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ETH EZKERA
Whenever I remember

Memorial Book of the
Jewish Community in
Tzoyzmir (Sandomierz)

Collected and edited: Eva Feldenkreiz–Grinbal

Editors: Levi Dror and Joseph Rav

Graphic design: Aryeh Velleman

 

The Life and Annihilation Of the Tzoyzmir Jews

 

Preface

Our book has finally been published, 50 years after the events described in it. People may well have certain doubts as to how reliable one's memory can be after so many years. However, those events have left an indelible impression on the minds of those who relate them here in this book. They left memories that the passage of time can never erase.

Most of the evidence given by survivors of Sandomierz now living in Israel, and the written accounts I received, begin with the first “Aktsia” (deportation) in Oct. 1942. This was the moment of separation from their families.

The book tells no stories of heroism, for in our town, conditions did not give rise to any display of heroism. Our young people longed passionately to join the Polish partisans, acting on their commanders' instructions, rejected them, and then, on many occasions, murdered them.

Two sections of the book relate the experiences of our community and of those who survived the Holocaust. These sections give a faithful description of the reality of those years; it is not the intention to pass judgement on people whose actions were dictated by that horrendous reality.

The section referred to as: “She'erit Hapleita” describes the life of the survivors who returned to Sandomierz after the war and within three years all of them had left the town forever.

The section of the book dealing with the 20 years between the two World Wars is, unfortunately, somewhat skimpy since a great deal of information is lacking. Those who knew the town best and could have told us so much about the short period when Sandomierz, like other Jewish communities in Poland, developed a flourishing social and cultural life, have passed away.

The opening section tells the story of Jewish life in a city where Jews were considered foreigners and their presence very grudgingly accepted. Generally speaking, gentile merchants opposed competition from Jewish merchants and took steps to prevent them from posing a threat to their own trade. The Church often offered its support in this by conducting blood libel trials against the Jews.

I cherish the hope that our future generations will learn the complete history of the Sandomierz Jewish community from the days when our people first settled in the town to when the community was destroyed in the Holocaust. For their

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own sakes, the children must be told the truth of what happened, of how their people was slaughtered. They must be made aware of the fact that, under certain conditions, what occurred then could occur again. Even now we are witnesses to the rise of the neo–Nazi movement in Germany and of similar groups in other parts of Europe.

Because of my commitment to relating the story of Sandomierz to those of the younger generation who are not speakers of Hebrew, I felt that it was incumbent on me to write an outline of the contents of the book in English. Since it is impossible to convey the first–hand experiences of survivors in summarised form, the section on testimonies has not been included in this brief account.

After the war, a memorial to our community, made of ruined gravestones, was erected in the Jewish cemetery at Sandomierz.

The book, created from the collective memories and testimonies of those of us who survived is, too, a memorial to the Jewish community at Sandomierz.

E.F.

*Abbreviated text from the Hebrew.

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Pages from History

The Town

Sandomierz is one of the earliest settlements in Lesser Poland. It was founded in the southern part of Poland in the 10th century.

The name of the town changed over the generations until it acquired its final form Sandomierz. The Jews called the town Tzoyzmir, which is reminiscent of its ancient name Sodzmir. This has been considered indicative of the fact that Jews lived there from early on.

From the geographic point of view, Sandomierz is located at the junction of two regions: lowland and upland, the latter rising to 300m. Between these regions of land, there flows the long river Vistula (Wisla) from the Carpathian mountains in the south of Poland to the Baltic sea in the north.

Already from the beginning, Sandomierz played an important political, cultural and ecclesiastical role not only in the district but in the whole country.

The town has a religious character. There are five beautiful ancient churches and a 14th century cathedral – one of Poland's ancient architectural monuments. There are also many other antiquities in the town.

In the centre of Sandomierz, in the market square, stands the town hall built in the 13th century. In the course of years, it has undergone changes and renovations. Its small iron flag on the top of the tower can be seen from afar even today. Many fairs took place there and, following World War I, military parades.

In the Jewish Street one can still see the solitary synagogue built in 1758 after the previous synagogue had burnt down. The synagogue is a reminder to passers–by that Jews once lived in the town.

In the 12th century, Sandomierz was the capital of the Sandomierz Dukedom. Despite its formidable fortifications, the town was invaded and ravaged by the Tatars in the 13th century.

In 1286, the Magdeburg Bill granted Sandomierz administrative and judicial independence. Now its merchants could travel tax–free throughout Poland. The fortified palace, previously built of wood, was rebuilt of stone in the southern part of the town in the 14th century. Rulers of the Dukedom lived there and it became the centre of Lesser Poland.

During the reign of King Kazimierz the Great, the development of Sandomierz gained momentum. Stone houses were built and a wall surrounded the town.

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Even today, one can still see parts of the wall. The economic situation was good. Granaries were built along the river Vistula and trade–routes to Kiev in the Ukraine and to Hungary were established.

In the 16th century Sandomierz merchants built underground storehouses which later, when connecting paths were widened, became an underground labyrinth.

A hundred men from Sandomierz studied at the Academy of Krakow. Afterwards, some of them held important jobs in the government of the monarchy.

The town became the core of intellectual life. People from the richer social stratum, mainly the nobility from the surrounding area, joined religious movements which separated themselves from the Catholic Church. Their aim was to establish an association in order to fight for freedom of religion. But the Jesuit reactionaries soon got the upper hand and strengthened the power of the ruling Church even more.

Economic prosperity continued until the end of the 16th century. In the beginning of the 17th century it began to decline, though intensive grain–trade went on along the Vistula and about a hundred artisans were active in the town.

In 1655 The Swedes invaded Sandomierz. A year later, the Polish army forced them to retreat but not before they had blown up the palace and caused a great deal of damage to the town and its surroundings. About 2000 people perished.

At that time, the struggle between Jewish merchants and gentiles intensified – the latter being supported by the Church. They slandered Jews in order to have an excuse to banish them from the town.

In the 18th century, the town declined even more because of the constant power struggles within the dynasty and also because of the huge fire that broke out in mid–century.

In 1772 the first partition of Poland took place. Russia, Austria and Prussia divided Poland among themselves, leaving only a small independent kingdom to the Poles, including Sandomierz. The town's development suffered a setback. Poverty caused the people to go back to building wooden houses.

In 1795, when the third partition took place, Sandomierz was annexed by Austria. The district authorities were transferred from Sandomierz to Radom.

In 1815, Sandomierz was included in the “Polish Monarchy” established at the Vienna Congress. The Russian Tzar became absolute ruler over the monarchy which was also named “Congress Poland”.

In 1818, the placing of the bishopric in Sandomierz enhanced the status of the town and its situation improved. At the end of the century, wealthy Jews moved from the Jewish Street where they had been crowded together for centuries and

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settled in the market square and in Opatowska Street, close to the square.

In 1918, Poland got its independence. Sandomierz became a district town. In the period between the two World Wars, economy and education in the town greatly progressed. In 1939, there were as many as 10152 inhabitants; among them about 3000 Jews.

On September 9th, 1939 the Germans conquered Sandomierz and remained in the town until August 18th, 1944. By then, the population of the town was reduced to 8357.

No Jews were left!

 

The Jews in Sandomierz

In the 14th century, there was already a Jewish community of considerable standing in Sandomierz. Together with the Jews of Krakow and Lwow, the community appealed to King Kazimierz the Great, in 1367 and obtained permission for Jews to travel freely from town–to–town, and trade safely in the same way as the Jews of Kalish did since 1264. The new privileges also guaranteed protection of Jewish institutions, synagogues and cemeteries. The Jews, for their part, were to pay their taxes scrupulously.

In the 15th century, with increasing religious and economic persecution in Germany, Jewish immigration to Poland also increased. They settled in the towns and penetrated different branches of sea and land trade. The competition between them and the gentile merchants quickly intensified, leading to disorders and violence. In order to protect themselves, the Jews paid large sums of money to the Church which was, in fact, the initiator of the attacks on Jews.

From the end of the 16th century, the community of Sandomierz began to organize its affairs. At the head of the community was a Council (Vaad Hakehila) elected every year. The Council was responsible for religion, education, health, welfare and commerce. It mediated between the community and the monarchy, and between the community and the local authorities. The Council was headed by leading members of the community. They were authorised to pass judgement on matters of civil law and disputed claims among Jews. There were also a number of sub–committees dealing with matters of justice, charity and education. The Community Council obtained its funds from taxes paid by Jews, according to income and property.

The larger town community ruled the smaller neighbouring ones and together

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they formed a district council name “Galil”. The representatives of the communities belonging to the “Galil” would meet on fixed dates and at these meetings, known as the “Galil Council”, they would decide upon regulations which all communities of the “Galil” were obliged to comply. When there was a deficit in the budget, especially at times of blood–libels, the community in need would turn to the “Galil” for help or borrow money from the Church. Because of the high interest they were obliged to pay for the loan, given by the Church, they had difficulties in repaying it.

The “Council of the Four Lands” (Vaad Arba Aratzot) based on the firmly established “Galils” and the well–organized communities, was recognized in 1580 as the central authority and leadership of all Polish and Lithuanian Jewry. This council had administrative and judicial authority over the Jewish communities. Its members elected by the main communities and by the “Galils”, would meet twice a year, mostly during fair days in Lublin and in Jaroslaw. The agenda would be on general matters concerning Jews of Poland and Lithuania and on division of the taxes which were decided upon after negotiations with the Ministry of Finance.

