest and disappeared. We were abandoned in the frigid outdoors in the middle of the night without a clue as to where we should go next. Having no choice but to go into the forest, we entered the next stage of a living hell.
In the Forest
Almost secretive and suspicious, the tree branches of the ancient forest clinked under their icy cover, rocked by the cruel and cold wind. This haven of nature, which normally protects animals from hunters, was now called upon to grant asylum to five lonely, wandering Jews that had fled human beasts of prey. We questioned whether we would accomplish our goal of finding the Partisans and saving our skins for the forest itself seemed like a trap. Dark doubts stirred in our tired brains.
We followed the Pole's directions. He gave us a password to utter when we met Partisans near a broken tank among the trees in the forest: Marilke sent us (Marilke Rudicka was a Jewish girl who served as liaison between the Partisans and the resisters in the Bialystok ghetto). Hungry, frozen and exhausted, we advanced into the depths of the forest. The thorny path caused our feet to swell, blistered and bleeding. The skin and nails of our feet fell off. We ambled about for three days and two nights without interruption, unable to find the Partisans. We were trapped in a maze with no means of getting out. About to drop with exhaustion from the long journey, the cold and the hunger, I began to hallucinate that I was surrounded by horrible monsters about to devour me. Drained of strength and anticipating imminent death, an irresistible urge came over me to spend my last moments on earth, eating. So, paying no mind to the dangers, I dragged myself to a nearby village pleading for a morsel of food. Rebuffed by peasants everywhere, I returned to the forest even more drained than before. I resolved, however, to go back to Bialystok hoping that one of my Christian friends would take me in, hide me and provide me with some nourishment. Taking leave of my friends, I trekked to Bialystok on my last legs from eight in the morning until six in the evening, arriving in town at the home of my gentile acquaintance.
Hiding out with the Gentiles
I went through another hell drifting among attics, cellars and pigsties; from one gentile to another like a hunted animal trying to avoid a trap.
My Christian friend was horrified to see me; for a moment he believed I was an apparition from another world because he was simply incredulous that there were any Jews still alive. Providing me with food, drink and a bath, he permitted me to spend the night. The
next morning, however, at 5 a.m. he rudely awakened me insisting that I leave his home for he was afraid of reprisals from the Nazi. Having no choice, I left. Subsequently, I approached other non-Jewish friends, but they too sent me away. A young gentile woman did give me shelter in her cellar for a few hours but toward evening, she sent me on my way for fear of her husband, who usually came home drunk. She directed me to a nearby pigsty where I could hide. But the bitter cold outside was overwhelming. I felt I would freeze to death and powerless, depressed and tormented, I went out into the night throwing myself on the mercy of fate. I could no longer stand the life of a fugitive in hiding.
Back Behind Bars
It did not take long for the police to arrest me and, in short order, I found myself back at the Bialystok prison from which I had earlier fled.
The Nazi brutally beat me and said I would be hung the next day. They took away my belt, shoelaces and anything else with which I might take my own life so they could have the sole pleasure of executing me. Unbeknownst to them, I carried a small razor in my pocket and the thought did cross my mind perhaps I should slash my wrists and put an end to my wretched life. But, at that very moment of despair, a spark of hope flashed through me. Maybe, maybe there was still a chance? No one can know for sure what may happen at the last minute. One moment of reflection can sometimes spell the difference between life and death. Furthermore, I considered the possibility of someone surviving from my family who would condemn me for my cowardly act the deed of a weakling who could not hold out until the last and who took his own life. The stigma of a relative having committed suicide would be unbearable for any family. With these thoughts I spent the next seventy-two hours in my cell. Looking back, I am amazed that I did not lose my mind; but I suppose human beings are made of iron.
