The Germans in Czenstochow
It was already clear on the first day of the war, Friday, the 1st of September 1939, that the Germans would occupy Czenstochow. With shocking strength, they faced the Polish troops that were diverted deep into the country.
The entire population was engulfed in a mood of panic and began to follow the retreat of the army, abandoning everything. The last trains and private autos that went in the direction of Warsaw, Kielce and other cities were full of people.
Escaping still farther was the only thought of the people who were filled with fear of the arriving Germans.
Friday night thousands of peasants and their families from the surrounding villages marched through the city on foot and in wagons with their cows and everything they could take with them.
The highways and roads were so overflowing with wandering masses of people that the retreating Polish army had to make a great effort in order to break through a road for its further retreat.
The German airplanes immediately appeared over the highways, descended, and shot the panicked, escaping people with machine guns. They abandoned their possessions, their cattle, in order to save their own lives. The dead fell and covered the roads of those escaping.
When the last Polish army division left Czenstochow, the bridges were ripped out and the city was cut off for those who later wanted to leave.
Sunday, the third day of the war, at ten in the morning, the first advance positions and patrols appeared in the city and went through the streets with tanks. There was beautiful, summery weather. The alarmed population began to look out through the windows with great caution and, seeing that it was quiet, slowly, and unsure, went out on the streets.
Little by little the individual German military men approached the civilians, carried on conversations with them, even with the Jews.
The same day, in the afternoon hours, large divisions of German troops appeared in the city. Many of them went into private homes to wash and drink a little water.
The population immediately was aware that the city was under German occupation and there was a mood of depression.
Monday, in the morning, on the fourth day of the war, the first German decree that all of the businesses should be opened immediately was published. The residents of the city began to move through the streets. Suddenly, the passersby drew back at seeing the way the German troops with pointed guns were leading a large group of people with hands raised in the air under heavy guard. Many of the people were half-dressed. This image made a distressing impression on everyone, because it became clear the terror was beginning.
Two hours later, while in my residence, I heard shooting that grew stronger with each minute. Everyone was seized by fear. Suddenly, we heard a knock on our door and someone desperately calling out:
Have mercy! Let us in!We immediately opened the door and several Jews entered our residence who told us that the Germans were chasing after people and shooting at those going by. It did not take long until the Germans broke into private residences and drove everyone out on the street.
They did not omit our apartment. Knocking on the doors with rifle butts, they asked to be let in. When I opened the door, they entered the apartment and the order of a soldier was given:
Hands up, everyone out!We were hurriedly driven out to the courtyard where
our neighbors already were and we were led out to the street, being driven just as the people we had seen on the street in the morning.
The streets were full of troops. There weapons were aimed in our direction and when our eyes met theirs, they laughed in our faces. When they recognized a Jew, they hit him over the head with a rifle butt.
Marching through the streets, we met other groups that were also driven out of their homes.
Immediately, they began to sort us men separately and women separately. The Germans counted 200 people from our group and, forcing us constantly to hold our hands up, quickly drove us to the city managing committee building. German military men with machine guns in their hands were already waiting for us near large trenches that had been dug and were supposed to serve as air raid shelters. One of them called out loudly:
There they are, the dogs, all will soon be shot and they will be thrown in the trenches A fear engulfed us. Because of tiredness, we could no longer hold our hands in the air; they fell on our heads. We asked each other, barely moving our lips, are these our last minutes . Some of the people recited Psalms silently.
Here, the following characteristic episode that happened during those frightening minutes on that spot must be remembered: a young Jewish man of about 31, standing with all of us in the line, shook terribly and, therefore,
urine began to pour from his pants. This was noticed by one of the officers who stood near us. He moved closer to the young man and asked him:
Why are you shaking, swine? Now you are afraid Why did you shoot our troops?Hearing such words, we all immediately understood where we stood in the world. Our thoughts were quickly interrupted when a Pole, who stood in our line, suddenly called to the officer in broken German:
Verflukhter Yude [Cursed Jew], he is guilty, we are innocent However, the officer quickly calmed him:
We will be finished soon with the Jews After holding us in a standing position under the burning sun the entire two hours time, not letting us move from the spot, ten military men came out of the building of the city managing committee and began to search every one of us. Whoever had a shaving knife with them, a pocket knife or other sharp things, had to jump immediately into the trenches that were surrounded by troops who constantly shot at the people in the trenches.
If someone did not have something sharp with him, his fate hung with the military man who searched him: did he please the military man or not. Choosing people for death was done so quickly that rows of people awaiting death had already formed near the pits. The people watching the way the executions occurred, wrung their hands, tore their hair and flung themselves to the ground shouting and calling for help with their last strength.