The beginnings of the organized Jewish community in Sandomierz are obscure. It began to crystalize when the town became an important grain–trading centre, and the local authorities allocated a place for Jews in the western part of the town, along the walls, in the “Jewish Street”.

According to local records, the number of Jewish families between the years 1557–1563 was 32 and they resided in 25 houses. Between the years 1567–1569 the number of Jewish residents grew. The reference to the building of a synagogue is an indication that the community had begun to organize its affairs.

Over–crowding in the Jewish Street intensified (as the local authorities did not allocate enough housing for Jews) to an extent that they were forced to build houses for themselves. Their number grew constantly and they became a decisive economic factor in the town.

In the 17th century, Sandomierz became one of the most important communities in the Tzoyzmir–Krakow Galil. Representatives of the Galil would meet from time–to–time to hold consultations concerning taxes. In the minutes of Galil meetings, names of Jews, representatives from Tzoyzmir, are mentioned; they addressed the council on various matters and problems of the community. They often asked for loans.

In the second half of the 17th century, frictions between the Jewish community in Krakow and neighbouring Jewish communities grew to such an extent that the latter decided to separate from Krakow and join the Galil of Tzoyzmir instead. A new Galil was formed known as the “Tzoyzmir–Kraka–Galil”. This joint galil was soon burdened by debts, mainly caused by blood–libel trials which

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used up money. Another reason for their debts were the taxes they had to pay to the monarchy (per–capita taxes) which, due to mistakes made in the royal offices, were often demanded twice.

The taxes became a great burden for the Jews of Sandomierz. The representatives of the Jews tried to obtain exemption for the people from some taxes, other than the per–head tax, but the authorities refused to ease the burden.

When the monarchy's income was very low, in the middle of the 17th century, new taxes were imposed on the Jews of Sandomierz, as on all the Jews in Poland, in addition to the special local taxes. As a result of the “pogrom” led by General Stefan Czarniecki in 1656, and the blood–libel trials at the end of the 17th century and the turn of the 18th century, huge sums of money were required. The community was forced to turn to loans and credit which brought it to economic ruin, aggravated further by the struggle with the gentile townsmen.

At the end of the 17th century, the centre of the “Galil” was transferred from the community of Sandomierz to the neighbouring town Opatow. Many Jews from Sandomierz left the town and went to live in Opatow.

 

Conflict between Jews and Gentiles in Tzoyzmir

The struggle between gentiles and Jews had been rife in all towns of the monarchy in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Jews tried to expand their trading rights and the gentile merchants tried hard to prevent them from doing so.

In Sandomierz the Jews were well organized at that time though the gentiles tried to limit Jewish trade from the end of the 15th century. It can be said that until the middle of the 16th century, the relationship between the two sides was relatively peaceful. This could perhaps be ascribed to the small number of Jews whose role could not have been of great economic significance. However, in the mid–16th century, the situation changed. Documents from the local archives and those from the monarchy's archives, testify to this. Under the pressure and influence of the gentiles, the kings issued orders imposing limitations on Jewish merchants, on the number of families allowed to live in the town and on the number of houses in the Jewish Street. Nonetheless, the Jews continued to build houses in the street and when there was no more room to build, they built their homes in the town walls.

In 1647, Jews were granted formal permission to trade without restrictions but the townsmen saw to it that this privilege was not implemented.

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A “proper occasion to get rid of the Jews presented itself when the Swedes invaded Poland and the Polish general Stefan Czarniecki entered Sandomierz in 1656 at the head of his troops and slaughtered the Jews. Only a small number managed to hide or to escape. The survivors who stayed in the town were expelled by order of King Jan Kazimierz. However, when matters calmed down, the King revoked the order and granted the Jews full freedom to build houses, to trade and to observe their religious rites, provided that they paid their taxes to the King's treasury and to the local authorities. In the following 100 years, Polish kings endorsed these rights.

The number of Jews living in Sandomierz increased – as the collection per capita tax shows – and their economic position was strengthened. Local documents reported many events of struggle between Jews and townsmen regarding credit accounts. The townsmen complained that the number of Jews living in the town squares had increased, as had the trade of the Jews. The Jews of Sandomierz were indeed widely involved in trade and quite a high percentage of them were among the wealthy merchants of Poland.

Towards the close of the 17th century the struggle between the Jews and the townsmen increased, assuming a religious nature. The Church, ruled at that time by the Jesuits, supported the townsmen, fought heretics and, of course, Jews, often by means of blood–libels. The struggle between the Jews and the townsmen continued throughout the 18th century.

 

The Pogrom

On July 21, 1655 Poland was invaded by the Swedish army headed by their King Gustav Adolf. Sandomierz, as well as the whole country, was conquered by the enemy. The Poles looked for a scapegoat on whom to blame their defeat, so they spread rumours to the effect that the Jews had collaborated with the enemy.

In March 1656 the Polish General Stefan Czarniecki, gathered the scattered army units and succeeded in freeing Poland.

Being ‘convinced’ that the Jews betrayed the country, he organized a pogrom in Sandomierz with his soldiers and many people from the town. The story of this pogrom was recounted in two hand–written scripts in the Hebrew language and

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kept in the archives of the synagogue in Sandomierz. These documents disappeared in World War II when all the Jews of the community perished.

 

Blood Libel in Sandomierz

According to the Church, the population was divided into believers and infidels – the believers being the rulers of the country and infidels, including the Jews, those to be persecuted. At the beginning of the 17th century, a series of blood–libel trials against Jews was held.

In Sandomierz, the first of these trials took place in 1628 when the Jews were accused of kidnapping the child of a Christian chemist in order to use his blood in religious rites. The Jews succeeded in proving their innocence.

In 1639, three Jews were accused of buying ‘holy–bread’ (the Host) from a gentile woman. This libel caused turmoil in the town. A great deal of Jewish property was looted.

In the spring of 1698, on the eve of Passover, a dead child – a girl– was found in the mortuary of the church in Sandomierz. As became known later, its mother had left it there to be buried without her having to pay for the burial. The priest, Stefan Zuchowski, got an opportunity to turn the event into a libel. The ‘offender’, Aaron Berek, a leader of the Jewish community, was put on trial after he had been interrogated under torture. He kept on repeating that he was not guilty, but to no avail. He was sentenced to death.

A few years later, there was again a blood–libel trial. This time, all the Jews of Sandomierz were accused of murdering a Christian child name Jerzy Krasnowski. The Jews, afraid of a pogrom, loaded their belongings onto boats on the Vistual and took to flight. The priest Zuchowski staged a trial in which the accused were the leading people of the community. The trial began at the high court in Lublin. Five of the eight accused Jews died under severe torture. The King and his ministers intervened in favour of the sentenced Jews, but Zuchowski got the upper hand. The case was brought before the court of Sandomierz and the trial continued until 1712.

The Jews tried to prove that they did not kill Christian children to use their blood. They presented evidence from books of scholars. To obtain such evidence, they travelled great distances, investing much time and money. But, against this evidence, the priest brought a converted Jew to testify that killing for the sake of religious rites was a secret command from the Torah. The convert

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described in detail the procedure of killing and sucking the blood, which he had himself performed twice while serving as a rabbi. The court accepted his “evidence” as that of an eye–witness. As the whole community was accused, the representatives of the community were sentenced to death.

On the 28th April, 1712 King August II ordered the Jews to leave the town. However, they did not leave? Zuchowski perpetuated the memory of that event by a large drawing showing small children being tortured by Jews. The picture is still hanging in the Cathedral among other pictures illustrating the history of the town. In two books, Zuchowski wrote after the sentenced Jews were executed, that he tried to prove that the Jews were the cause for the destruction of the town, for the havoc the Swedes had caused and for the frequent disasters caused by fire. He claimed that Judaism was undermining the foundations of Christianity.

 

The Synagogue

Wherever Jews settled, they attached great importance to the building of synagogues as a centre for Jewish religious and congregational life.

According to the official Jewish version, the first synagogue in Sandomierz was built in 1255; according to the Jewish folk–version, the synagogue dates from the 14th century and was financed by Estherke, the Jewish sweetheart of King Kazimierz the Great.

In local documents, the synagogue is first mentioned in 1418. Yet, records from the 16th century say that the synagogue was built between the years 1567–1569 when many Jews had settled in Sandomierz.

In 1647 the synagogue caught fire in the middle of the prayer service. The fire spread to 18 houses of the neighbouring gentile street, gutting the synagogue and houses. The Jews were required to pay for damages on the pretext that they had deliberately caused the fire. In the same year the Jews built a new synagogue which burnt down in 1687. A year later, another synagogue was built in Sandomierz. When it caught fire in 1758, it was replaced by a synagogue built of stone. This synagogue still exists today. It stands at the end of the Jewish Street, close to the Opatow Gate.

According to a decree issued by the Church in 1589, the Jews were to build simple, low synagogues. Yet, they devised means of building synagogues with their floors below street level so that they appeared low–slung from outside, while the interior preserved its original height. The last synagogue in Sandomierz was built in such a way. From the southern part of the courtyard and

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from the inner corridor a few stairs lead down to the prayer–hall and to the hall where Community Council sessions took place. The room of the House of Study (Beth Hamidrash) was on the left hand of the corridor on the same level. On the western and northern walls of the prayer hall there were barred windows and behind them, two prayer halls for women (Ezrath Nashim).

