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[Page 354]

At the Beginning of the Second World War

by Zvi LASMAN, Givatayim

One morning, as I was walking out into the street, I came across people running, screaming, and making noise. Wounded soldiers were carried off the trains, which were bombed by the Germans, and mobilized soldiers were also deployed. The panic was great. The city was bombed by Hitlerite planes and the people were scattered on all sides.

It is said that the Germans approached through Piątek, where major battles had taken place. They should have already taken over the city.

I do not remember exactly the day when the Hitlerites marched into Kutno, but those hours are well remembered by me.

As soon as the Germans entered the city, they began to implement their “order”. A call was issued for all men, Jews and Christians, to gather in the new market. The first thing they demanded was that the people hand over their weapons to the new government. Second, they told us that a curfew was being introduced in the city – from five o'clock in the afternoon until six in the morning.

Early in the morning, the Germans captured Jewish men at work occupying public places. I was among the captured men.

Many people tried to hide, one in a basement, another in an attic, but to no avail. Everyone was caught.

I tried to hide under a blanket in the basement, but I was also caught and taken to the group of detained men.

The whole crowd of people was driven by the Germans to the church, which was already overflowing with Jews and Christians. The suffering of the detainees was indescribable. I did not get any food, no drink, the hunger was terrible. We had to relieve ourselves inside the church, side by side…

When I received a package of food from my family, I was attacked from all sides, so that nothing was left for me.

After three painful days of being locked up in a church, people began to be released. They were divided into groups: those on the left were packed on trucks, and those on the right were sent off for work. The old people were left at home.

My fate was to be among those who, like beasts, were carried on lorries, under a strict guard, to Łęczyca. There we were locked in a school, surrounded by barbed wire. In the courtyard of the synagogue were already gathered old Jews with beards and wigs, whom he had specially assigned the dirtiest works and at the same time they were beaten.

All Jews wore order numbers on their chests and shoulders. My number was 640. Everyone had to stand by the numbers, all day long – from early evening.

In the morning, we first got a little soup, mixed with horse–bran. For dinner, we had three potatoes with salted herring, without water. After the herring, thirst was great, but only on the second day, for 1,400 men, just one barrel of water was brought in. As there was nothing to drink, they found a chamber pot, washed it and immersed it in water for drinking. This went on for several days.

 


Registration of Jews at the town hall in Kutno

 

One morning a German officer came in and asked who wanted to go out for work. Me, Opoczinski and four other Christians volunteered for the job.

Instead of horses, we were put in a truck and taken out to the field to dig up potatoes, load them on the cart, and take them to the camp. We were not given any food.

On the last day, Polish prisoners of war were taken and we were sent back to Kutno on foot, under the escort of volksdeutschen[1]. When we entered the city, it was

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already dark, and the German guards, not knowing who we were, opened fire on us.

With raised hands, we were ushered into Holcman's palace, where the German staff was located. When we were introduced to staff, each of us was asked his name and was beaten with rubber sticks. Of course, I was not spared the blow either.

In the same house, among the crowd of Jews, I noticed the old Aurbach of the new market. In the presence of his son, he was tortured in a sadistic manner, tearing off his beard and sideburns. Blood was flowing from him.

It is noteworthy that the old Jew endured the torture, not even groaning.

At night we were taken to church with our hands raised. In the morning we were taken to the 37th Regiment's barrack, which was transformed into a hospital.

The first job we got was to burn the regiment's documents. Then we were forced to clean out the toilets with our bare hands.

I was assigned as a nurse.

One time, as I was walking among the beggars, asking which of the sick people wanted something, I suddenly heard someone calling me by name. As I turned to the side of the bathtub, the voice came to me and to my amazement, I saw a blindfolded man among the sick.

It was Yechiel Meir Biglajzen. He told me that while running home, he was hit in the eye by a shrapnel and soon became blind. His suffering was indescribable. He died together with all the saints.

Finally, after fifteen horrible days in the hospital, I received permission to go home.

The joy of my family, when I crossed the threshold of my home, is hard to imagine. Everyone, my family and our neighbors, watched as I endured all the troubles and survived.

It is not for nothing that it is said that a man is stronger than iron…

Translator's footnote

  1. Ethnic Germans, but not having German citizenship (Poles). Return


Kutno in the Days of War

by Wolf MANCZIK, Karkour, Israel

1

I remember, as if it was yesterday, the first mobilization in Kutno. It took place on March 21, 1939. Even then, it was felt as if dark war clouds were gathering over our heads. The following Jewish soldiers were mobilized in the Polish army:
Zalman Kirsztajn, Meir Fast, Avraham Sztyft, Hersz Kozak, Lajbl Bibergal, Tuvia Hirszberg, Moshe Welcman, Avraham Bennett, Maurice Szapszewicz, Zelik Lyfszic, Albert Kajn, Yurek Ogurek, Calel Grinbaum, Lajbisz Kanal, Yonah Rozenblum, Shija Fajber, Wolf Nosol and others.

Some of them already did not returned home. With the outbreak of war, Kutner Jewish youths fell in battle with the Hitlerite aggressor. This way perished Zalman Kirsztajn, Meir Fast and Wolf Nosol, in the defense of Sochaczew — Abraham Sztift, Lajbel Bibergal, Tuvia Hirszberg, resisting to the German army not far from Łowicz — Hersh Kozak, Abraham Bennett and others, fell on the battlefield.

Right after the Germans had occupied Kutno, the dead bodies of Sztifts, Bibergals and Hirszbergs were brought into town and a joint funeral and burial was organized.

Some Kutner Jewish soldiers in the Polish army, such as Albert Kajn, Jurek Ogurek, Lajbisz Kanal, were captured by Hitlerites and later killed. Others managed to escape to Russia after the collapse of the Polish army: Zelik Lyfszic, Shaje Fajber, Maurice Szapszewicz, while some were persuaded and returned to Kutno, where they shared the tragic fate of all: Szlomo Kowalski, Henech Chabus, Hanna Blum, Shmuel Sobotka.

 

2

On September 15, 1939, the Germans entered Kutno, following the blow they received behind Łęczyca. As is well known, the Germans lost 14,000 soldiers in the battle behind Kutno (as reported by the Polish Ministry of Defense). No wonder that as soon as the Germans took over Kutno, they wanted to get revenge for their losses. They first expressed their sadism towards the Jewish population: arrests, forced labor, deportations, beatings, and insults. I was a witness to a “lapanke[1]: SS men surrounded the streets of Zamenhof, Tilne, Przeskok and part of Podrzeczna, entered Wajsbrod's confectionery on Zamenhof Street and detained six Jews: the writer of these lines, Zalman Zumer, Nachum Fuks, Jokel Cymberknopf, Sender Celemenski, Szmaja Olszak. We were driven out into the street, where there were 25 detainees, all taken away from Old Market, Kościuszki, Dąbrowskiego and Bema streets — to the house of the brothers Wyganowski and Dr. Kleinerman. There was installed the staff of the SS. We were locked in a basement, ostensibly to pump water to an elevated reservoir. I was in this group.

The work, however, was not done calmly. Every time,

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we were beaten, pushed, and insulted. There were some bloodshed victims. It's about 5 o'clock in the evening — police hour[2]. We were sure that now people will be freed from the hard work and from the beating. Everything was still locked. The SS obviously wanted to keep us overnight and liquidate us. Nahum Fuks breaks out the window along with its iron bars — and he escapes first, then us. Jumping across a fence into a garden, then — through Fast's garden, and from there going home.

During our escape, I saw how the Germans had treated the pious Jews: Wyszynski, Zandberg, Lichtenstein. They were beaten, their beards severed. It appears that they worked at the Wyganowski brothers' house.

 

3

In a few days, we were taken back to work. This time — in Szimanski's courtyard on Kościuszki Street, near the gymnasium Dąbrowski. Among us were: the painter Zundelewicz, Herszel Jakubowicz, Hersz Menche, Berel Goldszmidt, Calel Szyper, Sender Niewalkowski, Sholem Bagno, Kuczinski, Moniek Rasz, Pinchas Sztanke, Fiszel Grinbaum. We were held there for two months. Instead of eating, we were beaten. The work in the field was a difficult one.

