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[Page 158]

Chapter VII

From Pustków Concentration Camp

Due to its favorable location near a rail line from the city of Debice to the city of Tarnobrzeg, and away from large cities, the first trees were cut some three kilometers south of Pustków. Pustków is located in the district of Debice and in the region of Tarnow. As part of a massive Polish industrialization program, apartments for workers and blocks of flats and villas for managers and engineers were built in Pustków in 1937. A factory built manufactured ammunition as well as plastic materials for the Polish military establishment. Production started in April 1939, and on September 8, 1939, the first units of the German army entered the settlement. Germans completed the construction of blocks of flats, which they used as military barracks. All machines and plastics were transported to Germany.

In 1940, the Germans decided to expand the camp and to convert the entire area into a training area for German military units. The plan envisioned that the camp would be able to train up to 60,000 soldiers. Priority would be given to S.S. Waffen military units, especially foreign units like Frenchmen, Dutchmen, Ukrainians. Here were built large firing ranges, obstacle courses and various installations to train raw recruits. Of course, the base also had large warehouses where ammunition of all sorts was stockpiled. Additional buildings contained the signal communication unit and various facilities needed to maintain large military units. The area was covered with a dense forest. Clearing the forest was an immense job and required a large labor force. There was a small French prisoner of war camp in Pustków but the camp was moved. The Jews were chosen for the task. At first, the Judenrat of Debica sent daily Jewish workers to Pustków. Then some barracks were built and the workers remained for several weeks at the camp before they received passes to visit home. Some workers tried to avoid returning to Pustków but they were registered for the place and had to return or find someone to take their place. People with money or connections managed to get off the list but most of the people had to return to Pustków where the working conditions were pretty bad. The workers practically had to work with

 

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Pustków indoor firing range for the German army

 

their bare hands to uproot the tall forest trees. They barely received food or clothing. Still, most workers continued to return to Pustków. This policy continued until June 1941. Then the camp was sealed. No more liberty passes and no more food from home. Starvation became rampant and the work load increased. The harsh labor conditions and the primitive or non–existent facilities caused many of the workers to die. The rate of attrition of Jewish workers merely increased with time since their energies were exhausted. Yet the building program continued at a rapid tempo and more Jews were brought to Pustków from all over Western Galicia, especially from Rzeszow, Tarnow and Krakow. The name of Pustków became a dreaded name and Jews were terrified of the name. But the place devoured workers and the Judenrats were forced to send more and more people to Pustków. Sometimes to fill the quota, Jewish children were grabbed and sent to Pustków and sometimes old people. When a quota was not met, the Gestapo would seize Jews and fill the quota. The rate of decimation continued at a fantastic rate. Vast areas were cleared of trees, roads were laid, barracks were built, target ranges were constructed, and concrete bunkers were built. The work was progressing rapidly and so was the decimation of the Jewish workers. The Gestapo and the S.S. did not care about the Jews; to them, the Jews were a source of cheap labor supply. They forced the Judenrats of the various cities to provide Jewish laborers for Pustków that was killing them as fast as they arrived – starvation diets and the bestiality of the guards, namely Schmidt, Miller, Kleindienst, Hamann and Sharke who took delight in firing at Jewish inmates heading to work. Jewish workers were being hung almost daily for no reason, according to Moshe Oster, a survivor of Pustków. Jewish forced workers continued to arrive to Pustków until the ghettos were liquidated and its inhabitants murdered. Almost no Jewish worker survived the first Jewish labor camp at Pustków according to Ben Soifer. author of the book “Between Life and Death,” dedicated to Pustków. Between 1940–1942 there were about 14,000 Jews at Pustków concentration camp except for a few escapees and 216 skilled Jewish workers who had their own camp. According to Ben Soifer, half of the Jews died of starvation or were murdered. The murdered were burned at the crematory located on the hillside near the Jewish labor camp. Eventually most of the Jewish inmates of the Pustków Jewish labor camp perished. During the summer of 1942, 2,000 Jews were sent from Pustków to another camp. The rest of the Jews were sent to the Belzec death camp. The Jewish labor camp was closed. Only the needed 216 Jewish skilled Jewish workers remained at Pustków.

Following the German attack on the Soviet Union, thousands of Russian prisoners of war arrived at Pustków. Some of them arrived by train while others walked from the Russian battlefields to Pustków. The Russian Jewish prisoners of war were immediately selected and shot. The others slept on the ground. No facilities were built for them. They were not fed and died of hunger, malnutrition and mass killings. Most of them died, especially during the harsh winter of 1942. There are no precise records; it is assumed that the number of Soviet deaths reached about 5,000 soldiers. The Soviet assembly ground camp was next to the Jewish labor camp. A few skilled Russian technicians survived.

