by Cwi Kożuch
Translated by Avi (Avraham) Stavsky
In the winter of 1942, I was sent to the Ludwigsdorf camp [Ludwikowice, Prussia
The Province of Lower Silesia]. There I found Israel Klajnman, who was
taken from Dąbrowa during the great evacuation of August, 1942. A wretched
and broken man, Israel told me of his suffering and affliction since arriving
at that camp. Hunger and beatings, to say nothing of the strenuous physical
work inflicted by the SS [was his lot] day in and day out, perpetrated by them
and their cohorts. At the end of December, 1942, his noble heart [finally] gave
out. Me and Lejbl Moszkowicz from Dąbrowa, brought him to his grave in the
mountains of Lower Silesia. When we concluded burying him, I started to say the
kaddish for him, but then I felt the rifle of the SS man in my back. This was a
sign that I should rush through it quickly. With a bowed head and clenched
fists, we left the grave of our friend Israel Klajnman..
On the 17 of March, 1942, I was taken along with Jermia Zilbersztajn by streetcar to a work camp, from Dąbrowa to Sosnowiec. We were taken there by SS men. Searching Jermia, they found on his person a sum of money which the SS confiscated. Jermia thought [with this amount] he could save himself, but instead he was brought along with all the other deported to the Dulag [Durchgangslager / transit camp] in Sosnowiec.
The next morning, Jermia was called out by an SS man to the center of the
Dulag. There waited a military truck which we had seen from the window. A man
in black uniform emerged, accompanied by armed escorts. The man in black
uniform read something from a paper. Later we understood this to have been his
death sentence. Then we heard a volley of shots, which were directed at Jermia
Zilbersztajn's guiltless heart.
We came together in the Birkenheim camp, near Tarnowski, where we worked
together. Because of his [previous] terrible experiences, Maks arrived in this
camp a nervous sick person and physically a wreck. This made him unlikely to
withstand the strenuous physical work inflicted [upon us], which the Germans,
through terror and anguish, applied to everyone. Daily, he was beaten with
murderous blows until his condition weakened quite seriously. We took him on a
stretcher to the sick bay. Through payment by his family, Maks was sent home,
half-dead. After being at home a few days, he ended his life.
The Polish population did not insignificantly assist the Germans with their murderous operations. Storusz who lived by his father, Ruwen Grosfeld, spread a tale to the German police that Szymon had beaten his [the Storusz's] son. Szymon was brought to the police and accused of killing an Aryan boy. He was the beaten mercilessly and died from his injuries a few days later.
May they rest in peace
by Szymon Balicki
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
How was the Jewish settlement in the city really different from similar settlements in all of Poland? Did we, former residents of the city, contribute something original to the history of the Jews in Poland and what actually accentuates what was special and original? Particularly in relation to the era, 1939-1945, when the behavior of people in groups was considered to be the highest endeavor?
The thorough illumination of the question awaits the historian, sociologist and
writer who will certainly find a great deal of extraordinarily interesting
problems in the history of the Jews in Dąbrowa that rarely intersect in
such a complete and substantial form.
At the Beginning
Before we go into the life in the Jewish quarters old Dąbrowa synagogue streets, circles and others it is necessary to take a look at the city, at the book jacket of the famous working city that was crowned in Polish history with the name Red Dąbrowa.
The landscape around it recalls somewhere in the industrial south of France, in Montsou, seen in Émile Zola's Germinal as a physically sad place, ruptured, with burned earth, with air eternally soaked through with dust from coal and coke, with a sky choked with clouds of smoke that puffed from dozens of chimneys from the factories, glassworks and pits, long clouds of smoke spread over the city, according to the comparison of the Polish writer [Juliusz] Kaden-Bandrowski: In their dark wings as waving, screaming transports.