After releasing us, I decided to volunteer for the German employment service, which was in the town hall. This part was led by Yosef Szapszewicz, a well-known teacher at the Powszechna school in Kutno. As a professional, he sent me to work in the military barracks in Bema Street. But every day I had to report to him at the town hall. One time, upon arrival at the town hall, I fell into the hands of the Gestapo, who had just carried out one of her “lapankes”. About 30 Jews were sent to a nearby courtyard behind Koło, not far from the later Chelmno death camp, where our closest and dearest perished.

The Germans appointed Yankel Bok as the leader of our group. Together with me were: Gajsler, Pieczysty, Pukacz, Y. Jakubowicz, Yukel Pakulski, Shaje Chabus, Plocker, Israel Markewicz, Mordechai Rusak, Hazenfeld, Dawid Herszkowicz, Zalman Ogurek, Chaim Spielfogel, Szlomo Sznurnbach, Dawidcze Goldman, Szlamek Kuszmirak, Jonah Balsamowicz, Shajek Szulcz, Szmulik Elbaum, Moshe Goldwasser and some others. We were taken in small carts, accompanied by a powerful convoy, to the yard where we were arrived soon, for harvesting potatoes. The first few days were awful to endure. A Gestapo checkpoint was there and five murderers used to show up at our work, beating us, shouting at us, torturing us in various ways.

At night we were allowed to straighten the bones in the local school, on the floor, spread with a little straw. But not once did the assassins failed to come in the middle of the night, start beating and insulting us. After such a night, as it was not possible to go out to work in the morning, we were beaten and tortured again.

After two weeks of hard work and hardship, we were sent home. This is what the farm owner, Mrs. Nowacka, demanded. She asked the Gestapo to treat us better, to treat us humanely. The night before we left, she agreed with our representative in a big conspiracy, to pay everyone for the work done. Saying goodbye to us, she cried with tears in her eyes: “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła…” As is well-known, this is the first line of Poland's national anthem “Poland is not yet lost”.

The next morning, we arrived in Kutno and learned that the Germans in Holcman's Palace were giving out passes to Russia. I rushed out to get one.

 

4

A group of young people took the opportunity. I, Nahum Fuks, Isaac Tymyanko, Samek Falc, Israel Rotsztajn and others moved to Bialystok. To tell the truth, we had already met with Laron in Zaręby Kościelne, which was occupied by the Soviets. At the Białystok train station, a plaque was hung for the Kutners, who had inquired about their arrival in the city and addresses. An entire Kutner team lived on Staszica Street. As was the custom among Jews, each with his own vision and ideology, fierce discussions were also held at that time, although it was clear that we were all fleeing death from the common enemy and needed to stand together, to save ourselves.

In December 1939, I decided to return to Kutno to be able to accommodate my wife and immediate family. Together with Yitzhak Timianko and Israel Rotsztajn, we arrived in our hometown, which was now foreign to us and devastated. Coming home to my parents, on the Sienkiewicza Street 36, I was told that my wife had gone to see me the day before. I left for Białystok the next day. On the way, performing in Warsaw, I met Golda Zylber and took her to Białystok.

This is where I really met my wife and our joy at praying was indescribable. Several Kutner families — Yosef Goldberg and Pola, Nahum Kenig with his wife, Zvi Lasman and wife, Moshe Moszkowicz and Gecel, Abraham Manczik, N. Fuks, the Strykowskis and Hoffmans from Krośniewice moving to western Ukraine. After we were sent to Siberia, we were also a group of countrymen together: Yosef Goldberg, Pola Manczik, Yitzhak Goldberg with his wife, Itke Fuks, Nahum Fuks, Abraham Manczik. At the deportation we met additional Kutner families: Hirszbajn, Chaim-David and Eliezer Klingbeil, Fajber, Nahum Kenig with his wife Czarna Rozenberg, who died there. Israelik Orner with his wife Esther Zlotak and her brother Yitzhak (he and Israelik also died in Siberia).

 

5

After the war ended, we were transferred to Ukraine, and in 1946, the

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repatriation of Polish citizens took place. I, along with another Kutner, settled in Wrocław. In April 1946, at the Kutno cemetery, the unveiling of a memorial to our deceased martyrs took place. Then, that was an opportunity to meet up in town with the whole remnant of our community.

A Jewish committee functioned in Kutno, chaired by Dr. Finkelstein. He often went to Lower Silesia to visit the countrymen. In general, there was a large colony of Kutno Jews in Lower Silesia. In Wrocław were: Yidel Praszker, Nathan Moszkowicz, Moshe Moszkowicz, Herszel Zandberg, Nahum Fuks, Abraham Manczik, Felek Klapper, Fiszel Friedman, Mendel Zhurawski with his wife Kolaszinska, Nahum Kenig, Alman-Korzeneg, Walter and others. Among those, the majority emigrated to the Jewish state.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Polish for “round-up”. Return
  2. probably the time when alcohol beverages are not served anymore. Return


A Terrible Day
(Shmini Atzeret 1939)

by Natan KLAR, Tel Aviv

Today an order was issued that the Jews could apply to the magistrate for unpaid work, and I went there too. On the way, I was stopped by several Gestapo officers, armed from head to toe.

I explained to the Germans that I had to report to the magistrate for the job. They said that they take me also to work — and that they will issue a confirmation on this. On the way, the Gestapo detained more Jews, among those arrested:

Podemski, Sender-Leib, Wopcze Kozak. Mosze Mordechai Bibergal, Yechiel-Meir Frankel's brother-in-law, who lived with Joel Steinfeld's neighbors, Bajle, the wigmaker's grandson, Hirszberg, who was a 14-year-old boy,

 


Deportation to the ghetto

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and other Jews, whose name I no longer remember. Together we were with about twenty men.

We were taken to a German van. When we got there, the real hell began for us.

Up to ten armed Hitlerites were already on the scene, already waiting for us.

The eldest of them gave us a whole sermon, that we Jews are guilty of everything, we killed the German officers who were buried in the cemetery… Torture could not be avoided.

The Jews with beards endured terrible suffering. The elder Gestapo man walked among us with a knife and cut off the beard, together with the flesh… Then they demanded that they eat the beard, under threat of a revolver.

After that, an order came to undress half-naked, and we were given murderous blows until we bled. Anyone who did not show up quickly was stripped of his clothes.

The fourteen-year-old boy Hirszberg was ordered to remove his coat by the bandits. He had to pick up large stones, lay them on the coat, tie the corners together and lift them up on his shoulders. When the garment tore to pieces due to the heavy load and he did not manage to lift the stones, he was fatally beaten with an iron rod, until he fell and lost consciousness.

Then the elder of the Hitlerite barbarians ordered the boy to be thrown into the pit, from which the German officers had been exhumed.

Some Jews risked their lives, dragged the boy out of the pit, revived him – until he regained consciousness.

Our task was to excavate the German officers who fell during the great battles behind Kutno in September 1939.

I have just told how we were tortured in the presence of civilian Germans - residents of our city, headed by Keiler Wagner who is familiar to every inhabitant of our city; he lived on the highway, not far from hospital.

The elder of the Gestapo warned us that we Jews wanted this. War, we have. Guilty in everything and everyone. Therefore, he gives us half an hour, if we refuse a confession and then we will be shot. He ended his threats in this way:

— You dirty Jews need to take the place of our German comrades in the graves, understand!
One of ours, Podemski, suddenly responded:
— Not all…
For his “Not all”, the Jew got a terrible blow. Then, Keiler Wagner came out and declared that all Jews understood well what was being said to them in German. Besides, he translated it to us into Polish.

We, the detained Jews, worked to exhume the shot German officers until six in the evening. It was curfew time, when people were not allowed to show up on the street.

At that moment, a German officer, an elderly, big man, came riding a horse and asked why we were so beaten to blood.