I stood in the middle of a group and waited to be searched. Some secret strength pushed me from the line; I went to a German, whose appearance seemed to me to be a little kinder. I unbuttoned my coat, took everything out that I had in my pockets, a lead pencil, a pen, a wallet, a handkerchief and giving everything to the German, I said to him:
See, I have nothing more with me. However, I left my old parents, a wife and a child at home who cannot live without me.The German looked at me and told me to stand on the left, that is, among those who would be allowed to live. I breathed easier.
Standing this way in the saved group, with my hands in the air and with my face to the pit, where the first Czenstochowers were martyred, I noticed how the Pole who had denounced the trembling Jew in our row, was being pushed into the pit and a German immediately shot him. In contrast, the shaking young man was placed in the saved group.
The religious young man did not himself believe his luck and said:
God took pity on me and punished the villain who denounced me Barely a third of the people, who were driven to the pits with us, survived.
In the interim, new groups of people, whose faith was the same as our group's, were brought from various parts of the city.
Who knows how long the executions would have been carried out, when an air alarm and shooting at the Polish airplanes that appeared over the city had not suddenly been heard. The Germans ordered everyone to lie on the ground. The German soldiers did the same thing, lying on the ground with their guns aimed in our direction. Then there was an order:
If anyone moves from their spot or lifts their head they will immediately be shot.We tried to bury our heads in the earth. The shooting became stronger and stronger. The bullets literally flew over our bodies and we were sure that we would not emerge alive. Jews called, Shema Yisroel [the central prayer of Judaism stating that God is one] and recited Psalms. The Christians also called to their sacred ones for help. Everyone trembled with fear that the Germans would hear the prayers and be disturbed by them.
When the shooting, which lasted a long time, finally ceased, we were ordered to stand up and were told to go in the direction of the stalls where the horses were. However, not everyone stood up. There were dead in our group.
Tired, we fell upon the horse dirt in the stalls and fell asleep. The Germans locked the stalls.
The mass execution that we attended was not the only one in the city. The Germans arranged similar executions in various parts of the city, including the courtyard of the Jewish craftworkers school at Garncarska 19. Similar hunts also took place in the churches, synagogues and in all public premises and places
with similar executions involving Czenstochower residents.
Entire houses were set on fire and burned with the inhabitants, who were not allowed to leave. If someone tried to jump out of a window of a burning house, he was immediately shot.
The Germans set up machine guns across the entire city and, without warning, the soldiers shot at everyone who appeared on the streets.
Thus the first bloody Monday passed in Czenstochow.
Under the Nazi Yoke
The Germans first came into our stall late at night. The old people were permitted to go home and the young, hungry, tired and thirsty were driven through the dead streets like horrible criminals under heavy military guard. No one was permitted to speak, but had to march silently until we arrived at the military barracks, Zowada. We were held for a long time on the shooting range, in order to throw a fear in us that we would be executed. Finally, we were taken to the cellars under the barracks.
As we went down to the cellar, we felt ourselves being shoved down the stairs, pressed together in a mass, one on the other. It was pitch dark and we saw nothing. Coming
|The Peretz House||The German Shul|
|(Photographs by A. Kocyzna)|
down, we heard human voices, which we took as a sign that someone else was there.
Through the small cellar windows, we heard the Germans coercing other people, hitting and cursing them in a vulgar way.
The cellar in which we were held was very low and our heads touched the ceiling. It was stuffy and we could not catch our breath. Therefore, everyone pushed to open windows. The old and the sick fell to the ground half unconscious and groaning. After a certain time, someone accidentally stumbled upon a water faucet that was located in the cellar, opened it and sprayed himself with water. Our joy cannot be expressed. The group pushed toward the faucet with hands, hats, caps in order to refresh their hearts with a little water. Finally, the day began. People looked at one another, began to speak among themselves and made an account of the number of victims on the bloody Monday. It was estimated that 5,000 innocent human lives perished.
At dawn, the Germans immediately let us feel that Jews belong to a lower category of human species. The soldier, who guarded us near the door, yelled loudly:
Four Jews go out and clean the courtyard! At that, he said that all of the Jews had to work from today on and, therefore, requested that the Jews voluntarily report to work. Seeing that no one voluntarily reported, the soldier declared that no one should be afraid, nothing bad would happen to anyone. Then, several Jews volunteered to work and a while later, through the small windows, we saw them clearing the courtyard.[Page 18]
The time in the cellar stretched into boredom and hunger was strongly felt. At 11 o'clock, the German soldier began calling out several of us by our family names. It turned out that wives and relatives of those detained had looked for us all over the city, wanting to give us something to eat. Alas, there were many wives who had to return home with their packages of food because those for whom they were looking were already dead.
I finally heard my name called out during the day at one. I quickly ran up the steps and saw my wife and child. We cried with joy that we finally were seeing each other. However, the joy did not last long. The soldier drove me right back into the cellar. The mood was a little excited because we had seen those closest to us and we could eat to our satisfaction. The relationships in the cellar were comradely. Food was shared with those whose relatives had not come with packages.
