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[Page 413]

Funeral in Paris for Shlomo Kahane and Menakhem Kalenberg
Funeral in Paris for Shlomo Kahane and Menakhem Kalenberg.
Yitzhak-Leib Kleinetz delivers the eulogy

Picture Index

[Page 414]

A Speech by Yitzhak-Leib Kleinetz at a Yizkor evening of Ciechanowers in Paris

Beloved sisters, brothers and friends:

You know me for a long time, and so you know that this is not an orator speaking to you, but blind destiny wanted me to be the one amongst you who must, with a broken heart, always remind you of the suffering of our dearest whom the German murderers tore away from us and destroyed. Believe me, for such a speech I don't have to make any preparations, nor fabricate anything. When the day of yahrzeit comes, everything that has gathered in my memory pours forth. But how is it possible to tell it all? And as much as my memory allows, I see all the tzores that they -- our dear ones endured until their death as holy martyrs.

As long as I live I will always remind, so that we do not forget, who were the murderers of our dear ones: fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, innocent suckling-babies, and I ask you, my dear friends, to convey all this to your children because this must not be forgotten. Everyone has to know how the German murderers tortured, shamed, shot, hung and burned the six million of our Jews…

We Jews of Ciechanow and the surrounding area have a special chapter in our great khurban. I am the only survivor of those on whom there has fallen the great and heavy task of being responsible for the unfortunate Ciechanower population and also to concern myself with it. I am very fortunate to be able to say to you all that my conscience is clear. To the extent that it was at all possible, I fulfilled my community-role in such difficult abnormal times. I have carried everything out and have done everything to lighten the burden of my fellow brethren. I want to say hereby that I worked along with the Gemina that was formed at the beginning of the war, which included: Yudl Bronstein, Pinkhas Wilk, Wolf Kostsheva, Binyamin Kirshenbaum, Ben-Tzion Erhlikh and myself. I must also add that the above-mentioned Erhlikh (who was also called “Zemele”) was forced by the Germans to be in charge of us and he was the only one who faithfully carried out all the orders of the Germans and thus deserves to be cursed by all Jews.

*This Yizkor talk was given at a Yizkor evening in Paris that the landsmanshaft -- “ Friends of Ciechanow and the surrounding areas” arranged. Though the facts and descriptions that are presented by the speaker also appear in other memoirs in this Yizkor Book, the speech remains an important documentary, valuable as a genuine final farewell of a tortured Jew who participated in (Gemina) Judenrat in Ciechanow.

[Page 415]

As soon as the Germans entered Ciechanow they gathered the whole Jewish population at the shul and there a soldier explained to us that Ciechanow must become Judenrein, and advised us to leave the shtetl. “Go,” he said, “wherever you like -- but don't remain here because following the army the S.S. will come and they won't play around with you.” To this our beloved Chazzan Laizer Barukhovich replied: “where do you want such a community as ours to go? We were born here and if it is so destined, we'll die here.”

Woefully, regrettably, we didn't take advantage of the opportunity to leave for Lomze, where the Russian army received the Jews in a friendly manner and even helped those who had run away from the Germans. Now we see, if a few Jews remained, and they definitely lived under difficult war conditions, they rescued themselves by fleeing eastward.

We remained in Ciechanow, and immediately the Gestapo began to send for us and demanded that we give them a large contribution of money. It was very difficult to gather such a sum because the wealthy Jews had left Ciechanow in order to save themselves, some to Warsaw, others elsewhere. Still, we paid, believing that this was all that the Germans were demanding. But after the first contribution there came a second, a third and many more. Soon orders came that were meant to disgrace us.

A Jew became an inferior being.

We had to work for the Germans as well as for the Poles without getting any pay, not even food.

Unfortunately the Judenrat also had to supply work-hands for the robbers. Unfortunately there were always the same people who went to work. Gradually they became weak, working beyond their ability, going hungry, and weren't capable of fulfilling the quotas. For this they got beaten, wounded, so that often they would come home with smashed faces so that our mothers couldn't recognize us.

We hoped, though, that the situation would improve, but once we had to supply 500 strong men and we didn't know where they were being taken. Since this number couldn't be supplied, two of the Judenrat were arrested: Pinkhas Wilk and myself.

[Page 416]

We didn't believe we'd ever see our families again. For such sabotage one could get the death penalty, but a miracle happened, and after they beat us up, broke our bones, they sent us home with the words: “See you next time.”

They started using methods that caused us to be fearful, so that we would carry out all their murderous orders all the faster. The Germans often arrested us, beat us and sent us home, “until next time.” Of course, it was no privilege to be a member of the Judenrat, but they kept us in their grasp, not freeing us. “When we won't need you, we ourselves will relieve you from your post,” the German sadists used to stipulate.

Later, an order came from higher up, that Ciechanow is to become a large city center of south Prussia, with a typical German appearance. In the spring of 1941, with the help of unpaid Jewish work-hands, the Jewish quarter started to be torn down. Just imagine the sad situation of the Jewish population that had to leave their old homes, some quite comfortable, others very scanty, but nevertheless their own old homes. There was great crowding as several families moved into one house, and when there was a lack of houses people ran, like livestock, into barns.