Later on, I was placed in a separate cell bearing the sign solitary confinement. In that extremely narrow place it was impossible to sit or lie down. I had to stand the entire time, remaining on my feet throughout the long night. The next day, I was taken out half naked into the prison yard in the biting wind and bitter cold. I thought I had reached the end of my rope, but I did not notice some forty other Jews who had been seized by the Nazi from their cellars, attics and bunkers. Apparently, we were still considered fit for labour and we were once again thrown back into our cells. In addition, there were twenty children who were detained for several days and then shot. Among them were a six-year old boy, Awrom Najman's son; Nochum Karpl's ten-year-old and one or two children belonging to the Lipiec brothers from Grodno. We, the forty slave labourers, remained alive. The following were their names:
Zalmen Edelman from Bialystok; Awremel Karasik; Monjek Rajzner; Somojl, a carpenter; Judel Lew; Kulkin from Grodno; Bereszcanski; Ruwke Perlsztejn; Welwel Szyf from Jaszynowska; Judel Goldnfenik, a glazier; Owsejewic from Wilno; Lewitansi, a locksmith; Prusak from Grodno; Furmanski, a painter from Warsaw; Josef Lew; Kaplan, a carpenter from Polna Street; Aronczyk Zubowski; Szymon Amiel (writer of this article); Szlojme Rozenblum from Sanok; Nysel from Charuwjeszow; Abramowicz from Slonim; Dowid Rak from Grodno; Lipiec (three brothers from Grodno); Jeshaje Lipiec from Grodno; Lojkes from Grodno; Grodnicki from Grodno; Chaim-Berel from Grodno; Szlojme Gelbard, a painter; Slobodwic from Lapy; Zbinowic from Horodok; Mejszel Gerszuni; Tewele Wrubel; Jojne Lis; Chackel Fendzak; Szyjele Ofersztejn, Waremel Boczkowsi and brother.
On the first night of Passover, 1944, ten additional Jews, who had hidden from August 1943 to April 1944, were imprisoned with us. They were: Rackowski (2 brothers from Sokola); Jankel Dawinski, a weaver; Meshowski, father and son; Elson; Anatol Rabinowicz from Lodz; Borer from Grodno and Slucki from Kiev. Our total reached fifty men.
I recall a particularly tragic occurrence involving one of the last remaining Bialystoker Jew Judzik, son of the meat entrepreneur from Polna Street, corner of Bialystocaner, his wife, daughter of Szlumiel from Rabinska street and her brother (who managed to avoid arrest until the beginning of May 1944, staying out of sight in a hellhole underneath a bakery on Gumjener Street). We could hardly recognize him for he was covered with unruly hair, staring at us with wild protruding and frightened eyes. Seeing us, this one-time-he-man with the strong build, began sobbing uncontrollably like a small child, sharing with us his incredible experiences in the bunker.
Our situation in prison was desperate. The Nazi provided us with inadequate food and beat us mercilessly. Our Ukrainian slave masters forced us to clean up human feces with our tongues. Our torment and humiliation were unbearable. We yearned for the release and redemption of death.
Grim Bonfires in the Augustow Forests
Then came another day more gruesome than all that had preceded it. We were all loaded onto a special wagon which was used to cart off condemned men to be shot and, under stringent security by police armed with machine guns, we were taken to an open field in the Augustow Forests. The Nazi equipped us with shovels and hooks. Not knowing for what purpose we were to use these implements, we understood, nevertheless, that something terrible lay ahead. The place where we were left was cordoned off with barbed wire and surrounded by police with machine guns.
We were ordered to dig deep into the ground. At first we thought we were preparing our own graves, but burrowing further, we uncovered a mass grave filled with corpses. These were the Bialystoker Jews who had been murdered by the Nazi during the ghetto's liquidation. Next, we were ordered to life the bodies with our hooks, place them one on top of the other on a pyre, pour kerosene on the heap and set fire to it.
Our team was divided into four having the following functions: digging, pulling corpses from the pit, chopping wood for the bonfire and igniting the pyre. The latter was the most revolting task that we were forced to carry out. Unhappily, I was one of those who cut the wood and ignited the corpses. Once again, I endured the throes of hell when I pondered the bitter irony, which only the devil could invent, that I would find myself setting my own people on fire. As I carried out this grisly assignment, I was filled with pain and self-contempt that I would have to sin against the dead, against my own flesh and blood, perpetrating the barbaric sacrilege of defiling corpses, not allowing lifeless bodies to rest in peace even after they had breathed their last in martyrdom for the glory of God's name. I cursed every minute of my slave existence under the damned Nazi yoke. I prayed that God and my people would forgive me. Instead of helping my slain brothers to be buried among their own people, I was made to incinerate their sacred remains into ash and dust, for I simply had no choice.