In the morning, at 11 o'clock, we received an order to leave the cellar and to stand in the courtyard in rows. We were immediately taken to the large exercise space near the barracks and there we met the gigantic mass of people who were brought here from our cellar.
We stood this way under the burning sun for several hours until we were told the good news that we would be freed because the factories would be activated, the shops must again be opened and the economic life in the city must be renewed. Therefore, all of those who were industrialists, high officials, gymnazie [high school] professors, lawyers, doctors and, in general, all of those who were important in communal life, were asked to leave the rows. These people would be freed first and then later the rest would be freed.
A large number of those indicated left the rows and stood in the designated spot. I also stood there waiting for them to free us shortly.
The officers looked over our papers and chose 50 people who were asked to stand on the side. The remainder were sent back to their earlier places among the large mass of people, berated that they did not mean them, only actual industrial and learned people. I remained among the 50 chosen. We were taken to a tennis court that was surrounded with a high wire fence and at the entrance stood an armed soldier who would not permit anyone to enter or exit the fences.
The large mass of people was envious of us. A number of them even wanted to join us. They insisted to the soldier on guard, showing their documents, that one is a lawyer, another a doctor, this one a high ministerial official from Warsaw who got stuck in Czenstochow by accident. Tailors declared that they were confectionary manufacturers, shoemakers were shoe manufacturers, traders wanted to present themselves as large merchants with their tax office registration cards everyone wanted to join our group.
A friend of mine, an engineer, a well known worker, stood on the other side of the barbed wire and begged me to have pity on him and to ensure that he joined our group because he was sick and would not last if he was not freed immediately. I went to the soldier, tried to show him that my friend, the engineer, was an important specialist. However, the soldier answered me that I must talk to the lieutenant, who would be coming soon about this.
My friend was not satisfied with the answer and with the help of a piece of iron he began to dig the ground from under the fence. I helped him with the work from inside the fence and, after 20 minutes, my friend was able to crawl on his stomach to me.
When the officer came to the spot he permitted some people to join us on the tennis court. The new arrivals just like me felt happy, being sure that shortly we would be going home.
Meanwhile, we saw how some officers came to the spot; lined up the large group again in rows and with the intercession of an interpreter, the officers told the crowd that there would be no resistance to the Germans, everyone must remain calm, follow all orders, work well and not engage in politics. A signal was given and the entire group marched past the officers in rows and taking off their hat to them, everyone had to say: We thank you, we thank you.
We stood near the barbed wire of the tennis court like animals in a cage and saw how the multitude continued to leave the barracks area. But from each group that left, an officer selected a tall person and let him join us.
Since everyone was going home, yet new people were being allowed to join us, we became very uneasy, particularly because those newly permitted to join us had no connection, not with any industry and not with the earlier professions. Our entire group was assembled near the guarded entrance to the tennis court, so that we could be permitted to go home.
The hours moved ahead and it was already 6 at night. The giant space around us that hours ago had been
flooded with many thousands of people was now completely empty. My friend, the engineer, was terribly nervous. What had he done? He could have already been at home and here we did not know what would happen to us.
Suddenly, we saw six German officers, one civilian and someone in the uniform of a Polish non-commissioned officer approaching us. They came to us in the fenced off tennis court. We watched them with frightened looks as we awaited our fate. An order was heard that we should stand in two rows and the Polish non-commissioned officer came to each of us and wrote our names in a book.
During this incident, 50 new Jews were led into the tennis court. They were heavily guarded and held their hands in the air. When the non-commissioned officer was finished with us, he also recorded the names of the new arrivals and then the Jews were separated from the Christian into distinct groups.
When these formalities were finished, the man dressed in civilian clothes approached us with an expression full of hate on his face and gave the following talk in Polish:
I and my colleague here, he pointed to the Polish non-commissioned officer and our colleagues, other Poles, too, for a long time we watched how everything appeared when you here he turned in our direction Jews and your government abandoned the country. You did not give the Polish population the means to live; the workers and the peasants lived in desolation and need during the time when you ran your businesses with great earnings for yourselves, paying the workers and office workers hunger wages. You promoted your people to the highest state offices, in order to carry out your plans through them. You influenced the government to enact laws that[Page 22]
would be for your benefit. And when we Aryans spoke up in the Sejm, in order to defend ourselves against your rule, you immediately raised an alarm throughout the world that we want to annihilate you. You sent delegations to America asking that they not give us money. You did everything in order to disturb the development of the Polish state. All of the people who were gathered in this place last night and today had to work for you for tens of years. They were your slaves. We, the true Polish patriots, could not watch your rule over the Polish people indifferently and, therefore, it will be better to have the Germans Then he turned to the gathered Poles:
You Poles did not understand all of this. You helped the Jews in Poland and also in other countries so that they could devise plans with their governments to surround present day Germany on all sides. Your did not want to understand that in the end a person would appear in the world who would govern the German people in the name of justice and with the right program, a person who defeated the Jews in Germany and, hopefully, would do that here And again he turned toward us:
You Zides [pejorative Polish word for Jews] depicted the great leader of the German people, Adolf Hitler, as a pig in various playthings and made fun of him Hearing the name, Adolf Hitler, one of the German officers immediately turned to the speaker asking what he had said. The speaker told the officer in German that on many of the streets in Polish cities the Jews would sell playthings in the form of a painted handkerchief that when folded together presented Hitler in the caricature of a pig.