Jewish holy sites, such as the Bais Hamedresh and the shul were brutally damaged. There was no more Godliness there – just room for the German horses and autos. Even the Jewish cemetery was destroyed. Our religious folks thought that a miracle would happen because the once-famous great tzadik Avremele was buried there, but the time of miracles was over. A few Jews from the Holy Burial Society dug up the holy bones and took them to the new cemetery.

The whole period of the German rule we weren't allowed to make any purchases in the Polish stores. We, the Judenrat, managed with much difficulty to get some cast-off food for the Jewish population. We opened a store for which I was responsible. A Jewish bakery also existed where there was permission to sell to each Jew 250 grams of bread daily. The one responsible was a very good young man, Motele Baumgart. Meat was something we hardly ever saw because the Polish butchers ruled over this and very rarely threw us a bone.

[Page 417]

Imagine, dear friends, what kind of meals we ate in those days. But if we could more or less exist, it was because of our cooperation, in spite of the German enemies.

But the situation kept getting increasingly worse. The tortured Jews kept on getting weaker and we were constantly required to produce more work-hands. A series of epidemics broke out that spread death daily.

By bribing the German mayor we managed to set up a “hospital” in an empty garage, under the direction of a doctor who had come from elsewhere, by the name of Baron, a one-legged man, who helped with total devotion to ease the misery of the sick.

The work got harder and harder. The very young children were taken away from their mothers at work, and when they had no more strength to work, they were beaten on their naked bodies -- both boys and girls as well as women. That's how the sadistic Germans tortured our mothers, sisters and children. We didn't know where to look for help, still we didn't totally lose hope.

And once people started to say that through our city, Serotzker, Jews were being led through on their way to Germany. We weren't allowed to go outside to witness how our brothers are being led away. But the following day when we went outside we saw many of the poor Serotzker Jews murdered in the street. All that was left was to give them a Jewish burial.

We received exact information that from Pultosk also, Jews were driven out. In Makow, Mlawa, Plonsk and Neustadt, ghettos were being built where the whole Jewish population would be placed. But in Ciechanow the Germans couldn't erect a ghetto because all the Jewish homes had been destroyed and the Jewish population lived in lofts, cellars, stables, where Poles also lived.

In the second harsh winter of our tragic lives a fresh decree was announced -- to send all those incapable of work to Neustadt. Can you imagine the sorrowful situation? From every family parts are torn asunder. It's very painful and there is no end to the cries of despair. The period of preparing those incapable of work endures, and it's clear to us that sooner or later the same fate awaits us, and in order to destroy us both physically and mentally the enemy commands that we provide five innocent Jews to gather the whole population of Ciechanow where the former Bais Hamedresh and shul place was, and the representative of the Judenrat with myself amongst them, must hang these five unfortunate brothers on the prepared gallows. Furthermore, none of our Kehillah must let out a moan or a cry, because for such a transgression one gets shot on the spot.

[Page 418]

Our eyes beheld all this but our hearts, without sobbing, cried. Can you imagine our tragic situation: It was only the next day that the hung ones were given a Jewish burial. Naturally, I didn't tell you everything. It's impossible for us to tell all, but there already were shot Jews in the shtetl before.

Then the gathering of “those incapable of working” began at the large castle, and they got many lashes as they were loaded onto the wagons. Aba Blum, at that time, distinguished himself in assisting. The Germans shot him on the spot for helping the old and the weak.

Every day brought fresh and more horrible tzores than the previous one. The German murderers went from house to house and took whatever they liked while at the same time doing the cruelest and dirtiest acts about which it is hard to speak. Our beautiful Ciechanow girls had to strip naked in the presence of their parents, and in that way had to dance for the soldiers, and if a strange man was found in the house he had to rape the women. The two-legged brutes in uniforms of German soldiers, view the "spectacle" and clap bravo.

Every dawn we lived through such despicable acts. Then came days when our mothers and fathers were called to the marketplace and get beaten on their bare skin and we had to witness these scenes also. Believe me that every one of us wishes for death, but unfortunately it didn't come.

Finally came the total destruction of Jewish Ciechanow: the shtetl had to become Judenrein and with great speed and fierce German haughtiness, Erik Kokh, the Gauleiter (area commander) of Bialystock and Ciechanow, carried out the destruction of the Jews.

Transport after transport left Ciechanow daily to the death camps, and at that moment we lived to see soldiers, pure Aryans, from the herren volk, with frozen feet, hands, noses and ears; and the hope of the so-long awaited freedom was once more awakened for us. We blessed the hands of the Russian avengers who struck powerfully at our mutual enemy.

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The Gauleiter Kokh loaded the Jews on the horse-wagons, some in the direction of Mlawa. In the wagons many were choked to death by lime. Other elderly Jews were brought to the so-called “hospital” in the garage and there they were shot en masse. The remainder, amongst whom I also found myself, was sent to Katowitz to work. We also were fooled, however, The train brought us to the tragically-known Auschwitz.

Dear landsleit:

I know that I have caused you much grief by my telling you about your tortured nearest and dearest who were so cruelly destroyed by the Germans. Pardon me, because if not I, not a person but number 733734, a survivor, can tell you all this it is so that “you will remember what Amalek did to you.” Remember forever who the murderers were of the six million innocent Jews, our dear mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Remember who wanted to do away with all our people.

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