The interior of the synagogue was quite modest with drawings on the ceiling and on the eastern wall next to the Holy Ark. On the opposite side, there as the cantor's desk and a stand for the lecturer (Darshan). In the centre of the hall was a podium with a desk for the reading of the Torah, covered with a beautiful velvet tablecloth. The podium was surrounded by sculptured wooden pillars and from the ceiling, a copper candelabra was suspended, on one of which the year 1787 was carved in Hebrew letters according to the Jewish calendar. Inside the Holy Ark, embroidered robes for the Torah and curtains for the Ark (Parahot) were kept, two of those were of special beauty: one dated 1700 and the other 1743, both dedicated by sons to the memory of their fathers.

Among the outstanding antique objects in the synagogue was a worn–out pointer for reading the Torah. engraved on it was the year 1542 in Hebrew letters. The pointer had probably been retrieved from a synagogue that had burnt down and brought to the newly built one, handed down so on from synagogue to synagogue till the last one.

One of the walls of the House of Study was covered with shelves up to the ceiling. Among the thousands of books was an ancient looking volume bound in leather with the title: “Ordination of Rabbis” ( Smihat Hahamim).

On the cantor's stand in the prayer–hall, there was a big prayer book written on parchment, richly illuminated with colourful mythological animals. The title page was worn and torn making it impossible to recognise the year in which it was written. It is quite plausible that the prayer book was buried in the courtyard of the synagogue by people of the community together with the Scrolls of the Law and other precious religious articles before they were taken to their doom in 1942. When there were no more Jews in the town, gentile shopkeepers used the pages they tore from the books of the House of Study as wrapping paper for their merchandise. After the war, the Poles turned the synagogue into a junk storehouse.

In the sixties, the synagogue was renovated and changes were made to suit the new purpose of the building – an archive.

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The Jewish Street

According to a decree issued by the Lateran Council of Churches in 1212, the Jews were to be segregated from the gentiles and a wall or fence was to serve as a partition line between them. The Church explained the decree: “…so that the Christians may not learn from the bad deeds of the Jews and believe in folly …”

And so the Jews in all communities were concentrated in a single street named the “Jewish street”. The same happened in Sandomierz. The Jews settled on the western side of the town along the wall, close to the Opatow Gate and on the eastern side, adjoining the market square and the Opatowska Street. In the 17th century, all houses of Jews were still built of wood. It is no wonder that they caught fire so often. The local authorities tried to safeguard the buildings but it was useless. Several families had to live in the dark apartments of one house.

Over the years, the number of occupants grew and it became necessary to partition larger rooms into smaller ones, or to add storeys on the top of the buildings, often people had to live in the attics.

The synagogue and the adjoining House of Study, the Community Council, the Court and the school – all were located in the middle of the Jewish Street. In the 17th century, the cemetery was already outside the walls.

 

The Rabbis and their writings

The following names are those of the well–known rabbis and presidents of the Jewish Court of Law (Avoth Beth Din) who served in Sandomierz in the 17th century. The illustrious Rabbi Yaakov (Harav Hagaon Yaakov), Ben Hardosh Yaskov, the disciple of the illustrious Rabbi Akiva (Rabbi Akiva Hagaon) from Frankfurt. He wrote two books: “Commentary on Tradition” (“Perush Hamassoreth”), and “The Sense of Tradition” (“Taamei Hamassoreth”).

Next was the learned Cabbalist Shlomo Shapira, the son of Nathan Netta who wrote: “Discovering the Depth” (“Megaleh Amukoth”). His first assignment as a Rabbi was in Sandomierz.

Sandomierz held an important place in the Council of the Four Lands whose representatives were chosen by the communities. One of the representatives was Rabbi Nahum Tzoyzmir. He lived in the 17th century and while still young,

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Was appointed President of the Jewish Court of Law in Sandomierz (Tzoyzmir) and, thereafter, was called after the town.

Rabbi Yaakov, son of Schmuel, President of the Jewish Court of Law, became famous when, despite the prohibition by the Council of the Four Lands on publishing books, his two books: “Questions and Answers” and “The History of Yaakov” were published.

In the second half of the 18th century, Rabbi Isaac (Meizelsh) and Rabbi Doberish Hacohen served as rabbis of Sandomierz. Rabbi Meizelsh, the President of the Jewish Court, published two books written by his brother Uziel in 1786. “The Magnificence of Zvi” (“Tiphereth Zvi”) and “The Vineyard of Salomon” (“Kerem Shlomo”), to these books he added a book of notes and a commentary with a title: “The Golden Wreath” (“Zehr Zahav”).

Rabbi Doberish Hacohen was a brilliant man. When still young, he already served as a Rabbi in Rakow and from 1803 – in Sandomierz. He was the author of new interpretations of the book “Hoshen Mishpath” (in literal translation: “Breastplate of the Law” which was published many years after his death.

 

The Jews in Sandomierz in the 18th/19th centuries

King Stanislaw August Poniatowski (1764–1795) promised freedom of trade and religious rituals to the Jews as well as juridical protection in return, he demanded that taxes be paid to the Treasury punctually.

In 1765, as a result of a decision taken in the Sejm (parliament) concerning the new system of per–capita tax collection, the list of Jews in Sandomierz was brought up–to–date. According to this list, there were 96 families in Sandomierz at that time, approximately 430 Jews. They dwelled in 32 houses and, according to the list of professions of the heads of the families, most of them were engaged in craftsmanship. As can be seen, the number of Jews had grown a bit but in comparison with other towns in the “Galil”, it was small although Sandomierz was the capital of the Province. The local authorities permitted the Jews to trade outside the town but only on fair days and only in specific goods. Important Jewish merchants were freed from these restrictions by means of protection they received from the King to whose treasury they contributed large sums of money.

When the Partition of Poland took place in 1772, Prussia, Russia and Austria annexed parts of its territory. Sandomierz remained within the reduced

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Polish Kingdom

In 1773, the King granted protection to the Jews of Sandomierz against any possible harm from the townsmen and reinstated all rights that had been granted by former kings. The Jews were allowed to trade and accumulate possessions, providing their demands were not excessive and they did not abuse the protection they were granted.

The struggle between the townsmen and the Jews did not stop and many cases were brought before the local court.

According to a census from 1777, there were 283 Jews in Sandomierz among a population of 2060, which is 147 Jews less than recorded in 1765. The record may not be accurate and, therefore, may not show the real number of Jewish residents.

The hostility between the gentiles and the Jews continued and resulted in many trials. The King incurred large debts at that time and was therefore interested in getting as much money as possible from the Jews. The Jews of Sandomierz were almost certainly not less generous with his Majesty the King than other Jewish communities.

In 1788 the King sent a letter of protection to the Jewish community of Sandomierz after the Jews had informed him that they feared hostility from the gentiles.

At the same time, the King also granted protection to Jewish merchants who were involved in business and other economic activities with gentiles. He cancelled the debts the Jews owed to gentiles and to the Church.

In 1795, Poland was again partitioned and ceased to exist as a sovereign state. Thus, the reign of the enlightened King Poniatowski came to an end. During his reign the situation of the Jews had slightly improved.

Sandomierz was annexed by Austria. For the community in Sandomierz, as for all Jewish communities in Poland, a new era began. Though blood–libels and tortures in the law–courts were, at that time, a rare occurrence, the hatred the Poles felt for the Jews became even stronger.

In the year 1814–1815, after Napoleon's defeat, a decision was reached at the Vienna Congress according to which the “Warsaw Duchy” that Napoleon established in part of Poland in 1807, was now to be the “Polish Kingdom”, also named “Congress Poland”. This kingdom was annexed by Russia as a state enjoying internal autonomy. However, the Tzar, as its king and his representative, the king's deputy, maintained highest authority. Sandomierz was included in this kingdom. At that time there about half a million Jews in Poland – about 11% of the whole population.

In the middle of the 19th century, the Jews of Sandomierz were still living in the

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crowded Jewish Street through their number had increased to 900. Conditions therefore worsened in 1864. Jews in the town numbered 1043 in a total population of 3792. In the second half of that century, the well–to–do merchants spread into the neighbouring streets having obtained permission from the central authorities in Warsaw. They lived in houses they had bought from gentiles outside the Jewish quarter and built houses themselves behind the city wall. But only wealthy Jews left the Jewish Street, the rest went on living there in crowded conditions. The social gap in the Jewish community widened and as wealthy Jews lived rather conspicuously, they caused the hatred the gentiles felt towards the Jews to become stronger.

At the close of the 19th century, antisemitism had increased in Sandomierz. The growing Jewish population numbered 2164 in the year 1897 (34% of the population). Jewish merchants and artisans began to occupy positions formerly held by gentile merchants and the Church, which had deep roots in the town for centuries, increased its virulent propaganda against the Jews.

The two following stories illustrate social differences and religious antagonism in the Jewish community in Sandomierz on the one hand, and antisemitism of the Church, on the other.

 

The Rich Jew and the Poor Jew

The famous Russian painter, Victor Hartman, was married to a Polish girl with whom he came to visit Poland. He spent some time in Sandomierz where he went on with his painting. In two small aquarelle paintings, he portrayed two Jewish characters = one of the wealthy Jew, Shmuel Goldenberg, and the other of Shmil (Shmuel) a poor Jew. Both paintings illustrate the social gap in the Jewish community at that time.

After Hartman's death in 1873, his friends exhibited his pictures in honour of his memory. Among the pictures were the portraits of the two Jews. The famous Russian composer, M.P. Musorgski, who had been a friend of the painter, was very impressed with the exhibition and later composed the musical piece: “Pictures at an Exhibition” in which the two Jews were included. And so the “Wealthy Jew” and the “Poor Jew” from Sandomierz are perpetuated in art and in music.