The elder Gestapo officer replied that the Jews, the pigs, did not want to work.

The incoming officer said:

— I do not believe that the Jews, under the guard of your arms, should refuse to work, this is not possible…
Finally, he asked, how long have the Jews been here to work?
— After an hour, the Gestapo man responded.
The officer issued an injunction:
— After completing the work, they will immediately go home.
And he departed.

It did not take more than five minutes and the senior officer returned and ordered us to form a column of two. Then he took us alone, each to his own home, ordering us to present ourselves tomorrow for work.

None of us showed up for work anymore…


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Six Days in Łęczyca Camp

by Yosef Goldberg, Montreal

In the summer of 1939, I worked in the Łąck forest not far from Gostynin. A magnificent building was built there – a sanatorium for Polish emeritus government officials. At that time, the war broke out. The Germans were still far across the border, that we continued to finish the building. Only the German planes got us out of work…

On the way home to Kutno, I stopped at Gostynin. Here the population did not feel the war at all, because the Gostynin district had large percentage of citizens of German and Polish ethnicity.

Meanwhile, Kutno had been burned. In bright flames, the imaginary plant stood like a torch, whose light reached as far as Gostynin, 21 kilometers from Kutno.

The next morning, I met the German army in Kutno. The fear was great, although the Germans had begun trade, even with Jews. With the Poles, they had no common language. Everything went smoothly, until one day, two weeks after the Germans occupied Kutno, there was an obławe[1] of all the men in town. Those who were captured were taken to the church on the old market. The church in Kutno was large enough to accommodate several thousand people. I, too, was thrown into it. Inside, I stayed at the door because there were already a lot of people. Squeezed like herring into a barrel. The general mood was that it was the end. Anyway, one bomb would be enough to finish with us…

Around 1 o'clock in the morning, the door opened. People rushed to the exit. As I found myself at the door, I was also pushed out. Outside, a number of trucks stood ready. No more than 21 men were allowed in each.

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Some armed soldiers were watching, to prevent escape. Nobody recognized where we were being led. I myself, a native of Kutno, knowing well all ways, was surprised not to recognize any. They led us by dirt roads.

The cars were left standing in front of a larger building. Each room accommodated up to 60 people. The soldier with the candle in his hand (because there was no electric lighting), ordered an absolute quiet until the morning. In the corridor, we heard the commotion and laughter of the German soldiers.

The door finally opened in the morning. With shouts, we were chased out into the large building, where in a corner was found a place for human needs. Everyone hurried to the place. Arriving there, we were immediately chased back. This was a sign of horrible sadism.

…I belonged to the first 60 men. Painters immediately appeared with small brushes and white paint and took numbers on the chest and back of the detainee. My number was 5 in the first company.

And again, we witnessed a horrible event: a man, not a Jew at all, did not unbutton his coat for the painter so quickly. It was enough for the man to be shot, for not opening his coat quickly. Standing on the big square, I first saw how many hundreds of people were marked with the numbers. On the building I see an inscription: “Classical Public-School 7” by the name of J. Piłsudski in Łeczyca. Then, I understood where I was.

No one spoke about feeding us. Nobody cared about that. In the morning, coming home from work, everyone received three small potatoes in a bowl, which were immediately swallowed. The hunger was great.

On the third day, I remember, coming back from work, everyone got a big salted herring, again the same thing: no one managed to leave a piece of the herring for later, or for tomorrow. This caused an extraordinary thirst, but it was forbidden to take water. Water was guarded. Again, the sadists used their knowledge.

On the fifth day, we surrounded a fence with barbed wire. I stood on the fence with a hammer and nailed the wire. The hammer fell out of my hand and hit the standing nearby SS-man. A little blood appeared on his forehead. I remained frozen with the hammer handle in my hand. A cry of the German. I remained standing in front of him, tense. He took out his revolver and shouted “Run!” … I ran – he did not shoot. I do not remember when I stopped running. I just remember how my company congratulated me and added that I would surely survive the war.

We were not taken to work on the sixth day. For a whole day we stood ready for every call, in the main square of the synagogue. We learned that we were being sent back to Kutno. Suddenly, at the entrance of the square, I recognized my wife Paula. I come to her and she gives me a package… a loaf of bread and an over-garment. She and two other Jewish women learned that their husbands were in Łęczyca. I tell my wife that we will probably be taken back home. She decides to go with me. From the civilian point of view, we are still treated badly. On the road, there was a lot of Germans. Nobody annoyed us. My wife was by my side and on the other side was my cousin, Yoel Goldberg. My wife was wearing a hat I gave her, so that no one would notice that there was a woman among so many men.

 


Postcard from Kutno to Mexico – 1940

 

On the way to the town near Łęczyca barrier, we were shot at. No one died, but blood was shed. Soon the lamps made the scene clear, we were ordered to walk in a row, with our hands up. They led us to the German commandant's office in “Holcman's Palace.” At the entrance to the courtyard, my wife was recognized. The guards arrested her. Everyone's pockets were searched, to take whatever they wanted, without holding back the blows. I heard my name called. The German asked who was the woman. I could not tell anything but the truth. This also confirmed what my wife said. They threw my wife and I with our hands up – back to the site. Meanwhile, Jews' beards were cut there – up to their flesh. What happened to my wife – I do not know.

After a day's work in the barracks of the 7th Infantry Regiment in the morning, I was let go, on the condition that I enlist myself in the morning. At home I met my wife.

My experiences of the few days have sounded unnatural. Not all have believed. My opinion was that no one would be able to live with the murderers. The only one who agreed with me was my wife Paula. We were looking for ways to escape from the Germans…

Translator's footnote

  1. Polish for “round-up.” Return


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The Escape Before Death

by Arieh WEISBROT, Haifa

When I was a child, I studied in a “cheder”, in my small town of Kutno, which was behind the bathhouse next to the poultry slaughterhouse. Many were my teachers: Moshe-Mordechai z”l, Yehuda Noah Zandberg z”l, Yechiel Wengrover and others. I especially remember Mr. Yehuda Zandberg, who managed to vividly and plastically illustrate the stories of the Bible, until life stood before us, as if we ourselves were partners in the events of the narrators. I lived the exodus of Israel from Egypt as if I myself were coming out of a house of slavery, crossing the Red Sea and migrating to the land of destination.

But I understood the exodus from Egypt as daydreaming or dream and I could not imagine that only a few years would pass and hold the forerunners of another exodus — not to the land of freedom and redemption, but to exodus — deportation and expulsion from home, where my parents and I lived — .to the land of annihilation, torture and destruction.

When the Nazi authorities in Kutno issued an order that the Jews had to leave their homes and concentrate on the ghetto they had set up in the sugar factory on the way to Krośniewice, the whole city became one big madhouse. Despair, loss of advice, madness and hopelessness gripped everything. People — parents of children who only yesterday were omnipotent in the eyes of their children — ran through the streets without knowing what to do, how to handle the new reality. Everyone wanted to get a cart to transport the few movables to the new deportation site, everyone wanted to be the first in the ghetto, assigned to the Jews of Kutno. Arriving at the place we caught a large warehouse, which had no partitions and no windows and doors. The children were amused by the new situation. They ran around all the rooms, climbed on the roofs and went down to the basements. But the parents understood the situation very well, though they too could not imagine the horrors that awaited them in this place. From the very first moment the problems arose: where to cook? How will they get water? Food? And the main thing — where will all the Jews who were deported settle into the ruins of this factory, which is already, in the first hour full and crowded with Jews.

Indeed, the situation became more and more unbearable day by day. People lay in every corner of every building and in the open air. Wherever they went they took with them their meager possessions, which were packed in sacks or bundles. They also believed that one day they would return to their homes and that they should keep some of the property — the fruit of a working life.