At night the sky blazed from the large Marten's ovens, from smelting the steel in the Huta Bankowa [huta glassworks], from the burning slag heaps of coal refuse near the Renard pits, Paris in the glare of the wood and coke bonfires on the grey field of the heaps of molten coal, Koszelew, Zagórze where the unemployed, tasting their bitter bread in the harsh economy of hunger, warmed their clumsy bodies. During the summer, the dull heat in the crowded, old houses suppressed the breath; in winter, the frost in the coal rich area hammered the damp houses. Catching a little air far outside of the city in the forest in the greenery near the city on the shore of the Black Przemsza River or in the far Beskid Mountains was often connected to mortal danger for the Jew. The earth was often red from the blood of the murdered Jewish and Polish workers and the jobless because during strikes and demonstrations they demanded work, bread and rights for themselves. During the grand 1st of May demonstrations in the city, the unruly, angry and excited police sought revenge on the working population with their thighs, guns and swords. A city where the working people for the first time in Poland tried in the years 1918-1919 to take their own fate in their own hands, with workers' counsels, a municipal managing committee and strong professional unions throughout the entire area, a city workers union and organizations that struggled against the Endekes-Sanacja's regime and resulted in amazement throughout the country.
Clearly, whoever lived in such a city was also enveloped by this atmosphere.
There were not many cities in Poland like Dąbrowa Górnicza, where Jews with strenuous struggle and effort, worked and toiled in harsh industrial locations, iron factories, steel smelters, construction and even some in coal mines and shafts, joinery, carpentry, electronics. For some this was an urgent necessity of life; for others a substitute for a creative, productive life in their future home in Eretz Yisrael.
The desire to detach oneself once and for all from the obligatory Jewish way of earning a living trade with a hole in the pocket ad often also with a hole in the head held sway over everyone. This influenced many widespread circles of the Jewish population in the city, employed in workshops, offices, employed in trade, the young who were studying and imprinted its stamp on local life, emotional, idealistic, organizational activities and compulsions of the entire Jewish society in the city.
The spirit of the social stratum was always rebellious and progressive in
content regardless of political affiliation or world outlook. The Jews of
Dąbrowa, and particularly the young, excelled in their courage, with rare
readiness to sacrifice for the goals that presented themselves.
Word and deed
Before we comment on the last, tragic chapter of the Jews in Dąbrowa, we need to underline here, although briefly, the rare organic connection between word and deed of the local people. The Jewish proletariat, common people, the intelligencia, artisans from various circles, communists who long before the war paid for their efforts with long years in jail and in prisons in Mysłowice, Rawicz, Mokotów or in France, Spain, or those bold young people from Hashomer Hatzair [Young Guard founded as a scouting group], Gordonia [Labor Zionist Youth], Freiheit [Freedom a Jewish youth movement], who left their homes and left for hachsharah [agricultural training camp] locations in Częstochowa, Kielce, Polesie. Wolyn, where they prepared themselves with heavy toil for their new life; or those untiring cultural activists from Bund-Zukunft [Future a Bundist affiliate], left and right Poalei-Zion and the Tarbutnikes who with heart and stubbornness followed their ideals; religious Jews and their aid societies, although the majority of [their members were] older people, strove to be accepted with more tolerance as in other settlements and often gave aid to everyone.
Naturally, other Jews had an impact on the city, servile, ignorant from praise
and all of the good things, but their role and influence in the city was
relatively weak. The specific qualities of the Dąbrowa Jewish community
until the outbreak of the Hitlerist war also distinctly appeared during the
short era of their annihilation.
The beginning of the end
With regard to the dreadful interval of time from 1939-1945, which I happened
to experience, although only partly, in the Dąbrower-Zagłębie
area, we need to mention that not only the Jews in Poland, and among them Jews
from Dąbrowa, surrendered to the Hitlerist attacks and went to their
annihilation as calves to the slaughter. Today every older child in
school knows exactly what kind of vast national power was brought together in
the first years of the war by the totally armed German Fascist Reich, in a
Sanacja-Endekes Poland that lay upon the unprotected, oppressed Jews the
anti-Semitic accusation of weakness and cowardice. Even a modest review of the
facts about the small sector of Dąbrowa-Górnicza shows the reverse
of the accusation. It teaches us how long only the Jews, with the exception of
a small group of traitors, fought in the ranks of the Polish army for as long
as they had breath, consistent with their ability to fight the enemy in the
ghetto, in the forests and even in the concentration camps.
During the lightning attack by the Hitlerist troops on Upper Silesia and Zagłębie, dozens of young, Jewish Dąbrower soldiers fought in the ranks of the Polish army against the attackers.