Most of the Soviet soldiers died in Pustków. The rate of dying was so

extensive that the Germans had to build a small crematorium to handle the dead bodies that accumulated in the camp. Dead bodies were kept in special bunkers until a sizable number accumulated and then the bodies

 

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Bunker specially built in Pustków to hold dead bodies until they were disposed

 

were burned. Many executions took place in Pustków at the top of the hill that was later named “Krulowa Gora” or royal mount. The hill was next to the Jewish labor camp.

Labor was decimated so fast that it had to be constantly replenished but the sources of cheap labor began to dry up. The Jewish ghettos were liquidated and Soviet prisoners had died by the thousands in German hands. In 1942, the Germans began to hire Poles to provide the labor but this proved a bit expensive and required extensive administration. It was simpler and cheaper to get slaves. So the Germans began to send Polish prisoners to a special camp in Pustków. There was no shortage of candidates since the Polish jails were full of Polish patriots and resistance fighters. These people began to arrive at Pustków. The Polish labor camp expanded with time. It was fenced and the rules were similar to all the German labor camps. There was no contact between the Jewish camp and the Polish camp. The Polish camp was well organized internally by the inmates. There was some contact between the camp and the Polish resistance movement in the area. The Poles worked extensively in the rocket launch programs of the V–1 and V–2 that were being developed by Germany. The work conditions at Pustków did not improve and thousands of Poles died at the camp despite the fact that they received food packages from home that slightly alleviated their food situation.

In the summer of 1943, The Germans decided to expand the small Jewish labor camp at Pustków. Calls were sent to the various places that still had Jewish skilled workers to send them to Pustków. The call was answered and transports of skilled Jewish workers began to arrive. The first large transport consisting of 130 Jewish workers arrived from the labor camp of Huta Komarowska in June 1943. Then a transport of 120 Jewish artisans arrived from the Szebnie concentration camp, followed by a group of Jewish skilled workers from the Rzeszow ghetto that included Mordechai Lustig. The Jewish camp now had about 416 skilled workers.

According to Mordechai Lustig, in the summer of 1943: “I arrived with some Jewish workers from the ghetto of Rzeszow or Reishe, Galicia. We were received by a German officer, Jewish workers who were specialists in their fields that consisted of tailors, shoemakers, plumbers, cooks, etc… and the supervisor of the Jewish workers, Leopold Waldhorn, who was a German Jew. Most Jewish inmates worked for the high ranking officers of the S.S. in the camp, including the S.S. commandant of the camp, Obersharfuhrer Ernest Kops'.

On reaching Pustków, we were given clean beds and two new blankets. We received clean mattresses. Our clothes were removed and burned since they contained too many lice. We received new clothing. We received shoes that belonged to the Soviet prisoners of war who had been killed in Pustków. We even received towels. Each morning we received coffee and we received for breakfast 250 grams of military bread, 10 grams of butter or honey or jam. After breakfast and the head count, we were divided into groups of four and began to drag parts of the barracks to their intended place that would be our camp and our workshops where we would create toys for the German soldiers so they could send these toys home to their families.

The new workshop was approximately three kilometers from the base camp where we slept. We received lunch at the place of work where there was a field kitchen. We were always led to the place of work by armed S.S. men and Ukrainians. Among the notorious Germans were Tchapeczka, Haman and Sharke. Once, prior to returning to our base camp at the end of the workday, we noticed that a Jewish worker was missing. Sharke went to look for him and reported that the Jewish worker had committed suicide in a barrack. We all knew immediately that Sharke hung him and told a lie. Sharke hung the fellow named Berger from the city of Krosno. We buried him and continued back to the old base. We continued to build barracks and by November 1943 two barracks were completed. We were now about 430 skilled Jewish workers. The camp had a service block as well as a kitchen, a sick room with a doctor named Shimon Sheingot. Our camp was surrounded by barbed wire that separated us from the Polish camp that was also surrounded by barbed wire.

One day following the head count, I was not assigned to a job. This was not a good omen. Three other inmates were also jobless. The kapo responsible for us started marching us back and forth as though we were preparing for a military parade. The kapo also tried to kill time. Then we were marched to our barrack where they brought wheat sacks that had to be fixed. We were soon assigned to regular jobs.

