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[Page 370]

In Kutno Ghetto

by Pinchas OSOWSKI, Rishon LeZion

I was born in Kutno, in 1914, and lived at the Old Market No. 30. My father, Shalom, was a tailor and my mother, Ita-Rachel, took care of the housework and also helped with the income. We were seven children[1]. Yonah, David, Shije, Yosel and Chaim perished. My brother Eliezer, my sister Sara and I escaped from the German murderous hands. We all live in Israel.

 

1

When the war broke out on September 1, 1939, I was living and working independently in Kutno, at a carpentry shop. When the Germans entered the city, the community decided that I should work for the occupier. My job was to remove from Jewish homes the furniture that Germans had confiscated for themselves. I did the work under their supervision and I was paid by the community. Working in the apartments of Szlajfer, Żelichowski and other wealthy Jews, I saw that the Germans were not content with furniture, but also robbed Jews of their jewelry, valuables and money.

In the first days of the German occupation, life went on comparatively calmly, although outbreaks of German terror and cruelty were not lacking.

 


'Work office' for Kutner Jews

 

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But Jews still had an opportunity to work, to trade – although the fear of an uncertain morning did not cease to disturb everyone.

On a certain day in 1940, there were reports in the Polish and German languages that, in the course of tomorrow, the entire Jewish population, without exception, would have to leave the existing apartments, businesses, and the city in general, to relocate to the newly-established Jewish residence in the former half-destroyed sugar factory in Konstancja. You could take food with you for three days and different things.

This news struck like a thunderbolt the Jews who had risen early. They soon woke up the others and the sad news became known to everyone. There was no time to think. The German Land Office and the community had ordered numerous carts to carry all these bits of baggage and the people. But the whole shipment did not arrive. Thousands of unfortunate Jews looked as followers at a funeral, as they marched through the streets of Kutno in the direction of Konstancja, behind the carts that were loaded with things, while they themselves were laden with sacks and packs. This deportation needed to be completed by dusk. Hundreds of Jews had nowhere to put their bits of baggage on and had to drag them all the way to Konstancja.

 

2

The Judenrat immediately began its activities in the ghetto, occupying first a separate building, which later received the ironic nickname “House of Lords”, due to the privileged position of its inhabitants. Earlier in Konstancja, a group of wealthy Kutner Jews, whom the Germans had kept locked in the “tytoniówka[2] while they were plundering the well-furnished apartments for themselves, had occupied the best houses and dwellings. For hundreds and hundreds of common Jews, there was no corner in Konstancja where to lay their head.

At 6 pm, the ghetto was closed. No one was allowed in and out of the area, as it was ordered. Those who remained on the streets in the ghetto were welcomed under the open sky. More skillful people were able to set up a tent, a cabin, or a closet – and settled there. Later, bricks, stones, sheets, and wood were dragged together to form a stone-built apartment. So that they were now protected from rain, wind and cold.

It took several days for the Jews to adjust to the new conditions. On the second day in the ghetto, came carts with bread, baked by Christian bakers and ordered by Judenrat. Those who managed to grab iron bars had something to cook on. It was even worse for water. There were only two pumps in the ghetto. The queues for a little water were long. People had to wash themselves with the same water – and everyone felt the lack of it.

There was another problem with washing. In the long barracks where many families lived, without any partition, women could not hide themselves from foreign people. Over time, such trifles ceased to matter. In those days, people were freed from a lot of shame…

The anti-sanitary conditions further helped to spread diseases in the ghetto. Open pits were used as bathrooms, screened only with a sheet – separately for women and for men.

In Konstancja's “White House”, the medical department was headed by the barber-surgeon Aspirsztajn, assisted by several nurses. The ward was later transformed into a ghetto hospital.

 

3

Initially the Germans allowed, during market days, peasants who paid a charge of 1 mark to enter the ghetto and conduct a barter trade there or buy from Jews various goods, clothing, shoes and things – in exchange for products, food and bread. The Germans tolerated such barter until the ghetto epidemic broke out in the ghetto. This was an excuse for the murderers to hermetically close the ghetto and isolate the Jews from the outside world, which led to a very difficult situation. The Judenrat now needed to take care of feeding the ghetto on its own. A popular kitchen was opened, which distributed free lunches to those in need. In order to get this little soup, one needed to stand in line for hours.

The Germans offered horse meat[3] to the ghetto, but the Judenrat rejected the offer. Later, when the famine became more and more intense and people agreed to eat horse meat – the Germans did not want to give it anymore.

A labor office was created in the ghetto, with was headed by Kibel, Wajnstajn and Manczester. Every morning, hundreds gathered in the office, waiting for work. From there, they were sent under guard, to the train, to dismantle and clear down old houses, clean streets and other hard and black work. The wages were paid to them by the labor office.

One day, the Germans required a carpenter to work at an airfield. The employment office sent me there.

 

4

Arriving at the airfield in Chojne[4], I soon became unwell because I saw a lot of young, German pilots and technical staff. I realized that I could expect only troubles and calamities. To my astonishment, the inspector of the airfield received me well, with a nice attitude and same for the other Germans, who did not bother me. Every Saturday I got paid the salary – 24 marks. The first Saturday I went to the aerodrome canteen with the earned money, to buy food. The foreman was afraid to sell to a Jew and to my great surprise, when I asked the inspector for a permit, he ordered him to sell everything I wanted and even provided me with a handcart, to bring back the products to the ghetto. At the ghetto gate, my joy was shattered

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as the police seized the handcart with all the goods and asked for a large ransom money in order to give it back. The next morning, at work, I told the inspector what had happened to me at the ghetto gate. In my presence, he telephoned the ghetto guard commander and scolded him, asking why a worker was robbed of his belongings, which he allowed to be taken home. The commandant solved the problem. In the evening, returning from work, he waited for me at the entrance to the ghetto, took me to the watch, returned the products to the cart and told the policemen that I should always be allowed in with the cart.

Every day I ate at the field with the officers and never had to face any persecution.

Yom Kippur 1941, I came to my work on the airfield. On such a day the hands did not take to doing anything, and eating--was of course not to be spoken of. I stood in a corner of the workshop, uttering the prayers that remained in my memory, mourning the great tragedy that befell us. During the lunch break, when I was supposed to eat, the inspector showed up and asked why I did not work and did not eat. I told him about our Yom Kippur. The temperamental German takes out his pocket calendar, searches for the holiday there – and does not find it. Full of anger, he explains that as long as the day is not marked on his calendar – it is not a holiday. He pulled out his revolver and threatened to shoot me if I do not eat. After I had a bite to eat, the German put back the revolver in its holster and declared:

— If today is such a day of prayer, then go home… You must not work.
I thanked him and left for the ghetto.