They fought with weapons in their hands on the Częstochowa, Kielce and Silesian fronts; among others, those from Zagłębie: Welwel Zając, Mendl Zając, Szmuel Welner, Nusinowicz, Szymszon Drobinowski. They lost their lives there: Josef Kuperberg, Mendek Szajnweksler, Jecheskel Kożuch; others fell into German captivity and were murdered by the S.A. [Sturmabteilung or assault detachment was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party. Its members were the brownshirts.] bandits in the stalags [Stalag was a term used for prisoner-of-war camps. Stalag is an abbreviation for Stammlager] near Lubartów, in the snowy forests there over 200 Jewish soldiers from Zagłębie, among them the owner of the hair salon, Tajchner, my brother, Berl Balicki and many other fighters.
Later, after the collapse of the Polish army, groups of Dąbrower Jews
crossed the San River in great mortal danger; they arrived on Russian soil and
stood hand in hand with the Russian people in the struggle against a common
The end of the Dąbrower Jewish community was already seen in the beginning of 1940 when the majority of the population was placed in the terrible vise of the Gestapo regime. The city was incorporated into the Third Reich and its representatives the bloody Gestapo animals: Linder, Ludwig Knal, Kucinski, Kuczera and hundreds of their equals, supported by the S.S. and S.A., began their criminally destructive activity against the entire population Polish and Jewish. The disorientation among the Jewish population was strengthened because of the precise, deliberate and direct introduction of extermination methods by the Gestapo, with cruelty that had no equal in human history.
To deaden vigilance among the uneasy Jewish population and transfer it to slave labor camp in the ghetto, to the German concentration camps and to full destruction, the Gestapo organized the Judenrat der Kultusgemeinden [religious community councils]. At their head appeared mainly men without consciences, boundless egotists, influential people in the community or just the disturbed who consciously or out of fear also undertook in Dąbrowa the dirtiest task of treason and in the end fell into their own nets.
The activities of the Dąbrower members of the Judenrat was closely linked and connected to the Judenrat Central in Sosnowiec headed by the mournfully famous traitor Moniek Meryn. The members of the Judenrat penetrated the most hidden secrets of the Jewish home, blackmailing political and communal workers by threatening to deport them to the camps first in case of active resistance. In addition to the varied means of terror, harsh methods of psychological deception were set in motion. For example, a certain person, Zygel, traveled around the Jewish quarter in the beginning of 1940, and gave sermons in the synagogues and community halls about the exceptionally good conditions that he saw with his own eyes in the German labor camps, to which a percentage of the Zagłębie Jewish youth had already been dragged: The Jews have good employment, light work, free movement, recreation, truly a Hitlerist gan eden [paradise].
In order to corroborate the person's words, Meryn traveled to the camps,
extracted letters to their families with good news from the Jews
who had been dragged away with the help of the S.S. members. Meryn publicly
read from the letters before the desperate Jews, in the presence of his
Dąbrower servants, and tried to convince them that by kindly
sending out the young Jewish work force through the Sonderstelle
für fremdvölkischen Arbeitseinsatz [Special Office for the
Employment of Foreign Labor] to the German camps, the remaining older,
weakened people and children would be well protected right here.