At first the entrance and exit to and from the ghetto was free, we could still trade with the Christians, we went out to work — who to the train station, to a cigarette factory, to clean the city or any other job that came up. In the evening we returned to our “place of residence”. Krok and Weisbrot cafes, a bakery, shops, a hospital, a bathhouse, a water-pump, a toilet, and a general restaurant for the neediest were also established in the ghetto. But needy, we were all — and so we stood in line from morning until noon, in order to get some thin soup, which reminded me of Mother's laundry water. But seeing also the manager or the principal Klaper in line for a colorful soup, with a kettle made of crystal in their hands and waiting for their dish, we completely forgot about the taste and color of this soup.

However, these seemingly “comfortable” conditions did not last long. With the advent of winter, life in the ghetto became a hell multiplied by seven. Indescribable

 


The deportation to the ghetto

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troubles, suffering and anguish began to haunt us, one after another. First the ghetto is closed — there is no going out and no coming in.

There was a growing hunger in the ghetto. People fell in the street from exhaustion, because not even a slice of dry bread came to their mouths for many days. The queue for the public kitchen grew day by day and he could not answer and provide a soup plate to anyone who demanded it. And to the hunger for bread were added the many diseases due to the rains and snows, for many slept in the open air during the summer months, but with the coming of winter the weather destroyed them. People had pneumonia and typhus. Many died, and only before them did the gates of the ghetto open. To the rest of its inhabitants it remains closed by lock and key. Trade with the Christians also ceased, both because the gates of the ghetto were locked and because the Christians no longer had anything to trade.

It is easy to imagine that against this background quarrels, conflicts and fights arose. Shouts, cries and blows were not uncommon in these conditions.

It should be noted, however, that not everyone has been severely harmed in this way. There were also among the ghetto residents, who lived in slightly better conditions. Krok and Weisbrot's cafes were still open and people visited them and ate there to satiety and drank various drinks and thought that evil would not get them.

My father, who worked in the village of Sójki[1], as a shoemaker, would send me some food supplies by the milkman who provided milk to Stuczynski, but as the situation worsened and the milkman stopped visiting the ghetto. Mom was at a loss, she had nothing to feed us. My sister Rywka became ill with typhus and my brother Kalman who was seven years old asked my mother for a slice of bread and she could only give us the tears that kept flowing from her eyes. But her tears also dried up, only her sighs increased, but they did not shake the sky. Is there greater sorrow than the sorrow of a mother when she sees her children asking for bread and is helpless!?

I, the eldest son, decided to go out to Dad to the village and see what had happened to him. My mother, brother and sister z”l accompanied me to the western fence where the ghetto sewer went through and I went out to the other side. From the outside, armed Germans guarded the weapons and would shoot without warning anyone who tried to escape from the ghetto. Indeed, as I was only a few meters away from the ghetto fence, the Germans began firing at me constantly. I still managed to get to the main road. Here, they started chasing the little “squatters” demanding money from me and throwing stones at me. I still managed to avoid them and reached the road that leads to the Jewish cemetery. Here I rested a little and made my way towards the village of Sójki. The Germans who ran everywhere, they walked the streets and roads and no one stood in their way. When I came across one of them, I pretended not to see him. Full of terror and fear I finally reached Dad. Seeing me he burst into tears of joy, for I stand before him alive and whole. He knew very well what a dangerous road I had to go through. I told him all the stories about us, the mother and his children, about our sufferings and troubles. But Dad's portion was no better than ours. He, too, lived all the time for fear of the Germans. They would often visit the village and did not know what his fate would be in an hour. He spent his nights in the stable and there I also slept with him at night. The next day, my father told me not to return to the ghetto.

Thus, the decision was made and I did not return, to my good and dear and faithful mother, to my sister Rywka and my brother Kalman, and to the rest of the family and friends I grew up with.

I decided to go to the village of Kłodawa, for my family. On my way, I was forced to go through Kutno. The city was full of Germans, here was a German riding a bicycle and a Jew ran in front of him and I did not understand the meaning of this and I again pretended I did not see them. I arrived at our synagogue. Christian children were playing around, among them I knew the sons of the German Hoffman. Unfortunately, they also knew me and started chasing me with knives. Suddenly, I saw Christian boys who had recently been our neighbors before the ghetto was established. They saved me from the murderous Benny Hoffman, to whom my former neighbors had promised many other Jewish boys in my place. This way, I escaped the hands of the little killers.

I was “free” to continue on my way. I passed through the Jewish streets, which were so familiar to me, where I grew up, rejoiced and cried. Now death-silence all around. Everything was bleeding, everything was frozen and dying. As if ghosts had taken over our streets and neighborhoods. Where has the rich life, full of action, initiative and vigor gone?! Where did the Jews disappear for their trade, their craft and their bargaining and addiction? The angel of death in the form of the German-Nazi celebrated his full victory, which even the most horrible antisemite had never dreamed of. The houses, the shops, the workshops — everything is destroyed, destroyed and their Jewish owners are no more — a cemetery, death and destruction all around. I could no longer bear the sight around me. I escaped from here as if haunted by the invisible angel of death. I went out, as mentioned, towards the village of Kłodawa, for my family.

Near Stanyuwka St., which bordered the ghetto, Jews were standing by the fence, they looked at me but did not speak, so as not to draw the Germans' attention to me. Here my conscience began to torment me again, for I had left my dearest mother, sister and brother and fled and left them in their suffering and troubles. I can never forgive myself for this act!

When I arrived in the village of Kłodawa it was Saturday night. Here in the village of life, things were still going well, the Jews went to the synagogue wearing Shabbat clothes. At home, Shabbat candles were lit on the tables and Jewish families ate their Shabbat meal, as if the world of yesterday still existed. They did not know the exploits of the Germans and did not even imagine the magnitude of the atrocities they were also preparing for the Jews of the village of Kłodawa. But I wept bitterly and told them about the horrible reality, about the murders, the hunger and the fear in which the Jews of Kutno live, who are only a few kilometers away from them. For a little while I took them out of their still peaceful world, because they did not know what was expected of them.

I learned that, the day after I escaped from the ghetto, several Jews had been shot dead, among them the youngest son of the shoemaker Buksztajn and the son of the old Arcbajn (Altkrajner), and the troubles did not stop here either. As a foreigner in Kłodawa I had to go to work on behalf of the community in the place of one of the family members with whom I stayed and in return I received alimony and accommodation. However, even this situation did not last long. One night in 1941, the German police woke me up and took me to a labor camp until I reached Buchenwald, where I was released. In the morning I was transferred with other young people to his Koło and from there to the Nowe Miasto labor camp near Poznań. I then began to migrate from a labor camp to a labor camp until I reached the Buchenwald camp, where I was released. In this camp I met many people from Kutno. There is no need to say much about the Buchenwald camp, because the taste of labor camps felt great to many of us.

Translator's footnote

  1. some five km north of Kutno. Return


[Page 362]

Five Years of Life in Hell

by Lozer JAKUBOWICZ, USA

As soon as the Germans entered Kutno, in September 1939, they began to drive the Jewish population to work, accompanied by beatings, insults, laughs at the victims and also – the murders. The killers loved the “łapanki[1], which caught innocent people unexpectedly from the streets and businesses, in order to imprison them and then rush them to katorga[2]-labor.

Once, they captured several dozens of Jews and locked them up in a… church. We stayed there all night, not knowing what they were going to do with us. At around 8 in the morning, cars arrived at the church, on which the detained Jews were beaten up and taken to Łęczyca. Here, the murderous blows were again inflicted and we were returned to Kutno.

In July 1940, on a Sunday, they set out to deport all Kutner Jews to the ghetto. The allotted time – several hours. Although the surrounding peasants needed to provide wagons to transport the Jews with their belongings to Konstancja, there was not enough wagons. Most were living far away and carried packs and bundles on their shoulders or with their hands. I did have a cart, but without a horse. I was expecting a horse until the last minute, but a German did not let me sit on the cart. I had to walk on foot to Konstancja.

Upon arrival, there was no room left in the half-ruined building of a former sugar factory, which had not been active for 30 years. With difficulty one could find a corner behind the very roof of the enclosure. When the days were warm, farmers would come to the ghetto and sell produce. With the onset of autumn, mud and winter cold, trade with the village virtually ceased.