 

5

One Saturday morning, the Germans entered the ghetto and demanded a thousand workers. There was a panic because many people thought that the workers would not come back. Everybody started hiding. The Jewish police, however, helped to get the fugitives out from their hiding places and, in trucks, a thousand Jews were taken to Stara Wieś[5], where an airfield was found. I was in this transport. The order was: pave a road with stones – but without any tools and instruments. There was a rush to get to work, as the overseers threatened to hit and even shoot.

Around 3 pm people had finished the work, but for the time being they were not allowed to eat or drink. When some officers looked at the work done, they were pleased. Each of us received a bun. We had to walk on foot to get back to the ghetto. The Germans commanded us to sing… Yiddish songs. This time it went very well, we went home to our families, who were certainly very worried about our fate. Even greater was the joy in the ghetto, when all came back in peace.

The winter in the ghetto was very difficult, especially for those who did not have a decent roof over their heads. Between two bricks they used to light a fire and then boil something, if there was any, and at the same time warm up. When I once noticed some burners with chafing dishes at the airport, I asked the commandant for permission to take them away to the ghetto. He allowed me to do it. I gave away some burners, sold some of them.

The situation in the ghetto became more and more difficult. Cold, frost, snow – and less and less food. Then, the anti-sanitary conditions led to epidemic diseases. Because of typhus, the city doctor Jędraszko ordered to hermetically seal off the ghetto, not to let anyone in or out. Now the hunger has become even greater, as all sources of illegal trade and supply of goods had been cut off. A bit of consolation was the cultural activity of the youth, who used to gather every evening in a Sztajn's so-called café, sing songs there and spend time in a homely environment.

 


Entrance of ghetto Konstancja

 

I did not want to leave this isolated ghetto either. One time, when my inspector passed the city and accidentally noticed me standing by the ghetto wall, he came up to me and asked why I was not coming to work. I told him about the prevailing typhus and the interdiction to go out. He comforted me and promised to send me my daily ration to the ghetto as long as I would be there. This is exactly what happened!

But I did not want to leave the ghetto. The typhus has claimed hundreds of lives. In the beginning, when there were a few dead every day, everyone was buried according to the law of Moses and Israel. Later, when the disease took on an epidemic character and dozens of people died every day, mass graves were dug, the dead were placed on a cart and placed in a mass grave.

[Page 373]

6

The typhus also reached the “Lord's House”. Some members of the Judenrat succumbed to the terrible disease and one of them, Rabbi Yitzhak Kowic[6], a very capable and devoted worker, passed away. All the Jews accompanied him to the ghetto gate without exception. His funeral was truly impressive, despite those horrible conditions. Only a few members of the Judenrat, accompanied by a German guard, traveled to the cemetery outside the ghetto.

To ward off typhus epidemic, the ghetto rabbi ordered an orphan's wedding[7] performed, as Jews once did in a cemetery. Mordechai-Shmuel's sister, a confused maid, was ordained as the bride. The groom was a youth from abroad, who found himself in the Kutno ghetto. Under the canopy, the bride and the groom both stood, dressed entirely in black. The road to the wedding was decorated with vegetables, with even music being played. Several German officers came to attend the ceremony in the ghetto, in two horse-carriages. At the command of the rabbi, the congregation rejoiced under the canopy, laughed and danced. This was needed to help dispel the typhus epidemic from the Kutno ghetto.

 

7

With the deplorable situation of the Germans on the Russian front, the situation of the Jews in the ghetto worsened. The murderers began to ravage the area and before the large transports of liquidation, they used to enter the ghetto and have fun shooting at every Jew they found. A folksdeutsche[8] policeman shot dead old Mamluk, Moshe the carriage driver and Yoel Rasz's wife[9], who were standing with other Jews on the porch, not far from the ghetto fence. The case moved me to flee the ghetto.

Escape from the ghetto is easy to say. But how does one do this? The German assassins and their Polish aides had already made sure that more and more Kutno Jews would go to Chelmno and that fewer would leave Konstancja. I nevertheless tried turning to my inspector at the airfield, told him about the decision made. He only warned me about the dangers of such a step, but told the ghetto warden to let me through. When a wagon with potatoes passed by in the ghetto, I left Konstancja undisturbed in the empty wagon.

I managed to get to Krośniewice, where I met our townsman Moniek Nosol. Later, I moved to Gostynin, where I met some Kutners again: the Kowalski sisters with their brother, Chaim Honigsztok and his wife, Zelik Pietrkowski, and his wife, Noah Gurker[10] – the Magistrate-apparitor.

In Gostynin, Jews lived in a separate neighborhood, but not in a secluded ghetto. I found work with the carpenter Abraham Danziker (now in Israel), who worked for the Germans. I earned well and, thanks to this, I was able to help my family, who remained in Kutno ghetto, with packages.

In 1942, our carpenter's workshop was transferred to Konin. Going there, we passed Kutno. I saw how Konstancja emptied itself…

I later learned of the tragic fate of the Kutno ghetto, where my entire family perished.

Honor their memory!

(recorded by: Y. Elbaum)

Translator's footnotes

  1. eight children, according to the list, including the author. Return
  2. Polish, tobacco factory. Return
  3. non-kosher animal. Return
  4. 5km south-east of Sieradz. There is still an airfield there, today. Return
  5. means “old village” in Polish. Spelled “Starowies” in the original text, but as it is within short walking distance from Kutno it is probably an old village that is now part of Kutno, “Stara Wieś”. Return
  6. Yitzhak-Pinchas Kowic. Return
  7. also called “Black Wedding”, in reference to the Black Plague, symbolized by a black canopy and the cemetery where it was set. The 'orphans' could also be poor or mentally ill people. Return
  8. ethnic-German, living in Poland. Return
  9. data mentions Freida Rasz, nee Gurker, received a bullet in the heart 3 March 1941. She was married to Wolf (Ze'ev) Rasz. It could be a mistake but her husband could have Yoel as a middle name and commonly use it. Return
  10. see article on page 292 of this book. Return


[Page 373]

Two Letters From Kutno Ghetto

by Bella WALCER

Translated from the Yiddish by Shoulamit Auvé-Szlajfer

These letters were written in Konstancja[1] on May 2,1941 (in German) and October 13, 1941 (in Polish) and sent to Buenos Aires, to mother and sister. Donation for Yizkor Book by: S. Walcer, Buenos Aires.

Konstancja, May 2, 1941

My darlings,

I received the letter with the money. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You made it possible to keep the children alive. I immediately bought bread, made hot drinks and gave them to them. The children were happy that Yente sent the money. They will be able to eat their fill. Imagine how terrible our situation is. Here, in the ghetto, we have no possibility of income, the children have nothing to eat. When they ask for bread, I always say that when we are with daddy, we will have everything. Except that at the same time I cry because the pain is immense, when no child can be given a simple piece of dry bread. They are extremely weak, can barely stand. Thank goodness, my son and I were already released from the hospital in February. I'm barely coming back to life. Returning from the dead. The doctor said people rarely recover from such a serious illness. And

 


The letter from Bela Lustigman-Walcer

 

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after this serious illness, I have to face such difficult conditions, I have to fight against hunger. I don't speak for myself but my children's pain is much worse and I find it hard to stand.

