About the destruction, the pains and the disappearance of Korczyn On reaching this section of the book about the destruction of the Jewish population of Korczyn, I am totally mesmerized. Many times I sat down to write the section but was unable to write a line. The blood begins to circulate much faster and the heart beat increases, the nerves are tense, I sit in stupor and think. What a terrible tragedy has occurred to our people. The Germans killed millions of helpless Jewish men, women and children and nothing happened. In Genesis, section Vayera, we are told that the people of Sodom were mean and sinful and that is the reason why G-d destroyed the city.
The various biblical descriptions of the evil deeds of Sodom can't even begin to compare with the deeds of the German murderers. The people of Sodom were practically saints in comparison to the Germans. Yet the latter were not destroyed or wiped off the face of the earth, on the contrary, they became richer and fatter in spite of all the cruelties they committed. The world continues its course, the Germans are accepted in society of men, Jewish merchants buy and Jewish customers purchase German products. Jewish survivors go on with life as though nothing happened. Religious Jews feel insulted when they don't get the right aliyah in the synagogue, the less religious organise parties and bar-mitzvahs with music and dancing. Everybody in his own way is deeply involved in acquiring more luxuries as though no great tragedy took place.
We mourn the destruction of the temple for three weeks but the destruction of hundreds of Jewish communities where millions of our fathers, mothers and children were killed is not mourned even for three hours by the Jewish world. Today, 25 years after the great tragedy, what is the purpose of retelling the tragedy and am I capable of telling the story in my humble way. Will I be able to transmit the pain, the degradation, the hunger and the various deaths suffered by the victims. Even if I had the literary skill of Job and was able to write a masterpiece, who would be interested, who would care to listen and what influence would such book have.
I would like to describe in the next chapters in a chronological sequence the life of the Jewish community of Korczyn from the day the war started to the day that the Germans erased the community.
The Polish government ordered the call up of all reserve units by means of posters, radio announcements and other available means. Total confusion seemed to be the order of the day. For the government was not prepared for such massive draft and had no ability to absorb all these men. The German attacked an ill-prepared country for war, namely Poland. By Monday, the fourth day of the war, it was obvious that the Germans are advancing very rapidly, government offices began packing in haste and leaving town, Polish retreating soldiers began to appear in the streets of Korczyn. They were totally disorganized and did not know where to go. Tuesday, columns of refugees, Jews and non-Jews, passed through the township-heading east. The Polish government ordered all men to head East. The merchants took the merchandise from their stores during the night and hid it. The panic was growing from minute to minute. The burning question was what to do, to stay or leave Korczyn. Where do you go with your family or can you stay and face the Germans.
The Germans will never kill anyone, they will take Jews to work said Korczyner Jewish who lived in Germany and supposedly knew the Germans. Germany ejected in 1936 most of the Jews of Korczyn that lived in Germany and they returned to their native hamlet. These people, the children of Haim Eichorn, the son of Moshe Lewitman and others remained in Korczyn. Very few Jews left Korczyn for Eastern Galicia and later for Russia. There were seven families: Mendel Rubin, Naphtali Dym, Avraham Lezer, Aisik Lezer, Yehezkel Pinter and Shlomo Horowitz. There were also a few individuals: Arie Dym, Mendel Rosenman, Zishe Grin, Mendel Weinstein, Yantsche Koreff, Leibish Atlas and Mendel Holoshitz. Only the last two individual people returned home following the war. We know nothing about the other single people.
Friday evening, the 8th of September 1939, we heard nearby heavy shelling or artillery exchanges. Saturday morning everything was silent. All the people were in the shelters. About 11oclock in the morning we heard some rifle shots and then deadly silence interrupted by the noise of a German motorcycle patrol. The latter crossed the city in great haste and headed for the village of Kombornia.
It was never established whether Preisner was ordered to do this job or he took the initiative on hearing the events in Krosno and decided to imitate the Germans. Nobody questioned him and there were no discussions. However, it seemed to give Preisner some satisfaction in denigrating the Jews since the cleaning job could have been done for five zlotys, about one dollar, or even less. Plenty of workers could have been found to do the job. On hearing the order, instinctively, the Jews took brooms and went to the market and swept it clean. Monday, the 18th of September, under the leadership of Tsheike the thief we marched to the village and were forced to remove the burned cattle from the stalls. The cattle were caught in the rifle fire that was heard in Korczyn some days ago. The job of removing partially burned carcasses of horses and cows was very unpleasant and the air was stifling.. The work was terrible and filthy but less denigrating than sweeping the market. Furthermore, it was supposed to prevent diseases. The work was also removed from the sight of onlookers for no one went to the village to see them work. The population of the farms had scattered, thus there were no spectators apart from Tsheike the thief.