 

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Pustków labor camps; on the left is the Jewish labor camp and on the right is the big Polish labor camp with many barracks

 

Every morning the beds were inspected and had to be perfectly arranged and symmetrical. In the winter we were also forced to run to the washroom half naked. Strange, none of us came down with a cold. Every evening the doors of the barracks were closed from the outside and reopened in the morning. Provisions were made for the workers who had to use the toilet facilities at night. Watchtowers were placed around our camp and the guards were S.S. men or Ukrainians. The entire area was lit by searchlights. Once a week, an S.S. man would bring a bag of parcels to our camp. The parcels belonged to Polish inmates who received them from home. Whenever the Poles committed infractions of the camp rules, the Germans used to confiscate their parcels and some of them were given to the Jewish workers. The Jews, of course, did not have parcels since their families had disappeared a long time ago. Each barrack received a bag that contained food parcels. The food was distributed evenly between the barrack inmates. We also had our own large field kitchen where we cooked food for our camp.

The daily schedule at the Jewish labor camp was as follows:

5:30 Reveille
6:00 Washing the upper part of the body at the wash basin
6:30 Morning roll call at the appeal place by the commander
7:00 March to work
7.00 P.M. End of work. March back to camp.

Every morning, The German commander of the Jewish concentration camp, Obersharfuhrer Ruf, was present at the head count formation. I can safely say that his conduct to us Jewish workers was exemplary in comparison to other German camp commanders of the period whose bestiality knew no limits. His tone of behavior set the mood for the rest of the German officials at the Jewish labor camp in Pustków. The commandant office on occasion left German newspapers that the Jewish inmates stole and became aware of the general situation in Europe. Occasionally, there were shows organized within the barrack by Jewish theater artists from Warsaw who were inmates of the barrack. Of course, there was a steady lack of food that caused many of us to think of food. Not far from our camp was the hill that was called “Chujowa Gurka” or the cursed hill. The Germans placed many cut trees on top of the hill and then brought the stored dead bodies and placed them on top of the trees. Torches lit the trees and the bodies were burned. Many Poles were thus burned. The Germans even sent a group of 50 Jewish workers in February 1944 to the hill and nobody returned.

Germany was crumbling. Soviet armies were already in Poland as of January 1944. These armies advanced rapidly toward Pustków and the German armies were steadily withdrawing The S.S. high command had to make urgent decisions. The Pustków labor camp had to move. Already in March 1944, I was sent to the Plaszow concentration camp near Krakow with a group of Jewish skilled workers.

Moshe Bart, a native of Rymanow, Galicia, and an inmate of Pustków, told me that the remaining Jewish inmates of the Pustków concentration camp including himself were sent in June 1944 to Auschwitz or, more precisely, to Birkenau. Prior to the departure, the inmates were told that the camp was being relocated for greater security. The S.S. commander of the Jewish camp, Obersharfuhrer Ruf, was aboard the transport and on arrival in Auschwitz he told the notorious Mengele that his transport consisted of skilled technicians that could still serve Germany. The oral intervention worked and the transport was given a reprieve; it was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Most of the Jewish inmates of Pustków just walked away from the gas chambers. Their sufferings did not end but they were still alive and relatively much better off than most of the other concentration camp inmates as a result of their stay in Pustków. As the German armies retreated, camps were constantly evacuated and relocated and eventually most of the camps were liberated with the end of the war. The number of survivors from the Pustków Jewish camp was very impressive.

According to Moshe Oster, most of the Polish camp inmates at the Pustków labor camp were sent in July to Auschwitz, shortly before the

 

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Memorial erected at the entrance to Pustków concentration camp.
No Jewish or Polish inscription

(From the archives of Yad Vashem)

 

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The Polish government erected a monument to those murdered at Pustków

 

liberation of the camp by the Russians in August 1944. The Germans put up a stiff resistance to the Soviets who lost about 1,000 soldiers but took Pustków. The camp was officially liberated in August 1944.

A monument was placed at the top of the hill that was renamed “Krolowa Gora” or “Royal Hill.” The memorial (in Polish) reads: “To those killed at the Pustków labor camps between 1940–1944 by the Germans.” This monument was erected by the Polish government.

 

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Memorial in Yiddish reads: “To the 7,500 Jews who were killed by the Germans at Pustków between 1940–1944.May their memory be blessed.”
The monument was erected following the war in Pustków

 

Thanks to some former Jewish residents of Rzeszow, such as Moshe Oster and Leon Laor (Lambsdorf), Nathan Zebkowicz, Haim Grinszpan, Mordechai Lustig and other interested people, the idea of a Jewish monument to the Jewish victims of Pustków took shape. Jewish groups and survivors of Pustków started to push for a memorial dedicated to the Jewish victims of Pustków. They were assisted by several Polish professors, namely Mirek Kenzior, Tadeusz Pieta, Waclaw Wiezrbeniec, and Janusz Korbiecki. Finally, in 2007, a memorial was unveiled to the Jewish victims at Pustków. The event was widely publicized and many Polish officials, mayors, school principals and other important people attended the ceremony that was staged under government auspices.