In this way, we worked for two weeks in the Augustow Forests. After all the martyrs had been cremated, we were ordered to sift through the ashes in search of gold rings, watches, gold teeth and other valuables that might not have melted in the fire and to turn them over to our masters. The ashes themselves were buried in a deep pit over which threes were planted in order to erase any evidence of Nazi savagery.
Our Futile Plan
On June 6, 1944, I accidentally found a piece of newspaper and learned that the tide was turning against the Nazi in Europe. One could already tell that the Germans were suffering battle losses and that the bloody play would soon end. This could also be seen in the increasing brutality with which the Nazi treated us. For instance, we were returned to the Bialystok prison. Security was tightened and we were completely isolated from the rest of the world. Our captors warned us not to reveal to anyone the type of work we had done in the Augustow Forests. The Nazi threatened to shoot anyone on the spot who dared breathe a word about these activities.
Two days later, we were confined to a barrack at 7, Kraszewskiego Street. Every morning we were taken to Nowosjolka, then along Zielona Street to Grabuwka on forced labour. Thousands of Jews where shot there during the Bialystok ghetto's liquidation.
Rummaging through the debris, I found two documents; one belonging to a distant cousin, Zalmen Amiel, son of Jankl Amiel-Kulikowski, the manufacturer and the second to Finkelsztejn who owned the iron works at Kupiecka Street, corner Rozanski. His father and brother lived in the United States. I also found a note from America. Apparently he had hoped to contact his relatives there and go to the U.S. but his death at the hands of the Nazi interfered.
In spite of the strict security, we stole newspapers where we learned that the Russians had broken through the front lines and were inching closer to us. It was then that I realized the Nazi beasts would not remain in Bialystok for long, and five of us decided to kill the two guards watching our cell and escape. Alas, our plan did not work. We had decided we would go into action immediately when awakened for roll call. For some reason, our guards did not stir us during the night and we slept through the appointed hour of our escape.
At our Own Grave
On Thursday, July 13, 1944, we noted an extraordinary change. We were packed into airless trucks and taken to a field. We were ordered to cover up all the open graves containing dead bodies and we understood that our work had come to an end. Near each one of us, a soldier stood with an automatic weapon. One of them approached me and asked: What will you do with us when we lose the war? I remained silent. But he answered his own question sardonically: You will take away our women and children as we did to you and you will enslave us as we enslaved you. But, do not worry for before the Russian bandits arrive, you will all be lying in your graves. I realized that our end was near, only a matter of a few hours. We were told that at twelve o'clock, a high Gestapo officer would come on the scene and issue orders. We waited time moved very slowly, like an eternity. And then the fateful hour approached. The Gestapo chef had arrived.
Among all the graves, only one remained open, which was very conspicuous to all of us. The Nazi confiscated our shoves and equipment, hurling them into the fire. They took away our jackets and shirts and made us surround the pit in a semi-circle, engulfed by sixty soldiers with cocked guns. An order rang out descend into the pit and sit down.
Fleeing Under a Hail of Bullets
Thus it seemed our last minute on earth had arrived. Our minds were numb; our blood ceased to flow in our veins. Before our eyes, images of fiery wheels turned round and round. Staring death in the face, we knew what we had to do. I barely managed to shout: Friends, let us run and I was the first who began to flee, breaking through the cordon of soldiers. All this transpired so quickly that before the Nazi realized
what was happening, we had already run quite a distance. To this day, I do not understand how we were able to escape. It could only be that good angels carried us along the way and our own passion for life gave us the strength to run.
A hail of bullets flew over our heads; the noisy reverberations blending with the anguished screams of the wounded. From the forty of us who had run, many had been shot dead. Fresh Jewish blood had been spilled, saturating the already blood-drenched field.
My five friends and I, with minor wounds, fled to the highway a brutal experience running under a barrage of gunfire and pursued by the Nazi murderers. At the highway we found that we had fallen into a trap. Armoured jeeps were rushing toward us, opening a fresh round of fire. We retreated but behind us were sixty Nazi soldiers who continued to shoot like hunters in hot pursuit of their prey. In all directions of the field we noticed many new victims. Nearby, we heard one of our Bialystoker friends, Josef Lew, pleading with a Gestapo officer to spare his life but the brute shouted back: You are a Jew, you have no right to live, march into the pit. We also saw the soldiers dragging the severely wounded into the trench.