Now, I share with you the last letter I received from Chana in December, from Lemberg[2]. She writes to me that Solomon was sent to deepest Russia because they had registered to return to Poland. They were all sent there. Solomon had signed up. Since then, I have not received any mail from him. If Solomon had been in Lemberg now, he could have helped us a little. Because from Russia, they can now send parcels. Those who have relatives or acquaintances there often get help. This is how business is in the ghetto. We must be hungry.

My darlings! I beg you not to forget us. Continue to help us. It's very rude of me to ask for money again right

 


Postcard from Leczyca to Paris

 

after receiving some, but we are in dire need and I want to keep my children alive. May Solomon be in good health, he always did what was necessary for it. I greet everyone very warmly and thank you once again for your help.

From me, Bella Walcer

* * *

I'm glad you now have a son, who is named Fishel as far as I know. To you, the parents, I wish an easy raising and happiness. I ask you once again, Roza, don't forget us. I salute you, your husband and your dear son.

From me, Bella.

My address: Dwora Eilenberg-Lustigman, Kutno-Konstancja, Council of Elders.

* * *

(Second letter)

Kutno, October 13, 1941

Dear mother, sister and dear children!

I can thank all four of you for all the packages I have received from you. The sweater, warm clothes for Lonien, shirts and a package for the child. Everything was received, one after another, at long intervals. Immediately after, my dear ones, I sent you two small postcards and a letter. You, my darlings, did not receive them. Now I will write to you about me.

I have been living in our own home and at our expense with my wife and child for a long time. We don't eat at our uncle's place anymore. I sold my garnet coat, which I only wore twice, and also other things, wedding rings, etc. I received the warm clothes for the children on the eve of Yom Kippur. I had not a penny left; I sold the warm clothes for 22 marks, so that I could buy something for the child. I had no choice left, to buy something for the child for the holidays. I cried bitterly over the sad fate that befalls me, to have to sell such a gift.

My dear ones, I forgot to wish you a happy new year. Stay healthy and may we soon see you and Nathan again. This is our wish.

 


... and from Kutno to New York

 

At present, my dear ones, there is no work for us that would allow us to earn some money. We live as we can. I walk around with shoes that have no soles, because they are very expensive here, well beyond my means.

Dear sister, I am writing this letter as I am alone, maybe you could send us some clothes, such as woolens, if you have any. I'll deal with it because otherwise I don't know what fate awaits the three of us. We don't have an ounce of fat left since Pesach. Maybe it would be possible to send something like that.

Now, dear sister, thank you for the packages you sent. My wife will write more to you because I have a headache. Help me as much as you can. I salute you from afar and send kisses to my beloved mother, sister and her children,

Itzik, Sonia, Shlomo

* * *

Dear sister[3], write to tell me where Nathan is and ask him to write us a few words. A special greeting for Nathan from all of us. Stay healthy, answer quickly.

It is only when I receive something for the child from you that can I give

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him something. Just one thing, Sonia, he doesn't particularly like the “Nestl”. Send something else instead. Manna porridge, or little gnocchi, or sugar and a little fat — white goose fat or coconut butter, so that I have some fat to put on for some time, because we continuously live without any. Besides, my dear, I am returning the coupons to you, because they are not valid for us. I would have written you a letter before the holidays but, word of honor, I didn't have enough money to even buy a stamp. I used the money for the bread and I wrote this letter. You wanted to know if Sonia[4] was healthy again — yes, she is healthy. Edzhe also receives money from her brothers and, from time to time, a package. Sister-in-law Rouja also received all the parcels and wrote you two cards. She and her beloved little girl, who keeps telling you all the time that she's going to visit you, are in good health. About my son, no evil eye, I can't write so much; as soon as he reads your letters and sees what I receive, he shows them to everyone who comes home and says it is from his aunt. Now I wonder, aunt, if Malka has been married for a long time. It looks like it's been two years now.

The Fast gave birth to a son, some weeks ago. Mania Nosol married Wolkowicz, they already have a baby girl some months old. Hinda-Raca's son is dead. I have a lot to write to you about some acquaintances, but it will be for another time. You ask if our bread is expensive for us. With the ration tickets, 80 pfennigs for two kilos and without the ticket, five times more. In Warsaw they use only z³otys, so it does not cost as much with a ticket, but without a ticket it costs as much. Ask about feathers. We Jews are not entitled to it; we sell what we have.

We all greet you and kiss you from afar. We hope to see you soon. Write to me about Nathan. A special greeting for him. Write if he lives with Aunt Kayla-Masha. From your

Sonia

Translator's footnotes
  1. name of the sugar factory of Kutno, where the ghetto was. Return
  2. Lviv, in Ukraine. Return
  3. This part seems be written by the wife of the previous author, named Sonia, as being the person to whom she is speaking, which makes it a bit confusing. Return
  4. It seems that the author of this part speaks about herself in the third person singular form. Return


Two songs from ghetto Konstancja

by Tamar KOWALSKA, Tel Aviv

Translated from the Yiddish by Marta Krzeminska

Given to print: Kowalski Tamar, Tel-Aviv

1.

Listen up, for I am about to tell you about the miracles, great wonders,
How special is the life all of us Jews,
So very special that they separate us from the whole wide world -
I will present to you the Ghetto Konzstanz.

Not one had his residence there,
Our lads had themselves established “palatial”* tents
In the squares and in the middle of the field,
They have established a “proletariat shtetl”.

The life in Konstanz - a genuine delight -
Every day - a wedding and a funeral.
Entire day in a queue for a scrap of bread,
The life reminds here the life of dead.

But! Fellow lads, stay cheerful, it's not a time to worry.
Lift your head higher, for the morning has come.
Then we shall break the ghetto fences, destroy the ghetto-world.
We'll take our fate into our own hands.

(to be sung with the melody of “They came and took us”) - the title is a transliteration from Polish

 

2.

Behind the wires I will lead you,
Line up everyone! From big to small!
Whatever is bought here you're not allowed to try.
Because the competition with us is vile.
You cannot run into the shop,
It's the group-leader who has to buy for us “the smuggle”:
Cigarettes, soap, candles and sardines -
So that we can sell them and thereby earn well.
Tra-la-la tra-la-la tra-la-la!

*The word used here is « palaten » - a sarcastic translation of the Russian « palace »


[Page 376]

The Shoah Era in France

by Bernard HOFFMAN, Paris

Translated from the Yiddish by Shoulamit Auvé-Szlajfer

In the Holocaust, where a third of the Jewish people disappeared, about one hundred and twenty thousand Jews from France were also taken, and among them, a significant number of our compatriots from Kutno, Krośniewice, Łęczyca and Dąbrowice. As one of them, who found himself in the murderous clutches for four years and endured various abuses and persecutions in the Nazi camps, I want to tell my story throughout this disastrous period, as well as my tribulations with compatriots whom I have met on my long path of torment. Unfortunately, many of them perished. May these few lines be a memorial to them for their little-known battles.