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I.L. Peretz in Sandomierz

At the Fifth Judaica Congress at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1969, J.A. Klausner dedicated his speech to Peretz's short period in Sandomierz and to his unpublished poem: “The Fire” which Peretz wrote in Hebrew after being compelled to leave Sandomierz where he had lived for over a year.

Here are some excerpts from Klausner's speech:

“…Young Peretz was charmed by the beauty of the landscapes of Sandomierz and the antiquities stimulated him. He spoke of the eventful past of the town, the libels, the struggle and the suffering of the Jewish population. Peretz's own circumstances in Sandomierz were not easy. In addition, his first=born son, Yaakow, died there in 1875. Peretz himself was persecuted by the bigots. He made a living by managing a brewery together with his partner, Silver. When on the eve of Passover, he did not “sell” the “Humetz” to a gentile, the zealots forced him to pour out all the beer he had in stock. Thus he was deprived of his livelihood and was forced to leave the town”.

“…In Peretz's unknown manuscript, I was lucky to discover his long poem about Sandomierz which is of special importance. In this poem he not only expresses his admiration for the beauty of the town and its history, but also his personal experiences while living there. The title of the poem is “The Fire” (Hasrefa)”.

The main characters in the poem are the Catholic Priest who hated Jews and accused them of being the reason for the decline of the Church and of the nobility. The other character is the zealot Rabbi of the Jewish community who imposed all kinds of restrictions to make the Jews follow the commandments, some of which he made up just for the sake of restriction.

Another character is that of Ephraim, an agnostic, a stranger who came from afar to live in Sandomierz. He was the owner of a prosperous estate whose produce he shipped by raft to Warsaw and Danzig. The hostile actions of the priest who hated him as a Jew, and of the rabbi who was angry with him for his contempt for religion, soon brought his estate to ruin.

And so the rabbi took his revenge and the priest took revenge both on the Jew and on the farm–hands who angered him by working on a Jewish estate.

All this took place in the beautiful surroundings of Sandomierz which Peretz describes I the first lines of his poem.

Surrounded by gardens
Cornfields and woods
Sandomir towers over

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Mountain peaks.
Once a royal city
Today in ruins
The Vistula water
Overflow its banks
The waves lick the feet
Of the mountains.
The story of glory – the drama – the shiver
Is told by the witness – the river. (free translation)

 

Between the Two World Wars

In Nostalgia for the Past

At the outbreak of World War I, Sandomierz was under Russian occupation, but in the course of the war, the town passed from the Russians to the Austrians and back. The Jews suffered mainly from the Cossacks who looted, raped and murdered. In 1918, after the occupying forces left, independent Poland came into being.

For many years, stories about the war were told, even entertaining ones and stories with a happy end. Between the two wars, there were in town well–to–do Jewish grain and lumber merchants, and eggs and poultry wholesalers who sent their wares to the large cities.

In addition, the Jewish population consisted of various artisans such as bakers, each one excelling in his particular product: one in bagels that were baked by a special process, and another in bread that was called “German”; shoemakers, tailors, cap makers – sold their wares at markets, but also to individual order. There were Jewish porters, even water carriers who for pennies delivered buckets of well–water on foot to Jewish families. Only Yeki Fuks delivered water in a carriage hitched to a horse. But more often than once, he had to pull the carriage himself, together with the and stumbling horse.

There were also beggars – people who depended for their livelihood on the charity of other Jews. In general, the Jews took care of the needy as is reflected in the following story told by Etka Wolman: “Mutual Help in Sandomierz”.

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“Sandomierz sits on a high hill at the foot of the river Wisla (Vistula) that flows from the Carpathian Mountains down to the Baltic Sea. The town inhabitants enjoyed bathing and swimming in its waters during the summer month.”

Berl Balagule (coachman) made his living by transporting passengers to and from the railway station several kilometres away from Sandomierz. One morning when Berl brought his two horses to the river Vistula to wash, a strong current dragged the horses into the water and they drowned. Luckily the coach was on the shore.

Great was the pity for the living creatures that perished, but even greater the pity and sorrow for Berl who, by the loss of his horses, was deprived of the only means of support for his large family.

The news of Berl's misfortune spread rapidly in town. Something had to be done. How could Berl's family be saved from misery and starvation? The elders of the community met and decided to provide new horses for Berl. People were assigned to go from house–to–house and collect money. There were few well–do–do Jews in the town but because everyone without exception donated as much as he could, the necessary amount was collected in one day, before the onset of the Shabbath. Sunday morning, a new pair of horses was given to Berl for his coach”.

In the 1930's, Jews turned more and more to secular education, studying in high schools. Some pursued higher studies in Poland or in foreign countries from where few of them returned to Sandomierz.

Jewish youth joined various movements, mainly Zionist, but in spite of their opposing ideologies, relations among them remained good. They often used to go hiking or on picnics in the fields and woods together.

Young Jewish people, especially boys, engaged in various sports, mainly with the Maccabi Sport Club.

Yiddish plays on biblical themes were staged from time–to–time, with local people as performers.

As in every Jewish community, Sandomierz had communal organisations that looked after the members of the community in life and in death.

Hassidic groups prayed in the shtiblakh (prayer houses) of the rabbis' followers. With their prayers and singing they added colour and joy to the life of the community. The Hassidic movements dwindled at the end of the 1930's. There were fewer shtiblakhs.

Small children learned in “Heder” (elementary religious schools), which as a rule, served also as the living quarters of the “Melamed's” (teacher's) family. Young people studied Torah in the House of Prayer or in Yeshivot, locally or in other towns. A small number studied in Polish high schools. More recently, many

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studied Hebrew at the girl's school “Yavneh”, or with private teachers.

Nostalgic for the past, we would like to describe some exceptional individuals of the town.

Menahem Mendel Nay, the Rabbi of Sandomierz, honourably represented the Jewish community before the Polish authorities and fulfilled all his functions with devotion. He was fluent in Polish and held religious debates with the Bishop, who greatly respected him.

Joel Konius, the teacher, promoted knowledge of Hebrew in Sandomierz before the war and strengthened ties with Eretz Israel.

During the war, he carried on teaching Jewish children in clandestine at the risk of his life as the Germans closed all Jewish schools in occupied Poland.

Yenki “The Matzeva–kritzer” (engraver of tombstones), despite his lack of formal education, had great knowledge of engineering and mathematics. His surviving grandchildren relate that he advised the builders of the bridge on the Vistula when they encountered problems they could not solve, and that he declined an academic position at the Cracow University. He also decorated synagogues and in the Yanov synagogue he painted curtains on the walls which were more beautiful than real ones. The main breadwinner was his wife.

Two outstanding women of the Jewish community should be mentioned, both having served at different times on the City Council as its only women members. Keindel Spiro was a well–educated woman who maintained good relations with the Polish population of the town. Because of her outstanding qualities, she was respected by both Jews and Poles. About Freidl Fishman, Prof. Joshua Rothenberg, her grandson wrote the following: “She reminds me of the women portrayed in some works of Yiddish literature – women who found time to give birth to children and raise them (my grandmother had seven children), to be housewives and business women at the same time and to be active in the affairs of the community”.

The Jews of Sandomierz, like the Jews of each town and shtetl, had their own peculiar kind of humour. Jokes and anecdotes passed from generation–to–generation, from person–to–person, entertaining both those who listened and those who told them. At times it was self–deprecating humour, at times it derided the authorities. Many stories were about well–to–do misers of the town. There were also jokes which grew out of hardship and misery.

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The Shoa

The March to Zochcin

On September 9th, 1939, the German army entered Sandomierz. On the same day, German soldiers killed three Jews who happened to be on the street: Moshe Boym, Yenkel Lederman and Itzhak Teitelbaum. This gave us our first lesson on the German treatment of Jews. The second one was the march to Zochcin. Itzhak (Iche) Gorzyczanski tells about it:

On Monday, September 11th, German soldiers ordered all male Jews aged 14–60 to assemble at the central market square (Rynek). When we arrived with our hands raised we found a group of Poles and Volksdeutsche (Polish citizens of German descent prisoners of war. The Volksdeutsche were separated from their Polish comrades in arms and the Poles from us. We, the Jews, numbered nearly 700 men. The Germans kept us in the square all night.

The next day, the Germans ordered all of us to march, headed by the Volksdeutsche. Armed German soldiers guarded us on both sides. None of us knew our destination. We passed the Opatow tower on the road leading to Opatow. The soldiers urged us on as if we were cattle. It was a very hot day and the dust penetrated our skins. By evening we reached the Slazow farm. We slept in the field. The next morning, we arrived at the village of Wlostow. German officers awaited us. They searched us; demanded watches and threatened to shoot anyone who did not hand them over.

One of the officers repeated the order to separate the Jews from the others. After he had ascertained that we were separated, he ordered us to light a bonfire and to throw our skullcaps, prayer books, prayer shawls into the fire while the soldiers used their bayonets to cut off the beards of old people.

I remember how they cut off the beard of Leibl Lipsch, the young Sandomierz rabbi, with part of his chin.

We were ordered to dance around the bonfire and to chant tunes from Jewish prayers. For an hour, we sang Hassidic melodies. Berl Rozenzweig sang the Yiddish song “Der jid mit a Vandershtekn” (The wandering Jew). When the fire died down we were ordered to lie down on the ground until the next morning.

We continued marching and arrived in the evening at the village of Zochcin, some 30 kilometres from Sandomierz. Over 1,000 people were packed in a fenced off field. There we met Jews from neighbouring towns: Lipsk, Zawichost, Tarlow. They told us about the cruel treatment to which they had

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been subjected the night before.