All of the strange propaganda tricks from [Nazi propagandist, Joseph] Goebbels' devilish storehouse, accompanied by starvation and bloody terror were revealed in a short time by the young and the class conscious part of the working population here. The intervention of the Judenrat and its Hilfsmiliz [Aid Militia] no longer helped. The Gestapo murderers, the Knals, the Linders, themselves had to attack every Jew, with machine guns and attack dogs in the middle of the night; had to lie in wait like dogs at the city gates and in the suburbs where the persecuted scattered and hid with their Polish friends. The resistance from the Jewish and Polish masses took on a wider and more vigorous form. And although it came to a mostly tragic end, it created surprise and great danger for the Gestapo and its servants. In the course of retribution by the Gestapo, a group of about 50 men were arrested: anti-Hitlerist workers suspected of sympathy to the resisters, among them the Poles, Cedler, Brila, Kwiecinki, and Jews, Engineer Bialski, Mordechai Fajnman, Szmuel Klajn and others who were murdered by the Gestapo. In April, at the time of Passover, 1940, hundreds of women attacked the house of the Kultusgemeinde in the Judenrat on Miejska Street, during an imminent transport of Jews to a camp, demolishing the offices, assaulting the Jewish militia, seizing their sons and daughters from under their hands and those of the S.S. gendarmes. They hid the seized Jews in pits, bunkers, dispersed some to the Polish quarter on Old Dąbrowa, Reden, Zagórze. Others the Sztern brothers, the Szterners, the Brandeses went over to Russian soil. The resistance continued. The first Jewish organized groups in the underground to struggle with the Gestapo and its agencies began to appear. Thus on the 1st of October, 1940, there arose the anti-Fascistic group of Jewish progressive workers of leftist groupings communists, Left Poalei-Zion, Bundists and the neutrals, under the Dimitrov Front, to which belonged among others, the comrades, Liber Brener, Jakob Frydman, J. Moskowicz, Israel Klajman, Szmuel Szajkewicz, Miss Perent, Dawid Brat, Kalman Joskel, Chanan Lewensztajn, the writer of these lines and others. Each time the conspiratorial activities were carried out in different residences of the members. The purpose of the group was to strengthen the resistance movement also in the Jewish street, to find a wider connection with the resistance movement on the Polish side, to clarify the true danger of the forced labor camps, the methods of the Gestapo and the criminal role of the Judenrat. The Jewish population was summoned to actions of sabotage at their workplaces and in the shops through bulletins and oral explanations. Political intelligence was delivered, overheard or passed by the members of the group, such as Dawid Brat, who at that time still worked in the Klajn brothers' wire factory, the writer of these lines, who then worked in the workshops of the city managing committee at forced labor, by Jakob Frydman, who had connections to the Polish official from the Paris coal mine. Liber Brener later fell into the hands of the Gestapo and perished in Krakow; Dawid Bart was dragged away by the political police with many other Polish arrestees and murdered in Oświęcim-Auschwitz; Israel Klajnman, Perent and others were dragged away in an unknown direction.
The remainder of the group merged with the PPR [Polska Partia Robotnicza Polish Worker's Party] uprising on the 2nd of January 1942. The connection was maintained through the mediation of the Polish comrade, Stolicki, from Ksawer, member of the regional committee of the PPR.
The news reached us at that time of widespread activity by our resistance group
in the organizations Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia,
Hanoar Hazioni [Zionist youth movement]. I was informed of the
activity of the Frajberg brothers, Majer and Menuta, and others.
The connection with Dąbrower young people, Fredka Oksenhendler, Samek Majtlis, Hela Szancer and others, took hold with the members of the organizations in Będzin where the activities were centered. Mordechai Anilewicz, the future commandant of the Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw, visited the groups in March 1942.
He informed the young people about life in the struggle of the tortured Jews and the so-called General Government, about the deportations and annihilations in the death camps, Majdanek and Auschwitz, called for a united struggle against racism and fascism, for the collection of weapons and other means of support for the young in each case through creating Aryan papers, work in the camps of Polish workers, where the odds of surviving were greater. Still later, in 43-44, the struggle became more complicated and more tragic. The Dąbrower Jews, as everywhere under the Hitlerist occupation, were completely confined to the ghetto; the mass deportations took place to Gross Rosen and Auschwitz. Then, cases occurred of human heroism, martyrdom, which were sources of amazement for the enemy; the case of the modest young man, Majer Belfer, is a characteristic example of this. During a deportation when his mother was already in the rows to be transported for deportation, Majer Belfer looked to extract her from the hands of the guards and when he was unsuccessful, he stood at the side of his mother whatever your fate will be, will also be mine, and he spat in the ugly face of the S.S. man.
As we see from this short review, the struggle of the Dąbrower Jews with the Hitlerist subjugators proceeded in the most dreadful conditions, without support and even after being hermetically sealed in concentration camps in Lower Silesia, the Sudeten area and deep in Germany separated from the world. The struggle for a life of worth against the ghostly death organization endured until the last minute, often until the last breath by the soul. Many, as for example, Jerzy Wolf, Towja Brukner escaped from construction jobs and paid with their lives, sought to escape like Baszke Dafner, the Balicki brothers, Wolf Lip or stood at the head of the underground, anti-Fascist groups in the camps until the end of the war.