 

1

The advance of German troops towards the gates of Paris caused great panic in the French capital. Everyone started to flee. In this exodus, dozens and hundreds of people, young and old, have wandered on the roads looking for a safer place to flee, to escape this terrible enemy. In this great panic, many were lost, families were separated. Paris was occupied by the Wehrmacht. After the signing of the armistice between Pétain's government and Germany, the French population gradually began to return to the capital, but the situation for the Jews was quite different. The mere thought of falling into the murderous clutches of the Hitlerites overwhelmed them. Many stayed in the provinces. Those in the occupied zone searched for various hiding places and lived in constant fear.

Meanwhile, a “miracle” had happened with the German occupation army in Paris. Instead of terror, looting and murder, they behaved like gentlemen towards the civilian population. Their refinement had gone even further. So much so that you could see Nazis and soldiers in Jewish cafes. They even chatted with the Jews: if we imagined they were just big capitalists, we're wrong –proof was, they were allied to the Russians… They even showed uniforms and boots produced in the Soviet Union that they wore. And when they said Germans treat Jews badly, that's nothing more than Anglo-American propaganda…

Many Jews believed these words, told others about them and began to come out of hiding. Some have even written to their relatives and friends in the provinces that you can come to Paris, the Germans behave correctly. It got to the point that some Jews even started to trade with the Germans and supplied them with certain items, which were lacking in the market.

It wasn't until early 1941 that the Germans began to show their true colors. In addition to some anti-Jewish decrees, a census was ordered of all Jews – and more precisely in police stations, where the stamp “Jude – Jew” was affixed to every identity card. Then a large number of naturalized Jews had their French citizenship revoked and then Jews were banned from entering certain establishments and public places.

 


The ‘yellow patch’ in France

 

Jewish merchants were no longer allowed to trade and had to hand over their businesses to Aryan administrators. Jews were still allowed to ride the subway – only in the last carriage. Jewish children were still allowed to go to school – but sat on separate benches.

May 13, 1941. Five thousand Jews of Polish origin receive the so-called “billets verts[1] with the order to report at 7 a.m. at certain assembly points for a check. A panic sets in. We ran to neighbors and friends to ask for advice. To say one's piece. Nobody knows what to say. The optimists believed they only wanted to check their papers, no reason to be afraid. Others felt they wanted to bamboozle the five thousand Jews and shouldn't go there. But on the “billet vert”, in fact, there was a threat of incurring heavy penalties against the whole family if the required person did not show up. So, we went to the place indicated…

There the men were ordered to gather to one side and the women accompanying them were told to bring various items from home for their husbands to be sent to a labor camp. When the women returned with parcels and suitcases, the Germans ordered them to write down the names of the recipients and no longer allowed them to approach the

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men. Weeping women were beaten and chased away with sticks and rifle butts.

And that was just the beginning – a terrible beginning!

 

2

I found myself among this first group of deportees. In the morning, buses arrived and took everyone to the train station. As we drove through the streets of Paris, the French watched us and didn't know what was going on. Only a few of them, poisoned by Hitler's propaganda, openly expressed their satisfaction at this sight, while the majority accompanied us with looks of sympathy. Late at night, we arrived at two camps: Beaune-la-Rolande and Pithiviers[2]. I was stranded in the first camp.

After we were dispatched to the camps, an injunction was issued that all Jews must wear a yellow Star of David. It then turned out that French people, who had never known which of their neighbors or acquaintances were Jews – recognized them because of this yellow patch… There were cases where some French people voluntarily wore the yellow Star of David, to demonstrate being a Jew did not shame them. There were also some who traveled with the Jews, in the last metro wagon.

In August 1941, the first major roundup of Jews took place in Paris. Thousands were arrested in the streets and in their homes. They were sent to the infamous Drancy[3] camp – the first hellhole for Jews on French soil. Unfinished buildings were filled with captured Jews. All connections with the outside world were already severed. The food was in very small quantity and the one given to us was of the worst quality. The sanitary and hygienic situation was also unbearable. Epidemics and deaths become a daily phenomenon. Executions were also starting to happen. The Jews of Paris were aware of the situation in Drancy, the atmosphere became depressing and people were afraid to go out in the streets. Rumors were growing that convoys were leaving from Drancy with Jews, to an unknown destination. We never saw them again. (Drancy effectively became the transit point for French Jews, who were deported to Auschwitz, Chelmno, Treblinka and Majdanek).

July 16, 1942 was one of the most tragic dates for the Jewish community in Paris. During the night, the assassins entered Jewish houses and from there, by force and brutality, dragged men and women, old people and children, the sick, half-asleep and scantily clad. The cries and howls of the unfortunate people tore through the dark night and mingled with the murderous orders of the Germans[4]. The detained Jews were taken in police vans to the big “Vélodrome d'Hiver[5] stadium and crammed into a huge crowd. Thirty thousand people were confined in one place. In this hell, some people went mad and not a single dead person was evacuated. Those who endured this time in the stadium still remember today with horror these appalling scenes.

After that, these unfortunate people were then taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most of them perished in the gas chambers or by other bizarre lethal methods, at which Auschwitz excelled.

 

3

… Late in the evening, we arrived at the Beaune-la-Rolande camp, where we were crammed into barracks with wooden bedsteads on three levels, on which were placed straw-filled straw mattresses. In the dark, we threw ourselves on the bedsteads and immediately fell asleep, out of exhaustion. When we woke up in the morning, we asked ourselves, silently or aloud, to ourselves or to each other: “Where are we? Why have we been brought here?”

My nearest neighbor on the bedstead, with his appearance, aroused great pity. You could tell he was a poor, depressed man. With his Lithuanian Yiddish, he told me that just yesterday, very early in the morning, his wife had given him a basket to do some shopping in a store on his return from work. He was caught in one of the streets of Paris. He didn't understand what was happening here and burst into tears… I tried to calm him down and encourage him, tell him to hold on, not to give up.

I left the barracks. I noticed that there were several dozen huts over a large area, surrounded by barbed wire. French guards guarded the place. We saw different Jews, from all strata of the population, of all classes. Nearly two thousand were brought here, to the Beaune-la-Rolande camp.

At first, it was difficult to find a common language and way of understanding with such a diverse audience. Then little by little, after getting to know each other, we began to organize life together in these new conditions. We chose ourselves a barrack leader who would be responsible for establishing and maintaining a certain order and, at the same time, would be the link between us, the administration and the camp guards.

We were totally isolated from our families. The food we received was only enough to leave us in a state of chronic hunger. We had only been in the camp for three days and the questions “why?” and “what awaits us here?” were on everyone's lips. Suddenly, we were greatly surprised by voices coming from the other side of the barbed wire. It turned out that our women in Paris had found out where the first convoy had been sent and they came there. Only the guards wouldn't let them in. They stood at a distance, waving their hands, shouting but we heard nothing. We answered back by shouting only one word: “Bread!” The women of course heard it and they went to the city, brought bread. Then, they sent us fresh and delicious rolls over the fence. This at least quenched our hunger.