The distribution of drinking water started after we had not had a drop of water for a whole day. The first in line were the Volksdeutsche, then the Poles; afterwards a German asked: “is anyone thirsty”? The watchmaker Sana Zilberman, stepson of Moshe Migdal said: “I am thirsty”. Instead of water he received a bullet and was severely wounded. We were not thirsty anymore. This was on the eve of Rosh Hashana, 1939.

The wounded Sana groaned and pleaded with the Germans: “help me or kill me”, but they did not react. The next morning, he was taken to a hospital by the Opatow Jews who came to help us. He died a few days later.

In the middle of the night while we were lying in the field, the Germans started shooting. My brother Elih Hersch was in panic, so I covered him with my body.

The Germans turned their searchlights on Yosef Ceylon and he became the first victim of their sadism. They asked him: “Are you a Jew? – Yes, he said. Have you studied the Bible? – Yes”, Josef answered. They ordered him to climb the high fence near us. He could not do it and they urged him on with blows all over his body. He fell down bleeding.

After him, the second victim (I don't remember his name) – followed. When they asked the same question, he answered “No” in response, he received cruel blows accompanied by screams: “Dirty Jew, you have not studied the Bible”?

The brutality continued. A mounted German officer and his aide rode over the people lying on the ground, beating and shouting: “You Jews are responsible for the war”. Many were bleeding but did not dare groan. It was the first day of Rosh–Hashanah. We found out that the shots at night were dummies and nobody was injured. One evening the Germans brought Polish P.O.Ws to our enclosure and encouraged them to insult and plunder us.

We remained in Zochcin for eight days. The Opatow Jews organized a Committee headed by Henech Langer to provide us with water and food. Jewish girls from Opatow risked their lives throwing bread over the fence.

We were freed only when women from Sandomierz came and paid ransom for us. The money was delivered to the German authorities in Opatow through Jewish intermediaries.

Among the women who came from our town to see us was the mother of Chaim Lass. She distributed candy with wishes of Mazel–Tov, on the occasion of the birth of a son to Yehiel Cynamon who was with us in the camp. Yehiel wept, seized by emotion. We were freed after we had experienced physically how cruel the Germans could be.

After our release, we heard that Nuske Kleinman and Leibl Goldberg, who had miraculously evaded the march to Zochcin, asked the Polish priest, Professor

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Szymanski, who was known as a friend of Jews, to intervene with the Germans on our behalf. He immediately got in touch with the German authorities in town. We also heard that the Sandomierz Bishop, Jan Lorek, intervened with the authorities on our behalf.

 

Hakofes

In October 1939, the Germans succeeded in terrifying the Jews of Sandomierz with another sadistic trick, which was sarcastically called by the Jews: “Hakofes” (Ceremonial marching in a circle with Torah scrolls on the holiday of Simchat Torah).

The following is Yehiel Cynamon's account:

At the beginning of October 1939, a few weeks after the Germans entered Sandomierz, they assembled the male Jews of the town in the ‘Rynek’ near the ‘Magistrate’ (City Hall) and began to abuse and torture them with sadistic pleasure. Jews with beards were led to the vicinity of the town's jail where Germans cut off, or rather tore off, their beards – fully or partially, mostly together with a piece of flesh. This torture lasted a couple of hours and we were terrified of what to expect next.

Not much time was left for reflection. “Run, run”, the Germans screamed, and the crowd began to move around the huge building of the City Hall. I took my father by the hand and we were moving together. Shots were heard and the pressure increased. All of us started running. The man, who ran in front of us, fell down and blocked our way. I told my father to move with the flow of people and I stopped to lift the man from the ground. When he was on his feet, I recognized him. It was Zeharia the son of Getzel Bernzweig and the father of Bina and the late Izhak Anafi, the former secretary of “The Association of Zandomierz Jews in Israel”. He was a very weak man. I held him with my arms around his body so he would not fall and we advanced slowly. On our side, an S.S. officer whispered to us: “These shots are meant only to frighten”. His words reassured us for a while and we continued moving with the stream around the City Hall. At a certain moment, we succeeded in getting out of the human circle and I brought Reb Zaharia, at his request, to the house of Lemel Walerstein in the Jewish Street.

Before we went into the house, he turned to me and asked: – “Son of Leibl Cynamon, how shall I bless you?” and he added: “By the grace of God, may you survive this war”. After I survived the war, I often thought of Zaharia's blessing.

This day has become sadly engraved on the memory of Sandomierz Jews, who, with black humour, named it: “The Day of Hakofes”.

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The “Appointment” of the Judenrat

Itzhak Gorzyczanski relates:

As demanded by the S.D. (Security Service) at Ostrowiec, 30–38 people from all walks of life arrived at the Kehilah (community) centre in the morning of September 21, 1939, I among them. When the S.D. men came in, several of us removed our hats. One of us received a slap in the face with the remark: – “Am I your acquaintance that you greet me?”. But those who did not take off their hats were also slapped, with shouts: “Take off your hat, dirty Jew!” This was our first meeting with representatives of the German government.

The Germans chose seventeen men from among those assembled including myself. They chased out the rest and led us, “the chosen” into the smaller room of the Kehilah. They sat at the table and kept us standing. Then one of the Germans said: “We hereby establish a Jewish Council of Elders in your town and you, as its members, will be responsible for every Jew in town”.

The lawyer, Henryk Goldberg said: “I am a Jew but I am not familiar with Jewish laws and customs”. “Shut up, you'll be the Chairman of the Council”. He was slapped until he was bleeding. Thus, the first chairman of our council was appointed.

Next, Beniek Apelbaum, the owner of a printing office, tried to plead with the Germans saying that his membership in the Council would interfere with the work of his printing office, which was vital to the authorities. – “And you'll be the Vice–Chairman” he was told.

The Germans told us that each of us would be responsible for the fulfilment of all orders of the German authorities; the Chairman would be responsible for the work of the Council and for everything occurring in the Jewish community. They would deal severely with disobedience to any order, but they would help us, if they deemed it necessary.

In this “democratic” manner, the “Council of Jewish Elders”, later called “Judenrat” (Jewish Council”) was instituted in our town.

The Judenrat elected from among its members an executive committee of five that established departments; the most important of which where: employment, social assistance and housing. The main function of the housing department was to provide homes for refugees from other towns who had been deported to Sandomierz. Each department was headed by a member of the Judenrat, with the exception of the employment dept., which was headed by Godel Redelman.

The next step was to establish a Jewish police unit, Ordnungsdienst (Public order service) of young Jews, mostly from “good homes”.

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In November 1939, the S.S. headquarters in Kielce imposed a “contribution” of 480 thousand zlotys on the Jews of Sandomierz. With great difficulty, this sum was collected and paid to the Germans. The Judenrat was also ordered to supply the Germans with rare luxury foods. For that purpose and for various other needs, a special fund was created by imposing levies that were collected with great effort from well–to–do people.

 

Forced Labour

Immediately after the fighting ceased, forced labour was imposed on Jews in Poland.

As early as September 1939, representatives of the military and civilian government kidnapped Jews for labour. The aim of the Germans was to humiliate them by forcing them to do lowly work such as cleaning toilets in offices and barracks and by abusing as well as exploiting them for all kinds of urgent work.

They were also employed in filing anti–aircraft ditches, removing rubble in bombed cities and sweeping snow off the streets.

Forced labour became institutionalized after administrative and civilian institutions were established. They demanded from Judenrats a constant supply of daily manpower, gratis, making them responsible for fulfilling the task under threat of ten years' imprisonment and requisition of property of each member.

In making these demands, the authorities referred to the order of the Governor Frank dated October 26th, 1939 and to the order of implementation of General Krueger, Superintendent of Police and S.S. in the “General Government”, of December 11th according to which all Jews aged 12 to 60 were obliged to do forced labour.

About the forced labour in Sandomierz, Itzhak Gorzyczanski testifies:

“When the German authorities ordered us to supply workers, we chose Godel Redelman as head of the department which was called by the people “Juedisches Arbeitsamt” (Jewish Labour Office). We gave him full authority and hence he was obliged to supply workers according to the many demands of the German Labour Office. There was no pay, of course.

We agreed with Redelman that he should arrange to send the Germans people of means so that the latter would hire the poor to go in their stead. This would supply the needy with an income and thereby enable them to exist. The

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Germans were not to know about this arrangement”.

In December 1939, a transport of Jews expelled from the territories annexed to the German Reich, arrived, among them Jews from the towns of Kalisz and Sieradz. Somewhat later, Jews from Vienna arrived. The refugees were housed in the Synagogue, in the Prayer House and in private homes. This was the task of the Housing Department. A kitchen and small infirmary were organized for their needs.

Local Jewish inhabitants needed help too, among them many who had lost their income as a result of the German occupation. The Welfare Department had the task of looking after them.

 

The “Boots Gzeira”

Soon after the war operations ended, the German authorities let loose “Gzeirot” (repressive edicts) one after another – the prohibition to use public transportation; limitation of living areas; closing of schools; prohibition of ritual slaughter and many other restrictions. The members of the Judenrat knew that they would pay with their lives and their property if the edicts were not adhered to.

Local Gestapo–men added their own demands to those of the authorities, in order to secure luxuries for themselves. In pursuing this aim, they spared their victims no abuse or humiliation.