I survived the war and reached Palestine as did most of the Pustkower camp survivors. I became very active in the association of former Pustkower inmates. The association was active during the 1960s and 1970s. The association was located at 35 Ezriel Street, Ramat Gan, Israel. We formed a secretariat that began to collect names and established contacts with Pustkower survivors throughout the world and especially in Israel. The secretariat consisted of:

Salo Sebel, chairman
Chaim Grinszpan, assistant chairman
Moshe Blassberg, treasurer
Yehuda Fuerst, secretary
Yossef Dreillinger, audit committee
Mordechai Lustig, audit committee
Dawid Eigler (Berglass), board member
Chaim Pfefer, board member
Yaacov Leizork, board member
Dawid Pearlberger, board member

We not only held annual membership meetings but also arranged social gatherings and tried to help the Pustkower members with their problems.

Members of the Pustkower Association in Israel

ALLWEISS Moshe
ARONOWICZ Abraham
ATLAS Yossef
BART Moshe
BEIL Abraham
BERGMAN Tzwi
BITTNER Egon
BLASCHKOWSKI Moshe
BLASSBERG Moshe
BLEIWEIS (SUESMAN) Salek
BLUTTNER  
BRZEZINSKI Joseph
BUCHOLTZ Dow
DEGEN Moshe
DEUTSCH Moshe
DICHTENBERG Moshe
DREILINGER Yossef
DRILLING Benzion
DRUCKER Mendel
EIGLER (BERGLASS) Dawid
EINHORN Dawid
EISEN Yaakow
EKSTERMAN H
ENTEN Zeev
EHRENFELD Benyamin
EPSTEIN Asher
FELSEN Henryk
FERTIG Willy
FIGOWI Bernard
FINK Arie
FISCHLER Zeew
FLIGELMAN Naftali
FRANKEL (FRENKEL) Marek
FREILICH Charles
FUERST Yehuda
FUHRER Yaakow
FURST Eliezer
GELDTZAHLER Lezer Schlomo
GOLDBERG Zeew
GOLDSTOFF Baruch
GOLDWENDER Jechiel
GOLDWENDER Zwi
GOTTLIEB Eliezer Dr
GRABER Joel
GRINSZPAN Chaim
GRUBER Itzhak
GRUNN Maximillian
HABER Oskar
HALICKI Awraham
HAUSMAN Herman
HELLER (TENC) Jeheskel Mo
HERZBERG Ignatz
HIRSCHBERG Dawid
HOIDA Dawid
HORSKI (HOROWICZ) Leo
JAKUBOWICZ Henoch
JEKIEL Dawid
JERUCHEMSON  
KAPISZOW Aaron
KATZ Yehuda
KAUFER Eliezer
KIRSCH Naftali
KOHN Markus
KRISPOW (KRZYPOW) Adam
KRONISH Shlomo
KUCZINSKI Mordechai
KURTZ Itzhak
LANDSMAN Naphtali
LANG Israel
LAOR Asher
LEINKRAM Yaakow
LEISER Nathan
LENGEL  
LIBAN Chaim
LIBERMAN Dow
LIEBOLD Janek
LOW Naftali
LUSTIG Mordechai
MAHLER Henryk
MARK (MARCHEWKA) Sam
MENDLINGER Itzhak
MEYER Fred
MULLER Mordechai
NOWAK Abraham
OSTER Moshe
PEARLBERGER Dawid
PFEFER Chaim
PFLANZER Benjamin
PIASECKI Henryk
PUTTER Henryk
REINER Israel
ROSSDEUTCHER Samuel
ROTH Alter
RZEPKOWICZ Nathan
SALZ David
SCHARF David
SCHECHTER Yaakow
SCHILDKRAUT Naphtali
SCHNEIDER Julius
SCHOFET Eliyahu
SCHONGUT Shimon
SPIEGEL Ziegfried
SEBEL Salo
SPIER ( SCHMIER) Leo
STANG Zeew
STERN Leo
STERN Leon
SZAMIR Dow
SZAMIR Yaakow
SZIFRIN Benzion
SZPILMAN Shlomo
TAUB Salomon
TEIBLUM Yaakow
TEITELBAUM Tzwi Zeew
TELLER Moshe
TENCER Itzhak
TUCHMAN Yaakow
WAGNER Szimon
WEINSTOCK Yossef
WIESENFELD Kalman
WIMMER Eliyahu
WOHLFILER Asher
ZAPANOWICZ Nathan

 

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