Jews organized many small prayer places in private homes. Amongst them was: Shaul Frei, Eliezar Rubin who moved into the apartment of his brother, Mendel, who fled to East Galicia, Eliezar Raab and Nachman Leibush Reich. Most of the prayer places accommodated neighbors who would arrive surreptitiously to the prayers. Guards were posted to sound the alarm in case Germans approached the place. There was fear that the Germans may accuse the people of meeting illegally and harsh consequences would follow. At the first sound of alarm, the congregants could slip into their homes and disappear. The Germans did arrive with trucks to the beth hamidrash and caught whoever did not manage to escape. They tossed them aboard trucks and took them to work. The families of the arrested waited in anxiety all day until they were returned late that night.
In December some units arrived for rest and remained until May 1940. These units erected many barracks in a large area known as the priest field, it stretched from the school to the Mangl or to the Michael Kirschner house. The Jews did sawing wood and unloading coal and all dirty work such as bringing water, peeling potatoes. The Jews were not paid but received a steady stream of beatings. With time the beatings stopped but the German supervisors insisted that all their workers must show daily for work even if the weather did not permit such activity. Even if a German supervisor granted a day off, another would soon appear and insist that they must show up for work and threatened and cajoled the poor Jews to go to work. The behavior of the German supervisors can only be described as beastly. The work that the Jews in Korczyn did for the German army saved them from being sent elsewhere to do similar work. At least they came home, ate with the family and slept at home. The Nazi chief supervisor for building the barracks appealed to the military area commander not to sent Jews from Korczyn to other areas since they were needed in town. Jews from Krosno were sent to other places like Fristik to work.
The Germans continued to search but found nothing and concluded that there were no hidden merchandise. Preisner insisted that all merchandise should be made available to the local population since it had no clothing. The author of these lines addressed himself to Preisner and asked him whether the local population was already naked after two months of war. Was it not a fact that the Jewish population lacked bread, which was in abundance amongst the farms yet, you are not worried about the hungry Jews but rather about the so-called naked Polish farmers. He did not answer. The Germans did not understand the exchange since it was in Polish.
The Germans plundered the Jewish homes without the slightest guilt feeling. Worse than the Russian Cossacks who knew that they were doing bad things. The Germans did it with greater precision, thoroughness and punctuality than the Cossack ever dreamt of doing. The German stole whatever pleased him, be it a coat, a suit or even bed covers. The Russian Cossack knew that he was committing a crime and faced the danger of being spotted by an officer who could reprimand him. The German knew that this was not the case.
Most of the German soldiers that were stationed in Korczyn from December to May 1940 were from Western Silesia and some understood a bit of Polish and some even spoke the language. They mingled with the local population and soon found out where the Jewish merchants lived and where they could locate some of the hidden merchandise. They would enter a store and find it empty. They would then measure the inside walls as opposed to the outside walls or the attics as opposed to the roofs. They would break into rooms or walls under the slightest pretext. Once they found a hidden warehouse, they would be encouraged to continue their search.
When the soldiers found merchandise, they stole everything they could carry and then notified the local commander who would sent a truck to pick up the remains. The truck would transport the goods to Germany and the soldiers would carry the loot home on leave. Presently, the Germans are asking the Jewish survivors to provide them with the license numbers of the trucks that took their merchandise.
Lea Blank spent almost two weeks in the prison, until her young daughters, Miriam and Rivka Blank assembled a few thousand zlotys which was given to a Krosno person with good connections. They worked and she was freed and returned home to Korczyn. Meanwhile, Aron and Meir Blank escaped from the city crossed illegally the border to the Russian side. Aron Blank did not survive the war , he died in Russia but his son Meir survived the war. The Germans killed lea Blank and her daughters Miriam and Rivkah in August 1942, 29 days in Av, Tashab.