 

4

Some time later we were allowed to write letters. From the information we received from Paris, it became clear that there were varied and strange rumors about our arrest: while some claimed that we had been arrested for black-marketing,

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others claimed that we were to be hostages… This is how the weeks and months went by, without any noticeable change. After some forceful interventions, we obtained permission for our wives to visit us. The meetings took place in large barracks, which were on the other side of the fence. Naturally, this was happening under the watchful eye of a guard.

Then we also obtained permission to receive small parcels. This created an awkward situation, as some received nothing and others received modest parcels. Therefore, we gathered the provisions in each barrack and distributed them among the neediest.

One day, I found my compatriot Zalman Bild. We were very happy, especially since we learned that there were other compatriots there, whom we then often met: Nisan Frenkel, Benjamin Piotrkowski and his brother Wolf, Trojanowski (Zalman Bild's brother-in-law) and Henech Sztajn.

Zalman Bild took a great interest in me, came to my barrack every day, asked me if I needed anything and often brought some cooked food (there was a small electric stove in his barrack). In the evening, he came to see me, offered me a glass of tea. He was like a blood-brother to me.

In the meantime, there was no prospect of a quick end or any other change. So, we started to think about setting up an associative cultural life. Two groups were formed: one of Yiddish speakers and one of French speakers. While the first group brought together the older generation, the second group brought together the younger elements.

The camp administration allowed us to create a large hall in one of the barracks. So, we set up a library and people enjoyed reading books. Very often conferences were held on literary and scientific themes. Along with us in the camp, there was a group of intellectuals. Among the young people, too, there were very competent and intelligent people. Kadi Birnbaum, 19, son of the famous artistic couple Birnbaum-Zewkina[6], particularly stood out. The young man was, both physically and intellectually, very brilliant. On his initiative, young people formed a choir, a theater section and a sports club. He gave lessons, held lectures – truly one of a kind. Unfortunately, he was among the first victims when we were transferred to Auschwitz[7].

Among Yiddish speakers, a theatrical circle was created, led by renowned Jewish artists from Paris. Very serious plays were often performed in the camp. A choir of 50 men studied and interpreted the most beautiful songs from our folk treasure. The conductor of this choir was our compatriot from Kutno, Nisan Frenkel. He was truly a scholar of music and himself played the grand piano. The choir did a lot to boost the morale in the camp and as a result, Frenkel was highly esteemed by all and everyone gave him recognition.

Life in the camp had barely begun and no one really believed that the war could be survived this way. The news we received from Paris did not bring too many high hopes.

 

5

It had been a year since we arrived in Beaune-la-Rolande. At the beginning of June 1942, rumors spread that we were going to be moved from here, presumably for a labor camp in Germany. German officers appeared and inspections in the barracks became more frequent. Everyone sensed that painful surprises awaited us. The crowd was becoming restless and confused, the evening storm was spreading through the air. In the letters that we were still allowed to write home, we said goodbye to our loved ones and at the same time we asked them not to lose heart, to take care of the children, to take care of the house… We gave them hope to be together again, though the worm of worry and fear was gnawing away our hearts.

On June 26, came the order to prepare for transport. We were allowed to take all our things, except money. On June 27, we were already crammed into freight cars, where it was difficult to breathe or make the slightest movement. When we passed through French villages and small stations, as soon as the train stopped, the French would bring us water or food. But as soon as we entered the abominable German soil, everything changed. The wagons were hermetically sealed. Besides the crushing pressure and the stifling heat, there was an open barrel in each car for physiological needs. The stench was unbearable and those who had time to take something to eat on the way were unable to put it in their mouths. People fainted or fell unconscious.

This is how we traveled for some 24 hours.

Suddenly, the train abruptly stopped. A mob of SS men started dragging us out of the cars, hitting and kicking mercilessly. We didn't even have the time to take our things with us. With savage howls and blows, we were herded into a large square, lined up in rows. The camp commander arrived on horseback. He talked to us in this way:

– You, accursed Jews! You are here in the Auschwitz extermination camp. You can't get out alive from here. Here Uncle Roosevelt cannot help you…

After this speech, an SS officer with a big stick in his hand began to call out the freshly arrived people. Each named person had to run to the other side and the officer also hit him with his stick on the head, on the back or wherever he could. If some Jews had the same name and they would suddenly start running, then the sadist would get angry and start punching right and left.

After this “reception” a gang of Poles came up to us and started taking watches and rings from our hands. Then we were forced into blocks where the kapos ruled. They brutally ordered us to put all our belongings in boxes that were in each block and threatened us with the worst

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if they kept even a piece of paper on us. The hardest thing was to separate us from the photos of wives, children, parents. We had kept them as relics and now all of that had to disappear forever. By abandoning a photo, we had the feeling that a limb was cut off from us.

 

6

For three days, we were harassed with exercises, with running back and forth, with calls, haircuts and various disinfections. Then we were sent to the Birkenau (Brzezinka) camp, three kilometers from Auschwitz, where the gas chambers and crematoria were located. We were up for several hours, when the time of the first call arrived. In the evening, when the work commandos returned from their work locations, each group carried with it several dead. It left a terrible mark on us. We had wondered why they had left us standing and waiting for so long: so that we could see and understand what was waiting for us here…

A few days later, some German sadists decided on an “entertainment”: they selected strong men among us and ordered them to wallow in the mud, one on top of the other. Among the men was also our compatriot Zalman Bild. He was then sent to another camp and I never saw him again.

Nisan Frenkel and I were assigned to a work commando. We were driven to work while it was still dark outside. We had to walk to get there and work at a brisk pace. We dug holes, loaded wagons with stones and then unloaded them. The heat was terrible and we had not been entitled to a single drop of water during the work. More than once I have seen exhausted Jews approach the guard posts and demand that they be shot – they could no longer bear the terrible thirst. Precisely in such cases, the assassin did not want to shoot them so quickly…

Once our kapo wanted to hear someone sing. He asked who knew how to do it. Those who were with me in Beaune-la-Rolande pointed the finger at me. The Kapo decided that I would be his singer and for that gave me better food and also favored me. Nisan Frenkel asked me to ask the Kapo if he could also sing for him. The kapo told Frenkel to come and see him, listened to him, but didn't want to hire him.

When a group of tailors was selected from the camp to be part of a convoy, Nisan Frenkel was also among them. But instead of tailoring, they were sent to do hard labor. Some time later, part of the group was brought back to our camp, sick, broken and exhausted. Nisan Frenkel was among them. He could barely stand on his swollen legs, desperate, not wanting to eat. In a low voice, he said to me:

– Why do I still have to torture myself? My wife and son are no longer alive. At the moment convoys arrive from Paris every day…

He spoke often and a lot of his son, told me about his great musical abilities, he dreamed of seeing him become a virtuoso. A few days after this conversation, Nisan was taken to the gas chamber, after a selection. His wife and son shared the same fate.