May our heroes and martyrs never be forgotten!
by Israel Kornfeld
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The history of the martyrdom of the Jews during the Hitlerist era will never be extinguished among those who (miraculously) survived. However, we must also remember the stubbornness of the Jews who were in the forced labor camps, concentration camps and extermination camps. Having been in various camps for four years and experienced all of the miseries of the Jewish camp inmates, I did not notice any of the Jews in the concentration camps, no matter how tortured they were, turn to the S.S. with the call, Shoot me.
The captives from other nations were very different. I saw how dejected the Soviet war prisoners in Germany were.
In the Jenrade camp, the Red Army asked the Wehrmacht [German armed forces] which guarded them: Strelaj (Shoot me) and many of the heroic Soviet members of the Red Army were actually shot. These were educated young men, strong men, yet in captivity their moral strength fell so much that they asked for death, to be shot.
This should be the answer to those who discredit the Jews who lived under the German assassins, humiliated, tortured, hungry and naked, after many hours of standing summer and winter for roll call. But in these terrible conditions few of the Jewish concentration camp inmates asked for death from an S.S. member, Each Jew in a German concentration camp struggled for his life with full strength and belief, wishing the murderer a quick defeat.
The Jewish concentration camp inmates persevered in the most difficult
The liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Camp
As is known, thousands of Jewish lives were annihilated in the German concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen.
Camp inmates from various nations were assembled in this camp, among them, we Jewish camp inmates who had been on the death march from various camps to the Bergen-Belsen death camp.
We were chased from camp to camp, not knowing where we were being taken. Each of us thought of our end because we had seen many camp inmates who had been shot during the march.
We were led out of the Bunzlau Camp on the 10th of February 1945. It was a dark night; we were guarded by S.S men. In three days of marching, they shot several from our ranks of Jewish camp inmates and wounded several (here should be remembered a young man from Dąbrowa Gór., who was shot during our sorrowful march. He was named Liberman, from the 3rd of May Street; his older brother, Ajrysz, perished in Widau Camp (near Bunzlau). We were then placed in a row to be shot. The murderers had already extended their machine guns. In that moment, like a miracle from heaven, the camp leader arrived (a tall S.S. officer) and forbid the use of weapons against us and thus we escaped from a sure death.
We were driven farther for several weeks as a result of which we became louse
infected and suffered from hunger and cold. We were taken to a Camp Dora and
then to a Camp Elrich. The conditions in the two camps are difficult to
describe. We were sadistically tortured. The German Kapos [prisoners working in
the concentration camps who received better treatment in exchange for their
work] murderously beat us.
|S. Balicki: In the concentration camp|
On a given day, we were loaded in wagons with the prisoners from other nations, pressed like herring in a barrel. Traveling like this in the wagons for several days, we arrived in Bergen-Belsen. We were unloaded, living and dead together. Then we were led into barracks and again, as many as possible, pressed into rooms. Jews, Russians, Poles, Czechs, Germans, and so on.
We received a small bowl of watery soup in the Bergen-Belsen camp; the hunger in the camp was terrible. Each day masses of concentration camp inmates died of hunger. In addition a terrible dysentery illness still raged.
Finding ourselves in terrible conditions in the camps and thinking about what the morning could bring, we noticed certain changes during the last days before the liberation.
Suddenly a shout, running (this was on the 15th April 1945). Two English tanks then entered the Bergen-Belsen camp.
Joy enveloped everyone. Finally we had lived to see the liberation. An end to the German murderers. To take revenge against the assassins and the Kapos. Death to the murderers, was the call. In general, the majority of Jewish concentration camp prisoners were too weak to take revenge against the murderers. The Russians and a number of Jewish prisoners did take revenge. When they met a Kapo, they beat him to death.
We were free, we no longer had any guards, no S.S. Yet, the camp was still watched by English soldiers. We were free and victims still fell. And we were still hungry and the humanitarian English had great compassion for the Germans. The English did not bring any food for the starving, tortured concentration camp inmates. That is how our liberation looked.
Several days later, the English concentrated the prisoners from each nation separately in separate blocks. Thus we Jewish concentration camp inmates were together in a separate block. One day a Jewish representative in an English uniform appeared. We gathered on a square and the Jewish representative explained: We marched across nations: Holland, Belgium and did not meet any Jews Jews persevere, the Joint [Joint Distribution Committee] has 15 million dollars for you. A shout was heard: We are hungry, we are dying of hunger! One can imagine our feelings; we had come together as if by a miracle.