The Judenrat consisted of Oscar Rubin, a grandson of of Benyamin Rubin. Oscar was born in Germany. He was elected to be the head the Judenrat. His assistant was Yehezkel Lewitman who lived many years in Germany. The other members of the council were Mendel Halpern,, the son of Hertz, Eli Grin, Ber Erreich, Shlomo Horowitz, Naphtali Infeld and Yossef Weber. Most people thought that Oscar Rubin and Yehezkel Lewitman would help the community due their knowledge of the German language. They were soon proven dead wrong. The difference between the Judenrat and the kehilla leadership prior to the war was simple. The kehilla leaders worked for the interests of the Jewish community while the Judenrat had to work for the Germans.
The Judenrat collected monthly taxes from the Jewish population in order to meet the financial obligations of the council. Whoever did not pay on time his assessment, the Judenrat would send a Jewish policemen to collect an item of similar value to the amount owed. The item taken could have been a lamp, a blanket, a pillow or a suit. On occasion, the head of the Judenrat wrote out a complaint against someone for not paying his assessment as part of a sabotage scheme .The Germans did not need any further evidence to arrest the individual and throw him into the Krosno prison.. He was usually freed by the efforts of Moshe Kleiner, assistant Judenrat head of Krosno.. When the people in question went to thank Moshe Kleiner, he made the following blessing, blessed be the liberator of prisoners and the resurrected to life. Why the latter part of the blessing, Kleiner stated that the Germans would frequently shoot prisoners in order to make room for more detainees.
The head and the assistant head of the Judenrat exclusively ran the Judenrat. Oscar Rubin received a weekly salary and Yehezkel Lewitman ran the office. The other members of the council had no say or responsibilities. They joined the council in the hope that they will avoid the labor draft. Some of them later regretted being members of the council but it was too late. Perhaps some would have survived the war had they not been members of the council, for their need ended with the destruction of the Jewish community of Korczyn. The Judenrat employed two Jewish policemen: Mendel Halpern, the son of Yona, and Naphtali Kirschner, the son of Moshe. The latter was called the lord. We have to praise his behavior that was outstanding. He would always pre-warn the Jewish inhabitants of German or Polish police actions aimed at them. Thus, they could take some preventive measures. The other policeman used his position for his own interest and income. Naphtali Kirschner escaped, hid, survived the war and came to Israel. Mendel Halpern remained policeman to the last minute and perished with the community.
In the streets of Korczyn were many German soldiers who returned victorious from the battlefield. They were full of joy and drank with their victory over Poland. Their hatred to the Jews was beyond description, especially to a Jew that had a beard and peyot. Such a Jew took his life in his hand if he stepped out of his house. When the Germans spotted him, they chased him and ordered him to stand still. The poor Jew did not know whether he would be shot or merely photographed. Regardless of the final action, we can imagine the thoughts that run through the mind of the poor Jew. Fear also extended to the home, the Germans plundered Jewish homes. Fear became a daily reality.
To avoid humiliations, jeers and nasty remarks, the rabbi of Korczyn, Avraham Itzhak Kanner nicknamed Peitash wrapped a kerchief around the beard and his peyot in order to hide them. When a German would ask why the kerchief, the wife of the rabbi would state that the rabbi has dental problems. He looked comical and this was enough to attract German attention and to ridicule him. The rabbi had a father in law in Slovakia, a place called Welka Berezna. He decided to escape to his family in Slovakia where it was rumored that the Germans behaved a bit better than in Poland. The rabbi and his family rented a coach and secretly left Korczyn. They arrived in Slovakia just in time when the Slovakian Jews were being deported to Poland, about 1940. The rabbi and his family shared the lot of the Slovakian Jews. He wound up in the city of Lublin, Poland.
The rabbi suffered pain and hunger in Lublin. He appealed by letter, still permissible at the time, to the Jewish community of Korczyn. The letters were heart braking and asked for help to get him out of Lublin. But the Jewish community could not help him since nobody had contacts with Lublin nor did anybody have ideas how to organise such rescue. Brief, he could not hope for assistance except to escape by his own means. Apparently he could not escape and disappeared. We do not know the date of his death but it is a certainty that he disappeared a year before the destruction of the Jewish community of Korczyn, may his saintly soul be blessed.