After spending a few weeks in Birkenau, one fine morning, on the walk to work, I saw a desperate elderly man running from side to side. He had just arrived at the camp. I had the feeling that this man was known to me. Approaching him, it was no longer difficult for me to recognize in him a compatriot, a Jew from Dąbrowice, whom I remembered well from my youth when I left the city. This Jew had married in Kutno with the daughter of the barber Włoski,

 


A group of Kutners in Paris. Most of them were murdered.

 

had settled in Włocławek and ran a sewing workshop there which had a good clientele. In the 1930s, he moved to Paris. A few days ago, he had arrived at Birkenau with a convoy from Paris.

When I asked him if he was Moshe Chojke from Dąbrowice, he burst into tears and answered with a question “Who are you?” Learning who I was, he took me in his arms and asked me to take care of him. I managed to keep it in my workgroup for a few days. Then he was taken away. I haven't seen him again…

Also in my block was Warcki, a brother-in-law of Zalman Bild. He was getting weaker day by day. Once he was brought home from work because he could not walk with his swollen legs. He sat down next to me and couldn't even utter a few words. He tried to chew the small piece of bread again – and he fell down while eating. It was the end.

 

7

Before leaving Birkenau, I learned that my brother Simcha had arrived in a convoy from Paris. I was also told that he was looking for me.

[Page 380]

In the morning, an acquaintance brought him to me – but he didn't recognize me… My appearance had changed so much during those eleven weeks in Birkenau.

After meeting my brother, I was sent to Auschwitz. Luck smiled on me and I worked in a sewing workshop. It helped me a lot to overcome these dreadful times. At Auschwitz, I met Benjamin Piotrkowski. He was also lucky not to have to go to work with a commando. He continued to work in the block. He had no news of his brother Wolf. I also met the Sztajn brothers there (Henech, Mordechai and Chaim) who got there with the convoys from France.

From Krośniewice, I met Pinchas-Lazer Hoffman and his two sons Moshe-Hercke and Zachariah; the two brothers Moshe-Leib and Israel Strykowski. And from Dąbrowice – Leib Chelminski, Michael Chojka, David and Leibish Brzustowski.

In September 1943, I was included in a convoy of French and Belgian Jews who were transported to Warsaw to clear the ruins of the ghetto. Packed into well-guarded wagons, we left for Warsaw. Suddenly someone shouted loudly that it was Yom Kippur eve. Spontaneously, I began the “Kol Nidrei” – and I sang this prayer until the end, as if I were standing in front of the lectern of the synagogue… The guard asked who had sung and began to walk towards me. Everyone stiffened with fear, they were sure that I would pay with my life for the Yom Kippur prayer. The guard, however, knew who had sung. Coming towards me, he handed me his bottle and allowed me to drink, first asking me if I was thirsty.

The dreadful journey to Warsaw lasted three days and three nights. The camp where we were installed was located in Gęsia Street. There were also kapos who had come with us from Auschwitz.

The job was to clear the ruins of the bombed and burned ghetto after the heroic uprising. We also participated in some construction work. In bunkers and hideouts, we found items and food, which had been hidden there for bad times, in the hope of enjoying them later. If we came across human beings, they were living skeletons. They were starving.

In the empty ghetto, once, a woman and a boy were detained. The Germans interrogated them, they wanted to discover other Jewish hiding places – but the mother and the son knew how to keep quiet. They were both shot.

In the destroyed ghetto, there were still many whole walls. When the guards weren't watching, I slipped behind such a wall and more than once discovered a whole room in disrepair with shelves of books and pictures of rabbis, which still hung on the walls. I thought of the occupants of these apartments, the devout and sincere Jews who used to sit day and night before a book and study. It was their greatest happiness… I once again glanced at the paintings and my heart ached with pain. The Polish Jewish community was no longer – the jewel of the Jewish people. It was all ashes and dust…

As winter approached, I felt that the frost and cold would finish me off if I continued to work outdoors. I managed to get a job in the garment industry where I worked for several months. Later I was transferred to a job in a hospital, where I stayed until I left Warsaw.

 

8

In July 1944, as the Soviet army approached Warsaw, the order was given to evacuate our camp. The trains weren't running as well as they had a year earlier. We suspected that the Germans wanted to kill us on the spot. We were no longer working, only the calls took place as before and the guard became stricter. Finally, we hear the order to set off. We know that the evacuation will be done on foot. The 300 patients in the hospital were shot. 400 of our commandos stayed behind to clear the dead.

The evacuation of Warsaw had begun. Equipped with two blankets and a few provisions, we walked out of the Polish capital, accompanied on both sides by SS men, at the head of which was a young hoodlum, a former camp commander in Warsaw. The heat was great and quenching our thirst was not allowed. Due to weakness and exhaustion, part of the prisoners could not continue. Those who fell were immediately shot.

After a rest in a field, we were ordered to stand up and count ourselves. The killers took every opportunity to count us, wanting to know how many were already dead. But now I had a hard time getting up. I felt my last minutes were near. Two colleagues picked me up energetically and supported me. After the roll call, I fell again, but luckily the Germans didn't notice. My friends picked me up again and helped me walk. Throughout this horrible march, the assassins made sure that we had nothing to drink. On the way, we passed close to many rivers and, even during breaks and particularly next to a river, it was strictly forbidden to quench our thirst. Some risked it – they were shot on the spot. Those who jumped into the water did not come out alive. It happened not far from Łowicz, on the bank of the Bzura River.

Once, we were told to stop on a large piece of land that I recognized well. Yes, we were now near Kutno. Suddenly, a flood of memories from my childhood arose, I saw my parents, my sisters and brothers, friends and loved ones again. The tumultuous years of my youth in the village and then in Kutno came back to me. Memories of my early childhood, of the streets, of the Jews, float around me as I am reminded of the Shabbats and the holidays. What had become of all this?

The SS guards had gone somewhere, only the kapos were watching us. But they wouldn't let us near the water either. We were sitting or lying down, exhausted and dreaming of a little water. Someone had the idea of digging the ground with a piece of wood and was amazed to find that the wood had become damp. No doubt – there was water here. He dug a little more and was able

[Page 381]

to drink at will. Others approached to take advantage of the treasure, but the kapos did not tolerate any crowds, so everyone started digging and not only did this allow them to drink, and even wash. After so many days of wandering without water, this discovery was a miracle for us.

In the meantime, the SS thugs arrived and announced that we would now continue by train. We went back to the field to wait for the train. At that time, a downpour fell and we were all soaked. Finally, the wagons arrived. Upon boarding, a Jew tried to escape. Although it was dark, the fugitive was spotted and shot.