One such case is told by Itzhak Gorzyczanski:

“At the beginning of 1940, Gestapo–men from Ostrowiec came to the Sandomierz Judenrat and demanded 50 pairs of boots. To obtain such a quantity of boots on short notice was impossible. Members of the Judenrat, with the help of the Judenrat from the neighbouring towns, tried to obtain at least part of the required number of boots but without success. When the designated date elapsed and no boots were supplied, the members of the Judenrat were ordered to report to the Gendarmerie where they were forced to do humiliating, filthy work, and then put in prison. I was one of them.

The S.S. men ordered us to one room; put a chair in the middle of the room; forced us to lie down on it and beach each of us stripped, with a whip that had lead on its end. With each blow they shouted: “Wil there be boots?” We heard only the word “boots” accompanied by our outcries. When Avrumele Mandelboim's turn came to be whipped, we said: “We will supply you with boots”. Goldberg, who was not yet whipped, confirmed our promise. Beaten and

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wounded, we returned to our homes. Leibush Weinberg was beaten so severely that we had to carry him on our backs. After two weeks, he died. We started immediately to collect money for the purchase of the 50 pairs of boots – a very difficult task because of the high price of leather in those days. Finally, we got the boots in Staszow and in neighbouring towns. Thus, this affair ended. For a time, we had satisfied the appetite of the beast.

 

The Years 1940–41

In 1940, the Germans established forced labour camps in the Lublin province. Local youngsters from Sandomierz were forcibly sent there to work in the forests and to build fortifications under conditions of terror and starvation. Not all of the youngsters came back. Of the 38 taken, three failed to return.

In 1941, the conditions of life in the Jewish community were similar to those in 1940. The Jews lived in a ghetto. Leaving it was punished by fines but not yet by death. The ghetto became even more crowded because of the influx of many deportees. Many stifling rules and regulations were imposed on the Jews, but little by little they learned to live with them.

Young people used to meet in small groups to study, sing and even dance. There were weddings, births and funerals, especially among the deportees whose living conditions were particularly hard.

In the summer of 1941, after the German army had attacked the Soviet Union, rumours were spread about murders of Jews in Eastern Poland. The Jews in Sandomierz became worried but found an explanation: The Jews in Eastern Poland had cooperated with the Soviet authorities (the Soviets had occupied Eastern Poland in September 1939) and the Germans were taking revenge on them.

 

Extermination Draws Near

At the end of January, 1942, the chairman of the Judenrat, Goldberg, was informed by an S.S. man, with whom he had contact (both were lawyers), that the Germans were preparing a plan for the total extermination of the Jews. The German told him, in secret, that it would be possible to save part of the males aged 14 to 60 through work in the war industry. Perhaps it would be possible to

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include women. As to children, their fate was sealed.

On May 13th, 1942 Kreishauptman, Dr. Ritter, issued an order for the compulsory transfer of Jews from the Opatow sub–district to five towns: Ostrowiec, Opatow, Sandomierz, Staszow and Zawichost, and to another twelve small townships in the area. This was the last German order published in the Radom District before the mass extermination of the Jews began there. The aim of the Germans was to concentrate the Jews from 150 towns and townships in 17 places near the railway junction. The operation began on June 1st.

News about the deportation of Jews to extermination sites filtered into Sandomierz but the Jews refused to believe that the same fate would be theirs.

One day in the summer of 1942, the Jews of the ghetto assembled in the Jewish Street. A thin, pale and frightened boy stood in the middle and told the people that he had come from Lublin and that nearby Jews were being burned in ovens. He had succeeded in escaping. Realizing that the listeners failed to trust his words he pleaded: “Believe me, I speak the truth”. Haim Grinbal repeated his words saying: “Jews, believe him!” Then one of them addressed him saying: “You, Reb Haim, are always a pessimist! Here in Sandomierz it will not happen. Isn't the Zadik (holy man) of Ostrowiec buried in our cemetery?”

 

Black Sunday

Itzhak Gorzyczanski related the story:

In the morning of August 2nd, 1942, three S.D. men from Ostrowiec, Peter, Bruno and a third name I don't remember, who were reputedly sadists came to the home of the Chairman of the Judenrat, Goldberg, and demanded that he assemble all its members.

Goldberg went to Vice–Chairman Appelbaum to ask him to come to the meeting, but he was not at home. His wife said that he had probably gone to one of the farm owners in the vicinity. As Vice–Chairman he had a permit to leave town.

We, the members of the Judenrat, with the exception of Appelbaum, assembled in the office of the Judenrat. The S.D. men arrived and asked: “Is everybody here?” The chairman answered: “Everybody except Appelbaum”. At that they declared: “If Appelbaum is not here by ten o'clock, you and three other members of the Judenrat will be executed. And if someone else is missing, fifty more Jews will be killed”.

Goldberg whispered, as if to himself: “I will probably be the first victim”. Then

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he told us to go home, take leave of our families and return. Not one of us should be missing, he said. He feared that otherwise Jews in the ghetto would become victims of the S.D.

Goldberg could have escaped. His friends advised him to do so knowing the murderous intentions of the Germans. He refused, saying: “A man like me does not run away. I am responsible for the Jewish community”.

His widow said, after the war, that he told her before he left the house that he knew the whereabouts of Appelbaum, but would not tell the S.D. and that he would die a martyr's death – “Kiddush Hashem”. Eugenia Weintraub testified that she knew the Polish underground to have printed leaflets in Appelbaum's printing office and that it stood to reason that the S.D. should be interested in finding and investigating him.

Goldberg went home, changed his clothes, took leave of his wife and child and returned to the Judenrat. In the meantime, the Jewish police tried to find Appelbaum but to no avail. They put his wife in jail in the ghetto as a hostage but Appelbaum did not appear.

Exactly at 10 a.m. the three murderers, among them Peter and Bruno, came into the room. They asked: “Have all the members of the Judenrat arrived?” Goldberg replied: “All except Appelbaum. We have searched in various place but could not find him”. Thereupon the murderers said: “Then you'll come with us”. They opened the door and Goldberg went out with them. They shot him on the spot. They returned and chose three other men. Shie Zoberman, Motl Janwski and me. Suddenly one of the S.D. men said: “We are leaving you now but we will come back”. We waited until 2 p.m. but they did not return.

The Jews of Sandomierz called this day: “The Black Sunday”. An atmosphere of depression descended upon the community.

When Appelbaum left the house of his friend, the Polish head of the village Zlota, he was shot and killed by the gendarme Lescher. He was buried by the Poles beside the road between Sandomierz and Koprzywnica. We buried Goldberg in the Jewish cemetery. He had the “Zkhus” (privilege) of Kever Yisrael (Jewish burial). The Judenrat was left without Chairman and Vice–Chairman.

 

The Final Days of the Ghetto

In September 1942, the transfer of Jews into the Sandomierz ghetto from Cmielow, Izarow, Polaniec and Koprzywinca was accelerated. Many people, mainly children, the old and the infirm died during the hurried march. All

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refugees were housed in the Jewish Street and its surroundings.

The transferred Jews and the local population alike suffered from the poor sanitary conditions and meagre supply of food.

Furthermore, the ghettos were hermetically closed by order of the Governor of Radom District Kund dated 23.02.1942, according to the decree of Frank dated 15.10.1941, which imposed the death penalty on whoever left the ghetto.

As a result, the situation worsened – Jews could no longer go to the villages to buy provisions and those who dared do so were shot without warning. This cruel decree particularly affected the poor people who had formerly obtained their livelihood by trading with the villagers in the vicinity and were now reduced to hunger.

Bloodthirsty Gendarmes

Cesia Schneider testifies:

“Some Jews risking their lives removed the Jewish armband and tried to leave the ghetto and the town but, in most cases, they paid for it with their lives. One day I saw the bloodthirsty gendarme called “Edizo” dragging into the town a Jewish boy who had taken off his armband and gone to a village to get some food. The gendarme tied the boy to his horse and galloped to increase the boy's suffering. It was heart–rending to see the wounded, blood covered boy and the gendarme on horseback enjoying himself immensely. The tortured youngster died a few hours later.

In the summer of 1942, a summer camp of Hitlerjugend (Hitler youth) was established in Sandomierz. Jewish men and women were forced to do hard labour every day at the camp and became the object of abuse by the young sadists. Amnon Eisenstadt tells about it in his book: “And the Earth did not Cover the Blood”.

One day, a young sadist got the idea to demonstrate his abilities. He took a training gun of small calibre and shot a young Jew – a refugee from Kalisz called Nitka. Bullets of that kind cannot seriously injure, so the wounded Jew continued to work. We thought that this was the end of the incident. But, in the evening when we were preparing to leave, the gendarme Schuman arrived on his bicycle looking for the wounded youngster. When he found him, he put him under a tree and shot him from a short distance. The reason given was: “a Jew who was shot at by a German cannot remain alive”; this according to the “ideology” of the Hitler

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youth. This was why the Hitlerjugend informed commander of the Gendarmerie, Damaier, of the incident and Schuman was dispatched to fulfil the order”.

 

The First “Aktsia” (Deportation)

Murders in the ghetto were multiplying. Terror reigned. The Jews knew that the day of deportation was near. Some people escaped, provided with ‘Aryan’ papers. Some sought a hiding place with Polish families. Others were preparing ‘bunkers’ (hiding places in cellars or underground) to hide at the time of deportation. The Judenrat was winding up its activities. Two days before the deportation, it was asked to pay the remaining taxes to the German authorities.

In the early morning of October 29th, the ghetto was surrounded by the German killers. The Jews were ordered to assemble in the central square and were then led to the railway station. They were sent to Belzec – the place where they were gassed.