The ghetto inhabitants were dragged to different hard-labors every day – and when this was not the case, all those who left the ghetto should return by nightfall to Konstancja. We were guarded by ethnic Germans[3]. If anyone approached the ghetto fence, they fired without warning. With the arrival of winter, as doctors and medicines were not available, diseases in the ghetto also increased. The isolation of the ghetto became even stricter, famine and various diseases caused many deaths. Only one barber-surgeon, Aspirsztajn, was available to help the unfortunate population.

The Germans often photographed and filmed life in the ghetto or when we were unloaded from carriages to the wreckage of the former sugar factory. We have all felt the rope tightening around our necks. The decrees and persecutions intensified. Poverty and hunger prevailed in virtually every ghetto home.

 

My flight to Żychlin

I did not want to stay in the ghetto. On a cold, dark night, I managed to bribe a German guard and on foot, I left for Żychlin, where my wife's family was. Arriving in the ghetto, the Jews felt that they wanted to buy or sell something to them. They did not recognize me: I was so frozen. It was not until I was told who I was that I was introduced to my sister-in-law. Together, we decided to bring my wife and child from the Kutner ghetto.

In the morning, a member of the Żychliner Judenrat rode in a carriage to Kutno. He handed over to my wife our request that she try to come to Żychlin, and she managed to get a German officer, who was a “fixer” in the ghetto, to allow her to move to the Żychlin ghetto. We were together in the town for two months and it turned out that this might be how we would survive the war.

One day, the Germans ordered an obławę[4] in the ghetto to get manpower for work. I was also a member of the group requisitioned to Camp Rabe. We had to build a freeway.

 

From Camp to Camp

My first camp elder was named Hart. A murderous sadist, who used to tie to a pole an arrested man that he didn't like and keep him without food and drink all day long. The punished had to let go his physiological needs under him. When the man was untied, he was usually half-dead.

In this camp, people had to walk six kilometers to work every day, and the same distance back after work. On the other hand, in the second camp where we were transferred, Fallenfeld, we traveled around the highway with a local train. There we have all endured the brutal fist and the sadistic tendencies of an SS bafir[5]. He used to beat with the paw mercilessly — and when it became hot, he cooled it in a bucket of cold water, in order to deliver more blows.

In the third camp, Deutscheyer, there was also such a bafir, nicknamed “Tygrys[6]. His real name was Metke. When he started hitting someone — and this happened to him very often — none came out alive of his hands.

After the construction of the freeway was stopped, we were taken to a fourth camp, where French prisoners of war were found. Here we were engaged in field work, chopping down trees in the forests and then cutting them down. We were later transferred to the Wiesengrund[7] quarantine camp, where we were no longer working. From there, the road led to Auschwitz.

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In Auschwitz

In closed wagons, like beasts, we were carried to Auschwitz. As soon as we were pulled out of the wagons, everyone was lined up. At that time, I did not know that this is how they send part of the transport directly to the gas chambers. For the moment, I stayed in the camp, for hard-labor and pain. At a long table, someone tattooed a number on my hand: 141154.

In the evening, some SS-men showed up and for no reason, they started beating us until we bled. This lasted a few days, until we were transferred to a new place, near a coal mine. Here we built the barracks and other facilities for the camp. When everything was finished, I continued to work with twenty other people on the ground, but it was much worse than underground, in the mine itself. We were led by a Kapo who surpassed the SS for murders. He ordered you to bend over and hit the buttocks with a cane. My buttocks were black and blue from the blows, I could not walk or sit. When he rested, all was broken and stung. After spending a few weeks in the coal mine, I could not walk, I had to go on all fours. Of the twenty in my group many had disappeared, by the time. They had been murdered.

One day I was thrown on a trolley and taken to the camp because I could not walk. I was sure that now my end was coming. In the morning, I could not get up to work. I barely dragged himself to the roll-call. At that time, a number of people were selected in the crematorium. I asked to come along with them. They sent me to the hospital, from where I did not return. There the service was of only by Jews. My neighbor was a Jew from Kutno, Berel Balzamowicz. We were very happy and told each other our experiences until our arrival here.

When I felt a little better, I asked to go back to camp, because we knew that from the hospital, people were taken straight to the gas chamber. This time they obliged me. I dragged heavy stones and began losing my anyway weak strength. When they stood us up for the roll-call and started ordering “right” or “left”, I was sure that this time my fate was sealed. The selection ended with choosing 293 inmates and me among them. We were crowded into an attic, where we laid for 44 hours without a drop of water, without food. Then, again a selection. 70 people unable to work were sent to their perdition. I and the rest of the group were transferred to “Buno”[8].

 

The Front is Approaching

In the “Buno” camp, a branch of the huge death camp at Auschwitz, we worked under the most difficult conditions. One day we were ordered to collect a few things, and we started marching. Of course, we were not told where we were going, but there was a feeling that the camp was now being evacuated due to the proximity of the front.

There could be no more fitting designation for such evacuation as “death march.” The miserable camp inmates, living skeletons, exhausted and tormented were driven on foot, on cold frosty days and nights, while their attire was not enough even fit for a cool summer night. Everybody who got off the transport or showed weakness was shot mercilessly.

The murderers didn't refrain from hitting with their rifle-butts, the nahajkas[9] and the long whips. The whole way to Buchenwald was covered with shot and fallen participants of that terrible march.

We did not stay Buchenwald for a long time. They again selected about 400 men and drove us into closed wagons. On the way, American planes were attacking and the train was bombed and even shot from machine guns. Of course, they thought that it was an army transport. The guard ran and some of the locked-up people managed to break open the door — only then did the pilots see that it was camp inmates. But it was already too late. About 200 of us died in the bombing.

As soon as the planes left, the guard drove us into the wagons — another locomotive had to tow them away because ours had been destroyed — and we were taken to another camp. I think “Gurhartz”. We had to remove stones from a huge tunnel on wagons. An underground airplane factory was inside the tunnel. From all my experiences in the camps, I have learned that one is worse than another. The same was true of the present camp. While the military was cooking potatoes there, our food consisted only of the peelings. People slept on the ground, covered with a little sparse straw. But it was full of lice and fleas. In the thousands, if not millions, they swarmed our bodies. More than once I have asked myself: how is it possible for a person to endure all this?

On Sunday, we had a half-day rest. The “rest” consisted in gathering all the dead bodies and burying them in a large tomb.

 

The Liberation

We were however feeling the death throes of Hitlerism, which was receiving heavy blows on all sides. We were evacuated again. The death-marches continued. The Nazi animals were still as sadistic for the unfortunate camp inmates, even though their defeat was already obvious. People drove us without food and drink. I fainted. Luckily, I was in the middle of the column, not from below, because there the guard would soon shoot me. An order came: “Halt!” – and some colleagues lifted me up. Now people rested a little – and that saved me. I started to lick snow and somewhat refresh myself.

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Not far from Wittenberg on the river Elbe, I weakened again in the march. One Jew from Warsaw supported me and carried me a little time. None of the guards noticed my weakness. As we approached the city, we hear a cannonade. One officer orders the healthy to go out and comfort the weak, that there will be soon a forest where they may lay down to rest. He knew that the Red Army had to show up at any moment and that is why he became so good. The Warsaw Jew and I could not go further and laid down in the nearby ditch, completely resigned and desperate. A soldier approached us with a rifle and ordered us to stand up. I still do not know where I found the strength to get up. As a fact, we were entering city. The soldiers had disappeared. A German woman gave us both two bundles of red radishes. For us it was like manna from heaven. Then, a German baker gave us a bite to eat. It turns out that he was denounced for hiding escaped camp inmates, because the police arrived and detained us. Suddenly, bombs and artillery rounds began to fall, the policemen fled and we spent the night near the oven, in the bakery. At dawn, the Red Army entered the city.

This happened on April 21, 1945.