We all had already boarded the train. But the train did not leave. It was suspected that because of the partisans who were active in the area, the Germans were afraid to travel at night. At dawn, our train continued on its way towards its distant destination. In the wagons we dried off a bit from the rain and the blankets were hung on the walls to dry. As night fell, a group of Jews from our car agreed to flee. Thanks to darkness, they slipped under the covers, broke the window panes and began to jump from the moving train. A large number would surely have succeeded in escaping, had it not been for the treacherous conduct of a peasant who first offered hospitality in his home to two fugitives and immediately went to denounce the “guests” at the nearest guardhouse. The two Jews were picked up and delivered to the nearest train station, where our convoy was stopped. We were counted and recounted in the cars, until it was found that eleven people were missing. The Germans horribly beat the two Jews who had been recaptured and threw them into a wagon, the occupants of which were punished with three days without food or drink. Arriving at the Dachau camp, we saw the tragic consequences of this punishment: some lost their minds, some died in the wagon, and others were so weakened that they were unrecognizable. I felt that now my end was approaching.

With strong blows we were ordered to get off the wagons. In one place, hot water was distributed. With my last remaining strength, I dragged myself there and by chance saw a familiar kapo, who agreed to give me some water. It gave me new courage and I didn't want to submit to the assassins, but survive them.

 

9

We were detained in Dachau for 15 days in quarantine. Later, we were transferred to a camp deep into the forest. By the way, we called it the “forest camp”. There was still nothing there. First, we had to set up camp. Then, building underground factories. The work was carried out at a very rapid pace. We worked in two shifts, one day and one night. However, we had recovered strength after the 15-day quarantine. We were guarded by German civilians, some of whom were no less brutal and sadistic than the S.S. When one of my hands started swelling, one of those Germans threatened to shoot me if I didn't keep working. An acquaintance of mine took me into the hospital and I worked there until I was released.

On May 2, 1945, we were liberated by the Americans. On May 23, I was already in Paris and, to my delight, I found my wife there with the three children. Generous Frenchmen hid them and, thanks to this, they were saved from Hitler's clutches. A large part of the Jews of France is indebted for their lives to the human behavior of a lot of French people.

* * *

This is, in short, my account of the fate of the Jews in France during the Second World War, through my personal experience. I have endeavored to convey the most important details of those grim days and also the memory of all my countrymen encountered on the roads of suffering and pain, and who died from all the sorts of violent deaths that the Nazi assassins invented for our people.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. French, “green tickets”, “green notices”. Return
  2. small towns, about 90 and 75 km south of Paris. Return
  3. in the northern suburb, 5 km out of Paris limits. Return
  4. in fact, only the French police participated to this roundup. They used mostly civilian buses and not police vans. Return
  5. covered stadium inside Paris, close to the Eiffel tower, mostly used for cycling events, in its last years of existence. It was destroyed in 1959, 50 years after its creation. The roundup was given the name of the stadium. Return
  6. Israël Birnbaum and Ester Zewkina. Return
  7. according to Yad Vashem testimony, he was deported on transport #5 on 28 June 1942 and died of typhus in Auschwitz. Return


[Page 381]

Chelmno – The Death Camp

Translated from the Hebrew by Thia Persoff

The book “The Wars of the Ghettos” [pages 594–598] relates the story of the German death camp Chelmno, where the Jews of Kutno and its surrounding area met with their cruel demise. The book was edited by Icchak Cukerman and Mosze Basok, the Icchak Kacnelson Ghetto Fighters Building, and published by the Kibbutz Meuchad Publishing House in the month of Nisan, 1954.

At the end of December 1941, the town of Koło was attacked by German army units. The Jews were rushed out of their homes into the Judenrat that was in a building next to the synagogue. When trucks arrived, the Jews, with their families and their bundles in their arms, came out of the building. At the exit, an S.S. officer was sitting at a table. He held a list of all the Jews of Koło, and each person called was ordered into the truck. About 40 people were loaded onto each truck, and the baggage was loaded onto a towing truck. The guards, and also the members of the Judenrat, said that the people would be taken to work on the railway line. The two trucks carrying Jews were driven by Germans. During the day about a thousand people were evacuated. Among those escorting them was the Volksdeutsche Siuda from Kościelec, who at the time was serving in the military police. He told the Jews “do not be afraid, you are being taken to the Barłogy station, from there you will be travelling eastward”. The townspeople knew him and believed what he said. Each truck returned 10 to 12 times during the day, which gave strength to our assumption that, indeed, the Jews were being driven not far from Koło.

I was not among the evacuees, because at the time I was registered in Bugaj, Koło district, and so was not on the list of the Koło Jews. I brought to the truck my father, my mother, my sister with her five

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children, and my brother and his wife with their three children. I helped them pack their belongings and load them onto the tow truck. I was glad to witness Mr. Goldberg, the owner of a lumber mill in the Koło area, after his son was evacuated, making an effort to implore the German authorities to appoint him the administrator of the Koło station. They promised him the job.

By chance, one of the days, a boy came to the Judenrat building, and said that the Jews were not being taken to Barłogy but to Chelmno. He saw it with his own eyes. To that, the Germans replied that there they are only sorting the Jews, the strongest being chosen for work in the west. Thereafter, the mood was relaxed. The sick ones were evacuated last of all; the drivers were ordered to drive slowly and carefully. The “action” (“aktzia”) in Koło lasted four to five days.

At the beginning of January 1942, I was taken, together with another fourteen Jews, to the police station; I was accused of being guilty of aiding the escape of my nephew Mordechai Podchlebnik.

On the Shabbat at four in the afternoon a truck arrived and in it fifteen Jews from Izbica. At the same time a passenger car arrived and in it was an SS officer known to me from the time of the “action” in Koło (he was the one erasing the names from the list in his hand, of those entering the trucks). We, and the Izbica Jews, were loaded on the truck and driven to Chelmno.

We reached the park area near the palace in Chelmno. The whole area was newly fenced with wooden boards, approximately three meters high, so close together that nothing could be seen inside.

The gate opened up and the truck entered and stopped near the palace. While entering the yard, I raised the tarpaulin a bit and noticed a pile of used clothes. We disembarked. We were led to a cellar between rows of S.S. urging us with screams and rifle butts. They counted us, and then locked the cellar door behind us.

Throughout that week nothing happened; we were locked up in the cellar with nothing to do. A container that was placed there for elimination needs was taken out by one of us under heavy guard. One thing I could discern; heavy guards were posted everywhere.

There were many things written on the cellar walls. Among them, there was one in Yiddish: “All who enters here – will never leave alive”. No more would we delude ourselves about what was to befall us.