Itzhak Gorzyczanski who was exempt from deportation as a member of the Judenrat, was an eye witness:

“In the first hours of the deportation, I stood with Avraham Szklarski on the balcony of the Judenrat and was a witness to what was happening. Pushed by the brutal fiends, a multitude of men, women and children gathered in the town square. At the same time, a group of the murderers were searching the houses looking for those who had not come out. The people they found were first savagely beaten and then shot in the head. The S.S. man from Radom, Scharfuehrer Schild was in command. He walked around with a whip in his hand, hitting faces and heads of Jews.

In the crow, one Jew walked with a Sefer Torah in his hands. He was beaten savagely until he fell crying “Shma Yisroel”. His name was Moshe Shifman, a refugee from Warsaw and a member of Uri Shifman's family.

When the deportees were already standing in the town's square, Jewish policemen could still save their wives. The policeman Kovka Meizels refused to abandon his children and save only his wife; he went with all his family to face death.

Around 5,000 Jews were led to the train and pushed into the wagons – more than one hundred persons in one wagon. Chlorine spread in the wagons emitted suffocating gas.

On the way to the train, nearly six hundred Jews were murdered. After the “Aktsia”, the corpses were picked up and buried by the Jewish policemen in a

[Page 556]

common grave in the Jewish cemetery.

The children hidden by their parents at the Mokoshin camp were shot and later brought to Kever Yisroel”.

 

Hiding in “Bunkers”

Many of the Sandomierz Jews prepared hiding places in cellars and attics believing that they would be safe there during the deportation and go on to live thereafter. The Jewish policemen who survived the “Aktsia” and participated in the removal of the contents of Jewish homes, secretly supplied food and water to the hidden people and even succeeded in saving 30 of them, mainly by transferring them to the “Lyceum” camp.

Two Poles, Wladyslaw Skobel and Kazimierz Czechowicz are known also to have helped hidden Jews.

All these hiding places were discovered. The German authorities hung notices in the town in which they promised one litre of Vodka and two pounds of sugar for each Jew delivered to them.

Following this notice, there were Poles, doormen of Jewish houses among them, who on the day of the “Aktsia”, and the following days, broke into the cellars, discovered the ‘bunkers’ and denounced the people to the Germans. Polish firemen also participated in the search for hidden people. The discovered Jews were led to the cemetery and shot. The aspiration of every Jew was to have the privilege of “Kever Yisroel” – a Jewish burial. This is reflected in the story of Yehiel Cynamon:

“the day of deportation was approaching, we felt it clearly. I lived with my wife Miriam and my 3–yearold son, David in the house of my grandmother Rachel Kandel. It was an old house built in 1830 and had large cellars. We, the young men who lived in the house, started preparing a ‘bunker’ in one of the cellars for our parents, wives and children. We were prepared to go out into the street during the deportation because there was no room in the ‘bunker’ for all of us.

My father refused categorically to go down into the cellars saying: “if this is a “gzeira” from heaven, I don't want to hide”. And then father refused, my mother and my wife also refused to go down into the ‘bunker’. I was in despair not knowing how to convince my father. It was early evening; we were sitting as if in mourning.

At that moment, I turned to my father and said quietly so my mother should not hear: “if we hide in the ‘bunker’ we may perhaps have the ‘zkhiyah’

[Page 555]

(privilege) of a Jewish burial. Those who will not hide, I doubt if they will have this ‘privilege’”. (Where did I get the courage and nerve to say these words to my father?) When father heard me, he stood up and said: “Let's go into the bunker”. All went down but we, the young men, remained above for the reason I mentioned before”.

The bunk was discovered – all perished – and the promise Yehiel gave his father was not fulfilled.

 

Life of Distress in the Judenstadt

Two weeks after the first deportation, the Germans carried out one of their most vicious deceptions. They established four “new” ghettos in the Radom district, in towns from which Jews have already been deported, and declared them as “Jewish towns” (Judenstaedte) to serve as safe places for Jews. One of these four towns was Sandomierz. The German authorities placed notices in and outside the town and in the villages, promising the Jews hiding in the fields, villages and with Polish families in ‘nice language’ a safe, comfortable life in the new ghettos, good treatment and freedom of trade, if only they would return to the ghettos!

Indeed, many did return because they suffered from cold and hunger and because many Polish families with whom Jews had found shelter forced them to leave once their means gave out.

Beniek Zelon was at that time in the Lyceum Camp and used to visit the Judenstadt. He tells the following story:

“Over 7,000 Jews gathered in the ‘Judenstadt’ Sandomierz. The ghetto included the Jewish Street, the street named after Berek Joselewicz and two houses in Zamkova Street, altogether 21 houses. The place was surrounded by a wooden fence two meters high with two openings through which one group of Jews were led in from the ghetto to places of work. These openings were guarded by the Jewish police on the inside and by the gendarmerie and the Polish police on the outside. In addition, there was a general watch around the fence, day and night, by the S.D. men who often undertook searches looking for gold, valuables and other goods such as vodka, leather, etc. While searching, they shot at the inhabitants of the ghetto. The S.S. men under the command of Major Reineke, commander of the Mokoszyn camp, took part in this pillage. Among the frequent ‘visitors’ of the ghetto were also S.D. men from Ostrowiec, Semko, Peter and Bruno, well–known infamous sadists. They strolled in the Jewish Street with wolf–hounds which they set on the Jews, beating every

[Page 554]

passer–by. They gave many contradicting orders so that it was impossible to know what was permitted and what was prohibited. Hauptman Geier of the gendarmerie in Kielce also used to appear from time–to–time in the ghetto, shooting anyone he met. Having been warned of Geier's presence by the Jewish policemen, the Jews would disappear from the Streets”.

Avraham Schweizman, as a soldier in the Polish cavalry, was among the defenders of Westerplatte, one of the last strongholds of the defence in the north of Poland, at the outbreak of the war in 1939. He acquired a revolver with which he hoped to take the life of one of the German murderers, particularly cruel. He may have meant Lescher. His friends convinced him not to do it since he would endanger the lives of many Jews in the ghetto.

Through the second opening in the fence, Jews left the ghetto accompanied by the Jewish and German police to go to the bath–house outside. Leaving the ghetto was almost impossible although some succeeded in stealing out in order to procure a little food from the Poles. But usually, the murderer Lescher, who was nominated commander of the ghetto, spied on them upon their return and with his own hands, murdered those he caught, more than 10 people daily!

The crowded conditions in the ghetto were unbearable. Some 20 people lived in one room, sleeping on many–storied bunks. The attics served as dwellings for people. The street itself was used a living quarters. There were not even elementary sanitary arrangements and people queued for water. The denseness caused infectious diseases. True, a hospital for the sick was established but actually, the sick was sent there only to be killed after a few days, and mostly if was Lescher who murdered them.

Once Lescher appeared in front of the hospital with carts and gave an order to load them with all the sick people as well as with those who had recovered and were about to be released, and to take them to the graveyard. There, some 50 people were shot.

Hunger increased from day–to–day and prospects for obtaining food were very poor. For hours people queued for bread cards and some soup, distributed at the Judenrat. Bread was distributed from 3–4 o'clock only.

Some of the Sandomierz Jews who knew where their townsmen hid their money and jewels before the deportation, used this money and various valuables to buy food brought by Poles to the ghetto fence. Many Jews were shot smuggling bread into the ghetto. The situation was terrible. People wandered about the streets, tired and broken, hungry and freezing. They realized that they had been packed together for one purpose only – extermination. Some fled from the ghetto, either to their former hiding places or to the woods to join the partisans. But they were murdered on the way, usually by Poles.

[Page 553]

The Murder of the Ostrowiec Rabbi

Yehiel Cynamon relates:

“In the Sandomierz Judenstadt there also lived the well–known revered Ostrowiec Rabbi, Yehiel Halevi Hazlshtok. It was said that people pleaded with the Sandomierz Bishop Jan Lorek to hide him and the bishop was willing to do so. But the Rabbi refused, saying that he belonged with all Jews and did not wish to save his own life only.

When on December 13th, 1942 the Germans demanded that the Rabbi present himself to the well–known murderer, the Gestapo man Geier, more than a dozen Jews, including his son, wanted to go in his stead. It was said that Godel Redelman advised the son not to go impersonating the Rabbi as he planned because if he were denounced, there would be not one but two victims. Members of the Judenrat were against the idea. The Rabbi, they said was also not prepared to accept their sacrifice.

The Rabbi stood in front of the killer wrapped in his “Tales and Tfilin” (prayer shawl and phylacteries). The murderer asked him a few short questions, brought him to the courtyard of the synagogue and shot him there. He mutilated the body, put a cigar in the mouth of the dead Rabbi and photographed him. The Rabbi though had the privilege of a Jewish funeral. His son was murdered. The Jews of Ostrowiec who were ready to die instead of the Rabbi were also shot and buried in one grave in the cemetery”.

 

The Second “Aktsia”

The ghetto Jews knew that the “Aktsia” was approaching and contrary to the first “Aktsia”, they armed themselves with axes and saws and occasionally revolvers. They intended breaking out of the ghetto fence, but denunciation forestalled their initiative.

On January 7th, the Ghetto was surrounded by S.S. and S.D. units of gendarmerie. Polish police, Ukrainians and Latvians. They threw incendiary bombs into the Ghetto and a few houses caught fire. Whoever dared approach the fence was shot. Those who had worked daily outside the ghetto did not do so any longer. The Germans and the Ukrainians amused themselves with “target shooting” causing many of the passers–by in the ghetto to be killed. On the night before the “Aktsia”, drunk Ukrainians penetrated the ghetto and robbed the Jews

[Page 552]

of money, jewels and watches.