I was in the German city for four weeks, until I regained my strength and was able to enter Poland. I thought I would find a living member of my big family in Kutno. Unfortunately, all perished. I stayed with Opoczynski for about six months, then we left for Germany and in 1949, I emigrated to the United States, where I remain to this day.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Polish, “roundups”. Return
  2. Polish, concentration camp, hard-labor punishment, similar to USSR gulag. Return
  3. people of German ancestry, whose families had settled in Poland. Return
  4. Polish, raid. Return
  5. probably an abbreviation for German “Block-fürher” (“Block Leader”), a task usually given to a SS corporal. Return
  6. Polish, “Tiger”. Return
  7. between Berlin and Dresden, near the present Polish border. Return
  8. Monowitz-Buna concentration camp, 2km east of Oświêcim (Auschwitz). Return
  9. Polish, braided whip with a short handle. Return


[Page 364]

In Ghettos and in Camps

by Abraham LIFSHITZ, Ohio, USA

I consider it my duty to share my bitter memories in our book of remembrance. These are my personal experiences in the dark years of the German occupation. I will start from the year 1940, because this year is deeply etched in the memory of the Kutner survivors. This was the beginning of the Kutno Holocaust…

The rapid evacuation of any constituency began with a shooting by the Germans, in order to intimidate the crowd and lead them to a state of panic, disorientation and nervousness. Arriving in the small area of the former sugar factory, the Jews of Kutner suddenly saw their tragic distress and loneliness. They packed for a long time – and could hardly bring what everyone could carry on their own. Living conditions were appalling, with only a small percentage able to get a stone–covered roof over their heads.

The ghetto was not just lacking apartments. There was also no work, no medical help, no food to spare. And in winter, the cold, the cold and the snow made the bitter life even more bitter. One could only dream of wood and coal to heat the apartments.

The illnesses in most cases ended in death. Every day people died in the streets. In the ghetto, people could hear conversations about who died today, who was ill. The healthy have felt that the day is not far off, when they too will lose their strength.

Under such conditions, I decided to escape from Konstancja. Together with some acquaintances (among them – the shoemaker Mosze Buksztajn) we took advantage of the moment when the week changed, and fled through a crowded canal on the other side of the ghetto fence. I got out first. Suddenly I heard some shots. I did not look back, but I did not see any of those who had escaped with me. I later learned that they had all been captured and shot.

Now my journey began – from village to village, over forests and fields, through side roads and paths, where there was always a mortal danger to the persecuted Jew. Obviously, I managed to reach no lentils.

Here I met Kutno Jews: Mordechai Buksztajn, Fudalowicz, the Grziwach family. They welcomed me warmly, provided me with an apartment, with work. This has been a great help and encouragement to me. From my earnings I was also able to help my family in the Kutno ghetto.

My joy did not last long. Within a few weeks, I fell ill with typhus. Fearing they would become infected, I forbade my friends to take care of me. I went to the hospital, stayed in a few months and I was out in good health. The Germans wanted to send me back to Kutno. I fled to Grab&oactute;w, from where the Jews were deported to forced labor in the camps of Poznań. Together with the Grab&oactute;w Jews and refugees, I was sent to a concentration camp in Poznań. I tried from there contacting in writing with Kutno ghetto, but got no response. I later learned about the liquidation of Konstancja and its inhabitants.

I spent a year in the Poznań camp. I worked, I was hungry, I did not have the freedom – but there were no gas chambers, I have not been shot,

[Page 365]

or have been especially tortured. This too did not last long. We were sent to Auschwitz. This is where the true hell began.

Crowded in barracks, hungry, bewildered and tormented, it was known that in Birkenau–Auschwitz, the crematorium awaited us. On a certain day, during the appeal, I was taken out of the ranks with a large group of detainees, loaded into wagons, and taken away. We arrived in the shady, burnt and desolate Warsaw ghetto, in order to put that neighborhood in order, clean up the dead, and try to erase the traces of the uprising and destruction of the Jewish Warsaw. Those days in the Warsaw ghetto will forever remain in my memory. We needed to pull out the gassed and burnt bodies of men, women and children from bunkers.

Here too, I came out after a year time. We were interned in a camp on Gęsia Street. As we approached the capital of Poland from the front, we began to evacuate to Dachau, in deep Germany. The whole, very long way, had to be traversed on foot. And the German killers have already made sure that we do not get any food or any water on the way…

The death march has begun. We arrived in Łowicz, crossed the Bzura river and thought that here one would at least be able to wet the lips with dirty river water. Our guards, however, placed machine guns on both banks, and whoever bowed to the water to give a drink – paid with his life. More than once, the Bzura river has been stained with red bloodshed. Hundreds were killed in the floodwaters.

We continue to drag our feet, we walked without any lights. Here, people were allowed to drink unlimited. Three days and a half were held in Łęczyca. The next bloody mess led to my hometown of Kutno. I march across the main: streets. See also Konstancja … No trace of a Jew, where only a few years ago around eight thousand brothers of the Israelites thought they were going to overthrow Hitler. The Jewish Kutno was one large cemetery. I got used to it at the time – until we were pushed into trucks to get to Dachau.

The journey was no less a hell than the oncoming march. Dirty and dirty, with crumbling clothes, from which they smelled very bad, without food – we arrived in Dachau a few days before. But the whole road was littered with our victims, camp Jews, who could not stand the horrible conditions and died en masse in the wagons. We didn't stay in Dachau for a long time, only a few days. We were transferred to a small camp in Mildorf. Compared to Auschwitz, this was a pension for us. Here, too, I managed to stay for about a year, until the liberation by the Americans.

After my release, I met some of the surviving Kutno Jews in Germany. In 1945, however, we held a memorial service to commemorate the murdered Jews in our city…


My Experience in the Camps

by Berel BALZAMOWICZ, Montreal, Canada

… The Jewish population in Kutno was given only a few hours to leave the former villages and be relocated to the ghetto Konstancja – the half–destroyed sugar factory with some old buildings, where so many Jews needed to be housed. From that day on, my life of pain and wanderings began, like the life of an entire community of Jews from my hometown.

The small area of the ghetto soon created serious problems of order and hygiene. Every nook and cranny was occupied, but hundreds were left outside, under the open sky.

The ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire and was strictly guarded by police. No one was allowed to leave the fenced area. Due to the difficult sanitary conditions, diseases and epidemics broke out in the ghetto and the constant famine increased demoralization.

However, even in those dark days, people did not completely let go. In particular, the youths have done everything possible to renew a certain cultural activity. In the evenings, songs were sung, mainly of their own composition, that portrayed the sad day and promised a better tomorrow. Much has been done to counteract the prevailing mood. The Kirszbaum brothers did much to change the situation.

To this day, it is difficult for me to understand how I left the ghetto. I only remember that an old man, who looked like a beggar, once gave me the address of a Ukrainian family, Chuszko, in the village of Gnojno, 3 km from Konstancja. I took advantage of a moment when the policeman at the ghetto gate met a girl – and I was already on the other side.

The Chuszko family treated me very well. In the course of six weeks, I sewed them clothes. True, they did not pay me – and I would not take any money, even when they suggested it. I was assured of a home, a good bed, food to satiety and a humane

[Page 366]

treatment. Compared to the ghetto I left, the refuge looked to me like paradise. Unfortunately, the case had to end there. The frequent controls and searches for Jews terrorized the Chuczkos – and I had to get away from them.

I arrived in the town of Kłodawa, where my uncle W. Balzamovicz lived, my father's brother. The night before, I had met in Krośniewice with the Milosierny family. There was still no ghetto in Kłodawa, Jews could move freely throughout the city, only had to wear yellow badges. It did not take long again – and during a commotion in the town, I was caught and taken by a large transport to the town of Koło. After a medical examination, we were sent to Buchwälder–Fors[?], near Nowy–Tomyśl, in Germany. Before I arrived, I still heard the last news of the Kutno ghetto: the Jews are starving, filthy, and sick. And this image accompanied me all the way during my journey to Wiesenburg, as a captured slave laborer.