On a Monday morning 30 of our men were taken to work in the forest. Ten men, including me, stayed in the cellar. There was a small window in the cellar, but it was completely covered by wooden planks. At eight o'clock a truck came to the palace. I heard a German voice addressing the arrivals. One of the things he said was “You will go to the east where there is work available in many places. All you have to do is wash up and change your clothes to the clean ones that will be given to you”. We heard applause. After a short time, we heard bare feet running in the cellar's corridor near the area of our incarceration, and we heard German voices: “Hurry, hurry!” Apparently, the Jews were being transferred through the corridor to the inner courtyard. All of a sudden, I heard the creaking of a closing door, shouting, banging on the side of the truck, and then the truck's engine being started. After six to seven minutes, when the shouting stopped, the truck left the yard.

At the same time, we, the remaining ten Jewish labourers, were summoned upstairs to a large room on whose floor were laid, all in a mess, men's and women's clothes, coats and shoes. We were ordered to move them out quickly into a different room, which was already loaded with clothes and shoes. We organized the shoes in one pile, and as soon as we finished the job, we were rushed back to the cellar. Soon another truck arrived, and we repeated the work as described. And so it went on the whole day.

In the evening, when our friends returned from their work in the forest, they told us that they buried the Jews of Klodawa in a mass grave. They took the corpses out of large black painted buses, in which the Jews were put to death by poison gas. The corpses were wrapped in white, and inside the car were strewn towels and bars of soap. This strengthened my assumption that after the Jews took off their clothes, they received towels and soap and were taken to the cellar as if to bathe. Three or four from the group of the forest labourers did not return that day; they were not satisfactory, so were shot right there.

On the next day I, too, was among those going to the forest. As I went out, I noticed large vehicles standing at the edge of the yard, their backs towards the palace. Their doors were open, and boards were positioned onto them, for easing the entrance into them. I noticed that on the floor were wooden grates, like the ones found in bathrooms. They put us thirty labourers into two vehicles, one for passengers, and one for loading various things. We were driven to the forest behind Chelmno, with thirty S.S. guarding us. In the forest, a pit had been dug – a big mass grave for killed Jews. We were handed pick–axes and shovels, and ordered to dig and lengthen the pit.

At eight o'clock in the morning, the first vehicle arrived from Chelmno. When its doors were opened, a dark smoke erupted from it, and we were forbidden to approach it, not even to look towards the open doors. However, I noticed that the Germans took off from the vehicle at full speed. I could not determine the kind of gases that came out of the vehicle, as we stood quite some distance away, and the smells did not reach us and we did not use gas masks. After three to four minutes, three Jews climbed up to the truck and threw out the corpses; inside the vehicle the killed had fallen on top of each other in a haphazard way, filling about half of the space. Some were holding their dear ones in their arms; some of them were still alive, and the S.S. men

 


Memorial stone in Chelmno, erected by the Polish government for the wars of Poland

[Page 383]

hastened their end by pistol fire. Some were shot it the head, and some in the neck. After all the corpses were unloaded, the vehicle returned to Chelmno.

At noon we were given food, and then ordered to come out of the pit without the shovels, and stand in a circle. The S.S. men were already standing in a second circle. We received black coffee and the food that the Jews had brought in their bags. That night, after work, Krzewacki from Klodawa and another Jew whose name I don't remember, hanged themselves. I wanted to do the same, but was persuaded not to do so.

While riding to work I noticed that one of the windows could be opened. I told my friend Winer from Izbica about it, and suggested a plan for escape. We decided to carry it out the next day; during the ride to work we would jump out through the window and escape to the forest. The next day we were separated. I was put in a truck and Winer in a bus. I decided to escape by myself. When the truck was already in the forest, I approached the escorting guard and asked him for a cigarette. When I received it, I moved back and my friends encircled him, one after the other asking for

 


List of the last Jews who worked in Chelmno

 

cigarettes. With a knife that I had concealed on myself, in a sudden, quick motion, I sliced through the tarpaulin and jumped out of the vehicle. They were few shots after me, but they missed me. I was glad that there was no bus behind us, so that they shot only from the truck.

The fact of the missing bus made me assume that Winer had escaped, causing the bus to stop. As I ran in the forest, some citizen riding a bicycle tried to stop me by shooting with a pistol, but I escaped and sneaked into some threshing area and hid in the hay pile. In the morning I heard people's voices near the threshing area, standing and discussing that the Germans are searching for Jews who had escaped. After two days without any food, I sneaked out of the hay and went towards Grab&oactute;w. On the way I went to a farmer's home (I do not know his name). He gave me a farmer's hat, I shaved and he showed me the way.

In Grabów, I found Winer from Izbica.

From Grabów I went to Rzeszów, and my ties to Chelmno were cut. Winer was lost; it seems, in the area of Zamość, in 1944.

Michael PODCHLEBNIK

 

2

When the Soviet armies came closer, the annihilation of the last Jews started. They were taken five at a time, ordered to lie down on the ground and were shot in the neck. This time the Jews revolted; one of them, Mordechai Zurawski, a knife in his hand, had burst through the guards and escaped before their eyes, and they could not find him. A few Jews, tailors, broke through a door that lead downwards, and when two Germans opposed them (one of them Lentz), they were killed by the Jews. Machine–guns were directed towards the opening of the cellar and started shooting inside. At that same time the store room went up in flames.

So were the last Jews in Chelmno annihilated.

Miszczak ANDRZEI

 

3

The liquidation of the camp had started in September–October. The furnaces were destroyed and the heaps of ruins were scattered along the forest paths. The “Death Vehicles” were transported to Berlin. The number of labourers in Chelmno decreased continually. One day, sixty labourers were reported to have been transported to a different camp, but in reality, all were killed. Later we found their clothes in the place where they were killed. In Chelmno the labourers were housed in a store room, the tailors and shoemakers were in an area upstairs, those that worked in the camp and the forest were downstairs.

On the night of January 17, 1945, Lentz entered the store room and called five men to come outside. A moment later five shots were heard. We knew that all of us were lost, that one by one we would be exterminated. With a wooden plank in my hand, I knocked on the ceiling to alert the tailors and the shoemakers upstairs. I decided to escape, no matter what. With a knife in my hand, I stood by the door, behind a blanket partition. When the fourth quintet was taken out and the door closed, I stormed the door with full swing, and apparently knocked down Lentz who had closed it. I ran with all my strength, while hitting out with the knife to the right and left. I was like a madman. Later I found out that I lopped off one guard's nose, and another's ear. Though I was hit hard with the butt of a guardsman gun, and I was shot at, one bullet hitting my right thigh, I continued to run. While climbing and going over the fence I injured my right hand severely, exposing the bone. While being pursued, I ran towards the forest. Lying down in a ditch, I heard the voices of two guards riding bicycles, alarming the local people and notifying them of my escape. When they had gone, I got up and ran until I reached the village of Umien. I hid in a threshing area for a night and a full day. During my run, I looked back and I saw that the store room was going up in flames, and heard the sound of shots from there. Before my escape, I had got rid of the chain binding me while still in the store room, by cutting the chain's links with a large barbed wire fence cutter that I had saved.

Mordechai ZHURAWSKI

 

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