In memory of the survivors, we will remember the historic day of the
liberation, the 15th of April, 1945. We will also remember the victims who died
after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.
|The survivors show their solidarity with the fighting population of the
[in Eretz Israel]
All Jews, punctually at 9:00 o'clock, will assemble in Liberty Square
Honor the fallen. Honor the fighting organized Jewish settlement!
Belsen Jewish Central Committee
by Israel Kornfeld
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
My unforgettable parents had time to die.
My father, of blessed memory, was born in 1863 in Będzin. My father's parents were pious. My grandfather was bound with Hasidism during his life, but his children, including my father, were by custom traditionally Jewish [not Hasidic].
Our father, not wanting to serve in the Czarist army, escaped to America and after being there several years, he came back to Będzin.
At that time, our father was a member of the Hovevei Zion [Lovers of Zion] movement and, when the Zionist movement arose in Będzin, he was one of the first few Zionists.
My father would relate how Zionism was contested at that time and what means the opponents would use. It was argued that the Zionists would bring us mashiach [messiah]. When someone wore a short coat: the Zionists are already dressed like gentiles. At that time Jews were dressed in long overcoats. The extremely pious did not understand the ideal of Zionism. They used various means against the Zionist movement. In spite of everything, the Zionist movement grew into a national and communal power in that era.
Our father, of blessed memory, was disposed to Zionism for his entire life. He, also, bought Eretz Yisrael shares in his name at that time (later, alas, I could not find them here in this country).
Our father loved to read Yiddish books. Later he received them from his grown children.
We were eight children, some belonged to various parties and societies, such as left Poalei Zionists [Labor Zionists], Hashomer Hatzair [Socialist Zionists] and one was also a communist. We would always discuss Jewish problems with our father. He always related to us with love and as a friend.
Our mother, of blessed memory, did not enter into the discussions and always cared for the house and for the children, as a sincere Jewish mother. When discussions would take place, our mother would tell us to be quiet and say: The children are already smarter than we are; they will turn the world upside down. This is how our life in the home looked. Respect with love from our unforgettable parents and children.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, our city, Dąbrowa Górnicza, was occupied by the Austrian military. During the First World War various institutions and societies arose in Dąbrowa: the Jewish Artisans' Union of which our father was one of the first members and to which many contributed both money and work. Among them were: Berl Fuks, Machl Pienkni and Jakob Fuks, our father, Chaim Kornfeld, Szlomo Winer and Josef Natan Szwimer. The first secretary of the union was Alter Szenhaft.
It was fate's wish that I was the secretary of the Artisans' Union in the last years until the liquidation by the vicious German occupiers.
Our father died in 1932 at the age of 68. His death was a sorrow for everyone.
We children no longer had among us in our life our devoted father and friend.
When we children erected a matzeyvah [headstone] for our father with Yiddish
texts, it bothered a number of Jews because it was written in Yiddish.
Our dear mother died in 1941. The death of our dear mother occurred due to the tragic circumstances in which we Jews then found ourselves with the German Fascist assassins. There were various rumors at that time that we would be deported with only 50 kilos of baggage. Or that Dąbrowa would be made judenrein [free of Jews] and all Jews sent to ghettos. Our dear mother could not bear all of the troubles. She always said: Where will I go with my children and grandchildren in my old age? Her heart could not absorb it all and in the month of March 1941, the life of our dearly beloved mother was extinguished She was one of the many victims of the German Nazi barbarians.
As was said, the house of the Kornfeld family was full of life. Like our father, the children were active in societies as well as in various parties and organizations.
Alas, the old home with it ebullient life is no more. Only a very small remnant of the large Kornfeld family remains. Of eight children, three remain.
Let here be recalled the memories of our brother Dawid Kornfeld, who was a comrade in the left Poalei Zion in the Zagłębie region, as well as our sisters, Szprinca, Halina, Irka and Mania, as well as the daughters-in-law and grandchildren who expanded the Kornfeld family.
May these written words be a memorial for the annihilated, extended Kornfeld
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