In the early morning of the following day, in a temperature of 30░ below zero, some 7,000 ghetto Jews were deported. Only 300 men who looked young and healthy were sent to the Skarzysko camp.

The opening at the end of the Bobolow alley was made narrower so that the deported Jews were pressed tightly together as they passed through it on their way to the assembly point. The murderers stood by the opening mercilessly beating their victims with rubber clubs as they slipped on the artfully laid stones.

On the way to the square and in the square itself, dozens of people were shot and fell down. The Polish police and the fire–brigade assisted the Germans in the murder of Jews. The deportees were ordered to stand ready for the journey, five in a row. On the sidewalks of the square, a multitude of Poles gathered and mocked them.

Leaving their rucksacks with their last belongings behind them, the Jews marched to the railway station in Nadbrzezie accompanied by S.S. men. Hundreds were shot on the way. At the railway station they were stripped of their coats and sometimes of their boots too so that they would not be able to escape from the train. Thereafter, they prodded them with the butts of their rifles and loaded them onto freight wagons, over 120 persons to a wagon. They were taken to Treblinka.

 

The Third Ghetto

The Ghetto was re–established. The Germans repeated their deceitful trick. As after the first “Aktsia”, they announced that the Jews in the surroundings could return to the ghetto and that from then on they would not be harmed. A hundred and eighty people, na´ve or desperate, returned to the Jewish Street, hoping to subsist there. Together with those who were already in the ghetto, they counted some 300 men and women. From then on, the Germans shot only “illegal” Jews who roamed in the vicinity of the “Lyceum”, but did not harm those who entered the ghetto of their own free will. But the gendarmes, Lescher, was shot by Polish partisans in revenge for their murdered friends.

On April 15th, the Germans selected the young and healthy Jews and sent them to the Pionki labour camp. The others, weak and old people together with fifteen children who were transferred from the “Lyceum”, were shot on the same day. Eye witnesses related that the murderers shot the children while throwing

[Page 551]

Them into the air, their corpses falling to the ground like shot birds.

The houses in the “Jewish Street” were destroyed, the local rubble searched for gold and jewelry in the ruins. Only the synagogue and Wasser's house remained standing. Thus, the traces of the Jewish community were almost totally erased.

 

The Camps

In accordance with the plan for the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Problem’, the Germans established a number of labour camps that used Jewish labour until their turn came to be murdered or die.

In the summer of 1942, knowing that deportation was near, the Judenrat started organizing work places and Jews were also searching for work places on their own initiative.

Three labour camps were established: “Lyceum” on the outskirts of the town; “Metan” and “Mokoszyn”, several kilometres from Sandomierz.

Initially, before the first deportation from Sandomierz, the workers in these camps were mostly Sandomierz Jews.

Afterwards, they were joined by the remnants of the Jewish population from Opatow, Klimontow and Staszow. Former prisoners of these camps have described the life in the camps, the relations with the S.S. and among the inmates themselves, the struggle to remain alive, the hope and the despair.

In the summer of 1943, the labour camps were dissolved and the inmates were sent to the camps in Starachowice, Radom and others. Towards the end of the war, the remaining Jews were transferred to the camps in Germany proper, and some of the survived the war.

 

The Metan Camp

The Metan camp was located in a glass factory. The camp was established on the initiative of the Jews themselves and with their money. Life in this camp was tolerable thanks to the gifts rendered to German overseers and guards.

Tanchum Kuperblum was with his parents in the camp and he relates:

“In the camp I had the opportunity of observing the life of its inmates. On the face of it, it looked as if there were nothing to bind the people together. Each one

[Page 550]

cooked for himself and his family using food he had succeeded in acquiring. The iron stoves that served for cooking were attached to a chimney with pipes, up to 10m long, depending on where the family stove was placed in the hall. Provisions were bought in town and also from Polish women who brought them to the camp fence. In the middle of the giant hall stood a large table at which people ate their meals and along both its sides there were three–tier bunks.

There was also a common kitchen for single people who had no families. They received soup once a day cooked by the wife of Tropeh with the help of a refugee from Kalisz. There were a considerable number of single people who were not without means but felt neglected, abandoned and depressed. Some of them were dirty and flea–ridden. The arrangement was that each family should adopt a single individual and take care mainly of laundering his clothes and underwear.

Sala Fishman volunteered to take care of the elderly. She covered them with an ointment against fleas and helped them wash in the yard at a washstand where only cold water was running.

I did not know Sala before the war and was amazed at how ready she was to sacrifice herself in order to help others. She was a wonderful girl, wise and serious and much worried about her father who roamed the area, withdrawn into himself and greatly depressed.

I remained without means of livelihood, having handed over all my money to my parents who left the camp and returned to town when the second ghetto named, “Judenstadt” was established there. Rozia Fridman, married to Eliezer Bluman, noticed my financial distress and gave me sometimes a piece of bread and vegetables so that I too had a meal at the large family table. Gold from Dwikozy and her husband also frequently shared their meals with me.

In spite of our hardships, we shared some moments of laughter especially at night when people blundered in the dark hall and got into other people's beds. This gave rise to frightened screams, but as soon as the light went on and the culprit started apologizing, loud laughter could be heard from each corner. People continued to laugh about the incident the following morning and even a few days later.

Flora Spiro, Mrs. Keindl Spiro's daughter–in–law also lived with us and we came to know her well. She had a sense of humour and instilled some joy in our lives”.

But on January 3rd, an end came to the illusion of a safe haven and survival.

Itzhak Gorzyczanski who arrived at the camp after the first “Aktsia” testifies:

“On January 3rd, 1943, in the early morning, the Germans surrounded the camp, brought horse–led coaches and loaded us and our belongings onto them.

[Page 549]

Dameier, head of the gendarmerie in Sandomierz, asked me, as head of the Jews in the camp, what the number of people in it was. I replied that there were 60 registered and 28 not registered. He also asked whether there were children among us and when I said it was possible, I was severely beaten in front of all present. They brought us then to the ghetto, searched us because they knew that we were well–to–do, and robbed us of everything we possessed. Lescher, Dameier's deputy, demanded that we pay the coachmen.

We arrived in the Judenstat. On January 10th, most of the people from Metan were sent to Treblinka together with other ghetto inmates”.

 

The Mokoszyn Camp

200 Jews from Sandomierz worked in the Mokoszyn camp located among orchards and green fields, from the summer of 1942. A small group of experienced workers, who had survived the deportations, continued to work there while living in the Lyceum camp. Their work consisted of dismantling houses which had been expropriated from Polish peasants and were considered unfit for the Volksdeutsche to whom the properties were turned over. Other workers repaired the houses considered fit for habitation. Still others were sent to do agricultural work and a group of women worked at a nearby S.S. camp.

Benie Ceylon worked at demolishing peasant houses and witnessed the expulsion of Polish peasants from their homes and land. He told this story:

“During the winter of 1943, we were ordered to demolish houses of Polish peasants whose properties were turned over to Volksdeutsche. Each German settler received several Polish farms which were to form one unit. Only one house and farm buildings which were in the best condition were left and we had to demolish the other buildings. The expelled peasants had to leave their houses immediately and were allowed to take with them only their clothes and bedding. All remaining property was handed over to the new owners. The peasants were still standing at the doors of their homes when we began to demolish them.

I witnessed a sight that stuck in my memory. An old peasant from the village of Mokoszyn, before being expelled, assembled all the members of his family. They knelt on the ground and prayed. Then each of them took a handful of soil, crumbled it and put the crumbs in a bag. They went off leaving behind them home and farm which they had built during a lifetime”.

After the deportation from the first ghetto and from the Judenstadt, a number of Jews escaped to the Mokoszyn camp and tried to hide there, not

[Page 548]

always successfully. Parents of camp workers who tried to hide there were found by the Germans and deported. The small children found by the Germans were murdered on the spot. One of them, about 5 years old, implored the murderers just before she was shot: “Master, I have strong hands. I'll work well”. She was murdered together with the others.

In the summer of 1943, the inmates of Mokoszyn together with inmates from the Lyceum camp were sent to the camps at the armaments factories in Radom and Starachowice.

 

The Lyceum Camp

The Lyceum camp was established in the summer of 1942 in the girls' high school called the Lyceum. In the beginning, the Jews from the Sandomierz ghetto came there to work in workshops that produced goods for the Volksdeutsche who had settled in the vicinity.

A group of 300 from the ghetto of Opatow was sent to this camp before the deportation from their town. From October 28th, 1942, the workers from Sandomierz were confined to the Lyceum camp. The camp was near the Jewish cemetery and the inmates were witness to the killings and burials of the victims there.

There were some “illegals” at the camp, those who escaped during deportation, jumped from deportation trains or tried to hide in Polish homes. Even they eventually arrived at the camps. The Lyceum camp was supervised by the S.S. and its commander, Major Reineke who was also in charge of the Volksdeutsche settlers. On average, the camp housed approximately 400 persons, among them, Jews from Opatow and Klimontow.

A small number of children were among the inmates. They arrived with their parents who shielded them from the eyes of the outside visitors. The local S.S. men accepted the presence of children – even played with them. All the children, except Yosele Sziafstein from Sandomierz and the daughter of the Sachnowicz family from Opatow were eventually killed and later buried in the Jewish cemetery in a “Kever Ahim” (common grave).

 

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