Evening descended. We crawled on all fours into a bush and spent the night. The next day we sneaked out, creeping on our bellies until we reached a swamp into which we fell up to our necks in mud. Miraculously, we did not drown.
Thus for three days and three nights, we lay outside in the frosty cold, naked and hungry, without food and water. Under normal circumstances, we would not have been able to withstand it all. But we were fighting for our lives and we discovered that we possessed reserves of superhuman strength. On the third day we attempted to enter a nearby Polish colony from which we were sent away with a warning that we would be handed over to the Nazi. We barely managed to escape with our lives.
On the fourth day we found an underground shelter in the forest. There we hid for fourteen days during ten of which we had no water. We managed to survive only by eating a few raw chickpeas which we would gather in the field once every three days.
On July 26, we tried to search for food but we were forced to go back because the forest was heavily surrounded either by the Nazi or the Russians. Thus, I endured another hell hungry, naked, homeless, besieged by an unknown enemy deep in the forest.
On July 27, 1944, we heard people singing Russian songs and we realized that our liberators had arrived. We left the forest and were treated to a friendly reception by the Red Army which provided us with clothing, food and later took us back to Bialystok. For the first time in a long while, I breathed easier, once again feeling what it meant to be really alive. The following survived with me:
Tewele Wrubel; Isroel Felder; Awrom Ezchok Lew; Wolf Szyf; Mejszel Gerszuni; Anatol Rabinowic; Zalmen Edleman and Szejme Lyrfszic also escaped but we later heard he was taken away and evidently perished. Six months later, Awrom Karasik was found alive but wounded in Russia. He then returned to Bialystok.
The foregoing was one epilogue of the tragic destruction of Bialystok a scene that unfolded for months after the Bialystok ghetto had been liquidated. We, the last of the Mohicans, remained to shed tears for the ruin of our hometown which we ourselves witnessed. We are prepared to render testimony to the world on behalf of our people concerning the greatest crime ever committed in the history of mankind, the mass murder of our brothers and sisters.
Let all Bialystokers know that they have a responsibility to bury properly the martyrs in the field who were cremated who never had the benefit of Jewish internment. Let us erect a monument over their graves and observe the anniversaries of their death.
Let us never forget what we went through!
Reactions to the Resistance
The brave resistance and the self-defence wagged by the Jews in the Bialystok ghetto called forth create admiration that went far beyond the borders of Bialystok. In a report by the Jewish National Committee dated November 15, 1943 to Dr. Izaak Szwarcbard in London and signed by Dr. A. Berman; Izaak Cukerman and Dr. D. Kaftor, the following appeared:
We want the Jewish people in the entire world to know that our youth bravely fought for their lives and for the honour of our nation. After the heroic example of the Warsaw ghetto, we lived through in recent months a beautiful and noble fight carried on by the Jews of Bialystok The liquidation of the Bialystok ghetto began on August 16, 1943 Fierce battles took place on several streets. The Nazi brought up about a thousand soldiers and Gestapo officers as well as many divisions of Ukrainians. The Jews primarily had the use of hand grenades and Molotov cocktails. They also had a few machine guns and they fought with extraordinary determination. Several hundred Germans and Ukrainians were killed or wounded in these battles The bitter combat lasted for eight days and sporadic armed resistance by the Jews continued for a month until September 16, 1943. The heroic battle of Bialystok will be recorded by history with the same high regard as the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
Friedl tiny, his eyes always darting, the eyes of a bandit the terror of the Bialystok ghetto. Friedl is coming! The Jewish police begin chasing everyone from the streets. It is forbidden to stand outside while the monster is passing through. Some Jews had planned several times to assassinate him but the more moderate elements argued against such a course. After all, it could lead to the destruction of the entire ghetto. So Friedl lives on.