Moshe Leichtog survived the action and was sent to Krosno to work. We worked together in the same group. We were busy demolishing a wall that was situated along the road leading to Korczyn, facing the house of Itsche David Weisner.
We were supposed to build a road through the garden of the church of the order of the Capuchins. This road would link directly Korczyn to the road leading to Rymanow without the need to circle the church grounds. The monks insisted we stop working. An order was issued to us to sit on the ground and await a decision. We sat on the ground of the church and awaited the order. This was exactly a week after the Jews of Korczyn were deported. As we sat on the ground, Yehezkel Shtein asked Moshe Leichtog to tell a story about a Jewish saint. He started to tell story after atory about Jewish saints and the miracles they performed. I was astounded to hear the stories, how could a person that lost everybody, tell the stories as though nothing happened. I was hopeless, bitter, lonely and amazed at the ability of Moshe Leichtog to overcome all the tragedies and tell stories about Jewish saints. I could understand some people like Yehezkel Shtein who still had his wife and children listening to these tales. But how could Moshe Leichtog ignore all reality and transport himself to another period of time. Yet he did it. Was this heroism or spiritual heroism, perhaps someone could explain it to me. I don't understand it. Yaacov Itzhak Fessel, a native of Korczyn, that lives today in Stockholm, Sweden states that with the liquidation of the ghetto of Krosno, Moshe Leichtog was sent to the ghetto of Rzeszow, Reishe in Yiddish. Nobody knows the whereabouts of Moshe Leichtog or his date of death. May this be his eternal memorial.
In Korczyn, the Christian families lived outside the city and near their fields. This is where they had their homes and barns. They were not interested in places away from their cowsheds or farms. But there were exceptions even in Korczyn. Tscheike thief's son went to Lea Blank and told her that he wanted the front of her house. Lea Blank was familiar with the situation and heard of similar instances in Krosno. She consented to his request and he permitted her to stay with her daughters in the back of the house. Jewish refugees from other cities occupied the second house of the family Blank.
Since May 1940, there were no German soldier in town. In comparison with other big cities and even small cities, life in Korczyn was relatively quiet. Suddenly, German soldiers appeared in May of 1941 but they did not stop in town, they marched in the direction of Kombornia and East. They did not march four abreast on the road but rather single file, one behind the other, similar to a bunch of geese. Small groups of 20-25 soldiers, their heads covered with grass or twigs. They did not carry weapons. Some trucks covered with green branches followed them. This process continued for days. The Jews in Korczyn glanced through the cracks in the windows and saw this funny process but nobody could explain what was taking place. Some tried to explain that the German was teaching their soldiers how to camouflage their movements from the view of planes. But Poland was destroyed, France was defeated and Europe was under German control. Against what enemy was Germany preparing to fight. That an imminent attack against Russia will be launched, nobody expected. Only in June of 1941, following thew attack on Russia, did we understand the reason for the funny marching of soldiers.
Some predicted that Russia would defeat Germany and preclude it from carrying out the harmful policies against the Jews. There were others that said that things might get worse. The evil one, Hitler, stated publicly in January of 1942, those that laughed stopped laughing: I will not rest until the last Jew disappears in Europe. The entire free world heard this on the radio or read it in the papers, if we read it in isolated Korczyn in the Krakower newspaper.
Itsche Rosshendler and Bunem Margolies did not wait for the visitors. The former decided to hand over the store to the son of the cook that was employed by the lord Szepticki. In this manner, did the Rosshendler family remain in their apartment and enjoyed some share in the profit of the store. For the new owner gave a portion of the profits to Itsche Rossenhendler. Bunem Margolies worked out a similar arrangement with Solecki.
The Judenrat sent officials to everybody to warn them to surrender all furs or furry items within the day. The Jews responded and carried every item, even an old worn out shtreimel to the office of the Judenrat where the Germans received the merchandise. Two days later, the Germans started to search the homes. They went from door to door, they checked every hiding place but found nothing. Our town survived the event without casualties but endured plenty of anxiety. .
The Polish auxiliary police escorted all of these Jews to the police headquarters. From here, they were taken one at a time to the field of the priest where the Gastapo shot them. The local Polish population looked at our misfortune, they saw how we were led to the slaughter. There would have been some consolation if the sky was cloudy or dark but no, it was a nice and clear day. The sun was shining and witnessing human brutality, the killing of helpless Jews.
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