Our work was based on the motorways in and around Wiesenburg. Although it was a horrible, the relatively good food and the not–so–bad treatment of civilian Germans, our overseers, created the illusion that if things went on like this, they would survive the war… When the freeway was completed, we were sent to Kostrzyn, where we met thousands of prisoners from other nations as well. The food there was very bad and someday, the Jews were selected and sent to Auschwitz.

Arriving in hell, we realized that until now we had been privileged prisoners, contrary to what we had seen and tried to hear about the atrocities in Auschwitz. Instead of civilian Germans SS murderers with sadistic and brutal tendencies, our private clothes were replaced by the camp uniform; a number was placed on each arm. Our names have been changed to numbers.

In Auschwitz, I met with Kutno compatriots: Ajzyk Rosenblum, Dawicki, and Zerach Kirszbaum. I do not know what happened to them.

In Auschwitz, in addition to the terror and the prospect of perishing in the gas chamber, there was also a constant famine. I was picked up and assigned to one of the tailor workshops. The work was not too difficult – only the joy did not last long. One day, during a selection, 300 men were selected and transferred to block 2, from where the road led directly to the crematorium. I was among the condemned and none of us believed that there would be any more among the living. That's when we were sent to a workshop a few days ago. We had a feeling, as if we came back from that world…

I had a similar case later, when I was sent to the hospital due to weakness, during a selection of the sick, I was the last in line. It seems that the murderers have already had a full “count” for the gas chamber – and several sick of the last row remained alive.

When the first bombs fell on Auschwitz and the Germans felt their defeat, we were taken to Buchenwald and from there to Rehmsdorf. The place was badly damaged by the Anglo–American aviation. Thousands of prisoners were ordered to continue their march on foot to Theresienstadt, where we awaited the day of the liberation. The SS men suddenly disappeared ––– and in their places appeared our liberators…


In Konstancja, Gabin, Plock, Strzegowo[1] [2]

by Lucia STUCZYŃSKA

During the German occupation, I was in Kutno, in the Jewish camp Konstancja, in Gabin, Plock and Strzegowo. The following description is based on personal experiences.

Hard times were experienced by Kutno Jews until the establishment of the camp Konstancja. But compared to what I experienced in Konstancja itself, it was nothing. We, as one of the few who have survived to this day, have been given the opportunity to fulfill the desire of the masses of Jews who wanted to survive, to be able to at least partially tell what they went through.

In the winter of 1939/40, the Jews lived with the constant fear of eviction. With a packed rucksack, they looked to the spring as a rescue, that a deportation in the spring would be easier to bear with the transporting and settling in a new place; and the mothers will at least partly avoid such tragedies as the mothers of Pomerania lived through, who had to throw the frozen bodies of their children from the open coal wagons, in which they were carried for a few days, without a drop of warm water, in those terrible frosts of the first war-winter. I saw myself

[Page 367]

such a thing on my own at the railway station in Kutno. One train policeman (“Bahnhof-SchuPo”), seeing a package, quickly unwrapped it and from it there fell out a dead child of a few weeks, with a note “Bella Moszkowicz, Bydgoszcz”. It seems that the shipment was from Bydgoszcz, and the wagons had stood the whole night at the station. The frost hammered and not one dared do anything to help the unfortunate…

In the spring, political change was also expected, with people believing in the rapid aid of England and America. Except for new troubles and disappointments, spring brought nothing with it. However, in the spring, three new hangmen became famous: a young Gestapo official, called “Black Genek”, who was a specialist in plundering and torturing young girls. He stripped them naked and beat them. The second was an SS man nicknamed “redhead”. He was an expert at beating men. He is especially remembered by me for a personal experience. Once, during a “lapanke[3] for work, he just wanted to get my father to work in his house, but he got an Elders' Council certificate as the sole butcher who ran his business, and so was exempted from forced labor. Without looking at the paper and clarifications, the “redhead” did not back off and struck my father, who at once struck him back and ran into the house. The “redhead” went after him and a fight broke out, which might have ended very tragically. I, hearing shouts, ran down below and into the midst, wanting to protect my father, because the “redhead” had taken out a dagger. At that moment my mother arrived. Hearing shouts, she ran into the house and with exceptional dexterity grabbed away the dagger and ran with it to the police. The “redhead” on the other hand went to the Gestapo and soon they came in two autos. They didn't take my father – he had managed to run away – but Mother, yes. She had just come back from the police, who had received her very kindly, taken away the dagger and said to her:

– Yes, we understand, but Jews have no right…

Then, the Gestapo detained my mother and beat her with an iron rod. With great efforts, I got her released, but she was in a terrible condition. She was bleeding, her back was black. This was still not enough for the “red head” bandit. With the help of a third famous bandit, Stumpfer Michael, stormtrooper and Gestapo chief for the Kutno district, he came to our apartment and confiscated the movable property. I opposed him when he tried to take the bedclothes from my still sick mother. I opposed this and angrily said everything I thought about the Germans, emphasizing that they were a nation of robbers and bandits. He let me say everything, just watching. After my speech, which contained much truth, he jumped at me… Everyone in the house was frozen in fear. The Jews, who had been carrying the furniture out, knowing of the German banditry, went discreetly out to the vestibule. They were sure he would kill me. I do not know what stopped him, he just gave me a slap in the face and shouted:

– This Jew is insolent…

I was lucky. When members of the Judenrat heard about the case, they were amazed that this typical “Jew-eater” did not kill me on the spot.

They were looking for my father, without success. He was well hidden and they got nothing out of us.

 


The PLOTKIN family in ghetto Konstancja

 

A few days later, the eviction began, the wealthy Jews were selected, placed in the “tytoniówka[4] and beaten, they were stripped naked and thoroughly revised, taking away the valuables. They were held there until they were released.

There were rumors about the establishment of a ghetto in Konstancja, but no one wanted to believe that in an old, abandoned factory and five residential houses, seven thousand people would be crammed. This simply did not sit well with understanding. Only the cruel mayor Schürmann, in the space of a few hours, convinced everyone of this horrible truth.

On Sunday, June 16, 1940, the Jews were ordered to leave their apartments and relocate. The pen of the most capable poet or writer would not have been able to describe that day. An unforgettable day. Desperate and destitute people were dragged along by SA, Gestapo, SchuPo and other bandits. A crowd of people, with none who did not get beaten. Roads with leftover Jewish possessions dragged through the streets; Cries

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of children; women wailing and helplessly wringing their hands; bags and various pack were carried on the shoulders; here – a pot, there – a broken chair, a bed or something else. And this incessant shouting of the German murderers. This all made a dizzying impression. He who has not seen it, is not able to imagine it, even with the richest imagination.

The worst, however, happened at the magistrate's office, where carts were distributed. People ignited the boards, stopped the horses, and cursed at each other – everyone wanted to be the first. It was understood that only those who arrived in Konstancja first would still have a piece of roof over their heads, and indeed so it was. Only those who fought with force, or the one who was really the first, got a place suitable for a beggar. The Judenrat had at its disposal two houses, one of which was designated as a hospital and offices, and the other was given to the members of the Council of Elders. The officials, as well as those who paid well, were also able to get in there. That is why the Bundists named the house “House of Lords”. The hallways, attics, and cellars were occupied by various people.

What a sad picture Konstancja presented on the first evening. The strongest were lamenting. 95 percent were without a roof over their heads. The hungry children were asleep on the packs, after the experiences of that tragic day, under the clear skies. Near them, mothers, in various poses, offered a prayer, groaned in pain, or looked helplessly at their husbands. The men, too, reacted in various ways – with muted or outspoken despair. Curses, or words “when the day of payment will come” were heard, some clenched their fists, others behaved like the women. In the eyes of some, a firm decision was seen --- and the squeezed mouth probably confirmed it. It turned out that the glances tell that we really suffer, but we must help ourselves, we must be able to live in these tragic conditions. The desire to survive had such power that the signs of other thoughts could be seen soon in the morning…

In Konstancja there was a commotion like a beehive. The more energetic realized that if there was a decree to live here, one should be relieved. Some began to set up tents, while others began to remove debris from the factory, wanting to make a bed. Because a bed in the ghetto was the most necessary piece of furniture. On the bed people slept, ate, sat, dressed. Under the bed were kept the dishes, things, food and other necessary objects. Some others chose brick, because bricks and clay could be used to make a house. It gave more courage to those who did not take the initiative.