On the morning of August 16, the Nazi rode into the ghetto in their cars. The bloody SS staff commandeered the spacious quarters of the Judenrat. The last to arrive was Friedl with other top officers. But he did not remain outside preferring to give orders from inside the building. Then the heroic Jews of Bialystok began to fight back and the mass murderer and his bodyguards were seen trying to sneak out of the ghetto at all costs.
Then a loud explosion! Not far from Friedl, a grenade fell. Of all the rotten luck, he escaped unharmed! After German soldiers secured the area, Friedl appeared once again with his sarcastic smirk. Now he is the hero once more, the strongman around the helpless Jewish children.
Gathering together the small toddlers with their frightened eyes, Friedl tore them away from their weeping mothers whom he reassured that they were being sent away for labour. He lined them up in groups on Jurowecki Street, gazing at them with his sadistic smile. He suddenly took an automatic weapon in his hand and shot down screaming babies. Friedl laughed! He then walked over to inspect the results of his murderous act.
Afterward, a group of young girls that had been captured during the resistance were brought to him. His penetrating stare stunned them but the young girls scowled at him in contempt. He ordered them to sing but no one would comply. He repeated his command no one moved. The hero aimed his gun but the children remained silent. Then a volley of gunfire was heard and our young heroines fell. But the murderer kept on shooting in rage although everyone was already dead.
|The executioner of the Bialystok ghetto. F.G. Friedl on trial in Bialystok in 1949.
The courtroom is filled with eyewitnesses to his murders
Dashing from house-to-house with a group of Ukrainians, Friedl captured more victims slated for a quick death. Abruptly, an idea came to him and he quietly issued an order to take everyone to the Jewish cemetery called Zahia the new burial ground in the ghetto. Large pits were dug and then Friedl commanded all the elderly men, women and young children to descend into the excavated earth, in keeping with his diabolical plan. He ordered the Ukrainians to bury the victims alive. Polish observers recounted afterward that the earth moved above with still groping hands and for many hours.
That was how the civilized German nation under Nazi rule treated the Jews.
|TThe top layer of the ditch into which the murdered victims were thrown|
Trial and Punishment
Gestapo commandant, Gustav Friedl's trial took place in the Bialystock Appeals Court at the end of October, 1949. Approximately twenty witnesses who had suffered under the Nazi gave testimony against Friedl at the trial which lasted several days. Among them were: Chackel Fendzuch; Awrom Ostroburski; Dowid Kolesznik; Szlojme Blas; Chaim Wrubel; Isroel Bramson; Mira Knaziew; Efrajim Kisler; Fanja Lipinska; Dr. Tobijasz Cytron; Rochel Zacharijasz; Berta Knaziew and others. The prosecution's expert witness was the well known historian and chronicler of the destruction of Bialystok, Dr. Szymon Datner.
In the special report by I. Bialostocki from Bialystok, published in the January-February 1950 issue of the Bialystoker Stimme, Friedl's trial was described.
The courtroom filled up at the appointed hour. People spoke in hushed tones as if the master of life and death of thousands of Jews in the Bialystok ghetto and in the provinces was about to enter with his mighty forces not the Friedl of today, clad in prison garb and guarded by four military police. Today, Friedl would be called to justice to render an account of his murderous activities in the Bialystok region. Spectators were reliving once again those days of Bialystoker Jewry's destruction flashbacks of nightmarish experiences all triggered by this criminal - Friedl and his Nazi henchmen. That is why people sat in the courtroom with bowed heads, waiting for Friedl to be led inside. Everywhere in the large room people were quietly talking about those days when the accused decided the fate of their loved ones fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, children and grandparents who had perished not so long ago. For everyone, Friedl was the symbol of death the death of all of a quarter million Jews of Bialystok and its provinces.In February, 1943, during the first liquidation action, he shot an eighty year old woman in the street because she was unsuitable for labour. He directed and participated in the execution of a hundred hostages in retaliation for the Malmed incident. He shot Izchok Malmed after the latter's body fell from the gallows. On May 4, 1943, he murdered a group of butchers and in that same month shot 150 men captured during a police raid.
The waiting was interrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps. The accused was brought into the courtroom by the four military guards. The Jewish faces blanched voices exclaimed: There he is! the murderer of the Bialystoker Jews. But one thing could not be understood: how one man could possess such animalistic brutality to carry out so many murders.