The officers became furious and they moved closer to our group with balled fists, screaming with anger:
We will show you who we are! Do not think that we are the Germans who came here in 1914 The oldest officer did not let the Polish civilian end his sermon, but told us in a sharp and categorical tone:
From now on you are our hostages. If something bad happens to a German, civilian or military man, caused by the local population, you will immediately be shot and the entire garbage will be burned!He ended pointing his finger to the city.
Two young men fainted during the venomous talk of the Polish civilian. The soldiers would not let them get up from the ground. One officer said with hate:
Let them die!
With heavy spirits and tired, we could barely move from the spot. With our heads down, not uttering one word to each other, we let ourselves be taken by the soldier guards deep into the courtyard of the barracks, then into a sort of dark corridor until we were led to a room and the door was locked from outside.
The room was large. It was a repair shop for ammunition. Long tables and large cabinets stood around the walls. There was also a water faucet.
In addition to our group that was brought from the tennis
court, there was another group in the room that had been brought directly from the city. A rabbi from our neighborhood was found among this group. He was dressed in his long silk caftan and a wide hat. Pious Jews moved toward him, paid for advice and asked for help. The rabbi told each Jew to make a vow that he would immediately fulfill upon gaining freedom. He also said to recite prayers and to atone. He consoled everyone and said to have reliance in God who would and must help. The pious Jews were encouraged and strengthened by the rabbi's consoling words. It unquestionably became easier for them than for the non-believers.
The Polish non-commissioned officer came in early in the morning with two German officers, told us to stand in a row and called out the names of one group and they freed them all. Several who complained of their bad health were also freed. Among those freed were Jews and Poles. The German officer declared at the freeing that if anything happens in the city, all of the hostages would immediately be shot.
Fifty of us remained, of whom 35 were Jews and 15 Poles. We devoted ourselves to a clear accounting of the great burden that fell on us, that our lives hung on the incidents in the city. Our mood was pessimistic because we knew very well that with the smallest provocation, the Germans would immediately annihilate us. We simply could not understand why the number of Jewish hostages was so large in proportion to the Poles at a time when the Jewish population in the city was only about 20 percent.
The deliberations and conversations among us were interrupted
when a military guard appeared in the room and told us all to leave because the women were coming with food. Encountering those closest to us brought out great joy. They had waited for six hours at the barracks until they were finally allowed to come to us. We wanted to be informed about the situation in the city, about the fate of our relatives and acquaintances. With luck, the city was quiet. The military guard moved among us with loaded revolvers in their hands, carefully searching the baskets of food that had been brought to us and, after a short time, the women were told to go home.
When we came back to the big room, we could see that the Christian hostages had been separated from us. The commandant ordered this so that the Aryans would not be placed together with the Jews.
In the middle of the night we were awakened by a loud noise in the courtyard and the light from reflectors. We left our uncomfortable beds quickly and ran to the windows to see what was happening.
A row of trucks packed with people appeared before our eyes. The soldiers forced the people out of the trucks, beating them with rifle butts. Screaming was heard and the coerced and beaten people called out the names of Christian saints. Many of the people were half naked. There was a great deal of movement by the trucks. The empty trucks drove away and new ones fully packed with people arrived. The shooting became more frequent and the screaming louder. Those being coerced ran behind each other, and were lit from all sides by the strong reflectors. They were beaten and coerced from all sides.
We first learned in the morning that those people who had been brought
had been caught on the highways where they had wandered to escape from the war operations.
Eight Jews were taken from our group and they were driven out of the courtyard. We became very alarmed at first about their fate, but later, through a window, we saw that they were cleaning the large courtyard of the dead bodies of those shot. Dozens of victims were carried out on plain boards to somewhere behind the walls of the barracks.
This work lasted several hours. When our comrades came back, they were tired from the work and gathered together. We gave them the name khevre-kadishe yidn [burial society Jews].
Three days passed in constant waiting and constant unease. Our only consolation was the families who would bring us food and of whom we would ask about what was happening in the city.
At night on the third day, soldiers came to us and led out 10 young people. This threw a fear on us. However, they came back after two hours and told us they had carried straw for the soldiers. Therefore, we suffered only from fear.
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