Soon after the first day, some people who had died of a heart attack were taken out. The conditions of water and toilets were miserable. One well and three toilets for seven thousand inhabitants. After a cup of water, they went back in line, until the evening. Only a few days later, several open toilets for men and women were set up, free of charge.

In the ghetto a life was established. The trade began. You could get anything, provided you had money. And those who did not, had to come to the kitchen, which was organized by the Judenrat.

The illegal trade developed thanks to “łapówki[5], who took over the watch, which were called “Boleks”, through the mediation of the Jews, which were called “bramkarzes” (“gatekeepers”). From the crumbling pig-stalls, we organized candy shops[6]. People were going to work. There were those who had something to eat, but most of us still suffered from hunger due to the difficult conditions. Two or three times Konstancja received, from “Joint” help, condensed milk and poultry fat. The milk was given to the children and the fat was distributed to the kitchen. During a few weeks, life in the ghetto returned to normal.

The Jewish youth was divided into two groups. One was composed of Bundists and their adherents, mainly of the working-class circles; the second, from the previously studying and learning youth. They became interested in cultural entertainment. It is a strange thing that, despite the general reconciliation, the youth have formed two camps and the differences have been clearer to the eye, more than before the war. While in the organized club (“świetlica[7]) in the tunnel of the factory, we gathered to read books, recite, have conversations, discussions, etc., the Bundist youth on the hill in Konstancja, arranged a lively radio, criticized and pointed out the shortcomings of the Judenrat in song, recitation, jokes, stories and presented first-class anecdotes on the subject of life in the ghetto. Their performances were called concerts and were often attended by the Jews.

Everyone had to wear the “patch”. In addition to the members of the Council of Elders, the patch was carried by the Jewish police, the officials, the paramedics and even the cooks of the cheap kitchen. At the end of the summer, construction began on a school and an orphanage. We provided building materials and the “Bund” needed to build. From now on, the collaboration began.

The school was built, but was not used for its intended purpose. A terrible typhus epidemic broke out in the autumn months. The school building was taken over for the sick, because one hospital was not enough. The ghetto was closed, no one was allowed in or let out. The trade stalled. The German forces provided only bread. Meat and fats were illegally supplied to the ghetto by my mother, Eva Stuczyńska and the Pole Zenon Rzymowski. My mother was an “Aryan” living in the village. At night, after bribing the “SchuPo”, they delivered the goods through the barbed wire of the ghetto.

It got worse. The winter has been a disappointment for everyone. The epidemic made several victims every day. There was hunger, cold, overpopulation. All of

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the tents moved into the factory building, which was also crowded. In the blocks, without ceilings, three stories high, where the wind blew freely with snow, people were freezing. More and more often they heard: “That one has red behind the ears”, that is to say, that any day he will, from exhaustion, drag himself to the other world. Our youth has set up a hospital-kitchen so that the sick would not suffer any hunger. The girls showed a lot of energy, here. They collected money from Jews. Provisions were provided by my mother, because until I became ill, I headed the provisions department. Other girls cooked or washed. Beyond that we had tours of duty in the hospital. In the spring, the epidemic became even more violent for a variety of reasons. Everyone saw the death before their eyes.

It occurred that people lost their senses or otherwise attacked in insanity. I will never forget the picture I saw: a woman, walking dead, terribly injured, ran into the “House of Lords” and threw herself on the beds in some rich apartments, or grabbed people, shaking off lice on them and at the same time laughing, crying and groaning, wishing everyone what you expect – from dirt and hunger. At one point, she started to have convulsive seizures and, shaking in pain, stepped out, onto the steps of the “House of Lords.

Starvation in the streets, which carried away the sick and the beggars, was a common occurrence. The constant topics were: this one died, that one was sick.

In May 1941, someone denounced my uncle Leon Stuczyński and his accomplices, for delivering food to the ghetto, and they have all been captured and taken to the village. My mother managed to escape to Gabin. The detainees were sent to Włocławek and hanged there. The ghetto ceased to receive fats. From day to day, the situation became more tragic. In such conditions, it was impossible to live and in June 1941, fleeing this life, we escape to my mother's in Gabin. We were certainly the first to emerge from hell.

We lived in Gabin and thanks for working on the post, we sent parcels to the closest addresses – because sending was very hard. Later, that too ceased.

From Konstancja arrived more and more desperate news. In the winter of 1942, two weeks before the liquidation, we moved from Gabin to Strzegowo and settled there as “Aryans”: five children aged 4 to 16 and the mother. My father, due to his poor Polish accent, had to stay in the ghetto.

The liquidation in the Strzegowo ghetto began eight months later. I wanted to gain time. At the very beginning of our settlement in Strzegowo, my mother fell into the hands of the Gestapo, and she was locked up in the Płock prison for transferring Gabin and Gostynin's hidden Jews to Strzegowo and Mława. She had been denounced by Kazimierz Banasiak of Płock, a chauffeur who worked with the Gestapo. The investigation has begun. Three times I was in the Gestapo in Płock. I was also taken to the ghetto to see if some Jews would recognize me. Despite the torture, they did not get anything. In their eyes, we remained “Aryan”. I was released to take care of the children. I was 16 years old at the time and had the audacity to go to the Gestapo chief and get permission to see my mother in detention once a week, although no one from outside was allowed to enter in the detention center.

It was difficult to have a mother in prison, a father in the ghetto and play alone the role of an Aryan and support four small children, including one boy. I was successful. There were moments, however, when I started doubting that I would continue to succeed. This was a difficult role for a 16-year-old girl.

 


The sugar factory Konstancja

 

My mother was sent to Auschwitz. We have maintained only a letter contact. Upon my request for her release, I received an answer that I, an Aryan, would never be forgiven for helping Jews. They did not accept either to take me and set my mother free. I had contact with my father until the very last moment; I provided him with everything he needed. Protected him from deportations, twice I took him out of the car: one time, with a piece of cloth on my head and a patch on my back, I played the part of an underprivileged woman, because not far away stood the Germans, who knew me as an Aryan. So that I might not be recognized, I gave a bribe to the transport guard; a second time, when money did not help, I played for the captain the role of an angry German woman, whose husband was at the front line and here they were taking away from her a good worker. He was let out again. Later, those in the ghetto who knew me said that the greatest American hit-movie did not leave such an impression on them as this one. A “German” daughter liberating her father, a Jew…

In December, the Strzegowo ghetto was evacuated. My father did not want to save himself. He said he wanted to die immediately with everyone, rather than

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carrying a perpetual death-sentence on himself. I was amazed that in a letter from my mother, I received a greeting from my father. I did not believe it, thinking that my mother only wanted to comfort me. As it turned out, the transport from Strzegowo was taken straight to the crematorium. They only left a few men to work, among them my father. My parents used to meet in the toilets almost every day.

This life is strange. My father was deported to Germany and later returned. My mother managed to escape from a transport and, thanks to the Russians' quick occupation of the village where she was hidden, she escaped.

A few weeks after the exodus of the Strzegowo Jews, I got a job in the local magistrate as a translator and bureaucrat and worked until the arrival of the Russians. With the earnings, I sustained myself and the children…

Translator's footnotes

  1. Original note: Former member of the board of the Kutno Former Residents' Society in Israel. Died in Tel Aviv, in 1961. (Born 15/2/1926). She recounted her experiences before the Jewish Historical Commission in Warsaw (Act 016/8). Translated from the Polish. Return
  2. listed as “Tola Puterman-Stuczyńska” Return
  3. Polish, “round-up”. Return
  4. Polish, “tobacco factory”. Return
  5. Polish, “bribes”. Return
  6. in Polish in the original text, “cukiernia”. Return
  7. Polish, “common room”. Return

 

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