At exactly 8:30 a.m., the judges took their seats behind the bench. The proceedings commenced with the swearing in of witnesses who were to give their testimony during the first day of the trial.
In the indictment, Friedl was accused of committing many war crimes while commandant of the Gestapo in Bialystok from November 1942 to 1945, resulting in the murder of thousands of people. As the officer in charge of Jewish affairs, he was responsible for the liquidation of 13,000 Jews in Zabludowa; the murder of 2,000 Jews in the Bialystok ghetto, many of whom he personally shot; the transfer of 13,000 Jews from the Bialystok ghetto and finally, its liquidation having transported 50,000 of its Jewish inhabitants to the concentration camps. He personally issued orders to hang, shoot and kill several thousand people. Moreover, in November 1942, when Jews from Zabludowa and other towns were brought to Bialystok, Friedl instructed that their food rations be reduced and he personally shot thirteen members of the Zabludowa Judenrat. In November 1942, he shot two Partisans. In December 1942, he threw a Jewish man through the window of his office on the second floor. In the winter of 1942-43, he hanged three Jews for allegedly stealing sunflower seeds from an oil factory.
On August 20, 1943, he liquidated the ghetto hospital and personally shot 300 patients near the previously excavated pits in the Zabia cemetery. At Gestapo headquarters, he personally shot three Partisans because they refused to stand with their hands raised. In November 1943, he took away a group of sixty children from their parents in prison and killed them. In 1944, he shot a group of lawyers. In the prison, he conducted two selections each week, resulting in the deaths of scores of people. During a visit to the Grodno prison, he shot twenty-five Jews. He terrorized the Jewish population and robbed their possessions.
During the first liquidation action in the ghetto in February 1943, despite the fact that Chairman Barasz had agreed to evacuate 6,000 Jews from the ghetto and had prepared the required lists of those to be transferred, Friedl took action that resulted in the death of 2,000 Jews and the deportation of 13,000 to the concentration camps.[Page 105]
After the indictment was read, the accused made the following statements: He emphasized from the very beginning that he wished to tell nothing but the truth for he had nothing to hide. He admitted to nothing. He stated that the liquidation of the ghetto was carried out by special envoys from Berlin. He then accused other Gestapo officers of implementing the February and August 1943 destructions of the Bialystok ghetto.
About twenty witnesses who had left Poland and who for various reasons were not able to appear at the trial filed written affidavits. The court decided not to read them aloud but to make them part of the record,
|At the Ghetto Cemetery, 1948
Flowers are placed at the mass grave on the fifth anniversary of the uprising and liquidation of the Bialystok Ghetto. The fence in the background was erected with the aid of the Bialystoker Relief Committee in America.
because the guilt of the accused had already been established by the witnesses who had come to testify in person.
Sixteen witnesses gave testimony, recounting terrifying details of mass murders personally committed by the accused. The testimony also confirmed that thousands of people were exterminated as a result of orders issued by him. There was not one terrorist act perpetrated in the Bialystok ghetto in which Friedl did not personally take part. He was well known by everyone in the ghetto as a hangman, the devil's partner. Everyone would hide in the shelters until he left the ghetto. To meet with Friedl in the street meant, under the best of circumstances, a brutal beating or instant death.
In the numerous confrontations between witnesses and the accused in open court, many of his orders and instructions were recalled, translated for him into German, all of which he denied in order to save his own life. After the summations of the prosecutor, Grembecki, and the defence counsellor, Burak, the court rendered its verdict. At exactly 14:15hr, the sixth and last meeting of the court began. The courtroom overflowed with spectators wishing to hear the verdict. The judges entered. The audience rose; the presiding judge pronounced him guilty and passed sentence the death penalty for Fritz Gustav Friedl.
The reasons for the verdict were given: The accused was found guilty on all counts in the indictment. His guilt was fully established by some twenty witnesses who gave testimony in open court. The penalty was directed not only against Friedl himself but also against the regime that created Friedl and his ilk. May this be a warning for those rushing to follow in his footsteps. The verdict was received by the entire community with enthusiasm and satisfaction.
|A group of pupils and their teacher in Bialystok in 1946|
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